Mon, 27 November 2017
Anne Bogel was one of the very first guests on the Brilliant Business Moms podcast. And I still remember the giddiness my sister and I felt when she was the first ‘big’ person who agreed to an interview. (If you don’t know, my sister and I launched this podcast back in 2014. Sarah has since left to pursue her own business and she’s doing great!)
Though Anne modestly received the compliment, I’m still pretty delighted to have a noteable blogger on the show - again! Since our 2014 interview, Anne has since added ‘author’ to her list of credentials. Her book, Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything*, launched this year and is available now.
Knowing yourself isn't as simple as taking an online quiz like ‘Which seltzer water best describes your personality?’. (True story!) What I love about Anne’s book, and our conversation, is that it helped me delve deeper into what makes me, well, me so I can best optimize my success.
If you’re coming to this topic with no prior knowledge of personality types, that’s okay! Psychologists say that if you don’t know anything else about your personality, knowing if you’re Introverted or Extroverted is a good starting point, it’s the ‘the North and South of Temperament’.
What if you’re one of those people whose personality type is that they hate personality types, as my husband would say!? Anne has thoughts for you, too!
Other topics we discuss include:
If you’re ready for some self-discovery, click play below:
*Amazon affiliate link.
Stay in Touch With Anne
Site: Modern Mrs. Darcy
Book: Reading People
Mon, 20 November 2017
Digital designer, professor, PR specialist, small business owner, wife, mom of two - you might listen to the many roles of Lydia Kitts and think, “Woah, this sister needs to take something off her plate!” But before you go all ‘Judge Judy’ on Lydia, take a listen to the podcast. You’ll hear exactly how Lydia juggles so many things at once, while keeping people first, and does it with excellence. We at Brilliant Business Moms are just in awe of her!
Lydia lets us in on her unique planning philosophy, which involves using a combination of 3 planners. (I know, right!?) Throughout our interview, you’ll notice how Lydia is hyper-focused on the task at hand. She doesn’t let herself get distracted by giving every task a spot in her day, and keeping tasks in their spots.
In this interview, you’ll also get to hear Lydia answer a great question from one of our Brilliant Business Moms. Amy Gabriel asked, “I want to know how to build a timeless brand that has a strong and loyal following. How do you look at modern trends and base designs off of the current style, but also build something that will last for years to come?” You’ll just eat up Lydia’s answer!
If you follow the productivity tips and hacks Lydia drops in this episode, you’ll be able to keep your family first AND your clients happy just like she does.
If this all sounds like information you need as a momprenuer, hit the play button below!
Keep in Touch With Lydia
Mon, 13 November 2017
Today on the show we have a very special business mom and friend, Courtney Westlake. We’ve actually gotten the chance to meet and hang out in person, which was super fun! I met her sweet family and she met Holden; we just had a great time together!
Courtney has been blogging since 2011 at CourtneyWestlake.com. She shares a lot about her story of being Mom to Brenna, who has a very rare skin condition and special need.
Courtney is a blogger, published author, and now a very successful freelancer. I know you’ll learn a lot from hearing her story!
1:15 - Courtney’s Unexpected Beginnings As a Blogger
The majority of people will know of Courtney via her blog, which she began to document her daughter Brenna’s birth and early days in late 2011. Her daughter was born with a rare skin condition and accompanying special needs. (You can watch Courtney’s family story here...major tissue warning!) She originally started her blog to update family and friends, but the circle of readers quickly grew. The more Courtney wrote, the more people read! Courtney had no end-goal in mind with her writing, she was just processing being a mom to a child with an unexpected diagnosis.
In 2014, Courtney got a chance to meet a literary agent and she signed with her. And in 2015 she signed a book deal! A Different Beautiful came out in 2016.
2:55 - What’s It Really Like Publishing a Book?
I’ve had the pleasure of reading Courtney’s book and absolutely loved it. She is a very talented writer! I know many of you are thinking about monetizing your writing platform, and Courtney has some great book publishing insights.
Of course, there are a lot of ways you can go about book publishing. Courtney self-published a children’s book in 2014; her non-fiction book was traditionally published two years later.
She says the two experiences were so different! Courtney’s advice to help you choose your path? Think about your goal.
Courtney’s purpose in writing was to get her message out. Traditional publishing isn’t a super lucrative endeavor. She did receive an advance (an amount the publisher anticipates the author to sell in the first year) and once her book sold the amount of that advance, then she could start earning royalties. And to make sure there are no rose-colored glasses on, royalties are only about 15% of the sale of the book, not a lot!
It really is easy to look at big time authors on best seller lists and glamorize their success. But most first-time authors don’t earn very much money.
If you choose to self-publish with e-books or something like a print-on-demand service, Courtney says you can expect to make more of your own money, but your book may not get as far of a reach. For example, Courtney’s traditionally published book could be purchased at Barnes & Nobles in the US, Australia, and Canada. (Isn’t that so neat?!)
I can tell you from the outside-looking-in, Courtney’s book launch looked so cool! She has a sizeable following and has built great relationships with her readers. Courtney’s publisher was really happy with her launch, which of course made her proud!
There aren’t many ways to slice it: launching a product is a lot of work. And that’s just how launches go. During my most recent big launch, FB Brilliance, I really appreciated having my team to delegate to. And Courtney, also, had a launch team that did some of the work for her. Automating as many processes as possible is another great way to lighten the launch-time load.
7:05 - Transitioning from SAHM to Freelancer
One reason I wanted to have Courtney on the podcast is because she recently told me that she’s been able to do about 15 hours of freelance work a week, and replace her full-time job income! HOLY COW! I had to know how that’s working!
Before having kids, Courtney worked in a Public Relations department at a local university. After her first child - a son who is now 8 - was born, she started staying home. (Isn’t that true of so many of us?) She freelanced here and there, trying to see what would stick, but the jobs didn’t pay much.
With the birth of Brenna, her daughter’s special need was very consuming for a long time.
Now that both Courtney’s children are school-aged, she’s got the chance to do pursue more formal work again. She started writing pieces for different publications, and then eventually scored some business clients.
Those corporate clients are what have potential for high income. Last January she decided to maximize the growth and really go for it! It’s been going really well. To date Courtney keeps four really great regular clients, and a few others who provide less regular work, but are clients she really wants to work with.
With her kids now in school she can take on more work, and the increase has been a total blessing to her family. She can use her creativity and passion to earn a decent income
9:25 - The Ins and Outs of Writing for Businesses
What does it look like writing for a business? Content marketing is a buzzword these days, and the jist of it means is writing blogs, email newsletters, and website pages for any business.
For her clients, Courtney has provided the content - the written words - for entire websites before! She also has created sitemaps, going through the pages on their website they want revamped and so on.
For her regular clients, she almost acts as a marketing consultant in addition to providing the writing. Courtney’s clients can bounce ideas off her, and she loves learning what’s latest in marketing, writing, sales, and online media. It’s a win win!
10:33 - Kinds of Businesses Hire Freelance Writers?
I love that Courtney does writing for a variety of businesses. Included in her portfolio is: a construction company, a mid-sized bank, a content marketing agency that specializes in education writing (working with schools through them), and a nonprofit.
11:15 - Getting That First Writing Gig
Back in January, Courtney decided she would really go for the freelance work. She stared out by emailing different contacts locally, people she had worked with before or had some prior connection to. In those initial emails, she outlined why she thought the managers should hire her, ideas she had for their company, and so on. As cold outreach goes, she got back a lot of “Thanks, but no thanks” messages.
But - finally! - a yes came.
Her first big gig was a company wanting help with their website.
It snowballed from there. The last few months she’s tried to take the initiative and focus on people she really wants to work for.
12:12 - A Personal Touch Makes All the Difference
Going the extra mile to make a personal connection in those initial outreaches makes a huge difference. The content marketing agency she’s currently working with Courtney found on a freelance forum. The agency posted their need to have a writer who could take occasional jobs. Most of the commenters on the thread wrote back with a generic reply we’ve all seen, “Send me a PM!”
But Courtney went a step further.
She went to the agency’s website and got to know the firm. She found a direct email address and wrote a kind message to the agency director. Courtney got back a message almost immediately. The agency was interested!
Courtney took the next step to go directly to the director via email, which made her stand out from all the other commenters!
(And trust me! As a business owner who gets unsolicited pitches all the time. I can tell right away who took time to be personal and who didn’t.)
13:50 - When Charging Your Worth Makes You Go ‘Eeep!’
It can feel so uncomfortable to share your rates! I totally struggle with this on the odd-occasion I accept a coaching call for a high rate. And Courtney has struggled with that same feeling, too. In fact, the morning of our interview she quoted a job and didn’t land it because of her price. But at the end of the day, as mamapreneurs we have to stick with our prices! We know what we’re worth, and we know our clients and customers will get what they pay for. One person may not see your value, but that doesn’t mean many others won’t see it.
Courtney agrees it’s much easier to be choosy with jobs when she has a fuller load and not that urgent NEED for income. It’s certainly more fun to pick jobs that you’ll enjoy and know will bring a good income!
She’s been able to reach this ability to choose who she wants to work for (and be confident in her rates) by slowly and steadily building clients and sticking to her rate. “It takes time,” she says, “But you’ll get where you want to be. You have to know what your work is worth.”
And let’s be honest, ladies! Taking time away from our family or errands we need to do isn’t easy. Our time is valuable.
16:55 - Raising Rates and Regular Clients
Has Courtney raised her rates since building out her client portfolio? Her short answer is yes, but the change is hard to quantify since her writing projects are so varied. For some jobs she still gets paid hourly, though her hourly rate is high enough she’s happy with it.
Other jobs pay per project, and she certainly has raised the project rate the more jobs she’s gotten.
How does Courtney decide which jobs to take? She trusts her gut. When she meets a client and hears about their project, if her first thought is a ‘Heck Yes!’ she’ll go for it. And if not? She gives herself the freedom to pass.
18:18 - What Does A Writing Project Look Like?
Primarily, Courtney writes for websites, both updating the content of entire sites and writing new blog posts.
When she’s crafting the content for an entire site, she’ll make a site map of the different pages and what content needs to be on those pages, and then she writes the content.
For blog post writing, sometimes clients give her an idea of what they want and let Courtney do most of the work and research. Some provide talking points and she will build a post from the client’s initial work.
All of Courtney’s writing is what’s called ghostwriting. That means she tries to adapt her voice to match the client’s to make it seem as if the client is actually the one who wrote the piece. That means Courtney doesn’t get credit for her work, but she’s okay with that! It’s like she gets to put on a different costume each day and pretend to be a different person!
One project Courtney is currently loving is a case study she’s putting together. She’s gotten to interviewing her client’s client and write about their experience for marketing purposes. It’s like a journalistic piece, super fun!
20:10 - Is Courtney Still Building Her Personal Blog Brand?
With this new freelance schedule, is Courtney still blogging and building her personal brand? She admits did take a break from blogging over the summer, which allowed her to settle into the freelance schedule. Courtney has a new idea for an ebook, and wants to keep blogging to see where else it will take her.
At the same time, Courtney is confident that she’s finding her stride writing for others. She really likes the business to business model, rather than business to consumer.
22:22 - Do What You Enjoy
It’s natural to look around at the leaders in your niche and want to copy their steps for success. In Courtney’s experience (and my own!) there really isn’t one, clear path. She knows what success looks like for herself, how she wants her days to run, and knew that freelance business writing is the way to make it happen.
25:30 - Scaling a Service-Based Business
It is hard to scale a service-based business. You personally only have so many hours a day and finite resources to work with. Unless you hire additional people to provide your service, service-based businesses really can have some limits!
But Courtney has found that freelance copywriting works so well for her. The income she makes suits her goals. She doesn’t have to hustle all day long, she can just do her work on her schedule and bring in a decent income.
(The potential for a copywriter income is huge! Seriously. I’ve seen some charging $1,000 an hour! Copywriters Courtney knows are making $100,000 or more a year.)
26:50 - Taking Off The Rose Colored Glasses (Downsides to Freelancing)
We’ve been really talking up how great the freelance life can be...buuut, what’s the downside? Has Courtney ever had a total client disaster!? What’s the tough part of being a freelancer?
Years ago Courtney worked on a small project for a client referred to her by a friend. Courtney wrote a few press releases for this client and, as you do, billed for the work. And...crickets. Courtney send a few more messages, but never got a response. The client had gone totally off the radar, and Courtney didn’t get paid! Courtney says, “I felt really dumb to have not gotten some sort of deposit or something.”
Since then, Courtney has been extra careful with payment measures. And thankfully this lesson wasn’t learned on a huge project.
29:30 - Adorable Mom Moment
Courtney’s son Connor talked so much about how he loved the tacos at school, so Courtney made burritos for her family. Of course, he hated Courtney’s burritos!
She asked him, “How are these different than the ones at school?”
“Well...the school’s are good,” He responded.
Oh my goodness!! We work so hard for these kids! And at the end of the day, they just want cafeteria food.
Stay in Touch With Courtney
Facebook: Blessed by Brenna
Wed, 8 November 2017
Lauren Keplinger is a fellow military spouse (hoo-ah!), and mom of three kids ages 5, 4, and 1. She started her shop, Funky Monkey Children, during her husband’s deployment to Afghanistan in 2012. Since that time, she’s grown her custom business to over six figures in sales, including over 5,000 sales on Etsy. And, remember, she did this through deployments, moves, and the birth of 3 kids! If Lauren can grow a biz, I know you can, too!
1:16 - When Mom Wants More
When Lauren was pregnant with her 2nd child, her first was only about 6 months old. She got started sewing as a hobby with a really terrible sewing machine she bought at a yard sale. Lauren would make John Johns for her son and burp cloths for the new baby.
But she wanted more. (How many of us have felt that way!?)
As a military spouse, so much of life revolves around her husband’s job. She wanted a challenge for herself while she was home with an infant. Lauren started selling her creations on Etsy and the business just grew from there. She says it’s been a wild ride!
2:40 - Etsy vs. Self-Hosted Site??
Having her own site is a recent development in the last 18 months. The majority of her sales are still on Etsy.
And a question we frequently get is, “Should I use Etsy or a self-hosted site?” What’s Lauren’s answer?
She has mixed feelings! Etsy has a great built in traffic and its own platform. She can test new products and quickly see how they’ll perform with the built-in traffic of Etsy.
She’s found it harder to drive traffic to her own site. Lauren does keep an active Instagram account and has found that’s where most of her site traffic comes from. But beyond social media or word-of-mouth referrals, it’s been tough! For now, Lauren is Team Etsy because of the opportunities.
It’s tough to have a sustainable business site without a strong following. (I agree! The main way we drive traffic to our own shop is paid advertising.)
Bottom line: If you build it they don’t necessarily come.
4:05 - A Perk of Having Your Own Shop Site
I wanted to offer my experience that one mega benefit I’ve found of running a self-hosted shop is that I can easily collect email subscribers and get back in front of people with new products. (Especially when it comes to Facebook ads!)
Lauren does leverage her Etsy sells by including a card with a coupon code that works on her self-hosted site in every package, but she says the use of the codes are hit and miss.
But the strategy is smart! 90% of her purchases are gifts for other people, being sent directly to the recipients. Lauren already has the potential of the gift-giver to be a repeat customer, and by including the coupon code she can try to bring the recipient on as a new customer. Though Lauren says she has a few customers who have purchased from her multiple times always via Etsy, despite the coupon codes to her own site!
Another smart way Lauren tries to optimize email subscribers is by including her newsletter link on the message Etsy sends following checkout.
6:20 - Selling What Your Customers Want
Originally Lauren started selling baby items, because that was her season of life. At first she thought her products would be higher-end baby items, but turns out that’s not what Lauren’s customers wanted.
She always took custom orders on Etsy. And over time, she let those custom orders change her business direction as more people were interested in nursery items and baby shower gifts.
(As we’ve heard time and again on this show, listening to customers is a perfect way to grow your business!)
7:30 - Simplifying Gift Giving for More Sales
Is there anything a shop owner can do to make their products easy to give as gifts? Lauren has some great practices!
Offering product customizations is an instant hit with gift-givers.
I absolutely love how Lauren thinks of the list-minute shoppers (like me!) by offering her ‘Rush Order Upgrade’ service. She ships products even faster through priority shipping. In other words, you could order from Funky Monkey Children on Monday and receive your order in time for a baby shower that weekend.
Let’s be honest, people don’t always think that far ahead in advance when it comes to giving gifts, especially for baby showers! I absolutely love that Lauren truly thinks about her customers’ needs and finds ways to meet them.
9:20 - Hey, Etsy! Here’s an idea!
By the way, wouldn’t it be great if Etsy could filter your search based on turnaround time!? I would definitely choose shops with rush shipping for their fabulous products!
10:00 - Learning as You Go by Doing the Work
Lauren started Funky Monkey Children with no prior business background! She learned a lot by trial and error.
She started her shop buying bibs from Babies ‘R’ Us and monogramming names on them. Since that time, she’s worked hard to increase quality by (you guessed it!) listening to customer feedback.
In the early days she would get comments that one fabric seemed too thin or a certain bib wasn’t very high-quality. Hearing critical comments about your work can be hard to take, especially for someone, like Lauren, who doesn’t have any background knowledge in business (or sewing, for that matter!). Where the heck do you even find thicker fabric?
To answer those questions Lauren did the her homework and looked at how she could improve things.
It seems like a lot of work to undertake, and it is, but Lauren’s goal was always to have a sustainable business, not be a hobby seller.
Because of that commitment, she has committed to great customer service. Lauren knows that part of the job is to do the work of resolving and correcting issues, making it super easy to be a Funky Monkey Customer.
I’ve totally seen Etsy or other handmade sellers really struggle when they get negative feedback. It feels personal, but Lauren has a fresh, wonderful perspective: It’s just a business transaction. “If it’s not what you want, I’ll make it right,” wins every time.
12:00 - Two Strategies for Helping Unhappy Customers
One of Lauren’s most frustrating instances of an unhappy customer is when the customer ordered the wrong size and then was mad that the product came in the size she had ordered!
Lauren keys in on the emotions many of us have felt: “It’s hard when you’re working so hard on your business and you don’t want to spend the time to do it again or work for free! It’s hard to balance.”
One of her practices that’s been so helpful is to wait a day before responding to any criticism. Sleeping on it helps her to not have an emotional response, so she can approach it as the business transaction it is. Again, her philosophy really takes the pressure off: “They bought it, they’re not happy, and I can take care of it. It’s not the end of the world.”
I’ll admit - customer care really it’s hard for me! I don’t do my customer service anymore, and it’s a good thing! That’s a second strategy to handling customer care, outsourcing it. One on hand I can be super giving and when I think the cause is worthy I’ll give away whatever! But when customers want refunds for a reason that feels to me like they’re cheating the system, I get super emotional! As always in business, compensate for weaknesses and play to your strengths.
All of Lauren’s trial and error, testing and learning, have really paid off. Now she consistently gets great feedback that, in turn, perpetuates sales. She’s got 5-stars on Etsy and over 1,100 reviews; her shop stats clearly speak for themselves!
14:10 - Where to Source Products?
When you care deeply about quality, how can you get the right products for your custom work?
As usual, Lauren spent time trying and testing a bunch of options. She said she has hundreds of dollars worth of stuff she’s ordered sitting in her basement simply because they don’t meet her standards.
Another way she’s found products is by watching the conversations in Facebook groups specifically for embroidering and applique businesses. She would follow threads in those groups in which makers would mention their materials companies, then place a sample order herself.
I think it’s totally brilliant that, after Lauren made a sample order, she would try out the pieces on her own kids to see how the fabrics held up. Because we all know that how an item looks out of the bag is totally different after a few washes and drying cycles. What a great idea to use her kids as tiny product testers!
15:22 - How Many Materials Do You Order?
Placing an order is so tricky! How does a newer business owner decide how big of an order to place?
Lauren didn’t start with wholesale purchases. She started buying pieces from Amazon and Babies ‘R’ Us, and it was a slow process from there.
Eventually, she upgraded her burp cloths, and then bibs. About two years ago she took a huge leap in her business and started buying bigger quantities, which allowed her to expand since not only did those larger quantities increase her profit margins, they also increased the variety of products she had available.
16:25 - How Lauren Gets It Done
Where is Lauren now in business? What does her order fulfillment process looks like? Is she still embordering, packaging, and shipping every order herself? Or does she have help?
Lauren is still running her business all on her own. While putting in those kind of womanhours week after week is certainly impressive, she freely admits it’s not sustainable for the long term and expects changes in the coming months. Much of her growth has come on quickly and her business has doubled in the last year.
Steady childcare has made a big difference in her ability to grow her business. For a while she worked at naps and bedtime. In fact, for one entire year she worked weekends - all day Saturday and Sunday. Her family made this decision to save up money while her husband transitioned out of active military duty, but everyone understood the arrangement wouldn’t be perfect.
Last year she put all of her children in school, 5 days a week. Her two youngest go to preschool from 8:00am - 11:45am and her oldest child is in kindergarten. Lauren only works during those times and has found it to be so helpful mentally! When you’re trying to fit in work at every turn, it really is a recipe for stress and often feels as if there’s never enough time.
It’s helpful for Lauren to know there are set working hours, plus she can always pick up work later if needed.
20:00 - Business Mom and Military Spouse
About 6 months after starting Funky Monkey Children, Lauren’s husband deployed to Afghanistan. The Keplingers knew that this major adjustment was coming, and building the business during that time ended up being a great blessing to them. It’s been a source of income that’s followed her family through countless moves and many life transitions.
Being a military spouse, there have been many times Lauren’s business has taken a backseat to family life, and she’s had to be okay with that.
I appreciate how honest Lauren is in this interview! She says straight up that the pause moments often felt more like setbacks. And it IS frustrating because Lauren says it felt like every time she got momentum in the business, something would happen and she’d have to slow it down again.
But in the midst of so much instability, it was great to have something stable. She didn’t have to start a new job each time her husband received a new assignment; she could just keep building what she had already started.
22:45 - Business Game Changers
This past year, Lauren’s business has really taken off. What made it happen for her??
Adding child care has been a great help to Lauren as she grows her business. (And we talked a lot about this earlier, so no need to rehash here!)
This tip is a clever one! Lauren doesn’t have any data to back this up, only her anecdotal experience, but the findings are interesting! She’s been noticing on Etsy that her sales will be really consistent as long as she’s consistently shipping things out. If she’s shipping every single day, sales are consistent. But if she gets really busy and misses three to four days of working and shipping, her sales will decline for a few days until she ships out again.
In short, the more active she is in her shop, the more active her shop is. If she’s updating pictures, adding new listings, or doing any sort of general tinkering, it seems to drive sales higher.
Adding a variety of products has been also been a huge factor in the growth of Funky Monkey Children.
And finally, continuing to take custom orders has been a bit of a Golden Ticket for her growth! When people request custom orders and those sell well, it gives Lauren a whole new shop category!
For example, she’s been selling baby quilts. Those started out when she created a few for friends, and took photos to put in her shop. Then, guess what? The custom orders came in! “Can you make one with just initials and a birth date?” “Can you make a quilt for a baptism with a cross?”
Oftentimes we shop owners might think one particular product will be so successful, but it isn’t always! You aren’t always marketing to people just like you. It’s a good nuance to remember.
26:45 - Is Etsy oversaturated?
To finish our chat, we address that constant question, “Is Etsy oversaturated?”
Lauren’s bottom line is this: If you make your products stand out, you’ll build and expand. And hint: you don’t have to be the cheapest to stand out! (You’ll have to listen to hear Lauren talk about why standing out isn’t a race to the bottom for pricing!)
There’s room for growth on Etsy if you have a unique product, with a unique angle.
It may be cheesy, but I feel that it’s true that ‘the cream will always rise to the top’.
If you always work hard to serve your customers well, to be different, to find a space to shine, you know you’ll rise to the top.
People are buying things all the time. There’s plenty of room for more sellers.
30:05 - Adorable Mom Moment
Lauren’s 4-year-old daughter just decided she likes yoga. And yoga is the least competitive activity ever, right? But with 3 kids everything is a competition. The other day her daughter was finishing up her yoga video and said, “You know mom. I’m going to keep practicing yoga every single day. I’m going to go up to my room and practice with no one watching. And then I’ll become a yoga champion!!!” So cute!
Stay in Touch with Lauren
Etsy: Funky Monkey Children