Laura Laing started making wine 5 gallons at a time in the basement of her Portland home back in 2006. Together, she and her husband Bryan continued honing their craft until they had what they call their "quarter-life crisis" in 2014. That's when they decided it was time to make their dream a reality. So they packed up their basket press and two daughters to move to a beautiful old farmhouse in Oregon wine country, where they now spend their days making elegant wines under their own Hazelfern Cellars label.
Laura joined me this month to chat more about her path to opening Hazelfern Cellars. Read on to find out what keeps Laura going when work feels hard, to learn how she handles wearing all the hats and so much more.
When did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
This is a cliché answer but it’s just part of who you are. I’ve really always been an entrepreneur – it was just circumstances that pointed me in the right direction. I love paving my own path and the journey of building this business is so invigorating on a day to day basis. I honestly feel pretty lucky.
What drew you to entrepreneurship over going a more traditional path?
The crossroads for me was when my second daughter was born. I had loved my job and I loved the challenge of climbing the “ladder.” But at the end of the day, I wanted to have the choice to be involved in my kids’ lives on my terms. It had become increasingly hard to handle the constant battle between feeling like I was failing at work and that same feeling at home. I knew it was time for a change. Life owning my own business is far from easy but for me I absolutely love that my daily schedule is prioritized by me and success is up to us.
How would you describe the work you do?
Wine – make it, serve it and drink it.
What does a day in your working life look like?
The gamut is vast from day to day. I’m dropping off kiddos at school, squeezing in some phone calls and emails, throwing a load of laundry in, prepping the tasting room for appointments, managing quickbooks, tending to the barrels, running errands, packaging wine for shipping, doing event planning, tilling the vineyard, facilitating and managing businesses and people to fill in the blanks of what we are not able to get done ourselves.
The list really varies from day to day. I’m still learning to identify and then ask and seek out help in key areas that are not moving my business forward. It’s a constant battle I think for any entrepreneur of thinking they can do it all.
What hats do you personally wear in your business and where do you have support from someone else?
What hats don’t I wear? I’m a firm believer that to own your own business you need to wear them all – maybe not for long but you need to know how to do all the disciplines needed to run your business. Then, you can quickly determine which hats do not benefit your business, meaning you need to think about who can do something better and more effectively or efficiently given that your time has a value. That said though, understanding each of the roles allows me to have a complete picture of my business and a deep understanding of how I got there.
What makes you uniquely suited to do the work you do?
It’s an interesting mash-up really. I spent 10 years in retail marketing and 10 years making wine. The combination of the two [careers] is really pretty unheard of in the wine industry. So I think, first and foremost, I understand consumer experience and what it means to create long-term relationships with people, which is 100 percent my focus each day. I want the people I meet to remember Hazelfern as being distinctively different. The other part of that equation is that we make extremely beautiful and elegant wines that we absolutely love to share with everyone who comes through our barn doors.
In those early days of business, what were your biggest challenges, real or self-imposed?
A winery has significant investments that have to be made years before you have any product to sell. Identifying and prioritizing the investments that we need to make for future growth has been a real challenge. Trying to maximize those investments and predict what we will need in 5 years or 10 years is quite challenging in that our bank account is not unlimited and ideally we don’t want to invest in something that we have to change because we didn’t accurately understand the growth we would need.
How did you overcome those challenges to find your version of success?
For now, we are willing to go without. If it’s a piece of equipment that will help us for just the short term, we will typically go without and compensate with a little extra hard work. Or we will work to make the investment in what we will need in 5 to 10 years. Organically, it ends up striking a pretty good balance for us so far.
What drives you to continue giving your time and energy to your business, even when it’s hard? Put another way: what’s the motivation behind what you do?
Passion. I’m a big advocate that life is short so do what you love! I love wine, the community, the people I get to meet, the challenge each harvest brings and the sense of accomplishment each day brings. You have to start with something you love to do though, then the energy, sacrifices and hard work seem to be pretty easy to do.
What’s the best investment you’ve made in your business or self-development?
A great CPA! I cannot stress this enough. It was about recognizing something that wasn’t a strength and finding someone who can bring that strength to my business. The firm we work with specializes in wineries and therefore they know the ins and outs of that world. They have tools they provide me to make my daily life so much easier.
Sometimes I think you spend most of your time micro-managing costs when you run your own business but the savings we see in both time and the financial benefit [from this investment] is so worth it.
What books, teachers, podcasts or mentors have been instrumental in your growth as a business owner?
I’m pretty guilty of not prioritizing more time to this but my go-to person is Gary Vaynerchuk. His understanding of the consumer and business landscape for developing and marketing your business is absolutely inspiring to me. I so encourage you to listen to one of his talks.
What's your long-term vision for your business, and how does it support your vision for your life?
Our goal is to grow and our long-term vision is to purchase the surrounding property and convert the buildings on the property into where we will ultimately make our wines. We would then like to convert our current winery into solely being our event space and tasting room.
Since I was little, I’ve been very goal focused. I reach one goal and set another and, as a business owner, I need to have a goal I am constantly working towards because it helps drive my decisions from short term to long term decision making. Everyone is different though and, for me, I love the challenge of getting to that next milestone or accomplishment.
What advice do you have for women who are working hard to get their business off the ground?
Rock and Hammer! I say this to myself every single day, sometimes many times throughout the day. It’s the concept that something isn’t built overnight. It is built through millions of little actions. For my business, it was more than two years of hard deliberate work before we even had a product in bottle. Each business is so different but the concept remains for everyone.
What's the best advice you've received as an entrepreneur?
Work hard and play hard. It’s very easy to spend all your hours working, thinking about or investing in your business but be mindful to spend meaningful time with your family and loved ones as well as yourself.
Where can we connect with you more online?