Souky Souky

Sometimes You Just Have To Walk Away

Ellen Dittmar

Well hello there, stranger. It is me…Ellen. Your favorite Souky Souky pillow pusher. I know, I know…you haven’t heard from me in a while. Like…since May. No emails. No updates. No nothing.

I am VERY aware that I have been M.I.A. for the past few months and also very aware that you have busy lives and may not have even noticed. But, either way, I would like to take a minute to explain my absence.

I don’t really want to dwell on the matter or go into the details but on May 14, my father passed away suddenly. He was 72 years old. It was his birthday. And it brought my world to a screeching halt. Needless to say, for the next few weeks, my family took priority over everything else. Then, I got a weird illness that I still can’t quite explain. I’m pretty certain, now, that it was all connected to my dad’s passing. The stress and trauma and emotion just caught up with me. Again, all other things were put on hold.

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A few weeks later, I got “better”; meaning I was physically healthy and coping with my grief. The problem was that I felt so uninspired to do…really anything. Selling pillows or writing blog posts or taking pictures was certainly the LAST thing on my mind. So I did the very unprofessional thing and I just walked away. I took a break. I slept. I watched new (to me) TV shows. I hung out in nature. I played with my kids. I just sat still.

Dropping everything and walking away from this business that I have worked so hard to build was exactly what I needed. And believe me, there were days this summer where I wondered if I would ever walk back towards it. I was just sooooo unmotivated. Grief does that to you. It sits on your lungs and weights your steps. You feel slower in its wake. And even the days that are blissfully great are tainted with sadness. It is consuming.

But...guys...hang on...there is a happy ending. Today I woke up and I felt it.  I felt motivated, inspired, and creative. I felt tentatively ready to dive back into society. Can you tentatively dive? I’m not sure…I don't think so...but I am going to give it my best shot.

Please understand that I am not telling you all this to get sympathy points or to get attention. I’m telling you because I think it is important to share the truth…my truth. Sometimes the things that are thrown at you are bigger than you can handle. Sometimes you just need to hide under the covers. Sometimes you need your awesome husband and friends to pick up the slack. And that is okay. It really is. You just need time. Probably lots of time.

Thanks, in advance, for your understanding and for welcoming me back! To celebrate my reentry into society, let's have a little fun, shall we?

What better way to reconnect with all of you (and to get you to forgive my absence) than a spectacular summer sale?  Here are the details:

  • From Tuesday, August 6 - Sunday, August 12 we are having a MEGA sale. EVERYTHING on our website will be 30% off!
  • In addition, every day there will be a "Deal of the Day" where I will choose one (or two) products to put up for SUPER SALE (50-60% off!). I will post these deals in our SoukySouky WeChat group...so be on the lookout for those! The first person to comment 'SOLD' will get the deal!
  • TELL YOUR FRIENDS! Don't keep all these deals to yourself! Invite your friends to get in on the fun!

I am guessing, that at these prices, a lot of this inventory will go super quick...so don't wait around! Snag that thing you have been eyeing before someone else gets it!

 

365 Days Ago...

Business, AdviceEllen Dittmar

Okay, guys… you might want to pour yourself a white wine spritzer for this one. It is longish story. And a sentimental one. And if you're a little buzzed you might even cry a teeny bit. Also, you will be less likely to notice grammatical errors and the like…so don’t hold back…pour yourself a healthy glass! I’ll join you! Because today we are taking a little trip down memory lane.
 
Did you know that one year ago today, I started this business? Yup. It was April 23, 2017. The world was still reeling from the election. Despair hung thick in the air like the smog on a no-wind-from-the-north type of Beijing day. And I was restless. I knew I needed a change. I knew I needed to immerse myself in something meaningful; in something that I truly loved.
 
When I started this business I had: a quirky little shop name and a VERY rough idea of what I wanted to do (something with home décor). That was about it.

The list of the things I did not have was significantly longer. That list included, but was certainly not limited to: graphic design skills, angel investors, a website, an accountant, a business license, products to sell, customers, connections, an office or a studio space, a business plan, or the first clue about how to set up, let alone, run a business.
 
Despite the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing, on April 23, 2017, I committed to the idea just starting something.
 
On that day, I opened a business Instagram account under the handle @soukysoukyhome. Then, I posted my first photo. It is a photo of a striped Hmong pillow that I had made local tailor many, many years before and a throw blanket I purchased from Thailand back in 2008. I simply wrote, “The beginning”. And it was. The very, very beginning.

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 It would be another 4 months before I worked up the courage to even tell anyone what I was working on and another 3 after that before I sold my first pillow.
 
It is one year later and it still feels very much like the beginning. I experience new “firsts” all the time and every other day it feels like I am learning (or need to learn) something new to propel me forward.
 
In some ways, it feels like it was just yesterday that I hit publish on that first Instagram post. Time has flown by! I find myself thinking, “How could a whole year have already passed? Not possible. No way.” Sometimes I even get a little bit bummed when I think about all the things I haven’t yet accomplished or learned.
 
And then, I think back to the woman I was April 23, just one year ago. That woman was SO terrified. She did not even know WHAT she was going to sell. She could not have told you the difference between a LLC and an S-Corp. She could not imagine even whispering her dream to loved ones, let alone announcing it over a loudspeaker (a.k.a. Facebook) to the whole world. And the thought of actually selling anything to anybody...well that just seemed downright impossible.
 
When I think back to where I was one year ago today, I can’t help but pat myself on the back and feel immensely proud! Three hundred and sixty-five days. That was it.
 
I don’t tell you this to brag or boast. Believe me, by most definitions of the word “success”, my business would not qualify as one. So I don’t exactly have a lot of room to brag. But regardless of these traditional definitions, I’m proud of myself. And I want to share that with you because you need to know that AMAZING things happen when you take a chance on yourself and just go for it!
 
So in the spirit of reflection, I thought it would be fun to recount 10 amazing things that have happened to me since opening this business You ready?

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This year:

  1. I sold a pillow.
  2. I sold another pillow…this time to someone I didn’t know!
  3. Someone (actually...a few someones) wrote to me and told me that I inspired them to pursue their own dream.
  4. I learned about 1,047 new things.
  5. I have made some new and dear friends that I would not have met without starting Souky Souky.
  6. My kids learned what Souky Souky is and they see me actively pursuing my dream.
  7. I made some pretty big business mistakes – and not only survived them– but was forgiven and shown compassion.
  8. My pillows were featured in a magazine.
  9. A perfect stranger asked me if they could put my pillows in their shop.
  10. I started to genuinely believe that I can do whatever I put my mind to.

Looking back at this list is such a source of motivation for me. It only took 365 days to do all that? Just imagine what can happen in 365 more! I can't wait to find out!

So...friends...if you are on the fence...if you find yourself making excuses...if you find yourself talking yourself out of trying...I want you to think about your list 365 days from now. Better yet..write it down. What could your life look like? What could you gain? What could you learn? What could you achieve....if you just TRIED?

I'm telling you....all you have to do is start.

    My 'Why'

    BusinessEllen Dittmar

    I have been doing a bit of business soul-searching lately. And while this soul-searching looks a lot like drinking coffee and staring off into space, there is A LOT going on in my mind, I promise! In these highly-caffeinated, dazed sessions, I have been mostly pondering my 'why'. Why do I pour countless hours of my time, energy and money into this little shop every week?

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    I never went to business school, but I assume that for many entrepreneurs their ‘why’ comes down to making money. I mean…that is sort of the point of doing business, right? I will be perfectly honest; I would love that too! But (BIG but) making money is NOT my 'why'. Making money is more like my 'how'.

    When I really thought about core reason I am doing what I am doing, I realized something. Admittedly, this “something” sounds pretty cheesy but, I promise therein lies a profound truth.

    By starting my business I realized that I am simply trying to make the world a better place.

    I know what you are thinking...."Decorative throw pillows? That is how you are making the world a better place? Ummmm...okay....psycho. Glaciers are melting and people are starving but...yeah...throw pillows. So important."

    I know, I know...in the grand scheme of things, selling decorative throw pillows doesn't sound like much, but hear me out.

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    1. Happiness breeds happiness.

    I believe that making the world better starts with each and every one of us. Our tiny and enormous actions are the sum of this world. We, literally, make up the world that we live in…so what we do in this world, matters tremendously. Putting energy into something that you truly love, fuels you. It gives you a sense of purpose. When people are filled with purpose, they contribute, they share, they love, they help…they are happier. And, so too are the people around them. Imagine a world where we were all doing something that we truly loved. I want to live in that world. Doing what I love makes me happy…and that, my friends, has REAL ripple effects.  

    2. We care about the product AND the process.

    One of our main goals is to offer beautiful and carefully crafted products to our customers. However, an equally important goal is to ensure that these items are produced in a way that actually benefits the world. We do our best to source materials and fabrics from vendors that support fair-trade and have their own mission to give back. We try to ensure that the people we partner with earn a living wage and so do their employees. We invest a portion of the money we earn to KIVA grants and loans so that others less fortunate can also find and follow their dreams (read more about that here). And while we aren’t there yet, we are also striving to better serve the environment (No more plastic bags...hooray!). The point is, from start to finish, we want this business to serve the world. We want other people to benefit because Souky Souky exists.

    3. We get to share all this goodness with you.

    We like to think that Souky Souky’s existence also benefits you all (our wonderful customers)! We hope your home is now filled with beautiful, one-of-a-kind items that make you smile when you walk in the door. We hope you find it easier to find home goods that you just absolutely LOVE! We hope our products add a little extra quirk and color to your life. We hope you enjoy having the opportunity to support small businesses. We hope we have provided you with a viable alternative to shopping at the big box stores that we all know and love (but sometimes need a break from). We hope that you enjoy watching the process of business-building and that you can learn from our successes and many mistakes. And maybe most importantly, we hope that by starting this business we have inspired even just one of you to say, “f#$* it”…and chase down that dream.

    So there you have it. My ‘why’. And because it is a bit of a mouthful to say all that when someone asks me why I do what I do, I think I will just say: I’m spreading goodness.

    Boom.

    Step Ten: Celebrate!

    Starting a BusinessEllen Dittmar
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    OMG! You did it! May I please be the first one to congratulate you on your BIG, GIGANTIC, HUGE achievement!?! Hard to imagine that what was once this little seed of a dream is now a real, live, tangible business. So cool! 

    No doubt it has been a big ol' roller coaster ride but I hope you can finally take a minute to sit back, breathe a sigh a relief and be proud of how far you have come! Book a massage. Pour yourself some champagne. Put your feet up. You have earned it!

    But don't get too comfy! Now you have to actually RUN the business that you created! Starting the business is the easy part! Running the business....that is a whole other thing entirely; one that I cannot yet advise you about.

    What I can do is wish you the best of luck in your new business! I have no doubt that if you are going out there every day and putting heart and soul into something that you love doing, you will reap the rewards. For starters, you will love what you do. And there is not much better than that!

    Step Nine: Tell People

    Starting a BusinessEllen Dittmar

    Yay! The finish line is near. You are in the home stretch. You have a launch date in sight and you are steadily checking things off your to-do list. Before you know it your little business will be up and running! That can only mean one thing: it is time to tell people.

    Maybe some people in your life already know; chances are you have told your partner and/or your best friend. Maybe you have even mentioned it in passing to some close family members. While telling your nearest and dearest is wonderful and definitely a step in the right direction, it is not quite "loud" enough. You need to announce yourself in a way that you will be heard.

    And this, my friends, is scary.

    At least it was for me. Sometimes I wonder if I am just a bigger wuss than everyone else in the world. Putting myself out there on social media and telling the world that I was starting a business, was up there in terms of being one of the hardest things I have ever done. Not hard, like scaling-a-mountain-hard or childbirth-hard or undergoing-chemotherapy-hard; those things are ACTUALLY hard. But in terms of feeling super vulnerable and exposed, it was up there!

    However, if I wanted a business...if that was the end goal...I had no choice but to push through the fear. I had no choice but to take a deep breath and push publish on this post. It was terrifying. Not gonna lie. Once I hit publish, I immediately closed my computer and went for a long walk. I needed to distance myself from any possible response - good, bad or indifferent. And while I felt a bit panicked in that hour or so, not knowing how others would respond, I also felt at peace. It was out there. People knew. it was nerve-wracking but it was also a relief.

    You know what else it was? Motivating. Heartwarming. Inspiring. Uplifting. And Wonderful.

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    People from every corner of the earth took a minute out of their day to wish me luck and to encourage me. I was met, not with judgment and criticism, but rather an overwhelming sense of love and support. So much that I literally cried. Partially because people are so darn nice and awesome and partially because it hit me that I had spent so much of my life being scared of what people think. Well...no longer. Actually, truth be told, I am still as scared as ever...but I'm motivated to not let it stop me.

    People may criticize you. They may laugh at you. They may think you are silly or, worse, stupid. All of those things are GOING to happen. But people will also celebrate you and lift you up and support you to the ends of the earth! That will also happen!

    So what are you waiting for? Tell the people. Let them shower you in some much deserved love!

    Step Eight: Set a Date

    Starting a BusinessEllen Dittmar

    If you have made it this far in the starting a business process, we need to first pause and take a minute to reflect. You have come so far. Seriously! Go back and look. Revisit your earliest photos, logos and/or business names. Look at the many versions of your business plan. Take a peek at your brainstorming scribbles. And look where you are now! All of that...every little thing...was YOU just taking one foot and placing it decisively in front of the other. It just goes to show that even small steps take you places.

    With 3,576,998 things left to do to get your business up and running, I think it is easy to overlook all of the things you have already crossed off. It is easy to just focus on what still needs to be done and forget that you have already accomplished so much! Especially when you start looking around and it feels like everyone else in the world is further along than you are.

    I get it. As I write these words, I can say that I am "there" now. I have to keep reminding myself that I didn't start this business so that I could just get it done. That is not my end goal. I wanted to enjoy the process. Every little step. When I look at it like that, I feel enormously fulfilled and proud! Here I am...a 40-year-old wife, mom and full-time teacher....and I am doing it. It is not perfect and I have so much to learn but I am slowly but surely getting closer to that mountaintop of a goal.

    And if I can do it, I promise you...you can too!

    Okay now that that little pep talk is out of the way lets talk next steps. The next step is to choose a date to launch your sweet little business. It is as simple as looking at your calendar and selecting a date to open your doors to the public. Then, you work backward. What steps do you need to take each week to make sure that you will be ready for your launch?

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    When choosing your launch date, consider three things:

    1. Reality
    2. The Perfection Trap
    3. Your Success Rate

    The first thing you need to consider is the real-life logistics that need to be in place before you launch. If you are sourcing your items from Timbuktu, you need to make sure you will have said items on hand well before you open your doors. Duh! So give yourself a realistic window to get your business properly set up before you launch.

    The second thing you need to consider is that you will probably never feel "ready" to launch. Your business will probably never feel "perfect". And if you wait until it is perfect, you may just be waiting forever. So...yes...give yourself a realistic time-frame to set up the core components of your business but don't fall into the perfection trap. Accept that your business is going to be a constant work in progress.  And then jump.

    The last thing you might want to consider when choosing a launch date is your potential success rate. Try and choose a date that gives you the highest potential rate of success. If you are opening an ice cream shop in Vermont, maybe you don't want to open on January 28? Just a thought.  Even if your product is amazing and people will eventually buy it, they might not want it in the dead of winter. And that could leave you feeling a little deflated and unmotivated. Instead, aim for a date that will let you get a glimpse of what your business could be on the best day. Build momentum. A little success out the gate may be just to boost you need to reach a little higher.

    Once you have your date, make a gigantic to-do list. Work backward and start allocating each task to a given week or day leading up to your launch.

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    Maybe it is the teacher in me but there is nothing more helpful than a well thought out to-do list. And there is seriously nothing more gratifying than crossing items off your list! I freaking LOVE it!

    So off you go....set yourself a date! Etch that date in stone and commit! You got this!

    Step Seven: Make it Official

    Starting a BusinessEllen Dittmar

    If you are anything like me, you could stay in the experimental business phase forever. This is the place where you can have lots of fun but you don’t have to think about boring things like taxes and permits and registered agents. The problem with staying in the experimental phase forever is that it is not real. It is like a little make-believe land that you hang out in when it suits you. Another fun fact is that it is pretty hard to make money said make-believe-business-land. If you are going to be a real business, a business that actually makes you money, at some point you need to take the steps to make it official.

    Admittedly, this is the least fun part of the whole process. At least it was for me. It requires very little creativity and a whole lot of persistence. You must be prepared to research and research and research some more. There are hoops to jump through, business structure options to consider, and legal documents to read. Oh…and money to spend. It feels like every single important person you need to consult with during this phase is all too excited to take your money. Which naturally makes you question if you are making the right decisions or if you should really commit to doing this whole business start-up thing at all.

    At best, making your business official is intimidating. At worst, it is the piece of the puzzle that is most likely to prevent you from actually following through with your dreams.

    Before we move any further into this topic, let me offer one big, fat, gigantic disclaimer: I am so uncomfortable with this part of the process! It has sidelined me for at least 6 months. So please, please, PLEASE do not blindly trust what I say. You need to seek professional guidance when going through the process of making your business official. And I am NOT a professional.

    With that in mind, I am going to keep this simple and short: You need help.

    Up until this point, you have probably been able to build your business relatively independently. You have read some books, made mock-up logos, built a functioning website…and you did all of this with little to no help. But again, this is a make-believe business world. Real businesses need real support systems and teams to help them function effectively (and legally). My recommendation is that you seek advice from at least 4 different professionals:

    1.     A lawyer

    2.     An accountant

    3.     A banker

    4.     A business mentor

    If just the list of these professional titles alone makes you shudder, know that you are not alone. It is a scary list. But I think these professional are scary mostly because, until now, you have probably had very little reason to ever require their services. They are unfamiliar to you. But here is the thing: their job…the whole reason they collect a paycheck…is to help YOU! This is their JOB! Don’t be scared of them! Let them help you!

    So here is a little bite-size summary of why you need these professionals in your life and what you might want to look for.

    A Lawyer

    Your lawyer is the person who will file all the appropriate paperwork to get your business licensed. They will make sure your business is in good legal standing and will be the first person you contact if (God forbid) you were to ever get in any sort of business trouble. With sites like Legal Zoom and Incfile it is very tempting to not employ a lawyer to help you to set up your business. Lawyers are expensive and inherently a wee bit hard to trust. But the amount of time and money they can save you down the road is arguably priceless. You know what they say, the best time to hire a lawyer is before you actually need a lawyer. You might save 500 dollars by not hiring a lawyer up front but you may end up spending 10 times as much in legal fees and fines if you don’t set up your business properly or you get sued etc. A lawyer will give you peace of mind.

    If you are lucky enough to have a lawyer in the family…great! Use them or their referrals and get started. If you are like me and don’t know a single lawyer, try and search for lawyers that work specifically with small business owners. Often your local chamber of commerce will have a list of lawyers to do exactly this kind of work. They may even have programs that set you up with lawyers to use at a discounted rate. Take full advantage of these programs! Again, they are there to help you! Not going to lie, walking into my lawyer’s office was way up there on my intimidating-life-events scale…it actually wasn’t horrible. I might even argue that I kind of enjoyed myself. Kind of.

    An Accountant

    While you are meeting with your lawyer, ask them to refer you to an accountant. Chances are they have a list of people they work with regularly to get businesses up and off the ground. Again, you could try and do all of the accounting yourself by using QuickBooks or FreshBooks but come tax time, you are probably going to need some professional help. You might as well line all of that up BEFORE you open your business and BEFORE tax season rolls around. That way you can set up systems and procedures within your business that will help tax time go smoothly.

    Taxes are serious. And seriously complicated. Know your limits and have an accountant in place that makes sure you are tax compliant from day one.

    A Banker

    To be a operate your business efficiently, it is advisable that you have a separate bank account and credit card in your business’ name. This helps to simplify all things and separates your personal life (and spending) from your business life. Once you have your business license you can open a business bank account. I’m sure there are a million and one reasons why some type of accounts or banks are better than others. I can’t even begin to advise you on what you should choose, as I have yet to complete this step myself. What I can tell you is that you should shop around. Again, use a bank that caters to small business owners. They know exactly what needs you will have and ultimately they can serve you best.

    A Business Mentor

    Perhaps the best thing you can do during the stage in the starting a business process is to find a mentor. Like anything else, having someone show you the ropes is invaluable. This person can be your dad, a friend, or a complete stranger you stumbled upon online. If they have started a business and they want to help you… LET THEM! It doesn’t really matter if their business is in the exact same industry, they just need to be willing to share their expertise. You can be certain that if they themselves have started a business, they are going to have something to offer you. Something that you currently do not have: experience, contacts, and proof that starting a business can work.

    If you can’t find a business mentor right away, don't worry. You will. Just keep your eyes and ears open for people who might make a good candidate. And don’t be afraid to ask! I have a theory that people secretly love being the expert in the room and derive great pleasure from giving other people advice. I know, I do! Too bad I am no business expert or I could be your mentor!

    But seriously…y’all…I am such a ROOKIE at all the business stuff! You really shouldn’t listen to me at all! Which brings me back to my main point: GO GET YOU SOME PROFESSIONAL HELP!

    You can do this!

    Okay, now someone do me a solid and tell me that I can do this too! ;)

    Step Six: Experiment

    Starting a BusinessEllen Dittmar

    Phew. You have a business plan. Or do you?

    As you probably have realized, writing a business plan is no small feat. Chances are you are still smack dab in the middle of spelling out your vision, articulating your why and outlining your goals. That is okay. A business plan is not something to rush through or to just slap together. You need time to really reflect, think and research. It took me a solid 3 months to come up with anything remotely functional. And it is still a massive work in progress.

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    But just because you do not yet have a complete business plan does not mean you have to stall all the momentum and progress you have made thus far. You can still take the next step: experiment. In fact, you probably need to experiment in order to properly finish your plan.  How else will you know what might work and what simply will not?  So as you are toiling away on your business plan, simultaneously start playing around with ideas. Start sourcing products or writing disclaimer policies for your website. Create a mock-up business card and fool around with logo designs. Take terrible pictures and insert them into your website just to see what it would look like with real products. Make an expense spreadsheet and start fiddling with numbers. Make some sample products and try and sell them to family members and friends. Ask those same people for honest feedback. Make an Instagram and Facebook account for your business (even if you don't make these public right away). Start brainstorming ideas for social media posts. Make flyers and newsletters. You get the point... right? Just play! Essentially, you are playing dress-up. Have fun! Dabble in this and that. Figure out what you like to do and what you absolutely hate. Figure out what you are good at and what you need support with. Get to know yourself in the role of a businesswoman (or man).

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    Obviously, this dress-rehearsal will look different for everyone and every business. For me, I did basically all of the items listed above. I bought sample products. I executed very amateur level photo shoots. I made a million logos. I posted pretty religiously to social media accounts that no one even knew existed. I just experimented without the pressure of having to be profitable or meet customer demands. I think spending so much time in this phase of the process was a great way for me to build confidence and also test the waters before jumping into the scary official world of business ownership. It also gave me the chance to realize that I really loved doing this type of work. I weirdly even found that creating expense spreadsheets was sort of interesting to me. Sort of.

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    While I'm sure plenty of people would advise would-be business owners to dive right in and get going on setting up your actual, REAL business, I don't think it hurts to let everything marinate for a bit. But just for a little bit. You don't want to get too comfortable in your pretend world of business ownership. At some point, you need to jump. At some point you need to stop pretending and make it official.