Do You Have Solid Systems for Your Business?

Creative business owners: join me this summer to shape up our businesses! I have written an eight part series that will help you:

  • Increase efficiency and focus,
  • Enjoy your work more,
  • Reach your goals,
  • Learn to quit trying to do every darn thing that goes into running a business yourself!

Previously:
How to Build a Successful Creative Business on Limited Time
How to Easily Find Time For Your Creative Business
How to Reclaim Your Time and Get Help With Your Business
ONE Thing to Do to Make the Rest Easy
How to Grow a Business: Future You Will Thank You!​
How to Make Time & Enjoy Your Work by Hiring Help

Creating systems for your business

When time is limited (and when isn’t it?), you need good systems in place. You can’t do things differently each day or for different clients. You can’t answer the same question from scratch every time, write up a wholesale invoice starting with a blank page, or create a new process for each custom order. Creating systems for your business is a step you shouldn’t skip. Everything that can be systematized, templated, or automated should be.

You can use form letters but still have a personal touch. You can start from a template and adjust it to fit your work. You can structure your work day in a way that is consistent from day to day and week to week. You’ll find yourself saving time by not repeating your work over and over, but instead re-using it. Instead of having to figure out how to do a task each time it comes up, you can follow a system you developed the first time.

Why do you need systems?

As a sole proprietor of your business, everything is in your head! That means that without you, business screeches to a halt. You have no good way to go on vacation, recover from an illness, or deal with a family emergency.

If you have well-documented, repeatable business systems, onboarding will be a piece of cake.

If you can get your systems out of your head and onto paper (or Evernote, or a training video), you can get help. You can do anything from get a friend or family member to fill in when you need a break to hire a team of employees to manage everything. Systems can leave you free to grow your business.

When it’s just you, you need systems to work more efficiently. It is always faster to batch similar tasks. Your chance of making a mistake during production is high without a system. You won’t have to worry about missing a step when shipping orders if you have a checklist of tasks to use each time.

If you have documented, repeatable systems, it will be much easier to hand these jobs off to a new employee. If you don’t have systems in place, hiring someone is the perfect time to create them. I wouldn’t recommend delaying hiring help if you need it. Instead, hire your help and work with her to create and document your systems.

Teach your new employee what to do, work with her to create systems where you have none, and have her write down the steps to make them repeatable. It will feel like a lot of extra work this first time. However, when you’re ready to hire again, onboarding will be a piece of cake.

Evaluating your current systems

One way to start creating systems is to imagine you’re going to go on vacation for a couple of weeks. Come up with a set of instructions for your replacement so she could run your business while you were away. If you could write these instructions up easily (or they’re already documented), you’ve got great systems. If you couldn’t describe to someone else how to do what you do, your method needs some work.

What processes could you systematize?

In an ideal situation, you would have a system for everything you do for your business. If you’re just starting setting up systems, consider these as good places to start:

  • Product creation/production
  • Product packaging
  • Photographing products
  • Adding product info to your website
  • Fulfilling and shipping orders (wholesale and retail)
  • Customer service
  • Social media and marketing
  • Blogging and promotion
  • Tracking inventory of products and supplies
  • Managing wholesale invoices and orders
  • Tracking finances and bookkeeping

Often, as you look into these things, you will be able to find software to help you automate part or all of the job.

How do you begin documenting your process?

You likely have a repeatable process for some or all of the above, but haven’t documented it. For those processes, you can take some time to take notes as you go through the set of tasks needed to accomplish the job. You’ll want a simple list of ordered steps that someone else could learn to follow. As you’re doing this, see if there’s a way to do something more efficiently or cut out unnecessary steps.

For anything you do haphazardly, inefficiently, or differently every time, develop a system. Consider the final outcome you want, and work backward through what you’d have to do to get to that point. Try out your process a few times to see if it feels right.

Once you’ve written down the steps and instructions for each system, try following them to the letter. This will help you see if you missed anything. Create checklists, and if you find yourself doing something that wasn’t on the list, adjust your list. If you find that there’s a step you keep skipping, it may be something you don’t need to do.

As you’re testing out your system, you may notice missed steps or mistakes. You may find yourself going back over and over to look up the same information. When problems arise, add in a step to prevent the trouble. You want your systems to be foolproof. You want to know that you could entrust this documented system entirely to someone else. No part of it should live solely in your head anymore.

You want your business systems to be foolproof. No part of it should live solely in your head anymore.

Want some specific examples?

When planning this article, I asked the smart business owners in the Aeolidia Facebook group about their systems. Below are a few of their systems:

I have a calendar, and a binder with 31 tab dividers (numbered 1 – 31 for the days of a month) in it. Orders are filed in the binder by the promised shipping date. I use the calendar to mark when I ordered supplies (and quantity) so I know that was done. I also put other appointments in it for reference.

It’s a pretty simplistic, non computerized method, but I don’t like not being able to access info when the power / internet is out (this happens often unfortunately). And I can carry the binder to places like kid’s practices or the park during the summer so I can flip through orders and make pertinent notes.

I keep the calendar at the front of the binder. It also helps me plan when I know I need to schedule dead time for an appointment, etc.
— Leeanna Prejean of Lemon Lime Creations

We just got Stitch Labs to help us with our inventory system! I’m pretty big on accounting systems right now too! I’ve been setting up lots of Excel spreadsheets with all the equations and I feel so smart!

I have a checklist system for our quarterly product launch so that I know when everything needs to be done, sent to the printer, photographed, listed, emailed to wholesalers and then promoted direct to consumer! I put the checklist on a calendar (digital and paper) so I cut down on my stress by being planned and prepared!

I also set up lots of Photoshop actions to save time on repetitive editing! I think I’d even call our scheduling a system. Every Monday my husband and I meet in my studio and go over who is working on what each day so we are efficient and held accountable. We also have habit forming scheduled things like going over our accounting once a week to make sure quick books labeled everything right etc so we make fixing things manageable.
— Kaitlin Phillips Goodey of Goodey Studio

I use paper because my product is so labor intensive and customized I try not to have more than 8 in the works at a time, so spreadsheets and inventory apps don’t really work for me. I use Apple’s Pages and make an order sheet for each Etsy order, with standard drag and drop place holders for photos, notes, due dates, etc.

I have 8 clipboards on the wall behind my sewing machine and one order is clipped to each. Since my dolls take 6-8 hours a piece, I do not have more than eight “active” dolls going at once. If I’m wondering what color leggings or hair flower a particular doll had I just swivel around and check that clipboard.
— Lisa Press of Phoebe & Egg

I hired a virtual assistant to help me get my products uploaded. It took a long time to get the system set up, but now I don’t know how I lived without it.

I use a combination of Asana and Dropbox. For each product type I set up master tasks with subtasks starting with creating the templates, writing the product copy and getting it translated (my tasks) then creating photograph mock ups, uploading the products to my store, my Etsy store and any other marketplaces, scheduling pins, tweets and a facebook post and setting up a blog post.

It has exponentially increased my velocity to get products live. She and I are like a MACHINE!
— Eleanor Mayrhofer of e.m.papers

Fascinating! If you’d like to read more, we’re discussing this in our Facebook group today! Aeolidia Facebook group. Please join – I approve product-based creative businesses right away.

Your homework

This week:

  1. Choose the most important or least-systematized of the regular jobs you do for your business.
  2. Consider the desired outcome, and plan steps backwards from there.
  3. Test out your documented steps to see if the system is repeatable.
  4. Either move on to documenting the next job, or get some help for the first one.

Ready, set go! Then, when you’ve accomplished this, let’s celebrate and support each other in the Aeolidia Facebook group!

To make sure you don’t miss any steps, sign up for our newsletter, where I’ll be sending out a link to each week’s thoughts (along with other insights, info, and resources to help your business be its best).

From Etsy to Brick and Mortar: a Fabric Shop Transformed

Kristen Suzuki was ready for a completely new business name and identity after operating her fabric shop on Etsy for nearly a year. With countless stashes of beautiful fabrics piling up in her home, she knew it was time to set up shop as a brick and mortar. The only problem? She wasn’t in love with her current name, Stitch or Stash.

“It’s a kitschy name, but I’m looking for something a little more sophisticated,” she told us, adding that she wanted a name that was both modern and rustic.

Hanging store sign: Circa15 - from Etsy to brick and mortar

Kristen envisioned her brick and mortar in Kirkland, WA, as much more than a fabric store—she wanted it to be a space where sewing enthusiasts could take workshops, find community, and be inspired.

“I want to create a social environment that allows people to share and foster their creativity.”

She needed a name that captured this.

As I prepared to brainstorm names for Kristen, she shared a Pinterest page with me full of images of shops, interiors, and fabrics that encompassed the style and feel she was going for. It reminded me of woodsy, rainy days, and of what would happen if Anthropologie were a fabric shop; right away, I could tell Kristen’s new shop would be a fabric lover’s dream: not just a place where you go to pick a fabric, but a place meant for discovery and inspiration.

Kristen mentioned she really liked names with a ___ & ___ structure, and since she’s in the Pacific Northwest, she wanted to explore names that alluded to the weather.

Some of the first names I came up with included concepts like Needle & Mist, Pin Cushion Studio, and Raindrop Stitches. Kristen liked the names that evoked rainy days, but also wondered if we could go a little edgier. Of course, this was music to my ears. What writer doesn’t love going edgier?

Modern Fabriculture came to mind. But so did this idea of creation. Kristen’s new shop was definitely about fabric, but it was also mainly about artistry. It made me think of timeless art pieces, how their dates of origin are usually preceded by one word: Circa.

And so, Circa 15 Fabric Studio was born: An abstract name that signals beginnings, creations, and timelessness. The 15 represents the year when Kristen opened her studio, a year exactly after her Etsy shop opened. Because it has a story and significance behind it, the number will always feel relevant, no matter how much time passes.

Retail space before: Circa15 - from Etsy to brick and mortar

The retail space in Kirkland, WA, before Kristen moved in

Retail space after: Circa15 - from Etsy to brick and mortar

Circa 15 today!

Class in progress: Circa15 - from Etsy to brick and mortar

Circa 15 with a class in progress

Now that Kristen had a name, she needed a logo that would bring her new identity to life visually. Our designer Meg got to work right away on branding concepts with a modern yet rustic feel. With these kinds of identities, she told Kristen:

“… it’s really important to bring in warmth and texture while presenting a highly clean and minimal overall concept.” Because of this, Meg presented Kristen with concepts that were not too ornate or complicated. Instead, they were warm, inviting, and had a breath of life. The concepts were not overly feminine, but they did bring in some light, ethereal qualities.

Right away, Kristen gravitated toward three specific logo concepts—all had design elements that worked together as a whole. After some minor tweaks based on Kristen’s feedback, Meg came up with a Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary for Circa 15. The primary is ideal for situations when it can be viewed larger, such as signage and printed items, while the secondary is recommended for the website and/or packaging. Finally, the tertiary brand mark works well as a stamp or watermark, or for use as a social media avatar.

circa-15-brand-guide

Logo and hang tags: Circa15 - from Etsy to brick and mortar

Hang tag: Circa15 - from Etsy to brick and mortar

We asked Kristen for feedback about her project with us and she said:

When starting a business, your name and logo are two of the most important things; it’s the way people identify you. You better be sure of both, because you are going to be stuck with them forever. I knew I didn’t have the creativity or marketing background to effectively come up with a name and logo. After researching companies, I knew immediately my style meshed well with Aeolidia. From day one, everything went very smooth. They kept me on a schedule, and didn’t allow me to be the procrastinator I usually am. Fortunately for me, both ladies I worked with just “got me”. I felt the back and forth of ideas was productive. They were receptive to my feedback, and made adjustments accordingly. The whole process was so easy. Circa 15 Fabric Studio is the perfect name for my shop, and my logo is amazing! I’m so happy I was able to collaborate with Aeolidia.

Love how it all came together to move from Etsy to brick and mortar store? Contact us about branding or rebranding your business to get it ready for something special.

How to Make Time & Enjoy Your Work by Hiring Help

Creative business owners: join me this summer to shape up our businesses! I have written an eight part series that will help you:

  • Increase efficiency and focus,
  • Enjoy your work more,
  • Reach your goals,
  • Learn to quit trying to do every darn thing that goes into running a business yourself!

Previously:
How to Build a Successful Creative Business on Limited Time
How to Easily Find Time For Your Creative Business
How to Reclaim Your Time and Get Help With Your Business
ONE Thing to Do to Make the Rest Easy

How to Grow a Business: Future You Will Thank You!​

Do you feel like there is not enough time in the day? Are you worried that you’re falling behind in an area of your business? This post will be important for you. Today we’re talking about hiring help for small businesses.

I think there’s something in particular about creative businesses that makes us think we can do absolutely everything ourselves. Creatives are often used to tackling their own problems. Creatives aren’t thinking of it as “business” until it indubitably is. Creatives feel like they’re the only person who can understand how to do it right.

Delegating work is a big deal, and is something I regularly come back to and work to get better at. For most of the history of Aeolidia’s decade of existence, I did everything. I found clients, designed, developed, invoiced, managed projects. As I added more designers to the team, this got harder.  I had to take on less client work so I could manage my team’s projects.

Then I had my first baby, and wasn’t able to find enough solid blocks of time to do client work at all. I shifted to being the business owner and project manager, and left the client work to my team. We grew enough that I couldn’t do it all anymore, and, though being a boss was daunting, I hired a project manager.

Sam, our project manager, makes it so I can consider the big picture while the day to day stuff is smoothly managed. With Sam on the job, I can go on vacation, unplug, and assume everything will be fine when I return. With help, a sick day is no big deal. I don’t feel like I’m a hamster running on a wheel like crazy but not getting anywhere.

With help, a sick day is no big deal. I don't feel like I'm a hamster running on a wheel like crazy to go nowhere.

There are many things I’ve successfully delegated, and many I’m working to delegate right now. Guess what? Just because you always have done every task doesn’t mean you have to continue doing things that way. Taking some time to train someone to help you will free up so much time for you that you won’t believe you hadn’t done it sooner.

If you feel reluctant about delegating your work, I urge you to first read our Q&A with Kym Ventola. She and I worked to “debunk” the reasons people might feel like they’re not ready to get some help.

Feeling more like this is achievable now? Let’s talk about how exactly to do this.

When is it time to get some help?

There is going to be a period of time for nearly every small business where the business owner does have to do absolutely everything. Unless you have an outside funding source, you’re not likely to be able to budget for help in the beginning.

I bet when you started your business, you were imagining more free time, not less. You wanted more flexibility to be with your family, and were expecting a freedom you didn’t get from your previous job. Wondering why that hasn’t come true? I’m going to venture that you’re preventing yourself from achieving this by overworking yourself. And that this is something in your power to stop doing.

If you are getting enough sales that you're struggling to keep up, that is a sign that it's time to get some help!

If you are getting enough sales that you’re struggling to keep up, that is a sign that it’s time to get some help! Your work is in demand, and you should be able to invest in help. Hiring help should be an investment: with help, you should be able to do more work, and make back the money you spent on the help. You plus your help should make more profit than you made on your own.

You may not feel like you’re making enough money now to to pay for ongoing help. If you’re able to swing the first few months of help, the idea is that you’ll be able to sell more, earn more, and be at a new level where you can afford the help.

You’ll notice I’m saying “help,” not “an employee.” I have mentioned earlier in the series of blog posts that getting help comes in many forms. Here are the types of help you could get, from the lowest risk to the highest.

1) Work more efficiently

This is not going to be a huge help to most businesses, because there’s only so much time in a day. The comparison I heard was from Peter Shallard, who says:

“There is a hard limit on how much you can get done. No matter how much coffee you drink, there will never be more than twenty four hours in a day.

Warren Buffet, Richard Branson and Bill Gates didn’t get where they are today by figuring out some arcane formula that enabled them to work THAT MUCH more efficiently than you. When we blow the idea out to it’s ideological extreme like that, we see it for what it is: Absurd.

Bill Gates isn’t eight hundred thousand times more efficient than you are. He hasn’t figured out how to run his meat machine that much better. Actually, chances are he spends MORE time relaxing per day than you do.”

From The point everyone misses about working smarter instead of harder.

“Bill Gates isn’t eight hundred thousand times more efficient than you are.”

That said, if you’re doing something in a way that is remarkably inefficient, you can improve. If you waste half of your day chatting on the internet or playing games on your phone, take this advice from Tim Ferriss:

“Most “superheroes” are nothing of the sort. They’re weird, neurotic creatures who do big things DESPITE lots of self-defeating habits and self-talk.

Personally, I suck at efficiency (doing things quickly). Here’s my coping mechanism and 8-step process for maximizing efficacy (doing the right things):”

Read Tim’s process here.

2) Let software do your work for you

I am a huge proponent of this method! Some people hesitate to buy software. I purchase software at the drop of a hat, if it is going to save me time. If the app costs you $20/month, but it saves you four hours a month, that is a no brainer. You’re not going to be able to hire a human to do that work for you for $5/hr.

What kind of software am I talking about? For me, it’s customer service software, project management software, blog and social media scheduling software, etc. For product-based businesses, these are things like:

  • Shopify ecommerce (instead of the free but painful WooCommerce)
  • ShipStation (instead of managing shipping labels and postage manually)
  • WPEngine (to keep WordPress upgraded and hacker-free)
  • MailChimp (instead of trying to manage a mailing list from your inbox)
  • Quickbooks or other accounting software (instead of your awkward spreadsheet)
  • StitchLabs to manage inventory

I use IFTTT to automate many little things that I had been doing manually. It’s a nice service that makes your various software “talk” to each other. For instance, I used to save my completed blog posts as notes in Evernote. Now IFTTT does that for me, by using the RSS feed to get new posts and format them as Evernote notes.

Next time you’re doing a monotonous task, ask yourself, “could a robot do this?” and spend some time finding out!

Wendy Bryan of I Heart Guts used our website redesign as an opportunity to begin using apps and tools that vastly reduce the amount of clicks she needs to do to process orders.

Here are some posts from our blog about software that I use and that our clients like:

3) Outsource tasks

Maybe a robot couldn’t do your task, and you need a human. Good news! There are people in business to do just about anything you need help with.

Your task may be a one time task, such as creating your new ecommerce website. It may be a yearly task, such as filing your taxes. It may be something that happens quarterly or monthly, such as a review of your books. Or perhaps you need help more often, such as having one step of your product production process taken care of.

Alicia Paulson of Posie, for example, outsources fabric cutting and embroidery-floss-pulling to a small indie sewing factory down the street from her house.

Val Bromann of Choosing Figs conquered her control-freak tendencies to hire Aeolidia to design her website.

4) Hire a virtual assistant

A step in between hiring your own personal employee and outsourcing a task to a third party business is to hire a virtual assistant. This person will not be working solely for you, but will be skilled in the kind of tasks you need help with. He or she will work one-on-one with you on your assigned tasks.

I don’t have a ton of experience with this. You can Google “virtual assistant” to learn more.

5) Hire employees

This is a fun one! I know it seems like a huge change to a one-person business. Once you’ve hired the right people, you won’t be able to imagine how you ran your business without them.

Once you've hired the right people, you won't be able to imagine how you ran your business before.

When hiring, Kym’s tip is to not hire anyone who wants to do your job. She is a wedding photographer. When she hired her studio manager, she made sure not to hire a photographer. A photographer would be looking to learn skills from her and start their own business. Someone who is interested in being an office manager is going to stick around longer, saving you time on training people.

My tip is to spend more time than you feel you need to on the hiring process. Get a lot of applicants, narrow it down and talk to the top few on the phone or in person. Give them a test or request an example of their applicable work, so you can see what they can do. Start on a trial basis, so you can both cancel after a month or three if you see that it’s not a great fit. Your business means the world to you, and you need to be sure that you hire someone who will make it shine.

Rebecca Pearcy of Queen Bee Creations has a staff of 7 worker bees who do a whole range of things including sewing and non-sewing production work, helping customers online & in the shop, bookkeeping, screen printing the textiles line, ordering and managing inventory and running the wholesale business.

At one point, Christina Platt of Bamboletta had 51 people working with her. Some worked in the studio but most were stay at home moms working from home. Christina says:

“If you had asked me a few years ago what was too big I would have said where I currently am is – but as I’ve grown I’ve been able to branch off so that I don’t have to organize and take care of everyone. I’ve done a lot of thinking around what would feel too big and I think that if it ever came to a situation where I wasn’t sewing that would be too big. I don’t ever want to spend all my days in front of a screen running my business that way.”

Beth Lawrence of Freshie & Zero ran with our marketing advice and hired a marketing assistant to implement all the strategies she needed to propel her brand further. Beth says:

“Now that I have that fabulous assistant on our team, we have worked together on pitching to the media, figuring out social media, and making advertising decisions. It’s fun to have help to bounce new ideas off with regards to our marketing.”

Amy from June and January (previously Little Hip Squeaks) has a full staff, and her business has blown up since we redesigned her site. Her advice brings this all home. Amy says,

“Customer service is what makes your customers RETURN customers — and we have a massive repeat buyer count. The short answer — hire someone else to do it. When its your own business, you become so defensive about every complaint, every return, every late package. Even if you get 30 emails a day praising you and your product, the one email where the customer isn’t happy will stick with you. You’ll wake up in the morning dreading your inbox and eventually it gets out of control. So. Hire. Someone. Else.

Same goes for shipping! Hire someone! It’s costly to add extra people to your staff, but when the brains of the company can spend their time actually being the brains (or the creative, or the director, or the mogul) instead of packing orders and answering emails, then that translates into a better brand that can make more money.”

Where to find workers

Whether you have a single task to do, could use a part time virtual assistant, or want to hire a full time employee, it can be tricky to know where to find these people. I am a big fan of the “friend of a friend” recommendation, and I’ve had great success specifically asking people who I think would know someone, as well as using social media to get the word out about a job listing. The great thing about social media is that instead of asking a bunch of random people (like if you used Craigslist), you’re talking directly to people who already understand your niche.

Another method would be to use one of the sites out there that connects workers with employees:

How to hire correctly

Kiffanie Stahle comes to the rescue again, and shares with us “How to Hire Your First Employee Without Pulling Your Hair Out.” This has all the legal, official, and business paperwork type information you need to know to be sure you’re doing it correctly, and don’t later get in trouble with the IRS or your state’s labor department.

Your homework

This week:

  1. Take the info you’ve gathered from our earlier posts about your role and responsibilities and the tasks that shouldn’t be yours any longer, and make notes about who or what could take them over.
  2. Figure out the ONE hire, outsourced task, or purchase that you could make now that would make everything else easier or unnecessary.
  3. Plan the steps you need to take to make the change a reality.
  4. Timeblock and schedule the tasks you will need to do to get the help you need.

Ready, set go! Then, when you’ve accomplished this, let’s celebrate and support each other in the Aeolidia Facebook group! Request to join and we’ll hook you right up.

To make sure you don’t miss any steps, sign up for our newsletter, where I’ll be sending out a link to each week’s thoughts (along with other insights, info, and resources to help your business be its best).

Know Your Target Customer: Best Next Step for Pear’d

This post is part of our Best Next Step series, where you will hear from creative business owners like you, who are wondering what to focus on next. The background stories and questions are from all kinds of businesses in various stages of growth, and I share my ideas for how to proceed forward most efficiently and ambitiously. Today we’re hearing from Lacey and Rachel, of Pear’d.

Pear’d

Business: Pear’d
Owners: Lacey Heid and Rachel Neumiller
Site: PearD

Below is a screenshot of the Pear’d Etsy shop:

peard-etsy

About:

We- two sisters- started pear’d about one year ago. We’ve been sewing all our lives and finally decided to come together and make a business out of it. We design and sew all our products, which currently include tote bags, kid’s aprons, zippered pouches, and men’s neck ties. Our goods are created to stand up to every adventure, whether big or small; we design keeping function and form in mind. Currently, our goods are available in local shops in Fargo, ND, Bismarck, ND, Virginia, and on Etsy.

lucyrachel

Challenges:

We’ve been a business since July 2013. We do not have a website currently, but would love to have one up and running within the year. We would love to see more online sales, whether through Etsy or our own website. pear’d is not our full-time occupation, although it is a passion of ours and we’d like to grow, at a slower and more comfortable rate. We’ve been thinking about logo and name redesign, which would change our branding and (potential) website.

Objectives:

We brainstormed some goals for the next 6 months. Our next steps are to get a website running, ideally by the end of 2014; to have a firm grasp on our product line (what we will continue making, what we will phase out); to be able to purchase our materials wholesale, in order to keep costs lower; and to have three external marketing partnerships, to grow our customer base. We’ve also been struggling with keeping up with production, so we’d love to be able to pay ourselves more this year.

Promotion:

We market pear’d on Facebook and Instagram, in order to share new goods and when we’ll be at local fairs. We had an interview in one magazine last year, but have not been in the press since. We would love to get more publicity, but are unsure about how to go about it without having to post things every day or even multiple times a day.

Pear'd Apron

Pear'd Necktie

Pear’d’s Best Next Step

Hello Lacey,

Thank you for entering our Best Next Step giveaway – hoorah, you’re a winner! My thoughts follow (read them with a grain of salt, since I only have a brief outline of your business and challenges right now).

The one thing that stands out to me the most about your message is that the business is not your full time occupation and that you don’t want to have to market it daily. Is Pear’d something that you would like eventually to be your full time work, or do you see it as always being on the sideline? It is a lot of hard work to build and promote a small handmade business, and if you don’t have enough time to devote to it, it may suffer.

If you are able to make it a priority, or are content with slow, intermittent growth, then I would say that your next step will be to decide about the business name and logo. If a new logo will be happening, you’ll want to do that earlier, rather than later, so you don’t need to reprint packaging, re-create tags on bags, re-name your shop, and let customers know what happened. This is easy to do when you’re new and small and no one notices what’s going on yet!

If you decide to make a change, we do offer business name brainstorming, logo, and packaging services, and I’d be glad to talk to you about that in more detail.

If you haven’t yet spent time considering your target customer in detail, that would be a good start to sorting out the logo plan, and making decisions about your products. Streamlining your product line and making sure you’re being paid fairly for the production work are both important, and would also be good early steps in improving your business.

Purchasing materials wholesale is vital, and you should set that up right away. Customers shouldn’t be paying for high materials costs, and this will be a nice way to adjust pricing to pay you fairly for your work.

Pitching to blogs, magazines, and press is important, and my best advice if you’re unsure of how to start is to purchase our Pitch Kit. Jena on our team created this for her clients, and the $44 will be the best money you ever spent on publicity once you start getting all the blog mentions and other press. You can learn more about that and purchase it directly here:

http://aeolidia.com/pitch-kit/

Jena also offers one-on-one marketing consults where she will work with you to create a marketing plan tailored to your business, and we’d love to talk to you about that now or in the future.

Thanks for the chance to learn more about Pear’d. I hope this all makes sense, and I encourage you to consider your brand identity, make sure your pricing and process are sustainable and profitable, and find a way to fit the work of building a business in amongst your other priorities. What you have so far looks like a good start, and I’d love to get an update from you on how it goes as you move forward!

Are you ready for the next step?

If you’d like the power and experience of the Aeolidia team behind you, please get in touch! We would love to untangle your business priorities and take a few tasks off your hands so you can do your work. Contact Aeolidia – we never bite!

How to Grow a Business: Future You Will Thank You!

Creative business owners: join me this summer to shape up our businesses! I have written an eight part series that will help you:

  • Increase efficiency and focus,
  • Enjoy your work more,
  • Reach your goals,
  • Learn to quit trying to do every darn thing that goes into running a business yourself!

Previously:
How to Build a Successful Creative Business on Limited Time
How to Easily Find Time For Your Creative Business
How to Reclaim Your Time and Get Help With Your Business
ONE Thing to Do to Make the Rest Easy

We are going to talk more about delegation this week. This post is an appetizer, helping you think about why you might be resisting delegating the tasks that you don’t want to do yourself (or don’t have time for). Once you’re over this hurdle, and feeling enthusiastic about getting help, we’ll speak more on this subject.

Kym Ventola, photographer and boss, was my inspiration for my latest round of delegation, and I wanted to share her with you all! She joined us in the new Aeolidia Facebook group for a Q&A about delegation. Creative product-based businesses, come join us! There will be more of these.

We’ve tidied up the Facebook back and forth into something readable so we won’t lose this great info, and you can see Kym’s thoughts here. All quoted text below is from Kym, and all bold text is from our Facebook community.

Hello! I am looking forward to chatting with you all today! I’ll be answering any questions you might have about setting healthy boundaries in your business, to allow more time for your family and yourself.

My turning point 5 years ago was a heartbreaking question that my then 3-year-old son asked me: “Do you love your phone more than you love me?” I was justifying my excessive time on my phone with the need to keep up with client emails, update social media and answer every phone call. It was ridiculous.

At that moment, I set my phone down and made a commitment to my son. HE needed me. I needed him.

As soon as I turned off my email, Instagram & Facebook notifications, life changed. My phone wasn’t beeping at me or lighting up every 5 minutes. It was mostly silent. PEACE.

kym-son

When I told my story at the Dream Rock retreat in February (where I met the awesome Arianne Foulks), most of the group gasped when I showed this photo of my son, along with the question “Do you love your phone more than me?” Why? Because so many moms relate to this. Deep down, most of us are struggling with this. I get it. No judgements from me. Disconnecting from your phone is a big commitment. But it’s totally worth seeing how we reconnect with the people we love.

What do you recommend for someone just starting out at setting up their own creative business, in terms of easing into a routine for balancing creative work, financial tasks and having a life outside of these things, since they seem to overlap once you start working at home? Thanks! (Pam Winters)

Hi Pam! Thanks for the question! This is so great. As creative people it is SO easy for us to jump right in to the “fun” stuff: graphic design, setting up a website, working on products or services. But my best advice is to start with the foundation of your business. Get legal. Get your business license, set up sales tax (if necessary). Consult an accountant. Do the “boring” stuff first. This will allow you to feel free to be the creative human being you are. If those things are left undone, they can become a burden and negatively impact our creativity.

I would also recommend delegating, Pam! When I mentor businessowners, we always establish what they WANT to do and what they are great at. I see too often that work can suffer if you’re trying to do something that you’re not knowledgeable about or have a little bit of passion for.

Hope that helps!! (Kym Ventola)

Hi Kym! Your story about your son really resonated with me! (As my daughter is binging on care bear movies while I simultaneously print out orders and join this facebook conversation…) Can you tell us more about how you transitioned to a place of setting boundaries with work and opening up more time for yourself and family? And getting past that point of feeling like YOU had to do it ALL? And maybe some tips for how to delegate on a small budget? (Emily Roach-Griffin)

I would create a list of all of your responsibilities: EVERY task necessary to see your business function on a daily basis. Determine which of these things you love doing and which of them stress you out. It may seem crazy and impossible at first, but you can delegate those things to people that LOVE doing them and are extremely good at doing them. Think about it… I’m terrible at plumbing, I’m not interested in it. If I do it, it will create so much work, stress and money in the long run. It will be a mess. The same goes for aspects of our businesses.

I worked on my website for 2 YEARS you guys. 2 YEARS. Then, I outsourced it. It was done in 2 weeks.

I would also look into something like ShootQ (for photographers) or 17hats to help keep your business organized online! This will allow you to keep track of communications, orders, finances, scheduling, etc.

It is so hard, isn’t it?! I was working 60 hours/week. It was TOO MUCH. I ended up hiring a studio manager. I kid you not. She works about 10 hours a week and she freed up (are you ready for this?) 30 hours a week for me. This girl is efficient and loves doing this job. She does everything I hated doing. Now, I have more time with my family, but I also have more time to take on more weddings, hence I make more money! It’s interesting, isn’t it?!! (Kym Ventola)

Asking for a friend… “won’t it just be easier for me to do? I don’t know how to train someone and not sure I want someone in my space; feel like it will just slow me down” (Kat Stewart G)

That is something that I hear all of the time! I used to tell myself the same thing! BUT, let me tell y’all something interesting: I WAS AN ACCOUNTANT BEFORE I BECAME A PHOTOGRAPHER. I do not do my own accounting. I could easily do it, I’m knowledgeable, I have the tools. But it wasn’t my passion and it was taking me away from photographing and being creative. My work was suffering and it was clear to everyone. (Kym Ventola)

I love it Kym! How did you find the right person? It feels like such an overwhelming and intimidating process! (Not to mention Kat’s friend’s points of not being sure about wanting someone in her space–I feel the same way!) I did hire a great assistant and I love her to pieces! But she’s a student and can only work a little bit during her breaks. But delegating more than just cutting paper feels scary! (Emily Roach-Griffin)

So, the commitment is big. You have to evaluate every thing you are responsible for in your business. Ask yourself, does that “thing” define me? Will it make me more successful? Photography defines me. Not accounting, answering emails or scheduling. (Kym Ventola)

How can people budget to hire someone BEFORE the money-making effect of having some help kicks in? (Arianne Foulks)

Great question! There is always an investment in creating the job description and setting boundaries. It will take a little time to clearly define the job. Set aside (on your calendar) a day and time and turn off Facebook (lol) and have zero distractions (except a good show on Netflix) and write out your expectations.

I wrote down what my perfect “studio manager” looked like/what their talents were. Then, in a post on Facebook (business and personal), I wrote out (in a very upbeat and friendly way) the job listing. My biggest rule is NO FRIENDS, NO FAMILY. The best people to hire are usually FRIENDS OF FRIENDS. I narrow down my interview list to five people and spend 30 min with each (at a coffee shop). Then, I invite three more for a second interview at my studio and show them the space and get a feel for how they respond to the environment. Believe me, it works! (Kym Ventola)

Awesome, advice, Kym! Yes, when we hired our perfect amazing wonderful project manager, it took a TON of my time and it was so stressful trying to run the business while in between project managers that I started clenching my teeth at night and my dentist had me start wearing a night guard. But taking the extra time to be super particular, list out exactly what you’re looking for, check references, do in-person interviews and training is worth all of the (temporary) agony! Aeolidia would be a total mess without Sam. (Arianne Foulks)

People are usually very surprised to find out how affordable it can be to hire someone to help you. :) Here’s why “investing” in someone works for me (for example): I brought on my studio manager; within 2 weeks she was trained and ready. After that, my calendar was wide open (in comparison to pre-studio manager). Sooooooo, I took on more weddings (because those are what I love, love, love doing) and in 6 months, I saw a 45% increase in revenue. I had MORE than paid for my studio manager at that point. Today, same story. (Kym Ventola)

Doing all of your normal work plus all of the extra work of hiring is no candyland. Maybe get some help from family or friends as you transition? Just let other stuff fall apart (laundry, social life) as you make the big move? That worked for me. (Arianne Foulks)

I do agree with Arianne, if there are areas in your life that friends and family can help with to ease the pressure, then absolutely! (Kym Ventola)

How do you stay organized about how you do social media and when do you find the best times to be on there/out there is without losing the rest of your life?! I’m finding managing my time when it comes to social media has been a bear, especially since I am rolling out a new project and trying to connect with new people across different platforms and worlds…(Bonbon Oiseau)

My first rule is to turn off all notifications. I don’t want them disrupting my personal time with friends and family. ;) Second, I actually schedule time each day or every other day to post something or follow up on comments. The big advice is: SCHEDULE IT. ;) I hope that helps!! (Kym Ventola)

Arianne: Bonbon, I don’t know what you’re doing now, but sticking with just ONE social media platform to concentrate hard on (while checking in with the rest) is a good way to get started. Be amazing in one place instead of mediocre in five.

Bonbon: You’re right–I think I’m trying to learn them all and trying to discover which one would be the one to concentrate on. I’ve never been that into Twitter but find I’m learning so much by being on there and people, since there’s more freedom to be more content-rich, have been sharing on Facebook, but FB’s dumb algorithm is so limiting, allowing only the truly engaged to see my posts, I like to moderate that and post decent content as I find it on FB. And Instagram seems like such a good place to curate and connect people to some of the other err…connecting grounds, since my project is, well, all about connection and story. This has been the challenge as it seems, to grow, I need all of them for different reasons—have been trying to build each into my day–but some days it’s just too much–thank you for such great advice!

That is great advice, Arianne! Bonbon Oiseau, I do agree with Arianne. I hired a social media expert and I was told that Instagram is the most effective. Of course, to each their own (some people don’t connect with IG). But I hear a lot of success stories from it! Good luck! (Kym Ventola)

I…have a website that I created using Weebly until I can do more. Right now, it averages around 10 sales a month. I don’t do anything to promote it. I don’t do much to promote the Etsy shop and I run around 350 – 400 sales a month there. (Leeanna Pittman Prejean)

That is fabulous that Etsy is sending you so much traffic and sales! But what would happen to your business if they change their algorithm (what is featured, what shows up in search etc.) so that number dropped to zero? It could happen! It’s best to be more in control of your shop and make promotion a priority so you don’t have to rely on Etsy to support your business. (Arianne Foulks)

Leeanna: I completely agree, Arianne. I have new shops on other platforms, but then my Etsy shop gets busy, and I end up putting them on vacation until I can get the Etsy orders out the door. I have actually put enough money in the bank to be able to have a very limited number of items available on Etsy this summer so that I can spend sometime working on other platforms, my website and introduce new products. It’s the how to keep up with the sales from the various platforms as well as keeping up with the supplies I need so that everything runs smoothly. Since I work from home and have deed restrictions about having a business out of your house that has employees, that isn’t an option until I am ready to set up a retail front (another three years away at least).

Leeanna, could your helper(s) work primarily out of their own homes? Is there non-production work another person could do which would free you up to make jewelry? Could you move all of your shipping supplies to your helper’s home and bring her orders daily to get out the door while you tend to your business? Seems like there must be a way to get some help now when you could really use it. Having to close your shop entirely to catch up is a big signal that you need help and help would bump you up to the next level of growth. Keep up the great work!! (Arianne Foulks)

I am considering hiring someone to help me set up my website, I have in my head exactly how I want it to function and how I want it to look, but have not yet figured out how to do either. I would like learning to do it myself (because I like new adventures, and am afraid that a professional won’t get what I want). So I am hesitant spending money that I don’t have on something that is not exactly what I want. But then, I am stuck now with technicalities. I want it up and running smoothly starting 2016 when I stop my full time job. I have a schedule and paperwork to get everything done, like the city business license, stocking up supplies when I know there is a sale, business cards, I have my excel programs all set up. Is it reasonable to give myself a few more weeks to work on the website, or should I just leave it to a professional and use my free time enjoying making items? (Pien WijtmansBouwhuis)

That will depend on budget, Pien! And you might consider forgetting about having things “exactly how you want them” when you’re just starting out. Done is better than perfect, and especially with a new business, your style, customer, preferences, and needs may change, so a perfect expensive website might not be top priority at the moment. (Arianne Foulks)

What’s next?

If you’re feeling interested in hiring help now, but you’re wondering how to go about it, next week’s post is going to be what you need to get started on that. I’ll be talking about different types of help and how to get it, as well as sharing examples from businesses like yours that have gotten the help they need. If you subscribe to my newsletter, you’ll get an email next week so that you don’t forget to check in on the post.

kym ventola

Meet Kym: For years, international wedding photographer, Kym Ventola, had been struggling to find that “balance” of being a great wife, mom and business owner (she’s not alone, am I right?!). In 2010, her marriage was suffering & her 3 year old son asked her if she loved her phone more than she loved him (having your business email on your phone is a time suck, you guys!). There is no business in the world more important than family or your well-being. Kym was forever humbled, but not defeated.

Within a few months, Kym learned to delegate the things she was not passionate about (in her business) so that she could put her energy and focus on the things she loved to do: photograph, meet with clients and travel. It took trust, patience, and a small financial investment in the beginning… but it all paid off.

Today, she is the happiest version of herself, her family is stronger than ever and her business is thriving. She is able to take on more of the work that she loves, while others are doing the tasks she used to dread or neglect. It’s a win-win for everyone. And she wants to help you, with business and personal coaching. Kym is also the founder of Nine Retreat, a retreat for small-business owners that focuses on both business AND relaxation.

Your homework

This week:

  1. Think about why you’re resisting delegating work that you don’t want to do.
  2. Imagine possible ways to get some help that don’t compromise your values and your enjoyment of your work.
  3. Sketch out a tentative plan, and meet me back here next week for more detailed information on delegation.

Ready, set go! Then, when you’ve accomplished this, let’s celebrate and support each other in the Aeolidia Facebook group! Request to join and we’ll hook you right up.

To make sure you don’t miss any steps, sign up for our newsletter, where I’ll be sending out a link to each week’s thoughts (along with other insights, info, and resources to help your business be its best).

Refined Design: Amata Jewelry Studio

Amata Jewelry Studio combines centuries-old metalsmithing techniques with a modern aesthetic to create unique and gorgeous gemstone jewelry.

amata jewelry studio before & after

Ladini contacted us last year about redesigning her logo and website. She told us:

The primary goals for our ecommerce site are to help generate online sales and begin an online presence that reflects who we are now and can potentially grow and evolve with us. We would like the site to attract current and new customers, wholesale accounts, press and bloggers. It will be a platform that stimulates ongoing and constant engagement with our customers. We hope to inspire, educate and curate. Our objective is to attract a refined clientele, who appreciates beautiful jewelry and value handcrafted, quality products.

Margot on our team began by creating a new logo and identity for Amata Jewelry Studio which is a great improvement over the simple text logo that Ladini was using before. Margot was inspired by Amata’s gemstone jewelry and created geometric gemstone shapes for the logo which feel contemporary, yet refined.

Amata Jewelry Studio quick brand identity guide

Margot then carried the new brand over to the website design. When presenting the new look, Margot explained to Ladini that the intent of the new design is that it be clean, modern, feminine, and elegant. The focus is on the beautiful images throughout the site, and uses simple, intuitive navigation to guide customers to information.

Amata Jewelry after the redesign

Amata Jewelry Studio home page design

The new Amata Jewelry Studio website is refined and elegant, showing off the beautiful jewelry pieces that Ladini creates. The new site uses variant images that change the featured product image based on the user’s selection, and includes a “More Colors” feature on the collection pages to let customers know at a glance if a product is available in additional colors or with additional stones. The large product photography is our favorite aspect of the site – it really showcases the products in a spectacular way.

Amata Jewelry Studio item page design

Margot worked with Ladini to figure out a way to show a large number of images on her new About page, without a slow load time. Creating collages of images allowed us to design a beautiful page full of imagery that represents the company.

Amata Jewelry Studio about page design

We asked Ladini for feedback about her project with us and she shared:

We’ve received hundreds of wonderful comments on social media and in person about our new branding and website thanks to Aeolidia! Designing and developing our first ecommerce site was one of the most extensive and fairly complex projects for our small business. A project of this scope can be very intimidating and overwhelmingly complex, however, the Aeolidia team are remarkable communicators, which made the project streamlined, efficient and enjoyable. From the creative skills of the designers to the highly organized project coordinator to the expertise of the developer Aeolidia is a truly professional team that was a pleasure to work with. They were always there to gently guide me through the new world of ecommerce and every seemingly minor or complex issue was always addressed. I’m so grateful to have a team of experts that Amata Jewelry Studio can grow and develop with.

Ready for a before and after of your own?

We would love to talk with you about a website redesign, get you started with a marketing plan, or get your logo and packaging ready for the big time. Contact us at Aeolidia!

 

ONE Thing to Do to Make the Rest Easy

Creative business owners: join me this summer to shape up our businesses! I have written an eight part series that will help you:

  • Increase efficiency and focus,
  • Enjoy your work more,
  • Reach your goals,
  • Learn to quit trying to do every darn thing that goes into running a business yourself!

Previously:
How to Build a Successful Creative Business on Limited Time
How to Easily Find Time For Your Creative Business
How to Reclaim Your Time and Get Help With Your Business

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it forever. My favorite kind of advice is the kind that seems like common sense once it’s presented to me. Like, headsmack! Of course! Of course that’s how you do it. Today is about that.

The inspiration for this post comes from a book that hit me at just the right time. I had been flitting between hundreds of to-dos on multiple to-do lists. I was always chasing down various little projects and ideas. I was starting to realize that I was getting nowhere, on a hamster wheel of my own making.

Then I found this book: The One Thing

The book starts with, “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.” Yikes – how did you know what I had been doing, guys?

They go on to introduce and ask the focusing question. “What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

This book started a major upheaval in my personal workday, and for Aeolidia as a whole.

I’m going to give you the gist of this concept, and some links to explore further. I seriously recommend that you get the book.

The focusing question

What's the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

First, let’s unpack the question:

“What’s the ONE Thing I can do…”

This means one single solitary thing. Not your 12 page to-do list.

Note that they say can do, not should do or could do. This has to be a thing that you can take action on right now.

“…such that by doing it…”

The authors say that this “bridge” between the first thought and the next one. It tells you that you’re going to dig deep to make big changes.

“…everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

That part is the beauty part. I love this sentence from their explanation: “Most people struggle to comprehend how many things don’t need to be done, if they would just start by doing the right thing.”

You’ll find that if you tackle this ONE Thing mightily, many of those other things that you’ve been sweating over will either be easier to do, or will turn out to be things that you never had to do in the first place!

I feel like I was a squirrel scrambling everywhere looking for little nuts, when suddenly someone pointed out a path to a big barrel of peanut butter. Working to roll that big supply of peanut butter to my den is going to make the strategic hunt for acorns ridiculous, right?

I worked hard on my focusing question, and applied it to the many areas I was scurrying around trying to improve. I headed down some wrong paths (I had to try not to set any “should dos” as my own goals). I talked to some people who know my business well. It turns out my ONE Thing to solve this year is time. We are going to keep doing the best work we know how to do, but we are going to tightly control the time it takes so that we can do more in less time.

This is a win-win-win for me, my team, and our clients. I have never been so excited about my business. If you know me, you know that I’m prone to excitement, so that’s saying a lot.

I encourage you to apply this question to many areas of your life, to find your most serious ONE Thing.

Work backwards from a future goal

This is something I’ve never done, and was an interesting exercise. The theory is that if you know what you want to accomplish and when, there is a certain amount of work and steps to take in that timeframe. If you keep at it persistently, you will get to your goal.

To do this, you come up with your most long-term goal for yourself and your career. Then a five year goal based on that. You break that down into a year goal. Where should you be in a year if you want to make it to that five year goal? Well, then, where will you need to be this month to be on track for the year goal? What should your goal for this week be, to have you on target for the month’s goal? What is your goal for today (today, not tomorrow), to get started on the week? And what can you do right now to prepare for success in today’s task?

They compare your ONE Thing to a small domino that’s going to start a chain reaction with larger and larger dominos – until you’ve toppled over the huge one at the end.

The importance of focus

When I first started trying to untangle my web of to-dos after reading the book, I had to have a serious talk with myself. I looked through all my to-dos in Trello. Some of these are to-dos that I’ve been collecting for years, people! Anything super important I put on my weekly calendar and get done, but anything that “would be nice” or is an interesting idea goes to Trello.

I grouped my to-dos into the full projects I was pursuing, and I found out that I had been trying to do ELEVEN projects for the last year. If I could make that more bold, I would. I had been trying to do eleven big projects almost entirely by myself, a bit at a time. While I also tried to run the business, market it, and do the other day to day stuff.

Do I need to be doing any of those things? Could the business survive, and heck, even thrive without those things? I thought I was working to make things better, but I was distracting myself from the ONE Thing that I could be doing to truly improve the business.

Could your business survive, and heck, even thrive without your massive to-do list?

And I see our clients and other creative business owners doing the same thing. Frantically trying to keep up with six social media platforms! Struggling to find time to blog while also producing their product. Hiring more employees, when they could instead streamline systems so their current team could do twice the work. Coming up with new ideas and plans and product lines before making sure that their core business is the best it can be.

Ask yourself the question, “What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” It brings you focus that will improve your business. It will allow you to feel confident and relaxed that you’re spending your time where you should be.

Go ahead: look at your whole to-do list. What’s the ONE Thing on that list that you can do right now that will make the rest inconsequential? It’s probably hiding in there – or maybe you know what it is and you’ve been putting it off!

You will be amazed by how liberated you feel after doing this. All the rest of the to-dos will quit weighing on you when you know you’re doing your ONE Thing.

Where can you learn more?

A client mentioned “The One Thing” to me, and I listened to a Lively Show podcast about it that had me instantly purchasing the book. You can learn more on the1thing.com or by listening to The Lively Show. You can nab the book wherever books are sold – that thing’s a best seller! Download it to your Kindle today or get the audio book and use today’s homework time to get the grand picture of how this is going to change your life.

Your homework

This week:

  1. Read or listen to The One Thing.
  2. Look at your to-do list and ask yourself the focusing question.
  3. Begin thinking about how you can devote solid and regular blocks of time to your ONE Thing.

Ready, set go! Then, when you’ve accomplished this, let’s celebrate and support each other in the Aeolidia Facebook group! Request to join and we’ll hook you right up.

To make sure you don’t miss any steps, sign up for our newsletter, where I’ll be sending out a link to each week’s thoughts (along with other insights, info, and resources to help your business be its best).

Make Customer Service Your Priority: Shiny Happy World’s Best Next Step

This post is part of our Best Next Step series, where you will hear from creative business owners like you, who are wondering what to focus on next. The background stories and questions are from all kinds of businesses in various stages of growth, and I share my ideas for how to proceed forward most efficiently and ambitiously. Today we’re hearing from Wendi Gratz, of Shiny Happy World.

Shiny Happy World

Business: Shiny Happy World

Owner: Wendi Gratz

Site: http://www.shinyhappyworld.com

Below is a screenshot of Wendi’s website:

current shiny happy world website

About:

I believe that everyone can sew, or quilt, or embroider – they just need the right patterns and someone to hold their hand. :-) That’s what I try to do at Shiny Happy World.

Wendi Gratz

I have over 100 video tutorials, plus lots of regular tutorials teaching all kinds of basic needlework skills. I also have over 100 digital patterns designed especially for beginners. I never release a pattern until I have videos demonstrating every skill someone will need to complete the project, and then I include links to those videos in all my patterns. Every pattern is a mini workshop.
I also sell all of my favorite tools and supplies – the exact same things I use in my own work – and have recently added kits and subscription clubs to the mix.
My business style is warm and friendly, playful and fun and always upbeat and positive. I really do try to make my website a shiny happy world. :-)
Customers can mostly buy my products on my website, but I also have shops on Etsy and Craftsy. I never direct traffic to those other sites, though. I consider the time spent on them a marketing expense because they bring new customers to my main site. I invite everyone who buys from my Etsy or Craftsy stores to join my newsletter.

Challenges:

I’ve been running my business since January 1 2011 – so close to four years now. My business has grown a LOT in the last year (I’m on track to more than double my sales from 2013 and my newsletter has grown to 6000 subscribers). I’ve done all the website work myself – moving my site from Blogger to self-hosted WordPress, adding a shop to my site, adding a members-only section and more. There are minor technical issues on my site that I can’t take the time to figure out (Like why does my theme shave off the right edge of all my photos on any archive pages?), but I’m also starting to worry that the whole thing feels cobbled together. I know it feels that way on the back end, but I worry that it feels that way on the front too. My site is also pretty darn slow to load, which I know is a problem but don’t know how to fix. As I sell more kits and subscriptions, streamlining the shipping process is starting to be a priority too, and I’d love to add courses to the site. Basically – with over 100 tutorials in different categories, almost 100 free patterns (some available only to members), over 100 patterns in my shop, customer show & tell photos, subscription pattern series and blogging every week day – it’s just a TON of information and resources to manage and organize. I don’t think I’m doing to best job I can of presenting all that Shiny Happy World has to offer.

Objectives:

I have ambitious sales goals for the next four years – my insane goal is for my average monthly sales in 2018 to be $10,000. I’m a long way from that now, but I’m on the right track. I’ve learned that a big part of that is my newsletter subscribers. They really drive my business, so my goal is always to sign new readers up for the newsletter (but without annoying and intrusive pop-up things). I’d love to build a stronger sense of community for my readers, without relying on Facebook. And I’d like to do all of that while working just a little bit less – fewer evenings and weekends – so I can spend my time with my family. I realize this is possibly impossible. :-)

Promotion:

In the last year I’ve focused almost entirely on customer service. I reward my newsletter subscribers REALLY WELL and I’ve found that free patterns on my own site are the best way to bring in new subscribers. I’ve stopped almost all guest posts on other blogs because I found I was giving them a free pattern to drive traffic to THEIR site, with only a very small percentage of those people clicking through to Shiny Happy World. I’m done with that. I’d love to get press that doesn’t involve giving away free work, but I haven’t figured that out yet.

carp design by shiny happy world

elephant design by shiny happy world

safari quilt pattern by shiny happy world

Shiny Happy World’s Best Next Step

Hello Wendi,

Thank you for entering our Best Next Step giveaway – hooray, you’re a winner! My thoughts follow (read them with a grain of salt, since I only have a brief outline of your business and challenges right now).

You are one of our giveaway entrants that barely needs any help! :) Your plan looks pretty solid, you’re on track to achieve it, and the way you’ve been doing things is quite savvy. Doesn’t look impossible to me!

Make Customer Service Your Priority

Making your newsletter a high priority and rewarding your subscribers well is a good move, and it sounds like it’s been serving you well. I appreciate that you’re being persistent about getting people subscribed to the newsletter without being annoying or intrusive. I was looking for your newsletter on the home page, and completely overlooked the button in the footer, so if it’s hard for me to find while looking for it, it’s going to be pretty easy for your casual reader to miss. Perhaps it could be part of your navigation (listed as a page under “Free Patterns” perhaps – I like that you’re mentioning it at the top of each Free Patterns page). You could add it to the footer of each blog post (“Did you like this article? Get more like this from my newsletter!”) – I see you’re doing that on all the Free Patterns pages, which is good.

I don’t know if guest posts are the answer, but to grow business, you do need to have other blogs, magazines, and media outlets sending people your way. Perhaps you could think of a more creative way to do a guest post without giving anything away? Maybe a tutorial, which then points to a pattern on your site, or an interview or other type of informative article? The trick is to get people to want to click a link back to your site. Or perhaps you could continue to do pattern giveaways, with a final paragraph on each guest post that encourages people to sign up to your newsletter for more. That way, you’re getting a benefit out of the post. Abby Glassenberg wrote a very useful post about guest posting lately that I think you will be interested in.

So, it seems like the last nut left to crack is your website. I wish I could just offer a few quick tips for you to get it all sorted out, but it’s quite the behemoth, as you mention! Your best bet would be to leave it as is if you don’t think it’s losing you business, and then to hire some professional help when it’s in your budget. With a membership area, you may need to keep at least part of the site on WordPress, but WordPress’ ecommerce solutions aren’t our favorite. It looks like you’re using WooCommerce, which we have worked with before, but have recently stopped recommending, as it just doesn’t work as smoothly as something like Shopify does.

Let me know if you’d ever like to talk about the website! We design strategically, are good at sorting through a whole pile of content, and making it digestible and easy to navigate, and we have a lot of experience with ecommerce.

Thanks for the chance to learn more about Shiny Happy World. I hope this all makes sense, and I encourage you to keep working on increasing your newsletter fanbase, finding new ways to bring fresh visitors to your site, and hit your sales goal. Make the best of your website until you can afford some pro help, and keep making customer service your number one priority! I would love to hear how it works out for you as you build your business!

Are you ready for the next step?

If you’d like the power and experience of the Aeolidia team behind you, please get in touch! We would love to untangle your business priorities and take a few tasks off your hands so you can do your work. Contact Aeolidia – we never bite!

How to Reclaim Your Time and Get Help With Your Business

Creative business owners: join me this summer to shape up our businesses! I have written an eight part series that will help you:

  • Increase efficiency and focus,
  • Enjoy your work more,
  • Reach your goals,
  • Learn to quit trying to do every darn thing that goes into running a business yourself!

Previously:
How to Build a Successful Creative Business on Limited Time
How to Easily Find Time For Your Creative Business

Getting help with your business when you have limited time

I have two young boys who threw a bomb in my work schedule by being born. While they both get out of the house for a while each day, it doesn’t translate to a huge amount of work time for me. For most of the last year, I was getting 5-6 hours to work each day. There are things I have to do during my “work time” that are not work, or my work-life balance gets all messed up. You know, like eating lunch, buying groceries, tidying the house.

It turns out I can run a business on five hours a day, but I absolutely cannot run a business by myself on five hours a day.

I can run a business on five hours a day, but I absolutely can’t run a business myself on five hours a day.

Would you like to get some help?

Help could be hiring full time employees. Help could be outsourcing a business task (tax prep? website building?). Help could be purchasing software to automate something (shipping labels? invoicing?).

The best foundation for getting help is to decide what your ideal role should be. Then you can consider how to take care of the things that may not be the best fit for you.

Evaluating your responsibilities

Here is a wonderful exercise that I’ve gone through at two different business events. Each time it’s made a huge difference to my business.

Below is how I organized my worksheet from Kym Ventola’s talk at the Dream Rock retreat (more from Kym in a future post!). In the months since February, I’ve made serious progress on delegating nine out of the 15 responsibilites I’d quickly written down. Checked boxes are all things I’m getting help with now! Some of these things I’m still doing, but getting assistance with, and some I’ve delegated completely to someone else.

delegating tasks

Download our printable document for an easy start on this. You can get that by subscribing to our mailing list. Here is all you do:

1) Write a list of ALL your everyday responsibilities.

These should be both business and personal responsibilities. So, all the tasks for your work, but also home, family, and life. Maybe if someone else picked up the groceries, you could manage your social media. Maybe if you hired a bookkeeper, you’d have time to cook a family meal some nights.

It helps to sit down with a notebook and brainstorm. Then hold onto that list for a day or a week, adding to it as you work and you realize what you left out.

2) Figure out which you should keep.

For each of your responsibilities, determine: Do you want to do it? Do you have time for it? Just put a yes or no in each of those two columns next to the task.

3) Make a plan to get help.

You should keep all the things with two Yeses, and get help with all the things with two Nos. The Yes/No items you’ll consider. You may have freed up time for them. You may let them be someone else’s responsibility so you can stick to your best work.

We are going to talk much more in future blog posts about how to get help, and where to get help. This is a lot to think about, so for today, we’re just going to lay the groundwork. You don’t need to think yet about who or what could help you with these tasks.

Choosing your ideal responsibilities

Creative business owners should be working on a business, not in a business.

You’ve probably heard before that as business owners, we should be working on our business (making improvements, propelling it forward), not in our business (day to day work, reactive work).

For most of us, our actual responsibilities list looks nothing like what we would choose for ourselves. I have good news for you, though. If you run a creative business, and you’re the boss of yourself, you do get to sit down and choose.

With hundreds of things on your to-do list, how do you decide what to do each day? First, you have to know what you’re bringing to your business that makes it what it is. What things do you do that make you irreplaceable? These are the things that you shouldn’t delegate.

Many of us are designers. It’s important to keep the design style and voice that customers have fallen in love with. So you will likely want to keep your role as creative director, if not creator. But maybe not! I began as a graphic designer, but don’t do that at all now. I found that as we shifted into being a larger company, my most important contribution isn’t design. Instead it is my passion for helping creative entrepreneurs, and my voice and vision for Aeolidia.

To begin my latest phase of focus and delegation, I made myself a list. This is my role and irreplaceable contributions. I can look to this whenever I have a task to do, to decide if I should do it, or if I should delegate it. I have been calling this “CEO Mode” to myself.

Arianne’s role and talents:

  1. Ideas and improvements, but let others put them in motion.
  2. Outreach, but let others help with the day-to-day marketing.
  3. Problem solving, but teach and encourage self-reliance as I help.

The second half of each sentence, beginning with “but” is important for me. I tend to throw myself wholeheartedly into every aspect of a project. It reminds me that this only works well if I direct, but stay out of the detailed tasks. These “buts” guard against accidentally slipping into working in my business instead of on it.

Applying your ideal responsibilities

Now that you have your list of the things that you’re best at, those that are important for you personally to do, how can you stay on track?

Compare the list that defines your role with the list of responsibilities you’ll keep. Do those responsibilities still make sense, or does this help you see that there may be even more you should get help with?

As new tasks come along each day, take a look at your role and ask yourself if this is something only you can do, or if it’s something you could get some help with.

Your homework

This week:

  1. Brainstorm ALL your responsibilities on a big piece of paper.
  2. Download our printable worksheet (mailing list subscribers get instant access). Or just get a blank sheet of paper and make your own list.
  3. For each responsibility, determine if you want to do it, and if you have time.
  4. From what you’ve learned, write a list of your irreplaceable contributions and determine your role.
  5. Double check the responsibility list and see if it matches with your role.

Ready, set go! Then, when you’ve accomplished this, let’s celebrate and support each other in the Aeolidia Facebook group! Request to join and we’ll hook you right up.

To make sure you don’t miss any steps, sign up for our newsletter, where I’ll be sending out a link to each week’s thoughts (along with other insights, info, and resources to help your business be its best).

Shopify Blog Examples from the Aeolidia Portfolio

We’ve spent some time on our blog recently talking about the importance of blogging for your business, and giving you lots of ideas for what you can blog about! Often, when clients come to us for a custom website design, they are unsure about whether to include a blog directly on the Shopify platform, or to build it on another platform such as WordPress. For the great majority of our clients, we recommend using the Shopify blogging platform. A Shopify blog is simpler than a WordPress blog, but most shop owners don’t need any bells and whistles. Managing two sites can be expensive and complicated, and promoting your work from a separate site/URL at WordPress is going to be harder than from inside your shop, where you can easily link to products without confusing people. The Shopify blogging platform is a great option!

I thought it would be fun to pull together a round-up of recent Shopify blog examples for you so that you can see what we are able to achieve both with design and features using the Shopify blogging platform.

june & december blog design

 

Like June & December, most of you who are busy building your businesses, are using your blog to share news and updates with your customers. Having your blog on Shopify means that you only have one admin to login to whether you are blogging, adding new items to your shop, or fulfilling your orders. This also gives your customers a seamless shopping experience; they can click over to your blog to learn more about your business without leaving your website.

 

printable wisdom blog design

 

We had some fun when designing the new Printable Wisdom blog, by showing teasers of the blog content on the main blog page, which leads to lovely, one-column blog posts.

lily & val blog design

 

The Lily & Val blog is a great example of how to use your blog sidebar to provide more information. Your blog is a great place to invite customers to follow you on social media!

bel kai blog design

 

You can also use your blog sidebar to introduce yourself to your customers with a photo and some information about you. I also love the way that the Bel Kai blog includes shop collections in the sidebar, which is a smart way to bring customers back to your shop once they have clicked over to your blog.

aheirloom blog design

 

The new Aheirloom blog is a great example of the features that can be included on a Shopify blog: social media sharing, a newletter sign-up, blog categories, sharing links to events or favorite shop items – these are all great ways to interact with your customers using your blog.

Your blog can be an important part of your marketing strategy, and it’s important when designing one to match your site that you take advantage of the ways that your blog can help you grow your business. A blog isn’t just about being pretty or fun; it’s about strategically driving traffic to your website, enjoying tons of love from Google, and making your other marketing efforts easier.

Are you ready to start making your website work for your business?

We’d love to help! Talk to us about creating a custom website for your business – one that is a strategic tool you can use to reach out to customers and press.