Friday, 21 October 2016

Small Business Owner Q&A

Custom pieces make my soul sing
My small business SPOOK & SIREN has been live for a few months now, and I get a lot of questions about how I manage my business, where my inspiration and motivation comes from, and how I schedule my time. Now that I've hit a rhythm and started getting more custom work, I figured it was time to answer some of those queries!

So... why flower and seashell crowns?

I used to run a small jewellery business while I was at uni, and my friends used to ask me to help them make bits and pieces for costumes. I also did a little bit of hair/costume/props/makeup work for different productions at uni, and I really loved it, as well as trying some hands-on DIY/upcycling stuff with various items of clothing and furniture. Thanks to my reputation as an artsy-craftsy kind of person I ended up being given lots of odds and ends over time, like fabrics and paints, and someone gave me a massive box of fake flowers, and I started making flower crowns.

My whole mermaid schtick is a story for another time, but long story short I've always related to mermaids and loved the beach. So really it was a natural progression for me to try and incorporate my love of mermaids and the sea with my crafting passion. After a lot of experimentation and product development I ended up with my current method and general aesthetic for creating seashell crowns. Each one is completely unique, and when I'm creating ready-to-wear pieces for the store I let myself get inspired by the shells I'm able to find. If I get a commission I'll take into account the requirements and requests of the customer.

Is it your full-time job?

I wish! I have a day job working in digital marketing, which is my main source of income. I don't do any sponsored work or ads on my blog because I don't have the time to devote to doing it properly, and I wouldn't feel right accepting work which I couldn't put my whole heart into. While I'm getting more interest in my commission work, it's certainly not enough to sustain myself as a sole source of income.

How do you balance your time?

This is a very good question... the answer is NOT VERY WELL. I work 9-5, Monday-Friday, and as well as SPOOK & SIREN I also run the Blogger Beauty Box, am the lead singer in a band, have pets, write for my blog and I'm also about to start an art foundation course. This is one of the reasons I don't have a lot of ready-to-wear pieces in the shop right now; I only really have time for my commission pieces! If any of you have any advice for organising time when you're a busy human, I'd love to hear from you! 

Does your health make things more difficult? 

In case you don't know, I have kind of a weird cocktail of mental and chronic illnesses which I'm currently coping with. As well as Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder, which are currently managed with medication, I have Hashimoto's Disease (an autoimmune disease affecting my thyroid) and am currently dealing with Post-Viral Fatigue Syndrome (a consequence of having Galndular Fever towards the end of this summer). Between them, these illnesses made me feel physically and mentally exhausted very quickly and can make it difficult to stay focused and motivated. I love creating, so generally my passion carries me through when it comes to encouraging myself to sit down and do some crown work, or to develop new products. I also find getting positive feedback hugely motivational, and it can massively help me to continue making new things. 

What I generally find most difficult is the official stuff, like accurate pricing, paperwork, tax returns and marketing my own work, which I'm sure you can all appreciate is not ideal! All this official stuff needs doing, but if I had my own way there would be some kind of goblin or elf who would do the nitty-gritty day-to-day stuff. Maybe one day I'll be making enough to justify hiring an accountant to do my least favourite part of it all. Oh, and my workshop is a borderline-dangerous mess. Mustering up the physical strength and mental motivation to tidy is almost impossible.

Which other small business owners do you emulate? 

My products, and the way I conduct my business, are a little unusual so it's a little tricky to directly emulate anyone, but there are a handful of people who I find inspiring and whose work ethics are something to look up to, like Jemma from Dorkface, Other businesses I love include Jewellery Box, Awesome Merch, The Wily Fox and Little Doe.

What has been your biggest setback?

While not a setback as such, I am slightly frustrated by the financial side of things. I have no partners or investors, so if I take a gamble on a new product or have to invest in new tools and materials I have to bankroll it myself. I like making my products really affordable, but that means that sometimes my profit margins are pretty small, and I reinvest everything into the business right now. Effectively, if you buy something the profit goes right back into making and testing new products. This means it can take time for me to get the cash together to make new things, and I can get a bit antsy when I have ideas I can't immediately act on.

What's next for SPOOK & SIREN and Blogger Beauty Box?

As you can probably imagine, seashell and flower crowns are more of a spring/summer thing! What's more, Post-Viral Fatigue is a real nightmare and is making my body shut down, so physically I'm not as capable as I'd like to be. What this has done, though, is give me plenty of thinking time and that's meant that I've made some big decisions.

The first one is that I'm going to make the Blogger Beauty Box seasonal. The last box was called "The Summer Box" and at the time that was mostly because we needed time to pass the torch from Vix to myself. However, on reflection, making the box a seasonal thing makes the most sense. There are so many great subscription boxes out there, and I want to bring you something original and exciting every single time. I'm really looking forward to putting out four amazing boxes a year.

For S&S I have some new product due out very, very soon, and if you were at Bloggers' Blog Awards I may have drunkenly gushed about some of them to you! Keep your eyes peeled, all will soon be revealed.

Should I start my own small business?

Maybe! DO you have a really cool idea, or a wonder ful skill? If you have the time, the passion and the patience then absolutely, why not? Just remember to keep records of everything you spend and everything you earn, and do be sure to be above board. It's better to be overcautious than under prepared!

And finally, what advice do you have for people starting out? 

Dream big, work hard and admit when you need help - usually the people around you are more than happy to lend a helping hand. Don't struggle in silence, and be honest with yourself about what you can achieve, and never let jealous people prevent you from aiming high!

If you want to contact me about commission work, or anything else, you can do so through my Etsy store.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Little Life Update: It's Never Too Late

For a long time I've been less-than-deliriously-happy in my day job.

I'm very lucky to be in a paying job that utilises some skills that I enjoy using. Digital Marketing can be a very exciting and innovative field to be in, and for the first year or so that I was in the job I would get up every day, raring to go, keen to get to my desk and flex my creative muscles. I don't know whether the novelty of it has worn off, or if I've been there too long, or if my role has just mutated to be more administrative and less creative, but as things stand I feel a bit like I'm rotting. I have lovely colleagues and the comfort of a steady paycheck, and those facts alone make it better than lots of jobs I've had before now, but I feel like everyone is too young to feel trapped on a career path they feel so uninspired by. I hate to sound ungrateful, but that's just the facts of it.

You may already know that I have a small creative business called SPOOK & SIREN where I sell handmade flower and seashell crowns, and I have other products in development due out soon (if you were at the Bloggers' Blog Awards I may have gushed at you about it then!) I love having my little sideline and now that it's growing and I'm getting requests for custom work I'm even less keen to head into the office every morning and just itching for the end of the day so I can get into my workshop and start creating.

Now, before we get overexcited, I'm not about to announce that I'm canning my day job to make headgear for a living. I'd love to someday, but I'm not quite there yet. 

I've been racking my brains for a little while, wondering what the best way would be to get myself into a more hands-on creative job. I considered graphic design, but I'm much more at home with a tool in my hand than sat at a keyboard. I even started looking up self-sufficient artists' communes where I could move to and become a free-living spirit, but to be honest that was a little too liberated for me.

One of my biggest insecurities in life is that I failed university. There's no other way to put it, I flat-out failed. I struggled for three miserable years on what I felt from day one was completely the wrong course, after agreeing to go to university for completely the wrong reasons. Looking back on it now it's easier to see that I should have been more stubborn and applied to do something physically creative, but at the time, for long and boring reasons I don't want to get into here, it wasn't an option for me. I took summer courses at Central St Martin's and had never loved anything more. I wanted so desperately to pursue some kind of course that would nurture my love of paint and ink and paper and making something beautiful out of nothing.

Well, now I'm an adult. And one of the benefits of a boring but stable job is that I have a tiny bit of financial wriggle-room. So, with all of this in mind my announcement is...

I'm going to art school!

(Sort of.)

Next month I'm enrolling in a distance-learning art foundation course in drawing, with a view to taking a distance-learning degree in creative arts. I am so excited I have been on edge since I first saw the course description, but I've never been so sure of anything in my life. I've never felt so strongly that something was the right thing to do. I've been sent a pack with the first unit in my course and even just reading the assignments has given me butterflies in the pit of my stomach.

As part of the course I can start a blog as a "learning log" for my tutor to use as a mark of my progress, and I expect I'll let you all know about that closer to the time and once I've got it going, but I am so excited (and nervous) that I needed to tell you all about it or I was going to burst! 

There is a slight chance that with the 8-10 hour weekly commitment of the course, plus running two businesses (did you know I've taken over the Blogger Beauty Box from the amazing Vix Meldrew?), having a day job, my pets and my band, that I might slack even more on the blogging front than I already do. I expect I'll still take to my laptop whenever I'm in need of a rant about social politics or body image, and I'll keep in touch as best I can. But when time is precious you can't do everything. That said, it's not like a have a social life... hopefully my course will only cut into my "aimlessly faffing and watching Gilmore Girls" time!

Anyway, that's my announcement! I'd love all the support, love and advice you all can give, and if you want to help me while I'm studying you can buy something from my store - all the profits are either reinvested into the business for new products or will go towards my school fees and materials! 

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