Business Link’s monthly Client Feature allows us to highlight some of the many incredible Alberta entrepreneurs we work with, like Diana Frost and her business Colouring It Forward. We connected with Diana and asked her a few questions about her entrepreneurial journey, and the impact that COVID-19 has had on her business:
Q. What is your background?
A. I’m an Algonquin Metis from Quebec originally. My mother told me we had Indigenous heritage when I was in my mid-twenties but she could never teach me anything about it because she was in residential school and disconnected from her family. I moved to Alberta after university to get a job in the oil & gas industry as an environmental engineer in 1996. I fell in love with the blue sky, Rockies and the people so I stayed in Alberta. I worked as a water engineer for 20 years for non-profit organizations in Latin America and more traditional engineering roles in Canada. I’m a strange engineer though because I have also always loved literature, art, and music!
Q. Tell us about your business and what it does.
A. Colouring It Forward is an Indigenous-led social enterprise, a project designed to create conversation, develop understanding, and foster reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Currently we publish a series of colouring books, elders’ books, greeting cards, journals, t-shirts, and Indigenous art calendars. The books share positive teachings and stories from the elders, real artwork from Indigenous artists, and space to journal. Part of the proceeds from each book are shared back with the artists and the elder, and is also donated to support Indigenous community projects.
Q. What motivated you to start your own business?
A. I was bored in my engineering job and wanted to be my own boss, so I started exploring the idea of publishing a book. I also had been searching for a long time how I could help Indigenous people. One morning, I woke up from a very powerful dream that told me that I would publish a series of colouring books that I would make in collaboration with elders and Indigenous artists. The books would help people to learn the beauty and wisdom of Indigenous culture. I share royalties with elders and artists and make donations to Indigenous social projects with a portion of sales.
Q. What are you most proud of? What is your biggest success?
A. I’m most proud that I have been able to develop good relationships with artists and elders as well as stores across Canada. The books are now sold in over 180 stores which helps the artists to get promoted and the elders to share their wisdom more widely.
Q. What is your biggest challenge now, in light of COVID-19?
A. Most of the stores that sell my books are now closed. Most of them do not have an online platform to sell through. My online sales have always been a minimal part of my sales.
Q. Have you had to pivot your business due to the impact of COVID-19? If so, what have you done?
A. Yes, I have had to pivot the business to sell more through my online store. I have entered into collaborations with elders and Indigenous artists to develop some PDF packages of colourable artwork and destressing activities that people can purchase and receive by email. We have offered this to businesses as well, in case they want to share the package with their staff or clientele. Aside from this, we have colouring books on the Cree, Blackfoot, Dene and Ojibway Nation in English and French as well as journals, notebooks and sketchbooks available for purchase.
Q. What has this pandemic taught you about you and/or your business?
A. It has taught me that I need to maintain various types of sales strategies. It is not sufficient to have a strong Business to Business sales strategy. It is important to also nurture Business to Consumer sales, in particular online. It has taught me that I can be adaptable and I can survive with a lot less than I had realized.
Q. What advice would you offer other small business owners as they continue to navigate the impacts of COVID-19 on their business?
A. I would recommend that you examine your cash flow on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis; if you don’t know where your business is financially then you are putting yourself at risk. It’s always better to know the situation, then you can negotiate or find solutions. You can develop a risk management plan for when a shortfall may arise. Lastly, don’t isolate yourself. Talk to other small businesses – sometimes you might be able to develop a collaboration that can help you or learn from them or, at the very least, alleviate your isolation stress.
Q. How has Business Link helped you? Why did you come to us?
A. Business Link has helped me in many ways. At the very beginning of my business, Business Link helped me to gain more self-confidence that my idea was a good one. They also gave me suggestions of how I might get financing, get better distribution, how to price my product and links to SO many resources. Business Link also put me in touch with other organizations such as Alberta Women Entrepreneurs and many more. Business Link invited me to share my story at a few small business events, which I always like because being a speaker means you have to assess what you have learned, what you have accomplished, and also identify how you can help others.
Q. Have you received support from other organizations? If so, which organizations?
Q. What advice would you share with others who want to start or grow their own business?
A. Make a short plan of what you would like to develop but don’t get too mired in writing a business plan – start taking some steps forward as soon as you can. Momentum is an amazing thing. Before I knew it I had one book published and it only took me 3-4 months. Do research into similar ideas and share your idea with a few trusted people to get feedback (Business Link was a great resource for me there). Be clear about your WHY. Why do you want to start this business? If you are just in it to make money, you will have a hard time keeping motivated during the tough times. The best ideas are ones where you are providing great value and you care about your product or service. That passion will help keep you going. Don’t quit your job until you are making enough to support yourself in a consistent manner.
Q. What’s coming up next for you?
A. I am just launching my 5”x7” sketchbooks and I will soon be publishing my third annual Indigenous Art Calendar. I’m also waiting to hear from Dragon’s Den on whether I was selected to appear on their show in the Fall. With COVID this may have been postponed to next year however. I also am looking at developing more teacher’s materials to help with homeschooling over the spring/summer.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to share?
A. You can protect your health thanks to the Medicine Wheel or circle of life. To do this, draw a circle. Split it into 4 quadrants – the Spiritual, the Physical, the Emotional and the Mental. Each day, put one or two activities in each quadrant that you can do. This will help you to keep a good balance. For more information, download the freebie that is on my website. May the Creator keep you all safe. All my relations.