Things That Keep Us Up At Night (Part 3): The Battle Between Business and Creative Tasks + Small Business Finances

BusinessAndCreative

Each year, I invite my clients to participate in the Lucky Break client survey. I ask you all sorts of things: about your business, small business finances, where you turn for advice, how confident you feel in various aspects of your business, and what’s keeping you awake at night.

 

Several hundred people rose to the occasion this year (thank you!) and I’ve been sharing some of the most common responses. I sifted through hundreds of survey answers to discover that the vast majority of replies fell under one of five main umbrellas. In part one of this blog series, I talked about entrepreneur anxiety and the deep-seated fears of failure that many of us harbor. In part two, I dug deep into the daily entrepreneur overwhelm and our difficulty connecting with ideal customers.

 

Small Business Finances | Balancing Creative and Business Tasks

 

But those aren’t the only things rumbling across our brain waves at 1am. We have a few other things that lay heavy on our minds… the information that appears as bulleted items below represents verbatim responses from the Lucky Break community. In the final installment of this blog series, I’m talking about the worries around small business finances and the constant battle between the left + ride sides of our brains.

 

THE CONSTANT BATTLE BETWEEN OUR BUSINESS + CREATIVE TO DO LISTS

  • Keeping on top of the minutia of running a business while also focusing on the tree top-level creativity and visioning of being a CEO.
  • Balancing production work and creativity.
  • Finding a way to step away from production so that I can grow the business side of things, and design more.
  • Wondering how to pull myself into a more hands-off role as designer so I can do more of what I truly love, which has nothing to do with my business.

 

I think it’s fair to say that 95% of my clients are more drawn to the “creative” side of their business. Things like new product development, production, and packaging design light them up.  But the bookkeeping, taxes, marketing, HR side of the business? Most don’t feel even the tiniest spark of inspiration when servicing those aspects of their company.  Sound familiar?  But the creative brands that have staying power pay as much (if not more) attention to the “business” side of the business. Those that don’t either struggle silently for years- working more than they ever imagined for far less profit than they imagined- or they close up shop in years 2-4 after giving the business a good romp.

 

BusinessAndCreative2

 

The less “sexy” side of the business? The one you’re less excited by and less comfortable with? That’s the area where we need to throw most of our muscle. That’s what self-development is all about… challenging yourself. Getting to the root of what makes you uncomfortable. Learning new skill sets. Reframing your perspective. That’s not just some self-help “woo woo”… that’s the heart of entrepreneurship.

 

By year four of my product-based brand, I had transitioned out of all day-to-day tasks: production, scheduling, material ordering, bookkeeping, customer service. My very first hire was a very part-time assistant to package products. My second? A full-time production manager who I taught to make all of our products.  My third? A full-time office manager to answer emails, man the phone, and package shipments while I focused on new product development, marketing, wholesale outreach, and cultivating key relationships.

 

By year six, I had eight employees, including a wholesale account specialist, production assistants, a shipping helper, and someone who worked full-time washing dishes, mopping floors, breaking down boxes, and checking in incoming materials. I started that company as a single mom on food stamps with less a $500 investment. And by year four, we were grinding out more than a million in revenue.  But I knew early on that I’d never get there if I was primarily focused on product creation. No way, no how. Getting yourself out of the daily grind is a must! Eventually, the role I assumed was creative director with some strategic vision thrown in for good measure… it was everything that I’d wanted, but it took a hell of a lot of hustle to get there.

 

My advice? Outsource first, delegate second, hire third. You have three solid options when it comes to nudging things off your plate…

1. Explore the possibility of hiring service-based businesses who are experts in their field. Think: attorneys to register and police your intellectual property. Graphic designers to create your packaging and marketing materials. Professional photographers to help your up-level your product presentation. Bookkeepers to keep your finances in order.  True experts are mind-blowingly efficient and you have no ongoing commitment to these pros.

 

(more…)

The Best Business Books 2018 for Makers + Product Designers

I recently asked the Lucky Break community to chime in with their favorite business books.

  • Beloved books that are brimming with actionable advice.
  • Writing from authentic voices that skip the hype to deliver meaty advice.
  • The best business books that have truly helped propel them forward.

Several hundred of you answered my rallying cry (thank you!) and I wanted to share the best small business books that makers and product designers have found most helpful.

 

BestBusinessBooks

 

My sole aim here is to help you identify solid books that are a good investment of your time and energy, so there are no affiliate links in this list. Each book title  links to Powell’s, the largest independent bookstore in America. Yes, you’ll likely find them cheaper on Amazon… but you’d make me even happier if you hit up your local bookstore. *wink*

 

Author of cult classics The Pumpkin Plan and The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur offers a simple, counter-intuitive cash management solution that will help small businesses break out of the doom spiral and achieve instant profitability.

 

It’s not how good you are. It’s how well you tell your story.

Big corporations might have huge marketing and advertising budgets but you’ve got a story. Your brand story isn’t just what you tell people. It’s what they believe about you based on the signals your brand sends. The Fortune Cookie Principle is a brand building framework and communication strategy consisting of 20 keys that enable you to begin telling your brand’s story from the inside out. It’s the foundation upon which you can differentiate your brand and make emotional connections with the kind of clients and customers you want to serve.

The most successful brands in the world don’t behave like commodities and neither should you. A great brand story will make you stand out, increase brand awareness, create customer loyalty and power profits. Isn’t it time to gave your customers a story to tell? The Fortune Cookie Principle will show you how.

 


Book2    Book1     Book3
 

(more…)

Where are they now: Sarah Samere of James Vincent Design Co.

Sarah Headshot

james_logo3_360x

 

Are you wondering what happens to my Brick House Branding alumni post-graduation? What they do with the momentum and new-found knowledge? Curious about where they take their businesses in the year following all that hard work?

 

I’m back with another installment in my “Where Are They Now?” series and I’m doing-cartwheels-excited to show you the serious waves my BHB graduates are making!

 

Sarah Headshot

 

SAY HELLO TO SARAH OF JAMES VINCENT DESIGN CO.

This week I’m thrilled to catch up with my Brick House Branding graduate Sarah of James Vincent Design Co.

 

 

Lucky Break: Why and when did you originally launch your company?

Sarah: I started my company in 2013 after the birth of my first child. I was not a fan of the clothing that was available for babies/children and decided to make my own. Several people told me that I should sell the things I was making for my daughter so I took my last $40 (hard times during that part of my life) and bought fabric, opened an Etsy store and when the first piece sold, I used the profit to buy double the fabric, and so on.

 

 

Lucky Break: At what point did you know it was time to further explore brand development?

Sarah: A friend of mine had introduced me to Lela Barker via Periscope and I would listen to her daily while I worked from my home studio. As a momprenuer I wanted to soak up all of the knowledge I could on how to build a better company, and Lela quickly became like a mentor to me. After hearing so many other people comment on how she helped them take their businesses to another level via branding I decided to take my tax return and jump on the Lela train. There were SO MANY other small shops popping up at this time and many were basically knocking off what I had been doing. It was breaking my heart as well as hurting my business. I knew I had to do something big to set my company apart from all of the knock offs. Lela made it clear to me that branding was the only way to do this.

 

JVDC 2

 

Lucky Break: You didn’t necessarily undertake a “rebrand” in the traditional sense… there was no renaming of the company, no new logo, etc. Instead, we focused on refining your product collection, understanding what the brand is all about, and raising the bar on the product photography.  How has that helped the brand?

Sarah: I started my company making rompers. As a small business, I needed money not only for my business but also to put food on the table, so when people would send me special requests to make custom pieces or “you should make this or that”, I would say “okay” to everything, and ended up overextending myself. I lost sight of what my brand was all about. Lela, via Brick House Branding, helped me get back in my lane, and take my company back to the bare bones of where it started and why my customer base fell in love with my company in the first place. I stopped trying to be everything to everyone and simplified my product collection.

 

Lela helped me narrow my scope & figure out what my story was. Through a LOT of research, I was able to locate a local photographer who was new to the area and whose photography gave me life. Thank the gods that she was willing to work with me and that we had a mutual love for each other’s talents. Her photography helped me take my brand to another level and set my brand so far apart from all of the copycat brands that I was being suffocated by at the time. Her photography style compliments my brand vision so well, I never would have guessed how much of a difference that would have made for James Vincent Design Co.

 

(more…)

Where are they now: Dawn Russell of Treats for Chickens

Treats for Chickens

new logo trans

Are you wondering what happens to my Brick House Branding alumni post-graduation? What they do with the momentum and new-found knowledge? Curious about where they take their businesses in the year following all that hard work?

 

I’m back with another installment in my “Where Are They Now?” series and I’m doing-cartwheels-excited to show you the serious waves my BHB graduates are making!

 

Treats for Chickens

 

SAY HELLO TO DAWN OF TREATS FOR CHICKENS

This week I’m catching up with Dawn of Treats for Chickens. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of backyard chickens, and Dawn really makes me wish I had a reason to purchase every single one of her products. Dawn’s post-Brick House Branding transformation is a great example of evolution, versus a giant overhaul, and I’m pleased as punch to share her story with you.

 

Lucky Break: Why and when did you originally launch your company?

Dawn: Treats for Chickens hatched in 2009 out of necessity.  Organic food for chickens was rarely available and at the time there were zero organic treats on the market, let alone supplements or herbal mixes for nesting boxes.

 

 

Lucky Break: At what point did you know it was time for a rebrand?

Dawn: I’m on the fourth brand evolution since my launch. In the very beginning, I used Avery labels on Ziploc bags.  I quickly moved to a more professional look when I put my products into distribution.  Funds for packaging were minimal in those days and I foolishly went with artwork that I did not have full legal rights to.  Within 18 months there were three companies in the animal feed industry using the same artwork, and I had zero recourse to differentiate and protect the brand.

 

I needed something ORIGINAL that couldn’t be copied.  Thankfully, my brother-in-law is a cartoonist and over the years had drawn fun chicken-related birthday cards and posters for me.  The new look was right in front of me:  the yellow chicken and various chicken sketches throughout the current brand.  At this time, I jumped into pre-printed packaging and moved away from labels and stock bags.

 

My goals for the most recent brand evolution were to stand out on retail shelves, to convey important messages to consumers, and to transition from costly/bulky buckets and into large stand up pouches.

 

I took Brick House Branding in June, 2016 and ordered our first round of packaging from the printer in October, 2017.

 

Early examples of Treats for Chickens' branding

Early examples of Treats for Chickens’ branding

 

 

Lucky Break: Please share a significant realization about the brand development process that you discovered while in Brick House Branding.

Dawn: I have a tendency to get bored real easy and I want to change things constantly. Consumers get confused when the look and vibe aren’t consistent. I learned that I need to stay in my lane, stick with my brand colors, fonts, patterns, tone, and visual design elements.  I’m very specific about how we show up now.

 

 

Lucky Break: What professionals did you tag in to help with the process, and what pieces of the branding puzzle did you DIY? 

Dawn: I could not run Treats for Chickens profitably if I didn’t have a team of professionals handling the graphic design of my vision and thoughts, copywriters taking my ramblings and terrible punctuation and turning those thoughts into understandable, printable public copy.  I am grateful for web designers, photographers and more.

 

 

Lucky Break: What was the biggest obstacle you encountered during the rebranding process?

Dawn: My lack of patience for the process. I think of an idea/product/handout/flyer/shelf talker/door cling and I want it to launch tomorrow and as we all know – it doesn’t always happen THAT fast.

 

Treats for Chickens, before Brick House Branding and a packaging update

Treats for Chickens, before Brick House Branding and a packaging update

 

 

Lucky Break: How has your own perception of your brand evolved since graduating from Brick House Branding?  

Dawn: I’m happy with the direction we’ve gone and the places where we’re stocked.  Treats for Chickens is a brand with spunk, heart, soul and a story that our customers relate to and trust.

 

 

Lucky Break: Are your products are being received differently by others since the rebrand? How has their reaction evolved?

Dawn: Anyone can throw a bunch of ingredients in a bag (box, etc), add a UPC, sell it below market value and grab the attention of a buyer to get it on a shelf.  Customers, buyers, retailers know that as a company we take the health and happiness of backyard chickens seriously and it shows in every facet of what we produce whether it be ingredients or the way we show up.  It’s very clear that we aren’t a crappy, knock-off, commodity product.

 

 

Lucky Break: Can you share a recent win that you’ve realized because of the rebrand?

Dawn: I’m working on an account with 160+ locations.  He called and said that he liked the look and that it conveyed a message they were in agreeance with.  160 locations?  I’ll ship that.

 

I’m also fortunate that our look is just damn cute.  Most companies that we share shelf space with are so GENERIC.

 

Treats for Chickens, after Brick House Branding and a packaging update

Treats for Chickens, after Brick House Branding and a packaging update

 

 

Lucky Break: How did Brick House Branding experience help shape your branding process?

Dawn: I was able to go through the whole process and leave no stone unturned.  Lela’s course is thorough and even pissed me off a few times because I had to REALLY look at how my behavior (changing things, getting off-brand, off -tone) was affecting consumer/buyer perception.

 

There are steps to a successful rebrand and BHB walks you down the path, pebble by pebble.

 

 

Lucky Break: What do you wish you had known at the beginning of the brand development process? What advice would you give to someone who’s getting ready to start the brand development process?

Dawn: I don’t have a “wish-I-would-have-known” but I do have advice (or rather a request) pleeeeze don’t compare your process to anyone else’s and do not compare your business to another.  This thinking is fatal to the creative process.

 

Jump in, give it your all and follow through. Launch your beautiful rebrand and be accountable for the end results of your brand and your business.

 

 

Thanks for catching up with us, Dawn. We can’ t wait to see what comes next for you and Treats for Chickens… We’re cheering you on!

 

If you’d like to build a stronger, smart brand in 2019, then I hope that you’ll consider joining me in the winter semester of Brick House Branding. This 9-week brand development mentorship dissects awesome brands and then helps you build your own, brick by brick, with me working right alongside you to cheer you on and ensure that you’re on the right track. Enrollment is now open through October 12!

 

Where are they now: Theresa Mendez of Thistle + Hops

Theres Tub

Thistle Hops logo

Are you wondering what happens to my Brick House Branding alumni post-graduation? What they do with the momentum and new-found knowledge? Curious about where they take their businesses in the year following all that hard work?

 

I’m back with another installment in my “Where Are They Now?” series and I’m doing-cartwheels-excited to show you the serious waves my BHB graduates are making!

 

Theres Tub

 

SAY HELLO TO THERESA OF THISTLE + HOPS

This week I’m catching up with Theresa of Thistle + Hops. She’s living proof that you don’t always come out with what you expect to at the end of Brick House Branding. After all, she came in to rebrand one company, and came out birthing another. Thistle + Hops is set to launch later this month, and I’m on pins and needles waiting to see it live. Take it away, Theresa …

 

 

Lucky Break: Why and when did you originally launch your company?

Theresa: Texas Beer Soap Co. was launched in 2012 when I began creating custom Beer Soap for some of our local Craft Brewers to sell in their Swag Shop. I had another soap line I began in 2010 that was goat milk based, and due to the unique differences and audience, I needed a different name. Something that would appeal to men.

 

 

Lucky Break: At what point did you know it was time for a rebrand?

Theresa: Honestly, I began this journey to rebrand Wandering Thistle, my primary line. I would cringe when I would see my customer’s post their pictures of my products. Mind you the soaps were beautiful, but the packaging was not up to par, so to speak. Rebranding Texas Beer Soap Co. was a result of BHB.

 

Texas Beer Soap, before Brick House Branding + a rebrand

Texas Beer Soap Co., before Brick House Branding + a rebrand

 

Lucky Break: Please share a significant realization about the brand development process that you discovered while in Brick House Branding.

Theresa: During the BHB process, I was attempting to rebrand both lines, Wandering Thistle and Texas Beer Soap Co. The amount of heart, sweat, and tears that was required was too much to deal with at once for 2 separate brand voices. With the guidance of Lela and her team, along with my fellow brandmates, I was convinced that focusing on Texas Beer Soap Co. and taking it into a new direction was the way to go. Texas Beer Soap Co. was really geared towards men. Thistle + Hops celebrates women; whether they work in the industry or just love a delicious, well-made craft beer!

 

 

Lucky Break: What professionals did you tag in to help with the process, and what pieces of the branding puzzle did you DIY?

Theresa: This was probably one of the hardest areas to delineate. Lela gave us so many options and professionals to converse with. It was a little overwhelming to say the least trying to stretch those marked dollars and get the most bang for your buck. I had always DIY’d my labels and packaging, and I knew this had to the the first and foremost decision. But before I made this step I had a consult with Andrea Evans, Trademark Attorney, to make sure the name was viable. Then I hired Riley Fouts as my graphic designer to create Thistle + Hops and bring it to life. And we snuck in a new look for Wandering Thistle to give some cohesion between the two. When we had beautiful custom boxes made for Thistle + Hops, I was one excited little DIY convert.

 

 

Lucky Break: What was the biggest obstacle you encountered during the rebranding process?

Theresa: Me. I was my biggest obstacle. I had perceived expectations that it would be relatively a quick process. Once the process began, it was a long, dusty road to that first margarita. I mean, you dig deep in this rebrand and you come up feeling parched.  Lela had us eating, drinking, and sleeping our ideal client.  The other obstacle was to decide were the finite amount of money was going to be spent, and for which services. I had a stunning packaging idea I wanted, but the budget simply was not there. Once I began working with Riley, we made strides and found the perfect combination.

 

 

Lucky Break: How has your own perception of your brand evolved since graduating from Brick House Branding? 

Theresa: I have met more women in the area of my brand voice since graduating, I have a much clearer picture of who she (my ideal client) is and what she wants. And I have to say I give her major props for her candor and drive, and I am confident Thistle + Hops will deliver.

 

Thistle + Hops, after Brick House Branding + a rebrand

Thistle + Hops, after Brick House Branding + a rebrand

 

Lucky Break: Are your products are being received differently by others since the rebrand? How has their reaction evolved?

Theresa: Yes, even though I haven’t officially launched Thistle + Hops. I have given a few little glimpses and a few product samples to get a feel from the community. Reviews have come back very favorable. My official launch will be in October for a charity event, Best Little Brewfest in Texas. I am excited to hear and feel the pulse of women in the craft beer community.

 

 

Lucky Break: Can you share a recent win that you’ve realized because of the rebrand?

Theresa: Absolutely! As I was researching my ideal client, I discovered some amazing women in the brewing industry. I read their stories, felt their pain and their successes. There was a lot of history unfolding at my fingertips and I knew I had made the correct decision to listen to Lela and get out of my own way. The names of the soaps are directly inspired from these women. Some are humorous, but all have a significant meaning and a definitely a fist bump implied.

 

Since the rebrand I have joined the Pink Boots Society, a global organization of women supporting women in the brewing industry by teaching, mentoring, and educating. We have an active local chapter and a few of us are in the Cicerone training program at the moment.  Along with my participation, a portion of profits from Thistle + Hops will go to the Pink Boots Society for their scholarship program.

 

Thistle + Hops, after Brick House Branding + a rebrand

Thistle + Hops, after Brick House Branding + a rebrand

 

Lucky Break: How did Brick House Branding experience help shape your branding process?

Theresa: BHB gave me the structure and inner working of Thistle + Hops. Having deadlines was important to remain on task as well as the camaraderie of the other brand participants. The true heart of the whole program is Lela. Her business savvy and brilliance is priceless. If, I could only use one word…CLARITY. She brings it in and ties it up with a fancy ribbon. Sometimes you have to shake things up and just get out of the way!

 

 

Lucky Break: What do you wish you had known at the beginning of the brand development process?

Theresa: That it wasn’t a race. It takes time and a lot of it and that’s totally ok! That it would be 12 months later and I am still polishing the pieces.

 

 

Lucky Break: What advice would you give to someone who’s getting ready to start the brand development process?

Theresa: Take the time to do it right. Do not stop once you get out of BHB, keep connected, follow through with your deadlines, read and reread the books Lela gives as resources. Take really good notes, every detail is important and do not look at what others are doing. They are not you, not your brand. Be comfortable being you and own it!

 

 

Thanks for catching up with us, Theresa. We can’ t wait to see what comes next for you and Thistle + Hops… We’re cheering you on, and can’t wait to see that rebrand in action!

 

If you’d like to build a stronger, smart brand in 2019, then I hope that you’ll consider joining me in the winter semester of Brick House Branding. This 9-week brand development mentorship dissects awesome brands and then helps you build your own, brick by brick, with me working right alongside you to cheer you on and ensure that you’re on the right track. Enrollment is now open through October 12!