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WonderWoman Wednesdays…Tamika L. Gardner, Founder of The Baby Chef

This week’s WonderWoman is Tamika L. Gardner, Founder of The Baby Chef™. Tamika started The Baby Chef™ after creating SimplyBabyFoodRecipes.net, with the belief that every baby deserves the right to experience fresh and healthy food. Simply Baby Food Recipes offers lots of homemade baby food recipes that are easy to make and healthy for babies and toddlers. The Baby Chef™ ensures that parents will be fully equipped to make their own baby food, while making life easier with unique products that save on food preparation. Additionally, The Baby Chef offers other unique and natural products for babies and children. Here’s how Tamika did it…

When did you have the light bulb moments that became SimplyBabyFoodRecipes.net and The Baby Chef?

When I was pregnant with my first born, Nikai, I knew I was going to breastfeed her because of all the great benefits that it offers.  However, when Nikai was ready to graduate to solids, at about 6 months, I did not like the idea of buying store-bought food in a jar for two main reasons – the lack of freshness and taste, and the price. 

We had already saved hundreds of dollars through breastfeeding and I wanted to continue those savings.  So I received some advice from my grandmother, who never fed her children baby food from the jar because it wasn’t invented yet!  My father, my uncles and aunts all grew up on mashed potatoes and mashed up collard greens and cornbread.  That was the moment the light bulb went off and I researched infant feeding on the internet and eventually made my website in one weekend.

After having an internet presence for a few years, I wanted to offer parents the tools they need to make homemade baby food and other feeding accessories.  Then The Baby Chef™ was born.

How did you get the business started? 

It was really easy for me to start the business online.  I partnered up with a couple of distributors/manufacturers and had a virtual grand opening of August 2008.  

What is a typical day like for you Tamika?

Having two very young children only 18 months apart, my day is extremely busy.  I spend most of the day caring for them.  However, since I am cooking three meals a day plus snacks, I do not lose out on an opportunity to make a recipe.  So therefore I keep a camera in my kitchen and I take picture of things that were a hit and I’ll upload them to my site with the recipe.  Most of them are on-the-fly concoctions.  I spend time in the evening checking and processing orders, and working on a new business venture that will launch within the next couple of months for mothers-to-be.

You recently featured the Apple Smash Smoothie on SimplyBabyFoodRecipes.net, sounds yummy! Where do you get your inspiration for baby food recipes?

Cooking is a passion of mine and I love trying new recipes.  The inspiration comes from within most of the time.  Sometimes I could be laying in the bed and think of something new to try.   Or, I could be at the grocery store and see an interesting vegetable or fruit to experiment with.  I also get lots of inspiration from the Food Network.

What do you suggest for moms with babies and toddlers that are picky eaters?

Well I have a lot of experience in that category because even I have picky eaters!  My husband, Troy, will tell you that we eat like Kings and Queens in my household.  I go out of my way to make sure my food is restaurant quality in presentation and taste, but my kids still have picky tendencies.  They weren’t that way when they were babies, but now that they are 2 and 3 years old, they suddenly don’t like foods I used to feed them.

So here are a few tips for getting your kids to eat:

1.  Never express that you don’t like something in front of your child.  They may decide that they don’t like it just because you don’t.

2.  Offer your child a variety of food so that you can find out what they do like.  It is natural for children to dislike food.  Even adults have likes and dislikes so don’t think your child has a problem.

3.  Expand your child’s horizons by offering them food that you wouldn’t eat or dislike.  You may find that they do like foods that you dislike.

4.  Season vegetables thoroughly, especially canned vegetables.  Vegetables taste best when they are seasoned well with butter and other spices. 

5.  Be consistent and keep offering your child the same food even if they don’t like it at first.  You may find that they will eventually like the food after a few times so don’t give up.

6.  Don’t reward your child with dessert or other sweet treats if they don’t eat their meal.  In fact, it’s best to not offer desert or other sweet treats at all until they develop good eating habits.  Otherwise, they will learn that they can skip out on the meal and go straight to junk food, which can further add to the childhood obesity problem.


What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed The Baby Chef? What’s your best marketing tip?

The most effective way I have promoted The Baby Chef™ is through SimplyBabyFoodRecipes.net.  The people who are looking for recipes are the ones who need the tools to make baby food.  Search Engine Optimization is also very key in getting my site in the Search Engines.

I highly recommend spending time on Search Engine Optimization.  It works and I have not had to invest in expensive pay-per-click campaigns because people find my site organically.  However, it is more work involved and can be costly if you don’t know how to do it yourself.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else starting their own business?

I’ve learned a lot through trial and error, and I’ve learned from my mistakes.  I’ve learned that things take time and to not try to be Super Woman, trying to do everything at once.

The advice I would give someone else trying to start their own business would be to keep taking strides toward achieving your goals, even if the strides are small sometimes.  Rome wasn’t built in a day and it will take time to have a viable business.  Also, if something is not working the way you thought, then change your plan, but don’t give up.

What goals do you have for The Baby Chef this year?

The Baby Chef™ will be going through some changes this year, but for all good.  There will be a book and an ebook coming out soon and a series of cookbooks for 2010.  Also, The Baby Chef Store will be changing, and will be a part of another site that caters to moms and children (you will still be able to reach the store at www.TheBabyChefStore.com).

The main goal of The Baby Chef ™ is to help parent nurture healthy children, which my main goal, and this will be accomplished through the books.  Prices on the site will also be reduced to give parents incentive to make their own food, should they wish to purchase.  However, buying expensive gadgets and tools are not necessary.  I made my own food and I didn’t have any of the products that I sell at the time.

What have you learned on your business journey that you’d like to share with other business owners?

I have learned to stick to my goals and to continue to ask for guidance and inspiration from my higher power.  At times, I considered shutting down everything because it is a lot to handle with young kids.  However, I have come too far and I don’t give up easy!

I have learned to be flexible, to change things as needed, and to not second guess myself.  When I get an inspiration or gut feeling, I act on it right away.  Both The Baby Chef and Simply Baby Food Recipes were weekend wonders, meaning they both were created and live on the internet in a weekend.

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WonderWoman Wednesdays…Betsy Helgager Hughes President and CEO, Punch Of Creativity

 

This week’s WonderWoman is Betsy Helgager Hughes, President and CEO of Punch of Creativity. Betsy started Punch of Creativity with the idea that gift registries are nice, but most people would like to stand out from the crowd by giving a thoughtful and meaningful keepsake gift to WOW the recipient. From their exclusive Pregnancy Brain Challenge© Game/Gift for baby showers to their Moments to Remember Keepsake© Quilt to celebrate milestone birthdays, bridal showers, anniversaries and family reunions, a gift from Punch of Creativity will certainly stand out from the rest. 

Here’s how Betsy did it…

What was your vision for Punch of Creativity? When did you have the AHA moment?

Punch of Creativity really started with my passion for interior design. I’m sure you’ve watched HGTV and you’ve heard them talk about using a punch of color. Well, I try to use a punch of creativity in everything I do. From setting a table, to giving a gift, I thrive off of injecting unexpected creativity into everything. But with the economy the way it is, many people weren’t spending extra on the luxuries of interior design or home organization. I did notice, however, that people still celebrated babies and brides. People will always pool their resources to celebrate a new life or a life transition of special friends and family members. So, my real AHA moment came when I created and played the Pregnancy Brain Challenge for the second time at a friend’s baby shower. I received the same reaction from the guests that I received 6 months earlier (the first time I played it). The guests were caught up in a spell-bound moment, truly pausing everything (even cell phones) to celebrate and focus on the mom-to-be and to check out this new, refreshing game they had never seen played before. All guests, no matter if they knew each other or not, were in awe of the sentimental value of the game/gift. I knew if I didn’t begin to market it along with my other creations, someone else would! Also, I knew when I couldn’t stop thinking about it that I had to act. It’s the same thing I felt when I started my PR firm 8 years ago. It was a compulsion to develop, create and launch. Put it out there and see what happens is what I said to myself. You just never know. We could be the next SPANX for Baby Showers…a must have! When I really knew I was on to something was when my husband couldn’t stop thinking about the possibilities too. The same thing happened with a couple of my close friends and relatives. I would get random ideas and statements like, “I just can’t stop thinking about all the potential that’s waiting for you. I’ll help any way I can. You don’t even need to pay me. I’m enjoying being creative.”

How did you get the business started?

My husband and I spent about three weeks creating the Web site (www.punchofcreativity.com), identifying wholesale suppliers, finding a talented quilter, having another entrepreneur create our logo, and figuring out the profit margins on each item we were offering. We delved into a whole new world together of providing a product vs. a service, and it was exciting to think about the possibilities. We mastered (or should I say my husband mastered) Pay Pal, and USPS shipping options. My husband met with our accountant to ensure everything was fine on the business front, and he applied for copyrights on both the Pregnancy Brain Challenge and the Moments To Remember Keepsake Quilt concepts. We were driven to work early in the morning (4, 5 a.m.), during our daughter’s nap, and late at night after our daughter went down to sleep. It was truly a team effort. We bounced ideas off trusted, strategic-minded friends and relatives, and they too believed so much in the company concept that they were thinking, creating, and brainstorming at all hours of the day and night too!

What is a typical day like for you Betsy?

There is never a typical day. Running three businesses and managing the life of a nearly 3 year old involves multi-tasking, time-management, and a lot of teamwork with my husband George. We tag team responsibilities, so depending on if I have an order to complete, or a client conference call, he’s responsible for entertaining our daughter. If he has an installation or is responding to an RFP for his audio/video company, I am responsible for entertaining our daughter. Although she goes to school 3 days a week from 9-1, we still feel she is our most important responsibility and that is why we have created these companies, to make sure we can remain in a flexible lifestyle that allows us to put family first and to work as a team. We know with her growing up seeing us work together and as entrepreneurs will be beneficial in some way. Who knows, when Punch of Creativity really takes off, she might be running it one day. What a legacy that would be to be able to leave her! Her picture is in the “Our Story” section of our Web site, wearing one of our creations of course!

How did you come up with the Pregnancy Brain Challenge© Game/Gift for baby showers?

A neighbor’s sister enlisted the help of Punch of Creativity’s event planning services. She lives in California and knew she could not be hands on, so she asked me to take the lead since I had already done several interior design and home organization projects for her sister. I had actually even designed the new baby’s nursery. The parents had chosen a numbers theme. To play off the importance of numbers and the theme, I created the game that included important dates for the parents-to-be, later to be named the Pregnancy Brain Challenge. I worked with her mom (who has tracked all three of her kids’ accomplishments and milestones over nearly 40 years) to get the important dates. I came up with the events. Once I had the dates, I imprinted them and their associated meanings on Onesies so that the game would not go to waste. The baby would actually be able to wear the game too! For an added touch, I also created mini-window stickers for the punch glasses where all the equations equaled 4, the new number of people that would be in their family when the new baby boy arrived. Her mom brought number cookies (in the shower colors) from Savannah for baby shower favors. So, numbers for the nursery inspired this idea! It can translate to bridal showers, milestone birthdays and other events as well.

What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed Punch of Creativity? What’s your best marketing tip?

Word-of-mouth and reaching out to awesome web sites and bloggers like you that might be interested in sharing something new and refreshing as well as supporting a mom and woman-owned business. We sent out an introductory press release to a select group of bloggers initially to get a feel for people’s interest in a new baby shower game, and many were thrilled and excited to hear more.  We recently sent a press release promoting the Moments To Remember Keepsake Quilt for a unique and memorable Mother’s Day gift as well as the personalized faux e-mail Onesies and Toddler T-shirts with fun mom-related messages. Now that we have some research back with 100+women’s perspectives on baby shower games, we will be releasing another press release in the near future featuring those results and offering up the Pregnancy Brain Challenge as a refreshing new alternative.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else starting their own business?

 For a product based business, I would say make sure you have plenty of operating capital so you can take risks on some opportunities to get your brand out there in more places and with ads as well as via other paid-for means.

What goals do you have for Punch of Creativity this year?

Ultimately, I would like for Punch of Creativity to be known as the maker of the must-have baby shower game – the Pregnancy Brain Challenge, and we would like at least 10 hospitals and 10 companies to participate in our corporate program with branded industry-related messages. We want to increase sales by the end of the year to where we can create jobs in this economy. We want each and every Punch of Creativity customer to be satisfied so much that they become repeat customers and proudly tell their friends about us. We want the Moments to Remember Keepsake Quilt to grow in two ways. 1. For Mother’s Day gifts/Baby’s First or Second Birthday, and 2. For family legacy keeping, and for family reunions. Talk about an emotional moment to look at a family quilt with past and present family members connected one quilt-square at a time.

What have you learned on your business journey that you’d like to share with other business owners?

Don’t go into business for the money. Do it because you’re passionate about it and it “moves” you. I’ve always said if you have passion about what you do, the money will come, but the money should never lead your way. I am passionate about surprising people with unexpected creativity.

Do you have plans to expand the business in other directions?

When you surround yourself with smart people, inevitably ideas will surface. Within a week of our launch, we decided to create the Bundle of Joy Celebration tin for companies. Initially we are going after PR firms and hospitals, but we are excited about creating messages for other industries like shipping services, fast food companies, financial services, and other businesses that celebrate their employee’s life transitions as well as their clients and customers.

Are you willing to hear from readers?

Absolutely! They can reach me at betsy@punchofcreativity.com and ask questions, give suggestions, or help us navigate a company or hospital with our products.

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WonderWoman Wednesdays… Cynthia Mock, CEO of Adorable Baby Clothing

Just in time for Easter, this week’s WonderWoman is Cynthia Mock, CEO of Adorable Baby Clothing.  Specializing in formal wear for the pint-sized fashion plate, at Adorable Baby Clothing you can find everything from a fab faux fur for your little princess or a tiny tux for your little prince. But Cynthia doesn’t stop there, you can also find a great baby shower gift or something “everyday” sweet for your little one. 

Customer service is the backbone of Adorable Baby Clothing, and Cynthia believes that it’s the key to her success. Here’s how she does it…

When did it hit you that there was an underserved market for formal clothing for children?

All you have to do is try to go shopping in a department store, and you’ll find out very quickly–choices are limited at best.  Years ago there seemed to be an abundance of children’s clothing stores, which often offered a few more choices, but they seem to have disappeared over the years.  If you do find a children’s clothing store in your area, they either are very limited on formal wear, or very expensive–not really a happy medium for most people.  At Adorable Baby Clothing.com, parents will find not only a huge selection of styles and colors, but sizes.  We don’t have to stock every single size and color, but we can sure get them from our vendors.  Additionally, by not having to pay rent for expensive real estate, and all that’s involved with running a traditional “brick and mortar” store, we can keep our prices lower.  We don’t skimp on quality — but I do try very hard to keep my prices extremely competitive for the consumers!  I’m a consumer too, and love knowing I’ve purchased a quality product at a great price.

How did you get into business? 

I owned a traditional retail store for several years prior to Adorable Baby Clothing.com.  I tried working for someone else after I sold that business, but honestly, once you’ve been your own boss it’s hard to work for someone else, no matter how great they are.  My goal for many years had been to own and operate an internet based business.  I had looked at several, but none ever felt like “me”. 

At about the same time I was going through the process of deciding where I wanted to go in business, I found out I was going to be a first time grandmother.  I was so excited about this new phase of my life, and became even more determined to find just the right business–and then, it dawned on me–children’s clothing!  I loved dressing my daughters up when they were little, and what fun to dress my new grandchildren (I have twin granddaughters!). 

I loved the product from the beginning.  The formal clothing is primarily manufactured by an American company called Lito.  Formal wear for children is all they produce, and it’s made right here in America.  Their attention to detail, fabrics, and pricing fit right into what I envisioned for my business.  When you buy one of their items, you can basically plan to hand it down from generation to generation.  All of the other manufacturers I utilize are also American companies.  I even have a few vendors, who hand make items, so the customer is virtually getting a handmade item for their child.

How do you go about finding the clothing lines you feature? Is it a difficult process to constantly find the “new” hot brands?

I’ve been approached by countless importers to carry their lines.  Although the prices have appeal, I am always concerned about quality, consistency, and the makeup up the fabrics.  In today’s world of global economy you would think that you could find anything you wanted.  In some sense that is true, but knowing that the garments you are selling to parents and grandparents for their children could be tainted, is not worth the gamble to me.  I prefer to carry lines that are proven in time, and form an integral part of the American economy.  Another factor I consider is whether or not the garment has a timeless appeal to it.  If you look at the dresses and suits on Adorable Baby Clothing, you’ll see that virtually every one of them would be as appealing 5-10 years from now as it is today.  What I’ve always believed is that buying a more classic style enables someone to keep on using that item, whether it’s for subsequent children, cousins, friends–whomever.  Economically it makes more sense to me.  Fads are great, but they are just that–here for a moment and then gone. 

What is a typical day like for you Cynthia?

Oh gosh–lol–busy busy busy.  Since I own and operate the website, I wear many hats.  Typically it starts with reading any emails, and fulfilling any orders that may have occurred during the night.  From there I try to do some social networking on Facebook, Twitter, and several social networking sites I’m a member of.  Once that’s completed I work on the website–a never ending process- which might involve removing discontinued items, and as I’m doing now, adding new products.  Often, I get phone calls from customers asking about a particular product, or when something is going to ship–I have some of the most interesting conversations with them!  Typically I start around 7:00am and finish whenever I’m finished…which one never knows!  I enjoy the challenges, and just wish I had two more hands, and eyes!

How does customer service factor into your business decisions? 

Customer service–that is Number One with me.  I’m a consumer too, and one of the big turn offs for me is when the customer service isn’t there.  So many large corporations have automated systems which prevent you from ever actually speaking with someone–it’s so frustrating!  I tend to gravitate towards companies that care about their customers.  They’re willing to help, they’re friendly, they let you know they want you to be satisfied–and, so I try to be just that.  It’s not worth making a sale and then having someone upset with the company because of poor customer service.  My position on customer service is influenced too by the garments and various items sold on the website–if the quality and consistency isn’t there–I’ll end up with headaches and sleepless nights–that’s why I choose the companies that I choose.

What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed Adorable Baby Clothing? What’s your best marketing tip?

Probably the most effective marketing has been through the social networking, and email blasts that I send out.  With so many companies on the internet you have to make yourself known.  Another avenue I utilize consistently is Google.  At least once a month I enter my entire product line into their database so that the search engines can find the website.  My best marketing tip is to keep your business in front of people.  We’re all busy people, and with that comes forgetfulness–ha ha–but truly, if you want people to remember you, you have to remind them you exist, and then give them a reason to come back, and/or tell others about your website.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else? 

Knowing what I know now, I would have gone to college for a degree in computer science.  Everything seems to revolve around computers now.

What goals do you have for the business this year? 

My goals for this year are to grow sales by at least 20%.  2009 was a tough year, and although I made it through, I’d like to push forward.  Additionally, I want to learn more about computer codes, and the inner workings of website design.  I’m learning, but being who I am, I like to know everything there is to know, and I’m not there yet.

What have you learned on your business journey that you’d like to share with other business owners?

If you’re going into business for yourself, do it in an area you can be passionate about.  I know that sounds corny, but if you don’t like what the product, or process is–it will make your life miserable.  You have to be willing to take financial risks.  The potential failure rate is huge, but with a lot of prayer and hard work you can become successful.  Being in business for yourself is going to require you to work more hours than you ever did for another company.  The responsibility for your success falls on your shoulders.  If you don’t want that kind of responsibility, then going into business for yourself probably isn’t a good idea.  Most importantly, you can’t let the “naysayers” discourage you.  Most people are not risk takers in the sense of opening their own business.  When a friend or family member announces they’re thinking of doing that, many will try to discourage you and encourage you to play it safe and just work a “safe” job.  I know the first time I decided to own my own business it took me two-years to convince myself it was the right decision.  That was over 6-years ago, and I’ve never regretted doing it.  There have been nail-biting moments, and many sleepless nights, but in the end, I’ve loved every minute of the challenges, rewards, and wonderful people I’ve met. 

This would be my analogy for life and business– There are always mountains in front of us.  If you’re trying to see the top of the mountain, or figure out how to get over it or around it, most likely you’ll be so overwhelmed that you’ll give up.  The way to get over the mountain is actually very simple–one step at a time.  Once you start moving forward, and deal with what you have to deal with where you are at that moment, then suddenly you look up and realize you’re on the other side of the mountain.  That’s what being in business is like.  One step at a time.

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WonderWoman Wednesdays…Annie Neo

We here at Nursing Bling are honored to have Annie Neo, Director of Annee Matthew Maternity and Nursingwear as our first WonderWoman Wednesday profile.

In less than a decade Annie has transformed her idea of fashionable clothing for nursing mothers into a reality in a major way. Annee’s business philosophy is simple but true to the heart – she strives to create clothing that is not only beautiful, but practical and comfortable as well. Here’s how she did it…

When did it hit you that there was an untapped market for fashionable clothing for nursing mothers?

 When I had my daughter RayAnn, 10 years ago, I realised that there were very few nursing clothes in the market. They were frumpy and made me feel like a sack of potatoes when wearing them. Though functional, they were nothing close to being the slightest stylish. Not to mention, despite the poor quality, one has to pay a high price for it.

I then recognised that there was indeed a niche market to be tapped.

 How did you get into business?

 My sister-in-law, who is a tailor, helped turned my nursing designs into reality.

To balance my role as a home maker and an aspiring entrepreneur, starting an e-commerce business was the most convenient way to go and it also means a lower operating cost to begin with.

How did you go about finding manufacturers for your brand? Was it a difficult process?

 Yes, it was. With very low quantity, no track records and new to the suppliers’ world, it took a lot of convincing and good designs to gain the manufacturers’ confidence to accord their initial comfort in us. Finding the right manufacturer was tough and it was also a process of a trial-and-error.  Costs were high given the low volume.

 What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed Annee Matthews Maternity and Nursingwear? What’s your best marketing tip?

Our Corporate Philosophy: ‘’PRICE”

– Palatable price

– Romancing element as is created in each and every one of our design to have Mothers to always be in their best form; to the child , a caring mother who knows how to feed them in style and comfort and  to husbands as always a beautiful wife

– Integrity of our quality & services

– Consistencies in meeting our Clients’ needs

– Efficiencies in services

 Through word-of-mouth. Nothing beats having some real customers share their personal experiences with AnneeMatthew clothing. Our consistency in respective of overall delivery is our key to success.

 If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself?

 If we could turn back the clock, we will be more focus and confident in what we embarked on.

 What advice would you give someone else?

 Do what you love and believe in yourself. Stay focused.

 What goals do you have for the business this year?

 Our Spring 2010 and Fall 2010 collections are ready. Our focus is to spread our products across more countries

 What have you learned on your business journey that you’d like to share with other business owners?

Patience, tolerance and respect for others’ opinions and criticisms. Feedback is the key to keeping our designs abreast of market demand and trend. Some of the best lessons learnt were from mistakes made in the process.

Click here for more info on where to find Annee Matthew Maternity and Nursingwear in the US and Canada!

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