Sunday, July 31, 2011

We are All Designers Here

We are all designers. And design, as defined on Wikipedia (it's legit), is: a specification of an object, manifested by an agent, intended to accomplish goals, in a particular environment, using a set of primitive components, satisfying a set of requirements, subject to constraint.

So, if we think like designers when creating our businesses, maybe we should ask these questions:

What is your object?
What is your business all about? What are you selling?

How am I involved in the creation of this object?
You probably can't do it all alone. It is important to realize your strengths and focus on those. If you really just love knitting and would rather avoid marketing all together, you may want to find ways to outsource those tasks that cost you a lot of time and cause you dissatisfaction.

What goal is it accomplishing?
Are you going into business because you need to unload all of those stuffed animals you just made? That's great! Do you want to be completely self-employed within a year? Awesome. But you should define this right away so you know where your priorities lie.

How will it be created?
This might be considered the Research & Development stage. Find your suppliers. Perfect your craft and make sure you have the right systems in place to produce the amount of items you plan to sell, according to your goals (see previous question).

What makes it functional?
How will people find your business? This is a big, big question to answer and one that will come with a lot of trial and error. The most important thing is to make sure that there is a clear path to follow from first meeting to the sale and even the delivery and feedback. It is a continual loop and you need to be conscious of every step along the way.

What is it not?
This might be one of the most important questions to ask yourself. Design is all about creating order and function in the simplest way possible. Simplify your business. Find your focus and find a way to perfect that one thing so that your customers clearly understand what it is you are trying to do.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Pumped Up Kicks

I know this song is a little bit scary if you listen to the lyrics, but it's also a great motivator when you're feeling a little bit defeated in the business world.

Going to dance around to this now...


Man oh man, I have been busy! But it's a good kind of busy... I'm trying to finish up a few HUGE quilt orders while simultaneously launching my new project Nice Shirt, America.

What started as just a way to add some purpose to a cross country road trip has turned into a million new business ideas as well as a few revelations.

A comment on a previous post from Diane got me thinking. Where do I find my customers? Who are my customers? People always ask me that and I've always just said "people so obsessed with something that they have a t-shirt collection to prove it." How vague.

Still, I spent all of my time posting my links to style blogs and trying to connect with other crafters. I did the occasional ad in a high school newspaper or posted flyers around town or on some college campus, but I have to admit: I have NEVER gotten any paying business out of these efforts.

Why? Well, I think I have a few challenges. First, I offer a service. People have to feel like they are in need of this service. This can be a challenge because it's hard to reach people who have never even considered making their t-shirts into a quilt. They don't even know such a thing exists. Most of my current customers are people who have thought of this idea already and are in search of someone to accomplish it for them.

Second, my product would be considered a "luxury" item. It's a big purchase. So, my customers must really love these t-shirts. I think the economy adds to this challenge, but I'm not too worried about that at this point.

Lastly, I've always been asking myself "How do you find people with t-shirts?"

I kind of had a "duh" moment with this... and only AFTER I had started my Nice Shirt, America blog. I started the blog because I am genuinely interested in t-shirts and I wanted to talk to people on the streets about it while traveling around the country. Sounds like the best vacation ever to me. After thinking about it for a while I realized: This is it! This is how to market to people who love t-shirts... write about t-shirts. My business has very little to do with quilts, turns out. I'm pretty sure that my customers don't go to craft fairs and they don't really care about recycling (not that they *don't* care, it's just not their main motivator). They love their t-shirts! So, here I am to showcase that.

Of course, this project is an experiment. As with most marketing endeavors, it's difficult to predict the likelihood that anything will actually increase sales, but I think it's worth a try. I'll keep you updated as time goes on.

But the challenge for you: take a hard look at your product and your customers and find out who they really are.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Gotta Fight

via That's Wright

Photos: Portland, Pickwick and Depoe Bay

See more on Flickr

Book Club: What's Mine is Yours

Today, I started reading What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers.

Thus far, it is very interesting especially in light of my recent interest in the idea of "free." It is definitely a little bit disturbing to hear about how wasteful our society has become in a relatively short time. I am intrigued by the idea of collaborative consumption, and it seems to be gaining popularity, especially very recently. But, we have already started encountering problems - Netflix's recent price hike comes to mind.

I'm excited to read through this book and discuss it further with peers and put a review here.

If you would like to join me in reading this book, consider buying it through this link. Not only is Amazon awesome, but (full-disclosure) I get a little kick back from you buying through this link and that will make me happy and probably motivate me to write more. So if you like me, buy this book here! Win-win-win.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Google, Ruler of the World

How much do you think about your small business website's searchability?

I, for one, am constantly worrying about it. A large portion of my business comes from people who find me through web search engines like Google, so it is very important that I stay on top of my SEO strategy.

There are a few things I know for sure:

1. Search Engine Optimization is strange and kind of fascinating
2. Search Engine Optimization is really boring to actually put into use
3. Google is one Bad A mofo that won't take s*@# from anybody

Like many others, I was incredibly intimidated by the idea of implementing SEO into my website. Turns out, it's not really all that complicated. Google has even provided a nice little SEO starter guide which helped me a lot. Plus they created a cute little robot character to help lighten the blow.

How can you be scared of this?

However, as I brought up in point #2 - it's incredibly time consuming and really pretty boring. So, depending on how you value your time, you may want to delegate this task out to someone else(if you're really smart, you'll get a website designer that also knows SEO).

And I'm not kidding about that third point. Google is very strict and knows aaaaall of the tricks. Don't even try it. Do it right. Follow the rules, you rebel.

Creativity is a necessity though, because you need to differentiate yourself! What makes your hand-knit scarves (or what have you) special?

Think about it this way, if you specialized in hot pink angora wool hand-knit scarves in Portland, Oregon and you used those keywords to your advantage in your SEO... I'm betting you'd come up first in a Google search for that particular thing. You have to stop thinking about marketing to everyone and start thinking about marketing only to those people who will want to buy what you're offering.

This is where we find our power, small business leaders of America! You might think - oh I can't compete with [insert mega-giant corporation here], but you can! The key is specialization, finding your audience and maintaining a consistent message throughout your marketing efforts.

Have you found your niche yet?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A World of Free: Or, Why Don't You Just Buy Something Already?

I attended I Heart Art PDX's salon discussion entitled A World of Free tonight. The discussion was led by Rebel Craft Rumble champ and blogger extraordinaire, Diane Gilleland.

The conversation was very interesting and it definitely got me thinking about "free." What is the value of the content we freely share in the blogosphere? Is this actually helping us in the long run? What is the point of all this?

While I would like to let some of this discussion sink in to my brain a bit, I do want to share a few things while it's still fresh.

I think there were two very important points made tonight.

1. What value can you create from your content (and is it measurable)?

It seems to me that most small business owners these days are blogging either because they're "supposed to" or because they honestly want to share something of themselves with their potential customers. In my experience, blogging does increase traffic (if you're aware of Google and SEO this is probably something you've thought about) and it can make you feel good as a business owner because you often get positive feedback about your posts. BUT... what is all of this effort getting you?

When I worked in non-profit fundraising, the idea of "dating" was thrown around a lot. Like, all. of. the. time. Getting people to sign on to your idea and then open their wallets is like some kind of mating ritual. The way I see it, small business ownership is the same way. Let me break it down:

-First, you have to make sure you're worthy of dating. Make yourself look good. Spray on some perfume. Pack on the make-up. Whatever you do. Look pretty. It's about quality really (i.e. does your website look good and is it easy to navigate?)

-Then, there's some flirting involved. I think this is kind of like advertising. You have to get some attention and get them to at least make eye contact and intrigue them somehow. Buy some ad space, put up fliers, get yourself out there!

-Next, they click on the link - you've got a date! Now you have to be charming. I feel like this is where blogging comes in. You've done all of this work just to get them to spend some time with you... what normally happens on a date? You discuss things - hobbies, interests, places you've traveled... mostly a bunch of random bits that are funny and cute, but really only hint at who you truly are. Just like your blog posts. You want to keep them coming back for more.

-But here's where things get sticky. At some point, you're going to have to tell this person what you need and why you're here with them. Whatever that is, you've got to figure out a way to get your point across. Most likely with your business, you want these readers to buy something from you, to hand over the dough. It's the only way the relationship can continue! If not, they can still be friends but we both know that will never work. They'll check your blog posts for a while but will eventually fall out of touch.

So, you've got the charming stuff going for you, I assume. The blog is going well, but do you have goals in place? Do you even know what you want out of this relationship? You should probably figure that out and then find a way to work it into the conversation or else you might be just wasting your time.

2. Do you recognize the distinction between community and customers in your internet world?

I have to admit, I've avoided the craft community for a long time. It's not that I don't like crafty people because I really do - they are incredibly interesting - but I grew up in a crafty househould. On weekends, we went to craft fairs and walked around gathering ideas of things to make at home. We were big DIY'ers. When I started Queen B Quilts and wanted to spread the word, I decided to do a couple of craft fairs and do you know what happened? Crafty ladies would come to my table, ask me how I make my quilts and then say "thanks!" and walk away. I know they were just going to take that info home with them and do it themselves - meanwhile, it cost me $50 and day of sitting in one place to leave with no sales.

In fact, I've been fascinated by handmade businesses for a long time. How do they survive? Who is buying this stuff? It always seems to me that they are just marketing to other crafty people who are probably just taking the idea and not buying a darn thing.

Now, I'm completely ignoring the many many benefits of being involved in a craft community, but that's beside the point. If you're marketing to people who know how to make your product, you need a better marketing plan [or maybe a new product - I'll get to that another time]. Who are your customers? Where do they hang out? What do they do on the weekend? How old are they? Do they shop online? Do they even read blogs?!?!

This is probably the most important thing you need to identify in your business plan (whether it's written down or in your head), who is buying what you're selling? Figure that out and go find them. Your product or service should be solving a problem that your customer has. Diane said tonight that she looks for "no brainer" moments, where your customer doesn't even need to think before saying "oh yeah - I'll pay for that!" What is it that you're offering that might make someone immediately pull out their credit card?

I think the key idea here is to have a clear and compelling idea and then find the people who could really use it. [side note: this could be one of those "chicken or the egg" scenarios... may need to discuss this again later] And remember that the free content you're giving out is only creating a pleasing atmosphere for your customers. It most likely isn't going to drive your sales, but it's definitely not hurting them either.

It's a complicated world out there. Hold fast!

10 Principles to Live By

Good morning!

It really feels like Monday for me today, since I've had a friend visiting from out of town (read: lots of eating and drinking and no work).

So, I was glad to see this motivating little article today about finding integrity and authenticity at work. I find these 10 principles to be useful to everyone, whether you work in a big company or not.

Out of the 10, I'd like to highlight a few that stood out to me:

"Excellence is an unrelenting struggle, but it's also the surest route to enduring satisfaction"
This has been echoing in my head lately. Carving out your own path is rough, for sure but keeping this as a mantra has been helpful to me. It has taken me this far in life to finally have some grasp on what it means to be satisfied and what I need to get there. However, I have to constantly remind myself that it's because of this that I do what I do. Not for fame and fortune. Not because it's the easier path to take. I realize that just knowing what I want in life makes me pretty lucky. I'm not about to ignore this opportunity.

(via wit+delight)
"You need less than you think you do"
Personally, I find that owning a lot of things can be burdensome. I recently cleared out some furniture from my work space and I immediately felt more creative. Sometimes you actually need the space to think. Also, owning fewer things means that you'll have less stuff to worry about.

"Meaning isn't something you discover, it's something you create, one step at a time."
Blogging has helped me realize this, because when I look back over the things I have chosen to write down it's much easier to see the common thread running through it all. Even when I was confused or unsure about life, it still seems to fit into the grander plan.