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!

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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.

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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.

 

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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!

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

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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.

As some of you may be taking a vacation soon to escape the heat or planning you winter escape, we thought we’d help you with a vacation reply that you’ll need to create. Feel free to download and use as you wish!

Cheers!

 

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I work with small businesses every day to provide guidance and wave my magical pen to create their web and print assets look professional and help increase sales. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that images you use in your design can do two things: 1) enhance the user experience and educate 2) disrupt it. A photo is a key element in visual communication and all the design and marketing talent you hire to create your brand message will do no good on your customer’s purchase decision if you use the wrong photography.

Businessman in wheat field with briefcase and balloons

This guy is definitely happy, but the context of this stock photo is also a wee bit strange. (Source: Hubspot)

How many business sites have you visited that use the same humdrum photo of “business professionals” looking “happy” sitting in a “business meeting” or that generic shot of two suits “shaking hands”? Stock photography sites have come a long way, but let me warn you – these sites are still full of bad and generic concepts.

The changes being made by every major social media network – Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and the shift to responsive design all emphasize the power effective photography and imagery have on the performance of posts and clicks and how people read a web page. Think about the power a great photo can have on the senses, feeling, and emotion of a viewer.

  • Content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without relevant images.
  • 46% of marketers say photography is critical to their current marketing and storytelling strategies.
    (Source: Hubspot)

So what to do when you are a small business with a limited budget?

  • One idea is to invest in a library of photography that you can easily repurpose for various uses. Start small and build your library as your budget grows. Having a library that designers can work with will save on their production time and your wallet.
  • Use natural light photography. It can be much easier and less expensive to produce as you need less equipment. Also, the look of the natural light might work better for your brand. It also gives a photo a very personal and creative touch.
  • Work with a local photographer. Usually, local photographers are willing to help out small businesses and you do not have to pay travel expenses.
  • If you are under time constraints or a start-up with tight purse strings, the video below contains some GREAT tips for DIY Product Photography. This is when you need a basic product still shot. You can also purchase a basic lighting kit online or at your local photography store.

 

Corinne Ables, Teahouse CreativesWisps of light, stringy clouds are scattered across the blue Israeli sky. The sun is permeating the dry earth with a perfect heat. It is only early May and I can sense the engulfing heat of summer just around the bend along with the end of another season: spring.

Each season is my last here in Israel as my husband and I only have an 11-month tour here (just a few more to go). The brevity of my time here has pushed me to absorb as much as possible. The threat of that plane ride back to the U.S. brings a pressure and awareness that our life is to live today, as fully as possible.

I am not a still person; I am an Entrepreneur. Maybe you can relate? I like to build things. I like to grow things. And while living in various states throughout the U.S. and now in a new country, that desire to build and grow has only intensified.

My perspective has widened, my understanding of human nature has matured. I have seen firsthand, how vital small businesses are to our society worldwide.

It is an honor to share my experiences and ever-growing opinions with you. I share in anticipation of learning from you as well, whether you’re another traveler, entrepreneur, or marketing mind.

As one season comes to an end, we begin another – just keep your mind wide open.

Customers only remember 10% of what you’re impressing upon them. That tells us something, doesn’t it? Our attention spans pave the way for memory and we are bored.

Habituatization kills our memory, yet we like to see and hear what we’re used to. Although we are creatures of habit, our memories do not thrive within that comfort zone.

pig_on_a_cloudAs I was sitting on an airplane recently, an announcement for a “very special offer” from the airline’s partner was pitched over the loudspeaker. Then, a well-trained hostess came down the aisles answering questions – with handouts to boot! I have sat in similar airplane seats and have heard the same safety brief about how to fasten my seatbelt dozens of times, but you better believe this novel sales technique caught my attention. While I was not thrilled, I paid attention.

Grasp your customers’ comfort zone and challenge it! Surprise them. Identify what factors need to stay the same and switch up the rest.

Next time you’re planning your message, remember that leaving an impression takes more than just teaching people how to fasten their seatbelts.

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