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277: Business plans: Do you need one?

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

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

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

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

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

Business Plan v Map Making

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

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

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

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

When do you NEED a business plan?

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

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

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

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

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

What if I don’t need a business plan?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The SBA suggests identifying:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overwhelmed?

Ok, that’s it. Whew! 

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

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

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

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

How to listen

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

Find all the podcast episodes here.

254: How to plan in uncertain times

Running and growing a creative business smoothly depends on a fair amount of planning. But how can you plan for your business when something in your life is causing a lot of scheduling uncertainty. Learn more about how I do it, and the tips I have for you at TaraSwiger.com/podcast254

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How can you plan for your business when everything in your life is uncertain? When you’re not sure where you’ll be next week or next month? You may be great at planning normal life, but what about when there’s a family illness, a new baby, a new job, a big move, a divorce, or just the uncertainty of life?

Let’s talk through how to ride these waves of uncertainty.

As you know, I’m in a really uncertain season of my life as a foster parent. Heck, as you listen to this, my whole family may have changed shape (again!).

How can you plan for just running your business or growing your business when everything is so uncertain?

Week to Week

Here are my suggestions:

  1. Make a list of what is the core function of your business and what has to be done to make sales. Ruthlessly cut everything else.
    Remind yourself that this is just for now. For this season. Things will change, you’ll have more certainty and then you can add back in all the not-mission-critical-top-priority stuff.
  2. Each week, look at what’s ahead on your calendar and what you need to do this week on top of the usual, and find the time in your week.
    Go on and schedule the chunks of time for work, in whatever system works for you. Something flexible, like Google calendar or post-its on your paper planner.
    Even if you never wrote down work times in your schedule before, now is the time to do it, because you want to first identify those times when you can work (your freaked-out brain will tell you that you NEVER have time) and then not MISS them. You always want to make sure you’ve got enough time and if you truly don’t, you get to recognize that now, when you’re planning, so you can adjust your expectations.
  3. Change your mindset to value flexibility. Your past focus may have been productivity, so this may be an adjustment. If you’re in a time of uncertainty, something may come up and you’ll need to move the work you had planned. You’re going to be productive if you can be flexible and if you’re not all or nothing about your work times. (This has been a real struggle for me.)
  4. Work when you can, manage expectations, and give yourself credit for getting ANYTHING done.

You’ll notice that this comes down to two skills you have to practice: flexibility and managing expectations. You’ll need to let go of what Past You got done. Embrace the constraints on New You and celebrate what she’s able to do, even in the midst of all this uncertainty.

And lemme tell you, that, for me, was the hardest part. Not comparing Mom Tara with what Past Tara could do. Not just because Past Tara had more time, but because Mom Tara had a lot more on her mind and had a hard time focusing.

Long Term Planning

Now, what about planning long term projects, like applying to craft shows or traveling to events? This is definitely something I’ve struggled a LOT with. Should I plan that trip if I may not be able to go? I skipped out on a trip to Europe, which was paid for except my flight, because I thought we’d have a kid in our home. Well, we did not have a kid in our home and I was in the middle of mourning the loss of our first placement. Should I have planned it anyhow? I’m not sure. I still don’t know if I made the right decision or not, but I’ve decided to just let it go.

Should you apply to that craft show if you may have to stay home?

The truth is, I can’t tell you what you should do.

You need to make your own decision based on your own comfort with risk, canceling and regret.

Take into account:

  • How comfortable you are with having to cancel.
  • How upset you’ll be if it ends up you could have done this event and then didn’t do it.

The fact is, you may need to adjust how comfortable you are with cancelling. For years, I have followed through on every webinar plan I made. If I said I was going live next Wednesday, I’d do it. But the changing foster placements meant that I either had to NEVER plan another webinar, OR I had to just accept that I would plan things and not follow through. Since a free webinar getting cancelled doesn’t hurt anyone, I’m fine with that. But I won’t be selling anything I can’t follow through on, because I’m not going to cancel what you paid for (although I have had to reschedule some things!).

So you have to think through this for yourself. Are you OK with applying to a craft show you need to cancel on? Will you be more upset if you don’t  apply but it ends up you could have gone? These are hard decisions, but just keep in mind: You will be ok no matter what.

I hope this has helped you think through your own plans, and that if you’re not in an uncertain place right now, you can come back to this episode when you are. If you are in an uncertain place right now I just want to tell you that I am proud of you. You are doing a good job. I’m sorry you’re going through this and I believe in you. Your business will be OK.

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.

244: Beyond goal-setting: Daily and weekly plans

Getting what you want to do done in your business involves more than just having a vision or checking things off your to-do list. Learn move about the three things that need to work together to get what you want done at TaraSwiger.com/podcast244

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What do you after you set your goal? What if you know what to do but you aren't getting anything done? Today I'm going to answer those questions and talk about how I use a planner.

I know it's February, and most people think about planning and planners and overhauling their habits at the first of the year, but I'll be honest with you: this year I didn't start even THINKING about my new year until January 20th. Between the logistics of a new 2 year old foster placement in my life and the learning curve of toddler parenting, I had no brainspace to spend thinking or planning. And once I started talking about my planning on Instagram (@taraswiger), I started getting questions that I wanted to answer here on the podcast. And hey, these are the questions I'm dealing with right now, as my whole work life is different now that I’m a new mom.

So the real question, for most of us when it comes to productivity is “how do I get done what I want to get done?”

In my experience getting things done comes down to three different parts of the process. At least one part of the process probably comes to you very naturally, and you don't have to even think of it. But another part of the process may not feel natural. You may get frustrated because you have such a clear vision about where you want to go, but your days seem to slip past you. Or you may be a pro at checking things of your list, but you feel fuzzy about where it's all going.

What you need is to identify how you do all three parts and then focus in on where your system is breaking down.

The Three Parts of Getting What You Want Done

First, identify the destination.

Where do you want to go?

If you just start planning your day or setting goals without a vision for the destination, it will be hard and you'll probably change course often and not make a lot of progress.

The clearer you are, the easier this will be, but I don't want you to fret too much over this. The longer you work on your business, the clearer you'll get about your Ideal Destination, and the more you'll know about the business you want. Your vision can evolve as you move along your path.

But you do need to spend time thinking about the aspects of where you want your year or your life or the next 3 months to go. What do you want to have more of? How do you want to spend your time? How do you want to feel? The first section of Map Your Business walks you through this.

Second, map out the steps to get closer to the destination.

Break your destination down into a smaller goal (for the next 3-6 months) and map out the steps you'll need to get there. This is the heart of my book Map Your Business, it has worksheets that guide you through this process 4x a year.

I hear from women every day who are using Map Your Business to get clear about where they are in their business and where they want it to go. (I LOVE hearing from Mappers and seeing your posts on Instagram, so if you are using Map Your Business, please tag me!) But it's not just about SETTING the goal, Map Your Business walks you through identifying what you'll need to do to reach your goal – the mini-goals you'll hit on the way there, and the actual tasks you'll need to complete. When you're done mapping, you'll have a big to do list that will move you where you want to go.

You can't make progress unless you know SPECIFICALLY what to work on.

Third, give the tasks a time and space.

This can be as free or as structured as you like. There are any number of ways to do this, but for many of the makers I talk with, this is the step they're skipping. They may have done Map Your Business and now they don't actually get the tasks done because they haven't set aside the time and space.

The big thing to remember is: this aspect will probably have to change as you grow.

For years, I would have the same set workday, and then just take my map to do list and work through it during the workday. Over time I learned I work best when days have a specific focus, like writing on Monday and recording on Tuesday. Within those boundaries, I'd work on my to do list. Now my whole schedule has been blown up by a 2 year old, so I'm rethinking how I do this.

Here are some ways that work for the women I know:

  • Have set work hours and just work down your list during those hours.
  • Theme days: writing days, shipping days, sewing days
  • Time Block your schedule: look at the blocks of time you have and assign the blocks kinds of tasks (the main thing is to STOP doing that task when the block is over). You may get your family out the door from 6-8, workout from 8-9, work on marketing and photography  9-12, then work on production from 1-3. Then family time from 3-8. Your blocks can be tiny (1 hour) or bigger (3 hrs is probably the max for your focus and attention).
  • Plan when you'll do what task at the beginning of the week (useful if your schedule changes a lot).

I want you to remember: it doesn't matter HOW you organize time or even how much time you have, what matters is “are you working on what matters to you and to your goals during that time?”

It's possible you have one of the above systems in place (or you intend to) and yet you still aren't working on what matters? Why? I've found that most of us are dealing with one of the following reasons:

  1. We aren't actually working on what we planned to.
    Instead of taking photos for Instagram, we're scrolling instagram. Instead of writing the email newsletter, we're looking at our email stats. That's ok! Don't beat yourself up! Just recognize it, identify where you do it, and move on.
  2. We haven't written it down.
    I don't know how you'll keep track of what to work on if it's not written down somewhere visible. You can make a pretty planner, you can use Asana, you can just write a list on a post-it, but I've never met anyone who didn't need SOME way of keeping track of what to do next. If you find yourself NOT working during your work time, stop and write down what you'll do next. It may see silly or unnecessary if you've already written it all down, but this is my quickest productivity hack: I just write down the next 2 things I'll do starting…now.
  3. You're not keeping track of all you DO do.
    Many times I've talked to a business owner who is complaining she never gets anything done and then she tells me about her day and OMG she is DOING SO MUCH. But she's not “counting it”. So start writing down and planning ALL that you do, not just your business or not just the newest goal. Having it all written down in front of you can make you more realistic about the time you have to spend on this new goal and help you celebrate all that you get done!

If you liked today's episode but you wanna go WAY deeper into productivity and how to plan a workday that works for you, check out my creativeLIVE class, How to Get More Done. It's 6 hours long with awesome bonuses and worksheets and you can find it at taraswiger.com/time.

And if you want to see my own planner system, check out my YouTube channel, my Monday videos have recently been about the systems I have used and how I plan now!

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.

239: How to plan the best year ever

If you don’t plan your year, you can’t grow your business strategically. Find out my favorite (simple!) tips for planning to make this year your best year ever at TaraSwiger.com/podcast239

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How can you plan to have the best year? Not just get everything done, but have a year you actually enjoy?

It is both important to reach the goals you have set, and enjoy your time. What’s the point in building a business if you aren’t enjoying yourself?

You’re never going to feel like you’re done in business.

You’ll always be changing, growing, setting goals. THAT is what building a business is. So be sure that you enjoy the process of moving towards the goal, as much as you think you’ll enjoy actually reaching the goal.

A couple tips as you sit down to do your New Year Planning:

1. How do you want to feel?

How do you want to feel as you work on your goal? How do you want to feel when you reach your goal? (Check out the Desire Map for more on feelings + goals).
You can bring these feelings into your planning – how can you feel this feeling RIGHT NOW?
It can be hard to plan, if you feel scared or compressed. So before you plan, get in a great mood.

2. Make a list of the things that make you feel how you want to feel.

Don’t worry about how it integrates with your work, just make the list! You’ll start to generate ideas for how this will integrate with your work.

3. Review what worked last year.

You aren’t starting from scratch, you already KNOW stuff! Remember what you learned last year, what worked and what didn’t, and be sure to apply it to this year.

4. Narrow it down.

Everything is not equally important. Pick one thing that will help you feel the way you want to feel. Pick one thing that will make the biggest impact (first domino). And do that first.

Need help getting clear on where you want to go and then turning it into an actionable plan? Map Your Business guides you through all of the tips above, and you end up with a doable plan, followed by monthly review and quarterly goal-setting.

Past New Year’s episodes:

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.

Your questions answered: email list growth, self-publishing and what I’d do differently

Get YOUR questions answered: self-publishing a book, growing your email list, and advice on building your crafty biz!

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Today I'm answering questions from my Instagram followers (to get your questions answered, be sure you're following me!). In fact, I received so many questions, I split them into two podcasts!  You can find the first Q&A post here.   Today we'll cover:

  • Email List Growth
  • Self-Publishing
  • What I'd do differently

 

Resources:

Check out these awesome handmade businesses:

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.

Long Term vs. Short Term Thinking

Are you focused on the long term or short term? Are you making decisions based on this week or next year? Do you have patience or are you going to quit if it doesn’t all turn out like you want in three months? This is another tough-love episode where we make your biz a little more sustainable by looking at the big questions. Listen in at TaraSwiger.com/podcast154/

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Are you focused on the long term or short term?

Are you making decisions based on this week or next year? Do you have patience or are you going to quit if it doesn’t all turn out like you want in three months? This is another tough-love episode where we make your biz a little more sustainable by looking at the big questions.

Resources Mentioned:

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.

The one resolution you should make (and how to do it)

What is the ONE thing you should focus on in the New Year, if you want to grow your business, improve your marketing, and make more money? Today we’re going to look at what your #1 resolution in the new year should be and 5 steps to actually DO it. Listen to this episode at TaraSwiger.com/podcast137 and get a FREE worksheet to help you resolve to be more consistent!

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What is the ONE thing you should focus on in the New Year, if you want to grow your business, improve your marketing, and make more money? Today we’re going to look at what your #1 resolution in the new year should be and 5 steps to actually DO it.

Links Mentioned

Wanna get more consistent in the New Year? Enter your e-mail address in the box below this post to get a FREE worksheet to help you do it!

How to listen

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

Find all the podcast episodes here.

The importance of planning for the New Year (and how I do it)

Did your 2016 go as planned? Are you feeling discouraged or sidetracked or thrilled? No matter how your 2016 has gone, you can create a better 2017. Today we’ll hear from a non-planner about how planning projects has made his life better, and I’ll share what I do in my own New Year planning session. Listen in at TaraSwiger.com/podcast136/

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Did your 2016 go as planned? Are you feeling discouraged or sidetracked or thrilled? No matter how your 2016 has gone, you can create a better 2017. Today we’ll hear from a non-planner about how planning projects has made his life better, and I’ll share what I do in my own New Year planning session.

Links Mentioned:

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.

The Definitive Guide to Keeping Your Holiday Sanity

Definitive Guide to Holiday Sanity

Over the last five years of leading Holiday Sanity (now only available aboard the Starship or Lift Off), I’ve written quite a bit on surviving – even thriving – during the holiday season. With the official beginning of the season (here in the US) this week, I wanted to share a bit of what works for me.

As we leap into Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas, I hope this collection saves a bit of your own sanity.

On Design Sponge:

On CraftyPod:

On Karina Dressess:

I gather all my favorite sanity-saving posts on this Pinterest board (new articles are added all the time!).

 

 

 

The business tools I use

Writing about the tools I use in my business for tomorrow's post. What do you use?

As you know, my mission  is to help  you build the business that best suits YOU. All of my classes, books and adventures are built to help you discover what's true in your business and what will work for you

This means that although I write about the journey of my own business exploration, I don't do a lot of recommending, or telling you specifics of what I do. It's not that I don't want to share, it's that I don't want you to get distracted by what I use instead of figuring out what works for you.

That said…I love reading these kinds of posts. And there are a few questions that I end up answering via email and Sessions, so I'd like to put all the answers in one place. (This was inspired by Elise's Baby FAQs. If you have a new baby, you should read this).

Keep in mindthis is what works for me, with my specific business. I work with many creatives who use an entirely different set of tools.
(You can ask them directly, inside the Starship – which opens tomorrow. Sign up here if you're curious.)

My website.

My domains are registered with NameCheap. Nathan does my hosting + WordPress pampering. My entire website is built on WordPress. I love it and tell everyone to use it. (Even my mom can use it easily for her site.)

Design

I built my first few websites on my own, with a combination of free WP themes + a couple of edited images (BCB is all me, baby). If you can add some text to an image with Gimp or Photoshop, I highly recommend DIY-ing it until your business can afford to hire a designer. Why? Because you'll want to know how to do absolutely everything in your business.

Even so, there are many  things to keep in mind to make your site as effective as possible. Be ready to tweak it endlessly and make it better and better. I go over the necessary parts in detail in Market Yourself, so if you want more, check out Chapter 4.

That said, at some point, you are going to want your site to match the awesomeness of what you sell. And unless you sell website design, you probably can't do it on your own. Once your business has started to make a profit and pay you, then think about hiring a designer.

The one thing I wish I would have understood earlier?
There's a vast difference between a “website” and a “visual brand”. Getting a website designed does not mean that your company has a visual brand. So if you're totally graphically-thinking-impaired (as I am) – you probably want someone to create a visual brand for you, before you worry about website design (you can always implement their branding into your existing website.)

Right now I'm working with Jessika to create a visual brand and I love her. The main thing is to find someone who's aesthetic truly matches your own and who gets you AND your community. Jessika totally nailed my visual branding in the very first try.
(You're going to see it soon!)

Shopping carts and buy buttons

For the past 3 years I've used a combination of PayPal buttons + E-junkie buttons (with my own button images.) Paypal is quick and easy. E-Junkie is also super-quick and has the added benefit of sending an automatic email with the info you need when you join a class or buy a download. (But it does cost at least $5/mo.)

Next month I've moving everything to WooCommerce, which will also let me send you an automatic download and will have the added benefit of everything being in one place. (This has been the biggest failing of this website so far – there's not a very clear “this is what I sell” space. You can find it all linked here, but that hasn't been effective at communicating it. How do I know? I answer the question “How can I work with you?” weekly.)

However, if you have a product-based business, I suggest you go with something that “manages” your shop for you and is super-easy to add items to. I recommend most brand-new-to-online-selling folks use Etsy. After you get the hang of that and you build up your own audience (through your own site and newsletter), then move over to your own shop, with Big Cartel or one of the other options. There are many, and I haven't tried any of them, so I recommend asking other makers. (We have a thread on this in the Starship.)

Newsletter software.

You know I heartily believe everyone should be communicating with their biggest fans via email (I talk a bit more about it in this podcast). And that autoresponders are the easiest way to get everyone on the same (ready-to-buy) page. I love Mailchimp for managing all of this. I've been with them for 5 (!) years and couldn't be happier. A few of my students found it overwhelming, so they went with TinyLetter which is much simpler.

 

Social media management.

Even though I have a Number One (a virtual assistant), I do ALL of my own writing. That includes the blog, newsletter, and everything I post on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Everything you see online is actually me.

I think it's important to get that out of the way, because there seems to be an assumption that people get assistants to deal with social media. And to me, this makes no sense. Social media might be the first place you meet me (either because someone you follow retweets me or tweets directly to something I made), so why would I want that first impression to be anything but personal?

That said, it makes sense to make sure that what I write actually gets seen by my followers, so I use Hootsuite to schedule some Twitter + Facebook posts. It's very simple (and free) and I like that it allows me to share a zillion things as soon as I find them (which is often all at once), without overwhelming you, the reader. It also allows me to share a new blog post a few times a day, whether I'm online right then or not.

Even when I'm posting in “real time”, I don't hang out afterwards to have conversations. Instead, I log on to reply and have conversations when I have the time throughout the day (taking a break from other work, standing in line, etc). This time-shifted conversation is exaclty why I like Twitter! Although some conversations do happen in real time, I don't think anything's lost by time-shifting it.
What is gained is a lot more productive time and keeping my focus. While I love having conversations and connecting (love it!), I can't let it take over the equally-important creation time. To keep it reasonable, I often work with a Pomodoro timer (and go to social media on 5 minute “breaks”) and I have Nanny for Chrome installed. (But I very rarely trigger it.)

E-courses

There is SO much software out there for e-course development…and I actually use a lot of it!
The easiest way to hold an e-course is to load your content into an autoresponder in Mailchimp and when the person buys, send them an email with the sign-up page for the email list. I've used E-junkie to automatically send this email immediately. This is how my Automagical Emails class works.
That'll work for an independent study class, but what if you're holding the class “live” and you want everyone to discuss things? For a fixed-time class with automatic course delivery (you load it in and it goes out on your schedule), I really like Ruzuku. I used it for the last live Pay Yourself and for Explore You and the students really seemed to like it.
Now, that works for a specific timeline of the class, but for an ongoing community (like the Starship), I use Ning – which provides both the forum we use for conversation + a live chat space. You can also use a private Facebook group for this, but I find it a little more difficult to track the conversations and I don't like that things aren't archived and easy to search for. There are multiple WP plugins you can use to create a forum + community on your own site, but I haven't found one that works as intuitively (for the user) as Ning.

 I'd love to hear if you have a favorite?

 

Planning.

Here's the system I use to plan everything from my big years-long goals to my daily to-dos:

At the beginning of each year (and again at my birthday in June), I think through all the high-level stuff, using the Chart Your Stars Guide (available only in the Solo Mission or Starship). I set big goals and try to list all the little things I wanna do.

Each quarter, I use the Star Chart to pick a Destination. This is my Big Focus for the next three months. I use the Map Making Guide to break it down into all the Mile Markers and tiny To Dos. (I also review the last quarter so that I can learn from what did and didn't go well.)
(This is also when I create a content calendar and start filling it in.)

Each month I review where I am and what I need to do to get to my Destination (I send these reassessment questions out to the Solo Mission Starship). I use it to figure out what I need to get done this month. (Often I've already set deadlines while Map Making, so this is already mainly figured out for me.)

Each week, I make a Master List of everything I wanna get done this week. I double-check to make sure there are actions moving me towards my Destination + all the little stuff that has to be done week in and week out. (Blog posts, email ketchup, shipping books)

Each day, I check my weekly list and pick things from it to do today. I write a new To Do list everyday. I try to keep it reasonable (what I could really get done that day), but I find I actually get more done when I have more listed. (When I have few things listed, my brain thinks: Oh, you have 8 hours to do 3 tasks! You should read quilting blogs for a while!) I do star the things that HAVE to be done today and there's NO guilt if other things don't get done.

The actual TOOLS I use to do all of the above:

 

Writing.

 Every (workday) morning, I write, at least 750 words, using 750words.com and a Pomodor timer, while listening to Spotify (usually this playlist). Sometimes I use this time to write blog posts (like this) or email lessons, it's often on a bigger, less immediate project. Sometimes I just write out any problem-solving/thinking I need to do. (But I wouldn't call this a journal or free-writing, as I almost always write with an audience in mind, even if the audience is myself.) If I want to keep what I wrote, I copy it into an Evernote note.

Two to three days a week I have a second writing time, after my Morning Writing. While Morning Writing is dedicated to the writing I might skip once the day gets started (writing for the new book, thinking through a deeper subject, anything that doesn't feel immediate), the second writing chunk is usually devoted to my current projects – my “work” (blog posts, email lessons, class material.) I make the distinction in order to not let the everyday writing edge writing about whatever I'm enthusiastic about, whether it fits into my content calendar or not.

 

Email

I use Gmail for everything. When I have a pile of emails that I don't need to deal with right now (but I will need them in the future) or when my inbox just gets overwhelming, I use the Email Game to sort through them and boomerang messages back to me in the future.

That's basically it, I have no special email skillz. I try to close my inbox when I'm not directly writing or replying, and I set aside time once or twice a day to check it (I get no pings or alerts when an email arrives) for questions from customers. Twice a week I go through and answer everything (or delete it, or boomerang it). I spend a long time crafting useful answers to everyone who writes, so it's important that this both gets my attention and that it doesn't take over my life.

Jess, my Number One.

You already know that I do all my own writing and “showing up” in the online world, so what does Jess do? She makes everything better and she makes sure everything works right.

  • Every week she loads the Explore Notes I write (and the weekly Starship Lesson) into Mailchimp, editing it as she lays it out.
  • When I'm creating a new class, she edits (for clarity and grammar) my written lessons, she turns my questions into a pretty worksheet, she takes notes on the video lessons for a transcript, she uploads PDFs and text to the class space.
  • When I sell anything, she double checks that the buyer signs up for what they need to sign up for (especially important if it's an email-delivered product, like Solo Mission + Starship).
  • She updates autoresponders (like this) with updated info.
  • She notes absolutely all of our systems, so that I don't reinvent it every time (which has made me a zillion times more efficient).
  • When I write a really hard or important post (like this) or guest posts (like this), she'll edit it and give me feedback on where I'm overexplaining or glossing over something important.

(I wrote a bit about this when I hired her.)

In other words, whenever you interact with me, via reading my writing or emailing me your question or taking a class, you're interacting with me. And I have time to write long, thorough (free) answers to 5-10 non-clients every week, while writing 2 email lessons (one for free here, one for Starship members) and 2-3 blog posts each week, creating a new class every quarter, traveling + teaching around the country every few months – because Jess is doing all of the other not-writing stuff. Since hiring her, every area of my business has increased: my own output, my reader stats, and my sales.

How? I'm now focused 100% on doing what only I can do, and she makes sure my work looks (and reads) its best*. (I don't actually work any less hours now than I did before, I just spend my hours on more effective work.)

*She didn't edit this blog post, so all typos are my own fault.

 

Hardware

I recently got a Chromebook and I LOVE it for writing + traveling. It's super-light and I can fit it in my purse. I do 90% of my work on it. When I want to edit docs or videos, I use my very 4 year old Toshiba laptop. I take all photos with my iPhone 4s.

 

 Phew! That's a lot of tools + systems! 

Now it's your turn – what business tools and systems do you use?

If you write about them on your blog, leave the link in the comments!

 

 

The usual disclaimer applies! 

 

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