Small Business

I am beginning to understand what happened to young Alice in Wonderland. She poked her nose in where it didn’t belong, and before she knew it she had left the known world and was falling, falling, falling into a whole other territory. Curiosity is a fine thing, but Alice needed some work on her balance and her boundaries. Perhaps you are thinking I am a kill joy. Afterall, if Alice had kept her balance there would have been no story for us to enjoy. Of course you are right. The fall into the unknown is the device to begin her journey. But I can’t help thinking that Alice may have had other things she wanted to do that day. Other adventures of her own choosing.

Recently I accepted an invitation to provide some training, on a casual basis, at the place where I used to work. “Where’s the harm?” I thought. I was missing being part of a team and the feeling of being an expert. Having allowed my creative self plenty of room for expression my analytical mind was ready for a wander around the magical land of databases. And of course I was glad of some casual work to provide income to support me while I build up my own business.

It was a good feeling to be welcomed and to have my knowledge appreciated. I had returned to familiar territory, which was also unfamiliar after 18 months absence. I began to remember what I used to know and sharing what I thought would be helpful. When I looked up from the training task I found myself at the edge of a large project in its early stages. Like Alice, I got curious and poked my nose in. “That looks interesting”, says I. Once I had stuck my head in a small distance, I could see a whole lot of potential directions. Questions to be Asked. Issues to be Investigated. Gaps to be Filled. So I started asking, and investigating and hurling my body into gaps. “What a good consultant I am,” thinks I.

And then, like Alice, I realised I had lost my balance and I was falling. Instead of being a visiting trainer sharing knowledge of the old system, I was plummeting headlong into the new and offering to do things that weren’t in the original brief. I saw the magnitude of the project in front of everyone, and toppled into it, until it surrounded me like an enveloping fog. Soon I was thinking about work 24/7 and feeling like I didn’t have time or energy for my own projects. My part time hours seemed too short in the face of everything that could be done. I had started to feel responsible and my whole being was organising itself to get to work sorting out this project that seemed to have no boundaries to it.  Wait a minute. Isn’t this why I left?

Learning Experiences. Gotta love ’em.

Fortunately for me, I have access to equipment that Alice lacked. I have insight into what’s happening, and a jet pack with an eject cord.  I can pull that cord and fly back to where I need to be – a visiting trainer sharing knowledge to help other people with their major project. I don’t have to fall to the end of the tunnel and spend a whole lot of time wandering around another universe.

This is my first time in this consultant role, where I am brought in for a specific task. Its a whole different mindset than being a permanent employee. Its about being focussed on the agreed project, and delivering well on that piece of work. Being a consultant means staying on the edge and maintaining perspective, even if it means missing out on some of the things that are going on around you. The training aspect of my role suffered because I got caught up in the bright lights of a big shiny project that others were working on. I need to reboot and regroup and get back onto the path that I originally agreed to, the adventure of my own choosing.


The next book on my reading list for people with multiple interests is Mash-Up!: How to Use Your Multiple Skills to Give You an Edge, Make Money and Be Happier by Ian Sanders & David Sloly. Ian and David focus on how to develop a multi-faceted work life that takes advantage of multiple talents and interests. They contend that rather than diluting one’s abilities, being able to mix up a variety of skills provides an advantage in the contemporary workplace. This interests me because I have been exploring a number of possible avenues for earning an income and the possibility of a varied worklife is very appealing.

For Ian and David the key to success as a masher is to define your ‘personal unifier’ which describes the common denominator that runs through all your varied skills and interests. It that allows people to ‘get’ what is at the core of what you do. I haven’t come up with mine yet, but its probably going to relate to topics addressed in this blog, such as simplicity, intuition and decision-making, growth and spirituality.

Even when you are clear about your personal unifier, it can sometimes be difficult to know how to present yourself to a potential employer or client. Ian and David advise telling your story in a way that grabs attention, clearly communicates what you are offering, and provides the person you are talking to with a way to take the next step to using your service.

The great benefit of a mashed up life is the satisfaction of utilising different aspects of your skillset. People attracted to this lifestyle relish flexibility and the freedom to take advantage of the opportunities which arise. In fact, Mashed-Up recommends adopting an “unplan”,  an attitude which allows you to follow your instinct and go “where the water flows.”

The book is written in the language of the digital age. People are identified by their Twitter handle.  It has a Gen X feel that made me question whether as a young Baby Boomer I was too old to pursue a mashed up existence.

Fortunately I didn’t need to think about it for too long. People have been mashing it up for centuries, and there is no age limit on who can get involved. The digital age just makes it easier to link up with like-minded people and convey what you are up to. They way I see it, retirees are the ultimate mashers.  They often enjoy a freedom to explore their own interests and determine their own schedules that can be harder to come by in mid-life.

Retirement takes on new meaning when you are living a mashed up life. If you already love what you do, and the roles that you take on are flexible, there is less reason to announce an abrupt and final end to your working life. People with artistic and creative careers already know about this. The urge to paint or write doesn’t suddenly die at 60 or 65. If you are lucky enough to be retired with access to an annuity or pension, you are free to explore a mashed up existence that can include paid or voluntary work that is both interesting and rewarding.

I am not sure if I have retired early, or I am never going to retire. If I can construct a Mashed Up life with multiple income streams, I may never have to decide.

It was a joyous day yesterday when my internet advertising company agreed to cancel my contract and refund my payment. Joy, Joy, Joy. I have been released. I learned a lot from the experience, some of it about internet advertising and unhealthy corporate cultures, but most of it about myself.

There is a lot I could say about the ethics of this company, and the sorry process of being tricked into a six months contract for an inappropriate advertising product. It seems that my Account Manager knowingly sold me an internet campaign that would misrepresent my professional organising business as a cleaning service. Either that or he was totally ignorant of what product he was actually selling. I think it was a case of knowing deception, because he failed to respond to polite requests for information and help in the early stages of the process, and my angry complaints in the later stage of the process when I began to realise I had been duped.

I am grateful to the case manager of my complaint because he did eventually agree to cancel my contract. However in the first instance he was extremely resistant to taking on board the specific details of my complaint and tried to bamboozle me into agreeing to cancel the contract after the six months were up, rather than immediately. I had to push my point home every step of the way.

It was alarming to realise that these two young men are working in a corporate culture that encourages them to trick people into inappropriate arrangements they don’t understand, then self-righteously hold that unethically obtained contract over them. I suspect that the fact that every conversation was being recorded “for training purposes” meant that they had to be seen to by trying every trick in the book to catch and keep me as a customer.

For the past week my mental and emotional space has been largely given over to housing a campaign headquarters to resolve this problem. I used journal writing to manage my anger and frustration, which allowed me to calm down and get on with other things during the waiting periods between complaints. I also planned each interaction beforehand, making notes about what I needed to achieve, and what strategies I needed to employ to achieve those objectives.

Since the company was slow to respond and resistant to my complaint, I chunked the process down into very small steps. For example, sending an email to cancel the contract was one step, and making sure they acknowledged receipt of that email was another step. I had to do this because I could not rely on them  to do their own steps such as returning phone calls or reading and responding to emails.

Writing down what I needed to achieve was very helpful in preparing me for when I did get a phone call to discuss my problem. I was clear that the current situation was unacceptable, and they either needed to fix the problem, or cancel the contract.

The main criteria for fixing the problem was that they used an appropriate heading and descriptive text for my ad. The turning point came when I questioned the Complaints Officer on whether in fact it was possible to modify the ad to say “Professional Organiser” rather than “Cleaning Services”. It wasn’t. They don’t have the capacity to customise their ads. Even after this telling admission I still had to fight for cancellation of my contract, but they were on the back foot, and I prevailed.

I don’t like conflict. I hate being angry and frustrated. Although anger served a purpose in getting me to take action, it also made me feel bad about myself, and undermined my credibility. Anger was a necessary step in the process, but dwelling on it was not helping me or my cause. I had to give up the longing that this organisation would care about me or my interests, and the shock that they didn’t.

Instead of focussing on my anger and disappointment, I worked hard at being calm, purpose driven and persistent. Having a laser like focus on the details of the problem and what needed to happen next was a big help in achieving my desired outcome.

Although it wasn’t a pleasant experience it helped me to learn how to better manage my emotions in a challenging situation. It helped me realise that when I am clear about what needs to happen, I do have the capacity to focus the formidable power of my will on protecting my own interests.

This week I have been feeling the need to cut back on ‘Self Help’ and ‘How To’ style reading, whether books or blogs. I need to reduce the level of input and work with what I already have. I know what to do, I just need to keep on with doing it.  What I do like to read is the personal stories of other people who are  getting on with it too, and creating their own unique lifestyles.

One task that has been on the back burner until this week is the Happy Music Project. Last year it was suggested that I listen to more music that makes me happy. You would think that would be easy to do, but I found it difficult to get into. I tend to operate more in the sphere of words and images, and don’t listen to a lot of music. This week I have made a small start and have been on the lookout for music that makes me smile.

At the risk of being uncool, I recommend you get your hands on the Readers Digest Wonderful World of Music For Children and put on Record 2 Side 1. This features guaranteed happy makers such as Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat, A Bushel and a Peck, and the Surry with the Fringe on Top.  Fun songs beautifully sung by an adult male choir. Great while doing the ironing. On a more adult vein, there is the Tom Jones compliationUnforgetable featuring Love is in the Air and Letter to Lucile. Great vocals for cleaning the bathroom. I see now that I am definitely am uncool. But thats the thing about happy music. Its light and fun and silly and makes you smile.

Since getting an iPad and discovering the blogosphere I have switched most of my reading time over to blog reading. However I feel the need for reading matter that is more detailed and weighty.  So another fun thing I am doing is reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. I mentioned this as a joke in a comment, but I do actually have it on the shelf, and decided to make a start. Its such a difference reading an old style novel full of detailed description.

Melville has a cheeky sense of humour and inventive turn of phrase. I thought I would pass on his very useful advice that you should not heat your bedroom in winter so that you can get the maximum enjoyment from snuggling under the blanket.

…have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.

(Moby Dick Chapter 11)

The ship has not yet sailed in my reading of Moby DIck but I will let you know how we get on in with travels. I enjoyed this post from SMART Living 365 titled Love to Travel – Love to Come Home by Kathy Gottberg. She talks about creating the kind of life you enjoy so that coming home from holidays is not met with dread. Heres a quick snippet:

What it comes down to is that my holidays are no longer escapes to take me away from my life—instead they are just alternate journeys of discovery and adventure…. no matter where my home is, no matter what is going on there, whenever I return I feel welcome and glad to be home.

I went around the world last year, but since returning I don’t really have itchy feet, because I am happy at home. I will probably travel again, but its not a burning need.

On a similar theme Minimalist Joshua Fields Millburn talks about Subtractive Creation in a post called A Well Edited Life. He uses the analogy of a sculptor removing excess stone or clay to reveal an artwork to talk about building a more meaningful life by removing things that are superfluous.

I loved this line from a recent post by Courtney Carver from Be More With Less on the topic Simplify Your Life and Quiet Your Mind:

leaning on simplicity eases the stress of the more complicated things

I have been drawing inspiration from all these sources, particularly leaning on simplicity, as I try to get myself out of a somewhat disastrous internet advertising arrangement that I undertook six weeks ago. I am being presented as a cleaner rather than a professional organiser, and can’t seem to find anyone in the company interested enough to either fix the ad or take it down.

In hindsight I can see that going with a large company for my internet advertising was a mistake. Given the problems I have had so far with calls and emails being ignored, I have decided to push for cancellation, rather than fixing the problem.  Although this means I have to start from scratch with my internet advertising, I don’t want to continue a business relationship with a company that could let me down so badly, and then see no urgency to fix their mistakes.

Solving this internet advertising problem is testing my capacity to keep things in perspective. It drives me crazy that I get no response to my questions and complaints. Nevertheless, I am fighting back for happiness and simplicity making sure that I take time to think, write and blog on constructive topics that represent the direction I want to be heading in.

I have been butting up against a dilemma in the past couple of weeks. It has been simmering in the background, but it keeps rising closer and closer to the surface. Pretty soon its going to break the surface and I am going to have to confront it head on.

This dilemma concerns the tension between the desire to create, and the desire to simplify. One involves producing, the other reducing. One involves making use of resources, the other involves conserving resources. On the one hand I want to be creative, and also value the creativity of others. On the other hand, I am conscious of the resources that are used up in this creative process, and also in packaging and shipping creative output if it is to be sold.

I have been exploring my desire to create through writing and photography. My writing is mostly online, and immediate, in blog form. I like not having to store up my words in books, boxes and folders. I just post it and let wordpress do the archiving. I have been doing some journal writing lately, with a pen and paper. I make sure not to write anything I would not be willing to have someone else read. I have a box of old journals in the “too hard” corner in the garage. I don’t want to add to it. I am going to try to make sure that anything of importance ends up in digital form so that I can shred the physical notebooks when the time comes. I think I am going to be doing more writing, and may need to come up with better solutions for storing and archiving my notes and finished work. I am grateful for the computer and the online resources available to do this.

Photography is really a hobby and a lot of the photos I have been using were taken on overseas trips, with no expectation of being reproduced or published in any public arena. I have enjoyed using my own work to illustrate my blog posts on this site, and I also enjoy having a photography based ImageChest Photography blog. The dilemma here is that I have been getting prints made of my photo’s and making greeting cards for sale. I have enjoyed this and explored different outlet for selling them, including shops, an online store, and markets. This is where the dilemma is, because I am conscious of the resources required to make and store physical photos. The cardboard is flown to Sydney from Tasmania. If I sell cards online, I need to post them around the world. Although this is small scale, it does consume resources.

The main dilemma with selling greeting cards is that thrusts me into the world of product marketing. When selling online there is the opportunity to get involved in teams and market each other’s products. While some of the items I have come across for sale online are beautiful artworks or valuable vintage items, a lot of the products are ephemeral expressions of our materialistic age. In other words, clutter in search of a home. I enjoy looking at other peoples online shops because I see the product images as just that, images. I don’t get hooked in by what they represent, and rarely feel the urge to buy anything. However I know that other people who look at these images are seeing something else. They are seeing products they can buy, and perhaps feeling excited about the prospect of a parcel in the mail. After all that is the point of the product promotion.

What I am learning is that in order to make and online shop work, you really need to engage in many forms of marketing, including social networks and blogs. And here is where it gets complicated. You see I don’t think my family and friends need me to be encouraging them to buy more stuff. I don’t think you need me encouraging you to buy more stuff. I have already put a few people onto online shopping sites and began to wonder if that was doing them a service. Much as I hate to say it, I feel like I am sending mixed messages by advocating simplicity while at the same time promoting online selling, even if it is handmade arts and crafts.

And here is the minimalist artists dilemma. How to be creative without over-using the earths resources. How to sell creative products without buying into our already materialistic culture. The digital arena offers one solution. I think I may be heading further toward digital writing and photography and away from physical products. Although even this is not without is problems, as we use up the earths scarce resources to build our electronic devices, and burn up energy to run them.

Another solution is an emphasis on quality over quantity. Once upon a time ladies did embroidery in the evenings by lamplight. Before there was TV. Before there was radio. Even before there was electric light. Ladies embroidered detailed pieces of work because that was a enjoyable way to fill time, and provided a way to introduce visual beauty into their lives. The investment of time and attention seems to warrant the object, to make it worthy of its existence. Crafting has been simplified, so that finished items can be produced quite quickly, in some cases creating a glut of creative output with is beyond what we really want or need.

So here I am, stating this dilemma. Now its not a secret and I have to deal with it. I have a lot of greeting cards stored in shoeboxes, but I don’t think I will be getting any more prints done for a while. I am going to make up the remaining stock I have, and see about selling it. Then I will work out whether this is really something I want to pursue.


Since my big garage sort out last year I have been having fun selling unwanted items online. It takes quite a bit of work to take photos, weigh, measure and list, monitor progress and finally pack and post. But I have enjoyed it and its been nice to see little amounts of money going into the bank account. I have learned a lot about the process of selling.

I have reached a point where I am running out of my own things that I am ready to sell, and since I have been having fun with online selling I have been toying with the idea of buying things cheap to sell at a profit. I did have some success at this in a very small way, except for the time I got the maths wrong and sold at a $2 loss. And except for the time the casserole dish broke in the mail.

When I think about it, the most successful items have been things that were mine originally, because they were quality items that had retained some value. These were things like camera gear, and 21st birthday presents (now retro!). Selling them seemed like a profit with no outlay, but of course, I was selling them for much less than they had been purchased for many years ago, so its not really a sustainable proposition.

I have had some fun going to garage sales, fetes and op shops, seeing what is for sale. Garage sales and church fetes are the best, because the prices tend to be very low. Charity shops are very savvy on the value of things, and put the good stuff in the glass cabinet for a strong price.

From my experience with a few speculative purchases I have found that it is possible to buy things cheaply and sell for a profit online, although I am not sure it is worth it. An interesting aspect of the exercise is coming to understand that issues like transportation costs, packaging, storage space and selling space are as real when you are selling a happy face Christmas jug as when you have a propper retail business.

The problem with selling things on such a small scale, is you need to ask a high price to make it worth the exercise. Charging a high price reduces the number of willing buyers and slows the process as stuff sits on eBay or Gumtree (and in the garage) waiting for someone to be interested. It leads to listings timing out and having to relist. Selling cheaply is more successful in turning things over, but if its only for $5 or $10, is it really worth the effort?

I think I have a fairly good eye for value, and what sells. Even so, I now have a small collection of other peoples junk that I have bought for peanuts sitting in the garage waiting for someone to fall in love with it. I also have boxes of wrapping, boxes of newspaper, and boxes of boxes in readiness for packing and posting. If I were to get more serious about buying and selling, that pile of stuff would grow, and I would be effectively re-stocking the garage that I had been so happy to clear out.

Last night I had occasion to watch part of an episode of Hoarders with the sound down. I couldn’t hear the stories, but I could see the conditions that the people were living in. What was most striking was the looks of sadness and helplessness on the faces of the people involved, both the people with the hoarding issues, and their families. With the sound down, you could see the impact of the situation etched in the expressions of everyone involved, and it was very moving.

I then flipped over to one of my favourite “pickers” shows, and the guys were negotiating to buy old signs and other collectables for sale and a profit. The contrast was striking. The two programs were poles apart, in their attitude to stuff, and somehow the distance between the two extremes seemed too great to bridge.

The experience of watching those two programs back to back made me think that maybe I don’t want to get involved in buying and selling in a more serious way. Not because there is anything wrong with it, but because thats not really the direction I want to take. Its not really my mojo. I was selling things online partly to make money, and partly to learn how to do it so that I could advise others. I could feel the excitement of making a sale, and the satisfaction of finding a cheap bargain. But it was not really supporting my goals of living simply and lightly.

There were things I needed to learn through this exploration of buying and selling, and I am glad I have done it. But its starting to feel like that phase is coming to an end, and I need to put my effort in a new direction. I am sad, because it was an enjoyable process, but I know it doesn’t pay to hold onto a project when the spark has gone out of it. I may change my mind, but simplicity seems to be the direction I am am heading in.


One of the new skills of the internet age is described as “curating”. Once the province of art gallery and museum staff, now everyone can be a curator with sites like Pinterest and Etsy which allow us to gather and display material from other sites and sources. Curating suits me, because I enjoy looking at pictures and putting them together so that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. If I am at all creative, my skill is in seeing, gathering and displaying, rather that starting an artwork from scratch.

I have been looking a lot of shops on Etsy in the past weeks, and flagging many favourites. These favourites can be chosen for a variety of reasons, such as being Australian, using keywords that I use, or themes that I am interested in, or, in rare cases, being examples of things that I might actually have the need to buy. Looking at other shops is a good way of connecting with other sellers, and learning about the kinds of products that are available, and how they are presented. Since I don’t have a lot of money for shopping, flagging items which appeal to me is one way that I can encourage and support other people, by acknowledging their work.

Today I felt inspired to put all this research to good use, and create a Treasury. This is a collection of 16 images taken from shops in Etsy, that adhere to a theme of your choice. A treasury is like a visual sonnet or haiku. The structure is 16 thumbnail images displayed in a 4 x 4 gallery format. Ideally the images are drawn from 16 different shops (excluding your own) and represent your theme. Oh yes, and preferably, it should be beautiful.

The theme of my first treasury is called Yorkshire Dreaming. Having enjoyed looking at objects related to Devon and Cornwall, where I have been, I decided to see what was available in a place I didn’t get to but dream of visiting one day. I searched “Yorkshire” and came up with some fantastic photography and  artwork of North Yorkshire and the Yorkshire Dales and a lot of very, very cute Yorkshire Terriers. There were also a few objects related to Wuthering Heights, set in Yorkshire.

I started to build a Treasury around the landscape and the animals that to me typified Yorkshire. Most of my impressions come from TV and movies, especially the TV series Heartbeat and All Creatures Great and Small. I don’t know whether Yorkshire is really swamped with cute little dogs. If you search Yorkshire Terrier in Etsy you might think so. Since it is my Dreaming, I included one but I did discipline myself to keep the cuteness factor under control, as I also wanted to convey the  moodiness of the moors, and the sparseness of the dales.

If you would like to see how it turned out, take a look here at Yorkshire Dreaming.