From The Backpack of Amie Huebner

Inspiration & Technology: My Thoughts On Designing Better Businesses

From The Backpack of Amie Huebner

Behind Closed Doors

Client Stories & Successful Results From Creative Collaboration

Behind Closed Doors

From The Backpack of Corinne Ables

Stories & Lessons Learned : Marketing and Entreprenuership

From The Backpack of Corinne Ables

Entrepreneurship is a journey and we are road warriors! Follow our adventures through the Teahouse Creatives blog. A home to our professional and personal treks in life.

 From market trends, helpful advice, client accomplishments, free design resources, to our personal photography - here to there, Corinne and Amie wish to share it all with you. Sign up to receive our blog posts in your inbox or swing by anytime!

Subscribe to receive our emails

 

Working with Teahouse Creatives has been an incredible joint creative process. 

Consider the analogy that it’s time to build your dream house: You have your dreams, your lists, your ideas from magazines and Pinterest. Now you meet with the contractor and you learn about the realities of your visions, budget and timeline. You learn what’s possible, what’s in the time and money budgets and what’s negotiable to make the dream house a reality . 

I came to Teahouse Creatives with a fairly functional site but had reached the limits of my abilities to get the site where I wanted it to be. I had a long list of things to do; what was working, what wasn’t and what was a “must do” vs. a nice to do. I thought this would be an easy fix, quick and inexpensive.

After understanding the process more in our initial conversations, I expanded my budget to get what I needed—balanced with the Goldilocks touch: the “just right” mix of innovation and improvement for now but knowing there would be room for growth. Every project has compromises. I decided that it’s best to get it more right the first time vs. doing lots of little changes after the process was over. Like the house analogy, it was best to do things while the contractor was on site vs. after the truck left. 

Amie took my amorphous ideas and guided and encouraged me to hone concepts and visions, and to own them. She helped me refine the vision for myself and for customers and, along with the conceptual and design ideas she had, we worked from there. This was lots of work as I have a visionary personality and ideas are easier than specifics!

As with most dynamic projects, the process is longer than I expected; I have learned that there is so much more to creating a site than I realized—and more people involved. How fun to have Amie, Corinne and Jack all looking in and providing their particular skills and their objective views of the ideas.

They really understand my vision and have read my content for understanding; they shaped it as objective readers to see how it communicates with my audience. I appreciate how they shaped my prose with pull quotes—it looks and sounds so much more approachable and strong.

For someone considering a new site or a redesign, there are realities to understand: 

* it’s not a linear process

* it’s lots of work even though they are doing the heavy lifting

* you’ll learn (lots!) along the way

* learning can lead to new ideas and changes

It’s an iterative process with lots of back and forth because there are layers of understanding as you get into the project. You start to see possibilities and options but those can cost time and money. Teahouse Creatives are straightforward with what is in the scope of the project and what is additional and, if that addition is a “must do” or a “nice to do.” 

I am working more than expected during this redesign! Once Teahouse Creatives has elements in place, I do my assigned “homework” whether that is edits on text blocks or entering titles, metadata, etc  in the backend. We have some options on my site that are more “plug and play” but they still require learning and practice. It’s been a steep learning curve for me even though I was not new to the WordPress site. Teahouse Creatives has provided the training and resources so I know how to do these tasks—or, at least feel more comfortable doing them! Afterall, I will need to know how to do things tasks on my own when our active collaboration is complete; I even have a couple of videos for reference—very helpful options to have.

Amie and her Teahouse Creatives team have been a mentors, guides and cheerleaders all along the way—not only keeping me on track but giving lots of pats on the back for good efforts. Amie and I had the chance to meet in person and it was fun to hear more about her passion for her job and other interesting options for my project (in the future!). It was fun to make a more personal connection when my project is so personal to me. 

For my redesign, we’ve enabled my dreams by creating a site that is set now for success and has built-in room to grow. It will be scary and exciting to have the site. Teahouse Creatives have given me great training to tend the site and have said they’re always available; both are welcome safety nets. Not only do I have a web site, but I have a good education about site design and maintenance processes.

Mia Kali Thea and Teahouse Creatives—a true partnership!

Melinda Graper, Founder/Director

Most of us small business owners can sympathize with government regulations and its effects on our functionality and profit. But most of us Americans have no idea what it means to be flat-out told “no.”

Mazam, a small business owner in Petra, Jordan, knows what “no” means all too well. In Jordan, you have to apply to receive a government certification legally allowing your business to exist. Sadly, the Jordanian government simply doesn’t bother to fairly review most applications. Therefore, most businesses in Petra are simply tables or huts that exist illegally. Many of these so-called “businesses” are children running up and down the streets selling you bracelets or bags – certainly not a legitimate, government-approved business! Mazam was different, though, and felt it necessary to get his certification and have a legal business. He was denied four times but he fought and persevered and eventually received his certification.

All the work you put into your business leads to the pride you have for it. This isn’t something you hear too many people encouraging, but pride can be a very important virtue as a small business owner. Pride is what allows us to work harder. Pride is something that pushes us beyond our comfort level. Pride is what encourages us to make that next sale and make our business a top priority.

Pride is closely related to effort; if you put no effort into what you’re doing, then your pride is probably reflective of that. We have noticed with our own clients at Teahouse that the ones with pride in what they do typically work much harder and glean greater success.

What sacrifices are you making to further your investment in your business? How are you persevering?

Mazam owns the only exotic spice/tea shop in all of Petra. He imports products from various Bedouin Camps and neighboring countries. He is excited to greet customers in his doorway and give them a tour of his varying products. Mazam has pride in his business, as he should.

Pride is also an important concept for us small business owners to impart on our employees. Our employees are an extension of our ownership. They have a huge impact on daily sales and customer experiences. Educating your employees about your business, products, and industry will contribute to that. Ensure they know why they are doing what they are doing. Give them challenging responsibilities and allow them to rise to the occasion. Reward performance and help them to understand their role in the success of the business.

We challenge you today to ask yourself, what are you doing to grow your pride in your business?

Hello! Bonjour! Salut! Al-salāmu ʿalaykum! In this digital world, we really find out how small our world is when our voice is heard across time zones and across oceans. Within social networks, we now can reach out to other like-minded individuals and share our stories that all have common threads.

This is how Maia and Amie met – through a simple post about the struggles of maintaining balance living a nomadic lifestyle. Both women have unique stories about where they come from but, the lives of these two digital nomads are both reliant on maintaining a steady work schedule and maintaining their digital network. Digital nomads are designers, photographers, developers, programmers, and writers who have chosen a life less ordinary and the difficult task of juggling their lives offline and an office that never really closes. Through their journeys, Maia and Amie have learned how to create consistency as well as balance in their lives and want to share a few personal tips with our fellow nomads and anyone who may need a little love.


Amie-winter-Newport-profile-picAmie
: I’ve been running my own business for almost 9 years. I’m a graphic designer by training, but over the years my role has evolved into branding companies and helping them expand their digital marketing efforts. Over the course of 7 years, my husband and I have moved 7 times east coast to west coast, up and down coasts and then back. I’ve grudgingly worked through some of the transitions ramping my business up and down. This can definitely be taxing on the mind and body. After reminding myself why exactly I gave up that 9-6 job, I have found the following tips crucial for me. Success results from being attentive to my health and well-being as well as client’s needs. When I first started out, I felt like I had my business switch always flipped on and over time, that is not sustainable. 

 

Maia-headshot-digital-nomadMaia: I’ve been working as a remote freelance web developer since 2015 and since then, my husband and I have been traveling around the world. We both work in the same industry and help each other out whenever we can which is really great. I really like what I do which makes me forget I’m working a lot of the time. Obviously, I can get swamped with work sometimes or have challenging clients which can make it difficult at times. I also try to remind myself to take care of myself and take multiple breaks throughout the day.

 

Are you a morning or evening person?

Amie – Morning is when I am most focused for production work. That said, sometimes my wheels don’t stop turning or I have a deadline and I want to work at night.

Maia – I’m definitely an evening person, I never schedule calls with my clients in the morning, it is usually my ‘me’ time when I take the time to read the news, catch up on my TV shows, and just relax. I usually start around lunch time and work until late at night.

 

What is one habit or routine that keeps you interested in your work?

Amie – Allowing “free” days away from the computer is really essential. I make time to read and mix in a few hours a week for either a lecture, meet up, or other interaction to help expand my mind and thoughts. The more I learn, the more I see where I can help people and in turn, this feeds my creativity.

Maia – I constantly browse beautifully done sites to get inspiration for new designs. I also go to a lot of networking events and get to meet a ton of great women developers. Lastly, since I travel a lot, I tend to do half days of work and half days of discovery. My husband and I go visit museums, walk around the city, and go to events and then return “home” to get our work done for the remainder of the day. This has led to a better work-life balance and I come back to my projects with a refreshed mind.

 

What is one thing you do before you sit down to work that helps get you get started in your day?

Amie: I get up and get ready each morning like I am going to walk out the door even though I work from home. This way when I need to run out quickly, I can run out quickly and not be stressed. Sounds so simple, but I think it’s really helped me be able to embrace the discipline needed for freelancing success.

Maia: I have to have a cup of tea or sparkling water and read the news before I start to do anything. Once I am done with that, my goal is to get to inbox zero by the end of the day.

I also started avoiding working from bed (which I used to do a lot). This way, my mind switches to work mode when I get to my desk.

 

What is the one type of task you most dread working for yourself?

Amie: Having to deal with tech support issues for myself.

Maia: Financial tasks (taxes, healthcare, etc) overwhelm me sometimes.

 

Do you have a tip that helps you motivate and relieve the stress of the task?

Amie: First, I will mention that I have learned to pick service providers based on how good their tech support is and sometimes this means I have to pay for it. I’ve been learning breathing exercises to help keep my cool under pressure. I make myself a cup of hot tea, put on my headphones, and call or message tech support if I can’t figure out the issue within 10-20 minutes.

Maia: I put on some calm music, get a cup of tea, and list all of tasks I have on a piece a paper. As soon as I’m done writing the list, it does not seem as daunting anymore.

 

Do you prefer to read print or the internet?

Amie: I prefer to read print. I like the tactile experience of holding a book or magazine and focusing my eyes on something other than a screen.

Maia: I usually read print, but since I started traveling a lot, I read mostly on my kindle but I kept my old model which has not backlight and is not bad for my eyes at night.

 

What is the most helpful tip you’ve discovered that makes you more efficient?

Amie: Beyond making a daily task list, I changed the way I do one of my most time-consuming admin task. Instead of putting off my billing till a specific date and I bill as soon as I wrap a project up. I found that on the days I scheduled myself to do billing, something like dealing with tech support another admin task always pulled me off. This caused me a lot of anxiety.

Maia: First, taking frequent breaks from my screen. Second, I have stopped checking my emails after a certain time in the evening, which can really mess up my sleep.

Finally, I bought a couple of notebooks to keep track of my clients on paper at the end of each day. I feel like it takes away my stress of the day when I cross the things out that I was supposed to do that day.

 

Name the three most imp. items you take with you when you work on the road?

Amie: My notebook, iPhone, and chargers.

Maia: My laptop, my chargers, and my phone.

 

Do you have a creative outlet away from the computer? How often do you tap into it?

Amie:  Yes, photography and cooking. At least every other day I make time to cook in the evenings. The additional benefit is that I eat healthier when I have home cooked meals.

Maia: Photography and reading. I travel a ton so I started a travel blog (http://dev-travelers.tumblr.com/) where I feature pictures and stories about the places that we’ve visited. I try to update my blog weekly which pushes me to get out of the house and actually do something that does not involve work.

 

Music is so incredibly good for our soul and focus. What music app do you tune into and why?

Amie: Spotify because I can choose a music genre based on my mood.

Maia: Spotify! I love their playlists, I also love the fact that I can make my own playlists or follow someone else’s’.

 

Any other personal tips that you would like to share, Amie?

  • I set parameters for my work hours now and take a break on the weekends to spend with my family.
  • I can’t emphasize enough how making exercise a priority has helped. It’s not only good for our bodies; it also helps with mental clarity and combats stress. My dog makes sure I at least take one walk a day. 🐶 If you have a hard time getting into it, commit yourself to a feel good class like meditation, yoga, or conditioning like gyrotonics at least once a week and enjoy the release!
  • This one is really hard to do, but because I am a morning person, I really do try and tune out from email at least one hour before bed to help the wheels in my head stop spinning. (There are published studies that give tips on how to disconnect to decrease anxiety.)
  • Pay attention to your posture and the ergonomics of your workstation. Adjusting chair height, the height of the arms of my chair for typing and using my mouse, using a stool to prop up my feet, and working off larger monitors (not laptops) has made a huge difference in how I feel throughout the day. If I do go to a coffee shop or somewhere else to work, I make a point to not sit on a stool for very long.

 

And you, Maia?

  • Working out is a new thing for me, I signed up for ClassPass which lets me work out in each city I am going to without any attachments or contracts. I try to do one of their classes at least 4 times a month.
  • I also started pampering myself a bit more, going to get a manicure or doing a face mask while watching a tv show which lets me recharge my batteries.
  • Reading every night also helps take the anxiety of work out of my head before I go to sleep.
  • Finally, having a desk is something that definitely helps with productivity and comfort. I could work on a couch or a bed, but a desk makes me focus on my tasks.

Tending to yourself is not only good for your health and well-being over the long-term, but it will actually increase your daily productivity. If your mind is calm, you will be more focused on the task at hand. You will also feel less stressed under those deadlines that pop up and have more energy to put towards that networking event. No matter where in the world you may be located, we hope some of this advice we share with you helps you figure out how to develop a better work-life balance and increase your overall happiness!

P.S. – If you have a tip you’ve discovered and wouldn’t mind sharing in the comments below, we would love to hear it! (Even if it’s to share the discovery of a favorite cafe that you love to work in or the most inspirational place you’ve traveled to. After all, our experiences in travel and living in various places are what connect us all!

You can learn more about Maia Hariton’s work at: http://maiahariton.com.

When you raise a child, it is fair to say that a majority of a parent’s focus is on the short-term strategy. Making sure your child is fed, bathed, and their daily needs are met so that your little person can be happy and healthy in their day-to-day-life. We know these things are important.

To shape humans who will one day go out into the world to become independent, successful, and functioning members of society, we have to think beyond the short-term to longer-term investments. Examples of these investments are: teaching good behavior, investments in education and in opportunities that give children a broader view of the world. What would happen to our children – to society – if we did not think about the bigger picture?

I think the same can be said about business. If a business’s civic duty is to ultimately serve society, shouldn’t CEO’s also have a long-term focus with business? What happens to our world if businesses are not concerned about the resources they are consuming, if they do not put the wellbeing of their employees first, or are concerned with the impact they are making in their community and the world? Unfortunately, what we see too much in big business is short-term thinking. For many publicly held businesses, the leadership has become only focused on serving shareholders and making quarterly profits. Under this model, CEOs don’t often stay at the top very long. While CEOs may gain short-term, what is lost is big picture thinking and they leave behind only hope a company will benefit over time. My thought process here has been inspired by observance, working with small business owners, and an article I read recently in The Atlantic “How To Stop Short-Term Thinking At America’s Companies” and I couldn’t agree more.

My passion is to focus on helping grow small businesses and people who are not afraid to think independently and bring new ideas to the table. I want to support a new business model where businesses can thrive when they apply long-term thinking and where they think about how they can benefit communities to help create jobs, rather than make the prime focus their personal investments. Companies who think longer term are more responsible in studying the impact of development and are careful about preservation. I call it business with a conscience – business practices that work to better society, that focus on people, and not destroying the environment.

Aquidneck Land Trust at Newport Winery

Aquidneck Land Trust and Newport Winery

I am part of a community here in Newport, RI that has started the conversation about what type of businesses and industry they want to attract as this island develops. The taxpayers are coming together to think collectively about the impact of types of businesses will have on population growth, job growth, traffic flow, and repurposing old buildings sitting vacant. It is an interesting conversation as there is just as much concern from the community about the environmental and social impact as much as economic impact. Locals want to protect what is valuable here – the natural environment and historic architecture – so that we can leave Newport a shining example of a modern city for the next generation.

There is a desire within our communities to support and build businesses with consciences. So how do we do that?

How To Build A Business With A Conscience

  1. Focus on people. While money is a key driver of prosperity and growth, one cannot build a company alone. Without the right team of people and the right clients, a business fails. It is a proven fact that companies that put people and clients first, not only are more resistant to change, but they also are more viable than companies driven by short-term profits or making money for shareholders.
  2. Panera Bread removes artificial preservatives, colors, sweetners from their food.

    A company with a vision to serve healthier food.

    Write a company mission that has a purpose beyond making money. How will your business work to impact the community and world around you? This will force you to think beyond profits and give you focus beyond the downturns all businesses face at one point or time when they suffer the loss of a client or a slow month in sales.

     

  3. Assemble your team around this mission. If everyone does not share the same mission, then it is easy for conflict to arise amongst team members.
  4. Make marketing plans and partnerships that have social impact. There are some really great examples of companies who incorporate community into their business projects and plans. MailChimp not only donates some of its profits to help nonprofits in its hometown of Atlanta, but their marketing team also teamed with nonprofit to develop a product to sell for an e-commerce project that helped their marketing team learn more about e-commerce. My Emma started planting one new tree for every new client back in 2007. Then in 2009, they planted five trees to every new client. Since then they have brought  53,000 trees into the world and their outreach has definitely grown. There are tons of other examples including companies that invest in community wellness.  Really amazing, isn’t it?
  5. Think before you buy.  Look at ways you can make your business more environmentally friendly. Hire service providers and buy supplies, decor, and furniture for your business from other companies who share a collective vision to make the world better. Try buying repurposed or recycled. Look at service providers like Google who plan to run 100% on renewable energy in 2017.
  6. Companies that have family friendly policies are front runners. They not only retain happy employees, but those employees are more willing to work harder and smarter if they are not burned out or feel supported.

Over the past few years, I have noticed a rise in at-home businesses, especially in my community – the military spouse (and mom) world. I encourage and support these fellow business owners/consultants and believe that what they’re doing is – can be – great! While this article is not about why at-home businesses are good, I want y’all to know first and foremost that I think these venues can be excellent opportunities for you personally and professionally. Having said that, I do have a critical eye for entrepreneurialism and I have seen your businesses succeed and fail as a result of your online marketing. I just want to help.

Before I dig in, let me establish what I believe represents success and failure in at-home business marketing:

  • Success: utilizing the available social media platforms to reel in your customers.
  • Failure: over-utilizing the available social media platforms to turn customers (and personal affiliations) off from your products.

If you’re an at-home business or consultant you are likely self-taught and self-motivated. Whether it’s Scentsy, Lularoe, Rodan & Fields, etc., you sought out this opportunity and made an intentional decision about investing yourself in this business and brand. You have used your available resources on a budget to set yourself up for success. You use a variety of tools to promote your products and attract customers. These likely – or mostly – include social media marketing. That’s what we’re talking about today.

Here’s the thing: there are unspoken rules regarding the usage of social media. There are some technical challenges to using social media, but there are also numerous cultural obstacles to navigate and ensure your success.

If there’s a main message I want you to take away from this article, it’s this: you can burn out your audience! Sure, it’s your friends’ choice to follow you and open their newsfeed, but social media is a two-way street – there is etiquette to keeping your friends.

Posting too often is annoying. What does this mean? Where is the line? Is the line different for each social media platform? Yes! From Facebook to Twitter and Instagram, each platform has its own social media expectations. I encourage you to get feedback from your friends/customer base (the ones that purchase and especially the ones who don’t). But from my personal experience:

Facebook: Facebook is the platform used the most for personal updates but also used the most for merchandise/sales. This requires a delicate balance. Here are a couple of practical ideas to maintain this balance:

  • On your personal page, show how you use your products in your day-to-day life.
  • Create a separate business page or group for a majority of your posts.
  • Be sure to post about your life on your personal page more than you post about your business and be authentic.
  • Personally ask your friends if you can invite them to your page or group first. While this may take more time than sending out a mass invite, it shows respect to the friend by not assuming their interest. Plus, they are much more likely to be active customers if you engage them directly!
  • Use high-quality photos.
  • Promotions, giveaways, and contests are definitely a successful and trending tactic used by many consultants – just be sure to keep them in your business page or group!
  • Boosting your posts will help with visibility and growing your customer base, but do not expect direct sales from one boost. It takes time to sell a customer – or friend. Set a small monthly budget that you allow yourself to use for specific types of post boosts.
  • Facebook events are an awesome way to reel in new customers and re-engage old ones. Live parties with incentives and giveaways are sure to bring in business.

Instagram: This platform is a little more difficult to build up a following base and it may take a little bit longer than Facebook, but it is a huge platform for online shopping. Take advantage of it! Be sure to follow the same etiquette as Facebook and mind the personal/professional balance. If you plan to post on Instagram frequently, create your own business page, just as you would with Facebook. Here are some practical ideas for your Instagram accounts:

  • Use high-quality photos.
  • Research your hashtags and use them consistently!
  • Utilize promotions, giveaways, and contests to grow your following base.
  • Cross promote with other similar businesses and team up to share one another’s followers!

Twitter: It is perfectly acceptable to tweet more frequently on Twitter than it is to post on Facebook or Instagram; just be sure your content is different! Twitter is very different than Facebook and Instagram and should be treated accordingly. Even though it is ok to tweet more frequently, be sure you still find and follow the right personal/professional balance and create a separate page for your business. More practical ideas:

  • Keep your tweets relevant and timely.
  • Always use hashtags – just be sure they fit!
  • Follow as many applicable pages as possible.
  • Be a good Twitter follower; retweet and like as much as possible.
  • Tweets with images still perform better than tweets without images.

Maintain your personal brand (life). Do not allow your business to consume your social media presence. Be personal, be yourself! Continue to share normally as you did before starting your at-home business. This is important because your friends are your friends because they’re your friends – not because they’re your customers. If you wish to engage your friends as customers, be sensitive and respectful to the friendship first and foremost! Ask them if they would like to be included before assuming. An invitation is very powerful and can actually help you make sales quicker than you would otherwise. Why? When you ask someone if they want to be included, that counts as a “touch.” In sales, you typically need numerous “touches” (engagements) with a customer before they’ll make a purchase. Also, a personal invitation signifies a commitment of some sort. If a friend accepts your invitation and says they would like to be included, that usually means that, at some point, they will make a purchase from you! If you never directly ask them, it is much easier for that friend to slip away passively and never make a purchase (this has happened to me SO many times)! Remember, building a business takes time!

Cross promotion is huge. Networking isn’t just a handshake anymore. Find other businesses or blogs with similar products or interests. Introduce yourself and pitch why and how you could help promote one another. Now, be sure your products or services are different, but similar enough where your customers may become their customers. Come up with a plan together and share one another’s content. Teaming up on a promotion or giveaway is an excellent way to grow your following base.

Share reviews and stories of how your products are being used. People want to know why your product is worthy of their purchase. The reality is that we live in an oversaturated market and we have to earn our customers’ loyalty. We have to show them why our products are worth their investment and how they can use them. To build loyalty and gain new customers, use your current customers’ real stories, real reviews, and real images of them using your products (with their permission, of course – maybe even offer an incentive)! In my experience, this can be even more valuable than a paid advertisement.

Now a couple of overall tips for your business pages:

  • Be sure your profiles are complete and your contact information is easily accessible.
  • Change your profile picture and banner on a consistent basis (monthly is a good rule of thumb). Be sure your brand is visible. Your logo should always be present in one of those photos, preferably your profile picture.
  • Spelling and grammar are very important. You probably know this by now; just don’t slack in this department. Sloppy spelling and grammar presents a poor image of your products and brand.
  • Take advantage of all the free photo and graphic apps and websites to further grow your brand.
  • Video is quickly becoming the most utilized visual on the web – just be sure to get your point across fast and keep them under 30 seconds! Also, visuals are more important than sound on video – so, instead of saying what you need to say, show it!
  • Finally, be patient! It takes time to establish a brand and even more time to establish a following. Don’t give up and keep at it as if you had thousands of followers. Fake it ‘til you make it!

*This article is not comprehensive as social media is a constantly evolving beast. There are many other platforms and perspectives to account for but hopefully this is a good starting place for you. We are open to suggestions and varying opinions as it is nearly impossible to have one rule of thumb for technology such as social media.*

Many of us find comfort in the community and familiarity of our favorite local coffee shop. Teahouse is excited to have a client that offers these simple yet valuable luxuries: Eden Cafe.

Joe Ventura at his bar at EDEN CAFE There are many unique aspects about Eden Cafe that differentiate it from competitors. While many national coffee chains can be found at every intersection, in most towns, coffeehouses have to present themselves differently.  Eden fulfills several communal needs: live entertainment three nights a week, free space for organizations to meet outside the office, and a menu with items that cannot be replicated at home.

Owner, Joe Ventura, launched this business with the hopes of creating a safe and inviting space for people of all walks of life.  Now seven months into operation the community is responding and many have become regulars.

In today’s small-business landscape, we have several factors working for us as we go up against giant corporations. It is essential to find those factors and implement them within your walls.

In a land with copious amounts of tomatoes, pasta, and gelato, most travelers’ response is: “it’s the best I’ve ever had in my life!” Italy is the fifth most visited country by tourists in the world with 48.6 million tourists per year (2014). Surely, we can learn from them – they’re doing something right!

Growing up in an Italian home, comprised of 50% Sicilian blood, Italy has always been a dream vacation for me. Turns out Italy was only a short and relatively inexpensive plane ticket from Israel, so this summer it became a reality for me.

Business was clearly booming as we visited during the peak tourist month of the year, July. I would have loved to visit in a less busy month to observe the true flow of business, but I’ll take what I can get. Walking the streets of Florence and Rome you’ll see essentially the same businesses with different faces. Gelato upon gelato shop, espresso stands, and of course Italian-made products – purses, suits, and leather everything! The first city we visited was Florence and I was itching to buy a new purse, but the streets (even the ground – literally!) was teaming with leather purses. I didn’t know how to tell what was authentic and what was a tourist trap! So naturally, I didn’t buy anything.

A couple of days later we arrived in Orvieto. Turns out, this quaint picturesque town was my favorite stop in Italy. A dear college friend, Hannah, moved to Orvieto to marry her Italian husband. Naturally, I needed to see her in her new habitat while I was nearby!

Hannah and Frederico own a leather shop in Orvieto named after him – Frederico Badia – and I’m telling you, it is amazing. In the video below they introduce themselves and talk about how they started their family business.

My first question to them (among a million) was “how do you set yourselves apart from the other leather shops in Italy?” They both proudly answered: quality. It takes Frederico nearly 60 hours to create one pair of shoes. I can’t even imagine spending that long on one item!

In a world where craftsmanship can easily rely on shortcuts to boost efficiency (and possibly sales), Frederico explained, a true artist keeps his product 100% authentic with the highest quality possible.

I thought about this a lot, especially as Italy repeats its products on each street corner. This concept should also apply to business. Find your niche and do it well. Don’t overextend yourself with too many products or concepts. Keep it simple and do it well.

Frederico told me about his customer base – the types of people that typically purchase his beautiful work. Find yours! Identify who your customers are, who you want them to be, and cater your marketing and brand around that base.

It is ever important in an oversaturated market to find your niche, provide the highest quality item, and sell to your specific customer base. Stay focused and take pride.

Federico Badia, Orvieto, Italy: Quality Leather Craftmanship Federico Badia, Orvieto, Italy: Quality Leather Craftmanship Federico Badia, Orvieto, Italy: Quality Leather Craftmanship

Federico Badia, Orvieto, Italy: Quality Leather Craftmanship

The wind report didn’t look promising. I read there would be a whopping 5 knots of breeze and maybe even a bit of overcast skies on this September day. For all of you non-sailors, that would equate to a great day for other land lubber endeavors such as mowing the grass, fishing, or more painfully…golfing! For months, I had been anticipating this opportunity to shoot the 37th Classic Yacht Regatta in Newport with the great Onne van der Wal and learn from one of the most respected artists in the trade. We left the dock a bit skeptically and decided to make the most of the day. As the postponement flag was raised, I pulled out my Canon camera and proceeded to snap away at anything that would move patiently waiting for the cool sensation of breeze on my neck to fill these tall sails. As the wind came and the starting guns went off, I soon felt a bit inadequate in lens size as some of my compatriots in this class pulled out their whoppers! I giggled… I was not going to let size rule over subject matter. I knew what I was shooting; I let the sailor in me take charge of the artistic composition and kept my finger on the trigger.

img_7177

With all the technology in the world on foiling cats these beautiful hulls and rigs reflecting in the water in a simple photo prove that there is no substitute for true craftsmanship and the eye of an artist.

 

cleat

During the shoot, Onne graciously came over and lent me his larger lens and faster camera so I could test run some new equipment. What I find most amusing, however is that my money shot (above) was made using my run of the mill 55-250mm lens when no one else was looking!

img_0805

img_0784

Rounding the #12 red bell in front of Rose Island Light House.

_69a7096

img_0914

img_0788

A sailor is an artist whose medium is the wind.
– Webb Chiles

What do you find when you walk into a bustling, third world country, teeming with tourists while holding tightly to its traditional Muslim roots? A country in transition.

Culturally, Egyptians are wholly committed to their religious roots but they are also very aware of the Western world creeping into their borders. They admire it, want to be like it, and idolize the American spirit in many ways. However, they have an extremely unique history that drastically shaped the world we live in today. Sounds like society has ticked full circle to me!

The Egyptian pound ebbs and flows from markets and produce stands to tourism and trinket shops. The Egyptian economy is greatly affected from its government’s involvement. When a student nears completion of his/her secondary education (high school), they write a list of their top desired professions. The government pools the available professions and desired professions and assigns a life-long career to each student. Those students then either cheer or make the best of their situation and study for a few years at the University (completely government-funded education).

Meet Fatima; a passionate 20-something history major with three children at home. She defies many stereotypes and thoroughly enjoys her life’s profession. I was enamored by her passion and love for her country’s history and its impact on society’s evolution. She works in the country’s most successful tourism shop (which is government certified) and accounts her sales success to her true love of her job.

I asked her in many which ways, to see if she’d change or elaborate her answer, why she has been so successful. It always came back to her personality and passion. As a tourist in her shop prior to interviewing her, I can totally attest to that truth. My husband and I had three pieces of papyrus art on the check-out counter due to her thorough description and demonstration. Her genuine love for Egypt’s history was infectious.

We can all learn from Fatima. We can learn from her determination; even with her religious and familial commitment she still pursued her career wholeheartedly. We can learn from her personality; with each question we asked her, her optimism only grew. We can learn from her passion; her passion defined her, which arguably is what drives her success.

With all of the divisiveness in the economy, media and politics we read about in the headlines, I believe that small businesses can be an answer in healing and creating a sense of unity in our society (or community).

There is one thing that connects people of all backgrounds and of all cultures: that is our collective desire to thrive, grow, create, live in peace, and prosper. When an environment allows a business to prosper, the ecosystem it is a part of also prospers. The ecosystem I refer to is all of the people who interact with that business such as contractors, distributors, suppliers, and clients. By community, I refer to the social unit that surrounds the small business. When a community supports a business, that community often feels a sense of ownership and pride in the business’s success.  The community identity can even become intertwined with the brand or business’ identity.

So what kind of impact can small businesses have on a local community? I think the most evident is that business is able to help solve problems within their community. As a business grows and thrives, they create jobs and opportunities. Many businesses and business owners make philanthropic investments in their communities as a way to give back. These investments can also be part of a growth and branding strategy. Think about listener supported radio stations such as NPR or public television. Look around your town or city where businesses exist – it’s not difficult to find examples of business sponsorship at local sports leagues, concerts, festivals, and parks. Then as a business grows, there is another less intentional impact, one that is less noticeable on the local level but still very important. That business’s ecosystem begins to grow and it is not only impacting their local community, but the effects of that growth begin to extend beyond the businesses’ local community. Gradually, that business has a broad reach, even beyond state lines and national borders. This broad reach is especially evident in internet based businesses.

So what happens when a small business based in one location has a broad customer base in multiple locations? They not only serve a local community, but their technology based business reaches many communities. In many towns and cities, marketing campaigns to “buy local” and “support local” brick and mortar business are pushed by a local community. This is a very effective movement to produce personalized goods that represent a region or an area of the country. I think this is very helpful for the educated consumer when it comes to sourcing products that have fresh food ingredients and when an area is known as a source for a rare commodity. However, when the term is used only as a reference to where a business is located and it does not actually refer to a true locally sourced commodity, it sounds a bit convoluted. Like many marketing terms, “local” is a context and it does not necessarily mean they sell products with the best quality. It also does not mean a business produces a 100% locally made product nor does a business with a local label necessarily use ingredients or materials all from local sources. It may only mean that a piece of the production or a storefront is local. The term in this context is then used as a competitive means to prevent people from purchasing from internet-based businesses and I don’t think this hurts true “local” businesses. It’s interesting that as a service provider who does all my business online, I often do not identify as a local based business yet I still give back to communities wherever I am based. The work I output has a direct impact on my clients’ success and my clients are businesses located around the country. My community is a network of businesses with similar missions who support a greater movement to help better society and my community extends beyond a single location. I aim to support businesses based within the U.S. and U.S. territories and I outsource some tasks to contractors within my military spouse and design community. It is more important to my business to hire talent regardless of where they are located because doing so ensures quality, that I can work within a client’s budget, meet a production deadline, and this is what makes my business thrive. As Corinne and I have learned over the past year, there are benefits as well as challenges to overcome when you work with one another across time zones, but it is something that has defined us. This has made my business model much more flexible and we use tools that have made us incredibly efficient. A term I’ve embraced for this is digital productivity: technology has made it possible for us to work together from remote locations almost as smoothly as if we were under the same roof.

The reality is this: whether you run a small locally based brick and mortar business or small online business, we live in a digitally connected world and global exposure is one post away for your company and brand. Do we fight the challenges the internet creates or accept the opportunities it provides? Can we take pride as a business or consumer in knowing that we are purchasing a product that in its production has required parts or services from small businesses who are helping many different communities? How do we as businesses help bridge the gap between various communities and cultures in different places for people who still feel heavily reliant and connected with one community or culture?

We hope our videos featuring the stories and advice from entrepreneurs that Corinne has met in her travels around the world will inspire you and show that we all live very similar lives beyond our borders. Our main difference is that some of us have the privilege to live in a stable country while others live in countries that are bordered with finicky political and economic climates. What can we learn from our friends who live and work in places challenged with instability?

We will also highlight some of our small business clients who are locally based and have an internet-based presence. We hope that you will share their stories and help others realize the common connection we all have no matter where we are located around the world.

Page 1 of 212