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287: How I use planners in my business – paper planner edition

When you run a creative business, keeping track of your projects & to-dos is VITAL to getting anything done! Learn how I use paper planners to help me keep track of my week at TaraSwiger.com/podcast287

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How do you turn your to-do lists into a plan? How do you know what to do every day? How do you fit your work around non-work appointments and responsibilities? This is what we’ll talk about this episode.

This week I’m answering the question that occurs after you make a map – how the heck do I follow through on this every day?

You see, in my book Map Your Business and in my Starship Program, you begin by getting clear on your big vision. And then you set a goal and break it down into steps and actionable to-dos. But after you have that big list of what you need to do and the order you need to do them, then what? You can’t get it all done in a day or two, you have to continue to work on it over weeks.

And that’s where a lot of us get stuck. So for the month of December, we’re going to have a series on planning – the actual figuring out what to do each day and week.

Today we’re going to start by how I use paper planners, and next week we’ll talk about task management software. As we near the end of the year, we’ll talk about how to pick your next big project. And we’ll kick off the year with an episode on January 1, about planning your best year yet.

If you’ve followed me on Instagram or YouTube, you know that I started using a real paper planner in 2019, in part because I’m having more meetings than ever thanks to foster care. I’ll talk about how I use it in a minute, but first let’s talk about what I used to do that worked really well.

Before 2019, I just wrote stuff down in my journal. I kept one journal for everything – work, personal, notes from reading or meetings, to-do lists, etc. Each week I’d look at my goal and make a list of projects for the week – what do I need to do to move that project forward? what do I need to do in my weekly tasks? What else? I’d usually make one big list for the week. When I woke up in the morning I’d look at the list and pick 2-3 things to do that day as a priority. I write down what I will do that day so I have a list in front of me to focus.

I typically spent the first few days of the week doing stuff that needed to be done weekly, and the next few days working on projects. If I didn’t get to something, I’d push it forward to the next week. This worked super well for a long time. When the video about how to bullet journal (the very basic bullet journaling) came out, I thought, “Oh, that’s what I do.” It’s not fancy or pretty but it kept me focused.

And, I should note, during this time I would see photos on the tag #planneraddict and think – who has time for all that embellishment, do those people get anything done?! 

But then my life blew up, aka, I had a toddler. And she had appointments, meetings, visitations, at very specific times. And I never knew if I was going to have the time, energy and focus to do one thing, or twenty things.

So in early January I found myself really frustrated that my list system wasn’t working. I’d forget to open my journal for days. I’d have time to work but not be able to decide what to do because I hadn’t made a list for the week on Monday morning.

I had months of not being productive OR feeling creatively inspired at all. No knitting or quilting or painting. Then I stumbled up The Happy Planner on Instagram, and I thought – hmm, maybe I need to try a different method and feel like I had even a little creative outlet. And the COLOR, I love color. And I’ll be honest, 2 year olds are addicted to stickers and it kinda got me excited about stickers. So I got a Happy Planner on sale and some stickers and it took me a few weeks, but I figured out a way to use the planner that really really works for me. If you want to see the actual pages or process, this is my planning playlist including a number of plan with me vlogs.

The process is very similar to what I did in the journal, but now with stickers. 

First, I make a list of this week’s projects. Then, I look at the appointments I have for the week. I generally add a sticker on each page with an appointment and write the appointment in. Then I make a space for the books I read that week (along the bottom). And I add another sticker or two to make it pretty.

I should tell you that as I record this, the toddlers who have been with me since June just went home, so my week was FULL of appointments. While they’ve been here, some days are pretty much entirely filled with the kids and their appointments. So I can easily fill in Monday-Wednesday’s to do list right away, because those days have specific tasks that I know I need to do first – like write and record the weekly podcast episode, finish up a project I worked on last week, or schedule some social media posts. Then I fill in Thurs and Friday as I go through the week and have to push stuff forward, or I work on bigger projects on those days.

I used to just wake up and choose to do whatever on each day, but with less time to work, I decide ahead of time what I’ll need to do each day, or else things will never get done. 

Once it’s written down, you actually have to do it.

Sometimes this is the hardest part, to make sure your day doesn’t get away from you, that when a pocket of work-time opens up, you LOOK at the list and actually do what it recommends. If this is a struggle for you, the first question is: Do you have time, with boundaries around it, dedicated to getting stuff done? Are you intentional with the time you have? What could you do to create the habit of looking at your list?

Remember – there is no perfect planner or perfect system to make you perfectly productive. Your job is to find what works for you, change when your life or needs change, and keep giving yourself grace while you experiment.

I’d love to know what YOU use and how you plan… and guess what? We have a new free community where you can share your planner and your system with us! Come over to facebook.com/groups/taraswiger  to join makers who are growing in confidence AND in profit, just like you! The group is limited to those who have a creative business, so if that is you, please come join us!

And remember to tune in next week where I’ll be sharing how I use the task management software Asana to keep track of everything for this podcast and my Program.

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.

286: Favorite books: Autumn 2019

What I’m reading Fall 2019: I explore my enthusiasm by reading… a lot. Learn all about the books I’ve been enjoying over the last month at TaraSwiger.com/podcast286

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It is time for my seasonal round-up of the very best books I’ve read. We’re talking sequels that live up to your hopes, toddler parenting books and of course, mysteries and thrillers.

Usually we talk about building a creative business, goal-setting, marketing, and confidence. But we also love to read and talk about books! For the past 6 years I've shared my monthly reading list on my blog, and since January 2018, I've shared that list on the podcast (Starting in episode 192). I've heard from a lot of you, that you love to talk books with me, so I'm making even more bookish videos and a book club, over at Patreon.com/taraswiger

I also know you’re busy you may not read 100+ books/year, so here on the podcast, I sort through all I read and share my FAVORITE books of the season.

Favorite books of Autumn:

Let's talk about my favorite books that I read from September – November 2019. I'll share these by category, like my fave mystery/thriller, fave sci-fi, etc. But first, let’s look at the stats: I read 21 books, 9 of them thriller or suspense novels, 3 non-fiction books about families, 6 books in three different series. I read fewer books this season than I did over the summer, in part because I’ve been super inspired by my work and in part because I had a lot more disappointing books this season. They weren’t bad; they just weren’t amazingly gripping. But let’s focus on which books I did love.

My fave fantasy series:

Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire.
I read Down among the Sticks and Bones and Beneath the Sugar Sky, and they were both magical and delicious.

Fave parenting book:Lo

Oh Crap! I Have a Toddler by Jamie Galwacki
This is by FAR the closest to my own parenting style of any book I’ve read. And that’s because her philosophy is that every kid is different and that your theories fly out the window once you’re dealing with the kid in front of you. She also advocates for treating children with respect, humor, and natural consequences.

Still loving…

Inspector Gamache series by Louis Penny

I mentioned in our last seasonal round-up (episode 275) that I liked Riley Sagar’s Lock Every Door and Peter Swanson’s Before She Knew HIm that I wanted to read their other books. I ended up reading all of the backlist of both authors and although I enjoyed them ok, they weren’t as great as their more recent books.

I have also been reading the backlist of Megan Abbott, and I love all of her novels.

Book I was completely surprised by:

Fleishman is in Trouble, by Taffy Akner-Brodesser

So many of my faves came from Book of the Month Club.

Remember you can join them in getting extra videos and a Book Club, over on Patreon.com/TaraSwiger.

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.

285: Mental health during the holidays

The holiday season is stressful enough! Don’t forget to take care of yourself in addition to your biz and family and social obligations. Learn how at TaraSwiger.com/podcast285

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It’s mid-November, the holidays are upon us, so I wanted to check in – how are you feeling? REALLY? Are you feeling scrambled or stressed or depressed or anxious? Let’s talk this week about how to stay emotionally and mentally healthy during this busy season in both your business and your life.

I’m not a mental health professional or a doctor. I am your big sister or best friend who is here to remind you to take care of yourself.

If you want to hear more about my own mental health adventure, check out episode 123, where I first opened up about my lifetime struggles and suicide in our community, and episode 153 about a year leater, where I share what was working for me in managing it. I’ve also got a Mental Health Checklist in episode 241.

This isn’t self-care, this is self-maintenance.

Like giving your car gas and changing the oil isn’t extra, it’s part of keeping it running. (I don’t know enough about cars to make this metaphor any bigger, but you get it right?)

These tips are in order of importance for my mental health and based on what I’ve read, I bet it’s important for you too.

Be realistic with your schedule and get it on paper.

Get it all out of your head. Don’t try to keep track of it. And don’t agree to do too much.

This includes in your personal life and your business. It is SO EASY to get excited about holiday promotions and commit to doing big crazy launches and new products and extra shows, but NOW is the time to step back and look at how it all fits in your calendar – do you have the time off you need? Do you have a production plan so you’re not staying up till 3 am every night?

And hey, those handmade gifts you have planned – are they realistic?

The more realistic you are, the saner you will feel navigating it.

Wash your hands.

Getting the flu on top of everything else going on is the worst. The most-effective way to avoid the flu is to wash your hands. I know you know this, but make it a habit that everyone washes their hands when they come into your house. I’m gonna link to my favorite handwash (affiliate link) from doTERRA that isn’t drying and is naturally antibacterial.

If you’re feeling panicky, splash with your face with cold water. This does something to your nervous system and resets it.

Wake up at the same time.

I once read a mental health researcher say that we would understand more about mental health diagnoses if we thought of them as circadian rhythm disorders. The worst thing for your mental health is to get too little or too much sleep. You can’t always control this by going to sleep at the same time, but you can control getting into bed at the same time and waking up (and getting out of bed) at the same time.

This is very important if you’re changing time zones.

If you want to hit the ground feeling good, start to shift your bedtimes before your trip. Since I’m usually flying west, I just get up really early while I’m there, go for a run in the morning and then go to sleep early (my family never minds, but it’s harder to do at a conference).

Have a hard time falling asleep? I have a few favorite tips: 

  • Take a warm bath and get in bed with lots of blankets for 20 minutes. A study found this was effective at reducing depression! It’s my favorite!
  • I never read business books in bed. The more boring the better.
  • I use essential oils and supplements to help me sleep. My go-to is Copaiba, which works on your nervous system in the same way CBD oil does but more effectively (and without all the risk of weird additives).

Take your vitamins and your meds.

Everyone I’ve ever met who takes meds for mental health doesn’t want to take medication. They want to go off it. But friend, the holidays, or any time when you’re traveling, seeing more people than usual, or even just shipping way more products than ever, it is not the time to change your medication.

Move your body.

I know, I hate to go out in the cold, but just focus on getting your steps in and not sitting all day. I use my watch to tell me to stand up every hour, but you can also set a timer on your phone or computer.

Say no when you need to.

Seriously. One of the keys to staying mentally stable is to not overdo it, and this is the season of overdoing it. Everyone does and seems to be proud of themselves for doing too much and being “busy”, but let’s start a (quiet) revolution of NOT doing everything, of telling people no, of staying in and resting when we need it.

Your assignment –

Pull out your December calendar and look it over. Put everything in it that you’ve committed to. Look at your production calendar (if you haven’t made one, make one, we talked more about this in episode 282, getting your shop ready for the holidays).

Ask yourself: 

  • What do you need to say no to or cancel?
  • What looks good and exciting?
  • Where are you feeling enthusiasm? Where can you do more of that?

Come tell me how you are staying well this season, on Instagram. I’m @TaraSwiger and I would LOVE to hear from you – DM me what you are doing or what you learned from this episode.

Next week is Thanksgiving here in the States and I am sharing my FAVORITE books I’ve read this season. Be sure you’ve subscribed and tune in to get ideas for what you’ll read over the holidays.

I wish you a peaceful and enthusiastic week and happy holidays.

Links* to my favorite products:

For sleep:

During the day:

*These links are affiliate links, which means I earn a percentage of the sale when you purchase through my link. I am NOT recommending ANY other brand of essential oil, because they are not food-grade safe, nor tested to the same level of purity, or with the same sustainable practices as doTERRA. Don’t buy cheap oils at Walmart and expect to have similar results.

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.

284: You have more than enough time

If you run a creative business (or even if you have a full life) time management is critical, because the secret is you always have time for the things that are important to you (you just don’t have time for the things that aren’t). Learn more about finding time for the things that matter to you and your biz at TaraSwiger.com/podcast284

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You have more than enough time. Yeah, I know, it feels like you don’t have any time. But today we’re going to talk about why you believe that and how you can change it.

Today we’re going right into tough love territory

I know it feels like there's never enough time. With kids and work and starting your business, it can all be super-overwhelming. Since becoming a parent, I have learned that it can be shockingly hard to even find time to take a shower. I get that.

You believe you don’t have time because it FEELS like you don’t…

  • You don’t have time to work on your business.
  • You don’t have time to invest in learning how to make your business profitable.
  • You don’t have time for marketing.

You believe you don’t have time because:

  1. You haven't already made time for it.
  2. You have never done anything like building a business before – so how could you possibly have time for it?
  3. You may not know anyone who is doing it. In fact, everyone around you is probably saying they don't have time to do anything.

But are you them? Do you spend your time in EXACTLY the same way?
Surely you know people who tell you they don’t have time to cook, but maybe you always do find time. Or you have friends who don’t have time to read, but you do find time.

You are not them and that is why you can find the time, even if they can’t.

You’re right, you want to be realistic and honest with yourself.

But let’s also be honest with yourself about the reality:
You KNOW you don't have more time than anyone else. You KNOW don't have time to waste.
Your belief that you don’t have enough time is distracting you from seeing the time you do have, and using it effectively.

Is it true that no one, in your exact situation, has never found the time to build their business?  No, of course not. We both can think of dozens of examples of women who have.

And hey, kids aren't the only thing that make you busy. When I started my business, I worked 40+ hours per week at two jobs, I managed a paint-your-own-pottery studio and worked at the local yarn shop.

When I built my business, I worked as a barista 40 hours a week AND as an office temp 40 hours a week.

And when my business grew to the point I quit my job, I was working 40 hours a week AND taking MBA classes during the evenings.

But, I can hear you, Tara, you didn’t have children back then!

Are you a mom with toddlers? So was Susan of Freshly Picked when she started her baby shoe empire.

Are you a homeschooling mom? So is Katie of Yarn Love and she’s built a six figure yarn business while homeschooling her five kids.

Yes, if you give time to this, to learning and growing, you will be balancing a lot. But balancing a growing business and your life (whether it's a dayjob or kids or whatever) isn't too hard. Having your entire money situation tied to one single employer is to hard.

Wasting the time you spend on your business doing the WRONG things in your business is hard and painful.

But here’s the thing: YOU are in the BEST position to find the time for this. Yes, YOU. Why? Because you are a creative. That means you’re a great problem solver, you can hold lots of stuff in your head at once. You are willing and open to learn (you’re listening to this podcast right now). YOU want more for your business and your life.

That is the PERFECT person who will FIND the time to grow their business. That is the person who will find the time to learn and build healthy foundations.

And hey, maybe you don’t feel like that person. Maybe you don’t feel like you’ve lived up to that potential, and that’s why you are SURE you don’t have enough time to work a program dedicated to growing your business.

But there’s another way to look at it: You don't need more time, you need more focus. You need more follow-through. You didn’t do it before, not because you didn’t have the time, but because you didn’t have the follow-through.

But what if you committed to following through? What if you found resources that helped you follow-through, that took into account your personality and provided the accountability and support you needed?

Could you do it then?

What if you knew that you could learn a few new tools and it would shift how time worked for you and how capable you are of following through?

Here’s a way to shift time:

List all the steps in any project on paper (don’t keep it in your head)
Break it down. Then break it down even more than that.
PICK ONE PRIORITY.  Each week, each day, each hour. JUST ONE.

If you did this, how would impact your year? Your family over the next five years?

What would you be teaching the people around you about what was possible for them? About how they could approach time?

If you don’t change this belief that you don’t have enough time for learning and being effective, how will that impact those around you? How will you see that play out in the next year or five years or decades?

What’s going to happen if you don’t change?

Things are going to stay the same.

You will hear your kids and your friends adopt this belief. They will think they don’t have time to invest in themselves, to follow their dreams, to put in the effort to improve and get better – whether it’s related to business, to practicing the violin, to putting in effort to learn a new art form or medicine or whatever they’re into.

Do you want to keep operating like this, or are you ready to make the time for growing your business, for learning and improving?

If you’re ready to let go of the belief then come tell me over on Instagram and then join me to learn more about the foundations of your business 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.

283: How to make time to APPLY what you learn

It’s not enough to just read the book to buy the course, you have to actually apply what you learn to your business. Learn my best advice for actually applying learning to your business at TaraSwiger.com/podcast283

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You have just read a great business book, or attended a workshop or joined an online class… but how do you get your investment out of it? How do you APPLY what you’ve learned? How do you make sure that it makes a difference in your business and your life?

Today I’m answering a question a Starship Captain recently asked after she read a great book – how do I APPLY this to my business?

You see, I’ve thought a LOT about how to make business education and information applicable. I’ve built it into my courses and program, so that as you work through the Starship Program, you are prompted to work WITH it in real time. We do this through apply-it-to-YOUR-biz worksheets, weekly accountability, chunking the content into pieces, and pacing it so that you work on it in an order that makes sense.

You can learn about how I structure it and WHAT you need to apply to your business in my free masterclass, the Four Foundation Method. Join me at TaraSwiger.com/foundations 

Go Slow

One of the mistakes we ALL make is that we get excited and we rush through collecting information and data. I am a big believer that you can absorb a lot more than you think, and you’ll have access to it when you need it again, so I’m never afraid of forgetting something I learned in a book (this may be a quirk of my own brain. If you need to do something else to cement in your brain, like taking notes, you should do that!).

But remembering a fact is very different than using a fact to create real change. When you want to create a transformation in your business, you’ve got to pay deeper attention than just a quick read. You need to stop and think. You need to take notes or put action steps in your planner.

This is going to seem obvious, but one of the easiest ways to make use of a book or a class is to actually DO the exercises. I know, right? But I know you skip the exercises at the end of the chapter, just like I do! That’s fine if you’re reading a book just for general knowledge or to get an overview of the topic… but if you picked the book up because you want something to change in your business, you need to actually think and work through it. Don’t just speed through.

Dedicate the time it deserves.

Set aside the time

Ok, ok, so you’re going to go slow, you’re going to do the exercises or homework… but who has time for that?

Well, if it’s important to you, if it’s a priority, you do.

We’re going to talk about this more next week on the podcast, but if this is a priority, you need to set aside the time.

You probably know this, but be honest – when you pick up a business book or buy a course do you first stop and ask yourself when you are going to apply it? Probably not, but then we get annoyed when it doesn’t get read and we don’t see a change in our business.

This is a good time to tell you – nothing will make a difference in your business unless you commit to taking action and taking time for it. I was recently told that if the Starship comes with a guarantee that everyone will make a living from your craft, this person would absolutely join.

Well, yeah.

But honey, I can’t guarantee that you will make a living from your craft, because I can’t guarantee YOU will do the work, or that you will even open the lessons and read them, let alone do the homework, let alone make the changes you’ll need to make to have a profitable business.

No one can guarantee your success except for YOU.

Allow for failure (and experimentation)

Here’s the thing: when you try new stuff, it’s not always going to get the results you want. You are going to try things and they’ll fail. This has to be built into how you think about business or you’ll never move forward. If you’re waiting for the perfect piece of advice… you’re going to wait for a long time.

I used to call this the special-snowflake syndrome, but that phrase got politicized, so now I’m calling it the Unique Paradox. This is when every student tells me their business is unique and this doesn’t apply to them. But hon, if every business is unique, then there is no point in you learning any business advice. You know that there are foundations you can apply to your business, foundations that work whether you have a product-based business, a service-based business, whether you sell $4 PDFs or $100 earrings… right?

But you won’t always know exactly how to apply it to work for you, so you’re going to need to open to experimentation, to try, to fail, to try something new.

Often when you apply a new concept to your business, you need to build in time to reassess – is it the concept or the application that’s not working? Can I try it in a different way?

And hey, this is why I build in monthly reassessment into the Starship. Because you have GOT to stop and check in, to see if you’re headed towards your goals or away from them. You’ve got to learn the lessons your business is trying to teach you.

Ask yourself (over and over) : How can I make use of this? What part of this is applicable to MY business, today?

Yes, there are going to be parts of every book or course that don’t pertain to you right now. Maybe it’s something that you will need in the future. Maybe it’s something you’ve already figured out. The key to making it applicable now, is to ignore that and look at what you really can use.

I know this can be hard sometimes. When I first started my first business (making handspun yarn and selling it on Etsy) all the advice I could find about selling in an online shop was for coaches, yoga teachers, skeezy guys selling “internet marketing.” NONE of it applied to my business, but I started to look at the basics of what they were saying – know your goals, know your customers, know your product, know your numbers… and I started implementing that in my business and it worked!

But what I learned as I quit my dayjob and talked to more and more makers about our businesses is that not everyone has an easy time seeing the foundational concepts and breaking it down into do-able action. That is a strength that seems obvious and easy to me, but it isn’t everyone else’s strength. So I started helping makers improve their marketing, finding the direction for their business (and life!) and get more profitable.

But I want you to know – if it’s hard for you to translate concepts from another industry-language or from old-school business terms, that’s ok! There’s nothing wrong with you! You don’t need an MBA to have a successful business. You can work with someone that can help you translate! This is exactly what I do in my Foundations Masterclass (which is totally free) and what I try to do each week here on the podcast.

So if you’re having a hard time applying general business knowledge to YOUR direct business, I have a homework assignment, go sign up for one of the spots in my upcoming Foundations 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.

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

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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

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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!

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