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What I've learned after 11 years in business

This week is Yardia's eleventh birthday! On February 18, 2008, I opened up an Etsy store under the name Yardia. This is the date I sometimes think of as the birth of baby Yardia (she's an Aquarius!). It took me about a month to get up the courage to list my first items and then on March 26th, I sold my first drawing--I think to my godmother, if I remember correctly.  

A print of the first drawing I sold

A brief history of Yardia

Throughout the years, I've created hand-pressed Gocco art prints and now have my full-color art printed outsourced to a West Coast printer where I order in bulk. I started by cutting, folding and printing each of my cards myself with my Gocco printer, then ordering small quantities from Moo, and now I work with a local FSC-certified printer to order in bulk quantities of around 5000 cards at a time.

Find this at my secret shop, Longbourn Studio on Etsy ;) 

I switched from extremely detailed pen-and-ink drawings of historical fashion illustrations paired with Jane Austen quotes, to homesteading-inspired pieces in watercolor and ink, to my current style of watercolor Pacific Northwest-inspired artworks with my own words, also lettered in watercolor.  

In the early years, I was excited about the response to my Jane Austen works received (it aligned to a bit of a resurgence of popularity in her novels) but as the linework became more difficult for my hands to manage without pain, and with less and less inspiration about what I was creating, I decided to create and launch a collection of 30 new watercolor cards in 2015.

This was the beginning of a slow transition to what I create today. There were a few years of overlap between my Jane Austen work and my homestead work in my Etsy shop, and I stuck with it in spite of changes, growth and setbacks to finally settling on what I really wanted to paint: illustrations inspired by the natural elements around me that I loved.  

Learning about wholesale

Around 2015 I also began to venture into consignment and wholesale. While I only work with one consignment shop that I trust nowadays, a local holiday pop-up (hi Alison!), I learned a lot about the process of filling orders and reaching out to wholesale buyers through a combination of trial and error and by taking Creative Live wholesale courses from Megan Auman and Katie Hunt. (You can get $15 off either of these classes with my affiliate link).

Two of the best things I learned through experience were to make sure to get payment first before shipping out orders to new customers (learned that the hard way, and so I luckily won't make that mistake again) and to be clear about boundaries on pricing. Early on, a customer (in a sincerely kind manner) complained about the cost of shipping compared to the overall cost of items she purchased. This made total sense in retrospect, but if I had stuck to my minimum order amount instead of allowing her to buy under that, there wouldn't have been an issue. I consider these years to be "baby Brigida and baby Yardia" era where I was still learning what worked for me as a business owner versus a hobbyist, and how to break the ingrained cycle of people-pleasing to keep my values and boundaries strong. This was also around the time when I first read Tara Mohr's life-changing book, Playing Big, which resonated with me so strongly that I see its influence on my business and personal practices continuing to grow and evolve.  

A business and branding transition

In 2016, after receiving a small windfall due to selling a house, I decided to use some of the money to attend MICA's Business of Art and Design graduate program. This was a program I'd been very interested in for several years, and it finally seemed like the right time to get started. I knew I wanted to take Yardia to the next level, but I was feeling stuck on how to do that. I'm so glad I waited until this point to take the MICA BAD program, because being able to immediately implement everything I learned in class into my business made a drastic change in terms of branding, product development, organization and revenue.  

Being in this program created such a huge change that I sometimes consider the real birth of Yardia to be when I filed for an LLC entity immediately upon returning from my first MICA residency on August 30, 2016, (Yardia's evolved to a Virgo!) because the business and style of work is so different now from where I started in 2008.  

A few things happened on the front and back ends of the business throughout this program, which you can read about in my 2017 and 2018 years-in-review blog posts. Overall though, the business evolved to pretty exclusively focus on watercolor-driven and Pacific Northwest-inspired cards, gifts and home décor for nature lovers. I started to vend at more local craft markets, I started to show my wholesale line at regional trade shows and my online sales skyrocketed from where they had been previously. In the last quarter of 2018, I reduced my hours at my day job (teaching middle school art at a school I started working at the same year I started Yardia) so that I could devote more time and energy to being a business owner.  

And that's where Yardia is now! I'm still selling on Etsy, I've opened up my own online shop that continues to gain traction, I've explored more markets around the Puget Sound region with success, and my work is carried in over 30 independent stores nationwide. Yardia has finally reached a long-ago dream of mine that it could someday pay my mortgage, and I know that it will soon fund my lifestyle as a whole.  

So. What have I learned as a solo business owner and artist in the past eleven years?  

Take action, even when you're scared.

Every step worth doing in business has come with it intense fear, at least for me. My inner critic has compared my Instagram feed to others I admire, has told me that new trade shows would be a failure if my booth didn't look perfect, and the hilarious double punch of, "don't quit your day job because what about health care," and "look at all those other women who quit their day jobs, why can't you do that?"  

My constant solution to this inner critic is to slow down and check in with my inner mentor, that north star of wisdom that exists in all of us. Sometimes it takes me longer to connect with her, and sometimes the voice comes right away, but every time I know I'm hearing from my wisdom because it's realistic and often emotional. Recently in a couple of inner critic fear flare ups, the messages I've heard from my inner mentor that felt right and true were, "your work isn't finished here yet" and "this is what you've prepared for." I'm not quite ready to share the situations that each of these messages relate to, but know that big things are on the horizon for Yardia.  

Oh, and if you want to dig into the concepts of inner critic and inner mentor more, start by reading, of course, Playing Big by Tara Mohr. I also can't recommend enough her Playing Big courses, which are even more in-depth and transformative.  

Finance. It's fun.

I got into learning about business because I was already super obsessed about reading personal finance blogs and books. I knew how to budget, save and invest in my personal life, but it took me a long time to figure out how to transfer these lessons to my business.  

In 2018, I read Profit First by Mike Michalowicz and implemented his strategies into my business accounting. This changed everything. It's essentially a cash envelope system for your business bank account, and it's so logical and easy to manage that I now swear by it. Plus, the book is really enjoyable to read--it was one of those books that I stayed up late to finish it in one night because I couldn't put it down!  

Your creative voice matters.

I'm in the stationery and gift industry. It's super saturated, even within the local marketplace of artists. I've been mistaken a few times by customers as being a couple of other local artists that I know and love. While I see differences between each of our styles, I'm honored to be mistaken for these two amazing artists.  

Here's the thing though. Even if we're close enough in material or location to be mistaken for each other, we each have our own unique voice. I don't see these two, or any of the other artists making similar products or working with watercolor, as being my competitors. They're colleagues and friends. Each of us is creating what's important to us and our respective customers. Each of us branches out our business in different ways. We can all learn from each other and cheer each other on, and that grows the stationery and art industry as a whole. The more people who want to buy my work or their work, then the more people who want to buy cards and art prints overall. And that's a good thing that will help all of us creative entrepreneurs to grow our business sustainably.  

Everything's an experiment.

There are so many products I've tried out and discontinued (hand-build ceramic planters, anyone?), so many illustrations that didn't make the cut and so many ideas that I created business plans for (leadership coaching for art teachers?) and then realized I didn't actually want to do that kind of work.  

There have also been artworks that I created in a fit of inspiration, posted for sale the next day and which became immediate best sellers. There have been designs that I broke my boundaries of not creating custom prints because the customer idea was so good that it then resonated with my audience as a whole when I finished it and listed it for sale.  

I've taken small risks that worked out and small risks that didn't. I've switched manufacturers a bunch of times until I could find folks I liked working with. I've tried things out just to see what would happen and have run experiments that have been public and secret out of sheer curiosity. These experiments have allowed me to stay nimble as a business owner and make changes when I need to without too much agonizing.  

Be patient, and don't wait.

I've been doing this thing for eleven years, you guys, mostly as a side hustle. The biggest thing I've learned is that if you're willing to stick with it, and be true to your creativity and communicate with honesty, then things will happen over time.

Even if the thing that happens is that you learn more about who you are and that this creative life is a lot harder than you anticipated, and that you still love it more than anything else, then I think it's worth it.

Be patient with your process, but don't wait for perfection to get that process started. You're only guaranteed that nothing will change if you don't take any action at all.  

What's next for Yardia?

Well, we'll see. Coincidentally, I scheduled myself a solo art retreat (in Oaxaca, Mexico!) on the same date as Yardia's birthday, so I'll be spending some time reflecting on my business, sketching for inspiration and planning my big goals and small tasks for the next evolution of Yardia. (In fact, I wrote this blog post on the plane ride there!)

I've got some things in my head that I know will be coming up soon, but due to some outside-of-me circumstances, you'll have to wait for a bit to hear more.  

I'm so proud of where I've taken Yardia over the past eleven years, and I can't wait to see where the next eleven years take us next!

I know that it will certainly involve creative experiments, patience, action, finance, fear and trust in my creative voice. I hope you'll continue to join me!  

Ready to discover Pacific Northwest-inspired cards, gifts and home décor for nature lovers? Visit the Yardia shop.  

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