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An Unexpectedly Meaty Sandwich ~ The $100 Startup {Review}

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Last week, I sent a forlorn email to Chris…

‘Chris, my review copy* of The $100 Startup hasn’t arrived, and I’m dying to read it! Could the publishers perhaps send another?’

I was hoping it was just because I was in Australia, and was the victim of cross-Pacific shipping delay, but was concerned that my book had gone awry. And I was really, really keen to read it after seeing reviews and chatter about it popping up all over the interwebs.

In typical Chris style, he got back to me within, like, 10 minutes with a ‘sure thing!’.

Wouldn’t you know it – later on that morning I went to the post office, only to find the book had finally arrived. Seems I had been a victim of the Australian Customs Service and Murphy’s Law, instead. Happily, I got back to him before he got a second copy sent out, and I set about digging in to Chris’s lastest gem.

I knew it would be tasty, but I had no idea just how meaty The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau would prove to be.

You’ve got 2 options – a 2 1/2 minute vid review and/or the written review below!

Before I read it, I didn’t actually realise how much of a ‘how-to’ manual this was – so I was pretty damn excited when I realised all the juiciness that was to be found between the covers. {Wow, how’s that for a mixed metaphor, hmm?}

The book is divided into 3 parts:

  • Unexpected Entrepreneurs

  • Taking it to the Streets

  • Leverage and Next Steps

The first part of the book is very much for those who are thinking about starting a new, passion-based biz OR – as in my case – a reminder for those of us who are considering a new project that will integrate with a currently existing business (yes, I have something rather exciting in the works, peeps!).

I loved the stories in the first chapter – Renaissance – because they resonated so strongly with my own journey! I, too, am an ‘accidental entrepreneur’ – I never actually set out to make what I do my full-time gig. In the beginning, it was just a hobby, but life and circumstance combined to give me the opportunity to make it happen. Thankfully, like those profiled in the book, I have never looked back, or been happier with the work I do.

For me, this first section just reinforced a number of ideas that I’ve spoken of before – the main one being that just because something is your passion doesn’t mean you should turn it into a business. Or, more to the point – you need to find a convergence between what you love doing and what people will actually buy – something I’ve spoken about before. This is a BIG one for those in the handmade industry.

For those of you just starting out, this section will be an invaluable tool in helping you get your head straight about what sort of business and products you should create, and how you can craft a business around your dream lifestyle, rather than the other way round.

The second section was the ‘meatiest’ part of the sandwich, with densely packed info and advice on how to actually craft and sell a product people will want to buy.

I found this section the most immediately useful part of the book, as I’ve got a few new products and collections planned for the second half of 2012. The information on crafting an offer, launching, and even hustling were invaluable to me. It really helped me to clarify a few decisions I’d been wavering on for a while now – and we all know how draining a non-decision can be.

Like all good books/blog posts/ecourses, I didn’t exactly learn anything NEW or anything I couldn’t have figured out for myself after a lot of try-and-fail type scenarios… however, I was gifted strategies and plans on a creamy white platter that would have taken me untold time and struggle to figure out/put together on my own.

The third part of the book was future-focussed – you’ve got a business, you’re doing well… but where do you go from here? How much do you want to grow, and what business model do you want to create? Do you want to keep going-it-alone or bring others on-board? What if it all turns to crap and I fail?

Yeah, we’ve ALL had those thoughts. Chris gives us answers to all of these questions and more – and he is especially good at assuaging our fears of failure. In fact, sometimes, failure can be the best thing that ever happens to us – a hard lesson to understand if we’ve yet to fail big-time and come out the other side more determined than before.

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This is not the sort of book you read once and then put on the shelf.

I can see myself coming back to this again and again throughout the years to come, in order to remind myself of things that will help my business grow authentically.

If nothing else, definitely make sure you head over to 100Startup.com and download the AWESOME free resources that Chris has put up there. I’ll be sticking a number of them on my wall to make sure my upcoming products are created with YOU in mind, and to get them launched out into the world in style.

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{*Disclosure: I was provided with a free copy of this book to review, thanks to Chris and Crown Publishing. Thank you, guys!!}

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.

Making friends with the tyranny of ‘Being Finished’

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Most of the time I mosey along, happy to be working in and on my business, enjoying the freedom and control I have to do what I want – when I want.

But some days, I feel a creeping unease – something which for a long time I just thought of as ‘stress’, but for which I have now pinned down a more accurate term. In these moments, what I feel is the Tyranny of Being Finished.

You see, when you run your own business, there’s no such thing as ‘Finished’. There is always – always! – something more you could be doing.

I was always one of those kids who had their assignments done days ahead of the deadline. I liked to get things done. I never liked deadlines hanging over my head – being up against the wall always stressed me out.

And so, it is with some amusement that I come to see that I’ve chosen a career path that leaves me constantly running against deadlines – to get orders complete, to get *bespoke* to print on time (when I owned it), to get blog posts done and posted…

On the whole, the path I’ve chosen makes me very, very happy. I love being in charge. I love being in control. I love being able to dream up new ideas and then bring them into being, without someone telling me I can’t.

But I don’t love never being done. 

I think this is why I have never enjoyed any sort of housework. In fact, I used to think at length about the futility of cleaning when I worked as a commercial cleaner during uni (one has to pay the bills somehow!). The fact that the cleaning was never, ever done – it was only temporarily suspended.

No doubt that old saying ‘a woman’s work is never done’ has popped into your head about now. When you have a job (disclaimer, not all jobs, and obviously this does not apply to most professions) you can go home at the end of the day and forget about it. At least, until tomorrow.

For a few sweet hours, you have freedom.

I think the perfect example of this is school. When you were at school, or uni, those weeks that stretched between the end of one year and the start of the next were a kind of dream-world of freedom. No exams, no assignments, no work – just time stretching in front of you, to fill as you saw fit. At least, that was my experience! And oh, how I enjoyed that freedom…

However, I realise that ‘The Tyranny of Being Finished’ and I will need to make friends if I am to continue down this path I’ve started upon.

I need to be able to confront him at the end of the day and say “Enough! I’ve done enough, I’ve done my best, and that will have to do – at least for today.”

Then I can rest, and sleep, with the knowledge that tomorrow I will pick up where I left off, and continue to do so into infinity… without fear.

Do you battle with the Tyranny of Being Finished?

Behind the Business ~ An April Idea

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I love to read in-depth interviews with creative business owners – finding out what drives them, what has worked for their businesses, and what they do when they face inevitable hurdles.

So, I decided to start a new interview series here on the blog where I find amazing people and pick their brain about all these things. Today, we’re hearing from Jess from An April Idea – a gorgeous line of stationery and paper goods that caught my eye immediately when I was browsing Etsy one day.

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

Although I had already completed a degree in Interior Design, I feel that my creative journey didn’t really start until I began my Graphic Design degree. Although they are quite similar fields, I didn’t really sense that I had found my passion until I started Graphic Design. It felt so easy and fun and just seemed to fit. When I thought about the future I didn’t get scared & overwhelmed about working in the industry, I got excited. I was incredibly fortunate to have a design job before completing my degree, as a Graphic Designer at a boutique stationery store, and was also offered a job at a small design studio upon graduation. Working both these jobs allowed me to see various different areas within the industry and helped me to decide which direction I wanted to take my career.

Then there came a time when I had to decide between each job, as I was working part time at both. One was more corporate/ client work such as websites, branding etc, and at the other place I was given a chance to create my own stationery brand. It was an unknown, but incredibly tempting to have total creative control. There was nothing in place and I would have to learn on my own and start from the beginning. I really wanted to take the chance and was very lucky that it has worked out.

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

I would probably say getting my brand name out there. You may have an amazing product, but without the right marketing to go with it, it’s almost useless. Getting to know the industry was, and still is, a big challenge. A lot of people think that making a card range is so easy, but it’s more than just putting pretty images onto paper. It’s knowing the gap in the market that needs to be filled and being smart about it.  Coming from a stationery shop background, we knew where the holes were and what sold the most. It didn’t always match up with my favourite designs, but it’s still a business and it’s still about sales.

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?

Definitely! For example it’s quite tough at the moment as the retail markets is very quiet. Which of course gives me doubts about my creative future, and I often think this is too good to be true.  You know, I am doing what I love and getting paid for it, I assume the bubble has to burst eventually. But I think that’s why you have to be smart about it and think of it as a business as well as a passion.

There are lots of things I want to do for sure, like illustrate books and I would love to get into textile design, but my brand is only young and hopefully there will be plenty of time left to chase those dreams.

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

Absolutely! I find the best thing to do is to just walk away and leave it. You can’t force it. Sometimes my illustrations come to me so easily and quickly, they just flow. But if they aren’t coming, I don’t like to force them, as I usually don’t like the final product I end up with. The best thing I can do is something I find quite dull like updating spreadsheets or cleaning out my email inbox. And after a few hours of that I’m feeling like I have a bit more creativity yearning to break free.

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

Probably when I first launched my brand. It was at the Melbourne Trade Show in 2011. We only got a few sample products printed and sort of wanted to just test the water to see if there would be any interest. I think we got about 40 orders from different stores across Australia, so it was quite exciting to get so much interest so quickly!

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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?

I feel that I’m fortunate in that I have a separate office to go to each day. If I worked from home I would find it a lot harder to differentiate between the two. I would end up sleeping in (as I am not a morning person  ) and working until midnight and never really having any separate work and home time. As it is, I work regular hours and when it’s home time I put down my pencil or mouse or whatever and let it go, knowing there is nothing I can do about it until the next day. I like to go home and have a life. As fun as my job is, I like to do other things too. My husband and I are renovating our first home and I also like to paint for relaxation. I haven’t done any art for fun since I started An April Idea, and I would like to get back into that. I find it so free and relaxing, but I don’t often have the time or much creativity left at the end of the day, so I still need to work on that.

A usual day for me will start with checking Email, Etsy, Facebook and any other sites that I receive orders from. Pack any orders for customers and stores. Update stockist info, update websites, I am currently re photographing some of my new ranges; so styling and photographing my products, dealing with wholesale customers, custom orders, stock levels, packing, shipping, ordering, magazines and press requests, looking for new stockists and just getting the name out there more. I have not spent much time designing new ranges or designs recently, but that comes and goes.

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

Out of everything that we do, Trade fairs, magazines, websites, direct mail outs, on-line, the Trade Fair has by far given us the biggest amount of awareness and orders. But it is very expensive and a lot of work. I would say the next best thing would be direct mail outs. They don’t cost a lot and you can focus them on people that share a similar passion for the products.

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

Listen to the advice from store owners. They talk to customers every day and they know what will sell.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

As An April Idea is not yet a full time job for me, I would love to see it big enough to take up all of my time  And ultimately have the brand internationally.

In the future I would also love to branch into textile design, custom typography, and illustration for surf brands. I would also love to be using a combination of my graphic design and interior design/styling skills, working with someone like Home Beautiful or Real Living.

See more of An April IdeaWebsite | Etsy | Facebook

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If you run a successful online creative business, and would like to be interviewed for this series, please get in touch!

How to create a slow workspace that will increase your productivity

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{ My Ideal writing haven – via Remodelista }

This is a guest post by Brooke McAlary of Slow Your Home.

You’re fabulously creative folks, I know. You paint, you write, you crochet, you jewel, you stick mustaches on things… And for all of those creative pursuits, you need space – both mental and physical.

For some creative work, you don’t need much physical space. Knitting is highly portable, as is writing. But if you’re a jeweller, or a clothing designer, musician or graphic designer, some space is a necessity.

I understand many creative folk love the idea of really letting loose in their creative space. To go all Jackson Pollock and fling paint with wild abandon. And I get this. I really do.

But when it comes to creating good work, and creating it consistently (particularly if you pay the bills with your creative work) I’ve found the opposite to be true. The more organised and minimal my workspace, the more likely I am to be productive, creative and effective.

Today is all about inspiring you to create the kind of workspace that will see you produce your best stuff. Finish your novel, design a new jewellery range, write a ballad or create a website.

A slow workspace is:

  • uncluttered
  • organised
  • well planned
  • inspiring

Working in a slow studio means:

  • you are less likely to get distracted
  • you will be more productive and effective
  • you will associate it with work, and switch your head to that mindset
  • you will save time by not rifling through piles of supplies and materials

Now, I could get all wordy on you and tell you what your space should look like, how you should be organising your materials, where you should put your desk and why you need to incorporate inspiration.

Instead, I’m going to show you. Because who doesn’t love to look at beautiful spaces?

 

#1 Let The Light In

No matter the space, you need light. And natural light trumps artificial.

How can you argue with the beauty of natural light streaming in to your creative space? Even if it is just your dining table.

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{via The Cool Hunter | Riccardo Carrara on Flickr | design*sponge }

 

#2 Smart Storage

It’s hard to avoid bulky materials and supplies when you’re a hand-maker. So invest some time and thought into what requires storing and how you would best use your space to do that.

Think Up: Use shelves to store supplies, utilising your walls and freeing floor space. This will help make the space look and feel bigger.

Make it Portable: Use moveable furniture. It’s easy to add castors to a shelving unit or a small desk, creating an entirely portable workspace. Then it can be packed away when not in use.

Reuse: Put your green goggles on and look out for containers like glass jars, tins and plastic containers. These can be used to store materials and equipment, making it easier to find what you need, when you need it.

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{ via Going Home to Roost | Apartment Therapy | somethings hiding in here on Flickr |The Lone Arranger | Homesick Designs }

 

#3 Get Organised

When you have multiple to-do lists rattling around your head, your creativity can become blocked. So get organised.

Write it down, get it out and free your mind to do what it does best – create.

Consider using blackboard paint on the walls, a giant calendar, magnetic whiteboards or a desktop calendar. Whatever works best for you is the best solution.

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{via Apartment Therapy | Unclutterer | Russell and Hazel }

 

 

#4 Work With What You’ve Got

Expansive craft rooms or whimsical garden hideaways created just for writing – these sounds amazing. Instead, most of us create on our laps, at the dining table or in a nook we’ve carved out as our creative space.

Instead of longing for extra space, make the most of what you’ve got and don’t let size be a barrier to awesome.

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{via Unclutterer | Design Dreams | StashVault | Desire to Inspire }

 

How To Create Your Own Slow Workspace

When you’re creating your own slow workspace, you need to consider:

Space: How much do you have? How much you need? How many materials/supplies do you need to store? Is your equipment bulky?

Time: How often do you create? Daily, weekly, occasionally?

Inspiration: What inspires you? What helps your creativity come to life? Try and incorporate some of those things into your workspace.

Motivation: How do you get motivated and stay organised with your work? Bring these elements into your workspace and see your productivity improve.

And remember – none of these solutions need to be expensive or complicated. It may just be a matter of decluttering and buying a calendar. Or removing your bulky desk and replacing it with a slimline shelf instead. Keeping your glass jars to store buttons and adding some castors to your shelves so you can move them around as needed.

The whole point of the slow movement is – well, slowness. So take your time and let us know what changes you would make to your creative workspace to make it slower.

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Brooke McAlary is an aspiring minimalist, blissful gardener, passionate writer and inappropriate laugher.

She is also a happy wife, busy mum, slightly weird Australian and creator of the insanely helpful Slow Home BootCamp.

She blogs at Slow Your Home and is on a mission to help you find the simple life you want.

You can find her on Facebook and Twitter multiple times a day.