Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dani Nordin in the Huffington Post

As part of the Ladies Who Launch series on the Huffington Post, I shared the REAL reason I started the zen kitchen, and my thoughts on entrepreneurship and sustainability.

An excerpt:

For me, "freedom, control and flexibility" means a number of things. Of course, it's important for me to wear what I want to work -- but it's also important for me to take on projects that truly appeal to me, and to work with people that I genuinely like. Not only does this result in better work for my clients, it just makes life a lot nicer. It's also important to me that my business fits around my life -- not the other way around.

The full text is here.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Quadruple Bottom Line - people, planet, profits, and PASSION.

Lately, I've been very focused on what my fellow "green" business owners (and, more recently, mainstream business owners) call the triple bottom line - creating a business where profits don't come at the expense of people and planet. It's a wonderful idea, and one that I've seen work very well in a variety of businesses - from (mostly) solo efforts like my own that are primarily service-based to the various local retailers and manufacturers in my network to larger companies like Whole Foods and Aveda. All good companies, doing great things, all while making sure that we are treating our people (including, in some cases, ourselves) and our planet as gracefully as possible.

But lately, the question that's REALLY been bugging me is, why just the three? How about adding a fourth element to this - to me, the most important element of all - passion? For as long as I can remember, I've had a secret mantra, which has always kicked me in the pants whenever I've ignored it - "If you don't love it, why the heck are you doing it?" It pops up in certain moments - relationships, jobs, activities, friendships - whenever I find myself too deep in a rut, those words come running back into my mind, and I know it's time to change course - no matter how painful that will be. And this is why I ultimately started my own business - because I couldn't for the life of me find a "day job" that I really loved. I had to carve my own path.

Here's the thing - when you finally do decide to start your own business, if that's your path, why are you doing it? Is it because this is what you live and breathe and you'll just DIE unless you get to do it every day, or is it because this is what you know? Or worse, it's what your father or your mother knew and want you to carry the torch of, and you can't stand it? Is your passion what you've been doing professionally all your life, or is it something completely different - something you've always secretly dreamed of, but never thought it was possible? And what about your day-to-day operations? Are you working in a way that's true to YOU and your values, or are you doing things the way that everyone tells you they should be done - the way they've "always" been done?

I invite you to take a step inside yourself sometime and ask yourself questions like these. You might find that you've got things all wrong - yes, you've been consulting on software all your life, but your real passion is making homemade jam. Or, on a happier note, you could find that you've been doing everything just fine, and maybe a couple of minor tweaks will bring you ultimate happiness. Either way, you'll be better off for the asking.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Figuring out your marketing budget

As a nod to the marketing budget craze I've been on lately, I've been in a number of conversations with folks on my various lists the last couple of weeks about marketing budgets - what to spend on, what to save on, what works, what doesn't - and it occurred to me that a number of folks taking the entrepreneurial track, at least in the smaller sense, find themselves stuck in one of two modes:

1) they get overwhelmed the moment you start talking figures and refuse to set a marketing budget; thus, they end up spending either too much or too little money on things that they guess MIGHT work, and often end up jaded and losing profit;

2) they get caught in this self-doubting cycle of "I can't afford to market my business," which results in a further cycle of either NOT marketing their business, or marketing ineffectively, which keeps them in the cycle of "I can't afford to..."

To both of these categories of folk, a marketing budget is a big, scary thing. It's money not in their pocket. It's also the fear of the unknown - what if I spend the money, and don't get results? What do I do then? How much am I supposed to spend on this anyway?

Well, I gotta tell you: marketing requires two things - time and money. The less money you're willing to spend, the more time you're going to have to put in. And both, unfortunately, are necessary expenses.

So how do you figure out what's right for your business? While every business is different (and I can't claim to speak for every single business out there), there are a few things that you should never, EVER skimp on:

1) your logo,
2) your website,
3) your business card and associated marketing materials (especially brochures).

These are your visual identity. This is how your audience - the people who will ultimately put the roof over your head and keep clothes on your back - witness and form impressions of you and your business. You can't afford NOT to spend some money on these things.

But how much? The answer depends on a number of things - the size of the business, how much income you expect/need, what type of things you absolutely need in terms of marketing materials, website, etc. An e-store or a rich Flash-based site with widgets and gadgets all around, for example, will cost significantly more than a simple "here I am!" site.

But give yourself some money, and be generous with it - the rule of thumb I often hear is 10-20% of your annual income should be spent on marketing. And I agree with this - especially in the first year, when you're just starting out and getting all your initial work developed. Let yourself spend that money - but do some research and find the right people to spend it with. In the years after, you can modify it a bit, as you figure out the methods that work for you, and you discover easier, lower cost methods.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why you need a marketing budget

One of the things I love about working with entrepreneurs is that they are, very often, incredibly passionate about what they're doing - whether it's creative writing, or personal/business coaching, or making handcrafted organic soaps (you'd be AMAZED how many people make handcrafted organic soaps!). They start their businesses because they think they've stumbled on something great - and they want to share that with the world. This is a beautiful thing.

One of the areas, however, where I constantly notice entrepreneurs getting stuck is that, because they are so passionate about what they do, they pour everything they have into the product or service that they're trying to build a business around, and they scrimp on their marketing efforts, hiring the cheapest designer for their identity and website or - even worse - deciding that they "can't afford" to hire somebody and try to take on the whole shebang themselves. In rare cases, this works out just fine - I was lucky enough when I started the zen kitchen that I was a very capable designer (after all, it's a design studio), and was able to learn a number of things myself fairly quickly. All too often, however, the DIY route doesn't go so well. Oh, sure, the company will do okay - maybe even succeed for several years - but at a certain point, the DIY route proves to be too much work for too few results.

Here's the thing: if you're a designer, your business is design. You've likely spent years learning design, and you know yourself and your intended business well enough (quite often) to do your own marketing and design; and indeed, you should - since it's the best way to show potential clients what you do. But what if you're NOT a designer - what if you're a coach, or a soapmaker, or a writer? Which would you rather be doing - the stuff you're good at and you truly love to do, or learning how to code websites, or use templates, or design logos? And if you've spent the time learning all this, are you satisfied with the result? Does it speak to you and what you do, and does it convey this message clearly to the people who need to hear it?

It's altogether possible that it does. But it's much more likely that it won't. This is why it's important to figure out a marketing budget and spend it on getting the right people to help you market your business - because not only will you get better results, you can take the time you save and spend it on more important things - like, say, running your business and living your dream.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What should you spend on marketing?

Marketing Profs had a great newsletter recently about budgeting for marketing. The basic point was that every business is different, but you should be able to figure out not only your marketing objectives (how much do you want to make this year? how do you want to reach your market?) but costs for three distinct areas:

  • The one-time start-up expenses (my note: this should include properly positioning and branding your business, as well as creating a website and the basic marketing materials you'll need)

  • Amount needed to successfully market the product (my note: this should include things like monthly advertising, e-mail newsletters, trade shows, etc.)

  • Fixed costs that will be incurred while achieving the objectives. (my note: this should include things like web hosting, e-newsletter services, marketing/salesperson salaries, etc.)

The full newsletter is here.

Dani Nordin featured in The Savvy Girl's Guide to Online Networking

Just got word from Diane Danielson that her new book, The Savvy Gal's Guide to Online Networking (Or What Would Jane Austen Do?) is now available on Amazon - and I'm quoted in Chapter 8. I haven't read it yet (my copy is on the way to me), but I'll share a link to what fellow blogger Wendy Darcy had to say, along with a quote (note: NOT MINE) from the book:

"In some ways, modern networking is no different than what took place in Jane Austen’s novels: it’s important to know many different people, attend a myriad of social events, and, above all else, have proper manners at all times."

The rest of her entry is located here.

It's nice being almost sorta famous!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

How not to offer a greener option - PDFs that won't print

So, when the lovely salesman over at the Boston Business Journal called to offer me a handy-dandy new (and cheaper!) downloadable PDF subscription, I thought, "great! It'll be good for finding leads, and I can just print out individual articles rather than dealing with a whole huge newspaper. What a nifty green option!"

But then I started getting the PDFs. I downloaded a special pass-word protected file, started reading in Acrobat. Found a company that might be a great lead, and went to print the article.

The problem? The page won't print.

That's right - the PDF edition of the Business Journal is specifically set up so you can't edit or reproduce the file in any way - you can't extract specific pages for future reference, you can't print individual pages. You can't even take a screen capture of the page and print it (believe me, I tried). So how are you supposed to remind yourself of the information you gleaned from the paper?

PDFs are a terrific way to offer folks a greener way to subscribe to their favorite magazine; it gives you the ability to enjoy just the parts you love of the magazine without the paper waste and bulk associated with a printed piece. But a publisher (especially of a mammoth publication like the BBJ) should respect how people sort and store information. I don't need all 104 pages of this PDF - I need, MAYBE, five. And I need to be able to store those 5 pages in some way so I can pay more attention to them later, when I'm focused on new business development. So let me print those five pages. I promise I won't sell them.

21 Things you didn't know you can recycle

This morning, Co-Op America sent me a great list of things you may not know you can recycle. I suggest checking it out – among them were two things that I had wondered about for a while: Compact Flourescent Lightbulbs (bring them to an IKEA) and CDs (send them to AuralTech for refinishing).

The full list is available here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

How do you work?

I am, I'll admit it, a bit of a multitasker. Oh, okay - A LOT of a multitasker. And I know that it's bad, and I know that it's less productive, and I know what all the personal productivity experts say - but still, I just can't help myself sometimes. On the other hand, I'm also a compulsive break-taker. I think it started in the years I spent stuck in jobs I hated - I'd be very productive for about 45 minutes, take a 5-10 minute break, then get back to the "salt mines" (read: mindless production work and/or GASP! data entry). And I was fast. And efficient. And my bosses HATED IT.

Now that I work on my own, I still find myself multitasking - and taking a lot of breaks. And for a long time, I have felt really guilty about this habit. I feel like I should be billable. I feel like I should be "working." I understand how my former bosses felt. I feel that way too - about ME.

But tonight (well, the other night by the time I post this), while relaxing in a Maine bed and breakfast waiting for my boyfriend to return from a bachelor party - we're here for a friend's wedding - I noticed something. If I just let my mind switch when it needs to and I don't judge it, I'm actually remarkably productive. Thus far in about three hours, I've completed SEVEN blog entries (which will be posted over the next week or so), made several comprehensive to-do lists and organized them by category (so I can access them more sensibly), finished two testimonials that have been waiting for me to do them for about 2 weeks now, played 2 rounds of BeJeweled, and finished reading a book I started last week.

The difference? I'm relaxed, and when that happens, things flow better. This is the problem with pushing myself to be "productive" all the time - most of the best creative ideas come when you're just chilling out. And now, well, I get to do the creative stuff (almost) exclusively. So I HAVE to relax.

The key, I think, to productivity isn't in how many lists you make, or in doing things the particular way that this or that "expert" recommends - and it's certainly not always in the way that your boss insists that you do it. It's in knowing yourself, and knowing how you work, and making that work for you. From now on, I let myself take the breaks. As long as I can focus when I need to, and break things into manageable bits, I know I'll be just fine.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Make your To-Do's a Ta-Da

So, if you're anything like me, you have a LOT on your plate. And for me, that's not a problem - Until I try to figure out what comes first. Or sort through the ever-growing Generic List of Doom.

Enter Ta-Da List, from the good folks at 37 Signals. It's completely free, and I can actually break everything down into lists and sub-lists, and separate what I've promised to others from what I've promised to myself; I might even do lists for each day of the week to keep in my ongoing file!

What I love about this is that I can actually create long-term lists; i.e. books to read, blog entries to write, etc. - and then I don't have to worry about them right away. They aren't in the "do today" list. And thus are not taunting me with the inevitable weight that Stuff to Do brings with it. Plus, you can log in from anywhere and figure out what you've got to take care of!

I'm just getting started with this thing, but already, I am in love. Much thanks to the Marketing Mix Blog for pointing me to this initially.