2010 Year in Review and Resolutions

We've toasted the old, rung in the new and made our annual resolutions for what we'd like to change in 2011.

Here are just a few of mine, but to be frank,
these are just the "best practices" from some
business professionals who very graciously
advise me. (Well, except the last one - -
that's 100% mine and on the list every year).
1. Blog more frequently and consistently
2. Improve my use of social media
3. Network more (and actually attend events)
And, of course, lose 20 lbs

I could stop there and finish with a dry toast to the New Year, but this is "Behind the Beaded Curtain" so I'll get more personal than that. (Besides, these "resolutions" aren't terribly different from those of any one running a web-based business.)

2010 was a challenging year for Manda Panda Creations because it was a challenging year for our family. The year began in a critical state in two aspects: emotionally, as our son had been sick & fevered continuously for the last three months of 2009; and financially, as my husband's company was folding.

Facing surgery for our son, my husband opted to take the first job that came along. This job took him to Rhode Island and kept him working such long hours we hardly talked, let alone saw each other for most of this year. Even though my husband has always traveled a lot for his career, our toddler was not used to having so little contact with his Dad by phone, skype, etc. So our son, just 3-years old, clung to the only person he felt he had left: his Momma.

Every mom I know has warned me to prepare for my child to pull away from me around age 3, but I actually had the opposite experience. I wasn't able to do anything without him right by my side - not even move the laundry from the washer to the dryer or go to the bathroom. He wasn't sleeping at night if he couldn't be right next to me, holding my hand or my hair or my pajamas. It was a definitely regression and I felt certain it was damaging to our child's development.

When I decided to launch mandapandacreations.com, our son was a little more than 2-years old. By the time I figured out that I couldn't effectively run a business JUST at night when he was sleeping, he was 2 years 8 months old. I remember it that distinctly because that's when we decided to put our son in daycare part-time. It took a couple of months and a lot of patience to transition him to daycare, but he grew to love "going to school" and I could concentrate on running my business (for the first time since starting it). That bliss lasted less than four months.

So I decided to unplug almost completely from my business this year. An odd choice perhaps, but my son needed me so I was there for him. After all, how long will 'just being with Mom' be all he wants/needs? My family also needed me to figure out how to reunite us. I started by trying to sell our houses (we own two). I also took our son on more play dates and adventures to try to help cut the apron strings. By mid-spring we were making progress with toddler independence, but a new problem arose. Our son was mad at Dad, so our work was not done.

Beyond the over challenged logistics of family time together, I found myself in & out of the hospital this year (challenging when your spouse is home, but lunacy when you're living like a single mom). Fortunately, the lack of sleep which exacerbated my symptoms eventually helped lead doctor to a diagnosis: celiac's disease, an auto-immune disorder that leads to nutrient deficiency. So all this time I thought something was wrong, it was. Fortunately, the treatment is incredibly simple: I just don't eat gluten!

So how did everything else wrap up? Eating gluten-free has been a God-send. It's been helpful for our son too, who was suffering with terrible allergy symptoms which are now gone. I was unsuccessful selling either of our houses, but I took on a new title this year: Landlord. I successfully renovated one of our houses and found a great family to help me grow the equity until the market rebounds (or they decide to buy it). I enjoyed that experience so much, I'm sure I'll try doing it again.

And perhaps even more odd, we had cause to celebrate when my husband's employer and he decided enough was enough parted ways this fall. My darling husband is still looking for work, which is stressful (especially during the holidays) but we're finally living like normal families do: together! And once Dad was home for a while, consistently, our son knew it wouldn't hurt to get close to him again.

And what of my business? Well, I took little moments and still got to play with my gemstones. I found some success in doing repair work for mom's while at play dates (mostly of jewelry from companies employing a 'pyramid of women' to sell it, btw - - a reminder that quality is defined by service after the sale, not just at point of sale!). And best of all, the bulk of my sales in 2010 were doing what I love most: custom design.

Our family made the best of 2010 despite its hardships. And strange as it may sound, I find myself very grateful for the struggles. Because of them I KNOW (not just presume) that my husband loves me & our son more than his career. I KNOW that my son is resilient to heart break, a good thing to know before he has his first romantic crush. I KNOW that we have a great support system. I would be completely remiss, if I didn't take a moment to give a tip & a nod to my parents, siblings, extended family and friends, without whom 2010 would not have been bearable at its lowest points or sparkled as brightly during its high moments. And finally, I KNOW that I am looking forward to 2011, no matter what it brings!

Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!

My upcoming Web-a-versary

So, most everyone who reads this blog or know me know that Manda Panda Creations is a one woman show.  More accurately mandapandacreations.com is a one Mom show, since I didn't decide to go on the web until just prior to our son's second birthday.

Next month will mark the anniversary of MPC's presence on the web and with every anniversary there comes a time of reflection: What has worked?  What hasn't?  What is yet to be tried?  And I've concluded, which will come as no shock to the web or business savvy, is that networking is still king.  And the farming adage about time & patience still very aptly applies as much to a web-based business as it does to a brick & mortar.

A year ago I really did think LAUNCHING the website was the big hurdle.  Boy, was I naive.  

Truth be told, I've actually been lucky in gaining success with my sloppy attempts at self promotion and laissez faire efforts with networking.  Perhaps not surprisingly so - I love meeting people and I'm passionate about what I do.  But the knowing the best ways to translate what comes natural to me with the tools available for web promotion has proven more of a challenge than originally anticipated.  The investigation, setup and administration of these tools takes a huge chunk out of my creative time.   

I've begun reviewing options to streamline my promotional efforts.  In doing so I now have a greater why my competition is so much more expensive than me for similar goods.  This leaves me, at the start of the new decade at a cross roads.  Do I go big or do I remain a modest but still successful shop which hopefully grows over time?  

Or is there a happy medium?  Well, I hope there is.  My plan is to try to continue doing what works (actually better and more of it) and to reach out to you, my friends and allies to ask for a little advice and help with the following:

  1. Gaining a wider audience.  I'm on social media: facebooktwitter, but I'm pretty much just social on it.  Well, I do actually have a facebook page, but it doesn't get publically listed until you have 1000 fans! I'm just not real comfortable flagrantly promoting myself.  Any suggestions? 
  2. My blogs: Manda Panda Creations and this one, Behind the Beaded Curtain. I'd like to freshen and streamline them.  Get a custom skin made so I can embed it on my site along with some other widgets.  Know anyone?  Are you that someone?
  3. Website maintenance: My website is home-baked by Mom and my darling hubby.  I need an easier tool to update my database without needing to bug them or wait for them to do it.  (I've got lots of new stuff to list).  I heard 'content managers' are that solution, but what's a good one?  Does anyone know? 
  4. Finally, would you give me a website gradecard?  Visit my site look around and tell me what appeals to you and what doesn't.  
Thanks for reading, looking, considering.  I look forward to getting your feedback, no matter how much or what you have to offer.

Happy New Year!