Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Small Changes

I recently bought a pair of fuchsia pants. They're linen, they're fun, and I can think of about ten things I will wear with them. "Pink pants!?", someone said. "I could never wear those." And why not? It's just color...

I don't know if this is regional, but I find that a fair number of people who are browsing my tent at festivals are afraid of color. Black will always sell, blue (most shades) will always sell, but stick a red or purple or green out there and people will say, "I don't know what I would wear that with." I'm always a little surprised by this (even after all these years), because I love color and I like to mix colors up together. There's more to life than making sure your blue earrings go with your blue jeans.

It seems like such a little thing, this fear of color. But it made me wonder, how many other small fears hold us back in our lives? How many times do we do the same things (respond the same way to compliments, go about the same tasks, in the same order, reach for the same outfit - in black, white, or gray) repeatedly? And what might happen if we handled them differently? Would compliments be savored, instead of dismissed? Would we find more efficient ways to handle our tasks, so we have more free time? Would we wear...red, purple, or green?

Why not try it and see what happens? Letting go of some small fears (or at the very least, some ingrained patterns) can be very eye-opening. And small changes often lead to bigger ones. Imagine letting go of some great fear, or some perception you've been carrying, about how you "just can't" do something. Or maybe it's how you "always" do something one way. (And you always get a negative reaction...food for thought, that). Try something new today! Start with something small, and see where it leads. And then try another...

But be careful - before you know it, you might be wearing pink pants. And liking it. :)

Friday, May 22, 2009

(Don't) Tell Me What I Want to Hear

One of my running personal jokes with my husband is that he NEVER tells me what I want to hear. Far from it! Instead he gives me his direct, honest feedback about everything. And while I tease him that sometimes I just want to hear warm and fuzzy platitudes, he knows I really value his input and advice. (AND he knows that I would kick his butt if he just pawned me off with meaningless niceties, but that's a different issue).

Most people will never do that, though, at least in my experience. We don't often share our true thoughts and feelings with one another. Sometimes because the other person doesn't *really* want to hear anything that's not positive. Some people are afraid. Some will turn around and accuse you of snobbery, jealousy, envy...or any other negativity. Truthfulness seems to be considered "rude" in our current There Are No Losers, Every Child Gets An Award, You Deserve a Pat on the Back Just For Being Here social environment.

I understand about social niceties and manners, and I get the reasons for little white lies. But when someone really is asking for bare, unvarnished feedback, I personally think it's rude *not* to honor that request. If someone truly wants your honesty, I think it's more respectful to your relationship to give it. There are a million ways to gently share your thoughts, even if they are less than positive, so why not? How can a person grow or change without real feedback?

I have very few people in my life (besides my husband) on whom I can depend to tell me what they really think, if I ask Sometimes even if I don't ask...they'll tell me anyway. And I love that. Yeah, it might hurt up front, but only because I am a fragile, sensitive artist-type person. That outer shell you see is just a cover! But I do love that honesty, because it makes me think differently. It might change how I do something, or how I feel or think about something. It's growth medicine.

Recently a friend mentioned something about an aspect of my business. My first response was, literally, "Ouch.". She immediately began to apologize and I told her, "Don't apologize. Ouch is good!" And it is. Those little prickles tell me that I need to look at something, analyze it, sort out how I really feel about it, and then make any necessary changes. I know her comment came from the heart, out of a desire to help. I took that comment home and chewed it over for a while, played with it, and it ended up helping me finalize something I'd been struggling with. Was that a positive? Of course it was. And so worth the trouble to get there.

So to my husband and my friends: please, keep doing what you're doing. Tell me what you think and feel. I might not be overjoyed initially, but I will respect it and learn from it. And I will respect *you* for it. Your feedback is invaluable and I cherish it. Don't ever tell me what I want to hear.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Life Rules

One of the reasons I started my own business was because I was tired of working for companies whose missions and visions didn't necessarily match up with my own. And one of my great joys has been to see my company take shape, in the way *I* want it to be. It's an extension of myself and therefore, what it puts out into the world is what I am putting out into the world (most days, anyway. Sometimes I am just cranky and it's good that I work from home with no social interaction!).

I was recently asked what my "rules" are for the business. And while I don't consciously think about my rules that often, they inform everything I do, both personally and professionally. So I thought I'd share them here:

1. The Golden Rule. Do Unto Others. I firmly believe that you get back what you give. If you dish out crap, you're going to get crap thrown back at you. If you are positive and kind, you'll get the same back. Really, any other rules I might have are just subsets of this.

2. Do No Harm. I believe in a "live and let live" philosophy. If your lifestyle / behavior isn't hurting anyone, then by all means, enjoy it. It doesn't mean that I will necessarily agree with it, but I respect your choice.

3. A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats. The jewelry design world is extremely competitive - hell, the world in general is extremely competitive! And some people are so competitive that they think their success is contingent on others' failing. I believe there's enough room in this world for all of us to succeed in our own ways. We each have to walk our own paths, but most of us have learned from others' experience, mistakes, or assistance. So be open to sharing with others to help them succeed. And hope they succeed beyond their wildest dreams.

4. Know Who You Are, and Be True to Yourself. Be honest with yourself, always. Know who you are and then act accordingly. Don't be swayed by something that goes against who you are. And be proud of who you are. If you can't be proud, then look for ways to change the parts of yourself you dislike.

5. Build Bridges, not Walls. Those of you who have been reading my blog for some time have heard this before! We are all connected. Every interaction, no matter how small, has meaning. Why not make it a positive interaction? Give random compliments. Take the time to look people in the eye, and smile! Wish them the best. Take the stones you are given and build bridges everywhere you go. And just see what kind of richly fulfilled life you will have. :)

Please feel free to share your thoughts here. I am eager to hear your own life rules!


Achievements and the Little Green Monster

Have you ever had a friend who was so naturally talented, and achieved so much of what you wanted for your own life, that you were jealous of her almost as often as you enjoyed her company? Well, I have one. She's beautiful and skilled and driven and she's already reached so many goals in her career that I can hardly stand it sometimes. She makes me crazy. No, let me correct that. *I* am making me crazy.

None of us create in a vacuum. We're always keeping our ears to the ground, checking in with other designers, sharing news and information and keeping tabs on each others' web sites and achievements. And while that's all good and positive for the most part, sometimes we don't like what we hear, because in a competitive medium, there's not always room for all of us. We don't get accepted to every show or festival we apply to. We can't all win the Niche Award, the Merit Award, or the Best Booth award, every time. We're not all given the same opportunities because well, design and art are subjective. And yes, politics play a part in the "who gets what" in the jewelry world, just as much as it does in anything else. So many times, we're going to feel left out. And y'know, we're sensitive creative types. So we get emotionally devastated very easily. It sucks sometimes, but the highs and lows of this life are what we ride, every day. Fortunately, they typically balance each other out!

But sometimes we run across a person who just seems to have SO much that it's a little hard to swallow. And no matter how nice or deserving that person might be (and trust me, she is plenty of both), we go home and have a pity party for ourselves in our studios. And then, hopefully, we get out of our heads and back to our benches and get to work. Because you know what the best cure for jealousy is? Earning your own achievements. If you're feeling jealous, push harder. Dig deeper. Create your absolute best work. And if that's not good enough, go back to the table and create more. Because it's there. It's inside you, waiting to get out. And when you let the creativity happen, you will reach your own pinnacles, and others' achievements won't matter quite so much. And maybe one day you'll even thank them (even if it's silently, in your own head!) for igniting that creative spark that allowed you to bring out what is buried within you.

And to my friend, who in addition to being gifted, driven, and brilliant, is absolutely authentic, down to earth, caring and super-supportive of everyone around her - thank you for pushing me further, both intentionally and unintentionally, and for all the great times we have together. You know I wish you ONLY the best, in everything. Keep achieving!

Working on a paler shade of green,

Original post date: 04/27/09

Falling In Love...

Oooh, things have been busy here! But I finally had a little time to work on new Sticks designs...it's been almost two years since I first created that line, and I've had additional designs in the sketchbook ever since. So late last week, I carved out a little time to put them on a work board to see how they looked with the actual metal components, instead of just ink scratches on paper. And they looked...weird. I really was disappointed at first, because they just weren't speaking to me. So, after a lot of fiddling with them, I finally got up to do something else. I've found that sometimes it's good to step away from my work for a while and come back to it with a fresh perspective.

Several hours later, I came back to that design board and kind of peeked at the new designs. And hey, they didn't look quite so bad...I played with some of the bars, moved some pearls around, and they were starting to grow on me. And now, days later, I am so excited about them! I don't have any time to devote to them this week, because I'm getting ready for the Inman Park show (yay) but I can't wait to get back to the work board and start the process of connecting them together! Some may not survive the actual construction phase, but I think most of them will make it through and I am eager to see how they turn out. I hope to have them ready for the Roswell Colors Festival on Mother's Day weekend, and I can't wait to hear your comments!

Artistically yours,

Original post date: 04/20/09

Can We Share?

Some of you may have noticed that I have changed the descriptions of my STICKS and Curvaceous lines. I'd been thinking about this for some time, about the deeper meaning of why I create, what I create, and what message I want it to share. Of course on the surface it's just jewelry...but so often jewelry is more than “just” that. It’s commemorative, celebratory, talismanic. It’s the most personal accessory we have and it speaks not only to our individual styles, but our beliefs as well.

Connecting to others on a personal level has always been a core drive for me, but it's even more necessary now that I work from home, alone, most of the time. I used to have this Grand Idea that I would grow up (still waiting for that part, I think!) and do something that would change the world. Of course, I had no idea what that would be, so I spent a lot of time pursuing different paths, looking at a lot of options, trying to figure out who I would be - because I was going to be Somebody! No ordinary life for me!

Well...I haven't exactly set the world on fire. I haven't become a big Somebody, either. But I don't mind being a small somebody as long as I am still able to reach out and connect with others. As I've gotten older, I think that maybe the changes I can make are on a more personal level, through friendships, and family relationships, and well, all the other (brief or deep) relationships I have every day. I think these relationships are what give our lives a true meaning and that they would be very empty without that.

And you all have been so great about connecting with me personally. I feel very fortunate to have such caring customers who want more than just a one-time jewelry purchase. You ask about my training, what inspires me, what my hopes and goals are. And I learn about your families, your dreams, your lives and loves. We get to know each other a little better; we get to enrich each others' worlds. And that is the biggest reward of all.

Let me know what you think about the new copy. As always, I love to hear your thoughts and perspectives.


Original post date: 03/31/09


Lately I have been feeling like I can't catch my breath. I'm jumping into wholesale and the shows are taking place during a time when I normally have a lot of space to design, create, clean up the studio, etc. This year I am only a third of the way through the first month and there is waaaaay too much going on. Last fall was frantic, too - selling at retail events through the holidays, along with all the other stuff that goes on in the 4th quarter every year, tends to make a person hustle through every day. I remember people saying "Well, things will be better after the holidays, right?" Usually. But not this year. I don't expect any downtime, really, until after mid-February. And if the BMAC is a good show for me, then I'll be working on filling orders. When do I squeeze in the breathing time?

I've taken on two things for the business this year that have great potential, but are also causing me great stress. And I have a habit of feeling a bit locked in, once I choose a path - as if I absolutely have to follow that path. But last night I had a little reminder that my choices aren't carved in stone. Maybe these two paths, though possibly solid foundations for the future, aren't the *right* foundations for me *right now*. If they are stressing me this much, then I need to step back and look at other choices. Just because I think they are ultimately the best options doesn't mean they are today's best.

So one I will be terminating shortly, and the other...well, the other I really, really want to continue, but moving forward "as is" isn't going to work. So I am going to have to lay down an ultimatum. Either things change, or I'm out. And if I'm out, I can use the time and money in other ways that will possibly be much more beneficial to my business. It's not the end of the world if I try something and it doesn't work the first time around. And you know what? Realizing that I can make these changes has been like lifting a great weight off my chest. I can take a deep breath and start over, in a more achievable direction. It will take longer to get where I want to go, but at least I might survive the getting there.


Original post date: 01/20/09

Oh, Lordy Lordy...

It's been over a year since my last entry! And what a year it was...ups and downs and recessions, oh my! And that's just enough said about that. I'm looking forward, not back, and starting a new game plan of blogging more often. Raise your hand if you've heard that before...okay, ALL of you put your hands down. Mea culpa and apologies. On to 2009!

What's been happening so far? A lot more than usual for me this time of year. I started exhibiting at wholesale shows last year, and am now on the circuit...which meant that the new year began with a BANG for me on 1/5. The Atlanta Mart Gift Market was from 1/9 to 1/13, and I had to get everything pulled together for the setup on the 6th...eek! Transitioning my booth from retail to wholesale takes some work, but I managed to get set up with relatively few issues. Though the wheel of my hand truck died...as I am trying to haul my full loads from the parking garage, down the hill, across the street, to the Mart - did I mention that I only had a *few* issues?

The show itself was good..and bad. Bad because I have yet to break even at a wholesale show, so it cost me more money than I made. Not a good sign for positive business revenues. Good because I was in a much better location than at the previous shows, and I actually wrote decent orders and got a chance to talk to retailers who are interested in the work. Typically - at least at the beginning - the goal for wholesale shows is not to *make* money...but to make contacts. Wholesale is a slow-growing process, not an instant "I love it, I'll buy it and take it home now" situation like retailing. But I want to expand and have my designs available to more people, and IMO this is the most efficient (though certainly not the least expensive) way to do that.

I had several "ASAP" orders which was great - they will be shipped by EOM and I am taking those revenues to Tucson with me for shopping! And then I'll have some more orders to fill when I return, so hopefully those orders will ease the gap between the wholesale events and when my retail events start again, which is typically April.

In February I am off to Tucson (!) for the annual buying trip, and my list is nearly complete already. I'm eager to go and get the goodies so I can get crackin' on new designs for this year. And after I return from Tucson, I head off (right off, only one day later) to Philadelphia to exhibit at the "end all, be all" of wholesale events - the BMAC (Buyers Market of American Craft). This is an all-handmade show, which will give me exposure to a more suitable group of buyers. At the Gift Markets, I am also competing with mass-produced and imported items, so pricing becomes an issue and those buyers aren't necessarily comparing apples to apples. At the BMAC, we are all creating and selling our own designs, which (somewhat) evens the playing field. Plus, my designs can reach an audience in other parts of the country - so far I have mostly had exposure to Southeastern customers.

Today I should be finishing items for orders due at the end of the week, but instead I am working on lots and lots of online updates. New pics for the wholesale and retail sites, updates to other sites related to wholesale...and I am just not that fast with cropping / editing and uploading pics, so I tend to put those things off. Then I kind of wait until I have a whole batch of stuff to do, and just grit my teeth and start doing it. Fortunately I can un-grit them now, because most of that's done for a while. Now, on to finishing the orders that will ship this Friday!

Back soon (I promise!),

Original post date: 01/19/09

Kick-Start Your Intentions

Happy Post-Holidays!! The 2007 Fall Retail Season is over, and I'm sending out a big thank you to everyone for your support. I am tired, but happy, and really eager to tackle 2008. January is a huge month for intentions, goals, plans. *Intentions* being the key word. We seem to start with the best of intentions, but many of us don't achieve our set goals during the year - often for reasons that WE control.

With that in mind, here are my goals and plans for 2008:

- Narrow the focus. Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, I'm aiming for more mastery over less things. That kind of goes along with my "quality over quantity" mantra for my personal life, but for some reason I've not been consistent about applying it to the business. But I've found in recent years that as my focus narrows, I'm better able to perform the tasks I'm good at. The other tasks can be (and often are) outsourced, as time and revenue permits. Don't be afraid to give up some control and hire help if you need it. Doing so will keep you focused on your own skillset of tasks and help you work much more efficiently.

- Set goals and consistently aim to achieve them. When I don't have clearly defined goals, I tend to get lost. And overwhelmed. And wonder what the hell I'm doing. Most of my goals have been very loosely defined, and I think that's caused a lot of trouble mentally and even physically. Working toward clear goals, on the other hand, makes me super-productive, because every morning I know *what* I'm working toward. And I'm a big list girl - I love the satisfaction of checking off "done" tasks. The trick, for me, is to remember to put those tasks in my planner list to begin with.

- Remember to enjoy (schedule it in if you have to!) some personal time. Getting away from the workplace, whether that's in your home or outside of it, reaps major benefits (again, both mentally and physically). You'll come back to your work invigorated and with a fresh perspective. Hang with friends, take an afternoon off and play with the kids, or just spend some quiet time pampering yourself. The rewards are immediate.

Discipline plays a key part in achieving our goals, whether that's to be fitter and healthier, or to be on target for our careers, or to make room for additional personal time. Merriam-Webster initially defines discipline as punishment, and I think most of us view discipline that way. But I like this definition much better:

5 a: control gained by enforcing obedience or order

b: orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior

c: self-control

So remembering what you want the end result to be, and working every day to achieve that result (practicing self-control), will effect change. Flip it in your mind - it's not a punishment, but a factor for achieving your goals. View discipline as a positive instead of a negative, and you'll be much more likely to *stay* disciplined.

I think the difficulty most of us face - me included! - is that we get mired down with the big picture. We want to make a huge change, and it's overwhelming to be at Point A and see it all the way down at Point F...but once you've taken stock of that and set your daily (or hourly, weekly, whatever time frame works) goals, you just have to focus on the small steps.

By the end of this week, I intend to have a revised business plan written, along with the smaller steps to achieve the goals I set. That means that every morning when I get up, I see that goal in my daily calendar and I am spending time on it - in small increments, because to do it all at once is too overwhelming. And I have a reward in mind for getting it done. I'll post later in the week how it's progressing, and y'all can keep me on track if necessary.

What are your plans and goals for this year? Drop a line if you feel like sharing. I'd love to hear them!


Original post date: 01/03/08

Moments of Stillness

Before I get going, here's a little funny for you. After a busy morning, I came home to find this on my MSN page:

And it tickled me. Yeah, what is UP with all you English cows!

And now, back to your regularly scheduled blogging:

Moments of Stillness

It's that time of year when everything feels faster, busier, crazier. And though you try not to get caught up in the madness, there are bound to be times when you feel overwhelmed. Commitments, activities, social events, extra shopping, family obligations - they all seem to start taking up more of your life than ever.

When I start feeling overwhelmed - and this is, of course, a super-busy time of year for my business as well as our personal lives - I make it a point to take what I call "moments of stillness". These moments, which are often only be five minutes long, help me slow down and be more centered. If I can quiet my mind and my body, I'm calmer, more focused, and - surprisingly! - more productive.

How can you put these moments in *your* life? Here are some suggestions:

- Meditate. Pick an open spot against the wall and sit down. Use a regular household timer and set it for five minutes. You'd be surprised how long five minutes is when your eyes are closed and you're focused on clearing your mind. It takes me at least a couple of minutes to really push thoughts out of my head and just let my mind be. But once I'm in that zone, I'm always shocked when the timer goes off, because I have completely forgotten about it (and everything else, which is the whole point).

- Live in the moment. It might be your morning shower, it might be sitting in the pick-up line waiting for the kids, it might be anytime you have a small block of quietude. Really focus on how your body feels. Stretch. Sing, if you're in the shower. Don't worry about anything else. Put your energy into something personal that allows you to shut out the rest of the world.

- Connect with nature. Sit on the front steps (or back deck). Really notice the trees, the grass, the falling leaves, the color of the sky. Have a cup of tea, coffee, cider - whatever you like - and watch the birds. There's so much going on in the natural world, just outside your door. Get in touch with nature and you'll feel calm and renewed when you have to go back to your regular tasks.

- Journal. Early in the morning, or at night just before you go to bed. It's amazing how much flits by us every day. Taking some "slow time" to capture a special thought or memory is important. Did the kids do something touching or funny today? Journal it. Did you achieve something wonderful? Write it down. Did you have a horrible day? Write about what you're looking forward to tomorrow, or on the upcoming weekend. Chronicle those bits and pieces of your life as they happen.

It's five minutes - surely you can spare that once a day? Or at least once a week. Try to put these personal moments into your life regularly and you'll be amazed at how much better you feel.

What do YOU do for you? I'd love to hear about it!

As ever,

Original post date: 10/02/07

In the Midst of Crazy Town, a Warm Fuzzy

Nearly a month since my last entry! I keep trying to find time to write, but this time of year doesn't leave much extra time, for writing, or those "moments of stillness" I mentioned earlier, or much of anything besides work. This November I have three retail events plus a wholesale show....and it's the wholesale side of things that's making me frenzied. Brett and I have decided (on verrrrry short notice) to re-work my entire booth for the wholesale show. Ha! We are a little insane, but every time things get really crazy, I remind myself it's better than being bored...right? RIGHT?!

In the midst of all this, we are trying to coordinate travel for our two nieces, 17 and 14, to come visit us from Colorado. We made plans in July to bring them both out for Thanksgiving, but trying to get reasonable airfare has been a bit difficult. It's only the most-traveled weekend of the year, after all...we are watching fares closely and think we've *finally* found something that will work with their schedules (work and school) and ours. Brett and I agreed that even if fares were a little higher than we'd hoped to pay, we'd have to just bite the bullet - we'd promised the trip, they're excited about it, and we're really, really looking forward to having them here for a few days.

And tonight, in the midst of all my work busy-ness, and my stressing about ticket prices, I IM'd briefly with our younger niece. Before she signed off to go do homework, she wrote this:

" love you 2! u 2! goodnite!"

And now I'm just all melty inside. Most of you know that we don't have children, but those two girls (and our three-year-old nephew) are just precious to us, and living across the country means we don't see them nearly as often as we'd like. Oh, I can't WAIT for Thanksgiving!

So now I'm off to bed on a happy note. Insanity resumes bright and early tomorrow...

Sweet dreams,

Original post date: 10/30/07

The BEST Thing

What's the BEST thing you have done for your business lately?

I have made some major structural changes to the business this year. Having some part time help has really forced me to be more organized - not that the biz isn't already pretty organized, but mostly I keep everything in my head or on the computer, and so far my helper hasn't had access to either of those.

In the process of re-aligning some processes based on how they might be most efficient for others, rather my just "knowing" how to do them, I thought that some of you might find this information useful. So I'll share some of the BEST things I've done for the business in prior years. These are mostly processes I've set in place that have *really* helped me become more efficient, achieve my objectives, and even occasionally just saved my butt when it was crunch time!

2003- Get professional slides made. I think they were $200, which was a big chunk of money for my biz at that time. And they weren't even shot by a true jewelry photographer, but someone local who could do (and did) an adequate job for my needs. When I look back at them now, I can see a lot of room for improvement, but they got me into the shows I needed to be at for that time frame. And every time I've had to have new slides, I've ratcheted up the photography budget so they could really highlight my jewelry. Whether you use your images online, in print, or for jury slides (or all three!), don't scrimp here. Good photography is worth every penny you have put toward it.

2004 - Research. Again. And then some more. I began exhibiting at shows in 2003, and at first everything about that was chaotic. So I spent a lot of time in 2004 learning (both online and in person) how much to bring to shows, how to get on top of the set up and tear down so that it was orderly, how to remember *everything* I needed for each show, etc. I got some pointers on how to sell my work with confidence. I learned about pros and cons of certain business options. About where to buy or how to make the displays and other show-related items I needed for exhibiting. I made lists from my research, and I refer to them regularly to keep my business on track and consistent. I learned a lot - and made fewer mistakes - by doing my "due diligence" beforehand. Do the legwork first.

2005 - Keep it all in one place. By far the best thing I did that year (and it has helped me every year since) was to start my "Design Reference" book. This lists all my designs, so that for my production and limited production items, I can re-make them without having to refigure everything from scratch. I often have requests for custom colors ? for example, someone might like a certain necklace design, but not the color combinations. So I will make the design and embellish it with whatever colored gems they prefer. To be able to do this quickly, especially during busy times, I refer to The Book. It lists out every detail, like what size jump rings a design needs (and how many of each size), which tools I used to shape the wire, and all steps involved in creating each design. Take the time to document your designs and design processes.

2006 / 2007 - Refuse to take "no" for an answer. A few years back, I'd approached three well-known galleries to see if they wanted to represent me. They all told me no, (nicely), and two had suggestions for what they'd like to see if I wanted to get back with them in the future. I knew I wanted my work in those galleries, and that making the changes / new designs they asked for would fit with my current design path, but it would take time. So I spent about two years really honing my collections, changing things up a bit, refining my design directions, and placing my work elsewhere. In late 2006 and also this summer, I went back to each of them. And now I am represented in all three. Rejection can be a positive experience if you use it as a learning tool.

2007 - Recognize when to get help. Many businesses reach a point at which future growth (and revenue potential) is forestalled because the one person running the business can't take on anything else. It's a natural evolution...but one that many entrepreneurs resist, because they are used to "doing it all" and don't want to give up control of any aspect of the business. But ultimately, that?s necessary for growth, assuming your business plan dictates continuing to grow. I've been outsourcing all along, as soon as my budget allowed for it - I outsource my web maintenance, my printing, accounting, photography - all things that ultimately serve Blue Piranha better by using professionals. And this year, I've taken on physical help as well. I have a friend come in, once a week, and do some of the mundane chores that I can't ever seem to get to (or just can't stand). She folds and punches my hang tags, cuts chain (my least favorite task ever) for my necklace pendants, organizes paperwork, and anything else I have time for her to do while she's here. This only started a month ago, but already it's made such a difference for me. Don't hold yourself back by insisting that you can do it all. At some time, you just physically can't. Learn what to relinquish, and when.

What's the BEST thing you can do for your business, right now? Implement it. Go ahead...and see how much more efficiently you operate. Or how much closer you get to realizing your goals!

All the BEST,

Original post date: 10/31/07

Let It Go

I just came across a beautiful statement on Scott Ginsberg's blog.

http://hellomynameisscott.blogspot.com/ (10/30/07 entry)

And though I am already up way too late for the busy day I have tomorrow, I have to share it with you.

That blog entry talks about getting over yourself; how artists / creatives are merely a part of the creative process. We only channel how the art comes into being. What he says is,

"You?re letting what wants to be created create itself."

Isn't that a lovely, and reassuring thought? We can channel, guide, and shape the the creative vision, but ultimately we are bringing into being something that wants to be. And wow! How thrilling, and inspiring, is that??

That sentiment reminds me of another statement I've always loved, from a chat board user:

"Create that which would not exist without you."

I'm paraphrasing it a little, because I can't remember the exact wording, but it doesn't really matter - you get the point. Each of us is such a fabulous individual. There is no one -no one! - exactly like any of us in this world. And what we create is as individual as our DNA. With that perspective, why NOT create with abandon? It's almost imperative, when you think of it that way. *wink*

So all of you who have struggled, or are struggling, with your creativity, and how to balance it with business , and life in general (and you know who you are, because you've talked to me about it!), get creating! Create with abandon, with willful disregard for anything but what comes from your heart and bring it into being. It WANTS to be here. It WOULD NOT be here without you. Don't stifle it, don't ignore it, don't agonize over it. Let it out into the world. And don't let anything - especially not yourself - stop you from doing so.

Original post date: 11/02/07

With Friends Like These...

A discussion about friendship came up on a forum I visit: a woman was debating whether or not to let go of a friendship with another woman, who kept disappointing her in major (and minor) ways over the years. She'd let the friend know how hurtful this behavior could be, but nothing ever changed. She'd tried to lower her expectations for this friend, but that just wasn't working - she still expected certain things of the friendship, and was still getting hurt.

During this discussion, the idea was voiced that this woman wouldn't have accepted that type of behavior from a man, if he was treating her that way, so why accept it from a woman? Bingo! I often think that women have a harder time "breaking up" with female friends than they do with partners. Is it because we are socialized to be "friends forever" and we take that literally? Do we think that something's wrong with us, if a friend treats us badly? Do we try to "fix" the relationship or the issue, like we often do with men?

Well, yes. We tend to do all of those things, but sometimes "friends forever" isn't. Just like in romantic relationships, people change, life priorities shift, and we travel different paths. And, breakups, whether opposite- or same-sex, are HARD. But sometimes they're necessary. The adage of "keep company with those who make you better" is a good rule to live by. Do your friends make you laugh? Keep your deepest, darkest secrets that you share with no one else? Lift your spirits, guide you, educate you, support you even when you make mistakes? Do they love you because you?re a unique individual, quirks and foibles and all?

Original post date: 02/20/06

Probably no one friendship fulfills *all* of these things, but if you find that a friendship is more painful than enjoyable, or more negative than happy, then it may be time to let it go. It's not easy, but sometimes it's necessary. And just like with opposite-sex relationships, don't try to lower your standards and hope that you'll stop being hurt (or saddened, or disappointed) by the relationship. Having standards that differ from someone else's doesn't necessarily mean that your own standards are too high; it simply means that they may be too high for *that* particular relationship. As we grow and mature, we realize what we personally can - and can't - accept. And knowing that much about ourselves can save a lot of time and heartache, in any kind of relationship.

The same holds true for business relationships. If your friends and peers don't support what you're doing, are they truly good for you? You may need to re-evaluate the friendship, if gently - or firmly - trying to set them straight doesn't work. Make sure your friendships are supportive and nurturing. After all, we hear enough negativity from the chattering monkeys in our own heads. Having someone else add to that will only undermine your confidence and feed your insecurities. And that's the last thing any of us need. Rather than dealing with those who drag you down, surround yourself with positive energy instead. You'll be amazed at the difference.


Yesterday, my husband told me that October 2nd was the first day of fall this year. When I asked him why, he said, "Because I saw the first leaves change in our backyard". Now, you won't find that referenced in any almanac, or discussed on the evening news, but for Brett, that's the clincher. And I figure it's as good as any. *s*

We all have our own private markers of change. Today was *my* first day of fall, because the weather appears to be breaking (finally!). I took time for a walk around our neighborhood, which I haven't done in months, and heard the trees rustling, felt the leaves crunching underfoot, and recognized the winds of change blowing in. For me, fall has always been a time of rebirth.

I know; technically that's spring, but for me fall is the season when I feel renewed, energetic, open to all possibilities. Part of it is probably the weather change - I get *so* tired of the relentless heat of summer, and I love things like sweaters, scarves, and boots - and part of it is probably nostalgia. When I was young, we lived on the east coast, and my birthday (right around Labor Day) always seemed like the time when fall really got started. It was also the time when school started (in those days, we kids didn't go back to school until September), and I always loved going back to school. I loved shopping for school supplies, new lunch boxes, new school outfits. I was always excited to find out whom I'd meet this year, what the teacher would be like, who my new friends would be. And of course, what I'd be learning in my class(es). Yeah, I was (and I guess, still am) a nerd about that kind of stuff. I love to learn, I love having new experiences, and I love fall, because it always seems to bring plenty of both.

And as for the rebirth part? Well, I am a firm believer that if you don't like who you are, or where you're at in your life, you can change it. We have the option to change ourselves and/or our circumstances, right up until the very end of our lives. Sometimes those changes take longer then we'd like, and sometimes those changes lead us on another path that we hadn't intended, but the possibility always exists. And oddly enough, it seems to exist more strongly for me in the fall. It's when I feel the strength to be re-created.

So, what don't you like about yourself, or your life right now? Are you constantly late? Relentlessly disorganized? Trying to juggle too much at once? Are you easily irritated? Shy? Controlling? Stuck in a bad relationship?

Maybe now's the time to start working on improving just one thing.

Re-examine your priorities, de-clutter your life, take time for yourself - do what you need to do to make things better for you and those around you. If you focus on just one thing, and get on top of it, you'll be surprised at how many other things seem to "fall" (pun intended) into place. Welcome change, and when the first day of fall arrives for you *next* year, take stock and be proud of your accomplishments over the year. Then start working on the next rebirth.

Happy Autumn, everyone!

Original post date: 10/04/05

Professional Artist (It's NOT an oxymoron)

Yeah, I know - I don't really call myself an artist. I'm a designer, though I like to think of what I do as "art jewelry", since "costume" jewelry doesn't really fit, and "bridge" jewelry is a term that really no one (except maybe department store buyers) understands, and "fine" jewelry - which certainly can be a misnomer - usually brings to mind platinum and things like diamonds, opals, etc....not really the type of jewelry I make.

But anyway, I digress. Even though I tend to reserve the term "artist" for what I call Capital A Art - meaning 2D and sculpture - everyone I know, from show promoters, to gallery owners, to designers, uses that term. And not always in a positive sense. "Those artists are so flaky; it's hard for me to get a hold of them!". "Those artists don't understand that I have to make a living too, and can't accept everyone's work in my store". "This artist committed to me and now they've canceled at the last minute, leaving a big gap in my show" (or worse, a trunk show with no artist in sight...).

And many of these comments are justified. Most art schools don't teach anything about how to make a living from one's art; how to practice the *Business* side of Art. There are few classes or seminars available to artisans to teach them how to survive by marketing and selling one's art. In certain circles, it's not "cool" to be businesslike about one's art.

But art and commerce *can* coexist; at least in my opinion they can. I know most creative folks don't like - okay, we intensely dislike - the business end of our business. Paperwork. Selling (you mean, actually having to *talk* to people about our work??). Marketing. Advertising. Pricing. All topics that make most artisans and designers throw up their hands and shudder.

Unfortunately, that approach won't carry a business too far. If the paperwork gets ignored, fines and penalties (not to mention a lot of stress about the growing paper piles!) can result. If the work doesn't get advertised or marketed, no one knows about it, and so they can't buy it. If the work doesn't get sold - well, I'd like to see the case studies on businesses that succeeded without any revenues. Even the most beautiful, original work will typically not sell itself. If the pricing is out of whack - either on the low or the high end - the work will not sell, and all you'll do is make lovely things that just clutter up your home or studio.

Is it hard to be a professional artist? Not really; many times it simply involves basic etiquette. Treating others as you would like to be treated. For retail shows, this includes greeting your customers, not pressuring or "hard selling" them, but rather sharing information about your work, thanking them for their purchase, etc. etc. It also includes unloading quickly and moving your vehicle so the next exhibitor can get to their space to set up in a timely manner. It includes not playing loud music in your booth, or denigrating someone else's work, or taking more than your alloted booth space. And professional behvior should be extended to ALL of your customers, both retail and wholesale. For example:

I exhibited at a festival this weekend, and my husband went strolling the booths on Sunday afternoon. He said he heard at least *three* jewelry exhibitors telling customers, "my work is in galleries, but it's double the price because they mark it up so much. So you're really getting 50 (25, 15) percent off if you buy it directly from me". I told him I'd have asked, "How do your galleries feel about you undercutting them with customers?" Because that's essentially what's being done. And if YOU had that artist's merchandise in your store, and you found out that they were selling the work for less, would you want to do business with them again? I suspect not.

This is an example of what I mean by being professional. Don't undermine your long term relationships in order to make a quick buck. If you are going to sell at retail AND at wholesale, you must keep your prices consistent (and I realize that each gallery may have a different markup, but that's another discussion). A gallery may order and reorder from you for years, if you work consistently sells, so why risk the potential revenue of that relationship for one small retail sale (or even one large one)? I realize that we have to pay bills and put food on the table *now*, as well as in the future, but a professional artist will have planned for both (a nudge to those of you without business plans!), and act accordingly.

I once had my work consigned in a shop where the owner was frustrated because a few artists kept coming in and taking their work out of the shop - leaving large gaps in her inventory and display - every time they had a retail show. The owner asked me if it would be unreasonable to expect the artists to leave their work with her for a period of time, say three months, so she didn't always look like she couldn't fill the shop. I told her it was absolutely reasonable of her to expect that she would carry the work for an established time period. If the artist can't produce enough work to fill the shop's needs AND their own retail needs, then they need to cut out one of those sales venues. I know some of you may not like to hear that, but it's part of being a professional. You don't take on committments that you can't fulfill. Or at least, you try *really* hard not to. I recognize that sometimes you get blindsided, and even the best laid plans go to waste occasionally. But planning your production abilities *is* necessary to eliminate, or at least minimize, leaving promises unfulfilled.

Often artists are hurt by rejection from a store or gallery that they really wanted to have carrying their work. I understand that - we've all been there, and we're all likely to be there again - but it's critical to remember that the rejection isn't personal. It's about whether the owner / buyer thinks the work will sell. And if the owner takes on your work and it doesn't sell, is that really the kind of relationship you want? Your work sitting in a store gathering dust, with the owner unhappy that her space could be put to better use, and in the meantime, you might be selling it to another, more appropriate store, or maybe selling it yourself. As long as the owner or buyer isn't outright nasty in their rejection of your work, listen to what they have to say and learn from it. Ask questions. Ask if you can return in three (or six, whatever) months. Tailor your work to fit their demographic, as long as that still suits your personal style and what you want to create.

I have had both kind, and very unkind, rejections. The unkind ones are never fun, but we manage to move past them and try other options. The kind ones are often helpful, once we get over that initial sting. I have had some owners say to me, "Your work is beautiful, but X just doesn't sell in our store. If you start making Y, please come back and see us". Okay. Now I can decide if I will enjoy making Y and if so, I can go back with some Y later on, and see what happens. Or I can decide, "I would *hate* making Y", and continue to look for other locations to sell my X.

You can lessen the rejections by doing your homework up front. Check out potential locations carefully. Will your creations work with the items already there? Will your work add something that might be missing? Are your prices in line with their prices? Are your prices a little higher, and maybe the store is ready to push the price points up a little and try your work? If you work, and your prices, seem like a good fit, then make the call, and ask for the appointment. If not, move on to the next option. Remember, it's not about you or your work. It's about business. If the store is full of work that doesn't sell, how long do you think they'll be around? Owners want longevity as much as we want it for them, so don't waste your time trying to convince someone to take your work if they can't sell it.

If you get the appointment, remember that this is not the time to be your "out there" creative self. Certainly you don't have to get all buttoned-up corporate now, but you need to be able to present your work, and your pricing, in a solid, not flighty manner. Have your work priced appropriately, have your contract ready if you are doing consignment, or your terms ready if you are doing wholesale. Don't expect the owner or buyer to figure this out for you - it's a sure sign of someone who is not a professional. Present your work in an orderly manner, and listen to what the owner has to say. Take it on the chin if they don't want to purchase (or consign), if they do want your work, be happy, yet keep that professional demeanor. You can do the dance of joy later. *s*

If you are not able to be as professional as you'd like in certain areas, then you'll need to partner with someone who can. Whether that's a rep, or a spouse, or a business partner, find someone who can be strong where you are weaker, leaving you to your own strengths. If that means hiring an administrative assistant for your paperwork, then so be it. If it means using a CPA because, really, who the heck else understands the tax laws? - then do it. If it means hiring a PR firm, because you just don't have time to do your own PR (or time to figure out how it really works - IMO PR is one of the great mysteries of the Universe), then when you can afford to do so, have at it. Don't be afraid to ask for (or pay for!) help, as finances permit. Play to your strengths and you'll be amazed at how smoothly things will flow, and how much less stress you'll have. If you can't be professional enough in a certain area, hire someone who can. But in the meantime, make sure that you are the most "professional artist" out there. It's easier than you think.

Original post date: 10/18/05

It's The Little Things

Today my husband and I were at Home Depot. A brand new Home Depot near our house, so that even though we have been in our house for about 18 months, and really should just buy HD stock at this point LOL, we didn't know our way around this particular store.

My husband hailed an employee to ask where something was located. The man barely slowed his walk and nearly ended up shouting the answer to my husband over his shoulder before he reluctantly turned around and guided us to what we needed.

Then we went to the rental shop to ask about a pressure washer. Another gentleman walked up to us and said, "Can I help you folks with anything?". DH did have some questions, and the conversation was going fine until he asked something the employee didn't know. Well, my jaw nearly dropped at the change in the man's attitude - he seemed quite irritated that he'd have to walk over to the desk and check the stats on the washer. It was as if we'd actually made him *work* for a moment, instead of hanging out and just giving us rote information about the product. He came back, gave us what we?d asked for, and then walked away.

Now, those who know me well also know that customer service (or lack thereof) is a pet peeve of mine. I don't understand why people can't simply be treated courteously when they're in a store - or a restaurant - or any place where people interact. I will gladly get a hold of the manager on duty anywhere that I get stellar service, and tell them how wonderfully their employee treated me. In fact, I do this more often than I rant to managers about bad service. Unfortunately, I am not often presented with situations about which I can rave.

It's rare (at least in my experience) to get *really* bad service. Everyone's heard the old saw about how many people a disgruntled customer will complain to, and how a bad reputation can really hurt a business. So truly bad service has, for the most part, fallen by the wayside. But the problem I run into more and more is just indifferent service. Employees who don't bother to listen to you initially, because they just want to get you out of the way so they can go back to their phone conversations, magazine reading, or chatting with other employees. This also happened today- we had a return to make, and we did that immediately upon entering the store. The employee didn't bother to pay attention to what my husband said about the return, and only credited us for half of the merchandise, and she was none too pleased when she had to process *another* transaction.

The problem with indifferent service is that hardly anyone will report it, because it's not really enough to complain over, but it certainly doesn't add anything to the shopping (or dining, or any other) experience. But it?s pretty pervasive. People seem to be so preoccupied with themselves and getting back to *not* having to interact with customers that actual friendly, interaction is beneath them.

Customer service should be especially important to anyone who has their own business. It?s one thing if your employees are not as invested in it as you?d like them to be, but small business owners ? WE are the face, and the reputation, of our businesses. When a customer interacts with me through the web site, via e-mail or phone, or in my booth at a show, I certainly don?t want them to feel that I am bored or irritated by them! I want them to not only enjoy the jewelry they purchase from me, but to enjoy the whole experience of purchasing. I want to make it easy for my stores to sell my work, so I listen to what my retail and wholesale customers tell me, and I tailor my work, within reason, to fit what they tell me they like (in the case of retail customers), or what turns over quickly (in the case of wholesale accounts). To me, customer service is just the right thing to do. It makes the customers happy and happy customers will gladly come back for more. And really, isn?t that the ultimate goal of any business?

Original post date: 10/21/05

Be Yourself

I know, it's a trite subject, being yourself. But this is what comes to me at 1 a.m. when I'm making inventory for a show...

What follows is an excerpt from a post I made in the Art Jewelry forum http://www.artjewelrymag.com/art/community/forum/:

You'll also notice that Dana Kellin has a *very* recognizable style - as does Yurman with the twisty stuff, Mann, etc. This helps to build brand recognition and appeals to certain markets. Many of us would do well to develop a recognizable style ourselves. Just like a Gucci bag (with the double-G's) or a designer dress is instantly recognizable (maybe not to most of us, but to other people who are wearing designer clothes), David Yurman jewelry is instantly recognizable, people know it costs A LOT, and so it conveys status. Like a big house or driving a Lexus. Most of our jewelry doesn't convey status - by way of a recognizable name and the means to afford it - to this type of customer. That can make a big difference.

The forum has many members who are very new to jewelry making, and of course their style is all over the place. As it should be - when first starting out in any medium, one's inclination is to try everything! So many choices, so many new things to make...but eventually, and *especially*, if one decides to earn one's living at their chosen medium, then having a distinct, recognizable style is priceless. It doesn't have be an "over the top" or "super-expensive" style, either. But it should be a style that people can associate with the designer - a style that is recognizable as your own.

It's commonly said that there's nothing new under the sun; everything has been done already...in fashion, jewelry, Art...but things keep getting reinvented, and even though an artisan might work in the Etruscan style, or the Art Deco style, they're trying to make a living now, not a hundred years ago, and *their* Etruscan style, while maybe derivative, becomes known as theirs - they own it, they promote it, they stay true to it, and the public begins to recognize it. And, if the designer is very lucky, they will make a good living from it.

I still haven't quite developed *my* own style, but I'm getting closer to it. In fact, I hope to have several styles (or at least a few) that become recognizable as distinctly Blue Piranha. I have been struggling for months to design in collections, instead of just a mishmash of "wire work" designs, and the collections are kicking my butt - by that I mean that they're harder to make than I thought. I think I have finally been able to start coaxing out a couple of collections, but still have to figure out the stones for them, which must be readily available, consistently cut sized, and in good enough supply for me to purchase more as needed. My goal is to move from mostly retailing to mostly wholesaling, and I want to do production work, which means I have to be able to consistenly have access to the necessary stones. That part I'll deal with later, but first I have to develop the designs themselves - the framework, so to speak.

How do you develop your own "look"? The best way is to be true...you know where I'm going with this, don't you...to yourself. A very wise artist gave me this advice, and I have carried it around with me ever since, thinking about how I want my jewelry to reflect who I am as a person and a designer, as well as appealing to my target market. Erika, who gave me this advice, is a natural girl, very down-to-earth and straightforward, with a sense of calm about her that I've never seen in another person. I suspect she could easily live "off the grid" and totally enjoy herself. Her jewelry is solid, bold yet delicate, earthy; some of it has a weathered, very nature-ish look...it's an absolute reflection of the artist who designs it.

If you analyze your life (or what you want it to be), and who you are - or who you want to be - then your designs should reflect that. It's rare that a tall, large-framed woman makes tiny, delicate things, and vice versa. It would be unusual for a minimalist to make glitzy, frou-frou designs (though there are always exceptions). My friend Jeannie, of J Jewelry, is small and delicately built, and that's the type of jewelry she makes. My friend Beth, of BT Designs, loves her trips to the beach, collects Folk Art, and likes earthy stuff. Her jewelry...you guessed it, is bold and organic-looking.

And me? I am a city girl at heart, though I love the outdoors, I love fashion and dressing up and wearing pretty things. I like clean lines and am a fiend about proportion, and am trying (though the clutter often defeats me) to live a minimalist lifestyle (shoes excluded, LOL). I will always choose classic things over trends, in my wardrobe, my home, and my jewelry. So the jewelry I design fits that aesthetic - or at least, I hope it's starting to. As I said, I'm not quite there yet.

Another reason to design true to who you are is that if you are selling your designs, it's a lot easier to sell what you really believe in. If you are not interested in trends, then don't design to them. If you can't *rave* about turquoise - or whatever stone is "hot" - then don't use turquoise just because it's "in". If glass really moves you, design with glass. If you love sourcing vintage items and incorporating them into your work, then by all means, do it. Design from your heart, and you (and your customers) will be happy. Our customers are not just buying our work; they're each buying the bits of ourselves we put into our designs. And you will enjoy knowing that they love owning / using / wearing the work as much as you love creating it for them.

Original post date: 09/15/05

Good Things and the Squeaky Wheel

I don't really believe that "good things come to those who wait" is a true statement. I believe that the squeaky wheel gets the grease (full of cliches today, aren't I?). Here's an example:

Over a year ago, a store owner in Raleigh, NC, contacted me about possibly teaching there. I wrote back that I was interested, I downloaded the instructor paperwork and mailed it in, e-mailed pictures of samples, and so on. I waited to hear back and nothing happened. I got busy with other things, and before I realized it, two months or so had passed. I e-mailed the store and they said they'd just finished their newest class schedule, but they'd discuss adding me to their next schedule (this store schedules classes several months in advance) and get back to me. So I waited...and again, before I knew it, I'd been busy and quite a bit of time had passed. So I called them. They said that somehow I'd been overlooked at the last discussion, but they'd get back to me. Are you seeing a pattern here yet?

At this point, some of you must be wondering why I didn't just let it go. Well...I enjoy this store. Shopping there is always a pleasant experience. I like the employees, the clientele, and Raleigh in general. And I like to teach. So I really wanted to pursue this.

I did end up getting back to them once more - and in their defense, as I don't want to sound like I'm picking on them, they are always *very* busy with customers, which of course is their main priority. Every time I've been there, they are swamped! And they have just recently opened another store in the area, so they've been stretched a bit thin with that. Opening a new location is a HUGE undertaking, and I totally understand why it took us a while to all get on the same page.

The end result is that I taught two classes there this past weekend, which were just as fun and exciting as I thought they'd be. It was well worth the effort to keep in contact and negotiate all of this. I met with the employees face to face, and we all got along great. My students were eager to learn and interested in taking more classes, so hopefully I will be returning in the future to share more techniques.

If I'd just sat around waiting for something to happen after the first point of contact, I might well have *never* gotten to the point of teaching there. And if *you* sit around waiting for stores to get back to you, or for your customers to order from your web site, you may also be missing opportunities. Don't think they aren't interested just because they haven't gotten back to you in what you consider a reasonable timeframe. Stores and customers are just as busy as we are, and sometimes things slip through the cracks. Or perhaps the timing of your initial approach isn't right for them, but that doesn't mean it can't work out in the future.

There is, of course, a line between pursuing something you want and wasting your time and energy on a situation that probably won't reap the rewards you'd like. We all have to recognize the difference. But don't wait for things to happen to you. Pursue what you want with all your heart and know that good things come...to those who take an active part in making them happen.

Original post date: 9/27/05

Managing It All

To work for yourself is the OTHER American Dream - getting out from under "The Man" and all the silly inefficiencies, the politicking, and the general crap that often abound in the corporate world. Few will take the plunge, and those that do are often the subjects of much envy by their friends and former coworkers, who dream about more flexible schedules and less stress, and "being your own boss".

Okay, you got me on the flexible schedule. And that suits me, both physically and creatively, more than any nine-to-five (okay, nine-to-seven, at least - who works a 40-hour week anymore?) grind ever did. But being your own boss means you'd better like her, because if she's like mine, she's a perfectionist, a bit of a slave driver, and a micromanager. And you know, she?s always *right there* with you...even when you're on vacation or taking a personal day. She knows how to guilt you better than anyone.

And less stress? Not exactly...I'd say it's a different type of stress. The pressure of knowing that no steady paycheck is coming every other week, no 401(k) is slowly building up, and nothing will get done if you don't do it yourself. And you can't possibly do it all - everything you want to accomplish - as soon as you'd like to; there simply aren't enough hours in any given day, so you always feel like you're not meeting your deadlines.

Running your own business means that you have quite a bit of what's euphemistically termed "job diversification". You wear all the hats: office administrator, payroll department, marketing, sales, R&D, data entry, statistician, web master...

You might notice that I didn't list "artist", "designer", or anything else creativity-related in the above paragraph. Why? Because lately I am struggling with finding enough time to actually do what I love most - make the product. And if I don't have the product, I'm not going to be in business for very long, am I?

One of the toughest things for creative people to do is to find balance between the business side and the creative side of things. Many creatives avoid handling the business tasks because they are not comfortable with more left-brained tasks, or actively dislike these tasks, or are intimidated by them. Others get so immersed in the paperwork / research / marketing aspects that they then struggle to put the artisan hat back on and actually design new products.

I find myself falling into the latter category lately. I made jewelry as a hobby for many years, and my creative hours were often "stolen" hours - after work, when I had a bit of time, or I?d make jewelry late into the night - or on weekends or vacation time. Now the jewelry I make is my business product, and I still feel guilty about stealing time away to make it. I don't enjoy the administrative aspects of my business, but they need to be done...the problem is, they don't seem to ever *get* done. There's always something else on the to-do list that cries out for my attention.

But sometimes, I just have to put the to-do list away, sit myself down at the worktable, and create. And that's exactly what I'm going to do today. *s*

Original post date: 8/18/05

Networking is NOT a Dirty Word

Every day you have a choice: you can build a bridge, or you can build a wall. What are you building today??

I came across this saying years ago, but I've learned to live by it, because it's inspired me to change my life. It's made me a networker.

I frequent several message boards, some for jewelry, some for business, and some just because. And I often hear people say that they are too shy to sell their work, too afraid to talk to other designers, too nervous to get out and approach stores. And I understand all those too reasons, because I used to be just like that. I spent many years being introverted and afraid to open up to people. The idea of interacting - what if I opened my mouth and something really stupid came out? That scared me so much that I often chose to stay home, rather than go out and socialize.

But then I started my own business. And I realized that if *I* didn?t do all the things I feared, no one would, so how would the business ever grow and succeed? And really, wasn't I tired of being so scared? Fed up with being afraid to talk to people? Hadn't I wondered what I might be missing? Well, yes, yes, and yes. I realized that I wanted my business to succeed *more* than I wanted to stay at home and build walls. So I started going out more often, and when people asked me what I did for a living, I looked them straight in the eye and said, I'm a jewelry designer. And amazingly, that often led to further discussion (after all, it's not the standard answer in the world of corporate types). I didn?t even have to try to make conversation; it just seemed to flow on its own. And once I'd done that often enough, I managed to become quite good at networking. And so can you! All of you, out there, maybe lacking in confidence to sell your work, promote it, or even discuss it in casual conversation.

When you network, doors open and opportunities multiply. Offers are extended. Information and tips are shared. I have three friends here in Georgia who own their own businesses (two also make jewelry, and one, Amy Parrish, makes fabulous sweaters out of vintage fabrics. You can see them at http://rubyregis.com). And I met two of them by teaching. Yep - the girl who was afraid of her own shadow learned to actually face a group of students and teach them jewelry techniques. I met both Amy and Beth when they took some of my classes, and we've become friends since then. I met Jeannie through our realtor. One day when he was showing us houses, he mentioned that he knew another jewelry designer in the metro area. He gave me her e-mail address and suggested I contact her. So I did, not knowing if she would even respond -
but she did, and that led to another friendship. We all share tips and strategies, information about shows, sources (like printers, suppliers...you get the picture) and it's helped my business, and I hope I've helped theirs.

My friendship with Beth led to my first consignment store. Their monthly checks tide me over during the slower seasons, when I don't do shows. My friendship with Amy led to another consignment store. My friendship with Jeannie has led to at least one, and possibly two, teaching opportunities. Would I have had these opportunities otherwise? Maybe. But it's highly unlikely that I would have known about them if I was sitting at home!

Don?t forget to help those whose paths cross yours. That?s the other thing about networking ? it goes both ways. If you only network to better yourself, you won't get very far with it. But if you know of an opportunity that?s not right for you, but *is* right for someone else, tell them. Let them know about the great store just down the street from the place where you wholesale your work, since you don?t want to saturate the market. Suggest people who might be interested in events for which you don?t have the time. Work for the greater good, not just your own, and watch how much of what you give comes back to you in some way.

So how can you become a networker extraordinaire? Start by getting out more often. Stand tall, smile, and be proud of what you do. Viewing every occasion as an opportunity, instead of something to be endured. Be interested in what others have to say, and don't be shy about sharing a bit about yourself when asked. Project confidence until you really start to feel confident inside. It might take a while, but one day you'll wake up and realize that your confidence has grown, because you?ve been feeding it. Do something that scares you (even if it only scares you a little bit). Once you get through something that frightens you, you'll be amazed at how easy everything else suddenly looks! Don?t squander opportunities because of your fear. Capitalize on them. Build bridges, every day.

Original post date 8/23/05