Simplify With A Monthly Household Worksheet

A monthly Household Organization Worksheet for Finances etc. via lilblueboo.com

 

A few years ago I created a worksheet for my business to help me keep on top of all the moving parts of accounting, taxes, inventory etc. I was a disaster before….but now I am always on top of everything. I’ve adapted it into a household worksheet as well to keep our monthly finances and other things in order. As technical as I am with computers and smart phones, over time I’ve come to the realization that there’s nothing better than handwritten notes and records. A few things I like about this system:

CONTINUE READING

Pinterest Analytics

I finally started something I should have done a long time ago….a Pinterest board to pin projects you’ve done from Lil Blue Boo tutorials! I’ve got a bunch to catch up on! WordPress notifies me of backlinks so that’s really the only way I can find you unless you tag me on Pinterest with @lilblueboo.

I spent the afternoon tracking down a few projects to pin onto my new Sharing the DIY Love board:

So I’m just going to assume everyone knows what Pinterest is……

Want to see what people are pinning from your website onto Pinterest? Type in the following:

Want to see what people are repinning from your pins? Pinreach.com is a good resource!

 

A few tips for Pinterest:

1. Send some traffic to the original source. One issue I have with Pinterest is that it is one step removed from original source.  Something to think about when you create the photos for your posts:  If you use a big collage with every step of a tutorial, and the entire tutorial shows up on Pinterest, there is no incentive for pinners and repinners to click through to the original source.  I try not to spend a ton of time on Pinterest, but when I find something I like: I click all the way through to the original author…..to send them some traffic….even if it’s just one visitor.

2. Weed out the spammers. Spammers like to take popular photos and repost them with their own spam link. Before repinning photo, take a half a second to make sure you are able to click through to the original source…..and that it is a legit source.

 

That’s all I’ve got for today….short and sweet!

Small Business Accounting Simplified

You’ve started a small business. Generating sales, tracking expenses, paying taxes…..it can all be so overwhelming. The most important way to gauge how your business is doing is to track what is going in and what is going out.

Small business accounting simplified via lilblueboo.com

As time goes on, and your business becomes more and more complex it will be harder to stay organized. I have a template I print off every month that has a place for notes, trips taken, large equipment purchases, tax notes etc so I can keep it all straight at tax season. Have a central place where you collect receipts and statements. CONTINUE READING

Social Media Simplified

Are you starting a new small business and are overwhelmed by all the social media out there? Or maybe you already have a business and are trying to ramp up your marketing?  Here are a few tips that might help you along the way!

Make sure to check out the rest of the small business series below!

Favorite Fonts

Lil Blue Boo's Top 15 Favorite Free Fonts via lilblueboo.comLil Blue Boo's Top 15 Favorite Free Fonts part II via lilblueboo.com

You can find them here:

bebas neue, black rose, halo handletter, hand of cre, pea jazz skinny, josefin slab, learning curve, lobster 1.3, lullaby, marcelle script, mountains of christmas, pacifico, pea xoxo from karen, primer, seaside resort.

Facebook Rules Simplified

First, thank you to those that alerted me that I was breaking a Facebook rule by having my website address in my cover photo! I could have had my Facebook page deleted for this violation. Scary! So, as a part of my Getting Down To Business small business series I decided to provide a summary of Facebook rules for pages.

I’ve taken what I feel are key points* (the rules that are broken most often) from Facebook’s terms and conditions for PAGES and condensed them into more simple terms.

*Please note: as always I recommend that you read the Facebook terms and conditions in full and make your own determination!


Make sure to check out the rest of the small business series below!

Getting Down to Business: Business Cards

Business cards are great for networking. I can’t even count the number of times someone has told me their business name in passing and I can’t remember when I finally go to find them online!

I used to carry cards in my purse and if someone asked for information on my blog or what Boo is wearing I just handed them a card instead of hoping they remember my website. Stephanie Corfee designed the cards for me. I order them through Zazzle whenever I need more…..they are the mini cards…the size of a piece of gum.  I don’t have a phone number on them….just my website and a business mailing address. I also use them for tags…..a hole punch does the trick:

 

 

Now instead of business cards I hand out my Choose Joy bracelets:

 

Here are some neat handmade business cards I’ve come across:

 

Handpainted and rubber stamped. Via Oh So Beautiful Paper.

 

Hand stamped with a trinket included. Via Oh, Hello Friend.

Super cute! Cards with fabric sewn to the back via Juicy Bits:

Brown paper and twine plus a standard mailing label! Love this idea via Burlap and Blue.

 

Check out these super creative business card ideas I rounded up for Babble’s The New Home Ec…..just click on the image to view the gallery:

 

 

Click below to see all the other posts so far in this series!

Getting Down to Business: Getting Started

When you are just starting out as a business it’s natural to look at other businesses and wonder how they got there.  I thought I’d share a little of my story and answer some questions that I’ve gotten from readers to make this as helpful as possible. Keep in mind, everything written here is my own personal opinion and I encourage you to do as much research as possible!

Starting Out

1. Do a little research. Obviously the first question is what are you going to sell? Do an Internet search and make sure there aren’t 4,000 people selling an identical product and the market is already saturated. If there are 4,000 people already selling it then you need to ask yourself: how can I differentiate my product in a sea of similar products?

 

2. Just go for it. Oh how I wish I had a screenshot of my Etsy shop when it first opened!  It was so sad and empty looking…but I had to start somewhere! When I first opened my Etsy shop it was to sell custom portraits and nursery art….and I never had ONE sale off Etsy. I had better luck with my painting business at a local level offering them in boutiques and leaving my business cards around town….so I closed the shop for a while. Eventually I reopened my shop when I started making one-of-a-kind handmade clothing items and patterns.

Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the details…..and honestly I think this is what holds so many people back from starting their small business. I often encourage people to just open a shop…..all you need is a name. You don’t need a fancy logo to get started…..just a few minutes to open an Etsy shop.  Once you have a few things listed, start marketing to your friends.  Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a a ton of sales immediately.  Starting out small though gives you the flexibility to shift your business model and figure out exactly what is going to work for you without investing a lot of money upfront!  As you start to grow your business you can invest in it more…..a better logo and graphics, better packaging, more products etc.

 

3. Pick a great name……and make it easy to spell and say.

I picked mine on a whim…..but if I could do it all over again I’d pick something easier to pronounce. My daughter’s nickname is Boo and I added the color blue to it so it would rhyme. I used to mentor the cutest little boy named Li’l Ron…so that’s where the Li’l came from. I left the apostrophe out on purpose.

I’ve had to compensate for the fact that the name is hard to say: I own the domains www.littleblueboo.com and www.lilblueboo.com so I don’t have to worry about mispronouncing the name to people I meet on the street. I just say “Little Blue Boo” instead of having to explain that it’s “Li’l” but without the apostrophe.

If you think you might add other businesses down the road pick a broad name! Lil Blue Boo applies to my blog, clothing line, pattern line…..and many other things to come.

 

4. Etsy vs. Big Cartel.

I always recommend starting out on Etsy if you are selling handmade items or supplies.  It’s a great way to test out a business because it’s a reputable site for handmade and vintage goods and it has a built in community of customers.

I am curious about when you moved from Etsy and why. Mostly I would love to know how you started out, and grew from there. – Jamie

I moved to Big Cartel once I had a web presence with my blog. Paying attention to my traffic through Google Analytics I could tell that most of my customers were coming from my blog and Facebook and not through Etsy searches. Because of that it was an easy switch for me. But, I never moved entirely to Big Cartel. I still have an Etsy shop where I sell patterns and sometimes list clothing. I always recommend keeping an Etsy store if you make the move to Big Cartel because it’s just one more way to generate new customers. On Etsy you only pay if you have a sale so there’s no downside to keeping a second shop….and it’s a great way for new customers to see feedback.

 

 

 

How did you decide the right prices for your products? How do you deal with family and friends asking for discounts? People who don’t handmake stuff don’t seem to realize that it’s not just the cost of supplies but the cost of my time!  -Annie

Pricing can be complicated…..especially if you are on Etsy because you are competing against tons of other stores that look very similar and it’s hard to differentiate yourself by brand. There are basic pricing principle but they often require some tweaking:

(materials + labor + overhead) x 2 = wholesale price

wholesale price x 2 = retail price

Personally, I’ve chosen not to sell my products wholesale, so I’ve priced my items somewhere in between the wholesale price and retail price. It lets me offer my products at a more affordable price to my customers and invest back into my company with the % that would have gone to a retailer. But selling wholesale is also a good way to get your product out to a broader range of customers….there are pros and cons to everything.  I’ll be writing more on wholesaling, trunk shows etc down the road.

My advice is to list some items and test out your pricing. If you don’t sell anything at a certain price point it doesn’t mean your price is too high……it might mean you need some better photos and better marketing. If you try that and you still aren’t selling, then you might try lowering your price.

As far as friends and family, that’s a tough one. I recommend have a set “friends and family” discount of 10% or 20% and maybe only on certain items. Items that are in high demand should be reserved for paying customers because that is what keeps your store in business! On the other hand, your friends and family can be your best advertising….so maybe you can save imperfect items for them as “gifts.”

 

My business seems to be taking off and I am a one woman show who hand sews appliques on onesies/shirts among other things. My problem is finding balance. Between taking care of the house, working part time and chasing a 20 month old, not to mention we are trying for baby #2, how do I find time to do what I love? How did you do it in the early stages before you had help? -Shazia

 

I think this is what everyone who owns their own business struggles with.  It’s important to only take on what you can handle….otherwise you’ll make yourself miserable. I also recommend finding help…..so you can focus on the aspects of the business that you love the most. For me, my true passion is blogging and making new things…..so I had to find people that could help me fill in the rest of the areas: filling orders, shipping, sewing etc. The hardest part of any business is figuring out how to grow in a smart way…..for me personally it’s been growing in baby steps.

Here’s a little timeline of how I grew the business around me:

1. Before I had any help, my sweet husband did all my shipping. I would print the labels and he would match all the labels to the boxes.

2.My first hire was a part-time housekeeper Carla…she came once a week to clean and straighten the house. It was worth the money so I could use that extra time saved to work and to spend time with my family.

3. My second hire was the same housekeeper….I had Carla start helping me inspect, fold and package clothing as it was finished.

4. My third hire was a seamstress Dawn that I found by placing an advertisement in the local classifieds. After a few months of helping me sew from the house I financed a large industrial sewing machine for her and she now sews for Lil Blue Boo full time from her house as an independent contractor. She also helps to train new seamstresses and is our expert on new techniques etc.

5. My fourth hire was my full time assistant, Lisa. She handles email, the website, customer service, more things than I can possibly list. It’s about time to hire Lisa her own assistant!

6. My fifth hire was a new housekeeper/house assistant Gicela. After a while, Gicela showed a genuine interest in sewing. So I trained her to sew, cut, and now she even makes patterns. She’s a self-starter, very innovative and a super hard worker….so she’s a perfect fit.

7. My sixth hire was Gicela’s mother….as a seamstress. She used to sew her Gicela’s clothes when she was little…..she has amazing attention to detail.

And the story goes on and on……it’s all about finding people that are passionate and truly interested in Lil Blue Boo. I couldn’t do any of this without these amazing women! They make work fun. You’ll know immediately if you have found the right person for the job…..don’t prolong the agony if they aren’t the right fit…..move on and find the next person!

 

Stay tuned for Product Photography 101 and Marketing 101 coming soon! As always leave questions in the comments if there is something you’d like me to add to the series….this series is for all of you so I want to make it as informative as possible!

 

Click below to see all the other posts so far in this series!

Ask Lil Blue Boo: A Typical Day

As part of my ongoing small business series I’ve been compiling questions from readers. One of the most often asked questions is: What is a typical day like…..how to you fit it all in? Sometimes I never fit it all in! Couldn’t we all use another 10 hours a day?

 

What’s a typical day like for you? Do you work weekends, too? – Amy

I don’t know if I have a typical day….I’m usually all over the place never focusing on just one project. I start working at 8:30am and work up until 5pm. I have 2 full time employees that show up at 9am sharp every morning and a few part time helpers that come and go throughout the week. Lil Blue Boo would be a disaster without them.  I’ll work late at night for an hour or two on the computer once Boo goes to bed.

If I work on the weekends it’s only on creative fun projects that the whole family is involved in. For example, we might build something fun or start some artwork. It’s not work to me though….it’s more of a lifestyle. I just like to make stuff and so does the rest of the family. I don’t watch sports and I don’t enjoy shopping so that frees up a lot of time!

One day last week I took photos of everything I did to try and document what a “typical day” might look like:

 

(more after the jump)

CONTINUE READING

Business 101 (according to me)

Undertaking this “Getting Down to Business” series might be the hardest thing I’ve ever done! Entire blogs are dedicated to running small business! I have an MBA but more often than not my business decisions come from my gut…..not from analysis.  So that’s how I’ve decided to approach this series….from what comes naturally and what has worked for me.

This is my first official business post and I thought I’d just start off right away with what I think are the 10 most important things for running a successful small handmade business.

 

To me this doesn’t mean make something high quality……it means make the best quality.

I take customer feedback very seriously…..and the goal is to never make the same mistake twice. This means tons of research on fabric quality, ink quality etc. We go to great lengths to hand silk screen every single item with “tagless” tags for comfort. I never mail out something I’m not proud of. If an item doesn’t meet my quality standards we’ll delay shipment….and contact the customer hoping they understand. I am constantly inspecting new things and other lines of clothing to see how we can improve on quality.

(more after the jump)

 

Customers want to know that they are valued and respected.

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and look at the problem. How would you expect the situation to be resolved if you were from the outside looking in? Make sure your policies are written down and remind your customers about them often. You may have to make exceptions to your policies from time to time and change them as you go along.  It’s hard starting out when you have to take a loss on something because of a mistake you made…..but it’s worth it in the long run.

My personal opinion: Any seller that has a NO RETURN OR EXCHANGE policy is sending a message that they don’t stand behind their product (truly custom items are obviously an exception to this rule). I used to have that policy until I put myself in the customer’s shoes. I had it mostly because I didn’t want to have a bunch of returns at the end of a season because someone didn’t end up using the clothing. Since I have a small handmade business with a short shelf life I made up my own policy that fit my business….the customer has 10 days once they receive the product to decide if it’s for them or not.

 

Even if you are just starting out, pay your taxes and do your homework on permits and licenses…..or it will come back to haunt you.

I pay sales tax, employee/unemployment taxes, and income tax on everything Lil Blue Boo…..and I have ever since my first sale. I use Paycycle.com because it makes my life easier: it handles all taxes, forms, payroll etc. It’s about $40 a month but it’s a business expense that I can write off and it saves me about 10 hours of work (which is worth $4 an hour!). This may seem tedious and unnecessary at first if you are only selling one item here and there…….but as you grow and let the world know through blogging and Facebook that you have more help and employees……it’s basically public record.

 

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to start a business.

I started out with a dinky camera and a $99 sewing machine. I’m very conservative when it comes to investment because I like to spend my time being creative, not worrying about how I’m going to pay off another piece of equipment.

Borrow. Do you have a friend that has a nice camera that could help you take some photos of your product? Does your sister have an extra sewing machine or glue gun you could borrow?

Barter. Find someone that is willing to trade their services for product. Do you know a graphic designer who might design a logo in exchange for some amazing handmade goodies?

 

My rule of thumb? Never write anything in an email or online that I wouldn’t say to someone’s face.

If you post something not nice on your blog or twitter you can never take it back….someone will see it even if you delete it. A few people close to the situation might know what you are talking about but 99% of the world won’t care. Plus, word gets around.  There is also a rare tendency for small groups of sellers to gang up on another seller…..which I’m pretty sure is a form of cyberbullying. Stay off the bandwagon. And there are the touchy subjects:

Legal issues. First of all, make sure you copyright your work (you can use www.myfreecopyright.com) and make sure to register your trademarks to protect yourself (I use www.legalzoom.com).  If you think someone has infringed on a copyright or a trademark, approach them with a nice professional email or certified letter. They might comply immediately having no idea they were infringing in the first place. Take screen shots of everything and save every email.  If they don’t respond have an attorney send them a cease and desist if you think it’s worth the expense.

Copycats: This topic could take an entire blog post so I’ll write more on this later but here’s a summary: if you feel really strongly that someone has directly copied you take the same route as you would with a legal issue. I’ll be honest though, I don’t spend ONE ounce of energy on copycats. If I think someone has copied me…..great, good for them…….as long as they don’t have a website they are calling Lil Blue Boo and selling Boo Blue clothing or using a copyrighted graphic. And my number one rule? NEVER draw attention to the copycat…..otherwise you are giving them free marketing!

Haters: Ignore them and take the high road. Yes, sad as it is, if you experience any type of success there will be haters that love spending their energy trying to bring you down. But just think…..while they are busy trying to bring you down you can work extra hard on your next big thing! Never get involved in the petty drama. It only takes a second, but take screen shots of everything and save every email in case it gets out of control…..there are laws against cyberbullying and libel.  One of my favorite quotes: “Do not disappoint your haters this week. Keep rocking extremely hard!” —Rev Run

 

I’ll admit Pinterest is addicting. It’s fun to look at all those beautiful ideas and crafts in one place…..but a gazillion other people are looking at the same thing. I’ve noticed an amazingly quick cycle on Pinterest:

Day 1: a new idea pops up

Day 2: a new idea is pinned and repinned 4,000 times

Day 3: a new tutorial pops up for that new idea

Day 4: a 2nd tutorial pops up for that new idea

Day 10: 20 new tutorials pop up for that new idea

I look for inspiration in unexpected places: travel magazines, photography websites, home decor magazines, old family photos, vintage books etc. Keep it fresh and find a way to organize your ideas.

 

 

Keep track of all money coming in and all money going out.

Your accounting doesn’t have to be fancy…..to start out you just keep a notebook where you keep track of monthly expenses and monthly income. You’ll be surprised at what adds up and you can find ways to cut out expenses and overhead so you are on track to make a profit!

I do all my accounting in Excel because Quickbooks isn’t as compatible with Paypal as I would like it. I’m also obsessed with ratios and growth rates (so maybe I did learn something from getting my MBA).  If you aren’t numbers oriented find a friend to help you do some analysis on your financials! Put it on your calendar at each month end to finish your P&L (profit and loss statement). 

 

 

 

Eventually it becomes counterproductive to spend your time on certain things.

As your business grows you can’t do everything yourself.  Could you hire someone to help you iron fabric or package your items? What about a part time assistant to help with email? If you want to grow your business you can’t spend countless hours on the minutia.

 

Find ways to get noticed!

Collaborate and cross promote with different people and business lines. Whatever you do….don’t spam other sites and sellers. And if you write someone asking them to collaborate make sure you’ve read their blog and get their name right.

You could write a guest post for someone. You could send out some free product to someone that would love, appreciate it and write about it. You’ll have to brainstorm until the end of time for this one…..it’s all about coming up with a unique idea!

 

If you are running a business, treat it like a business. When you are first starting out you’ll bend over backwards to meet special customer requests….but as you grow this just isn’t feasible anymore.  For me, I know my team’s limits and I know overwhelming them would only move us backwards.

 

 

Hope this helps some of you!  Just remember these aren’t going to work well for everyone…..they are what has worked well for me.  When in doubt always seek out the advice of an accountant and an attorney and do as much research as possible!

Stay tuned for more! I’ll be elaborating on each each of the topics in the future!

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