Lisa Levin

Lesson learned: Know your limits. Get outside help sooner rather than later

Age: 46

First try: Lisa Levin Design

New Venture:

Pharmacopia, a maker of natural and organic body-care products

Where: San Rafael, Calif.

Employees: 45

Like many entrepreneurs, Lisa Levin loved what she did and worked hard at it. But as her six-employee graphic design company grew, the deadlines and the stress of having to be creative when others demanded it began to take their toll on her health. She was often fatigued and experienced muscle pain. "It got to the point where it was very hard to function," says Levin, who was eventually diagnosed with fibromyalgia. To lessen the workload, she brought in two other designers as partners. But when the partnership soured, Levin ended up selling out for much less than she had hoped.

Since then Levin has learned to respect her limits, but it has been a long journey. After her diagnosis, Levin began experimenting with natural remedies and studying herbalism. As her health slowly improved, she started making and selling natural beauty products. Her company, Pharmacopia, now has five employees at its San Rafael (Calif.) headquarters plus 40 contract employees. Its products -- candles, body lotions, oils and soaps, made almost exclusively from natural and organic ingredients -- are sold at national chains such as Whole Foods and at high-end spas.

Realizing she can't do everything herself, Levin is making full use of outside experts to bring her up to speed in her new field. Unlike graphic design, her new business is capital-intensive and requires management of inventory, fulfillment, and manufacturing. A marketing consultant helps with packaging and promotion. A mentor Levin met through a women's organization advises on financial matters such as managing cash flow. That's critical, because having funded Pharmacopia out of her own pocket, she's now considering outside investment as a way to boost the company's growth. Levin is also careful to try to balance work with her personal life. "There are still stressful moments; you can't eliminate that," she says. "But now I stop to breathe and take a break." She takes off two mornings a week and spends them with her three-year old son.

Her business is healthy, too. She expects Pharmacopia to double its sales this year, to $800,000, and turn its first profit. "We're so well positioned," she says. "Now is the time to go for it."

By Amy Cortese

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