Major Giveaway Going On At The Crafty Branch!

Creative Business

Good morning, friends!

Most of you know I started a craft kit business last fall–I’ve mentioned it a few times in passing–and this week we’re hosting a rather massive giveaway on the new The Crafty Branch Blog with more than $350 in prizes.

Hemiversary Giveaway (1)

Clicking the image above will take you to the post with all the details and the amazingly long list of items included in the grand prize, plus the other four prizes up for grabs. You’ve got all week to enter, until noon (EST) on February 24, 2016, and I really encourage anyone who loves crafting and craft supplies to enter.

It’s true that I started the kit business after my plans to open a brick & mortar shop didn’t pan out, it was my “Plan C” this time last year, but it’s a little more than that, now. After six months of putting together kits (5 so far) I’ve learned a lot, both about the vagaries of this sort of business and about myself as well, about what I’m capable of, the parts I like and maybe the parts I’d outsource if I could. Maybe one day, depending on how things go, you never know!

It all comes down, though, to helping people be more creative. Or, more to the point, helping people access their own, innate creativity. I still believe we all are creative beings, and I still believe you can do a lot with just the stuff around you, but more and more I come to realize that the “fancy” tools and supplies out there exist not merely because someone figured out a way to market them but because, by and large, they work incredibly well! And that, while I can get by with the stuff I have on hand or can pick up here and there for cheap, investing in good tools and supplies is worth it because they will take you farther.

So when I put the Creative Mischief Kits together, I’m striving for a good mix of basics and high end. For brands we recognize and suppliers we might never have heard of. For the tools that get us started as well as those that can take us farther, beyond the scope of the kit and that will last for a good long while. Granted, that also means that our headliner kits are not the inexpensive things you find in the craft store or your local big box. Maybe we’ll come out with some smaller kits in the future, I’m still noodling around on it, but for now, the Creative Mischief kits are there for people who want to discover a new technique or hobby but don’t want to have to search out all the bits and pieces on their own. They offer convenience , wrapped up in gold tissue paper and a paper twist bow.

The giveaway that’s running right now gives you a chance to win favorites from our kits so far–both tools and supplies–plus some original art. If you’ve been curious about the Creative Mischief Kits, now would be a great time to check us out, dig a little deeper into what we do, and maybe that prize, above, will be landing on your doorstep in a couple of weeks.

Good luck!

Evolution of a DIY Planner {video}

Creative Business

This one’s for all my planner fans out there, you know who you are!

DIY Planner Evolution

Back in September I shared my Fabric Fauxdori Cover video and promised that I would go more into what’s inside it at a future date. Of course, then October and the Halloween madness struck, and now it’s November and I haven’t fulfilled that promise yet! Allow me to fix that.

(Direct link for the feed readers: DIY Planner Evolution + Clean and Simple Plan with Me November)

The decision to decorate your planner is apparently fraught with peril. As much as I love stickers, I have a lot to keep track of, so I dress my planner up in small ways like with the washi on the page edges. Another benefit of that washi? It reinforces the edges of the paper, making the planner a bit sturdier (at least in my experience). And I’m still absolutely loving my faux-dori planner cover and how easy it is to work with and add things to–I don’t miss ring binders at all!

For anyone still on the hunt for their 2016 planner, the Creative Days Monthly/Weekly Planner is available now in my Etsy shop.

If you want to try your hand at creating your own planner, you can do it in just about any program (Word, Publisher) but I really do prefer InDesign (Scribus is a good open-source alternative). It helps to start by figuring out what you want in a planner–sometimes that means trying out a lot of them or just doodling your own in a spare notebook to find out what sort of information you really need to keep track of. As I said in the video, my biggies are

  • daily to-do lists
  • blog posts
  • menu planning

with fixed appointments only an occasional thing in my life. So all the planners out there that are 50% or more time slots? Not for me. I noticed, back on my hunt for a 2012 planner that started me down the DIY road, that the planners with menu sections were either geared towards moms or had an overly simplified week on a page layout (or other froufrou decorations that didn’t suit me). Of course, had the planner community been then what it is now (or had I known of it), maybe those not-quite-right planners could have benefited from some serious sticker action!

Whatever format you choose to use, I really think everyone can benefit from some sort of time management system. Whether it’s a bullet journal, ongoing to-do lists, even chore charts–whatever takes the guesswork out of the day is going to help you get more done. And it’s not just about making more money and being more productive at work or in your business, it’s about making time for the fun stuff, too. If you check off those boxes for the things you need to do, then you can do the things you want to do with less (or better yet, absolutely no) guilt!

Do you plan? If so, what sort of system do you use? If not, why not?

August Art Walk

Creative Business

This past Friday was the First Friday Art Walk in Thomasville, the first time members of the Artist Collective have been invited to set up tables out at Studio 209 and show their work (and sell some, if lucky). I’ve been a member of the Artist Collective here since last fall, but this was the first time I was going to be showing up as part of the group, putting myself out there and seeing what Thomasville thought of what I had to offer.

(Direct link for the feed readers: August 2015 First Friday Art Walk)

Aside from the heat and (worse) humidity, it really was a pleasant night. If the opportunity arises again I’m definitely up for it. The two pieces of jewelry I sold were a nice bump, but my biggest sale was completely out of the blue!

About midway through the evening I glanced at my email and saw that someone had ordered a Character Cocktail! Considering I hardly ever promote that service, I’m always shocked at the orders when they show up. That it happened during the middle of the Art Walk, well, that just felt like a cosmic thumbs up, an atta-girl for being willing to put myself out there a bit. And, thanks to the wonders of technology (and keeping pertinent documents in the cloud), I was able to start the ball rolling on that commission from my table rather than having to wait until I got home.

I love living in the future!

The Crafty Branch Meets the 64 Arts

Creative Business

Which is to say, I’m moving forward by picking up a lost project, at least in part.

It’s clear that opening The Crafty Branch as a full-fledged arts & crafts supply shop isn’t in the cards right now. But I can do two things to work towards that goal:

  1. Teach classes through the local arts center
  2. Launch the kits that the store was going to carry

The classes tap into my desire to support and encourage the local creative community in Thomasville. To accomplish this goal I need to make some class samples and put together the individual class proposals. I’m gravitating towards altered books and art journaling classes for the time being. Once I see how those are received, I’ll have a better idea of where to go from there!

The original plan for the kits was that they’d be good for giving as gifts, a good starter set for the curious without having to wonder if you had everything you needed sort of thing, and perfect for people who liked to learn things on their own instead of in a class setting. I knew that they were also something that could be sold online, and it was in the back of my mind that it would make for a good Plan C if the store didn’t work out.

But then it was pointed out to me that subscription boxes are wildly popular right now. This shouldn’t have been news to me, I’ve subscribed to several off and on over the last couple of years, and enjoy getting fun stuff in the mail–be it stationery, makeup, clothes, jewelry, or anything else–it’s like every month is your birthday! A little digging shows that current subscription boxes focused on arts & crafts range from the sample supplies idea (4-5 products, usually single items like a pencil or a tube of paint, that sort of thing), finished crafts, or project-focused kits (often but not always aimed at kids). My plan is to focus on techniques or skills, putting 8-10 items in each box, including tools that will take you far beyond the suggested projects that can be made with just the supplies in each box, packaging them up with a small booklet or pamphlet that explains the basic process to get the recipient started.

That’s where the 64 Arts blog project comes along. My plan with that always ended in a course or journal, encouraging us to work a little creativity into each and every day by offering prompts and activities to help delve into new hobbies or skills. The kits can and will serve a similar purpose, and I’ll be digging through my 64 Arts archives for inspiration, as well as looking at the remaining 20 or so arts to see what can be built from them, while picking back up the 64 Arts posts again. (Monday’s is something I’ve wanted to get to for ages, but a snafu with a partnership opportunity that, obviously, didn’t pan out played a major hand in derailing the next project on my list. No more!)

Some of the kits I’m already planning are focusing on skills like…

  • Calligraphy
  • Bookbinding
  • Mail Art
  • Needle felting

and half a dozen more at last count. While I work out the details of what each kit will include, trying to keep the value of each box pretty consistent, and setting the final price-point for the subscription, I need to find out who might be interested in these kits when they’re ready to roll! If you are at all curious about the kits or where the next steps for the store will be, sign up for The Crafty Branch mailing list using the very simple form below. I have set a goal to get 200 people to sign up for the list before I’ll feel comfortable launching the kits out into the world, so lease spread the word, too!

Be the first to find out what’s next for The Crafty Branch!

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The end result, I’m hoping, is that the kits will launch and I’ll be able to build that up over the next several months, using this as my start-up company and, when steady enough, revisit opening The Crafty Branch as planned. Provided, of course, that someone else hasn’t already opened a supply store here in Thomasville, negating the need for mine (gotta be practical). But if the kits prove as popular as I think they will, they will continue on, with or without the store. Who knows what’ll be the next great idea then???

So…. tl:dr I’m going to start an arts & crafts supply subscription box. Sign up for more info. Get other people to sign up for more info. When I have 200 people signed up for more info, then I’ll open the kits up for actual subscriptions. More details to come, sign up for the list!

And, you know, stick around here because I’ve got all sorts of other fun stuff planned, too!

The Dark Side of Start-Up Financing and an Open Letter to Direct Business Lending

Creative Business

Dear Direct Business Lending,

Let me make this as clear as possible: stop calling me. Furthermore, forget you ever heard of me. Erase my contact information from your collective consciousness, stop passing my number from one phone jockey to the next. Just. Stop.


The Woman Who Never Asked You to Contact Her in the First Place

Leaving no stone unturned in the hunt for start-up capital has a high probability of waking up some snakes.

I’d researched enough to know that it was considered next to impossible for a new business to secure start-up funds and working capital by traditional means, but it still seemed like the place to start. Just like writers who know it’s tough to get an agent or publisher to read your manuscript, but go that route for a while before considering self-publishing. It’s what you do.

Sure, there’s venture capital, but that’s more for tech start-ups or inventions/new products–there aren’t a lot of angel investors who are interested in a small town, local retail specialty shop. (Though I did reach out to the director of the local arts center, and got a response, she just didn’t have any referrals for me at the time I was looking.) And there’s traditional investors, but those strategies involve giving up a piece of your business and, from what I’ve read, seem to be more focused on finding things that will build and then can be sold (the exit strategy) to, hopefully, recoup their investment. Not the route I really wanted to take. (Plus, by the time that was my last resort I was tired of asking others for permission.)

Entrepreneur magazine and other business blogs have been singing the praises of non-traditional (usually online) start-up funding for businesses for quite a while. According to some, besides friends and family loans (which, no), it’s really the only way to go. Well, I tried that, and here’s what happened.

First you have to weed out the sites that really are in the business of lending to existing small businesses who want to expand. is one of that sort: they offer lines of credit, which is better than a flat-out loan, but you have to show an existing business history to qualify (just like with a traditional bank). They’re on my radar for later on down the line, but not a good option, now. Lending Club actually is somewhat reputable. but I could qualify for maybe $10K when I contacted them (not even enough for inventory, much less anything else). Most of the rapid-response lenders concentrate on your credit score. Mine’s good, but it’s not enough on it’s own. Like the banks, they want you to have a good score, which takes credit history to build, but you have to stay within a certain amount of current credit usage for them to be happy. That’s my downfall: I carry balances on my credit cards, more than the 45% usage level they want.

Or, that was the reason Seek Capital turned me down. Seek was a company that showed up as a search result and I figured, hey, why not? I got a call back from them fairly quickly and Ryan explained how they were able to offer unsecured (no collateral to back it up–we have some equity in our home because we purchased below market value, but since we only bought last year it’s not a lot, not enough to really consider as an option) loans. They arrange for business credit cards that can be liquidated without the cash withdrawal penalties, no interest for the first 12-24 months, and then interest rates comparable to bank loans and not the usual credit card APR. Starting a business on credit cards is nothing new, this was just a different approach, one I’d never heard of before.

But, again, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Now, to see if I qualified, they (like anyone else) needed to see my credit scores and reports. Thing is, they don’t want to do a hard pull of said info as that can lower your credit score, so they had an interesting work-around. They ask you to create an account at one of two credit monitoring sites for a $1 trial period that lasts a week. You then turn over your login info so they can access your reports (because it’s not a ding if you check your own credit report/scores). I wasn’t cool with this on several levels:

  1. Handing over passwords and security question answers, even if they were complete fabrications for the sake of the exercise) just defies all manner of information safety anything. Not happening.
  2. Both of the services they recommend have very sketchy reviews about charging past your cancellation and the 7 day trials being more like 6, in reality. Not happening.

I did ask if I could pull the reports myself and just send them in directly. And while I prefer using (where I get my annual free reports, no hiccups or sneaky practices), they preferred Experiean. Fine, Experian is one of the 3 reporting agencies and while they also offer a monitoring subscription, they also offer a flat fee for all three reports and scores. Yes, I’d much rather pay $40 for the reports and be done with it than $1 for a “free trial.” I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it felt like the safer option, overall.

So where does DBL come in?

Well…. A couple of days after Seek said no, I was driving home and my phone rang. People don’t call me that often, so I didn’t have my earpiece in and had to fumble for my phone and also fumble with the iPod to turn off the audiobook I’d been listening to. Thank goodness it wasn’t raining!

Anyway, it was some stranger from Direct Business Lending saying that he’d been given my information and that I was looking for a business loan.

Two problems with this:

  1. I’d already decided to go another way with The Crafty Branch and was not seeking funding any longer (which I told him).
  2. WHO had given him my information???

When questioned, random caller #1 (I didn’t get his name being both flustered and driving at the time, not exactly prime note-taking situations) admitted that it was Seek who’d passed along my information. I explained that I hadn’t authorized that and that I wasn’t having this conversation. End of story, or so I thought.

That was Thursday, June 11, 2015.

Imagine my surprise when I got not one, not two, but three calls from them the next day! After the first call of the day, I used an app on my phone to block their number. This apparently means that it might ring once (or not) before being routed straight to voicemail, but it has more or less saved my sanity from these guys who just. won’t. give. up. If it had been anything other than a violation of my privacy I might have admired their tenacity.

Jennifer, hey, this is Mike from DBL. I’m excited to give you a call back, it looks like you spoke with one of my friends yesterday. My number is xxx-xxx-xxxx extension 644. Looks like I’ve got a few options for ya and want to go ahead and talk to you some more. [repeats phone number]

While fairly innocuous, the voice mail kinda set me off. Friday has been a long, tiring day, and that chirpy voice mail just pushed the wrong button. So I called ’em back, and I left a voicemail of my own. I’m not proud of it, I’m fairly certain I avoided swearing at them, but I do recall the words “or I will rain down 7 kinds of holy hell on you” leaving my mouth. Not my finest moment, but it is what it is. I also promptly filed a complaint with the BBB in Utah (though I know better than to expect anything from it–the BBB can be bought folks. Sorry to shatter your illusions.)

I also fired off a ‘not cool’ email to my contact at Seek the first day and, after the continued calls on Friday, called Seek directly. Seek denies sharing my information, but who else could they have gotten it from? That piece of information was the resolution I requested in my BBB complaint, but I’m not holding my breath.

After a quiet weekend I was really hoping they’d forget who I was. No such luck, as Monday, June 15, 6 calls from DBL were logged and blocked, including this gem of a voice mail:

Hi Jennifer, this is Benjamin with DBL I just received your file and request for some business funding and I went ahead and gave you a call. I actually did just pull up your file right now and looks like you were upset that a company had gave us your email and your phone number. I mean, that’s really not a lot of information to pass on to someone. Either a) you’re a start-up company or you didn’t make enough money with your current company where they wanted to even take a look at your application or really see how much you’re asking for. So they sent you to us and we’re the start-up specialist. There won’t be a bunch of other companies contacting you because we’re really the only ones out there who specialize in start-ups. So, you know, you could get upset that they passed us your simple name and phone number that someone could get out of the phone book–maybe you can’t get someone’s email out of there–but y’know I’d go ahead and give us a chance. There’s a reason why they had us contact you, we do specialize in start-ups, but I mean they didn’t even really take a look at your file or want to give you funding so I don’t know why you’d be upset they’d pass on to someone that could actually help out and get what you wanted to. So if you want to you can give me a call back, I’d appreciate it, we could dialogue and see you’re a good fit for us and we’d be a good fit for you, as well. My number is xxx-xxx-xxxx extension 628, and I just want you to be as optimistic as possible. It’s not a huge deal, I get SPAM and junk mail from other websites I sign up at and you know I don’t get mad that my email is flying out there [laugh] people are sending me stuff. it is what it is, it’s the age of technology! And we’re here to help, Jennifer, so I hope you see that. Thank you.

First off, did you catch how he compared their calls to SPAM and junk mail??? Hit the nail right on the head, I think! And, no, to my knowledge there’s not a way to look up cell numbers in the phone book. In fact, my number is on the do not call registry because I don’t want crap like this coming at me at any given time. But this whole thing is hinging on the “request for funding” which I never made to them. And it is a big deal that people are passing off my information because, the obvious folly with Seek notwithstanding, I am very careful about who I have contacted in regards to my business plans. It wasn’t their place to, they had no authority to do so, and I’m justified in being a bit miffed over it–I don’t need your permission to be pissed off, Benny!

It didn’t take long to find a site full of complaints about DBL by people who had bought into their scheme (they try to sell you a business plan package for $3,000 or so, in installments, of course) and they couldn’t get the services they paid for or–irony of ironies–even a call back! Meanwhile, I can’t see to get these guys to stop calling me!

Thankfully, June 16th only yielded one blocked and logged call, and that seemed to be the end of it. Until yesterday, that is, when yet another dude at yet another extension called to follow up with me. Those two calls yielded ho-hum voicemails from Steve at extension 603 and Doug B at extension 629 very much like the first one.

Look, folks, there is not following up to do. I didn’t ask you to call me, I don’t want you to continue calling me (and, apparently my file contains my displeasure at your earlier calls, so no excuse there), and I’d really love it if you deleted my file and everything else about me!

Since they’ve stayed cordial, if annoying, I’ve had no reason to report them to any higher authorities–be it someone in the Dept of Corporations/Dept of State in Utah or to the FCC for any communications violations. I will continue to block their calls, continue to save and transcribe their voicemails should the status quo change. But, really, if I never heard from these guys again it would be too soon.

It’s tough to move on to the next option when bottom-feeders like DBL won’t leave you alone, but I’ll just keep blocking them and rolling my eyes as they fail to get the hint. Because I’ve got better things to do!