April 6th, 2010

Why Moms Make Great Entrepreneurs

When I started this company back in 2007, I had no idea what I was in for, but now I realize being a mom gave me some essential qualities necessary to succeed.

Moms all run businesses.  The business of raising a child.  I am sure you have seen the numerous talk shows and chain mails that comment on the amount of money a mom should make, because we wear so many hats. But, we know that no amount of money can compare to the expeirence of being a mom.  The quality moms possess that makes it all worthwhile, without making a cent, is the innate sense to nurture.  Oddly enough, it is this same quality that stands to bring in the mother load for businesses.

There are many successful mompreneurs.  Maybe it’s because without consciously realizing it, they run a business like they raise a child.

Being a mom is about finding your way through sleepless nights without much reward.  Juggling daily activities that have an expansive range.  We routinely do what is necessary for our children.  We feed them, we wait, and they begin to grow.  We love them, we wait, and a personality begins to develop. We hold them steady, we wait, and they reach for the table and take baby steps towards independence.  We watch them fall, we wait, and they pick themselves back up.  We teach them, we wait, and they start making their own decisions.  We spend a life guiding them, continuing day in and day out,  collecting bigger and bigger rewards along the way.  The only one we need, is self satisfaction.  Being able to marvel at being a part of such an awesome opportunity. We don’t need accolades for our children’s successes, but the guilt we might feel for their mistakes, ultimately drives us to do better at our jobs.

Being an entrepreneur is the same process.  You spend months, if not years, researching.  Many sleepless nights follow without reward.  You juggle marketing, sales, developing a website, developing a brand, a logo and identity.   You keep on feeding the business, day in and day out,  and it begins to grow. You manage employees. You relish in the little successes. The trials and errors are the catalyst to improved decisions and ideas.  You hope, eventually, the business will take on a life all it’s own and become self sufficient.

Being an entrepreneur and a mother can be thankless jobs at times.  But being a nurturer, gives you an advantage.  Patience is inherent to nurturing.   It provides strength and the drive to face challenges and risks, no reward required. All entrepreneurs want success, but moms may be the most successful, because they know the outcome is well worth the wait.

December 9th, 2009

Always an Intern

When I got my first job at an architecture firm, I entered as an intern. There was a three year period before I could take the registration exam. Once you pass the exam you become an architect. Along with that, higher pay and more responsibilities. As the years passed, the firm at which I was employed grew and I was no longer the 15th hire, but the 15th from the top. As a project manager, I not only oversaw projects, I oversaw others within the firm. Because it started as a small firm, we held on to a family atmosphere. Not only did we help others along their journey towards the top, we never forgot our loyalty to those who helped us reach our potential. Answering the others questions became part of my responsibility, but I always looked to others to answer mine. And I had plenty. After nearly ten years at the firm, one of my last projects was the most challenging. I was thankful I never hesitated to ask questions. I had the mindset, that no matter how high I climbed, I would always be an intern. There was always someone to learn from.

I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. I prided myself in the ability to work within a team to handle a task. I was always a component, never a leader. Yes, a project manager “leads” a project. But, the firm had an owner and he was the leader and my mentor.

As I started my business, I hung on to the mindset of an intern. I researched and did the hard grunt work it took. I lacked a mentor and the support of a team. But, by continuing to ask questions, I found the people who would have the answers I needed to continue my “project”. I eventually assembled a team and I am constantly adding to it. My team has proven successful in that I have received press that has brought some attention to my business. The phenomenon that has come from being an entrepreneur with a fledgling business is the attention I receive as a person.

Marketing has it’s down side for a small business, it’s high cost. But, the pay off, if you are willing to take the risk and feel you have the right people in place, is that it brings you success. Success is relative and all in how you measure it I suppose. It may not be success until you make enough sales to dig out of a financial hole (just ask my husband.) But, I will tell you, the sales will come.

The success I have seen is in the connections made. Press brings others to you. To be sure, you might not feel comfortable telling the interviewer production is slow and costly, but by them printing that information, opportunity knocks. A local sew shop might see the article and call offering help. They too need business and even if they aren’t a good fit for your company, it won’t hurt to talk to them and ask questions. A small monogramming company might call and suggest personalizing your product. You may have never thought of that, but it just might open a whole new interest level to your product. Another local mompreneur might call, introduce herself, and offer help. So many questions, so many people, and they all lead to sales.

But, by far the best connections are the ones where others reach out to YOU for advice. There is a tipping point in rank as much as there is in sales. At some point, you emerge from intern to project manager. For me it has become the most exciting part. It reminds me of my days in the architecture firm. Being able to give back and offer advice has it’s advantages. You just feel good. I’ve done some hard work, entered into an industry I knew nothing about, and now I have the opportunity to share my experiences. I am in awe of that fact.

And so I trudge on my journey, and although I have been given godspeed, as they say, I know where I stand. I am so thankful for how far I’ve come, but know I have a lot more questions. I may have reached a point where others can learn from my mistakes, but for me, I am still searching for answers and looking to others for guidance. In my mind, I will always be an intern.

September 22nd, 2009

On Becoming a TWIT-erer (Revisited)

Back in January of 2009 I posted this blog about Twitter on smallerindiana.com. I re-read it recently and decided it would be a good thing to post it on my personal blog (and to elaborate on it) since I have been tweeting for nine months.

I am brand new to all this social media networking. The marketing team I am using for my new business, strong armed me into it. For good reason. The tweeting began with my hands hovering over the keyboard. What Am I Doing Now? Easily answered over a phone line, but for some reason I couldn’t figure out what to say. Should it be business related? I am here, after all, to help put my product on the map. Do I talk about what I am really doing? Having an anxiety attack! Surely, that wouldn’t be the best way to gain followers. I felt a little exposed. Afraid of the water.

I must say, my first tweet was uneventful. They are improving, as is my number of followers. I even attend other social networks. I have immersed myself into a whole new community. Enlarged my social circle. Found a place to exchange ideas and gain insight. I have broadened my social etiquette. Followed with curiosity and un-followed without regret. Looking for business connections, I have made friends. I have since gotten over the feeling of being the new kid. Not a good chance I’ll ever make it into the “in crowd”. But, who ever thought becoming a twit would be a good thing.

Back then, I think I only had 100 followers. Now I have 1,200 and am very comfortable tweeting these days. I tweet an average of three times a day. And spend, maybe an average of 1 hour per day researching potential followers or catching up with current ones. I have not invested that much time, and I have gotten amazing results. My Google Analytics prove it.

The most important things I have learned:

  • Do not tweet only about your business. Most people won’t follow you if you are only trying to gain something.
  • Don’t necessarily tweet about what your eating every morning, but tweet some personal antecdotes, feelings, emotions, or quotes. It gives personality to your business and depth to your (Twitter) character.
  • Don’t use all the apps (or applications) that give you a million followers in a day. It doesn’t look very legitimate, especially if you only tweeted once last week.
  • Don’t follow too many at once or too many more than is following you. You look like a spammer and people will not follow you.
  • Follow people who interest you. I find followers a number of ways. I spend time on TweetChat about subjects that interest me or are pertinent to my business, I subscribe to SocialOomph for leads (but not to get automatic followers), and mostly I look to see who my followers are following.
  • Retweet others! This goes back to having interesting followers. You like what they have to say? Their insight might help others. Pay it forward.
  • Maintain consistency! I can’t say I have ever lost followers because I have had slow weeks, but I do drop followers if they haven’t tweeted in a month.

I cannot emphasize enough how helpful and important Twitter has been to starting this clothing line, or starting any business. Twitter is my free marketing tool, my free advertising tool, my free networking tool. It is my society away from society. I have connected with so many people all over the world, most of which, I would have never met on the street or in my travels. Friends and business contacts that reach the corners of the earth.

There are many people who say that social media is another deterrent from interacting with each other face to face. I agree, it can be addicting, and keep you from spending some time out and about. But, I would argue it’s not any easier or fantastical. It has all the same rules as ‘real’ society. And actually emphasizes one of the most important life lessons – “When you give much, you receive much.” There are random acts of kindness performed every day on Twitter, for people we don’t even know. How can a society like this be bad? I am proud to be a part of the Twitter community. I am happy to be a twit!

August 11th, 2009

The Provisional Patent

An idea is like a secret. You bubble over with excitement and containing it is a challenge.

Sure, sharing your invention with others is a good way of gauging the feasibility of a product, but it can also be the death of your promising idea. No friend means harm, but you never know who their friends know. Your idea could be in someone else’s hands within minutes. Thankfully, BEFORE sharing my idea of the SmartZip™ Sleeper, a lawyer told me I should seriously consider filing for a provisional patent.

Because my husband will drive 30 miles to save 20 cents on a bottle of ketchup, I was forced to find a bargain. As most people know, patents are pricey. For this reason, a lot of good ideas are never fully realized. A provisional patent costs considerably less and gives you one year from the filing date to protect your idea. No-one can touch your idea (in the US) until that filing date expires. But, at that point you must file a non-provisional (utility) patent to keep your invention safe. A utility patent could run you upwards of $15,000. So a provisional patent is the way to go when you can’t afford the non-provisional patent upfront.

The best part is that you don’t need an attorney to file a provisional patent. Not sure if there are other services like it, but LegalZoom was my saving grace. They are an online service that assists with all sorts of legal applications. Their website lists a menu of services with clear costs and projected savings.

The website suggests ordering a patent search along with or before applying for a provisional patent. They conduct a comprehensive search for a prior patent, any artwork, or written idea that resembles yours. I received a nicely bindered book of their findings. My favorite result was of a baby sleeper that zipped up the backside.

It was designed in 1950, by a man who OBVIOUSLY never changed a diaper.

The second favorite was of a baby sleeper that had an option of attaching the legs together.

It’s function was to keep an infant from climbing out of it’s crib.

Not sure if the inventor was a mom, but I feel bad for the kid who won’t be able to get comfortable while sleeping. Can you imagine?

Besides giving me some comical relief, my search report gave me the confidence to go forward with investing in my idea.

Applying for a provisional patent seemed like a simple questionnaire. They asked questions, and I explained my invention. The site wasn’t clear, but, I was under the impression, this questionnaire would be transformed by THEM into the actual legal document for filing. What a surprise when their first response to my application was more like a bad review of a college term paper. It apparently severly lacked information needed to draft the legal document myself. The biggest obstacle in writing it was learning the legal terms and writing style. But their reviews gave me lots of complimentary footnotes, along with helpful criticism for improvement. They even forwarded similar patents for language comparison.

Because I had a career in architecture, my drafting skills came in handy when drawing the diagram for my product and saved me some money. (I didn’t need to order the design option for the application) They then transformed the sketches into a patent worthy drawing.

I cannot say enough positive things about LegalZoom. They led me through, step by step, with patience and respect. Unfortunately, at the time, LegalZoom only offered the provisional patent application. So, I was forced to consult a patent attorney for my non-provisional (utility) patent at three months prior to it’s expiration. But because my provisional filing was so comprehensive, the lawyer fees for filing the utility patent cost me considerably less.

I will admit, going through an online service was a lot more work than I anticipated. My process took three reviews by LegalZoom and many months of intermittent all-nighters. It is by no means the route for the faint of heart. But the hard work paid off. For just over $1,000, my idea was safe. And once my non-provisional was filed, I had an overall savings of $10,000.

And that’s a secret worth sharing.

July 21st, 2009

Can We Wrap This For You?

I guess I understand better than anyone, since I do a lot of online shopping, how convenient it is to offer a gift wrap option. Who doesn’t love ordering a gift and sending it nicely wrapped in one fell swoop. A recent meeting with my PR person, Kelly at www.klevergirlpr.com convinced me to get on board. She has been sending my samples to various magazines and mommy bloggers in this simple, yet beautiful presentation. We are researching some optional colors and sizes, and once we decide on the perfect one, it will be an option for a small fee. I realize this is nothing new, but when starting a business some things become priority and this sort of fell off the radar. Now the perfect gift will have a perfect presentation. I bet you can wrap your brain around that!

July 5th, 2009

The Blog

When my marketing team suggested that blogging should be in my future for the future of my business, I cringed. How would writing down my innermost thoughts help my business? My narrow understanding of a blog, was that it was simply an online journal. I could never understand why people wrote them and who they wrote them for. I obviously never read one. My marketing team sent me a list of their favorites, among them dooce.com and thepioneerwoman.com. (They are among my favorites now too.) I was amazed. Within days, I subscribed to numerous feeds of marketing blogs, “mommy blogs”, and business blogs. They became my morning ritual.

That crash course helped me to understand the blogging community. First of all, that one exists. Secondly, that it exists so we can make connections with people we might otherwise have never met. Bloggers are there to help, to educate, to share, to give advice, to network, to entertain, to promote others, to promote themselves, to make us feel like a part of a larger community than the one our neighborhoods and careers can provide us. They remind us we are not alone.

You might still be asking, how does this help my business? By blogging, people are driven to your site, which gives it more visits or “hits”. The higher number of hits, the more chances you have to be found through an online search engine. The trick is to keep them coming back to increase the hits. For some people their business is their blog. They make money by getting companies to pay for advertising on their blog site. If a blog has a huge following, the advertisement will reach all their followers. It’s a win-win situation.

So if you are starting a business, seriously consider blogging. Here is a list of my teams’ advice:

  • Everyone has a story.
  • Start a journal of your process, thoughts and ideas when starting your business. This allows you to create an archive so you can revisit them when writing the blog entries.
  • Write and publish entries as often as possible. This creates a following and drives traffic to your site.
  • Have others review your entries before you publish your post. Others might see things you miss.
  • Be consistent with your voice and stay true to your brand. This creates an online identity people can connect to.
  • Most importantly find your niche, be unique (don’t copy others), tell your story!

Successful marketing reaches the most people and blogging seems to be one of the best ways to achieve this. I am still not feeling too comfortable about putting my words out there. I am not competitive by nature, so I don’t plan on reaching for the stars with my writing. I don’t have a business or journalism degree. What I do have is a story about being a SAHM starting a business. So I have decided to embrace blogging as a way to help others in my same situation. My hope is that my experiential entries will allow you to learn from my big mistakes and gain insight from my little successes in business. And I might try my hand at entertaining you with some family and motherhood stories in between. Let me know what you think and keep coming back!

Oh, and check out some of my favorite blogs (in no particular order):

dooce®

Confessions of a Pioneer Woman

PENSIEVE

Should Be Folding Laundry

moosh in indy

Marketing Profs Daily Fix

Personal Branding Blog – Dan Schawbel

StartupNation Blog

advergirl

June 25th, 2009

The Enterprising Woman

I rarely have good luck. I usually wait around for the third bad thing to happen so I can move on with my day or week. The stars must have been aligned one morning. To my surprise, I received a call from a writer from a local magazine. She found me through a local networking site smallerindiana.com. It was proof this online social networking was working! She wondered if she could interview me for an article on enterprising women. Me an enterprising woman? You got that from my profile? Can I just tell you, the excitement that ran through me? I know it wasn’t People Magazine or the cover of Forbes, but it suddenly made what I was doing real. Only a handful of people knew about my endeavor. And after two years of working behind the scenes, I guess the idea of it really happening was surreal. Even after the writer told me I might only get a couple lines, my adrenaline was still flowing.

A couple months go by and I get a phone call from a neighbor. She saw the article in the Carmel Magazine that day and wanted to congratulate me and wish me luck. I ran to my mailbox, but it wasn’t there! Somehow my subscription had lapsed. So I went to the supermarket to get a copy. They still had last month’s on the stand. Seriously, I went for a week. They never put the current issue on the stand. See what I mean about my bad luck? No worries, my neighbors all saved their copies. The article about five local enterprising women dedicated a page to each. A full page! So exciting! Validity to all I had been working on. Then it happened. The third unlucky thing of course. It was a great story, only, there was no mention of the company name or the product name!

I knew I had provided all the information to the writer. I wish now that I would have asked her if I could review it before publishing. I didn’t even think of that. It never occurred to me that I had a say in what she wrote. I was just so excited somebody found my story interesting and wanted to share it.

No complaints. It was great to be included with the owner of Z Gallerie and other local business owners. Give it a read helloworldclothing.com/press.php. I have received a lot of well wishes and support. Which is exactly what I’ll need when I get my next round of bad luck. But, if the stars decide to be on my side again, and if Forbes Magazine or People Magazine call, at least I’ll make sure the story is right.

June 16th, 2009

The Baby Monitor

If not for the baby monitor, you wouldn’t be reading this entry. An invention that some argue interrupts sleep, leaving you jumping every time your baby stirs, has provided me with early morning wake up calls, and much needed inspiration.

One such early morning, ours was Broadcasting R-rated lyrics to Brahm’s Lullabye. I awoke wide eyed in terror, what if the neighbors were listening in? No really, they claim their monitors pick up things. What I applauded as clever concealing of his potty mouth, might have come across the airways as bad parenting. Only I was sure it was my husband’s attempt to hide his frustration from our son and calm himself in his defeat with the sleeper snaps.

The morning after, (and many after) were spent shopping the online boutiques for a better sleeper. One that would save our sanity, and get us back to bed a little quicker. Much to my surprise, it did not exist.

If I would have listened to my husband and turned off the monitor, I may have gotten some much needed sleep, and possibly prevented some neighborhood gossip, but diaper changing wouldn’t have gotten any easier!

The task of designing my first product and getting it onto retail shelves, has taken almost two years. Mostly satisfying, but not withstanding some limitations and upsets. I plan on sharing my road to reality with you, and with any luck, introducing new innovative products.

One thing is for sure, inspiration comes from everywhere. Share your thoughts, you never know who might be listening. I know I will be. Just in case, I think I’ll keep my baby monitor plugged in (even though I don’t need it anymore).