Building a business: the darker side of mermaiding…

Short but not so sweet today… not one, but two known merverts either friended me, messaged me, asked to join my group for pro merfolk, or a combination of the above in the last 48 hours.

WTF is a mervert, I hear you ask?! Sadly, as in every industry and pastime, there are always a few who spoil it for everyone else – in this case, people who harass mermaids both pro and amateur. Usually starting online, often turning into trying to lure performers into a one-to-one appearance, some of them have police records and some of them are obviously dodgy. Others seem innocent and then turn bad.

Mermaid tails on the sand | Mermaiding UK | ©Photography by Grace Hill www.photographybygrace.co.uk

Fortunately, the forum where mermaids from around the world congregate has a thread detailing proven offenders, so when names I didn’t recognise popped up, I did a check.

And then instantly blocked them from my personal profile, page or both. See how to block someone from your page and how to block someone from your profile (including sending you messages and friend requests) or how to block someone from messaging you on Facebook.

What I learned

Though this is a problem that is probably quite niche to performers, I thought it was worth including a list of warning signs.

Red flags, specifically for Facebook groups, include:

  • being a member of a ludicrous number of groups
  • having no profile picture and/or no friends on Facebook
  • not having anyone in common with you
  • having only mermaids in common with you (replace “mermaids” with whatever your industry specialism is)
  • randomly adding and messaging you when they don’t know you. I am always particularly suspicious when it is a random guy messaging me out of nowhere – it happens in my non-mermaid life, too, but my instincts for genuine questions over weirdos adding me to perv over my tail are usually pretty good.
  • repeatedly messaging the same thing, or emailing your (mermaid) business asking if they can visit or swim with you when you have already declined for whatever reason.

My takeaway lesson is that it is totally ok to trust your instincts – and blocking someone who is making your hackles rise is a much better option than leaving them to it on the off chance they become a paying customer. They are definitely not your ideal clients!

Intrigued? Read my series on building a business, based on my experiences with Mermaiding UK as I rebrand and relaunch it. 

Mindset shift – she’s not my ideal client

Just wanted to record something that happened yesterday, which I felt was a really good marker of how far I’ve come in business mindset since I started out with Ducking Fabulous in 2009.

Popping up to a colleague’s office after a meeting, we got talking to a new starter about my mermaid business, and the shop, and also the hen parties I run. She was intrigued by the niche, and also asked the ever popular question, “what does a professional mermaid actually do?” which always makes me smile!

Another colleague, someone I’ve not met before, then joined the conversation and said her daughter loved the H2O series (me too!), and asked me how much a children’s size mermaid tail was.

I said around £130 – actually they retail at £135 on Mermaiding UK’s shop including UK P&P.

Her face was a picture. She could not believe that people would pay “that much” for a kid’s costume, and it was clear by her reaction and tone that she thought I was quite mad for charging that.

Mindset shift - she's not my ideal client | four mermaids on a beach | carlawatkins.com

Now, while I realise not everyone has the money to spare, and not everyone prioritises mermaid tails as a spending category, there was a time when that reaction would have absolutely crushed me.  I would have taken it as a sign that I was clearly an idiot, doing something stupid, charging too much and obviously doomed to fail. (What do you mean, my inner dialogue is a tad overdramatic?!)

Yesterday, I simply smiled, explained they were good quality, fully swimmable tails with safety features, and suggested she look elsewhere for cheaper ones if mine were too expensive.

She is not my ideal client. 

It really is as simple as that. She either can’t afford, or doesn’t want to spend the money, on the tails I choose to stock – and that is totally ok.

But it was a revelation to me to be able to smile and walk away without feeling devastated.

You can’t please all the people, all the time – and I already know there are people out there who are delighted by the opportunity to buy from a UK based stockist and not have to faff with customs, secure in the knowledge they’re getting a genuine tail from a real mermaid 🙂

Thought the story was worth sharing as I’m sure some of you have similar inner woes on occasion!

Building a business – the early days

You know by now that I’m a multipod – someone who thrives on doing lots of different things, having lots of varying interests, and pursuing more than one thing at once.

My latest venture is a mermaid business, which combines some of my greatest passions with one of my favourite pastimes, and also includes a good chunk of the things I am good at.

My mermaid business first launched in early 2016, but as I’m now in the process of rebranding and relaunching, I thought it would be good to share the story here on my business blog, to track my journey and see how it evolves over time.

Mermaiding UK – the backstory

Mermaiding UK started out in late 2015, formally launching in early 2016, as Run Away Days.

Initially planned as a series of day-long retreats around the theme of running away to the circus, the idea to make it more mermaid-centric came around December 2015, when my own mermaiding enthusiasm was growing & I’d finally met some other mermaids this side of the Atlantic.

By June 2016, I’d wrangled insurance out of a broker, chosen & secured venues, imported tails from Fin Fun (my first attempt at importing, the ups and downs of which I will cover in another post), honed my teaching technique and run two parties, one in a spa and one in a private pool.

Where I am now

Fast forward to early 2017. I’m recovering from the death of my beloved Dad, and wondering how to rehabilitate myself back to real life and a new normal – a normal I will have to build, because I don’t know what my life looks like without him in it.

Mermaids and unicorns, and all things magical and sparkly, have become my signature thing, both at the day job and in my personal life.

Mermaid Kerenza Sapphire from Mermaiding UK in ombre tail | carlawatkins.com

Dad always thought the mermaid venture had legs (fins!). He ran his own business right up until he died, and he adored it – it was his hobby as well as his job – so I think he would approve of this attempt at a healing process.

Why this particular business?

I chose Mermaiding UK as the business to focus on, alongside my stationery joint venture Ink Drops, for several reasons.

Firstly, this year seems to be the year of the mermaid trend hitting the UK in a big way, and it would be silly to miss that – it’s the first time in my life I have ever been ahead of a trend with something I truly love.

It combines so many of the things I love about my businesses – mermaids, crafting, photography, writing, sparkles, colourful photoshoots and a wonderfully Instagrammable, shareable theme.

I get to develop my own skills in something I love, look at taking it further via learning to freedive properly, be my mermaid alter ego Kerenza Sapphire more often, photograph people and products to my heart’s content, make beautiful things, and most exciting of all, make people’s dreams come true. There are a lot of grownups out there who always dreamed of being a mermaid – and I can make it happen!

So what next?

Since Dad’s death, I’ve not really had any heart for anything, least of all the hustle of a new business. But I know that starting & running businesses is my lifeblood, and is very probably the thing that will help me recover and re-learn how to live, without Dad’s physical presence here.

Following my first few events last year, I knew I wanted to make changes to Run Away Days and relaunch, so this seemed like a good time to put that into action.

Watch this space for updates and follow along with the journey – and drop your email in the box below to join the Business Soloists Club and make sure you don’t miss out on any news.


What to do when you’re frustrated with your day job

Most of us will have had a day job at one point or another – lots of us still do.

They mostly don’t light us up, but they tick along nicely, pay the bills, give us some social contact, enable us to experiment and get going with the businesses we dream of, and crucially don’t take up too much energy (emotional or otherwise).

But what happens when they get out of balance? When you find yourself spending more time or energy or worry than you want to on your day job? When it is encroaching on the rest of your time and energy, much more than you planned for?

The advice around this is usually to remember it’s a choice – a choice you made, and a choice you always have. Which is true, but is also very irritating when your options to make other choices immediately are limited by finances, caring commitments or contracts.

And there are some wonderful upsides beyond just money – for me, the biggest benefit has always been the amazing likeminded friends I’ve found along the way:

Pomophily | likeminded friends from work | carlawatkins.com

Working on an art competition entry with friends from the day job.

However.

While you can’t always choose to change it immediately (and that might not be the answer anyway), you can use it as a catalyst for change.

You might find you start to realise you’ve been tired, grumpy, lethargic or just miserable for longer than is normal for your job, the project you’re working on or the stresses & strains happening outside work (case in point – my building work, which was fine for a while but after sixteen months of it, I am currently extremely intolerant of any disruption to my routine!).

Once you notice things are out of whack (and even more so if you find other people have been commenting on it – if you hear “you don’t seem quite yourself” or comments in that vein, they are an alarm bell), then you do have options to get things behaving again.

Negotiate your working pattern

Some companies have built in flexible working policies and some depend on your manager. But it’s worth having a little look or an early chat to see if you could change your work pattern. I shifted my full time hours over five days to the same hours, but condensed over 4.5 days to help care for my Gran during the daytime one day a week, but still have the income I needed.

Some places will offer summer hours, some a nine day fortnight (rather than a ten day week), and some might let you work staggered hours, or core hours so your start and finish times are flexible. Whether it’s around your business or your life & commitments, or a bit of both, take a look at what’s available, talk to trusted colleagues, and see if you can get some flexibility into your hours.

Consider part time

Part time isn’t possible for everyone – particularly on a single income this can be a tough one. But it is always worth looking at, and checking your outgoings and doing some budgeting, as even dropping from five days to four, or leaving earlier each day, can make a huge difference to your quality of life (and to your work productivity, if only the people in charge would read the research that has been done around this).

Again, some places will have a fixed flexible working policy while others will need individual negotiation, but you might be pleasantly surprised, especially in smaller companies in the private sector, how receptive your boss might be to this suggestion. After all, if you’re working less hours they will be saving money…!

For me, I can’t really afford to do it yet, but if my parents’ health continues to decline, I’ll be looking at dropping some hours and going to part time if possible.

Not my circus, not my monkeys

If your day job is, to you, just a J-O-B and you’re not at all emotionally invested in it, and especially if you don’t enjoy it much, try the “it isn’t my problem” approach. Even if you’re in customer service, you can do a good job without taking it all on board and analysing it, and freeing yourself of the responsibility of worrying about things that are happening at work (while obviously still continuing to work well and conscientiously) can be very liberating.

You can also care about your job without letting it drain you – it’s a tricky balance, but definitely necessary sometimes, especially in the kind of companies where the CEO says “jump” and everyone they employ asks how high after jumping…! But the point of a job, especially if you’re not trying to have a career and move ever upwards in a particular field, is definitely not to leave you fit for nothing but sofa-flopping five or six days of the week.

Repeat after me:

“Not my circus, not my monkeys. Not my corset, not my tassels. Not my pony, not my saddle…” (and I’d love to hear any more you come up with!)

Focus on your creative pursuits or your business, not on how to escape

This was advice from a couple of wise friends recently, and they hit the nail on the head. When you’re focused on how to get out of your current situation, that tends to contribute to the trapped feeling and leave you feeling paralysed with fear and convinced you’ll be stuck feeling miserable for ever and always.

If you can take a step back, notice and accept those trapped feelings, and then focus on your creative pursuits and what brings you joy, you might find yourself almost instantly calmer and happier.

When you notice the trapped feeling surfacing, or you find yourself panicking about the future and the what-ifs, take a deep breath, notice and acknowledge the thoughts and feelings, and then actively choose to do something else. Draft a blog post, go for a walk, take twenty photographs in five minutes, call a friend, watch a video of that new skill you want to learn, read a book, make a list of the books you want to read… there is always something more productive to do than worry about being stuck.

(I promise this works, I was doing it myself until previously mentioned wise friends intercepted a money and life and job meltdown and gently suggested trying this for a week. It worked a treat.)

Schedule in time for you

There’s no point pretending most of us don’t run around like headless chickens 90% of the time. Between the day jobs which are often vaunted as the Most Important Thing (here’s a secret – they’re really not!) and all the other things that we are trying to achieve in our lives, we’re constantly busy and constantly stressed and this can make it very hard to keep everything balanced and in check and where it should be.

When it gets unbalanced, I find myself stressing about work when actually often that’s not the problem at all, it’s the fact that I have no down time. (One of the things I would very much love to do this coming year is slow the fuck down! Pointers happily accepted – being busy has been my default for my entire life.)

But I know too many people, and women are particular offenders, who swear they will take time for themselves (whether that is to paint or to make Lego structures or to work on their business or read a book or chill out with the dog, or whatever it is that makes them happy), and then, you know, life happens, and other people need them, and their time goes out of the window.

If you booked a dentist’s appointment, you wouldn’t cancel it except for an actual emergency or if you were sick. If you’d promised a friend or family member that you’d be there for them for a certain task or time, you wouldn’t flake unless there was an actual emergency or if you were sick.

So why in the name of all that’s cat shaped on the internet do we treat ourselves so much worse than our friends and our families and OUR DENTISTS?! At least the dentist gets paid if you don’t turn up!

Schedule in soul time for yourself. Even if it is only an hour a week. Don’t make plans for that time, let yourself have it held to do whatever it is *you* want to do, when the time arrives. And when it does, do what you want without guilt. If you want to tweak your website, do – but don’t do it because you “should”. If you want to sleep, damn well sleep – but not if there’s something else that is calling to your soul to be done.

Your business can totally be your soul work and part of this soul time – but you need, deserve and are entitled to have time by yourself to do whatever it is you need to to feel less anxious and scratchy and fed up.

Take your businesses and art and hobbies and passion projects seriously

Ok, it sounds like a totally obvious thing to say. But do we really and truly, hand on heart, always take our non-work, non-family related things seriously?

I like to think I do, but when a friend brought this up recently, I realised that, much like the down time I’ve just preached we are all entitled to, when life laundry and muggle chores start piling up, my joyful hobbies are the first things to be squashed off the list, and my business time (especially the time working ON them rather than IN them – client work tends to always get done) also gets crushed to oblivion.

And this is not okay.

Temporarily, yes – a relative is ill, your pet needs the vet, your in laws are visiting so the house needs the clean it didn’t get last week or the week before that – I get it. It’s ok.

But long term, you cannot keep taking the things that light you up, and the things that you are so carefully and patiently building, off the list.

This last eighteen months, due to rebuilding my house & garden, and converting my fairly crap garage into a fairly high end office/studio, combined with some severe family health issues and my own anxiety rearing its ugly head, I have done very little for most of my businesses and I haven’t done anything crafty or made anything for its own sake for months and months and months. Those things haven’t been a priority, not because I don’t love them, but because there was simply too much else going on for me to make time for them, and I thought it wouldn’t matter.

How very wrong I was. The longer I went without creating, but with increasing pressure from these other things on my mind and time, the worse my mental health got, the higher my anxiety levels soared, and I became less and less rational.

Within weeks of resuming creative projects – spending more time with my camera, having a proper place to edit, getting my jewellery tools out, making glitter jars at winter solstice – though many of the external pressures haven’t gone away, and some have increased considerably, I am managing everything much better.

Exercising your creativity is not optional.

As Elizabeth Gilbert says, being creative is like having a border collie for a pet. If you don’t give it something to do, it will find something to do – and what it chooses is rarely positive!

So next time you’re feeling so frustrated with your day job you want to just sit in a corner and cry (and it happens to all of us – I’ve done it at every single one of the seventeen day jobs I’ve so far held, including my current one), bookmark this post, take a deep breath, read through and pick a coping strategy. Also, come and join the Business Soloists Club (it’s free and it’s magically sanity-saving), where you’ll always have a safe space to share – whether it’s a shared panic or a shared joy, it’s always better with people who get it!

This too shall pass – and you will be fine, my lovely, I promise. One day you’ll look back and marvel at how stressed you were about something that ultimately matters so little next to the important things in life!

With love and unicorns,
Carla

What a stock take really looks like…

We all run, or dream of running, our businesses from home.

No more commuting, office hours, small talk with people we have nothing in common with.

Some dream of running their business from anywhere – though sandy beaches play havoc with your laptop’s keyboard, and it’s really hard to see the screen in bright sunlight.

For services, that’s great – you can Skype your clients, send emails, create online courses, etc. For product businesses, the reality is a bit different (if arguably easier to demonstrate a market and show customers what it is you sell).

Though we love our businesses, I don’t think many people give thought to the reality of a product based business… and as I’ve spent a good chunk of this weekend doing the Ink Drops annual stock take, I thought I’d share the photos – for a bit of reality in the Pinterest-perfect world most of us inhabit online (and feel bad about when our real lives & businesses don’t match up).

If you will excuse the phone snaps, this is the current state of my living room (I am still mid-studio-build, so everything  lives in here – but even by my chaotic standards, this is a bit on the insane side):

product business stock take - reality! | Carla Watkins Business Catalyst | carlawatkins.com

product business stock take - reality! | Carla Watkins Business Catalyst | carlawatkins.com

product business stock take - reality! | Carla Watkins Business Catalyst | carlawatkins.com

It’s total chaos.

But it’s temporary, and it’s actually really good to see what you have on a regular basis, especially if your product is something small like stationery or jewellery. We have to stock take at year end because we’re a limited company at Ink Drops, but I’ve adopted the habit in the rest of my businesses too – even for stuff you don’t sell, like branded stationery, printer ink and that kind of thing.

This has been made much easier this year by the addition of a barcode scanner. Geeky but wonderful – we’re still using the spreadsheet, but no more searching for obscure product names & codes, or trying to remember what the supplier meant by “cute book 04”, when you have ordered at least five different notebooks and notepads from them.

It helps to stay organised, especially when you’re a modern biz owner with multiple streams of business!

Do you have chaotic stock take pictures you want to share? (Or even better, organised ones? I’d love to see what a streamlined home-based stock take looks like…)

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing

So many conversations I’ve had recently about Being In Business.

“I don’t feel like a proper businesswoman.”

“I don’t feel like the word entrepreneur describes me.”

“My day job is ok.”

“I don’t want to give up my job entirely.”

“I want to do lots of things.”

“I like the steady income.”

“Am I broken?”

Oh, loves. Sometimes it seems like there are two sides at war out there, and we are somewhere in the middle – valiant, determined, but also frightened, doubting of ourselves and so confused we don’t know which way is up.

It doesn't have to be all or nothing | Carla Watkins Business Catalyst | carlawatkins.com

The Beige Army

What Marianne Cantwell calls the Beige Army is on one side. It’s the corporate world, the suits and long hours and office culture; the cubicles and fluorescent lights and office gatherings; the jobs and careers which consume you.

It’s the people in those jobs and suits and offices, the ones who cast instant doubt on you whenever you voice your opinions or plans for doing something different.

It’s everyone who has ever said “art doesn’t make money” or “do you seriously believe that will work?” or “it’s time for you to settle down now – reality is that no one likes work”.

The Online Business ‘Gurus’

On the other hand are the people who have, loudly and visibly, “made it” in the online space.

They are the six figure mentors, the people selling courses and workshops to help you get there, the ones who went from homeless to millionaire in a week and a half… or so their spin says.

They work four hours a week, or an hour a day. Sometimes they travel while working, and sometimes they have massive houses and beautiful, blog-worthy spaces to work from.

Their mantra is essentially stick it to The Man. You are supposed to want to quit your day job, jack it all in, only ever be answerable to yourself for ever more. You are supposed to hate the daily grind of the 9-5, and despise offices and their culture.

And you are definitely not supposed to find friends for life at your workplace!

It’s all a mix of spin and bullshit.

With just a smattering of truth – I like to believe none of them intend to lie to you.

But for starters, your definition of success is the only one that matters.

The life you are creating and living should be one that reflects your own values and nourishes the things that are important to you – not the markers which other people consider as success.

No one works for three hours a week and has a six figure business that flies at the same time, without help & support and a team of people.

Outsourcing your admin, social media, blog uploads, product photography – anything that you’re either not good at or find too time consuming in the limited time you have available makes a huge difference. But it’s not often talked about openly.

Steady income, particularly if you are single or have debt, is also not talked about enough. Yes, it can be frustrating as fuck to have to go somewhere and do a job for someone else when you are feeling inspired to create, or when you have been up till 3am writing. But knowing that payslip is on its way every month is a comfort, and sometimes essential.

Myself, I can’t create when I’m worrying about money. So in order for me to create my best work, and have the energy to share it with the world, I need to be able to forget about how I’m paying my bills and focus on creating.

And the office environment has its perks. I’ve met some of my best friends there, which was unexpected but a wonderful bonus. Even without close friends at work, there is a community and opportunity for idle chat which you might not realise you would miss until you work alone, day after day.

There is altogether too much focus for my liking on having to choose one or the other. From one tribe, the choice is corporate wage slave or six figure digital nomad. On the other, is a proper career or messing about with those little hobbies. If you’re a multipod, you’ll be familiar with also getting comments of the “can’t you just settle on one thing” variety.

(Though you don’t have to turn your hobby into a business unless you want to, either!)

Though I can see that both sides are speaking from fear, and hiding their fear of the Other with scornful words, I dislike intensely this need to belittle the choices that fall outside of our own.

If someone’s life choices make you uncomfortable because they make you question your own, that’s a conversation you need to have with yourself and possibly your significant other, rather than pouring open scorn on the other person’s chosen lifestyle.

The Spaces In Between

My clients, and my friends, tend to fall in between these two extremes.

I know people with tiny businesses which just about pay for themselves, and people who wanted to focus on a high paying corporate job for a short time, to boost income.

I know people with day jobs they actually like, and things they love on the side.

I know people with full time businesses who scrape by, and people with full time businesses who make more than they did in the City. People who run businesses in lieu of hobbies because self employment can be all-consuming – and they like it that way.

I know people who are happy to work in a job for the steady income, but dream of being able to afford to go part time (or of the job being flexible enough to allow part time).  People who love the idea of the freedom, but are also scared of losing themselves to the business.

I even know a few who work 50-hour weeks at corporate jobs and love every minute!

I run my own businesses around a full time day job at the moment, and would love to drop some hours so I have a better balance.

Every single one of these choices is valid, and a million other combinations too. 

It doesn’t mean you don’t have a proper business, or you’re not a proper businesswoman, or that you have no ambition because you’re not pursuing a proper career.

It means you have a proper grasp of what is right for you, and really, that’s all that matters.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, it’s one of my pet hates, that people can be made to feel sad, or small, or inadequate, for choosing what’s right for them, rather than what’s expected of them.

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