Smart Cookies Update

The Smart Cookies are some of our favourite ladies, and we continue to watch what they’re up to.  The new season of their television show starts this Friday, and they already have a second edition of their book, The Smart Cookies Guide to Making More Dough!  Here is our interview with them, originally posted May 2008.

The Smart Cookies

If you have not yet heard of this amazing group of women, please let me introduce you! Andrea Baxter, Katie Dunsworth, Robyn Gunn, Sandra Hanna and Angela Self are the Smart Cookies. Consider these numbers:

$45,000. The debt they collectively paid off.
$42,000. The savings they collectively accrued.
$140,000. The collective increase in their salaries.

Impressive, indeed. Mind blowing when you consider that they did all of this in less than 2 years. In 2006, these ladies came together to form a money group and take control of their finances. Their personal achievements are clearly admirable, but the Smart Cookies have taken their club a step further to create their own thriving company.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Andrea and Robyn to discuss the Smart Cookies business.

Loaded Bow:  Smart Cookies had a very public debut with your appearance on Oprah! This was not the beginning of Smart Cookies as a business though. What would you consider your launch? How did you transition from a personal money group to a formal business?

Smart Cookies: Well, I’m not sure that we ever had an official launch! We incorporated last summer, but we had made the decision to treat Smart Cookies as a business right from the beginning. We were always brainstorming how we could bring in revenue for the group and actually turn it into a viable business. There was a point at which we were talking about starting to walk dogs to make money for Smart Cookies!

We also talked about being on Oprah – joking, but serious – right from the start. We would say things like, “Oh, when we’re on Oprah, we must remember to tell her this…”!

Katie secretly submitted our story to Oprah. Her background is in PR and so she really excels at clearly and persuasively outlining the main points. Katie described how we had been inspired by an Oprah episode called America’s Debt Diet in 2006, and the results that we achieved from coming together as a group after that.

Three of us were working at the same company, and when Katie mentioned that Oprah’s producers had called, we just assumed that they had wanted to talk about our employer! We were so excited when we found out that they were actually calling about Smart Cookies!

Smart Cookies on Oprah

Smart Cookies on Oprah

LB: How did that experience affect your business?

SC: Things moved so quickly after that! Jean Chatzky, an Oprah financial contributor, was on the show that day and she invited us to speak on her Oprah XFM radio show. Afterwards, she suggested that we write a book and that she would put us in touch with her literary agent, who has worked on some major projects including the South Beach Diet publications and the Shopoholics series. We weren’t sure if she was serious. But sure enough, she connected us!

When we arrived home, we didn’t even have a website for people to go to. The next day we bought the URL, popped the site up up with a “Comeback soon!” note and a generic email for people to contact us at.

LB: What advice would you give other women on the brink of launching their businesses?

SC: We believe pretty strongly in the principal of The Secret, the Law of Attraction.

LB: Well, it’s obviously working for you!

SC: I would highly recommend making a vision board for your business. That has been a really powerful tool for us.  We have personal vision boards and one for the business.

Also, mentorship has been incredibly important for us. Our mentors have provided us with amazing advice and knowledge. We have also established a Board of Advisors to help to guide the Smart Cookies in our future. These are individuals who have a strong background in strategic planning, finance and law, so that has been really valuable. Don’t be afraid to talk to people and ask for their help.

Finally, make sure you are turning to the experts. For example, we went to experts for branding and website design to help us with find the look that spoke to us and for us. We took out a business line of credit to develop Smart Cookies as a business.

LB: It’s amazing that you have 5 founders! What are the biggest benefits and challenges of working with friends?

SC: It has actually been a lot of fun!

From the very beginning we have been really open with each other. That was one of the benefits of starting off as a money group. At our first meeting we just put everything out there for each other to see! There has always been a great deal of trust. We are also very honest with each other, but that honesty is based in respect and kindness. Sometimes you have to say things to your business partners that you wouldn’t necessarily say to a friend and you have to make sure that it will be received well.

Smart Cookies

Katie, Sandra, Angela, Robyn + Andrea

Make sure that each person is doing what they are good at and honour their talents. It doesn’t make sense to put people in positions where they might struggle or not even enjoy. We have each found our niche in Smart Cookies and we hold each other accountable in these roles.

Every six months we go on a retreat together. We lock ourselves in a hotel room in Whistler and strategize where the business is going, how to get their and lay out any current issues within the company and group. Highly recommended!

LB: You have multiple projects on the go and have had careers outside of Smart Cookies. How do you balance it all?

SC: It was a lot! But it always feels different when you are working for yourself, it is so rewarding. We are very lucky to have a profitable company this early in the game, so we were able to quit all of our full time jobs elsewhere.

Robyn was working at Children’s Hospital and had just finished her Masters in Social Work when we made the transition to full time with Smart Cookies. And I (Andrea) had finally reached a place in my career where I was happy with the level at which I was working. So, on the one hand it was difficult to leave for Smart Cookies, but it was where our hearts were and we don’t regret a thing!  Now we can’t see ourselves working for anyone else!  Our parents were a bit freaked out though!

LB: They must be so proud of you now though!

SC: I (Robyn) feel like my other work is an outlet now. I do some contract work occasionally and I can really enjoy it because it is not something that I have to be doing.

LB: With the launch of your new Smart Cookies television show and the pending publication of The Smart Cookies Guide to Making More Dough (September 30, 2008), you have experienced amazing successes in an incredibly short amount of time! What are your long term goals for Smart Cookies?

SC: Well, we are really excited about our book right now! Jean Chatzky is writing the Forward. Thankfully, Jennifer Barrett, an Editor at Newsweek Magazine in NYC,  helped us to write it otherwise we would still be on Chapter 1! We will eventually like to have a series of books including a Smart Cookies guide to weddings (Katie recently paid for her $22,000 wedding in cash!) and a Smart Cookies guide to real estate (Angela is also a real estate agent), and more.

We would like to see the Smart Cookies television show be picked up by a network like Oprah’s new OWN Network or one like TLC in the USA. Our speaking events are expanding which is really exciting as well.  We want to start out by speaking to young, vibrant, employee-driven companies so they can be smart about their money and take advantage of their employee benefits.

Eventually, we would love to go international. How cool would it be if we could franchise?  That is a very ‘big picture’ vision, but something we would not be scared to pursue.

Honestly, we never dreamed that it would have gone this far. 

During both my meeting with Andrea and Robyn, and a Smart Cookies speaking event hosted by Young Executives for Success, I was so impressed by their passion for their work. Despite their amazing success, these women have all remained down to earth and in-check with what really matters. I am looking forwards to seeing where Smart Cookies takes them next as I have to doubt that it will be to great places.

gen+loaded bow


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