Category Archives: Business

I Am the Baking Minion

I asked my favorite minion, Ashley Voris, if she’d like to write a blog post for me, seeing as her second book is now in print. She writes a wonderful kid’s book series called Abby the Labby. Book 2 was released at the beginning of December. I gave her full-rights to pick what she wanted to talk about. I assumed it would be related to her passion for animal rescue. She surprised me by picking a different topic all-together. And I love her for it. 

A Day in the Life of a Bakery Assistant
Ashley Voris

My friend, Kate, is one of the most business savvy people I know. Among her many businesses, including Golden Fleece Press, she owns a bakery. Irongate Bakery is the name. She owns this business with her best friend and partner, Kim. The run their bakery out of their homes. Kim does quite a bit of the gluten free items, since she can’t have wheat. Kate does most of the cookies. They attend several events throughout the year and are very well known at these events. In fact, they are known as “The Cookie Girls” when they attend the DC Big Flea. They sell other things beside baked goods. They sell and assortment of teas, including tea bricks, yes….I said tea bricks…..as well as other tea paraphernalia. During baking week, the week before a show, it is a flurry of flour, sheaves of sugar everywhere, and total coconut chaos. Everything has to be baked, packaged, weighed, stickered with ingredients, and packed in large bags, ready to be packed in the car. Kate’s mother, BR, does a good portion of the baking.

I became involved this past year. It was baking week and I offered help one night after picking up copies of my book. I helped pack cookies until close to midnight. They were still baking. I offered my help in the future and they gladly accepted. On my first day, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t really understand the large amount of baking that was taking place. I had husband drop me off on his way to work on the Thursday morning. It was rather early for me. I mean, we all know that I am not that much of a morning person. BR offered me coffee and breakfast. Coffeeeeee……

Anyhow, it was early in the morning and she was already baking. It was cookie day. My job was to bag the cookies, weigh them, write the weight on the label, and stick the label on the back of the package. The labels identify the type of cookie as well as the ingredients. Those are kind of important to know, especially if you have an allergy. I was up to my elbows in chocolate chip cookies. It was heavenly. I, of course, had to sample the products. The brownies are particularly delicious. We managed to get everything done in record time. BR usually started the Irish Soda Bread at 9 to 10pm at night, if they were lucky. With my help, the bread was in before dinner. That is how I became the Baking Minion.

I have helped a few times now. BR and I work well in the kitchen and she doesn’t really have to give me any direction. I love Cookie Day. That is the only day I work. There are other days. Nut Days. Gluten Free Day. It wasn’t until I was packaging the Irish Oat Cakes, that I noticed there was far more going on than just baking. The only food allergies I have are not very common ones– white grapes, ginger, and I’m lactose sensitive. I can’t have white wines or sultanas. Anything that has a ginger sauce, or milk and ice cream. Not that the lactose thing stops me from having a milkshake. But they are not going to kill me. The white grapes make me violently ill for a couple of days, but I’m not going to die. However, cookies with nut pose a problem for people who are allergic, like Kate, and any form of wheat can make people with a gluten allergy incredibly sick. So, how does a small bakery based out of a kitchen fix this problem? Easy. As I stated above, there are other days. Nut Day is dedicated to making things that contain nuts of any kind. To avoid any possible contamination, there is a box that has measuring cups, spatulas, etc, that are only used for nuts. There is even a different color of shirt you must wear when handling nut products. (As an aside, coconut qualifies as an actual nut. I didn’t know that. I felt silly.) Once the nuts are done, everything stops, and the decontamination begins. All the nut dishes are washed in really hot water, dried with towels used only for nuts, and put back in the nut box. Then the entire kitchen is scoured top to bottom. First is a wipe down on hot, soapy water. Once that dries, we break out the Clorox Wipes. Everything gets cleaned. Once the Clorox dries, we take a wet paper towel, wipe off the counters, then dry that with a paper towel. The nut shirts get washed on their own.

Gluten Free Day is much more intense. I don’t work on gluten free day. I mean, there are things I would never have thought was a problem until Gluten Free Day was explained to me. GF items have their own….everything. Shirts, towels, dishes, mixers, measuring cups and spoons, etc. All of the GF items are kept in bags, which are kept on a cart, which is kept away from everything on a daily basis. To avoid any confusion as to what is GF and what is not, all the GF items are red. I mean, bright red. You can’t miss it. You cannot wear a red shirt while you are making non-GF items. The smallest amount of flour can contaminate an entire batch and can make people sick. The cleaning process after GF baking is just as thorough and intense as cleaning up after Nut Day. It has to be. Since I don’t have those allergies, I never gave them a second thought. I can eat nuts. I can eat wheat. I never thought about using different baking utensils or different shirt. I still have a tiny problem with remembering. I would go from packaging chocolate chip cookies to packaging the Irish Oat Cakes. Those have coconut. I always catch myself before I move on to a different product and let BR know so that she can get me a different color shirt. I put my regular shirt back on only when I am leaving.

Some of the goodies that and particularly partial to are the Irish Oat Cakes, Brownies, Sugar Cookies, and, of course, the Chocolate Chip Cookies. I love baking day. I really do. I have learned so much about baking from BR.

So how does a day of baking usually go? Like this.

  • Arrival and coffee
  • Labeling the nut cookies
  • Baking
  • Baking
  • Baking
  • Packaging cookies
  • Labeling cookies
  • Baking
  • Baking
  • Packaging cookies
  • Labeling cookies
  • Baking
  • Baking
  • Baking
  • Baking
  • Lunch!
  • Baking
  • Baking
  • Baking
  • Packaging cookies
  • Labeling cookies
  • Baking
  • Baking
  • Baking
  • Labeling
  • Labeling
  • Labeling
  • Cutting up the brownies
  • Packaging the brownies
  • Labeling the brownies
  • Change my shirt to a Nut Shirt
  • Break up the Irish Oat Cakes
  • Packaging the Oat Cakes
  • Labeling the Oat Cakes
  • Change shirt
  • Decontaminate the counter from Oat Cake
  • Packaging the last of the cookies
  • Labeling the last of the cookies
  • Say hello to Kate
  • Dinner

That is about it. Cookies everywhere! I’m ever hopeful that Kate is able to open an actual bakery. That would be awesome. One day…..

Leave a comment

Filed under Business

Ebay Update 11-10-15

So, getting our first return since we started this adventure. I’m not enough of an expert in Precious Moments, and there’s a mark that’s not supposed to be on the ornament. I’ll take a couple new pictures and rewrite the listing and start over. Not a huge deal, but I’m paying for the return shipping too. (That bit does suck.) I do hope it still goes for a reasonable amount.

2 Precious Moments and 1 Tee-shirt sold so far this month. Always an exciting time.

I’ve got a box of dolls to go through, photograph, and describe. There’s also research to do. Still, some things are selling. I think everything that’s got pictures has already been listed. Time for a picture binge, I think. (Need to do pictures for the bakery’s shopping cart anyway.

I’m linking eBay to Bonanza as well. I’ll need to be vigilant about cancelling eBay listings if something sells on Bonanza, but hey, if I start selling a few things through that, that would be cool too.

Leave a comment

Filed under Business

The Great Ebay Experiment

So, I’m considering starting another company in January. This one would be completely eBay based.

Am I sane?

Not in the least.

Am I going to do it?

Probably.

Will I talk numbers here?

Why not?

Right now my friend and I are working on streamlining the process. She’s getting 25% of the profits for helping with the listings.

Before I start actively picking, I’m just going to sell off things around the house. Dolls, toys, geekery, shoes, things I’m selling for other people. There’s plenty of stuff in my house that needs a good home.

What does it look like right now?

  • 23 Active listings
  • 8 Auctions
  • 15 Fixed Price
  • 1 Auction ready to sell.
  • 12 Consignments
  • 11 from my collection

 

2 Comments

Filed under Business

Meet the debt collectors…

This is a fascinating article on how the debt collection business works. Obviously, it’s a profile of just one agency, but it’s still a great read with lots of good information.

Some of the deals Siegel made were hugely profitable, while others proved more troublesome. As he soon discovered, after creditors sell off unpaid debts, those debts enter a financial netherworld where strange things can happen. A gamut of players — including debt buyers, collectors, brokers, street hustlers and criminals — all work together, and against one another, to recoup every penny on every dollar. In this often-lawless marketplace, large portfolios of debt — usually in the form of spreadsheets holding debtors’ names, contact information and balances — are bought, sold and sometimes simply stolen.

Stolen. This was the word that was foremost in Siegel’s mind on that October afternoon. He had strong reason to believe that a portfolio of paper — his paper — had been stolen and was now being “worked” by one of the many small collection agencies on the impoverished and crime-ridden East Side of Buffalo. Using his spreadsheets, this unknown agency was calling his debtors and collecting debt that was rightfully his. The debtors, of course, had no way of knowing who actually owned the debt. Nor did they have any reason to suspect that they might be paying thieves. They were simply being told they owed the money and had to pay.

This was not a problem Siegel was used to handling. There had been no classes at Simon Business School on how to apprehend crooks who appropriated your assets. He could, of course, call the police or the state attorney general, but by the time they intervened, the paper would be picked clean, worthless. His problem was more fundamental, more pressing. At this point, he didn’t know exactly how many files had been stolen, but he knew he needed immediate intervention.

Fortunately, Siegel had someone to call — a fixer who knew just what to do. (NY Times)

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Research

Obsession and Sock Puppets

You want to know what obsession is? Start a Kickstarter campaign.

I spend more time hitting refresh to see if there are more backers than I really should. I think it’s starting to trigger carpal tunnel.

I mean, it’s been a week and I should be a little calmer now. I’m not. I’m totally not. I really, really want this to succeed.

One of the reasons is that Golden Fleece Press donating 10% of the proceeds of Wee Tales to support First Book-Northern Virginia. (I’m the chair of that First Book Advisory Board.) That would be a tremendous bonus to us.

Kickstarter doesn’t allow charities or even mentions of charities in their entries, so it’s sort of a secret or a special surprise for people. I think it’s something that needs to be shouted about.

The fact that the sock puppet video is insanely cute is beside the fact.

And that there’s a new magazine coming out at the same time as I hear one has closed means I’m doubly happy to be a supporter and an editor on the project. (Yes, I put my money where my mouth is.)

Check it out here:

HalloWEEn Tales Vol. 1

Donate, spread the word, laugh at the puppets and show them to your kids. Just get the word out. Please.

Leave a comment

Filed under Business

Website design, coding, and tedium

I made my first website in the bad old days of Geocities.

Do you remember Geocities?

No?

*shakes fist* You kids, get off of my lawn.

Construction Below

Thing is, back in the days of Geocities, Tripod, Angelfire, and the like; before Google; when people still used Alta Vista; you could have just a little static page. It didn’t have to be fancy. In fact, text was preferred because we were also on dial up.

The first business page I ever designed was for my father’s business. It didn’t have a shopping cart. It had a teal background. Pictures of products and an email and phone number. These days, that wouldn’t fly.

These days there are heightened security issues. You have to have an integrated shopping cart of some sort.

And heaven help you if you don’t have something trimmed in and neat to the center of the page because your mobile customers won’t be able to read it. And if you want them to read it in Firefox, then it has to use html5. Keeping track of it all is like learning a fourth language. Or viewing Sandskrit though a dirty window and trying to translate it.

What does all this whining mean?

Well, nothing, really. It’s just that I’ve been devoting half an hour a night (or more) to fixing up the website on my 10 year old business. I don’t want it to get lost in the shuffle as I get more to do with the baby-business.

Baby businesses, like all businesses need a lot of tender care and attention.

Older businesses can sometimes run themselves for a few days. But I have goals and plans for both of them. And that means some fierce scheduling and not actually putting off doing the dull parts of the job.

That means today, I created shopping cart buttons for products on the bakery site. (Have I ever mentioned that site? Http://irongatebakery.com if you’re interested.)

And last week and I fought with the secure socket layers to make sure we’re compliant with the new rules and won’t be open to difficulties from Heartbleed. (I watch the security news like a hawk. I shouldn’t need to. I bake cookies, for stapler’s sake.)

And tomorrow, I’ll be taking pictures and figuring out how to integrate the blog into the site proper. And this weekend I’ve got an overnight 48 hour confab with my bakery business partner. We’re going to lay out the path to getting a brick and mortar store.

Huh… wonder if I should make a schedule for posting onto that blog too.

Anyway, I don’t miss the blinking icons of Geocities. I sort of love the way the site is starting to look.

But I will never, never, love the tedious job of actually setting up each individual product button.

Or, you know, being able to take down my under construction gif.

2 Comments

Filed under Business, Websites

Super Secret turns into Project of Doom

So that Super Secret Business that I did want to name? It’s live!

Golden Fleece Press

We signed the first author today and I am utterly thrilled. She’s going to be doing an illustrated children’s series, so we need to get it into the stream pretty quickly.

We’ve got most of our ducks in a row. I’m going to finish up some banking details tomorrow morning, but for the most part, we’re ready to get going and it’s not a moment too soon.

JM is in charge of the organizational schedule and the day to day operations. I’m in charge of the money. It’s a good split that plays to our strengths. Of course, that means all hands on deck for marketing and social media and all of the other little details, like sourcing authors and illustrators.

Strangely, it’s taken this project to remind me just how far the net of my acquaintances runs. There’s artists, writers, computer programmers, and media photographers. I don’t think about what people “do” in their lives. To me they’re just people. That’s a good thing, but it can really hamper you when you’re talking about getting things done.

I’ve always run as far away from networking as I could, even though intellectually I know how it’s done properly. “Networking” is a scary word that elicits ideas of smug salesmen and multi-level marketing schemes.

But that’s not what it is. (What it can be, true enough.) Networks are community. And when you are building a community, or a family, you don’t think in terms of what can you do for me. A good networker shouldn’t think about what they want, but rather what they have in common with the person they’re reaching out to. Isn’t that the squishiest definition of networking you’ve ever heard?

Networking theory says that if I build friendships with people, when I need someone, they’ll be there for me in the future. Well, yeah, that’s what friendship means.

I have always separated building friendships and professional relationships as unrelated to networking and that is one of my stupid moments. This particular enterprise has reminded me that friendships, professional relationships, and networks are all interconnected.

But I’ve been burned by a “professional networker”. She stopped being a friend and started being all about what she could get from me. Don’t be that person, okay?

I promise I won’t be. I’m just a little taciturn.

How did you build a community? How do you navigate between relationships and networking? Where is the line?

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Networking, Uncategorized

Super-Secret New Business Project

Yeah, so, this won’t be super secret very much longer.

I’m starting a business with one of my friends. Have started actually. At this point we’re just trying to get all of our ducks in a row before our grand opening/press opening/three cheers for social media opening. That means making sure all of our i’s are cross and our t’s are dotted…. erm something like that.

The name started as a joke, but now sounds wildly formal. It’s a neat trick.

I don’t know how manic I’m going to be about this, but I’ve already put in several long nights and I know they’re just going to get longer until we get staffed and organized.

Businesses are a tricky little critters. There’s a lot of local laws, so your mileage may vary, but I’m going to talk a bit about nuts and bolts here. I’m based in Virginia – as you may have guessed. We have different laws than say, Rhode Island. The tax codes are different and such.

The first thing to understand is that it is disturbingly easy to start a business. To make it successful is a pain the ass, but to start it? No worries. I’ve started three now. My father had his own business too. I started this latest one (number 3) on the basis of a snowballing conversation and a handshake.

Come to think of it, I started number two that same way. Scary. Different partners though and completely different businesses.

First thing is to come up with a name and make sure that no one else has it. Google is your friend, but you’ll need to check with your county/state as well. People may have registered a business and done nothing with it. The name still belongs to them.

Once you have your name, you should probably do this in the right order as I did not – get a trade name document. This is an “also known as” or a “doing business as” or a “fictitious name” document. In my county, it costs around $10 and takes about ten minutes to do. (Remember to fill out the paperwork ahead of time.) Then, get an FEIN from irs.gov. That takes about ten minutes – longer if you need to fax in the paperwork, but that only happens in specific instances. Most people won’t have that issue.

Once you have the all important FEIN (trust me, it’s more than just giving the government dosh, this can save you big bucks in the long run), you have to register with your local state authorities. Say, another 10-20 minutes in Virginia.

There we go. The business is started.

Business license you say? Check your local codes. I didn’t need to file until I started making over 10K gross. That’s not going to happen this year on my newest business, so I’m not worried about it.

Well, wow, I’d forgotten that I love business. How did I forget that? I got so focused on what I wasn’t going to blog about that I forgot that I’ve got 1, no 2 very interesting things I can talk about on a regular basis.

Viva la new businesses!

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Starting