Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Kick in the Butt

Early last winter I needed a kick in the butt. I was feeling like I was going nowhere and floundering. I had ideas floating around in my head but that was it - they were just floating. Somehow I heard about a consultant named Allen who came bi-weekly to the local Chamber of Commerce in Greenfield. It is a service provided by the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network's western regional office and it is free.

I took the leap and signed on for an appointment with Allen. We met several times and he got me on track to further my plans for my Get Stitched on the Farm classes. Basically I think Allen thought I was a bit loopy. I told him about our farm, about my books, about my designing. I don't think he had any clients quite like me. At one point he looked at me and he asked me why we bothered to have sheep and birth lambs. I told him he wouldn't understand and that it was just what we do. We kind of left it like that. I kept visiting Allen for a few more months and I got my business on track. I learned a lot from Allen and I really should go visit him again. He gave me some ideas I never would have thought of. He isn't stuck in "my industry" so he thought out of my box which was helpful.

Allen asked me if I would be interested in working with UMASS students. (University of Massachusetts/Amherst is about 45 minutes from here and he is a Professor there.) He said that sometimes his clients work with the Isenburg School of Management as test cases. In particular, he offered hooking me up with a Professor who teaches website design and marketing. He said if I was interested, he thought perhaps the students could build me a website for my Get Stitched Classes. Me, I'm always on the look-out for help since I am a one-woman show (with some fab help from my tech editor/webmaster Lori and other good friends - it's hard to do anything without good friends). And then I waited and waited. None of the students were interested in my business. Oh well.... I thought .... this business is always misunderstood. I'll just keep plowing forward on my own. We ran several successful classes this summer and I learned some more.

And then Allen emailed me this September. Did I still want that free website? Oh yeah. Enter Sarah, Xiumel, and Cherry. We met in late September here at the farm. They were so excited and personable. Like with so many younger people, nothing was impossible. I love that energy! I became their client. I had to write the copy, organize the whole darn thing, sort through thousands of photos, burn CD's, review a "site map." Lots of going back and forth. I designed two different banners because the first didn't work. There was lots of driving to the town hall to look at the faux website because it wouldn't load on dial-up. We've been working on the website for a few months now and unfortunately, it isn't ready to be announced to the world yet.

Basically this post is just a big old tease. But not really. Last night my family and I went to The Isenberg School of Management to Room 129. There we watched all of the business students present their websites to the professor and their fellow students. I waited in anticipation knitting away in the back of the room. I knew what our site looked like and I knew I liked it. But it was really interesting to see what the other students had developed, to meet the other small business clients, to hear more about SEO, SWOT, and all the other terms that were thrown around which basically I know nothing about. Sometimes I really miss school..... Julia sat there intent, listening, she even started taking notes. She turned to me a few times and said "Boy Mommy, this is really interesting." My heart swelled.

And then it was our site's turn. The lights went down and the PowerPoint began. The girls described me, my business, our house, and the Get Stitched Classes to the other students (mostly boys around 20 to 22 years old). They did a fabulous job with the site. They worked so hard - I can't imagine how long it all took and how they fit it in with all their other classes. Here's the banner that you will see in the future.


The girls had urged me to come to the final class and they said I should bring a cheering section. They said that the sites would be voted on by the students and that one site would win. I could tell they wanted to win. Me too. I guess I took them seriously because I brought the family. After all the presentations were complete, the Professor finished up some odds and ends of Class Evaluations (boy, when I was in school we never got to evaluate our teachers!). And then the votes were tallied. And guess what? "Get Stitched" was the winner! How cool. Noone will know this except for the 20 or so kids in the class and my family and now you. Here's a photo I snapped of the girls before we left the room. Aren't they the cutest?

The website won't be up for awhile officially but I will surely let you all know when it launches. But what I wanted to share with all of you was the experience of the past few months. I get lots of e-mails from women out there who want to become designers. They ask me for help, advice and guidance. Mostly I can't answer them in depth. I don't have the time nor the energy. But what I do do is write this blog and try to sometimes share with you all some of my experiences as a writer, author, and small business person.

Today's lesson is to just go for it. Get yourself out of your comfort zone. Seek free help - it is out there once you start talking to people. Think about what you want to do with your knitwear or art career and start talking to others. It is a business just like any other business. You have (or will soon have) a product. And then you have to market it. There are plenty of people now working out of their homes who have successful businesses. I'm not there yet but I'm making progress. There are untold challenges ahead. But you have to start somewhere so as the old Nike ad said "Just Do It!"


And personally, the best thing out of this entire experience was this: As we were leaving Classroom No. 129, Julia turned to her dad and I and said "Can I go to college?" You all don't know how big a statement this was.... This is our daughter who constantly says she is never going to leave home. A child who has health issues, learning disabilities, and motor issues. A child who we worry about constantly, who just started riding the school bus this year. Oh, she is growing up and last night I could feel the future. It was a wonderful night.

Thank you Xiumel, Cherry and Sarah. And thank you Allen and the MSBDC.

26 comments:

Sally said...

Hooray, Julia! Hooray for her good and steadfast parents! What a happy moment. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Virginia said...

Wow, fantastic all around! That's seriously cool.

I'm impressed! Can't wait to see the new site.

MicheleinMaine said...

Oh, my heart just warmed when I read that! I can totally understand how you feel! My daughter is the same age as Julia and has some learning disabilities as well, and I wonder how or if she will ever be able to live on her own. But when I took her to my reunion last summer she got really excited about the idea of going to college and living in a dorm.

Just when we think they'll never get there, they surprise us.

Looking forward to your new website and thanks for the encouragement on growing your own business.

Anonymous said...

I am so happy for you on so many levels...I love your books, designs and yarn. I have made many, many, many of your patterns (some over and over again!) and look forward to reading your blog. You are an inspiration and very talented. 'Getting Stitched on the Farm' will be a successful endeavor. Julia has wonderful role models in her life!

Claudia

ellen said...

Oh, Kristin, this is wonderful. I am also a huge fan of yours and all that your family does. I am a little teary eyed right now just reading about your venture and the excitement of your darling daughter.
Whew! What a happy post.

Janelle said...

My eyes are brimming at your daughter's question. I hope you know how much your choices helped guide her toward that moment. Great story, and I can't wait to see your new website!

Sarah said...

What a great story. My eyes were brimming as well!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story. As a spec ed teacher I want to tell Julia that she can do anything she puts her heart and energy into. What a lucky little girl she is to have such supportive parents! I also know she is a blessing to you too.

kate said...

nice, Kristin- loved the story! We live right by Univ. California, Davis- same sort of stuff happens here...keep up the good work and YEAH Julia!

Bella said...

How wonderful - the site, your little girl, everything.

Kathy said...

Awww, that was a WONDERFUL post! So happy for you and your family and the girls who worked so hard and won first place with your website! Kudos to all of you, and especially to Julia who had notion of future educational opportunities lit up inside her in Room 129!

Geri said...

Wow! Thanks SO much for sharing that. I got a lump in my throat at Julia's request about attending college.

You really lucked out with the team you had working on your website. Congratulations to you all and I eagerly look forward to its launching.

Anonymous said...

It seems appropriate to insert the Hallelujah Chorus here but I don't have the link handy! Anyway...you deserve it! HALLELUJAH!

Loco Lindy said...

I'm so happy for you! I know that you work really hard with your farm, marketing, projects, and especially as a mom (which is the hardest but certainly the most gratifying of all!)

Anonymous said...

Kristin, what a wonderful gift you received from Julia that evening . . . those defining moments in motherhood are so precious. Those are the moments that we always remember forever.

Congratulations to all of you on the website project. I couldn't agree more about utilizing free help when offered. Years ago, (many, many years ago!) I was sitting in a college classroom in Portland, Oregon, taking a free course offered to prospective & current small business owners. I went on to have a successful business for almost 4 years & loved it. But on that day, we had a guest speaker come to our class to share his success story- he had invented a product that no one believed in at first, and against many odds he finally got it to market- it was the first scoopable kitty litter!

Best wishes, Lisa in Lake O.

Barbara Dykes said...

Beautiful Post! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

Happy Holidays

Barbara D.

Vermont Designs said...

What a wonderful Christmas present from Julia. You must be so proud. Looking fwd to the new website too, great design team you got there! Happy they won.

Anonymous said...

When my husband lost his job 8 years ago, for the second time in his career (metals manufacturing), he got similar help from Penn State University. He gave students real life opportunities to learn and wow what they did for him! It was tremendous, and truly helped. I am so glad for you, and glad for those baby steps toward growing up for Julia. We all grow up in different ways, even into businesses! Hurray and happy holidays. Claudia Horner

bookagent said...

What a wonderful experience for you and your family. I have a feeling the students learned as much from you as you did from them. Julia's reaction is the icing on the cake. Congratulations!
Pam

Julie said...

What a great post! Very inspiring. And Julia - you go girl!

Sharon said...

You are paving the way for many people!

Awesome about Julia...smile...

Carla said...

Tears of hope for the future! In a time when all we hear is the negativity of youth and all the awful directions they are heading with technology, this was so hopeful for me. I am with Julia - I want to go (back) to college!

Marlaine said...

What a wonderful post. It is so inspiring on so many levels. Thanks so much for sharing your life with your readers!

SojournerDesign said...

Hi Kristen,
I was thrilled to read this blog entry. This could be a watershed event for Julia. The next few years can be really challenging. But in my experience (with my daughter, also an only child, who is now 30 and in a successful career) if a child gets cranked up about something like this before they hit the teen years it really helps them sail on through those tough years.
The fact that it's been difficult fitting into the public school scene means NOTHING if she's caught a glimpse of what she can do!
Diane

Kathleen Mitchell said...

As a UMASS Amherst Isenberg Alumnus, mother and business person, your post resonated with me on several different levels. It is is superb, insightful and open.

Mona said...

What a great post! Very inspirational to us aspiring fiber artists starting out marketing our items, as well as young people learning about our world that has so many good choices available to them. Thank you!