Having a Sale is NOT the Answer

In the decade+ that I've been obsessed with businesses, I've seen a lot. One thing that I've witnessed, and shamefully even participated in, is the disease that is "having a sale."

I know, I know. It's such a great idea! Let's have a sale every Friday. It's July, let's have a summer sale. I just got my nails done, let's do a discount!

It's infectious, nasty, and downright not the answer.

What's wrong with having a sale?

When done innocently, sparingly, and with good intentions, nothing is wrong with having a sale. However, this is rarely the drive behind having a sale

Having lots of sales devalues your products/services, and your business.

'Tis the truth. When I see a small creative business constantly offering discounts and free products, my first thought is that they're really hurting for sales. You don't want to convey this message to your potential customers! You want them to think you're not hurting. That you're worth what you're asking.

Pity sells aren't as numerous as actual sells. And you aren't as proud of them either.

People will never buy your products at full price

I have a sneaking feeling you have a business that just popped into your mind. For me, I think of Hobby Lobby. Those weekly sale sheets used to be weekly holy grails to me. I would wake up every Sunday, check the website, and plan my Hobby Lobby trip for the week. I even learned their pattern. It was sad.

But, I never bought anything at full price. I knew that if I just held off another week or two, then the jewelry pliers would go on sale and I could buy them at 40% off.

Sure! This doesn't put Hobby Lobby out of business, but what does this do to an indie business who has trained their customers in the same way? Not pretty things, my friend.

(Also, I've quit my Hobby Lobby addiction and been clean for years. Thank you for your concern.)

This is also true when you lower your prices just to draw in new customers. Their first impression is that your product will only be worth the discount that they're paying, and many will expect and ask for a discount on a later purchase. And we all know how much we seriously hate that.

It's all in THE NUMBERS

All too often I hear of some creative business owner having a sale to increase their profits for the month. Not a good way to go. Let me break it down for you. I'm going to create a fictitious business and show you what happens:

Emmarie Flemmarie LLC has a gross revenue of $1000 per month selling her awesome flawesomes. Flawesomes are $25 to make, and Emmarie sells them for $50. Each month she sells 20 flawesomes.

For illustration's sake, we'll pretend she has no overhead expenses and gets to keep the $25 profit for each, making her monthly profit $500, which she spends on paper, so there's none in savings (why do I fear some of you can relate? :-D).

On June 1st she gets an evil IRS bill for $1000, which is due on July 1st.

She decides to have a sale of 25% off to really get the product pushed, lure in new customers, and super glues her fingers crossed to make sure good luck is on her side.

By dropping the flawesome's price from $50 to $37.50, she has reduced her profit by 50%. She will now only get to keep $12.50 from each flawesome sold.

She will have to sell 80 flawesomes to pay her $1000 IRS bill. That's 60 more than usual.

By offering her goods at a sale price of 25% off, to double her usual profits she has to sell FOUR TIMES AS MANY as usual. In one month.

Good luck.

ALTERNATIVELY

Instead of having a sale, Emmarie decides to raise her prices by $5. Five bucks is menial enough that it probably won't deter any customers, but can really provide a boost.

Now, Emmarie's profit on each flawesome is $30. A total of 34 flawesomes must be sold to reach her goal of $1000 profit. That's only 14 more than her usual 20, and is way more doable than 60 more.

Emmarie spends a bit of extra time sending out newsletters, pitching her products to bloggers, and - bazanga! - Emmarie pays the IRS.

Take that, Man.

This same thing can be used in any situation where you may need to boost your profits, whether it be to pay extra expenses, or maybe even just make your paycheck a little more hefty. Raising your prices a couple of little dollars will be much more effective than having any type of sale.

WHEN IS A SALE A GOOD IDEA?

When you are rewarding your loyal customers. Period.

Offering a discount for return customers or newsletter subscribers, or - my favorite - holding an annual (or semi-annual) sale with the goal of rewarding customers, is the only times you should ever discount your items.

Think of Victoria's Secret. Those panty-lovers are notorious for not ever having discounts on their bras. Except, that is, for their semi-annual sales.

They're far enough apart that if I have a serious brassiere malfunction, I will definitely go pay full price for one of their boob-holders, which is the only brand I have worn since I worked there in early college. However, they're close enough together that, if I can stand it, I will wait until January or June to go stock up on a sixth month's supply of undies.

Why? Because, in a sneaky marketing way, they are thanking me for being a loyal customer, and I can respect that.

Ok, I can just hear you now: "But lots of people shop at Victoria's Secret during the sales who aren't loyal customers!" Well, that's just a great side-effect of having a sale, huh?

On a more personal side (ha! what's more personal that my choice of undergarments!), I did this same thing for my first business, a tanning salon I owned and ran right after I quit that job a Victoria's Secret.

Right after I took over, and again on the anniversary, I had a Customer Appreciation Weekend. It was a tanning party, of sorts. I sent out mail to all the current and old clients, I put fliers up around the college, and I had a weekend of discounts, free stuff, and potential skin cancer. And I. Made. Bank.

What this did was let my customers know that I was thinking about them and wanted to reward them for being there. I also wanted to let old customers know that new things were going on in the salon. And, yes, it was a chance for me to lure in new customers. But, it was well thought out, available for only a short time, and - my friends - it built loyalty. Which will be more fruitful than a weekly BOGO sale.

As long as a sale's sole purpose is not for you to make money or move product, then I can respect that. It should be about thanking your customers.

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Testimonials Sell

In the world of online business, where customers and clients don't get to hold your products or meet you face-to-face over a cozy cocktail, you have to be very discerning with how you use the written word to communicate the quality of your goods and services.

You can give your products clever, eye-catching names. You can have a website that oozes professionalism. You can use your social media to show that you have some serious chops.

In fact, all of those are great ideas, but there's another that will have a massive outcome like no other.

Testimonials.

Testimonials are content gold for showing potential buyers that what you're offering is worth what you're asking.

It doesn't matter if you're selling lip balm or coaching services, dispersing any hesitations a potential customer may have by sharing the feedback of someone who's already experienced the awesomeness of your product or service works is one of the most effective ways to turn a looker into a buyer.

Period.

TO-DO FOR YOU:
Revisit your website and sprinkle testimonials everywhere - on your home page and about page, on your sales pages and product descriptions. Use them in your newsletters.

Don't have any or need more? Ask your customers or clients for feedback! Then use them!

This content was first delivered to my email list on 8/11/16. To receive posts like this from me first, sign up here.

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My Brand's Headquarters

I love doing business online. It lends some serious flexibility to my life and work that I couldn't get if I were strapped down to a store.

But, even if you have a brick-and-mortar store, doing business online is a have-to these days.

And, either way, having your business online opens the door to unlimited possibilities for where your brand should live online.

For me, I decided long ago to set up my brand's headquarters online in a stand-alone website.

When I began my life as a web designer, my headquarters was actually an Etsy shop, where I listed my services and attracted my customers. But, as a web designer, having your own website is pretty mandatory, so my decision was pretty much made for me. I had to have a website.

My decision was particularly easy to make, and I've created my headquarters around some serious strategy over the years, giving me my current website, that I'm honestly pretty freakin' in love with.

My headquarters does everything that I want it to do, for a couple of reasons:

  1. I know exactly what I want my headquarters to accomplish for me.
  2. I planned my navigation and functionality out to do just that.
  3. I executed. (Instead of putting it off until this or that happened; you know what I'm sayin'?)

Getting a true headquarters for your business isn't hard, you just need a plan. Well, a plan, and some execution.

TO-DO FOR YOU:
The plan for your online presence begins with your headquarters. Take a good look at where your business calls home on the web, and determine whether or not it's actually serving your business the way you would like for it to.

GET IT FOR FREE: Indie Headquarters, a free email ecourse to help you get you online home (your website!) in tip-top shape.

This content was first delivered to my email list on 4/24/14. To receive posts like this from me first, sign up here.

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Give It All Away

One of the smartest things I've ever done in my business is launched support and educational services for free.

Yup, free.

On one hand you may find this concept super counter-intuitive: how does giving stuff away for free help a business? (And by business I mean working for money and profit.)

It's simple: proof and a greater purpose.

For me, when I record a podcast or do a free coaching session or write a newsletter, I just want to connect with other creatives, and give them a bit of guidance. I never considered the positive repercussions that would come from me giving away a bit of my time each month.

I gained friends, clients, perspective. I gained insight, blog topics, and I gained experience.

My free offerings are my favorite things that I do in my business.

With free offerings you get to prove your expertise. I give you bits of my knowledge and experience at no monetary cost to you, and in doing so I get to prove that I know what I'm talking about when it comes to launching a growing a creative business.

Giving my brain-bits away for free is the foundation on which I have built my business(es), and I keep that at the forefront of my business planning always.

And, I like you. I want to share with you. What can you share with others?

GET IT FOR FREE: Indie Headquarters, a free email ecourse to help you get you online home (your website!) in tip-top shape.

This content was first delivered to my email list on 6/3/14. To receive posts like this from me first, sign up here.

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5 Elements Ecommerce Website Should Have

As a once web designer, I am a website snob, and I've learned to look for elements of an eCommerce website that make it good. At least good in my eyes.

The following 5 things make sites user-friendly, effective sales tools, and they make for a happy designer/developer. Check it.

1. Strong - but not annoying - use of 'calls to action.'

Shop now! Sign up! Tweet!

Those are calls to action. They prompt a user to - you guessed it - act. They initiate involvement, and end in results, whether it be sharing, capturing information, or making a sell.

Good use of these calls will have the desired effect: you get what you are asking for. Bad use of calls will get you nothing but the lonesome sound of crickets. No one likes to be chased around a store by a salesperson. The same goes for your website.

The line between good and bad is a fine one indeed. Are you holding their hand in friendly guidance, or pushing them over the edge? This is where testing comes in. Try different uses. Maybe for 3 weeks you test out one scheme on your homepage for promoting your newsletter. If it doesn't work, move it to your blog. Try things out to see what works best for reaching out to and encouraging your audience.

2. Make your contact information crystal clear.

Nothing makes me want to pull my hair out more, or at least shop somewhere else, if a site does not have very specifically outlined modes of communication. Customer service inquiry? Call here! General comments? Email here!

Not big enough to have multiple points of contact? Not a problem! Just be up front about how your customers need to contact you if they have a question or comment.

And don't forget about the gloriousness of contact forms. They greatly improve the user experience, and that, my friends, is a very good thing.

3. Have shop policies, and stick to your guns.

Oh, me. Seeing a wonderful eCommerce site with an absence of policies makes me want to call them up and give them an "oh, honey..." speech.

Shop policies offer mutual protection between owner and customer. Very important. They make your customer trust you and they save you from getting screwed over. Very important.

Your shop policies should at least include your policies on shipping, returns (refunds/exchanges), and privacy. If you offer gift cards, clearly post policies for use and expiration. This should be the bare minimum; please feel free to protect yourself and your customers further if needed.

And it just makes you look legit, which you are, but no one knows unless you put it out there.

4. Have smashing photography.

Websites are visual. This is kind of a given, but still isn't taken seriously enough. So, let me reiterate.

Have. Smashing. Photography.

If you don't have the money to hire a photographer, then take the time to learn some awesome skills yourself. (Or just save up and hire a photographer.) Your photography should never be put on the back burner, it should be front and center, and totally freaking awesome.

5. If you have restrictive payment options, state so before customers are ready to checkout.

If you only take Google Checkout (or some other obscure payment processor), state that you do elsewhere on your site, like the footer. Few things annoy me more than filling my cart just to find out that I can't pay right away because I'm not a member of Goodness-Knows-What Payment Processor Online 2000. I will never finish that purchase.

Granted, this is less and less of an issue, as most folks are seeing the light and sticking with either credit card processing or Paypal, both of which are more used than dollar bills these days. However, if you do use an odd processor, let us know ASAP. Better yet, switch to a more common processor.

Conclusion

Being a web snob - yup, I'm making that an official compound word - has taught me a good many do's and don't's of good website design. It makes me a better designer, and it ensures that the websites that I design will hold up to my high standards at least. Well, I hope. And I can share this information with you, so put it into practice!

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3 Steps to Combatting Brain Fog

I am constantly battling a foggy brain. Running two businesses, working from home with a homeschool kid, and trying to be boss in all that I do means that I have a lot going on in my brain at any given time, making brain fog is a constant battle.

How do you continually expand what you do, while at the same time focusing in and being mindful of your one action at a time?

Well, I'm on a daily road to figure that out. I'm not 100% fog-free, but I certainly manage pretty well.

Here's how I defog to help me get things done:

1 - I write it all down.

If I'm feeling really fuzzy it's often because I have too much stuff bumping around in my brain. I'm trying to do the dishes, but I'm thinking about that email I need to write, that edit that just came in from a client, and what's for dinner. It's a mess.

To combat this, I put pen to paper.

I write down everything that needs to get done, from tasks for myself to things that need to be delegated. Once I don't have to worry about remembering it, my brain's freed up to focus on the task at hand.

[Check out Getting Started with a Bullet Journal]

2 - I wind down.

The more I hop from one task to the other, the more jumbled my brain gets. When I can pause between tasks, or especially between sections in my day, the easier it is for me to switch gears from work to mom, or from entertaining to sleeping.

Sometimes wind down time is a game of Two Dots on my phone, or taking a moment to read a book.

It's a bit of alone time between activities to decompress from whatever I was just doing, and prepare myself for what's to come. It makes a world of difference.

3 - I don't eat gluten.

And I probably should ditch sugar, too. But, chocolate.

After I did a Whole30 or two I became painfully aware of how my diet was affecting my brain, and I realized that gluten was killing my ability to focus (and causing serious inflammation, too). Now my family and I are 95% gluten-free, and focus on going whole months at a time without eating any.

I've found that gluten certainly affects my brain's ability to focus, and once you feel the difference, it will be hard to go back.

TO-DO FOR YOU:
Identify the things in your life that are muddying up your brain and begin scratching them out.

This content was first delivered to my email list on 5/12/16. To receive posts like this from me first, sign up here.

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Your Wolf Pack

Sometimes I look around and am amazed - not by what I’ve accomplished in the last few years - but who I’ve gotten to accomplish it with.

The folks that I have cultivated in my pack - my wolf pack, as I like to call them - are pretty cool cats, if you can stand the juxtaposition there.

From my employees and partners, to the clients that I now call friends, and the randos (millennial for “random people”) who have become dear friends and peers, both in my business and in my “real life,” my wolf pack is full of superstars. They’re seriously rad people who are killing it in their own way.

When I can look around at the people around me and see badass bosses aiming for their first million-dollar-year (and totally have it in sight), growing businesses with heart and passion and meaning, starting and growing families, making differences in their communities - online and off, and doing shit that they love, I can’t help but be in awe of each of them. Because they rock my socks.

And because they’re so awesome, it makes me want to be more awesome, too.

They’re also the folks that see my awesomeness as well, and they appreciate me as much as I appreciate them. Every boss needs people like that in their lives.

Cultivating a pack around you that uplifts you is imperative for long-term success, and happiness in doing this independent, online business thing. We all know it can get lonely.

So, how did I start my pack?

Unintentionally, but apparently with an open heart.

Each person in my pack came to me at the right time, either by commenting on a post, shooting me an email, or hiring me (or sometimes me hiring them).

I didn’t wake up one day and say, “I want a wolf pack; time to go a-hunting!” I just wake up every day and am open to whatever comes my way, and in several instances, it's just what I need. It’s just what we all need.

Qualities I like in pack members:

  • they’re great listeners
  • they share their struggles openly, no shame in their game
  • they also share and celebrate their wins, because wins are more important than the icky stuff
  • they make chatting with you a priority, because they value your relationship
  • they’re good/smart/rad people, but are also aware of - and not ashamed of - their shortcomings

Basically, pack members are the kinds of people you like chatting with. They are valuable to you, and you can give them value as well, either as a business relationship, or as a dear friend - and sometimes, when you’re lucky - but also kinda careful, they’re both.

Cultivating your pack is what can help you reach your next level. Be open to inviting them in.

TO-DO FOR YOU:
Connect (or reconnect) with someone who’s made a positive impact on you, big or small. Reach out to someone you admire and request a Skype date. Show up, and be open to the relationship that could grow from it.

This content was first delivered to my email list on 2/4/16. To receive posts like this from me first, sign up here.

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3 Musts for a Website that Supports You

As the resident website pro, I know a thing or two about how to make your website really work for you. To dive in, let's look at this from two sides:

In one scenario of the online business, your website is just a pretty thing that you pay hosting for.

If you're this person then you probably feel like your website is a waste of money and you're probably feeling like you're not doing this online business thing right.

In the other scenario, your website runs like a well-oiled machine, capturing leads, delivering metrics that help you make decisions, and does a lot of your work for you.

If you're this person, your website delivers a positive return on investment, you're spending your day doing more of what you love, and you're on your way to online success.

What's the difference between the two? Proper setup, automation, and systemization.

PROPER SETUP

If your website is properly set up, then it's helping you reach your goals. Did you set goals when you embarked on the setup of your website? Did you keep them top-of-mind as you planned, implemented, and launched?

Here's how you can see:

  • What do I want my website to do for me?
    Capture leads, sell products, share content?
  • Does my website support my needs?
    Are there clear calls-to-action, subscribe forms, navigation, easy purchasing?

If it doesn't support your basic needs, then it's not supporting your business, and you have some adjustments that you need to make.

AUTOMATION

The beauty of doing business online is that here - in this online space - we get to work smarter, not harder. We're not managing a brick-and-mortar, dealing with distracting foot traffic, or worrying about the overhead of "just having your lights on." Instead, you have a website to manage, and it's capable of doing so much more work all on it's own.

Did you know that your email subscribe box can be an automatic sales funnel? How about the fact that you can auto-follow-up with purchases to gain feedback? Or what about automating client onboarding to get someone from interested to buying without you lifting a finger?

Taking some time to learn about automations and how the services you're already using can be actually used to make your life easier could completely change how you spend your work day. For the better.

SYSTEMIZATION

After you post a blog post, what do you do?

  • You post it on social media.
  • You add it to your weekly email content wrap-up.
  • You add it to your social media automation so it never really dies.

That's a system.

What do you do after a potential client contacts you?

  • You set them up with a meeting.
  • You send them a get-to-know-me PDF.
  • You add them to your CRM.

That's a system. (Most of which can be automated, FYI.)

Follow-up the hard work that your website does for you with solid systemization that makes your job easy, and turns those initial actions into ongoing success. It's a process you do every. single. time. so that you're always on top of your stuff.

Many times this systemization is the missing piece.

If you're not systemizing the business around your website, you're not using your website, and it can't support you.

TO-DO FOR YOU:
Revisit your website and see what changes you can make to better position your website to work for you.

This content was first delivered to my email list on 5/19/16. To receive posts like this from me first, sign up here.

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How to Share Your Expertise

You know it to be true: you're one smart cookie.

You have skills you want to share with the world. You want to share your art, your experience, your passion.

You have worked hard to cultivate an expertise, and are building a business around it.

But how do you share your expertise? How do you let the world know that you're here, ready to serve and deliver?

There are a number of things that I truly love about the internet. One of them is that you get access to a bajillion people really, really easily. So, the opportunity is there, and I'll let you know some of my favorite ways to share with them what you've got going down.

1 - Guest posting.

If you're looking to grow your list, increase your traffic, and share your knowledge nuggets and you're not guest posting, then you haven't taken step number one. Take it.

Guest posting doesn't mean that you have to become a blogger, but it does mean that you put together some really rad blog posts for other peoples' blogs.

2 - Free coaching mini-sessions.

I started doing these years ago without even knowing it was a thing (hello, business intuition) under the moniker of 3-in-30 sessions.

I release these free coaching sessions to my list to help nurture my subscribers, and both the people who get coached and myself take a ton out of them. I'm stretching my expertise muscles, sharing it with some willing participants, gaining content ideas, and have even converted a couple into paying clients.

3 - Host a webinar.

I know that hosting a webinar can seem really intimidating. I was scared to death the first time I hosted a webinar, but now it's one of my favorite things that I do.

Once you get over the hump of planning and implementing, you'll see all the blatant benefits that come from sharing your expertise in this way.

You'll grow your list, position yourself as an expert, be in it as an online entrepreneur, gain tons of insight into the kinds of content your people are interested in, and nurture your tribe to make it easy for them to trust you and your expertise.

This content was first delivered to my email list on 7/21/16. To receive posts like this from me first, sign up here.

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Being a creative entrepreneur is hard work. You have so much to create and do. Clients to make happy. Orders to fill. A world to change.

But to make the impact you want, you also have to be good at business. You have to fill the entrepreneur role of being a creative entrepreneur.

For some of us that comes easily. For others doing business is like pulling teeth. For most of us, it’s a place in between.

Invoicing. Emailing. Taxes. Analytics. It can be overwhelming, but that's just a call for you to level-up. I want to share some tips with you for being a badass entrepreneur. Tips that will help you turn your creative passion into a profitable business - giving you the foundation to run your online business with confidence.

DO MATH

  • Your purpose comes from feelings, but business is math
  • Make more than you spend
  • Know your numbers - know how much you need to make to survive and thrive, including all your personal expenses and business expenses, plus savings goals
  • Use tools to make it easier, like YNAB, Freshbooks, Xero
  • Hire an accountant, especially if numbers make you want to vomit

FIND A MENTOR OR A COACH (OR A THERAPIST)

  • A mentor is someone you look up to, and can be free
  • A coach is someone you pay to help you accomplish something in your future
  • A therapist helps you deal with your past so that you can move forward
  • Find someone who will help you elevate your game
  • Paying for a mentor/coach/therapist is the extra insurance you need to insure that you’re actually going to do the work

LEARN TO MANAGE YOUR TIME

  • Track your time, so you know where you're spending your most precious resource
  • Adopt routines and healthy habits so that you're working smarter, not harder
  • Delegate the things you don't have to personally be doing, so you can put your energy into the things that have the most impact

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

  • Take care of your #1 employee
  • Eat well, sleep well, and move your body
  • You can’t provide great service to your clients or customers if you’re not in tip-top shape
  • I give you permission to be selfish

REACH OUT AND GROW YOUR CONNECTIONS

  • The longer I’m in this business, the more I realize it’s all about who you know
  • Make a list of 20 people you admire, and send them an email
  • Make staying in touch with your contacts a priority - schedule monthly Skype dates or email them often

ALWAYS BE INVESTING IN WAYS TO BETTER YOURSELF

  • Learn new things
  • Business online goes QUICKLY - if you aren’t staying in the know and improving your skills, you’re falling behind
  • Some ideas: free courses (opt-ins), paid subscriptions, coaches and programs, books

I know you feel the overwhelm. Websites are frustrating. A Twitter account that just hears crickets is disheartening. But doing business online doesn’t have to make you want to pull out your hair, and it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to do it.

In fact, I’m in favor of you keeping all of your body parts just as they are, because you’re going to need them to run your business.

Because here is what I know: creative entrepreneurs like you are the future.

We are reinventing our jobs and we’re blazing a trail. We’re making money, and we’re making an impact. You just have to have the foundation in your business and in your mindset to give you the confidence to make this work. And hopefully these tips will either put you on the right track, or allow you to pat yourself on the back for already being there.

- - - -

This content was first delivered to my email list on 9/29/16. To receive posts like this from me first, sign up here.

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