Posted in Indie Business

Deal Of The Day

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Today, I’m offering Shawlands lovers a treat – this hand-stitched banner is down to just £5. There’s only one, so you can snap it up here.

Oh, yeah, one thing I am excited about currently is that I am going to be closing The Bellwether (lolz, again) for good this time at the end of the month. I am actually super happy about it – no agonising this time, it’s just going. I’m still ruminating about the future, but The Bellwether will be put so sleep in just a couple of weeks. YAY! It dead.

If you’re a newsletter subscriber, your details will be deleted after closure. The Facebook page will likely close at some point. Instagram and Twitter remain though, as they’ve always been more personal accounts, anyway. Etsy will continue to carry my instant download charts for the foreseeable future (though this is subject to change in future, of course). There may even be some new charts added (there may not be) as there are still folders full of them in my laptop that remain unpublished.

Send no flowers, toll no bells – this is happy news for me! Meantime, things will remain cheap as chips until it’s all gone. So please make it all gone by getting your shop on here.

Posted in Indie Business, Random Utterings

Clearing Out

We’ve been doing a load of clearing out at home, rejigging our house in anticipation of some visitors in March. It’s a good excuse to get organised, paint the hall and all sorts of other things we hadn’t gotten round to in the nearly three years we’ve lived here (I know, THREE years – some sort of record for us!).

The next major project I have to sort out is my office space/studio/shithole. Once you get started rationalising possessions, streamlining and such, I find it very easy to carry on and apply those principles to everything and that means business, too.

So, you’ll have noticed a much sprucer and slimmer catalogue of products, which will be honed further still and you’ll also see that over 80% of products are now HALF PRICE. That means that when current stocks are gone, they’ll be gone and won’t be coming back for the foreseeable future.

For example :

Zines, banners and keychains remain full price currently, but have all had a price review to keep things current. I suggest you take advantage of my rationalisation and bag yourself some bargains before they’re gone!

Posted in Indie Business

The Other Side Of The Table

Remember me? Been a while, eh? Well, I’m baaaaaaaaaack! If you are a friend of mine on social media (and really, why aren’t you?), you can probably sense that something is brewing on The Bellwether front and your patience will be rewarded soon, stay tuned!

Meanwhile, I’m here to tell you about a project that recently came to fruition after several years in the works. Me and my good pal Marceline of Asking For Trouble finally launched our zine, The Other Side Of The Table – we’ve been plotting it for literally years and it’s donnnnne!

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The idea for the zine came about after nearly 25 combined years of rubbish craft fairs, both attending as sellers and buyers. It’s 20 pages crammed with anecdotes, horror stories, anonymous rants and a pull-out fun section.

Hard copies are £4 and are available right here.

If you prefer an e-book, formatted for Kindles and iBooks, click here to purchase on Amazon.

And for an instant-download PDF version, click on over to Etsy to buy it there.

Both the PDF and e-book versions have bonus content! So that’s fun. Early reviews are that it’s “hilarious” and that it “made my day”, so snap up your copy today!

Posted in Indie Business

Today Is £1 Card Day!

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Today is £1 card day! You can buy as many as you like – one card or 20, for £1 each and one low flat rate of shipping, regardless of how many you buy. You don’t even need a code or anything – they’re discounted and waiting for you already, so have at it!

Or if you’d like a pack of 6 cards, one of each design, you can get that for just £4 – that’s a bargain, whatever way you slice it. Find that offer here.

Check out the full collection of cards here.

Posted in Indie Business

Discounted Kits

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Yay! Free badge day was fun and lots of badges are now being packaged up and winging their way all over the world soon. Please allow up to a couple of weeks for delivery, though it’s likely to be a lot sooner.

The next step in the grand festival of fun that is The Bellwether’s closing month is…

..discounted kits! They’ve all had a wedge knocked off them – up to 40% in some cases. Kits now start at just £6.

Here they all are here. On you go.

Posted in Indie Business

A New Dawn

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A huddled heap of damp misery – that’s basically been business me until I reached my decision about closing The Bellwether. It was also poor Max last week at the dog launderette. Cute but fearful.And now, yay, joyful (and in the case of Max, not stinking like a stagnant pond).

I feel 1000% better about everything since unveiling my radical business closure plans. I’m feeling good about having time to do something else (after I finish the cushion I’m making for my cousin).

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I’m also most amused by lots of people saying “Oh, I’m so gutted that you’re closing,” and so far restraining myself from replying “If you were that gutted, you’d have been buying stuff from me and we wouldn’t even be having this fucking conversation, pal”. When it comes to micro-businesses, like mine, the key for customers is very much use it or lose it. Even if that use is only sharing with friends, retweeting a link, etc – every little bit helps. So don’t bleat to me now that you’re sad when you haven’t shown any interest in it for the last 12 years, mofo. Make sure you cherish and support those businesses that you love. If my experience has taught me anything, it’s that even myself as a massive cheerleader for indie businesses needs to work much harder at that.

That was liberating to say out loud. So, tomorrow is the first day of the closing down festivities right here on the blog, so you’ll want to tune back in if you like free stuff. And if you’re an instagram user, you’ll want to make sure you are following me @tinyotterpaws. That’s all the clue you’re getting for now!

Posted in Indie Business

Easter Savings

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With the Easter weekend fast-approaching, it’s the perfect time to get together with loved ones and share some quality time. It’s also the perfect time for being off work, eating a giant Lindor bunny and binge-watching Netflix.

If you’d like a break from all of that, you can snag 30% off at The Bellwether until midnight GMT on Monday 28th March. Use the code MAR30 at the checkout to claim this sweet deal which starts…now!

Don’t forget that it’s always free UK shipping, too, so the price in your basket is the price you pay.

I’ll be visiting Liverpool over Easter for the first time to go to a bourbon festival – fun times! I’ll post all your orders as soon as I get back, promise.

Posted in Indie Business, Making

Delicious Donuts

Delicious Donuts From The Bellwether

It’s been a very busy few weeks here at The Bellwether HQ – Christmas is already in full swing! I’ve still found some time to get some new products uploaded, including this delicious donutty badge. Grab yours here.

This week has been a full one of shop updates, product photography and um, yeah, reopening my Etsy shop after a very, very long battle with myself. I still have some issues with Etsy but even I can grudgingly acknowledge that things have changed a lot in recent years.

It’s been quite the wrestle but as another certain website I sell on is determined to drum out small businesses and have everything looking like a John fucking Lewis advert, then I’m broadening my horizons. I don’t mind if you judge me.

It’s actually kinda invigorating to be returning/approaching a new channel. And revising things and making preparations. I’ve even booked up for three markets before Christmas – more news on that and on the exhibition I’m taking part in this month soon!

Posted in Indie Business

Honest Business – Don’t Quit Your Day Job

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Image by Canvas Flair.

One of the things that I used to get asked a lot is “when are you giving up the day job?”. I suppose it’s natural for people to look at me and my business and wonder why after over 10 years, I still haven’t gone full time.

There’s a simple answer to that – I don’t want to. In fact, I’m a little offended that you even asked. Because actually, this is something I feel really strongly about and I don’t think is acknowledged anywhere nearly enough. Settle in, I have a lot to say about this.

Long-term readers will be no doubt unsurprised to hear me say that part of this pet peeve stems from Etsy and their evangelising that quitting your day job be your goal when you set up as a designer/maker or artist. They have a whole blog series about it, where once a month, they present you with a portrait of a successful Etsy business who ditched the drudgery of the traditional working week to focus on their artisan business. I have no problem with this at all. I even enjoy reading them from time to time – for example, the recent Satsuma Street story. I am a fan of Jody’s work and so I found that quite interesting to see more about her and her process but I couldn’t care less if she works full time, part time, or not at all, alongside it. The series has some good pointers and makes you think about some aspects of the business side of designing and making from a different angle which is never a bad thing though.

What really grates on me is that I feel this is an unbalanced view. It gives the implication to other designer/makers, and indeed to their customers and the world at large, that unless you’re working towards emulating “living the dream”, then you’re a failure. That to not be in your studio or work space 24/7, working on your “niche”, that you’re somehow less inspiring or less successful than those who are. That bothers me, a lot. It’s by no means restricted to Etsy, of course. We’re all guilty of comparison (it’s the thief of joy) and one-up-man-ship and this implication of failure for not being full-time is part of that (but that’s for another day).

Sending the message, directly or indirectly, that you’re somehow not as successful as those full-timers is also, I feel, damaging to those people who are out there with a creative talent who are thinking about getting into selling their work. Becoming a full-time designer/maker or artist is not something you just fall into overnight, and behind so many “success stories” is the recurring theme of “I worked bloody hard to get here”. If you’re faced with an insurmountable goal from the get-go, we might miss out on some amazing talent who just don’t bother to try.

For my own personal situation, I have never ever been about wanting to quit my day job. For all I sometimes complain about my job, I do actually, for the most part, enjoy it. I work hard at it and have built up a whole wealth of skills that help me in my business, too. Being able to come to work and use my brain for something other than cross stitch allows me to exercise parts of it that would otherwise turn to mush. There is the odd day, I will admit, where I would rather stay at home and get stuck into a project, because I am a mere human, but overall, it’s just never been about that for me.

Working for a big company allows me to learn essential business skills, how to communicate with people, how to present information and puts me in touch with a ready-made potential client base (because y’all know I am not beneath hawking my wares in the break room at Christmas time, or setting up a Valentine’s Day card stand in February).

I’ve had a variety of jobs and worked for companies of varying sizes, so I have a wide experience to call upon. That time I cried in the Ops Director’s office because I couldn’t work out the right ratio for a refund budget – I do actually now look back upon that and am glad I went through the embarrassment, because it led to me learning all sorts of stuff I never would have if I’d continued muddling through on guess-work. I’ve done work-based courses that led to qualifications that allowed me to progress and ultimately earn more money, all of which has been a safety net to fall back on in leaner times in my own business.

Could I have taken such a prolonged break over the past year if I didn’t work full-time? No, of course not. Having the financial freedom to do stuff like that just makes sense to me. Sure, I have to compromise on time, and sometimes I have to work late into the night to meet deadlines, or get a particular project finished. But I wouldn’t really change it, because for me, it works.

The UK designer/maker scene is fairly supportive and friendly, so I have gotten to know a fair few women (for they are overwhelmingly female) who have very successful day jobs they wouldn’t dream of giving up – we’re talking doctors, lawyers, fire fighters, that sort of thing. Does it make them any less of a success in their business? No, it does not. If anything, it makes them all the more driven, that they can fit in making a go of it alongside saving lives and fighting crime.

Shift work is also possibly something to do with it – I work shifts in the broadcasting industry, so it allows me to structure my business time differently from someone who works in a shop, for example. There’s nothing wrong with either approach, but I probably manage to wring out a little more time during the week and during the day, than someone having to be at the whim of “normal business hours,” whatever those are these days.

For those of you think this sounds like sour grapes – you couldn’t be more wrong. I am genuinely thrilled if you want to go full-time with your business and get to a position where you can. I’ll support you to the hilt. But it is not the be-all and end-all and it doesn’t make you more of a success than the next person. Working hard and winning at business is for everyone and I just want to celebrate this small corner of the diverse community that is indie business.

If you are reading this and thinking, shut up, I’m totally working towards being a full-time needle-felter/keyring maker/sock knitter, then this article from Kim Lawler is a good and useful read about preparing yourself financially. Some other useful reads:

Don’t Quit Your Day Job – why working whilst you establish a business can be a good move.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job…Yet – experience on working whilst building a business to a scale-able state from Huffington Post.

Get Your Project Moving Whilst You Work – some good advice from Harvard Business Review.

None of these are rocket science (and none of them are places I’d usually go for advice) but they all have some relevant points and offer food for thought if you are thinking of taking the plunge.

Coming up next week, I have an interview with a very clever designer who manages to be a doctor and a designer at the same time. Do pop back and read that, as it’s a great insight into the life of a very busy person.

Me, I’ll keep on keepin’ on and most resolutely won’t be quitting my day job any time soon!*

*Unless I win big on the scratch cards, then you won’t see me for dust.

Posted in Indie Business

Honest Business – Returning To My Nemesis

I have expounded at great length in the past about why I fell out of love with Etsy. You’re probably sick of me talking about it by now. Perhaps you see my name or twitter handle and think, oh, her, the one who hates Etsy. I wouldn’t blame you, because it’s pretty much been my nemesis for a few years now.

The whole descent into Chinese reseller promotion and twee-as-fuck antler headbands straight from Alibaba really grated on me. I wrote extensively about how selling “vintage” iPhones was damaging to people who do genuinely design and make awesome products. And I definitely voiced my annoyance and deep disdain for Etsy putting profit before their apparent ethos of being all about the makers. I think I’ve even argued with them on Twitter about it in the past few months (though sometimes I just do that in my head, so it’s hard to recall).

My opinion on this aspect of Etsy hasn’t changed at all. I still think Etsy are drifting further and further away from what they say their ethos was about and that they lack transparency in some areas. Their recent floating on stock exchange hasn’t really quelled my concerns either. I just read this post by Piddix this morning that really sums up the situation very succinctly.

However, what has changed is the way I think about Etsy. My viewpoint was challenged considerably when I read this article by Danielle Spurge about a different version of Etsy success.I read that back in March and it has really stuck with me and resonated. As Danielle says, Etsy has changed considerably but the way in which many people view it hasn’t, myself included. I guess I wish they were just more honest about turning into a multi-national company who are all about profit-making first and foremost, with the nurture of creative entrepreneurship second. They report to their investors first, their customers (both sellers and buyers) second. That is entirely fine and acceptable if you start to think of Etsy as a profit-making company and not as your friendly community leaders.  I cannot change that, so I should really stop trying to. I don’t even want to change it, I just maybe now want to reconsider how I could possibly make it work for me.

I got to thinking – what is really that different to, for example, Not On The High Street now to Etsy? When I think about the way I list products there, the sales I make, the communication with customers and the business/ethos balance there, it’s really not so different. Does it annoy me that people sale mass-produced stuff on NOTHS, an apparently curated collection of products? Of course it does. Does my annoyance make any difference to the customers viewing those or my products? Not a sausage. Are they also a profit-making entity who has grown from being a small, community type affair to a big company who has to count the beans before anything else? Sure they are. There are obvious differences, but the underlying principle is the same.

So, I’ve been thinking – maybe it’s time I climbed down off my high hand-carved, hand-painted dala horse and explored how I can make it work for me instead of what might appear to be cutting off my nose to spite my face. Hell, if Etsy has sold out, why shouldn’t I, too?!

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Can I expand my idea of success and the way I think of exposure for my business? Yes, I can. I’m still pondering how best to leverage it, but it’s no longer off my agenda. I’ll still be annoyed about everything I’ve mentioned, about the endless being ripped off by people who cross stitch one Me To You kit and think they’re Jane Greenoff and all that shite. But it’s every man for themselves, really, innit? Being ripped off is something that has happened loads to me in the past, and I don’t see that changing whether I am on or off selling platforms.

The other thing that has coloured my views on this since the turn of the year is the VATMOSS debacle. I had to stop selling my instant-download patterns which was a nice, easy revenue stream for me. Not huge volumes, but still. Now that Etsy are  going to be collecting the VAT and processing it without seller intervention, it seems a no-brainer to use that facility over other options that don’t get the traffic looking for the charts in the first place. See, something else that has recently changed that has changed my opinions. Something to consider on the balance sheet of pros and cons.

Am I big fat hypocrite? I am sure at least one person will think that of me. But no, I don’t think so. Things have changed a lot and I’ve re-examined my position and found it to have shifted a bit from where it was nearly 5 years ago. If you’ve never changed your mind about anything at all, then please feel free to think of me as massively hypocritical. Maybe I’ll even change my mind again. Who knows?

Ooh, I feel like a guilty secret has been let out! Not earth-shattering but I wanted to share this because people don’t talk about mistakes or changing views enough in our business. It’s OK to change! I haven’t made any decisions yet, but expanding my horizons, or un-narrowing them can’t help a little.

Posted in Giving, Indie Business

Really Last Minute Gifts

Still not done with your Christmas shopping? Here’s a couple of last minute ideas.

Lucky Dip Club

threeboxes-600x600Imagine getting a wee box full of surprise gifts through the post every month – imagine no more, for that’s exactly what Lucky Dip Club is – a box of delights around a different theme through your letterbox to cheer you up.You’ve actually missed signing up for a subscription this month, you’ll need to wait til January 1st to be in with a chance, but the pick and mix boxes are pretty ace plus, you could just print off a voucher for a subscription and set your alarm for Jan 1.

Goose Flesh Zine

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My good friend Sean’s beautiful and talented lady pal Sarah Amy Fishlock is the brains behind Goose Flesh – her photographic work is really rather excellent. You might be pushing it a bit to buy online, but I have it on good authority that if you’re in Glasgow, you can pick up a copy at Street Level Photoworks.

Mary Queen Of Scots Tries Roller Skating

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Another of my very talented colleagues at my day job, Doug wrote this e-book. Download it! Now!

Hippo Beers

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I haven’t actually been in here  yet, but it looks like a great last-minute gift stop if you’re in the Glasgow area – pop in to Hippo Beers and pick up half a dozen fancy beers for the boozehound in your life. Consumable gifts are the best.

Penny Black

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Last but by no means least, Penny Black on Great Western Road in Glasgow is a perfect place to pick up cards and gifts if you’re in the West End.  Don’t worry, it’s actually open and finished now, since this photo was taken! It’s the new venture by my very best friend Jo and her husband Ryan, and their extended family – a real team effort!

My role has mostly been moral support, cheesecake delivery and cutter-outer of price tags, but it’s been a real blast helping them create what is a multi-functional operation – a destination post office, with added specialty drinks cafe and card/gift shop. It is so well designed and put together, that’s it’s really just an awesome space to spend time in and I love it and you should all go there now, and after Christmas – support a true community business who really care about what they are doing and making a difference to their customers’ lives. I’m so proud of what they’ve achieved so far, and thankful they’ve let me be part of the journey so far – can’t wait to see what 2015 brings!

 

 

 

Posted in Indie Business

#VATMESS

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Image from Knowledge Computing

Did you know that on the 1st January 2015 there are changes to the VAT laws within the EU which are going to cripple small businesses who sell e-services? No, of course you didn’t, because they’ve seemingly been rushed through and no one had heard anything about them until last month.

People are not happy about it. I’m not happy about it. So many  people are being royally screwed over, businesses will close, people will be out of work.

Basically, instead of VAT being charged in the country of purchase on e-products and services, it will now be charged in the country of sale, meaning UK micro-businesses will have to be VAT registered if they sell a single PDF to anyone in the EU. Sophie over at What Delilah Did wrote a heartfelt post about it  and an update here that gives you more background on how it affects pattern sellers.

The extra admin, expense and effort this would take for most micro businesses, including mine, is so ridiculous that many of us are just going to have to stop selling our e-services. So to that end, all of my PDFs will be coming off the virtual shelves on the 31st of December.

Until then, you can get 25% off them all by using the code 25PDF at the check-out. Shop here.

Way to stifle the creative industries and the little guys, law-makers, you fucktards.

 

Posted in Indie Business

You Know It’s Christmas When…

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  • You have a customer who bought something last night and emailed this morning to ask why it hasn’t arrived yet.
  • You’re at a craft fair opposite a stall full of shit upcycled Santas made out of toilet rolls and leather offcuts and they’re selling tons and no one is buying your lovingly handcrafted design-led wares.
  • Your customer wants to return the acrylic flower necklace, described on your website as being made from plastic, because the flower isn’t real.
  • You have no clean clothes left, the only thing in your fridge is a mouldy wedge of cheese and you can’t remember the last time you spoke to a human that wasn’t employed in logistics.
  • You have 18 old ladies glaring at you in the post office queue because you’re holding them up from collecting their pension with your massive bag of orders
  • You get 37 unsolicited emails about craft fairs in your area panic-selling stalls as they’re under-subscribed and under-prepared – AVOID.
  • You’re averaging 4 hours sleep a night and are making things in your sleep.
  • A group of 3 people with a pushchair stand in front of your stall to have an air-kissing catch up, blocking the way to all customers, and all you can do is grin and bear it because they might buy something when they’re done.
  • You haven’t done  your own Christmas shopping because you’re too busy making everyone else’s Christmas gifting awesome.

Yup, it’s Christmas. Have you got any of your own experiences to add to the list?

Posted in Indie Business

My Funny Valentine

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Running an indie business isn’t at all what you’d think. It’s not all long lunches browsing through the Toast catalogue and eating homemade kale chips. In fact, in my case, it’s not any of that at all (kale chips sound like my idea of hell). It’s a rollercoaster, of both fortune and emotions, and one that, as I’ve written about before, I think no one really ever tells the truth about.

Claire Brown, myth-buster – that’s me. I think I have moved on sufficiently from the jarring shock of my rebranding over a year ago now to tell  you candidly that it was simultaneously one of the best and one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made.  Without a doubt, it had to happen, as I’d outgrown the old name so long ago and it grated on me so much that I felt embarrassed to mumble it out. It was forever mispronounced, mis-spelt, mis-appropriated. It was such a massive fucking relief to be rid of it.

But on the flipside – I had spent 8 years building that name up. It was well-known and I would like to think well-respected. It also had a whole heap of good Google karma, and I was pretty much top of the search engine pops for a lot of things. Every week, tens of thousands of people would swing by my website, leave a blog comment, buy a few things, sign up to my newsletter and generally make everything go with a swing. Cometh the hour of my rebrand, the switch was flicked and…that all stopped. I was in the dark and back to square one. It was like 2005 all over again. No one was coming, no one knew I was there apart from the people I directly told. It was bleak.

It’s improved a bit over the year, but I am basically starting over. All that goodwill and karma that went with my old name is gone. I’ve fallen off the face of the earth and I have to remind people that I’m here. It’s a depressingly necessary evil. I had so much built up and it went in an instant. And then of course the great homelessness debacle of 2013 happened and I just couldn’t do it. And now here I am in 2014, finally thinking I might be physically and mentally able to try and stake my claim to my patch of the internet once more.

What’s this got to do with Valentine’s Day, I hear you ask. Well, it’s a funny old thing. Last year, it was just before the rebranding. I did fairly well on my own website at Valentine’s Day. Not amazing-pay-off-the-mortgage well, but pretty good. I supplemented that with a fair showing on my Not On The High Street shop and was pleased.

This year though – I sold a grand total of 14 Valentine’s cards via my own website. Yes, that’s 14. I don’t really set myself targets as such, but if I did, it would have at least a 0 on the end of that figure. 14. FOURTEEN. I could weep. However – over on NOTHS – mental busy. I was making 2 or 3 trips to the postbox a day, and pretty much sold out of the print run I got done at the start of February. What’s the difference? Traffic. Of course it is. I wasn’t in any brochures, none of the newsletters, TV ads – none of that. I don’t think I had any press for it either, but I do know that people went mad for my Fat Kid card over there.

The moral of the story is that building it is not enough to make the people come any more. It probably was 9 years ago when I started out. But it’s not anymore. It’s been a hard way to realise that but I finally feel able to lay my experience bare for others to learn from. Deep down, I already knew that, but hoped my goodwill and good standing in the virtual indie community would see me through my rough patch. It didn’t. It was like watching a hippo stagediving – the waves of people parted and I fell on the ground hard.

It’s a long road to rebuild what I had. It’s not like the Jehovah’s Witnesses – you can’t put out a call to your pals and they come and build you a Kingdom Hall over a weekend. More’s the pity. It’s going to take a very long time to regain what I had. Best stop griping and get on with it then, eh?