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Starting multiple businesses with Candicia John

Candicia breaks down how Canadian freelancers can start multiple businesses

Candicia John is the founder of Toronto Curly Girl Meetup, an event that celebrates and educates people about how to grow and enjoy their natural curly hair.

Candicia is also the founder of Curly Prints, an apparel line that gives representation to all curls through variety of prints and designs.

In this episode, Candicia and Mohammed talk about how Canadian freelancers can start multiple businesses that propel each other.

Short on time? Skip to the parts you're most interested in.

[03:52] Hosting events in a pandemic

[05:50] Starting a business with your sibling

[08:05] Getting started as a freelancer

[09:29] Building complementary businesses

[13:46] Using analytics to identify your market

[16:04] Challenges of running multiple businesses

[19:04] Keeping on top of each of your businesses

[22:29] Things to consider before you expand your business

[26:47] Using analytics to understand your audience

If you enjoyed the conversation, check out more episodes of our podcast. You can subscribe to Freelance Canada on Apple Podcasts or listen to it wherever you get your podcast. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the episode.

Mohammed: Let’s get started. How are you feeling?

Candicia: I feel good, actually. I feel really, really good.

Mohammed: Alright, so let’s get started by understanding what you do as a freelancer?

Candicia: I own two businesses. So, the businesses kind of work together because they’re kind of along the same theme. So, the first one is Toronto Curly Girl Meetup which is an annual event out in Toronto and it’s basically where many women can come out once a year, learn all about curly hair care. We get industry experts, influencers in the building to do a panel discussion, answer popular questions. We also have a marketplace during the event so lots of local brands, especially black-owned brands, they come out and they sell their products, whether it’s hair care, beauty, wellness-related, we create a platform for them.

And then there’s just a lot of food, music, just a whole bunch of fun stuff. So, that is our first business. We actually just pivoted because, with everything that’s happening with COVID, we can’t have events, but we pivoted into the e-commerce space. So, we actually sell hair products and wellness and beauty from women of colour and specifically their brands would be catering again to the natural hair community or just to beauty and wellness. So, we house their brands under our big umbrella and we sell their products. So, that’s been a new venture for us.

And then Curly Prints, which is an apparel company. Its slogans and its basis are around, again, men and women with curly hair and just celebrating how unique and how diverse the community is. So, we’ve been in operation for, I want to say about 10 months now, so almost a year and we’re just super excited to keep expanding and keep growing with the brand.

Mohammed: Awesome.

Candicia: And I also do influencing as well, which I forgot to add. But I do product reviews. I specifically started with curly hair reviews, again, just kind of keeping with the theme. And I do beauty and lifestyle content as well.

Mohammed: Okay, so I’m going to summarize back to you. There’s the Toronto Curly Girl Meetup, which now also has an online store. There is the Curly Prints apparel. And then of course you’re also doing influencing.

Candicia: Yes, that’s correct.

Mohammed: And what did I miss?

Candicia: I think you pretty much caught everything. I mean, like Toronto Curly Girl Meetup just has like the e-commerce store now, but it doesn’t necessarily have a name to it, but, yeah, but you got it all correct though.

Mohammed: So what happened to the meetup? Like I understand COVID happened and then what happened?

Candicia: Yeah. So with everything that was happening with COVID, we kind of put a damper on things but then as we’re getting into Stage 3, usually our events are anywhere between 100. Last year, we had almost 150 people in the building. So, because of those types of numbers and we were doing our analytics and we were expecting more people this year, just for health and safety and stuff, we figured we’re gonna take a pause on that.

We definitely thought about doing it online but I think the schematics of it and trying to put that together was something that we really didn’t expect and, again, like online events and stuff had been huge, again, because of everything that’s happening with COVID. But I think to the scale that we wanted it to go and with all of our other projects that were coming out with both of our businesses, unfortunately, for a team of two, it was a lot to handle. So, we decided that we’ll just take a break on that and we’ll just resume next year.

We’re kind of this family powerhouse and she does all of our social media marketing, our e-mail marketing. She does customer service. Honestly, whenever I’m not sleeping, she’s probably — like she’s doing everything.

Mohammed: Got it, and who is the other two of this team of two?

Candicia: Yeah, so the second person is Camillia. She’s actually my sister. So we’re — yeah, so we own Curly Prints as well as Toronto Curly Girl Meetup together so we’re kind of this family powerhouse and she does all of our social media marketing, our e-mail marketing. She does customer service. Honestly, whenever I’m not sleeping, she’s probably — like she’s doing everything. I’m more kind of the accounting, the backend, the updating of the website, the schematics.

The administrative work is more on me because I like to do that stuff, the taxes, which is not fun, but I still do that part and then my sister does more of the, again, the social media marketing and those things.

Mohammed: And how did that come about? Were you two just like, “Hey, we’re sisters, we should start doing freelance work together,” or, like, “Hey, we both have curly hair, let’s do something about it”?

Candicia: Yeah. So, at the time, I was just doing my influencing and I had just started and she just was in her marketing degree at the time and she really wanted to understand the world of influencer marketing and stuff because it was so new. So, I decided why not test it on me? Like I don’t see why not. We’re in the same house, why not? So she was responsible for my sponsorship e-mails, like keeping me on track in terms of my posting schedules and all that stuff.

And then I had spoken to her and I was like as an influencer, I would love to go to different events and stuff, but a lot of what was in my niche, the events were over the border. So, like Essence Fest, the BET Awards, the World Natural Hair Show, CurlFest, all of those things were like New York and further down south and I was like, I would love to go but obviously, it’s expensive for you to go, especially if you’re not on their radar, you’re not on their PR, and you’re just kind of going there just to kind of get a feel.

But it was very expensive to do all those events in one year. So, I was like, I wonder if there’s anything like that in Toronto and we had looked it up and there were like a couple but just not on the scale that we were looking at. And, shoot, I was like just putting it out there and I was like, Toronto should definitely have an event for curly-haired women and we kind of just thought about it and I was like, it would be crazy if we did it together and she’s like, “You know what, I don’t see why not.”

And then it was just like, alright, okay, let’s put our crazy brains together and let’s figure this out so we actually put on our first event in less than three months, which was absolutely insane but we happened to pull it off and ever since then we’ve been doing it.

Mohammed: Right. And how long ago was that?

Candicia: So we started in 2018. That was our first event, which was in 2018.

I don’t really think I really had like a start moment where I was like a light bulb went off and I was like, I should just quit my job and just completely do this freely.

Mohammed: Got it. And you obviously had a following before that so how did you get started with your influencing? Or how did you get started with freelancing?

Candicia: Yeah, so I had started like doing the influencing just kind of on the side and at the time. I was still working part-time, but I was just kind of, doing my nine to five and then my five to nine, my passion work, which was more than influencing and then, again, trying to add more projects and add more companies to I guess my register. It’s definitely been something that I’ve added alongside but, yeah, it’s definitely kind of evolved on its own.

I don’t really think I really had like a start moment where I was like a light bulb went off and I was like, I should just quit my job and just completely do this freely. It was just something I kind of just added as I was going along and as I had business ideas and I saw the need, especially from being an influencer and seeing where my pain points — well, my customers’ and my audience’s pain points were, creating businesses based off of pain points and kind of filling in that niche was something that I’ve always done.

Mohammed: And what has been the progression of each of the different businesses? Like what came first, what came after, and how did it get added on, I suppose? Like that’s such a terrible question.

Candicia: Yeah, no, it’s no problem at all. Yeah, like I think each of them actually just got added as, again, like I saw kind of a need. So the influencing definitely came first and like I mentioned before, like wanting to go to an event as an influencer and trying to find something here in the Toronto area, that was my pain point and then we started to do polls and stuff like that on my Instagram Story and I noticed that a lot of other Toronto women were interested in something like this so then that’s when we tacked on Toronto Curly Girl Meetup.

And then, as the event was going on, originally, Curly Prints was an old company that I had prior to and my influencing, which my tag name was @heyitscandicia. So at the time I create merch for my influencing and it was just a print-on-demand, it was nothing quite elaborate, it was quite simple, I created all the designs myself, and then, again, like a print-on-demand company was printing them out and shipping them out.

But while I was doing that, I noticed that the level of quality and the timeframe in terms of like from printing to shipping to the product getting to people’s homes, was quite long and extensive and it definitely wasn’t where I wanted the quality. So, I had stopped that and completely closed down the website and everything and I completely forgot about it for a little bit. And then some people had brought it up again and said like, “You know what, we would love to have your shirts again,” or, “You know, it would be really cool if you had your own brand of shirts or something.”

I didn’t necessarily want to go back into merch for myself but, again, doing a little bit of the polls and analytics and stuff like that, I noticed that that was kind of something that was wanted and I looked at the Toronto area again and I noticed that there weren’t companies that were doing slogans and stuff geared towards natural hair in the area and a lot of them were mostly in the States. Again, understanding that I, again, put my crazy brain together and I talked to my sister about it and she was like, “You know what, again, why not? Let’s do this.”

So, it was kind of I used my knowledge from my merch website but this time, instead of doing it a print-on-demand, we actually have somebody who prints it out, we’re in charge of quality, we’re in charge of the shipping, the branding, everything so we’re really at the forefront of that which I’m so happy we made that decision and I find that our customers are way happier and overall way more pleased than when I had the merch website.

We really want Canada to have a place, like our Canadians to have a home. Somewhere that they can go to that they don’t have to necessarily pay those shipping prices and the duties and the taxes.

Mohammed: And now, of course, you have the online stores and in-person meetups are, I guess who knows when that’s gonna be back.

Candicia: Exactly, yeah. Yeah, so I’ve been having that store. Honestly, it’s been a month now since we’ve had that e-commerce store so it’s very, very new to us but we’ve noticed that, again, a lot of people are really enjoying it and we’re pricing or like centring the companies that we partner with. They are Canadian businesses and one of our biggest things, especially for Toronto Curly Girl Meetup, is that we really want Canada to have a place, like our Canadians to have a home.

Somewhere that they can go to that they don’t have to necessarily pay those shipping, like those crazy shipping prices and the duties and the taxes and all of those crazy additions to American businesses. Not saying that they’re bad but it’s just sometimes that’s a huge pain point for our customers. So, again, having something that’s Canadian, something that they can call their own, was really important for us.

And again, through my influencing, I’ve met so many amazing business owners and amazing hair companies, again, that are just here in the area and just in Canada in general. So, because of those relationships, we’ve been able to partner up with them in this capacity and I think it’s working out really well for the past couple of months. Well, the first month.

Mohammed: Amazing. And how do you define the target market for Curly Girl?

Candicia: So in terms of defining it, for Toronto Curly Girl Meetup, we had started out with women around the ballpark age of where my influencing was. So, my audience, a lot of them are within the ages of 25 to 34 and they are women who are in professional jobs, so women that like $50,000 to $60,000 on the salary mark. So, again, using those analytics and building our brands, we’ve looked at our analytics, if not on a daily basis, we’ve looked at them at least on a weekly basis.

So, we’re very in tune as to who is on our radar. We do have men that are on our platform as well so, you know, they enjoy our content as well. But, again, 94 percent, at least for right now, are women, and they’re, again, between the ages of 25 to 34. Our second category is anywhere between the 18 to the 25 marks. So, yeah, like usually around that age point is where they’re at and, again, it’s looking back at our analytics all the time, seeing where it’s shifting, seeing where our content is really getting to them and see what they’re most engaging with, but, again, like Instagram analytics is beautiful, it helps so, so much.

Even our web store analytics is great as well. We use Squarespace as our platform. So, even using their analytics, again, is really key in helping us figure out where we’re at in our business.

Mohammed: So, it seems that each of the businesses was a natural progression on the basis of you being an influencer for curly hair and so you had the audience and a platform as an influencer, which led you to then host your own Curly Girl Toronto Meetup. From there, you later decided that, hey, let’s spin up the Curly Prints online store again and, of course, as COVID happened, the meetup shut down but then you moved everything online and now have an e-commerce store.

Have I captured that story well so far?

Candicia: Yeah, yeah, no, you’re definitely on the ball with that, for sure.

It’s definitely been quite challenging, at least personally for myself. Having to balance all the businesses and being present and making sure that things are getting done in a timely manner is challenging at times.

Mohammed: So what’s been the challenges of running all of these multiple businesses and, yes, you aren’t alone, you’re working with his sister, but even then, I feel like that just adds another dynamic to all of these moving pieces. So, how have you been dealing with all of this?

Candicia: I mean, I would love to say it’s flawless, it’s easy, but that would totally be a lie, especially with my personal life and still working in a full-time atmosphere. It’s definitely been quite challenging, at least personally for myself. Having to balance all the businesses and being present and making sure that things are getting done in a timely manner is challenging at times but I think what has really, really helped my sister and myself, communication is key.

So, again, we kind of built a schedule where we know where each of us can kind of sit down or at least call each other if we’re not in the same space and really go over like, “Okay, this needs to be done. This is what happened today, just recapping and making sure that all of our tasks are being hit for the day.” Obviously, if one person is going through a lot one day or is super swamped, again, picking up where we left off and having that grace and forgiveness is definitely important when having so many businesses.

But I think keeping organized and having an agenda as well as a calendar is so helpful. So, right now, I have an iPhone and my sister also has an iPhone so we share calendars. So, our business — each business has its own calendar so we put all of our tasks on there. I know people use Trello, Monday, and all these other workforce platforms, but for us, we use, again, like just our simple iPhone calendars and, again, we just put our tasks on it, who’s assigned to what and what time we are tentatively supposed to get it done.

And at the end of our night, we just kind of recap again and make sure that if something wasn’t done, we’re pushing it to the next day or if it is being done, we’re marking it as done. So, we just kind of keep ourselves very, very organized. As I said, my sister and I have our own physical agendas so that’ll include our personal lives and whatever other things we have for family and stuff, but we tend to carve out days where we just simply just take time out for ourselves.

I think taking care of yourself as an entrepreneur really helps with the success of your business and it makes those challenges a lot easier in the sense that if you’re getting enough sleep, getting enough rest, feeding yourself, you’re exercising, whatever helps you de-stress and help rejuvenate you so then you can work on more things or be more present in your businesses. All of that goes into helping with those challenges and making them more doable. So, those are some of the things that we’ve done to help kind of make things easier.

Mohammed: And in regards to the calendar system that you have, what is in those calendars? Like what kind of things are you writing down to better be able to keep track of each of the different businesses?

Candicia: Yeah. So, as I said like each business has its own calendar and they’re actually colour-coded as well. So, I mean, it’s kind of nitty-gritty, but like we love it. So what we’ll do, like we’ll write down, for example, if something needs to be posted on Instagram, what day it needs to be done and what time and what type of content it is.

Especially for our Toronto Curly Girl Meetup, like our e-commerce store, the way that we have it structured is that each of the businesses that are partnered with us, we give them one week of pure advertisements so we don’t mix and match the companies together just because we want each company to have their own shine, have their own advertisement so they’re not kind of like competing for space.

So, again, keeping that on the calendar for sure was something that we tend to do. Even for my influencing, again, like when to take sponsored photos, when to put it out. My YouTube posting schedule is on our calendars as well. Responding to e-mails, especially if it’s business-related or meeting-related. All of our meetings and stuff are also on there as well. And sometimes even little tasks like going to the store and like making sure that we have like enough pens, enough highlighters.

We personally like to hand write all of our thank you cards for each of the purchases for both of our businesses so each person that orders gets a personalized note from us. So, again, just making sure that we have enough supplies, our mailing supplies are all stocked, all of that goes on our calendars and stuff as well.

It’s just trying to find that balance between personal and business is something that she and I have talked about extensively and just making sure that we both take time out of ourselves because burnout is real.

Mohammed: I like that a lot. I like that there’s so much transparency, which I feel would only improve the collaboration between you and your sister as well. What has been her thought process in terms of working with you and adding multiple lines of business?

Candicia: I think like she’s definitely had a lot of fun with it, I think because she’s more on the forefront. She’s definitely more — I call her like my manager because she honestly manages everything but it’s definitely been to a point where, again, it’s just trying to find that balance between personal and business is something that she and I have talked about extensively and just making sure that we both take time out of ourselves because burnout is real. These things really do happen and your mental health is very important.

So, always doing check-ins with each other and, you know, making sure that if we’re not feeling our best, again, being open and honest with that, but she loves being creative and she’s such a visionary when it comes to creating content and videos and keeping the content lively and upbeat and just creating new and different things. So, that’s her lane and she finds a lot of passion in that. So, I kind of just let her have free rein and just whatever her creative heart feels like doing, then I let her do that.

I give her the freedom to just grow with the businesses as much as the businesses are growing with us.

Mohammed: For Canadian freelancers that are thinking about adding another line of business, what are some of the things they should be thinking about before they add another line of business? Or maybe they already have another line of business but now they want to expand a little bit further.

Candicia: Yeah. I mean, definitely, first and foremost, look at your analytics, see where your pain points are in terms of your customers and your audience, and really cater to them. I find that a lot of businesses thrive when they’re based on servicing others and being selfless in that. If you’re already — let’s just put it this way.

If you are trying to make a quick dollar by just adding another line of business because this is just simply a way of making extra money for you, personally, for me, I find that, again, servicing others and knowing that this is where your passion is will get you further versus, again, just adding another line of business just simply for the money. So, that’s one of my biggest things is to know why exactly you’re doing what you’re doing and why you’re adding that additional line.

And, again, knowing your analytics to the point that you know where this is going to go in terms of who are you going to be serving, what the additional line of business is going to take because, again, having another business, you tack on all the other administrative work so taxes, legal paperwork, contracts, meetings, all of that stuff, so really knowing what your schedule can allow is something that you can definitely look into as well. Adding additional help can definitely help as well.

So, there’s a company actually that my sister and I were looking into and they’re called Tazwiz. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it. I think they are Toronto-based, I may be wrong on that, but it’s basically kind of like a task buddy but for your business. So, they are online people who are there to help with different business tasks so whether you need marketing, whether you need people to go pick up a few things for your business, or if you need, again, like administrative work to be done, contracts to be written, all of those things can be kind of hired out through Tazwiz.

So that’s a website that I’ve kind of come in contact with so that’s kind of a little plug if you are looking for extra help and you’re not at that point that you’re able to hire somebody new just because, if we’re all being completely honest, hiring is a whole piece of its own but at the same time is a huge financial consideration. So, if you’re not at that point, again, for different projects and stuff, those websites can definitely be helpful.

And I think, again, like as long as you’re doing it with the mindset of serving others and the quality of your customer service will stay the same, if not improve with adding an extra line of business, then I say go for it, because, again, it’s your customers who drive your business. If they are happy, they love your service, they love your quality, they’re going to come back. And just treating people like people is something that my sister and I were very, very big on.

For example, we had somebody recently who wanted to buy one of our shirts for a friend and she didn’t say what occasion it was. She just said simply it’s a gift and at the time, we were completely sold out and we were dead set on not restocking until the next season because we kind of restock as we go by the seasons, which has kind of worked out for us so far. And we looked at her e-mail, we kind of talked about it and we’re like, “You know what, this would be really special for her friend so, you know what, let’s just do it.”

We ordered a new shirt for her, we put in an extra little card so then she can write like a happy birthday or whatever occasion it was for her friend, extra packaging so then, you know, she can just place it in a bag for her and just give it to her friend. It’s just those additional touches and, again, treating people the way that we would like to be treated and, again, just treating them like people I find, again, gets people coming back and brings that customer service up to a level that’s just absolutely stellar.

Mohammed: That’s very sweet.

Candicia: Thank you.

Another analysis that I’ll look at is simply doing polls on Instagram or Twitter or wherever your social media are. Get real-life feedback as to what you would like to do.

Mohammed: I just want to get back to something you mentioned, however. I do want to get back to understanding what you meant by looking into your audience? I mean, yes, I’m looking at Insights into Instagram but what specifically are certain metrics that I should be looking at to determine how to then move forward with my following and with my audience to add another line of business?

Candicia: Yeah. So, some of the analytics that I would look into is your audience. So, again, like who they are, what age group they’re in because if you’re, let’s just say you’re catering — like a lot of your audience is within, I’m going to pick something silly, but let’s just say between the ages of three to five. I mean, it’s most likely their parents that are paying for these things but then parents, they want the best for their children so making a purchasing decision might take a little bit longer than somebody, for example, who is 18 and really into makeup and we know they’re within that age group that they love makeup, they love Sephora, they will drop $50 for their favourite Fenty product or their favourite perfume or whatever the case is, if that’s your line of business.

So, those kinds of metrics and stuff really kind of gives you a key as to where your audience is and how much they’re willing to spend, especially when you’re looking at your demographics. Another analysis that I’ll look at is simply doing polls on Instagram or Twitter or wherever your social media are. Get real-life feedback as to what you would like to do, suggest things like say, “Hey, if we were to add, let’s just say like an e-commerce store or an extra, let’s say like an extra service, would this be something you’re interested in?” Getting that real-life feedback sometimes can really, really help. Again, giving your audience options as to what you’re thinking about definitely helps.

Looking back at your previous businesses and see what your financial summaries are. See how much you’re making a month, see what your profits are already. If it’s something that you see is growing and it’s on an upward scale and your conversion rate on your website is doing well and you’re not having a lot of abandoned carts and stuff like that. Again, looking at those types of financial summaries is things that I would look at. And, again, like looking into those things and trying to see if adding an extra service would be beneficial to you financially but also time-wise. Again, looking back at your calendar, see how much time these things are going to take, automate as much as you can.

Automation is such a beautiful thing. So, again, if you don’t have a lot of time but you think you can, you know, add an extra business, whether that means on the weekends, like maybe on a Saturday or a Friday or even on a Sunday afternoon, writing all your e-mails and stuff for the week if you do e-newsletters or writing out all your Instagram captions and posts and stuff on a Sunday and have an app that kind of schedules it and, you know, posts it as you go along so then you’re not tied to your computer or you’re not tied to your phone all the time can definitely free up a lot more time and it can make having a secondary business a lot easier.

Mohammed: I think this is a great place to wrap up for today. I think there’s a lot of great content here so thank you so much for that.

Candicia: Yeah, no problem.

Mohammed: As we wrap up, I’d love to know where people can find out more about you and your work online.

Candicia: If you want to know more about me specifically, my Instagram is @heyitscandicia. I am also on Twitter, on Pinterest, on YouTube. My YouTube channel is also heyitscandicia. My website is coming up soon. I’m kind of getting that under construction right now so that’s going to be in the works. But in terms of my businesses, you can find the Toronto Curly Girl Meetup @torontocurlygirlmeetup and we have an Instagram as well as a Facebook page.

For Curly Prints, also on Instagram and Facebook and it’s @curlyprints, and you could follow the two businesses there. And then if you want to see what my sister’s up to, again, she does a lot of social media marketing. Right now, she’s actually launched — or soon to be launching hopefully by the time this episode’s up, she’ll be launching her business coaching platform so I’m super excited for her. So, she’s going to be offering courses and, you know, mentoring new business owners about social media marketing, launching strategies, and, you know, things like that. So, if you want to follow her, right now, her Instagram page is @camilliaj0hn, but the “O” in “John” is zero so you can follow her there and hopefully she should have the link to her brand new platform and stuff on her — on that profile.

Mohammed: Amazing. Well, Candicia, thank you so much for this opportunity to learn from you.

Candicia: I mean, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak on these things and to be on your podcast. This is amazing and I hope everybody that listens is inspired and, you know, hopefully learned something.

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