January 9, 2014

Focus on what you’re good at.

Filed under: Small Business — lidia @ 10:00 am

focus-on-what-youre-good-at

Focus your career around the thing you’re good at and not necessarily the thing you’re trying to get better at.

– David Tisch, Managing Partner, Box Group; Cofounder, Techstars N.Y.C.

via Fast Company magazine

January 8, 2014

Know when to say no—to yourself.

Filed under: Small Business,Time Management — lidia @ 10:00 am

Screen Shot 2014-01-04 at 9.29.29 PM

When you are an entrepreneur or creative-minded person, it can be hard to say “no” to new ideas or opportunities—to the point where you feel overwhelmed. As a mom and owner of two businesses, I know the feeling. I recently shared my tips for saying “no” to yourself on the Entreprenista.com blog. Read the Entreprenista post here.

See all of my posts on Entreprenista.com here.

January 7, 2014

Who’s the expert? Your customers.

Filed under: Client Communication,Small Business — lidia @ 10:00 am

Who's the expert? Your customers..

It’s very easy to think that you are the expert on your own product. But in many ways, that’s a myth. The true experts are your customers.

– Jamie Wong, CEO, Vayable

via Fast Company magazine

January 6, 2014

Round-up: 5 ways to kick start your small business in 2014

Filed under: Small Business — lidia @ 10:00 am

2014: let's do this!

It’s 2014 and many of you, like me, are probably thinking of ways to kick start, improve, or re-energize your small business for 2014. Here are a few great tips I’ve recently come across.

1. Make your blog more organized and effective by creating an editorial calendar | via Launch Grow Joy

2. Create New Year’s resolutions based on kindness and positive thoughts | via Forbes.com

3. Read a book. Here’s a list of 33 must-read books for entrepreneurs | via Shopify

4. Decide to focus on one specific area of your business | via Designing an MBA

5. Organize your to-do list in a new way | via 99u.com

Share your own tips or articles in the comments.

Happy New Year!

January 4, 2014

What’s your word for 2014?

Filed under: Creativity,Small Business — lidia @ 8:45 am

focus

I don’t usually make New Year resolutions, making instead a list of things I want to learn (see this year’s list here). But this year, I also decided to choose a word for the year: FOCUS.

Choosing a word for the year can be powerful. It can help guide your decisions and keep you on track, both personally and professionally. I chose focus because I want to focus on working on specific areas of my businesses—as well as being fully present in time spent with my son. I also want to narrow down my list of creative side projects (and believe me, there are a lot!)

Alternatively, some people choose a phrase or theme for the year, like “Think big.” Get your family or friends involved too. For example, I chose a word for my toddler: learn (though since he is 2 years old, maybe it should have been “patience”!)

See Gretchen Rubin’s tips for choosing a word for the year here.

What’s your word (or phrase) for the year?

 

December 30, 2013

What I want to learn in 2014

Filed under: Small Business — lidia @ 10:25 am
Laura Berger 2014 calendar

My friend Laura Berger’s awesome 2014 calendar. Click to order in her Etsy shop.

I’m continuing in my tradition of listing things I want to learn in the new year instead of resolutions. Admittedly, there are a few holdovers from years past, but I’m all the more determined to check them off!

Things I want to learn in 2013

  • Digital publishing: apps, eBooks, etc.
  • Making the most of my DSLR camera
  • Using Google Analytics effectively
  • Advanced screenprinting techniques
  • Streamlining my paperwork and bookkeeping
  • Crowdfunding
  • Facebook marketing and advertising
  • Baking (how to be better at it!)

Here’s wishes for a happy, prosperous and enlightening New Year!

December 12, 2013

End-of-year tax preparation tips for small businesses [guest blog]

Filed under: Small Business — Tags: , , , , — lidia @ 11:27 am

Guest blogger: CArrie Hochins-WittHello readers!  I want to thank Lidia, the original Biz Mama, for inviting me to write a post for her blog. I have known Lidia for many years and we have worked together often, most recently when she created my logo and branding. I am excited that we are able to support each other’s businesses, and help out other Biz Mamas who are on their way to success!

I operate a tax preparation and financial planning business, and one of the most satisfying parts of my job is advising business owners and individuals on tax planning issues.  It is not uncommon for me to see first year business owners, or individuals who have recently gone through “major life events,” to be surprised at their tax bill come April 15.  In fact, this happened to me (one year I owed the IRS $20K!) before I began my journey towards becoming a tax and personal finance professional.

As such, I’d like to share with you some end-of-the-year tax tips so that you can minimize your tax bill and take action to respond to many of the tax law changes that have occurred this past year.

Changes to tax laws

As has been the case in many recent years, the federal government made some big changes to the tax laws in 2013.  In particular, some of the more significant changes will impact higher-income earners, possibly raising their tax bills.  If you have a high income (generally, over $200K for individuals and $250K for married filing jointly), be prepared for a higher tax bill this year due to the following changes:

  • A new tax bracket of 39.6% for top earners.
  • A new net investment tax of 3.8%.
  • A Medicare surtax of .9%.

Reducing your taxable income

Even if you are one of the unlucky businesses or individuals to suffer a greater tax bill due to these changes, it is not too late to reduce your taxable income for 2013.  Some of the easiest ways for lowering your taxable income (and thus your tax bill) include:

  • Contributing to a retirement plan such as a traditional IRA, SEP IRA, Simple IRA, or employer-sponsored plan.
  • Paying medical and/or business expenses, and making large business purchases, in 2013 rather than 2014.
  • Donating more to charitable organizations.

Changes in the laws dealing with health insurance

Most of us are well aware that there have been some big changes in the laws dealing with health insurance. Starting January 1, 2014, most people will be required to obtain health insurance, and many businesses will be required to provide it to their employees. With respect to these new requirements, some things you should be aware of include:

  • If your company pays for health insurance for its employees, your company may qualify for a tax credit of up to 50% of the cost of health insurance. In fact, if you are your business’s sole employee, your business may be able to qualify for this credit (to pay your health insurance), depending on how your business is organized.
  • If you pay for health insurance as an individual, you also may qualify for a tax deduction or credit for a portion of the premium

Getting the best tax and financial advice

We should all ensure that we are receiving the best tax and financial advice available. Tax laws grow more complex each year, and individuals and business owners should take full advantage of every legal avenue to reduce their tax liability.  One way to make sure you are getting the best advice is to check your tax preparer’s and financial planner’s credentials.

  • Many people are surprised to find out that no education or licensing requirements exist for tax preparers. You should check with your tax preparer to ensure he or she is trained, experienced, and comfortable with the type of tax return you need. Choosing a credentialed tax preparer will ensure professionalism, ethics, and competency.  Enrolled Agents (EA) are “America’s Tax Experts,” federally licensed by the IRS to specialize in taxation and represent taxpayers before the IRS. CPAs and tax attorneys also have unlimited rights to practice before the IRS, but they may or may not specialize in taxation.  For more information on EAs, see www.irs.gov/Tax-Professionals/Enrolled-Agent-Information
  • The Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) designation is considered the gold standard by which to judge personal finance professionals. Only financial planners who have fulfilled the certification and renewal requirements of the CFP Board can display the CFP® certification marks, which represent the highest level of competency, ethics and professionalism. Also, many financial planners earn their income through commissions they receive by selling financial products.  If you desire truly objective financial planning advice, you should seek a fee-only Certified Financial PlannerTM Practitioner, who does not sell financial products and thus possesses no conflicts of interest when providing you advice. For more information on CFP®s, see www.cfp.net.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments. Take some time to slow down and enjoy this holiday season; and a have a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year!

Carrie Houchins-Witt is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM Practitioner (CFP®) and an ENROLLED AGENT (EA) with nearly ten years of professional tax preparation experience and an extensive background in personal finance.  As a fee-only CFP ®, Carrie helps clients through ordinary or extraordinary periods of financial life. As an EA, the highest credential the IRS awards, Carrie can assist with the most complex tax preparation issues; and for individuals with tax problems, Carrie can represent and defend them before the IRS, as any CPA or tax attorney might.  She is known for explaining taxes and personal finances in a simple, thorough way that anyone can understand.

November 18, 2013

13 things I’ve learned in my 13 years of business

Filed under: Small Business — Tags: , , , , — lidia @ 1:25 pm

13 things I’ve learned in my 13 years of business

13 years ago today, I started my graphic design business.

I still recall starting out and telling myself: “I’ll give it a few months and see how it goes. I can always get another job.” And now here I am, 13 years later.

Over these past 13 years, Ive learned a lot. Of course, Ive honed my skills in things like billing and marketing. But Ive also gained many insights that transcend the day-to-day.

  1. Be nice.
  2. But…don’t let people take advantage of you.
  3. Stay in touch.
  4. Reinvent yourself.
  5. Try something new.
  6. Be there when people need you most.
  7. But…don’t be afraid to take a day off.
  8. Stay up-to-date.
  9. Take a risk.
  10. Learn from your mistakes.
  11. Don’t pursue every opportunity.
  12. Never stop learning.
  13. Be grateful.

I couldn’t have made it this far without my family, friends, clients, vendors and other supporters and mentors who I have been inspired by, learned from, and collaborated with. You know who you are, so thank you!

September 25, 2013

A book that helped me “make my ideas happen”

Making Ideas Happen by Scott BelskyLast week, I wrote about how Evernote helped me launch my new business, typebaby. Now, Id like to share a book that helped me turn my ideas into reality: Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision & Reality by Scott Belsky, founder and CEO of Behance.

This book has been a fixture on my desk for almost a year. When I was preparing to launch typebaby, I read the book in my car while my son was napping. I read a few pages before I went to bed. And I flagged lots of pages.

Here are a 8 takeaways that I found especially helpful:

1. Break projects into primary elements

Belsky calls this the “Action Method” and it involves breaking down your project into Action Steps, References and Backburner items. This was important for me, as I was getting overwhelmed by everything I needed to accomplish prior to launching. I also liked his tip of writing your Action Steps in short phrases starting with action verbs, i.e. “Mock up a sample of…”

2. Create an energy line

I recently wrote a post on the HOW Design Creative Freelancer Blog about creating an energy line and how it was helping me prioritize my projects. This book is where I learned about it and I still update mine weekly.

3. Let go of dead-end projects

“You must be willing to kill ideas liberally—for the sake of fully pursuing other.” As a creative person, I really struggle with this. I have so many ideas and want to pursue all of them. This book made me realize that I couldn’t (and shouldn’t) pursue all of my ideas. But if was really attached, I could just put an idea on the backburner and return to it later.

4. Reduce time spent on “insecurity work”

Belsky says, “Along the journey to making ideas happen, you must reduce the amount of energy you spend on stuff related to your insecurities.” This is a powerful statement. Whether it’s launching a product or writing a blog post, I’ve had insecurities pop up that kept me from moving forward.

He goes on to say, “We seek information to make our anxiety go away.” I know I’m guilty of over-researching. I postponed launching my product line until I felt everything was perfect (according to my unattainable standards). In fact, it was my husband who finally said to me: “just do it, already!”

5. Don’t go it alone

The book emphasizes partnerships. Not necessarily a business partnership, but collaborations with people who have complementary skills to help you move your project along, or like-minded people who can keep you accountable. I found this very helpful and I still reach out to my mentors and accountability buddies.

6. Seek out your competition

I thought this was an interesting concept. Belsky writes, “Ideas often have the tendency to lie stagnant until we are jolted into action by either excitement or fear.” It’s true. Watching your competition is crucial for all small business owners—and it can be a great way to push your idea into action. As Belsky says, “Seek out competition and be grateful for it. By embracing [it], you will stay at the top of your game.”

7. Go public and create accountability

When you feel accountable to your idea, you are more likely to push through and make it happen. I like to discuss my ideas with a few trusted friends who I can count on to regularly ask, “So, how is [your new idea] going?” If I know someone will be asking about it, I am more likely to focus on it.

Publicly announcing your idea also shows your commitment to it. As Belsky writes, “Only after publicly committing themselves did [leaders of new companies] experience full support from their communities.”

 8. Keep perspective and an open mind

Belsky notes how creatives can get caught up in “visionary narcissism.” We get so caught up in our idea, we are unaware of what’s been done before and consider our idea totally unique. Keep an open mind when relating with or following people in your industry—you can learn from them. As Belsky writes, “Not much is entirely new, and yes, we can adequately  learn from the past.”

Have you read Making Ideas Happen? What were your key takeaways?

 

September 18, 2013

How I launched a new business…with a little help from Evernote

Filed under: Small Business,Time Management — Tags: , , , , , , , — lidia @ 10:00 am

typebaby loves evernote

Earlier this year, I launched typebaby, a line of typographic baby & kids apparel. Starting a new business (with an existing business and a 1-year old, no less) is no easy task, but using the productivity app Evernote made it much easier.

I was already using Evernote in my graphic design business to keep track of projects, design inspiration, small business and marketing resources, and small business events (the new Evernote reminders feature is perfect for this). I also found Evernote helpful when I was searching for office space. I used it to track leasing agents and spaces I’d visited (adding photos to notes made it easy to remember places I visited).

But when I started typebaby, my usage of Evernote grew tenfold. Being a mom in addition to a small business owner, I do a lot of work during off-hours, so being able to add to and update my Evernote Notebooks and Notes from multiple devices (Mac, iPad, phone) turned out to be a lifesaver.

How did I do it?

I started out by creating Notebooks for categories relating to my new business, such as sales, marketing & PR, manufacturing, new product development, packaging, and social media. Then I started filing notes, documents and spreadsheets, articles clipped from the web, and photos.

Here are some specific ways I use Evernote.

Research and reference

Because this was my first foray into product development, I did a lot of research before I launched and saved useful articles and posts in Evernote.

Spreadsheets

Having a product business, I maintain a lot of spreadsheets with information regarding inventory, sales, retail customers, blogger outreach and public relations, so being able to save and view Excel files in Evernote is a great perk.

Inventory tracking

Inevitably, I get requests from retail stores in the evening when I’m away from my office, so having copies of my inventory spreadsheets in Evernote is very useful.

Manufacturing details

I keep track of manufacturing details, such as vendors, online catalogs, invoices, and cost analysis.

Social media marketing

typebaby is very active on social media, so I keep a copy of my social media marketing plan in Evernote for easy reference. I add notes for potential blog posts or other social media engagement ideas.

Trade shows & events

I create Notebooks for trunk shows or special events that I’m participating in to keep track of correspondence and details. I also create a list of monthly tasks (with reminders) to make sure I’m on track.

New product development

Being a creative person, I’m always coming up with new ideas. Now, instead of scribbling them onto sticky notes, I file my new product ideas in Evernote and refine or develop them in a more focused way.

In short, Evernote can make launching and running a new business much easier—especially if you’re a busy Biz Mama like me.

New to Evernote?

Check out these useful webinars from Evernote. I also find the best way to learn about Evernote is to learn from other users, so feel free to reach out to me with your questions.

Editor’s note: I was not paid by Evernote to write this. I truly love and appreciate this app. But if you use my referral link to sign up for a free or paid plan, I will get a little bonus. Woohoo!

Stay tuned to the blog this week for a book review of another resource that helped me launch typebaby…

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