When It Makes Sense to Work For Free as a Solo Business Owner

When It Makes Sense to Work For Free as a Solo Business Owner

When It Makes Sense to Work For Free as a Solo Business Owner

Hop into any Facebook group, Twitter chat, or other space where entrepreneurs get together and mention working for free, and you are likely to start a riot of voices exclaiming that a business owner working for free is the cause of entire industries being devalued. They will stand up and exclaim things like, “Charge what you are worth!” and send you links on value-based pricing or project-based vs. hourly pricing. They will be your virtual cheerleaders every time you mention raising your prices, and talk you out of discounting your services when you hit a slump in getting clients.

Ask these same business owners if they have ever worked for free in the past, and you will get a different answer, though.

Yes, I truly believe that it is easier to devalue yourself and your skills then it is to confidently charge what you are worth. (We’ve all been there.) However, there are many valid reasons to work for free in your solo business. And when it’s done the right way, those opportunities will help you create the business you’ve always hoped for.

When it makes sense to work for free as a solo business owner (and how to make the most of it)

1. When you are just starting out

Just starting out, you are typically going to have to practice your craft by taking on work for family, friends, or friends-of-friends that you aren’t being paid for (or are paid very little for). How you handle these projects, though, can mean the difference between struggling greatly when taking on “real” clients, or making a smooth and confident transition from amateur to professional. The three steps that I wish I had learned to capitalize on my time spent working for free are:

  • Establish clear goals and boundaries, and get them in writing. This is the important when you begin working with a client at any stage of your business. When you are both on the same page regarding goals, you know exactly what outcomes should result at the end of the project. Establish upfront what is included, and what isn’t. For example: As a VA, you might want to do admin work but not handle any graphic design work. For web designers, you might love creating websites but not sourcing photographs or writing copy. The more you establish your boundaries upfront, the better the process will go for both you and your client. No doormats here. Once you have those boundaries and goals set, put it in writing! Go to a simple online contract site like Docracy or HelloSign and create a document you both sign off on -- even if you are working for family. Get into the habit of doing this now, or you’ll find yourself in trouble later. Believe me, I know. #lessonslearnedthehardway
  • Use this time to set up systems and processes for future work. In addition to getting valuable pieces for your portfolio, doing pro-bono work allows you the opportunity to set up for future success by creating systems and processes you can repeat with paying clients. Document each step of the process (even the smallest ones!) and at the end of the project, go through your notes and create a system for everything that might be repeatable on other projects, as well. Project management systems such as Asana, Trello, or Basecamp are ideal for this because you can create templates that can be reused for each client or task.
  • Gather feedback, feedback, and more feedback! Feedback is not only essential when gathering testimonials at the end of a project, but it is equally essential during the process. Ask your new clients at the beginning what success looks like to them, and in the middle of the process, check in on whether or not the process is meeting their expectations. It is much easier to course correct while you are in the middle of a process than it is to complete the project and find out it is not what the client was hoping for. When working for free, sometimes feedback is the best form of “payment.”

2. When you are leveling up your business

Last year, an opportunity came up for me to take on a project working with a well-known developer on a project that she didn’t have the space to do herself. When I reached out about the project, she asked me why I was interested in taking on a free project when my portfolio was already quite filled out. My response? I had been wanting to learn how to do some of the aspects of the project that she had (i.e., e-commerce), and getting a chance to work and be mentored by someone who had already been through that process would be more than worth the time. I viewed it as investing in my business. The developer I was working with took my words to heart, and we have worked together on many more projects since; projects I never would have had the chance to take on, otherwise.

Opportunities like this are the perfect time to stretch your skills and gain experience, so you can feel more confident charging the prices those “next-level ladies” do. Taking your business to the next level requires pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, but it’s almost always worth it.

3. When beta testing a new product or service

Beta testing is a classic example of working for free, even as an established business. While your beta offering might not actually be free, typically you are not charging 100% of the eventual price. This gives you a chance to establish that there is a need for that offering, to make sure that it is worth your time and the time of your clients, and to build your experience and confidence up in a “safer” setting before taking the full leap. During a beta test, it is especially important to keep the three points above (setting clear boundaries, refining systems and processes, and getting lots of feedback at every stage of the project) in mind so you get the most out of the process.

4. When it comes to personal/passion projects

Sometimes working for free means something other than giving clients the benefit of your knowledge and experience without payment; sometimes it means setting aside time that you could be working on something for profit and using it for things like:

  • Paying it forward. Find someone just starting out and show them the ropes. This can be both rewarding and educational. While you are sharing your experience, you might learn some new ways to accomplish your tasks, or gain a different perspective on something. Of course, even if these things don’t happen, paying it forward always leads to good business karma. (/woo)
  • Taking guilt-free time to work on something solely for you (no client work zone). Do you have a passion project that you are dying to get off the ground, or do you need to set some time aside to rework your site, brand, or systems? Take the time to do it. Client work will always be there, but if you feel the pull to start something or change direction, take the time to listen to that pull and do it.
  • Giving back. This can be pro-bono work at its best. Find a cause that means something to you, and donate your time to it. Remember to clearly establish goals and boundaries here because oftentimes clients like these are grateful for the help, but do not understand what goes into what you do. Establishing goals and boundaries will help you feel like you are making a difference without getting taken advantage of. Not sure where to start? Catchafire is great for finding skill-based donation opportunities.

Make the most of time spent working for free

Working for free doesn’t have to mean that the project didn’t come without reward. Sometimes working for free allows you to get paid in experience, confidence, and lessons learned instead of cold hard cash. When you set boundaries up correctly and are determined to milk every ounce of education you can out of the experience, working for free can become one of the most valuable experiences in your solo business.

PS -- Need more time? Streamline your systems + automate your processes.

If You Create It, Will They Pay For It? (How to beta test that offer)

If You Create It, Will They Pay For It? (How to beta test that offer)

If You Create It, Will They Pay For It? (How to beta test that offer)

When should I launch?
What should I charge?
Should I charge?
Will anyone buy it?

There are so many things that seem to hold people back when they are looking to launch something new, like a new business, a new service, or a new course.

And while the questions are many, the solution is simple: Test it and find out.

Why do I need to beta test before launching?

Businesses that succeed quickly do so because they are constantly creating, testing and tweaking. It will do you no good to sit in an ivory tower planning everything to perfection.

Business is a creative endeavor and planning can only take you so far. It’s when you “do” that you will learn the most, and it’s only through doing that the elements of unknown become known and you get the answers you need to thrive.

The backstory

When I started out as a business consultant, I had no clients and, frankly, very little idea what I was doing. I had started, run, and sold one successful brick-and-mortar business, but I was switching focus and this new arena was foreign to me.

I’ll be honest: I spent almost an entire year watching from the sidelines. Planning, observing, scribbling, writing copy, deleting copy, tinkering on my website (sound familiar?) until I finally did something I should have done 12 months earlier.

I tested out my idea!

There is something about “testing” that makes creation less scary. By beta testing something, it helps to take the pressure off and eases the need to have everything “perfect” from the get-go.

The results

My beta test took one month and a little bit of planning, but that was nothing compared to the time I had wasted as I was waiting for “the perfect moment” to launch my new business.

Within three months of my beta test, I had clientele and quit my job to travel the world. I wasn’t a millionaire (I’m still not), but I had a business, services, and money coming in.

While this worked awesomely for me, I see many others who don’t have such luck. They try to create something, and either never take it to the test zone or the process doesn’t work for them and they end up giving up before they give their idea a chance. They back away, deflated, feeling as though their idea wasn’t good enough.

But it’s usually not the idea that sucks. It was their lackluster effort testing it!

In this post, I’m going to share the five key elements for testing your new ideas. I’ve personally walked many of my own ideas through this process as well as assisted my clients through it. Now, it’s your turn.

5 key elements for beta testing success

1. Define the benefits of your offer, and package it to sell

Whether you are toying with the idea of creating a new business, or you simply want to create a new offer in your current business, you must get clear on exactly what it is and what the benefits are for those who buy.

Through testing, you’ll gain more clarity on the realized benefits, but for now, you’ll be hypothesizing what the benefits will be. Take some time to brainstorm: What problem(s) does your offer solve? What are the pain points your customers are experiencing that make them realize they need this?

Be succinct in what you’re offering and what the benefits are, because even if you aren’t charging for your beta test, people will be investing time as a tester, so they need to make sure it’s worth their energy.

Once you’ve defined the offer and the benefits, don’t just throw something together and begin promoting it. Package your offer and create a formal sales page on your website, or a PDF flyer (if you don’t have a website). It should include all the things a typical sales page would include. (My BetaLab course includes an easy-to-follow template.)

The very process of creating this will help you get even more clear about what you’re offering and what the value is, and laying it out in a formal manner will make you look more professional, so prospective testers know that you take your work seriously.

2. Define your purpose for testing

If you don’t have a goal or two formulated, you’ll be blindly entering your testing phase and aren’t likely to get the results you want, because you won’t know what “success” looks like.

Here is a list of typical goals for those beta testing a new business or offering:

  • getting reviews or testimonials
  • getting feedback so you can tweak and better your creation
  • getting more experience and confidence in a new skillset

There are no “right” or “wrong” goals, but if you can figure out what goals you have before you start your testing, you will be more likely to achieve them.

3. Set + communicate clear boundaries around the beta test

If you aren’t clear from the get-go about what you will and won’t put up with, you might find yourself in a sticky situation pretty quickly.


You’re a coach looking to get more exposure and experience, so you decide to offer some free coaching. In your head, you are thinking that this will be a great way to gain confidence and later convert these free clients into paid clients.

But after four months of free coaching, you start to get annoyed. You’ve managed to help your clients a lot and are feeling like a rockstar, but you begin to resent the fact that you still have a handful of clients who haven’t offered to pay you yet.

You know it’s time to be compensated for your skills, but you aren’t sure how to proceed. You were never clear in the beginning about how long you would offer your services for free. You hadn’t defined the set number of sessions, a set end date, or a transition plan for when things came to an end.

You bring it up with your client and they are instantly taken-aback. They assumed that they would get free coaching for as long as they needed since you never made any specifications about an end date.

You part ways on weird terms, and in addition to feeling terrible about the outcome, you never get a testimonial from this client despite how much you helped her. Not cool.

You might think that this is extreme, but I’ve seen this exact situation happen with multiple coaches. That’s why I preach setting boundaries from the start of your beta test, such as:

  • What is your cancellation policy?
  • If you are providing a service, what will the end date be? (Could be a timeframe, a number of sessions, a specific achieved result...)
  • How can you be contacted, and what are your typical working hours?

To put it simply, be clear with your testers about what your expectations are. If you define boundaries in the beginning, you likely won’t encounter any issues. But if you choose to ignore these and hope for the best, I guarantee they will quickly bite you in the butt!

4. Don’t assume the logistics will work themselves out

One of the most off-putting things that I see when I’m perusing beta test offers is that many aren’t clear on what I’ll get, or how to move forward if I’m interested. Whether or not you’re giving away something for free, you still need to make it easy and very clear what the next steps are.

Tell prospects exactly what they need to do next. Do they need to apply? If so, give them the application. Do they need to set up a free call to see if you are the right fit? Give them the booking link. Treat them as you would a paying client and they will be more likely to become one in the future.

5. Put yourself out there: Promote your beta test!

Now that you have all the basics in place, it’s time to begin promoting your offer!

I know it can be scary to put yourself out there but I promise, it’s worth it. Even if you are “selling” something for free, it is crucial to create interest. It’s a hard truth, but just because it’s free doesn’t mean that someone will want it. Whatever you are giving away most likely requires an exchange of energy and time, so it’s important that when you promote it, you convey its value. (Coming full circle to #1, see that?)

A few tips for promotion:

  • Create an enticing mini-promo description that makes sharing on social media or in quick convos easy (Tip: If you aren’t getting bites after a few days, switch up this language and keep trying!)
  • Make sure there is a clear call to action when you promote
  • Generate a list of ideas for promotion and check them off as you promote
  • Create a swipe file and ask colleagues and biz buddies to help you promote it
  • Have a set timeframe! Seriously. People need deadlines and you need to get on with your life. Create a set timeframe for sign up and close the doors after that.
  • Use images in your promotion: Images capture attention! Use free software like Canva or Picmonkey to help you create a snazzy marketable image without expense or fuss.

It’s time to beta test

You now officially have a basic outline for your next steps in getting your new idea off the ground. It might seem like a lot, but with some focus and determination, you can easily put this together and begin promoting in no time!

Remember, the point of beta testing isn’t to launch something that is perfect; the point of testing is to launch something fast (but not sloppy) so that you can work on perfecting it over time. After the beta launches, move from analysis into action -- and you will be much closer to meeting your goals and making more money.

If you’re looking for more comprehensive step-by-step beta testing instructions with templates and a Facebook community to help you with your efforts, check out my BetaLab course. In addition to providing you with more details on the five elements above, it will also walk you through how to ask for feedback and testimonials so that you can make sure to get the most out of your testing! Best part? It’s fun, fast and extremely affordable!

5 Ways to Close a Sale

5 Ways to Close a Sale

5 Ways to Close a Sale

One of the best parts of being an entrepreneur is when you secure a “Yes!” from a prospect who will benefit from your product or services. The feeling of closing a sale -- that moment when you achieve your desired outcome and money changes hands -- can be one of the greatest sources of validation.

Sales may not typically be a solopreneur’s favorite thing, yet feeling that close is. But before you can jump to the close -- you need to make sure you’ve done the basics of selling:

  1. Start with the potential customer's problem. How does the problem that you’re solving typically show up in your prospects’ lives? What are the symptoms of this issue? What accomplishment is this problem preventing your people from reaching?
  2. Get clear on your benefits and be able to articulate them to your potential customers. This is where much of the selling actually takes place. You need to not only be able to talk about what will be different as a result of your product or service, but also paint a picture of why that difference matters to your prospect.

After you understand these two things about what you’re selling, you’re ready to have a sales conversation you can close.

These five strategies are Authentic Selling® (my signature sales system) approved methods to close the sale with prospects on your list that will leave both you and your client feeling like a million bucks. Please note: All of the following solutions take place after you have a customer on your list or as your prospect.

1. Follow up

The first -- and often overlooked -- way to close a sale is by following up. Statistics show as much as 50 percent of all sales are closed in follow-up communication. Most people don’t take the time to follow up because they fear being too pushy, yet 80 percent of sales require up to five follow ups. Get over the fear and develop a way to follow up that feels authentic to you. It’s a closing technique you can’t ignore.

2. Be of service

This is one of the easiest ways to close a sale and one of the least “pushy.” Ask your prospect what questions they have while coming from a place of genuinely wanting to help them make the best choice at this time. Be honest if you can’t help them, but show them how you can. By doing this, you show the prospect you’re willing to put what’s best for them over closing a sale.

You can’t give too much away, and you’re not wasting time by being of service. With every opportunity to help, you are selling the prospect on yourself, your product, and/or your service. A potential client is never going to close until they know, like, and trust you. How can you be of service? Host free webinars, book free consult calls, or offer a valuable, free opt-in. You are closer to closing the sale every time you give something away for free that is of service.

3. Nurture relationships

Simply put: Friends buy from friends. In fact, stats show that nurtured leads make 47 percent more purchases than non-nurtured. You don’t have to make someone your best friend, but you do need to follow the golden rule and treat others the way you want to be treated.

Get to know your prospects. Call them by name. Ask them about relevant events going on in their lives or cities. With today’s technology, it’s not tough to find ways to show you care. Three ideas for nurturing a lead are: sales funnels, free webinars, and engaging on social media in an authentic way. Ask yourself, if you were a prospect, what would make you feel nurtured and blow your mind? Once you have an answer, implement it.

4. Create a raving fan with every interaction (even the “mistakes”)

In my business, this has landed almost as many clients as following up. When you screw up -- and we all make mistakes -- ask yourself how you can turn those who witnessed your error into raving fans.

Recently, I sent out a marketing email that wasn’t ready to be sent. It was full of typos and errors. To make matters worse, I sent it on Mother’s Day. I had two choices: ignore the mistake, or acknowledge it and create raving fans. I sent out a second email with a genuine apology and offered free coaching to anyone who had a sales issue, as a thank you for accepting the apology. The result was incredibly thankful prospects rather than annoyed subscribers, and five new customers.

5. Never, ever give up

This is going to mirror the no. 1 item on this list a lot -- but it’s necessary. It sounds cliché, but never, ever give up is great advice for closing a sale, for running a successful business, and for life. At some point, your offer will be rejected. It’s going to happen. Make peace with it and realize it has nothing to do with you. Also understand that a “No,” might simply mean “Not right now.” It could mean, in the future, after some follow up, the very same prospect that told you “No,” could be saying “Yes.” Things change day-to-day, and month-to-month. Don’t give up.

As mentioned above, statistics show 80 percent of sales require five follow ups or more but only 44 percent of people follow up more than once. It’s not about pressing the same people over and over; it’s about checking in with them. One way to do this is to simply email a prospect who originally said no and let them know you’re thinking of them. Provide them with a book, blog, or resource to help them along their way. When they’re ready to purchase, you will be top of mind and they will be raving fans because you were the one person to check in over all the others.

Overcoming objections

Now that you understand the foundational steps to having a sales conversation and five ways to close a sale, let’s discuss one other very important part in closing any sale: Overcoming objections.

Anything that prevents the close of a sale can be considered an objection. It could be the prospect believing your product or service is too expensive, or it could be that they don’t feel it’s the right time to make a change. Whatever the reason, understanding what to say and how to close by overcoming objections is key to making more sales. (I believe it’s such an important part of selling, that I created “7 Ways to Yes - Simple Solutions to Overcome Objections, a free training available to you here.)

When you’re selling, you’re getting a “Yes” from a prospect and that means your business is making money and a difference. That’s the power of closing a sale.

Think It’s Not a Big Deal? Why Even the Simplest Partnerships Need a Contract

Why Even the Simplest Partnerships Need a Contract

What I've Learned from Our One Woman Shop Partnership

We’re writers and consultants, designers and photographers, front-end developers and store owners. And despite our differences, if you’re anything like me, emails with some variation of “Hey! I have an idea we could tag-team” pop up in your inbox frequently.

Entering into even the most casual of partnerships begs us to pause and protect the business we’ve worked so hard to create. Sure, “partnership” conjures official, legal agreements, but in actuality, a partnership can be anything from an Instagram loop giveaway, styled shoot, affiliate link, co-hosted webinar or e-course, conference, breakfast panel, or even a guest blog.

But for something as small as these examples, do you need a contract? After all, you’ve got a budget to balance, receipts to file, proposals to draft, and deadlines to meet. Who has the time to comb through an email thread and delineate terms and conditions?

No contract? Here’s what could happen

Time and again as I wade the freelance waters, I turn to Christina Scalera, a lawyer for creatives. According to Christina, yes, you need a contract even for small partnerships: “Ninety percent of [creatives] can avoid lawyers -- the expense, heartache, and more -- by communicating upfront and honestly in a contract,” she says. “Lack of a contract can lead to problems down the road if you’re not careful.”

Without a contract in place, we could:

  • Finish up a styled shoot to find no photos of our 12 hours of calligraphy work were even submitted to the publication
  • Partner to form an Instagram community, only to find a sneaky cohort is slow to hand over the login
  • Trade headshot photos for copywriting with a writer who just can’t seem to ever get to your bio

But first: Is the collaboration worth your time?

Before I send you into a downward spiral of researching what goes into contracts (editor’s note: start here!), pull out a pen and paper to figure out whether this collaboration is truly worth your precious time. If your hourly rate isn’t already on a sticky-note on your screen, follow these steps to find a rough calculation:

  1. Take what you need your salary to be (after taxes), and divide it by 0.7. That dumps back in an estimated 30% in taxes.
  2. Add your monthly business expenses, times 12.
  3. Divide that number 52.
  4. Finally, divide that by the number of hours you’re willing to work each week.

Back to the sticky-note: It helps me so much to think back to my PR agency billable days every time a joint venture, guest blog, affiliate, or partnership opportunity flurries across my inbox. Picture yourself on the project -- for me, that means seeing the project fit into my ink-splattered world of calligraphy and copywriting projects. For you, that may mean thinking through the creative brief, wondering how many hours you’ll log in Photoshop and Illustrator, and how many rounds of edits might be needed. Consider exactly what this partnership project require from you, then ask yourself this:

Are both the partnership ROI and the time I’ll invest in the partnership worth my hourly rate?

In many times, yes! As Christina mentions, guest posting is a great example: Essentially you’re doubling your reach. Market research tells us that it takes anywhere from 3 to 12 touches to nab that customer, meaning leveraging your voice by getting in front of others’ communities can be a rock-solid business investment.

Reassuring you a bit more, don’t fret over “legal-ese” verbiage: Technically, if both parties understand the language, it can go in the contract. It’s your catch-all. At the end of the day, much like my desk holds my calligraphy pen, nib, inkwell, gouache tube, and sketchpad, a contract holds together all the little fragments of email threads and promises between collaborators, tying them neatly together.

Truly, while you could manage promises de facto through your email thread, I’m a fan of a drawing up a quick proposal within my Honeybook account and emailing it over. It takes under an hour -- totally within my budget considering my hourly rate and what lack of a contract could cost me.

What to include in your contract

Like any good millennial, I’m in a constant state of information overload, and need an actionable takeaway for an article to stick. So, here’s your simplified partnership checklist! As you send over that proposal partnership template, review these questions:

  • Am I clear on the profit split, if any?
  • Did I write out dates of deliverable deadlines -- and project termination? (And reminder, this doesn’t mean relationship termination!)
  • Have I addressed the exit strategy, and listed the means that could allow the contract to be terminated and how the assets would be divvied up if so?
  • Who will own assets -- both during the project and moving into the future post-partnership -- from email lists and social media accounts, to final copy and leftover swag bags?
  • Did we jot out a list of tasks, and who will be responsible for what?

There you have it! Simpler than it sounds, right? Let’s save the freelance world of lady boss friendships-gone-angsty, one kindly worded contract at a time.

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Compatible Collaboration: How to Pick Your Perfect Partner

How to Pick the Perfect Business Partner

Compatible Collaboration: How to Pick Your Perfect Partner

Collaborating with a fellow solopreneur is a great way to expand your business and explore new platforms or markets -- without all of the pressure of trying to figure it out on your own. But partnering up with just anyone can make for a collaboration that brings more stress than success.

When you’re on the hunt for the perfect partnership, keep these essentials in mind.

Where to find a collaborator

While you could bump into your collaboration soulmate while walking down the street, there are two places in particular I recommend looking for potential partnerships.

1. Online communities: Membership communities like One Woman Shop are a great place to connect with like-minded business owners who are open to collaborating on a business or marketing idea. This is especially powerful when the group brings together solopreneurs from various fields and areas of passion or expertise. (Editor’s note: Just look at what OWS members Jill and Julienne recently brought to life!)

If you’re not yet a member of a community like OWS, free Facebook Groups are another great place to connect with potential partners. Chances are there’s someone whose posts have caught your eye, and if you’ve felt the spark, they may be the person to ask.

2. Group courses or programs: When you’re in a group course and interacting with the rest of the students either in a private community or on group coaching calls, keep your eyes open for potential collaborators. While you and your cohorts are developing a specific skillset alongside one another in the program, you’re also sharing your individual strengths and passions, and there could be a perfect match in there for an idea you’ve had brewing.

Of course, those aren’t the only places; they just happen to be my top recommendations. Here are a few other places to meet business partners:

  • Social media: Stellar Instagram shots or witty Twitter banter could lead you to a good match
  • Real-life networking: Making small talk and exchanging business cards at a conference or event can lead to partnerships
  • Your business community: A subscriber to your email list may impress you with their responses and engagement
  • Your social circle: Friends or family could be a great fit -- just be aware that mixing business and friendship can create high stress situations

Collaboration compatibility

Once you’ve set your sights on a potential partner, it’s time to do a bit of research and reflection to determine if you’ll be a good fit, and if the signs are pointing to a profitable collaboration. Here are the three must-haves for a strong match:

1. Balanced skill sets: If you and your potential partner are both bringing the same skill sets to the table, your partnership is going to be rocky. While your combined expertise may trump any and all competitors, you’re going to be left with some serious skill gaps that will create extra work and stress for both of you. Your best bet is a partnership where your skills will complement one another’s. Even then, you’ll inevitably have gaps, in which case outsourcing will be key.

2. Similar styles: Branding is important, and goes beyond the color palette you use and the funky fonts on your site. It extends into your language, communication and tone -- and is designed to attract more of the clients you love working with. A collaboration will struggle when there’s a big difference between the tone of your business and your partner’s. If your presenting style is upbeat and bubbly, and you partner with someone who communicates with a brash, in-your-face tone, your audience is going to be 1) confused and 2) turned off by one or the other of you. This leads to poor sales results and frustration for both of you.

3. Aligned expectations: There is a vast variety of projects that you can collaborate on. Blog post exchanges, webinars, courses, even full-on joint ventures or new companies. So being on the same page when it comes to what the vision is for the project (World domination? A fun side gig?) as well as how each of you will be investing when it comes to time, finances and energy is important. The saying is true: You can go farther when you go together...but with the caveat that you need to have agreed on the destination ahead of time.

Picking that perfect partner

In the rush of excitement of launching a new partnership or collaboration, it can be tempting to skim over the research and reflection on whether or not you’ll be compatible. True -- some of the must-haves can be managed or massaged with clever contracts and strong communication later on, but spending some time assessing the strengths and challenges your collaboration will face ahead of time can save a lot of heartache and frustration down the road.

Have other tips for finding the perfect partner? Share with us in the comments below.

When it Comes to Tax Time, Here’s How to Avoid the Panic Like a Boss

April 15th strikes fear into the hearts of many entrepreneurs, and for good reason -- once we’ve worked hard at becoming profitable, the last things we want to think about are tax payments, CPA prep fees or (gasp!) being audited.

I see that glazed-over look of “tax-time horror” on the faces of my coaching clients often. But based on my background as an accountant and auditor, I can attest that tax time is much less stressful if you’ve already conquered half the battle: having organized documentation. On April 14th, you don’t want to be scouring the depths of your purse for a receipt from that one expensive bill paid way back in January.

Now, tax time may have come and gone for this year (phew), but there’s no time like now to start making things easier for the next go-around -- especially because the panicked search detracts from your peace and can be circumvented easily.

Even better? Getting your documents organized can be fun, manageable and save money. So, if you’re cringing at the thought of calling an accountant, staring at piles of old receipts or just putting it all off until the last minute (again), I have a few simple, actionable tips to get your critical items in order so you can get on with the business of being a solopreneur #bosslady.

Ready? Let’s do this.

Make organizing fun and manageable

Some of us love to be organized, and some of us don’t. But here’s the key: The more organized you are during the year, the smoother your tax season can be. Whether you’re already behind, with your receipts piled up in a drawer for “later,” or you’re just getting started in biz, approach it the same:

  • Pick up colorful file folders and use your favorite Sharpies/pens to label them with descriptions of the file contents (cable bills, pay stubs, bank statements, etc.)
  • Grab a pile of receipts/invoices/forms and start organizing them into the appropriate folders

Are you all about digital file-keeping? Google Apps or Dropbox are great options to hold your documents. Both have free versions, offer file-sharing to others (like your accountant), can be used on your mobile device and can even be color-coded, just like those handy, physical file folders.

If you’re looking for a service that does more than simply house shareable documents, Shoeboxed offers IRS-accepted receipt organization, automatic archiving of invoices from Gmail and even a GPS-enabled app to track your vehicle mileage. This option has a free 30-day trial with subsequent payment plans currently starting at $9.95 per month.

Organizing your receipts and files can be accomplished while watching TV or listening to a podcast if you have a larger chunk of time, or gradually over the course of a week if you only have a few minutes each day. Breaking it down into a few minutes each day or combining it into another activity (hello, Netflix!) helps it feel more manageable.

Bonus points: Keep both a hard copy of all documentation and an electronic copy in at least two places. Proving income and expenses to the IRS could be a mini-nightmare if you lose the only copy of your detailed receipts. (Editor’s note: Scan your receipts in with your phone using a handy app like CamScanner!)

How to organize receipts + files within your folders

For the most user-friendly filing system, group your files into categories that would mimic your financial statements (revenue and expenses). For example, a revenue folder might contain sub-folders containing documentation for:

  • Commissions Earned
  • Income from affiliate programs
  • Tips Earned
  • Advertising Income

Similarly, an operating expenses folder would contain sub-folders for:

  • Payroll and Related Fees
  • Vehicle Mileage and Maintenance
  • Meals & Entertainment
  • Advertising Expenses
  • Software and Technology Service Fees

Grouping files into categories allows an accountant to more easily and accurately find what they need to file your returns. And in the event of an IRS audit, it could save you many stressful hours of digging through a stack of uncategorized files.

Organizing saves money

Another reason to organize your records: It can save you money. Having a brief summary of the year’s transactions can work as an excellent bargaining tool for reduced tax prep fees because most CPAs prefer getting a neat, concise schedule instead of a shoebox full of coffee-stained receipts. (A quick reminder: An accountant compiles the information; the IRS audits it.)

I highly recommend my clients regularly export their online financial account activity and maintain an electronic copy. Then, when tax time rolls around, they can easily summarize the year’s financial data to hand off to their accountant.

To do this, you can use budgeting or banking apps, or if you want to get nerdy with it:

  • Export online checking/savings account activity to Excel
  • Add a pivot table to the data in Excel (learn how to do it here or here)
  • Set up the pivot table to summarize by type of transaction, vendor, etc.

I am in love with using pivot tables on my exported Excel-format banking info because it provides 1) a quick summary of income and expenses by type for your accountant to use in tax filings, and 2) the underlying detailed transactions you would need if audited by the IRS.

If you use Freshbooks, Wave, or other bookkeeping apps, you can export reports, as well.

Getting your records organized can not only work as leverage for a potentially reduced tax prep fee but also illuminate forgotten expenses that help offset some of the year’s income, effectively helping to reduce your tax liability.

You can do this (really!)

The simple take-away: Organizing your tax records is 100% manageable, can save you precious dollars to reinvest in your business and can even be enjoyable when approached creatively. Give it a try and see if it provides some ease to your process. Happy tax season!

What were your greatest tax season pains this year? Leave them in the comments!

PS -- Feel like it might be time to learn more about those solopreneur finances? Check out Solopreneur Finances, a course we co-created with Carrie Smith of Careful Cents -- that just happens to be included in the One Woman Shop Bundle!

We Need To Talk: How To Effectively Deliver Feedback

Outsourcing for your solo biz via @OneWomanShop

outsourcing for your solo business via @OneWomanShop

In a perfect world, you’re a solopreneur with a perfectly assembled team of specialists to outsource to, who you’ve onboarded with ease. Your business is running like a finely tuned machine. Work gets done on-time, with expert quality, and all the moving pieces gel sublimely.

Except that sort of situation is exceedingly rare. So at some point you’ll find yourself in the position of needing to sit down with a member of your team and have “a talk” about how they’ve missed the mark or delivered work that isn’t up to your standards.

This can be awkward, nerve-wracking, and frankly something you would just rather not do -- but it’s got to be done. Fear not, because today you’ll learn how to effectively deliver constructive criticism to your team, minus the panic.

Get clear on the issue

The foundation of a low-stress feedback session with a team member is being prepared. Getting crystal clear on the exact issue will help you stay focused during the conversation, and will also yield the best results. Is there an issue with timeliness or lateness of their work? Mistakes or errors slipping through the net and into your hands (or worse yet, the clients’)? Or perhaps what they’re delivering is technically correct...but is missing the mark in representing your style and brand in the best way possible.

Being able to summarize the issue you’re experiencing in a short sentence or two will help you avoid accidentally rambling or skirting the issue. For example: “We need to address that your last three articles have been late.”

A tip: One way to proactively avoid these issues in the first place is to have a stellar onboarding process. Process docs are critical in onboarding.

Schedule the feedback

Delivering constructive criticism to a contractor isn’t the sort of thing that goes over well as a surprise. No one likes to feel as though they’ve been put on the spot. Schedule a meeting at least a week in advance, preferably to take place on Skype or over the phone, if you’re working remotely. Email may seem like the quick and easy way to take care of delivering the feedback, but it lacks the two-way communication that’s essential in avoiding misunderstandings. The goal is that you’re both feeling prepared and comfortable when the time comes to share your thoughts on where improvement is possible.

A tip: A classic method of delivering feedback is the Sandwich Technique, where you deliver the criticism “sandwiched” between two pieces of positive feedback. On the surface this seems like a great idea because it lets you get the conversation going with a low-stress compliment, deliver the negative feedback, and then bring the tone of the conversation back to a positive place with some more sweet words. Everyone leaves feeling pretty great!

But delivering feedback is about creating change, not warm fuzzies, so I recommend avoiding this technique when you’re delivering feedback to your team. It dilutes the importance of the critique you’re giving. There are times for positive reinforcement, and times for criticism -- mixing the two can leave everyone unclear on where they stand.

Bring solutions to the table

Identifying the problem is only half the journey in improving your team’s performance. Think back to high school and what it was like to get a big red X on a math exam. Not much use to you in figuring out what to do differently the next time. But the teacher sitting down with you and walking you through the better/correct/more efficient way of solving the problem meant that you were building a skill set that’d help you ace it the next time around.

Same goes for our businesses. Provide the criticism, and the skills or tools they’ll need to get it right. Below are some you solutions you might propose.

If the issue is...

  • Timeliness: Ask what’s causing the delays, and explore how you can help them hit deadlines. Consider offering to reschedule deadlines to another day of the week to avoid overwhelm in their calendar, or commit to giving a minimum advance notice on work you need done.
  • Errors or omissions: Review onboarding materials and offer to provide additional training on the issue areas. Screen sharing, recorded guides and manuals can be great supplementary materials to guide the team in hitting your expectations.
  • Brand or tone: Provide examples of language or visuals that are on brand, or assemble a style guide to help with consistency. You could even book a follow-up call to workshop some of their lacking/off-mark deliverables and help them understand why and how to adjust going forward (just like our math teachers walked us through the tough questions).

Encourage communication

Feedback goes both ways, and establishing regular check-ins with your team members gives you an opportunity to exchange feedback. At first, team members may be hesitant to share their thoughts on how you could do better (or differently) to help them be successful at their work, but handling their feedback with grace -- and taking action to adjust course -- will go a long way in fostering that flow of communication.

Having the hard talks is part of being boss

Discussing opportunities for improvement with a team member is never pleasant -- but as a solopreneur, it’s an essential skill that will help you cultivate a strong network of contractors and specialists that can help you deliver your best work to customer and clients. Focusing on clarity, solutions, and being open to receiving suggestions will help you make the process as stress-free and productive as possible.

Your turn: What difficult conversations have you had to navigate as a solo biz boss?

Taking the “ack” Out of Creating Packages: A Review of Rebecca Tracey’s Hey, Nice Package!

Hey, Nice Package! review

Hey, Nice Package! review

Hey, Nice Package! is a multimedia course by Rebecca Tracey from The Uncaged Life. It’s designed to take the guesswork out of creating packages for your service-based business. By the end of the course, you'll have offerings your community needs and be able to communicate the value of those offerings to the right people. One of the best things about HNP is you can apply the process to one-to-one packages, group services, and even live courses.

I purchased HNP early on in its existence, and still use the system when planning new packages and offerings. In this review, I’ll share who will find HNP useful, who it might not be such a great fit for, and what to expect if you purchase it yourself.

Full disclosure: Rebecca is known for her no-nonsense approach to online business and Hey, Nice Package! is no exception. Expect down-to-earth guidance and advice mixed with a healthy dose of straight talk. If you’re looking for touchy-feely hand-holding, this probably isn’t for you. If, on the other hand, you prefer cutting through the fluff, getting down to business, and you’re a fan of Rebecca’s blog, chances are you’ll love this course.

What to expect from Hey, Nice Package!

Hey, Nice Package! comes as a self-paced, 113-page workbook, with external links to worksheets and videos that take you through certain parts of the process in more detail. You’ll also get access to a private Facebook group for questions and feedback. The course is divided into nine sections that cover:

  • Doing the foundation work (identifying your ideal client, figuring out where you fit into their journey, explaining exactly how you help and knowing your strengths and how you like to work)
  • Choosing what to offer (problem-based packages vs. niche-based packages, developing a signature program, repeat clients)
  • Structuring packages
  • Beta testing packages (including getting feedback and testimonials)
  • Pricing
  • Writing a sales page
  • Creating next level programs
  • System and technology (automating the process, making delivery as smooth as possible)
  • Marketing

This course isn’t something you’ll be able to complete overnight, especially as a couple of the modules involve surveying and beta testing packages. The first time I worked through this course, it took about a month from start to launch. That might sound like a long time (and it might very well be possible to do it quicker), but it’s well worth the investment for the level of clarity you get at the end.

Who will love HNP?

The short answer: Anyone who offers services, no matter what field you’re in. Think: coaches of all descriptions, holistic practitioners, fitness instructors, yoga teachers, copywriters, and pretty much anyone else who has a service-based business.

The longer answer: One of HNP’s best features is that you can apply it to any industry with the same outcomes. It’s useful for new business owners who don’t yet have a community, as well as those who are more established.

HNP is perfect for you if you’re a business owner who wants clarity on who your ideal customer is/are, and where those customers’ needs intersect with that your expertise. It’s especially useful if you’ve been offering a general service up to this point (like copywriting or life coaching). A focus of the course is shifting away from offering general services for everyone to creating specific packages for specific types of people.

Sold? Find out more about Hey, Nice Package! here. Need more? Keep reading!

Who is Hey, Nice Package! not right for?

HNP is designed with service-based businesses in mind. If you run a product-based business, you will still find aspects of the course helpful. However, there will probably be other courses out there that will be a better fit for you and your business overall.

It’s also not going to be right for you if you’re not open to changing or tweaking your current services. Having worked with people who have service-based businesses, and gone through the same process myself, I know it can feel challenging—even scary—to narrow down what you do and who you do it for. HNP is a great practical guide that covers how to do that and why it’s necessary. As with any course, though, you also need to be willing to actually implement the system in your own business (remember, the whole process takes about a month from start to finish).

Finally, you might want to look elsewhere if you know that you’re going to want personalised advice and attention when crafting your packages. The course comes with an engaged Facebook group with 275+ members (and where Rebecca is very responsive to questions). If you know that you’re someone who will need some one-on-one hand-holding through this process though, you might want to consider hiring a business coach instead.

How Hey, Nice Package! has helped my business

Hey, Nice Package! has been eye-openingly helpful in a number of ways. Here are a few things it’s taught me:

  1. What not to do. There’s a great section in the first few pages of HNP called “The Shit We’ve All Done Wrong” which is about how not to create packages (for example, offering vague, mushy or intangible results, which is a common challenge for life coaches!). As I read through the list, it dawned on me that I was doing all of those things! Within the first few minutes of reading, I could identify several things I could do differently when it came to marketing my coaching practice.
  2. Stop offering open-ended packages. Another big takeaway from HNP is that it has encouraged me to step away from open-ended coaching packages. Now, when my clients reach the end of a coaching package, they can renew it if they want, but they know exactly what they’re committing to (and for how long) from day one.
  3. How I talk about my services. Like many coaches, I found it hard to describe my clients’ results in tangible terms. I’d used fluffy and vague language to describe my services that left me sounding like practically every other coach out there (which I’m not). HNP has helped me get clearer on explaining exactly what I offer by helping me identify exactly how I help my ideal clients and basing my packages around their specific needs, rather than vague guesswork. The sales page module also offers a helpful template I’ve now adapted for products and courses, too.

How HNP is different than similar courses on the market

Hey, Nice Package! works on several levels. It’s a way to create specific packages that combine your expertise with your audience’s biggest needs. At the same time, it’s also a useful way to generate ideas for future services, products and content based on your audience’s key problems and questions.

A lot of other products cover sections of the HNP process (for example, writing a sales page), but HNP takes you through the entire process of creating valuable packages from scratch. Rebecca is a great teacher, explaining each step in easy-to-understand detail throughout the course and offering feedback and advice in the Facebook group. While she provides a done-for-you framework, she still leaves a lot of room for you to put your own stamp on your packages.

Finally, it’s a reusable system: You can use it again whenever you create a new package or service-based offering.

What are HNP’s limitations?

Some people might view the structure as a limitation. If you want to get the full benefit, you need to work through the whole course in order, rather than cherry-picking sections. You also need to be willing to devote enough time to the exercises (especially the questionnaire and beta testing processes), so it’s important to be aware this isn’t something you’ll be able to complete in an evening. It’s an entire process rather than a “dip in, dip out” course.

Ready to take the “ack” out of packages?

Hey, Nice Package! is one of the most useful courses I’ve completed. Not only has it helped me get clearer on how I serve my ideal clients, but it’s also something I’ve used over the last couple of years as my business has evolved (as I write this, I’m currently working through the course again to re-tool my coaching packages). Using the HNP process, I’ve been able to hone my identity as a coach and create a set of packages and products based around the sweet spot where my strengths and skills meet my community’s biggest needs.

We are affiliates of and may receive commission from sales of Hey, Nice Package! As always, we only promote products and services that we love and/or think you might benefit from!

Producing + Marketing Videos as a Solopreneur: Outsource It

outsourcing for your solo business

outsourcing for your solo biz

If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s probably safe to assume that “create a welcome video for my website” is somewhere on your lengthy to-do list. But somehow it’s migrated lower and lower over time to live among other long-forgotten tasks like “clean out my inbox” and “start working out again.”

I don’t blame you; video is technical and complicated and tedious and (insert your complaint of choice).

But video is here to stay. In fact, in 2015, businesses that use video grew their revenue 49% faster year-over-year than those that weren’t using video. I know it’s likely your goal to be running an uber successful business 3, 5, or 10 years from now, so why not take a stab at integrating video into your strategy? It’s the best and fastest way to create an instant connection with your audience -- and who doesn’t want to inspire love at first sight?

Now, I can’t force you to categorize all your emails or join a gym, but I can help make video a much simpler task because it’s something I do for myself and other businesses every single day. So to start, let’s focus on the top outsource-able (new word!) tasks when it comes to video:

  1. Shooting. There are (approximately) a zillion options when it comes to outsourcing the actual production part of video making. From having a friend record your videos on a smartphone to hiring a production team fully equipped with cameras, mics, lights, and more, your options run the gamut. One thing you might want to consider: proximity. If you are looking for someone to record you, they’ll need to be local. However, there are lots of creative ways to tell your story remotely, too. Maybe you can find a videographer to shoot b-roll, and you can record a voiceover for it. This is your chance to get a little creative and plan out a video that truly showcases your brand story!
  2. Editing. Personally, this is the most tedious part of the process for me and one of the first tasks I outsourced in my business. If you don’t know what you’re doing when it comes to piecing together what was recorded to tell a cohesive story, it could take much longer than it would for someone who does it every day and can cut your video footage while they brush their teeth. Unless you are really passionate about learning how to edit, leave this one to the pros.
  3. Implementation. This is what happens once the video is finished. It can include uploading, making custom thumbnails, tagging, annotating, sharing, writing tweets, and more. Making the most of video means marketing those that you create -- and these tasks can sometimes take just as long as making the video itself.

Now, I have a confession. When I first started my company, my only encounter with the word “outsourcing” was between the covers of a Thomas Friedman book. I knew of the concept, but I never thought of it applying to me and my business...until I started bringing on bigger and more involved projects. I knew I couldn’t do everything alone, nor did I want to. I found myself procrastinating when facing tasks that weren’t playing to the top of my skill set.

If video production or video marketing isn’t at the top of yours, outsourcing it can be key to getting it done.

And you don’t have to outsource the entire thing. Maybe you need help conceptualizing, but you can’t wait to edit the footage together. Or you can create the video, but you have no idea how to get it on YouTube and in front of a mass audience. Because there are so many moving parts, the great thing about video is that you can outsource any piece of it you want.

Where to find video pros

A real fear with outsourcing: Hiring the wrong people will cost you money in the long run. So, spend some time and do your research. Do they have a reel you can look at? Do they have references? What does their process look like? Will they edit a short clip for you so you can see how they work? These are all ways to vet the right people for the job when it comes to video.

Now that you know what to outsource and what to look for, the next question becomes: Where can you find these people? Here’s a list of resources you can turn to when looking for the right video team for your business:

  1. Mandy.com: Resource for all things production. Click on the “services” tab and narrow down your search by region.
  2. Production Hub: Another great resource for production people. Click “find crew/vendors” to get started.
  3. Upwork: A place to find freelancers for all types of projects. They have a “video production” section.
  4. Fiverr: I’ve never used this one personally, but I hear you can find some budget-friendly service providers on here. This is great for getting an animated intro for your videos.
  5. Thumbtack: Find recommended people in your area who can help you bring your video dreams to reality!
  6. Local film schools: Have a film school in your area? Ask around to see if there are any film students looking to build their reels. This tends to be a very budget-friendly option.
  7. VA: If you are strapped for time, find a virtual assistant who is fluent in YouTube (my favorite language) and video implementation. Once you have a system for implementation, you can teach anyone to make it happen.

If you’re inspired and ready to get started, the first (and arguably most important) step is conceptualizing your video. How do you want your brand and your story to be perceived? The best way to start is to do research. Look online for videos that have the vibe/style you want to create. Create a bookmark folder titled “reference videos” with links to the videos you admire. You can also start a new board on Pinterest with photos that inspire your brand. Visualizing your video beforehand will make the planning -- and outsourcing -- process much easier (and more fun).

Video marketing is all about strategy -- and to prepare you with the right strategy and message, I've developed a free blueprint for creating killer homepage videos.

Your turn: What would you like to outsource when it comes to videos?

PS -- Not sure where to start in evaluating potential pros? Our Prior to the Hire ebook has you covered.

Prior to the Hire ebook from One Woman Shop

How (And Why) To Outsource Your Instagram Marketing

outsourcing for your solo business

outsourcing for your solo biz

I love being on Instagram. I love sharing my tips and ideas. I love interacting with people. I love searching through hashtags and finding awesome new people to follow.

(I also love shopping via Instagram -- which isn’t so great for my bank balance.)

What I don’t love is taking photos or creating graphics.

As a copywriter, I’m happy to admit photography and graphic design are not my strengths. Needless to say, I was wasting a lot of time trying to do it myself and still not getting the look and feel that I really wanted for my feed.

As soon as I could afford it, I outsourced my image creation and curation on Instagram. And it’s been an awesome decision.

In this post I’m going to share with you how I went about outsourcing my Instagram images and why I’m more in love with Instagram than ever.

How I went about outsourcing

As luck would have it, a client I was working with brought on a junior graphic designer to help me manage their Instagram feed. She’d curate images in line with the strategy and I would write the captions. It worked really well and their feed started exploding (in the good way).

I realised that I could do the same thing with my own feed, so I asked that graphic designer, Angelina, to work with me.

The first thing we did was sit down and discuss my Instagram strategy and branding. We then arranged a photoshoot to capture a bunch of images for my feed.

Now, at the start of each month, I send Angelina a list of tips, quotes, and brands I want to mention on my feed. She then curates images and creates graphics and puts the whole lot in a shared Google Drive folder.

All I need to do is grab the images, add captions and schedule them with ScheduGram.

The results of outsourcing

Now that I don’t have to worry about the visual stuff, I have more time to actually engage with my followers and create new content I think they’d love.

Of course, paying for something like this only makes sense if there’s a return on that investment.

And I have to admit, I was slow to see results at first.

But recently the engagement on my feed has taken off -- my email subscribers have grown, I’m getting copywriting enquiries directly via Instagram, and I’m even getting comments IRL from people about how helpful my feed is.

The big thing for me was ensuring that I maintained control over the content of my Instagram feed (I am a copywriter, after all). So I didn’t want to outsource the entire management of my Instagram feed. Every caption and comment is me.

How to outsource your Instagram marketing

Now, you might love creating images for Instagram, but maybe there’s another business task you’re doing that would make much more sense to outsource. If you’re thinking of outsourcing, here are my tips for making it work based off of my Insta experience:

Know what your objectives are

Make sure you know why you’re outsourcing a part of your business. For me, it was because I wanted to have an Instagram feed that felt branded and cohesive to help me find new clients.

For you, it might be to grow your engagement, give your brand a clearer “voice” or simply save time on something you don’t enjoy doing.

Figure out how much control you want to maintain

You might be happy to outsource all of your marketing, a part of it (the visuals or captions) or maybe only the stuff that followers wouldn’t notice (like ‘liking’ certain hashtags or finding new people to follow).

I would never get someone else to write my captions because I want my voice to come through, but you might be happy to let a copywriter who gets your brand to do it, while you take your own photos because maintaining control of your visual look is more important.

Do your research

When it comes to finding someone to outsource a part of your business to, spend some time looking for the right person. I was lucky that I’d previously worked with Angelina and already knew how well we worked together.

Seek out recommendations (Editor’s note: We highly recommend the ladies in the OWS Directory!) and take a look at what that person is doing on their own feed or for their clients. Ask them about their collaborative process and what they’d need from you to make it work.

The truth about outsourcing

A tip: As soon as you start investing in a part of your business, you start to take it a lot more seriously. Putting money into my Instagram has made me treat it as a key pillar of my marketing funnel, rather than just a fun place to hang out. And it’s definitely paid off for my business.

Would you ever outsource all or part of your Instagram marketing? If not, what would you outsource? Let me know in the comments below.

PS -- Not sure where to start in evaluating potential pros? Our Prior to the Hire ebook has you covered.

Prior to the Hire ebook from One Woman Shop