It’s okay to be the tortoise, the hare is done with the race entirely too fast. – RP

It all started with one question. “If I were to sell scarves, would you buy them?” Enough people said yes that I went ham with my crochet needles and my incessant trips to the yarn aisle at Michael’s. I was in a crafting woman’s heaven. So many colors and textures. And so many people in love with my designs, I’d felt like I made it.

I researched Etsy, found out what was popular, decided pricing. I even opened a store.

And today, several sales later, I have a thriving design and stationery business.

Wait, but I thought you sold scarves. I did. I do. Well, kinda. I guess.

That’s where the lessons begins.

Lesson 1: Just start.

I believe the biggest hurdle for entrepreneurs is getting started. So many people say it, but so many of us don’t do it…and I’ll go on a limb and say that we who have an advertising or business background may be the biggest offenders. Our day jobs are to keep the organizations we work for — those with multimillion (or billion) dollar budgets — not only from failing, but thriving.

We have all the right recipes. Understand the psychology of people, the science of marketing and ind and outs of communications, accounting and HR, so much so that we can’t help but to approach our itty bitty startups the way we approach the companies that have been around for over 100 years.

We don’t give credit where credit is due, noticing that these businesses also started somewhere. They didn’t become the conglomerate that they are today overnight.

And neither will your or my business…and it definitely won’t become anything if we don’t just start.

Lesson 2: Your beginning is not your ending.

Back the beginning of this story. When I started this new business, it was not supposed to be a design business. I was going to sell scarves. And I was going to design and sell a planner. The Work/Life Balance planner. That was it.

I had no idea that I was going to fall in love with photoshop and design and want to spend my spare time thinking up and forming designs almost daily. That just happened. And I happened to be okay at it. Maybe, I should say I happened to BECOME okay at it.

And people eventually liked my designs..and they bought my stuff. And they liked it when they got it. And that made me happy.

That was enough to keep me moving.

Lesson 3: Keep moving.

When I started Affirmed Designs, I had no clue what I was doing. Pricing items and marketing were the pieces that I was the best at…and that’s because I have a background in marketing and strategic business. (Did you hear me…I wasn’t even great at design!)

I had no clue how to put a planner together. I had no clue how to add plugins to photoshop. I had no clue how to ship items. I had no clue what to charge for shipping. I didn’t know the best supplies to buy. Heck. I didn’t even know the final name of my business.

The only thing I knew — and was committed to — was to keep moving. Regardless of how hard, tough, or confusing it was I kept moving. I lost so much money trying to figure things out. There were bad print jobs Bad cut jobs. And so on. But I just kept moving.

Lesson 4: Things will fall into place.

After all the trial and error, things eventually began to fall into place. After tons of research and playing around, I realized what I wanted my business to stand for. It wasn’t just pretty designs and stickers for planners. It was more than that. It was about speaking affirmation and positivity into the lives of women. It was about creating something that they could look at and feel like they belonged in the world. Like they could reach their goals. Like they had a purpose, even if they’ve never felt that before. Affirmed Designs was birthed to create a place a of strength, to act as a piece of my overall personal mission.

But I didn’t know that until I’d bumped my head, cried tears, and made so many mistakes. The grunt work had to be done before the beauty was revealed. But once the beauty was revealed it was smooth sailing…kinda.

Lesson 5: Set real, but kinda stupid goals.

Number one. I’m a procrastinator. Number two. I like the creative process more than I like the fulfillment process. So it was all fine and dandy when I was on the computer creating items, but I kinda dreaded having an order come through. I tried many things to make that better. I tried writing thank you notes in advance. I set up my “production studio” to create a better flow for fulfillment. I even ordered return address stickers. All of those things made it better, but it was not right…mainly because I HATED CUTTING ITEMS BY HAND. The problem with this is that I had the electric die cutting tool by hand. So to overcome this horrible problem, I took down my Etsy shop and set a personal goal; I’d turn my Etsy shop back on once I’d learned to use the die cutting machine. This meant that I couldn’t take orders for the majority of my products (i.e. make money) until I’d learned to use the machine.

Needless to say, I learned to use the machine. This quickly spurred into creating inventory…and for some reason sales picked up tremendously.

Lesson 6: Learn from your mistakes…QUICKLY.

Two things about mistakes. Mistakes cost money. And mistakes cost customers…which essentially is money. And I don’t like losing money.

Being horrible at (and hating) fulfillment, I would miss shipping dates. This resulted in less than optimal situations. 1) I refunded a customer money because I’d miss the date so drastically. 2) I had a customer report me to Etsy.

In a nutshell, I was bad a customer service. It was essential that I learned from that quickly. To overcome it, I went back to lesson 5 and made it a goal to ship on time. And this wasn’t a mental goal. It was a goal that I’d written out on my monthly goals spreadsheet.

Learning to use my die cutter helped tremendously. I’d also made it a point to create inventory. Those things together have helped me reduce my shipping time from 1-2 weeks to 3-5 days. (I also think this is a factor in sales picking up.)

Lesson 7: Be okay with being the tortoise.

I looked at the number of sales I’d achieved on Etsy over the course of the year and was a little discouraged. But then I thought about it. I accomplished so much over the course of the year. I created and defined a brand…one that I feel can stand up over the course of time. I became pretty solid in my digital marketing approach.I streamlined my fulfillment and shipping processes.  I progressed SO MUCH in m photoshop skills. I still found a balance in my life and work. (I’m very involved in church, have a full-time job, and I’m inn a long-distance relationship…where we travel to see each other 1-2 times a week.) I expanded my product offering. And I did almost all of it by myself. In essence, I set what I feel to be a firm foundation for a solid business model.

Bonus Lesson 1: Pat yourself on the back.

There will be many days where no one will pat you on your back. That’s okay. You’re gonna feel like you’re doing it alone and when you’ll feel like you’re not as good as the one next to you…or measuring up to the invisible stick only you’ve created. And that’s okay too. Those are the days you’ll have to reach your hand  behind your neck and pat yourself on the back. Only you know the time, energy and money you’ve put into your business. And for that, you deserve a pat on the back…and likely a glass of wine.

Bonus Lesson 2: DO NOT COMPARE.

If there is anything I can’t stress more, it’s this one. I once read that comparison (or competition) is the thief of joy. *rolls eyes* THIS IS SO TRUE. More than that, it’s the one thing that can get you off your rocker quicker than anything else. It’s one thing to research and to know the market, it’s another to use someone else as your measuring stick. When you compare, you have the potential to lose sight of what you really stand for and, worse, become depressed and/or become a really nasty person. It is true that there’s enough room for all of us, and like stated in Girl Code, no one can do it like you. Stand on that. Keep your eye focused on your goal, and try to leave this world better than when you came into it. There’s enough cattiness and nastiness in this world. Let’s be better and do better. I believe in you.

If there’s one thing I obsess about more than anything else outside of race relations is marketing. The numbers, the language, what makes people tick, colors, used, what’s new, what’s shiny, what’ll be gone tomorrow and what’s here to stay. It fascinates me because it’s amazing how predictable a person will react based on a varying amount of factors. It’s also fascinating because so many underrate it.

Don’t get me wrong, many companies know that making “noise” will garner attention. But they stop there…especially small companies (and larger companies too). And what they fail to realize most is that the organization’s marketing (place, product, price, and promotion) create the perception of a company. Good or bad, those 4 Ps together work together to create a lasting impression of the organization.

While I’ve had a bit of experience in place, product and price, much of my career has fallen in promotion — the communications side of marketing. The last 7 years have been specifically in the world of digital marketing – social media, email marketing, ecommerce, website content development and management, etc. I’ve even done a bit of consulting around it all. That’s why I must admit, this weekend was a bit painful.

This weekend, I saw both of my obsessions go head on into one catastrophic crash.

The situation

A young man by the name of Marcel Price of Grand Rapids, MI was assaulted by a bar tender and told that he would not be able to enter a local bar, Tavern on the Square because he was black. Marcel recorded the event on his phone and shared it via social media. This happened very early Saturday morning. By Saturday afternoon, this had turned into a social media nightmare; one that I wished I was getting paid the big bucks to consult on because it could’ve been avoided.

This is a textbook case of crisis management.

  1. Bad thing happens
  2. It blows up publicly
  3. Organization responds…quickly

But this is not what happened at all. Tavern on the Square failed to respond quickly. In fact, they just responded on their Facebook page, yesterday. They allowed over 24 hours to pass before responding to a racially sensitive topic in a city that has been publicly responding to racially sensitive topics over the last few weeks; you know with the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile events and Dallas shooting and all.

What made it worse was that Tavern on the Square had every opportunity to respond.

Having a bit of “inside” knowledge and knowing how to get the attention of an organization on social media I reacted 4 ways:

  1. I responded as a black woman who is super sensitive to racial issues as of late.
  2. I responded as a writer who has an understanding that the words I convey have power.
  3. Most importantly, I responded as a digital marketer.
  4. I encouraged others to respond. And not only did I encourage them to respond, I leveraged my digital marketing knowledge, providing clear details on how to respond including who to tag and what hash tags to use.

Taking all these angles to me was super important. I was observing every step of the way. I wanted to know how my friends would react. I wanted to know how people in private groups would react. And most importantly, I wanted to know how Tavern on the Square, Experience Grand Rapids, and Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. would react.

The outcome: Two case studies on what not to do, and one case study on a team that got it kinda right.

Responses

Experience Grand Rapids. Within hours or a day, Experience Grand Rapids responded with a boilerplate response and suggested that I contacted them offline.

  • The good: They quickly diffused the conversation and stated that they were open for additional conversation.
  • Opportunities for growth: I would’ve preferred they responded much faster. I also would’ve appreciated a more personalized message. Finally, it would’ve been nice if they would’ve inboxed me or or at the least left an email address or phone number. When a person has a concern with your organization, you should go out of your way to learn more vs. asking them to do the work to get in contact with you. In this instance, the company has more to lose than the customer. Remember bad news spreads fast and it takes 5 new customers to replace 1 lost customer. That’s a very expensive scenario.

Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. I would say “I’ll wait”, but I won’t. They haven’t responded and I don’t expect them to respond.

  • The good: N/A
  • Opportunities for growth: Downtown Grand Rapids is perceived as a locale that doesn’t have the African American community in mind. Weekend after weekend, you see people of the majority young and old sprawling through downtown Grand Rapids. Not so much for people of color.. And Tavern on the Square is downtown…so anytime Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. communicates “come downtown” this includes go to Tavern on the Square. Yet, when asked about how they would handle it, they didn’t respond at all…and this is regarding an event that effects the black community, which represents 20% of the city’s population. This is a great way to put a blemish on all the work Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. has done in getting people downtown. But then again, are they even talking to black people?

Tavern on the Square (Tavern). Good old Tavern on the Square. There’s so much to say. So again, I’ll start with the good.

  • The good: You responded. You also stated that you’re all for diverstiy (even though there were only 5 or less people of color in your establishment at closing time). You even said that you are looking into it and would be providing sensitivity training to your employees.
  • The bad:
    • This person wasn’t fired though he stated he wouldn’t let him in because he was black. Even if it were closing time and that was the real reason, simply confirming that he wouldn’t let him in because he was black is grounds for firing. No other reasons needed. That’s now blatant racism.
    • This person wasn’t fired though he clearly smacked the phone out of the person’s hand. I may let that one slide if there was some punishment associated. He can’t just go jack free. But maybe he needs a different role, because clearly he’s endangering others…even if he was provoked. If Marcel never put his hands on the bouncer, the bouncer should have never laid his hands on Marcel’s phone.
    • Tavern on the Square did not take responsibility nor apologize for the action
    • The owner alluded to the fact that it was a big deal because of social media
    • It took the organization over 24 hours to respond on social media. I looked over and over again. Comments flooded in. No response for hours. I even wrote posts to bring attention to the fact that more than just “complaining” was happening. Here are my very public posts:
      • So this video was recently taken at Tavern on the Square GR. GR of all colors, it’s time to make a difference with your dollars. Don’t look the other way. Instead take your dollars elsewhere. And make some noise about it too. Share, tag them, tag the owners, share the owners names. Let them know this isn’t the GR we stand for. This is unacceptable.
      • So the Tavern on the Square GR voicemail box is full. Nice job GR. I say keep calling. (616) 456-7673 They have yet to post a response…not even “we’re looking into it.”

        I can’t find an email address on their website because their website is now one page…that includes a link to a testimonial, phone number, and location info.

      • Forgive some of my grammatical errors (you have to be a grammar freak to know what they are). Here’s what I’ve posted on the Experience Grand Rapidsand Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. pages.Tavern on the Square GR has just added a smudge to the city’s resume. After a bouncer’s blatant act of racism and several calls for a response, the establishment has yet to respond…not even in the easiest spot…it’s social channels. (I’ve checked FB and twitter). We are now calling an official boycott of the establishment from people of all colors. I’m sure this is not what Grand Rapids wants to be perceived as, and we’re asking that you, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., help drive the importance of formally responding to such complaints…both publicly and privately. This is a continuance of the Grand Rapids perception of racism, and I’m sure this is something you’d like to see eliminated.This, along with Propaganda Donuts’ most recent lack of sensitivity shows the face of those who not only live in the metro area, but represent the face of this city’s economy. If nothing is done, we’ll begin calling for boycotts of bigger events that have garnered substantial revenue to the city.
      • I hate being on a digital team, knowing it takes all of 5 mins to respond to a complaint with a “we’re working on it,” yet we’re still waiting to hear fromTavern on the Square GR. The fact that this could’ve been remedied and not gotten so large (i.e. News 8) is a shame. [friend’s name], we need to add crisis control to the offerings because obviously people don’t know the importance of it.
    • Tavern removed most of the website with the exception of contact information and a link to a testimonial from 2010. (unless they never actually had a full website)
    • You can no longer post comments on their FB page. This looks guilty as heck (or insensitive at the least).

How to Avoid a Social Media Crisis Focused Around Race…or anything else

I’m glad that you stuck with me this far…or skimmed to this point. Either way, I’m okay because this is the most important part for small businesses or businesses trying to figure out how to staff for and manage social media and digital marketing communications. Here’s the gamut:

  1. NEVER think this type of thing wouldn’t happen to you. Even if you believe you operate in tip top shape, humans love to complain..and one of the places where they love to to it is on social media. Even if they aren’t trying to get your attention, know that one small spark (complainer) can set the fire ablazin’. It may be something as small as you using 1-ply toilet paper, be ready to respond to even that nonsense if it looks like it’s about to ignite a forrest fire.
  2. Have a crisis plan in place. You shouldn’t be figuring out how to handle a crisis when it hits. Make sure everyone knows what to do if media calls (i.e. what person or department should they be directed to? Can they talk to media or not?). Who should they make aware of the issue? What is the first line of defense? In the event of a complaint, how long should it take your team to respond and what should that response be?
  3. Equip your team. Ensure social media and web content managers are equipped to respond to comments. Make sure they have a who to call list. Also craft a few boilerplate statements that your team can use if they have to respond quickly. You have no idea how much scripting can come in handy here.
  4. Empower your team. If your team has to go up a chain of command before posting or responding to posts, you’re already a step behind. However, don’t leave it just to the person behind the screen. Make sure leadership is in the loop and ready to step in and help if necessary.
  5. Rules of engagement. There is nothing that can make a company more vulnerable than social media. So before you decide to enter the world, create rules of engagement. Decided whether or not you’ll allow users to post on your page. Determine how you’ll respond to complaints. Determine how you’ll respond to hateful and malicious comments.  (Complaints and malicious comments are 2 different things.) For example, some news sites allow racist comments while other companies wouldn’t allow it all.
  6. Hire competent people. Many people think that interns or cousin Pookie are the right people to manage their social media channels because they’re good at the tech stuff and “in the know.” Wrong. You need someone who knows your organization well, is a great communication and understand the difference between doing social for personal reasons and managing social accounts as an extension of the brand.
  7. NEVER take down your page. Exception: If you go out of business.
  8. Sensitivity gauge. Ensure your team has a sensitivity gauge. There are certain topics that should either be supported or not discussed for the majority of companies. Politics. Race. Sexual-orientation. Ethnicity. Nationality. War. (Yes, race, ethnicity, and nationality are all different things.) Some of these things (not all) are perfectly fine to comment on on personal accounts, but not for business accounts unless your brand is the Republic or democratic national conventions. (smile)
  9. Take responsibility. If you or one of your employees did something wrong, own up to it. Then talk about what you’re doing to fix it. If you didn’t learn anything from Steve Harvey’s fiasco, this was one of the greatest takeaways. He owned it…and got offered the job for another year. There’s a certain level of respect that comes with self-accountability.
  10. 24/7. When you work in the digital world, you have a 24 hour, 7 day a week job. That means that if something happens at 2am, you need to be responding by 2:05am. I’m blessed to work for a global company with people who monitor accounts while I’m sleeping. I’ve also had a past role where I had on-call duties.
  11. Turn on notifications. It’s not okay to just monitor your social channels when you’re on your computer or checking your facebook account. No…it’s time to turn on your notifications and check them EVERY time they come across your phone. Is it annoying? Yes. Will it be helpful in the time of a crisis…absolutely.

To be honest, if you practice these steps as normal business procedures, then it won’t be so stressful when a crisis arise. It’ll be business as usual, but with a few more people involved. Hopefully in the end, you can say “crisis averted.”

Until next time,

Gina

I’ve fallen in love…again. Maybe that’s a bit drastic, but I think it’s safe to say I’ve been immersed in a world of creativity. And if I liked hearts, I’m sure they’d be twinkling in my eyes at the mention of design, business and just trying new things.

My life in photos *story continues below*

See, I’ve had a thing for stationery for quite some time. And if you’ve been following my blog, you’ll notice that I’ve been posting some of my free printable designs of cute paw prints, autumn printables, and colorful chevron template.

Well, this design thing has turned into a full-blown business. I’ve opened an Etsy shop and have been working on products like crazy. And while the shop may seem a little empty now, rest assured… I’ve been working on product development. From sourcing pictures to writing to working with templates, I’ve been doing it all. I’ve even been making sure I have my legal crap in order. (Good thing this isn’t my first run at business. So much easier and less stressful this time around.)

But that’s not it. Scarves are also part of my product assortment. And I’ve been working my butt off on this too. There’s advertising, the photo shoot, creating my photo studio, and *ahem* replacing my crochet needle because I left the other one at my boyfriend’s house. (Yeah…that happened.) Oh…and the crocheting. Let’s not forget the crocheting.

Add that to my day job, church servanthood, and love life, and you find a busy girl over here. But I was excited to share with your what was going on. And if you’re into customizing your planner, scrapbooking or are a stationery freak like me, you have to keep checking back on my Etsy shop. Have a product you think you’d like, let me know.

If you’re interested in a scarf, feel free to email me at regina.r.patterson@gmail.com. I ship. I also hope to add inventory to Etsy. (I sold out of my current inventory.) Adult sizes start at $20. Children start at $10.

Finally, stay up to date with me on Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter.

Instagram

Until next time. Mwah.

Gina