I've loved reading other folk's blogs about their year, but have struggled with finding the words to my own year.
As a very reflective person, I could bang on about the challenges, opportunities, excitement, disaster and everything else in-between that went together to make 2014 the year that it was, however I'm going to try and be a little more concise!
2014 started very differently to how it ended. In a literal sense, it started in my parent's sitting room in Yorkshire and ended up in one of my favourite London pubs with two balloons tied to my wrist and one of my closest friends by my side. I'm not sure if there is any symbolism in that, but perhaps there may just be! In a less literal sense, I began 2014 still in my 'year of making it work', having left my career the previous Spring. I ended 2014 safe in the knowledge that it was working, with a lot of opportunity ahead. It's a good feeling.
I started the year with a few aims - to produce a brilliant photoshoot (tick!), to use these photographs to improve my online sales (tick!), get some press (tick!) move my business from home into a studio (tick!), launch on Not on the High Street (tick!) and launch my own transactional website. Oh. That last one didn't happen, but don't worry - it will be happening very, very soon.
In 2014 I learnt to stop beating myself up about not being perfect… or at least I'm trying to do so. I'm one of those people who stay at work until the job is done, not 6pm to get home in time for tea. I always go the extra mile, add the extra details and generally work myself a little bit too hard. I'm not proposing to stop this at all, Oh Squirrel wouldn't be what it is without that, however I've recognised a need to work to more of a schedule. Work is fun, but there were a few times in 2014 where it got a bit out of hand and I felt myself starting to struggle. Twinned with a few events in my non-work life, there were a few lows in the year, however in hindsight a lot of them are very funny now! The reason they're funny is they all got sorted, and they all go into making you a stronger and better person.
Anyway, that's all a bit deep isn't it! Here are a few of the wonderful things which happened in 2014:
- Weddings, weddings, weddings! I got to work on some beautiful weddings for some incredible couples, and went on to produce work I am so very proud of. Here are just a few of these… there are plenty more that are still in the 'secret' stage so keep an eye out for those. It has to be said…. being invited to my client's wedding in NEW YORK and seeing all my hard work in action was pretty much the high point of my year… But I worked with so many lovely clients that when I think back I'm just so honoured to have got to design stationery for their special day
- Hen Parties just went CRAZY! I remember that by February last year I sold as many sashes as I did in the entire previous year… so something was going right! I have recognised that the reason the hen party sashes sell is that they are entirely unique, wonderful quality, personalised and really good fun. How on earth could you drape your best friend in a nasty bit of ribbon with comic sans on (god forbid if I ever get married what my friends will do to me!) when you can choose something crafted to fit, in a selection of lovely fabrics?!
Sorry that sounds like such a sales speech, however the sashes are the item I'm most proud of as I developed them over months of trials and am so happy with them (and these stunning photos, thank you Lisa!). The luxury fabric sashes will be here to stay and soon to launch are brand new fabrics (think vintage style florals but also think modern brights and more metallics!) and the rest of the range is continuing to develop too. I have customers who have come back time and time again and that is such a wonderful feeling - thank you! The badges are still doing incredibly well still and there will be a new product launch this Spring, promise!
- More Stockists! 2014 was the year to develop the product, so I haven't pushed for new stockists, but they've organically come and I'm so happy to work with such lovely, supportive and downright amazing stockists. In 2015 I will be working on wholesale orders closely and aiming to really launch that leg of the business later this year too.
- Oh Squirrel HQ! The second best decision regarding Oh Squirrel I've ever made (the first being quitting the day job). I LOVE the studio, and get to work amongst some incredible people who I consider to all be my friends. Admittedly, this is the point that has changed everything. As someone who has previously had the ability to be a bit of a recluse, the studio has really changed everything and makes my working day wonderful. My walk to work through one of the most beautiful parks in London is often a 'pinch myself' affair. I pretty much always see squirrels en route too.
- I got in Mollie Makes! 3 Times! This was a really special thing for me as I've been buying this magazine since the very early days and back when I was a hobby crafter with a serious anxiety about anything I made being good enough to sell, I dreamed that one day I'd make the pages. To have a tutorial in there this month is a bit of a wonderful feeling. I've met most of the lovely Mollie Makes team too and they're all lovely!
- The Sewists! I definitely banged on about this at the time - I was in a book! A real life book you can buy in all good bookstores. The book party was one of my favourite nights of the year - there were many balloons and Tunnocks Teacakes!
- Learning to say yes… and to say no…. and to ask why. 'Say yes and work it out later' was the great advise of Anna Rifle Bond and pretty much sums up my attitude to business, however there have been times this year I've been bold enough to say "no" when necessary. It's an empowering thing to be able to do, and sometimes it needs to be said. Sometimes you get asked to do things that aren't for you and to be able to say "no" is important.
I'm also going to tell you something now that only a few people know. In 2013 I did Renegade and it was the most wonderful turning point of my business (have I overused the 'W' word?! I'm sorry). In 2014 I applied again, and failed to get in - I got a rejection email and I cried my eyes out. I was devastated. Then the next day I pulled myself together and decided to find out why. I failed to get into Crafty Fox for ages, and when I bravely asked why, the feedback I got was invaluable and I think it was a bit of a turning point. So, I asked. & I waited. & TWO WHOLE WEEKS LATER I got an apology email from Renegade asking if I still wanted a place. I was prepared for feedback and to take it on board, so this was again a bit of a surprise. So I did Renegade again, and had the best weekend of sales I've ever had… and had some of the most fun I've ever had at a Craft Fair too. To see so many faces from the last year come back was such a thrill, and after having my confidence shaken a little, it did feel really good. I didn't ask 'why?' to be confrontational, I asked because I genuinely appreciated feedback. The moral of that story is I guess being brave and waiting to hear constructive comments is worthwhile. The advise I'd give to anyone starting out is to ask for feedback from all your peers, and never be defensive about what you hear. You don't have to take it all on board, but at least consider it.
- New Products - it was at the very end of the year when I finally got the supply chain sorted for these beauties…. and sorted I did get it! I literally could not keep hold of them and actually have a waiting list now! I'm thrilled that this Christmas hundreds of people were told do 'Don't be a knobhead' or 'Get a Grip' by the medium of a pencil… thrilled! They will be back full throttle very soon…
2015 is going to be a good year. I promise. I won't reveal all my secrets, however I'm planning on some serious investment to move everything on to the next level. It's going to be good.
It goes without saying that I would't be able to write all of these wonderful things if it wasn't for you. Yes, you. The customers who have been buying cards from markets at me for years, those shops and clients who took a risk in placing orders with me at the very beginning and continue to place orders all the time (THANK YOU!), the friends who rescued me from laptop meltdowns, drove me to fabrics sellers (putting up with the very sexist service I get in there… and watching as my bloody boils) and dealt with me being the friend to turn up two hours late to every birthday party in the last year (I always bring a card though!), the designer/maker community and in particular a special few people whose encouragement has meant the world, all the people on social media who 'like' and leave lovely comments (believe me…. on lonely studio days you are my best friends!), the amazing photoshoot team - Lisa, Siobhan, Lucy & Katie, my friend and freelance studio assistant Dianne who rescued me on quite a few occasions and has taken wonderful photos for me too, and just anyone who has supported me in any small way in the last year - from teaching me who to make shelving to just telling me to pull myself together and presenting me with a cup of tea when need be. Crikey, that turned into a bloody Oscar speech. Sorry!
2014 was full of challenges and surprises - I still have a few of them to clean up before 2015 can really get going, but believe me when I say 2015 is going to be WONDERFUL…. do you know why? I'm going to make sure that it is!
PS - Haha… 'concise' my foot….
Photo credits here are a mix of being from the amazing Dianne Tanner & Lisa Jane Photography, and a few of my own.