Wednesday, August 27, 2008

It's Official: I Have Low Standards

The process of positioning myself as an "expert" has begun, but I can't say that it's taking off quite as planned.

Those media mentions I was expecting from the big name magazines for women - "Bitch" and "Parenting" - haven't happened. Whether the stories were "killed," haven't appeared yet, or I just didn't make the cut, I don't know.

I did, however, manage to be included by name with a reference to one of my businesses in an article about succeeding in the work-life balance as a mother working from home. The article, entitled, "How She Does It: 75 Multitasking Moms Weigh In," was apparently posted in July at Stay at Home Mom Answers, an online community to support stay-at-home moms.

Here's the mention:

After email threads and discussions with these 75 women, one recurrent piece of
advice rings through repeatedly:“Lower your Standards.” For some, like Tara
Bloom, a divorced mom of an 11-year-old daughter who manages online maternity
and baby business, those “standards” apply to the definition of
“clean home.”
To read the full article, click here.

Okay then. I'll point out that I offered advice in the interview, too, but apparently the most newsworthy thing that I have to contribute to the discussion of how to balance work and life is that I can't do it and maintain a clean house at the same time.

Which is true...and why my writing clients are never invited to meet me at my office.

Tune in next time when I'm quoted in Entrepreneur magazine admitting to working for days on end in my pajamas without bathing.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Marketing Messages That Sell: Using Puns

Small business owners need marketing genius.

We’re not able to compete with the big boys and their big advertising budgets. Those of us who advertise in newspapers or magazines usually have smaller sized ads that can easily get lost on the page. We need to stand out.

One way to do this: pun.

A pun, or a play on words, can be effective as a marketing message because it gets people’s attention—and the first challenge of creating marketing messages that sell is to succeed in getting people’s attention.

When skimming over the newspaper, glancing at billboards, or digesting the chatter of the radio that’s on in the background, a play on words makes people stop and think.

What was that?! Did I read/see/hear that right?

A recent ad in my neighborhood newspaper made me do just that.

It’s a very small ad—only 1.75” x 2”—but it made me stop on the page, smile, and read it in detail. It also made me think about what was being advertised and whether it would benefit me.

The ad is by a business called The Cycling Salon. Their logo (pictured above) is awesome; it’s playful and sets the tone for the pun to come. You see, The Cycling Salon is in the business of offering (drum roll please) Pedal Cures for Women! Here’s the text of the ad:

Pedal Cures for Women

Bike fittings for all!

Want to start bicycling again? Don’t know where to start? See us for bike fitting, bike shopping, or basic repairs!


That’s a TON of information to fit into a tiny ad smaller than 2” x 2”. Nevertheless, The Cycling Salon effectively communicated who they are, what they do, who their target market is, what the benefit is of acting on the ad, and two ways to get in contact.

It's a marketing message punned to perfection, I might say.

Read some additional ways to incorporate puns into marketing messages that sell on Copyblogger at this post, Let’s Hear It for the Lowly Pun! by Maeve Maddox.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Weekly Affirmations for the Self-Employed

I am flexible enough to meet obstacles and change my goals when needed.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Small Business Marketing Tips: Collect Best Practices

As you undertake developing marketing materials for your small business, you will inevitably consider the question: “What do I envision for my ___________ (ad, logo, brochure, web site, fill in the blank with the name of your project)?”

Whether you work with freelance creative professionals to design and produce your marketing materials, contract with a firm, or—despite my advice to the contrary—do things yourself, it helps to have plenty of examples of material you like.

For this reason, small business owners should keep numerous files of “best practices” or “best ideas.”

Including samples of clever ways to market using exterior envelopes, small business ads from local newspapers and magazines, and effective post card campaign pieces, I have a file of printed marketing samples that all make me say, “Wow!” As in, “Wow! That’s clever!” or “Wow! I wish I’d thought of that!” or “Wow! That’s really effective!”

In your “Best Practices” hard file, you should collect those types of marketing tools that spark ideas for how to market your own business, or that simply grab your attention and strike you as really well done. Even if the advertisement is for a furniture store and you sell fishing gear, keep the ad if it contains imagery, style elements, a unique offer or some other clever marketing technique that you could repurpose for your own needs.

Suggestions for what to collect in your “Best Practices” hard file:
Newspaper ads
Magazine ads
Direct mail letters
Post cards
Press kits
Press releases

Most, if not every, small business can benefit from electronic marketing of some kind. When it comes time to redesign your website, ramp up your e-mail marketing program, or advertise your business online, you’ll increase the chances of developing effective online marketing messages if you refer to best practices that you’ve stored electronically.

In your email management tool, create a folder as part of your in-box and call it: “Best Newsletters,” or “Newsletters I Like.” As you receive e-marketing campaigns that strike you as effective, file them in that folder for future reference.

To store websites and advertisements as best practices, use your Internet browser to create a folder of bookmarks or favorites—whichever you prefer. Create a folder to name “Best Websites” or “Websites I Like.” As you’re surfing the ’net and encounter those you like, add them to the folder.

In this way, you can easily create folders to also keep track of “Competitors Websites,” “Online Ads I Like,” “Website Designs I Hate,” and so on.

Suggestions for what to collect in your “Best Practices” electronic files:
Electronic newslettersBlogs
Websites you like
Websites you don’t like
Competitors’ websites
Banner ads

Most small business owners aren’t fluent in creative vocabularies. We may not be able to describe to graphic designers that the brochure we’ve commissioned should use a sans serif font in order to convey a contemporary, modern and airy feel. We may not know how to say that we want a comfortable, conversational tone to our website content. We may not understand how to balance visual style elements with copywriting to create a direct marketing piece that’s effective.

But like everyone, small business owners know what we like and don’t like. By having examples of what you like on hand when you’re beginning to create your own marketing materials, you jump-start the process and provide valuable guidance to the professionals you’ve hired to help you. It’s a cost-effective use of your time, too—providing examples improves your chances of getting the materials you want in a shorter amount of time.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

E-Mail as a Marketing Tool: 5 Mistakes to Avoid

I love photography. I want to be a photographer. And so it’s not surprising that every once in a while, I receive e-mail invitations to photography exhibits. What does baffle me, however, is that they seem to come from this one particular photographer—let’s call him Mr. B.

Every time I receive the occasional e-mail from Mr. B, I’m curious anew as to why he’s sending them to me.

“Who is this guy?” I ask myself when I open them. “Why am I on his mailing list?”

I haven’t written to him to unsubscribe because I *am* a photography fan…but I’ve been noodling over whether these messages from him are coincidental or accidental or both.

This morning, I was vacuuming in the hallway and gazed up the wall to examine my collection of French doorway photographs for dust. As I did, a little light bulb turned on in my mind.

"Hey," I thought, "What was this photographer’s name again?"

I looked at the five signed pieces that I had bought many years ago at an art show.

Yes, you guessed it. They’re by Mr. B.

I’m a customer of Mr. B’s Photography. I like his work and support his business. I volunteered to let him keep in contact with me.

Yet, Mr. B’s bewildering e-mail marketing is ineffective at best, and confusing, bordering on irritating, at worst. Let’s take a look at the mistakes Mr. B makes in using e-mail as a marketing tool.

Mistake #1: Not acknowledging the sign up

When people volunteer their personal information and invite you to solicit them, you should thank them. If you regularly add numerous people to your list, develop a welcome template that thanks them for signing up. If you add people only at occasional events, then send a quick e-mail to them as you’re entering their information into your e-mail system. Let them know you appreciate their willingness to hear from you and that they’re now scheduled to receive updates.

Mistake #2: Not contextualizing the sign up

As you add people to your list in batches, note in the acknowledgement to them where and when they signed up. Contextualize the relationship for them. Dozens of people signed the clipboard at Mr. B’s art show to receive e-newsletters from him. His first e-mail to us could have simply said:

“Thank you for signing up at my recent art show at [insert location] to receive
updates from Mr. B Photography. I’m glad you enjoyed the artwork I featured last
weekend and I look forward to seeing you again at future shows.”

Mistake #3: Not having a call to action, or ask

How hard would it be to turn that acknowledgement note into a more effective marketing message that sells? Not hard at all. As above, the marketing message serves to reinforce the recipients’ positive feelings about Mr. B and his beautiful photography. But with just three extra sentences, it turns into an effective soft-sell.

“While most of my pieces sold at the show, there’s a chance that the one you
were admiring is still available. Visit my website,, to order your
favorite photograph. Mention the art show at checkout to receive free shipping
on orders placed by the end of the month [in real life, you should use a
specific date].”
Mistake #4: Inconsistent messaging

The e-newsletters I receive from Mr. B are inconsistent in their appearance: sometimes they mention just his show; sometimes they announce a group exhibit in which he’s participating; sometimes they’re formatted beautifully in HTML; sometimes they’re text only.

Because they look and sound so different, each time I receive one I'm just as confused about who is sending me this e-mail and why.

Inconsistent appearance combined with inconsistent messages makes it more difficult to answer that question, and thus, increases the chances that the e-mail will be deleted immediately.

Mistake #5: Irregularity

As if all of those mistakes weren’t enough to confuse newsletter subscribers, Mr. B compounds the problem by writing infrequently. It was two to three YEARS after I first subscribed to his list before I ever heard from him again! Then I received a couple of e-mails in a row for a few months, then nothing for another YEAR. Those large gaps, combined with the lack of context and different appearance of each e-mail combined to utterly confuse me.

Many business owners complain that e-mail isn’t an effective marketing tool. If you’ve been disappointed with your e-mailing results, ask yourself: are you confusing your subscribers with these mistakes? If so, take action to correct your e-mail program right away. You’ll be surprised at how much more effective your marketing campaigns can be when you add an effective e-mail component.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Monday, August 11, 2008

Change In Which We Can Believe

I passionately *despise* Barack Obama’s grammatically incorrect campaign message—even though my editing stylebooks no longer declare ending a sentence or phrase with a preposition as grammatically incorrect. I can’t help it. It’s how I was taught. I cringe every time I see one of those placards in someone’s window and have to correct it—out loud—every time.

The fact that we so often read, hear and use sentences that end in prepositions has made the practice acceptable. It is no longer incorrect. Our definition of intelligent grammar has changed.

And if there’s anything we can believe in, it’s change. (Cringe.)

Change is inevitable. Seasons change. Economic circumstances change. Consumer demands change. There is no such thing as static. Everything changes.

As a small business owner, how you handle change is a critical factor in your success or failure.

Proactively planning for change can open up new opportunities and lead your business into new directions. Embracing change as it comes can position your business for successful growth.

Allowing for change by being reasonably flexible, responding to external forces or events and keeping an eye out for ways to modify your business can prevent you from being left behind. When you are open to change, your business can stay current, fresh and continue deliver what customers want.

But in the day-to-day aspects of managing a small business, change can be an annoying time-suck.

Every year software programs require upgrades—many of which upset your delicately balanced electronic equilibrium. Why doesn’t the latest version of Ad-Aware work like the last one did? Now that I have the latest, fastest high-speed wireless Internet connection, my fax won’t answer calls. And let’s not even get started about upgrades to Windows operating systems and the problems those cause. Suffice to say I know a great many people who solved their Windows Vista troubles with a new Mac.

You can spend months researching, negotiating and securing terms for vendor accounts only to have your star performers suddenly discontinue your best-selling product line. Or change their names. And so you have to begin again to research replacements, negotiate new terms and update your materials with the new information.

Suppliers raise their prices. Dependable employees leave. Office Depot discontinues the specialty paper you use for your in-store promotions.

Yes, everything changes.

Dealing with those regular (sometimes it feels like daily) changes is part of a small business owner’s life. After more than a year of being self-employed, I have finally learned to build into my schedule some flex-time each week so I have room for those inevitable annoyances. Expect the unexpected, as the saying goes.

What techniques or tips do you have for dealing with change? Share with us your strategies for coping with change.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Beijing 8/8/08 at 8:08

As I watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics on Friday night, I was awed not only by the extensiveness of China’s history and culture, but by the size and scope of everything--the display, the number of performers, the number of people watching (news reports the following day suggest more than 4 billion people watched them on TV or online).

There are so many people in the world.

Did anyone else have a moment of feeling completely teeny-tiny, too?

And was I the only one recalling all the seminars and workshops I’ve skipped about exporting to China?

If you sell your products or services to China, let me know. A guest blog post could be yours.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Important Questions to Ask Before Buying a Business

(Note from Tara: This guest post is from who support and encourage work-at-home moms and women business owners with a wealth of resources, tips and free e-courses. They graciously agreed to write on this topic for you, my Dusty Widget readers, and to let me add my own two cents into it. Thank you Nina and Susan!)

Buying a business can be one the greatest decisions of your life. Unless you plan it well, however, your acquisition may not yield the income and lifestyle you’re hoping for. To help guide you through your decision-making, here are some important questions to ask before buying a business or becoming a partner in one.

What business is right for me?

Before you start looking at businesses, you have to evaluate yourself. Take stock of what you know, who you are and what’s driving you to be a business owner—is it money? Control? Independence? Honestly identify your weaknesses, recognize the tasks you don’t enjoy, and determine ways in which you can deal with them. Consider the industry you know best, and look for business opportunities that will benefit from your strengths and not be affected by your weaknesses. Take the time to establish expectations that are achievable and realistic.

What types of businesses are available?

Avoid speeding into the business-buying process. Take time to think about the different types of businesses that exist and what kind would be most appropriately suited to your goals, personality, strengths and lifestyle. Review the financial requirements of business ownership with a qualified professional resource. Counselors at organizations such as SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) can help you find the type of business that’s right for you.

Okay, now that you’re looking…

Does this business fit my goals?

You’ve considered why you want to buy a business and what you’re hoping to accomplish as a business owner, so be honest as you look at the business opportunity and consider its potential to meet those objectives. If your hope in being a business owner is to have more flexibility in your schedule, then running a retail store may not be the best choice. Your goals should drive the decision-making and help you determine the type, size and even location of the business.

Why is this business up for sale?

Perhaps the owner has to move, accommodate a health issue or is ready to retire. But maybe the business owner sees a market trend or neighborhood shift on the horizon that threatens the business. Have sales been decreasing? Have customers been lured away to a competing business? Do your research! If you buy the business, you buy its problems as well as its potential.

What technical knowledge is required for this business?

Do you posses this knowledge to manage the business? Are you familiar with the systems needed to run this business operation? Is the seller willing to dedicate the time to train you, if required? Is it worth the time to be spent on training? Will it take a long time for you to get familiar with the trade? Will this turn-around time be worth the wait? Every new business owner has a learning curve—take time to figure out how much expertise is needed to succeed with this business.

What is this business’s cash flow?

Verify with your accountant all financial information provided by the seller. Have your accountant determine whether the cash flow of the business is sufficient to make payments on your new debt, cover your living expenses and provide a reasonable return on your investment. Find out how much operating capital you’ll have to invest after the purchase.

What will happen to the business’s relationships as a result of the change of ownership?

Will clients stay loyal to the business if you take over? How about vendors? What suppliers have special accounts or terms? Will they keep those terms or require renegotiation? Are customers drawn to the business because of the owner’s personality or presence? Do you see a new market for this business?

How will I handle the business’s employees?

As you are aware, employees are the building blocks of a business. Would the existing employees be continuing their service? If so, would you be able to establish and win the trust of the existing employees?

What legal considerations are involved with this transaction?

Will the seller agree not to compete within the same location for a considerable period of time? Are there any court cases pending against this business? If yes, are they favorable or potentially harmful to the business?

Be wise, ask questions, and think twice before buying a business. The opportunities you consider could get you ahead or leave you farther behind than when you started—the difference is in how much you know!

Summary: This article outlines important questions you should ask yourself before buying a business. has been helping moms work from home for over 10 years. Visit today to enjoy free resources including live chats, interactive message boards, informative articles, and of course, the best home based business ideas on the Internet! Bizymoms also offers complete home business packages that get your business started right away!

Contributions to this article were provided by Tara M. Bloom, author of "Ditch the Dusty Widget," a blog that contains big advice for the little guy—tips, resources and tales to help you start, run, market and grow your small business.

©2008 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Friday, August 1, 2008

A Little Extra Inspiration for This Week

It's easy to have faith in yourself and have discipline when you're a winner, when you're number one. What you've got to have is faith and discipline when you're not yet a winner.

--Vince Lombardi