Tag Archives: business plan

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.