Business Decision Making Time

I’m going to spend a little time today writing out my options and thoughts on the sewing line I want to start in the coming year as an income stream once I am able to move into freelancing full-time again, which will be on top of the freelance design and build work I currently do and will continue to build doing and the alterations I’ll take out of the home, and this will be the bulk of my income while I build up the creative work I do here with writing, art, and maybe someday music without stressing about the income the work here brings in as of yet.

So firstly, I have to pick a direction. I thought that I had, but I’m second-guessing myself now on whether I need to narrow my options more. After a lot of research, it seems like other shops are most successful having one niche thing they do very well, for example, a creator only makes tutus, or waist cinchers and corsets, or capes, or fairy wings, or hair accessories, or purses, etc. Or they focus on a very particular niche market, like horse blankets with a handful of horse accessories, or ice skating costumes, or ballet costumes, or burlesque costumes. Sometimes even more narrowed, like a shop only sells pasties for burlesque, with nothing else. The upsides to having a shop like this are:

  1. You get really really good at something so you can market yourself as an expert and build a reputation
  2. Being really good at something means you learn all the shortcuts you can possibly take and still make a really good product
  3. If it’s a “rinse and repeat” kind of pattern adjustment to create different looks, you aren’t starting from scratch every season to mix up your selection
  4. It’s a lot easier to train potential future employees/family members/friends to help you if the orders start piling up, which is again a time saver
  5. If for some reason you ever want to start mass-producing anything via hiring out a factory (not something I think I’m really interested in), having easily repeatable patterns makes the process much easier

The downside for me though is that the thought of limiting myself in this way bores me. Because my background is in costume design, my initial thought (and what I find much more interesting) was to design an entire look and then offer up the pieces of the look in a shop, and to also include interesting patterns of other things I’ve developed over the years. To have vintage and costume inspired pieces that could be worn in a wide variety of settings, maybe include some men and children’s pieces as well as accessories, and to tie in the designs with some of the work I am producing here eventually as far as inspiration goes. But if I go this route, I may potentially be running into problems down the road.

Part of my concern is that my husband and I already had an online shop, both on Etsy and via our own site, where we sold fairy-related art, costume pieces, and even bath products under our label, and we made it all. And we never were able to really get a good month of sales, in part because we were spread all over the place instead of having a particular focus, and also because we were frequently going for quantity over quality (a mistake I will not be making this time around). So is it narrowed enough to simply stick to sewing/wearable creations under my unique vision, or do I force myself to start very narrowed and see how it goes? Also as an aside, I made up a big batch of a face scrub/mask to give as Christmas gifts, and I had forgotten how much I love to make the bath/beauty products and it would be fun to eventually try selling those again. The recipes I had come up with were really good, but it is such a saturated market. So for the meantime, I will just allow myself to create more of those for myself and for gifts as I can carve out the time to.

Anyway, any of you have any thoughts on this that could help me reach a decision? Do I do what “feels” best to me despite it possibly being more complicated and time-consuming? Or do I follow good examples of other successful businesses and stop being so freaking stubborn in life? It would be nice if something could be easy for a change.

Life Changes Yet Again

I’m going to be full-time gainfully employed again with my current employer. They offered, and I have decided to accept. Which is great in lots of ways. But also means that I’m going to have even less time for the work I do here, so that made me start wondering two things.

First, I started questioning whether I should even be bothering attempting the personal projects or with this blog anymore. I have a job that is creatively fulfilling and time consuming and has the added stress (and challenge and fun) of being in charge of a lot. But I will always slowly chip away at my writing and art and music, and while my job is creatively fulfilling, it does not feel as necessary to me as the work I do here. So I may as well push forward with this, even knowing it will never ever be as quickly as I want it to be. And to kind of cement the idea in my head, I finally began setting up a gallery at Fine Art America to push my art out to a larger audience, and I forced myself to charge what other artists were recommending verses the paltry price that I was thinking of charging for myself. It will be a while until I finish setting everything up, but once I do, I’ll get around to fixing the art section here on this site. That’s the way I banish the “why should I bother’s” and “I’ll never be good enough’s”… push myself past my comfort zone.

The other thing I started thinking about was when to cross my two working relationships over. I know eventually I want to tell everyone who knows me about the work I do here under this name, not just a select few. And I suppose eventually I’ll share the work I do under my real name on this blog. I still feel like I want to hold off though. There’s the vanity issue, of course, of wanting to wait until I have a big announcement to casually drop “Oh, by the way, I’ve been doing work under the Kat Micari name for years and I’m doing fill in the blank so check it out.” Then there’s the issue of having signed a contract when I worked with the brokerage firm to update a certain government agency every time I move for three years after leaving that job, and part of me wants to wait until a few months after I move again or until after the three years are up (whichever comes first) so I don’t have everything that I’ve done under the Kat Micari come up under the random search that I’m sure will be done after the paperwork is filed. Not that I’ve made it especially a secret, as far as using the same SSN to get paid and file taxes and such, and not that I feel like any of my creative work is something to be ashamed of, but I just don’t like drawing attention to myself. And that’s a little more protective than I need to be, but there you go.

Anyway, it’s a strange fork in the road right now, one that I didn’t imagine being at two years ago. Everyone keeps telling me how excited they are for me and how lucky I am, which I suppose I am, but it’s also really a lot of work so I don’t always know how to respond to them. The luck piece of it is there, but the hours and physical and mental labor seem lessened when people talk too much about the luck piece, not to mention the years of training and the sacrifices I’ve made along the way. And while it is really exciting to be helping to build something from the ground up and to be well-compensated for it (in comparison to the rest of the industry), I’m finding that it is also a big pain to be in charge of other people directly and to have so much depending on things that I’m not in control of but still responsible for. At least as a freelancer, the only person I have to depend on is myself. Well, we’ll see what happens. It will certainly be interesting to witness how the next several years unfold. I’m going to try to continue updating twice a week here but forgive myself when it slips to once a week occasionally, and just keep pushing ahead on all fronts as much as I’m able to.

And next up…

I finished my enormous project that I was stressing about. It went really well, thankfully, even with the stress. I managed to not make myself sick, although I did end up losing another few pounds, causing my husband to threaten me with an office job if I don’t start taking better care of myself on these projects. It was just a lot to deal with, to wrap my head around, and to logistically bring to a physical reality. But I managed to do it with only one really late night, and when the situation got it’s craziest, I kept my sense of humor.

It was strange working on a creative project that dealt with racism while race has been brought to the forefront of America’s mind, much to the displeasure of many white people. To feel myself exhausted and stressed and buried in work and still fully present in so important an issue… I haven’t really words to describe it beyond saying it felt like a profound place to be.

Along with dealing with the many thoughts and theories and emotions surrounding the project itself and the greater societal issues, life decided to throw two major past personal problems in my face when I was at my most exhausted and stressed, I guess as a test of whether or not I had learned some of the lessons I needed to learn. And I did. I passed the tests with flying colors, which means I’ve dealt with SO MUCH of the my teenage baggage, which is this huge affirmation towards my personal growth. I was annoyed that the tests came when I was so exhausted, but what better time to really know, right?

Anyway, this is the first time in a long time I’ve finished a project of any size and felt energized to jump right back into other creative work. I’ve let myself rest the past couple of days and spent loads of time just cuddling and playing with my son, but I’ve also penciled three small paintings, dove back into writing, and started the early work on my next project for my company I’m working for. This one in January will be my last extra project until summer, which I am actually looking forward to. It means I will have time this spring with my son, to focus on my freelance and personal creative projects, and maybe even to take on some extra projects with outside companies. I have my next voice lesson this week. And I’m eating calorie-dense foods and slowly getting back into my exercise and meditation routine. All good things. And I’m excited to share some of what I’m working on with you in the coming weeks.

Marketing of Some Kind is a Necessary Annoyance

As an indie creator of anything, marketing yourself is necessary. You can’t just make your book or your art print or release a single, throw it up on some site, and cross your fingers that you somehow go viral and start raking in piles of money. Even if it is an absolutely stellar project, you cannot expect immediate success, or even that the one project will be successful by itself. Yes, you’ve accomplished a lot all ready, just in completing, polishing, and releasing the creative piece, but you aren’t allowed to rest yet.

The marketing process is one that annoys me, primarily because it is yet another pull on my time. I’d rather be creating than trying to get my past creations out to more people. Also, I am someone that does want my work to speak for itself. I’m uncomfortable talking myself up, a tad suspicious of compliments that come my way (although I feel bad if they aren’t forthcoming when I’ve busted my butt – go figure), and would much rather pass off this work to a third party. But I’m an indie artist and writer and freelancer so I don’t exactly have the budget for hiring a publicist. My guess is that most of you don’t either. And in the wilds of our global online community, it becomes less necessary maybe.

So, here are the current (and immediate-ish) future plans I’m in the process of implementing both online and in my local area. Perhaps you will find some of these useful for yourself.

My freelance work under my actual name:

  • I am continuing with the social media work I’ve been doing. This actually nets me quite a bit of extra business, as friends and associates recommend people to me.
  • I’ve begun a Tumblr blog that is about another passion entirely but I talk about my freelance work in conjunction with that passion. This is a soft marketing experiment that I’m giving about six months to see if it works in getting me some more projects. However, Tumblr seems to be a wasteland of late, and I’m considering starting yet another wordpress blog and posting both places, but I don’t know if I want that kind of time dump. I mean, if the pictures I’m posting are already formatted and I’m just copying and pasting text, it’s maybe only another ten minutes each post, but still, that is time I could spend creating. Things to consider.
  • Thanks to a friend, I’ve got the names of two local companies to contact to do one-off jobs for, and I need to craft the perfect introduction letter. It’s a side of my business I haven’t done since 2009, so I want to make absolutely sure that everything is as perfect as I can make it.
  • I’m considering marketing myself offline, again in a soft marketing kind of way, toying with the idea of joining one of the local business women’s groups. Again, though, this would be a pull on my time that I don’t know if I can commit (for events, volunteering, etc) with my busy schedule and hands-on parenting. But if I do, it would immediately get me involved in my local community, I could potentially be helping people, and there would be much “Oh, you do this?” in conversations. I’m not much of a “belong to a big group” person, but maybe it’d be good for me.

Writing

  • I need to promote my books here more. I’m so bad about that. I won’t be posting every single week, but expect a more frequent reminder.
  • I have a small list of reviewers to contact about The Little Book of Insurrection or the Poetry of my Discontent. It needs to be done, and I haven’t done it.
  • I need to check out local writing and poetry groups, maybe get brave enough to attend an open mic reading. I’ve made a connection with an older woman who belongs to a local political theater group and she thinks I’d be a good fit, but again, I can’t commit to that kind of time. But I hope to at least attend a performance and network with similar-minded and passionate local people.
  • The biggest trend I’ve noticed in talking with my writer friends and witnessing online is that writers need to have a list of books out. There is a snowball effect that happens, and even if it’s a case of quantity over quality, that doesn’t matter so much. Which is sad. But, that being said, I need to carve out more time to write, so I can be releasing at least one book a year. Even at that rate, it’s still going to be a very long time (if ever) that I make any kind of significant income. And I’m okay with that. Writing cannot be my full-time creative endeavor, no matter how much I love it. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be doing it when I can.

Art

  • I need to find an alternative to Etsy for selling prints (and signed copies of books). Etsy has become so over-saturated since they’ve begun allowing factory-made items on their site with a looser definition of what defines an “indie” or “cottage” industry, and it’s just not what it was when it first began. So there’s that.
  • I have made an initial effort to get involved in the local arts community and need to grow that.
  • I need to check out local galleries and such to see if there are any openings to show my work and begin getting my name out there.

The thing I’ve found most important about marketing myself is staying flexible and constantly tweaking as I go. Also, I am almost always positive in my attitude, in a sincere way. I could maybe garner more attention by throwing temper tantrums or jumping on the latest hot debate and being a jerk, but I’d rather be pleasant and calm and save the rage and heat for situations where it’s actually necessary.

What are some of your favorite ways to market yourself? What do you find works best for you?

Etsy Shop Oops

Evidently, in the midst of my crazy work schedule, I allowed all but one of my Etsy links to expire. Whoops! Bad independent artist, bad! No biscuit for me!

So, anyway, that has all been corrected now, and in the interest of some self promotion, here is the link to my shop: Phantasms of Truth. As a reminder, this is where you can purchase some illustrations, as well as signed copies of The Little Book of Insurrection or the Poetry of My Discontent.

And since I’m on a self promotion kick, here are the links to the digital editions of my writing.

Amazon author page here.
Smashwords author page here.

For Every Two Steps Forward, There’s a Step Back

My interview today wound up actually being a pre-interview, ten minutes in length, to ascertain whether or not I was still interested in working with this company. Because the person had already looked at my online portfolio, they didn’t even bother having me show them the immaculate work I had done setting up my physical portfolio. Hours of work prepping the portfolio (not to mention money I couldn’t really afford to be spending to print pictures), dressed to the nines, hair and makeup perfect, and I could have worn jeans and not stressed at all. BUT they are still interested, I got to drop off my physical resume with actual references for the head honcho, and as we were gifted with free theater tickets for tonight, I won’t have to waste time later on hair and makeup. Now I’ll probably be waiting a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, I entered into talks with another shop for freelance work that has phenomenal reviews, and hopefully that will prove fruitful. I’d rather make slightly less money guilt-free (and potentially not have to get liability insurance) than worry about being connected with a less-than-honest corporation. But still, we’re in early stages here.

I’m in a hurry up and wait period right now, and, as a creature of action, I hate waiting. But I will grin and bear it.

Excitingly, though, one of my illustrations (Tears) was included in this beautiful treasury on Etsy – Brave: Brain Storm.  It really is a deep and thoughtful collection of images.

It’s Okay to Say “I Can’t”

I started doing what will hopefully become regular creative freelance work last week.  When I first picked up what I’m working on, the shop owner said “see you in two weeks” and I told her that I wanted to try to get them done in one week and set a time to meet with her.  I had high hopes of having a fast turn around and bringing in oodles of cash to put towards savings and towards the business.

But as it turned out, I couldn’t do the job in one week.  I mean, I could have, if I had been willing to do a few all-nighters, but I couldn’t bring myself to wreak havoc on my system like that anymore.  It’s just not worth the stress.  And I was stressing.  I had this huge ball of it sitting on me.  I was stressing about the quality of my work.  I was stressing about my tools not working properly.  And I was stressing big time about not finishing the work in my self-imposed deadline.  I felt this intense pressure to perform, and I almost cracked beneath it.

I emailed the shop owner yesterday and told her that I do need the extra week.  And immediately, a lot of the stress lifted.  Over the next couple of months, as I gain confidence and get faster at my work, perhaps I can build up to a weekly turn around time, but if not, then that’s okay.

The trick to staying sane while trying to juggle many projects is being honest with yourself about what you can do, being kind to yourself when you need a break, and prioritizing your deadlines (whether they be actual deadlines from a client or self-imposed ones).  It’s like yoga, and you need to accept the present state of your body-mind.  There’s a time and a place for killing yourself over a project, but it shouldn’t be on a regular, weekly basis.  Life’s too short for that kind of stress.

I Have No Agenda

There are many “how-to” blogs and articles on writing, blogging, creating art, basically anything you can think of under the sun.  And I lump these under two types: the extremely helpful (ie. Photoshop tutorials, constructive advice for building your blog readers, books like “The Artist’s Way”) and the type that prey on your insecurities to “sell” something (I tend to view these as being similar to “get rich quick” or pyramid schemes).  The second type of article tends to greatly annoy me and turn me off.  The author usually comes across as arrogant, with a “my way is the only way” approach in an effort to sell something. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am a HUGE proponent of self-promotion, but I am also a huge proponent of honesty, and honesty is not something that is always part of marketing a product or service.  And even if someone’s product is amazing, if they come across as sleazy or dishonest, I don’t have any interest in what they are peddling.

So I guess my agenda is honesty.  My goal is to sell you all on being creatively productive instead of being cowed by self-doubt.  To get everyone I touch actively thinking about their lives and the bigger world around them.  When I eventually release my writing, music, and art, if you feel inclined to buy or spread the word of my work, then I will be humbly grateful.  I will promote myself, but I will not resort to sleazy tactics.  If it means I can never quit my day job, then so be it.  My integrity is worth more to me than financial gains, now and forever.

Status Update On All Things Creative (and Some Not-So-Creative)

In an effort to continue to hold myself accountable, I am recording how I have begun 2013 thus far, and I must say it hasn’t begun that auspiciously as we’ve gone from bad head colds to lingering sinus issues to two-year molar teething, which all equals severe lack of sleep.  But I can make baby steps, and here I will put them down.

  • I am making good progress with the line edits on my novella and should finish right on schedule at the end of next week.  This is good because we’ve signed up to share a table at a Small Press Expo in Buffalo, NY in April, so I now have a hard deadline to aim for.  And I will reach it.
  • I have been making not-so-good progress on my illustrations for my poetry collection.  My holiday gifts are actually STILL not completed (our final celebration is this Sunday with family & I need to ship out a few things still), so I will be picking up where I left off in early December this coming week and will hopefully finish by the end of the following week (I’m aiming to be done 1/24 but may need one more week depending on how detailed I get).  Again, I have a hard deadline to have this finished by April.  Two books sitting on the table will be much more interesting than one.  And I may also then be able to sell some prints of the illustrations from the book.  Money is good, as is getting my name out there as much as possible.
  • Music… oh my music.  With my husband and I working split shifts, and us living in an apartment complex, I don’t get nearly as much time to play as I’d like.  But this week, I’ve begun practicing piano scales as often as my son gives me time to.  I am self-taught on the piano (I picked it up when my older brother started having lessons, and then I learned flute which reinforced music theory, etc), and I play well enough to accompany myself as I sing, but writing my own music is a slow and laborious process, so I figure I would take the time to learn proper fingering on scales and chords, which is something I’ve never done.  So baby steps forward on the music front! 
  • Morning pages – I’ve been doing them at least four times a week lately.  An improvement, but I really want to make it a daily practice.  Also, I cheat sometimes and don’t do them in the morning because I’m running so late for work.  It doesn’t have quite the same effect if I do them at lunch time because by then my brain is already too wired.  But I’ll take what I can get.
  • Things I need to work on – meditating, sketching, and exercising at least a little bit every day.  It seems like right now I can manage to do one a day, but not all three.  I plan on changing that tonight, but they say it takes 21 days to make something a habit, so this is going to be tough.

Outside of the creative work, I am going to be getting back into my no-processed food eating (at least at home) this coming week.  This, unfortunately, is another time-taker, but for my health and the health of my family, I need to plan out healthy snacks.  For example, I’ve recently tried two homemade cracker recipes that came out really good, so I will try to make those as frequently as I can as an alternative to the soy or canola oil laden store bought variety.  I’m certain that the reason we all got so sick with colds over the holidays is due to the plethora of processed and sugary foods.  Garbage in equals garbage out, after all. 

Also, we made great strides in getting organized, but we still have a ways to go, so I am continuing on that front wherever I can.  We’re using some Christmas money to buy some toy organizers for the boy, and I need about two hours to finish organizing our art supplies.

And finally, my husband and I are going to have a long discussion this weekend about our business goals for the coming years.  We know what we want to achieve, but we need to create an actionable list of how to achieve those goals, and we need to decide if we realistically can do it with our time and money constraints.  This could be a tearful, emotional conversation or maybe not.  That will probably depend on how much sleep our son lets us gets these next couple of nights.