Productivity

How to make your product in the US

Bedfellows Coffee Roasters

Made in USA

If you are looking for a manufacturer to help build your products it is nearly impossible to find practical advice on where to find a US manufacturer. Most websites skip over this difficult step by offering up some other sites to visit like Makers Row, ThomasNet, MFG, and Kompass. While these sites list thousands of US manufacturers, it is important to know how to reach out to the manufacturer and the things they are looking for so you partner with them and make a great product!

TopoDesigns  is based in Colorado.

TopoDesigns is based in Colorado.

Why USA over foreign

One quick argument for why US production is important. The first being is that Americans put a value on US made products. Based on a Reuters-Ipsos poll back in 2017, 85% of US consumers believe that US made items have better quality than foreign made items. While price has been the number one driving factor for consumers, the new tariffs on Chinese products is putting US made items back into competition. To read more about this poll click here.

From a practical stand-point it is much easier working with local manufacturers. If you haven’t worked with a firm in China yet, the process can be very frustrating. I worked with five different firms for my first product in 2016 and it was a very simple tablet folio. After placing an order for $4,800 with what I thought was the best company, I found out that the manufacturing run didn’t meet the specifications of the sample prototype and the whole order was useless. It nearly destroyed my newly created company. Luckily, I was able to find another company to help make the correct product but I will never work with a company I can’t easily visit to work through the production process.


Type of manufacturer

Assuming that you know how your product will look and the type of material you will need to use, the first priority is making a list of manufacturers that make similar products. Before you start reaching out to production companies, I recommend making a google spreadsheet with names and contact info and keep track of when you contact them. As you gain experience talking to manufacturers, it helps to know who you talked to in the past and you can circle back to early contacts.

Check the resources section below for manufacturing sites.

Pitching your idea

When you begin to reach out to the manufacturers it is important to know that they do not need your business. They are very busy with work and they will never be as in love with your product as you are. You need to sell them on your idea and touch on a few key items that they want to hear in order to keep the conversation going. This is why it is important to do research on each company you contact and try to make a connection with them. It is a partnership you want to create and help show that you are worth their time.

When I met with a local cut and sew company, I was able to meet with the owner in person and as I talked to him, I saw that my idea for a tablet case was not getting across. It wasn’t until I looked around his office while he took a call in the middle of our meeting that I finally found an “in” with him. He was an outdoorsman and loved being in nature. When I mentioned that my case will help encourage individuals get outside more and take their devices with them, that he finally agreed to help me.

Making it

Look at these meetings like investor pitch meetings to show that your product will sell and you are dedicated to your idea. The company rep will have their own ideas to offer up on the production process as well and may even want to change your product to meet their processes. You also need to offer a retail price that is in line with other high quality products made in the US. They will need to know they can make some money to keep the conversation going.

When you find a potential company to work with and fill in the contact info page, it is key to enter in the details that will get the companies to want your business. For example, below are the production requests I sent out on Maker’s Row. The first one is from 2016, and the second is from 2019. Which one do you think received zero responses and which one had six companies offering phone calls in the first day?

Screen Shot 2019-07-05 at 7.56.02 AM.png

Product Description:

Hello, I am looking for help manufacturing a wide tablet case that can accomidate a tablet, as well as a notebook, like a moleskin notebook. The notebook will slip into a pocket on the right side, and the left side has 4 adjustable plastic clips to hold the tablet (or a sketchpad, see images). I also need a pocket on the front cover to hold a piece of paper as seen in the image. My budget and quantity amounts are low as I need a marketing sample I can send out first to build interest before my main order quantity, which will be 1,000 or more.

Screen Shot 2019-07-05 at 7.57.23 AM.png

OR,

Product Description:

- Tablet Folio/Sleeve

- Nylon Fabric Case (I will provide the Recycled plastic fabric called Repreve. It is a PU coated material similar to the Cordura nylon fabric)

- Topo Map on outside front of case

- 2 Color Choices

- YKK Zippers and 2 D rings for straps

I am flexible on the design if you have any changes to match production processes.

Thank you in advance and I look forward to working with you on this!

Mike

Screen Shot 2019-07-05 at 8.02.17 AM.png


Obviously, the second example is the one that got manufacturers interested in my product. I have held five phone calls from the initial proposal and believe I have found an excellent partner. The second example provided some initial information without getting into the weeds and it also had a much better price point. The first example had a laughable $10 cost that I am embarrassed to share! I was so green back then…

The $35/month cost for Makers Row may seem steep at first, but you can hold your subscription once you make the contacts you need, and restart at a later date. They also have a great blog with useful info like “How I Got My Prototype Ready for Production” and “How to Start a T-Shirt Business.”

Design Plans

To get started with a manufacturer you will need some sketches, or technical drawings to show what you want made.

UGMonk  is an awesome bag and apparel company

UGMonk is an awesome bag and apparel company

While Jeff Sheldon is a gifted artist and maker, you don’t need to be a product sketch artist to get your idea across. Simple layout and dimensions are enough for some companies to help start working on a prototype. You do need something to send them, and the more you do and including similar product photos will help them get to where you want to be faster. Each industry is different and you can see what each company might need after looking at the services each company offers. In the apparel industry you will see the term “tech pack” quite a bit. This is a detailed description of the product design and dimensions with fabric choices and colors.

TechPacker  helps with the design process. I haven’t used them yet but I will write up a review when I do.

TechPacker helps with the design process. I haven’t used them yet but I will write up a review when I do.

If you want to get some product sketches or CAD drawings go check out fiverr.com.

Sketches like this can be done by artist  Saniasartwork

Sketches like this can be done by artist Saniasartwork

Timeline

One big issue that we all will run into is that it takes a lot longer to have products made here in the US than abroad. Unless you are placing a huge order and have a strong relationship with the manufacturer, your order is going to go to the end of the line. I know that when large companies place last minute orders, everyone else gets bumped based on a conversation I had with a business owner that services Apple products.

The trick is simply to start early on the production process and set up a reasonable production timeline. This can be done with the company and keep following up with them to know how things are progressing as well as get a written contract to hold them accountable.

If you work with foreign manufacturers they are geared up for quick production and turnaround. You will get faster replies and a high level of attention from the sales team. This is what makes Alibaba.com so successful. I don’t want to advocate against using a foreign factory, but for my design firm I want to support US companies to help my country and local craftsmen and women.


Resources-Manufacturers

Makers Row - Companies here are mostly Apparel & Accessories, Furniture / Home Decor, and Packaging that will help startups. There is also a mix of “Other” companies for plastics and laser cutting, and other. If you have any questions about materials please let me know and I can check if there are any possible options here.

Thomas Net - With 500K suppliers & manufacturers, this is a huge resource, but not all manufacturers will work with startups. These are generally large manufacturers that show up on the top of the search results and won’t bother to respond to individuals. Use the keyword “prototype” to help narrow the results down in the industry you are looking in to help find a firm that will help you start here.

Industry Net - Same scale of resources as Thomas Net but geared more for industrial companies (tooling, machining, casting, stamping, etc.)

Kompass - While this is a large listing, it has a broad category list - click on “search by sector” to check your product material type.

Job Shop - Is also an industrial site, but with smaller, and fewer companies. It has a horrible website, but still useful.

Local Search - Once you know the type of company you need to help you, try a google search near you to look for local suppliers. I found a company two miles from my home that has been great to work with and so easy to make changes on the prototypes in person. You might get lucky.


Please let me know if you have any questions and good luck with your product!

Mike

Tools for Accountants

I recently upgraded my work bag and it got me thinking about what other tools accountants use for work.  After asking around I came up with a short list of some of the essentials.

Peak Design Messenger Bag $250

Peak Design Messenger Bag $250

WORK BAG

I ditched the old free laptop bag provided by my a firm as it was costing me in weight.  I have used many of these similar bags in the past and they are all made with the same heavy cordura material and packed full of pockets and zippers.  While we get these for free, they are simply not worth it in the long run due to the extra weight.  For example, the messenger bag I gave up weighed 4.5lbs before anything was put in it.  The Peak Design Messenger weights only 2 lb 12oz and has just as much room. 

Estimating that I would carry my bag 30 minutes each day to and from work, for 260 workdays a year, this small change saves 420 lbs over 130 hrs!

At $250 it is expensive, but is well built and versatile. 

If you are looking for a backpack, Peak Design also carries two sizes for $260 and $290.

Everyday Backpack.jpg

EXCEL

Any accountant knows that excel is the most used tool in our daily jobs.  To get up to speed quickly Excel Campus is the ticket for pivot tables, and vlookup.  Many other training videos are plagued with bad audio or amateur video editing so this is a good source to start with.

 

HEADPHONES

With hot-desking and open-space working, keeping your focus is tough when working long hours.  Music is essential. I assumed BOSE headphones were a dinosaur with the popular Beats and Skullcandy taking over the market, but after polling accountants, and finally using them myself, the Bose Noise Cancelling line is clearly the top choice.  The Quiet Comfort 25 is affordable at $170 but if you want the best the new 35 line will cost you $350 for the jump in performance.

BOSE Quiet Comfort 25 Noise-Canceling Headphones

BOSE Quiet Comfort 25 Noise-Canceling Headphones

10 KEY

If you are still using a calculator at your desk, I highly recommend you look at upgrading it to something that connects to excel.  Belkin has the best Bluetooth option and has a good clean ‘Apple’ design. 

Belkin 10 Key

Belkin 10 Key

MASTER TAX GUIDE

This is the only book I recommend keeping at your desk as this works the best when doing tax research.  Each fact is footnoted to help with followup research to the primary sources.  Ditch the quickfinder and start with this.

DRY ERASE

If you are still carrying EXPO markers at your office, send this link to your office manager.  Idea Paint Markers leave a better line and are widely used among the top tech firms.  This company uses special paint to cover walls to act as dry erase boards. 

Alternatively the Quartet is a great runner up and the Chisel tip is a must have for clean, clear writing.

idea paint.jpg

NOTEBOOK

There is a growing appreciation for paper organization systems and there is none better than the Bullet Journal developed by Ryder Carrol.  The system is easy to use, and adaptable to anything you may need.  I made a list of good notebooks to use with this system HERE.

For accountants, we are developing a notebook system of our own to help get organized all in one place.  It has six different layouts and includes a reference section that is a collection of websites, excel tips, formulas and benchmark data.  Find it HERE.

To Do Lists, Meeting Notes, Time Tracking and more...

To Do Lists, Meeting Notes, Time Tracking and more...

APPS

The three most popular accounting apps I have found are OmniFocus, Tiny Scanner, and a new one I have just started looking into, Jetpack.

OmniFocus - The ultimate work and personal task management system

Tiny Scanner - Great for client files and easy transfer to secure portals

Jetpack - Accounting firm workflow and management assistant

DSC_5593.png

THE ECONOMIST

If you want the news without a lot of bias and editorial filler, this is the best choice.  

Latest article on accounting in The Economist

Latest article on accounting in The Economist

VODKA SODA

After putting up with clients and bosses all day, and if you're going to have a drink, this is a good way to avoid the calories during busy season.  Cheers!

Vodka Soda.jpg

Let me know if I missed anything and want to add it to the list.

Cheers!

2018 Busy Season Survival Guide

Making it though busy season is rough. 

Keeping your life together while working 70-80 hours a week seems impossible, but with a few tricks from some seasoned CPA’s you can get through without getting burned out.

 

Take the stairs

Finding time to exercise while working all day and night can be tough, so the best way to get the heart rate up throughout the day is take the stairs.  I worked with a couple people that swore by this and would race to the top.   They also claimed that going down stairs made them feel less stressed.

MC-Escher-Relativity-19531.jpg
 

Reading Fiction

Clearing your mind at the end of the day is a great way to get some solid sleep.  Knowing that the cell phone isn’t great on your system at night, reading helps reduce stress by as much as 68% with only 6 minutes of reading as studied by Dr. David Lewis.

 

Coffee

During my worst season I tried a higher caffeine coffee called Death Wish Coffee and loved it.  I keep this on hand for the roughest mornings and highly recommend it.  Falling into the category of personal investment, picking up some better quality tea or coffee can give you the chemical boost you need to keep going.

Death Wish Coffee.png
 

Dark Chocolate

Nurses that work the night-shift swear by this little treat as it helps to regulate your mood.  Dr. Diana Walcutt Ph.D. lists out all the great benefits of this dark gold and in moderation, it can be great during times of high stress.  

- Boosts brain levels of endorphins

- Increased serotonin, a mood-altering chemical on which many antidepressants act

- Includes resveratrol, an antioxidant (immune system booster)

Dark Chocolate.jpg
 

Get Organized

Creating a workflow system to help keep all your to-do lists is a must and this includes your work, as well as your personal items.  To find a good method, I wrote about a number of systems to consider in an early blog post here.

We can’t truly think about or attend to all these things at once, so our brains flit from one to the other, each time with a neurobiological switching cost.
DSC_5832.jpg
 

Meal Prep

Sundays should be dedicated to getting laundry done, and planning your meals for the week.  This is a very common tactic and one I wish I had started many years ago.  Stock up on fruits and veggies to keep your mind and body healthy and avoid the unhealthy choices.  Also consider using help fresh or blue apron to have the ingredients delivered. 

Blue Apron.jpg
 

Side Projects

This was the hardest for me to accept as I always was working on new ventures on the side to help boost my creative spirit.  Accounting never quite filled the artistic side for me and I finally had to put my side work on hold for a few months. 

The result has been great and by choosing to do this, rather than running out of time, it has helped me feel in control of my life.  If too much is going on, I fall out of step and everything suffers.  Choose a few things to focus on at a time, and revisit it at the beginning of each month to plan ahead, rather than fall behind.

DSC_5893.png
 

Classwork and Studying

If possible, avoid any big tests like the CPA exams during busy season. Build out a schedule for the year and put things on hold until you can dedicate the extra time. If you do the math, you may find some time, but this depends on your schedule:

Hours available in a week = 168

Less work hours - 70      

Less 7 hours sleep - 49

Less getting ready for work .5 hours – 3.5

Less commute time 1.5 hours – 10.5

Total personal hours = 35 (5 per day)

This does leave some time to add 2-3 hours of study, but this may add a level of stress that will quickly lead to burnout.

 

New Job

Keeping an eye on your future is the best method to keep a positive mental attitude.  If you feel stuck and overworked with no escape, the work can be depressing.  However, if you happen to answer one of the 100 recruiter calls during this time of year, give them a chance as it can be fun to see what else is out there. 

Also, keep an eye out within your own office to look for good managers and bosses to work for.  Hitching your wagon to someone that you look up to and that treat their subs well, can make all the difference even if you are doing the same amount of work. 

I am much more willing to work harder for someone that will help advance my career and show real appreciation for my work.

ey-building.jpg
 

Staying Positive

All the above items are tools to help create a healthy outlook on work during the worst of times.  Hopefully you can use these to help stay positive, as this is the key to making it through the tough times.  Just know that there is an end to the busy time, and it will all pay off in the end. 

Best of luck to you and if you have any tricks or tips to pass on, please leave them in the comments below!

Mike Linn, CPA

 

P.S. Avoid this!

Do we organize things to get more done, or does it just feel good?

Blackwings

 

I was recently playing trains with my son and naturally started sorting the cars by type so he could quickly find the ones he wanted.  It felt quite natural to start this way and it was enjoyable to get them all lined up.

This led me to wonder, is it really efficient to do something like this, or does it just feel good?

IT JUST FEELS GOOD

To start, it has been shown that the act of sorting and organizing things has been tied to the dopamine reward center in our brains.  This is why Tetris was/is so popular because our minds like to complete little tasks.  Dr Tom Stafford explored this theory a few years ago when Tetris turned 30 years old in his article in BBC Future:

"The game of tessellating bricks takes advantage of the mind’s basic pleasure in tidying up by feeding it with a world of perpetual uncompleted tasks."
Tetris Drawing

This is the same concept when we make To-Do lists and only work on the easy ones.  Or when making long lists of books to read, workouts to try, meals to make, or places to visit. Afterwards you feel productive and ready to start anything...only to realize you don't have time to get to them.  

To further support the theory that our minds like things to be organized, just look at some of the popular Instagram feeds of sorted objects to help make them feel less foreign.

Flatlays

Side Note: All the Blackwing pencils in my cover picture were purchased from  CW Pencils !

Side Note: All the Blackwing pencils in my cover picture were purchased from CW Pencils!

I could go on and on and entire Reddit subreddits have been made showing just how much people love to look at organized stuff called knolling. Okay, so in general, people like to sort and organize things.


GETTING ORGANIZED

The next step is to decide if there is a benefit to getting organized before starting a new project.

"As human beings, it is in our nature to seek order when we are presented with new information, in an attempt to sort and classify that information quickly.  The action is paramount to our understanding of what is being presented."  
- Amy Graver & Ben Jura, Best Practices for Graphic Designers
"Productivity and efficiency depend on systems that help us organize through categorization.  The drive to categorize developed in the prehistoric wiring of our brains, in specialized neural systems that create and maintain meaningful, coherent amalgamations of things-foods, animals, tools, tribe members-in coherent categories.  Fundamentally, categorization reduces mental effort and streamlines the flow of information."

- Dr. Daniel Levitin. The Organized Mind

 

Organized tool kit

"One of the magical effects of tidying is confidence in your decision-making capacity."

- Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tiding Up

Once you start getting projects done, you build your  Internal Locus of Control.

Once you start getting projects done, you build your Internal Locus of Control.

The Princeton Neuroscience Institute published a study in The Journal of Neuroscience addressing this question directly by studying what happens when someone tries to work in a visually stimulated environment.  The way we process visual information is a competitive system and therefore, we can gain a higher level of concentration when fewer visual items are competing for our attention.  

Keeping your desk organized and tidy helps with concentration and productivity.

Keeping your desk organized and tidy helps with concentration and productivity.

BENEFITS OF BEING ORGANIZED

The benefits attributed to being organized are quite long and hard to ignore when they stand up to testing.  Here are just a few that I believe stand out:

  • Reducing stress and depression
  • Eating healthier
  • Exercising more and losing weight
  • Sleeping better

The above are taken from this article that goes into the science behind each benefit.

IN SUMMARY

To answer the question, 'is getting organized a beneficial act, or just a way to feel better,' I believe the answer is...both. The science behind these ideas can't be ignored and I can see the benefits every time I work on a project.  

There are plenty of people who get a lot done without having a clean workspace, but the science suggests it is more taxing on the brain. (I wrote a whole blog post on this here) There are also levels of organization and all the different areas of life that impact how one can be 'organized' that I haven't addressed.  

Overall, I believe the case can be made that by getting organized it helps generate a positive feeling and helps to get more done.

I hope you enjoyed this post and please let me know if you agree!  

Mike

The trick to being productive in 2017...

2016 To Do List

Is wrapping up 2016.

Before moving forward into the New Year, consider finishing up your to-do list in these final days of 2016 and organize your work-area to be ready to start anything next year.

A few things to consider while organizing the spaces you use on a daily basis:

  • Put away everything on your desk and wipe off the surface
  • Pick up all the clutter around your home and find bins/storage for things you want to put away
  • Clean up your car and clean out your trunk
  • Clean out your work bag

Doing these small tasks helps the hippocampus region of your brain and frees it up to focus on more important items, like moving short-term memories into long-term.  I wrote more about this in an earlier post here.

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  Clear off as many items from your 2016 to-do list as possible

Clear off as many items from your 2016 to-do list as possible

Finally, look back at 2016 and decide what you regret not doing last year. Commit to this in 2017 and do it. Don't let another year go by living with the weight of not doing what is most important to you!

The Volt Planner is a great notebook tool for 2017 as well.  Check it out  here .

The Volt Planner is a great notebook tool for 2017 as well.  Check it out here.

To help with getting ready for the New Year, I recommend a book by Chris Bailey, The Productivity Project.  Mr. Bailey has demonstrated his knowledge and experience through his blog at http://alifeofproductivity.com/ where he writes about testing all manner of productivity tools and systems. This book is a great summary of the outcomes and worth the money to have only the useful options and examples laid out in an engaging format. 

I appreciate the open source writing style that shows the truth behind how he arrives at his conclusions and take-always. This is what sets this book apart from any other productivity book as this allows the reader to actively learn and retain the most important teachings of the book.

The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey

I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to free up more time to work on projects they care about.

The Productivity Project is available on Amazon HERE

Find more information on Rule of 3  here.

Find more information on Rule of 3 here.

I had a chance to ask Mr. Bailey what he thought people should focus on when looking to 2017 and his response hit at the core of his teachings around time, energy, and attention.

I think one of the most powerful ways to accomplish more—whether on a daily basis or in general—is to work more often with intention. My favorite rule for doing this is the Rule of 3—where at the start of every week, as well as at the start of every day, you think forward to what three things you’ll want to have accomplished by the time the day and week are done. We should do this at the start of every year, too. Instead of creating a massive laundry list of things to get done, for 2017, choose just three goals. This will help you separate what’s important from what isn’t to really decide what’s important and meaningful to you.

 

Chris Bailey's latest TEDx talk is a great introduction to his year of productivity experiment.

To help get you started working on your own three goals for 2017, I encourage you to leave a comment below with the things you will be focusing on. As an incentive, I will send a copy of Mr. Bailey's book to one lucky winner chosen at random, to be announced this Friday, Dec. 23rd. I hope this will encourage you to get working on your goals with intention and purpose!  

Cheers and Happy Holidays!