But this year finds me reinvigorated with ideas for the Creative Tenacity series. Some of these ideas are going to help fuel my dream of starting a podcast this year, but some of these ideas are going to find their resting spot over here: in the form of a good old-fashioned blog post.
Lately this thought keeps popping up in my mind: there are so many things that have surprised me about running a handmade business. Some things have surprised me in good ways and other things have been more complex and have required some soul searching to really understand. Overall I’d say the surprises all have one thing in common: they’ve all taught me SO MUCH about myself. Sometimes I think creating and running Tangleweeds has been the best form of therapy. . . more on that as you read on!
I thought I’d dive into some of these “surprises”. I give you my top three surprises, in no particular order. . .
1. The first surprise that’s currently on my mind has been how many opportunities there have been for business related travel. From out-of-town craft fairs, exhibiting at wholesale tradeshows, big buying events (for raw materials/supplies), and more, I didn’t realize getting into this business that I would have numerous opportunities for travel.
Initially, as the work trips began to present themselves, I was excited. I thought that I could see myself eventually buying an RV or a large van and traveling all over the country for craft fairs for part of the year. But I wasn’t thinking about my true self and what I desire: a cozy homefront to come back to most days, cats at my heals, my creature comforts surrounding me. I’d grown up rarely traveling anywhere (my family wasn’t big on taking trips or vacations together.) Because of this I didn’t really know how any of this was done, and I found much of the planning and prep for trips overwhelming. As I booked more and more Tangleweeds related trips I found myself stressing out BIG TIME every time another trip was looming on my calendar. To my credit, I never cancelled a trip once the plans were in motion, but the stress leading up to it would unsteady me and upset my days in ways that were difficult to manage. These warring feelings: the reality that I don’t LOVE to travel vs. the romanticized vision I had of traveling in a van for Tangleweeds culminated in 2017 with more out-of-town events than I’ve ever done in one calendar year. In a way 2017 became my “travel anxiety de-sensitization” year. I was often a wreck preparing to leave (my worst fear was that something would happen to the cats while I was gone.) Slowly though, each consecutive trip got just a little bit easier.
I’m now at a point where I look forward to trips, be they personal or business. I’ve learned that forgetting to pack something does not equal the end of the world (unless it’s a craft fair and it’s your inventory - I’ve never done that!). Overall my travel anxiety is much more manageable than pre-2017. Tangleweeds trips really pushed me to grow in a way that I don’t know I would have without the added incentive.
Now though, I am much choosier about the trips I take for work. This has more to do with balancing the finances of running a handmade business and less to do with my anxiety - which, as I mentioned, doesn’t keep me from taking trips as it would have years ago. Currently I have a road trip to the big gem show in Tucson planned for early February. Something I’ve wanted to do for years but just have never prioritized. I can honestly say I’m more excited than anxious about this trip!
2. My second big surprise: This handmade business life sometimes gets lonelier than I feel I can handle. In some ways I think this “surprise” is pretty self-explanatory to fellow handmade business owners out there. In other ways it’s more nuanced and complex than it may seem on the surface. This surprise almost completely side-lined me at first. I thought I was an introvert who didn’t know that such a thing as too much alone time existed. But let me explain. . .
On the surface: I mostly work by myself on any given work day. That means I’m mostly at home working by myself five days a week. That’s the obvious. The less obvious: it can be lonely being the only person making decisions and executing plans for the future of my business. If I come up with a great idea there’s no one to high-five me and say “awesome, I can’t wait to see what you do!” There’s no one to give me a little pep talk if I’m feeling down. In my previous jobs I’d always prided myself in working hard and going above and beyond the requirements of the job. Now, if I do that, I have to find the encouragement, satisfaction, and motivation internally. Once again, this is what I mean about my business being the best form of therapy. Working primarily by myself has taught me to find satisfaction, happiness, and joy internally more than anything else in my life has - even more than meditating!
Now, that’s not to say I don’t still sometimes wish for co-workers in the more traditional sense - because I do! In my own ways I’ve worked to build a community of artists and crafters and makers around me - even if we’re not literally working in the same space (or even in the same city.) I’ve written about the small handmade business group, the Creative Pursuit Collective, that I formed almost four years ago alongside Kyla of Impressed By Nature. This group helps me steer the ship, so to speak, when the weather of running a handmade business gets rough. But more than that, I push myself to find other ways to connect with makers - whether that’s simply having lunch with a friend or going to a craft fair and chatting with the vendors. I’m also finding that there are ways I can more naturally build in community to what I do. Teaching workshops is definitely one of those tools too! (My next workshop is coming up and you can get more details here.)
3. Lastly, something that surprised me to learn about myself: I thrive on routine. (But not too much routine!) Early on, when I first quit my day job and went full time with Tangleweeds, I would wake up in the morning thrilled that a whole un-scheduled day stretched forth in front of me and all I had to do was whatever I needed to do for Tangleweeds. (I’m laughing hysterically in my head as I type this.) That thrill quickly gave way to dread. Why? Because I quickly realized that no matter how much time I had in a day, there was always going to be more to do for the business and there was no such thing as “all done.” My mornings and work days quickly became uber stressful because I had no plan for my days and just figured there was enough time to get it all done if I just worked hard enough. (Once again, complete laughter over this lack of foresight.)
You’d think I would have learned rather quickly that I needed to schedule my work days in order to not wake up every morning feeling such a sense of doom and gloom. No, it took me about two years of blundering through this way to realize I needed to start creating a schedule for myself. Why did I resist it for so long? Because part of quitting my day job and working for myself was me seeking real freedom. And in my head real freedom did not look like a schedule of any sort. Even if the schedule was full of things I wanted to be doing. A schedule equaled no freedom which equaled misery - in my head.
Honestly, I don’t think I would have come around to scheduling things if it hadn’t been for other makers sharing their struggles with time and scheduling. It also helped that I started to read blogs and sign up for newsletters that were geared towards helping makers become successful. As I dipped my toe in the world of scheduling I realized I liked it and that I even thrived on it.
Since sorting out this internal struggle of mine, I’ve played with many different ways of scheduling. Ultimately I’ve naturally fallen into a place where I schedule my work days about a week out, with a loose outline for what the month will look like, along with long-term (1 year+) goals factoring into the big picture. But I don’t tether myself to the the schedules I create. There’s room for flexibility. THAT is a relatively new part and has come out of a recognition that I need to give myself more room to take care of myself and go with the flow sometimes. I guess you could say I’ve found a lot of joy in having the FREEDOM to throw my self-created schedule out the window when it feels like the right thing to do.
And that’s it folks! Three of my biggest surprises about creating and running a handmade business. I think, to be noted, there’s an overriding theme too, maybe the 4th surprise - How this journey has been my therapy in so many ways, how it’s taught me so so so much about myself and made me stronger. Helped me overcome challenges, develop a better sense of myself, and shone a light on my strengths and weaknesses.
I can’t say starting my own handmade business has been cheaper than therapy but I can say it’s been an experience like none other - one that has brought joy, growth, pain, and a sense of purpose.
This is obviously just my personal experience in my business - I’d love to hear about what’s surprised you in the comments!