Here are some of the blog posts I wrote while working for UrbanGirl Office Supply.

New Year’s Resolution: Support Small Business

Posted on December 31, 2014 by Hannah Diamond

Resolve to be a Small Business Champion!

We take pride in UrbanGirl‘s support of other small businesses, especially woman-owned businesses.  All of us are resolving to make an effort to support small businesses as much as possible in 2015.  We have previously outlined reasons why we support shopping small; now we are sharing some ways to do just that.  Here are some suggestions for Small Business New Year’s Resolutions.

1.  Research where you shop.

We know it is not practical to know every detail of every company.  However, when given a choice, try to find out as much as you can to make an informed decision regarding where to spend your money. Think about the questions that are important to you, and support those companies whose values align with yours.  How does the company treat employees?  Does the company give back to its community?  Does the company outsource its labor to other countries?

2.  Realize that price isn’t everything.

While this tip is not practical for everyone, if you can afford to spend a little more, don’t make price your only factor when making a purchase.  You might find a book in your locally owned bookstore, and then notice that the book is available online from a major retailer for a few dollars less.  If you can afford to do so, buy it from your local store to support your local economy.  A lower price from a larger company could mean that the company pays its employees less, outsources to other countries, or simply is able to buy in bulk–a luxury not afforded to smaller businesses.  These are all factors to consider when making a purchase.

3.  Try something different.

One of the great things about small businesses is their uniqueness.  Often, we buy from the same stores, online and off, because we trust them.  However, a large chain store will have the same items in every store.  Take a chance on something different.  Look online, as well as locally, for different options.  Seek out companies you haven’t tried before.  You may find a hidden gem that will become your new favorite place to shop.  Most small companies will link to an independent review site such as Trustpilot, or you can search the Better Business Bureau if you are scared to buy from a new company.  This resolution is great for restaurants, too. Resolve to eat in locally owned restaurants this year, instead of boring chain restaurants.  Your tummy and your local economy will appreciate it!

4.  Spread the small business love.

If you find a business you enjoy, tell people about it!  Small businesses often have little to no advertising budget.  The best thing to do to help keep a small business going is to tell others about it.  Eat at a great restaurant?  Write about it on UrbanSpoon or Yelp.  Find a cool product? Share a picture of it on Instagram or Pinterest.  Get great customer service? Brag about it on Twitter or Facebook.  This will help make sure those small businesses you love will continue to grow.

7 Reasons for Small Business Saturday

Posted on November 26, 2014 by Hannah Diamond1

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“Small Business Saturday” continues to grow in popularity each year.  It is the Saturday after Thanksgiving when consumers are urged to shop from small businesses.  This day is important to UrbanGirl because we are a small business.  We also love to support other small businesses.  We think you should, too!  Here are 7 reasons to support Small Business Saturday.

1.  Personalized Service

Small businesses provide better customer service.  Small businesses often have fewer customers, which means they appreciate and know about each and every sale, often acknowledging customers with a handwritten note.  Small businesses also do not have robots or call centers answering their phone and replying to emails.  For example, UrbanGirl has no customer service employees.  When you call or write to us, you will get a response from someone who actually has a stake in the company–the owner, the marketing coordinator, the shipping coordinator, or a manager will work with you.

2.  The Economy

Small businesses account for 64% of new jobs in the United States since 1995 according to the Small Business Administration.  Small businesses are not only good for the national economy, but also the local economy.  Small businesses often source local products, and 91% of small business owners give back to their communities.

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3.  Diversity and Choices

Imagine if there were no small businesses.  Every city would have the same stores.  All of the online stores would be the same.  There would be less competition and fewer choices.  Owning a business is the epitome of the American Dream and it feels good to support independent business owners from diverse backgrounds who offer an equally diverse selection of products and services.

4.  Unique Products

If you are gift shopping, you are probably searching for something unique.  Small businesses often have one-of-a-kind items, handmade items, or locally produced items that cannot be found anywhere else.

5. Employees

Small businesses generally do not have call centers in foreign countries, or any kind of outsourced labor.  Small businesses hire local people, and have loyal employees who care about the business and its customers.

Small Business Saturday

6.  No Crowds

Shopping from small businesses either in person or online is so much easier than fighting the crazy Black Friday crowds at the large stores.  Relax and enjoy discovering unique gift ideas, instead of waiting in line for hours to buy the same thing everyone else is buying.

7.  Special Deals

Many small businesses offer deals on Small Business Saturday. Also, American Express has a deal for its cardholders who shop small that you can check out here: https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/shop-small/

What are some of your favorite small businesses?  Where will you shop on Small Business Saturday?

Beka Doolittle “Mompreneur” of The Pink Store

Posted on July 30, 2014 by Hannah Diamond2

Beka Doolittle turned her love of the color pink and her dream of being her own boss into The Pink Store, a store that sells everything pink.  The idea came to her while raising her three teenage boys.  “I found myself buying little pink things for my own personal space such as a pink hair dryer and pink straightening iron,” she says.

Being a “mompreneur” is her biggest challenge.  While all children were still at home, she had trouble finding balance.  “Owning a business is like having another child.  It’s amazing and hard all at once.”   This is easier now, she says, because her sons have now graduated high school, leaving only her daughter at home.

A finance degree with fifteen years of experience, a love of leadership, and a happy-go-lucky attitude all contributed to her success.  She also credits her relationship-building skills.  This is key “in an online world.  There isn’t any face-to-face connection so I make sure my emails or phone calls come across with a smile. No matter what, the customer is always right and the end result is about loving others and treating everyone with a high level of respect.”

Doolittle radiates positivity.  She says her friends and family believed in her and thought a store dedicated to all things pink was a great idea.  She said that the positive feedback was motivating because she didn’t “want to let anyone down.”  She has definitely not let anyone down based on her achievements and future endeavors.  She won Entrepreneur of the Year in 2012 from her local SCORE office, and is now “focused on partnering with our local Komen Nebraska Foundation.”

The Pink Store faces a legal battle with lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret, but even that hasn’t harmed her positive outlook.  Victoria’s Secret carries a line called “Pink” and in 2013 filed a petition to cancel Doolittle’s trademark on “The Pink Store.”  Doolittle is fighting to keep her trademark, and has received nothing but support from the public.  “Not one single person has negatively affected us,” she says, “we have received a numerous amount of positive supporters!”  She says the situation has forced her to learn “an extreme amount of patience,” but she “doesn’t hold any hatred” in her heart and understands that it is a “business situation,” although she calls a comparison between her store and Victoria’s Secret an “apples to oranges” situation because her store does not sell anything similar to the retail giant.

Doolittle is realizing her dream of owning her own business, being her own boss, and painting the world pink!  She advises any entrepreneurs who are just starting out to “give yourself time to learn your business.  There are so many ways to do things, and a lot of trial and error.  Patience will be the best virtue in this instance!  But, the rewards and the journey are amazing!”

Visit The Pink Store to find just about anything pink you can imagine, and to read Beka Doolittle’s ongoing story, check out her blog, Living the Pink Life.  

UrbanGirl hopes to inspire the spirit of entrepreneurship in women and girls.  We love to help support and promote woman-owned businesses.  Please see our directory of woman-owned businesses, and read our other profiles of successful female entrepreneurs.

UrbanGirl Profile: MOCHA Butterfly Boutique

Posted on February 17, 2014 by Hannah Diamond

“Manifesting our creative hidden abilities” is what MOCHA stands for in the name of this unique business–which is definitely not a coffee shop!  Kim Grayson and Nikki Warren are high school friends who opened the MOCHA Butterfly Boutique in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma.  I had the pleasure of interviewing co-owner Kim Grayson about the inspiration behind the business and its success.

“We wanted to support independent designers and help them find a voice in the community,” says Grayson of the inspiration for the boutique.  The majority of items for sale in the boutique are made locally.  They carry a range of items including clothing (some of which is created by co-owner Nikki Warren), jewelry, candles, body products, and children’s items.  Many of the products featured in the store are one-of-a-kind items that would be difficult to get into the bigger chain stores.  Grayson and Warren hoped that their store would allow these smaller businesses a place to sell their items without having to commit to making large quantities of products.

This concept of stocking the store mainly with locally-made items was hard to explain when pitching the idea to potential investors.  “They thought we were talking about a thrift shop, or a craft mall with booths,” says Grayson.  However, this did not stop the pair.  Grayson and Warren opened the shop without any loans, and the concept has been successful.   Grayson noted the biggest challenge has been the location of the shop.  Downtown Tulsa is known mostly for bars and restaurants, not shopping.

“I am happy all the time,” was Grayson’s response when asked what personality traits have led to her success, “and it is important to go with the flow and to be flexible.”  For example, they expected their customers to be women in their 40s and younger; however, their audience turned out to be mostly women 40 and over.  The owners had to be flexible to meet the needs of the customers who actually were shopping at the store, and seek out products that would appeal to the unexpected, yet appreciated, audience.  Grayson has a great rapport with customers, and the store has many regular customers who visit the store often, sometimes every day.

Grayson is proud to own a business that helps other businesses succeed.  When people shop at the boutique, they are “helping 40 other small businesses, helping the economy, and helping Tulsa.”  Her advice to other women who may want to start a business is “don’t think too hard, just do it.”

UrbanGirl Profile: Kirstin Hancock of Blue Maestro

Posted on January 27, 2014 by Hannah Diamond5

We love celebrating successful women here at UrbanGirl.  We especially love sharing the stories of women who are successful in traditionally male-dominated industries.  The tech industry is a one of those male-dominated fields.  However, “aspiring women leaders have just as many opportunities to achieve greatness in their chosen field of technology.  Women are good team builders and respected managers; they combine intuitive and logical thinking to accomplish outcomes,” says Kirstin Hancock, a founder of Blue Maestro.  She encourages women, or anyone, who has an interest in a career in technology, to “seek a mentor, to set challenging goals, and to be positive.  Many women in technology seek to empower women to be architects of change in the technology industry.  Diversity improves performance and increases innovation.”

Kirstin Hancock of Blue Maestro

Blue Maestro “develops and manufactures health and environmental monitoring and control devices for smartphones and tablets.”  Hancock left her career as a teacher to co-found and market the company.  The mother of three children says, “They keep me extremely busy.  I have the freedom to choose when and where I work, I love my job, I work around my family commitments, and I am my own boss!”

Many of Hancock’s teaching skills transferred to her new career, especially her personal and communication skills.  Teaching also taught her to be organized, to plan, and to “think outside the outside the box.”  She uses the creative skills she gained from teaching to  “write blogs, design trade fair displays, flyers and packaging, as well as manage our social media and marketing.”  She credits success to being honest and straightforward.  She says, “giving clear instructions often makes the difference between getting what you want and something else.   And when a job needs to be done I roll my sleeves up and lead by example.”

Tempo

Tempo is an “appcessory” that uses Bluetooth technology to monitor temperature

Blue Maestro created Tempo, a thermometer that uses Bluetooth technology to monitor temperatures and send alerts to a tablet or smartphone.  It is a great-looking product that has many uses.  Hancock’s vision for Blue Maestro “is to continue to develop the brand, to release many more products that make a difference to people’s lives and to have fun doing it.”

We love hearing stories of successful women in technology and in business.  If you would like to be interviewed for a future UrbanGirl Profile, please contact me at hdiamond@urbangirl.com.

UrbanGirl Profile: Business Owner Julie McLean

Posted on January 14, 2014 by Hannah Diamond

“I have always been an entrepreneur.  I had my first business at the age of seven,” says Julie McLean, owner and founder of Sibu Sura Chocolate.  The determination and spirit of entrepreneurship led McLean to become the first woman owner of a single-founder chocolate manufacturing business in the United States.

Business Owner Julie McLean

Julie McLean, founder and owner of Sibu Sura Chocolate. Photograph by Ellen Baker

Experienced in a variety of businesses, McLean’s love of chocolate led to her founding Sibu Sura.  She wasn’t satisfied with the chocolate on the market, and felt that chocolate “was not at its fullest potential.”  She started experimenting in her basement in Virginia in 2007.  She challenged herself to develop the best chocolate product.

She traveled to find different types of cacao beans and decided that Peruvian beans were her favorites.  She then experimented with different formulas, ingredients, percentages of ingredients, equipment, etc. to discover the perfect recipe and method for her chocolate.  In 2012, she opened a factory in Maryland to produce the chocolate.

McLean has always had an interest in business, and has worked since she was seven years old.  Even at that young age, she made business cards on index cards to promote her business of raking leaves and sweeping porches.  She became an assistant dance instructor at the age of 12, and created a variety of businesses throughout high school, college, and adulthood.  “I was always wanting to start my own thing, ” she recalls.

Her energetic personality and her tenacious spirit have led to her success.  When asked of the challenges of starting a woman-owned business, she said that “being a woman is only a disadvantage if you make it one.”  While she did experience some negativity from people who thought she was just having fun making chocolate in her kitchen, she believed in her vision and had the perseverance to be successful and ignore the naysayers.  She says, “if you want something bad enough you can make it happen.  You have to have the vision.”

McLean describes herself as a perfectionist, and this is evident in the manufacturing process at Sibu Sura.  She traveled to Peru to hand-select the beans, and the company stores the beans in a custom-built storage unit that is temperature and humidity controlled.  Other factors leading to her success include her ambitious personality, her passion, and her education.  She has a master’s degree and has studied law at the doctoral level.  She emphasizes the importance of legal knowledge when running a business, and advises that business owners need to make sure everything is legal, and that they protect their business with the appropriate trademarks and copyrights.

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Sibu Sura Island Bar photographed by Thomas Johnson

McLean is passionate about giving back to the community, not just the local community, but the global community.  Sibu Sura engages “in organic and fair trade practices, promotes sustainability and environmentally friendly initiatives, charitable causes, recycling efforts, and other important values and endeavors.”

McLean eats chocolate on a daily basis.  To try some of her exquisite chocolate, visit one of these locations, or order directly from the Sibu Sura website.  (Personal note: I highly recommend the “Funky Bars.”  I tried and enjoyed all of them, but the Dark Ancho Chili was my favorite!)

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This is the third article in a series about woman-owned businesses.  If you enjoyed this article, please check out our other UrbanGirl Profiles here.  UrbanGirl is a woman-owned business, and we love celebrating successful women.  We are looking for women to interview for this series.  Please email me at hdiamond@urbangirl.com if you are interested in being featured.

Free Printables for Gift Shopping

Posted on November 18, 2014 by Hannah Diamond1

Wishlist Fail!

We had a disastrous, yet hilarious, wishlist incident last year at Christmas.  I hope to help anyone avoid the crazy Christmas chaos that we experienced!

I married my wonderful husband two years ago.  I love my in-laws, but getting used to the holiday traditions of another family can be a challenge.  In my family, we never made wishlists.  My family is all about surprises, and making a list of gifts was just not something we did.  However, my husband’s family requested a wishlist from me last Christmas.  I was uncomfortable with the idea of telling anyone what to buy for me, but because it wasn’t perceived that way by his family, I made one.  I made a wishlist on a popular website that has almost everything, and so did my husband and his family.  I soon realized I liked the wishlist idea, because it helped me shop for others quite easily.

gift shopping idea

Now here is a cute gift idea for an office pal: Kate Spade Bow Push Pins. Cute and practical!

On Christmas morning, I opened up the first gift from my mother-in-law.  It was a DVD of the movie Despicable Me.  I appreciated the gift of course, as it is a cute movie and I appreciate any gift that is given to me.  However, I did find it odd to get a children’s movie.  Next, my husband opened his gift, a huge box of batteries.  We always need batteries, of course, but again, a huge box of batteries was quite an odd gift, as well.  As the rest of the family went around opening gifts, we all realized that something was definitely a little off.

Finally, my mother-in-law says, “We had a problem with the wishlists.  Are these not things that were on your lists?”  We admitted that many of the gifts were not on any of our lists.  Which was fine of course, but since she asked…

We soon discovered what had happened.  My in-laws had gone on this major website where we had all made lists.  The website had shown them “suggested gifts” for each of us, which they had mistaken for our actual lists!  Therefore, all of our gifts had been automated suggestions from a website.  I was terrified that the website had suggested something weird, offensive, or exorbitantly priced, and that my in-laws would believe I had asked for such a thing!

Help for Gift Shopping is Here!

I still appreciated all of my gifts, and the event gave us all a good laugh.  We did learn from this incident, however, that using a big website was not the best idea.  I am going to stick with old-fashioned paper lists from now on.  To help anyone else with gift shopping woes, I created a compromise between the total surprise gift-givers and those who want lists: a “hint list” rather than a “wish list.”

The hint list will help you and your loved ones with gift shopping.  Rather than listing exact products, they will list sizes, favorites, etc. to retain the element of surprise, and avoid any computer-generated mishaps!  Last year, I made for you a free printable gift shopping organizer that you can still find here: Printable Shopping Organizer.

Click the photo below to download the free printable Hint List!  (Once your browser opens the file, you may need to right-click on it and click “save as.”)

Click to Download Free Printable List

Bic Pens Fighting for Handwriting

Posted on September 16, 2014 by Hannah Diamond

Fighting for Handwriting

Bic has a campaign to save handwriting instruction in schools.  With schools focusing more and more on technology, handwriting is seen as a less important skill.  Cursive can’t be assessed by a fill-in-the-bubble test.  Schools want to prepare students for the future, and that future does seem dominated by keyboards rather than pens.  Of course, it may seem self-serving for a pen and pencil company to take up such a cause, but as a former teacher, I am behind this cause based on research as well as my own experience.

Handwriting, both printing and cursive, has benefits that go beyond the ability to put words on paper.  For younger students, handwriting instruction helps cognitive development, fine motor skills, and reading comprehension.  Research has shown that students with better handwriting skills perform better in the areas of reading and composition.  Students with poor handwriting skills produce poorer compositions in terms of content and length.  Writing has also been shown to activate areas of the brain that are not activated by keyboarding.  (source)

Research shows taking notes by hand produces better recall of the material than typed notes.  When students write notes from a lecture or book by hand, they listen better and recall the information better.  The act of writing by hand helps students stay focused on what they are learning and helps later with recall.  (source)  From my own teaching experience, I have found this to be true.

For more information about handwriting and Bic’s efforts to save it, check out their website “Fight for your Write.”

Discover and Preserve Your Heritage

Posted on November 19, 2013 by Hannah Diamond

Researching your family history can be an overwhelming project.   Organization is the key to keeping your discoveries on track and preserving your heritage.  I created a family history binder years ago, and it has been a valuable tool as I research my ancestry.

Start by choosing a binder that is both practical and beautiful.  The binder will hold your family story, so you do not want a boring notebook that will get lost on your desk.  I love this floral binder.  You will also need plenty of tabs, pockets, and sticky notes to keep the binder organized.

These pocket tabs serve two purposes.  They will divide your binder into categories, and the pockets can keep smaller items, such as photographs, secure.  Two packages will probably be sufficient to get started on your family history project.

Try out these little notes for providing quick reminders.  I use them when I need to remind myself that I need to do more research on a certain person, or to write down a question that I need to ask.  For example, if I realize I do not have the date of my grandparents’ wedding, I stick a note on their page to remind me that I need to ask my mother.

You will also need some colorful zipper pockets to keep your items such as pens, flash drives, memory cards, sticky note pads, etc.  These fun zipper pockets are perfect for storing any items that do not fit in the flat pocket dividers.

Once you have your supplies, begin organizing your pocket tabs.  Here are some categories you may want to consider for each tab:

Mother’s family

Father’s family

Interview notes and questions

Primary sources (copies of marriage certificates, census records, etc.)

Family trees

Photos

Newspaper articles

Your family history binder can be an ongoing project that you share with the rest of your family.  Even if you think you do not have time to take on such a huge project, having this binder will allow you to work a little bit at a time, while keeping track of what you know and what you still need to discover.  I enjoy being able to grab my binder and know exactly where to find or place information about my family.  I also love knowing that I can pass the binder on to anyone in my family, and they will be able to pick up where I left off.  Before I started this project, my family had no unified record of our history.  Now, we have an organized and easy to understand record of our heritage.  It is truly a family treasure.

Nautical Prints and Nautical Style for Spring

Posted on February 10, 2014 by Hannah Diamond

Nautical prints are a big trend in fashion this spring.  From the runway to the office, nautical prints are everywhere.  Nautical style usually involves the basic colors of red, white, and blue, prints such as navy and white stripes, anchors, boats, and polka dots, and elements such as the sailor collar, scarves, and bold buttons.  The navy and white stripes have been seen this season on the runways of Valentino, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, and Jean Paul Gaultier.  The designs from Chloe this spring are almost full sailor suits, featuring wide navy pants and navy tops with white accents.  Chanel shows off this trend in a more subtle way, with sophisticated white outfits with a hint of sailor style.

Nautical style always reminds me of my grandmother.  My grandmother, like many women of her time, was a “Rosie the Riveter” during World War II.  She worked on airplanes, and did a variety of other jobs.  She never liked to talk about that time, as my grandfather was in the army stationed in Nome, Alaska, and she was hard at work helping the war effort at home, but I love all of the pictures I have of her during that era.  She is so glamorous and beautiful, and she is often  wearing the cutest nautical outfits.  The nautical look is a classic statement that continues to be popular.

However, nautical style has been around a lot longer than the 1940s.  It started to become a fashion trend that was not just for sailors in the late 1800s.  It became even more popular later on, courtesy of Coco Chanel.  After spying the iconic navy and white look on sailors during a trip to the French coast, the fashion designer introduced the nautical navy and white stripes with her 1917 collection.  It became popular because of that, and continues to reemerge as a fashion favorite.

World War I also led to recruitment posters which depicted women wearing sailor uniforms with sentiments such as “I wish I were a man so I could enlist” which may have inspired women to wear the patriotic-looking trend.  World War II brought about a resurgence of this patriotic trend.  The look was popular among women and movie stars; Doris Day wore a classic nautical look in the film Romance on the High Seas in 1948.  Her outfit is so similar to what we see on the runway this season.  While the look of the nautical style often changes as it goes in and out of style, the basic elements of the style remain.

Nautical prints are back in style once again.  However, there are some modern elements, of course.  Nautical prints are not just for clothing.  The nautical style is classy and is appropriate for home and office decor.  Capri Designs has a new nautical print called Classic Anchor.  It has a subtle twist from the classic design, the navy color is contrasted with a coral, pinkish hue instead of the classic red.  These nautical print office supplies are available now at UrbanGirl.com.