Hamilton women who took the leap to be their own boss

Hamilton is full of start-ups and small businesses. From consulting to customer service, our city is a place where people feel they can take the chance on the dream of working for themselves and doing something they really love.

For the women’s issue, we’re focusing on just a few of Hamilton’s incredible female entrepreneurs. Some have started their companies in the past year, whereas others have been head honcho for a while. Either way – they’re following their passion and crafting the life they want for themselves. If that’s not impressive, we don’t know what is.

Jessica Lee, Hello Baked

Jessica is the owner of Hello Baked, a charming (and highly Instagram-able) sweet boutique selling gourmet gummies, teas, jams, and decorated sugar cookies made in-house. From tulip cookie “bouquets” for Mother’s Day to a “milk and cookies” cookie, Jessica creates whimsical but classic designs for both retail and custom clients.

How long have you owned your business? Why did you choose that specific industry?
I started baking and decorating sugar cookies as a hobby years ago while I was working full-time in a different industry. I grew to love the creative process and, coming from a background in Event Planning, also saw an opportunity for sugar cookies to be used as event favours and edible marketing tools. I’ve always had a crazy sweet tooth and an appreciation for handcrafted goods, so when I opened the store last December I knew that I wanted to make it a one-stop shop for all of my favourite things!

Is entrepreneurship what you thought it would be?

I knew that it would be a lot of hard work, a job where you wear many hats, and one that requires constant innovation — which is part of what attracts me to this kind of work. But I was definitely a bit naive going into it!

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

I’d say it’s a tie! Opening a retail store was a dream that I wasn’t sure would ever come to fruition. So to finally see years of work culminate into a physical shop last year — that was pretty cool. And, anytime that I get to collaborate with a brand or organization that I admire is a bit of a “pinch me” moment. Most recently, I was approached to work with one of my favourite bands, The Arkells. I’ve been going to their shows for years; to have an opportunity to partner with them and help promote their biggest show to date was exciting both personally and professionally. Our partnership started shortly after Hello Baked opened its doors in Hamilton, so to me, this collaboration is extra meaningful because it’s synonymous with the launch of the store.
Most surprising/most helpful lesson you’ve learned so far?

People are eager to help and want to see you succeed. Running a business isn’t without its challenges, but I’ve found that so many people — from the City to neighbouring businesses, to my customers — have been incredibly willing to jump in, lend an extra hand or connect me with the right people to help move my business forward. This community has such a generosity of spirit.
What motivates or inspires you?

I love that there is a real opportunity for “Makers” and creative minds right now! I’m especially excited that there are so many women occupying this space. It’s energizing to see larger brands and corporations hosting Makers’ Markets, using their brand power to lift up artisans and small business owners in their community.

@hellobaked
342 Barton Street East

Whitney McMeekin, Girl on the Wing/Hamilton Flea

Despite the cliché connotations, Whitney is a bit of a Hamilton renaissance woman. From her shop in the International Village full of colourful housewares, vintage clothes, and playful accessories, to the pop-up Hamilton Flea Markets, to windows with Tourism Hamilton, to organizing outdoor nostalgic movie nights in Ferguson Station, she’s done it all!
How long have you owned your business? Why did you choose that specific industry?
Girl on the Wing has been around for five years now! I also have a side gig in Hamilton Flea, which I do with my sister Erika. And planning various events in the community or working on contracts for other people/organizations! I chose to do what I do as a culmination of all the things I enjoy and am good at. It was important for me to create my own job, after working in various areas and figuring out what I wanted to do. Now I focus on running GOTW; doing the buying, styling and visual branding, creating a customer community, and merchandising a shop with unique and nostalgic pieces. Through the shop, I’ve had lots of opportunities to connect with so many people and it’s lead to some great events, collaborations and has given my life a true and meaningful purpose.

Is entrepreneurship what you thought it would be?

I definitely expected it to be as fulfilling and fun as it has been, but I don’t think anything can prepare you for the challenges you face. Like all things in life, the good stuff takes a lot of hard work. I struggle with balancing everything and there’s a lot of balls to keep up in the air. But ultimately all the stresses, time spent, and obstacles are based around good things so it is always worth it. I have definitely grown and experienced so much more in the past five years than I ever would have in any other career.

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

The best part is feeling true to myself and my vision. In the day to day, it all just seems like a lot of work and that nothing is being accomplished. But when you really step back and see it, you see how much this, one small thing, grows! Also all the people I’ve met because of what I do. I honestly can’t imagine not knowing all the people I know- everything good in my life has come through my shop and business. Whether it’s a regular customer turning into a life-long pal, getting to meet a designer halfway across the world to collaborate with, or experiencing my business with the people closest to me- it’s all brought beautiful people and magic into my life.
Most surprising/most helpful lesson you’ve learned so far?

To be strong in your conviction and to trust your gut. Surround yourself with good people don’t get too bothered about the people or things that could get you down. I guess I’ve learned not to take things too personally, but to still embrace my sensitive and intuitive side.
What motivates or inspires you?

I feel like I’m always working! My hobbies have really become my career so it’s hard to differentiate sometimes. But I love to spend time at home with my boyfriend Nikhil and my two kitties. I also love to dance wherever I can, bake delicious treats, read in bed, and go hunting for vintage treasures! I also love to travel and hope to incorporate that more into my business.

@girlonthewinghamilton (IG) / @gotw_hamilton (twitter)

181 King Street East

Sharon Ricci, Influence Factor

Sharon is someone you want to know. Always working in a different place, she knows the ins and outs of Hamilton like very few people. A self-proclaimed “digital nomad,” Sharon has made a point to create and nurture a career that allows her to work wherever she is (although that place should definitely have coffee). An inspiration to many, her work touches people in a diverse range of industries, in Hamilton and beyond.

How long have you owned your business? Why did you choose that specific industry?
I’ve owned my own business since my first son was born in 1991. For the first 15 years, I worked exclusively with Toronto advertising agencies as a senior copywriter on monthly retainers. Then, once my sons were all past grade 8 I kicked it up a notch and actually launched a “company”. That was a big mind shift, from what I would call being self-employed to running a company. I wanted to create my own ideal balance between being my kind of mom and doing great work.

Is entrepreneurship what you thought it would be?

Being an entrepreneur has had a profound effect on my family life. Having an entrepreneurial outlook meant I could create my own work and carve out exactly how I wanted my life to look. I didn’t have to compromise mothering for work.

As an entrepreneur, I could make my own hours and that gave me all the flexibility I could ask for in my career as a mom. I homeschooled my sons for years, I travelled with them through Europe, sleeping in hostels and jumping on trains without worrying what my “boss” would be thinking or worrying about being back in the office in a week. I look back with zero regrets at having worked too much or of not staying bright and active in my field. Being an entrepreneur gave me the very best of both worlds.

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

Control over my time and how I spend it. That’s incredibly rewarding and important to me. Knowing that what I get out of my work is what I put in. Being able to prioritize mothering while still building my business. Being able to do what I want with my time. To develop my own ideas. To win or lose based on my own effort.

Most surprising/most helpful lesson you’ve learned so far?

“Good things happen when you leave the office and just get out there and talk to people.” It’s easy to become a silo when you’re a solopreneur, it’s super important to get out and meet up with people. It’s energizing.

A good business idea is important, being skilled is important but they won’t make you a successful entrepreneur. Being able to make a plan and put it into action, test and pivot and make sales, those are the real skills you need to write your own pay cheques.
What motivates or inspires you?

Really good espresso with lots and lots of ice preferably with a fantastic view of the ocean, preferably on a Tuesday in the middle of February.

@influencemags