creative entrepreneurship

New Book Release: Publicity Jumpstart

Hi Fem Founders, 

Happy Independence Day Week!

I hope everyone is relaxing a bit and enjoying the warm summer months! I've finally slowed down and taken off to spend time with my family.

Meanwhile,  I am so excited to announce my forthcoming book release called The Publicity Jumpstart cowritten with former actress and visibility expert, Michelle Lewis of VisibilityVixen.com.  Michelle and I talk all about how to get press for your startup in my recent podcast interview on The Visible Entrepreneur, which you can listen to here.  You can also find out when the book launches by signing up here

Kristin Marquet PR

Q&A with Renee Redman

Q&A with Renee Redman

In 1994, The Stationery Studio began as a home business for its entrepreneurial founder Renee Redman.  Her home was filled with personalized stationery, invitations and gift ideas for local shoppers whom she met with by appointment. Over time, she developed a small website, TheStationeryStudio.com, which has evolved over the past 23 years to be one of the largest premier personalized stationery and gift businesses in the country, currently offering more than 15,000 personalized items. Recently they achieved 1 million orders to social, corporate and celebrity customers.

Can you tell our readers about your background?

In the 1980s, I started in Chicago television production and then moved into the area of public relations, helping clients generate publicity and media coverage.  When my children were young, I created some invitations and stationery and was encouraged to expand. With the added perk of having my kids at home with me, I shifted gears by starting my own home business selling personalized invitations, gifts and stationery.  I was able to create my own unique style with this business that provided me flexibility and independence.  I never imagined that it would grow to the size that it has and continue to achieve greater growth.

What inspired you to start your business?

I was looking for an opportunity to contribute to the family economically, be engaged in satisfying work, and be able to spend time with my children at home when they were very young.  Once I realized that there was a market for personalized items, I wanted to capitalize on that opportunity.  One thing kept leading to another.  From selling in my home to selling at friend’s homes, then to holiday boutiques, I eventually started a small website built on a commercial platform. Once the business outgrew the tools available on our then-platform, we moved forward and developed a custom-built application to handle our growing needs.  We are many iterations into our expanded capabilities and continue to grow. We now showcase more than 15,000 unique products.

Where is your business based?

Our office is in Buffalo Grove, Illinois.  We are 100% web-based with a full staff of customer service support, a team of full-time graphic artists, and a staff of dedicated professionals who manage the products and website growth.

How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?

After many years of meeting with customers face to face, I needed to find a way to expand my customer base and be able to showcase the growing product list. Web-based platforms were still new, but we thought it would offer us a new tool to reach customers. 

A web-based platform offered us versatility that printed catalogs didn’t.  Websites were just becoming popular at the time and we first used a pre-packaged website tool, built, at the time, as a summer project by our 15-year old nephew. We spent many months taking photographs and scanning them and then one-by-one uploaded the images onto the website.  Nothing was quick back then.  There were no digital cameras and technology was very slow.  To this day, we have not stopped building our technology but everything moves much more quickly. 

What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?  

Initially, I followed the Tupperware model, meaning bringing my items to friend’s homes where they invited a group of friends to view and purchase.  Also, I was sure to give everyone a magnet with my contact information on it which lead to repeated sales in the future.  Once we went online with our first small website, we advertised on Yahoo which was affordable, easy and effective. 

Today, we have a complex advertising strategy which includes Google, Yahoo, Bing and more. We have a mailing list of around 200,000 to whom we send out regular email promotions.  We have a Facebook presence with over 25,000 followers. We utilize Instagram, twitter, snapchat, YouTube and Google+. We also work with many high-profile bloggers to review our products which have been especially effective. Additionally, we’ve enjoyed a nice amount of major media coverage over the years including The Today Show, on Martha Stewart Weddings, HGTV magazine, "O" The Oprah Magazine, Bustle.com, The Wall Street Journal, In Style, Real Simple, and other highly-acclaimed media outlets.

What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

Technology constantly changes. Keeping up with that is a challenge.  While we are one of the largest personalized stationery and gift websites in the country, our competition has resources we don’t have. 

In addition, the area of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is ever-changing and we have to ensure we are managing this effectively through organic and paid advertising.  Advertising online has become more difficult year after year. With many thousands of keywords for a large website like ours, we work hard to maintain top positions. As well, the cost of online search engine advertising continues to increase, affecting our acquisition cost.   

Another challenge for our business is that communication styles have changed from printed notes and invitations to less formal, electronic communication. Recently, however, we have seen a reemergence by millennials who are showing they appreciate personalized products.

How do you stay focused?

Making time before work hours helps me tremendously.  I make sure to take time to go to the gym which helps me stay strong and clear my mind.  Sometimes that’s the hardest part of the day – as getting up in the 5’oclock hour isn’t always fun, especially on a bitterly cold day.  I’ve also made an enormous effort to overhaul my diet and work hard to incorporate a healthy lifestyle.  I’ve also recently started doing yoga for relaxation. All this helps balance the stress of running a website 24/7.

How do you differentiate your business from the competition?

Being in business for 23 years, we’ve grown a truly dedicated customer base who eagerly recommend us. Our website is a one-stop location for personalized products. We are a wonderful resource for many types of personalized gifts, invitations, holiday cards and party supplies. Furthermore, we’ve developed a staff whom, many of them, around 10+ years.  Their wealth of experience with personalized products is very deep and they are the heart of our business. They treat each order with care.

What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?  

With so many social media outlets today there have to be multiple strategies.  We have an in-house public relations manager who has secured many placements in major magazines, newspapers and television shows around the country.  Plus, we work with many high-profile bloggers to have them review our products. In addition, we combine online remarketing strategies with online advertising. Finally, this year we started our Tastemakers program where lifestyle experts review some of our products and post their images and reviews on their channels. 

What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs? 

Keep going no matter how hard things get.  Focus on your successes, even if they are small, not your failures.  If you fail at something, figure out a new way to do manage that task and try again.  Just keep going.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  The normal person would not tolerate the unique challenges involved in being an entrepreneur.  An entrepreneur creates their own path and there will be good days and bad days, but just keep moving forward.

What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why? 

My favorite app is Zappos. Ok, I love shoes.  They do it well.  I love the way they utilize animation. My favorite blog is Cookie + Kate.  I just found out about it this year – they feature healthy eating ideas and recipes.  Their lifestyle suggestions are very motivating. My new favorite book is Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.  We were in South Africa this year and his writing style brings the country to life.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why? 

Google trends is pretty amazing and we check it often.  It’s an online search tool where we can see how often a keyword is searched.  Often, we refer to it when determining the spelling or phrasing for a product or category (i.e. Hanukkah or Chanukah; Condolence cards or Sympathy cards; Holiday Photo Cards or Christmas Photo Cards, etc.) and we also refer to it to see when search terms start peaking. We want to be sure we are advertising holiday and events at the right time of year. We wouldn’t want to spend money advertising Valentine’s day in December if we knew customers begin searching for their gifts in January, would we?

Who is your business role model? Why? 

Oprah Winfrey is inspiring to me.  She is a true success story. From very humble beginnings she started her journey as a news reader and reporter She moved to Chicago in the late 1980’s to host a WLS-TV talk show, which would eventually become the highest rated television program of its kind.  She had a knack for building her own brand.  She took a leap and separated from the ABC network and built her OWN TV studio in Chicago and nationally syndicated her program.  She employed many talented people, built a network, created a magazine, starred in films in her spare time, and became a tremendous influencer and philanthropist.     

What do you have planned for the next six months?

We are in the middle of developing a refresh of our website in order to become more mobile friendly.  This will also modernize our ordering tools and overall look.  It’s a long-term project and we are in the middle of the development but it should be public in Spring 2018.  

How can our readers connect with you?

Readers can reach me at Renee@TheStationeryStudio.com

Social media channels:

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Q&A with Entrepreneur Alexis Courtney

Courtney Family_preview.jpg

 

After taking her daughter in for a haircut, Alexis Courtney was very excited about Cookie Cutters Haircuts for Kids. As a mother and teacher, she didn’t know much about owning a business, but she wanted to learn more. She became a multi-unit franchisee of the brand until 2014 when she and her husband acquired the brand. Now, Courtney is the franchisor and COO of Cookie Cutters Haircuts for Kids, the fastest-growing kids-centric hair salon.

Can you tell our readers about your background?

I was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. I received a scholarship to play Water Polo and swim at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. After graduation, I returned to Utah and started my teaching career as a middle school math teacher. After eight years of teaching math, I became a business owner of Cookie Cutters Haircuts for Kids. From 2006 to 2014, I opened and ran five stores. In 2014, I had the opportunity to purchase the franchise and become the franchisor with my husband, which we did.

What inspired you to start your business?

When I became pregnant with my second child, my husband and I realized the income I was making would go straight to daycare when the new baby was born. I wanted the opportunity to be in charge of my time and income and I started looking into opening a business.

Where is your business based?

My business is in South Jordan, Utah.

How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?

While researching business opportunities I started thinking about my skills and what I could offer. I didn't feel my skills were unique enough to build a profitable business around them. I then started looking at existing businesses I could purchase but didn't find the right fit. My two-year-old daughter was in need of her first haircut and there was a children's hair salon about 20 minutes from my home. By the end of the haircut, I knew I wanted to be a part of the business. As a teacher, I felt confident in my ability to work with people. I researched the company for a few months and decided I would open a Cookie Cutters Haircuts for Kids.

What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?

When I opened in 2007 word-of-mouth was the most effective way to build my business. I was able to spread the word by being involved in every community event possible. My concept is still community driven and with social media, we are able to build a community online, as well.

What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

Staffing has been our biggest challenge. I have overcome this obstacle by building an atmosphere of teamwork and respect. I hire every stylist who applies and watch to see if our store is a good fit for them. My stylists appreciate a safe work environment where they can grow and feel valued. 

How do you stay focused?

In order to stay focused I play the "sticky note" game created and taught to me by Demir and Carey Bentley from Lifehack Bootcamp. I plan my day in 50-minute blocks. For each block of work, I write the task on a sticky note. While working on the task I do not allow for any distraction. When the task is done I crumple up the sticky note, give myself ten minutes of free time and then start the next task. I play this game for three hours a day and get more accomplished in those three hours than I would all day trying to multitask and being interrupted every 5 minutes. My team knows I get my work done in the mornings and they know to call me the last ten minutes of each hour if they truly need me. 

How do you differentiate your business from the competition?

When you own a franchise the only true difference from your competitors are the people. We have worked hard to find people who want to contribute to their community and are willing to be a part of a large partnership of owners across the nation.

What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?

Recently our most effective marketing has been Facebook. We want our content to be educational and helpful for parents. We want our owners to engage and celebrate their clients with before and after pictures. We have been lucky to be a part of many social media posts from our clients who share about their great experience at Cookie Cutters Haircuts for Kids.

What’s your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?

My best piece of advice for new entrepreneurs would be to have a strict morning routine. The first 30 to 60 minutes of your day is crucial, and should not involve devices of any kind. I highly suggest 15-20 minutes of meditation to get your mind in the right place. Waking up and going straight to your phone or your computer will put you in a place where your business owns you instead of you owning your business. 

What’s your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?

My favorite book is "The Power of Habit" written by Charles Duhigg. This book allowed me to look at the world in a much different way. Our mind is our strongest muscle and we strengthen this muscle through habit. Not all habits are good for us and therefore we may need to rewire or rework our largest muscle to course correct. The fact that we can course correct and or overcome any obstacle is fascinating to me.

What’s your favorite business tool or resource? Why?

My favorite business tool is Asana which is a project management site. I have been able to build multiple projects and attach the necessary participants through Asana. I'm able to keep in touch with my team outside of emails and I can roll out new initiatives to my franchisees. Asana has an amazing app which makes work easy when I'm not in the office.

Who is your business role model? Why?

I am an avid reader and when asked who my business role model is it would currently be Mel Robbins. Mel is well known for her book "The 5-second rule." She is a firm believer inhabit and the training of your mind. 

What do you have planned for the next six months?

Over the next six months, I will train 20 new franchisees. We recently became the #1 children's hair salon in the country, with the number of salons we have open. In 2018 we anticipate another 40 store openings. I will be traveling to multiple store openings across the United States and Canada. 

How can our readers connect with you?

 I would love to meet and/or speak with any of your readers. Linkedin is the best way to connect with me. https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexiscourtney

Q&A with Entrepreneur Kathryn Starke

Kathryn Starke

Kathryn Starke is an urban literacy specialist, author, speaker, and founder of Creative Minds Publications, LLC, a global reading educational company. She helps failing schools become fully accredited in reading in one to two years. Her books are used in homes and schools in all 50 states as well as 26 countries on 6 continents.  http://creativemindspublications.com/

Can you tell our readers about your background?

I graduated from Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia with a BS degree in elementary education and a Master’s degree in literacy and culture. I taught first, second, and third grade in Title I inner-city elementary schools in the Richmond, Virginia area before becoming a K-5 reading specialist. I wrote my first children’s book when I was teaching second grade.

What inspired you to start your business?

I originally started my business to promote and market my first book, a multicultural children’s book entitled Amy’s Travels while teaching full time.

Where is your business based?

My business is based in Richmond, Virginia.

How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?

Since I was teaching full time when I first started my business, I worked on my company nights and weekends. Once I wrote and published my first book, I created a website to sell the book and promote the link through a variety of correspondence. I also planned book readings, talks, and events around my home city to share my book with fellow teachers and families.

What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?

Social media has by far helped raise awareness of my business. In addition, my presentations, workshops, and freelance writing for educational and parenting publications have increased the awareness and presence of my business.

What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

My business is in its twelfth year, which I now run full time. I have faced challenges along the way including the fact that I was told I was too young, that my ideas were cute, and I was not taken seriously because I had no business experience. Fortunately, I had enough faith in myself to continue to work and get results to prove people wrong. I also continued to write letters, send emails, make phone calls, and set up meetings to share my work and story with potential clients and partners.

How do you stay focused?

I am very goal oriented and constantly creating new ventures that I always put 100% of myself into a day because I can visualize the end goal. I’m a driven, ambitious, focused woman by nature.

How do you differentiate your business from the competition?

In my mind, I am a teacher first and created my company to motivate, support, and inspire teachers, families, and leaders in education. Therefore, I maintain most of my time in classrooms and schools so I’m able to relate directly to my clients. I’ve also been able to create partnerships with companies like Chicken Soup for the Soul and organizations including 25 NFL teams to make my business and passion in literacy education more mainstream.

What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?

For me, storytelling has been my most effective marketing strategy. My books, letters, emails, presentations, workshops, and keynote speeches allow me to share my passion and purpose with a wide audience, which greatly grows my business daily.

What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?

My best advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs is to never give up, develop a thick skin, and be your biggest advocate. Every entrepreneur has a story to tell. Tell yours.

What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?

As an author and literacy specialist, my favorite title is the children’s book, The Giving Tree.

What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?

My favorite business tool is my company email account, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram because I can instantly connect and converse with fellow teachers, authors, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and potential partners.

Who is your business role model? Why?

Leslie Blodgett is a favorite business role model of mine. She grew up in the mid-Atlantic like I did and simply worked hard to gain her success. She also leads her business lifestyle with compassion, kindness, positive energy, and pure heart. In my opinion, these are traits of a great leader and individual.

What do you have planned for the next six months?

In the next six months, I will be planning and implementing the 2nd annual Tackle Reading across America Day to promote a love of literacy with a passion for football. This takes place with the help of over 25 NFL teams, athletes, celebrities, and educational business leaders. I will also continue to network and meet with potential investors as I build an Ed tech startup to teach the world to read.

How can our readers connect with you?

Social Media Handles @KathrynStarke on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook; @CreativeMindsPublications on Facebook

WHY YOUR CREATIVE VENTURE NEEDS A BUSINESS PLAN TO LAUNCH AND THRIVE

WHY YOUR CREATIVE VENTURE NEEDS A BUSINESS PLAN TO LAUNCH AND THRIVE

Did you create a business plan for your creative venture? If so, how long did you take you? What does it entail? If not, don't fret! You still have time to create one before the new year is here!

Your business plan doesn't need to be a formal 75-page document, but rather a one-pager that outlines how your business operates and plans for future growth.

If you're like most creative entrepreneurs, putting together a business plan can seem overwhelming and (even unnecessary in some cases). However, if you want to have a successful business this new year, then you need to have a plan of action.  

Be sure to ask yourself these questions before writing your next business or marketing plan! 

To help make the task less tedious, I'm going to show you how to create a simple yet complete business plan that you can create in an hour or less.

First, let's look at what business plan is and why you need one.  

A business plan is an overview of your business and generally, contains the following sections (each of these sections can be summed up in a paragraph or less). And you primarily need one because it serves as a roadmap for your business's future.

Business Overview and Value Proposition

Describe your business in one sentence. What makes your business different from all of your competitors? Remember, your business doesn't have to be completely innovative to be different, but it does need to be unique in some way.

Problem and Solution

What problem does your business solve or what gap does it fill? Why is there a need for your business? Explain the problem and solution in a paragraph or less.

Products and/or Services

What products or services does your business offer? What is the price range? How will your products/services be different from all of the competition? 

Target Markets

Who is your core customer? Include age, gender, occupation, household income, location, hobbies, and lifestyle (and whatever else is necessary to define your core customer).

Marketing Activities

How will you market your business? Will you use digital advertising, influencer marketing, public relations, social media marketing, SEO, blogging, guest blogging, podcasts, etc? 

Sales Distribution

How will you sell your products? What channels do you plan to use? Will you sell online or in retail? 

Management

Who is the boss? What are this person's qualifications? Who are the rest of the managers?

Financial Projections

How much money do you need to start your business? What will your salary be? What are the operating expenses?

Did you create a business plan for your creative venture? How long did it take? Share your comments in the section below.

Ready to craft your business plan for your creative startup?

Sign up below to find out the six critical questions you need to ask yourself before launching your business.

Q&A with Kismet Cosmetics Founder, Caitlin Picou

Kismet Cosmetics

Today's interview is with Caitlin Picou, founder of Kismet Cosmetics. Here is what she had to say about launching and growing a successful beauty business, despite the competition.

1). Can you tell our readers about your background?

I have been developing products in the beauty industry for over eight years now. I began creating hair care products, and then made the switch to creating my own cosmetics line and becoming a licensed makeup artist. And since I started my company four years ago, I have grown it to have five employees and have been featured on CNBC's Billion Dollar Buyer

2). What inspired you to start your business? 

My father was a major influence on me and my want to go into business for myself. My father believed in entrepreneurship and small businesses. He passed away unexpectedly in April of 2012, and this pushed me further into my drive for my own brand. By July of 2013, I had developed and launched my first product. 

3). Where is your business based?

Kismet is based out of my hometown of Covington, LA. It is a suburb just north of New Orleans. 

4). How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?

I had developed many contacts throughout my career, so once I had the product idea in my head, I reached out to a few friends I had made to see if they could point me in the right direction of a manufacturer. I knew I wanted to launch a product that wasn't typical. It had to be eye-catching and create a dialogue. So I went with Opulent, a body bronzing lotion that doesn't contain DHA like self-tanners. Some have called it 'Liquid Gold'

5). What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business? 

Obviously, the TV show skyrocketed us into a totally different category. But pre-television, I built my brand by getting out there and doing as many pop-up events as possible. From New Orleans Fashion Week to reaching out to brick-and-mortar stores, I slowly built my following by getting in front of people, social media, and quality products. 

6). What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them? 

My biggest challenge is probably myself. The self-doubt that enters your head when you are in such a highly competitive market is probably the biggest thing that hinders me from moving forward. But this comes with the territory of owning a business. The dangerous rabbit-hole that makes it worse is social media. So don't compare yourself, stay focused on your goals. 

7). How do you stay focused?

These days it is extremely challenging. I am a new mother to a beautiful daughter, Ruby James. So yes, she comes with me to work everyday. And I actually learned I was pregnant the week before we started filming the TV show. So by the time it aired, I was 7 months pregnant and life was changing personally and business-wise.

But my biggest tool is time-management. I schedule out certain blocks of the day for calls, emails, and business development. Plus I have a to-do list notebook that never ends. 

8). How do you differentiate your business from the competition? 

This is an extremely competitive market. Our key point-of-difference is our distribution method. We make it possible for smaller boutiques and salons to carry our cosmetics line. We also let our products speak for themselves. The quality is there. And that keeps customers coming back for more. 

9). What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business? 

I would have to say our Pop-Up strategy has been key to growing the brand. Whenever a new store carries us, we set a date to have an in-store pop-up. The store owners can invite their favorite customers, and we can pamper them, inform them about the product, and have them leave with some in hand. The key is getting people to try it. Once they do, they love it!

10). What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs? 

Ask for advice. Seriously, don't hesitate to reach out to other inspiring entrepreneurs. Odds are they have been in your exact same shoes and have advice for you. Experience is priceless in this industry. But don't be afraid to learn. I am learning new stuff every day. 

11). What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?

I am a big fan of podcasts. I can listen to them while I work. Currently, I am a huge fan of Boss Girl Creative, while this is focused more on the business of being a blogger, it has tons of useful tips for a business owner. As far as a book, does an audio book count? I am really into 'Grace Not Perfection' by Emily Ley. Since having my daughter, it has been an adjustment of expectations. And this book helps me through. 

12). What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?

Asana has been a great resource for me with my growing team. It keeps tasks and to-do lists all in one spot. Also, don't even underestimate the power of YouTube. I am pretty sure that is how I taught myself Photoshop, Quickbooks, Photography and even how to create YouTube videos. 

13). Who is your business role model? Why? 

Kendra Scott is a 'Goals' brand and person I look up to very much. She started with hats at a mall kiosk and has built this boutique-brand that has taken over. She did it with class and originality. And I just want Kismet to be to cosmetics like Kendra is to jewelry. 

14). What do you have planned for the next six months? 

The next six months are our busiest time of year. We are working on a lot of gift items and sets, along with TONS of new products. Plus, I have an exciting partnership that I am ironing out with this major product that will disrupt the beauty world. Hoping to announce it very soon. We are also focusing on Dallas next for our next big market to open up. We like to spend about six months in a new city to really get to know and meet the consumers. 

15). How can our readers connect with you? 

As with most brands, we are available on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, SnapChat and Twitter with the handle @kismetcosmetics. Of course, you can learn more about the brand, and even send us a selfie and we will help you pick the right lipstick color, from our website www.kismetcosmetics.com

I have worked with multiple brands, people, and bloggers and have built real connections to grow the brand. For example, I develop lip colors for collegiate dance teams, LSU, WVU, and SLU. That has been a really fun partnership and hope to continue to grow this part of my brand over the coming years. I have also partnered with local Kendra Scott stores to host beauty nights. And in regards to bloggers, this has been a hard territory, because so many want a lot of money just to post one time on one social media outlet. I totally get it. But I look more for bloggers who truly love the brand. We build a partnership and they get all of our products plus their own affiliate links. But I want them to truly embody and believe in what I am doing. So you won't ever find me paying a blogger to talk about us. If they do, it is simply because they love Kismet.