Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Is organization overrated?

If I haven't already introduced you to the lovely home of Oh My! Handmade Goodness, I hope you will excuse my tardiness. OMHG is an online community for and about independent children's retailers, parents and makers of handcrafted goods. It launched earlier this year in Chicago and I was approached to be a contributor by then-editor (and one of my favourite people) and graphic designer Sara Tams. Oh My is now based in Canada - Halifax to be exact - which means there is a growing amount of quality Can-Con related to running a small business.

As evidenced from the header above (which I suspect is from July or August but most certainly is not from September) I am a lackadaisical blogger. Don't get me wrong: I like the idea of blogging but I like the idea of a quality posts more and I find the effort required to think, write, format, proof and post daily a most daunting task. Which is why I am quite happy to be a monthly contributor over at Oh My. I can manage 500 coherent words a month. I skipped August due to summer malaise. What's a lazy blogger to do? Repost! Write once, publish twice. This month the editor of Oh My, Jessika, asked the monthly contribs for tips and thoughts on how we work-from-home folks organize our lives and spaces. Oh dear, I immediately thought. I wouldn't go as far to say it's a nightmare on par with, say, posing for the camera in a two-piece bathing suit. But it's close. It's close. Read on and you'll understand. The original post, Is organization overrated?, ran yesterday at Oh My Handmade Goodness. Here's the repost:

Full disclosure: on the subject of time management and organization I am in no way qualified to offer advice. My business GST/HST is generally filed on the last minute of the last day it’s due. I routinely chase my kids down the street waving permission slips or mittens or lunch. And I waste an unforgivable amount of time looking for files, receipts and vendor catalogues – things that I need daily to run my business. I realized how chronic the situation was earlier this year when I lost a library copy of Eliminate Chaos: The 10 Step Process to Organize Your Home And Life (the best organizing book I’ve ever read, ironically) and had to pay $24.95 for a well-thumbed paperback that to this day has not surfaced. What can I say? Disorganization is in my DNA. Procrastination is my natural state. I’ve been that way since I was a daydreaming-missed-the-bus kid and I don’t think it’s going to change even though I now run a business, a house and a family.

Like those people who love to watch the Food Network but who don’t actually cook I have an attraction to the trappings of an orderly and well-managed life. I would rather shop for daytimers, calendars, digital tools, notebooks, pretty to-do list pads, lovely pens, bunny-shaped paper clips, and Rubbermaid bins than shoes. Indeed I have bought it all. Some stuff worked but most didn’t. I have reluctantly come to accept that my desire to run a smooth operation is just one more thing that I kind of admire but have no real intention of mastering. Like baking my own bread or figuring out Quick Books. My methods may not be business school-approved but I do manage to get things done in my own way. I’ve never analyzed it (indeed, writing this post is  as much analysis as I’ve ever given it) but I suppose I could boil my approach down to one central business practice and one guiding principle. I find that as long as I keep these two things front of mind then I am taking care of business.

1. A Map Is All I Need: The Essential Marketing Calendar
As a retail business owner I have to plan ahead three to six months. This means buying, advertising, editorial, budgets and sales forecasts. It is no good to sit down with a cup of hot chocolate and notepad as the first snow flies and contemplate how I am going to drum up holiday business. Neither should I order sand pails and watering cans in June. My calendar follows a traditional quarterly schedule, so it is straightforward for me to plan what products I need to have and when I need to have them. From there it’s simple to plot out events, newsletter themes, advertising plans and editorial pushes for the quarter and then the year.  Your business might be dictated by a key trade show, wholesale buying season or some other factor, but the point is, a marketing calendar is a good discipline for keeping the big picture in mind. My calendar forces me to spend time working “on” my business ( planning, strategizing, analysis) when much of my day is spent working “in” my business (answering emails, phone calls, shipping orders, updating the website).

2. Right now, am I doing what I should be doing?
My seven-year old daughter will finish breakfast, wander down to her room to get dressed for school and while navigating those 30 or so steps she might stop in front of a mirror and make silly faces at herself. Which leads to the discovery of a loose tooth. Which prompts her to make sure there are no apples in her lunchbox. And while unpacking her lunch she discovers there is butter on the sandwich bread and she didn’t want butter today. Oh, and can she bring popcorn to share with the class? And now ten minutes have passed and she is no closer to getting dressed. I occasionally get sucked into her digressions, but I will try catch myself and ask “Stella, is this what you should be doing right now?” It’s usually enough to get her back to the task at hand. Working from home can be incredibly distracting and with precious few quiet hours during the school day I need to frequently check in with myself by asking “Is this what I should be doing?” It forces me to be mindful and purposeful with my time.

And that’s it folks. I roll with the punches. I get stuff done some days and next to nothing on others. Since making the decision to close my brick and mortar shop to focus on the online business, I’ve greeted each day with fresh coffee, my laptop and a good dose of gratitude that I am able to choose how I spend my day. It’s pretty great, but messy.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Owl Party

Say what you will about the everywhereness of owls - I still think they're tops. I'm not alone in my appreciation for wide-eyed owlets: a customer planning an owl-themed party for her daughter's fourth birthday got me thinking...and looking. You can find owlish things in any colour to suit your fancy or time of year. The autumn colour scheme shown here is especially nice for fall birthday parties.

Of course the birthday boy-or-girl will want to greet guests in full owl costume. Directions to make the adorable headdress are at Parenting; and there is a pretty fantastic owl cape to be made over at TLC.

I've never met a kid who eats fondant, so enjoy the inspiration shot but save the fancy cakes for adults (who probably won't eat fondant either, but at least they won't take a lick and abandon their cupcake in your sofa cushions) and try your hand at the show-stopping chocolate cupcakes that feature the oh-so-good combination of buttercream icing and Oreo cookie halves (for eyes). Directions at Ezra Poundcake.

Handmade felt pencil toppers from Whimsy Love do double duty as cupcake toppers. Make them ahead or set up a craft table with pre-cut the felt - or use paper - shapes, glue and fabric paint pens. Paper bag crafts are another craftivity idea. Paper bag owl puppet instructions from DLTK's.

Clear cello envelope bags could be filled with candy or other small treats. This candy corn-filled one features layers of punched shapes (full instructions at 2stampis2b.com) but if you didn't have access to all of the various punches and papers, I think you could also colour copy a, cute owl onto basic cardstock and cut it out. Martha Stewart's standing owl treat boxes are wonderful, but they used "egg-shaped pressed paper boxes" and three colours of crepe paper and are, therefore, not for the craft faint of heart.