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Ann K. Johnson
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Surviving In A Tough Economy

Everything you read lately talks about networking. Join Facebook, Linkedin, etc. Reconnect with your previous clients, strengthen your ties with vendors and other industry experts. All good advice. But is that the whole solution to saving and growing your company?

The purpose of this series is to explore all of the avenues in which you can focus your company’s goals and take steps to move forward towards a new future. You have to go back to the basics in order to find your way forward.

Many of us, and myself included, have always thought of our little businesses as something to do in the home while the kids were growing. All well and good, but we have not truly treated it in a businesslike manner. It is important to apply a little bit of true business mindset to our work. It does result in an increase in productivity and quality and a decrease in stress.

Set Goals

Analyze Cost & Daily Tasks


Marketing - Overcoming Your Fears

Marketing - Basics



Set goals.

If you don’t know where you are going, how are you going to get there? If you are networking, what are you networking for? How do you know who to network with? Set goals !!! Write a Mission Statement for your company, then write lists for goals for this year, three years and five years. They don’t have to be formal. Just brainstorm with yourself as to where you want to be in one year, three years and five years. Set yourself personal, professional and monetary goals. This is not a test. It is only an exercise to help you define your company. The goals can be revisited and updated at any time. But a goal – any goal – gives you focus.

A Mission Statement defines the purpose of your business. Is is usually short. It can easily be changed to adjust to new directions your company might take:

Define what your business is and what you envision it will be in the future.

Make the description broad enough to allow for creative growth.

Indicate what makes your company different from others.

It should provide an outline to evaluate your current activities and choose your priorities.

Establish lofty goals to challenge and inspire you.

Set 1-year, 3-year and 5-year goals:

A one-year plan is crucial for setting goals for this year. What do you wish to accomplish before the new year? Keep your goals reasonable. Set ones you know you can attain and a couple that will require you to reach. Later, you can break that down into monthly goals.

A three-year plan helps you set up larger goals that reach towards the 5-year goals.

And a 5-year plan should be those goals that may seem unattainable now, but would give you great satisfaction and take your company to new levels.

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Analyze Costs & Daily Tasks

There are two areas in which we tend to become lax when the business is running smoothly and we are busy with work - monitoring expenses and analyzing work flow. During slow times, you have the opportunity to study your business and make changes that will streamline operations and cut back on operating costs.

Some suggestions for cutting costs:

Look at all of your monthly expenses. List each one. What can you do to cut costs – without cutting service and quality for your clients. Some examples:
Turn off irons, lights, etc when not using

Bundle your phone service with internet and cable if possible.

Caulk drafty windows. Use scraps to cover windows with shades or insulating window treatments.

Install programmable thermostats and adjust your heat or a/c by a couple of degrees. You can still be comfortable, but make an impact in the electric bill.

Look into online bill paying – save on stamps

Negotiate with your advertising dollars if you are investing in yellow pages or other local options.

Set up an inventory system to prevent last minute orders for supplies at a premium shipping rate or a last minute run to the local store for supplies.

Yes, these are very basic suggestions. You need to analyze your list of monthly operating expenses and find ways to pare down your expenses.

Some suggestions for increasing productivity:

Clean house. Clean out samples and scraps you have been saving. Start in one corner and work your way around the room. Be ruthless. Everything you save that does not serve a purpose gets in the way and impedes productivity. This includes the office. Clean out the files. Scan the magazines quickly, pull out the articles and photos you want. Then put the magazine in the recycle bin and file the articles and pictures. If you want to be inspired, read

Build a cabinet of reference files. Assemble a batch of manila folders labeled, Marketing, Colors, Swags, Space Planning, etc. etc. When you run across an article in a magazine, a discussion on an on-line forum or a class at a seminar, take the paperwork and drop it in the appropriate file. Don’t leave the papers lying around in piles where it will never be found. These files will help you build references and resources for your company and your employees.

Analyze how you handle the mail, the paperwork flow, bill paying, etc. Take one task at a time and develop a better way to do it. Example: Opening the mail. Either pitch it or file it in an appropriate file: to be paid, to be deposited or in a reference file.

If you are a workroom, document your most basic standards, cutting references and step by step procedures. These do not have to be detailed or fancy. But they help you stay focused on a job and avoid missing steps. In my class, I give you examples of how this can be done. It is not an overwhelming project. As you fabricate your next shade, simply write down the steps as you perform them. In doing so, you need to justify to yourself why this step and is this the best time to do this step.

Analyze the layout of your office or workroom. Is it set up to facilitate the flow of work and minimize the number of steps required to go from one point to the next?

Ok. I know these are primitive suggestions. Each of you has to analyze your own situation. Too often (and I am guilty of it too), we tell ourselves:

we are just working out of our own home to be with the kids and things are working ok,

or I am doing this because I love it and it doesn't matter if I'm not hyper-efficient,

or things are running fine - why fix what isn't broke?

What I am trying to bring home to you is that every business, no matter how small and no matter the reason for that business, should always be analyzed for ways to run it better. Do not fall into habits. Always be thinking forward to the next step. Always be justifying the steps you take. You may be doing this because you love it, but wouldn't it be even better if you could do it in a more efficient and cost-effective manner in order to have time to explore new skills or time for yourself and your family?

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When business is brisk and things are happening, your brain is constantly engaged. You are thinking ahead, juggling schedules and planning steps. You have fairly set hours in which you work and play.

As things slow down and projects are scarce, there are not enough details in play to keep your brain focused for a whole workday and you become distracted by issues outside the workroom or design office. You begin to slow down mentally and physically, allowing what little work there is to fill up a whole day, or allowing yourself to become too immersed in unfocused online marketing and networking pursuits.

This is when mistakes are made. You are not focused on your jobs and, surprisingly, you begin missing details and making mistakes. Also, if you are a workroom and you are not sewing full time, you begin to lose basic hands-on skills very quickly.

If this describes you, it is time to take steps to help keep yourself focused and your skills at their peak.
Focus your production. Reset your business hours to shrink down to fit the amount of work you have on hand. This might mean setting 2-4 full days to work or five half-days. Either way, those hours are full concentration on work. All other distractions are turned off or ignored. In this way, you are giving your complete focus to production.

Focus your development. If there are specific skills you need – either with software or at the sewing machine – set specific hours to practice them. Develop and experiment with new ideas, new skills and new samples. It takes self-discipline to put yourself in this work mode because there is no client waiting with a deadline and no tangible benefit. However, as your business picks up, your skills will be fresh and you will grow more efficiently and confidently.

Finally, set very specific hours either daily or during the week in which you focus completely on marketing. This includes networking – online or locally. This is the time you allow yourself to
visit facebook, twitter or Linkedin to network.

Develop brochures, ezines, notecards, etc to mail to old clients and new.

Plan an open house or presentations for local groups

Update your website with new photos or design tips.

Later in this series we’ll talk about how to make networking efficient.

Your schedule will flex as your business picks up and the balance of your work shifts from marketing to production. But you will have set yourself up to transition smoothly and developed excellent scheduling habits. This tends to be a seasonal industry. Flexing your hours to accommodate a focus on production or on marketing is key to staying on top. Focusing your hours to accomplish specific tasks keeps you sharp and efficient.

Finally. If there is still time left in your week - enjoy it. How many times when you were buried in work did you wish for the opportunity to take a bike ride on a beautiful summer day, or wish you had the time to repaint the spare bedroom or pursue a new interest? If you have focused your work tasks properly and there is time left over - take full advantage of it. I am.

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Marketing - Overcoming Your Fears

Marketing is a scary venture for most of us. We love to design and sew, but don’t have the confidence to put ourselves out there in front of potential clients. There are two primary fears that hold us back:

The first is fear of failure or rejection. This is in conjunction with lack of self-confidence. Fear of not being able to deliver, of facing a treatment or challenge we’ve never faced before, or – horrors – an unhappy client.

The second is fear of success. What if I generate so many sales that I cannot keep up and collapse under the stress?

Neither fear is valid. They are both excuses based on reluctance to step out of our comfort zone.
You will make mistakes. You will have unhappy, even abusive clients. That is a fact of life. The steps you take to prevent mistakes and the measures you develop to handle problems are what make you a professional.

Education. You will be faced with unusual treatments and client situations time and again. You will research, experiment and learn. Each new and unusual situation you conquer, the more confident you will become.

Follow up and follow through. The key to every job is to make the client happy. Every business is built on customer service. It is not just about sewing a pretty treatment or picking out a paint color. It is about being a professional.
Anticipate potential problems.

Ask questions. Never assume.

Respond as soon as possible to every client inquiry

Be a full service business. Do not give the client a reason to go elsewhere for services. If you don’t personally offer a service, find someone who does and sub the work to them.

Create a paper trail. This is very important. Have clients sign off on all purchases. Indicate when you have explained potential problems to the client. This makes you more professional and helps to cover you in case of a dispute.

Never fear too much success. We will talk about networking later, but one of your networking goals is to find businesses near you that can support your business. Either join or start a WCAA chapter, a workroom organization, a designer group in your area. Establish relationships with the people who live near you. Learn their strengths and weaknesses. Offer your strengths to them.

Basic treatments, such as panels can be subbed to a commercial workroom. Specialty items such as shades and bedding can be subbed out to several high quality workrooms that specialize in them.

Basic jobs around your workroom (and your home) like cleaning, landscaping, cooking and bookkeeping can be subbed out.

Raise your prices. If every bid you make is accepted, your prices are too low. Be sure to raise your prices once each year – a certain percentage across the board. You will instinctively know when you have reached a price ceiling.

Whether you plan to take on employees or not, approach every task in your business with the thought towards ‘how would I teach someone to do this?’ It actually makes you much more efficient in the long run, and it sets you up to take the leap to employees should you choose to do so.

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Marketing - Basics

What is the most effective method to market myself? There are many ways to do this. Different methods work for different people. You must research and develop your own methodology. But some basic rules to follow:

Analyze your previous marketing efforts. Improve on those that worked and drop those that did not.

Focus your marketing close to home. That is where most of your clients will come from. If you are developing a larger commercial business, then you will have to look at larger markets. But for now, we will keep close to home.

Put your business name and number on your vehicle (make sure your insurance agent is aware of this and that your vehicle is covered with business insurance).

Brand yourself with a logo and/or a tag line. Put the logo and/or tag line on everything – business cards, ads, brochures, estimates and invoices.

Ezines and emails cost little, and they allow you to target an audience of people who already know you and/or your work. This allows you to build on an established client base. However, they are quickly buried in the inbox. If you choose to send them:

Keep them short, brand them with your colors and logo.

Make them informative - not just pushing for a sale. It keeps you in the client’s mind as an expert to consult when they are ready.

Send them regularly – every two weeks or once a month.

If you do not know what to write, I can point you towards a source that sells short articles for you to use. Excellent articles.

Be sure to have an opt-out button on each one. Other marketing efforts should be geared towards gathering email addresses to add to your ezine mailing list.

Postcards, door hangers and brochures cost more to produce, but have a longer shelf life. You can target very specific neighborhoods. If canvassing a neighborhood, do not put the literature in the mailbox. That is against the law without a stamp.

Local newspaper ads. This targets a larger local audience. However, if done correctly, you can design the ads as articles which establish you as an expert in your field. Use the same articles you broadcast in your ezines. Over time, you might be able to work a deal with the newspaper to expand into a formal series of articles.

Join local social and civic organizations whose memberships are a caliber of people that you want for clients. And have some fun with this too. There is no reason you can’t have fun networking. Always have a business card to give out and practice your elevator speech (30 seconds speech about your business).

Become the local expert in your field. Offer yourself as a guest speaker to local groups regarding design trends, window coverings, hard goods, etc. Always have your business card or a handout with your contact information available and always make sure the event is advertised in the local papers ahead a time or written up as a news piece afterwards.

Websites are a nice way to introduce yourself and show off your work. However, unless you are selling a product with a universal appeal, the expense of a website may not be the best option. Look into Picturetrail and Flickr for very inexpensive options to creating an online presence. I am not familiar with Flckr yet, but I do know that Picturetrail allows you to customize the look of your pages to the point where your site will look like a professional website.

A special lady once told me that every introduction and every conversation is an interview. I was offered a job as a workroom manager only because I had been attending local networking meetings. Whether social, professional or community related, any and all relationships you make are potential career builders. You never know from what direction an offer will come.

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Professional Windows

Workroom Association of America

Custom Home Furnishings Academy - Instructor

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