Posted in Making

Gangsta’s Paradise

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I recently stitched this up for a Christmas gift for my pal, Jo. It took twice as long as you’d think because when I was about 3/4 of the way through, I realised I’d gone wrong in the border and had to unpick the whole fucking thing and start again. Still, it turned out well and she loved it.

If you’d like to make one, you’ll find the pattern for this and lots of other cool stuff, here.

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 Living

#BEDM 1. Intro

Blog Every Day in May badge

I did the Blog Every Day In May challenge last time around (or was it two times ago? I can’t remember) and quite enjoyed it, so I signed up again this year. Of course, I’ve had a pretty busy week since I decided to do so, so haven’t gotten round to even starting it until now. So I’m blogging retrospectively every day in May for a bit.

The first set topic is to introduce yourself, so for anyone who hasn’t been reading this for years, firstly, you’ve really missed out (ho ho, not) and secondly, here’s some fascinating facts you might not know about me already.

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1. My day job is in television – it sounds exciting but it’s really not anything than a relentless endurance test of the soul, mind and body. I work in Access Services which is providing subtitles, audio description and sign language translation for most of the UK’s broadcasting companies (everything except ITV and Channel 5, basically). I used to be a live and pre-recorded subtitler but I’m now a duty manager, planning who does what and then making sure it all happens. It’s all the stress of live television but none of the glamour.It’s long hours, stressful at times but you do get to watch a lot of telly. Sometimes, I remember that we’re providing a magical service to some people who would be lost without it and that makes me happy. I’m really great in a crisis though, as a result of my job. It’s the one thing I can blow my own trumpet about without cringing – bring me a problem and I can think of 5 ways to creatively tackle it quickly. It’s why I think I am pretty awesome at my job.

2. I’ve been running my own business for over 10 years. Some aspects of it I really like, some I don’t. Some days, I have an overwhelming urge to pack it all in and never think of it again and others I want to drop everything and immerse myself in it. Lately, I’ve been enjoying not worrying much about it and taking time to create things for myself or friends. It’s made me remember that it can be fun and relaxing to cross stitch!

3. After vowing never to buy another house, I recently did. Other things I’ve vowed never to do include: get married (11 years this year), sell on Etsy again (considering a return for the VATMOSS headache for my patterns), go in a hot air balloon (so far, so good).

4. My brother lives in Siberia. I was hoping that he’d blog/instagram more when he moved there, but so far, all he’s done is talk about the weather and ask us to post him gravy granules. It’s not as cold as you’d think it is there but it is apparently a lot harder to make a stew than you’d guess.

5. My husband and my dog are both Welsh. I’m outnumbered by Welsh males in our house. We sort of rescued our dog, Max. He was taken in by a 93 year-old lady in the Lake District after his original owners had to give him up the day they were moving house. He’s a big Labrador, and quite active, so he soon proved too much for even a sprightly almost-centenarian. We were starting to think about getting a puppy when my friend Sarah suggested that we drive down and meet Max. We agreed, on the understanding that we were not taking him home with us that day. A few hours later, we were driving back with him in the back because he was just adorable. He’s really a massive part of the family and I can’t imagine life without him. I’m forever grateful to Sarah’s parents living next door to the old lady who took him in.

6. I really like giving things to people, gifts, unwanted possessions, etc. I am always the one who brings cakes into work. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know I am forever giving things away. I just like making people happy in small ways.The joy of gift-giving is something I’ll never tire of. I like helping people find great gifts for people that are really well-suited to them.

7. I really like driving. I only passed my test a few years ago, later in life, and since then, I’ve become quite a confident driver. However, the past month or so, I’ve had a string of incidents where I’ve been completely abiding by the rules of the road and other drivers (all male, all white BMW/Audi/van drivers) have cut me up and then verbally abused me rather rigorously, which has knocked my confidence a bit. I’ve started driving different routes to work to mix it up a bit, but it’s really stuck with me and I hope my stupid brain lets me forget it soon or it will be sad that I’ve let them fuck my mojo up.

8. I do all my best thinking in water. I can spend hours in the bath, or in a pool, and a lot of my best ideas have come from wallowing in water. I’d love to swim more but I don’t often get the time. I’m a Pisces, of course.

9. I’d love to live in America one day. My family in Cincinnati really want us to go out there, too, but we’ve been unable to secure jobs/visas so far. I firmly believe that it will happen one day though. Until then, we’ll just make do with frequent trips there. Next time, I might even pluck up the courage to try driving on the wrong side of the road.

10. I really like horses. I enjoy a trip to the baseball. I love the beach. I’m addicted to Coca Cola. I lived in Thailand for a bit a few years back. I have an irrational hatred of lollipop ladies. I could happily eat soup for breakfast and toast for dinner. I’m a bit addicted to Netflix, too.I don’t eat fish or seafood of any kind because ewww, it’s been in the sea and I’ve peed in there. I just want everyone to get along and have a quiet life, really.

FIN.

Posted in Day In The Life

My Today

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I thought I’d preface this rather dreary Day In The Life post with a cheery photo of me in my messy new bedroom from Saturday (see earlier post – this was clearly before I realised it was about vampires).

Today, I have been trying to get my shit together and failing miserably. I slept in, with the company of Max, as I’m on a late shift at work. The first day is always the worst. When I got out of bed, I felt decidedly dodgy and that’s lasted all day – a bit like I have a hangover without having had any of the accompanying fun.

I had a shower – which has been rather a disappointing experience in our new house. The shower looks good, a big old Victorian rainshower head, but you can either have a warm shower with all the pressure of a kitten licking you, or a burning hot shower with the pressure of a thousand spears. Bah.

Once I got out the shower, I realised that someone was in the garden cutting the grass. Hopefully, they didn’t see me in the shower through the blind-less window… I got dressed, had some breakfast (strawberries) and then drove Max and I down to the park for a walk around the reservoir. We saw one other dog and a lot of crows.

When we got back, I had some lunch (a lamb sandwich, left over from dinner yesterday) and a drink and Max and I listened to the radio for a bit. Then I spent about 3 hours trying to lock the bloody door – the locks are very stiff – and then went off to work.

I’ve been in rather a bogged down fug for a while but the past week has been hard. I can’t put my finger on what it is, but I’m struggling to adjust to our new surroundings and I’m having quite a crisis of confidence with The Bellwether. I feel like I’ve been droning on about this for a long time, but last week, someone highlighted to me that an Etsy shop is selling two of my designs as if they’re their own and I haven’t been able to shake it off. Usually, I sigh, get angry for 10 minutes and then shake it off, but I think starting from the standpoint of not knowing what I am doing anymore has made it all the harder to get over (I’ve contacted them, they’ve ignored me and the things are still for sale). If I was to give up every time I found someone ripping me off, I’d never get out of bed, but this week, I really just feel like I’ve had enough.

Having closed the shop whilst we moved house, I didn’t miss it. I wasn’t itching to get back to it. And I’m now thinking, maybe I should just give it up now. Maybe with business being in the doldrums and me feeling so miserable about it, maybe that’s the natural time to call it a day? But then what if I change my mind and the damage is done? Really, I need to make a decision and implement it.

Well, I suppose that’s what happens with Day In The Life – sometimes you get fun days (like Kim‘s – she got a new puppy!) and sometimes you get pissers like mine. Meh.

Posted in Living

Appy New Year

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Happy new year! I hope you had fun doing whatever you did last night. I had a glass of rancid wine after work and went to bed, rock and roll!

This is my first post from the iPad – I like it but I miss a proper keyboard! I’ll get used to it though. I saw this print on etsy via Facebook earlier and thought it was pretty apt for today, not only because it’s a new year and a new slate, but because I think I’ve finally hit upon the new name for my business to replace Miso Funky. I’m wearing it in for a few days but I think it’s staying.

Now, back to my hard work today of lounging on the sofa with my furry friend snoozing on my feet.

Print by Canvas Flair.

Posted in Indie Design

Fable & Lore

Did we all have a good Christmas? I had a lovely one, quiet at home with my family. I was given so many gifts it took me literally all day to open them – we were still opening gifts at 10pm. I was truly spoiled.

Actually, I was still opening gifts on the 27th, as one of my gifts from Lee was delayed in the post. It was worth the wait:

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I’ve been on a bit of an arrow tip (ha!) recently and Lee picked this out of my etsy favourites. It’s not been off since I ripped open the envelope! I don’t usually go for gold tones but it’s pretty nice for a change. It’s made by Fable + Lore.

Back to work today though, bah.