Brilliant Business Moms with Beth Anne Schwamberger

LOVE. Awesome way to save time and money creating great photos and using mock-ups. |

What if you could create beautiful photos... of 100 minutes? No, you're not dreaming! Using Photoshop and Smart Objects makes it possible. Sarah Guillot has worked with these tools for years as a User Experience Architect (how cool does that job sound?!) and now she has her own side gig helping Mamapreneurs like you and me use Photoshop for business to make our lives easier and faster.

On the Podcast

00:52 - Architecture for Users
04:26 - Solving a Real Problem Inside a Make-Believe World
08:57 - Not all Mock-ups are Made Equal
14:02 - What Makes an Object Smart?
24:12 - Photoshop Perks
29:23 - Help for Photoshop Newbies
31:44 - Silhouette Studio
34:00 - Sunshine Sticker Co.
38:24 - It's only a Season
39:57 - The Most Requested Podcast (for 5-7 year-olds!)

Architecture for Users

In October of 2014, Sarah Guillot launched her first side gig. But she's still working full time during the day as a User Experience Architect (UX Architect for short) Essentially, Sarah helps big companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and GoDaddy figure out how to create the best possible experience for users traveling through their website.

She works on user flows, wire frames (a demonstration of how a website will look and function) and works on landing pages to optimize them for sales or other conversions.

Despite her brilliant day job and experience with the online world, Sarah says she had all sorts of fears that held her back when it came to starting her own business. There were so many unknowns she'd never dealt with before - getting a business license, figuring out taxes, and lots of other little details.
Although friends have been raving about Sarah's crafty presents for years and encouraging her to open an Etsy shop, she didn't drum up the courage to do it until her kids came along. Sarah has two little girls, age 5 and 7 years old, and she knows how precious her time with them is. She wants more time at home with them and less time answering to a manager!

In October of 2014 Sarah purchased an online course for writing and publishing e-books. She followed it step-by-step until she learned about marketing her book and getting reviews. Unfortunately, Sarah felt that the course creator was encouraging her to get reviews in a way she thought was unethical. So Sarah didn't have the huge book launch she wanted, but she did get her books out into the world.

After that iffy experience, Sarah shifted directions and started making printables in the Fall of 2014. She thought it was the perfect time to jump on board since everyone would be buying Christmas printables to decorate their homes. Despite her best efforts, over the next six months Sarah wasn't getting much traction on her printable sales. The niche is so crowded already, and there are many beautiful ones available for free online. Sarah realized she'd have to drive a ton of traffic to her shop to really make a living selling printables. In the meantime, Sarah realized there was a big problem in her niche that she could solve!

(Ever notice how the path to business success isn't always straight and smooth? Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to find the right niche, or a problem that demands a solution. Don't give up, Brilliant Business Mom!)

Solving a Real Problem Inside a Make-Believe World

When Sarah was setting up her printables shop, she used Photoshop to make mock-ups so she could quickly and easily show case her printables.

Sarah quickly realized that there are many Etsy sellers in all sorts of field who can benefit from mock-ups to showcase their work in a realistic way.

So What's a Mock-up?

A mock-up means taking an image, such as a frame, mug, book, or t-shirt (often with beautiful props alongside it!) and putting your digital design right onto that image to show how your designs or creations will look in real life.

Mock-ups are perfect for T-shirt designers or drinkware designers who don't want to do a photo shoot for every new design they create. They use their digital design (without even making the product) and place it onto the beautifully styled photography scene.

Not all Mock-ups are Made Equal

Sarah looked around at the styled stock photos currently available and realized there was a big gap for sellers who create more unique items. There aren't nearly as many mock-ups for products that don't go into a frame. Mason Jar Mug sellers, glass sellers, mug sellers, and other vinyl decal sellers didn't have as many beautiful photos to choose from, and if they did find a great photo, they weren't sure how to get their designs into the photo and have them look natural.

One great way Sarah researched this niche and knew which problem to solve was by participating and listening in many Facebook groups. Sarah joined many groups for Etsy sellers and noticed that 5-10 people every day were asking about mock-ups. They'd wonder, "How do I make a mock-up? What are mock-ups good for? Who can find styled stock photos that fit my product?"

Sarah began solving their problems and answering their questions by recording Youtube tutorial videos and posting them on her blog.

Finally, Sarah created a Mock-up Design Essentials Course. The course has short videos that add up to about an hour of tutorials along with photoshop template files that have pre-styled scenes.

The Differentiator

Sarah differentiates herself from other styled stock photo sellers in two key ways.

  1. She offers tutorial videos so that a seller can turn any lovely stock photo into a smart object where their designs can be easily overlaid. So, they're empowered to be as creative and unique as they want to be!
  2. Sarah's templates all include smart objects, so the colors and placement of the objects in her scenes can be altered. You can't do this with a regular stock photo!

What Makes an Object Smart?

So... we're pretty sure these objects in photoshop don't have an IQ of 145. What makes them smart?
A smart object turns a layer in Photoshop into something that can easily accept a new design element without changing its basic structure. (Sounds a little confusing, right?! It's easier to give an example than to talk about smart objects in theory.) Here we go!

If you have a styled scene full of cute little desk accessories and you want to lay your printable (pretty piece of paper in digital form) on top of a desk, this is very tricky to do because the angle of the image will be quite different than your flat-rectangled printable.

You'll have to stretch, tweak, and mess with Photoshop for a while to get your printable design to look just right laying on the desk in the photo. But that's not the case if you turn that piece of paper into a smart object.

THEN, adding your printable design to the desk goes like this:

  1. Double click on the smart object layer in Photoshop
  2. A new tab will open up. You'll see a blank rectangle on this tab. You can past your printable design onto this rectangle.
  3. Hit save and close the tab.
  4. Your printable is automatically placed into the image on the table at exactly the right angle. No weird distortions necessary!

Smart objects are perfect in this instance for two reasons.

  1. Not everyone knows how to stretch and distort the perspective of an image to make it look natural in a photo.
  2. Smart objects allow you to work much faster. You can take 100 of your fabulous designs and plug them into your beautiful styled photo scene in no time. Voila! 100 new listings are ready to go in your Etsy shop, and to your customer, they look just as they would if they were photographed in real life.

An added benefit to using smart objects:

You can also use one smart across multiple Photoshop files. So then, if that object needs to be changed, Photoshop will automatically change all the other files that include that object for you.

Again, let's use an example so this makes more sense! If you're designing a website with a team of people and everyone is using the same header. (It's a smart object) Then one day someone says "we're going to change the header color" The team doesn't have to go in and edit 100 files that all include that header. They simply change the smart object for the header, and all the other files are automatically updated. (Is it just me or does that sound amazing?!)

To create a smart object, take that layer you want to turn into a smart object and save it as a.psb (This is the extension for a smart object versus .psd which is the typical photoshop file extension.)
Now, when that object is altered and saved, it's updated everywhere it's used.

For more help, you can check out all of Sarah's free video tutorials right here.

(If you're wondering if Adobe is worth the price, you should know that you can get a 1 month free trial, and after that you can get Photoshop and Lightroom for $10/month. We're not affiliates, we just use Adobe products regularly. Check out our interview with Kim VanSlambrook to hear how she uses Lightroom to save her loads of time when she takes real product photos.)

Photoshop Perks

So how does Photoshop stack up to the other great photo editing tools out there, like Canva and Picmonkey?

Sarah hasn't used Picmonkey in a while, but Beth Anne says adding your own fonts is easy, and arranging transparent pngs to get the perfect graphic design is a cinch.

Canva is great for typography. They have so many creative templates that you can plug your headlines into. They also have social media image sizes ready to go so you can save time.

Photoshop has some unique features that you can't find anywhere else. For one thing, their color correction tools are powerful, and you can color correct just one aspect of your photo while leaving everything else the same.

Working with layers in photoshop also means you can customize which aspect of your photo you edit, and you can shift layers around (like the png overlays I use in picmonkey).

Photoshop has powerful editing tools for other aspects of a photo as well, such as smoothing out blemishes, adding shadows, or erasing something.

Adobe products also work nicely together, so if you use Illustrator for graphic design, you can drag layers over into Photoshop for more editing.

If you're not sold yet, Smart Objects will put you over the edge. No other photo editing tool on the market can so quickly and easily take your design and place it perfectly on the right object in a photo.

Help for Photoshop Newbies

Sarah Korhnak mentioned in the interview that she probably wouldn't give Photoshop a try, because it just seemed way too complicated, and Picmonkey works great for her!

But... she may have been persuaded. Sarah Guillot says the beauty of Photoshop is that you don't have to know how to use every single feature in order to benefit from the program.

Sarah's course teaches sellers just what they need to know. You can get started and save yourself tons of time while simply ignoring the 100 other tools that you don't need at the moment.

For her course, Sarah focuses on helping sellers get their designs out the Silhouette program and into Photoshop, how to add those design to your smart object, and how to change colors, shift objects around in the mock-up scene.

Silhouette Studio

One of the most common groups of people who can benefit from Photoshop Mock-ups are those designers who use a Silhouette. What exactly is Silhouette, and what can it do?

Silhouette Studio is the name of the design program that accompanies Silhouette printers. The Silhouette Cameo is a printer that can print 12 by 12 inch sheets of vinyl designs, stickers, or other items. The Silhouette Portrait is a smaller printer that can work with letter-sized sheets of material.
Sarah says that Silhouette Studio tries to mimic Adobe a little bit. She says it's not too difficult to figure out the basics of designing with Silhouette, but even as an experienced designer she often turns to Youtube to learn a new trick!

A Silhouette costs about $200 to $250 for the machine and a few tools to print designs.

Sunshine Sticker Co.

One of the things we love about Brilliant Business Moms are the genuine friendships we make with brilliant women who are growing businesses. Our private Facebook group is such a positive, encouraging place, and for many women, it can be a jumping off point for developing their own masterminds or partnerships.

Sarah Guillot and Ashley Monda met through our private Facebook group and teamed up with a few other women to form a Mastermind. They hold weekly Google Hangouts to encourage each other.

When Sarah came up with her idea to help Etsy sellers with photography mock-ups, she turned to Ashley for feedback, because Ashley uses her Silhouette often to make party supplies.

After getting to know each other well, they both came up with the idea to get into the planner sticker market. (Planner stickers are huge these days!) Sarah could bring her design skills to the table, and Ashley could print and ship the stickers.

The more these ladies researched their new idea, the more excited they got. They got together on Google hangout and said, "Wait... are we really going to do this?" The answer...."Yes!"

Sarah and Ashley have never met in person, but their planner sticker business, Sunshine Sticker Co. has already launched! Sarah says she already knew Ashley well and developed a friendship with her. She knows all about her family, her business, and she knew Ashley had a great work ethic. They both live in Washington state, so in-person meetings are possible down the road.

We're so excited for Ashley and Sarah and can't wait to see how their business grows!

It's only a Season

Sarah is in an interesting place right now when it comes to combining business and motherhood. She's still working full-time, and she's also working like crazy to grow her new businesses.

She doesn't want to work 40 hours a week for someone else forever, but.... right now she's working 80 hours per week trying to grow her biz and work her day job! Sarah is often up past midnight working hard on her business.

She says it's a lot of juggling, and some days it just feels like way too much to take on. But Sarah is keeping the end goal in mind. It's just a season, and working 80 hours per week isn't the way her life will run forever.

(You got this, Sarah! We can't wait to see you kiss that day job goodbye!)

Sarah with her adorable family.
Sarah with her adorable family.

The Preferred Podcast for 5-7 Year-Olds!

This funny mom moment made our day! Sarah says she listens to a lot of podcasts while she drives her girls to school. Among her favorites are Pat Flynn, Flipped Lifestyle, and Brilliant Business Moms. She didn't realize how much her girls were paying attention to what was said until one of them asked if she could start a business someday. Sarah said, "Sure!"

Here comes the best part: Sarah turned on Pat Flynn one day and her daughter said, "I want to listen to that other podcast know ..the mom podcast!"

Pat Flynn, we love you, but apparently Brilliant Business Moms is a little more popular among the elementary school crowd :)

(Pssst - that's not the first time we've been requested by little kiddos. Cheri Tracy's girls love us too. How fun!)

Stay in Touch with Sarah!
Instagram: @SarahDesignMockups
Instagram: @SunshineStickerCo

Direct download: Episode2010820Sarah20Guilliot_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:06am EST

Wondering if your purchase is a business expense or an asset? What's the deal with depreciation? Quickly learn these accounting basics for your small business!

Doing your business taxes can be a bit overwhelming.  So many many terms you've never heard before!  Once you understand the accounting terms that the IRS uses, your taxes will feel way more manageable.

Let's take a brief moment to discuss the fun accounting terms of Asset and Depreciation.  These words come up a lot, especially as they relate to your tax return.  This year when the IRS comes knocking, you'll be ready.  A few big vocabulary words can't scare us away!


In your business, most of your purchases are expenses.  An expense is something that gets used up rather quickly and therefore the benefit is used up quickly.  Some examples are ink and paper.  You buy them, and they get used up - they are expenses.  (FYI - we're not talking inventory and Cost of Good Sold here.  We'll discuss that at a later date.)


Sometimes when you make a purchase it's not an expense, its actually an asset.  An asset is something where the usefulness is used up over the course of several years. It provides a benefit over a longer period of time.  Examples include equipment, a camera, or a computer.

As an example, when you purchase a camera and use it to take product photos, it's providing a benefit to you over the course of much more than just one year.   That's the difference between an asset and an expense.  Does the purchase benefit you over the course of a long period of time?  An asset will help you continue to earn revenue over the course of several years.

Matching Revenues and Expenses

In accounting rules, revenue and its associated expenses should be recorded in the same period.  This is called matching.  Let's say you purchased a camera and recorded the entire purchase as an expense in the year you purchased it -- 2015.  But the camera helps you earn money in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 . . . a long time.  So the expense and the revenue aren't matched up together.   You've got revenue produced by the camera recorded over the course of several years, but the expense of the camera is only recorded in one year.  The revenue and expense are not matched.

Matching is a very important acconting principle, the revenue and associated expense need to be matched together.  This is where depreciation comes into play.  The way you get the revenue and expense to match up, is to depreciate that asset over the course of several years.


Lets say you bought a $5,000 computer, that expense needs to spread out over how long you think you will have that computer.  In other words, The expense needs to spread over the computer's useful life - the period of time that it will be of benefit to you.  Often for small equipment that's 3-5 years.  Let's say you think the computer will last you 5 years, (i.e. it has a useful life of 5 years) you take $5,000/5 years=$1,000 of depreciation you should take each year on that computer.

In this way you are spreading out the expense to match the revenue you earn in future years.

Depreciation also serves to show that the asset you purchased is losing value every year.  Let's say you are a florist who purchased a vehicle to deliver flowers.  It's only used for business.  You purchased the vehicle for $20,000 and you think it will last you for 10 years, so that's $2,000 of depreciation every year.  The car is helping you earn your revenue over the course of 10 years.   When you take that depreciation each year, you can see that that car is losing value every year.  After the first year of depreciation the asset is valued at $18,000, after the second year $16,000, and so on.

That makes sense in our heads.  A car loses value every year.  As the years go on, your asset is losing value.  Depreciation shows that declining value.

Related Terms

Other related terms you may have heard are long term asset, fixed asset, or capitalized.  This is similar terminiology to describe similar things.  When you hear someone say they are capitalizing an expense, it just means that they are treating it as an asset. That capitalized expense is actually an asset to their business, not an expense.

Any questions?  Leave me a comment and I'll answer your question to the best of my ability!


Direct download: Episode2010720Assets20and20Depreciation20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:48am EST

What happens when you combine an engineering degree with a talent for sewing? A beautiful business full of well-made products and streamlined processes is created!

Kim VanSlambrook is the solopreneur behind Lucy Jane Totes. What started out as a creative solution to a problem she faced quickly morphed into a beautiful business. Kim has moved her business across states and made some risky choices in the face of parenting two twin boys.

Sarah and I especially love the way Kim's engineering brain has developed a streamlined system for taking gorgeous, cohesive photos. Stay tuned to the end so you won't miss all of her photography tips!

On the Podcast

01:13 - Engineer meets Maker
06:05 - Ruthlessly Eliminate!
08:49 - Deciding on a "Look"
14:38 - Why Kim is the CEO and COO
10:20 - Kim's Risky Move
16:27 - Etsy versus Shopify
18:17 - How to Get Found
20:43 - Working on the Business
25:03 - Instagram vs Pinterest vs Facebook - It's War!
28:10 - Blogging for Business
31:10 - My name is Who, my name is What?
32:48 - The Creative Process
34:07 - Kim Takes all her Own Photos...of herself?
41:14 - Kim's Adorable Mom Moment

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear from Kim!

Engineer meets Maker

Kim has a civil engineering degree from Purdue University with an emphasis in structural design. But once she became a mom to twin boys, she put that engineering background to use in other ways. She had a problem that desperately needed a solution: her boys were too thin for their pants, and the only belt she could find was $18 at Janie and Jack.

That didn't fly with Kim. She knew she could create something better for less. She got to work, and soon her friends were asking her to make belts for them too.

Kim then used her structural design background to reverse engineer a bag in larger proportions for moms on the go. Kim found that the current tote bags on the market just didn't have enough space or durability to work for her. As she solved her own problem, once again, she had customers waiting to buy totes from her too.

Lucy Jane Totes was born, and Kim absolutely loves her business because she can work from anywhere. Her husband is also a civil engineer who works on bridge design. His job moves often because he has to go where the big bridge projects are, so in just five years' time, their boys had already lived in 5 cities and 3 states.

Lucy Jane Totes also gives Kim a sense of identity. No matter where she lives or how new and out of place she may feel, she has her business as a constant to fall back on.

Ruthlessly Eliminate!

Kim's business started with local sales. This was a great confidence booster for her, and made her realize she could make a go of selling products online. She started her Etsy shop several years ago, and initially, it was a hodge podge of items - pillowcase dresses, nursing covers, and tote bags, among other things.
After learning more about business and how to create a solid brand identity, Kim realized that she needed to focus more and ruthlessly eliminate (my words - not hers!) the items that didn't fit with her brand.

Kim chose to focus on her tote bags and make that her business. In the process, she eliminated all the other random items in her shop.

This was an especially risky and difficult decision, because at the time, Kim's nursing covers were being featured in Pregnancy and Newborn Magazine!

However, Kim had to streamline for a few reasons:

  1. A strong brand identity makes it clear to customers what you're about.
  2. Focusing on just a few things allows you to master your craft and produce the highest-quality items.
  3. At the time, Kim's boys were in preschool just a few days a week, and she didn't have any other child care available to her. She had to focus because she simply didn't have time to pursue every product idea.

Kim says when she ruthlessly eliminated other products, her sales took off!

Deciding on a "Look"

Kim's advice on choosing your brand identity is to determine what you want your overall "look" to be for your products and business.

As creatives and makers, it's easy to find new fabrics or product ideas that we just LOVE, but if it doesn't work together with the other items in your shop, you just shouldn't include it. Every new product you add needs to fit with your brand.

Kim's husband always reminds her that the most successful restaurants tend to have focused, small menus. It should be the same way with a handmade business.

Kim's Risky Move

Kim made another risky move in her business not long after deciding on her brand identity. She closed her shop for an entire year! The business was rolling along. She was getting a lot of sales and good publicity, but because she didn't have good child care for her boys, her work time was falling from 8-midnight each night.

Kim admitted that she started turning into "mean mommy. " She wasn't getting enough sleep and she felt pulled in every direction.

Kim asked herself, "what will I regret the most?" She knew that she would regret pushing hard on her business at the expense of her kids and family. Her relationship with her kids and husband matters most - so she took a break from the biz and just focused on them.

A year later, the boys were starting school and Kim's schedule was better. She got back to work on Lucy Jane Totes and says it was a great decision! She returned to her business with a new energy and focus on where she wanted things to go.
Perspective... it's just so important!

Why Kim is the CEO and COO

Kim hasn't outsourced very much in her business, and part of this is because she didn't have the best experience when she tried.

Last year, Kim set up her own website using the Shopify platform. Initially, she hired someone to create an e-commerce site for her, but it turned into a bit of a disaster because Kim had a very clear vision for how she wanted her site to look. (After all, she had refined her branding and knew what her business was all about!) The project was so far along that Kim ended up paying for a site that she never used.

That was her lesson. She loves learning , and she's not intimated by googling until she can figure out how to add a new piece of code. So Kim uses a template from Shopify and changes aspects of the template to suit her brand. By being her own COO, she can ensure that her vision comes to life.

Etsy versus Shopify

Etsy has changed a lot since it first began. It's now much easier to sell items that are far from handmade on the site, and for this reason, it's a bit discouraging for a true handmade seller like Kim.

There are plenty of tote bags on the site that were purchased wholesale from China and a monogram was added. Kim creates her bags from start to finish. Potential customers even write to Kim to tell her that they can get a bag like hers for less money!

On the other hand, Etsy is great for getting traffic into your shop, and great for getting found via search engines and via Etsy search. It's hard to get the same level of traffic on a brand new site of your own.
With Shopify, Kim can design a shop that matches her brand perfectly, and with her customization and monogram options, it's much easier to make this choices clear and streamlined on her own site.

But, it will take time for Kim to build up the same level of traffic and customers that she gets from Etsy. It's a balancing act, and at this point, she wants to keep both shops open.

How to Get Found

Kim gets more consistent sales from Etsy because of the sheer volume of shoppers searching there and being able to optimize her listings for SEO.

But if an influencer is talking about her items on social media, they'll link right to her own site and she'll see a spike in sales. Kim also uses her business social media accounts to point people to her own site versus Etsy.

Kim also gets found quite often via Google image searches. Both her Etsy listings and her blog photos get found this way. Kim actually got an order from the Estee Lauder companies to use her tote bags for a sales meeting, and they found her Etsy shop via Google image search!

Working on the Business

One of Kim's biggest goals is to increase traffic and sales on her Shopify site, but it's difficult to do when she's still the person sewing all of her bags.

She knows that in order to grow, she'll need to hire someone to help with the sewing so she can work on the business more and in the business less.

It's a difficult task to find someone who will do the job well, because Kim is very particular. She creates quality products that will last for years so she has to find an employee with the same high standards and skill level.

She knows that outsourcing will be worth it in the end, but the first step is the hardest!
(Isn't that the truth... any big decision in business seems so scary and it can be difficult to take action on it.)

Instagram vs Pinterest vs Facebook - It's War!

Ok, so the headline was just for fun. It's really not war between these social networks. Kim finds them all useful for different things, and we have to agree!

Instagram:  Kim is most active here. She's a visual person and she loves turning her Instagram feed into a board of inspiration.  Instagram also lets Kim have more interaction with her customers and followers versus Pinterest, where people don't chat very often.

Pinterest:  Kim loves Pinterest for its ability to take photos of her work and make them spread. She once had a photo from her blog on a kitchen storage project that got featured on Apartment Therapy! That pin has been re-pinned thousands of times and still brings her steady Pinterest traffic.
Facebook:  Facebook is a great place to have a conversation that lasts. Genuine relationships with your audience can be made here. (We agree, and we just love our private facebook group!)

Blogging for Business

Keeping up with a blog while running a handmade business is hard, but Kim has a clear goal with her blog: Keep content fresh enough that when someone new stops by her site, they know she's a real and active business. From there, Kim makes it really easy for a blog visitor to head to her shop or follow her on social media where she has time to post more often.

Kim posts about shop updates, a bit about family life, and crafty tutorials or photography tips.
Kim won't give up her blog even if her posts are infrequent, because those meta-tags on your photos are so great for Google image searches.

If she had unlimited time, Kim says her focus would be on more DIY tutorials, sewing projects, and home projects.

Blog Ideas for Handmade Business Owners:

  1. Post DIY and Crafty Tutorials Your ideal customer is probably pretty crafty but will splurge for just the right handmade item when it's too tricky for her to make herself!
  2. Share behind the scenes. Talk about your day-to-day life. Share beautiful photos. Talk about your family and personal life too. All of these posts let your audience get to know you better, and in turn, like and trust you.
  3. Share tips on how to run a handmade business. While this approach is a little less direct (the blog audience you attract may not be your ideal customer exactly) it's not a bad idea. Other handmade business owners are much more likely to support small, handmade businesses themselves! You could be next on their gift list.

My name is Who, my name is What?

Sorry for the Slim Shady reference, I couldn't resist! Just like Sarah and I couldn't resist asking how Lucy Jane Totes got its name. It's such a cute name... but its owner's name is.... Kim?

The story behind Lucy Jane is really sweet. Kim and her husband originally planned to have a whole slew of kids, but with twin boys and a tough pregnancy, they decided they were quite content with two healthy kids.

They knew if they ever had a girl they would name her Lucy Jane. Jane is Kim's mom's name, and she's been a big source of inspiration in Kim's life.

When they realized they likely wouldn't ever have a girl, they named the business Lucy Jane instead.

The Creative Process

After talking about Kim's business name, this launched us into a conversation on the doubts that creep into all of our minds when we pursue something creative. When an idea first strikes you think, "Oh my gosh this is the best thing ever!" Then the next day you'll think, "Oh my gosh this is the worst thing!" Then a few days later you'll think, "Oh this is really good!"

Isn't that the truth? When Kim designs bags or new products, she likes to make one, step back for a bit, then re-examine who work to figure out if she really likes it or not.
We agree! A little space from your creative work can do wonders for your perspective. And likely, it isn't the best or the worst, but somewhere in the middle. Just put it out into the world and likely some people will love it... and some won't. And that's ok!

Kim Takes all her Own Photos...of herself?

Sarah and I were dying to know how Kim gets such great photos of her bags! And... most of those photos have her in them holding the bags and showing them off. (Seriously, if you haven't clicked over to Kim's site yet, now's the time to do it... her photos are amazing.)

So how does Kim manage to take all her own photos... while she's in them?!

  1. Kim sets her camera up on a tripod. FYI - she uses a Nikon D700 (just a step below a professional camera)
  2. She configures her camera to a remote. Kim says if you look closely at some of her photos you can see the remote in her hand, although she tries her best to hide it!
  3. Kim tethers her camera to her I-mac so her photos are automatically imported into Lightroom. This allows Kim to immediately see how her photos look on a computer screen and accurately assess what needs tweaking.
  4. Kim snaps several different positions of her holding each bag.
  5. She grabs a photo, quickly edits it, and uploads it into a Shopify in a draft setting so she can compare it to her current product photos. This helps her to make sure the white balance is correct for her new batch of photos.
  6. Once the white balance is right, Kim sets up Lightroom so that it will automatically apply all of those edits to the next picture.

Gorgeous photos and cohesive look... DONE!

Kim says she used to take all the photos at once then sit down at her computer to edit only to find out that something was off. Now she saves herself loads of time by seeing the photos on the computer immediately and making adjustments before she takes too many photos that aren't right.

So... what's a tether?
With Lightroom starting a "tether" is one of the features offered. (Kim has a subscription to Lightroom and Photoshop through Adobe Creative Clouse for $10/month.)

To start a tether, just use the mini USB port to connect your camera directly to your computer .
Then start your tether in lightroom, and your photos will show up on your computer screen right away instead of on your camera screen.

Kim's other Killer Tool:  Dropbox. Kim exports her photos as a square to dropbox, so that way she's ready to upload them to her website or use them on Instagram.

To Photoshop or not to Photoshop: Kim says she struggles with Photoshop because she has a tendency to over-edit, and in the end, she doesn't even remember what the photo was supposed to look like!
Instead, she uses Lightroom to work on her exposure and white balance, so edits there and stores her pictures. Light room can also store all her original photos, so even if she makes edits to a photo, the original will always be there.

Wow! I'm so impressed with the way Kim streamlines her photography process. It's obvious that she's got things down pat because her site and her Instagram feed are just filled with beautiful, creative photos of her products.

Kim's Adorable Mom Moment

You'll have to tune in to hear how Kim's son Teddy is creating his own "department" within her business - so cute!

Stay in Touch with Kim!

Direct download: Episode2010620Kim20VanSlambrook20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EST

home office tax deduction

The Home Office tax deduction is a topic that people often have questions about.  Find out today whether you qualify for a Home Office tax deduction and how you can calculate it.

The information presented in this episode is derived from IRS Publication 587.

When determining if you qualify for a home office tax deduction, the main question to ask yourself is, "Do I regularly use part of my home exclusively for conducting business?"


In order to qualify for a home office tax deduction, the IRS stipulates that you cannot use the space for both business and personal purposes, it must only be used for business purposes.  If you have a home office, you can only use it for the business to qualify for the tax deduction.  I personally have half of my basement that I use exclusively for our Amateur Naturalist Etsy shop.  This portion of my basement houses all of our inventory and packaging supplies and it's where I process all of our orders.  I don't use that portion of my basement for anything else but our Amateur Naturalist Etsy shop, so it meets the exclusivity test.

Let's say you are a food blogger, your kitchen does not qualify for a business use of your home tax deduction because you are using your kitchen for both personal and business activities.  Now if you were a really wealthy food blogger and you had two kitchens in your house, and you used one exclusively to make and test your food blog recipes, then that second kitchen would qualify for a home office tax deduction.

For Brilliant Business Moms I do most of my work at the kitchen table or the family room couch.  Because the kitchen table and couch are not exclusively used for the business, those areas of my house don't qualify for a tax deduction.

An area of your home that you use to story business inventory does count for the business use of your home tax deduction.


If you have an area that you use exclusively for your business, you must also use that area regularly in order to qualify for the business use of your home tax deduction. It can't be an area of your home that you only occasionally use for the business.

Principal Place of Business

The IRS also stipulates that your home must be your principal place of business in order to take the home office tax deduction.  As bloggers and Etsy sellers this is almost always the case.

There are two methods you can choose from when calculating the amount of your tax deduction.

Actual Expenses Method

There are two methods to choose from for calculating your tax deduction.  The first is called the Actual Expenses method.  Calculate the square footage of the business use part of your home, lets say its a 10x10 area, or 100 square feet.  Next determine the square footage of your entire house, lets assume you have a 1,000 square foot home.  Lastly, calculate the percentage used for business purposes so for our example 100/1,000=10% of the home is used for business purposes.

A portion of the expenses involved in owning and maintaining your home can be counted as a business tax deduction.  In the case of our example, 10% of Real Estate Taxes, Insurance, Mortgage Interest, Utilities, Depreciation, etc. can be counted as a home office tax deduction.  These are called Indirect Expenses.

There can also be direct expenses.  If you have to paint or repair the business portion of your house, then the entire cost to repair or maintain that area is a business expense, not just a portion.  However if you are repairing or maintaining other parts of your home, those expenses are unrelated, and not even a portion can be taken as a business expense.  For instance if you paint or repair your kitchen, you can't claim even a portion of that as a business expense, those costs are unrelated to the business portion of your home.

If you choose the Actual Expenses method, you'll need to complete Form 8829.  I know this all seems confusing, but keep in mind that you'll be using a tax professional or tax software to complete your tax return.  The tax program will walk you through these steps and complete this form for you.  You just need to know to check that box that yes, you do qualify for a home office/business use of your home deduction.

There are limits on how much home office deduction you can take based on your business profits for the year. These limits are also calculated on Form 8829.  The tax program will also adjust your Schedule A itemized deductions for the portion of certain items (such as Real Estate taxes) you take as a business deduction.  The IRS is not going to let you double dip and count the same expenses twice.

The Easy Method

Yes, there really is an easy method, and it's actually easy!

Begin by calculating the square footage of the business use of your home.  Lets use our 10x10 foot example, 100 square feet.  Multiple the business square footage by $5 to determine your tax deduction.  So in our example that's a $500 tax deduction.  The maximum deduction for the easy method is 300 square feet or $1,500.  Isn't that easy?  All of this is right on Schedule C.

There is a gross income limitation on the easy method.  If you don't have enough profit to cover the business use of your home tax deduction, you're not going to be able to take it in that year.  So if you profit was only $100, you can only take up to $100 of a home office tax deduction.

All of our episodes on taxes and accounting will be pinned to our Small Business Accounting and Tax Help Pinterest board.

Be Brilliant,


(Caveat, this information is meant to be a tax guide not a tax authority.  Consider your own unique tax situation when you complete your tax return and consult with a tax professional who knows your unique situation.)


Direct download: Episode2010520Home20Office20Tax20Deduction20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EST

Loved hearing how this Etsy seller started teaching her own classes and organized her own craft fair. Such a fun interview! |


Do you have a skill that you'd love to teach to others? Or maybe you just love connecting brilliant women in business with each other and with new customers. In addition to selling handmade purses, Angie Gordon does both of these things. She teaches classes locally on how to open and grow an Etsy shop, and she created the Handmade Chic Artist's Fair - a twice-annual event for handmade sellers to showcase and sell their items.

Plus, I have to say, this conversation was one of the quirkiest and most fun we've had yet! You'll have to press play below to see what I mean!

On the Podcast

01:19 - The Road Less Patterned
04:06 - Encouragement for New Etsy Sellers
07:14 - Coffee + Etsy = Perfection!
10:23 - Advertising + Pricing
14:24 - Is Teaching a Business Strategy?
20:26 - Expert Enough
22:08 - Handmade Chic
26:44 - Craft Show Fees
28:44 - Craft Show Advertising
32:38 -Building a Reputation
38:17 - How many hours (& cups of coffee!) does it take?
48:44 - The grossest of gross story

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear Angie's Story

The Road Less Patterned

Angie got her start making purses quite a few years ago. She and a friend decided they wanted to make themselves bag. They found a pattern and tried their hand at sewing.

Angie quickly discovered that she hates using patterns! From the lingo to the little pieces to cut out and match together, Angie finds the process tedious and strange. So, she designs her purses in her head and comes up with a process all her own.

As Angie started wearing her bags, friends at school and church would ask for one. The business started to grow and spread organically, and all of a sudden, people she didn't know were asking for her bags.
At the request of a friend, Angie began doing home parties in people's houses, and her business continued to grow.

And once again, it was a friend who introduced Angie to Etsy! She started selling there in 2010.

Encouragement for New Etsy Sellers

Angie helps many brand new Etsy sellers get their shops off the ground with her classes, and one of the biggest misconception about selling online that she sees is that people assume if they simply put their work out there, people will come.

Selling online simply doesn't work that easily. You have to spend a lot of time and work hard to get found and get sales. And you need a lot of patience too!

The hardest part of selling on Etsy is getting noticed initially and getting your first few sales. But if you take a few minutes away from making your craft and figure out how to take great pictures, work on your listings to come up with the best tags and titles, and get your name out into the world with some marketing strategies, you'll start to see results.

"Don't give up!" Angie says. She's in several Facebook groups for handmade sellers, and she sees so many of them get discouraged really quickly. Angie didn't grow her business overnight - it took several years to get a steady stream of sales.

Coffee + Etsy = Perfection!

A few years ago, Angie started teaching workshops on how to get started selling on Etsy. Once again, the people found Angie! Friends and family would send emails and Facebook messages asking if she could help them get their shop started. But Angie didn't have an hour to spend with each person who asked.

A friend suggested that Angie gather a whole group of newbies and teach classes on Etsy. She found a coffee shop that let her use a room and a projector for free!

Lessons Learned from Teaching

Angie's first workshop was 2.5 hours long, very comprehensive, and when she finished, she saw nothing but deer in headlights!

She made sure the next class was smaller, and they started at the very beginning of opening their shops. writing their policies, creating an about page, and figuring our shipping. The women there literally brought out their laptops or ipads and got to work on their shops while Angie circulated around the room to help. Angie answered questions as they came up, and everyone left feeling equipped to open their first Etsy shop!
After that, Angie hosted a class on product photography, then branding, and she continues to bring on other experts to provide advice on various topics.

Advertising + Pricing

Angie started a Sheboygen, Wisconsin Etsy Sellers Facebook group, so she posts to the group when she's hosting a class. This alone, has been enough for Angie to fill her classes!

Angie charges just $20 per person for each class. She wants to keep it affordable for brand new sellers, but the small amount of money she makes helps to compensate her for her time.

Angie says that she spends the better part of a Thursday before class immersing herself in the topic she's teaching on, and putting together folders full of printed materials that everyone can take home. (Angie's so nice she even buys the ladies a cup of coffee for the class!)

Is Teaching a Business Strategy?

We were curious about whether teaching classes is something Angie views as part of her business, or just something she does to be generous to new sellers.

Angie considers her classes a hobby with benefits! She absolutely loves teaching, and she gets so excited when she has a class scheduled, but the small income she makes from classes is definitely not the meat and potatoes of her business.

For any women out there who may be considering starting their own classes, you should know that there are other ways you could do them. Angie chooses to make hers informal, but you could get in touch with your local Chamber of Commerce, or you could suggest that you teach a class to your local Community or Public College!
Many cities have a parks and rec department that offers classes for adults too.

You don't have to teach about business - you could teach about your craft or hobby. You could even host a one-day conference on your field of expertise!

Expert Enough

It's easy to get excited about the idea of teaching others, but quickly count ourselves out because we don't think we're expert enough to do it. Sarah and I say "you're expert enough!"

There is always someone a few steps behind you that you can teach. And Angie admits that she still doesn't know everything, but she teaches what she does know. And some of the things she teaches took her years to figure out! She loves passing along what she's learned and giving someone else a shortcut.

There's also value in learning from someone who's only a few steps ahead versus five thousand steps. That person who is miles in front of you may not remember what it was like at the starting line. They tend to gloss over the beginning and simplify the process of getting started. The person just a few steps ahead well remembers what it was like, and all the exact steps she took to get where she is today.

Angie saw an illustration the other day that serves as encouragement: There's a guy running really slow, but he says, "I'm lapping everybody on the couch."

Handmade Chic

Angie seems to have a trend of jumping into something fun that a friend suggested, and then later turning it into a something big! About 7 years ago Angie did a house party in her home to sell her purses. She hosted the party in November, and this time, she invited a few other maker friends to come and sell too.

The night went so well for the sellers that it became a tradition. After the second year, people started calling Angie and asking if they could be a part of it! 4 years ago, Angie had 14 people sell in her home, and 70 people walking through during a 2-hour timespan!

2 years ago, Angie and her family moved into an older home with a less open floor plan, the November event had 80 visitors who were shoulder to shoulder, so she had to find a bigger place! Angie moved Handmade Chic to the coffee shop where she had been teaching classes.

The coffee shop was so generous - letting Angie and the makers take over the entire shop, and even helping her advertise. She tried Handmade Chic in the summer to test out how it would go in the shop, and then they did it again in November. During the first summer event in the shop, they had 85 come through on a Saturday morning.

Last year, in the 3rd week of November, they had over 200 people come through the coffee shop during a 3-hour window!

Recently, Angie did another summer show at the coffee shop, and this time, she took applications and branded it as Handmade Chic Artist's Fair. It's official! Angie has been very intentional in branding her event as exclusively handmade items.

Handmade Chic has a problem, though, they're outgrowing the coffee shop! It's a good problem to have, and Angie is fervently looking for a bigger space for this year's show.

Craft Show Fees

Angie charges just $35 for a 5 by 5 foot space inside the coffee shop, because they're very limited on space! But outside, a vendor can take a chance on the Wisconsin weather and pay just $20 for unlimited space.
At this point, Angie doesn't take home a paycheck for hosting the craft fair. She uses the money in fees to advertise for the event. But this year, if they find a bigger space they can get more artists involved and have enough money to advertise and pay themselves too! (Or, as Angie says, at least pay her right-hand girl Kim who does a lot of work for the event!)

Craft Show Advertising

When Angie first turned her November open house into an event, she would go on Vistaprint and make post cards. She mailed them out to everyone she knew and handed them out at school and church.
Early on, about 90% of the visitors to the even were people she invited and knew, and then there were a few guests from other vendors.

To this day, people come to the show and thank Angie for sending out a post card! It may be old school, but that physical reminder can make a big difference for a local event. It goes up on the fridge, and people don't forget to come. Angie also orders plenty so that the other makers can hand out postcards as well.
Now that the show is growing, Angie runs Facebook ads too. She shows them to people within a 45-mile radius of Sheboygen, and a few months ago when they welcomed everyone to the show, they discovered that many visitors found out about it on Facebook!

Welcoming guests to the event and offering a door prize serves another function too - they're able to get email addresses so they can let all the attendees know about the event for next year.

Angie's local radio station advertises community events for free. They'll read them on air for a week or two leading up to an event. In addition, Angie hires someone to write an article about the event, and it gets published in local newspapers. Once again - free advertising for the fair!

Building a Reputation

Because Angie has been very intentional in her branding of her craft show, she's building a good reputation that will help Handmade Chic grow from year to year.

Friends love to tell others about which craft shows are great (and which ones stink!) Angie realized early on that visitors were coming just for the handmade items, and those with home party businesses didn't sell well. So she decided to make the show juried and only accept the right handmade sellers.

Angie's recommendation for a juried show: Hire yourself a "Kim"! There's nothing more difficult than having to turn down friends and family who want to sell at your show. But if you leave the decision to someone else, you can tell your loved ones that it's out of your hands. :)

How many hours (& cups of coffee!) does it take?

We were curious about the number of hours it takes to plan and put on a craft show.
Angie didn't have a number. She just had one word: INSANE. Between her June and November shows, Angie only has about 6 weeks of down time before she's planning again!

On the list:

  • picking a theme and colors
  • designing the postcards
  • creating the applications
  • receiving and deciding on applicants
  • updating the website
  • communicating with the artists
  • advertising the event
  • setting up the day before
  • being the first one there and the last one to leave

Angie says when she's not physically working on the craft show, she's thinking about it, but it's something she really looks forward to.

The grossest of gross story

Angie described her funny mom moment in just that way! We'll leave it at that - you'll have to tune in to hear the crazy thing Angie's girls did when they were little. And shhh don't you dare tell them she shared this story on the podcast!

Stay in touch with Angie!
Etsy shop: Gathered and Sown


Direct download: Episode2010420Angie20Gordon_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:41pm EST

Love this blogger's tips on managing her growing blog and biz along with her baby.  And... number two is on the way.  Practical tips for real moms who are parenting full-time  |

Doesn't it seem like the best ideas for our business often come at the craziest times? Sarah and I started the podcast in the midst of Chris coming home from deployment, us leaving for a trip to Spain, and Sarah and her husband Mike re-doing their kitchen...themselves. Before that, our Etsy shop, The Amateur Naturalist launched just months before Chris and I brought Holden home from India.

Rachel's business started in the midst of a crazy time as well. She had a newborn at home! And not long after Rowan was past the newborn stage, Rachel became pregnant with her second child. Learn how Rachel nurtures both a baby and a business - with incredible results on both fronts :)

On the Podcast

02:15 - Nurturing a Business and a Baby
04:49 - 4 Strategies for Exponential Growth
09:27 - 1 Year...Is it Enough?
12:58 - Fits & Spurts -a Realistic Strategy for Moms
20:51 - Making the Business More Passive
24:53 - The Rule Breaker
27:54 - How to Schedule Life Around Baby and Business
32:45 - Can a Solopreneur take Maternity Leave?
36:52 - The Question that Will Give your Business Clarity
43:19 - Rachel's Adorable Mom Moment

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to Hear Rachel's Story

Nurturing a Business and a Baby

As a pediatric occupational therapist, when Rachel's first baby, Rowan, was born, she immediately started putting her skills and knowledge to work. Rachel knows just how important those first few months and years can be for a child's development, and she didn't want to miss out on a second with Rowan.
Rachel began coming up with great activities she could do with Rowan to help him grow, learn, and develop. And she started doing these creative activities when Rowan was a newborn!
Rachel didn't expect to become a stay-at-home Mamapreneur but when she shared on her personal Facebook account what she and Rowan were up to, her friends were so impressed. Many other parents found her posts and activities really helpful, and they begged her to start a blog or write a book so they could learn more.
Even in the midst of a crazy season, Rachel took this positive feedback as a good sign and she jumped in!
She launched her blog, in September 2014 and her Etsy shop, in November of 2014.

Rachel's first book, Begin with a Blanket
Rachel's first book, Begin with a Blanket

4 Strategies for Exponential Growth

Less than a year into blogging, Rachel gets over 100,000 pageviews on her blog each month. She contributes her blog growth to several factors.
1. Building Online Relationships. Rachel says that the old school business model views other people in our niche as competition, but that's not how it works online. You have to have the mindset that everyone is on your team. Finding supportive online communities has been key to Rachel's growth.
In some of her online communities, Rachel feels intimidated by the bigger bloggers who belong there, but she's forced herself to push past that. Rachel makes a point of continually checking into her favorite online communities - asking questions, offering help, and connecting.
In this way, when something big is going on for Rachel, like a book launch, she's reaching out to ask for help from people who know her and her content.
2. Facebook Promotion. Rachel is part of the Kid Blogger Network , which has official share days for everyone's Facebook page. Rachel spends about 1.5 hours each week sharing her blog content on other blogger's facebook pages. The work has paid off - since Facebook is the highest referrer of traffic for
3. Pinterest Group Boards. Rachel finds group boards within her niche of kids' blogs, parenting, and activities and pins her content in those places. Group boards often have quite a large number of followers, and if the right people see your post, it can get pinned and re-pinned over and over - generating a steady stream of traffic over the long-term.
4. Guest Posting. Rachel guest posts strategically and views it not just as a way to get more traffic, but as a way to establish a long-term relationship with another blogger. In this way, Rachel and another kids' blogger can mutually send each other traffic, ask questions of each other, and help each other out.

1 Year...Is it Enough?

Rachel's blog, focuses just on developmental activities during infancy. Once a child is over a year old, Rachel really doesn't have much to say. Clearly, as a pediatric OT, Rachel could cover way more than the first year of life, but she's chosen a very narrow niche for two important reasons.
1. Be Known for Something Specific. There are millions of kids' activities bloggers or parenting bloggers, but Rachel is now known as the baby activities girl. That very clear identity makes it easier for other people to talk about Rachel and pass her site onto others. Think about it - when you're chatting with someone about their upcoming wedding or their new baby, do you send them to the most general sites on those topics, or do you have a light bulb moment in the middle of the conversation: "I know just the site for you! Check out this lady's blog - she features vintage weddings just like the one you're thinking of having!" Be known and remembered by defining what your brand is all about - and what it's not.
2. Create valuable content. Rachel's narrow niche helps guide her content. She knows she'll only focus on informative posts for a baby's first year of life. And when it comes to writing content, Rachel chooses quality over quantity. She writes really long blog posts so she can go in-depth and bring as much helpful information to the table as she can. Again, Rachel sets herself apart and has become the go-to girl for Developmental Content for Babies.

Fits & Spurts -a Realistic Strategy for Moms

With all the blog posts, podcasts, books, and other content on growing an online business, actually implementing the advice we hear can be overwhelming. We simply can't do it all. Especially when we're in the season that Rachel is in - a baby at home, one more on the way, and zero childcare help.
Rachel uses the fits and spurts strategy to ensure she makes progress without getting overwhelmed. Essentially, every month Rachel will pick a new item in her business to focus on. One month, she focused on her email list and created some great opt-ins along with an autoresponder series. Another month, it was her Etsy shop and optimizing it for SEO. Recently, Rachel took a month to write her new book, Simple Play: Easy Fun for Babies.
She said it was like pulling teeth to force herself to just write and not spend all her time Google Amazon marketing strategies. She told herself over and over, "Close the Google window. That's for next month! Keep writing!"
Rachel says that at least once a month she has to remind herself that she can't do it all. She'll hit a wall, feel burned out and exhausted, and remember to just focus on the task at hand and relax about everything else for the month. A lot of the Fits and Spurts Strategy relies on trusting that the hard work Rachel did last month, or several months ago, will carry her through.

Making the Business More Passive

Rachel doesn't sell her books on her own site, and she admits that decision is largely based on pregnancy. She doesn't want the hassle of an additional sales channel and additional orders coming in that she's responsible to fulfill.
With selling on Etsy, Rachel has to have boxes and gift wrap on hand, package her orders, and make trips to the post office. Now, Rachel is shifting her focus to selling on Amazon so that product fulfillment is taken out of her hands and home.
Rachel is excited to see how her Amazon sales will shake out. So far on Etsy, 35% of her book sales are for her paperback version, and 65% are for the e-book. On Amazon, Rachel has the added option of bundling her two paperback books together.
The best part? Rachel won't have to ship any of those orders herself! We can't wait to see how this makes the business more do-able with two babies at home.

Rule Breaker

Surprisingly enough, our sweet, southern guest could aptly be called Rachel the Rule Breaker. She doesn't believe in following every expert's advice to succeed in business.
Below are several online business rules Rachel has broken...and it hasn't hurt her one bit.
1. Post on social media constantly. Rachel knows many bloggers who have pins going out on Pinterest every hour of every day and others who post to their Facebook page 30 times per day. She's tried these strategies and hated it. She was on social media 24/7 and the joy of blogging was lost.
Rachel posts 2-3 times per day on Facebook, and she's very selective about what she shares. It has to be something very helpful within the baby niche, otherwise, she simply won't share it. Her engagement is great, and she doesn't feel like she's missing out by not posting 20 times or more per day.
2. Be controversial. Many parenting bloggers tell you that you should share topics on your Facebook page or blog that spark debate. This gets people talking and engaged. Rachel intentionally steers clear of hot button issues. Instead, she focuses on creating a positive, helpful, encouraging environment for parents, and her audience appreciates this. If they want a debate, there are plenty of places they can go online.
3. Write short blog posts, and write often. Rachel consistently blows through recommended word counts with her blog posts, and she writes less often to make sure each post is insanely helpful and informative.
4. Use an editorial calendar. Nope. Rachel doesn't do this either. Instead, she has a long list of blog posts she wants to write, and which ones she writes each week is determined by what she has time for. Some take quite a bit longer than others. (Isn't this the perfect strategy for a mom with little ones... we don't have guaranteed hours, so we have to be flexible.)

How to Schedule Life Around Baby and Business

Rachel says her work schedule has changed as her son's needs and her needs have changed. Early on, Rowan napped twice a day, and Rachel spent about 90% of nap time working on her business. Then, after Rowan goes to bed, Rachel works about 4 nights per week - clocking in about 3 hours on each of those nights.
In the beginning of motherhood, Rachel also suffered from postpartum insomnia. So she'd be up at 4 AM while Rowan slept til 7:00. She could easily complete several hours of work before he woke up.
Now that Rowan is older and naptime has decreased, Rachel's not able to work as much during the day. And during her first trimester of her second pregnancy, Rachel used that time to nap herself. It's what she needed! So she essentially cut her work time in half for a season.
While Rachel's schedule continues to change based on the season and her family's needs, overall she says she works about 20-25 hours per week. That's quite a lot for someone who's a full-time mom with zero help.
How does Rachel stay productive during those tight windows of work time?
She highlights naptimes on her planner and writes down what she'll work on during any given naptime. Then she writes a list of things she can accomplish while Rowan is awake - such as housework, exercise, or cooking. Rachel says Rowan is pretty good at playing by himself since he's been so accustomed to fun activities from a young age.
One caveat: Rachel doesn't review her list at the end of the day. Inevitably, she doesn't get everything done, so rather than dwell on what didn't get done, she lets that go and starts fresh with another day.

Rachel with Soon-to-be big brother Rowan
Rachel with Soon-to-be big brother Rowan


Can a Solopreneur take Maternity Leave?

Rachel plans to have a maternity leave from her online career when her second baby is born in November. How will she swing it?
The goal is for Rachel to not write any new blog posts for 6-8 weeks. She feels fine about m aintaining social media at some level, though.
Right now, during Rachel's second trimester she's working hard to build up extra blog posts and reach out to online connections to get other bloggers guest posting on her site. In this way, she'll have built up a library of posts to use when she's out on leave.
Another smart idea from Rachel: She's training her audience now to get accustomed to just one blog post from her so it won't be a huge shock when the baby is born. In addition, paring back her posts now allows her to use the time she would've spent each week writing post #2 and instead writing a post that will get scheduled several months from now.

The Question that Will Give your Business Clarity

A few months ago, Rachel starting finding some quiet time to sit down and reflect on what matters most to her in her business. Rather than spin her wheels indefinitely, she wants to strike a balance between work and family life, and that requires discerning the most important aspects of her business and leaving the rest behind.
Rachel asks herself this question to get clarity: If I walked completely away from my business, what would I miss?
Rachel quickly realized that she wouldn't miss making her play blankets or shipping Etsy orders. She's ok with letting those things go. However, she would really miss the personal connections she's made with parents who ask her questions and connect with her online. She loves helping parents and being accessible to them - so she wants to grow her business in ways that reflect this mission.
Rachel's advice for other Mamapreneurs: Take some time for self reflection. Think about what's working in your business and what's not working. What makes you feel great about your business and what doesn't? And most of all, what would you miss if you walked away today? Keep that in mind as you move forward.

Rachel's Adorable Mom Moment

Rachel's mom moment was both hilarious and adorable. You'll have to tune in to hear about the prank 13 month-old Rowan pulled on his Mama!

Stay in touch with Rachel!

Rachel's Books: Begin with a Blanket: Creative Play for Infants
Simple Play: Easy fun for Babies

Direct download: Episode2010320Rachel20Coley_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:30am EST

Trademarks, LLC's and other Legal Advice with Nellie Akalp - great tips! I never knew how to go about getting a Trademark but now it seems really do-able.

BAM! You found it! Your perfect business idea, along with the best name, logo, and tagline to go with it! You're pumped! You're ready to get out there and make some sales!

But despite your best efforts, you end up with one unhappy customer among the thousands you've served. They're convinced you've ruined their life... and they're going for broke!

On top of that, you've noticed a similar business in your niche that has the same company name and tagline. What's a small business owner to do?!

No worries. Nellie Akalp has you covered.

While registering as an LLC or Trademarking aspects of your business may not be first on your to-do list, Nellie shares why they're important issues to consider as soon as you know you have a viable business on your hands.

On the Podcast

01:15 - Nellie's Second Start-Up
03:13 - Do you have a Fictitious Business Name (We hope not!)
07:23 - What are the Benefits of an LLC or S-Corp?
13:21 - What Good is a Trademark if there are Two Companies Called "Nike"?
19:56 - The Benefits of Registering a Trademark
23:10 - Is Obtaining a Trademark Complicated and Expensive?
27:55 - The $100 Investment that Turned into Millions
30:42 - Back to the Future
34:07 - More than a Million Reasons to be Proud
34:50 - Nellie's Hilarious Mom Moment

Press Play on the Podcast Player Below to hear from Nellie

Nellie's Second Start-Up

CorpNet is actually Nellie Akalp's second start-up! Her first business began in 1997 with her husband, Philip. They were in law school together and saw a need for an online business that provided entrepreneurs with legal filing help so they could get their businesses off the ground.

Intuit acquired the Akalp's company in 2005, and after their three-year non-compete clause was up, the Akalps were still so passionate about helping entrepreneurs in this way that they started from scratch once again and founded CorpNet.

Nellie and Philip have helped over half a million corporations and LLCs to get started by assisting with their document filing and streamlining the process of business formation for them.
In addition to being a brilliant start-up founder, Nellie is a mother of four. She has teenage twins, and 11 year-old, and a 4 year-old.

Do you have a Fictitious Business Name (We hope not!)

If you've never taken steps to become an LLC (Limited Liability Company) or S-Corp, and you're not in a partnership, then you have a fictitious business name.

The default business structure for a solopreneur is called a Sole Propietorship. Many businesses start out this way, but it's not wise to continue with this structure for very long.

Essentially, a Sole Proprietorship allows you to do business under you own name, or a "fictitious business name". Filing this business type is called a "Doing Business As Filing" or "Fictitious Business Name Filing."
Although it's easy to get started as a Sole Proprietorship, this business structure offers you zero legal protection. If your business wrongs a third party, and that third party decides to sue, they can go after your personal assets such as your house, car, or personal savings accounts.

So get rid of that fictitious business name, and structure your business as an LLC or S-Corp.

(Note: You should always talk with an accountant and legal advisors. This article does not constitute either accounting or legal advice, but simply recommendations based on experience.)

What are the Benefits of an LLC or S-Corp?

The S-Corp or LLC are the best types of business entities for a small business owner to consider. Since laws vary from state-to-state, be sure to check with your accountant to determine which structure makes the most sense for you.

The Benefits of an S-Corp

  • The corporation gets treated as an individual entity. An S-Corp is treated as a pass-through tax entity, so this means, for example, that when a company pays out dividends to its stockholders, you no longer get taxed twice - once at the individual level and once at the corporate level for the small business owner. You are only taxed at the individual level when you receive your dividend, and in this way, an S-Corp avoids double taxation.
  • May be entitled to more tax savings. There may be other additional tax benefits and savings related to being an S-Corp, but these vary on a case-by-case basis.
  • Corporate shield between you and your business. You have far more protection for your personal assets when you are the owner of an S-Corp. Now, a wronged third party may go after the corporation's assets, but not your personal assets as the business owner.
  • Added layer of privacy. Becoming an S-Corp means that the corporation is its own entity. You no longer have forms with your name all over it stating that you're simply "doing business as .......X Company"
  • Higher credibility in the eyes of the consumer. Becoming a corporation means that you've taken steps to legitimize your business. You're official.

What are the Benefits of an LLC?

Here's the best news of all! An LLC provides all the benefits of an S-Corp without all of the formalities required to file as an S-Corp.

With an LLC, you have have your cake and eat it too. You get added tax benefits, additional legal protection, more privacy, and appear more legitimate in the eyes of the consumer.

The only formality required for an LLC is to have an operating agreement that's executed by all of the members of the LLC and to file a yearly compliance document.

What Good is a Trademark if there are Two Companies Called "Nike"?

What is a trademark and why does it matter to you as a small business owner?

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design or a combination of any of these that identifies the source of a product or service and distinguishes it from its competitors. Trademarks can be given for product names, company names, logos, and taglines.However, trademarks apply only to a particular category of goods and services.

For example, Nike Inc. owns the swoosh mark on shoes, clothing, andsporting goods along with the name Nike and the phrase "Just do it" within the sporting goods category. However, there is also a Nike Corporation (a completely different company) who sells hydraulic lifting jacks and machinery.

These two companies, both called Nike, can both exist because each is clearly distinguished within a particular category of goods and services - one in sporting goods and the other in hydraulic machinery.

So what's the point of a Trademark if there can be two Nikes?

A trademark keeps your brand ID safe so that no one else in the marketplace can use your name, logo, tag line, or combination of those for a similar product. Trademarks are still powerful, even though they only apply to a specific category or just a few categories.

When should you Trademark?

If you have a viable business name and you're planning on using it in more than one state, then trademarking your brand name and possibly logo and tag line should be done during your start of business checklist. You don't want others to dilute your brand name or logo by using it on similar products that didn't come from you.

The Benefits of Registering a Trademark

  • You're eligible for damages if someone in your category infringes on your name, logo, or branding.
  • You obtain the right to use the R symbol instead of just the TM symbol behind your company name and logo.
  • You have a streamlined process for securing your domain and usernames on social sites if, for example, someone else is already using your brand name there. It's much easier for you to dispute this use and win the right to be the only person using that brand name.
  • You receive stronger legal protection than that of "Common Law Rights of First Use" so it's easier to recover your property and dispute infringements on your brand. (Common Law Rights of First Use does say that if you've registered your business with your state with a given brand name and have done business with that brand name, then you have rights of first use, but this is not nearly as official as having a registered trademark.)

Is Obtaining a Trademark Complicated and Expensive?

Acquiring a Trademark can be a complicated process, but you don't have to have a lawyer to do it. However, a document filing service like CorpNet can help you along without all of the crazy expense that comes with hiring a lawyer.

Below are the steps you'll go through to obtain a Trademark for your business.

  1. Make sure the name is available for you to register it as a trademark. You can do this by conducting a free Trademark search.
  2. Be really certain! Conduct a comprehensive nationwide search to make sure no other businesses have any common law rights to the name.
  3. File your Trademark with the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office.) You can file your Trademark directly online. The cost for a Trademark application is $325 per class. You will register your Trademark under 1-3 classes.
  4. Filing classes can take 6-12 months, and you will be assigned a document examiner from the USPTO who will review your filing.
  5. This document examiner may submit an office action to request more information from the small business owner.

This is where things may fall apart for the entrepreneur. If they're too busy and don't respond to requests for more information, the trademark application will expire and they will have wasted their application fees.
Companies like Corpnet ease the stress and ensure the Trademark is processed by taking care of office actions and all correspondence with the USPTO.

Grab more information and answers to commonly asked questions about Trademarks.

The $100 Investment that Turned into Millions

Nellie and Philip Akalp of Corpnet. Millionaires at 31 after their company was acquired by Intuit!

After snagging tons of technical advice from Nellie, we wanted to take things back a few years and find out what it was like to grow a start-up in 1997. Nellie was more than happy to share her story!
She and her husband Philip were both attending law school in 1997. There were in a corporation class at the time, and in the real world, the internet era had begun.

One of the hottest trends at the time was starting a business online because the internet was booming. However, these bright-eyed, enthusiastic internet entrepreneurs often had no clue about the tedious work of filing as an LLC or S-Corp or getting Trademarks for their business.

Nellie and Philip came up with the idea to help all of these start-ups with the legal filing they would need to bring their businesses to fruition.

With a $100 investment, the Akalps acquired a domain name and started their business out of their 2- bedroom apartment. They worked day and night until they reached a substantial amount of sales.

They were able to purchase their first home with their business, and then they acquired their own office space.
In 2005, they were approached the opportunity to be acquired by Intuit, and they said yes! At the time, they had 5 year-old twins and a two year old toddler. Selling made sense so they could spend more time with their family.

The Akalps signed a non-compete clause that lasted for three years. But rather than get used to their (very!) early retirement, they decided to get right back into the business when their non-compete was up.
Nellie and Philip realized that they were too young, too motivated, and too passionate to take on such an early retirement. They love small business so much and couldn't see themselves doing anything else.

Back to the Future

Clearly, starting a business in 1997 is much different than starting a business in 2009. We were curious about the challenges of starting again. Nellie was very open about several challenges that confronted CorpNet in 2009. But clearly, she's pushed past all of them!

  • The Recession. 2009 was the height of the recession in the U.S. so this alone made growing a small business challenging.
  •  Saturated marketplace. In the 12 years that had past between the two businesses, many companies very similar to the Akalps had sprung up.
  • Fierce Competition. Not only were the Akalps competing with their old company, but with thousands of competitors offering similar services as them in the much busier online business space.

The Benefits of Starting in 2009

  • No barrier to entry. With Google, social networks, and a plethora of online business tools, there's no barrier to entry to getting started with an online business. The landscape was much different in 1997 when just getting a website up was much more challenging and expensive.
  • Clear Vision. Having already grown a similar business, the Akalps had a clear vision for where they wanted to go. They weren't distracted by shiny objects but stayed the course.
  • Social Media. 2009 was around the birth of the social media era. The Akalps didn't have nearly as many tools to reach and connect with their audience online in 1997. Now, they can market their business in a variety of ways, and they've chosen to be very savvy with social media.
  • Content Marketing. Nellie markets CorpNet primarily by putting out a ton of content around their niche. She's branded herself as a small business expert, and she continuously puts out extremely helpful content for her audience of potential customers. People being to know, like, and trust Nellie before they ever pick up the phone.
  • Stand Out. Nellie believes that there's plenty of business to go around for everybody. Just because you're entering a saturated market doesn't mean you have a barrier to entry. Look at the market and figure out how you can differentiate yourself to stand out from everybody else.

More than a Million Reasons to be Proud

We love to get inside the heads of the mamapreneurs we interview to find out what makes them tick. Out of everything they've accomplished, what are they most proud of?

Nellie found it difficult to pinpoint just one thing considering everything she's done over the past 18 years, but she cited more than a million great reasons to be proud. Her company was acquired at an early age - Nellie was just 31 years old at the time, and she and her husband had built that company to be so successful that they became multi-millionaires when they sold it.

(Yep, I'd say building a company to that level - along with helping many entrepreneurs along the way is certainly something to be proud of!)

Nellie's Hilarious Mom Moment

Start-up Mom Nellie Akalp with her husband and four kids

Nellie's 4 year-old had us cracking up with one of her funny misunderstandings about how the world works. Seriously, this story is just too good! Tune in to hear it!

Find Nellie's Business Online
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Direct download: Episode2010220Nellie20Akalp_mixdown20final.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:25am EST