Wednesday, 16 August 2017

How to know when to let go

It’s no secret that I love planning and organising; lists and spreadsheets are my kryptonite. Combine that with parties, AND crafts, and I’m done.

Having lived in London for most of my twenties, I was lucky enough to have access to indie makers with original ideas and quirky products, pretty much whenever I wanted. The amount of markets and craft fairs was unreal, and I was in consumer heaven.



By the time I started my own creative business, I was living on the London/Surrey borders, and the opportunities to shop small were diminishing. And then when I admitted to myself that I really wasn’t a London girl any longer, I really felt like the only way to reach independent designer-makers was online. I’ve always really prided myself on choosing cool little gifts for people, that wouldn’t be recognised immediately as being from x high street store, and aside from Not on the High Street, there was nothing. Zero. Zilch.

So I thought, why not go back to my roots in Marketing & Events (Sheffield Ski Village, I miss youuuuuu!), and start up my own version of these awesome little markets, only OUTSIDE of the big smoke? There are some awesome business models out there (Crafty Fox being just one – but in London, yet again), but social media was clearly showing that cool creative people are everywhere, so why not provide the opportunity for them to exhibit a little closer to home? Lower fees, a captive and ready audience, and enough enthusiasm to fill several airport hangars, let alone a local function space. And so, six months or so ago, bolstered by the success of Fickle Craftroom, and encouraged by my growing relationship with other creatives and bloggers, I decided to start pursuing one of my ultimate dreams. Fickle Fairs was born!!

I decided to run some workshops in the lead up to a late Autumn/early Christmas fair, in order to drum up a bit of extra local awareness, and carefully curated a calendar of various current and classic crafts. Some of these were more successful than others (DIY neon signs was a sellout, felt ball garlands a washout), but I kept on, reaching out to other local creatives for collaborative workshops and projects, and plugged my workshops everywhere I could. I actually even priced them far too low, convincing myself that they weren’t for profit, just for the sake of building awareness, but I enjoyed them more than I thought I would (my mum was a teacher, and the combination of seeing the amount of admin she brought home, with my abject terror of training anyone when I worked in Finance, has always utterly put me off teaching).



I spent HOURS researching the best venue for a craft fair, and finding talented local people to get involved. We set the date.

It’s fair to say that I did feel massively encouraged by the response – for 17 people to apply for a BRAND NEW venture, willing to part with their own hard-earned cash and time, and so close to Christmas as well, is amazing. They weren’t just any old craftspeople either, they are all hugely talented and interesting. But I needed 30 people in order to be able to afford the venue, table hire, insurance and some advertising.

I could have accepted the 17 and gone with a smaller venue, but for want of a better phrase, it would have felt a bit meh. In order to draw people in to actually SHOP, rather than simply chancing upon a side room in a cafĂ© (or whatever we’d have ended up with), we needed a larger-scale event. If people were putting their faith in me to promote their businesses, offer drop-in workshops, and make sales, I owed them better than that. If I wasn’t able to afford a wide-spread marking campaign then no matter how many stallholders we had, it would have fallen flat. I would have been out of pocket, and people would have lost faith.

This time, although it was a difficult decision, I ultimately knew when to say no, even when it felt a bit humiliating, and I was turning my back on a long-held dream. But when I try again, I will have learned a little more. I still feel passionately about bringing the quirky outside of London, but maybe Fickle Fairs needs to grow a bit more, get a bit braver about reaching out, asking for advice from the bigger boys. Next time it will work.

 

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

#worklifebalance ... and the school holidays

So Easter is almost upon us....

Since Becca is still small, I do not get a lot of work done during the weekdays - she'll 'help' with odd bits, and I might manage a bit of packaging up orders while she's entertaining herself. She likes to have me close by during her downtime (ie when she used to nap, but now just chills out watching cbeebies), so I generally spend that cuddling her whilst doing my planning and social media. Emails, phone calls and speaking with suppliers happen as and when through the day (making me feel - and probably look - like I'm constantly on my phone, rather than paying attention to my daughter). By the time both kids are in bed and dinner with my husband is done, it's 9pm and I'm shattered! But that's then my making / website / blogging time for an hour or two. Or drinking #allthewine if it's been a particularly stressful day!!

But then the holidays start, and it all goes to pot! Don't get me wrong, it's so nice to be able to take my big boy along on our mini adventures, but having my deliciously boisterous boy at home as well as my two-year-old little miss does rather change things.

He has his own chest of drawers in the Craftroom :-)
So without further ado, here are my top tips for keeping your small business afloat over the school holidays:
  • The first, and most obvious one is to close for a week, if you can afford to. Turn your shop onto holiday mode, and put out a notice on social media, remembering to include your return date. Then make sure you reply to all emails and send out all orders immediately upon waving your little darlings goodbye at the gate on Monday. Alternatively, you could just pop a banner across the front of your site stating that whilst you are accepting orders, there will be a delay of x days until dispatch. Include a note on any confirmation emails or receipts too, just to cover yourself.
  • Take it in turns with other parents to host a playdate - then you can all get a break at some point! This can work out beautifully over the summer holidays, if you nominate one day a week in which to get the kids together, then every parent (I refuse to generalise and say 'mum') knows they'll have, say, 5 Thursdays out of 6 to themselves.
  • Share out the holiday with your other half if possible. If they can even take just one day off then it all helps, and it shouldn't necessarily all fall to you just because you're self-employed. Your income depends on you actually working, after all! 
  • On the days when you're staying home, or local, try and allocate roughly the same time each day, to some independent play, or down time. Obviously the length of time depends on their age, but I do believe it does everyone good to have to entertain themselves sometimes - plus it helps to punctuate and reset the long day a little. Even just half an hour after lunch each day will help you to get through your emails.
  • Another obvious one, but get making together! Give the kids a box of crafting goodies (or the contents of the recycling box!) and see what they come up with. Or if there's a step in your process that they'd be able to do, such as sticking address labels and decorating packages? Or counting stock! They will feel valued and get a big boost to their self-esteem, knowing that you trust them enough to let them 'work' with you.
  • I don't know about yours, but my kids always behave WAY more nicely at the beginning of the week and then decline towards the end, so plan your activities accordingly! For me this means that we try and plan the big exciting days out for Monday or Tuesday and I don't work at all, and resort to a pyjama-and-movie day on Friday (and I can work next to them)! 
Stock check and blurry photo courtesy of my 6 year-old
There we go - my 6 top tips. How you do manage to get work done during school holidays, whilst also making sure your littles are having fun and quality time? Xx

Post-teatime painting = wine

Monday, 27 March 2017

Crafty events and a bit of market research

Hello!

So in my last post, I touched on some plans I was making for running some crafty events here in Hertfordshire... It has long since been a dream of mine to shake up the traditional craft fair and get some of the fresher designer-makers showcased in cool events OUTSIDE of London. I don't know about you, but whenever I see a sign advertising a local craft fair, I get all excited inside, visualising handmade bits and pieces that I'd never seen the like of before. I imagine being totally inspired, and getting to kit out my house and wardrobe with quirky, completely original accessories, created using crazy new techniques I could only dream about...

And then I'd turn up to find the same old decoupage greetings cards, maybe a patchwork blanket or two, cross-stitch country garden scenes, knitted figurines........... I don't mean any offence to anyone reading this who may make these things, honestly I don't. But wouldn't it be brilliant to see something new? LOTS of new things! All under one roof!

There are loads of fantastic new-wave craft fairs going on in London, such as Crafty Fox, Renegade, SoLo, Bust Craftacular, and The London Artisan, as well as the regular markets such as Spitalfields, Camden and Portobello Road. But seriously. There are modern makers and daring designers ALL OVER this country, and they shouldn't have to travel all the way to the capital in order to get their goodies noticed.

Photo courtesy of www.instagram.com/northern.craft/

Organisations like Northern Craft (in Leeds), Handmade Nottingham, and MADE Brighton, are doing a brilliant job of showcasing the cool cats in other parts of the country, and I think that it's high time my dream became a reality here in St Albans! We have excellent transport links, being within spitting distance to the M1 and M25, and a superb rail network to boot. Hertfordshire and the surrounding counties are awash with indie creatives, and I just feel like the general population is looking for ways of supporting smaller businesses these days. Not On The High Street is now probably the first place people will look online for a slightly different gift, and Etsy is becoming more widely known in the UK now as well. But for an actual shopping experience, I would like there to be something more...

Which leads me onto the second part of my plans! Alongside the opportunity to browse and shop the coolest and most innovative handmade products outside of London, I would also like to hold some workshops. I'm imagining pre-bookable classes in unusual crafts such as giant knitting, as well as some more casual drop-in sessions. Add a drop of prosecco, or some tea and cake and I think that's my dream day out right there!


Oops, if you've got this far then well done and thank you!! This post wasn't meant to be such an emotional outpouring!

Anyway, I have put together a wee survey that I would MASSIVELY appreciate your help with. It takes on average 2 minutes to complete, and just runs through some questions about your ideal event. The link is HERE, and I will love you forever if you could do this for me! I've already started reaching out to some potential teachers and venues, so the ball is already rolling. I just need to bite the bullet and do it *gulp*

Sorry - finally - what do you think to this name / logo? My first idea was 'QUIRK', but maybe it's better to link it to Fickle Craftroom a bit (and to incorporate the word 'fair' or 'market')?

Thank you sooooooooo much xx


Monday, 27 February 2017

Current Projects (of the non-making variety)

Hi everyone,

I just wanted to let you in on a few of the projects I've been working on so far this year! It started, of course, with a brand new look for the website, which has had some lovely comments so far. All feedback is useful though, so if you've had a mosey and found any problems with the navigation, or design, or if you think there's anything vital missing, then I'd really like to hear from you. It definitely needs to be made a bit more mobile-friendly, so that's what I'll be working on next.

A new look for the Fickle Craftroom website

Ok, so number 1: the FICKLE CRAFTERS Facebook group... part of the original dream for Fickle Craftroom was to build a supportive, interactive crafting community. We've only just really got off the ground, but are making a good start - meaningful content is the order of the day, including tutorials, chat, inspiration, and fun challenges. I would love for you to join, and invite your friends too!

Fickle Crafters Facebook Group

Number 2: At the beginning of the month, we introduced Stitched by Sisters to the Craftroom (more about them soon, in another post!), but I'm also very much hoping to bring on board some more Fickle Crafters, to sell their own handmade designs on FC. If you are a UK-based designer/maker, with something original to offer then please get in touch, by emailing me at hello@ficklecraftroom.com!

Stitched by Sisters at Fickle Craftroom

Number 3: I've got looooads of amazing ideas for a series of events, including workshops, craft fairs and more, and I cannot wait to get these diarised for you! A successful fundraising Crafternoon for Comic Relief will kick things off next month (click the link to find out more about how you can support us or get involved)

Fickle Craftroom / Mollie Makes Crafternoon in St Albans, in aid of Comic Relief 2017

Thank you for reading, I honestly would love to hear from you, whether it be a blog comment, or a natter in the Facebook group, or if you have an idea that we could work on together!

xxx

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Mollie Makes & The Big Comic Relief Crafternoon!

It's no secret that I love a bit of event planning. Therefore as soon as I saw that Mollie Makes magazine were repeating their Big Comic Relief Crafternoon, it was just a no-brainer that I would go for it! Planning (and the associated lists upon lists), crafting, and cake, all in the knowledge that it's all for a truly great cause - what's not to love?

Mollie Makes Comic Relief Crafternoon magazine

My copy of the magazine is already thick with folded-over corners - projects that I can't wait to get my teeth into: pompoms, amigurumi, shibori-dyeing, to name but a few...

Mollie Makes Comic Relief Crafternoon magazine | shibori dyeing

The idea is that you get a few friends together and have a few making sessions together, and then hold a mini craft fair to sell your wares. All proceeds will go straight to Comic Relief, helping to fund projects worldwide.

Comic Relief | the difference your donation makes

I have decided to hold two weekend 'crafternoons', in the run-up to the event, plus one weekday morning. If you are in Hertfordshire and fancy joining us for a crafting session, we'd love to have you! There are other ways in which you can help, however:

  • Donate wool for pompom making (or indeed, pompoms!)! Email me if this is something you may be able to help with :-)
  • Sponsor us on the Red Nose Day Giving Page
  • Join our Fickle Crafters Facebook group, to sign up for the events
  • Come to the Big Crafternoon Sale on Saturday 18th March! I'm still to finalise the venue, so keep an eye on our Instagram, Facebook page, website, or this blog to stay up to date.
  • Buy a copy of the Crafternoon magazine and hold your own event! You can get yours from Sainsburys or online, with at least £5 from every purchase going to Comic Relief.

Tell me, are you holding a Crafternoon? I'd love to hear which projects from the magazine are your favourite?

Friday, 10 February 2017

Valentine's Day... for men...

I've written before about my many dismal failures when it comes to buying the men in my life gifts. I always aim for thoughtful and unique, but either end up with something I'd actually like for myself, or give up on the idea, get lazy and offer up a lion bar. Or a takeaway if I'm feeling fancy.

We've never really done Valentines gifts, thankfully, but having spoken to my friends, it seems we're in the minority? I do think that going the whole romantic shebang is a bit dated and cringey, but you can never go wrong with something small, humourous and quirky.

Without further ado, here's my roundup - all of them small indie businesses based in the UK:


1. Pens by Jez. Pleasingly chunky hand-turned wooden pens, made in Yorkshire.
2. Ditz and Bobs. Louise adds fun embroidered details to your own photos.
3. Hello DODO. Bright colours, quirky puns, what's not to love?
4. Copper and Blonde. If this won't make him refill the loo roll, what will?!
5. Snowbird Artworks. A romantic piece of wall art for an outdoorsy couple!
6. Paper Pipe Dreams. Who else bought a Nokia in the 90's solely to play Snake?! Nostalgic enamel pin based on original illustration by Claire Spake.


Do you do Valentines gifts, or have any other traditions for the day of luuuurve?

Sunday, 29 January 2017

One Little Word for 2017: Revitalise*

Fickle Craftroom | One Little Word 2017 | Revitalise

2016 was a fantastic and busy year, there's no denying it. But by the end, it's fair to say that I was feeling a little flat and a little... stifled? Stagnant? I wasn't trying anything new, I wasn't being particularly creative, and that started to make me lose a bit of confidence as well. I had plans, ideas, ambitions, but no time to carry them out.

Looking back, I realise that I was filling my very limited crafting time with jobs that I didn't necessarily particularly enjoy, or that didn't challenge me. I definitely need to be stricter with myself in terms of the work I accept, so that I still have time to spend on the exciting creative stuff. Saying 'no' more is the first step! (How funny that this is such a contrast to last year's 'embrace every opportunity!) The flip side of this is to make sure that they opportunities I say 'yes' to are the right ones, for me and for my business...

The second step is time management. Allocating time for social media, rather than allowing myself to be sucked into the cycle of Instagram, Facebook, Bloglovin', Pinterest, and around again. Spending evenings working on relaxing projects, where I don't have to think or concentrate too hard, but where I'll still get the buzz from simply making for making's sake.

Fickle Me Blog
Image credit: www.dumpaday.com

The times where I tend to have most of my inspiration and ideas are when I'm lying down with my daughter as she falls asleep. It's a beautiful, quiet, focused time, but one where I'm unable to action my ideas straight away!! I now have several brainstorm pages on the go in my bullet journal, and this is where all of these ideas go... brood... expand, until I have a lovely big chunk of time at the weekend to just go crazy.

Last of all, as part of my website makeover**, I am cutting a lot of dead wood. De-listing items that I've not made for a while - and have lost passion for - and selling off the accompanying gadgets and gizmo's.

How do you stop, reflect, and adjust when it feels like life just never slows down? I'd love to hear how you stay inspired and creative. What tools or strategies do you use when your mojo goes awol?!


*So 'revitalise' isn't strictly-speaking a LITTLE word, but actually rather a long one. But I'm keeping it. Ok?
**The new website will be going live on the 1st February, do pop along and see what's new!

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

In Review of My 2016 'One Little Word'

Fickle Craftroom Blog | One Little Word: Embrace
One Little Word for 2016: EMBRACE
"Now I'm in a better emotional place than I have ever been before, and have spent this past year laying strong foundations for myself and my family - I am going to embrace life. I will consider every opportunity thrown my way, and will throw myself headfirst into the new social life I have begin to create. I will slow down enough to enjoy my daughter's toddlerhood, and will continue striving to strengthen my bond with my son before he gets too grown up!"
Wow. What a way to put the pressure on! Basically, I wanted to do everything. Be supermum. Entrepreneur extraordinaire. Social butterfly. So did I set myself up for failure? Actually, I don't think I did in the end. But it does kind of feel like we were going at a million miles an hour throughout the year, and my January 'off' has been much needed (if only to complete that damn tax return!).

But to evaluate properly, I'm going to break it down into four sections...

Consider every opportunity (work). 
I definitely did this! Without turning this post into a boring, self-congratulatory list of achievements, a few things of note include running a stall at Blogtacular (a definite turning point), joining forces with a group of fabulous group of ladies to run a pop-up shop in Harpenden, getting my jewellery stocked at various shops, and working on a couple of brilliant collaborations.
Pop-up shop, with Lil Cubs, Claire Spake Design, and This Modern Life
Photo credit: Becky Christensen
Throw myself headfirst into my new social life.
I'm lucky enough to be able to do all of my son's school runs, and have made good friends with some of the other mums. There've been days out with the kids, nights out dancing, and numerous coffee dates. I know there is always someone I can call on if I need them, and it's just such a great network. There are also Facebook groups galore with local people, from parenting groups to business networking - some of whom I've been brave enough to meet in the real world too! And for a committed introvert such as myself, that's no small feat! And last but not least, the online community are just amazing... and in fact deserve a whole post to themselves!

Enjoy my daughter's toddlerhood.
Yep. Absolutely. And the terrible two's? Bring 'em on!!

Strengthen my bond with my son.
This really came in play over the second half / quarter of the year, when I've forced myself to slow down, exercise more patience. Again, this really deserves its own diary entry if anything, but being present has served us both well, and it's something to continue working on.

So even though by Christmas time I was shattered (and weren't we all?), I am definitely happy overall with the way 2016 panned out - politics and celeb deaths aside! 

My next blog post will outline the word I have chosen for this year......