Seven years, two businesses…
For the last six months I’ve been looking back at all that I have learned running my own business(es) over the last 7 years.
I started my first business almost by accident, after being laid off from my last “real” job in 2003, where I worked for 3 years as the Lead Web/Flash/Graphic Designer, at a small firm in Potrero Hill. Wasting no time in the few weeks after I got the news, I quickly put together a quick website and business cards to launch WilloToons Baby, offering custom wall painting for nurseries and playrooms. However, it wasn’t long before I started getting inquiries to do freelance Web & Graphic Design, and next thing I knew I had a full client load.
The years to follow were full of a lot of great experience. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some great clients; designing & launching sites for both small and large organizations. I learned valuable skills around managing projects, timelines and client expectations. I hired developers, copywriters and did all my own bookkeeping. And I learned a lot around managing my time, and maintaining a healthy work/life balance. (Raise your hand if you relate to that one. A common side effect of being a passionate, driven person, I suppose, but I feel like I could write a whole book on it! 🙂
However, after a few years, I started thinking, what’s next? I really didn’t want to start my own design firm, but instead – for as long as I could remember – I’d been wanting to do something more with my illustrations. So, in May, 2007 I dove in to do just that: designing, producing and launching WilloToons – my super fun product line of tees, onesies & bibs (that since then has developed into greeting cards, jewelry, totes & more) – where geek meets rock ‘n roll! [Note: If you’re interested in reading about this transition, check out my launch post or my mission/vision post.]
Up until then, most of my professional experience had been in services, but I was ready to learn… and boy, did I! The last three years I have learned a LOT about product development, e-commerce, marketing, Quickbooks & bookkeeping, inventory management, COGS, cashflow, customer service, you name it! And honestly, while I could have done a lot of things differently (read: better/smarter/faster) in hindsight, I feel like I’ve been fairly successful, given my means and experience prior to diving in. I feel grateful that in this time I have met friends, and gained happy customers and fans, all around the globe. It’s provided me the opportunity to step into more speaking roles, sharing what I have learned, and consulting other crafters and small business owners in everything from how to get their business online, to marketing through social media, crafting your community, and to some of the more philosophical and psychological realms of being a small business owner (yes, this is another area I could write a whole book on :).
It’s not you, it’s me…
WilloToons has been my baby over the last 3 years, and I’m really proud of all that it’s become, but I’m at this place now–7+ years in, owning and running two fairly successful businesses–where I have some options. I’ve actually been wrestling with this decision for almost a year, really. Because, while I still haven’t seen WilloToons to the full potential I see in my vision, I’ve also learned what it would take to realize that vision. Therefore, causing me to seriously reevaluate if this is even the business that I want to continue growing. I mean, I of course still love illustration and design, I’ve just started feeling like there’s more I can do with ALL of my skills.
It’s kind of like that point in a relationship where you’re like, “sure, we could try to work on this… but I think we both know we need a break.” It’s been rather difficult to get clear on that. Like any relationship, I want to work on it. I don’t want to give up on it, but instead I want to do everything I can to know that I’ve taken responsibility for my part in all of it, and get clear on what it would take to make it better, or to know (really KNOW) that it’s best to just let it go.
Now, I’m not saying I’m letting go of WilloToons at all, which I think has been a big scary thought in this process for me. WilloToons is a part of me! I am WilloToons! :p But, thankfully the store runs itself for the most part right now (with big thanks to my Merchandise Manager, Jen!), and I have a relatively steady stream of client work that comes my way, so I’ve sort of had the luxury of doing this soul searching. I knew one thing was for sure though, just like in any relationship, figuring out what was best for me, meant taking care of myself first. And that, for me, is all about getting back to my creativity. My source. I want to get back to designing, creating, and giving birth to new ideas. I’ve needed to for a long time now, but as any creative in business knows, it can be hard to do that while you’re busy keeping all the plates spinning!
So, over the last few months I’ve been REALLY digging in to look deeper at what I want. For one, after juggling SO MUCH over the last 7 years, I’ve really felt called to unplug a bit more. Since I’d been feeling lost and stuck, instead of allowing myself to stay there, I decided I wanted to flip my life on it’s head, shake it up a bit and see what wanted to rattle out. A big part of this has been clearing and making way for the new to come through. First and foremost, decluttering and refreshing my wonderful little home, that I’ve lived in for these last 7 years, and worked out of for the first 5. Which even included getting rid of my TV, and all the habits that surrounded having that in my space, in order to transform my living room into more of an art studio… huzzah!
So much happened exactly 7 years ago, that has led me into my life as I know it right now… that I think mostly I’ve had to really allow myself to release who I have been – my identity – and how I have let this time, and these businesses, define who I am. I have *reveled* in owning my own business, and launching my dream! I mean, so awesome, right? Aren’t I living the dream, of what so many people in Corporate America™ wish they were doing? So how could this be not enough for me anymore? These are all rhetorical, mind you, but you can imagine what a rollercoaster it’s been trying to make heads or tales of it. All I knew was I just kept hearing my mind say, “I want to be a part of something bigger.”
Well, thankfully these last few weeks have *finally* brought some clarity… YES!! And the answer? Waaaaait for it…
I want to be a part of something BIGGER!
That’s what it comes down to. I have accumulated SO many awesome skills over the last 7 years and I have SO much to offer now more than ever! I have done this. I have worked on my own and experienced developing and running a business two businesses, giving me experience in both services and products; I’ve managed my time, clients, and employees; I am passionate & motivated, and not afraid (in fact, downright good at) working hard to make something happen, and I want to be a part of a team!
So, over the weekend, I started getting even clearer on what this means for me. Here are some of the questions I have been asking myself:
What does it mean (to me) to “be a part of something bigger?”
- I see so many of my friends, whom I respect so much, accepting positions or starting companies that are developing products on the cutting edge. The tech space has changed SO much over the last few years, and in my opinion is truly more exciting than ever!
- I want to work and learn from other business owners, and professionals who compliment my skills.
- I want to have the means to hire and manage a rockstar team.
- I want my creativity and all that I have to offer to reach a larger population.
- My WilloToons’ mission is to celebrate individuality and expression, so how can I do that on a larger scale?
What are the qualities that are important to me, in feeling good about working with another team or company?
- Forward thinking
- Social/economical awareness
- Environmental awareness
- Fun, easy going people, with healthy communication
- An understanding around what it takes to build a smart team. i.e. Building a team where members are encouraged to work within their strengths
What skills come naturally to me?
- If I look at the last few years in this business, I think one of the most rewarding aspects has been helping people. Through my speaking engagements, teaching, consulting and connecting people… it’s what comes so naturally to me! I love offering perspective to other creatives and small business owners, sharing my process, mentoring and giving tips on how they can make money, develop their community, step into their creativity. I’ve loved helping my clients; I enjoy the communication, knowing that I’m making their lives/businesses easier (not to mention prettier!), and helping them position themselves for success.
- Design & illustration (of course), but now even on a broader scale, with creative direction & strategy. I’m a natural problem solver, big idea thinker, and rapid implementer. In addition to the joy I’ve experienced designing my own site/shop & product line, I’ve taken great pride in working with my clients, designing and developing their vision, and consulting them through the various phases of growing their business.
What am I most passionate about in business? aka What do I have to offer?
- Excellence in Design & Usability
- Awareness and Experience in Social Commerce
- Big Vision & Creative Direction
- Developing Strategy for Implementation
- Marketing, Community, Communication, Connection, Promotion
- Management: Client, Team & Product
Now, how can I wrap all of that up into my next step?
Honestly, I’m not quite sure where all of this is going to take me, but, being the excitable, positive person that I am, you can bet I’m on the edge of my seat! 🙂
I envision myself being a part of a core team. So, whether that means I’ll be starting up another company of my own, or joining a company at the ground floor (or close to it), I’m really looking forward to being able to really have an impact, utilizing my strengths and passion for the ultimate good of a great product or service. I’ve been talking to some friends, and we brainstormed a few things. Even that it might be a good idea to talk to some of our friends who are investors, or on Boards of startups who have the business, finance and tech aspects figured out, but need more creative direction. Who knows, but I’m putting it out there, and I’m ready!
Thanks so much for those taking the time to read this, and so many of you who have been with me on every step of these adventures thus far. I feel incredibly grateful for every single one of my friends and supporters out there, so seriously, thank you. I’d love to hear if you feel I’m missing anything in all of the above, or if while reading it you had a vision for what you see me doing with all that I have to offer. I’m looking forward to taking this next step, and you know I’ll be sharing it with you… that’s what I do! 🙂
Great post – I know how it can be as a fellow business owner. I’m sure whatever you decide that you’re gonna keep making an impact and I look forward to seeing how that journey manifests itself… and to toast you along the way!