Thursday, October 23, 2008

Good Advice for Sober Babies

Running your own business is a lot like having a baby. Everybody has all this advice for you and all of it is well-intended and much of it is "good advice," but there are so many things that are so personal and so personalized that you have to weed through what seems like a common, universal experience (and other people want to tell you their experience will be your experience) and find what applies to you, what works for you, and what doesn't. Meanwhile, you have to be careful not to be an ostrich with its head in the sand for things that truly are universal and not write things and people off as "oh, that just doesn't apply to me" when they actually do. And all this information and research still can't keep you from walking into tons of problems that you have to learn the hard way for yourself, and other things you'll just never learn. On the plus side, when you screw up your business you're mostly just hurting yourself, whereas if you feed your baby vodka and ping-pong balls, you may also harm the baby.

Now if I can only reach that beautiful internal point where I can say, "This is what I'm hearing from other people, this is what I've learned, this is what I'm doing. That's that, and I'm ok with that."

Maybe that'll be my new attempted mantra: "That's that and I'm ok with that." You should try. it. It'll be good for business.

*Alice in Wonderland "Very Good Advice" record available from ricracandbuttons's Etsy shop

Monday, October 20, 2008

Eveloped in Wallpaper

I have wallpaper envelopes coming out of my ears.

A few weeks ago I started making a new version of my "screw email" cards with recycled wallpaper envelopes. People liked them a lot. Some people said they loved the envelopes and the feel of the cards but wished they had a different message, so I designed some cards that said "thank you" to fit in the same envelopes.

Find more photos like this on Indiepublic

Then I was at a favorite local coffee shop and noticed they had gift cards with crappy envelopes that didn't fit right. Lightbulb went off in my head right away. I talked to the shift manager and left some of my "screw email" cards and envelopes with the suggestion that I make specialized gift card sized ones with or without cards that said something giftcardy or the name of the coffee shop or something.
I was back a week later with a handful of envelopes in perfect gift card size and cards with the messages "thank you" and "don't spend it all in one place," the latter being my idea of funny.

That particular coffee shop owner still hasn't gotten back to me despite much cheerleading on my behalf from several of his managers (he went out of town for a week and I've stopped by a few more times, c'est la vie), but on Wednesday a different coffee shop expressed serious interest, and everyone I show any of my envelope/card combos to gets really excited and thinks they're the greatest things since sliced bread. It's all pretty exciting and flattering.

Find more photos like this on Indiepublic

And the latest exciting news and my real inspiration for writing: one of the people to whom I gave some of my cards/envelopes was my therapist. After all, much of what we talk about is me being sick/demi-dead (really no secret after my last few entries), and this was something I could do/make even on my demi-dead days. She loved them and asked me if she could show them to a friend of hers who sells high-end jewelry. I said of course! She was a little concerned about the confidentiality and what to say if the friend asked how she knew me, but again, I don't think it's such a shameful thing to be in therapy. As long as she's not telling her friend what we discuss, a connection is a connection, and why is a therapist any different from a dentist or a personal trainer? Ideally, if time and money were no object, everyone should have one. It's healthy. You don't want them talking about your particulars, like your gingivitis, flabby arm muscles, or recurring sexual fantasies about gorilla suits, but we're all human and imperfect and seeing specialists to work on things to better our lives is positive. Not shameful.

That being said, my therapist's friend is having a jewelry show on Thursday and loved my cards and wants to feature a display's worth of them for sale! So now I have to come up with a way of displaying them that is
  • ●portable (so I can drop it off with my therapist on Wednesday)
  • ●classy (I've been doing farmers markets and craft shows, but this is high-end jewelry, which has a different feel to it)
  • ●self-explanatory (I won't be there to say "the ones on the top are $1.75 or 6 for $8 and you can choose your own card and envelope combo, blah blah blah")
I'm thinking of going to Target or JoAnns and getting a big cloth bullitin board/frame thing or two and then using cards of the two sizes as "signs" to say "cards my size are $_ and come with the envelope of your choice"

If you have any other ideas/suggestions, I'm more than happy to hear them. Keep in mind I don't want to spend more than about $15-$20, since my profits aren't that high to begin with.

Also, if you own a business and want some gift card envelopes and/or cards, let me know! It's a sliding price scale based on how many you want and if I ever find a faster more efficient way of making them (still working on that...I'm up to about 10 an hour, which is ass-slow but I can watch a movie or listen to audiobooks or have a migraine at the same time, a major plus).

I've been making envelopes for days. Plaid, floral, solid, weird, paisley, stripes, you name it. And they're coming out of my ears. Let's just hope they do well selling Thursday, on Etsy, and in the universe.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Etsy Story

(written for the EtsyGreetings blog. this is already the "shorter" version. yikes.)

My desk. Really.

Etsy saved my life.

That's an exaggeration, but my little Etsy universe is certainly responsible for some huge positives over the last year. Maybe not my mortality, but some days it feels like it.

I get migraine headaches. I've had them my entire life. They suck. People who say "it's just a headache" need to be punched a lot. A "migraine" is actually a type of headache as opposed to just a really bad headache. You can have a really bad headache that isn't a migraine. You can have a migraine that isn't so bad. (Good info from the National Headache Foundation here.)
Migraines involve much more than just head pain. Mine start with the volume on my senses getting turned up - I notice smells and light and sound all brighter and more intrusive. I can smell static and saran wrap and sometimes scents that aren't even there start crawling up my nose and poking me in the back of the throat. I hear anything high pitched or sudden well above the level of my surroundings and have trouble following conversations. Then my vision goes wacky. I see things flashing in my peripheral vision that aren't there. Sometimes I lose my peripheral vision completely. Everything starts to feel like I've been staring into the sun and the splotches cloud my sight. Then light starts turning into pain. It pierces into my eyes. At that point, I have to lay down somewhere dark, even if the real pain hasn't begun.
Then there's the pain. It throbs and pushes and gags and takes over every bit of my consciousness. It scrambles my thoughts and the whole universe is sharp and hurt and I try to sleep and my dreams are scrambled and I have the migraine in my dreams and I want to drill holes in my head.
My dog in my bed, with whom and where I spend my migraines

At different points in my life they’ve varied in frequency from one every few months to months at a time with no relief. Mostly, they’ve gotten worse as I’ve gotten older.

At age 22 and without having finished college, I got my dream job: a humor writer at American Greetings. It was amazing. Go into an office and produce about eight card ideas a day. When they hired me, they said not to expect to have anything published for the first six months as I learned the tone and style and everything about card writing.
It was my first real job and I moved into a new city while my friends all graduated college and went other places. The migraines got worse. I'd have them every day for a month. I had to take all kinds of sick days. I started having to inject myself with DHE to break the migraine cycles. It helped, but the more work I missed, the more stressed I got and the more migraines came. I tried to work some from home, but it's hard to be funny when you hurt all the time. My boss kept telling me my ideas were "too clever" and "too weird" and "not WalMart enough." My American Greetings mentor thought I was great and funny and working hard and a long-term asset to the company, especially if I could figure out my health. He stood up to my boss for me time after time.
Even with all the missed work, I still managed to have about two dozen of my ideas get published into real cards.

Five months after I started at American Greetings, I was "dismissed," the official reason being I didn't produce enough publishable cards. I'm sure it had more to do with my migraines than my actual card-writing abilities, but I was devastated.

I eventually moved back to Chicago (I grew up in the city and a bordering suburb). The migraines were less constant. They still showed up from time to time, but I could hold down a job or two. I missed writing, so I went back to school to get my BFA in creative nonfiction. I loved the program, loved most of my classes, and loved writing all the time.

The summer of 2007, the migraines crept back up. They held on stronger and longer again, like when I was in Cleveland. I started the fall semester with spotty attendance, then even on the days the headaches weren't all-encompassing, I couldn't deal with the train or the bus. Too many bad noises and flashing lights. By October, I had the headache full-blown all the time. I had to take a medical leave from school. I saw a new neurologist and got more pills, tried acupuncture, was willing to do anything I hadn't tried before, but I was completely useless.

I found Etsy. My hair stylist told me about it. Then a friend of mine had some of her photographs up on the site. Staring at the pretty pictures of things people made was something enjoyable I could do. It would distract me from the pain until I couldn't stand the brightness of the screen anymore and had to lay back down.
One full month of constant blinding pain forced me to rethink my life. I couldn't keep lying there, doing nothing. My parents were supporting me both financially and emotionally, but I go crazy if I'm not doing something day after day.
Instead of just staring at other people's pretty things, I made some of my own. Knitting was something I'd been doing a lot of in my migraineyness, since it felt somewhat productive and required very little light or sound. I started making cards again, and even opened my box of my rejected ideas from American Greetings to find things that were just "too clever" or "not WalMart enough," thinking they'd be good for Etsy. I opened a shop in November.

I found the chat rooms and suddenly had some form of human contact when I was vertical late at night. I'd spend hours talking to other sellers and staring at more pretty things and learning all things Etsy. My cards started to sell. I got a better idea of what worked and what sold. Chatroom people put me in their treasuries. I put them in mine, which tended to have elaborate themes (the 12 Monopoly tokens, Pink Floyd songs, Dr. Seuss books) and be more clever than gorgeous. I joined EtsyGreetings and the Chicago Style Crafters teams. I figured out how to print directly on the 5.5" x 4.25" blank cards I bought at JoAnn Crafts. I came up with new card ideas and designs. I can't draw to save my life, so I enlisted the help of my close friend who lived far away to draw me a tank, sheep, berries, and a match for "Tank Ewe Berry Match." She emailed me a whole sheet with variations to choose from, and after a long time perfecting things on PhotoShop,I had a new most popular card. I wasn't selling much, but I was selling, and it felt good.

Etsy taught me to use my digital camera. I went to Wednesday night critiques with HeyMichelle in the virtual labs and had even more human contact. She'd talk for hours straight on her webcam and I felt like there was another person (besides my family and my best friend) who came into my apartment. It became clear how important the photos of my products were, shooting things at angles and in better light.I learned how to build a lightbox, learned how to use "curves" in PhotoShop, and the importance of backgrounds.

My dad found me yet another neurologist, but this one was different. He spent three hours with me at my first appointment, asking questions about my history and understanding things that I never knew were related to my migraines. My ability to smell static is apparently not insane (as most people tend to think), but an ability to smell ozone. It made perfect sense to him as he wrote it down. Before then, I thought I'd exhausted all the currently available drug classes, tests, and diets, but he gave me a number of different possibilities for treatment paths, all of which were new and untried. He wanted me to call him every week with updates so we could tweak things, and have a new round of hefty tests (my last MRI was 10 years ago, plus he wanted extensive bloodwork done) as soon as I could get my health insurance straightened out. (My health insurance fiasco could be a book in itself, but basically I thought I'd gotten a year on the plan at my school, they thought I'd gotten six months, so I was uninsured and then became uninsurable because of my "pre-existing conditions." Months and months later, I managed to get on the ICHIP program through the state of Illinois that exists for the otherwise uninsurable.)

I started getting better. I went back to acupuncture and kept going weekly. I finally called the therapist my internist recommended (chronic pain is demoralizing). I started the EtsyChai team (the Jewish Etsy team that I've been neglecting lately) and I made it to my first Chicago Style Crafters in-person meeting.

I finally had an answer to the "so, how've you been" question that didn't involve me breaking down into tears: “I started my own business.” I got a tax ID# and saved receipts and felt very official. It may not have been paying my rent, but at least it was something to do and it paid for itself. As I had more and more good days, I signed up to be a part of CircaCeramics' open house/trunk show. It was my very first show and I sold all of two cards, but I felt like a real, normal human being and that was a triumph in itself.
I signed up to be a part of a rotating group of crafters (all from the Chicago team) selling Saturday mornings at a local farmer's market. If I had to back out of one of my weeks last-minute, there were still others in the tent for a two-vendor presence.
I got more involved in EtsyGreetings, too, and started a data pooling spreadsheet for the team.

I wish I could give a more conclusive happily-ever-after to all this. I now have good days about 3/4 of the time with the occasional day where I feel completely fine with no migraine-related anything. My Etsy shop still isn't paying the rent or booming or anything, but with the addition of the farmers markets and other craft fairs (when I can make it), it's more than covering costs. I now work from home for my aunt and uncle's nonprofit, which gives me less crafting/Etsy time but I feel more like a functioning member of society. I just started making and selling mini-cards with recycled wallpaper envelopes, and I'm hoping to sell gift card-sized ones to local coffee shops and boutiques for the holiday season.Etsy truly has been my shiny happy thing over the past year, and as I function more and more like a normal human being, things can only get better.

Etsy love.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Angry Head, Crafty Heart

My head is misbehaving. I was supposed to have a table at the Handmade Market today, and while I tried really hard to go, I couldn't stay vertical long enough or deal with the sun without too much pain to function. I've been like this more or less since Wednesday, and it's not good. I'm having trouble keeping up with life. I want to be a real person, and when I'm feeling ok I do all these real person things and get frustrated by my own hesitancy to do more and make specific plans with hard deadlines and wonder if I'm just being a big fat chicken-butt. But then my normal daily mild migraine morphs back into Evil Death Migraine and I'm useless. I try to be productive and do productive things, but I can't think straight and I screw up my work stuff and can't concentrate long or hard enough to do the things I need to, anyway.

So no Handmade Market today. And I have all these cute envelopes and mini-cards I want to list on Etsy, but right now I'm just not up to it. I'm only even on the computer because I put it on my nightstand so I could use it from my bed, and I keep having to close my eyes and type blind because the glare is bothering me, but lying around doing nothing all day was getting old.

Let's be businessy about this: anybody who is interested in some of my new screw email or thank you cards (they're just like the screw email ones, but in a different font and they say "thank you") with wallpaper envelopes, if you comment or convo me or email me, I will send you a grab bag at $1 a card/envelope set instead of the normal $2 each (plus shipping). You can request color schemes, florals, paisley, plaid, stripes, etc. if you want. You just have to be nice and know that they may get mailed tomorrow and they may not get mailed for a week and I just can't deal with lighting my lightbox and photoing and whatnot to make an Etsy listing, so you're getting them on the super-cheap.

Sorry I'm so fussy. Constant blinding pain makes me fussy.

Why isn't my acupuncture appointment until Wednesday?

*Photo Light and Time by sevenbridges available on Etsy, and such a wonderful illustration for a migraine

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Friend and Family Fabulous Females

This has nothing to do with crafting, but I can't name names in my other blog, and this requires some linking to real people for it to be worthwhile.

Three women in my life are on amazing journeys right now: my sister, my college roommate and bff-type person (one of a few bff-type people in my life, I'm lucky to say), and my cousin.

My sister is with her college bff driving across the US and back visiting all great roadside attractions, major landmarks, and random friends possible. Then the two of them are going to work on an organic farm in Costa Rica through the WWOOF program.

My college friend is running around Europe with Farmer John of The Real Dirt on Farmer John and Angel Organics to help him research biodynamic farming.

My cousin is biking around the the US with three of her friends (all female) in a post-college trek of amazingness.

All three are kindly keeping blogs so we mortals may live vicariously through them.

Today, I didn't do the farmers market because I didn't realize until last night that I was the only person signed up and I couldn't get anybody with a tent to join me in time. I could have gone out there tentless, but at 6 AM on a cold October morning, I lacked the inspiration of my grab-the-universe-by-the-testicles friends/relatives. Now, I'm demi-flattened again by another stupid migraine. But tomorrow! [Head willing,] the universe's testicles are mine! I will do something.