Guest post: Betsy Benn on "networking" (and the antidote)

Betsy Benn is designer, director and The Boss at Betsy Benn Designs and Luna Studio Designs. Having started Betsy Benn in 2010, she’s seen rapid growth and all it brings with it. She’s also a long-time, tip-top client and retreat guest of mine.

In this post she shares all her experiences of networking, and suggests a delightful antidote.

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Have you ever been to one of those local business networking events because next door but one’s cousin went to one once and made loads of contacts and became a quadruple trillionaire overnight? You know the ones. Held in a beige, somewhat dog-eared hotel that seems to be having a chair shortage. Every third person is an accountant or a dog walker and the tea might be free but it’s also weak and the early birds got all the chocolate digestives?

I have. In fact I’ve probably stumbled through at least three more than I should’ve bothered with. I obviously kept expecting Richard Branson to show up or something, but without fail, across the whole range of business types I met, everyone was clearly pitching for business and immediately too. They wanted to do my accounts, bake cakes for the office every Friday or get me to place ads in their appallingly type set local directory. No one seemed to want to make contact just for the sake of knowing other local small business owners for the supportive shared experience of it all!

Creative Retreat 2015

By far the most painful part of the whole process though was that inevitable question, “So what do you do then?” Oh how I hate that question! I know I should have an “elevator pitch” ready to go and I sort of do now, but how do you explain all the intricacies of being a professional small creative?

Passing over the idea of making up something ludicrous (topless motorcycle courier?) I reply with “I run my own design business” which of course brings follow up questions about what I design. “Personalised prints and greetings cards mostly” say I. And then the glazed look comes across my companion as they start imagining me sitting in my kitchen at nights, wonkily sticking mini bows and cut out shapes on a marbled card with scalloped edge and flogging them in hospital gift shops.  They literally have no idea of where we started and what we’ve been through and how we keep going day after day and to be honest, I haven’t got the energy to explain it to them anymore.

Now stop laughing and nodding! Design for yourself the antithesis of everything I have described. A beautiful, bright welcoming space, full of pillowy sofas. An endless supply of drinks and biscuits and nibbles of all varieties whenever you fancy. And a room full to the brim of clever creative sorts, just like you, who know and appreciate exactly the world you’re in. They might have a different experience to you, but they’re eager to hear about your experience and once you all start chatting, magic starts to crackle in the air. An idea from here, a suggestion there, new thoughts, new energy, new directions, you can’t write it all down quickly enough.  No-one wants you to buy anything from them! And when we touch upon the darker, harder moments we all face (possibly over a glass of wine or two), you see recognition and compassion in everyone’s faces. They just, get it.

CreativeRetreat 2015

Doing what we do can be a very isolating experience, partly because our business model is still very new out there. I can’t overemphasize the value I found in being able to spend time with other professional creatives. Time I could dedicate to just thinking about my business without simultaneously having to keep hold of every other job title; wife, mother, daughter, friend, boss and yes, even accountant and dog walker. Utter bliss.

Creative Retreat 2015

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If you need what Betsy needed, check out my upcoming retreats.

Guest post: Gabrielle Treanor tells us what it’s like to retreat with me

Gabrielle Treanor

Gabrielle Treanor is the overthinkers’ coach, and you can find out more about her amazing work at GabrielleTreanor.com. She’s an ambassador for happiness, a stationery lover, and a lovely client. In this post, she describes her experience of my Small Creative Business Retreat in 2015.

There are a number of words that spring to mind when I think back to the Creative Business Retreat in March: space, connection, realisation, learning, reflection, laughter, relaxation, inspiration, comfort, insight.

The Retreat gave me something I didn’t know I needed – time to think, to step back from the business of daily life and look at my work and my life from a slight distance. When you’re in the thick of things, beavering away at your business and getting on with everyday life, it feels normal and right. To take a break from it, to step away from work (yikes, what will happen to the business if I’m not there!) feels risky, indulgent, unnecessary even.

Taking myself off to the Peak District for three nights felt really self-indulgent and I felt quite guilty about ‘abandoning’ my business and deserting my husband and dog. Spending a long weekend with a group of women talking about our businesses but also spending time relaxing (Jenny was quite clear on that point) seemed like a luxury that was hard to justify to myself.

But, as it turns out, that long weekend was exactly what I needed, for me and for my business.

Cliff House bedroom

The workshops Jenny held were a chance to really step back and look at your business as a whole. Thinking about your purpose, what do you want to communicate to your customers, brand, marketing, photography – all so important to your business but not something that we necessarily give enough time, space and thought to. When we’re working to deadlines, getting out orders, designing new products, managing staff, paying tax bills and the other 87 jobs we juggle, it’s hard to make time for the stuff that we know is important but isn’t so easy to tick off a list.

I knew a couple of the other women at the retreat, I’d spoken with a few on social media but there were several women that I’d had no contact with before that weekend. All of them, without exception, were friendly, interesting, running their businesses in their own way, doing amazing things and, not realising just how brilliant they are.

Through the workshops and in informal chats we learned about each other’s businesses. Everyone ran their business in different ways, some on their own in the house, others with staff in premises but we all had similar worries and fears, and we all learned from each other. Running your own business can be a lonely affair so having time to chat with other creative business owners, in a relaxed environment, felt so good. The knowledge that your worries aren’t unique, and picking up ideas and ways to deal with issues was invaluable.

As time went on and we got to know each other a little better, we opened up more to each other and shared our dreams for our futures. Just as everyone is different everyone’s hopes for their businesses and their lives were different, and so inspiring. Sharing and learning in this way is only really possible, I think, in this sort of retreat setting, where you’re spending several days, not just hours, together.

One of the biggest treats (and benefits) of the retreat was not having to do anything! Jenny had thought of everything and her lovely team meant that we didn’t wash up so much as one mug the entire weekend. I think I may have managed to make myself one cup of tea but that was unusual as there was a constant supply of tea, coffee, cold drinks, and snacks. Plus there was a choice of what to have for breakfast, as well as filling lunches and dinners. There was no chance you could go hungry on the retreat!

While it felt a little wrong to do so little to help around mealtimes and clearing up, the effect it had was quite remarkable. With no need to spend thought, time or energy deciding on what to eat, making it, washing up afterwards, we were free to spend more time chatting, laughing, relaxing and reflecting on our businesses. That brain space was so important in how beneficial the weekend was.

Out of all the words I listed at the top of this post I think space is probably the one that sticks out for me. At the retreat I had space to relax, to make friends, to learn, to reflect on my life and my business, to feel inspired and motivated, to savour my life as it is and how I want it to be.

The support and encouragement we all gave to each other felt so good, and continues now. Goals I was just dreaming about in the Spring of this year have been achieved, in part, due to my time at the Retreat.

My life and business is undoubtedly better for having experienced Jenny’s Creative Business Retreat. I’m already excited about what will come of the Retreat in 2016.

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Find out more about retreats here.

Guest post: Betsy Benn on Christmas preparation

Betsy Benn profileBetsy Benn is the owner and designer at Besty Benn, a successful design studio specialising in personalised prints. When her personalised bus blinds launched on notonthehighstreet.com in 2010, her Christmas season (and business) reached new heady heights. Here, she shares what she’s learned about surviving (and thriving) at Christmas.

 

Christmas is coming!

Well technically, like tomorrow, it’s always coming when you are in retail. Even on Christmas Day, you’ll be thinking about next year’s range (unless you’re John Lewis, in which case you’ve been talking about each Christmas 18 months in advance!).

So why am I writing about it in September?

Because now is key planning time for our logistics so you might want to start thinking about yours too.

This will be Betsy Benn’s sixth Christmas, and in that time we’ve picked up a few key facts:

  1. Christmas happens on the same day every year, so you can plan for that (even if sometimes customers seem to forget that it’s coming)
  2. Life is a lot less stressful if you are not phoning around suppliers, desperately trying to source the most commonly used white envelopes that everyone else also suddenly needs.
  3. Your family will understand “petrol station gifts” once, possibly twice, but not forever. They are more important than your business, as are you, as you’ll both be around if the business isn’t one day. Look after yourselves the most in the high stress times.

So practically what does that mean?

Stock up and keep track

Well for us, it meant doing a big ol’, pretty list of the things we can’t run without. As a print business, of course that meant paper and ink primarily, but also everything we use for dispatch (tubes, bubble wrap, postage labels, etc). We stuck that pretty list on the wall, stock piled as much as we could, and checked levels every day in November and December. It almost became a religion! We print our own postage labels, and simple things like pre-printing 3000 of them meant we didn’t have to do it again in peak trading.

The big ol’, pretty list of the things we can’t run without
The big ol’, pretty list of the things we can’t run without

Then there’s the tech that we couldn’t operate without. Printers were serviced, laptops and computers had the once over from the tech clever hubby. If you don’t have a tech clever hubby, may I suggest you go and get one a bit sharpish. Hang out at Game Zone for a bit, I’m sure it’ll be easy.

Get a good team

But, most importantly, what about the people that you can’t operate without? In a small team, it can take just one person to be taken out of action (it is flu season after all) for you to be, well, screwed. And what if that person happens to be you?

Two years ago, our key admin person, who knew every process and did all the customer contact, was unexpectedly out for a week and then had a few days of random hours after that. This was late November and we were rushed off our feet. I admit I went into panic mode, I felt totally lost, and I had to go and have a bit of a stress cry in the loo for a few minutes! I soon realised, as much fun as it was sitting on a toilet seat in the dark, gently rocking, there were no tea and biccies within reach so I was going to have to leave eventually.

Everyone was waiting for me to decide what to do. I called a temp agency and they very quickly found an admin person that was free to start the next day. She was brilliant and still does a few odd hours for us to this day. Sure there was a lot she couldn’t do, but she picked up the easier tasks quickly meaning I didn’t have to do post when there were trickier things that needed my attention. It was expensive, but it was worth it for the relief, and it was only for a couple of weeks.

After that experience, we made it a priority in the business to not have all the knowledge on any particular thing in one person’s head. We can all do post and book it out, even if only one person does it day to day. We can all print, accept orders, book couriers, use every bit of kit. Things happen, people are fragile, and you need to have a contingency in place for how you cope.

If you rely on external suppliers, or outsource any part of your business, then talk to those people now too. We are currently contracting freelancers for all of November and December and understanding who else has what hours.  We rely on external framers, so we have chats about their capacity and how they will cope with the increased demands and what their last working and shipping dates are.

Plan your own Christmas

Finally, plan some of the best bits of Christmas, the family bits! We have three family birthdays in December too, so that’s an added bit of pressure right there! I know already that Lego will feature quite prominently, so that’s easy to buy now and save. Stocking fillers can also be bought well in advance, and I’m guessing some of our lovely colleagues in other small creative businesses would also love to have our early orders! Just don’t forget where you hide them.

Get Christmas presents planned and bought now!
Get Christmas presents planned and bought now!

Schedule some restorative down time now, when it feels remote. A night out at a comedy gig, a family Christmas event,  pay for it too if you can. You’ll be less likely to cancel it even if you are off your rocks crazy busy. You need it, you do. What are you doing all this for anyway if it’s not to have a better life for you and yours? Christmas is about love, actually, and you deserve not to miss out in the process of making it special for strangers!

Book in some food shopping deliveries now. Yes now. Waitrose are currently taking delivery bookings up to 29 November, so in the next month all the December ones will be ready. Make some delicious meals and freeze them for when life just becomes too hectic, or find some lovely “just cook” type meals that will nourish you in super quick time. Personally I overload on entertaining friends in September and October and they, lovely beings that they are, understand and reciprocate in November. And why not book a goodies delivery to the office, all the essentials, whatever yours are. It will be an amazing gift to yourselves.

However you plan for this festive season, start now. Once you start, you’ll feel more confident that you’ve got this, and that can only be a good feeling!

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A note from Jenny: If you’re in need of support over Christmas, check out my Group Mentoring package, or get in touch to discuss one-off and one-to-one options. Let’s make this your best Christmas yet!

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