Five tips for small-business owners


Being a small business owner can be a huge challenge. Some days there is so much to do and not enough time. I came across an article in The Costco Connection from January 2013 that gave five amazing tips for small business owners to consider. 

1. Update, update, update. Be sure to consistently update your website to current information. Ensure your website is interesting and engaging for your clients. 

2. Spread the word! Your business grows when more people know about it. Spread the word online, in local newspapers, even think about radio shows.

3. Delegate! You can’t get every little task done yourself! Hand off some tedious work to your employees. As the business owner focus on what you need to do to bring in revenue. 

4. Handle the legalities. Make sure that you are handling anything that may have a legal issue come up. Be prepared! 

5. Use social media!! I can’t stress this one enough. Social media platforms are free and help spread the word about your business! Get on the social media bandwagon!


Home Staging 101

We all know that there is a lot of work required prior to listing a house on the market. No detail is too insignificant. The following are the most basic but also the most important. Welcome to the “3 C’s”:

1. Clutter-free Plain and simple “Clutter EATS equity’‘ and you “Can’t sell what you can’t see“. The seller needs to de-clutter and organize all areas of their house, anywhere a potential buyer would look. The seller is going to have to pack when they move anyways so why not pack a little early? This will not only make their house more appealing for buyers but also make their move a little less stressful. Moving items/boxes into the garage are better but instead of clutter in the house, it’s been relocated to another area which can defeat the purpose. Storage units are inexpensive and will free up the garage so buyers can see how spacious it is. Don’t forget the outside too! Keeping the yard free of toys, tools, lawn “decor”, dead plant life, collectibles, etc. will also make the yard more appealing. Buyers will have room to envision their own items in the space.

Click here if you are interested in learning more about clutter.

2. Clean This is incredibly important. The house needs to be “QTip” clean inside and out. Carpets should be professionally cleaned and if necessary a cleaning crew should be hired. Anything that can sparkle, should sparkle. Windows, mirrors, glass, floors, faucets, tubs, toilets, sinks…you get the point. Outside, the siding should be clean, the flowerbeds freshened, cement swept, etc.   Cleaning can do so much and costs so very little. It really is amazing what a good cleaning can do.

Click here if you are interested in learning more about cleaning.

3. Color Color can change the way a room looks and feels and should not be taken lightly. A fresh coat of paint can cure a lot of ills. Funky smells, stains, lighting challenges…you name it. However, the color you choose can also make or break a deal. So what are the best colors to choose? White and off-white are NOT necessary and can actually detract from visually appealing architectural details. It’s best to go with something neutral not bland. Neutral can mean tans, beige’s, light sage greens, soft yellows…anything that’s warm and has a positive energy. Here’s an example:

Before 002


after 011

After Staging

Click here if you are interested in learning more about color.

In summation, all of these items can determine whether or not a potential buyer wants to continue in seeing the rest of the property. With a little bit of elbow grease, minimal cost with high return, your client’s house is well on it’s way to a solid start in the market. 95% of ASP Staged homes sell on average in 11 days or less and sell for 17% more. Starting out on the right foot and planning ahead before the house is listed only increases your chances of a quick sale for more money. For additional staging tips and suggestions, contact us today!

The Job Market…From A Growing Small Business Perspective

Now, I’m no expert on economic crisis nor am I a Realtor but when it comes to the current state of our economy, the job market, and the housing market it seems as though you don’t have to be one to write about it. On one hand you hear conservative, positive news, on the other hand, “we haven’t seen the worst of it yet”…I feel sorry for consumers, it’s so confusing and misleading.  We are at the mercy of those writing the articles.  Media, schmedia…for every problem, there is a solution.  Sometimes you just have to get REALLY creative and sometimes you need to ask for help. Nothing wrong with that. It’s about self-fulfilling prophecies…if you think things are bad, they’re bad. If they aren’t, then they aren’t.  Perception is reality, your economy, you job situation, and your housing market is no different. Of course, you have to remember there are things you can’t control but sitting back on you tush waiting for life to happen isn’t going to accomplish anything either.

Don’t get me wrong, I can only really speak for the area I live in.  I truly believe some areas are affected more by this “downturn” than others, many people have moved to different states or have done whatever it takes just to support their families. What I’m talking about is when you look in the paper and there are hundreds of jobs posted yet there are those out there who won’t even apply because it’s not EXACTLY what they want or it’s “beneath” them because it only pays $X per hour when they used to make double.  What happened to the old values of working hard, providing for your family, and playing hard too?  Believe me, I can understand when unemployment pays more, I’m not gonna lie, I would do the same thing but that will run out if it hasn’t already.  Isn’t it better to make $10/hour than nothing?  Have only a small gap on your resume instead of a huge one? Show that HR person at the company you’re applying for that you will do whatever it takes? Among many, not all, there appears to be an attitude of entitlement and it isn’t an attractive trait on anyone.

As you can tell, I find this entitlement attitude very irritating.  Here are my reasons why… I started my business in early 2009 when it felt like the bottom dropped out of the housing market. Many thought I was out of my mind for starting a new business.  I was tired of working for someone else and not reaping the rewards of my labor. I work hard and I’m proud of it even though, at times, it can also be a downfall. Honestly, things moved at a snail’s pace but I continued to work hard and watched my business grow little by little.  Sure, there were times when I had to work another job to pay the bills but I knew that if I kept working hard, eventually, I would be able to do what I loved.  As of the end of 2011, my numbers were up 300% from 2010.  I’m happy at the growth, it’s amazing and far exceeded any expectations.  With that being said, I’m ready to grow…I NEED help.  I really can’t do it all at this point. Here are my challenges and one of the biggest reasons for my frustration.  Keep in mind, I’m still a small business so work is not always completely steady even though I have enough to make a fairly stable part-time position for someone. I’ve had several express interest in helping me grow. However, here is the kicker…they either want a ridiculous amount of money (about 3X what I make) and/or the type of help I need, they don’t want to do the work. On several occasions, I’ve asked some of these people to help me on jobs so I can give them a trial run. I’ve been stood up, yes, they didn’t even show up; I’ve had to babysit them, watch every move because I’ve caught them lounging around; and on a job that’s only a couple of hours, they want to take several breaks because they weren’t prepared to work or they have errands they need to do.  I’m sorry to interrupt your day for 2 hours with pesky work that’s paying you more than double what you’d make at a retail chain, forgive me your majesty.

I will apologize right now for the rant but it really is so frustrating. This is merely my personal opinion and I do not expect others to share it.  You are entitled (haha!) to your own opinion and I will respect you for it.  As I said before, I believe there are solutions for every problem you just have to get creative.  For now, until I find that magical “clone”, I will be hitting up the temporary staffing firm.  No need to search and no obligation to keep the employee yet they want to work otherwise they wouldn’t be there. Suffering from growing pains is a GREAT problem to have right now, I’m happy to have them.  Work smarter and not harder, good things will happen.

I know it will all work out for the best and BEST WISHES to you ALL in 2012!

How I Got Into Home Staging and Why

Designed Living Room

Recently, while meeting with a client, we were talking about where she found me, why she chose my company etc.  She told me she found me on the internet, along with my competition and decided to research both of us.  She said she loved “my energy and passion and could feel it in my website”.  That got me thinking.  It’s true, I love what I do and I don’t share my reasons why I do what I do, often enough.  So, I want to share that with you all today.

My husband (at the time) and I put our house on the market in July 2008.  As you know, the market was on a steady decline and things were looking bleak.  Fall and winter hit…the market seemed to be at a standstill.  I had been working at a high-end interior design firm and had “designed” my house.  I always got compliments on it and positive feedback but not many showings.  My agent, Taunya Fagan with Prudential Real Estate and I were baffled.  I asked her to take us around to houses in the same price range.  I wanted to see what our competition was doing and trying to come up with a game plan of what we needed to do to come out ahead.  One house we went to had gorgeous maple cabinets, beautiful hardwood floors, granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, tile in the bathroom…all things we did NOT have.  We had hardwood laminate floors, formica countertops, white appliances, basic cabinetry, etc.  We thought we were going to have invest thousands in improvements to get up to par.  We had already lost money on the house, we didn’t have the funds to do anything. 

In talking with Taunya, I asked her what she thought we should do.  She said “have you considered Staging”.  Oddly enough, the interior design firm I had been working for was not doing well (no longer in business at this time) and I had been looking to do something with my experience.  I didn’t have my design degree and to get it was over $30K (again, I had no money) so Staging seemed worth looking in to.  Immediately, I started doing research and found all kinds of Staging programs out there.  Many of them were just certification programs you took at home and they would send you certificate.  If I was going to pay the money, I wanted the best schooling out there.  Then I came across  They actually had nationally recognized Staging University I could take classes and not only get certified but accredited and designated too.  The only designation available for Home Staging.  (check out for more info) Plus, the University was started by Barb Schwarz, the mother of the Home Staging concept since 1972.  Who better to learn from?  I booked my plane ticket for her class and was off.

When I came home, after receiving my accreditation, designation and certification, I saw all the reasons why my house was NOT selling and it had nothing to do with the lack of amenities I described.  My first project was my own house.  I’m one who has to find out for myself if something works or not.  I won’t tell anyone about it unless it has been tried, tested and found to work.  We started painting, packing, decluttering, organizing.  We put everything into a storage unit that we didn’t need.  I went through room by room visualizing what the buyer would see.  Moved furniture to accentuate the spaces and make them look bigger, added some pieces to define spaces…all things I had learned in Barb’s class.  It took us two weeks and a lot of elbow grease.

Staged Living Room

After it was all said and done, we had another open house.  The house was under contract within 45 days with 3 different offers and our house sold for more money than the competition.  At that moment, I decided that this was what I wanted to do.  I knew the challenges of having a house on the market while living in it.  Our house, prior to Staging, had been on the market for almost 9 months.  Trying to keep it clean, coming home when I got the phone call from Taunya saying it was going to be shown and driving 10 miles each way to turn on the lights, music and pick up the dog.  It wasn’t fun, I’m not going to lie, it was hard.  I honestly wished I had known about staging sooner, we would’ve saved ourselves about $20,000 (our price reduction).

This is how I know Staging works.  This is why I Stage homes to sell faster and for more money.  The National Association of Realtors reported that the first price reduction, on average, is between 10-20% of the listing price.  Can you afford not to Stage?  If I were to quote a price for my client on the services I did at my house (DIY-ers) it would’ve been around $200.  Hmmm, $200 vs. $20,000.  Which would you choose?  That’s why it’s important to Stage BEFORE you put your house on the market.  It can save you a fortune.  Learn from my mistake.

by Brandi Cernohlavek ASP, IAHSP owner of Centre Staging in the ever lovely Bozeman, MT
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Secrets To Saving Money On Your Redesign

Looking back 10 years ago I would’ve never thought I would’ve enjoyed sheetrocking, painting and cleaning.  I would’ve thought I needed to be checked into a facility.  However, it’s true, I’m making it publically known…my name is Brandi and I’m a Do-It-Yourselfer.  There is nothing more rewarding to me to look at something ugly and turn it into something cool, beautiful, fun, modern.  I love the way paint can transform a room or an old piece of furniture.  I love finding new ways to use old things, repurpose once loved items so they will be loved again.  It’s an addiction.  The joy is in the journey.   I don’t claim to be an expert in any of these things such as tiling, painting, etc. but I do them for my own pleasure and reward. 

Guest Bath Before - Yikes!


Where am I going with all of this?  Well, in 2008 when we had our house up for sale (yes, during the economic downturn-when time stood still) we were up against some pretty stiff competition.  One block over from us, a house that was priced lower than us, had granite countertops, maple cabinets, hardwood floors throughout, beautiful tile in the bathroom, stainless appliances…yeah, ALL the things we did NOT have.  I felt so defeated.  I didn’t know how we were going to update our home to show the same if not better than this house without spending a small fortune and putting ourselves in the hole financially. 

If you’re a DIY-er like me, you’re in luck.  Just taking on a project by yourself, when simple (leave the complicated stuff to the experts), you can save yourself a ton of money.  On to the project, from the bottom of the financial scale.   The biggest and best thing you can do to freshen and update, if you haven’t done it already is clean.  It’s amazing how dirty things can get and you don’t notice.  Try cleaning your wood cabinets with Murphy’s oil soap and follow up with car wax.  They will shine better than brand new.  Personally, my favorite tool to clean with is an old toothbrush.  Gets all the nooks and crannies and you only have to do it a few times a year, if that. 

Guest Bath After - Better!


I’m not joking when I tell you that they literally have paint for EVERYTHING right now.  Countertops, tubs, sinks, appliances, metal, plastic…I could stand in the paint aisle for hours letting my head swim with ideas.  Nearly every color of the rainbow too.  For me, it’s like a candy store.  Paint freshens and renews just about anything.  I had a 70’s harvest gold stove hood I painted almond, looks brand new.  Easy, inexpensive, fast – enough said. 

What if you don’t want to paint?  The next step would be to update the little things.  Knobs and pulls in the kitchen.  You can find them in packages for less than $1 each and they come in modern finishes.  Replace old light fixtures.  Brass fixtures can date a room so fast it is close to miraculous.  If it’s an ugly fixture anyway, I wouldn’t bother painting it.  You can find inexpensive light fixtures at Lowe’s that look great and fit every price point.  Replace faucets in baths and the kitchen.  Again, another item that you can find at just about any price point.  They can update a bath or kitchen quickly with a small investment.  Our faucets we bought for our bathroom cost around $20 each.  Bath mirrors.  One of my pet peeves is going into a $500K plus house and seeing the standard old plate mirrors in the bathroom.  Really?  The contractor couldn’t spend an extra $20 for a great mirror?  It’s worth it, believe me.  Updates the bathroom fast and makes it look very high end plus it’s inexpensive but you have to shop around.  Mirrors at Ross are around $30-50 dollars each or get creative.  I saw a plate mirror once where someone put a frame right over it, not around it, on top of it.  It looked very cool and modern…great idea. 

What about old furniture?  Give it new life with paint or recover it.  Recovering furniture may seem intimidating to some but it really isn’t that hard.  I mean really, can that old rundown chair look any worse?  For smaller accent pieces you can have a lot of fun with colors and patterns but on larger pieces, it’s better to stay more neutral with your main colors. 

If you have to shop for anything big, try your local salvage, pawn, thrift, or Habitat re-store.  You’ll be surprised at the fun things you’ll find.  Garage sales can be great places for “treasures” too.  Look at the shape of items not the color.   Does it have any interesting shapes, curves or quirks?  That’s what makes a piece unique and loveable. 

So, what happened with our house?  Well, after I took my Staging course (through I painted all my crazy colors neutral, changed out the mirrors and faucets in the bathrooms, cleaned my heart out, added knobs to all bath and kitchen cabinets, rearranged the furniture, painted the deck, cleaned the patio, etc.  We only spent about $300 but man did we stretch it out.  Most of what we spent was time and elbow grease but it was worth it.  Our house sold for more money and faster than the competition one block over. 

Remember, it’s not about how much you spend to get your house ready to sell.  It’s about the value of what you spend it on.  It takes research, lots of it, to find high quality items at discounted prices.  Looking back, if I were to bid on what I did to Stage our house, I would’ve charged the homeowner about $250 to get it where it was.  Think about it $550 to sell our house for close to $10,000 more than our fancy competitor.  As an ASP Stager and a DIY addict, I love helping homeowners, whether they are selling or not, to make improvements to their homes at the highest value.  Most Stagers do.  So, if you have a room that’s “bugging” you or you are stumped by a space, call an ASP Stager today. 

by Brandi Minshew ASP, IAHSP owner of Centre Staging in beautiful Bozeman, MT.  Visit us at for more info!

The Truth About Home Staging Costs

You look at the housing market right now and things are moving a little slow but they are moving.  Here in the Gallatin Valley, according the GAR, homes in this area are on the market for an average of 183 days.  That’s over 6 months!  That’s way too long.  Financially, things are on shaky ground.  Some are upside down on their houses and need to make a certain amount.  They will do whatever it takes to get the most out of their house.  Or will they?

It all starts with the common misconception that first of all, Staging is Interior Design.  It is NOT.  I can tell you, from first hand experience, switching from the design world to Staging was like night and day.  I had to readjust my thinking completely.  Instead of picking out things I know the owner would like, I had to adjust my brain to look through “buyer’s eyes”.  What was going to be the most appealing to a wider range of buyers?  You have to change your thinking and how you arrange furniture, what accessories you would use, etc.  I’ll be honest, the things I use for Staging homes are NOT my personal taste and I don’t have them in my house.  It’s not that they are ugly, they just aren’t “me” personally.  Face it, we all see things at different shops that we say to ourselves “I like it but for someone else, not for me”.  It’s the same thing with Staging.  You can love the way a house is Staged but it doesn’t mean you want every single item in the house.  Interior Design is personalized for that particular owner to reflect their personal taste, personality, etc.  Staging is depersonalized so no one person’s taste or personality is reflected.  Granted you do have to possess a certain amount of taste but as ASP Stagers, we mute our own personal tastes in order to sell a product, your house.  We save all of our quirky, sassy, outlandish tastes for our own homes. 

The second big misconception is cost.  This is also linked to the above misconception that “Staging is design”.  Interior Design is expensive.  The regular, every day “joe” (such as myself) cannot afford to have a designer come in and re-do my house.  Not gonna happen especially in this economy.  Staging is affordable, plain and simple.  I can’t say it enough.  I think about all those people who have had their houses on the market for the last 6 months and it breaks my heart.  Imagine the thousands upon thousands of dollars (and more) they have taken in price reductions to get their houses sold.  It kills me!  They could’ve saved the majority if not all of that money by Staging their houses.  Here is a little secret:  when houses go on the market, the seller has control over only 2 things.  Presentation (condition) and price.  Well, I hate to tell you but the market is what determines the price and what’s going to sell.   You can hold on to your price point all you want but remember, the market decides who will “make it or break it”.  Keep in mind, the current average price reduction is between 10-20% of your listing price, according to NAR.  So, the only thing you have left to control is presentation.  Presentation encompasses Staging.  Staging encompasses neutral paint colors, clean carpets, decluttering, depersonalizing, etc.  When presentation isn’t there, price is the ONLY leveraging tool a seller has to get in a buyer.   The formula is simple:  rely on the experts to Stage and price your house and it will sell faster than you can imagine.  ASP Staged homes, nationally, are selling in 37 days or less whereas non-Staged homes are selling in 212 days. 

“Ok, so what about cost?”  When talking about Staging, there are no “costs” – Staging is an “investment”.   The reason I say “investment” is because you will get that money back.  I can tell you, without a doubt, that “the investment in Home Staging will ALWAYS be less than your first price reduction” (Barb Schwarz, Creator of Home Staging).  On a $200,000 house, your first price reduction may be between $20,000 and $40,000.  On a 2000 sq. ft. house, Staging may be around $1500.  Hmmm, $20,000 or $1500.  If this were taxes, we would all say “$1500 please!”.  Staging WORKS. 

However, there is a small caveat to all of this.  It’s important, I can’t stress it enough, to research the “Stagers” in your area.  As with any industry out there, you have professionals with training and you have wannabes or people who wake up in the morning and decide “I’m going to be a…”.  For example, we just had a massive hailstorm in our area.  There has been damage like you wouldn’t believe.  Last I heard it was over $60 million in claims.  Construction companies have been busy but what we are seeing in this area is new roofing companies popping up left and right.  I have a friend who has roofed for 20 years and he has actually had to do repairs on those roofs because the “new” roofer did it incorrectly.  The client has had to pay twice.  The “wannabe” roofer had little to no training and no idea how to do things correctly.  Staging is no different.  There is a Staging company in our area that has some training but they have not kept up on it and it shows.  It’s obvious in their work.  I get referral business because some Realtors don’t want to work with them anymore.  It’s good business for me but it’s sad.  There are over 1000 houses on the market here…plenty of business for all.   It all boils down to, you WILL GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.  For the best results, you have to pay a little extra.  I’m not talking much but that little bit will make a difference.  Paying that little extra up front will mean a bigger chunk on the back end.   It’ll be worth it.

by Brandi Minshew ASP, IAHSP owner of Centre Staging in Bozeman, MT.  Visit for more info!

How To Make A Great First Impression

You can learn a lot about a home and it’s owners by the way their front yard and the exterior of their house looks.  When you’re selling a house, this is your chance to make or break your buyers first impression.  What does your curb appeal (or lack thereof) say about you?  Here are a few tips to help you make a good impression and draw those buyers in. 

  1. Clear the clutter.  Sporting equipment, toys, run down furniture, hoses, lawn tools, etc all need to be removed and/or stored.  Place them in your garage or a storage unit.  Lawn ornaments should also be stored especially if they are broken.  Not everyone loves a lawn gnome.  Your porch and patio are not for storage, refrain from using them for such when you are selling.
  2. Clean your exterior.  Renting a power washer is worth the extra money.  Wash all of the exterior including windows, shingles, gutters, siding, garage and concrete sidewalks.  Getting them shiny and new will only make your house look it’s best.  When your house looks it’s best, it gives the impression that it is well cared for.   If after power washing you see nicks, dings and paint chipping away, take the extra time and repair them.  It will pay off in the long run.
  3. Outdoor lighting.  Buyers will shop at all times and so it’s important to make sure that the outside is properly lit.  Whether you have to use higher watt bulbs or need to update your lights, it’s an important and inexpensive trick that will show off architectural features of your house.  Keep your lights on all night and off all day.  Paying a little more for electricity will pay off 10 fold.  Also updating the door hardware can freshen the look of the exterior.
  4. Create an outdoor living space.  Outdoor living areas are becoming more and more popular.  Creating a simple, tasteful outdoor space, without going overboard, can add value to your house.  Spruce it up by cleaning or painting the porch/patio area so that it is inviting and looks like a place buyers want to be.   
  5. Dress up your windows.   If you live in a neighborhood where all the houses are similar, one way you can make your house stand out as different is to add shutters. You can find them for around $30 a pair or you can create your own. They are very simple but make a huge difference. Another way is by adding decorative window molding.  For more of a regal feel, add it to just the top of the window like you would with crown molding.  With your windows shining and your molding or shutters, it will look as if your windows are brand new.
  6. Lawn and flower bed maintenance and sprucing up.  When it comes to your lawn, it’s important to make sure that all bald or yellowing patches are repaired.  There are great products out there to help with pet spots and high traffic areas.  Most of them grow in very quickly and are pretty tough.  Another option, if you need a quick fix, is to use grass paint (like they use on the golf course).  You can find it at any home improvement store or call your local golf shop or course.  For sprucing up your flower beds, make sure they are cleared of all debris and dead stuff.  If you have holes, fill them in with some beautiful flowers.  It doesn’t have to be anything too fancy or expensive but something colorful will only add to your appeal.  There is a great product out there called Soil Pep which works wonders, one of my favorites.  It’s inexpensive and renews a flower bed with little effort and easy clean up.
  7.  Dress up the driveway and front entry.  Adding big pots of flowers will add SO much.  By the driveway, one of my favorites is tall potted bushes.  Keep them trimmed and neat and they will only accentuate the look of your house.  Potted flowers by the entry way are a great way to exude warmth and create an inviting atmosphere for potential buyers.  Put a centerpiece on your outdoor table, add a hanging planter off your porch but don’t get too crazy.  Plants are like children, they grow fast so make sure you can keep up with what you have.  Too much can also become a turn off for buyers so add just enough to accentuate and create an environment, not a botanical garden.

Whether you are selling or not, these are great tips for warming up and making your exteriors more comfortable for you and for your guests.  So, remember, the outside of your house is key, especially in warmer weather, in making that important first impression a positive one.  If buyers see how beautiful and well maintained your exterior is, they will only want to see more.

by Brandi Minshew ASP, IAHSP owner of Centre Staging in Bozeman, MT.  Visit us at for your FREE Home Staging Report full of tips and tricks.