“Believe me, all of you, the best way to help the places we live in is to be glad we live there.”
'being where your feet are' is a theme that runs through my life. i sometimes succeed at living in the present. recently a trusted friend told me that i wasn't doing so well at it; i was overthinking, overworking and overstretching. sound familiar?
at times, when we discuss these types of 'woo' subjects, we do a mental eye roll. surely, life doesn't have to be so complicated! just get on with it! stop over-analyzing and just do the work.
there is merit to that approach, and if its working for you that's wonderful. however, for me and for many running small creative businesses, its imperative to review the feelings that lurk in the pit of our stomachs and find ways to sooth them, to learn from them or to act on them. i am at the centre of my little shop so i need to know where i am heading with it and why. and that, dear readers, gives me a headache.
so i thought july, half way through the year, would be a good time to reflect on my shop and the direction is has taken and should be taking. inspired by the mid-year reflections of kayte at simple & season and hannah bullivant at seeds and stitches, and very importantly by real-life balanced friends that i'm blessed to know who regularly pause and reset, i have written here a review of the year so far.
january - the plans for firain
this will be a short paragraph. on january 2, just 4 months after my brothers sudden death, the family home burned down. we helped my parents relocate to our little patch of wales and my plans for firain once again seemed so irrelevant.
i knew i needed to use my time wisely when working on shop-related things as my emotional energy was being stretched. i've put these aims under the heading 'focus'.
i knew i needed to take absolutely zero financial risks. this would naturally limit some of the products i could take on and the quantities i could stock, which has been difficult for me when i look at what others small shopkeepers are achieving. i've put this aim under the heading 'don't compare'.
i knew i needed to anchor myself in meaningful things: my faith and hope that this feeling of overwhelm will in time pass and to see the positives in even very tough situations. i've put these goals under the heading 'do things to stabilize me and my family'.
july - how am i doing?
WITH A BACKGROUND IN EDUCATION, IT'S NATURAL THAT I WOULD GRADE MYSELF AND I HAVE DECIDED THAT I overall i DESERVE A c-. here are my thoughts about why, divided into 3 sections: my aims, what went well and 'even better if' (what i intend to do in the second half of the year!):
aim: since running firain is not my only job, i need to spend quality time on the shop. I need to focus on how i use social media, i.e: not just passively scrolling but actively engaging with customers and creating posts/ stories that will lead to sales, in a non-aggressive way. i need to be organized and structured and learn from others about how to do this.
what went well:
- instagram: i post consistently even when MY CREATIVITY HAS DRIED UP and even when i have been away on my travels. (do we care too much about what time of day to post? how often to post etc? my vote is still pending). i don't pay too much attention to follower numbers because it changes daily but i have recently navigated through the murky waters of the 1,000 followers mark which feels nice, especially as i diligently block the weirdo accounts. instagram stories really do lead to sales so i am happy that i do them. my photos are ok...not earth-shaterringly gorgeous but they are average for an amateur and i have had nice feedback about my style.
- learning from genuine experts: i booked myself onto the campfire course written by kayte at simple & season which sent me spinning into a whirl about how much i was failing at this small business lark, but which in time is helping me to re-focus.
even better if:
- i can add value to my customers and give them what they really need. i am learning who my 'people' are; i will continue to build trust, showing that i am looking for ways to add value for my customers.
- i develop more structured promotions/ product launches: in the last 6 months, some of my instagram sales techniques have been truly cringeworthy and not actually led to sales. even my dad, who isn't on instagram, noticed that each month i seemed to have a new promotion ;-). i need to avoid sporadic promoS that confuse shoppers and leave me with little profit, if any. do i join the igtv movement? do i talk to the camera on stories? these are still areas of concern for me!
- i establish set working hours for firain: the aim to 'make the best use of my work time' has not gone well at all. i am not strict with myself and i will happily get up at 6am to set up a little photoshoot that pops into my head WHILST DREAMING and stagger to bed at midnight after re-arranging the stock. since firain is not my only job, i need to be much more disciplined and switch off. i also need to create actual marketing strategies (kayte will do a happy dance to hear this!) to promote the wonderful things firain sells. i have made a weekly schedule that includes everything from when i exercise to when i blog. hopefully it will help!
aim: focus on my own business, and recognize the limitations and freedoms that i have.
what went well:
- learning patience: i'm drawn to businesses who promote slow living, simple living, gentle living yet many of them seem to be ambitiously flying whilst i am meandering along! however, i recognize that the personal challenges i have had over the past year (including unexpectedly relocating from the USA back to the UK) mean that i need to be gentle on myself and patient with my business, and for the most part i am succeeding with this.
- accepting my current financial circumstances: firain needs to be profitable for me. i started the shop on a minuscule budget and i am proud that i am not easily swayed by all the marketing noise that could bombard me. like most small businesses, i don't have the budget for professional help with photography, the website, branding (although a lovely friend is helping with my logo!), for all the courses on offer or for lots of promotions and marketing packs. there are makers i would absolutely love to stock but i know i can't stretch to their minimum order quantities at the moment. there are magazines i would love to advertise in but i simply can't afford the rates at the moment. there are other small shops who are always, always twenty steps ahead of me and i am working hard to be happy for them, and not to compare our situations.
- sticking to my lifestyle choices: we also have a simple life with few responsibilities and i need to count this as a giant blessing. firain should not and will not complicate my life. i am truly fortunate to have a really supportive family and network of friends who know my circumstances and support this business through their purchases and general cheerleading!
- putting myself out there - at the last minute, along with my florist friend rebecca from ivy, pip & rose, we recently participated in a local craft fair which made me realize how much i love this little shop. FIRAIN made a profit, i loved chatting with the customers and i loved making local connections. the fair cost us money of course but since i already had the stock, it wasn't an astronomical outlay.
even better if:
- i confidently spread the marketing net: i need to investigate 'free' and low-cost marketing channels: rather than being despondent about my lack of funds for firain, i need to get creative and investigate ways of promoting the shop that are essentially free. i am quite good at chatting - are there any podcasters out there with a slot to fill?!
- i spend my limited funds wisely: i need to think more carefully about the amount of stock i take on and be more measured in my decision-making. i need to silence the magpie in me who loves everything.
- i make an effort to shut out the noise: i need to feel very guarded about what marketing advice/ social media advice i allow into my world and not feel overwhelmed by the plethora of information.
do things to stabilize me and my family
aim: step away from work to enrich our lives through meaningful activities.
what went well:
- recalling what i know: i have seen people very close to me suffer burnout, and during our time in the USA i think we were quite close to experiencing it ourselves (all self-inflicted i might add!). i have seen on the other hand the benefits of stepping away from the grind and pressing the pause button. we factor into our week time for enriching activities and time to switch off from work.
- enjoying where we are: we've lived in enthralling cities but i have never felt more alive than i do living by the sea in north wales. we rent our flat, so we won't always have this opportunity. i take photos every day of where we live and i feel very grateful that i can benefit from the beauty around me. we go on regular micro-adventures and it's easy to be content with simple pleasures.
even better if:
- i remember that my health needs to be a priority: step away from the gelato, jo! get outside, move my butt and really immerse myself in my surroundings.
- i keep things in perspective: this shop is a passion of mine but it needs to find its place in my priorities bucket.
wow - that was a longer post than i expected. let's see if i can stick to my aims and regain my balance! have you undertaken a version of this exercise? what did you learn? i would love to hear your experiences.
until next week x jo
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