The Honest Truth

I've really wanted to chat about this over the past few weeks but haven't really known whether or not it might be a bit TMI or even too negative but I was inspired to bite the bullet after seeing a post from Joanne Hawker on Instagram...

Joanne Hawker support small business #shopsmall
Credit to Joanne Hawker

I'm currently terrified and try to hide this with a positive, sparkly attitude every single day but the truth is the creative world may as well be a graveyard at this time of year for 2017 and that scares me. It scares me because I walked away from a fairly well paid wage earlier this year and whilst I did that for my health and wellbeing, I can't help but feel like others will think I made a huge mistake because I bring home no where near what I used to. It scares me because Christmas is coming and whilst I don't overspend, I still liked not having to worry about whether I could afford to be buying presents for people (I think everyone would like that to be honest wouldn't they?). Not that others will get upset about presents that is absolutely not the case, I just really enjoy giving presents out to my family and friends.

As for the social media world, I feel that we're all being tested right now. It's incredibly difficult to get seen and I see people chuntering about this all the time whether they have a business that relies on social media or not. The internet is a brilliant thing and without it I wouldn't be able to be doing what I do at all, but right now I'm not sure what to do in terms of social media. I've been spending more and more time on it over the past few weeks and I haven't noticed any difference in views or sales, just frustration within my own head and the feeling that I must be doing something wrong or simply, no one likes my work. Social media and Twitter in particular can start off my anxiety and it wasn't until I took a step back that I noticed just how much it was affecting how I feel inside. I would scroll for a good hour or two in bed at night, aimlessly refreshing the page trying to find something that I might have missed. Then there's the Twitter drama that feels constant and whilst I never get myself involved, even if I unfollow people causing drama or promoting it, their feeds get retweeted by mutual friends and the whole thing is quite hard to get away from. What is one to do when you rely so heavily on social media to get your business out there? Especially when promotion alone is frowned upon; you need to be engaging with people not just posting your own work and retweeting yourself.

I made some changes this month and I feel so much happier already. I have stopped going on social media before bed and I have gone back to reading books, right now I'm reading Alice in Wonderland and I adore getting lost in such a different world. I've been making more of an effort to engage and interact with real people too, not just folk online which can be easier said than done when you're a massive introvert with social anxiety. Then there is recognising when to step away and try something else for the day. It's only recently I've plucked up the courage to walk my dogs by myself again and how truly relaxing and refreshing for the mind that can be. The reason I hate going alone is because Vespa can be quite reactive towards other dogs - I keep them both on lead but even still, the dirty looks and occasional comments I get from other dog walkers saying I shouldn't bring a noisy dog to the park made me not want to go alone. But getting out and about helps me to just escape for a while because when things are this quiet, it's so easy to sit and grind yourself into a rut wondering what it is you're doing wrong.

The small business world is taking such a beating at the moment and from what I've gathered no one really knows why or what's happening. It's supposed to be the busiest time of year for us yet it's very much dead and we're lucky to make any sales at all. In a way it makes me feel better that it's not just me but at the same time I'm incredibly anxious and worried which is something I wouldn't have dreamed of sharing so publicly online, but if it helps one more small business owner to feel less alone in this current struggle then I'm not overly bothered about opening up.

What are your thoughts?

Thanks for reading,

First Christmas Fair 2017

Yesterday was the first of my Christmas fairs for 2017 and in all honesty I wasn't expecting much. I had attended this venue a couple of times previously when I made jewellery and came home with no money each time. I hate to be a 'Negative Nancy' but past experiences weren't really giving me much to go by but I was determined to give it my best. I put an awful lot of time and effort into the preparations for my stall; I sent James scrambling around the loft for my table cover that I'd not used in four years, I printed pretty price tags, borrowed stands from some very kind friends, bought extra containers to display products and even scattered sweets across the table for extra fun, not to mention the amount of stock I made up. I did a test run of the stall at home in my lounge so I had a clear idea of how to set up on the day and we were good to go. My friend Vikky was also beyond amazing for offering to support me with this stall so between us, we loaded up her car as it was bigger than mine and off we went.

Pastel Elixir Christmas Craft Fair

Vikky did an amazing job of helping me to set my table up as rehearsed at home the weekend before and I was super pleased with how it looked. She even bought some camping chairs with her so we wouldn't have to stand for the entire time and we set ourselves up, snacks and all tucked behind our pastel table. James had an idea to set the badge designs out on a board so people could see the range available and I had a huge bowl of badges at the very end to dig through, as well as organised trays of designs under the table for ease if people wanted a specific one.

Pastel Elixir Christmas Fair

At 10am the doors were opened to the public and we got a nice little bit of traffic coming through but after half an hour, this died down an awful lot. Then lunch time approached and it got even quieter which we didn't get too worried about since it was lunch time and people would have been finding somewhere and something to sit and eat, so we cracked open some more food for ourselves and popped some festive music on to get into the Christmas spirit.

Christmas fair

Unfortunately the foot fall didn't pick up at all for the rest of our time there and the most annoying part of it was sitting not doing much and being so darn cold. I took an extra pair of socks with me but even that wasn't doing much. We were there in our coats, scarves and cute mittens which I had bought for both of us but we still sat there frozen stiff. My Mum showed her face and had a wonder around which was nice of her and she got chatting with one of the garden landscaping stalls which were there this year and she also stole a handful of sweets from my table!

Christmas craft fair

Mittens from Superdrug

Overall though, we only made just about enough to cover the cost of our table and that was it. It can be very easy to get really upset and disheartened with these things but something stood out to me and that was that the fair wasn't advertised enough. The other stall holders were a little miffed and dare I say it a lot more upset with their lack of success than we were but a few positives I took away from yesterday were these:

1) I had great company with me all day so thankyou Vikky!
2) It wasn't just us - it was everyone who had a bad day for it
3) The location wasn't great - not many people knew it was there
4) Foot fall in general wasn't high so it wasn't anything we did wrong
5) Feedback I got was brilliant and everyone was saying how professional our stall looked
6) There was a lot of vegan attention from my badges and magnets!
7) It was the first run and I had lots of fun with a good friend
8) The lady next to us was a good laugh too

Some stalls started packing up at around 3:20pm and it didn't end until 4pm but we were all pretty sure there were no new members of the public passing through, just other stall holders floating around and trying to pass the time. It was a bit disappointing really, especially since it was so cold and I'm still trying to defrost my fingers and toes the day after but it was all extra experience and means I have plenty of stock ready for the next Christmas fair in December.

Thanks for reading!

An Arty Day Out In Newark

It sure has been a crazy busy week for me and I've barely been at home in my lovely, warm and snuggly abode. On Wednesday my Mum and I ventured into Newark for two reasons: one was to visit a friend of mine who has commissioned Mum to do some pet portraits for Christmas gifts and we needed to get a good snap of the pooch in question for good references when doing the painting, the second was to visit an art shop. We usually go art materials shopping together and we're the best yet worst pair to put together for this kind of buying because you'll find us sharing experiences using different materials but also encouraging each other to splurge. We went to the art shop first and it was a cute little place called Hills of Newark and upon entering it had that classic art shop smell, the old kind. This smell is super nostalgic to me because when I was little my Mum worked in a graphic design office (she's been self employed for many years now) and the smells of printer inks, paper, pens and paints all floating around the air is one of those that I wish I could bottle up and sniff at will. I asked the lady who was helping us if she'd mind if I took some photos of the shop because it really was a magical wonderland of art supplies.

Art shop

Art supplies blog post

Winsor and Newton acrylic paints

Art supplies haul

After wondering around and buying a few bits from Hills, we headed back into the main part of town and grabbed a Starbucks - I had a soya milk gingerbread latte and to be honest I wasn't overly fussed with it. It was no PSL let's put it that way but it wasn't terrible, I just expected more of a festive kick to it. Then when we'd drank up, we nipped down a lovely little alley way called Chain Lane and went into the Trent Galleries to look at the Kerry Darlington exhibition that was being put together. My Mum first introduced me to Kerry's work a few years back and I absolutely adore her, but seeing her work in person was breathtakingly beautiful and for the first time in my life I stood thinking to myself 'yep I could happily have her work up in my house'. My Mum was like a giddy child in a sweet shop and couldn't stop 'ooooohing' over every piece she saw and kept changing her mind as to which was her favourite. I knew for sure which piece had captured my heart and it was this stunning scene of the Mad Hatter's tea party. Kerry's use of colour and 3D effect within the work is unlike anything I have ever seen and it feels as though you discover another tiny detail every time you look into it. Mind blown.

Kerry Darlington Mad Tea Party painting

Newark, Nottinghamshire

We eventually found it within ourselves to part from the gallery but vowed to return this weekend to meet Kerry Darlington herself who is going to the shop for a meet and greet and could hardly contain our excitement! Mum was skipping all the way back to the car and we returned back to Leicestershire feeling really refreshed and inspired. Watch this space for my post all about our awesome day at the gallery meeting Kerry Darlington in the flesh and the crazy exciting news that goes with it!

Thanks for reading!

My Worst Interview - Story Time

It's currently a pretty miserable looking Tuesday morning and I have just been reading Steph's blog, thinking about how good a face mask makes me feel and how they pick me up even when I'm feeling pretty damn rotten. It led me to remembering an awful experience I had earlier this year when I was trying to find another job before quitting my old one. I didn't then have the confidence to go freelance so you can imagine my excitement when I saw a job advertisement for a studio worker for a well known graphic design company not too far from where I live and my delight when I got asked to go in for an interview.

I've always prepared super well for interviews and in the days leading up, I chat away to myself asking those typical interview questions and this occasion was no different. I was so nervous but at the same time quite excited about seeing this place and meeting some new people, gaining some interview experience and potentially a new job. I left with plenty of time to spare looking like the dog's bollocks and found the company located out in the sticks in an old converted barn with a big gravel driveway. How picturesque and idyllic I begin to think.

I enter the main doors to reception and was greeted by a lovely man who guided me through to a tiny waiting area where I was left to it. A lady passed by soon after arriving and was so friendly and welcoming, asking if I would like a drink or anything and making sure I was waiting in the right place for the right person, assuring me they'd be along in no time. Eventually another man appeared, closely followed by another young scrawny looking man who turned out to be a mistake. They stood staring at me confused and gone out, refusing to make the first move, so I hopped up and introduced myself politely, offering a hand shake (as you would) and in turn asked if they were the people I would be interviewing with. Still silence. After what felt like a million years, the bloke said 'we were expecting a man to interview today, not you.'

Here I am, stood there enthusiastic about their business which I barely know and I'm making the effort to come and see them for an interview (because interviews work both bloody ways) and that's the first thing they say to me? Right. I tried to laugh it off explaining that having a unisex name, this is easily done and anyone else would have laughed back and apologised for their assumption but not these people. After a few 'umms' and 'erms' they led me up some twisty stairs to a room that was above the main office. No walls or privacy, people downstairs could hear you talking as it was designed like a maisonette; not the ideal place for a formal interview. We sit down, both of them opposite me and they proceed to get things out onto the table and then up pops the first question. Where do you currently work? After my in-depth answer they continue to look at me so confused and rigid which is off putting enough but also led me to believing my way of answering questions was either boring or that my answer was nothing more than demented nonsense. Then they explain to me that they were under the impression I worked for a windows and doors factory. Sorry, what? Then I get asked 'You are Ellis Walker aren't you? And you've got the right interview day haven't you?'

This was where I started to feel incredibly nervous and wanted the ground to swallow me up. Flight mode kicked in and I wasn't the same for the rest of the time I was there. I calmly and still politely explained to them they had the wrong person's CV in front of them and they immediately looked very embarrassed and that was the first apology I got out of them. As they began trying to get my CV up on the computer, I tried my best to relax once again so during this time I was trying to make a conversation with the woman who still hadn't really spoken to me. I complemented the location and asked how long she had been working there, you know general small talk to try and diffuse the tension a little. She was having none of it. I should have stayed quiet, I was even more nervous now because I was starting to feel like they didn't want me there. After a good 10 minutes of the man searching for my CV, he announces that he doesn't have me on file and asks once again if I'm sure that I applied for their position. Through pure nerves I try and joke back that I wouldn't have known where and when to find them if I hadn't applied and attempted to save the day by whipping out a copy of my CV which I had in my bag. Top tip kids, take a copy with you!

I was starting to think to myself silently that I didn't want to work for a place that was this disorganised and to my horror, the man asks me to go through my entire CV with them. The whole thing? Blimey. So I did and they looked just as uninterested as ever. Despite all of this, I continued to answer questions but the entire time I was wishing I could just go home and hide. Out of no where, the man starts to tell me a bit about the role and why it would be better suited to a man, asking whether I thought I would be capable of lifting big graphic design displays and such. Standing at 5ft1 I'm not very big nor do I have an immense amount of strength but I was also used to heaving 15kg bags of dog food every day so I thought I could at least build up some more muscle, showing them initiative and the enthusiastic attitude towards developing further. This entire time I wanted nothing more than to run, anywhere but here. My heart was pumping so hard I thought I would either be sick or just collapse and flop out of my seat. My hands were shaking, vision was starting to blur and as much as I tried, I was loosing control and an anxiety attack was starting.

I was asked to give an example of when I had worked on 'commercial value' and as I was at the time working in pet care research, I found this ridiculously hard to answer but still, I felt that what I gave them was a strong, interesting and well explained example all about a project I was currently doing within my role. I don't remember exactly how they asked but they began to challenge my answer and I gave them what I felt was a valuable reasoning each and every time but they still weren't satisfied. They were eye rollers and sighing before looking at each other after every answer. And did I mention the scrawny woman who barely spoke kept smirking behind her hand? I'd had enough and with the last bit of dignity I felt I had left, I regained control by removing myself from my seat and walking out. Of course, they asked what I was doing so I calmly explained that they had made me feel nothing but awkward and unwelcome since I arrived and that I wasn't prepared to stay any longer. They tried to convince me to stay and 'have a minute' but I'd already made my mind up; even if they offered me a job at the end of all of this and were simply testing my patience, I didn't want to work for a brand this unprofessional.

I let myself out, walked back to my car and left in silence, but upon arriving at the end of their driveway, away from view I burst into uncontrollable tears and the relief I felt was unreal. I pulled into a nearby car park which was a place I used to come walking with my Dad when I was younger. We used to call it Tubby Hill because it looks just like the place in the Teletubbies, a children's TV show made famous in the 90's and the nostalgia mixed with the fear of what I had just experienced caused one of the worst panic attacks I've ever had. I sat sobbing in my car for a good half an hour before deciding it was safe enough to travel home. When I pulled onto my own drive, I rang a friend who was waiting in anticipation for me to share my day with her and it wasn't until after I had filled her in and she said 'You walked out? Do you even realise how bad-ass that is? You're flippin' amazing!' did I understand that what I did was the right thing to do. I had travelled all the way home feeling like a failure and that I just wasn't good enough, but by walking out I had regained control over a situation which was making me extremely uncomfortable, way past the usual discomfort a typical interview can sometimes make you feel.

I opened up my front door and there on the mat was a little parcel from The Body Shop. I had forgotten all about them asking me to take part in one of their campaigns and they had very kindly sent me a jar of face mask to use. Without hesitation, I went upstairs and had a shower, washing the day and the smudged mascara away before popping on some face mask and climbing into bed with some fresh pyjamas to let it do its thing. As I lay there, I instantly felt calmer but was still mulling over what had happened that afternoon, occasionally feeling mortified but more so proud that I had chosen to leave a situation that wasn't bringing out the best in me. It took guts to do and I hadn't given myself any credit for that having spent so much time focussing in on just needing to get myself out of there.

Interviews are scary, I'm sure most of you will be able to relate and I honestly cannot remember an interview that hasn't frightened me or that I've enjoyed, but this was something else. It's also easy to forget that interviews work both ways; you need to be working out whether or not the places you go to can give you what you want and need as well as them getting to know you. Obviously I understand that when times are hard you might not be able to be too choosy, but if a workplace ever makes you feel how I did then you have no obligation to stay and endure their lack of consideration for you. Keep applying, stay positive and remember to look after yourself too - this is so important.

Oh - and you bet your bottom dollar I sent an email to the lady who invited me for the interview explaining that the two who had interviewed me were beyond rude and unwelcoming as well as exceedingly unprofessional. I wasn't going to let that behaviour slide.

Have you ever had a nightmare interview experience?

Thanks for reading!

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