Thursday, April 15, 2010

How-to Thursday - Finding Inspiration in the Most Unlikely Places

What inspires you?  It's an easy question but one without an easy answer.  Inspiration comes to each artist in different ways.  Inspiration can come through color or it can be found in shapes.  The sound of the ocean crashing against the beach or tree branches silhouetted against a night sky are timeless sources of inspiration for many.

For me, the final piece of the design inspiration puzzle is definitly my hubby.  It's great to have someone who looks at life differently than you do.   I see beautiful flowers with amazing colors and what does he see?  A high pollen count.  His idea of beautiful flowers are the ones found on vegetable plants. 

Please don't misunderstand me.  I am serious when I say that I couldn't complete my designs without him.  He is the voice of reason in my artistic world.  He is the "nuts-and-bolts" of creating the table display for the craft shows we attend and he is the genius who can fix any computer mess I find myself in.  When I go into panic mode, he is the one who helps me stay focused so I can get everything done.

But my hubby will tell you that creative he is not.  He has asked me - repeatedly - to not "drag" him into these "artistic" conversations. Sometimes though, I just can't help myself and I ask him:

"What do you think of my new design?"

The design in question on this day was one that combined my love of winter (snowmen) and the beach. It was a cute design, nothing too fancy--just a smiling snowman standing between two palm trees on a beach with the blue ocean in the background. All I really needed to hear was, "It's cute, sweetheart." Instead, what I got was,

"Snowmen can't live at the beach. They would melt."

So much for encouragement.

So I began to think. And stew. And get frustrated. And then it came to me...prove him wrong. But how? He was right. Snowmen would melt at the beach. You can't make one out of sand because then it would be a "sandman" and not the effect I was going for. I could draw a little freezer for him to stand in, but that just took away from the cuteness of the design. I could draw a beach umbrella for him to stand under. Made the whole thing look too busy. I knew this was a great design. I knew that people would like it. I KNEW IT would sell. I KNEW...

Sand dollars. They are round-ish. They are white. And you could stack them up in the shape of snowman. HAH! I had my answer. As the rest of my family slept (did I mention that this conversation was as hubby was heading upstairs to bed?) I worked on turning sand dollars into snowmen.

The next morning, there were eight glasses all arranged on the end of the table. The snowmen were patiently staring at the stairs as we waited for hubby to come down. After a while (I am the morning person in the family) my patience had worn thin and I pestered him until he came down to look at my work. And I knew I had a winner when he smiled and said,

"These won't melt."

Thursday, April 8, 2010

How-to Thursdays - Staying Positive in a Negative Economy

In this crazy world of internet businesses, I think that at some point we all end up with tunnel vision:


Having worked in the food service industry for 12 years, I learned something that most people and major businesses have forgotten:  Long term goals are just as important as short term goals.  When I was promoted to manager of my own store, I sat down with my crew and explained just what I expected from them and where I wanted us to be in one month, six months and one year.  No one had ever talked to them farther ahead than next week's schedule.

We had a lot of work to do in that store.  It was in the bottom 15% of the company in all categories (shrink (theft), spoilage and labor costs).  One year and one pregnancy later (mine!) we had turned it around and were in the top 15% improved stores.  How did we do it?  Why were we successful when other stores and seasoned managers were seeing sales decline?

1.  We had a goal.
I wanted us to be known for customer service.  I wasn't looking at weekly and monthly statements as it applied to my bonus.  If you focus on the finances to the exclusion of anything else, you will loose.  People won't purchase your product to help put money in your pocket.  But they will make a purchase (and be willing to pay more) if they feel valued for being your customer (not just your paycheck.)

If you have a great product, people will come.  But you want them to come back and bring friends!  We didn't adopt "The customer is always right" approach.  We went with "Rock their world!"  We wanted them to WANT to come back and see what we had going on each day.

2.  We were prepared to work hard.
Hard work is just part of the equation of success.  Nothing rewarding has ever been achieved without a fair amount of sweat and tears being applied to it.  And for anyone involved in business, hard work is part of the price you understand needs to be paid. 

It wasn't hard for me to think "outside the box" and look for creative solutions to the problems in the store.  It was a little harder to explain myself so that the crew understood what I was suggesting.  The hardest part was getting rid of the "dead wood:"  old policies that were not in line with our current vision, old habits that needed to be removed and employees that just were not willing to change and move forward.

3.  I accepted help.
It's been said before but it bears repeating here.  You don't have to re-invent the wheel.  There's nothing new that you have to deal with that someone else hasn't already tried/failed/tried/failed/tried/partial success/tried/failed/tried/succeeded. 

So, how about you?
1.  What are your goals for today? And this week?  This month?  This year?  Dream big and then find the steps you need to take to get started to that place.

2.  What part of the business have you been putting off?  Is it learning how to be more technical?  (Google Analytics?)  Is it learning how to take better pictures?  Have you thought about how you are presenting yourself through your contacts on line?

Every business that is successful is always working to change and grow.  And every business will have its own type of dead wood that needs to be removed.  Don't be afraid of change-- you never know what surprises and opportunities are around that next corner!

3.  What opportunities do you have right now to make your shop or product better?  Regardless of the venue you sell in, they have many tips and suggestions that cover just about anything you might have a question about.  Be sure to ask for constructive criticism.  You might have the best product, but if it isn't appealing to someone looking at it for the first time, it really doesn't matter.

Making the leap from crafting on your table to selling on line is huge!  Congrats for taking that first step!  Don't lose the momentum...keep moving forward.  Each new day is an opportunity to learn something new.