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dear reader | to one who feels lost in the crowd

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Before I get into my “dear reader” letter, I wanted to share a video series I am a part of.  It’s called “Finding the Quiet“, offered by my friend and amazing artist and designer, Jeanne Oliver.  She’s rounded up some very inspiring creatives to share their experiences on listening to what God has to say to them…

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In my video, I shared about some of the fears I had early in my business and how God nudged me out of my comfort zone.  This video series is free and you can register HERE.  Click on “Listening | Finding the Quiet” and then the +join button on the upper right side of the page.

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On a pretty regular basis, I get e-mails from women who either want to start a business or have started one and are seeking some advice, encouragement or pointers.  Here is one I received a few weeks ago…

Hi Marian~ Question for you….b/c I love reading about your business experiences.  When you first started, did you ever feel like, “everyone is doing this…how could I ever stand out and be successful?” I’m asking because I’ve been painting furniture for a very long time, but only in July did I put together a FB page and at my friends and family’s urging, started to dabble in selling. My excuse up until now for not doing it has always been, “everybody’s doing it…,” but things have actually been going pretty well. The biggest thing that gets in my way is my own self-talk~ and lack of confidence in why someone might choose my pieces over someone else’s. It does sometimes feel like everyone on the planet is now throwing paint on everything, and I try to make my things unique- and as I said, things are really going quite well considering I work full time elsewhere….but I just was curious how you got over that hump, or if you ever even had that conversation with yourself. I keep telling myself, “there’s room for everyone…,” b/c I really DO believe there’s room for everyone, but I just would like it not to “freak me out” so much. 

Feel free to charge me for the therapy session :) 

Thanks! 

Susan

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Dear Susan (and other small business owners with big dreams),

Yes, it seems like small, women-owned, creative businesses are all the rage right now and it’s so easy to feel lost in the crowd.  A part of me is thrilled to see creative women in their hay-day, getting recognized and becoming a real force to be reckoned with.  It’s exciting and a fun movement to be a part of.  

But, there is the flip side.  When something is popular, it’s profitable, AND when something is profitable, a lot of people jump on the bandwagon.  Understandably.  But then it hits you personally when you take your stuff to sell at an antique store or a market and it looks pretty much like the stuff in the booth next door.  And maybe that stuff is even better?  Or the prices are better?  And the comparison game starts to choke your dreams, drain your creative energy and make you doubt everything.  

“Why bother?”, is the phrase that echoes in your head repeatedly.

I know.  I’ve heard that voice before and it can sink your heart like a stone.  It’s stifling enough to make you want to quit.  It has made some quit, I’m certain.  And it has made some not even start.

So, what do you do?  How do you set your business apart?  How do you push through those times of discouragement?

I’m sure there are hundreds of good answers to these questions, but since I was asked, I’m going to throw out my two cents…

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Competition is good!

This is why antique malls, co-ops and antique fairs work so well.  We’re better if we all team up and make it easy for customers to find us in one place.  I remember feeling very intimidated when I was first a vendor at Lucketts.  So many veteran vendors had amazing stuff and I sometimes felt like my stuff would look amateurish or inferior.  But, you know what?  My inventory was well picked over almost every week, just like the other vendors. Selling my stuff among other great vendors made me grow a lot and I learned that I didn’t need to feel threatened by how awesome they were.   I just needed to do “my thing.”

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Even subtle differences can make your business special and your customers loyal.

Yes, there are a lot of us who sell painted furniture, antiques and home decor.  I know it’s overwhelming! But, there are thousands of ways you can set yourself apart and make your business unique.  Maybe it’s in the hardware you use, the color palette, the paper you use to line the drawers, the combination of paint techniques, etc.  Maybe it’s the way you style your pieces or combine elements from different decorating styles.

Whatever it is that makes your business “you”, it’s really important that you create hallmarks for your business with strong branding and a signature look that can be recognized easily by your customers and followers.

Sometimes it’s helpful to have a branding specialist or savvy friend “audit” your business to ensure what you’re putting out in the world is sending the right message.

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Be intentional about being unique.

Some people do this naturally.  If something is a trend, they will drop it so fast and never touch it again.  Others can’t resist a trend and jump on the bandwagon.  In the business we’re in, we can’t ignore trends altogether, but I think there’s something to be said for peeking at them now and then and then putting your blinders back on, so you’re not influenced too heavily by others.  For example, I love grain sacks and have for a long time.  I’m not going to stop using them because they are a trend.  But, I’m not going to start painting my dressers in chevron and mustaches just because they are.  That’s just not me.  Being aware of the trends and being intentional about making decisions based on what I like will keep my look (and yours) somewhat distinct.

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Take your business seriously.

I am very guilty of focusing of the “fun stuff” like shopping for antiques, styling photo shoots and painting furniture that I sometimes don’t spend the time on business-y things, like setting goals, formulating strategy, analyzing the trends of my business, etc.  I tend to go on gut feel, but that doesn’t work when you’re growing and have people working for you who need something more specific to act on than your gut feel.  When I do take the time to set out goals and put together a plan, I’m amazed at how much more focused my business is and how much better I feel about my direction.  So, do your creative thing, but remember this is a business and it really helps to treat it like that!

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It’s a big world (and a small one).

Lastly, I just want to agree with you, Susan.  It’s a big world and there is room for everyone.  I even think by collaborating with and supporting those who do what you do can be beneficial for everyone.  I know it feels you need to watch your back and protect your customer base.  Maybe you’ve been burned by someone you tried to collaborate with in the past.  I think you can be cautiously open, though.  Some of my very best opportunities have come from partnering with other women entrepreneurs in my field.  It’s rewarding and beneficial all around, so I suggest keeping an open mind.

It’s a big world, but it’s also a small one.  The antique/furniture community is a pretty tight-knit group, so be gracious, professional and kind.  That goes a long way with your competition and your customers.

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So, Susan, and other small business owners or hopeful entrepreneurs, don’t be discouraged by the crowded room you just stepped into (or one you’ve been hanging out in a while).  There are many who will welcome you and cheer you on and there are enough customers for everyone.

Go get ’em!

Marian


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Comments

  1. Well said! Thank you for the valuable advice!

    Smiles!
    Terry

  2. Thank you for the wonderful advice and pep talk…you were speaking to more of us than just Susan and I appreciate her asking this question. I’ve been struggling with a direction for my two Etsy shops and this is very helpful info! My best regards and biggest blessings to you for the New Year!!

  3. Thank you, Marian. Although you were responding to someone else’s letter 😉 I feel like you were also writing to me! Such good truths and reminders here. I feel encouraged and may need to re-read this from time to time! Bless you. Xo, ~julie

  4. What a great post. It is important to put on your blinders when it comes to everything that is going on in the home decor market. I know I have struggled with this over the past year and have often thought that maybe I’m the only fool out there not jumping on the bandwagon. Thanks for the advice of sticking to your own style no matter what the trend is.

  5. Linda Greiss says:

    Marion, Thank you for such an inspiring post! I do not paint and sell furniture. I have other artistic interests. Your comments apply to any person who is starting a creative business.

  6. Thanks Marian.You always give such gret advice/pep talks!

  7. Thank you for the awesome pep talk ! We all have unique gifts to offer….and I have learned that sharing is like a lit candle lighting another….it does not extinguish the original flame. Thank you for always sharing!

    Amy of ClassicAmyJoanne.com

  8. Perfectly stated. Great advice for those just launching and an excellent reminder for those (like myself) who have been doing it a while but still get dogged by those kinds of negative thoughts.
    Much appreciated.
    Happy New Year!

  9. Andrea says:

    This is perfect. It speaks to all business types – not just the ones where we get to stretch our creativity! I am wrestling with leaving my corporate position and venturing out on my own – in business consulting for dental practices – and this post is PERFECT! I have the same questions and fears and negative self talk. And others have encouraged me – there is plenty of room, you will have your unique style, etc.
    Thank you for sharing Susan’s letter, and for your thoughtful response. Best of luck to all of us women out there that are taking the leap! It’s going to be a great year!

  10. Your are so encouraging! Thanks for the advice.

  11. Lyndsey says:

    Marian,
    I’m not in this business launching mode, but I still read through to the end as it was a question that I had no idea how it could be answered. Your 2-cents are very encouraging and I even feel inspired to do … do something! I’m sure it will help those in the new business phase very much. Thank you and good writing!

  12. I needed this today. Thank you. Your experience from which you speak is encouraging and invaluable.

  13. I love that you emphasized collaborating with the competition, and I’d add to that collaborating with customers. I get looks from other vendors where I sell my work when I am willing to talk to customers and others with similar businesses about my process and where I find the things I sell. I’m here, not just to sell and make money, but to inspire people. I might lose a couple dollars here and there, but I have made so many friends and have been presented with so many opportunities because of my willingness to engage.

  14. Your timing is impeccable. I needed to hear this today.
    Thank you. A Heart felt Thank You.

  15. This was very helpful. I’ve been selling furniture as a hobby in Fairbanks, AK, where there are not many other options for the distressed, cottagey pieces many homeowners love. However, it can be very difficult finding quality pieces up here because we are thousands of miles from the history of the U.S. that crafted and utilized unique pieces decades ago. Most pieces come up with the military and then get left behind, but inventory is still low. I’ve recently starting painting more signs as a result, but so far the biggest bang for my buck is in the larger furniture pieces.
    I just signed up for my first Vintage Market Show, which is 350 miles away near Anchorage, AK. This is a new show to AK, so I am thrilled to be a part. I’m eagerly learning all I can about taking my business to the next level, styling my first booth, and engaging with other vendors. It’s scary and exciting at the same time, and I can SO relate to Susan’s concerns.

    One things I keep telling myself is this: I will keep doing what is in my heart to do, and then trust God with the results. This has helped me keep from becoming too overwhelmed or fearful. Maybe that will help someone else.

    • Jaimee, I will be at this same show! Really happy to be finally taking part in something that is high end, where the right type of long term customer will attend.

  16. Beautifully said. A heartfelt thank you.
    xxSada

  17. Holly Holato says:

    I love it that so many people were blessed by this post… It is very timely for me also. Marion you are really inspiring. I’m blessed every time I log on to read your blog… I’m going to keep chipping away at this. Thank you for you words of wisdom – Holly

  18. Great tips!
    How do you feel about brand imitators?
    Do you feel like it muddies your brand when people copy/imitate your style?
    White folk style designs on colored pieces is something I think of and associate with YOUR brand but I’ve seen quite a few copycats floating around blogland. I know there’s nothing anyone can do to keep people from emulating/copying their style but just wondered how you navigate that added aspect when trying to keep your brand unique/distinct.

    • marian says:

      I actually wrote a post a long time ago on copycats…is it flattery or offensive?

      I fall on the flattery side of the fence and I always give people the benefit of the doubt. They may have copied me or been inspired by me, but maybe they had the same idea on their own. I don’t need to chase them all down and make sure they give me credit. That’s such a waste of energy.

      Any time I feel a little defensive about one of “my ideas” being copied, I take a step back and remember that I have been heavily influenced by other artist and entrepreneurs. I put my work out there and even teach people how to do it, so I should be flattered and excited when they do!

      I also remember that the piece that individual is selling might be “diaper money” or “grocery money” or their mortgage that month. That’s where I was when I first started and I never want to discourage other women from making something and selling it. And, honestly, it doesn’t hurt me or my business one bit. :) If anything, it forces me to come up with new ideas and keep things fresh.

      Now, there is copyright infringement, which is a different matter…

  19. Have I told you today how much I love you? <3

  20. Teresa says:

    Thank you Marian for your words of encouragement. So many who have gone before won’t share for whatever reason, so I really appreciate it. I also have a question. When will Farmhouse White be available?

    • marian says:

      It’s available for our retailers to order on Jan 8, 2016, so you’ll see it in stores and online in the next two weeks or so.

  21. Susan (not the Susan in the post) says:

    You, Marian, are the perfect role model for being gracious, professional and kind. I really admire you and I’m happy that I live close enough to occasionally pop into your studio.

  22. Jill Hilbrich says:

    This was a great post! Thanks Susan for putting yourself out there and asking, and thanks Marian for sharing your thoughts. All of the questions she asked and points you spoke on have been questions in my own heart and mind as I step into the world of furniture painting, and yet, as I take the risk, open doors keep coming, so I’m going with it!

  23. Kellene says:

    I absolutely loved this! I’m one of those people that sits on the outside looking in afraid to get my feet wet! I really do believe that I need to dive in and surround myself with creative people and fresh ideas …. Then I will have even more ideas. But….still I sit on the outskirts…scrolling thru blogs Pinterest and instagram ooing and ahing all the amazing inspiration.

  24. I do a lot of “creating” – mostly for gifts or personal use. I get encouragement to go into business, but I’m happy at the non-profit level right now. I do admire the many woman who go into business with their art. What I’ve noticed (and you touched on this, Marian) is that the women whose work I admire are women who do what they do because they love it, not because it’s the trend or fad. Their business is an extension of themselves. It has lasting power because of that. I really admired you, Marian, for not jumping on the chevron or turquoise or animal print trends or painting everything the color of the year. Sometimes what a person loves is not wildly popular, but I think they are better off remaining true to themselves and appealing to the kindred spirits.

  25. marylisa noyes says:

    Good luck to all those starting in business. I love shopping vintage and I think there is always an interest in someone having great stuff for sale….

  26. very inspiring message – I enjoyed reading it very much. We all have self doubt and negative words jumping around in our heads so its good to read about other women having the same feelings. For me, working for myself is something I’ve always wanted to do, so I’m living the dream…I don’t make a huge amount of money but I love making customers happy and having a passion!

  27. I think your two cents are right on the money. Just “do you” and be true to your heart, and it will always be enough. I firmly believe God doesn’t put wrong callings in our heart. Therefore, the smartest thing to do when you feel pulled is go with the flow. ❤️

  28. Caren says:

    Haven’t read your blog in a while, good timing today! We just bought a small farm with a big barn, and prior to buying, I had bid ideas and visions for it. Now, I am feeling overwhelmed and doubtful, letting those negative voices speak to me…even questioning what God has for us, though I know we were led here. So, today I am moving forward, asking God to give me direction and vision, instead of letting negative thoughts be my guide! Bgrateful to connect with other women and be inspired!

  29. I found your words to be very encouraging. I have had my heart sink like a stone, raised up like never before, then sink lower all based on customer comments at antique shows. It’s hard to stay focused and secure in what you deep down know to be true. At the end of the day, I know God gave me a passion and talent for this business for me to succeed. When I doubt that, it shows my lack of faith in his plan.

  30. Donna says:

    Marian, great post! Your graciousness and kind words are so uplifting. I don’t have a business, but I’m so encouraged by your post. Thank you for being a ray of sunshine in (sometimes) a dark world.

    God bless!

  31. Thank you for being the voice of encouragement and sage advice for those of us just trying to make our way.

    XOXO
    Lisa

  32. Amy B. says:

    I love this post!! I’ve paint signs & now it’s quite the trend so I’ve definitely been feeling like this!!

  33. So well said, BRAVO!!! Love everything about this post!

  34. Moriah says:

    Thank you for all hour helpful hints and insights. Also, thank you for the “Listening” link. I signed up and listened to the first video. It was exactly what I needed ;). May God continue to bless you, your family and your growing business. You rock!

  35. Lesly says:

    Awesome words of advice. Be kind and do your thing. There is room for all of us.

  36. Well said Marianne, well said!! I feel the same way about blogging & home décor, there is SO much to read and so many out there. That I feel insignificant at times, also with so many amazing ones (like yourself).

    This was a great reminder that everyone brings a difference to the table and a different take on things. That we all can do this if we set our mind to it, there is enough room for all of us :)

    Lauren Baxter | Lovely Décor
    http://www.lovelydecor.co
    xx

  37. Shawna Shaw says:

    Thank you so much for the encouraging words! I feel the same way sometimes & it doesn’t hurt to encourage each other to continue to do their best :)

  38. I started a small furniture business several years ago (with much inspiration from you!) and have had the same concerns as Susan. For me, they seem to arise when I find myself at a crossroads of sorts or at a time of transition. I may have been moving along just fine but when it’s time to make a decision about changing direction or taking on additional responsibilities, the negative thoughts and self doubt start to creep in and I feel a bit paralyzed. I find when I push through that though, something positive is inevitably on the other side. Whether it’s a new opportunity or just a lesson learned, it’s always worth it to conquer the self doubt and not succumb to the comparison game. It’s not easy though and I will take your latest advice with me as I continue to make my way in this field. Thank you for your kindness and generosity in supporting your readers!

  39. Sue Pagels says:

    Thank for answering a question that many of us have! I need to make a huge change in my “antique life” – I currently have an antique booth that is a mish mash of items, plus furniture I have worked on, and it just doesn’t make me happy. I need to edit, downsize and concentrate more on my own style as you speak about. I work full time, in addition to the antique booth and am spread too thin right now. Not sure where I am headed in my next venture, but I will need to find a different outlet for my passion – whether it be shows, or some other avenue. Thank you so much for all your inspiration and knowledge!

  40. Thank you, Marian! I needed this post to start my 2016. I have been asking myself lately “what sets me apart?” and the truth is, nothing and everything. So I just need to be me, focus on my business and never give up. Thank you for the encouragement and advice from someone who has weathered the storm and come out on top!!!

  41. Thank you so much Marian for being willing to share your wisdom and your heart with us! It is so lovely, in a world where we are connected more then ever but yet disconnected more than ever, to know that we are not alone in our journeys and that others struggle with the same issues. Your encouragement is so appreciated and always so timely… at least for me :) Hugs Lisa.

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