Sunday, April 27, 2008

Weekend Work

My paper supplier cut part of my order wrong. Poo. Unfortunately, I didn't discover this until the weekend, and being on my usual timelines I had to work with what I had. Thankfully they were cut a smidge too big (not sure what I would have done if they were cut too small!!) so I have just spent the better part of a morning going back through all the sheets and re-cutting them 1/4 inch on 2 sides. Grrr .....

Here's a few more glimpses into my studio space:

*all images (c) Epiphany Designs 2008*

Thursday, April 17, 2008

See Andra Crave ...

I LOVE the See Jane Work website ... so many incredible ideas for your office decor! Working in a creative industry I find that surrounding myself with beautiful things is of the utmost importance. I honestly feel like I can design better when my surroundings are cohesive, functional, and lovely.

Here's a few things from the See Jane Work site I'm craving right now:

*all images courtest of See Jane Work*

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Honest Truth About Starting a (Invitation) Company

I am constantly surprised at the number of emails I get from women who are interested in starting their own invitation company. I'm surprised, of course, because I can't believe anyone would actually come to me for advice!

I'm not a person to pull any punches (as my mom would say) when giving out info, and I always wind up telling these women similar things. For those of you who are not looking into starting an invitation company but something else, much of what I say is relevent, anyways!:

My personal journey began when I created DIY invites and other paper goods for my own wedding, enjoyed it immensely, and was told by numerous people that I should do it as a living. I opened a studio from my home in the fall of 2006 after significant research into the local and country-wide market and began operations. My company, Epiphany Designs, would now be deemed successful by most, I hardly do any advertising as a majority of my clients come to me through referrals from past clients, and things are going tickety-boo. So yes, it can be done. But (there's always a but!), here are some things to think about:

(1)Do not start a company based solely on feedback you've received from friends and family. Friends, family, coworkers etc. will tend to always say that your invitations/products are beautiful and that you should "do it as a living". My suggestion would be to see if your actual wedding vendors (ie. photographer, caterer etc) see your work and, unprovoked, tell you the same thing. This could also apply to anyone who works around your "product" on a regular basis. Doing so will give you a significantly better take on the actual quality of your work overall, as this advice is coming from people who are surrounded by it all the time. I had a ton of guests, family and friends tell me that my work was great, but I didn't really start paying attention until I had 4 seperate vendors tell me (without my asking) that I should really consider it as a career move.

(2) Research is the most important thing you will do. It does not matter if your styles are fabulous, if your designs are out-of-this-world .. if you cannot find excellent local and web-based vendors of your supplies, there is no way you will be able to sell your goods at fair market value. Or rather, market value at which people will pay for what you are providing ... which brings me to point #3 ...

(3) Invitations/products must be priced appropriately for the market. Often newbie companies wind up charging either too much or too little. The best way to tell is to compare, compare, compare with other companies. You will have a good idea where you stand once you actually begin sales -- if you are swarmed with orders right away, you may be charging too little. If no one is buying from you, you are probably charging too high. Again, prices all depend on your market. Bigger city businesses tend to be able to sell with higher prices, whereas companies in smaller towns tend to have smaller price-points overall since the market itself is generally smaller.

(4) Making invitations full-time is hard work! This applies to almost any "artistic" company. Physically, the bent-over position you need to take for much of your work can wreck havoc on your back and neck, and my right arm is actually beginning to develp tennis elbow from the amount of paper cutting I do! Mentally, it can be frustrating to figure out sizes, your printer, etc. particularily when first starting out. Your need to be better-then-excellent at your timelines as, in the wedding industry atleast, you are dealing with one of the biggest days in a person's life. Mental strain can kick in if you are sick or unable to get to your work for a while, and the stress will really add up unless you are super-organized.

My invitation company is technically part-time, though I operate it as a full-time business (if that makes sense -- most of my clients are surprised to discover that I have a full-time day job). I still manage to do well at my full-time work, which is teaching; I chalk that all up to my Type-A personality and ability to time-manage. I love working both jobs and will continue to do both as long as I am able! Starting my own business has been one of the best and most-fulfilling things I have ever done. It gives me a creative outlet, I get to meet and work with amazing women all the time, and it means so much to play a role in one of the most important moments in a person's life.

That being said, I wouldn't recomend it for everyone. My husband likes to point out that its "stressful, hard work, and takes a toll on your time with your family". (whoops :D). Your invitation company (or ANY company you own, for that matter) will become very much like your baby. You will think about it at night, you will stress about it during the day, you will focus a lot of time and energy into its success.

I know this may come off as a bit of a "downer", but so often I hear about women starting up craft-based businesses without really doing their research. For some reason people tend to think that "that" sort of business is easy to run and begin, and that it doesn't take much to do. How do I know this? Because I thought the same thing! Luckily my cautious nature forced me to explore the idea further so I was not completely blind-sided by a reality check, thank god. It still won't 100% protect you (when I think back to my projected start-up costs vs. the real thing, I'm actually embarrassed at how naive I was), but it will give you a nice buffer.

When it is all said and done, you need to do your research, explore possibilities, opportunities, and potential pitfalls, and then do the scariest thing ... take the first BIG step.


Yes, I am aware that my last post was almost exactly 1 year ago! Due to my day job, the continued operations and development of Epiphany Designs, and the promotion and success of my first blog, I Love Weddings, I decided I was taking on too much. I also realized that what I actually wanted was to find a blog like Divapreneurs, not write it -- I need advice as much as the next gal! However, regular emails from wannabe readers asking me to come back to this newbie blog have made me re-evaluate my decision. Plus I have to admit ... I've always loved the idea of Divapreneurs.

I can't say where this blog will take us for the next while. I am looking into beginning interviews with like-minded female entrepreneurs so that we can effectively pick their brains on various topics. I believe that much of this blog 'til then may simply be my spouting about my own company, thoughts in my head etc.

Like it or not, I am (trying) to be back for good! Won't you join me for the ride?
*image courtesy of and copyrighted by Epiphany Designs 2008*

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Marketing Monster #1

I recently had a reader email me with a question about marketing strategies for a home-based business. She wrote:
"I know there's no "best way", but what are some of the ways a small home based business that's just starting out advertise without spending thousands on a display ad? Do you mind sharing some of the things you have done?"

Well, I can't say I'm an expert on the subject by any means, but I've dipped my toe into a few things thus far. With less then 6 months of Divapreneurialship (boy do I love making up words!) under my belt I've still got a LOT to learn, but hopefully some of my attempts will inspire you.

What follows are things I've either (a) tried, or (b) am planning on trying in the near future. I've made the focus of this piece a small, home-based business as I would guess that is how many of you are starting out. I will highlight one "tactic" per blog post, so check back soon for the next installment!

(1) Trade Shows
I know, I know, this costs money. Not a ton when compared to other advertising methods, but enough. However, you WILL NOT find a better target-marketed advertising strategy at such a cheap price than this. I repeat, WILL NOT. As such, I've decided to include it in this list, AND even have the audacity to list it as Number One! If you read on, however, you'll see why.

Tradeshows are an incredible way to commune with future, and more importantly, currently seeking clients. Provided you do you homework and find a tradeshow related to your product/service, you will effectively be hitting hundreds of potential clients in a matter of hours. Think about it: an ad placed in the newspaper will see thousands of eyes in that one day it runs, but what are the odds that all those thousands of people will even look at it, let alone also coincidently be in the market for whatever it is you're selling? According to Kim Lavine, author of "Mommy Millionaire" (2007), tradeshows:

- are the most cost-effective way to reach qualified buyers
- generate more leads and require less effort than a typical business call in person or on the phone
- are a great way to meet both existing and new customers
- give you a great opportunity to study the market and your potential competition

Ladies, this is why tradeshows are so amazing! As a case example: I started taking clients in the fall of 2006, and had a respectable three (!) total. I did not enter my first show until January 2007. It was a one-day wedding fair and ran from 9am - 5pm. In that time I literally had thousands of brides (re: potential clients) stop by my booth and browse my invitation samples. Out of that I got the bulk of my current clientele, and out of them I'm also beginning to get some word-of-mouth referrals (more on that in a later post). Infact, I now only plan on entering two tradeshows per year -- one in January, and one in September. I don't think I need to enter any more! I officially consider my start date as Janaury 21, 2007 now because in hindsight, I wasn't really "out" 'till then.

Of course, as someone involved in the wedding business its relatively easy to find market-targeted tradeshows. But how do you find shows of a different nature? The single-best way to do this is to contact the convention centres, big halls, and any other places that seem to host tradeshows in your city. They will have a list for the upcoming year of any and all shows they will be hosting, both consumer ones ("open to the public" such as wedding fairs or car shows) and business-to-business ones ("private/closed to the public" such as oil & gas shows for oil companies). Go through the list, and try to pick out any that sound like they could work for your product/service. Then take that list and check them out on Google -- chances are there will be a website about it somewhere.

Another great way to find out about tradeshows (though sometimes not super-reliable, which is why I've listed it second) is the website . Go to this site and click on "Tradeshow Directory" on the left-hand side to help you find shows specific to your industry.

Divas, when you add it all up and then compare it to more-traditional advertising, tradeshows are heads-and-tails above the competition in terms of price. Where I'm located (a large city in Canada), the average cost for a booth rental (this is just the space, not any signage) is $10 - $15 per square foot. My 10 x 10 booth at the wedding tradeshow cost me $1500 + tax -- I easily made that cost back in orders I received after the fair. Some of the extra-big centres in the States (Las Vegas, San Francisco) will cost you more, but its still worth checking into.

In terms of decorations, don't go overboard. Granted, you don't want your booth looking like the poor-man-on-the-block, but you do NOT have to go "all out" especially in your first few years. Go to a couple of tradeshows prior to yours, walk through the aisles, and gather some ideas of how you can best present what you're selling. Then go home and start scrounging -- look in your basement/garage, call up friends, take whatever you can get your hands on and find a use for it.

Another personal case example: I didn't have much (re: zero) money to put into my booth at the fair. I was incredibly lucky in that my husband works for a company that designs tradeshow booths, so I got a great price on my big sign. But after that, I had nothing. I stressed and stressed for weeks about how I was going to display everything, and finally settled on a less-is-more attitude. I had a few leftover tree-branches from my wedding that I strung with lights (we had gotten the branches by walking back alleys in older neighborhoods in the summer -- whenever someone did some major pruning and threw the branches out, we were right there to catch them!) and placed them on either side of the sign. I took a third one and hung some of my invitations from it in a "wishing tree" style that I'd seen in some wedding magazines. My mother-in-law got a great deal on some brown fabric and sewed me a simple tablecloth to go over the table that came with the cost of the booth. I laid out my sample books, used two small dishes to hold my business cards and a third to hold the ballots for the draw I was having, and then borrowed a vase and silk flowers from my own home to complete the look. I got hundreds (honestly!) of compliments from attendees at the show regarding my booth set-up. Everyone commented on how simple-yet-elegant everything looked, and how my booth stood out from my competitors (who had all gone with an uber-contemporary look). I was so proud!

So thats it ladies. Tradeshows. The wave of the future (well, not really, but you get the point!). Learn to use them strategically and they'll take you far. Promise.

Well, don't HOLD me to that .... :-)

Lavine, Kim (2007). Mommy Millionaire. New York: St. Martin's Press

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What's It Take To Be A Divapreneur?

1) Divapreneurs are women
In a world (previously) dominated by male-owned & operated businesses, this is an obvious-yet-important distinction to make. Divapreneurs are women who have decided to step outside the boundaries that tradition dictates, and start their own company. Simple as that. They are not bra-burners, man-haters, or any other such titles. Divapreneurs have a healthy appreciation for the individual knowledge & expertise that both sexes can bring to their company, and know how to use this knowledge wisely.

2) Divapreneurs are young, or young-at-heart
What this means: unconventional. Divapreneurs strive to maintain hip, modern, forward-thinking businesses to set themselves apart from the standard companies of yore. They are web-based and connected, on top of the latest technologies & advances for their field, keep an ear on the street for upcoming trends, and most likely own at least one pair of kick-ass high-heeled boots.

3) Divapreneurs are persistent
These ladies know that a million-dollar idea doesn't (usually) make money overnight. Though they often start off small, the idea is always there to grow their business into something successful & fulfilling, by whichever standards the Divapreneur uses to judge this. How this gets done is through sheet grit, drive, and determination to succeed. There are late nights, early mornings, lots of coffee, and occasionally a few good "get-it-all-out" crys, but the job gets done, and done well.

4) Divapreneurs are talented
Divapreneurs aren't simply opening their business for "something to do" -- they have talent & creativity that demands it be done. Sometimes this gift is tangible, such as an ability to design fabulous clothes; sometimes it's more ethereal and hard to pin-point, such as a "way" with people. In all circumstances, it is real and visible to others, and a necessary part of society in some small way.

5) Divapreneurs are you
If you are reading this little blog, and this little post, then no matter where you are in life, you are a Divapreneur. You would not have read this far without wanting to verify to yourself that you are. It does not matter if you do or do not own your own business right now. The important thing is that you would like to. And thats the very first step!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Still Waiting For Your Ship To Come In?

My day-job as an elementary special education teacher leaves me privy to seemingly hundreds of "inspirational/educational" posters that, as most will recollect, tend to be left hanging on class & hallway walls for years. Who didn't have at least one classroom with the poster of Garfield sitting on a stack of books and the memorable words "I learn through osmosis" printed underneath? Ah, memories .... but I digress.
Yesterday, whilst walking the halls of my school, I chanced upon a poster I hadn't before noticed. While the image on it (a tanker ship in the ocean) was beautiful-in-a-concrete-business-sort-of-way, the words really struck a chord with me:

"Don't wait for your ship to come in.
Swim out to meet it"

Though I'm sure I've seen those exact words on numerous motivational posters before, yesterday they finally sank in. In terms of deciding when to finally start our own business, I think a lot of the time we are waiting for something to happen before doing so: figuratively, for our "ship to come in". Perhaps we are waiting until we are more-financially stable, until we've been at our current job longer, until we have more time, until we feel better, until we have our first child, until our last child is in school. There are always going to be numerous reasons why we cannot start our business "just yet". The thing is, once one reason is complete, there will always be another reason to follow.

I don't believe there is ever a perfect time to start your own business. Unless you are independently wealthy, have oodles of free time and unending childcare to boot, starting a new company is going to be tough. Face it. There's going to be lots of hours, paperwork, researching vendors, and expenses. Also, its scary. Its scary to be stepping out on your own, especially if you have only ever worked for someone else. You will have upsetting dreams and occasionally wake up panic-stricken at night, wondering who you forgot to contact, or how you're going to pay for such-and-such.

However, the BIG question is ... can you really risk not doing it? If your heart and soul are aching for something different, if your mind is regularily fantasizing about "breaking the mold", can you risk not even giving it a shot? Are you ok with going through the rest of your life wondering "what if?". Because the "what if?" will happen. If you continue to allow yourself to fall prey to the hoping-and-waiting syndrom, very quickly you will find yourself looking back instead of forward.

I didn't think I could handle the time committment, the work, the start-up costs, but I could and do. Somehow everything has found its own way. I can now proudly say that I have two jobs (one as a teacher, one as a business owner), write two seperate blogs, and STILL find time for my husband, family, and friends. True, some days are crazier then others, but it all seems to work out in the end (jealous? Don't be. Most days I look like hell and barely have enough clean clothes to wear due to lack of laundry time but, you know, you take the good with the bad .... ).

I think what I'm trying to say (boy, has this turned into a longer post then I intended!) is simple: go ahead and do it. If you really don't think you are able to handle a new business right now, set an actual timeline for when you will start it (not "when I have the time", but "by April 2008"). If you don't think you can afford it, start small and keep your day job. Your dream of a clothing store along a boutique avenue in your city could begin by opening an on-line store on ebay. Just as there are always going to be excuses for why you can't start your business right now, there will always be reasons & resources why you can. Sometimes it just takes stepping outside your comfort zone.

I'm going to end this post with another motivational-poster-ship-saying I found (what a way to tie it all together. High-five!):

"A ship in the harbour is safe ...
but thats not what ships were made for"

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Welcome Divapreneurs!

Whoah .... who woulda thunk it? If you had told me a mere YEAR ago that I would soon own & operate my own business, I would have laughed in your face. Ridiculously, heartily laughed, 'till tears streamed down my cheeks and I had to scream at you "stop!" for fear my sides would burst.

Well .... perhaps I exaggerate a little. But it would have been funny.

You see, I'd never thought of myself as a business gal before. First degree in psychology, six months in SouthEast Asia, two soul-less years in an accounting department, second degree in education. I had friends who got business degrees, but it never interested me. And an entrepreneur? Forget it! Waaaayy too risky. Better to work for someone else, collect my paycheck, and be on my way.

And then I got married. During the planning of my wedding I discovered a tiny, perfect, hidden gem of creativity that I had never before known I possessed. After much encouragement, persuasian, and lets face it, gentle shoving from my new husband (remember ... I wasn't "into" owning my own business. Too scary!), Epiphany Designs was born. Bam! As quickly as that.

Now I'm an entrepreneur. And I LOVE IT. I sit awake at night thinking up new designs and innovative strategies to increase my customer base. My mind regularily scrolls through off-the-wall ideas that are suddenly appearing from everywhere, inspired by anything. I get excited about new paper products, fabulous client meetings, beautiful designs. At last, I finally know what it means to feel passionate about your work. And because of all this, I want to help other "wannabe's" achieve their Divaprenurial dreams. I'm not an expert, merely a girl who's (just begun) living the dream. But I'm willing to share what I can.

Divapreneurs is about finding a business that you love and jumping in heart-first. Its about loving your work, loving your life, and learning to find a peaceful balance between both. Most importantly, its about encouraging you that it is possible. That tiny cafe, that homebased business, that boutique shop --- if you truly want it, it is going to happen. Its just a matter of when.