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How I'm doing.

So, 2020, huh? My last blog post was all about my goals and intentions for the new year, and it seems like an appropriate time to revisit that. I recently went through an audit of my 2020 goals, and I was surprised to see how many things were still relevant, even in this time of global pandemic. Certainly, some plans, like:

  • Double the number of in-person market days from January through May;
  • Take ten days off in April for a birthday vacation to Italy; and
  • Hire out work, including a bookkeeper, accountant and in-house packaging assistant

needed to be crossed out completely due to lockdowns, travel restrictions, social distancing and budgeting needs, but a surprising number of other goals have either stayed the same and are in progress, or have been revised to better align with Yardia’s values.

Here are some of the changes I’ve made to my goals along with new opportunities I’ve discovered:

Marketing:

Instead of increasing the amount of markets I participate in, I’ve shifted my focus to ecommerce and auditing my online shop and marketing. For ecommerce, I committed to loving on, surprising and hopefully delighting customers like you with some secret actions (if you’ve ordered from me, hopefully you experienced this). I also increased my shipping days by using USPS porch pick ups since I know that there are a lot of shipping delays happening due to the increased use of online shopping. The more quickly I can get orders out the door, the sooner they can get to you.

I spent March studying email marketing and creating automated email flows, and I spent April working on photography, experimenting with a store-wide sale, and adding a good number of original paintings to my shop (there are still more I haven’t added yet!).

In May, I’m digging into visual storytelling, photography and social media marketing by taking a course that’s been on my list for a while as my next learning investment. At first I was worried about spending any money on myself or on my business other than basics during this time, but then I realized that 1. I’ve never regretted taking a class from someone I’m inspired by in the way that this teacher inspires me, 2. Every course I’ve taken has truly been an investment that’s returned to me in ways I couldn’t predict, 3. there's never been a better moment to have as much dedicated time to focus on learning as right now, and 4. It actually did work within my budget anyways. I’m so excited to start learning from Sara Tasker’s The Insta Retreat and we’ll see how it impacts my use of Instagram!

Markets and tradeshows:

Although I was registered to participate in several markets this spring and summer, as the pandemic progressed, they were each cancelled. I’m planning to avoid participation any in-person markets for the foreseeable future, most likely at least until the end of 2020 unless there’s a significant breakthrough or vaccine. My thinking is that it would be challenging as one person to be able to be present in my booth while also maintaining frequent handwashing and other safety precautions, and would obviously bring with it a higher risk of contracting Covid myself. I figure the loss of revenue from markets is worth avoiding the risk of getting sick and having to shut down my business entirely until I recover. Once I made this decision, all of my planning and projections started to become clear as I saw a path for economic sustainability and business growth.

Usually, Yardia's main revenue streams come from online sales, wholesale, and in-person markets. In early March, wholesale and markets pretty much dropped off completely, but soon enough, online sales began to increase significantly, nearly covering the loss of the other two branches of my business. As time goes on and we get into the typically slower ecommerce summer season, I think my online sales will fall off to some degree, but I think this might also align with the reopening of some of my wholesale customers’ stores in some parts of the country. I’ve calculated some financial projections based on last year’s numbers for myself, so I’ll be preparing some options for marketing plans and release schedules, especially for the months that I’m predicting to be the slowest.

Revenue and Expenses:

In my original new year goals, I wanted to increase my revenue by 60% and maintain expenses at around 40% of my revenue. I audited my revenue and expenses to better align with the new normal and I now have a new revenue goal amount to maintain my monthly salary. To do this, I also shifted my expenses to be at around 20% of my revenue (it’s crazy to realize how much was going into market fees and related expenses!) so that a larger percentage could help maintain my salary. So far, this system seems to be working really well for me. I feel comfortable working with a budget, and my revenue goals are both realistic and much less daunting.

I’m also tracking each month’s revenue and expenses to determine the length of my runway if I don’t meet my goals or budget for each month. My overall revenue for 2020 so far has actually increased year-over-year by at least 50% for each month, including in March and April. However, I’m also fully aware that last March and April I still had a part-time job with benefits, and I usually make more of my annual income from later in the year, through summer markets and winter holiday sales. I’m preparing for a slow summer, as I would in any year even without a pandemic, and I’ve built up reserves from 2019 holiday sales to help weather slower seasons.

A note on the CARES Act and government funding:

I know that some of you who know me personally have been worried about me, especially considering this is my first full year of self-employment and that I’m a small business owner which is a pretty different mindset and way of working from the stability of typical employment. Hopefully this is helping you to learn how I’m doing, but I did want to mention that I’m beginning to do the practical thing, too, which is to seek help from the federal (and probably state) government.

At the beginning of April, I applied for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), which includes a grant advance that doesn’t need to be repaid. It took about a month longer than I expected to see any action, but at the beginning of May I received the advance deposited into my business account. This will help me to cover almost a month of business operating expenses.

Even though I’d heard horror stories about small businesses like mine not receiving federal funds intended for folks like us, this week I applied for and was surprised to be quickly approved (like, in the same day) for a federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan. As long as the funding comes through—it happened so fast that I’m still waiting to get my bank accounts verified before I can finish the process and receive the deposit—it will help me to stretch out the amount of time I can cover my own payroll before I’d have to dip into my personal emergency savings. This loan should be forgivable as long as it’s used within the guidelines which I've been diligently studying and have bookmarked for future referral.

I’ve also been told, repeatedly, by pretty much every single person I know that I ought to apply for Washington unemployment, too, since I probably qualify due to the number of cancelled markets and closed stores that have impacted my work life in ways that have been out of my control. While I’m still trying to wrap my head around this, I’ll most likely apply for this soon, too.

Time Tracking and Time Off:

Use of time and taking breaks were areas I wanted to track and focus on this year. The main change to this ended up being that I now have a goal of taking weekends off, and to achieve the mimimal amount of income through work that I need to live a simple lifestyle in alignment with my personal values. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this pandemic, it’s that I don’t always need to be so focused on exponential growth upwards, but can instead shift to looking at my business as one that will continue to branch out slowly for long term sustainability. I realized that I’ve pretty much already built my dream life for myself with a safe home that feels like me, a garden that provides me with nourishment and peace, within a supportive community of people I care about, and in the city and state that's always been home. And this is something that I can take time to appreciate and relish in now, instead of always striving for the next big dream.

 

Unexpected Extras and Pandemic Opportunities:

I also want to acknowledge the surprises that have come along the way so far this year, because they're all things to celebrate and grow from.

NSS: One of my goals was to register to exhibit at the National Stationery Show for 2021. Instead, I had an unexpected opportunity through the Greeting Card Association that allowed me to exhibit this past February in a way that was within my budget. I’m so glad I was able to do this when I did, and pull off the entire planning process in two weeks instead of a year like I’d thought I would.

Licensing Deal: At the Stationery Show, I briefly met two representatives from a large company that I can’t yet name. I forgot about this meeting until they contacted me a week later to partner with me on an illustration project and licensing deal. This project is what I spent most of my time working on during the first few weeks of lockdown, which gave me a small sense of normalcy and growth during the period when I felt the most grief and anxiety about the global situation. I’m really glad I was able to work on this project for them.

While it’s probably going to take quite a bit longer for my work with this company to be available to the public due to the industry they’re in, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of freelance illustration and art licensing while on the job, and during the beginning of a pandemic no less!

Business Club: In March, one of my business friends asked if a few of us wanted to start meeting over Zoom each week to support each other through the uncertainty. This has become one of the highlights of my week. Five of us gather to set goals, have uninterrupted time to share how we’re doing, ask each other questions, give feedback and generally cheer each other on. It’s so renewing to be able to share plans, wins and struggles with other folks who truly get what we’re each going through. I encourage you to check out their shops! They all make amazing goods. Honeyberry Studios, Cat Snapp Studio, Deschampsia and Oak Nut Studio.

Online Teaching: In April, the school I used to work at reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in teaching a six-week virtual art and leadership workshop for its incoming and accepted students. These are the topics I used to teach, so it was an easy yes. This course is still in progress, and while I don’t have any future plans to return to teaching as a career, I’m enjoying working with students and glad to learn how to structure an online course if that ever becomes something I want to pursue in the future. Creating an online course is something I’ve considered in the past, so figuring out the logistics in a way that feels comfortable has been a real treat. I’m also grateful to dig back into my leadership curriculum, because helping students to figure out their personal values, work with their inner critics and call on their inner mentors has been helping me to revisit these grounding lessons for myself, too.

Mentors: And as one last silly unexpected pandemic extra, a personal hero of mine who’s impacted my career and personal growth, personally reached out to me last week related to a project she's working on. Even though I realize she's a normal person who happens to have written my favorite book, I still ALWAYS get a little thrill of being star struck whenever I realize “she knows who I am!” So that was definitely a highlight for me, no matter how small it was.

Words of the Year:

My words of the year were Voice and Connection. No words have ever felt more appropriate to how I want to approach this time than these two. I’ve been learning that I need to reach out to others, to share my work, to ask for help, to give help, and to trust in the value of my creative voice.

I’ve thought A LOT about these two words as I’ve navigated this pandemic, and, along with Yardia’s core values, they’ve served me as guiding stars once I began to recover from my initial grief and anxiety, and move into acceptance and growth.

I don’t know where the rest of the year will lead me, but I will say this: even in the early days of March, when Seattle was at the forefront of the US outbreak and I was crying on the phone to my sister, I remember saying to her (well, sort of blubbering to her, really), “I know my business is going to come out of this stronger than it was before.” And that feels more true than ever.