make it happen: realistic business

Today I’d like to share how I’ve gotten many of my business projects off the ground over the past 11 years. There are three practical ways to accomplish big things without a big checking account. I should know: I started Jess LC back when I was 15 with a $5 bag of seed beads. Everything I’ve earned up to a month ago went straight back into the business with no outside investment: there was no venture capital, angel investors, or business loans for 10 years. But I never let that stop me from growing the business… one step at a time.

Below, I explain how I grow my business without running out of money. I’m sure other business owners out there will find themselves nodding in agreement with many of my examples. We all had to get scrappy – especially during the economic downturn of 2009.

This tactic is all about pulling up your Rolodex. Or in today’s terms, your Facebook, Twitter, and blogroll.

Go through your contacts and find out where you luck out. Do you just happen to have a friend that does photography and you need your pottery photographed for your website? Give your friend a call and offer to barter or babysit her kids for the weekend. Do you just happen to have a friend of a friend who knows a store owner who might be interested in your products? Give them a call. Don’t underestimate the power of the fortuitous connections you already have sitting right there in your Facebook account or cell phone.

Many times your friends and colleagues will offer to help you out at a fraction of the cost of a stranger. And when you think about it, the project is good for them too: they know you personally and can trust that you will pay on time, be honest and responsive, and super appreciative. And don’t underestimate the power of enthusiasm! Everyone wants to do something that’s meaningful. And if they can find meaning in your project, that might be worth cutting their prices for you.

In my case, one golden connection I have is the friend who photographs my jewelry. We met in college and have worked together on almost all of my photography projects. Though he lives in LA now, we still keep in touch and he totally understands what I’m looking for when I send him products to photograph.

The only major pothole* along this avenue to project success is that the enthusiasm of a lukewarm friend might wane over time, leaving your website unfinished for months. So be sure to establish a professional agreement, make sure the project payment is a win-win for both parties, and confirm that their skills match your expectations.

* The one place I have never seen successful friendships turn into successful business partnerships is in the line of sales representation. If your friend doesn’t already rep companies full-time or part-time, don’t waste your products or friendship over this trade. Stick with the professionals when it comes to reps and you will see real, sustainable results.

Getting crafty means recognizing where you need to put your dollars and where you can save your cents.

Time to think like a CEO: What is the secret sauce to your success? For a clothing designer the fabric, construction, and fit will determine whether the customer checks out or puts it back on the rack. On the other hand, the tags she puts on her garments are not the most important part of the sale; they are an accessory which add and aid to branding, but with a bit of creativity and careful planning – can be done by hand.

For example, the clothing designer might realize that she can order hang tags on business card size card-stock from for free, punch a hole at the top, and run some string through the hole and save herself hundreds of dollars on custom printed hang tags. And when her business has reached a level where the business card style tags aren’t reasonable, she will hopefully have the financial stability to order the more expensive custom tags.

I do want to warn that I’m not suggesting to throw out quality in all the less important items: but I am saying that you might not need expensive return address labels for a business that only sends mail to vendors. And there are many tricks to making something look more expensive than it is: like refinishing thrift store furniture for a clothing boutique. But remember, anything that will ruin a sale is subject to a share of the pocketbook.

I myself was fortunate enough to have a minor understanding of Photoshop and Dreamweaver and for five years built and maintained my own website. Sure it took tons of time, but I had time to give: money was the premium. On the other hand, I spent money on skilled help and gold-fill and sterling silver metal – things that my customers care about more than checking out on a site with lots of Flash programming.

This is where integrity is the name of the game. Don’t be shy about getting real with your freelancers. Tell it like it is.

Do you need to rehab a bakery but don’t have the funds to afford the contractor’s asking price? Say so. Be prepared for the contractor to walk away from the deal; but don’t be shy about sharing what your budget really is. They can’t fault you for the truth. Also think of alternative ways to bolster the bottom line through bartering, referrals, testimonials (hello, blogging!), portfolio projects, free products or whatever else could help improve their business.

It’s also a good idea to take stock and think about what you can bring to the table to make the project run smoother: could you do some of the grunt work yourself? That might cut their time commitment and thereby lower their rate.

My only word of warning is that you have to be honest: don’t low-ball someone just to save cash if you have a bigger budget. There is a balance in terms of price and quality. And in my opinion it’s just good karma to offer the best you can, responsibly.

So no more excuses! It’s time to get to business. Get lucky, get crafy, get real.

Just make it happen.

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  1. Excellent insights! I like the section headers of Get Lucky, Get Crafty, and Get Real. Under “Get Real” I would also suggest that we get real with ourselves on how much work and effort it is going to take, and to only focus on the things that matter (sort of in line with your purchasing good materials vs. investing in a flashy website analogy).

    Grace Hester
    The Productive Mom

  2. Niki

    Thanks for the tips Jess! I am in the early early stages of building my business and although I feel like I”m getting no where, I know that my efforts have to be making some progress. I’m really focusing on the networking part right now, and letting myself be ok with not having everything together right away. It’s really hard but I just keep reminding myself, it takes time!

  3. Piper

    Wow Jess – such great tips, thanks for sharing!! Very helpful for me – especially talking about where to save money and trying to find help where you can. I’m trying to learn to do that more and more!

  4. Annie

    This is one of my favorite “business-oriented” posts of yours. It’s so practical and to the point, and a lot of what you discuss I think could be applied to other areas of life as well. Very inspiring!

  5. Julie

    I just wanted to say that I stubbled across your blog from who knows where, and I’m so very impressed with your business and your initiative. Awesome!

  6. I would also say, as part of networking, “get generous”. If you have the opportunity to help someone else in their business or endeavors, do so, because most likely that will make an impression and when the time comes to call on them for help, they’ll remember it. I’ve spent the last few years helping others promote their businesses through my blog and a local magazine I write for. Now all of those connections I’ve made are starting to pay off since I launched my new online shop this past spring. It’s been much easier to get press and recognition because I have all of these connections already. I totally believe in karma – give a little and you’ll receive ten-fold.

  7. Jade

    Fabulous post! It’s so great to see some concrete tips every now and then – things that are very, very do-able. Thanks!!

  8. vadjutka

    Absolutely timely post.

    I just asked a friend of mine, who is a professional pr-girl to help me with advice. Untill now I could do everything by myself (excluding IT stuff), but now I feel, that this structure is no longer enough – I need to be more professional, and I need advice on that.

  9. tiina

    great post jess! I love reading about tips from successful entrepreneurs, more people should just follow their dreams and make things happen

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