November 14, 2013

3 Pricing Strategies That Made Me More Money

Filed under: Ecommerce — Meredith @ 10:52 am

image via darrendean

We all want to come up with ways to make more money and sell more product, but it’s so easy to overlook some of the easy ways to do it. In the last 12 months I’ve employed a few techniques that helped us sell more product. Try these out with your product line:

1. “Starter” Products For Customers Short on Funds
Even if you have moderately priced products, there will be customers who can’t afford to spend $10 or $20 or $50 today. That doesn’t mean they won’t spend $1 or $5, especially if they really like your products. Most of my products range in price from $15-$50 but I do offer 1″ buttons for $1 and magnets and keychains for $5.

Theses mini-accessories feature many of the same illustrations on my more expensive products like messenger bags and t-shirts but they’re affordable for just about everyone. They’re inexpensive to produce so my margins on those items are terrific. In 2013 we sold several thousand dollars worth of these impulse-buy items. It was a tiny share of our sales for the year but it’s still money we never would have made if we didn’t have products at that price point.

Even if you have a moderately priced line like mine, think about new items you might be able to offer for $5 or less to snap up some of those impulse-buy dollars, especially at live events like craft shows and festivals. Check our sites like and other promotional goods websites. They often have a whole host of products you can have decorated for $1 or less.

2. 2 For 1 Deals to Move Overstock
Since much of my inventory is produced in large volume (screen printed shirts, batches of belts, etc.) it’s inevitable that I will end up overstocked on products here and there. Maybe something that had been selling well tailed off or something I expected to sell well ended up being a middling performer. Whatever the case, I have limited space for inventory so if somethings not moving quickly I have to figure out how to get it off the shelves. I recently solved this problem by offering a 2 for 1 deal on my website.

Customers who generally like our designs and are looking for a deal can order 2 shirts for the price of 1 on our website. They tell us what shirt size(s) they want and give us some information about preferences for design themes and shirt colors. They know the actual shirts they get will be a surprise (since we are selecting from shirts we’re overstocked on) but we use their preferences to try to find shirts we think they will like. Our margins are still very good at half off, so it’s a win for us and our customers.

You might simply prefer to put overstock inventory on sale in your shop, but the reason I like this strategy is that it encourages your customers to buy 2 items instead of just 1. If I simply marked all my overstock items at half off on a sale page I would have more orders for a single item. This strategy guarantees that each order will pick up at least 2 items.

3. Volume Discounts to Encourage a Bigger Purchase
We usually retail our shirts for $25.00 but when we do live events we also offer a volume discount of 2 shirts for $40.00.  This discounting offer usually results in more than half of our live event customers buying 2 or more shirts. We offer similar deals online, with coupon codes that are only effective for spending a certain amount.

If you can offer a volume discount on your products give this technique a try online or at your next live event. You’ll likely see a big boost in sales, especially at live events. If you can’t afford to offer a volume discount on all of your products, select 1 or 2 products you sell a fair amount of and try this strategy out with those items first.

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November 13, 2013

Add T-Shirts To Your Product Line With No Upfront Cost

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Meredith @ 2:46 pm


In my last post I mentioned that one of my goals for 2014 is to grow the manufacturing branch of my business. For years now I’ve owned and operated a graphic apparel and accessories business with my partner Matt, and we know all too well how hard it is to start and operate this kind of business.

The biggest challenge with selling your illustrations on t-shirts is cost. Let’s say you have a design that’s selling like crazy on posters and you’d love to print it on a t-shirt. You’ve got two options:

1. You can screen print your design onto shirts
If you do that you have to:

• pay up front for the inventory

• guess what size breakdown to order

• stock the inventory yourself

Just to start with 1 t-shirt you’ll probably spend around $400 getting that first design printed. So if you wanted to go all-out with a full line and print 10 designs you’d need $4,000.00! You’re also going to have to sell hundreds of those t-shirts before you recoup that initial outlay and break even. And if you decided to print a design that ends up not selling well you might never break even on that particular design.

2. You can have your shirts printed to order on a POD basis
With sites like Cafe Press you’ll only make a dollar or two per order and when those shirts ship to your customer the packing slip won’t have your branding on it. So customers will remember the shirt came from Cafe Press, not you. Even during the checkout process, your customer will be asked to join the Cafe Press mailing list, not your mailing list, so you won’t be able to re-market to them later if they liked your art.

Neither of these options is ideal. You can either take on a lot of risk, spend a lot of money up front, and allocate a lot of storage space to warehouse your inventory, or you can make peanuts from the sale of your art and have little control over your branding. The good news is, I’ve just created a new alternative to both of those options: Meet DropShipDTG, my new one-stop service for t-shirt printing and fulfillment.

Why I’m Offering This Service
Although my t-shirt line has been around for a few years and at this point we have lots of best sellers that we regularly screen print, even we aren’t immune to the problems with screen printing. Sometimes I run out of larges long before I run out of every other size, and I don’t necessarily want to spend another chunk of cash just to re-stock one size right away. Sometimes I release a new design and it turns out to be a dud. If I screen printed that new design without any sales history I might end up with a bunch of slow moving inventory I can’t get my money back from.

I solved this problem by purchasing a DTG printer. A DTG printer is a special printer designed to print on cotton. So it can print on t-shirts, tote bags, sweatshirts, etc. The big difference between DTG and screen printing is that screen printing relies on screens. You create screens specific to one design and once they are set up you can create hundreds or thousands of copies of that design, but if you need to print another design you have to set up new screens. DTG doesn’t use screens — it’s entirely digital — so you can print 1 copy of 100 different designs with just about the same amount of effort that it takes to print 100 copies of 1 design.

I use my DTG printer to fill in inventory gaps if I run out of a size or test new designs to make sure they’re going to sell well before I invest in 100′s or 1000′s of screen printed pieces. The thing is, I only use my DTG printer for a couple of hours each day. The rest of the time it sits idle.

I decided to start printing for other artists to keep my printer occupied and generating income even when I’m not using it. It also means I can do something I believe in and enjoy, which is helping other creatives grow their businesses.

How The Service Works
If you’re interested in using DropShipDTG, you can create an account with us. Once your account is active you’ll be able to start taking orders. You can take orders for shirts the same way you take orders now. You can accept orders via your website, Etsy, Big Cartel, etc. When you have shirt orders you can log into your account and provide us with the order details. We accept your order data via our web form or via a spreadsheet.

We’ll print the shirts your customers ordered and mail them off using YOUR packing slip and YOUR return address. This means your customers will never know you didn’t ship the order yourself. We can even include your promotional materials if you’d like (stickers, postcards, flyers, coupons, buttons, etc.). We’ll bill you weekly for your orders once we’ve shipped them.

How much can I make from selling t-shirts?
That’s up to you. DropShipDTG offers pricing tiers based on volume and you decide what you want to sell the shirts for. If you just sell one shirt per day your cost would be $15.00 per shirt. If you sold the shirts for $25.00 you’d make $10 on every sale — a much better return than what you’d get from the leading print-on-demand services. You’d also get to control your customer’s experience. They will place their orders with you just like they do now and when their order arrives it will have your branding so your customer will remember you, the designer.

You can learn more about DropShipDTG by visiting the website. We’ve addressed the most common questions on our FAQ and pricing pages. If you have additional questions not covered by the DropShipDTG website feel free to give us a call or send an email and we’ll be glad to help you out.

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November 5, 2013

What I’ve Been Up To

Filed under: Uncategorized — Meredith @ 8:46 am

photo by kovik via

I haven’t blogged much in 2013 because my year was pretty consumed with my move to Los Angeles. So much has happened since our move but here are some highlights:

1. We Love LA!
When we decided to move to LA it was a business decision. We couldn’t find a screen printer we were happy with in Baltimore and we were doing too much printing to be without a printer we could depend on. Southern California has more screen printers than any other part of the country so we moved here to have more options.

We burned through a couple of printers in the LA area before we found a good printer, but we did find one we liked. We also found that we are close to a ton of other suppliers. This means we can get all the supplies we need within a quick drive. If we don’t feel like picking up supplies we can order them online and they arrive the next day. The money we’ve saved on getting supplies has been a huge boon. Not to mention the convenience of being able to get supplies so quickly!

LA has also been a great place to get noticed by more wholesale contacts and Hollywood costumers. Just being at live events in the LA-area has gotten our products seen by store owners and costumers, and landed us more wholesale business and more appearances on TV.

LA’s relaxed friendly vibe, sunny mild weather and affordable cost of living turned out to be a nice surprise too. We’ve been thrilled that we can find so much inexpensive, good quality produce at local markets. We’re close to tons of beautiful natural scenery which has been great for day hikes on weekends.

2. We moved more jobs in-house
When we started our company we had an awesome vendor who’d been printing and shipping our products for us. When they went under we tried to replace them but couldn’t find any good options. We ended up bringing fulfillment back in-house which was a bit of a bummer but turned out to be a good kick in the butt for us. We have better control over shipping, lower costs and it encouraged us to invest in some much-needed equipment.

3. More distribution = more business
We didn’t really have time to focus on advertising this year, so it fell by the wayside. I was sure our sales would tank but they kept on growing. I attribute the growth to getting more product out into the world. In the last 12 months we did more live events like festivals and conventions, did more wholesale, did more flash sales. In short, we got more of our product in front of consumers and into their wardrobes.

Since we design clothing and accessories, our customers wear our products out in the world and act as advertising for us. We hear all the time from customers that everyone asks them where they got their shirts, bags, wallets, etc. and they always send people our way. Just being seen all over the place has generated so much word-of-mouth business for us.

We’ve also seen benefits from all the free swag we’ve given out over the last 12 months. We’ve handed out hundreds of thousands of comic strips and stickers at festivals and conventions in the last year. We hear from people more and more that they’ve seen our stickers and comics and sought us out as a result.

What’s on for 2014

We have a few things planned for 2014 but here are some of the big goals:

1. Make more time for content and product development.

2. Hire more help, especially for live events.

3.  Grow the manufacturing services side of our business (more about that later this week).

4. Keep growing our online and retail presence

How was your 2013? Let me know in the comments!

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November 4, 2013

Important: Keep Your Mailing List “Clean”

Filed under: email marketing — Meredith @ 12:40 pm


If you’ve got a mailing list chances are you think “bigger is better”. I’m here to tell you, it’s not. More opens and clicks are better, not more subscribers. There are two reasons this is the case:

1. Cost
Most mailing list providers (Mail Chimp, Constant Contact, etc.) charge you based on how many emails you send. So if you are sending 10,000 emails per month you are paying more than if you are sending 500 emails per month. So why would you want to pay to send email to people who aren’t opening your emails? Save yourself some cash by keeping your list clean. That means regularly removing inactive subscribers.

2. Deliverability
Email service providers (Yahoo, Gmail, etc.) keep track of whether people are opening your emails. If a tiny percentage of your subscribers are opening, those services are more likely to assume your emails are unwanted to send them right to the junk folder, which means you won’t be getting much benefit from your mailing list.

So how do you make sure your list is lean and clean so you can get the best bang for your buck and increase your chances of getting your emails into your customers inboxes?

1. Do not add people who didn’t give your permission
Don’t add people to your mailing list unless they gave you permission to do so. Simply adding people without permission is rude and spammy and is going to make your customers angry, so don’t do it, no matter how tempting. There are lots of legitimate ways to get people to join your mailing list, here are a few ideas:- offer a coupon code for signing up
- accept mailing list sign ups at live events like craft shows or festivals
- run a contest people can enter by joining your mailing list
- offer the option to join your mailing list during the check out process on your website

2. Clean up your existing list
Your mailing list program probably gives you data on which subscribers are opening your emails and clicking links in them. You can use this information to get rid of inactive subscribers. Gather a list of subscribers who haven’t opened your mailing list emails or clicked on your links in the last few months and send those subscribers a message letting them know you’ve noticed they haven’t been opening your emails. Ask them to confirm that they still want to be on your list. If they don’t respond or confirm, remove those subscribers.

I do this with my own mailing list about twice a year and shed thousands of subscribers every time. I know that sounds like a lot of subscribers to lose, but it means my open rates are much better and I’m not paying to send email to people that don’t want it. That check-in email also gives the inactive subscribers a chance to stay on the list if they still want emails from us.

With the holiday season around the corner, now is a great time to get your list clean before you start sending all those holiday season promotions.


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July 18, 2013

Wanna Go Into Business? Ask the Right Questions.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Meredith @ 10:32 am

customer service

I haven’t updated in a while since I’ve been pretty swamped with my own business. We grew our sales by 60% for the first 6 months of 2013 (vs the same period in 2012) and relocated for our business. More about that later, but today I was prompted to post about something that happens to me all the time and sort of drives me crazy. At least once a week I run into someone who wants to start a business and wants to ask me all about it. I am happy to chat with them but they ALWAYS ask me the wrong questions. Here’s what they usually ask:

- What should I sell? (I can’t answer that for you.)

- How much of X should I make to start? (I don’t know — what are your distribution plans?)

- How do I get a website? (There are many ways to go about this; what is your budget?)

- How do I get started? (Too open-ended of a question.)

I basically get a lot of broad questions I couldn’t possibly answer or a lot of questions specific to the product. Here’s what you need to know and what you should be asking:

1. The product isn’t as important as you think it is
People starting product-based businesses usually fixate on the product and it’s the wrong thing to fixate on. A product is not a business. Repeat this mantra; it’s the #1 rule everyone doesn’t understand. Your product could be awesome or it could be crap and it almost doesn’t matter. Your success is going to be dictated by your ability to sell, market and find distribution channels, not necessarily the product itself. Sure, produce a product that you think is good and that you think will sell. But don’t expect you will succeed purely because the product is good.

2. How much capital can you invest?
Yes, you will hear of stories where someone started a business with $5 and people write entire books about this; that sort of thing is popular to talk about because it’s what wannabe business owners want to hear. However, just because something is possible doesn’t make it probable. Those people who “made it” because their product showed up in a hit movie or instantly got picked up by Hot Topic, etc. are the exception, not the norm. Don’t count on results like that.

If you want to build a real business selling hundreds of thousands of dollars or millions of dollars in product every year then you should count on your start up requiring a large investment of capital and a few years to really become profitable. My own business was technically “profitable” when it wasn’t a real business. When I first started and was selling less than $20,000.00 a year in product I was actually netting a few thousand dollars after all the expenses. It wasn’t a real business though. I wasn’t going to be able to pay my bills or quit my day job. Since growing my business to a quit-your-day-job size proposition I have had to loan my company tens of thousands of dollars over the years. It was necessary to put in that kind of money to grow our business to the size it is today.

That’s the reality of growing a business — they require investment to grow. And if you want to really grow it, it may require a pretty substantial investment of both cash and time. Are you prepared to put both of those into your venture to make it grow? Whatever you think it’s going to cost, however long you think it’s going to take, you’re probably way off. It’s going to cost so much more and take so much longer than you expect. Is this something you’re prepared for?

3.What will your distribution channels be?
Know how I said the product almost doesn’t matter? This is what matters right here. If you have a product-based business you need distribution channels. How are you going to get your product into consumers’ hands? You should obsess about this; it’s the #1 thing that matters.

Are you going to sell online? If so, how will you bring people to your website? Are you going to be awesome at online advertising and search engine optimization? Are you going to sell at retail events like conventions and festivals? If so, which ones? How will you vet them and find the right ones? How many will you sell at? Are you going to sell through 3rd party marketplaces like Etsy, Ebay, Amazon, etc.? How will you generate sales on those sites? Are you going to wholesale to stores? How will you acquire stores? Will you do trade shows? Will you cold call? How will you track your sales leads?

How much product do you need to sell to pay your bills and at what price point? How are you going to meet those sales goals consistently?  Will your distribution channels be able to meet your needs in terms of price point and sales volume?

3. Are you willing to take on tasks you don’t really enjoy and learn new skills that don’t interest you?
This is a big part of the J.O.B. right here. When people ask me and my partner about our jobs, they assume it’s a fun glamorous gig and that we design all day. Design is probably less than 10% of what we do. We spend 90% of our time doing other things for our business. In any given day we might be managing vendors, placing sales calls or following up on other business opportunities, addressing customer service issues, dealing with logistical and administrative tasks like bookkeeping, paying sales tax, etc.

The list of things you will need to learn is endless and there’s usually no one to teach you. Remember how I said you’re going to need more capital than you think? Some of it is going to go here. You’re going to make mistakes. Some of them might be big and expensive. You’re going to maybe hire the wrong contractor or employee. You’re maybe going to have a manufacturer screw up a release of your product and send you a shipment full of defective goods. You’re going to do an expensive trade show that turns out to be a bust. You’re going to invest in some piece of machinery or equipment that breaks or maybe doesn’t deliver the value you expected. Stuff like this is part of the learning curve with starting and growing a business and there’s no way around it.

You do have to be an expert in nearly everything your business does and becoming an expert on all of it is going to take time and cost money. It’s going to involve embracing tasks you don’t find interesting and don’t enjoy. You can eventually hire people to do some of it for you, but unless you’re an expert how will you know who to hire and whether the employee or contractor is doing the job right?

Still wanna go into business?
If you’re already in business you’re probably saying “amen” to everything I just wrote. If you’re not in business yet hopefully you’re taking it all to heart. I still don’t expect to have time to update here regularly, but I will try to add a few posts from time to time about what we’ve been up to at my company and stuff I’ve picked up as I’ve been growing my business.

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February 12, 2013

7 Time, Money and Sanity Savers for Doing Trade Shows

trade shows

It’s trade show season, so I thought I’d share a few of my favorite trade show tips. While I’ve seen lots of great articles online about doing trade shows, there are several insider hints that I haven’t seen other trade show veterans talk about, so here are 7 things I’ve learned with experience that I wish someone had told me before I ever did my first trade show:

1. Do not do it without a car
If you are staying in a hotel right near the convention center hosting your trade show, you might think you can get by without a rental car. While getting by without a car can be cheaper, it can also be a serious hindrance. In most cities, a car is indispensable for several reasons (some of which I will talk about in a minute). First and foremost though, if you forget to bring something with you and you need to get out and replace it you are totally screwed if you have no way to get out and procure the replacement.

When we did our first trade show in Las Vegas we realized we were short on Command hooks and forgot our display for our belts entirely. Thank goodness we had a rental car, we were able to find a nearby Target and collect the items we needed to complete our trade show booth.

2. Be strategic about sustenance
Convention center food is overpriced and gross. Save your taste buds and your wallet by stocking up on non-perishable food items at a grocery store (again, having a car comes in handy in case you need to drive to a supermarket). Think about things like apples, carrot sticks, pita chips, nutrition bars. You want food that’s easy to carry, easy to eat quickly and neatly, won’t smell funky and will hold up okay if it’s in your bag all day. Energy drinks are also helpful, especially since trade shows often involve schmoozing at after parties that can go fairly late into the night after you’ve worked all day.

Having some bottled water and mints on hand is a good idea too. You can get dried out and your breath can get smelly if you are talking to people all day. Avoid offending by staying hydrated and minty. (Select mints over gum, you don’t want to be chomping on gum in front of customers.)

3. FedEx is your friend
If you are flying out of town to do a trade show, the cheapest way to get your booth gear out to the show is in your luggage. That said, for most exhibitors that’s not going to cut it. I know we end up having to ship stuff when we do trade shows. If you need to ship items keep in mind that the trade show will try to sell you on using their shipping and receiving services, but those conveniences come with hefty fees. Even shipping your stuff to your hotel or a FedEx location in a hotel or convention center gets expensive. They charge handling fees on every box and it’s based on how much those boxes weigh. The costs really add up.

You can save yourself some money if you are willing to pick up your shipments at a FedEx location nearby. (Again, that rental car is making itself useful!) FedEx will hold shipments for customers for 5 days at no additional charge. (Unless it’s a FedEx in a convention center or hotel, they will charge you a small fortune.) You just have to pay the shipping costs (way cheaper than paying for shipping AND handling fees at a hotel or convention center). When you ship your items, just indicate that you want your shipment held for pick up and then retrieve your items once you get into town.

4. Do a dry run booth set up
Set up your trade show booth at your home/office before you leave for the show. This accomplishes two things: First, it helps you actually see what the booth will look like, sometimes things look different in our minds vs the real world. If you’re stuck on how to set up your booth google for pictures of other people’s booths to get ideas. For example, if you are showing a Pool Trade Show in Las Vegas you can google image search “booth at pool” and find some photos of booths to see how other people did it.

The other thing that a practice set up accomplishes is helping you build a list of what to pack for the show. Which brings me to…

5. Make a pack list
You want to make a list of every little thing that needs to come with you to the trade show. This can be stuff like scissors, pens, an exacto knife, packing tape, samples, promotional materials, etc. Write everything down so that as you are packing for the show you can check the items off your list and make sure you didn’t forget anything. (Honestly, there’s a good chance you will forget something but if it’s something you can’t do without, having access to car means you can likely go buy another one once you get into the city where the trade show is.)

6. Don’t buy stuff before you go
If you need more clothes hangers, Command strips, tape, photocopies of your price list, etc. don’t buy it before you leave and then pack it to send out to the show. It’s a total waste of money to pay to ship something you can just go buy when you get to the show. Make a list of what you need to buy and then once you get into the town where the show is being held go buy it there. Every town that’s hosting a trade show is full of Targets, Home Depots, Office Depots, etc. You can get hangers and photocopies in Las Vegas or Orlando or wherever you are going just as easily as you can at home.

7. You cannot live without these three tools: notebook, pen and stapler!
While lots of stores write orders at shows, there are just as many that do not. You’ll have people who come into your booth and seem interested but for whatever reason don’t pull the trigger. Here’s what you want to do with everyone who gets into your booth:

First, determine if they are a buyer. If they are not, get them out of your booth. You are there to meet buyers and you don’t want a buyer passing you up because you looked too busy to pay attention to them. People trying to sell your SEO, manufacturing, PR services, etc will talk your ear off if you let them, so do not let them. You say “thanks for stopping by but I’d like to make myself available to buyers, feel free to leave me your card and if we’re interested we can follow up after the show.”

If you are talking to a buyer you  want to gauge their level of interest in your product line. You can do this by chatting with them a bit. You want to get a name, where they are from, what products they seem to like and a little bit of info about their store (i.e. where is it, what are their customers like, etc.). In a perfect world, the buyer will write an order during the show. You can incentivize with show-only promotions like free shipping or discounts, etc.

If the buyer still won’t buy at the show, here’s where the notebook, pen and stapler come in. If you got a business card from a buyer staple that into the notebook with notes about what they liked, what their store is like, etc. If you didn’t get a card, still make a note of who you talked to, where they are from, etc. When you get back from the trade show you’re going to want to spend your time contacting these warm leads and trying to close those sales. You want to be armed with as much info as possible to help make that happen.

Even if the buyer does buy at the show, you still want to write down any info you were able to glean from chatting. These details can come in handy when you are trying to get them to re-order. It shows that you are really paying attention and giving them personalized service. For example, if a buyer tells you their customers are mostly teen girls and you have a new product that’s perfect for teen girls it’s helpful to know that is who the buyer is shopping for so you can steer him or her towards that product.



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November 8, 2012

Using the Ground Game Strategy for Growing Your Business

If you followed any of the coverage of the US elections this fall, you probably heard the pundits talk about two things: how much the candidates are spending and who has a better “ground game”. This is interesting because the same exact tools that win elections can help you win as a business. It’s pretty well acknowledged that a big part of Obama’s success was his ground game, and I’m a big believer in developing a ground game for your business too. You can win by spending money — many elections have been won that way — but it’s not the only option.

Here are three ways I’ve used our ground game to boost sales this year, even though we didn’t spend much money on traditional advertising:

1. Shaking hands and kissing babies
When people feel a personal connection to a brand or a political candidate, they’re more inclined to throw their support that way. This is why political candidates get out there in front of voters and it’s why I spent most of my year getting out in front of my customers. By the end of 2012, we’ll have appeared at 16 pop-up retail events all over the US. We traveled north to Boston, west to Chicago (twice). We did events in Philadelphia (THREE times), DC (2x), NYC (3x), Pittsburgh, and Baltimore (3x). In March we’ll head south to Orlando. We travel to large events with tens or even hundreds of thousands of consumers, and our primary motivation is to get them to meet us and love us — even if they don’t buy anything right away.

We know just showing our line to people and chatting with them will help spread our brand awareness. They might not buy from us today, but there’s a good chance they will remember us and buy from us some other time.

You can employ this strategy, too. Think about festivals, craft shows and outdoor markets, but also think about trunk shows and home parties. Choose activities that appeal to your target customers and enable you to talk to them one-on-one.

2. Making It Stick
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: give people a reason to remember your brand. Political campaigns are usually happy to give you t-shirts, bumper stickers, pens, all sorts of stuff with the candidate’s name on it. They want you to remember their candidate so when it’s time to vote, you’ll remember to vote for them.

We employ the same strategy. We are always giving away loads of fun free stuff. We give it out at shows, we give it out with our orders. We give out cute vinyl stickers with our characters on them, 1″ pins, funny comic strips. We don’t give out stuff that looks like marketing material; we don’t just give out a business card, we give out something our customers would actually want so they’ll keep it and remember us.

Just yesterday a customer told us he ordered from us because a friend of a friend who lives across the country came to visit, and had one of our vinyl stickers on something. That’s how he found us.

3. Staying on Message
If you have a message that resonates with your audience, you’re more likely to attract their support, whether you’re running for office or promoting your brand. What does your brand do? Does it make life easier, does it make your customers more attractive, does it help your customer be a better parent? My own products are conversation starters — we design items you could wear out to a bar and it’s likely that someone will strike up a conversation with you based on what you’re wearing. We’re not just selling clothing, we’re selling human connections.

When you’re presenting your product on the ground, think about how you can present more than just the product: how can you present the benefits of owning your product? Think about employing signage, videos, live demos or brochures depending on the item you sell.

Have you used ground game this year to boost sales? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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October 1, 2012

How to Cope with Net 30 Terms

Filed under: Wholesaling — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 7:53 am

If you sell a product to wholesale customers, you’ll routinely be expected to offer net 30 terms. (This means your customer doesn’t pay for the goods until 30 days after you’ve sent them out.) This can be a real strain for a small business, since at any given time you may be owed tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars that you can’t collect for weeks. Meanwhile, you might need to pay rent, production expenses, employees, etc. How can you survive with net 30?

1. Get terms from vendors
If you have good credit and a working relationship with suppliers and vendors see if you can get net 30 terms from them. (For example, if you buy blank t-shirts from the same supplier all the time, see if they offer net 30 terms.) This buys you some time to collect on the cash owed to you. While you might still have to pay the suppliers before you collect on the invoices owed to you, the gap in time will be smaller.

2. Sell your invoices or get PO financing
There are companies that specialize in fixing this problem for businesses. They will loan you money to finance the production of an order (Purchase Order financing) or buy your net 30 invoices from you. Imagine you did a trade show and Bloomingdales wants to buy $100,000 worth of product. Let’s say producing the order will cost you $60,000. If you don’t have the $60,000 you need you can turn to PO financing. They will lend you the $60,000 and when you get paid by Bloomingdales you pay back that lender. This of course means you’re paying interest on that loan, so instead of netting $40,0000 you might net 35k or 37k (depending on the terms and interest rate). You’ll want to keep in mind that in order to get PO financing you’ll need good credit.

Another thing you can do is sell your invoices. There are companies that will buy a net 30 invoice, pay you up front and collect on the invoice when it’s due. Again, you are giving up a portion of the value of that invoice to do this, but it’s a way to get cash right away if you’re strapped.

3. Early payment incentives
You might be able to get your customers to pay their invoice before the invoice is due if you give them an incentive. You can offer a deal like 3% off for paying within 7 days, 2% off for paying within 14 days and 1% off for paying within 21 days. Not all customers will go for this, but some will and it gets you paid faster. Again you are giving up some income to get paid faster, but sometimes this is cheaper or more viable than the alternatives.

4. Personal credit
If you’re totally strapped and you can’t get paid fast enough falling back on personal credit is also an option. Check your credit cards to see if any have a low or 0% APR balance transfer option. This would allow you to pay for the production of an order with credit card A, balance transfer to credit card B and then pay off credit card B when the invoice is paid. (Still a better deal than paying 18% by just leaving the balance on card A.) Make sure you read all the fine print before attempting something like this so you aren’t hit with unexpected expenses.

You might also be able to draw cash from a home equity line of credit if you qualify. Interest rates for that cash are typically low and any interest you pay is tax deductible in the US.

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September 27, 2012

The Myths Behind the “Quit Your Day Job” Promise

Filed under: Uncategorized — Meredith @ 11:24 am

I recently said that I don’t relate to a lot of people who read my blog anymore because of how my own business has matured. In response, one of my readers encapsulated a sentiment that perfectly jives with what’s been bugging me about writing for those who haven’t yet made the jump from hobbyist to professionals:

“I have been rethinking this very issue of late and though I don’t have a business background, I believe the problem is what’s called a business model. We “mom/solo” enterprises were sold a bill of goods that if we worked 60 hours a week, wrote a blog, had a Facebook page and tweeted, etc. if we did what we loved and were passionate about, THEN the money would follow. It doesn’t. It’s not a business model that works. It’s a pipe dream that comes true for very, very few. It’s just the way capitalism and the free market works”

In short, YES! Who’s selling this fantasy and why?

1. Failed entrepreneurs
There’s an entire cottage industry out there of self-appointed business coaches who never succeeded at their own business but want to give you advice on your business. They tell you exactly what you want to hear; that if you just work hard enough and blog and Facebook, you too can get rich. This is usually said in flowery language and accompanies pitches to buy ebooks and ecourses and attend seminars on touchy-feely subjects like story telling or showing the real you to customers. The language is always carefully crafted so that it appeals to creatives who have no interest in dull stuff like sales and accounting and SEO. It doesn’t delve into the nitty-gritty of cash flow and supply chains and vendor relations — that stuff is dry and complex and doesn’t usually appeal to creative types, even though it’s the stuff you most need to know in order to succeed.

2. Marketplace websites that target wantrepreneurs
I see some culpability on the part of sites like Etsy as well. Whether intentional or not, they are in the business of selling the fantasy that anyone can start a “business” with just a little creativity. You don’t need a big fancy website or technical know-how or anything — just pay a few cents per listing and you’ll be in “business”. Anyone with an internet connection and a dream can do it!

People fall for these promises because they’re appealing. Who doesn’t want to make a living hanging out in their PJs all day and crafting? The myth is fed by smiling photos of Brooklynites in hip studios in Park Slope who’ve quit their day jobs and struck it rich. “You can do it too!”, is the promise. These stories never delve into what’s really going on there. How many hours does the person work? How much capital did they invest? How much revenue is their business netting after expenses? What specifically do they do all day? Who have they had to hire to help them grow?

When I talk to people who are really in business they all have their horror stories of subsisting on mayonnaise sandwiches, trying to decide if they make payroll or pay the mortgage on their house, investing their whole retirement savings. One of my entrepreneur friends lost his house this year to foreclosure in order to save his business. Perception-wise, I am sure all his customers see is a success, a guy who’s been all over TV and in magazines and is really making it. The sacrifices to get there are never really talked about. It’s the story you aren’t being told most of the time. It’s not a fun, glamorous job; it’s a difficult and exhausting job, and if there was more truth out there about what the job really is there would be fewer people applying for it.

So what’s the reality?

The reality is that creating and running a successful business is hard, expensive and time consuming. I’m telling you this as a business owner shifting thousands of units of product every month to retail and wholesale customers. My business partner and I regularly work 12 hour days on our business and I personally invested tens of thousands of dollars of my own money before we became profitable. (This is actually fairly modest start up capital, by the way.)

We don’t spend our days crafting. We spend our days managing people, making sales calls, managing the company’s finances, coordinating with vendors, and generally solving problems that make us want to tear our hair out. We spend less than 5% off our time doing creative work.

When people find out what I do for a living they often say “that sounds like so much fun, how can I do that?” My first question is usually “well do you consider yourself a creative person? I mean, do you like creating, drawing, crafting, etc.?” If the answer is yes I usually say “then you do not want to do what I do for a living.” The truth is, in addition to the need for time and money, you need a willingness to spend your time doing things you don’t especially like doing. No one likes dealing with the vendor who is ripping them off. No one likes calling that buyer every week and trying to sound upbeat and not annoying while you try to get a purchase order out of her. No one likes staying up til 3am proofing an order that was delivered from a supplier late and needs to go out tomorrow.

But, Meredith, I don’t have $50,000 laying around and I can’t work 80 hours a week! I have kids and a day job! Making sales calls gives me panic attacks!

I totally get it, but given those facts you’re probably not going to be able to develop a mature and highly profitable business. You might be able to pull in some extra spending money, but you’re probably not going to quit that day job or build a seven figure enterprise.

So if you’ve found yourself stuck and frustrated and don’t understand why you’re not making a zillion bucks on your craft, take stock of what’s really going on. Are you sufficiently capitalized? Are you putting in the requisite hours? Are you taking on the unappealing but necessary tasks? If the answer is no and you aren’t going to change any of that, accept that what you’re doing is for fun or to make some spending money. It’s perfectly okay to do that and it’s a lot less frustrating than spinning your wheels and feeling like you’re “failing” at something you aren’t even really doing to begin with.

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September 25, 2012

How to Properly Budget for a Trade Show

Filed under: Wholesaling — Meredith @ 7:02 am

If you’re thinking of doing a trade show for the first time and the price tag for the booth has you nervous, you’re not ready to do a trade show. Trade show costs are about more than just the exhibit space, in my experience that is usually only a small portion of the total investment. Here are some additional costs you must prepare for:

1. The Booth
While the fee to the show promoters might be a few thousand dollars, actually getting the booth ready can easily cost you as much or more. You’ll need to pay for booth decor, product samples (you typically show one of everything in your wholesale catalog at the trade show), marketing collateral and product catalogs. If you cheap out on these costs it’s a recipe for a bad trade show.

The main audience at a trade show is professional buyers for stores. The last thing a buyer wants to do is write an order and not get the merchandise. If you appear underfunded (meaning your booth and marketing materials look bargain basement) the buyer is going to suspect you don’t have the money to actually produce their order and that will send them in the opposite direction.

2. Travel Expenses
Unless the trade show is in your town you will need to budget for travel. This can include costs such as air fare, hotels, rental cars, fuel, and meals. If your trade show is in an expensive city like New York on San Francisco expect to shell out a pretty substantial amount of cash for these expenses, even if you plan to eat at cheap restaurants and stay in a no-frills motel.

3. Purchase Orders
The main objective of doing a trade show is to get purchase orders. You want stores to place wholesale orders because that’s how you are going to make your money back and earn a profit. So why would I consider this an expense?

Unless you are selling to small boutiques, your wholesale customers are going to want to buy in large quantities and pay you on net 30 terms (meaning you get paid 30 days after you ship). Are you prepared to produce an order for 10,000 units for Neiman Marcus or Macys and not get paid for that inventory until 30 days AFTER you ship it?

While you can get purchase order financing (a loan to cover production costs, based on having a purchase order), you’ll pay interest on that money so you have to be sure that you’ve either got the money to bank roll the production of inventory or margins that allow for you to finance those expenses.

4. Time
To an entrepreneur time is money and to see any ROI from a trade show, you have to invest some time. The show itself can easily eat up a week. It’s also important to note that a lot of buyers do not place orders at the trade show, so if you want them to buy you’ll need to invest the time to follow up with people who expressed interest in your line. This process can take months.

I’ve personally seen buyers we met at trade shows take 6 months of follow up to write an order. If you can’t dedicate the time to routinely follow up with trade show contacts until they write orders, you will definitely miss out on some business.

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