Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Return

So much for that 'one post a month' plan! My only excuse is that life happened. I would not advise having a slipped disc - it is not a fun experience, and can leave you laid up in bed for weeks. Follow that up with a slow and cautious house move and two whole months can sneak past without you looking.

As for July and August, I honestly haven't a clue. How is it September already?!

Last time I wrote, I mentioned that I was going to be looking for a job whilst putting The Silver Hide on the back burner. This is still the case, although the bad back and the house move proved a significant delaying tactic to actually getting on with any of it. Aggravatingly the slipped disc kicked in around the same time I downloaded the trial versions of Photoshop and Illustrator, which meant that I couldn't actually sit at the computer to practice like I'd planned!

Happily Adobe sent out a refresher of the trial offers to boost awareness of the 2014 changes in both programs, so I got a second chance. This time I remembered to activate the trials one at a time, just in case anything else decided to blow up in my face in the near future.

Alongside the art practice, I also decided to pick up some HTML and CSS skills since I'd been seeing these listed quite often in the internship ads I was looking at. I've been using the tutorials on Codecademy to get started, and then picking up useful snippets from various sources in the process of building myself a new site (yes, another one).
My design/artwork portfolio can now be found over at Giddy Minnow Designs. The site still feels fairly basic, and could do with a few improvements like enlarged versions of the gallery images on clicking, and some more small images dotted through the text sections. The important thing for now is that it exists.
Edit: sadly the site is still having some issues if viewed in Safari, which apparently doesn't like .svg images and adds lots of excess height to them - making for some rather odd layout alterations!

In other news, the Etsy shop had some leather pouches added a little while back. I have plans to add some more things soon, but the way my plans seem to have gone of late I'd rather not promise a date for those updates :/

That's all for now. Still alive, still looking to move forward. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Life, the universe and everything

First off - sorry for the radio silence over the last few weeks. I've been doing some serious thinking that I wasn't yet ready to discuss, but which was also distracting enough that I had no idea what else to write instead.

Big Decision Time
I've decided to get on with job hunting. I'm not shutting down The Silver Hide - I'm not quite ready to give up on it yet! - but I am going to be focussing on finding a regular source of income for a while. As part of that, I'm going to stop trying for weekly updates here on the blog, probably settling to monthly updates unless it turns out I can find something relevant to write about more often!

Now, this has come about due to a combination of things which I feel like explaining, so here goes:

Back when I started the business in April last year, I told my partner that if I hadn't achieved a regular monthly income by the end of a year then he'd have every right to tell me it was time to reconsider things and get a job. Now, as I've mentioned in previous posts it hasn't exactly been smooth sailing this last year - largely due to unforeseen mental storms and pirates and krakens (to stick to the 'smooth sailing' theme). We've talked about the business and my options a few times since the start of the year, and it's generally been me starting those conversations.

House Hunting
In addition to the above, we've started house hunting. We both feel it's about time we had a place of our own, and the idea certainly has support from both sets of parents who seem to share the 'housing market? Get into it as soon as you can afford to' attitude.
Now this is all well and good, but Brighton is by no means a cheap area to live in, and due to me being in my first year of self employment I am unable to contribute financially to a mortgage (as far as I can find out, you need a minimum of two years records to present, of which they take an average net profits value to assess your contribution to the mortgage calculations). So that means it's all on Dom's shoulders. This... does not sit well with me. I really don't like the idea of not being able to help out with the business of paying for the house I'm going to be living in. I can cope with not necessarily being on the actual mortgage paperwork, but if I can't even help with the monthly bills and things like buying furnishings... well then it's not really my house at all.

Put 'em Together:
So. It's been nearly a full year since I started up The Silver Hide, and the business is not yet providing any significant or stable monthly income at a time when that is exactly what I need. Add to that the fact I'm really not confident of my chances to achieve any significant immediate change to the situation with my current range of stock and designs... and finding a job just makes sense.

It's scary, and a little disheartening, but also pretty logical. The thought of hunting a job in Brighton with what I see as a rather weak skill set (quite possibly the old anti-self-confidence demons talking) amidst all the potential competition out there is... horrifically daunting. Especially since I have no intention of just grabbing the first shelf stacking job that comes along (because I always have been, and probably always will be something of a stubborn old goat regarding job preferences). I want to get into something solid that uses my brain and has good potential for advancement. Preferably also something transferable, just in case we eventually lose hope of ever finding a house we can actually afford in the surrounding area and have to move to Scotland or something.

This probably means trying to get some sort of junior position or an internship, as I really don't know that I currently have the skills for anything that's available and ticks all the boxes. On the one hand this has me thinking 'oh good gods what have I gotten myself into now?!' and on the other hand I'm thinking something more along the lines of 'wheeee! Adventure time!'. At least the latter option feels positive.

Thursday, 13 March 2014


Last time I wrote we (being me & Dom) were about to head off towards Bude for the weekend. A bit of a pick & mix weekend of businessy bits, family visits, mini holiday and celebrations with friends. Today I'd like to just talk about that trip - quite off topic, but hey, maybe you'd really like to know about Bude?

On the business side of things, I had a brief meeting with a potential retailer, and then went on to restock my selection of gloveweight leathers. There are now some lovely blues and blue-greens, and several reds waiting to be turned into pouches or notebooks or who knows what.

The mini holiday bit was quite delightful. We'd gone to Bude to celebrate a birthday and a wedding, but were there for a little while to either side of the party so had a chance to walk around in the sunshine and just... relax. Admittedly, there doesn't seem to be much to do in Bude other than just relax, so it wasn't too difficult to do.

We watched a flock (or possibly a raft) of new surfers splashing about just off the beach, as well as some of their more experienced counterparts a little further out.

I found it interesting to see that a lot of the people in what appeared to be the beginner group had quite bright colours on their suits, whereas the ones further out generally seemed to be wearing just black. Not sure if this is just down to newbie enthusiasm, or if beginners get given bright colours to make them easier to find if they get washed out to sea...

We'd found a relatively sheltered picnic bench halfway up a hill from which to watch, and I had fun just being a happy snapper with the camera for a while. Managed to catch a couple of people who actually made it upright, although looking through all the pictures once I got home it also seems I gradually accumulated fluff on the camera lens! I have a series of shots with increasing numbers of fuzzy grey smudges all over the place, but never mind.

Finding dinner was interesting when we arrived on Friday night - it seems Bude does not have much of a restaurant selection, which was unfortunate since we were in the mood for restaurant food as opposed to pub grub. We found one Indian restaurant (fancy a curry? No, not really...), one chinese restaurant (hmm, maybe... ), and then eventually ran across Olive Tree (not to be confused with The Olive Tree, which is apparently completely different).

We went in, sat down, umm-ed and ahh-ed over the menu for a bit, and then upon being told the daily special was a seafood risotto with pan fried pollock both promptly ordered that (Hurrah - we wanted fish!). The starters were lovely - I had wild mushrooms on toast, with a poached egg, and it was a proper runny-in-the-middle poached egg too - and the risotto was delicious. My only possible complaint was that I almost couldn't finish it, because the portion size was quite generous! Not that I would ever claim to be a reliable food critic or anything. I liked it, Dom liked his, we'd definitely eat there again.

Ok, so that's probably enough about Bude. What about the rest of this week? Well, I got back feeling very much refreshed and ready to get going on a bunch of new ideas. So far I've written a lot of things down, started on a felt project, continued the scroll prototype, been sidetracked by some long-ignored tidying, and then been wiped out for an entire day by a headache that felt like someone had inserted a bar of hot lead behind both eyeballs. It was the kind of headache that goes BOOM every time you move, and leaves you feeling kind of sick as well. Not a happy Wednesday for me. There's a bit of it still lurking, but I do seem to be over the utterly horrible part and hopefully this last lingering ache will be gone tomorrow.

So! I have vague plans for the next week, which involve updating the gallery with some more things, and probably also adding another listing or two to the shop. I'm still keeping my plans vague though, as I seem to get much more done that way than if I tell myself I absolutely have to do things in a particular order.

Tara for now, and may the sunshine we're currently experiencing not go away too soon!

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Etsy School Summary

It's Thursday! Which now appears to be Blog Day in my internal calendar, something I shall try to stick to from now on.

Last time I said I would write up a summary of my February Etsy School experiences once I'd worked out what to write. I'm still not entirely sure what I want to write, but since the final week has been about marketing - and one element of that is making sure to blog regularly - it would be remiss of me not to give this a go.

So. As I said before, I kind of fell off the Etsy School wagon (or should that be the school bus?) somewhere between weeks 2 & 3 due to various reasons. In line with that, I have to admit I don't think I've managed more than running along behind said wagon (...bus) vaguely trying to pay attention for the last week. Mind you, the last week has been about marketing, and from reading through the guide I feel like the school project was aimed further down the Twisty Turny Path of Mystery that is marketing than I currently feel comfortable going. Some might well argue that I should plunge forward regardless - but I've never been very good at that, so I shall keep going at my own pace for now!

One thing I do appear to have achieved, despite not initially thinking of it as part of the marketing week's work, is to keep this blog updated once a week through the month. I still don't know if I'm writing well, or if anyone ever reads more than the first paragraph for that matter, but I have at least kept writing. I was worried I wouldn't be able to think of enough to write (believe it or not) however if anything I've actually caught myself wondering about doing an extra post once or twice. I'm going to take this as a good sign, and try to keep posting at least once a week for now - probably on Thursdays!

I'd really like to put a picture here, because I worry that my blogs are very heavy on text. Except I don't really have any relevant pictures for what I'm talking about, and saying 'here's a picture of a random thing!' feels a bit...artificial? Oh! I know, here's something I started on this week, a leather scroll case prototype:

Complete with assorted stamping tools, a piece that will cover the seam down the length of the case, two possible end pieces, and my trusty rolling pin covered in cling film which is doing duty as a mould.

This project is coming along, albeit somewhat slowly. I decided to experiment with the dyeing stage, which has led to me repeatedly adding dye and then leaving it to dry. I think I've reached a finish I'm happy with now though, so I'll move on to assembling bits soon.

Right, slightly random interval tangent dealt with, now for an overall summary of my Etsy School experience!

Despite not really managing to keep up with the weekly projects I'm actually fairly happy with how the last month has gone. Yes, I would have liked to stay on top of absolutely everything, but given the somewhat fragile state I was in at the start of the year I'm not really surprised that I didn't. Juggling communication with various people, the need to blog, update the Etsy store, photograph stock despite the British Weather's best efforts, make more stock for what was my first fair whilst also trying to design some new leather work things for both fairs and future Larp events... well that does still feel like a lot to me.

I'm hoping that this time next year I shall be looking back and wondering how I filled the days, because I'll have gotten that much stronger in my own mind and thus be getting soooo much more done. For now though, I'm pretty pleased to have gone through the critiquing stage, come up with a new photography layout (and photos are gradually being taken), edited the titles, tags and descriptions for most of the items currently in the store, and kept up the blog throughout.

Also, I'm still feeling pretty calm, in control and reasonably positive. I'm calling that progress, and shall end on that note I believe!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Post-fair fizz

Ok, so I'd meant to do another Etsy school blog earlier in the week, but then couldn't work out what to write, then realised I could've written about the craft fair I did at the weekend, but then that would interrupt the flow of Etsy school blogs....and now it's Thursday again o.0
I shall do a final Etsy school blog next week, when I've worked out what to say about it, honest guv!

Right. Decision made, moving on...

On Saturday I attended what felt like my first 'proper' craft fair in Brighton (the previous one being the internal work do at Kineo before Christmas). This was the Brighton Craft Fair, held at the Friends Meeting House in the South Lanes.

I went in wondering what the day would be like, given the time of year and recent weather and all that sort of stuff - would there be lots of people? Or would it be nought but inexplicable tumbleweeds blowing through the hall?

We had an hour to set up, which seemed like a lot given my relatively simple table layout but actually proved to be about right - unpacking all the jewellery is surprisingly time consuming!

Here's how my table ended up (and no, there wasn't an earthquake or anything, I just managed to take a horribly blurry photo and not realise -.- )

I was pretty happy with how this worked out, given I failed to organise decent stands to support the jewellery boards. I definitely need to work on getting more height in the display though - there were some individual earring stands at the back that got a bit lost for having no real base or back drop.

Here's a considerably less blurry look at the left side of the table. Having that one open pouch at the front seems to have been a good idea - a lot of people reached to feel the leather of that one first, like it was an 'open sample' or something.

I think I might need to find a tidier way of showing price tags - they looked ok on the necklaces, but the earring & charm clusters look sort of messy. Not sure how to improve that yet... or do you think it actually looks ok?

Here's the right side of the table. I used that little dish for my Moo mini business cards - I think it's handy to have something people can 'safely' interact with near the front of the table.

The notebook covers got a fair bit of interest, although other than a couple of people who said they liked them it may have just been people looking to see what they were!

I think the jewellery board on this side looks a bit busier at the necklace end, but spreading the earrings out more seems to have worked.

One thing I definitely need to sort out for next time are some prominent labels declaring what things are, like 'Sterling Silver' by the jewellery, and 'Genuine Leather' by the leather items. Possibly also 'Notebook Covers' would be handy! It might seem obvious, but actually when you're in a room with a mix of jewellers, it's worth making it clear what your stuff actually is.

So how did the day go? Well, I was pleasantly surprised by the footfall through the hall - as I said I wasn't actually sure we'd get much traffic at the tail end of February - although as with any fair I've ever been to people seem to arrive in small swarms, with quiet periods in between when all the stall holders go in search of tea, or just end up smiling nervously at each other in that 'let's hope that wasn't the last swarm' sort of way.

I had a reassuring amount of interest in the table, though I shall confess I had but one sale... still, I'm actually kinda happy with that - First Fair, First Sale. I'd be far less relaxed if I'd sold nothing at all (also, I only need to make a second sale next time for things to feel like they're improving!). Meanwhile, I ended up chatting away quite happily with the seller behind me, Liz of 'Like Never Before', who makes up-cycled denim jewellery (here's her Etsy shop if you're interested!). I believe it was Liz's first fair, and unfortunately she was suffering from the February-casual-browser effect more than me. Hopefully that hasn't put you off Liz!

If you'd like to see more pictures of the fair then you can check out the Brighton Craft Fair Facebook page - there's even one of me in there, failing to look at the camera!

In summary then: February Fair = kinda quiet, but not all bad, and I'm looking forward with a bit more confidence to the next one on Saturday 29th March.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Etsy School week two/three

Right. I was supposed to write on Monday about how last week's Etsy school stuff went, which was all about photography.

Let me summarise: Rain, rain, gloom, storm, rain...wait for it wait for it... sunshine!...gloom. Or something like that, anyway.

Saturday, granted, was mostly quite pleasant - however I was also out of the house for most of the day so couldn't use the opportunity to take fresh product photos. At one point the sun managed to come out at the right time of day to actually light up the area I use for photos, so out came the camera...and then about ten minutes later said camera's battery died. You can imagine the look I gave it, knowing full well that by the time it was properly charged again the sun would be gone.

So yes. Photography week has been a bit of a flop for me - at least in terms of getting new photos taken anyway. I confess I have also failed miserably at communicating with my partner to go through the School exercises for the week, and frankly I don't think I can claim to have done any better this week - I mean, when did we reach Thursday? o.0

At least I do feel I've made some progress with how I want to compose my shots, and the few products I managed to get pictures of gave me some practice using props and trying to find my '5 shots' for jewellery items - which I find a bit awkward. Also at least at the start of the week the communication thing was going well and my school partner supplied a really good idea for props that simply hadn't occurred to me at all, so that was good.

My only defence (aside from blaming the Good Old British Weather) is having been busy preparing for my first craft fair of the year. I'll be selling at the Brighton Craft Fair this Saturday, 22nd Feb, and am currently rushing headlong into that panicky state of 'ohmygodwhatifI'mtotallyunderprepared'. In reality, I suspect my display kit will indeed be upgraded and improved over the year, but should at least get me through this weekend as it stands. As for stock levels... one minute I'll say "yup, I'm happy with what I've got to take, I reckon I'll be fine", and the next minute I'm back to "Oh gawd, do I really have enough stuff? What if I don't? What if my table looks utterly empty compared to everyone else's?".

I suspect I will still be switching between these two attitudes every other minute right up until I'm set up and can no longer possibly do anything about it. This is kinda normal for me, although I hope that by this time next year I shall be able to say it's a thing of the past and that I am now totally in control, with fully stocked boxes of lovely things ready to be beautifully displayed at the drop of a hat. That'd be nice.

This third week of the month was supposed to be going over SEO stuff. I should, y'know, probably take a look at that... >.<

Monday, 10 February 2014

Etsy School - Shop Critique

I mentioned last time that I'm taking part in an 'Etsy school' event this month, which involves working with my Etsy team to review and improve my shop.

The first week was about setting goals, and to do that we needed to critique our own shops - much easier to work out what you need to do after you've taken a good hard look to see what needs improving or changing.

I actually found the critiquing bit fairly straight forward. Possibly this is because my shop is pretty new and I'm still working out how to do things, so there were already bits I'd been thinking I needed to improve anyway.

Etsy provided a worksheet with some key questions to help us with our critiques, and it certainly made life easier! I think I'd have spent a lot longer trying to do this, and getting a lot more wound up worrying that I was missing important things if I hadn't had the worksheet.

This part was a bit hit and miss.
Etsy suggest that you use 5 photos for every listing, trying to show scale and size. So far, I'm not sure I've used 5 photos for any of my listings... so that's definitely a no to point 1! I'll have to work something out - I already have a few ideas in my head, so we'll see where we end up after Photography week!

Size and scale... well I normally mention sizes in my descriptions - things like 'comes on an 18" chain', or 'this pouch is approx. 6" x 6" when laid flat', but I suppose this might be one of those 'a picture tells a thousand words' moments, and including a shot with something readily identifiable for scale would probably be a good plan. (It would also count as one of my 5 photos per item, hurrah!)

I am however happy with my backgrounds - or rather, happy with the most recent layout, which has so far only been applied to one listing... Lots of replacement photography to be getting on with this week. I've started paying more attention to the cropping for the main images too, so ok there.

The next part of the worksheet was not so good...
I think I started off on the wrong foot with my titles and tags - I'm not getting enough keywords into my titles, and I regularly fail to use all 13 possible tags.

I also started off using 1 word tags - which are essentially far too generic so don't really help at all. Tagging a green pouch as 'green' and as a 'pouch' my be correct, but it'll also make it come up if someone searches for anything green at all, and presumably if they're looking for a 'blue pouch' too. So, much work needed on tags!

Asking yourself what keywords you would use is one of those 'well duh' ideas that seems to have flown past without me noticing up until now. Whoops. I also apparently should be testing my keyword ideas by typing them into Etsy's search bar to see if they come up - which would suggest they're popular terms - and also to see what other products have those keywords - are they similar to my own? So yes, lots of work to do here.

The next section covered 'Cohesive Branding'. I found this bit a little tricky. 'Do I have a range of products at varying price points?' ...well I think so... but how much of a range counts? You could have 5 items, costing £1 - £5 at £1 increments, and that would be a range wouldn't it? I figure I have a variety of different types of jewellery (earrings, pendants, bracelets) as well as the leather pouches, and most of the jewellery items are of differing designs. That sounds reasonably varied. My pricing ranges from £17 to £40 - which again seems like a fair range, so I reckon maybe I'm ok there for the moment.

One question that threw me a bit was this one: "Are the items telling a story and communicating a style?" Erm...I....uh...dunno? I suppose I could say my work is telling the story that I like twisty bits of wire? Or is that a definition of my style? How do the leather bags fit in to that? Do they just label me as being somewhat confused? Or can I say they show me to be more than just a 1 trick pony, as it were? Still not sure about that one.

"Are your shop policies filled out..." Yes. "...Do they instil trust in a buyer?" Um, I hope so? How am I supposed to know? I'd guess that the fact they're there is good. Have I written them well though? I confess I haven't really thought to ask anyone to look at them - which is perhaps something I need to do this month, so I can better answer that question.

Well, at least I was fairly happy with the last bits. I'm pretty settled with my pricing system, and I'm fairly happy with postage so far - ok, so I don't list prices for anywhere beyond the UK in the individual listings, but I do say in the policies and on the main shop page that people can contact me for a quote if they want stuff shipped further away.

Overall... I basically need to overhaul all the current listings. Photography, titles, tags and descriptions. I'm actually sort of happy with that though. It's been a good experience to go through the critique, and now I've got some goals in mind for the month.

Retake all listing photos. (I think that's going to be this week's job)
Re-do all listing titles & tags.
Re-do all listing descriptions.
Set a personal profile avatar, so I'm no longer just a mystery face.

Phew. Long blog... although maybe this time I had a good excuse? :D Besides, I did just assign myself what is looking like a ton of work to do this month.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Etsy Teams

Thought I would bubble about Etsy for a bit...

I set up the Etsy shop back in September, although I don't think I actually got as far as having a full page of stock until January. I also neglected to look into the Community side of Etsy, which I now think was pretty daft of me.

In early January I got a message from an Etsy Admin telling me about the 'Brighton Team' meet-up - to which my initial response was pretty much "Eh? What?". Turns out, Etsy Teams are not made up of Etsy staff members (as I had vaguely assumed without bothering to look at it properly), but rather are collaborations of people who buy or sell (or both) on Etsy.

The Brighton Team has a surprising number of people in it, including at least one person I recognise from a craft fair last year. Maybe it shouldn't be so surprising - Etsy is after all a pretty well established online selling platform, and Brighton's not so small either.

The best thing though? I AM NOT ALONE. Hurrah! (Can't help but be amused at myself here... "so you want to be self employed, be your own boss eh?" "Yes! ...oh wait...kinda lonely now...")

Suddenly there are all these people I can talk to who also Like Making Things. This is awesome. Also, there's a good mix of new and old hands when it comes to selling on Etsy, so suddenly there is all this advice and support available from people who are trying/succeeding with something I am now trying to do.

This month for instance Etsy are running a 'school' program through the Team networks - Etsy provide some guidelines and materials for us as a team to work through, all aimed at improving our shops. I signed up, and am now facing the fun of Shop Critiques (there should be some ominous music here, I'm sure).

Being me I got a bit nervous about this at first, but actually a lot of what we're supposed to look at this month is stuff I was thinking about looking at anyway, like photography and item descriptions. So now I have someone else to help me actually get on with it, and to help with idea when I get myself all in a muddle, which means that by the end of the month the shop will hopefully have undergone a bit of a makeover.

You know what? I think I might even go so far as to try and commit to blogging about it along the way. One a week, shall we say? Maybe two this week - this one plus one to go over the results of the shop critiquing exercise.

...heh, I'mma gonna have me a montage! *gets Rocky montage stuck in own head*...

Monday, 27 January 2014

Weekend productivity

My weekends are most often started off with all the good intentions - do that bit of housework that I've been diligently ignoring, do some work on some Larp kit, maybe experiment with some possible leatherwork designs, finally finish going through some boxes of Stuff from the move last year...

My weekends usually devolve rapidly into lounging around, eating yummy things, playing around on the computer, and eventually remembering that I had meant to do other stuff.

This weekend was one of the rarer ones where I actually got some stuff done.

The main thing was having a clothing clear out, which resulted in three bags (little shopping bags, not bin bags!) of clothes being sent off down to a charity shop. Remarkably cathartic actually. Open drawer, try on various pairs of trousers I'd forgotten I even owned, then stuff them all in a bag because they don't fit any more. Open another drawer, apply same treatment to a surprisingly large stack of polo neck tops that I'd accumulated, then go through the stack of 'nice' tops and pack away all the stuff I just don't wear. There was at least one thing I'd clearly never worn - still had a tag on it!

I've actually been through this process a few times in the last year or so - filled at least one black bag before moving to Brighton, and I think then half filled another when I got here and unpacked what I'd thought I was keeping. Right now I'm mostly just wondering where on earth I managed to store it all before o.0

On a business related note, I also did a lot of thinking about photography (for the Etsy page mostly). I'd been reading lots of advice about it last week, having realised that my current standard still isn't quite right. Not that I really expect to end up as good as if I got a professional to do it, but I could certainly improve on what I've been doing myself.

The problem I have is that silver photos quite nicely against a pale background (just comes out really shiny/white against darker backgrounds), however I often end up losing the beads in a piece against the pale background. Mother of pearl for instance pretty much disappears against the nice white sheepskin I'd been using as a background. So! I needed something that both the silver and the beads would photo well against, but I also wanted to keep the sheepskin involved since I use that for the leather work photos and consistency throughout all your product photos is supposedly a good thing (which sounds like a valid point to me).

Here's an example.

You can see how the pale green beads get lost against the sheepskin on the left, but are once again visible on the right, while the grey-blue suede still doesn't cause the silver to come out too bright.

I'm pretty happy with this solution... for now at least!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Learning to walk, round two

In a few months it will have been a year since I once again declared myself self employed, and I'm in the mood to talk about it. This may be very long winded.

Honest moment: I really haven't impressed myself much at all so far. Granted, I got wiped about by a 6-week bout of depression a few months in, but I recovered from that far too slowly. Ok, so mental health-wise maybe I was expecting more of myself than I should... it's hard to tell when you've only got your own experience to go by and have a strong tendency to be self deprecating and, y'know, generally assume you're being rubbish about it compared to 'everyone else'. Also, I call it a 6-week bout, but I think I may only just be finally clearly the last cobweb-like remnants from my mind. There've been some definite ups and downs along the way, but those 6 weeks were the worst 'why bother getting out of bed, the world will keep turning regardless (...not that that matters anyway...)' bit.

Still. Not impressed. Yes, I received some nice leather work commissions early on - but they all took longer to finish than anticipated, and after the first batch I've not really had any more.
I have definitely benefited from the practice, but if anything I'm at that stage where my confidence hasn't grown at all - rather my awareness of my lack of experience has grown. So yay experience, but oh bother still not much confidence.

The knock on effect is that I sort of slowly stumbled to a halt with the leather side of things. Now, in itself, choosing to put the leather stuff into the mental back burner slot where I can simply practice rather than deliberately make to sell was not necessarily a bad thing. Combining a perfectionist attitude with a lack of confidence in your own work and a self imposed pressure to Make Sellable Stuff Now... just doesn't work well. Not for me anyway. However, remove the pressure by saying 'it's fine, I'm just practising' and suddenly I get along just fine. Maybe not that fast, but at least I no longer stutter and stall every time I start thinking 'now which bit of suede would go well as the gusset on this bag...'.

The problem was that I took too long to make the mental switch from 'focus on leather' (where I started) to 'focus on jewellery'. My jewellery I have at least some confidence in. I've sold it before, to individuals and shops both. So really as soon as I got that nervous about the leather I should have gone full steam ahead with the jewellery, built up a good box of stock to run with over Christmas, and then I could've relaxed a bit and played around with some leather until I got some confidence with it.

However, what I did was slowly trickle to a halt, get panicky because I wasn't getting stuff done, freak out a bit because things were Not Going To Plan, and then eventually made the mental switch in time to realise I'd basically missed Christmas. I don't mean I was in a panic attack for the entirety of December or anything, it's just that a lot of shops and craft fairs/similar events start preparing for Christmas around August. They order in stock, book artists etc all well ahead of time. So there was me getting back to my feet sometime in October, and I wasn't anywhere near ready for Christmas. Which sort of felt like a slap in the face. The run up to Christmas basically felt like some sort of race where every time I turned a corner I could just make out the main group already turning the next corner ahead of me... rather than catching up I was mostly just trying not to fall down, curl up and give in altogether.

So yeah... not such a good time really. Don't get me wrong, this isn't supposed to be me saying 'oh woe is me, see how cruel the world has been to me!', it's pretty much been self inflicted, and now I'm just trying to get all of this out of my head. I know somewhere out there someone is in the middle of going through the same things - lack of self confidence sucks. Depression sucks (when you can summon enough energy to have that much emotional commitment to the thought, anyway). Trying to get a business up and running as a solo endeavour when you've little self confidence and suffer from depression... well, it kinda sucks. But I knew it wouldn't be easy. I knew (still know) that if I were to look up some sort of psychological profile of your average successful entrepreneur, my own profile would not share many similarities.

And yet!
Today, on this grey, wet, miserable Wednesday halfway into the first month of 2014, I am feeling positive.
I actually reached panic/anxiety attack stage by the start of the year - not due to any one thing or person, just due to the build up of self doubt (and possibly also a bit of a social overdose over the last month after being something of a hermit for the months before).
So, at the start of January, when I felt myself sleeping in just to avoid being awake and having to think about stuff, I gave myself a day off. Not just an 'oh I don't think I'll do any work today' day, this was a full on self centred day of utterly ignoring everything I didn't feel like doing. I played computer games. I started reading that book I'd been meaning to read. I had a nap.
At the end of the day, I was feeling a little bit calmer, a little bit more...grounded I guess. Then I had a very brief anxiety attack, although I can't now remember why.
I decided to apply the me-time plan to the next day as well. I had an anime marathon. It was awesome. End of me-time day two: feeling so much better! No major panic moments during the day, and when I felt myself starting to panic I'd managed to overcome it and stay calm, so hurrah, progress!

Now, the really awesome thing is that over what turned into a week of me-time, I actually got a load of useful work done. I'd play or read or watch or whatever, then reach a point where I'd sit back and think 'ah, that was good, now I fancy a cup of tea. Oh hey, I might take those product photos I need since the suns out...'. Apparently, when I'm not telling myself that something MUST be done, I'll often quite happily just get on and do it. I think it's the pressure + perfectionism thing again. When I apply pressure by telling myself it HAS to be done, somehow I always seem to get caught up in the fear that I'm doing it wrong/badly/not well enough. Then I stall, and whatever it is doesn't get done, and then I panic because omg, that-was-supposed-to-be-done-by-now-and-it-isn't-and-now-the-world-will-collapse-on-my-head-aaaargh. Which is stupid.

Wanna know what I got done but not telling myself it had to be done? I got a bunch of stuff uploaded to Etsy. I put up several posts on Facebook. I sorted out the remaining post-holiday mess so I could actually use the workroom again. I got back in touch with a shop I'd contacted before Christmas, and although they felt my work style wasn't in keeping with the shop's currently styling they were ever so nice to me and kinda made my day by just being pleasant and complimentary. Also, they expressed interest in some of my leather stuff - which I hadn't expected at all when I asked about selling jewellery there!

All of this was stuff that needed doing... but whenever I thought of it that way I'd find ways to procrastinate, or I'd worry myself half to death over some insignificant detail and thus get nothing done at all.

Today, I've applied for a spot at the Brighton Craft Fair, for both their February and March fairs. This week I've also managed to put new stuff on Etsy making use of their variables system to make customisable orders, and even set up a valentines promotion (go check the facebook page if you want to know more).
So yeah, suddenly I'm feeling positive. I seem to have achieved more so far in January then I feel like I managed to do in all of the last months of 2013. Fingers crossed I can keep going, and this will be the year that I really get to grips with this crazy self employment thing.

P.S If you read all the way through this, have an A. I think you deserve it. It might also be a relief to know that even after relating all that negativity I'm still in a really good mood :)

Thursday, 2 January 2014


Whoops, haven't written in a while... so here's a rundown of the Christmas period...

I made a giant squid!

He's 6ft long, made of purple felt and patterned fabric, and has been named Sid. I used this guide, but reduced all the measurements by 1/4 and only used 1kg of stuffing in the end. I may end up opening up a seam to add some more stuffing at some point, because Dom keeps hugging him so much he's going to get flattened...

I've also had the needle felting kit out over the holidays, making little round animal things like this frog on a lily pad:

The holiday was spent travelling around the countryside to visit family. Other than taking an hour to travel 6 miles along the M25 on the first day of travelling, we seem to have avoided the year's road issues. We did however eventually get home to a defrosted freezer - the weather the day we left appears to have caused a power cut -.- Still, could've been worse. We didn't get flooded or experience any damage to the house, and the kitchen floor is tiled so survived being wet for a few days. The only significant loss was the gammon joint we'd had in the freezer, along with a few sausages and some beef mince. Really not the end of the world, but better to throw them out than risk food poisoning!

Business wise, this Christmas was actually a bit of a flop sadly. Very few sales, due in no small part I imagine to only making it to one little Christmas fair. General organisation fail and lack of prior awareness of what fairs were available certainly didn't help either. However! At least now I have some idea what to work towards for next time, and despite reaching a bit of a low point mentally again, I seem to have come through the holidays with a seed of fresh enthusiasm tucked away in my head - hopefully if I'm careful with it and encourage it gently into the light the year will get off to a good start!