On Speaking My Mind – An Important Business and Personal Lesson

I’ve had blog posts scheduled that I’ve ignored. I’ve started blogs and let them fall to the wayside. Let’s be real, my enjoyment in writing this blog has dwindled. It has a lot to do with making time for it. Also, I wonder about my content. Is it even interesting?

My life hasn’t really been what anyone would call exciting these past few years. I’ve had some great experiences and opportunities. I have a dazzling niece who takes up a ton of my love and time. I’ve gotten to know some interesting dogs and reconnected with friends. I’ve even lost some friends. This past week alone, I blocked and removed friends from Facebook; I also removed them from my address books in my email, phone, and paper address book.  (I’m not sharing this for validation or even as a way to celebrate losing friends. Every loss has been painful. No, it’s a way to show that sometimes in order to clear things up and gain clarity, you have to remove it all.)

Four years ago at this time, I had moved in with family to save money and was an intern at Etsy’s headquarters in Brooklyn. I was eying flights to Japan with a pit stop in Turkey. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I was full of doubt and I went with my desire and heart and leapt. 2012 was a year of a lot of heartache, doubt, silence, self, and love.

Four years later, I find myself in a situation almost similar. The only difference is that I don’t have savings to use to travel for an extended period of time. I do have my sense of adventure though. When I say, that 2016 and 2012 are similar, I’m comparing the idea of doubt in my life.

Doubt is a funny little feeling. It can be paralyzing, yet inspiring. Whenever I feel him come along, I try to embrace him and share with him the surprises that are in store. Many times, that doesn’t do much. In fact, he decides that I’m not listening, throws a tantrum and sends me a nice big dose of anxiety. I’d rather deal with doubt without his friend anxiety, but you know, anxiety does make a big fuss.

Last week, I shared a post on Facebook. To many it was harsh and rude and lacking compassion. It garnered a handful of comments that were rude and mean. I get it, what you put out comes back to you. However, it was something that spun completely out of control for no real reason. It was an opinion. A simple opinion and it ended up being an scrape with puss oozing in globs. It required a ton of damage control that I don’t think I provided very well and eventually resulted in me changing the settings so that only I can see the post, blocking several individuals who had left the most offensive comments and then the removal of the person who not only [I felt] overreacted to my post, but brought all of her friends who felt the need to troll my page. I also made all of my accounts private. Which didn’t do much because after blocking one particular troll, I received an email through my stationery website, from that person, that was just as rude as his previous comments on facebook. After writing something quickly in response, I opted to delete my message, thereby not responding and sharing my email address with them. I chose to let it be.

Since that day, I have been relatively quiet. I have chosen to share a small amount of things. I am “liking” more than posting. I’ve stopped almost (a few slip out here and there) all of my political commentary. I did email one person who had left a comment, who is a friend of mine, explaining my post and apologizing to her if I had offended her. She and I had a pretty good exchange that left me feeling better about the situation over all.

Through this all, I have debated with myself about my reasoning. Is it because I was burned? Am I embarrassed? Does this even matter? Why am I doubting myself? My voice? Does this incident require me to dim myself? What am I really trying to prove? How will this effect me down the road? Do I need to change things?

In the end, I’m sure it does not and yet I am doubtful in my voice, thoughts, and whether they should be shared. My thoughts have always been a bit off. They are definitely not in favor of most people’s views and I’ve always been okay with that. But do I really want to be on the receiving end of vitriol because people disagree?

Nothing that I said will matter on the particular issue I wrote about. I felt the way I felt. I shared what I felt. Rude comments did not change that and will not change those feelings. I’m entitled to those feelings. But did I have to share them? Why did I feel so comfortable sharing those feelings in the first place?

We live in a culture now where everyone speaks their mind without much thought. We speak so easily, even if it hurts someone else. We have Presidential candidates who are considered different because they are spewing their thoughts without much mind. We are spreading these feelings and thanks to technology, the ease in which to spread them are vast and quick.

I have for a few weeks been considering giving up my smart phone for a flip phone instead. (2007 is calling me big time!) I’ve seriously considered doing away with credit card payments as a market option – cash only, please! I deleted the facebook app from my phone to avoid spending more time on this tool that is more of a time suck than anything else. I’m also toying with the idea of a complete deactivation from facebook.  In other words, I’ve been seeking ways to get back to my “Walden.”

Maybe that is why my lesson last week was so important. It reminds me glaringly that the way I’ve been using social media, facebook in particular, is not aligned with the life I want to lead. My life is hardly rainbows and pots of gold and to use social media to project that would be unfair and a lie and not aligned with my values, but maybe, just maybe, it is okay to revert?

I base a lot on values. On my values, for sure, and to a degree, on your values. My business and business ideas are based on my values. This will never change. I care about the environment. I care about women right to choose. I care about your freedom and mine. I care about the people of the world, and increasingly on the animals in the natural world. I care about our politics and the future of our political system. I care about it all. And I’m working on it all (some more passionately than others), including myself. I cannot entirely hide and I will need my thick skin as I move forward with a project that will definitely be attacked, but maybe this whole situation was a necessary bruise to get me prepared for things that I need to care more and be more brave about? I’m sure it is, in fact.

I am hardly perfect. I doubt I ever will be. I will always apologize when I’m in the wrong. I will always attempt to listen to you and make better choices and hear your pain and needs and wants. I will also always have my opinions. I may choose to not share them. Maybe you will, too?  Maybe you and I will become comfortable with my silence?

 

 

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On Advice and Pricing

Several years ago I learned an important lesson – Only give advice to those who ask for it when they ask for it. 

Don’t give it to them before they ask.  And don’t give it to them without their asking. Seriously. It will only do more harm then good.

Now, how did I go about learning this? Well, rather simple really, I gave one too many opinions freely and then saw that people weren’t listening. It was the ah ha moment where I realized, people need to learn their own lessons whether you want to stop them from experiencing the pain or not.  You just have to step away and let them live their life and live your life being as supportive as you can while also being unconcerned. I know that sounds pretty horrible, but it’s not. The reality is that you can’t save every one, you can only love them for their mistakes and everything else and move on with life. Everyone has a journey and if you’re that person’s friend, you’ll cheer them on and be part of the journey, not try to command their journey.

I say all of that from first hand experience. I’ve fought and judged a lot of people in my brief 30 years. It hasn’t always been fun and it hasn’t always left me looking the best, but you know, the friends I still have that I traveled that road with are some of my best friends still and we have quite an appreciation for each other.

And so…to the point of today’s post, I want to share a recent (it’s so recent as Friday recent) situation and my thoughts (obviously!).

Last Friday night, I went to Brooklyn for two reasons: 1. to support my fellow {NewNew}ers that have opened a shop at Dekalb Market for the holiday season; and 2. to purchase some items for some orders I’m currently working on. I did the second thing first and after found myself home full of thoughts for this post.

Why?

Well because while chatting and enjoying the event, I started talking to a fellow maker and business woman.  At Crafts in Chelsea (CIC) she was stationed almost across from me. She wasn’t directly in front of me as there was a parked car there, but she was next to the parked car. Several times she came over and checked out my wares and we briefly chatted, but we didn’t chat for too long. Needless to say, I was excited to talk to her about her business and her experience at CIC.

As we got more and more in depth in our conversation, she asked about me doing markets and wholesaling and expressed shock that I don’t seem so gun-hoe to do constant markets nor to wholesale and she gave me some tips from her experience. And then she said something, gave her opinion, that I won’t ever forget (mostly because many people continue to tell me the same thing constantly), “I noticed your prices and you have to find a way to make things cheaper and bring the price down.” 

Hmm…Really?

I realized in this conversation that I tend to tune people out once they say something that I don’t want to hear. It’s not that I stop listening to them. I actually do continue to listen to them, I also just manage to run through my to-do list. I know, horrible, Sara!  I do want to be clear here, it’s not that I don’t listen, I just make up my mind whether what the person is saying is valid or not to me and then focus on other things in my mind all the while bobbing my head and not expressing my feelings

I should also point out that I don’t do this to people that I respect or consider friends and family whose opinions and feelings I truly value. I have one friend as a matter of fact, who no matter what the topic always makes me cry during one of our conversations. I need to get better on that front, but she really hits me where it matters the most.  So see, I do listen!

Anyhow, in the past month, I’ve had at least two people, including this woman, tell me that I need to find a cheaper and easier way to make things.  Each time, I’ve considered their words, but have always left each conversation thinking, NO.

I want you to know, readers, that I’m not saying no to expansion or growth potential and I don’t ever want to be my own barrier, but if I’m not going to value myself, passion, product, and service, than why should anyone else? And why should I take a risk and go into business for myself?

I realize that at some point, I will have to hire some employees (I hope I get to that level) and I will have to trust so that I can move the company in other ways, but I don’t ever want to lose the main element of my business which is custom made items by my hands. (There is a reason I want to learn how to make paper after all!)

When I think about business growth for S2, I see a company that expands while teaching future paper craftsmen and designers a skill. I see everything that S2 can become as skill based. I see using techniques that most designers these days don’t have the basic concepts for/of being the catalyst of growth.

Which raises the question of why would I find a cheaper, faster way? Everything is cheaper and faster (for reference, you should see the HUGE hole I’m sporting in my relatively fast and I’m sure made in China sweater from Target that I bought a year ago).

Also, the one thing that I think I have over all the others is my paper fanaticism! I love paper and when a customer orders from S2 Stationery and Design they’re getting fabulous and exquisite paper from all over the world. While being eco-concerned and responsible, I’m also picking paper that is high in quality and beautiful. I’m not just selecting the paper, but I’m working with my own two hands to turn it into a finished product that will make the customer happy and her guests/loved ones who receive the card/invitation, etc.  My craftsmanship is also on display here.  I never, and this is a promise, will compromise on that. Which is why I don’t think I’ll ever be able to lower my prices. Lowering my prices to accommodate more business means that I will have to sacrifice quality and time and I refuse to do so.

I mean even after I am able to make my own paper, the prices will be  higher because I’ll be making the paper that my products are based on which ends up becoming even more time, which I have to pay myself for.  So that is why I half-heartily listened to my fellow vendor and craftswoman when she offered what she thinks I should be doing to make more money without quite understanding my product and my business.

I firmly believe that price doesn’t really matter. I mean it does, but I think my products are for a certain type of client. A client who is willing to pay and values the product and service being provided. I’ve already had plenty of customers that fit that bill, so I know there’s a market and there’s a way. I mean, if there’s a market for half the crap out on the shelves today, there’s a market for anything.

And so the focus becomes “what about my business do I need to focus on to reach my market?”. Which is why as much as I do want to participate in craft shows and tabling events like the ones I’ve done thus far, I really see them as opportunities to learn about my clients and get my name out. We’ve discussed this before on this very platform.  What I’ve enjoyed most about the two events I’ve done this year  (I just learned I’ll be doing a third one just before Christmas) is that I get to interact with potential clients and really watch what they touch, say they like, buy, and share with me. That IS worth gold!

I guess what it really boils down to is that I want to make money, most definitely, but I also want to make a mighty damn good product. If I begin to practice the same measures that other companies do then I’m not very different than the rest of them.  Let’s face it, stationery, if you’re shopping on Etsy or at small scale gift and paper boutiques, right now is a BIG industry.  I’m glad that it is (the writer in me always will be) and  I’m part of it, but I need to maintain my differences if I’m going to play ball.  My version of ball is completely different than another stationery company’s version of ball.  Being part “Sanity Savior” (as I was called by my client last week) makes the time, cost, and quality worth it even more.

My way of doing that is to maintain my prices AND the quality and integrity of my product. I’ve never been a sell out and I won’t be starting anytime soon.  Which I suppose means that I have some long hours and tired hands ahead of me, but for someone with only 2 years under her belt, a full-time job and a host of wedding invitations and other projects under my wings, I’m going to keep moving the way I am. Yes, I will continue to eye the prize of growth and development, but I refuse to scrimp on the things that make my business what is is and will be in the future.

Oh, and what about opinions that I started to talk about earlier? Well, I haven’t misled you or gone astray;  you just tasted the foam of the cappuccino.   I’ll write more about opinions tomorrow, and probably through the rest of the week.

As always, I’m interested in your thoughts and “opinions” on this topic.  I want to know what your strategy is for pricing, or maybe even just your belief. If you’re just viewing this as a customer, please, let me know what you think of paying for value and service and product, versus just product or service. I promise I’m open eyes (for reading) and ears (for listening, even though I’m just reading) and will consider it in the next posting about pricing (it’s an on going topic) as my thoughts, business, and experiences change, develop, and expand.