Awesome Tools for Anyone Starting a Craft Business

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{Image by The Sweet Light}

Today’s post is written by Ashlee McCullen.

Realizing your creative business dreams can be the thrill of a lifetime. But you know what else it is?

Hard work. Compliance. Accounting. Supplies and inventory.

While there’s so much to be said about planning a successful craft business, I’m going to dispense with that for now and get to some awesome free and cheap tools that can help you understand and more easily manage the essential (perhaps even “boring”) details.

Laying the Groundwork

  • Craft, Inc. Business Diary: I’m going to start with an analog tool. The Craft Inc. Business Planner offers a good all-in-one reference for starting a crafting business. It’s the companion to the Craft Inc how-to guide. You’ll find tons of checklists so you won’ forget to register your business or be caught off guard by your operating costs.
  • Enloop: Enloop offers a free, online planner for your business. Filling out its financial questions isn’t most people’s idea of a fun Saturday afternoon, but that’s almost the point. Perhaps you’ve never considered “How many days for accounts payable,” but you will now.
  • MyCorporation: If you decide to form a corporation (the above resources can help you make that decision), this nifty online tool takes out much of the tedium and helps you avoid mistakes.

Managing Finances

  • Freshbooks: Whether you’re selling on Etsy, at your local crafts fair, or all of these, you’ll want an efficient way to track your finances. Freshbooks is a godsend to anyone who’s ever had the misfortune of creating and filling out expense reports.
  • Lemon: Be sure to save your receipts. Lemon makes it easier than ever. You can scan them into your smartphone or put them through a desktop scanner. Lemon does all the number-crunching and organizing for you, making tax season far less painful.

Buying Supplies

  • Factory Direct Craft: If you’re going pro, you’ll want to consider saving money by purchasing wholesale from a provider like Factory Direct Craft. It’s not hard to meet the $250 threshold for its discount, but shop around and see what works for you.
  • Arts and Crafts CouponsThis is a simple, utilitarian app for Android that I’ve used before on my T-Mobile smartphone to find awesome steals. It’s a good resource if you’re running a small operation.

Reaching Out

  • HootSuite: Hootsuite offers the best social media dashboard I’ve used for tracking keywords and mentions of accounts. Implement it to supercharge your online marketing, networking, and customer service.
  • Constant Contact: Finally, don’t forget the awesome power of an e-mail marketing campaign. I personally recommend Constant Contact. It offers a good mix between ease-of-use and flexibility. You can get going whether or not you know e-mail protocols and HTML.
  • Hover: If you’re creating a website, you can find good deals and customer service fromHover. Plus, you’ll be happy knowing no elephants were harmed in the creation of your web presence.

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Ashlee McCullen is a staff writer for Apron Addicts, a website about kitchen fashion and home style. She also writes about mobile technology and self-improvement. When she’s not writing, she takes care of her two small children, finds new ways to organize and decorate her home, and takes immense pride in her killer cheesecake brownies.

How do you realise your creative dreams AND stay sane?

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I am super-excited to bring you this interview today! I got the chance to chat with the beautiful Jena and Jen of the Maven Circle, and ask them how they have both developed a way of living that keeps them centred in their ever-busy creative lives.

I’ve known Jena for quite a while now online (you might know her better as the lady behind the blog Modish) and so when I heard about her and Jen’s new project – and ecourse – I wanted to corral them up and find out more.

Hello ladies! First of all, would you mind giving just a little background on who you are and what you do?

I’m Jen Neitzel. I’m a long time crafter, designer, business person, lover of creative ideas and a generally helpful person. In my former life I was a social worker. I have a degree in Psychology and Sociology and can’t get enough of learning about people. What makes us tick. What inspires us. How to live the best life for myself and ignite others to have the same.

And I’m Jena Coray (aka Miss Modish), self-employed blogger turned marketing guru who has been helping promote indie businesses, artists and designers for the last 6 years. I am an over-analytical super nerd who has, since I was a kid, been fascinated with discovering why I’m here and what I’m meant to do in this world, and I think I finally figured it out- it has a lot to do with helping others find their place too.

We created The Maven Circle together with a different project in mind, but we’d meet and start talkin’ and through our chats, we discovered that we were both on this path of self-discovery, both making our own wellness a priority in our lives again and seeing all the benefits. We realized that thru the years we’ve learned a whole heckuva lot on how to control our own stress, how to face our fears, how to get past the blocks that tend to hold people back, and we thought- hey, we should do an e-course on that! And The Catalyst course was born.

So, you’re both long-term creatives who’ve done some pretty awesome things… and you’ve both reached the point where it all seemed just a bit overwhelming. How did that realisation come about?

Jena – I was swimmin a sea of stress and could not see the beach, couldn’t find a rock to climb up on – I felt lonely and tired and scared from feeling so overwhelmed. It got to the point that I was having anxiety attacks before I even got out of bed in the morning, just paralyzed by all the to-dos running around in my brain.

I just was sinking and finally realized I needed to change things NOW before it started affecting my health and life even more. I dedicated myself to taking my life back and getting out of my fraught-with-crazy brain!

Jen – When you’re involved with awesome creative projects there are two large pieces to puzzle. First, excitement, because you’re doing something that really matters and you’re making it happen, often times by yourself. And secondly, FEAR, because there’s no right or wrong way to do most things – you’re trail blazing.

This can be very overwhelming! I know I’ve had days in the past where I have been so overwhelmed by work that I’d dread working. I’d spend my time worrying rather than getting the job done. Then I’d feel more worried and get even less done. It’s a vicious circle really.

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Did you feel like you were ‘stuck’ and held back from achieving the dreams you knew were possible?

Jen – Yes! The best example I think of is when I was learning video editing (or what I like to refer to as “exorcising demons”.) I would spend hours learning some aspect of video – I’d be moving clips around and realize later that I’d deleted info that I’d just finished! I’d lose content regularly, I’d save things in the wrong place and not be able to find them again, on and on and on.

The thing I kept saying to myself, which may not have been the best thing to say, but it worked was – “This is impossible and I’m terrible at it, but I’m doing it anyway.” I just didn’t let myself quit. And now, I really enjoy video editing! But it took a number of exorcisms to get there.

Jena – The most stuck place I’ve ever felt was within my own brain, really – caught between a seemingly endless list of to-dos and nagging self-criticism is not a good place to be- it’s impossible to get anything done there! I found myself sabotaging things, dreading things, I was getting kinda sloppy in my work and not meeting deadlines…

I lost my motivation because I was too wrapped up inside my own head, worrying too much, letting my fears take hold of me, perpetuating badness with more badness. But somewhere I knew that wasn’t really ME, and so I had to find me again- and once I started working on that, that’s when I found my flame, my spark, my motivation again.

How long did it take you to discover the tools to overcome the feeling of overwhelm and gain back a sense of calm in your lives?

Jen – If I’m being honest I still feel overwhelmed from time to time. I feel that it happens much less than it used to and I don’t get stuck in the same ways, but I know now that it’s just a feeling and that it will pass. The major difference is that now I have the tools to deal with those feelings when they come up. Now, when I’m feeling overwhelmed I try to go on a walk in nature.

For me, the the movement of walking helps catch my body up and slow my mind down. Also, when you walk outdoors you will find that looking, listening and feeling nature is very calming. Having a regular routine of self-care helps you deal with feeling stressed out.

Jena – self care was my turning point as well, the thing that once I started to see the effects of it my life I knew it was the answer I had been looking for. I tried to meditate everyday for 15 days straight for, oh 6 months, until I could actually do it! But somewhere along the way of trying over and over again, of getting into the practice of it, I started to notice the effects it was creating in my life.

I found myself reacting differently, my mind felt clearer, I wasn’t waking up with anxiousness any longer- it felt like I was coming back to myself. And so that propelled me to continue meditating and to add, little by little, more self-care to my routine, like exercise (kundalini yoga is my favorite), drinking water, eating healthier. And as my energy and sense of fulfillment grow with every self-care step, it motivates me to keep going.

What difference has this shift in perspective and lifestyle had on your sense of well-being… and on your businesses?

Jen – I think I’m a better business person and I’m more fun to be around because I feel better now that I have more sense of balance in my life. I really want to use my life and the work I do as a story of inspiration. I want to inspire people to make the changes they need to access their best life possible. I think in general I’m a happier and calmer person now and that it influences all areas of my life.

Jena – I am a way better person to be around too! I feel calmer, more engaged, less reactive. Those things really aid me in my business too, in everything from being able to deal with stress to marketing my business more authentically. I feel like I can focus easier because my mind is clearer and I get more done in a day than I used to. My bones don’t creak, I feel healthy and for the first time in a long time, I feel whole! Now all I want is to help others feel that way too- if I can help them make a positive change in their lives, it fulfills me to no end!

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Could you each share one thing that you would recommend anyone do RIGHT NOW that will help them to start finding that centre in their own lives?

Jena – Meditate. Do a breathing exercise. It all starts with the breath – connect to it, and you connect to right here, right now, and that’s where your center lies – in the present moment.

Jen – Start a routine of self-care. Make sure you’re feeding your mind, body and spirit daily!

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Find out more about Jen and Jena – visit the Maven Circle.

8 Steps to Turn your Passion into a Successful Business

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A while ago, Vicki from In.cub8r The Valley here in Brissie invited me to be the speaker at the shop’s first birthday party! It was a pretty lovely and informal event, so I didn’t talk too much – but while thinking about what I would say I came up with this list.

These are the things you need to do to turn your passion into a successful business. I’ve deliberately left these generic because I think they would work for pretty much anything, not just craft…

Find the sweet spot that combines what you love with what people will buy

Just because you love it doesn’t mean other people will. But they might! So try and try again until you find the best balance between what you love to do and create and what other people need and want.

Be obsessive

Building your own business takes time, time, time. The more time you put into it, the more you’ll get out. So – be obsessive. If you are driven by an obsession, you won’t have to find the time – it will be an imperative.

Be consistent, passionate, and knowledgeable

Running hot and cold will make it much, much harder. The more consistently you work on your business, the faster/better it will grow. If it flows from passion, this will be easy. But you need more than passion to create a successful business – you need the combination of passion and knowledge.

Talk about it. A lot

To everyone. Online, offline. In the supermarket, at the dentist, at the party, on facebook. Don’t be shy – your friends and acquaintances will most likely be your first customers and your best method of spreading word of mouth.

Keep learning and growing

You are never, ever, done. If you’re done, your passion is gone. There is always more to learn, more ways to grow your business. Perfect example – Virgin.

Diversify – both what you do and where you sell

If you make/do just one thing – try to offer it in as many different colours/sizes/styles/price-points as possible. Sell your stuff in as many different places as possible.

Or, do a number of different things. With both my jewellery lines, my blogs, e-books, e-course and more – I’m always getting money coming in from somewhere!

Try new things – even if they fail, at least you’ve tried

If you don’t try, you won’t succeed. And sometimes you will fall flat on your face.

Who cares? Just get up, dust yourself off, and try something else. Thank goodness Edison didn’t give up on his first try to make a light bulb, or we’d ALL be in the dark…

Commit to things before you know you can do them

Want to launch an e-course, but don’t know quite what the content will be, or how you will run it? Pick a date, tell the world… and then use the motivation to work it all out!

Nothing lights a fire under you than external expectation that you will live up to your awesomeness.

What tips would you give someone who is striving to turn their passion into a successful business?

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{Image from Epheriell.com – Heart Necklace}