Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Birthday Reflections...

Ok, I just have to throw in this very short little post because today is my 34th birthday. Some days (like today) I just feel old, but I think that is mainly due to lack of sleep and my crazy hectic life. But really, time has just gotten away from me in what seems like the blink of an eye. Has it really been 16 years since I graduated high school? Within that span of time I've moved to Italy, gotten married, moved to Mississippi, got my very own puppy, moved back home to Indiana, bought a house, sold a house, graduated from college, had two beautiful children, worked for the same company for over 10 years, cried a river when my granddad passed away and again when I buried my 12 year old 'puppy', embraced camping and family vacations, and started my own business which has started a whole new chapter in my life so far.

Just for the record I'd like to say that I am blessed. Although there are days that I struggle, and drag myself out of bed just to be greeted with a terrible day, or more things on my 'To Do' list than I can possibly finish, I know that I am loved, I am needed, I am healthy and alive.

So today is just another day on my journey to be thankful that I have made it to the age of 34, and for all the moments, trials and blessings that have gotten me to this point in my life. I would not be where I am today without my family, friends, and the many blessings the Lord has given me.

Oh, and I also got flowers from my husband and I didn't have to cook supper- So heck yeah, I AM BLESSED!

Until next time-

Monday, March 28, 2011

My Printastic Picks

Ok, so I have decided that in addition to the business and craft topics that I already post, it would be interesting to feature some of the great artisans and crafters that I have been lucky enough to run across so far during my time on Etsy.

My Printastic Picks will showcase some great little shops that have wonderful products and give you the scoop on what makes those products stand out from their mass produced retail competitors. At the very least, it will broaden my informative topics and hopefully give those of you who stop by a great read.

My first pick is a fellow Treasury Island team member from Etsy...
Indulgent Creations Handmade Soap & Bath
April's shop is full of beautiful soaps and unique bath products. A few of my favorites (pictured in this post) are the soap sacks, the laundry stain sticks, and the the soapcicles for kids. You can find all of these items on her website, as well as a good variety in her etsy shop.

I chose Indulgent Creations for several reasons, first because I have recently discovered the awesomeness of handmade soap. Yes, it's more expensive that your store brand, but the benefits for your skin, as well as for the environment are worth it. Just for example, April uses rain water to make her soap. This keeps the chemical additives found in tap water out of her products, and all of the natural beneficial properties of pure water in.

Below is the written interview I conducted with April recently about her growing business.

What made you decide to start making handmade soaps and bath products?
I began making handmade soap for myself 5 years ago due to a constant battle with eczema. I loved pretty smelling bath products and lotions but was no longer able to use them as they made me itch and my skin broke out and burned terribly. I started doing research both online and in books. I spent a year or so trying different recipes and tweaking them to find something that made my skin happy. Once I found one that worked well, everyone wanted to try it. I gave a LOT of soap away in that 1st year and then due to the cost of supplies, Indulgent Creations Handmade Soap & Bath was born.

Can you explain the basics of the cold process method you use?
Cold Process soaping is basically a process of making soap without cooking it in a crock pot or on the stove top. The process I use is known as CPOP (Cold Process Oven Process). I melt my oils in a pot, once cooled, add my lye mixture and any other goodies I want to put into that batch. I mix with a stick blender, pour into my molds, do any swirling, pretty things I want and from there I put the mold in the oven on a low heat. The oven process of making soap is not needed but the chemical process that takes place is a slow heat up where the soap basically cooks itself in the mold. I can speed up this chemical process by using the oven. This allows me make more soap at a quicker pace. (This is a very basic explanation of soap making...there's a lot of time and money involved but wanted to keep it simple)

Do you prefer using common, well known scents, or your own new creations?
Most of the scents I use are pretty common, well known scents. Besides making soap I also make lotions, auto air fresheners, soy candles & tarts, bath salts, bath bombs, laundry stain sticks, crocheted washcloths and soap sacks and scented wax dipped critters. Keeping up with my current line up doesn't allow much time for blending of my own scents...maybe some day down the road.

Besides your etsy shop, how do you market your small business?
Beside my Etsy site and keeping up with my own website I do my local Farmers Market every Saturday morning from April thru October. I also do several craft shows in my area. I have a Facebook page and you'll catch me Twittering every now and again...

How do you make your products stand out from the other shops selling similar products on Etsy?
I try to make my soaps look as nice and unique as possible. As with any craft, I think we all get a "writers block" for lack of a better expression. I have certain soaps like the Oatmeal, Goats Milk & Honey and Cool Citrus Basil that will always be part of my line up as they're too popular to discontinue but also try to come up with new soap scents and designs each season. Last year was the Black Raspberry Vanilla which sold out the first day at the market and Honey Almond which I spent the rest of the season selling it faster than I could make it. I also revamped my labels last season as I feel that's a very important part of this business.

In your opinion, why are handmade soaps and bath products better than those readily available at retail stores?
There are several reasons that to me, handmade soaps are better for your than store bought. If you've tried a good handmade soap then you already know. Once you use handmade soap, it'll be very hard to go back to store bought soap. Your skin feels so good, not dry and tight. I don't put any chemicals in my soaps, there's no foaming agents. Many of the foaming agents you'll find in store bought soaps are just the thing that causes skin irritation. I do everything possible to stay away from FD&C colorants which also can irritate skin. Basically the only thing I put in my soap that is not natural, is a fragrance oil. I do offer several essential oil soaps that are completely natural. Many of your store bought soaps are not really soap, they are detergent bars. The chemical process of making soap creates glycerin, this is what attracts and holds moisture to your skin. Most of your commercial bars have had the glycerin extracted from the bars because the company sells it and profits from the glycerin. Lastly, keep in mind when you buy handmade soap you are supporting agriculture. I use several oils that support farming...tallow (beef), lard (pig), soybean and corn oil.

All of the soaps by Indulgent Creations are made from all natural ingredients with the only exception being the fragrance, but there are also some available without it, if you prefer. The best part is they are all handmade by April and she is just a hop, skip and jump away in our little cyberspace world. Support handmade and the next time your in the market for a new bar of soap, or two, or three, just hop on over to Indulgent Creations for some awesome selections.
Oh, and by the way, if your planning to use your new handmade soap while taking a long luxurious bath, you could also swing by my shop and grab a vinyl wall design for your bathroom wall to enjoy as well!

Until next time-

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hobby Shop or Budding Entrepenuer?

Ok, so once again I have fallen behind on my original weekly blogging schedule. I’m not overly concerned about this because I mostly blog for myself, but I do love having others follow and show interest in my posts. I suppose I should be a bit more consistent, so maybe I will get two posts in this week, keep your fingers crossed for me! For today’s topic, I picked a doozy – IRS.

Several weeks ago, while searching the Etsy forums, I noticed a comment thread where people were discussing the IRS and how your business could be re-categorized as a hobby if you don’t show a profit for three years. A lot of the businesses on Etsy are run part time, mine included. So I read through this thread wondering if my little business venture could eventually be audited and reclassified as “Hobby” status by the IRS. So far, thanks to my sign and printing sales off Etsy, I have made a small profit each year I’ve been in business until this past year.

Shortly after I found the Etsy forum information I received a newsletter in my inbox from one of my sign vendors. This is a fairly common occurrence, and I usually scan it for interesting topics and what do ya know, there was an article about the IRS categorizing micro businesses as Hobbies. It said that if a sole proprietor files a Schedule C in industries that are usually seen as recreational (like sewing or jewelry making) and the business hasn't made a profit in at least three of the past five consecutive years, the IRS might audit the business and reclassify it as a hobby.

This reclassification could be bad for your business because you could be forced to give up some valuable tax deductions. For example, writing off losses and business expenses against other income, like a day job. Additionally, since the IRS can go back three years in an audit, you may face a really big tax bill as well as the inability to write off losses from your "hobby" in the current tax year and into the future. Thankfully this reclassification is not automatic. If you are selected for an audit, the IRS will typically give you a chance to prove that your intentions are to make a profit and although your business is fun, it is still indeed a legitimate business.

I had my taxes done last week and brought up this topic with my book keeper. She said that the IRS would look into your business status if you did not show a profit for more than 5 consecutive years, but this point could easily be argued. If there is substantial monetary investment in the business, this shows that you have bigger intentions for furthering your venture. Consistent cash flow, even minimal, also offers legitimate proof that you are in fact operating as a business. Most new entrepreneurs start out small with many large expenses to get the ball rolling. These large start up costs, even for home businesses, can eat up any potential profits you may be lucky enough to make in your first several years of operation. For example, I have several items that were purchased in my first and second year of business that need to be deducted over the course of several years (the expected life of the equipment). This adds additional expenses down the road that really aren’t factored as tangible expenses for that particular year, but it shows up none the less.

I'm learning that running a business, no matter how small, is a big job and one that is always changing. Although all of this stuff is a bit daunting, right now I have no intention of jumping off the proverbial wagon, so I guess I better keep up. Below I've listed some other great tips I got from the newsletter article I mentioned above:

-Keep a set of books -- preferably on accounting software or on a spreadsheet.

-Generate profit-and-loss statements and comparative profit-and-loss statements to measure the growth of your business against prior years.

-Chart future projections, and write a plan for turning the business into a profitable enterprise. Keep all your notes and financial statements to present during an audit.

-Be in compliance with local, state and federal requirements by obtaining all required licenses, insurance and permits. Maintain a file of all certificates and licensing information to present during an audit.

-Keep a mileage log or at least an appointment book to substantiate any automobile deductions. Follow the rules for deducting commonly flagged expenses like travel, meals and entertainment.

-Improve your skills. Attend classes, trade shows and conventions. Keep all registration forms and fliers to prove your attendance and the nature of the event.

-Open a separate business bank account. Deposit all sales revenue into this account and pay all business expenses from this account.

-Use your business account for paying business expenses. If you don't have enough sales revenues to cover the expenses, don't start paying business bills from another account. Instead, transfer funds from your personal accounts to cover the bills.

-Advertise. Keep copies of every advertisement you place. During an audit, these records will go a long way toward proving that you're serious about the business.

Get out there among your peers and exchange ideas. You can do this by joining a local chamber of commerce and other professional organizations.

-Do some thinking. Be ready to explain to the IRS why your business is a serious enterprise. Perhaps you're a stay at home mom trying to bring in more household income while still being there for your kids? And why exactly aren't you showing a profit? If your having trouble getting the hang of things, admit it. It takes awhile to learn all the ins and outs of becoming an entrepreneur.

-Stand your ground.
If you're being audited, and you find yourself on the losing end of the argument, stop the audit. Tell the auditor that you need to discuss the matter with a tax professional before you continue. The auditor must honor your request and give you adequate time before resuming the audit.

If you are questioning your continued business status with the IRS, talk to your tax adviser. If you already know all this stuff and do your own taxes, you are a braver and more knowledgeable soul than I – Go You! Either way there are so many rules out there that it can make your head spin. Stay current with updates and if you have questions, research them and don’t be afraid to ask someone in the know.

Aside from the information from the newsletter, this is just my interpretation of of what I've learned so far on this road to becoming an entrepreneur, but all things considered, I am very happy to have been reassured by my tax adviser that my business is not currently in danger of being reclassified, and even if it were, I would have her help in contesting the issue. So, now I feel better, and my refund is on it’s way which is another big ” Yeah!” in my book.

April 15 will be here before you know it!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Craft Project #5 - Chalkboard Wine Labels

Finally, spring is in the air! We've had occasional small glimpses of spring over the last few weeks and it's giving me the itch to get out and do something fun! I know I'm not the only one whose caught the spring fever, during a recent phone conversation with my best friend about the upcoming spring break at our kids' schools, we decided to plan a weekend trip with our two families. This is a first for all of us, jumping into 3 days of togetherness with wonderful people we don't see often enough.
As our trip nears, I've been thinking of fun things to bring to occupy the kids on the 6 hr drive as well as in our rental when the adults are ready for some time to simply enjoy the company of friends. Hoping to keep the interruptions and distractions to a minimum, I so far have a very limited assortment of the usual: board games, toys, video games and movies. These are all well and good, but I wanted something new and fun that they could all make use of, at least once. Something that would make a special memory for all of them to share.

Now, my friend and I like a glass of wine on occasion, so I bought a bottle to take with us for an evening in at our cabin. I had this idea that the kids might enjoy their own fancy bottled beverage, so I bought two bottles of sparkling grape juice for them.

A few days later, I was sitting at my desk making notes in my journal about different projects to make using my new chalkboard vinyl and viola! I thought of the grape juice bottles and my chalkboard wine labels were born!

-First, I cut out a 4" x 6" piece of chalkboard vinyl with some decorative crafting scissors.

-Next, I applied a small vinyl decal of a modern grape vine in the corner.

-Last, I simply peeled off the backing paper and applied the new label over the existing label on the glass bottle.

I thought it turned out rather cute! The kids can now write their names, keep score for their games or draw right on the bottle. I'm also going to make a couple for my kids to use on clip boards in the car. I was so happy with my idea I listed a set of 4 of these labels in my Etsy shop here.

These labels are not only for wine bottles, they can be used several different ways,like to leave little notes around the house for those you love! Put one on the inside of your child's lunchbox and leave him notes from home, add one to a clipboard and take it in the car, or put it on the refrigerator!

Chalkboard vinyl is becoming popular and can be found several different places online, as well as in some sign shops but if you want a completely do-it-yourself project for a real bargain, you could also use the bottle itself as a dry erase board. Carefully peel off the existing label ( you may need to soak it in soapy water first) and use any dry erase marker to mark directly on the clean glass bottle. It wipes off easily with a tissue, and can be used over and over again.

I hope you all have a great weekend and Happy Crafting!