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Online Classes: Lynda.com

A friend recommended Lynda.com to me for my daughter who was interested in digital art and possibly design classes. It looked interesting, but I didn’t want to spend the money at the time. Then I learned that we have access to the Lynda.com classes through our local library. We just use our library card number to log in.

She has taken some Adobe Illustrator classes, and is interested in some about Photoshop. I was looking around and found some about website design. I’ve been wanting to create an author website for my work, something in addition to just his blog, so I’m taking some classes as well. If I learn enough, look forward to my website hopefully in the not terribly distant future.

I’m also interested in classes there for creating a email list, and other marketing ideas. This is all brand new stuff for me. I’ve been writing, for myself anyway, for as long as I can remember. But branding, and marketing, and all the other stuff that goes into actually selling what I write – that’s all outside the scope of my previous experience. I know some would advise to hire out the stuff you aren’t personally experienced at, and there is wisdom in that advice. When you are just beginning though, and have a budget of zero, and are willing to take the time to learn some basics then that’s what you do instead. At least, I hope you do, meaning, I hope I can. It’s very possible, I’ll take these classes, and still not have the skills to create my own website. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. On the silver lining side, I don’t think any new knowledge is wasted. Learning new things is always good. If I learn that I need help to make my website, I’ll have at least learned enough to better understand what I am looking for in that help.

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Business Plan

I never finished writing my business plan for my crafting business. When I crunched the numbers awhile back and learned that I’d never be able to make this the kind of business I wanted it to be, and also be able to give up my day job, I stopped working on it.

I won’t go into the details about that decision again – it’s in a previous blog post if you missed it and are interested.

I’m not stopping or giving up on this business. I love it too much for that. But I’m no long putting all my energy into growing or developing it any further than where I have it right now. I will do all the work I need to do to keep it as successful as I already am. I love the happy e-mails from customers, and the pictures of kids enjoying something I made. How could anyone walk away from that? But I’m not expanding. This is good, this is where I want to be.

I did promise you all some advice on writing a business plan. So I’m here tonight to fill that promise. Even if you don’t ‘need’ a plan ( if you’re small and don’t plan to seek investors or a loan there’s no business law that says you must have a written business plan to be legitimate) it can still be a good idea to help you focus and organize your business. It may get you to think about things you haven’t addressed before. Anything that helps your business move forward is helpful.

I am going to wimp out of actually walking you through the whole process myself. I found these links that do a great job of detailing what goes into a plan. They explain it probably better than I could myself anyway.

Another wonderful resource to look into is to find your local Small Business Development Center. My husband took a class on how to write a business plan from them for his IT business and it helped a great deal in focusing our marketing efforts. Ours offers all sorts of classes, and free one on one counseling too. Don’t ever feel that you’re company is too small to talk to someone at a Business Development Center. I’ve taken a class and also spoken with them on several occasions. Helping small business is what they’re all about. They’ve probably seen plenty of businesses that are smaller and less organized than you.

Business plan instructions:
http://www.isitebuild.com/simplebusinessplan.htm
http://www.businessplanning.ws/

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Grand Opening!

We held a live, in-person Grand Opening for our online Quixtar store yesterday here at out home. It was a lot of fun, and went very well. We learned a little more about each of the product lines, and got to play with and taste some stuff.

It makes logical sense to us that an online business deserves an online Grand Opening too. Plus we need about three more clients to meet our goal. Here’s what we’ve decided to do:

Because of the nature of the Internet, we don’t think it would be convenient for people to have a virtual meeting for a small window of an hour or so, like we did at our home. So the online version of our Grand Opening, is going to run for one week.

In order for our guests (that’s you!) to browse around out product lines, you can go to our website:
Serious Energy

Now the fun of a Grand Opening is trying the stuff out, right? On our website there is a link that says “Contact me”. If you look around and see something you’d like to try, use that button to send us a message. We don’t have samples of every product, but we have some. We can send off some samples to you. Or if you don’t know where to start, just send us a message through the “Contact me” link and we’ll send a little variety of samples and information for you.

We’re trying to make this as similar as possible to our real life Grand Opening, so that means a door prize too. Again, we’re using that little “Contact Me” button as our way to know who ‘attended’ our opening. So even if you just look around, send us a message to be entered into the door prize drawing.

My blog has been neglected this month due to my novel writing efforts, but I plan to write a short update daily (or at least every other day) with some of the interesting information about the products and the business.

Thanks everyone!
Have fun.

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Diversifying

I wanted to write this entry awhile ago, but I was hoping to link it to the original source articles where I got my information. Since I can’t find them again (darnit!) I’m posting without.

The article talked about the importance of diversifying in online marketing. The old, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” idea.

I’m generally happy with Etys, but the article did make good points. I don’t run Etsy. I have little to no control in what changes they may choose to make. It is in my best interest not to connect my entire business future on something I have so little control over. Diversifying helps buffer the risk of changes that may negatively affect my business in any one venue.

So I started several other easy to operate online shops in other venues. I’ve linked these so that you can see how they look if these are venues you are interested in as well, but bear in mind that I have very little added to my other shops yet. I just don’t make things fast enough, I’m afraid.

Mintd.com – http://www.mintd.com/stores/show/1032-Karabu-s-Creations

eCrater – http://karabu.ecrater.com/

Lov.Li – http://lov.li/users/2886

There are more sites out there, but these are more than enough for me to deal with right now.
On all of these sites, there are no listing fees, and the selling commission runs from about 5% to 7.5%. On eCrater there are no fees at all. eCrater also has a neat page with promotion tools that tell you how to add your site into various search engines, and other great tips.

The other thing I did was buy my own domain: Karabu’s Pathcwork Creations
It only cost about $18.00 or $19.00 for two years thru GoDaddy.com. I’m a far cry from being ready to start up my own website, but because I have my domain, I will be able to have that option later of if I so choose. Right now all that site does is forward to my Etsy shop, because that’s the main place I want to sell right now. The larger benefit, though, is that I can put all my effort into promoting my own site instead of another (like Etsy for example) What that does for me is if and when at some later time I choose to change the focus of where I sell, I don’t have to start promoting all over again. I just change where my site forwards to, or actually start my own site. The point is, with my own url, I have a lot more options and control over how my business runs and grows.

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What I’ve Learned So Far.

I’ve been reading marketing books, reading marketing blogs, and lurking in business forums for several months now. I’ve also been trying to get my own home business off the ground while assisting my husband with marketing his Network Consulting business. I still have a lot to learn. But I want to share some of what I’ve learned so far.

I see similar questions in a lot of the forums I’ve visited, along the lines of “Where can I promote my business?” Sometimes people give a list of websites to use, or more often, just some generic advice to talk to everyone you meet about your business, post about it everywhere, etc. etc. While this shotgun sort of approach, as one of my marketing book calls it, may get your name out there, who knows if it’s getting to the people who may actually be interested in your services or not? I started out this way too. Just looking to see what others were doing, and following suit. I guess it’s a natural approach for a beginner. There’s the thought that they wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t work, right? Some flawed logic there, I’m learning.

So if that method isn’t efficient, what are we to do? Step one is something I didn’t bother to do when I started, but needed to be done. Identifying our target market. Who are we trying to sell our goods or services to? Without pinning that down as specifically as possible, we send a lot of time marketing to potentially the wrong groups. I’ve used Craigslist to place ads for both my handmade baby toys, and my husbands Consulting business. It has worked to some degree for him, but done nothing for me. Likewise, some of my online networking (myspace, forum posts on various sites) has brought my shop some traffic, but would be silly for my husband to do since he can only take jobs that he can drive to – online marketing to the whole world isn’t what he should be using his energy on.

Even more closely related businesses should have a different marketing strategy. My target market may not be the same as that of someone who sells baby slings, or children’s clothing. We may have some overlap, but we are looking to fill different needs, and as such we should be tailoring our marketing message for our specific ideal audience. Now finding that specific audience is something I’m still working on. However, know who I’m looking for is really helping me find them. I don’t have a lot of free time. I don’t want to use that precious marketing time telling people who couldn’t care less about toys for small children. It would be like sending one of my Sci-Fi stories in to “Time Magazine”. Just wastes everyone’s time.

So that’s my advice. Think about your product. Who needs it? If you think “everyone”, you need to rethink. Even things that everyone truly does need, like toilet paper, have specific markets. For example, I only buy recycled toilet paper. Other people only want super soft and fluffy paper, other only care about cost. If you think enough about what you have to offer, and how it’s special, you’ll start to see the type of person you’re trying to find.

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My Street teams

I just wanted to give a little shout out to the various street teams I belong to at Etsy. If you’re an Etsy seller and considering joining a team, I highly recommend it. I know it has helped with my sales, but more than that is the educational and emotional support, cross promotions, and even group discounts that go a long way to making this whole online commerce thing doable and fun.

First off is Etsy for Animals. A group of sellers dedicated to helping animals and who donate individually or collectively to animal charities. I give 10% of my sales to the charity of the month at http://www.etsyforanimals.com/

Next, is the California Crafter’s CLub of Etsy. It’s a team made up of artists ans crafters who live in California. http://cccoe.socalblog.org/

And last is actually the first team I joined. A wonderful group of crafters who make items for babies and kids. I’ve bought some really cool stuff for my girls from EtsyKids sellers. http://www.etsykids.com/

You can search for items from any of these groups at Etsy by using the tags: EFA, CCCOE, or Etsykids.

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Focus

One piece of advice has been coming at me from every direction this week. Despite my best efforts, I can’t ignore it anymore. With our WWDB mentors, we have been listening to and reading a training program from John C. Maxwell based on his book, “Talent is Never Enough”

This week’s lesson was about focus – something I’m lacking in. I like to do a million things at once. And I frequently move on to new and exciting things before I’ve finished what I started. So I have half-finished projects all over the place, a half-cleaned house, and the feeling that there is never enough time in a day. Now knowing I have a focus problem and doing something about i may be two very different things. But I’m learning the tools to try.

The last few chapter’s in “Duct Tape Marketing”

have been about making sure you know why your in business. Having a narrow market that you’re targeting, and getting as specialized as you can. This helps make your marketing efforts more effective, and gives your business more prestige. I can’t explain it like the book does – so I guess I just highly recommend reading the book. It helped me come to the decision not to add other types of product lines to my Etsy shop (http://karabu.etsy.com). I wanted to make pet stuff, some zines,and note cards, just to name a few. My zine is what I’m most excited about, and it’s almost done. I have two more in the planning stages too. But I think I’ve done a decent job of creating an image and theme for Karabu’s Patchwork Creations and I don’t want to muddy it up. So I’m going to open a second shop for my zine, and I’ll add other paper products later on. It’s called Paper and Words (http://paperandwords.etsy.com). Nothing there yet, but my zine and some cards will show up soon.

I’m also taking an online writing class (did I mention my focus problem?) and the teacher stressed in the last lesson about how much easier it is to be successful if you fine a nitch and specialize versus being a generalist. They recommended that I focus on Pets and Parenting because of my strong knowledge and experience in these areas.

Now, my problem is that I love all the different things I do. I don’t want to give anything up to focus on just one thing. As a compromise to start with, I’m trying to work on just one thing at a time and finish it before moving on. May not sound like much – but it’s huge for me.

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I’m Sorry

This blog has been exactally what I didn’t want it to be.

So far I’ve just been babbling about myself in a way that isn’t interesting or useful to anyone. That isn’t what I intended to do with this blog. I don’t mind sharing personal experiences if they illistrate something, but so far I’m just ranting. The original goal of this blog was to share what I was learning as I try to grow my baby and kid toy crafting business, and as I expand my freelance writing.
I’ve learned so much from reading about people who’ve done what I’m trying to do. I wanted to help others the same way.
So, I will strive to supply this blog, and hopefully my readers (if there are any) with something more substantial than the amunt of sleep I’m getting or how may dirty dishes are in my sink. Now, I may be likely to stry occasionally and get of topic – this is one of my special skills, but I’ll try to be educational as much as possible.

Right now I’m reading a very good book called “Duct Tape Marketing”. I’ll post a book review when I’m done.

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One more thing to juggle

Well, now that we’re finally getting into a nice routine for sleeping, and my cold is starting to fade, I feel ready to start trying to get some work done again. I have a half dozen projects near completion that I haven’t been able to get to in weeks. Thanks to grandmas – the house isn’t a total disaster, but it could definitely use some work.

So I’m looking forward to getting my new listings up on Etsy – my mom gave me a new castle to list, I have a doll quilt almost done, as well as a soft fabric shape book. I’m making one for numbers too while I’m at it. Have several new tooth pillows started in different colors, and I finished drafting patterns for the pocket quilts I want to make.

On top of that, I’m combining my passions a bit, and creating a zine with some of my short stories around a ‘family’ theme. This won’t be for kids – but some of the stories are about kids – and about parents, grandparents -husbands, and so on. When I begin listing my pet items, I want to do another zine with an animal theme. Now that I’m feeling more like myself again, it all feel exciting – not overwhelming like before.

I’ve spent a lot of my ‘down’ time reading and learning about marketing. I’ll share what I’ve learned in another post soon.