Monday, October 31, 2011

Looking for marketing opportunities as a Home-Based Balloon Business

Happy Halloween everyone! I hope that this has been a successful trading time for you? Do you think Halloween has been busier this year... did you try anything new to stimulate sales? Please let me know, I would love to share your comments and experiences!

In my last blog I wrote about how someone we know captures sales by making up a variety of delivery bouquets and arrangements each day and leaves them 'ready to go' in her shop. Invariably these bouquets stimulate interest with browsing customers and it makes it very easy for them to say "I want that one"! I can totally understand how that can work, we cannot assume that everyone truly understands or can visualize what we mean by a small balloon sculpture or even a balloon bouquet?

This brings me to today's blog, I often hear people say how hard it is working as a balloon artist/decorator from home, with no shop, store front or off the street browsing opportunities.

10 years ago I ran a very successful home-based business in a different town in the UK, I moved area and due to various other employments within the balloon industry I did not re-start my decorating business... until now! My new venture started only a matter of a few weeks ago where I exhibited at a very local Wedding Fair. So I, like many home based business's am now looking for new marketing opportunities to promote my business and services!

Last week a leaflet was posted through my door promoting a Christmas Village Morning, being held later this month in the village that I live in. Just a morning where local people can sell Christmas gifts, cards, toys and bric-a-brac (miscellaneous objects and ornaments of little value), and of course Santa will be in attendance too!
As soon as I saw this I thought what a great opportunity this could be for me to show off what I do  and so I contacted the organiser and asked if there was any space available as an exhibitor... fingers crossed as I knew that this was a very late request!
"We already have all our exhibitors, but what is it that you do"? The very nice lady asked me from the end of the telephone.
Sue Bowler
Santa design created by Sue Bowler CBA
"I work with balloons, I make small gifts, perfect for Christmas, Birthdays and many other occasions", I responded, realizing that if she had never really seen any balloon 'art' before that she might find it a little hard to picture what I was talking about.
"That sounds very interesting", she responded and with that I quickly replied "yes. it is, maybe I could show you what I do and I will happily fit into any small space that you can find for me". With that she agreed that she would come and visit me later that day and only then would she decide if what I did could be 'fitted in'.
I decided to make up a couple of Christmas designs for her to see, and attached a tag...

"Santa - order me now for Christmas, only £14.50"

plus I added that I would deliver free within the surrounding villages.

My lady duly arrived and was very excited when she saw what I had made, having never seen anything like this before and agreed there and then that me being at the Christmas Village morning would be a great addition to their existing exhibitors and that we would have my balloon designs all around the hall all with labels attached so that people can easily identify the designs and the price, plus a small table where I could have other designs and take orders... a little like the idea that our friend uses in her shop!

There are many advantages and disadvantages working from home, finding good marketing opportunities is always one of the bigger disadvantages, I am hoping that showing off my skills to my neighbours will be a big hit and you never know it might lead to other business opportunities!  I'll keep you posted and let you know how it goes!

OK, it's time for me to get back to preparing for The Qualatex Event in Oxfordshire this coming weekend,  I am really excited and looking forward to seeing everyone, many friends and lots of new friends too! I promise to take lots of photographs and write a blog as soon as I return and post many many pictures! Good luck to all those who are taking their CBA exam and also to those competing, I am really looking forward to seeing all the wonderful sculptures!

Oh, a final note... this weekend in the UK is Bonfire Night, where we celebrate the fact that a man called Guy Fawkes did not manage to burn down our House of Parliament in 1605! So on the night of November 5th throughout Britain, we commemorate the capture of Guy Fawkes with bonfires and fireworks, and by burning an effigy of Guy, so for all our overseas visitors watch out for all the wonderful fireworks this weekend!

Safe travels!


Thursday, October 20, 2011

'I want that one' - a simple tried and tested trick to sell more balloons!

Last week I wrote a blog on how to turn the 'mini' Qualatex Microfoils into big profit earners, I suggested that the 'mini' Microfoil designs are perfect for counter top sales and impulse purchases.

Sue Bowler
Design by Sue Bowler CBA
Today's blog follows on from this point and was inspired by my husband John. John has worked in the balloon industry since 1991 and has held a number of different roles within the industry. We spend a lot of time talking about our industry, here are his thoughts on how we can inspire our customers to buy from us.

When we walk round stores, what makes us buy what we do? Do we always know what we want when we walk in or are we looking for inspiration?
So how can we discover the little tricks that will help us to sell our products and designs to the general public?  First of all I guess we need to know what it is that inspires the public to purchase a particular item.  Now there are many large corporations that spend millions of pounds, dollars and Euros on researching this very issue.  Clearly we don’t have that kind of money to spend on research so how can we get this information?  Well let’s not forget that we make up a section of the society that we refer to as ‘General Public’ and we can learn from looking at ourselves.

It is often said that the smartest ideas are the simplest ideas, and so it would seem.  

Sue Bowler
Design created by Keith Stirman CBA & Dominic Cassidy CBA
A very good friend of mine taught me an invaluable little trick a number of years ago and I have seen it work on many occasions and I am especially pleased to report that her business has flourished from its humble beginnings to become one of the most impressive balloon stores that I have seen and many others have made the same comment.  Oh the trick! Yes I’m coming to that now.   We are fortunate in our industry that we can offer a bespoke service of unique designs and deliveries rather than just a single product ‘off the shelf’. 

Firstly it is important to know that the majority of the ‘public’ will only ever buy what they see, they have little time for design and creativity and let’s face it, if we left it to them they would leave with a single balloon on a weight.   So, it is our role to inspire them and give them ideas, and the best way to do this is to have some 'ready to go' Balloon Bouquets and other ready made designs on display such as this adorable Minnie Mouse Bubble sculpture and the beautiful Tinker Bell & Fairy Friends Bubble design, never be afraid to make your designs impressive! 

Shirley Ray
Design created By Shirley Ray CBA
So, having impressed them the next thing is to make the customer feel that the product is value for money, now this is the smart bit!  The best way to do this is to show that others have already paid for the same design and therefore endorsing that it is value for money.  To do this, simply add a ‘delivery note’ and a personalised gift tag creating the impression that it is waiting for a customer to collect or the driver to deliver.  If the design is exactly what the customer wants you can offer to swap the gift tag and let them take that one and you will ‘make up another one’ or if they want it in a different colour or for a different celebration you can build one just for them. 
“But I want that one!” I think it is human nature for many of us to want what somebody else has and this, is the key to this little trick. 
Very Best Balloon Blog With Halloween less than 2 weeks away, it's time to fill your store with 'ready to go' Halloween designs and try out this simple little trick!
Remember, you can do this all year round, every day someone is celebrating a birthday or a new baby arrives!
Dont forget The Qualatex Event, 5-7 Nov, Oxford, UK & The World Balloon Convention, 22nd-25th March 2012, Dallas, USA, where you will learn how to create wonderful designs such as the one's featured in this blog created by Shirley, Keith and Dominic and much much more!

Looking forward to seeing you at the Qualatex Event in 2 weeks time!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Heat Sealing Qualatex Microfoil Balloons and turn those 'little balloons' in to BIG profit earners!

I remember the first time that I heat sealed a Qualatex Microfoil balloon. I did not own a heat sealer, so I tried other methods that I had been told would work... like using a travel iron or curling tongs. After many very unsuccessful attempts, burnt fingers and ruined balloons, foil covered iron and tongs, I decided that if I wanted to sell these beautiful little balloons I would need to have the correct equipment!
Mini & Maxi Sealer by Premium Balloon Accessories

Even using the correct equipment you will need to follow a few simple rules:

  • Test your heat sealer settings, too high will melt straight through the balloon and too low it will not seal the balloon closed. I find that somewhere between 3-4 is usually perfect!
  • Inflate your balloons carefully with a hand pump, make sure that they are firm to the touch, being careful not to over-inflate or they will pop!
  • Do not allow any of the air to escape whilst you prepare the balloon for heat sealing.
  • Start low (near the opening) on the neck of the Microfoil balloon, as this will give you a second or even third opportunity to do it again if at first you don't succeed!
  • ENSURE THAT THERE ARE NO CREASES IN THE NECK, smooth out the foil neck prior to heat sealing, creases will allow air to escape.
  • Place the balloon under the bar of the heat sealer and press down firmly, the light will come on, then go off very quickly, keep the bar down and the pressure on for a further 5 seconds, this will really ensure that the Microfoil  balloon opening has sealed together.
Here is a short video clip that I hope will help.
So now that we know how to successfully heat seal our Qualatex Microfoil balloons, we need some inspiration on how to use them!

Let's start with the fact that once these air-filled balloons have been heat sealed, they will never go down, an ever lasting balloon- what a fantastic selling point!
Sue Bowler
This is one of my favorite idea's using the 4" Hearts, they are perfect for weddings and so many other occasions! Simply fill a vase and leave them on your counter and watch them sell!

Qualatex have a fantastic range of 'mini' Microfoil balloons these include 4" & 9" Rounds, Hearts, Stars, 9" Squares, 13" Tapers and the fantastic new range of 9" & 14" design coordinates!

Please note that not all of these balloons are available in every country, check with your Qualatex distributor.
Here are a few simple idea's using the new 14" 'Soft Giraffe' # 32932. These are perfect for counter top sales, impulse purchases and also as a base for a centerpiece design!

Sue Bowler
Designs made by Sue Bowler CBA
  • Start by creating 2 x 5-balloon clusters using 5" Qualatex latex balloons, the base cluster is inflated to approx.3" and the top cluster to approx. 2", they need to be small to be in proportion with the 14" Microfoil balloon. 
  • Secure the 2 clusters together and add a weight to the base.
  • Secure the heat-sealed 14" Soft Giraffe to the top of the double cluster, using a small scrap of 260Q is perfect!
  • Add detail such as a small bow or additional balloons, I have used Goldenrod which perfectly compliments the Soft Giraffe balloon, please note that these small balloons have been made by inflating the tips of 350Q's and not 5" balloons!
 Here is another fantastic design idea using the new 14" Birthday Frosted Cupcake! 

Sue Bowler

Sue Bowler
Here is a close-up of the base, this time I used the inflated tips of 260Q, choosing color's that are featured within the Cupcake


In this design I have used:
  • Birthday Frosted Cupcake 35" # 30683
  • Birthday Sprinkle & Sparkles 18" #30677
  • Cupcake & Presents 11"        # 31227
  • Birthday Frosted Cupcake 14" #32935
  • Purple Violet 5" # 82697
  • Lime Green, Robin's Egg Blue & Wild Berry 260Q

I am very excited as I will be teaching 3 great classes at the World Balloon Convention in March 2012. I can guarantee that I will be showing many new and exciting concepts working with air-filled Microfoil balloons to capture those retail sales as well as for decor and centrepieces!
Do not forget, these small balloons can and will make you BIG profits! 

Have fun with one of my favorite balloons!


Friday, October 7, 2011

A few tips for those who are ready to take the CBA Practical Exam... I promise there is nothing to be nervous about!

With more and more balloon professionals working towards their CBA accreditation, I thought that it might be a good time to write a blog about how you can prepare for the big day!

Taking the practical exam is the final step in earning your CBA and this can only be accomplished after completing the 3 online tests, "QBN Balloon Basics", "QBN Balloon Deliveries" and "QBN Balloon Decor" and passing!

Now you are eligible to take the CBA Practical Exam and I want to share some tips with you that I hope will help you on the day!
You wont be doing this!

Firstly, I do not want you to think of this as an EXAM, the minute we use that word most of us go into complete panic mode and remember our schooldays of sitting hour after hour with a piece of paper in front of us desperately trying to recall all the information that we had learned over the past XX years! I can guarantee no desks, just a work table to work on and no written exam, you will just be asked to answer a few questions, no 'trick' questions, no 'curved balls', just things that you learned when you watched the DVD's!

We are a creative 'bunch' of happy people, working with balloons is our passion therefore I would rather you consider this as a your very best balloon job (which of course they all are) and the opportunity to shine and to confirm that you are the person who completed the online tests and that you understood the curriculum!

Let me start by talking about the practical side of the assessment process... I much prefer the word assessment :)

I would like to say at this point, that taking the CBA practical is not a competition! I believe that many people think that they have to create something that has never been seen before, in terms of idea's and techniques, I can assure you that this is not the case. Designs that score well are those that demonstrate a good knowledge of the principles and elements of design... all the 'stuff' that you just learned in the QBN program and not how you have invented the next great technique... there is plenty of time for that later when you enter competitions!

1. You are required to design and make one SOCIAL EXPRESSION bouquet.
What is meant by Social Expression? As usual I 'Googled' it!  I was pleasantly surprised with the result, it really defines what it means! Here are a few examples...

A friend has just had a baby. What do you say?
·        Congratulations!

Your  friend  is ill. What do you say?
·        I hope you feel better soon.
·        I hope you get better soon.
It’s a friend’s birthday. What do you say?
·        Happy Birthday!
·        Many happy returns!

So this is easy, you need to create a balloon bouquet that expresses a message... and there are many messages that you could choose from,  just simply open your Qualatex catalogue and you have a wealth of beautiful balloons with messages that you can use within your bouquet.

Here's an example using a design that I created:

Firstly, this design is called "Bottle Buddy Bouquet", it gives me the opportunity to make a bouquet that also acts as a gift! The bottle could be the recipients favourite 'tipple', but make sure you are within licencing  laws if the bottle contains alcohol, you could always use a non-alcoholic drink, which could be fun too...
Bottle Buddy designed by Sue Bowler CBA

What 'social expression' does this bouquet convey?
  • 'Happy 50th Birthday' - reflected through use of the Silver & Black Birthday Elegant Sparkles & Swirls and the 50-A-Round 11" Qualatex Balloons
  • Let's Party! - The wonderful 8-Point Star Shape topper -Let's Party Sparkle & Swirls, 28" Microfoil balloon.
  • With love - the 4" Gold Microfoil Heart, held by my Bottle Buddie that could be personalised with the recipients name!
This design says it all, it has a clear message, it's fun and perfect for a delivery!

Remember when you create your design... think California Law!

2. You are required to design and make one TABLE CENTREPIECE of your own design.
Centrepiece designs by Sue Bowler cba

What is a table centrepiece? It is simply an arrangement placed at the centre of a round or rectangular table where no part of the display blocks view lines. These are usually defined with the base element of a centrepiece not exceeding 14"  and a good clear visual gap before the use of any aerial balloons, usually a distance of 24" or more from the table top. Once again your design should demonstrate your understanding of principles and elements of design. Here are a few tips when you are creating your designs:
  • Have a strong focal point in the arrangement and draw the eye through the focal point by repeating balloons and other design material in a clear line or lines.
  • Make sure your design is visually balanced and mechanically sound.
  • Choose one of the colour harmonies for your arrangement and stick to it in all of your materials.
Your centrepiece design can be an air-filled design, using a central pole to give you the required distance between your base and top elements! Or it can be a base design connected with a complimentary helium filled arrangement. Remember when you create your design... think California Law!

3. Make a Duplicate Balloon Bouquet, working from a photograph, both the photo and materials are provided for this. I recommend that you practice 'specialty' skills & techniques such as creating 'Gumballs', Double Bubbles, correctly inflating GEO Donut's and GEO Blossom balloons! A new element to the assessment is that you are required to correctly inflate Qualatex Bubbles and Deco Bubbles, if these balloons are new to you I recommend that you watch the video clip on It is important that you have the ability to re-create accurately designs from a photograph, this is especially important for referrals and relay business's.

4. Make a Duplicate 'Balloon Flower', working from a photograph, both the photo and materials are provided for this. Instructions for the Balloon Flower can be found at 'Instruction Sheets' on or in the QBN Balloon Delivery & Bouquets' Kit. Just make exactly what you see, nothing extra, keep it neat and tidy!

5. Construct a 5' (length) of air-filled, 5-Balloon Cluster Spiral Garland, using 11" balloons, these do not need to be inflated to 11", between 9"-10" is perfectly OK, but you must ensure that all your balloons are the same size... use a template! The spiral pattern must be correct and the column should be constructed well and should not fall apart on a firm shake! You will be provided with the balloons and Dacron line for this.

6. KNOW YOUR KNOTS! You will be asked to demonstrate how to tie a temporary knot and a permanent knot as per the QBN curriculum!
Temporary knot

7. Answer 6.... only 6 questions from the curriculum, and either demonstrate a mock balloon delivery sales phone call or make a mock balloon delivery presentation during your assigned 15 minute panel interview.
OK, I would be lying if I said that this was easy... it's not difficult, but this is where most peoples nerves kick in!
 However, the panel will never allow nerves to stand in your way and they will try and make sure that you are relaxed as possible, if your mind goes blank, then you'll be asked another question or you can re-visit the question later and in most cases you'll be relaxed enough by then to remember.

Balloon Images Magazine Oct/Nov/Dec 2011

  • Make sure you know the principles and elements of design... as additional reading check out the great series of articles in IMAGES  magazines starting with April/May/June 2011 this issue covers Balance & Line, July/Aug/Sept 2011 covers Scale & Texture and Oct/Nov/Dec 2011 covers Colour and Proportion.

  • These articles are invaluable as they will really help you to fully understand the importance of these within your every day work.
Balloon Images Magazine Apr/May/Jun 2011
  • Make sure you understand the business side of your business, once again, in addition to the resources supplied with the QBN program look at the great articles featured in IMAGES magazine such as Protect Your Business Trade Secrets April/May/June 2011.

    With the mock delivery or telephone call... give it your all! Why not, everyone on the panel will have been through the exact same process, remember all the points to making a good delivery or talking a phone call order...  sing Happy Birthday or if you do not feel confident enough to sing, how about reciting a simple Birthday poem like some did in their delivery presentation, which was great! If you are asked to do a mock telephone call you can ask to turn your chair round, this may help you so that your not looking at the person you are suppose to be talking to on the telephone!

    There is a Guide to Taking the Certified Balloon Artists (CBA) Practical Exam, that you can download from, this is full of other  very valuable information that I have not included in this blog and the actual CBA Practical Exam Score Sheet, so you can see how many points you are scored for each of the sections of the exam... a very helpful tool! 
    Design Basics Book

    Finally, review the DVD's, resources and your completed online tests, remember this process is simply to confirm your knowledge of the QBN curriculum!

    For me, becoming a CBA is not just about remembering what you have learned on the day, it is about using the knowledge and skills that you have learned each and every day within your business. I know that when I passed and became a CBA 16 years ago, it was a little like passing my driving test! I was certaininly not a perfect driver but I had the knowledge to be and from that day on I REALLY learned how to drive well... so once I became a CBA I started to look at my business in a totally new way, the designs that I created and still create today are all based round understanding the principles and elements of design, which colours I use together and how I can make my design look visually pleasing... and most importantly how to run my business... understanding how to price my work, and the list goes on and on! 
    I hope for those of you who are planning to take the final steps towards becoming a CBA that you have found this information useful... Good luck and I look forward to reading your name as a new CBA in Images magazine soon!


    If you want to find out when and where the next CBA exam will take place you can visit or contact your nearest Pioneer Office, there are often opportunities to take your exam at  Qualatex Events such as the one being held in Oxfordshire next month and the World Balloon Convention in Dallas next March!

    Monday, October 3, 2011

    Pinch me... am I dreaming? An amazing opportunity to decorate a party of a lifetime!

    "Imagine being able to create the party decor that only dreams are made of, where the balloons are unlimited and you have a full staff to help you to bring it all to life"! ...

    Final Night Gala WBC 2011 designed by Rocky Toomey CBA

    I am so very lucky, I have attended balloon event gala's and parties world-wide over the past 20 years that has stimulated every emotion within me ... from that amazing WOW factor as you walk into a wonderland of awesome decor, TINGLES that have run through my whole body as special effects have created sheer magic within a room,  and TEARS of joy knowing that this is an industry that I am so very proud to be part of.

    Balloon IMAGES Sept/ Oct 1996
    I have had the honor to be part of a number of these magnificent gala's and parties, as a delegate at IBAC 13 (International Balloons Art Convention) 1997, I worked along side Marloes Bakker-Marsden, where she taught me how to use 260Q's to help create beautiful Grecian Urns for the 'Golden Age of Greece' final night gala. Marloes first wowed our industry in 1996 when she and Gunter Blum of Australia, used their innovative technique using 260Q to create their sculpture 'Fishing for Compliments', as featured on the front cover of Images magazine September/October 1996.

    Balloon Images Nov/Dec 1998
    I have also had the honor to work long side other incredible designers such as Rocky Toomey and Terry Mulryan Toomey of Future Affairs Productions in Providence, RI, USA, who are absolute Masters when it comes to creating grand gala decor and special effects. I will never forget the incredible final night gala 'Phantom of the IBAC', IBAC 14 1998. There is a great article on this fabulous gala in IMAGES November/ December 1998, it is well worth a read.
    I could go on, there have been so many spectacular parties and gala's, each one special but they all have one thing in common, they are all memory makers that leave a wonderful lasting impression long after the event has gone!

    Now you have the opportunity to make that dream a reality!

    For the very first time, Qualatex in conjunction with the World Balloon Convention is giving you the chance to rise to balloon stardom by offering  2 opportunities at the 2012 World Balloon Convention to take the leading role in designing one of two prestigious parties : the Thursday Night Theme Party or the WBC Grand Gala.
    Along with the opportunity to design and execute the winning decor, each winner will receive:
    · Transportation to and from WBC 2012
    · Full-package Registration for WBC 2012
    · Lodging for the duration of the event
    Where do you start? Well if you are anything like me, your mind will go into 'creative overdrive', but on a more practical note you should start by reading the How To Enter and the Eligibity section by visiting  you can then download the entry form that gives you full details of what you have to do next! But you need to get started as the closing date is 15th October 2011!
    Opportunities like this are very rare, the kudos that designing and creating decor of this magnitude can bring you and your business is enormous, what better way to impress your clients and demonstrate your skills as a 'Master' event decorator.

    I wish you every luck and am very much looking forward to meeting the winners at WBC 2012!