Monday, September 15, 2008

This blog has moved!

Hey all,

As of today, the zen kitchen's blog has a new home, at It's a long overdue change, and I hope y'all will follow me there.

Thanks for reading, and talk to you soon!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Image is everything

Recently on the Marketing Mix blog, Ilise Benun and a few commenters got into the subject of typos in company literature - a subject I've thought about a lot since starting the zen kitchen.

I've actually met people online who are even harsher than this - they'll actively snark people who make even a small typo, or folks whose English isn't quite so good yet (i.e. they're still learning). Even though my English is pretty darn good, I've actually left communities because of this habit.

I do think there's some room for forgiveness on the typo thing - but I think that the more likely cause of Ilise's sketchiness around this person's sign is the lack of care it represents. If this is the way the person presents themselves BEFORE you work with them, how will they be if you do work with them? Why should you care about a company that obviously cares so little about themselves?

Your marketing materials, no matter what form they take, represent your business to people who may or may not know you. While many entrepreneurs do find themselves having to "bootstrap" and do things on the cheap, one of the biggest mistakes I see them making is rushing just to "get something up there," and ending up with something that represents their business in an extremely unflattering light.

Think of it this way: say you're looking for a marketing/branding expert to help you market your business. You have a big vision for this enterprise, and you need someone who's going to get that, and help you succeed. Now let's say someone approaches you saying that they're just the marketing/branding expert you're looking for, and they hand you a card that was obviously ordered from VistaPrint. Would you trust them? If they can't do what they say they do for THEMSELVES, can you really trust them to do it for you?

The same goes for high-end consumer products. Customers in this market (think really good chocolate, wine, fine custom jewelry, organic bath/body care, scented candles etc.) are paying as much for the image of the product as they are the actual product. If your packaging doesn't present that high-end image, the customer is less likely to see the high end nature of the product, and more likely to choose your competitor, over there in the pretty pretty box.

It sucks, yes, but it's the nature of things. When it comes to how you market your business, image is everything. What does your image say about you?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Design and Sustainability: You can't do it if you can't sell it.

Recently, I was contacted by a design student in London who was collecting information on how sustainability can be integrated into traditional design education. As someone who's been practicing sustainable design for some years now, she asked me "what are the resistance points when it comes to adopting sustainable practices?"

Personally, I think that much of the resistance that designers face when it comes to integrating sustainability in their practices has much to do with client management, another thing that tends to be lacking in standard design education. Since adopting sustainable design principles at the zen kitchen a couple of years ago, It's been my experience that many designers are informed about and concerned with sustainability, but they lack the ability to convince their clients that incorporating these principles into their work can be balanced with creating an effective marketing tool. As a result, they're reluctant to bring it up, or to get started with sustainability in the first place.

While it's great that more students are interested in learning about sustainability and it's certainly a valid thing to add to any educational program, all the sustainable ideals in the world mean nothing if the designer can't convince the client of why they should be doing it. So, more than just teaching designers how to work sustainably, it's important to give them the skills to be consultants for their clients/bosses, and not just the girl at the Mac. This is especially important because the skills required to sell sustainability to clients are no different than the skills needed to sell your concept to a client, or convince him that while he may want the logo to be bigger, it won't be as effective as leaving it at a tasteful size. It's all about working *with* your client, rather than *for* her.

Monday, September 01, 2008

How to be a good client

A friend of mine pointed me to this great post on the Swiss Miss blog. Quite apt, really.

How to be a good client (PDF). By the good folks at Number17.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

How not to network; or, how to get people to like you.

Photo by bluebetty

Recently, I had a fascinating interaction with a woman at a networking event I attend with some frequency. It was the first time we had met, and she was sitting near me at one of the tables as I had just started a conversation with someone else. As has occasionally happened, when the woman I was conversing with heard that my business name was the zen kitchen, she assumed I was a personal chef and got very excited about the possibility of having someone to plan meals for her. Amused, I explained what I actually did, and the fact that one of the things that I love about my business name is that people hear it and immediately ask me "ooh, what's that?" 

Without skipping a beat, the other woman sitting near me, who I'd known all of about 5 minutes, told me that my name was confusing. She also mentioned that, as a Feng Shui practitioner, one of the principles of Feng Shui is that if your business name is confusing, "your business will never take off."

After going over a couple of potential responses in my head, I decided on, "Thank you for your feedback, but I've been doing this for three years, and things seem to be going pretty well."

Mind you, this wasn't the first time I had witnessed someone express confusion over the name of my business. The reason I chose this name, and stay with this name, is because it's a very good representation of who I am as a business owner, strategist and designer, and because frankly, I get many more people who love my business name than I do people who don't get it. But what struck me about this particular interaction was the fact that here was a woman I'd barely met, at an event where the point is to make friends and business contacts, and she's literally telling me that my business will "never take off" because of my business name. Why would someone think that's appropriate?

The point is this: expressing an opinion is one thing. Insulting someone is another. Telling someone that their business is going to fail is a completely new ball game, and one that should NEVER be attempted when the goal is to make solid connections.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Please consider the environment before printing this post

The other day saw a very interesting and heated debate over a hot topic on one of my green business lists - the addition of that little line at the end of e-mail signatures that asks you to "please consider the environment before printing this e-mail." Or it says to "Think Green! Don't Print This E-mail!" Or it says any other of a seemingly endless number of iterations of this single thought: don't waste so much paper.

While I understand the idea, and appreciate it, my objection to these lines is a few-fold:
  1. It assumes that I, the reader, am going to print this e-mail, even if it's just a quick confirmation on something. I'm not.
  2. What if I actually NEED to print the e-mail? The only things I print are receipts, directions, or e-mails that have significant history information related to projects I'm in the middle of at the zen kitchen. This is a total of about 10-15% of my e-mail. Everything else gets deleted or put into a folder. Should I feel like I'm somehow not "considering the environment" because I need paper records of these things? 
  3. While e-mail signatures can be a truly helpful marketing tool, we seem to have reached an age where signatures have gone completely out of hand. People are busy, and while an e-mail signature is a great way to give people the basic information they need to check out your business and contact you, adding a bunch of stuff to the end of your signature dilutes your message, clogs their e-mail and, if they DO need to print it, adds to the amount of paper they need to print. How is that "green?"
Finally, while the issue of office waste is definitely vast, it's been my experience at least that much of that waste isn't because people are printing their e-mails. In some cases yes, high-level executives will have their assistants print every e-mail - either because they don't "get" the e-mail system or because the assistants vet their e-mails and print just the important ones. But this is a systemic issue, and telling the assistants (the people actually printing the e-mails) not to print isn't helping anything - they don't have a choice. Further, if an executive truly doesn't "get" how e-mail works, how will seeing that little line at the bottom of a printed page help? Wouldn't it be better to have a conversation and show him how e-mail works? Or better yet, have the assistant vet all the e-mails according to importance and then let the executive view it? 

The point here is that, in the 10 years that I spent in various capacities at offices all over New England before starting the zen kitchen, the tremendous amount of paper waste I saw rarely came from e-mail. Rather, it came from:
  1. The endless number of forms that were often required to get anything done (the average office I worked in had at least 5-10 forms to fill out depending on what you needed done, and they were always looking to create more forms for things)
  2. In the case of design studios/ad agencies/art departments, printing a new iteration of a brochure/layout/etc. *every* time they made a change to it, no matter how minor. In some places, you even had to print multiples, which would be distributed among various people in the organization. I once had to print out a new 12*18 sheet for a layout edit that included adding a comma. Really. Nothing more - just a comma. 
  3. In the case of mortgage/banking companies (where I worked as an admin assistant before deciding to become a designer - way back in '97-'98), it was filling out a 15-page thick pile of forms just to get a loan package started, then having to make two copies of each package, copies of the related documentation, etc.
Notice, please - none of this involves printing e-mails. So who is that line really helping?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

an ad campaign gone too far?

A friend recently pointed me to a series of illustrated ads for Burger King that she found disturbing. While the comments on the Idea Sandbox (great site, by the way) had a lot more to do with the apparently sexualized nature of many of the ads, I don't know that I necessarily mind that. The illustrations are amusing, very detailed, and I find them kinda funny.

What I wonder about is this: what is their thing against onions? And why do they seem to obsess about pickles so much?

Out of four ads that I've seen (there are a couple of holiday ads I didn't check out), all of them involve onions either as evil dictators (see the Sniper ad) or as victims of humiliation and/or murder (see the Airport and Halloween ads). And the pickles, somehow, are the aggressors in all this. What are they saying about pickles?

All silliness aside, I don't know how I feel about this campaign from Burger King. I've appreciated the up-front approach it takes to many of its in-store campaigns; for example, the taglines on their packaging, noting what an amazing experience you're going to have eating this burger, is always a fun read. But many of their other campaigns, including this one and ANYTHING involving The King, just leave me cold. I guess it's a good thing I don't like fast food.

Monday, August 18, 2008

SEO: Do you need a links page?

One of the more troubling things I see folks do with their sites is get involved in "link exchanges." I'm sure you've seen this - a business owner becomes part of a network of other business owners, and in the interest of building SEO for the group, they create a page on their site that has a link to every other business owner's site on it - regardless of whether that business is in any way related to their own. Great idea, right?

The fact is, those pages don't really do that much for anyone's search rankings - in fact, it could hurt you more than it helps. Search engines look for quality incoming links, which means links from reputable sites that are related to the subject matter at hand. If you have a page full of random links that exist on the page for no other reason than they belong to the same organization as you, they just don't count as quality links.

In addition, think of what you're doing here. By putting these links on your site, you're essentially recommending this other person's business, regardless of whether you have any direct experience with them. So let's say that someone finds another company's website through yours, deals with them and has a horrible experience. They decided to work with them, essentially, on your recommendation. What does that say about you?

The best way to get quality incoming links is by becoming active online - forums, blogs, e-mail lists and social networking sites are all ways to create quality links to your website just by wasting a bit of time on the Internet. There are new social networks created every day - find a few that are relevant to your business, create a profile with a link to your site and a blurb about What You Do, and see if you can start a conversation with a couple of the members. It's a bit time-consuming, yes, but it's easy, and it's much more effective than throwing a bunch of random links pages up.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What should be in your electronic press kit?

So, you've got a great product or service that's just dying to get out there to the public. You know the best way to get noticed is to be featured in magazines, newspapers, etc. You've done your research, made a call to that editor you know will be interested in your product, and the editor says, "great! Just send me your electronic press kit, and I'll take a look at it." Then you realize that you don't have an electronic press kit - and you have no idea where to start putting one together. What the heck do you put in this thing?

The most important things to include in any press kit (digital or physical) are:

• info about your company, you and your products;
• any press coverage you've already received;
• basic contact and where-to-buy information (this should absolutely be separate and easy to find)
• print-quality, professional images of your product, and possibly yourself holding the product. You can also include low-res photos with a note to contact you for high-res photos, since most digital press kits will be e-mailed.

Add to this a sample of the product and a professional photo (8 by 10) of the product for editorial use, and the same thing can go in a snazzy folder to make your physical press kit.

Aside from that, you can also think about things like: what section will this be good for? What makes this product newsworthy? Is there anything unique you can pitch to a specific editor's audience that's different from what everyone else might think of?

For example, most publications already drone on and on about the health benefits of green tea, etc. - but what could you bring to the table that's a new way to think about it? Maybe a recipe for cookies or ice cream that uses green tea? Green tea/honey sorbet (which would, by the way, be amazingly easy to make)? Green tea popsicles with mango juice? What are ways that folks can have green tea without having to drink it as a cup of tea every morning?

Mind you, if you really feel stuck with this, then it's probably time to get in touch with a PR professional to help you get the process going. Public relations is an intense, time-consuming process, and a good PR professional will not only take on that process for you, they'll know outlets you might not have thought of, and can come up with good ideas beyond submitting the product to magazines.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Inside the Sustainable Studio: creating a great (and green!) home office

As both the proprietress of a green business and one of the lucky thousands (maybe millions now?) who are able to work from home, I've been thinking a lot about ways to green my office. Some are fairly obvious: recycle paper, don't print as much, use CFLs, blah blah. But both the challenge and the blessing of the home office is that it's completely yours - you get to do whatever you want to it, and set it up in the way that works best for you. This, oddly enough, is a pretty tall order.

After three years running the zen kitchen out of various home offices (and two years before that moonlighting in Cranston, RI), I've learned the following about balancing sustainability with form/function:

• Natural light is essential. Working in a place with plenty of windows (like my current office, which is basically a closed-in porch banked with windows) not only helps the environment by reducing the amount of energy you need to run lights, etc. it's good for the soul. I can't imagine working by office light anymore. 
• Create a pretty space, using low-VOC paint. It's amazing what a coat of paint will do, and using a low-VOC paint (they're all over the place now) costs a bit more, but it gives you the advantage of being able to actually breathe while you're painting with it. I painted my office on the hottest weekend of the year and there was no paint smell whatsoever while I was doing it. Not only is this better for the environment, it lets you get back to work quickly because your house doesn't reek of fresh paint.
• Make meals in advance for the week. It's hard to get motivated to cook a meal in the middle of the day, which makes the temptation for take-out (and all the containers!) a bit too hard to resist. I've found that having things like brown rice, lentils, etc. handy in the fridge makes it much easier to throw something together. Not only does it save plastic, it saves money.
• Print as much as you can on an as-needed basis. Business cards are important to have on hand (and designed/printed professionally!) but there are certain things, like letterhead, envelopes, etc. that you might not need a lot of. These, I've found, can fairly easily be worked into templates to print as-needed on an inkjet or laser printer without hampering your professional image. That said, it's important to assess your actual stationery needs before embarking on a process like this; short-run printing is expensive, and if you use a lot of letterhead or envelopes on a daily basis, definitely get them printed.
• Gang up errands and meetings so you drive less. This is as much a time-management tip as it is a green tip - traveling to meetings and such is an enormous time suck. I tend to group weekly appointments or meetings with my trips to the gym or other errands, so I block specific periods of time to be out of the office, and bring my gym bag along with me.

Any other telecommuters have green tips to share?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

How well do you communicate?

This past Monday, I had a rather frustrating experience. After a long weekend in Maine, I had scheduled myself to attend Constant Contact's seminar on e-mail marketing for restaurants, which according to their website and every communication I received, was happening at the Boston Public Library (BPL) at 10am. I left early in the morning to run a few errands, didn't have time to check my e-mail before I left, but I figured there would be signs pointing me in the direction of the room the seminar would be in, or some kind of communication about where in the library the seminar was being held.

Unfortunately, there were none. When I asked the person at the front desk, they pointed me to the basement. The people downstairs pointed me upstairs to the first person I talked to. I asked if I could borrow a computer to look up the event, they pointed me to the second floor. I looked the event up on the website - it listed the address of the event, but no room location. I asked the woman at the desk if she knew where the event might be happening, she pointed me back down to the basement. I went to the basement, there were no signs, no doors open, nothing to indicate that this seminar might be happening. After 30 minutes of wandering all over the building, I gave up and went home later that afternoon to find that Constant Contact had sent me an e-mail with the location of the event - at 6:30 Monday morning. In addition, someone from Constant Contact had noticed a twitter post I made about my frustration with being unable to find this event and told me where it was - but I would have had to check my twitter account to see the post.

Mind you, I'm not sharing this story just to rant (although I admit that I am ranting a bit). I'm sharing it because this experience made me think of all the ways that we, as business owners, communicate with our customers - and how often we make unfair assumptions about how people best receive information, or what they do or don't already know.

In this case, Constant Contact unfairly assumed that I would have access to my e-mail at 6:30am on Monday prior to leaving for the event, and didn't feel it necessary to make this information available any other way. As a result, I ended up frustrated and wasted an entire morning. In another case, my otherwise terrific printer failed to get in touch with me when a pattern I'd put in a design was clearly not printing the way that it was meant to, and the job (which was already a rush) had to be rerun. In yet another case, I neglected to communicate to my client exactly when that job was being re-run, and this morning I got an e-mail as the reprinted cards were shipping letting me know that she was hoping to change the paper - and I had to let her know that she couldn't do it this time.

In all of these situations, things ended up working out - but I wonder how many complications and frustrations could be avoided if we were all just a bit more thoughtful about how and what we communicate with our clients. After all, life as a business owner is much more fun when your clients aren't frustrated with you.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Twitter as a networking/marketing tool

There's been quite a bit of buzz lately around twitter's use as a networking and marketing tool, and in some ways, I buy it. But like all social media, I tend to find that twitter has its own special syntax, a way of using it that works best for this application - and really doesn't work the way that some people use it.

For me, twitter is more of a conversation starter than anything, and it's really a *social* media, rather than a marketing platform. Whereas with sites like LinkedIn or Facebook allow you to just sort of have a profile and leave it there, to get the most out of twitter, you really have to use it.

And it's not about just plugging yourself, either - sure, tweeting about some specific thing you're working on can get you some attention, and it's totally fine to plug the occasional blog post/project/etc., but tricks like throwing your business's name into every tweet (a.k.a. twitter post) or making EVERY tweet a link to your latest blog post or project is a quick way to lose followers.

Where I've seen twitter really work is in the sense of community you can build through creating a balance of personal and professional. Since many of the folks I'm following are fellow telecommuters, it's an easy way to share little things and laughs that you wouldn't be able to otherwise, or chat with someone like you would if you were in an office. When combined with the occasional "hey, just finished this project" or "hey, just put this post online - check it out!" you can get some interesting results; I was able to connect with one of my followers (a.k.a. people who read your tweets) recently and point out my work to her after she made a tweet lamenting the lack of good Wordpress themes (the new zen kitchen website is done completely in Wordpress).

So what's the deal here? Why are there so many folks who just use twitter to mention their business 800 times, or to share a link to every blog post they've ever posted? What's the big deal about sharing a personal guffaw now and again?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Trade show materials: know your audience

Over the summer, I've been fortunate enough to check out a couple of different trade shows; first the HOW Conference in May, where a number of stock photo, paper companies and others gathered to show off their wares, and then the Fancy Food Show, where, well, I got to eat some really amazing food and make contact with Makers of Tasty Things. And during both, I got to see a lot of trade show materials - some that worked, and some that really didn't.

The point of trade shows, quite often, is not just to introduce yourself to the audience at the show, but to a) find good leads to follow up with, and b) give them something to remember you by once the show is over - preferably something that will encourage them to make a purchase. There are all kinds of ways to do this. At the Fancy Food Show, a number of vendors offered samples of their food (I was stuffed within an hour or two!), but little else aside from maybe a sell sheet or postcard.  At any trade show you're going to run into dozens, perhaps hundreds, of vendors - what's there to help me remember who you were beyond that one moment of trying your food?

Other folks gave out free samples that you could take home - which I think is a great idea. Buywell Coffee gave me a couple of free bags of their Screaming Monkey coffee, which I've been drinking iced for a week. I can't wait to find it now - it's amazing stuff. But if I hadn't gotten that sample, I wouldn't have remembered them beyond meeting them at the show.

Other companies had really well-designed, almost keepsake, materials. Chocolate Company Pacari's postcards, in particular, were so beautiful that I put them up on my office memo board. Information about the chocolate was on the back of the card, but the front was completely covered by a gorgeous illustration related to one of the specific chocolates.

Another tactic, which I saw a lot at the HOW Conference, is to give away branded merchandise - from notebooks to bobbleheads to the much-coveted Masterfile laptop bag (which I was lucky enough to get and I still carry around with me). This tactic is a definite winner to me; it gives me something to hold onto, and something I can use, which will remind me of that business every time I use it. I have, however, also seen this tactic used badly - for example, the too-ubiquitous coffee mug or stress ball. I don't know about you, but I have more than enough coffee mugs. Why give someone something they likely already have plenty of - and if they don't have plenty of them, then they probably won't have any use for it anyway?

The key to any trade show giveaway is to know your audience. What are these people here for? How can you make yourself memorable? What will they respond to? In the case of the folks at the HOW Conference, they knew that their audience (professional designers, and the vendors who love them) love getting well-designed, useful, really cool stuff. And the booths that were the most popular were the ones giving that stuff away. Meanwhile, at the Fancy Food Show, the folks who did well knew that, in order to really understand what made their product great, they had to taste it for themselves. 

Monday, July 28, 2008

Using LinkedIn Recommendations

One of the things I've always admired about LinkedIn is its ability to not only connect me with people I know (and want to know!), but also to allow me to give anyone who finds me online an idea of what it's like to work with the zen kitchen. The Recommendation feature is a great example of that. I work with someone on a project, it goes along swimmingly, and I ask them to write up a quick recommendation, so that others can see how good I am. Great for the ego, and great for business.

But then there's the occasional person who takes unfair advantage of the system. These are the folks who either ask you for a recommendation 5 minutes after meeting you, or the folks who write you a recommendation without really knowing anything about your work - ostensibly in the hopes that you'll return the favor. My advice - don't accept them, and certainly don't give them.

Here's the thing: a LinkedIn recommendation is basically a testimonial for your brand. And as with all testimonials, the savvy consumer can sniff out a fake one a mile and a half away. In the case of one recommendation I got unsolicited from someone I hadn't worked with before, the text was so generic ("Dani prides herself on providing 110% customer satisfaction!") that I couldn't, in good conscience, keep it active; while I do pride myself on providing 110% customer satisfaction, how does this help the average profile reader determine what it's like to work with me on a specific project? How does this help a potential client understand how I can solve their business's brand communication problem?

The best way to get solid, genuine recommendations on LinkedIn: work with someone on a project. It goes well, write them a recommendation about what it was like working with them on this project, and humbly ask that they return the favor. 9 out of 10 times, they will - and what they write will be INFINITELY better than any generic recommendation from someone you just met.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Where are your clients?

I just happened upon this post by Jeff Fisher, one of my creative buddies over at the HOW Forum, who speaks about the geographic boundaries often imposed by creatives upon themselves. In the post, he expresses surprise that so many creatives think they have to restrict themselves to their specific location:

Huh? I don't think I got the memo about the Federal government building walls around local communities to keep designers, writers, photographers and others trapped in their hometown environments.

Admittedly, when my initial Internet presence went live in 1998, my website was intended to primarily serve as a portfolio for a predominantly local clientele. I wasn't expecting email requests for information about my services from potential clients across the United States - and then from around the globe. Suddenly there were no restrictions to the target market for my business. In the decade since, 80-85% of my business has been for clients outside of the State of Oregon.

He makes a great point. I, too, have had great success with clients from around the country as a result of maintaining an active Web presence and being active on forums, e-mail lists and the like. But one thing I'll add is that, in my mind, there's a lot of good to be said for working with local clients. For one thing, it's often easier to make solid connections, since you get instant face-to-face contact. For another, I for one find that collaboration is much easier when you can get face time with a client - as wonderful as the Internet and cell phones are, it's just no match for being in a room with someone hashing out what needs to be done. And for yet another, I just happen to enjoy supporting my local economy.

All this said, I don't think that focusing on either is really the best choice. Currently, I'd guess my clients are about 50% local/50% non-local. The key, in my opinion, is not to rule either out, but to figure out who you want to attract, and then set up your communications to speak to those specific people - and then set out looking for those people.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


This morning, discussing business over coffee with a friend of mine, we got into a discussion of networking groups, and how difficult it was to make that initial connection with people sometimes, especially if (like my friend) you're a bit shy. 

Recently, I had my own experience with something similar to this - as the zen kitchen grows, I've found myself having to break into - gasp! - cold calling. And it was scary at first, until I took a moment to ask myself: "what's the goal here?" 

In my mind, part of the reason networking events (or cold calls, for that matter) can be difficult for some folks is because it's hard to tell what the point is. What are you looking for? What do you expect to happen? What would you LIKE to happen? And often, I've found that just articulating that one thing before you get to an event, or before you call a prospect, can make all the difference between leaving the situation feeling like you've gotten something done and leaving feeling like you've just wasted your time.

For example, in my recent cold calling efforts, I decided that my goal was just to introduce myself, and learn more about the organization I was calling, what kind of materials they outsource, etc. If I could send them more information, or add them to my newsletter, even better - but the primary goal was just to get a conversation going. And knowing what that goal was (and leaving it pretty easy to manage) made it inconceivably easier to do calls, to the point where I actually started enjoying them. Plus, the relaxed attitude I had towards the call actually made the calls more productive, since the person on the other line felt more like they were having a conversation and less like they were being sold something.

I take a similar approach to networking events - after figuring out who I want to meet and finding a meeting where I'm likely to meet those kind of people, I spend a couple of minutes before the meeting setting a goal for the event. Some nights I want to meet 5 people who'd be good to follow up with; other events I want to find 3 people I can give helpful information to. It helps me get a meeting off to the right foot, and it helps me get back on track if, on the odd occasion, I start feeling a bit shyer than usual.

What are your best strategies/goals for networking?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Working from Home: a perspective

As you may or may not know, the zen kitchen is a virtual studio - which means that I, along with my programmer and anyone else I happen to collaborate with on a particular project, work from home. Normally, this works out quite well - but as many other home-based entrepreneurs I know can attest, it takes some serious getting used to.

Recently, I've been thinking a bit about the stuff I've needed to figure out since I started working from a home office. As attractive as it sounds to the cubicle slave, working from home is really not an easy thing - especially if, as I am, you tend to be a bit too much of a multitasker. I've had days when I was so productive I forgot to eat lunch, and I've had days when I spent so much time on laundry, the gym, the dishes, my garden, etc. that all the stuff I had on my studio to-do list went by the wayside.

So what's a girl to do, then? How do you run a business out of your home without either burning out or wasting the day on home chores?

I can't pretend to know all the answers, but here's some of the stuff I've learned along the way:
  • Get up early, but don't get too caught up in getting straight to work. Once I started waking up around 7am and easing into my day instead of waking up around 9ish and trying to get straight into my day, my productivity increased about 150%. I can't say enough about this - it really, really is key. I also try to fit my gym time into the earlyish mornings so I can get my workouts done before I have to get focused on other things.
  • Have an actual office, or some system that clearly delineates "work space" from "home space." A spare bedroom is best, but even if you have to set up on the dinner table, find a storage system that allows you to put your work away when you're done for the day and not look at it until the next day. One of the biggest challenges of working from home is that your work and home life can get so intermingled that you feel like you need to be at work all the time, and that'll make you resent your home - you need to be able to separate the two.
  • Make your workspace pretty. It seems fairly elementary, but it's really not - if your space is poorly organized, or cluttered, or generally unattractive, it's not going to help you get things done. Recently, I realized that one of my major issues with my current workspace was that the walls, which were painted about the color of butter, were so bland that I just couldn't feel creative, and the space generally felt cluttered and icky. A couple of coats of paint and moving around all the furniture later - I've had a string of productivity that's in its third week and shows no signs of letting up.
  • Make time for little breaks during your day. It's very tempting to work straight through the day, but you need those little breaks in order to stay on track. I take about 5 minutes every hour or so to go out and visit my garden, and it's been much easier to get back to work after that bit of breathing room.
If you're one of those who works from home, I hope that these tips help you. What are your strategies for working from home?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What are your materials really selling?

Yesterday I happened across a great marketing article written by Stacy Karacostas on Biznik (which, by the way, I suggest checking out if you haven't yet). In it, Stacy points out an important mistake that businesses often make in their marketing materials.

“If you were looking for a chiropractor, bookkeeper, massage therapist, or other service provider, what would you need to know in order to choose them over anyone else?”

Chances are it would be things like:
  • A bit about the types of services they offer
  • If there is anything unique or different about what they do
  • Whether or not the specialize in, or have experience with, your particular issue
  • Who else uses them and have they been satisfied
  • What you can expect and how long it will take
  • How they are better or different than the competition
  • Where they are located, their hours and how soon you can get in
  • If they accept credit cards or your insurance
  • What to do to make an appointment
What you probably don’t want—or need—to know are the basics like:
  • What is massage or chiropractic or bookkeeping
  • The history of massage (or chiropractic, or bookkeeping)
  • Why you need a massage therapist, chiropractor or bookkeeper
Yet time and again this is exactly the type of info service providers focus on in their marketing.

The result is that they end up spending all their time and money trying to convince people they need a particular service. What they should be doing is trying to convince prospects to hire them in particular.
Interestingly, how many designers (or coaches, or green retailers/manufacturers) make the same mistake? How much time do we spend trying to convince people of our basic worthiness to people who don't get it instead of looking for the folks who DO get it, and convincing them that we're the best person for the job?

The way I see it is this: the more you try to convince people that what you do is actually worth paying for, the more it seems that you feel people need convincing. And this raises the question: do YOU believe in what you're doing? And if you do, why do you seem so convinced that other people won't believe in it? 

In my experience, half of success in selling comes from confidence in your product - and that means knowing what you're worth, and sticking by that. Your job is not to convince the non-believers. Your job is to find the folks who already believe in what you do, and convince them that you're better than the others.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Green the office coffee station

Okay, yes, I drink my coffee at home now - but as someone who spent years in a variety of office parks doing design for major companies, I know a thing or two about the Office Coffee Station. It seems that everyone does them differently - some serve great coffee, some serve this odd sludge; some have plenty of reusable dishes available for use, others make you use styrofoam (gasp!), or those individual plastic cups of grounds (which I personally refuse to use).

So how do you up the green factor in the office coffee/lunch station?

From what I've noticed, the goal in greening office areas is to make it very easy for folks to make greener choices (i.e. without really noticing a difference); otherwise, you create a situation that a busy manager, for example, can't deal with, and you end up with folks opting for Starbucks instead of drinking coffee in the office. The goal is to give people plenty of options, so it's easy to make the right choice.

My thoughts (and these are just thoughts, mind):
• unbleached, biodegradable coffee/tea filters;
• clearly marked compost bins (with signs that say "coffee grounds/teabags go here") that are emptied daily by someone (to avoid nasty odors);
• provide plenty of reusable mugs and glasses for folks (can't count on people to bring their own) - refuse to use paper/plastic cups;
• choose fair trade coffee/tea (but expect that a few folks are going to randomly bring in their Lipton);
• choose local dairy from smaller farms (most use organic practices, even if they aren't certified) in cartons rather than the little "mini-moos" so many office parks are stocked with;
• raw sugar in a jar instead of sugar packets;
• plenty of reusable spoons/silverware (this is especially handy if the coffee area is also a lunch-storage area, as many are).

And of course, on an individual level, you can just opt to bring your own coffee in a travel mug each morning - which is actually preferable to the coffee in some offices (ahem!).

So what do you think? How many things can you add to this list?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How do you differentiate when "green" is no longer enough?

This week on the Co-Op America Business list, one of the members brought up the question of green going mainstream. How do smaller green businesses compete now that corporate America is riding the green train?

My question is: Is being green enough of a reason to convince people to use your company? Personally, as I've mentioned before, I don't think it is.

Last year, I decided to adapt the zen kitchen's business model to the rising trend in green design/marketing by making green a non-issue. My clients know I'm green, they know they're going to get the greenest product I can provide for them and that I *get* what they're trying to do. However, most of my clients come to me because I'm a great designer and I specialize in helping women entrepreneurs and green businesses create their brands. They're looking for my brain and my talent - the fact that I'm eco-friendly is just gravy.

In my mind, if the green movement is really going to gain momentum, it has to move from a conversation to an expectation. This doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about being green; but it should be an "also" rather than a sign of uniqueness. As such, green businesses need to stop trying to justify their decisions, or explain why it costs so much more to make a green product; instead, make it clear that you have a better product that works just as well if not better than the conventional product.

If there's one thing I've learned in three years of running the zen kitchen, it's that it's much more effective to treat the green thing as a given than it is to try to justify it to your clients. The moment you start justifying, it erodes consumer confidence because it seems like *you're* not confident in why they should choose you over the competition.

Another thing I'll mention is that competition doesn't just come from the big corporations who are just getting the hint that green is good. Every green business, no matter how small, has competition from other small businesses who sell very similar products and have a very similar mission. I'm certainly not the only designer in the world who works with women entrepreneurs or with green businesses - I've met and become friends with some who could be considered my direct competition. This is why differentiation beyond green is so important - you're not the only green company in the world, and even more rarely are you the only green company who sells XYZ.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Green Design: Where did that paper come from?

Yesterday, at a seminar on FSC certification and paper held by Kirkwood Printing, several paper companies and a representative of the FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) got together to discuss paper's impact on the environment. The discussion focused around such issues as responsible forestry, the paper companies' renewable energy initiatives, and why recycled paper isn't always the greenest option (1. there isn't enough fiber to meet demand; 2. the fibers downgrade over repeated recycling, which means you have to add new content to make it strong enough; 3. the recycled content gets sourced from all over the place). But all of this helped me realize something rather striking: a piece of paper's carbon footprint goes a lot deeper than the paper company itself.

This is the deal: Papermaking isn't just "have tree-make paper." It involves cutting down the tree, turning it into pulp, making paper from the pulp and then distributing the paper. Each of these steps requires a seperate set of trucks driving to a separate facility where each step happens, and most paper companies don't handle every step of the process. They buy their pulp from an outside source, which means that the pulp needs to be shipped to them, after being shipped from the forest. But for the life of me, I can't figure out where it gets shipped FROM.

Finch paper and Cascade (who specializes in recycled) was the only company at the event yesterday that mentioned that they source locally. Cascade actually collects and pulps the paper themselves for their sheets (they're in Quebec). Finch owns the forests that provide much of its pulp, and they buy the rest from small landowners in the New England area (mostly Maine and Vermont). Crane's, Mohawk, Monadnock, Neenah and Sappi were also there (among others), but they didn't have time to speak to the issue in detail. Although many of the companies' sites have extensive information about their environmental stewardship (and most are doing some seriously impressive stuff), I can't seem to find information specifically about where they buy their pulp.

What all of this means is that we now have yet another consideration as green designers: not only do we need to think about how much recycled content, where the paper itself comes from, etc. but we have to think further back along the supply chain: where did the pulp come from? Where were the trees harvested from? How were the rights of the workers and inhabitants of those forests impacted?

FSC certification helps with this by making sure that the forests paper comes from are being managed sustainably, and with respect to the rights of the workers and inhabitants of the forests. But what about the carbon footprint of the two steps prior to paper becoming paper? How can we make sure our paper is coming from responsibly-managed forests while also minimizing the carbon footprint all the way down the supply chain?

I don't have an answer. But I want one.

By the way, what can you do when you're choosing a paper for your next project? Here's a couple of ideas:

• Find paper companies that are as local to you as possible, and look for sheets that are FSC-certified, preferably with a significant amount of postconsumer recycled content.
• If you can, talk to the paper company about where they get the materials for their paper.
• Explore alternative-fiber papers, like cotton, kenaf, sugarcane and bamboo. These have their own carbon-footprint issues (after all, they don't grow sugar in New England, right?), but much of the alternative fiber used in these papers is taking material directly out of the landfill. Crane's sources its cotton from textile industry byproduct (i.e. cuttings that can't be used), and Neenah's sugarcane pulp (in the Environment line) comes from the material left over from the sugar refining process.
• Talk to your printer about what mills are closest to your area, and ask them for advice on the best sheet to use for your project.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Online Networking 101: Don't be rude to your market

As many who read this blog know, I'm a pretty avid online networker. I blog, participate in forum and list discussions, and I'm a fair regular on a number of different sites. Have been since I started the zen kitchen back in 2005.

In any networking situation, there's a certain etiquette involved in meeting people and getting them interested enough to keep talking to you. There are also certain ways you can immediately turn people off - I'm sure you've met people who do this, online or off. The only difference between online and in-person etiquette is the structure that things take; in the online world, changes in tone normally suggested in conversation by a change of voice or use of hands isn't available, so users have come up with all sorts of tricks to hint at changes of tone, or emphasis.

Today, I came across an article on Biznik that utilizes two of the most common forms of online emphasis: TEXT IN ALL CAPS and *asterisked* text. Now mind you, the article makes great points. Many websites do focus too much on "me" instead of "you." The use of these online tools of emphasis to bring the point home (although asterisked text is one of my *biggest* online pet peeves) isn't an online sin in and of itself.

In my mind, the issue here is an issue of tone. The tone of the article is already pretty derogatory towards the very people the author is trying to target (he even includes a warning that he fully expects to get hate mail as a result of this article), but when you add the double-punch of asterisked text and all caps being completely overused throughout the article, the whole thing comes across as, well, trying too hard to be controversial and not hard enough to offer something genuinely helpful to the reader.

When these tools are used once or twice in a piece, it can provide needed emphasis; when it's used in this way, it's the online equivalent of getting in someone's face and screaming at them about how stupid they are, veins popping and breath reeking of bad networking event coffee. It's not respecting your audience enough to believe they can *get* what you're writing.

This, of course, is just my take. What are your thoughts?

Monday, April 14, 2008

New Work: Botsford EcoTech Brand/Website

Recently, 5-Trees LLC, a long-time client of the zen kitchen, decided to rebrand as Botsford EcoTech Partners, a move precipitated by founder Krista Botsford's decision to move her practice to Nashua, NH from its Burlington, MA location.

Botsford EcoTech Partners provides private consulting services, educational seminars, and an innovative web-based software solution to help technology companies navigate the ever-changing landscape of global environmental compliance. The brand needed to communicate not only the professionalism and considerable expertise that Botsford brought to the table, but also the approachability and down-to-earth attitude that Krista is known for.

Working with Krista, the zen kitchen created a logo, website and marketing materials (still in development) that focused on a clean, professional, but approachable look. The brand and accompanying website focuses on clean lines, white space, and easy access to key information - a must when communicating with an audience of engineers and top executives.

To visit the new Botsford EcoTech website and see the brand in action, visit

The excuses we make

Recently at an event, I was chatting with someone in my network about marketing and strategizing. When I mentioned the importance of taking time to strategize and visualize the type of work you'd like to be doing, my conversation partner immediately said, "oh, I just don't have time for that kind of stuff. I know I should do it, but between kids and work and everything else, I'm lucky I have time to breathe!"

So many of us have an excuse list like this for anything that's really good for us. How often have you told yourself you don't have time to get to the gym? Eat right? Send out that marketing e-mail you've been meaning to? Yet, in my experience at least, the moment you move away from the excuses and just do the thing you're putting off, you realize that it wasn't that bad to begin with, and it actually helped you accomplish more.

Just as an example, for the first couple of years I was running the zen kitchen, I went from a daily yoga/meditation practice and regular walks in my neighborhood to making every excuse under the sun why I couldn't work out, citing a packed schedule, a poorly laid-out apartment, all sorts of stuff. As a result, I've gained 40 pounds in the last 2 years, and it was only until the last couple of months that I've been able to turn off the excuses and get to the gym that I started losing weight again. Now I'm down 8 pounds and counting - and I'm still able to get my work done.

Success in anything - whether it's losing weight or growing a business - depends on quieting the excuses. Instead of listing all the reasons why you CAN'T, you have to think about how you CAN. What needs to shift a bit in order to fit in a daily workout? Who do you need to negotiate with to get time to write that business plan, or visualize your ideal client? Who do you need to hire in order to take over the stuff you aren't interested in so you can focus on the fun stuff? How can you find a way to pay for that?

I invite you to take some time this week and think about all the excuses you make for yourself. Where do they come from? What would happen if you just forgot the excuses and did it anyway? You might be surprised at what you get done.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Why a great website isn't enough

Recently, someone on one of my lists posed the question: "How many of you get business from your website?" In my mind, this is the wrong question to ask. Rather than posing it this way, what I think you really want to ask is "how do I get people to my website so they can learn about my business?" and "how do I set up my website so that, once people end up on it, they'll be inspired to work with me?"

A website isn't a magic bullet that will make all your business dreams come true; it has to work in concert with all the other things you do to promote yourself. For example, many of my customers (almost all, in fact), have seen my website by the time they hire me, but they don't just randomly happen upon it. They find me through one of my various online communities, or meet me at a networking event, or find this blog. They connect with something I've said on a forum, or taught in a class. That intrigues them to look at my site, and since it's well-built and the work is good, I get business.

But if I didn't do all these different things to promote my site, people wouldn't find it, and I wouldn't get business from it.

If you want to get business from your website, you need to put in the effort to build it well, to create a professional presence with engaging content, and to promote it - otherwise, it just becomes another bit of noise in an already-polluted Internet.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Palm and E-Waste

Recently, I ran into an issue with my Palm TX. I'd been having issues syncing it with my Daylite software for weeks, and finally it just stopped. No reason, just stopped. When I tried to reset it, it stopped again. When I did a hard reset, it stopped again. Just froze. With this little bar flashing across the top.

After trying a number of things to get it to work, I called Palm to see about repairing it, and the lovely customer service representative informed me that if I wanted a repair, since I hadn't bought the extended warranty when I purchased the Palm two years ago, would cost me $150.

$150. About $100 less than just buying a new one.

Now here's my issue: what kind of message is this sending? You create a product that's going to fail around two years after you buy it, and then charge almost as much to repair it as it would cost to just buy a new one? In my mind, you're basically telling the consumer "we really don't care about the e-waste that's filling up the landfills; we just want you to keep buying our products." It's creating a situation where the average consumer is just going to say "forget it, I'll just buy a new one." Good for the company's profit margin, maybe - but bad for the environment.

In my mind, we need to find more incentives to repair instead of replace. We need things that last longer, not things that break down and have to be replaced after a couple of years.

For the record, I had to replace my Palm with a Blackberry Pearl - mostly in the interest of combining my phone with my organizer, and also in the interest of moving away from Palm products that weren't working with my computer. But I am using earth911 to find a place to recycle my Palm.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Building your brand: beyond the logo

About a week ago, a friend of mine came to me with a question. She'd been selling a line of hand-crafted clothing and accessories on Etsy for a year and had found pretty good success with it, but when someone asked her at a networking event "Where's your logo?" she got a bit stressed. Did she have a logo? Did she need one?

Here's an interesting secret: you don't always need a logo.

I know, I know, it's what I do and here I am saying that you don't really need it - but hear me out.

When you're building a brand, you're communicating three things:

  • Who you are (or what your business is);
  • Who you're speaking to (or who your audience is);
  • What you need to say to them (or, your marketing message)

  • Anything you use to market your business - logo, business card, website, even your appearance at events - has to be able to answer those three questions. What logos and websites can help you do is create a consistent image in the consumer's mind when you aren't in the room. They can also help you reach a wider audience, and can definitely help you achieve more success/credibility/etc. - and it can give you more confidence that yes, you ARE an actual business.

    But sometimes, especially when you're a solo entrepreneur who deals with primarily local clients, you don't actually need a logo to achieve that. Sometimes success lies in how you present yourself in person; how you deal with clients, how you showcase your product. I've seen folks go for years in business - successfully - without having a logo.

    Then, when you're ready for a logo, you can find the right person to help you bring your company to a wider audience.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008

    Marketing takes time

    One of the more interesting comments I hear from entrepreneurs often involves some marketing effort that they undertook - whether it's a direct mailer, an advertisement in a magazine, or even a networking group that they belong to. Whenever they mention it, it's always in terms of results gained in a short period of time.

    "I sent out a mailer last year and only got three calls from it. I'll never do that again."

    "We placed an ad in this magazine and only got one call from it. We'll never do that again."

    The challenge with any marketing activity - no matter what it is - is that it takes time and repetition to work. If you have a blog, you have to update it (no comments from the peanut gallery, please). If you do a mailing, you have to repeat it. If you run an ad, you have to run it again - and again - and again - to get the results you want. If you join a networking group, you have to go a few times; be noticed, be engaging.

    This is one of the reasons that, as entrepreneurs with (sometimes) limited funds, techniques like blogging, e-mail newsletters and online/in-person networking can be so valuable. Any marketing activity has to be done again and again to work; but these techniques have the advantage of a significantly lower cash outlay - and often, they're significantly more effective.

    Thursday, February 21, 2008

    Where are your referrals going?

    Today I had the pleasure of coming across a terrific article by Biznik member Mark Silver (who, interestingly enough, calls himself a Business Tenderizer) about what he deems "the Bermuda Triangle of Business Referrals."

    I'm sure you've experienced this - I certainly have. Your clients adore you, and send you this lovely e-mail about how they've referred so-and-so to your business because they think you're the bees' knees (really - do bees have knees? Am I spelling it wrong, or is that really how it's spelled? Anyhoo...), but nothing ever comes out of it. No calls. No e-mails. Or worse, the people who DO call or e-mail are The Wrong Sort - those folks who have a great idea, but not enough money to actually afford what you could do for them.

    So what do you do? You make it easy for your clients to refer The Right Sort to you, and make it easy for The Right Sort to get over the fear, uncertainty, or other things that might be preventing them from actually calling.

    My friend Joanna Scaparotti of My Solutions for Stress was a great example of this. She does Reiki and wellness coaching for busy professonials, and I'd been getting fairly frequent Reiki sessions with her for a few months, after which I got an e-mail titled: "Where can I find more people like YOU?"

    The e-mail went on to not only tell me how fabulous I was as a client, but it also shared the specific traits that she was looking for in potential referrals, and gave me an easy way to get folks in contact with her so I could share referrals.

    Even though this was an e-mail sent to multiple clients of hers and not just me, Joanna's tone in the e-mail was professional, it was personal, and it made me happy to offer her services to anyone I came across who fit her profile.

    To read the full article, click here. To learn more about Joanna, click here.

    As for me, yeah - I know I've been a bit lax on the blogging thing, and I promise that I'll get better soon. Fortunately, I've had a ton of work in, and I'm working on getting deadlines out the door for a while. But no worries - there's more in the pipe for the blog.

    Thursday, January 31, 2008

    Crafting your elevator pitch: what are you promoting?

    So, if you're anything like millions of entrepreneurs, you didn't just quit the day job and rush headlong into running your fledgling enterprise. In fact, you might even have a day job right now that pays the bills while you build your business (carefully, at night, and not on company time, RIGHT???). But what happens when you go to a networking event, and people ask what you do? Do you start off with "well, at my day job I wait tables, but really what I do is act and dance?" Or do you say, "actually, I'm an actor. I just finished doing Schindler's List: the Musical off-off-off-Broadway, and now I'm looking for the next great opportunity?"

    Okay, well, neither of those things is probably true for you - but still the question remains: do you need to mention your "day job" to potential networking colleagues, or do you stick with what you want to be doing?

    Networking maven Ilise Benun mentioned in a recent post, after mentioning that some folks felt compelled to talk about their day job:

    You don't have to tell "the whole truth and nothing but the truth." While I am absolutely not advocating deception, I do suggest you carefully construct (with marketing in mind) an answer that will lead you in the direction you're headed, and answer that will help you build your part time or freelance business into something more substantial, if that's what you want.

    and I agree with her assessment. But I'll also add that in every networking (and even every employment) situation, it's important to remember what you WANT to be doing before you answer the question "what do you do?" Because ultimately, what you SAY you do will always be what you end up getting more of.

    Case in point: back in 2002, I was going to school for web design while making money as a) a registrar for the Girl Scouts, b) a busser at a restaurant, and c) a sexual health activist for a local nonprofit (it was a LONG YEAR.) At the time, my resumé was very focused on what I "did" at the time, which was administrative work - and guess what I ended up getting? Administrative work. I didn't want administrative work. I wanted design work.

    So, in 2003, I decided to completely redo my resumé, and take out any reference to administrative work - instead, I focused on the 3+ years I had spent doing freelance design on the side, and the work I was doing as a prepress artist and designer for a local printer (and had done for local printers before that). As a result, I haven't done a lick of administration work (outside the work I have to do for the zen kitchen, that is) since 2003.

    Was it lying to omit the administrative work from my resumé? Not at all. That work wasn't who I was, and it wasn't who I wanted to be - all omitting it did was put me in a position where I could assert what I was - a designer - and put that information in front of the people who could help me succeed in that.

    So the next time you're at a meeting and feel compelled to talk about your day job when someone asks, "what do you do?" don't be afraid to say "I'm a designer," or "I run a business that makes hats for dogs," or whatever it is that you really want to do.

    Wednesday, January 23, 2008

    Whole Foods to Stop Offering Plastic Bags

    A friend of mine forwarded me this article by the New York Times which indicates that Whole Foods (where I just picked up some stuff today, in fact) will stop offering plastic bags to their customers by Earth Day, April 22, 2008.

    From the article:

    The Whole Foods Market chain said Tuesday that it would stop offering plastic grocery bags, giving customers instead a choice between recycled paper or reusable bags.

    A rising number of governments and retailers are banning plastic bags, or discouraging their use, because of concerns about their environmental impact. San Francisco banned plastic bags last year unless they are of a type that breaks down easily. China announced a crackdown on plastic bags a few weeks ago, while other governments, including New York City’s, are making sure retailers offer plastic bag recycling.

    The rest of the article is here.

    For me, this is great news. Plastic bags are notoriously difficult to recycle, and although many supermarkets will take them back for recycling, not enough communities actually have recycling facilities for these types of bags, which means that many of them (despite our best intentions) don't actually GET recycled. So go Whole Foods!

    I just hope that this will entice people to bring their own bags more often.

    Wednesday, January 09, 2008

    Networking: Morning or Evening?

    This morning on the Marketing Mix Blog, self-promo rock star Ilise Benun posed the question: do early risers make better networkers? In her experience, Ilise seems to prefer morning events, but will they work for everyone?

    I think it all depends on how you work. In my first year promoting the zen kitchen, I tried a number of different types of events, and I found the few morning events I got to quite unproductive, for a couple of reasons. For one, the time it takes to actually get ready and head down to a 7am networking event would literally have me up sometime around 4:30-5am, given the long commute into Boston via public transit, and that just didn't work for me. I'd show up with hair still wet and making a beeline for the coffee and breakfast, and while I did meet a couple of folks, they were almost never folks that I kept in touch with.

    And since so much of my work is with entrepreneurs (literally 80% of my business at this point, and I'm happy with that), the folks I found at the morning meetings were mostly folks that were in the area anyway, which in most areas of Boston means mostly corporate types and folks in the financial industry.

    In general, your first year of attending events is really an evaluation period to find out what types of events work for you - try a bit of each of them, and stick with the ones where you enjoy the people you meet there, you feel focused and confident, and you get out of them what you intend to. For me, it's lunch/dinner events where you actually sit down and talk to people, and where there's a good mix of people but it's not an enormous crowd. Cocktail events don't work for me, and I despise crowded events. You might find that a different mix works for you. That's the beauty of so many options - you can pick and choose the mix that works.

    So, what are your favorite types of events?

    Monday, January 07, 2008

    tzk news: Marketing on a Shoestring class

    Just a quick note to mention that, on January 25th, 2008, I'm going to be teaching a class in Marketing on a Shoestring for the Center for Women and Enterprise in Providence. As it's a subject close to my heart, the class will likely turn into a series of blog posts and/or an e-book somewhere down the line. For now, though, I'll let you know how things go. Ta!

    Thursday, January 03, 2008

    Some Marketing Resolutions to help you build your business in 2008

    My friend Jess Sand over at Roughstock Studios posted a terrific list on her blog about marketing resolutions that you can make to help you grow your business. It's a great list, and even if you implement just a few of them this year (along with the right professional to help, in some cases), you can see pretty tremendous results.

    For the zen kitchen, I've been taking a lot of downtime the last couple of weeks to figure out and redefine Who I Am, What I Do, and Why People Care - and it's been an interesting experience. Impending New Years are great times to sit down and evaluate; what works and what needs to be dropped, which direction needs to take precedence now.

    Given that, I thought I'd share my goals/focus for 2008:

    1. Spend more time on the blog, and on writing in general, including a personal book project in development;
    2. Have more focused content on the blog, especially in the area of self-promotion and branding;
    3. Focus the zen kitchen's work on branding and helping entrepreneurs learn how to promote themselves, a focus that's been a long time in coming;
    4. Clarify and document systems that I've developed within the business, so I can delegate work as needed.

    I'm pretty excited about this, since I've come a long way since I opened the studio back in 2005, and this new focus is the first time since I started the studio that things just felt like they were clicking into place. Let me know what your resolutions are - any goals you want to achieve by year's end?