Learning to let go

This weekend I disabled the auto-renew on four of my domain names. When they expire, they’ll no longer be mine – and this is a rather strange feeling.

Some are old, some are ones I’ve not used yet, some I had great plans for but things have changed.

Mostly, there just physically isn’t enough time for me to maintain fourteen websites. Disabling these and letting them go leaves me with ten domain names and seven actual sites – carlalouise.com / carlawatkins.com / carlawatkinsphotography.com / runawaydays.co.uk / unfurlingyourwings.com / sillykittens.co.uk are all sites that I use and maintain and develop, plus of course inkdrops.co.uk which sits separately.

duckingfabulous.com / mermaiding.co.uk / mermaiding.uk / paperdollsburlesque.co.uk are all redirects, but valuable to me nonetheless.

So what am I giving up and saying goodbye to?

The Website Beautician

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The Website Beautician is officially retiring when the domain expires in early December – I’ve been doing minimal maintenance work for a good 18 months now, and avoiding taking on any more website work. I loved the clients I had and their glorious small businesses, but it was one of those times where following your passion isn’t the answer to everything.

It turns out that though I enjoy fiddling with my own sites, and will happily sit up till 2am tweaking CSS, that joy turns to terror and heavy responsibility when someone else’s site, livelihood and money are involved.

Girl Meets Van

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Girl Meets Van has also sadly come to a halt, because I accidentally bought a house last summer, it’s needed a lot more work to it than I anticipated, and the last of my camper van savings are going on the studio build which is starting at the end of October – I’ll finally have an office/studio space again and I can’t wait!

(I’m typing this to you from the bureau in my living room, where both laptops balance precariously among filing, the mic and piles of post its. My wall planner is draped over the sofa. It is driving me INSANE.)

While I’m letting girlmeetsvan go somewhat reluctantly, I’m also acknowledging that actually, my life goals and what I want have changed since I started that fund and blog.

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All change… but only on the surface

It has been a crazy busy first third of the year… the most packed I can remember, and I don’t say that lightly.

Also, how the hell is it May?!

It feels a lot like everything’s changing – only of course it isn’t, it’s just that weird temporary feeling I always get when everything’s up in the air and I’m a bit anxious about it all.

wooden type at St Botolphs | carlalouise.com(my life is nothing like as organised as the type in this picture…)

Things contributing to overwhelm (which are also fabulous)

Thing #1 – mermaid school is a thing. Not only is it a thing, it’s my thing! The first edition of Run Away Days’ mermaid spa runs on Wednesday, and I have for once had a completely one track mind about it. It’s actually really nice to have prolonged laser focus on just one project, but I’ve definitely reached the point where I’m annoying myself with my perfectionism. So at 9pm when the event is the day after tomorrow, I am calling time on my inner perfectionist and proclaiming that done is better than perfect. It’s already going to be amazing so I need to stop beating myself around the head with my perceived failings.

Also, I have two more bookings, a tail sale and another enquiry – and I haven’t actually advertised it yet! So am muchly excited for the future of my beautiful little mermaid school.

Carla underwater in a mermaid tail

Thing #2 – My fledgling photography business has also taken off quietly in the background, as often happens to me when I’m trying to focus on one thing. This time, photography sessions have snuck in and taken on a life of their own – simply because I’ve finally got over myself, accepted it’s something I do (and do well), and actually told people I’m a photographer. It is amazing what that piece of information does… after all, most people don’t have a crystal ball kicking around, do they?!

There is a whole weekend of mini-sessions lined up in May with the Burlesque Jems, and a very exciting styled shoot collaboration with the gorgeous Louise Rose Couture, as well as some wonderful local artists, authors and artisans who want personalityful images of them at work and at play.

With two distinct strands – solopreneurs in the Business Soloist sessions, and women celebrating their true selves in Unfurling Your Wings sessions, I’m having a glorious time finally doing what I’ve wanted to offer, but have been scared to, for the best part of a decade.

Thing #3 – I am about to start smashing up my garden and re-landscaping. I say “I” – I really mean my brilliant builder Mark and his team, and my lovely parents who are once again project managing. I can’t wait to have a proper garden to enjoy the summer in, but with a digger and a skip the size of my drive arriving tomorrow, I’m mainly just freaking out about the cats. Though I suppose logically, if they can jump *into* the skip, they should also be able to jump *out* of the skip. No?!

At any rate, I’m tasking Mum with keeping them indoors until the builders have gone home each evening. Cross bored kitties are definitely better than squidged-by-digger kitties… they’re much too curious for their own good!

Thing #4  – I think it probably says quite a lot about my current state of overwhelm that I can’t even remember what thing 4 is.

Thing #5 – It’s trade show season for Ink Drops and we are having a completely wonderful time mooching round the Stationery Show and Progressive Greetings Live, drooling over new stationery, getting to know new suppliers and saying hi to our lovely existing ones.

On the plus side…

Delightful stuff that isn’t overwhelming

I got to meet up with Mermaid Azela last weekend, and we spent two hours swimming and taking photos and videos of each other underwater. It was a totally gorgeous way to spend a Sunday afternoon and we’re definitely going to do it again soon!

Mermaid Azela and Mermaid Carla

Cats make excellent Kindle stands… or at least, my Luna-kitty does. Clover stalked off in disgust when I tried it.

Lunathe kindle holding cat

But then, all the comfy places in the world to sit and she chooses an old recycling box…

Clover on recycling box

I’ve also been doing lots of reflecting, learning and reading… more on that in another post.

For now – I believe it’s time for bed, so I have a fighting chance of being awake when the diggers and the skip and the ballast and the paving stones arrive in the morning…!

A solution for February blues (how to get more hours in the day!)

Flapping that it’s February already and you’ve done approximately none of those things you promised yourself you would?! Stop beating yourself up about it – I have a solution!
 
Let me introduce my bloody amazing VA, Lizzie of Lizzie Cheeld Creative Admin (and she of the glorious kittens!). She takes all the stuff I’m terrible at (emails, bookkeeping, organising files, actually anything admin-ish – I can’t believe I worked in admin for so long when I’m so rubbish at it!) and transforms it magically into competent calm from my chaos.
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It took me ages to let go of my stuff and to feel ready to have a VA – but ohmygod, she is the best decision I’ve ever made for my businesses! It felt like something only “big”, “successful” or “proper” businesses have. But I was so fed up of wearing all the hats, and she is so good at what she does that it’s actually been a really easy transition. I’m still hanging onto my emails, just, but would love to hand over the standard responses once I get my own control freakery under control… 
 
She has a couple of client slots coming up and they’ll go fast, so get in touch to see what she can do for you! Her latest blog post shows the kind of things she can do for you, so have a read, especially if you’ve never had a VA before. 
Imagine how good it would feel to not have to worry about your client records, your receipts, your overflowing email inbox – and actually do what you do best, for more of the time?
More tips for a guilt-free February:
  • Tea. Tea fixes everything. 
  • Call, email or even better write to that friend you’ve been thinking about for ages but haven’t contacted. They’ll be delighted and I promise it won’t be awkward.
  • Finally throw out that one garment which doesn’t fit you, is the wrong colour/shape/size, or that you’re only keeping because someone gave it to you and you feel bad. Release the guilt. Feel liberated.
  • Get your filing in order and your receipts ready for April’s tax return. Makes you want to cry just thinking about it? Time to give Lizzie a shout…

With love and unicorns,

Carla xxx

*No part of this post is sponsored or affiliated – but I can’t recommend having a VA highly enough!

Mermaiding, and seizing the moment

A typical dreamy, water-loving Pisces, my lifetime love of the sea, of mermaids, of myth and magic beneath the waves as well as above them, comes as no surprise.

As a child I was forever in the water. Spending whole days at a time in my aunt’s parents’ pool.  Feeling like I’d come home when I went to my family in Cornwall and could swim in the sea.

I dreamed of mermaids and caves, of underwater kingdoms and a beautiful blue tail, which would propel me faster and further than my human legs could do. My hair was always tangled from the salt water or the chlorine, as I found it impossible to be in a pool and not spend most of my time under the surface.

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So when, this year, I finally fulfilled my dream of swimming in a real mermaid tail, I loved it so much, I decided I wanted to find a way for other people to experience it too.

Being me, I didn’t let the grass grow under my feet (or the kelp under my tail) – and I am now over the moon to introduce Run Away Days.

Mermaid experiences for grown ups only, in the surroundings of a luxury spa in the Essex countryside.

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It’s been a roller coaster ride (anything water based is an absolute arse to get insured and risk-assessed), but we’re all set and ready to go – squeak! First dates are likely to be April or May – and I CANNOT WAIT to share this with other aspiring mers.

If you’re not an underwater baby, Run Away Days will also be offering circus escapes and more in the future. Get on the list here or over at the Run Away Days site.

And tell me – what would your ideal escape day look like?

With love & narwhals (because underwater unicorns!),

Carla xxx

(Big thanks to Amy & Laura at Sports Direct Fitness Colchester, who accepted my tailswimming without batting an eyelid, and also to Colchester Leisure World, who have given me permission to swim in the dive pit at certain times. Every mermaid needs to practice!)

 

Goodbye 2015, you were epic

A whole year has passed, and this one so full of enormous and life changing events I don’t even know where to start.

The first and most obvious was buying my house – after endless viewings of places that were either too big, too small, too expensive or in the wrong place, the truth leapt out at me that the house I was renting was the place I loved most in the world. It was home for my kitties and me, and it was just right for the three of us, if in need of a bit of modernising.

So I asked my lovely landlord if buying this house was a possibility, and a few months later, we completed the sale. Then the most whirlwind few months of my life began – with the help of my parents and some bloody brilliant trades, I took down trees, changed the entire inside layout of the house, stripped and redid the wiring and plumbing, had a new kitchen, most of a new bathroom (I put a new bath panel in but left the bath & tiling – it’s already pale blue from my hair dye so figured there was no point buying a shiny new white one to dye that blue too…!), carpets, furniture, a sofa, a new mattress, a new base because I bought a heavy mattress… you name it, I think I’ve done it in the last four months.

In that time, I also moved back in with my parents for five weeks (I can cope without heating or internet but not without either), lost and found (but didn’t really lose, she’s just good at hiding) Clover-kitty, laughed, cried, rediscovered how much I love DIY and my overalls, found out I hate painting after the novelty has worn off, and got rid of a good 50% of what I owned.

Luna, Clover and I moved back in on October 10th, and though at that point I didn’t have flooring, a sofa or a proper bed, it was wonderful to be home. Now everything is more or less finished and it’s just the last lot of unpacking and the garden & studio to go, I am overcome every morning that this is my home, my permanent home, my kitties’ forever home – that it’s so beautiful, and it’s ours, and we get to stay.

There’s a profound change in mindset when you go from renting to owning, and it seems more pronounced for me here as it’s the same house I’ve lived in for a few years. It’s funny how protective I suddenly am of my carpet now I know I’ve paid for it and will have to replace it if anything happens! It’s been the biggest creative project I’ve ever undertaken, and in a weird way it’s also only just started – having sorted out the basics, I can now focus on decor, furnishings, fabrics, art and really putting my stamp on it. Eeeee!

So it’s also been the year I’ve put down roots – I have amazing friends locally for the first time since I left uni, and they are a wonderful addition to my far-flung friends, who I think now span every corner of the world!

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The undisputed highlight of this year was the trip to Texas to see Alan Jackson play live. I still can’t believe we got tickets, and such good tickets – we were right at the front, he was no further away than the length of my living room. I’ve rarely been so emotional, and it really was the trip and the gig of a lifetime – and a dream come true. I never thought I’d get to see him play live, and I’m so very glad to have been able to do it with both Mum & Dad with me.

The rest of the trip was incredible too – it was utterly lovely to catch up with all our friends over there. And I’ve found somewhere else in Texas that I could happily call home. I’ll always love Fort Worth, but the island of Galveston, with sea, sand and shops called The Witchery and The Naked Mermaid stole a little piece of my heart. I’ll go back one day…

My businesses have been a bit quieter in the second half of the year – partly because of the house, and partly because I finally got out of my own way and allowed myself to explore the possibility of making photography part of my business model. It’s my first love, and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t constantly accompanied by a camera. As part of that shift and commitment, I have joined Shining Lights, an ongoing mentoring programme for creatives that started out specifically for female photographers. I joined in November this year and it has been transformative already. I’ve also booked a one to one day with my favourite photographer, Kerrie Mitchell – it’s in March and I’m already overexcited! I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings!

Unfurling Your Wings was officially born this year after 18 months of dreaming, writing and rewriting.  22 brave ladies worked through the first ever live course, sharing insights and connection, and generally humbling me with the way they handled some quite big life shifts. I’m now making tweaks following their brilliant feedback, and will be launching properly later next year. This year, as I’m blatantly not going to get round to publishing this post till after midnight!

I have a new venture (well, several actually – when don’t I have new projects on the go?!) and the stock from the shop here will shortly be moving over to the Unicornery, which will launch in Spring/Summer 2016 with unicorns, mermaids and mythical, magical goodness galore!

I did manage a three day business retreat with the gorgeous Louise Rose Couture, down in Wincanton for the weekend that Hogswatch would have been.  We’re agreed that it was one of the best things we’ve ever done for our businesses – getting away from real life and all the endless things that need to be done when you’re in your own home, escaping to where nobody knew us, and spending three whole days working on our directions, our ideas, our thoughts and dreams and hopes. With a healthy dose of common sense from the other, because both of us can get carried away on occasion!

Out of that I found myself ditching some domains and blogs I no longer use (goodbye, Letters from my Twenties, Girl Meets Van and the Website Beautician), and simplifying and clarifying what I do have, so they fit with my new direction. Which is awesome.

Ink Drops continues to thrive, selling out two to three months in advance, as I write. Turns out there are a lot of stationery addicts like us out there! I love it so much, and I’m so excited to grow our little company in 2016.

I’m feeling more fired up about my businesses than I have been for ages, and I am determined that 2016 is the year I make some really big steps forward!

Kitteny cats and other pets.

a pile of kittens (Luna and Clover)

Oh, my beloved kitteny cats. June saw their 2nd birthday, and November the two year anniversary of when they came home to live with me forever. I am still slightly bemused that I spent so much of my life thinking I wasn’t a cat person – I am SO A CAT PERSON!! They make me laugh every day, they’re snuggly and silly and loving and ridiculous by turns, and I can’t imagine life without them nor remember what life was like before them.

We’ve had our share of frights this year – in February Clovie gave me quite a lot more grey hairs, by falling over and lying sadly on the floor, then spending the whole of the following day at the vet on a drip. She came home that night with a bandage around her leg and generally milked it for all she was worth – bounding around on three legs and demanding to be hand fed chunks of tuna, as they had fed her at the surgery. I believe I have a diva on my hands. Anyway, she was fine in the end, and to my very great relief it wasn’t the antifreeze poisoning we had initially suspected and feared.

The day before I moved out of my house for the main works to start, and just a few hours before they were due to go on their initial holiday to Hilltop, Clover failed to come home after lunch. Though she’s the treat monster of the house, even rattling her favourites failed to bring her home, and by 7pm I was a snivelling mess, wandering the streets with treats in hand, calling brokenly for my lost kitty. Just as I was about to give up and lose the plot entirely, my lovely neighbour turned up looking a bit sheepish and with a rather large scratch – he’d accidentally shut her in his garage in the pouring rain at 8.30am, and when he’d opened it in the evening she’d been spitting mad and starving hungry (she’s always hungry, lol). I definitely could have reacted better to that particular incident, but I was already so rattled by my house being all over the place and moving out, I wasn’t in the greatest of mental places.

While at my parents, Clover (again!) managed to scare the life out of all of us by finding the smallest, darkest, most hidden place in the whole flat and curl up for a nice long sleep. For four hours, she snoozed undiscovered while we assumed she’d escaped out of the sash windows and fallen to her death. We cried, shouted at each other, printed lost posters (to distribute to all the flats we were trying not to alert to the cats’ presence in the first place, as they’re not really allowed there), and generally experienced heartbreak on a scale I hadn’t even imagined. I had no idea how much it would hurt, to believe my kitty truly lost to me, and possibly dead.

So when, after all that heartache, Dad discovered her inches from him, hidden in the tiniest possible space under the printer, I could happily have smacked her furry little bottom (!) and I have a lot more sympathy for parents who shout from pure relief when they think their children are lost and then they come back. And of course I’d never hurt my kitties. Instead I showered her with love, with which she was distinctly unimpressed, shut all the windows, retrieved Luna from where she’d retreated into the bottom of the cupboard to escape her mad sobbing human, and proceeded to take both of them to bed. Where they both refused to sleep in their usual places on my head and my feet. But I had them both back safely. Worst day ever with the best possible ending.

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And just this morning, I heard an ominous thump, then found Luna crouched on the floor rather than sprinting away. When I picked her up and put her down again, she sort of crouch-limped across the conservatory floor, nearly giving me a heart attack, so I rang the vet and made an emergency appointment. Of course, ten minutes later I caught her bounding across the house at full speed, with nothing at all wrong with her. Cats!! Took her in anyway so that I could relax today, and it turns out she has one, possibly two, dislocating knees that she’s had since birth. They don’t cause her pain, but they do sometimes pop out which will cause her to shake her leg around until they pop back in. Le sigh!

But those incidents aside, they’re beautiful and gorgeous and snuggly and wonderful, and I’m immensely grateful to have had another year with them. And so glad we get to stay in the home they’ve known since they were six months old, and that they are so happy in.

harriet and me

In sad animal news, this year we lost my beloved Harriet, who got me through so much pain and heartache when I first moved to Essex. I credit her with keeping me sane and alive on my worst days, and though she isn’t my own dog, she’s left a border collie shaped hole in my heart that no animal will ever be able to fill. I’m immensely grateful for a random series of events in September which meant that I got to spend an hour or so snuggled with her on the forbidden sofa for belly rubs before the rest of the household woke up, and which turned out to be the last time I ever saw my gorgeous girl.

My lovely friend Lizzie also lost her wonderful cat Mr M in December – he was one of my favourite ever cats and he is very much missed. <3

2015 has been gloriously full of fantasy and fun.

I had a steampunk and fae alter ego shoot with the fabulous Grace Hill earlier in the year, and introduced my steampunk gypsy alter ego, Petronella ‘Nell’ Blythe Merriman, to the world; there were unicorns aplenty, including an incredible cross stitched one by Sarah; and I finally got my longed for mermaid tail. I’m taking it for a spin on Monday – and I hope to add mermaiding to my income streams as well as keep it as a hobby.

I tried (and loved, despite the bruises) hula hooping with Anna the Hulagan, returned to line dancing, and I took up regular burlesque again as the Jems brought a class to Colchester, yay! I’ve cross stitched and coloured in, tried my hand at NaNoWriMo (I’m still shit at writing fiction but I really enjoy the challenge) and our Crafty Coffee group has grown. I met up and shot with the Colchester photographers’ group, and 2016 holds a writers’ meetup and a photography group at work, too.

2015 has been the year I have properly embraced single-at-heart. I didn’t actually know it was a thing until relatively recently, but oh, god, the relief of finding hundreds of other people in the world who just aren’t that bothered about finding love – like me, they’re too busy with their lives and business and animals and friends. And the concept of your primary relationship being with yourself, always – I can’t begin to describe how much that resonated. Though I’m sure I’ll waffle about it on here at times. I love my life, and I especially love my freedom. It can take some explaining, as people tend to assume that if you’re single, you’re looking for a man, even when you assure them you’re not – but it’s lovely to have found a niche at last.

Perhaps that’s part of being nearly 30… I feel like I’ve spent the last decade searching for where I fit and belong, and where I proudly stand out, and what I really want out of life. If that’s the case, I’m extra excited for my thirties!!

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Family and friends – this year would have been completely impossible if not for my incredible parents. My house is a monument of their love for me – from them being there every day to project manage, to diving in and doing the DIY despite their health issues, to housing me and the kitties for far longer than they expected without a murmur of protest, they have made my dream life leap closer and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put my gratitude into words. (Though I’ve tried, with a Spotify subscription, C2C tickets for March and a yet-to-be-chosen treat for Mum, plus lots of Christmas presents).

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We also had Christmas at my house this year which was really lovely – though we escaped to my favourite pub for actual lunch, it was so good to host in the house we’d worked so hard on!

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I’ve not seen as much of Gran as I normally do because the house took up every waking moment, but I’m looking forward to seeing her more regularly next year. Here we are in the summer – she takes a great selfie!

I am now the proud cousin of 43 and one on the way – and my eldest odd-daughter (we’re not religious and we prefer odd-daughter and odd-parent to goddaughter and godparent) and her other half have acquired an adorable puppy called Dexter. He’s a puggle. He is ridiculous and glorious. My middle odd-daughter is starting to visit universities and my youngest is halfway through GCSEs. I suddenly feel almost like a grown up- albeit one who swims like a mermaid, wears wings and fervently believes in unicorns. The rest of my extended family is as fabulous as ever, though my aunt and I have been hilariously successfully booking and cancelling lunch with each other for months as life conspires against us… perhaps 2016 will be our year?!

My gorgeous friends. The old and the new, the geographically distant and the ones just up the road. I’d be lost without you and I love you all. There have definitely been some shifts in my friendships over the last few years, as we’ve all grown into ourselves and started building our lives – hopefully the lives we dreamed of. There have been some drifts and some unexpected reunions, some people I get on far better with now than I did growing up, and some whose lives are so different now that though we love each other, we don’t have a lot in common any more.

There are always the people who, no matter how long it’s been since we last talked, even if that’s counted in years rather than months, always feel like I saw them yesterday, and we pick up just where we left off. And then there are my new friends, who have all solidified from acquaintances this year. As always, when I click with new people, I rapidly can’t imagine life without them. I’ve not managed to scare any of them off (yet)! And all of them, old and new, feel like blessings.

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Two of my best friends got married this year – one in May, one in March. I was bridesmaid at one and photographer and witness at the other, and oh, it was so wonderful to see two of the girls I love the most formalise their relationships with their frankly awesome men. I’m proud to have them both as honorary brothers in law.

One of my gorgeous uni girls had a baby in November, a seismic shift but a good one for our university group. More or less everyone my age is getting engaged or married, including my first love – we must be getting old! I am delighted for them all but a bit nervous about how I fit eight weddings in next year and possibly more in 2017. My sister-by-choice is pregnant and due in January – I’m unbelievably excited but also apprehensive, as though nothing could ever hurt our friendship, children do change things.

There has been a rash of house buying too – we must be at that age, all of a sudden. But I’m very much looking forward to a 2016 full of weekends away, at weddings, at hen gatherings and at people’s new homes.

Work wise, I passed the three year mark at the university – I have never in my life stayed in a job more than 21 months at the outside, so this was a major milestone.  Having panicked a bit and then realised my panicking was just habit, I’ve come to the conclusion that because I have an incredible amount of freedom on campus, to work how and where best suits me, I’m not finding it as restraining and draining as my previous jobs have been.

I think I’ve also started feeling differently about my day job since I agreed the sale of the house – suddenly regular income has a lot more appeal than it used to! And the people at work are amazing… it never ceases to astound me how lovely it is to find likeminded people who get me, who think like me and who accept me heart and soul for who I am. Mermaiding obsessions and all!

The day job highlights have to be the day the Comms office called me to say they’d saved some newspaper clippings of me in my knickers (promoting the new burlesque classes) and the sheer enthusiasm that followed the stunned silence when I told my team I was phoning our leisure centre to get permission to swim in my mermaid tail. I can’t begin to express how much it means that I work with people who understand how important everything out of work is!

There has been so much more to this year, and intriguingly this isn’t the post I thought I was going to write – but it’s an apt summary of one of the most rollercoaster years I’ve had. I hope that 2016 is just as epic but a little calmer – I’d like to have some time to breathe without worrying about what I’ve missed, not done or am getting behind on.

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As a final note, my words for 2015 were Freedom, Magic and Simplicity. I think I’ve achieved them all in spades – and they all helped in all sorts of unexpected ways. Simplicity especially, as in January I had no intention of buying a house, but by August I had – and in packing everything up so I could renovate, keeping a focus on the simplicity I craved but had never mastered made it much easier to get rid of stuff. It’s also making it easier to unpack and be very selective about what makes it back into my house from the garage.

There is always magic in my life, but far more so now I have my own house. And I think more than a little magic is in my mermaid tail and my friendships, my family and my kitties being safe and sound despite their tendency to get into mischief. I’ve found the magic of belonging and of finding my place in the world – the home I want to live in for a long time to come, and also greater clarity in my businesses and projects than I’ve ever had before. The confidence I’ve found in my photography after a decade of fear is also nothing short of pure magic. (or PFM, as my Dad would say).

Freedom… has come to me in an unexpected way. I don’t have the full self employed freedom I always thought I wanted, and do still eventually want. What I have instead is a steady income with an amazing manager who understands that I work best when I’m not cooped up – so I can work wherever and whenever is best for me as long as I’m on campus during the working day. Which is fine by me. I suddenly have freedom from renting and the security that comes from making payments towards your own place – sounds odd I know, but it makes such a difference to how I feel. And for the first time in my life I have better control over my money and no debt except for the house – which is giving me unprecedented creative freedom, as I stop wasting energy worrying about my overdraft and instead pour it into my imagination.

And on that note, I’m off to work through Unravelling and Leonie’s planners, and get my bullet journal sorted for next year… and think about what words I want to fuel my 2016.

Happy new year, my loves – congratulations if you read this far, and thank you, always, for reading at all. I can’t imagine my life without blogging and while I’d do it anyway, you guys are the best reason to keep showing up and waffling into my keyboard.

With love, unicorns and narwhals,

Carla xx

What no one will tell you about starting your own business

Through my various ventures and the community of solopreneurs who keep me sane, I’ve learned some intriguing truths about starting up. Whatever stage of business you’re at, whether it’s thinking and daydreaming, early stages or you’ve been going for years, I hope they help.

It’s allowed to be fun

This is from an actual shoot we did for Louise Rose Couture.

I have been musing recently on how un-fun (is that even a word? It should be if it isn’t) lots of business courses and seminars are. The ones I’ve been to in the past have been helpful on the one hand, but I can also imagine them being offputting. With pages and pages of business plans, finance information, insurance and scare stories about what happens if you get your tax return wrong, it’s enough to make you want to run away and hide (and that’s before I mention the EU VAT fiasco…!)

But if you don’t love what you’re doing, and if you don’t allow yourself to have fun and enjoy your business (and build in ways to do this from the start), you will find yourself with a cage you’ve built yourself, which is far harder to escape than the 9-5 you so joyfully quit months or years ago.

(This photo is from an actual shoot we did for a Louise Rose Couture collection.)

You’re allowed to change what you do

But do make sure you check in with yourself as to why you’re changing. If you genuinely don’t like what you’re doing, or you know you work best in cycles of things, then go ahead and change it up – as long as you communicate it clearly to your customers and clients, no one important to your biz will bat an eyelid.

You have my full permission to ignore any naysayers who predict doom and gloom. We’re small and nimble, we can change with the times – and we can change on our own whims, too. Some of my most successful solopreneur colleagues have been through several editions of their businesses before they found the one(s) that work best and light them up.

There will be days when you wonder why the hell you started this

Yes, even for that thing you LOVE to do, and do in your spare time, and you would totally do even if no one ever paid you for it. Even when you are earning decent money from your biz (and definitely when you’re not yet earning decent money from your biz), and even when you have All Of The Flexibility because you finally left your day job… you will still have days when you wonder what on earth you’re doing and why in the name of all that’s cat shaped on the internet you ever thought it was a good idea to work for yourself.

It’s normal, it will ambush you when you least expect it, it will go on happening for your entire life as a solopreneur. But it will also pass, and you will emerge the other side. I promise. Find yourself a likeminded and sympathetic buddy you can call when you’re considering jacking it all in.

Day jobs are cool, too

Do not ever let anyone shame you about working a day job. It could be a delightful part of your portfolio, or it could be something you do simply for the money. Whichever way round, having a part or full time job for someone else in no way makes you less – you are still self employed, you are still creative, you are still amazing and you are still changing the world in your own way.

My day job meetings often look like this. It's a world away from the London corporate cage!

My day job meetings often look like this. It’s a world away from the London corporate cage!

I can tell you from experience that you can’t create from a place of desperation, and if you have quit your steady income too early, you’re highly unlikely to be creating your best work while you worry about where your next rent payment or grocery shop is coming from.

For those who have jumped and the net hasn’t appeared – you can go back! Two of my friends have recently gone back to full and part time day jobs, which, because of their self employment adventures and passion projects, are more aligned with their strengths and what lights them up than you’d believe.

Lots of us flit in and out of jobs as money requires – this is ok. Do what you have to to enable you to do your best work.

Which leads me on to…

It will take more time than you expect or plan for

A bit like any kind of building or home improvement work, no matter how clear your vision (and let’s face it, they all cloud over at times), and whatever your level of social media proficiency, building a network and community around your business, who will turn into your loyal customers and raving fans, takes time. More time than you expect.

But when they come, they are so worth waiting for! Steady, consistent, interesting content is the way forward – and if you don’t have much of an audience yet, that’s ok – it gives you time to experiment without worrying.

Your list is less of a big deal than you’ve been told

Lots of online and offline courses will tell you the most important thing is your ‘list’ – the people who have given you their email address. A selection of current advice seems to be that you can’t blog without an opt in, you can’t have a business without a blog, and you certainly can’t have a blog without a list.

While there is some truth in the fact that the bigger your list, the more likely you are to have big paydays when you launch new products, Shenee points out that most courses and online products take 3-4 runs to become remotely profitable, and that many people sell from a very small list and do extremely well.

It really is quality not quantity that counts.

That idea you have? Try it and see what happens.

Go on - transfer that idea from your head or your notebook out into the world

So you shouldn’t be put off by the website/blog/opt in/list/etc you “should” have before starting.

Neither should you assume you need to have a seventeen page business plan and financial forecasts before writing your first post about whatever it is that’s persistently lurking in your head. We are fortunate to be living through the internet revolution – so start a site and test the market.

Start a blog and write some posts, gather email addresses with a plugin like SeedProd’s Coming Soon Pro, set yourself a challenge to talk to twenty or fifty or a hundred people about your idea and get feedback, make a prototype and film it for YouTube… there are endless ways to start without freaking out, and without spending a fortune until you know whether the product or service will work.

Go on – transfer that idea from your head or your notebook out into the world.

You don’t have to be THE expert to be an expert

You know when you show your Gran how to send a picture message and she’s fascinated? Or when you pop in to see your parents and solve in ten minutes that pesky computer issue they’ve been having for weeks but haven’t wanted to bother you with? When you can spell “supercalifragilisticexpialadocious” without reference to Google and your colleagues think you’re some kind of genius?

What comes easily to you, doesn’t come easily to everyone else. And you don’t have to be a world leading expert in order to appear expert to, and be truly helpful to, the people you serve.

So don’t be put off by knowing less than someone you admire – just make sure you know more about your subject than the people you want as your clients.

 

What have you learned, that goes against conventional business wisdom?

How the EU ruined my November – and is killing microbusiness

What a month November has been.

Supermodel cat is obliging, yet frowny. #sillykittens

A post shared by Carla Louise (@duckingfabulous) on

Starting off with an attempt at National Novel Writing Month, I had a wonderful time rediscovering my love for writing fiction (and Luna and Clover got starring roles in a story about how they became witch’s cats). Alongside that I spent some time working on Unfurling, which is beginning to take real shape, and is making me very happy.

I got a Ralph unexpectedly at the end of October…

Ralph's first crochet lesson #essexralph

A post shared by Carla Louise (@duckingfabulous) on

… and spent a weekend wedding dress shopping with my best friend (for her, not me!). Which was glorious though I’m not allowed to share photos yet!

Completely differently but equally excitingly, on Sunday I appeared on my first live call, an interview by Vaska the Curious Cat, for Free Range Humans‘ storytelling tent. I am told I inspired people… and this is massive, as that’s all I ever really wanted to do. Show people that they too can live life their way, whatever that means to them.

There was a housewarming with wonderful friends from uni, and a christening with my closest friends at home in Essex – and the newest member of our group, baby Jessica (whose special day it was).

(more…)

{work happy} To blog or not to blog?

When I started blogging back in 2005, relatively few people were doing it, and I kept it very separate from my actual life. So separate, that it took me until 2009 to start blogging for business as well!

However,  nowadays it seems like everyone and his dog has a blog (no rhyme or pun intended).

So do you need one for your business?

laptop camera notebook

Well, I’d say it depends. In the social media & blogging workshops I used to run, I always emphasised the fact that just because a platform exists, doesn’t necessarily mean you need to use it.

A blog can help to drive traffic to your website, but a blog alone won’t – you’ll need to promote your posts and perhaps guest post elsewhere to raise your profile in that way.

If you’re a prolific writer, you can add a sprinkling of keywords to your posts and you’re sharing valuable information with your target audience, then blogging could be a perfect way to get your name out.  It certainly adds a sense of you to your business, and people often love a behind-the-scenes look at how a business they like runs.

As with all marketing, the more a potential client gets to know you, the more they’ll know if you’re a good fit – and you’ll become the definitive and obvious choice when they have need of your type of product or service.

If, on the other hand, the idea of writing regularly makes you want to run far, far away, then perhaps you’d be better blogging just photos, or using one of the myriad other social media platforms out there.

glasses laptop mouse

Some require only short updates, and allow you add photos if that works for you. But for blogging and social media, the best combination of all is the one that works for you. If you hate a particular type of platform, or find updating it intimidating, it’s never going to reflect you in the right way.

So you don’t HAVE to have a blog. Look at all the options for promoting your fabulous biz on this wonderful thing called the internet, choose the ones which appeal to you most, and focus on those.

It’ll make your message stronger, more you and so much more compelling!

xoxo,

Carla

 

 

 

 

[A version of this post first appeared on sister site, The Website Beautician]

A little business housekeeping

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This evening I have mostly been doing a stock take for Ducking Fabulous – I have two fairs coming up and will shortly be reopening the Etsy shop… and I have plans to also open shops on Folksy and ASOS. Exciting times!

Having worked out what I have, I’m now on a mission to find new suppliers for chains, and I’m also experimenting with metal stamping…

Coming up on the blog in the next few weeks…

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Incredible chocolates from the very talented Fran at B Chocolates |  Essie nail polish and buyapowa review (hint – it’s a good one!) | chicken, tarragon & nutmeg pie recipe | adventures in aromatherapy | experiments in crafting | a super secret project 🙂

PS The photos are in black and white because the light in here is appalling!

It’s not just me! Fitting a blog and business into real life…

Flicking through my emails and Google reader feeds this morning, one quote stood out to me –

“As many of you who have your own baby blog will know, there are days when on top of your day job, your family, your social life, paying the bills and dealing with life’s other unexpected twists and turns, keeping up your true passion seems all a little bit overwhelming and a tad tricky.”

(http://normalityandme.com/2012/05/29/ifabbo-uk-conference-2012-inspiration-breeds-inspiration/)

I work full time in London, I spend 3-4 hours a day commuting and I also run a business, two blogs and have numerous interests I pursue while also trying to keep up with a wonderful but sometimes overwhelming network of friends & family. While it’s all my choice and I wouldn’t have it any other way, it does occasionally all get on top of me and I wonder what the hell I’m doing. However, every time I’ve tried to drop something I do regularly out of my schedule, I’ve just found myself miserable without it. I’m not designed for sitting around doing nothing – I need to be doing, planning, achieving, socialising, building – but it’s unutterably lovely to see, written down in black and white, that I’m not alone in sometimes feeling a bit “eek!” about it.

Despite the occasional terrified feeling, I do feel like I’m making some progress  – I  am in the process of booking my attendance at some fairs later this year, have plans in place for expansion of my range and am booked onto the Cybher bloggers’ conference next year. I regard this blog as its own entity, not simply a way of promoting my shop (though it does that too sometimes!) and I often look back at my pre-blogging days and wonder what I did with my time. And what moments I’ve missed recording!

Hope you all have a fabulous Wednesday – I’m off to burlesque class tonight, and will be working extra hard as I missed last week. We’re learning to take our gloves off with our feet…