(to read part one, click here)
You can also read the post THE MIDDLE PART which is where I feel I’ve been the past 3 years
My Business Journey
Recording the tale of a successful business journey is a bit like a bunny trail or a squirrel chasing nuts.
AUTHORS NOTE : Most of this post was written in 2018-19, added to in 2020, and then let sit for almost 3 years. Today it’s July of 2023 as I type here again. I’ve just finished reading through all that I’d written and other than a few spelling errors I fixed, I’m going to publish it as is stands. It’s a record of my biz journey but I’ve been unable to convince myself to hit ‘publish’ because the reality was that I just couldn’t face writing the next part of the journey. Today I’m hitting ‘publish’ and committing to writing the next part of the story.
Every business journey is unique and will have its own set of ups and downs. You may follow a business plan, hire a business coach who has worked with other successful businesses, read all the online tutorials, do everything that’s recommended for a successful biz, and it’s still going to look way different from any other business journey. That’s actually a GOOD thing! You want your business to be unique and truly YOURS, not just like someone else’s.
After the very first show I did, in the front yard of a friends house, my husband told me I should make more pillows. He thought they were the way to go – they were pretty and useful at the same time. I wasn’t convinced as I’d had quite a few pillows at that first show, but didn’t sell very many. My husband really liked my pillow design – no zippers to snag the furniture or scrape your face if you grabbed one to take a nap. And the squishy comfort of the real feather inserts was another plus on the tally chart.
Still, I didn’t want to be ‘just another pillow maker’. Etsy was full of shops selling pillows, I didn’t want to be just another etsy seller, selling the same old thing. (I’m still not sure I’ve mastered the whole ‘stand out from the crowd’ concept yet)
The honest story of my early years is – I was selling a lot of stuff but not making much money. The vintage items and furniture sold better than my handmade items, but everyone wanted dirt cheap prices.
I was making a bit of money as I was buying my furniture and vintage finds at garage sales or thrift shops, but the amount of time I spent making them beautiful meant I was still working for pennies. Taking my husbands vacation time to do shows that were seeing little to no profit just didn’t make sense. And yet I just couldn’t seem to call it quits either (I’m a bit stubborn I guess) – I just kept chasing that next show, hoping it would be the big one, selling a few things on etsy, keeping busy with my growing girls, and doing the next thing and then the next. (We did have shows here and there that were worth the time and effort, and those gave me hope that ‘the next one’ would be ‘the one’!)
First batch of latitude pillows – these became a HUGE hit and I made hundreds of them! This was fall of 2013, and today, 6 years later I’m still making these for local locations. I’ve cut way back on the wholesale orders that have to be shipped to other states, but these are still a popular decor item for many people. I’ve not offered these online much – I did briefly but didn’t have a great way to offer custom locations. I’m considering setting up my website for custom location pillows in 2021.
I’d like to insert a little business tip here – take pictures of your creations – ALL of your creations – from day one. And make sure the time stamp is turned on. You may well need that one day. If someone ever comes to you and accuses you of copying their design, but they didn’t start making theirs as early as you did – you might be glad you have that time stamped photo to prove you are indeed the first to make it.
Bunny trail alert! – I’ve been sitting on this post for weeks now, each day thinking I’d get on it and wrap this up. I’ve even told my email subscribers that it was coming soon – soon was used very loosely I’m afraid) Each day I put it off again. You see, the journey gets more exciting for a bit, but then it takes a nosedive and I’m still trying to come out of that. It makes it very hard to write the next steps of this business journey. Instead, I create some new things, decorate my house, play a few games on my phone, all busywork to occupy myself and keep me from thinking about it.
Back on track now – I want to say that I did enjoy what I was doing. I loved meeting people, making friends, connecting with other business owners, learning how to work all the business things. I made a bit of money, and most of the time it was fun!
Fall of 2013 I got my ‘Big Break’, if you want to call it that. It’s when my ‘pillow biz’ really got off the ground. (today as I write this I feel as though the ‘pillow biz’ may be at an end and now I’m thinking, ‘wait a minute, HOW do I get my pillows to sell online? – never satisfied am I?)
Anyway, 2013, I was blogging, I had all these cool friends in the blog world, and I connected with one who wanted me to make her a slipcover for a small bench. I considered trying to do it long distance, but I wasn’t confident I could do it – all slip covers I had made up to this point had been fitted to the piece every step of the way. After some time spent mulling it over, I decided to go see my friend, make her slipcover and take a paint class from her. I even took the whole family with me and we made it a family vaca as well. You can read more about this adventure here.
On the way home, I begged my hubby to drive an hour out of our way to stop at a shop I’d been following online for years. I had this feeling that if I talked to she shop owner in person I just might get a business opportunity out of it. And you know what? It worked! We made the trip to her shop, I chatted with her, we text each other over the next weeks working out details and late 2013 my latitude/longitude location pillows were born!
That first stencil, that first pillow, they make me smile today. I didn’t even make the first stencil, I had a friend do it on her silhouette. It worked (after a few tries) and I ordered my own silhouette so I could make my own stencils and make more location pillows for other areas. I had no idea how it was going to grow, and how much people were going to love these pillows.
This pillow, along with a square pillow featuring states cut from fun cotton prints were the biggest hits everywhere I went for several years. I’ve made hundreds, perhaps thousands of pillows with latitude coordinates, mostly towns and cities, a few specific addresses, lakes, and universities. In 2014 another shop I worked with asked for the local college with their latitude location coordinates and from that first one I went on to make quite a few – people love to show their pride for their school!
Today I still make latitude pillows as I mentioned above. I’m hoping to bring them online in the New Year as a customizable option. AUTHORS NOTE – this was written in 2019 – and today in 2023 I still have not put those latitude pillows online. It’s still on my to-do list.
I continued to travel to new shows, selling pillows and other handmade items, painted furniture and vintage finds. One summer my front porch was completely piled full of vintage finds (we had a very dry summer that year), my living room and dining room were piled with handmade things and painted furniture. Every nice Saturday found me in the back yard fixing up and painting furniture. We rented a 17ft UHaul that fall and packed it to the brim with all the things and headed to The Springfield Flea. I sold most of the furniture and we only needed a pickup and a small trailer to get the leftovers hauled home. And my Saturn Vue – I stuffed all the small stuff in it.
Life is funny sometimes – dreams form without us even knowing that’s what they are. Sometimes what we do best turns into a bobby and then that hobby starts to make a bit of extra cash, and then all of a sudden it morphs itself into a business you didn’t see coming. All of a sudden you find yourself researching tax ID numbers and vendor’s licensing, sales tax codes, and income tax forms. (Business Tip : HIRE AN ACCOUNTANT TO DO YOUR TAXES! Don’t even flirt with the idea of doing taxes yourself. You’re welcome) Words like overhead, profit, loss, capital gains, and entrepreneur suddenly become common in your vocabulary, at least in your mental vocab. It’s all a bit overwhelming and heady and exciting and scary and overwhelming. (yes, I said overwhelming twice.)
Some people begin their business journey with a solid plan. Yes really. A solid plan IS a thing. Some people work through their plan for weeks or months, it’s all in writing, they have a clear vision, and a goal. A 5 year plan. A 10 year plan. I know there are people like this. Right? I’ve been told this, I know I’ve read about these people. I am not one of those people. I did not have a plan. To be honest I still don’t. A dream maybe, but a solid plan to make that dream happen. Nope. Not this girl. I seem to be a take-it-as-it-comes, and see-where-it-takes-you person.
Plans are good. Plans make us get things done. But sometimes all the planning in the world doesn’t prepare us for what happens when you take a leap into the unknown. Still, a good plan will help you with all those unknowns as they appear.
To anyone with a dream, or even half a dream, of owning a business one day – save your pennies now! There are so many expenses in a business that you just never think of till you own one. Things come up you never thought of. A product takes off but it takes a lot of capital to invest in the supplies needed to keep up with the demand. In the creative handmade industry we depend on the trends and what everyone is wanting in their homes. It’s a tricky guessing game as to when a trend is ‘hot’ and when it becomes ‘so last year’. I have been so blessed that so many people loved my pillows.
My show set ups became primarily pillows and other handmade items. Pillows were the best sellers, but when the bookwork was all done after a show, 1/3 to 1/2 of my income came from the other things I made – wall art, aprons, handbags, hats, shirts, and other seasonal handmade items.
Show set up is a ton of work, and smooth restock and running things during a show takes some learning. We refined our set up every time and constantly made changes to how we loaded the trailer, how we set things up, making it easier on us and on the customers when shopping. You learn and grow with each show, you make new friends, you pick up tips and tricks of the trade, and you get to enjoy being your own boss!
By 2015 the ‘hobby’ had truly become a business. Sew a Fine Seam now owed taxes every year, which meant there was profit showing up at the end of the year when all the books were balanced. The little business had completely outgrown the house as well. the tiny 12×14 room I’d been using as a sewing/school/computer/craft/play room had become solely a work room.
Most of the time the kids were banned from the room as it was piled so high with pillows and projects in the works. School had moved to the dining room table and even that was being filled with overflow from the work room. My dining room nook was always piled with something business related. My little back porch off the house was always bursting at the seams with projects and supplies. The ‘basement’ (term used loosely as it is basically a hole in the ground under one room of the house) was filled to overflowing with pillow inserts.
On top of all this the master bedroom had become a storage room we also slept in. Houses that are over 100 years old tend to have no closets and no extra space for storage. They also have awkward doorways and no guest room that can be turned into a storage room. Therefore all the ‘extras’ ended up in Travis and my bedroom. It really was over-the-top crazy.
I began looking at real estate listings. Travis and I rode the Harley around the countryside in the summertime, scouting all the For Sale signs. We needed a 4 bedroom house w/ a large garage and a nice out building, or land to build one. We even called up a realtor and looked at a couple properties, half seriously, looked at spaces for rent that I could use for the business, considered a storage unit for some of our extra ‘stuff’, and looked online some more. Nothing jumped out at us. We kept going as it was – I kept sewing and creating and somehow making our space constraints work. And I kept checking the real estate section of the paper.
I also seriously considered quitting.
BUNNY TRAIL ALERT! I sit here staring at that sentence I just typed. Because I’m seriously considering quitting as I type this. It’s nearing the end of 2020 as I type and I just want to sleep. I want to not have business bills or have to create and market to sell my wares to pay the bills. I really want to quit.
Ok. Back on track – again, and back to 2017. As I searched for a way to give us more room as a family and have room for the biz too, the idea of quitting kept whispering. I could just quit, go back to just being a mom, cooking, cleaning, and reading books.
A string of unfortunate and stressful events, both personal and business related, had left me feeling battered, exhausted, and disillusioned with the whole creative biz idea. From being lied to, friends turning cold shoulders, clients who didn’t pay bills, and more, I wasn’t sure it was worth it. But I also had friends and family who believed in me and helped me work through the pain, heartache, and tears of the messy situations. Time also is a great healer.
As time passed I gradually found my way back to the friendly and welcoming entrepreneur I started out as and began to enjoy the process of traveling to shows again. I spread my wings and applied to new shows and stepped out into the unknown a bit more. Statements from happy clients warmed my heart and thawed the part that was frozen in fear of confronting hostile behavior from others. With so much love and acceptance and the arms of Jesus carrying me how could I not continue on and keep this business alive?
To be continued in part 3 – (I honestly have no idea how long it might take to get part 3 written)