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What I learned at Business Camp

I attended Tradeshow Bootcamp's first ever Business Camp in Los Angeles last month, and it was incredible. I've been so busy implementing everything I learned, that I'm just now sitting down to share my thoughts. I wish I could bottle up everything that was said, everything I learned, every hug I shared with awesome business ladies, and the general buzz of being in a room with 100 other business owners. I can't, so you must must must go to Business Camp next time.

In the meantime, I'll share my major takeaways. There was so much solid gold information shared, but this is the stuff that really jumped up and down for my attention as it applies to my specific business & boss lady role. And since it's been a month, you get to hear about how I'm implementing those takeaways! Win win win.

1. Don't let e-mail dictate how your day goes.

Beth Penn from BNeato Bar majorly schooled my brain about how I've been treating e-mail in my day-to-day. On her suggestion, I've been doing my best to only deal with e-mail once a day, for a set amount of time. I'm not letting e-mail be my to do list for the day, and I'm not letting e-mail derail what I'm in the middle of doing. It's pretty much the greatest change I could make. E-mail has been a source of stress and guilt for me for years, and it doesn't have to be. 

2. Keep the team connected and aware.

My staff can't read my mind. Seems obvious, but I've been leading my team like they can. The panel discussion on hiring was super insightful. I've already hired my team, but knowing what to do next has been a challenge for me. When I started the business, I never dreamed that I'd be leading a team. I'm still learning. 

We have an amazing team of part time staff, and they're all only in the shop 1-2 days per week. If I want us to be on the same page, we need to have staff meetings, more communication, 1-on-1 chats and a plan! I need to plan ahead to have tasks for everyone to do, every day. And since Business Camp, we've done just that! We had our first ever full staff meeting (with coffee and Top Pot donuts), and it was hugely helpful. It was so beautiful to see everyone together that I cried. (No shame.) We've also instituted a secret Facebook group for staying in better communication, and I've been keeping everyone busy by delegating more and more tasks to my very capable team. 

3. Move the needle every day. 

The hilarious and lovable Jen Gotch gave us this nugget of wisdom that has been my mantra this month. Move the needle. Every day. Don't just do the busy work. Do something that will grow your business. Every day. Delegate the small stuff. Do the big stuff. For me, this is the kind of needle moving stuff I've been working on: Send catalogs & handwritten notes to shops I admire. Design new products. Work toward new product lines. Research other forms of manufacturing. Buy a new printing press!!!! Make a social media strategy and stick to it. Write about what I'm learning and share it. Commit to the 2016 National Stationery Show. Make time for ideas. Make time for rest. (For me, resting is moving the needle for tomorrow. I do not default to rest.) 

4. Work on the things that need to change to make way for growth.

Growth is always the goal, but it can also be kind of a scary reality when it shows up. One of the big growth goals we have for this next year is to start working with a sales rep. I've heard Carina Murray from Crow & Canary speak about reps a few times, but new things stood out to me this time. The big one: Be ready to scale. You don't work with a rep to bring in an extra order or two. You work with a rep to grow! 

We've grown a ton this last few years, and we're finally reaching the end of what our treadle-operated, hand-fed platen press can do. It's been a hope/fear (a hope and a fear...do you have those too?) of mine this past year, and we're there. Our recent purchase of a 1970's Heidelberg Windmill will help us make the next jump of growth. (I'll share more about that in detail later this week.) Sarah from Shed Letterpress and Rachael from Pistachio Press told me all about the Windmill perks while at the Business Camp after party, and within a few weeks I had the opportunity to buy one. Growth, we're coming for you! 

5. You're the owner of a successful, growing business. Act like it!

Tara Gentile blew my mind with her talk about perception. My fears and doubts and worries color my judgement about the business. When I'm buying into those negative things, I make decisions for the business that don't make sense. Just because I'm still learning doesn't mean I'm not doing some things right. It's so easy to lose perspective and forget the wins we've had. My customers, staff, and fellow business owners have a perception of my business that is actually more in line with reality than how I tend to see it.

I remember when Constellation was just me with one rusty press in 100 square feet, and some days I act like that's who we still are. But we're not! We're a team of 6 people, 3 beautiful presses, in a storefront space, with products in 150+ stores in more than 4 countries, with a beautiful retail shop and a bright future! I say these things not to boast, but because I genuinely forget that they are true. I'm committing to celebrate our wins, and make decisions based on reality so that people's perception of us matches up with the decisions I make. 

I share all of this for a few reasons. First, if you're a product-based business lady (or business dude), I want you to go to Business Camp. Or if you can't go to Business Camp, go to a different event. But go! Invest in yourself. You're an irreplaceable part of your business. What you'll learn and the people you'll get to connect with will give you fuel for the fire. Second, it gives me great joy to share what I'm learning with all of you. Small business is not a magical, mythical, dream journey. It's hard, a hustle. Everything is always changing, and you're always changing to keep up. I want you to know that we're in it together. I've be given so much over the years by others who have shared what they are learning, and I want to be sharer too. Words have great power, and I'm always going to use mine for good, to help others.

Mega Update for Almost Spring
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Hello friends, it's been awhile. It's about time for a giant update, so here goes!

National Stationery Show
I've been busy preparing for NSS, but it's been more of a fun-busy than a stressed-busy. It's been the perfect opportunity to design and print all new branded pieces, dream up crazy giveaways, and focus on who we are as a company. It's been torture not to Instagram/tweet/blog/shout from the rooftops about the fun new things I've been working on. But I'm determined to keep things secret until just before the show!

We're really excited to be back in New York for the show. It's a special city, and one I'm happy to have a yearly excuse to visit. I don't have too many expectations for the show (or at least I'm trying not to), but we're setting a small new stockist goal and planning to celebrate it with a nice dinner. Any suggestions for where we should go?

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Paper Camp
I know I gushed about it in the Fall, but I want to reiterate how important Paper Camp and the Tradeshow Bootcamp community have been in this preparation season. I was a mess thinking about NSS before Paper Camp, but with my binder, my new friends, and the massive load of knowledge I stuffed into my carry-on when coming home... I'm feeling confident and excited. Katie, the founder of Tradeshow Bootcamp, is offering a full scholarship to the next Paper Camp this September in Los Angeles! You can apply here. Don't hesitate, just do it. You won't regret it!

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SideTour
We've done five SideTour workshops so far, and they have been absolutely wonderful. It's a joy to welcome new friends into the studio, share my knowledge and see their eyes light up at the chance to create. I learned a ton about printing history in preparation, and can now share 500+ years of history from memory (with a few notes here and there). Feel free to quiz me! It's been really fun to let my nerd flag fly.

One of the biggest surprises from the SideTour workshops have been the kids. We've had a few kids in the 10-14 age group attend, and their enthusiasm is incredible. It's really gotten me thinking. I love teaching, love kids, and love seeing the craft of hand printing passed on to the next generation. Still brainstorming on what to do with all of that, but it's on my mind.

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Looking For Help
I'm looking for a freelance letterpress printer to add to the family. I do all our printing in-house, and I adore it. But the downside of being 100% hand-fed and treadle-operated is that sometimes things get busy and I am 100% exhausted. It would be incredibly helpful to have someone to bring in during busy seasons. It's a paid (hourly) position in our Pioneer Square, Seattle studio. I'm looking for someone who is experienced on platen presses, flexible for scheduling and fun to be around. Please pass this info along to anyone you think may be interested. Please send a resume & print samples to hello@constellationco.com. I'm not looking for an intern at the moment, so experienced applicants only please!

One time, at Paper Camp...
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How do I even start talking about Paper Camp? (I've been writing and re-writing this blog post for weeks trying to say it all the way I want to. But here goes.)

I went into the weekend with the intention of learning practical info about exhibiting at a trade show, but I came out having learned so much more than that. I learned a lot about industry standards and the in's and out's of the trade show experience. But (unexpectedly) I also walked away with a new confidence in who we are as a company and a new focus on long-term goals. Like the incredible Paper Camp speakers kept saying - a trade show isn't the destination, but just a step along the way.

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A few of my BIG PICTURE take-aways:

When making decisions, always go back to your goals. Know what you want, and make sure each decision is moving you in that direction.

Know your brand! Everything your company does should tell your story - showing process and identity is important.

Be prepared for creative problem solving. Things will go wrong.

"I'm new" is not a valid excuse. When questions come up about your company, answer with pride. Don’t apologize for being new, just be professional and show them you're legit.

Whether you're looking for a store, a blog, a magazine, a collaboration or a vendor, finding the right fit is key. Quality relationships are everything.

STREAMLINE. Make choices and stand by them.

YOU make the rules for your business. Know industry standards, but then make the best decisions for your company.

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It was genuinely the best group of people I've ever had the pleasure of talking shop with. The speakers were incredibly generous to share their knowledge and experience with us. I feel SO a part of the community. As a young small business owner, I've felt pretty isolated these past few years - making big decisions and figuring out priorities largely on my own. I've longed for other entrepreneurial ladies to run things by, or just to say, "I know, right?" - because sometimes that's just what you need. Not only did I have 2 incredible days of those conversations at Paper Camp, but the relationships have continued beyond the weekend! There have been lots of e-mails, social media connections, and even snail mail! Plus, the Tradeshow Bootcamp alumni Facebook page is an amazing, active place - lots of questions and answers and friendly faces! I can't rave enough. (The next Paper Camp is in Los Angeles in January, and you NEED to be there!)

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My mind was so incredibly blown by the people and information packed into 2 days, I'm still processing it all. So far, I've made a couple huge to do lists with both big picture dreams and right away tasks. I've also made a budget, placed a ridiculous Uline order, ordered a giant calendar for planning, and briefed the team. But before I rush off and tackle my to do lists, I want to personally thank each of the amazing speakers. I'm working on snail mail thank you's as well, but I just want to publicly acknowledge the fact that these incredible women have chosen to make community important and have shared their time, talents, and trade secrets (!) to encourage other small businesses to flourish. If you've read this blog at all, you know I beat the community "drum" quite a bit - and this is community at its best.

So, THANK YOU!

Katie Hunt (Kelp Designs) Erika Firm (Delphine) Claudia Smith (Fig 2. Design) Rachael Hetzel (Pistachio Press) Carina Murray (Crow + Canary) Kimberley Yurkiewicz (Crow + Canary) Nole Garey (Oh So Beautiful Paper) Dani Antol & Heather Haynie (Rock, Paper, Scissors)

Photos by Mary Kate McKenna Photography, LLC for Tradeshow Bootcamp