What I have learnt | Failure

Failure is a funny one. It is something that we all feel and as humans who want to succeed at all we do it is natural to feel like a ‘failure’ when things don't go to plan. Four years ago I felt like a total failure. In every sense of the word. I couldn’t figure out how to go about doing what I wanted to do, failure. I wasn’t very happy, failure. I wasn’t doing anything to utilise the degree I had spent 3 years getting, failure…a degree in which I had only got a 2:2 in, failure. I had changed what I wanted to do with my life a million times, failure. I had spent all my savings, failure. You can see where I am going with this…basically I felt like a huge failure. Anyway…over the past couple of years running Oh Wonder has truly opened my eyes and given me a lot of perspective and I like to think some wisdom (LOL) on things like failure. Overall I no longer feel like one and I no longer feel like that list of things above are failures. They are lessons. Without all those things happening I would not be where I am today (literally sitting in a cabin on a pond after teaching in Wiltshire) and I wouldn't be the person that I am today. 

I think that me coming to this conclusion has been through maturing (again…LOL) and also through running my own business. It sounds so cliche but I feel like I have learnt SO much the past couple of years and although I have SO much more to learn I really feel happy with where I am in in terms of confidence in myself and my belief in what I can do. However there is one defining lesson that really REALLY changed how I felt about failing. So get yourself comfy because I am going to tell you a story…

In September 2016 I was exhibiting at The Handmade Fair at Hampton Court. It was my first show, I was a total newbie, I had only been running Oh Wonder for 8 months and I went there selling letterpress cards, notecards and gift tags. I had spent WEEKS printing these all myself in various different colours - shipping the kiddo off for the weekend multiple times throughout the summer and spending two days solid printing/fighting with the letterpress. To say that I was stressed would be a slight understatement. I was kinda manic. There was stuff everywhere and we would spend the evening packaging up cards and tying bows around packs of notecards. 

That weekend was one of the worst weekends of my life. No lie. I spent so much money, not only on the stand but also on kitting the stand out and getting all these products ready and I took £200 the whole weekend. On the first day I took £30. And that ain’t profit. OVERALL TAKINGS. The rest of the money I took that weekend was from my FAMILY who all came and felt horrendously sorry for me so bought all my cards. I spent most of the weekend trying not to cry. Thankfully I was surrounded by wonderful women who kept me boosted up but inside I was devastated. The loss financially was HUGE to me at that point in my business and I spent the whole journey home each evening crying. All I felt was that this was a HUGE FAILURE and it knocked me for six.

Flash forward a couple of months and I heard from Teach Us who were at the fair as well and had approached me about doing a workshop with them for charity. We arranged to get together and I did a calligraphy workshop for them in my lounge at home. It was so much fun and I really enjoyed it. Matts, one of the guys who runs Teach Us, girlfriend Meg worked for Brand Events the event company that runs The Handmade Fair and she then got in contact with me to see if I wanted to teach at The Handmade Fair at Ragley in May 2017. I would be an expert at the show and teaching an hour long workshop every day to up to 100 people. Yeh sure I said….panicking inwardly (You can read a bit more about my intense feelings of fear surrounding this event here) and my details were popped up on The Handmade Fairs website as an expert. AN EXPERT.

A couple of weeks before the fair I got an email from a lady called Joanne. She works for a publishing house called Haynes and she wanted to talk to me about writing a book for them. I am going to go into more detail about this in a full post about my book process, but when I asked her how she had found me she said….wait for it….through The Handmade Fair.

Fast forward to June 2018 when I am writing this post (although it wont be published until I have told ya’ll about my book so probably August time or the end of September ha!) and I am sat on the porch of an Air BnB having finished teaching at my second Handmade Fair of 2018, with one more to come in September, and my book - Modern Calligraphy and Hand Lettering went to print a few days ago. None of this would have happened if it wasn't for that ‘failure’ of a weekend in September 2016. Well it might of in the end but in this version of my life that is where it started. 

So that is why I (try to) no longer see things as failures. Yes it is still heart wrenchingly gutting when things go wrong (and trust me I still have pangs of disappointment when I think of that weekend) - especially when you lose a tonne of money - but I am trying to see them instead as lessons, and ways in which different doors open in life. You never know where your ‘failure’ is going to lead you…it might just end up taking you somewhere pretty amazing.

L x  

Edit - Between writing this post in June and posting it now I have exhibited again at The Handmade Fair at Hampton Court and I tripled what my goal for the weekend was. Well and truly kicked 2016 in the arse.

Photo 14-09-2018, 16 34 14.jpg

What I Have Learnt | The Fear

Today I am putting out a post that will probably touch on personal but through many of the conversations I have with new and old friends, I think it is something worth talking (writing/waffling) about. Fear is a tiny word that can have a huge affect on people and when you are launching/running your own business it can be debilitating. 

N.B. I am talking about the kind of internal fear that affects your confidence and ability to make yourself visible - not the kind that engulfs you if you come face to face with a shark or lion so PLEASE GOD do not try and fight that fear - run for your lives (or whatever else Bear Grylls types recommend for these kinds of incidents.)

Three (ish) years ago I packed in my job as a supervisor at a high-end fashion store in Notting Hill wanting to set up a stationery business. And I choked. Big time. I spent a year ‘freelancing’ on the surface but inside I was freaking the eff out frequently. I spent days sleeping and crying with frustrating not knowing what I wanted to do or how to get where I wanted to be… Over this time I slowly went through my savings and basically did nothing, and it was embarrassing. I was embarrassed that I wasn't supporting myself and living off my boyfriend and I was embarrassed that I had no drive at all left in me, the drive that had got me through school, college and university had disappeared and I had no idea how to get it back.

The overwhelm took over me and the fear was uncontrollable. I didn't think I was good enough, I didn't think anyone else would think I was good enough and I certainly had no clue where to start. Even stuff like who to use for printing and on what paper - sent me into a total panic because it was so just too overwhelming. My natural response to feeling any kind of stressful emotion - sadness, anxiety, overwhelm - is to sleep soooooo as you can imagine not much gets done. I pushed away everyone that was trying to help me because I was ashamed and scared of how I was feeling. Yep, that's right - scared of the fear. HOW DOES THAT EVEN WORK GODDAMN. Way too many emotions.

As I am writing this I am sat on a train going up to the midlands to teach at The Handmade Fair for three days. Over the past year, I have taught over 100 people in groups of 10-20 and I love it, I get such a buzz from it, something that shocked me as I am naturally quite shy with people that I don't know. However this weekend I am teaching 100 people IN ONE GO, on three occasions, and I am absolutely terrified. It hasn't been helped by an overly stressful week but I have the hugest knot in my stomach and I am so so so scared that I am going to get up there in front of all these people and freeze. So how do I deal with this? By just doing it, at this point I don't really have a choice anyway I can't back out, but I have to trust my knowledge and my experience and just get up there and teach like I would any other time.

Fear is an emotion that happens to everyone, it's scary but what it does is release the hormone adrenaline which induces the ‘Fight or Flight’ instinct in us so we have options - we can either run away from it (for me this includes curling in a ball and going to sleep) OR we can fight it. Take that fear by the balls and say NO you will not control me I am going to kick your butt (please refer to my note above and please don't do this to an angry shark…swim for your life my friend SWIM). 

It has taken me a really really long time to get to the latter - but after I had my son I had this new found determination, I didn't want or need to do this just for me I needed to do it for him too and it clicked. That is not to say that the fear went away - putting myself out there was still excruciatingly terrifying but I knew that I just had to do it, so I took that fear by the balls put a website out there and released my baby into the world (business baby not real baby that would be terrible parenting). When it comes to business in my opinion and small amount of experience things are rarely as terrible as you think, and my website and brand was greeted by waves of enthusiasm from friends, industry peoples and potential clients. No one laughed at me, no one said are you being serious, no one asked me if it was a joke and no one turned around and said that I was awful and would never make it. All the things I was terrified about didn't happen, and why? Because generally the stuff we get ‘the fear’ about is usually made up in our heads.

Fear will always play a huge part in my life, I know that, especially the kind of anxiety led fear that I get which can stop me wanting to leave the house. But I have realised that when it comes to my business I cannot let it rule me and my decisions because I would never do anything. I get pangs of fear when someone asks me to do something I haven't done before, but then I ask myself why? They are asking me to do something related to my job i.e./ calligraphy not to lead open heart surgery. So WHY am I scared? I have always been able to work things out before and if I can’t I am part of an amazing community and usually at least one superstar in there can help me figure it out.

It’s the unknown that gets the fear amped up but we have to believe that we are a lot more capable than we give ourselves credit for. Whether you have run a business before or not (I haven’t) you will have a wealth of experience to draw on just from doing life. For me I worked in a designer store for four years - I have a huge amount of experience in client communication and giving clients an amazing sales experience, going from a store supervisor to calligrapher might not seem like the most related jump but I draw on this experience daily and I fully believe that it makes me better at my job. 

So to tie this up - as these posts get so long and I really don't want to bore you all to death….

  • Fear is a natural response to the unknown and we don't have to be scared/ashamed of the fact we are feeling it. 
  • Fear can be run away from or faced head on. Do the latter in business, the first if faced with a man-eating beast.
  • The things we are scared of very rarely happen because we have built them up in our heads.
  • Ask yourself WHY your scared…if the answer is ‘because people might hate it’ slap yourself and get on with it. People WON’T hate it and if they do then they are dicks and aren't your market.
  • We are much more capable than we give ourselves credit for.
  • YOU are enough and what you do is amazing so say F you to the fear and get yourself out there.

I hope that maybe this post is in the least bit helpful!

Chat soon! 

L x

Note - I am posting this after the handmade fair which was GREAT! After I got over the horrendous nerves it was absolutely fine and nothing awful happened like I had imagined and I just got on with doing the same thing I do every time I teach. The sense of achievement afterwards was amazing and I felt so proud of myself for doing it. So the proof is in the pudding - the reward for facing the fear can be so rewarding! 

the handmade fair

What I Have Learnt | Instagram | Part Two

Well hello there and welcome to part two of What I have learnt about Instagram! If you haven't yet read part one (WHY?!) you can find it here. So settle down with a cuppa and fight the attention seeking toddler and dog away (surely that can’t only be my life?!) and get reading all about what I think about hashtags, having a cohesive page and lots more! As discussed in my last post about Instagram I am so far away from being insta-famous (goddamnit) but I am happy with where I am with my posting and engagement so I just wanted to share some tips that I have found helpful! 

HASHTAGS

Hashtags - those pesky little buggers. Annoying but essential. It is how the search system of platforms like Instagram and Twitter work and also if you don't use them then you aren't going to be getting in the #dream top nine and people can’t find you. You can use a maximum of thirty per post and in my opinion I would use them all. I personally have a little note in my phone with them all in and I just copy and paste and then add a couple which are more targeted to each post. When searching for hashtags to add to your ‘catalogue’ if you type into the search bar one of your hashtags it will come up with related ones if you are falling short of ideas! 

HAVING A COHESIVE PAGE

For me as a creative and visual person having a cohesive page is really important as I see my Instagram as an extension of my website. The images on my account are a mix of professional styled photos and pictures I have taken myself with my iPhone. I don't touch professional images (huge no no to edit any photographers images) but with my phone pictures I always edit with VSCO and use the same filter each time. Now I do not profess to know anything about photography lighting drives me crazy and getting whites took look the same quite literally makes me want to throw my phone in the bin BUT I do have a little area that I do most of my flat lays and I try to do it when the lighting isn't direct sunshine but before dusk. It is worth finding a little area where the environment is pretty constant to take your photos. Find a filter that suits your branding and style and then stick to it, apps like VSCO are great they have so many options for editing. I am also one of those insanely annoying people that posts a picture to see what it looks like on my grid and then deletes it straight away (SORRY to anyone that gets notifications for my account!) to make a proper post. Uber annoying I know. Sorry. 

STYLING

This point follows on slightly from the last - I am SO far away from being any kind of styling guru but after I went to a Makelight workshop and saw the styling GENIUS Emily Quinton style some of my calligraphy I started to pull together a bit of a styling box which I pull out when I am putting together a flat lay. This has made life waaaaay easier as I know where everything is and its super easy to grab the bits I need. I have a selection of ribbons and materials and also a couple of backdrops from Capture by Lucy which are amazing and since getting my Ash Bush penholder that has made a lot of appearances! Using the same selection of items to style up my images also brings together the cohesiveness of my page…for me, luckily, the things that I am taking photos of are generally pretty small so I don’t need a lot of styling tools just adding a bit of ribbon or material in brings a bit of depth to the photo. 

SEEING YOUR PROFILE AS AN EXTENSION OF YOUR WEBSITE/PORTFOLIO

As I mentioned on my previous point I see my profile as an extension of my website, it is essentially a up to date portfolio for my work. On my website I only use professional images that I have got from shoots but on Instagram I can post less than perfect images of my works in progress and show them off. Quite often when I get enquiries from potential clients i will point them in the direction of an Instagram post if I have done something similar in the past. For me also it is a great way of attracting new clients and I do get a lot of my work through people that have found me on there. Because of this obviously it is important to be professional on your profile when communicating with your followers and also posting on other peoples pictures. In short. Don't be a d*ck on Instagram.

INSTAGRAM CHALLENGES

I love an Instagram challenge, its great if your lacking a bit of inspiration and the people who organise them generally know what they are talking about so you’ll be posting content that people react well too. If you follow me you will know that currently I am doing Joanne Hawkers march meet the maker and I am really enjoying it. I have also previously done week long Rising Tide society challenges and one by Jenna Kutcher. It is also a great way to engage with other creatives who are doing the challenge by looking through the associated hashtag.

STORIES

Instagram stories are awesome. I love them. In a world of perfect curated Instagram pages they are a great way to show real life and behind the scenes without the pressure of it looking Instagram perfect. I love to use stories to show new materials, projects I am working on and sneak peeks along with a little insight into my life (mainly videos of my son and dog BECAUSE THEY ARE CUTE plus they literally follow me everywhere and I can’t get rid of them) I am yet to talk on stories as I sound like a four year old when I talk in videos so yeh probably going to keep avoiding that, but if you have the confidence to then go for it, I think its a great way to communicate with your followers. To top it off you can filter them and add a little bit of text to explain to your followers what the hell is going on. 

WOW so to round the second part of this essay up. I love Instagram. These tips might not work for everyone but I am very happy about where I have got in the last year of having my business account and I wanted to share a little bit of my learning process with you…just incase it can help…and if it does then please let me know - it’s always nice to know that someone out there is reading this.

L x

What I have learnt | Instagram

Get your party pants on because it is time for another dose of wisdom I like to call ‘What I have learnt’ and this post is all about the glorious little app called Instagram. I have split it into two parts because it is super long and I didn't want to send anyone to sleep, so you can catch part two next week! I am so so so far away from being any kind of Instagram genius but in a year I have built up, what I feel is, a honest following which is engaging and I also get a lot of my work and sales from it, so I thought I would share my insight into what I have learnt about using Instagram for your business.

HONESTY IS KEY

This isn't only one of my tips for Instagram but also in general small business running. I believe that it is really important that in all aspects of your business you are honest and true to yourself, your morals and ethics. On Instagram I write my captions like I speak using language that I would use if I was describing a picture to someone face to face. I feel like it is important when portraying yourself online that your viewer/customer gets a feeling of who you are, yes your work is speaking for itself but they aren’t only buying your product/service they are also buying into you being a part of their wedding/event/very important occasion and it is important that they have some connection with you as a person as well. 

GETTING PERSONAL

I have two Instagram accounts - I have my personal one which is basically full of baby and sausage dog spam, and then I have my business Oh Wonder account. I personally chose to keep them separate as I love posting pictures of my son and dog and know that potential clients probably don't want to see that all the time (although I don't god knows why, my son and dog are magnificient), whereas my friends do and they in turn probably don't want to be spammed with my calligraphy work. That is not to say that it isn't important to show personal parts of your life on your business profile as well. I like to do introduction posts every so often (especially when I reach a milestone of followers) and share snippets of life, for the very same reason I mentioned in my first point - your clients are buying into you and its important that they know who that is and know that there is a real person behind the computer screen. When picturing my ideal client she has similarities to me and in some ways is the person that I aspire to be (i.e. she's engaged) therefore by putting parts of myself and personality out there she may be attracted to similarities that we have and feel like she will have a stronger connection to me and therefore reach out to me to work on her project (and be best friends forever because she's a total babe).

INSTAGRAM IS NOT REAL LIFE

In this online world that we live in it is SO hard not to compare yourself to everyone that is not only in the same niche as you but also doing everything that you want/hope/wish to be doing (goddamn those skinny tanned super mum bitches dripping in designer handbags and sunglasses). The thing is that social media is not always a true representation of what is REALLY going on behind the scenes. A lot of the time outside the picture is a load of chaos and that real person probably has the same struggles that everyone else has. Yes as per my first point honesty is key and my images are honest in the sense that it is my work, and my captions are written with my personality and I don't hide my struggles (you wont have to scroll through far to find a whinge about me being overwhelmed) but when I am taking a picture of my desk - you don't need to see the pile of plates, mugs, stress binge eating wrappers and general sh*t storm that is my studio. Thats not pretty. A lot of people who have accounts for business plan and prep their content in advance so just because they have posted a million stunning photos this week doesn't mean that they aren’t sat in their PJs on the sofa with a toddler hanging off one arm trying to reply to emails and eat all the food in the world whilst whimpering at that exact moment (just like you are) so don’t feel bad about it. (NB: This does not mean that you have to or should plan your content, just than you can. I personally don’t because I can barely pull together a food plan for the week to help food shopping, let alone plan my Instagram content.)

REGULAR POSTING

I try to post once a day but I am not super regimented about it and if two exciting things happen in one day then I will post them both - however I find that generally my engagement is lower if I have multiple posts close together in one day. I also really believe that if you aren't feeling it then don't force yourself to post something that you don't love. Your Instagram - just like your business is an extension of you and if you don't love something then don't post just because you haven't got anything else to post that day. Just chill…and next time you have something you love then post then. Timing wise I tend to post late afternoon, early evening as most days (when I am mothering too) the afternoon is when I work so then I will post my picture as I am toddler wrestling at dinner time - multi tasking at its finest. There are analytics about when to post but honestly if I had a specific time I would just forget it or be late so I figure its better for my sanity not to bother.

COMMUNITY AND NETWORKING

If you have read any of my blogposts or Instagram posts then you will know how I feel about community. PRETTY DAMN STRONGLY. As always I strongly suggest finding your competitors and making really really good friends with them, because they are the people that will carry you through and have your back. Instagram is also the place where I network. Because I love the platform I can quite easily spend time on it falling down a hole clicking from profile to profile finding new suppliers that I want to make beautiful stationery babies with and I have reached out and met lots of people this way. So even if it feels a bit unusual for you to send strangers a messages on the internet (I mean why would you find that unusual?!) - just do it, it will pay off I promise and then you'll build a tribe of online pocket friends.

ENGAGEMENT

Engagement on Instagram is SO important. It is a SOCIAL media after all, it was meant for socialising and with all the algorithms in place you really get rewarded for it. I used to be a liker - everything that I saw that I liked, I liked, but never commented. Now I make sure that I comment on stuff that really interests me, it boosts the algorithm for those who's images I comment on but also I think it means that those people are more likely to follow and like your posts (if they genuinely like them of course) plus its nice to have someone tell you thats great, I love it or good job. Why would you not want to do that for someone else? I also make sure that I always reply to comments on my images, it again helps your algorithm and its polite. With the new heart and reply button there really is no excuse not too.

So folks that is it for part one of this mega post (seriously university me would be so jealous of the length of this post that I wrote with ease). I am really not an expert on the subject but I am happy and pleased at where my profile is and wanted to share my insight incase it can help anyone else. I will post part two next week which will look at hashtags, having a cohesive page, seeing your profile as an extension of your website, Instagram challenges annnnnd stories! 

Ciao for now!

L x

Disclaimer: I nearly called this post ‘Instagram and how I found my Instajam’…I just thought that you should know that.