When I met Sarah Nicoli and Lisa Edwards, I expected them to tell me they’d founded a company selling day planners because they’re busy moms and they simply had to have a better way to keep their lives scheduled.
I was wrong.
True, they are busy moms running their own business, Dotmine Day Planners. But the inspiration didn’t come from frantically managing their families and shouting “There’s got to be a better way!”
Instead, it came from an intentional focus on wanting their work lives to be enjoyable. We talked about their career evolution over a long, wonderful conversation over brunch and margarita recently, when the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based duo were in NYC for the National Stationery Show.
Nicoli had been a sales manager at Procter & Gamble, Edwards had been in sales at Jockey, and they’d both grown weary of corporate life.
“The birth of our business started with the birth of our friendship, which began with the birth of our first children,” Edwards recalled. That was about a decade ago. Lisa now has four kids, Sarah three.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t want to work any more,” Nicoli said. “I had a great career. It just didn’t work for my family life.”
Edwards recalled taking her oldest to day care for one day. She decided that day it wasn’t going to work and resolved to figure out another plan.
The pair began discussing what would work — a career that allowed them the flexibility to make their families a priority, to work with people they liked, doing something they enjoyed.
The idea of starting a business together came before the business idea itself, which came from their husbands, who first suggested making planners. After Nicoli and Edwards did some research and considered their individual strengths, they landed on the right mix for Dotmine.
Now Nicoli and Edwards both have home offices where they work most of the time, but they also schedule one formal day per week together. Over the years, this has sometimes meant planning around their kids’ naps or other priorities. So, they’ve continually adapted by meeting in each other’s houses and with business partners at local restaurants, cafes and other public spaces.
They’ve split their duties so Edwards focuses on the finances and operations, Nicoli leads on customer relations and marketing. Part of the reason their partnership works is a respect for each other’s responsibilities.
A decade in, they’re responding to a major change for the business — their biggest customer has been Ann Arbor-based Borders, but even before the book chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Dotmine began to emphasize selling direct to consumers on their website and building visibility via social media.
“I don’t want to say it’s do or die,” Edwards said. “It’s do different or die.”
“Our presence had made a huge difference with fans on Facebook. Lisa and I also make sure we call or email every customer inquiry personally. They so appreciate hearing from us. They feel like they’re part of the family.”
Another part of their growth has been to use focus groups. As part of a recent new product launch, they invited 20 women to Nicoli’s living room for breakfast and asked them to bring whatever organization system they use to manage their own and their families’ lives. Not surprisingly, most of the women were the social secretaries and home managers for their entire households. They brought wall calendars, Franklin planners, day books, smartphones and more.
Dotmine borrowed from what they saw to make sure features like quarterly master calendars and tear-out to-do lists met their customers’ needs.
As they say on their website:
Like all great businesses, we continue to evolve, inspired by your comments that even in this high-tech world, you want space to record your life happenings, take notes, and put a pen on a piece of paper to cross things off your-to-do list. While there’s no such thing as a 100% perfect planner, we’re confident you’ll find a dotmine product that makes life good, every day.
And how do the owners of a planner company organize their own lives? Does all this talk about weekly priorities and shared information put them on a Martha Stewart level of perfection?
“We, too, try to juggle it all but sometimes a ball gets dropped. The reality is, we’re just like anybody else,” Nicoli said.
Would you like to try one of Dotmine’s planners?
Sarah and Lisa are offering two free planners as prizes for the best comments from Newvine Growing readers. Share your biggest time management challenge or your best time management tip and you could win a Dotmine planner. Deadline to enter is June 19, 2011.
Blogging disclosure: I am rarely unbiased about anything I write about. Think of Newvine Growing as my version of Oprah’s favorite things. In the case of Dotmine, Sarah and Lisa treated me to lunch after a mutual friend of ours introduced us by email. I make no representation of impartiality — I would love for them to be wildly successful — but I have also not used their product so this post is not intended as an endorsement.