Wednesday, 22 June 2011

June 22, 2011 - Musings on Being an Entrepreneur

Recently, I did an interview for the radio program/blog These Things That People Make. Interviewer Sarah Mangle wanted to know about the circuitous route that led me to Wise Daughters Craft Market. I told her a bit about my former life as administrator/executive director of various organizations: Ontario Literacy Coalition, Storylinks, Workers Arts and Heritage Centre, Kensington Youth Theatre and Employment Skills, and Women's Future Fund, to name most of them. Working in the non-profit sector often means a series of lateral moves, as funding winds shift. I had a particularly unerring ability to choose jobs just prior to elections, the results of which pretty much guaranteed my employment insecurity. For example, I went to work for a labour museum just before Harris took over from Rae in Ontario. Apparently, I like a challenge.

I retired from the non-profit sector for the first time in 2003, the year I turned 40. What started as a proposal to barter for Pilates classes turned into a full-time job managing a successful Pilates studio. I learned a lot about how to run a small business, and quickly discovered it's way easier than running a non-profit. That's when the entrepreneurial seed was planted. I was lured back to work for a national feminist organization, but of course, mere months later, Harper dismantled Status of Women Canada. When I was laid off from that job, I decided I was done. After a while, one's spirit starts to crack, if not break.

My path to entrepreneurship was delayed a bit further by a really interesting contract to do with feminist archives, but ultimately the idea took hold.

Now that it's been 2 1/2 years, it's hard to imagine ever giving up the freedom of running what I jokingly call a "benevolent dictatorship." No boards to report to, no meetings, no minutes, no schmoozing, no compromises. The mistakes are all mine, but so are the triumphs. This work feels like play, and that's pretty priceless.

Monday, 13 June 2011

June 13, 2011 - Public Acts of Beauty

This past weekend marked both Worldwide Knit in Public Day and International Yarn Bombing Day. Wise Daughters celebrated both with a knitting party that brought out knitters for one of the most relaxed community events I've ever organized. Knitting is just so calming and lovely. Everybody should try it. A bunch of novices did just that, including one young man who decided to come see what it was all about, with a view to knitting his brother's new baby a blankie. People found him nearly as adorable as the 4 year-old who made yarn bracelets for the band (The Girls are Back in Town - a very talented group!).

This was the scene early in the afternoon. Note the green coverings on the traffic bollards. In the right foreground, you can see Dawn Juruc getting ready to attach the crowning glory of these yarnbombs - hot pink crocheted flowers. There is nothing I love more than a good yarnbomb. This anonymous, seemingly random act of beauty serves no purpose other than to bring pleasure to passers-by. What could be more perfect?

It's entirely possible people will not be able to resist taking these flowers home with them, so I encourage you to pass by 3079B Dundas West (facing Quebec Ave, south of the corner) asap!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

June 9, 2011 - Summer is for Creative Adventures

Right at the beginning of 2011, I had a creativity coaching session with Lisa Pijuan-Nomura. I promised her I would "make" for an hour a day for 90 days, and I did (I am very disciplined when somebody gives me a task). Then I had a spurt of creativity when I dreamt up my Wise Daughters sleep/lounge/everything wear, soon to go into production.

Last week I took Christine Pensa's silkscreening workshop here at the shop, and I was instantly smitten. The urge to silkscreen everything in my path has overtaken me. In the workshop, I made a stencil loosely based on the Wise Daughters flower. Now I have all kinds of design ideas.

Being a business woman with one eye on the bottom line, I thought about what I'd like to make that I think my customers would want to have. Full-sized fabric dinner napkins came to mind. Eco-conscious consumers want reusable, sustainable products, as do I. With a quick bit of googling, I found a local supplier of lovely organic cotton napkins, perfect for embellishing with colourful images. My order is in, and as soon as they arrive, I'll be happily whiling away the quieter summer shop hours playing with my brand new screen, squeegee and inks.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

June 7, 2011 - Embracing Social Media

Last week Wise Daughters hosted a workshop on The Art of Marketing via Social Media, led by Erin Calhoun-Mangat. Erin really knows her way around not only Facebook and Twitter, but a whole host of social media sites I'd never heard of. She effectively demystified the whole confusing business, helping participants - all small arts entrepreneurs - figure out where to focus their energies.

Two short years ago, I thought Facebook was strictly a vehicle for youth to post stupid pictures of themselves, mostly drinking. More than 400 fans later, I realize how vital a tool it is for marketing Wise Daughters. Especially because I run workshops and events, it's a highly efficient way to get invitations out to my target audience of crafters. It's also become an important source of information for me. I'd never hear about many of the cultural or political events I attend without it. How did I manage before FB?

I struggle a bit with the separation between personal and professional online circles. Earlier this year, I found I had "friended" a bunch of people who are really business associates. At risk of offending them, I carried out an "unfriending" exercise, just so I could feel more comfortable posting family photos or other personal bits of information on my own profile page. Unlike many FB users, I prefer some privacy.

I have also embraced Twitter, despite stronger initial reservations. At first glance, it looked like nothing but banal lunch menu musings to me, but all that changed during the G20, when it was the single best way to find out what was really happening to people. I've also seen its effectiveness as a marketing tool. There's no better proof than a customer who barrels in to see whatever new item I've just posted.

It's kind of funny writing instead of talking to people - it can feel like my words are just floating off into a vacuum. But then days, weeks or even months later, a customer will refer to something I posted. This isn't at all how I have thought about community in past decades, but I have to acknowledge it's community nonetheless.