Biz Miss

Just another weblog

The Great Purge January 1, 2009

Happy New Year, everyone!  It’s almost noon here in Cali, and though I’m feeling a little worse for the wear, I’m also excited to begin a new year.  Being Jewish, I get to experience this excitement twice a year–at Rosh Hashanah, which I use as a time to reflect on my personal life and relationships, and on January 1st, as a time to reflect on my business, and other practical matters.

One of my favorite New Year’s traditions is The Great Purge.  Every year my husband and I go through the house, room by room, and take everything out of every drawer, closet and container.  We give/throw away what we no longer need, and clean and reorganize what we do need.

This tradition was born from Christmas.  We always finished up the holidays with bags of unwanted or duplicate gifts, and the gifts we wanted to keep, we didn’t have room for.  It therefore became necessary to purge the old to make way for the new.  Every year it seemed like we would be able to part with fewer and fewer of our carefully curated possessions, but in fact we end up with about the same amount of free shelf space every time.

The Great Purge is extremely therapeutic.  Every box we take to Goodwill feels like a great weight has been lifted.  Uncluttering my work and living space makes my mind feel similarly uncluttered.  I feel less stressed and sleep better at night.  I’m also able to work on larger goals without all the little stuff to get in my way.  With my house, files, and finances all perfectly in order, I feel ready and eager to tackle the year ahead.  After all, nothing inspires like a blank page.

Want to perform your own Great Purge?  The following resources can help you get started:

Good luck and happy purging!


My Distribution Deal November 10, 2008

This week I sucked it up and contacted a distributor.  I had been avoiding it for a long time because I didn’t think I could afford it.  After all, most distributors take about 20% of your wholesale price and I was doing fine on my own getting local stores to carry Sweet Meats.  I even had stores from other cities, states and countries contacting me about carrying my products.

But then I hit a wall.  I had a hard time finding stores outside of San Francisco that would be appropriate for Sweet Meats.  Those that I did find rarely responded to my cold calls (or cold e-mails) introducing my products.  Even those stores that contacted me weren’t responding when I followed up with line sheets and order forms.  I was spending many hours each week trying to drum up new wholesale business, which is only getting harder the more the economy tanks.

So I contacted a distributor.  For the past two years I’ve been getting his wholesale newsletters, so I know how hard he pushes for his clients.  He was also a customer of mine a couple of years ago and several of my sisters-in-plush use him, too, so I know he’s honest and reputable.  His 20% commission definitely takes a big bite out of my profits, but I figured I’d end up paying that much in warehouse storage before I sold everything anyway.

Our conversation was incredibly simple.  He already knows my products, and I already know his company, so there was little needed in the way of introductions.  What I didn’t know, however, is that his is not a drop-ship business.  He warehouses all of his clients’ inventory–for free!  This made the deal infinitely sweeter. I currently pay about $150/month for storage (it started higher, but has gone down as my inventory has decreased).  That means that I’m not losing any money at all on his commission for the first $750 in monthly sales.  I don’t know if such a set-up is the norm, but if I had known, I can tell you I would have called this distributor six months ago.

The lesson?  If you’ve just started your own line, there’s no harm in calling a few distributors and comparison-shopping.  There might be savings in the deal that offset an otherwise unafforable commission.  Now that I no longer have to worry about my wholesale accounts I can focus my time and energy on my retail business, which pays twice as much per sale.  Win-win!


Worth Its Weight: Things October 6, 2008

My husband is a productivity junkie.  Every week he likes to show off some new piece of software he’s found that will improve his daily work speed by nine seconds, and I usually just smile encouragingly and walk away.  Occasionally, however, I try out one of these tools, and this time, I have found one that I love: Things.

Things is a to-do list/task manager for Mac OSX by Cultured Code.  Now, there are a LOT of list-managing “solutions” out there, and I’ve tried many of them, but I always ended up going back to a disorganized paper list, because it was just too inconvenient and/or slow to use software.  With Things, however, I never use paper anymore.

One of the reasons Things is so convenient is that you can type in a to-do item without actually having to be in the Things application.  If I’m working in Photoshop, for example, and it reminds me of some product pictures I forgot to take, I can hit a particular keystroke and a little black box pops up.  I can then type, “Take product photos” in the box, hit the Enter/Return key and my item will end up in my Things inbox, where I can sort it later.  At no point do I have to switch out of Photoshop to do this, so there’s no delay in being able to get right back to work.  Since I type faster than I write, this process is actually faster than using pen and paper.

At a good stopping point in my day, I usually open up Things to sort my inbox.  Like in other programs, in Things you have the ability to create projects and due dates to house your to-do items, but the most wonderful and brilliant thing about Things is that you can use tags as well.  Whats so great about tags?  It means you can sort your items by any category that is meaningful to you.  In most other programs, you can sort items by priority, due date, person responsible, etc.  All the usual office categories.  But by creating your own tags, you can sort items by where they occur, how long they take, or how fun they are.  For example, maybe you run most errands in three different places: your local main street, the street near your work, and the big box strip mall two towns over.  You can tag the errands you need to run with “local errand,” “work errand” or “mall errand.”  Then, the next time you are headed to any of those three places, you can click on that tag and all of the errands you can do in that place pop up.  Print your list and you’ll never again kick yourself for forgetting something while you were out.

But maybe you don’t have time to “Buy a new dishwasher,” even though it’s on your “mall errand” list. If you’ve also tagged your items with the time they take, you’re good to go!  Just click on both the “mall errand” tag and (while holding down the Shift key) the “5 min” tag, and you’ll get only those items you can do at the mall in five minutes or less.  Sweet!  By using tags, you can create and sort a list based on how you already live and work, rather than having to adjust the way you think in order to fit into some software company’s idea of what is the best way to organize your life.

Things has many other great features, such as an automatically generated “Today” list, based on your due dates, reminders and recurring tasks.  Really, the only big drawback of Things is that it only works on Apple products, like Macs and iPhones.  If you use a PC or are planning to get a Google phone that uses Android, you are S.O.L. my friends.  The developers have said that they are not going to release a version of Things for these other platforms anytime soon.  For the rest of us Mac-only users, Things will remain free of charge until MacWorld, when it goes from beta to full release.  At that point it will cost $39 for early adopters, and $49 for everyone else, which is still much cheaper than your average Filofax.


Back in Business August 31, 2008

Filed under: Time Management — bizmiss @ 10:55 pm
Tags: , ,

Well, it’s finally over. I’m a married lady, back from my honeymoon, carrying with me a ton of freckles and a little souvenir from Montezuma. The wedding was wonderful. I was terribly worried about everything, having DIYed most of it, but it turned out even better than I could have imagined. There were a ton of things that went “wrong” (the lawn games were canceled due to swarms of mosquitoes, all the decorations were completely different than planned, no one danced, the glass of wine for the ceremony was missing, dessert was so late that only half the guests got any, and both shuttles broke down, leaving many guests stranded for hours) but there was so much damned love in the place, we all had an amazing time and I will never forget it.

It’s been so long since I worked on anything other than this wedding, that my sister said to me yesterday: “I’m really sorry to ask you this, but it’s been so long, I forgot: what exactly do you do, again? I mean, for a job?” I answered: “I run my business. It’s just sort of been coasting along these last few months, but my priorities now are sending new prototypes to the manufacturer, putting up the new site, putting together a press kit for the holiday press blitz, catching up on my bookkeeping…” and then I heard myself trail off, because the list in my head was getting too long to say out loud and I was starting to have palpitations.

These last few months I had intended to comment insightfully on how I was balancing my business with my wedding, sprinkling in some witty commentary about traditional gender roles along the way. But the truth is, I didn’t balance anything. The wedding was a 70-hour-per-week job for a solid ten weeks and it simply took over. Eighty of our closest friends and family members were traveling between 2000-5000 miles to see us get married and by God, I was going to make it worth the trip. Originally, my husband (!) had said he wanted to split the wedding planning 50/50, but after the save-the-dates went out, that sort of went out the window. Sometimes I got him to help out by throwing minor tantrums, but since he was making more money than I was, it made the most sense financially for me to handle everything and let him keep working.

In the end, it was all worth it and I regret nothing. Though I was nervous about relegating such a new business to the back burner, it was good in some ways. For one thing, it gave me some distance. Since I wasn’t mired in stressful, time-sensitive details like following up with stores, or programming shopping carts, I was able to look at the bigger picture and re-prioritize my goals. I even signed up for a business plan class at the SBA, so I can learn to lay out my goals in a clear and productive way. It also allowed us to have a wedding that was deeply personal, relatively inexpensive, and extremely memorable (hey, how many couples seat their guests at the “mountain lion,” “mudslide,” or “highway 1” table?). As an added bonus, we got to include new items in our portfolios. My husband added the “California Perils” table sculptures to his art portfolio, and I added the invitations to my product design portfolio (their printing, naturally, was a “business expense”).

Sadly, I can offer very little advice to other betrothed Biz Misses. Just bear in mind the equation, “time equals money” and know that a wedding, not matter how small, will require a lot of one or the other. Get enough sleep, even if that requires half an Ambien, and when your loved ones say, “let me know if there’s anything I can do to help,” take them up on it.


Biz Miss Math: Time = Money July 20, 2008

Time equals money. We’ve all heard the axiom. The problem is, it’s not a precise equation. There’s a coefficient missing. It should really read:

Time = A x Money

with A being some positive rational number. You see, one of the trickiest balancing acts for me in business has been figuring out when it is more beneficial for me to spend time, and when to spend money. Most of the contract work I do these days (when it doesn’t involve new designs), I do for about $30/hour. Since I have neither time nor money to spare, I figure that anything that works out to less than this rate is worth purchasing rather than doing myself. For example, I recently sourced out the screen printing of my t-shirts.

Printing t-shirts is not difficult for me to do, and I already have all of the materials, but it still works out to be cheaper overall to have them printed by another company. Mostly this is because every t-shirt needs to be ironed three times: once to get out the wrinkles before printing, and then once again on each side of the shirt to heat set the ink. This takes about ten minutes per shirt overall. At my pay rate that’s $5 a shirt. At Babylon Burning, however, it costs $1.25 per shirt at twelve dozen shirts. Therefore, when it comes to screen printing,

Time = 4 x Money

You see, I have many more profitable things I can do with my time than run my own little t-shirt printing factory. Ten full hours spent making sales calls, sending out press releases, and developing new products ultimately puts my business further ahead than the $180 I had to spend.


Keeping Stress out of the Bedroom July 6, 2008

I realize it’s been an inexcusably long time since I last posted anything. I have probably lost all of you to disappointment and summer, but as busy as I am lately, I will try my best to keep this resource growing, albeit slower than I would like.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m getting married (in exactly six weeks). When my fiancé and I first got engaged a year ago, he swore he wanted to handle half of the planning. He said it was because we should have equal ownership in our wedding, the way we will have equal ownership in our marriage. I thought that made sense and was happy he felt that way. But, as a freelancer, my husb-what can’t predict when his heavier workloads will hit. The latest one hit about six weeks ago and I’ve been on my own in wedding planning ever since.

I had no idea how much work it takes to plan a one-evening event. It takes up all of my time each and every day. I haven’t spent more than an hour or two a WEEK on my business and I’m starting to feel trapped inside post-war gender roles.

Two nights ago I had a nervous breakdown in bed. I suddenly realized that I had wasted over a full month of my life on a wedding that is turning out nothing like the casual family barbecue/picnic we had originally envisioned. In fact, it is looking suspiciously like my mother’s dream wedding–the one she never got to have, and which, I am convinced, she is subtly forcing me to plan via ESP and Jewish guilt. I freaked out so badly I couldn’t sleep until dawn, at which point I dreamed we missed our flight and couldn’t go on our honeymoon.

That night spent hyperventilating in the dark was the third night in a row I didn’t sleep because I was stressed out over the wedding. So I began to try some strategies to help me calm down:

  1. Talking it out: this only works if the person you’re talking to understands what you need when you’re stressed out, and is not too stressed out him- or herself to really focus on you. It helped, but it wasn’t a cure.
  2. Decompression: I tried doing no work after 9pm, then no work after 8pm. No dice. The only night I slept peacefully was when I stopped working in the afternoon, then filled the night with “Ocean’s 13” on DVD and a roll in the hay. Lesson? Stop early and occupy both body and mind until bedtime.
  3. Making lists: Part of what I stress out about is inadvertently overlooking something, so I am a compulsive list-maker. Things would probably be worse if I didn’t have my lists, but they don’t relieve enough anxiety to let me sleep.
  4. Crowding out brain space: During an episode of Radio Lab I heard about a study in which subjects were given various tasks before they went to sleep, to see which ones penetrated their dreams most often. The big winners? Tetris and video game skiing. I thought doing a couple of hours of jigsaw puzzles at night would do the trick but it didn’t, so today we bought a Nintendo Wii.
  5. Drinking warm milk: Yup, I tried this one, too. It’s soothing while you drink it, but milk doesn’t stand a chance against full-blown anxiety.

I have not been testing these strategies scientifically. I have also only had one restful night of sleep this week, so I’m still looking for new ones. If you have any suggestions for leaving stress out of your bedroom, please share them in the comments.