Last night was time to confront Cash Flow in the 15-week entrepreneurial training course I teach for the Women’s Enterprise Development Center (WEDC) in White Plains, NY. It’s always the class that gives everyone headaches and anxiety attacks…and even the big jar of chocolate coins I bring along to “sweeten the pot” doesn’t help.
Having a business idea is the fun part. Figuring out what it will earn….not so much. But it’s so important to track your start up expenses, overhead and other costs, and figure out exactly what you need this business to do for you financially. Is it going to simply cover the “extras” in your household, or is this going to be a serious income that keeps your household afloat. I always say, cash flow is no different than budgeting for your household expenses…no different than balancing a checkbook. You know what bills are coming up…you know what money is coming in… and whether you’ll have enough to pay them, with ideally, some cash left over. Same principle with cash flow. If you take time to periodically plan your business spending and earning goals, you’ll have money in your pocket. And I don’t mean chocolate coins!
I know I’m not the only mompreneur wondering how to master the confusing art of search engine optimization (SEO). I mean, just when I think I’ve got it down, there’s something new to know about. So last night I went to a workshop on the topic, given by Lisa Kaslyn of Prosper Communications and held at W@tercooler in Tarrytown, a stylin’ co-working space founded by one of my former WEDC students, Jenifer Ross.
According to Lisa, you should prioritize your SEO strategy into 3 basic steps:
1. Absolutely know where you are appearing on searches. Where are your keywords surfacing and who’s beating you out?
2. Entice search engine robots with frequent new content. “Content is still king,” says Lisa. It’s what attracts visitors and search engines to your site. She suggests you blog at least once a week. “Plan posts in advance, like magazines plan editorial calendars. It helps make the process less stressful.”
3. Then use content to drive your social media. Tweet about what’s new on your site. Post on your Facebook business page about recent videos or blog posts. If you’re in a visual biz (photography, fashion, home or garden design and the like) consider pinning pictures on Pinterest to drive traffic back to your site.
Here are some more SEO strategies Lisa says you need to know right now:
• The longer you’ve had your site and the more content you have on it, the better you’ll be found by search engines. “Good history is the holy grail of SEO,” says Lisa.
•Join Google + . Those posts now appear on Google searches too and can help you rank higher.
•Claim your Google places page–especially important for local businesses that want customers to find them.
•Scale your site content for smart phones and tablets (talk to your web person about how to go about doing this). “Flash is not SEO friendly,” points out Lisa.
•Use videos to drive traffic back to your site. For example, a home organizer can do a quick lesson on taming the junk drawer. But keep videos under 2 minutes.
•Talk with your web master to make sure every single page of your site is optimized for your keyword terms.
One of my favorite workshops at the recent Family Travel Conference was on creating better video blogs. Videos attract visitors to your site, and are great for search engine optimization (SEO). Kim Orlando, founder of TravelingMom.com, and Kaleel Sakakeeny, of Travel Video Postcards, shared their best video-making secrets.
1. Gear up. Supplement your video camera/smart phone with a tripod to prevent shaky shots. Kim Orlando likes the Zipshot tripod because it’s lightweight and easy to pack. Also buy an external mike to improve sound quality when interviewing.
2. Dress for success. Solid colors are your best bet. Avoid wearing red or white, and small patterns, like polka dots or houndstooth. Be sure you stand out from your surroundings. No beige on the beach, or green in the forest. And accessorize with care—clanking jewelry can ruin your commentary.
3. Record identifying slates/tags in advance to drop into the beginning and end of your video. Mine would be: “This is Ellen Parlapiano for MompreneursOnline.com.”
4. Watch your lighting. If you’re outside, you don’t want to be squinting into the sun.
5. Do a sound check to make sure you can be heard. “The wind is your enemy,” says Kim. If you’re shooting scenery or locations in windy conditions, consider adding a voice over later.
6. Powder up. Before going on camera, brush on some powder to reduce shine.
7. Have a hook. Start your video with an interesting lede—something that draws viewers in. For example, my assignment in our video workshop was to interview the head of the Kidz Korner activities program at the Omni Berkshire Place Hotel, where we were staying. I learned that this children’s program started during Hurricane Irene, when kids and their parents were stranded in the hotel with nothing to do. So my lede was: “How do you keep a hotel full of kids occupied during a hurricane? Omni Kidz Korner showed us how.” I’m still editing the video, but I’ll post it here when it’s ready.
8. Keep videos short. Somewhere between 1 and 2 minutes is ideal. Think of yours as a short story that entices viewers to visit your site for more details.
9. End with your contact info. Have a text block with your website and other important facts, so viewers can reach you.
10. Store all your videos on a YouTube channel. “A body of work gives you gravitas,” says Kaleel Sakakeeny of Travel Video Postcards. He also suggests leaving tips on FourSquare, then linking them to your video. For instance, when he’s in the San Francisco airport, he’ll go on FourSquare to offer suggestions of things to do in Yosemite, and then link to his videos of the park. (See an example here.)
Monday night was graduation for the students in my WEDC entrepreneurial training course. For 15 weeks I’ve been helping them fine tune their ideas and prepare their business plans.
On the very first night of class, I use a road sign with a heart in the middle of it to describe how designing and launching a business is a lot like taking a road trip.
Because everyone’s business journey begins with an idea—a passion, symbolized by the heart in the middle of the sign. During the 15 weeks, we work on molding that idea into a fulfilling, profitable enterprise. We soul-search to make sure that we will love that idea for the long haul. We crunch numbers to make sure that the idea will be a money-maker, and I tell my students to imagine a dollar sign in the center of that heart. We do market research to guarantee that potential clients and customers will love that idea too. And we spend 15 weeks flushing out goals for the business and figuring out where we’d like to be in 1 month, 6 months, 1 year, and beyond.
Have you done a business plan? The most successful mompreneurs are those who take the time to write a mission statement, and flush out marketing, operational and income goals for their ventures. You don’t have to write a book. You just have to get started. As Nike says, Just. Do. It.
At the beginning, most of my students are terrified of the idea of writing a business plan. But by the end of our program, they have detailed ones in hand. Not only that, they have the confidence and courage to move forward, because they’ve done the research and know what it will take to be profitable.
Don’t try to “wing” your business. A business plan will guide you through your entrepreneurial journey. And once you’ve written it, check that business plan often to make sure you don’t want to switch course. As I told my graduating class on Monday night, it’s just as important to pull off the road sometimes, and check that map to make sure the destination is still where you want to be. Keep listening to your heart to make sure you really are doing what you love, and that what you love can bring in the cash you need.
Congratulations to my WEDC class and to my mompreneur friends everywhere!
This past weekend, as part of my research for an upcoming magazine article on direct sales, I was invited to attend Silpada’s National Conference in Kansas City, Missouri. For those of you unfamiliar with Silpada, it is a direct sales company that specializes in sterling silver jewelry sold at home parties. Every year they have a conference for their sales reps, with workshops, awards, inspirational speeches, and more. Along with fellow journalist and friend, Andrea Atkins, I got to experience it all.
On Friday morning at the opening general session, Silpada sales rep Jill Mapstead spoke about her experiences as a businesswoman and parent of a special needs child. I was so inspired and moved by her words, that I thought I’d repeat her “pearls” of wisdom here, since they apply to all mompreneurs.
•Treat your business like a business. Block out the hours that you will work, and set goals for yourself. “If you don’t, you’re cheating the boss,” said Jill, who referred to herself as a “complete carrot-chaser.” Goals are your “mile posts.” Setting short-term and long-term goals keeps you on course.
•Work on your business a little bit each day. Even if distractions or unexpected events (like a sick kid or a snow day) blow your to-do list to bits, do one business-related thing. E-mail a potential client. Research a store you’d like to be in. Check out your competition online.
•The business is all in your head. Keeping future-focused helps you survive the inevitable bumps, obstacles and setbacks along the way.
•Play up in this game. Surround yourself with people who have skills you admire; and learn from them.
•Be a balcony person, not a basement person. Cheer on the people you work with, rather than dragging them down. As Pat and I have always said, “Confidence is contagious. When you have it, others will want to be around you, so they can have it too.”
•If you don’t like something, change it. And if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.
•Be consistent. No matter what business you’re in, be consistent in your efforts. For Jill, that meant having 4 to 7 jewelry parties a month. For me, it means continuing to pitch stories to editors, even while I’m working on finishing up big articles. Consistency is what keeps the work (and the dollars) coming in!
Thank you Jill Mapstead for those inspirational words!
It’s not often that I get the chance to trade in my boring yogurt-at-my-desk lunch for a 3-course meal at Abigail Kirsh’s Tappan Hill Restaurant in Tarrytown, New York. But last Friday, I shared amazing food with some amazing women at WEDC’s annual spring luncheon and microenterprise fair. For those of you unfamiliar with WEDC (which stands for Women’s Enterprise Development Center), its mission is to encourage entrepreneurship in and around Westchester County, New York, through training programs, support services and microenterprise funding opportunities. I am lucky enough to be a WEDC trainer, and I teach their 15-week Entrepreneurial Training Program in the spring and fall.
The luncheon is always the highlight of the season, offering an opportunity to network with other business women, hear inspirational advice from the featured speakers, and catch up with former students (like Tsahai Martin-Wright of Shima & Sahai and Kim Jones of Urban Tranquility, who both exhibited their products at the microenterprise fair beforehand.
But this year’s WEDC event was extra-special because it included the inaugural presentation of the LEAP Awards, micro grants made possible by local philanthropist Patricia Lanza. They were awarded to qualifying women entrepreneurs who have completed WEDC training; and I was thrilled to learn that two of the LEAP award winners were from my current class! I was a proud mama as I gathered with other students to cheer on these inspirational ladies.
Margie Nugent, of Making Faces Parties, had to rebuild her life after arriving in a domestic violence shelter with 2 little boys and just $20 in her pocket. She always dreamed of owning a business that tapped into her artistic abilities and degrees from FIT. In 2009, she launched Making Faces Parties, an entertainment company offering a variety of body art services. The business—run on nights and weekends—supplements her fulltime job working in a school, and was profitable in its first year. Margie will use her grant money to purchase more equipment, get additional training, and exhibit at body painting competitions to broaden her exposure.
Jenifer Ross, of W@tercooler, spotted the emerging trend of co-working, and is capitalizing on it. W@tercooler is a collaborative office space in historic Tarrytown, New York, available for part-time or fulltime rental to entrepreneurs, freelancers, and other mobile workers. But this is no ordinary office suite rental place. Jenifer’s space is unique because members work side by side in a shared loft-like setting, gaining a sense of community and a place to exchange ideas. The open floor plan has a variety of options—private desks, shared desks or tables, and a lounge area—with access to a shared kitchen, a private phone booth, and a state of the art conference room. All members enjoy complimentary WiFi, faxing, printing, and coffee. And (in a move that I think is sheer genius), clerical help is available through the intern program Jenifer has established with her local high school. If you’re in the Westchester area and need an alternative to working in your lonely home office, come check it out. You may just see me there! (Look for me with my laptop on that cool settee)! Jenifer is using her grant money to build a deck overlooking the Hudson River, providing members with yet another scenic and collaborative place to work.
Other LEAP award winners included:
•Cary and Meryl Gabeler, a mom-daughter team who run Anjolie Ayurveda, organic soaps imported from India.
•Beatriz Messina, of BM Consulting of New York, a proposal writing and project management firm
•Juana Pinyol, who launched Details Custom Cleaning Services, a residential cleaning service which uses green products.
•Beverly Turner, of Casaco, Inc., which provides financial literacy and home ownership counseling.
•Maria Valente, of Chocolations, a chocolate shop and café (and the only chocolate factory in Westchester County, NY!)
If you’re in the Westchester, NY area, check WEDC out. If you’re not, research the women’s business development groups or other SBA-funded organizations in your community. Organizations like these are a great resource for support, networking, and training. And sometimes they even provide a nice alternative to eating lunch at your desk!
Ten years ago, Jeanette Baysa and Katherine Patton ditched careers in corporate America (they had both worked in project management in Honolulu) for a slower paced, rural lifestyle and more rewarding work on Hawaii’s Big Island. Since then, they’ve been running Hilo Coffee Mill on the island’s eastern side, where they now cultivate their own crops and process, package and market coffee grown by local farmers. No batch is too small. “Our primary goal is to support the small family farm and find a market for these artisanal coffees both locally and abroad,” says Jeanette.
While everyone associates Hawaii with Kona coffee (grown on the western end), the Big Island’s wetter, cooler eastern side produces some of the richest beans in the world. In fact, in the 1800s over 6,000 acres of coffee trees flourished there, until sugar took over as the state’s more profitable crop. Now that sugar production has declined, East Hawaii coffee is making a comeback. And Katherine and Jeanette are on a mission to help small, family-run plantations prosper once again.
A vision percolates: Though they lived in the midst of “coffee heaven,” Katherine and Jeanette couldn’t find any good local coffee being served. They opened a small espresso cafe in a Hilo shopping center, but were sourcing the beans from the mainland. “Local farmers often asked us to buy their coffee,” says Katherine. “We really wanted to, cause it was delicious, but with coffee being our main business, we couldn’t rely on the farmer for our only supply.” Then they hit upon a solution, deciding to start Hilo Coffee Mill in February 2001, a business that could buy direct from farmers and also import coffee from many different countries, ensuring a consistent supply. They’d process and package local farmers’ custom coffees and market them to island restaurants, and globally as well.
Start-up steps: They leased a small storefront/warehouse space in an industrial park in Kea’au, and initially took the green coffee to a company in Kona—3 hours away—where it was roasted. But the trip was tiring and time-consuming, and when a friend’s sister in Washington State had a roaster for sale, they jumped at the chance to buy it. They started with one farmer, who is still with them today, and rounded up restaurant partners simply by approaching local places that served coffee. “Our first client was a restaurant we dined at often,” says Jeanette. “That restaurant, Don’s Grill, is still with us after all these years!” Jeanette and Katherine became known as the “coffee ladies.” They ran the business out of Kea’au for 4 years, during which time they acquired more equipment and warehouse space, funded by loans from relatives, friends and shareholders who believed in their dream. “We knew that we eventually wanted to move to a site on the highway, visible to tourists and locals, where we could have a small visitor center and grow a little coffee of our own,” says Jeanette.
How business grew: Katherine began investigating some vacant old sugarcane land and found that a 400-acre parcel in Mountain View, right along Volcano Highway on the way to the national park, was being subdivided into smaller lots. They were able to purchase 24 acres. It took 3 bulldozers and 6 months to prepare the land that Hilo Coffee Mill now occupies. The enterprise has morphed into a full-service coffee mill and plantation, with a retail shop, Latte Da coffee and tea bar, catering and marketing services, and a Saturday farmer’s market featuring eggs from their own chickens and other locally grown items. There are also educational tours showcasing the coffee production process—from plant to cup. They started with 500 seedlings, and now have 6,000 trees, this year yielding about 4,000 pounds of roasted coffee. And today the “coffee ladies” buy from over 15 farmers on Hawaii Island, plus many from Kauai, Oahu, Maui and Molokai. “The business has definitely taken on a life of its own,” says Katherine. “But our core mission is the same: Offering fresh roasted Hawaiian grown coffee, supporting our local farmers, and providing a great place for our local community to work, gather and have fun.”
From farm to table: One of the most challenging parts of the business is getting people to know what it stands for, admits Jeanette. “We support local agriculture, and those who have made the hard choice to grow our food responsibly. We live on an island, so it’s important to be in business not only for ourselves, but for our community. We depend on the small farmer, and they depend on us.” She adds that many people forget that Hawaiian coffee is a domestic product, the consumption of which affects a US farmer. “Our goal is to enlighten consumers to get as close to the producers of their food as possible. If they can see the environment where the food comes from, the more likely they are to support those enterprises. We hope to teach that sustainability is achievable, even in small ways.”
Finding your own piece of paradise: Katherine and Jeanette urge aspiring entrepreneurs to “dream big.” Do what you love and do it with passion, they say. But also plan it out first and make every step count. “Don’t start something that you aren’t ready to completely handle,” Katherine cautions. And have fun. “When you love what you do, it almost doesn’t feel like ‘work.’ Paradise is what you make of where you are.”
As I sit here in my home office, looking at the snowdrifts outside my window (and wondering why work-at-homers never get snow days), my mind wanders to Hawaii. Though I can’t escape right now (aloha, deadlines!), I thought I’d at least share some memories of my most recent trip.
On my press trip to Hawaii’s Big Island in December 2009, I got to channel my inner daredevil. It was billed as an Adventure tour, and 6 fellow journalists and I got to experience Hawaii’s beauty from many exciting angles. We peered over the edge of a waterfall on a rainforest hike, saw lava sizzle into the sea, and zoomed over rivers and trees on a zipline. If you and your family are can’t-sit-still types, you’ll love the super-fun ways to explore this gigantic island. Here are 2 of my top picks. (I’ll be sharing other great adventures in an upcoming Family Circle article).
Take a hike! Some of the Big Island’s most awesome scenery is hidden deep in the rainforest, and you’ll need a skilled guide to help you discover it. On our Hawaii Forest & Trail Waipi’o Rim Hike, we were led by the knowledgeable Rob Pacheco, who runs the company with his wife Cindy. (I’ll be profiling Cindy and the family business in a later post.) Located on the northeast coast, Waipi’o is known as the Valley of Kings, and is considered a sacred spot. In ancient times it was home (and burial grounds) for Hawaiian rulers. Rob led us along trails 1,0000 feet above the valley, stopping frequently to regale us with Hawaiian legends. It was fun to learn about the double-leaf fern symbolizing twin brothers, and the waterfall named after a shark-man. The 3-hour hike (billed as moderate level, for kids over age 8 ) was challenging, but we all made it over the slippery paths and plank-and-rope bridges. Some of the braver ones in our group (not me!) even peeked over the edge of Hi’ilawe Falls, the tallest in the state. We might have been a bit muddy by the time we reached the end of our trek, but the final vista was well worth it. We looked out onto cliffs sliced by waterfalls, and saw the black sand beach where the Waipio River empties into the sea. It was the perfect setting for a picnic lunch, included with the tour. Info: The hike itself is around 3 hours; but allow 7-8 hours for the round trip, which departs from HF&T headquarters in Kailua-Kona or Waikoloa Queen’s Marketplace on Kohala Coast. Adults, $149; kids ages 8 – 12, $119.
Pedal through Volcanoes National Park. A volcano is made of more than molten lava, and we got to see other sides of the mountain on the “Bike Kilauea Volcano” tour with BikeVolcano.com.
After gearing up with helmets and mountain bikes, our guide led us on a ride around Kilauea’s rim, along off-road trails and paved roads. We stopped at steam vents to feel the blast of heat, and peered into the enormous crater and caldera, where a distant plume of smoke signaled eruption. We pedaled and hiked through a lush fern forest, and walked through the famous Thurston Lava Tube, where the hot stuff once flowed. Our guide was full of interesting information about the park, and it was comforting to know that a van was at the ready to transport us if we got tired. Info: The five-hour tour includes lunch and an optional winery visit. Adults, $129; kids under 12, $119.
So now that turkey day is gone, and the last of the leftover stuffing has been consumed, I really need to get serious about figuring out what to give my clients. Decisions, decisions. In my last blog post, I mentioned things that have worked for me in the past. Here’s what I’m considering this year.
**A ready-to-plant amaryllis bulb in a festive pot
**Funky business card holders (either for the purse or desk)
**Super cute desk/office supplies (I love the ones from seejanework.com)
**Dancing Deer cookies (dancingdeer.com). I love the ones in the shape of the house… they benefit the homeless too!
**Gourmet hot chocolate. I’ve given this before, but this year I’m thinking of including homemade gourmet marshmallows and some artisanal chocolates from the woman-owned shop in my neighborhood.
**I’m also contemplating donating on my editors’ behalf to my new favorite charity, kiva.org. Your donation actually becomes a micro-loan to assist a disadvantaged entrepreneur in the U.S. or around the world.
I’ll keep you posted on my decision. In the meantime, I’m going out this week to pick out the perfect card. My PictureIt Postage stamps have arrived. Check out how cute they are.
If you order using the coupon code MOTHERHOOD, you’ll get $4 off an order of custom stamps and be entered to win a $500 prize http://pictureitpostage.com/
Rules are detailed here http://www.themotherhood.com/post/show/id/483184
I’ll let you know when I make my decision, and send you a pic when I’ve got everything “wrapped up.”
Every year around this time, I try to find new and creative ways to show my appreciation to the editors who keep me so busy writing all year long. Though I don’t give gifts to everyone I’ve ever worked with, I do send something to the special people who hire me consistently throughout the year. These are usually editors with whom I’ve built solid relationships with over time. The rest of my business contacts get holiday cards, and I admit spending WAY too much time picking out just the right design that will make people remember me!
I’ve been doing the holiday card and gift thing for over 20 years as a homebased writer/mompreneur. Here are some of the festive tricks I’ve learned along the way.
Don’t Go Overboard on Gifts. I recently heard one of my favorite editors say that she thinks it’s weird if writers give her something extravagant. And if someone she’s only worked with occasionally sends something, she thinks they’re sucking up. The moral? It’s not necessary to shower everyone you’ve ever worked with (or want to work with) with presents. But do be sure to show your appreciation to clients that hire you most often.
Keep Gifts Small and Sweet. Boxes of artisanal chocolates, brownies, cookies, or small fruit baskets will always be greatly appreciated. It’s even better if the treat benefits some kind of good cause (check out cookiesforkidscancer.org). I also try to pay attention to what clients like when we’re out for lunch or coffee. For example, I once bought my tea-loving editor a gourmet sampler tied to a handmade tea caddy. She loved it! I gave handmade floral notecards to another editor who had mentioned she missed letter writing. They were a big hit.
Slip Something in the Card. If you’ve got a lot of gifts to send, you might try slipping a Starbucks or Sephora gift card into the envelope (I still have the very cool eye liner bought with the gift certificate my iVillage editor sent me years ago!) Sure you could email these, but there’s still something wonderful about actually getting a mailed card to open—especially in this high-tech, impersonal age. I’ve also received many cards where the sender has made a contribution to a charity in my name—a great way to have your gift do some good!
Personalize Your Postage. Did you know that you can actually make postage stamps with your company logo? The PictureItPostage peeps just gave me the chance to try it out for free, and I have to tell you…it’s very very cool! It works like this: Go to http://pictureitpostage.com/business/ and design a stamp using a jpeg logo from your photo file. I used a picture of our red-headed Mompreneur character from the homepage, and then adjusted the postage part of the stamp to match the teal background. Pretty cute! I’m going to go make one with her in her Santa hat too! The .44 stamps are 18.95 for a package of 20; and PictureItPostage is offering our community a coupon to get $4 off your order. Go to http://pictureitpostage.com/business/ and use Coupon Code: MOTHERHOOD .