Mon, 24 April 2017
Today on the show we are so excited to welcome Becky Kopitzke! She’s a mom of two girls, a blogger, an author, and a fellow course creator. Her fabulous program is called the Cranky Mom Fix and today we'll chat about creating, beta testing and launching her course.
On the Podcast
00:50 - Becky’s Heart for Moms
Becky’s Heart for Moms
First and foremost, Becky and her husband of 15 years have two beautiful girls: Claire who's 9, and Noelle, 6. When Becky became a mom, she describes it as a baptism by fire. She was shocked, like many new moms, by the complete selflessness and awareness of another person that new parenthood requires. As a first time mom, Becky found out she “wasn’t well equipped emotionally or physically to handle all the demands of parenting.” And through this season, she developed a writing ministry. She began a blog and wrote weekly devotions for moms. Her first book, The Supermom Myth, was published in December 2015.
The heartbeat of her ministry is for women who are trying to be the best moms they can be. She noticed that moms often have one particular thing in common: crankiness! Whether it’s at the beginning of the day or the end, moms tend to get crank over all sorts of things. Becky says she struggled especially at the beginning of her mothering journey with being chronically cranky. As a Christian, Becky turned to the Bible to see what Scripture said about how to handle her crankiness. And this was the basis of her book.
Through her journey, she talked to many women who also wanted direct help handling particular situations or to know how to get out of their funk. So, she developed a coaching program from her insights: The Cranky Mom Fix. Becky says she’s been training herself through Scripture how to have a better attitude and be a less-cranky mom.
Becky leads Bible studies and speaks at women’s groups, bringing her message to other moms. She’s transformed from being the new mom who really needed help, to the person other moms came to for help. And her online program is a way Becky can reach even more moms, regardless of their location!
Becky is so glad she decided to beta test her first course! She ended up with 27 committed ladies to help her develop the program over the summer. Through their feedback, the course ended up being much more substantial than she thought it would be.
She sent out an email with the message: “I am looking for 10 women to do an 8 week program with me.” Her course was all online and included ways to connect like a Facebook group and webcasting. She planned to present material for about 45 minutes and then provide handouts and activities for the women to do with their families.
Becky had this all planned out in her mind, and using this concept of taking a first group through her course as she created it, she was actually able to get paid for developing her program, but with a twist.
After that initial pitch email, she realized that a lot of women were interested, but not able to foot the bill for her course. She cut the price in half, and thought if she could get at least 20 ladies to join in the effort would be worth it. In the end, 27 women ended up being on board, and she even had to turn interested people away due to overflow!
That’s such an interesting beta test, because Becky learned there was a need and an interest and also learned where to price her course.
Before she began the beta test, Becky had her first unit of material prepped and ready to go. She would give the content via a webcast, and then on the alternate week do a Facebook live Q&A inside her group. She got feedback as she went along. Those 27 ladies in her test group paid a base price to be part of the project, knowing it was their responsibility to give input on the program. And, by the end of the summer, she was able to have a great course! Becky especially appreciated that her work of preparing the course was compensated by those early testers!
One thing in particular Becky learned through her beta test is what her students especially wanted out of the course. At first, she thought her students wouldn’t want too much information thrown at them. Becky originally designed the course to be highly accessible: the material was solid but didn’t require a ton of heavy lifting. But her beta students told Becky that they wanted to go deeper!
Of course, Becky was thrilled with this feedback! Along the way the idea of a daily devotional kept coming up, so Becky delivered that as well.
Becky says she ended up spending hours and hours to develop her course, and got to dig deep into the Bible to create these devotionals for her students. She says that the course doubled in content, and her students got twice as much out of the program! We love how Becky recalls that she “was thinking they’d be blessed by something that didn’t require too much of them, but a lot of them came back and said they wanted Becky to require much of them. That’s how they’ll learn.”
We think it’s great for business owners to take their product creation seriously. As business owners we get so excited thinking about a coaching program or signature course, and we create all this stuff, but did we stop to ask the students what they wanted?
In Becky’s case, the upfront investment in her students and course was well worth it.
Pricing an Online Course
Becky used a Chicago-based business coach to help her develop the course (and you’ll have to listen to the show to hear the super fun story of how she happened to meet her business coach!) where she learned that part of growing a business is being tuned into your market, and pivoting your plan to meet their needs.
Initially Becky charged $499 for her 8-week program. At that price point she had a lot of interest, but concerns about the price. Then, she adjusted her price to $250 and got an influx of requests. With the 27 women who bought into her course at $250, she was able to hire help for design, email marketing, and social media. Becky was wise about investing her initial dollars, doing things like asking her designer to create templates she could customize to her needs and keep a uniform look and feel. The beta test ended up funding the entire course creation!
Launching an Online Course
After Becky completed her beta test and added more content to her course, she was ready to launch! Becky’s course launched in the fall, and she cites that experience as another huge learning curve.
She thought she would have a polished, perfect, good-to-go course after the summer that would result in a huge launch in the fall. Becky took time to craft a concerted marketing strategy, including automated emails to segmented lists. Becky had her ducks in a row! She took strategic steps over the 3 weeks leading up to her launch. To launch the program, Becky hosted a webcast to about 250 attendees and pitched her program at the end. While she did have a solid program and women interested, she had very few buyers in the beginning.
And she couldn’t figure out why!
During her launch, the main feedback she got from potential buyers was that the timing just wasn’t right. She had a lot of moms tell her if the course could be offered in the Spring, they’d love to take it.
When Becky started putting the pieces together, she had a hunch that maybe the summer beta test went so well because that’s when moms had the most free time. And with Fall rolling around, people’s schedules picked up and moms didn’t have the margin.
So, what could Becky do? Test the Market and Pricing.
She knew her program was solid and she had great testimonials. Maybe the timing wasn’t right, but what else could be a barrier? Pricing.
With a program that launched at $299, Becky couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe price was keeping people from entering. So she slashed the cost one more time to the point that price simply couldn’t be an prohibitor. She eliminated that concern by dropping her course to $99, and even offered a $33/month for 3 months payment plan. Suddenly she had an influx of buyers! One beta tester even invited her whole moms group to join.
So timing was an issue, but cutting the cost barrier was the key.
Becky is happy to be in a place where she has a solid program that she was paid to develop, and having a launch in which she learned what to do and what not to do, and is now asking the question, “What do I do next? What’s the right move?”
Does she offer again at a different time and a premium price? Does she lock it down at a limited number of students? Does she try the $99 price point but only to 100 students? All of these questions are up in the air, but she’s comfortable being a Learn-As-You-Go Business Woman.
She still can’t believe she slashed the cost by two-thirds! But when the women flooded in, she knew it was the right decision.
Becky is certainly a smart lady who is willing to be flexible, willing to test and look at the results, and make decisions from there.
Beth Anne’s Insights
Okay, and I did just have to chime in and give some insights as to my experience with a course launch! For my signature course, FB Brilliance, I did an open/close cart model. My cart closed after 3 weeks of marketing, for the same reason as Becky - I wanted to be able to turn off the marketing and focus on my students. But one thing I did notice is that my sales weren’t super great at the beginning. I got nervous, too! But then, a huge number of people flooded in towards the end of my launch! In fact, the last day for our fast-action bonuses was our biggest sale day! Those final hours really can make a difference, but you do have to be so strong to wait until the very end!
Becky went into her course launch with the right attitude. She had the mindset that her program was a beta program and her goal was to learn what should be in the course to best serve her students; she learned so much from her customers - about the program and what they wanted - and counts the experience as a win.
How Much Did Becky Put Into Facebook Ads?
Because we’re pretty geeky over Facebook ads around here, I had to ask Becky about her use of Facebook ads with this course launch. Were Facebook ads helpful? Could she get customers at affordable rates? Did they contribute to her sales?
Becky says she didn’t see the return on her ads that she was hoping for, but she also didn’t go all in with Facebook ads or invest a ton of money.
She did attend one of our FB Brilliance webinars (Yay! Thanks, Becky!) and was able to do some work on the backend by setting up her pixel and working on a lookalike audience. While Becky did see an increase in likes on her author page, she didn’t see those likes translate into sales. But on the whole, Becky didn’t see lots of sales with her social media efforts in general.
Email marketing was her primary sales tool that made the most conversions.
Becky tested Instagram and Facebook ads, as well as Pinterest ads with the help of her social media manager. This particular experiment didn’t work as well as she hoped, but she’s not going to shy away in the future!
We can’t get over Becky’s positive attitude! She admits that she probably didn’t know enough about social media advertising to make it successful; but next time she’s committed to looking at the data and trying it again, understanding how the ad strategies work before trying them.
It’s totally common for business owners to just want to tease and experiment with a new strategy. But it’s hard to make a profit without a plan. Constantly, and to this day, in our Facebook course we still have people asking if they ‘have’ to send Facebook ads to their email lists or if they can just send people to their shop. But the quick and easy will never work! It’s rarely profitable to send ad traffic straight to a buy button; rather, it’s more successful to use ads to build your email list and then turn those subscribers into customers. At the end of the day, there’s nothing quite as powerful as an email list.
A Successful Email List Strategy
Becky agrees that the email list is key! She used a giveaway to build her email list, and that went very well! And she did take out a few Facebook ads to point to this giveaway.
We absolutely love her theme, the ‘Ultimate Me Time Giveaway,’ in which she had a bunch of brilliant business moms come together to offer can’t-miss products. Her giveaway featured items like Rodan + Fields, Lularoe, essential oils, and tons of items perfect for pampering a mom. When a woman entered the giveaway, they automatically subscribed to Becky’s email list -- and they received an entire string of emails afterward, warming them up to The Cranky Mom Fix.
Becky was able to grew her email list substantially before launching her course using this strategy and those emails were her best marketing. (And Becky actually got this tip from us! So fun!)
So Facebook ads weren’t a total bust for Becky, she just thinks she needs to be better equipped to optimize them for her purposes in the future.
We wondered if Becky has ever experienced self-doubt when it comes to teaching on a topic she once struggled through. What happens when you were once in the position of having a problem (in Becky’s case, crankiness) and then solved your own problem, and now want to offer that solution to others?
Did Becky ever ask herself, “Who am I to be teaching and coaching women?” If so, how did she push past them?
“I have those doubts everyday!” Becky laughs. “But I can coach on it because I still live it. With every blog I write on motherhood, the book I wrote on motherhood, and my coaching program - I get the voices that say, ‘Who do you think you are to do this work?”” Becky says she knows those voices aren’t from God, which allows her to push past them.
Then Becky does something really interesting. She’ll listen to and answer those voices, “Well, who am I? I’m a mom, just like them. They don’t want to hear from a perfect woman who has it all figured out. They want to hear from a mom in the trenches along with them who is figuring this out as she goes.” (Isn’t that great!?)
Especially on the days when Becky notices she’s becoming testy and needs her own reminders, she’ll tell her audience exactly where she’s been: “This is what happened to me today and this is what I felt like doing/ Either I managed to pull it around or I didn’t,” and she gets thanked every time for sharing that vulnerability. Becky knows she is “not the model mom who does everything right, and that’s part of the appeal,” because she’ll lose her ability to minister to other women if she comes off as the one who has it all together all the time.
Becky personally finds that I’ve-been-there mentoring encouraging, and wants to give that to others.
(I totally really relate to Becky’s perspective! Personally, I feel the most insecure with regard to teaching on time management. I feel confident that I have great business strategies to teach, but when it comes to time management I feel more insecure. My sister and I did design our first planner together to solve our own problem, but for me, time management and being a productivity wizard don’t come naturally. I’m constantly trying new strategies to be more intentional with my life and time, and I’m in the trenches with the ladies I am teaching and sharing time mangement strategies with.)
Becky points out that the best products and services come from when we’re being authentic with our audiences.
When we are faced with a problem, and need to figure out a solution - that’s where our greatest ideas come from. People can your example and say, “She’s been there, and I want to walk alongside her as she figures it out.”
It’s not about having all the answers, it’s about being willing to work for the answers and bring people along with you.
Becky’s Adorable (& Humbling!) Mommy Moment
Over the summers, Becky’s 6-year-old daughter participates in their summer library program. She gets a booklet that outlines activities to complete each week. One question her daughter had to answer was “Who is your favorite author. And Becky’s daughter wrote, “My mom!” That was so encouraging!
But kids also have a way of keeping you humble :)
Recently Becky signed up for a gym membership, determined to get into shape. Her 9-year-old said, “I can’t believe you signed up for a gym membership, Mom. That’s so not you!”
Becky’s 6-year-old had told her for a long time that she had a ‘jiggly bottom’. And when Becky went to her first class she explained to her 6-year-old that she was going to the gym to help get rid of her ‘jiggly bottom’. But upon returning home, her 6-year-old daughter looked at Becky and said, “But Mom, you still have a jiggly bottom!”
Ah! This story was too much. Kids are great for keeping you humble and in check, aren’t they?
Stay Connected With Becky
Mon, 17 April 2017
Maria Dismondy is a self-published children’s book author who has sold close to 300,000 books….and she’s done this while working at home with 3 kids. Maria has grown her business by finding unique ways to market her books, so I can’t wait to learn from her.
I know a lot of you want to self-publish or market your books better, and I know Maria has tons of wisdom to share.
Welcome to the show Maria!
On the Show
1:05 - Getting Into Writing
Getting Into Writing
Right after college, Maria became a teacher and taught for over a decade. She used children's literature to teach indirect lessons to her students. For example, if she noticed a lot of teasing or a lack of community in her room, she tried to find a children’s book that would talk about community and begin that conversation in their class. Maria knew that teaching young children a lesson could be difficult. (And we Mamas know exactly what she’s talking about, right?) But an effective way to teach principles is to show the children an example and talk about the topic indirectly.
Maria had a hard time finding books about real life characters, especially kids, who had the courage to be themselves in tough situations. She found tons of books with bears or talking dinosaurs as the main character, but she wondered why there weren’t books about bullying, teasing, or self-esteem with characters of different cultures or disabilities that represent real kids in the United States.
So she wrote that book! Maria’s start-up mindset was, “If it’s not out there, I’m going to write it.” And out of that thought came her first book, Spaghetti in a Hotdog Bun.
At the time she was working full time as a teacher and was pregnant with her first child. After her baby was born, she went back to work part-time as a teacher, but noticed that her book sales and speaking engagements were increasing.
Maria ended up leaving teaching altogether in 2011 and has been writing ever since. She works primarily from home but often speaks outside of the home. She brings up how we often get hung up on titles. Is she a Work From Home Mom? Or a Work Out of the Home Part-time Mom? Maria says it’s hard in her case because for so many years she was defined as a First Grade Teacher and Reading Specialist, but then all of the sudden she doesn’t have a tidy title to wrap-up her work. It’s certainly a funny challenge for mamapreneurs.
(Here at Brilliant Business Moms, we are all about growing a business that works with you and your family - regardless of the term you put on it!)
Selling a LOT of Books
The amazing sales didn’t come about immediately after her book published. It took a few years, and lots of hard work, but, as of this podcast recording, Maria has sold over 300,000. Congrats!
Maria says she primarily used grassroots marketing and lots of free social media marketing. She focuses not on selling books but giving valuable information and content to her target market.
Maria smartly recognizes that, although she writes picture books for kids, her market isn’t children. It’s the caregivers, teachers, and parents who will be purchasing books for children.
Her goal is to build a community around her books and a network of people who believe in empowering children with tools to navigate tough situations.
Her marketing message isn’t, “I have a book for sale. It’s $10.95 and you can buy it on Amazon.” But rather, “Did you know these 7 lessons are really important to teach children before age 7? Let me show you the research.”
That hook is much more powerful, isn’t it!? It’s much more compelling to explain the problem you solve or the benefit you offer. In her case, it's providing easily accessible information for families and teachers to help raise children in today’s society.
Parents and Teachers As Customers
It’s hard for Maria to look back and see where her sales came from on the consumer side. She knows how many books she sold via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other booksellers, but not who her individual customers are.
But what Maria does know is the majority of her followers on social media are teachers. Her books are part of the curricula in several school districts, which means there are lesson plans written around her books.
Partnering With School Systems
It’s incredibly cool that Maria’s books have been incorporated into schools! How did Maria make that happen?
With her background as a teacher, Maria knew the going rates for author speaking engagements - and she knew what teachers wanted in those presentations.
At first, she offered her school visit services for free. And once she had a few under her belt, she charged a small fee. Word-of-mouth has been her biggest form of marketing since teachers knew she was good with the children, and age appropriate. In the last 5 years, she has focused on her relationship with people at a school who are responsible for booking speakers, like principals and media specialists.
Following her speaking engagement, she would send a personal note and a small gift to thank the school for having her. In the note, she would ask two things: what else she could do to help the school, and (if they had been happy with her presentation) to please share the word with 3 colleagues.
That strategy has really helped her business!
Other than these personal connections, she doesn’t do advertising. (And this shows how word-of-mouth is a WONDERFUL way for business moms on a budget to make an impact!)
A year ago she produced a video where she invited 5 contacts from her prior speaking engagements (educators and staff) to come to Barnes & Noble and record their thoughts. She made this request really easy - the date and time were set and she threw in a gift card to sweeten the deal. This video got tons of hits and was very helpful for booking future engagements.
Maria says that her speaking engagements are usually local to her. She has 3 young children and acknowledges that she has limits on her time. Maria isn’t willing to travel for work, so she’s limited to mostly local schools. Recently she did take 2 speaking engagements in Florida because they were within driving distance to Disney World, so that worked out well for her family!
A creative solution Maria came up with is to offer virtual school visits. These have been gaining popularity and she has done many virtual visits to schools in California and New York. There’s a handy video program she uses to ‘visit’ the school online. We think that’s an absolutely brilliant strategy!
Getting Found Online & Making Sales
Maria has never paid for ads. She started blogging after the birth of her second child and was really passionate about writing at the time. She blogged 5 days a week! Her target market was parents and teachers and she made sure her content was excellent, despite the exhaustion of having a 2nd baby! Since then, she posts 2 times a week. She has remained consistent with blogging, even as other social media platforms have ebbed and flowed.
Since then, she posts 2 times a week. Maria has remained consistent with blogging, even as other social media platforms have ebbed and flowed.
In her posts, she doesn’t force her use of keywords. But she writes organically and due to the volume of her posts, she pops up on Google often.
(We think Maria gets a major high-five for all that consistency!)
Even though blogging isn’t as popular these days, Maria still recommends it for the traction you get in the internet space.
Opening A Publishing Company
About two years ago, after a television interview, Maria was approached by a publicist for an NFL player. Her client wanted to write a children’s book - and the rest is history! Stephen Tulloch (linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles) co-wrote The Little Linebacker, which is a story about having a growth mindset and a little boy who is so determined to be in the NFL despite the odds against him.
The year prior Maria had hired a business coach. And though it was a bit out of her character to make heavy investments, she thinks her business coach was very worthwhile! Her coach actually predicted that Maria could start a boutique publishing company with high profile clients.
At the time, Maria thought a project like that may be a little too big for a work from home mom. So she tucked the idea in the back of her head, but soon enough the idea resurfaced. Since she couldn't self-publish The Little Linebacker (since she wasn't the only author), she needed another option. Maria worked with her graphic designer and web designer to create a platform for Cardinal Rule Press.
She says this project happened very quickly and wasn’t super strategic at the time. But it has paid off! (And don’t some of the best business ventures begin with a lightbulb moment?)
A Unique Business Model
After publishing her own books and experiencing success, Maria began to get requests for coaching and consulting. And Maria noticed that she got requests from traditionally published authors who wanted to go to the "other side" and self-publish.
At first, Maria was confused. Why would these traditionally published authors want to self-publish? But actually, it’s something that most authors aspire to.
Maria heard over and over again that publishing was a big industry, and unless you have a big name it’s hard to make money. She also heard about difficulties people had communicating with their publicists, and frustrations over doing lots of hard work for little revenue.
So as Maria set up her business model, she knew she wanted to work with two kinds of authors. She wanted to, first of all, work with authors who had established a platform. And second, Maria wanted to work with authors who had stories that empower children. In her publishing company, she has a team of editors and copywriters who review manuscripts (and authors) that are aligned with their company values.
Her publishing company is a hybrid model, which means the author may put forward $10K to $20K in creating their project, but they make back that investment much faster. Her authors get around 90% of each book sale, which is far more impressive than the 8% to 12% they could expect from a traditional publisher.
Busting the Self-Publishing Stigma
Self-publishing does seem to have a stigma in the public eye. We’ve heard naysayers say things like, "Self-publishing isn’t as legitimate as traditional," or, "People won’t take you seriously as an author," and so on.
How does Maria combat the naysayers? Not surprisingly, Maria gave us some helpful insight!
She believes the bias against self-publishing has improved over the last 7 years. About 7 years ago, more people began self-publishing and the industry has gained credibility since then. She doesn’t see the stigma as much as it was then.
In Maria’s mind, her book sales prove that mode of publishing truly doesn’t matter. If you’re comparing apples to apples, she sees herself as an author whose book has sold over 300,000 copies.
The sales really do speak for themselves in Maria’s case.
(I can relate to others casting doubt on the legitimacy of your business model! I can still remember last year when Holden’s pre-k teacher made the comment, “Now that he’s in school maybe you can get a real job.” I was an online business owner and used to be a nurse, but I was thinking, "I worked way more hours and made way less!" Smile and nod, and be confident about how you can help people make a difference.)
A Day In The Life
Maria goes to bed around 9:00 or 10:00 and reads a book to relax. She’s awake by 5:30 or 6:00, makes a cup of coffee, and gets right to work. This morning, she was up at 5:30 am and her crew didn’t wake up until 7:30 am. So she got 2 full hours of uninterrupted work done!
Maria makes a point to be very focused during this early morning work session. She’s not checking Facebook or getting sucked into her email. She’s attacking her to-do list from the night before. These hours are highly focused for her.
Once her 3 kids - ages 3, 5, and 7 - wake up, they’re her focus. She makes them breakfast and gets them off to school. She has one in school full-time, one part-time, and one home full-time.
Her two littles go down for naps or quiet time about 1:00 pm. Maria then checks her email or will do something like an interview or a virtual visit.
After her older daughter gets home from school, they do after-school playtime and dinner.
Her husband sells commercial real estate, so a few nights a month he will work late entertaining clients. On those nights, she puts her kids to bed at 8:00 and will work another 2 - 3 hours until he gets home.
On the days she needs to work outside the home, she works from about 8:00 am - 1:00 pm. Maria’s mother lives close and will come watch her children during these workdays -- she’s very grateful for that option!
Believe it or not, Maria even finds time to work out! Usually 2 mornings a week she makes time for exercise, and usually with her kids. She enjoys long bike rides or runs. Her son, who’s 3, loves to visit the train tracks, which for Maria adds up to a 4-mile run! She incorporates exercise as part of her day with her children, and we love that.
On weeks when her workload is light, she wakes up at 6:00 am and might get an hour workout and an hour of work.
Funny AND Adorable Mom Moment
Around Christmas, Maria ordered about 100 super cute calendars to send to her corporate clients. She had to package the calendars separately, and ship them out in time for Christmas.
So, imagine Maria in a busy, Christmas-time post-office with about 60 packages. Her son kept putting his hands on her face, hugging her, and telling her he loves her.
She thought her son’s sweetness was a stark contrast to the cold mood of the post office. There was a sad feeling in the post office, with everyone looking so sad, grumpy, and impatient.
Her 3-year-old looked at the line of people on the way out and said loud enough for all of them to hear, “Happy Halloween, everyone!” The mood instantly lightened as everyone laughed and smiled.
Isn’t that exactly what people need? A bit of laughter during the stressful holiday season when we *should* be enjoying ourselves.
I just loved chatting with Maria, and I hope you came away inspired and excited to make a difference with your business.
Stay in Touch with Maria
Now It’s Your Turn To Head Out There And Be Brilliant!
Mon, 10 April 2017
Millions of people read Rustic Wedding Chic, which is the #1 resource for rustic and country weddings online. What you may not know is this popular wedding blog is run by a Mom of 2 with her 3rd on the way, Maggie Lord. Maggie calls herself a naptime entrepreneur and we SO resonate with that idea.
Welcome to the show, Maggie! We’re so excited to have you!
On the Podcast
1:10 - An Inspired Bride
An Inspired Bride
When Maggie and her husband were planning their wedding 9 years ago, she had a very clear vision for how she wanted things to look. She pictured a rustic but chic and elegant feel for her northern Wisconsin, small town wedding, but struggled to translate it to vendors. There was no Pinterest or Instagram 9 years ago (can you believe it!?) and Maggie found it difficult to plan a wedding without a quick way to save and share the magazines and images she loved.
She thought if she was having trouble, surely other brides were, too. So she thought, “I bet I could start a blog.” And back then, starting a blog was super easy! There were a million different blog formats to choose from, so she picked one and set out to help other brides just like her. In the back of her mind, Maggie thought her new venture would be a great profession someday, but she wasn’t sure how the details would work out.
In the meantime, she enjoyed planning her own wedding! And, of course, sharing the process on her blog. Where did she find inspiration? Where did she NOT find inspiration? Where did she struggle? She compiled these thoughts on her blog, and Rustic Wedding Chic began.
Curating A Site
How did Maggie go about gathering and sharing content that was the best of the best for rustic weddings?
She thought if she could share ideas from other brides and photographers, then her readers could translate those ideas into their own weddings. Initially, she had the idea to reach out to photographers and ask if she could share photos of their beautiful, rustic weddings. She offered to do a write up on their work, with a link to their services. In the early days of blogging, this is how blogging was done.
When Maggie started 8 years ago, there were maybe 3 wedding blogs in the niche: The Knot, Style Me Pretty, and Martha Stewart Weddings. She had access to ‘real weddings’ (not even a term yet) that she could showcase. As this virtual collection grew, brides all over the country were able to find the right florist or cake decorator for them. RWC started by asking to feature the work of vendors, and now they get hundreds of requests a month from vendors.
Maggie quickly learned that ‘rustic’ was an umbrella term - and there were tons of wedding types you could call ‘rustic’, from lakeside to barn settings. Shortly after launching Rustic Wedding Chic, Maggie launched RusticWeddingGuide.com as a way to help couples connect with vendors and venues. Creating this resource came out of requests Maggie would constantly get about finding the best venues. It's fantastic to see savvy business owners become the solution to their own problems.
Solving Problems Through A Directory Site
Did Maggie need a bunch of expensive software to make a directory site? Did she have to become a tech whiz?
She admits that putting together a directory site was a challenge.
Maggie was very comfortable producing content in blog format. She had post-writing down to a science. Putting together this directory site forced her out of her comfort zone. She made the decision to start small, and build from there.
RWC was getting requests from both sides: vendors wanting to get listed and brides wondering how to connect with vendors. Since the Rustic Wedding Chic team is small, they had to really focus their efforts. Maggie pulled everyone together and they made their plan. Starting small and building up worked in Maggie’s favor, as currently there are over 5,000 vendors listed on this directory site.
Monetizing Your Platform
Since Maggie has monetized successfully, I wondered if she could walk us through that process and break down her income streams.
Early on she got help from her brother, who is the president of an internet company. He helped her brainstorm and make a plan to monetize WRC. She knew she had a strong readership and impressive social media numbers, but the path to starting a business wasn’t so cut and dry.
Along with her brother, she tested ideas - and it turned out that advertising was her strong suit. Maggie intentionally wanted to make sure that she could work with smaller vendors like Etsy sellers, so they worked out a model that was more like direct sales.
She also partnered with Google and used Adsense for selling ad spots.
The wedding world is perfect for featuring sponsored posts or Instagram campaigns. The game has changed a bit now than when she started, but still, the model of featuring products and services on your platform works.
Maggie is also an author! When she signed her first book deal, she was unsure of how the process worked. She signed with a good publishing company and invested in a book attorney to make sure she was making wise choices.
We love how diverse Maggie’s income streams are. She’s got many pieces of the pie all fitting together.
Advice For A Blogger Building A Platform
What would Maggie say to a blogger who’s new and trying to build a platform and create a package that would be attractive to advertisers?
Maggie’s advice is on-point: “People have to be really cautious of the niche they’re in. I felt comfortable being in the rustic country wedding space because it came from a very organic place, and people could tell I was passionate about it. I was going to be true to that topic.”
Once you find a niche, spend a lot of time and effort learning how you can dominate that niche. You want to have the best site, be the most authoritative, and give readers a good experience.
“Be brand conscious, even if you’re not a huge, well-known brand yet, you still have to think of yourself as a brand.”
Maggie says that when bloggers try to work with bigger sponsors, they have to be confident in who they are as a brand. It’s difficult for any company to part with money, even if they have deep pockets! So you have to prove that your blog is worth investing in. The company wants to make sure that if they send you X dollars, it’s going to be worth their effort.
If you can put a package together to explain who you are, why they should work for you, and who your readers are in a compelling way, that makes the decision ten times easier. A simple start is, "I am the expert in this world because...(your reason)"
Brands have a million options when it comes to spending their advertising dollars. They want a blogger who will be the perfect fit.
Working With A Team
Maggie’s site is INCREDIBLY busy! She has lots of logistics going on behind the scenes to manage regular advertising spots, sponsored posts, working with publishers, and so on. She accomplishes all of this with a small team! We had to ask how she makes it work.
When RWC first started out, she was a one-woman-show. All she had to do was create the content and publish it to social media. When the social scene exploded, especially with the development of Pinterest (Rustic Wedding Chic was one of the first Pinterest users) and her site gained more readers - she was responsible for more work.
Maggie knew they had to grow as a company or she’d be limiting her potential and opportunity.
When Rustic Wedding Chic decided to develop the Rustic Wedding Guide, she needed a team member solely dedicated to that project. Since their list of vendors is curated, Maggie had to make sure the vendors were high-quality - and this took a great amount of attention. She also needed a team member to handle paid subscribers advertising in Rustic Wedding Guide’s showcase listings.
Maggie was able to hire someone to dedicate their time exclusively to the wedding guide and taking care of advertisers.
A couple years ago, Maggie’s husband left a job he had for a long time and transitioned to managing advertising on the blog. RWC would get tons of requests asking for a media kit or ad prices for social posts, or to personall review a dress - her husband was able to completely take this responsibility off of Maggie’s plate. (We love wife-husband teams!) Maggie handles all of the content creation and does media appearances for Rustic Wedding Chic.
Rustic Wedding Chic hires freelancers from all over, from California to New York. Maggie frequently hires photographers to do styled shoots, as well as freelance writers to assist here and there. Her team is a healthy mix of full-time and contract employees.
Working with Freelance Photographers
Sometimes Maggie will work with a company who wants her to review or showcase their product. In some instances, the company is very direct that they want Maggie’s special touch on these features. Maggie likes to be hands on with that content.
Other times RWC will field a request for something like a sponsored post, and the sponsor wants Maggie’s team to only be responsible for creating images and sharing the product. She talks with the company to see what their vision is, and they find a solution that works for her and her team as well as the company.
Maggie really wants Rustic Wedding Chic readers to know that they can expect only product and photos that will deliver high value to their lives. No matter your niche, this standard is great for any blogger.
Growing A Pinterest Following
Maggie has an impressive 161,000 followers on Pinterest, and has leveraged the platform well to grow her business. We had to hear more!
At the time when Maggie joined Pinterest, it was still by invitation only during their small roll out! The friend who recommended Pinterest to Maggie wasn’t even thinking of her wedding business, just that the social media platform might be something Maggie would personally enjoy. But it wasn’t long before Maggie started looking at Pinterest that she thought it would be the perfect place to share their beautiful featured weddings, so she sign-up as a person, but with the first name "Rustic" and last name "Wedding."
They grew very quickly and early because they saw the value of people being able to look at, and curate for themselves, hundreds of images at once. When RWC started on Pinterest, there weren’t a lot of Pinterest users or competition. She certainly credits that early adoption to their success.
As we know, Pinterest isn’t perfect. Maggie says that now she will go onto Pinterest and it kills her to see other pinners stealing her images! Swiping an image that they have exclusive rights to, and linking to their site, which means her fabulous photographers don't get the credit they deserve. As great as Pinterest can be for business growth, there are certainly drawbacks.
Nowadays if you were to search ‘rustic weddings’ on Pinterest, you would probably get thousands of images from so many people. But just a few years ago, you would have only seen Rustic Wedding Chic content. We think this is totally a lesson in being an early adopter of new technology; don’t be afraid to try something new for your business!
Thoughts on Content Schedulers
Maggie says she has seriously signed up or paid for practically EVERY content scheduler out there. Some she found helpful, and some were just downright frustrating.
She did use Tailwind for a while, but wasn’t a fan that her items would be scheduled SO far out. She’s also worked with a company that uses a bulk uploader for Pinterest. But despite trying out these many different scheduling options, Maggie just didn’t see that her pins were performing as well as they did when she pinned organically.
Maggie has gone back and forth as to whether or not a 3rd party service is useful. These days she still does take the time to daily pin organically and see what performs well. She will go back to her blog archives and see what post she could recirculate since there are always new brides needing to see past weddings.
Bottom line: Maggie has paid for ALL of the scheduling tools, but still feels that the best return on her investment is organic pinning.
That said, Maggie does use Pinterest Analytics. She thinks it’s very valuable to keep track of how many people you're reaching and which pins are most popular. Maggie did work with a social media expert to help her make sense of Pinterest Analytics. Her consultant asked Maggie if she’d ever notice that her pin view rate was about 4 million a month!! And then the consultant explained that a pin view rate means a number of times your pins are interacted with in a month - in Maggie’s case, 4 milion! It was one of the highest the consultant had seen.
You can imagine that brides using Pinterest to plan their weddings are highly dedicated, if not a little obsessed! And the numbers show it. Maggie finds it helpful to use analytics to know how to hone her Pinterest strategy.
While content schedulers weren’t right for Maggie’s business, the value of gauging performance and observing trends certainly has been.
What Makes A Popular Pin
So what ARE those insanely popular pins that keep driving traffic back to Maggie’s site?
Maggie continues to be FLOORED that some of her content has been pinned over 145,000 times. Surprisingly, many of her top pins are fairly simple images. She’ll even see images of simple wedding features like mason jar centerpieces doing incredibly well.
(Though the success does come with difficulty. You can imagine how annoying and frustrating it is when Maggie sees her amazing pins pointing to OTHER people’s content. Let this interview be a friendly PSA: don’t steal pins!)
Highly popular pins are ones in which people feel like they’re going to get a piece of information or insight that can only be found at Rustic Wedding Chic. One of her pins is a lovely image with the title: ‘This Wedding Was Planned Under $10,000, See How They Did It’. A user can pin any pretty image, but it is highly valuable to be able to go to a site with solid information. Maggie has a pin called, ‘How To Have The Best Unique Guest Book’ that did very well, and another ‘Rustic Wedding Sign On Pallets’ which has had over 400,000 repins.
This kind of success makes total sense! Maggie’s not just throwing around pretty images, she’s giving practical advice that helps others.
One final note: while DIY projects aren’t a huge part of the Rustic Wedding Chic brand, those select posts do pin well. Again, Maggie wisely has observed that any pin through which the reader knows they’ll get exclusive information of how to recreate a look or complete a project will be a success.
A Frequent Pinner
Maggie’s favorite strategy is to pin content directly from her blog. On any given day, her site produces a few brand new featured pieces of content. Her daily Real Weddings posts will have between 12-24 images, each of which Maggie turns into a pin.
She also spends time going back to more popular posts or seasonal interests and searches for pinable content. (For example, at the time of recording we’re heading into summer. So Maggie is looking for posts like ‘25 Beautiful Summer Wedding Ideas’ or ‘Best Outdoor Seating Ideas’.) She estimates that she’s pinning between 50-100 images a day. She is constantly checking her Pinterest analytics to see what pins are popular and resonating, looking at stats like the pins with the most impressions, saves or click throughs in the last 30 days.
A lot of bloggers or business owners are curating content from not only their site, but also other related sites. Because Maggie has Sso much brand content, she could easily fill out a Pinterest profile with only her own images. But does she?
Maggie says probably 90% of her boards feature pins from her own site. And considering they have 9 years’ worth of content, it makes sense! But Rustic Wedding Chic does believe in sharing the love. They do try to pin and share content from other brands that they know Rustic Wedding Chic fans will love. Though on the whole, of their 60,000 pins most, maybe 90%, are from Rustic Wedding Chic.
Testing Out Promoted Pins
Just like us, Maggie was excited to see Promoted Pins roll out. She thought it would be a great way to reach new followers on Pinterest, but admits that for her brand she’s always been a bit disappointed with the outcome--they got repins but not new followers.
The best way for Rustic Wedding Chic to get new followers is still to create gorgeous content and work with great companies their readers will love.
In Maggie’s opinion, she thinks promoted pins are probably a great tool for businesses just starting out and trying to gain more followers because you need to be seen. Personally, she likes seeing promoted pins because she gets amazing suggestions of ideas that she truly enjoys.
Maggie’s Embarrassing Mompreneur Moment
Maggie calls herself ‘The Naptime Entrepreneur’ and has written a few articles on that topic. She has 2 boys - and one on the way - so her house is a bit crazy!
She used to try to work all hours of the day, but realized it wasn’t working when she made one embarrassing mompreneur mistake! She was at the park with her kids and drafted a hastily written email to a very prominent magazine, full of misspellings. She thought to herself that she would save the draft and polish the email once she was home. But when Maggie went to fix and send the email, she realized it had already sent!
Enough was enough. She realized she really couldn’t do it all! So now, she works when her kids are napping or sleeping. As anyone with kids and a business or creative outlet knows, it’s never easy. Maggie says it well: “When my kids are awake I’m CEO of Mommyhood, and when they’re asleep or at school I’m CEO of Rustic Wedding Chic.”
Connect with Maggie
Now It's Your Turn To Head Out There And Be Brilliant!
Mon, 3 April 2017
Hi everyone! It’s me, Beth Anne, and today we’ve got a solo episode for you. I’m doing this solo episode because I’ve gotten so many questions from you brilliant business ladies about how I designed my planner.
How do I import a product from overseas? How do I find a manufacturer? How does one scrappy business mama come up with a product idea and make it happen? I’ll give you all those answers.
Let’s dive in!
On the Podcast
3:25 - First Product Iteration
My experience with designing and manufacturing a product, as you might expect, has to do with planners. My product started originally as the the Brilliant Business Planner which launched in June 2015. That first iteration morphed to the Brilliant Life Planner, which launched via Kickstarter in August 2016.
I’ll take you through this process. And rest assured the takeaways will apply to you regardless of your nice.
(But to that point. I’ve heard from many of you with great ideas of planners, journals, and other paper products that solve problems in your niche.)
If you have a fabulous idea for a product that you just know is going to improve people’s lives, and you know it’s a better product than what’s on the market currently., JUST GO FOR IT! Yes, there are a lot of steps and unknowns, and you’ll learn a lot along the way, but you’ll be so glad you did it. When you’ve produced a fabulous product that you can put into people’s hands and help them, it’s really an incredible feeling.
That’s my pep talk as we get started :) I’m going to share my journey and the big takeaways you can keep in mind for your own product launch.
First Product Iteration
As my sister and I were writing our book Time Management Mama we wanted a planner that allowed us to plan our business and lives in one place.
Our planner idea started with lined, blank paper. We sketched out what we wanted on those pages. We really wanted work and personal to do lists, and top 3 priorities for each week. And we knew we wanted our weekly layout to be time blocked.
We just sketched it out our ideas. I should go pull up our old sketches for fun :)
Neither of my sister or I are very artistic or good at drawing. These early sketches were SUPER rough. We just knew what the end result should be, but we needed help bringing it to life. From there, we found a designer to take our sketches and turn them to a digital file.
Takeaway #1:Those of you trying to produce a totally unique physical product, will eventually need a CAD file. CAD stands for Computer Aided Design. You’ll need an expert to translate your ideas to this digital format, so that your factor can use and produce your product in mass quantities!
We got off easy when it came to finding a designer! As soon as we mentioned we were working on creating a planner, one lady in our community reached out and said, “Hey! I make planner pages and am well versed at using Illustrator to create printables. I’d love to work with you.” (SUCH a gift, right?)
This gal took our very rough sketches, translated them to Illustrator, and gave us ideas about how to make the planner even better.
Takeaway #2: When you find your designer, one of the best things you can do is be really prompt with feedback.
Design and development takes a lot of time. It’ll take way more back and forth than you imagined. If you want to keep your project moving forward, you need to write back to that person within 24 hours every time. Otherwise, you’ll be the kink in your own system. Then a year will go by without having a product, but it’s because you didn’t give prompt feedback!
Since this time, we’ve worked with a few different designers and they all appreciate feedback. They’re in creation mode and ready to work, you just have to give the direction you want to go.
You need to also give detailed feedback. Never assume that this designer can read your mind! Spell everything out for them, even when it comes down to the spacing of a line or font choices.
One tip: When I feel like a piece of feedback will be hard to explain via email, I’ll do a video recording. I use a free app called liteCam HD for these quick recordings. What I’ll do is pull up those exact files that the designer sent back to me, and record my screen with me looking at the file. Following my mouse movement, I can say things like, ‘This line is too thick. And these colors aren’t quite what I wanted. But I like this section.’
Finding The Right Designer
If you’re fortunate enough to have a designer reach out to you and ask you to hire them, you can always go to a site like Upwork.com and submit your job. You’ll give details about the job you need done and the hourly rate you’re willing to pay.
I have to say, I’m not a huge fan of paying by the project. I know a lot of graphic designers have project fees - something like $1,500 for one project! I don’t like that at all!!! Here’s why. I want to build my working relationship with a designer and start with a few hours of work before I commit to using them exclusively. Sure, design portfolios are great. But I don’t know how well we’ll work together until I give the designer a few hours of work and we have some back and forth. How responsive will they be? How quickly do they make the changes I request? How easily do they understand my feedback?
Maybe someone who’s skilled, just can’t get your vision. Or maybe you two will have a language barrier that can be tricky. You need to cut ties before the project goes too far! Again, I don’t want to pay $1,500 if it took someone 5 hours to do the work! Or $1,500 if it took a couple hundred hours and I should pay them more.
For me, the hourly rate makes sense. I have them invoice me on a weekly basis, and I pay promptly. I recommend you start any designer with a small, low-impact project and go from there.
It’s ideal to have a designer who is versed in both Adobe Indesign and Adobe Illustrator. (Currently, I do have two designers - one to make my signature florals pretty in Illustrator and one to format the planner in InDesign. They’re both wonderful ladies I enjoy working with!) And, as I said earlier, if you’re creating a physical product you’ll need CAD files.
Be An Expert In Your Niche
The last word I’ll say on product design is this: look at the marketplace and know what other similar products are on market - THEN know how your product will set itself apart.
I firmly believe in the benefit of studying and becoming an expert in your product space.
For example, when we were working on our first planner - I purchased 20 different business and personal planners. I bought as many different ones as I could find with different covers and layouts. I wanted to be an expert in the marketplace. What are the issues and things these products are not addressing? What do these planners do well?
I knew after the first iteration of my planner that I wanted a hard cover. This is an example of a feature other planners had that we didn’t. Sure, at the end of the day a planner is a planner, but there are many little features you can customize to reach your audience. (After being frustrated ourselves that we couldn’t find weekly time-block layouts, we decided to design the Brilliant Life Planner with our weeks divided into time-blocked sections.)
To this day, the Brilliant Life Planner has pages inside unlike anything else. That distinction came from us carefully considering what we needed, and considering what problems other products on the market weren’t solving.
The void your business ends up filling may not be huge, but you don’t want to go through tons of time and effort to create something already existing. Knowing the void that you feel not only will steer your business development, it’ll help you with marketing later on.
I see some people who don’t want to look at what others are doing in their niche and think, “I’m just going to create from my brain and it’s going to be totally unique.” While I do understand that point of view, I have experienced that you miss things by not knowing what’s out there. It’s your job to be an expert in your space.
Your Minimum Viable Product
Once you’ve worked with designers to come up with the digital file you’ll need to make your product, you have to actually manufacture your product!
When it comes to getting your product produced at most affordable price, you will likely have to look at an overseas option. The Brilliant Life Planner is currently manufactured by a factory in China.
One hurdle with using a factory overseas is they often have pretty high minimum quantities you need to order before they’ll work with you.
There are a few ways you can work around this hurdle:
I’ve done both!
The Brilliant Business Planner was first produced by a printer in the Pittsburgh area. We found a printer close to my sister Sarah, and came to that printer with our planner idea and got a sense of options. This printer couldn’t do a hard cover planner, but they could do a thicker paperback cover and spiral binding.
We gave them our design file and they gave us a sample. Actually our first planner had a white cover, so one immediate change we made was to make our cover a lovely shade of bluish-green.
Our printer could accept a minimum order quantity of 100 units. Volia! We had our Minimum Viable Product. Keep in mind that factories will generally want you to order 1,000 units.
Even with that smaller order quantity, our minimum viable product still cost us several thousand dollars to produce. The cost-per-unit was much higher with smaller quantities. And, as it usually is, much higher with a manufacturer in the United States.
By going overseas to manufacture the new Brilliant Life Planner, everything on my dream sheet - product gift box, custom shipping, full color, thick monthly dividers, metal edge reinforcement - was the same price as my minimum cost-per-unit in the United States.
I still don’t recommend coming up with an idea and plunking down thousands of dollars right away! If we went overseas for our first planner order, it would have cost at least $10,000 - and that would not have been a wise business move. You want to validate that people want your product, before spending tons of money to create the product.
In retrospect, we even could have done presales with the business planner rather than putting our own money into the project.
Once we brought our first Brilliant Business Planner to market, we were able to make sales - but I’ll be honest, those first sales weren’t great. But the women who bought this planner loved it and used it every day. We chalked up the slow sales to our planner not launching in the right season (we launched in June) and with a half-year planner. Then we tried a run of the planner closer to planner season with a full-year planner, and sold 300 units. That was great for us! Getting the timing right was huge.
Using the strategy of a minimum viable product will allow you to start with small, manageable steps - and iterate your way to success.
Improving On Your Product
Even if you think your product is perfect right out of the gate, keep in mind that there will likely be changes your customers want. We sent out a customer survey shortly after our product first launched and asked if there was ANYTHING at all our customers would want changed.
People loved our florals and the planner, but didn’t have a business and need all the sheets. They wanted the time blocking and project pages, but not the pages dedicated to growing a business. I thought I could serve a lot more women if I made the planner for any woman who wants to live intentionally. And that’s really how the Brilliant Life Planner started.
Around this time, Sarah stepped away from the Brilliant Business Moms brand, so it was on my shoulders to get the new planner design in place. But it was WAY easier because we had a base of design files and could easily tweak and improve.
I also knew I wanted a much smaller planner, and hardback. Our local printer couldn’t accommodate, and so that made me explore other options for manufacturing.
Finding a Factory
Okay, I get this question all the time. “Beth Anne, HOW did you find the factory you worked with?” You guys, I used Google and Alibaba. It’s that easy!
Here’s a quote from Marie Forleo I love that applies to this entire process: “Everything is figureoutable.”
It’s so true! I feel like a lot of business owners out there want all the answers before they’re ready to get started. I’ll be honest, you’ll never have all the answers. There was a moment in creating the Brilliant Life Planner when I literally had this amazing product - 1,600 planners on a boat ready to come to me - and I didn’t know how to get them to clear customs. I didn’t know what to do!
Everything is figureoutable. You can do this and find the answers.
You should not wait until someone comes along who is going to hold your hand. Newsflash: that person doesn’t exist!
Sure there are people like me, or business coaches, who will give you a lot of information. But at the end of the day, no one person will have all the answers you need. A lot of running a business is figuring out your answers.
What I did to find my factory was visit Alibaba.com. On this website, you can find factories from all over the world who show you the products they’re experts at producing. I searched keywords like: ‘planner’, ‘weekly planner’, and ‘hardcover planner’. I found a factory and was able to see that the structures of the planners they produced was really similar to what I wanted.
I got in touch with this factory via email; there’s even a chatbox within Alibaba that you can use to contact the factory. I asked them very specific questions about what I needed, “What’s your estimate on the cost per unit based on these specs? How long will it take to produce my order?”
The factory quickly sent back photos of other planners that they had produced, and it gave me the confidence that they could print my planner.
When it comes to working with a factory, keep in mind that you never EVER EVER want to throw down cash and order 1,000 units and wash your hands’. Always order a sample first. You need the proof in your hands that this factory can produce the quality you’re looking for. You have GOT to order a sample to see if any tweaks need to be made. You want to ensure that the end result is just what you want.
Initially I ordered 4 samples - with my 4 different covers. The inside of the planner was the same, but the covers were different. I paid $500 to get those 4 samples produced. That investment was hefty, but think about it from the factory’s standpoint .They don’t want you to throw them $5 for 4 units and run. They need to know you’re serious about doing business with them. Their team had to work with me and my designer quite a bit to make sure the files were formatted correctly. Plunking down that $500 said to them, “This is serious money and I know it's taking you time to work with me and ship this sample.”
The factory shipped the 4 units pretty quickly, since we didn’t have to clear customs with the small quantity, and got my samples within a week.
After looking at these samples, I realized there were tweaks that needed to be made and corrections to the files. There were 2 covers I loved, and 2 I didn’t. I requested the changes, ordered 4 more samples. With this additional round of samples, I also included a gift box and card with each planner. Once I had these final touches in place, and was confident the factory could produce what I wanted, I picked my four favorite covers and we were in business!
Taking Presales (with Kickstarter)
Since I only sold 300 units of my first planner, it felt like a risk to not use pre sales as a way to test the market. We used Kickstarter, but I have to be honest I was not a huge fan of running a Kickstarter campaign.
We spent a lot more money than first projected with making the Kickstarter video and photos needed to showcase the product. Plus, there’s a lot outside your control with Kickstarter.
If I ever would take presales again, I would put the product in my Shopify store and explain that it’s for presale, giving people the expected shipping date.
You think you’re being smart to take presales before ordering in mass quantities. And while it is smart, you can easily spend $10K getting a Kickstarter off the ground. Especially if you hire a photographer, videographer, graphics, and so on.
Honestly I’d rather see more people do minimum viable products. You could set up an online store with listings, hire a photographer for a hour or two to get product photos, and go from there.
One thing I learned is it takes much longer than you’d expect for your product to clear customs and get to your hands. If you’re using any factory outside the US, give yourself 3 months for the product to be to you - or to your fulfillment center.
I was pretty lucky with how the Brilliant Life Planner shipping worked out. I ordered 1,600 units in mid-October and was able to get them to my house by mid-December. This process was a 2-month turnaround which worked hugely in my favor, but I wouldn’t expect this kind of magic to happen every time! Give yourself at least a 3-month margin for sure.
One way you can help this process along is to communicate constantly with your factory. In my case, the factory I worked with needed a 50% deposit, for materials and paying employees. The other 50% cost was required to get the planners on the boat and shipped to me. It took a month for my 1,600 units to be manufactured, and another good month for shipping and clearing of customs.
(Again, I was REALLY lucky with this time frame. But in the future, I’d give myself more margin. I’m a big fan of under promising and over-delivering. Of course your customer would be thrilled to get a product sooner than expected!)
If You’re Having Trouble Finding A Factory
Before we talk about what it’s like to get a product through customs - which was a HUGE learning curve - I did want to point out one thing.
If you’re having trouble finding a factory producing to your standards, here’s a pointer. You can look up import and export records from other companies in the US as that information is part of the public record.
If there’s another company who also produces a product in your niche - a high quality leather shoe, for example - you can find out which factory that particular company used.
Now, of COURSE your product is going to be different! You aren’t going to knock off anyone else, but rather fill a void in the marketplace. So back to our shoe example. Maybe you find another company with a similar, high quality leather show. Or even just another shoe company; you could search ‘TOMS import records’ or something like that. You will likely find a factory that could work with you on your shoe design if you search around.
Here’s how you do it: Google search ‘import records’ for whatever company you’re searching. Be aware that the company official name may be different than how their name presents.
You can find bill of laden information from many companies using ImportGenius.com. Every shipment into the United States will have a bill of laden, and on that document you can see the name of the factory. Import Genius does cost some money, you may want to try other free resources first. But if you can’t find what you’re looking for, Import Genius may solve the mystery.
For a lot of products it’s a safe bet that they’re produced in China. You could use a one-country plan, select ‘China’, and see what you can figure out.
TradeAtlas.com has bill of laden records also. And I was able to get a good amount of details using their free options.
This will take some detective work, but using Google and possibly a few additional Internet resources and you should be able to figure things out!
After you’ve taken presales (if you’re choosing that route!) and have 50% to plunk down to the factory, the next step is to focus on shipping and getting your products cleared by customs. Any big shipment into the US will need to be cleared by customs. And I’ll be honest, I’m still very confused by this process.
From the factory you’ll get a bill of laden and other information. What you’ll need to do next is find yourself a customs broker. How did I find a customs broker? I Googled it! (It really can be THAT easy to problem solve in your business.)
I searched ‘customs broker San Diego’ and ‘customs broker Los Angeles’. From my paperwork I could see that initially my shipment was first going to Los Angeles, but then would be transported closer to me in San Diego.
Obviously when it comes to working with factories overseas communication isn’t going to be as constant. But when it comes to working with people who are State-based like customs brokers and freight forwarders, it’s much easier to just pick up the phone and call them. (I did find that a lot of these places are very unresponsive to email.) I called up the first company I found, and got an answer, “We don’t do that, but try this company.” And then I got the same thing again! But finally the third company was able to help me out.
Though it was a winding way to find my broker, as soon as you find a great customs broker, they’ll know exactly what you need. So my broker was able to quickly come back and say, “Hey, here’s some additional information and a piece of paper I need from your factory.” And you say, “Great, let me get that for you!” Hopefully your factory is really responsive and you can put that information into the hands of your customs broker.
My customs broker filled out all this necessary information for me. There was one tricky Excel spreadsheet that I had to fill out myself, but it got done! In my case, I waited too long to get a broker. I got very lucky, but you really should have your broker lined up before your products ever leave port.
In my case, my planners left port and it was another week before I found a broker to help get our products through customs. But (thankfully!) she was able to jump to action and we got the planners to port.
Let’s say if you don’t have your act together, what’s the worst that could happen? If your products are waiting to clear customs, they’ll just be waiting at a port somewhere. It’s not the end of the world, but depending on factors like how the shipments are stored your product could be impacted.
My factory already had a company they worked with lined up to take their shipments off the boat and put them in a warehouse. I didn’t have control over that step, so I had to wait for these parts to move. It took about a week for the shipment to get unloaded off the boat, and then finally the company could give me the status. At this point, I needed to present paperwork to prove my shipment had cleared customs and my freight forwarder could get the planners.
At the end of the day, my customs broker dealt with all these nitty gritty details. (And I was so grateful for her expertise!) We did end up getting our own truck and not waiting for the freight forwarder to bring the planners to me. We called the warehouse and asked if we could come get the planners; they worked with us and told us the specs of the truck we’d need -- and we got those planners! But if we had given ourselves more margin, we wouldn’t have been so pressed for time. I can’t recommend enough that you just find a broker who has lots of experience and can help you navigate the waters.
You don’t have to do this on your own! I promise, with the right help you won’t be stuck in some warehouse in Compton saying ‘let my products out!’ (Not that I know who that person would be :) LOL) Bottom line: get someone on your side who can help you.
Fulfilling Your Orders
We filled our own orders this run of planners, but next time we will be using a fulfillment center.
How do you go about finding a fulfillment center? You guessed it, Google it! Search around and call a few up. Give them your unit numbers, your specifications, and what you need them to do with the orders. Ask for their cost to store and fill those orders, and then compare statistics from a few difference centers.
Not to mention, when you call up the center you’ll get a sense of the company and how professional they are, how organized they seem.
And that’s pretty much it! Let’s recap our big takeaways.
You CAN do this! You can run your fabulous business and create an amazing product for your customers.
And I’m curious, what are you planning on designing and producing this year? Shoot me an email and let me know: brilliantbusinessmoms(at)gmail(dot)com.
And if you still have questions, I’d love to answer those. If we get lots of emails about the same question, we’ll do an episode answering them.
Thanks for hanging in there with this more technical episode.
Now it’s your turn to head out there and Be Brilliant.