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Success Stories – Ali Benyon Designs

 

 

 

 

Jess sent me the details of this month’s Success Story and as I investigated Ali’s incredible textile business, I was so enamoured with her designs, colour and the beautiful botanical inspiration instilled in each. This is a creative business taking a different approach to those who make each item individually by hand and Ali has some great insights to share about her own creative path.

Can you take us on the journey of your creative business so far?

I was always very drawn to creative subjects at school, so decided to study art when I left. First I enrolled onto a Foundation course where I studied Fashion, Fine Art, Product Design and Graphic Design. However, I fell instantly fell in love with Textiles and continued on to Degree Level. After a total of seven years studying I bagged myself a BA (Hons) Degree in Multimedia Textile Design.

After a few years working in the textile industry in the UK (That’s where I’m originally from) I took  a much needed break from all things creative (I became an Aerobics instructor for years – and loved it!!) and my husband and I decided to move to Australia with our 10 month old daughter. Here my creative juices started to flow again and I set up Cheeky Pickle, my first business where I designed and created stitched paper designs, cards and gift tags. I slowly built the business up and learnt lots of valuable lessons (most the hard way!) until I was confident enough a few years later to take my product to trade show in Melbourne- Life Instyle.

There I had a fabulous time, made lots of contacts, got my work into many shops all over Australia and made many new business contacts.

However, whilst at the trade show it did open my eyes to what I could be doing, what I was capable of and what I really should be doing.

So as soon as I returned from the show I booked myself onto a surface pattern design course and started to do something that I had dreamed of doing for a very long time. I started to design patterns.

I started that course about 15 months ago and since then I have set up my new business, Ali Benyon Designs, licensed some of my pattern designs with some worldwide companies, published a book with a US publishing group, available on Amazon, designed my own fabric collection and produced my own branded line of products (Toiletry bags, purses, t towels, fabric mirrors, cushions and candles) I am also working for a design agency in the States at the moment.

Living my dream you could say!

What has been the biggest challenge you have overcome so far in your business?

For me it has always been the money side of things and having the guts to just do it. I have many ideas, yet instantly think – “I can’t do that, what if I put lots of money into this idea and it fails. I can’t afford to lose money I don’t have!” So yes, this kind of self talk stops me in my tracks all the time. The times I have been successful have been those when I have gone with my gut and just gone for it!

What has been the biggest fist-pump moment for you so far?

Two things have made me say “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!!!” The first was when I made it to the final of a big worldwide fabric designing competition which was collaboration between Spoonflower and Robert Kaufmann Fabrics. I got to the top eight designers out of thousands.

I hadn’t been designing for that long, so I really couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw I was in the final.

The other fist pump moment was getting onto the Print and Pattern Blog in the UK. Pattern lovers know that this is the Holy Grail of blogs to be featured on if you are a pattern designer, so once again I was floored when I saw my work on there.

Do you ever have doubts as to your future creative direction? Are there things you yearn to achieve, but haven’t yet found time for?

If you would have asked me this question two years ago then my dream would have been to be designing and licensing my patterns.

But now I am actually doing that, well I want to be the best I can possibly be. I want to be represented by a great design agent or agency and I want to see my work on products worldwide.

In my determined little world, time has nothing to do with it. I have a vision, a firm goal and I just go for it. It may take a year or it may take five, it doesn’t matter. It will happen….

Are there times when your creativity and inspiration seem to disappear? How do you handle that?

Oh yes! And I hate it, it can be truly awful. However, it is just the nature of artistic people and we have to learn to live through the ebb and flow of our creativity. I am lucky that I have lots of different aspects to my business that I can dip into on those “off” days. I design, I write, I have a shop where I need to take photos, keep on top of orders etc.

So when I’m not feeling “in a creative mood” I can very easily pick up another part of the business for a few days.So my advice is to take your mind off it and do something totally different for a while.

The worst thing you can do is to try and force it.

How do you balance your work with the rest of your life- What does a typical day in your life look like?

I’m still learning to be honest, but I am getting so much better at it. I am a bit of a work horse, plus I love what I do so I do find it quite hard to switch off and to just stop.

However, I have at times worked too hard and I know only too well what my life looks like when I become an obsessive workaholic and it’s really not worth it. So now I have set rules that I do not allow any of my work to intrude on.

I exercise five times a week, I stop when I have to pick the kids up from school and priority then is homework, dinner and being a family. If we go away or watch a family movie etc then my phone gets switched off, so I can be 100% present.

I also set myself goals each week and tick them off.

I find that this really keeps me on track and stops me being totally unorganised. Creative people are distractedly very easily, so I’ve found over the years that I have to keep myself focused and weekly goals seem to work for me.

I get up at 6am and have a coffee with my husband. Sometimes this feels like the only time we ever get to chat!! Next I get the kids up and we are out of the house by 8am. After that I do at least an hour’s exercise and I’m usually sat at my desk, working by 11am. I will work solidly for three hours (I know, it’s never long enough, is it?) This is my “in the zone” time and I know I have to get all the important jobs done within this three hour slot. Next is a quick dog walk, shopping, cleaning, pick the kids up, homework, bath, dinner and then usually back to work for a few hours before I flop in front of the TV.

Friday night is my favourite design time. I’m relaxed and always seem to produce my best work……maybe the bottle of corona helps a little too!

What has been the best marketing move that you have ever made for your own business?

When I was running my first business, Cheeky Pickle, I started a really popular series of blogs called the Cheeky Chat Blog. It all started with casual weekly business chats I held on my Facebook page with other like minded business ladies, where we would ask questions and help and support each other.

Before I knew it I had hundreds of people turning up to my Facebook cheeky chats each week. It was a crazy time!

Seeing the rapid success of the chats, I carried the business information through to my blog and interviewed many successful creative business women. I basically asked them – How did you do it? How did you get to where you are today? Most of the interviewees were extremely candid and many of my readers got a lot from the blogs, coming back week after week. My list of subscribers increased, FB likes got bigger and the name Cheeky Pickle was becoming known worldwide.

Writing about creative business really sparked something inside me that I didn’t know was there and I found that I loved writing. I think my kind of up front and honest point of view that came across in my writing appealed to a lot of new creative businesses who felt they had somewhere to go to get advice and help.

Since these earlier blogs I have written my own e book about how to successfully run a creative business and it was also via the blog that my book publishing group, C&T Publishing found me and asked me to write a book with them.

I decided to use the same approach with my new surface pattern design business, Ali Benyon Designs and have interviewed many big names in the surface design field. I find it’s a fabulous way to network, get your name out there and a great way to meet others in your field who have done what you are trying to achieve, which I think is so important in business.

I am a very strong believer in networking or as I like to put it – making friends.

What is the one piece of advice you’d like to give fellow makers and out running a successful business?

Buy my e- book which tells you how to run a successful creative business!! LOL!

No, seriously, it’s a big question with a huge answer, but if I had to sum it all up I’d say to be yourself and be super confident in yourself and your product. This confidence will then show through in everything you do. From your product photography, to your marketing, all the way through to how you come across on social media and in emails to your customer. Stand up tall and say I am a designer/jewellery designer/blogger etc.

Be proud of who you are and others will start taking you a lot more seriously.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

I would love to be designing for a well respected design agency or being represented by an agent. I’d love to see my designs on products everywhere and for people to know the Ali Benyon Designs brand instantly. I would also love to see my own product label here in Australia grow much bigger.

Getting My Day Organised – End of Workday Routine

 

 

 

The last post in my series of organisational tools to make my business more productive and help me to stress less is a simple and easy End of Workday routine which I read about over here.

When I worked in an office or in retail, at the end of each day there were certain jobs that you did to get yourself ready to go home and leave your space in a pleasant state for you to start work the next day.

I’ve really missed having a schedule like this in my business and these last few weeks have really allowed me to get a handle on making the most of my time and therefore heightening my productivity.

We really take it for granted when we’re working for a big company or for an employer that we can switch off as soon as the work day is done. I know I have missed the freedom to hang out with my friends without thinking about the pile of work on my desk which needs attention!

I left a stable 9 – 5 job to pursue a lifestyle which allowed me the freedom to really live my life. So instead of letting my business rule my work hours, I am going to ensure that I can put it aside to have time to be present in my own life.

I wouldn’t want to go back to that 9-5 working lifestyle and so now I am happy to run my own life. Thanks to the last few week’s research I can now also be organised enough to have a day off, a weekend away from the computer and workshop, or just space in my brain to relax and forget about it for a few hours.

Organising my work is how I’m looking after my mental and physical health.

Just like an end of day meditation, an end of workday routine is all about putting to bed the stresses of the day, accepting the achievements you have made and finishing your work in a happy place.

Here’s the one I made for myself (which references the Morning Brain Dump) and you most can certainly print it out and put it at your own desk. Or maybe you want to make your own?

 

I will give a little critique at the end of this week but I feel like this one is a no-brainer. It’s something which I know will allow me to ‘finish’ my workday knowing that I’ve got everything done or written down ready to work on tomorrow.

I also think it’s a nice place to finish my four weeks of organisational tool testing! I’ve really enjoyed the process of finding the processes which assist me to get my jobs done. I actually didn’t think that they would all be so helpful. In fact, I thought I would just choose one of these scheduling tools!

Interestingly, the mix of the Morning Brain Dump, Daily Schedule, Marketing Calendar and End of Workday Routine are just a few of the tools which I use for time management. I also use Trello, Google Calendar and a wall calendar to keep me on track. It all works together to keep me working efficiently and stressing less.

Let me know if you have an end of workday routine or if you try the one above. I would also love to hear if anyone has tried all four of the techniques in my organisation series of posts or if you use your own combination of tools to keep you on track.

Kath xx

Getting My Day Organised – Marketing Calendar Show And Tell

 

 

 

 

As part of my organisation series, I told you at the beginning of the week that I was getting a Marketing Calendar in place to help me with my bigger picture planning.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to critique it by the end of the week since it’s an annual calendar but I did promise you a peek of my own marketing calendar!

I found a beautiful Leunig quote which, while not perfect (!!), made me feel a little better about the big messy mess I had made while figuring out my plan. Art is messy and while we’re also in business, we’re in the business of making art too. So it should be messy and fun and filled with the great and happy mistakes which we learn and grow from.

 

I’ve been finding these organisation and planning techniques completely eye-opening and helpful in my business and everyday life.

It really has helped me to ‘come to my senses’ about a few things.

  1. I am not ever going to get ‘everything’ done. This is a good thing because it means my business is growing, moving, evolving and not stagnating. I am always able to find ‘more’ to make it better and to make me more productive.

  2. I can be more productive with less time. Thinking I have to get everything done hasn’t worked in the past and it just made me stressed and disorganised. The process of distilling tasks down to their elements and turning them into manageable tasks has taken away the ‘overwhelmed’ feeling I sometimes get when thinking about my business.

  3. I’m doing enough. I can always do more, but right now, I’m definitely doing as much as I can without tying myself up in knots and – that is enough.

So without further adieu, my Marketing Calendar.

Not perfect, definitely rough around the edges and needs more work but it’s started and I feel like I’ve got my business on a great track for even greater success this year.

I’m going to tease it all out into definite jobs, more of a Marketing Plan and will probably use Trello to help me. I might even do an organisation post about Trello as an organisational platform soon. It’s an amazing tool which helps you to break tasks down and then action them one at a time and on a schedule and all online. You can invite others to see your ‘boards’ and assign them tasks too.

Trello is how I organise all three of my roles as business owner of Handmade High Street, as Assistant Editor here at Create & Thrive and my part-time job as a Community Development Worker in my suburb. It’s also particularly useful if you have more than one person in your organisation or business and you want to achieve some goals independently and some in collaboration.

How did you go this week? Did you start a Marketing Calendar or have any exciting ideas for making your own?

Kath xx

P.S. You can download your own version of this calendar here.

Getting My Day Organised – Marketing Calendar

 

 

Wow! I am feeling so good about the plans and actions I have already put in place to organise my day better and to feel like I’m accomplishing my tasks by the time I close my laptop in the early evening.

I have put into practice the Morning Brain Dump and a Daily Schedule which have made more of the time I have without the need to work late into the night or get everything done in one day.

I feel better, I honestly do, now that I have some balance in my day. And no, it’s not the 9 – 5 kinda framework you get from a regular job.

I have made my own structured day and it suits my lifestyle and my vision for my workday.

Now that I’ve got the day to day stuff down, I wanted to have a little look at the bigger picture tasks which have been bothering me. My path to marketing has sometimes been a bit of a ‘scatter gun’ approach which has occasionally really paid off but often misses the mark too. I want to start getting some things clear in my mind about where my business is heading so I can really make headway on growing my following, sales and online presence.

I’ve read about how to make a really basic marketing calendar at our good friend and guest poster, Lisa’s blog at Market Your Creativity here and I thought it would be the perfect place to start to get my head around things.

This is not your boring old Marketing Plan that you find on a government website!

That might be something which will help you in the future if you grow your business but for now, Lisa has the best idea with a simple and easy-to-follow plan which anyone can action.

 

First things first – time off.

Yes, seriously! I am always feeling like I’m paddling like mad and I honestly don’t even consider down-time.

This is where I’ve been a bit remiss in the past and have not realised the effect the lack of ‘time off’ has had on my health and productivity.

I am blocking out four chunks of time which will allow me to spend time with my husband, pottering in my home and on a bit of a holiday.

 

Use your blocked out ‘time off’ to figure out the rest of your plan.

Now it’s time to really start thinking about what I have been wanting to achieve with my business. What big picture things have I had on the boil but have not been able to get underway?

For instance I have always wanted to release a Christmas line of candles and soaps but here’s the thing. I only remember when it’s too late to launch the line! Now I’m going to slot it into my calendar to make sure I get that plan underway in time and with purpose.

Things that I’m going to focus on:

  1. Instagram plan – I want to really set out some guidelines on when I post (based on my stats) and making sure I have buttons/images which help me to achieve my goals

  2. Blogging – I would love to start blogging regularly again and I’m going to tie this in with some seasonal launches of products and other plans I have swirling around. I am going to get a great calendar going with ideas which can help me to figure it out.

  3. Seasonal items and promotions – I will be planning out the seasons/holidays and which items I have that might suit those events (if any) and when I would need to be making, promoting and planning my cut-off dates for online orders.

 

There are SO MANY other things which I could also add but I want to keep it simple this next year to see how much I can achieve with just these few goals.

Here’s just a few I found on the original post and which I brainstormed:

  1. Discussion topics around themes for promotions
  2. Social media plans
  3. Big projects – breaking them down into manageable tasks
  4. Advertising
  5. Making marketing tools to assist with consistency (e.g. style guide, pinnable images etc)
  6. Contacting blogs for PR
  7. Launching your new range
  8. Seasonal products

 

This is just a very rough annual guide so I am also going to be instigating a Google Calendar for my marketing plan which will have breakdowns of deadlines, reminders and (of course) my ‘time off’ plugged into it to help me remember and stay focussed.

 

This exercise is definitely another one which you can do at home along with me but my critique for this technique will not be at the end of this week as usual since I will need a year to implement the plan.

Instead, at the end of the week, I’m going to show you my calendar in all it’s scribbled, crossed-out and messy glory so you can see what I’m planning and then have a go for yourself if it looks useful to you.

I’ve popped the printable below – I highly recommend getting it printed A3 so you have lots of room to write.

Marketing Calender

Alternatively, sit down with some butchers paper and just map it all out yourself and really get into the nitty gritty stuff with bright pens, stickers, post-its – whatever helps YOU to plan your year.

Have you done a marketing calendar before? If you are planning on starting one, what do you think will be your main areas of focus? Can you think of anything else you might add into your marketing plan that I haven’t listed above?

Getting My Day Organised – Daily Schedule Critique

 

 

 

At the beginning of this week, I decided to try two time management tools together and used my Morning Brain Dump and Daily Schedule sheet to get my tasks out of my head and down on paper.

I added the scheduling sheet as, even though I loved the brain dump sheet idea, I felt a bit frustrated at seeing all my tasks laid out in front of me and not getting everything on the list done on that day. You can read more about my first week using the Morning Brain Dump here with a short critique here.

Working from home can often mean than hours run together and you can become bogged down in the many tasks which can eat through your time which may be better spent elsewhere.

My theory for adding the Daily Schedule sheet was to take important and time sensitive tasks which I had written down and make time for them in my day as well as adding fun and exciting jobs which I would usually have done first at the expense of what really ‘needed’ to be done.

I also write in large chunks of ‘Play’ time to ensure I ate lunch, went for a walk and saw other people.

I found this practice to be liberating and mostly I felt more in control of my day which freed up my brain for more creative pursuits.

If I have written down on a piece of paper that I need to go for a walk at lunch time and pop out to the shops for 2 hours, then I follow my own directions and do so. This encourages my brain to breathe a little, have some space to think about my business (and other aspects of my life) and has generally made me more productive and a little happier.

It also means I know I haven’t forgotten anything. It’s all written down ready for me to return to my desk for the next work ‘block’.

I have found time and again that I am a happier person and I get more done with regular breaks. The trouble is, when you love what you do, it’s hard to tell yourself to take a break. Sometimes you think you’ll get out of the ‘zone’ and you won’t be able to get back into it.

While the sheet is super useful, I think having it electronically might be more useful for some others. I have been using my Google Calender to input the exact same data and I like that it’s available on my phone and computer so I can check in with tomorrow’s tasks before the end of the current day so I know everything is all in line and I can sit back and relax for the evening.

I’ve heard a number of very successful creative entrepreneurs talk about the importance of downtime.

It’s something we all need yet rarely take the opportunity when it’s presented to us. Instead of taking a day off to lounge on the couch, we would see it as an opportunity to spend it networking on social media or cleaning up our website.

These tasks are important but not as important as our own solace and mental health.

All in all, I would highly recommend working with both the Morning Brain Dump and Daily Schedule sheets (or an online calender system). I feel more organised and in better control of my day now and I’ve even helped friends and family to add it to their own day in a traditional workplace or even as a full time parent!

Here’s a copy of both of these sheets again for you to use as you wish.

Morning Brain Dump

Daily Schedule

Please leave a comment below if you’ve used these sheets (or something like them) and how it has helped you in your own life.

Kath xx

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