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295: Get out of your own way

If you’re struggling to grow in your creative business, you might be the thing holding yourself back. Learn how to get out of your own way at TaraSwiger.com/podcast295

Are you getting in the way of your handmade business moving forward? Yeah, it’s time to get out of your own way.

Lately we’ve been doing a series on how to make your 2020 goals come true. In episodes 292 and 293, I gave you lots of applicable, step-by-step advice on how to increase sales, so be sure to head over to TaraSwiger.com/launch if you missed that.

But as I said in those episodes, only a small percentage of people will follow through with the action plan.

Why?

Well, for some listeners, what I shared just isn’t applicable. Maybe you don’t have a business.

Maybe you are just starting and you don’t have any products yet.

For some listeners, growth isn’t their primary goal in 2020. Maybe you have more demand than you can supply. Or perhaps your work day has gone wonky, and what you want to work on this year is working LESS or taking more time off or stopping work at a certain time.

We’re not always in a place of growth.

Or maybe you’re like I was in 2019, where your life has been upended and your main goal is to just HOLD ON and try to figure out a new way to move forward (or even stay in the same place) with totally new circumstances. Last year my own focus wasn’t the growth of my business, it was the growth of my family.

Wherever you are is perfect.

But what about those listeners who DO have products, who have a way to sell them, and who have the goal to increase their sales in 2020?

Why don’t they follow through?

We hit on some of the reasons last week (in episode 294) – you may feel unfocused, feel like you don’t have enough time, or feel overwhelmed and stuck in self-doubt.

In other words, you’re not moving forward because YOU are holding yourself back.

Last week I gave you some homework – to write down HOW you were holding yourself back and WHY you might have done that.

(If you skipped the homework you can hit pause now and write it down, or even record it as a voice memo to yourself!)

Why are you doing this? Well, without hearing your answers, I can make a guess, because this is what stops me: Fear.

Fear of the unknown.
Fear that I won’t be safe.
Fear that everyone will realize I have no idea what I’m doing and they (you) will think it’s all a scam and everyone will hate me (and I’ll be broke and alone).
Fear that I’ll get it wrong, that people will see me get it wrong and then will all leave and my business will fall apart (and I’ll be broke and alone).

That’s kind of intense, right? 

But that’s why this fear is so good at holding us back – we never look directly at it, so it just bubbles up underneath the surface and we feel a kind of uneasiness or nervousness or self-doubt. We don’t feel “quite right” so we don’t step forward.

What do you do about it? 

Good news: We’ve already done the first step! The first step is to bring it to conscious awareness so we can SEE the fear, so it stops running the show from the background.

Then, we need to acknowledge it for what it is. It isn’t that WE suck. It isn’t that we need to do more or learn more or get more confident.

Fear holding you back is a NATURAL part of growth and exploration. Your fear is your sweet little brain trying to keep you safe. That’s it’s whole job! It’s saying “Hey there, I don’t know about that, I need to keep you alive so BACK AWAY FROM THE UNKNOWN.”

If you’ve experienced trauma (whether it was one-time acute trauma or ongoing trauma like an unsafe childhood), your brain is a SPECIALIST in spotting danger (maybe where there isn’t any!) and keeping you safe. This may be why you experience something that SEEMS simple  (like talking to strangers in your craft booth, or posting a personal post on Instagram) as terrifying and flight-fight-freeze inducing.

Understanding and accepting this about yourself and your sweet little (confused) brain is vital to you moving forward. It shifts your focus from “pushing forward” to “gently finding a way forward.” Because when you push? Your fear pushes back. When you gently find a way to feel safe while doing the thing?” Your fear settles down.

Your fear just wants to be noticed and heard.

So we’ve identified it, we’ve recognized that it’s trying to keep us safe, but how do we hear it without letting it run the show?

Let it have it’s say – let your fear tell you what’s the worst that can happen.

Tim Ferris calls this “fear-setting”, it’s like the opposite of goal-setting, but is important if you’re going to move forward with a goal. Marie Forleo has a version of this exercise in her book Everything is Figureoutable. In other words, this works. So try it.

Pull out a piece of paper and answer:
What am I afraid of actually happening?
What is the absolute worst case scenario if that fear comes true?
And then what else horrible will happen?

And now that you’ve listened to your Fear, you’ve let it really unspool its dark fantasy,  it’s time to apply some reality to your fear.

If that happened, the absolute worst case scenario… what would you do?

How could you come back from it?
What skills, abilities and experiences do you have that you could use?

When I’ve done this with Starship Captains, we always take a deep breath and feel a little shaken and a little relieved. It is SCARY to think of all that can go wrong! But I bet you noticed that your worst case scenario is actually kinda… figureoutable? There’s very little you’re going to do in your business that’s going to shake the core of what you value. Your Etsy shop isn’t going to kill your loved ones. Your email newsletter isn’t going to push your friends away. Unless you’re becoming a skydiving instructor, your business is unlikely to cause you bodily harm.

So, how do you feel? Deep breath! Do you feel a little more able to move forward?

(If not, did you do this in your head, or in writing? When you just think it, your brain often distracts you with other stuff and you don’t really go all the way. Write it down.)

Now, listen. This is not a one-time thing. If it were, I would be fearless and unwavering since the first time I did this back in 2006!

Instead, this allows us to take the NEXT STEP. Which is all we need for now.

But it is very likely the fear is going to jump back up when we come to the next unknown thing.

Elizabeth Gilbert says (in her book Big Magic, which is great) that we may not ever be able to get Fear out of the car, on our journey. But we CAN stop Fear from driving the car or grabbing the steering wheel or pumping the breaks. We can ride with Fear next us. We can acknowledge the work it’s trying to do (keep us safe), appreciate that, and still choose to not let it run the show. (This is a lot like driving with a screaming toddler in the backseat.)

Sooo, bad news! You’re going to have to do this a lot. I need to acknowledge and listen to my Fear every time I set a new goal. Every time I start a new project. Sometimes I have to do it before a speaking gig, when my nerves get bad! I had to do it when I became a foster mom! Every time I level up or my business levels up, I have to do it again.

But here’s what I hope you take from this podcast episode – YOU are holding yourself back, because your brain is trying to keep you ALIVE. YOU are a smart, capable, adorable human who is capable of so much more than you think, if you find  a way to gently move past your stuck places. You don’t need to feel (or be) fearless to take the next step. You will build confidence through ACTION.

I am wishing you so much peace and courage this 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.

291: How I’m planning 2020

Planning for your year, life, or creative business when things are up in the air and you aren’t sure how the year will play out can be tricky! Learn how I’m planning my year (full of unknowns) at TaraSwiger.com/podcast291

As a culture we talk a lot about planning the year for about 2 seconds on December 31st and January 1st, but the fact is, when you’re building a business or following a dream, you are planning and implementing a plan all the time! Today I’m going to share how I planned my New Year, warts and all.

Welcome to the New Year! Over the years I have written (and recorded) a lot about New Year and seasonal planning, so this year I decided to share exactly what I’m doing, with a bit of my feelings and experience as I do it, so you know you’re not alone.

You can get access to ALL of my episodes about planning your New Year AND a new worksheet, at TaraSwiger.com/2020Goals. Download it now!

It started in early December…

Inside the Starship, we read the book Everything is Figureoutable, by Marie Forleo, as a part of our Q4 Book Club. This book is packed with encouragement and tough love for moving forward on your big dream, no matter how unreachable it feels.

I really committed to not just reading it, but also working through the exercises. It helped me get clear on what’s held me back from setting a bigger goal (like, really big) and work through that. The book is so uplifting and encouraging, I think this helped me shed a bit of self-doubt that has held me back in the last 2 years.

Self-doubt

Actually, let’s chat about self-doubt holding me back. I talked about this a bit in episode 252, if you’d like to hear more about how I worked through it then. The thing is – I had a major depressive episode in 2018 and it rattled me.

Even after I came out of it, I had this lingering fear that I wasn’t going to be able to follow through on anything, that I shouldn’t commit to anything because I wouldn’t be able to complete it. Soon after that, we became licensed to foster parent, and since I had never been a parent before, and I had no idea what to expect, I also became convinced that I would no longer be able to follow through on things, because kids.

The thing that’s so insidious about this self-doubt is that it presented as LOGIC. Like, it’s totally reasonable to expect that I’ll be able to do less as a parent, than before… but what level of “less”? I didn’t know, so I assumed the worst. I assumed that the kids would be some kind of hurricane that completely exhausted my ability to adult, let along to show up to students, captains and partners.

Now, I can see how a lot of that was just catastrophizing – I didn’t know what to expect, either about recurring depression or parenting, so I just assumed the worst. I needed to tap back into Confident Tara in order to dream big and create a plan and follow through, because you must believe it’s possible before you’ll actually do the work.

I’m sharing this because in the middle of it, it felt very real, very logical, and TRUE. 

If you are feeling tons of self-doubt or battered by life, give yourself some grace. It is ok. You don’t have to dream BIG right now. You don’t have to be on top of everything. Get inspired a confident again, by listening to my podcast and/or by reading Marie Forleo’s book (she also has a great YouTube show!)

Where I plan

Ok, before I go any further, I wanna talk about WHERE I actually do this planning – both where I write it and where I sit physically to do it. The thing is, you need to find what works for you, but I know we all love to hear about these kind of details.

I always plan my year (and do quarterly maps and monthly planning) in one notebook. That way I can keep a whole year in one place and go back to it, without having to search around.

This year I’m using a Happy Notes so that I can add pages and different kinds of paper to it. In the past I've used a big Moleskine.

I typically do the review at a coffee shop, next to a fireplace, with a fancy latte in a mug. Last year I had a brand-new toddler at this time of year, so I didn’t do any planning until late January, and then I did it during naptime under a blanket on my couch.

Review the last year

I start by reviewing the last year, because it is VERY inspiring to remember all of the good of the last year and to get grounded in where I am in my business right now.

I use my own book Map Your Business to do this! It starts with several pages of worksheets to get really clear where you are right now.

Now, it’s easy to use this as a chance to beat yourself up.
Maybe you didn’t hit your goals last year. Maybe you didn’t do ANYTHING last year. Maybe you are looking at where you are right now, thinking there is NO WAY you can get to your goal.

Hey, that’s ok. Deep breath.
You are exactly where you need to be.
You are capable of more than you’ve done before.
You are further ahead than you’ve ever been before!  You have learned so much this year! (even if it’s not what you wanted to learn!)

This is why Map Your Business really focuses on the lessons you’ve learned and what you want to take from last year into this year.

There’s also a section on releasing all your regrets. We all have them. It’s ok, you can let go of them and move forward.

Dreaming the next year

Ok, so once I've let go of my regrets and I’ve looked at what lessons I want to bring forward into the next year, it’s time to think about the upcoming year.

I like to start with FEELINGS. There are several worksheets in Map Your Business that you help narrow in on this – the things you value, the qualities you want in your life and in your business.

How do I want to feel this year? What could help me feel that way? 

For me, I want to feel strong, confident, loving.
Strong – capable, calm, resilient
Confident – capable, trust myself, move forward on scary stuff
Loving – with my family, with everyone in foster care, with myself

What could make me feel this way? (I’m still making my list!)

I use Map Your Business to dive into the specifics of what I want to create, in every area of my business. So at this point, I already have in mind my sales goal, but there’s a lot more to my life than just sales.

For example:
Jay and I need to trade his 20 year old car in for a newer one that we can put kids into.
We want to pay off debt.
I want to have more than enough money saved up to pay my taxes quarterly.

Map Your Business has you list out EVERYTHING you want to accomplish, then zoom in on 3-5.

I also love the idea i got from Leonie to list 100 things I want to do in the year. There are so many things I want to do that aren’t really GOALS, but things I do want to do and remember to do. So I make a big list that I keep adding to, of allllll I could possibly do.

After I have a goal, it’s time to make a plan.

Here’s where allllll the uncertainty in my life comes into play. I have NO idea what my home will be like in a year. Will we have 2 kids? Will they be 6 months old or 5 years old? A new placement or an adoptive placement? Daily therapy or no appointments?

There are so many variables that it’s easy to think there’s no way I can plan. But that’s NOT TRUE!

What I can do is make a plan for what needs to be done and chunk it down into what I need to do next. In Map Your Business we do this in three month chunks. But if you’re life has a lot of uncertainty, you can still make this “quarterly” plan… and accept that something might interrupt and it’ll take longer than expected.

Here’s what it looks like with my goal.

My goal is a sales goal, that is twice what I’ve sold before (keep in mind sales is NOT profit, we go into this in my free Masterclass).

My first step in breaking it down is to chunk it into halves or quarters of the year.

If you’re increasing your sales, it’s not likely to happen in a smooth progression. For example, if you’re goal is to make 36,000 in sales this year (I picked a number it’d be easy to do the math for!), you’re not going to make 3,000 every month, you’ll likely start where you are now (maybe a little lower because January tends to be slower than December in most industries), and then increase as the year goes on. You’ll also want to look at you are already doing – craft shows? A big Black Friday deal? New wholesale customers in the spring?

So maybe you’ll make 13,000 in the first half and 23,000 in the second half of the year.
You can then break that into quarters:
Q1: 5,000
Q2: 8,000
Q3: 10,000
Q4: 13,000

If you don’t break it up and take into account industry trends, marketing plans, and natural growth, you’re going to feel very frustrated and far from your goal. If you thought you needed to make $3,000/mo and you just make $1,5000 in January, you’re going to feel SO FAR away, when in reality you may be right on schedule to grow.

(Just to be clear my goal is quite a bit bigger than this, but I wanted to use numbers that are more in line with the goal a lot of you have set). 

After I split my goal up like this in quarters I then looked at months. I looked at what I have planned – travel, events, vacations. Map Your Business has a page where you can list out what’s happening in each month, so you can see when you’re likely to have time and energy for your business.

Once you have the goal for your quarter, you do the most important step: forget all the other quarters.

I just focus on the sales goal for this quarter.

And I ask myself: What can I do to reach this goal?

For my business and my audience (you!), this is a lot more about systems than one-time tasks – I put systems in place to share my work with more people as the year goes on. And because of foster parenting, I make sure the system doesn’t need ME to keep running. I want to spend my time and energy working with Starship Captains and writing/recording podcast episodes and videos.

So my to-do list for a sales goal is related to implementing, testing and tweaking systems. I have a specific list of things to implement and variables to test. I have joined a program that includes a community where I can get these questions answered.

Now, because there’s so many unknowns in my life – so many events and appointments that come with a new placement that I don’t even know about yet – I just do what’s in front of me. I make a plan that would probably fill 2-3 months as they are RIGHT NOW, but I know that I’ll need to be flexible. If it takes longer to get a placement, I’ll go faster. If I get a complicated case, it’ll probably go slower.

So that’s it for planning! The next step is to make sure the list of current projects stay front of mind – so I typically use my map to make a list and add it to my planner and I create projects with tasks and deadlines inside Asana. I talk about both of these things in a lot more detail in episode 287 + episode 288, so if you want to more about tracking daily and weekly tasks, go listen to those!

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.

290: Skip the Resolutions, Transform your Life

Even when you’ve tried resolutions in the past, it can be easy to get caught up in the New Years hype. How about transforming your life instead of making more resolutions this year? Learn more at TaraSwiger.com/podcast290

Are you setting New Year’s Resolutions?
Have you in year’s past?
How’s that worked for you?
What if we stop with the resolutions and instead we actually transform our lives in 2020?

You find ALL of my resources for creating a great year at taraswiger.com/2020goals

So the problem with resolutions, I’m sure you already know, is that they don’t work.

Think about it- have you ever met someone who said “I made a resolution and reached it!” No, because the way we set resolutions, the words we use aren’t reachable.

In a 2018 survey, one-third (31%) of Americans who made New Year’s Resolutions last year say they didn't stick to any of their resolutions. A plurality (38%) say they stuck to “some” of their resolutions.

Even the language used in the survey was “stuck to” resolutions. How do you know if you stuck to something or not?

Let’s look at the most-popular resolution : “exercise more,” with 59%, “eat healthier” (54%), “save money” (51%),  “lose weight” (48%), “reduce stress”.

These are impossible to succeed at because they’re vague and confusing. Without a starting place (how much are you exercising now?) and a measurable goal (what is “more”), you can't make it happen because you don’t know what to do.

But the reason we set them each year? We WANT to make a change. The resolution starts to define that change.

At their best, a resolution provides an aim. A way to orient yourself. A destination.

So it’s not the resolutions that don’t work, it’s the way we do it. We may think about it on January 1 and write it down and then… nothing.

Instead, if you really want something to change or transform, you need a few more steps to the process:

  1. Define what you want.
  2. Commit yourself to it
  3. Create a do-able plan
  4. Follow through.

Define what you want

Make it measurable.

Even choosing a word or how you want to feel is better than your typical resolution –  they are specific.

I want to read more vs I want to feel curious about the world. I could feel that way by going to museums, reading, watching documentaries, meeting new people.

As you define what you want this year, check that it’s measurable. Be specific about how you want to feel. What else could make you feel that way?

Ex. Exercising more.
Maybe you want to feel strong.
What makes you feel strong?
For me, it’s lifting weights, it’s being emotionally steady mom, getting through hard times.
One of my fave mugs says “strong as a foster mother”…that’s a way to feel strong.

Commit yourself to it

Here’s the thing: you can’t do anything unless you decide you are going to.

That may sound obvious, but be honest – how many times have you set a goal, but then not really believed it was possible and kinda backpedaled away from it?

I know, you don’t want to fail.

But you won’t succeed until you go all in.

I know, maybe you haven’t done it before but you can do it this year.
You are farther along.
You know more.
You have tried and failed and survived more.

Go all in.

Create a do-able plan

So just the phrase “grow my business” is meaningless, but if you got specific in Step 1, maybe you decided you want to hit a specific sales goal… and you committed yourself to it, the next step is to get super-specific. What do you need to do? By when?

I’ve got a whole workbook for this, it’s called Map Your Business. In it I walk you through getting clear on your big vision, setting a specific goal and then building a plan for it AND following up on how it’s going.

You know what you need to do, so break it down into specific projects and tasks and then add them to your calendar. (Go back and listen to episode 287 and episode 288 if you need more on that!)

Follow Through

Ahhh, I know! This is the hardest part.

This involves having a time to work, having clear boundaries around it, then actually focusing on what you need to get done.

For a lot of us, this also requires some outside accountability. Someone else saying “hey, you were going to do that.”

Needing outside accountability is NOT a bad thing. It doesn’t mean you don’t have discipline or whatever. It just means that you operate best when someone else is relying on you.

If you have a hard time following through, you are NOT alone! When we talked about this in my Facebook group, over 90% of your fellow makers and artists said they struggle with this!

You can get help, and learn my methodology for helping you follow through, in the free Masterclass. Just head to taraswiger.com/2020goals and get the worksheets and resources for creating your New Year, and I’ll send you an invite to the Masterclass!

So how about you? What’s your plan for the New Year?
Come tell me in our free Facebook group, FB.com/groups/taraswiger

Have an enthusiastic day and New Year!

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.

289: How to decide on your next goal

Choosing your next goal is vital to having focus in your creative business, which is how you move forward. Learn more about how to choose your next goal at TaraSwiger.com/podcast289

Are you stuck between two really great ideas? Wondering if you have to choose or if you should just do them both at the same time? How could you choose between them?

Today I’m going to help you answer one of the BIGGEST questions I get about creating do-able plans for your next goals: Do I have to pick just one and how the heck do I do that?!

In my book Map Your Business and in my Starship Program, you begin by getting clear on your big vision. Then you set a goal and break it down into steps and actionable to-dos. For the last two weeks we’ve talked about how to stay on top of those To Dos, so they actually get done.

But this week we’re going to back up and answer the question: How do you even pick the next goal? Especially when you have several projects that all look like good options?

This question came up in the monthly coaching call inside the Starship Program (learn more at taraswiger.com/starshipbiz) and it’s one I know we all deal with. So let’s break it down – do you need to pick just ONE goal? And if so, how can you decide?

You can find a worksheet to help you apply what you learn in today’s episode here.

Do you need to pick just ONE goal?

I get this question ALL the time, because my Map Making process involves making a really detailed plan for ONE goal at a time. So the short answer is yes, in order to make a detailed plan and get it accomplished, you need just one goal.

Can you work on more than one goal at a time?

Well, it depends.

What’s your time frame?

Over the course of a year, you’re going to be reaching a lot of different goals.
Over the course of a week, you will get distracted if you focus on too many at once.

This is why I set the timeline in the Map Making process for three months. That’s a good amount of time to set a goal, work on it, adjust your path, and learn quite a bit about what the project requires. It’s a short enough time frame that you won’t forget what you’re working towards and you won’t get bogged down in doing the same thing, and still a long enough time frame that you can see some real progress.

It also depends on the kind of goal you have.

There are income or sales goals.
There are habit goals.
There are KPI goals.
There are award goals.

For example, most makers I talk to want to get more consistent with their social media. That is something you can do while you’re working on a sales goal. I’d encourage you to make the goal more measurable, like “I want to post on Instagram 5x/week”. You’re going to do that alongside a lot of other stuff.

And still, I recommend you let that be your ONLY goal for at least the first month as you get used to it.

Why focus?

Why focus on just one at a time:

  • You’ll be focused (this is one of the main benefits of setting ANY goal)
  • You’ll know what to do next and how to prioritize
  • You’ll see faster progress
  • You’ll learn faster and can change it up
  • The sense of accomplishment will keep you going.

If you want to learn more about setting the right-sized goal, check out episodes 191 on stretch goals and episode 91 on why you’re afraid of big goals.

So you want to narrow it down, but you’ve got two really great ideas.

Perhaps you’re debating, as one of my Starship Captains did: Should I focus on increasing my online sales or my wholesale sales?
Or: Should I focus on my email list or Instagram? Should I self-publish a book, or sell more patterns to magazines?

First, some good news.

Any goal is good. 

Anything you commit yourself to, make progress on, and learn from, is going to improve your business and your life. You’re going to be in a better place in 3 months than if you didn’t pick anything.

So take some of the pressure off, ok?

Now, when it comes to choosing a goal, I like to ask Captains two questions:

Questions to ask to choose the next right project:

What is closer to money?
Where is your enthusiasm?

What is closer to money?

This is one of my favorite questions, because it’s gonna get you fast results: What is the project you can work on that is closest to making money?

For example, if you have products in your shop, selling one of them is the absolute fastest way to make money. If you have customers, having them buy again is closer to money than finding new buyers. Self-publishing your finished pattern is a lot closer to money than pitching it to publishers.

You feel me?

However, lemme warn you that you can not build your whole business doing just what’s closest to money, because it will wear you out and not necessarily take you the direction you want to go. You want to balance choosing quick-money options with long-term right-direction goals.

But I’m really disappointed at how many people say they have a business but NEVER do the thing that will make money – instead they focus on metrics that look good – like more instagram followers or more prestigious partnerships.

If it’s been a while since you focused on SELLING your thing directly to the people who want to buy it, then I’m going to suggest you pick whichever project is closer to money

Where is your enthusiasm?

Here’s the thing: most people who tell me they can’t decide between a few options, it’s because they are piling up the SHOULDS.

Well, I SHOULD do this.
A REAL business would do this.
I don’t have as big an Instagram following as that person, so I should improve that. 

No, no, NO. 

Our aim isn’t to build A business, it’s to build YOUR dream business.
Which goal is aligned with what you’re most enthusiastic about?

Are you LOVING working with your newest retail shops?
Are you throwing confetti every time you get a response to your newsletter?

Yeah, you might not be enthusiastic about the WORK involved in your goal, but are you enthusiastic about the end goal? Or some part of the process?

Then go with that

You are going to have the MOST progress and grow the fastest by looking at what you’re genuinely enthusiastic about,and following it.

It might not be strategic but all of my best moves have been following my enthusiasm.

  • I did plan to start a podcast, but I started it in one week and it’s been one of the best things for my business.
  • I did not plan to start a Facebook group right before Thanksgiving, but it’s been an amazing place to be – I LOVE meeting and approving new people who apply.
  • I did not plan to create a worksheet for this podcast episode, but you know what? I’m feeling it!

If you go with your enthusiasm, you’re going to be more likely to follow through.

So that’s how I decide on a project – commit to following through on ONE aim in the next three months and then ask yourself – what is closest to money? What am I most enthusiastic about? Drop all the shoulds, and go full speed to what you want.

I created a worksheet to help you answer these questions, you can grab it here.

Wishing you an enthusiastic and peaceful end of year!

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.

288: How I use planners in my business – Asana edition

How do you keep track of all the moving parts in a recurring or upcoming projects? What if you’re waiting on other people to do their part before you can do your part? I do this with project management apps, so today we’re going to make it a bit less overwhelming and how to pick the software that will help you.

This week I’m answering the question that occurs after you make a map – how the heck do I keep track of all the moving parts?

You see, in my book Map Your Business and in my Starship Program, you begin by getting clear on your big vision. 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 in, then what? How do you make sure you don’t forget the stuff that comes LATER?

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

Last week we started by talking about how to keep track of the current week and how I use paper planners for that. Today we’ll talk about task management software to keep track of ongoing or recurring projects. Next week, we’ll talk about how to pick your next big project. And we’ll kick off the new year with an episode on January 1, about planning your best year yet.

I started using digital planning tools when…

I started tracking to-dos digitally in my business, (especially recurring projects like marketing and this podcast), when I hired my first virtual assistant (VA). The easiest way for me to communicate what I did for each project, and to make sure we didn’t miss a single step, was to put it all in a checklist. What I learned right away is that having it down on a checklist made every single task so much faster to do, not just for my VA, but for me too!

There’s a whole book about this – The Checklist Manifesto. Basically, knowing exactly what to do next saves you time, it saves you energy thinking of what’s next, and it saves you mistakes.

We started out using Evernote, but soon we moved to Asana. Evernote was great at having a checklist, but it didn’t make any reminders or prompt us to do the next step.

If you’ve got ANYONE else in your business, even if they’re just super part-time (my VA started at 2 hours a week!), you definitely need some way to communicate tasks, deadlines and checklists. It’s going to give you peace of mind when you can SEE that they’ve done each part of the task, (and you will save time by not having to talk about every single thing, every single time).

Now, if you don’t have anyone else in your team, you can still use project management software to keep YOU on top of things.

Do YOU need digital planning tools?

Here’s how to decide:

First, know your projects.

I have Starship Captains start by listing ALL of their projects – onetime things they’re working on, recurring projects, the steps to their social media posts, anything they do or plan to do in a month.

Then you can split it down into “repeating” and “one-time”.

How many things do you have to hand back and forth to someone else?

Second, ask yourself – how do you keep track of the repeating tasks now?

Maybe you have a paper system that works great (I put my first marketing plan on a post it and just kept the post it on my computer screen).

Or maybe you’re forgetting half of every repeating task, or it’s taking you twice as long to remember – in which case, a checklist would be SUPER helpful. You could do the checklist manually or digitally – whichever you’re more likely to see.

Third, how do you keep track of next steps for one-time projects? Is that working for you? Would you prefer to be reminded of deadlines or next steps?

Captains use project management software to keep track of production, including wholesale orders and show prep. (If you’re in the Starship Community you can ask about how exactly they organize it all!)

But WHAT tool do you need?

If you’re current tools aren’t working for you, then let’s look at some digital options.

Now, before we go any further, I really want to stress one point – NOTHING WORKS UNLESS YOU USE IT.

Sometimes we get all wrapped up in finding the “perfect” tool or the one other successful biz owners use, but none of that matters. What matters is if YOU use it or not. The tool that will work best for you is the one you regularly use, put information into, and actually look at.

There are so many options for To Do list apps, I’m not even going to get into all the specific options. What you need to know is that a checklist app like ToDoist is different from a note-keeping app that has checklists like Evernote or GoogleKeep, which is different from task management software.

I’ve used Evernote and I currently use GoogleKeep to keep track of notes on the fly and checklists related to my personal life. I like that I can save documents, links, checklists, everything in one place. This was great when I was starting – my VA and I created a folder in Evernote for Standard Operating Procedures (we called it the Flight Manual) for everything – from checklists to launch plans, to project mapping.

But project management software takes it to the next level by letting you create TASKS. You can give those tasks deadlines, you can create a checklist under the task, and you can set the task to repeat!

This is really great if you:

  • Have a project that needs to be done in the exact same way every week or month (like my podcast!)
  • Have a project that is waiting for other people (knitwear designers who use editors, test knitters, etc.)
  • Have a project that needs to be paced out (you need to do step 1 by this date, step 2 by this date, so step 3 can get done by a big deadline.)

Using a system for these things:

  • Keeps you on a schedule
  • Takes it off your mind so you’re not trying to remember all the steps before you’d done the next step
  • Prepares you to scale up and do more and bring people on who can do parts of it
  • Helps you visually SEE all you do, which makes you feel accomplished and proud

Where to start with digital planning?

I recommend most people start with the steps I mentioned earlier – listing the projects you have. And then, making checklists first. Use something like GoogleKeep or Evernote and keep all your checklists together.

Once you start to see that you want something to reoccur or repeat, you want to assign just part of the checklist to someone else, then put those checklists into tasks and projects inside a project management program.

How I do it

Now, I’ve filled this episode with tips for you to figure out what will best help you and with steps for you to follow, I know you will still ask what I use and what I do, so I’ll share my process with you, in hopes that it will inspire you to get going, and not worry about being perfect!

I’ve been using Asana for years. It’s totally free and it has all the bells and whistles I need. The initial set-up took a bit of time, and I had to train myself and anyone who works with me to actually USE it regularly, but I’ve been building tasks in it one at a time, and it is a lifesaver.

For my weekly projects like this podcast or my weekly emails or blog posts:

  1. I think through the task and add every single tiny step to the task (like a checklist)
  2. I run through DOING the task once using the checklist and I add anything I forgot
  3. I set the task to repeat

I’ve learned through the years that if a task has more than one person who’s working on it, I CAN assign subtasks to different people, but it’s easiest to just create separate tasks for each person and then put them in the order they need to be done. For example, I write and record this podcast episode, that’s a task. Jay has a task to edit it. Holly has a task, once it’s been edited and uploaded to take all the pieces – the transcript, the recording, the video, any links and put it all in the blog post. That’s one tasks with quite a long checklist, because the blog post has a lot of moving parts, and she can’t do any of them until we’ve done our part.

Now, even if I didn’t have Holly, I would still use this task, to remind MYSELF of what all the steps are.

And what’s great about this is now I can hire anyone to do the task. I have to teach them the software involved, but the task even gives me a checklist of what software is involved in all the steps. It was much MUCH harder to start working with people when I had no checklists.

Now, when I have a new project, like I started a Facebook group recently (join us! It’s free: fb.com/groups/taraswiger) – I put that in Asana too. Often I’ll talk out the project with Holly or Joeli inside Asana, then I’ll start to put the task list together. Then I keep adding ideas as I have them, then I assign it to people and pace out the due dates so the final project is done when I want it done.

The Facebook group is actually a great example, because I’m the only one that worked on it, and yet I still created tasks to mark off as I went because I was learning from a few different sources and wanted to keep all my ideas in one place and then be sure I actually DID them.

So that’s how I use project management software in my business to both plan and be sure I follow through on my plans.

I’d love to know what apps and tools YOU use and how you plan… and guess what? You can come tell me in the group! 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 you can choose between all the projects you’re excited to create in 2020.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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!

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.
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Find all the podcast episodes here.

274: How to recover from summer

“It’s so easy to get stuck in the day to day of what you think you should do without it ever lining up with and moving you towards what you really want.” -Tara Swiger Listen in at TaraSwiger.com/podcast274

Hello! I am back! After a summer of pre-recorded episodes and rebroadcasts, I am back with you in nearly-real-time! Today we are going to talk about how to recover from your summer – whether you took time off, or you got tons of work done, or you did a bunch of craft shows or you went on vacation – how do you get back into it and move forward and reach your goals for the year?

Today I'm going to give you an update on my summer, we're going to talk about how to learn from the summer and move forward, and I'll share some changes I'm making in my business!

First, I have to thank YOU for sticking with me over the summer – for staying subscribed, for sharing the show with friends, for leaving a review on iTunes or comments on YouTube and for those of you who supported the podcast on Patreon – I'm going to be thanking my patrons AND linking them up over the next several episodes. If you want to support the show and get some bonuses every single month, head to Patreon.com/Taraswiger.

Thank you to long-time patron, Jacie of BandofWeirdos. Jacie makes the most awesome geek-inspired pins, patches and I proudly wear my Band of Weirdos pins, Cat Spock and “Slayers Gonna Slay” on my jean jacket.

A giant thank you to long-time supporter, friend, and Starship graduate, Lisa Check of Flying Goat Farm. Lisa is a farmer with angora goats and sheep, whose fiber she dyes and spins into beautiful yarn! If you want to get yarn that is well-loved from animal to needle, head to FlyingGoatFarm.com

I had a summer that NEEDS to be recovered from – on May 30th, two toddlers came to live us, ages 2.5 and 3.5. The sisters are sweet and so loving and they have just flourished. The young one went from quiet and shy to a little chatterbox in the last few months and they are both just so totally fun and silly. ADJUSTING to living with two toddlers has been its own challenge. I spent the first month napping every time they napped or left the house. We're blessed that they were already enrolled in a preschool, and to make the transition as easy as possible for them, we've kept them there, even though it means driving an hour round trip, twice a day.

It looks like they'll be with us until the end of September, they have a court date September 26th, and we'll hopefully know a bit more after that. If you want more updates or to see the very adorable back of their heads, be sure you're subscribed on YouTube, where I share a weekly vlog or your watching my Stories on Instagram, for daily updates.

So now that we're three months in, I'm at the spot where I feel pretty capable of thought, on most days, which is significantly better than how foggy I was all summer. So I've been thinking a lot about how to get back to work, how to move forward.

I know many of you are in the same place. Maybe your kids were home for the summer and so you didn't get as much work done. or maybe you traveled a lot for shows, or for fun. Maybe you don't have any particular reason, you're just ready to move on from the summer and get back to your business.

Plus we're about 4 months from the end of the year, so you may be feeling a bit freaked out about the goals you set and how you're going to reach them.

To start with, we're going to expand on the good. Yes, I am sure that there are a million things you didn't do and a million projects you're behind on. But if you try to operate from a feeling of “behind”, you're going to feel scrambly. (Spellcheck tells me that's not a word, but I've decided it is.) And you can't be productive when you're scrambly.

Let's start by answering the following questions:

  • What went well this summer? (list anything, even things that aren't work related!)
  • What in your work was easy?
  • What were excited about?
  • What new ideas did you have? (You might need to flip through your planner or journal for this)
  • What projects are you excited to work on in the next season?
  • What did you try this summer?
  • What worked well? What didn't?
  • Why do you think that is?

(THIS is the lessons you learned this summer! It is so easy to NOT learn them and make the same mistakes again and again!)

Next, let's zoom out:

What were the goals you had for 2019?
(If you've got Map Your Business, pull that out and look at it. It guides you through doing this every quarter but maybe you need the reminder to  open it again?)

Which of the goals have you already met?
(You may be surprised! Almost every quarter I hear from a Starship Captain who already reached their yearly sales goal and they DID NOT EVEN KNOW IT.)

Which of these goals do you want to let go of?
(Maybe you just don't care about them, or they aren't the direction you want to move in.)

Which of the goals really excite you?

This is your OFFICIAL PERMISSION to let go of all the goals that don't excite you. You may come back to them later, or never. But let them go for now.

Don’t skip this!

You may be listening right now and thinking, yeah, yeah, review my goal, I'll do that later. I need to get back to work NOW. But please, don't skip this. This is a very important step in being productive AND in staying on the right track.

It is SO easy to just get stuck in the day to day of what you think you should do, without it ever lining up with and moving you towards, what you really want.

It is also very easy to get burned out and disappointed because you're not hitting your goals and you don't feel like you're making progress.

Do you know what solves both of these problems?

Regularly looking at your goals and CHANGING them based on what you really want, what's actually WORKING in your business, and focusing in on how you're going to get them.

Then create a plan:

So the next step is to look at the answers to your questions and start to combine it into a plan: how can you work more on what has you excited? How can you reach the goal based on what you learned this summer? What other ideas are you having?

At this point you may be noticing that this doesn't look anything like following someone else's blueprint for your business. Your plans and ideas might look totally weird. And you know what?

THAT is how you build a business that stands out, that doesn't blend in. Learning lessons from YOUR business, from YOUR customers, then applying them to YOUR enthusiasms. It may lead you down a weird path, but you'll be moving close to what will make you feel fulfilled and to a business and product that YOUR people will like.

I did this process myself, and lemme tell you what I came up with!

But first, a giant thank you to long-time Patron, Marrietta of Inner Yarn Zen. She dyes beautiful yarn and when I popped over to InnerYarnZen.com, I noticed that she has yarn advent packages available, inspired by both Game of Thrones AND Outlander!

Now, when I did this process myself, here's what I came up with:

Even in the busiest time with toddlers, it was always fun for me to do a few things – chat live with my Starship Captains each week, read books, watch booktube videos and make videos about what I was reading, or my planner, or whatever struck me. I participated in several reading challenges and vlogged my way through them (vlog = daily or weekly video journal) and it was SO MUCH FUN.

Now, that's only tangentially related to what I do for work (which is guiding and inspiring women to create sustainable businesses and lives around their enthusiasm). But it was following MY enthusiasm and it was giving me energy (I could do more than just nap!), so I gave myself permission to focus on it this summer.

And it's always easy for me to host the weekly accountability check-in in the Starship, which is great, because I love what the Starship provides to creative women, and I want to open it to even more makers and artists this fall. I've got a list of new bonuses I'm creating and tools I'm making for Starship Captains, and I'll be announcing those soon. You can head to Taraswiger.com/StarshipBiz to be the first to find out about it.

So that's one area of my business and focus settled – I find it easy, it aligns with my goals and with my bigger mission. Check!

But what about this area that was so fun and easy, making more videos and talking about books? Is there a way to integrate that more into my life?

One of the things I tried this summer was participating in the reading challenges, and hosting a book club for my Starship Captains and essential oil customers. That went SO well and had such a great participation and feedback I knew I wanted to do it again. So looking for connections and putting it together with some other new videos I want to make, I realized the answer was to host a new book club for ANYONE who wants to join, and give those same people all the weird videos I want to make every month.

For $2/mo you can support the podcast, get at least one extra video each month, and join my book club – where you'll vote on the book and we'll read it together. If you want to support the show for $7, you can TELL me what to add to my own reading list each month, get a shout out on social media, and pick the specific topics I cover on the podcast. Head over to Patreon.com/TaraSwiger to join the book club and get extra videos.

Nothing about this podcast will change – you'll still get new episodes every Wednesday, FOR FREE, and the full transcript here at TaraSwiger.com/blog. And if you subscribe on YouTube, you get a video every Monday, usually a bit of behind the scenes of running my own business. If you support the show, you get extra videos, the book club, and more, but most importantly you make THIS free show more sustainable, so I can keep helping more women craft the business they want, so I can keep encouraging you through hard times, and so I can keep taking time to parent my foster kiddos.

Thank you so much for being here, wishing you 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.

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