The Happier Path

I spent a lot of the past few days travelling across Europe so that I could teach a photography workshop at Scheepjes HQ. As is often the case when I travel, I feel a huge urge to write and this weekend was no exception. Sat on a train, bound for the airport, I stared thoughtfully out the window at frost covered fields, blanketed by mist. My mind was sifting through memories that I'd formed with an impressive group of female designers. As always I was enormously struck by the power we hold when we invest in one another. 

Hand lettering quote about women who support one another via  Simple Devine Creation

Hand lettering quote about women who support one another via Simple Devine Creation

I consider myself very lucky to have worked my way into a position that I can collaborate with multiple brands and business owners who believe firmly in the power of women and work with them to remove any barriers to their success. Over the past five years I've interviewed 100's of female creators and spoken in front of many rooms full of women determined to shape their own story. Each time, the women who truly impress me the most are those who lead the way.... and bring others with them. These are the women I seek out first when I'm looking for new opportunities or find myself in the position to offer opportunities to others too. If I've noticed you raising up others, I figure you're the kind of person I want to bring good things to. 

There is a lot of people offering business advice out there. They tell me what I'm doing wrong online. They tell me the social media I should be using. They tell me the methods I should be using to reach astronomical levels of followers. For the most part I ignore them and choose story and relationships over strategy every time. For me, when I remove the personal, I remove so much of myself that it's not my business anymore. What's more, I don't feel like I have any real people around me anymore. 

The incredible thing that has happened from this decision is that I have a healthy stream of work. Sure, there's been times I've feared whether or not I will make rent some months. I am, after all, a single parent and need to earn the equivalent of two parents whilst still making sure my daughter feels she has enough love and attention from me. However, I have now reached a point where I can work with some of the best women in the business because I value what they do. It's not always easy to carve out and establish your place in an online world but it is possible. What's more, we can make our businesses work without trampling over one another to grab an opportunity. 

Just a few of the Scheepjes crew this weekend. Image courtesy of  Dedri

Just a few of the Scheepjes crew this weekend. Image courtesy of Dedri

When we host our businesses online we can often fall into a trap of comparing ourselves unfavourably to others. We can experience a fear of missing out or being left behind. Dare I say it, we may even feel resentful and jealous of others seemingly effortlessly won success. Stopping for a moment though and reflecting on the valuable alliances we have formed and the way we have shaped our lives through the hands we held and doors we opened on the way? That's a pretty powerful thing. I will often decline an invitation to work for free in return for exposure. Yes I believe my skills should be valued but mostly I fear for the next woman behind me trying to earn from her online life too. 

So after a weekend of observing the loving nurture women can bestow on one another and how it has boosted their potential earnings, I am minded once again to take stock, be thankful for my girl gang and say, if you're reading this and trying to workout how to make it all work running your own business? You've got this and we're right behind you. Hold hands. It's the happier path  xx

Developing Your Creative Business with Alana Dakos

Once you've worked so hard to establish your craft business, created a product line and decided what your brand represents, taking things to whole new level can be daunting. I've covered topics from finding support for setting up your own businessonline marketing and I've interviewed several designers about their process. Today on the blog, I've invited Alana Dakos of Never Not Knitting to give her insights into developing further and she's sharing her top tips for business development in the knitting industry. 

Alana wearing her own design ' Seedling '

Alana wearing her own design 'Seedling'

What motivated you to add distributing into your business?
"Our first self published book, Coastal Knits (co-authored with Hannah Fettig in 2011) opened up our eyes to the world of distribution. To our surprise, we were literally inundated with orders. Our first print run was gone within the first few weeks. I was 9 months pregnant at the time and we worked 12 hour days for weeks with the help of our family and friends to ship out all of the books to knitters around the world. Even after I had my son, my husband had to leave us at the hospital to ship more books! :) It was a crazy time. That experience taught us so much and we had to learn a lot quickly about efficiently shipping out multiple orders. We developed a system and really got it down to a science. When I released my next two books, we had it down and it was much less stressful. Since we had all of our systems in place, we felt that we could expand our business to begin distributing for other designers as well. It has worked out great! :)  I love to be able to offer really high quality patterns and books to shop owners. I feel like I am helping to support my fellow self-published designers and make their special products available to stores and in turn knitters."

NNK press products

With designing and publishing, your days must be really busy. What helps keep things together on a day to day level?

"I have to stay very regimented and organized. Fortunately I have the help of my husband who is employed by NNK Press and an assistant. Without them I would be in big trouble! :) I make lots of list. I never procrastinate and I keep up on tasks (like returning emails) on a daily basis. I try to follow the motto to "not put off til tomorrow what can be accomplished today".

NNK Press single pattern products


Running a multifaceted business must take a lot of planning. How do you go about looking at your long term goals and how to achieve them? 

"My end goal has always been running a successful business that supports us as a family. I am very happy with what we have accomplished so far with NNK Press. I don't really have specific plans for expansion in the future. I evaluate every opportunity as it presents itself. "

 


What would be your top 3 tips for people planning to develop their own creative businesses? 

  1. Look for a niche to fill in the creative field of your choice. Is there a product that you could make available to consumers that is fresh, new or not currently readily available? 
  2. Never skimp on quality. Whether you are putting together a promotional flyer, packaging, logo or anything else for your business, do it well. The more professional you are, the more your potential customers will take notice.
  3. Let your enthusiasm for your craft come across in your business. When you are excited about a product, others will be too. 

How I Saw Burn Out Coming or How I Learned to Say 'No'.

I had planned a knitty story for this Wednesday's blog post- I'd even lined up the pictures and thought about what I'd say. I hold a sort of editorial calendar these days that helps me keep an eye on what's coming up, opportunities to collaborate and talk about topical things. I like to share inspiration and the thing about creativity that really hit me last week is that it can't be scheduled. 

When you're a freelancer or small business owner, particularly in the creative/ crafty industries, it's easy to get swept into DOING MORE. More is pretty much the answer to everything. Worried about paying bills if you get sick? Work more this weekend. Worried someone else might move into the niche you're currently occupying in your industry? Work on firming up your networks a little more. Feeling in danger of running out of ideas? Look around for more inspiration, quick!

The thing is, you can burn out. Just type 'freelance burn out' into Google and see the number of articles you'll find. There's even a wikihow titled ' How to Avoid Burn out Working Freelance at Home'! A few weeks ago I joined one of the regularly scheduled #Blogtacular chats where they discussed a much publicised and debated article in the New Yorks Times 'When Blogging Becomes a Slog'. The reason that particular chat rang true for me is because I'd felt is several times- maybe I should just STOP? The theme here is that there are a lot of people who freelance and work online who are feeling like it's all just going a bit to fast and maybe jumping ship is the only solution.

You're not alone. 

Last week, I took the Tot on one of our daily outdoor adventures because toddlers are not creatures that should be inside for too long. Left to her own devices, the Tot will slowly meltdown into an angst filled creature who communicates in wails and climbs walls if left inside for too long. She needs to be out, seeing the world and learning. It's how she functions best. 

getting outdoors

Then I thought about that and felt like an idiot. My toddler just reminded me of what I need in order to function best. I started snapping pictures to remind me and that's when it really hit me: I just don't get out of the house enough on work days. In fact, I sometimes only leave for the nursery run. So this week, each work day, I've gone to find something that makes me smile and you know what? It's been such a more pleasant week. 

outdoor inspiration

At first I found it hard to let go. What about that email I was waiting for or that copy I know I need to start writing the minute the file hits my inbox? I would start walking, promising myself just 5 minutes and then I could dash back home but as I started to relax into my stride, I could feel the anxiety drift away. I actually found that when I returned to my desk 20 minutes later, I was fresher and had thought of a fix for that little thing that had been niggling at me all day. My emails have been less scattered and I've started using a timer to focus short bursts of work then rewarding myself with another walk around the block or doing something like throwing a soup together for a delicious lunch- something else I was getting worse at remembering to actually have time for. 

So I'm challenging you to try it this week: say no, put down the phone, close your laptop and just breath in and out a little. Get yourself outside your door, collect some fresh produce and fuel your body for the marathon you run. Go on. I dare you xx

 

ETA: 15 minutes after I hit publish on this post I was sat browsing my blog reader and this perfect post by Rachel over at 'Do What You Love' popped up. I'm not kidding, it's like Beth, the creator behind the blog and website of general awesomeness, just gets me sometimes and if you haven't discovered it you should. Her team is full of inspiring stories and this was so apt I just had to edit and add it here. The theme of the month is 'Love to play' and it couldn't be more appropriate. Enjoy xx

'Online Marketing for Your Craft Business': A Review

I received some pretty exciting post this week and I wanted to share the book that has eaten all my free time this week as I've hungrily gobbled my way through it. If you are thinking about a career change into the crafting industry, already dabble but want to make the full time jump or already run your own business but have been unsure how best to connect with your audience, then this is most certainly the book for you. 

Hilary Pullen's 'Online Marketing for You Craft Business' is an essential manual for all craft businesses with clear steps laid out of how to get your handmade products discovered, shared and sold on the internet. Hilary knows her stuff- she's been creating communities, managing social media and creating blog content for some time and is well respected in the industry. If you're a craft blogger in the UK, you might know her from her personal website, CraftBlogUK, a directory and one stop shop that brings together the Craft Blogging Community within the UK. 

Picture courtesy of Hilary Pullen (c)

Picture courtesy of Hilary Pullen (c)

It's fair to say I was excited when my preorder of the book finally arrived as I've read several articles Hilary has written about her work and have always felt highly inspired by the possibilities that a strategic approach to online marketing can bring.  The benefits are huge and not just in terms of bigger sales either. A great online strategy will provide you with loyal fans, product feedback, better rankings in search engine results pages, a better awareness of your work and most importantly perhaps, a greater interest in your brand of products. Hilary skilfully outlines this is a way that is supportive and encouraging and the actions you will need to take are neatly laid out in a way that's not overwhelming but achievable. 

I wouldn't need to be massively experienced in the ways of marketing to access this book. Hilary's writing style is friendly and accessible without being too distracting from what I need to know.  Each page is beautifully presented too with plenty of white space and pleasing layout that draws my eye to reinforce key ideas while making things bite size and easy to digest. I love the graphic design and illustrations throughout that stop this being dry and unwieldy. 

Hilary knows a lot of people in the business and she peppers her book with useful tips on how to make online marketing work best for you as well as inspiring quotes from the likes of Tilly and The Buttons, Patricia Van Der Akker (of The Design Trust) and Timothy Adam (of Handmadeology). This isn't just showing off her formidable network of contacts, Hilary is showing you just what it takes to make it work. Making it work has been very much on my mind lately as you'll know if you took part in our #makeitwork Twitter hangout

The book is laid out in a really logical way, building from why you'd use these strategies, to the nuts and bolts of how each element works, through to how to have a cross channel approach. The part I really liked most though was that you can easily navigate to one particular section and start there. The book works as an entire learning journey but also allows you to cherry pick a topic that particularly resonates at that moment for you. Anything she cross references to previous sections is easy to find so it doesn't just become a load of marketing jargon that feels cold and unfathomable. 

I feel that for £14.99, you're getting a lot of useful information that you can come back to and review time and time again when you feel like you're missing something, or are ready to take it up a level. If you're really thinking about getting your hands on a copy, Hilary is currently offering 20% discount on signed copies

I was so impressed with what I was reading that I reached out to Hilary and she will be joining me for a special podcast episode that will go live on the 18th October 2014. Tune in to hear from one of the leading experts on how best to market your online craft business and get an insight into what some of your favourite craft brands are doing behind the scenes to inspire you. 

I bought my copy of 'Online Marketing For Your Craft Business' from Amazon

 

Update: Wow what a response! I need to add a few details for those asking:

1. Yes, there will be a digital version. I will update when I know the release date.

2. US version is likely to be released on 21st November 2014- save the date!