Hey guys! We’re rounding back to Facebook today, because it’s kind of a big pain in the ass that’s also basically mandatory for small businesses, AND can be one of your strongest assets if managed correctly. But that’s easier said than done.

So let’s look at two Facebook-centric questions I’ve received.

Is social media really the way to reach/promote a small upstart “maker” type business? It seems so fleeting for lack of a better word. Take FacebookI will see a post I feel is interesting and tell myself I’m going to look into that later. Seems when I go back, sometimes in just a few hours, it’s buried, or worse yet, I can’t even find it. If a potential customer has to deal with this in the instant world we live in, hasn’t that opportunity to engage a customer been missed?
—Social Thinker in CLE

I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook for my craft business. The new method of showing (or not showing) posts to followers… aaahhh!! What is your advice about working with the Facebook corporation? Is it worth it to pay to boost posts? 
—FB Depression

So, for starters, let’s lay it all out on the table. Facebook is not perfect. Facebook for Business is a lot of trial and error. And the minute you feel like you’ve got it all figured out, they’re going to change one tiny piece of code on the back end, and you’re going to lose your mind.

If you can accept this now, you will save yourself headaches, heartbreak, loads of time, and probably a mouthful of crow.

So how do you interact with this necessary evil that refuses to be tamed?

My suggestion is that at the start, you set the terms, not the goals. Facebook is goal-oriented and can very easily seduce you into pursuing 1000 likes. Or 15 shares. Or 3 dozen comments.

But they will thwart your efforts. And even when they don’t, pursuing those numbers will most likely result in too much of your time spent stalking your own page.

So set the terms. Decide that you want to share these 3 (or 5 or 7) things on Facebook next week and carve out a time on Friday to write/schedule those posts. And for the following week, rinse and repeat. Then, after a month or so, look at your analytics, try to determine which types of posts and which posting-times are most successful, and adjust to align with those.

Respond to comments/questions and Facebook messages within 24 hours, but otherwise, let it be.

If you’re interested in paying to boost posts, I would do so for posts that contain important information and/or have potential ROI (i.e. “Our grand-opening is THIS SATURDAY” or “Tickets for our exclusive event are ON SALE NOW” )

Also, engage other forms of social media. Facebook is not the be-all end-all. Instagram is more visual. Twitter is more forgiving (in that you can post more often without annoying your followers; you can’t get away with saying terrible, bad things on Twitter; Twitter is all about holding you accountable; but you’d never do that anyway).

So, in summation:

  • Stop chasing likes/comments/shares
  • Consolidate execution of your weekly Facebook posts by writing and scheduling them at once
  • Utilize Facebook analytics to determine your best post types and post times
  • Direct the energy your saving by not obsessing about Facebook into exploring other social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter

Over time, you will get more comfortable with Facebook and you’ll find your rhythm. But to get there, I think it’s necessary to pull back and set your own terms for engaging with the social media platform.

I mean, you run your own company. So don’t let Facebook run you.

As always guys, please use this form to submit your own questions for The Sarah Project!

I told you guys I would answer anything, and I’m a girl of my word, so today we’re getting personal—kind of. I had a reader submit a life-advice question that really tugged at my heart strings. So we’re getting into it.

Here’s this week’s question as I received it:

So, I am graduating from college and then beginning my master’s degree. I am engaged to the man of my dreams, but still live with my parents. This year we are moving in together but I am having a problem. Because of this transition from being at home to being away, I tend to choose my family over seeing my fiance. Now I’m feeling guilty about bailing on him, yet he never makes me feel bad for it. To me, I am spending time with my family before I “leave forever”, but it actually causes more stress for me to be with them? I hope that makes sense, haha! I feel like this is causing unnecessary stress for the both of us, yet I don’t want to miss out on family time? HELP!
—Livin’ the Dream?

You ABSOLUTELY are living the dream! You have a family you love, a partner you love, and you’re pursuing a career that you’ll love! But change can be hard and scary and it’s okay that it’s stressing you out a little. But I’ve been in that boat, and I can promise you that the changes ahead for your relationship and your family are going to be largely awesome.

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Maybe right now, you eat dinner with your parents almost every night and you discuss your days. And maybe your heart breaks a little at the thought of not having that time with them. But you will live to share a meal with your parents again. And on rare, beautiful, yet probably unremarkable occasions, it will be  just you and them and a great meal. And in between those meals, you’ll get texts from your dad. Trust me when I tell you there is nothing cuter than texts from your dad. And you’ll call your mom on your way home, and you won’t be able to finish one story before rushing into another because you have so much to tell her. And she’ll have that same excitement about catching up with you.

Then, instead of texting and calling with your fiance quite so much, you’ll share dinners with him—good dinners and bad dinners and oh-fuck-it-drive-thru dinners. You’ll find your rhythms and routines and when things get shitty like they do from time to time, those rhythms and routines will help hold you together.

What I’m saying is that all this change will let you get to know your parents in a new way, your fiance in a new way, and because of those things, you’ll get to know yourself in a new way. And that’s awesome—that’s the part of growing up that never ends.

Until then, until the great shift…

  • Try to relax a little
  • Bring them together whenever you can—the people who grew you and the person who wants to grow with you
  • Learn to trust your fiance when he says that he doesn’t mind
  • Remember that in its slowness, change is kind. Just like you didn’t feel instantly different the day you graduated from high school, you won’t feel different the day you graduate undergrad, start or finish your master’s degree, move in with your fiance, get married, and/or any of those milestone days to come.
  • And most importantly, find the balance between your self interest and being considerate of others. You’re clearly a people-focused, relationship-driven girl, and so am I. But certain things are as simple or as important, that what matters most has to be what you want.

With all this said, I think you’re going to be just fine. I think your family and your fiance are both lucky to have someone who is so thoughtful.

Remember guys, you can send me questions using this form. And I’m running a little low on things I know enough about to give advice on, so… yeah, submit some questions. 

Hey guys!

Today we’re talking about cohesive brands for differing styles.

Here’s this week’s question as I received it:

Hi Sarah, I own an art and handmade jewelry business with my daughter. The problem we’re having is how to correctly brand [our business] to reach our target market. You see… I’m in my 50s and she’s 23. Our personal styles are quite different and neither of them is exactly like our perceived target market. We have some jewelry pieces that appeal to teens and then a whole other set of pieces that appeal to bohemians, hipsters, hippies and any combination of those. Our art pieces have been purchased by many a middle-aged professional man in a 3-piece suit, as well as tatted up punk rockers (they especially like our guitar wall art pieces!) Anyway… How in the heck do you create a brand that appeals to all these people but stays true to one cohesive look?
—Brand Amnesia

Hi Brand Amnesia! I’m so glad you wrote in with this question. I think it’s a pretty common issue for what I’ll call partner companies (two or more people of equally standing running the show). Although you’re brought together by your passion for creating jewelry and art, and in this case, also by your family tie, having different styles is to be expected. Also, if your daughter was a carbon copy of you, that’d be super creepy and would be a much bigger issue to overcome in terms of your public perception! So let’s start framing your differing styles and perspectives as the strengths they actually are.

Now, you still need a cohesive brand. And I think you can definitely have one by identifying your common ground and letting IT drive your brand. For instance, your process, materials, ability to create on custom pieces, and the passion  you have for your work probably are all shared and constant no matter the style of piece you’re producing.

And then within your products, I would suggest creating collections if you want or need to appeal directly to subgroups of your wider target audience.

And that’s pretty much the long and short of it! I hope this helps and that you feel empowered by your differences and all the possibilities they provide instead of feeling hindered!

Remember guys, you can always submit questions to The Sarah Project via this form. And I’m looking for some new challenges, so send me whatever’s on your mind!

the sarah project: no more hiding

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hi all.

I’m back with round 2 of answering actual reader questions. I’m basically an old pro now.

Don’t be intimidated, though. I’m an “of the people” kind of girl. Just. like. Mindy.

role model
(Source: facebook.com/themindyproject)

Anyway…

Let’s get right into it. Here’s our question for the week as I received it:

Hi Sarah! I’m an introvert by nature, but I would love to be better at talking to people about my business, especially at craft shows. Any tips for that little thing known as human interaction? Thanks!
—Hiding Behind Crafts

HBC, I’m so happy you wrote in about this because I think there is a huge misconception that all successful vendors and small business owners are extroverts.

I think the key to not fully draining your introvert self in these situations is respecting your nature. Fake it til you make it has a time and place, but it’s not here.

My suggestion is actually starting your market experience the day before by giving yourself the quiet and restful day you need. Methodically gather, organize, and pack for the next day, or just leave yourself a few pieces to actually produce, and get lost in that task.

Secondly, I would suggest setting up your booth display in a way that invites shoppers in. This might seem counter-intuitive, but hear me out. Inviting shoppers into your booth display helps you target the customers that are really interested in your product, and those are the people you want to spend your energy on. Having a table set up that pushes your customers into an aisle makes it hard to delineate them from just general shoppers. Essentially, you end up trying to engage with anybody and everybody instead of your potential customers.

Also, I would suggest observing and diagnosing some true professional sales people. One of our Flea vendors, Tim and Dwight of All Things for You are expert salesmen. What makes them so successful? Being in their booth is fun! They make you feel special, like a friend. What can you learn from that? To focus on your shoppers instead of yourself.

My last bit of advice is to really directly hone your message. Through Indie Foundry, we help small businesses build brands that work for them. And one part of that work is always crafting language that is clear, concise, and cohesive. Having that language in your toolbox gives each interaction the greatest return.

I hope this helps, HBC  and that you find lots of success at all your future markets!

(For anyone who’s maybe not clear on the difference between being an extrovert, being an introvert, and just being shy, here’s a pretty plain-English explanation.)

As always you can find our submission form here.

Do you have tips for HBC? What has worked for you fellow introverts?

Build your dream job.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

dream-job-1
Hi Friends, Stephanie here.  When I started on this path over 6 years ago, all I knew was that I wanted and needed to have purpose and fulfillment in my daily work life.  While being an aspiring architect during the day, I began a tiny design business on the side, as a creative outlet, and soon became pretty captivated (and terrified) by the idea of self-employment.  My first design jobs were for brides to brand their weddings, though at the time I didn’t really even know what branding was.  Then, once I realized that there were many dreamers and doers out there like me, building a business from scratch in a shaky economy, I wanted to help them.  Today, both of my businesses are focused on building dream jobs and dream campaigns for other creatives.  Everything we do is about making things better– from our city to our business community.  We spend our days encouraging creatives to take that leap from day dream to dream job and we watch them soar at our incubator market, The Cleveland Flea, and beyond.  Soon, I began to realize that my dream required bringing in a team to help me grow.  So, within my own walls, my job was once again to build dream jobs for my employees, so that we could continue to grow.  Hiring employees was another terrifying step, but now that I’ve taken it, I wanted to share a few thoughts on that, as well as introduce you to the whole team.

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Before I brought anyone on, I created a list of everything that I do, categorized that into “job titles” and then asked potential hires what their dream job would be, if it were to be at The Flea, and also if it wasn’t with me.  If they could do anything, what would that be?  I had them name that position, describe what they’d do daily and really make it real.  It was important for me to bring people on that love what they do and feel that they have agency to create a job that they love, just like I had created for myself.  I also wanted to know if they’d play along, because we also ask our clients to do the same thing, and if they don’t really get what we’re doing or don’t find value in our approach, they’re probably not for us.

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Sarah was one of the only people, and certainly the best, at beginning to sketch out her own dream job, and she enthusiastically jumped on board with how we work.   She was our first team member, and I couldn’t run The Flea without her.  She’s our Market Manager and Director of Vendor Relations.  Sounds fancy, I know, but the coordination aspect of The Flea is HUGE and super important.  Without our vendors, we wouldn’t have a market to run.  She’s responsible for keeping the heart and soul of the market vibrant, healthy and running smoothly.  Because I know how important writing is to her, we also launched her own weekly small business advice column, found here, called The Sarah Project.  You should read it– and submit a question for her!  Sarah’s dream job truly builds on the skills that she has, and loves, like organization and writing.  Send her your questions via Sarah [at] theclevelandflea.com.

Catrina just joined us, as The Flea’s Director of Operations and Sponsorship.  Her email is collaborate [at] theclevelandflea.com for a very specific reason.  We believe in redefining our relationship to our partners, as collaborators who have an equal stake in making this city great.  If they don’t understand that or don’t “get” that, then we know they’re not right for us.  She’s holding that pencil because she carries the title of “Number one at getting shit done.”

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Rachel came on board about a month ago as The Flea’s Creative Coordinator.  Think of her as our set designer.  She’s using her creative skills to take our photo shoots with Suzuran Photography to the next level.  Our first shoot is this Saturday!  That means The Flea isn’t far off!

Our first collaborator, and someone we couldn’t live without is Suzanne Price, who is our official Flea Photographer.  Together, we offer 3 levels of service:  Maker Sessions, Styled Shoots and Styled Maker Sessions.  All of the photos in this post were taken by Suzanne, and she’s one of the reasons that my dreams have been realized.  If you’d like more information about our photography offerings, please email Emilie [at] theclevelandflea.com.

Heidi is our Brand Manager over at Indie Foundry.  She works with me to execute our Brand Blueprint and Brand Refresh, as well as continuing to build our own look and feel.  She’s an amazing graphic designer and has a unique ability to not need sleep (I got a dropbox file sent to me from her at 5:00am!).  Together, we’re looking at helping a lot more makers, dreamers and doers this year.

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Both Emily and Emilie joined us as interns and will be taking on larger roles when Flea Season kicks off in April.  For now, they’re observing what the team is up to and are helping us track our processes and make them smoother.

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Together, we provide direction and design for dreamers and doers.  Think you might want to work with us?  We’re just as invested in the behind-the-scenes as we are with the pretty graphics that tell your story.  If you’re looking to know more about how we work, and how we can help you build your dream job, hit us up at heidi [at] indiefoundry.com.  Or, check out our handy PDF services guide.  We’d love to help more creatives do what they love, whether that’s building the back-end or store front of their creative endeavor.

 

 

YOU GUYS!!!! You did it! You did it well and right and I’m so so thankful! After my big ask last week, you all came through with NINE questions! Nine really great, thoughtful questions. Thank you so much for delivering just like I knew you would, and most of all, for trusting me. I won’t let you down!

I am, of course, still taking questions and you can always find our form, The Sarah Project Official Question & Quandry Submission Form, here.

Today, I’m actually going to answer two questions! WHAT!?! Yeah, two questions. Why? Because I’m feeling cocky—both in my ability and in your coming through for me with more questions. Because they’re pretty similar in terms of the basic issue: how to interact with magazines/bloggers/news sources to drum up some publicity for you/your company/your products.

So here we go. Here are the two questions as I originally received them:

I’ve noticed a lot of businesses giving away product to bloggers, magazines, celebrities etc… to gain notice in their respective publications/social media accounts. I have personal objections to this, and I think that the willingness to give away your product de-values it. My product is also a higher price point, and therefore I take a bigger hit giving away samples and pieces to gain traction. Do you have advice for doing this in a sustainable way, or other options to promote to bloggers and such?
—Marketing Conundrum

Sarah! We’re dead center in our ‘slow period’ and freaking out. It’s our first year in business as a brick and mortar and are desperate to find creative and FREE ways to advertise our business. (And we say free because we need free, not just because we want free.) We are participating in social media, admittedly not as frequent as we should (think weekly instead of daily), and gaining slow and steady traction. I guess our question is, how do we get other people to write about us and create some legitimate buzz? We think we’re buzz-worthy. We’d love to see some bloggers and newspaper/online writers take the time to visit us and consider writing a piece about our shop, but I don’t know how to reach out to these people without sounding desperate. We have a website that we’re proud of, maybe a great way for these people to get a feel for us before committing to spending time on us. Any tips?
—Twiddling Thumbs

And here are the three issues we need to tackle to help these small business owners out:

  • the ethics of giving away your product for review, and if doing so devalues your product
  • how much publicity can you get for free, and…
  • how do you approach your targets without feeling lame and/or desperate

So, logically, let’s start at the end: never feel weird or desperate pitching yourself/your product/your business to a blogger, magazine, or news source. You are helping them. Their entire job is to produce content—to find things to write about. And trust me when I say, finding things to write about can be the most challenging part of writing. (HELLO! Remember my big desperate ask from last week!?! The one that got me EXACTLY what I was looking for?!? Yeah.)

Now, this is not me giving you permission to be pushy and aggressive. There are best practices for approaching writers and you should always, always employ them. On the most basic level, a press release is how you get the word out there. We send them out for the Flea events, as do most other markets, and I think that small businesses should be employing this tactic, as well. Press releases will usually do you the most good when pitching to bigger news sources which are, across the board, grossly understaffed. In fact, often times they will publish the press release you send them with very few edits or additions. (I know that can be intimidating when you think about writing something that may go straight to press. And I promise to make and/or source a press-release writing guide or course for you in the near future.)

For pitching to bloggers, I would take a different approach. They are not giant news conglomerates that are under a ton of pressure and running from an ever-shrinking budget. They are humans. People. Generally, people who write and share and praise because it brings them a lot of joy, and some income. READ: They are not independently wealthy and their time, talent, and the audience they’ve built is still very, very valuable. Now, our reader (Marketing Conundrum) didn’t get into the specifics of his/her ethical concerns surrounding the product-pitch method, so I can’t address them directly, but I also don’t want to dismiss them entirely. My understanding is that the product-pitch method was the result of a discounted view many people had/still have of bloggers and the scope of their reach, plus the difficulty of selling/aptly displaying conventional ad space on earlier blog platforms. Essentially, this kind of bartering system—goods (your products) in exchange for a service (reviewing them)—stands in place of a dollars for ad space system. Nowadays, many bloggers do sell ads on their sites, and if you’re still uncomfortable with the product-pitch method, this door is open to you. However, I believe the product-pitch method usually has a higher ROI for makers. A lot of bloggers are also willing to host giveaways as an extension of this method. (Which yes, leads to you giving away more of your product, but it’s to a third party, so maybe you feel a little better about that. Maybe not.)

My advice to you, Marketing Conundrum, is to reconsider the product-pitch method, but just be really selective and thorough in doing so. In fact, I think this process only devalues your product if you are reckless about who you pitch to. I don’t think it’s out of line to reach out to other small businesses (although not your direct competitors) asking about the experience they’ve had with certain bloggers you’re considering pitching to. Also, with more expensive products, you’ll of course want to pitch to a blogger who has a more affluent readership. If you’re being really selective, you should be targeting high-end lifestyle bloggers who probably have hard numbers to show you regarding their reader demographics. The reason I want to push you to reconsider product-pitching, is that I think it can help your brand gain nationwide recognition and significantly boost online sales in a way other campaign methods simply can’t. As we’ve talked about in the past, employing a strong social media marketing campaign can empower your current customers to act as brand ambassadors for you and is a great means of gaining new followers and customers. However, as a local brand, that campaign can sometimes stall out at your regional boarders. Thus, selectively product-pitching to bloggers outside your city/region can be a great companion method for your current brand campaigns.

For Twiddling Thumbs, I would suggest hosting local bloggers for a special event at your space. Maybe dress up your brick and mortar store a little, reach out to some food/beverage makers that might also be looking for a boost (and/or some of your neighbors), and throw yourselves a bit of a party. Invite your best customers, close friends, and then send out a press release with a little pep and personality to aforementioned bloggers and smaller, more specialized news sources. A lot of small businesses were doing similar events around Valentines/Galentines Day, but I think you could pull it off for the start of Daylight Saving Time or the first day of spring. This will also give you a low-risk means of practicing your press release writing skills. Play some tunes, poor some bubbly, and make some new friends in a space where you’re already comfortable.

As for that web site you’re really proud of, figure out how it can work for you. I looked, and you’re right! It’s awesome! But make it a resource for me. Can you set up an online sales platform? Or would creating content via a blog be more engaging to your followers? Maybe as an extension of your event, invite bloggers to guest post on your store blog about their best finds form your store. You might even be able to set up your own version of the product-pitching system by offering some perks to a small number of local bloggers.

The great thing about modern commerce is that modern customers love to engage with your company beyond the initial transaction. So much so that an entire subset of them have become professional customers/brand engagers.

They’re most commonly referred to as bloggers.

So reach out. They don’t bite. I promise.

the sarah project: the big ask

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

blog-posts-sarah-project-the-big-ask

Oh hey guys!

How’s it going? You notice that little bit of extra sunshine we’re getting? Yeah, I’m pretty excited about it, too. Looks like this winter stuff won’t last forever after all.  

So how’s the fam? Good? That’s awesome! Your mom/kid/dog is so cute!

Yeah, so anyways… The reason I called blogged, is because I was hoping you could do me a small favor. See I’ve got this advice column gig…

Yeah, no, it’s great. Yep, I’m actually getting paid to give people advice. Oh, haha. I always forget how funny you are.

Anyways… yeah, this advice column. The thing is…

I kind of need you guys to ASK ME SOME DAMN QUESTIONS!

Otherwise, I just keep having these really awkward one-sided conversations with myself. (See above.)

But! After a particularly great chat wherein I asked myself for advice as to why nobody was asking me for advice, I realized something! Anonymity! You guys need some anonymity—the chance to ask me questions, and share your deepest, darkest, social media secrets without outing yourselves!

(So… not to give it all away up front, but a good Google form is pretty much always the answer.)

I give you… The Sarah Project Official Question & Quandary Submission Form!

If all this is revving up some guilt, pity, or just unbearable awkwardness and you really want to submit a question but can’t think of anything, here are some not-so-subtle suggestions.

  • I run a service-based business and spend A LOT of time communicating with potential clients. If only a percentage of those potentials actually sign on as clients, I feel like I’m wasting A LOT of time. Help!
  • I think this other business owner is over-engaging in my social media postings in an attempt to feed off my followers! How do I politely tell them to back the eff off?
  • I’m trying to transition from my soul-sucking day job to working full time on my kick-ass, life-affirming hobby job but what if I fail? Or worse, what if my life-affirming hobby job BECOMES just another soul-sucking day job!?!
  • What’s the meaning of life?
  • Is self-tanner ever a good idea?
  • Why does my dog bark at the mail man but not the UPS driver?

So there it is kids—my big ask. Help me help you!

Also, if you’re wondering about me and why I’m qualified to answer your questions and fix your life, here’s what I can tell you. I’m 28, married, and currently succeeding at keeping two dogs and five house plants alive. I’m the middle (mostly-grown) child and the only girl. I learned pretty early on to ask for what I want, and also spent a lot of time quietly observing my brothers’ ultimately-benign, poor life choices. I’m happy to say that the most expensive thing I own is my college degree: a B.S. in journalism from Ohio University—my favorite place on earth. I’m self-aware, clumsy, well-intended, usually hungry, and chronically disappointed in my wardrobe. Mindy Kaling/Lahiri is my hero. I’ve been working for Indie Foundry/The Cleveland Flea for a year and a half now. I’m the Market Manager, the office mom, and I’m damn good at my job.
Also, if you abuse this form and send me shitty and gross questions, I will Liam Neeson you.
Feel free to do with this information what you will. 

Perspective + Process.

Monday, February 16, 2015

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The closer we get to Flea Season, the more stressed I get.  This year I’m tackling new BIG things that bring along with them new challenges and new anxieties.  This stress has the capacity to change my perspective from, “Wow, I’m living my dream life!” to, “Why did I get myself into this?  How could I sign myself up for such a monstrous challenge?  I’m just not good enough to get this done.”  Wow, right?  There are times when tackling a new challenge (like hiring new employees) just might stress me enough to make me forget just how lucky I am to be running this creative business with dream customers, dream jobs and dream employees.

Through some observation and journaling, I’ve begun to notice something about myself.  When the tasks are new and big, I get overwhelmed and can barely see my path in front of me.  But what I’ve also learned by working with creative clients over the past few years is that the answer to that project anxiety (or the unknown) is to zoom out and create a method for getting from point A to B.   Methods and process break big things down into small steps.  As much as I am a free spirit and I want everyone to live their dream life, I always find that it’s not the dreaming alone but the doing that gets you that dream life.  What gets me feeling dreamiest is tackling the numbers, planning the process and executing on that plan.  What gets me stressed is avoiding the numbers, and not doing the work.

Perspective-and-Process

This year we’re taking big leaps.  We’re running our first Kickstarter for The Cleveland Flea.  We’re launching a new site here AND at The Flea.  We’ve hired 2 new employees who are amazing additions to our already kick-ass team.  We’ve got 3 interns, a new lecture/workshop series and a plan to make The Flea bigger and better this year.  When I zoom out, I am so proud of how far we’ve come and I know that I can tackle the new (and exciting) challenges ahead.  But when I lose perspective, and focus only on how big things seem, all that goes away.  So, today, I’m focusing on process, mapping out how we’ll get from A to B and reclaiming the joy I have for this kick-ass creative business.

 

Making time to stay inspired.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

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As creative entrepreneurs, we get into our own businesses because we have a desire to express our creativity and make money doing it.  I know, because I’m one of those creatives.  Hi there, friends, Stephanie here.  I began a side business while I was at my architecture firm as an outlet for creative expression- but the kind that I could get paid for.  At that point, of course, I wasn’t planning on launching my business full time so I was blissfully unaware how the running of a business could actually kill much of that creativity.

Flash forward 6 years later, and I’ve got two thriving businesses that at times feel like newborn twins– always on my mind, depriving me of sleep, hard to tell the difference between the two and certainly presenting some new tax challenges.  I think babies actually help you with the tax situation, though businesses might not.  But just like those twins, they provide me with so much purpose, drive and an outward expression of myself.  I couldn’t be happier with the dream life for myself.  But sometimes I’m bogged down with being the boss, making big decisions, reviewing contracts, tracking progress, writing eCourses, creating processes, worrying about payroll and prepping for taxes.  It can zap a lot of energy (though I love being a boss and running a business) so I need some time to recover and continue to inspire myself.  But the challenge I face is guilt.  Guilt at making decisions that favor me instead of my business.  Well, I’ll tell you that I had to squash that and remember that I STARTED THIS BUSINESS.  What’s the use of having my own schedule and autonomy if I stay tethered to rules that I had imposed upon me when I worked for someone else?  So, here’s how I stay inspired and battle guilt while also remaining a responsible and thriving business owner.  An uninspired creative won’t remain an innovative leader.

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Create a vision board.  At the beginning of 2014, I crafted a vision board from a piece of foam core and lots of magazine cuttings that began the piece together the dream life that I live today.  That board lives in my bedroom, and I look at it at least weekly, to check in on all those longer-term goals and keep space for all the wonderful people and dreams that I’m inviting into my life.

Create some work / life boundaries.  I hired a consultant to come into my home office and devise a strategy to give me some distance and even celebrate my personal space in a way that I hadn’t been able to make myself.   I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.  Nikki helped me purge and then re-design with what was left to create my own dreamy work/life space.

Book a trip.  I can hardly believe I’m going, but I just booked at ticket to Morocco for March (YAYYYYYYYY!!!!).  I used to travel abroad at least yearly, and then when I launched my business I was in startup mode for so long I forgot that travel is essential to my creativity.  Getting that trip on the books, building excitement and planning my work around it builds in into my business plan rather than leaving it as a non-necessary luxury.

Take one day off a month to inspire my entire staff.  This is a policy I’ve adopted because I was listening to the Design Sponge After The Jump podcast and they mentioned having one day to get out of the office and stay inspired.  I love the idea, because I LOVE my staff so much and I look forward to helping make their lives as dreamy as mine and my clients’ lives.

Read & Write.  Even though I’m not as accomplished and experienced a writer/blogger as I’d like to be, I do enjoy sharing my story with my tribe (that’s YOU) and encouraging others to share their trials, tribulations and victories.  I also love reading, and I’ve picked up some rather lovely books lately.  It’s nice to have that time in bed or my reading nook, with some tea and a notebook to take down my inspirations.

Share my own gifts of knowledge.  I’ve recently hired a copywriter to help me turn what I’ve learned in the past 6 years running a creative business and the last 3 years running an incubator program for makers into an eCourse, workshops, blog posts and other content aimed at helping other creatives run more successful, lucrative and purposeful businesses.  I learned so much from my own coach and brand specialists, and I wouldn’t be here without them.  Even just writing this little blog post gives me energy, and that’s how I know that it’s worth doing even if I’m staying up a bit past my 10pm curfew (only on nights when I don’t have spin the next morning).

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I’d love to know what keeps you inspired in the midst of running your creative business.  Share it here or on facebook. 

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Only a crazy person insists on originating 100 percent of the content they share online.

You have a business to run. So running your company’s social media accounts cannot, in itself, be a full-time business.

For example, I’m giving myself exactly one hour to write this blog post. Believe me when I say that is a challenge. Without a hard deadline, I can spend more than half the day writing a single post. And I’m a fancy writer with a fancy journalism degree and years of blogging experience.

But writing takes time, And so does great photography and videography and graphic design. No matter the method through which you create content, it all takes time.

So you should probably just give up and go back to that corporate job where you were stuck in a cubicle and there was no pressure to share anything because nobody even knew your name.

Just kidding. Don’t do that.

But also, don’t feel that you have to reinvent the wheel. There is so much good content already out there. Content that your followers probably have not seen and that they will so greatly appreciate you sharing. That’s why those smart kids over at Facebook invented the share button anyway.

Now here’s the catch: you can’t just get lazy and share every cute kitten video you find and stop creating content altogether. Like most things in life, this is about balance. And integrity—correctly and diligently crediting your sources is a must.

The right balance between creating and sharing is different for everyone. And finding it is going to be a matter of trial and error. The one thing I will speak on is that, as a reader, I would rather see a business only post 4 or 5 times a week than share more unoriginal content as a means to an end. If you find the balance you’re comfortable with, but can only keep up with it on a 4-times-weekly basis, that’s okay. Don’t throw a bunch of filler at me just to keep your name at the top of my newsfeed.

Now, as far as curating what you share and giving appropriate credit, I can speak on that all day long. But, I only have 35 minutes of my hour left, so let’s head off on a bit of a tangent and simultaneously focus on giving credit appropriately.

When Robin Williams died, I was as heart-broken as the rest of the country, and I immediately sat down to watch Dead Poets Society. As a fancy writer myself, John Keating is naturally my favorite Robin Williams. Keating gave us so much inspiration, so many quotable quotes.

“Carpe, carpe diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

“I always thought the idea of education was to learn to think for yourself.”

“Language was developed for one endeavor… To woo women! And in that endeavor, laziness will not do.”

“No matter what anyone tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

And my favorite: “That powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse!”

Seeing every social media platform busting at the seams with these quotes and so many others from the over-100 films Williams completed in his lifetime was such a comfort.

Until I saw one of the above quotes, beautifully illustrated, and incorrectly credited only to Robin Williams. As much as Williams IS Keating, and as much as I will always hear those words in his iconic voice, Williams didn’t write them. Williams did not create that content. They weren’t part of an acceptance speech or an interview with Inside the Actors Studio. Tom Schulman, or one of the writers on his staff, wrote them. And across all the illustrations of those quotes, he is never credited. Part of the job I think—a necessary evil. One of those weird hiccups that comes with writing screenplays rather than novels. But 90 percent of the time, John Keating is credited, or Robin Williams as John Keating, or Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. And as much logic deters me from giving credit for real words and real sentiment to a fictional character, by extension, this fictional character accepts credit on behalf of his creator.

John Keating is given credit for these lines on behalf of Tom Schulman; Robin Williams is not. Crediting Williams with these words is factually inaccurate. It robs Schulman of something.

And yes, like I mentioned above, that was a bit of a tangent. I will admit that it was something I’ve been wanting to get off my chest for awhile now. But I think it’s really applicable here. I know that you think you’re just sharing a meme, or a kitten video, or a blog post, or a quote from a movie that seems applicable to this day, in this life, in your business, but so often, you’re sharing someone’s art.

And just as you wouldn’t want one of your customers or clients passing off your product as something they made themselves, that artist doesn’t want you taking credit for their art. So do the research, do the digging, find the source, and give credit where it’s due.

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For the record, I’m fairly certain Tom Schulman got his—the money, the mansion, the awards and accolades.

Next week, we’ll get into how to best curate the content you do you share. But if there’s something specific you want to chat about, or a question you have, please reach out. Email me at sarah@theclevelandflea.com.

[In case you’re wondering, I did go over my time limit on this. But only by 15 minutes! Sometimes a small failure feels more like a small victory—perspective.]

 

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