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Month: October 2019

282: Get your shop ready for the holidays

image of title

Happy Holidays!

Ok, so I just filled your heart with dread, didn’t I?! If you are a shopper, it’s annoying to see ANY holiday stuff months before the holiday begins, it’s like Live in the NOW, man!… but if you own and run a shop, it is VITAL to plan for your holiday season… starting right about now.

This week I am going to help you make a PLAN for getting everything out of the holiday season that you want to! We’re going to set a goal, creating a vision for what you want out of the season, then we are going to talk about math (very briefly!) and marketing.

This can be your most profitable time of year, but so that it can be your most peaceful time of year! Or at the very least, not absolutely miserable! Your holiday season may start now, or American Thanksgiving and go through the last night of Hanukkah, or New Year’s Day, or all the way through the Epiphany.

Sidenote: I wrote this whole episode and then realized that these steps are exactly what I guide your WHOLE business through in my free masterclass. If you want to go a LOT deeper, check it out at taraswiger.com/foundations.

Let’s dive in!

Your Goal

The first step to creating ANYTHING you want, and especially something with as many moving parts as your holiday season, is to set a goal or cast a vision, what do you want to get out of this season? What do you need to do, and by when?

Let’s get more specific: 

How much do you want to make in sales?

What activities and events do you want to do this holiday season?
(This may be everything from a big holiday show, to offering a Thanksgiving custom order, to buying a new menorah, to cutting down a Christmas tree. List it ALL out.)

What deadlines do you have?
Shipping deadlines:
Shopping deadlines:
Event deadlines:
Other deadlines:

What isn’t on this list but is important for you to do or experience this season?

Now for the most important question: How do you want to FEEL?

Math

The next step is to look at the actual math – calendar math and profit math. The calendar math is pretty straight forward – put all of the dates on your calendar AND put all the deadlines. Now put a star on your list of all the things that are going to take more than 1-2 hours. (You need bigger chunks of time for these things).

Now you have to switch to profit math before we come back to calendar math.

Look at your sales goal – how much money do you want to make (monthly or over the two months, either answer is fine)?

Now, with your current overhead and at the profit margin of each item, how many items will you need to sell to hit this number? (Don’t know your overhead or profit margin? You need the Foundations – learn more at TaraSwiger.com/foundations.)

Once you know that number, you know how many things you need to sell! This is important because first, you need to HAVE this many items. I can’t believe how many shops want to make $1000/month but have less than $500 in stock. Now, if you’re a designer or you sell services, you can do the math – of the things I have for sale, how many of each will I need to sell, and you can skip right to marketing those things.

As a product seller, if you don’t have that many things in your shop, before you worry about marketing, you need to focus on production – MAKE enough stuff.
That’s where we come back to the calendar – how much stuff will you have for each show you have scheduled? How many items will you have by Black Friday or Cyber Monday? I recommend getting your shop STOCKED UP before American Thanksgiving, so you can focus on filling and shipping orders and enjoying your holiday.

Marketing Tip: Focusing on production doesn’t mean you don’t do any marketing, this is prime time to be showing the PROCESS. Show what your studio looks like! Show your pile of products ready for the holidays. Show the day to day of creating.

Back to the calendar – for you to have the amount of items you need by your deadlines, when will you make them? What days are production days? Set a realistic  production schedule, including the fun stuff you want to do this holiday season (in other words, if you want to spend a day baking cookies, don’t plan to spend that day on production)

Stress Free Tip: If you’ve never had a production schedule before, you’re going to find that spending the time thinking about it NOW takes so much stress off the day to day.

Communicate

The key to meeting your holiday goals is communication – with your family, with your customers, and honesty with yourself!

Before we jump into business communication, you need to communicate with your family! What are their expectations from you? What do they want to do together? What are you letting go of?

Reminder: You have permission to let go of any holiday tradition that is not serving you. 

And to adopt new ones that feel better. This will go smoother if you communicate with the other people involved!

If you need to be heavily into production for the next month, let your partner and friends know! Ask them for the support you’ll need in this time!

If you need to label items while you watch Elf with the kids, let them know! (If they don’t have sticky-cookie fingers, they can help!)

Whatever you need from the people in your life, let them know!

Of course this applies to your business too! It can be a real struggle to stay consistent with your marketing communication in busy seasons. But if you want increased sales, this is the time where you need to stay consistent.

How to balance it? Make a plan!

Decide what you’re going to say, when, and write it out ahead of time. Spend some time in early November writing some Instagram captions, sales emails, blog posts – however you communicate with your people, you can write it out ahead of time.

This is why we have already worked on the calendar – it will now tell you when shipping deadlines are – this is one of the most important things for you to communicate, several times, so your people (who are also busy and distracted) don’t miss it! Right now schedule when you’re going to send shipping deadline reminders (if you’re not sure what to do, announce it 2 weeks out, 1 week out, 2 days and final day. YES that many times!). You may have a shipping deadline for Christmas, one for the last night of Hannukah, or any other date that is important to your people. If you make your items to order, then your order-by date is going to be even earlier!

Once you’ve got your shipping and ordering deadline messages scheduled, look at any other event:

Are you going to be at a holiday show? Schedule your messages about that.
Are you doing a big Black Friday deal, go on and schedule your messages about that.
What else do you want to share about this holiday season?
Do you want to show your item in use during this season? Stage some photos and take them now.
Do you want to share your own holiday traditions? Schedule those posts.
Do you want to talk about your feelings around the holidays? Schedule that!
Do you have weekly content? Be sure to schedule time to point people back to that.

I know this sounds like a lot, but don’t get overwhelmed. The first step is to identify what you want to post when, the next step is to actually get it together (images and writing the words) and the final step is to schedule it (using a tool like Later for Instagram/Facebook).

To be honest, I plan a month or two in advance, but I don’t get my content together until the week of, and for most of my business life, I haven’t scheduled things more than a week in advance. Now that I have toddlers and more chaos in my schedule, I’m needing to get a bit more ahead of it than that, so your particular scheduling cadence is going to be related to your particular life.

To recap, you’re going to get your shop ready for the holidays by: setting your goal and casting a vision for what you want the holidays to be like, doing profit and calendar math so you know you CAN make it the way you want it, and then communicating that to both your loved ones and your customers.

As a reminder, you can dive deeper into goals, profit and marketing plans in my free Masterclass, 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.

281: How to invest in your business

How do you decide to invest in your business? Learn the five questions I ask before I invest in education for my business at TaraSwiger.com/podcast281

I recently made a big decision about an investment in my business. And I spent the last week talking to makers about how to know WHEN something is the right investment in their business business.

When I opened the Starship to new members last month, this is the question that most people have – how do I decide if this is the right investment for me, right now?

Our conversations have me reflecting on how I make these decisions in my own business, and how anyone knows that anything is the “right” for them. I have a few questions I ask myself before buying, whether it's a $25 guide or a $999 Program.

If you are ready to grow and expand your business, you are probably asking yourself – what do I invest in? Where do I spend my time and energy in order to make the biggest growth. Well I cover the ONLY 4 foundations that need your focus and attention my masterclass. You can join (for free!) at TaraSwiger.com/foundations.

So before we dive into investing your business, I have to be super clear, when you’re looking at investing your TIME in your business, you need that investment to be in one of the four areas I cover in that masterclass.

But when you’re looking at investing your MONEY in your business, how do you choose the class or book or program that’s going to be most effective for you, right now, exactly where you are?

I ask the same 3 questions of every investment (yes, I invest in my business too, so I can become the best help to YOU as possible!)

Do I know and like the person?

Does this person show up regularly and with integrity? Especially in a class, the way I feel about the person is going to impact my ability to learn. If you don't like who the teacher is, as a person, you're not going to trust the information they have and will spend time second-guessing everything. You learn better from someone you deeply trust. Also, if this is going to take longer than an hour, you want to like the person's voice and style, and look forward to spending time with them. (This is why it's so easy to buy from Caitlin, my mentor, or from your favorite yarn shops!)

Does it provide the structure that I need?

For me, this means something more than a simple PDF download. I learn best if the information is chunked up and delivered in pieces, and has some kind of accountability built in. The entire reason I joined Up & Running is that I needed a training plan and accountability on the regular.

But of course, not everyone learns in the same way, so this is something I've tested endlessly in the Starship. Sure, I've got AMAZING, life-changing education on profitability and marketing, but how can I share that information in a way that results in real changes for the captains?

The last 8 years of working with makers every day, has taught me that the best results come from a combination of weekly accountability check-ins, structured classes (everything you need, step by step), and targeted, deep-dive, apply-it-to-your-own business material, delivered in video, text and worksheets. The best format I’ve found is a combination of question-asking and accountability-providing. This not only teaches information, it also keeps the regular movement of your business from where it is to where you want it to go. It makes big goals more reach-able and dreams more do-able.

Does it fit with my immediate goals?

Is this thing aimed at what I'm working on right now? Even if the class has fantastic information, if it's not information I can use right now, I resist it.

Why? Because otherwise it will be a distraction from what I'm working on and I'll be frustrated that I can't put what I learned to work right away. (This is why we spend the first weeks in the Starship setting individual goals and mapping out a path – so that you spend your time in the Starship working on your goals and avoid distraction.)

Where will I find the time for it?

Here’s the truth – if you don’t see how this will fit with what matters to you, right now, you won’t find the time for it. The hard part of this is… we aren’t always honest with ourselves what really matters to us, what our priorities are. So we buy something we WISH were our priority, but honestly we’re putting our time and attention elsewhere.

So if you’re telling yourself “I don’t have time for this,” I want you to change it to “this isn’t a priority right now.” Can’t join a business-growth program? Maybe business growth isn’t your priority right now!

And hey, that’s OK. For the first month of a new foster care placement business growth IS NOT my priority. Getting the kiddo(s) settled and figuring out the structure of my life again and napping, those are my priorities. I know if I don’t focus on that, I won’t ever be able to focus on business growth later. Maybe for you it’s a big move or a new baby or a major illness? Just be honest with yourself, honey.

If you’re saying, “no no, Tara, I swear it IS a priority!” Then the question is – when will I find the time for it? Tough love time – if you can’t find the time for it, it’s not a priority.

Does it fit in my long-term vision?

Is this going to help me build the kind of business I want to own next year and the year after that? Or is this going to distract me by thinking about something short-term?

And the really hard question: Is this going to help me become the kind of person I want to be? Or encourage me to focus on being someone else?

This question is so hard to answer, but vital. There are super-compelling classes, books, and adventures that look fantastic. But if they don't promote my core values, or encourage me to be me, then I know they're not for me. Of course, the first step is to know what you value and define them, so that you can spot them (or their lack) in an offering. The values I look for in a class or book are personal responsibility (am the Captain of my ship), sustainability (valuing the long-term over the short-term, conserving resources), and self-knowledge (I can find success by embracing my quirkiness). This reflects my business ethics and ensures I spend my time in integrity.

These are the questions I ask myself before I invest in my business, and it’s what I’d like to invite you to ask yourself before you invest in anything for your business. If you’ve been thinking about prioritizing business growth and profitability, you can learn more about the 4 foundations Method of growing your business over at TaraSwiger.com/foundations.

What do you ask yourself before you buy a class or book?

Lemme know over on Instagram, in a comment or DM! Show me what you’re doing while listening, just tag me, @taraswiger and #exploreyourenthusiasm.

Have an enthusiastic week!

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.

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

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

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)

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!

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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?

⭐️⭐️⭐️

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