A friend once told me that I was taking for granted all the lessons I've learned about being in business as a maker and creative entrepreneur. I had never thought of it that way because this is, and always has been, the norm of my life.
I realize now that is not the norm for most creatives who want to turn their passion into a profitable business.
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family but running a business as my dad, grandparents and great-grandparents did is certainly not the way things are done now. Understanding this, I've spent years learning by trying things out and researching as much as I can about running a successful online business in pursuit of living out my dream of making a living as an artist and designer.
It didn’t start out that way. I was an insecure young woman who doubted her self worth and dreaming of running a business that could contribute substantial income to our family was not even in the back of my mind. I didn’t know how to dream big. I just knew that I loved to create. So I did that almost every day. Just for me or my family.
Then a question was posed by a friend. “Have you ever thought of selling your things?”
What? Really? Well, I guess I could do that. Maybe my mom would want to do that with me.
And that is how it began.
With a 6 month old daughter by my side, I created wooden home decor that I cut on our bandsaw and hand painted at a card table in the corner of our family room. My mom’s passion was doll making and my grandparents made a few furniture pieces like shelves and footstools that almost always featured a heart cut out somewhere on them.
That Fall my mom and I started our “Countryside Boutique” business.. We handed out handmade postcards to all our neighbors and friends and set up mom’s kitchen and dining room like a gift shop. We had no prior experience. We just went with what felt right to the both of us.
That one small part of my creative journey ignited an entrepreneurial spirit inside of me that has kept me going year after year.
For 12 years, without the benefit of the internet, we mailed out postcards to people on our snail-mail list and left piles of postcards with local vendors to hand out. It was completely old school but it worked! We built a loyal customer base that counted on us to provide amazing handmade products and a delightful customer experience when they walked in the door.
My mom and I agreed that we’d keep doing this thing that we loved until we didn’t enjoy it anymore. Unfortunately, that timeline was cut short when she got sick at the age of 57. She died within 3 months of her lung cancer diagnosis.
I look back at that journey with her and although it ended on a sad note, it was beautiful and full of life lessons that I’ve taken into other creative seasons of my life.
Recently, I’ve been pondering those early years and gleaning some ah-ha moments from them.
WE DIDN’T HAVE SOCIAL MEDIA
How many of you scroll through Social Media and after a few minutes you find yourself in a comparison mindset? Or you feel like everyone else has their life put together and you don’t?
My hand is raised! How about you?
When my mom and I were working our little business we didn’t have Social Media. We had spent years walking through gift shops and pursuing magazines but that was the extent of our “research”. We never considered what everyone else was doing. We just worked through the details and did our best based on our limited knowledge.
WE WENT WITH OUR GUT FEELINGSDo you ever get a gut feeling that something is right? Sometimes that’s all you need. My next question is.......what do you do about that gut feeling? Do you follow it or does fear of the unknown keep you from going with it?
I think about how much my mom and I didn’t know. We had never done anything like that before. We didn’t have any friends who were doing it. We didn’t have any business experience. We didn’t have a clue. Literally! We just took that gut feeling for a ride and didn’t worry about the rest. We just kept doing what we loved.
What if you abandoned all the negative scenarios going through your mind and flipped the switch to possibility thinking? What if you stopped looking at Social Media for a few days to a week and just sat with your dreams, gut feelings, and creative ideas?
Grab a journal and let those possibility thinking thoughts run wild on the pages! Long hand writing of your thoughts can open up a lot of buried dreams. Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist Way, refers to this as Morning Pages. If you turn this into a daily practice you may find there are buried treasures that will be unearthed in those written words over time.
Don’t let the polished up Social Media life that others are living make you feel like your ideas are any less than they are.
Take your ideas and approach them with an “old school” mentality. Don’t look around at what others are doing. Go with your gut and do what you love in the way that feels right for you.
WE CREATED IT FOR OUR CUSTOMERS
Creating quality handmade items was only part of what we did for your customers. It was important to us to also create a welcoming environment that made our customers want to linger, visit and come back year after year.
In order to do that we thought about the shops we frequently visited and what made them stand out as our favorites. We realized that they had created a shop environment that touched all of our five senses ~ touch, sight, smell, taste and hear. Our goal was to do the same.
Needless to say, our customers were allowed to touch all the items so we had that part covered.
We went beyond what is currently referred to as a pop-up show. We used every room in our homes except one bedroom, laundry room and the bathrooms. In order to fill all the rooms with enough displays we brought in furniture from our family member’s homes. It took us over a week to put the house together before we even put the merchandise out!
The final touch to all our displays were strings of white lights. They just seemed to bring life into the rooms like nothing else.
During the holidays we made it a habit to simmer a pot of water with a dash of mulling spices and citrus slices. Anyone coming into our home during that time of year would comment about how wonderful it smelled. We knew we needed to add that to our customer experience.
Don’t you love it when a shop owner offers you a beverage or edible treat when they are packaging your order? We don’t see that much any more, especially since Covid, but it was part of the stand out customer experience in some of the shops we frequented at that time.
Our version of this was set up near the checkout table which included hot cider, coffee and cookies.
This was the time before music streaming and computers. We created audio tapes of music that we played all day.
I was learning so much about great customer service just by repeating the things that my mom and I appreciated. We wanted to treat our customers the way we liked to be treated. It was such a great lesson that I still repeat today.
WE INVITED OTHERS TO JOIN US
Although we created handmade items all year long for our twice a year event, we knew our small group of family and close friends couldn’t create enough merchandise for our growing list of customers. We had to consider inviting others to join us and saying yes to the requests we were getting from other makers.
This little thing that we started was growing bigger than we ever imagined.
I distinctly remember a conversation I had with a shop owner while we were on vacation. I loved visiting her shop because she offered handmade items that we didn’t already have someone making in our group of makers. Our conversation turned into an invitation to join us but she would have to send all of her handmade pillows and antique linens to us.
As my mom and I were setting up the furniture and displays for each show we would anxiously await the arrival of the UPS truck with her shipment. When the package arrived we’d stop everything and between the two of us, we probably bought half the things for ourselves!!
WE LEARNED FROM OUR JOURNEYFor 12 years we’d problem solved our way through the hurdles, questions and growth spurts.
Mom had a friend who was a bookkeeper for a small corporation. She taught me bookkeeping basics that I still use today.
When our sourcing needs weren’t being met by our local retail businesses I got a resale license and we ventured into the Fashion and Floral districts in downtown LA. We were so green. We had no idea what we were doing. Seriously!
Knowing we had nothing to lose and everything to gain, we walked into stores and asked questions. We learned about minimums and wholesale discounts. We learned about secret codes on the metal shelves that revealed the price for wholesalers. We were giddy newbies and laughed about almost everything because we were having so much fun learning and growing.
There was a day that we took my dad’s buick convertible to LA to get some cases of fiber fill for my mom. It was another new wholesaler for us so we hadn’t purchased from them before. When they brought the boxes out of the warehouse for us to load in the car we just laughed. No way could we fit them anywhere in the car or the trunk. We ended up breaking open the boxes and stuffing the dozens and dozens of puffy fiber filled bags in every corner and crevice of that car. We laughed the whole way home!
I’m sure the business owners got a good laugh from it too and probably told the story over and over again of those two crazy ladies who visited that day. Oh my gosh! I think of those days and do my best to use that same mindset as I approach new things.
We all just need to stop caring about what others are doing and just do the thing(s) that are pulling on our heart or tugging at our gut. Let’s use our unique gifts to bless people and put beautiful things out into the world.
Most of all, let’s just have fun doing it our own way and see what crazy, amazing things can happen!