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.