Be yourself (or, “Should” is a bad word)

It is January (or it was, as you’ll see at the end.) Time of resolutions and reviews. My social media feeds are full of lists and picture grids. 9 things. Resolutions. Best of 2018. Hopes for 2019.

As a business owner with just one employee, me, I have consulted many resources over the last 8 years to help me shape and build my business. There are tons of podcasts, blogs and books. Lots of suggestions. Lots of things I could be doing to build my business. And lots of “should”. You should be on Instagram. You should have a newsletter. You should post every day. You should do this show or that.

The social media pressure is enormous. Where do I post? How often? What if I don’t post as often as that other business person? Am I doing it wrong? Do I do a top 9 post? What is a top 9 post? Huh. Turns out there’s an app for doing a top 9 for instagram post. Who knew?

And the business stress can be enormous too, if you let it. Grow your business! Double your sales! Reach more people. Get 10k followers. Never mind FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), I’m feeling PtP (Pressure to Perform).

As I mentioned in my last post. I’m taking stock. Circling back to some of my earlier reading about how to define my business and set my goals. There was advice I understood in principle. Define your product. Understand your customers. Be where the customers are. I knew what they were saying and I made a good first attempt at trying to define those things for my new business.

I’ve come to realize that I can only begin to answer the question of what I want my business to be as I look back on the past 8 years and assess what I’ve been doing. “What isn’t working for me?” is as important as understanding my successes. While I appreciate all the business experience that may sit behind a list of things I should do to grow my business, that’s only good advice for me if I can be comfortable, confident and real while doing those things.

My social media presence needs to be about me and what I bring to my business. It won’t be successful, or even sustainable if I’m trying to copy what someone else is doing.

February note: I started writing this early in January and set it aside because I hadn’t figured out my conclusion. Still haven’t really, but all that I wrote is still valid so you’ll get it as-is.

Taking stock

Towards the end of last year, as a very busy fall show and sales season was winding down, I casually mentioned to a few friends that I was tired and wanted to “take January off”, the subtext being, to relax and recharge. When pressed by these friends as to my intentions and specifics I started listing some of the things I would/wouldn’t do.

I wasn’t going to “work.” I wasn’t going to accept commissions, unless they were really interesting. I was going to tidy up my studio, sorting files that had become disorganized, and dealing with the scattered “to be filed” piles. As the conversations progressed, my friends gently pointed out that I didn’t really seem to be resting. Resetting my studio was still work (it’s where I work after all), and I was listing a pretty extensive set of things to do when I said I didn’t want to do much.

While a part of me was willing to admit that they were absolutely correct, I was also kind of irritated that they weren’t more supportive of my plan once I’d defined for them what I meant by the very vague “not working”.

A chance conversation with my cousin about her plans to start a business gave me a good deal to think about. As another solo-preneur she and I have similar business practices problems to solve and I offered myself as a resource. In the days following our chat one question came to mind that I’d forgotten to ask her, which was how much time was she planning to put into her business? Full-time? Or something less than that?

And then I had to laugh at myself. Because over the last few years as I’ve been building my business each of my friends has patiently listened to me talk about how it is going. These conversations were often a bit angst-ridden on my part as I would relate that I was tired, or not getting to the things that I needed to, feeling guilty about personal stuff that took time and meant I wasn’t working “enough” or wondering if I was “doing it right”, should I be doing X, Y or Z that other business people were doing?

Gently, but pointedly (they’re really good friends), each have asked me the same questions: How much time do you want to spend on your business? How many hours a week do you want to work? Invariably I’d squirm a bit and give one of these answers: “I still need to figure that out”, “That’s a really good question”, or “All of them?”

So, here it is mid-January. My vague “take the month off” plan has been refined somewhat. I’ve done a bit of studio infrastructure work; taking end of year inventory, restructuring my filing system. I’ve accepted a knitting commission, because I wanted to rather than from a compulsion to keep earning. But most of all I’m trying to give myself space. To think, to rest, to stop feeling guilty about taking time to think and rest.

I haven’t answered the How much time? question yet, but I’m starting to get a sense of it and that’s good for right now.

Did you ever stop to think?

Or would that just be too scary?

About this time of year, back in 2010, I walked away from what I had always thought was going to be my “rest of my life” career. I’m not a flitter. I didn’t change jobs, or locations for that matter, very often.  I’d worked for the same company since 1981 and had been in the same department there since 1984. There wasn’t anything wrong with the job. My work colleagues were lovely people and the department I managed was doing well.

I don’t think I’d say I was burned out, but somehow I knew that it was time for me to do something else with my life. It was a HUGE decision. Leaving the comfort and safety of a regular job and paycheck. Leaving the structured days behind and walking into the great unknown.

I didn’t have a plan.  If you’ve been following me for a while you know that I am now a small business owner. A weaver and a knitter. I make and sell hand woven scarves and hand cranked socks. I do custom knitting and have a small set of steady clients for that work.  But six years ago the only part of this that existed was the custom knitting. I owned the sock machine but had used it only for myself and family. The last weaving I had done was on one of those square potholder looms that use the stretchy loops.

The current wisdom, the advice to potential small business owners, especially crafters, is to start your business while you still have your full-time job and steady income.  Work nights and weekends on your fledgling enterprise and figure out if you want to do it all the time. Get a good income stream from that side gig before you quit the day job.

At the time I didn’t plan to start a business. I had the casual, occasional knitting commission but I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to turn my hobby into a business. That first month or so after I left was quite a change. It was July in Vermont. The weather was beautiful. I think I spent nearly every waking hour sitting on the porch. Reading, looking at nature, knitting and just being. Free to do what I wanted and as little or much as I desired.

That summer I bought a small table loom, some cotton yarn and a copy of Learning to Weave and figured out to use the loom from the small pamphlet that came with it. I’d always been intrigued by woven cloth. How was it made? How did those patterns happen? The experience with the loom was enough to figure out that I liked it and wanted to do more. So lessons, workshops and floor looms soon followed.

I’m not going to bore you with the full 6 year history. Suffice to say that I soon decided to start my business (6 months or so after leaving) and that’s still what I’m doing today. I didn’t wreck my knitting hobby by using those skills in my business. I have customers. I have products to sell. I love what I’m doing.

I really had no idea six years ago, relaxing on the porch and watching birds and deer in my yard, what the shape of my days would be like in the future. I haven’t regretted taking that big step. Would I have done anything differently if I could have looked ahead? Maybe, maybe not.  It’s hard to say for sure. But I’m pretty sure that I would not have imagined the life that I have now.