Proof Positive: Productive Things to Do Right Now For Yourself and Your Promo Business
It is easy to get mired down in “what if” or “oh my” or “how am I going to,” but for me, I come to most situations looking to be optimistic. I am working to stay positive. This is easier for me, today, because my business, Sharp Ideas, is a small company. There’s me—a woman of 73 years and five careers who’s been in the promo business for more than 32 years—a commission-based sales rep, and a part-time bookkeeper (plus my retired husband who does a lot but gets only my thanks for his efforts).
That being said, we do have overhead, we do have expectations and we do have a lot of challenges. So, personally, I am dividing my day into periods, sort of like how a school day is divided up (when schools are in session). Currently, I have six periods in my days:
1. Reviewing and doing what needs to be done today—checking on open orders, receivables, payables, answering emails, business as it is.
2. Making plans for what we may get to do in the future—either events we’ve done that haven’t been cancelled or projects that make clients happy and are thus likely to go forward.
3. Reorganizing my office and showroom—checking samples to see they are still available and weeding out.
4. Thinking outside the box—clients I would like to work with but haven’t, events that I’d like to be part of either as a business or as a human.
5. Reaching out to vendors I love or ones I want to get to know to see how we can work together better when the work is there, and also working at learning more—watching vendor videos, taking online classes and such.
6. Thinking about local nonprofits and asking if I can help not monetarily but through my efforts—calls, writing for their newsletters, labor, transporting folks to medical appointments, transporting dogs for new homes.
These efforts work for me because I don’t have time to dwell on the seemingly dire times we are living in. I can be working for tomorrow or crying about yesterday. My stepfather used to say, “If you stand with one foot in yesterday and one in tomorrow, all you’ll do is pee on today.” So, today is my goal—making my today a good one and a good one for others I work with and for.
Things that have worked
I sent out some handwritten note cards to many of my clients, just letting them know I was thinking of them. And because I had both on hand, I included PopSockets and/or Post-It Notes with those cards. Just sending simple messages of care. Yes, if they are not working at the office, as many aren’t, I’ve sent emails. But where I can, I’m using snail mail.
The reason for snail mail is that it’s how I started in this business some 33 years ago. The world was a simpler, slower one, and mail was something people looked forward to. Today, most mail seems to be bills—so I’m trying to add a little joy along with my message. Only time will tell if that makes a difference, but it makes me feel good each time I post these.
My first three months in the business I dropped at least 10 letters a week to prospects. I would tell them about the company I was working for, how I could and would take care of them, and share thoughts about things I found that I liked or thought they would like. Then, a couple days later, I started “dialing for dollars,” reaching out to the folks who I’d written. I got my first order on the fourth day (1,000 Shepenco pencils), and I was hooked from there.
Finding things for my clients and friends is fun. I rarely sell the same item more than once. I think about the client’s clients—what they like and how I can deliver the message. Over the years, I’ve spent untold hours looking through catalogs (and now websites) trying to find things that I can use to deliver a message. Today we are in hard times. But I truly believe (and hope) they will be short-lived. We must be ready to jump in with new, creative messages and carriers when folks have a grip on what the rest of 2020 will be.
As part of my period No. 2, I’ve contacted clients who’ve ordered caps—no shelf life, and a product that men especially seem to always want. They also come in all sorts of price points and looks. I’m having some virtuals done for clients I know are going to be here—agriculture, mostly, but also those companies that have a golf culture (yes, there is such a thing). I am trying to show them different looks that might spark an order. If not now, one day.
I’m asking clients about upcoming events, to keep me in the loop if they are postponed or cancelled. Discussing the concept of virtual shows and marketing, and how promotional products can be sent even if an event is not physically happening this year.
Period No. 3 is my least favorite. We probably all have piles—corners where we drop bags of stuff ordered for presentation that we were going to go through. (OK, maybe you don’t, but I do.) I’ve done two corners so far, and found some great stuff to donate as the items are now out of date, as well as some other stuff I should have been showing. And the showroom is going to look so much better when this is done.
Periods No. 4 and No. 5 are pretty obvious, but necessary—and fun, even if not profitable right now. You have to plant seeds to have a harvest, so I’m planting seeds with clients, prospects and vendors.
And then we have No. 6. While nonprofits are often low on money, they are long on connections. Some of the best clients I have are those I met while serving on the board or committee for a local school or fundraising organization. I only align with groups who have a mission I care about, otherwise it would be work. As it is, is inspires me to see problems and help solve them. It connects me to people who do good things and makes me a better person. It also means that many of these friends have become clients, because they trust me and know I will deliver what I promise. That feels good and usually means there will also be a profit at the end of it. The profit may not be huge, but no one expects me to sell at a loss, and I don’t.
That’s how I’m spending my days—working for today and tomorrow, knowing that we are part of the greatest industry in the world. One where we can make a difference, whether big or small.
Judy Sharp founded Sharp Ideas out of her garage after working at another distributor for two years. At its largest, her company had four offices in California and 12 employees, but during the downsizing of 2008, she became a sole practitioner after her business partner decided to align himself with a large distributor. She liked the freedom, so she stayed small, selling $900,000 to $1.25 million depending on the year and working with clients she likes. She never planned to be the biggest, and while she made a great living, her favorite part was buying from and selling to friends.