Creative Tenacity in 2019

Back in 2017 I created a series I called “Creative Tenacity.” It was a series of blog posts I wrote inspired by my experiences running Tangleweeds for 7+ (at the time) years. Last year I had plans to continue with this series, but as I wrote about a bit in my first blog post of 2019, I found myself busier than I’ve ever been, and many smaller goals fell to the back burner.


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!

Looking Back Looking Forward

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post. Before starting this post, I felt compelled to look over my posts form 2018. And one thing I noticed was last year found me struggling with finding better ways to work and better ways to balance life and work. I wrote about taking a 10-day staycation and explored my thoughts about the need for social media as a small business. Which naturally led to taking a social media fast for one month. I also shared with you my conflicted thoughts about where I live and my desire to settle somewhere else in the near future. It was a year full of challenges and growth - growth that could only come out of struggle. When I look back over these posts I know one thing that many of you don’t: most of last year I was working harder than I ever have and dancing with burnout in the process.


Last year could have only led me to where I am now. All of our choices are always taking us one step at a time to the next place we need to be. And last year was bound to throw something at me to slow me down:

Welcome in back problems like I’ve never had - sciatica pain, a herniated disc, tingling, numbness, pain so bad it takes an elephant’s worth of will power just to get out of bed in the morning.

I think one of the only reasons I can write about this in any way where I’m even remotely grateful for what I’m dealing with is because a few days ago it seems like I may have passed the worst of the pain. As I begin physical therapy I’m trying to reconfigure my life around a slower pace. Around a TRUE acceptance in my head that to be less busy is OKAY, that relaxation does not equal being lazy.

I always like to take some time at the beginning of a new year to write about what I hope to realize and bring into being in the new year AND what I would like to let go of. The things I wrote about this year are less things and more ways of thinking:

  1. To be more accepting of what I am capable of doing in a given span of time (be that an hour, a day, a month, a year, heck, even a lifetime.)

  2. To let go of guilt. Whether that’s guilt for taking time off or guilt because I actually do love my work and sometimes, when it feels right, I WANT to work all day (now, the caveat is, so long as I’m not overworking my body.) To realize that all of the pieces and parts are necessary and not anything to feel guilty about.

  3. To run with the things that spark my excitement and imagination and let go of many of the things that drag me down.

  4. To better embrace the “middle” and transitional times in life. Whether that’s when I’m in the middle of a work-related goal and don’t know when the dream will be realized, or just in the middle of a big closet clean out. I tend to be bad with “middle” energy. I’m all excited when I’m getting a project started and feel very proud once I’ve realized the goal/dream/clean closet, but overall I just end up trying to rush through the middle. The middle is where a lot of the good stuff is, and I know that when I’m rushing through it I’m missing a lot of life.

And so, I move forward, one foot in front of the other, seeing quite clearly that slowing down is the only REAL way to enact REAL change in my life.

This year is off to a bit of a muddled start. I had a tradeshow very early in the month, that I had to be prepared for. And so I put on my big girl pants and I got it done, even while dealing with an immense amount of pain. I will report: the show went well. And I can happily say there are some new stores that will be receiving Tangleweeds goods for their shop in the weeks to come. But as soon as that show was over I slowed the train down. I’ve mostly taken the last week off and it’s felt great. I even took some time to really clean up my workshop and it now feels like a space I am excited to (carefully) get back to work in. Maybe I’ll even offer up some more mini-tutorials on Instagram like I did last year.

Overall though, Tangleweeds isn’t going anywhere. There are some significant changes ahead, but given that I’m not quite sure how quickly things will happen around here for now, I’m not going to offer up any timelines.

What you can expect to see from Tangleweeds this year:

  1. A remodel and pairing down of the online shop. Many designs will be discontinued and overall the shop will have a new, more shopper friendly look. (I will of course announce the re-model and design discontinuation with plenty of notice in case there’s something you’d like to get while you still can.)

  2. A new series of limited edition pieces. These will be released on Instagram on a schedule that I have yet to set. I will announce all of this on IG as I refine this way of releasing designs.

  3. A PODCAST!!!! I’m beyond excited about this idea. It’s my way of continuing to further the building of the handmade/maker/artisan community, especially as I consider moving out of the bay area this year.

  4. More workshops. Definitely my Metalwork Made Easy class, along with some other ideas in the works.

  5. A more paired down craft fair schedule. I most likely won’t do any events at all until April or May of this year. This is both to give my back time to heal and to focus on other areas of Tangleweeds.

  6. A different focus on my newsletter - I want to grow the arm of Tangleweeds that is about finding the beauty in the everyday. And I want to share it with all of you!

That about wraps up my thoughts for 2019. I could write an equally long post reflecting on 2018, but I’ll just leave it at this: I realized a lot of my goals. Now the challenge: continuing that journey towards new goals while incorporating more mindfulness, more self-care, and heaps more “living in the moment” types of energy!!!

Tell me about your new year goals. Or conversely, how do you feel about the way 2018 went? I love the practice of looking back/looking forward.

Creative Tenacity: The Importance of a Great Display

Morning folks! I hope everyone’s month of May is chugging along nicely - I seriously cannot believe how fast this month has flown by! This month I decided to continue to talk more about craft fairs. For most of us makers who sell at craft fairs, the season doesn’t really get into full swing until about May/June (maybe late April), so I feel like a second craft fairs related post is timely for most. 

Today I want to focus on one main topic: effective displays. Such an important and nuanced part of selling your work at craft fairs!

Your display matters at least as much as the quality of the product you are selling. Without a great display you’re going to have a difficult time pulling customers into or up to your booth as they walk along, taking in many points of visual stimuli at once. Your display needs to be pleasing to the eye, but also needs to make sense with your brand. Sometimes a great display will actually be rather simple, as that can be the best way to let the items shine.

When I put my display together at craft fairs, I often think of the fashion editor, Diana Vreeland, who was known to say “The eye has to travel.” You need to give your audience various points of visual interest so if the first thing their eyes land on is not to their liking, they can naturally find something else of interest to take in. To put it much more simply: create layers of height and depth in your display! There are many different ways to do this, from commercial risers that you can buy, to a basic cardboard box or container hidden underneath a table cloth, to more interesting elements like old trunks, and wooden fruit boxes. Obviously, I am most adept at creating displays for jewelry, but the basic concept of creating height and layers to a display can apply to most any product. 

craft fair booth display

I belong to the SF Etsy team, and one of their wonderful members (Lisa Spinella of Tickle and Smash) has put together a Pinterest board that has a lot of great inspirational photos to help you out with display ideas if you’re not sure where to start. Another great place to look is through the online photo albums that various craft fairs will put together and make avaible to the public after an event has passed. Renegade, West Coast Craft, and Urban Air Market are just a few great ones. When you look at photos of others’ displays I encourage you to take inspiration from these great displays and make it your own. Just as we, as artists, do not want to copy others’ work or have our work copied, to blatantly copy another’s booth display is not the best idea either. You also want your display to make a mark, and if you look too much like other vendors, you will loose this great opportunity to form a lasting memory in people’s mind.

Creating a beautiful display doesn’t have to cost a lot either. My display has evolved over the years, but early on I simply used cardboard boxes of varying heights hidden under pretty cloths or tablecloths to create different heights and layers in my display. 

Another important part of your display will be your pricing. Specifically, making your pricing easy to find and read and understand. Whether you choose to price each item individually, or create price signs for items that are all the same price, is up to you. The easier you make it for your customer to find the prices and understand them the more likely your customer is to stick around and look for a while and hopefully buy. Many customers want to be able to compare and shop around through your display, selecting an item or items that fit two categories: fall into their budget and are pleasing to their tastes. If they have to ask over and over again what the price is on an item, they will often loose interest and venture elsewhere. If you’ve priced everything clearly and someone still asks for the price on an item, always respond politely! I tend to reply by saying something like this: “That necklace is $40. And if you’re wondering about the price on any other necklaces, just look for the gold tag on the chain.” I’ll then point out the prices and mention something like “it’s easy to miss these!” Basically I do everything I can to make the customer NOT feel stupid for asking about the price. I can’t tell you how many vendors will simply reply, vaguely about the price being on the tag leaving the customer to feel like they were an inconvenience. I don’t think I need to say this, but your customer is not an inconvenience!

You also want to think about creating a space for any promotional or branding materials you may have. Business cards, flier or postcards for other upcoming events you may have scheduled, and a newsletter sign up form all fall into this category. 

Overall I find it helpful to look at your display as your main way to communicate the essence of your brand. It is the thing that people will notice before they notice your product as they meander through busy events. And it is often the thing that will either draw them in, or make them decide to walk the other way. Also of import: clear signage indicating what your business’s name is. This is twofold: as you develop a following people may come out to events specifically looking for you. And two, you want people who like your work to remember you. Clear brand signage will make that much much easier. 

I want to wrap this post up by emphasizing oner thing: you can always change it up! If at the first event you venture out to, you find that your display does not work for you the way you need it to, then dedicated yourself to trying something else at your next event. (This is good advice regarding any area of your handmade business: you can always change whatever it may be if it's not working the first way your conceived of it!)

Good luck in all of your craft fair adventures this craft fair season! Now I'd love to hear from you guys - what's been an effective displaying technique for you? What really hasn't worked? I'd also love to hear any of your fun or unusual craft fair stories in the comments below. 

Have a wonderful Tuesday!

Creative Tenacity: Doubt and Her Cousins

Excerpted from Rosanne Cash’s memoir, Composed:

T-Bone Burnet, an old friend, once told Joe Henry, “Don’t stop working, just stop worrying,” advice that Joe passed on to me [Rosanne Cash] that has since become my silent mantra. Now, even when I do worry, I keep working. Work, I remind myself, is redemption.

Let’s talk about doubt - about self-doubt for a moment. 

The truth. I can be terrible about following my own advice: the advice that it’s pretty much no good to anyone to compare yourself and your work and your accomplishments to the creatives around you. 

You see, I am continually inspired and pushed to do more by looking around and seeing the amazing things coming out of the amazing women in this creative world around me here in the SF bay area. And most of the time it gets me revved up and feeling super lucky to say “hey, I know that woman!!” 

But, sometimes it can make me feel like I’m not doing enough. Leaves me wondering when my big break is going to come. Or when it’s all just going to get easier.

The other day I was listening to this bio series about Oprah on KQED. And it was riveting. To hear her talk about her team’s strategy as they worked on maneuvering Oprah from being a sensationalist talk show to one that was about how to live your best life. “You have to keep your eye on what you’re doing. You have to wear blinders. Don’t look at other folks’ ratings. Don’t look at what others are doing and think “I need to do that.” You have to stay in your lane and keep looking ahead, because it’s when you start staring at the other folks, in their lanes that you start to slow down.” (that’s a rough quote of what Oprah said.)

I heard that and I was like “uh, huh! Yes!” So many good ways this can apply to creative entrepreneurs. 

I have my own take on this advice, of course, one that’s a little more inclusive and more involved with the people around me, but I definitely took that advice to heart.

Part of that stew is the fact that I am a woman, and in so many ways programmed to look towards others for advice and validation, to look towards others for the “okay, yes, keep doing what you’re doing” high sign. That way of making decisions can be self-sabotaging though. As you run your handmade business you’re going to need to develop the strength to make many decisions on your own. That will only be harder if you need your decisions validated by others. It may even keep you from making decisions that you need to make, and possibly that you need to make quickly.  

Doubt, self doubt, second guessing yourself, not feeling confident, low self-esteem about the way your business is going, these will all be things you’ll deal with if you decide to turn selling your handmade work into a business. You will not be without these things. And while too much of these feelings will drag you down and keep you form doing the work that needs to be done, an occasional dose of doubt and it’s cousins will help you to keep trying new things and pushing forward with your work. 

You can’t outrun the doubt. It will be there. Even if you manage to grow your business into something that is successful by anyone’s definition of success, the doubt will always come eventually.  

There’s a Rumi quote that I especially like, that I feel is relevant to many of the harder things in life. I think it’s relevant to dealing with your “doubt demons” too:

The wound is the place where the Light enters you.

Basically it’s the difficult stuff in life that’s in someways a gateway or a path to the more transcendent things we reach for and grow towards. I think when I was younger I thought that the point of living “successfully” (whatever the fuck that means!) was that eventually I would wake up everyday fully confident in everything I was doing, that there would be no second-guessing myself, there would be no DOUBTS. I also thought that eventually I would only create work I was 100% happy with and learn to always say exactly what was on my mind in a perfectly clear way that the person I was speaking to would understand. I had a lot of learning to do.

Doubt will be your bedfellow if you venture into this creative business world. She will tag team you at craft fairs, she will sit on your shoulder when you’re creating new designs, and she will sometimes keep you from doing some really stupid things. But if you let her take the reigns too much she will keep you from ever doing the work you truly want to do.

I think self-doubt and believing this story that doubt is telling us (Because it is a story, anyone who has become really good at telling themselves that their work rocks and they are awesome is also telling themselves a story. This is neither good nor bad, simply helpful to remember so we don’t put too much stock in these narratives.) goes hand-in-hand with the rabbit hole that many people fall down into. The wanting to wait until it’s all perfect rabbit hole. This also sometimes sounds like I just want to wait until I’m ready. Ready to launch a new product, or take a business course, or simply to try to start selling one’s work. 

The key to reaching for your dreams is to get comfortable with taking steps towards those dreams even when you don’t feel ready. 

Now, that is going to look different for everyone. Everyone is going to have a different threshold for the amount of uncertainty and unpredictability that they can handle. Some of us thrive on it, others need to parcel it out so as to not go into complete overwhelm. As a personal example: I was (relatively) comfortable with quitting my day job well before my business was making much money. It was profitable, but barely. I had reached a tipping point where I felt like working another job was taking too much time away from my biz. I accepted that money would be tight and that things would be a bit uncomfortable for a while. But I was more willing to accept that than say, continuing to work at the day job while working on my job into the wee hours and losing sleep. We all compromise where and when we can. And you will learn to too. 

I wrote this slightly rambling Creative Tenacity post about doubt because when I reached out to my fellow makers, creative business cohorts and my blog readers, this was resoundingly the topic most of your were interested in. I hope that it helps some of you through what may be a dark period or moment of questioning what you are doing. When you get to that place, just remember that it is not necessarily a sign that you are doing anything wrong and that even the most successful amongst us struggles with doubt regularly! I would say even daily. 

I’m going to leave you readers with these points, in summation of this slightly stream-of-consciousness post about doubt

Get used to feeling a bit uncomfortable, or outside of your comfort zone.

Develop a healthy habit of pursuing things and starting things before you feel 100% ready. Doing the thing or starting the thing will make you ready.

Learn to sit side by side with doubt and her cousins. Accept that doubt will never go away. You will simply learn to live with it. 

Lastly, I wanted to include a short list of resources that I find to be helpful when my doubt demons start to get too loud, or I’m in need of a personal pep-talk of sorts -

Stephanie St Claire

Marie Forleo

Tara Mohr

I also find that talking to a fellow creative when you’re feeling especially low or full of doubt can sometime be the best balm of all. 

Keep pushing and keep making your beautiful work everyone!

Creative Tenacity: Attitude, Mind-set, and Craft Fairs

Morning you guys! I’m happy to be back with my next addition of Creative Tenacity! Thanks to everyone who read my first post and commented, emailed me, or just said “thank you.” I do hope that this series is resonating with people. Writing it is also eye-opening and expanding for me, as it gets me reflecting on my own way of handling things, and how I might be able to do things better with Tangleweeds in the future. 

I decided to move into arts and crafts fairs with this next post as it’s an area I have a lot of background with. Long before I started Tangleweeds I had a small handmade jewelry business called Designs By A Hummingbird. I also sold at craft fairs under my first business, and while it was also jewelry, it was a very different type of jewelry. I feel like these two different businesses helps to give me a well-rounded perspective on events. (With all of that said, this is of course all from my perspective and my perspective alone and is in no way an exhaustive, all encompassing account of everything you need to know about craft fairs!)

There is also SO MUCH to cover in this arena! I’m only going to cover a section of topics related to craft fairs in this post. More will come in later posts in this series. 

Choosing An Event

Choosing your events can be much like a game of chance. It’s pretty much impossible to know if an event is going to be a good fit for you until you try it. Yes, you can ask fellow artists and vendors for their experiences, yes you can walk the event and get the lay of the land before you apply (for the following year or season), yes you can google the shit out of the event and look at an endless array of photos from the event, analyzing and picking apart if you think your brand will be a “good fit.” Ultimately all of this will only give you a relative idea if the event will be profitable for you. 

I have done events that should have been hugely successful only to find that my sales were mediocre, and I have done events that were small and new and in a weird location and done fairly well. My advice on choosing events basically boils down to this: If you want to try out an event, do your homework and look into it by all means, but you really need to DO IT in order to know anything about it. You of course will need to assess the risk factors: How much does the event cost? Is there travel involved? Will you be okay if the event is a complete bust and you don’t even make back your booth fee? These are important questions to ask yourself and should always inform your decision to do an event or not. 

As an aside - initially, in the beginning, you will need to be prepared to do events and not make a profit. You will be in the initial “figuring it all out” stage and you will be learning a lot. Sure, there are brands and products that do amazingly well from day one, but you should be prepared for the possibility that this is not how it will go. (Enter: the day job or side job!) The more you set yourself up to be okay with taking risks the more room you are going to have to grow with your handmade work and your business. An example: in general I find that while it may be scary to put down $300+ for an event, these are typically the events that make the most money for me. I know this sort of craft fair price tag is a bitter pill to swallow in the beginning, but oftentimes, the more expensive events are the ones that really bring in the buyers and sales. There are EXCELLENT smaller and less expensive events as well, nothing is absolute! 

As far as finding out about events goes, there are many ways. One of the easiest is to join your local Etsy team and ask others in your group about events they would recommend. Also, one way that I will search for events online is to simply Google the name of a particular city I would like to do an event in along with the words “holiday craft fair” or “summer arts and crafts fair” or something similar. This is a good way to expose yourself to new events that you haven’t heard of, and it’s always a positive to try a new locale, especially if you feel like the locales you have tried have not responded that well to your work.

Attitude, Mind Set and Unsolicited Advice

This is an area that I really wanted to cover, as I think it’s one of the most important and possibly the most elusive when you’re first getting started selling your work, and especially at in-person events like craft fairs or other pop-ups. 

In general, craft fairs and other shows are A LOT of work and can be both physically and mentally draining. But there are things you can do to alleviate some of the stress and make for a more fulfilling experience, regardless of how the event goes sales-wise.

Before I talk about attitude, a bit about my experience selling at events: When I first got started selling at events I felt so incredibly awkward. Everything from the load-in, to creating the display to talking to customers about my work was stressful and anxiety producing. It was all too easy tolet how I did financially at an event affect how I felt about myself. That is a terrible spot to be in.

But I kept at it for months and then years until I go to the point where it all started to fall into place and at times even feel effortless. I am now at a place in my life where I can sincerely say I LOVE doing events. That love has come from years of culling together knowledge from my lived experiences. 

Basically my point: if you’ve had a few terrible events, try to learn from it. I bet there are ways you can make events in the future more fulfilling and worth your time. In the meantime, here are some of my suggestions for doing just that. . . 

1. This bit has served me very well over the years. Treat everyone who comes into your booth or up to your table at an event as if it does not matter if they buy something. In other words: treat them with respect, act genuinely interested in connecting with them, and be nice! Now, obviously it helps to WANT to do these things. Because if you’re being nice just to be nice or following this advice because you think you should that’s all going to come through and you’re going to come across as fake and kind of plastic-y. 

For me, I look at events as a way to connect with people. I truly enjoy this part about events. Yes, some folks are going to be not so nice, or say slightly rude things, but this is true in every aspect of life. You shouldn’t let it scare you away form craft fairs. I’ve met some wonderful people at events, and I don’t honestly think I would be able to connect with folks in the same way if all I saw when they walked into my booth was a giant dollar sign above their head (or two or three dollar signs =)

2. This next part is going to happen to you at least once in a while and can be a tricky topic to navigate: the unsolicited advice. (insert dramatic, tense music here) Yes, there are going to be customers who think they know what your next product should be, how much something should cost, how you should display things differently, and so on and so forth. In the beginning I think this kind of advice would rankle my nerves so much because I was filled with a lot of self-doubt about what I was doing. It was easy for me to see other people, having what they thought was a better idea about how I should be doing things, as a threat.

Now, when someone has advice for me while I’m at an event I try to respond politely but in a way that makes it clear that I know what’s best for me/Tangleweeds. (Because at this point in my trajectory I do!) I will say something like “I hadn’t thought of that, I’ll have to keep that in mind for the future.” I think it’s important to clarify something here: it’s not about placating someone, but rather remembering that most everyone means well. When I used to work in coffee shops and had to deal with problem customers, I tried to remind myself that everyone is doing the best that they can at any given moment. Sometimes someone’s best is going to rub us the wrong way. In the end, just remember that it’s you making the decisions about your product and your biz at the end of the day, and let the suggestions and advice roll off you like water on a duck’s back. 

3. Which brings me to my last section about attitude and mind-set and that’s talking about your work/product. This is where listening to your customers, even the ones who don’t buy anything, and taking in that well meaning “advice” as graciously as you can is really going to pay off. 

When I first started selling at events, I was super nervous talking about my work. I usually didn’t try to strike up a conversation with a customer unless they initiated one first. As you can imagine, my sales weren’t that great at many of my early events. Over time though, as I listened to the people who would come into my booth and paid attention to how they were describing my work as they spoke to me or to there friend/shopping buddy, I started to see my work through the customers’ eyes, which started to illuminate the talking points for me. 

Obviously you’re going to want to filter out the outliers and the bits of feedback that are idiosyncratic to one person and one person only. But over time you will notice over-arching themes that you can begin to incorporate into how you talk about your item. 

As an example: One thing that I started to notice when my customers would try on my earrings was how many people commented in a complimentary way about how lightweight they were. I quickly came to realize that this was a huge selling point as many women (myself included) don’t want heavy earrings weighing down their ears. I was so close to the work that I didn’t realize that something I was intentionally doing (making earrings that were by design lightweight) was an important talking point with my customers. . . at least I didn’t realize it until they made me see it! 

If you’re really wanting some initial talking points though, and don’t want to go into your first event with nothing to say, my recommendation is to start with the obvious and remember that customers most likely know little or nothing about your work when they walk up. Saying something as simple as “I make all of this (jewelry, ceramics, pillows, etc.) myself in my home studio in San Francisco” opens many doors for conversation. You’ve just clarified for your customer that yes, your product is handmade and (if the event is in the SF bay area) you are local as well. Other good talking points:

  • point out your current favorite design and why (the back story) OR point out your newest designs
  • talk very briefly about why you started making what you make (keep it simple because you don’t want to overwhelm the customer)
  • tell the customer that they’re welcome to try anything on/pick anything up to have a closer look
  • mention any sales or promotions that you may be having
  • and always remember to say “hi” or “good morning” or something else simple when they walk   into your booth/up to your table. Acknowledging their presence is a HUGE plus and amazingly something that many vendors simply don’t do. 

If you can keep some of the above points in mind, I think you will find events to be a fulfilling and rewarding experience, even if they don’t start out initially as profitable as you might like. I do acknowledge that craft fairs and other events of this ilk will not be a good fit for everyone’s brand and product, but I do think that you have to give events everything you’ve got before you can safely say that retail events are not right for your biz. 

On that note, I’ll wrap this post up! I know we’re moving back into fair season for many of us soon. Mine really starts to get underway in April, although I’ll have a couple of events in March. I’d love to hear what anyone else might have to say about how they keep a good attitude when they’re at a selling event. Feel free to leave a comment (or a question!) below. 

Happy Tuesday!

Creative Tenacity: Hard Work, Smoke and Mirrors, Connections, and Time

Welcome to Creative Tenacity! My new blog series that I hope will be full of helpful advice for those of you looking to sell your handmade wares. . . or maybe even start your own handmade business! 

For this first entry I wanted to dwell on some general thoughts and feelings I have, and that many others in the handmade business realm share, about what it takes to make it all work, and especially, what you need in the way of guts, stamina, and gumption to even get started. 

Pretty much all of the advice I’m going to offer here I wish I had taken a bit more seriously when I was first getting started!

1. You’re going to work harder and longer than you ever thought you could/would and it’s not always going to be fun or even make you happy. Yup, that’s right. Especially if you quit your day job and now have the added pressure of paying your bills with your business. Now that doesn't mean it won't be hugely satisfying and rewarding - it will be! - but it's going to demand more of you than sometimes feels possible.

I can remember, when I still had a day job and would day dream about working at Tangleweeds full time, thinking that once I could, then nothing would be too much. There would be plenty of time and I would always get EVERYTHING done on my to-do list. And I thought I would do it all serenely, while walking around in a Zen like state everyday, perfectly content and happy in the mere fact that I worked for myself. 

Boy-oh-boy was I wrong! Very quickly I realized that most days I was barley going to skim the surface of what I hoped to accomplish and that no, I wasn’t going to serenely go about my days completely free of all stress. I struggled with this. I thought that once I was working on Tangleweeds full-time I would find unlimited satisfaction and happiness in my life. I thought that because I struggled so much at first, that I was doing something terribly wrong. (When I look back on the first couple of years of Tangleweeds I think the only thing I really did wrong was simply be too hard on myself.) As time went by I learned the invaluable lesson that I had been pinning unrealistic hopes on Tangleweeds: that my career with Tangleweeds would fulfill me in all ways, would be my ticket that declared I was a worthy person. (As a side-note: one of the enormous perks about being an entrepreneur is you will learn so much about yourself if you’re paying attention on this journey.)

So, in total: Know that you’re going to work very hard for possibly longer than you anticipated (like, years!) and that you might not always be thrilled with every step of the journey. AND, maybe most importantly, just because the journey is hard and at times discouraging, doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong or that you should give up. Quite the contrary, it means you’re doing it!!! The hard work pays off in little bits over time. 

2. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in the handmade business world so don’t compare yourself or your business to others. 

Now, when I was still working my day job (coffee shop for those who might wonder) I loved to read Etsy’s “Quit Your Day Job” series and pour through blogs by folks who had made the big break to pursue their passion full time. At the time that was actually great fuel for me. It energized me to believe that it was possible to sell my jewelry full time. But something I realized very quickly when I did quit the day job was that I had to distance myself, at least a little bit, from keeping up on how everyone else was doing selling their handmade jewelry, clothes, dolls, etc. If I wasn’t careful it quickly became a game of comparison that would do the exact opposite of energizing me. It would deplete me and leave me feeling like a failure for not being further along with my biz. 

The reason this sort of comparison is so pointless is for one basic reason: you don’t know what resources, circumstances, support system, etc this other person you’re idolizing may have at their fingertips. You also don’t know how long they’ve been at it. Oftentimes 10 year handmade businesses can look like overnight successes, especially if you discover them one night in a half-drunk, pity-party Pinterest binge. I know folks with 10s of thousands of Instagram followers who are barely making a dime off of their business. I know folks with a measly following of 50 on Instagram who have ben supporting themselves and a family for years. The surface of things can be deceiving at times, hence what I mean when I say there can be a lot of “smoke and mirrors” when it comes to running a successful handmade business (or any type of business for that matter.) Remember to focus on what you’re doing! If it’s helpful, give yourself social media “black out” periods where you can truly hone-in on and focus on what you’re doing, and especially what makes your work so wonderful.

There are many other resources and opportunities that are going to vary with each person’s unique set of circumstances and lifestyles. Everyone has their own unique set of limitations on their time and money as well. After about two years of full-timing it with Tangleweeds I would often start to get frustrated that I wasn’t feeling “further along” and a large part of this frustration came from comparison (who is it that once said “comparison is the thief of all joy?”) I think though, the best antidote to the unhealthy comparison game that we can all easily get sucked into in today’s social media age is true connection with others who get what you’re going through. . . which naturally leads me to my next piece of advice. . . 

3. Talk to your peers and to others doing what you’re doing. This part is SO important! And it took this naturally inclined introvert a couple of years to realize the importance of it. 

Being an introvert I was totally cocky about working for myself. So many people warned me I would be lonely, it would be hard working by myself and for myself. That I would miss the camaraderie of a true “workplace.” I thought that none of that would get to me. Boy was I wrong! The re-affirming nature of just having someone to give even just 30-second feedback completely evaporated. I didn’t fully realize how much I was missing work cohorts until I started to connect with other makers at the arts and crafts fairs I would sell at every month. Over time those connections grew into something truly sustaining. Many of them are now friendships that criss-cross our business lives and are some of the most valuable relationships I’ve made in my adult life.

Now, I did say your “peers” and not folks that you look up to who are already successful and this is for a good reason. Folks who are where you’re at are often a better immediate resource for info that is relevant to your concerns in the present. They are also a lot more likely to be able to relate to where you’re coming from with your struggles than someone 10, 12 or 20 years along. (As an aside: I do think that asking for advice from folks whom you look up to is a great idea, it’s just not the exact point I’m making right now. It’s also something that I have loads of advice on, but that’s for another time =). 

I think maybe the two most significant things I’ve done since starting Tangleweeds that have really helped create a community around me of like-minded and similarly employed folks, has been -

  1. joining the San Francisco Etsy Team
  2. to co-create with Kyla of Impressed By Nature a small business incubator group that meets monthly and provides daily support for each other as we navigate our businesses and our lives. We named the group Creative Pursuit Collective, and I’ll share more about that group in a later post, but feel free to ask any questions you might have in the comments!

At this point in my Tangleweeds career I feel lucky to say I have a wonderful and supportive group of people around me who help me get through the tough times and offer feedback and advice when I need it. If you’re not sure where to start regarding connecting with others, here are my top three suggestions:

  1. if you sell on Etsy, join the Etsy team ( for your local area. I know not all geographic areas have their own Etsy teams, but you can always look into joining the one that is closest to your locale.
  2. even if you’re not ready to participate in some of the larger, more expensive craft fairs, look into smaller events like pop-ups and local street fairs. Then, bring a friend or a family member along to help you out so you can get away from your booth for a bit and talk to other vendors (while always being mindful that they are there to work and sell their product, so if they’re busy with customers, make sure to graciously step aside.) Sometimes just the briefest of introductions is enough. If you can grab a business card of theirs you can connect with them later, after the event is over via email or other social media.
  3. work on those close connections. While joining groups and meeting people through social media is wonderful, there’s nothing better than one or two people whom you can really connect with, who really get you. I highly recommend making time for lunch or a coffee date with a single real life person once a week, or maybe twice a month, if your schedule will allow for it. And I don’t just mean with folks who run handmade businesses as well. I’m talking about the connections you hd before you ventured into this territory. Fostering and nourishing these relationships is important too!

Most of all, remember that like most things in life, building a supportive community of people around you will take some time. Be kind and gentle with yourself as you navigate this new way of connecting. 

4. And lastly for today: give yourself lots of time. By which I mean, give yourself plenty of time to hone your craft/skill, etc. 

I recently started weaving. As a hobby. I am not interested in trying to sell my weavings any time soon as I want to cater to the creative freedom that comes from not putting too many demands on a passion. I made jewelry for at least 7 years before I ever sold a piece. Mainly because I was so passionate about the work that I didn’t really want to pull any energy away from the sheer act of creating. 

Once you decide to start selling your work, and especially if you decide to start a business, you are always going to have a lot of balls in the air at once. Making time for pure creative experimentation and exploration will no longer be your main priority (don’t get me wrong, you’ll still need to make time for this). There were moments in the first couple of years full-time with Tangleweeds when I craved the time to simply mess around creatively with no concern for the consequences. In the beginning though, I had to push that time to the outer edges of my schedule while I figured out all of the practical business stuff.

In short, if you’re just getting started on your craft, don’t rush into making a business of it right off the bat. Selling your work a little bit on the side though can provide invaluable feedback. I encourage you to give your creative muscles the room they need to grow before launching into creating a business from your handmade work. 

There you have it! The four pieces of advice that I think are pretty damn invaluable to anyone starting out selling their handmade goods:

1. Be prepared to work harder than you thought possible
2. Don't compare your journey to anyone else's.
3. Connect with folks who are doing something similar.
4. Give yourself time to hone your skill/craft.

Now, I'd love to hear from you guys! Leave a comment on the post below about your handmade business adventures. What's the single best piece of advice you received? And maybe, if you were like me, a good piece of advice you didn't take heed of at first but wish you had? 

I'll be back in mid February with my next Creative Tenacity post. In all honesty, I'm not sure what I'll cover in that post just yet. But it'll be something brought to you from my unique perspective, honed by 7 and 1/2 years running Tangleweeds. I sincerely hope you enjoyed this post and found at least some of it helpful!

Creative Tenacity

If you follow me over on Instagram, then you already know that this year I’m going to be starting a regular series of blog posts geared specifically towards my fellow creatives who are looking to start selling their handmade goods! Helping others out in the small ways that I can is something I’ve been wanting to incorporate into Tangleweeds for quite some time now, and this blog + Instagram seemed like a great way to do it. 

I’m going to cover the areas of running a small handmade biz that I feel the most equipped to offer advice on. Topics will range from the specific to the more broad, touching on such aspects as finding success at craft fairs, resources for inspiration and motivation, vendor etiquette, taking the leap into wholesale, building and finding a creative community that supports you, and so much more.

I’m excited to offer this to my creative followers and readers of this blog!

Before I offer up my first serving of creative advice though, I want to dispel any notions my readers may have that I am an all-knowing, all-seeing, have all of the answers at the tips of my fingers creative biz-wiz lady. ‘Cause you were thinking that, right ;-)? In all seriousness, I want to offer up my perspective because I think that it may be helpful to some other folks out there struggling to sell their handmade work. And because helping others feels great! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how many of us, especially women, love to help others out, but when it comes to asking for help for ourselves we’d often rather walk around in the dark, stubbing our toes on things and bumping into who-knows-what rather than admit we need help. I am a work in progress when it comes to admitting I need help, but one thing I have found to be true is that the more I offer assistance to others and see them benefitting from it (and not keeling over dead because they asked for it) the more I’m able to ask for help myself. 

I also think that we all have our own unique perspective and vision that is unlike anyone else’s. Being a millennial I grew up with the notion that we are all “unique snowflakes” and that idea has been torn apart and made fun of in many a social media “news” article, but I think there is some truth to that. How many times have you met someone, someone who you had made certain assumptions about, or over-simplified in your head, only to discover that the subtle nuances and unique attributes about that person are like no one else? I may be going a little astray with that tangent, but my main point is to say, the more us creative entrepreneurs share what our path looks like, and how we got to where we are, the more clear it becomes for others. So much of this handmade economy is rather new, lending to a “walking around in the dark” feeling to many of us when we first set off down this twisty road. And while my path isn’t going to look exactly like anyone else’s path, sharing my experiences and the knowledge I’ve gleaned from the last 7 and 1/2 years of running Tangleweeds may help someone else out with a problem or tough spot they may be in.  

My first helpful-advice post will go up on January 31st. In the meantime I’m combing through my own notes and listening to what others would like to hear more about. If there’s a specific topic you’d like more info on, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll endeavor to make it a part of the topics I cover in 2017. 

In the meantime, I hope everyone’s new year has been off to a good start. With so many different types of energy swirling around in all of our day-to-days, I know it can sometimes be difficult to maintain focus and vision on a creative business. I hope this little blog here helps a few of you out along the way! #creativetenacity