I looked up at the calendar on Monday, only to realize that it’s already the end of February. I also came to realize, with the exception of last Thursday, and a day-shopping trip with my favourite bride to be in late January – I have worked every single day since Boxing Day. That is not a compliant, or a cry for empathy – it’s just what you really sign up for when you agree to a life of entrepreneurship, especially the early days of it with an eye on New York City.
The first question that I often get these days is, ‘How is the planning for New York going?’ Truth be told, there’s a One of a Kind Show in there first, and frankly – New York is New Yorking me. With all of its lustre, promise and big dreams, the city itself and business in the US is rigorously structured, full of traffic jams, expensive and complicated. The Javits Centre, where the tradeshow is held, is one of the more intricate, busy and expensive venues to exhibit in in the US, and has a reputation for its expensive holding fees and strict labour regulations. When I read the exhibitor contract, I almost passed out. While I have grown the business enough to start bringing in people to help me in the areas that I need it the most, I am still very much a one-woman show. It’s one thing to shift Little Big Words from a very simple, customer-hugging centric business with a reach of the One of a Kind Show, to a wholesale one, specific to the Canadian market. But it’s another to try and do that, and compete in the way that I want to, cost-effectively in another country. I had been warned a few months ago by one of the founders of Mabel’s Labels that attempting this would feel like setting up an entirely new, second business. She was right.
I had to break things down to help my little cerebral computer figure out a way through this. There are two key obstacles that I’m attempting to overcome:
1. Little Big Words needs to have the ability to live and breathe in the free market, without me. I’ve been incredibly lucky so far – people seem to really enjoy supporting Little Big Words and doing business with me. They’re really into the vibe and messaging from our little critters and are inspired by the many reasons why we love getting up every morning. It’s created a loyal following, repeat customers and positive word of mouth. But, this is where the investment in good brand and retail design comes into play; we need to communicate visually and literally, what we’re all about to the big, big world.
2. The infrastructure of Little Big Words Co. needs to operate flawlessly. There isn’t a lot of room for error. This means, payments are seamless, there are no currency issues, the product itself looks first class, and it arrives intact, and on time.
From there, I had to break things down further to create a grand, master plan. One for World Domination. (Ha. Ha. Ha.) I derived that there are 6 areas and a series of tasks for how to channel my energy and time and tried to answer the following questions:
1. Creative Execution:
i. Can you create a product line that sits together as a collection?
ii. Can it hold up in the store?
iii. Can you produce on a bigger scale, but still keep the love in the pixels?
iv. Can you introduce any new products that make sense, or that you have heard people asking for in time for the show?
v. Can you make the illustrations better, the best that they can be?
vi. Can you challenge yourself to leave off ones that people aren’t as into, but you love them?
2. Marketing, Sales & Booth Design
i. What is your story, and why should people care about you?
ii. How are you going to compete in such a competitive market? What makes you stand out, what makes you different? The illustration style alone is not enough.
iii. Are your brand elements sound?
iv. What are your dream accounts? How are you going to approach them? Do you have a clear path to sales and goals?
v. How are you going to get on the walking lists of buyers before the show? How are you going to follow up with them after the show?
vi. Who do you want to approach, and why should they want to do business with you?
vii. Does your messaging come through, and is equal throughout your creative collateral?
viii. Is your catalogue clear, concise and easy for buyers to navigate through?
ix. How can you make the most of the PR opportunities at the show?
x. How do we get the booth and all of our tools, cost effectively across the border, into the venue, through the unions and within the venue rules with the fewest possible charges? And back home? In one piece?
xi. How can we show our family, friends and fans, our adventure?
3. Competitive Pricing & Cost Containment
i. Can you compete, and shift all of the pricing to USD and be within the market rates?
ii. What are your necessaries and nice-to-haves?
iii. Can you build a realistic budget and break even? Can you turn a profit?
4. US Taxes, Intellectual Property and Degree of Risk
All I can say about this section is that it’s another world. A lot of my time and energy has been spent here. Costs add up excruciatingly fast and specialists are hard to find. The US system is exceptionally complicated. While it’s built to try and encourage us to take chances by including things like foreign tax credits and international protection for copyrights, sometimes it’s just not enough. Make sure you invest in copyrighting all of your work if you are an artist, registering your trademarks both in Canada and the US, doing full domain searches and incorporating. Protect yourself. You’re worth it.
5. Manufacturing, Shipping, NAFTA & Duty
i. Can you build an order system and the expectation of order times? Can you fulfill it?
ii. What is the most cost effective way to cross-border ship? Who is the most reliable and won’t damage your goodies?
iii. Do you know the duties, taxes and brokerage fees on all of your products? How will you let your customer know?
iv. Do you have all of the forms that NAFTA requires?
v. Do you have payment terms and conditions?
vi. How firm are you willing to stand on your company policy?
vii. Can you accept payments in USD and not pay a penalty with the conversion?
viii. What shipping supplies work best? Where can you source them?
ix. How will you handle returns, damage and packaging?
6. Cash Flow Management and Profitability
i. Do you know your resources for bridge financing, if you need it?
ii. Is it tax effective? Is it secure?
iii. Is this all worth it, profitability wise?
Needless to say, my left and right brain hemispheres are operating at full throddle.
I haven’t really been talking to people about all of this. When I answer truthfully about what’s on my mind - the second question that people are asking me is, ‘Are you worried?’
My answer is – maybe a smidge. Yes, I have taken more than a handful of long early morning or late night walks and ridden the subway with my knees pulled in and headphones on. Yes, I have sacrificed a lot. But part of being an adult is taking responsibility for your choices. Rolling the dice in New York is mine. I always wanted to know if I was good enough, and I will know after this. It’s going to go, how it’s going to go and at the end, I will have done everything that I could.
My view is: (and thank you to my yoginis) is that I only have so much energy, so I had better channel it wisely. The more energy that I spend serving the worry wolf, the less energy I have to problem solve, create and construct and make this truly, truly great.
When the lights come on, I’ll be ready. But until then, I’m orchestrating a collision of atoms right before our eyes.