Weekly-ish notes on navigating big change

Month: April 2012

You’re invited to brunch

My book, Market Yourself,  is now available for pre-order and I'm celebrating by inviting you over for brunch*!

We made it to Plant. Every single thing is #vegan. Wish you were here @evalazza
If I could, I'd take you out to Plant, order up my favorite pancakes and chat with you about your life, your business and your marketing. We'd sip soy lattes and giggle over the huge cinnamon rolls.
But we deserve it! Because sharing your thing, putting it out into the world, is hard.
Quinoa banana pancakes with cappuccino butter. #vegan #glutenfree #avl

Since you can't come over for brunch**, we'll have to settle for this – an online celebration of both my book and your business.

Because I was thinking of you as I wrote this book. I thought about the process you go through as you learn to think about your product, and as you learn to think like your people. I arranged and rearranged the book to make it a system that will walk you through every aspect of getting comfortable with your marketing, and growing into bigger and bigger things.

For example, I know it can be tricky to get that craft show patter just right (I've been in a LOT of awkward craft show booths!), so the Offline Marketing chapter starts with just chatting with your friends about your project. Then you branch out into your community. Finally, you're talking to total strangers about it – but instead of being scary, it's easy because you already know what to say, how to say it, and what the soon-to-be-fans might ask.

If you've got a creative business, go here to grab the book while it's still in pre-orders and you'll get a plate of Pre-order Specialness:

  1. Everyone who buys the book before May 9th will get an invitation to a live, on-the-phone Q+A session with the me!
    You’ll have a chance to send in your questions before the call, listen in as I answer your questions, AND receive a recording (mp3) after the call. Invitations will be sent out the week of May 14th.
  2. 1/2 off a Right Person Exploration. Your discount will be sent the week of May 14th.
  3. You’ll be entered to win a FREE, 30 minute, one-on-one session with me. On May 10th, we’ll choose 2 winners. Each winner will get an email with a probing questionnaire (so I know all about you before the session), and when you return it, you’ll schedule a time that works for you. The session will be held over a text chat and you’ll get a transcript when it’s all over.

This brunch is for everyone!

For more brunching goodness, sign up here to find out where I'll be having real, in-person brunches, workshops and conversations around the country!

Thanks for joining me for this brunch!

*Why Brunch? Read this story of brunching vs. launching

**If you are close by, let me know and I really will take you out to brunch!

The making of an entrepreneur – pottery + marketing

Despite my childhood obsession with small businesses, my first real small-business experience happened quite by accident. Graduating college, I was looking for a job to tide me over until I figured out where Jay and I would live after got married (I graduated in June, we married in August). While job-hunting, I walked in one of my favorite places – Kil'n Time Cafe – a paint your own pottery studio. I got to talking to the manager, and she hired me on the spot.

In 2 months, she was leaving and I became manager.
It was that simple.

Kil'n Time sign

The owner owned several locations, but lived hours away, so I not only managed it on a day-to-day business, but I was also faced with making the big decisions (I talked to the owner only once every few months). It taught me so much of what I know about owning a business, but it happened with no training and no safety net.

A super-recent grad with a BA in French…and I was running a profitable retail + experience business with 12 employees, open 7 days a week, 10 hours a day.

At the Kiln Time, I made my first profit and loss statement (hint: it's a list of income vs expenses and will tell you a LOT about the health of your business).
I hired my first person.
I fired my first person (and several more after that).
I made the schedule for my 12 employees.
But more than all that, I had my first taste of marketing.
I had to get people into the store, with no website (it was perennially “under construction”, and this was 2004), no advertising budget, but one great big window and a location next to a popular breakfast place (which would have been great, if our Ideal Customer was couples in their 70s…sadly, it wasn't).

I had to learn that our best marketing, our long-term strategy was word of mouth and repeat customers (we had one of those buy 9 get one free punch cards). So instead of focusing on bringing more people in, I turned my attention to what made our current customers happy.

I tested and tweaked and tested again, the entire spiel. When a customer comes in, we tell them what the place is (lots of people just wandered by and wandered in), but most people are there with a purpose, they know they want to paint. So the pressure wasn't to convert, it was to delight.

I soon recognized that the thing that least delighted the customer was when their expectations didn't match up with their experience.

Usually, this meant that the item they painted did not turn out how they imagined. My staff wanted to chalk this up to the lack of decent painting skills, but I felt we could do more to help. We could explain best painting practices (for example, one coat of a color will look streaky once fired, you need three even coats to get a solid color; or, paint your light areas first and then your dark areas) and that would bring the customer closer to the desired results. We could explain (and show!) the process of how we glazed the pottery and then loaded the kiln, so they understood the risk of drips of glaze or a piece breaking in the kiln. When we discovered what kind of pieces were likely to break, we could warn customers (the warning never deterred anyone, because we also promised to let them repaint anything that broke).

We had to learn to talk to the customer about the experience of painting pottery. We made it clear that what you paid for was the in-studio experience, the joy of painting, the fun of being with your friends (or all alone). The piece you get is secondary, you've already received the main benefit we offered – the act of being creative.

And that, that's the spark of everything I do today – I help creative businesses talk to their people about what the people care about. I teach businesses small and large to connect with their community on the topics that matter to them.

What I learned at the Kil'n Time is true for every business: it is your reponsibility to delight the customer.

You set clear expectations.
You delight them by meeting those expectations.
You explain it so they can understand: the benefits, the process, the entire experience.

If you've had a bout of unhappy (or confused, or disgruntled) customers – can you see where it went wrong? Could you make things easier or clearer for future customers?

What have you learned about delighting your customers?

Learn to systematically delight your people in my new book. Grab it here before May 10th and get pre-order specialness!

The making of an entrepreneur – studying French

It doesn't make any sense, but my BA in French Lit has everything to do with my becoming a yarn-making, crafty-biz-focused marketing teacher and writer. But, how?

my college campus

As I mentioned back in my first series about quitting my job (written nearly 3 years ago!), it goes back even further – I was a crafty kid, with an eye of doing something with those crafts. I sold friendship bracelets at church camp (and got caught, and got in trouble).

Nearly everyone I knew worked for themselves. My grandpa had a roofing business and my grams was the company accountant. My dad worked for himself as a contractor. My step-grandma built and ran a successful property management firm in southern California.

When I quizzed them (and anyone else who did something without a boss), everyone claimed that it was simple. You just start. And don't stop.  They learned a skill, and then instead of trying to find a boss to pay them to do it, they found clients + customers.

But I grew up smart and college-focused. I never considered learning a “trade” and starting my own business. I loved reading. I loved college. I wanted to hang out on campus with a big library and other smart people for the rest of my life. So, I know! I'll be a professor.

And I loved French. I loved the complex system of a language. I loved that it had a kind of logic, while being beautiful. I loved that there was a right and wrong way. Even better, my college's French program was heavily literature-focused. We read a French novel a week, I wrote 20 page research papers about the French Impressionist movement reflected in poetry and music.  It was Tara-heaven.

Those four years devoted to studying what I loved taught me I could devote myself to what I loved.

It's easy to say “Do what you love!” and “Follow your bliss!”
But it's another thing entirely to actually do it. For most people, it's completely out of their range of experiences. If you've spent the first half of your life doing what you're supposed to do, it's not easy to just snap out of it, it's not easy to try something crazy.

After studying French and surviving four years of everyone asking, “But what are you going to do with a French degree?” I was prepared. I was already weird.
I had already done my own thing. Although I didn't really think about when I was starting my business or quitting my job, that French degree had made me comfortable with risk, with being bold about the things I love.

And that's all it takes, one small bold step, one tiny proof that you can do it, that you can bring at least a little of what you love into your everyday…

and you start building your business, you begin to trust yourself and your passions.

What experience (no matter how tiny) prepared you to do more of what you love? What choice did you make that gave you the confidence to start your business?


PS. Why didn't I go on with my goal to be a French professor, go to grad school, etc? I student-taught one French class my senior year…and puked every day before the class. My nerves just couldn't take standing in front of a classroom of people.  I decided to take a year off…and in that year I found my first business-runnin' job – more on that in the next post.

The making of an entrepreneur

The other day Kyeli asked “How in the world did you go from making yarn to talking about marketing?

Even though I hear this all the time from my college friends (How did a French major end up writing a book about marketing a craft business?), for some reason Kyeli's question really grabbed me.

Our afternoon drive through the clouds (and mountains)

How did I end up here?

Since I first realized I was going to eventually grow up and move out (at about age 15), I've been unflinchingly focused on the near future. What do I want next year to be like? What can I do now to be ready for that? What classes can I take in high school to prepare me for college (heck, I started attending the community college while still in high school)? Where's this job going to lead? What's next?

With all this focus on the future, I don't spend much time thinking about the past. I'm not into nostalgia. I'd rather feel hope for the future, than nostalgia for the past.  I'd rather you tell me what you're going to do than what you have done.

But sometimes that means that I jump into the next thing, without explaining (or even thinking about) what led here. I focus on what I'm doing now, not all the stuff in my past that qualifies me to do what I do (I'm not a fan of qualifications – can you do it? Do it!).

But there are so many lessons I learned in my past jobs and experiences – lessons that I bring to the Starship + Explorations – that I don't want to forget.

My about page gives the short version of this path to full-time business-runnin + lovin, but the full story has many more twists in turn.

There's my first job, in my extended family's business (I stuffed envelopes from age 12, and made a $12/hour.)

Then the college job at the scrapbook store, where I grilled the owner for details on how she started her business.

My first post-college job, at a paint-your-own-pottery studio, where I became the manager in 3 months and ran the whole operation for more than 2 years.

Then the yarn store I first sold my yarn to (and began to help manage).

And finally, the total shock of moving away from both of those management jobs, to a small town in East Tennessee where I realized NO ONE would hire a French major with two years of small business managing to do anything interesting. I temped all around the local college campus: in a basement Accounts Payable office, a fancy (and so so strict) fundraising office, and finally landed as a Executive Aide, responsible for maintaining a department website and recording, editing, and introducing podcasts to the local medical education community.

All the while, of course, I was slaving away nights and weekends on my escape plan.

There were moments of deep depression, of unbelieving frustration (I graduated with honors! I paid for my entire education with scholarships! I hired and fired people!… And now I'm maintaining your CALENDAR?!) and the kind of I must work for myself resolve that comes from  realizing that relying on someone else for a paycheck will always, always leave you underpaid and underappreciated.

And of course, after working for myself, and answering other people's small biz questions, I gathered even more experiences, stories and lessons. As a First Officer, I've worked in creative businesses both large and small, as a community manager, a copywriter, an Idea Partner, a teacher, a mentor. I've crafted plans that have worked, and those that have sputtered. I've marketed products that have sold out in a day, and those that never hit it big.

It was all these experiences, these bosses, and this on-the-job learning that got me here. To the place where I'm about to publish my first book. To the moment that I'm about to turn 30 and am realizing I really love what I do.

Over the next few posts, I'm going to take a break from my future-staring and share what I learned from each of those jobs, the lessons I learned about running a small business, becoming clear about what you offer, and eventually marketing your work. I'll also be asking questions of you – what did you learn in past jobs?

How can you take your experience in an unrelated field and apply it to what you're doing today?

Is the Starship for me?

I hear you, loud and clear. The question I get the most often about the Starship is a simple one: IS IT FOR ME?
(or, rather, you and your unique business).

The answer is: it depends.

Here's who the Starship has been most beneficial for (from what they tell me about their business):

  • Creatives – you might sell your art, your craft, your words or your creative services (we've got an editor and a humorist in the Starship) – but no matter what, you think of your business as being based on you, your tastes and your creativity)
  • Established businesses – you might have opened your first Etsy shop last week or built your first website 5 years ago, but you're in business. You're not still wondering, “Should I start a business? What would I sell?”
  • You're looking for community. Whether you like to gather all the research before you make a decision (the Starship Communication Station is a great place to gather opinions) or you just like to connect with people who get your struggle, the Starship's greatest benefit (according to the cadets) is the way it provides them with a community that keeps them accountable to their own dreams.


Who hasn't found the Starship useful:

  • Those who are looking for definitive answers (like, “Yes, you must do X.” Or “No, never do Y”). The Starship asks questions of you. You can ask the group for their opinions, or you can ask me for my feedback, but at the end of the day you are the one to gather all that up and then you make the decision.
  • Those who don't get online at least once a week. Although you are welcome to download all the classses at once and never visit the forums (really! You have permission! No one will hassle you!), the fact is the businesses who have seen the most growth are those that participate in some way (the chats, the forums, the live classes) at least once a month. If you don't get online that often, or aren't interested in making like-minded creative businesspeople, the Starship won't change much in your business.
  • Those that hate metaphors. The Starship is a metaphor and we talk a lot in metaphors. If that makes you crazy, you might not want to beam aboard.

If you think the Starship might be for you, check it out here. We'd love to have you on board!

Frustration + Epiphanies (Why the stuck place is good for you)

The other day I was listening to this interview with author Jonah Lehrer and he said something that blew my mind.

“The act of feeling frustrated is an essential part of the creative process. Before we can find the answer – before we can even know the question – we must be immersed in disappointment, convinced that a solution is beyond our reach. We need to have wrestled with the problem and lost. Because it's only after we stop searching that an answer may arrive.”*

When you're stuck, look up.

This means, that if you're feeling stuck, right this minute, if you're feeling like you can't find the solution…that's a great place to be. Your epiphany, your creative idea is just around the bend.

When I look back at my own business, I know this to be true. 
I created the Starship in a moment of stuck-ness. I had a handful of students that took classes from me monthly, but they wanted to get to know each other. And so many of them (all of them!) were creating these great ideas for their own businesses, I wanted a way to share it with the other students.
And the students were frustrated that they would take the classes…but not put it into practice. We'd just move on to the next class and they'd think, “Oh, I'll come back to this.”

I wanted the information, the worksheets, the whole experience to be useful. And fun.

I thought about all these frustrations and got a little cranky over it. I even considered stopping teaching, because what's the point if it's not effective? 

And then, as I was writing about how I might quit, I got the idea for the Starship.

  • A place where my brilliant students, captains in your own businesses, could come together and learn from each other.
  • A community where the weekly chats and check-ins kept your head in the game, kept you thinking about what you wanted to do, to implement, to create.
  • A Library full of all my classes, so that you could take the class Rock the Show, right before your first craft show.

It's been one year since I opened up the Starship privately to the very first students (I didn't open it to the public until that June), and in the last year I've seen other smarties come up to that point of frustration and then, *pop*, they crack through it to the solution.

Have you worked through frustration to pop onto an epiphany?

PS. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that registration for the Starship is open again. This month there are only 10 8 spots and registration closes to new Cadets this Friday. If you want a friendly reminder, you can sign up for reminders here.
If you want to beam aboard in April (and join us as for the Business Systems class next week), come aboard.

*Edited, as I found an actual quote, thanks to BrainPickings.