Recalculating…

With considerably more time on my hands than has been usual for a while, I’ve been able to kind of splash the road grime off my brain and look around a bit. Man, have I been doing stuff wrong or what?

First off, let’s be straight. I hate sales. Or perhaps I should say that I hate the active participation in sales as I’ve learned the concept within this industry. Now don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the services that good sales reps provide, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting with most of the sales reps who visited me when I was buying for ThreadBear. I just hate doing it. And it’s not a judgmental thing in any way. But I’m only good at selling what I honestly believe wholeheartedly will be beneficial for my customers, and I’m not the kind of person who can abstain from offering an honest opinion if one is requested. Depending on the depth of the belief and the importance of the question, one really shouldn’t be surprised that I’m going to offer an opinion whether I’m asked or not. Fairly obviously, I have at least a healthy respect for my own opinion.

I do so because I know me. I’m willing to listen. I’m willing to shift my perspective long enough to hear the other guy’s side. And if the other guy’s side has merit, I’m willing to incorporate new beliefs and methods with relative ease. Having never—as an adult at least—been particularly dogmatic, I can respect sales as a calling while acknowledging that selling a full assortment of other people’s products is never going to be an arena at which I excel.

That being said, I know I did an excellent job for some of my customers. And yes, I know that I also did a crummy job for some others for the most part out of no malice whatsoever. Generally, the issue was more economic, but I digress. Several of my wholesale customers have remained very friendly with me since I stopped repping at the end of last winter. We chat a bit, and a few truly have become friends. But for the most part, the relationship of mutually interested colleagues didn’t change much.

We talk about their shops. We talk about new yarns, designers, market influences, promotions, industry gossip, and all the things I talk about with people who share a love for something that 90% of the people we interact with on a day-to-day basis don’t get. I help them. They help me. That’s what I did when I was a rep with those who would let me, and I continue to do it for free with just about anyone else who will let me. Only now, there’s little profit in it for me beyond personal enrichment and professional networking.

So with time on my hands, that’s a lot of what I’ve done. I’ve talked to people. And one of the things I’ve realized is that I really don’t need a job to be a professional. I am a professional. I have marketable skills and monetizable talents. I know these things. I’ve just been so busy trying to make a living that I forgot what my life was about.

I’m not going to go all schmaltzy. I’m a yarnie. That’s what I do. I love knitting. That’s what I do. And I freakin’ balls-to-the-wall LOVE what the fiber arts industry can bring to their—or rather our—market. That is what I do.

But let’s be specific. I was a corporate web developer looking for work in the Indiana boonies when Rob and I started ThreadBear. I worked in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, CFML, ActionScript, and PHP and used Flash, Dreamweaver, ColdFusion. I’ve also done some work in Drupal and WordPress installations and theming. So, I’m blowing the dust off my web developer’s hat. I’ve always kept a toe in, but I’ve been surprised at how easily I’ve been able to shine lights into dark corners of my memory. I’m not sure yet exactly how I’ll market that skill, but that makes one.

A very dear friend has graciously offered her services as a writing mentor. That might seem like a much bigger deal when I tell you this is a published writer who makes her living at the craft and business of writing. I’m ecstatic. I love to write, certainly, but this blog is likely the least planned repository of writing ever to grace the Internet. And Miley’s on the Internet. So—maybe not.

Also, yet another dear friend who is also an established professional in her field has offered to mentor me in the mysterious science of tech editing. Squee!

If you’re not aware, I’m a puzzle fan and always have been. Nothing terribly ostentatious: crosswords, logic problems, Sudoku. The usual fare. But nothing tantalizes like a garment pattern. Well, nothing tantalizes me like a garment pattern. I expect those little amigurumi characters have some interesting geometry, but personally I’m not interested in making them. At this time.

Furthermore, I’ve been ripping apart patterns and putting them back together as a shop owner and teacher for years. I’ve even dabbled however slightly in pattern design myself. So for someone I truly love and trust to offer that kind of assistance was tantamount to deus-ex-machina.

And finally, deus ex machina. Another dear friend who is an accredited professional in her field despite now working in yarn has agreed to work on a project with me that surrounds her background: theology. Maybe nine months before I stopped repping, she and I had a private conversation in which she began asking me probing theological questions to help me pin down or at least consider my own belief system. I have to say that it was one of the most empowering evenings of my life, and we barely scratched the surface.

Each of these projects will be explored further here. I’ve missed you. And I’m eager to play.

Shall we?

Empowering Biz Yarnies

Believe it or not, over the years I’ve encountered a business advisor or two of various stripes, denominations, and levels of personal understanding of how to implement their own advice. That said, I’ve picked up some interesting tidbits of anecdotal evidence that, as self-proclaimed pundit, I believe point in an interesting direction.

A SCORE counselor once told me that banks rarely lend money to start-ups whose owners are under fifty largely because it’s assumed that a professional who has worked in a field for a substantive number of years has failed enough times by fifty that she or he might be somewhat more likely to succeed than a younger entrepreneur of similar skills and collateral. Jack Canfield, co-creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, writes in Success Principles that over and over he’s seen himself that failure begets ingenuity and hard work to overcome that failure, and he’s certainly not the first.

Time and again, we go away to empowering workshops and conferences and are inspired, come home, and have fantastic results for a little while. It’s natural. We’re social beasts by nature, and when what we surround ourselves with every day is significantly different in message from what we hear at those inspiring retreats, the energy we bring home dissipates quickly. Please consider the now fairly universally-recognized image of air escaping an air lock. You can breathe just fine as long as the vacuum holds, but the second you’re in space that little bit of air seems to vanish in an instant.

We as entrepreneurs and specifically as professionals in the fiber arts industry need to build a culture of inspiration.

Success can happen. We’ve all seen it. No, no one’s buying property in Dubai on what they made on a Ravelry pattern, but there are people making livings—good livings—working in the field. Some are shop owners. Some own distributorships. Some are designers and/or instructors. Some are sales reps. There are success stories in every segment of the field: people who did the right thing at the right time and somehow made it work. At least for a little while.

Long-term success is about long-term solid choices. It’s about surrounding yourself with the people who best support your vision and moving forward. And when the world falls apart—as evidenced by every toddler who’s fallen but hasn’t decided whether to cry—is all just fine as long as everyone smiles, pulls together, and keeps on going like nothing ever happened. Well. Except for keeping an eye on that crack in the sidewalk. You do want to remember that.

I’ve been teased mostly good-naturedly by several folks about being forward-focused but discussing past failures. My failures have been some of the most invaluable lessons of my life. I wouldn’t be the person I am or have what I do if I hadn’t screwed the pooch rather dramatically on more than one occasion. Come on.

But moving forward doesn’t mean ignoring the past. The past is full of lessons both from a personal and a historic stand-point. No logical person would argue that history is irrelevant to the future. And my history is fraught with lessons. Trust me.

So where do we get this input? Frankly, I don’t know yet. It doesn’t exist anywhere that I’ve found. What destination can consistently be relied upon to uplift specifically the yarn professional’s spirit? Now, for me that’s often Staples. Or Office Depot. Or The Container Store. The order is nice. Things are clean and neat. And I can dream about being able to afford enough of one type of container to hold all my yarn and craft supplies. But the entire industry can’t stroll through Office Max on a stressful afternoon.

So we have video. TED is a fantastic resource depending on how broad you want to go. You have to be discerning, but you can find some wonderful stuff on YouTube as well.

Entrepreneur Magazine has its own feed of videos on YouTube, and I found one today that really resonated with a lot of what I’ve been thinking about lately. Here, Barbara Corcoran speaks with great energy and candor about the gains we can achieve through failure and rejection. I’m not a Shark Tank fan, but her keynote at the Entrepreneur Magazine’s 5th Annual Growth Conference 2013 was both thought-provoking and empowering. I hope you enjoy it. [running time 1:05:55]

Ok. That’s great. But there has to be something beyond that. There has to be more. There is.

Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender of Kizer & Bender have their own feed on YouTube. If you haven’t been exposed to this pair of delightful lunatics, I strongly suggest you fix that. Yes, Rich & George, I’m telling the world to expose themselves to you. My attorneys will be waiting for your calls.

I’ve also been a fan of Harvard Business School professor Youngme Moon since reading her thought-provoking book, Different. And I’ll admit that it’s the first and so-far only book that ever convinced me to read it from watching a YouTube video.

There’s a vast need in our business to begin to truly scrutinize what works and what doesn’t in a way that can be reproduced and taught to successive generations of business owners. TNNA has done a great deal to get this ball rolling, but a grassroots effort to educate ourselves as business owners and empowered entrepreneurs is necessary if we want to see long-term growth in the overall size of our market.

If you know of empowering videos, books, speakers, or bloggers who you feel might be of benefit to folks in the industry or entrepreneurs, please feel free to share.

Health, joy, and prosperity,
Matt

Changing of the Guard

I have a literary question particularly for those of you who have small children in this age of iPads, but first, I have an announcement to make.

The Technicolor Ram has turned in his resignation. No, no. Not me. The graphic that I’ve used on this site, my business card, vendor line sheets, newsletter, and just about everything else I’ve generated for several years now. This guy.

140302technicolorram

Truth be told, he’s not a bad guy. Frankly, he’s done his job admirably. And he’s definitely come a long way, baby.

Earliest version of the blog banner I could find
Earliest version of the blog banner I could find
And its matching blog button
And its matching blog button
A bit later. And yes, I do proudly admit both my enjoyment of the Star Trek franchise and a youthful dalliance with Microgramma. Don't act like you never.
A bit later. And yes, I do proudly admit both my enjoyment of the Star Trek franchise and a youthful dalliance with Microgramma. Don’t act like you never.
This second rendition of The Technicolor Ram was created from the same original photograph when the file for the earlier orange version when it mysteriously disappeared during a period in which my whereabouts can be verified. Really. Not entirely sure what was going on with the font on this one, but thankfully the top part was lost. Seriously, I think this format lasted a week or two.
This second rendition of The Technicolor Ram was created from the same original photograph when the file for the earlier orange version mysteriously disappeared during a period in which my whereabouts can absolutely be verified. Really. I’m not entirely sure what was going on with the font on this one, but thankfully the top part was lost. Seriously, I think this format lasted a week or two.
To be fair, this is also not my best work font-wise, but it beat the previous one...
To be fair, this is also not my best work font-wise, but it beat the previous one…
...so I built a button and ran with it.
…so I built a button and ran with it.
This may have been developed a little earlier, but my recollection is that this was created specifically for use as a real logo when I started my wholesale repping business.
This may have been developed a little earlier, but my recollection is that this was created specifically for use as a real logo when I started my wholesale repping business.
And upon this resurrection of the blog, I dropped in a black background.
And upon this resurrection of the blog, I dropped in a black background.

And yes, all I did was muck around with Photoshop filters over a photograph I pulled randomly off the Internet. I’d been using Photoshop for a while for basic cutting and slicing of web images as a web developer, but I hadn’t spent much time really working with it. So yeah, despite the sophomoric effort I was pretty proud of him. And yes, the file was Technicolor Ram.psd. I think of these things. Hey, knowing that the mechanical shark used in the filming of Jaws was dubbed Bruce won my Granny and me a mug from Tyler’s Restaurant when I was a kid (this was the even more homespun version of Jack’s when they pulled out of Georgia). It would have been in character for even an eight-year-old me to give it a name.

So now I’m learning several new things, and among them is Illustrator. I know. I’m coming late to the game. I’ve been a software junky since even before I learned to program, and since leaving college that passion for [what are now called] apps that really do their job well has only been refined by my understanding of what goes into building them. I collect apps like freakin’ Beanie Babies. And I have always LOVED (did you notice the capitalization? L-O-V-E-D) Photoshop. And because I was usually under a deadline and working under budgetary restraints you likely wouldn’t believe, I made do with what I had in terms of Adobe products.

But now there’s Creative Cloud. And no, I’m not being paid by Adobe or anything. I just hadn’t really realized that the entire Creative Suite… PLUS… was going to be available online as a subscription service that is infinitely more affordable for those on minimal budgets. I’d heard, but I hadn’t really digested how affordable the service would be compared to purchasing outright the software that even in its last most recent incarnation would have placed it well out of my budget. And because I already own a Creative Suite product, I get a rather significant discount on the subscription. I bought Photoshop CS5 when I started repping—again since I was most comfortable with it. But I’ve had various versions of Dreamweaver and Photoshop for years. I was also a Macromedia Dreamweaver user and an Allaire ColdFusion developer. I worked during college in an ad & graphics agency as a web developer and even went to several intensive courses on how to use PageMaker 6.5, the predecessor to InDesign. (By the way, does anyone else’s fingers want to make that iDesign? God, muscle memory’s an insightful bitch.) But I never really “got” Illustrator. Granted, I never tried at the agency because I was too busy with my own work, and every time I downloaded a trial and attempted to learn even the basics at home, it became evident very quickly that my resources were required elsewhere.

These days, though, I don’t have those kinds of distractions, and I’m quite delighted to announce that I’m a proud new subscriber (thanks to a dear friend’s generosity) to Adobe Creative Cloud. I’ve already downloaded the apps I know how to use, but I’ve also taken the time to download and install Illustrator. God bless YouTube. I’ve been able to immerse myself in tutorial videos enough that I don’t feel like a squishy-headed newbie. I’m obviously not a trained artist, but I feel like I could use the software if necessary and will improve rapidly. Realistically, I’m a geek with a new toy. If I can use it to drive a nail through wood, I’ll likely give it a shot.

So again true to character, I’m offering another sophomoric effort to replace The Technicolor Ram.

New Crowing Ram Logo - Main

New Crowing Ram Logo - Compact

I was going for something evocative but much simpler, easier to reproduce, more scalable, and more recognizable from a distance. What do you think? I’m genuinely curious to know. And any Illustrator masters are encouraged to provide pointers or resources. These are the first two versions I’ve built, but I think they’re certainly good enough for the banner on my blog if nothing else.

Now if only ColdFusion were part of Creative Cloud. Sadly, no. The standard edition runs about $1.5K. So for now, I’ll be sticking with PHP and MySQL… when I’m not relying on WordPress.


And now for the literary portion of our program. Oh, ye friends of the written word, I’m looking for a source. Or maybe a conversation. Or both.

In A Stranger in a Strange Land, Heinlein made a reference I didn’t recognize, but it sounded ominous. Here it is. “The truth was that he did not want to ask the Bear what had happened to Algy. The Bear might answer.” At that point in the book, there’d been no previous mention of The Bear or Algy, so I suspected an allusion. But I didn’t get it.

Through a handful of  Google searches, I was able to find the reference source in this humorous poem.

Algy met a bear.
The bear met Algy.
The bear was bulgy.
The bulge was Algy.

I found it in a few places online, but I haven’t seen a source. Is this of the Purple Cow variety of traditional children’s poems? I don’t recall having seen it elsewhere.

What hit me about the situation was that as an adult who has little contact with children, I haven’t seen this kind of poem in years. Is it just me? Is it just because I don’t have much contact with kids? I believe these were wonderful tools for learning the subtleties of our language, and certainly the physical books that I had growing up were sometimes the only things with which I had to entertain myself. I pored over books of rhymes and nonsense verse.

For those of you who don’t recall or weren’t exposed, The Purple Cow goes as follows.

I never saw a purple cow
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one!

It’s one of a hundred million billion gazillion of these things that were likely the bane of my mother’s existence for years. They might have been why she went back to work so early. Really. It could be a thing.

But they were as formative not only for my language skills but as references within the culture that I can’t imagine not having been exposed to them.

Can you?

Now, please assure me that there’s some method being employed to keep children engaged with the written word. I know friends who are writers—and readers for that matter—who will set my mind at ease quickly. Please, do.

Edited to include note: I found the source for The Purple Cow on Wikipedia: Gelett Burgess. Apparently, I wasn’t checking the bibliography very thoroughly in the third grade.