The Next Best Thing…blog hop

The Next Best Thing…blog hop

I really enjoy finding new blogs to follow, and I love sharing them too. So I was delighted to receive an invitation to participate in “The Next Best Thing” (TNBT) blog hop. Hopefully you’ll enjoy getting to know a little more about me and some of my favourite bloggers.

Alana Agerbo–Hazy Shades of Me–invited me to participate in TNBT. She’s a writer out of Vancouver, BC, Canada, and I always look forward to her posts—they’re brilliant exerpts of her skillful ability with words!

Her blog was launched in March 2011 in an attempt to pin down the words skittering through her mind. It inspires her to write on an almost daily basis. She has a dusty old manuscript lying in the drawer, complete with, more than a few, letters of rejection. Alana’s hopeful to see her work on a shelf one day, not a speck of dust to be found.

Some of Alana’s work is published on Ezine.com, and can be found here

(http://my.ezinearticles.com/profile/)

She blogs here

(http://hazyshadesofme.com/)

(http://thewroughtwriter.wordpress.com/)

She tweets here

(https://twitter.com/HazyShadesofMe)

She hosts a writer-inspired facebook page here (https://www.facebook.com/HazyShadesOfMe)

As part of TNBT, I get to share a little about myself:

What is your blog about?

Coffee and Couch is an extension of my creative life. I’m a painter and a photographer, and I love to write–it’s the perfect creative storm! C&C is my playground where I get to share my day-to-day pleasures. But I don’t want to be phony, so I also pepper it with some of my gripes and grouchy moods—I don’t have time for blogs that aren’t authentic. Life just isn’t always perfect, and that’s what makes us interesting!!!

How did you come up with the name Coffee And Couch?

I start every morning sitting on my couch with a cup of coffee beside me and my laptop on my knees. It’s my favourite part of the day. I am fascinated by people’s stories and I learn lots of new things every time I hop on the world wide web (my kids gasp when I say it that way). I get to live vicariously and be immersed in inspiration.

I’ve been blogging for three years, and like most bloggers, I got burned out, and my posts became sporadic. I just didn’t feel inspired and uncertain about whether anybody cared about what I was publishing. Rather than stop blogging, I decided to use C&C as a forum for my photography practice, and I started a 365 photos project. It’s a great exercise that “forces” me to use my camera every day. A happy consequence is the fact that my blogging is way, way more consistent and I feel so much more connected to my readers.

Have you always been creative?

Art is in my blood. My grandmother was a talented artist and poet, and so is my father. One of my earliest childhood memories is painting rocks as a five-year-old in my back yard. I was lucky to have parents who really encouraged me to create stuff. I remember my excitement any time my mom bought me a new pack of Crayola crayons or a roll of newsprint paper from the local newspaper.

What is the best part of your photography?

I absolutely love finding great shots. I’m constantly walking off the trodden path to find an obscure fern growing out of a stump, lying down on a sidewalk to get a new perspective on a manhole cover, or standing on a crowded street with my camera pointed straight up at a crow on a telephone wire. There’s nothing worse than boring photos with standard poses. If I can’t make it interesting, I’m not interested.

Where do you find inspiration?

Colour is my seductress. Every day I find spellbinding colours in nature, grocery stores, clothing, interior design, artwork…everywhere. My Pinterest account is a testament to my colour inspiration hoarding.

I’m also inspired by light. The play of shadows and light is what tells a great story in photographs. It’s the same in my paintings. I do most of my photography using natural lighting, and I love the clarity it brings to my pictures.

Everyday items can inspire a whole set of shots. A stack of coffee cups, or a sudsy bar of soap might stop me in my tracks. It’s an exciting challenge to make something beautiful out of something mundane.

That’s all about me, now comes the fun part—some of my fave blogs…

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot:  https://whiskeytangofoxtrot4.wordpress.com

Kimberley Laing is a talented photographer based in White Rock, BC, Canada. She divides her time between raising her kids, enjoying her horses and wielding her camera in an intensely creative manner. She has a keen eye for the beauty in otherwise overlooked day-to-day items.

Pinecone Camp:  http://pineconecamp.blogspot.ca

Janis Nicolay is a renowned photographer based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Her work graces the pages of various national shelter magazines. Her latest shots are of beloved Vancouver Canuck, Trevor Linden (hubba hubba) in his Whistler, BC home.

She pins at: http://pinterest.com/pineconecamp/

She tweets at: @PineconeCamp

Her shop: http://market.poppytalkhandmade.com/author/janis-nicolay/

Click It Up A Notch: http://clickitupanotch.com

This blog is one of my guilty pleasures. I could sit all day long on my couch with my coffee reading this amazing resource for photographers. It’s fantastic. Courtney, the founder of the blog, was a teacher but now she spends her time at home with her three children and her photography practice. She also has a group of fantastically talented women helping her host the blog, and I get so much information and inspiration from all of them.

Smitten Kitchen: http://smittenkitchen.com

Part of my creativity is my passion for cooking. I’ve been a foodie since I was ten years old and baking choux à la crème on my own, seriously. This amazing blog is hosted by Deb Perelman, a gastronomic genius whipping up her creations in her, “…puny 42 square foot circa-1935 sort of half-galley kitchen with a 24 foot footprint, a single counter, tiny stove, checkered floor and a noisy window at the end to the avenue below.” There’s nothing pretentious about her food, but it is so lovingly created that you can’t help but fall in love with every dish.

texting suicide…

A blog post I read really hit a nerve with me (My Friend Teresa Photography), and I’m determined to do my little part in trying to stop the madness. The post was about a woman who came close to losing her life in a car accident, which was caused by a girl who was texting while driving.

It affected me strongly, because I’ve been noticing more and more young drivers texting, even though it has been against the law for the past two years in my province (and a total dumb-ass practice for much longer than that). Come on kids. Are you seriously okay with texting while you’re driving?

Texting behind the wheel = I’m okay with committing suicide/homicide

Do they really need to tell their BFF that they’re LOL while driving on a highway? WTF?

I’m focused on teenagers, because that’s who I’ve noticed most often, and that’s who I’m really scared for. But that doesn’t let us adults off the hook. There are lots of “grown-up” dumb-asses out there too.

This video should be mandatory for all teenagers before they get their driver’s license. It sent shivers down my spine and brought me to tears. Please share it with as many people as you can. It will make a difference if we all do our smallest part. Thanks for listening to this mom, who just wants all our kids to be safer out there on the roads.

Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 11.55.54 AM

 

 

 

10 questions to ask yourself before starting an online business

I have an entrepreneurial spirit. Always have. Always will. I love to come up with ideas for businesses, and some have materialized, while others, gladly, have not. Although I’m still kicking myself for not pursuing the idea I came up with for a container store 20 years ago–can anyone say The Container Store? My latest endeavor was Nicole Jane Home–an online home decor and gift store that I built and operated for four years.

I poured my heart and soul into the business and I thought I was going to take Canada by storm. At the time, there was very little available online here and it was so hard to get things shipped across the border from the States (still is really).

Imagine opening your online business the very same month the world economy takes a nose dive. That’s exactly what I did in October 2008. There were a lot of sleepless nights, and nail biting. The learning curve was steep and fast. Surprisingly, I exceeded my sales goals in the first year, but, it came at a huge cost. When the smoke cleared, I realized that I had nowhere near the cash flow necessary to really take off. I had to look for a more effective, less expensive way to promote the business, and to find smarter ways to manage my inventory levels.

april cornell

Promotions were my biggest hurdle. I’ve got one word for advertising: HIDEOUSLY EXPENSIVE!!! It wasn’t until I jumped blindly into the world of social media that I was able to build the business in Canada (Contrary to my business plan, the States turned out to be my biggest customer base, until the second wave of the recession hit that is.). Over the next three years, I devoted a huge amount of time and energy to mastering blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, and pinning. My marketing communications background came in very handy. Slowly I watched my Canadian sales start to climb as I interacted with more and more people. It really does pay off, IF you do it the right way.

Even with all that work and dedication, my business never came close to reaching its full potential. There is a mile-long list of things I could have done differently. I was wearing 10 different hats doing everything; I didn’t have enough cash flow; I wasn’t participating in my family life as much as they needed me; my parents both became afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and required a lot of caregiving; etc etc etc…shit happens. So I came to terms with the fact that I needed to close the business and sell the website, which is what I’m doing right now. I look at my business as a huge success in terms of the things I’ve learned, the people I’ve met, the opportunities is presented to me, and the life lessons I discovered. I’m even developing a social media consulting business for start-ups and small businesses based on all the expertise I’ve gained.

The reason I’m writing this post is to help the people who are coming up behind me, and asking for my advice on starting their own businesses, particularly online. I get asked at least a couple of times each week for my opinion or input about business ideas and strategies, and I truly love helping people with their plans. I give my honest opinion and what I hope is helpful direction. It’s only my opinion though, so if you’re reading this and it’s just not resonating, don’t let that stop you. Keep pursuing your dreams.

If you’re thinking about starting an online business consider these 10 things very carefully. This may sound brutal, but if you aren’t realistic, you could make some costly mistakes:

1. Are you ready to devote most of your time, day and night to this business (weekends too, baby)? Expect to do everything yourself. Your expenses will skyrocket with employees. Do you know what your sales need to be in order to hire employees?

2. Is this a hobby or a career? If it’s a hobby, consider something less expensive and time-consuming. An online business is NOT a perfect answer for stay-at-home moms who want to balance familly life and work life. Something always suffers. Believe me.

3. Are you committed to developing a thorough business plan (we’re talking multiple pages, including statistics to back up your plan)?

4. Do you have at least three times as much money as you think you need to run the business for the first year (not kidding)?

5. Do you have another source of income to cover your food, shelter, insurance, transportation, healthcare, etc.? Typically, businesses run on a loss for the first three years. If you have a spouse, partner, are they truly committed to sharing the burden financially and emotionally?

6. Free shipping is a nice thought, but can you afford it? I know that a lot of retailers offer it, but unless you’re an Amazon or Zappos, with gigantic sales volumes, you’ll be eating quite a bit of your profit margin on shipping.

7. Are you planning on shipping across the border? If you’re shipping from Canada to the States, be prepared to lose quite a bit of your profit, because customers in the States are used to much cheaper shipping. I used the postal system, and the U.S. rates are way lower, so my shipping charge didn’t come close to covering the actual cost. And don’t forget that you’ll be covering 100% of the return shipping if there’s a problem or defect, which does happen.

8. Is your website secure enough? The level of security required for a website e-commerce system is quite serious. It’s one thing if you have an Etsy store. It’s a completely different matter if you have an e-commerce website with a high traffic volume. It needs to be able to withstand attacks from outside systems (happened to me and could have shut me down for weeks if not for the quality of the team than ran the technical end of things). It needs to be secure, with gateways that protect customers’ credit cards and information. It needs to have multiple platforms for payment. It needs to be super easy for customers to navigate and process orders through. Don’t just jump at the first website company you see–do your homework and be realistic about how much it’s actually going to cost. I chuckle when people say to me, “Oh, you must have it way easier running an online business, because you don’t have the lease fees to worry about.” Couldn’t be farther from the truth.

9. If your inventory doesn’t sell right away, are you going to be able to afford to turn it over with fresh stock? You’ll need to stay up to speed with your competitors. Unless you’re manufacturing your own products, there are two main buying show periods: January and August, but your inventory will need to be updated at least four times a year: January (for spring), May (for summer), August (for fall), and November (for Christmas). Can you sustain that, even if a lot of it doesn’t sell?

10. Did you know there’s a big difference between a Canadian customer and a U.S. customer? It’s true. In Canada, we’re a lot slower to trust a retailer, especially online. It takes a long time for us to make a purchasing decision and quite often we’ll visit a website multiple times before actually committing to what’s in our baskets. U.S. customers have embraced online shopping in a big way and appreciate the convenience (and fun) of shopping on their computers. I’m not at all suggesting that my U.S. customers were willing to risk anything, they still expected my business to be attractive, efficient, secure and cost competitive. You have to work really hard to get your customers, and even harder to keep them, but it takes a little more with Canadian consumers, eh!

11. Bonus Question: What’s your exit strategy if the business closes? If you don’t have one. Don’t open the business. You need to know what you would do to liquidate leftover stock. What about your business partners and any accumulated assets, debts, etc.

My biggest piece of advice? Start small and learn your way up the ladder. Watch…you’re probably some Bill Gates type, who is about to launch into the stratosphere with some amazing product. If that’s the case, don’t forget the wee little people like me–I just want a swimming pool, please.

If this hasn’t scared the pants off you, and you still think you’ve got what it takes, you’ve got to listen to your own instincts. Some of the most successful businesses have happened even in the face of serious naysaying. I wish only the best for you and hope you achieve your dream. I’m rooting for you.

magical makeover…

Today is laundry day…oh yeah…it’s Father’s Day too! I tend to be a rebel–at least that’s what my life coach tells me, but I think she’s wrong. So today, I say NO to laundry!!!! Instead, I thought I’d have some fun and do a lightening-quick makeover of a bedroom…you heard me…a makeover, baby!

I took a photo from Canadian House & Home Magazine‘s website, and gave it a little makeover. I added a little punch of yellow, threw on some of my Nicole Jane Home Bespoke cushions and changed the dreadful…er…challenged picture. Now, rather than saying “I want to be in a psych ward.”, I think it says “Hello world! Let’s jump on the bed!”

Hmmm…I had so much fun with this! I think I might just subject you to more of these makeovers!!!

design in a box…

Today’s going down as one of the best in the history of the Findlay household. I just about giggled like a school girl when I saw the postal lady walk up my sidewalk with a box and a roll of carpet samples in her hands.

DRUMROLL….

It’s the Design In A Box that I won from Canadian designer and design columnist for Dabble magazine, Nyla Free!!!!!!!!!!

It came in the prettiest grey box with yellow trim & ribbon!! I’m a wrapping kinda gal! It’s full of fabric samples for upholstery and drapes, design layout options, source guides and carpet samples!!!

It’s just like Christmas around here! I was so excited that I tore everything open in a frenzy (as you can see), called Nyla to blabber on about what a huge fan I am, and now I need to go back to bed ’cause my brain blew up!

I’m suddenly craving turkey and gravy…mmmmmmm!

area rug area rules…

Ever wondered about the rules for placement of area rugs? Apparently, I’ve been breaking ALL the rules ALL these years. I finally got so fed up three years ago that I ditched the rug under my coffee table and haven’t replaced it since (bad girl).

I’m really impressed by the new line of area rugs by Style At Home magazine…yes…the magazine! I haven’t seen them “live”, so I have no idea about the quality, but for $190, you can get this rug (other styles/sizes) for 8’x11′. Not bad.

photo courtesy Style At Home Magazine

As for the rug placement rules…Style At Home’s got that covered too. Christine Hanlon recommends the following rules in the May 2011 issue.

* An area rug should always extend under all of the key furniture pieces. It’s best not to have a large section of empty rug extend beyond where the furniture ends; ideally, the rug should only extend one to two feet beyond the furniture–ensure that this is consistent on all sides.

* A dining room rug should be large enough that when chairs are pulled out from the table they are still on the rug–usually one-and-a-half to two feet of extra space beyond the table on all sides.

* If you’re placing two rugs in adjacent rooms, there should be a proportionate amount of space between them since each defines its own distinct area, with graphic patterns, the designs could be the same or well-selected companions (for example, reverse colourways of the same pattern).

she's so sophie…

Knees shaking…dry throat…and the ever-present threat of two ill-behaved dogs on the verge of hysterical barking…

You guessed it! That was me dialing the phone to call my design idol–Sophie Conran–who kindly agreed to be interviewed. When I heard her cheerful, “Hello”, I was instantly at ease–she’s even more personable and interesting than I imagined.

Sophie’s accomplishments are vast in the world of design and good taste, including work as the entertaining editor for In Style, writing entertainment and recipe features for Living Etc., and writing for House Beautiful about what makes a house a home. Not to mention all of her cookbooks and designs in tableware, glassware and wallpaper.

Sophie also turned a 15th century manor into a retreat–Sophie Conran for Temple Guiting–for country weekends in the Cotswolds. It’s looks and sounds absolutely idyllic–I can just imagine how beautiful it would be for a wedding! (Mark…if you’re reading this…take it as a huge HINT for our 25th Wedding Anniversary…no point being subtle anymore!!!!!)

Sophie Conran for Temple Guiting

Sophie Conran for Temple Guiting

Before I go any further, may I offer my advice for the best way to read this interview? Make yourself a pot of tea, sit in a comfy chair, and drink out of one of Sophie’s irresistible cups. Or feel free to fill it with jelly beans and munch away, like I did during a photo shoot a few weeks ago!

photo by Janis Nicolay for Nicole Jane Home

Jennifer: Sophie, your tableware is wildly popular in Canada and the U.S. What was your inspiration for the beautiful organic shapes and colours?

Sophie: One source of inspiration came from my childhood. My family used to drive from England to our little house in France and stop off in Limoges on the way. My mom would visit the ceramic factories to buy seconds of their porcelain, which were always plain white and wobbly and each piece was individual. Another inspiration came from the Japanese, who have amazing potters. I really love the way they hand-make such delicate pieces. They have a saying that if something is perfect, then it’s not beautiful.

Jennifer: I’m most impressed by the fact that your tableware is strong and delicate at the same time. How were you able to achieve that balance?

Sophie: It has to do with the material it’s made with. It’s pure porcelain, which is fired at really high temperatures, making it incredibly hard and durable. All the pieces can go in the oven, dishwasher, and microwave. When we were making the samples, I kept on asking, “Can we make it thinner? Can we make it thinner?” because I wanted that delicacy. When you drink a cup of tea, and you have a very thin cup, somehow the tea tastes better.

Jennifer: Your cups are the ones I drink my coffee with every morning.

Sophie: That’s lovely. I’m delighted that my website has a picture of Mrs. Obama drinking out of one of my cups during a visit to England.

Jennifer: One of the best things about your tableware and glassware is that they are truly multi-purpose. I frequently reach for one of your teapots or glass jugs to hold bouquets of flowers. Do you have any suggestions for unique ways to use any of the other pieces?

Sophie: All of the pieces can be used in the oven, so I’ve made berry crumbles in little tea cups and everyone gets their own personal serving. I also use lots of tumblers filled with tea lights and flowers on my table during dinner parties.

Jennifer: You’re a member of a highly creative and accomplished family. How did your parents foster creativity and encourage you and your siblings in your creative pursuits?

(Sophie is the daughter of UK designer, Sir Terence Conran and cookbook author, Caroline Conran, and her brothers, Sebastian, Jasper and Tom are all renowned in their respective fields.)

Sophie: My parents were always showing us things, getting us involved, and asking us our opinions. The business very much revolved around our home with my dad’s design studios based there. We moved to an old school when I was little, and the old classroom blocks became the design studios and workshops. The carpenters who made all samples would come over for a drink and dinner and stay the night. It was our playground and we were all involved in the photo shoots for my father’s catalogues. It was a huge deal when a new design or new piece of furniture came in–very exciting.

Jennifer: Did you appreciate it when you were a child? That it was something very special?

Sophie: I don’t think so. I didn’t do well at school, but home was fun for me. My mom was always cooking and writing recipes for books and magazines. When we moved into the school, it was pretty derelict, so we lived in a “building site” for a pretty long time. There were old walled gardens, which had been a Christmas tree farm. They were all cleared out and we built a huge vegetable garden and remodeled all of the greenhouses. It was pretty amazing actually. There was always lots of creativity around us.

Jennifer: It sounds wonderful, but it also sounds like a lot of work.

Sophie: I really enjoy work. I’m happiest when I’m working.

Jennifer: As a mother and businesswoman, you are an inspiration to women all over the world. What advice would you give to someone just starting out in a career or building a business?

Sophie: I always put my kids first. Be patient, always be true to yourself and don’t be scared of making mistakes. And always work with great people—make sure that you interact with reputable companies, it’s very important.

Jennifer: Do you get to travel very much for your work?

Sophie: I don’t travel very often. I’m a bit of a homebody. I’m in my office right now, but it’s attached to my home.

Jennifer: Whenever I visit England, I’m always so impressed by the bold British design aesthetic—particularly the exquisite paint colours and wallpapers. In Canada and the U.S., we’re seeing a strong resurgence of wallpapers, and I’m excited to see your new collection. What inspired your designs?

Sophie Conran wallpaper collection

Sophie: I absolutely love nature. The wallpaper hanging in my office at the moment is based on a Japanese kimono book. It’s full of beautiful irises, which were inspired by the exquisite floral designs and embroidery on the kimonos.

Sophie Conran's "Fleur" wallpaper

The inspiration for another collection that I designed was from a childhood stay at a chateau in France. It was completely falling apart. Each of the rooms had incredible paintings, fabrics, and such fabulous fading wallpapers.

Sophie Conran's "Belle" wallpaper

Sophie Conran's "Juliette" wallpaper

Colour is also a really big inspiration for me. Contrasting colours always get my creative juices flowing.

Sophie's home featured in the April '08 edition of Australia Home Beautiful

Jennifer: [The interview with Sophie took place two weeks prior to the royal wedding] Will & Kate‘s wedding is just around the corner and we’re getting very excited about it in Canada. My 77-year-old mother is even planning to wake up at 1 a.m. to watch the ceremony on TV. How will you be celebrating the royal wedding?

Sophie: They’re such a sweet couple—always smiling. We’ll be attending a big party that a friend is throwing at his home in the Cotswolds. Lots of people are organizing street parties, and I think that 10 million visitors are expected to be in London for the wedding. People are baking and decorating—it’s really, really nice actually.

Jennifer: If you had a day all to yourself, what would you absolutely love to do?

Sophie: We have a home in the country, and I love to be down there with my family. I spend time gardening, and visiting the gardening centre–just doing nice stuff around the house with my kids and husband. I really enjoy cooking, and friends often come over with their children and we’ll have a big meal together.

Jennifer: Imagine that it’s Monday afternoon at 2:43 p.m., and you’ve been hard at work. Do you reach for one of your delectable Whoopie Pies and a piping hot cup of coffee?  Or is it an apple muffin and iced tea calling your name?

Sophie: I don’t really like a lot of sweet things. If I was busy, it might be a little piece of avocado on toast with a squeeze of lemon. Or it might be some humous and carrot sticks, or a smoothie.. I normally have something already prepared in the refrigerator, like lentil salad, so I might have a bit of that. Those are the kinds of snacky things I like to eat.

I’d like to thank Sophie for taking time to chat with me. She’s such a dynamic person, and I look forward to seeing many more amazing things from her in the future.

CONGRATULATIONS, Anita T: You won the Sophie Conran giveaway. You were lucky #9.

SOPHIE CONRAN GIVEAWAY!!!

I’m such a huge fan of Sophie’s products (we use her tableware every day in my home) and I want to celebrate her interview by hosting a GIVEAWAY. One lucky winner will receive one of her gorgeous white cake plates, a set of 4 white dessert plates, and a white teapot!!! Everything you need for tea time!

All you need to do is:

* Visit Nicole Jane Home and sign up for my newsletter (don’t worry, I NEVER send spam. If you’re already on my newsletter subscribers’ list, you’re automatically entered.

* Leave a comment below to let me know you signed up.

Here’s the small print: You need to be a resident of the U.S. or Canada (we’re not allowed to run contests for residents of Quebec), 18 years or older. Good luck everyone!

Draw Date: May 25, 2011

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