Whole Wide World  

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How big is your world?  

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One thing I've been doing while I've had some time off is to think about the world I want our business to sit in. This comment on an earlier post helped me to crystalise this.

Right now, we sell, or potentially sell, in various contexts:

  • Fashion - we're mentioned often in places that have nothing to do with esoterica
  • Art - some of our work is viewed as art as much as its design (we were once asked to repaint some images on canvas and sell them in a gallery - hmm)
  • The tarot community
  • The "cats" community - actually, we are almost invisible as yet in this one and should probably be more involved
  • The wider "New Age" interest groups
  • Czech design - again, we are not yet really part of this. Perhaps it would be distracting if we were - and could change our work in ways that wouldn't be good.
  • "Alice" fans
and so on. And, from a slightly different perspective:
  • On our own shop as Baba Studio (where we're often seen as larger than we really are)
  • On Etsy - which has entirely its own aesthetic and where we do not fit with the amateur look that's preferred by the admin there. We fit, but we are not "in" this group in the way that some sellers are.
  • On Trunkt - it feels like we fit quite well there - but then, what IS Trunkt exactly?
  • On Notmassproduced - again, another aesthetic. Very sweet and designery but virtually invisible as yet, so we don't try to adapt to fit in, though we're happy to be there.
it could go on and on - we're at lots of other online and B&M venues.
Plus we are seen as European, Bohemian - we are geographically in the old physical region of Bohemia, Prague-based, English-language based (but Russian buyers know we speak Russian and accept payment by Western Union)...

Perhaps it would be best drawn on a chart rather than simply listed, as several of these interact or overlap.

All these define a world - or maybe in Seth Godin's terminology a "tribe" that we to greater or lesser extent fit into. Part of my focus right now is deciding which of these we want to be more involved in, what new contexts we need to consider and - and this is quite important - which limit us and which expand and enhance our work.

It's vital to know where you fit right now, and where you want to fit. It's also important to look at where you are now, how you are influenced by those groups and contexts and to ask yourself if any of them are holding you back. I see sellers on Etsy time and again becoming obsessed with becoming known and liked on Etsy. But changing your business to fit with an Etsy trend may be disastrous in the long-term.

I also see people in other worlds limit themselves in a broader way - tarot designers that end up doing nothing but that, when they could be moving into other work - illustrators that become so much recognised as "cat artists" that they can't try anything else. Jewellers that get stuck in one type of look and medium, even when you wonder if they should experiment with new ways. Writers and musicians defined by a genre, rather than defining it.
I see designers focused so much on being "cool" or "alternative" or - the new fashion - "handmade" that they end up looking like everyone else in that tribe.

Of course, the need for a clear brand tends to propel you into a niche - and being identified with a well-defined niche or tribe can really help your business. But what I'm saying is, be clear about where you want to sit and understand that you need to take control of this, not let it take control of you.


16. If you find yourself nodding off while talking about your work – either you’re up far too late or you’re doing the wrong thing.  

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I used to nod off in meetings. Well, nearly - I had to try all sorts of tricks to keep myself awake and to stifle the yawns. At one point it got so bad that I seriously wondered if I was developing narcolepsy. Except I was aware that it just about only happened in meetings.

Finally I realised that it must be that I found meetings boring. Stultifyingly dull. Nowadays I never do meetings unless they are essential.

If you find that there is some aspect of your work that inevitably makes you feel tired and bored - try to cut it out. If it's boring you that much you won't be doing it well in any case.

  • Hate paperwork? Make it an aim to get most of it done by someone else - or at least invest in software and setup so that you can spend a lot less time on it.

  • Loathe phone-calls? See if you can do more of it by email.

  • Find building websites a total bore (how could you?) Find a good, reliable web person - perhaps you can even trade with them in some way - and have your site set up so that it doesn't need masses of maintenance by you.
and so on - you get the idea.

Then again, it may be the entire job that bores you to tears. If so, now is the time to begin to plan to do your own thing. Or to change what your "own thing" is. I went from corporate design consultancy to designing cards and bags. And found that this is work that truly engages me - these days I don't nod off.

(the picture is two of our cats sleeping in a box on my desk - I have a permanent box there these days).

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times  

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This is a time of change the like of which we haven't seen in the West since the 1960s. It's going to be hard - and it's going to be wonderful. Even in the middle of the tough periods, remember that this just could be the time that allows you to do your best work, the work you always dreamed of doing.

15. It usually takes years – don’t merely accept that, welcome it and love what time brings.  

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Building a good, solid business is usually not quick. It takes time to learn what works and what doesn't and to decide what to focus on, what to build and what to drop. Not all ideas will take off and you won't be able to see all the good opportunities and possibilities at the very beginning. A great business tends to grow step by step - and sometimes it can feel like two steps forward and one back.

I am an impatient person and in the past I've found this frustrating. I came to Prague seven years ago. Alex and I began working together six years ago and it really took four years before we were taking out more than we were putting in - simply in hard financial terms quite apart from time. That was a stressful period at times when I kept saying, "Next year we'll be in profit," and in fact it took three of those "next years".

But I'm glad now that it did take that time. I look back and I laugh at some of the ideas we had then, but I'm also amazed by how many things did come to fruition - eventually. Because it took time, we now have a better business - financially, organisationally and maybe, most important of all, in terms of doing what we love, rather than being forced to make compromises.

If you are just starting out, try to begin with at least enough money in the bank (or a part-time job) to survive for some years, not just months. Particularly at the moment. If you haven't enough, then seriously (seriously) consider doing what I did - which is to move to a cheaper place to live to buy yourself time. Time is precious, you may have to trade off some other things in order to get the time you and your business need.

If you are already running your own enterprise, try not to rush it unless you really need to. Take some time to experiment, to dream up new products, to take a few risks. Also, simply, take some time to learn where you can - and want to - take your business.

Don't forget to have fun  

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Okay, we are now officially heading into a depression rather than a recession, it's going to be harder running any business (though as you know I think smaller businesses may have the advantage of being able to respond quickly) and we're all going to have to:

  • Market harder
    Price keenly
    Cut costs
    Come up with new products that are desirable and affordable
    Work on keeping customers
    Be prepared to put in more hours


and it's all going to be demanding and at times draining.

BUT - in the midst of all this, please remember that you're running (or starting) a creative business because this is what you want to do.

Years ago, I allowed my design consultancy in London to become nothing but a burden. I worried about it constantly, it felt like a weight on my shoulders and if at any moment I wasn't over-worked, exhausted, flu-ridden and miserable I felt it just showed I wasn't working hard enough. I suppose this attitude showed a lack of real confidence - or maybe I just didn't really want to run a corporate design consultancy, however successful. Maybe I wanted to design - which is not the same thing.

This time around, I love what we are doing with Baba Studio. This autumn/winter I am hugely enjoying getting all the new designs ready for next year. I sat the other day blissfully going through old Bohemian folk ribbons with a new idea in mind. I refused to be dismayed when I realised that one large bale of silk I bought on the internet has a gold medalion pattern that's too large scale to be used - they will make fabulous curtains and perhaps a party skirt for me. I didn't get flustered by the saga of two large parcels (one to us, one from us) that were both sent "express" and both got delayed - it all worked out.

However hard it gets, don't lose the love for what you do, and the enjoyment in building it. Take some time out to revel in your materials and tools, whatever they are, to take pride in your skills, to indulge in the most sensual and affirming parts of your craft/art/artisanship and generally to keep in touch with why you decided to do this in the first place.

Today I plan - slightly irresponsibly - to spend a bit of this afternoon away from emails and postage and invoices (which make up most of this time of the year - in spite of recession) doing some design. The kind of design I really like, that feels good to do, and that makes me happy.

Oh - and the picture is, by the way, Alex wearing an old Bohemian folk costume (kroj) hat - that hat is pure joy.