Dealing with Negativity as an Entrepreneur

We’ve all faced some form of negativity as an entrepreneur. I won’t sit here and tell you that it becomes more pleasant or easier to swallow, but you can change your mindset. We cannot control what other people say or do, but we can control how we react.

In this blog, I will address some common forms of negativity that both I have faced and members of the Vine Vendor Network have faced, plus give you some tips on how to react in these situations.

Negative Reviews

  • Just received a negative review? Stop, take a breath, and take your fingers off the keyboard. Our first reaction may be to lash back, especially if the negative review is false, grossly exaggerated, or particularly scathing.
  • Once you’re calm, ALWAYS write a response to the review. Here are two examples – the first to address a specific product/service, the second to address a negative review out of nowhere:
    • “Thank you for your review, [name]. We appreciate you taking the time to offer your feedback. We are sorry to hear you had an unpleasant experience with [product/service], but we are happy to work with you personally to resolve this issue. Please send us an email at [email address] so we may work together to fix this right away.”
    • “Thank you for your review, [name]. We appreciate you taking the time to offer your feedback. Unfortunately, we are unable to locate your order in our system. Kindly email us with your order number and specific [products/services] you had an issue with at [email] so we may address it appropriately.”
  • The key is to be kind and respectful. Buyers EXPECT negative reviews – it actually builds your product’s authenticity because not everything will fit everyone. Don’t worry, consumers are much smarter than you realize and one negative review amongst a sea of goldens will not bear much clout PENDING you respond respectfully. People will read how you respond and take note of that as part of your customer service.

Bad-Mouthing Your Brand

  • If a customer is bad-mouthing your brand in writing (such as social media), use the same process as though it was a negative review.
  • If you hear about a customer bad-mouthing your brand in speaking, simply reply with: “I’m sorry to learn that [customer] has had a poor experience with us. I will certainly follow-up with [customer] to learn more about the issue and work with him/her to resolve it.”
  • If another business is bad-mouthing your brand, address that business directly through email or a phone call. Express calmly and honestly (without naming names, if that’s the case) your disappointment in this business’s practice of bashing. You may get firm here – explain that you expect the negative comments to stop immediately or you will be forced to take it to the next level.
    • If this does not stop the bashing, I recommend you contact a lawyer to create a cease-and-desist letter for slander and/or libel. Your lawyer will advise you on the next steps from that point.

Friends or Family

  • Friends or family may have negative things to say about you or your business and this can come in a variety of forms:
    • Don’t agree with your business venture. (This type of negativity may actually be stemming from a place of concern for your well-being – you’ll know.)
      • If you know you have a great idea and a full business plan, simply thank them for their concern and reassure them that you have done your homework before engaging in this plan.
    • Don’t agree with the way you conduct business.
      • Thank the person and leave it at that. You do not have to conduct business with anyone who doesn’t like the way you conduct business – they are just not part of your tribe.
    • Always offering “suggestions.”
      • Thank the person for their idea and if you have a definite reason, explain why it will not work for your business.
      • If you don’t have a definite reason, state that you will “take it under consideration.”

Event Commentary

  • Sometimes people make negative comments about your business while at events. This can be in the form of criticizing your pricing, your display, your ingredients/materials, or anything else while at an event.
    • Do not react to the statement with your initial defensive gut. It may take some swallowing-of-pride, but kindly address the direct criticism, for example:
      • “I understand you find [product] to be too expensive. Our product is [list what makes your product superior] and that’s why it’s valued at this cost.”
      • “I understand your concern about the materials/ingredients of our products. We use [material/product] because it produces [quality/safe, etc.] results.”
      • “I’m sorry to hear you’re unhappy with our display. Do you have any suggestions that would create a better customer experience?”

The key point to remember with all negativity is that these people are not your tribe. Unless you feel their commentary actually has validity for your improvement – and frankly, sometimes our worst critics are our greatest drivers to success – then do not waste your time or energy on the negativity. That is not your customer, he/she is not your tribe, and anyone who will try to knock you down is not worth the investment. Simultaneously, you never know who is listening or watching and that negative experience may become a positive one all depending upon your reaction.

Kristen Fusaro-PizzoPresident

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The Four Books You Need to Read as a Small Business Owner

Running your business is hard enough, I bet you didn’t expect to also be assigned homework! You have to read to keep up with new business trends and marketing strategies; you have to read to keep yourself relevant; you have to read as you continue your growth as an entrepreneur.

The truth is, the literary market is saturated with “How To” and “Yes You Can” business books, and while there are plenty out there that I haven’t read, I have certainly read enough to discern which books have permeated my mind and altered my strategy.  Ironically, the books I’m about to recommend to you do not talk about what’s current and what’s new because I don’t find that useful as a foundational tool. While it’s important to remain abreast of #trending, I believe it’s key to first hone in on a clear vision, a clear market, and a clear flexibility. Once you’ve mastered these key elements, #trending is a lot easier to grasp.
I am listing these in no particular order and using my Amazon affiliate link to show you where to find the books:

From Good to Great by Jim Collins

One of the greatest – no pun intended – points that Jim Collins makes in this book where he studies how companies move to sustained growth over a fifteen year period is that real change takes real time. He explores management and entrepreneurialship as a captain of steamship stewarding his/her crew. It takes slow, steady movement and buy-in – whether by employees, family members, or even yourself – to establish leadership. It means asking the tough questions to all the stakeholders, in our case, that would be our customers and investors, to drive the decisions. He explains the force of change should not be forced.

 

Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D.

Who Moved My Cheese? ties in so well with From Good to Great because while Collins’ book explores change, Johnson’s book focuses on how to view change with a positive attitude. He discusses the need for flexibility, planning, and foresight to handle both the intended and unintended consequences. Using simple language, he creates a hierarchy of understanding about the expectations of change and changing our expectations.

 

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell, famed writer for The New Yorker, best known for his break-out book, The Tipping Point, discusses what exactly makes a mathematical outlier. Translating standard deviation and statistics into a readable narrative, he explains how it takes 10,000 hours of practice at anything to create an outlier, like Bill Gates. Using business and real-world examples, such as how Korean Air shifted from one of the world’s worst airlines to a 5-star airline with stellar customer service and safety records, he illuminates that anyone with enough diligence can make him/herself an outlier.

 

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” -Stephen Covey. This quote from Covey’s highly-proclaimed work was a profound eye-opener for me; I realized how much time I spent wasting on what is ultimately unimportant. In this book, Covey breaks down 7 habits into numerous charts, graphs, and mantra-like-aphorisms to reframe your thinking. He challenges you to dismiss many of your old methods of managing time, relationships, work, and more to lead a rich and fulfilling life.


Spend a little time to read every single day and use it as an opportunity for both “you” time and professional/personal growth. Whether you block out a half hour before bed, DVR your favorite show, skip on social media, or simply “clock-out” of your small business, taking this time to read each of these books will greatly impact your thinking to make you accountable, effective, flexibile, and a leader.

Do you have any other reading recommendations for small business owners? I would love to hear them in the comments section and add them to my Amazon Wish List!

Kristen Fusaro-PizzoPresident

The Vine Vendor Network Brand Story

After a disappointing holiday season trying to get invited into all the busy holiday fairs and being rejected by most of them, I set on a different path; I started to get the idea that I wanted to organize my own fair and my own network of vendors. In March of 2016, after paying for a weekend-long event with no foot traffic and awful sales, the idea of the Vine Vendor Network was born.

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Read the full article in the Staten Island Advance

 

 

The name “Vine” came to me right away. I actually knew the name before I knew what business I wanted to operate.  The “Vine” would be a network, a metaphorical grapevine growing, expanding, connecting micro-business to micro-business. Entrepreneurs and small businesses would have one “root” place where they could go to find information about vending at different events.

It started simply with a free Facebook group. As I met new vendors at different events, I would invite them to join my group. Some people trickled in, many at first didn’t want to bother.  The few members, in the beginning, were active – they shared, they collaborated, it was growing into what I had envisioned.  But it wasn’t long before a massive amount of people were requesting to join the group and there was no way for me to determine the legitimacy of the businesses. I learned some people were selling counterfeit items, many were in business without proper licenses; it became a hoi polloi of illegitimate businesses. That’s when I decided to create a cataclysm and I deleted anyone I knew was operating a false business. Moderating this group became tedious, but still worthwhile, and I was lucky to meet Sandra D’Auria and Brooke Haramija. I watched how they operated their businesses, their decorum, demeanor, and I asked if they would want to be administrators of the Vine, and so, Sandra became Vice President and Brooke became Chief Consulting Officer.

At that point, around October 2016, we changed the way we allowed members into our group; they were required to fill out a membership form so we could keep track of legitimate businesses and ensure that our group requirements were being agreed to prior to people joining. I started to work on the website which was completed by December 2016. We then started having the issue where we had to bowdlerize advertisements about individual businesses; to resolve it we removed repeat offenders.

By June 2017, we had soared to over 250 members, but at least 75% of them were not active. I started to notice how people would keep asking about fair information, but never post fair information. The core of my original vision was dwindling because I was trying to be open to too many people. I tried creating a “Gold” group, a smaller group who paid for membership, as an ancillary to the regular Vine, but my instincts told me that I needed to return to my vision now before it was too late.

I decided to deracinate both groups so I could create a volte-face. For any standing members, I asked them to pay a membership fee that would come with a new survey of questions. Anyone who did not pay the minimum yearly membership fee by September 1st was dismissed from the group.  As can be imagined, our group quickly minimized. However, as we expected, the quality of our group soared. The payment separated those who were serious about their businesses and the network from those who were in the network solely for rapacity.

As of October 2017, our network continues to grow, filled with enthusiastic, empowering business owners – they are my “tribe.” We continue to strictly monitor our businesses. We’re building authority and reputation with organizers in our communities and the only way we can maintain that authority is through careful vetting. The same works in reverse – we will not advertise an event for a group or organization that is not reputable.  Our whole existence survives on reputation and we plan to exceed far beyond anyone’s expectations.

kristen-fusaro-pizzopresident-2

 

 

 

How to Keep Your Customer After You’ve Landed the First Sale

Landing the first sale, especially at an event, is thrilling. It means all of your hard work from start to finish has closed in success. Even harder than landing that first sale is following-up for a second and third sale, hopefully creating a permanent customer.

Have a Follow-Up Plan in Place

  1. Collect Email Addresses. As you place that first sale, collect your customer’s email address. An easy way to do this is to offer to send a receipt via email, or if you don’t have the technology for that, simply ask the customer to write down his/her email address in a notebook.  Use an email client, like MailChimp, to write beautiful newsletters to keep your customers engaged.
  2. Follow a 2-2-2 Rule. Two days after the sale, send a thank-you to the customer to show your gratitude and appreciation for the sale. Two weeks after the sale, send another follow-up either by phone, email, or text asking how the customer likes the product and offer any customer service. Two months after the sale, send another follow-up asking if the customer needs any more of the product or offer up a matching add-on item.
  3. Invite the Customer to be in Your Tribe. Whether you use Facebook groups (which we highly advise), a rewards program, a VIP list, or any combination of these strategies, you want the customer to feel special, like he/she has become part of your story by making a purchase with you.
  4. Have Marketing Materials.  Be sure to include business cards, brochures, and/or catalogs with every purchase to make it easy to remember your business and even easier for the customer to contact you again. If you have fliers for another event where the customer could find you, include that as well. During the busy holiday season, it’s a great idea to simply print out a list of events where you will be located and include that in your packages. These calendars serve two purposes – they make it easy for your customer to find you in person and you’re simultaneously advertising upcoming events.
  5. Go the Extra Mile. In your packages, always offer something a little special or extra. This can be a piece of candy, a sample of another product, some fun stickers, magnets, anything that truly represents your brand and keeps your brand at the forefront of the customer’s mind.
  6. The Power of Postal Mail. In the digital age, it only takes a few minutes to send a quick text or email, but to sit down and write a note or send a postcard by mail is a lost art. Most people love receiving real mail that’s not just looking to sell them something – a card to say thanks, a postcard inviting them back to your store, or even mailing your catalog demonstrates you’re willing to go the extra mile.
  7. Exclusive Deals. Nothing says special like an exclusive deal for a customer. You can send them a unique discount code for a percentage off their next sale, offer free shipping, or let them know there will be a free gift with their next purchase.
  8. Birthday Surprises. If your customer is willing to share his/her birthday with you, it’s always nice to acknowledge that customer with a special birthday surprise. This can be a special discount or a free gift during his/her birthday month, a card on his/her birthday – and if that’s too cumbersome, an email wishing them a happy birthday.

Whatever you choose to do, the key is to always let your customer know you are grateful and appreciative – this turns into true small business relationships which eventually turn into more sales.

Do you have any tricks-of-the-trade when following-up with your customers?

kristen-fusaro-pizzopresident-2

sandra-dauria-vp

The Top 10 Reasons You’re Not Making Sales at Markets and Fairs

As President of the Vine Vendor Network, I’ve heard the same lament countless times in numerous ways: “I’m not making money at markets/fairs/vendor events!”  For the small businesses that rely on markets and fairs for income, accessibility, and acquiring new customers, the investment into an event that doesn’t produce returns is frustrating and disconcerting.

Vending at fairs costs money – not just the table fees, but the cost of a display – and vending at fairs costs time. If you’re not making back at least three-to-five times the cost of your initial investment, you weren’t even being paid for your time.  It’s no wonder that vendors often come to me with complaints about “events not being good.” However, before completely judging the event itself, I ask the vendor to consider the following possibilities that she/he did not make money at the event:

  1. Choosing the Wrong Event – Some vendors like to jump at the opportunity to vend at any and every event. Maybe you’re new and are trying to get your name out, maybe the table fee was inexpensive, and maybe you didn’t discern about the relevance of the event.
    1. The first step to success at vendor fairs is to choose the fair wisely.  Read between the lines of the event. Is it a folk festival, flea market, car show, holiday fair, religious fair, bizarre, handcrafted market, etc? Is the event indoors or outdoors? Is the location a schoolyard, a brewery, a hotel, etc? Not every event is geared to your target market. For example, if a vendor sells high-end costume jewelry, he/she should avoid vending at anything that says “flea market” in the name. The idea of a flea market implies bargains and negotiable prices. A person selling ladies bags should probably avoid a car show because the target consumer is most-likely a man interested in vehicles…not ladies bags. It’s not about stereotyping; it’s about understanding the demographic and the most likely spending habits of that demographic. Don’t waste time or money on a show where you won’t find your people.
  2. You’re Not Engaged with Customers – Are you spending the entire time on your phone? Are you standing by your table and not sitting behind your display? Are you spending a lot of time chatting with other vendors and wandering, or are you striking up a conversation with customers who pass by your table? You have to be alert and engaged. People who come to these types of events are looking to shop directly with small businesses on a personal level, give them that experience. Remember to smile, be friendly, and never, ever talk poorly about another customer.
  3. (On the flip side of #2) You’re Being TOO Pushy – Give people a chance to actually come over to your table. Read body language. Are they walking by and slowing down to look at your table – use that as a sign to engage in conversation. However, if they’re not looking at you or are clearly not interested, don’t try to push them to visit your table. If someone is at your table and you ask them for some help and they say they’re just looking, give them the space to shop at their own pace – don’t crowd them and make them feel uncomfortable. Definitely DON’T try and get other vendors to come to your table to shop, whether by asking or sending over business cards or samples – remember they’re there to make money just as much as you are.
  4. Your Display is Unappealing or Stand-offish – Is your display so delicate that people are afraid to touch anything? Is everything piled on top of itself so people have to go digging? Are all of your products neatly displayed? Take a photo of your vending table and look at it from a consumer’s perspective, or better yet, ask an objective person for honest feedback. There are many ways you can set-up your pop-up to sell.
  5. You’re Not Making Payment Easy – It’s the 21st century, you need to have a credit card processing system. The days of relying strictly on cash sales are long gone. You can easily get and set up Square* for quick credit card processing (*this is an affiliate link). When you do take cash, make it easy, round, whole numbers. Even if you lose a little bit of money on the sales tax, you’re better off paying the taxes yourself than losing the sale.  Always make sure you have small bills on you (especially to break twenty-dollar bills)!
  6. You’re Not Doing Enough Advertising – While the bulk of advertising should be on the organizer, it’s also your job to advertise the event as someone who is vending there. Let your customers know far in advance where to find you. Create a calendar for easy access, advertise it on your social media, send reminders out with your newsletters. Think about it this way – if all the vendors are doing this, they are bringing their customers to you as much as you’re bringing your customers to them.
  7. You Don’t Have Inventory for Cash-and-Carry – It’s certainly an investment to carry inventory. It’s also a pain-in-the-neck to truck your inventory with you to these shows. Though cumbersome, it is imperative to have the inventory with you for cash-and-carry. People who attend these fairs are shopping in-person because they don’t want to order online. Many purchases are impulse buys. For every product you don’t have that someone wants is a potential missed opportunity for a sale. Of course, it may be impossible to have everything with you, but if you have enough inventory people will at least feel the immediate satisfaction of walking off with a bag of your goodies.
  8. You’re Selling Too Many Different Things – People love sets, categories, and collections. It’s simply how our brain works – we categorize. When shopping at your table, people are looking for related products. This builds authority in your particular business because you appear focused and organized. Think about how strange it would be to walk over to a table of sports memorabilia and see fake pearl necklaces with cosmetics. Focus on one area for sales to make customers feel comfortable in your expertise.
  9. You’re Not Telling a Story with Your Brand – Whether you do direct sales, sell handmade items, or are a reseller, people shop small business, especially vendor tables, because of the story. Anyone could essentially get anything from a major retailer, it’s you who makes the difference while vending. For example, in my personal business, I handcraft candles – when people pick a candle to smell, I will tell a quick story about why I chose the scent or the inspiration for the name – people buy stories. The same works for any small business – maybe explain why you joined that direct sales company, why you love a particular product, a cool fact about how/where it’s made, etc.
  10. You’re Not Listening to Individual Needs – If you get to the point where a customer is asking you questions, you’re 80% close to the sale if you just listen. Ask questions to glean more information to help focus on a specific product for the customer’s need. Recommend products that actually appeal to those needs. When people can’t decide on what products to pick and smell at my table, I start by asking what scent categories best fit them – sweet, fruity, flowery, earthy –  I’m not going to recommend a chocolate product to someone who tells me they love patchouli. The same goes for add-ons – it needs to make sense. If someone is looking for a necklace, listen to the designs they like and after they have chosen a necklace, THEN suggest matching earrings. You wouldn’t recommend matching sneakers to someone buying socks, but you would recommend socks to someone buying sneakers. Listen, listen, listen.

What are some of the troubles you have while at vendor fairs? Let us know in the comments so we can help you!

kristen-fusaro-pizzopresident-2

Owning a Small Business is NOT Easy

I took some time off from work last night to just relax. I was browsing through my cable channels and found A League of Their Own on. The movie came out in 1992 and is easily one of my favorites of all time, and every time I watch it, I glean more wisdom from it than I did the last.

This time around, a quote from the character Jimmy Dugan (the Rockford Peaches’ coach), played by Tom Hanks, is what resonated with me:

“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” –A League of Their Own

I immediately thought of owning a small business and being an entrepreneur. Being a small business owner and an entrepreneur is hard.  Anyone who promises easy success from starting and running your own business is either a fool or selling snake oil.

What Makes it So Hard

  • Unless you’ve done it before, knowing all the rules and regulations is a job in itself. Taking the time to start something and to do it legally and ethically is exhausting.
  • You are always working. I mean always. Being an entrepreneur relies on how much you put in, and between managing your business, marketing your business, attending to clients, and planning ahead, there leaves little down time. Time is money, after all.
  • There is no such thing as a get-rich-quick formula. Even people who sell and/or create a product that seemingly has overnight success have done an extraordinary amount of pre-work to give that appearance.
  • You will get rejected…a lot. Whether you’re rejected by a customer, a major retailer, haters who don’t believe in you, rejection is inevitable.
  • Losing money is bound to happen. Sometimes your money gets tied up in inventory, in supplies, in legal, in web design, in poor decisions, entrepreneurship costs money.
  • Self-doubt is a monster lurking beneath the bed. Can I do this? Should I do this? Did I do this correctly? Why did I do that? What happens if I fail? Oh, the doubt, doubt, doubt.
  • Everyone will think they know how to run your business better than you do.
  • Competition is inevitable. Envy is indubitable. Sadly, some people don’t want to watch you succeed, even worse, others will actually try to tear you down.
  • Some people will expect to get things for free from you – maybe friends, maybe family. It’s a truly uncomfortable position.
Donna Marie IBN Entrepreneur
Quote by Donna Maria Johnson, Owner & Founder of the Indie Business Network

With so many negatives (and I’m sure I’m missing a bunch), it makes you wonder how or why anyone ever gets started at all? Because the hard is what makes it great.

How to Succeed

  • Stop trying. Be like Yoda. “No. You must not try. Do or do not. There is no try.”
  • You will struggle, without any question, but your drive to want to succeed must outweigh everything else.
  • Accept each downfall and learn from it. Switch your mindset from “failure” to “experience” and look to it as an opportunity to capture data for future decisions.
  • Make changes when you need to; don’t wait “for the right opportunity.” The moment you can see a change needs to happen, do it. If something is not working, don’t be afraid to just change it.
  • Get creative with money. Try Kickstarter, try Shopify Capital, try Kiva. The key is plan before you get money for what you will do when you get money.**
  • Join a network of like-minded people who will collaborate with you to inspire and empower you to succeed.
  • Find your cheerleaders who will support you. Find one or two objective folks who will tell you the truth without any personal gain. Keep these people close, treat them well, and listen more than you speak.
  • Invest in only what will pay you back 10-fold. If it will lose value after one-or-two uses (whether it’s a piece of equipment, software, or a service), don’t bother.
  • Envision what you want your business to be in one year, three years, and five years. Do one thing every day that will move you towards that vision.
  • For as hard as you’re working, give yourself a little time to unplug and unwind. Whether this is once a day, once a week, or even once a month, make sure the break is long enough for you to unpack yourself and shut-down.
  • Don’t try to do everything yourself. Even if this means hiring someone to do your accounting or to clean your house, allow yourself to be just the business owner while you’re working your way up.

**I have not been paid to endorse any of these companies in this post.

Do you have what it takes to be a small business owner? I think you do.

kristen-fusaro-pizzopresident-2

Protecting You and Your Business

When it comes to managing a business, there is far more than just worrying about managing a website, buying supplies, and serving customers – you also need to worry about liability.

There are multiple types of liability. From BusinessDictionary.com

  • Personal Liability – A financial obligation for which an individual is responsible and which may be satisfied out of his or her assets.
  • Professional Liability – Legal obligations arising out of a professional’s errors, negligent acts, or omissions during the course of the practice of his or her craft.
  • Product Liability – General liability or obligation of a producer (or supplier) of a good or service to make restitution for loss associated with its use, such as personal injury or property damage. Commonly, the aggrieved party does not have to prove that the producer (or supplier) was negligent because the fault is inherent to the item. 

And how these liabilities are qualified…

  • Strict Liability – In criminal lawstrict liability is liability for which mens rea (Latin for “guilty mind”) does not have to be proven in relation to one or more elements comprising the actus reus (Latin for “guilty act”) although intentionrecklessness or knowledge may be required in relation to other elements of the offense. The liability is said to be strict because defendants will be convicted even though they were genuinely ignorant of one or more factors that made their acts or omissions criminal. The defendants may therefore not be culpable in any real way, i.e. there is not even criminal negligence, the least blameworthy level of mens rea. For example, selling alcohol to a minor.
  • Absolute Liability –  To be convicted of an ordinary crime, in certain jurisdictions, a person must not only have committed a criminal action, but also have had a deliberate intention or guilty mind (mens rea). (Wikipedia)

“The difference between strict and absolute liability is whether the defence of a mistake of fact is available: in a crime of absolute liability, a mistake of fact is not a defence. Strict or Absolute Liability- also can arise from inherently dangerous activities or defective products that are likely to result in a harm to another, regardless of protection taken. Negligence is not required to be proven. Example: Owning a pet rattle snake.”(Wikipedia)

So how do you protect yourself?

I. Insurance

  1. Obtain product liability insurance dependent upon the goods or services you provide.
    1. Trusted Choice Independent Insurance Agents:  If you are an independent consultant for a direct-selling company, having this insurance can protect you from various incidences that may occur as a result of your business.
    2. Indie Business Network Insurance: If you are a manufacturer of handmade products such as candles, jewelry, cosmetics, lotion, soap, bath salts, perfume, essential oils, candles, jewelry, perfumes, fragrance oils, base oils, waxes, powders, masks and scrubs, you qualify for product liability insurance coverage through their program. They also offer a program for artisan made candy, cookies and other baked goods. Additionally, they offer programs for estheticians and for massage therapists. Insurance Customer Service at 844-520-6994 or info@indiebusinessinsurance.com
    3. State Farm Small Business Insurance: The spectrum for this insurance is wider and it’s best if you speak directly with one of their representatives to see if they cover exactly what you need. This is especially good insurance if you own a brick-and-mortar store or have a facility/warehouse.
    4. Liberty Mutual Food & Beverage Insurance: If you manufacture your own food items, this type of insurance is a must to protect you from recalls, illnesses, etc.
  2. Obtain extended personal liability insurance. If you own or rent property, you have personal liability tied into that property, but this often will not cover you for your businesses expenses. Call and speak with your agent to see if your business is covered if you work-from-home.
    1. The Hartford offers General Personal Liability Insurance for businesses which can protect you from personal liability in the circumstance of an occurrence resulting from your business.
  3. Obtain professional liability insurance if your business relies on your expertise.
    1. The Insureon website allows you to search for your profession to sort through numerous types of insurance.

II. Trademarks/Patents/Copyrights

Obtaining a trademark/patent/copyright on your intellectual property can save you multitudes of headaches in the future. For most of these protections, they can become quite costly, so as a new business owner, you may want to pick-and-choose where to start. That being said, it’s best to protect yourself early on in your business to ensure you are covering your investment to avoid any future liabilities.

  • Trademark protects a name/brand/logo (or “service mark”).
  • Patent protects specific formulations and/or inventions.
  • Copyright protects original authorship.

The absolute best resource for this information is the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

III. Get a Lawyer or Legal Team

There is incalculable value to having a lawyer or legal team who can advise you as you pursue your business journey. Ideally, your legal team is authorized in your home state, is close enough in proximity to you for quick travel (in circumstances of litigation), and has a group of attorneys who are knowledgeable in various areas. If you have one lawyer, then he/she would have referring attornies dependent upon the needed area of expertise.

Disclaimers – The Vine Vendor Network is not affiliated with any of the aforementioned companies. We are not compensated for the above suggestions and are not to be held liable for any of the suggested companies’ actions, admissions, rejections, etc.. We recommend you always call and speak with a direct agent to learn if you and your business would be eligible for coverage. 

kristen-fusaro-pizzopresident-2

Checklist to Prepare for Holiday Markets and/or Vending Events

Whether you’ve been in business for a decade or you’re prepping for your very first holiday market, there are certain steps you should go through to ensure you will have a smooth and easy experience on the day of vending.

At the Time of Booking

  1. If you have any special needs (close to a restroom, handicap accessible, etc.), be sure to speak with the event organizer to ensure he/she can accommodate you before sending your application.
  2. Ask the organizer about the event – previous attendance, target market, amenities, etc.
  3. Check the calendar to make sure the event doesn’t coincide with some other major event that will draw attention away from the market, for example, a marathon in the center square.
  4. Send your applications in as soon as possible. Use a confirmable payment method such as a check, money order, or PayPal.
  5. Find out what the market is giving you for the money – Are they including a table? Chairs? Tent? – What supplies are you expected to bring yourself?
    1. If you do need a tent, make sure you have a quality pop-up tent with tent weights, and make sure someone can come with you to help you set up the tent.
  6. Order any marketing material you may need – brochures, business cards, catalogs, order forms, receipt books.
  7. Order a payment gateway that will allow you to accept credit cards. Popular choices are Shopify, Square, and PayPal.
  8. Order and/or manufacture enough inventory to ensure you have products for cash-and-carry.
  9. Make sure you know the proper state and county sales tax rate for the market. Ensure you submitted paperwork with the state to collect sales tax. Keep strict accounting records so you may remit your sales tax.

One Week Before

  1. Confirm your spot with the event organizer.
  2. Find out if there will be vendor parking. If not, ask if you will be able to unload by the doorway. If so, ask if there will be any stairs to get to your placement.
  3. Ask if there will be any dollies or hand-trucks available for use; if not, prepare to bring one.
  4. Check what time is the earliest you are permitted to begin set-up. Plan to leave early enough to get there on time for a complete set-up. Count on taking at least 1 hour to complete your presentation. Remember to account for traffic!
  5. Create a full inventory of everything you plan on bringing with you to the event.
  6. Begin making clear signage. Make a sign for prices, information about your brand, any fun facts.
  7. Plan what your table should look like. If you’ve never done a market before, create a mock-table to get a feel of your presentation.
  8. Begin packing your inventory in a safe-for-travel method. I recommend using Rubbermaid Clear Bins to make it easy to identify the products you’re bringing.
    1. Remember samples!
  9. Remember to purchase plastic/paper bags and tissue paper for your customers’ purchases.
  10. Share the event on social media and with your email list so people know to find you there.
  11. Be sure to pack a bin or bag with basic essentials for every show:
    1. Hand sanitizer
    2. Extra phone/electronics charger
    3. Packing tape
    4. Regular tape
    5. Pens
    6. Scissors
    7. Box cutter
    8. Counterfeit-money checking pens
    9. Receipt book
    10. Email sign-up notebook
    11. Paper towels
    12. Band-aids (or mini first-aid kit)
    13. Emergency ice-pack
    14. Credit card reader
    15. Extra wires for phone and card reader
    16. Lockable cash box
    17. Sunscreen & Sunglasses
    18. Hat, gloves (change this up for different seasons)
    19. Tablecloth(s) – Make sure these are long enough to hide boxes under your table.
    20. Frames for your signs
    21. Bags for your customers’ purchases
    22. Garbage bag
    23. Gum/Mints
    24. Deodorant
    25. Perfume/Cologne (choose a very light fragrance)

Day Before 

  1. Charge up your extra battery, your phone, your credit card reader, and any electronics you plan on bringing with you.
  2. Double-check your inventory, your bags, your bins.
  3. Clear out your vehicle to make room for everything you will need to pack.
  4. If possible, load up the big items such as your tent, chairs, and table into your vehicle.
  5. Pack up your lunch, snacks, and lots of water.
  6. Plan out your clothing and be mindful of the weather, especially if you will be outside for extended periods of time. Layers work best.
  7. Get a good night’s rest – you will be on your feet for most of the next day!

Day Of

  1. Make sure you have everything you need to bring with you. Don’t forget your lunch and waters in the fridge!
  2. To be on time, plan to be early. Set your alarm to give you enough time to get ready, pack up your car, drive to the event, and unload.
    1. *Pro-tip – Pack up your car and then shower to avoid being a sweaty mess.
  3. Looks Matter: Set-up your pop-up to sell!
  4. After unloading, store all of your extra bins under or behind your table.
  5. Keep your card reader, counterfeit pens, pens, a notebook for email sign-ups, and bags for packaging orders easily accessible.
  6. Introduce yourself to your vending neighbors so you can help each other out throughout the day.
  7. Take a trip to the bathroom before the show begins.
  8. Take pictures of your table and share on social media so people will be eager to come to the event.
    1. *Pro-tip – Use these photos to help you improve your display for future events.
  9. Smile, be positive, share your business literature with customers and non-customers alike.
  10. Have a great show!

Do you have any other tips or tricks for successful vendor events?

kristen-fusaro-pizzopresident-2

Direct Sales or Starting From Scratch – Which Business Model is Right For You?

You’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and now you’re itching to start your own business.  Luckily for you, with over 5 million self-employed entrepreneurs in the United States, you’re in good company.

So now that you’ve decided you want to start your own business, you have dozens of options, but we’re going to focus on the solo-preneur and micro-business decision of Starting from Scratch or going into Direct Sales.

Just like your mother always advised you, we’re going to explore the pros-and-cons of each type of business:

Direct Sales – Pros

  • The business and branding are already established.
  • Customer recognition of quality and branding.
  • Minimal inventory management.
  • Inexpensive buy-in (for most, but there are consultant companies where the buy-in is hefty).
  • Built-in customer service.
  • Opportunities for growth through leadership and consultant acquisition.
  • Clear target market.
  • Large support network.

Direct Sales – Cons

  • Saturated market with many consultants in one area.
  • Competition between local consultants.
  • Products and services are not unique.
  • Unable to stylize your business in your own fashion; limited to regulations of the mother-company.
  • Expense for mandatory marketing, brochures, website maintenance.
  • Tiered earnings which can become discouraging.
  • Minimum sales required to remain active.

Starting from Scratch – Pros

  • Innovative products and services that highly engage customers.
  • You determine your own profit margins.
  • Your own website, marketing, logo, graphics, etc.
  • Growth and expansion plan determined by you.
  • No minimum purchases, minimum consultant sign-ups, or tiered earnings.
  • Ability to offer free shipping, specials, discounts, rewards, etc.
  • Detailed and customer-centric service on your own terms.
  • Unique and independent presentation at vendor events and trade shows.
  • Opportunity to own trademarks and patents.

Starting from Scratch – Cons

  • Expensive start-up costs such as a website, logo design, inventory, etc.
  • Inventory and shipping management on you.
  • Necessary to maintain accounting and bookkeeping.
  • Required to obtain proper certifications and licenses to remain compliant.
  • Support networks may be limited.
  • Seasonal inventory forecasting.

When it comes down to making a decision on how you want to start your business, it really requires introspection and self-reflection. Try asking yourself these questions:

  1. Do I need autonomy when I run my business?
    1. If so, you may consider starting your own business from scratch. While direct sales certainly allow you flexibility regarding your schedule, you have to follow parameters of the mother-company. Sometimes these rules help maintain structure, especially if you’re new to being an entrepreneur.
  2. Do I work better with pre-determined goals given to me or goals I create for myself?
    1. If you’re someone who likes a structured timeline of goals, direct sales are great – you know exactly what you need to achieve the next step. If you’re someone who prefers to achieve at your own pace, your own startup might be the answer.
  3. Am I comfortable with other people selling the same products that I do?
    1. There will always be competition, even if you invent something new, but the competition of the exact same products in direct sales can be tough.
  4. Am I technology-savvy and capable of maintaining a website and social media?
    1. Direct sales companies usually handle all the overhead of maintaining a website, so if you don’t have the time or know-how to manage your own site, direct sales may be a great way to go. On the other end, if you like the ability to customize and create a site and social media presence, an independent business may be a great choice.
  5. Do I have the space to hold/manufacture inventory or prefer products were drop-shipped directly to the customer?
    1. Starting up, you will probably need to maintain your own inventory and manufacturing; in time, you may outgrow your space and have to consider renting other space – while this can be tough to manage, you also have control over inventory. For direct sales, you don’t have to worry about space or shipping, the mother-company handles that, but selling-out or website downtime can be frustrating.

Any opportunity to be an entrepreneur is going to be hard work. Remember to be patient with yourself and always plan at least 3 months in advance. Envision your ultimate goals and that will help guide your choice.

Any other advice for people trying to decide? How did you make your choice?

kristen-fusaro-pizzopresident-2

Consultants & Recruits: How to Start Growing Your Team

Consultants & Recruits: How to Start Growing Your Team
Co-Written By RoseMary Algerio & Kristen Fusaro-Pizzo

The fastest way to grow a small business is by acquiring consultants and recruits who can serve a variety of functions: 1) Sell your products for you, 2) Sell in tandem with you, 3) Sell as a member of your team (or downline). This may not be the model for every business, but it is the essential model of growth for direct sales and small businesses who want to concentrate on back-end production instead of selling.

It’s important to understand your goal as a team sponsor (team leader) when searching for recruits and consultants. There are two methods of recruitment: Guerrilla Recruiting and Concentrated Recruiting. Guerilla Recruiting involves acquiring as many recruits as possible, regardless of the recruit’s commitment or intention. Concentrated Recruiting is when a sponsor is discerning and only seeking recruits who are sincerely serious about starting a business. Each one is effective for different reasons – Guerilla Recruiting allows a sponsor to quickly build a team and works to concentrate on those recruits who persevere, while Concentrated Recruiting spends more time building the team they want from the beginning.  Each type of recruiting still requires time and energy to effectively build a team who will earn you money, but the difference is when the concentration begins; the sponsor is there to make sure that the recruit  has the support and backing to help the recruit reach his/her goal and to qualify based on the respective company.

Even with Concentrated Recruiting, not everyone who joins on as a consultant joins with the full intention to sell. There are four different types of recruits:

  1. THE KIT-NAPPER. This is when a recruit signs up just because he/she wants the enrollment kit at the incentivized price. These recruits are great if your company qualifies you simply for signing up new recruits, or if you run your own business, these recruits help quickly boost sales – like running a 50% off sale without demeaning the brand.
  2. THE HOBBYIST. This recruit wants to sell, but only to his/her family and friends. These recruits are simply looking to gain some pocket money and get discounted products. Most of the individuals who are a Hobbyists love that they work the business on their own terms – they view it as a hobby instead of a job. These recruits are great for guerrilla recruiting.
  3. THE PART-TIMERS. These are the men or women who work their business during their free time only and they schedule the times they want to work the business. This is very common with individuals who have a full time job or small children at home. This is the type of consultant that you want to look for with concentrated recruiting. The way to attract this type of recruit is to be honest about time management. Explain that this recruit will need to set aside time each week just to focus on building the business. There is still plenty of time for family, friends and any other activities that he/she may have in life.
  4. THE CAREERS. These recruits are looking to turn this business into a full time-job; this is their passion. They work their business 7-8 hours each day and often must commit weekends. Career individuals understand that this is their main source of income and there is a great deal of work involved in selling the brand.

When you find out that an individual signed up just for the kit, even though you were working concentrated recruiting, it’s important to evaluate how you sold the business. Sometimes the person might not have the passion you have towards the business like you do. Each person is their own business owner. Your responsibility is to be there for them to help guide them during their journey and answer questions that they might not know the answers to. Be sure to reach out to them at least two to three times during the week. Let them know that you are not just their sponsor but you are their friend and you are there for them. It is important for them to know that they can count on you and even if you don’t know the answers you will help get the answer to their concerns and questions.

Even with recruits who don’t work out, recognize this is not a failure, but an opportunity to learn on your journey. One thing you never do is give up; you must keep positive and never take it personally if the individual tells you that this is not for them. Direct Sales is not for everyone. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open, even when a recruit tells you that he/she wants to quit. Ask questions to find out what is driving their departure.

  1. Sometimes it is difficult for the individual to meet the requirement quotas that are set by the respective company.
  2. They may feel like they cannot juggle working/parenting/schooling full time while also running a business.
  3. They may feel discouraged because they are not making sales, or they started out with great sales and it tapered off.
  4. They may feel lost and not have the knowledge for selling.

Asking questions and understanding their reasoning is an opportunity for you to train and help them work through the pitfalls. While some may sincerely want to quit, others may be looking for the right answers to their doubts. As long as you continue to support your recruits, know you did your best to be there for them and continue to do so when the time comes that they no longer want to sell the products. Remember to always remain positive in their personal decisions because that person may no longer sell, but could continue to be your customer.

The greatest reward about having a recruit who will be your team member is watching them grow and paying forward to them what your sponsor and lineage had passed to you. There are many great incentives that are given that makes you want to not be just a recruit but to reach the goals and be part of the team. To be a person who moves up in the company, earn free products, earn a trip or just a recognition in an email or on the phone is so rewarding that it makes you want to reach the next level goal. You will be surprised how many times your recruit will start out as a kit-napper or a part-timer and poof next you realize this person is a go getter, a hustler and working their business as a career. Be sure to acknowledge and reward your recruits for their diligence!

The ultimate goal when you want to recruit is to always be positive and in constant communication. Create a group chat, or Facebook group, that is designated just for you and your recruits so that you have a private place to talk strategy and to discuss the ups and downs that one might be experiencing. Use this group as a support network by sharing all ideas and tips to help your recruit to grow and have fun while building the business.

Understand that being a sponsor requires more than signing paperwork, but taking on a responsibility as a mentor and teacher. Offer to help them with their Launch Party and to be there for them in their own groups/pages that they create for their business. Stay with them in these groups until you believe and feel in your heart that they are ready to fly high and be the best they can be in their business. It’s a good idea to have them in your closed customer group so that they can see how you interact, post about the products, and generally serve as a model. Keep them in your customer group until they qualify and then gracefully tell them that they have grown beautifully and your guidance is no longer needed; then remove them from your customer group so can gain business autonomy. No two individuals are the same when working their business. One individual might do extremely well each and every month and another individual will do what is required from the company to stay active. Either way, enjoy the journey that you and your recruit start together and embrace the partnership that will come from being part of their journey.