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Small Business

Top 3 Tips For Having The Best Trade Show Experience For Your Creative Business

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I've been attending and working at trade shows for years. Between my parents dragging me along to expos to shop for their businesses to my nearly 10 years in the association industry, I'm constantly working on or attending something. All of this experience helped, and at times, hindered my trade show prep. This was my first time representing my own brand and products. That makes this first Suds trade show unique for me. It was also my first time working on a micro budget. I've designed booths that were triple the size of the my Suds booth that had 1,000 times the budget. Working with a few hundred dollars versus tens of thousands was challenging - to say the least.

Here are my top 3 tips for having the best trade show experience for your creative business.

Invest in good flooring.

When we put in our soap kitchen, our contractor saved the carpet and padding he pulled up. It was a lifesaver for the budget because I didn't have to pay for flooring (it's mandatory to put down some sort of flooring). Standing for days on concrete floors kills your back, knees, feet and well, your entire body. I thought the padding and carpet would help alleviate some of that pain and it did to a certain extent. When I looked at everyone else's flooring choices I saw this foam tile flooring. I didn't know this existed until I saw it in the expo hall. All of the trade show booths I've built have always used carpet because it is more professional in that setting. But for the craft/handmade businesses this foam tile is the best invention ever. I'm upgrading our flooring for our next show. I'll be getting a ton of tiles to use. Plus, I can use them during our craft shows to make standing for hours, days, and weeks easier on my body.

Take this Creative Live Class

I love Megan Auman. Her classes on Creative Live are thoughtful and super helpful. I can't recommend her wholesale class enough. She covers every aspect of the wholesale trade show. I felt super prepared for our event because I had watched her class and was able to implement several of her strategies. I was able to present a level of confidence at the trade show because I knew what the buyers were expecting. I even saved several of the sessions to my MacBook so I could watch them in the evenings after the show had closed. This way I was constantly in the selling mindset and learning how to improve.

Get a Lead Scanner

I was dumbfounded at the sheer lack of people scanning badges. I found out from the show organizers that I was one of TWO people to use the scanner. Yes, it costs money. Yes, it isn't cheap. Yes it gave me nearly 100 stores to EASILY add to my marketing campaigns. I didn't have to try to look up people, remember details or anything of that nature. When I had 10 buyers in my booth all I had to do saw scan their badge, add a few notes in the app if I wanted to, and move to the next buyer. The lead scanner is ALWAYS worth the money. Always. I have a spreadsheet of names, email addresses, physical locations and store names all because I spent a few more dollars and go the scanner. If you are of the mindset that buyers will have business cards and you can just collect them, think again. Buyers never bring enough cards. What are you going to do then? What you do is scan their badge and you have everything you need.

Behind the Scenes of Old Town Suds - 2.5 Years in the Making

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Owning my own business isn't something that I grew up wanting to do. In fact, it was quiet the opposite. Watching my parents (both entrepreneurs) was more than eye opening. I saw the rise and fall of businesses first hand. I saw the high growth potential of a local business and the pride that comes with it - all to be over taken by a corporate conglomerate. Granted, my father was able to retire before he hit 50, but I've also witnessed what happens when your life IS your work and to suddenly have it taken away.

That's not at all how I pictured it.

But, this big ol brain of mine had different ideas. Facing what could be your last meal changes you. I still don't know if it is for the better - just shy of three years later, I can't decide. This is what I do know after falling into owning my own small business the past 2.5 years.

Being the CEO rocks AND sucks at the same time

Making decisions, being in charge, finally having the final say is fantastic. Not having anyone to brainstorm with, bounce ideas off of and just have a friendship with stinks. There have been nights where I've asked the dog for an opinion. Learning to fully trust your gut is hard - especially when your gut is rather scared of a big leap.

Forget the Business Plan

When I set out to create Old Town Suds the plan was to dominate the green cleaning world. Now, I've slowly been transitioning away from my originally products. It isn't because I don't believe in them, it's because that isn't where the company is growing.

At first, it was difficult to accept this. How could I let go of the products that I became known for? Items that I use every day and that people love? BUT our fans love certain products more. I had to accept that. What is going to cause us to double our revenue again in 2014 isn't by sticking with our cleaning line. I've learned how to sunset projects and investing gains in new product development.

My business plan? It's a few words. It's based on numbers. It's based on where I can see Old Town Suds excelling.

Finding the Right People

Lately I've been talking about my Small Business Group. I <3 them, seriously. I couldn't do what I do without them. This past year, more so than in year 1, I've learned how much from them and myself. It's amazing how much you already know, sometimes you just need to talk it out.

If I could go back and do this all over again, the first thing I would do is get a group of smart entrepreneurs together to talk to. I would also try to find a few that fit my ideal customer, it makes getting some entry feedback easier.

Remember to Relax

Not working is super hard for me at times. I'm even writing this post somewhere between DCA and Indianapolis, IN. I'm flying home for the weekend, but I hate to waste the 1.45 hours I have before I need to sleep. That being said, this is all I am doing for the weekend. I'll be enjoying time with my family back home. It's important to have fun, play, remember your friends, and just let your brain relax. Even when you aren't thinking directly about your business, your subconscious is. I bet you'll find your best ideas come when you aren't even trying. (don't forget to keep something handy to write them down!)

What are your questions about starting your own business ? Are there things you wish you had known when you started?

Laser Launch blog party (part deux) is a collection of behind the scenes stories of other online business owners. Check out the other links here.

#sbww14 pt 2

If you missed part 1, catch up here.

It's a truth universally acknowledged that every small business owner is in search of great wine. - SH

Joel, my mom and pretty much the other half of every person I've brought to the small business meetings thinks we get together to enjoy some fine wine. I'm not going to say that is wrong, it is just concealing the full truth. Our meeting do being with opening a bottle or two or three and an obscene amount of cheese; but it's the conversation that follows that matters.

The conversation is energizing. It's motivating. It encourages each of us to push our comfort zones.  It helps each one of us look at our business with a different lens. Through our conversations several of us have questioned why we do what we do, decided to go full-time with our business and have started working on plans to take our plans to the next level.

SBWW14 covered many of these favorite topics. But instead of just hearing our own voices, we had guest speakers, coaches and new faces that were added to the group. We talked about the hardships of working for yourself. The difficulties that we will face or are facing. How do you stay relevant? How do you recognize plateaus and when you need fresh ideas? Then we moved onto marketing.

Oh, marketing. The deadly M word. I work in the marketing field in my day job, but marketing your own business is a touchy subject. You are attached. You are full of emotions. You see things completely differently than your customers. So how do you move behind these hurtles? Each of us came up with a different strategy with action times that we are going to act on in the very near future.

I'm not sure what I would do without my business group. I love hearing about how the other ladies in the group are doing. I love seeing how their businesses grow, stumble and exceed all expectations. We cheer each other on and are a fantastic support system.

SBWW14 was a fantastic event for me. I can't wait to see what happens in the next year and where our next retreat takes us.

#sbww14 part 1

A few years ago, actually, not that long after my surgery; I met this blogger named Jane. I'd been following her blog somehow. (I really can't tell you HOW I found out about her.) Fast forward to the weekend of the Super Bowl, and there was this blogger meet upScreen Shot 2014-02-10 at 9.09.14 PM I had just started working on taking Old Town Suds to market so it was a good time to test out some selling points. I met a few other bloggers and we have all stayed in touch in carrying degrees. But - what spawned from that informal meeting at Caffee Amouri surrounded by uber delicious coffee, was a small business group.

Over the next few months our meeting grew from every so often to monthly to "omg I need a relief from the show schedule let's get wine after the show".  We've become known for our coffee and wine habits. Which later turned into coffee, wine and detox on scrumptious juice habits.

This past summer, our meetings included our husbands. They started to wonder what we actually accomplished at our meetings. Was it just to hangout? (yes) Just to cheer each other on? (yes) Consume mass amounts of cheese? (hell, yes) But from weddings, births of first babies, unexpected loss (be prepared to ugly cry), and huge business wins - we've been there to support each other as we grow our businesses.

This past weekend, we gathered for our first overnight retreat. We'd always talked about doing something but understanding the handbag pockets only go so deep (and I'm rather picky about hotels), we ended up a Housman B&B, otherwise known as my dining room and guest rooms.

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Stay tuned for Part 2.

Organizing Your Soap Business

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2014 Planning It's that time of year again. It's time to evaluate how the past year has gone. What went right and what could be improved upon. It is hard to believe how this year has soared for Old Town Suds. This time last year, we didn't expect to need a studio space or expect to move from Alexandria. It's amazing how things have changed for the better. Here are some issues that I've had to solve as I wrap up 2013.

Production

I can't say how much having the dedicated soap kitchen has helped with my production issues. Not having to have a kitchen that is BOTH a regular kitchen for Joel to cook in & a soap kitchen is magical. My production abilities per day has more than tripled. Plus, my father-in-law made me these awesome wood molds - 20 of them actually. I can now make close to 100lbs of soap JUST in those molds. (I have non-wood molds too) In 2014 I'll be able to keep up with demands, order larger quantities of supplies since I know have the storage space, and keep customers happy with stock always ready. 2014's projected growth will be much easier now that I have this under control - at least at the moment!

Time Management

Oh, the joys of working a full-time job while owning a small business. I'm not ready to pick one over the other yet, so for now it is managing my time and resources as best that I can. For instance, I know I will be in Las Vegas for a week in June for a conference. My life will be crazy around then so Old Town Suds can't have any events directly before that business trip. But, the week after the obscene-hour work work is a week of paid vacation that doesn't use my accrued time! I've planned a few days of rest and then will focus on Suds full-time those days.

In 2014 I'm trying out new ways to plan events, classes and production schedules. I've go this handy dandy dry erase calendar that Michelle recommended tacked to the back wall of the soap kitchen. I am going to plan out all my events for the year, travel, production days and whatever else I think I need to stay on top of everything.

Next to the giant calendar is my new chalkboard. It was a leftover piece from making my display earlier this year. On the board I am going to keep a running list of what I need to make each week with the amounts. This will help me focus on what I need to make to keep my supply levels where I need them and not running out of everyone's favorite soaps!

What's Next?

In 2014 the goal is to debut a few new product line that indulges in my love of spa products. Plus, we'll have a whole new guilty pleasure soap line where you can indulge calorie free. 2014 is also going to focus on getting back into my running schedule (which will be written on my calendar). I have new shoes and plenty of gear so I am going to make time for at least one 30 minute run per day. I would like to get back to where I can easily run a 5K in under 30 minutes.

What planning have you done for 2014?

Old Town Suds in the Newspaper!

Friday was an awesome day for Old Town Suds! I had just parked the car after returning from ALT Design Conference in NYC (more about that in another post) to see tweets that we were in the Washington Post's Express! OTS_Express