GHDR Review 7: Accepting the Slow Life

GHDR Review 7: Accepting the Slow Life

"Happy Groundhog Day"

THE SEPTEMBER REVIEW

This month’s work was directed toward more non-Dave projects than usual, which meant I didn’t make progress on my store listings at all. On the plus side, the store got launched!, and I also got a new form up. It’s been a good month for online discussion with the AD/HD? Me? article; a huge number of insights came from just exploring the possibilities. I was also able to get back into the groove of writing in a more personal manner; I declared that my “content strategy” is NOT the establishment of a marketing niche, but is instead to have a conversation with like-minded people and see where that goes. This happens to be the way that I conduct my business face-to-face as a freelancer / consultant, so it’s great to find a way to unify the two approaches!

That said, I got squat done this past month, so I have to ask myself how well did I do making progress toward my goals? My goal is, again, to achieve “creative independence”, which means being able to support myself through my creative works on my own business terms.

A Slippery Month

As I mentioned above, it’s been a month where I’ve been spending more time on other people’s deadlines than my own. Nothing soul-crushing, mind you, but I’ve had my attention focused away from my own projects. In the past, I think this would have really bothered me; I would have felt that my precious supply of energy was being sucked away in too many directions. However, I’ve had a few new insights:

  • One day, when I was spending all my time answering emails for various project inquiries while painfully aware that my own projects were back-burnered, it occurred to me that all the things that I needed to do could be considered a full-time job! There’s always something to create, improve, or design for my collection of designer productivity tools. In other words, my puttering around with e-commerce, blogging, and design IS MY JOB. It just takes time to do. I think my attitude before was that the “design and writing” were the real parts of my dream job, and everything else was something to just “get working and over with”; with that attitude, I was constantly frustrated that things weren’t happening fast enough. But now? It’s just the way things go.
  • I had been feeling guilty-ish at not having a lot of work on myself, by design. Did that mean I was lazy, not living up to my potential? Perhaps it’s just old age settling in, but I have come to embrace the idea of a “slow life” with the accompanying value. There’s a corresponding movement called Slow Living, which roughly is about living life more sensuously and mindfully.

I’m willing to accept a lower income in exchange for the luxury of time and freedom to practice creative independence. That doesn’t mean I’ve let go of my ambitions; it’s just that I’m willing to accept a longer development period under lower pressure. Before, I was still halfway-entrenched in the idea that I needed to be fast-fast-faster. Now, I am much more comfortable accepting that “slowness” is part of the overall process. I suppose this is another way of saying that development of any kind takes time, and there is no sense in rushing it. I am not trying to beat anyone to market, nor am I trying to crush the competition. I want to grow the pie so more people can share in the enjoyment of it.

I would say also that more community connections were made this month, so that took away from my production time. I think when it really comes down to it, I don’t like doing production work in a vacuum. This includes tasks like writing marketing copy, taking photos of products, updating old design projects. I do far better when I’m able to weave the production work into daily conversation, either on the blog or with like-minded folk living near me. Being involved in other people’s creative works is energizing! For example, this past month I participated in the following:

  • Served as a web technology support person for our local arts festival, ArtWalk Nashua, doing some HTML formatting on their existing website.
  • Helping with the Kickstarter for my friend Alen’s upcoming Firefly USB drive, which he’s planning on launching soon.
  • Assisting my photographer friend Sid Ceaser on one of his portrait photoshoots with local columnist and author Teresa Santoski. We also have been working on Alen’s Kickstarter.

All these are technically non-Dave projects, but they are part of my “tribe”. It is good to remember that.

What Actually Got Done

Ok, enough delaying the inevitable…what did I get done? The main chore I assigned myself last month was populating the new store with more goods, but that didn’t happen. After spending all that time getting the store up-and-running, the last thing I wanted to do was look at it, and it seemed there was always someone else’s project to work on first to “productively procrastinate”.

That said, there have been some interesting developments:

  • I’ve sold a few ETP Mini Notebooks to people in Canada and the UK. Not a lot, but enough to almost cover a month of operating cost for Shopify+Shipwire (about $60/month). If I add some digital products to the Shopify store, I think that might help cover costs so at least I’m not losing money on it. The Amazon store is still operating, so its operating profits also are covering the birth of the new store.
  • Store insight #1: Being able to offer PayPal is actually important. I personally am not a fan of PayPal as a service and use it reluctantly, but for people who don’t want to trust the Internet with a credit card it is fantastic.
  • Store insight #2: The Shopify store may become an efficient way of providing wholesale service to retailers; I just have to repackage the goods to take maximum advantage of the shipping rates. For example, if the US Postal Service will ship up to 4 pounds at a flat rate, then I should make a package that is just under 4 pounds to make shipping seem more economical. Shipwire offers a service called automated breaks which might work well in this case.
  • Store insight #3: No matter how I slice it, individual order fulfillment to destinations outside the United States is super-expensive, so I had been thinking of finding someone to be my print broker in the United Kingdom to help with printing product there and then using Shipwire’s London warehouse for fulfillment in the European Union. Around the same time, someone from the UK contacted me about working together, and after a Skype chat we seem to be hitting it off. We’re in the early stages of setting up an agreement, so hopefully soon I’ll be able to sell stationery designs in the EU at a more affordable price, tailored for that market.
  • Amazon announced that they will not allow products in their store that don’t have Universal Product Codes (UPC). None of my products have them, as I was selling them exclusively on Amazon so I just needed to use the Amazon Stock ID Number (ASIN). I’ve had to buy some through a third party, using George Laurer’s Authenticated UPC Registry to find a reseller of pre-2002 codes. I bought 50 such codes from Nationwide Barcode, which had a good price and a very detailed website that I really appreciated for its candor and thoroughness.
  • Now that I’ve had to think about UPCs, I’ve also been thinking more about branding collateral to include in the packages. I’ve been writing about selecting branding colors as a warm-up. I have avoided customizing the packaging because it’s expensive to print; it would have doubled my unit cost at the small production run sizes I had started with. However, I’m starting to get to the point where I am comfortable committing the money to producing the packaging at a large-enough production run size to make it affordable as an add-on.
  • I’m almost sold-out of the second run of ETP Mini Notebooks on Amazon.com. I’ve bitten the bullet and have ordered a run of 1000 notebooks (eep), though there have been production delays due to difficulty in finding the cover stock. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find nice cover stock/cardboard, or how much it costs.
  • New ideas and uses are coming in from readers! I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve started to write in a more personal way lately, but I’ve had an increase in “howdy Dave!” emails telling me what people are doing. They’re nice emails that just share a bit of what people have been up-to with their productivity forms or personal productivity challenges, and I’ve enjoyed writing back. Occasionally I ask if it’s OK to post their email publicly to see who else might be interested in the subject, and this has lead to a virtuous cycle of design feedback. I am starting to get the sense that people don’t mind paying a few bucks for a custom design or even a dozen bucks for something they can buy; before, I thought that charging money would be ungenerous, so I tended to provide everything for free. I guess it’s OK; the great majority of my work is available in some form for no cost, after all!

Surprise insight: This business is viable after all! That has helped me relax tremendously.

Moving Forward

On the Client front: I am kicking-off a project that involves some tricky Javascript development for a National Science Foundation grant through Inquirium, the education design company that I’ve worked with over the years on similar cool projects. I’m pretty excited about getting into this, as it involves virtual spaces and 5-6 year old kids simulating Newtonian physics. I’m hoping that the project administration powers-that-be will allow open-blogging on the subject, as I’m told they are interested in a transparent open-source effort. We shall see! Then there’s the ongoing Kickstarter preparation for Alen’s Firefly USB drive, and some other web development work for other organizations that I’m helping with. I’ve also had an interesting inquiry from a Russian notebook maker about licensing the ETP designs for a diary that he wants to produce and cover with beautiful leatherwork, but we don’t speak the same language and are using Google Translate to try to communicate. I’ve been working up a prototype based on the specifications. I suppose I should find a Russian translator or project manager to help with communication. I also need to find a lawyer that is conversant in international contracts; there are few local resources I’m going to look into.

On the Creative Independence front: I’ve gotta keep working on the store, adding more products. I need to work on new product SKUs for fulfillment and shipping, and design the packaging. I’ve GOT to start writing about how to use all the products in clear, concise English. To set a metric that is low-enough to meet, I’m going to say adding two products to the store, and coming up with some decent packaging. I will add that to my Trello Task List.

On the Blogging / Community front: I’m reconnecting with a lot of long-time contacts that I haven’t talked to in a while, and I’m committed to continuing blogging in a more personal voice because that’s what I want to do. I’ve already seen what appears to be a big dip in RSS subscribers, but that is OK with me; the people who stick around will be the best people to hang out with!

That’s all for now! September, here I come!


Groundhog Day Resolution Posts for 2013

Here are other posts about Groundhog Day Resolutions for the 2013 season.

  • 02/02 Kickoff - Setting 30 Products in 30 days.
  • 03/03 Review - The Aftermath of 30 Products in 30 Days; What's Next?
  • 04/04 Review - New Website, Increasing Opportunity
  • 05/05 Review - Winding down a long chain of external commitments, getting ready for a hopefully-productive month.
  • 06/06 Review - Reducing Friction from internal struggle, picking the winning attitudes and tasks that produce tangible assets.
  • 07/07 Review - Mid-year Review, Focusing Process
  • 08/08 Review - An unexpected vacation for me, Relaxed Progress Made
  • 09/09 Review - Slow progress made, but that's OK; I'm accepting the slow and mindful way!
  • 10/10 Review - After a month of experimenting with early rising, I realize that prioritizing my mission of creative independence might actually be what I need to do. Duh.
  • 11/11 Review - Not much progress made on Creative Independence, but I have attained a sense of surety and calm about what needs to be done--and how to approach it--while maintaining balance between external commitments and personal goals by accepting that they take time and that's OK.
  • 12/12 Review - The year ends without closure, but looking back I see that I've made progress. More importantly, I believe that I'm generally on the right path.