A New Venture!

Just one day into summer break, and I’m already spinning up a new venture 🙂 Like I said, I suck at vacation! However, this venture has been in the works for several months, and we finally had to kick it out of the nest and let it fly. I’m excited to announce a new side business with my husband, Faus Photography. This brings up all sorts of fun topics about business and marketing, so let’s ponder a few things!

I had a guest poster a few weeks ago that talked about turning your hobby into a business, and that’s what we’ve done with Faus Photography. For us, the biggest thing was making sure that we are professionals, not just in our equipment and skill, but in our presentation. I think this is a key point that a lot of amateurs miss when they decide they want to make money at their hobby. When my husband and I started seriously discussing this as a business, my first comment was that we’d need to work on our branding. What is our style? What does our brand mean? Are we elegant, edgy, classic, whimsical? We settled on “authentic”, because don’t like overly photoshopped pictures that make you look plastic, and we don’t like overly staged photos that make the moment look fake. We think life itself is full of beauty, so why ruin the natural beauty by altering it? However, we also believe in using technology to enhance life, which brought us to our tagline, “Authentic moments, perfect memories”. We spent a lot of time picking out a font for our logo and browsing themes for our website. I think a website is something that can make or break a professional image, particularly for creative endeavors like photography. Do all the links work? Is it aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate? Is everything spelled correctly? Does it load quickly? All of these attributes are hallmarks of a professional site, run by professional people, so it was important to us to make sure it was perfect before go live (speaking of which, perfection is impossible, so if you see something wrong on the site, let me know!).

Next, the publicity. Clearly, this is my area of expertise and my passion 🙂 Here’s the thing: DON’T SELL! I’ve said time and again that my philosophy and practice of marketing is not based on selling things that people don’t need, but rather connecting problems with solutions. Tons of people need photographers, and there are literally thousands of options to choose from. Why choose Faus Photography? I don’t want the answer to be, “Well, I know Ashley, and it would be a nice thing to do for her, so I guess I’ll suck it up and pay her to take some pictures.” NO! I want you to choose our services because you believe you’re getting quality, and our style meshes well with your style. To that end, I didn’t send out a big note to friends and family to request that they “sell” us to others, I haven’t been spamming Facebook with big “news” (which, in my extended circle on FB would probably lead to pregnancy rumors. So we’re clear, no, I’m not pregnant), and I won’t be Tweeting links to Faus Photography every 5 minutes. Yes, you need to make people aware of your new venture, but you don’t need to badger them about it. I think sometimes hobbyist-turned-professionals get too bogged down in staying top-of-mind. Granted, corporate companies do the same thing with email blasts and billboards, so the amateurs learned it somewhere! In short, my publicity strategy is going to be more about word-of-mouth and occasional links if we have a new album to share, but not overload on all my social platforms.

Finally, the question of turning your hobby into your full-time pursuit. We have no plans to do this any time soon, but many side businesses turn into full-time jobs. I think the approach is very different if you’re intending to quit your day job, and I think for most, a gradual shift in priorities is much safer than a giant leap. A few considerations before heading into the great unknown: Do you have all your paperwork completed, like IRS forms, permits, and registrations? Can you do all the business functions yourself, or will you need to outsource things like accounting and marketing? Is your business scalable, and can you actually make enough money to live? Many people think that starting a business will be “fun”… yes, it’s fun, but it’s also a lot of work, particularly if you’re not a fan of every function of business! My husband dislikes the marketing side of the business, and I dislike the technical side of the business. We’re fortunate to have a built-in partnership, and we compliment each other perfectly in this pursuit. But what if you don’t have a spouse or friend to go in with? All of these questions need to be considered before exiting the corporate world.

I won’t be quitting my day job to pursue photography any time soon, and I’ve still got a lot to learn about cameras, lights, and editing! But, I’m excited to say that Faus Photography is officially open for business!

I am a Boxer

FREEEEDDDDOOOOMMMM!!!!! Ok, sorry, I just had to get that out of my system, now that my summer classes have finished. I get a ~2 week break before jumping in with 9 hours this fall. Two more semesters left before graduation! I tweeted that I take life too seriously sometimes, and I decided that attending Bollywood Dance one night would help me combat that mentality. While it helped immediately in the moment, the class, and my motivation for attending, have been bouncing around in my thoughts for the last few days.

When I lived in California, I took Zumba (dance class featuring music from hip hop, to pop, to salsa and merengue!) once a week with a close friend. Then, I’d go to a show rehearsal, and dance for another couple of hours (usually jazz-based or ballroom style). Between rehearsals and Zumba, I was dancing at least an hour a day, 4-5 days each week. I got my groove ON! Since I’ve been back in Texas, I’ve been attending boxing boot camp and weight classes 2-3 times per week, and doing a heavy lifting day on Saturdays with my husband. I’m still staying active, but my training regimen is significantly different from my workouts 2 years ago. You know what I noticed during Bollywood? I move like a boxer. I think like a boxer. I’m cut like a boxer. I’m not fluid, I’m precise. I’m not graceful, I’m sharp. My grapevine looks more like a boxer’s shuffle, and my step-tap looks more like a cut-and-run.

Funny thing is, I started getting really introspective on how this relates to my life, and my motivation for dancing in the first place! I’m nose-to-the-grindstone all time right now. I’m focused on my career goals, sharpening my skills, and punching life square in the face with fierceness. Sure, I think I’ve built in time for fun and relaxation, but the reality is, I have trouble embracing those times to their fullest. There was a time when I could truly relax, a time when I could truly appreciate fun, a time when I could let my hair down. Now is not that time, and I’ve convinced myself that I’m the best version of “me” during this time.

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”, says the famous boxer Muhammad Ali. Notice anything profound about that statement? Yeah, me neither. Ok, I do, but I don’t want to admit it! Ali advocates boxing with BALANCE. You can be the quickest guy on the mat, but if you can’t throw a punch, you won’t win. You can be the heaviest hitter in the ring, but if you can’t stay light enough on your feet to keep from getting knocked out, you won’t win. Business is the same way! It’s great that you can follow a rigid schedule, micromanage your time down to the minute, and power through all-nighters, but if you can’t relax and let your mind recharge, the brilliant ideas have no room to grow. Can you be flexible when the numbers don’t match, when 24 hours isn’t enough time in the day? When was the last time you tried to solve a problem with a completely off-the-wall solution that turned out to be genius?

I used to be a dancer AND a boxer, and I think I’ll be the best version of myself when I get back to that balance… both in business and the gym!

Things We Don’t Talk About

Sigh. I’m finally overcoming my writer’s block on the blog, but the last few posts I’ve written are still sitting in the “draft” folder, because I feel like I shouldn’t publish them. I’m back to the transparency debate about what to put out there for the world to judge.

Once again, the posts aren’t controversial or damaging in a way that really warrants such internal debate. But, there’s things we just don’t talk about. Like frustration and burn-out, or anger and stereotyping. It’s interesting, because I feel like I’ve put some pretty bold topics on the blog from the “things we don’t talk about” category. It’s as if I think that if I don’t put it out on the blog, no one will find out that I’m a whole person, with thoughts and feelings that might conflict with their own. But, these thoughts and feelings don’t mean that I can’t still be a good employee, a good friend, a good whatever.

I wrote about social media profiles being scrubbed clean of personality, in the interest of being “appropriate”, particularly when judged by a prospective employer. I feel like the posts languishing in the draft folder fall into that category. Nothing inherently wrong with going to boxing boot camp, but if I post that as a Facebook status, will potential employers think that I’m militant at the office? THE HORROR… ok, delete that status update, and post something mundane about how I like the sunny weather. Who could be offended by the sunny weather? And yet, anyone who knows me realizes that boxing boot camp is a perfect addition to my repertoire of activities! It’s the same with the career postings. One post is a bit rant-y about the media constantly telling everyone that we’re all “entitled’ 20-somethings. Who likes to be called “entitled” by every 3rd article in their newsfeed? But, again, what if someone reads it, and lumps me in with the whiners? Ok, delete that blog post.

I’ll be wrestling with those posts, with the intent to publish them, over the weekend. We’ll see if they make to the blog. Anyone else want to open the discussion for things we just don’t talk about?

The Busy Trap

There’s been a ton of virtual ink spilled in discussions over this article, The Busy Trap.  Essentially, it’s the phenomenon in America (and other parts of the world, but largely the US) where everyone is “too busy” to do anything, yet we aren’t really accomplishing that much more with our full schedules.

This is me more often than not. I’m running around like a crazy lady because I don’t know how to live any other way. I’ve got to keep 20 plates spinning in the air, otherwise, I’m a failure. This is stupid. Who really needs 20 plates spinning to be fulfilled? I’m started to feel overwhelmed by all the activities, dreams, and obligations I’ve packed into my life. You know it’s a bad sign when your husband tells you that you’re not mentally present and your mom tells you that she hopes you won’t continue at this pace for much longer.

I’ve taken their words to heart… sort of. This will inevitably be another failed challenge to myself: to slow down a bit. I just don’t know any other speed besides “fast”. It’s interesting, because I look at the Olympians and think that I’ve failed because I didn’t win medals at 16, or look at the latest pop stars and think I’m a failure because I didn’t top the charts at 20, or look at the tech billionaires and think I’m a failure because I didn’t found Google before 25. The thing is, all of those people have on singular pursuit that consumes them. Yes, they stay busy, and yes, they have a ton of activities filling up their days. But mentally, they’re running toward a singular goal, and the busyness is just a set of tactics to reach the goal. Technically, there’s an end in sight!

I’m going to do my best to relax and re-charge during my 2-week summer break, but I’ll probably be so busy trying to relax that I’ll fail completely. Anyone else fall into the “busy trap”?

Lyrics of Life

As you’ve probably noticed, my posting has been quite infrequent lately, as I’m too busy with school, work, and personal commitments to dedicate a lot of time to the blog right now. That, and I’m doing a ton of writing for two of MBA courses, so the creative energy and general flow of ideas is being funneled elsewhere. So, I’ll leave you with a few snippets of song lyrics that have been playing in my head over the last few weeks for a little inspiration:

 

“Even the best fall down sometimes. Even the wrong words seem to rhyme.” – Howie Day, “Collide”

 

“Until the referee rings the bell, until both your eyes start to swell, until the crowd goes home, what we gonna do y’all? Give ’em hell… this one’s a fighter.” – Gym Class Heroes, “Fighter”

 

“I’m bullet proof, nothing to lose, fire away, fire away, ricochet, you take your aim, fire away, fire away. You shoot me down, but I won’t fall, I am titanium.” – David Guetta with Sia, “Titanium”

 

“It’s time to try defying gravity. I think I’ll try defying gravity, and you can’t pull me down.” – Wicked, “Defying Gravity” (especially as sung by the original cast or me belting it out in my car, around the house, and walking randomly in a parking lot)

Turning Your Hobby into a Business

Hand-decorated theme cookies from Moon Glitz Delicioso
I’m excited to welcome a very talented guest blogger today, my mother-in-law, Brenda Faus. She’s the owner of Moon Glitz Delicioso, a small business that specializes in hand-decorated theme cookies. Brenda donates most of her proceeds to the non-profit organization, World Vision, and she’s got a few thoughts on her journey from hobbyist to small business owner!

“These are so good. You should sell them.”  That is such a nice compliment, and you may have even heard it about something you make, but could it be a reality?  I began to ask myself that question a couple of years ago.  My family loves eating my cookies, I enjoy making them, but would they sell?  Could I make a profit?  What are the legal boundaries?
The most complicated aspects of creating a small business from a food product are the health regulations.  When the state where I live began legislation for a Cottage Food Bill I saw my opportunity.  I began to investigate the guidelines and how they applied to the custom designed cookies that I enjoy creating.  This could work.  The next step—a visit to the county courthouse. I paid for my license and I was on my way.
The licensing process was actually fairly simple, but then the real work began.  After the Limited Liability Corporation fee was paid, I realized I had to get serious about earning a profit.  I had now made an investment and needed to see some return.  That first year was consumed by a lot of free cookie gifts and photos of cookies posted on every social network I could find.  There were times I wondered if I was becoming somewhat obnoxious to my friends and family.  Little by little I began to get orders, so my efforts must have been heading in the right direction.  I kept my prices low and sometimes felt discouraged by the money I made for the hours of work I put in.
Those long and discouraging nights have now grown into productive and profitable weeks.  I have gradually increased my prices and have amazingly seen my orders increase as well.  My goal was to attain a price for my product that is in line with current market value for a boutique type cookie.  I am now fairly close to that goal.  Word of the quality and uniqueness of my product has spread through customer referrals, social media, and simple advertising efforts.
My next goal is to expand my product line.  I recently added a cookie gift box that comes in two sizes and is packed in a quality, clear-lid box.  I would like to add more similar items, possibly some cookie bouquets, and expand my selection of cookie favors.  I have found it helpful to be a secret shopper on other cookie websites and see what large corporations offer.  After my research, I create a sample to use for a product photo on my website.  I often use this sample product for a contest prize or some kind of give-away to create interest in my business.  Who wouldn’t want to win a beautiful and delicioso cookie?
Heavy social media advertisement, competition investigation, and contests for product giveaways have all been keys to my success. If I were to share a final word of advice for creating a business from a hobby it would be to consider product selection and pricing carefully.  Just because you love doing something or you can create a beautiful product doesn’t mean you can make an easy profit when selling it.  For example, I have learned that a cookie made to look like an antique car with chrome bumpers, a windshield, and a gum paste hood ornament may look amazing.  It also takes much longer to create than my average cookie. If I post a photo of it on Facebook, everyone tells me how amazing it is.  However, nobody would pay the $10 or more I would need to charge for it in order to make up for labor and other overhead while still making a profit.  Because of my inability to make a profit on this specific cookie in any reasonable sense, I would have to view it as merely a marketing tool or discontinue it as a product.  And these are the kinds of decisions that make the difference between a business and a hobby.
Thanks for sharing, Brenda! If you’re interested in ordering some of her delicioso cookies, please check out her website. She ships anywhere in the world, and the cookies arrive fresh, beautiful, and unbroken (I can personally vouch for this!)

How to Stay Fit on the Road

Well, readers, July has been, and will continue to be, a crazy month! Between school, work, friends, and family, I’ve been running at breakneck speed for several weeks. I’m squeezing quite a few business trips in this month, which means a little less time for writing, and a lot more time spent in airports, cars, and hotels. So, I thought I’d talk about how to keep fit on the road, since I’ll be doing exercising outside of my usual boot camp classes for a few weeks!

I love free weights, but sometimes you’re stuck with just your body weight. But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck without a workout, and it doesn’t mean you’re stuck with just cardio options! On a recent trip, I decided not to bring my tennis shoes and extra workout clothes, since I needed to save space in my luggage, and I had no idea what time I would arrive at the hotel. I figured I could always do something if I got back to my room in time. Here’s what I did:

– set of 25 lunges on each leg (you want a 90 degree angle on both the front and back legs, and you should feel the burn in the quads and gluts)

– set of 15 push-ups (make sure you’ve got a straight line from the head to the ankles, no butts in the air or hips dipping to the floor! The whole body has to move up and down at once!)

– set of 50 crunches (I alternate between a regular crunch, side crunch, and twisting crunch in each set)

I did this rotation 3 times, and then moved into the next rotation with some interesting “weights”:

– set of 15 squats with no weights

– set of 10 shoulder raises with my purse (hey, that thing may only be 5 lbs., but it’s better than nothing!)

– set of 12 bicep curls with my backpack full of books (again, you’re looking at ~10-12 lbs. of weight for each rep)

I did this rotation 3 times, and moved into the final set of exercises:

– boxing combo of jab, cross, hook, upper cut

– holding field on the right and left side (basically “fast feet” and fast, continuous punching to the side)

– boxing combo of jab and cross

– continuous hooks

– set of 50 crunches

– set of 25 hip raises (lay on your back with your shoulders pressed into the floor and feet flat on the ground, raise your hips up using your hamstrings, gluts, and abs only)

I did this set twice before I did a round of stretching.

My exercises took about 30 minutes to complete, and I did them while simultaneously watching a lecture for one of my online classes. You don’t need fancy weights, or even fancy footwear, to get a workout in on the road! Got any tips for staying fit during travel?

Posting at The Daily Muse

I have another article on The Daily Muse today, “What to Know About Networking with Family Members”. I’ve posted at The Daily Muse several times, and you can view my other articles here.

The Daily Muse is an excellent site aimed at young professional women  (there’s some great articles for men, too!) They’ve assembled a  wonderful team of talented writers, so make sure you browse through the  rest of the site!