“When I get married, I’m totally having you do my invites.” – Why I’m Changing the Business Offerings of S2 Stationery & Design + When

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An advertisement I snapped a picture of just before leaving Japan in January, 2013. That was 3.5 years ago and this sign seems more relevant now than it did the day I took the photo.

I’ve been running S2 Stationery & Design for over seven years now.

Yep, you read that correct, SEVEN YEARS!!

And it’s time for a change.

You already know the story, the idea for S2 came to me while traveling around Italy a month after my father’s death in 2009. It was a series of signs that came to me and then a dream that resulted in this dance I’ve been doing since. A dance that has turned into a full-fledged and non-stop Merengue (the kind where you’re left gasping and wondering when the damn song is going to end) in 2012.

There are moments where I honestly believe that I’ve worked my ass off to get to this point. Then, there are moments where I don’t believe I’ve worked my ass off to get this point. Those moments are the most difficult. Those are the days and nights where I struggle to sleep because I don’t have enough money to pay this bill or do that thing with my friends, or to pay back someone I borrowed money from a few weeks prior. It is exhausting and I wonder if I should at that point pack it in and be an adult – find a 9-to-5 job that pays me well enough to stop the stress. Those are the nights that have and continue to leave me feeling stuck.

People like me love to talk about following their passions. As they should. We are following our passions that come across as outrageous and/or out-of-the-box, and that anyone who is looking for stability wouldn’t understand. What I’m doing is not for the faint of heart, but nothing about following your passion is glamorous or inspiring for that matter. That last point often gets glossed over when people choose to deal with the awe of tossing common sense for a passion.

Following my passion, has required me to become comfortable with asking for help (which I rarely did before), saying no (even to people I love the most), feeling lonely (I barely go out any more), gaining weight (stress beats the shit out of your body), and living in a space of doubt, so much doubt, that I’m continuously uncertain of my accomplishments.

Something that people who talk about following their passions never really discuss is the sticky space of what happens when, like me, you don’t have thousands of dollars saved up and have to work a job to help bring in money so that you can survive and afford the basic necessities. There are so many people, gurus of this “follow your passion” movement, who have taken office jobs to save money and then quit. They talk about this as though it’s a temporary solution that is magical. And it may have been for them, but as someone who has sat in this space for a while now, it’s killing me.

I found my current 9-to-6 job at a point where what I was doing was not working. Where I was bouncing from lots of part-time jobs that kept me from focusing on S2 Stationery and had me resent my decision to quit my job. Let me be a bit more clear -I was resenting the loss of the steady income I no longer had, not the job itself. Working for the last company I worked for was not all that pleasant and I know I made the right decision by leaving.

I know this sounds dramatic, but I feel the same way I felt a few years ago when I was working for a big corporation in NYC. While I haven’t reached the point of crying for the 30-minute duration of my commute, the unhappiness has resulted in overeating, not exercising, not wanting to get up in the morning early enough to do work I need to get done for S2, etc. And I’m fed up with it. Honestly, I’ve been daydreaming about quitting and all the ways it can happen.

Now, the part of me that wants to maintain my car and apartment, fight this and that’s why I do eventually get up and get dressed and go to work. And that part reminds me that I need to motivate myself and do the work that I need to do. And this same part reminds me that it’s time to create goal deadlines to get out of this situation.

All of this leads me to changes…and you may be thinking that you’ve gotten to this point and still don’t understand the quoted bit in the post’s title, “When I get married, I’m totally having you do my invites.”  Let me explain…

When I started S2, I was a diehard fan of creating wedding invites. I wanted to spend a ton of my time working with brides and catering to their needs and whims in a design capacity. I have been told so many times, I’ve lost count, the quote above, and finally after seven years, I’ve decided that I don’t want to hear it any more. Primarily because it’s not true. Every single person who has made that statement has in fact, not used my design for their wedding, nor have they even reached out.

Now, before you accuse me of sounding bitter, note that I’m not. I’m actually quite gleeful that I’m shutting down the wedding invitation design side of S2 Stationery & Design. In fact, I’m shutting down a lot of the custom design business. And I’m quite glad.

It’s been seven years since I started this journey and while I’ve enjoyed every single customer I’ve worked for and every single project I’ve commissioned, as I take stock of both myself personally and my business professionally, I’m letting go of the things that are not worth my time. I’m saying, “NO!” to the stuff that isn’t fulfilling me anymore. I’m saying no to even the thought of a promise that isn’t there.

The next stage of S2 is taking shape and has been vaguely discussed in other posts that I haven’t followed up on, and is being ironed out now, but there is still a ways to go. I’m sure I’ll do some commissioned work and maybe even the occasional wedding invite during this time (I’ve had a few people say, “crap, but I really did plan on using you when the day came!), especially if it is aligned with the work I’m transitioning to, but I’m no longer holding out on promises and work that does not nourish me or my creative pursuits.  This isn’t about the money, or lack there of, either. No, this is about the nourishment. Finally! Right now, the nourishment is found elsewhere and I’m excited for this change.

I’m finalizing some creative projects now, but in Quarter 4, starting October 1st, S2 is moving away from the custom work you’ve known. I’ll still be making stationery sets and individual greeting cards. I’ll still have these wares at markets, but the real work – the work my soul has been longing for the past two years begins. I’ll do my best to keep you up-to-date in a more consistent fashion as things change over.

More soon!

Chicken is Just Chicken or Really Good Pricing Wisdom

I’m currently sitting at my part-time/full-time gig smiling. I’ve taken a job (because lady was not making enough money on my own) to get situated for the time being that has me working in a warehouse. I’m the office manager of sorts – I answer the phone, enter orders and other customer service like things.

Anyhow, there is this jolly fellow that I share my space with. He’s older and Scottish and a hoot, most of the time.

Today, as he was getting ready to leave, he overheard a conversation I had with a potential new customer. He asked me for the name of the customer and looked them up on line. He then turned to me and said:

“You can always tell whether a customer is a good match for our business based on the price of their chicken dishes. Anyone can have fancy dishes on their menu, but chicken is just chicken, and it doesn’t matter how they do it (roasted, fried, etc). If they’re selling that dish for $18 they’re not doing well. If they’re selling that dish for $28, they are doing well and have money to spend. Those are our customers.”

I smiled as I listened to him, and well, the wheels are turning in my head…what an interesting way to determine your target market.  I’m taking this gem with me as I fix up S2 strategy for 2015.

Celebrating a Birthday + Saying Goodbye to Products I Love

Sunday, December 1st, was my 33rd birthday.

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It was eventful and yet uneventful. I felt love from around the world – Countries as far as Japan, South Africa, and Brazil to cities in the US such as Los Angeles, NYC, and Cleveland and that’s not all. The love was endless and more filling than the burger, fries, ice cream, left over turkey, and birthday cake I consumed that day. Seriously!

In addition to hanging out with my best friend in the early and late evening, I hung out with family, and did a 1 hour (with a little extra minutes) session with Marketing Strategist, Halley Gray of Evolve Marketing.  She came highly recommended by a good friend of mine who works with her. I signed up for her newsletters and when she offered the “perfect match” session where she helps small business owners whittle down to figure out who their target customer is, I jumped.

For years now, I’ve been on that edge of trying to figure out who my ideal customer is and how to reach her/him/them. In all of that, I’ve struggled with creating a portfolio because I’ve thought that I don’t have enough product to showcase my talent and areas of expertise.  I’ve also allowed myself to create stationery sets and note card sets as a way to bring in more income.  I love the stationery sets and there are some that do better than others, but I need to really focus here. Enter Halley.

Halley was absolutely great at pulling my long-winded responses back onto the tracks. She listened to me, offered me though provoking questions, and gave me an action plan for the next few weeks. We also discussed follow-up conversations.  Just before ending, I told her, “It’s rare that I believe in coaching like this. You’re the first person I’ve decided to actually pay for a coaching session and it was absolutely worth it. Thank you!”  I meant that. I have a love/hate relationship with anyone who says they are going to change your life with coaching. Yes, we do need direction at times, but over all, a person needs to make a decision and move. Halley, in this case, helped me get to the core of where I want to go business wise and tapped into ideas I’ve been playing with already, I just hadn’t put into action. It was super helpful and I can’t wait to see what comes from all of it.

Having said that, Halley went through my Etsy shop and told me it was time to start putting a cohesive shop together. She pointed out items in my shop that show texture really well as well as elegance and would help attract the customer I am looking to target.  Keeping in line with this conversation and what she opened my eyes to,  I’ve decided to discount all my Thanksgiving products in my Etsy shop 50% off and possibly not offer them again. Ever.  Okay, maybe ever is too strong a word. Maybe I will have new items for next Thanksgiving, but for now, it’s time to move the old out to make room for the new.

I’m sure you’re scratching your head about this. Why would you buy Thanksgiving products after the holiday?! I don’t know…I personally don’t want to hoard things, BUT these are pretty good prices and they’ll stay until I sell out of my entire inventory.  So please, tell your friends, and grab some if these are anything that you’re interested in.

Oh, and keep your eyes peeled for more information on upcoming changes. I’ll be talking about them here, on the blog, in the newsletter, and on the S2 Stationery & Design Facebook Page.

Um…2011 Holiday Season?

Um, it’s November 15th. That leaves exactly 39 days until Christmas, 9 days until Thanksgiving and 16 days until my birthday. I had to some how throw in my birthday. I had to!

I realized yesterday as I wrote my blog about getting ready for 2012 and getting back into the swing of business, that I don’t really have Holiday product. Not only do I not really have Holiday product, but I also don’t have a plan for 2011 Holiday product. I wish I could sit here and type about the wonderful Holiday inspired gift wrap and tags, cards and other accessory pieces I am planning to launch in a great kick-butt campaign called ” 16 Swinging Days of Holiday Fun and Surprises”, but I don’t! I don’t! I don’t.

Instead, yesterday morning, I posted two Holiday card sets that I’m selling in my Etsy shop, one designed last year for a customized order, that was just too lovely to pass up for future Christmas cards and the other a card that I designed earlier this year specifically for this year. But that’s it.

For anyone who follows my randomness, you know that I am inspired spontaneously. When working on a customized order, I ask for at least a week to create my designs. Why? Well because I take the information provided by my client meetings and then I sleep and dream. Yep. All of my best ideas have come from dreams.  Those ideas are usually the winner of the three options I provide to my clients, but, those ideas also provide other design options that I store or quickly sketch out/write down for a later time.

Working in this kind of environment doesn’t always leave me enough time to plan ahead. I’m always awed by designers who can just knock these ideas out 6 months, if not even earlier than that. Granted, I am aware that I’ve created this type of situation, but I find that I’m great on my feet. Yes, this is something to consider when I sit down and develop business plans and strategies for 2012. I also have to take into account the time I’ll spend traveling when I figure that out, but regardless, as I get ready to assess the next year, where S2 Stationery and Design is going and where I, Sara, am going as well, I am brought back to the present – a 2011 Holiday Season with rarely any new items to present and an exciting opportunity to sell these “items” at the Yelp Giftacular Holiday Market at 82Mercer on December 17th and 18th. I’m really hoping that my brother’s birthday, December 18th, brings me extra luck.  If not, you know, I appreciate the opportunity to gain more exposure and learn from first-hand customer interactions.

So there you have it. Exciting things, Holiday cheer, and a bit of a bumpy road to Holiday sales, but you know, we’ll get through.

I am working on a custom Holiday card order tonight, so I’ll be posting new items in the Etsy shop sometime between the weekend and Thanksgiving. Newsletter readers and blog followers will get the first notice of their availability along with a good ol’ fashion discount in case they want to order immediately. If you want to be part of that awesomeness, you can sign up to get the newsletter and/or blog updates and you’re IN! Amazing, how this technology thing works, no? Si!

Sending you tons of Holiday wishes and a few myself as I get ready for the Holidays as a business owner. Send me any extra luck wishes you may have!!

Back to Business! On Managing Distractions

I’m a horrible distraction to myself.  It’s true.

You’re probably wondering how can a person be their own distraction? Well, you’re reading her blog. As a matter of fact, THIS blog is a tool of distraction.

I love blogging. I’ve always loved blogging. I’ve been a blogger since early 2004, I believe and I was addicted. The idea that I could entertain my friends with my stories was just magic in my eyes and to my fingers. And so here we are, seven years later. I’ve had three blogs, this being the third and the most important as it pertains to my business, and still as distracted as ever.

The past 23 weeks have been a whirlwind. They’ve had me train (poorly) for a marathon, give way more of my time than I probably should have, work selling my products and that of others at Celebrate Brooklyn, take a road trip with my little brother, and dealing with orders.  The entire time, my brain has just been reminding me to look forward to November 6th- the day of the NYC Marathon. After that day, things would calm down a bit.

On November 6th, I was anxious for a very obvious reason-the marathon, but I was also anxious for other reasons-what would I do once I calmed down? Once I had more free time?

Well, it’s been a week since things have “calmed down” and aside from resting up, or trying to rest up, I’ve hit the ground running. Last week, I was out of town for a work conference and even though it was just an hour north of NYC, I got home Friday feeling like I had gone on a trip to a foreign land. Saturday resulted in me feeling really tired and aside from running to Brooklyn to visit a paper store and going to Whole Foods, I was in bed early and spent most of the day running. Sunday, however, I woke up revved to go. It’s incredible how that happens!

I woke up Sunday at 7, did laundry, cleaned the bathroom, pulled out my business items, including receipts to enter in my expenses log, materials to wrap up an order, cooked carrot soup, responded to emails, visited with a friend in my favorite Brooklyn Coffee Shop, photographed some new projects, and then learned of my epic stationery failure. I’m not going to lie, it was a setback. I sat at the table, baffled that I had not only cut the cards to the wrong dimensions, but that was not it. I also somehow managed to print the wrong dimensions on the actual card. I can’t explain it, I just know that I looked at these cards over and over and over and cursed at my ridiculousness sometimes. Of course, there are explanations and it could also very well be a result of my own carelessness. I mean after all, I can’t blame anyone else for the mistake.  I realized that when I’m not paying attention things slip and unfortunately what slipped in this case was my work, the work I pride myself on. This is something that can not happen again. I can’t afford for it to happen again!

The paper that I ended up using and ruining will not go to waste. That goes against my business after all. I will instead use those cards for my own Christmas cards this year, but well, I will have to remake them with a lot of effort. I’m actually looking forward to this opportunity. It means that I will be sending my own product to friends and family, could there be any better advertising? NO! But in my frustration, I just kept thinking how being so busy and overwhelmed can result to silly and careless mistakes. And so I began to think about all that I need to think about all that I need to do in the next month and a half before the end of the year.

It’s a long list and it is no where near completion.  Which makes it a bit daunting, too, but yesterday as I started piecing things together, I felt like I could tackle anything I wanted to with a goal of December 30th. I feel ready to accomplish my goals. Which is why this morning I had to get three items on Etsy. It’s been a while and I really needed to amp up my commitment to my business.

In all of my distractions, I’ve never forgotten the business. I’ve actually felt guilty that I haven’t been able to dedicate more time to my business and it has stressed me out.

Even though I have been working on projects here and there, I have ultimately given into distractions (you should see how many times I’ve even avoided putting this blog together in the last hour!). Last night, as I sat at the table again assembling cards for a donation, I started watching “Ratatouille” and made corn bread. Yes, things that I wanted to do, but I did have something all together more important to finish. I’ve been trying to get these cards done for weeks now! In the end, I had to put the cards to the side, mostly because I was testing out new glue and I wanted to make sure that the cards and the glue would work together well. But still, I allowed myself to be distracted.

And so now that November 6th has passed and I’ve completed my obligations, I’m getting ready to say no. No to distractions. No to stressful and needless work. No to dinners and hang outs with friends. Don’t worry, I won’t be alienating anyone, I just need to adjust my priorities, here. I will also say no to commitments that aren’t going to help me expand S2 Stationery and Design.

I know you’re probably thinking, “She’s said this before, what makes this time any different?”  

Let’s be honest, I don’t always care about what people think, but see here is why I care about what YOU think. I care because I figured out that that I only have 231 days. 231 days until the real magic happens.

No, that doesn’t mean that real magic won’t happen between now and day 231, but it means that I have to make every one of those days and moments count both professionally and personally because once day 217 comes it’s BIG. 

Tonight, I already told a friend no so that I could instead go home and make dinner and finish my donation. I also need to work on some holiday cards that I’m making for a friend.  I also am giving myself a deadline of Friday to finish a baby blanket I’ve been working on for a friend whose baby was born last week. I have another knitting project that I need to get done by Tuesday night, so I’m on a deadline. But that is the ticket. I need deadlines. Solid deadlines for myself. Deadlines have always worked with larger orders, but when it comes to me and my personal projects and developments for my business, I take my time.

The first step in any self-help situation is to admit you’ve got a problem. Well, readers, I’m admitting today and right now that I’ve got a problem. One that requires me to say no. And that is why I’m so proud of being able to say NO to my friend tonight. Yes, I want to see my friend and I will see her on Wednesday when I attend her comedy show down the block from my apartment, but well, being no is my way of telling myself that I’m taking my need for deadlines and Sara time seriously. It is also my way of creating a habit.

And so here goes. In mid-December, I’m going to sit down and create my calendar. I’m also going to dissect what worked and didn’t work in 2011. I’m going to make big plans and small plans and more importantly, I’m finally going to start thinking about how 2012 is going to work.  More importantly, I’m going to share this analysis with you. I know that I can’t control the outcome, but I do know that I’m making some big decisions and the first step involves planning for what potential outcomes may result.

Here’s to avoiding distractions, or something like that. If you’re a friend of mine and I say no, or I stop emailing, just know it is because like a mad scientist I’m in the lab working on something BIG and GREAT and just need time to make, make, make! If you’re a fellow small business owner/entrepreneur and you have tips to share about how you avoid distractions or have great discipline, please share them below.  If you’re simply struggling with bringing things together after being so busy, well, welcome to the club. Hopefully as I tackle this in November/December, you’ll be inspired and will do the same. 

 

A Belated 4th of July

Coming back from a vacation takes a toll. It also doesn’t help that I’ve been busy beyond measure since my return, but alas, I’m here and ready to post. I’ve got some great topics for tomorrow and next week and I’m excited to get to writing! However before I get to those, I need to share my feelings on this past 4th of July holiday.

Last Friday was a bit of whirlwind for me.  I spent the long weekend with good friends in my old home city Washington, DC.

I had such a great time visiting friends and family and taking in how much my old neighborhoods have changed and evolved. I should also mention that this trip was a great reminder of how I have grown and how much the people I love have grown as well. 90% of the reason I went to the DC area was to see and meet one of my dearest friend’s baby. I am so glad I went! At nine-weeks-old, he’s quite a charmer and easy-going fella. He smiled and cooed and was just a wonderful creature to hug and hold.

5% was to get a way without completely getting away. I was able to visit another city, get out-of-town, away from my apartment and NY life. It was just what I needed. It was also nice to completely step away from everything business wise that I’ve been doing. June was a complete cluster of Celebrate Brooklyn! related things and now with my shifts winding down and my running schedule taking shape, I’m moving into other areas for both business and life. This weekend was a way for me to move in those directions.

The last 5% was to see my mom, little brother and nephew and a few other friends. The time spent with my family was awesome and eye-opening. As I sat around testing my nephew on spelling, encouraging him to read Harry Potter, and stressing the importance of reading (although he does  like to read and asked for books for his birthday), I realized that what I am doing is exactly what I am supposed to be doing. This isn’t a surprise at all, but I like when the stars align and show me signs.

Now, getting drunk and not running was not part of the plan for the weekend, but they both happened and I had fun doing both, or rather not doing one and doing much of the other. In the end, the weekend was a success!  I stand by this fact even as I now float through the days of the short week we’re I am stressed out about not getting this and that done for the business and having meals prepared for me to eat during the week. It’s crazy, how busy we are! Completely and utterly crazy! What’s even more crazy is how guilty I’ve felt all week about running late, spending money, not finishing things, throwing out veggies, and canceling on people.  What I should really feel guilty about is not sleeping, which leads me to bad decisions and choices (not all of them) and means that my guilt should really be directed to how poorly I am taking care of myself. I thank aging to this realization by the way.

I’ve said all of the above to share something that I read last Friday. Before leaving my desk and NYC for the weekend, I got my daily newsletter update from DailyWorth, a financial website and newsletter for women, and ventured into the weekend carefree.

Continue reading A Belated 4th of July

Changing Plans

So a few weeks ago, I was plotting Sara. That’s right. Plotting and planning. Making moves and decisions left and right, such as:

No, to custom work; yes, to creating items that could be sold either wholesale or individually;
No, to signing up to my CSA;yes to saving to eat on my adventure;
No, to buying things; yes, to reusing/mending items unless absolutely necessary to save for my adventure;
No, to signing a new rent agreement; yes, to looking for a home-share situation in my new place of residence.

But then, something BIG happened. Something so big, it killed several thousand people, changed the landscape and coast line of a country and shook it, literally (it still is). And so those plans got shot down. And not because I’m afraid, although I am a bit concerned, but more because my Mom said so. Well, she didn’t say no, exactly. She said she’s glad I’m not in Japan right now and that maybe I should put it off. Then I went to visit my aunt’s family and my pseudo-grandmother (my aunt’s (by marriage) mother) gave me a whole lecture in Spanish about waiting to go to Japan. Then, of course, news came out about the radiation having leaked to the farms near the plant and the traces of radiation in the food and I decided that maybe it’s for the best to just put this dream/goal of mine on delay.

When I managed to realize that I had decided not to go to Japan, I awoke to disappointment (I know quite a range of thought and emotion in a two-week time) and needed to mourn the decision. I have been talking about this for months now. Several months. I had friends in on it and then BAM. No can do.

In that, I’ve also realized that sometimes things just happen. I can not control the planet, nor do I want to. The earthquake happened and there’s a reason, even if unknown to us. And so it left me trying to map out a Plan B. When you’re so sure about a decision and then it’s not so clear anymore, confusion ensues and can become terrifying almost distracting. Not good. In that phase, I decided to figure out what I can do and not dwell on what I can’t do. Here’s what I can do:

I can take the adhesives and calligraphy classes at the NY Center for Book Arts;
I can take letterpress classes, as well;
I can run the 2011 NYC marathon;
I can save more money for when I do make the trip of my dreams come true next year;
I can look into an internship at the Hatch Show Print Shop in Nashville;
I can rent some studio space in BK;
I can take more custom orders;
I can design more;
I can sell Christmas Cards this year!;
I can FINALLY get my line together;
I can like my full-time a bit more;
I can take some more design classes at NYU and get another certificate in design;
I can start and continue taking Japanese language lessons;
I can sell at markets and tabling events with my Etsy Team, “The {NewNew}”;
I can possibly go to Jamaica;
I can possibly go to Puerto Rico with my cousin;
I can (and will) go to LA and Cincinnati to visit friends;
I can still work at Root Hill;
I can have an amazing Summer here in NYC;
I can have more time with Alice;
I can save more money;
I can photograph Mooney some more;
I can hang out with Stephen and Mooney;
I can have more time in my apartment with my cool roommate;
I can develop more of who I want to be when this very big and very real adventure takes off.

As I thought more about it, I was reminded of the first time that I quit my very first job out of college. I was a receptionist at a great office. They had been awesome to me and I loved every one there, but I wanted to make more money and I wanted more experience than just being a receptionist. I had one really good interview and was going to accept the job when my boss counter-offered me with a new position and the same salary amount. I remember mulling over the opportunity today, as clearly as it was nine years ago, and what scared me was change and the fact that I might lose touch with all the amazing people I worked with at that job.

That my friends, was what kept me at that job and why I don’t regret the decision to stay there for another two years. When I look at my resume now, I can say that I helped launch a complete branding campaign for that company. Not many newly graduated employees can say that they did that. I’m extremely proud of that period of work and time. More importantly, I’m pleased at the extra time I had with my co-workers. Some whom I still talk to now, nine years down the road. When I left that job, I was ready and confident.

So that’s just that. I’ve decided to literally roll with the punches, while still making the best of the time and opportunity I’ve been granted. I realize and accept that I am disappointed, but I also realize that I want to go to Japan without a heavy heart. I want to go and truly love the experience rather than worry about nuclear contamination. I also want Japan to heal. I know that the person I am would not be okay arriving in Japan in July and saying, “where’s the paper?”

Everything happens for a reason, timing is everything, and sometimes you just have to take what you’re given and do something completely different. I know, I just used two overused clichés, but I think that I could have gone one of three routes here: 1. still go to Japan, 2. let this defeat me, or 3: find the best alternative while not losing any footing. I’ve gone with the third. Not from fear, but from an acceptance that while I am the captain of the Sara ship, I am also just a blip on the cycle of life, or in other words, sometimes you just have to accept things and keep on moving, even when they’re not in the direction you wanted.

Here’s to acceptance!