Brilliant Business Moms with Beth Anne Schwamberger

Love this interview.  A former magazine editor turned ghost blogger.  She's amazing!  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com/96

Finding your voice can feel like a mystery. There are clues, of course: a fingerprint of ideas here, a scrap of inspiration there, but putting all the pieces together can feel like mission impossible. Relax, Ace. Lacy Boggs, Director of the Content Agency is hot on the case.

On the Podcast

01:04 - The Important Clue that Led to Lacy's Business
03:26 - The Mysterious Life of a Ghost Blogger
05:14 - Lacy's Assignments
05:59 - How to go Undercover
09:08 - Face-Off
11:13 - Secret Agent Lacy Boggs
15:14 - Get out your Magnifying Glass & Find that Hook!
18:37 - Traffic Footprints
25:12 - Tips for Cracking the Case Faster
29:02 - On the Hunt for the Right Topic
32:34 - Mission Accomplished for Product-Based Businesses
40:50 - How Agent Lacy Completes her Mission
44:05 - Agent Lacy's Adorable Mom Moment

Press play on the podcast player below to receive your mission from Lacy, should you choose to accept it.

The Important Clue that Led to Lacy's Business

5 years ago, Lacy she was the associate editor and food editor for a local magazine in Colorado. It was a 60+ hour per week job, and when she became pregnant she realized that she wanted life with a baby to look a little different.

Lacy quit her job and started a food blog. She was able to grow an audience fairly quickly, and she landed some amazing guest posting gigs. Lacy even guest posted on one of Martha Stewart's blogs for a while! But Lacy picked the niche of moms who want to live a foodie lifestyle on a budget. She just wasn't making any money growing this particular audience.

Despite her lack of income, Lacy discovered an important clue that led to her current business: She's great at blogging! Lacy started a ghost blogging company, The Content Direction Agency, to write blog posts for other businesses and entrepreneurs. Her business took off. Now she's more than doubled her magazine salary, and she only works 20-25 hours per week, so she can spend most of her time with her four year-old daughter.

The Mysterious Life of a Ghost Blogger

Sarah and I had never heard of a ghost blogger before. What is this mysterious new role all about?
Lacy confessed that "ghost blogging" is a term she made up! Essentially, she's a ghost writer for blogs. It's more common in the corporate world, because often a large company will hire a writer to create the content for their blogs.

There's a misconception that if you're a solopreneur or small business owner, you have to write your blog content yourself. Lacy doesn't believe that's true. If you can get your message across more effectively with someone's help, why not?

A lot of Lacy's clients are lifestyle entrepreneurs. She's worked with interior designers, health coaches, personal stylists, and one client is a data analyst and strategist fora Fortune 500 company.

Lacy's Assignments

We were curious about how much content Lacy writes for each of her clients.

Lacy says that it really runs the gamut. She's written published books and e-books for clients, course material, email newsletters, and blog posts.

Lacy gets hired most often to write people's blogs for them, so it's generally one blog post per week.

How to go Undercover

When Lacy writes for her clients, she makes sure the content is seamless. It sounds just like that person, so that no one recognizes that they're reading content published by someone else.

Lacy has always had this undercover skill. She wanted to be a fiction writer when she was a kid, and she used to write novels as a teen. They would sound so much like whichever books she was reading at the time. She's always had a knack for taking on the voice of others.

For entrepreneurs who don't want to hire Lacy to write for them, she has a voice identification process that can help people find their own voice.

The most important thing is to find the small details that set you apart. What's your style? Are you sophisticated or conversastional? What particular words and phrases are unique to you?

Lacy gave us an example of someone who really struggled to share her authentic voice.

A woman who runs surfing camps for women in California came to Lacy for help. Her camps weren't just about surfing, but also a spiritual experience. But her blog was so corporate!

On the phone Lacy could tell right away that she was a bit "woo-woo" and used a lot of surfer lingo. Lacy encouraged the woman to use her surfing lingo, add surfing metaphors, and talk the way she would normally talk. She wasn't serving her audience or giving out a clear message by being so buttoned-up.

Face-Off

It can be really hard not to be two-faced when it comes to our online work. We have one voice and personality in real life, but then we take on a completely different voice online.

We're trained to write a certain way in school, and our own voice is often trained out of us. College and the corporate world strip our style away even more.

Lacy says it's hard to find your voice if you were never allowed to let go and be yourself Lacy's voice recognition process can help you uncover your missing voice.

Secret Agent Lacy Boggs

Sarah and I just love Lacy's secret agent persona on her website. You have to go check it out. We've never seen anything like it!

Sarah Ancalmo helped Lacy to define her hook and then develop her branding from there.

Both Sarah and Lacy believe that you have to come up with your hook and the content first, and then everything else flows from that.

They came up with the idea that Lacy is your secret weapon for blogging. From there, the 40's secret agent theme was born. Lacy says it's her, just dialed up to 11.

To determine your own online persona, you need to define your hook. What's that one statement, visual, or idea that everything else can hang from?

Once Lacy knew that she'd brand herself as the secret weapon for blogging, she was able to choose her first message to her audience: "Are you writing your message in disappearing ink?"

From there, the blog content came, along with pictures in that 40's secret agent style... everything on the site down to the typewriter font they used flows out of that one hook.

We talked a bit about how mom bloggers or Etsy seller blogs can often feel so similar to one another. They all have a cute, pretty type of style. Lacy has some words of wisdom: there is a huge variety of mom bloggers out there - everyone from Deuce to Jen Hatmaker. So don't be afraid to stand out and be different. Find your hook, and be unique.

Get out your Magnifying Glass & Find that Hook!

Lacy says that starting a business is like going through therapy, and finding your hook can be the same way!
You have to look inside, learn about yourself, and learn what you really want in order to find the hook that helps you to stand out.

For Lacy it comes down to figuring out your big why, and that's two-fold.

  1. Why are you doing this? What are you passionate about? What makes you come to work every day?
  2. What is your audience getting out of this? In what way are you serving your people?

Traffic Footprints

Lacy believes that having the right kind of traffic is better than having a ton of traffic.

For example, Lacy has a client who sells weighted blankets for the special needs community. This client could write a great list post on 70 ways to make bedtime easier. Maybe it would go viral and she'd get 100,000 hits. But what percentage of those hits are really going to be in her niche? There might be a few customers in that group, but it would be a very low percentage.

If, on the other hand, she got a guest post on a major mom blog that talked about children with special needs, that traffic would be much more qualified. Every one of those potential site visitors is pre-qualified to become a customer of hers.

Lacy says that creating content for the masses is not necessarily everyone's best game plan for business growth.
Lacy shared another experience from her own blogging career. When she was invited to guest blog on a Martha Stewart website she thought she was made!! She wrote 6 posts before the magazine went under. With those 6 blog posts, she was not able to track a single opt-in to her email list.

On the other hand, she wrote one guest post for a blog called And then we Saved and from that single post she got over 600 opt-ins. Her guest post was targeted, and she was speaking to just the right audience.

The social proof that comes from posting on a big site can be great, but keep in mind that it's just that - social proof, and not necessarily a great way to grow your list, traffic, or business.

Tips for Cracking the Case Faster

Bloggers are busy people. How can we crack the case of writing blog posts faster and move on to the next mission?

Lacy's number one tip for being a more efficient blogger is to start using an editorial calendar.

An editorial calendar helps you to plan out your product and business promotions. For example, if you have a product that sells well around back-to-school, then you want to plan out your blog posts 6-8 weeks before that time. Blog about the summer brain drain or getting kids back on a schedule before school starts.  By blogging on your topic well in advance of your launch, you'll start to generate desire and build anticipation around an event or launch.

Even if you have a service, you can create sales cycles to promote different services at different times of the year. You don't have to discount your services - it's just a natural rhythm of promoting yourself through your content
For example, Lacy has a course called Blog Storm. The course helps people to strategically fill out their editorial calendars. It's a product that people can buy year-round, but by writing specific blog posts in June, people were ready to buy and sign up for July so that they'd have their editorial calendar planned out for the rest of the year.
Lacy generated almost $2,000 in unplanned revenue from writing 2 blog posts and 2 emails full of content related to her course.

An editorial calendar lets you keep the big picture in mind and create a plan to drive revenue.  As Lacy says, "If you're not blogging to support your business, then what are you doing it for?"

On the Hunt for the Right Topic

The best way to discover what to write about is to ask your followers or subscribers what they're struggling with the most.  You can even add it to that thank you email that you send to new subscribers.

Even if the answers you receive don't have anything to do with your industry, you're still learning more about your audience and customers.

Then, use the language your clients are using to talk about the problems they're facing and devise your solution.

Mission Accomplished for Product-Based Businesses

It's often difficult for product-based businesses to figure out what to topics to blog about. They don't want to just share new jewelry photos each day, so what should they do?

Lacy recommends a method called Thinking Sideways.

Shift your perspective from your product to where that product fits into your customer's bigger lifestyle.
Whatever your industry, there's something that your client or customer aspires to. Pick topics that are tangentially related to your product but help your customer reach their aspirations.

For example, Lacy worked with an Etsy seller who created cool jewelry in a Rockabilly type of style. She started thinking about the lifestyle of her customers and realized she could talk about things such as macrame coming back or coloring books for grown-ups. She can go beyond jewelry but describe the lifestyle her jewelry customers would be aspiring to.

One point to remember: Always keep your followers in mind. Talk to your audience - not to other experts. For example, if a photographer wants to start blogging, they'll think, "what do I know about? I got it. I know about photography!" So they'll start sharing what lenses they use and their set-up, and other photographers will love that post. But other photographers aren't hiring them for photography work. Instead, they need to write about how to pick out the outfits to wear to a photo shoot, or 6 poses you should ask for at your next toddler shoot. Then you'll attract the audience that will actually hire you for work.

How Agent Lacy Completes her Mission

As a mom who prioritizes time with her daughter, we were curious about how Lacy manages to work just 25 hours per week!

  1. Learn how to say no. And the crazy thing was as soon as Lacy started saying no, she had a backlog for clients. She's now booked out months in advance for special projects, and she had to hire two additional writers to help her.
  2. Charge more to make your time worth it. Lacy's business coach told her to set little mini goals for herself. For example, every time she gets 3 new clients, she raises her rates by $25. Lacy gets a bit uncomfortable thinking about what she's worth, so setting those little baby steps in between really helped.
  3. Embrace the value of the service or product you offer. Lacy had to embrace the fact that what she does is luxury service. You can get a blog on Fiverr for five dollars...that's not what she does. She had to own her business as being a luxury.

Agent Lacy's Adorable Mom Moment

You'll have to tune in to hear how Lacy knows she made the right choice to become an entrepreneur. The moment she had between her and her daughter is just so sweet.

Stay in Touch with Lacy!

LacyBoggs.com

For loads of free tools from Lacy head to LacyBoggs.com/library 

Direct download: Episode209620Lacy20Boggs_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:14am EST

Love this business idea.  Sarah Janjirala sells only antique lockets in her shop, and she's awesome at it!  Great interview.  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com/95

We're so excited to welcome our very first vintage seller onto the show. The vintage scene has exploded on Etsy since its inception, and if you're adept at finding treasures, it may be the perfect fit for you. Sarah Jane Janjirala has created a name for herself by creating a storefront on Etsy, Sweetheart Lane  that's the one-stop shop for the best antique lockets on the market.

Learn the ins and outs of selling vintage, how Sarah has created a system that saves her time, and why niche-ing down can be very profitable.

On the Podcast

00:58 - Don't Go Back to Work. Do This Instead!
02:10 - The Allure of the Locket
03:21 - How to Become an Antique Expert
04:56 - The Narrow Niche Advantage
7:07 - How to Find Vintage Treasures
10:50 - 5 Parts to Pricing
13:06 - What is TCO and Why Does it Matter?
15:43 - Speedy Photo and Listing Tips
19:57 - Growth + Success: Sarah's Secrets
24:10 - What to do with Haters
27:11 - Sarah's C'est La Vie Mom Moment

Press Play on the Podcast Player below to hear the full interview.

Don't Go Back to Work. Do This Instead!

Sarah started her antique locket shop on Etsy just before her first child was born. After a year of running the shop on the side as a hobby, she and her husband had a heart-to-heart conversation. Sarah had a lot of debt from nursing school, and both she and her husband assumed the solution was for her to go back to work. Yet neither of them really loved that option. So, they got creative!

Her husband, who has a background in business looked over her shop and said, "I think you can do something with this!" With his analytical mind, her creative mind, and a lot of focus and hard work, the shop took off!
Keep reading to see what happened to Sarah's school loans... and did she ever go back to work?

The Allure of the Locket

Sarah chose to open an antique locket shop for several reasons.

  1. She grew up around antiques. Her grandfather has one of the largest collections of student lamps from the 1800's. Sarah has always loved and had an appreciation for vintage items.
  2. Lockets are both beautiful and functional. That's often a difficult combination to find.
  3. An antique locket has so much history and meaning attached to it. Sometimes Sarah finds them with a photo still inside, and she's able to pass that along to the locket's new owner.
  4. Antique lockets are much higher quality than jewelry made today. They last so much longer and are a great investment. Sarah says she has lockets that are 110 years old, and she can throw them up against the wall or her kids chew on them, and they're still fine!
  5. There are so many counterfeit vintage lockets. Sarah loves being an expert on true antiques and educating the consumer to make sure they're getting something authentic. She's a source that antique lovers can trust, and she's proud of that.

How to Become an Antique Expert

Sarah points to several factors that have developed over time that have allowed her to become an expert on antique lockets. These factors can apply to anyone who wants to become an expert within a vintage niche.

  1. Maker's Marks. A lot of lockets have a Maker's Mark so you can tell which company made it. For example, Whiteman and Howell lockets have a little heart with W&HCo. inside. This company closed in 1922 so Sarah knows that all of the lockets she finds with that mark are not a day younger than 1922.
  2. Catalogues. Sarah has collected many reproductions of old catalogues to learn about lockets from different time periods and who was making them.
  3. Photographs. Sarah studies old photographs of women and children wearing lockets. This gives her a sense of which styles and designs were popular during which time periods.
  4. Dates. Some lockets actually have the dates engraved on them!
  5. Time and Focus. Because Sarah spends tons of time around lockets and focuses only on that niche, she's been able to dig deep and get to know her products and field very intimately.

Several years into her business, Sarah says she can look at a locket right away and know what company made it and the approximate year it was made. Pretty impressive!

The Narrow Niche Advantage

Sarah says there are advantages both as a seller and to the buyer because she's niched down.

As a buyer, Sarah helps out her customers by being the go-to, trusted source for antique lockets. She loves to shop on Etsy herself, and she personally hates having to scroll through tons of unrelated items within one shop. Instead, a shop that focuses on one thing sticks in her memory and she comes back to them for that product.
Sarah's selling philosophy is to think like a customer!

As a seller, focusing on one specific niche gives her credibility. Her customers can trust her expertise and experience. In addition, Sarah focuses on making each locket wearable. Many lockets she finds at antique shows need a jump ring, chain, or have a broken hinge. Sarah fixes each locket, makes it lovely and wearable, verifies its age and source, includes instructions on how to care for the locket and clean it, and wraps it beautifully. By focusing, Sarah can provide exceptional customer service.

How to Find Vintage Treasures

Sarah doesn't often go to garage sales or estate sales, because a vintage locket is pretty rare in these settings. Not to mention, as a mom to two very young children, Sarah can't go hunting every weekend.

Sarah goes to a huge antique show in Atlanta. She sifts through bags of jewelry to find a few treasures.
Sarah recommends another antique show in Brimfield, Massachusetts.  If Sarah can go to this huge exhibition and spend a day or two, she can find 20-30 lockets. Sarah plans ahead and finds babysitting for her kids, but then she's got a lot of products to sell when she returns home.

In general, Sarah will attend a big event for one day once a month. She's often able to get all of her lockets for the next month in one day.

The fact that Sarah has a focused niche helps a ton at a huge show. She's not overwhelmed. She knows exactly what she's looking for and she goes to each show with focus and intention.

5 Parts to Pricing

Sarah uses five main criteria to decide on her locket prices.

  1. Condition. This is the biggest issue. The locket needs to close, function, and have all the stones. The better the condition Sarah finds a locket in, the higher the price she can demand.
  2. Rarity. For example, Pansy lockets in the antique world are super rare. The Pansy symbolized loving thoughts in the Victorian Era, so they're very desired by antique fans, but they're also more difficult to come by.
  3.  Age. The older a locket is, the higher the price it commands. Victorian Era lockets cost more because they've lasted 100+ years versus a locket from World War II.
  4. Purchase Price. Clearly Sarah has to factor in how much she paid for the locket.
  5. Additions. Because Sarah ensures that each locket is wearable before she sells it, she has to factor in the cost of chain, jump rings, gift-wrapping, and more.

What is TCO and Why Does it Matter?

During her first year on Etsy, Sarah completely undersold herself. She wanted the average middle-class woman to be able to own her beautiful lockets... but she didn't factor in her own cost of doing business.  Sarah hadn't calculated her Etsy fees, Paypal fees, materials, or any other overhead costs. She would simply double the price of the locket from what she paid for it. Sarah assumed she'd make a small profit, but it turned out that she was only making about $3 a sale! This was way too little for products that she was spending a lot of time on.

When Sarah and her husband got serious about her shop, they created a spreadsheet to calculate her Total Cost of Ownership. This is your total net profits after all of your expenses.  Now Sarah can plug in everything she bought such as the locket, each piece of wrapping wire, Etsy fees, shipping costs, and more, and then she can figure out her true profit.

Sarah's pricing advice for other Etsy Sellers? She reminds them that they're doing something that the average person can't do. They're providing a service, and sometimes that service takes a lot of time. Etsy sellers shouldn't under-sell or undervalue their talents.

Sarah with her business-savvy husband, Praveen.
Sarah with her business-savvy husband, Praveen.

Speedy Photo and Listing Tips

The best thing about selling antiques is that they're one-of-a-kind, but this also poses a unique challenge! Every item has to be photographed and listed separately. How does Sarah manage to spend the time doing this and still make a profit?

Sarah's Listing Tricks

  1. Duplicate an Etsy listing. Sarah copies a listing that's similar. For example, a WWII-era sterling silver locket.
  2. Use a Listing Template. Sarah has a listing description template to make sure she covers all the details for each locket. For example, she always talks about the age, the era, the details and measurements , and maker's marks.
  3. Make Quick Changes. Sarah quickly adds her new pictures, changes the measurements for the actual locket and does a quick check to make sure the tags are still accurate.
    She can do an entire listing in under 10 minutes!

Another trick? Sarah uses the Etsy app on her to make quick changes on the go.

Sarah's Photo Tricks

Photos are one of Sarah's biggest challenges as a vintage seller. She takes photos of exactly that item for every single listing. She wants every customer to know and trust that what they see on the screen is what they're getting when they buy.

With that in mind, Sarah has a formula: 2 front photos, 1 photo on the mannequin, one on the inside of the locket, and one of the back of the locket.

When the light is right, Sarah can quickly snap all five of these shots and move on to the next locket.

Growth + Success: Sarah's Secrets

  1. Think like a customer. If you wouldn't want to buy that item on Etsy then don't sell it. If you're frustrated by the shipping prices, then don't do that to your customers.
  2. Use beautiful packaging to wow each customer and attach more value to your products.
  3. Include all the details you can about your product in the listing description.
  4. Increase prices. Do the math and make sure your business is viable. Are you making a profit or barely getting by?
  5. Set a financial goal and attach value to every sale. Sarah and her husband set really clear goals, and with every sale from her shop, they took some of that money to pay off her student loan. It was so motivating for her to see how her shop growth directly impacted the family and their finances. In December 2014, Sarah paid off her school loans completely!

What to do with Haters

So... haters might be a strong word, and not what Sarah would call them. But what do you do about the people in your life who always have doubts about your endeavors? How do you respond to those people who don't think your shop or blog or business will amount to anything?

Sarah's husband had some wise words to share with her when she first got started:
"Don't take advice from people who have not done it for themselves."

Isn't that so true? There are so many people in the world who are afraid of taking risks. Why would we accept their doubts as reality when they've never done the thing they're cautioning you against doing? Learn from those who have gone before, and Sarah has done just that. She wants to encourage moms that they can do it! If she can do it as a mom to two very little ones, then you can too!

Sarah with her adorable kiddos.
Sarah with her adorable kiddos.

Sarah's C'est La Vie Mom Moment

Sarah's adorable mom moment is just the epitome of working from home. She chooses to roll with the punches, put her kids first, and you know what? It all worked out in the end! Tune in to hear her cute story.

Stay in Touch with Sarah

Sweetheartlane.Etsy.com
AntiqueLocketWorld.com 

Direct download: Episode209520Sarah20Jane20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:46am EST

Love her so much!  Such a great story.  She started as a little Etsy seller and worked her buns off for several years before turning a profit.  Once she did, she was able to hire under-served women in Detroit  Michigan and make their lives better.  What a beautiful-hearted Mamapreneur.  Inside a Missional Business with Rebecca Smith of Better Life Bags. |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com/94

There are so many things I love about Rebecca's story and business.

  1. She didn't turn a profit until she had worked on her business for 3 years!
  2. Her business is missional. She hires women who have barriers to employment in Detroit, Michigan.
  3. She and her staff produce exceptional products.

Isn't this encouraging, Mamapreneurs?! I think it's so easy to look at those ahead of us and assume their success came overnight. That's hardly ever the case. I love that Rebecca worked really hard for several years before her business became profitable. It encourages me to continue marching forward. Progress over perfection.

I love the fact that Rebecca's business is profitable and doing great, but it's also missional. Don't be afraid to take your own path, Brilliant Business Moms. Do what you're called to. Live with purpose. The rest will follow.

Don't sacrifice quality to make a buck. When you create something great, you can stand behind your products and your prices with confidence.

I'm only scratching the surface with this intro. Let's dig in!

On the Podcast

01:14 - The Accidental Entrepreneur
02:23 - Early Steps for Better Life Bags
3:57 - The Ultimatum
5:23 - The Turning Point
07:46 - Strategies for Growth
10:20 - Pricing your Products
16:22 - Wholesale versus Retail - Must we Do Both?
18:20 - How BLB became a Missional Business
22:08 - On Hiring
23:23 - On Risk
26:19 - #BLBInterns
30:33 - Rules for Unpaid Internships
32:59 - Why Zero Business or Fashion Training still Equals Success
34:43 - How She Does It
37:29 - Instagram Marketing
41:02 - Ladies & Gentlemen, The Future Owner of BLB!

Press Play on the Podcast Player below to hear the full interview

The Accidental Entrepreneur

Rebecca describes herself as an accidental entrepreneur, because she never set out to start a business. It turns out that she absolutely loves it and has a knack for it too!

Rebecca's bag journey, (as she calls it!) started when she and her husband moved from Savannah, Georgia to Detroit, Michigan 5 years ago. It was an intentional move because they wanted to live and serve in a diverse community filled with needs. Rebecca had just opened up her Etsy shop at the time and had just one child.
Now they have 3 children and a much bigger business to run!

Early Steps for Better Life Bags

Rebecca used two main strategies early on to grow her business.

  1. She worked for free. It was helpful that Rebecca's family wasn't counting on her income to support them each month. She was able to work for free as she figured out the basics of marketing, sales, and pricing her products.
  2. She used social media. Rebecca had already been blogging, so it made sense for her to start a blog for Better Life Bags. She was also quite into social media, so again, it was a natural transition to start talking about her products. Rebecca relied on her connections and working hard at social media early on.

The Ultimatum

3 years into the business, Rebecca was still working for free. She didn't even realize it at the time, but one day, she and her husband sat down at Panera to talk. The business was starting to grow to the point where it encroached on family life a good bit. So he said, "I've done the math. Do you realize you're only making about $2.25 an hour?"

Rebecca 's response was, "I don't care! I love it and I'm having so much fun!"

Her husband said that was ok at first that it didn't earn money and was just a hobby, but the business had grown to the point where it took up a lot of Rebecca's time. Rebecca had to decide if she'd shut it down, force it to be small, or she could choose a third option and take 6 months to figure out how to give herself a paycheck.

The Turning Point

At this point, Rebecca dove head-first into using social media to grow the business. She intentionally sought out bloggers who had large followings that comprised her target customers. So for example, fashion blogs, style blogs, and mommy blogs were a great fit. However, based on her bag prices, she knew it wasn't a good idea to target frugal living or couponing blogs.

Rebecca sent bloggers free product in exchange for a review. Her goal was to land about one new account per week, so overall she'd send out about 3-5 bags per month to bloggers for review. She wanted each review to feel organic and for the feature to be something that fit both brands really well.

Her strategy worked! In 6 months she was not only able to pay herself well but also hire her first employee!
Rebecca says that she made many of her best online friends in those early years of partnering with bloggers. They still help her out today. Their relationships aren't those of using each other, but instead they're genuinely friends who love to help each other out.

Strategies for Growth

Rebecca points to 3 main changes that led to a "nuclear bomb explosion of orders" in her business, as she says!

  1.  Increased Product Quality. Rebecca wants to make sure that her products are exceptional. Even though she runs a missional business, she doesn't ever want it to feel like a charity. She doesn't want people to buy her bags just to be nice or because it's for a good cause. She wants every customer to be surprised and impressed with the quality of their bag.
  2. Made Products More Unique with Leather. One of Rebecca's original blogging partners actually suggested that she start using leather in her bags. Up until that time they were all made with fabric - even though they were custom for each customer. The leather really does set Rebecca's bags apart and increase the quality and durability of the bag.
  3. Partnered with More Bloggers. As we discussed above, Rebecca became much more intentional and focused on partnering with the right bloggers to have people constantly talking about and sharing her products.
The Finley Bag from Better Life Bags.  Isn't it adorable?!
The Finley Bag from Better Life Bags. Isn't it beautiful?!

Pricing your Products

Early on, Rebecca just looked around at prices for similar products on Etsy and pulled a number out of a hat. Her early fabric bags were $45.

When the business got busier, and she realized she wasn't taking home a paycheck, she had to take a closer look at her prices.

When she first added up all of the materials that went into each bag it was shocking to her! At that point, Rebecca did a lot of research online on how to price products.

- The prevailing formula on pricing is to add up all the materials. (This is everything that walks out the door with your products, such as fabrics, thread, packaging supplies, business cards, and more.)
- Then add your labor with your hourly wage + the time to make and ship the bag.

- Then times that total by 2 and you'll have your wholesale price.

- Times that by 2 again and you'll get your retail price.

When Rebecca priced her bags that way they were coming in at $350 to $450!!
She was so discouraged by those numbers because she knew she'd never buy a bag that expensive, and she didn't want her bags to be out of reach for most Americans.

With her current pricing formula, her most expensive bag starts at $225 but her products go all the way down to $18. The bags are still pricey, but it's something that's in reach that you can save up for. They have many customers who save for several months to purchase a bag.

Here's Rebecca's current pricing formula:
- Rebecca calculates all of her materials and labor and then times that number by 1.45

- That price is the bare minimum for pricing her products.

- In their case for the few wholesale accounts they have - that's the price they charge the boutiques.

- They never go more than times 2 from that point, but they try to get the price very close to times 2.

- Within that times 2 price is her manager's salaries, her office space, her internet, and her taxes at the end of the year - along with a ton of other overhead expenses.

Rebecca believes in pricing your products well so that people can get paid well and you can do really good things with the money that's coming in.

Rebecca's pricing for her bags works because they don't push their wholesale price. They cut out the middle-man in the form of many boutiques selling their products as well as the manufacturing middle-man since they make all their bags locally in Detroit.

Rebecca says it's a mixture of science and math and also some experimentation. "Don't be afraid to change your prices," she says.

Wholesale versus Retail - Must we Do Both?

Rebecca thinks that it's absolutely ok to not do wholesale.

There's a lot of pressure for shop owners to pursue wholesale. Maybe they hear that everyone else is doing it, or it's the next step to grow their business. Boutiques may be starting to approach them to carry their products.
But Rebecca can't think of one company that does both really well. Most companies have one that they focus on and put 80% of their efforts into.

Pick which avenue you prefer doing. Do you enjoy marketing to the customer and dealing with them directly? Or maybe you don't want to market your products to the general public, so you'd rather just make really great stuff and approach boutiques and have them do the selling for you.

It's up to you, but focus on one method of selling and do it really well.

How BLB became a Missional Business

In her third year of business, Rebecca was running out of time to make all of her bags. She had three choices: Shut everything down, find a factory in China to manufacture the bags, or find women locally to make them.
Rebecca remembered a woman they had met the first week they moved to Detroit. She was a recent immigrant from Yemen. Her husband worked at a gas station and they had 4 kids. The children all slept on mattresses on the floor and they were barely getting by.But this woman knew how to sew.

Rebecca called her up and they worked together. At first she just did the insides of the bags. She did that so well that she started doing the outsides too. Every week Rebecca would drop off new materials and the woman would give her the completed bags.

6 months into her job, the woman brought Rebecca upstairs to show her something - she was able to buy bunk beds for her children with the money she made from sewing bags. At that moment, Rebecca realized what the power of this business could do for women in her community. They started intentionally hiring after that.
They always had a better life aspect to the company. They used to give 10% of every sale in microloans through Kiva. A picture of the person that the microloan helped would go out with each bag. Now the women's names are written on a card and it says, "Your bag was made by.... " The card tells their story and how they're able to better their lives through working at BLB.

On Hiring

There are now 16 employees in the Better Life Bags workshop. Most of their hires have been through networking. The first woman they hired knew other women, and Rebecca knew women in their neighborhood who then referred more people.

Rebecca even found one of her employees on the street. She was begging for money for bus fare so that she could donate plasma and get paid. She had four children to care for. Rebecca said, "Why don't you come down to our shop and I'll teach you how to cut leather and I'll pay you by the hour for the day." 18 months later this woman is full-time in their office doing far more than cutting leather scraps!

"Everyone has come to us who should be here. They've been brought to us by the Lord," says Rebecca.

On Risk

Sarah had a great follow-up question for Rebecca. While her heart says "YAY!" her mind says, "oh my gosh, that's so risky!" She wondered if Rebecca felt that it was risky to hire some of the women she's hired.
Rebecca had a great answer!

  1. Had you told her six years ago that she'd be hiring women from Detroit, Michigan who had barriers to employment, she would have run as fast as she could in the other direction. But it happened so slowly and gradually that she almost didn't know what she was getting into until things were already pretty well established. Now she looks back in amazement.
  2. Rebecca wants to be 100% business-minded and 100% mission-minded. She wants to make good business decisions, but she wants to do it in a way that honors and helps people.

One of the ways they keep both in mind is by paying per piece instead of paying hourly. She doesn't have to micromanage her employees. The wage is based on $18/hour, and it's based on how long it takes Rebecca to make a bag at a focused pace. One of their seamstresses makes about $25/hour now because she's so skilled at making her bags and she's motivated to do well.
Sounds like a win-win to me!

Better Life Bags Limited Edition Pineapple Print - so cute!  Loved this interview about the business too.
How cute is this pineapple print and photo? No wonder Better Life Bags kills it on Instagram!

#BLBInterns

The past two summers, BLB has had the same single intern. It was a pretty safe choice for them because this woman was connected to people in the community and going to fashion school in Michigan.

This year they decided to go all out for their internship program. They did a shout-out on Instagram saying they were hiring for unpaid internships. The interns would learn about small business, social media marketing, product development. They accepted applications and resumes, set a deadline, and then hired three interns.

How did they decide on the interns?

Rebecca and her three leadership staff all looked over each application.

One great weed-out question was "what are you hoping to learn this summer?" They wanted to make sure what the interns understood what they'd be learning and that it would be a great fit for everyone.

Another weed-out method was to stalking the candidate's social media channels. They wanted women who were mission-minded and coming to serve, love on their staff, and they wanted the interns to mesh and gel. And BLB did not want partiers.  They looked at Instagram feeds and they narrowed the applicants in half just based on what their feed presented about themselves. It was eye-opening to Rebecca as an employer. What you put out into the world on social media truly matters.

BLB really kicked things up a notch by renting the interns an Airbnb place in the city. It's a great little place and it's just down the street from Rebecca. (What a cool internship!)

The interns are taking over BLB social media on the weekends and sharing "life as an intern" posts. They're using the hashtag #blbinterns.

Rules for Unpaid Internships

The biggest rule in hiring unpaid interns is that they can't be doing anything that someone should be paid for. So for example, Rebecca couldn't hire free interns to make products for her or run her social media accounts.

The internship is really more about benefitting the interns and giving them a great learning experience. On the other hand, Rebecca finds it beneficial because she may have great people to hire in the future. She gets to see what they're like at work and what their skills are as they try their hand at different things.

Why Zero Business or Fashion Training still Equals Success

Rebecca has no formal business training, but she does think her previous degrees and work experiences have helped her a lot. When she first declared a major in college she was fashion merchandising. She had done window displays in high school and really enjoyed it. But 6 months into that major she decided that she really wanted to have a family and fashion merch involves a lot of weekends, nights, and holidays.

Rebecca switched to social work next but soon realized that it was just a really difficult field. Finally she switched to elementary education and got her degree in that. She taught for 3 years.

Now Rebecca has a business that combines fashion, social work, and lots of teaching!

So she has no formal business training or design experience - just a love and a passion for it....and a willingness to read every Google article and listen to every podcast!

How She Does It

Rebecca says that she has so much help. She doesn't do it all. She has an amazing operations manager who essentially runs the company. One of the best decisions she ever made was to stop working in the business and start working on the business. With an operations manager, Rebecca has the time to just be a mom when she's at home. She doesn't have to print off orders, ship bags, or make sure the seamstresses have everything they need.
When Rebecca is at work, she has an awesome nanny who has the home front covered. She plays with her kids and does creative things with them. Rebecca works three full days per week and she's home the other two plus the weekends.

Rebecca's husband is an EMT, so his schedule always changes. When he's off, Rebecca tries to be off as well, so the three days that she's in the workshop changes each week. Rebecca says, "I feel really blessed that I get to do this for my job, and... it doesn't feel like work to me, which is the best thing ever."

Now, she says, if she could just stop checking her email and Instagram when she's not in the office...

Rebecca Smith with her adorable family.
Rebecca Smith with her adorable family.

Instagram Marketing

Better Life Bags does a great job on Instagram. One of the first important decisions they made in regards to the madness of social media was that they chose one platform to do well. They ignored their Twitter account, and Facebook is very second to Instagram.

Here's why BLB focuses on Instagram: When Rebecca was on her personal Instagram account scrolling each day, she suddenly found herself at the computer ready to order a baby wrap that she saw on Instagram. And she thought, "woah, how did I get here?"

So she studied what that company did to get her to be a buying customer:

  • They posted 3-5 times a day, so they were always coming across her feed.
  • They posted beautiful pictures.
  • They told their story well.

Better Life Bags tried to emulate that:

  • They post 3-4 times per day - typically morning, late-morning, afternoon and night.
  • They have several categories of things they post: their bags, photos from their customers, something that has to do with their mission such as quotes that relate to their mission, and behind the scenes photos of their workshop.

If you're looking to grow your Instagram following and sales, Hilary Rushford has an Instagram class that Rebecca highly recommends. (Beth Anne does too!) Hilary will teach you how to ask important questions about the overall aesthetic of your Instagram feed. What do those 9 photos look like together? Do they look cohesive? Do they look messy? What will make someone push "follow" when they run across your feed?

Note - the link above is NOT an affiliate link.  We just think the class is great and we're happy to talk about it.  I'm not sure when it opens again, but you can sign up so you'll know about her next webinar.

Ladies & Gentlemen, The Future Owner of BLB!

Rebecca's 4 year-old daughter cracked us up! Ladies and Gentlemen.... meet the future owner of BLB!

Stay in Touch with Rebecca

BetterLifeBags.com
Instagram:  
@betterlifebags 
@rebeccasmithonline 

Direct download: Episode209420Rebecca20Smith20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:23am EST

Finally, I feel like I know what to do with an auto-responder sequence!  |  brilliantbusinessmoms.com

We know (in theory!) that email can be a great way to grow our business. But, in practice, it feels overwhelming, and we're fresh out of ideas for doing it well! Kirsten Thompson of the blog Sweet Tea and Saving Grace is going to take us under her wing and give us a renewed excitement for growing and connecting via email.

On the Podcast

00:59 - From Overwhelmed Blogger to In-Charge Email Marketer
02:29 - What Re-Branding did for Kirsten's Business
03:36 - Monetizing in a Way that Works for Her
06:14 - A Full-Time Job + Blogging - How She Does It
10:17 - How to Connect with Your Readers in a Personal Way
13:50 - The Law & Email Newsletters - What You Need to Know
17:59 - Opt-In Form Ideas and Debate
25:17 - How to Craft a Great Opt-In Offer
29:21 - Auto-responder Sequence Ideas
32:59 - Target, a Sassy 3 year-old, and Stranger Danger!

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear Kirsten's Best Email Marketing Advice

From Overwhelmed Blogger to In-Charge Email Marketer

Kirsten has been blogging almost 5 years and started under the name, One Tough Mother. For many years, she tried to keep up with big bloggers and do everything they were doing to grow. Finally, she got burned out. In January of 2014 Kirsten decided to step away from blogging for 6 months. She came back in May 2014 with a completely different focus and re-branded to Sweet Tea and Saving Grace.

Kirsten added the business aspect of blogging to her site and offered herself up as a Virtual Assistant to other bloggers in the Fall of 2014. All of her clients were asking her to design their email newsletters for them. They knew email marketing was important, but they didn't know where to start, so Kirsten quickly became the "go-to" person for email marketing.

What Re-Branding did for Kirsten's Business

Fortunately, Kirsten retained a lot of her readership through her site's re-branding. She still does craft and DIY projects, but she quit focusing on the numbers and analytics. Instead Kirsten focuses on what her goals are and what she needs to do to achieve her version of success. She no longer gets overwhelmed by watching what other bloggers are doing.

While Kirsten's readers just saw a new site and look for her brand, the real change was what happened behind the scenes with her focus and mentality.

Monetizing in a Way that Works for Her

When Kirsten returned to blogging last May, her focus really shifted. Her biggest focus now is engagement with her readers. She loves the community that blogging brings. Her number one goal is to build deeper relationships with her readers and get to know them better.

Kirsten wanted to monetize her blog but she didn't want to do it in a way that would be selling out. She didn't want sponsored post to be her number 1 income generator for the blog. That's where being a VA (Virtual Assistant) came in. She's learned so much in several years of blogging so she can help those bloggers who are too busy to do everything or don't know how to do everything.

Previously, Kirsten's editorial calendar was crazy full but it wasn't bringing her joy. She was doing tons of sponsored posts and focusing on traffic and pageviews. Now, she's monetized her site in a way that works for her and allows her to focus on relationships and helping others.

A Full-Time Job + Blogging - How She Does It

Kirsten shared several methods for ensuring that she strikes a balance in her life.

  1. Keep in mind that if you put something new onto your plate, you might have to take something else off.
  2. Learn to say no. Kirsten has very few VA clients because she'll readily tell people no in order to keep her work manageable.
  3. Find blogging shortcuts. Kirsten does a round-up post each Friday which saves her from writing a full blog post, taking photos, editing them, and more. She finds ways to still put out great content without spending hours upon hours doing it.
  4. Learn how to step away from your to-do list. Kirsten works when she can, and when she's working, she focuses and works hard. But when it's time to take a break, Kirsten has learned that it's ok to leave things undone.
  5. Drop everything for the right priorities. For Kirsten, her family comes first. She dropped everything and went on a fishing trip with her husband last week even though her to-do list was miles long. (Surprise - everything was fine! Nothing fell apart just because she took a break and put her family first.)
  6. Plan ahead but don't let your schedule control you. "It's great to have an editorial calendar but you can't live and die by that editorial calendar."

"I think Bloggers put so much pressure on themselves that somebody, somewhere in the inifinte internet is gonna look down on them because they don't get the post up on Monday and it goes up on Tuesday instead." (Isn't that the truth?!)

Kirsten with her hubby
Kirsten with her hubby

How to Connect with Your Readers in a Personal Way

Email is the best way to connect with your readers and build your business. When you first start blogging, social media is really pushed as where you need to be. But you don't have any real control over who sees what you're putting out there.

When you put your information in a newsletter, that's a personal thing. That reader is giving you space in their inbox and they want what you're sending. They've invested time in you.

Don't say "email marketing is on my list of things to do." Put it at the top. Put a form on your site to collect email addresses from day 1 of blogging or owning a business.

Setting up your email list isn't hard to do, and MailChimp is free until 2,000 subscribers or up to 10,000 emails per month.

The Law & Email Newsletters - What You Need to Know

  1. Canadian Anti-Spam Laws. These new regulations were pushed in bloggers' faces about 6 months ago. The law means that you can't spam anybody who gets your emails in Canada, but to be on the safe side, you just shouldn't spam anyone.
    To be compliant, you need to have written documentation that every subscriber wants to be on your list. That's where a sign-up form comes in. A sign-up form is the subscriber giving you consent to send them emails. You can't just take every email address you know of and start sending them emails each week.
    But the good news is that the terms of use for Mailchimp or many other email service providers are way more strict than the CAN-SPAM laws, so if you comply with your service provider then you're fine.
  2. You must include a real mailing address in your email footer. You can't simply say, "Becky Smith Atlanta, GA." there are fines involved if you get caught not listing your address. If you don't want to put your home address, you can get a PO box for fairly cheap
  3. You must disclose affiliate links that are used in email. This is the same regulation that applies to affiliate links in blog posts. You need to let the reader know that they're there.
  4. You may not use Amazon affiliate links in email. Amazon has set their own Terms of Use that prohibits this. So if you wrote a blog post that includes Amazon affiliate links, you need to remove the link from your email or truncate your post so that it's not included in your email.

Opt-In Form Ideas and Debate

Kirsten recommends several places to put your opt-in form, and one recommendation is commonly debated in the blogging community.

  1. Put your sign-up form everywhere. Wherever a new reader is on your blog, they need to have an option to sign up wherever they may be. So put a (1) form in your sidebar, a (2) form at the bottom of each post, a (3) form in your header or on your static homepage, and (4) put a form on your contact or about page.
  2. Use a pop-up opt-in form. (Even Sarah and I have different thoughts and opinions on this one. We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!) Kirsten recommends Popup Ally, and they have a free version. Kirsten calls it a polite pop-up, because you can change the font color, add your logo, and change the font. Pop-up Ally tracks the IP addresses for the people who visit your blog, so you can set it so that it won't show up for another 14 days, for example, if you close out the box. You can also set up 2 pop-ups, so if you have a landing page where you want to provide a different opt-in, you easily can.

Are pop-ups really worth it? Sarah has mixed feelings about using them and potentially irritating readers.
Kirsten shared that she's used Popup Ally for 8 months, and her list has doubled. She can't contribute her growth solely to the tool but her list has been growing faster since she's had it, and her clients say the same thing. The pop-up is easy to ignore if you want to ignore it.

If you have mixed feeings about pop-ups, Kirsten says at the very least, try it for 30 days and see what happens.

How to Craft a Great Opt-In Offer

There are several things to consider to help you determine the best opt-in offer for your readers or customers.

  1. Your opt-in offer must be something of value that your subscribers will get for free.
  2. The Freemium you provide could come in many possible formats. Free content, e-books, resources, printables, subscriber-only deals, exclusive access to a private group or forum, a video course, a daily challenge, among other formats.
  3. Ask yourself these questions: Who is your target audience? What are their struggles, and how can you provide a solution?
    For example, if your audience is moms of toddlers, maybe a printable list of snack and lunch ideas for toddlers would be perfect. However, if your target audience is moms growing a business, your opt-in should NOT be lunch ideas for toddlers!
  4. Consider your resources. How much time do you have to craft your offer? Some bloggers have very active Facebook groups, which become their offer. If you don't have time to invest in a private Facebook group, then don't offer that. If you only have 15 minutes to put together an opt-in, then make a printable, or take an awesome blog post that's done really well turn it into a worksheet.
  5. Consider your archives. If you have new readers, your old content is still new to them. Look at your most popular posts and create related content for that.
  6. Your opt-in doesn't have to be anything tangible. You could offer a Twitterchat or Instagram challenge, for example. Your opt-in could be connecting and involving your readers with each other.

Kirsten has a great resource with 101 Newsletter Content and Opt-In Offer ideas available to hew email subscribers. You can sign up here to snag your copy.

Auto-responder Sequence Ideas

There's not a wrong way to set up an auto-responder sequence, it just depends on your goals. Overall, though, they can be a great way to build trust and authority. Here are two ideas to get your creative juices flowing!

  1. Use an auto-responder to introduce new readers to old content. Abby of JustaGirlandHerBlog.com does this really well. She starts with a welcome email that introduces readers to her and how her blog got started. Then, they get an email once a week for 6 weeks that just highlights different categories from her archives. Readers get to know both her and her great content!
  2. Create a mini e-course. If you're a home decor blogger and you have all sorts of great home decorating tips from your blog posts, you can combine your best tips and create a 6-week e-course. All you're doing is re-packaging content that you've already created, but your new readers and subscribers will find it incredibly helpful!
  3. If you have a product for sale, use your auto-responder sequence to slowly lead your subscribers towards a product purchase related to the content they're receiving. They've just learned from you, and they're more apt to buy from you because they're confident you know what you're talking about.

Target, a Sassy 3 year-old, and Stranger Danger!

Kirsten's sassy daughter Marley did something pretty outlandish (and hilarious looking back now!) You'll have to tune in to hear the story! Let's just say, your child's tantrum in the store will pale in comparison to this episode....

Kirsten with her daughter
Kirsten with her daughter

Stay in Touch with Kirsten

SweetTeaandSavingGraceBlog.com 

Direct download: Episode209320Kirsten20Thompson_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:17am EST

1