There are few people untouched by Jack Layton's parting message to Canada, or by the tributes so eloquently paid to him in the last week. Of all the calls to action and words of advice that have been expressed, something Mike Layton said has stuck with me. It's not a new idea, but it's a vital one. In his eulogy, he talked about how Jack knew conditions would never be perfect (the anecdote was about sailing), but you have to make the best of things the way they are, and just go ahead anyway. As Gracie Heavy Hand of the Dead Dog Cafe used to say, "Stay Calm. Be brave. Wait for the signs." I'm not one for "signs" from above or anything like that, but I am a big fan of following one's own intuition or gut feeling. The older I get, the more confidence I have in listening to myself.
It's so easy to live in fear: of failure, of poverty, of loneliness... but to do so is a terrible waste. I've been close to a number of people who have died far too young, so I am perhaps especially aware of how time can run out before you've realized your dreams.
A lawyer recently wrote in a mean-spirited letter to me that it was not reasonable that I was not earning an income. There is so much wrong with this statement. First of all, it is perfectly reasonable and part of my business plan to derive a living wage from my business in year 5, not year 3. To expect differently is to set yourself up for failure. Secondly, what's unreasonable about choosing to follow my passion instead of slogging away at a meaningless job? And finally, there are a lot of earnings to be had besides money. Doing this job isn't just how I spend my days; it's how I spend my life.
I chose to seize the day when I started Wise Daughters. I don't live up to my Carpe Diem motto every day, but I try to seize the majority of them. Because what is the alternative except to let them slip by? I'm not going to let that happen.
The other day, as I was informally sharing strategies with a sister entrepreneur, I realized just how crucial listening is to success in business. By listening, I mean a lot of things - collecting data and feedback, inviting suggestions, and actually listening to people's anecdotes. There is so much useful information to be gleaned!
By contrast, I think about a recent experience I had with Bell, where listening to my very legitimate beef seemed systemically impossible. The upshot of that episode was that Bell lost my business. A behemoth like Bell doesn't care, but the loss of even one customer to a business like mine has a negative impact worth avoiding at all costs.
So, ways of listening.... Technology has made it very easy to ask for and receive instant feedback. An example: I asked my Facebook fans what kind of knitting class they most wanted in October, and they answered "socks." Easy.
All kinds of software programs are both idiot-proof and free these days. Mail Chimp is fantastic for sending newsletters, and has great data-gathering features too. You can see who opens their email, how often, what they link to... it's a goldmine if you know what to do with the information. I was initially shocked to find that only about 40% of the people who voluntarily signed up for my newsletter bother to open it, but then I thought about how often emails I receive go straight to the delete folder. Sometimes I know I'm too busy to do whatever it is the email is proposing to me, but that doesn't mean I won't take a good look another time (point in case - theatre listings). My newsletter recipients have months where they are gung-ho and open the email repeatedly, and months when they don't. But unless they unsubscribe, I can assume they're content to be receiving my information. People often say, "I'm glad to get your newsletter, even though I haven't had time to come to a workshop lately." Staying connected to your customers is critical! We all want to feel a part of something.
Survey Monkey is another fabulously simple program that allows people to anonymously give feedback. I've sent out two annual surveys, and had a surprisingly high return rate. People are busy, but we all like to be asked our opinion, and will give it freely as long as we feel somebody on the other end is listening. Consumers are too smart to fall for trickery, so there is no benefit to offering a chance at a prize for joining an email list or answering a survey, in my opinion. Let your customer do it because they want to.
On the low-tech side, there is tried and true white/chalkboard. I have one in the shop where people can add their workshop suggestions, and I record and keep them. I also ask workshop participants to fill out a evaluation which ends with an invitation to suggest more workshop topics. People almost always take the time to do so. Just ask!
My final thought is this: customer service is all about the relationship. People are becoming less and less comfortable conversing without a screen, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. A lot of customers are only too happy to share stories with just a little prodding. About how their grandma used to make these... and how much their sister loved the... these anecdotes are the best market research tool of all. I discover all kinds of new things about why people are buying certain products.
And I can respond with tidbits about how something was made, or who made it, and the customer gets a story to go with their purchase.
The bloggosphere is a strange and wonderful place. Using Blogger permits me to see all kinds of stats about who is reading my musings. Hello dear readers from Latvia, Ukraine, Romania, Bahrain and Singapore, among other far-flung places! How you ended up on this Canadian arts entrepreneur's blog is a mystery to me, which I hoped to solve in part by checking out the phrases people googled to get here. Among the most intriguing:
- bike sticker stencils
- Shakespearean quote "truer words were never spoke"
- Jian Ghomeshi
- great Canadians you've never heard of
And then there was "Is Mary from Wise Daughters a lesbian?" and the strikingly similar, "Is Mary from Wise Daughters gay?"
Shaking off the various distasteful reasons one might pose this question to the Almighty Google, I choose to believe I have a secret admirer.
But it's a two-headed beast, this Internet. I get inspiration from other people's blogs when time permits, and am pleasantly flummoxed by the number of people who read mine.
At the same time, it disturbs me that Facebook knows way too much about me, and I worry that my daughter's youthful photos will come back to bite her in the bum when she's in the running for a post at the UN, for example. On the other hand, everyone will be in the same boat. There is no such thing as privacy.
Anyway, I'd love to hear from you, kind readers. Let me know why you're here, and what you'd like to read about!
Back from a brief but refreshing break from the shop, I'm busy putting together the fall workshop schedule. The kids are getting their turn with Wise Daughters' summer craft and knitting camps, but the rest of the year is all about the adults.
This is my favourite part of the job, and the reason I opened the shop. I wanted to foster creativity by providing a welcoming space where everybody could try handmaking without breaking the bank or making a huge commitment of time. To that end, all of Wise Daughters workshops are either one-offs, or a short series of 2 - 4 sessions, supplies are always included, and previous experience is never required (except for the odd knitting or crochet project).
I keep track of all the suggestions people make, and try to squeeze as many into the calendar as possible. Some favourites will be back this fall, like knitting, crochet and felting (the ever-hilarious moose head trophy class).
Silkscreening was a hit last spring and will return, and lino-cut printing will be on offer for the first time. Bookbinding is on the roster, and mosaics will be back after a long hiatus.
And for something completely different, I'm very excited to invite people to join a weekly hand drumming class (I did it myself in the spring and loved how it exercised my brain).
For crafters considering selling their handmade products, The Art of Selling and The Art of Marketing via Social Media return.
It's going to be crazy busy, and wildly creative, and I can't wait!