Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Time Flies When You are Having Fun

.....or Does It?

Okay, so another month has passed (and another post without pics, sorry! Next time, I promise!) Where does the time go? It’s supposed to be the slow season, yet things aren’t slow!

I have had more orders this year than last year at this time, so that’s good at least. I’ve also hit many speed bumps along the way. This has been a rough year!!! My husband took a job out of town and commuted for 6 months while I stayed here with the kids and the business. Left all alone to juggle 3 kids in school, sports and a full time job. Not an easy task and my business definitely suffered as a result.

It’s not just me, alone, running this business. I have partners and good painters, excellent shippers and a very supportive family. But as a manager of all things company related, I sucked! I was on overload and couldn’t get through one day without a crisis. I always felt like I was drowning. It was kind of like a domino effect. I couldn’t quite keep my head above water. I hated it! I’m a major control freak, so you can imagine.

Limbo! How low can you go?

We have been in limbo around here for what seems like forever. It’s killing me. I’m not a sit-still kind of gal, so not knowing and not doing something to plan for it is just aggravating to me. After deciding we didn’t want to relocate to another state, my husband is looking to go back to school. He is really wanting to get into another field and needs the training for it. It’s been quite a year with his job(s).

So what happens to the business if he goes back to school? Well, good question! Either he runs it while he goes to school (not so easy!) and I go back to work full time for someone else, where I can bring home the dependable paycheck and the benefits. OR, I sell it. Kind of a bummer since I was ready to launch a new product this month and have a gazillion designs floating in my head! Decisions……decisions. For right now, it’s not a tough one. I can’t even get an interview in this job market with the troubled economy.

What to do…..What to do….Close Shop or Partner Up?

I really hate to close shop. This is my baby! I love my work and my customers and everything that I get to do on a daily basis. It’s nice having a flexible schedule too. Although anyone out there running their own successful business will tell you, it’s not as flexible as you might think. It’s not just a hobby; it’s like every other job out there. It’s more than a full time job. I may get to go to my son’s valentine’s day party, but I’ll have to make up for it later that night, when everyone’s in bed, or at least when homework is done.

I have a huge list of retailers waiting to carry my products wholesale, orders coming in strong and employees to schedule. It’s really hard being in limbo and sitting still. Maybe I don’t need to close shop! Maybe I need a partner to help me run this business!!

Oooohhh, that sounds very tempting! If only I worked outside of the house and actually met people in Nashville. My only friends are cyber friends. Women who own businesses already and who happen to live in another far away state! If you happen to know anyone............

Monday, February 4, 2008

Why is Research So Important

My last post touched on a few sources to check out when you are researching for your new business. As I said, it’s imperative to starting a business. You want to know as much as you can when you are putting together your business plan. No amount of research will prepare you for every single thing you come across once you actually start, but it will give you a level of confidence to get over any hurdle you come across. Not to mention prepare you to not only sell your product and possibly secure the business loan you may need to get started.

Pricing – What is too high or too low?

Before I started my business, I spent a lot of time researching similar products and what the price point was for that product. Many of the books I suggested in the last post will provide you with a formula and walk you through pricing a product, whether it’s wholesale or retail. I sell both wholesale and retail, so I actually have two price points. Without using these formulas and following their advice, you run the risk of under pricing or over pricing your product. Both of which can be fatal. (Click here for a document provided by the SBA on pricing a product.)

Under pricing can eat away at your profits and you may not even realize it. Over pricing can be detrimental to sales, resulting in no profit at all. You must consider several factors when determining your price; such as cost of raw materials, cost of your time or employees, packaging, etc. These formulas walk you through that process.

I have changed my pricing many times over the course of 6 years. I initially priced my product at a low price. I thought I was being competitive by undercutting my competitor, but soon realized I was actually giving the perception that my product wasn’t as superior as theirs. My sales were okay and I even had retailers balk at the “high” price. Oddly enough, when I raised my price by $8 to match my competitor’s price, I not only got more sales, but the balking stopped. I can only assume that retailers believed my products were worth that price instead of being a cheaper version of my competitors.

Don’t panic. If you get it wrong the first time, you can always adjust the pricing. It’s not going to kill your business, unless you just don’t pay attention to your bottom line. And remember, it’s always easier to go down in price, than to go up. Aside from the typical price increase due to manufacturing costs, those are expected, within reason. Luckily for me, I raised my prices early in the game before I was really out in the market place.

The Competition

Competition also plays a part in pricing among other things. You want to stay competitive in your market if you want to sell anything. But that doesn’t mean you have to price it the same as your competitors. There are other factors to consider.

Are your products of a better quality? Is your customer service superior? Is your turnaround time faster? All of these factors can warrant a higher sale price. But be realistic, don’t convince yourself your items are of better quality unless you know for a fact they are. I have purchased many competitors products to personally inspect their products on quality. Don’t go by the picture on the internet, because as we all know photos can be deceiving and colors can be altered. Also, you don’t want to miss-represent your product to your customer; they WILL know in the end and won’t hesitate to tell you so.
Keeping Up

Checking out the competition is important. It’s important to know how their products are made, what they promise their customers and what their rankings are in the search engines. I regularly do searches for my keywords on Google and yahoo to see where I pop up in that list. Are your competitors buying keywords on these search engines? Are they advertising? Are customers finding their websites before they find yours? Have they introduced a new line? All of this has an affect on your sales. Although you don’t want to be consumed or obsessed by your competitors, you do want to periodically check them out. Believe me, they are checking you out! Here's a great blog on Competition and how it's good for your business!

Don’t let all of this scare you, it’s not as complicated as it all seems. I promise! A little research will give you the confidence you need in setting your prices. It will let you know what you are up against with the competition and help you put together a game plan for launching your product.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

So You Want To Start Your Own Business?

So you want to start a business? You want to be the big boss, the big kahuna, king of the kingdom (eh hem, or Queen). Whether it be product oriented or service oriented, the process of getting started is all pretty much the same.

Research Your Little Heart Out!

I can’t tell you how important this is. It doesn’t matter how much you know about your product or service, (and for this post we will assume it’s a product) there will always be something you don’t know. There are things you don’t even know you don’t know.

Even if you know your product forwards and backwards, chances are you don’t know everything there is to know about taking it to market. You might not know very much about your competition and trust me, this is one of the most important things to keep on top of. You could probably learn a thing or two or three about starting a website, a blog or selling wholesale. The internet has so much on all these topics and from so many different sources; you are bound to find the answers to your questions and information you didn’t even know you needed to know.

Researching all of these things can be time consuming and over whelming at times. There’s so much to learn. Now, don’t get so over whelmed by the research that it paralyzes and stalls you. Once you have the basics down and feel comfortable hanging the "Open" sign out, much of the research can be done simultaneously. It’s a never ending process. There will always be something new you need to learn. Technology alone can keep the research "to-do" list jam packed.

The internet has also been my portal to many on-line support groups. It has been the matchmaker to many a friendships. It has also been my window to the outside world. Working alone, from home, can be…..well, lonely!

My Two Best Study Buddies

I have two favorite, can’t live without, research buddies. I just gave you a clue to my first study buddy. The Internet! What an endless source of information. Always up to date and just a click away. This is where I research pricing, trends and competition. But be warned, this can be such a time sucker! Oh how you can get lost in the links. You have to stay on task and learn to bookmark interesting things you come across that aren’t relevant to your current quest. I have lost days to browsing websites only to find that most of what I have read, although business related, was not on topic. My desktop is packed full of organized folders, full of links for future reading.

My second, can’t live without buddy, is I’m a former Barnes and Noble junkie and I have probably spent thousands of dollars on books. I even considered getting a part time job once, since I spent so much time in that cozy little store. That is until I discovered I love this site. Well, the book portion, I haven’t ventured beyond the books yet.

I love how they make it so easy to search for a book. I love how when you find one, they give you a peek inside the pages, the table of contents and even excerpts from a chapter. They tell you what the book is about, just like reading the inside cover. AND they give you actual customer reviews. But my favorite part is the suggested list of books you get that are similar and that other customers purchased along with that book. Many times I end up buying a book that I had no intention of purchasing otherwise.

Oh YA! Did I mention that they also sell used copies, for a fraction of the cost? I can spend as much for 3 books as I would one full priced item at Barnes and Noble. I never pay full price for a book anymore, unless it’s a new release. In fact, tonight, I bought 3 practically brand new books for under $30, shipping included. I have also never received one book that was in less than perfect shape. I have never been disappointed with a purchase. I’m a fan for life!

Soooo…..What Books are on My Library Card?

Here’s a list of books (in no particular order) that has helped me in one way or another since I first began researching my business. Don’t be fooled by the titles. No matter what product you are taking to market, most of the information you will find in these books is adaptable to just about anything. As you can probably guess, I’m addicted to researching and learning more about how to run my business. I often times have had two or three of these on my nightstand at one time. Hint…..if you follow the links, they will lead you copies from my BFF Be sure to click the “Used & New” link for great deals. Enjoy the reading!!

Guirilla Marketing Series
Crafting For Dollars
The Business of Bliss
How to Turn Your Passion into Profits

Dream Big
How to Run Your Business Like a Girl
Girls Guide to Building a Million Dollar Business
The E-Myth Revisited
E-Myth Contractors

Survival is Not Enough
The Dip

The Complete Idiots Guide to Starting Your Own Online Business
Blogging for Dummies
Ladies who Launch
Eat Cake
(fiction – but a very inspirational read)

I just bought these tonight and can’t wait to find them in my mailbox!!

No B.S. Wealth Attraction for Entrepreneurs
No B.S Time Management for Entrepreneurs

Power and Soul

Sunday, January 20, 2008

You Don't Always Get What You Pay For

Usually when you buy something at a great discount and it doesn't work, then you tell yourself "Well, you get what you pay for!" But this isn't always the case as I found out when I decided to get my post holiday studio and post cruise (4 men alone for a week) house cleaned this week. Sometimes you just get screwed!

My Little Dish Customer Service

I'd like to think my customers always get what they pay for. They pay good money for a custom plate. A one-of-a-kind, made to order, personalized plate. My prices are competitive. My customer service is over the top. My turnaround times are, well.....good...but they could be better. They are standard for a hand painted ceramic piece, but I like to go above and beyond what's expected.

My repeat business makes up about half of my business, but about 80% of my direct orders. I remember names, faces and plates I have painted for them. I love my customers, minus a select few who I secretely wish would NOT order again. You know the type. You give an inch.......they take a mile. You bend over backwards to help them out and they knock you down. They never like what you do and they always want something for nothing.

I felt like one of those customers this past Friday, when I hired a new cleaning crew (can't even believe they call themselves that!). I found them on craigslist, talked to the girl a few times and felt comfortable with them. I thought they would be great. Boy, I was soooo wrong. It was like one of those bad haircut horror stories, you know when your hairdresser is booked up and you HAVE to get a haircut before you leave town, so you go to someone else!!!! Baaad idea, it never turns out right, come on you know what I'm talking about.

Where Did the Time Go?

I honestly don't know what they did for the 4 hours they were here. That should have been my first clue! I did a spot check when they moved from upstairs to downstairs and found that the bathrooms had not been done. The tubs weren't srubbed, the showers weren't scrubbed, the sinks still had toothpaste in them. So I mustered up enough guts to point this out to them and they re-did them, or so I thought. But I felt so bad asking them to re-do them that when it came time for them to go, I let them. I just got them out of there as quickly as I could, cause I knew I wouldn't like what I saw and figured I'd just fix a few things myself.

The Bad, The Bad and the Ugly.........

When they finally left, I went over the entire house. It was like assessing the damage of a bad car accident. By the time I was done, I was seriously contemplating calling to cancel the check I had just written them, and I probably should have in all honesty. It was totally unacceptable to pay someone $20 more than what I normally pay, for a job that was so below standard it wasn't even funny. My husband can clean better than these girls did, well, when I can get him to do it.

The bathrooms they re-did, still had toothpaste in the sink (um, do they scrub with a cotton ball or what?) and they completely skipped my downstairs powder room all together (didn't even crack the door), the bottom of the toilets had not been touched and anyone with boys out there knows, YOU MUST clean the bottom of the toilet. If they dusted, they didn't move a damn thing, they didn't pick up the little odds and ends and pile them on the beds of the boys room. They didn't dust if anything was in the way, basically, as shown by the fireplace mantle that had not been touched. The floors were swiftly swiffered, but not enough to get up the dried juice stain under the kitchen table or the sticky whatever by the fridge. The stove top and hood weren't wiped down (not the tins, but the WHOLE stove). The front door was not Windexed. There were candy wrappers on my 8 yr. old's dresser. Oh the list goes on and on. As I'm typing...I'm wondering if it's too late to cancel that check!!!

Maria, the cleaning lady I always use, despite the language barrier, is phenomenal!! I can't understand a word she says and she can't understand me, but that's okay, she knows how to clean a house. I never have to point one thing out to her, she just knows what needs to be done and even cleans things I would probably just replace (like the icky stove tins I replace all the time). She does such a great job and I always tip her $20 for putting up with the extra crap the boys leave around because I know how bad my house can get with 4 guys living in it. I'm reasonable and realistic when it comes to that. Needless to say, I did not hand out any tips on Friday!

Hind site is 50/50

Well, you would think I'd be a demanding person, having to deal with the general public everyday with my own job. Knowing what good customer service is and really knowing how to handle a bad situation. But really, I'm just a pushover. I hate conflict, I hate to be an imposition to anyone and I'm a terminal people pleaser. If I had it to do over again, I would have called my "PPP Sponsor" (Pathetic People Pleasers) and had her talk me through a total confrontation with these gals. I would have mustered up the courage to let them know just how un-pleased I was. Although, I'm not sure having them re-do it would be the answer, I mean if they didn't know how to do it in the first place, what's the second time around going to prove? I maybe would have mustered up the courage to call my bank.

The squeaky wheel gets heard, right? Well, I didn't squeak enough in this situation, but I sure learned my lessons. Stick with what you know and if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I need to learn a little patience and need to wait for those things worth waiting for. Like Maria! I also need to find my courage "like the scarecrow from Wizard of Oz", and confront people about their poor customer service.

Friday, January 18, 2008

I Found My Stalker!

Okay, so I met a new friend today, picked up her adorable boutique , Avannabel Baby (You must check it out!!) and she even read my blog! YAY! She also emailed me about my um, stalker, situation. Can you believe she had the same exact stalker from Reston, VA and Rancho Cucamongo, CA?! I mean what are the chances? The exact same one I tell ya.

Apparently lots of folks out there have the same exact stalker. Her name is AOL (as in America On Line). Jennifer informed me that after months of stalking, she could take it no longer and did some research. She found out what I was never able to find in all my searching. She found out what StatCounter should have told us when we added their little program to our websites.

AOL uses a bunch of routing bases for their users. I don’t know why and it amazes me that people even still use AOL. Now granted I haven’t been on the AOL site in ages, but the internet has come a long way since I first started using it. Email has become the number one form of communication. And without my DSL and wireless network, I wouldn’t be able to tolerate a dial up connection.

Like I said, I haven’t been on their site in years, so I’m not trying to bash them for their services, but they really need to do something about their routing. I mean for pete’s sake, we can’t tell where our viewers are coming from. We can’t sleep at night, thinking about that damn stalker that won’t quit checking out all our stuff. We walk around in a panic waiting for some knock off to come along and copy our stuff, steal our customers and put us out of business.

Alright, so that’s an exaggeration, but I have to admit it did give me quite a few sleepless nights. I did spend a lot of time searching for ceramic artists in Reston, VA on google and Yahoo. I did save and archive all those visits, in the event I had to take her to court one day. ( I know, call me paranoid, go ahead)

Stress Monster courtesy of Jamie Risdon Lentzner

My BFF has already called me paranoid and got a good laugh out of it today, which is a good thing I guess since she had a stressful day. I’m glad I could cheer her up. Anything for you grasshopper. But tell your husband the Analytics guy, to give me a heads up next time!! I even got a good little chuckle out of it myself and didn't feel quite so dumb, since I wasn't the only one being paranoid.

Now I have to go delete all those saved searches from my hard drive. Yippeeeeeee!

Thanks Jennifer for the heads up! And Boooooooo to AOL and StatCounter for not having a disclaimer somewhere. That’s Messed Up!

Monday, January 7, 2008

A Great Tool for Websites

I use a tool called Statcounter on my website, it is a great little tool that lets you peek at who is visiting your websites or blogs and find out where (location) they are coming from, what they are searching for and what they have looked at. I’ve used the tool for as long as I’ve had my website. The only thing that bugs me about it as a website owner, is not knowing WHO these people are – like if they are competition or WHY they are on my site….all the time. Now, don’t get me wrong, 99% of the time I don’t even care WHO these people are, I don’t need to know their names, or why they want information.

My Little Dish’s Stalker

I’ve had a “stalker” visitor for several years now. I can see every time this person is on my site, and let me tell you it’s DAILY. I know that they use AOL as their ISP and I know that they reside in or near Reston, Virginia. What I don’t know is WHY is this person looking at the same items over and over? I do not know his or her name, and WHY they are on so frequently. I can tell every plate (let’s call her “She” to make thing easier) “She” looks at again, and again and again….and every keyword “She” types in to find me. I can also log these visits and save them in case I need them in court someday. (mwaaahaaahaaa – evil laugh). Unless of course “She” is reading this blog, then maybe “She” will not try and copy me, because I have copyrights and trademarks! and attorneys :)

I would love to email this “She” and ask if she is getting the information she needs and could I be of further assistance to her? I am kidding, but it sure would feel good to call her on it sometimes, and to let her know I see everything.

I own the Prayer Plates

I’m not the first to paint a child’s plate and won’t be the last. I was, however, the first to create, trademark and license a child’s Prayer Plate - a whimsical dinner plate graced with a dinner time prayer for bringing families back to the dinner table. Ok, corny as it may be, remember that in 2001, when I started this company, everyone was all mushy gushy and sentimental after 9/11. .

Since I started, I have noticed many well known ceramist adding similar inspirational plates to their lines. That’s the nature of business. If you create something “new” or popular, you are sure to find another artist copying you, or imitating you. I can’t do much about these artists adding religious plates to their line, and it doesn’t really bother me, if they are unique in their own right like the example in the link above.

Another Competitor for Me

Tonight I came across a lady (not the Stalker chick) that has been on my radar for a while, and her name popped up on my Statcounter again today. Her company has a “similar” name and her products are very “similar”. Visitors were finding my site when they typed in her product name (over 50 searches in one day) into yahoo or google. Why would she be on my site today also?

She does plates (I am sure you guessed that) and they do have a different feel to them - sort of. They are porcelain (mine are ceramic) and very ornate looking to me. The style isn’t what bugs me (well it bugs me a little), they don’t look anything like my designs. They are more adult oriented and use different prayers. What bothers me is the product name (she started in 2006, I started in 2001), the products AND her slogan are very, VERY similar, to mine (a little too close for comfort) – irks me a bit.
Did I mention that she sold them on QVC, um ya!

Consider Yourself Warned

Well, I can only take out my frustration by blogging about it (a temporary pain reliever) and try not to be bitter, unless I decide to spend the thousands of dollars for my attorneys to attack. I’ve been there and done that before, and even when it's successful, it’s an unbelievable money sucker and time consuming to say the least. But be warned “She” Stalker and Other Competitor Lady – if you do a children’s line of prayer plates that looks even close to mine, I won’t go down without a fight. I will go down kicking, screaming, blogging and pulling out the claws! I will go to court again if I need to.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Cruising into 2008!!

Wow, sorry for the two week break. I didn't intend for it to be that long. I did take a few days off, but quickly got back to work in order to get ahead on orders so I can, um, leave again! Yep, that's right, I'm leaving (.....on a jet plane...don't know when i'll be back again......) Oh and please take note, this is not my photograph, i borrowed clipart from stock illustration.

Kidding, I'm just going for a week. It's a girls week long cruise to Cozumel. I know, I know - I'm spoiled! Well, let's just say I have some really great in-laws who like me enough to include me in the girls cruise. It's with the hubby's two sisters and Mom of course. Best part.....NO kids, NO men, oh and No kids! Oh did I tell you that already. Just me, my book and (my cabana boy) I mean my frozen froo froo drink.

I have a blog or two that I will be posting over the weekend. I won't have internet access, email access or cell phone coverage, so I will truly be MIA. A forced vacation. Sometimes as a small business owner, that's the only way we get a vacation. When it's forced on us.

I usually take my cell phone and laptop on vacations with me, so I can "Check in" or "in case of an emergency" But in all honesty, it's because I'm addicted to them and have serious withdrawal without them. Truth be known, I'm a little nervous about going a whole week without these things. I'm already trying to find a way to sneak my laptop on board with me, just so i can write some blogs and edit some photos on a new upcoming project. More on that later!

I'm thinking this cruise is going to produce some crazy pics and unbelievable stories. I googled our carnival cruise ship tonight to get a glimpse at our itty bitty room and came across the most hilarious thing! Apparently there's a big Jewish Nudist/Textile group of 40+ yr. olds going on this cruise with us. What exactly is a nudist textile group. How does that work anyway? Oh did I mention they are also Psychic!! No... really. Wonder if they read palms?

I was cracking up! I can't imagine what I'm going to encounter next week. Guess I don't have to worry too much about my out of shape, winter bod being put out there for all to see. At least mine will be appropriately covered. Believe me, no amount of tequila will sway me to shed that!

Oy Vey!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Reach Out and IM Someone...

IM (a.k.a) Instant Messaging
The New Co-worker

For those of us that work from home, it can be a lonely endeavor. Don’t get me wrong, working from home can be great. Where else can you work in your pajamas and slippers with your hair piled on top of your head and your teeth whitening tray in?

As great as that can be… can also be isolating and sometimes, even boring. There aren’t any co-workers to dish with. No one to bitch to about your boss (because YOU are the boss and the only worker). It can be a detriment to your wardrobe and your weight. There should be a disclaimer on your application for a business license that says “Be warned, you will gain 10 lbs.and your wardrobe will consist of yoga pants and hoodie.”

I’ve been working from home for the past 6 years. Most of which were just like this. I’m too embarrassed to tell you how long I’ve actually gone without styling my hair or putting on make-up at times. My poor..poor husband! What a doll he has been. He’s never complained, never told me how pathetic I looked or suggested I, um, put on some concealer to cover the dark circles.

Okay so back to the topic at hand. Working from home can be lonely, yada, yada. Up until a year ago, I did the majority of my work alone. I would hire painters, who would come and go to pick up or drop off work. I never really wanted to have them here. So I contracted work out. Last November I met my good friend, my new “co-worker” if you will, Jamie. Jamie is just like me. She worked from home like me for a long time before she just couldn’t stand it any longer. We became fast friends because we have so much in common. We share the same channels, the same industry and have experienced the same things, basically at the same time.

Jamie introduced me to Instant Messaging. Now, I have three boys, two of which are teenagers, so I’m well aware of what IM’ing is. They do it all the time with their friends. Typing at warp speed and chuckling to themselves. I always thought it was just a teen thing. Never entertained the thought of an adult doing it. Let alone myself!!

After swapping emails back and forth for a week, she suggested I get a Yahoo IM account so we didn’t have to wait for her west coast email to hit my east coast inbox. So I signed up and the rest is history. Now my husband and kids laugh at my warp speed typing and laughing out loud scenes.

I can’t tell you how nice it has been this year having someone to talk to all day long. Since I spend most of my day at the computer, as does she, we are almost always connected. Since we are in the same industry, we are literally talking to the same people in the same day. I can know what one of my vendors is doing without even talking to them. Jamie will give me (or I her) a heads up. We swap links to great blogs or networking groups. We can verify deadlines at a moments notice, just like she’s sitting next to me. Except we don’t have to stare at each others ratty old slippers and think to ourselves “Gee, she really needs a manicure”.

If I’m having issues with photoshop or need a phone number, I can IM her and get instant help. If I want to escape the idle chatter of my painters, I can bury my head deep in my wireless laptop and pretend to be working. KIDDING!!! I’m always working. It’s just doesn’t feel like I’m always working.

If you work from home or alone; I highly suggest networking with friends in your industry or other people you have things in common with. It really will help give you a refreshed point of view on business. It helps keep you motivated and is a wonderful way to grow your business.

The information we have shared over this past year has been great for both of us. I give her advice, she gives me advice and we pass along some great opportunities to each other. There have been many days I’ve wanted to throw my hats up in the air and quit. But I always have an encouraging word on the other end that reminds me why I do this and that it’s just a bad day.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I Won!!! I Won!!!

Okay, so you haven't heard from me in over a week. Sorry, really I am. I am in the last leg of the holiday order crunch. This week and early next week will be it. So I likely won't post much between now and then.

I wanted to leave you with two great tidbits.

I Won! I won the most amazing gift from the one of the most amazing (artist) blogs, Allen Designs, that I recently stumbled upon. She really gives you an insight into her studio and the day to day activities. Now, I don't enter contests, cause I never win. I really didn't mean to even enter this one, I was simply posting a comment to one of Michelle's posts (and I'm so glad I did!). But I actually won. YAY! Hip Hip Hooray! What a nice little treat for myself since I'm working like a dog getting orders out the door. Take a peek up above.........Isn't it adorable?! As is, every little thing in her catalog. Thanks Michelle!

The other tidbit is from this really good blog which is posting "12 Days of Entrepreneurs" interviews. I'm not plugging this because I'm one of them . I'm plugging it because there are some very talented and successful women who have shared their little nuggets of information with us. Check it out, while I find my way out of boxes and boxes of peanuts, bisque and bubble wrap.

I promise to pop in as soon as I can and share some of the holiday madness that has gone on these last few weeks. Okay, off to bed for another early day.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mind Games

I read an interesting article in my December issue of Entrepreneur magazine tonight. It's been sitting on my desk for oh, about two weeks, but I've just now had a minute to skim it.

The article was titled "Mind Games - When Your Competitors Try to Rile You Up, Sanity is the Best Policy" by Wise Guy.

In my industry and probably just about every other, competitors can drive you crazy! I won't even get into the ones that copy your stuff, because my good friend at Jamie Lentzner of Jamie's Painting & Design has already posted quite a few good posts on her blog about this that resulted in many, many comments. (Check them out) I'm just talking about competitors, not knock offs.

The article gives a Top 5 list of things to do and here's a very brief run down of what they are. Check out this months issue of Entrepreneur (or click Mind Games above to read it online) for the complete article, it's very good. And this is my own summary of what I read, so as not to plagiarize their article. I hope they realize I'm giving them a great plug and not stealing their article!

1. Delight Your Customer - If your customer is happy, then they won't be going to your competition, which will ultimately drive your competition crazy instead of YOU.

2. Don't Assume that Perfect Information Exists - Basically saying that just because it was recently posted on Google or in a press release does not mean everyone knows it. You, your competition and Google could be the only ones who do.

3. Take a Chill Pill - "Don't let your competition see you sweat!" If you are in panic mode you are more likely to do something dumb or something you will regret later. Plus you give them the upper hand (confidence) by letting them know you are worried about them. Don't even let them know that they are on your radar! Also, when your competition "beats you to the punch" on something and you have no control over, don't obsess about it, worry about the things you can change.

4. Hang a Negative on Your Competition - This one is my personal favorite and I have to quote here on what they said. It's too good to put in my own words. "When F.W. Woolworth opened his first store, a competitor that had served the community for years hung out a sign that said, 'This same spot for 50 years.'" Well the next day Woolworth hung his sign out reading, "A week old. No old stock!!"

5. Act Like a Maniac - In other words, make them think you are psycho, they may be scared to mess with you. An example they use is to accept your competitors coupons. That will drive them crazy! A good example of a company that does this is Bed Bath and Beyond, who accepts Linen's & Things coupons and also will honor expired coupons as well as let you use more than one in one transaction! They have my business ALWAYS!

All in all, the main thing that will keep you on track is focusing on yourself and your customer. Emphasize your strengths on customer service, quality and value. Let the competition do the "running around with their heads cut off" routine! Let them stress over YOU.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Is Your Business Legitimate?

I came across this conversation on one of my business groups this weekend and it caught my interest. The topic was on wholesale inquiries and how some viewed them as a pain in the neck. Some even wanted to remove their contact information on their websites in order to stop them.

Now…..I guess this is okay if you ONLY want to sell your stuff direct (through your website only). I mean, it’s okay if you don’t want to deal with wholesale. However I would never suggest removing your contact information from your site as a way to avoid inquiries. If you don’t sell wholesale, simply put a disclaimer on your website stating so. If you don’t mind the inquiries, but would rather retailers e-mail instead of call, then state that too and include your email link. But don’t remove your phone number.

People are very weary of frauds today and charge backs are given at the drop of a hat!
There are a couple of things you need to appear as a legitimate business and to gain the trust of your customers

  1. Have a mailing address (home address or P.O. Box)
  2. Email address (try to use a professional sounding one, not hotmamma@....)
  3. Professional website (there are good non-html site builders that are easy)
  4. Separate telephone line (whether it’s a cell phone or a 1-800 number)
  5. Voicemail (good for those tantrum moments your 3 yr. old is known for)
  6. Business checking account (co-mingling funds will get you audited)
  7. Business cards (not always, but it’s embarrassing to be caught without one)
  8. Business license/tax i.d. number (to purchase supplies wholesale)
  9. Fax number (you can get an online fax number through e-fax FREE)

Now these are the basics, there are all kinds of things you should have to run your business and I’ll expand on that in another post. Things that the customer will never know you have, but will make your life and job much easier (think printer, laptop, Blackberry).

Going back to the website ordeal. Personally, I would NEVER buy from a website that does not list an address and a phone number. You have to ask yourself, why don’t they want to be easy accessible? Now this excludes the big monopoly companies that we KNOW are legit but still refuse to make it easy to contact (a.k.a. Yahoo, Amazon and Google to name a few). However, for the typical e-tailer, these are big RED flags that you should look for when you are shopping on line. Trust me on this one!

Last Christmas my husband was purchasing what was supposed to be a very top of the line faux Louis Vuitton purse for me on a certain website, well he paid a lot for this faux purse. Christmas came and went, January passed and the purse never showed up. The on-line tracking said my purchase had not shipped, her only email to me assured me it had. There wasn’t a mailing address OR a phone number to contact her and email after email went unanswered. The whole ordeal took months to settle and resulted in a trip to the bank to deny the charge. Luckily we were refunded our money. But I learned a hard lesson.

If you are serious about your business, then prove it. Show your customers you are and let them know you are reachable.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Day in the Studio

It’s the Holidays!!

“It’s a Monday!” That’s what we used to always say in the corporate world when everything was crazy and you were trying to get a million things done at once. Well, “It’s the holidays!” is the art business version of that.

It’s the same thing as every other day, but (x 50) on the days before Christmas. Orders are flooding in, painting is going on everywhere you look, sanding, sponging, glazing and boxes are shipping out. Everyone wants their items TODAY when they JUST ordered yesterday! Gimme a break! My elves (Carl Shown) are working their fingers to the bone, sometimes fueled on tivo and coffee alone, with no time to eat. No, I’m not a slave driver, some just choose not to stop long enough to chew.

Oh, did I mention flashbulbs going off? I have never ever been good at (well a lot of things) but taking pictures of the comings and goings of My Little Dish. Sad, but true! I don’t have much documented. Mainly because I always have crazy hair, pathetic looking clothes on or everything is a mess (typical). So I never let the hubby take any. Oh I have a few, like a million of all the defective prayer plates we received from the factories in China. OR the melted plates that ooze in my brand new $4,000 kiln. Not really what I want to remember!!!! So this holiday season will be full of snapshots – um good ones!

Then there are those mistakes that get made (Yep, this one is my doing). I logged in the wrong plate in our order log. Well the right plate, but reversed the colors. Why? Because I was in a rush and didn’t read the order correctly. It happens, more than I like to admit! So this cute little guy will get repainted with a blue background and my lucky little customer will end up getting two plates instead of one. I have no use for it. All the information is correct, just the wrong color. So I will send both plates to her in the event she ever breaks the good one.

Okay, I forgot to mention, crabbiness is going on!! Everywhere, bah humbug. It happens to the best of us I know. Even ME! But I can’t take it on a Monday. It just sets the mood for the rest of the week. There’s nothing worse than being in a good mood and someone is a big fat wet blanket! Husbands included. I try, try to make my Mondays good days, happy days, productive days, not lazy crazy, days. It really helps the rest of the week to move along quite nicely. Let’s see if I can make through to the new year with a bunch of Happy Mondays not Manic Mondays!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dear Kitty,

Okay, I have to say that this whole blogging thing is one more beast of business that I have decided to tackle. Mainly because I’m feeling a little behind the times by not doing one. It’s definitely not because I love to write about myself. Heck, I’m not even good at talking about myself or my business to other people. I’ve had a fear of public speaking since my Com 101 class in college. I was so petrified I had to take a shot of tequila to get up the nerve to give my speech in front of 20 other people. YES, tequila! I got an “A” by the way. Thanks Jose!

I have NEVER been a diary kind of girl. I was always more of a “wannabe” in that department. I would go out and buy the prettiest book and a really cool pen, vowing to write down my most intimate thoughts and adding my list of “thankfuls” for the day. Just like Oprah tells you to do. And after about two days, it would find its permanent parking spot on my nightstand. I did always seem to steal the really cool pen though. At least it wasn’t a total waste. I love pens!

I couldn’t ever figure out what to write. I mean my life is not that interesting and I felt a little silly writing to um, Kitty (remember the Kitty Diaries with the lock and key?). I mean do you address it to yourself….. Do you talk in first person, third person? What’s the deal?

Well this is all leading up to my point. Which is…..there are a lot of really good blogs out there that have some wonderful advice and some “priceless” information. I’ve met some wonderful people through blogs. People I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I’ve found a place where I don’t feel so isolated and also where I can go to get answers. A year ago this month, ya another anniversary, I met one of my dearest friends because of a blog. I read her blog from cover to cover, so to speak, and felt as if we had been working side by side the whole time! Really! There wasn’t one post that I couldn’t have written myself. It was spooky! She had me at “Hello”. She had me cracking up!

I felt compelled to write her and thank her for sharing all her trials and tribulations. I never thought she’d write back. But she did, almost immediately and we have been fast friends ever since. In fact, we talk daily. We email, IM or call each other every day. She lives on the West coast and I’m on the East. About 80% of it is business related and the other 10% is just plain gossip. We are in the same industry and share almost all of the same channels. We even design and sell similar products. So in reality, she is my competition, but as she would say “we are friendly competitors”. The advice we give and get from each other has helped us both grow.

If there’s one thing having two teenage boys has taught me, it’s that (unlike us) technology doesn’t mature. It’s constantly reincarnated. You have to stay on top of it in order to stay on top of your business, your competition and your ever-changing goals. So do yourself and your business a favor and spend some time searching for related blogs. Read them, read the comments and even leave a couple yourself. It will get you thinking in ways you never thought before and you will more than likely meet a great friend or two.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Happy Happy Birthday!!!!!!!

Happy 6th Birthday!!

This month marks the 6th year in business for My Little Dish. I like to call it a Birthday instead of an anniversary. Because I’ve raised this company from concept, to birth, to a full fledged business. Stumbling along, just like a first time parent does with their newborn. It’s hard to believe, it’s gone by so fast. Looking back on my business is like looking back on my 8 year old’s life. Where did the time go?

We have come a long way in 6 years. We have accomplished a lot of great things, and we have stumbled a few times and gotten some pretty good boo-boo’s. Nothing life threatening: just a few stitches here and there.

I had a very funny thing happen to me this week which made me realize that I really have learned a lot over the past 6 years. I’m smarter than I look! ( ahhhh…… kidding!) I had contacted SCORE, a mentor type program for small businesses. Seasoned business veterans offer their advice to smaller business owners like me. A really great group that I’ve read about, heard about and thought about over the years. I just never did anything about it. This is something that most people do when they are starting a business, not 6 years into it, eeeeeekkkkk! (BUT….in my defense, I have had my husband and his father along side me the whole time.) I just decided it was time to get a fresh perspective on things.

So I call my new mentor that has been assigned to me in hopes of gaining some insight. I actually found that I was able to hold my own in this conversation. It was almost like an out of body experience, listening to myself talk about business. He was actually surprised that I was calling them at this stage. Not that they can’t still teach me a lot, I can just tell they are used to working with the newbies and answering the basic questions, not skipping ahead to year six. Unfortunately I still have to go through the basic steps first. Like attending those seminars on getting a business started, but hey, maybe there’s something I missed in all my reading and research.

It’s been a great six years and I can’t wait for another six! Boy that sounds like something I’d say on an anniversary doesn’t it? But this is a birthday party! I can’t wait to see what is in store for me next. I have a ton of ideas and goals for ’08.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Playin' Hookie

This is me today, or should I say, this is where I'm at today. In my kitchen with my laptop, tivo remote and a big Coke! I'm all alone at work today, for once and I'm playin' hookie. Yep!! I'm rebelling against the last five months of rush, rush, RUSH to get show prep done, DO the show, catch up after the show, fill show orders and um, fill orders that got behind while I was filling the show orders.

Of course, playing hookie for me still means I'm working. I'm just doing the fun part of the job. Reading blogs, doing research and hiding from my paint brush and packing tape. I have even stooped so low as to raid my son's halloween candy. He'll never know!!

I decided to take a few pics around here, to give you a glimpse of a day in the life. In other words, what's stacking up, racking up and what needs packin up. I'll have to get back to the grind tomorrow.

Here's a little present that was waiting for me on my front porch the other day. It doesn't look like such a great present to the average joe. But to was gold. I have been out of glaze for a few weeks now. Every now and then a supplier runs out of...well supplies! It doesn't happen often, but it always happens when you really, really need something. So I ran all over town, borrowing, bartering and buying whatever I could find to get me through till this shipment came. I think I need to speak to the person in charge of inventory (ME!).

Okay, this is the stacking up part. My kids like to get on my laptop when I'm not looking and yesterday they knocked over all my neatly stacked piles of paper to file. How dare they! I mean there were hours of stacking involved and now i have to start all over again. Seriously, this is really sad I know. I don't even know what's in that stack of papers. OY!

well, technically, this could be considered stacking up too. Here are 2000 pages of inserts just waiting to be cut. I think I need to make a trip to Kinkos.

this is the racked up part. My racks of paint are desperately needing to be merried and cleaned. A job for Peggy this week I think. And......finally.....this is my waiting to be packed up stack. Part of todays orders to be shipped tomorrow. And now I'm about 30 minutes away from two teenagers coming home. So I better prepare the kitchen for an after school raid!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Another Year Gone By

Okay, I'm feeling pretty lame. It has been a year exactly since I started this blog and there are only four sad little posts, not including this one. So I obviously got side tracked! BUT, I have committed myself to getting back on track, really!

There are quite a few blogs that I've been reading over the past year (....will share, I promise) which have given me the itch to get my hiney in gear and start posting again. I've found a place where I don't feel so all alone. Who knew there were all these other artists out there, like me, who were working on their own little businesses, all alone, going through the same things I am? Who knew?!!

Finding a place to go "where everybody knows your name......." (are you hearing the Cheers theme song in your head?) is a great thing. For me, who has worked all alone for the past 6 years, it's like having a local cyber pub that I can pop into for some much needed advice, pats on the back, or a shoulder to whine on. It's also nice to be able to give a bit of advice from time to time. It really strokes the ego!

So another year has gone by. When I started this little blog, I was five years into business. Now I'm on my 6th year. Yep! Six, can you believe it? Some days 6 years seems like such a short time. Other days, it's seems like forever. The past year has been a good one....a busy one. We have hired three new employees and exhibited at the Atlanta show this past July and now we are gearing up for Christmas. It's that time of year again to re-evaluate where we are and where we want to be at this time next year. Projections for 2008 are in the works. First on the list is to blog, blog, BLOG! For now, it's probably just for me, but hopefully soon someone besides me will be reading this blog.

Monday, November 27, 2006

AHA!! Moments

I had an AHA moment a few months ago while driving home in my car. Driving is when I do my best thinking. I don't answer business calls while in the car, for obvious reasons. I listen to feel good music, which can be anything from Classic 80's to Sheryl Crow. But on this day, the DJ's were talking about the things that people said to them that changed their lives. The male DJ said something that just rang in my ears. He said his most defining moment was when someone told him "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different outcome!"

Well it stayed with me for a few days as I thought about where our business was yesterday, where it is today and where I wanted it to be tomorrow. I knew it needed to grow and to move out of its current state. My problem was deciding which was the quickest and best way to get from point A to point B. It was like sitting at a four way stop, without a clue as to which way to go. Three of the roads all presented their own challenges. One road in particular I had been avoiding all together, happen to make the most sense (see previous post). The most desirable road was one that I had traveled many times but I kept hitting a road block. (Yes, that's the insane moment).

As weeks went by I kept hearing or reading this same Insanity quote. I've counted 5 times so far in the past two months and since the radio station is not syndicated, they couldn't have all heard the same DJ! I couldn't have asked God to give me a bigger sign aside from having Oprah hold up a banner that read "London - This is your AHA moment!!". It was practically beating me over the head.

So I know it's killing you to know which road I took. The road that was well traveled or the one that I least wanted to go down. I chose the one that I least wanted to travel. Yes, it will come with it's own set of challenges and a few pit holes along the way, but I'm quite sure that I will enjoy the scenery so much more. I will no longer take that familiar journey who's scenery no longer captures my glance.

It reminds me of that old joke. A man goes to the doctor and says, "Doctor, it hurts when I do this.....(bending his arm)" and the doctor says, "well don't do that!!!".

DUH! The morale of the story "If it's not working, change it!"

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Good Advice - Help Needed!

A friend once blogged that you sometimes need to pull your head out of the sand and listen to the advice of those around you. Sometimes, as a small business owner, we get so focused on one idea that we can't see the forest for the trees. Then there's also the ego factor. We don't like to be wrong and admit defeat. To be successful in business, you have to be able to step outside of the situation and look at things with an objective eye. Sometimes we need a little (or a big) push or even a knock in the head to make us take another look.

We just marked our 5th year in business recently, which is quite an accomplishment considering many businesses don't make it past their 2nd or 3rd year. But that's not to say that we haven't made many mistakes along the way! Boy have we made some doozies! We've also had many successes too. Fortunately it's been a happy balance, otherwise we probably would be one of those statistics.

I had to pull my head out of the sand recently and realize that in order to grow my business, I had to grow my staff too. Which is not an easy task for a control freak. I've been wearing all the hats for the past five years. Well, maybe not all of them, but creatively speaking. I have been told many times over the past couple of years that I needed to hire someone. So.......I not only made the decision, finally, but I also committed to it by posting a job offer on I was pleasantly surprised to have immediate interest AND to see that they all were creatively qualified!

So in the coming weeks, I will be tucking my tail between my legs and thanking all those caring folks that were persistent in getting my head out of the sand. I will also be conducting interviews, hiring someone and training them. Once that is done, I can begin to pick up all that business that I've been turning away for the past year. Something that makes me cringe to even admit! What successful business person turns down business? Answer: This stubborn one!

Monday, November 13, 2006

What the Heck???

Okay, so this whole blogging thing is taking over my weekend!

I was so naive as to think all I had to do was start the blog and begin posting. wrong! There's apparenlty a gazillion other things you must do to keep track of everything. Thanks to Heather, I muddled my way through some of them. However, I'm feeling really old right now and completely out of my element....... because as I read about these other functions, I felt like I was listening to my 15 year speak that foriegn language all teenagers speak! What the heck?

I plug away for a while on it, only to give up when my eyes get all blurry from staring at my laptop screen. My friend Jamie is trying to figure the same stuff the same time. So maybe each of us will figure one function out and share it! Heck, maybe I'll have my 15 year old read the stuff and translate to us!For now I will have to put it aside so I can continue my Holiday orders. My kiln is loaded and will be ready tomorrow. Until then, I am moving down my list of orders so these kiddies can have their Santa plates.

Friday, November 10, 2006

I Must Be Insane

I was introduced to the whole blogging world a few months back. A local artist friend emailed me the link to her new blog and I found myself checking in every day for her new posts. Then, I got addicted to her blogger friends and their blogger friends and the rest is history! And let me just tell you that you should check out these other blogs. They are truly amazing and talented women.

I think it's a combination of the witty and entertaining posts these ladies write (with a tad bit of procrastination on my part) that has gotten me hooked. They are sooo funny and it is a nice break in an otherwise very mundane routine. I pretend that I'm working...that I'm actually doing know for business. (Well, it makes me feel better thinking that anyway!)

In reality it keeps me from turning on those brain sucking soaps while I paint away. I mean.... do I really care that Dixie came back from the dead and is now looking for the daughter she gave birth to while she was supposed to be dead in Paris? Do I really need to know why she didn't tell the man she loved so much (who she ran away from, btw) that she had given birth to his child? P-lease....

I get more work done with the T.V. off and it's a nice pace to have the house quite for the few hours the boys are in school. So I allow myself time to sit with a cup of java and indulge in my little addiction every day. I must be insane thinking I can keep up with a blog. It's 12:00 a.m and I'm waiting to pull clothes out of the dryer.

All I need is another addiction to distract my creative juices. But I must do's work (right?) I'm networking, yeah that's it!