From $100 to $52,000 in One Year

$52,243 to be exact.

I started TERRA exactly one year ago in December, with only $100. At the time, I didn’t know how to make candle. I didn’t have much money to invest in this new project. I didn’t know how to run a business. And I certainly didn’t know what the future would bring.

What I did know was that I simply wanted to learn how to make candles, and hopefully make a notable brand out of it. So, I started with baby steps.

I strongly believe that if you consistently make a tiny bit of progress each and every day, that it will compound over time into something huge.

The first step of doing so was announcing this new endeavor of mine. Naturally, I’m a very vocal and transparent person, so I just put it out into the world. On Twitter, Instagram, and telling my friends and family personally. No one knew what I wanted this to evolve into, but I had their support for my new hobby and that’s all that mattered.

Quarter 1

During the first month, I had pre-orders available. My shop wouldn’t officially launch until late January, giving me time to perfect a quality candle worth selling. I wanted a goal to work towards and setting pre-orders held me accountable to making sure I followed through with making my first batch of candles worth selling.

I think I had a total of 10 pre-orders by the time my shop launched on January 22. 30 days after I decided to start TERRA. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to signal that ‘hey, maybe this is worth investing more time and effort into after all!’

And it wasn’t the sales that convinced me. It was the people. The people who purchased my first batch of candles gave me incredible feedback. They let me know how well the candle performed. And while, of course, I had tested my candles before selling them to make sure they were on-par with the quality I expected them to be… it was a motivating feeling to hear it from others.

During the first month that TERRA had officially launched, February, I actually didn’t receive many sales through my shop. I think I only had a total of 3.

I didn’t let this get me down, and instead spent my time planning, crafting, and perfecting. I wanted to create a brand that was recognizable and offered incredible handcrafted products — more than just candles. And in order to do so, I knew my brand’s aesthetic and mission needed to be refined.

Mind you, at this point in time, I was working as a freelance product packaging designer. I spent most of my days on client work and gave all the energy I had left in the evenings towards TERRA.

Early on, I knew that as being a small business, it would make sense to connect with some sort of community to help me grow. I wanted that community to be my city. I remember spending Sundays on my mom’s sofa adding to a spreadsheet emails that I collected from browsing Instagram for local photographers.

I thought that candles would make a perfect client gift. So, in addition to selling on my shop’s website, I also wanted those in the service-industry (freelancers, photographers, event planners, etc.) to take interest in purchasing custom candles to give as gifts.

By diversifying my purchasing options, I knew my brand could grow quicker than only offering direct shop sales. This is because when one person buys my candles to gift, they then introduce my candles to 4, 5, or 10+ people who had never heard about me before.

I didn’t send many cold emails, but a lot of local wedding planners and photographers responded to me with interest. Which led to my very first wholesale order!

It was a modest order; 12 of my smallest candle size. But I was beyond excited. With having a slow start to my shop, this was the momentum I needed to keep going.

And to add more fun to the mix, the woman purchasing was local to my city and we chatted over coffee to hear each other’s stories. This was the first person I ever formally networked with and it helped me gain the confidence to become more involved in my city and meet new people.

Along with thinking of alternative options to diversify my ways of selling, I eventually thought about having my products being included on gifting websites. Instantly, Greetabl came to mind.

They are a company that specializes in creating little custom gift boxes to send to friends and family. And lucky for me, they are based in St. Louis.

I knew this because back in 2017, I actually applied to work for them because I loved what they do THAT much. The position I cannot think of to save my life. Fast forward to now, I thought ‘how cool would it be to partner with them?’

I sent an ambitious email, telling them everything. From how new my business was, how I applied for a position previously, and how much I loved their company.

It felt very intimidating sending this email at the time. As they were the first company I ever reached out to. But guess what? They emailed me back and invited me to drop off samples at their office!

I was elated.

Quarter 2

Eventually, this interaction lead to my very first mass-production. We’re talking 700 candles with a 2-week timeframe, specially made for Mother’s Day. It was terrifying… but I remember crying and knowing that moment would change everything. It gave me hope that one day TERRA would be my only and full-time job.

Over the next couple months, I just kept giving all the spare time I had into TERRA. Between marketing, making candles, strategizing and planning, and customer support… it was a lot. But the efforts were paying off.

From April to July, I was consistently hitting 4-figure months in revenue. Numbers that I never thought I would see as a business that was still only a baby.

During summer, it felt that I could finally say I had become a notable candle brand in my city. More and more local support had been given to me as a result of COVID. Who knew that a pandemic would actually help me?

Quarter 3

Always pushing for more, I thought I’d do another reach out to a company that I actually heard about through my freelance client. I was working on a project to create new label designs for their partnership with Kinder Beauty Box and I figured it wouldn’t hurt if I sent them an email, too.

They quickly responded back to me with a huge interest, saying that they’ve been searching for a candle company to include in their monthly boxes.

They bought 450 candles from me. And what really makes this a huge deal is that when they first asked for samples to be sent, they had me send them to their founders –– Daniella Monet and Evanna Lynch. My candles were in the hands of celebrities! UNREAL.

During that same month, I also had a meeting with a local business in St. Louis about perhaps collaborating on a candle for them to sell. This never happened (yet, at least) but my meeting was double-scheduled with a hockey player from my favorite NHL team and… guess who got to talk all about TERRA with him sitting in the same room? ME!

He even left with a TERRA candle. I also eagerly asked to take a photo with him, while he holds my candle. Unfortunately, I’m not allowed to post it anywhere or I’ll probably get sued by the NHL.

Like, I can’t even believe any of this is real. These stories I’m telling you right now, I have no idea how I managed to make this happen. These are dreams come true.

Clearly, TERRA was growing. And each month, I was determined to make better than the last.

Then August came. I was drowning in client work and endless tasks for TERRA. I remember feeling like wanting to cry almost every day because I wanted to do so much more for TERRA. But, client work was always in the way. I was not happy.

However, TERRA kept growing with my part-time efforts. I ended up hitting my first $5,000 month in revenue. And then I did it again in September.

Then I quit.

I quit working for others. The stress became too much and the demands of TERRA were growing and I couldn’t slow it down. If I wanted TERRA to be the business I’ve always wanted… I had to treat it as my full-time job. So, on a leap of faith (backed by steadily growing revenue), I jumped into TERRA full-time.

It was terrifying.

And on top of it all, the day I quit, as feeling so sure and confident TERRA would take care of me if I take care of it… I lost out on a massive wholesale order of $5,000.

I was so sure that this order would be placed, since the company themselves said they were going to, that this revenue was part of my equation into going full-time. I thought I would have $5,000 of cushion if anything went south.

I remember crying, wondering if I had made the right decision. If I should call my freelance client to take me back.

They say when one door closes, another one opens… and it sure did. Greetabl soon reached out to me with a formal invitation to be part of their platform. The timing could not be any more perfect.

Quarter 4

Holiday season soon approached, and I was not prepared. I was not ready for the end of the year to be my busiest yet.

Two words: pop-ups.

Up until this point, I had not been able to participate in any in-person events. COVID really took away this part of my business from me. I haven’t been able to meet any of my customers or even showcase my products to potential new customers.

However, as we all have now began to adjust to ‘the new normal’, St. Louis began allowing a bit more flexibility for businesses. Soon, I was invited to be part of my first pop-up event.

I left that day with $700 in my pocket and a handful of new friends.

This was by far the most exciting event I’ve done for TERRA. I get to talk to people for a few hours, they tell me how much they love my products, and I make money? I have zero complaints about this life!

I ended up being part of 6 pop-ups total during the holiday season. Each one better than the last. One location even asked me about the possibility of opening a retail store there. Could you imagine? A retail store, already?!

Honestly, quarter 4 exhausted me like no other. I was constantly out of stock, the supply delays caused my COVID were in full force, and I felt like my business was running me. Rather than me running it.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved every second, but this was a tough season.

Between Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and general holiday shopping, there was an influx of customers that I never expected.

Year in Review

If you asked me where I expected TERRA to be at the end of its first year, I would have maybe said it was growing and that the potential is there. But never could I imagine I’d actually be working for myself and myself only.

Never could I imagine that TERRA would provide for my life, this early on.

And never could I imagine that I’d be talking to a property manager about a commercial space just this morning…

What a way to end the first year, right?

Oh, and did I mention that I customized my license plate to be 'T3RRA'? Yes. Yes I did.

I’ve learned so god damn much from all of this, and I can’t wait to make the second year in business better than ever. Here’s to TERRA’s 1st birthday and its bright future!

Goals for Year 2

A commercial space.

I’m thinking to make this primarily a studio, but offer a little shopping section for the public. Mostly so I can move the business out of my home.

Hit 6 figures in revenue.

I mean… I did half of that this first year. So, I truly think it’s possible.

Better packaging.

I’m thinking branded shipping boxes and more printed material to level up the unboxing experience.

Dianna Allen

Dianna Allen