Healthy Snack Entrepreneur Nicole Tait on taking opportunities, entrepreneurial struggles, & living with loss.

Life has funny way of revealing itself. I don’t know that you have to accept everything that’s thrown at you, but if you want happiness to be the prevailing force in your life, you need to learn to live with, and work around the good and bad that shows up
— Nicole Tait, Good Bites

If there's one thing that stands out about 'what matters' entrepreneurs, it's that they usually haven't had an easy path.  The inspiring Nicole Tait from Good Bites is one of those people.

There's a stack to admire about Nicole - single mother to 12-year-old Angus and 9-year-old Adelaide.  She could have crumbled with the hand she's been dealt, but instead she's doing something unconventional and brave.

An unforeseen marriage breakup coupled with an out-of-the-blue redundancy would hit most people hard.  But Nicole managed to pick herself up and unexpectedly fall madly in love again.   Then, without warning, life threw Nicole another curve ball.  Her new soul mate, the person she imagined would be at her side for life, was killed in a random hang-gliding accident

It's just one year since her devastating loss and while there remains a lot of sadness, she's courageously moving forward.  Her business Good Bites** -  think healthy, convenient, superfood snacks - is growing under her communicative and exploratory leadership style.  Through kick a*se hard work and a habit of continuously stepping out of her comfort zone, Nicole is a taking a nourishing product full of love to her ever-expanding client base. 

While all this is happening Nicole keeps two things in the back of her mind.  The hope that her kids will be proud of what she's made.  And the knowledge that her late partner believed in her.

Nicole was one of the first people who came to mind to interview on TOWM.   And the interesting thing is, she was completely taken by surprise when I contacted her.   Completely unaware that her somewhat messy backstory would have anything to offer others.  But I think that's one of the defining factors of Nicole's success - her humble nature combined with her fierce independent drive to take opportunities as they come her way.

I met with Nicole for lunch recently at a new local bar/restaurant Parry St Garage.

**Note: Throughout the article I refer to Nicole's business as Good Bites.   Nicole is currently working through an administratively complex name change.  Her business has packaging, social media & website presence as both Meg's Bliss Balls and Meg's Good Bites.

Why Good Bites?

There will always be problems when running a business. But with experience I think I’m less fearful of them now.

It was a chance conversation with the previous owner of the business.  I was giving her a big compliment.  She'd started Good Bites as a fundraiser and I was letting her know how great I thought she was doing.  Surprisingly she told me that she didn't want to continue.   I asked her if she wanted to sell - and that's what got the ball rolling.

At the time, I was going through a marriage breakup and I wanted something that could be flexible.  I knew it was a beautiful and healthy product.  It had a small, yet solid following.  I purchased a micro business made up of goodwill, recipes and a loyal client base.

I've grown the business a lot, but I'm not as far down the track as I'd hoped.   I've pretty much lost a year due to personal circumstances.  My partner died unexpectedly and I've been grieving.  At the same time, my father became very unwell.  He was my support in the business.  In saying that the business has continued to expand.  I've taken it from a home based business to something with premises, automation & packaging.  Taking it slow has actually turned out well.  It's given me time to really test the product with our local market.  

I've had quite a few roadblocks.  There's often been one thing stopping the next.  I've realised trial and error is part of running a business. I've had problems with equipment and it's set me back.   But through experience I've learned that not many problems aren't solvable. And there will always be problems, but I think I'm less fearful of them.

Before Good Bites

Whether we like to admit it, our work defines part of who we are. It gives us a sense of purpose and routine, especially after kids - well at least that’s how I felt.

Before Good Bites I was made redundant from a long-term career at the Blood Service.   I didn't think it was going to affect me, but it did.  I enjoyed my work, the people I worked with and I was working for a great cause.  Suddenly I felt lost.  It was a large-scale redundancy and none of us expected it.  It also came at a time when my personal life was pretty tricky.

I've kept working since I had children.  I lost myself a bit when I had my first child.  I needed to work for my own well being. And I was aware how hard it would be to re-enter the workforce if I became a full-time carer.  

I admire anyone who can be a full-time mum - it takes a lot of strength and confidence in your own character.   I was lucky that the Blood Service allowed me a lot of flexibility and it was close to the kids school and home.  

Living with loss

Control the things you can control. And let others help you - they want to.

I don't think we get through loss, we learn to live with and around it.  Well, that's my experience.  It becomes a part of you.  I think grief is an amazing beast with a mind of its own.  We are all affected differently by it and inevitably either survive it or not.  For me, it's about learning to co-exist with it. 

Living with loss has been tough but I've had a lot to help me through. Without family and friends, I’d be in a whole different head space.  One friend in particular, has been my saviour.  Without her and her incredible empathy & support, I don’t know where I’d be. It's a heavy load for those close to you.  Some people seem to be able to just be there at the right time and know what you need. 

I recommend writing things down.   It helps, I recommend it to anyone.  Get it out there -  burn it if you have to.  It's a good way to process things, to take stock and to think over your 'aha' moments, your pivot points.

When things turned crazy, the women I work with swooped in and took over so that the business didn't fail. I was on auto-pilot and getting through each day as best I could. They've been instrumental in helping me get through the toughest of times.  Fortunately, there’s more laughter of late, but the tears still come and when they do there's always a hug.  They inspire me daily with their kindness and compassion.

I talk a lot about what I'm experiencing to whoever will listen so it doesn't keep me awake at night.  When I go to bed I've got it all out,  which allows me to sleep.

I learnt early in my marriage break up that when life turns to madness, stick to the basics to put yourself in the best position to survive. For me, that was to eat well, sleep and exercise.  So when I had to deal with the loss of my partner, I knew I had to do the same to get through.  Get up each day, get dressed, do your hair and makeup and try to do the most basic tasks. I had two children that needed me - that kept pulling me through.

I’ve not felt like giving up, I think the business has been instrumental in pulling me through what has gone on. It's given me a reason to get out of bed when some days I just wanted to hide. It's given me a sense of purpose and direction when madness prevailed in my life. 

My partner once said, “ just don’t give up, the answers will come, they always do, they are inside of us, you just need to let them come”. So that’s what I try to do and it's true.

Managing work and family

I think in business and in life we need to continually go from comfortable to uncomfortable to be able to grow and evolve.

It feels like each part of the business is slipping through the cracks at times. I’m at the stage where I’m trying to identify what I can delegate to get on top of things.  Identifying that you can’t do it all is crucial.  Yes, it will cost to get help, but in the long run, it's the only way to grow and move forward.

I do have to let some things go.  Housework is something that I’ve never been good at, so it definitely goes out the window first.  Even when money is tight I try to have a regular cleaner.   I see so many working women struggle with this.  They feel guilty about paying for help.  We have to buy our time and priorities at home and at work. I’m crap at it, so I outsource it.  And anyway I hope people come to see me not my house!    

Exercise is so important.  It helps me sleep well and stay on top of things.  I exercise a couple of times a week at a boxing gym.  I also do a short run a couple of times a week with a friend.  I'm teaching myself how to skip with a rope, it's a goal of mine. I'm terrible at it, but it's such quick and transportable exercise. I try to skip and use a kettlebell regularly when working from home. I actually exercise in my 5-minute breaks when I'm doing Katie's  2-hour work block! I find it really helps my focus and if I've had to miss out on the gym at last I'm getting some exercise.

Most days I feel like I need to be an octopus.  It feels great when you pull everything off for the kids and everyone is happy at the end of the day.  I always work around their activities, but that does put extra pressure on.  I often work at night after they've gone to bed. And on your suggestion, I've started getting up a bit earlier each day to achieve things while the house is quiet.

I hope that one day my kids are proud of whatever I may achieve and appreciate the juggling act that has gone on. I guess we all hope for this.

Looking forward

Despite everything that's happened I feel inherently lucky in my life. I think I have the ability to recognise the silver linings in most situations - sometimes they just take time to reveal themselves. I feel lucky to have a business I believe in and enjoy building and evolving. And most of all I’m lucky to have great people around me to help me.

I'm excited about the future of Good Bites.  My plan is to expand to national distribution.  My focus now is to do everything required to get us to that point, one step at a time.  I tend to be less of a planner and work more in the short term. Embarrassingly, some days I tend to work minute by minute.  I'm currently trying to work on planning a bit more.

I'm in a market with a lot of competition, but Good Bites has a unique value proposition. We sit between the large mass produced products and the boutique “home-made” unpackaged product.   Being packaged adds value.  It means our product is transportable and easier to handle for stockists and customers. We’re a great “grab & go” snack.  Through detailed testing within the local market, we've honed the product.  We really understand our ideal customer.  I'm proud we offer such a consistent product backed up by very personal service.

I've had to say 'No' to some lucrative business.  High-volume orders.  My infrastructure wasn't ready.    I was approached by a large distributor who wanted super large quantities of our product.   They had a lot of requirements that I simply couldn't fill at the time.  For instance,  they needed a barcode on the packaging plus huge volumes of product.  I'm working towards being able to fill this type of order in the future.  I now know there's the demand.  

Networking, Failure & What Really Matters

I'm a talker.  I indirectly network a lot to grow my business and for my own personal development.  I love talking to my customers and getting tips from them on how they manage certain parts of their businesses. Learning from the coal face is brilliant.  And I've discovered people love to share.

Woman are brilliant networkers - just don’t tell them they are networking. Contrived or organised networking is awkward and uncomfortable We're networking all the time in our day to day.  Think of mothers groups, gym groups and even at the park amongst the dog owners. We can’t help but pass on information and try to line up matches of all kinds. We love to talk and share. 

The fear of failure still prevails, but I try to force this out of my mind and keep moving forward. The events in my life over the past few years have changed the way I approach life and in turn reduced many of the silly little fears I used to hang onto.

Life has a funny way of revealing itself. I don’t know that you have to accept everything that is thrown at you, but if you want happiness to be the prevailing force in your life you need to learn to live with and work around, the good and bad that shows up.

What matters most to me is the health and happiness of those around me. I want a healthy, happy, simple life. Uncluttered, physically and metaphorically.

And to wrap up.  Nicole's (really good) Resource Recommendations

If a visitor had 4 hours in my hometown of Newcastle I'd suggest they  go to one of our stunning beaches. Walk the Bathers Way. Sit at the top of King Edward Park to spot whales.  Go to the Obelisk for a 360-degree view of Newcastle.  Walk through Hunter Street Mall to check out some of the creative stuff happening.  If the Hunt & Gather or Olive Tree Markets are on - go and check them out. We have so many great coffee outlets now, but if I could only choose one it would be from The Bearded Cactus in East Maitland.  I had a sensational breakfast at One Penny Black recently - their quinoa & wild rice porridge with coconut pannacotta was amazing.  Oh and check out Hunter Hunter - my go-to site for the latest food and retail happenings 

Nicole is particularly inspired by the following people.

Grace Papers A 2014 Human Rights Award Winner, Grace Papers recognise that women deserve a passionate and fulfilling career, as well as the ability to prioritise their family. They've created a space to access support and strategies. 

Business Chicks A membership site with over 35,000 members a chance to swap ideas, share stories, and spark inspiration.

The Healthy Tradie After discovering he was gluten and dairy intolerant he moved to healthy eating.  His goal is to show others that it's easy to eat healthy food. 

WhatsApp Is Nicole's favourite app.  She uses it daily to communicate with her team and friends overseas. Free SMS messaging.

And the 2 people Nicole would like to see interviewed on TOWM 

Nerida Bint from Lissome a local female fitness training centre.  Nerida has done a career backflip from waste disposal services manager to fitness entrepreneur.

Kylie Lewis from Of Kin. Social Media Strategist, Blogger & Interviewer.  I find her articles inspiring.  She also has a book list to die for.