hello friends! I haven’t been much of a blogger lately, I’ll be the first to admit. But I truly do miss sharing what’s going on in our world and seeing what’s going on in yours. So, I’ll ramble a bit, and get to my point eventually, I promise.

businessasusual

Things are going swimmingly here at dodeline. It has been interesting and fun to get used to being truly a team of three instead of a team of two. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I definitely have moments when I look around and am just so in awe that this bustling little office is my creation. Overall, it’s been great and such a relief to be able to handle curveballs and hectic times with less stress knowing there are more of us around to get things done.

In addition to learning how to manage our team, I’ve also been working a lot on workflow and systems and processes. I don’t think that gets mentioned very often in the discussion of starting a business and it’s something of which I’m becoming much more aware. In reality, it doesn’t matter as much I guess until the business is comprised of more than just the owner, but it’s quite the task to figure out even so.

When I worked for American Eagle during college for example, there was a set process for how everything needed to be done. There was a form or a script or whatever it may be. When you make up a business out of thin air, not one scrap of that exists until you (the owner) remember to make it. And that just isn’t easy.

For me, the most difficult thing to work into my day to day task list is bookkeeping. It is so far from my favorite thing to do. Not once did I say along this journey, “I want to start a business because I think invoicing, expense tracking, and general accounting are a really good time.” Nope, not this girl. But it literally doesn’t matter what kind of business you start – bookkeeping is part of it.

So over the past few months, I’ve been working really hard to establish rituals and systems for the things that never seem to get done when they should. Bookkeeping is one of them. Marketing a little more consistently is another (i.e. our email newsletter). Working on our standalone shopping website was a big one (hey, check it out here if you’re so inclined). Developing our wholesale catalog (done! Thank goodness).

Blogging is another. I used to be a lot better about that when things were not quite so busy and it was just me. But it occurred to me over the weekend that if I just gave myself a more manageable plan – say, a weekly blog post – it’s much more likely to happen. So friends, here’s the first of what I hope will be many weekly blog posts!

xoxo
Sarah

…has a lot of these…

creativebusiness

…and very few normal office staples, like highlighters, I realized. Last week as I was trudging through Q1 bookkeeping tasks, I searched high and low for a highlighter, which I always had when I worked in any sort of clerical/office job.

We have Sharpies in every color, pens in various widths, special scissors, corner rounders, Popsicle sticks, every adhesive ever made, extra long staples, and you-name-it, but no regular ole highlighters. It kind of made me laugh to realize how different we are than your average office!

Luckily, I was able to complete the task sans highlighter but still in colorful fashion with the help of my Sharpie rainbow.

Happy Tuesday friends!

Monday was a busy day – full of phone calls, constant emailing, errands, conversations, order processing, and the like. In the midst of the chaos, I got my oil changed at the car dealership, and like I always do, I set up my computer on the counter and got down to business while I waited. I am always, always multitasking it seems.

One of the fellows that worked at the dealership seemed interested in what I was doing and asked if I was working on homework. Side note: I try to be grateful that I look young, but sometimes looking like I’m still in high school gets old. When I said I actually owned a business and really wished their internet would start working, he said, “really? You look so young.”

pros-cons-running-small-business

A little while later he came back and asked what it was like, running a business. It must be awesome, he said, getting to just do what I wanted to do all the time.

What a misconception that is. That and my lunchtime conversation with a good friend who left her small business to take a job with a firm lead me to pondering all the pro’s and con’s of owning a small business. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for entrepreneurship, but I think knowing what you’re getting into is important too. So, here goes nothin’…

Cons (for lack of a better word)

– Many days, I am working before the world is awake. It’s the only time of the day I can work without emails rolling in every minute or the phone ringing like crazy. So if I leave work a little early, it’s usually because I’ve already been at it for 10 hours or so and my brain can’t handle it anymore.

– I rarely, if ever, take the proverbial “lunch hour.” It’s usually lunch at the desk, reading the news or industry updates for 15 minutes or so.

– Although we are closed on the weekends, we are often putting in several hours just to keep the accounting, legal, and “corporate” side of the business straight. As small as we are, I simply don’t have enough hours in the day to keep client projects going and do that too during business hours. You have no idea what a paperwork monster running a business is until you have to start doing all of that for yourself.

– Just because I run a business that technically falls in line with my passions doesn’t mean that there aren’t a whole bunch of parts of it I don’t like. I think that’s the biggest misconception out there – you like to fish, so you start a fishing business, and you love everything you do all day long. Unfortunately, that’s just not life — see previous point: paperwork, taxes, billing, and days when the fish aren’t cooperating. It’s not all sunshine and roses even when the business is based on your passions.

– Days off are almost impossible. When you have a job with a boss, you can usually ask for the day off and the office knows you are off so they more or less leave you alone. When you are a small business, you have no one boss, you have a whole lot of clients. You can’t really inform all of them that you’re taking the day off, so needless to say it’s a bit difficult to do.

– Basically, it’s all on you.

On the flip side, the Pro’s:

– I have the choice to decide that I want to get up at the crack of dawn (or before) and work so I can take off a bit early one day.

– Even though there are parts I don’t love, there are absolutely a whole bunch of parts I do love too, and that more than makes up for it.

– It honestly is really hard to take a day off – there’s just no way to manage to tell everyone that and it seems someone almost always ends up thinking you are ignoring them. But, you do get to be in control of when you want that vacation time / sick time and it doesn’t have to actually be “approved” by anyone.

– I do get to make the choice to have a long lunch every now and then if a friend stops by or I got up early to work.

– Again, it’s all on you. It’s a double edged sword – wonderful and terrifying all at once.

Really, I think it comes down to control, doesn’t it? It’s wonderful to have the choice of when and how you want to work, but the bottom line is that there is still a whole lot of work to be done. So while you have the choice of when to do it, you aren’t hanging out at the pool in the afternoon without sacrificing somewhere else in your day, whether it’s that the business isn’t doing well or that you were up at the crack of dawn.

Have you ever run a small business? What would you consider small business pros and cons to be? What are the pro’s and con’s of working for someone else?

The only phone I have is my iPhone. No landline in the office, no landline at home. I think most newer (last 5 years) businesses operate similarly – we’re small enough that I handle pretty much every phone call, so why increase our costs with multiple phone lines?

Mophie

All that’s well and good, but my phone has a battery problem. Or maybe I have a usage problem. But either way, it’s out of warranty. There’s nothing wrong with it other than it typically dies around noon or one o’clock, so I need to have a charger handy almost everywhere.

But then my smart hubby got me a Mophie, which is super helpful for increasing iPhone battery life. The only downside really is that you have to give up your case because the Mophie is actually a case. My case was pretty banged up so I didn’t mind.

The way it works is there is an extra battery pack built into the case, so when you plug your phone in to charge, it charges the case and the phone. Then, when your dumb phone starts dying on you in the middle of the day, you flip a little switch on the case and it charges it right back up.

So far, I went from my phone dying just a few hours into the day to being able to go the whole day no problem. I flip the Mophie on probably twice a day and it juices the iPhone back up to about 80% or so. Flip the Mophie off to save its battery and go on my way.

For someone who uses their phone constantly and has no other phone at all, this is an awesome product. Happy Tuesday!

The oft used phrase “you learn something new everyday” really is true. Considering I have been using Gmail for years now, you would have thought I’d know about this, but I just recently learned about canned responses, which are basically Gmail email templates.

gmail email templates

I’m always trying to attend to more details of our process and customer experience, and after I received a really nicely designed “it’s on the way email” from West Elm, I decided I wanted to send a much more designed email containing tracking information & order details. Of course, time management is a big factor, and I knew there was no way I’d be able to recreate it in Gmail every time I shipped something, so a little looking around turned up canned responses.

Side note: I still think that’s a really weird thing to call it and makes it less than obvious that that’s how you create Gmail email templates. Either way, it’s how it works currently. Here’s how to create one…

gmail email templates

1. Compose a message. There is no need to fill in a “to” or a “subject” at this point. Create the email you want to use as a template — i.e., insert any photos or text that you’ll want to make up the template.

emailtemplates2

2. Click the little arrow in the bottom right of the “compose” window and select Canned Responses.

3. Choose “New Canned Response” and name it whatever you’d like it to be called.

emailtemplates3

4. That’s all you need to do to create gmail email templates! Now, when you want to use them, you simply compose a new message and select the name of the template you want to use under “insert.”

Happy Tuesday!

As I pick back up on our Tuesday Small Business series, I am going to do a few posts about time management.  It’s such an integral part of all of our lives and especially small business owners’ that I think it’s a great conversation to get started.

In my experience, one of the biggest time drains / e-mail clogs we encounter nowadays is making our schedules.  Meet here, be there, call at this time, etc.   When I am in the midst of trying not to double book meetings or sign myself up for an hour trek in the car, I think wistfully of how I imagine the “Mad Men” era when someone else did that part for you.  It would be pretty rad some days to just come in and say, “who am I meeting?” or “clear my calendar! I’m off to the golf course.”

doodle

Kidding aside, it is a big part of running a business, and I was so excited when a friend introduced me to Doodle at the very end of last year.  As I’ve been going through and slowly revamping our website, I decided to implement it as a way for clients to easily schedule a meet.  The idea is that hopefully it at least saves us those first one or two emails of “what’s your schedule like?

Time management wise, the other really wonderful side effect was that it forced me to schedule in “Office Time” for myself.  The benefits are twofold: to make sure that I am still in control of my schedule and also that I leave time to do what I said I was going to do in all of those meetings.  It’s definitely enabled me to more effectively stay on top of my crazy to-do list.

For me, the biggest selling point of this option was that it integrates directly with my Google Calendar, which is my guiding light as far as my schedule goes.  So I can add an event on my phone to my Google Calendar, and it will show up as unavailable on the Doodle site.  Cool, right?

I used to be such a paper calendar person, back before smart phones and Google became so integral to my daily routine (that was really only like four years ago, how weird is that?).  I definitely miss them but I find the ubiquitous nature of a digital calendar to be hard to beat – I was so lost when I forgot my planner at home, and alas, there was no way to access it via the cloud.

How do you manage your schedule and meetings?  Are you a digital calendar or a paper calendar person? Do tell!

…well, I don’t know that there is one.

Over the past few weeks, I have been both surprised and flattered at the number of “Etsy convo’s” (so cool with the lingo, right?) I’ve received from new shop owners asking what the secret is to getting traffic, sales, favorites, etc. I really can’t reiterate how crazy that seems to me because I still feel very much like I’m just guessing half the time.

secret to selling on etsy

That said, though, I have been on Etsy for over four years now and I’ve spent some time learning the game. While there most definitely is not a secret (that anyone’s told me yet, anyway), there are some best practices I can share.

Absolutely the hardest thing is getting started. It’s true what they say about momentum. Those first 10 sales will feel like badges of honor because they will (normally) come slowly and with almost disproportionate effort.

Once you get over that hurdle though, you’ll find a groove and a rhythm and your shop will no longer appear “untested.” Getting positive feedback so you get those five happy stars by your name will help a lot too.

the secret to selling on etsy.

  • This is definitely no secret, but nonetheless it’s probably the single most important and challenging thing. PHOTOS. Just PHOTOS. Personally I have been all over the map with photos. Completely cut out of the background, patterned backgrounds, still life sort of set-ups, bad attempts at soft white backgrounds – you name it (take a tour down photo memory lane in this post). It’s been four years and I still consider my photo efforts very average – except, of course, those that have been taken by some of my professional photog friends. In a nutshell though, you don’t get on blogs, the front page, treasuries, etc. if your photos aren’t at least decent. It’s the best thing you can do to help yourself with your shop.
  • Be active on Etsy itself. If you just get on Etsy and try to sell stuff to people but you’re not active in supporting the community, you won’t do as well. Join a few teams, discuss topics in the forums, build treasuries, comment when people put you in treasuries. You can check out my treasury posts part one and two from – holy cow – 2010. I guess I have been doing this awhile.
  • I spoke in my 1,500 sales post about going back to building more treasuries myself. When I built treasuries and was on an active treasury team, I got on the front page. I haven’t been on it since. I can speak from experience that being on the front page tends to bring a pretty big influx of sales in that roughly half hour period of time. Again though, you’ll only get there if your photos are good! You can use tools like Craft Cult to see if you have ever been on the front page, but odds are you would known from the sales :-)
  • Use social media. Be active on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Those are my favorites, in that order, but that’s just me. I think the visual media are the way we’re heading, and Facebook makes me angry now when I have 800 fans and it tells me 23 people saw my post and I can pay to let all 800 see it. Whatever.
  • Only bother with a blog if you like to write, because if you don’t, you’ll never do it and then it’s just going to sit out there and look dated. You have to remember that Etsy is made up of very very small businesses and people with hobbies, all with widely varying levels of commitment, so you need to make an effort to appear current, active, friendly and professional to lend credibility to your shop. In that spirit, always keep your policies, about page, and the like updated. You will find you have to update and change them as you go along and various circumstances arise.
  • Work on having at least a full page of listings. Back when I first started, there used to be talk of the 120 listing as a magic number you needed to reach to come up in search results. I can say that when we have more listings we seem to do better, but that’s not feasible for every craft. It’s pretty easy with cards. So I think going for at least a full page just from a “first impression” standpoint is a good goal.

While I know I didn’t provide the secret to selling on Etsy, I hope those tips will help you as you get on your way with your journey. It’s a fun process and very rewarding, but certainly not easy. Don’t lose hope – it just takes a little time!

Side note – I’m going to pick up where I left off awhile back and start doing small business Tuesday posts again. If you have any questions you’d like me to post on, feel free to leave them in the comments!

Hello friends & hope you had a great weekend! So, who thought I was pregnant from Lisa’s post? That served to give me some good laughs :-)

etsy-treasury

I am way overdue on our 1,500 sales celebration + what I learned post. It’s always good to re-cap and review a bit as milestones are reached, which I did with our 500 sales post and 1,000 sales post. Those posts ultimately lead to being quoted in a real live book which was kind of cool – The Everything Guide to Selling Arts and Crafts Online. Crazy right?

As I started to write this post, I ended up going down the rabbit hole a bit in terms of how Etsy sales and orders are actually calculated. The gist of it is that the “# of sales” figure shown on any shopfront is rather unhelpful and tells you relatively little. Here’s why:

– If you buy one Mini Human card and one Biggest Fan Card, that’s two sales, even though you (one person) bought them at the same time, in one order.

– If you buy 1,000 Mini Human cards, that’s one sale. Multiple purchases of the same item count as one sale. Since we sell cards mostly, we actually have quite a lot of multiple purchases of the same item, so the sales number is artificially low.

– Both of the above would be counted as one order.

– In the backend of an Etsy store, the part where the shop owner can see stats, you can’t track your # of sales, only revenue and # of orders per month.

Does that actually make any sense at all? Maybe it’s just me, but once I started diving into it, I realized the tracking is a bit inconsistent and hard to get a real feel for what’s actually happening, especially with the sales number.

Either way, it’s still a milestone I’m happy to reach, but for evaluation purposes, I’m going to go by revenue. 2011 was the best year for the Etsy store with 2013 being a close second and, after considering that for awhile, it makes a lot of sense.

In 2011, I had just quit my part-time job and was finding my place in the world, so one of the easier things for me to tinker with at home while I was trying to “find business” was the Etsy store. I made treasuries and was really active renewing listings, etc. I also haven’t been on the front page or in Etsy Finds since 2011, and I’m going to guess the treasury thing probably has a lot to do with that.

Since then, the business has evolved and grown in different ways. I do a lot more wedding work unrelated to Etsy than I did back then, as well as stationery for people who find out about us in other ways (Instagram, blog, etc.).

Over the holidays, I spent a lot more time doing the packaging and fulfilling of Etsy orders while Kellie was away on a long overdue vacation, and I realized how much I like doing that. It’s fun to send mail, and it’s where this whole thing started.

So why don’t I focus on it more? It’s the common small business owner’s problem: we wake up each day and look at today’s to-do list and freak out and try to get everything done, put out fires, make customers happy, etc., and we don’t stop and look up and say – what do I want to be doing next week? Six months from now? Next year?

I’m excited to step back into the Etsy shop with some renewed vigor this year. I plan on listing more items and improving photography as well as trying to make it simpler to order some of our customized options. Fingers crossed, I’m going to get back to treasury making too. I’ve made a few so far already this year and I hope to keep treasuries, blog posts, and SEO/marketing time for our business as a non-negotiable part of the weekly to-do list. We’ll see how that goes – I would love to make at least one front page appearance this year, although I think that gets harder to do everyday with how many people at on Etsy now. Wish me luck!

I had the pleasure of meeting Kristin of The Shady Umbrella through a mutual acquaintance – the lovely Jeni of Seastar Arts. We hit it off and began working on a new website for her travel agency business called The Shady Umbrella.

new-website-shady-umbrella

Kristin already had her logo and a lot of fun collateral for the brand, not to mention GREAT photos, so we really just needed to create a clean and appealing new website to coordinate.

Shady Umbrella-19

Redesigning or creating a website from scratch can be a daunting process to begin, but there are a few key questions we always ask to get the ball rolling. I thought it might be helpful to share them here in case you have a blog or website project in your future!

new website || food for thought

  • Will you require any special functionality for your website? By that we mean, will it need to accept payments of any kind or have a shopping cart? Does it need to be secured with an SSL certificate? Are you tying in to any databases or pulling in the MLS, for example?
  • Who will maintain the website? If that’s something you will never ever care to do, we might choose to build the site one way, or if you know that you need to be heavily involved with your site, it might be better for us to proceed in a different way.
  • Find a few websites that you hate and a few websites that you love. Both are really helpful.
  • Pull other inspiration you like and don’t like – they don’t have to all be websites. What is your house like, for example?
  • Are there emails associated with your website or will there need to be? Often people don’t realize that ownership of a domain is directly related to the email at that domain, so if you mess with the website, it could mess with your email, depending on the changes.
  • Will you be blogging or updating frequently? Are there photo galleries or news pages or other running content that should be considered?
  • What types, if any, of social media do you use and do you want them incorporated into your site? If so, how extensively?
  • These are just a few of the questions we might have when we begin a new website discussion. It’s always better to go in having thought of everything then to jump in too quickly and miss something.

    welcome to the web!

    We really enjoyed working with The Shady Umbrella and love the fun resort feel of the site. I’m ready to book a trip right now!

    …and on an unrelated note…

    happy birthday Dad!

Getting back into blogging now, I think I will try to pick up my old routines for daily topics.  Tuesday was always small business tips and musings, and I always found it helpful to get some of the jumble in my head out “on paper.”  So, here goes nothing!

small business tips

Today’s theme: slow and steady wins the race.  Now that we have been around in at least some form for four years (what?!?), I find that I get asked a lot how I got to this place and what I would do differently if I were just starting out.  Actually, that’s a long list, because mistakes were definitely made! But that’s how you learn, and honestly I probably wouldn’t change that because lessons learned stick a lot better when you experience the reason for them.

But the overriding theme to the decisions I make for the business is waiting.  For me, it seems the key is a very funny juxtaposition between jumping in head first and waiting until the time is right.  I waited and dipped my toe in when I started the business over the first few months, kind of keeping it quiet and printing up only 50 business cards to start, and then I dove in head first in January.  When a job offer finally came my way that same month, I pulled back a bit and let the business start humming along before then really truly diving in in August of that year and leaving that job.

Although we could have gotten an office long ago, I waited until a good solid period of time went by during which I was consistently in a financial and lifestyle position to have had an office. If for nothing other than my sanity, it was a good idea. I think sometimes people think that, to have a “real” business, they need employees and an address and they do it too soon. I am a worry wart, so I need that comfort factor of knowing it wasn’t just this month that I could handle a rent payment. There’s history and precedent and that makes now the time to jump.

So for today’s Tipsy Tuesday, it’s all about patience. The right time will arrive, and you just feel so much stronger and more positive when you act in the right moment. Of course, it’s a challenge to figure out when that is sometimes, but I did say there were mistakes, didn’t I? :-)

Happy Tuesday!

Photo credit: Seastar Arts