It’s a fact that we can royally get in our own way and not even know it. I worked for two years full-time to get my online business up and running. It failed. Now I’m trying again, rebranding, new look, new product line, and it is being better received but still sales are one every few days only. *sigh* It is discouraging at times.
Is it me? Is it the product?
Since moving to Australia four years ago, I went from complete independence, friends, car, communities, resources, unlimited internet – Master of My Own Fate – to complete dependence: living in other people’s homes with all their stuff filling every room, intermittent internet, not allowed to work for half my time here, unable to find work since being allowed to work, no money of my own, no community except online, a twenty year old car with a sketchy transmission, and a new incredible husband who is my raison d’etre and heart’s home but who also has had work and financial losses so we’re looking at a zero cash flow and no savings within the next couple of weeks.
I am knocking at the door of age 56. I have never felt so little mastery over my life and still so fortunate to have found my true love. For goodness sake, when my first husband abandoned me 25 years ago, I took our toddlers and moved to a cabin in Alaska and carved out a new life. I am unbeatable. So I am shocked that this can actually be my real life.
I did everything I had the resources to do for this business and, frustrated by this lack of control over my own life, I took complete control over what I could to grow the business.
I asked, I read, I implemented, I whinged, I rallied, and I worked like a dog because I believed.
And it failed.
BUT I’ve learned a lot and I’m starting over and I know more, thanks to people like Jess Van Den, Karen Gunton, Mayi Carles, and April Bowles Olin who teach and blog and comment and help. I love what I do and I am still hanging on this premise Jess recently immortalized in print: “It’s never been easier to make money from your creativity than it is now…..The only thing you need to spend is time.”
I have had nothing but creativity and time.
There is nothing holding me back except these external limitations so I have to wonder if the above is true. Is it something else? Is it just down to that magical moment when customers find us, start to stream, and then flock to us?
Handmade is a relationship. Business is a relationship.
And no amount of listing on Etsy and tweeting is going to produce that connection. The tipping point seems to be dependent on courting, and as we know, courting can produce a spark when our eyes meet across a crowded room, or it can produce stalking and a restraining order. The tipping point became a mystery to me.
Limitations or no, I now work and watch and wait for the the tipping point. No one among the business gurus has been able to point to it directly, predict it, teach us how to make it happen. They’ve only talked around its mystery, like a Yeti sighting. “Go to Canada. Sit under a tree. The only thing you need is time.” Then they tell us to blog, tweet, post, comment, share, giveaway, host, photograph, list, rinse and repeat.
But no one can really tell us when the love will blossom.
Perhaps the last line item necessary, beyond knowledge, money, time, and fear, is love. I am waiting to fall in love and waiting for my customers to fall in love with me. And when I look at it that way, none of the obstacles or successes matter, because there’s something non-quantitative and organic happening and that magic does not depend on any amount of posting, pinning, or pining.
It’s going to happen when it happens.
We know this. We read testimonies of those that put their wares out there and almost immediately had more business than they could handle. And then there are those who churned the cauldron for years before finding the right recipe for their business success.
Being a romantic, which is pretty much how I got myself in this life over which I have so little control – finding my true love who came to the Buddhist retreat center where I lived and served full-time and then moving to another country to marry him – I am willing to, no, I am eager to keep primping and adjusting and touching up my metaphoric lipstick in preparation for the kiss of success.
The cauldron is full of sketches and stories and bits of unusual fabrics and the heady aroma of soft wool fleece. I am making. I am making these things for you, dear lover of play and story. I’ll be hanging out on Etsy with a glass of wine. I’ll be wearing a red carnation. Can you hear the seductive violin in the background?
I will list, and post, and pin, and share, but I am giddy with waiting for my customer base and I to fall madly in love. It will be the magical tipping point. The mystery will be solved and the Yeti found. When we do fall in love, I will order lobster, and my world will never be the same again.
The end of 2014 is almost upon us, and hopefully you’ve carved out a bit of down-time over the Christmas/New Year period. If so, you might be in need of a bit of holiday reading to get you geared up for 2015… so I’ve put together this round-up of the best posts that we’ve published this year!
In no particular order, here are the 15 must-read posts on the blog from 2014
Enjoy… and I’d love to know your fave for the year (whether it’s on this list or not).
Sure, you can pretty much learn anything you want by googling it these days… but is that the BEST way to learn? Find out why and when you should invest money in an e-course rather than muddling along on your own.
In this post, I break down, step-by-step, how Nick and I process our orders – from when it hits our inbox until it goes out the door. Systems are crucial to your business running smoothly, and I hope this post helps you streamline and organise your own order processing.
If you follow C&T on Instagram and Facebook, you might have seen a little teaser for something awesome I’m bringing your way in January to help you have your best year in biz yet. Keep an eye on your email to be the first to know when I announce the challenge!
Have you helped me help you by filling out the (super-quick and anonymous!) C&T 2014 Questionnaire yet?
Click here to help me give you the most useful, relevant content to help you grow your biz and thrive in 2015.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
If we have a retail business, this is the time of year the soup (or something way worse) hits the fan, the chickens come home to roost, the money comes in or it doesn’t, we are prepared or we’re not, and all the bad (and good) business decisions we have made over the last nine months come back around full circle (and either smack us in the face or take us out to dinner).
This stuff is not for sissies!
Something that can make our businesses run much smoother now and help us create a more sustainable business going forward is to get really clear on our business boundaries.
Boundaries aren’t some kind of mean-girl thing to keep people away. Weak, unclear boundaries will let in all kinds of stuff we do not want to be collecting and our own energy gets lost in the shuffle. Without boundaries we will be drained, overwhelmed and worn out. Our boundaries are always our own responsibility – they can only be crossed by the stuff we allow. Crossed boundaries will always show us the stuff we haven’t dealt with yet.
So what can we do?
1. Set CLEAR intentions
First we need to be clear on our intention for our business. We need to be clear on our values. This creates a space for better decision making. If we are not clear on what we want and where we are headed it is very easy to get off course. We will waste time doing stuff we do not need to be doing. We will make exceptions we shouldn’t be making.
For example – if we started a home based business so we could spend more time with our family we don’t want to be working all weekend. So we set a boundary around when we are available and how much work we can take on in a certain time period and we stick with it. We also respect other people’s boundaries by not requiring our customers or vendors to be available to us on weekends either.
2. Say NO
When I had a cart in the mall, I never sold anything in the first 2 hours and yet every day during this period I would start to get nervous like I would never sell another thing ever again – it is the same feeling when you start to sell regularly on Etsy or your website and then you don’t sell anything for a day or two or maybe a week.
This can be the push to change things that are no longer working, but it can also lead us to take on any work, any opportunity that comes along whether it fits in with our intention for our business and our life or not because this could all end tomorrow – doomsday thinking. This mentality can be the death of us in almost a literal sense because we will run ourselves ragged, undervalue ourselves and make promises that will be impossible to keep.
For example – I get a lot of repeat buyers returning for additional locket lids. This is what I want people to do – I have after all designed my lockets to be interchangeable. But my extra lid sets are very affordable and since I pay the artists I work with commissions on them they do not make me much money. I used to get quite a few buyers looking for discounts on them which wouldn’t be a good business practice for me. I decided to set up a ‘send-a-friend’ program for these rabid fans so they could get lid discounts for referring new buyers – sometimes a “no” can turn into a win-win with a little creative thinking.
If we want to stay in business we have to notice the situations that drain us and take steps to eliminate them.
We have to be able to say no to the wrong stuff so we have the time and space for the right stuff
(And that little voice in your head that screams – “are you crazy, you can’t turn this down, you are lucky to get paid for this – you can make 10 scarves in 2 days for $150.00 and ship them to Peoria” – may get a little quieter – that voice may even crack open a bottle of champagne and whisper hallelujah).
3. Create PHYSICAL Barriers
Sometimes good fences really do make good neighbours. Maybe your studio needs a door or a curtain or a little sign that says “CLOSED” or “DO NOT DISTURB”.
For example – one easy boundary I have set up in my studio is – I don’t answer my own phone. No, I haven’t figured out how to get my dog to answer it (yet) and obviously if I know someone is going to call me at a certain time I will answer it.
But for most of the day I set up a voice mail system and I return calls at the same time every day – yes, once a day (except for a customer emergency – I mean if a Polarity Locket customer has somehow magnetized herself to a train track and a speeding locomotive is fast approaching – I’m on my way, of course).
Julia Roberts made Pretty Woman at twenty one years old and refused to do a nude scene. It wasn’t like she was a big movie star – it was her first starring role. She made a movie about being a prostitute and became the biggest movie star on the planet without doing a nude scene (even in 199? that was pretty remarkable). I don’t think her success happened in spite of her setting this personal boundary. I think it happened because she set this boundary and then she enforced it.
Now, I’m not exactly comparing my refusal to answer the phone with Julia’s refusal to take off her clothes but I kind of am (and I refuse to take off my clothes, too – in fact my customers demand that I don’t … in writing actually).
Our boundaries will be pushed and tested – if we want a strong business, we need to stand strong (and probably fully dressed).
What do you think? Has your business grown in unintended directions or just plain worn you out from a lack of boundaries? What boundaries can you create now that can get you back on track?