My First Untenable Business (as an adult)

03.27.14

Shortly after Jane was born and I came out of my post partum haze I realized I was bored. I loved being home with my daughter but I needed a hobby and I needed one quickly. We bought a house when she was 6 or 7 weeks old. I spent a few months painting and decorating it and then I needed something else to do. There’s a limited amount of decorating you can do with 1,800 square feet and a minuscule budget.

So I started buying and selling things online. First it was the shoes that I’d outgrown in pregnancy. There were several hundred pair (that will never happen again) and since there are only 365 days in a year most had been worn less than 5 times.

A friend asked me to pick up a handbag for her as she was living in the Philippines. That quickly became it’s own business and I was buying and selling handbags to rich friends overseas. Between the Birkin and the Ligne Cambon line I was able to make a few thousand dollars on each transaction. I worked a few hours a week and one year my income approached Mr. G’s. Friends referred friends and my wait list was almost as long as Hermes’.

In 2003 Oprah put UGG boots on her Favorite Things show and they sold out everywhere. I had a garage full of them. I bought the $110 short boots at Bloomingdales with my Bloomingdales card and all the combined coupons I could get my hands on for as low as $80 a pair. They sold on eBay for $200 to $300 a pair. The sales associates at Bloomies loved me. Mine were never returned.

During this time I was also getting my master’s degree. It was the slowest degree ever obtained as I took just one class a semester. My mom would watch the kids one night a week so I could do it. Sometime around the UGG boot craze I met one of the professors at the business school. I explained my business to him and he said, “That sounds like a great hobby but it’s an untenable business plan.”

After clearing significant money with my untenable business we plunked it down and bought a larger home. I decided that I never again would ask a professor anything about business.

Then the recession came along. Martha Stewart was lambasted for carrying her Birkin to court. She was out of touch. CEOs wives were instructed to leave the couture at home and my clients started buying Coach. My clients were never CEOs. People who work for their money don’t pay over retail. They recognize the lunacy.

My business shifted again. I was buying and selling websites and truckloads of overstock. It’s a long and boring story but I became a jobber. I didn’t know what a jobber was until after I’d shuttered my business (it was totally tenable but I found that I preferred blogging to selling).

When there’s a conversation about women in business I jump in. I don’t have a typical career path. I’ve never heard the word no and thought that I had to pay attention. I’ve worked almost exclusively hand in hand with other women. Women collaborate well. Women see opportunity. Women know how to spend joyfully at every income level. If you don’t believe me go to the 99 cent store and then go walk the most expensive store in your local mall. Women know how to buy pleasure. Sometimes it’s a knick knack, a favorite color of nail polish or diamond earrings. We find the joy.

Reflecting on all of this came from a twitter chat that I stumbled onto this morning. Read and learn. Because there are inspiring women everywhere you look. We just need to ask the right questions.

Is Mom Blogging A Time Consuming Hobby or a Career?

09.21.12

The Mom Blogiverse is aflutter about a post by Amy Suardi over at Frugal Mom where she announces that she is no longer in the business of blogging. In addition to hitting on every point that a work at home mom would feel conflicted about she states the following:

Jockeying for attention in the age of a million blogs and still trying to care for my family, live by my values of meaning and connection, and maintain a simple, sweet, slow life was an impossible ideal.

Is mom blogging saturated? Are we competing with one another for some spotlight? Are the kids neglected? Sort of yes, not really, I hope not but probably.

Every private forum and facebook group is talking about this post. I’m hopeful that at least a few women who are pouring time and money into blogs that don’t create joy or revenue will rethink how they wish to spend their days. It’s important to define success for ourselves wisely and though a large online audience may make you feel good your family will always feel better. Some of us are lucky enough to be able to work a small number of hours so that we can be with our families, some folks really don’t have that option. Giving up even a few dollars a month could be tragic. These are tough times and quitting a job (even a freelance one) isn’t always an option.

I read Amy’s post and was quite puzzled. I think that Amy has four kids, they look to be little. I’m trying to understand how much a babysitter costs for four kids (my mom was my only real babysitter and we paid her in hugs and gratitude) because of statements like this:

The money I made from writing a post for Parentables did not even cover the cost of a sitter. Freelance writing is not about the money, I eventually learned. It’s about the flexibility of working in your pajamas, the freedom to write about your last vacation, and the cachet of being associated with a large publication.

I’d never actually heard of Parentables before today but I’m trying to understand how a writer could make less money than a babysitter? This confuses me in every way. If you’re new to freelancing I’d really hate for anyone to think that it’s about flexibility, sloppiness and cachet. Freelancing is about owning your time, knowing your value and writing your passions. I was recently published in a large publication and I assure you I was not paid in accolades.

I asked some other folks what they thought of the piece and Kori said, “I thought it was a good article because I can relate to what she is saying.  I think all of us have to find a balance that makes sense in our lives. With that said though, I think you can find a balance and still make money blogging.”

Jenn thinks she’s not much of a blogger anyhow so the conversation isn’t applicable, “Do you consider making a TV show blogging? Now I’m even more confused.” I’m with Jenn. It sounds like being in front of a camera was a lot of work for a mom with little kids. Some folks aspire to be on camera, some just sort of land there. I think it’s a softer landing when it’s actually a goal but it’s a tremendous amount of work and it’s not time that you’re in control of. I’m not really clear on the show but some talent isn’t particularly well compensated. Perhaps that’s the cache she’d mentioned?

Trisha suggests that a successful career blogging comes from being a savvy entrepreneur, “The key to being online and making a living is learning to know your worth. You have to absolutely learn to say no when there is no benefit to your brand. That clears up your time to dedicate to the companies that are more seriously dedicated to you resulting in better posts, and more importantly, better opportunities.”

I wish Amy well and I’m sure she’ll have great success. She’s a smart lady because she knows that success is self defined and putting family first is her truest measure right now.

Blogging serves many masters. I’ve recently changed the way I do things and it might look like a not-very-smart move to some but for me it was the best thing I could have done.

Can a new blogger come on the scene, set up shop and make a good living? Are we quite simply saturated? I don’t know the answers to that. I’ve often compared blogging to the MLM industry. There are many more women who will lose time and money (time that cannot be replaced, money that can) from jumping into the business of blogging. They’ll be sold websites, templates, mailing lists and conferences that are all unaffordable but allow them to feel like part of the workforce without really entering it. Is this a bad thing or just a thing? Is working at home part of a phase that stay at home parents need to experience?

I really don’t have any answers. I do know how to run a business. I’ve been working for myself since 1998 and I know that I’ve redefined success a thousand times in as many days. Sometimes I need to stretch a little more, sometimes the new definition of success means doing less.

Bloggers, ladies in particular, it helps to be realistic. If you’re making less than minimum wage it’s a hobby. Hobbies get different hours than jobs.

Photo courtesy of Flickr via creative commons. 

Saving Obese Children Surgically?

01.9.12

obese-youngsters-children-body fat

This Sunday’s New York Times has an article that took my breath away. It follows the journey of a teenage girl who opts for the lap band in order to cure her of morbid obesity. The story is heart wrenching in every way, from the sad fact that a teenage girl would weigh close to 300 pounds to the ultimate failure of the device and our medical system.

Currently Allergan is trying to get the FDA to to allow it to market the Lap-Band to patients as young as 14. This is a phenomenal disaster in so many ways I’m not quite sure where to begin.

The Lap-Band restricts the size of the patient’s stomach so that they feel full. It’s not a surgery without risk but of course the folks who are getting the Lap-Band are already at risk for a host of terribly debilitating and life threatening diseases. The Lap-Band isn’t about getting cute, it’s a medical Hail Mary.

In restricting the size of a patient’s stomach, the Lap-Band also restricts a patient’s ability to get nutrition. Lap-Band recipients are told to take vitamins, but because of the size of their stomachs the vitamins are very uncomfortable to swallow. I have a hard time swallowing vitamins and I assure you I have the palate of a billy goat and a rather average sized stomach.

There are countless stories about Lap-Band patients and their misery post operatively. Common sense dictates that when someone needs to lose half their body weight it’s a medical issue, a behavioral issue and a psychological issue. A 45 minute surgery is more of an introduction to the solution than it is an ending.

It is alarming that Allergen would seek to make Lap-Bands available to 14 year olds. It is not alarming that Allergen wants to do business with teens. Allergen is a business and it operates to please it’s shareholders. What is alarming that there is a growing market for Lap-Bands with teens both literally and figuratively.

As I mentioned before Lap-Bands are the Hail Mary of medicine. When a patient gets a Lap-Band that means that diets, therapy, exercise, and behavior modification have failed. The tremendous risk of surgery is overshadowed by the risk of diseases such as diabetes and heart failure.

Every parent, educator and ally of children should be wondering how we can affect change so that 14 year olds never need to lose half their body weight. Every lawmaker who thinks they can cut physical education out of the school day needs to know that it’s going to cost our country hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat those children who are unable to work and who will require medical care that healthy sized folks don’t require. Every school board that serves crap lunches should know that they’ve effectively slapped every child in the face, hard, when they serve them dubious food.

Every time high fructose corn syrup (or Corn Sugar) is added to a food it should have a surgeon general’s warning on it much like a pack of cigarettes. This will attack your liver and send your pancreas into a tailspin. Your body doesn’t know what to do with this much sucrose.

And every time we tell ourselves that a ten year old has “baby fat” and then we reward him with a Snickers Bar we should be ashamed. Because it hurts our kids. It’s Munchausen’s by Twinkie.

It’s entirely possible that your breakfast cereal has more sugar in it than your homemade cake or cookies.

It’s probably not good medicine to give Lap-Bands to teenagers, but Allergan isn’t their parent. Let’s please look at articles like this and be shocked into doing something good for our kids, all of our kids.

If these kids feel ashamed for being fat we should all feel shame for making them that way.

My Referral Key

06.21.11

ReferralKey.com has somehow overtaken my inbox this week. I’ve had a dozen of these

ReferralKey.com letter sample

While ReferralKey seems like a good idea, there are parts of it that just don’t work. Claire Diaz Ortiz has written a great post about Referral Key and suggests that she knows some ways to fix it. Essentially Referral Key allows people to pay you for referring them business.

Do you see what I just did there? I just referred you to a specialist in the field. I didn’t do that for Claire, I did that for you. The fatal flaw in Referral Key is that the payment is to the wrong person.

When someone calls or emails me needing a referral for a specialist in a certain field I almost never answer them immediately. The only time I answer immediately is if I am the expert or my brother is. Every other referral takes at least a few hours of thought. Here are just a few of the questions I’m asking myself before I refer you a friend:

  • Are they the most talented person I know in that field?
  • Would I want to work with this person I’m about to refer?
  • Would I want to work with the company that’s searching for someone?
  • Would they work well together?
  • What is my referrals work style and/or work ethic?
  • Do I care enough for the person who is asking to risk a relationship on them?

Most often I can come up with at least two names, but sometimes I can’t or won’t. Referrals are not something I give lightly and I would not be happy if you referred me a friend because they bought you an Omaha Steak.

Best Practices: .org and why Your For-Profit Organization Shouldn’t Use It

05.9.11

This morning I spent four hours on the telephone trying to find services for someone I love. Since we are in the preliminary stages of finding these services I emailed some friends, took their recommendations and then looked up the websites of the facilities and starting calling.

You can tell a lot from a phone call. When you’re a patient, a child, an advocate or a friend needing service the receptionist at the agency you are calling is your first introduction to a facility. Granted, first impressions can be wrong, but when I’m looking to begin a long term relationship with a business I’m going to be calling them with some regularity. Phone calls should be pleasant.

Websites can be an equally important as a first impression. Every part of your site matters. Take, for instance, the domain name. When I see a .com or a .net domain I assume that I’m on a business’ web page. When I see a .gov I know it’s a government page, and when I see .edu I know it’s a school. When we see .org we used to know that we were looking at a non profit organization.

Gone are the days when domainers had to write essays to explain why they needed to own a .org. A few short years ago in order to own a .org website the potential owner would have provided proof of non-profit status. A few years before that an essay was required to own any site.

Clearly essay writing and domain ownership are no longer a duo, but best practices dictate that only not for profit would host their site at a .org address. In order to protect a brand I can imagine a company owning a .org domain and then redirecting the traffic to their .com or .net, but hosting their for profit business on a .org platform would only confuse potential clients and alienate them once they figured out that they’d been snookered.

 

A web based economy uses trust as it’s currency. Once you’ve been deemed untrustworthy it’s nearly impossible to regain that trust. If your URL is dishonest, or just less than forthright there’s no reason for anyone to trust your content.

Although it’s possible for your business to buy and maintain any URL you can get your hands on, fight the urge to be anything less than transparent, because the web based consumer is a bright consumer and they have a lot of choices.