Tag Archives: business

Crafting a Business 101: Marketing Magic

marketing for small businessesSince it’s the beginning of the year, we’re rolling out all our newest series for Crafting a Business 101. Last week we debuted Creative Accounting, and today we’re revealing Marketing Magic!

The term “marketing” might seem very specific or conversely very vague to you. Or maybe you think that if you have no marketing background you can’t do it. To me, marketing involves all the many ways a potential customer can find out about your business. In the most obvious sense, marketing is advertising, but if you look at marketing like I do, then marketing relates to all the following:

  • Advertising (duh, I already said that)
  • Social media and networking (twitter, facebook, Etsy forums, teams, etc.)
  • Blogging
  • Printed materials
  • Your brand and your logo
  • The look and feel of your shop/website
  • Product photography
  • Listing tags, titles, and descriptions
  • SEO
  • Offline word-of-mouth
  • Customer service
  • Defining your target audience
  • Utilizing key stats to your advantage

Some of these things might not immediately fall under the marketing umbrella in your opinion. I like to look at it this way – if I’m working on bettering the appearance or appeal of my products, brand, or logo; improving my tags, SEO rankings, or product photos; spreading the word about my business via whatever method; or even just researching and learning about ways to increase my business efficiencies or better connect to my target customer, then I am marketing. It’s anything that either a) let’s someone find out my business or product exists, or b) encourages a potential or existing customer to make a purchase. That’s what marketing means to me!

If you haven’t already, take some time to look over the Creating a Business Plan series from last year. Several components of the creative business plan relate to marketing your business, including #2, Where can people find my product?, #4, Who will buy my product?, #7, How do I differentiate my product from the competition?, and #8, How do I successfully reach my target customer?

Through this series, we’ll discuss all the many ways you can make marketing magic for your business. As a creative small business owner, you’re probably working on a small (or non-existent) marketing budget. Luckily for us, we work in an age where there are hundreds of free marketing opportunities at our fingertips! So get excited because it’s time to improve your marketing!

What marketing tactics do you swear by? What marketing concepts do you think I left off the list above?

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Crafting a Business 101: Creative Accounting

creative accting button copy

Welcome to Lazy Owl’s newest article series, Creative Accounting, brought to you as a (hopefully) weekly feature as part of the Crafting a Business 101 series.

You may or may not know, but by day I am a *gasp*…accountant! A certified public accountant, or a CPA, to be exact. I’ve also been the owner/designer/bookkeeper for a little jewelry shop on Etsy called Lazy Owl Boutique since early 2011. So, I feel pretty okay about talking to you about basic accounting concepts, how they relate to your business, and most importantly, WHY they should matter to you.

To some people, “accounting” is considered a four-letter word, but as a small business owner, it’s important to have a grasp on financial concepts and bookkeeping skills. If you ignore your financial responsibilities it will eventually bite you in the proverbial butt! Don’t be intimidated by spreadsheets, numbers, paperwork, or formulas. It’s time to make your business work for you. If you take the time to sit down and educate yourself and then apply your new knowledge to your business, you will learn all sorts of things – how to save on your taxes, how to properly price your items, whether or not you are actually making a profit, how to increase your profit…the list goes on and on! Mastering your creative business’s finances will take you from crafting as a hobby to owning a bonafide small business.

Let’s ease into this. We’re never going to talk about anything super complex or confusing, so you can exhale now. And I promise you will learn some stuff that you can actually use to make your business run a little bit more smoothly.

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I’d like to begin this series by talking about bookkeeping. Call it what you want – record-keeping, tracking expenses, saving receipts. Don’t let the funny term “bookkeeping” confuse you. I’m just talking about recording, in written or electronic form, your expenses (ALL your expenses) and your sales revenue. And I don’t mean stockpiling receipts in a shoebox (of which I may or may not be guilty).

20121121 NCR Class 160 Bookkeeping Machine

20121121 NCR Class 160 Bookkeeping Machine (Photo credit: Degilbo on flickr)

All good finances begin with good bookkeeping. You cannot possibly get a clear picture of your business’s overall expenses, profit, or just plain ole financial success if you are not recording everything. Can you imagine Apple not knowing if they even made any money in 2012? That is basically what you are doing if you aren’t keeping track of these things.

Check it out – we just began a brand new year 2013! The slate of shoddy financial record keeping has officially been wiped clean for you. Do yourself and your business a favor and come up with a bookkeeping system now that you can use for your business all year. Whether it be a software program, like Quickbooks, an internet-based application like Outright.com, a simple spreadsheet, or even a special bookkeeping paper notebook and a trust calculator, you need to find a method that will do what you need AND that you will actually use right now. That means don’t pay out the wazoo for something with so many bells and whistles that you don’t understand how to enter a simple receipt. Start small if you need to and you can expand your system as needed. To me, the best method to begin with (and honestly the method I still use today) is a simple Excel spreadsheet. So if you’re short on funds or time, just open up a new spreadsheet and get started.

Now’s a fun time (if you are a nerd like myself at least) to ask other Etsy entrepreneurs and small business owners what sort of bookkeeping system they use. You’re creative, right? Think of your bookkeeping system as an extension of the creative “fun” of owning your own business. You can “design” your system to be a reflection of you and your brand. Want a color-coded spreadsheet with fun fonts? Go for it. Want a snazzy painted file cabinet system to sort your receipts and paperwork? Do whatever works to keep you motivated to consistently update your financial records.

Next week, we’ll talk about exactly what you should be recording in your new bookkeeping system. So start savings those receipts and I’ll see you then!

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Why am I constantly blabbing at you about starting your own creative business?

Because I feel really strongly about doing everything you can to live out your dreams and have your dream job happen for you! At the end of the day, after all the excuses, the only thing holding you back is you.

Last year I read an amazing, life-changing book called The Art of Nonconformity. If you’re contemplating making a life change, job change, or just have this gut-deep feeling that sticking out your 9-5 day job for the next 30 years is not going to work for you, I highly, highly recommend this book. Really, I recommend this book to anyone and everyone.

I can already tell this is going to be a long and wandering blog post. I stayed up late last night catching up on an old friend’s blog; she has some very emotionally raw, vulnerable entries. While that’s not necessarily the style or purpose of my blog, I think a little opening up by myself has been called for. Why should you want to listen to what I have to say when you know so very little about me or what kind of person I am? So now I’ve been inspired to have a little bit of “share time”.

I went to college for six years. School has always been something I’ve been really good at for some reason. I think I’m good at memorizing, so that helps. I’m a rule-follower and I rarely missed a class for those six years. I started out as an Electronic Media major; my dream was to be a film editor some day. I loved filming my friends just goofing off, then creating fun musical montages from the footage. That was my thing. I interned as a copy editor for a tool and gas company, I took journalism, advertising, and PR classes, and I went to the UK for a semester and studied film. It was all very nice and easy until about 2.5 years into the program I realized it would be very, very difficult for me to ever find a job utilizing my Electronic Media degree. I never quit at it (by the time I decided to change I only had a handful of classes left to fulfill the degree’s requirements), but I decided to go into something much more practical, accounting.

This is why I am often talking about how I am such a weird mix of left brain and right brain. My logical, practical, numbers-crunching side is always at war with my creative, dreamy side. Looking back, I can see that my adult life thus far has been a continuous struggle between being practical and making “sensible” decisions and taking leaps and jumps and trying to express my creativity. It’s a constant tug-of-war!

I made straight A’s throughout all my accounting classes, even the grad-level ones. The summer after I got my Masters, I sat for the CPA exam and passed all four parts on my first attempt. I interned for two summers at a prestigious public accounting firm, and started there full time soon after I got married in 2009. I set myself up on the road for long-term corporate success. I’m not trying to toot my own horn or anything, I’m just establishing that I invested a lot of energy into creating this “corporate” life for myself…and that I thought this was the path I “should” be on.

I had already heard how awful and soul-crushing public accounting was supposed to be, but I told myself I was ready for it. This was where the cream of the crop was supposed to end up. This was where the lucky top-of-the-class students with their freshly printed CPA licenses are supposed to go and soak up learning and knowledge and make a name for themselves. I dutifully wore my heels and my ironed skirts and blouses to work everyday for exactly one year and six months before I admitted defeat.

I wanted to quit within six months of being in the workplace. I worked in an environment where people regularly went into the bathroom to cry. There was a lot of yelling, phones being hung up, late hours, long hours, weekend hours…the saying “sh** rolls downhill” was repeated a lot. The goal was to get to the top of said hill. But it was just not a good place to be. I knew that, but I also thought that I was really lucky to be there, right? I felt guilty for not feeling grateful for the “privilege” of working there. I wanted to leave, but I doubted myself for a long time…what was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just stick it out like everybody else? Was this just what being an adult meant? Was this just how working full-time was? Were all jobs like this? Doing something you didn’t really like everyday to make ends meet?

I finally gathered up the courage to quit. Happiness is a choice, and if I didn’t choose it for myself, then who would? I took a job in corporate accounting. My new job was such a breath of fresh air. The people were nice! There was smiling in the workplace! I only worked 40 hours a week. I began to develop hobbies. I had time to explore my long-dormant creative side. I started Lazy Owl Boutique.  I trained for a half marathon. I became an active member of my local community. Life was better, but after a few months I still had that nagging feeling in the back of my head that this was not what I was meant to “do” for the long term. I had so many ideas and outlets I wanted to explore and delve into as a new entrepreneur. I just didn’t have the time or motivation. Reporting to my cubical for 8 hours a day and staring at spreadsheets began to seem like a waste of my time when I had so much else on my list. I sat in front of a computer all day, but at the end of the week, I couldn’t really explain to you what I’d done, what I’d accomplished or created, or how I’d contributed any good to the world.

Quitting my corporate job was more difficult than quitting my first horrible job in public accounting. I knew I had a well-paying, stable job in a great environment. Was I totally crazy for wanting to leave that all behind? I spent 6 years in school and had a CPA license. Wouldn’t I just be flushing all that hard work down the drain if I quit to pursue a JEWELRY business? How do I tell my family that I’m quitting to sell things online and write a blog? What would people say? Again, isn’t this what adults were supposed to do? Sacrifice free time and work hard to rise up the corporate ranks? Live for the weekends? Why were my priorities so seemingly screwed up?

Well, as you may have guessed, I did it. I quit my day job and took the plunge into the scary, mysterious world of working for myself. I struggle everyday with making this work, and getting this baby off the ground, but I haven’t looked back for a second. And I’m loving it. I make my own schedule, I am my own boss. I have the flexibility to work when, where, and how I want to. At the end of the day if I fail, I have no one but myself to blame. I KNOW what I accomplish and create each and every day. I can create things with my own hands and put them out into the world and feel like I am contributing. I work with purpose and feeling instead of in zombie cubical mode.

I will admit… I am still working on growing confidence in myself and my abilities. When people ask what I’m doing with all my free time, I sheepishly attempt to explain that I’m working on providing bookkeeping and other business materials for creative small business owners. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

I honestly do not know yet if I made the right decision to quit a stable job and pursue this dream of being an entrepreneur. But I will tell you something, if I don’t try, then I will never know. So now’s my time to give it all I’ve got. We owe ourselves that, don’t you think?

Coming full circle now, this is why I brought up The Art of Nonconformity. Perhaps as a creative entrepreneur, you can relate to my story. Maybe you’ve been there in the past or maybe you are there right now. Why are so many of us afraid to take the plunge? What is holding you back? Money? Guilt? Self-doubt?  Fear of being different? Fear of what other people will say? All of the above?

howard thurman quote poster

inspirational quote – free printable

It’s easy for us to buy into the concept that “good” or “smart” people work hard for thirty years at an okay job, play hard on the weekends, and save up for retirement. This is just how life is supposed to be, right? That is what you’re supposed to do. Well you know what, this is YOUR life. At the end of your time here, are you going to say, “Gee, I’m really proud of all those awesome spreadsheets I made for my manager?” or are you going to say, “I wish I had spent more time doing the things that made me feel alive, I wish I had spent more time with my friends and family, I wish I had done something that really contributed to my community and made the world a better, happier place”?

Maybe you are saying, Janet, that’s nice and happy-feeling and all, but it’s really not practical. I have to have a steady income to support myself and my family. And maybe you are right, you’ve got to do what’s right for you and your own. But don’t sell yourself short. You don’t know what you are capable of until you try. And if you never get rid of your safety net, you might never really work as hard to make your creative business work for you as you would otherwise.

One thing that really helped encourage me to take the plunge was asking myself the question, “What’s the worst that could happen?”. I quit my steady job, I try to make my business work, and I fail. I lose money. I make an ass out of myself. Everyone tells me “I told you so”. You know what? If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. I will go back to full-time work as an accountant. At least I will be able to say I tried. Is it really the end of existence as you know it if you quit your job? If you fail? We convince ourselves that we can’t handle these changes and we become paralyzed with fear. But really take some time to think it all the way through. If you quit your job and later fail at making your own gig work, what would happen to you? Would you have to live in a cardboard box by a dumpster? I doubt it.

Staying in a job you aren’t 100% passionate about isn’t being fair to yourself…it’s taking the easy way out. It’s hard to break away from the world, to go against the grain, to pour your blood, sweat, and tears into making your job and your life something completely authentic and completely your own. The people that stay in their “okay” jobs are really the ones who are taking the easy path, the path to mediocrity. Is that what you want for yourself?

I have seen too many people sit and sit and sit in jobs they hate, or even jobs that are just mediocre. You will eventually become numb…you will spend your mediocre days doing mediocre, soul-numbing work until you don’t even realize that you aren’t truly LIVING, you’re just coasting. Life’s too short for that. And more importantly YOU are worth more than that. No one is going to swoop in and make your life fabulous for you, you have to do it yourself. So stop doubting yourself, stop wondering if you are crazy, and just give yourself a chance. Give yourself a chance to follow your dreams and make your business work. What’s the worst that can happen? More importantly, what’s the BEST that can happen?

I will step off my soapbox now. It is just important to me for anyone out there doubting yourself to know that you should TRY. You are worth it! Happiness is worth it!

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2013: Let’s Grow!

Everybody in the blogosphere lately has been talking about prepping your business for 2013, listing goals, making plans, filling out timelines, etc… It’s hard for me to think about beginning a new year with my Christmas goggles on, but there’s no use denying the inevitable (unless of course, the Mayans were right, then I’ve got nothing to worry about).

So, I agree. In the next couple weeks, I’ll be sitting down with pen in hand to think about my plans for next year, and more importantly, specific, attainable, and measurable goals for Lazy Owl. For me, 2011 was all about just starting. 2012 was about figuring things out, what worked and what didn’t work. My overall theme for 2013 will be to grow.

Are you ready for your creative venture to grow? Then come join me! Via our Crafting a Business series, we’ll explore both meaty detailed business concepts and motivational thoughts, giving you the research, tools, and inspiration you need to grow your business in 2013.

My goal is to grow Lazy Owl a little bit every month, every week, even every day. You can do it too with your Etsy shop or whatever your creative business may be. Small steps leading to big changes. Let’s talk about pricing methods, let’s really research SEO and tagging, let’s improve our photography skills and our customer service offerings, let’s explore our target market, let’s have more fun! You’ve already taken the plunge to going into business for yourself…now let’s really make it work! A creative entrepreneur should be willing to be constantly growing, learning, and improving.

I made myself the above print to hang in my crafting studio to remind me to do just a little something to help my business (and myself) grow a little bit each and every day! It’s a marathon, not a sprint, right?

Stay tuned for more articles, tidbits, worksheets, and printables for the rest of this year and throughout 2013. I welcome you to join us by subscribing to the Lazy Owl newsletter to get updates directly to your inbox! Just enter your email address in the little box to the right.

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Staying relevant…

I’m guessing by now you have (hopefully) heard about Etsy’s change in its default search mode.  Check it out here.  To sum it up, search results are now sorted by relevancy to search terms rather than recency.

So, I’m curious, what do you think?  As a newbie shop, I was slightly optimistic that this would boost my views.  I had been relisting a handful of items about once a week, but let’s face it, in the over-saturated Etsy jewelry market, I’m not sure if that was very useful.  It seems like search results based on relevancy would even the playing field somewhat.  However, I’ve been reading all sorts of negative comments and assorted freakage in the forums, which got me worried.

I’ve been taking a lot of time to re-do all my titles and all my tags to try to make everything as concise and relevant as possible.  The hardest thing is just getting into the mind of the buyer.  Today I actually tried using search terms that I’d use to find my items, but that’s the thing, they’re terms *I* would use.  A lot of my earrings fall into the categories of “old hollywood” or “old glamour” style to me.  I see other people use “estate sale style” or “glam” or even “retro glam” instead.  Do buyers use these sort of terms?  I’ve no clue.  I guess it’s really just a question of trial and error and using Etsy shop stats to see what keywords are really being used.

I was at least pleasantly surprised to see that a few of my items do show up on the first few pages of a common phrased search.  For example, these little cuties show up on page 1 of a search for “bird nest earrings” (let’s hope I don’t jinx myself here).

What are you doing to make sure your items show up under the new search results?