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280: Biz lessons from (foster) parenting

Parenting and business can feel like they’re worlds apart, but luckily there are transferable lessons! Learn more about the business lessons I’ve learned from one year of foster parenting at TaraSwiger.com/podcast280

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So hey, I became a parent this year! I parented 5 kids in 12 months, not concurrently but consecutively. And in this year of parenthood, I have learned a LOT about myself, my worldview, my marriage AND my business.

Today I want to share what parenting has taught me about business.

This episode is ultra-vulnerable, because I usually talk about stuff that I know quite a bit about, that I’ve researched and experienced. Well, parenting is not really my expertise. And I’m gonna be honest – I wanted to be a parent for SO LONG that when it DID happen, but in a very nontraditional way, I still feel a little bit of imposter syndrome.

I am NOT a parent the way most parents are. I did not give birth or get pregnant. I also didn’t lose pregnancies or go through massive infertility treatments. And I haven’t adopted a child. So right now, I don’t actually, legally, HAVE kids. I temporarily have kids, but as you can imagine, the day to day of parenting feels very very real. Heck, it IS real.

I am having the experience of parenting even if I’m not legally a parent yet.

So, as you can tell, I feel kinda nervous about talking about this, but I know that we ALL have things we’re inexperienced about, and learning THROUGH the inexperience is how we improve.

Now before we go farther, let me just say to all my sisters who are feeling pain around not being a parent yet, and really really wanting to – you might wanna skip this episode. I know that in the past I found all KINDS of things triggered my grief, and I would HATE when a business teacher would talk about kids as if we all just had kids, no problem, no struggle.

That said, I encourage EVERYONE to consider foster care as a way of pouring your time and energy and resources and privileges into someone’s life. Someone very cute. So if you don’t have kids yet, and you’re even considering foster care a little bit, stay tuned and check out my videos about the process of becoming a foster parent.

And of course if you are a parent, through traditional or nontraditional methods, stay tuned because I think you’re going to enjoy noticing how business and parenting overlap in so many ways.

Work on your STUFF

The first BIG lesson of having a business or being a parent is this: If you don’t deal with your stuff now, you’re going to have to deal with it later.

Both parenting and business serve as a magnifying glass for all the STUFF you need to work through to move forward.

What do I mean by stuff? Whether it’s mental health stuff like anxiety, depression, eating disorders or it’s stuff from your own childhood or past relationships, both business and kids are going to bring it up again.

I have long said that business is one of the best therapists, because it is ALL going to come up. As you set goals, level up, move forward, you are going to come up against your own feelings of inadequacy, worthiness, confidence, mindset. If you don’t work through it, release it, or in some way transform your stuff, it’s going to KEEP coming up. You’ll end up self-sabotaging or getting stuck or feeling horrible instead of happy.

And oooh boy, if this is true of business, it is doubly true of becoming a parent.

Every bit of unhealed trauma, grief, and fear from your childhood comes and smacks you in the face when you’re taking care of tiny children. (Or is that just me?)

I got a head start on working through my stuff and develop a support system for it, while building my business. I had to work through stuff about being worthy, about mindset, about clear communication in order to grow through my  business.

That has made me able to move through it quicker (than I used to) when it came to kids. But for my husband, he struggled. He’s had to develop ways to calm down, to recharge, to release stuff, to confront himself and forgive himself…while in the middle of parenting toddlers.

So really this first lesson is: work on your stuff. Now or later, you’re going to need to. If you had kids first, hopefully you’ve learned to identify some of this stuff and you’ve already started the process.

(And PS, business and kids aren’t the ONLY ways to work on your issues, they’ve just the two biggest triggers for what I’ve needed to work on! Relationships are another big trigger for people – whether friendships or romantic relationships.)

The next lesson is about TIME

Oh my gosh, I never felt like I had so little thinking time in my LIFE!

It has forced me to get very clear on when and how I work best – what I need to be most productive.

What I’ve learned is that I need dedicated focused time in order to do most of what I do.

And Introvert Recovery cannot be skipped – the longer I spend surrounded by kids and NOT working, the more I need to recover before I can be productive. This is counter-intuitive and VERY annoying, but I’ve found it to be true, so now I just try to build it in when I can.

My other “hack” around this is to squeeze all appointments into same day and have days that I never schedule anything kid-related (of course DCS does not really respect my boundaries, but when possible, I stand up for them.) It all comes down to the fact that time management is so much more crucial now that I have kids, so I’ve had to get better at it.

Communication

Dealing with toddlers requires clear communication.
Dealing with DCS and birth parents and other adults in your kids life requires clear communication.

And guess what? Your business, especially your marketing messaging requires clear communication!

One of the keys to clearly communicating is to always ask yourself: What is the goal of this communication?

What is the goal of this foster care meeting? What is the goal of this outburst? What is the goal of this Instagram post or email or item description?

You’re always trying to communicate something to someone.

By getting clear on what the goal is and who the intended audience is, then you can shape your message around that.

And yes, I am encouraging you to take a minute and think through what you’re about to say, so that it’s clear to everyone what your goal is.

If we’ve ever been in a conversation together, you know that I am not going to let you go until I know that we have met the goal. This has been so useful in working with birth parents and DCS.

For example, in a meeting with a social worker and some family members, I could tell that the worker was focused on just saying what she wanted to say (in industry-speak) and that family members didn’t understand the seriousness or what’s at stake. So I stopped the worker, over and over to ask: “So you’re saying….” and kept rewording it until I could tell family got it.
When we walked away, my husband said, “You were great. You probably really annoyed the social worker, but at least we know we got everyone on the same page.”

I credit my decade-plus experience of writing marketing messaging (and a stubborn streak that wants to make everyone feel included) to this skill, but it’s developed over time.

If you have been negotiating with toddlers, for a few years, I bet you have worked on your communication skills. (Simplicity! Clear requests!)

If you have been in a relationship for longer than a minute, you have worked on your communication skills.

The thing is, you can bring that INTO your business! Those skills translate!

ALL these skill translate!

Whether your life has inspired you to get good at working on your stuff, at time management, or at communication, you can now take those skills into your business!

Often we feel like we don’t know enough or we’re not good enough to create thriving businesses, to be profitable, to charge what we’re worth.

But you know what?

You are! You have the skills you need!

How to listen

  • You can subscribe to it on iTunes (If you do, leave a review!)
  • You can listen to it using the player above or download it.
  • Subscribe or listen via Stitcher (or subscribe in whatever you use for podcasts – just search “Explore Your Enthusiasm” and it should pop up!).

Find all the podcast episodes here.

279: How to survive social media burnout

Social media is a big part of most of our businesses. But it can also lead to incredible burnout! Learn how to avoid social media burn out at TaraSwiger.com/podcast279

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Are you DREADING logging on to IG? Has it been WEEKS since you posted to your Facebook page or group?

Honey, you are not alone. It is totally normal to get burnout, and this week I'm going to help you avoid it and deal with it when it happens, and I'm going to give you a dose of tough love!

Today's episode is brought to you by my darling patrons, you can join them in supporting the show, at Patron.com/Taraswiger, for as little as $1/mo.

It is sooo easy to get burnt out with social media. You feel like you have to be on all the things – Instagram, Facebook, groups, maybe even Twitter or Tumblr or YouTube depending on your Right Customer.

Not only do you need to CREATE for those platforms, you also have to INTERACT, comment, like, reply to comments and DMs…. ahhhh

It can get super overwhelming very quickly.

So let's first talk about how to AVOID overwhelm and then how we will deal with it when it happens.

To start with you need to accept one very big Truth: you don't have to be on everything. In fact, you CANNOT be on everything. Because, hon, you aren't going to be GOOD at everything, in fact, you won't be good at most stuff. AT FIRST.

How you get good, is practice and consistency, without expectation.

Now I know that “expectation” bit is hard, because why else would we be on social media as business owners if we didn't have the expectation that it would help our business?

The answer is counter-intuitive: Lower your expectations a little! (or a lot)

If you hop on a social media platform, there will be a learning curve, if your expectations of yourself and your results are sky high, you WILL be disappointed. If you look at the whole experiment as a chance to learn and get better, you will be delighted at the results.

Because here's the thing: even doing a social media platform “badly” is a chance to learn about your CUSTOMERS.

Because let's back up here, you're going to choose platforms based on two things:

  1. What you like to do or want to do more of.
  2. Where your customers are.

Now the thing about the big platforms (IG, FB, Twitter, YouTube) is that they are big enough now that no matter the demographic of your Right Person, if they're under 65, they're going to be there. (if your target market is over 65, why are you even stressing about this?)

So if you're choosing a platform based on what you like or want to do more of, you're going to have more FUN while you learn it.

And if your customers are there, because it's SOCIAL, you're going to have a chance to learn about them, even if you aren't particularly good at creating content for it yet. You can see what hashtags they use, who they follow, what they post about, what they like. You can have conversations in the comments of THEIR posts, or even the posts of a bigger creator.

(I originally had podcasting here, but it's broadcasting media, not social media, right now there isn't a podcasting platform that lets everyone (maker and consumer) talk to everyone).

If, instead of looking at it as a chance to talk to your customers, you look at is a way to boost sales quickly, well you're going to feel pressured and that leads to burnout.

Social Media is not a sales tool, it's a marketing tool, 98% of the time.

What's that mean? It's not IG where you'll make the sale. On IG you'll build the relationship and point your follower to where they can learn more or check out what's for sale. But for most of us, IG -> email -> sale. If you do in-person events, SM -> event -> sale.

I know, I know, so-and-so posts pictures of what's for sale and she sells it right away. But you know what? She's ALREADY used IG to do marketing (spreading the message of her work – the value, the worth, the work that goes into it) AND she's built trust. She's done this with enough people so that when she posts something, at least one of them wants to buy it. So yes, you can make sales right from social media, EVENTUALLY.

In the short term, it's a listening tool and a learning tool. You can use it to experiment with messaging (you get a new chance every day) and you can use it to have conversations.

You might have noticed that earlier I said you're going to get better at it by doing it consistently. Yes, the more consistent you are with any tool in your business, the better results you're going to have…but that's another cause of burnout – trying to stick to a schedule that doesn't work for you. If you are feeling ragged trying to post daily, what if you did it 3x/week? It's better to be consistent 3x/week than to post a lot one week and not at all the next week. You'll feel better about your work, so you'll stick with it longer.

So far we're avoiding burnout by doing what we like, by having conversations with our customers, by doing it less often and by lowering our expectations.

The other way to avoid burnout is to give yourself a break. Whether you choose to do it weekly (I don't pick up my phone on Sundays) or you choose to do it for a longer stretch of time (I stay off social media when I'm traveling with my family, to give myself a real vacation), just take some time AWAY.

What if you're already all burnt out?

First, step away. 

Just stop. Seriously. Nothing bad will happen.

Second, find the fun. 

Notice what feels good, what you have fun doing and do more of that. Maybe it's pictures of flowers, maybe it's funny memes, maybe it's videos about books, like it is for me.  Dip your toe back in with what's fun.

Third, lower your expectations, yes, even more. 

Social media cannot be your entire business (unless you're a social media consultant, and then why are you listening to this?). Social media is ONE way you can practice your messaging and build trust through consistency. Your business is your product, your pricing, your messaging, and your follow-through. I teach all about these foundations and how to make them stronger in my new masterclass. You can find out when the next encore presentation is at TaraSwiger.com/foundations

How to listen

  • You can subscribe to it on iTunes (If you do, leave a review!)
  • You can listen to it using the player above or download it.
  • Subscribe or listen via Stitcher (or subscribe in whatever you use for podcasts – just search “Explore Your Enthusiasm” and it should pop up!).

Find all the podcast episodes here.

278: Business Plans: Sneak peek into our business plan (+ how to make your own)

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Today is kind of a part 2 to last week’s episode, where we talked about if you even need a traditional business plan. Last week I walked you through what to do for an effective plan, if you don’t need a traditional one. You can find that at taraswiger.com/podcast277

That episode is going to help 98% of you, my readers, get super-clear on where your business is and where it’s going and how the heck to plan that out.

But if you DO need a traditional plan, today I’m not only going to tell you what to include, I’m going to share snippets of our own business plan. The one Jay and I took to banks and business advisors, when we were planning on buying a comic shop.

Now, even if you don’t think you need a traditional business plan, I don't want you to skip this episode, because I want you to dream BIGGER. Expand your idea of what's possible. So many makers are afraid that getting “big” would be too scary, so I want you to hear what it actually takes, because I know you ARE capable of it. So if you've ever had a dream of having a shop, or renting a workspace or opening up a cute Shop Around the Corner, please listen even though you may not need it now.

It really could be you – in the last decade of working with makers and artists, most of whom only had an etsy shop when we started working together, dozens have quit their jobs (and needed to show their partners how they would make it work), a few have opened brick and mortar shops, and one, Katie of Yarn Love, has bought land and built an entire dye studio for her business. So yeah, you may not need it TODAY, but you may need it sooner than you think.

As a reminder, you need a traditional business plan, when you bring anyone into your business – a bank loan, an investor (even a family member investment!), or a business partner.

When you go talk to a bank or an investor, they are looking for some very specific documents. The best resource is SBA.gov – it has tons of tools to help you make this, so I'm going to suggest you go to their website and use all their tools, even if you're not in the US, because they have samples and way more information that I'm going to cover here. If you are in the US, you're going to need to adhere to their guidelines – it's what banks want and expect.

Let’s get right to it, here are the parts of a traditional plan, along with what we included in our business plan:

Executive summary:

This is where you put the overview of your business and what it stands for. You'll include your missions statement, your business model (what do you sell and how?) and everyone high-level in your business. If you're asking for funding, you'll include some numbers up here (what you're asking for and when you'll be profitable).

(We skipped this part)

Business description:

This is super-specific description of the business – what's it's address? What does it sell? How many customers does it have? What are your advantages? You'll put your strengths in this section.

Real Life Example: “X was founded in DATE by person, (short founding story). For over X years, the shop has sold {products} and has {competitive advantage}. It won X awards. It is located at {LOCATION.}

The print comic book industry is a $940 million industry in North America with 98 million individual copies sold from the major distributor, Diamond Comics.

How the industry works:

Individual issues of comics are released monthly or bi-monthly with new titles coming in every week. The shop places orders for the titles three months in advance.

There are three types of customers {explained in detail the kinds of customers}
We described the business model and the primary partners and distributors.

The current business:

We shared specific numbers from the current business and the problems we saw that we would change. We then had a detailed paragraph about every problem we saw and how we would change it (including software we would buy, systems we would implement, incentivisation we would offer and more.)

Market analysis:

Now we're getting to the part where you'll need to do some research – in this section you'll list the businesses who are competing with yours (other local shops?) and what your target market is. How big is the market? How much money do your people spend on your product each year? You'll also talk about trends and themes here – what do successful competitors do? Why does it work? Can you do it better?

Real life example: In this section we included local competition (other shops, including the chain bookstores) and what advantage and disadvantages they had, and online competition. We then wrote a detailed analysis of how we would compete with online comic sales.

After the Competition section we had a Market Analysis section where we specified the shop’s demographics by percentage compared to the industry demographics. We wrote in detail about how the market was shifting and what we would do shift the shop’s demographics to where trends were going. We also wrote about the plethora of comic book-based media, the demo and stats of those shows and how we would capitalize on that media attention.

Organization and management:

This may be super simple – who does what? Who is in charge? Who will run the day to day of the business? If you have several people already working in your business, use an organizational chart and include information about their unique experience and what they bring to your business. This is also where you state the legal structure of your business.

Real life example: We included a paragraph on both Jay and Tara (the owners) that included our education, experience and roles in the company. We also specified that until the shop was profitable we wouldn’t be taking a salary. We put this section at the very end, because we were advised to rearrange this based on what the lender would care most about, which is how we would make money (financial and marketing).

Service or product line:

What do you sell? What is the lifecycle? What are the features AND the benefits?

Real life example: We included this in the company description, because we knew most lenders wouldn’t know anything about the industry and we needed them to learn about it up front.

Marketing and sales

SBA.gov says “Your goal in this section is to describe how you'll attract and retain customers. You'll also describe how a sale will actually happen. You'll refer to this section later when you make financial projections, so make sure to thoroughly describe your complete marketing and sales strategies.”

Real life example: “Our initial marketing plan is focused on fostering a sense of community and helping new customers feel welcome. We’ll achieve this by reaching the current audience more effectively (and more often) with consistent social media and email marketing, moving all customers through the sales funnel (from walk-in, to regular, to subscriber) through store displays and customer service and increasing the number of women and children who shop with us. Our initial promotional program, on all platforms, both in person and online, is to increase our subscriber base” 

I then described exactly how we’d do this, including a bounce-back program.
Then we had sub-sections, including InStore Marketing, which had 2 examples of upcoming events and promotions around them. Each event had a description and up to a dozen bullet points of what we’d do it for it. We then attached a list of the next YEAR of dates of events and what we would do for them.

We also included a subsection of customer service, how we would improve it and systematize it and a subsection of social media which included the shop’s current assets, along with my plan for Instagram and YouTube. I started with stats, because I figured dudes in suits would know we should do social media, but wouldn’t really get it.

“Engagement with brands on Instagram is 10 times higher than Facebook, and 84 times higher than Twitter (Forrester Research, 2016). According to Pew Research, 55 percent of all online 18- to 29-year olds in the U.S. are using Instagram. We will use Instagram to connect with our customers, incentivize sharing to reach their friends, and to promote our in-store events and displays. We’ll make use of the location tagging and a custom hashtag, which empowers our customers to share the shop and stay top of mind.”

We had a subsection for Email Marketing, where I included my own email open rates and sell-through stats, and some industry stats like “According to studies from McKinsey & Company, email is 40x more successful at acquiring new clients than either Facebook or Twitter and a business is 6x more likely to get a click-through from an email campaign than from a tweet. When it comes to purchases made as a result of receiving a marketing message, email has the highest conversion rate (66%), when compared to social, direct mail and more.”

I specified when we’d send emails and what they would include and how we’d get new subscribers to our emails.

The last two subsections were website improvements and traditional marketing (ie, flyers on campus, press releases to the local papers, sponsoring a little league team, etc).

As you can see, this was a HUGE section, and that’s because we wanted to show how were justifying our financial projections which were quite aggressive. That’s the next section!

Financial projections:

This is the part that took us the most work and is also the most important section if you want funding or support. As the SBA says, “Your goal is to convince the reader that your business is stable and will be a financial success.”

If your business already exists, this is a bit easier because you have real data – include income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements for the last three to five years. (This is actually where buying the shop fell apart, the owner could not provide these in a timely manner, because of his own bookkeeping issues).

If you have other collateral you could put against a loan, make sure to list it now.

But if you have an established business or not, you also need include projections – what will your business make? We did this is a spreadsheet with monthly projections, both of expenses and income, for the first year, then quarterly for the next 3 years after that, then yearly for another 2-3 years.

We worked with an advisor at the local SBA office, who took current sales and used a formula of expected increased sales to give us specific numbers. But we had to come up with the expense categories and specific numbers.

For example, what would our rent be each month? (You need to have specific spaces in mind with their actual information).

What will your supply cost be? (And then you have to do that math – how many products will that yield? That will impact your income!)

What will insurance cost? (Get a real estimate!) What will internet cost? Utilities?

If you plan to advertise on billboards, what does that cost at the specific billboard? If you plan to advertise on Facebook to a specific audience, what will it cost to run that ad to that audience?

So we took all of our marketing strategies and tactics and researched what they'd actually cost us, then decided which month we'd really do them in, and put that in the spreadsheet for those specific months.

Then we could look at and apply that to projected sales. If we're doing a big marketing promo in June, will sales increase in June? Or July? Or 6 months later?

What months are sales high? Low? (You'll use the income info you already have, or you'll need to do industry research.)

Speaking of research, each industry has a trade association or a partner who can help you with these numbers. If you're a knitwear designer or yarn shop, you can get these numbers from TNNA. If you're a comic shop you can get them from the industry's only distributor, Diamond Comics. The SBA advisor then took these industry stats and translated into projections for what we could have in income.

This section might feel scary, but it also SO helpful – if you know April is a low sales month, you will adjust your projected expenses in those months. You can use this spreadsheet as you actually work in the business and compare projected numbers to actual number and then adjust your next projections accordingly.

And that’s it!

How to listen

  • You can subscribe to it on iTunes (If you do, leave a review!)
  • You can listen to it using the player above or download it.
  • Subscribe or listen via Stitcher (or subscribe in whatever you use for podcasts – just search “Explore Your Enthusiasm” and it should pop up!).

Find all the podcast episodes here.

Gilmore Girls Readathon & #spookathon TBR // Weekly Vlog

Here's what I'm reading for the Gilmore Girls Readathon + the Spookathon!

Gilmore Girls Readathon
October 1-15

The Fever, by Megan Abbot
A Woman is No Man, Etaf Rum
Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell
Miracle Creek
Brutal telling by Louis Penny

SPOOKATHON
October 14 – 20

All the beautiful lies, Peter Swanson
Future or another timeline
Murder of Roger Akroyd
The Last TIme I Lied, Riley Sager
Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire

How about you? Are you joining either readathon this month?

⭐️⭐️⭐️

GET MORE:
Patreon: http://patreon.com/taraswiger
Instagram: http://instagram.com/taraswiger
Facebook: http://facebook.com/taraswigerpage

Free Defeat Overwhelm Training: http://taraswiger.com/overwhelm

277: Business plans: Do you need one?

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Do you need a formal business plan? If not, how can you plan your business so it’s profitable and successful? How will you measure if it IS successful?

Today's deep dive into business plans comes to you because my Boss-Level Patrons voted that I make this episode this month.

Several years ago I created a video where I shared the process of making the business plan to buy the comic shop that my husband worked at. When I made the video we were in the middle of planning to buy the shop, which didn't end up working out for reasons totally outside our control. But that video is still one of the most popular videos on my channel. So I recently went back and rewatched it and I realized I talked a lot about what we had done, but nothing that was very instructional if you want to make a business plan for your own business. And you know I want to be super-useful to you, so over the next two episodes, I am going to go MUCH deeper into the practical aspects of a business plan.

Today we’re going to talk about when you DO need a business plan and when you don’t, and if you don’t, how to make a plan that will help you reach your business goals. 

Next week we are going to be super-nerdy and go into how to make a traditional business plan, with questions to answer for all the sections and what we actually included in ours. I’m sharing as many of our real-life details as I can, without being in breach of the NDA we signed.

Business Plan v Map Making

We need to start with this: A business plan is related to your goals, and to the map you make to reach your goals, but it is not the same thing. 

My book Map Your Business helps you do the process you have to do before you ever sit down to a business plan  – getting clear on where you are, where you want to be and what goals you want to hit on your way there. But it is aimed at helping you make a personal plan for the actions and to-dos you need to do to hit the goals.

A business plan is a document that shows a lot of information and details about your business, the competition and the overarching plan. It may include financial projections. But it actually doesn't have that many actionable steps in it, it's more of a big picture planning document.

So you need both a map to get super actionable, and you can use a business plan to make sure your business will WORK and to keep you in line with the bigger mission.

When do you NEED a business plan?

The short answer:  Whenever you're getting anyone else involved in your business – a partner, an investor, a bank, even a landlord (they may want to see your business plan), you need a traditional business plan. So if it's just you and your hands, you probably don't HAVE to create an official business plan, but having a simplified business overview can help you focus and will prompt you do the research you need to do. In a minute we’ll talk more about what I recommend every new or growing business include in a plan.

If you’re going to ask for funding, from anyone, including family or friends, you absolutely need to follow a tradition business plan.

If you are starting a partnership, or bringing a partner into your business (even if it’s your best friend or spouse), you need to have a traditional business plan, to be sure your ideas, expectations and goals are completely aligned (the process is really clarifying of where exactly money will go!). You also need a partnership agreement, and you need to have a lawyer look over both documents.

If you are investing a large amount of money into your business, even if it’s your OWN money,  I’d recommend a business plan, so you know exactly when you are likely to see a profit, what you’re going to put the money towards, and how you’re going to earn it back. Treat yourself like an investor, and do the math and research to be sure.

What’s a large amount of money? Whatever is a lot of money for you! When I invested into my doTERRA business just a few hundred dollars and committed to start a business (instead of just buying oils as a customer, like most people do), I made a mini business plan, to be clear about how much time I would put it into, what exactly I would do, and when I could expect to hit goals. I attribute that plan and commitment (which I shared with my friend and mentor and she held me too), with the success I’ve experienced in that business.

What if I don’t need a business plan?

I’ll be honest: I started my yarn company by listing some skeins on Etsy, and then a local art shop, and then I did some craft shows. For months I didn’t keep track of expenses or even sales. But it wasn’t really a business. When I got serious about getting profitable (so I could quit my dayjob), I made a post-it note marketing plan and did the math to figure out how much yarn I needed to make in order to make a sales goal. (I teach you how to do this inside the Starship Program, btw.)

That’s not really a business plan, but they were documents that I could work from, and refer back to.

When I wanted to talk to my husband about quitting my dayjob to make yarn full time, I wrote up some notes, which is the most formal business I ever made for that business – it included sales data, profit math, projected sales for upcoming shows, and how much I could make if I had more time (ie, after I quit my dayjob). I also included some marketing goals (getting featured in a magazine, getting accepted into more shows) and some personal financial goals, that we would want to achieve before I gave up my steady salary. This document guided me for the next year or so. Whenever I had a new challenge or a new goal, I have always done something kind of similar.

So for me, this simplified business plan has been vital in helping me see the overall health and direction of my business.

How can you make a simplified (and effective) business plan?

I’m going to share suggestions from the Small Business Administration (SBA), and also suggestions based on working with hundreds of creative businesses.

Remember: Your business plan is a living document. You will use it as you operate your business. You want to have enough detail to help you make decisions, but not so much that you get overwhelmed by it.

The SBA suggests identifying:

Key partnerships
Note the other businesses or services you’ll work with to run your business. Who will you buy your supplies from? What shows or shops will you work with? Who will help you with what?

Key activities
What do you actually DO in your business? What are the methods you use to sell? (Online shop? Craft show booth?) What are the activities involved in having your product there?

Key resources
What do you already have that will serve you? Don’t forget experience, education, skills, even those that you acquired in unrelated fields, like household management, making a website for your hobby, etc. Also include any audience you already have, from personal FB page, your Instagram, your email list, anything.

Value proposition
“Make a clear and compelling statement about the unique value your company brings to the market.” – SBA.gov

What does your item offer your customer? How is that special? How does it make them feel?
(We develop this more inside the marketing part of the Starship.)

Customer relationships
How do you think customers will interact with your business? Is it automated or personal? In person or online? Think through the customer experience from start to finish.

Customer segments
Be specific when you name your target market. Your business won’t be for everybody, so it’s important to have a clear sense of who your business will serve.

Channels
How do you communicate with prospective customers? What tools will you use?

Cost structure
What are your biggest costs? In this section, include your COGs for every product you sell. (Don’t know your COGs? The Starship Program guides you through this math)

Revenue streams
Explain how your company will actually make money. Some examples are direct sales, membership fees, and selling advertising space. If your company has multiple revenue streams, list them all.

That’s what the SBA recommends and if you are starting a new business, I recommend having every single one of those sections filled out if you are starting something new, or investing in your business.

Many of you already have businesses, so I’m going to make an even more simplified version for you. At the minimum you need to have:

Value Proposition
What exactly do you sell? What does it do for the customer? How does she feel?

Target Customer Profiles
Who loves and buys your work? What EXACTLY is she like?

What is your next goal?
(Map Your Business helps with this)

Financial Reality
Before you can make any big decision in your business you need to know where you are financially –

  • What is the COGs for each product?
  • What is your overhead?
  • What is your business break even point?
  • Have your spreadsheet of at least the last year in monthly sales and expenses. (It is much more effective to compare month over month)

Financial projection
Considering what you have planned in the marketing section and the current growth track your on, what will your sales be like in the next six months (per month)? What will your expenses be?

Day to day you may only need to think about the next month or two in projections, but if you’re taking on a big new expense, you may want to project out further, to the break even point.

Marketing Assets
What assets do you already have? (Subscribers, followers, etc) What is the conversion rate for the various channels? What is your current calendar?

Marketing Plan
What will you promote? When? How? What’s your social media calendar? How will you move a customer down the customer path?  (I have a course on building that path here or you can build it inside the Starship Program, after you work on your profitability)

Overwhelmed?

Ok, that’s it. Whew! 

Are you looking at this and thinking, “oh man, that is a LOT of work!”? You’re not alone! I feel a little overwhelmed just talking about it. But here’s the thing – if you’re tired of feeling scrambly, if you’re tired of feeling overwhelmed and without focus, you need to do SOMETHING different.

You need a plan, not just for what you’ll do today, or for the very next goal, but you need to understand the entire health of your business and how it works together. A business plan will help with that. Digging into where you are where you want to go. Being clear about your real numbers. Being strategic in your marketing time. This will ALL help you feel LESS overwhelmed.

Yes, it’s a big project if you tackle it all at once, but you don’t have to! You can do it step by step (this is actually what I DO, I help people walk through it step by step, not so they have some business plan, but so they have the information, the knowledge they need to grow and make decisions).

Not knowing how your business will actually WORK is one of the biggest mistakes I see people make. I am going to be teaching you to avoid this mistake and three more in a free masterclass this week, and we are going to talk more about how you can figure out the data that goes into your business plan. To join me, go to taraswiger.com/foundations. I will walk you through this step by step, you DO NOT have to do it by yourself.

How to listen

  • You can subscribe to it on iTunes (If you do, leave a review!)
  • You can listen to it using the player above or download it.
  • Subscribe or listen via Stitcher (or subscribe in whatever you use for podcasts – just search “Explore Your Enthusiasm” and it should pop up!).

Find all the podcast episodes here.

Non-violent suspense novels recommendations // Weekly Vlog

Want to read something suspenseful but non-violent? Here's a handful of books I love that kept me on the edge of my seat!
-Mother-in-law by Sally Hepworth: https://amzn.to/305kE98
-What Alice Forget by Liane Moriarty: https://amzn.to/32JZBX9
-First Impressions by Charles Lovett (a literature book thriller!): https://amzn.to/2O3IlZ1
-Far from the Tree, by Robin Benway: https://amzn.to/30oM9qi

Get more book-ish videos: http://patreon.com/taraswiger
4 Foundation Method to a Thriving Business: http://taraswiger.com/foundations

⭐️⭐️⭐️

GET MORE:
Patreon: http://patreon.com/taraswiger
Instagram: http://instagram.com/taraswiger
Facebook: http://facebook.com/taraswigerpage

Free Defeat Overwhelm Training: http://taraswiger.com/overwhelm

276: Q+A: promotion, saying no, and balancing multiple businesses 

“Email is still the most effective place to make a sale.” -Tara Swiger Listen in at TaraSwiger.com/podcast276

Play

What is the BEST tool to promote your business? How do you say NO without losing customers? How do you balance multiple businesses?

Today I am answering YOUR questions in this Q+A episode!

Thank you to my Patrons

Most weeks I teach a lesson to help your creative business, but today I am answering YOUR questions! I gathered questions from my community of supporters on Patreon, and my Instagram comment section. I am going to answer your questions about the BEST tool to use right now to promote your business, how to balance multiple businesses and how to say NO.

And if you want to learn how to avoid the three mistakes I see most creatives making, come to my workshop THIS week: TaraSwiger.com/foundations.

Before we get into answering these questions, I want to thank Sarah Schira of Imagined Landscapes for her support of the show! Sarah makes best Gnome puns around! If you need more gnomes in your knitting, check her out!

Thank you to Kim Werker, longtime friend, colleague and fellow Enthusiast. She’s starting a free community, that you should definitely take a look at.

The Questions:

A patron asks:

I would be interested in hearing ideas about how to balance multiple small businesses.  I have a vintage clothing business in a brick and mortar antique store, an etsy shop selling vintage sewing patterns (both of these are very established, but small volume), and a much newer fine art business making art toys.  I also freelance as a filmmaker and event photographer (my main source of income). I feel like if I picked only one of these, doubled down and really ran with it, I would get further, but I like the variety and I like having multiple sources of income.  So all of them kind of poke along slowly. Thoughts?

This is a lot of businesses! I think your intuition is right – the way to build fast would be to focus on one… but if that leads to a life you don’t want, why do it?

Why do you need them to get any further? Growth is not the highest good – your own wellbeing, enjoyment and the business doing what it needs to do is the goal.

So DO they need to grow faster? What gives you the most joy?

What do you need your businesses to do financially? What would that look like? How could they work together to do what they need to do?

Then divide up your time accordingly.

Kristina asks: 

How to say no to a potential or current client without being mean or burning bridges. Do I always need to give a reason or excuse? 

I have a whole series of articles and podcast episodes, on how to say NO, with scripts!

The first thing is that you need to reframe this! Saying no, especially when you simply can’t take on a job at all, is not mean, it’s a part of business. In fact, someone reaching out to see if you can take a job is probably expecting that you may say no. That doesn’t mean they won’t come to you with their next project. They may even appreciate that you are so in-demand, and book ahead next time.

Now it’s slightly different if you’re not just turning down a job, but you are saying no to a current client on a current job. Like no, I can’t ALSO do X, the scope of this project is Y. But you have to remember: that’s why they’re asking. You have the choice to say no.

In most cases I would NOT give a detailed reason or excuse, the other person doesn’t want to hear it! Also, the more you say, the more they have to argue with. They can delegitimize your reasons.

For example, I have had conferences ask me to do more than we had contracted for, “oh, could also be available during this time? Could you also sit on this panel?” Quite often I say yes, because I like getting chances to talk to more people. But if it doesn’t sound fun or it will exhaust me, I say “Oh, our agreement was X, so that’s all I’m going to be able to do.”

It’s hard, but don’t give any more explanation.

You can have a standard reply, like “Thank you so much for reaching out, I would love to work with you. However, I’m booked up with projects and my timeline is X weeks out, so unless that works for you, I’m going to have to say no.” And if they’re asking for more once you’ve started working together, quote a policy. “My policy is to not….” or even, “Our initial agreement is…”

Before I answer the last question, which is quite a doozy, I want to thank Brenda, who makes gorgeous knitting patterns. I’ve linked up to a blog post she wrote on her site about the experience getting her website made, because it’s really great!

Thank you to Erin, who designs beautiful shawls.

On Instagram someone asked:

What is the best tool to promote your creative business these days? When you are just starting and don’t have time to be on every platform and do email, blogging, in-person promotion, etc? 

My answer is the same as it was 5 years ago when I wrote my first book, Market Yourself, and I’ve seen newer data that shows it is still the right answer: Email is the most effective place to make a sale. So if you want to increase sales, and you want to REACH the people who want to hear from you, email is the answer. Email reaches those who have said they want to hear from you, and people take action from emails. It doesn’t take much time at all to set it all up, so the hardest part is getting people ON the list (who are you sending these emails TO?!) and then actually SENDING the emails.

The good news is – once you have decided what you’re going to regularly send, it doesn’t actually take that long to put it together each month or each week. If it is taking a really long time (because you’ve made your emails complex), then simplify it. Simplify it down to whatever you can consistently do. That can be as simple as hooking up Mailchimp to Etsy and having it populate your 5 most recent products.

So hook it up in an afternoon and decide what you’re going to send. Every email software generates a form that you can either link to or embed, so the “where do these people come from” question is simple – anywhere you already are. Put the form on your site. Link it in your etsy profile and your Etsy thank you messages. Link to it on Facebook and in your Instagram profile. Every time you send an email, do a post WHEREVER YOU ALREADY HAVE ANY CONNECTIONS about what will be in the email and share the link to sign up.

It could be that you have a personal facebook page, and you think your family and high school friends aren’t going to want your emails? Link it up anyhow, you may be surprised! They may be super into whatever you’re selling or they may have a sister or cousin who is. My husband’s uncle shares links to my work sometimes, and I’m surprised by how many people who he knows who sign up to hear from me.

So, you may be thinking, but Tara, it sounds like you’re saying we have to be everywhere to get people on our lists! And the truth is – you do need to be somewhere other than just in your shop and in your emails. You have to GO somewhere and meet new people. For you it may be having a booth at the local farmer’s market (one of my Starship Captains has absolutely CRUSHED her local markets and doubled her sales), or it may be a FB group with local moms, or it may be talking to your local yarn shop about carrying your work. But your work (and you) have to show up somewhere where people can encounter you. And when they do, invite them to sign up for your emails because that’s going to be the most effective way to make sales.

I hope that answers your questions! If you want to learn more about how emails fit in with everything else you have to do in your business and how to focus ONLY on what matters, join me in a LIVE workshop this week! Sign up at TaraSwiger.com/foundations.

Before I go I want to thank Marianne Weber of MWsDesigns , who makes notecards and greeting cards! And the artist Rowena Roberts, who does beautiful paper-cutting!

 

How to listen

  • You can subscribe to it on iTunes (If you do, leave a review!)
  • You can listen to it using the player above or download it.
  • Subscribe or listen via Stitcher (or subscribe in whatever you use for podcasts – just search “Explore Your Enthusiasm” and it should pop up!).

Find all the podcast episodes here.

16 Book Recommendations // Weekly Vlog

Need a book recommendation?

I’ve got about a dozen in today’s video! Including suggestions for fans of Rachel Hollis’ #girlstopapologizing, Star Trek, and Neil Gaiman.
Get more book-ish videos: http://patreon.com/taraswiger
4 Foundation Method to a Thriving Business: http://taraswiger.com/foundations

Books:

Grit, by Angela Duckworth: https://amzn.to/2Lzp8fX
Mindset by Carol Dweck: https://amzn.to/34PzHDe
(My podcast ep on Mindset: https://taraswiger.com/podcast114/)
Presence by Amy Cuddy: https://amzn.to/2QdTGse
Girl Stop Apologizing, by Rachel Hollis: https://amzn.to/2LSCova
Map Your Business: https://amzn.to/32LGHzm
Slight Edge: https://amzn.to/2Lwgzm6
Agatha Christie: https://amzn.to/31sht8T
Louis Penny: https://amzn.to/34SG211
Neil Gaiman’s American Gods: https://amzn.to/307puT6
Vengeful, by VE Scwab: https://amzn.to/2O72tJx
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: https://amzn.to/2LYCcL7
Space opera, by Catherynne Valente: https://amzn.to/2Ly6vcj
Red shirts, by John Scalzi: https://amzn.to/2Lzyokv
Gone Girl: https://amzn.to/301lBPQ
Before She Knew Him, by Peter Swanson: https://amzn.to/303Wc8F

⭐️⭐️⭐️

GET MORE:
Instagram: http://instagram.com/taraswiger
Facebook: http://facebook.com/taraswigerpage

Free Defeat Overwhelm Training: http://taraswiger.com/overwhelm

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