Monday, 29 August 2011

Trade Show nerves!!

This week the lovely BelleNoirBride posted a feature about Strange Fruit cards on her blog!  

 Thanks Nicola, the write up is wonderful and it is so nice when someone just 'gets it'!  

"Whilst browsing through Twitterville I came across Strange Fruit and their beautiful and unique greeting cards."

"Husband and wife team Denise and Cory have together created a greeting card publisher which offers cute and quirky cards  which ‘reflect Great Britain’s colourful population’.
After feeling disappointed at not receiving any multicultural cards for their wedding nuptials, almost overnight the idea for Strange Fruit and this lovely set of greeting cards was born!"  The full feature is here.  Having other people's feedback on the cards has been brilliant this week as I a having a bit of a panic over preparation for the trade show (Top Drawer) which is fast approaching.  I've got less than two weeks and about two months worth of work to squish in.  I am reading everything I can about trade shows and all I can do is get what my head down and crack on with the to do list which is now and on an A3 piece of paper!  

Strange Fruit will be the only diverse greeting card publishing company exhibiting at the show and I feel an overwhelming responsibility to show that my business is professional and the greeting cards I produce are both lovely and of the highest quality and rightly deserve a place on the shelves of the best stores.

But before then if anyone has any advice for surviving your first trade show, I'd love to hear it!!

Denise xx

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Liberty open call to meet new designers

This week I blogged for Noisette Marketing  about the Liberty open call to meet new designers.  Thought I'd share the post here too.  Isa has done a lovely job with the pictures I sent her.  Hope you like them as Sunday I will be posting about  fun day out with Darren a photographer who had me on the pavement!  Holding down cards I should add before anyone makes any smart comments!

If you read my tweets you may know that I went to the Liberty open call a week early! So excited was I to have the opportunity to show the buyers my range of greeting cards that I went along to Regent Street a whole week early, but better than a week late! Preparing for the pitch was quite difficult, as I had no idea what to expect. The open calls are happening again in 2012 so I hope my little summary of the day will be helpful to anyone thinking of signing up for the next one.

The first thing to note is you have to sign up to attend the open day so look out for details on the Liberty website or sign up for their tweets.
On the day.
I got to Great Marlborough Street around 11.00 am and was surprised not to see the queue spilling out into the street. The queue, it appeared, snaked up the many flights of stairs, each step hosting a designer clutching a very large bag of precious cargo. I got chatting to a couple of ladies as I settled myself in for the wait – one had got up at 4.00 am to take the coach to London to take part with her handmade book of tapestries and another had brought her handmade bowls from Clapham. Everyone in the queue had something that would be perfect for Liberty! The buyer’s task of the day was not going to be easy.

An unexpected call for stationery and I bade farewell to my companions and went to the waiting area at the top of the store where I was signed in and sat with around 50 other hopefuls to await my turn. Sitting in the exhibition area I kept going over my three-minute pitch and checking my notes so I didn’t forget anything. About an hour later the ladies I’d been chatting to were also sat with me and we all patiently waited to be called into the big room where the meetings were taking place.
My turn.
I think I left my nerves at home, or maybe it was all out of my system the week before because I wasn’t at all nervous when it was my turn to meet the buyers. The hall was set with five sets of trestle tables with two buyers meeting each of the designers.
The pitch.
The pitch itself was much more informal than I was expecting. But I thought it best to stick to my presentation, showing the cards, explaining how they are designed and sharing the trade prices. We talked though my design process and the buyers really liked them and seemed genuinely disappointed that they weren’t inviting me back for a meeting to talk about an order. They explained that with over 600 lines of stationery the competition is fierce. What they did say is that they would come and see me at the trade show I’m exhibiting at in September.
Evaluating the experience.
So even though I got a ‘no’ the whole experience was totally worthwhile. I can deliver my three minute pitch any-time any-where now I’ve had to do it for real. I have a specially designed presentation folder than I can use over and over again. I have got some really good insight into what a buyer of a large store will want to know when I do my first trade show and if you’re wondering if I’ll do it again – definitely – see you there!

Top 4 tips for attending an open call:

Be prepared. Make sure you know when and where it will be, what they are looking for and how they want you to apply.

Research! Make sure you do your research on the store to make sure your products are suitable. You don’t want to waste their time or yours by arriving with products that won’t fit into their look.

Write and memorise a 3 minute pitch to help you succinctly describe what you do, how you do it and why they should stock your items in their store.

Make sure you know your margins and wholesale terms inside out. They will want you to know these off the top of your head so make sure you do.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Hello, my names is Denise and I am a notebook / diary addict.

A few weeks ago Sharon at Reinvention Diva kindly asked if she could interview me for her online magazine over a cuppa.  I never turn down the offer of a cup of tea!  Meeting Sharon her business partner was a joy, such interesting ladies both determined to make a positive difference in each of the lives they touch.  

Sharon is very kind, she says "What is wonderfully inspiring about Denise is that she is a mum, has a full time job and runs her business. She successfully manages her busy life and tells us how she does it."  What Sharon found out very quickly in the interview was that I wanted to marry LL Cool J and that I am a planner.  The business, work or a happy family life wouldn't happen if I didn't write everything down. 

Reflecting on the interview I can see that I am a goal setter and I try to make each step in working towards that goal SMART.  And that just thinking about the next step I need to achieve makes reaching the overall goal so much easier.  Being a bit emotional having a plan also really helps me stay on track and not get distracted!
  • S - Specific (or Significant).
  • M - Measurable (or Meaningful).
  • A - Attainable (or Action-Oriented).
  • R - Relevant (or Rewarding).
  • T - Time-bound (or Trackable).
Mind Tools has some great tips and ideas for making planning part of your everyday life. But of you're like me a monthly notebook allowance from Fresh n Funky at Wow Thank You would make my life complete!

Time for lunch xx



Sunday, 7 August 2011

Three, two, one... Executive Audit

I promised to share in this blog the ups and downs of starting my business.  I hope this weeks Sunday Supplement will be helpful to people in the same early stages of running a start-up.  

I am not ashamed to share that it took me three weeks, two notebooks and one accountant to prepare my Executive Audit as the next part of the Perfect Pitch Business Awards 2011 competition hosted by Tower Hamlets College.  

Let me start at the beginning.

A few weeks ago I entered the competition to win £10,000 worth of investment into a business.  I sent off an overview of my business and was delighted to be invited to take part in the next stage of the competition; a day of workshops in July.  40 or so of us gathered to take part in the  Financial Mastery Workshop and the The Art of Pitching.  I will be honest.  I wasn't sure how much I was going to learn at these workshops as I got off the DLR at All Saints station.  My worst job ever was an Accommodation Manager running a government building and having to manage the budgets for it.  I learnt loads in that job and hated every minute of it.  Forecasting electricity spends was not my idea of fun!  As a press officer I pitch features and news stories to editors of newspapers and newsrooms everyday and I do it well.  But I am always open to learning new skills so I sat down in the conference room with an open mind but thinking the workshops would be would be useful but maybe nothing new.  How wrong was I?

Financial Mastery with Parag Prasad was excellent, we didn't talk about the basics of managing your budget, Parag encouraged the group to share solutions and critically feedback on a real businesses end of year accounts.  One of the best tips Parag gave us was to get someone else to chase your overdue invoices.  That way you as the business owner maintain your good relationships.  Even if your Dad has to make the calls as your 'Finance Manager' it is better than you getting sucked into other people's business problems.

Rob Hook then talked us through the DISC personality types to better understand the groups people naturally fall into.

  • Dominance – relating to control, power and assertiveness
  • Influence – relating to social situations and communication
  • Steadiness  – relating to patience, persistence, and thoughtfulness
  • Compliance – relating to structure and organisation

I would say I am mix of D and I.  And then we moved onto the 3 C's of pitching.....

Client - the company knows precisely what the client wants.

Compelling content - the company delivers enough relevant content to win the sales pitch, an no more.

Confidence with clarity - the company delivers the sales pitch confidentiality and with a degree of clarity so that the client know precisely where the sales pitch is going.

We spent some time perfecting our own pitches too, I am taking part in the Meet the Designer day at Liberty next week so this opportunity was a gift.  And nothing like what I expected.  I was able to build on the skills I have and get direct feedback from an expert at the top of his game. You can see how the notebook was just getting fuller and fuller! When I got home and thought about the financial planning of my business I decided I needed an accountant.  I can do the basics but if I am serious about growing my business I need a professional on board.  I have since engaged with Starfish Accounting.  Georgina Rollings, who gave me a free hour to help me work out some projections, specialises in working with home based businesses - another gift.

The next part of the competition was to complete and send in an Executive Audit.  I expected it would take me about two weeks to answer the 12 questions, which each had sub questions.  It took me three weeks.  Three weeks and another notebook full of planning (mostly written on the tube going to and from the day job).  The first question was - 'send us an email to a potential investor that includes your pitch'.  The fifth question was ''talk' us through your 2011 /2012 profit and loss accounts'.  I feel for anyone who wasn't listening and writing down every word of advice that was shared in the workshops!

The Executive Audit was a time consuming but well worth while exercise - everything has moved on since I wrote the business plan - so this was a chance to really re-evaluate where I'm at and what I have learnt since starting the company in October 2010.  If you want to really face your business reality I have posted the document on the Strange Fruit Facebook page.

I will hear if I have made it through to the next stage of the competition during w/c 15 August.  Even if I don't get any further in the competition I will get feed back on my document, but more importantly I've had an invaluable experience which will impact on me and my ability to grow my business in most informed way.

Good luck to everyone that entered and I tip my virtual hat to everyone that finished their Executive Audit!!

Next week, going to Liberty London!

Denise xx

Thanks to Stargazers World for the picture.