This is a follow up story for Dermestidarium. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
My name is Carla Brauer, and I’m the founder/owner of Dermestidarium - a business that specializes in cleaning animal skulls with flesh-eating beetles.
Most of my clients are hunters or taxidermists who use my services to clean the skulls of hunted animals as a memento of their experience, but I also work with many pet owners to memorialize their beloved animal companions by way of bone preservation. In fact, I’ve helped so many people with their pets that this summer I will be launching a special service just for pet memorials.
The past year has had some significant ups and downs - I’ve remodeled my shop and had record growth, but also suffered an injury during my busiest time that lost me over a month of productivity. Being a solo entrepreneur has many challenges, but what do you do when you, as your one and only employee, can’t work?
Perhaps most excitingly - just this past month I left the part-time job I had been doing in addition to my business. The stable extra income was hard to say goodbye to, but for many reasons, it felt like the right thing to do at the right time. I’m excited to devote more of my time to Dermestidarium, and maybe - just maybe - have a little spare time for myself.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Business has been going well, and 2019 saw 30% growth compared to the prior year. Most of my new clients come from word of mouth, so I am extremely grateful to everyone who recommends Dermestidarium to their friends.
Take care of yourself. Drink water, get a good night’s sleep and forgive yourself when you’re not meeting your goals.
Last year was the first full year of offering additional metal coating and taxidermy rugging services, both of which have been well received. I’ve had a lot of fun doing metal-coated skulls - it’s a great way to unleash some creativity. Once I put a metal base on bone, the metal can react with different chemicals to create beautiful patina colors that are so fun to explore. I love this mule deer skull that started out with a bronze base and developed a turquoise patina:
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
The fall of 2019 was the busiest I’ve ever been, and in November I was using a knife on a moose head (as you do), when it slipped and grazed the back of my index finger. It wasn’t much of a cut, so I rinsed it off, put on new gloves, and got back to work. Two days later it started to hurt - a lot. Neosporin and bandaids didn’t do much to help. On day three I woke up feeling awful and saw red lines trailing from the tip of my finger to past my elbow, and ended up spending most of the day in the ER.
Fortunately, I am young and healthy and was able to go home that evening with a bucket load of strong antibiotics. The ER doctor made it very clear that I was lucky, and the infection that developed was life-threatening. I came very close to needing hand surgery, and although the infection cleared up and the wound healed, that finger has lost a little mobility and I won’t have a future as a hand model.
This was a rough time for keeping up with my business. I don’t have employees at this point, so all productivity ground to a halt for about a month. It was incredibly frustrating, and a bit of a wake up call to how fragile a one-woman shop can be. No one likes to think about the worst-case scenario, but I had to ask myself - what if it had been worse? What if it happens again?
I’m still not ready to hire an employee quite yet, which means betting the business on my personal health and safety. I’m trying to take better care of myself, which is important in general, but I think we entrepreneurs tend to sacrifice self-care for our work. The truth is that our companies are only as healthy as we are. Self-care is good business.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
This year will be my first taste of running my business full time, without another part-time job. I’m very much looking forward to having more time to devote to my work, and to the opportunity to explore some of the many new ideas rattling around in my brain.
I’m planning on launching a new division of the business this summer that will be just for pet memorial work. I have helped many families preserve their pet’s skulls and skeletons, and have helped facilitate hide tanning and cremation. It is such an honor to help a family through such a difficult time, and I would like to create a space that is just for them.
A dog skull cleaned as a pet memorial
Five years from now I am hoping that this will no longer be a solo endeavor and that I may have a handful of employees to help keep things moving along. As much as I rely on word of mouth, I realize that I need to be more proactive in advertising to accomplish this, which is one of the things I’ll be working on in the coming years.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Absolutely! Two that stand out as particularly helpful for my fellow entrepreneurs are Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, and Why We Sleep by Mathew Walker, Ph.D. I’ve heard about Nonviolent Communication many times over the years but resisted reading it because it sounded a little too woo-woo for me. I was wrong. It’s a short but effective critique of our culture’s communication style, as well as a toolkit for improvement that could be useful in almost any scenario.
Why We Sleep is possibly one of the most important books I’ve ever read, and I’d make it mandatory for everyone if I could. I’ve made some significant habit changes after reading it. If you want to be more productive, focused, look and feel better, live a longer, better quality life, and reduce your risk for age-related cognitive decline, start getting a better night’s sleep now. I know so many people - especially business owners - who sacrifice sleep readily and brush off poor sleep habits as insignificant. I’ve done it myself for many years. This book is an important eye-opener.
Speaking of habits, I’d give a nod to Atomic Habits by James Clear as well. I can struggle with developing and being consistent with habits, and this book is a well reasoned and practical guide to improvement.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Take care of yourself. Drink water, get a good night’s sleep and forgive yourself when you’re not meeting your goals. You are playing a long game, and small improvements and consistent work will add up, and your foundation will be stronger for it.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
No, but fingers crossed that answer will change in the coming years!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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