10 Tips to Help Established Handmade Sellers Save Time and Improve Business

 

 

 

 

10 Tips to Help Established Handmade

 

I know I talk a lot about how to get your nascent handmade business off the ground. That’s a vital part of the business journey – and it might even be the hardest part – but it really is just the beginning of the learning you are going to have to do.

When you’ve been running your business for a while, and achieved some success, you come up against a whole new set of challenges – things that may have never crossed your mind in the beginning, but that are now becoming pressing concerns.

How do you keep up when you’re getting more orders than you can handle? How do you make time for creating new designs when you’re flat out keeping up with making and admin? How can you streamline and simplify in every area of your business so you have time to do everything?

It can be easy to fall into bad habits when orders are few and far between, and you’re spending most of your time making new designs, adding new stock to your website, and getting the word out about your business.

If you find yourself stretched for time and stressed out because your business is growing, I’ve got 10 tips for you today that will help you to claw back a whole lot of control via simplification, systematisation, and more effective time management.

 

1. Streamline your order processing system

When you’ve only got a few orders a week to handle, it’s easy to be a bit lax about your order processing system. When you’re getting multiple orders a day, having a set, determined system – from the moment the order hits your inbox, till the moment you click the ‘shipped’ button – is absolutely vital. Not only to save you time and stress, but to make sure you don’t make mistakes, mix up orders, or miss orders.

I talk more about my own personal system for Epheriell in this post.

 

2. Reduce + simplify your inventory

If you’ve been in business for a few years, your product line might be getting a little bit bloated. Are you still hanging on to products you designed years ago, but that no longer fit the aesthetic of your brand – or that don’t reflect the direction you want to take your business? Do you have old designs sitting there that never sold well, but that you’re holding onto for sentimental purposes?

Even if you love them, sometimes it’s best to let go. Take a step back from the products you’re currently offering and ask yourself ‘is this still what I want to be putting out into the world?’

By streamlining your offerings to ensure you’re only putting your best work forward, you’ll not only tighten your brand, make life easier for your customer (because there is less dross to sort through when they visit your shop) – you’ll also make your own life easier, because you will have much less inventory to maintain (both physically and digitally).

Having a robust product range is a good thing – but you can have too many items. The key is ensuring that everything you offer is top-notch, and reflects your business as it is now – not as it was 2 years ago.

 

3. Get strategic with your social media

Chances are, if you’ve been in business for a few years, you’ve got a number of social media accounts floating around. But are you using all of them? Or, more to the point, are you using all of them strategically?

The more successful your business becomes, the less time you have to devote to maintaining social media. The solution is to get focussed and strategic.

Plan it out. Decide which social media you are going to focus on (I recommend no more than 2) and do a plan for what content you are going to share on a weekly basis. Maybe you want to have a rotating list of content types. Maybe you want to devote one hour a week to scheduling up posts or creating photos/images. Perhaps you need to put an alarm on your phone to remind you to spend 10 minutes a day morning and night pinning content.

Your plan will differ depending on your business and your goals. But if you don’t have a plan, you will soon (if you haven’t already) find that your social media marketing falls by the wayside in the face of more urgent tasks.

 

4. Hire help

Are you still a one-person show? Is that still working for you? Or is it time to take the next step and hire help?

If you’re like me, this sounds like a super-daunting step, because you like being in control of every single aspect of your business! However, if your business is growing, there comes a time where you either have to deliberately slow things down (more on that later) OR you need to bring some help on board.

Start with discrete tasks – things that you can hand off, in full, to someone else. An example of a discrete task would be your bookeeping. Or your shipping.

Also, don’t forget all the other parts of life you might be able to outsource – how about hiring a cleaner so you don’t have to do that any more?

Look at your business – and the rest of your life – and aim to find these discrete bundles of work that you can hire someone to do for you. Chances are, you can hire them at a reasonable rate that will free you up to spend more time on the activities that actually grow your business and bring in more money. It’s a win-win upward spiral.

 

5. Schedule breaks

It’s oh-so-easy to let a growing business spread its tendrils into every waking hour of your life, until you find yourself checking your email when you wake up in the middle of the night, and start breaking out into a cold sweat when you accidentally leave your phone at home.

This hyper-awareness keeps your body in a constant state of stress, and that is just no good for your mental (or physical) health.

Learning how to set boundaries and take breaks is a crucial skill to master if you want to continue to run your business into the future without burning out.

Work out what sort of rhythm works for you, and make taking down-time a priority. Maybe you want to set daily work hours, or discrete work days. Perhaps you know you need to switch off a few times a year and take a digital sabbatical. Perhaps you like to go all-out for most of the year, then take a whole month off.

Whatever works for you – do it, stick to it, and remember there is a life outside of work, too.

 

6. Raise your prices

When’s the last time you reviewed your prices? If you’ve been in business for a few years, but haven’t reviewed or raised your prices in the last 1-2 years, this should be a top priority. Not only are you now much more experienced than you were then, but you’ve probably also got a more established brand and a strong reputation. It might be that your current prices don’t reflect that.

Raising prices can also be an incredibly useful tool if business is booming beyond the point where you can keep up. Imagine doubling your prices… and getting half as many sales. If you’re still measuring your success by ‘number of sales’ this idea might horrify you. But if you’re measuring your success by how much profit you are making, this idea should delight you. Imagine – the same amount of gross income you make now, but with half the work! Not to mention, more profit, because your margins are much higher.

If the idea of doubling your prices sounds way beyond what you’re comfortable with, how about just adding 10 or 20%? You may find that the extra cost reduces the number of sales you make, and gives you a bit more breathing space.

Then again, you might discover (as many makers have) that raising prices actually makes your items MORE desirable to customers, and you actually increase sales. At least you’ll be able to afford to hire some help!

 

7. Establish a morning routine

How you start your day can have a huge impact on how productive and happy you are. We’ve all had those days when we’ve crawled out of bed late, and then felt like we were falling behind all day. When we start the day rushed and stressed, chances are that’s how the rest of the day will go, too.

How much better would it feel to have a routine that ensured everything that needed to get done before you started work did get done – in a relaxed, uplifting way?

Establishing my own morning routine has been (and is) a constant work in progress, and I still have those days where – because I have an early appointment, or some other spanner in the works that is outside my regular routine, I can’t stick to my full morning routine (which, when done properly, takes me 3 hours!). But when I do stick to it? Man, does it pay off. I start my workday calm, happy, knowing I’ve already taken care of myself (I’ve done exercise, yoga, meditation, some reading, and I’m showered and dressed).

Figure out what activities you really love to do in the morning – those things that get you in the right head-space to tackle the rest of the day. Then, work out what order you want to do them in, and when.

Yes, it might mean you have to get up a little bit earlier. I have NEVER thought of myself as a morning person, but I’ve chosen to change that, and now wake up by 7 at the latest every day (even though I’m self-employed, work from home, and don’t have kids to wake me). It’s made a world of difference to how I feel every day, and it means I reduce my cognitive load in the morning, because I don’t have to think about what I’m going to do – I just follow my routine.

(I’m so passionate about this, that I’m going to talk about it at length in an upcoming podcast…)

 

8. Dump venues that aren’t working

When you started out, you might have done what I did – put your work into any and all venues you possibly can! As many online selling sites as you could, as many shops via wholesale and consignment, as many markets as would accept you.

But now… you’ve reached some level of success, and it’s time to be more discerning.

I get emails – usually a few a month – from people starting up new online handmade venues. I’m honoured they’ve reached out to me – it is a sign that I have built a reputation for quality work – but I am also firm in the fact that I cannot invest the time to set up on yet another online venue. In fact, a year or so back, I actually shut down the majority of my shops on different venues, so I could focus on the ones that were bringing me the most success.

Managing 2-3 online venues is hard enough when you have hundreds of products – let alone managing 10 or more. Do you still have work on venues where it never sells? There is something to be said for having a presence wherever you can, in order to possibly spread the word about your business, but you have to weigh that up against managing all of those venues – keeping them up to date with new products, updating prices, updating them when you go on holiday or take a break… all of that adds up to time you might well find is better spent elsewhere.

And when it comes to retail stores – start being more choosy. Pick the ones that really work with your brand (I know my friend Megan Auman focuses on getting her work into gallery stores, because that’s where her ideal customer is).

Don’t automatically jump at the chance to get your work onto that new site, or into that new shop or market. Have a plan for how you want to grow your brand, and choose sales venues accordingly.

 

9. Plan your time better

Flying by the seat of your pants when it comes to time management and planning might get you so far, but once business picks up, you’ll find yourself missing appointments, forgetting things, being late with orders, letting your inbox pile up, and generally feeling like you’re never on top of things.

If you don’t already have a coherent, interlinked time management system, it’s time to change that.

Everybody works differently, so no-one can give you a one-size-fits-all solution to this, however, there are oodles of options out there for how to keep track of everything you need to do, and structuring your time.

Personally, I use a combo of a yearly wall planner, a weekly desktop planner, and google calendar (including those handy alarm reminders!).

That system works for me, because it lets me look at my time in a range of increments – from the year ahead, to the week ahead, to daily tasks. I sit down on Sunday night and Monday morning and schedule must-do tasks for the week on my weekly planner, so I know what’s coming up for the week ahead, and can make sure to allot the time for those projects.

 

10. Do some long-term goal-setting

When’s the last time you sat down and looked at your 6-month, 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year goals? Have you revisited them within the last 6 months? If not, now’s the time.

Long-term goal-setting is crucial to give you something to aim for – but it needs to be modified on a regular basis as your business grows and shifts. The 5-year goal you set 2 years ago might be wildly out of sync with what you want now.

Without long-term goals, you’re sailing around in the dark. Sure, you’re moving… but are you moving in the right direction? How will you make big decisions for the direction of your biz if you don’t have some sort of vision for what you want it to look like a few years down the track?

These goals are never set in stone, and you can change them – but by doing the work and setting them, you’re in a much better position to be able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the opportunities that will come your way. The Captain of the ship always knows where they’re going – so make sure you’re acting as a Captain should when it comes to steering your business.

 


This is just a taste of the sort of content I cover in SHIFT – my e-course for more established handmade business owners.
SHIFT Alumni, Carolyn Kospender, said of the course: “I feel like I’ve read so many books and essays covering information that never really hit the point. But your course not only gave me concrete steps and plans to get me going but more importantly, opened my eyes to the true purpose behind what I do.”
If your business is already cruising along, but you want to shift things up a gear (or two or three!) and hit highway speed, join me for a month-long virtual road-trip that will help you #SHIFTyourbiz. Registration is open now. Class starts March 9th.
Click here to find out all the details.

 

8 Places to Get Help with your Handmade Business

 

 

 

 

8 Places to Get Help with your Handmade Business

Crafting a handmade business can be a lonely pursuit.

Usually, when we start out, we’re doing it on our own, because we’ve decided that we’d like to have a crack at selling this thing we love to create when we’re holed up in creative solitude.

The trouble is, of course, that we have limited time, energy, and knowledge.

The honest truth is that even though most of us start out as solopreneurs, there is no way we can make any significant progress without the help of others.

That help can come in many forms. It might be our spouse helping us lug heavy stuff to and from a market. It might be someone to bounce our ideas off because we’re not sure if we’re going in the right direction. It might be someone who teaches us that crucial piece of information that makes all the difference. Sometimes, it’s even just someone who will tell us that we CAN do this thing we dream of. We need mental, physical, and emotional support, because growing a business is hard, and we come up against so many obstacles on the path.

So, where do we find that help? Not all of us are blessed with people close to us that support and understand us. Even if we are, they might not know anything about handmade business, so we still need to connect with people who do to help us. There are also pros and cons to any sort of support we rely on – so it’s actually really important to find a mix of people and ways to help us.

Here are 8 places you can turn to find help on your handmade business journey.

 

Family

Parents, kids, spouses… family is often the first port of call when we need help with our burgeoning handmade businesses.

If we’re lucky enough to have someone close to us that both has the time and the desire to help us out, we are truly blessed. These people love us, and they want us to succeed. They have the best kind of vested interest.

I got really, really lucky when it came to help from this particular direction. There’s no way I could have done what I have without the help and support of Nick – my husband and all-around super-helpful-and-awesome guy.

Not only emotional support – being my sounding board, having complete confidence in me that I can do anything I set my mind to (and being happy to go along with my crazy schemes) – but also the everyday, ‘mundane’ support of keeping our lives running. You know, doing the shopping, feeding me, and all those other domestic tasks. He is my absolute bedrock, and I’m incredibly lucky that he said yes when I proposed to him all those years ago. He’s also stepped more and more into the business over the years, and now he does a number of things – like the bookeeping, and a lot of the jewellery making – which frees me up to work on other things (like Create & Thrive!).

I also grew up with the inherent support of my parents. Sure, I did well in school, and they were always proud of my achievements – BUT, and I think this has had a HUGE impact in the fact that I felt free enough to choose my own path – they also brought me up to believe that I didn’t have to follow the traditional path.

Two things they used to say have stuck with me. The first is that Mum always told me to dance to the beat of my own drum. The second is they both told me once, when I was still in high-school and deciding what direction to take with my life, that I could be anything and they’d be proud of me.

Their point was, of course, that they were proud first and foremost of who I was, not what I do. This type of emotional support is not to be taken lightly. When we have it, we can sometimes take it for granted. And when we don’t everything can seem 100 times harder, because we’re not only struggling with all the regular challenges of growing a business, but with the doubt of those who are closest to us, as well.

 

Friends

Friends are the family you choose, right? So, our friends are often our greatest cheerleaders (and if they aren’t? Maybe it’s time to find some new friends…). Old friends, new friends, crafty and non-crafty friends – they’re all places to turn for support.

My best friend is unfailingly enthusiastic and supportive of all my dreams and schemes. When we talk, she never fails to ask me how my latest project is going. She also never fails to remind me that I can – and will – kick ass in everything I do. Even if I don’t believe it – she does, and that can sometimes make all the difference. She’s also hilarious, and always, always makes me laugh. That is not a skill to be taken lightly!

Think about your friends. Think about their skills and knowledge. Is there someone in your life who could help you with some aspect of your business that you haven’t reached out to? Maybe you’ve got a friend who’s a photographer, who’d love to give you some help with your product photography, or even take some shots for you in exchange for an awesome home-cooked lunch. Maybe you’ve got a friend who runs a different type of business, who you can ask about marketing and advertising. Maybe you’ve got someone who’s artistic, who you can bounce your design ideas off.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to your friends – after all, friendship is all about the give-and-take of supporting each other in life, and people really do love to help those they care about!

 

Local Organisations + Classes

What if you aren’t lucky enough to currently have friends or family who can support you? If you’re a people-person, and you crave face-to-face interaction, then local organisations are the place to look.

Most major cities have craft groups and guilds you can join. Here in Brisbane, we of course have the awesome BrisStyle, and there are many, many different guilds for any craft you can think of.

Craft and business classes are also a great place to find like-minded people. Take a course in some aspect of your work that you could use more knowledge in. Really make an effort to connect with your classmates, and you might find a new friend (or a few!).

I’ve made loads of wonderful friends via being an active member of BrisStyle, and I’ve gotten so much help and support from those people over the years – not to mention collaborations (this year alone, I’m creating a course with a fellow BrisStyler, AND I got to know the new C&T Assistant Editor, whom you’ll meet later this week, via BrisStyle, too).

Find a class or organisation that appeals to you, and really get involved. You never know who you might meet, and how they might become part of your life and business down the line.

 

Teams + Forums Online

There are HEAPS of public forums out there online where you can ask questions and seek advice. The Etsy forums are one example of this.

These can be great places to find info and see what has worked for other crafters.

However, there are a few downsides of public teams and forums. The main one is that anyone (including your customers!) can see what you’ve written. So, if you’ve ever got any sensitive customer support issues, my advice is NEVER post them in these places. Same goes for any potentially sensitive business information, and rants. Let’s be honest – we all have problems and we all like a good rant now and again, but the best place for this sort of thing is in private, with people who understand we’re just blowing off steam because we’re frustrated. Don’t let a moment of frustration snowball into something that ruins your reputation (it happens).

You also don’t necessarily know the people who you interact with in these places, so you’ve got to be careful… because while I like to believe most people are inherently helpful and honest, some folks really aren’t going to tell you things that are in your best interest. There is also a LOT of envy, negativity, and snark in these places, unfortunately. None of which I have any time for, or any wish to expose myself to.

For these reasons, I don’t really hang out in public forums any more. I did when I started out, because I didn’t know better – but after getting burned a few times, I learnt my lesson.

Go there to read what others have written – you can learn a lot – but be wary about what you share.

 

Blogs

I’m sure that during your journey, you have read a LOT of blogs (like this one, of course) that give advice on all things handmade business.

Blogs are invaluable. They are the hive-mind of humanity. They are where we share the lessons we’ve learnt, the pieces of wisdom we most want to share, the things that have worked and the things that haven’t.

I really don’t know how people coped before the internet! It must have been so much harder to learn about business – and, of course, much harder to grow a business without the worldwide platform for selling and marketing that the internet has gifted us.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to make a list of your favourite crafty biz blogs to refer to. Subscribe to their emails, follow them on feedly or flipboard – however you do it, craft yourself a treasure trove of knowledge (and don’t forget to plunder the archives of these blogs, either!).

Just remember, before you enact advice you’ve read on a blog, to consider the author of the piece. Who are they, what have they done, what are they doing, how have they come across this knowledge, and how applicable is it to you in your particular business and situation? All advice does not work for everyone – so it’s important to be discerning in what you absorb and enact, and what you let pass by. You could spend your whole life reading blogs and never actually DO anything.

Make sure that the doing gets done, and you don’t end up paralysed because you’re waiting for that perfect piece of advice before you start.

Don’t blog-crastinate!

 

Staff

Sometimes, you just get to the point where you can’t do it all yourself, and you’ve grown beyond the point where occasional help from your friends and family bridges the gap.

When that happens, you have two options. One – you pull back, re-asses, and cut down your workload. Two – you embrace the growth… and hire someone to help you.

There are lots of ways you can bring someone else on board your crafty biz ship. The best thing to do is to start by being honest with yourself. Which tasks do you know are vital to your business… but that you really don’t enjoy doing? Do you drag your feet when it comes to bookeeping? Do you think you might stab yourself in the eye with ribbon if you have to tie one more bow on a parcel? Do you REALLY just want someone to help you with your marketing?

Whatever those tasks are, they are the ones to start delegating to someone else.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. One – I can’t afford it. Two – they’ll never do it as well as I can!

Why hello there, fellow perfectionist. I feel your pain. But I have also pushed through it, and you know what? Some of the tasks I have let go of, well… that other person has ended up doing a WAY better job than I ever did, because they were either just more skilled, or they weren’t doing it begrudgingly.

Nick does an AWESOME job of packing up our jewellery orders. Seriously, that man knows how to tie a mean bow. Megan E – who has moved on to bigger and better things, but was my right-hand lady online for 4 years – was brilliant at reaching out and connecting with new people to interview on the blog. Of course, they both also have eleventy-billion other superpowers, but I hope you get the idea.

And, on the cost? Well, start small. Choose one, defined task, and hire someone to do it. See how it goes. Go from there.

But don’t let fear of expense or your perfectionism hold you back if growth is your goal. You will never be able to grow past a certain point if you insist on going it alone. On the flipside? If you WANT to keep it a one-person business, you’ll need to plan for that, and ensure you don’t take on more work that you can handle.

 

Mentors (& Coaches)

Mentors are absolute gold – but they’re also hard to find. A mentorship is usually a one-on-one relationship that is mostly one-way (at least when it comes to the sharing of knowledge and experience), and exists without any financial transaction. For this reason, most successful people have very little time for mentoring, and when they do mentor, they take it seriously, because they value their time immensely.

The best way to gain a mentor is to gain a friend, first. I often get emails from people asking me loads of questions, which I encourage. I might not be able to answer them all in detail, but I do like hearing what you’re doing, and what you’re struggling with.

I also get emails from strangers flat-out asking me to mentor them. My response is always (and will always be) no.

If I don’t know you, why would I choose to mentor you? Mentorship is built on trust. If I choose someone to mentor, it’s going to be because we’ve already built a relationship, and I already trust and admire them and their work ethic. We all have limited time, and so that time is best invested in someone who has already shown me that they are going to take what I teach them and action it.

If you know of someone who you would LOVE to have as a mentor, the best thing you can possibly do is help them first. Reach out, be friendly, help them in any way you think you can. Without expectations. Start with giving. Show them you are serious about your business, that you are honest and trustworthy, and that you care about them as a human being first. If you’re lucky, they’ll end up reaching out to you, and offering you help and advice. And so a mentorship is born.

If there’s not someone in your life whom you think could become a mentor, then a coach or advisor is a really awesome person to have in your corner. But they are going to cost you. A good coach won’t come cheap, and I know that most of you don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on having someone guiding you. At least, you don’t yet…

I’ll be honest – I don’t have a coach or advisor. I’ve never had one. I see the value, and it’s in my plan to work with someone one day… but so long as I’m still kicking goals and happy with the direction my business is going, I’m going to wait on taking that step. I’ve always been extremely independent and self-motivated, so I don’t struggle as much as some people when it comes to getting stuff done. Some people, however, REALLY benefit from having that person to hold them accountable and guide them on their journey. If you’re one of those people, then a coach or advisor might be something to plan for.

 

Online Communities

Finally, we come to online communities. By an online community, I mean a (usually) paid membership that gives you access to a private community of like-minded people.

There are quite a few online communities for makers out there (I’m launching one myself next Monday) – all of which have their own benefits. The beauty of this sort of community is that it is full of people who are on the same journey as you – facing the same struggles and asking the same questions.

It’s also (well, it SHOULD be) a private, safe space to ask for help with sensitive issues (like difficulties with a customer). Most of these communities have other benefits, too, like ebooks or courses, workshops, group calls, etc. So, you both give and receive help and support from fellow makers, AND get guidance from someone who knows their stuff.

Again, just like blogs, before you join a community like this, get to know the person behind it – do they walk the talk? Do they really know what they’re talking about? Are they a good teacher? Do you resonate with their teaching style and personality? Who are the other people in their community? Have they already helped you via the free info they’ve put out into the world? Do you trust them?

Also consider what you are getting for your money. Can you afford it? Are you getting value for what you pay? Can you join or leave at any time, or are you locked in by having to pay a big up-front fee? What happens if the community isn’t a good fit for you?

Online communities can be a huge help on your journey. I know that many of my students from Set Up Shop have told me that having a private forum with fellow students has been immeasurably valuable to them, because there was just nowhere else they could turn to connect with so many people who understood them. Definitely consider this as one option – and as an investment in your business (membership should be tax-deductible, after all!) – if you find a community that you connect with.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts, Thriver. Where do you turn when you need help with your handmade business?

 


If joining a private, positive online community full of like-minded and motivated makers appeals to you, I’m launching the Thriver Circle next Monday! For just $10 a month for the first 3 months you’ll become part of a vibrant community as well as receive exclusive monthly workshops and calls with me.

If you want guidance and support to help your business thrive, check out all the details here. Membership is only open 4 times a year, so don’t miss the 48-hour registration window if you want to become one of our Foundation Members.

Why (and How) You Should Practice Mindfulness Meditation

 

 

 

We expend a lot of effort to improve the

I spent the past Saturday at a secular ‘Meditation for Beginners’ class held at Chenrezig Institute – a Buddhist centre in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland not to far from my home. It was a great refresher, and was part of my current effort to increase my personal meditation practice.

Now, I’ve been meditating on and off (mostly off until this year) since I learnt about the practice waaaay back in 1999, when I did a subject at uni called ‘Meditation in Eastern Religions’. (I majored in English and Studies of Religion – with a contemporary and esoteric focus in my Arts degree, while I was also studying Genetics and Microbiology for my Science degree… it often confused people! My response – ‘I’m interested in the why and how – how the world works and why people do and believe what they do’.)

Back then, meditation was still pretty much on the fringe – something only done by hippies, weirdos and Buddhists – and I’m so glad to see that in the last few years, it’s really started to become mainstream – accepted as a secular practice thanks to the good work of a number of Buddhists, secular meditators, and neuroscientists who have devoted time to the study of how meditation affects our brains. The evidence is becoming pretty compelling (see the infographic at the end of this post if you don’t believe me!).

Now, straight up – I am the least woo-woo yoga and meditation practitioner you will EVER meet – so if you’re like me and not religious or in any way mystically-inclined, OR you do have a religion that you are concerned wouldn’t gel with meditation, let me assuage your fears – there doesn’t need to be any religious or mystical aspect to meditation (or yoga, for that matter) and it is also perfectly suitable for religious people of all creeds.

“The aim of meditation is to transform the mind. It does not have to be associated with any particular religion.

Every one of us has a mind and every one of us can work on it.”

~ Matthieu Ricard

So – what can meditation do for you and me – busy, creative entrepreneurs?

It is a powerful tool that we can add to our lives in order to make us happier, less stressed, physically healthier, more balanced, more creative, and generally results in us enjoying our lives and work more.

How does it do this? Well, in a number of ways – but the key ones are by helping you to concentrate, relax, and be mindful.

Learning to be mindful is simply the process of realising that you are not your thoughts – that you can watch thoughts as they arise and fall away – and therefore learn how to focus on the thoughts you want while allowing those you don’t want to dissipate. Or, as the infographic below says “The ability to be aware of your thoughts and emotions, without judging them… to see what’s going on in your head without getting carried away by it”.

It’s not a quick fix or a miracle cure – but it is pretty powerful when practiced regularly. That really is the key – you’re not going to see any benefit if you try to sit down and do a half-hour meditation once a month! (And if you try to do half an hour of non-guided meditation from the get-go, you’ll probably find it really, really hard.)

You need to make it a regular practice – and you don’t need to start with anything more than 5 minutes a day. That’s it.

Honestly, you can’t really ‘get’ the benefits until you try it for yourself. You have to be willing to experiment with it. As Matthieu Ricard says:

“We must discover for ourselves the value of the methods these wise people taught and confirm for ourselves the conclusions they reached.”

I’m all about experimentation in business and life – and there’s no real way to know if something is going to work for you until you try it. But – if you struggle with things like time management, bad habits, stress, overwhelm, scatter-brain syndrome, or a lack of focus (constantly flitting from task to task or idea to idea) then becoming calmer and more mindful of what your brain is actually doing is essential in changing these unskillful habits and tendencies.

Want to give it a try? Excellent!

 

Meditations to Get You Started

There are oodles of different meditation styles, techniques, and practices out there. It can be a bit overwhelming when you’re a meditation newbie – where should you start?

I’ve given you a lot more info below (further reading online, books I recommend, and apps for you to try) but I wanted to start by suggesting 3 simple meditations you can try that are pretty straightforward.

Now – I’m certainly no meditation expert – these are just my suggestions based upon my own research and personal experience. What works for me might not be your cup of tea – but I hope even if that is the case, you’ll be intrigued enough to do your own exploration and find a practice that works for you.

 

Concentration on the Breath

This is simply the practice of sitting quietly and focussing your attention on your breath. That’s it. If you like, you can count your breaths up to 10, to help you focus on them. If you lose track of what number you’re up to, just go back to 1 and begin again. Don’t alter your breath, just pay attention to it. When (if) you actually get to 10, just start from 1 again.

Sounds easy, right? Well… you’ll realise pretty quickly that you’re focussing on everything BUT the breath! Our brains are really easily distracted… and you’ll find yourself playing ‘mind movies’ about the future or past before you know it.

The key here is to build your ‘concentration muscle’. Especially in this highly-strung, tech-heavy society, where we are constantly getting distracted by dings on our phone and the stuff on our to-do list, we are really, really bad at sustained concentration.

It’s very important not to berate yourself when you realise you’ve lost track of the breath – because that’s just another thought! Simply notice that you’ve lost track, and bring your awareness back to your breath.

Further Reading

Meditation Mojo

Breath Meditation

Guided Meditation – Phillip Moffitt on Dharma Seed (about 15 minutes)

 

Mindfulness

This is kind of the next step on from concentrating on the breath.

Once you’ve calmed your body and mind by concentrating on the breath for a little bit, you release that concentration somewhat. You can still use your breath as an anchor to come back to, but you let your concentration widen.

Then, you just sit and let yourself be open and aware of whatever you are experiencing. If you hear a sound outside – be aware that you are hearing. If you feel a sensation in your body – be aware that you are feeling it. If you discover you’ve gotten lost in thought – be aware of it… then come back to open awareness.

There is quite a profound difference between experiencing something and being aware that you are experiencing something. In the former, there is no distinction between the experience and the experiencer – that’s you – whereas in the latter, you are aware that you are having an experience. You begin to realise that the experience and the experiencer actually have a space between them.

You might find it a bit tricky to understand what I’m getting at until you try it for yourself, but it will become obvious pretty quickly (I hope). It’s about being aware of how experiences flow – they arise, they pass, and a new experience arises.

It’s the sort of awareness that you experience any time someone does something you find upsetting, and instead of reacting immediately, you ‘take a breath’ or take a moment to consider how you are going to react. You are aware you’ve experienced a feeling of anger or irritation towards that person, and so you can act from a place of self-awareness rather than blind instinct or habit.

Further Reading

Mindful Presence – Wise Brain

Mindfulness: A Beginner’s Guide – The Guardian

Mindfulness Exercise – Living Well

Tara Brach – Guided Meditations 

 

Yoga Nidra

This has a weird name, but it’s basically just a form of deep guided relaxation. If you google it you’ll find a lot more ‘mystical’ stuff out there, but I use it from a purely secular/non-religious/non-mystical perspective to relax my body and mind.

I’ve experienced guided yoga nidra in a number of yoga classes, and loved it so much that I went searching for one online. My current favourite to listen to is this one by Swami Muktibodhananda – you can listen to it for free on Spotify right here.

I always feel like a puddle of goo after doing yoga nidra – and, I’ll be honest… I’ve fallen asleep more than once! This is an awesome choice if you just need to let go and relax. If you’re feeling tense in your body, stressed, or have trouble falling asleep – give this one a go and see what happens.

 


If you have experience with meditation, I’d love to hear how it’s affected your life – and any advice you have for meditation newbies!


 

“An old Cherokee is teaching his

More Resources Online

Meditation Your Way to a Creative Mind – Fast Company

How Mindfulness Meditation Boosts Creativity and Innovation – Huffington Post

Being Mindful of Your Thoughts – Total Balance

 

Apps to Try

I’ve used/do use these apps myself, and so can personally recommend them (I’m on Android).

Stop, Breathe and Think – I LOVE this one – it’s a creation of Tools for Peace, a non-profit, and it includes a huge range of short guided meditations on all sorts of subjects – from a mindful breathing meditation to meditations on joy, kindness, compassion, change, equanimity, engaging your senses and much more. If you’ve never meditated before, I HIGHLY recommend you give this a go. This is both on Android and iOS.

Bodhi Timer – I use this to time my meditation so I’m not distracted and wondering ‘if my time is up yet’ It has a few nice bells to choose from

Dharma Meditation – if you want to slowly build up your meditation muscles, this one might be for you. I also love using the zen bell feature – there are a few different gong/bells you can choose from to have playing if you prefer to focus on something other than the breath when you meditate. The more you use it, the longer it makes you meditate for.

Headspace – You may have heard of this one – it’s a meditation ‘trainer’ – free to start, but you then have to pay a fee. Great basic meditations for 10 minutes.

 

Books I Recommend

Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill – Matthieu Ricard

Thrive – Arianna Huffington

 

And, finally, a great infographic for skeptics by Dan Harris + Happify

meditation-happify

Stop, and Focus on What You’re Grateful For

 

 

 

 

Stop and Focus on What You're Grateful

This week on Instagram, the #CTWeeklyChallenge is to write down one thing every day that you are grateful for (in your biz and/or life).

I chose this topic because I believe that gratitude – the process of focussing on the positive and being truly, deeply thankful for it – is a vital part of living a happy, fulfilled life.

So often, creative and entrepreneurial folks are focussed on ‘what’s next’.

We’ve always got so many ideas bouncing around inside our brains that we are hard-pressed to make even a fraction of them happen. So, once we do manage to wrangle something out of our heads and into reality, we rarely take the time to stop and truly appreciate what we’ve done before we’re bounding off to the next shiny thing that’s on our never-ending list.

This tends to leave us in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction, because while we might be creating some things, the vast majority of our creative dreams will never be more than that – dreams. We lament this fact, and feel sad or depressed that we’re not seeing ALL our dreams become a reality.

This, my friends, is a recipe for unhappiness. Sure, we need that little bit of discomfort to motivate us to get stuff done, otherwise we would just be like the larger majority of the Western world who are seemingly satisfied to exist rather than truly live, who never work up the motivation to DO something creative (and hopefully positive) with their life.

Those of us who have – through either luck (being born into a financially secure family in a safe country) or hard work (creating basic financial stability) – the luxury of doing more with our lives than just existing  (trying to find clean water, food, shelter – which is still where a huge proportion of the world’s population is at) are extremely fortunate.

I think being aware of this basic level of privilege – and grateful for it – is a good first step. Above and beyond that, there is so much to be grateful for.

The more conscious you are about your life – making it happen rather than letting it happen to you – the more you will find to be grateful for… and happiness will naturally flow from this.

So – what are you grateful for today?

3 Ways to Get Your Creative Spark Back

 

 

 

 

take time to get creative

When I first started Gingiber, it was just me in the corner of my living room with a little desk, my laptop, & a sewing machine. I would come home from my day job, wait to put my daughter to bed, and then stay up into the late hours of the night creating.

It seemed like no big deal, the sacrifice of sleep in order to create prints and pillows to sell in my Etsy shop! But then the business began to grow. I found myself working on things like spreadsheets and filing for business licenses, prepping for craft shows and packaging orders.

Where did all of my fun creative time and energy go?

 

If you’ve experienced the same, here are 3 strategies to get it back!

 

1. Schedule Creative Time

As my business grew, I had to decide to give myself permission to take one day a week & do nothing but create! Currently it is Tuesdays. I have a babysitter come to my home and watch my daughter for a few hours while I go to my home office and work on new ideas, freelance, etc. But it wasn’t until I made Tuesdays an essential need for the business that I felt my creative energy soar!

Do you have a few hours that you can consistently schedule every week for brainstorming & sketching – or whatever your creative equivalent is?

Make it a priority.

 

2. Avoid the Sophomore Slump: Don’t Over Think It

Years ago, I had literally 1 successful illustration that was selling quite a bit. It was my Owlphabet print. I tried to create more similar work, but couldn’t produce anything that I felt was equally as good. I knew that I was supposed to create work that I loved, but nothing else that I drew seemed like it would ever be as popular as the Owlphabet!

That is when I decided to start sketching every single day. Even if it was just a no meaning doodle in the corner of a notebook. I started saving every sketch. Then one day I went through them and pulled out some of my favorites. Out of my daily sketches came the idea to create a calendar, and soon that led to my next successful product line, an Owl Calendar (I guess owls were all the rage back then)! I finally got my groove back because I stopped over thinking it and just created!

Where does your creative inspiration come from?

 

3. Take a Break From Work!

This is where I need to take my own advice. I literally never stop working. When I was pregnant with my second daughter, I was sewing pillows while having contractions that were 3 minutes apart because I desperately wanted my orders to go out on time! Yikes! Talk about work obsessed!

What I am learning from my workaholic tendencies is that I can put myself completely on the back burner. When was the last time I did something nice for myself? As the “Creative Director” of Gingiber, if I don’t take care of my personal wellness, eventually it will lead to burnout. I don’t want that!

I am making it a priority next quarter to take some time away from the business every week to be alone, sip some coffee, and give myself permission to turn off the Gingiber portion of my brain.

What do you treat yourself to? A vacation? Weekly coffee dates with a non-work friend? Getting away from the business is healthy!