If you’re looking for a way to manage your pre-orders and backorders, I just figured out how to do it with Quickbooks Premier. It’s super easy!
Last year when I downsized, I was determined to run Po Campo as a one person business, which was all our revenue could really support. Going from a 3-person company to a 1-person company meant that I had to either automate or eliminate as many tasks as I could to be able to get it all done.
What helped me rise out of my downward spiral in 2012 was reading the E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. It felt like it was written just for me, and it gave me specific tools for how to move forward. Another book found its way to me this year, and is acting as my guide for the next stage of my entrepreneurial journey. Well not really a book so much as an author: Seth Godin.
2015 wasn’t the first time I felt like my business was falling apart. It also happened in 2012.
The disaster of 2012 actually began in 2011. Newly split from my co-founder, I was excited to take over the reigns of the business and really start growing it as I had always envisioned. I moved production overseas to make the product more viable in the marketplace, and, for the first time ever, got large orders from nationwide stores like REI and Title Nine. When I did my revenue forecasts, 2012 looked like it was going to be the first year when I could pay myself, plus another person or two, plus get our own studio space. It’s hard to express how meaningful that felt after slogging away without anything for 3 years.
It all started to fall apart when the product from our new manufacturer showed up months late. I didn’t want to upset our new customers by not being able to ship on time, so I produced product locally, which demolished the profit I was planning on making. Then, not all of the products that showed up were up to our standards, so I took a loss on those too. Then, the bags that we did ship didn’t sell as well as the stores had thought they would, and they canceled their future orders.
This left me deep in the red and with a lot of inventory that I didn’t know what to do with. All I could think about was, “Who can I sell this stuff to??”. I didn’t care who bought it, I just needed to sell it.
My wake-up call was when I was talking to my business coach and she asked me who I thought my customer was. “I don’t even know!” I wailed.
In my design agency days, “Know your customer” was my mantra. I did user research and built customer personas all day long. And here I was, with my own business, not even knowing who my (true) customer was. My customer was anyone who would buy bags so that I could live another day.
I survived that year, and became stronger, or at least more resilient. (Hear a podcast interview with me about this whole episode on Fashion Brain Academy). It took awhile to recover and get everything back in order. In 2013 and 2014, we started doing a lot more consumer facing events, and I got to meet my customer in person. We did a big research project in 2014, which helped me get to know her even better. But, knowing your customer isn’t quite enough to have a successful business. You also have to have a vision for your company, and know why it is doing what it is doing.
I always thought I had a vision. It was this: “Po Campo to be the go-to brand for urban minded individuals who seek to make every day a day worth living”. I guess that’s kind of a vision. But it doesn’t give you the “why”. Why do I want this? And why does my customer care?
So that’s what I’m working on now. I started Po Campo from a very genuine place. I wanted to make these bike bags because I knew they would help people bike more to get around, which is something I care about deeply. I don’t feel like I need to fabricate a “why”. I just need to articulate it, and embrace it.
Yes, it has been about a year since I last posted and oh man, has so much happened. I didn’t feel like writing while in the midst of so much change, but now that I am back on somewhat sure footing again, I wanted to share what I’ve been up to.
Last year at about this time, I decided to make some big changes at Po Campo. Basically, I decided to cease doing business as usual. That decision was the culmination of many sleepless nights that led me to realize that how I was leading Po Campo was just not working.
- Our products were selling too slowly. We had too much money tied up in inventory, killing us cash flow-wise. Also, why weren’t our products selling better?
- We continued to have manufacturing problems. After many conversations with our manufacturer, it became clear to me that they were not the right partner for us, but I had no alternative.
- The team was getting tired. Sales growth had slowed and nobody was being paid nearly what they were worth, despite years of hard work. Including myself.
- Customers were asking for new products, but we already had too much inventory, no money to make new products, and not enough energy to develop them.
Here is a situation that we have all been in, which will help you relate to why I decided to change course: You are discussing a problem with a longterm romantic partner, and before you know it, that conversation about a small problem quickly escalates to why you need to break up. It makes you sick to think about it, but in your heart of hearts, you know it is the right thing to do. That is how the decision to “break-up” with the existing incarnation of Po Campo felt to me.
And like in those conversations with a partner, you might try to patch the problems first before cutting the cord completely. I did that last spring with Po Campo too. We launched a new mobile-friendly, keyword-optimized website to improve our online sales. We started partnering with bicycle advocacy groups to build brand awareness among their supporters, who I felt understood the intent of Po Campo the best. Regretfully, both of these last pushes fell flat. Our traffic and conversion rate with the new website actually decreased, and the nonprofit partnerships did not yield much traction either.
I had funded the company with my own savings and through debt (loans). We were out of money again, but I didn’t want to borrow any more. It felt like I was just going to be throwing good money after bad. With no new money, my only option was to dramatically cut expenses. So that’s when the break-up really happened.
I let go of my team and sublet our studio space, which cut about 60% of the expenses off the bat. As part of my mission to make Po Campo the “right size”, I liquidated all the slow-moving inventory. Going from a 3 person team to a 1 person company meant I had to relearn a lot of the business, and decide what to keep doing myself, what to cease doing, and what to outsource. Figuring all that out occupied me for many months, plus I wanted to set some time aside for soul searching about to do next, and to work on some long standing problems.
During this tumultuous time, my loving father past away and an opportunity arose for my husband and I to move to NYC. I was in a daze and kind of wanted to give myself a fresh start, so we decided to take the leap and move. Changing your surroundings does make you look at everything anew, which I needed, so I’m glad we did this.
Looking back, for all the stress and trauma over the last 12 months, I feel like I came out ahead. We have a new manufacturer who I really enjoy working with, and the products are so much better! Finally the quality and craftsmanship matches my vision, and it only took me six years (and hundreds of thousands of dollars) to get there. Eeesh. I also redesigned our flagship bike bags to correct some of the longstanding problems with them, and can’t wait to launch them this month. I don’t know if they’ll move the needle too dramatically sales-wise, but at least I feel completely proud of them.
Po Campo 1.0 is now living more-or-less within its means. I’m getting by as a solo entrepreneur. I don’t enjoy it as much as when I had a team, and our own office, but this is what a company of our size needs to look like.
I’m also working on Po Campo 2.0. I love dreaming big, and have big aspirations for the company and brand. I have a plan for what I want to do differently this second time around. Or, what to do differently to build on what I’ve already accomplished.
While 2015 was definitely a tough year, after all that soul searching, I know I want to continue this journey because I still believe 100% in the brand and the product concept. It’s not done yet, and I want to see it through.
So that’s where I’ve been, and what I’ve been dealing with. Back to the regularly scheduled content next week!
If you have a product that you want to sell to retailers, you’re soon going to need help with sales. Following up with current and potential accounts takes a surprising amount of effort, especially as your list grows to 100+ leads, which it probably will after a single trade show. That’s a lot for one person to handle, especially if that one person is doing everything else in the business. The logical next step is to find sales reps.
In my industry, brands rely almost exclusively on commission-only independent sales reps rather than in-house reps that earn a mix of salary and commission. The reps operate as business owners themselves, picking up lines of products that go together, showing them to stores that they have relationships with, and writing orders on your behalf. They will be the primary point of contact with your customer (which, by the way, they consider as their customer).
Being a sales rep is hard work. You are knocking on a lot of doors and showing the line to a lot of people before you get any bites. Bites large enough to pay the bills with a commission check, anyway. For that reason, I recommend going with an experienced rep who has a lot of relationships in place instead of someone who is just getting started or just really likes your product and wants to help you out.
At Po Campo, we have gone through a lot of reps and, in doing so, I have developed a couple ways to find reps. Below are my methods from most successful (as in, bringing in the most and best quality orders) to the least successful.
- Ask the buyer which reps he or she likes working with. A good rep solves problems, is organized and brings new opportunities to them, which makes the buyer more willing to purchase product from her. This is easier to do for smaller shops than bigger chains, but I say something like, “I am looking for a rep that sells to stores like yours, do you have any recommendations?”.
- Ask other brands which reps they use and have had success with. Don’t ask direct competitors, but simpatico brands. For example, I look at what other accessory brands (hats, socks, etc) that my retailers stock and reach out to them for their recommendations. Most people are happy to share their good reps and can tell you which ones to stay away from too.
- Ask reps for their suggestions. If you find a good rep, you can ask her for her suggestions. She might know of someone who is looking to pick up a line like yours, or someone that she knows did a good job with a line in a different territory. I put this as my third suggestion because although reps offer suggestions very readily, I feel like they judge effectiveness differently than buyers or brands do.
- Industry rep organizations. For example, I was looking for a rep in the upper midwest and posted an ad on the MWSRA site and found someone.
- Trade shows are a common place for reps to pick up and trade lines with other reps. There’s often a message board where you can post something. Many reps have booths with their lines, so you can find one with an assortment that would work for you.
People often ask me which parts of owning a company I both like and dislike. My answer is the same to both: being the boss. Once I realized I had the power to build the company that I always wanted to work at, I became addicted to not having to answer to anybody.
But, being the boss is also hard. When something goes wrong, or there’s a tough decision, it always finds its way to me and I have nobody else to hand it off to. A lot of the time, I don’t know the best way to handle the situation. I’ll get advice from people, make a call, and then be forced to live with it. This can be stressful.
During the last week, and probably for a few weeks to come, things have been particularly stressful at my company. I’ll fill you in one what is happening once I’m through the storm, but let’s just say I’m having a lot of sleepless nights. Once I noticed that I was starting to become a little unhinged, just at the time when I need to be my strongest as a leader, I remembered my trusty tricks for managing stress.
1. Take a break. A short bike ride or walk can work wonders for clearing my head and calming me down, especially after a difficult phone call or getting a piece of bad news. Physical activity, even low intensity activity, releases endorphins, the brain chemicals that relieve pain and stimulate relaxation. And if I need more time? I take as much time as I need. That’s part of the reason I instituted flex time, so I can always feel at my best.
2. Practice yoga. I like to start my days with a 20 minute yoga practice, especially when I know the day ahead is going to a tough one. It helps to make me feel limber and ready for anything, and setting an intention for the day (usually “Stay Positive!” helps me feel focused. I use yogadownload.com, which has several 20 minute classes that you can stream for free.
3. Meditate and breathe. After my morning yoga practice, I usually meditate for 10 minutes with the help of my Dharma Meditation Trainer app. It’s not a lot of time, but it’s enough to keep the “monkey mind” at bay, which tends to go out of control when I’m stressed. Learning how to breathe, clear my head and calm myself down – on demand – is the best trick for managing stressful situations.
4. Eat well. Does what you eat help with managing stress? I believe so. When I’m stressed, I crave macaroni and cheese and other comfort foods at every meal. I think that’s okay, but some vitamins/nutrients are particularly helpful for reducing stress, so preparing a good balanced lunch for myself reminds me that I care about myself and my health.
5. Keep my gratitude list handy. I believe in the practice of reminding yourself of all the things you have to be thankful for on a daily basis. I keep this list nearby and glance at it when I feel the world on my shoulders. It reminds me that there’s a lot more to my life than whatever I’m dealing with at the moment, which gives me strength.
That’s my list. What did I miss? What are your tricks for managing entrepreneurial stress? Please share in the comments below.
You may have noticed that for a designer I talk very little about designing on this blog. I think that’s because I’m so consumed with learning about all the other aspects of running a business that I think of designing as the easy part. I already KNOW how to do that.
Yet lately I’ve been feeling like I haven’t been giving designing enough attention. For the last few years, it has been something that I’ve just dashed off when I’ve had time. Need to design the Spring collection? There are a few hours for me to do that next Friday. That’s designing multiple items. In an afternoon. I’m joking somewhat but it’s sadly not too far from the truth.
A few weeks ago I went to a Creative Mornings and heard local fashion designer Maria Pinto speak. She told us that as creative types, we have this great gift to create new and beautiful things, and that’s a gift that a lot of people yearn to have. I realized that I have this gift and I’ve been kind of squandering it, focusing instead on learning how to be the marketer, accountant, logistics guy. All those things are important, but it’s like I’m dwelling on all the things I don’t know instead of exercising the muscle that I already have.
The problem is, it’s hard to get into a creative flow when you’re being pulled in so many directions. I’ll be happily sketching new bags and get a phone call from a lender about an upcoming loan repayment that I don’t have the money for, and that stresses me out. Or the dock door stops working and we all have to load boxes onto the truck by hand. Or a magazine editor calls and wants assets ASAP to be included in a new story, which of course I drop everything to do. Before I know it, a few days have passed and I’ll look at my page of sketches and barely be able to remember what I was thinking, or imagining.
Feeling like I owed the designer in me more, I took advantage of a cheap flight to Mexico City and spent five days there to escape my normal life. I pictured myself sitting in one of the city’s beautiful parks and sketching, or going to museums or galleries and getting inspired. Instead, I spent most of my days at my computer responding to email (how does that take up so much time?!?!) or researching keywords for our website refresh. Even so, I could feel the richness of the city seeping into me. Every time I went to a new cafe, I’d snap a few pictures of something new and enchanting, knowing that it would resurface later.
Then, on the airplane on the way home, I pulled out my paper and came up with some new ideas.
What do you do to get inspired, or to escape the madness of the everyday?
I’ve written before about how I wish there were more female entrepreneur role models for me to look up to. The ones that come to my mind quickest: Sophia Amoruso, Sara Blakely, Martha Stewart, all have something in common. They are all white, like me. In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to learn about female African American entrepreneurs to be inspired by them, too. Their stories, their struggles, and their successes aren’t told nearly enough and are truly inspirational.
1. Madam C.J. Walker, 1867 – 1919
Sarah Breedlove, a.k.a. Madam C.J. Walker, started life in Louisiana as the first child in her family born into freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation. Orphaned at age 6, she went on to become the first female self-made millionaire in America through the success of her Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, which sold beauty and hair products.
After learning about hair and beauty products at her brother’s barber shop, she devised her own line and her own beauty college to train “hair culturists”. She emphasized the importance of philanthropy and political engagement as many African American entrepreneurs do, rewarding employees not just for their sales but also for how much they contributed to local charities.
2. Maggie L. Walker, 1867 – 1934
While attending school, Maggie Walker (no relation to Madam C.J. Walker) became involved with the Independent Order of St. Luke, a fraternal organization dedicated to the social and financial advancement of African Americans. She stayed active in the organization while raising her children, assuming control of it in 1899 when it was on the verge of bankruptcy.
In true entrepreneurial style, she refused to let her organization die. In 1901, she gave a speech on how she would save it and, in the coming years, followed through on each item she described. Soon she founded the St. Luke Herald, a newspaper to carry news of the organization’s work to local chapters. The following year, she opened the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank and served as its president, making her the first black woman to charter a bank in the U.S.. A few years later, she opened the St. Luke Emporium, a department store that offered African-American women opportunities for work and to give the black community access to cheaper goods.
Of all the women on this list, it was hardest to find information for Maggie Walker. I love the sense of her determination though, and to do what it takes to make her vision become a reality.
3. Mary McLeod Bethune, 1875 – 1955
Mary McLeod Bethune was born into a big family of 17 kids in South Carolina. She had an early love of education and was the only person in her family to go to school. She would come home and teach her siblings what she had learned.
After moving to Florida as an adult, she became determined to open a school for girls because she believed that educating girls and women was crucial to improve the conditions of black people. Ms. Bethune’s incredible ability to market and grow her school is what earned her spot on this list of African American entrepreneurs; her school grew from 6 pupils in 1904 to eventually becoming incorporated as a college in 1931, with herself as president.
Ms. Bethune went on to do amazing things as a public leader, which I encourage you to read about.
(Incidentally, I agree that educating girls is key to transformational change, which is why we support World Bicycle Relief).
4. Cathy Hughes, 1942 –
Cathy Hughes is best known for starting Radio One in 1980, which has grown into the largest network targeting African American and urban listeners with 55 stations across the country. Like the other women on this list of African American entrepreneurs, Ms. Hughes had humble beginnings, becoming a teen mom at age 16 and kicked out of her home a year later.
One of the best known stories about her is how she and her young son lived at the radio station in its early years when it (and, by extension, they) were struggling financially. This story really struck a chord with me, because while I have not had to sleep in Po Campo’s warehouse yet, I know that I would do that if it meant keeping my business alive. Ms. Hughes is very inspiring woman and I encourage you to read this interview in the Huffington Post about her.
4. Oprah Winfrey, 1954 –
Well, you can’t have a list of African American entrepreneurs and not include Oprah Winfrey. Her story begins with being born into poverty in Mississippi to a teenage mother. She became a millionaire at age 32 when her show went national and is now considered the U.S.’s only African American billionaire. Of course her vast wealth is impressive, but how she overcame so many barriers to get to where she is today is truly inspirational. This video from the Makers series lets Ms. Winfrey tell her own story of her upbringing, her fight for equal pay, her bold philanthropic visions, and how she had to tell all the non-believers “I’ll show you” – and then did.
Who did I miss? Please leave your suggestions in the comments below so that we can appreciate all the amazing things these women have accomplished. #28daysisnotenough
Some of Po Campo’s first customers were located in Germany and Japan, so I had to figure out the whole exporting thing early on. Each country seems to require different documents for importing (Thailand is the worst!), but there are two export documents that you’ll need to prepare regardless of which country you are shipping to: the Packing List and the Commercial Invoice.
You probably already have a packing list and invoice template that you use for your domestic shipping but the export versions look a little different and require some additional information. The first time we exported something, I downloaded templates of export documents off of the internet and just kept tweaking them until I found a solution that seemed to make everybody happy. This version is what I am sharing with you now. That said, I hereby absolve myself of any issues you may have with using my commercial invoice template or packing list template.
Most of the things on this template are pretty straightforward, like invoice # and PO #. Below are a few lines that might need a little explanation. Download the Packing List template.
- This should be where the products are shipping from. If your warehouse is separate from your office, use the warehouse address.
- B/L Number, or Bill of Lading Number. This will be given to you by the shipping company or freight forwarder.
- Item number or SKU number
- Material content. This is important for duty calculation.
- G.W. and N.W. refer to gross weight (includes the carton) and net weight (product only), respectively. The weight should be in kilograms. The Excel file will calculate the totals based on the number of cartons that you are shipping.
- CBM is CuBic Meter and refers to how much volume your shipment takes. It is calculated based on your carton dimensions in centimeters. The Excel file will calculate this automatically for you, or you can use this online cbm calculator.
The total number of cartons, weights and volume are automatically calculated and noted at the bottom of the spreadsheet.
Again, most things on this template are pretty straightforward. Download the Commercial Invoice template.
- Shipper/Exporter is you, and this should be your business address (which may be different than the warehouse address)
- Consignee is the company receiving the shipment, most likely your customer
- Shipper is the company actually transporting the goods. My customer typically selects the shipper, and then I put that company’s info here (i.e. Kuehne + Nagel).
- Commercial Invoice # and PO # MUST match the numbers on the Packing Slip or pandemonium ensues.
- B/L (Bill of Lading) or AWB (Airway Bill) number will be given to you by the freight forwarder.
- Country of Origin is where the product was made and can affect duty rates with NAFTA. If you imported materials but made the product in the USA, I think it is alright to put USA in this field. But I’m not an expert! So have your reasoning ready in case someone should ask you about it.
- Terms of Payment is whatever you decided with your customer. This could say “Prepaid” or “Net 30” or “Due on receipt”, for example.
- Embarkation Port is the port where the product leaves our country. If you don’t know this, you can leave it blank.
- Exporting Carrier/Route is the path the shipment will take to go from you to the customer. Sometimes this appears on the B/L. If you don’t know it, you can leave it blank.
- Export Reference. I honestly don’t know what this is but it’s on every commercial invoice form so I just left it in there. I always leave it blank and haven’t been questioned about it. Fake it ’til you make it!
- Forwarding Agent is if there is another person or company involved in the shipment that is helping to arrange everything, like a freight forwarder. In my experience, usually the customer (consignee) handles everything and we don’t use a third party, in which case you can just leave this blank.
- Make sure these prices match what your customer is expecting. It seems that sometimes the customer prepares their own sets of documents and it can cause a lot of confusion if the prices don’t match.
Shipment Labeling and Handling of Export Documents
After you have export documents prepared, email a PDF of each to both your customer and shipping company to make sure they are satisfied with what you will be providing.
If you are shipping your product on skids, load all your boxes onto the pallets and wrap with shrink wrap. Attach the packing slip to the pallet using a packing slip envelope or just tuck it behind the plastic wrap. Print labels for each skid with the following information:
- Exporter (you)
- Consignee (your customer)
- PO #
- Pallet # (1 of 3, 2 of 3, etc)
If you are shipping your cartons loose, print carton labels for each box with the above information, but label the cartons 1 of 15, 2 of 15, etc, rather than the pallets. The packing slip should be adhered to the outside of the #1 carton.
Print two copies of the Bill of Lading given to you by the shipping company. Have the driver of the shipping company sign and date one of the copies for your records and send the other along with him.
Other Useful Tidbits
- You may think that it is better to ship on a pallet, but that is not always the case. Many countries insist on fumigating all wooden pallets to kill off any invasive species, which is insanely expensive, so often times it is best to ship loose boxes. If you decide to go the pallet route, I recommend plastic pallets, which cost about $35 each.
- Depending on the country and company, sometimes the shipping company or freight forwarder will send you more documents to fill out. If you don’t understand what to do with them, call and ask for assistance. You probably won’t be the first person to ask and it’s best to get it right.
- You might need to know the harmonization code for your product. This refers to the tariff code that classifies products. The U.S. International Trade Commission has a decent HTS Online Reference tool that you can use to look up your code. I use the code 4202.22.3500 for handbags with outer surface of textile materials.
Did I leave anything out? Do you do anything differently? Please share in the comments below.