May 17, 2011

Behind the Scenes – Dreamers into Doers Mentorship Talk {Plus My Best Small Business Advice Secrets}

Scroll Down For My Mentoring Advice for Small Businesses…

Several months ago, we received the most lovely and thoughtful letter from Dawn Menon of Bees Knee*s Parties.  Dawn is a member of the Dreamers into Doers Community and she was planning the Community’s Tri-State division’s monthly meeting.  For some reason, when I saw this email, this request just spoke to me and I knew I wanted to do it.  My business manager Lisa {aka Commander in Sweets} was somewhat shocked when she received an email back from me with cap letters saying “I WANT TO DO THIS!”  A few things really appealed to me. First, the get together was all about mentoring creative women who want to grow their businesses.  It was also a small and informal get together.  I love the idea of keeping it small because that allowed me to get to know each and every single one of the women there. Dawn also had an idea of surprising the ladies who were attending, which made it even more fun.  A low-key event with a surprise guest?  That is totally how I roll.  My requirement?  That we make it a round table discussion so that we can all speak to each other and learn about each other’s business models.  We were at Alice’s Tea Cup in Manhattan and it was like coffee talk with the gals, except we shared business stories, struggles of balancing family and work, etc.  The surprise was a lot of fun and when Lisa and I walked in and Dawn revealed us as the guest speakers, the ladies were pretty stoked.  I think they were especially surprised when they learned that I had looked at each and every one of their sites before the event.  It was a very rewarding experience for Lisa and me as well.

I had a few things that I really wanted to share with the crowd, so I thought I’d share the business insight with you as well.  Are you interested in hearing? If so, scroll down below the pictures…

These principles can apply to any business, so no need to feel like you have to have a similar business model.  Note that others may have different formulas, but this is what works for me.  I’ll be back this week to share the q & a that we had as well, including what my biggest obstacles have been to date.

(1) The Niche Business Model – I love the idea of the niche business model.  This has worked well for my business so I’m a real fan.  I’m not saying that broader business models don’t work.  I just think that you can get a lot more people to pay attention to what you are doing if you hone in on one product.  It also helps keep you focused and disciplined and allows for brand messaging to be straightforward.

(2) Be Original – Many people ask me how I was able to market myself well so fast.  I attribute this to a couple of small things.  First, I did something that no one else was doing. The dessert bar market didn’t exist when I started and I was keenly aware of that.  I decided to pursue this idea because I knew it would set me apart.  So whatever you do, be original.  Second, do it right (see next point about staying true to your brand).  For me, doing it right was keeping my product pristine because my clientele was high end.

(3) Stay True to Your Brand – This is a very important business principle to me.  Whatever your product is {service, tangible product, media such as blog, etc}, know what you are selling and stay true to it.  If you are selling something high end but selling less product, that is okay.  If your product is a lower end product, but you have a volume business, then that is okay as well.  Both are good business models.  But stick to that model whatever it is and don’t stray from it no matter what anyone says.

(4) Be Flexible – I know I just said stay true to your brand and this sounds a bit contradictory, but be somewhat flexible as to where your business will take you.  If you’ve read The E-Myth, then you know about the woman who wanted a pie business until she was doing it everyday and her hobby had turned into something she loathed.  If your business takes you into another direction {either because of your interests or market needs}, be mindful of those cues and be flexible.

(5) Listen to Different Perspectives – Find someone who offers a different perspective and listen to them.  It may not be exactly what you want to hear, but it is important that you listen.  I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to go head-to-head with my husband, but having him there to play devil’s advocate has really helped me.  Now Lisa joins him and I want to go head-to-head with both of them! But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Surround yourself with people like that and it will keep you grounded.

(6) Overhead, Shmoverhead – I’m a big fan of low overhead. The truth is, if you are a small business, you can’t afford to have overhead. I can’t tell you how many times people said to me “why don’t you do this {get a huge office, open a store, create a branch in this city, etc}.  My response: are you paying for it?   It is easy for people to project their own desires on you, but only you know what is good for your situation.  As your business grows, try to keep this same discipline and take it slowly with big decisions.  The bigger overhead you have, the less optionality you have in your business.  Not to mention that you’ll have to pass higher overhead on to your clients somehow.  My humble opinion…overhead is overrated.

(7) Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin – Be acutely aware of your limits and how much you can/can’t do.  It is sometimes hard to say “no” to potential clients when you are in the early phase of your business, but if your business can’t handle it yet, then you’ll be getting yourself into trouble if you take on too much.  I’d rather turn away business if I can’t do the project right than take on the client and disappoint them.

(8) Press – It is what so many new business owners want, but it can really hurt you if you are not strategic with your press.  Each press opportunity usually involves some expending of capital.  While it can be a great boost to your ego to see articles about your business, it can also hemorrhage your bank account.  I am not saying not to take press opportunities that come your way.  The right mediums can be very powerful.  Strategically pick and choose the right media outlets for your products so you are not wasting time or resources.  That same principal goes for “the Celebrity Factor”  Yes, everyone wants a list of celebrity clients and there are many times that celebrities {not all} will want things for free.  Sometimes it makes sense and sometimes not.  Evaluate whether the opportunity will bring back the return you need {i.e. real dollars} instead of jumping in blindly.

(9) Websites and Social Network – If your business is a creative one, make sure your website reflects that you are creative.  This is important so don’t take it lightly.  Your website is your way to show customers your portfolio.  You’ll be doing your business a big disservice if your portfolio doesn’t represent your product well.  Also, if it makes sense for your business/customer base, then tweet, facebook, blog, community share, etc away!  I’m guilty of not doing enough, but I do my best.  Evaluate what your product is and whether your customers will respond to these mediums.

(10) Love What You Do – Try not to lose sight of what you love to do.  It is easy to get caught up in the fog of the everyday details of your business.  If you are like the pie lady above (#4) and are unhappy, and you can afford to alter your model, then after careful thought, trust your instincts and move in a different direction.

Come back for the q & a session this week.

PS – Seeing how these women had formed a community jazzed me up to get you guys on our community.  I’ve had this community up on my site for over a year, but I haven’t been active on the page. How many of you are members of our community?  If you are not, come join it.  Would you like to see Lisa and I play a more active role in it?

PPS – I have way more biz advice to share in the future so stay tuned….

Last but not least, a special thank you to the fantastic women at the event, including organizers Dawn of Bee*s Knees and Khaliah of The Party Muse, Lisa of Polkadot Pound Cake, Jennifer of Hudson Cakery, Vanessa of Vanessa Grant Events, Sarah of Dreamers Joy, Crista of Creations by Crista Marie, Dawn of Hydrangea Home, and Gemma of BrainFry Concepts.  We had so much fun with you ladies and learned from you as well!


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  • LOVED all the advice, especially number 7 and 10!! So totally true!! Most of what you said I had to learn the hard way like you!!

    I wished I could have attended! Looks like you all have a great day!! 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing, Amy! I appreciate you sharing your wisdom and for encouraging me to continue on the path set before me.

  • Save, Click, Print.

    Although I do follow the wonderful advice above { on most days },…it will be a good reminder to have this posted on my inspiration board in my office.

    Thank you again Amy and Lisa for a wonderful, informative and fun evening!

    Thank you Dawn and Khaliah for all your work and time in planning this awesome event.! What are we doing next? 🙂 xoxo

    • Amy

      Lisa – I really enjoyed meeting you and I think you are on the right track with your business. Ps – your cakes were delicious! My family enjoyed them for breakfast the next morning:) – Amy Atlas

      • Smiling as I type…Thank you!

        It was so nice to meet you and Lisa too.
        So happy to read that your family enjoyed the Pound Cakes. 🙂


        • Lisa

          Ditto on meeting you and the pound cake. YUM.

  • Amy,

    I love that you took time out of your schedule to inspire others! I can connect with all the advice you posted. Recently a mentor said to me, “You have to be a DIE-HARD fan of your brand”! I believe this to be so true and it is one of the toughest things to do. (As ironic as it sounds) We know that we are talented and great and what we do, but somehow we find it difficult to portray that confidence externally to other people.

  • Great advice. Thanks for sharing!

  • You Rock Amy! Thanks so much for taking the time out to speak with us that night. And I agree with Lisa G, I will definitely refer back to this post – GREAT advice like this never ages.
    Thanks again, it was so nice to meet you and Lisa — can’t wait for your book!!

  • This is so nice! Such good pearls of advice to share with us.

  • The most amazing thing about this whole experience was realizing that despite the international success and notoriety of Amy, she is the most humble, lovely, down to Earth woman. Learning this first hand made me adore her even more. I cannot thank Amy + Lisa enough for making this event one of life’s memorable moments. It was refreshing to see the strong bond between Amy + Lisa, and I am thankful that they put aside time in their busy schedules to share such valuable information to us. In me they have a AAE cheerleader and fan for life.

    • Amy

      Dawn – Lisa and I are now big fans of yours as well. Like we said, we responded to your email because it was so heartfelt and genuine. We are now proud to know you. Let’s plan a lunch down the road. xoxo-Amy

  • Oh wow! I am so bummed! I was supposed to go to this event and last minute couldn’t. I felt bad then for missing it and now I feel even worse!! Would have loved to meet you and everyone else in person.

    Great biz advice! Thanks!

  • It is validating to hear that some of the ideas you mentioned I am already implementing, so thankyou for your encouragement through this post. I am excited to learn more. Thanks!

  • Thank you for share it.
    Ligia De Santis

  • Your advice rings so true for me and is my business model to a T! When you are a small business owner and creating your own product or unique service, so many people try to inflict their ideas on you to change this, do that, etc. and I always say, NO, this is MY vision and I won’t sell out and dilute my product, and I will maintain full creative control of my branding, which is why I only sell direct via trunk shows and my online boutique. My “Be A Star!” collection is handmade from real finger starfish and authentic vintage jewels and I truly love the creative aspect of what I do (I’m a big vintage addict!) so I am not willing to compromise the integrity of the pieces in any way. I want my clientele to know that they have something truly unique and exclusive. I agree with you that it’s always best to under promise and over deliver. Thanks for sharing the best small business advice ever! You’re such a smart cookie, Amy!;)

  • Once again, thank you to Amy and Lisa – for taking the time out of your schedules to share your pearls of wisdom – both then and now :).

    And, thank you to Dawn and Khaliah for planning the wonderful event.

  • Sarah / Dreamers Joy Events & Design

    Hi Amy! Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with us and give such amazing advice. I’m the one who really wanted to shake your hand. hehe 🙂 It was truly an honor to have met you and Lisa. I’m so grateful for this experience and to see my face in this lovely post. Again, Thank you so much!

    Dawn and Khaliah did an amazing job at putting this event together!:)

  • Great post! Thanks again for coming to see us! We all know your time is limited so it means so much to all of us that you took the time to come and give us such great advice. Hope to keep in touch. I feel so lucky to have been there and meet both of you.
    Until next time….

  • Thank you for taking the time to write this out! Sometimes I feel like my biz is stuck or stagnant and it is so nice to get advice from someone who has done it!!
    Thanks Amy & Lisa!

  • Wow, what an amazing group of fellow Doer’s and such good advice from Amy’s Atlas. I wish I could have been there! Loved seeing the photos when you walk in and the look on everyone’s faces, what a great surprise!

    ~Lisa @HR Creative

  • I absolutely love the Dreamers community!! What an amazing opportunity it must have been for the ladies to sit and hear such great business advice first hand! You are such an inspiration to all!! Thank you!!

  • OMG, I’m too excited to see this post today! It’s totally taking me back to that day and I’m over joyed all over again! Thank you so much Amy and Lisa for coming and giving one of the best business talks I’ve ever been a part of. I learned so much from the both of you. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

  • wow amy. i am a huge fan of your work. but reading this makes me a huge fan of YOU also : ) thanks for being so down to earth even through all your success. i agree with the “overhead shmoverhead” section. i’ve had 2 storefronts in my day and nothing beats working from my home office. people always told me i should be going bigger/better….but i think manageability and low overhead are the key to making it all work for me. Best wishes for continued success to you!!

  • Amy, thanks so much for sharing your insight and inspiration on best practices for small businesses. I’ll be sure to revisit this list often to make sure that my business is on the right track 🙂

  • Thank you so much for this post!! It came on a day when I really needed a bit of pep talk and something to help to stop looking directly down at my shoes instead at the path ahead, and it definitely did the trick. I can only imagine how busy you are. Thank so much for taking the time to pass on the wonderful knowledge that you have gained from all your fabulous experience!

  • Great advice! I am sure that you totally made those ladies day!

  • Lisa

    It was truly a pleasure meeting you guys. What a night.

  • This is a wonderful article. Thank you for sharing. Looks like everyone had a great time.

  • WOW!!! What a wonderful suprise a great group of fellow doers were able to share!! Loved seeing the photos of all of you & seeing the suprise on your faces!! What a wonderful evening for all of you. Amy, I printed and saved your business advice & have it hanging next to the computer so I can see it everyday!! You & Lisa look like you had fun!!!

    Have a Super Great Day,

  • I loved reading through your advice — thanks for sharing. I bet you made every one of those ladies’ days!! What I really want to know now — where did you get your dress?? I LOVE it! LOL!

  • Valuable advice. I drank it up…Thanks!

  • I teared up reading this-not because it was emotional, rather simply because of the absolutely perfect timing.
    Last night my husband and I had a heart to heart. We are both in much need of revisiting every aspect of our businesses,our goals, and our plans of action. A daunting task we’ve both been putting off for too long~
    Reading your practical, straight forward advice was so encouraging and well timed.
    Thank you for sharing~

  • Thank you for such a great post!

  • Vanessa

    Amy – thank you so much for sharing your wonderful wisdom. These are all great tips and a good reinforcement of the most important aspects for all of us trying to get things going! I admire your work a great deal and am standing by for more great advice! 🙂

  • Fabulous advice Amy, especially #6. I’m right there with you!

  • I just love when we, as other business women and just women in general get to not only hear your wisdom, see your talents, get encouragement, but mostly have a glimpse into your heart <3
    THANK YOU for being a true leader in the industry and a mentor for us all to learn from from.

  • Thank you so much for sharing your business tips Amy.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this information Amy. You are such an inspirational person and so generous in everything you share.


  • I just got a chance to finish reading this and just wanted to mention I did join the community on your website awhile ago but I was never really active on it. I will certainly go back on and be more active. It would be great to have you and Lisa chime in here and there 🙂 Thanks so much for all the advice!

  • These are REALLY great tips, Amy! And I especially appreciate #6 right now… I’ve been dreaming of a cool office for a while, but there always seems to be somewhere more important/pressing for the “rent money” to go…not to mention what we’re saving in gas by not commuting right now!

    And I love that you referenced the E-myth Manager. I think about “Sarah the pie girl” often and honestly teared up when I first read that book because I could relate to her story ALL too well. Taking the path of the entrepreneur isn’t always as fun & glamorous as it sounds… that is such a great book to help with keeping things in perspective & working “smarter”!


  • Love this advice! Thanks for sharing.

  • Amy, thanks for sharing! I’ve been following your work for a long time & it’s inspiring to hear your views & advice. Clearly you’ve developed a healthy strategy for your business! It also feels good to know others put things like “cool offices” on the back burner too, sometimes I feel so much pressure to have one outside my home!

  • “commander in sweets”–how appropriate! Thanks for the great tips Amy!

  • I loved this article–thanks so much for sharing! Great advice, and I’m really looking forward to reading the q&a too! I wish I could have been at that get together!! :0)

  • mara

    This is so nice! really beautiful!

  • I am so happy for all the ladies that were able to make this event. Amy your business advice is so very much appreciated. I to wish I had a big fancy office, but the reality is working from home has been a blessing in so many ways. Focus…that is what I have struggled with in the past. I think I have found my way now, but only time will tell. Thank you for beng you!
    XO Sandra Downie

  • Loved this post! Always enjoy learning and receiving feedback. Thanks much! Stefanie

  • Oh my, wish i could have been there! Thank you thank you so much for these advices! I’ll try to remember it my best!

  • carlos

    My challenge is that I fear we may become a caterer instead of a dessert display service. This is taking away my creative input and im becoming someone’s “Do-person”
    Cecilia, The Treat Table. Boca Raton

  • Pam

    I love your dessert tables, that I’ve been viewing for the last year. I’m located in Northern California and have been doing baking and party tables for several years, for my own personal use but have recently began a business doing it, after being encouraged by many of my friends that were impressed by the tables. (Although I still have a lot to learn to get my tables even close to the level of yours and others that I’ve viewed online). However, one of the biggest obstacles I’m dealing with right now, with a couple of prospective clients, is pricing for the tables. Can you assist me with some comments n suggestions on how set pricing for my tables? I understand there is a different about of time, products, decor for each table, so no two tables are the same…but need some guidance on what is reasonable price range to work within. Any info that you could help me with, from one dessert table lover to another, would be greatly appreciated! Thank you in advance for your comments….as well as all of your beautiful table examples that you continue to share on your blog/website.

  • Thank you so much for this information, Amy. Oh how I wish I could have been there too. You once said that your husband used to challenge you by asking you if creating fabulous dessert tables was your hobbie or work. My husband says the exact same thing to me! I am trying to find my niche while balancing being a stay at home mom to three small children. I also only use high end products in my custom gift baskets and favors. The price may expensive but you can’t find that kind of personalization from a huge company.