The realities of running my own business
Earlier this week, I shared a reel to my Instagram, showing the steps to setting up my pop-up at Pentreath and Hall, and it got quite a strong reaction(you can see it below). Whilst I wouldn’t trade running my own business for anything, it is far from a smooth ride. In my previous corporate life, where 15+ hour workdays were the norm, I had assumed that running my own business would be a breeze. How wrong I was. It takes nerves of steel, unwavering resilience and a lot of hard work – every single aspect of which I only manage to maintain through the steadfast support of Harry, my family, the team and all of you!
Though I’ve never written about this topic before, I always appreciate it when other business owners share the unfiltered realities of their business (I’ve listened to every business podcast out there!). So, I wanted to share some of things I have learnt on the realities of running my own business. Whilst nothing would stop me doing what I do now, and I am very grateful for my initial naivety, I hope this candid account can give comfort to others muddling through in the same way that you aren’t alone. For those of you who have been on this journey with me for a while, I always want to be as honest as possible – it’s not all sunshine, roses and playing with papier mâché in the studio.
The process of writing this was quite cathartic, so it’s longer than I had initially intended... it was meant to be a 5 things I learnt and it’s ended up as 14... eek! I have such a long way to go and so much to learn, so these are more observations and things I am trying to improve, but I am certainly not mastering it all.
Do let me know what you think about articles like this as I know its not for everyone – do you like to hear about the way the business side of things work, or would you rather I stuck to the creativity and crafts only? I won’t be offended either way!
When you are the creative behind your businesses work, everything feels very personal. Not only do you have to have confidence to show the world what you are making or designing, if you are a product-based business, you have to have the conviction to order hundreds, if not thousands, of them. I think it’s only human to doubt yourself, but it’s so important to not allow those doubts to stop you doing it. So, insecurity is something I have been trying (not always successfully) to live with. Trying to learn to control it, not let it control me.
When you are juggling twenty different jobs, it’s inevitable that mistakes happen. As I am the one who orders everything, writes all the instructions, designs all the kits, sets up our processes... these mistakes are on me. Whether it’s frames arriving which are slightly the wrong dimensions, instruction booklets where the cover image is on the back not the front, designs printed onto the wrong shade of red fabric... every time it happens, I desperately look at the order confirmation and proofs in the hope that it was the suppliers’ fault, not mine. 9 times out of 10 it was me. It’s hard not to feel physically sick over the waste and the cost, and I used to beat myself up over it. Whilst I could (and should!) slow down, it’s hard as that means slowing down my whole way of working. I like to work at pace – I want to keep things moving and our products developing. So, I have accepted that if 5% of everything I order is in error, then that is just a factor of running a business and not my failure.
An aspect of my work I have had to get comfortable with is sharing my whole method. Lots of artists and creatives are very protective about their ways of working which I totally understand when they are selling their art – it takes years of trial and error to develop a process. When I ran my first few workshops teaching freestyle embroidery and showing my methods, I felt really anxious because the designs everyone did were really good. I had a sudden fear that I had given away too much, that what I did wasn’t special. Instead, what I should have taken from it, is the reaction of the people in the class and the way that opening up about my creative process helped them feel empowered. The fact they have gone onto start creating enviable designs, is to the credit of what we do and how we teach.
The whole purpose of The Fabled Thread is to encourage others to make, not to sell my own finished work, therefore sharing my entire creative process is at the core of what I do. First and foremost, I am a teacher. So I have learnt not to hold back and to be generous with how I share what I have learnt. Whilst I can share my methods, we all have a different voice and I now have faith that showing my methods won’t mean I become irrelevant.
About a year ago, one of our family friends came to the studio to spend a day with me talking through The Fabled Thread as an impartial advisor. Whilst I talked through all the ways I was planning to reach a wider audience... collaborations, marketing ideas, international trips... he patiently listened. And then very simply said to me, the best marketing for your business is a loyal customer. So, whilst it can seem like the best way to grow the business is through constantly trying to reach a new audience, by instead just focussing on making those people who have already found me as happy as possible, I will then indirectly reach new people. It totally transformed how I think about the things we do – it means when I am looking at developing new products, I am envisaging the customers I know, Grace, Annie, Tina, Maria, Gillian, Yvonne... Each one has different things they want from The Fabled Thread and I want to make each as happy as possible.
We added our sewing supplies as I knew customers who wanted to start designing their own pieces and needed an easy way to get fabric and threads. We added the paint-your-own-frame option as I knew people who wanted a more accessible price point for framing. Most recently I launched The Studio membership, as have had so many customers tell me they want to stitch more designs but have ended up with too many hoops and boxes (enter The Refill Kits) or, they have been to all our workshops and want another way to come to the studio to spend a day crafting (enter our Studio Open Days), or they want to learn freestyle embroidery but aren’t based in the UK (enter our Virtual Courses). It’s made my approach to how I develop what we offer so much simpler.
Whilst I work as hard now as I ever have, the important distinction is that I am the one who decides to work. No one is telling me what to do or landing something on my desk at 5 o’clock on a Friday. Choice makes all the difference in the world. However, with that choice, comes decision fatigue. When you are the sole decision maker in the business there is no one else to blame if something doesn’t pan out, no one to make the final decision, no one to tell me what to do each day. Sometimes I long for someone else to just take the reins for a bit and allow me to go with the flow.
Join The Studio
The Studio is our membership club for people who want to get even more out of their stitching. Join us to become part of our studio community, with access to all sorts of benefits like discounted refill kits, our studio shop with one off and limited edition designs, as well as the chance to get to know us better at in-person and online events.
I want to just finish this article by reiterating that I wouldn't want to do any other job. I love what I do, I value the challenges I have faced, I am inspired by the people I meet and I am proud of the person my business is forcing me to become. At the end of the day, no job is perfect and whilst the lows can be lower than I have experienced before, the highs make everything so worth it. I cannot recommend highly enough following your own passion, and my motivation for The Fabled Thread is driven by my desperation to keep doing this everyday. It is the greatest job in the world!