Falling Leaves, Writing Copy & an Apology to the Girl Scouts

My recent walk in the woods revealed the wonders of Nature’s seasonal preparations for Winter. Squirrels are darting from tree to tree, gathering nuts to bury in their earthen pantry and bunnies are tucking fresh sticks at the doors of their burrows. A few insects like bees can be seen buzzing about the last of the wildflowers, collecting the last drops of nectar, and flocks of geese are heard honking overhead as they make their way South. Critters are bustling, burying and battening down the borrows, signaling the change of season.

For me Autumn brings about the busiest time for custom digitizing orders, but business seems to take care of itself if I’ve kept up my routine duties. Things just come at me a little faster and I only need to keep appropriate control. It’s the personal responsibilities that I’m pressed to tend like domestic chores that never disappear, but could become frightening by Thanksgiving, should I let them lag.

The real priorities are seasonal like raking leaves before it snows – or before Girl Scouts leave nasty notes on the door.  Yes, I realize their little bulletin was meant to educate folks in regard to the phosphorus released from dead leaves sliding into the storm drains that in turn affects the wildlife environment.  Loving Nature as I do, I truly agree that efforts must be made.   BUT … I do think a little thought might have been given to the boldly printed question, “What’s the problem?”

I quickly scanned the bulletin that was illustrated with leaves, rake and leaf bag, contemplating its intention.  At first I was embarrassed as I looked up at the gold, pink and brown blanketing the yard.   Egad!   Hubby attempted the job last week, clearing the storm drains and rock beds with a leaf blower, but his bad head cold has delayed  progress.  Surrounded by trees, the job in our yard is never really done anyhow until the branches are bare or until it snows. My work hours only allow raking at midnight, which I’m sure the neighbors would not appreciate, so I planned this weekend to at least clear the entryways before I had to sweep up leaves from the kitchen floor.  Alas, the sky decided to cry and I refuse to dance with a rake in the cold rain!

Disappointed with the weather, I retreated inside, still miffed with the seemingly snide request to rake my leaves.  I was feeling a bit guilty.  My yard hasn’t seen much attention most of the summer, because I’ve had indoor responsibilities, like cleaning up the basement after the spring flooding. (There’s a mucky chore I wish on no one!)  But the Scouts had no idea who lives inside or what my story was.  What if I was an old lady?    Wait. I am.    Well, what if I were completely incapacitated?  How dare they make such a snarky accusation?!  At least in that moment, that’s the way I had read the question … what’s the problem, are you too lazy to rake?

Then I recalled the spirit of Scouts-gone-by.  What happened to the days when they offered to rake leaves to achieve a good Samaritan badge?  Heck, if they would have inquired, I would have paid them for the job!  I examined the bulletin a bit more closely to find an informative environmental message in faint tiny text that I actually didn’t oppose, but still, I was so put off I didn’t want to read the tiny print. “I’ll tell you what the problem is,” I snarled, tossing it into the paper recycling.  “It’s the people who leave pieces of paper to blow away and litter my yard!”  Then I surfed directly to the Girl Scout web site and left a hasty, nasty email about how appalled I was at their insinuating, rude bulletin.

This morning I stared out the window while stopping a sneeze with a tissue and realized I’d lost the battle of trying to not catch my husband’s cold.  He stood next to me, staring and sneezing as well, promising to finish the leaves tomorrow, while noting the bare trees in the front yard were now “done”.  I remarked that at least the part he cleaned up near the storm drain was okay yet, to which he replied, “I thought you did that. What I did last week filled right in by the next day.  Must have been one of our great neighbors.” (We do have wonderful neighbors!)

After a moment of ponder, I marched to the recycling bin and took another look at that bulletin.  It gave no indication that perhaps the Girl Scouts were out cleaning up leaves. It only gave a good reason to keep the leaves out of the storm drain, explaining what problem it caused, and on the back it gave directions on how to clean them up, where to dispose of them and a web site where it should be reported that the job had been done.

So, I returned to the Girl Scout’s web site and found yesterday’s announcement “Centennial Day of Service is today and thousands of Girl Scouts are out cleaning up organic matter to prevent phosphorous from polluting our lakes and streams” along with pictures of the hard-working crews whom I obviously missed seeing while occupied in my office.

Oh.

Due to personal circumstances, I had obviously misunderstood the tone of the question on the bulletin and reacted – over-reacted – defensively.  Marketers, take a lesson, choose your words carefully.  One must always consider every possible scenario when writing copy.  Just because a phrase is sure to grab attention, the way the words are received by particular folks in particular situations may not be what is intended.  And it must be acknowledged, not everyone can just surf to a web site to clarify information, and even so, some simply will not.

The reason the Girl Scouts have for passing along the message is undeniably good – to educate in ways to protect the environment, which indeed I support.  And I certainly do appreciate their commendable efforts, especially for lending a hand even in the cold rain.  My sincere thanks to the Girl Scouts who cleaned up a bit of my mess, and I humbly apologize for quick assumptions, and most especially for that nasty email.

Nevertheless, I really do think someone missed the mark on that bulletin … just my two stitches, along with a leaf or two zillion.

Available in the September 2012 collection at Masterpiece Embroidery

Market Wisely – A Lesson from the Deer Mouse

As I commuted down the hallway to my home office, I caught sight of one of my cats in the bathroom perched on the edge of the tub.  Tator was in stalk position, mesmerized by a likely spider in the vine of satin grape leaves that I had wrapped around the shower curtain rod. (Don’t ask. It seemed like a good idea at the time.)

Living next to a woods in the Upper Midwest, the Fall begins a mini-battle with Nature’s critters seeking winter shelter, and evidently spiders like that homey leaf feeling.  With spiders come sticky webs that turn into flying dust bunnies, so it’s best to stop construction before it starts. Well, I didn’t want to kill anything. I was in a creative mood and didn’t want to lose it to a splatter. So, I grabbed a goldfish net, planning to catch and return it to the outdoors where its purpose is more worthy, like chowing on small insects before they get into the house, or perhaps, feed a chickadee. (Let Nature do her own killing!)

A closer look revealed what appeared to be thick web silk poking out from a shaking leaf. And then, as my eyes adjusted to the shadow under the leaf, the wiry strands morphed into long white whiskers, twitching from the end of a pink nose. One big round eye was visible, but closed tightly, either from fear or exhaustion, or both.  A mouse. Not a common grey house mouse, but a brown and white Deer Mouse – the cute cuddly-type that you see on holiday cards wearing Santa hats – the mouse that prefers to winter in burrows and logs, and rarely near people where they also might have to compete with the grey mouse for shelter (if our three cats didn’t do their jobs).  Most likely, it had been attracted to the abundance of crab apples falling near the garage – an easy profit of sweet sustenance – and then strayed through a tiny hole in the door frame where Tator keeps watch.

[Great Notions “Christmas Ball” stock design available at: EmbroideryDesigns.com ]

Earlier, my husband had mentioned that Tator might have brought something furry in from the garage, but after not seeing any evidence he assumed he was mistaken or that the victim had been devoured. Tator is assigned to garage mouse patrol in the evenings and I always know when one has tried to set up house. She doesn’t eat mice. She just torments them.  And after she tires of the flip-and-rip hockey game, she drops the puck of a bloody carcass at the kitchen door – a fair trade for a can of Fancy Feast®, she figures. 

So, after I set the wicked kitty in the hallway and closed the door, I prodded the net at the fur ball, now quivering and sobbing. (I swear, I saw a tear!) I attempted to gently catch it in the net, but it fell into the cleaning bucket I was holding in my other hand and then bounced out into the tub.  That’s when I noticed it was a he – an adventurous young lad out learning a tough lesson.  Obviously, Tator hadn’t done too much damage, I determined, as he sprang back up to the curtain rod with the grace of his namesake.  The 30 minute chase ensued.  Finally, he scurried between the folds of a towel that was drying on the edge of the tub.  “Gotcha!”  I proclaimed, gathering the edges of the towel together like a hobo bag.  Then I carried the bundle back to the woods and released him in the habitat where he can be of purpose – instead of being tortured and annoying me.

About this time of year in the embroidery industry, when business picks up with approaching holiday orders, I see many digitizers venturing to new territories lured by the temptation for fast, easy profits, most especially in the form of unsolicited emails.  Now, I’m not referring to spam from “custom digitizing factories” offering $.50 per K stitches (a subject for another day).  I’m talking about the spam obviously sent by new, independent digitizers who assume it’s the best way to get started.  Sure, I read it – or at least what I don’t assume is from the factories.  I want to know who my new colleagues are!  I have survived in this industry for 25 years by networking and exchanging information with other digitizers, both new and masters alike.  We’ve learned much from each other, including the art of successful marketing.  Spam is not on that list.

Digitizers need to make their services known, but sending volumes of unsolicited emails with unrealistic promises and unprofitable pricing is certainly not the answer.  Proving yourself is.  Word of mouth is the most valuable marketing tool.  Find your clients through trade organizations like NNEP, attend industry events, connect on social networks and run ads where embroiderers will see it, such as Stitches Magazine.  Correspond with an occasional email, yes, but make it a pleasant introduction with basic information.  If you include sample pricing, choose numbers fair to both parties; be aware that too low can mark your service questionable.  Perhaps offer a sample of your work, but never attach a file to the introductory email or you’ll risk immediate deletion.

If you produce quality at a reasonable price and in promised time, and you are willing to make necessary revisions immediately, embroiderers want to know who you are.  Concentrate on skill and ethical business practice and there will be no need to compete – and I won’t have to sift through my spam filter to find you.

So, to all the digitizers out there who are just starting a new business:  your skill and eagerness is most welcomed by the embroidery industry, but take a lesson from the Deer Mouse.  Don’t be tempted by the illusion of fast easy profits found in the mound of crab apples where there’s the probability of a short life. The industry needs you where you are most useful – where your skill can grow and contribute to the continued existence of quality embroidery. Choose to build your business by focusing on one client at a time, one design at a time; learn from each and excel.   Word will travel and the work will follow.

Top Photo Deer Mouse: courtesy of CreativeCommons.org