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marketing advice for online shops

February 28th, 2011   |   Business Advice


Recently Katie C., an MML reader, asked about how to market a new online shop. Since I know there are many MML readers who are also online shop owners, I thought this is a great topic to address today.

I will say that my advice comes from my experience. In 2008 I was running Jess LC almost completely through wholesale accounts with stores via a team of sales reps. This meant that Jess LC was sold in over 100 stores across the country, and we also had a basic but functioning website. Our lack of online effort reflected in our bottom line. In fact, we only had 40 online orders in 2008 — 20 of which came in December alone.

Then in January of 2009 I started MML and dove into the world of online marketing for Jess LC. Since I was spending so much time with MML networking, writing, and blog reading, it made perfect sense to bring Jess LC to the internet as well. What I’ve done is certainly no secret, but it has radically changed my business. Today, over 80% of our business comes from online orders worldwide and we couldn’t be happier. It took years of trial (and error) and dogged determination to get it to this level. But it was worth every second and penny I spent to make this shop an online reality.

Here are the key steps that I took to make it all happen:

Though I don’t recommend blogging for all business owners, it is the biggest success factor for Jess LC. I had no idea that blogging about designing a life with intention would lead to jewelry sales and customers, but it certainly did. I think the reason that MML has been so helpful is because I am very clear about why I write here each day. It is well known my purpose in life is to help others with making under. Period. But at the same time I also run my jewelry shop to pay the bills and because I do genuinely enjoy the design and marketing process.

Though this blog takes honestly half of my time and effort, I make very little ad money compared to Jess LC. But through sharing my story and reaching out to readers, many have also become Jess LC customers which has led to more online sales and higher business revenue. This honestly shocked me when it first started to happen, but I couldn’t be more grateful.

So I only recommend blogging for business owners who are passionate about what they are writing about, do it regularly, and make a concerted effort to reach out to other bloggers. Getting a blog up and running with a consistent following is (in my opinion) the single hardest and most time consuming marketing effort. But if done successfully, blogging can be the most rewarding return on investment.

Right after I started MML I also decided to place an ad on Joanna’s lovely blog, A Cup of Jo. I then followed that ad up with a giveaway that got 458 comments and 700+ new visitors to my online shop within about three days. Given that I was averaging 20-30 visitors a day on jesslc.com before that giveaway, the results were astounding. The attention drew orders from all over the country – and world.

So my advice for other owners is to consider an ad and giveaway on a blog that has a robust following of potential customers. Depending on the company budget and ad prices, I’d consider advertising and doing giveaways/product posts on 3-4 blogs at first. As you get more feedback and results, you can decide whether to grow your advertising or decrease it to just a few key blogs.

I will say that I joined Twitter primarily for MML and blogging, not for Jess LC. But the easy communication with customers and fans of Jess LC is very convenient.

Facebook I tried a few years ago for Jess LC and abandoned it because we weren’t updating it regularly and sharing it in any way. However, we’ve recently re-launched our Facebook page and I’ve been very happy with the customer response and interaction.

How to Decide Which Social Networks to Join

My advice about joining any social network like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, or LinkedIn is to ask your existing customers where they are online. Do your customers have Facebook and Twitter accounts? Are they mostly on Facebook only? By finding out where your current fans and customers are online allows you to start there and keep them updated on your shop.

Then, as you continue to get more savvy selling and marketing online, consider expanding to other social media sites. I think the most important part of any social network profile however is to keep it updated multiple times a week with unique and original content.

Going to (and c0-hosting) blogger meet-ups was a great way for me to make real life connections with bloggers. And in many cases the bloggers have become good friends. Not only have these friendships deeply enriched my personal life, but by working with each other we have been able to expand our businesses and blogs.

So there you have it. These four things have been the building blocks for my online marketing. As you can tell, each of these aspects are time consuming but also rewarding personally and professionally.

If you like what you’ve read and want to share this with your friends, please forward this post, tweet it, or comment!

kendi and bryan’s dream report: week nine

February 25th, 2011   |   Life

Try, Try Again

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I remember this poster from my elementary school so very clearly. Hanging oh-so-smugly in the hallway, I would pass it everyday on my way back from lunch. There in all of it’s printed glory with a man on a tight rope walking across some large canyon at the exact time of the setting of the sun, the poster declared “There are no mistakes. Only learning experiences!” And for some reason, this poster really got to me.

I was 11 years old. I should have either ignored that poster like every other child in the school or I should have been impressed by the tight rope walker. Instead, it frustrated me. As I didn’t want to make mistakes (I’ve always been this pompous), so how was I ever going to have experiences if that was the only way?

I didn’t understand at the time that making a mistake wasn’t the only way to gain experience. In fact in that moment, without a mistake being made I was having an experience. I was gaining knowledge and possibly slight bitterness that I would carry with me for the next 15 years. But at the time, I was just focused on the mistakes to be made. I was terrified that in order to have any wisdom, any experience worth having, or even the chance to walk on a tight rope across the Sahara Desert at sunset, I would have to make mistakes. This thought seemed unbearable. I was a perfectionist who was doomed to a life of boredom.

The deal is, I’m still a perfectionist. If I can’t do something all the way, I don’t do it at all. Until one day I realized that I can do most things all the way. In fact, I can do most things all the way until they are done and then realize that I did it all wrong. Or that I made a wrong turn at the beginning or that my mistake will never be right, not matter how hard I try to look at it or change it or cover it up.

This is what owning a small business is. It’s making a mistake over and again until you get it right. Seldom do we as business owners get it right the first try. But we try and try again. Our logo isn’t quite right. Try again. Our website isn’t ready yet. Try again. We didn’t handle a client the way we envisioned we would. Try again.

A wise person (cough, Jess, cough) once told me that the only way to fail is to quit. We’ll I’m not keen on failing and I’m certainly not going to quit. And if experience is what I need to build my business and experience is only gained by me actually doing it, mistakes or not, then I will do it.

Let’s make better mistakes tomorrow. No really, let’s do it.

(Extra credit: Read this article and tell me you aren’t inspired to go and make the worst mistake you can.)

behind the curtains

February 23rd, 2011   |   Life

I’m blown away by the fantastic artwork created by our very own Kat for our Behind the Curtains preview of how we process orders. Given our recent burst of orders, I thought it would be great to explain how we run our shop so customers feel more connected to our studio and our order process.

I knew Kat would do a great job capturing our system, but the level of detail throughout the whole thing is incredible. She included the smallest details like my marble desk, Susie’s jewelry cart and tools, even Melissa’s squirrel bag filled with orders (we named her bag’s squirrel, Charles) made it in the illustrations.

I am so lucky to work with such talented and fantastic people.

needing a little more PT

February 23rd, 2011   |   LifeThink About It

Sorry for the lapse in posting yesterday. Over the past two days I’ve been caring for Mr. Lively as he got a (minor) surgery on Monday. I’m happy to report that he has recovered very well and will be back to 100% in the next few weeks.

This week I’ve also had a small epiphany and realized that I have something I need to work on personally. I have a tendency to let my focus center on external things like my relationship, work, or MML. And when I find myself to over-emphasizing one of these areas of my life, my happiness and perspective tends to fluctuate with what is happening in that area. Which then leads to a downward spiral of frustration and helplessness because none of those areas of my life are actually meant to be my life’s center.

Letting my well-being bounce with every new development those areas for too long leaves me sea-sick and powerless. My happiness really comes from within and through taking care of myself.

And the truth is, this is nothing ground breaking. Every self-help guru, life coach, and Oprah show says the same thing. There is even that airplane crash analogy with the oxygen mask.

We need to put ourselves first.

I get it.

But I struggle with this frequently nonetheless.

In an effort to keep my focus on my own well-being and power, I’m concentrating on having more Personal Time with myself (which I’ve abbreviated to PT).

For me, PT is about focusing on actions that I do strictly for myself each day that contribute to my overall happiness and self-care. I often forgo these actions when I’m focusing too much on other areas in my life.

Here is the list of PT activities that I intend to choose from daily:

  • Reading
  • Preparing a smoothie or other healthy treat
  • Reading from The Course in Miracles workbook
  • Writing
  • Walking outside
  • Running
  • Lifting weights
  • Reading magazines
  • Bubble baths
  • Praying
  • Meditating
  • Yoga
  • Listening to spiritual teachings
  • Coloring books

My hope is that by making sure I do a few of these actions each day I will be able to regain my center and personal pro-activity.

How do you keep your focus centered?

i can do better

February 21st, 2011   |   Think About It

Though I’d like to assume that I don’t think demeaning thoughts about myself, I’ve recently noticed a surprising reality. Often when I make a mistake, say something I regret, or do something selfish I find the words “that was stupid” bubbles out of my mouth involuntarily. I’ve actually now noticed it frequently enough to consider it a pattern that I’ve been unaware of for a very long time.

And though thinking “that was stupid” (which is pretty similar to “I am stupid”) is not in itself incredibly disrespectful, I want to change this reaction.

Now, every time I find myself thinking “that was stupid” I want to replace the thought with “I can do better.”

I think this small but meaningful shift will help me recognize the mistake I’ve made, and focus on making better decisions in the future.

No need to drag myself down. It’s time to correct the action and move on.

kendi and bryan’s dream report: week eight

February 18th, 2011   |   Life

Enlisted

I have always been a “piles” kind of person. My papers rarely find themselves alone, but rather stacked together with other papers that may or may not have any obvious connection to one another…except to me. Albeit strange, I can typically remember where and why things are stacked together, and if I am looking for something in particular, I can usually remember where it is. Usually.

You can see how this method can quickly become problematic in a business…especially in a business that you operate with someone else…acutely so, when that someone else is your wife. Suddenly my piles of receipts, orders, sales plans, and everything else aren’t nearly as effective piled together on my desk. So I am working on getting organized…in a standard sense. Expense Reports are completed monthly, current projects are properly labeled with Clients’ names, and then filed alphabetically. Someone else could actually go through my file cabinets and it would be obvious why something is where it is.

(warning: they use the f word once.)

In going through this process though, I realized it was not just with papers that I was piling things up, but that I also kept mental inventory this way. Tasks, conversation, and memories all get piled up into their “appropriate” group and mentally stored. Suddenly, looking at the papers strewn across my desk I became fearful of the ideas strewn across my mind. I had been mentally filing much of my thoughts and action points for our business rather than writing them down. Rather than creating a task or check list to see what needs to be done and in what order, I operated off advice and conversation and what information could be recalled when prompted. Although the goal of officially launching was never hard to pull up, I had a lot of sub-folders.

Anxious about what was lurking around in my head, Kendi and I sat down together with a pen and paper. Together we talked through the ideas that had not yet been verbalized or put into our plan of action. We both emptied out what we knew, what we hoped for, and how we were going to make it a reality. And then we started a list. In order of priority, we listed all the things that we knew needed to be taken care of in order to launch. And when it was done, I was actually surprised that it was much shorter than I had anticipated. Now ideas that might be walking around in my head or accidentally get placed into the wrong mental folder were written in order in front of me. All I had to do was start on number one.

Since then, I also discovered www.teuxdeux.com which has been a lifesaver for mental notes to be keyed in immediately. While I never think I will lose the process and tendency of piling my thoughts and papers, I have found a new satisfaction of crossing off completed steps, one at a time.

-B

makeunder my life: korean edition

February 17th, 2011   |   LifeThink About It

Today I’d like to share the fascinating life story for Denice, an MML reader and someone who has dramatically designed her life with intention. I think this letter is great for anyone who is going through the steps to find their intention and next steps in life. Denice’s life and story proves that intentions can take you to the ends of the earth and back.

Enjoy!

Denice’s Letter

I currently live and work on a tiny Korean island in the Sea of Japan (aka East Sea), so I am all about living as simply as possible where I can and I really love the concept of making under one’s life! After reading several of your posts, I feel like you and I could be long lost sisters or something, because so much of what you say is what I have been saying to friends and family for years : )

I personally spent each summer in college bawling my eyes out while my friends did fancy internships because I couldn’t figure out my purpose in life. After all, I was a Sociology major with interests in group dynamics and experiential education, which is not high on employers’ wish lists.  I used to tell my friends, “I wish I could just be a professional FRIEND; someone who could just listen to people and give sound advice and relatable anecdotes when needed.” There were a lot of careers I knew I didn’t want to pursue, but I just didn’t know what was out there (and somehow didn’t have any decent mentors to help me). And likewise, there are just so many interesting paths out there, but I usually find limitations in each one (usually financially). Mostly, I just want to help guide people into being the best they can be. Over the years that has translated into creating service learning projects for youth, training mentors and tutors for after-school programs, running leadership workshops in high schools and universities in Eastern Europe and teaching English in rural Asia.


But I digress. One of the things on your blog that caught my attention was your worry flashcards. At first I thought you were going to take a flashcard and then once it got resolved, write on the back of it how it got resolved as a reminder, or something. As an expat, there is always some cultural difference in how things operate which promises to be confusing and frustrating to no end, so I often need to remind myself that things do usually get resolved…eventually. But the worry flashcard process you describe is very similar to how I used to design and implement service learning projects for youth during my AmeriCorps and Peace Corps days. And although I did mini-SWOT analyses (what we called them back then) on paper for projects and to some extent about all sorts of daily decisions, it wasn’t until 2006 when I randomly came across a book for $1 in Goodwill called The Tao of Inner Peace that the power of the process actually resonated with me. I have long been a fan of the Tao Te Ching, and I had just returned from the Peace Corps, broke, and hoping to find my next path while working at a corporate desk job to make ends meet (as you can guess, being a professional volunteer long term doesn’t exactly pay the bills). There was an exercise in the book which said to list each of your fears out and then ask yourself what you would really do if “the worst case scenario” actually happened. Once you figure out what you would do by sizing up the hardships and resources you have to combat them, you just keep going and addressing each fear until you basically realize that you can handle everything in life, even if it all doesn’t happen smoothly.

Now, I am the kind of person who LOVES to make up tons of hypothetical future plans and then weigh them against each other, and I even have written myself “newsletters from the future” but actually putting to pen to paper for that exercise was a watershed moment for me, and all of a sudden I realized that what I had perceived to be holding me back wasn’t true! I handed in my letter of resignation the following Monday and off my husband and I went to get trained to teach English in Korea so that we could pay off our student loans, save up for traveling, and try out classroom teaching all while giving us a bit more time to figure out what we really wanted to do. I am happy to say that next month, my husband and I will return back to the US for a little break before I begin training to become a Montessori teacher and he begins applying to MFA Creative Writing programs, which we will be able to fully fund ourselves.

I don’t mean to just spill out my whole life to you- but after reading so much of what you have shared, I feel like I owe you an explanation of where I am coming from! …

Warmly,
Denice.

Thank you for sharing, Denice!

new (february) Jess LC ambassadors

February 16th, 2011   |   Life

I’d like to give Kat, our resident artist, a huge high five for doing such a great job with our new Ambassador graphic! Below are our new February Ambassadors.

If you’d like to become a Jess LC Ambassador, please follow the directions outlined above.

at the crossroads

February 15th, 2011   |   Business Advice

Last week I got an email from a longtime MML reader who wanted advice for her husband’s business. Given my history with growing my own company, she thought it might be helpful to get some insight on their situation. I thought the best way to help them and help other MML readers was to share the general issue they are facing here (with her permission) and then explain the similar situations I’ve been in myself.

At the Crossroads: A Reader Question

My husband has his own business and he is just now going into his third year. It has been growing gradually just with the help of word-of-mouth, a website, and Facebook. I believe we have come to a cross-roads, and I fear that my husband could make a decision based on money alone. He is in the home improvement business and does anything from installing trim inside a house to building whole new additions. The crossroads we are at leaves him with two options:

Option 1: Pay about $1000 more a year to increase his insurance on his truck in order to sub-contract for a company (large home improvement store that begins with an L). But, when he is on the job for them, he cannot in any way advertise his own company. He would have to wear their shirt and their hat with their logo on it. There is a pretty good guarantee that he could increase his volume and the money coming in through L, but at the same time it is not getting his company name out there. And, there is the potential that he could get so busy with them that the jobs he does have through his own company could potentially suffer. But, that is a big what-if.

Option 2: Pay the same amount of money and invest in some marketing targeting his work area. Maybe using things like Valpak, The Shepherd’s Guide (Christian phone book), etc. or even hiring somebody to do some marketing. In this way, he may not have the same work volume at first, but it could potentially grow his business name and help it to become more well-known.

My Response:

Okay, before I even begin to dive into this question, I want to state loud and clear two things:

1.) Please do not take any actions in your business purely because of what I say. This is your life and you need to be comfortable with the decisions you make, taking someone else’s opinion and following it blindly will only lead to designing they life that person wants, not the life you want.

2.) There are no black and white, cut and dry, right and wrong answers to business strategy. Both options you stated can work out beautifully or fail. Thinking that one option is “right” and the other is “wrong” will set you up to be thoroughly confused and paralyzed, because it is simply not true. Take a deep breath and feel comfortable knowing both options can lead to success – it’s just a matter of choosing what kind of success your after that is worrisome.

Furthermore, since I don’t know the financial data, risk factors, and personal motivations for your husband’s business, I am going to speak about your quandary by relating to situations I’ve experienced in my own life via Jess LC. Please listen to my stories and see how pieces resonate with your own business and see if any clarity comes from your own intuition. Because at the end of the day, you are going to make your own choice in this matter, and it is best made by following your gut/spirit.

I will also state that I’ve personally tried BOTH options for my business in the past. And BOTH options worked. So my guess is that this is all going to boil down to how you want your business to grow and what kind of journey you’d like to take.

When I started Jess LC full-time in Chicago in 2007, my overall motivation was to eventually write a book called Makeunder Your Life, which I knew to be my purpose. But in order to pay bills, Jess LC was my full-time gig until the book became a reality (still waiting on that book, but MML is a stepping stone). To get as much money in the door when I started as possible, I focused on selling my jewelry wholesale to boutiques in Chicago. It was a comfortable business, I was used to selling to stores since I was 15 years-old, and it did get the results I was looking for: cash flow to avoid working a full-time job for someone else. Eventually, to really sustain the wholesale business I built, I took on sales reps to sell my jewelry to stores nationwide for a commission fee. This phase of my business is the equivalent of Option 1 for your husband. Working with sales reps was a means to an end: getting more money in the door as quickly as possible to keep going, to keep growing.

The benefit of Option 1 for me was that I indeed went from selling in 15 stores to over 100. The downside to working with sales reps and selling primarily through wholesale accounts was that I was personally unfulfilled and I relied on the sales reps to produce results for my business. If they did well, I did well. If they didn’t sell well, I didn’t sell well. At a few points I felt like I actually worked for them, they brought me new orders and I fulfilled them. I was simply completing a process that they began. Over time, this didn’t sit well with me. I wanted to branch out on my own, to create a business that didn’t live or die based on their performance.

Luckily, the sales reps I worked with over time decided to launch their own clothing business and strayed from their original goal to represent other brands. This was ideal for me because I didn’t need to sever ties with them, it happened gradually and organically. And as I watched their sales slow to a halt I gritted my teeth and refused to complain about the dip in revenue.

Instead of lamenting the decline of my wholesale business, I started focusing on selling online. I started MML. I started designing the business as I really wanted it to be. I threw my attention and time into marketing jesslc.com and helping people with MML. It was a test of faith and persistence to get my business to blossom on the internet – where I felt most at home and fulfilled. Like growing a garden, it takes a few years of trial and error, lots of sowing, and time for the plants to mature. The fruit each season is more robust than the last. Now, two years later, I am at a higher revenue and profit level than I was back when I worked with the reps. And my life has in so many profound ways turned into the life I designed.

I hope by sharing this personal story, you will feel more confident in either option for your husband’s business. I also think you and your husband have the maturity and business acumen to decide confidently to choose Option 1 or Option 2. You have a choice to make either decision a successful one. And you always have the choice to try Option 1 until you have the cash flow to make Option 2 your primary objective as I did in my own business. But I must caution that Option 1 might be hard to leave in the future. From the phrase I highlighted in red above, there is an underlying assumption that your husband really wants to choose Option 2, but is worried about the cash flow not being as predictable as Option 1. Option 1 could become so comfortable that it is hard to leave. Predictability and comfort make “acceptable excuses” to avoid risk and true authenticity. So if you choose Option 1, please stay vigilant that you don’t stray from what seems to be the primary goal: Option 2.

I hope that this has in some way helped you (and other MML readers!) with your decision. Please talk it over with your husband and take a deep breath: both options are possible, neither is right or wrong. It’s all about designing your life and business with intention.

What is your intention?

Go do that.

saying “no” for success

February 14th, 2011   |   LifeThink About It

FEBRUARY WALLPAPER. Click here to download the full-size wallpaper seen above.

Good morning and happy Valentine’s Day! My weekend was a special one thanks Mr. Lively. And I hope you have a great day planned doing something you love.

Over the past few weeks I’ve noticed a tangible rise in attention and awareness about Jess LC and MML. It’s been a fantastic shift which has brought forth many positive opportunities. And I’m incredibly thankful.

But to be honest, I’ve recently been feeling a bit overwhelmed by the attention and sheer volume of requests via MML and Jess LC. The number of people reaching out for all sorts of things has reached a level where I’m no longer comfortable. Saying yes to every opportunity (though I’d like to), is not a responsible use of my time or resources. I know this objectively, rationally. I am only one person juggling a blog with a bustling business. We are only one small jewelry shop of a jewelry maker, a jewelry designer, and two interns. There is only so much that is possible.

But if I’m continuing to be honest, I am afraid that if I start saying no, setting policies, and boundaries people are going to be upset.

I’m really afraid people will be mad if I say “no.”

And the truth is that this fear of rejection, if allowed to continue, urges me to shrink from the light and fade away. If I stop trying to grow, I will not disappoint anyone because I can say yes to almost everything all the time. Staying small means saying yes is easy. Growing means “yes to everything” isn’t always feasible or healthy.

Though staying put in life would certainly be a safe choice, and absolve me from my fear of rejection, it would also avoid any chance of actually doing more good by growing the business and blog to help more people.

With these considerations in mind, I have been wrestling over the past few days with the idea of setting boundaries and policies to protect myself from burnout and the fear of disappointing people. When thinking back to the vision I have for my life, I see a lot of excitement, helping, and growing personally and professionally. But in order for this to happen, I need to recognize and foster my own well-being. Boundaries regarding requests will help me feel comfortable in my life to feel safe so that I can create and help people in ways that are most important to me personally.

At the end of my life, I will not be asking anyone else if I did the right thing or said yes to the right opportunities. I will ask myself if I enjoyed the decisions I made and helped others as best as I could. I am responsible for enjoying my life and fostering an environment that I love and has personal meaning.

Further, the people making requests and reaching out to me want to know that I am 100% committed to the decisions I make. They aren’t trying to bully me into things I do not feel comfortable with. They want me to enjoy my life as well. And though each specific request I get in and of itself is not usually large enough to make me feel overwhelmed, the volume of all requests has hit a point that isn’t possible to say yes to everything any longer. Plain and simple.

I think (or hope) that over time these new policies and boundaries will be easily adopted by myself and the people who reach out. Perhaps what is most enlightening about this realization is that when designing a life with intention it’s as important to say “no” as it is to say “yes.”

Click here to download the full-size wallpaper seen above.

kendi and bryan’s dream report: week seven

February 11th, 2011   |   Life

Get Off the Pot

I’m sure when you first read that you thought “But Kendi, I don’t do drugs.” That’s good. I was just testing you. But really what I mean is “S*** or Get off the pot.” See the difference? I know you are inspired already.

Truth is, I’ve never liked that term. It’s grotesque and it always creates a gruesome and literal image in my brain. But as a new small business owner (can I claim that title yet?) I have to say this is one of the best terms I can use. I am a sales forecast analysis away from finishing our business plan that I started a month ago. Has it really taken me 30 days to get that far in? No, it’s taken me about 3 days to write 25 pages of a business plan. It took me the other 27 days to get off the pot. (Again, proverbial toilet not the drug). I want you to know the urge I am fighting to make drug jokes here. I won’t but not because I don’t want to.

So what else were we just sitting on? The design of our logo and of our brand. In January we realized that my brain can only reach so many levels of creative and so we decided to quit sitting on the fact that we can’t design what we want and decided to hire someone. A very creative someone. We stopped sitting on our weaknesses and found someone with a strength.

We also stopped turning down weddings because we weren’t “ready.”  We were sitting on a talent because we don’t have a 100% branded, beautiful business. Turns out, we are shooting a wedding this weekend. Ready or not.

I am no expert but I do know what I know. If you are sitting on something, stop sitting and start doing. If you are waiting for a new idea, a better idea, for something to be easier, you will wait for a very long time. S*** or get off the pot. Don’t make me draw it out for you or make me use this term ever again.

*Other possible analogies I could have used “Paint or get off the ladder” “Drive or get out of the car”  but those aren’t as fun.

february DIY DESIGN YOUR LIFE

February 10th, 2011   |   DESIGN YOUR LIFE

Today we have some great DIY DESIGN YOUR LIFE interviews to share! Click the links below to hop over to MML reader’s DESIGN YOUR LIFE interviews. As a refresher, the DESIGN YOUR LIFE interviews share the intentions of the writer and specific, first-person examples of how they have “designed their lives” around those intentions.

Kimberly’s post is on Third Floor Design Studio.

And Roxy’s post is on A Spot of Tea.

Want to find out more about the DIY DESIGN YOUR LIFE monthly feature? Keep reading.

success vs. failure, my perspective

February 10th, 2011   |   Business AdviceLife

This morning I would like to point out a really interesting post from Rue Mag founder, Crystal of Plush Palate. In her recent post, she asks for input on what makes someone successful or a failure. While writing my own comment on the topic, I thought it might be worthwhile to share here on MML as well. I get a lot of business owners or want-to-become business owners asking me how to grow and become better at their business. In many cases, the words are code for “how to make their businesses” successful.

To be honest, my perspective on this question has actually shifted in the the past year. Below explains my thoughts on the success vs. failure definition.

I don’t think that money actually has anything to do with success or failure – not that you did either – but it is many times a looming indicator for a lot of people. While starting a business, it is essential in order to continue to grow the business or pursue the purpose, it is like fuel, if you will, and therefore really important.

But I’ve found as I’ve grown my own business, that as money fades into the background and becomes relatively less worrisome, the real test of success is how well I’ve been able to develop and grow my business into something that provides purpose, meaning, and touches people’s lives. That impact is success – I could have done many things to just earn more money or have a bigger business- but if it didn’t provide purpose and meaning, then I think as a self-employed person, I kind of failed at the whole point.

Do what you love and keep doing it. The fact that money may be an issue throughout that journey is an undeniable fact, but doesn’t need to enter the success/failure equation.

Of course this is just my personal opinion and there are an unlimited number of success/failure definitions. Hop on over to Crystal’s post to share your thoughts on the subject!

*poster via here

throw out fifty things: items 29-50

February 9th, 2011   |   ExfoliatingLife

Today I am here to conclude my most recent Throw Out 50 Things Challenge. You can see the story behind the challenge here and items 1-28 in this year’s challenge here.

As with past items, everything you see has been donated, recycled, gifted, returned, or thrown away. The challenge is simply titled “Throw Out” Fifty Things because of the book it is inspired by. But in fact, the very few items that were trashed were beyond repair or future use. Most items were recycled or donated. And the best part of all is that I don’t miss one of these items and feel like I have a much nicer, calmer, more intentional space!

29 through 38

  • 29 – Old sweater, don’t need
  • 30 – Catalogs, don’t use
  • 31 – Furniture parts, don’t use
  • 32 – Jewelry boxes, don’t use
  • 33 – Plastic lids, don’t need
  • 34 – Old salve, don’t use
  • 35 – Old key, don’t use
  • 36 – Sunglasses case, don’t need
  • 37 – Photo album, don’t need
  • 38 – Bulletin board, don’t use

39 through 48

  • 39 – Bottles, don’t need
  • 40 – Candy, don’t use
  • 41 – Rusted knives, don’t need
  • 42 – Take-out silverware, don’t use
  • 43 – Graduation tassel, don’t need
  • 44 – Wine holder, don’t use
  • 45 – 3M hooks, don’t use
  • 46 – Expired food, don’t need
  • 47 – Magazines, don’t need
  • 48 – Old candle, don’t use

49 – Side table, don’t need

50 – Shopping cart, don’t use

find me over at my posh jeans

February 8th, 2011   |   Life

After a lovely trip to Florida, I’m back in work mode getting things taken care of with Jess LC. Leaving for a few days has left me with a full plate of work.

But I will say, escaping the Chicago blizzard to swim in the ocean, watch whales, go on alligator boat rides, and spend some serious time on a hammock was much needed after being holed up in my apartment for four days. : )

In the meantime, hop on over to My Posh Jeans to see an my interview about Jess LC and my design philosophy.

Mr. Lively sent me this video which explains why so many people I meet via MML are dissatisfied with their day jobs. And why so many struggling, start-up, or successful entrepreneurs are often more fulfilled without the comparable corporate paycheck.

If you dread going to work, this definitely might illuminate (or validate) why you feel frustrated.

Enjoy!

words to live by

February 4th, 2011   |   Life

Love this image via Stephmodo that Kirwin at Our Slo House sent me.

In other news…

Mr. Lively is whisking me off (sort of) to Florida for a long weekend to escape the Chicago blizzard and meet his sister. I’ll be back in the Windy Snowy City on Tuesday. Until then, it’s time to soak up some sun and pretend spring is on it’s way!

new Jess LC facebook page (and flash sale!)

February 3rd, 2011   |   Life

Okay guys, I hate to interrupt my Throw Out 50 Things Challenge, but I seriously over-estimated how much I could accomplish today. Those 50 Things posts take a surprisingly long time to create, and I don’t have time to get that completed along with my other items on my to-do list. Especially since one of those items just happens to be…

Packing for Florida!

Yep, that’s right. Mr. Lively and I are headed to Melbourne Beach to hang out with his sister for the next four days. It could not come at a better time. I honestly haven’t left my apartment building since Monday due to the Chicago blizzard and it’s time that I get some fresh air, warm rays, and local crab! We are gonna trade my stir-crazy for stir-fried… or something like that.

In the meantime, I’ve got a few good posts to share tomorrow and Monday on MML.

Jess LC Facebook Page with Exclusive Flash Sale

In other news… our very own Kat has done a tremendous job launching our Jess LC Facebook page today! Hop on over and like us, friend us, etc. to find out about our monthly flash sales that will be announced exclusively on our FB page. In fact there is one going on right now

throw out fifty things: items 1-28

February 3rd, 2011   |   ExfoliatingLife

Okay, time to post my first batch of stuff from my most recent Throw Out 50 Things Challenge! You can see below the items that I no longer need, use or love. I will say that all of these items have been donated, sold, gifted, returned, or thrown out as needed so there isn’t anything that you’ll be able to snag (sorry!).

One thing to note in the challenge as S.E. Minegar commented earlier: multiple items of the same kind count as one thing. So 12 magazines is really “1 magazine(s)” in the 50 thing count. I grouped my items similarly when it comes to boxes, bottles, batteries, etc.

Enjoy!

1 through 10

  • 1 – Wire Hanger, don’t need
  • 2 – Luggage Tag, don’t use
  • 3 – I think this is a t-shirt but I’m not really sure, (obviously) don’t use
  • 4 – Tape dispenser, don’t use
  • 5 – Compact, don’t use
  • 6 – Single sock, don’t use
  • 7 – Silk cropped top, don’t use
  • 8 – Travel lotions, don’t need
  • 9 – Purse and shoe bags, don’t need
  • 10 – Dress, don’t use

11 through 17

  • 11 – Lamp shade, don’t need
  • 12 – Ripped jeans, don’t use
  • 13 – Worn out ballet flats, don’t need
  • 14 – Trench coat piece, don’t use
  • 15 – Unneeded shelf, don’t need
  • 16 – Zipper plastic bag, don’t need
  • 17 – Old hat, don’t use

18 through 28

  • 18 – Folder, don’t need
  • 19 – Boxes, don’t use
  • 20 – Old battery, don’t need
  • 21 – Old cds, don’t use
  • 22 – Store loyalty cards, don’t need
  • 23 – Old pens, don’t use
  • 24 – Flower food, don’t use
  • 25 – Measuring spoon holder, don’t need
  • 26 – 2010 calender, don’t need
  • 27 – Pennies, don’t use
  • 28 – Pedometer, don’t use

I’ll be back later to share items 29-50!

throw out fifty things: 2011 edition

February 3rd, 2011   |   ExfoliatingLifeStyle

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve recently done a Throw Out Fifty Things Challenge. Though my living room and bedroom were recently featured in Rue Mag, and everything looked orderly and “made under,” there were still 50 superfluous items floating around my home at the time of the shoot. It bears repeating that just because a space looks orderly and clean doesn’t always mean that everything in that space is needed, used, or loved. By exfoliating a stash of unnecessary stuff I earned money, returned items, and gifted away many of my things. Not to mention I feel much more peaceful in my home now that the unnecessary items are gone.

The idea for the challenge was straight from a Today Show segment with Gail Blanke who wrote the book Throw Out 50 Things. Though I’ve never read the actual book, the challenge itself is pretty self-explanatory. I did my first 50 Things Challenge in April of 2009, and it was quite enlightening. Even though 50 things sounded like a lot, it wasn’t that hard to reach. I simply looked at my space (closets are always treasure troves for this kind of challenge) and pulled out all the unneeded, unused, or unloved items.

Later today I’ll be back to share my 50 Things!

makeunder my finances: step four

February 2nd, 2011   |   LifeThink About It

Today I’d like to share a series my good friend Cathy of Fiscally Chic did on her blog titled Makeunder My Finances. She took my four step makeunder process and applied it to money.

Step One: Create a vision

Step Two: Exfoliate stuff

Step Three: Identify Intentions

This should be the “easiest” step of a financial makeunder. The real work goes into creating a vision, exfoliating stuff, and identifying intentions. Once your budget, savings plan, and automatic deposits are in place, it’s a matter of evaluating your progress. Are you being too strict in some areas or too lax in others? Does your budget need a little tweaking? Can you sock away some extra money to meet your goal early?

How often should you be evaluating? Part of that depends on your time frame and if you’ve made dramatic changes. I would also take a closer look at things in the beginning to set a good foundation. Remember, you’re setting yourself up for success. Don’t set unrealistic expectations. In general, a weekly update and monthly review should suffice.

It’s also a good idea to check in on your vision and intentions. As you grow and mature, you might realize that your vision and intentions have also evolved. As Jess says, “The more regularly you reflect on the vision the less you will need to create major changes going forward.” For example, when I married John, I felt a shift in priorities. Our finances also merged, so my decisions didn’t just affect me anymore. And as you achieve one financial goal, you’ll have the confidence to save for something else.


Tote from dearcolleen on Etsy

Real Life

John and I started to think more seriously about down payments back in the summer of 2010. We had already saved a good chunk of change, but really wanted to buckle down if we’re going to take advantage of low interest rates and high levels of inventory. I signed up for Mint in August 2010 and created the goal shortly thereafter. It’s January 2011 and we’re still making changes to our budget. In the beginning it was a matter of watching the money. Now that we have a better grasp of our spending habits, we’ve implemented some changes (i.e. bringing lunches to work and making coffee at home). After a month or so of the changes, I can then adjust the budget further.

Good luck with your own financial makeunders. Small changes here and there can really add up. And send me an email at fiscallychic@gmail.com if you have any questions.

Have a great week!

Original post.

makeunder my finances: step three

February 2nd, 2011   |   LifeThink About It

Today I’d like to share a series my good friend Cathy of Fiscally Chic did on her blog titled Makeunder My Finances. She took my four step makeunder process and applied it to money.

Step One: Create a vision

Step Two: Exfoliate stuff

As a refresher, John and I are saving money for a down payment on a house. Our budgetary weakness is food and eating out. On the positive side, we don’t spend much on shopping or entertainment. We value living simply and spending time with family and friends. Our intention is the whole premise of Fiscally Chic. Saving money with style and living life to the fullest.

Print from MursBlanc Etsy shop ($20)

With these items in mind, as inspired by Lauren, and with the help of Mint, we’ve implemented a SMART savings plan. Our plan is:

â– S = Specific
â– M = Measurable
â– A = Attainable
â– R = Realistic
â– T = Timely

Specific

How much do you need to save? And don’t just say “I need to save more.” What is “more?” If you don’t have a specific amount in mind, how will you know when you get there? You probably have a good idea of the price tag based on your vision.

Measurable

Dollars are pretty easy to measure, but what happens when your “vision” dollars start to mingle with your “needs” or “wants” dollars? In order to properly measure your savings, it’s best to create a separate savings account. I like to use ING Direct. It’s an online bank, so it has a higher interest rate (the good kind). I can automatically transfer money from checking to savings on my schedule and withdrawals take a couple days. That means I’m less likely to pull from our savings on a whim. And with automatic transfers, I don’t even miss the money if it’s not available to be spent. You can find other savings accounts and interest rates at bankrate.com.

Attainable

Your monthly savings goal should be reasonable. Set yourself up for success. No need to drive yourself into the poor house trying to save for something enjoyable (i.e. European vacation). To stay motivated, set aside an amount that’s not too far out of reach. We’ve cut out a few extra frills by dining out less frequently.

Realistic

At the same time, your goal should be a little bit of a reach so that you’re willing to work towards it. That makes accomplishing the goal even more worthwhile. So set the bar high enough for a satisfying achievement!

Timely

Set a time frame and mark the date on your calendar. Again, be specific, not just “in the next 5 years.” And be realistic. Unless one of us wins the lottery, we probably won’t have a 20% down payment in 3 months. Automatic transfers are another way to stay timely. Schedule transfers for once or twice a month so you won’t forget to stash the cash.

Purchase print from Ork Posters for $18

Being SMART

John and I use Mint’s goal tool to track the progress of our down payment. It’s as easy as entering our goal, setting a date, and linking a savings account. I then know how much we need to save each month, which is factored into our budget. Mint emails me our progress every month and offers savings advice and information about the home buying process.

You can obviously track everything in an Excel spreadsheet or on a piece of paper, but I like the convenience of having everything online. That way I can access the information on the go and make changes as necessary.

Don’t be afraid to take ownership of your finances! The best way to become financially independent is to learn about the different resources and tools. And ask questions!

(Disclaimer: I haven’t been compensated by Mint, ING, or bankrate.com for this post. These are simply my opinions.)

Original post.

makeunder my finances: step two

February 1st, 2011   |   LifeThink About It

Today I’d like to share a series my good friend Cathy of Fiscally Chic did on her blog titled Makeunder My Finances. She took my four step makeunder process and applied it to money.

According to Jess, “this is the step where you dump the stuff that isn’t needed for the life you want to live. Just like our skin, there is a lot of dead ‘skin cells’ in our homes that are clouding the healthiest, best life we want to live. And by sloughing off that unnecessary layer of crap, we emerge brighter and more purposeful.” Guess what? There might be some dead skin cells lurking around your budget as well. But first, you need to take a look in the mirror see what and where they are.

This makeunder step may be the most daunting since it involves accumulating the information that makes up your past and current financial situation. Through the magic of the Internet and computer software, it doesn’t have to be that difficult. I use mint.com to compile all of our financial data. It’s a fantastic free (and secure!) site that offers personal finance and budget software, online money management, and budget planning. Mint brings all your financial accounts together online so you can see the big picture in a single click. We have our checking and savings accounts, credit cards, and 401(k) and investment accounts all feeding into our Mint account.


Mint screenshot

So what do you do with all of that information? Mint categorizes your transactions (with some of your assistance) so you can see how much you’re spending on rent, food, entertainment, shopping, etc. It also monitors income, loans, and investment transactions. It was pretty eye-opening even that first month of using Mint. I had no idea how much I was spending on lunches or coffee during the work week. (John is really good about bringing his lunch to work.) I thought that the couple dollars here and there wouldn’t make a difference until I saw the grand total at the end of the month. $130 even though we bought lunch food at the grocery store? Yikes! On the flip side, we didn’t spend much money shopping.

After you’ve had a chance to dive into the nitty gritty, it’s time to develop a budget! There are as many budgeting methods as there are diets. You never know what’s going to work for you until you give it a whirl. And like a diet, if you’re going to be saving money it’s all about input vs. output. You can spend less, earn more, or a combination of the two.

Mint screenshot

I rely on Mint’s built-in budgeting software to set our monthly targets for each major spending area. Mint also allows you to adjust your budget. For example, Mint first thought a good amount for Movies and DVD’s was $20. We rarely go to the movie theater, choosing to rent from Redbox instead. I bumped that monthly budget down to $10.

Some other methods include:
  • 50% Needs, 20% Savings, and 30% Wants (see Daily Worth)
  • Save to spend budget: 60% Monthly Expenses, 10% Retirement, 10% Long-Term Needs, 10% Short-Term Savings, 10% Fun (see Daily Worth)
  • 35% Housing, 25% Living Expenses, 15% Debt, 15% Transportation, 10% Savings (from Jean Chatzky)
  • Dollars per day for play (see Pete Mockaitis)

One of the other benefits of Mint is that it sends me alerts when I go over budget. They also email me weekly updates. It’s like my personal accountability partner. Speaking of accountability, share your goals with a significant other or trusted friend. You will be more likely to succeed when someone is cheering you on and helping you over hurdles. 

Print available at MadebyGirl

John and I have been more open about how we spend our money over the years so that we can work towards a common goal of home ownership. I don’t have to ask his “permission” about purchases, but if I’m wavering, I check in to see if buying something is “worth” more than saving for our goal. Plus, there will be fewer surprises or busted budgets.

What are your secret ways to cut costs or earn a little extra? Would it be helpful if I shared some ideas?

(Disclaimer: I haven’t been compensated by Mint for this post. These are simply my opinions. But if you’re out there, Mint, I wouldn’t mind writing for you!)

makeunder my finances: step one

February 1st, 2011   |   LifeThink About It

Today I’d like to share a series my good friend Cathy of Fiscally Chic did on her blog titled Makeunder My Finances. She took my four step makeunder process and applied it to money.

Follow along as I re-post her money makeunder. Cathy herself is a blend of Martha Stewart and accountant – which means her blog is full of delicious recipes and solid financial advice. Enjoy!

Before overhauling your finances, think about your overall goal. Your goal could be saving money to buy a home, for retirement, to go on vacation, to have a cushion to start a business, or for your child’s college fund. You might also want to payoff debt: student loans, mortgage, or credit card. Maybe it’s for a new car. Your vision could be for your personal financial situation or for a business.

A Frank Lloyd Wright house in Oak Park, IL (I can dream, right?) source

Creating a vision will set the focus for the next three steps. So get as specific as you’d like. John (my husband) and I have several financial goals, including saving money for a house. This will be the example I’ll use throughout the “makeunder” series. Our vision includes the neighborhood, cost, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and when we’d like to start the home buying process. Some of these items may change over time, but the overall vision of a home is the foundation. Feel free to put together an inspiration board that you can see everyday. Or write down your vision and post it on the refrigerator door. Maybe you’ll write your goal and reminders on the calendar.

source

I hope you enjoy this series. As Jess puts it, a financial makeunder “takes the stress out of it in a way and doesn’t make everything good or bad, but intentional or not intentional.” The goal of this series is to help you examine why you spend money and your priorities instead of just “do this” and “don’t do that.” I want to help you put together a plan that works for your unique situation instead of just following a formula.

Original post.

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