How I Overcame My Creative Business Funk

I’ve been wondering whether to write this post for a while but as I see the blog as my creative place and business diary, it seemed like the best place to share some thoughts on overcoming a creative/business funk. It might seem like a pretty negative post, but I think it’s important to discuss the harder parts of running a small creative business sometimes.

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Let me update you on January. Now I am a person who likes new starts. I like the chance to set new goals and learn new things. I love Mondays and I’m a pretty positive person. However, January didn’t seem to bring me that feeling of renewal or excitement this year. It was really tough, a bit dark and kind of confusing really.

There were a number of reasons it felt like a difficult month. I’m going to share my experience with you because it might help others and to be honest it will probably be cathartic for me. One of the first reasons was pretty personal. I felt very very low for most of the winter season. I struggled with SAD, had anxiety pretty much every day and ended up with a 12 day stomach flu that wiped me out. Funnily enough, my migraine condition was pretty good through January and I tried to visit the gym twice a week, but it just felt like I was battling my mental health each day. SAD is a weird one because it hits me each year and I’ve somehow forgotten it exists. It takes me a good week or two to realise why I feel unmotivated, down and just really really sad.

In business, January is the month I work on my accounts a lot; usually submitting my tax return, analysing income and expenditure, and generating sales reports. I had been putting in some extra hours in my part-time job and most of that was to cover a job that used a spreadsheet all day. When it came to looking at my accounts at the end of each day, I had spreadsheet and number fatigue and it really didn’t help. I pushed through (because tax return deadline!) and have to admit that not seeing the growth I’d planned for was kind of demotivating. Yes, my sales increased a little and my conversion rate was healthy, but I did feel disappointed that I had worked so hard to see lower results than I wanted for the shop.

People don’t talk much about money and that’s OK. I run my business because I want to make money. Being able to do something creative and earn a living from that is what drives me. In 2017-18 I made a conscious decision to let go of all my freelance work to focus more on the shop and product development. It was a scary moment because HALF of my income in 2016-17 was through freelance work. I’m pleased to say that even though I felt a bit disappointed with sales, I’ve built my income up to almost what it was when I was taking on monthly freelance work. I’m working on approaching new stockists to replace that freelance income with larger and more regular orders. It feels like a better way to control my income than relying on other companies and chasing unpaid invoices all the time. I reckon the amount of time I spent chasing payments could be much better spent on developing new product collections. In-Progress-Making

Another big factor in feeling ‘stuck’ in my business, was social media and the general vibe I was feeling from Instagram and other platforms. I wrote a post about this here but to summarise, I had a feeling that everything had become rather judgmental and bossy – possibly as a result of people sharing their opinions on new year’s resolutions and new starts. I decided to take a step back from all business activity in January including social media. I can’t say my sales didn’t suffer (because I had a terrible month for the shop), but I definitely felt better for accepting it was time to post and engage less. I had considered taking a complete break for 1 or 2 weeks with no online interaction and to completely switch off from the business. However, I kept going and engaged when I felt like it without any kind of schedule.

One positive thing was that I was feeling creative outside of the business. Throughout the month I worked on a lot of personal projects such as quilting, knitting and journaling. G and I smashed through The Office boxset (US version) which help to lift my mood too. Accepting that I was feeling stuck was helpful and I chose to focus on activities that felt enjoyable.

One of things that really helped me to work through the lack of inspiration, was to talk to other people. I told G I felt like giving up and just having a ‘normal’ life and he reminded me of all the things I enjoyed and what I would miss. I had definitely lost sight of why I started the business and G said I would miss the creative community a lot if I didn’t do what I do. I knew he was right.

I also talked to people who had felt this way before – from that creative community G reminded me of. Friends and fellow creators were so understanding and just listened rather than trying to force me to find solutions. A few people said they thought I was burnt out, but I really felt rested and not exhausted physically or mentally. I found that letting the feelings run their course was the best thing to do. I accepted how I felt, spent my time doing things I wanted to and slowly let my creative business brain wake up again.

At the end of the month my inbox was starting to look exciting again, with a couple of stockists interested in my work and some sponsored content on the horizon for brand collaborations. I had already taken some time out to Bullet Journal my goals for the first 2 quarters of 2018, ready for when I had the motivation to work again. Thankfully, the start of February has felt more inspired and I have started the month with ideas, sales forecasts and strategies in place.

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In April I will celebrate 6 years since I started Claireabellemakes. I do feel lucky that in all that time I hadn’t ever felt like giving up and that I’ve been motivated and excited about the business the whole time. So I will accept my January funk as a blip and be thankful that I’m paying the biggest tax bill I have had since it all started back in 2012 (thanks freelance work!).

Thank you for reading if you got this far! I’m definitely feeling much more positive about everything now and ready to tackle what 2018 has in store.

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Life Lately #14: In The Studio & Around Cambridge

If I’m being honest with you, January hasn’t been the one. I’ve lacked inspiration, have felt completely unmotivated and the weather and lack of light has been tough for my wellbeing. Self-care has been a priority and I have been going to the gym and trying to take time for personal projects. I’ve still been creating, but I took a little step back from products and social media to regroup for a while.

I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things, so thought I would share another Life Lately post to document the positive things from the past couple of weeks. I hung the new rainbow lamp in the studio – a great gift from G for Christmas.Rainbow-Neon-Light

I’ve been immersing myself in planners for the start of the year and have decorated my Bullet Journal with stickers from Nikki McWilliams. I’ve also been filming review videos for the Momentum Planner and the beautiful Hello Day Chic Planner. They are both up on my YouTube channel this week which just hit 3000 subscribers too!

Bullet-Journal-BIscuit-StickersIn product news, I have been brainstorming and thinking about new cards for the shop. I definitely want to keep the colourful, positive themes of my existing collections for new designs! This has also got me thinking about my tagline for the shop and blog, but I’m struggling a bit with what to say. If you have any ideas, give me a shout!Card-Collections-Claireabellemakes

Brainstorming for new cards means I get to play with the Scrabble tile box – definitely one of my favourite tasks in the studio!Scrabble-Tiles-In-ProgressHere’s a sneak peek at a new print idea in progress…….Ride-And-Shine-Sneak-Peek

One of my personal goals this year is to read more. I just finished this book which I would thoroughly recommend to anyone who enjoys snail mail and postal curios. We are visiting the Postal Museum next month – definitely a topic I geek out about and always have done. I used to collect stamps as a kid.
The-Englishman-Who-Posted-Himself-Book Aside from getting back into the studio, I have been enjoying both London and Cambridge seeking out the rare days of winter sun. Jo and I spent this particular day drinking hot spiced apple outside and putting the world to rights.Kings College Cambridge King-College-Chapel-Cambridge Steak-and-Honour-Burgers And of course there is always time for a little bike spotting.Pashley-Bicycle-Cambridge

I’ll be back again soon with a ticket offer for the Knitting and Stitching Show. It’s a great event to visit if you’re into crafts!

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2017 Highlights for Claireabellemakes

After finally waking from my Christmas food coma, I thought it was about time I wrote my yearly review post! I’m not sure if you guys enjoy these kind of posts, but I love writing them to look back on my productivity and positive moments. After creating a new product every month in 2016, my 2017 goals were to find more balance across my business and to focus on wholesale for the shop. Here we go!

2017 in Review Claireabellemakes

January 

The year often starts slowly as I spend time on my tax return and stock inventory. I also take time to review the year past and set goals. Even so, I also opened a shop with the new marketplace Look Lane and took some time out for a watercolour class with Emma Block – thanks to Jo for the great gift!

Claireabellemakes on Look Lane

February

In February I launched the Glitter pins in 6 new colours and they were featured in  local magazine, Cambridge Edition. I worked on some freelance Crochet commissions behind the scenes.

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March

This was the month the blog hit 1 million views!! I also took part in the March Meet The Maker challenge on Instagram and continued work on my freelance crochet patterns. I hosted another Craft party in Cambridge for a private booking.

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In March I also started a new part-time job working as a receptionist in a Cambridge technology company. I absolutely love it and really enjoy getting out of the studio to work with others each week.

April

In April I decided to retire Cambridge Craft Parties to focus on the shop, so hosted my final one for a fantastic group of girls. Jo and I hosted another Cambridge Creatives Photowalk and a TON of people came! I also went on an Olympus Camera photowalk and sold at Norwich Makers Market for the first time.

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May

G and I visited Amsterdam in May and I got to see the beautiful tulips and bicycles! This was the month I finalised the planner pin designs after much sketching and designing. I continued with freelance DIY projects until this month.

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June

The planner pins finally launched and I sold my glitter heart pins on the merch stall at Blogtacular. Attending Blogtacular for the 3rd year was awesome for catching up with my creative pals.

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July

In July I worked with Axa to share a patio makeover on the blog. This marked the start of many evenings spent in our hammock! I also visited Pinterest HQ in London and launched my new card collections in the shop.

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August

I got busy in the kitchen in August to make an apple cake for Pink Lady on the blog. I sold at the Cambridge Made Etsy Fair, went on a fun trip to Dreamland Margate and saw my party hat DIY published in Caboodle Magazine. I also spent the day with Viktorija and Jo exploring Cambridge on our bikes. It was such a fun month!

Caboodle Magazine Party Hat DIY

September

In September I visited Etsy HQ to meet the team and was selected to become an Etsy Educator. I worked on wholesale orders and sent the planner pins to my first international stockist; Washi Gang in Australia. I also sent an order to a Tea themed cafe in Dubai!

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Jo and I hosted the Autumn Cambridge Creatives Photowalk where we worked with Cambridge Satchel Company again and set off confetti canons.

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I was thrilled to get crafty on stage with Kirstie Allsopp at the Handmade Fair for Pinterest  too – A great month for business achievements and productivity. Pretty tiring though!

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October

I worked with Wicked The Musical to run a children’s craft workshop in October and loved every minute! Reloved magazine featured me on their Blog Watch pages and I held my Etsy Educators class in Cambridge to help new sellers get started. I worked with Crown and Glory to add my glitter heart pins to their monthly subscription boxes and took on new stockist Sew Me Sunshine for the SEW necklaces.

Glitterati Box

November

November was spent preparing for the Christmas market season! I also uploaded more planner videos on my YouTube channel and worked with the Sofa & Chair Co and Boots for sponsored content on the blog.

The Cambridge Creatives group visited Escape and Create for a sewing day and mostly just ate cake and chatted about our projects!

The Glitter Wheelie Festive Bikes Decorations were launched in 8 different colours in the Etsy shop (currently on sale until 7 January).

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December

I was thrilled to see the bicycle decorations featured in stop-motion queen Xanthe’s video for Etsy and loved having this full page feature in Velvet Magazine. I took part in Etsy Made Local markets in both Cambridge and Norwich and worked with John Lewis to share decorating ideas on the blog. Jo and I hosted a Cambridge Creatives Christmas meet up at a Wintergarten and I sent out loads of sparkly orders to customers.

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G also surprised me with a 2 day trip to Arras in France where we ate lots of cheese and explored the Christmas markets. It was at a crazy busy time of year, but it was great to take some forced time out and feel festive!

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PHEW! What a year. I definitely feel like I had a better balance between part-time work, freelance and business work across the year and I was able to be more selective about the projects I worked on. I loved meeting people at Etsy and Pinterest and seeing all my creative pals work with Kirstie too for her Christmas TV show in December.

This week I usually sit down and figure out all my goals for 2018. I know that I want to work on getting more stockists so if you know any cool shops that my work would fit in, do let me know! I also want to finally finally finally launch a new website and of course keep creating new products and fun content here for you.

Thanks for all your support in 2017! What was your highlight of the year?

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Life Lately #13: In The Studio

Eek I’m finding it super hard to balance all the things at the moment. It seems like when I’m back in the swing of blogging, my YouTube channel goes quiet and vice versa. I am also working a few more hours at my part-time job lately, which means a lot of my time in the studio is during the evenings. Regardless, I thought I’d share another Life Lately post so you can see behind the scenes in the studio, and what has been keeping me busy!

Claireabellemakes-DeskThe studio has been looking particularly cheery lately after a big bunch of sunflowers arrived from Pinterest to say thanks for my Handmade Fair session.
Sunflowers-Bloom-and-WildI’m feeling pretty proud of how well my Pilea is doing too – started as a baby at Christmas time last year. It lives on my desk so gets plenty of light but not direct sun.Pilea-Plant

There has been a lot of making for upcoming winter markets (see details here) and my handy pink tray from Flying Tiger has kept everything tidy when in progress.In-Progress-Making

I’m still not bored of Scrabble. Are you? And this fabric sample pack from Cloth and Candy has definitely got me thinking about more frame ideas. Work-In-Progress-Claireabellemakes

I’ve been packing up wholesale orders for lots of lovely places – the TEA necklaces went off to a stockist in Dubai and Washi Gang in Australia are now stocking the planner pins YAY!Packing-Wholesale-Orders

I had the opportunity to work with sewing subscription box company Sew Hayley Jane on an order for the SEW pins. Exciting to think there are lots more people out there wearing these now!SEW-Pins-ClaireabellemakesIn small business world we think about Christmas products in the summer. I had the tree up in the studio in October to shoot all the new decorations for the shop and I restocked the original wooden decorations too. All of the Christmas collections are now live and I’m preparing for a Black Friday sale towards the end of November too.Wheelie-Festive-Bike-Christmas-OrnamentThe lovely folks at OttLite sent me one of their Natural Daylight LED Flex Lamps to try out in the studio – they are so awesome for crafters as it allows you to see detail clearly and accurate colours. Since the clocks changed it’s been so dark – so I have used it every day!!Ottlite-Lamp_reviewIt has 3 settings for brightness with a touch button to switch on and off. I am so impressed with the lamp I kind of don’t know how I worked of an evening before it arrived! I would definitely recommend their lamps for creative studios.Ottlite-Lamps-For-CraftingIn other news, I’ve been chomping away on all the leftover Halloween sweets in the studio….as well as fruit and tea of course!
Glitter-PumpkinI had a thorough declutter and changed the stock storage to open shelving which has been so great – makes such a difference to workflow when you have lots of different products. There is still a way to go with organisation, but it’s getting there. The shelving is from IKEA and is next to my desk along with a new white board for restock reminders and money tracking.

Claireabellemakes-Studio-Stock-StorageIt has these great hooks on the end too where I can display my pin collection banners!Pin-CollectionAnd of course, Tammy is always keeping me company in the studio. She’s been a bit poorly lately (we had a severe allergic reaction scare) but after some medicine and rest she’s much better. Just lots of blood tests and vet bills to come!Persian-Cat-Tammy

I couldn’t be without her on the chillier days though – she’s my personal hot water bottle in the studio!Sleeping-Tammy-CatThanks for letting me share today, it’s been a busy few months and I’ve just had to get my head down and keep making making making!

I’ll be back soon with a round up of my favourite Etsy Christmas decorations and some planner reviews you won’t want to miss.

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*The OttLite lamp was sent to me for review purposes and as always, all opinons are my own. This site may contain links to outside sites, including paid affiliates.

The Summer I Did All The Things

We are well and truly into Autumn with my seasonal allergies in full swing, but I’ve been meaning to share all the fun things I’ve been up to since the summer! It has been pretty busy working most weekends and I have had a blast. Since I’m now squirreling away preparing for Christmas in the studio, I wanted to document everything that has passed!

Back in August, G and I took a mini break to Margate for a weekend of beach walks, fish and chips and some Dreamland fun. We lucked out with the weather and found a gorgeous apartment which looked out onto the sea (picture below shows the view!). G had been working so hard on his latest game release at work so my goal was to get him to relax and enjoy the break!

Margate-Beach Turner-Contemporary-Margate Bike-Spotting-Margate

We visited the Turner Contemporary, Dreamland, The Old Town and took some time to paddle in the sea and take photos of beach huts. I also met up with the In Colourful Company and Lucky Dip Club gang for a day of rides and fun at Dreamland. Not gonna lie, I went on too many spinny rides and ate A LOT of sugar, but I survived the roller disco and had an absolute blast. Oh and I went on the world’s biggest bouncy castle because WHY NOT?!

Dreamland-Margate DreamlandxLuckyDipClub-Margate Margate-Roller-Disco

Also in August was one of the most fun days I had all summer. Viktorija (who you probably all know as And Smile) came to visit Jo and I for a day of bike rides and exploring Cambridge. We ate cheese toasties by the riverside and talked about life as small business owners. We cycled all around the city, went punting and shot silly boomerangs. I honestly felt SO happy at the end of that day, we laughed so much, especially after a run in with a hammock! I made a little video here if you want to see what we got up to.

In mid September I had the chance to be involved in The Handmade Fair with Pinterest. Crafting with Kirstie Allsopp was one of the highlights of my year and I have visited the fair every year since it began, so I knew I would have fun. I wrote an entire blog post about the day here (which includes a vlog) so check that out if you want to know more!

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Right at the end of September, Jo and I packed up our balloons and bikes for another Cambridge Creatives Photowalk. There was confetti, tandems, five dogs (including a pug puppy in a hoodie!) and so many lovely people to chat to. Sharing our city with new friends and creative pals is always a fun day – especially when you are introducing 50+ people to Jacks Gelato! We took a different route to last time and ended with a Food Park night market trip to stuff our faces with burgers and churros. You can see all the pictures from the day on the hashtag and here are a few of my favourites.

Cambridge-Creatives-Photowalk-Autumn-2017 Thanks to Tom for capturing this one in accidental rainbow order!Cambridge-Creatives-Photowalk-Organisers

Confetti shot by Diana

Michelle and Elle also blogged about their experiences at the photowalk, which made my heart so happy! We also had support from The Cambridge Satchel Company who have kindly loaned us their beautiful collections for each walk since we started in September 2016! This yellow backpack satchel was the star of the show with everyone lusting over it.

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I also had a great day out with G to Friends Fest which was held in Clissold Park in East London. It’s an amazing fan event with set tours and photo opportunities. We even got to learn ‘the routine’. The weather was amazing and we had such a great time. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the show!

Friends-Fest-London Friends-Fest-Apartment-Tour

You might remember me doing a workshop for Disney last year – well this year I got to work with the same PR company to run a workshop for Wicked The Musical. Kids workshops are always nerve wracking for me (I’m used to adults!), but I loved seeing them all get creative and chatting to them at the show afterwards. We made witches hats, broomstick candy bags and sparkly wands. I had the best day (even though my anxiety was pretty high due to leaving our poorly kitty at home!). Getting to watch the show for the second time was just as magical.

Wicked The Musical

Finally, this month I had the pleasure of running my Etsy Educators class for a small group in Cambridge. We talked about how to set up a shop and how to get found in search, as well as marketing, photography and even packaging and shipping. Each attendee had a great product which was well developed and we are keeping in touch via a Facebook group. One person has already made her first Etsy sale which I’m so pleased about. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to work with Etsy on the class and to meet the other Educators too! I’ll share their shops on my social channels over the coming months if you are interested in finding some new work.

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So it was a busy summer filled with some exciting projects and fun days! I’m so grateful for all the opportunities that came my way. People ask me how I end up doing all these projects and I always say that it comes back to the blog. Of course I keep my eyes open and apply for things that I see (Etsy Educators for example), but sharing my work and interests here has led to so many things that I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

Now I need to get my head down and get making for the Christmas season! I’m working on new decorations which I am SO EXCITED about, so keep an eye on the shop and sign up to the newsletter to be the first to hear about new collections!

How was your summer?

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