Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I took a week off from writing about business planning so I could actually write a business plan (or start one, anyway) for a new project I am working on. I will be announcing the project later, but for now, I want to return to the topic of business planning for this blog post.

Today, we will explore demographics. Think of demographics as the vital statistics for your customers: where they live, what their income and education level is, what they like to do. You will want to collect as much information as possible about the people who both like AND want to buy your product or service. The more you know about who these people are, the more likely you will be able to find them when you choose your selling venues. (For those of you who missed it, the selling venue discussion may be found at this link: Selling Venues).

I remember asking myself, when I was first starting business, "How am I supposed to know who my customers are? I have no sales!"

Start with yourself. What do you like to do? Where do you live? How old are you? What is your income level? Chances are, you are providing a product or service that you enjoy (otherwise, why do it?) and, you can be certain that at least some of your future customers will be similar to you.

Ask your friends and family if they would buy your product or service--and then add them to your growing list of demographic information. Note: Friends and family are not the most reliable lot--they do not want to hurt your feelings if they secretly dislike your product or service--so they are likely to say "yes" they would buy your product regardless of how they actually feel. Take friends and family comments with a grain of salt, but, do include some of their information in your demographics. It is a baseline...you can revise it later, if needed.

Keep track of who actually does buy your product or service. Even at the beginning stages, you can start to get a feel for your true customer profile by jotting down basic information about who actually does make a purchase. It does not have to be complicated. Just start a chart in a notebook (or a spreadsheet on the computer) with headings that indicate the information you are looking for in your business. Here are some common headings: gender, location, population, age, education, ethnicity or race, income level, or whatever other information you want to track to get to know your customers better. Do not forget to include which products or services you offer that get the most attention. Are your customers drawn to particular colors or materials or sizes? Are they cost conscious or do they put quality and uniqueness of design above price? What motivates your customers to make a second purchase? What factors might turn them away? These types of questions bring your true customer to life.

Do not worry if your demographic information seems skimpy at first. Keeping asking questions and listening to what your customers are saying. The more you interact you with your customers and potential customers, the more information you will gather. You do not have to be aggressive or overt about collecting marketing data. In fact, that will generally turn off potential customers (and maybe some existing ones, too). Just talk with people. Listen to their stories. And, when they make a purchase or sign up for your newsletter, take note of their demographic information. Over time, you will begin to have a more concrete, rounder picture of who your customers really are.

I will be continuing to discuss business planning next week, though I have not decided what topic, yet!

Did you find this information helpful? Please let me know if you have further ideas or questions about demographics (or business planning in general) by leaving a comment.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Apple Tart with Caramel Sauce

I bought these golden delicious apples yesterday--so pretty in this blue bowl--and decided to try this Apple Tart with Carmel Sauce recipe. It is described as "a grown-up spin on the caramel apple — in tart form." Good enough enticement for me!

The crust--flour, salt, egg yolks, confectioner's sugar--needs to chill for about an hour. Here it is ready to go in the fridge. Not very thrilling as a photo, but it is the first step in the recipe!

This is the first time making my own caramel sauce, which is basically boiled butter, heavy whipping cream and brown sugar.

The caramel is stirred and boiled until it forms a thick layer on a spoon. The mixture darkens as it cooks.

I cut up the apples while the caramel cooled to room temperature.

The apples are cored and quartered, then tossed with flour and cinnamon. The recipe called for cardamom as well (which would have been lovely), but I was out. Cinnamon will have to do.

Here is the tart ready for the oven. Next time, I will do a prettier apple design.

Fresh out of the oven with some of the caramel sauce spooned over the top.

I would plate it, maybe with a scoop of ice cream, and take a taste, but I have to wait for tomorrow's dinner with friends. (Willpower or what?) I will let you know how it tastes!

Update: Soooooooooooo yummy! A definite "must try!"


Monday, February 15, 2010

At the Feeder

It was a thrill to watch this woodpecker up close--just a few feet from where I was sitting at the window. I could have stayed there all day!


Friday, February 12, 2010

Free Tax Preparation in Maine

For qualifying individuals and families, Maine offers free tax preparation. You may even qualify for tax credits you did not know about. Get your income taxes prepared free by IRS-Certified volunteer tax preparers.

You will need:

Social security cards for any person claimed on the tax return (self, spouse, dependents).

W-2s for all jobs worked throughout the year.

1099 forms for other income, including social security benefits, unemployment, interest and dividends, if applicable.

Any other tax-related documents received from the Internal Revenue Service.

Once you receive all of your income tax statements, dial 2-1-1 and get connected to a tax site near you or visit the CA$HMAINE website.

Offered Jan. 20-March 30, 2010
Walk-ins welcome, appointments strongly suggested**

**Sites have income limits of $50,000 gross per combined household.

*The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a Federal tax benefit for people who work. A family with a combined income under $48,279 and married filing jointly with three or more children can get a maximum credit of $5,657. Taxpayers may also claim the EITC even if they do not owe income tax.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

New Shops and Facebook

I have been a little quieter on the blog this week, but a lot has happened behind the scenes. I decided to reopen my 1000Markets shop. I joined ArtCardsWanted.com. I even opened up a Facebook account for Sojourn Quilts.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Marketing - On the Radio

As some of you know, I was a guest speaker on WERU last Thursday. For those of you who missed it, the show is called "Doing Business" and is hosted by Jane Haskell. The show's title: http://archives.weru.org/doing-business/doing-business-20410>How Do I Really Do Market Research?.

Jane gave me some questions ahead of time to prepare for the show. Time went really quickly, so we only scratched the surface of the topic. I said last week I would spend time talking about demographics (which I will get to), but I thought for my business plan segment this week, I would share Jane's questions and my answers.

Each guest introduces self with a brief background of their business or agency. (name, title, business, location, briefly what your business or agency does or produces and for how long it has - and you have - been in business)

I am the owner of Sojourn Quilts, a home-based business located in Bangor, Maine. I make Maine inspired quilted fabric art. I started with story quilts and wall-hangings, but, in recent years have turned to small (2.5" x 3.5") art. I am still telling stories, though now it is with bite-sized images!

Tell us why you wanted to start your own business.

I became intrigued with the idea of turning something I love doing into a business. There are many rewards in seeing others delight in something I have made.

Tell us some of the issues you think people need to think about as they consider marketing their business.

What their product is, who may buy their product and how their potential customers view their product. (Is how you view it different than how your potential customers view it?)

Selling venues: What do you like to do? Will you find your target customers there?

Record keeping: How will you record the data and what criteria will you use to review it?

What kind of information do you want from your marketing efforts?

When you think of your target markets (demographics, lifestyle patterns, customer expectations) – what do they ‘look’ like?

Me! (Big Grin!)
Female, ages 30-50, or men who are buying for women
Connection to Maine and/or to fabric arts
Care about the environment
Respond to humorous or slightly quirky subject matter
Educated, internet-savvy
Appreciate quality handmade products, attention to detail

How do feel these might differ in the 2 – 3 years down the road if you are thinking about staying in business?

My records show me that the majority of my customers are located out of state. I just read a statistic that indicated US artisans make 60% of their income within their own state. It is clear I am under-utilizing this resource. Shows are not my favorite selling venue, so I will need to find some creative ways to increase my visibility within the state of Maine.

How did you know that it – the research - would work and that you were not groping around in the dark and there was nothing to research?

I didn't! The idea of market research was new to me. I didn't even know what questions to ask. The New Ventures class I took through Women, Work and Community helped me figure out where to start my research. The more I got to know my business, the more questions I had and the need for market research became clear.

One of the myths that might be in this dragon’s den is that this is complicated and there is a lot of foot work to do. What is your sense of this? How did you organize what you needed to research?

I didn't what information was important, so I kept all of it in an excel spreadsheet—customers names and addresses, inventory, cash flow records, sales venues I'd tried and how those turned out. I have data from 2004 that I just collected as I went along. Even with a very small business, I am able to see patterns in the data—what's working, where there are gaps--and make predictions and set goals for my business.

How do you currently determine how you do your work as compared to your competitors?

My primary business is online, so I spend a lot of time online interacting with people who like to be online as well. There are a lot of talented quilters and fabric artists out there. I try to make unique and unusual items and focus on the business end of things. Having a business/marketing plan and using it sets me apart from other artisans who see their work as a hobby.

How do you keep abreast of the changing market conditions?

I “listen” to the conversations on line in chat rooms and forums, as well as what my customers tell me, read about online shopping trends and habits, take workshops, and talk with other artisans.

How do you spot potential problems or challenges in your current market?

I review my progress periodically and compare my experiences with what is indicated in the business websites I visit, as well as in the online community. I am not as tuned in to the local market—that will be a focus for the upcoming year--but I do have a sense of national trends...what's happening nation-wide ripples through the online community pretty quickly.

When you conduct primary research, interacting with your customers, what do/did you learn?

What products work and which don't. (My customers keep asking for Lobsters!!!)

Where I need to improve my customer education. (With my small art, people keep asking: “What do I do with something so small?”)

Business Name. By asking people “What kinds of products do you think you will find at Sojourn Quilts?,” I realized that my business name may be too restrictive. Some people coming to Sojourn Quilts may be expecting traditional bed quilts. I am toying with the idea of changing my business name to something more descriptive of my current work. (More about this later).

What suggestions do you have for targeting your market? (focus on particular geo area, best selling prod, those most likely to patronize???

Keep records and watch for the patterns. What shows up in my business will probably be different than some other business, depending on the products. The patterns in my data, for example, show both strengths as well as gaps in my marketing. By reviewing the information periodically, I am able to adjust my actions, set new goals and try to address the weaker areas.

What is your take on the benefits of market research in relation to the business plan?

Doing market research helps keep me focused. It gives me a way to measure my progress. Am I staying true to my intended goals or have I gone on a tangent? Is the tangent worth pursuing or do I need to get back on my original track? Who are my customers, really? Who is buying? Am I doing the things I need to do to make my business visible to my customers?

What has given you the confidence to do the research?

Experiencing for myself how market research can—and does—help inform my business decisions. It creates a structure on which to build a business. I experimented a lot over the past five years—trying to discover what I wanted my business to be. With each step, I learned something and let go of something else. I feel much more confident and solid in my abilities to make my business work. It is definitely a journey.

What one piece of advice would each of you have for listeners who are thinking ‘I need to do some market research’?

Make use of free resources like Women, Work and Community. They will help walk you through the steps.

Did you find this helpful or do you have further suggestions or comments about marketing? Please let me know.


Six Birches

Just a shout out of appreciation to one of my customers who sent me this photo of the "Six Birches" piece I made. She matted and framed the piece to hang on her wall.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Financing Your Future

This is a wonderfully informative class offered free through Maine Centers for Women, Work and Community.

Financing Your Future - Make the Most of Your Money

Date: Feb 10, 2010 to Mar 10, 2010
Center: Bangor
Category: Money Management
Location: University College of Bangor, Bangor Hall, 1 University Drive, Bangor
Days of the week: Wednesday
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

This workshop can help you gain the skills and confidence you need to stretch your money, pay your bills, reduce your debt, find money for savings, and set personal financial goals. This class meets one of the requirements for the Family Development Account (FDA) matched savings account.

There will be one follow-up session on Wednesday, March 31.

To register, or for more information, contact Susan Russell at 262-7842 or email susan.russell@maine.edu.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

WERU Radio Interview

I am so excited! Today, I will be a guest speaker on Jane Haskell's "Doing Business" show on WERU. The show airs live here in Maine at 10am-11am on 89.9FM Blue Hill. The topic is marketing. The two other guests will be Stephen Fadel, Business Reference Librarian at UMaine's Fogler Library and Christy Hemenway, owner of Gold Star Honeybees. I will be talking about my business, Sojourn Quilts.

The show is archived on the WERU website. Check out the 2/4/10 Doing Business show. To hear the show, scroll down and click the mp3 tab/arrow.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Selling Venues

This is the third in a series of postings about business planning or, more specifically, my adventures in business planning. I am sharing my thoughts here in hopes you will find something useful to use in your own entrepreneurial adventures. You can catch up by checking out So What's the Plan? and On a Mission.

Today I will spend some time with Selling Venues. I am probably going out of order in terms of a structured, formal business plan, but this is what is in my head.

As a sole proprietor, I want to be clear about what works and what does not work for me. I need to think about my lifestyle, values, and interests and find selling venues that align relatively well with these factors. Each selling venue has pros and cons. It is beneficial to spend time researching and/or experimenting with the various selling venues to see what works for you.

As an artisan and educator, I see the following selling venues as options:

Consignment. Providing products to established shops or galleries for sale in those stores. A 30-50% fee is garnered by the owner of the shops or galleries upon sale of the merchandise.

Fabrication Services. The manufacture of items (quilts, clothing, pillows, etc.) for customers using materials they provide. Fabrication Services may be provided privately (for individuals) or on an independently contracted basis for companies.

Internet. Selling products directly to customers online through independent or hosting e-commerce-ready websites.

Private Sales. Selling products directly to customers in person, primarily locally.

Retail Shows. Selling products directly to customers in person at a variety of locations. Shows come in two categories: Juried (open to vendors who are accepted through an application process); Non-Juried (open to all vendors).

Teaching. Providing sewing lessons and/or teaching workshops as a service.

Wholesale. Selling products directly to shop owners to resell in their stores. With wholesale, retail store owners (generally) take 50% of the retail price of the item. Wholesale arrangements may be made on an individual basis or through wholesale shows.

Some people choose one selling venue, others choose a variety of ways to sell their products and reach their target customer base. I have tried all of these selling venues and find I prefer working directly with my own customers through local community events and the internet. Still, I keep my options open and sometimes make use of other selling venues.

The more experienced I become as a business person, the more I understand the importance of finding people who are both interested in the work I do AND want to make a purchase. Two questions (there are plenty more) to ask for each selling venue: "Is this selling venue working for me?" and "Will I meet people from my target market here?" The closer I come to balancing my product and selling venue with my target customers' needs and wants, the more likely I generate enough sales to keep my business viable.

This is just a start on selling venues. Was this useful? Do you have further thoughts or ideas for selling venues? I would love to hear from you!

Next week, I will talk more about demographics and finding your target market.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Apple Stitched Art

This Apple is not from my "neighborhood" series, but it could be. Maine farmers grow wonderful apples here.

The inspiration for this piece came from apple doodles I drew while attending a meeting. (Caught me zoning out!).

I will probably add apples to my "candy tree" images at some point.

Stitched Art by JL Boynton
5.75 inches by 7.5 inches
14.6 centimeters by 19.0 centimeters
Copyright ©2010 Sojourn Quilts


Monday, February 1, 2010

January in Review

It is the first day of February 2010. Someone once told me you are supposed to say "Rabbit, Rabbit" on the first day of every month. Anyone know where that comes from?

Anyway, I thought I would sum up January. It was a fruitful month. Here is some of what I accomplished:

Started a new direction on the blog.

Introduced the "In My Neighborhood Series" of fabric art pieces. I am using photos from places in Maine as a basis for my artwork. Samples: Lures, Candy Tree, Sanding Wheels

Met with two business counselors at the Penobscot County Cooperative Extension to review my business plan and set some goals for the new year. (I will be talking about this more in future posts)

Attended a business workshop hosted by Maine's Small Business Development Centers". Good to get a refresher on wholesale issues.

Started a series talking about business planning: So What's The Plan? and On a Mission. I will be continuing to talk about business planning in upcoming posts.

Received a lovely quilted wall-hanging in the mail from a friend: Heart Quilt.

Met with some business women at Maine Centers for Women, Work and Community and was invited to give a presentation (with photographer Liz Grandmaison) on using social networking in business.

Was invited as a guest speaker on Jane Haskell's "Doing Business" radio show. The topic will be marketing. The show will air live Thursday, February 4, 2010 from 10am to 11am on WERU Blue Hill 89.9FM and Bangor 102.9FM. The show will be archived, so even if you cannot get WERU on your radio dial, you will have a chance to listen to it over the internet.

I think this was a solid way to start the year and am looking forward to what February will bring!