Craft Business Tips

Craft Business Tips: Don't Measure Your Success on Money Alone

It was three years before we made any real money with Inkleaf.  By real money I mean more than just covering the cost of running the business.  Does that mean that those first three years were worthless?  Hardly!  Were they frustrating?  Absolutely.  Did they make us wonder whether this was ever going to work?  Yes, but we learned so much by our many failures.  Things that had a value far beyond mere money.  We learned of course the various aspects of how to run a business.  We learned how not to run a business.  We learned photography, design, and marketing.  We learned how to engage with customers.  And of course we learned how to make great leather products.

Most importantly though were the personal traits which we developed.  Perseverance chief among them.  Patience also.  Most people don't fail because they never had it in them to do something substantial and fulfilling.  They fail because they give up too soon.  They fail because they look for the value of the thing they're doing in all the wrong places, especially when it comes to money.

Money is a necessity of modern life and one of the significant reasons why you may choose to begin a business.  However, it won't sustain you as a person and unless you're one of the exceptional success stories spoken of in last week's post, chances are there will be times especially early on when you struggle financially.  It's these times above all others that it's important not to measure your success solely, or even primarily in financial terms.

Look at what you've learned and who you've become as a result of your effort. Knowledge and wisdom you can carry with you.  It can be applied in a variety of contexts even when the money isn't there.   Even if your current business doesn't pan out, what you learn and the beneficial traits you develop may give you a better start with whatever you may attempt next.

Lastly, and most importantly, measure your success based on gratitude.  Look beyond your business.  Look at your life as a whole.  What are you grateful for?  Who are the people that will still be by your side regardless of the financial success of your business?  What other blessings are you fortunate to have?  Don't compare your life with other people.  Find your own gratitude regardless of circumstance and live from that. Your business is important to you, but never lose sight of the fact that all of these things running through your mind right now are of far greater worth.

*Inkleaf is the third business between Steff and me.  Steff ran a small online Etsy store selling handmade jewelry before we started Inkleaf, and we also started a short lived video production company together called Kalns Studios.

For more Craft Business Tips, check out the posts linked below!

Craft Business Tips: Never Stop Learning

We've been doing this leathercraft thing for nearly 7 years now.  It's really kind of weird to think about how a casual mid summer conversation about leather book covers turned into all of this.  We didn't know an awl from an edger back then.  We had never heard of the term "veg tan."  It was easy to discover something new because we didn't know any of it.  Fast forward to right now.  We're still learning.  We're still developing.  Not a week goes by that we don't learn something new and wonder at the possibilities for how we could do things better. 

When it comes to craftwork of any kind, there really is no "good enough."  There may be at various points a sense of "as good as my current skills will allow", but saying something is good enough is akin to saying that no further growth is possible.  This may be a product of apathy, frustration, a lack of humility, or any number of factors.

Growing in any business requires the humility of acknowledging what you don't know and also of asking whether there's a better method, tool, process or material than the ones you're using.  Failure to ask these questions will likely only resort in a plateau, which can be difficult to overcome.  Business is already challenging enough.  It's even more challenging if you're stubborn.  Don't make life hard on yourself.

As for the craft side of your craft business, for any given craft, there are certain fundamentals which are the building blocks of anything you might create. Don't think that because these are "basics" that they can be quickly learned and then put away in favor of more advanced techniques.  It doesn't work that way.  Imagine building a house with a really terrible foundation.  It doesn't matter how nice the house is on top of it, the faulty foundation will bring ruin to the house in due course.

It's important not only to know what the fundamentals of your craft are, but to continually hone your skills with them.  A higher level of aptitude with the fundamentals will inevitably lead to higher quality end products.  Each skill builds upon the others.  

Also don't be too proud to seek assistance from those with more knowledge.  It's so easy to find just about anything you could want to know these days.  A quick search on YouTube and you'll be up to your neck in tutorials.  Especially if you're self taught, as we were with Inkleaf, it's important to circle back even on things you think you know.  You may discover another perspective which deepens your understanding, or something helpful, even essential, that you missed.  

Never stop learning!


For more Craft Business Tips, check out the posts linked below!

Craft Business Tips: Don't Get Distracted by the Success of Others

In the first several years of starting Inkleaf, I was dealing with a painful illness which sapped my energy physically and did a number on our energy emotionally.  Steff and I watched as a good number of new companies far exceeded what we were able to accomplish with the scope of their product range and their overall presentation in terms of videos, site design, social media engagement, photography, etc. 

It takes a lot of energy to do these things and we didn't have it.  It was depressing.  We were struggling financially and we couldn't keep up with what other companies were doing.  It felt just awful.  But I can say that every time we got distracted by other people's success, it only made our situation feel worse, not better.  

It can be tempting to look at the success stories of others and see them as templates to follow.  There are certainly commonalities among successful businesses which are helpful to look out for and be aware of, but it's also good to recognize that many success stories are exceptions rather than any kind of normative measure that we should be comparing ourselves or our business against.

When we start to compare ourselves against already successful businesses, it shouldn't be surprising that we may come to see our own business as lacking.  This can cause us to pursue a course which either too closely emulates the successful businesses, or it can result in us pursuing unnecessary and unhelpful differentiation.

It's worth remembering that the stories you often hear about pertain to the outliers.  You're more likely to read about the 21 year old who started a t-shirt company that blew up overnight than you are to hear about the many slow grind businesses who carved out their niche over a period of years or even decades.  For many people a meteoric rise is not only more compelling, but more aspirational as well.  

It's also worth recognizing that some people are going to have more gifts (natural or otherwise) that lend themselves to more rapid success.  Maybe they have more energy, more time, better health, more charisma or more money.  Maybe they were lucky enough or sharp enough to spot a need to be filled and they jumped on it when no one else did.  Or maybe they had a great mentor or read the right book at the right time.  None of these are requirements to build a successful and most importantly, satisfying business.  Even if you had every one of the qualities and benefits listed above, that's still no guarantee of success.  

If you're struggling or just starting out, don't be discouraged or disheartened.  Certainly don't get distracted by the success stories of others.  Just keep moving forward one small step at a time.  Develop a vision for what you want your business to be, keep learning, and keep improving.  I'm convinced that common intellect, paired with humility and a desire to learn can overcome any number of difficulties. 

For more Craft Business Tips, check out the post linked below!

Craft Business Tips: On Being Patient

This post begins what I expect will be a new ongoing series in which we'll be offering up bite-sized ideas and reflections on what we've learned over the years in running a small craft business.  My hope is that more people will be inspired to develop a craft for themselves and ultimately run their own business.  So let's get to it!

Building a business is not a process of days and weeks, but of months and years.  By learning to exercise patience early on, you'll be less likely to be upset by the ups and downs which you will inevitably encounter.  It can be easy to think that by taking singular and significant actions (whatever those happen to be) that we'll instantly feel the effect on our business.  Sometimes this is the case. 

Much more often though, the outcomes of our businesses are determined as the sum of a thousand decisions.  This may be reflected in what products we make, how we make them, how they're priced, how we interact with our customers, how easy to navigate and use our websites are, or any number of other factors.  By practicing patience and not expecting fast results, we position ourselves to not be ruled by the outcomes of these singular decisions.  

Conversely, when we get fixated on those singular decisions and outcomes, we can be deceived into thinking things are going poorly, or even that they're going better than they really are.  We might become averse to risk or on the other hand risk too much, and all for the sake of a narrative we're telling ourselves about a decision we made and the outcome we perceived.  In this case, patience is sobriety.  It contextualizes our decisions in such a way that provides us with useful perspective.  It also allows us to make decisions based on a desired trajectory for our business as a whole, and not in a reactionary sort of way (something I've been guilty of...just ask Steff).

To give a real example, our website has been a slow evolution over the years.  I wish I had a screenshot, but our first website was a skeumorphic mess built on top of a Wordpress template.  Each product listing was manually created with links to PayPal and we didn't even have a shopping cart feature to buy multiple items at once.  

Over time however, we changed things.  We switched to better platforms (presently on Squarespace), we learned to shoot better product photos, we made aesthetic and usability adjustments to the site and so on.  The net effect is a fairly respectable site I'd say.  Is it the best thing out there?  No, not at all.  I've seen nicer looking sites from similar shops.  Is it exactly what we want it to be? Not yet.  We're still working and learning and figuring out exactly what we want Inkleaf and our website to be.  One thing that I am confident about though is that 1,000 decisions from now, things will have improved for the better, and that's why patience is worth the wait.