Aug 23, 2011

Amy’s Small Business Tips – Part II

By: Amy Atlas, in Amy's Latest, Ask Amy

A few months ago, I shared some business tips with you when I was at the Dreamers into Doers event.  There was a q & a at the event and I have been remiss in getting those up to you.  I’m finally here with the q&a.  Scroll down to check the tips out and feel free to ask your own questions in the comment area below.

(1) How do you deal when clients ask you to do something you’ve never done before?  Do you take on the project or not?

If it is something that is outside the scope of what I normally do, I always assess whether it is something that I really want to venture into.  I would suggest you all make the same assessment.  When your business is creative and custom like mine, these situations can come up often.  Whenever I try something that is outside the scope of my business model, I have to guestimate what my costs will be and there is always a risk that I won’t make money. Many custom cake designers deal with this all the time.  There is just no telling how much labor will be involved.  I assess whether it is something I really want to do.  If so, I’m honest with my client and tell them that I’m doing it for the first time.  If I don’t want to do it, I set limits and refer someone else who can offer a better product/service for that need.

(2) What has been your biggest obstacle?

My biggest obstacle is a little unique, but a real obstacle which everyone should prepare for.  Many people are scared when they are entering a business how they will deal if their business fails.  My biggest obstacle was how I had to deal with success.  This can be a real issue if you aren’t ready and many businesses fail if they are not ready.  When I first put my portfolio on the web, my site went around the web virally within a couple of days.  It was hard to keep up with the number of party inquiries.  Even though I had been doing tables, it was all word of mouth to that point.  I had to enlist a group of very supportive friends to help me get back to people. Then the press inquiries started to come in and I had to manage those inquiries since editorial magazines and sites always love a new trend.  I also had to deal with dictating the pricing for something that didn’t exist in the market and give that pricing to some of the best planners in the business when I hadn’t even resolved whether I was making money.  That was a real struggle (see pricing question below).  It took several parties to learn what was working and what was not.  The first year for me was one big blur.  I was not ready for all that came my way and I’m shocked I came out without sinking.  There was a price to it, though.  I barely slept {I mean barely ever}, had little time to pay attention to my husband and kids, and it was impossible for friends and family to see me.  It is what most business owners go through, but my experience was exacerbated by how fast things were moving.  So my advice is be prepared for both the worst and the best.  Map out both scenarios and make sure you have access to the product or access to labor to support your business if things do go well.

(3) What is the best way to deal with pricing and clients who ask you to lower your prices?

This is a problem that every business owner suffers with.  Every. Single. One.  I mentioned in #2 above how I was confronted with figuring out pricing for a market that didn’t exist.  My formula is pretty simple. I first add up all of my costs.  Then I put a price on my time for developing the concept/working on the whole project.  The price on time can be very subjective, but you have to figure out what feels right given your own needs.  When I was first dabbling with my business, it was for a creative outlet. It was a way that I could feed my creative side and have some time off from just being a mom. (Who am I kidding…it was also an excuse not to go back to being a practicing lawyer).  But seriously, I try not to lose sight of the importance of a project being creative. There is also a price that goes into being away from my family. The combination of those two things figure into what I think my time is worth.  If the client’s budget doesn’t make sense to me, I am comfortable with drawing the line and saying “no” to the project.  Only you can figure out what feels right to you.

(4) Do you embrace people who have done what you do or do you get upset?

I do embrace people who have entered the space and if anything, I encourage it because I feature others on my blog and try to mentor others.  It is inspiring to me and I’m flattered that others have followed my footsteps.  I do not, however, promote other people when I feel like they are not genuine.  When others enter the same space it also legitimizes what I do in the marketplace so I encourage everyone not to fear competition. Competition is healthy.

(5) How do you deal with the balance of motherhood/business?

Everyone struggles with this and I’ve talked about it here and here.  I’m a real mom who is just trying to juggle a lot.  I’m with my kids when they get home from school until they go to sleep.  Am I sneaking in moments on the computer while they are getting their pajamas on?  You bet.  Do they call me out on it and say I’m on the computer too much?  Yep.  Am I half listening sometimes when they are calling for help and I see an email I have to deal with?  Of course.  Do I feel like a colossal failure as a mom some days?  I’d be lying if I said “no” to that.  Overall, I recognize that I am doing my best and I am doing a pretty darn good job.  The balance is a process and it is one that no one can perfect.  Just do your best.

Now that I’ve shared the q & a with you, what questions do you all have?  I’m going to try to get better with the “Ask Amy” section so feel free to chime into this q & a session by putting your questions in the comment box.



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  • Fabulous tips Amy! Thank you. My question is: What do you think an ideal press kit should include?

    Thank you!

    • Amy

      Linnette- It depends on who you are trying to target. If it is magazines, then it is very important to put in beautiful photos. If your goal is to do broadcast interviews, then it is important to show videos of demos so producers will feel confident that you can handle tv. You should always include a bio. If you have a product, send actual samples of your product. I hope this helps:)

      • Thank you 🙂 I would love to target magazines to promote my products. I never thought about sending actual samples–that is a great idea. Thank you Amy 🙂

  • Melissa

    Great advice, Amy. Thank you so much!

  • Amy, I love all your tips and am always curious about them. I’m sorry if my english isn’t correct enough for you to understand my questions, but here they are: one of the questions is somewhat connected to the first one, and I’m sorry if its repetitive in some way – when you are asked to do something that is clearly out of your sense of taste, do you do it and try to adapt it to your liking or do you just refuse doing it, as it has nothing to do with what you like to see, esthetically? Another question is: do you create moodboards, so that your client can choose the party out of different options?

    • Amy

      Susana – This is a great question and I’ll answer it in an Ask Amy post soon, okay?

  • Thanks for posting this! So refreashing to see these Q and A and know that I’m not the only mom slipping away to my computer, being called out on it, and struggling with the desire to be unique, competitive and impressive all while being the mom I want to be to my children.
    How do you stay on top of the next trend in parties? while focusing on the current trend?

  • Hi Amy,

    Thank you so so much for sharing this valuable information with us. You are so giving with your time and knowledge. Very much appreciated.

    Clionadh x

  • Hi amy – such wonderful advice and tips here that have really helped me tonight – it is currently 1.13am here in Australia as I read this and I am just thinking about attempting some sleep after only achieve half of my to do list today! The juggle of a new business and a family is hard work. Would love to know how many creative projects you feel comfortable taking on at one time. Leanne

    • Raychel Wishart

      That’s a great question, Leanne!

  • Raychel Wishart

    Hi Amy! Thank you so much for answering questions that I’ve been searching for answers to. I do have two questions:
    1. I am just starting out trying to start an event planning business. I obviously love to plan and design parties and events, but also am doing this to make money and hopefully one day be able to support my family. With that said I do not have funds to create lavish or perfectly perfect outcomes when I do a party for myself or a family member and that means that photos I take (especially since I can not afford a professional photographer) do not look as good as they should/could if I did have a bigger budget. How do I promote myself as a professional who is capable of so much more if I don’t have photos to back it up?
    2. Do professionals in this field work together? Make deals with each other? Like “I will bring you business if you bring me business” or barter services?

    Thank you a million times for any answers on these!

    • I’m not Amy, but if there are any colleges around your area or students taking a photography course, It could help them build up their portfolio and give you quality photos without spending any money. It would be a win/win. 🙂 hope this helps!

      • Raychel Wishart

        That’s a great idea! I will definitely look into it. Thank you.

    • I agree. I am starting an event planning business and I have the same questions.

  • Amy, you are such an amazing inspiration! Your passion and you caring soul gives me constant support in following this road (which I took after stumbling on a picture of your work! It was love at first sight!). GRAZIE! Margherita Ventura of Le Chat de Sucre

  • Such great advice Amy, I loved reading your perspective. I think a lot of this can appy to anyone in any business. I’m a photographer and you’re right every business owner faces a lot of those same challenges. Thanks for sharing your heart!

  • Wonderful advice for any women starting her own business. Bravo!

  • Vanessa

    Amy! I could not wait to read this post! Your advice is so helpful and very much appreciated, especially since I am on my way to starting my own business as well! I love all the key information you provide and thank you so much for being so sharing about your own personal experiences!

  • Thank you on behalf of all of us who are in that boat!!

  • Fantastic advice for anyone starting a small business. I appreciate the personal element because it is so relatable. Thanks, Amy! I look forward to reading more from you.

  • LOVE THIS!!!!!! Thank you <3

  • Dawn

    Hi Amy,
    thanks for the great advice, its so good of you to share your experience from the past and guide people in the right direction. I have a couple of questions if thats ok, firstly when you started out did you buy a lot of props i.e cake stands plates etc etc, or did you just start with a basic selection and bought per each party ? and added to your collection as you went along.? and secondly, is it wise to have a certain amoutn of candy in stock on a permanent basis or do you just choose your suppliers wisely and know that they will deliver when you need them to ? Many thanks Amy.
    Kind regards

  • Jessica

    Thanks for this follow-up q&a; while I like seeing all the guest features, I miss the earlier days of your blog that showed different tables and events that you were involved in. My favorite part of your blog is seeing all the behind the scenes prep work before a party or a big photo shoot. They were very informative and gave the aspiring dessert table entrepreneur valuable insight into the whole business of creating wonderful events.
    So instead of a question to pose, I would like to request more of these blog entries again.
    Thanks as always for sharing your wisdom and experience! It’s wonderful to see a secure and confident business woman:)

    • Amy

      This is helpful, Jessica. We’ll start sharing more behind the scenes again soon. -Amy

      • Jessica

        Thank you! My favorite part is to see you in action and your creations!! Take care, Jessica

  • [email protected] little parties

    I agree with Jessica on more behind the scene pics! Thank you for sharing your advice. The questions in the comments are great too!

  • What great advice. So much of this rings true for me and I just read it and though oh great, it’s not just me doing this..especially the piece about balancing motherhood. Thanks Amy!

  • Amy, you are so inspiring and helpful. This is a great article and I look forward to more advice, behind the scenes (as Jessica suggested), and party tips. Thank you for this article!

  • Amy – thanks so much for your wonderful tips – you really help us small business women save some time! I was wondering though – when starting out something like this did you just take you time to slowly accumulate things to decorate with and added as you needed? Are you at the point now where you just have a huge storage of all of these items or did you find that you are still finding accessories for events that came up? I don’t want to go crazy getting props and accessories but I want to have enough to offer clients. How did you first find this balance of giving customer’s plenty of options, but not going completely broke in the beginning stages?

  • Marta

    Hi Amy,
    Thank you so much for all your work, you are a true inspiration!
    I would like to ask how do you deal with criticism ( if you have any) from clients or competitors?
    I know you say competition is good and that constructive opinions are ok but sometimes I struggle with
    what people say about my work or baked goods…

  • Hannah S

    Dear Amy!
    im a huge fan of you work and designs, any tips to launch my own dessert table business?

  • Mari

    Hello Amy!

    First I would like to thank you for all the help you are extending to us all. Second, you said that your biggest obstacle was how you had to deal with success since you were not ready for all that came your way. I would like to ask…Now that you know what you know, if you can go back, how would you have better prepared?

    Thanking you in advance.

  • Verónica

    Hello Amy:
    On January 21 we are going to celebrate the 4 birthday for my little pricess.
    I have a question:
    Is necessary the cake for the candy bar? or its ok with cupcakes only?
    Do you have a little tips for the candy bar?

  • Raychel Wishart

    Amy, HELP! How do you stay organized with multiple projects going on at the same time? Do you have a certain tool you use to keep it together? I have tried so many different things: calendars, daily/weekly/monthly planners, lists, etc. I can’t find the one thing that keeps things organized and easily accesable/visible that works for me. I’m starting to go a little batty! ANY help would be greatly appreciated!!

  • Hi Amy, this is my quick q: Do you consider, that there is a difference between a Dessert Station vs a Sweet Table? Thanx

  • Sasha

    Hi Amy,

    I am so ready to start my event planning business. I’ve done many parties for kids and adults and was wondering if I should put my portfolio on a blog or website. I was wondering if I should register my business name or wait to see the response of my portfolio on the blog. When you putted you portfolio online was it on a blog or a website?


  • Marina

    Dear Amy, when just starting off ones business, does one have to already have all the decorations and props? Are many of your decorations like glass jars and the like, re-usable. Does the client keep them for recollection or does it become their property? many thanks. I live in Switzerland and have never seen anything like what you do. It’s FANTABULOUS. xxx