Biz Miss

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Worth Its Weight: NWBC Town Hall Meeting November 7, 2008

Today I attended a San Francisco Town Hall Meeting sponsored by the National Women’s Business Council–an advisory council that reports to the offices of the President and Members of Congress the issues that women in small business face every day.  While it is obviously important to make your voice heard to your representatives in government, our concerns as small businesswomen could have been collected via e-mail or online survey.  Such a method might have gotten more more responses (today’s event was limited to 200 participants) and certainly would have cost a lot less than holding a full-day conference in a hotel.  But I’m glad the NWBC didn’t go this route and I’ll tell you why:

  1. Networking.  It’s true that as one speaker said today, “women love to help other women.”  I had many more people approach me wanting to offer advice or moral support than wanting referrals or publicity.
  2. Resource sharing.  I have four pages of notes filled with nothing but the names of web sites, organizations and business services that other women at this event have used and can personally recommend.  I will be sorting through these in the next few days and reporting back which ones live up to the hype.
  3. Brainstorming.  I can come up with several issues I confront every day about which my elected officials should be concerned, but there are also some I almost never think about that are nevertheless important.  One example: a woman in our break-out section on micro-business mentioned something about sustainability, which reminded me that sometimes I feel frustrated that there are no incentives for greening home-based businesses.
  4. Sharing ideas directly.  I was able to speak directly to a member of the NWBC about my green home-office issue and she told me that this was an issue on which immediate steps could be taken, and would therefore be sure to bring to Senators John Kerry and Olympia Snowe of the Senate Small Business Committee.  Wow!  Also, an outreach member of the I.R.S. listened to me gripe about their web site: that the completeness of available information was excellent but that it is extremely difficult to navigate or search.  She recommended I use Publication 910 (her professed favorite) to find a list of the I.R.S.’s free resources for small businesses, and a full index of their other publications.  I suggested that this publication be made visible in the Small Business section of the web site, and while I was I surprised that she seemed suprised by this suggestion, she nevertheless thanked me for it and said she’d pass it along.  You just can’t beat direct results, folks.

Sure, the NWBC could have conducted an electronic survey, or just directed us Biz Misses to Obama’s new web site, but even in this age of online sales and networking, there is still no substitute for being in the company of your sisters.

p.s.  If you didn’t a get chance to attend one of their Town Hall meetings, you can e-mail the NWBC at info@nwbc.gov with your concerns.  There are only four women in the office, so they will read your message and get back to you.

 

Useful Web Resources: Coroflot March 25, 2008

The other day, my good friend Eleanor over at The Present Group sent me a link to the post “Eight Things They Never Taught You About Networking”  on Coroflot’s “Creative Seeds” blog.  That post, and indeed, that entire blog, is a useful web resource in and of itself, but coroflot.com has a lot more to offer.  Now, I realize that many designers, especially if you went to design school, already know about this site, but I think it may actually be most useful to those of us without the benefit of a “career services” office.

Coroflot.com is a one-stop shopping clearinghouse for those longing to be part of the design industry.  You can create an online portfolio (really great if you don’t have the skills or funds to create your own web site), search for jobs, and create or join groups based upon shared interests, training or geography.  In other words, you can find a job you want, network with someone at the company and show them your work all in one place.  I started drooling a little over the posting for Chronicle Books’ semi-annual fellowships today.  Other useful things on Coroflot include the 2007 Design Salary Survey and Coroflot Magazine, which regularly features work from online members.

Tip: To keep your portfolio at the top of the stack, update it a little every day.

 

Inexpensive Marketing and Promotion (Part 4) December 12, 2007

And finally….

Swag bags: (Cost: ~25 cents per bag) Swag (a.k.a. schwag, freebies, giveaways, promos) are small promotional items you donate to attendees of an event. They range from the cheesy pens given away at auto sales to the luxury swag bags containing diamond watches and designer perfume given to presenters at the Oscars. Most trade or craft shows will solicit swag from their exhibitors to give to the earliest or biggest buyers, but there are other places to give away swag, too. Some businesses include a piece of swag with every order. Some set up giveaway or raffle tables at block parties or other neighborhood events, and some others just pass them out on well-trafficked street corners. There are even swag subscription companies like The Sampler, who will send your stuff out to folks who love free stuff so much, they’ll pay for it!

I’m personally a fan of swag that is cheap and does double-duty as advertisements, like stickers and buttons. You can produce a gagillion of either for relatively little money, and if your sticker or button has an awesome image on it (in addition to your company’s name or web site), you can get lots of people to do your marketing for you, giving you real bang for your buck. You can certainly go with less conventional media, like barrettes or zipper pulls, but the key is to get the most number of people to notice your brand for the least money possible.

When it comes to freebies, I like to stick to giving them away to friends and paying customers. These are the people who are the most likely to put your swag to good use, because they either already love you, or love your stuff. Also, in my experience, I have found that the best way to get people to not buy any of your merchandise is to put free stuff out on the table.

Coupons and Discounts: (Cost: possible printing costs, discounts people actually use) Coupons and discounts are tricky things. On the one hand, they can often be that extra little push between considering an item and actually buying it. On the other hand, you don’t want to overuse them or people will think you are having a hard time getting people to buy your stuff.

I sell very specific and unusual gift items, so the rules that apply to my business may not apply to yours, but here’s what works for me: I find that coupons work best for limited times, such as a semi-annual sale when you are discontinuing old merchandise and releasing new designs, or to get people from your mailing list to come to a show or event. Other good coupons are the ones you give to customers with their completed order, which encourages them to become repeat buyers.

As far as discounts go, I find that quantity discounts are the best kind there are. I used to sell (and will probably sell again soon) a “meat medley,” which was a collection of my three most popular plush designs, discounted to $80 from $84. It was a savings of less than 5% but I sold more of those collections than of any individual toy.

And that’s all she wrote.  Of course, there are other inexpensive ways to promote yourself, like having a web site, leaving postcards in neighborhood haunts, and going to networking events but this list is already four posts long, so perhaps I’ll save those for another time. If you have any other ideas that you’d like me to add or expand upon, please let me know in an e-mail or comment.  Happy hawking!