March 10, 2010

The 'M' word.

My name is not 'Mama'. But I'm thinking of getting it legally changed to 'Mama', since it's the name I go by these days in this house.

It is the very first thing I hear in the morning. 'Mamaaaaa!' my daughter will wail, followed by all the different variations: 'Mama!', 'Mama?' and 'Mamaa-aaaaa-aaa.' My son Bram prefers to use his own version: 'Ma-ma-ma-mah-huh-huh-huh'. I can't help but answer, since 'Mama' is my name, no matter how you pronounce it, which is my identity, which is a pretty important thing, especially if you're a kid.

I accept and embrace 'Mama' as my name, which is probably why I love the term: mamapreneur. It's a delightful combination of the two identities that I am trying to combine in real life. I am finding out, though, that running a business and being a mom are two really completely incompatible things that are extremely difficult to combine, even if you are Martha Stewart. If I were to make a list of thirty priorities, I might manage to get three of them done on a good day. On a not so good day, I can't even manage to make the list.

Even as I write this, my son Bram is using me as a jungle-gym, which I am utterly ok with, but since he's using my right arm for leverage, it makes typing without mistakes a little difficult. Now, he seems to have turned his attention to a marker on the bureau behind me, with which he could potentially scribble all over the walls of the house if I don't take action immediately. And yet I am still writing... sometimes it's just more important to get my thoughts down than cleaning scribbles. It's now suspiciously quiet, so I am going to look around to see what he's up to... It was not a marker he'd gotten his hands on, it was my digital camera. Accompanied by quite a few  'Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma!''s, I have just managed to separate him from the camera and distract him with blocks. But for how long...?

My daughter Mia has a different tactic. She has her regular spot in the nook of the couch from where she uses as many varieties of the 'M' word as possible to get my attention. Mia's main goal is to move as little as possible once she's situated in her spot, so she needs her personnel to do her will, a.k.a, 'mama'.

As I write this, Mia is quiet. I am a little surprised, since a few minutes ago, during the camera incident with Bram, she was calling my name repeatedly, and even using a few new varieties I'd never heard before ('Maaaa-ma-ha-ha-ha' and 'Mammmmmaaaaaa'). I guess she was just crying wolf (who, incidently, might as well change his name to 'Mama' too if he lived here).

But after an entire day of being called 'Mama' in every frequency, decibel and volume level possible, bedtime comes around. 'Mama' is the last thing I hear when I kiss my little diva goodnight. 'Mama...' she whispers. Hmm. You know, it does have a nice ring to it...

March 08, 2010

This Little Business Went to Market.

The most important thing I've discovered about being an entrepreneur isn't the product I'm trying to sell, it's finding people to buy it.

When I began my online business last summer, I made the naive assumption that word would get around and that my target group would simply find their way through the virtual jungle of the internet to my webshop. As familiar as I am with the utter vastness of the internet, I underestimated its virtually limitless virtual borders. There are exactly five zillion webshops specialized in kidswear all over the world wide web, and another zillion are being launched a day. These days, you need a virtual machete to hack your way through advertisements, spam and penis-enlarging products to get to what you're looking for. How on earth would I get the right people to my shop?

Like any beginning entrepreneur set on success, I wrote a business plan and executed various marketing research techniques to determine my target group. (Essentially this meant I went out with a questionnaire and a clip-board and asked people on the street how they felt about children's clothes.) Upon gathering my data, it was clear that my target group consisted of people exactly like me: 30-something 'green' parents.

So now that I knew who was most likely going to buy my products, I had to somehow pave a path on the internet for them to reach me. Then it occurred to me: I had to step outside the box and turn my virtual product into a tangible one. The way to do that was to set up shop. And since I don't actually have a shop to set up shop in, I figured I'd do the next best thing: go to market.

There are various market possibilities in Holland, most of which impossible for me to participate in. The weekly market, a sacred and protected phenomenon in this country, is made up of a select group of regulars and I'd need all sorts of permits and some influential friends to get into one. Then there are flea markets scattered throughout the country in large wharehouses that smell of urine, where anyone and everyone can set up a stall and sell the contents of their garages for next to nothing. I've tried to sell my products at a flea market like this with very little success. Sure, people liked my stuff, but one of my handmade dresses was outrageously expensive for flea market standards. Especially when customers could buy ten dresses for the same price at another stall... Needless to say, my first attempt at a flea market was also my last.

Last summer, while visiting my parents on beautiful Orcas Island, I set up a stall at the local farmer's market. It was an amazing experience! Not only was there an inspiring positive vibe among the other vendors, my target group was all around me and walking right into my stall! People were able to touch, feel, examine, take a closer look at and even sniff my products, which I am sure worked towards their ultimate decision to purchase something. After the summer was gone, I was sad to leave the island, and my target group, behind.

Then I found out about specialized markets for handmade goods in and around Holland. Apparently, there are lots of creative folks around here like me who set up at these markets to sell their crafts; slowly but surely, I was finding out about them. Unfortunately, as soon as I found them, I hit some obstacles. First of all, most of these markets are few and far between. Either they're located at the other end of the country, or they take place so sporadically, it's difficult to apply for one on time. Some of them are affordable, some are absurdly overpriced. I finally found a handmade market that was affordable (that is to say, I was 99% sure I'd earn back my investment) and took place relatively nearby. I packed up my kit and kaboodle and set up shop among a wonderful variety of artisan vendors. I was thrilled to bits - it semeed I had finally found a nitch!

Although I only sold seven items that day, I consider it to be the most successful market I've participated in to date in this country. Although the advantage of having an online business that can reach the far corners of the world pretty much speaks for itself, being able to offer my products in 'real time' and in real life to the right people has more advantages in the long run. But turning my virtual product into a tangible one had one chrystal clear advantage: it sells. Yep, this little business will be returning to market for sure.