Sunday, September 3, 2017

5 Ways to Support Your Friend’s Business Without Making a Purchase

Your best friend just joined the latest direct sales craze.  She’s hoping you’ll support her new business venture.  You don’t know how to break the news to her that you just don’t want another __ [cream, purse, bracelet, kitchen gadget, supplement, pair of leggings, etc.]__.  We’ve all been there. Some of us are just better than others at saying no (tactfully, without hurting anyone's feelings).  I am terrible at saying no.  Partly because I feel guilty, and partly because I honestly want my friend to be successful.  Unfortunately, I don't always want or need whatever they're selling.  Sometimes, I am willing to try their product, but I may not have an extra $50 lying around to spend.  The question becomes, is it possible to help our friends succeed in their direct sales businesses, without having to buy something?  My answer is, absolutely!  Here are my top 5 ways to support your friend’s business without making a purchase.

Be a Host

Hosting a party, workshop, or class is a great way to support your friend’s business and earn free stuff without having to make a purchase.  All you have to do is work with your friend to invite people and then get people to show up, either in person or online.  This is a numbers game. Generally, out of every 4 people you invite, only 1 of them will actually attend.  So if you want 10 people to come, you have to invite at least 40 people.  It will be more successful to send out individual, personal invitations, one at a time, using Facebook Messenger, rather than bulk inviting all 500+ Facebook friends.  People get so many invites every day.  After awhile, they stop feeling special or important.  Individual invitations will always be far more effective than bulk messages, and maybe that way you won’t develop a reputation as an over-inviter.  Before bulk inviting your friends to the event page, contact them through Messenger.  Give them a few details about the event, why you thought to invite them, and/or how they might benefit from attending.  Ask them if they are interested, and only invite them if they respond favorably.  Don’t be pushy.

Offer to Trade Skills

When it comes to direct sales, it’s hard to be an expert at everything.  What do you really excel at doing?  Are you great at marketing, accounting, online networking, graphic design, taking product photos, blog writing, or setting up a vendor booth?  Perhaps your direct sales friend would be willing to trade some free product for help with one of those areas.  If you are in direct sales too, try to figure out some ways to team up together.  Perhaps host a party or open house together, or offer a special incentive to each other’s customers.  Create a list of your strengths and weaknesses and brainstorm together to see how you could help fill each other’s gaps.

Help Them Promote Their Business on Social Media

If your friend is promoting their business on Facebook, chances are only a small percentage of their friends are actually seeing those posts, due to the way Facebook’s algorithms work.  The more people who interact with a post, the more Facebook will show it to others.  Be their number one fan by liking, sharing, and/or commenting on all of their social media posts.  This will really boost their exposure, and they will love you for it.  This works equally well for Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter too.  Here’s an article I found that explains those complicated algorithms in more detail: 

Be an Idea Generator

Do you have great ideas?  Do you see things your friend is doing that may potentially harm their business? Do you see things they are not doing, but could be to help grow their business?  Sometimes I get so caught up in the details around me, it’s hard for me to see the big picture.  When that happens, I would love for someone else to come along and say “hey, I have some ideas that might help,“ or “hey, you might want to rethink this.”  Most people will readily accept positive feedback, though not all will appreciate constructive criticism.  Ask them if they are interested in hearing your ideas and feedback, and explain how being a sounding board is one way you are able to help support their business efforts.

Give Referrals

Maybe you aren’t interested in what your friend is selling, but maybe you know someone else who is.  During your conversations, if someone is talking about needing some new hair products, direct them to your friend who sells hair products.  If someone is complaining about brown sun spots on their skin, refer them to your face care friends.  Maybe you would even be willing to carry around a few of their business cards in your purse, so you can hand out their information as the need arises.  Word of mouth advertising is a tried and true way to support your friends.

When in Doubt, Ask

If you want to help your friend, but aren't sure which of the above methods would be the best choice for them, just ask.  Be honest about your situation.  Explain why you aren't interested in buying right now, but say you do want to support them, and ask if there are other ways you can help.    

Got Some Great Ideas?

How do you support your friends with businesses?  Comment below and share your ideas. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Harry Potter Party Decorations

When planning the Ultimate, Magical Harry Potter Party, spend some time thinking about whether you want to do a general Harry Potter theme, or if you want to represent a specific book or movie.  We chose to do a general theme and so we used elements here and there from the entire series of books/movies.

Platform 9 3/4
We decorated our entry way (above) to look like the train platform 9 and 3/4, and you can find similar versions elsewhere on blogs and Pinterest.  I made the brick wall curtain out of a sheet (directions located at the bottom of this post).  I had an old looking trunk, originally purchased from Hobby Lobby using my 40% off coupon.  I found the old suitcase at an antique shop.  I purchased the Hogwarts banner online from, and hung it on some painted PVC pipes (which I had already made to hang the sails of a Pirate ship from a Pirate party) with a wooden stand my hubby made.  I bought the plush owl from Amazon as well.  The bird cage was from Hobby Lobby.  I made the broom by grabbing some dried tall grasses and reeds, bunching them together, and using wire to secure them around a long, skinny branch.  Grab a couple of empty boxes wrapped up with packaging string, addressed to Mr. Potter, and that completes the look.

When guests entered our house, their first stop was Gringott's to get their spending money.  I got these little cauldrons and fake coins on sale after St. Patrick's Day at Party City.  Each guest got a cauldron full of coins, a Honeyduke's coupon good for one chocolate frog, and a list of supplies they would need for school as first year students.  Then they were off to Diagon Alley to get their supplies.  I also had kids fill out a quick House quiz, so I knew which house to put them in.

Diagon Alley
We have a large basement with multiple rooms.  We turned each room into a different shop at Diagon Alley, although we didn't represent ALL the shops of Diagon Alley.  There's just too many of them.

Eeylops Owl Emporium - Some people actually go through the trouble of sewing little felt owls to give out to each of their guests.  I didn't have time for that, so my owl emporium was more like an information booth.  There were pictures of different kinds of owls and some facts about them, a few nests with some fake eggs, and a bowl of feathers (enough for each guest to take one feather).  I used a display shelf I bring to craft fairs, that my husband made for me, which consists of three window shutters, connected by hinges, with some sections removed so two wooden shelves could be thread through it.  This picture shows only the bottom half of the display. 

Flourish and Blotts - I turned a bookcase into this popular bookstore, by covering some books we already owned with brown paper and made them look antiqued.  I also printed some pictures of a shelf full of old books, and used it as a facade in some spots so I didn't have to recover every single book.  This was where the students had to pick up their books.  I made three little booklets for each kid to pick up: one for potions, one for herbology class, and one for spells.  For the second party, I also made the book of monsters, which I displayed on one of the shelves (not pictured here).

Madam Malkins - If you have costumes for the guests, this would be the place for them to get fitted for their robes.  I asked our guests to bring their own costumes or dress up as their favorite character, so we didn't need this shop.  I simply locked the door and hung a sign on it that said "closed...visiting relatives in Bavaria. Be back on Tuesday."

Quality Quidditch Supplies - For this I just decorated a table and some shelves.  I had a few brooms lying around, a Broomstick catalog, and baskets labeled with other quidditch supplies, such as golden snitches, uniforms, quaffles, and bludgers.  I had the guests look through the catalog and pick out which broom they wanted.  I asked them to fill out an order form and leave some coins to get their broom (which was to be delivered at some point in the future to Hogwarts).  I used some Harry Potter stickers I found at a scrapbooking store to make the labels seem more authentic.  The golden snitch was a prop from a Halloween store.

Ollivanders - is a wand shop, so we used my craft room for this shop and we made wands as one of the crafts during the party.  See the Harry Potter Party Games, Crafts, and Activities post for more details on making wands.

Slug & Jiggers Apothecary - I had another bookcase with glass doors on it that I turned into the apothecary.  This is where students picked up their potion ingredients, such as Gillyweed (kelp sheets cut into little squares), Powdered Bicorn  Horn (ground flaxseed), Aconite Tea (loose-leaf green tea), Black Obsidian Stone (a polished, black stone), Petrified Unicorn Tears (iridescent, tiny flattened marbles).  All these items were placed into tiny plastic bags and labeled accordingly.  I forgot to take a picture of this until after the party, and by then all the bowls were empty. 

Magical Menagerie - This is where students get their magical creatures, which in our case was flobberworms, (blue gummy worms).  It is also where I held the Care of Magical Creatures class.  This was just another shelf I turned into a "shop."  I had one shelf with 4 baby dragons and 4 different dragon eggs (to represent the Tri-Wizard Tournament).  I had a shelf with Acromantulas (spiders).  I also had some jars full of fake, creepy crawly bugs, snakes, basilisk eggs, and some other more dangerous creatures, which were "locked up in the trunks for their safety."  Although not pictured here, I also hung posters on the wall of some of the creatures mentioned in the Harry Potter books, like Acromantulas, Basilisks, and Hippogriffs, which I used to teach the class later.

The Leaky Cauldron - The kitchenette/bar area was turned into the Leaky Cauldron, where the kids could take a break and try some Butterbeer or Pumpkin Juice.


After the shopping was finished, the kids went to Hogwarts to get sorted into their houses and begin their classes.  We had a lot of kids come to the party (roughly 20-25), so we divided them into 4 groups and held 4 classes, rotating the groups through 4 stations (potions, herbology, defense of the dark arts, and care of magical creatures).  Check out the Harry Potter Games and Activities to see how we decorated each of those areas and for more details about those classes.

The Great Hall

We ate our meal in the Great Hall at Hogwarts (my dining room of course).  I made paper candles and suspended them from the ceiling at various heights using clear fishing line.  I made paper flames, but you could use electronic taper candles that flicker for a truly magical effect.  On one wall I hung the four house banners.  At the time, I couldn't find the house banners available for purchase, only the black Hogwarts one, so I just printed the crests from coloring pages I found online and had my kids color them.  I cut them out and glued them to a solid color piece of cardstock in the correct color for each house.  For the other wall, I found a bunch of cheap frames at a thrift shop, and a collection of creepy looking, old, black and white photos online that I just printed and hung randomly all over the wall.  Okay...yes, one of the portraits is Edgar Allen Poe.  I couldn't resist. When I see him I think of the Raven and it's just creepy.  We didn't spend very much time in this room, so I didn't spend as much time decorating it.  If I do this party again, I might try to find pictures of some of the ghostly people featured on the Hogwarts wall from the movie to print and frame.

Lastly, I created a table for the kids to deposit the birthday presents.  I made a few more fake books and a fake newspaper, along with the sorting hat, which we used to sort the kids into their houses.  I also created posters of the Proclamations from the Ministry of Magic which I "tacked" to the wall and some wanted posters of notorious criminals, like Bellatrix Lestrange.

Instructions for Making Harry Potter Props and Party Decorations

Making the brick wall for Platform 9 3/4:
I used a king size tan-colored sheet.  I folded it in half, lengthwise, to find the middle, and made a small slit at the bottom.  Then I simply tore it to the top (wide) hem, but not through it.  Next I cut across the top hem at each end, so I had a little tube to thread the curtain rod through, without having to sew one myself.  You could also use any large piece of fabric and make your own hem at the top that is wide enough to accommodate an adjustable shower curtain tension rod.  Next I took a rectangle sponge, a disposable plastic or Styrofoam plate and some acrylic paint in a couple different shades of browns, tans, reds, and/or grays, depending on what color bricks you want.  I tried to make mine match the bricks that were on the front of our house, so it looked like they were truly walking into part of the wall.  Lay a plastic shower curtain, a paint cloth, some large garbage bags, or large pieces of cardboard down underneath the sheet, because the paint will bleed through the fabric onto whatever is underneath!!  Squirt a few puddles of 3 different shades of paint onto the plate, swirl it with the tip of your sponge to create a somewhat marbled effect.  This just adds some variation in the color, so the bricks look more realistic.  Lay your sponge (flat), down into the paint and pat lightly to coat.  Start from the top or the bottom and "stamp" a line of evenly spaced rectangles horizontally across the fabric, to create bricks, adding more paint as needed.  Don't worry if the sponge doesn't totally saturate the fabric.  You want to have a few blank spots where the paint doesn't touch, so it looks like the texture of brick.  When you get to the next row, stagger the bricks, so the edges don't line up with the ones above, but are centered in between two, to get a realistic looking brick pattern.  Use the picture at the top as a reference.  Keep working, row by row, until you've finished both panels.

Making a Sorting Hat:
First, I used a large piece of tag board to make a cone shape, by cutting out a large circle, finding the center point, then cutting one slit from the edge of the circle to the center point.  Allow the cut edges to slide past each other and keep tightening until it forms a cone shape that is big enough to fit on a child's head.  I used my kid to measure the right size.  Tape it in place.  Next I used brown paper grocery bags (the unprinted portions) and a paper mache recipe.  This project gets messy, so put down some plastic or newspaper to protect your workspace.  Brown paper starts to fall apart when it gets too wet, so you have to work kind of quickly and delicately.  Dip a scrap of brown paper into paper mache, use your fingers to slide some of the excess paste off, then wrap it around the cone.  Allow the paper to fold and crinkle.  Keep working until the entire cone is covered.  Create a brim.  Next form some additional folds to give the impression of two eyes and a mouth (see picture).  When the hat is fully dry, which may take a few days, you can paint it.  I used chocolate brown spray paint (outside) and just lightly sprayed.  You want there to be parts that remain unpainted so the original brown paper shows through.  This gives it a weathered old leather look.  Lastly, use a darker brown, black, or charcoal gray paint and dry brush the depressions where the eyes and mouth are, to make them more distinct.  The dry brush technique simply means take a dry paint brush, without getting it wet, and just dip the very tip in a small amount of paint, then quickly drag it over in a crisscross kind of pattern.  You don't want the area to be completely covered in paint.  Voila!  You're done!

Making Hanging Candles:
Take a piece of cream colored or white cardstock.  Roll it around a mop or broom handle to form a tube, then glue or tape the end down.  My tape kept coming apart, even when I used double-sided sticky tape.  I had the best luck with rubber cement.  It dries quickly, stays put, and is easy to fix (before it dries) if you make a mistake.  I used a piece of tape to hold it in place until it dried.  Then I cut "flames" out of yellow construction paper or cardstock, that was wider than the diameter of the top of the candle, but then I made little tails that were the same diameter of the candle, so it would fit down into the tube and hold the flame in place.  I used an orange marker to draw a little flame in the center, then taped it to the inside of the candle.  (See picture above) I used a teeny tiny hold punch to create a small hole near the top of the candle (on the candle, not on the flame), and I tied a short length of fishing line to it, and then I used small, clear command hooks to attach them to the ceiling.  Tape and thumb tacks didn't work.  The candles kept falling down because tape/tacks couldn't hold the weight of the candle.  I've also made paper candles that are big enough to accommodate an electric tealight at the top, but they are heavier, trickier to work with, and a bit more costly.  It's tricky to keep the tealight from slipping down into the tube of the candle.  If you tape or glue the tealight in, you'll end up destroying the paper candle later if you need to take the tealight out for any reason (like when the battery needs to be changed halfway through the party).  When using tealights, it's best if you can make them removable.

I found all the rest of the signs, labels, and printable templates by searching through Pinterest.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Harry Potter Invitations

Depending on the size of your guest list, invitations can get expensive real quick or be overly time-consuming to create yourself.  Here are some things to consider when planning invitations:
What kind of budget do you have?
It's important to have an idea of how much money you want to spend on invites before you even begin.

How large is the guest list?
Our school had a policy that you could not send invites to school for just a few kids out of the class.  You must invite all the girls, all the boys, or the entire class.  Since our kids were close to both girls and boys, we decided to invite the whole class.  That meant roughly 50 invites between the two kid's classrooms.  I wanted to keep the invitations at less than $1.00 per kid, so that really narrowed my options.  If you only have 8 kids on your list, you might be able to do something more extravagant.
Are you hand-delivering the invitations or mailing the invites?
I found an awesome idea for owl balloon invitations (see photo to the right), but they would require hand-delivery.  Since we planned to pass our invites out at school, I decided against balloons.  There are several tutorials floating around (who says I'm no good with puns?) if you want to learn how to draw and color cute little owls on white, helium filled balloons.  Then you roll your invitation letter, like a scroll, tie it on, and leave it on the doorstep. (Actually, I would tie it onto the doorknob so it doesn't blow away).  If you aren't into drawing, here's an Etsy seller who has a printable owl template for sale.
Here's another adorable handmade option I found, which is perhaps more time-consuming, but a lot easier to pass out in class or send via mail.  One creative mom made 10 of these cute felt owls to give out with her son's invites (picture at left).  I'm so impressed by her creativity!  I might have even attempted something similar, if I hadn't had 50 invites to make. 

Don't forget though, if you are mailing anything three-dimensional, it will require special packaging and additional postage.  You also can't mail letters that have a wax seal on the back.  Check with your local post office ahead of time, to see what their restrictions are or if they have any suggestions.
Do-It-Yourself vs. Purchased?
If you are looking for ideas, simply type the words "Harry Potter Invites" into Etsy, and you'll get a plethora of options from which to choose.  Since I needed at least 50, that put the majority of options out of my price range.  I have Microsoft Publisher on my computer, so I decided to make them myself.  I found a few invites I really liked, selected my favorite, and tried to recreate it.  I modeled my invite after one similar to this "Hogwarts Acceptance Letter," which I printed on parchment style paper, and I ended up skipping the owls.

Other ideas of items to include in the invite instead of an owl might be:
  • Tuck a feather into the envelope, such as a large white bird's feather
  • Add a real wax seal, or stickers that look like a wax seal, to close the back of the envelope
  • Include a code word, required to enter the party, written in lemon juice, which can be revealed by heating the paper, like with a hair dryer
  • Include a short personality quiz, for guests to fill out and bring to the party, to help sort them into the appropriate house
  • Some "gold coins" from Gringott's bank, for students to buy their school supplies when they arrive at Diagon Alley, or the key that's required for them to enter their bank vault.
  • Their ticket to board the Hogwart's Express (at Platform 9 3/4 of course).
Here are a few other invites I really like. You can click on the first two images to visit their blogs, where you'll find downloadable templates and complete instructions.  The owl post pillow box is available for purchase on Etsy.