This year, I was invited to speak about growing your handmade wholesale business at Makers Summit (by Makers Collective, in Greenville, South Carolina.) It was exciting, since I really admire the Makers Collective folks and the authentic, thoughtful way they do things. But I had some reservations, because it's hard to take time away from work and life to do something that may be awesome or may be meh.
But now that my bags are unpacked (and by "unpacked" I mean: open and spilling their contents on my bedroom floor), I feel pretty much in awe of how great the conference turned out to be.
Whether you were there with me and want to relive the greatest hits or whether you're thinking of attending next year, I wanted to share some of the moments and insights that made this a magical couple of days. Of course, this is just a sampling, and there were a lot of speakers I wasn't able to attend or take notes on because I was preparing for (or giving) my workshops, so suffice to say: thank you to each and every person who shared their heart and energy and wisdom at Makers Summit this year!
10 magical & Amazing INsights from Makers summit:
SoutherN hospitality is definitely a thing
First, I I had never been to Greenville, South Carolina but it's a beautiful place. Thoughtfully designed, and nestled next to a beautiful river -- it's an easy and gorgeous place to spend a weekend. Check out Methodical Coffee and Falls Park, two of my favorites.
Then I noticed how kind and friendly everyone was. Makers Summit attendees were incredibly open and welcoming and I never felt that out-of-place "I'm at a conference and know no one and this is lonely" feeling.
But most of all, I was floored by how thoughtfully the Makers Summit organizers had woven a spirit of hospitality, respect, kindness, beauty, and welcome into EVERY element of the event. The weekend ran in the flawless way that only comes about through sheer hustle and determination. They made every interaction and every detail a chance to make attendees feel cared for, inspired, and welcome.
It takes a family to raise a business (And family comes first)
At some conferences, there is a sense that no one has a spouse, a kid, or a life outside of work. At this conference, many people were there with their spouse, or their mom, or their best friend, or their baby. And many, many people I spoke to told me stories of starting their business with a sleeping baby on their lap... or the smart ways they've structured their life to "live the dream" of creative life and work that isn't compartmentalized.
I left feeling inspired that you don't necessarily have to compromise your family for your business, or sacrifice your business for family -- but rather that both things can work in a creative, messy, challenging, satisfying, rich whole.
"In American culture, we think more is more, but sometimes, you don’t need more. Work less and preserve your energy.” - Phil Sanders
Running a creative business can be hard And it can be amazing
Jen Gotch from Ban.Do gave a very personal talk about the deep challenges she finds in running her business. She said she wanted to "destigmatize mental illness and deglamorize success," and spoke courageously on behalf of both goals. Her experience has been that business is hard, gets harder, and is 100x harder than it ever looks from the outside. Her experience may not be everyone's experience, but it's a valuable voice in the conversation. Many people also spoke to how deeply satisfying running your own business can be and how it's only gotten better over time.
“Taking this leap of faith [of running a business] is in itself an act of self care. Because it’s all YOURS. It’s you deciding to take hold of your life and spend it doing something you truly care about.” - Jeni Britton Bauer
“Go your own way and shoot for the moon. Because if you build something massive you get to choose what to do with all that money / influence / freedom / whatever.” - JBB
“Most of being an entrepreneur is just dragging shit around.” - JBB
You're not alone in having a lumpy, challenging, weird journey
Phil Sanders from Citizen Supply and Matt Moreau (from @thelandmarkproject and Dapper Ink) gave funny, interesting, and inspiring talks about their journeys and insights. Neither started with a master plan... and there were a lot of false starts, setbacks, and victories along the way.
“Everyone was looking at me for answers. And I just didn’t know. I realized that all I'm in control of was how I react.” - Phil Sanders
"Once you change your mindset to business being about the journey, not the goal, you’ll realize that you’re exactly where you want to be.” - PS
You might be sick of your story but your customers probably aren't
In my workshop, I emphasized that one of our 5 Rules of Growing Wholesale is crafting (and sharing) your story. So it resonated with me that both Jen and Phil spoke to the importance of simple, consistent storytelling throughout their talks.
“Focus on simple, repetitive messages until you feel like you want to die because that’s the point at which your audience is actually hearing it.” - Jen Gotch
"Don’t consider your product done and ready to ship until it is accompanied by your story in one way or another.” - Phil Sanders
you can't do it all yourself
Most makers start as a one-woman operation, but many of the speakers emphasized that building your team, your community, and your group of mentors is crucial.
“All companies are communities” - Jenni Britton Bauer
“You need to be able to distance yourself from doing every function in the company so you can do what you do well.” - JBB
“Meet up with mentors as much as you can. Get around people that have a high standard for themselves -- because your staff is not going to call you out and help you be better.” - Phil Sanders
Focus and get professional
Matt Moreau and Phil Sanders spoke to the need for metrics, accountability, systems, and structure in creating a thriving business. At one point, years into running Citizen Supply, Phil read textbooks on buying to fill in the gaps he had in his business. Matt, a self-described "art school kid" when he started, has developed intentional rhythms and structures throughout Dapper Ink to keep things growing and on track.
“You can’t be who your company needs you to be unless you go through the process and work through the answers.” - Phil Sanders
"Good vibes alone do not a good company make." - Matt Moreau
“Ask yourself: What is the one thing I can do, that will affect the company the most, that only I can do? For creatives, there is value in finding the one thing that matters in your company right now and trying to improve it, rather than constantly finding something new.” - PS
"When you’re investing in things without knowing what’s working - you’re giving away your profit." - PS
Failing and taking risks is foundational to success
“We didn’t know how to get where were trying to go but we just became pros and taking a lot of shots and almost scoring most of the time and sometimes scoring.” - Phil Sanders
"Part of growth means you’re innovating - and with that much ‘new’ you’re going to miss something. Cut yourself a little slack and move on.” - Jenni Britton Bauer
“Make your failures less risky. Mostly, I’m talking about debt - don’t keep putting good money after bad.” - JBB
Move towards having a clear vision, even if you're not there yet
Many of the speakers said it took them many years before they were able to articulate their vision clearly. But they all emphasized that it's important to develop and communicate a clear vision, when you're able to.
"Ask 'How cool would it be if __________.' Give everyone some room to dream together."
“When you get ideas, those are special moments in your life. But the vision is when you bring your idea out into the future. It’s when you see how your world will be changes when your idea is fully realized.” - Jeni Britton Bauer
"Pay attention to what you’re naturally doing in the early days of your business because that’s what you can put words to as the vision for the future of the company." - Jen Gotch
“If you have a habit to keep your vision on track, you’re already winning.” - Matt Moreau
The internet is good but real life is so much better
(Obviously.) But I found it incredibly fun and meaningful to meet people in real life who I had connected with through Wholesale In a Box online.
I got to meet Lou from Garner Blue who we had been emailing back and forth with and is such a sweet presence in the maker community with her line and with her new shop. (And then to crown it all off, I spotted her carrying a Native Bear bag, one of our beloved Wholesale In a Box makers!) I met to meet the wonderful @positivelycreativepodcast, who sparkles with intelligence and warmth. And there was maker after wonderful maker in my workshops who I had been in contact with and could finally strategize with face to face.
Thank you to each and every person -- sponsors, speakers, volunteers, attendees, organizers, service providers -- for creating such a great weekend! See you next year : )