Small business owner Jenifer Green explains how she and her husband turned a beloved craft into an artful trade with natural, locally sourced ingredients in upstate New York.

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Credit: Johnny Fogg

Greentree Home Candle's unique array of hand-poured beeswax candles landed the company a spot in Martha Stewart Living's November 2019 issue. But how did their founder, Jenifer Green, take her craft from passion project to thriving business? We asked Green to share the full story behind her business—from the source of the initial spark to the strategies, tools, and hard work that made it possible for her to turn that good idea into a glowing reality. Here, five key takeaways from our conversation.

Her Product Was Made to Fill a Void

Before launching Greentree, Green ran a studio furniture and home-accessories company with her woodworker husband, Don. "We were designing and producing contemporary wooden candle holders and needed candles that were equally beautiful and unique to go in them," she says. "Handmade beeswax ones just seemed like the best choice." Initially, the couple worked with a local candlemaker on designs and colors, starting with plain square tapers. They were such a hit that the demand eventually became too great to keep outsourcing the work, so they decided to try making them in-house. "Since then, we've added over 30 styles, and our palette has expanded from 8 colors to 20," Green adds.

She's Always Been an Entrepreneur at Heart

"Since I was child, I saw myself as self-employed," Green says. "I sold worms to fishermen on the side of the road when I was 8, and in college, I would always try to figure out how I could run the business that I was working for at the time, whether it was a frame shop or an art gallery." But even so, starting her own company years later wasn't so straightforward. "There's so much to do to be successful, from the right product to production, pricing, marketing, branding, bookkeeping, and inventory—the list sometimes feels endless," Green says. "I had to be dedicated and focused, but I also had to learn to think big-to-small."

Researching Other Small Businesses Helped Fuel Her Success

Companies of a similar size in the candle and home décor world have been an essential source of information and advice for Green, especially when she was just getting Greentree off the ground. "I would walk trade shows and see how other small businesses were presenting themselves," she says. Doing so can also help you build a network of consultants and advisors. "You'll want writers, photographers, graphics people, accountants, and experienced business owners in your corner. And whenever you meet them, take the opportunity to ask lots of questions."

She Uses Social Media as More Than a Marketing Tool

In addition to helping Greentree reach a larger audience and increase sales, social networks have helped Green interact directly with her consumers and other professionals. "Instagram is a fantastic communication platform," she says, "allowing customers to buy, share, boast about, and inquire about our designs—and it's also good for research. I've used it to connect with photographers, event planners, and retailers who've had interest in collaborating on special projects."

Focusing on What Sets Her Work Apart Keeps Her on Track

"It's all about your personal vision and passion," Green says. "That's what I realized made me and my product different from the rest." Starting a business on a shoestring, Green found that she had to wear practically all the hats—making it that much more important for her to identify her strengths and weaknesses and reach out for help when she needed it. "You have to crawl before you walk," she says, "but once you get your legs under you, run!"

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