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Today I’d like to share a lesson that I’ve learned the past few weeks over at Jess LC. I usually wait a bit longer to share things that I learn there, but this one is at the top of my mind and I think it might be helpful for other business owners now or in the future.

Since the launch of our new iPad cases and coin purses we have had unprecedented success with them and have sold through our inventory much sooner than expected.

This is good (great, even) news, yet the newer, larger, orders we’ve placed are taking a while to create. We order in small batches yet when every item is practically sold out, that means small batches of lots of products = a large order.

The craftsman that we work with on our bags and cases are local, small, and make each item by hand. At this point in time, this is great for Jess LC because I can be in the workshop working with them directly on details and there is no shipping costs or lag time. They are also competitively priced for the small quantities we order, which means that we pass those low costs onto the customers in the overall price as well. If one day I decide to try manufacturing overseas in order to serve thousands of customers I have that option. But for now, I really like having great prices for high quality materials and local craftsmanship. It makes for a more personal product and much more of my own perspective in the design.

The issue that’s coming up is that our orders are pre-selling quickly and sometimes can take longer to make than anticipated.

For someone like me who is pretty Type-A (I decorate my closets just as much as my bookshelves), this is really upsetting. After all, I am the head of the company and even though I am doing everything in my power to get these orders completed on schedule, it still reflects on me if we are delayed.

For example, I was told our most recent order would be ready by Monday, October 24th. Then I found out that there was more work to be done and they would be ready by Thursday, the 27th. But in the meantime, a close family friend of a craftsman died and he flew out to New York go to the funeral. This left just one craftsman to work on the order over the weekend. By the time that the first craftsman got back from the funeral, there was still more to do and I’m now told that they will be completed by this Wednesday.

As you can imagine, this delay was completely unforeseen.

While I was processing this whole situation over the weekend, I had an epiphany when waiting for a table at the amazing burger joint, Kuma’s Corner. Kuma’s burgers are famous all over Chicago and with a tiny kitchen and small seating area, the lines here can be easily over two hours.

Right before we got seated my friend Alex made a comment that caught my attention. He mentioned that the hostess was one of the best he’d ever had at a restaurant. Knowing that I myself felt much like a hostess in the iPad case and coin purse situation, I asked him what made her so extraordinary. His response was simple, “She just seems like she really wants to get us a table as soon as she can. I know that there are a ton of people here waiting, and that she doesn’t need to keep us in mind that much, but she keeps coming up to us and letting us know how long it will be.”

And that’s when it clicked for me: the best thing to do when there is a wait is keep everyone as up to date on information as possible, in a personal way.

This course of action also validated why my customers waiting on cases were being so understanding and supportive over the past week. I, like the Kuma’s hostess, was doing my best to keep everyone updated. On the Monday that everyone expected to get their case, I emailed each person individually and let them know that their order would be ready to ship on Friday instead of Monday, just as the craftsman told me. Then, when I found out that the cases were not ready by that Friday, I again, let each person know in a personal email. I told them that once I had an update this week I would be in touch. I kept the emails short, honest, and apologetic, after all I have been so excited to get everyone their cases as soon as I possibly can!

Once I found out this morning about the funeral situation, I again, emailed everyone with an update. The honest and open communication with each customer has gone a long way. I am so thankful and blessed to have such understanding and supportive customers who are kindly and patiently waiting for their pre-orders to ship.

Once the packages do ship out, I have also arranged a little surprise; I have handwritten little notes to each customer, thanking them for being so “sweet” and patient – and I’ve included a little chocolate treat in the order to match my sentiment.

Overall, I think that what I’ve taken out of this whole order delay and hostess analogy is that honest, friendly, personal communication with customers is the best course of action. And in order to prepare for any future delays with these small batches, I’m now estimating the ship dates on the site for pre-orders right above the add to cart button, to keep people in the loop.

So while I am learning that I do not have complete control over production; I can do my very best, and be the most excellent hostess that I can be.

Happy Halloween! This morning I would like to remind everyone interested in coming to our second Business in the City event that it is coming up in Chicago this Thursday from 6:30-8:00.

There have also been a few changes from the previous event including the fact that Next Door is now opening up this event to their entire community, so we will hopefully have an even broader range of people and business ideas to share and talk about. The last event we had 18 people, so this time we are expecting anywhere from 10-30 to show up. You can now also RSVP for the event on Next Door’s calender on the November 3rd date. Feel free to RSVP, but it’s not mandatory. Next Door just wants to know about how many people plan to come so they can prepare for enough chairs and treats for everyone. Which leads me to my next announcement…

Next Door is now going to sponsor our events and will provide treats for us so we no longer need to bring our own! Which I’m very excited about since I’ve never tried any of their delicious looking baked goods.

Business in the City Run Down

As far as what the event will be like, the very loose plan is to have everyone meet in the main space in the back of Next Door (not the conference room, but the bigger space right in front of it) at a group of small tables.

We’ll go around introducing ourselves and our company/business idea. Then we’ll open up the discussion so people can share their business questions with the group. Due to the wide array of people with different backgrounds, we get some great answers, advice, and ideas to help people move their business ideas forward.

Then, we’ll break up into smaller groups based on specific topics (like service businesses, product businesses, marketing, online sales, etc.). After that, we’ll just pretty much open it up to everyone to talk to whomever they want and hang out.

The goal is to have a fun and informal meet up for people who are entrepreneurs, Midnight Hustlers, or Desk Job Dreamers.

Planning on coming? Feel free to comment here and introduce yourself!

maggie’s dream report: week twentyone

October 28th, 2011   |   Life

Action!

I read this awesome article on Monday and it’s really stuck with me all week. It’s all about the “Entrepreneurial Insecurity” that you may recognize in yourself or from some of my previous posts. My take-away message was this line: “Action is the antidote to fear.”

How fitting then, that Jess posted her message on Tuesday to “Start where you are and just keep going.” Act. Don’t stop to dwell on the fear and insecurity. Everyone has fear and no one knows exactly what they’re doing when they start out. The difference is that those who are now successful forged ahead anyway. They didn’t say “I don’t know, so I won’t act.” They figured it out and moved. the. hell. on.

Every time this week that I’ve thought, “that scares me” or laid my head down on my desk under a wave of insecurity and anxiety, this phrase has come back to me. Action is the antidote to fear. And I looked at my to-do list, pick something that sounds fun, and go. No holds barred, just tackling each item head on.

I haven’t been Superwoman or anything, but I’ve been very productive and kept the anxiety at bay for the most part. I’ve been in contact with several potential clients. Followed up on some collaborative projects. Made progress on some of those “maybe someday” ideas, including writing a good third of my next e-book. In the process of being more productive and more creative, I’ve had more great ideas that I can’t wait to get into production. Hopefully I’ll be busy enough with these client projects that that will have to happen in 2012, wink wink.

And I’ve felt great. The more I get done, the better I feel about the future of the business and about my abilities. And it’s not like I’m doing anything more amazing than was already on my list. I’m just choosing to act on them instead of worry over them.

One tip for anyone wondering “that’s great for YOU, but how do I do that?”. List out ALL the great things you want to do. No judging them, just get ’em on paper. Some will be your “someday” list. For your “action” list (what I’m working from), chunk out each idea into actionable tasks. This is a trick I learned from Getting Things Done. I don’t have something like “network on social media” on my action list. I have “comment on 5-7 blogs today, post two educational articles to twitter, create a poll on facebook”. I’m very specific, and the tasks are usually quick nuggets that are easy to check off.

Another thing I’ve been doing this week that is helping me feel positive and chipper – reaching out to peers and friends who I know are also in the throes of entrepreneurship (some of whom have emailed me to talk, vent, or for advice). Just a friendly hello to ask how things are going and remind them that I’m around to chat. I know that I love sharing my experiences and timid questions of “am I a weirdo because of this…” (think learning about puberty in 4th grade, only in a business sense, haha). So by reaching out I’m helping facilitate that conversation and it gives me the warm-fuzzies.

Did Jess’s post kick anyone else in the rear too? Do you find that by taking action you can keep the fear at bay? What about at 2:30 a.m. when you’re wide awake thinking about how to write press releases? Yeah, I did that. Hey, I didn’t say I was perfect. Just that I’m workin’ on it.

Maggie Morgan is an interior decorator in Seattle. Visit her website to see her work and read her blog, Maggie Rose.

produce your own success story

October 27th, 2011   |   Business Advice

[In direct opposition (okay, not completely) to this morning’s post, I’d like to share a really important aspect to business which is about when it’s not good to look for inspiration outside of yourself and your company’s unique DNA.]

Pardon me, but I’m a little fired up today. While standing in line at the CVS to pick up some contact solution yesterday afternoon, I glanced at the cover of one of the weekly magazines and saw a feature on how “Ali from the Bachelor lost 10 pounds as revenge”… or something like that. Regardless of why she was losing weight as revenge (which is a pretty strange notion to begin with) or what she actually did to achieve the weight loss, I found myself with ruffled feathers.

I know that on another day, in the not-so-distant past, I would have stood there and wondered what she did to lose the weight, wondered how she might be happier now (I mean look, she got a cover feature), and speculated about whether I should try her methods to lose weight myself. But something inside me has shifted (at least for the moment). Ever since the trip to NYC and realizing my intention to pursue PR for Jess LC, my paradigm has changed. Rather than look to others successes for guidance in my life, I’ve become much more interested in my own actions and using those to propel myself further. I’ve become more interested in how I want to become successful than how others have reached their own successes.

Though I think there is a lot to be said about bibliographies, success stories, advice, and research, I also feel many of us are getting too comfortable sitting on the sidelines reading and watching other people achieve their dreams — and then attempting to replicate their achievements in our own lives.

The problem with this copycat method, I believe, is that it leaves us with a second-rate version of what worked for someone else, which doesn’t take into complete consideration all of our own unique factors. And therefore, whatever plan we follow, is innately going to clash with our individual abilities, motivations, and values – which ultimately leads to dissatisfying results, unmaintainable goals, or a simple lack of follow through on our part. Our actions need to speak to us on all levels, spiritually, physically, and mentally, and it’s very hard to really grasp that in a cookie cutter plan or a shadowed routine.

The one major concession I make in the above paragraph is when a particular plan does meet your individual spiritual, physical, and mental values – then the plan could quite possibly work with flying colors. Take my brother, for example. He has been preparing to follow the P90X routine this summer for almost a full year. He researched, thought about it, planned his meals, and devoted the hours he needed in order to reach his goal. He became so intrinsically motivated by the plan and the outcome that he faithfully executed each exercise and nutrition requirement to it’s fullest. He also reaped the rewards he desired in the process. On the other hand, I tried the Weight Watchers program for several months but finally realized I wasn’t seeing results because I wasn’t dealing with the right spiritual issue.

I maintain that many most of our failed attempts come from the fact that we are trying to fit ourselves into a prescribed routine that isn’t capturing our real desires. Or, we are fearful of failure and rush to find comfort in something that has worked for someone else. This constant focus on the information itself keeps us so busy listening to others that we are unable to actually devote the full amount of energy and attention that it takes to reach our goals.

I think this is because we underestimate how much time and devotion it requires to take action, follow through, and maintain progress. We think that if we “know” everything, we will be able to “do” everything. But the real knowledge comes from personal experience, until then, it’s just information in our brains. To follow with the magazine story example, we don’t really know how to lose weight until we actually drop the pounds. Until then we “have the weight loss information” without any experience to back it up.

So, back to my ruffled feathers, I am finding that for the first time I feel bold, less fearful of failure, and more focused on what I’m going to do next. I’m writing my success story each day that I take new actions and try new things. Not all of the things I try will lead to the success I am looking for, but each step ahead is one further away from where I started. It is a constant process that takes into consideration my personal values and goals. My path will be one-of-a-kind and unrepeatable because I am following my gut and trusting things to fall into place. I am following my purpose which is unique to me. Everyone is capable of doing this exact same thing for themselves, they just need to start tapping into what they know and stop looking around at the people next to them.

My Challenge to You

I challenge those who find themselves easily caught in the research and advice trap to take a minute this afternoon and write your own success story. Write out a future magazine feature story detailing how you are successful in three months, six months, or two years from now at the thing you are working towards.

For example, if you want to create a full-time business but are in a desk job, write the story explaining how you made your business so profitable you were able to quit your job after nine months. Explain what actions you took, what marketing efforts you made, what hiring decisions you struggled with. Write it all out and then use that as your own road map to success. Because when you stop and think about it, the story you just wrote captures your spiritual, psychical, and mental abilities and values. Your plan understands you perfectly and you resonate with it 100%.

In summary, stop reading someone else’s success story and start writing your own.

– I wrote this on August 3rd, 2010

i’ve knocked off another company

October 27th, 2011   |   Business Advice

Fact #1: Over the summer I really, really, really wanted to buy an expensive pair of Tory Burch boots which were only available via Tory Burch stores. By the time that I made my decision to plunk down the $500 for the boots, they were all sold out. They had only had a limited quantity of the style and I had no idea they were that popular. I was incredibly bummed.

Fact #2: Our new Jess LC collections are made by a few local craftsman here in Chicago and often we order in small batches to keep things manageable for the craftsman. And we have also done small runs of products which are limited edition and can sell out quickly.

Fact #3: I knocked off another company.

These three facts give you a pretty clear picture of what I have to share. Given Fact #1, I have been aware that my lack of information on how rare those boots were caused me to miss out on owning them. Had I known that they were so limited, I could have hurried my decision to purchase them rather than get my hopes up and then be disappointed.

Likewise, this same situation is also happening over at Jess LC with our new collections. Since our jewelry is made in-house, we often can make items quickly and easily as long as we can re-order the supplies used to make the styles. But our new bag, scarf, stationery, and iPad cases are all made by local craftsman in small batches. And even the materials we use are sometimes not meant to be re-ordered, but are just available for one season.

What I love about this method is that it keeps things local, intimate, and special for our shop and our customers. It feels great to keep things small at this time to grow intentionally.

And in this process, I’ve decided to knock off another company…

Yep. It’s true. I’m getting my inspiration for production from non other than the amazing and incredible Three Floyds Brewery of Munster, Indiana.

I first got introduced to the company on a beer tour with my friends Cathy and John. Mr. Lively and I drove out with Cathy and her husband to go on a brewery tour and then eat some incredibly amazing bar food (like truffle fries). And believe it or not, the whole experience pushed me to improve Jess LC.

During our brewery tour, the guide mentioned that 3 Floyds does year-round, seasonal, and collaboration batches. This way of operating a small, local business was brilliant. And I set out to do the same with my own shop.

Collaboration Collections

While 3 Floyds collaborates with breweries like Dogfish Head, I did my recent collaboration with Claudia if Fig. 2 Design Studio which resulted in our Webster note card collection. These cards are available in small quantities. And I’ve also done a collaboration item over the summer with Elizabeth Dehn as well.

So far these partnerships have been incredibly fun and successful, so I’m excited to continue adding new collaborative collections in 2012.

Year-Round, Small Batch Collections

And when it comes to 3 Floyds year-round brews, like the insanely good Gumball Head (my favorite beer of all time), we over at Jess LC make our Quincy collection in small batches as well. Due to the high demand for this collection, we also allow people to pre-order from the next batch that is to come in once the previous batch sells out.

Seasonal Collections

Then of course there are the limited edition runs of styles which are not re-order-able. Once these styles sell out, they are gone for good. Our Belmont scarves and Lake Shore bags fall under these categories.

(Lake Shore however, will return in the spring.)

How I’m Getting the Info Out to Customers

To let customers know about these details we added small arrows below, to each product page that falls under these three categories.

And each of these buttons are linked to the Collection Definitions page, which explains everything in more detail.

Which of course kinda looks like the beer list over on 3 Floyds’ site.

So there you have it. I can finally come clean and shout it out far and wide, I love and admire 3 Floyds so much that I have knocked off their production cycle.

Of course the idea of knocking off 3 Floyds is all in jest, but the truth is that this was a great example of how looking outside your own industry can give you creative solutions to your own issues or even allow you to think about your company in a fresh and unique way.

 3 Floyds image credit

my best piece of advice

October 26th, 2011   |   Business AdviceLifeThink About It

More and more often people have asked me what advice I have for them whether it’s regarding a business, a makeunder, or designing a life with intention. And really, I always have the same thing to say…

my home on Apartment Therapy House Tour

October 25th, 2011   |   LifeStyle

As I write this I realize how surreal this is for me: yesterday my apartment was added to Apartment Therapy’s House Tours. Four years ago when I first moved to a not-so-great studio apartment, I discovered AT and their amazing house tours. This was years before I read any blogs and I was amazed and inspired by the apartments they featured. In fact, last year when creating a vision for my own space, I used Summer Thornton’s AT House Tour as a huge source of inspiration for my home.

So to be now featured on the site is a dream come true. If my 22 year-old self could know that I would be featured at 27 with the apartment that I have, I’m sure I’d keel right over. And when I think about the journey that has led me here, I think the biggest thing that I did “right” was to treat that tiny little apartment I once had as if it was the apartment that I have right now. I cleaned, primped, and acted as though that little dinky room was a castle. And I continued to treat my other apartments with the same respect and care. Come to think of it, I also did the same with my business. Even when times were slow in the beginning, I did my best to treat each order and customer as though I was already in the bigger business that I wanted. I think with this kind of respect and appreciation for the things we do have, we prepare and make room for the larger things to come.

Since the Rue shoot last year, a few things have changed in my home and the AT House Tour captured nooks and angles that the previous feature didn’t. So feel free to take a peek.

My current rug (Rug USA), updated from the sea foam green one seen in the Rue shoot. I like this one much better. I think the dark gray really grounds the other, brighter prints and hues in the space and makes the couch seem less bland.

A great shot of how I made my TV work within the awesome and newly discontinued : ( Ikea Lack bookshelves.

My mini bar I’ve been curating over the past year or so with a chevron decanter from Cathy. Love those blue straws found on Etsy.

A great view of the dresser layout with those sorta-famous DIY chevron canvases.

Thank you so much Jason and AT team for shooting and featuring my home! Hop over to see the full house tour!

confession

October 24th, 2011   |   Business Advice

I have a confession to make: after four product launches (Ainslie, Belmont, Quincy, and Webster) this fall, I have one more collection to launch, the biggest one yet, and I don’t really feel like finishing it out.

Yep, I’m exhausted from learning how to make great products that are totally outside my realm of previous experience and dealing with all of the issues, delays, details, and inventory. I have stretched myself beyond doing my usual 3 launches a year and went for five in this fall season alone. I’ve been working on these collections since April and I don’t feel like sourcing more lining, finding the last few hardware pieces, and making sure this leather from Italy makes it to Chicago safely. I don’t feel like paying for the leather, and trying to turn this all around in time for the holiday season.

But you know what?

I’m going to do it anyways.

I’m going to finish what I started. All along the way the faith and vision I have for the bags remains incredible in my mind and I still know that these are my favorite products I’ve ever designed. And just because I am tired right now, doesn’t mean that I’m not capable of pushing through and completing them.

I just need to take a deep breath, focus, and just keep going.

 

maggie’s dream report: week twenty

October 21st, 2011   |   Life

Re-frame

Hitting Week 20 is quite the milestone! And to be honest, I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about this week. In general, the last couple of weeks I’ve been feeling grumpy and crappy, like I simultaneously need a nap AND an exciting getaway. But I didn’t want to write another whiny “what am I doing wrong?” post today. It’s time to snap out of that funk.

I’ve had a couple of projects recently hit the skids. Not client projects thank goodness, just things I’ve been trying to get off the ground that are, for whatever reason, not budging. This week I’m between clients so it was a chance to examine those projects again. After a few days (yes, days) of pouting and feeling junky about them (and one in particular), I finally decided enough was enough. I didn’t want to give up on the project, but it was time to admit that the way I’d been approaching it over and over the same way wasn’t working.

It needed to be “re-framed” – or changed enough so that while the soul of the project stays the same, the presentation or pieces of it are different. It changes the project just enough to get it moving again. And the key is, once something has been “re-framed” you don’t go back. No regrets, just lessons learned and on to Plan B.

I had been thinking this way about a specific project, but then it occurred to me that I could be applying my “re-framing” to several parts of my business and life to get me fully out of my funk. My marketing plan has settled into doing the same things and getting the same results. So if I want different (aka BETTER) results, then I should be trying different things. I’ve been a lot better about keeping my business hours during the day and taking time to relax and recharge in the evening, but even that could use some polishing. And yes, my attitude about looking for a part-time job could use re-framing as well.

In the end, it comes down to realizing that just because something isn’t working doesn’t make it a failure. That’s just not how it’s supposed to work. Re-frame.

Maggie Morgan is an interior decorator in Seattle. Visit her website to see her work and read her blog, Maggie Rose.

Recently I’ve been thinking about what I’d do if I was starting out with a brand new business while at a corporate desk job. Don’t ask what exactly prompted this, I think it has something to do with the stories I hear from Business With Intention clients and from our recent Business In The City event.

Although I had an unusually early start with Jess LC as a 15-year-old, I think that a slow but steady Midnight Hustle is totally do-able for those with a yearning to express their creativity, make some extra cash, or even start the process up full-time (eventually).

The steps that I will outline will be based on my own experience from Jess LC over the past 12 years as well as what I know the most, product selling. For this example, I’m going to pretend that I have 40 hour a week day-job that isn’t capturing my interest and a burning desire to make and sell handmade soap. Oh, and I also have just $100 to “invest” in my business.

And of course it goes without saying that the process can take a long time, cost more, or vary from my case study. But this is loosely comparing what I’ve done when I started to what is possible today.

Ready? Let’s start.

Step One: Make Some Soap

The first thing that I would do is learn how to make great soap. Right now eco-friendly, handmade, all natural body products are incredibly popular, so I would start finding formulas online or in books that fit these attributes. I’d invest most of my $100 on the items necessary to make a few dozen bars (I admittedly don’t know the costs associated with soap, but let’s imagine that we can make 50 bars of soap for $50).

After I experiment with the formula itself, I’d find ways to create unique scents because for me, I think that moisture and scent are the most important attributes besides packaging that will sell these puppies. Since the holiday season is coming up, I might craft a two regular scents and a holiday one as well.

Step Two: Design Some Packaging

Okay, assuming that I’ve pretty much perfected my soap formula, I’d then focus on the packaging. At this point I don’t need the worlds best packaging, or branding. I just need elements that are “good enough” to get started.

Because while I can most likely come up with a pretty clever or unique name, most likely that I won’t have the best graphic design skills nor the money to invest in professional boxes. And there is no use delaying a business just because things aren’t perfect right off the bat — they never are. Right now, selling my first bars and getting feedback is all that really matters.

So I’d probably get business cards printed at Vista Print for about $10* with my initial name and logo (made by myself or the most talented person I knew at graphics who would do it for free or for homemade cookies). Because I’m on a budget, I would probably make the business cards pretty and simple enough to double as my labels with soap info on the back so that I could use them in the packaging as well.

Then, I’d probably pick up some simple clear plastic bags used for party favors or something like that at Michael’s or Jo’Ann Crafts. Choosing a spool of ribbon in my company color would allow me to tie the business card/label around the clear plastic bag with the soap inside. It may not be the most elaborate packaging, but it’s useful and keeps costs low.

(Obviously packaging can vary, but the point is to double up utility when you can like the business card / label combo and purchasing packaging that is pretty but in small quantities at big box stores keep things simple and easily changed later when there is money to buy in bulk from more professional packaging suppliers.)

Step Three: Make My First Sales

For pricing, I would take my costs of the soap ($1 in this example) and packaging ($.50) and multiply it by three. $1.50 x 3 = $4.50 per bar. I would also make a three pack of each of the flavors I made that could serve as a holiday gift for $12 – which is just slightly less than the cost of three individual bars.

After I have made my soaps and their prices, I would then start telling my friends, family, and close co-workers (assuming I don’t work for a soap manufacturer) about my new side business. I would share how much fun it was to create the soaps with all the eco-friendly, all natural ingredients and how much I’ve enjoyed using it myself (assuming that I do really like my product – I’d never lie and say it’s great if I personally didn’t like it). And I wouldn’t try to sell anyone the soaps outright, I’d just let my enthusiasm for the process and products sell itself. If you are excited about what you are doing, other people can sense that and may want to seek out the sale themselves.

Though some people may want to avoid this step, I think it can be very positive. The people that know and love you are also the most interested in the new venture you are starting. Especially given that this is a low price item (you aren’t making $600 handbags), a few or even several people are likely to want to buy and try them out.

With Jess LC, I found that in the very beginning and more recently my friends and family were most likely to buy. When I was in the middle, from years 2-10, I found people would support me emotionally, but purchased less often. So be sure to get that initial support via sales in the beginning to get some cash and feedback.

The goal is to have friends, family, and your first customers tell their friends about what you are doing. Word of mouth can be great, especially if your product is good. But also, don’t expect sales to be huge immediately either. You may need to tweak the formula, change the scents, or update the packaging before things pick up more steadily.

I’d also keep all the profits from the first sales in the business. My day-job will continue to fund my life as usual for right now.

Step Four: Figure Out How I Want to Sell to People I don’t Know

After you’ve mastered your first sales via your real life contacts, it’s time to decide which way you want to sell to people you don’t know. The three main ways are: wholesale to stores, direct to customers online, and arts or crafts shows. Below I’ll explain the first steps I’d take for each of those avenues:

Wholesale

For wholesale, I would re-examine my pricing. I would take my costs, $1.50 per bar, and make the wholesale price $3 (or $2.75). Most likely stores will then mark up the soap to $6 or $5.50, depending on your wholesale price.

Then, I’d make sure that my packaging was professional looking enough to sell in a store environment and also that the cards on the soaps did a great job explaining the benefits, ingredients, and scents of my soaps. I’d also probably start a simple blog as my first website and include that url on the card as well so customers could reach out directly to me.

Then, I’d walk into the local stores that sell high end bath products, locally made goods, or all natural products. From here, I recommend reading my advice for getting into stores.

Online

To sell online, I would open an Etsy shop to start. I would get the best possible pictures I could of my products (by asking the best photographer I knew who would do it for cookies or a trade). I’d also get the best header I could, keeping things simple and clean.

After it is live, I would make sure that business cards going forward had the site url on them as well as link them to my blog with soap info.

Then, I’d take the cash I had made from the soap sales so far and purchase a blog ad with a blogger I really liked that had a readership that would appreciate all natural products like mine. I’d also send her a three-pack of soap for herself and for a giveaway on the blog. This would help me get people to my shop. Because I know very well that just having a site or Esty shop is not enough, once it’s there, it is up to me to get the word out about the store.

I’d keep repeating the process above and selling directly to people like in step three.

Art Shows

To find art shows in my area, I’d google around and also ask anyone with their own small business who was local as well. I could imagine that a Farmers Market might also be a great place for me to try out selling my products since they match a lot of the same customers and values that my products have.

 Step Five: Keep Growing

As I got more experience under my belt, I might consider hiring a blog and graphic designer like Danielle, Alaina, or Claudia to make me a beautiful site and header which I could use on my labels and business cards. Branding is a very important part of separating my products from the rest, especially when you are not able to smell them online or test them out a store.

 

So there you have it! I hope that this has given you some insight into the first steps that I took that would also translate to those with day-jobs. The steps I outlined could easily be done after hours or on weekends. But you most importantly need to continue to improve the product and the appearance of the site and packaging, reach out to new people, have fun along the way, and just keep going!

 

* If you google the words “free business cards” Vista Print reliably comes up at the top of the search with a deal for 250 free business cards, you just pay for the shipping. I have used them since college and think the price is great for the very decent quality (if you aren’t a stationery designer, that is).

october/november email intervention

October 19th, 2011   |   Life

The time has come for another Email Intervention!

If you are new to MML you can catch up on my epiphany about why I didn’t really like my job (even though it’s awesome) and why email is a privilege. I strongly believe that the decision to not check email on nights and weekends has been an incredible life changing decision for myself. I believe it is the biggest way that I’ve designed my work/life balance with intention in recent years as well.

At first I thought it was impossible to go without checking email and even somehow “wrong.” But my experience over the past four months has told me quite the opposite.

Now that I limit my email to workdays I have more energy, look forward to work each morning, and am insanely more present in my personal life. I have (sort of) learned to play the guitar, sometimes get bored on weekend afternoons (which is fantastic, it gives me the chance to really look forward to work), and I don’t have the urge to check email at a restaurant table while my friend is in the bathroom.

Since doing the monthly two-week Email Interventions on MML, I’ve gotten some great feedback from other MML readers as well about their own experience:

Sarah’s Insights

“To get more accomplished and check email, I found myself waking up earlier, eager to see what had arrived the night before. My body clock is shifting, and that’s probably a good thing.

My favorite moment in the whole challenge: my non-smart-phone husband and I went on a date and he suggested leaving our phones at home. Normally, I would have said no. But the email challenge helped me say yes! I loved that, even for our quick dinner, we had each others’ full attention.”

Sarah

Erin’s Insights

“Throughout the two week intervention I sometimes found myself opening my work email and beginning to log in. It was so weird because I didn’t even think about it. Suddenly my brain would start thinking about work and suddenly I was opening up my email. Because of your intervention though I would catch myself rather than allowing myself to become absorbed by my job at all hours of the night. So there I would sit, staring at the log in page and asking myself, “why?”.

Why did I feel a sudden need to check my work email…

  • Was I hoping to get something done? Not really.
  • Was I looking to fill the time with something random? Yes, sometimes it was nice to have something to do rather than fill that time with something meaningful for me.
  • Was it necessary? Not at all.
  • Did it cause problems? Actually, yes it did. My boyfriend repeatedly mentioned that I checked my work email too often and I noticed that even though I would plan on just “seeing what was in there” I found myself responding to emails and working on projects for 30, 40, 50 minutes and suddenly I was working and worried about projects and deadlines and everything else.

Essentially, this bad habit was taking away from my personal time, and you know what? My manager wasn’t demanding or even asking me to check my email every night.”

Erin

And if none of those motivations strike a chord, maybe Jon Acuff’s out of control inbox does.

Take the Email Intervention Two Week Pledge

For any or all of these reasons above, I hope that you will join me on a two week fast from email on nights and weekends between October 24th and November 7th. You can alter the Intervention slightly for your own personal reasons or even use the Intervention for sites like Facebook instead if that is something you struggle with taming. I just urge you to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone and really re-engage with life outside your computer or smart phone.

And if you’ve already taken the pledge before, feel free to comment and do it again!

To be included on the intervention, please comment on this post before Friday, October 21st. I will be sending out four emails during the two weeks with tips and insights regarding the Intervention.

(And it’s all totally free, I see this as my Public Service Announcement.)

I hope you join and send this post to friends, family, or co-workers who might also be interested in breaking the email addiction!

 

rejoice in your suffering

October 18th, 2011   |   LifeThink About It

 

This morning I had an “aha moment” that I’d like to share. It all came from something that Joyce Meyer mentioned in a recent show about the bible passage regarding “rejoicing in your suffering.” (As you may know, I’m not Christian, but I was raised Catholic and I have continued to study spiritual teachings of all kinds.)

I knew of this phrase about suffering for many years, but I don’t think I ever fully grasped the implications on my daily life. I always felt like the idea of “rejoicing in suffering” meant that I should be happy about the suffering, to be thankful for it. And for obvious reasons, this never really sounded that appealing to me. Sure, it would be a fantastically spiritual to be thanking Life for suffering while I was in it, but never something I thought I could genuinely achieve.

However, this morning I realized that the passage doesn’t have to mean that I’m being happy because of hardship, but rather that I can be happy during tough times.

I don’t need to be a Super Human unaffected by negative feelings and emotions during trouble. But I can learn to be happy while negative things happen. I don’t have to be happy because of bad things, but I also don’t have to be locked in to only feeling good or bad based on the presence or absence of suffering.

Now that I think of it, even Stephen Covey in you guessed it says something very similar. In his book he shares that a dear friend who went through agonizing pain and suffering during her battle with terminal cancer remained positive and upbeat despite her failing health and eventual death. It wasn’t that she was happy because of the cancer, she was happy independent of it. The ability to shift focus in tough times is the essence of pro-activity, Covey explains.

So for me in my daily life, I’m refocusing on this idea. I want to be better about challenges and learn how to create a space around my Core which can be insulated from positive or negative events that happen to me. That I can fill that Core with a peacefulness that remains unswayed when the winds blow. I’m sure this will be a tough process to fully integrate into my life, but one that ultimately could help me a great deal.

 


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