What I wish I had Known When I was Starting Out
I felt really inspired to do this creative exercise by Bonnie Christine of Going Home to Roost. Bonnie's letter to her past herself, of things she wished she had known when she was starting out was great to read, and prompted me to write my own version. I've found it a great reflective exercise, a reminder to myself that most of us have very similar struggles and experiences, yet at the same time, quite individual journeys. We all start at different ages, for different reasons, live in different places, have different families and different opportunities available to us.
The biggest thing I can take out of my own journey, is that everything works out in the end, to always follow your yellow brick road - and following it doesn't always mean you end up in Emerald City without a hitch or witch along the way.
Dear Megan of Yesteryear(s),
Your beginning will be one of many:
Little will you know that deciding to have a market stall and sell handmade items on a whim, will decide the course of your career. In your late teens, conventional job ideas are still on the horizon. Going home, dragging out the new shiny sewing machine your Mum just bought, and making your first doll as a test 'item' will just be the beginning. You won't put any rigidity or structure into your plan. You will just be doing it because you want to do it. You won't know until about eight years later that somehow, it was meant to be. Somehow without any training or education in the area of marketing, presentation or branding, you will find ways to make this work. Before internet shopping or even facebook was big. Before you'd even heard of Etsy or any other site. You will go to the op-shop, and buy clothing to turn into dolls clothes, only purchasing new fabric once you've made the sales. You'll make bags out of jeans, after seeing one at your local patchwork shop. You won't know that those bags and dolls will be bought as gifts for little girls. At this point in time, you are thinking grown ups will buy them. When you realize that the products are selling mostly for children, you will start creating items with children in mind. In the meantime, you read up on US craft blogs and try to work out where you can get that pretty designer fabric. About a year or two later, you find some and you buy your first online, international purchase. You will attend the local markets, which are tiny and mainly for farm produce. You'll make a small amount each month to fund your activities.You'll sell some products in local and national stores. You'll even do a party plan type thing. You'll have some interesting adventures because of this little business. You won't yet be calling it a business.
From Little Things Big Things Grow:
When a friend has a baby, you buy clothing from the only shop in town that sells it - a commonly known chain store. The clothes grow holes in them after one wash and your friend has to return them. The cogs in your brain will start turning and you'll add a product line of quality baby clothing to your market stall. Your first garment will be made using a pattern your Mum used for you when you were little. You'll get freaked out at putting elastic casing in legs and turn the romper into a dress. You won't like making it at all and you won't even measure the hem. Thank goodness you will also get a bit more patient and learn to measure those hems. And you'll learn to love making high quality clothing. Your Mum will help you draft your first pattern, a vintage playsuit. A friend will tell you that your clothing will be very popular. You don't believe her. Several months later you will be ready to make your first sale, after holding a Mother's Day fundraising event for charity. Because of the event, you will open a Facebook page. About nine months later, somehow you are found on this Facebook and the sales start rolling in. A little while after that, you will register your business name and visit a fabric trade fair. Things will start getting real.
Work Smarter Not Harder:
Throughout this whole time, you won't stop and reflect on anything. You are young and you will learn an awful lot - about people, about business and about yourself. You will get frustrated when you suddenly start wanting to create a life for yourself and realize you need to get paid more for what you do. You'll bury yourself deeply in work for a couple of years, run a popup shop and put yourself under too much pressure. You'll wake up one morning and have several dozen orders. From that moment onwards, you will be making clothes to order, with a 3-4 week waiting time and you will try and stock a popup shop. It will be crazy and you'll barely have a day off in the next nine months. You'll wonder on and off why you don't just throw it all in - get a usual job, have your evenings and weekends off and pay rent for your own place rather than a tiny little shop that you will have no hope of keeping up with. You'll start sewing in your dreams. You will equate working harder with making more money. This will all unravel because your health will not be able to sustain it. It'll be really hard, but you will have to let go of the whole lot.
There'll be a New Beginning:
You'll quit the clothes - you'll never have anticipated it. It'll be impossible to continue and you'll need a break.You'll start a small fabric shop on Etsy just to destash some of that fabric- you bought a lot in wholesale quantities for your clothing business and you won't use it all. From this, you'll decide that having a little fabric shop online helps pay the bills and it's something you can manage while recovering from the business burn out, that resulted in a painful shoulder injury - you will be sick on and off for months.Through this forced rest, you will meet many new online friends and a kind and generous craft community that will help bring back your enthusiasm for making things - and people.
For the Plant to Grow, the Seed must first die:
A few months later, you will look back and realize that all that you have learnt and been through was for a reason. Even if you couldn't see it at the time. You'll learn that you need to be happy and nurture your creativity for your business to work. You'll learn that you can do your own thing and worrying about whether something will or won't work does no good. You'll start to learn not to compare yourself to others but to stand tall and shine bright, just being happy being you. You'll learn that maybe all that was just the practice run, like a crazy boot camp cross university course with experiences that nothing formal would have taught you. And you'll know that once all the hard stuff is over, more hard stuff will come because that's just the deal when you run a solo business. But this time, you are stronger, more prepared and confident in who you are and what you want to do.
Megan of Present-Day
If I had known everything that would unfold over time, from the moment I sewed the buttons on that first shabby doll to the moment I decided to close my successful clothing label, I wouldn't take it back. Every single thing has been a learning experience and the struggle was mingled with fun and satisfaction. Having your own business is a bit like having a child - it's exciting, amazing and you'll love it to bits - but there will be heartache, tears and tantrums along the way that you never anticipated. You gain a whole new level of patience and perseverance that you never would have thought possible.
If you'd like to join in, please visit Bonnie's blog and original post here.