Lynn-Marie Angus, co-founder of Sisters Sage, shares expertise on credit cards, building good credit and creating a successful business.
Lynn-Marie Angus, Co-Founder of Sisters Sage
November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to honor Indigenous people’s cultures, traditions, histories and contributions across North America. This includes entrepreneurship and industry.
The most recent Survey of Business Owners and Self-Employed Persons conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau found more than 24,000 Native American-owned businesses in the U.S. According to a 2020 Export Development Canada report, there are over 50,000 Indigenous-owned companies in Canada.
Among this group is Lynn-Marie Angus, co-founder of Sisters Sage, a health and wellness company located in Vancouver, British Columbia that produces products derived from traditional Indigenous ingredients.
“My sister and I are Gitxaala, Nisga’a on dad’s side and Metis Nations and Cree on my mom’s side,” says Angus. “The border between Canada and the U.S. is arbitrary. Our people cross between. Native American Heritage Month is very important to us. It helps Indigenous people across America heal from traumas. We are working toward economic reconciliation. The reservation system was not an economically viable landscape.”
Angus’s beginning was not in commerce but rather construction, an environment she found both racist and sexist. When her sister, Melissa-Rae, became pregnant and homeless, the sisters came together to create change. They went into business for themselves. Angus enrolled in an entrepreneurship program and won $200, money she used to launch Sisters Sage in 2018. Their first product was a smokeless smudge spray.
“Smudging is an indigenous practice all over the world,” says Angus. “It sends smoke to our creator. I came up with the idea to use oils instead, and it’s still our biggest seller. It’s also a culturally appropriate product that anybody can use.”
The mission of Sisters Sage is twofold: to better their lives and to promote Indigenous products. The company is small but growing.
“Everything is still produced at home,” says Angus. “In fact, it takes over my entire house. We are running out of room rapidly. But I make sure to create a safe space for women to work. They can come to my home and get paid a living wage, have flexible hours. We are decolonizing business. It’s not capitalistic. I’m not just getting paid in dollars. I’m here to hoard community, not money.”
Today, Sisters Sage is selling their products all over the world, including Australia. Her current favorites are the sacred, medicinal soaps scented with tobacco leaf, sweetgrass, sage and cedar. Moreover, Angus is a desirable credit customer – a significant change from her beginnings when even a secured credit card was out of reach.
What hardships did you overcome when you first started?
I was living paycheck to paycheck. My credit was so bad it wasn’t even on the radar. So after I won the $200, I used it to purchase materials. It was a slow start. I was still working my full-time job, and that was funding my start-up.
Then there was a particularly distressing point when a man wouldn’t let me out of an elevator, and I had to quit my job. The money I was using for my business was gone, which nearly ended Sisters Sage. I had to work really hard and connect with other Indigenous people and family members to make it.
COVID-19 hit soon after that. It’s been really difficult. But we recently won Indigenous Business of the Year by the BC Achievement Foundation, and it came with a $2,500 award! We are going through rebranding, so the money will be really helpful.
There are always surprise costs in business, right? What were some of yours?
Yes, taxes! Last year I had to pay an insane amount of money. As a small business owner, I’m still getting my accounting sorted out. I’m new at this, so I’m learning.
I’ve also found machinery and equipment to be expensive. I do want to open a storefront, but it still feels risky for me. For this reason, almost everything is e-commerce right now.
What happened with your credit journey?
I started to realize the importance of credit cards soon into the business. My credit was bad, though. I needed to know where I owed money to take care of things, which I did.
Even after paying off my debts, I still couldn’t get a credit card – not even a secured account! I kept getting denied. Then I tried Vancity Credit Union. That did it! I completed a credit card application over the phone and got a personal card and a business card. They are both Visa cards. And with them, I’m building my credit by making sure all my bills are paid. Financial sovereignty comes with owning a home, and that is what I want to work toward.
How are you using your credit card for the business?
I have my credit card connected to my Shopify account. It’s great. I use it to pay for shipping labels, and Shopify runs up a tab and charges what I owe to my card. Depending on the volume of my sales, I turn around and pay the bill. I’m getting points, but right now, I’m just letting them build.
I pay my credit card in full, even a couple of times a month. The limit is $5,000, but as my business grows, it’s time for my credit to grow too. It’s been less than a year since I went from bad credit to this, so everything is happening rapidly!
It sounds like keeping good credit is important to you.
My credit is really good, and it’s important to keep it that way. It goes beyond credit cards, though. I just got a large, 5-year term, 0% interest loan from SheEO, which supports women entrepreneurs across the globe who have a strong mission. Instead of being contingent on credit, it’s based on income. When I pay it back, that money goes to other women business owners.
What’s on the horizon for Sisters Sage?
Heading into Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I need to purchase a lot of materials and boxes. Fingers crossed, it will be busy! Last year I was unprepared for the higher holiday sales. We also have new products coming out that I’m excited about, like liquid hand soap.
In the long term, I want to move operations to a warehouse and have a workshop. I want the ability to support other Indigenous women in our goal of achieving economic reconciliation.
What have you learned about credit cards?
Pay your bills on time! I recently checked my credit score, and it was a little lower than I expected because I was late on one payment. It wasn’t because I didn’t have the money. I was just so busy that I forgot. My lesson is to be more organized. There are people watching! I’m trying to be responsible, but I’m also stretched thin. It might be time to get an assistant.
And finally, any words of wisdom for other entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Find your people. They should be your community, mentors, people you want to be like. Being an entrepreneur can be very lonely. When COVID-19 hit, my sister had two babies at home, and everything fell on me. It was hard.
Then I joined LIFT Circle, a gathering of Indigenous women entrepreneurs. The meetings are held on Zoom. Through them, I amplified my business and found like-minded people. Find yours.