Does Your Passion Get In The Way of Your Profit?

money heart pillowThere is no denying that small business owners are passionate.

Whatever their product or service is, eyes light up and their voices fill with excitement when given the opportunity to talk about their business.

Often times what comes with that passion is a business owner who wants to give away their time or deeply discount their rates in the name of “love”. They love their customer and want to help them. They love their business and they want new clients. All normal.

But sometimes the love turns desperate. Not normal.

Desperate for clients and hungry to grow their new business, we’ve seen people let their business passion cut into their profit when they aren’t willing to stand firm on pricing. Don’t let those feelings of desperation overtake making smart business decisions.

Get Paid What You Are Worth

Make the rest of your February goals align with your passion. Love your business enough to set a solid pricing structure that matches your professional services. Reach out to prospective and existing clients and share your passion for your products and services while giving them fair prices. Be confident in charging what you are worth.

Side note:
You may think this doesn’t match our pricing philosophy from last year’s guinea pig blog post series. Please recognize that the guinea pig approach is for a brand new business to get some experience with a very small group of clients; usually just three. For existing businesses, it is a great approach if you need a marketing tune-up or want to experiment with adding new services. It is not a long-term marketing strategy.

Still having a hard time estimating jobs in your business?

Here is a great article that addresses that topic:

Why Estimating Copywriting Projects Is Like Learning to Play Tennis…

Even though the article is targeted for copywriters, it has some great tips for any service business. Be sure to read some of the great comments that follow the article too.

Remember passion and profit can work beautifully together – especially if you lose the “I’m desperate” sign!

We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment and share your best tip on estimating projects and pricing.

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3 Scary Secrets about Small Business

Running a small business can be scary.

Truth is, the bottom line principles for building a successful business are scary simple:

  1. Be passionate about what you do
  2. Market yourself relentlessly
  3. Provide above and beyond customer service

Are you applying these three principles to your small business?

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Finding the Passion in Your Small Business

There are many advantages to being a small business owner.

  • Having something of your very own.
  • Doing something you love.
  • Setting your own schedule and work hours.
  • Having pride in success born of hard work and focus.

There are disadvantages as well.

  • Owning a small business requires discipline.
  • You, alone, are responsible for its success or failure.
  • Though you may love the work of your business, chances are there are also tasks that you don’t like to do.
  • It’s easy to procrastinate, to talk yourself into working tomorrow instead of today.

Successful business owners learn to capitalize on the good days.

The days when you get a new client. Or you meet someone who will be a great referral source. Or when you complete an important project — one that will be a model for new business. When these things happen you are energized. Over time you learn to ride the wave of excitement. You push yourself. You get more done. You talk to more people.

And then there are the days when it all turns bad. Business slows. There are no new clients in the pipeline. You begin to doubt yourself. You wear your pajamas all day because you have no where to go.

Discovering Your “Why”

When the bad days come (because they do and they will) it’s important to remember your “why.”

Some people define “the why” as the thing that gets you off the couch and to your job even when the couch is way more comfy. Others describe it as a sense of mission. A passion about what you do. It’s how you help others, how you make your clients’ lives easier or more beautiful, or how you make a difference through your work.

My “why” is simply the satisfaction of knowing I have helped someone be successful in their business. It’s believing that most people can do more with the help of someone who has been there, than they could ever do on their own. I can be that person. That’s what keeps me going even on the bad days.

Take time to name your “why”. Write it down in a sentence. Or a paragraph.

If your “why” is represented by an object then find it. Hold it. Put it by your desk. Touch it every morning and smile, knowing your work is important and worth the effort you will make today.

If your why is a feeling then sit with that feeling for a few minutes. Close your eyes (yeah, yeah, I know it’s hokey but just do it,) and remember why you do what you do and how it makes you feel. Smile and know you can and will make a difference.

But only if you get up off the couch and change out of your pajamas…

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Melissa Draut: Grant Writing That Matters

Like many of us, Melissa Draut left the corporate world and found her dream job doing work that makes a difference in the lives of others. As a Grant Writer, Melissa has built a business based on her past experience and the desire to do meaningful work as an entrepreneur.

You are in the grant writing business; tell us a little bit about what you do and what a typical day might look like.

I help non-profit organizations raise funds for their programs by writing and researching grants. A big part of what I do is to help identify what foundations are the right funding prospects for the organization’s program. That part of the job involves using databases, research and talking to people at foundations to see where we might have a fit for possible funding.

A typical morning may be writing a grant, researching leads and calling foundation contacts.  Since the job is so “head” oriented, I work out at lunch and actually get some of my best ideas when I am lap swimming. The afternoon could be spent meeting with a client, heading to the post office to mail a grant package or interviewing a program manager to get details for an upcoming grant.

How did you come up with the idea to go into business on your own?

I was very resistant to running my own business after leaving the corporate world. I figured I would freelance for a while, and then return to the next job somewhere. Well, one thing led to another, and I ended up with five clients and enough revenue to sustain myself. After going through rounds of corporate layoffs, I think this is more secure financially since my livelihood is not dependent on one source.

What do you love about grant writing and working for yourself?

I love being a grant writer for my clients because I am truly passionate about the mission of these organizations. From promoting financial self-sufficiency for domestic violence survivors to ensuring talented students have visual art education, I am working in the middle of some exciting solutions that address community needs.

I like working for myself because I have a healthy workplace and a good boss. I’m also lucky that my IT expert husband has supported me every step of the way with technology recommendations and set up so I can work effectively and efficiently.

What do you wish you had known before starting your own business?

That it really isn’t as hard as you think it might be. I thought running my business would be such a hassle, and it really isn’t once you get systems in place. Sure, it took me awhile to figure what to do with taxes, bank accounts and office equipment, but I learned to ask and hire experts for help instead of trying to figure everything out myself.

I bet others say this – I would have jumped into this sooner had I known how much I would thrive doing this work.

What advice do you have for women who are seeking to leave the corporate world and work from home?

My advice to women and men who are considering a change from the corporate scene to their own world: have confidence that you can learn something new. Review your track record – if you’ve been successful in doing new projects and reaching goals for someone else, you can do it for yourself and your new clients.

Find Melissa at MelissaDraut.com

5 Easy Steps to Build a Profitable Business with Systems

A common trap that small business owners fall into is spending more time on busy work (activities that are not billable,) than on work with and for clients (activities that are billable and which bring in income.)

It’s easy to do. Especially if your business is new. For a lot of small business owners, spending time on email, organizing the desk, or even paying bills is a lot more comfortable than picking up the phone, making new contacts and finding new clients.

One of the best ways to be sure you are concentrating on the right activities is to hire someone to do routine tasks like bookkeeping, daily office chores, and errands. But doing so requires that your business is strong, sustainable and bringing in consistent income.

Until that time, putting systems into place to help you get the busy work done quickly is key.

The benefit of a system is that it becomes routine. When something is routine, there is a set time to complete the task. And moving through the steps of getting the task done doesn’t require much brainpower.

Here’s an example: I’m guessing many of you have taught a child to drive. It’s an eye opening experience — mainly because as parents we are usually scared to death! We have to think about the process, and break down the steps for driving a car so we can teach our teenager:

  • locate your keys
  • unlock the car
  • get in car
  • open garage door
  • place keys in ignition
  • adjust seat and mirrors
  • put on seat belt
  • turn key to start car
  • put foot on brake
  • put car in gear
  • turn to look behind
  • press gas
  • ease car out of the garage and driveway
  • step on brake
  • put car in drive
  • press gas
  • drive forward

In list form, driving a car is a bit overwhelming. Yet as seasoned drivers, most of us jump in the car, turn on the radio and head down the road without even thinking about it.

It’s intuitive.

That’s what we want to happen in for daily or weekly business tasks; the step by step process becomes second nature. Investing time to develop and learn systems frees us up to concentrate on our clients, serving them well and earning income.

Here are 5 easy steps for creating a system:

1. Put It on Your Calendar

Choose a time of day or day of the week to do each recurring task. Pick times when you would not otherwise be connecting with clients, like early morning or later in the evening.

2. Keep Paperwork and Tools in One Place

During the week, throw papers, bills, lists in a folder (real or virtual) or basket designated solely for a specific task. When you’re ready to complete the task you’ll have everything you need at your fingertips.

3. Create a Step by Step Process

Having a simple process in place means you will spend less time on tasks that are classic time hogs. Email, for example. I check two accounts first thing in the morning (personal and business,) and before I leave the office in the late afternoon. I start with the personal, quickly reply to simple emails, and delete or file those that need no response. Those that require more thought or research simply stay in the inbox. Work to keep your inbox at less than a dozen emails for simplicity and speed. (I totally know that freaks a lot of you out. Hundreds of emails in your inbox is not a good system. You know who you are…)

4. Develop a Template

Some tasks lend themselves to using a template that can be used over and over. For example, spending time developing a template for a customer newsletter is a great investment. Simply set aside a specific day of the week or month to drop in information, edit and send to your clients. If need be, these steps can be broken down into different days.

5. Don’t Get Behind!

Everyone knows the feeling of getting behind on tasks that require frequent attention. It’s overwhelming, nagging and just plain awful. If you are not available to complete a task on its assigned day, be sure to reschedule it right away. Schedule one day a month for catch up.

Finally, as you develop your simple systems, make them as enjoyable as you can. I look forward to my cup of coffee while running through my systems in the morning. In the afternoon I turn on quiet music. It’s a nice change of pace from the intensity the middle of the day often brings.

What systems do you have in place that make your business run more smoothly? We’d love to hear!

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Tips on Buying a Used Mac Computer

Have you ever considered buying a used computer?

As a small business owner, it can be a good way to save money. Maybe your budget is tight and you can’t invest in a new computer right now.

Buying a used computer is very similar to buying a used car. It’s all about doing your research, choosing your model and getting the best deal.

A used computer rarely comes with a warranty which can be risky. But it can be a very sweet deal if you find the right seller. I look for a one-owner model that has been kept in the garage case and has been handled with tender, loving care.

When new models are coming out, you will find plenty of people selling their old models because they want the latest, greatest model. I have found that late summer/early fall can be a good time to find a great deal. Often times, kids get new computers at the beginning of school and sell their old model. January is also a good time to look after people get a new model as a holiday present.

We may have a few Apple® products in our house…

Disclaimer: These tips are all about Mac® computers because it’s all we own. I’m sure you can apply many of the tips if buying a Windows® computer.

I’ve been a Mac owner since 1985 when I bought a Macintosh 512k with an Apple LaserWriter® and started a desktop publishing business with Adobe® Pagemaker. I’ve loved my Mac computers way before Mac was ever cool. 😉

We have since owned almost every generation of the Mac computer that has been sold. I’ve bought computers directly from Apple and in the last 10 years, we have bought used computers (desktop and laptop) on ebay with virtually no problems. I don’t mind owning a generation or two behind the current model because it seems as soon as you buy the most current model, a brand new bell or whistle comes out. It’s impossible to keep up, so we stopped trying. Plus, history shows us that there are almost always glitches in the newest models with the newest operating systems so we prefer to wait until they work the bugs out.

Shopping on ebay has saved us hundreds of dollars on each computer and we do enjoying searching for a bargain.

Our three college kids have all purchased brand new Macbooks last year (2 from Microcenter and one from Apple). They all previously owned Macs we helped them find on ebay for under $700 each.

This takes time and effort but the savings has been worth it for us.

If you don’t have the patience or time to watch ebay auctions, then you may want to look for a refurb or used model on another site. Scroll down for a list of sites at the end of this article.

Three Best Tips When Buying a Used Computer

Do your research on what is current now so you will know what you are willing to give up if you purchase an older model. Set your budget with these things in mind:

  1. Buy the most current operating system you can afford
  2. Buy the most memory you can afford
  3. Buy the most hard drive space you can afford
ebay: What We Look For and How We Use It
  • Individual sellers (not resellers) with no less than 99% positive feedback
  • Clear pictures with thorough description including any flaws
  • Individual owner can include excellent software which increases the value of purchase
  • Storage cases and extra accessories can also increase value of the purchase
  • Mark and watch several auctions to see ending sale price so you know what particular models are going for and you don’t get in bidding war thinking you found “the one”
  • Bid in the last 5 minutes or less. I actually have 2 tabs open on my browser so I can see time ticking down and other tab open to bidding window where I type in bid and get ready to click and try to “snipe” in the last bid with under 1 minute with the maximum I’m willing to pay.

You can also filter your search on ebay to only include “Buy it Now” auctions with a fixed price. This is a huge timesaver and you can sometimes find great deals this way.

There are plenty to choose from and listings are added weekly if not daily – patience pays off

Don’t forget to check apple.com for their refurbished, discontinued and student discounts.

Resources for used, refurbished or new Macs:

LowEndMac.com (find history of mac and links for deals here)
Microcenter.com (their in-store specials are excellent if there is a store near you)
Gainsaver.com
PowerMax.com
macofalltrades.com
MacMall.com

Happy shopping!

Asip Ink: Designing a Growing Home Business

Katy Asip is a talented entrepreneur whose business has grown steadily over the past 6 years. She is the perfect example of a successful, small business woman who has learned to work and grow her business alongside of her family. Katy has an artistic eye and a flair for both the cute and classic. I’ve been a loyal customer for years! Today, Katy shares with us her tips for running a home based business.

Tell us about your business and the services you offer.

My business is Asip Ink. I design and print personalized stationery, custom invitations and a line of inspirational greeting cards called “Love Notes”

How did you come up with the idea?

I didn’t start out with a business in mind. I was doing volunteer work for a start-up charity in Atlanta. We needed thank you notes and letterhead for our organization so I learned how to do make them. Next, I began making notecards and notepads for friends as gifts. Before I knew it, friends were asking me to make notecards for them to give as gifts. Little by little I grew the concept into a business.

What do you like best about being a small business owner?

I love making my own hours and schedule. I have a family, so it is so nice to have the flexibility to do carpool or doctors’ appointments when my kids need me to. I can tailor my schedule to match my family schedule. I also love working at home. I can have dinner cooking or laundry in while I am working.

What are the frustrations?

When I get super busy I can get overwhelmed. I often think “it’s only me,” but I’m guessing most women have a lot on their plates and often feel the same way.

I have learned to use my less busy times of the year – winter and summer – to stock up on cash and carry inventory, organize my workspace and work on fine-tuning marketing tools. These are the things that I cannot focus on when I am slammed with orders.

Also, I invested in a couple of tools which make my business run so much smoother. I purchased an excellent printer which means less wasted paper, ink and time! An excellent paper cutter saves so much time. So, what may seem like an extravagant expense can save time and money in the long run.

Lastly, I have dedicated time in my office during the day, but I never work at night.

How have you grown your business?

I do several craft show and markets a year and I always make new contacts at these. I have a very large email distribution list and though I don’t send too many emails, it is a good way to stay on customers’ radar. I have a website, asipink.com, which my customers share with friends. My business has grown through word of mouth and the internet.

What advice do you have for others who have a great idea and dream of turning it into a successful business?

I would say the easiest part of having my own business is that every day I am doing something I truly love. If you have a talent or passion it is fun to make money doing what you love. Shape your business so that you are doing the things you love…and hire someone to do the things you don’t!

You can find Katy’s work at asipink.com or contact her at kasip@mac.com

Back to School Basics

Some of the most basic skills we need as small business owners are the very skills we learned as young children.

When I wrote about getting back to work two weeks ago because we start back to school so early here in Georgia, I knew there would be a part two and maybe even a part three.

Consider this part two.

Depending on where you live, this upcoming Labor Day weekend may be the time you squeeze in your last bit of summer fun before school starts. For us, we are in week three of school and we’re in a pretty good rhythm with our new schedule.

#3 Create a Schedule deserves a little more time and attention.

Here’s what I said:

3. Create a Schedule

Plan your week. Know what your office hours are. Set appointments with potential clients. Having a framework in place for your week can really boost your productivity.

I also noted that I did not get specific about what your daily schedule should look like.

I’m still not going to tell you what your schedule should look like. I’d rather offer some suggestions and give you an example or too.

Unlike our days in kindergarten where our schedules all looked the same and we didn’t have many choices about them, one of the best benefits of being a small business owner is that we can create our own schedule.

Of course, as you create your schedule, other people’s schedules have to be taken into consideration. Stating the obvious, I know. But sometimes we need to be reminded about the obvious. Or at least I do.

As a self-employed small business owner for over 20 years, I know that I have to schedule certain activities or they will never get done. For me, that means I now color code my google calendar on my laptop. In years past, I used highlighters and colored paper in my planner. Others used stickers and different colored ink pens.

The point is, that while my tools have changed and I do more things electronically because I like technology, the basics of creating my schedule and managing my time have not changed.

I am visual and I like to see how many business activities I have scheduled, how many family activities and even {gasp} how many “all about me” activities are on my schedule. Business is blue, family is green and self/me is purple.

Pick your own colors. Use ink, colored pencils, highlighters or the computer.

Just create a schedule with blocks of time scheduled for WORK.

It’s an important to take your job seriously. Give yourself whatever title you like best. Owner, founder, principal, president. The most important title that you should honor is BOSS. You are the boss and you have to hold yourself accountable.

I’ve often asked people this question:

“If you were hiring right now, would you hire yourself?”

Are you hired? Or fired?

The great thing is that as the boss you can re-hire yourself. Bring your best to your business and your business will grow.

Would love to hear your best work schedule tips – leave a comment below and we can all learn from each other!

Next up in this series, we’ll talk about exactly what you do during your scheduled time to work and what is the most common thing we avoid.

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Back to School & Back to Work

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For many women small business owners, summer time is when business slows down. I’ve found this to be especially true for work-at-home moms (WAHM) since it means kids are home and they require more of your time and attention. Even if you don’t have kids, the summer pace for most people seems to be slower than at other times of the year.

Maybe it’s the heat?

Or maybe summer is the season that we are conditioned to give ourselves an extended break because of our memories of our earliest days in school. Of course, if you are old enough, you know that summer was not intended as a school vacation but it was a time for children to come home and help in the fields and harvest the crops. I’m not old enough to know that firsthand…I just remember it from some random history lesson. 😉

Whatever the reason, if you slowed your business down this summer – now is the time to…

Get Back to Work!

As the mom of four, I’ve had my abundant share of the back-to-school frenzy. But with only my 8th grader to get ready, it was a bit calmer. She started back to school last Monday here in Georgia. My three college kids are all fully capable and well-versed in getting themselves ready for their new school year.

Whether you are helping your kindergartner get ready or you’re sending someone to college, the processes and preparation for going back to school serve as some important reminders for small business owners.

1. Start with a Clean Work Space

Clean out your book bag. Throw away old papers. A clean desk with space to work can be a key to a fresh start. As a known paper piler myself, I know I always feel better when I at least straighten and move my piles.

2. Organize Your Supplies

Spending a little time organizing your supplies goes a long way towards saving time not having to hunt for things you know you have “somewhere”.

3. Create a Schedule

Plan your week. Know what your office hours are. Set appointments with potential clients. Having a framework in place for your week can really boost your productivity.

4. Take Breaks

There is still a place for naps and recess even for grown-ups. The power of a short nap should not be minimized. If you can’t imagine napping, at least give yourself a recess break. Step away from the computer, the phone or the project and take a short break.

Creating systems for your workflow will not only help you save time and energy, the greater results are presenting yourself as a professional business owner who can help your clients with their next project.

Do What Works For You

Please note that I did not get specific about what your daily schedule should look like or what color your file folders should be. We all have different levels of organization that we are comfortable with. We all have different personalities and our brains work differently so I’ve never believed that there is only one “right way”. Experiment and find systems and a schedule that works for you.

One of the best parts about being a small business owner is that you have the power to change what doesn’t work for you. Being flexible and adaptable to changing things when you need to is one of the many benefits of being your own boss.

What’s your best tip for getting back to work as the kids get back to school?

Picture Amy at Work

Amy Brooks Hoffmann is a small business owner who balances work alongside of family. I’ve known Amy for years and have always been impressed with her ability to plan strategically, envision a business that is relevant to the time, and network within her community.

Most recently, Amy added photo organizing to her existing business and rebranded with a new name — Fleur de Lis Photo Solutions.

Enjoy my conversation with Amy as she shares a few tips and explains how her business has evolved.

Tell us about your business. What made you decide to become a photo organizer?

A lot has changed with the way we take photographs! Digital photography was introduced in the early 2000s, allowing us to be free of film and photo processing. The good news? You can take so many photographs with a digital camera! The bad news? You can take so many photographs with a digital camera!

More and more often I was asked to create commissioned albums for my clients. The time seemed right with our family’s schedule – so I added the service of photo organizing and digital album creation to my existing business.

You have been a Creative Memories consultant for many years. How has adding photo organizing to your existing business been a benefit?

Expanding my business from Amy Brooks Hoffmann, Creative Memories Consultant to Amy Brooks Hoffmann, Fleur de Lis Photo Solutions broadens my client opportunity.

People and organizations who would never have anything to do with the preconceived idea of a “crafty” business are now interested in working with me as a business consultant for all of their photo needs. Flexibility is the key.

I am working to make sure that current clients, members of my church, school and social communities know that I have expanded my business and offer more services that might benefit them. My current business goal is to expand the business to see what opportunities are available with small and large corporations. I’d love to organize the photographic archives of businesses throughout my home town.

What do you like most about what you do?

I love talking with people, learning their stories, and seeing those experiences in their photos. I have come to the conclusion that most families are really the same – we all have hopes and dreams for our children, challenges with our professions and celebrations throughout the year. I’m convinced that we all have similar experiences and concerns. Most people love their photos. Most people want to enjoy them. Most people have no idea how to transform their “mess” of photos to “masterpieces.”

That’s where I come in.

What advice do you have for new Photo Organizers? Or for someone who is adding photo organizing to an existing business?

If you have jumped into this profession, you probably have worked with your own photos and family memorabilia.  Realize that the work you have done with your own photos is a perfect “apprenticeship,” preparing you to work with clients. When working with a new client, Be Confident in your ability to bring an outside, objective view to the new project. Your clients will express nothing but gratitude and relief as you assume the responsibility for their project.

You have kids at home (2 smart and active boys!) How do you make it all work?

“Making it all work” is a lofty goal by anyone’s standards. Is it really possible to integrate a smooth home and professional life every day? We try at the Hoffmann household. Often succeeding. Sometimes failing. The greatest challenge for me as a Mom and home-based business owner is time management. I often over commit to professional and philanthropic projects. That leads to panic, frustration and can obliterate a well planned schedule.

Keeping my family’s schedule in mind, I always discuss a deadline (or series of deadlines) with my clients. Accountability to the client keeps the project on pace and moving forward while putting my family first.

A second word of advice: find a “desk” for yourself. This was a really big transition for me after I decided to become a stay-at-home mom 12 years ago. It is frustrating to  have “stacks” of paper and projects throughout the house. You need a landing spot/clearing house for the paper and information that comes into your home. I keep my to do lists here, along with project files. It is a daily challenge to keep my space clutter free…but that is a discussion for another blog post, I’m sure!

Amy Brooks Hoffmann can be reached at Fleur de Lis Photo Solutions
She is an Appo™ member.