Wednesday, June 9, 2010

48 Days Later...A Summary of a Crafty Internship

Special guest post by first-ever-piddix-intern-extraordinaire Lara Schmidt of fraserhead

I'm sure this comes as no surprise to you, but in eight weeks with Corinna I learned a lot. More than I can even digest right now.

When I asked Corinna to take me on as an Intern, I had something pretty traditional in mind. A few hours of work for her in exchange for some craft supplies and the opportunity to peek behind the curtain. It wasn't the first time I had asked her, but instead of thanking me, this time she said, “Let's get lunch tomorrow.” When I sat down with her, she opened up a notebook and looked at me with a big grin, “What are your goals for the next 10 years,” she said. That was her opening line.

The next eight weeks followed suit. Corinna had something a little less traditional in mind (doesn't she always!). In exchange for a few hours of work for her, she wanted to guide me to the edge of the pool and convince me to jump in. She structured each week of the internship around part of the business planning process: conception, sourcing materials, marketing, market research, customer interaction, packaging, shipping, bookkeeping, the creative process, identifying opportunities and so much more. I thought I was starting a rather standard internship, but what I got was the Piddix Bootcamp, and I am so very, very lucky that I did.

In the eight weeks I spent with Corinna, here are some of the highlights. I:
1. Started a website
2. Set goals and benchmarks for my business/creative endeavors
3. Started a business plan
4. Read eight books about business planning and strategy
5. Listed three items on Etsy
6. Sold two items on Etsy
7. Signed up for two classes to hone my skills
8. Started the process of getting the IDA Small Business Grant through Mercy Corps
9. Did lots of deep personal exploration.
10. Gained confidence in my ability to start and run a business and an ever-increasing desire to do so.

In the spirit of wrapping things up, I wanted to share with you some of the most valuable things I learned during the Internship. I hope you'll find them valuable as well.

1. Know your strengths. This is actually one thing I learned more by observation than anything else. Corinna is an extremely successful person. She is successful at nearly everything she does (maybe not the best, but certainly successful). So I tried very hard to figure out what makes her that way. Turns out, it's a lot of things, as Corinna is also a very talented person. But the real lesson came when I started applying her methods to my own life and work. In doing so I realized that it is not necessarily her methods that make her successful but the fact that she knows her strengths. And because she knows what she does well, she can use her strengths to her advantage. Research, lists, statistics, and communications happen to be some of her strengths and she makes good use of them all. If she tried sticking to a rigid schedule, following rules, and making business decisions on intuition alone, she might not be where she is today – in Piddix or elsewhere.

This revelation was very exciting. Why? Because unlike Corinna I am not as good at analyzing the market and tracking things in spreadsheets. I felt like I was at a huge disadvantage until I realized that I, too, have strengths that I can use to my advantage. Copying Corinna's methods would only get me so far – understanding my own unique strengths and working with them will take me much farther, and I'll surely enjoy the process more as well.

2. Get out there and talk to people. Now, considering the above advice, I have to admit that talking to people is something Corinna and I both do very well and enjoy immensely. Still, this is good advice for anyone running their own business.

Interacting with others is such a vital part of generating positive energy around your business. Seize every opportunity to reach out to others and engage them in what you are doing. In an effort to do exactly that, I've been telling people about my work, this internship, my goals and my fears. In the last two months I've made two new friends and in both cases it's because they responded to something I threw out into the world. In one case, the friend is online and lives across the country, in the other, a friend of a friend invited me out for a beer because she saw we were both pursuing an independent career in the arts and wanted to connect.

In the organization where I work (and where Corinna worked for many years) we believe that conversations create a sense of community and a sense of place within that community. Think of that in terms of your professional community, artistic community, or any other community you are part of or wish to create. Conservation opens doors. So get out there and talk to people!

3. Ask People. Ask ask ask. I wrote a whole review on asking but I'll say it again. ASK. Asking is the reason I got this internship. Asking is the reason Corinna was able to work part time while she got her business going. I believe that between Asking and Googling, you are unstoppable. But you still have to ask.

4. Be resourceful. When I asked Corinna questions, I was often intrigued to discover that she had found the answer by asking, googling and taking some very affordable classes through local organizations. I like to think of myself as a resourceful person as well, but I took for granted that Corinna was an “expert.” If Corinna is an expert, it's because she asks excellent questions, knows where to look for the answers, and is a voracious learner.

Furthermore, despite the financial challenges of running her own business full time, Corinna and her family still enjoy traveling and eating out because she comes up with creative ways to make it all work. Once you start re-evaluating the barriers that are keeping you from doing what you want (money, time, house, dog, child, etc), you may find that they aren't so big after all. Resourcefulness is the key.

During the last eight weeks, I also learned a great deal outside of the “business” realm. Here are the first three out the eight most valuable things I learned about myself (you can read the rest right here):

1. I like to take things slow. Corinna likes to dive in. Corinna held me accountable for following through with my goals of making, learning and discovering, but I felt at times like things were moving just a little faster than my comfort level. At this point in my creative career, I want to take it slow. I want to fall in love with the process and if that means having a sparse etsy shop, a sporadic blog and the occasional freelance job – then that's the way its going to be. My mother always said, “Let your comfort guide you,” and that message has been loud and clear the last eight weeks. If I had a toe in before, I've at least got both feet in now, which is a big improvement, I think.

2. I am a creature of habit. The last book I reviewed was “The Creative Habit” by Twyla Tharp. While I wasn't crazy about the book itself, the concept revived me. Since the creative part of me developed through classical ballet, a rigid environment of habit, ritual, technique and infinite repetition, my creative brain is naturally accustomed to more structure. Since I quit ballet six years ago, my life has lacked that structure and I had no idea how much my creative energy was suffering because of it. Now that I know that habit and ritual are such an important part of my creative process, I can find my way back to them.

3. I need a room of my own. Remember Corinna's post about the door? Well I feel exactly the same way. Furthermore, I really miss the feeling of having a space that is all mine. When I lived at home with my parents, my room was a sanctuary and it had a life of its own. I love my house now and I love that I share it with my partner, but I look forward to the day when I can retreat to a room that is mine – ALL MINE!

(Read the rest of my Personal Lessons).

Thank you all for the support and encouragement I've received in the last two months. I knew I would learn a lot from Corinna, but I had no idea how much I would benefit from the support of this community of friends, artists, and crafters. After today, I will no longer be Corinna's Intern, but I'll still be around! You can count on seeing me here and I hope you'll feel welcomed over in my neck of the woods as well.



Dyche Designs said...

Wow, sounds like an amazing internship. I can only imagine the wealth of information you accumulated during those 8 weeks and can now put to use as part of your own journey.

Julie said...

Bravo, my brilliant Portland beauty! Thank you for sharing your insights & wisdom. I am both proud and inspired.

Some of my fondest memories of our life together, were the weeks we had the card table set up, laden with crafty supplies to create our own unique Valentine cards.

I was so happy when you kids were home from school and we could all get our grubby hands covered in glue and sequins. (: Some things don't change. And this makes me happy!

I am eager for your next installment. Don't make your fans wait too long.

Anonymous said...

I am so impressed and also envious of both you and Corinna. I wish I had known what path to take when I was younger. I have been self-employed, and am now in a job that feels like a prison with a paycheck. I'm also a relaxoholic, and it doesn't work with a 40-hour job! I hope you can be as successful as piddix, but in your own way. Best of luck to you!

Lara said...

Thank you, everyone (and Mom!) : )

Val, I hope I can be as well. Whenever I read about someone's self-employment story they always say its all work, very little play.

I think thats either 100% true or most people who have their own businesses are workaholics and just can't see it being any other way. I intend to find out which it is!

I'm hoping the latter, obviously, because if its the former I'm doomed to failure!

Melissa said...

Very inspiring! Lately I've been stagnant and this has gotten me moving, what a great experience!