This series was brought to you in paid partnership with Facebook Canada
“I really want to share this story because I don’t want women, especially Indigenous women, to feel like they’re stuck. You don’t have to be stuck in your toxic work culture or toxic relationships. There are options. You can get out. You can find success.”
Lynn-Marie Angus was at one of the darkest points in her life, when she decided to create her own source of light: Sisters Sage. Founded by Lynn-Marie and her sister, Melissa-Rae Angus, the Indigenous-owned and operated company specializes in homemade soaps and bath bombs created using traditional methods.
Back in 2018, Lynn-Marie was working high-rise construction, an industry that she describes as, “often sexist and racist.” She didn’t feel fulfilled and often found herself in tears after work. At the same time, Melissa-Rae was pregnant and a victim of Vancouver’s homelessness crisis. Both sisters were determined to make a change in their life and find a way to meet their emotional, personal, spiritual and financial needs.
After a particularly hard day, they decided to go to the Friendship Centre in Vancouver, where as fate should have it, there was one spot left in a community entrepreneurship program that was set to begin the next day. Both sisters agreed that Lynn-Marie should take the spot—she made sure to not waste the opportunity.
The beginning of Sisters Sage
During the six-week program, Lynn-Marie decided to hone in on her interest: soap making, while utilizing her sister’s interest: creating bath bombs. Once the program was complete, Lynn-Marie had the opportunity to pitch the business idea in front of community judges and her peers.
“It was terrifying to me; I’d never done anything like that before. I was ready to vomit and pass out,” laughed Lynn-Marie. “It was supposed to be 10 minutes long and I ended up going on for 20 minutes.”
Despite the extra time, she won over the judges with her business idea and she received $200 to help get started. Thus, Sisters Sage was born.
From that day, Lynn-Marie was bitten by the entrepreneurship bug and decided to enrol in Project Management at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. As she began her studies, she was also offered a full scholarship to the University of British Columbia for their Aboriginal Business Management program. She decided to do both, all while continuing her full-time construction job.
The last straw
By the time Lynn-Marie graduated from both programs in the summer of 2019, she was proud of the strides she took to turn her life around. On Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21, 2019), she walked into her construction job with her head held high, proud of her resilience and her heritage. The day ended in devastation.
A workplace bully trapped her in a hoist (the metal box that goes up and down the side of a building) and refused to let her down, only giving in after she screamed for her safety. Lynn-Marie left work that day in tears and vowed to never go back.
After that experience, she was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder, and found herself crying in bed for weeks at a time. With the help of intensive therapy, Lynn-Marie was finally able to recover from her trauma in February 2020. Then, the pandemic hit.
During her recovery process, Lynn-Marie had a long fought battle to receive worker’s compensation, but since she was declared “recovered,” she was no longer eligible to receive it. So, as the world turned to turmoil, Sisters Sage became her main source of income.
“It was really difficult to have these mental health issues, and try to build a wellness brand while I was not well,” said Lynn-Marie. “All of the sudden, I lost my income and only had Sisters Sage.”
A turning point
Prior to the pandemic, Lynn-Marie said that Sisters Sage’s main form of distribution was through powwows and in-person sales. Although she launched a Shopify store back in September 2018, she never put much effort into it, only generating $5,000 from sales over time.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic meant that in-person sales were no longer viable. So, like many other entrepreneurs, Lynn-Marie honed in on her e-commerce skills and began branching out her network. She credits reaching out to the Indigenous women’s network, Lift Collective, and supportive community members for putting Sisters Sage on the map and getting the world out. From there, Lynn-Marie saw the true power of e-commerce at work.
“I wish I hadn’t siloed myself into doing in-person sales and realized earlier on that I could be spending my time at home creating products and doing marketing, rather than trying to get in-person sales,” said Lynn-Marie.
Utilizing e-commerce and social media
Lynn-Marie also gives credit to people like Jace Meyer, Shopify’s Lead for Indigenous Entrepreneurs for being a champion for Sisters Sage and mentioning the company to colleagues. Eventually, news of Sisters Sage reached the folks at Facebook, who were moved by Lynn-Marie’s story.
Facebook team members helped her learn all about targeted advertising, and the seamless integration between Facebook, Instagram and Shopify. Lynn-Marie said she loves being able to get all her messages in the same place.
“It takes the three platforms and puts it all into one for me, and makes it much easier,” said Lynn-Marie. “We’re experiencing so much success at the moment; a lot of people are trying to contact me. So, when it’s right there in front of me, it’s so easy.”
Part of the success can be attributed to the advertising tactics Lynn-Marie learned with Facebook: for every $1 Sisters Sage has spent, they’ve made $9 in return. Lynn-Marie was shocked by the enthusiastic response—the e-commerce store even began selling out of some of its inventory. Since it takes up to a month to create some of their soaps, it created a bit of a problem, but it’s a good problem to have.
Sisters Sage’s story quickly grew throughout the online community, even reaching Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, who shared the company on her Facebook page. Lynn-Marie was blown away by the gesture, and her shock was only heightened when she saw that Richard Branson commented on the post as well.
The recognition by some of the world’s most famous business leaders had Lynn-Marie worried about getting “too big, too soon,” but she’s confident that Sisters Sage is ready for what’s next. “I just have to get rid of those fears by thinking, ‘We’re just getting started.’”
Lynn-Marie is one of many small business owner’s who had to pivot during the pandemic. The use of e-commerce, Facebook and Instagram have been instrumental in helping Sisters Sage reach a wider audience and increase sales.
The State of Small Businesses
According to the latest Global State of Small Business Report, Sisters Sage is a part of the 86 percent of female-led SMBs on Facebook who reported being operational or engaging in revenue-generating activities in September. While that number is promising, 47 percent of SMBs on Facebook in September reported sales were lower than the same month last year. Small businesses are still highly affected and continue to need consumer support throughout the pandemic.
However, like Lynn-Marie’s resilient spirit and bright outlook with the future of Sisters Sage, 65 percent of SMBs in September on Facebook are optimistic about the future of their business.
For Lynn-Marie, she has big hopes to continue to grow the business and eventually go from an at-home business to having a Sisters Sage warehouse. She remains steadfast in the importance of representing Indigenous People and hopes that there continues to be an increased visibility.
“Indigenous People are going to be our future law makers, soap makers and entrepreneurs. We [Sisters Sage] really want to inspire them to reach greatness, and through that, help heal our people.”
Additional findings from the Global State of Small Business Report
The Global State of Small Business Report is an ongoing effort by Facebook, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the World Bank to survey SMBs around the world and how they’ve fared during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through tracking timely insights on the impact that COVID-19 has on business operations, challenges SMBs face, and the pivots that they’re using to adapt and survive, this research hopes to support and amplify SMBs.
The most recent survey included data from at least 409 respondents in Canada, and was taken between Sept. 24–Oct. 1, 2020. In order to participate, businesses were required to be an administrator of an active Facebook Business Page. Here are some additional findings from the report:
- 39% of operational SMBs in September on Facebook reported 25% or more of their sales were made digitally in the past month.
- 37% of operational SMBs in September on Facebook expected cash flow to be a challenge in the next few months.
- 29% of operational SMBs in September on Facebook reported they had reduced the number of employees/workers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Sisters Sage continues to grow, so does Lynn-Marie’s spirit. She credits the business, and entrepreneurship as a whole, with helping to build her confidence and find her true strength.
“I’ve realized that I need to put myself in uncomfortable situations in order to grow. Growth doesn’t come at the speed of comfort. At some point you need to get out there and push yourself.”