Tag Archives: business advice

How to create your dream job

14 Mar

Catharina Bruns of workisnotajob. won’t let you hate your work

By Amy Schroeder

Catharina Bruns creates print and screen designs, logos, illustrations, and brand identities for a living.

But with the moniker workisnotajob., her company is more than just a design studio—it’s a movement inspiring people to live a creative life and fall in love with their work. With her inspirational shirts, posters, and other cool products, workisnotajob. aims to ignite a paradigm shift in how people approach “work” so that they’re not just reporting to a “day job,” but, rather, contributing their skill sets and passions to the world.

After graduating from Universität Hamburg, Bruns moved to Canada, Austria, and Ireland, working in search marketing and visual design for other companies. “I was chasing the one career that would let me contribute and allow me to create something meaningful,” she says.

“But then I came to terms with the fact that everything that was expected from me in my nine-to-five did not make me happy,” Bruns says. After two years of working for a large Internet company, she resigned in August 2010 to start workisnotajob., and she never looked back.

“I had to learn that you must create dream jobs yourself, because no one else knows what you dream of,” Bruns says.

So how, exactly, do you create a dream job?

“It’s rather simple if you love what you do—you’ll never see it as a job; it’s your lifestyle,” the Hamburg, Germany-based Bruns says. “Do the work you are born to do.”

DIYBA: How did you come up with the concept of workisnotajob.?

Catharina Bruns: My former job looked great on the outside, but there was little self-fulfillment on the inside. When I think about it now, I always lived by that concept but looked in the wrong place, and that’s why I was always unsatisfied with my “career.” It’s that thing people have who are unhappy in their jobs not because of what they take from them, but because the jobs don’t offer the opportunity to give any of what really lives inside of you. Soon your job doesn’t matter enough, and you feel you can’t contribute in the right way.

What are your tips for loving your work?

1.     Work. Find something you love and work on that. Live your art, feed your heart.

2.     Be yourself. To be your most authentic and inspiring self, all you need to do is do it your way.

3.     Make time to explore and play. This is crucial to the creative process.

4.     Conquer convention. Be flexible and willing to think new thoughts. You can reinvent yourself and how things are done anytime.

5.     Have fun. Enjoy yourself and trust the process.


How to make a plan you can stick to

9 Mar

Christen Carter of Busy Beaver Buttons kicks butt(on) with setting goals for business growth—and actually makes them happen

By Amy Schroeder

Christen Carter works with her brother, Joel Carter

Whenever I need a surefire example of a successful creative small business rocking major indie cred, Busy Beaver Button Co. comes to mind first.

Christen Carter founded the Chicago-based custom button-making company in 1995, with encouragement from the band Guided By Voices, who signed up to be her first customer. At the time a college student, Carter targeted independent record labels, which eventually led to Busy Beaver becoming a household name in the independent arts community.

Busy Beaver Button Co.'s Chicago headquarters

Fast-forward to 2011, and the company has grown steadily and surely, with 17 employees on payroll. The boutique-size company still produces buttons for bands and artists around the world, and it has grown to make large quantities of buttons for clients including Third Man Records, The Onion, Bumble and Bumble, Missy Elliott, Adidas, Threadless, Burger King, and Microsoft. 

So what is Busy Beaver’s proudest button moment? It’s hard to pick just one, but a commemorative glow-in-the-dark President Obama button ranks high on the list—it’s part of the archives at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

Here, Carter shares tips for making a plan you can stick to:

DIYBA: You’ve told me that you are “a person who used to wing it a lot.” Can you give an example of “winging it” at Busy Beaver?

Christen Carter: There are just so many ideas and opportunities, and sometimes it’s hard to know which ones are worth doing at all, and which are worth doing now or later. For instance, we want to make our own line of buttons, but, ultimately, we want to help our customers use buttons in a way that complements and supports what they are doing. At the same time, we have so many creative and talented people at Busy Beaver, so we are starting with a button of the month for now. Kinda win-win!

Christen Carter packs a plan

When and why did you kick your planning methods up a notch?

Though we’d done a SWOT [method for evaluating the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of a business] session before, we really acted on it in a real way for 2010. We came up with annual goals based on our SWOT and big company goals—and everyone on staff comes up with their own.

How successful was the plan?

We surpassed our 2010 financial goal by a little bit! But more than that, we made a big internal goal to make sure we were all on the same page about supporting the company’s financial growth and developing our staffers’ personal/professional goals.

What’s more difficult—making a plan or following it?

For me, making a plan. Following a plan is just putting milestones in a calendar and getting them done. I’m a doubter, so while planning, I’m always questioning whether I’m doing it right. There’s a lot I want to do, so focusing on key components is critical. I run my goals by my mentors and other business owners—they always say I should cut down my expectations for myself. When I do, I’m happier and see my friends more!

Etsy SXSW 2011 buttons

What is your advice for creative types who need a plan, man?

  1. Think about where you want to be a year from now.
  2. Write down the things that will get you there. Set deadlines, and do them.
  3. Along the way, ask for help. If you don’t have a boss, get accountability buddies—find people who are doing what you are trying to do well. People are usually complimented that you even notice their talents! When you speak with them, ask concise questions.

Do you have advice for creative small business owners and freelancers? Awesome. Post it here.

What is the best laptop for small businesses?

14 Feb

The DIY Business Association’s first product review: Thumbs-up to the Dell V130

By Amy Schroeder

How many laptops does one person need?

Considering that I work from home, in a small-ish, closet-challenged Brooklyn apartment, the answer is probably one.

But I have two.

Though I nostalgically tend to hang onto things until they go out of style, I’ve been itching to shed a layer of laptop.

Enter Perfect-Timing Experience.

A Dell rep invited the DIY Business Association to test-drive a Dell Vostro V130—because the lightweight laptop is targeted to entrepreneurs and bloggers on the go.

“Of course,” I said. “What’s the catch?” When the Chicago-based rep explained that there is no catch and that all I needed to do was sign something saying that I would tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, I said, “I’m in!”

Cool Dell Lady over-nighted the computer, and I spent two weeks working on it from home, in coffee shops, and on the subway (my most focused writing environment). I’ll give scoop in just a second, but first…

Why I have two laptops…

My Mac iBook G4: When I published Venus Zine, I invested in a Mac-PC hybrid network of desktop computers, scanners, printers, backup systems, etc. In an attempt to avoid workaholic tendencies, I did the no-computer-at-home thing for a year, but I eventually gave in and bought a Mac iBook G4 for about $1,200. I loaded her up with about a thousand CDs, Adobe Creative Suite, and Office for Mac. Now the iBook is too slow to use for the Internet, but it serves its purpose for transferring music to my iPod and doing basic Photoshop stuff. I think of it as my external hard drive.

My Toshiba Satellite L505D-S5965: In 2009-2010, I worked as the site manager of inkpop.com, then a HarperTeen start-up project that’s kinda like American Idol for aspiring teen novelists. I worked from home during the site’s developmental stages, and the project’s alpha process required a PC (no Macs allowed!). I’m no longer working on inkpop.com, but I still use the Toshiba for the Internet, Word, and Excel. Because it’s slow, heavy and clunky, and likes to freeze, I think of it as my “cheap computer” (pricetag: $450) and e-mail machine. I can’t wait to retire it.

The Dell Vostro V130 with my personal assistant, Janis Joplin.

Dell Vostro V130 Review

So, what is the best laptop for creative entrepreneurs?

That is an excellent question that I don’t have a thoroughly researched answer to. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to engage in a serious laptop-off, save for a Netbook (perfect petite size and cheap price tag at $350-$450, but too slow for my info-processing needs) and the MacBook and MacBook Air (lovely and amazing, but too pricey with a starting price of $999), but I will continue to cruise more laptops, and I’ll give you an answer once I’ve figured it out.

Here’s what I can tell you: At 3.5 pounds, the Dell Vostro V130 is lightweight and sturdy with its metal case and sleek design. As for tech-y details, the Dell Vostro V130 rocks an Intel Core i3 380UM 1.33Hz processor (Core i5 processor is optional); Intel HM57 chipset; 4GB DDR3 RAM; 320GB hard disk.

In a nutshell, if you’re anything like me—I’m a writer, startup coach, and creative entrepreneur (i.e., I didn’t go to business school, and numbers are not my friend)—who’s often online and gathering and transferring a lot of information, the V130 is great, with a semi-investment price of about $900. My only criticism (other than that I prefer the Mac operating system to PCs’) is that the battery life could stand to be longer. 

So what’s my plan? I think I’m going to ditch the Toshiba and buy a Vostro V130. I’m going to keep the iBook for now for, you know, back-up.

Amy Schroeder, founder of the DIY Business Association, is one of those people who’s initially a bit intimidated about the latest technology, but once she gets into it, she really gets into it.

Does your business need a blog?

23 Aug

Load up on these “content is king” tips from DIY entrepreneurs

By Amy Schroeder

Are you ready to take your online business to the next level? You might want to get into the business of blogging.

Blogging is a great way to engage shoppers and beef up your site with additional content. For an August 5 panel called “Etsy Success: Crafty Blogging” at the Etsy headquarters, a crew of DIY bloggerpreneurs talked shop about reeling in readers, crafting creative content, and incorporating a healthy dose of self-promotion. Here, they share a handful of their tips.

Pull the Trigger Already

Is fear standing between you and blogging?

Crissy Herron of IndieBizChicks.com

Everyone’s got to start somewhere. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take baby steps. For instance, give yourself a goal to set up a blog on the first day (or week), and on the second or third days, write your bio or “about” page, and then, write your first post, and so-on.

“Don’t be afraid to start blogging until your blog design is perfect or until you have the idea for perfect posts,” says Crissy Herron of IndieBizChicks.com. “Your blog is going to be a continual work in progress. It will never be perfect, so just get started.” In fact, many first-timers find that once they get rolling, so too does the inspiration.

Show Your Best Side

“Compelling content is the key to an awesome blog,” says Rachel Johnson of Swap-bot.com.

Bethany Nixon of RewareVintage.com

If you’re not sure what makes for good blog content, similar to dating or applying for a job, it’s best to play up your strengths while playing down your weaknesses. For instance, if writing is not your strong suit, why pressure yourself to crank out 3,000 words of nonsense? If, on the other hand, your strengths are photography, reporting trends and news bits, or writing hilarious captions, rock out those skills.

Also, keep it real by reflecting your personality, says Bethany Nixon of RewareVintage.com. “If your blog reads like an advertisement, readers will only see you as your business,” she says. To avoid sounding like an infomercial, “inject moments from your life to encourage your readers to see your business as you instead,” Nixon says.

Take a How-To, Interactive Approach

Looking for ways to spice up your content? Think of creative ways to involve the readers with a how-to angle.

And by how-to, we don’t mean you have to provide a step-by-step guide on how to make your product. This could be as simple as “Five Looks for This Necklace” or “How to Wear this T-shirt as a Skirt, a Dress, and a Scarf.” Or, better yet, invite readers to get involved with content development and offer up a prize for the winner.

In short, “don’t just talk about you,” advises craftalicious blogger Tonya Staab. Instead, she says, “Ask questions, network, and share information.” The “I’m loaded with info” angle not only juices up your blog content, but it makes for attractive fodder in your social-networking smorgasbord (Facebook, Twitter, what have you).


Lish Dorset of Handmade Detroit

Know Your Readers

Not sure what your readers want? Ask them, says Handmade Detroit co-founder Lish Dorset.

Herron says that once you know what makes your community tick, you’ll be able to cater your content to them—and keep them coming back for more. “Your blog acts like a virtual watercooler between yourself and your reader,” she says. “Write in a conversational manner so that you can develop a relationship with them.”

Rachel Johnson of Swap-bot.com

Make a Good Impression

Not sure what your blog should look like? “Start simple,” says Johnson. Stick with a white or solid-color background emblazoned with a bold and beautiful header. “Try to resist the urge to clutter your sidebars with lots of icons,” Staab says. “Too many buttons and links will make your blog look cluttered and detract from your content.”

Content is, in fact, king, but if you’re not so much a wordsmith, focus instead on compelling visuals. “Use fun and original photos to engage your readers and pull them into your story,” Nixon says. If photography’s not your thing, invite friends (and even readers) to help.

Stick with the Program

Are you a master procrastinator? To fight the urge to put off blogging until tomorrow, Lish Dorset recommends creating a schedule for yourself—for example, Mondays could be “trends” day, Wednesdays are “customer appreciation,” days, etc. “Many blog platforms offer scheduling options so that you can [pre-schedule] several posts at one time,” she says. “Regular content means regular readers.”