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Making friends with the tyranny of ‘Being Finished’

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Most of the time I mosey along, happy to be working in and on my business, enjoying the freedom and control I have to do what I want – when I want.

But some days, I feel a creeping unease – something which for a long time I just thought of as ‘stress’, but for which I have now pinned down a more accurate term. In these moments, what I feel is the Tyranny of Being Finished.

You see, when you run your own business, there’s no such thing as ‘Finished’. There is always – always! – something more you could be doing.

I was always one of those kids who had their assignments done days ahead of the deadline. I liked to get things done. I never liked deadlines hanging over my head – being up against the wall always stressed me out.

And so, it is with some amusement that I come to see that I’ve chosen a career path that leaves me constantly running against deadlines – to get orders complete, to get *bespoke* to print on time (when I owned it), to get blog posts done and posted…

On the whole, the path I’ve chosen makes me very, very happy. I love being in charge. I love being in control. I love being able to dream up new ideas and then bring them into being, without someone telling me I can’t.

But I don’t love never being done. 

I think this is why I have never enjoyed any sort of housework. In fact, I used to think at length about the futility of cleaning when I worked as a commercial cleaner during uni (one has to pay the bills somehow!). The fact that the cleaning was never, ever done – it was only temporarily suspended.

No doubt that old saying ‘a woman’s work is never done’ has popped into your head about now. When you have a job (disclaimer, not all jobs, and obviously this does not apply to most professions) you can go home at the end of the day and forget about it. At least, until tomorrow.

For a few sweet hours, you have freedom.

I think the perfect example of this is school. When you were at school, or uni, those weeks that stretched between the end of one year and the start of the next were a kind of dream-world of freedom. No exams, no assignments, no work – just time stretching in front of you, to fill as you saw fit. At least, that was my experience! And oh, how I enjoyed that freedom…

However, I realise that ‘The Tyranny of Being Finished’ and I will need to make friends if I am to continue down this path I’ve started upon.

I need to be able to confront him at the end of the day and say “Enough! I’ve done enough, I’ve done my best, and that will have to do – at least for today.”

Then I can rest, and sleep, with the knowledge that tomorrow I will pick up where I left off, and continue to do so into infinity… without fear.

Do you battle with the Tyranny of Being Finished?

Behind the Business ~ An April Idea

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I love to read in-depth interviews with creative business owners – finding out what drives them, what has worked for their businesses, and what they do when they face inevitable hurdles.

So, I decided to start a new interview series here on the blog where I find amazing people and pick their brain about all these things. Today, we’re hearing from Jess from An April Idea – a gorgeous line of stationery and paper goods that caught my eye immediately when I was browsing Etsy one day.

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

Although I had already completed a degree in Interior Design, I feel that my creative journey didn’t really start until I began my Graphic Design degree. Although they are quite similar fields, I didn’t really sense that I had found my passion until I started Graphic Design. It felt so easy and fun and just seemed to fit. When I thought about the future I didn’t get scared & overwhelmed about working in the industry, I got excited. I was incredibly fortunate to have a design job before completing my degree, as a Graphic Designer at a boutique stationery store, and was also offered a job at a small design studio upon graduation. Working both these jobs allowed me to see various different areas within the industry and helped me to decide which direction I wanted to take my career.

Then there came a time when I had to decide between each job, as I was working part time at both. One was more corporate/ client work such as websites, branding etc, and at the other place I was given a chance to create my own stationery brand. It was an unknown, but incredibly tempting to have total creative control. There was nothing in place and I would have to learn on my own and start from the beginning. I really wanted to take the chance and was very lucky that it has worked out.

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

I would probably say getting my brand name out there. You may have an amazing product, but without the right marketing to go with it, it’s almost useless. Getting to know the industry was, and still is, a big challenge. A lot of people think that making a card range is so easy, but it’s more than just putting pretty images onto paper. It’s knowing the gap in the market that needs to be filled and being smart about it.  Coming from a stationery shop background, we knew where the holes were and what sold the most. It didn’t always match up with my favourite designs, but it’s still a business and it’s still about sales.

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

Definitely! For example it’s quite tough at the moment as the retail markets is very quiet. Which of course gives me doubts about my creative future, and I often think this is too good to be true.  You know, I am doing what I love and getting paid for it, I assume the bubble has to burst eventually. But I think that’s why you have to be smart about it and think of it as a business as well as a passion.

There are lots of things I want to do for sure, like illustrate books and I would love to get into textile design, but my brand is only young and hopefully there will be plenty of time left to chase those dreams.

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

Absolutely! I find the best thing to do is to just walk away and leave it. You can’t force it. Sometimes my illustrations come to me so easily and quickly, they just flow. But if they aren’t coming, I don’t like to force them, as I usually don’t like the final product I end up with. The best thing I can do is something I find quite dull like updating spreadsheets or cleaning out my email inbox. And after a few hours of that I’m feeling like I have a bit more creativity yearning to break free.

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

Probably when I first launched my brand. It was at the Melbourne Trade Show in 2011. We only got a few sample products printed and sort of wanted to just test the water to see if there would be any interest. I think we got about 40 orders from different stores across Australia, so it was quite exciting to get so much interest so quickly!

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

I feel that I’m fortunate in that I have a separate office to go to each day. If I worked from home I would find it a lot harder to differentiate between the two. I would end up sleeping in (as I am not a morning person  ) and working until midnight and never really having any separate work and home time. As it is, I work regular hours and when it’s home time I put down my pencil or mouse or whatever and let it go, knowing there is nothing I can do about it until the next day. I like to go home and have a life. As fun as my job is, I like to do other things too. My husband and I are renovating our first home and I also like to paint for relaxation. I haven’t done any art for fun since I started An April Idea, and I would like to get back into that. I find it so free and relaxing, but I don’t often have the time or much creativity left at the end of the day, so I still need to work on that.

A usual day for me will start with checking Email, Etsy, Facebook and any other sites that I receive orders from. Pack any orders for customers and stores. Update stockist info, update websites, I am currently re photographing some of my new ranges; so styling and photographing my products, dealing with wholesale customers, custom orders, stock levels, packing, shipping, ordering, magazines and press requests, looking for new stockists and just getting the name out there more. I have not spent much time designing new ranges or designs recently, but that comes and goes.

What has been the best marketing move you’ve ever made for your own business?

Out of everything that we do, Trade fairs, magazines, websites, direct mail outs, on-line, the Trade Fair has by far given us the biggest amount of awareness and orders. But it is very expensive and a lot of work. I would say the next best thing would be direct mail outs. They don’t cost a lot and you can focus them on people that share a similar passion for the products.

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What is one piece of advice you’d like to give fellow makers about running a successful creative business?

Listen to the advice from store owners. They talk to customers every day and they know what will sell.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

As An April Idea is not yet a full time job for me, I would love to see it big enough to take up all of my time  And ultimately have the brand internationally.

In the future I would also love to branch into textile design, custom typography, and illustration for surf brands. I would also love to be using a combination of my graphic design and interior design/styling skills, working with someone like Home Beautiful or Real Living.

See more of An April IdeaWebsite | Etsy | Facebook

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If you run a successful online creative business, and would like to be interviewed for this series, please get in touch!

How to create a slow workspace that will increase your productivity

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{ My Ideal writing haven – via Remodelista }

This is a guest post by Brooke McAlary of Slow Your Home.

You’re fabulously creative folks, I know. You paint, you write, you crochet, you jewel, you stick mustaches on things… And for all of those creative pursuits, you need space – both mental and physical.

For some creative work, you don’t need much physical space. Knitting is highly portable, as is writing. But if you’re a jeweller, or a clothing designer, musician or graphic designer, some space is a necessity.

I understand many creative folk love the idea of really letting loose in their creative space. To go all Jackson Pollock and fling paint with wild abandon. And I get this. I really do.

But when it comes to creating good work, and creating it consistently (particularly if you pay the bills with your creative work) I’ve found the opposite to be true. The more organised and minimal my workspace, the more likely I am to be productive, creative and effective.

Today is all about inspiring you to create the kind of workspace that will see you produce your best stuff. Finish your novel, design a new jewellery range, write a ballad or create a website.

A slow workspace is:

  • uncluttered
  • organised
  • well planned
  • inspiring

Working in a slow studio means:

  • you are less likely to get distracted
  • you will be more productive and effective
  • you will associate it with work, and switch your head to that mindset
  • you will save time by not rifling through piles of supplies and materials

Now, I could get all wordy on you and tell you what your space should look like, how you should be organising your materials, where you should put your desk and why you need to incorporate inspiration.

Instead, I’m going to show you. Because who doesn’t love to look at beautiful spaces?

 

#1 Let The Light In

No matter the space, you need light. And natural light trumps artificial.

How can you argue with the beauty of natural light streaming in to your creative space? Even if it is just your dining table.

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{via The Cool Hunter | Riccardo Carrara on Flickr | design*sponge }

 

#2 Smart Storage

It’s hard to avoid bulky materials and supplies when you’re a hand-maker. So invest some time and thought into what requires storing and how you would best use your space to do that.

Think Up: Use shelves to store supplies, utilising your walls and freeing floor space. This will help make the space look and feel bigger.

Make it Portable: Use moveable furniture. It’s easy to add castors to a shelving unit or a small desk, creating an entirely portable workspace. Then it can be packed away when not in use.

Reuse: Put your green goggles on and look out for containers like glass jars, tins and plastic containers. These can be used to store materials and equipment, making it easier to find what you need, when you need it.

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{ via Going Home to Roost | Apartment Therapy | somethings hiding in here on Flickr |The Lone Arranger | Homesick Designs }

 

#3 Get Organised

When you have multiple to-do lists rattling around your head, your creativity can become blocked. So get organised.

Write it down, get it out and free your mind to do what it does best – create.

Consider using blackboard paint on the walls, a giant calendar, magnetic whiteboards or a desktop calendar. Whatever works best for you is the best solution.

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{via Apartment Therapy | Unclutterer | Russell and Hazel }

 

 

#4 Work With What You’ve Got

Expansive craft rooms or whimsical garden hideaways created just for writing – these sounds amazing. Instead, most of us create on our laps, at the dining table or in a nook we’ve carved out as our creative space.

Instead of longing for extra space, make the most of what you’ve got and don’t let size be a barrier to awesome.

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{via Unclutterer | Design Dreams | StashVault | Desire to Inspire }

 

How To Create Your Own Slow Workspace

When you’re creating your own slow workspace, you need to consider:

Space: How much do you have? How much you need? How many materials/supplies do you need to store? Is your equipment bulky?

Time: How often do you create? Daily, weekly, occasionally?

Inspiration: What inspires you? What helps your creativity come to life? Try and incorporate some of those things into your workspace.

Motivation: How do you get motivated and stay organised with your work? Bring these elements into your workspace and see your productivity improve.

And remember – none of these solutions need to be expensive or complicated. It may just be a matter of decluttering and buying a calendar. Or removing your bulky desk and replacing it with a slimline shelf instead. Keeping your glass jars to store buttons and adding some castors to your shelves so you can move them around as needed.

The whole point of the slow movement is – well, slowness. So take your time and let us know what changes you would make to your creative workspace to make it slower.

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Brooke McAlary is an aspiring minimalist, blissful gardener, passionate writer and inappropriate laugher.

She is also a happy wife, busy mum, slightly weird Australian and creator of the insanely helpful Slow Home BootCamp.

She blogs at Slow Your Home and is on a mission to help you find the simple life you want.

You can find her on Facebook and Twitter multiple times a day.

The 45/15 Rule – How I keep myself on task

wake me when the world stops spinning.

Sometimes, it’s so, so easy to get distracted.

In fact, it’s a bit of a mantra of mine when I forget to do something (this something most often involves some sort of household chore, ahem).

Nick will mention something to me, and I’ll smile sheepishly and say ‘I got distracted‘. I can almost see him mouthing the words along with me.

My mum used to call me an absent-minded professor when I was a kid. You see, I don’t get distracted from the important things… well, okay, sometimes I do – but I’m always running off to make some new idea happen, and that often means that I forget to attend to boring (but necessary) requirements of everyday life.

These days, I also find myself getting distracted from my work by more fun activities – such as twitter, tweaking my blog, checking to see if I’ve made any sales… and at times, I can get stuck in an endless technology loop.

(If you’ve seen the first episode of Portlandia, I’m like the guy who needs his girlfriend to talk him down. If you haven’t seen it, I’ll embed the YouTube video at the bottom of the post for you!)

So – in order to avoid this happening when I really need to get stuff done, I revert to a tried-and-true method that I learnt and used to great effect back in my uni days – the 45/15 time split.

45/15 Rule

This rule is simply a way for you to divide up your time so that you can be efficient without getting bored and burnt-out.

Basically, in each hour, you do 45 minutes of work, and have 15 minutes of play.

The 15 minutes of play every hour give your mind a chance to relax, let go, and unfocus on the task at hand for a short time. This means that you avoid the concentration nose-dive that normally occurs when you focus on one task for a long period of time.

Of course – if you’re in a flow state, this won’t be necessary, because you lose track of time – but most of the work we do isn’t in flow, it’s the regular grind of making orders, answering e-mail, writing blog posts etc.

I use the free focus booster app to help me keep track of the time split.

The 45

During this time, you need to:

  • Make sure you’re in a proper ‘work’ location – preferably not in bed on your laptop (yes, I’m looking at myself here).
  • Make sure you’re comfortable – you’ve got everything you need for the next 45 minutes. You have water/tea/snack, you’ve gone to the bathroom (yes, mum… I can hear you all chanting), you’ve got all the materials you need to get your work done.
  • TURN OFF twitter, your phone, and even the internet if you don’t need it for what you’re doing. This makes it harder – and more of a conscious choice – if you get the urge to sneak back to technology.
  • Make sure you’re not going to be distracted by your parents/spouse/kids/neighbours/cat. Let them know it’s ‘work’ time now.
  • WORK!

The 15

During this time, you need to:

  • Get up and have a stretch.
  • Turn your distracting toy of choice back on, and do whatever you want to. Play a game, chat to friends on twitter or facebook, read a blog or two.
  • Alternatively, go outside for a few minutes and enjoy the outside world.
  • Read another chapter of your novel.
  • RELAX and have fun!
  • You should NOT being doing something work-related during this time. That includes checking e-mails. Dealing with e-mail should be one of your 45 minute periods for the day.

P.S. If you don’t have a clock right in front of you, set a timer – that way you won’t get distracted constantly looking at the clock to see if work or play time is up!

I use this method when I really need to ‘knuckle down’ and it is really successful for me!

So – how do you keep yourself on track without burning out? Share your fave tip in the comments.

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Image by karrah.kobus

 

Blogging Etiquette ~ the Do’s and Don’t’s of Pitching Your Business to Craft/Design Blogs

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I get quite a lot of pitches (or, if you prefer, submissions) these days, and honestly, it usually only takes me a few seconds to deduce whether a pitch is the right ‘fit’ for my blog (Epheriell Designs).

“A few seconds?” I hear you say. “How can you make a judgement so quickly?”

Easily. I, like you, have eleventy-billion emails to sort through, and, like you, I’m busy with my own businesses, too. I also know my blog – and my blog’s aesthetic – very well, so I can tell very quickly if your product is something that is in-line with that.

So, when a new pitch comes in, I open it up and have a quick scan. Some pitches are a dream – short, sweet, to-the-point with nice pictures. Others… not so much.

I see people making the same mistakes over and over again, so I thought I’d take the time to put together this little ‘do’s and don’t’s’ post to help my fellow crafters out – and, hopefully, help you get your stuff seen on more blogs!

If you have any additional points, I’d love it if you could leave them in the comments.

Do address the blogger by name.

Most bloggers have their name available somewhere on their blog – usually even on the main page, but almost always in the ‘About’ section. Take the extra minute to find out the blogger’s name. We’re a lot more receptive to emails that say ‘Dear ….’ than emails that say ‘Hey’ or ‘Dear Blogger’ (ugh). Of course, it may be the case that you just cannot find their name, either on their blog (or, if you’re a good investigator, on their twitter/facebook/flickr/pinterest). In that case, go for a polite ‘Hi there’ or something similar.

Do take the time to spell the blog’s name correctly!

I know my blog has a bit of a weird name (yes, I made it up!) but really – how hard is it to copy/paste if you’re not sure how to spell it? I cringe every time I get an email that spells Epheriell incorrectly. It just tells me that the person emailing me doesn’t even care enough to check.

Do make a specific comment about my blog, and why’re you’re contacting me.

Whenever I send a pitch (remember, I’m on both sides of the fence here!) I always make a point of starting off my email with a brief compliment/comment specifically about the blog of the person I’m emailing. This does two things. One, it shows the blogger that I actually do know what their blog is about – that is, I’m not just randomly emailing bloggers willy-nilly; actually, I that I think their blog will be a good fit for my work.

Two, hopefully it will make them feel more kindly towards me! Let’s be honest – everyone likes a compliment, and I’m hoping to start off on the right social foot by being polite, friendly, and respectful of the blogger’s work. Because man, running a successful blog is a LOT of work, and it’s really nice to hear from someone who genuinely enjoys reading it.

Do give me a link to your blog/online store so I can investigate further.

I have gotten so many emails where the person tells me all about what they do… they’ll even attach photos… but then – no website!! How am I supposed to find out more about you? Your website is the MOST important piece of information in that email. Do not forget to include it.

Do tell me if you’ve been featured anywhere prominent.

If you’ve been featured before in magazines/big blogs, do let me know – briefly. One sentence will do! That tells me that you’re working hard to promote your business, and that others have been impressed by what you do. It also allows me to do a bit more reading about you if I want to!

Do give me 3-5 low-res pictures representing your work.

Photos are crucial when you’re pitching a product. Make sure they are good quality, bright, low-res/small sized images that will load quickly. Basically, they should have loaded by the time I’ve read your 1-2 paragraph pitch, so I can see what you’re all about! Oh, and hey, a picture of you can’t hurt either – I like to see your face!

Do use proper spelling and grammar.

Okay, maybe it’s just me who’s stuck in the dark ages of still using the capital ‘I’, but I think it’s disrespectful to be lazy about spelling and grammar when you’re emailing someone. I’m the sort of person who actually won’t read a blog if it uses small ‘i’s’ and no capitals because it honestly grates on me. You never know what someone thinks about this very simple little thing, so best to err on the side of caution and make the effort to do it ‘properly’.

Do follow up 1-2 weeks later. Once. Politely.

If you’re super-keen to get featured on my blog, I have absolutely no issue with you sending a brief follow-up ‘Hi, just wanted to touch base again regarding the email I sent you about my business (etc). Thank you for your time, and for considering my work.’ Or something along those lines. Short, sweet, and polite, and it will act as a memory jog for me. Chances are, your initial email has just fallen down lower in my inbox, not that I’m ignoring you deliberately! Many times I have been reminded of a good submission by this follow-up email.

Okay, so that’s a whole list of ways to make it more likely that I will read and respond to your email.

Now, let’s look at some of the things that will make me more likely to either not read it at all, or to actually delete it altogether.

Don’t tell me your life story.

Remember – you are trying to get my attention and tell me about your product. Please don’t write 10 paragraphs outlining your life story/creative history/motivations etc. If I want to blog about you, and if I want to include that information, I’ll get it from you later. For now, just be short, sweet, and to the point. You want to capture the blogger’s interest and attention, and encourage them to find out more about you.

Don’t attach humongous photos that will take an hour to load.

Chances are, I will not wait. I might click on your website and have a look that way if I like what you’ve written, but just make it easier and attach small pictures.

Don’t harass me.

This might sound harsh… but if you’ve sent a pitch and a follow-up email, the ball is in my court. I might get back to you tomorrow, or in a month (yes, I have blogged about people months after they’ve emailed me!) or, unfortunately, I might never get back to you, as bad as I feel about that. I always try to send at least a ‘Hi, thanks for telling me about your biz’ email, but I’m very human, and very fallible, and sometimes I’ll forget. However, if you keep bugging me, it will only make me feel frustrated, and your chances of being featured drop rather drastically.

Don’t go off-topic.

This kinda goes with the ‘don’t tell me your life story’ bit. Sometimes, an email will read like an outpouring of random thoughts, and I’ll sit there confused as to just what the sender is trying to tell me. Decide what you’re pitching, and why, and stick to that. Again, if I want more info, I’ll get it from you down the track!

Don’t email 50 bloggers at once.

Bloggers usually dislike it when they end up featuring something at the same time as someone else. It makes someone look like they’re copying, and no-one wants that. Make sure, if you’re pitching the same product/products, to only email maybe 2-3 bloggers per week. Start with the blogs you really want to get featured on, and work your way down the list.

Don’t send me a generic press release.

I will give that about 2 seconds of my time. I’m not a newspaper desperate to fill space, I have a whole internet full of groovy things to feature, so I’m going to give my time to someone who cares enough to email me personally over a generic press release.

Don’t add me to your mailing list without my express permission.

Don’t ever, ever, EVER add someone to your mailing list without their express permission. It’s not only rude, it’s actually against the law (in the US, anyways). I will immediately unsubscribe – and though I hate to do it, I will also sometimes hit the ‘report spam’ button if this happens. Just don’t do it.

Please don’t take it personally if I decide not to feature you.

Honestly, there are so many reasons why I might not feature your work. It might not be a good fit for my blog. It might not be photographed to the standard I need. I might simply forget. Please, please, do NOT take it personally. Just get out there and send the next pitch! You will find bloggers who are happy to feature your work.

Phew, that was quite the list, wasn’t it? If you’re a crafter or a blogger, I’d love it if you could share your thoughts/experiences with this in the comments.

I really hope this helps make pitching your work to blogs a bit more straightforward! Remember – your aim is to grab the blogger’s attention and interest, so keep your email short, sweet, and interesting! And – especially in this business – the old adage about pictures telling a thousand words is absolutely true, so make sure your pictures are the best you have!