9-Step Recipe to Successful Cooking Classes


Teaching-CookingClassesJust as there are tricks to the perfect sandwich (hint: fresh bread for one), there is a method to making your food or drink class rewarding and mmm-azing for both teacher and student. Not only can your class satiate your students’ thirst for new skills and knowledge, it can also raise money for causes.

Seattle’s El Centro de la Raza is a fine example. A simple tamale-making class evolved into a full curriculum of Latino and South American cooking classes. Eventually, these classes raised more than $50,000 to support bilingual community services.

As Brown Paper Tickets‘ Food, Drink and Farm Specialist, I coached and trained a group on teaching family recipes, sharing culture and traditions to raise funding for community services. My program takes excellent volunteer cooks from the community and turns them into teachers. I broke it down into basic steps below, so that anyone can start a volunteer-based cooking school and get community members to teach their family recipes. If you’re in Seattle, join me at my next class when I teach how to make paella.

Here are 9 steps to a well-organized, rewarding, fun and (hopefully) fundraising cooking class or program.

1. Become an Expert
You must learn to walk before you can fly. First things first, you need teaching experience. You must really know your stuff to organize others who have little-to-no teaching experience.

Try teaching a cooking class in your home with friends and family as pupils. This should be a free event to give you a realistic perspective of teaching. In addition to teaching your own class, try attending a few run by professionals. Ask a lot of questions and take copious notes.

2. Host a Volunteer Meet + Greet
Host a meet and greet for potential volunteers. Keep the mood light and offer food and drinks. Make it a fun social event where everyone can chat. Once everyone is settled in and socialized, announce the project’s goals and needs.

Have potential volunteers sign up on a free registration page through Brown Paper Tickets. The process is fast and easy and the link can be directly e-mailed. This allows you to keep track of attendees as well as easy communication.

3. Get to Know Your Group
Here’s an easy icebreaker. Gather everyone into pairs and ask them to talk about what they know best for a few minutes. Once they have had time to chat, ask each person to introduce their partner.

4. Teach What You Know

TeachingCookingClassesWe can all teach just as we can all learn. Three tips to better teaching:

Meet students at their levels. If someone asks you about how to microwave ketchup soup, don’t insult him or her, don’t laugh and don’t start showing off. There’s plenty to learn from less experienced people.

Be kind when criticizing. Being an “expert” (as you will be by the time your class shows up) means you know more than your students. That is why they are paying to be in your class. If you need to step back to go over remedial skills like safety techniques, do it. Check your schedule and note any schedule changes as things progress. But take the time to teach the skills your pupils will need at home.

Celebrate mistakes. There will be messes, fallen cakes, burnt caramel. That’s okay. Be sure at least one batch of everything on the menu makes it to the table. Talk about the mistakes or failed dishes, why they happened and what to watch out for next time. Make a few mistakes yourself–laugh them off and talk about how to fix them. Many students are afraid to make mistakes. If you can teach people to accept mistakes and move on, you’re my hero.

5. Find Your Audience and Theme
Once you know what everyone is best at cooking, you can talk about how to turn that into a class. Map out who, what, where and why. Once each volunteer selects a subject, you can start finding the audience.

However, sometimes you find your students before you find your subject. If fans line up every evening for your amazing open-fire-pit pizza, then your topics are obvious. Dough, sauce, toppings, fire management and whether to fold or stack slices. However, if you don’t have a restaurant or bar, start by looking around at trends you see in the people you think may take a class.

Generally, you want to teach a dish or cuisine folks can learn in a couple hours to the degree they are confident to make it at home. There are exceptions of course. Take pickles, for example. You can’t really make a great pickle in a couple of hours, but you can certainly have samples, teach basic styles and techniques. Pick something that interests you and you’ll be a better teacher.

6. Know Your Subject Inside and Out

Limes, from teaching cooking classes

Pizza is a great example. There are so many styles; it’s mind-boggling. In the end, it’s just flat bread, sauce and cheese. But people prefer one style over another and that’s what makes it interesting. You don’t have to teach every style in your class, but know enough so you can answer questions. Remember, you’re the expert. If you can’t answer questions then you lose respect and sometimes, control of the class.

7. Include these Elements on Your Event Page
• A detailed menu (ingredients, descriptions)
• Chef or organization bio
• Allergy or restriction questionnaire
• Clear refund policy
• Price the class accordingly (be sure the price covers your food and labor cost)
• High-quality images of the dishes you will serve and cook (videos too)
• Spread the word to friends and consider a friends + family discount
• Information on attire, if producing a themed event
• Comp or discounted tickets for staff (training hours are expensive, this could help train your staff and make you a cool boss)
• Event start time and meet-and-greet time, if you want people to show up early
• Business hours
• A clear direction for your class. Make sure your event description is clear—expectations are hard to reset. If it is a demo, tell them so.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to extend the invitation to like-minded organizations and get to know other event organizers in your industry.

8. Practice, Practice, Practice
Go through the steps and write a lesson plan for your class. Practice it with friends. Scripting is a good first step, but don’t pass up the chance to show and tell with a buddy. Tape it using video if possible.

Type up your recipes and have copies ready for your students. Compare your recipe with two or more examples to ensure it is easy to follow. Include tips and secrets and absolutely provide your email address or website. Make sure you are realistic about the number of pupils you can teach
 at once. Start small and build from there. Also be sure you have enough ingredients to complete the menu. Striking a balance between size of class and courses is important.

Create an ingredient checklist and triple check it against your recipe or lesson plan. Do as much prep work as you can prior to the class, but leave enough work to share with your students. If you are cooking a more complicated dish or large quantity, pre-chop veggies. You can always demonstrate on a small quantity and have your pupils try it too.

Pre-measure your ingredients and have them ready to go in separate containers. This will help when you are cooking the dish and you will be less likely to miss something (check ingredients against recipe). Socialize with the class. Before you start, take the time to ease into things. This will relax everyone and make them comfortable.

Taste everything with the class as you go. When possible, eat your creations together at the end. A meal enjoyed in a group is a wonderful reward for a job well done. Make sure you have take aways and containers for the students to bring home. There are three types of take-aways: food, resources or value added. Food take-aways include leftover dough, ingredients or components. Resources would be things like worksheets, syllabus or directions. And value-added means marketing materials, like coupons, tote bags or branded goodies.

9. Attract Sponsors for Your Next Event
Now that you’ve decided to present an exciting new event or program, you wonder: How will I make all this happen with my existing budget? Building a presentation (or deck) and seeking community or corporate sponsors can close funding gaps for new initiatives. It can also help begin and grow future investment in your programs by your sponsors as they witness your work’s impact first-hand.

Here’s what to include in your presentation:

• Clarity of mission + vision
• Testimonials from past program participants and community stakeholders
• Clear description of program or event
• Your ask (arguably, the most important). Be very specific.
• Levels of giving/sponsorship packages
• Sponsor benefits or givebacks: What will your sponsor receive per giving level?
• Other donors or matching gifts opportunities
• Your contact information + organizational branding

Good luck and happy cooking. Feel free to comment with your own tips if you’ve ever taught cooking classes.

Comedy Outliers: Third Time’s the Charm


Comedy-Outliers-3YearAnniGuest post by Brandon Collins and Mike Brown of Comedy Outliers. They offer advice to comedians, performers and event organizers on how to survive and thrive in today’s competitive artistic climate.

“It’s all in the game…”

Over the past three years, the NY comedy scene has changed significantly. Some comedy clubs have come and gone. Some have opened or reopened to great success. The alternate scene for comedy has also changed. When we first began “Comedy Outliers” in 2012, there were only a handful of independent shows in the city. Now, several shows run in bars and theaters every night in every borough. Some are good, some are poor examples of what stand-up comedy can be. Either way, comics and producers have really stepped it up over the past three years.

Our Advice: Be Adaptable

“Comedy Outliers” has worked on being adaptable and making sure that we’re constantly ahead of the curve. This has presented some challenges, which were even more compounded with our venue issues. Nonetheless, our reputation amongst comedians has never faltered and our audience has always shown up month after month. But even with all of the successes and yes, failures … we’re still here. Three years later. With a popular show born out of a Facebook chat that turned into a showcase featured in the New York Comedy Festival and The New York Times. We learned to take a moment to reflect on past achievements in order to set goals for the future. We’re thinking about expansion, improving our current products (new and improved CO podcast coming soon) and potentially taking the show on tour. Once you realize you can achieve the goals you set out for yourself, the possibilities are endless. Hope ya’ll continue to rock with us as we begin year four.

A note for New Yorkers: Go out and celebrate three years of Comedy Outliers at Lilly O’Briens (18 Murray Street) on Saturday, February 28th at 7PM. The show has a $15 cover with no drink minimum. Pay only $10 if you purchase tickets in advance. You can also support their efforts by donating on their website or listening to their weekly podcast.

3 Secrets to Booking Great Shows


Music Festival Booking TipsI booked my first punk show in 1991 at the tender age of 18, so that’s 23 years of experience booking shows. Crazy.

A lot has changed. Nearly all communication was via phone or letters. Very few venues were keen on booking punk rock, so finding a venue (let alone an all-ages venue) was a challenge. To get the word out, you literally had to visit every town within a 100-mile radius and physically hang posters. Or find that town’s punk rock record store and give everyone with dyed hair or a leather jacket a handbill.

These days, it’s much easier to get the word out and to communicate with artists and venues. In fact, whole tours can be booked and promoted without making a single phone call or leaving home. That said, there are still some important things event organizers and producers should keep in mind when booking a night of music.

Here are three tips to steer you in the right direction:

1. Curate Your Bills

Back in the day, many things fell under the punk rock or “alternative” umbrella – a bill could feature a ska band, a psychobilly band and an electronic act. Today, music fans are easily able to fine tune their tastes and genres. The most successful bookers I know are ones who really got to know the bands’ sound and audience. They realize that even though the opener may not have a huge draw yet, the headliner’s audience will probably dig them. In this case, the sound of the bands, not their draw matters. This helps build the opener’s audience and creates a night of music tailored to the audience’s tastes. The audience not only gets to see the band they love, they also may discover a new favorite act.

2. Limit Your Acts

Playing or attending shows with five or six bands drives me crazy. It’s a disservice to everyone because bands have to play super short sets, get gear on and off as quickly as possible and audiences spend more time watching bands set up than watching them perform. Big bills can work for special events like festivals, but even then there should be a shared backline of drums and bass to ensure smooth transitions between acts.

Some bookers argue that more bands equals a bigger draw, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. Most fans would rather see a full set from their favorite band than a condensed one. They will likely hold out for a later bill where they can see a full set. Additionally, the bands know they won’t be able to flex their muscles performance-wise and will split the door amongst six other bands, so there’s little incentive for them to promote the show.

3. Promote (And Not Just on Facebook)

With the onset of social media, guerrilla promotions have fallen by the wayside. Often, producers and organizers seem content with creating a Facebook event page and shooting out a couple tweets. While this is an essential part of your promotional plan, don’t rely solely on social media, especially considering Facebook’s diminishing reach. Get out there and hang posters, contact the local press or bug some folks at your local independent radio stations. Basically, do all the old school “guerrilla” promotional tactics in conjunction with social media.

Nothing is more compelling than seeing a cool poster all over town or being handed a playbill by one of the band members. Get creative. You’ll see better results.

Share your thoughts and event tips for booking shows.

Photo Credit: Amanda Halm

Q + A: Vivienne Fuego on The Golden Poppy Revue


Vivienne Fuego-1 We interviewed Vivienne Fuego, founder of Sacramento’s newest revue, The Golden Poppy Revue to find out how she got involved in burlesque, the challenges with her new endeavor and what audiences can expect to see at the Golden Poppy’s upcoming debut production. See “L’Amour—An Evening of Valentease,” Saturday, February 28 at the Colonial Theater in Sacramento. Tickets available here.

Before The Golden Poppy Revue, Vivienne (then called Raven LaRoux) founded the Bodacious Bombshells, a burlesque troupe with a “rock and roll edge” in 2012. The Bombshells dissolved in 2014 and Vivienne vowed to retire from producing and performing. After only a month into her retirement, she founded The Golden Poppy Revue, a bi-monthly production at Sacramento’s historic Colonial Theatre, featuring six former Bombshells as her core cast: Jenna Jezebel, Sugar Cheeks, Violet Ruthless, Dahlia D’Vine, Bella Blue-Eyes and Lady Grey.

Tell me about your burlesque history. How did you initially get involved and who were some of your early inspirations?

I replied to a notification in November of 2012 to a Meetup event that the founder of the Darling Clementines set up. I went to the Meetup and met with a great group of gals. ChaCha Burnadette led a discussion of all things burlesque to gauge our interest levels. She then organized Meetups that had us venturing out to a few of the shows of the Sizzling Sirens (Sacramento’s longest running troupe). I was mesmerized. Absolutely hooked. I knew right then that this was what I had to do with the rest of my life. Being that I have a background in dance and theater, it seemed like a natural fit. I auditioned for the troupe in early December and was happy to have been accepted as a member.

My first burlesque inspirations were definitely Ginger Valentine and LouLou D’Vil. Their classical style resonates with me.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced starting this new endeavor, “The Golden Poppy Revue?”

Some of the challenges I’ve faced in starting up the new endeavor were securing a venue (a big one for any producer), setting dates for the 2015 season (there always seems to be conflicting events on the weekends where we risk splitting the fan base numbers), and helping my core cast get up to speed on expectations and production style. Even though there have been a few growing pains, this has been the most easy and natural fit for us all. We gel so well and are very loving and supportive of one another.

What can audiences expect at your upcoming show “L’Amour – An Evening of Valentease?”

Our audiences can expect, simply to be wowed. This is the revue’s debut show and all of our cast members and special guests are abuzz with anticipation. We have both a VIP Experience and The Main Event as ticketing options. Main Event ticket holders arrive for the main show at 9:00. However, those that purchase the VIP Experience tickets will be privy to an exclusive pre-show earlier in the evening from 8:00 – 8:30. They also get to sit in the best seats in the house: the first three center and front rows. And they get to take home a keepsake from the event.

With a lineup consisting of local favorites Sugar Cheeks and Jenna Jezebel, our resident belly dancer Tisha Leigh, our boylesque dynamo Darren Kiss, a sideshow performance by Ryan Dile, comedienne extraordinaire Steph Garcia, and Isis Starr, a Legend of burlesque … well, they’re in for one amazing night.

Thank you for opting to take part in Brown Paper Tickets’ Burlesque Hall of Fame donation program. Why do you think it’s important for burlesque producers to support BHoF?

It’s important to honor our founding mothers and fathers. Without those ladies and gents who blazed trails for us, we wouldn’t have this beautiful, titillating, inspiring art form. It’s also such an easy way to help raise funds to support the museum in Vegas$0.35 gets added to each Brown Paper Tickets order. I’d say it’s a small price to pay to support something so critical.

Have you been to the BHoF Weekender? Any good stories?

I attended the Weekender back in 2013 and am happy to say that I will be going back this year. I served as an Escort to one of the Legends in ’13 and it was the most wonderful way to volunteer and network … I’m hoping to serve in that same role this year as well.

Do you have advice for burlesque artists thinking of producing their own revue?

I never produced until I was in my early 40s; I only performed. However, I grew up in the dance and theater worlds, so being immersed in those throughout my younger years has been a huge plus. Producing was a very natural next step for me. I would tell anyone thinking of producing their own revue to go to shows. See what’s out there and make an assessment of the types of productions. Brainstorm and figure out how you can create a show that is uniquely yours and different from all other local productions. Take as many burlesque business classes as you can at BurlyCon, The Great Burlesque Expo, etc. Get yourself a few producer mentors (mine are Bunny Pistol and Fever Blister). And as always, network, network, network.

9 Valentine’s Day Events You’ll Love


BPT_Social_Grpahic_Feb-01Te amo. Je t’aime. Aloha wau ia ‘oe. I love you. However you say it and whomever you say it to, get out and paint the town red. From sassy shows to romantic dinners and raucous Mardi Gras parties, there’s a lot going on this month. And still plenty of time for Valentine’s Day procrastinators to get tickets.

Here are nine events you’ll love.

1. Bloody Valentine, Colorado Springs, CO. Forget candles, lingerie, conversation hearts. Nothing screams Valentine’s Day like a vampire-filled haunted house. Hold hands as you run through this heart-pounding labyrinth.

2. BollySutra Dance Party, Seattle, WA. Get closer to your date at this BollySutra dance party or go in search of a mate. Snuggle in and watch the cricket match that will be streamed in or hit the dance floor.

3. Baroque N Hearts, Seattle, WA. If you’re looking for something mellow with a melody, head to Naked City Brewery for Baroque N Hearts, music performed by a baroque soprano, flutist, cellist and harpsichordist.

4. Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Federal Way, WA. Don’t feel like dancing the night away? Watch performers from all kinds of dance move in a love-themed performance that will make your heart sing.

5. Whole Lotta Love, Sebastopol, CA. Rock Valentines with a burlesque tribute to Led Zeppelin. Show up early and share tappas with your date or stay late for the dance party after the show. A saucy date night or ideal group outing for friends celebrating singledom.

6. Valentine’s Day Cuddle Party, Los Angeles, CA.What would Valentine’s Day be without a good cuddle? Dress in theme, cuddle and then carouse with new friends at the after-party.

7. Brew of Hearts, Chicago, IL. Love beer? Embark on an Alice-esque tasting adventure with the brew of hearts. Craft beer is only one shining facet of this Chicago event. DJs, a photobooth and other surprises await.

Mardi Gras

8. Cirque Du Gras, New Orleans, LA. Maybe Mardi Gras is more your holiday. An alternative to mainstream cirque culture, Cirque Du Gras has all the clowns, fire-breathing and acrobatics with raw humor and off-beat topics thrown into the ring.

9. RAWdi Gras, New York, NY. Comedic entertainment, signature cocktails, plus a silent auction and raffle with amazing prizes.

Didn’t find what you’re looking for? Explore all of our events.

Celebrate UNESCO World Radio Day with Us


WorldRadioDay Community radio is something to celebrate. It brings people together, allows freedom of expression, spreads joy, music and so much more. Celebrate it today, World Radio Day, an UNESCO holiday and global series of events honoring democracy, community, education and cultural ties.

Brown Paper Tickets is doing it up big with a reception and party at Seattle Public Library (Central Branch, 10th floor) from 5-7 pm. Not only are we celebrating World Radio Day, we’re applauding the approval of 13 new radio stations in the Puget Sound, including 5 to serve the lovely city of Seattle and 2 stations awaiting approval.

Join us. Enjoy a piece of radio-tower cake. Listen to inspiring, insightful “lightning” talks from new low-power fm radio stations. Get the details on the broadcast range of the stations.

There’s still time. Register here.

“This is big news for everyone in the Puget Sound area. Nonprofits are about to have a much larger voice on local airwaves,” said Sabrina Roach, a Brown Paper Tickets Doer. Roach was recruited to the Brown Paper Tickets Doer Program after 11 years in Seattle public and community media.

Click on the map below to see all 15 new community radio stations.


Roach works on equitable community development through locally-owned communications infrastructure, such as advocacy for an open Internet, municipal broadband and the build-out of low-power FM.

Seattle’s official celebration for UNESCO’s World Radio Day is produced by Brown Paper Tickets as part of our philanthropy-in-action strategy, the Doer Program. We believe in a combination of donations (donating 5% of profits from every sale) and “doing” (the Doer Program) to maximize positive change for communities.

As a Doer, Sabrina Roach chose to support equitable community development by building nonprofit media and communications infrastructure, including community radio and municipal broadband. She led a National Make Radio challenge and she is also the director of “Upgrade Seattle: A Campaign for Equitable Public Internet.” She is also working with a grassroots community advisory group.

Industry trade publication Radio World recently published an article on how our Doer Program supports community radio.

“Like our public libraries and community centers, community radio offers hands-on access and connection, education and entertainment that feeds and strengthens our neighborhoods,” said Roach. “It adds another dimension to public services; it acts like ‘community glue,’ building bridges among unlikely groups of people representing different interests and demographics.”

HR Secrets to Keeping Derby Drama Out of Bouts


Roller Derby Conflict Drama? What drama?

Drama is too prominent in the derby experience. It lurks at all levels and, too often the f-word expletive replaces the other (and most important) f-word—fun.

Derby allows individuals to express themselves within a group driven by shared goals. That’s an eloquent way to say the individualism is celebrated and yet, affects interpretation of the group goals.

As you can probably tell by now, my passion for this sport is strong. I spent seven years helping to unify and improve announcing (with the help of peers) and currently help leagues plan events and improve their business acumen. Passion, like individualism, can take your focus off overall goals. Find your role, avoid fighting the system over every little thing, and support group goals while accomplishing yours.

Unattended Derby Conflict Becomes Derby Drama

If I have a super power, it’s working with conflict. Most avoid it, but I’ve learned how to resolve it as a manager and human resources director. In general, conflict is healthy; without it, positive change would never occur. However, unresolved conflict spreads through your league, becoming destructive-with-a-capital-D drama.

Conflict Examples

•    Personality clashes between two or more people
•    The power play of one or more strong-willed, intimidating people, including leaders or founders
•    Differences in opinions that go unattended and eventually divide the league

Remember, the moment you sell tickets, your league is a business. Drama comes from poor structure, poor planning, lack of communication and/or not addressing conflict immediately. Ever been given the cold shoulder? Asked to leave without explanation? I have. I worked with team captains to coach a league’s perennially worst team (four seasons running) into the best team in the league, helping them win a championship. The third season? No call, email, no even telling me I was done. Eighty percent win record, no open conflict and I was dropped without an explanation. It hurt for a long time.

Take the “Personal” Out of Conflict 

No one is wired to want to take on conflict. It doesn’t come naturally, not even to me. Assigning a human resources person to maintain a presence within the league, enforce policies and smooth out drama puts an end to conflict. How? It removes the personal. Drama rears its head when things feel too personal.

Pre-planning is key, as nothing can be enforced properly without developing expectations. Often, implementing a plan is done in retrospect when the damage already occurred. What you need:

New skater and staff orientation: a practice where newbies are told realistic costs, expected time commitments and receive honest answers to their questions. Do not recruit someone without full disclosure; they will train for two months and leave.

One of a business’ greatest costs is employee turnover. It is the same with derby league member turnover. Training new people takes a lot of time and time is a drain on league resources. Keeping people long term allows focus on other goals and tasks.

A league handbook: Just like the first day on a new job, provide a handbook and necessary paperwork to new staff and skaters. The handbook should cover:

•    League history and goals
•    League structure chart
•    Non-skating participation requirements
•    Attendance requirements
•    Job description for non-skaters
•    Training expectations for staff/skaters

A League Code of Conduct: A description of how members should use the system if they feel they are being denied their rights as a member. This tells members what is not acceptable in the eyes of the league. Could include:

•    Unbecoming behavior
•    Representing the league in matters that don’t fit within your role as a league member. Examples: Committing the league to an event without consent of the BOD or proper committee.
•    Finding sponsorship opportunities and negotiating terms instead of facilitating communication with the right committee
•    A no-tolerance bullying policy
•    Inappropriate or vulgar behavior on the track
•    The penalty if it’s determined someone broke the code
•    A tear-away page to sign, date and turn in. This is proof they received all of the necessary information.

The examples above are not detailed. You need detail. If you leave your Code of Conduct or handbook without specific examples of infractions and ramifications, you’re not better off. Don’t interpret someone’s future as they’re standing and waiting for disciplinary decisions. For instance, what would constitute “unbecoming behavior?” It’s far too open for interpretation.

Roller Skate All About Transparency

Transparency means every function is known to its members, projects are not hidden, detected personal agendas are squelched, the operations of the league remain open and honest. At many levels, derby does a terrible job at maintaining transparency.

Often people get wind of rumors that are never laid to rest or even answered dishonestly. Granted, a project just kicking off may not need explanation, unless it’s a sensitive topic. Yet once it’s in full swing, people should know. Others may even have contacts and expertise to help.

How Does This Keep the Derby Drama Out of Your Bouts?

If you address broken rules or clashes among people immediately and according to your code of conduct, there’s nothing to argue about. The personal side is removed and it’s more cut and dry. For example, if you have a three-strike rule, each strike must be addressed professionally and calmly. By the third, it’s no surprise that he/she will be asked to leave. I’ve fired people and shaken their hands because they weren’t mad at me; they knew it was coming. No hostility, no conflict.

Mediation is also important to stopping drama. A neutral party, often a staff member without connections to a skater or any teams, is assigned to conflict between peers. They help two parties work toward compromise and don’t take sides.

Keeping your BOD out of these decisions (though they should be informed) makes disciplinary processes less intimidating. The more people there are involved in a disciplinary action, the more defensive the accused becomes. Create a role that reports to the BOD whose job is to run the orientation, interview applicants and hand down repercussions of infractions.

Nobody is Above the Rules

A multi-tiered system of discipline will not work and different treatment for different levels of “employees” can be against the law. You cannot make exceptions for anyone. Not the best skater, best official, not even the league President. The fallout destroys the checks and balances you developed.

You’re better to let your best skater leave the league than accommodate them. If they stay, you not only undermine your personal rules, but the malcontent created will tear the team or league apart.

Take a Morale Check

Back in the day, I watched my best, hardest working employees leave for greener pastures because they were not happy. I found a morale boost made a positive difference in contribution. I’ve seen this in derby when a league acts by terminating a star player who felt they deserved special treatment. Once gone, the league adjusted, worked as a team and ended up better for it.

More on morale in my next piece. Comment below with your thoughts and conflict resolution techniques.

4 Simple Organizing Techniques for Artists


Owl-Mask-LeatherWorkingEighteen hours from now, I will be hanging pieces at my first solo art show in over five years. My artwork: 20 masquerade-style leather art masks currently in various stages of completion. And my studio? After an all-nighter to get everything sculpted so it could dry in time, my workbench was buried.

Was. Last year I would have shoved everything aside and struggled to work in a bare corner. But it’s a new year and I’m developing new habits.

Here are four simple ways to increase productivity and organize your space:

1. Put everything in its place. Even if I knew I would need it again, it went back in its drawer, on its shelf or wherever it goes when my studio is “clean.” It seemed overwhelming and time-consuming at first, but only took 15 minutes or so. Now the entire work surface is available and I know where everything is, which will save precious time later. I also took a moment to sweep up yesterday’s scraps, making today’s work feel like a fresh start.

2. Separate the art into categories. I made little groupings of the pieces that still need paint (all of them). Realizing this wasn’t going to help, I further categorized them by how they’ll be arranged on the wall tomorrow. Five traditional Mardi Gras styles, four birds, four dragon-like creatures, five gargoyles and two so odd they don’t even have category titles.

3. Choose a subset to begin with. At first I thought the Mardi Gras styles would be best, but quickly realized these will require the most time to paint. I set them aside and painted all the birds first. This gave me a sense of accomplishment early on and filled me with excitement to work on the next batch. I wanted to see how my dragon would turn out, so I painted that next.

4. Take (healthy) breaks. I drank two glasses of water instead of the second cup of coffee I craved. My body needed water more. (Technically, as I write this, I’m still on break, but I wanted to share these thoughts while they’re fresh).

Past art shows taught me that if I can’t finish all 20, no one will know what’s missing from the display except me. And if I don’t finish all of them, it just means I have a head start for next time.

Take it from me: Start fresh. Break the work into smaller components. Take care of yourself. And don’t panic.

Brown Paper Tickets‘ Doer: Maker Advocate Tamara made the super-cool owl mask above. She’ll be sharing more tips, thoughts and words of advice from her life as a leatherworker and her involvement in maker communities.

8 Derby Business Pitfalls to Avoid


Roller Derby Merchandise TableOpening a roller derby business is an exciting, adventurous and potentially dangerous idea. How would I know? I acted on it in 2007 with Flyin’ Squirrel, a novelty t-shirt company. Flyin’ Squirrel closed in 2010 after one of the worst economic crashes in U.S. history.

Exciting and adventurous? Yes. Confidence boosting? Absolutely. I still have the equipment, the know-how and am smarter because of Flyin’ Squirrel. However, unlike playing derby, running a business isn’t something you can jump into with only excitement as your fuel.

The economy improved and so has the success rate of small businesses in the U.S. Fifteen to twenty years ago, only 5-to-10% of small businesses lasted five years. In 2012, approximately 50% of small businesses made it that long. It could be attributed to the popularity of online shopping and various distribution options available for online businesses. A store can sell online with much lower overhead. A creative marketing campaign can have a tremendous impact through social media.

I’ve selected five pitfalls most applicable to derby business from Patricia Schaefer’s article: “The Seven Pitfalls of Business Failure and How to Avoid Them,” which nicely summarizes known start-up issues. I added a few tips from my experience.

1. Starting a Business for the Wrong Reasons
Wrong reasons include: making big money, having more time for yourself and your family or being your own boss.

Unless your product is truly unique, highly technological, has a high profit margin and dollar amount or can be marketed beyond roller derby, don’t expect riches to rain upon you.

A reasonable living or part-time income is more realistic. Furthermore, running your own business is more work than most realize. Design, development, production, order management, fulfillment, accounting, marketing and even employee management is what you’ll face. Don’t go it alone.

Derby-Fashion2. Poor Management
Poor management is often listed in reports as a leading cause of small business failure. It’s also one of the top reasons people leave their jobs. If you’re not a “people person,” hire someone who is. Sales, customer retention and employee relations depend on it. Good managers know how to reinvent stagnant business, create a positive image of the company and keep competent employees.

3. Insufficient Capital
Remember, it’s not just the cost of getting started; it’s the ability to fund everything for at least a few years. Most businesses aren’t profitable immediately and you need to plan for that. You cannot mix funds for the business with money you need to maintain for living expenses. It’s one thing to close your company and another to jeopardize your everyday life.

4. Location, Location, Location
Depending on the type of business and its structure, location can have a heavy hand in your success. Oftentimes, skate sales are required to connect to a brick and mortar store before they can be distributed online. That said, you shouldn’t open traditional retail shop just so you can start selling online.

Location factors:
• Customer location
• Accessibility
• Location of competitors
• Building’s condition
• Area incentive programs for start-up businesses
• The history and community receptiveness to a new business

5. Lack of Planning
Roller derby requires a lot of planning. Though leagues vary on their planning abilities, it’s far from a new concept. Planning is the core of a successful business or league.

Business plan components: 
• Goals, mission, vision
• Number of people (employees) to make it work
• Identification of potential problems and their solutions
• Financial analysis
• Competitive analysis
• Marketing and promotional campaigns
• Budget and growth management
• Design of marketing and promotional campaigns

I personally experienced these last 3 pitfalls with my derby business. They are not referenced in Schaefer’s article.

6. Trying to be More Than You Can
I suffered from too-many-good-ideas-at-once syndrome. Not only did I want to sell merchandise online, I wanted to help others sell unique items, post stories about my many trips across the U.S., and try to push forward charities related to derby leagues.

I spent too much time developing material that grew outdated quickly. I should have focused on my business plan to design and sell reasonably priced t-shirts. Instead, I buried myself in projects.

Roller Derby Appearel 7. Not Hiring a Website Manager
(This applies if your website is your main channel of sales and promotion.)

I knew just enough about web sites and coding to be dangerous. The more I learned, the flashier I tried to make the site. Too much time (again) with little payoff. A nice, clean site with easy navigation and payment tools is all you need. Having someone to update prices and prices, or give it a fresh look every year or so takes a big part of the work off your hands.

8. Selling Merch at Far-Away Events
Of course, this totally depends on what type of products you sell. It might work for you if your product is not high-margin or you’re able to take orders and don’t have to provide the product on site.

Most are not moneymakers. If you decide to sell merchandise at an event you have to fly to, consider costs involved:
• Table(s) for your booth
• Shipping merchandise to and from the event
• Flight, hotel and food

In the U.S., with the exception of the top three or four most-attended events, you will likely lose money or break even at best. That might be perfectly fine, if the contacts you make and product exposure pay dividends later on. Let’s do the math: $500 for one table, plus a $650 flight, $90 a night (4 nights) and $200 in shipping would be $1710. That doesn’t even include food. And this is a low estimate, as table fees have probably climbed.

It might be better to attend events close to home with your merchandise. If you can drive and return home at night, the cost equation changes dramatically.

New Derby Project

I wanted to take a moment and recognize an important derby project. Neil Gunner, a derby photographer in the Toronto area released a book of derby photos and stories. Preview the book, Into Battle: The Roller Derby Experience in Photos and Interviews.

I’m honored to be in the book, but that’s not why I mention it. I love Toronto Roller Derby and so I offered Neil help with marketing advice. In particular, my ticket blitzing strategy, where coordinated blasts on social media multiply ticket sales.

In Neil’s words: “Bob’s plan for ensuring that multiple people share the same post on the same day across social media was directly responsible for increasing awareness far beyond what I would have been able to accomplish otherwise. Needless to say, it was a pleasure to be able to include Bob in the book. The book itself owes its success in large part to Bob as well. The marketing ideas Bob has shared with me, developed as part of his role as a Doer, have proved invaluable in spreading the word and generating both interest and sales.”

Eh, sometimes I know what I’m talking about.


Fight for Fair Web Access in Seattle


seattle-internet-campaign-space-needleBrown Paper Tickets’ Doer, Sabrina Roach is shaking things up in mild-mannered Seattle. She’s leading a grassroots group of community activists, tech-workers and artists in a campaign to make Internet a city-owned utility. The goals are clear: improve speeds, lower prices and allow all residents Internet access.

But the campaign still needs a name and they need you to help choose it. Seattle for Equitable Internet? Internet in Seattle’s Hands? Connecting Seattle? Vote for your favorite or stretch your creative muscles and add your own suggestion. The campaign name will be revealed at a launch party for new Puget Sound radio stations on World Radio Day February 13.

The Need for Internet Speed and Access

“Nearly 20% of Seattle residents do not have any Internet access,” according to a report by the city. In our modern, tech-driven metropolis, that’s more than an inconvenience. Students may not be able to do homework assignments. Job seekers may be unable to apply to or find open positions. Small business owners may struggle against online competitors.

The same city report shows that 45% of Seattle residents who have Internet in the home want better prices. Thirty-three percent want higher speeds than offered by Seattle’s dominant providers Comcast and CenturyLink. Roach’s yet-to-be-named campaign takes a cue from smaller cities that have implemented fiber-based municipal broadband: Cedar Falls, Iowa and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

In a recent video, a preview of his upcoming State of the Union address, President Obama points to these two towns as examples of municipal broadband done right. And fast—at 1,000 mega bits per second, both communities’ services are on par speed-wise with Paris and Tokyo.

Although Seattle is considerably larger than Cedar Falls and Chattanooga, it has some of the necessary infrastructure already in place, which would make things considerably easier.  In a January interview with The Stranger, Roach says “there are 550 miles of city-owned fiber-optic cable already in the ground. We just need to connect it to homes and businesses.”

550 miles? Who knew? Help name the campaign or get involved with our Doer’s efforts.

Photo credit: Anupam via Flickr