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"The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible"

~ Anonymous

Tea Time with Liv

The first impression - lasting impression

As a serious business owner and a WAHM, you need to take a moment and think about the impression you want to give others not only about your business but about yourself. Building a business is not just about the fabulous products you offer. Its how people feel about you, your business, and your products. In business people's perception is reality.

We will talk about online and in person impressions here. You may not think how you are in person matters when your business is online but it does. People want to know you care about your business and your customers. When you personally hand someone a business card, they have already decided whether or not they will look at what you have further. Think about your own experiences during this discussion.

First impression is everything especially online. Online is far from personal so you need to evoke the right feelings during the first few moments. When people see your site, they make a judgement whether good or bad. You need to make the most of that impression. You have to remember you are not sitting there talking to anyone. Everything they know is from your site. Give them everything they need to know. Have others navigate your site. Is it easy to navigate? Easy to find what they are looking for? Do you have store policies posted? How can you be contacted? How do you make a purchase? Make a survey for people to complete. Offer a special discount or sample for completing the survey. Use that feedback to make improvements and not just use it to give out samples. When looking at feedback, don't over look a suggestion that has only come up once. Take all suggestions into consideration. If one found it to be an issue, how many others will that have not seen your site or have but will not be returning.

Look at other sites. Does yours look like theirs? If it does, change it. This does not always mean the same template or graphics. This can be same color. How many WAHM sites have you visited that were prim and brown? I went on a search for WAHM businesses and 10 out of 13 I viewed were prim in design, almost the same exact graphics, brown and dark. I couldn't even tell you what they were. They all just blended together as if 1 site divided into 20. Stand out and not blend in. Does it seem "too cute" or is it clean and welcoming? Make your home page separate from a product page. This is NOT where you sell product. You want to welcome visitors to your site. Give them insight as to what they will see while visiting. A feature product or sale is fine. Do you have a bunch of glittery graphics or too many graphics unrelated to your site? Get rid of them. You may like those glittery graphics but this is not your fun profile. From the outside its looks amateurish and unprofessional. This is not the impression you want to give.

Ask for help if needed. Asking for help does not equal failure. Everyone needs help and/or advice at some point. As a WAHM you should be a member of the MomPack.com. Like you there are over 6000 WAHMs with varied experience and talents. This is a great place to get advice and low cost help for that professional looking site.

When writing descriptions for your products, write them as if others have no idea what it is no matter how obvious. If you don't you may be speaking in a way that is not understood by others and only yourself and others who are close to you. This will make customers feel excluded, not understand your business, your products, and is an invitation to leave.

In person impressions are just as important to your online impression. When out and about, you should be giving out your business card to at least 1 person you just met. You are a walking billboard advertisement. How you approach them makes all the difference on whether they will follow up or not. Do you talk using alot of slang? Learn to curb that. Do you have a habit of looking at your feet while talking to someone? Find it within yourself to look into that persons face. If you can't look at their eyes, look at their eyebrows, that freckle on their brow bone, admire those long lashes. Anything that will make them feel you are paying attention to them and talking to them. This doesn't mean become a different person it means refine and present a professional image.

I hate to say this but if you are a smoker and smell like stale smoke, doesn't matter if that cigarette was 20 minutes ago, this will not be favorable to those who do not smoke. Even if your products go straight to the customer from the company, customers will remember that smell and fear their products smelling that way. You may not smell it and that is because you are used to it. You need to be aware of this. That smell can carry to your cards. Use a business card holder preferably metal. This helps shield those cards. Start carrying that febreeze and spray down your car. Do not smoke in your car. The smoke smell is at its worst here since it lingers in a smaller area and forces the smell to be concentrated. Carry baby wipes and wipe down your hands after every cigarette. Also use hand sanitizer. This will not rid you of smelling like smoke but lessens it if you just have to have that cigarette. If you are on your way to a home party, do not smoke on the way there. I know nerves can be at their highest here but you need to avoid exposing someone who is sensitive to the smell or even allergic to cigarette smoke. This is also the same for you heavy perfume wearers. Sometimes we are a bit too liberal with our favorite scent that will overpower others. Smell wonderful not as though there was a disaster in the perfume factory.

No matter bad hair day or not, keep those tresses tamed. Pull it back in a pony tail and add in a cute barrette. A messy do can make customers look twice and feel there may be potential for a lack fo detail. Keep the outfit simple and clean. We all try to deny that looks aren't everything but if you have an unkept car salesman trying to sell you that volvo, are you really going to buy that car or go somewhere else? This by no means go out and buy a new outfit. Just means keep it simple, keep it clean, keep it covered.

No matter where you are, make that imperssion favorable and memorable.

Olivia Vidal
© Copyright 2008

Starting a business? Where to start

Before you start anything, grab a notebook or 3. This will become your business bible. Take notes of EVERYTHING - brainstorm ideas, costs, goals, research, etc. Keep this with you at all times. I keep a small notebook next to my bed. You never know when an idea will hit. If you must, keep a small notebook and pen in the bathroom, on the fridge, next to the tv remote. Ideas come at all hours of the day so don't trust that you will remember them. Jot them down while they are flowing. Make the most of the idea machine before it runs out of gas.

Something to think about before starting a business is why are you starting a business? Know why you are starting a business and always remind yourself of why. If you want to be rich, write it down. This is where you need to be honest with yourself. Lying to yourself will only hurt yourself here. Don't worry about how selfish your reasons are. Just know what they are.

Now lets get down to reality. Owning our own business sounds glamorous but there is a lot of hard work behind the scenes nobody sees. Are you ready? Lets see how ready you are:

How organized are you? Can create and stick with a schedule? How are you with your bills? Are you always on top of them? What about your checkbook? Is this always balanced and you know where every dollar is going? Can you keep track of others and know what others are doing at every moment of the day? If you can't say yes to all of these, what are you plans to correct it so you can say yes? Remember that notebook? This is where you need to be writing things down.

How driven and motivated are you? If you have ever worked outside of the home, when was the last time you worked overtime? Could you do that for the next 6 months without a day off? Can you work upwards of 14, 16, 18 hours a day. Are you willing to give up your soaps and talk shows for your success? This sounds extreme but this is the realistic side of owning your own business. You will be working non-stop from morning til night. The days can be long and tiring. This may not last forever but you need to be prepared for this.

How flexible are you? No I am not asking if you have what it takes to join the local acrobat team. Can you and are you willing to change gears at any point in the day? Can you get back on track when your day has been turned upside down? Things happen and this is a necessity that cannot wait until you are ready. There are times you will need to drop everything and move to something else then move back again. As a work at home mom, this is not a what if. This will happen.

Can you make a decision? Now before you say yes keep this in mind - your best friend of 20 yrs orders that new and fabulous one of a kind shawl that is certain to become an heirloom for someone. Being your friend she wants to only pay 50% of your retail cost. As your friend you want to grant her the price but business wise you could be losing out on money. Can you say no and negotiate a higher price that may upset her? Of course you never want to upset your best friend but this is business and you need to protect your business. Sometimes you will have to make a decision that can make you unpopular. We will talk about negotiating later but for now we are just talking about those difficult decisions that sometimes have to be made.

Now you know you can do this, so how do you plan to sell your product? What I mean is will these be available online, in a store, at parties, door to door, by phone, auction, flea market, etc. Lets say you plan to sell your products online. Have you found a web host? Here I caution you DO NOT use a free site for a fully functioning ecommerce business. You want to be taken seriously here. A free site sounds great but don't forget there are several low cost hosts out there and you can even pay by the month. There are many low cost templates out there so don't feel you are limited. You don't have to be a computer geek to have an amazing, low cost site. Look at hosts such as http://thedesignshoppe.com/ and http://wahmshoppes.com/. These are just examples of some great hosts out there. Don't let your frugalness get in the way of being cheap. There are plans out there for every budget so owning an online site with a host does not have to cost more than your mortgage.

I know many will say a free site is just fine and mostly you will hear this from other work at home moms. You are not just targeting work at home moms like yourself. You are targeting a large array of people looking for quality products, quality customer service, by a quality company. A professional image is important to your success. With so many fly by night scams out there, you want your customers to see that you are sticking around and you have fully emersed yourself in your business. This is not to say a free site is a bad omen and never trust a soul. I am just saying you need to think long and hard about this. Free sites have urls that are difficult to remember and can give the impression of being very amateurish. You can also be limited on the look of your site and end up with a site that looks like everyone elses out there. These are things you do not want. You want to be remembered and you want to appear professional and be someone everyone feels comfortable dealing with. You need to stand out here. You want people to remember you when they need your product not struggle to remember who you were and end up at someone elses site.

We are now at the part where many get lost and often forget. This is how will you make money. The answer seems simple right? I will sell such and such product. Of course you will but its more than adding a number and making it work. You need to know how much it cost to make the individual product you are selling. This is just supply cost. We will talk operation cost in a moment. If you know it costs you $100 to buy the supplies needed to make your pencil boxes but how many pencil boxes are you making. If you make 100 that breaks down to $1 each. Are you including all your costs? Make sure you are listing everything that goes into the production of that product.

You also need to decide are their any other ways you will be making money with your business. Explore all aspects of your business - workshop fees, bulk prices, subscriptions fees, setup fees, handling charges, or anything else besides just the product in which you plan to make money. You need to know all of these so jot these down in that business bible.

Something many forget in their business figures in pricing products is costs outside of supplies for your products. This includes that paper you use to print and invoice, ink to print that invoice on that paper, tape to close and secure those boxes, boxes to ship your products, a scale to weigh your items, costs to get those production supplies (shipping to you from suppliers, gas to pick up supplies, etc), internet service, phone for business calls, payment processing fees, bank fees, folders to keep orders straight, that new file cabinet, the calendar to schedule appointments, and so forth. These all need to be figured into your operation costs. Operation costs need to be factored into your price. Some of these seem minor but they will certainly affect your profit margin. Still remember that notebook we talked about earlier? Are you taking notes? If you not start writing.

You have your initial costs written down so lets start talking what it will take to get started. Remember that old adage it takes money to make money. No matter how hard we try to not spend any money to make money, you will end up doing it anyways so you might as well face it. I recommend saving 3 months worth of costs to start your business. It is also recommended you buffer that figure for unexpected costs. Things happen and you don't want to be unprepared for them. Add as much as you can. I suggest anywhere from 20% to a full month of costs. Lets say to run your business it costs $20 a month. Multiply that by 3 and you get $60. Add on that extra 20% which is $12. To begin you need $72. Remember this is an example only. Your actual figures can be more or less. Now 3 months can seem like a lot of money when you look at those figures during these hard times but you do not want to start a business that you can't support in the beginning only for it to close before it really had a chance to get a running start. If you can't get enough for 3 months, save no less than the first month and that buffer.

Your ideas have been refined and you are ready to start. Get that task list written and begin implementing what you have been working so hard on. Let those goals remind and guide you everyday. Look over them frequently and revise anything you need to. Focus on those goals as these are the keys to your business and your success.

Here's to your success!

Olivia Vidal
© Copyright 2008

Too much advertising?

Too much advertising? Is there such thing? In some ways yes but not all. Its important to identify when you are advertising too much. We think we must always keep our business in the front. This can be done without overpowering your customers or potential customers with advertisements. They never want to feel blind-sided by your real intentions.

As a WAHM, you are probably looking for inexpensive if not completely free advertising. There are several creative options available to you everywhere you look. You must approach these with a realistic view of what is considered too much. Place yourself in the shoes of a customers and ask yourself would I feel overwelmed if someone were to do this to me? If that answer is yes or maybe, look for another way. Always keep in mind people want to be in the know not feel overwelmed and devalued.

A very cost effective advertising tool is email. This is one area you must be very careful in your advertising. Sending an quick message to all your family and friends via email letting them know how excited you are about your new business is fine. It is encouraged to make a 1 time intro email at the start of your new business. That does not mean email them over and over. When you do this, you are considered spamming. When using email to advertise and keep customers and potential customers abreast on all the new products and sales, make a prefered mailing list. This is one where you ask if they would like to receive occassional mailings. Group these in your email. Most email providers offer the ability to place desired contacts into specified groups. Occassionally would be once every 2 weeks to once a month. No more. And always place an opt out message at the end of every ad email you send on how to unsubscribe from these types of emails. Always give your customers the opportunity to remove themselves at anytime.

Another cost effective advertising tool is using your instant messenger list. Here again you must be careful. Send occassional mentions of specials, sales, parties, etc. Do not send 5 messages a day even when they are different ads. A big reason to be cautious - people tend to think all you do is send ads and will quickly close these private message windows. Defeats the purpose right? A better option is change your instant messenger status with a quick and sassy blurb that includes a link. This allows people to read your ad but not feel burdened or bombarded by ads. If sending ads via IM is your prefered method, make a seperate "ad" group. This can give you the same results as above but it keeps you out of hot water.

How many of you use social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, etc? Everyone loves adding new and exciting friends, reading comical bulletins, and offering their take on the zany survey. What they do not want is blatant ads at every moment. When you add friends, what is your intention? You only want to them to know about your business and make them a customer? Do you wish to engage in the occassional conversation and connect on the friend level? Making a page geared towards your business sounds great but if someone feels you are just a spammer, you have already lost the game. Every bulletin should not be an ad or directing you to a website. Jump in and add to the fun. Post silly surveys or quizes on occassion. Send on a funny joke or share in exciting news of your new car. Post pictures and show you are a real person. One oops I have found many times is profiles made private. If you wish to advertise and network with several others, how can you if they can't see who you are before they say "yes" or "no". The key here is socialize and network not just sell sell sell.

Join a message board that interests you. Talk with others. Contribute when you can. Post a nice intro about y0urself and how excited you are about your business. Your message board social life should not end there and be followed with endless ads posted every moment you can think of. If they see all you do is post ads, you lost your audience.

Join groups that are of interest to you. A plus is if they offer an ad day once a week or month. Here again as I am sure you guessed - contribute and socialize. Do not just join because they have an ad day. Join because you have a genuine interest.

One advertising avenue we tend to use too often and not recognized immediately - advertising to the same people all the time. In your advertising you want new people to see your ads. You want your audience to grow. The more than know, the more likely you are to make a sale. Always look for a new way to advertise.

Remember, moderation and creativity the key to effective advertising not the extreme of seeing your name over and over in their nightmares.

Olivia Vidal
© Copyright 2008

Not getting sales?

You have become a consultant for your favorite company or started your own business but can't seem to make any sales. You have shown everyone your link but nobdoy is buying. Why?

Many people, men and women, are increasingly signing on to new ventures trying to bring in extra money. I have seen an ever increasing number for those signing on to more than 1. You can find several who have 5 or more companies they represent. While this is not impossible to manage, this will no accomplish what many are hoping which is free up time to care for family and stay at home.

Before you decide to sign on to an overload of fun companies, particularly those with free sign ups, know what you are signing up for. Not only do your research on the company and owner but on building a business. Some make it look very easy and for them it is. You have to see why it is in these cases. Many have been doing this for years and know what it takes and put the time into it.

No matter how it happens, you now have a company or 5 you represent that need sales before you go bold with such frustration. Before you do anything, think about why you signed up? Was this ONLY because it was free? You need extra money and fast? You really like the product and want to make money on the side? Or because it was an easy way to make money without investing too much time?

It is time to set your goals. The first goals to set are long term. What is the ultimate goal? Long term financial freedom? To stay home until Sally enters kindergarden? Bring in supplemental income to make ends meet? No matter the goal, you need to know what that is. You can't go in a direction you have never determined.

Next, what are you NOT willing to do to make those goals happen? Are you NOT wanting to work for someone else? NOT wanting to host hundreds of parties? NOT wanting to make phone calls? You need to know these as well otherwise you can be doomed from the start. These you should know before starting any business. Just like a job, you have to know what you do NOT want to do.

Now you know what you are not willing to do so what are you willing to do? Are you willing to work for someone else but only behind the scenes? The occassional home party is fine but you don't want this to be the main source of your income? Are you willing to pass out flyers and business cards?

So you know what direction you are headed, you know what you are and are not willing to do to make your goals happen.It is now onto baby steps. What is the first weeks step? Tell 10 people about your new business? Sign up 1 new person? Make 2 sales? Every week is a new week and every week you need a new goal. If you made your first goal, great! If you have not, its ok. The new week you start fresh with a new goal. Revisit the last goal again on week 3.

But what about getting sales? We are coming to that. Sales are not instant. If you think they are, you are in the wrong business and need another way to bring in extra money. Reality is a home business takes work just like any job outside of the home. The difference is you don't have a boss hovering. You are the boss.

Before we talk about getting those sales, lets talk schedule. You need to work in your new business. Yes you can set your own hours but that does not mean every day you will get to it when you get to it. The lack of organization will be the end to your success. Normally the first thing I hear at this point is "but I have kids all day". Schedule around it. When is their nap time? Do they go to preschool? Do they have play dates? What time do they wake up and go to bed. Find 30 minutes a day. This can be broken into 3 - 10 minute time slots or 2 - 15 minute time slots if needed. No excuses here. Find them. Your success depends on it. Schedule your entire day out. Schedule naps, errands, eating times, house cleaning, business, paying bills, "me" time, and time for your spouse. If you go to school or work outside of the home, still make that schedule. Your schedule is flexible but it is important to set aside time for all you need in the day. Nobody is going to send you to your room for only getting 15 minutes in the day to your business but don't make it a habit. Your business is as important as it is for your children to eat. Your business needs to be nurtured

But what about sales? One thing you will learn in business is patience. Nothing comes fast.

Lets go get those sales. So where do you start? Start with family and friends. Tell EVERYONE you know about your new business. Be excited about it. It doesn't matter if your business is geared towards women only or men only. Everyone knows men and women and eventually they need a gift for the opposite sex. Family and friends are most likely to help pass the word. Word of mouth is very powerful.

Add your business info to your email signature. If you have a website, place your URL here as well. People read signatures more often than you realize. Whenever placing a website link into signatures, make sure you add the http:// in front. For most areas this makes the link live. A live link is more likely to be clicked than one that needs to be copy and pasted into the browser address bar. Now your signature will be included in all of your outgoing emails for all to view.

If you are a work at home mom (you have a business so you are a work at home mom aka WAHM) look for local groups. There are serveral others out there in your area who would love to get together with others. If there isn't one, start one. This can be a once a week meeting where you come together and discuss your business or just get some time away and break free from the daily baby talk.

Find groups online that are of interest to you. There are a huge number of groups on Yahoo!, MSN, Cafemom, Google, and more. Whether your interest is religion, weightloss, scrapbooking, pets, reading, etc, join a group that you can connect with others and not become bored with. This is a great place to network. Be careful not to join so many it takes you hours to check on and talk with others. Make sure to check in every few days and actually interact with group members. When you join post an introduction. Tell a little about yourself. Example: My name is Olivia. I am a full-time WAHM with a wonderful husband and 14yr old son. I own So Chic Bag Boutique and also a Training Manager for Mineral Girlz. I love to read, draw, visit museums, and go to wine tastings. I joined this group because it seems I have alot in common with many of you and can't wait to get to know you all. It doesn't have to be fancy or lengthy. Avoid blatant ads. DO NOT go on and on about your business. A quick mention is all you need. If you go on and on about what you sell, what you offer to group members, how to sign up, etc, etc, you will be seen only as someone joining to post ads and not receive a great reception.

Networking sites are huge right now. Everyone seems to have MySpace, Facebook, and many others out there. Use these to your advantage. While these are not great sources of sales, they are a great way to get your name out there. Be aware of how you set up your profile. Nobody wants to add friends with a full page of ads. They want real people. Add in blurbs about your business in the about me sections, maybe a banner but add in other items as well. Keep it personal. No more than once a week (I recommend 1-2 times a month) post bulletins or a blog about something new with your business. Also post non-business bulletins and blogs as well so friends are not only seeing ads from you.

A common group many are joining are shopping groups. These can be great for some but be cautious here. You may end up spending more than you are earning in return. Know the rules. Most run these with minimum amounts to be spent each month, a consultant of the month (COTM), limits of 1-2 reps per company. Some it takes months before it is your turn. Now don't get me wrong, these can be great especially if you have quotas to meet but don't overextend yourself in groups that only offer limited return. The right group can be great for you and your business. Just know what you are getting into and do your research just like anything else.

Another popular avenue for newcomers is traffic exchanges. If you do not know what these are, these are sites where you surf pages and receive surf points that allow your websites to be viewed in the rotation. If you use the free sign up option, you will be required to surf so many pages in a certain time frame. These are great for recruiting but not as great for sales. Reason is they are impersonal. People are forced to view your page just so they get surf points and not necessarily are you pages getting in the hands of those wanting what you have to offer. That does not mean don't use them it just means be realistic about the outcome. There are some great exchanges out there. Again do your research and avoid joining a ton.

Does your company offer samples or items that can be distributed in sample sizes? Send these to sample companies. These companies take the prepackaged samples you send and place them into some type of bag or box for consumers to buy and try several samples from a variety of companies at once. You send in your prepackaged samples to these type of companies. Look for companies that offer this service free to sponsors. Sponsors are those who send in samples to be included in these consumer packs. There are serveral out there and have been out there for years and have a high demand for these packs. Your product will get in the hands of those wanting your product and those who have never heard of it. Check out companies such as The Sample Gal.

Start a blog. Offer tips related to your business. Everyone has a problem and you may have the solution. Offer a contest on your blog from time to time where they can win a product from your business. Visit other blogs and offer insight when the moment is right. Don't take over someones blog though. This is not highly respected.

Visit local establishments that can benefit from your product. If you offer dog treats, visit groomers. Ask to leave business cards. Even ask for theirs in return to give out to local customers buying your product. If you sell makeup, visit salons (hair, nail, and massage). Offer toys; visit daycare centers and leave flyers about kid parties or even fundraiser info for the center. Many offer fieldtrips and needs funds for these. Visit senior centers with gift ideas. Many seniors need gifts for their loved ones but getting out to shop is difficult. Make sure to offer low cost options since many are on a budget.

Next time you attend a home party, exchange parties or even offer to do a combined party. You can be each others hostesses to earn free products as well as sales. These can be fun for you are well as guests.

There are several fun options out there that are also free. Marketing your business is not just about placing ads everywhere. Its is also about the relationship you build with your customers. Relationships are long lasting.

With all these great tips, you are sure to get sales. Don't be afraid of success. Welcome it with open arms. Take those risks. Make a lasting impression.

Now get out there and get those sales! You can do it!

Olivia Vidal
© Copyright 2008

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