Formulas & Strategies, Profitability

How to Simplify Your Finances Especially if You've been putting Them Off

"I LOVE my business but… keeping up with the financials makes me feel all sorts of icky!"

That statement right there, is exactly what I hear from almost every creative I work with, time and time again! It feels like they have mastered all areas of their business but one. Managing finances correctly is a highly dreaded task for most creative entrepreneurs. I feel their pain, I really do! That’s why I want to provide you with a few simple but valuable steps to help you get started and begin to conquer this “left field” task. After reading this post, my hope is that you feel better and more capable of tackling this head on. Let’s get started!

"I LOVE my business but… keeping up with the financials makes me feel all sorts of icky!"  That statement right there, is exactly what I hear from almost every creative I work with, time and time again! It feels like they have mastered all areas of their business but one. Managing finances correctly is a highly dreaded task for most creative entrepreneurs. I feel their pain, I really do! That’s why I want to provide you with a few simple but valuable steps to help you get started and begin to conquer this “left field” task. After reading this post, my hope is that you feel better and more capable of tackling this head on. Let’s get started!  |  Think Creative Collective

First things first… You gotta have a BUSINESS bank account!

One of the simplest things that you can do to help get your business financials in order is having a separate, stand-alone, business bank account for your business. It may sound silly, but many business owners are still running their business financials through their personal accounts. This is not only messy when receiving payments from clients and paying for expenses, but also gets in the way of your personal finances. Let’s not even get started on the “tax season nightmares” you and your accountant will experience as you both sit there trying to figure out what is personal and what is business. Get ready for tons of unnecessary billable hours and headaches. If that alone doesn’t make you want to run to your nearest bank, I don’t know what will!

Okay, bank account, check! What’s next? Let’s get matching accounting software!

Another very simple tip you should implement is an accounting software system. I know that many entrepreneurs start with spreadsheets, but I don’t recommend it as an accounting or record keeping method. Let me tell you why. If you know that spreadsheets won’t work when you reach a certain number of clients, why would you want to start tracking something as important as your financials in a way that will soon be obsolete? The moment that system becomes obsolete, you will have to transition into a more advanced system and you will have to either re-enter all of that information into the new system or, even worse, lose all your financial data and history and start from 0. That means no reports to tell you about sales trends, profits and losses, your overall progress month after month, etc… I recommend using a software like Quickbooks or Xero or any other accounting software you find suits your business needs best.

What’s next? Let’s work on your prices and costs.

This is going to be a long tip with multiple sections, but it’ll probably be your favorite one! Once you have your accounts and software in place, the next thing you should probably focus on is your pricing and expenses.

Look inward (your costs), then outward (all market research):

When it comes to setting up your pricing, I always recommend that you look inward (your costs) first and then look outwards (doing all the market research). The reason I say this is because you should make sure that your costs are always covered, no matter what. This is where you get what’s called your break-even point, meaning you don't make any money (profit) but at least your expenses are covered and don’t have to come out of your pocket. You can’t just look at your competitors’ prices to decide what to charge, because, just like like Emylee and Abagail always say, you never know why that person down the street set up their prices the way they did. They might have a full-time job so they don’t really need the money, which is why their prices are so low. Or maybe they’re trying really hard to make ends meet, which is why their prices are so high. Perhaps they’re not even making any sales! You just don’t know, so look to cover your expenses first and then research.

Analyze Price vs. Cost Structure: 

It’s also important that you take a moment to review and deeply analyze how your prices are structured and where you are with your expenses, even if you already know what your prices are. This is important because, just like with expenses, prices can change over time and there are many factors that can affect your pricing.

Consider Pricing Strategies:

Pricing is one of the hardest things to figure out for any business, so don’t be hard on yourself if you don't get it right the first time around. It may take some trial and error and a lot of hands-on research. With that being said, don't fall asleep at the wheel if you see that you are simply not selling. If it’s not working, start coming up with strategies to make sales. This is where that hands-on research and practicality comes into play. If your products/services are not structured into packages, try doing that. Packages tend to convert better than standalone items, as people feel like they are getting more for their money. Look for ways to spread the word about your products/services. This could be something as simple as creating a special promo just to get things moving, and seeing how people respond to that. Oftentimes, the problem is not our pricing, but rather our visibility.

Start Lean & Invest Smart:

When it comes to talking about expenses, I believe in and recommend a lean startup, as lean as possible! Oftentimes, our first expense comes way before our first sale because, as is often said, it takes money to make money. So make sure that you’re only spending on the bare minimum, especially if your business is not online/virtually based, but rather based in an office, store, or studio. I say this because not everything that you want to buy to make it “pretty” is necessary. Invest in getting the best of what is needed and postpone the rest.

 

With every creative I’ve had the privilege of speaking to and working with, I’ve realized that they are really good at what they do. That’s why I strongly believe that in business, you should focus all your resources towards your strengths and outsource to cover your weaknesses. If you are a great photographer, for instance, focus on ways to build your business doing what you do best. Rather than spending countless hours trying to figure out your financials, why not find new ways to make more money doing what you love? Outsource the financial aspects of your business to the professionals who can compensate for those gaps. There are financial consultants, like myself, who can help you get started or figure out exactly where you are and where you’re headed. Then, there are bookkeepers, who can help you with the day-to-day financial upkeep, and accountants, who can help you with wrapping things up at the end of the year and getting you ready for tax season.



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Marketing, Formulas & Strategies

5 Things to do Before You Pitch (prepping your biz for publicity)

You've watched your friends, colleagues and competitors land guest blog posts, podcast and television interviews and features in your favorite magazines. (You know, places like The Huffington Post, Being Boss and, ahem, this here blog.) They’re getting featured and getting the chance to grow their audience, boost their revenue and earn the kind of credibility you crave.

You want to have that experience – and that success – too. So you jump straight to working on some pitches of your own and end up missing a crucial step in the process of getting featured. (Don’t worry – almost everyone does.)

You've watched your friends, colleagues and competitors land guest blog posts, podcast and television interviews and features in your favorite magazines. (You know, places like The Huffington Post, Being Boss and, ahem, this here blog.) They’re getting featured and getting the chance to grow their audience, boost their revenue and earn the kind of credibility you crave.  You want to have that experience – and that success – too. So you jump straight to working on some pitches of your own and end up missing a crucial step in the process of getting featured. (Don’t worry – almost everyone does.)  |  Think Creative Collective

You miss the step where you get your business ready to get featured before you hit send on a pitch, and that’s what I’m going to teach you how to do today using five simple steps.

But first, if you’re wondering why you need to spend a little time and energy getting your business ready to get featured, here are a few reasons. These steps will help you:

  • Look like a total boss when the people you’re pitching to check out your work (increasing your chances of getting a yes).

  • Boost your confidence so you can show up like the talented professional you really are.

  • Better leverage that first feature (and every one that comes after it) by helping you learn how to capitalize on that moment when everyone’s eyes are on you.

Ready? Let’s break down those 5 steps so you can see how easy they are and learn exactly what you need to do to get ready to get featured.

Step 1: Nail Your Elevator Pitch

If you’ve owned your own business for more than a hot minute, you know how hard it can be to answer that basic question, “What do you do?” without fumbling your way through a reply. And, whether you’re at a networking event or a neighborhood barbecue, you also know that it can feel pretty damn awkward to try and explain your work to people who aren’t in your industry (or worse, people who haven’t even heard of your industry).

An elevator pitch will solve that problem for you – but not just any old elevator pitch. What you need is a value-centered elevator pitch that puts the focus on who you serve and how you help them so you can talk about what you do with ease.

Here’s how you can create your value-centered pitch in three simple steps.

  1. Describe the people you help (your target audience, ideal client, customer avatar, etc.).
  2. Describe how you help those people.
  3. Describe the results people get when they work with you or buy a product or service from you.

Now combine your answers from part one, two and three to create your elevator pitch. Here’s how it all comes together in a fill-in-the-blank formula:

I’m (NAME). I help (DESCRIBE WHO YOU SERVE) by (DESCRIBE HOW YOU HELP) so they (DESCRIBE YOUR RESULT).

Here’s my value-centered elevator pitch as an example. Once you have yours, you can use it everywhere from email pitches to get-to-know-you conversations with podcast hosts.

I’m Ashley. I help creatives and entrepreneurs stop over-complicating things and learn to simplify their business (not to mention their to-do lists) so they can make more money and experience more freedom in their life.

Step 2: Elevate Your Press Bio

When you get a yes on a pitch, one of the first things you’ll be asked to send over is your bio. Please don’t treat this request as an afterthought, because your bio is just as important as the feature itself. It is, after all, the piece that tells people who you are, what you do and how they can connect with you more.

If your bio doesn’t exist or it bores people to death, you’ll miss out on that valuable opportunity. That’s why I recommend creating an engaging bio around four elements, which are:

  1. Your elevator pitch (to quickly communicate who you work with and how you help them)

  2. A few relevant professional accomplishments (to add credibility)

  3. A few personal details (to show that you’re human)

  4. A call to action (to invite the audience to continue engaging with you)

Here’s how it all comes together in a fill-in-the-blank formula:

(YOUR NAME) helps (DESCRIBE YOUR PEOPLE) by (DESCRIBE HOW YOU HELP) so they (DESCRIBE YOUR RESULT). Through her work, (NAME) has (HIGHLIGHT RELEVANT ACCOMPLISHMENTS). When (NAME) is not working, she (SHARE PERSONAL DETAILS). To receive/sign up for/join (NAME’s DESCRIBE YOUR CALL TO ACTION), click here.

You can check out my bio at the end of this piece to see how it all comes together.

Step 3: Prep Your Press Page

Here’s a little secret you may not know about the media, brands and other professionals you’re pitching to: though they’re often slow to respond to your pitches, they almost always expect a tight turnaround time from you.

So the last thing you want to do when you get a yes on a pitch is waste time scrambling to find your bio or that perfect headshot on your hard drive. You want to reserve your time and energy to prepare the content you’ve promised to deliver, not find the stuff you need to submit with it.

The solution is to create a press page, which keeps all those deliverables in one central place. When the time comes to share them, you’ll just send along a single link that creates a ton of ease for you and makes you look like a total professional too.

Here’s what your press page should include at a minimum:

  1. A selection of headshots

  2. Your bio

  3. A downloadable logo

You can post these elements in a secret (unlinked) page on your website that’s only accessible if you share the link. To view my press page, just click here. (www.ashleymgartland.com/press)

Step 4: Strengthen Your Social Media Platforms

There’s a good chance the people you pitch to will check you out on social media – and if they see an out-of-date profile or off-brand posts, it could raise a red flag about you or your work.

You don’t want to open the door for people to question your credibility. Instead, you can set up your social media to work in your favor by making sure all your profiles meet the five Cs, which are:

They’re current.
They’re consistent.
They’re credible.
They’re set up to convert.
They’re characteristic of your brand.

Take the time to review your social media profiles through the lens of these criteria – if you find that they meet them, they’re ready for you to start pitching. If not, you probably just need to make a few tweaks to get them there, like deleting off-brand posts (so that everything is characteristic of your brand) or adding an opt-in or sign-up button (so you know the profiles are ready to convert new leads).

Step 5: Ready Your Website

It almost goes without saying that the people you pitch will use your website to confirm that you’re legit and learn more about you. Your website is also the first place potential customers go when they learn about you through a feature, which means it pays to make sure it’s ready to convert any traffic you’ll get.

Here’s the good news: to accomplish both those goals, your website just needs to do two things:

  1. It needs to clearly communicate what you do and how you help people. The easiest way to communicate these details is to include your elevator pitch on your homepage. But you can also weave this information into your about page, share it in client testimonials or case studies or on your services page.

  2. It provides an opportunity for people to connect with you in another way. A simple contact page will accomplish this goal just fine, but you can also include an opt-in or call to action on your site that entices people to join your email list or a Facebook group. Additionally, you can include social icons on your site so visitors can engage with you long after they leave.

These steps might feel daunting at first, but I can assure you that they’re totally doable. (Simplicity is my thing, so you can trust me when I say I won’t over-complicate this process for you.) In fact, if you tackle one each day for the duration of a work-week, you’ll be done in time for happy hour on Friday.



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Formulas & Strategies, Marketing

3 Mistakes to Avoid in Promoting Your Craft e-Commerce site

3 Mistakes to Avoid in Promoting Your Craft e-Commerce Site

Selling homemade goods online requires some e-commerce know-how. Let’s look at three common mistakes and how to stop them from damaging your business.

Many designer-makers sell their wares on big marketplaces like Amazon or Etsy, which enables them to become visible to a large audience almost seamlessly. However, these marketplaces can also make it difficult to stand out among the competition. If you are a designer-maker, DIY-er, or any other creative who sells homemade goods, you may have decided that setting up your own e-commerce shop is in your best interests.

Selling homemade goods online requires some e-commerce know-how. Let’s look at three common mistakes and how to stop them from damaging your business.  Many designer-makers sell their wares on big marketplaces like Amazon or Etsy, which enables them to become visible to a large audience almost seamlessly. However, these marketplaces can also make it difficult to stand out among the competition. If you are a designer-maker, DIY-er, or any other creative who sells homemade goods, you may have decided that setting up your own e-commerce shop is in your best interests.  |  Think Creative Collective

Even after launching an e-commerce site, it can be difficult to stand apart from the herd. Thankfully, there are many different ways that you can promote your business and establish your value as an individual seller. With such a competitive market, it can be tempting to cut corners or engage in tactics that are less-than-savory. We’ll look at the top mistakes to avoid when promoting your craft e-commerce site and what you can do instead.

Mistake 1 - Trying to be Corporate

You are a one-person designer-maker that sells an awesome unique product. Don’t try to conform to all the corporate or uber professional-looking sites out there. Be unique and authentic. That is what people are paying for.

What to do InsteadWeave Your Own Story

Be honest about who you are — your history, why you started doing what you do, and what goes into your creations. It all starts with your identity. Choose a domain name for your e-commerce site that fits. Try Shopify’s domain checker or an instant domain search to see what’s available and to find the perfect name that encompasses your uniqueness. Consult sites like Craft Central and The Design Trust that offer insights into effective promotion and press releases. People buy from those they trust, so include points that bolster your credibility and forge a relationship between you and your site visitors. Be fun. Be real. Be you.

Mistake 2 — Missing the Boat With Visuals

As a designer-maker or crafter, your product image sells your product. Product images speak to the quality of your work and the uniqueness of the design. These need to be featured and upfront on your website. People want and need to see exactly what it is you’re selling and they rely on product photos to provide that information.

What to do InsteadGet Gutsy

If you have the budget, consider hiring a professional photographer to do a photo shoot of all your inventory. You should preferably find someone who is experienced in photographing handmade goods and works with others like you. Even if you don’t use a professional, be sure to map out your vision. How do you want your goods to be displayed? Look at other handmade goods e-commerce sites or do some research on Pinterest and gather ideas and examples of what you like and don’t like. Consider whether you want still shots or lifestyle shots. Grab a friend and have her hold or model some of your goods and take some practice shots on an iPhone to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t.

Mistake 3 — Being Anti-Social

This might be your very own e-commerce site, but we’re all in this together. You can’t be successful at running an online business if you don’t get out and socialize. It might be tempting to write up a bunch of product descriptions, take your photos and call it a day, but the truth is that your business relies on building relationships with all sorts of people.

What to do InsteadNetwork

In this day and age, there are endless ways to connect with other like-minded individuals, whether they are co-creators who also sell goods online or potential customers. Make sure you have all your social profiles (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr) up and adequately filled with information. Then get on there and start engaging with people. This goes beyond social media, too. Get involved with professional associations or other related networking events and connect with people in real life.

Launching your own craft e-commerce site can be daunting. There are so many options to promote and sell that launching can make anyone’s head spin. Don’t worry. If you avoid the mistakes above and work toward your own unique vision, your e-commerce site and your business will fall into place.



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Marketing, Formulas & Strategies

3 Facebook Ad Copy Tips to Get You Started with Words

When it comes to drafting up your copy for a Facebook ad, you can’t just one-and-done apply the copywriting techniques you’d use for Google ads, or the copywriting techniques you’d use for a sales page.

Facebook ads are a new bear, and here’s why you need to tackle them a little bit differently!

It pains my little copywriter heart a bit, but, unlike a lot of web marketing, your images actually count for more here: upwards of 75% of your ad’s conversion rate is all thanks to your image, show studies from Consumer Acquisition.

When it comes to drafting up your copy for a Facebook ad, you can’t just one-and-done apply the copywriting techniques you’d use for Google ads, or the copywriting techniques you’d use for a sales page.  Facebook ads are a new bear, and here’s why you need to tackle them a little bit differently!  It pains my little copywriter heart a bit, but, unlike a lot of web marketing, your images actually count for more here: upwards of 75% of your ad’s conversion rate is all thanks to your image, show studies from Consumer Acquisition.  |  Think Creative Collective

BUT, I would follow that up with two things:

  • 100% of your ad’s conversion is due to the offer itself, so nailing messaging for that is primo.
  • And if only a tiny piece of the pie is due to that copy, then buddy, it’d better be good.

Read on for 3 Facebook ad copy tips to get you started with your words, and keep in mind for your next launch!

TIP ONE: Play to the 20%-of-your-image-can’t-be-text rule.

If you’ve ever run a Facebook ad with text over the image, you know that Facebook wags their finger at an image loaded up with text.

I’m all for you testing some options, but I do think that one of your ad sets should include an ad with copy over the image!

Here’s my trick. Want the copy to pop a little more? Blur the image a bit, up the exposure, or feature a flat-lay shot that’s heavy on one product. These are little tweaks you can implement to accurately adhere to FB’s guidelines, but still get your wily words in front of your tribe instead of posting super busy imagery.

Oh, and don’t forget about Facebook’s free text overlay tool, so you can test your copy-to-image ratio first (just make sure your copy isn’t bleeding over one of the gridlines — keep it right, keep it tight!).

OH, and yes, the 20% rule is starting to disapparate Harry Potter-style in a few countries, but most Facebook ad experts recommend stickin’ with it for a while.

TIP TWO:  Write ad copy for folks at the top of your funnel (TOFU) … and different copy for folks at the bottom of your funnel (BOFU).

As a launch copywriter, I write a bunch of ads, and clients and I daydream a bit at the beginning when we’re funnel mapping their launch: “they go here and here, then they get this and go here, but if they click this they get this and go here, but if not they go here.”

It’s never confusing at all.

Anyway, it’s super helpful if you think of your copy in two formats: TOFU and BOFU (and I learned those adorable acronyms from my favorite copywriter ever, so take credit I cannot).

First, write a set of ads (or a few sets) pre-launch speaking to those you want to turn into leads or subscribers.

If you’re familiar with Eugene Schwartz at all, you may have seen this guy:

So, without getting TOO nerdy on you, the messaging on these tends to fall in that first little group: pain-aware. They’re unaware of your specific solution, so don’t even mention it. Talk to their pain.

Later on, in BOFU, you’ll be redirecting ads to those who landed their pretty selves on your sales page, webinar, etc. — and for those, your goal is a sale. This is where you add in copy faves like urgency, scarcity, and bonuses. For example, this ad — a redirect at me — gives more nitty-gritty about what is in the offer, since yes, she’s right, I’ve been on her landing page!

TIP THREE: Swing for some message matching … it doesn’t feel creative, but it works!

Message matching is when you write copy … and then when your reader takes the action you want them to, the next thing they see is that last message.

Like, when I click on “Get 30% off this weekend only” on a Pottery Barn ad, I need to be landing on a page that says “30% off Memorial Day sale this weekend only!”

Does that make sense? It’s not super-duper creative-feeling, but it’s best practice to lean on in your copywriting, especially for Facebook ads.

You can practice message matching by:

  • Having your over-the-image copy match the Facebook ad’s body copy

  • Having your Leadpage copy reflect the Facebook ad copy

  • Having your sales page copy reflect your Facebook ad copy.

Take it from this pro copywriter: “If Facebook users are going to stop and look at the image first, the copy will get them to click.”

And that’s it! Want 3 extra lightning round tips? Ok, I’m glad you asked! First, keep it short and snappy — again, they always win on rankings. Second, putting a background color behind copy tended to convert well in some Consumer Acquisition studies, so try color blocking. Finally, treat your headline like a call-to-action all of it’s own … write for the click.



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Profitability, Formulas & Strategies

4 Methods to Talk About Price Increases With Your Clients

The best and the worst thing that you can go through as a biz owner is raising your prices. It's awesome, because it means that your business is growing, but it always has the potential to be super awkward and uncomfortable when you need to have a “the price is going up” conversation with your repeat clients. Here are some super simple ways for you to handle a price increase with your clients in a way that will make them love you more than ever.

The best and the worst thing that you can go through as a biz owner is raising your prices. It's awesome, because it means that your business is growing, but it always has the potential to be super awkward and uncomfortable when you need to have a “the price is going up” conversation with your repeat clients. Here are some super simple ways for you to handle a price increase with your clients in a way that will make them love you more than ever.  |  Think Creative Collective

Methods to Deal

"THE FINE PRINT"

There are probably a few places on your website or in your print materials where you could insert some fine print outlining and allowing for any future price increases. This will give you the opportunity, as a business owner, to be able to change your prices at the drop of a hat (with a simple acknowledgement of your fine print). The downside of this course of action is that most clients do not read the fine print. At some point, you're probably still going to have to actually speak to clients about the increase. However, the bonus is being able to fall back on what the "fine print" says.

For example:

“As outlined in the 2016 Pricing Guide, the current price of X will be increasing at the beginning of next month.”

Having it worded like the example above takes a little pressure off you, and lets you take emotions out of the decision. Instead, it becomes an anticipated business move.

"THE LAST MINUTE OPPORTUNITY"

Portraying your soon-to-be price increase almost as a last minute "sale" can help you move some items out the door or book up the last few slots you still have open. If set up properly, your clients will hopefully feel as though they are getting a great deal (and equally, will be aware of your new prices).

For example:

“Snag your favorite images as a canvas before prices rise! Get them while they’re only $X!”

Regardless of whether you're raising the prices on canvases or tote bags, this method always helps to get a large amount of orders placed. Clients appreciate the heads up and the reminder to snag their favorite items. The exact same thing can be done for those of you who offer services. Run a similar “promotion” on your 1:1 coaching, your social media consults or Pinterest Board clean ups to fill spots up quickly.

"THE HONOR SYSTEM"

One question that frequently pops up is how to handle people who have shown interest in or booked you when you were at a certain price, but maybe weren't scheduled to work with you until after you've raised your prices. Personally, when we were taking clients and they had  actually booked (like money on the table), we honored every single price that was set at that time — even if they didn't know what all the prices were. So, for instance, we've had past clients pay our session retainer fee at the end of one year even though their session wasn’t until the spring of next year. If, at that time, prices for our packages, services or anything else had gone up, they still got the old prices. It's what we call the honor system, and it's one of the ways in which we showed our clients love.

However, if a not-yet-booked client expressed interest in us and we talked briefly about prices but they didn’t actually schedule anything, we would charge the newly-increased price. If they returned to us some months later, once prices had increased, they started the entire process over again.

For example:

“As we’ve recently restructured our packages and offerings, we’d like to go over all of this with you as if you were a brand new client.”

Wording it like the example above forces any awkwardness out the window and makes it very clear where you stand. Plus, they’re most likely getting a totally reworked or better system with you so it’s a win-win situation.

"THE ANNUAL"

We know a bunch of businesses that have an annual rise in their prices, usually in January of every year. They are very open about this to their clients, and may even reference it throughout the year. It reassures clients that prices will remain the same throughout the calendar year, but it also makes them very aware of future business decisions. This also helps to set your business as "premium", since your clients are aware of the yearly price increase.

For example:

“Every January we reassess our offerings, at which time there will most likely be a price increase. Book your services now to lock into the current rate.”

This example also helps to create a sense of urgency, which pushes potential fence-sitters to go ahead and book with you.


No matter which of these methods you choose, always try to be open as possible with your clients about prices and fees. There’s no reason to apologize or be sneaky about how much you are worth. The more open you are, the easier these conversations are to have — and trust us, it gets so much easier over time!


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