Announcement about my Wedding!

Announcement: You'll notice that occasionally on my blog there will be posts regarding my wedding planning. I'm getting married on August 16th and planning for this has taken a lot of my creative energy and time, but it will all be so worth it! You'll see that sometimes I use my blog to share my wedding inspiration and information with my bridesmaids.
Don't lose hope- I promise to continue to post helpful things I'm learning from my classes and workshops along the way! I hope you don't mind the pretty wedding stuff though in the mean time. :)

PS: I'm getting married to this handsome man who did an incredible surprise marriage proposal !

Here are some of my Bridesmaid dress ideas! Enjoy. 

Never stop learning, growing, and reaching.


Missoula Crafters! Big Outdoor Marketplace planned for Parade of Lights!

  • Saturday, December 3, 2011
  • 100 Block of W Pine St
  • 6:30 – 10:00 PM
  • Music, entertainment, Santa, food, drinks, vendors
  • Free and open to the public
  • Contact: Kimberly Allen at 406.860.7283 or
Entertainment Management at The University of Montana (UMEM) would like to invite you to participate in our Fall Freeze Winter, Please! event.  It will be held on December 3rd from 6:30 – 10:00 PM and is open to craft, snack, or business vendors. Unfortunately, we are not allowing any large food items or drinks, on account that our main sponsor will be handling those items.  The event is being held on the block in front of Sean Kelly’s on West Pine Street. 

Fall Freeze Winter, Please! is very similar to a German Weihnachtsmarkt. There will be lights everywhere, a Christmas tree, Santa Claus, ice sculptures and live music. We will be getting people to come through the block from the Parade of Lights, therefore we are expecting upwards of 1,000 people to participate. The event is free and open to the public, and will be a time to celebrate winter as a community.

UMEM is a unique academic program found nowhere else in North America. Over the course of their studies, students in this program study most aspects of the entertainment business including music, television, film, sports, live performance, and literary and visual arts. The purpose of the program is to introduce students to the business of entertainment while giving them the opportunity to speak with and learn from top professionals in the industry. Throughout the program, students learn the processes involved in developing, presenting and sustaining an artist’s career or event while incorporating related business aspects of the entertainment profession.

The first annual Fall Freeze is an event series produced, promoted, planned, and executed by students registered in MGMT 402: Entertainment Management Principles I. These events include a concert series at Sean Kelly’s, a Poker Tournament, and of course the Fall Freeze Winter, Please! The students gain real-world knowledge in event planning and fundraising, as all proceeds benefit the UMEM student scholarship fund.

Every year as a part of this class, which also hosts the annual Spring Thaw, students choose a non-profit that we can donate profits to as a way to give back to the community. This fall semester, students will be donating a portion of their proceeds to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Montana. 

How to DIY your destination wedding flowers: Grand Finale

If you're just tuning in, I want to encourage you to look through my past posts in this series DIY Your Destination Wedding Flowers to see the valuable information leading up to this final post! This is a big process, and involves lots of planning and forethought. You are going to want to know exactly what arrangements to do, how long it will take you, and most importantly, you will need to know how to select the right florist abroad who you can place your trust in. If you do not clearly communicate your needs to a responsible bulk floral provider, you are gambling with one of the most important elements of the wedding! 

In this series, I've already told you how to research florists abroad and how to use key Spanish florist vocabulary to communicate your needs to your supplier. Now, we are ready to move forward to the most time-sensitive and important steps. You are now going to need to draw on the very best of your patience, confidence, organization, and determination to pull this off.

Final Steps:

 1) Get Help from the Concierge or Hotel Manger 

Your plane has landed, you need to get to a concierge at your hotel to call the florist on your behalf, and confirm everything. It will be helpful to print out any final e-mails sent to you from the floral supplier that confirm the product and time you will receive it. If you can't speak in the local language or your language is poor, communicate this to the concierge so that they won't hand you the phone. When they have confirmed all the flowers and delivery time, and make sure to tip the concierge. Write down the name of your concierge. If everything goes well, at the end you are going to want to seek this person out and tip them again. This person is your lifeline and the key to everything working out smoothly. Don't forget that!

2) Rendezvous with your Supplier 

Bring the full amount in cash in an envelope for your supplier, and extra in your pocket for tip if everything is what you asked for. Also bring a checklist for your meeting and carefully inspect all the flowers they've brought to you. Oh yes, and one more thing, bring a couple of strong friends with you to help carry the product and make you feel more confident during your meeting. This was very helpful for me! Sometimes we forget just how much we ordered.

Make sure you're getting everything you asked for in the quantities that you need and that everything is in good condition. Don't feel bad making the delivery person wait while you do this. This will be your only chance to adjust the price if something is not satisfactory, and you may never see this person again. Don't hand them any money until you have fully inspected everything and it's to your order. If something isn't right, only take what's right and adjust the price. Use your checklist to show the delivery person what you won't accept and the new total.

3) Thank and Pay 

If they've done everything to your specifications, thank them and pay them! Pull out those extra dollars and leave a tip too. Don't forget to tip your concierge again for a great job at communicating and ironing out the last details. Part of the "Thanks" could be leaving a good review for this florist in English on a wedding website for other brides having a destination wedding at the same location. They will be happy to know that they could save money and have a good experience. Oh yes, and don't forget to send them a link to this blog series if it's helped you.

4) Arrange! Arrange! Arrange!

You have your flowers, and now it's time to put them to use. If it's the day before, go ahead and make corsages and boutineers ahead of time, these can be refrigerated and will hold up well overnight. Use photos to help you along, and make sure this isn't your first time arranging flowers. You need some background to be able to do this as some parts are technical. At least make a few before your actual trip using store bought flowers.

 If it is the day of the wedding and you're pressed for time as I was, I highly suggest beginning with the Bride's bouquet and Groom's boutineer. They are going to be the first ones getting photos taken. After this is done, begin with your Bridesmaids Bouquets, and follow with Groomsmen's boutonnieers. Don't forget extras for corsages and boutonnieres for other honored guests such as parents and grandparents. 

 5) You're done!

Now that your work is done, enjoy the day. Unwind with a well earned glass of champagne and help Groomsmen put on their boutonnieers the right way! They are going to need your help! Then, relax- and enjoy the pictures afterward. You are going to love the way those goldenrod in the Bridesmaids bouquets blow in the beach breeze. You are going to love the big hug you get from the Bride after giving her wedding such a devoted and special touch. These are the memories that make all the work worthwhile.

This blog entry is part of my series called "Destination Wedding Flowers". To read other posts in this topic and gain more valuable insight into DIY wedding flowers, see the series here: DIY Your Destination Wedding Flowers


NEW Get your free printable - the DIY wedding flowers checklist! I made it just for you so you don't forget anything important! Get it here!

New Facebook Makes Chain Letters “Top News”

Those chain-letter makers are getting smarter…  or maybe they just got lucky. Status updates that mention "death" or "dying" seem to be categorized as top news for the new Facebook. 

In some ways this could be very helpful. It would be important to know if someone I knew passed away, but that hypothetical puppy was hypothetically killed as part of a very melodramatic chain letter? It just doesn't say "top news" to me.

I hope the collective genius of Facebook's hired hacker help can fix this algorithm, or soon none of us will get relevant social news from Facebook regarding our friends lives, it will be buried by chain letters.

How to DIY your Destination Wedding Flowers (part one: researching local suppliers)

Finding a great local floral supplier.
Today I was able to make some major headway on my assignment for wedding flowers in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. By contacting a few multi-national suppliers by e-mail I was able to find a listing of florists throughout the D.R. and found 5 (with websites & e-mail addresses) within comfortable driving distance of the resort!

Some of you may wonder why I won't have bulk flowers delivered to the resort by one of those big companies. The answer is simple- time frame. I will be arriving the day before the wedding and can't count on the flowers being delivered on time, in good condition, and fully bloomed. (Did you know that many of those delivery services recommend placing your order to be delivered 2-3 days before the actual event? That's because they often ship flowers before they are fully bloomed.) Buds are indeed beautiful, but that's not the look we're going for here!

120x240 - Wedding Specials - Wedding Combo If you are going to have a few days before the event, I highly recommend Global Rose. They recently helped me with a vow renewal and I was amazed by the quality of blooms and value in their DIY wedding flowers kit!

For this particular event, I'll need the immediate customer service only an in-person supplier can provide. Yes, I will need to be there to reject wilted flowers and make sure my client is getting the beautiful, high quality flowers any wedding deserves.

Are you hired to purchase and arrange flowers for a destination wedding? Trying to source bulk live florals outside of the country can be a challenge but also a great learning process. You will find yourself consistently outside your comfort zone! Here are my tips for finding your supplier in a place you've never been.
  1. Using a map, familiarize yourself with the areas around the destination. Take note of larger cities within comfortable distance from the event. Often a resort is situated away from regular commercial areas, and any floral shops near the resort of course are going to have higher prices. I found that Higüey is about 10 min away and full of florists.
  2. Find a search engine specific to the country you are sourcing in. In my case, I found that 1411 Dominican Republic  and Dominican Republic Yellow Pages was a good search engine.
  3. Translate the word of what you're looking for to the primary language of the country the event is being held. In Spanish, the word for floral shop is "Floresteria". This will be your search term. There are many free online translating services but my favorite is the one provided by Google.
  4. Using, type your search terms and select "translate page" if the results are in another language. This was a major help for me since my handle of Spanish isn't what it once was.
  5. Take note of suppliers in cities within comfortable distance from the resort/hotel. Note everything. The name, phone number, and Street address wherever they're given.
Great! Now you have a nice list of several contacts. Here's the list I was able to generate by searching for floral shops near the Dreams Punta Cana resort (in the city of Higuey and city of Bávaro). I have omitted all results that had no e-mail address. It's good to have a phone number, but unless you're fluent in Spanish, e-mail is going to be the best thing.

Sisay  Av Alemania, Plaza Las Buganvillas, Bávaro  809-552-1231
Floresteria El Tronco  Carr Friusa 1  809-552-0933
Floreste   Juan XXIII 171 
Flores del Caribe  Av Italia 102   809-554-3782
Tropical Flowers  Carr B Fruisa L-12  809-552-1874

Notice the street-names seem very foreign- that's Ok, Google maps will sort that out for you. Plus you can always ask directions from someone at the shop later.

In my next post I'll show you how to narrow your results down, and provide everything you need to ask the right questions in a way you'll be understood! This may be helpful to those working in Spanish-speaking countries as I will provide you a "script" for dealing with your local suppliers in Spanish via e-mail.

This blog entry is part of my series called "Destination Wedding Flowers". To read other posts in this topic and gain more valuable insight into DIY wedding flowers, see the series here: DIY Your Destination Wedding Flowers

NEW Get your free printable - the DIY wedding flowers checklist! I made it just for you so you don't forget anything important! Get it here!

Destination Wedding Flowers: A new series

Ok. I need live flowers in the Dominican Republic. Now what?
My wedding is not the only one around the corner! My family is blessed with TWO this October, one in New York and one in the Dominican Republic. Although I've done wedding flowers before, this will be my first time arranging flowers outside of the United States.

My biggest hurdle seems to be to find a reputable wholesale fresh-cut flower supplier in D.R.! This will take every ounce of business sense I have stored up in me, and with the help of some high-school Spanish courses I might still know the proper conjugation for "I know I sound crazy but I need like 200 high-quality lilies by 9am tomorrow so who is your farmer?!"

Because I'll be learning so much in this endeavor, I'll share what I learn with you, and maybe this will help a few other brides planning destination weddings to save time and money! (I wasn't able to find anything helpful on this topic online).

This might even help a few people who for whatever reason (quality, price, etc) are looking for new suppliers for their craft but aren't sure how to go about it and strike a killer business deal that is the best solution for everyone involved.

Easy Method: Get flowers shipped 2-3 days in advance using a great supplier (I personally recommend getting one of Global Rose's fantastic wedding combos.)

If you can't do the easy method, try the below.

Part One: Researching Floral Suppliers Abroad
Part Two: Contacting Your Suppliers With bonus Spanish vocabulary and script!
Part Three: Meeting, Purchasing, and Arranging (final series post)

Stay tuned and "Follow" if you think this will be of help for you or someone you know!

NEW Get your free printable - the DIY wedding flowers checklist! I made it just for you so you don't forget anything important when the time comes to do the arranging! Get it here!

Wedding Ispiration Wednesday: Don't sweat it.

I'm very much in the early stages of planning my wedding with Robin, and it has already provided me with valuable lessons! Here are some ways I've been able to turn the stress into positive energy.

-Focus only what matters most! Yes... ONLY. For example, why should colors matter so much unless there is a specific color that has symbolic meaning to you? Why waste time looking online for the symbolic meaning of a certain flower or color? That is second hand information that has no bearing on your personal life experience. If it doesn't matter- it doesn't matter! Things tend to look coordinated in the end by virtue of your personal style and taste- just think of your home. It's not all just one or two colors, but it's still "you".

-Involve the people you love! They won't mind. There are lots of details of wedding planning that are fun... But those details can be overwhelming for just one person to deal with (aka YOU). So be honest and open with your loved ones about where help is needed. Let them know, see if they're willing, check in once or twice, and let it go.

-Give yourself time! If you truly have a vision for your wedding ceremony, give yourself time to accomplish that. If a simple court wedding before the ceremony will help you remember that a ceremony is just "ceremony", then go for it.

-Be proactive! Think in advance about what upcoming obligations may hold you back from getting the wedding stuff squared away. I'm having to do a lot of planning a year in advance  because I'm still a full time student with a full time job, and I'll be in classes right up till my wedding day. Be considerate of your future-self and do most of the "heavy lifting" in the beginning when energy is high and distractions are few.

-Consider the importance of your commitment! I want my mind to be focused more on marriage itself and my future husband than on silly details of a wedding. By keeping myself reading the Bible and seeking advice on how to have a healthy marriage, I keep my head in the right place and keep the Devil from stealing one of the most beautiful times in my life away from me with vain distractions.

 These are just a few things that have really helped me to handle all the things that have come my way, and deal with other people's stress about my wedding. Yes- OTHER people are more stressed than I am... and the last thing they need is for me to be a bride-zilla!

Never stop learning, growing, and reaching!

PS: I have purchased a copy of this book, I saw it recommended on a favorite blog of mine. Have you ever read it? Can you recommend any others? I'll let you know what I think!

The amazing three-armed flower girl!

Something struck me as odd when I looked at this lovely flower girl dress. It's the little girl- she has three arms!! hahahaha...

I took it as a little reminder to have fun and not take things so seriously when wedding planning.  If you're interested in this dress despite the three-armed girl, check out The amazing 3-armed flower girl on

Oh the wonders (and BLUNDERS!) of Photoshop.

 Tee hee... I hope you're having a lovely Summer. I've been thinking a lot about my flower girls (yes I'll have two!)... that's four arms all together!! hahaha... sorry I couldn't help myself. But what do you think about fairy wings on a flower girl? Too costumey? My ceremony is outdoors along the forest line. It might fit in well with our magical theme but not totally sold on the wings yet. hmm...

Wedding Inspiration Wednesday!

Here is a treasury I created of some wedding inspirations I came across on Etsy! I am planning my own wedding to this amazing man for next Summer in the gorgeous Catskill mountains. See, click, and enjoy this treasury here: Laura's first Wedding Treasury !

Missoula Woman uses for creative Activism, Charity efforts

"It’s a lot less energy to be happy than to be gloomy," quips Jami Shipp, at the Talc Café during some relaxed conversation over delicious coffee and cookies.  "I've always made things- I made scarves as gifts but a friend eventually told me, 'How many scarves can one neck hold?' I was inspired by my daughter to be true to myself, and then I found my happiness." Jami's brain was fun to pick- she is simply packed wisdom from her years of experiencing the ups and downs of life, and sh'es learned to remain positive and channel her energy into creating beautiful things from the heart.

And I do mean from the heart. Her online shop, called “Celebrating Life”  is a collection of jewelry, knit/crochet gifts, and sewing artwork, incorporating many activist and charity items for MS awareness, Alzheimer’s, and Breast Cancer, all of which have touched her or the lives of her loved ones in some way. In conversation with Jami, it became clear that everything she does with her business is driven by a real intention to share love and grow our awareness of our humanity and individual struggles- while remaining hopeful and optimistic.

The personal touch is very important to Jami. From the start, she made it clear that she wanted to do this interview in person. And when I asked her where she gets the most value from Etsy, her answer was- "interaction, networking, and being active in the [Etsy] groups with fellow members."  For me, it's easy to forget that Etsy is also a social community. Let Jami's extroversion inspire your own outreach efforts! Jami says, "How can you claim to be handmade if you can’t write a letter by hand just to say thank you or hello?" These are just a few of the many things that make this woman and her business very special.

Check out Jami's shop Celebrating Life at

Aside from her Etsy shop, Jami stays involved in the community teaching jewelry classes at Michael's. "I was in Michael's so much, they thought I worked there. I teach twice a week, basics in wire wrapping, bead stringing, knotting, crimping, wire crochet." You can see Jami and join in on one of her classes on Tuesdays and Fridays from 6pm-8pm.  

This an installment in my latest series: "I Love My Job: Stories of Real Missoula Business Owners" Read more about this series and how to be featured here. Thanks for reading! It's easy to get Songbird's Branch delivered to your inbox. Just see the "follow by email" button on the sidebar!

Never stop learning, growing, and reaching.

Looking forward to Missoula's 2011 MADE Fair! How about you?

Did you check out last year's MADE Fair? It was at the Elk's Lodge and it was amazing! I made some great connections and it really set my heart on fire to know and learn from the Missoula artist community.

This time, it's free and is being held at Caras Park, Sunday June 26th from 11am-6pm

Some of my favorites (previously featured on this blog!) will be there, including

I can't wait to meet all the other great vendors for even more Summer inspiration! See the full artist list here:

Hope everyone is having a fantastic Summer. More artist interviews and insights to come!

I'm Engaged!

I am planning a Summer wedding  for next year with the Man who has forever swept me off my feet! Here is the video he took of the proposal, (awesome, huh?) It happened in Glacier National Park on Memorial day weekend. :) I have written about Robin a lot in this blog and just have to say that I'm beyond thrilled to soon be his wife!

Along with this happy announcement you can expect a lot more decor, event design, DIY and such coming from my blog. Just a heads up!

I am so happy to announce that his sister, Vicky of  A Subtle Revelry (an amazing design blog) will be one of my bridesmaids! How could this not be the perfect start to a beautiful life with the man I love??!? 

I am filled with love and am so happy to share this process with you. 

<3 <3
Wishing you a magical, blessed Summer.

A Note from Montana's Swan Valley

“There is so much wildlife here, if you look into the woods you will definitely see something.” Robin is driving us deeper into the forest. This dirt road takes us to the Beck Homestead in Montana’s Swan Valley, where we’re immersed in a culture of leaves, paws, wings, claws, and hooves. He peers out the driver’s side window searching for every possible glimpse of animal, and I kiss his cheek each moment that it won’t interrupt his driving- or his looking.

I’ve told him on walks that my love for nature extends only as far as my interest in the esthetics of it. But I realize I am in love with this pure air, the mountains, and the creatures of the Swan Valley… not for their intrinsic beauty, but for their peace-giving properties, and for what they have done to my man. I am swooning, this time, at the sight of his eyes, as they are back-lit by a new inspiration. He says, “All my life I’ve just driven past forests, I never realized how much there is to see by actually looking into them. I would have driven slower.” And he was driving slow, so enamored by the thought of spotting a creature to teach me about.

At night, we arrive at the base of a grand, grassy hill and are facing a gigantic three-story barn. Warm amber light spills from the windows and the trees crescent, cradling, like an oyster holds its pearl.

We walk hand-in-hand up the hill. To my right, an open plain, a pond, where some twenty whitetail deer bend their necks over cool, moist earth. Mystified, I am drawn there.

A proud bird lands very close to me on the wooden fence, puffing forward a red-feathered belly, its beak eagerly showing off a worm. In this way, the bird delays its dinner for a few minutes, watching me carefully, as I soak in the majesty of a patch of land that is loved and respected- just for what it is.

 Does she, the bird, want to show me the worm, for how richly we are rewarded when we strive? Or… maybe she’s looking into my eyes, seeing what I feel while holding on to my love’s hand, as I am looking out onto all he wants to teach of and protect, respect and learn. His vision is a tangible one, one that can be understood by letting the warblers and chickadees excite, make contact with an Earth who is telling us something, and listen, and be changed. In dreams I’ve been told his spirit belongs here, and as such is such and is a proven truth to me today, then so do I. I should ask the bird, but she's eating now.

Now here's my wish.  
Let us all write notes from the Swan Valley, or find something like this within!

~ Laura

I'll tell you The Absolute BEST Time to List on Etsy

Don't think for one minute that there is not a specific time that is best to list on Etsy. If you've heard that it doesn't matter, guess what- that was a lie! Internet traffic is constantly being monitored and analyzed by the super computers that make the Web possible, and research has proven that there are prime times for Internet sales.

Wednesday during the 4:00pm work hour 
AKA "Goof-off Hour"
According to a study by the price comparison website InvisibleHand, Wednesday is rush-hour for online retail sales. If you want to reach the US coast-to-coast with this technique, you will need to re-familiarize yourself with time zones. That means list or re-list 6 times to hit each time zone at exactly 4pm their local time. This will cost you $1.20. Money well spent!

Why does it matter when you list your item on Etsy?

  • Etsy is built on a controversial system that gives the highest search rankings to the items most recently listed, charging 20 cents to do so. 
  • You are spending that money anyway, so you should learn how to make the most of it.
  • When you list during Goof-Off-Hour, you are listing at a time when people are ready to make an impulse buy. They want to shop fast before someone comes by their desk. They want it quick, and they want it now. It's simply an easier time to make a sale.
How many items should you re-list at that time?
Just one per time zone at 4pm. Why? Otherwise, you are just wasting money. Re-listing more than one of your items at the same time competes with yourself. So choose just one item at a time. 

How to know which item to list:
  • It has a great picture that is a good representation of your skill level and the type of items for sale in your shop. 
  • It stands out. Because many people already know about the Goof Off Hour, you need to be able to stand out from the other listings.
  • It is relevant to the current holiday or season. Now would not be a good time to list something that is out-of-season. 
Overall,'s daily visitors has fallen to pre-2010 levels. This means you need to work harder to reach a customer! Make sure to pay attention to internet trends to make your time and money pull double-duty for you.

Other considerations:

The LEAST POPULAR, worst time to list is Saturday. So wait till Sunday when you'll have a 27% better shot at making a sale. (info from InvisibleHand) After Wednesday, Sunday is the second best day to list.

Are you allowing shipping outside the US? If not, 11pm would be a very dumb time to list. By the time everyone wakes up, you are at the bottom of the list.

Afternoon is ALWAYS better. Internet retail sales increase by 52% in the afternoon. The reason? More people are awake and browsing.

Read my most popular blog posts:

Good luck, I hope this was helpful! Please follow my blog, more great info to come. Oh yes! I want to let you in on my giveaway, check that out here!


The 5 Best (And Worst!) Places to Study in Missoula

During finals week, many of us sniff out new territory for a great study spot, or we stick with a few tried-and-true favorites. This week, I've done a mixture of both and am pleased to share what I proudly dub the 5 BEST (and WORST!) places to study in Missoula. I have based my rankings on noise/music, activity levels, friendliness of staff, atmosphere, and convenience. Read and think... do you agree?

#1 Best and Worst: Zootown Brew and Bagels on Broadway

Zootown Brew: BEST! This downtown favorite has a safe, business-like feel. Great for meetings, and with a small lunch selection, the folks at ZooBrew can power you through the whole day. Internet is very reliable and the staff bring your drink right to your table, and with the cushioned seats, you won't want to get up anyway! Music there ranges from quiet guitar to current radio favorites- but what's most important is that the volume is reasonable. Plus, when you're done with that paper, you can print it out right across the street at Fed-Ex.

Bagels on Broadway: WORST! If you can even sit down and open your laptop without being approached and asked to purchase something, then you're lucky! The vibe here is, don't get too comfortable... if your mouth isn't full then you're not welcome. Not very conducive to writing that 14 page essay!

#2 Best and Worst: Talc Gallery and Buttercup Market

Talc Gallery and Coffee House: BEST! This brand new shop is a cozy nook with mod decor, great coffee, delicious sweets, and fast internet. Highly recommended for someone who is typing a paper or doing some research and needs limited distractions in an environment that will get those creative juices flowing. On your break, enjoy local artist's paintings, jewelry, and ceramic work displayed throughout the cafe, or do some people watching, looking out on the bustling corner of S.3rd and Orange. Heads up though, Talc is open Wednesday-Friday from 11am-7pm
"Like" Talc Gallery on Facebook And learn about their crafty Thursdays, where $5 gets you all the paint, glue, pretty papers, and inspiration you could ever want!

Buttercup Market: WORST! Its cafeteria seating may be a turn off for many, and with no internet, this may not be a viable option for someone who's trying to do their research paper. It's hard to get comfortable here, but if efficiency is what you're after, then grab a coffee, sit down and work on that math homework... and grab some groceries on the way out!

#3 Best and Worst: City Brew and Liquid Planet

City Brew: BEST! Truly well suited to the business-set, this is a good place for some serious focus to classic jazz. And when it's time to print out your hard work, the UPS store is right next door. It's kind-of cramped though, so be prepared to fight for your right to a power outlet.

Liquid Planet: WORST! Although they have a wonderful staff and great food, the loud, repetitive world music mixing with the heavy metal blasting from your neighbor's headphones just doesn't bode well for meeting your deadline. Plus, they are frequented by disruptive, crazed transients- I have never been there when I haven't seen someone being asked to leave. That being said, this is a great people watching spot, or if you're just hanging out with a friend and can't afford to see the latest terror flick.

#4 Best and Worst: Book Exchange and Butterfly Herbs

The Book Exchange: BEST! If you don't have a computer, the Book Exchange has you covered. They have 2 computers set up with internet as well as Wi-Fi with all-day access to delicious Liquid Planet offerings. This place will remind you of studying in a library, only a lot more fun! Their customers are friendly and courteous, and the staff will let you borrow their stapler. Plus, if you browse on your break, you may come across a few deals!

Butterfly Herbs: WORST! Although a lot of fun with friends or to relax, this place might be too distracting for getting any real studying done. Their seating is very limited, but their coffee has gotten a lot of praise. So- maybe when you're done with a day of hard work, go unwind with some tea and shopping at Butterfly Herbs.

#5 Best and Worst: UM Library and Break Espresso

Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library: BEST! You can't get much better than on-campus for your studying needs, plus with discounted printing at the Paw Print you won't have to leave at all. Well, except maybe for food! If you don't see a computer right away, try one of the other floors. Most computers are equipped with all the programs you'll need to compete assignments. And don't worry! You won't feel pressured in to buying anything. Trust me, you've already paid!!

Break Espresso: WORST! Don't get me wrong, this place attracts tons of students, but that may just be its downfall. The internet is sometimes unreliable and it can be very hard to find a seat. Often, you'll have to sit cramped next to people you don't know, which can be very distracting! That's not to say you can't get a great coffee drink and baked good there- but you may want to think outside the Break for a great study-spot.

Where do you get your best studying done? Disagree with some of these? Leave your response, I'd love to hear of more great places!


Jackie Priess of Jax Hats shares about her new Missoula shop, and the connections that have brought her this far

First of all, I would like to say that this lady is a superhero. From her company slogan, "Saving the world from ugly sweaters," to the way she taught her husband to sew (WOW!), and everything in between: getting her product into nine shops across Montana (six of those in Missoula!), selling and shipping worldwide through Etsy, and participating in the People's Market starting this Saturday.
Adrienne Priess, Photo by Shauna Dasher 

Her daughter Bethany is a powerhouse too, a recent graduate of the UM Business Marketing program (woo! heyy!), and joined the Missoula Business Women's Network and is now helping her mom to expand Nationally. How cool is that? 

Jackie started off on Etsy and although she has her own website for Missoula handmade hats, she allows Etsy to be her one source of sales. "It is so easy and foolproof," she says, "I have had my Etsy site for 4 years, and have learned so much just by trial and error.  I didn't have my first sale for 6 months, so I felt pretty discouraged, but I found that you have to list frequently on this site to be located by a buyer, so when I discovered this piece, I began 'working' my site and the sales started happening."

  • Many artists I have interviewed shared that learning to list more frequently was the epiphany that got them on the right track with Etsy. My advice to get started with this: make sure you are making an extra $2 outside of labor and raw materials for each of your items. Now, you can re-list 10 of your items (one at a time, at prime times) until you make your next sale. When you make that sale, you'll be making that $2.00 back you spent to re-list your items, and can consider that a cost of advertising. ~LS

Jackie has had experimented with ads on Facebook, "...with little or no discernible results.  I have also tried the various special listing ads, but never seemed to result in sales for me.  At this time, face to face contact when I do local craft shows with repeat happy customers seems to be my best marketing tool." Still, her business Facebook page has helped her to build her fan base and sales. 

  • Remember getting as much exposure as possible has been recommended over and over by local businesswomen on this blog as a rule of thumb, so there must be something to that! Network and build relationships with other artists and shops in your local community. Jackie sites "Vault Denim" and the group at Upcycled (517 S. Higgins in Missoula) as being two connections that will take her to the next level.~LS

I love my job! What Jackie Priess loves most about her work:
Each of my hats is made from recycled clothing, and each is unique and different.  I love how no two are the same, so I don't get bored doing "assembly" work.  I love making the buttons from polymer clay that gives each hat the signature "JAX" look.  I love how so many people LOVE the hats and come back for seconds and thirds.  I have several people that own at least 10 of my Jax Hats!  I love how this has afforded me opportunities for a creative outlet with a financial gain.  It has been something I have been working toward for over 30 years with many stalls in moving forward as I became a mom and worked full time.  When I realized how many people were delighting in the hats I create, and started concentrating on these instead of the clothing line I was making, I took it to the next level.  
About teaching her partners and future plans:
When my husband was laid off 3 years ago, I taught him to sew!  He has become an integral part of my team and has learned to tap into his own creative side, helping design not only the hats, but also a new jewelry line.  This winter we partnered with 2 other artists and opened our own store in Missoula called "Upcycled" located on the "Hip Strip" close to Betty's Divine.  We opened on Jan 15, and it has been very successful selling locally MT made crafts made from "upcycled" materials.  We are anticipating that it will continue to grow this summer, possibly tripling in revenue.  My husband works at the store allowing me to continue working my job that provides the benefits.
 Advice for the aspiring businesswoman:

Define your product - try not to do it all.  Find what you do best and make it to the best of your ability.  Put your signature touch on it and make it not easy to duplicate because of this touch.   

Crafts people are usually multi talented and very likely ADD -  we want to do it all!  When you are displaying your wares at a craft sale and have too much variety of stuff it ends up looking more like a garage sale, and makes buyers confused.

More info on how to find and connect with Jaxhats!:

Jax hats can be found at JaxHats on Etsy or Connect with their facebook page Jaxhats as well as Upcycled and Jackie can be e-mailed directly at or

Find Jaxhats every Saturday at People's Market in downtown Missoula starting May 7th and ending Oct 15th from 9:00am - 1:00pm.  This is located on Alder St - 2 blocks south of the Farmer's Market by the XXX's (not the market under the bridge).  Visit Jaxhats at Upcycled 517 S Higgins, Missoula, MT or find Jax Hats at Rockin Rudy's, The Green Light, the Artist's Gallery, Sorella's, Apricot Lane in the Southgate Mall, or Freyed Sew in Helena, Cello in Bozeman, or Fawn in Kalispell.


Thanks for reading!

This is the third installment in my original series: "I Love My Job: Stories of Real Missoula Business Owners" Read more about this series and how to be featured here. Thanks for reading! It's easy to get Songbird's Branch delivered to your inbox. Just see the "follow by email" button on the sidebar! Never stop learning, growing, and reaching. 


Help! My blog is buried by schoolwork!

Hello everyone! Songbird's Branch has taken a back seat recently for this crazy ride called life! My classes have gotten a lot more demanding during these last weeks of school! I'm very much looking forward to getting my precious blogging time back. Meanwhile, let's keep hoping for warm weather as some of us are beginning our farmer's market sales efforts! I just wrote about Jax Hats who will be found at the market, also look for Rickie of Raven Ridge Fiber arts at the Clark Fork River Market (by the Higgins St. Bridge) which just opened on Saturday!

Do you make an appearance at one of our markets? Let me know with a comment- I'm putting together a list ;)

Let the sun shine!

University of Montana hosts local hat-maker, Jackie Priess April 27-30

As a U of M student, I'm delighted to share some great news- Jax Hats will have a booth in the UC starting tomorrow (until Saturday). Just when you needed another incentive to get to school this week, Jax Hats just might save your grade! In the next couple of days I'm posting a great interview highlighting Jackie and her business. She's the one who taught her husband to sew. ;)

Jax Hats will be at the University of MT on April 27-30, 2011 and every Saturday at People's Market in downtown Missoula starting May 14th and ending Oct 15th from 9-1:00.  This is located on Alder St - 2 blocks south of the Farmer's Market by the XXX's (not the market under the bridge). You can also visit them at Upcycled 517 S Higgins, Missoula, MT or find Jax Hats at Rockin Rudy's, The Green Light, the Artist's Gallery, Sorella's in Missoula or Freyed Sew in Helena, Cello in Bozeman, or Fawn in Kalispell.

My personal thoughts on Etsy and how it effects entrepreneurs

Let's face it. I have a love/hate relationship with Etsy. Going back in my blog, you would find instances of lavish praise upon the website, alongside fierce critique. Truth is, I have an underlying contempt for the internet in general, the way it has tried to entirely replace our face-to-face communications, and move all of our interactions and progress into a limitless void. If something were to happen to the internet, many people's life's work would go up in smoke. My blog would be gone and I'd have no proof of what I've written here. To me, that's a scary prospect!

So, I bring that cautious attitude toward Etsy, trying to keep it at an arm's length, not wrapping up my income within it- because after all, we rely on each other- locally, despite the illusion of a global market. (Or at least we ought to rely local). I haven't done much with my Etsy account and instead focus my attentions on Alpenglow Apparel and building a real life social network with like-minded Missoulians.

Here are some things I love about Etsy:

It makes owning a small business attainable even with an extremely limited budget. You needn't save to put on huge advertising campaigns to reach your community, you don't need to know anything about business. All one needs is a basic sense of responsibility and to be computer literate.

Etsy has given artists a real place on the internet and is devoted to the business education of its members. There are great resources on their website! It really is a game changer for the artist community.

Here are some things I can't stand about Etsy:

Many never "grow out of" Etsy and form real brick-and-mortar businesses that America needs right now. It allows these business owners to go under the radar and never fully participate in their local economies. Etsy can steal our sense of legitimacy, making it easy to disregard what we're doing by not taking it seriously. In this way it can hurt our confidence and make us afraid of leaving its cushy environment.

I am concerned that many who make money off of Etsy do not have the business sense to get a business license and pay taxes on their income. This strips money from communities and puts those individuals in a dangerous legal position. That being said... it is very profitable for the individual, and for them- that's great.

What do you think? Maybe I'm way off base with my criticisms of the site? Or maybe you agree. Regardless, I will continue to highlight Esty on my blog and show how it has transformed local women's lives, because it's certainly worth talking about!


Get Real: Montana Woman Moves Confidently away from in Business Website Launch

When I first contacted Julie Burns from Missoula, Montana’s Gypsy Moon Designs, she was about to take a dramatic leap.  Launching a standalone website (powered by BigCartel) and a marketing campaign would permanently establish herself and her company as a legitimate online business, and cut the cord from her pre-fabricated storefront on popular shopping site,  I was pleased to catch her at the crest of this transition, one that many of us are likely to make as we educate ourselves in marketing techniques, business fundamentals, and gain much-needed confidence.

 Julie has always taken her business seriously. Her very first day in Missoula, she approached a jewelry street vendor and started asking questions... And the answers she received, coupled with a high motivational drive and sense of self, empowered her to begin her own venture. Soon, Julie was selling her wares in front of Sterling Savings Bank at the intersection of Higgins and Main Street, giving herself an instant job.  “[But] hot summer days and cold Decembers can be exhausting as a street vendor,” she explains, “So many of the tourists were asking if I was online.” So when she found Etsy, she left street vending for good in favor of the comfort of her home and  embarked on an exciting world marketplace.  And with over 1,800 positive feedback ratings on her shop, one would agree Etsy + Gypsy Moon Designs = a match made in heaven.

Julie attributes the bulk of her success to a growing customer base due to her efforts to self-educate (through online research).  “I have learned so much about marketing and sales from the Etsy forums. Even if you do not have a Etsy shop I recommend searching the forums for valuable information. A major factor for any online business is being found. Search engine optimization (SEO) is something you will spend most of your time on. It's all about creating keywords for your site and back links,” she says.

Also, her confidence didn’t come overnight. “When I lived in Taos, New Mexico, I starting making jewelry and selling it at local markets. I also owned a gift shop in Taos. Taos is an artist community full of wonderful galleries and boutiques. I worked in a few fun galleries prior to taking the leap into store owner.” These experiences have given Julie an entrepreneurial edge. What experiences can you draw from that will give you 
an edge, too?

Gypsy Moon Designs will begin its online advertising campaign through Facebook and ads placed on high-traffic blogs. We look forward to hearing how these venues are working!

Other than marketing through her Gypsy Moon Designs Facebook page, Julie relies on face-to-face networking. “Most of my networking is done locally at Missoula Saturday Market. Friends will tell you about upcoming shows…  I generally hand out 1000 business cards during the Summer. This past holiday season I had a huge order of necklaces from someone back east who I gave my card to while she was at the Missoula Saturday Market.”

Why Julie loves her job:

"I love creating. Color and texture are so fun to play with. I could stay up all night making jewelry. Also, when a customer emails you and tells you how much they love the piece. Complements are very encouraging and rev you up for more creating." 

"I must admit I love working for myself too. It takes discipline, you work many more hours than you would working for someone else, but it is so rewarding.

Julie’s advice to an aspiring businesswoman:

"Often people think you open a store and money just comes pouring in. Nope. A business is built one small step at a time. Stay focused, disciplined; determine who your target market is. 

This to me is the most valuable advice, open a savings account. Retail sales are always up and down. If you have money saved for the lean times you are less stressed. I think customers pick up on desperation. Lastly, do not undervalue your work. 

When it comes to pricing I usually set the price and then raise it by 20% more. I learned that trick from financial advisor, Suze Orman. She said that most woman undervalue their work by 20%. If it is a well crafted piece there is a customer for it."

This is the second installment in my latest series: "I Love My Job: Stories of Real Missoula Business Owners" Read more about this series and how to be featured here. Thanks for reading! It's easy to get Songbird's Branch delivered to your inbox. Just see the "follow by email" button on the sidebar! Never stop learning, growing, and reaching. 

"The Birds are Back, and it Makes me Happy"

Missoula jewelry artist, Jami Shipp made this happy announcement as the title of her latest treasury collection of birdy things from all over Montana. She also included my bird stationery set with her treasury! Here is a link:

Jami's Birds of Montana Etsy Treasury

Our state bird, the Western Meadowlark!

Aside from just making gorgeous jewelry, Jami also makes a consistent effort to gather Etsy artists around Montana and celebrate their art in her treasuries. Amen to that!

I'm so happy the birds are back, too. I have a not so subtle love for birds... as you may have noticed. *wink*

Connect with Jami's business today on her Facebook page!

And most of all, enjoy the beautiful beginning of Spring!

Artfire VS Etsy: FIVE BIG Reasons Artfire is Better

Hello Readers! I am delighted to introduce Gail of Cross Stitch Cards to explain why she packed up her handmade greeting card business and made the move from Etsy to Artfire. She is here to bring us the facts so show her the love with your comments, clicks, and witty responses!

P.S. I also have a comparison of Etsy VS Big Cartel and Storenvy, so check that out too if you're thinking about spreading your business to one of those venues!

You've created your handmade products. Congratulations! You've already made the decision to make something and sell it online, but now there's a more important decision to be made.  Which online marketplace is right for you?  There are many to choose from and two of the most well known are Etsy and Artfire.   Using my own experiences, I will be looking at several aspects of the sites to help you decide which one (if either) is right for you.  I started using Etsy and then moved to Artfire after about a year, as a lot of my Etsy friends were moving and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about!

Check out our great  2012 Update!

1)  Fees that Don’t Require a Graphing Calculator

Let's start with the bottom line:  Fees and Charges.

Etsy will charge you $0.20 for each listing that you activate or renew.  They will also charge you a small Final Value Fee of 3.5% when you sell your item.  The listings are active for four months before they expire.  I consider this to be a cheap price to pay when you compare it to Ebay for example where the fees are much higher. [Don’t forget the Paypal Fees on top of this!!]

Artfire offers two levels of seller accounts.  The Basic Account is completely free in every aspect.  No monthly fee, no listing fees, and no final value fees.  The Pro Account is currently $9.95 per month with no extra fees, and it gives you more features like a blog to use, shop sections to organize your items, and preferential appearance in search results. The listings are permanent until you deactivate them.  I currently have a Basic account which means that I do not pay any fees.

More about Artfire’s Basic Account:
The purpose of the basic account is to let new users get a feel for the site, get to know their way around, and get some items listed; a free introduction to the online experience.  Most will upgrade to Pro because of the extra features that it offers.  The most useful of these features to me right now would be shop sections.  Once you have a large number of items listed, it is easier for the buyer to jump straight to the shop section that they need rather than scroll through pages and pages of your items.  I mean, you don't go into a department store and wander all the way round menswear if you are looking for the lingerie, do you?  You go straight to the right part of the store!

2)  Sure-fire Search Engine Results that Won’t Put a Hole in Your Pocket
(A significant cause of the Etsy-to-Artfire movement)

When you list an item on Etsy, it moves further and further down the search listings the longer you leave it there.  In a saturated market such as Jewelry sales, your items will soon disappear among the masses.  The only way to bring it back to the top of the search list is to re-list the item.  This will, of course, mean paying the $0.20 fee again.  Many sellers were needing to re-list their items several times a week to keep them on the first few pages of search and the cost really starts to mount up.

Artfire recommends leaving your listings alone.  The longer they remain active, the more likely they are to be found in a search.  They submit your item details to Google Shopping and your items will pop up on there on a regular basis when shoppers search for them.  If you start deactivating or re-listing items, it can damage your placement in search results.  

Artfire get a definite plus point on this as they do some of the work for you there.  The constant need to re-list with Etsy is time consuming and expensive, and takes time away from you creating your product.  With the fixed fee per month on Artfire, you know exactly how much you will be paying.

3)  Show More Photos of Your Product- You Deserve It!

I liked the layout of the Etsy storefront when I was using it.  Particularly the way that the photos were displayed.  The alternate photos are displayed right next to the main picture and it was so simple to click on the one you wanted to view.  

Artfire has the extra pictures displayed underneath the main one, with a scroll bar to look at further pictures.  I am finding this a little hard to come to grips with at the moment.  The reason for the difference is that you can upload more pictures on Artfire than Etsy, and using a scroll bar is the only way to be able to put them on the screen without having the pictures take over.  It's a small point, and one that just takes a little bit of getting used to, but still worth mentioning.

4) Artfire Will Help You Make the Switch, with a Guide Tailored to Former Etsy Users

The act of actually listing an item for sale is different for both sites.  Etsy wants a short descriptive title, and Artfire likes a long title with lots of keywords.  It's important to read the help guides on each site before starting.  In fact, Artfire has a special guide for you to read if you're moving from Etsy, as the two sites do operate differently as detailed in the previous section.  The rest of the listing process is pretty similar on both sites as you choose your tags and upload your pictures.
5)  All Shoppers Welcome, No Need to “Sign Up”

I have bought and sold on Etsy and it is a straightforward user experience on both sides.  Just like any other online purchase it is easy if you are used to it!  I have only sold on Artfire so far, but my buyers certainly didn't have any problems, so I have to assume that the same applies with buying.  As with any online purchase, if you want the item, you'll find a way.  Not much to choose between them on this as it's pretty standard across the web.

To buy an Etsy item you do need to register on the site and open an account.  Some people don't wish to do this to just buy one item, they will go and look elsewhere.  To buy on Artfire, you do not need to register or have an account.  You can simply “add item to cart” and checkout using Paypal or any other form of payment that the seller accepts.  I think this opens up the market much more and makes it easier for the buyer.

Sorry Etsy, You Lose:

My general conclusion would be that there is nothing that I particularly dislike about either site.  I would be happy to use Artfire or Esty for selling my products.  However, the fees and charges is the main place where it is won or lost for me right now.

Etsy was a lovely, friendly environment for me to begin my handmade venture.  It seemed like a gentle introduction to the world of handcrafted item sales.  I was able to put as much or as little into it as I wanted.  However, there did seem to be a certain pressure there to sell because I was paying a fee for the listings and re-listings all the time.  There was a month where I paid more in fees than I received in sales.  This caused me to think again about whether it was the right place.

On Artfire, I feel that I can take my time.  It feels a little more relaxed.  I am not currently paying any fees, and yet still making sales.  If I don't have any sales for a while, or take a week off, then I haven't wasted any money on fees.  I like the environment, the forums and the ease of listing an item.    I am sure that I will upgrade to Pro in due course, and accept the monthly fee as a regular outgoing business cost. 

I also love the fact that buyers do not need to sign up with Artfire to make a purchase.  It just seems like a more open environment where people outside of the site can easily make a purchase.  On Etsy, you are aiming your marketing at the existing users, and it seems a little shut off and in it's own little world by comparison.

Artfire gets my vote.


See more of Gail's beautifully embellished, hand-stitched cards at Cross Stitch Cards Artfire site. You can also follow her on twitter

Want to read more of Gail’s interpretation of Artfire VS Etsy? Read about her experiences in their unique community networking environments, a very important part of online sales! All this in Artfire VS Etsy part Two: Comparing the Social Experience, coming up soon to Songbird's Branch! Following is easy. Just enter your email address in the sidebar and it will be delivered to you privately by our server. Thanks for reading!
Never stop learning, growing, and reaching!

Check out our great  2012 Update!

Content by Laura Gabriele