Gifts that Keep on Giving

(this post was originally written for the ecoetsy team blog)

This time of year can often be a little crazy, with people feeling pressured to buy the “right” gift for everyone on their list, the crowded shopping centers, angry traffic, consumerism run amok. It’s enough to make me want to hibernate by a fire with a giant plate of cookies.

Buying handmade on Etsy, especially from EcoEtsy team members, is one way to avoid much of that guilt and pressure, however, there are a few other gifts you can give that will make a difference in someone’s life long after the tree comes down or the menorah burns out. Whether you do it in the name of a friend or loved one, or just for your own good karma and peace of mind, here are just a couple of things you can do that will not just make someone’s day, but might just save their life:

Giving Blood: Blood is needed year-round, but with the increase in travel accidents that often occur over the holidays, donating this time of year is always a good thing. You can click your state on this handy map and find the center nearest you. If you are outside the United States, here is a list by country of places to go for donation, thanks to Wikipedia.

Donating Platelets: Platelets only have a shelf life of 5 days, so it’s even more crucial that there is a constant supply. One donation of platelets can help up to a dozen patients, whereas donations of whole blood do not provide nearly as much aid.
The process is a little more complex than just giving blood and does take a little longer, but is not detrimental to the donor in any way. Basically, they take out your blood, filter out the platelets, then put your blood back into you. You can learn more about the process and find a donation center here.

Putting yourself on the Bone Marrow registry: According to the Bone Marrow Registry site, over 10,000 patients nationwide need bone marrow to save their lives, but fewer than half get what they need. Bone marrow donations can save the life of a patient with leukemia or certain other types of cancers.
These days, donating bone marrow is often not much more complex than donating blood. Even when the more serious type of donation is needed, the process is nowhere near as scary as it once was, sending the donor home the same day.
Getting tested and typed only involves a simple blood test, and then you can put yourself on the registry to be called when a match is found.
For international registry, check here, and for registry inside the United States, go here.

Thank you for reading, and may you all have a wonderful and safe holiday season!
Lori

The Wolves of Chernobyl

(this was originally written for the ecoetsy team blog, and is saved over here for my reference)
Chernobyl. The word is enough to terrify little children and environmentalists alike. Visions of nuclear meltdown and the end of the world as we know it are relayed as a cautionary tale over and over when we talk about alternative energy sources. I was reminded of it recently in a discussion on influential moments for each generation, and again when I ran across some of these photos on Pinterest.

I remembered reading an article a while back about how nature was reclaiming the area, so I decided to dig a little deeper and see if there was any update on how the animals were doing. What I found was startlingly good news, and a new documentary on PBS which is now airing.

In 1986 a nuclear meltdown at the infamous Chernobyl power plant in present-day Ukraine left miles of land in radioactive ruins. Residents living in areas most contaminated by the disaster were evacuated and relocated by government order, and a no-man’s land of our own making was left to its own devices. In the ensuing 25 years, forests, marshes, fields and rivers reclaimed the land, reversing the effects of hundreds of years of human development. And surprisingly, this exclusion zone, or “dead zone,” has become a kind of post-nuclear Eden, populated by beaver and bison, horses and birds, fish and falcons – and ruled by wolves.

While I realize this partially gives away the ending, I have to share that I watched it and found it to be powerfully uplifting. If you have access to PBS and want to see a lovely silver lining to what was one of the greatest catastrophies of my generation, check it out. We could all use a little bit of good news these days, couldn’t we?

ethical banking

This post was originally written for the ecoetsy team blog, and is saved over here for my reference.

I’m going to pick up where I left off a couple weeks ago with the Occupy Wall St posting, add a primer on the shenanigans the major banks have perpetrated, and show some alternatives to the system that has hurt and angered so many people. Please note: these are my views and do not necessarily represent EcoEtsy as a whole.
So Occupy Wall St has finally grown into something the mainstream news has to acknowledge. People from all across America are speaking up and speaking out and searching for ways to move forward. One of the things that people are focusing on is the role of the major banks in the crisis. Part of that is how banks have treated the little guy, and there is special anger directed at a new fee that many large banks are now charging customers to use their debit cards.
While some politicians have attempted to turn this into a left vs right issue, don’t be fooled. For an explanation of the truth behind the fee, you can check out this video by the senator who’s been blamed for it.

If you are as disgusted as I am by the nonsense many of the major banks have been involved with, from unfair and possibly illegal foreclosures, you DO have options.

First, there are credit unions. from WIkipedia:

A credit union is a cooperative financial institution that is owned and controlled by its members and operated for the purpose of promoting thrift, providing credit at competitive rates, and providing other financial services to its members.[1][2][3] Many credit unions exist to further community development[4] or sustainable international development on a local level.

Credit unions are sometimes organized around a specific working group, like teachers, or people who live in a specific geographic area. They tend to have much more community friendly practices because they have to actually answer to the people giving them their money (you!). To search for a credit union in your area, try this website: creditunion.coop

If you are looking for an investment or savings option which doesn’t involve a bank, you can do triple the good by checking out organizations such as KIVA.org which allow you to lend money to individuals and small businesses across the globe, specifically in areas underserved by traditional banks. Check out this video for more:

You can also look into “green” retirement funds such as yesinvesting.com or greeninvestment.com

Last but not least, you can remove yourself from a system which requires banking, by fully investing and participating in your local economy. Many communities have barter systems set up, including but not limited to Freecycle and BarterQuest. You can also invest time or money in community supported agriculture to put food on your family’s table.

There are many ways to fight back and regain control of your money. I’ve merely listed a few. In fact, there’s a whole movement dedicated to showing you options and giving you the tools to move your money. National Bank Transfer Day is set for November 5th.
Beyond that, what creative ways have you found to make sure your money is going to something you believe in? Let’s get this conversation moving!

The American Autumn

this post was originally written for the EcoEtsy Team blog. I’m also saving it over here for my records.


OccupyWallSt. It’s a topic trending around the globe on Twitter – everywhere but the United States, at least. New York Times headlines get quickly changed if the Gray Lady appears to be showing any sympathy for the thousands of people risking arrest, sleeping outdoors in the cold, giving of their time and voice for all the rest of us.

The thing I hear repeated over and over amongst my friends, however, is “what are they doing? what do they stand for? why?”. The consensus seems to be that they should have one goal, one handy slogan, one complaint to be addressed. While that may make the protests easier to talk about, if we all look around our lives, it is entirely too easy to see that things have gone beyond one simple phrase. Here on EcoEtsy for instance, we have concerns about the environment, pollution, and our addiction to fossil fuels. On Wall St, the protestors are speaking up about the corporations who fund the lobbyists who influence the decisions in our government. The corporations who produce the products which kill our honeybees, for instance.


So what does OccupyWallSt really want? They want you to stop for a minute in your busy day and listen. They want you to ignore the rabble-rousers and the instigators and the infiltrators who are doing their best to convince you that this protest is for anarchists and dirty hippies. They want you to put aside left and right and see that we are all in this world together. They want you, part of the 99%, to help them raise a loud enough voice to be heard over the voice of the corporations and bankers who bought our government and sold the rest of the world out.

I leave you with a few words form their newly-issued manifesto:

As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies. As one people, formerly divided by the color of our skin, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or lack thereof, political party and cultural background, we acknowledge the reality: that there is only one race, the human race, and our survival requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their brethren; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.

Blog Action day 2010: Let’s talk about Water

The first part of this post was written for the Eco Etsy team blog as part of Blog Action Day 2010 You can watch a video about this year’s topic, WATER, here:
http://player.vimeo.com/video/15336764

Blog Action Day 2010: Water from Blog Action Day on Vimeo.

Part 1:
They say that you can survive for quite a while without food, but if you don’t have access to drinking water, it only takes about 72 hours to die. That’s a pretty scary thought, but it’s also an abstract one. I mean, who among us, sitting here with our morning coffee, reading this blog post on a computer can really imagine what it is like to have NO water?

by flickr user zaveqna

Yet for over a billion people, drinking water is not a given. There are no fancy bottles of spring water, no free-flowing taps, not even a well in the backyard that isn’t contaminated. How is this possible on “the blue planet”?

img via spacecollective.org

From oil spills and fracking contamination to pesticide runoff and manure “lagoons”, to coal fly ash, heavy metals and radioactive waste, our global lifestyle choices are contaminating what was once an abundant resource at an alarming rate.

Unfortunately, that contamination is often all too easy to ignore, as it happens in places far away, which tend to be poor and without the resources to make their stories known. Even when disaster strikes closer to home, trucks stand at the ready to deliver gallon after gallon of this precious resource in single-serve bottles to those affected, thus solving a very real and immediate need, but ultimately making the problem worse.
(suggestion: explore alternatives like this one)

So what do we do?

Today is about blogging for awareness, but for this blog’s readers, most of my words are preaching to an already well-informed choir.
With that in mind, how about taking this one step further? Let’s blog about things WE can do, as individuals, as families, as people from countries with more resources than most. What can we change about our own lifestyles that will ultimately reverse these trends of pollution and scarcity?

I’m moving the rest of this post to my personal blog to talk about my solutions and ideas. If any of the rest of you want to join in, leave a link in the comments section to your follow-up post and let’s spread the word as far and wide as possible. Each of us comes at this problem from a different angle, and we can learn so much from each other about how to make a difference. So, let’s get that conversation started shall we?

How can YOU make a difference?

______________

And here’s part two:

In our household, we try and grow as much of our own food as we can, watered from rain barrels and greywater when possible. This is partially a self-sufficiency thing, but cutting back on pesticides flowing into rivers, sewers and lakes is important. This isn’t always easy or successful, but we’ve made the change and learn a little more, and add a few things to the garden each year.

We have mostly eliminated bottled water from our lives, and when we are in situations where we have to use it, we buy water bottled locally. My biggest challenge in this regard is really liking carbonated water (it settles my stomach) and I’m saving my pennies to buy one of the machines that lets you charge your own tap water. (there’s also a DIY solution that I’m pondering)

We stretch what meat we do buy as far as possible, and make an effort to buy from local and sustainable sources since commercial meat production is a big culprit in water overuse and pollution.

We try to keep a bucket near the tub and use what water that doesn’t go on plants to flush the toilet. (I admit this is something we’re better at doing during drought times. I’m going to go get another bucket and resolve to keep this up year round)
If you’re like me and love a hot bath, you can feel a little better about the amount of water you’re using by transferring the low-flow-tank toilet idea to a larger scale.

We also make an effort to buy secondhand as much as possible, especially with clothing as the production of clothing uses an astounding amount of water. Unfortunately, this is far easier for me than it is for my rather tall husband. But, we try.

My husband and I are lucky enough to both work mostly from home, so we are able to cut our driving by quite a bit. We don’t live in a terribly walkable neighborhood, but it is one easily accessible with a bike or scooter. Since petroleum production is a huge polluter, cutting back on it’s use as much as possible is pretty high on my priority list, but I admit we could both do better in this regard.

We have also taken steps to make our home’s heating more efficient, since producing oil, coal and gas for energy is another huge water contaminant. During the renovation, we’ve been tearing out existing exterior walls and filling them with insulation. We’ve replaced all but three windows, caulked the heck out of our doors, and have added quite a bit of insulation to our attic. Next up will be insulating the crawl space with foam that goes right up under the floorboards. This way even though we use natural gas for our heat, we can use less of it.

This is all totally a learning process and frustratingly slow, as many of the improvements we want to make are out of our budget or are dependent on things we cannot yet control. However, they say Rome wasn’t built in a day, and that’s just something I try and remember when I see a problem and start to feel helpless or overwhelmed by not having a ready alternative or solution. The more people who are trying to make these changes, and the more we talk about solutions, the faster we’ll get to them.

on writing a business plan

So I’ve started assisting the Etsy team, ECOETSY in writing for their team blog. For my first post a couple weeks ago I wrote about the process of writing a business plan, since that’s what’s been occupying a chunk of my time lately. Here’s the post, but you can check out a lot of other really great posts over at the team blog ecoetsy.com:

A Business Plan – you’ve heard over and over that it’s something everyone who is serious about their business should write. I’ve written two for previous endeavors, and they were fairly easy, so I figured this time I’d just sit right down and knock this one out of the ballpark in a couple of hours.
(It’s ok, you can laugh)

Well, that was about 4 years ago, and I’m just now finishing up that sucker. As it turns out, it was a little more difficult for me this time around. Just like Jennifer mentioned in the conversation about pricing that got posted a couple weeks ago, it’s all too easy to fall in the trap of creating and simply hoping the details will fall into place – somehow. However, as was also noted in that post, if you ever want to quit your day job, support your family, or even fill a small goal like saving enough money to take yourself to Paris, it’s important to stop thinking like a hobbyist and start thinking like a businessperson.
So, let’s get back to that plan, shall we?
Now, there are a million templates all over the web, and most of them look something like this:

1. Executive Summary/ Overview
2. Business Description
3. Your Market
4. What you sell
5. How your business is organized
6. Your Marketing Plan
7. The Financials

It’s pretty straightforward, right? So why did I get so stuck?

Well, as Becky from Glue and Glitter pointed out, these templates aren’t really designed for crafters. She also looked online for starting points, but wound up ignoring most of what she found. The templates just didn’t seem to fit her needs, so she actually made her own.

In much the same way, I found it really difficult to translate traditional business terms into something that I could wrap my craft around. For instance, I got pretty stuck right off the bat because what products I make often depends on what materials I find to rework, so I had trouble finding a common thread to describe what I did.
Further, in a plan which focuses on traditional marketing, financial statements, and corporate definitions of profit, where do you put your business’ ecological footprint? What’s the monetary value of not making waste with packaging? How do you explain the choice to use unwound sweater yarn at a labor cost of 30 bucks, when you could go buy a skein of something similar for under 10$?

In short, I kept putting off finishing the plan because it made my head hurt trying to figure out where things should go, and how to account for those discrepancies. Last fall, however, I decided that it was time to get serious and stop procrastinating. I made a few changes in how I did shows so that I could more accurately figure out what was working and what wasn’t. I paid attention to what products people gravitated to, and what they saying about the designs. I really listened to what people said to each other about my work, and paid attention to what got repeated.

I highly recommend doing this if you have a chance. If you only sell online, figure out those google analytics, send your customers a mini-survey (maybe give a coupon for future purchases as a reward?), talk to people in the forums, or get a stranger to look at your shop. Google your product and see what else comes up. Who’s talking about products similar to yours?
Hearing what other people are saying about your work can really help you articulate your vision, and that makes putting it onto paper a lot easier.

So with that in mind, let’s re-look at that template.

1. Executive Summary/ Overview
Ok. This where you explain your business in fairly general terms. The biggest goal here is to make whoever is reading the overview want to know more. Some places suggest you write this last, although I found writing a rough draft of it first helped me get going with everything else.

2. Business Description
I know this sounds like a repeat of #1, but it isn’t exactly. Your summary is usually a few paragraphs and covers all the topics in brief, more like what you’d say to someone you were trying to hire, or to the press. Your business description is actually pretty short. It starts with your Mission Statement (what you intend to DO) and follows with your Company Vision ( where you intend to go, what you intend to BE) Finally, your description should include a history of the business and who exactly is involved.

3. Your Market
Who’s going to buy your products? This is where all that people-watching pays off. Develop a customer profile, but remember that where a traditional customer profile might center around an age group or a socio-economic class, crafters – especially eco-friendly ones – often find their customers are connected by some other thread.
You also need to figure out the market trends where products like yours are concerned. This can be a little more difficult, because you might not know where to get this information. Ask around at galleries and indie boutiques. Ask them what they’ve sold more of lately, and what no longer seems to move. Ask in the Etsy forums, or walk around trade and craft shows and see what other people are buying. Talk to the people who sell supplies.
Finally, you need to know why would someone buy your product over another similar item. Again, ASK. As it turns out, your no-waste packaging policy might just be the tipping point that encourages buyers to purchase from you and not your next competitor…

4. What you sell– this is pretty self explanatory, but don’t forget to include the pricing structure and how your products are competitive. This is where photos and patterns are great! This is also where you can use your eco-friendly ethics to your advantage. If you use all recycled materials or only organic cotton, play it up! This sets you apart, and helps explain your pricing.

5. How your business is organized
There are several options for business organization. Sole proprietorship, Partnership, LLC, etc. Talk about which you are, then include bios of the people who hold key positions in the company. It also helps to explain how your business actually gets run, and you should include whether or not you are required to have a license to do what you do.
This section might sound kind of silly when it’s just you and your sewing machine in a corner of your spare bedroom, but it’s a necessary step to being able to see yourself as someone who actually runs a real business that will grow.

6. Your Marketing Plan
This is a whole can of worms that really deserves it’s own post, but the short version is: figure out how you are going to get your products out there. Figure out how you are going to make sales. You really need concrete steps here, like “Get my wares into 6 stores by the end of the year” or “advertise on these 6 blogs who reach my target market” or “do one in-person show every month”.
More on this bulletpoint in the future, I promise.

7. The Financials
The tricky stuff for most crafters, and also really deserves it’s own post. This is where you really have to take a hard look at your pricing, your overhead, and how much you can sell.
There was a great post on the ecoetsy blog just the other day on pricing your goods, and the comments continued to be quite enlightening. I recommend starting there, and then spending some time really examining what it takes for you to create what you do. Then you’ll need to spend some more time figuring out exactly what you need to make in order to make a living.

Becky also added another category: “Design and Development” where she talks about new products and revenue streams she has in the works.

lunch tote from the Glue & Glitter shop

So, in summary, the hardest part for me about doing this, was just getting going, and forcing myself to answer the really hard questions, no matter how long it took. I was totally guilty of the “but I just want to create things” whine, and this was a really great exercise to get me out of that mindset. While I still have no desire to become a corporate overlord, examining my business from this angle really helped me see how to make it not only more profitable, but more enjoyable as well.

back to basics

When I first moved over here from blogger, I had lofty ambitions for this blog. I wanted to do a weekly feature of another Etsy seller, for one. Of course after the first few, the holidays were approaching, and then the house fell in on our heads, and my lofty ambitions mostly went out the window, ha.
So in an effort to get myself back on track, I’ve joined the Etsy Bloggers Street Team. And hey look! They have a featured monthly artist! This month’s is StormyDesigns, who makes some really adorable jewelry from polymer clay. Check out these ladybug hair ties, perfect for any little spring princess:

She also has some vintage teacups I’m sort of coveting for a project I have in my head… hrm.