Hello Brick & Mortar: We’re in this together (also, You’re Killing it)

This was going to be a nuts-and-bolts post about orders, but January has been full of ups (new ideas, new vendors!) and downs (all of the germs from daycare in my home/nose). Effectively useless at work, I had time to ruminate: As retailers and stationers, we’re often on opposite sides of the business equation, but our bond as small, creative business owners ushers us into the same boat. As a woman hell-bent on the belief that a rising tide lifts all ships, I thought I’d focus this post on how we can continue to swell the tide for our businesses in 2014. All aboard!  – Emily of Clementine

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Illustration by Emily McDowell for Oh So Beautiful Paper

1. We’re in this together. Let’s start with the obvious: Owning a small business is hard. Whether you’re a retailer, stationer or small business owner, there are lonely times. It is more rewarding that anything we ever imagined, but let’s also assume we’ve all cried on the bathroom floor and vowed to go back to a 9-5. I don’t find blog lists about achieving that elusive work/life balance particularly helpful. However, when I connect with other small business owners to share tips and resources, I am buoyed and my business grows stronger. In that vein, here are my tops:

  • Gather together. Most of us work alone, which is great, except when it’s not. Last year, I organized an informal group of small-business owning women. We have drinks and unpack the tough stuff (shipping, taxes, online sales), volley ideas, cheer each other on, and three of us spun off to create a great pop-up shop. I am always flush with love for them. Because they get it.
  • Listen in. I’m a huge fan of Design Sponge’s Biz Lady columns. Even better for the multi-tasking small-business owner: Grace Bonney’s new(ish) podcast, After the Jump. You can listen while making dinner, or packing orders.
  • Adopt a Mentor. She doesn’t even need to know you’ve adopted her. I devour everything Rena Tom writes/compiles. She’s smart, on-point and makes you feel like your small business is a part of something greater. Want a snippet?

“I met more people who were doing their own thing, and that actually meant more women. My friend Maggie calls this The Lady Web. It’s a mystical land where women recommend other women to each other and get shit done. We joke about it, but it kind of exists.” Sound familiar? Read more: here.

  • Consider your strengths. Take/retake a Meyers Briggs, or other personality test. Revel in your skill set, write it down, start telling people. When clients ask you to take on projects, reply based on a knowledge of your strengths. Recommend people you admire if you can’t take the project on. Also, think about what you’re not good at and…
  • Offload the thing that makes you want to hide under the covers. I recently interviewed a bookkeeper and had to refrain from hugging her. My bookkeeping is not hard and doesn’t take long, but it hangs over my head every day. It’s time to pay someone to do it.
  • Indulge. Vacation, massage, art class, perfume, I don’t care what it is, if it brings you joy, please do it. Small business-owning is beyond full-time, find your way to turn it off.
  • Share your tips and resources. The comments section here is a great start, in-person is even better.

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Brunch/Group Therapy with my ladies at the delectable, Vergennes Laundry.

2. Brunch Is The New Golf. I’m not trying to justify my degree in feminist theory with this point, I’m just genuinely excited that so many small businesses are thriving because good people are connecting, rather than because people with connections are playing golf. So let’s keep connecting:

  • Start a Biz Ladies/Dudes group. Did we already cover this? It’s that important. Reach out to people you know well and those you barely know. Especially people you barely know. Give praise, ask for advice on something you’re struggling with. This is where the magic happens. Make coffee dates a priority. Schedule brunch.
  • Use social media to highlight fabulous businesses around you. Connections are made and businesses are growing because of social media. Pinterest can (with proper links/credit) generate free interest in the products you covet (and, in return, the products you make that others covet), Instagram can grow your personal and professional community and give you a way to preview and gather feedback for your work, Twitter can make you a relevant part of conversations in your field. If you want these things for your business, use these platforms to highlight other businesses you admire.
  • Be generous with information. You may not want to share your amazing source for radiant orchid envelopes, but when you do share the vendors who treat you well and the systems that make your life easier, the benefit will undoubtedly come back in your favor when you need it. I am always impressed with the gracious and generous spirit of the stationery community. Trade Show Bootcamp is a stellar example of this.
  • Say thank you, give praise, and be kind. I know, this is precariously close to hokey, but I can assure you that these things have done wonders for my business, and my happiness.

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Found via Pinterest (anyone know the original source?)

3. You’re killing it. So, keep killing it.

  • Now is the time to hone your lineIf you’re brimming with ideas, wonderful, go create. But editing is just as important. Don’t be afraid to cut that card that sells well if you can’t stand it. It’s your line.
  • Gather your cheerleaders, confidants & critical thinkers. I have a rotating list of 60+ people who I can call on for quick advice, legitimate feedback and just general cheer. I barely know some of them but they’re all invaluable to making my business thrive.
  • Don’t go to the places that make you feel unworthy. Whether it’s scrolling twitter, reading about the habits of highly successful people or attending a conference or trade show. Go if it pushes your comfort zone, don’t go if it makes you feel unworthy or exhausted.
  • Gather inspiration, create a spot that sparks your creativity, and visit it often. Mine are the Shanna Murray decal next to my desk, Sibella Court’s books, past episodes of Man Shops Globe, and the teepee I gave my son for Christmas, which I totally re-appropriated for late night ordering. (I highly recommend getting one and pretending it’s for your children.)

For what it’s worth, I think you’re great. Regardless of whether I sell your work at my shop, and even if I do, no matter how quickly it sells. I’m excited that you’re doing what you’re doing and can’t wait to see what comes next.

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Eva Jorgensen of Sycamore Street Press, Instagram series: #EvasEverydayLettering

  1. This is fantastic and much needed! Being in the first weeks of owning a paper shop, I definitely want to do more to connect and share with local female business owners. Thank you so much for sharing! I can’t wait to get into Grace’s podcast.

    • Angel,

      Thank you! Your shop looks fantastic and yes, make those connections a priority. Once you’re in the weeds of shop owning it can be so hard to look up, but taking a break will make all of the difference.
      xo!

  2. Such a great post, at such a perfect time. Feeling a bit isolated in our neck of the woods, but going to make a bigger effort to reach out and connect and get out from behind the computer. Thank you for being a leader in this awesome community and for the inspiration. xo

    • Jenn, I can tell you how much my time with my biz ladies means to me. It’s hard to turn off the computer, and more, the thinking about your business. The best part of biz ladies meet ups is the camaraderie, but the second best part is that they can often help you solve things that have been gnawing at you. I’m excited to watch your company grow and how fun (and brave!) that you started a business with your mom!

  3. Fantastic post and much needed today! Thank you for being a strong and inspiring voice in the community of women makers. LOVE.
    ox Anna

  4. Another great post, thanks Emily!
    I’ve been debating about whether or not to start a group of small business owners in my area to meet, share and support. This has really inspired me to get going with it!

  5. Thank you for these inspiring words. I have been a part of a biz ladies group, The Creative Business League in San Francisco, for about 3+ years now. We are going on our annual retreat this weekend to a house we have rented in Wine Country. We do goal setting for the year, watch TED talks/other videos, we are having an accountant Skype in to tax about tax tips for small creative businesses, we cook awesome food and drink wine, laugh, cry and overall help boost each other’s businesses and quality of life. Invaluable, and I highly recommend finding/creating a group if you don’t have one.

  6. Holy cow, Emily – this post was so on point for me today! And here-here for small biz lady friends, I would seriously go mad without them. We’re all doing this together, even if we’re doing it solo! xo

  7. Thanks again Emily! Lot’s + lot’s of great advice and I am glad to see you enjoy teepees. I need a larger list of advice givers + cheerleaders!

  8. i love this emily. community is such a magical and mysterious wonderful blessing – and when shared amongst like-minded business ladies it is so unbelievably encouraging. there is so much personal and professional satisfaction in being generous with one another. it is so counterintuitive in running a business and is yet another reason i’m so grateful to find my career in the paper / small business world.

  9. The perfect post at the perfect time in my life, Emily! Thanks for sharing. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with having everything on your shoulders. I especially like your advice about not going places where it makes you feel inferior/unworthy!! Keep killing it!

  10. Really great post! Just what I needed to read! I’ve been tossing the idea of a ladies in business night out and I think I’m going to put one together now! Thank you!

  11. Love how you ruminate, Emily! So many great ideas to consider and do. And I wholeheartedly agree with having some kind of community to support our business plans and efforts. It only makes each of us stronger.

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