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So you want to do a trade show?

By Anna Brindley

It has been suggested to me over and over to do a trade show. I just couldn’t justify all the costs involved, long days of working the booth, and the time I would need to put into preparations – until now.  My head is still spinning as I sift through information overload from last week’s four-day Home and Gift Market show in Dallas.
I did a lot of things wrong—and a few things right but I feel: like having children–you just can’t  know what is like until you do it for yourself. I am sure there are even more insights to come, but for now here are some tidbits from my experience.
In November, in the sort of creative rush that you can’t ignore, I had an idea for a beautiful line of baby blankets. Anxious to get it to market, I rushed the process.  The good news is that now I know I can bring a quality product from conception to reality in two months flat, a shorter development cycle than I had ever before experienced. The not-so-great news, yet valuable lesson, is that now I realize there are other critical parts of brand development that cannot be rushed.  Here are a few things of the things that I’ve learned:
-The cost of the trade show booth may have been worth the leads I gained and networking from the show, I wasn’t able to recoup it immediately on sales as I had hoped.  It turns out that retailers want to see you there for three seasons before they trust that your company will be around long enough to fill their orders. This is not true in all cases but the sluggish economy is making this more of a constant.
-Prices of booths can be negotiable. I might have paid less for the space I got had I known to bargain.
-There are such things as dead zones. Look at a floor layout plan and try to determine where the high traffic areas will be. Is there a Starbucks close, for example?
-Walk the market that you hope to show in. I had represented a line before in apparel, so I thought I had enough experience – but this show was entirely different.
-When you do get visitors in your booth, get their business card. Follow up is a big part of the process of selling.
-A contact list of buyers is part of the package you purchase. If you allow enough lead time (in other words–don’t rush) you can actually call or write to invite prospects to come see what is new!
-Talk to reps. Talking to reps ahead of time is a good way to see what is available in the market place and at what price point. Even though the internet is good for that, seeing first hand at the market is invaluable.
-Simple, cost effective booth designs can still make an impact. Spending more money doesn’t mean it is somehow better. A really simple design for a booth that I saw won the award for best booth design.
Should you have any tips to share…please do.

What’s purpose got to do with it?

By Anna M Clark

Interesting factoid in publishing: one of the best-selling non-fiction books ever written is  Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. It has sold 30 million copies since it came out in 2002.   Success of any given book is contingent upon many variables, but one of the most important is whether the book addresses a “felt need.”  If Warren’s book is any indicator, purpose is a need that people are absolutely responding to – even more than the need to make money.  Case in point: Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grown Rich has also sold 30 million copies – since 1937.  “Purpose” has attracted as many people in 8 YEARS as “get rich” has in almost 80.

This little bit of trivia landed on my radar about 8 months ago while gearing up for the launch of my book Green, American Style.  Searching for the secret to turning out a bestseller (what else can I say?), I bought  Purpose Driven Life. I can’t believe how simple the message is (though admittedly not easy).  While Warren’s book communicates a sound message, I’m not crazy about his churchy, goody-goody style.

On the other hand we have Think and Grow Rich.  This is a great book. I love how it uses real-world/historical examples as well as insights into the psychology of motivation. My only issue with this book is that its main objective is to teach the reader how to make money.  Certainly not a bad thing in itself.  But from my experience, chasing monetary reward can sap my energy and push me away from activities that fuel my sense of fulfillment.

So what about a book that mixes the best of both worlds?  I don’t mean a preachy book about why God wants us to grow rich.  I mean a smart, insightful, and practical book about how to gain richness in life by achieving our God-given purpose.  If you are still with me here, then you now know the topic of my new project.

I started my company EarthPeople because I believe that when you change the way people think, they can become capable, enthusiastic catalysts for a fairer, more just society.  I believe that people are a renewable resource. Empowering others is my personal way of unleashing a source of clean, abundant energy to feed the world’s needs.  In pursuit of said goal, I work in renewable energy both literally (brand consulting for clean energy companies) and figuratively (motivating people to contribute their gifts for a better world). I uncovered this dual PURPOSE, unique only to me, five years ago.  I set out to pursue both the branding and training part of the work, but somehow the branding stuff took over (because people actually wanted to pay me to do it).  As a result, for the past several years I’ve spent more time wordsmithing than world-changing. You might say I’ve been so busy protecting the trees that I’ve lost sight of the forest.

When we lose sight of our purpose (or even half of it), work becomes stale.  When work becomes stale, we stop being good at it.  When we stop being good at what we do, we stop wanting to do it altogether.  (For this reason, I’ll be focusing more on training again).  This is something that all entrepreneurs face. Naturally optimistic and passionate, we may have an easier time of pursuing our purpose than some other personality types. Then again, being ambitious, driven, and capitalistic, we also have an easier time of losing our purpose if it isn’t directly tied to our immediate income. As we manipulate our businesses to maximize dollars, the reason for which we start the can get pushed aside.

Of course, losing sight of the higher purpose also happens with doctors and lawyers, as well as frustrated teachers and clergy.  Nobody is immune.  The thing to do when you feel it happening is to correct the course as soon as you discover the problem.   I’ve got my own ideas for how to do this but until I solidify them, I’m keeping the experiment open. (Amazingly, only a week after I made this decision, I signed a new client for a project focused exclusively on training and behavioral change!)

Ironically, for all my initial judgments about it, Rick Warren’s book really does have a lot of great material to say on the subject of purpose.  Who knew?  Some of us just have to learn things the hard way!

It’s all about you

By Anna Brindley
Well, sort of.

Recently, Victoria of Ladies Who Launch wrote a post “Telling Your Story”.  After reading it, I remembered how I always had the most success selling my products when I was face-to-face, telling my story.

So when my friend Anna (co-founder of Think Tank Society) asked me to help her prep for a speaking engagement on her book Green, American Style, she presented me with her talking points. About half way through the conversation, I stopped her.  “I think you just need to tell your story,” I told her.  She paused and said, “Really?” “Yes,” I said, really!”

Since she hadn’t told it in awhile, she wasn’t even sure which part was the most interesting.  “Just be yourself,” I told her.  We worked on weaving her story into her outline, making sure to include the “who, what, why and how” while emphasizing her key points. When the day came, she opened up and let her story speak for her product. And wouldn’t you know it, after the presentation, the group lined up to buy her book.  “It works!” she told me on the phone afterwards.

For tips on how to tell your story, read Victoria’s post

Lessons from TLC’s “Millionaire Mom”

By Anna Brindley

Shows about entrepreneurs always catch my attention. Since I have a friend and mentor on an upcoming episode of “Millionaire Mom” on TLC, coming up, I’m especially interested in this season’s episodes.

Thanks to DVR technology, I am actually able to watch this show – once the children are snug in their beds, of course. The first episode covered women who have products in the beauty category. It was nerve-racking to watch because I truly want all of the gals to win.   I get nervous for each of them as they participate in their contests.

In the premiere episode, each one of the contestants had excellent products. I suspect that was the “price of admission” – a basic requirement in the casting. But when it came down to the final two women, who were competing for the chance to partner with HSN, I could tell they earned the opportunity in large part to their ultra-refined pitches. When everything else is equal, and the judges are impressed with all products, it’s how well you articulate your purpose that makes the difference. In the end, Presentation is Everything.

So how did it end?  Out of all the contestants, down to the last contest between the final two, the best presenter is the one who won.  Amongst all the sellable products emerged a single individual who was able to sell herself.  This is a lesson I have had to learn over and over.

Even when I was in the food and beverage industry (granted, as a a waitress and a bartender, but a very experienced one!) I remember that concept being drilled in repeatedly. A customer will eat or drink with his or her eyes first. If you served a drink where the whipped cream was perfectly swirled and the cherry perfectly placed on top in a sparkling glass, the customer would “like” the drink even if the taste was unexceptional.  Why? Presentation is Everything.

It is a good lesson to practice, practice and practice your pitch some more. Even though the show makes me want to squirm, the lessons are there for the taking.  Tune in on TLC Friday nights.

When “No” means opportunity

by Anna Brindley

Hearing no or seeing no in an e-mail can feel like a kick in the gut. Not only can it cause physical pain, it makes you want to crawl in a hole and stay there. Doesn’t this person see how special I am? Don’t they know how hard I’ve worked?  Don’t they have a clue that I’m doing all this on a shoestring with some extreme limitations? Can’t they appreciate how creative I am?

It takes everything I have to pull myself up by my boot straps and ask for an opportunity.  And nothing makes me want to quit quite like hearing no. It is humbling to ask for feedback, but I’ve found that learning why something didn’t work can be a key step in moving forward.

Recently when I approached a big retailer and got a no, I gulped and called the buyer back. “Can I have a few minutes of your time?”  I found out was that their buying requirements limit them to vendors that offer complete collections. In other words, I needed to show them more products that would merchandise well together on the floor. Asking the question gave me some great information about this retailer.  It also leaves the door open to try again in the future. “If it’s okay with you,” I told her, “next season I may be coming back with a full line.” The buyer said, “Sure, pitch again.”  Just like that, the “no” turned into a “maybe.”  Not a bad use of 10 minutes on the phone.

Bouncing back from a “no” can be difficult, but learning to pick myself up quickly has helped me develop the mettle I need to persevere.  If you happen to be licking wounds of your own as you read this, I’ll leave you with this: quit b*tching and start pitching.  Start by calling anyone who has told you “No” lately.  You may not close the deal, but at the very least you could open the door to a relationship.

How to jumpstart your writing career

by Anna M. Clark

Twelve years ago I bought a book called How to Start a Home-Based Writing Business.  Still not sure what moved me to do it. Until that time, I had put little thought and even less action into writing or, for that matter, building a business. The decade that followed was fraught with the ups and downs of leaving corporate America for the great unknown of entrepreneurship.  But the spine of the shelved book remained a clarion call of a possibility that I might explore someday.

Someday came in 2006.  Four years later, I’m a published author and featured blogger and I still haven’t opened that book.   Some things are best learned by doing.  So, based on my experience, here are ten essentials for carving out a career as a writer:

1.Write. J.K Rowling, the world’s first billionaire author, has been writing since she was six.  Harry Potter was an “overnight” success that was two decades in the making. It takes years to find your voice.  If you haven’t been consistent, you have a fantastic excuse for not being an instant hit.  Begin by writing what you know even if you think it’ll be boring. Nobody has to see your first drafts. Besides, you have to grease the wheels and turn out some rubbish before the good stuff can flow.

2. Start a blog. With WordPress, building an online presence is simple and free.  Many an author has been published on the strength of her blog following and content.   Social media guru Seth Godin explains, “Your book should be a souvenir from the trip.” Think of your blog as the travelogue in which you chronicle your adventures along the way.   From an organizational standpoint, your blog is the hub of your communications platform.  It’s also place to store videos, sell books and e-books, and link to your articles.

3. Make friends with other writers. Get several writer buddies to act as sounding boards.  Add them to your blog roll and ask them to link to your blog, too.  This will improve your SEO and bolster name recognition.  This support network will also help you stay connected and motivate you when it seems like nobody else is reading your stuff.

4. Share your posts on Facebook. I didn’t think my friends would be into my stories about electric vehicles, but some of them surprised me. When I started to write about faith and other more personal things, I noticed I got some new people responding. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care, so let them know you care by responding and engaging in conversation.  For every one that comments, many more will not.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t listening.

5. Network with similar thinkers. Comment on their blogs.  Join social networking sites related to your field.

6. Get on Twitter. Imagine wandering into a room blindfolded and you are supposed to find common ground with folks after exchanging about 10 words. Sounds impossible, but with links to your blogs, you can build a community of like-minded acquaintances. Warning, you may hate Twitter at first. You may not even like it the second time. After that it becomes indispensible for attracting new readers.

7. Become an online contributor. Websites need fresh content to stay relevant.  They want news, stories and opinions.  Why not yours?  Make a “Top 10” list, email the editors, and pitch your material.  That’s how I got a regular blog on  I named it Eco-Leadership and started finding leaders to interview. You’ll be surprised at who you can get in front of when you have a platform to offer them.

8. Pitch your best work to editors at print publications or high-traffic websites. As you gain experience, you may desire more visibility, especially if you are trying to sell books, products or services. Make a list of places in which you would like to see your work appear.  Search for the names and email addresses of editors.  Track their interests. Send them a paragraph describing what you want to write with a link to your blog.

Note: If you have Type A tendencies, you will probably get your ego wrapped up in this. Prepare for rejection because you will get a lot of it – and that’s if they have the courtesy to answer you at all.  To keep it from crushing your creativity and enthusiasm, you might pitch one round every 3-4 months.  During the waiting period, keep on writing.

9. Hire an agent. Go online and look for literary agent listings that match your subject matter (fiction, non-fiction, self-help, faith-based, sci-fi, children’s and so on). A good agent costs nothing upfront but makes 15 percent on works that are sold.   My agent has been a tremendous help to me in terms of coaching, moral support, and getting a book deal.  If you want to go down this road, understand that the agent’s motto is “help me help you.”  Be prepared to do most or all of the above steps on this list, write up a formal book proposal, and put substantial time into marketing.

10. Get real. To write well, you have to expose yourself, or at least a unique viewpoint.  It’s not for the faint of heart. As Hemingway put it, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

If this process deflates you, then focus on the fun and forget the rest.  Unless you are dedicated and dogged, gifted or lucky, trying to write for money can sap your satisfaction and creativity. Moreover, there are not guarantees; you can do all of the above and still fail in the marketplace.  Even relatively successful writers often gain more esteem than money.

So with all the ancillary work, potential for rejection, and odds stacked against us, why do we do it to ourselves?  Notable reasons such as self-expression, contribution, community, contact, transformation and transcendence keep many of us going.

Author Jack London, one of the most financially successful writers who never tried to be, summed it up like this: “There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.”

That, my friends, is why we write. Even better than money, isn’t it?

Shoestring and a dream

by Anna Brindley

Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines shoestring as: a small sum of money: capital inadequate or barely adequate to the needs of a transaction.

The synonyms – chicken feed [slang], chump change, dime, hay, peanuts, pin money, pittance, mite, song, two cents – made me laugh when I thought about potential titles for this article: Chicken Feed Dreams, Chump Change Dreams, Peanuts and Dreams???

Recently on HARO there was a query for entrepreneurs who started their businesses on a shoestring. Because I had done so much on my own for my business with so little money, I epitomized the shoestring startup concept.  Here is an excerpt from my article on that topic for
I worked as if I had no capital. Anything I could do on my own, even with a learning curve, drove my strategy. I quickly became, as Entrepreneur magazine called it, the Chief of Everything Officer .  I wrote my business plan, designed the pajamas/loungewear, sewed the first prototype (and a few other WIP prototypes), designed the logo (friends gave input and voted), built (with templates) my website, presented and sold the product to a couple of boutiques, wrote my copy and blog entries, sent my PR queries, created my hangtags and labels, wrote my own patent and applied for my trademark—to name a few. Pattern-making, marking, grading, and sample production are all outsourced within the US. I employed a legal services website to help build my LLC. In hindsight I would take less expensive route on that as well.

I’ve learned loads of lessons on this journey. Check out the full article for the rest of the story (still unfolding as I write this)…