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):
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…)
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.
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.
Where do you run your business from?
No, my desk never actually looks this pretty…
I used to have an office in my spare room (I rather grandly called it a studio, but really it was a big desk with a jewellery workbench on one end, big screens for editing, and wall to wall shelving for all the stuff that comes with owning and running businesses).
It was lovely to have a separate space, but it was easily the part of the house I spent most time in – even eating my dinner in front of my computer sometimes, while I tried to get client work finished or new ideas into the world.
When I bought my house from my landlord last year, I dreamed of having a real spare room – somewhere I could use to relax, but also a proper space for my friends and family to stay over when they visited. And when I refurbed the house, that’s exactly what I created.
Now my big screen and graphics tablet lives on my bureau in the living room, my postage materials, boxes and USB sticks under the stairs, and my filing in piles everywhere.
Instead of dreaming of a spare room, now I’m dreaming of decluttering, and taking my business out of my living space altogether.
I’m talking to my builder about a garage conversion, which I hope to get started in October time. In the meantime, there is some serious tidying and systemising to be done to make that corner of my living room more manageable, and also to stop it being the focal point of the room.
Marie Kondo, the Japanese queen of tidy, teaches only keeping items that “spark joy”, and of having a place for everything.
These are two principles I wholeheartedly agree with but for some reason have the greatest difficulty sticking to when it comes to my businesses – perhaps because you can’t throw away the paperwork for that client that caused you so many sleepless nights two years ago, or your tax return which shows a loss in a year you were expecting a profit… in every business there are things which do not spark joy, but which are part of your business’s story and journey nonetheless.
So I am off, on my next clear weekend afternoon (they’re alarmingly rare), to tackle my space with joy and practicality side by side in my approach.
Our businesses should be things of happiness, which bring us fulfilment and purpose – but there also needs to be space for the other stuff, the dull but necessary paperwork, and the terrifying but also essential parts of them.
All of it is part of the soul of your business – and all of it is important.
I want to honour the soul of my business and give it room to grow and flourish, while also signifying a clear divide between work space and life space. Though I believe that life and work and business can and do intertwine naturally and beautifully, it’s good to have a space to switch it on and off.
I’ll let you know how I get on!
Recently, my body and brain and heart have all told me in no uncertain terms that enough is enough.
(This fluffy cat of mine also regularly gets in my way enough to give me a hint that I should be cuddling her, not working…)
They are tired and they need to stop. I wrote about this in more detail over on my personal blog, but suffice to say that seven years of doing something every single day without fail means a huge amount of progress, but also that a temporary break is quite necessary.
But surprisingly hard – habits don’t break easily, and my business habits are well-ingrained. As I said in my last blog newsletter…
Stopping for a while doesn’t mean stopping forever.
*makes mental note to remind self of this*
We are conditioned to be busy, and to glorify busy and tired as proof that we are working hard and doing important things.
Yet sometimes, we spend so much time being tired and busy that we lose sight of what it is we truly want. And stopping temporarily can give us a rare chance to step back and reevaluate our lives, and decide what direction we actually want to move in.
I haven’t quite mastered waving a wand to make things happen but I live in hope…!
My creative well hasn’t quite run dry yet, but I’m very conscious that I’ve been abusing it – drawing and drawing and relying on it to provide what I need without filling it at all. My body and brain, similarly – I have been feeding it junk and denying it sunlight and exercise, and still expecting it to function consistently and at a high level.
And what I need – what we all need in our businesses and our lives, in order to stay sane and fulfilled and happy, and for our businesses not to turn into gilded cages – is time to do the things that light me up personally.
The things that, yes, are related to what I do in my businesses, but the things that I so rarely get to do because there is so much else that my attention & time should be on.
Like going to the beach, sitting in the garden and reading a whole book cover to cover, spending the afternoon at the pub with friends playing board games, concocting new recipes and trying them out, writing for no reason except that I want to, making jewellery for joy and to wear not to sell, and shooting for my own personal portfolio.
I have so much in my imagination that I want to make reality, with costumes and locations and shooting and editing, to try and give life to the visions I have. And those shoots in turn will improve and expand my skill set and the abilities I can bring to client shoots – whether it’s different lighting, new ways of editing or just particularly effective posing. (There’s no better way to learn to pose clients than by posing yourself for self-portraits – but that’s a whole other post of its own).
And there are several weddings this summer which I want to enjoy with my whole heart, as dear friends move into a new phase of their lives.
Our creative selves are nourished by good food, plentiful rest, joyful movement and most of all by doing things that are not directly related to our businesses.
And part of the joy of still having a day job is that you can take a break without feeling guilty, and without worrying about where the next mortgage payment is coming from.
So while I am of course completing my existing bookings with joy, and taking new ones from September onwards, July and August are going to be mainly about refilling that creative well of mine.
What do you do to keep your creativity flowing and your sanity intact?
There have been a few posts like this surfacing recently, and at first I didn’t think much of them. Photos are photos, whether they’re digital or printed, right?
And you always get the important ones printed, don’t you? The weddings, the graduation photos, the anniversary parties?
A few weeks ago, while staying with an old schoolfriend and happily flicking through our yearbooks, accompanied by wine, I realised that perhaps I’d been too quick to dismiss printing photographs. Most of the pictures in there are ones we’d never have kept, and some of them of people we had forgotten all about in the intervening 14 years.
And then, as if the universe was trying to convince me further, I snuck over to see my Gran on a day when I knew no one else would be around (I love my enormous extended family, but sometimes it’s nice to have Gran all to myself).
We got onto the subject of her life in Kenya with my Grandpa, and my mum’s childhood. And as she got down the little tin box of precious photos that she keeps near her, I was struck forcibly by just how precious the snapshots of life are – and just how much more accessible they are when they’re printed.
Here are a few of the ones she showed me that day. Their house in Kenya, and the car my mum and her brothers shared (and her brothers in the photo):
Gran and Grandpa, rescued from old passports. This is how I remember Grandpa – I think this must have been from shortly before he died.
This is my beautiful Mum, with her littlest brother.
I love that different people have written on the back over the years, too. The date is wonderful, and means we know that Gran was 40 in the photo. I don’t know who wrote “Aunty Prim” or “this is Mum”, but I added the “Kenya” in brackets – my own contribution to a tiny piece of family history, for someone looking at it in the future.
Here’s the other side of that photo:
And, after Gran telling me it must have faded as that chair and the curtains were apparently super-bright as only 60s furnishings could be, I have tried to edit it for a more accurate colour:
Seeing a glimpse of my Gran’s life (and my Mum’s, come to that) before I existed, in such a tangible form, has really made me think about my own snapshots. I assume they’ll be safe, because they’re saved on a computer, in the cloud, on Instagram, whatever.
But suddenly, they don’t seem so safe after all… and I think perhaps those snapshots are worth their weight in gold and deserve to be printed, just as the “proper” photos of special occasions do.
In my youth, I was often the subject of whispers and giggling. In one memorable-for-all-the-wrong-reasons occasion when I was fourteen, I was also the subject of a secret bet – how long would the boy I was dating put up with me before he dumped me? (Answer, delightfully, seven years – take that, haters – and it was a heartbreaking but also fairly amicable split).
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of people laughing as you walk past, speculating on your dateability or worth based on your looks, making comments about the way you look as though your body is public property, it leaves an intangible, but indelible mark on you.
I still look up nervously when I hear a group of people burst into laughter – there’s a tiny part of me that still believes they’re laughing at, or about me.
Though this reaction drives me up the wall, I have also developed a really good way of dealing with it. I once described myself as the person people invite to a party so that they have an anecdote to tell afterwards.
I have, over the past few years, become the girl that people talk about.
They talk about the things I do, the wild and intense yet passing passions I have for an infinite variety of things, the pace of my life and the sheer number of delightful things I fit into it.
They talk about my persistence, my determination, my absolute focus on the things that matter to me, and my ability to ignore or deprioritise what I don’t consider to be important.
They talk about my love for who I am, who I’ve become, and my relationship with myself.
They talk about my fire, my zing, my unstoppable energy and my infectious enthusiasm.
They talk about the way I’m truly at home in my body and myself and my skin, and I love it for, not in spite of, all its supposed flaws I’m told I should hate and change. About the way I wear whatever the hell I want, regardless of fashion or body type or guidelines. Just what makes me feel good wearing it.
They talk about my imagination, my ability to make my dreams real, and the path I’m on which gives them permission to start on their own.
I am still, very much, the girl people talk and whisper about. But this time, it’s on my terms – and the more they talk, the more people will find the courage to follow their own dreams.
What do you want people to say about you?
What do you want to become part of your identity, so others can’t help but make the connection between that and you?
What do you long to do, or be, or experience, to see if your heart sings when you do?
This is your permission slip – go and do it. Create it. Try it. Experience it. It might be wonderful or terrible, but you’ll never know unless you try.
And you’ll give people something to talk about…