Recently, at Fashion Incubator, where I’ve been reading, there’s been a lot of discussion about professionalism and what it means, with various regulars implying that various guests are not professional. I’m kind of sick of discussing it there, but thought I’d share my thoughts here.
Personally, I’ve always tried to run my business professionally, even though I am quite small. (I’ve been chuckling at the “you’d be surprised how many of us (regulars at FI) have fewer than 2 employees” comments – first, I don’t think I would be surprised and second, there’s a huge difference IMO between a business with 2 employees and a business with 0 employees.) Here’s what I mean by that:
1) I generally conduct myself in a professional manner, in dealing with customers, suppliers, fellow business owners, etc. I’m human and do not always succeed.
2) I strive for good customer service – fast package turnaround, accurate packing of orders, excellent handling of returns and complaints.
3) I am, to the best of my knowledge and ability, compliant with all laws and regulations – federal, state, and municipal. That means, among other things, I don’t actually run a “store” from my home, because that’s against the zoning laws.
4) I am insured. It is irresponsible (and unprofessional) to run a business that is not insured. I also have a tax license and accurately report sales tax. And income tax.
5) I have – and have always had – a business checking account, rather than going the “have a personal checking account but earmark it for business” route that some go. That’s just bad.
6) I have a nice work space that works for me, including a nice cutting table and adequate storage for fabric and inventory.
7) Running my business behind the scenes as a business and not a hobby. I maintain accurate records of purchases, expenses, cost of goods sold, sales, etc. I pay myself a fair wage.
8) Most important – I make a high quality product that I use myself and that easily competes with any other brand out there. I hear that from customers all the time. “I have a variety of name brands and decided to take a chance on a WAHM brand and purchased your diapers. They are my favorites.” So it’s not just, you know, me and my husband saying that it’s a good product.
9) Continuous improvement. I strive to be continually learning new things – about running a business, about laws, about the products I sell, etc. I also strive to be continually improving my products. I’m a little upset because I’ve spent the better part of a year working on a new design for my Mei Tai carriers and I was just ready to start testing with the general public (rather than just friends and family) after the first of the year, but those plans are now on hold.
10) High quality. I use high quality materials, tools, machinery, etc.
I could certainly do more to be MORE professional. I could move out of the basement. I’m not well set up for browsing by local customers, and I really never set out to have my office be a showplace. And it’s not. Actually, it’s not bad, it’s just the odd trek one has to take to get there. I had plans to move into a better space (here at the house) in 2009, but those plans are currently on hold.
I could develop better documentation for retailers and seriously improve my wholesale paperwork and process. With about 10 wholesalers, though, most of whom are pretty small, it hasn’t been a huge priority. And I’m not currently seeking additional wholesalers, so, again, not a huge priority.
Some others have suggested that one also much purchase all supplies at wholesale to be considered professional, but I’m not sure I agree with that. I understand it, though. I don’t buy all my stuff wholesale because it would be impractical to do so, and would also make prices higher and give me less variety, which is part of what makes me able to compete with some of the bigger companies. Also, well, storage. I buy sherpa, hemp, terry, microfleece, and MM fleece at wholesale. Everything else I buy retail, or through co-ops. Most of the decorative fabrics – the cottons and the bottomweights with prints – are retail, because I have little use for a whole roll of any one print.
And, well, I can’t beat 86 cents a yard for flannel, even wholesale. And I can get that price retail. Shopping smart at retail – sales, coupons, special discounts – gets me really nice (not designer) fabrics at really good prices. And it gets you, the customer, a nice variety of fabrics to choose from for your dipes or carriers.
There’s also been some, um, sort of snide comments referring to my desire to keep my prices affordable for one-income families as being indicative of producing a shoddy product and being unprofessional, but, well, whatever. If that makes me unprofessional, then fine.