Life & Business

Life & Business: Shelby Cook

by Sabrina Smelko


Everyone knows that sincerity and passion go a long way in retail when it comes to how your product is viewed by customers. But they’re also helpful — if not necessary — traits to employ in your own day-to-day dealings and interactions in running a successful business: from the offline hours you spend making your product, to your attitude towards administrative tasks. When you’re first launching a business, it’s easy to be driven by excitement, but having fervent and authentic devotion to what you do is what separates those who will make it from those who won’t.

For Shelby Cook, being sincere and determined has taken her farther than she ever imagined. What started as a natural passion for living clean has turned into a brand of natural household cleaners, Spiffy Naturals. And thanks to a good attitude (paired with her strong desire to work for herself), she has been able to persevere through her day job while she builds her business in the background at the cost of long, sleepless nights and weekends spent working.

One of the most earnest individuals I know, Shelby is joining us today to share more about what it’s like building a business part-time, including why it’s vital to prepare for success and the big impacts that tiny gestures can have. –Sabrina

Pssst, Shelby is offering D*S readers a $5 discount on her products. Scroll to the bottom for the coupon code.

Why did you decide to start your own business, versus work for someone else?

I recently overheard a few wise words: “A true entrepreneur would rather work 24 hours a day on their own business than work two hours for someone else.” This quote rings especially true for me. Although I do still have a nine-to-five that pays the bills, I cannot wait to come home from work to do my work. This can sometimes be as late as seven at night, but nevertheless I work until my eyes cannot stay open any longer. This must seem insane to most people who value their downtime and their favorite shows on Netflix, but when you’re a true entrepreneur, your blessing can appear as a curse to others. It runs in your veins and it is constantly trying to push its way out.

Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was, and how did you know it was what you wanted to do? 

Living an eco-friendly life has always been very important to me, and trying to find cleaning products that do not contain any chemicals was not an easy task. I started to come across recipes for eco-friendly cleaning products which were very basic, (i.e.: vinegar and baking soda). After using these products for quite a while, I decided to spice it up. Oodles of organic citrus rinds were offered to me by a local vegan café and juice bar, and this allowed me to experiment with all kinds of herbs, essential oils and different kinds of citrus fruits. My favorite is, and will likely always be, lemon — ah, so fresh!

How did you finance your business in the beginning?

When starting out, it was so tricky to find extra money to run the business, and because I don’t come from a wealthy family, it was up to me to find a way. I work a regular 9-5 job to pay the bills and to save extra money for the business. Every paycheck allows for a new addition or new venture for Spiffy Naturals. This means very little extra time for me and every minute counts — but it truly can be done!

What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

My mom would often say “just keep on keepin’ on.” This advice has been exceptionally helpful in all aspects of my life, but especially in business. There are always ups and downs, but moving forward is the most important thing to me. It seems simple and maybe a bit cliché, but when you hit a road block and aren’t sure which direction to move in, it’s helpful to remember to push forward in any direction and your next opportunities will present themselves.


What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

Ignoring the “naysayers.” No one else will ever feel the passion that you do for your business, so it’s important to remember to listen to your heart and do what feels right for you. I have had my fair share of what you might call “strange comments” about the business, and even though I have had my moments of weakness, in the end, I pushed forward. I really feel that the universe rewards us for following our dreams.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?

I think being prepared going in — and staying prepared at all times, especially for success. I have had many sleepless nights preparing for an order that was due the next morning. Customers and prospective business partners can always tell the difference between someone who is prepared vs. someone who is just throwing it together at the last minute. So have stock and lots of it. This also allows you to improve your product faster. I often make batches of product and then decide I don’t like the smell and start over again. I don’t see this as a failure, but more of a necessary process in order to come up with the best product.

Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?

When you’re growing a business there are many failures and successes. One of my most memorable failures was when I sent a large order to a new store and found out a few weeks later that one of the products had begun to change color. Turns out the mixture of this particular herb and citrus naturally reacted in a way that turned the liquid much darker than I intended when exposed to the sun. I was sure that they would ask me to pack up and ship out, but I was wrong. They were extremely understanding and allowed me the time to create a shiny new batch, and I certainly did not repeat that mistake.

As unfortunate as this sounds, it turned out to be a great lesson in thoroughly testing the product before it’s sent to market. I have had more bottles, labels, and packaging than I can count. After each new label is printed, I think of something new to add to the next. I believe that a business is truly a story of progression, so never beat yourself up for constantly editing and changing, because those mistakes lead to success.

If you were magically given three more hours per day, what would you do with them?

Great question! There are so many things that I could do with three extra hours a day. Time is our greatest gift, and if we use it wisely we can get so much more out of it. I would spend the first extra hour creating new products and experimenting with new ideas. There is never enough time for experimenting, and I feel that my customers love new scents and new products. Also, it’s wonderful fun! My second hour would be spent collaborating with other entrepreneurs and likeminded people. There are so many people crafting and creating, and I believe these relationships can be powerful. I feel so inspired when I speak with other crafters; hearing their successes and struggles helps me to grow in my business. My final extra hour would be spent on myself, as selfish as that sounds. We all need a little time to recharge with friends, a yoga class, or even a warm bath.

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?

My cozy-up-and-watch-a-movie time; my stay-a-little-longer-with-friends time; and especially my sleeping-in-on-a-Sunday-morning time. Don’t get me wrong, I will gladly give some of those up to spend extra time on my business, because it fuels my soul and keeps me fulfilled. My friends have been very understanding; they are so busy themselves that our daylong visits have turned into coffee dates or a quick lunch. My partner is a business owner as well, so he understands better than anyone else could. We often work together and even when we aren’t talking, we motivate each other with our actions and our drive to keep working.


Can you name your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your business experiences?

Building relationships with shop owners and customers. Having personal interactions with the people you deal with every day makes for a happy day. One of my favorite authors (and marketing specialist) John Jantsch always says that if your customers are more like your friends, work will feel more like fun. I love that quote and it helps me to remember that customers love to be treated like friends. Thanking a customer in a unique and personal way always makes a difference. Have you ever ordered a coffee, and on the lid there was a little heart or smiley face? I have, and I never forgot that tiny gesture of kindness.

What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?

I would have to go back to the author John Jantsch, he has been a huge inspiration for me, and a never-ending supply of marketing advice and tactics. I would highly recommend him to anyone staring a business. You might be thinking, “how do I have time to read a book and run a business?” I have found audiobooks to be extremely helpful. I can listen to a book in maybe two days, while driving in the car, making product, or even on holiday.

One of my other favorite authors and inspirations, although not on audiobook, would be Marie Forleo. Marie is a young entrepreneur with such great advice and positive inspiration. You can find her on YouTube at Marie TV. I like to keep it fun once in awhile with audiobooks such as #girlboss and other funky young female writers who add a bit of sass to the business world. A good book should keep you inspired and motivated to stay on track and successful in your business.

Has failing at something or quitting ever led to success for you? Walk us through that.

I would have to go back to the topic of naysayers. In the past, I found it easy to listen to the negative voices around me. Giving up is always easier than pushing forward. I [would] think that [to myself whenever] I would hear other people tell me that it’s not going to work out or that I could never make it happen because of this and that. I would then remind myself that those are their fears talking, not mine. If you truly believe that failure isn’t an option, then you will succeed because you have to. That little voice inside us is telling you that you can do it, and when the voice gets quieter or harder to hear because of others around you, then take a step away from those people, surround yourself with support and kindness — and if you can’t find any, then create it for yourself. Sure enough, within a day or so, your own voice that was hard to hear will soon be loud and clear.

In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?

1. Are you passionate?

2. Is it something that others will buy?

3. Will it make you happy?

Passion is so important in a business, and if you have true passion for what you do, you are sure to succeed. It is also important in this world of selling to be sure that what you sell is either something people really want or need. Often I will make a product that I absolutely love, but it never seems to sell. In this case, I change the product to reflect the interests of my customers.

Making ourselves happy is the reason most people start a business, or at least it is one of the first reasons they do. I have met countless people who have worked so hard to quit their day job to work on their passion, but then they seem to forget what they are working for or why they chose to do what they do. It is so easy to let stress take over. When I see these people, I listen to their complaints of working too hard or too long with compassion, but I try to remind myself that I must remember why I started the business and why it makes me happy. If we sacrifice so much and work so hard just to be unhappy, then what is the point?


What’s the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?

Social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter would be my go-to apps first thing in the morning. I try to think of those three outlets as one unit. If I’m going to post to one, I post to all three. I find social media to be very valuable for marketing and growing my audience. Posting regularly allows me to keep my readers engaged and educated on my newest products. Most people grab their phones before their eyes are even fully opened in the morning, so why not capture their attention?

Don’t be afraid to post regularly, but keep it relevant. People love a story and they love to see a little glimpse into the creation of the product or the journey that you are on. I use so many apps to keep my marketing efficient and I am always looking for new ones. My newest favorite is Hootsuite. Hootsuite allows you to time your posts so that you can create the post at any time, but it will automatically post at the peak times so that you get the most exposure.

I also use a similar tool on my Gmail account called Boomerang. Boomerang allows me to write emails late at night, but then it will send them automatically at the time of your choice. Technology has come a long way, so I try to use it whenever possible.

What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?

Leading by example. Consistently showing up to work with a positive attitude and motivating energy. The more positive energy that you put into work and the more enthusiasm you have, then the more others around you will have. No one will ever have the passion that you do for your business, but if you reflect that passion, it will motivate others to strive to be as driven and [successful] as you are. I try my best to keep my off days to myself and be positive with others that I deal with. More often than not, I will affect the other’s mood and hopefully bring a little more joy to their day.

It is not always easy to be happy, but I see it as a choice. In the morning I am so clumsy that I spill my coffee on my white shirt or drop my lunch on the floor before I leave. When this happens, I try to stay calm and not let it stress me out. I have often had to run back into the house to put on a new shirt or pants after a coffee spill. If I let the little things upset me, the bigger challenges in the day will be harder to deal with. Of course, it is not always easy, but with practice I become a little more relaxed each day.


Enjoy $5 your Spiffy Naturals order (over $30) with coupon code DESIGNSPONGE5. Valid until April 30th 2016.

Suggested For You


  • This was a great interview and something I relate too so much as the co-founder of a new, less than 1 yo startup. Just yesterday we had one of our developers resign and while I had a hard day yesterday, I did wake up with a renewed sense of determination and the “just keep on keeping on” mentality. All the best to you with Spiffy Naturals!

  • What an inspirational article! It is amazing to see hear a young business owner speak so passionately and positively about their goals, work ethic, attitude, and motivation. I look forward to hearing more from Shelby in the future.

  • Thank you so much Lindsay! I am so lucky to be surrounded by inspiring women to keep me motivated! Your comment is so very much appreciated :)

  • Your interview & advice could not come at a more timely moment. I keep a journal of advice & suggestions from friends, family, and from reading interviews such as yours which spurs me on my own adventure. Shelby, your advice about passion, making sure your product is something your customer wants or needs, and leading by example are terrific comments and will be added to my journal. Thank you!

  • Wonderful tips and advice! And as for the (semi-frequent?) coffee spills, maybe a sealed commuter mug might help with that? Coffee stays hot longer, and white tops avoid Murphy’s Law accidents. :)

Leave a Reply

Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, that comment on people's physical appearance, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.