advice

Lessons in Business by Ashley Cole

Photo courtesy of Susannah Leigh, Mindzai Creative

Photo courtesy of Susannah Leigh, Mindzai Creative

Hello there!

I took this week off from doing my typical business of woodworking to focus on other endeavors. I really needed to take time to paint a few rooms in my home and just get things in order over here. That being said, I wanted to share a few lessons I've learned in the past few weeks about business. I believe these can pertain to any business but especially freelance/contract work.

1. You're going to hear a lot of 'no'.

This goes without saying and basically pertains to anything that you could possibly do in your life. You're going to hear a ton of 'no' but then there's going to be a few times that you hear 'yes'. I've had my fair share of let downs lately, people not taking the time to reply to emails but I also managed to get a few positive responses that give me hope to move my business forward. You just have to keep telling yourself that behind every 'no', there's a reason. You may not have been the perfect 'fit' for their business, or honestly, the universe is just trying to save you from a lot of heartache in the future. I'd rather have a hard 'no' than a flimsy 'yes'. Pick yourself up and carry on, you'll eventually find your spot.

2. People are going to tell you they'll order 'soon' and never will.

This goes with the 'no'. I've learned to take every 'soon' as a hard 'no'. This allows me to not bank on the money that may or may not be arriving in the near future and to focus on the now. If I spent every day (which I did for a while) thinking about when a certain company/individual was going to order from me, I'd go crazy. It's best to focus on the things you do have over the things you don't. Take the 'soon' as assume it isn't going to happen. This will free up your mind for more creative things and remove the worry/anxiety.

3. Some days you're going to sell a lot of product, and sometimes you just have to have a sale to make a sale.

Don't be afraid to slash your prices for 24 hours. Don't be afraid to just clear out inventory in order to be able to be creative. If you've had pieces laying around for a while and aren't happy about it- do something about it. I told myself I wouldn't do sales because I didn't want to lose money, but I've learned that sometimes you lose money by letting your business go stale. It's better to slash prices and get your product out there (within reason) than sit stagnant. At least now, I can create more pieces. For me, it's about the act of creating- not necessarily the selling even though that's a nice bonus. *That being said, don't undercut yourself so badly that you're bleeding money, just discount enough to give that extra nudge!

4. People in your field are going to be assholes, and by assholes- I mean assholes.

There's a certain individual in my field that talks trash on everyone. Within a few weeks of announcing my own shop, the individual blocked me on social media and sent a fairly backhanded email my way. Do you know what I did? I sent the individual one back stating that I understood that they felt that way and I valued their art/craft and I hope they had a good life. Do you know why? Because they're insignificant. They don't know you, and they don't know your capabilities. Don't let them get to you. Insecurity comes in a lot of shapes and sizes and when you start your own business you'll see very quickly those that are insecure in their own lives.

5. People in your field are going to be amazing, charming, sweet, and best of all: supportive.

With the exception of the person mentioned above, the love I've received from the women in woodworking has been so wonderful. There are so many beautiful souls in this business that work hard and don't do it for the fame or notoriety but simply because they love it. And these women range from bumping into people at the post that have done woodwork and their eyes light up when they talk about the cutting board they made in grade school- to the women that are influencers that create beautiful art that's featured in magazines. Find your tribe, stick with them. They'll help you and give you wisdom and advice. They'll support you and encourage you even when you feel at your lowest. 

6. Don't be afraid to say that you don't know what you're doing.

None of us do. I've learned that no one doing this actually knows what they're doing. From my mentors to just random people at craft shows, we all are just winging it. I'm blessed to have the mentors I do, they've guided me and given me tips on how to avoid a financial disaster (hello, make sure you have a separate account for your business money) and how to appropriately approach a store regarding becoming a stockist. I wouldn't be where I am today if I didn't have the help of these people, and it's all because I asked. I sent an email, I invited someone to breakfast, and overall, I just tried to be decent and a friend. 

7. Don't invite someone to breakfast, email them, or ask them if you aren't serious.

I recently read an article about how people sometimes invite someone to reach someone else that person might know. If you aren't serious and the individual isn't the person you want to talk to, don't waste their time. People running their own business are busy and likely are more than happy to share their knowledge but don't waste their time. Be concise in your email. If you need help with things, ask specific questions. If you want to pick their brain over breakfast, be sure to pick up the check. They're not making money while sitting and talking to you, be conscious of this. And most important of all, say thank you. Give that friend a hug and let them know you're available if they ever need help on something. Establish a mutual relationship. And second most important: keep in touch.

8. From a business side: never leave someone hanging.

This is my biggest pet peeve. An unreturned email doesn't say 'I'm too busy to reply to you' it says 'I'm ignoring you because I don't want to talk to you.' I always always reply to emails/inquiries within a week maximum. Take a day and reply to your emails, it's likely going to be the worst slowest day of your life, but it makes you look infinitely more professional. If you're asking for something from someone, email back within 24 hours. If someone is asking something of you, I give you a week to reply to their request. I sometimes get curious as to how people manage to get anything done with the amount of emails that don't get responses. 

9. Don't be afraid to check in.

If I haven't heard from someone regarding a business deal, I check in. I will send an email over around once a week. I don't have time to wait around and see if you're going to email and I certainly am not going to begin working on something for you if you haven't responded to emails I've sent. Don't be afraid to just pop in and see how things are going. I do this twice, and if after the second time my email is not responded to- I move on. Same goes for receiving the check in, sometimes I get busy and forget that someone has emailed me. I get the check in a few days later and I immediately respond because it jogs my memory. Always, always check in.

10. Don't start a job until you've got at least 35% down to cover materials.

I do 50%. Point blank. If I'm going to invest my time and resources making something for you, you're going to be equally invested. We're 50/50 partners. If I lose 50% of my money, you're going to lose 50% of yours. However, 35% is usually a good number if you're not comfortable asking for 50. Baseline is to always ensure that you have enough money to cover the cost of the materials, that way you're not completely empty handed if the job goes sour. I also respect people more and trust people more when they're willing to work with me on this and don't shy away immediately. I think it says to me 'okay, we're investing in you, and this is going to be great' where as when someone shys away it says 'we might not go through with this and don't want to be stuck paying you.' The second is a red flag for me and after being burned on some projects- I get paid up front.

11. Lastly, sometimes doing a consignment is best for everyone.

The only exception to the rule I have is on consignment. I know plenty of people that have had bad experiences with this because the general split is 80/20 and people can easily cancel orders since they're not investing money in them until they've sold. I do consignment, but only with people/places I can either visit or trust. It just makes things easier. If I know you in person, you're less likely to back out of my work for you. Where as someone that I've contacted via email, may not be personally invested. However, it's worked for me and I've developed beautiful relationships with businesses through it. Give it a try, see what works best for you.