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The Anonymity of the Internet

I see it every once in a while, and do know that it goes on every day. Unprofessional people publish rants, untruths, half-truths twisted to make themselves look good in a bad situation. We are lucky in that very few of these types have attacked us, but when they do, they rush to the chore! You can tell a rant from afar by just looking at the use of capital letters (to yell the message) and exclamation marks to proclaim their wrath.

What to do when this happens? First, maintain your calm and do not reply in the heat of the situation. It is hard, but the last thing you want to get involved in is a disagreement which will always remain on the internet. These people are the modern day bully, hiding behind the anonymity of the internet, proclaiming they have been abused or mistreated. In reality, they are the abusers and the louder they proclaim their vulnerability, the clearer it becomes that they are on the attack to hide their own misconduct.

Social media is rife with these people. They are the ones playing at business, not the ones who study how successful businesses continue to operate and thrive, and then build a business based on integrity and honesty. Instead, they employ playground ethics, demand loudly, stamp their feet and sling insults.

If this has happened to you, I urge you to maintain your cool. Walk away from the situation to get a little perspective. You will see the signs of the internet bully. Then, make the business situation right, even if it costs you, and move forward.

The internet is wonderful for our businesses, and has helped the field of hand-dyed knitting soar in the past ten years. It is also an arena for the unscrupulous and undisciplined to bluster and bully.

Do business as you know you should, acting from principles that define your character. Learn about how to make a profit and nurture your relationships with your customers and your suppliers. I have said for years that the purposes of a small family run business should be to enhance the quality of one’s life. Quality of life is first defined from one’s character. Most of my customers are caring and considerate in their dealings publicly, and I applaud them here. i love my business and love meeting so many wonderful people through my business.


Help us Stay Stocked!

Planning how much yarn to spin is nearly a science around here.  Here are some of the reasons that a yarn may go out of stock, right when you need it:

  • Sudden large demand with no notice to us
  • People ‘adopting’ a yarn with no notice to us
  • Clubs, KAL’s, Events, Conventions with no notice to us

See why we need to know what to expect from our large customers?  We have worried and massaged our planning program with spreadsheets of past sales, newsletters, and a program we created to get estimates from our larger customers.  It only works if everyone participates, and it is not working as well as it should … because everyone does not participate.

Why?  Because customers depend on us having stock of the yarns they want and buy.  We are generally good about holding too much stock, and people think we’ll always have what they need.  That would be fine if we had just a handful of customers who kept in touch, let us know of their upcoming needs, and sent us Christmas cards every year.  Unfortunately, that is not how our business works.  We have a large (and growing) customer base with a variety of needs, and the only way we know which yarns to spin is if they tell us.

Yes, spreadsheets will summarize purchasing history, and they are huge helps, but they do not tell us about new events or new customers.  They are a good baseline, but do not tell the whole story.  A spreadsheet does not take into account the large customers’ purchase from the website to cover a sudden sale or project, one that wipes out stock that we had expected to last for two months.  That’s just one example.  Think of all the promotions that go on … conventions where wholesale customers are vendors and have to cart stacks of hand-dyed yarn with them to a show, and they may not be able to buy their yarn until the last minute. KAL’s, yarn clubs, local festivals, decisions to sell to LYS’s.  Every time your business plan forecasts increased sales, you need to let your supplier know.   Most of our customers do not plan ahead.  They just expect us to have their yarn on hand when they want it.  The truth is that a good business owner forces their attention to consider all aspects of a good plan including forecasting, saving for purchasing inventory, and the all-important one of how to make a profit.

My solution to the inventory shortage problem is the Call for Estimates program.  Here’s how it works.  I send out a newsletter invitation to participate to wholesaler customers, and I also publish the Call in our NewsFeed, and this goes out once a quarter, four times a year.   There is no reason why any well-informed customer should not yet know about our Quarterly Call for Estimates.  We are working on an estimate program with our mill, in the same way that I am asking my customers to work with Wool2Dye4.  Because our mill orders have grown to huge proportions which require the mill to source raw materials six months into the future, we support their need to plan by placing four well-reasoned orders per year.  One for each quarter.  AND, it takes three months turnaround time to get this big order from the day we place it, until the day it arrives at our warehouse.   Once I got used to ordering four times a year to cover all needs, I saw that I could  take it as my business’s challenge and get my customer base involved in the planning process.  Just as the mill has made it my responsibility to notify the mill’s buyers of how much, and of which fibers to source into the future, I have asked my bigger customers to start forecasting their yarn needs.

What I ask from my wholesale customers, who can estimate a minimum need of ten kilos per yarn title, is to respond to our Call for Estimates for the upcoming quarter when they receive it, or read it on our NewsFeed.  I ask them to send a clean list, and not engage in any chat, just a list of your best guess of what you will need in the coming quarter.   I ask them to use our yarn titles, and express their needs in terms of kilos, not skeins.  I ask them to only include amounts at a minimum of ten kilos, nothing less.   I ask my customers to respect our deadline, or their estimate will not be included in our mill order.

A response to the Call for Estimates is not an order.  It is an estimate of your best guess for upcoming needs.

If you want to be sure that your estimate is held aside for you, you have to ask us to invoice you by private order. Otherwise, we will total all the estimates we receive and add them to our spreadsheet growth estimates, and order what we think will suffice for the coming quarter, and it will be up to you to order from the website while there is available inventory.  Help us by participating in the process, please.

  • We need to anticipate your needs by a minimum of three months;
  • We need you to participate in our Call for Estimates program;
  • We need you to plan your own needs ahead of time and take responsibility of purchasing early;
  • We need you to respond by the published deadline.
  • Without your input, we cannot maintain adequate inventory.

Let me ask you to think about how successful your own business would be if you could only place four orders per year. That is a big thought.  Please.  Help us give you better service by taking  responsibility and participating in the Call for Estimates.


Let’s Consider Readability in names and eMail addresses

Every day I receive a minimum of 50 eMails, and so I get to see a lot of eMail addresses and company names of my customers and potential customers.  I cannot count the variations on ‘ewe,’ ‘baby bottom,’ ‘sheepy,’ ‘fiber,’ ‘yummy,’ and ‘sleepy’ which come across my screen.  Some make me groan, others make me smile, and a very few make me nod my head in approval.  Every time I see a company name or eMail referring to a baby’s bottom, I have to wonder why someone would do that!  And, every time I see an eMail that has more than three words in it, I have to cringe.  Both guarantee misspellings, or simply being unforgettable.

If you want to make a success of your dyeing business, you must think long and hard about all aspects of how you present yourself to your potential customer base. First, and most important is the name of your company, and your eMail address.   Think of them as one.   If you’ve already chosen a name which is easily misspelled or easily confused with too many others, then change it. Dealing with a bad name and/or eMail address, your potential customers are already typing in the name incorrectly into a search, or stumbling over two vowels mashed up together, or looking at a foreign word that maybe means something to you, but is far out of the realm of the average yarnie’s interest.  If your company name is a disaster, then make a big deal, a cyber event about your company’s name change.  Tell everyone who follows you on social media, send eMails to everyone who has ever ordered from you, and change it once and be done.  Do not change it again, once you’ve got that great name.  People will lose touch with you, forget your new name, or simply form an opinion of you and your company that you are not a serious contender and therefore forgettable.  You want your name to be a tool to guide your customer to your website, not to send them to a search engine to see if a name might ring a bell, which is a great way to give your customers to your competition in one easy step.

Harsh words?  Not really. Your company name is one of your biggest marketing tools and you must understand this, love your company name, and use it to create repeat business.  It must be memorable, easy to spell, and suit you and the image that you are trying to create.  Take some time and start a list of possible names.  Write down every one and bounce them off of friends and family, but expand that circle and ask your bookkeeper, if you have one yet, your banker, and surely you have a separate bank account and a nodding acquaintance with your banker, and ask your business associates where you work.  Give people a choice and scratch anything off the list which is suggestive or negative, or causes too much figuring out of the message.  Keep the list going until one of the names speaks to you.

Be sure to follow some tips from the marketing world in choosing your company name, such as…
– Is it easy to spell?
– Is it catchy, memorable, suggestive of your and your art?
– Strike anything off the list that is trite, overused, based on pop culture, and silly.  Humor is one of the most difficult marketing tools, and very few succeed in a big way.  The use of humor in marketing will be sure to brand you in someone’s eyes, and that is not a good thing.
– Is the name short, and less than three words?
– Does it make sense when read, and not make the reader stumble when they encounter two vowels together?
– Does it contain any words which could be spelled differently by many readers?  (fiber vs fibre, color vs colour, etc.)
– Does it suggest any negative connotation at all?  Even the slightest possibility of a negative connotation is enough to scratch that name off your list.
– Does the name limit you to a geographical area (state, city, area of the country)?  an age group? a special interest group?  a certain religion, sex, or nationality?
– Does it suggest too much private information about you? That is, you are a mommy, a fiddle player, a sports fan, an avid quilter, etc.  All of these descriptors have nothing to do with yarn.  Stay away from them.  Your purpose is to use a good name to bind you to yarnies, not to other hobbies, vocations, stages of life.  The one thing you have in common is yarn, wool, fiber.  Not baby bottoms or wiccan or cooking.
– Does the name suggest you are very young, very tired of life, very cynical, very insecure?  These are negatives.  Stay away!
– Does the name play on other words, rhymes, song titles, common phrases?  These are tired and old-fashioned.  Stay away!

Now, think about your eMail address.  Second to your company name, your eMail address should be a perfect representation of what you want people to remember.  If you are serious, then get a web page and use PayPal, at a minimum, for eCommerce.  YOU@YourBusiness.com goes miles to reinforce your attitude about your business, your level of professionalism, your business sensibility.  If you are playing at having a business, then use cute phrases that thrill you when you see them written down, and you don’t care how others respond when they see them, or try to spell the name, or even remember it.   Whatever you do, do not use info@youreMail.com because ‘info,’ just like ‘admin,‘ are spam magnets.  Stay away from those two words in your eMail address.

I hope these ideas might help the newbies who are in the creative and planning stages of setting up a new hand-dye business, or folks who may now be seeing their business grow in the right direction, but they are having second thoughts about the company name and eMail address.   My wish is that some idea might suggest to you a good, clear path to the value of an effective company name and eMail address as  communication tools in your fiber arts business.


Time to Organize your Business for 2016!

Filing drawer useLet’s Get Organized!

Early January is the perfect time to turn your attention to your filing system.  While you are at it, go find a cardboard or plastic box to hold last year’s folders, checks, and desk calendar if you still use one.  (Lots of us like the meditative moments of filling out our appointments by hand.)  When you have your business files in order, you are a better customer for your bookkeeper or CPA.  You can find copies of your invoices right away, keep running totals of expenses, and learn to read the trends that your financial information is telling you.  When you have this kind of control over your finances, you are a powerful business person.

While you are at it, consider how you keep your financial records on your computer.  If you do not already have QuickBooks installed on your computer, go out and get it this week.  Start January off with all of your business purchases and expenses recorded in your computer’s checkbook by using the most popular and easiest to learn bookkeeping system, QuickBooks.  I have used QB since it came out, and back then, when my business was so small that I thought I could run it and the family finances out of the same checkbook, I learned so much about bookkeeping that I quickly hopped over to the bank to open a business account.

Record every expense and every bit of income in the right categories, and you will be able to call up reports that show you how you are really doing in your business.  Not how you think you are doing, but the black and white facts of the matter:  are you, or are you not, making a profit?  Are there trends in your sales activity?  Have you lost business because you did not have supplies?  Have you taken personal money out of the business?

I’ll say it again:  when you have control over the information, you are a powerful business person!

Do it soon! Get yourself organized and start to know how to read the trends.


How Big Does My Garden Grow?

November 25, 2012

originally published in wool2dye4.blogspot.com

How Big Does My Garden Grow

Last week I read an interesting statistic about small businesses.  According to The Week’s November 23, 2012 issue, ‘Less than a quarter of America’s 27 million small businesses have employees.’  Of that figure, I’d guess that 75% of Wool2Dye4’s customers have no employees.  This is hard to estimate, of course, and I have formed this opinion through eMail correspondence over the past 8 years.Many of our customers are work-at-home small business owners.  Many have left a salaried job to work at home, and for many different reasons.  Pregnancy and child care seem to be the most popular reason, then caring for an ill family member.  These customers want to add to the family financial picture, and have chosen to use their artistic talent to create their handdye business.  That’s where we come into the picture, as their supplier of raw materials, the yarns in different blends and presentations, enough for choice, enough to specialize, enough from which to pick and choose which fibers in which blends, twists, plies will become the palette for their handdye art.

We also have customers who want to be their own boss, including retirees who want to create a viable business.  We find that these customers talk about planning and forecasting consistently.  They study their potential market in depth and then choose which yarns will fit their market, rather than which yarns they want to dye.  These are the customers who understand pricing, profit, placement.

This same article cited research from the University of Chicago that 75% of small busienss owners are not aiming for growth at all.  They are looking for a steady job as their own boss.

When I read that, something joggled in the logical side of my brain, something about the word ‘growth.’  Growth is not measured only in the number of employees one has, but by the bottom line.  Profit is the best measurement of growth.

Entrepreneurship is about understanding every single aspect of one’s business, including where you want it to go.  Just working madly, trying to make a profit, hitting a trend here and there — this approach is not the path to a growing bottom line.  Planning is the best way to improve profit, and that includes understanding where we want our businesses to grow, and one aspect of this understanding is how many employees our business would have at optimal performance level.

Imagine the day when your business is profitable, it has improved the quality of your life in every aspect.  How many employees do you see by your side?  This is important to understand because it tells you something about how you like to work, how you get distracted, what distracts you, what effects the efficiency of the workflow in your business, what keeps you close to the goals.

Part of growth is having goals.  Sure, they change as circumstances change, and are a moving target, but the keyword here is ‘target.’  Our picture of what our business is capable of achieving is the entrepreneur’s fuel.  Understand every aspect of your business, and your business will improve, your attitude will be strong, your business will improve the quality of your life.

This is that time of year when we head towards the closing of financial reports, the reckoning of profit and margin, and a good time to look at the life of our business and assess it’s health, it’s value, it’s progress.


Be Nice, Like Your Mama Taught You

Rule #1

Doing Business in the Sock Yarn World:  Be Nice, Like your Mama Taught You

Originally published June 24, 2013 in wool2dye4.blogspot.com

We have a fairly large customer base, and deal with everyone through eMail.  In every communication, I try to remember a few basics about communicating through the written word, and I thought I would share a few of them today:

1.  Be professional: Give good answers to information requested, and in a factual way which sets out the details of the project/yarn/pattern/order, etc. in a clear and easily understood manner.
2.  Do not use humor in business communications: Humor is so easily mis-understood that we stand a chance of insulting someone rather than amusing them.  Too, one’s style of humor sends subliminal messages … I am cool, I am young and cool, I am old and trying to be cool …  You never know the tolerance quotient of your reader, so stay away from humor.
3.  Write in plain, grammatically correct language:  Drop the cheering ‘Yaaay’s!’ and use of too many exclamation points.  I need to watch the exclamation points myself!  Give information, talk about your product’s attributes, get the message across.  Please drop the Instant Message abbreviations.  They are childish and send the message that you are either addicted to adolescent code, or you do not care enough to write out your thoughts in real words.  Remember that you are writing business information and it will affect sales.
4.  Don’t hide behind the anonymity of the internet to reply to insults:  It’s just not nice, and will not endear you as either a customer or a seller to anyone’s heart.  Do you need to tell someone off in a business letter, exaggerate a situation with metaphors that are unsavory or cutting?  The answer is ‘no.’  There is no excuse for writing hurtful letters in a business situation.

So, how do we handle replies to eMail that we receive which really should have been slept on and then deleted?  The answer is to just do business.

Yes, conduct business in a professional manner without telling the recipient they are wrong, or they are childish, or bad, or insincere.  If you have to apologize for a misunderstanding, do it.  There is nothing wrong and it is actually a great attention getter to say something like ‘I am sorry that I did not understand your question.’  It gives the recipient a chance to feel appeased, even if ever so slightly, and may save you a good customer in the long run.  Also, hold onto any reply to an unprofessional eMail and edit it heavily before sending it off. Short replies are better than long ones, especially if the writer displayed any negative emotion in their original communication.  Short and to the point, throw in some extra product information showing that you are above personal vindictive.

Remember why you are even in communication with this person in the first place.   Just do business.