Quitter to Winner

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

INTERVIEW: Eco-designer Metal Wood Common Good

Here's an interview I did with eco-friendly furniture designer Metal Wood Common Good I did for another blog at a previous job. But I thought his story works well for Quitter to Winner.

How did your studio in Springfield come about?

I developed a business plan to create a remodeling and building company that would use only recycled materials as part of my coursework for STCC’s Associates in Entrepreneurship. At the same time, I won an Entrepreneurial Spirit Award through the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. My story was in all the local papers. That’s how the Gasoline Alley Foundation on Albany Street heard about me. They were working on a business plan to create a furniture company that uses recycled and abandoned materials. They asked me to work with them on their recycled furniture project. I've been at Gasoline Alley for about a year.

Tell us about Metal | Wood | Common Good’s philosophy.

MWCG is a functional art, furniture manufacturing and artist co-op. Our pieces are made entirely with reused materials. We follow the triple bottom line methodology, which values people and the planet as well as profit. In addition to taking building materials out of the waste stream, we work with local inner city kids and teach them a trade. We also provide the community with an affordable alternative to buying new furniture or having to pay over-priced contractor rates. We reinvest profits into the business and Gasoline Alley to help create a space in Springfield that promotes positive energy and a young entrepreneurial spirit.

How does your shop work?

We’re located right next to ReStore. That’s where we get all of our materials to make countertops, tables, kitchen islands and cabinets as well as for restoration work. As of right now MWCG is a one-man operation. However, local artists help out when needed, and I’m always looking for local collaborations.

Where can people buy your work?

We have an Etsy store and roadside sales on most Saturdays. You can also visit the shop Tuesday through Saturday from 10 to 5. You can buy something already made or request a custom order.

Have you made furniture for other Springfield-based businesses?

We’ve made custom counter tops and cabinets for Six Point Creative. But we’re open for new challenges!

What other plans and initiatives are on deck for MWCG?

We’re making some big changes to our shop. We’re bringing representatives from the local farm workers’ union to help us teach inner city kids the building trade. We’ve expanded our space to allow for more room for the kids to have a nice spot to hang out, work, and learn a good skill. We’re also working with ReStore to build a custom kitchen island for their booth in the Spring Home Show. In addition we’re building a custom desk for a recording studio in Boston, and preparing for spring and summer trade and craft shows.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

INTERVIEW: Small biz PR whiz Michael Kusek

Since 1992, Michael Kusek has provided marketing/public relations, strategic planning, branding and event management consulting to a portfolio of national and regional organizations and businesses. He spoke with Quitter to Winner about how start-ups can maximize the PR efforts to boost their profile and bottom line.

PR is a great way for a new small business/entrepreneur to get the word out. Why do so few take advantage of it?

If you’re just starting out, PR can be a very cost effective way to let your local market know who you are, what you provide and what differentiates you from the competition. Unfortunately, many people have a narrow view of public relations. They only think in terms of getting picked up by the big three: TV, radio, and daily newspapers.

Of course if you think your story would interest these producers/editors, by all means, pitch away. But small businesses should also add social media into the mix. Facebook, Twitter, and blogging are all more accessible than mainstream media. They also allow businesses to craft messages directly to their audience on a regular basis. That’s not always easy to accomplish if you’re only navigating the big three.

Say an entrepreneur just opened shop. What kinds of PR opportunities would you consider “low-hanging fruit”?

1. Reporters are looking for positive business stories. In a bad economy, there’s a glut of downer stories. Reporters are hungry for an “inspirational” or feel good business story.

2. Reach out to your local weekly or monthly publications. Start building long-term relationships with editors and writers from these outlets. They’ll be more likely to cover your future stories about the opening of your second store, the hiring of your 50th employee, or a big new contract.

3. Network. Go to local special events or seminars. Nail down your elevator pitch and carry plenty of business cards. Also, you might run into a local reporter. Introduce yourself. They may not be interested in talking to you for the story they’re covering, but they might want to talk to you for a piece down the road.

Give us an example of a PR campaign you put together for a small business.

Infinity Music Hall & Bistro were opening their doors in a very small Connecticut town in a formerly abandoned building. Not what one would call a recipe for a happening place. But they had a great story to tell from several different angles. We looked at all the elements of the story and thought, how can we make the story resonate with different types of writers in a variety of media outlets? We reached out to arts writers, business writers, and travel bloggers. We pitched stories to the small town papers, the regional daily media, radio, TV. We created a buzz about a place people would want to check out, but a business that the community would root for and support. The space is doing great. Their calendar is packed.

How have you used social media in your PR campaigns?

I use social media as a good extension of word-of-mouth advertising. I also funnel any publicity into the stream, or trumpet good news about the business. Some might argue that it can be more of a PR tool, but to me it’s about friends talking to friends.

In your opinion, what local business maximizes their PR opportunities?

Jackson & Connor is a modern clothing boutique for men in Northampton. I helped them develop and manage their PR campaign when they opened a little over two years ago. Since then, Tara and Candace have taken the PR bull by the horns. They’ve been very creative about telling their story from every angle. They were profiled as a woman-owned business, for their charitable work, and unique promotions. They’ve also been very smart with how they use social media. As a result of their efforts, they’ve gained a loyal following, and are considered the final word on fashion for men in the Valley. I’ve seen some new businesses open shop, get an announcement in the paper, then…crickets. That’s not the case for these ladies.

What are some common PR do’s and don’ts for new small businesses?


1. Become a good news source for journalists. They’ll be more likely to run your future stories, or cite you as an expert in your field.

2. Provide enough information. The more fleshed out the story the better. Think like a big business. Create a press kit with photos and relevant background material.

3. Write a history/background for your business. An “about your company” paragraph at the bottom of a press release is often very helpful to writers.

4. Take quality, professional photos of yourself and the business. Photos on your phone don’t count. Make sure you have them ready to send electronically to the reporter.

5. Keep files of news stories, preferably on your website. This offers journalists a point of reference of what’s been said – or not said – about your business.


1. Don’t make things difficult for reporters. That includes not returning calls and emails, or not providing enough detail or contact information.

2. Don’t send out press releases willy-nilly. No one likes too many emails, especially reporters. Only pitch a compelling, relevant story. Think strategically before you hit send.

3. Don’t hound reporters. It’s ok to be persistent, but aggressive follow-ups aren’t a wise move. You have to keep in mind that not every story is a winner. Plus all newsrooms have dramatically cut staff. They may have received your release but are too busy to respond right away.

4. Don’t hem and haw with bad publicity. Deal with it head on. Look how BP and Toyota handled their scandals. The story will go away faster if you come clean from the get go. Explain what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how you’re going to resolve the issue.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

INTERVIEW: How to turn passion into profit with Travis Smith

Collector, designer and author Travis Smith tells us how he turned his passion for mid-century modern design into a 20-year-long career.

I guess I'll start with the obvious: how did you turn your passion for mid-century design into a job?

I began collecting vintage modern back in the early 80s when it was still called "junk." Then it went to being called "retro," and now "mid century modern." Back then I did not know what it was or why I even was drawn to it. I just knew I instinctively loved the design aesthetic from the period of the 50s through the 70s.

In the early days this stuff was filling up the local thrift stores for pennies! Nobody knew what it was or that it had any value. All of the office buildings in town were updating their look and donating their "old" furniture to the Good Will and Salvation Army stores. What I eventually would discover is that this "old" furniture was in fact iconic designs by some of our most famous 20th Century designers.

So it was not uncommon back then to walk into a thrift store and find furniture designed by Charles Eames, Harry Bertoia, Eero Saarinen, George Nelson, and others. I remember finding a thrift store in South Phoenix that had a back yard with stuff piled up. There was this huge heap of Diamond Chairs by Bertoia, plus dozens of his dining chairs and tables. I bought the entire lot for $100!

And while I did not quite know it at the time, that was my introduction to becoming a "vintage modern dealer." As my "collection" grew so did my need for storage. Soon I was renting two large storage units to house all of this stuff. At the time I was working at an interior design showroom as their visual merchandiser and doing sales. I liked my job, but I was becoming increasingly passionate about my newfound love for "retro junk."

And then one weekend I visited L.A. with some buddies. It was there that I discovered the hipster area called Melrose. I remember seeing my first retro furniture store and looking into the window display with all of the same kinds of stuff I had been collecting - and then I looked at the price tags. Oh my God, there was a market for this stuff?!! I walked in and introduced myself to the owner and asked him if he would be interested in buying from me on a "wholesale" basis. He did indeed. And right then and there I became what’s known in the vintage industry as a "Picker." And I never looked back.

What were you doing before you started your own thing?

Well like most things, my career in mid-century modern evolved in stages. When I first became a "picker" I had a full-time job at the interior design showroom.

Did you have to work a "real job" while you got your own business up and running? If so, how long did you have to juggle both?

I kept my job for a few months but I was frustrated and wanted to be picking/selling vintage full time. I finally quit that job and devoted myself to mid-century full time. I did that for about a year while living in Phoenix, and then I visited a buddy in Washington DC for a vacation. While there, I met two guys who were about to open one of the first retro furniture stores in DC called Retrospective. They ended up hiring me as the store manager, and without hesitation I moved to DC and waved goodbye to my life in Phoenix where I had grown up.

After moving to DC in 88, and opening Retrospective, I would embark on one of the most rewarding and exciting times of my life. This period was the beginning of the "Mid-Century Modern" movement - and we were on the cutting edge of it all. It felt so validating to be finally working in an environment that suited all of my loves and talents - and the store was immediately successful. We really were some of the first "pioneers" of that retail concept and it was quite gratifying to become so successful so quickly. I would end up working there for four years before I would strike out on my own again.

I then opened my own store called Good Eye, which I ran with my partner at that time for ten years. Hard work and many hours but it was very rewarding to own my own store and be doing what I loved and believed in.

Did you have any regrets in the beginning?

Nope. I listened to my heart and followed it - when you do that you will ultimately be successful whatever you end up doing in life. Very simple: Do what you love.

You've parlayed your interest and expertise in modern design into a varied career. What else have you done besides open a store?

I continued to freelance as a visual merchandiser on the side and for a while, had about a dozen retail stores as my accounts where I did their window displays, etc. I also parlayed this into interior design, and eventually designed 12 nightclubs around the country as well as residences - all of my passions continued to feed off of each other and kept creating new career opportunities for me.

Designed nightclubs?!

Yes, while living in D.C. I was working at Retrospective when this guy literally jogged into the shop. He asked me about a 1940s sofa and chair grouping we had for sale - he wanted to know if we could find six of these sets for him? I said yes, that was possible - was he working on some kind of commercial design project?

He told me about his plans to open a themed billiards club, which would be part bar, part coffee house. I thought the concept was brilliant and started giving him design ideas. He told me that he was impressed with my ideas and asked me if I would be interested in designing the club for him. YES!!! Of course I was interested!

I ended up designing about a dozen clubs for him - all with different themes - Buffalo Billiards, Car Pool, Havana Lounge, Continental Pool Lounge, etc. including locations in Philly, Nashville, and Austin: http://bedrockbars.com/ Very rewarding and fun work. And you are probably seeing a pattern emerge here - by following my initial dream, I put myself out there to receive other opportunities to come my way - that continue to expand that dream and help it grow in other directions.

You also wrote a book - "Kitschmasland!" - how did that come about?

I had a dealer booth at a Modernism show in NYC - an Editor from Schiffer Books stopped by and out of the blue asked me if I had ever thought about writing a book. I told him, as a matter of fact I had. He asked me what kind of book. The first thing that popped out of my mouth was a Christmas book. I think he was quite surprised as he thought I would want to do something on vintage modern. But one of my collecting passions has always been holiday decor from the 50s through the 70s, so it seemed like a natural for me.

My former partner, Skip Przywara did all the photography on the book and it turned out really beautiful. It is a coffee table book with over 400 photos and descriptions of all the vintage Holiday stuff I love and collect - ornaments, trees, Santas, etc. Plus we shot mid-century modern homes decorated for the holidays with all vintage d├ęcor. I think it turned out super cool. It is still in print and available on Amazon:

Do you have any other books in the works?

Yes, I am working on one right now but it is top-secret. Stay tuned.

What advice would you give someone thinking about turning their passion into profit?

I'll just repeat my mantra: Do what you love. I'm not saying there won't be any obstacles or hard work, but it will be completely rewarding because you are following your heart and dreams and the payoff will be huge.

What's next for you?

My best friend and new business partner, Chris Bale, and I just launched a niche Facebook page called Modern Bear - devoted to the gay bear community (and the people who love them). It combines my love of modern design with bear lifestyle tips, pop culture, and a little beefcake thrown in haha. We are also working on a book based on this same concept. And hope to eventually offer a line of Modern Bear products! This time of my life reminds me of the late 80s - very exciting and feeling like we are on the "cutting edge." I'm in my zone again and I can't stop smiling.

Monday, September 13, 2010

INTERVIEW: How to Network with Career Coach Val Nelson

Val Nelson is a Career and Business Coach based in Northampton, Massachusetts. She helps people bring their superpowers and their hearts to work so they can have more clarity, more ease, and more impact. She specializes in helping introverts mobilize their unique strengths. She provides tips on her blog at www.valnelson.com.

Val spoke with Quitter to Winner about the art of networking.

Why do you think people are resistant to the idea of networking?

Most people I talk to have very low confidence in their networking. They struggle to understand what to do for networking, and they often think they are bad at it. Their lack of confidence in it even stops them from learning how to do it. Ironically, once they understand what effective networking really is, they usually become much more relaxed.

There are some people who think they know how to network effectively but then their results still aren't what they would hope. If it's not working, they are probably trying to network using some old-school (pushy, "salesy") method that doesn't work in today's world.

What are the main do's and don'ts of networking?

1. Be authentic! Don't put on a mask or try to be something you're not. Fakeness doesn't work.
2. Listen and ask questions to learn more about the person you're speaking to. When you respond, speak to their needs and how you might be able to help, if possible.
3. Be helpful. Even if you can't help them, refer them to someone else if possible. You'll be remembered by both parties.
4. Speak from the heart. Hopefully you're passionate about what you're offering so speak from that place -- so that it's obvious you care and that your work makes a real difference. That's the person that gets remembered. (If you're not passionate about what you're doing, get help from a career coach to resolve that.)
5. Follow-up and stay connected. So many people skip this step that you'll stand out if you do it. If there's a big interest, set up a meeting. If no interest is clear, touch base at a minimum by connecting on LinkedIn. It might be a year later that they'll refer someone to you, but only if you've stayed on their radar.

Can you offer any tips for networking on Facebook and Twitter?

Same philosophy applies there: Be authentic. Listen and ask questions. Be helpful. Speak from the heart. Follow-up. The #1 key to online networking is connecting your online and offline networking, as I described in more detail on my blog.

Your upcoming workshop focuses on networking for wallflowers and introverts. Can you give us a preview of some tips and topics covered?

For starters, I'm going to help people understand what networking is and isn't. It's so misunderstood! We tend to picture pushy salespeople working the room to get tons of business cards. That doesn't work, so you can let go of trying to be anything like that!

Then I'll help folks find the overlap between effective networking and what they actually enjoy!

I'll also help people understand what introversion really is. And I'll help them tap into their introvert strengths (such as listening) to become great networkers.

When people understand what effective networking is, and what introversion is, they often start to think that introverts might actually be better at networking than extroverts!

Then I'll help participants create their own unique networking plan, including with the help of a workbook and an individual follow-up session with me.

When I held this workshop a few months ago, I captured some of what the participants learned in this post: http://www.valnelson.com/introvert-power/networking-secrets-from-an-ex-wallflower/

Here's where folks can learn more or register for my workshop:

What are your networking recommendations for those thinking about a career reinvention?

1. You CAN make a transition, even in a down economy! Actually, you often HAVE to make a transition when the economy is changing. Make sure you choose wisely. Consider seeing a career coach to make sure you're on the right path before you waste time.
2. Make sure you have chosen a new direction that you're passionate about, because people will notice that passion and pay attention. Being on the right path for you not only makes you happier, it's also the way to get noticed!
3. Much of your networking is probably about exploration of possible directions. Let yourself be in exploration mode. It's OK not to have all the answers about what you're doing. It's OK to say "I'm exploring..."
4. If you're asking for informational interviews, respect that people have limited time but trust that they like to help. Ask for a specific amount of time and tell them the questions you'd like to ask. The more specific you are, the easier it is for them to say yes or to refer you to someone more appropriate.

Tell us the meaning behind your black swan logo, which I hear is relevant to this topic.

When I first saw a black swan, I was so struck that I had to stop and pay attention, because it was so unique, so unexpected. Yet, it was just sitting there, quietly on a pond. The message of the black swan is that if you are uniquely You, you will have the impact you want, in a way that is easy or even quiet.

From that inspiration, I created what I call my Black Swan Formula for success: More You = More Ease = More Impact.

In other words, the more you let people see your unique self, the easier it will be on you, AND the more impact you'll have!

I find this gives my coaching clients hope and guidance. So, you can see the swan means a lot to me.

How can people reach you for more information?

They can learn more about me, my work, and these ideas at http://www.valnelson.com. They can also contact me via my website. I offer free sample sessions so people can see if coaching might be useful for them. I provide both career coaching and business coaching, which means I help anyone get more clarity and more impact in their work.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Quitter to Winner named "Favorite Blog"

Many thanks to Briefcase to Backpack for naming Quitter to Winner their Favorite Blog. Here's the write up:

We recently discussed how many career breakers remain in the “career break closet” – keeping their upcoming travel plans from friends, family, and especially colleagues and bosses. Some spend months, if not years, planning their escape, but are afraid to share the news too soon out of fear of losing their jobs – much like Keith & Amy Sutter. “We could not afford, either financially or professional, for word of our plans to leak back to our companies before we were ready.”

Quitting can be difficult for anyone, especially career breakers. Doubts can seep in as you start to question your decision. Hearing others stories of quitting can make it that much easier, and now you can on “Quitter to Winner”, a resource for those quitting their job for a career break, sabbatical, entrepreneurial venture or new gig.

The blog was started by Michael Sjostedt, who noticed that “over the last few years people held onto jobs they weren’t satisfied with. But recent stats show that more and more workers are voluntarily leaving their gigs for yet-to-be-determined opportunities.

Job burnout certainly plays a role in the trend. Some might have a little red devil on their shoulders who whispers ‘life’s too short.’ Others have the hutzpa to strike out on their own, thinking they can crack the ‘earn more, work less’ algorithm.

Everyone’s got a reason and a story. I’m curious to learn why people jumped, how they navigated the free fall, and if they succeeded.”

You can read stories like Alice Gray and Lyon Graulty, who are taking several months off between jobs to bike the West Coast and raise money for Posada Esperanza, an Austin-based shelter for immigrant women and their children. Or James Morgan, who talks about his difficult transition from a teaching career into architectural woodworking. And Ryan Fuller and his wife, Jen, who got burnt out from their high-pressure consulting jobs and are now in rehab: via extended vacation in Argentina.

And be sure to visit their Facebook Fan Page and Twitter as Michael features inspiring career-related stories, blogs, and job boards from around the web.