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How much ink has been spilled writing about marketing for small business? As small businesses with limited resources, we are constantly trying to find ways to creatively stretch our budgets to reach as many customers as we can. If you’ve had a chance to glance at our book, Mom Inc., you’ll know that we’re huge fans of PR for small businesses because there are a lot of creative things you can do that don’t have to cost a ton of money.

This week, U.S. discount retailer Target delivered a master class in creative PR by setting up shop in Toronto…for a few hours.

Fifteen hundred shoppers flocked to the pop-up shop to scoop up cheap fashions and meet Vancouver-born designer (and couturier to Michelle Obama) Jason Wu.

Not slated to hit Canadian soil for another year, Target came up with the pop-up idea to promote brand awareness and generate some hype. In the world of PR, how clever was this idea? It was brilliant. There were line ups several hours before the doors opened and the event received national news coverage. (Mostly) women scrambled to snap up Wu-designed frocks. The sold out collection generated $60,000 in sales, all of which was donated to the United Way of Toronto. That’s a pretty darn good news story.

Clearly, most small businesses don’t have the kinds of budgets that would allow for the kind of splashy event that Target threw this week. But instead of being intimidated by this kind of marketing, let’s be inspired by it. Last year Canadian company Snugabye got creative by launching its adult Lounge Wear collection with a slumber party in a downtown hotel. And lots of companies are now hosting relatively low cost Tweet-ups to promote their brands.

So even though it may be hard to relate to the marketing budget of Tar-jay, they sure did teach us all a thing or two about clever marketing this week. Target managed to get us all talking about their store more than 12 months before they’ll be here. They are creating pent up demand in the market to ensure an explosive launch. What a great reminder about how it pays to think outside the box.

 

 

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, and a love-filled week, we’re introducing the first of our Mompreneurs We Love series. 

Now we love all mompreneurs, you understand, so let's start with one of our faves…

Mompreneur: Candace Alper

Company: Name Your Tune (www.nameyourtune.com)

What she does: Founded in 2003, Name Your Tune makes personalized CDs for kids. Think, “Little Charlie had a farm,” etc. The two volumes of CDs contain all your kids’ favourite songs, with their names inserted seamlessly right in the middle. Name Your Tune also has tons of other great personalized items for kids on its web site.

Why we love her: Name Your Tune CDs were huge hits with our kids. Many an hour was spent rocking out (okay, kids in the back of the car on the way to the sewer – but still, rocking out) to Candace’s compilations. Candace is also a mompreneurs’ mompreneur, if you know what we mean. She’s experienced all aspects of balancing a successful business and motherhood, she’s incredibly well connected (find her @NameYourTuneCDs) and knows everyone, and is a huge supporter of other entrepreneurial moms. We’re not the only ones who are fans, either: Babble.com picked her as one of their Top 50 Mompreneurs.

Good to know: Candace is now blogging right here at Yummy Mummy Club!  Her blog, aptly called Name Dropping, lets Candace share her vast knowledge of all things baby-name related.  After all, nine years of personalizing all kinds of products for new babies has taught her a thing or two about what kids are called.  Go on and check it out.  We know you’ll love Candace Alper too.

Are you a mompreneur?  Please let us know. We’d love to feature you here.

 

OMG chips

One of the hardest things about working for yourself is staying focused. When you have no boss and no one to provide you with direction, it’s easy to get distracted by projects that pull you away from the core of your business and the activities that generate revenue.

This week on Dragons’ Den we met Larry Finnson and Chris Emery who introduced their product, OMG Candy. They started the company in 2010 and have no sales yet. But back in 1996, these guys founded Clodhoppers, another candy company which they grew to $9 million in sales. Unfortunately, when it came time to sell Clodhoppers, their investors made way more money than they did. So this time, with OMG, they want to do it all again—but do it right.

There is a trend I’ve noticed recently—people have multiple businesses at the same time. Just look at their Twitter bios and they’ll refer you to multiple blogs, web sites, and Facebook pages. Have you noticed this? I’ve been thinking a lot about being involved in multiple businesses and projects and the problem with this was articulated for me when I heard Laura-Jean Bernhardson, founder of Fresh Collective, speak at a recent event. Laura-Jean is a successful entrepreneur who owns three retail clothing stores. She is also devotee of Michael Gerber of E-Myth fame. In her talk, Laura-Jean referred to what Gerber calls the “entrepreneurial seizure.”  She described that moment when you realize that what you’re doing is no longer the right thing, so, seized by an impulse, you run off and try something else; something new that you may not be qualified to do that involves a whole host of issues that you don't think through beforehand. 

It seems to me like people are having entrepreneurial seizures all over the place. And although it was an entrepreneurial seizure that led Larry and Chris to start up OMG, I hope they keep their eyes on the prize this time. They have the benefit of past experiences: They know where they want to go with this product and what they want to accomplish. They seem determined to stay focused, which I have no doubt will be the key to their success. I can’t wait to try OMG when it hits the shelves—it looks delicious!

 

I've been watching Dragons' Den for a long time now, but one thing never ceases to amaze me. I'm talking about the entrepreneur who just won't listen.
 
On this week's show we met Frank Santiago, founder of Jitterbee, a shakeable pancake mix.  Although Santiago got traction with his product early on, recent years have been hard. Santiago has invested $80,000 to get Jitterbee on grocery story shelves, yet last year had only $3,600 in sales.
 
The Dragons were unanimous. Not only did Santiago not get a deal, the Dragons urged him to stop investing money in his company.
 
But here's the kicker. I hear it week after week. Upon leaving the Den, Santiago said, "I'm going to keep going. I won't stop until the river runs dry."
 
Why, oh why?
 
You have five of Canada's leading business experts urging you to stop (Kevin O'Leary sometimes "forbids" investing another dime), and yet these entrepreneurs insist on persisting.
 
It's like those delusional contestants on American Idol who audition but clearly can't sing. When the judges break the news to the hapless contestant, it's as though they're hearing it for the first time. They insist that they CAN sing. Everyone in their lives agrees! Conclusion: The judges must be wrong. That's right, Randy and Steven Tyler and J. Lo must be wrong.
 
I guess it's human nature to believe what we want to believe.
 
But the American Idol judges aren't wrong. Neither are the Dragons. They're the experts. And when we have the opportunity to be in the presence of experts, we ought to do ourselves a favour and listen to their advice. Especially when evidence appears to be hitting us over the head.

I’m not above bribing my kids. In fact, sometimes it’s completely called for.

When I really need my kids to do something important that has no obvious payoff to them, I’ll definitely bring out a bribe. However, I’m not big on rewarding my kids for things that are generally expected of them. Just as no one pays me to put my dishes in the dishwasher, make my bed or pick my clothes off the floor (oh how I wish they did), I don’t reward my kids for those things. In my view, the reward for making your bed is getting into a made bed that night. Nothing more, nothing less.

I will however, charge my kids for transgressions. In the cases where I simply cannot impress upon the kids that a behaviour must change through asking, reminding, pleading, I’ve been known to hit them where it hurts: the piggybank.

Here’s a recent example. I’ve been begging my kids for years to flush the toilet after they’ve used it. Don’t believe me? I was blogging/complaining about this in 2009! Eventually I realized if I couldn’t encourage them then I’d discourage them. I instituted a $2 charge to EACH child, regardless of the perpetrator, each time I came across an unflushed toilet. This was one month ago. Do you know how much money I collected in this scheme? Eight dollars. That’s right. It took each of them giving me a Toonie (that’s a week’s allowance in our house) twice, on days 1 and 2, to forever cure them of the non-flushing habit. Now I live in a state of blissful flushedness.

Is this parenting technique harsh? I don’t think so. In life there are often monetary consequences to breaking the rules. If I park in the wrong place I get a parking ticket. The way I see it, I’m preparing them for life and keeping my sanity at the same time.  

Come on, admit it—you’re thinking about trying this, aren’t you?!

Danielle and I like to say, “It’s easy to spend money…it’s the keeping it that’s the hard part.”  Yes, there are things we need to spend money on in order to operate our businesses.  But as entrepreneurs, people are always trying to sell us things in the name of improving our businesses. There are coaches, marketing consultants, PR pros and more.

This is yet another reason why I love Dragons’ Den: In last night’s episode I heard one of the greatest business tips ever – and it was absolutely free.

Over the years Danielle and I have met our share of women interested in opening up food-based retail shops.  I understand the compulsion: you’re a foodie, you get to design something really pretty, and then you get to work there.

When the two of us were deciding what kind of business we wanted to start we had no idea what we wanted to do.  But two things I did know.  I told Danielle, under no circumstance, did I want to do anything that had to do with perishables or retail.  I couldn’t imagine working in a business where your inventory went bad at the end of the day.  Nor could I imagine being shackled to a store.

But LOTS of people want to open up food shops and restaurants.  

Do you?  Because Jim Treliving gave the best low-down on the retail food biz I’ve ever heard.

Dougieluv walked into the Den looking for an investment in his 650-square foot, Vancouver-based hot dog restaurant, DougieDOG.  For about $7 each, Dougieluv sells 26 varieties of all natural, nitrate-free hot dogs.  He earned about $300,000 last year in sales.  On that, he lost $10,000.

So here’s the punch line: Treliving said that a restaurant about that size needs to bring in $700,000 in sales each year in order to break even.  It doesn’t matter if it’s coffee or hot dogs or whatever.  $700k a year, $60k a month.

So there you have it – the math on what you need to earn to operate a successful resto.  Unlike a lot of things in business, this advice was free.  I hope it saves you some heartache and hard work.

Danielle and I like to say, “It’s easy to spend money…it’s the keeping it that’s the hard part.”  Yes, there are things we need to spend money on in order to operate our businesses.  But as entrepreneurs, people are always trying to sell us things in the name of improving our businesses. There are coaches, marketing consultants, PR pros and more.

This is yet another reason why I love Dragons’ Den: In last night’s episode I heard one of the greatest business tips ever – and it was absolutely free.

Over the years Danielle and I have met our share of women interested in opening up food-based retail shops.  I understand the compulsion: you’re a foodie, you get to design something really pretty, and then you get to work there.

When the two of us were deciding what kind of business we wanted to start we had no idea what we wanted to do.  But two things I did know.  I told Danielle, under no circumstance, did I want to do anything that had to do with perishables or retail.  I couldn’t imagine working in a business where your inventory went bad at the end of the day.  Nor could I imagine being shackled to a store.

But LOTS of people want to open up food shops and restaurants.  

Do you?  Because Jim Treliving gave the best low-down on the retail food biz I’ve ever heard.

Dougieluv walked into the Den looking for an investment in his 650-square foot, Vancouver-based hot dog restaurant, DougieDOG.  For about $7 each, Dougieluv sells 26 varieties of all natural, nitrate-free hot dogs.  He earned about $300,000 last year in sales.  On that, he lost $10,000.

So here’s the punch line: Treliving said that a restaurant about that size needs to bring in $700,000 in sales each year in order to break even.  It doesn’t matter if it’s coffee or hot dogs or whatever.  $700k a year, $60k a month.

So there you have it – the math on what you need to earn to operate a successful resto.  Unlike a lot of things in business, this advice was free.  I hope it saves you some heartache and hard work.

Months ago I learned that Canadian mompreneur, Karyn Climans founder of Tail Wags, was going to make a reappearance in the Den.  So it was with great anticipation that I watched last night’s Second Chances episode.  Entrepreneurs who had unsuccessfully pitched the Dragons in past seasons were given an opportunity to plead their cases again.

Two years ago Karyn debuted her line of plush helmet covers on national television.  Although the Dragons were enamoured with her Canadian-made line of products, they disagreed with the valuation of her company and she didn’t get a deal.

Not this time!

This round Karyn made two major changes to her pitch. First, she came in with a more modest valuation – something the Dragons could easily wrap their heads around. Second—her secret weapon—the promise of a huge order of Tail Wags products: An order from Canadian Tire for 10,000 units.  The Dragons know that one big order from a mass retailer could lead to a) further orders from Canadian Tire down the road, and b) orders from other mass retailers. Selling your products one at a time or to small boutiques is one thing, but the Canadian Tire order demonstrated the major demand for Tail Wags products and allowed the Dragons to see the potential in the company.

Bruce Croxon and Jim Treliving offered Karyn $100,000 for 30% of her company.  Karyn accepted the deal.

But that’s not where this story ends. Eight months later, Karyn has had time to mull whether she actually wants to give up 30% of the company that she’s worked so hard to build.  It’s also given her time to consider whether she can raise the funds she needs without giving up a share of her business.  In our research for Mom Inc., we found that most small businesses raise money from their families, or by taking out bank loans.  (Check out Karyn’s web site where she explains her current situation.)  

After watching Dragons’ Den all season, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to write about “one of our own.”  (Karyn has contributed to YummyMummyClub.ca here and here.)

Karyn, it was brave of you to venture into the Den the first time. But the second time? That took chutzpah. Congratulations on your well-earned success.  We're celebrating right along with you.

For more about the importance of protective gear for kids check out Karyn’s YouTube video.

Ah, January. Maybe it’s the cold, the eggnog-induced five extra pounds or the impending credit card bill. Anyway you slice it, getting revved up for work in the new year isn’t easy. But here’s the good news: We’ve got five sure-fire ways to start making more money in your business right now. That should get your fire burning! 

Cut a Cost
We guarantee that you are paying too much for something in your business. Either you’re paying for something you don’t need (extra phone services, a subscription to a publication, an inefficient employee or contractor), or you’re overpaying for something that you could get for less (office supplies, your web site designer). Finding ways to lower your costs means more money in your pocket.

Remind Your Customers About Your Business
It’s always a good idea to reconnect with past clients. It helps keep you front of mind and it can drum up some business. Recently, our print broker contacted us to ask if we had any printing needs and, lo and behold—yes we did. Simply by reaching out to us, our print broker picked up a piece of work. You can also send an email blast to your customers. And why not sweeten the deal? See if you can provide an incentive for your customers to do business with you again. When we issue a newsletter, we always offer a coupon to our customers. It never fails to spike our sales. Reminding people about your work is always good for business.

Expand Your Services
One way to boost your sales is to try to get more money from your existing clients by offering them more. At Admiral Road, we used to only sell blankets. We’ve since added other items—books, stuffed animals—as a way to increase the average purchase on our web site. If a customer is looking to spend money, we want it to be with us!
                        
Raise Your Prices
When was the last time you compared your prices to the competition? Are you undervaluing what you do? Is there room in the market for a modest increase? If you can reasonably justify raising your rates, you’ll see an instant impact on your revenue.

Let Go of Something on the Home Front in Order to Boost Your Productivity
Now is a great time to evaluate how you’re spending your time. As moms, we know that there just aren’t that many hours in the day available to work on our businesses. If you can agree to give up something you do around the house, you’ll have more time available to grow your business. Maybe it’s worth paying the dry cleaner $1 a shirt instead of ironing. Maybe you can get take-out once a week. Or a house cleaner once a month. When you do the math it’s likely worth the money to outsource something at home so you can bump up your bottom line.

So why not kick start the year by resolving to tweak at least one aspect of your business in order to make more money? And whatever you choose, we wish you a wildly successful 2012.

 

Admiral Road Personalized Blankets, Entrepreneurship, mompreneurship

Walking through Ikea today reminded of the Dragons’ Den. This week’s episode touched on the concept of the loss leader, a strategy Ikea executes to perfection.

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This week’s episode of Dragons’ Den featured the best and brightest young entrepreneurs from across Canada, and it was fantastic.  Shining examples included Julian Marchese, a 14-year-old financial whiz kid who successfully day trades after school, Nathan Blok, a 17-year-old competitive racer selling ad space on his Formula Four car, and Julia Kirouac, a 23-year old nutritionist who’s developed a line of healthy, vegan, gluten-free snacks.  Arlene Dickinson summed up the mood in the Den when she said, “I feel good about the future of this country knowing it’s in the hands of entrepreneurs like you.”

My favourite pitch of the night came from two grade nine students, Daryn Pancer and Cole Zeldin, who did not get a deal.  Their company, “Heads Up,” is based on a Bluetooth enabled baseball hat they invented.  The Dragons’ loved the innovation, but not the product, and encouraged the kids to keep on designing and developing.

The point that hit home for me is when Arlene said, “Not every idea is going to be a home run. Maybe this isn’t the one – the key is to keep trying.”  Could any words be truer for the entrepreneur?  How many ideas have we had, things that we’ve tried, that haven’t gone as planned?  Or worse, flopped altogether?

When Danielle and I meet a super-successful entrepreneur, we always ask how she did it.  More often than not, we learn that her successful business isn’t her first kick at the can.

Last week Danielle and I met a mompreneur working in a direct sales company.  She oversees 150 sales associates and is making a pile of money.  When I congratulated her on her success, she was quick to admit that this is her fourth attempt at direct sales.  Imagine – trying once and failing, trying twice and failing, trying a third time and failing – and then picking yourself up and trying yet again.  But the focus of our conversation was not about her past failures.  Rather, and I truly believe this, we talked about how all of her past experiences are the reason that she is where she is today.  She has leveraged all of what she has learned – the good and the bad – and made sure to apply it correctly this time around.

So if at first you don’t succeed, sometimes it’s a matter of trying again.  As for all those Canadian student entrepreneurs – whether they got deals or not – the future looks bright.

Recently we met with a mompreneur who was feeling overwhelmed by the competing demands of her business and her family - something any work-at-home mom can relate to. We asked her where her office is located in the house. When she replied that she works from her bedroom we had an ‘aha’ moment. This woman is literally sleeping with her business. No wonder she feels stressed, she never gets a break!

Running your own business means there is always work to be done. Add motherhood to the equation and some days there’s barely time to catch your breath. What’s worse, when we’re trying to do it all, we can end up not being very efficient at anything. So what’s a busy mompreneur to do? We think that setting yourself up to provide as much separation between your ‘work life’ and your ‘family life’ is one of the keys to success. Here are some simple tricks for creating some sanity-saving, efficiency-boosting work/life boundaries:

Set up a Family Command Centre. If you’re like us, you’re totally inundated with papers, forms and e-mails that have nothing to do with work at all. We can never believe how much administration our kids require! Find a spot in your home where all kid-related things go. This could be a corkboard in the kitchen, a colour-coded file box in your office or even a front-hall organizer. Set aside 15 minutes each day to take care of the family admin and we guarantee it’ll make everything saner!

Set ‘office hours.’ It may sound silly, but taking time to figure out when you are ‘at work’ and when you are ‘home’ can not only make you a lot more efficient, but can go a long way in managing your family’s expectations. By coming up with your office hours and even posting them for the family to see, it’s clear to everyone – especially you – when you’re hard at work, and when you’re available to the kids.

Get the technology you need. Every mompreneur needs the right office equipment to keep things running smoothly. Having an all-in-one printer, like the Kodak Hero printers, that works with cloud technology and allows you to wirelessly print, copy, scan and fax can really help. Also invest in other tools that help you be in more than one place at once – like smart phones, laptops and cloud technology. After all, if you have to be at hockey practice, you may as well be able to squeak some work in at the same time. Mompreneurs are multi-tasking mavens and the right technology can help you squeeze even a little more efficiency out of your busy schedule.

Raising your family and your business is always going to be challenging – but by establishing some easy systems and making sure you’ve got the tools on hand, your multitasking might just get a little easier. Now if only there was a system or a tool that would make dinner!   

Admiral Road Personalized Blankets, Kate Middleton

I'm disturbed about something. I hadn't given it too much thought until the November issue of Chatelaine magazine landed on my doorstep.

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I'm disturbed about something. I hadn't given it too much thought until the November issue of Chatelaine magazine landed on my doorstep.

As soon as the magazine arrived I flipped to the article on “Women of the Year.” I had heard about these awards beforehand - the judging panel was crazy-impressive, and I couldn't wait to see which Canadian women were honoured. I was not disappointed: there were rags-to-riches stories, stories of innovators, survivors and do-gooders. Truly an inspirational collection of amazing women.

And then I turned the page to read the next article – a feature on Kate Middleton who is declared "the most talked about woman in 2011." The article focussed on Kate’s wild popularity and chronicled her fashion choices. Much mention was made of her sparkling smile and how many magazine covers her face has graced.

And please, like the rest of you, I was a fan of “Catherine the Great.” I watched "The Wedding." I thought she looked like a true princess. I said to myself, "She's so beautiful! She's so skinny!" And like Prince William, I fell in love with her too.

But here's the thing I realized in reading the Chatelaine article: Kate Middleton doesn't speak. Kate has never publicly uttered a word.

So doesn’t that freak you out?! In 2011, one of the world’s most popular women – someone who is adored, a role model – is someone we have never heard speak? I mean, I’m happy to give Kate the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure she’s lovely. But what are her opinions? What does she think about her new role in the monarchy? How will she use her power? I know she’s got a penchant for skinny jeans and ballet flats, but that’s about it.

Princess Di, also adored the world over, also didn’t speak at the outset. During the first four years of her marriage, she publicly spoke about 500 words (or, the length of this blog post). She later grew into the role of advocate – for AIDS and land mine victims – but that wasn’t until her marriage had dissolved. She seemed to have to get out from under the royal shadow before she found her own voice.

Look, I get it: Diana was beautiful – the People’s Princess. Kate is beautiful – the Queen of Style.

But to have Kate’s face on the cover of a magazine that featured such amazing, accomplished Canadian women? Totally disappointing. I would rather read about the Canadian entrepreneurs, heroes, mavericks and game changers that Chatelaine profiled any day of the week.

What does this say of us in 2011, that we, as women have a hero who has never spoken?

Admiral Road Personalized Blankets, CBC Dragons Den, Entrepreneurship, mompreneurship

One upside of being a small player in business is flexibility. Before you’ve gone too far down the garden path, and before you’ve invested too much money, you can take advantage of your ability to react to demands in the market.

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