Monday, October 8, 2012

a three year plan

Last week I was one of a handful of parents who spoke to the fourth grade class about the business they had started.  The fourth graders are doing an entrepreneurial unit.  I talked about Tiny Baby Times, of course.  The talk was okay.  I was nervous as hell, sweating, and talking too fast.  I went after an architect, a mechanical engineer, and two ladies who have a product that is produced in China and sold at the Art Institute among other places. Did I feel a little silly to get up and talk about painting onesies in my apartment?  Yeah.  I did.  (I was very grateful for the lady who went after me, who was there to talk about her handmade business and etsy shop as well).

It wasn't just that my business was less prestigious than the others that had me feeling silly, though.  It was that I don't really love what I'm doing.  The whole thing about starting your own business and being a successful entrepreneur is that you're supposed to love what you do, right?  Of course it will still be hard work, but it should be invigorating and energizing work, right?  Something you can be passionate about and want to do forever?  Am I making this up?  Because I feel like this is the bill being sold with the dream of a successful handmade business.

The problem, of course, is that the product that took off for me is a product that has no real meaning in a handmade context.  If BabyGap had thought of these sayings and put them on onesies produced in their factories, they would have been just as cute, right?  I am proud of my clever/cute onesie sayings, and proud of my year of success.  But, well, I am tired of painting onesies.  I feel like a one-woman sweatshop and it is exhausting.

Still, I am having trouble walking away.  Every time I get a sale, it is still a little boost of affirmation, and it's hard to walk away from that.  It's hard to turn away from the money, quite honestly, and from a proven successful product.

I want to be doing something different.  And I've known that from the beginning.  But after talking to fourth graders last week it began to weigh heavier upon me.  Somehow, I have to carve out time to make other things, and start the transition to putting more of my focus on the other shop.  I don't know how I am going to do it.  With the shop selling at its current volume, I feel busier than ever before.  Add to that two boys who bring home loads of homework each night, cooking, minimal cleaning and all the rest of it, and extra time is a scarce commodity.

Aside from time is the problem of deciding what exactly I would make if I wasn't making onesies, and whether or not those things would have legs on the internet.  I have some ideas, but I really don't suspect any of them would have the success that the onesies have seen.  What I want is a shop where I can make what I please, and have it sell.  Pretty tall order, right?  I think that some people have this going for them.  Here are a few examples:  Somethings Hiding in Here, Lisa Congdon, and Diana Fayt.  These are people, who from an outsider's observation, appear to make whatever they are currently into, in editions, then let those sell out as they move to the next idea.  There is probably more to it than that, and I would love to sit down and chat with any of these individuals about how exactly they are doing it.  The big factor in making a model like that work, in my estimation, is having a following.  These people have a following.  Their shops/blogs/careers are followed by the right people.  Certain style bloggers, certain pinterest heavyweights, etc.

So if a following is what I need, how does one achieve that?  Even on a small scale?  (Albeit bigger than just family and friends, which is where I think I am now.  Love you guys, though.)  Starting my tumblr was part of my plan to gain the following necessary for the type of success I want.  I haven't been using it much lately but plan to pick it up again later.  But other than that, I'm not sure where to start.

I also worry that followings don't really happen anymore.  Or at least not as often.  I think some of the people whose handmade careers I so admire may have gotten their start in the golden age, when the craft blog community was smaller and tighter, and people got to know each other and promoted each other as a result.  I don't know if that can happen anymore, now that everyone and her sister and mother all have blogs.  Nowadays people are more likely just to pin your extraordinarily pretty pictures than they are to follow your blog, I think. But how do you get that initial pin to start circulating? And how do you write a blog people want to follow, along with all the requisite gorgeous photos, and still have time to make anything?  And how to I set out to have more people follow my work without seeming desperate or needy or gross?

I've wandered into rambling territory.  Wrapping things up...
-onesies need to taper off.
-in place of onesies I'd like to make and sell something else.
-I don't know what I'm going to make or how it's going to get noticed out there in the vast internet world, but I have to try.
-By the time T's fourth grade class has entrepreneur day, I want to tell them I am an artist, who makes art and sells it in my etsy shop.  (Or a crafter, who makes and sells crafts, if I'm still as uncomfortable sporting the title "artist" as I am now). That gives me three years to transition.  Three years.  I think it's doable.  But I have to start now, I have to be intentional, and I might have to turn away from a successful business in order to pursue what I really want.

The goal is creative freedom in a successful handmade business.  The timeline is three years.  Thanks for letting me sort through my thoughts here.  I'd be interested in any advice or insight you have to offer.  xoxoxo


Christina Barnett said...

The third-to-the-last paragraph are words taken right out of my mouth. It's discouraging.

Just keep swimming.

Sarah Hedman said...

oh my goodness, Laura Beth!! All of these things are exactly things I have been questioning and wondering about. Glad I am not alone! I have already learned a lot from watching your success but would love to keep learning from you!! Thanks for your honesty and feel free to share anything you learn about making this handmade business BOTH successful and fulfilling.