I have always been notoriously bad at planning, much preferring to take each day or week as it comes, a more spontaneous approach, feeling my way forward organically. Conforming to office life in London during my twenties was really hard, and it turned out, impossible for me, so here I am. I thought there was something wrong with me but I now cherish and embrace my ability to be flexible as well as my sense of autonomy that has helped me grow my own creative business into something I truly love.
Running your own business does require some planning though. I have found it easier over the last 5 years or so, to structure the seasons of my business by learning through experience, from mistakes I made along the way (another blog post in the writing). The small business I have created organically, from my heart fits the particular shape of my life. I like to learn by doing and find it better to make my own plan rather than follow someone else's methods that don't ever seem to fit.
In this post I am sharing three things that has helped me balance growing my business through, lets face it, 'winging it' but with purpose and direction, and a tiny bit of thinking ahead and looking back to take away the stress.
1. Acknowledge your Seasons
In the UK we are heading straight into Autumn from one of our hottest ever summers so its hard not to notice and feel the seasonal shift (even though its very sunny and warm as I write!). I always feel a change at this time as the pace of my business steps up, as of course I sell a good deal more at Christmas time than at any other. I am ready-ish so I'm not in the craziest Tiz of my life in the 4 weeks before Christmas (this time), because I am working more seasonally and preparing ahead, and the temptations of summer are gone. It is cooler so I feel good snuggled up in either my workshop beavering away with the radio on, making stock for more time than through the rest of the year, or at my desk with a cup of coffee working away on my website and listening to a podcast or two.
So although I make and send pieces out to my nature loving customers almost daily, autumn and early winter is my busy, most productive season. Now is my harvest time as my thoughts, ideas, experiments and some making come to fruition after cooking through the year. I feel like a buzzing bee or when the flowers are in bloom (note to self, finish the new bee design!). I loved listening to Jen Carrington's podcast where she talks about working seasonally. In January I hibernate, spring I wake up and start to blossom and reach out, summer kind of disappears in a haze and I rest and play, and now I make, harvest and distribute the fruit in all the directions I created the rest of the year.
Your year might run through a different seasonal rhythm than mine. Spare yourself unnecessary guilt of trying to bear fruit when you are at the sowing stage, or you should be hibernating, or hibernating when the conditions are better suited to reaping because your energy is higher. If you know what's important in each of your seasons, and what they are, it will make life a whole lot simpler. Leaving more space for tea and cake/gin and tonic.
2. Have Faith
Its taken me a while to realise the seasonal nature of my business, that I do different tasks at different times, and even sell different pieces at different times of year (daffodils more in spring, acorns more in autumn, holly in December) - so I respond to this. By 'having faith' I mean that I have needed to look back at what I've achieved so far, which helps me plan a little for the future. I need to have confidence that my customers will come back, that new ones will arrive, and that my business will steadily grow as it has done for the past 5 years, there's not any good reason why it wouldn't and I can use the past as my template. Being a few years in is useful as there is more to look back on for sure. The number of pieces I sold last year gives me an indicator of how many I need to make and sell this year (hopefully a few more each year, and I set a goal to grow every year). Counting. I combat the self doubt that this will actually continue to happen, which can be such an inhibitor, by absorbing the concrete facts, statistics, and feedback. Then I can actually take a risk to prepare pieces, trusting rather than doubting they will be wanted, not waiting and responding more haphazardly and in a stress as orders came in thick and fast when I wasn't prepared or expecting. If you have any self doubt (of course you have some, you're human!) but if it is really getting in the way you can listen to Sas Petherick who is a self-doubt coach with lots of great advice. I recommend looking back, seeing what your output is (order numbers, writing, contracts, or even through financial takings) and having confident expectations of the same again, hopefully plus a little bit more.
I can easily get overwhelmed with all the different things I need to do. Like many I know I am a Mum, I have my business, and I also work a day a week as a therapist (it was 2 days until recently and I made the change because of shifting priorities). I have a blind dog, a home and mortgage to pay, I did a Masters I didn't need (big mistake!) and I have been doing it all alone for 8 years. I live in a city I didnt grow up in which has taken a long time for me to get used to. When I speak to other therapists they say its a hell of a lot, but I know that in this world at this time it is quite normal for women in particular to be expected to/expect themselves to juggle enormous amounts. And the result is a big head full of jumble, juggle, switching and, on occasion overwhelm and burn out. I do not recommend this - instead, prioritise - and let go of the things that don't matter, in particular ideas of how you think things 'should' be. My daughter comes first, my health, paying the bills. Our home environment is 'okay' - a lovely enough place (naturally full of inspiration from nature!) but I leave non urgent jobs that need doing for the down seasons when I have less work. I wish my blog didn't get pushed down the list sometimes but in truth it has to. And guess what, no one dies! I get my orders out, I don't like to disappoint my customers and want to be a speedy, high quality service. You get the picture. And yes, I do find time to curl up on the sofa with a book and respond to my body when it tells me this is what I need to restore.
Speaking of which I am currently reading a book called 'Finding your Element' by Ken Robinson. Although I have found my element (I'm not giving up silver smithing any time soon) he really helps you focus in on what matters and what you are good at - and leaving everything else out. I like reading anything that supports my chosen lifestyle as a creative business owner. Thank you Georgie Sinclair for your recommendation.
How do you deal with your seasons? Do you have faith in the future of your project or business, do you acknowledge your achievements and use them as a template, both short and long term? Are you good at prioritising according to your needs at that time, or the time of year, to achieve the life or goals you want to maintain? I'd love to hear your stories, tips, suggestions, experiences and comments below, or come and find me on instagram. Enjoy your season whichever you are in, and have faith! Xx
I have had a week or two to recover from exhibiting at the Handmade Fair this September, don't underestimate the energy it takes to exhibit at a big show! I really don't know how people do this over and over again each weekend during the busier seasons. It is a lot of fun but still! I thought I would share a few more pictures here as I know its of interest to other makers and creative folk alike.
So here is my stand, I didn't paint or wallpaper it here because it seemed fine to go with white in the marquee. I'm still drawn to the rustic and natural style of presenting as it seems to be the best way to fit my nature theme and from feedback appeals to most of my customers. And here are my neighbours for the long weekend, Squiggle and Dot who sell craft packs for kids, and Kathryn Croxson - getting to know the other business owners is definitely one of the perks.
It was great too that Kirsty Allsop stopped by to take a look. She is friendly and has great presence though I don't think we would last very long as friends if we talked about politics but thats another story....!
Some of the Makers I've met this time and previously include Jane Kent who makes pretty inspiration fabric messages; Kathryn Croxson whose beautiful patterns are made into home furnishings and fabulous kimonos, Pippi and Me Ceramics makes sleek, minimal ceramics. Squiggle, Dot and Squeeze with lovely craft packs and the sweetest Fairies from Knapwell Wood. I believe!
If you are a potential visitor, there are lots of creative workshops and talks to attend, and materials and kits to buy for your crafting exploits. There is phenomenal, interesting food, both street and tasty things you wouldn't know about otherwise (unicorn sherbet, toffee vodka, coal cheddar, mandarin and thyme chocolate, raspberry gin...) There are two huge market places (where I was) where you can buy products from makers and meet and talk to them. This is my favourite part of this fair, meeting people who have bought from me in the past, people who follow me on instagram, people who just like to say hi! It really makes it the most joyful experience so thanks to all of you who made it over. It does get busy though, so much so that I missed visiting some of my other maker friends stands (at least when they were there!) who exhibit such as the lovely Nicola Hanrahan who is a brilliant illustrator and Edie Rose Ashley who is delightful and paints beautiful floral paintings.
If you're a potential exhibitor, here is the lowdown.
Yes, it is expensive. and yes, many people I spoke to were really disappointed with their sales and won't be returning. You have to sell so much to be able to cover the cost of the stand, even a tiny one like mine. You have to pay a helluva lot for wifi, electricity and lighting if you want it too (you don't need the lighting though, its very light in the marquees). Many people also have to hire help, a van and stay in a hotel or b&b. I did alright in the end in terms of sales, but it was fabulous as I say for meeting my customers and followers, meeting and sharing tips and ideas with other makers, getting new subscribers for my mailing list - running a giveaway is a great idea for creating a buzz - and just the social aspect in general as some friends came too (thanks for the free tickets Handmade Fair!). So it is not just about sales but marketing and PR. I did find the time of year a little awkward, right after my daughter went back to school so no time to prepare for my own life re-starting after summer, but I have to say it is also a good way for me to re-energise and kick start the season with a bang! Just one week later might have made all the difference though.
So I hope that was useful. Did you visit the fair and did you like it? Do you think you would like to? Did you exhibit? Let me know your thoughts.