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[109] The Digital Tools I Use to Run my Businesses – 2017 Edition

 

Do you ever wonder what digital tools and software other people use to run their businesses?

I do – and I get asked about various and sundry software solutions a lot, too. So, this week, I decided to do a big round-up of all the digital tools & software I use to run my own handmade business – and Create & Thrive, as well.

I discuss what I use and why in detail in this episode – covering social media tools, website design, shopping carts, time management, photo editing and graphic design, file storage, audio & video recording and editing, outsourcing, book-keeping… and more!

Take a peek behind the scenes of my businesses, and see how I keep everything running (mostly) smoothly!

P.S. While finishing these shownotes, I realised I left one or two things out of the ep. I’m sure more will come to mind, so I’ll update the links below if that happens!

 


 

Quotes and Highlights from this Episode:

 

FYI if I have (R) next to a link, this means it is a referral or affiliate link. This means that if you click that link and sign up to the service, I get some form of reward. If you’d prefer to avoid that, just google it.) I am only listing and recommending tools and software that I use myself and would recommend to others wholeheartedly.

 

Digital Tools/Software I use to run all my online businesses:

  • My main social media are Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. I used to love and use Twitter a lot (not so active on there now) and I have a Google Plus account. I’m also starting to use YouTube more.
  • Handmade sales venues: Etsy (R) (I’ve also sold on Hatch.co, Dawanda, madeit).
  • My own websites are created with WordPress self-hosted, and I’m currently transitioning to Divi Theme (and lots of plugins – I’ve used a free theme called Pinboard previously on some sites).
  • My web host is Dreamhost (R). I’ve been with them for over 10 years and have always been happy with their service.
  • My current shopping cart on my e-commerce website is Ecwid, but I’m moving to WooCommerce.
  • I use E-junkie & Paypal to sell my C&T courses, ebooks etc.
  • I use Trello to keep track of my work and life, and I also use the Cal app on my android phone as my appointment-keeper (as well as some paper in my office – a whole-year wall planner and a weekly desk planner).
  • I use focusbooster on my computer when I really need to get stuff done – it’s a pomodoro-style app. I schedule work periods of 45 min and rest periods of 15 min each hour.
  • I use Canva for all my graphic design.
  • I use Picasa (now transitioned to Google Photos) for most of my product image editing.
  • I use GIMP for any image editing I can’t do with Picasa or Canva (it’s sorta like a free version of Photoshop – and it’s open-source).
  • I use Snapseed on my phone to edit photos on the fly – especially for Instagram.
  • Insta Downloader is the app I use to repost another person’s Instagram post. It has awful ads, but it works!
  • I use Grum on my desktop to schedule up my Instagram posts once a week.
  • I use Dropbox to store all my business photos and documents so I can access them from any of my devices.
  • I use Google Docs for some of my business docs, too.
  • I currently use Xero accounting software for my book-keeping.
  • I forgot to mention my mailing list software! I use Mailchimp.

 

For Create & Thrive Specifically:

 

Download or Listen to this Episode

 

 

You can also subscribe to the podcast and listen to this episode on iTunes + Stitcher

Success Stories – Boo and Boo Factory

 

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Christina is a powerhouse of imagination and creation. Her Etsy store literally stopped my in my tracks with my mouth open as I gawked at her beautiful (and bright!) jewellery and purses. I like bold, statement stuff and so I was pretty excited when she graciously agreed to be interviewed. I am so excited to share Christina’s rise to self-made business woman as she transitioned from architectural graduate to style icon.

 

Can you take us on the journey of your creative career path so far?

 I began Boo and Boo Factory as a way to make some extra money to pay for architecture school. 

Supplies, models and computers can get expensive so any extra income was welcome.  I continued to craft on the side all throughout architecture graduate school.

I began to notice that my shop was growing very quickly and due to my heavy school schedule, had to start declining work and projects for Boo in order to keep me focused on my studies.

After I had completed my thesis in 2012, I decided to pursue Boo and Boo Factory full time instead of going back to work in architecture

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What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome so far in your business?

The largest challenge for me is how to find balance between designing, making and many of the other tasks of running a business.

Since I am a one woman shop I tackle many elements daily that a larger business would outsource.

I source my own supplies, work with retail shops as well as manage wholesale, I do my own taxes, accounting and book keeping, inventory, design and upkeep my website, answer emails, network, market and all of this on top of designing and hand making each piece.

It can be really tricky trying to do it all and it never seems like there’s enough time in the day

What has been the biggest ‘fist-pump’/successful moment for you so far?

My biggest successful moment was when Etsy had their first pop up shop in Soho during the holidays and they asked me to be a featured maker there.

They flew me out to New York and set up a work area for me to meet customers and sell my goods.

It really was one of the most amazing experiences.

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Do you ever have doubts as to your future creative direction? Are there things you yearn to achieve, but haven’t yet found the time for?

I don’t have any doubts as to my future creative direction. 

Every day I learn something new in regards to business and I’m constantly trying to learn new techniques to help me push my product lines and experiment with new designs.

As I had mentioned previously, time is always an issue. 

I always feel like I don’t have enough time for one thing or another, I just try to do my best.

Are there times when your creativity and inspiration seem to disappear? How do you handle that?

Every now and then I go through creative slumps.

I think that’s something that all creatives can relate to.  If I feel stuck, I go outside for a walk, go to a different part of the city I don’t usually go to or sit at Lake Michigan.

I find that ruts hit me when I’m swamped with work and tired. So taking a break and seeing something new usually does the trick to spark creativity.

You have to learn to take time for yourself and your well-being because if you don’t your business can suffer. 

 

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How do you balance your work with the rest of your life ~ what does a typical day in your life look like?

Every day is a little bit different and depends on how many open orders I have. If I have a rush of orders I spend the whole day making and then try to package and ship at night.

If I don’t have too many orders, I use that time to make new products, photograph and list them in my shop.  Usual business tasks are also spread out depending on my work load.

Working for your self is way more work than working for someone else.

I work 7 days a week sometime from 8 to 14 hours a day. 

I love it and don’t mind putting in those hours.

I am so grateful that I am able to do something I truly love for a living. It is really one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever experienced.

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What has been the best marketing move you’ve ever made for your own business?

Instagram has been the best marketing tool for my shop!

I started it only a year ago and love it! I meet other creatives and network with people all around the world on a daily basis.  I also receive most of my wholesale orders as well as fun custom orders through Instagram.

The other thing I like about Instagram is the instant feedback you receive on products.

Whenever I’m working on a new design I’ll put up progress shots all the way up to the finished design and receive feedback on all stages of the work.

It’s so helpful and is a really fun way to try something new that you maybe wouldn’t have done before.

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What is one piece of advice you’d like to give fellow makers about running a successful creative business?

I think that a lot of creatives try to learn everything there is about business before they open their shops.

The truth is you won’t be able to learn everything and it doesn’t have to be perfect when you open.

You’ll learn as you go through experience and you never stop learning.

Of course it is very important to research before you begin but it’s also very important to take the leap and get your products out there for the world to see.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I see myself in 5 years in a dedicated studio space outside of my home with employees!

It would be so amazing to hire help for the business side so I can spend more time designing and making pieces.

at work

Shop/Website

Instagram

Facebook

Pinterest

Success Stories – Andie’s Specialty Sweets

 

 

 

Portrait J & A.ai BEST_2

Searching on Etsy I just about squealed when I found this delightful duo, Andie and Jason, selling creative candy and sweets in all sorts of whimsical shapes and lifelike colours. Andie’s Specialty Sweets is the kind of shop which stands out from the crowd, not just for beautiful photography and simple styling but because it’s a unique and exciting product which speaks to our desire to buy artisan-made products.

Can you take us on the journey of your creative career path so far?

I (Andie) started attending art school right out of high school. But I was quickly presented a job offer as Art Director of a small, handcrafted and innovative snowboard manufacturing company. I dropped school for the real-life education/experience, and it proved invaluable. The company had a small cult-like following and developed lines for larger, more commercial, snowboard companies.

I had no idea at the time that everything – from the skills I learned to the structure of the company itself, and the struggles and successes of being small and handcrafted – would one day serve as a resource for the direction of our business today.

From there I worked for several years as a photo-realistic airbrush artist, servicing record labels, and producing replicas of album covers, up to 24’ x 24’.These billboards were installed mostly on Sunset Blvd. at night clubs, street corners and major record stores.

When the ability to create large-scale digital replicas became more affordable, acing me out of a job, I began my own interior mural and decorative finishes business, including some restoration projects. One of these exciting restoration projects was on a cabinet from the 1400s Ming Dynasty.

It was during this time that Jason and I met. Jason had a business background and was running a successful pool and spa maintenance company. He also had an artistic ability and great eye for detail that had been set on a “shelf.” We married, and at 9 months pregnant with our first child, I retired from scaffolding and painting on my back, to relish the fleeting joys of motherhood.

At the birth of our fourth child, I listed a couple of sugar-crafted flowers on Etsy, during the kid’s naptime. I had acquired some culinary skills from my Dad, and had the privilege of creating a few wedding cakes for family and friends. Entertaining and making life special through culinary/pastry art had been one of my new outlets for artistic expression.

The most I thought that could come from those listings, and the most I aspired to at the time, was a little extra Christmas spending cash.

A little over one year later, and after the introduction of our Candy Vintage Buttons and Candy Gears, Jason sold his business and we took the plunge together, focusing both our attention and energy on the specialty sweets business.

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What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome so far in your business?

We’ve developed our own unique recipe and some trade secrets unique to the industry. But most monumental, we have discovered a way to scale our business, which appears to be limited in its growth capacity.

 

What has been the biggest ‘fist-pump’/successful moment for you so far?

We’ve had many amazing moments, most of which have taken us off guard.

To recall a few: collaborations with Martha Stewart Weddings, many special request from magazines and features in some of the most desirable blogs and publications, a place at the Martha Stewart Weddings Annual Bridal Market Party, unexpected and very large orders from international dignitaries, named Martha Stewart’s top D.I.Y. resource for edible art, our Chocolate-Filled Sea Shells featured in The New York Times (holiday gift guide 2013), several Etsy features, and our Buttons being one of the top selling items in the Martha Stewart American Made store.

Each time we are humbled and grateful, but rather than feeling like we have “scored,” we are more like spectators of a well-written, unfolding story, which is extremely entertaining but unpredictable.

We’re anticipating a climax, but expect we’ll be taken by surprise.

Jason with Buttons 4

Do you ever have doubts as to your future creative direction? Are there things you yearn to achieve, but haven’t yet found the time for?

We’ve never been in doubt about our creative direction, just highly pensive. We’ve also been thankful we haven’t made any decisions in haste. Our ability and the time seem to converge just when needed.

We’re always on our toes, looking for that pull-the-trigger moment when one must act upon opportunity. But we know that every business has its restrictions.

It is rare for a business to have infinite resources and time.

The object is to keep your goals always before you, make adjustments when doors close or unforeseen doors open, and be thankful for what you’re getting to do today, and do it well.

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Are there times when your creativity and inspiration seem to disappear? How do you handle that?

Our ideas are as many as there are things in the world. For us, it’s choosing what will best translate to candy, and what will have a timeless appeal –trends that have lasting power.

 

How do you balance your work with the rest of your life ~ what does a typical day in your life look like?

Our goal is to indeed have balance in our life, but we will be the first to admit, we are not successful at a “balanced life” at this junction in our business. At present, a concentrated focus on our business is what is required, which will lead to greater balance in the future. Meanwhile, the sacrifices and adventures today are knitting us together as a family.

Peppermint Buttons Bowl NEW

What has been the best marketing move you’ve ever made for your own business?

We have not yet paid for customer acquisition. But we do record and keep a customer list.

 

What is one piece of advice you’d like to give fellow makers about running a successful creative business?

Focus on continually developing your craft and never get comfortable with your skill level or high-minded.

We have also known that if we focused on the depth and integrity of our work, the breadth would follow. We have seen evidence of this in a word-of-mouth, acquired customer and in the % of repeat business we are privileged to serve.

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Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

It’s too much to divulge and a little top secret. But, in a nutshell: more refined and greater capacity.

 

Online

Shop/Website:  etsy.com/shop/andiespecialtysweets

Instagram: instagram.com/andiesspecialtysweets

Facebook: facebook.com/andiesspecialtysweets

I need YOU… to help me, help you…

 

 

 

I need YOU... to help me, help you...

I feel like this should be sung… ‘help me, help yoooouuu’…

It’s true! I’m currently in ‘planning mode’ for Create & Thrive for 2015 (when I’m not making jewellery, that is), and I decided that the best way to help you next year was, well, to ask you what you’re struggling with!

So, I’ve put together a super-quick questionnaire for you to… wait, don’t go!! ;D

I know most of us loathe surveys and questionnaires, truly I do, but I promise that it’s short, easy, and will really help me help you in 2015. If you just tick boxes, it will take you less than 5 minutes. If you want to give me epic responses, that will take a bit longer (and would be awesome), but it’s not necessary.

Anything you can tell me about your struggles, questions, successes, goals etc. will really help me to make sure I’m sharing the right sort of helpful info to help you grow your handmade business. That’s what C&T is all about, after all.

Oh, and it’s anonymous (unless you fancy telling me who you are) so you can be totally honest!

Click here to be part of shaping Create & Thrive in 2015.

Thank you for being awesome!

Jess x

Three Questions with Megan Auman – July 2014




Three Questions with Megan Auman on Create & Thrive

Please welcome the fabulous Megan Auman – jeweller, business strategist, artist, designer, brilliant entrepreneur, and my lovely friend. Megan is going to be stopping by every other month to answer three of your burning questions – think of her a little like a whip-smart, no-nonsense business advice columnist.

Take it away, Megan…

I am starting my craft business online but want to know how to create a terms and conditions page. Details like what I need to cover to make sure both parties are safe would help.

To really cover yourself, you should actually talk to a lawyer to make sure everything is really above board.  But to get you started, I’d recommend taking a look at the terms and conditions pages for other businesses in your industry.  Depending on what platform you’re using to build your online shop, they may even have recommendations or help you auto generate a terms and conditions page.  For example, Shopify will let you generate terms and conditions for your site inside your admin panel.  (See this article for more details. – http://docs.shopify.com/support/settings/checkout-and-payment/where-are-my-refund-privacy-and-terms-of-service-policies-shown-on-my-website )
At the very least, your terms and conditions should include information about returns, refunds, and damaged and/or lost goods.  Your policies should also include information about privacy, collection of personal information at time of order, security, and use of any third party services that track browser information and IP address.  (Such as Google Analytics.)  And, if your website uses cookies, you need to disclose those in a privacy or terms and conditions page.
Ultimately, terms and conditions can feel a little scary (all that legalese) so when it doubt, it’s always best to contact a lawyer.  (And just a quick reminder, I am not a lawyer and none of this should be construed as legal advice.)

In the last 6 months I have started my own small business and am in the process of developing a product to sell online and in retail.  My question is how to I protect my product from copy-cats? Any top-tips?

I know myself it’s very, very easy to get loads of great ideas from Pintrest and Etsy and other websites – and there will always be people who will be able to copy my product at home.  But how do I put them off being able to copy mine?

There is no foolproof way to keep people from copying you, and while copyrights, trademarks, and patents may help in certain situations, they can be very costly to police and defend and aren’t always applicable.  (For instance, copyright usually isn’t applicable in fashion, which can make it hard to protect designs in certain product categories, such as jewelry.)

There are a few ways to keeping copycats at bay.  One is to avoid overly simple or basic processes and forms.  I had a jewelry teacher once tell me that any piece that you put into production should take at least five steps to make, because it’s unlikely that most people will be dedicated enough to copy that many steps.
You also want to avoid putting any tutorials or how-tos out onto the Internet.  Even though it’s tempting to create these as part of your marketing, your true customers aren’t really interested and you’ll just be helping others make your work.  (Plus, if someone really did copy you, you wouldn’t have a strong legal case since you put your trade secretes out onto the Internet.)
Ultimately, the best defense against copycats is building a strong and recognizable brand.  If you build a clear and consistent brand image, it will be more likely that other people will notice if someone copies you and will recognize the copy cat as a knock-off.
The best brands are those that focus their energy on constantly designing, creating, and innovating.  You won’t be able to stop everyone from copying you, but you’ll be such an original that in the end it won’t really matter.

How often should you check in with your wholesale shops to see if they need a re-order?

There actually isn’t a straightforward answer here, because not every shop turns merchandise over at the same pace.  Within my wholesale accounts, I have stores that order every few weeks and stores that may only order once or twice a year.
Ultimately, you want to get to know which shops sell the quickest, because those are the shops you’ll want to touch base with every few weeks.  A good rule of thumb is to follow up a few weeks after you’ve sent the order to make sure everything and then check in once a quarter to see if they need to reorder.
At the minimum, you should reach out to your stores every six months, usually to coincide with the major trade show buying seasons.  But it never helps to reach out more, especially a month or so out from major shopping holidays (like Valentine’s Day or Mothers Day) and two months out before the Christmas season.

Got a question for Megan Auman?

Leave it in the comments below or email it to megan@createandthrive.com (that’s direct to Megan Eckman, Assistant Editor).