To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I’ve made it as a creative entrepreneur for the past ten years. Living in the unknown has brought me to my knees as many times as it’s blown my mind. I’ve nearly run out of money more than once and have changed my business model a million times. And on the other hand, I’m really proud of the effort I put into building and operating a company that grew to over a million in sales annually and had brick and mortar stores in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Still can’t believe I can say I did that.
The one thing that’s remained the same over the years is my original mission, to share joy because we all deserve to feel good. But little did I know that most of the journey was going to be for me to learn how to truly feel deserving of joy for myself. Living a creative life is learning how to trust being alive and in love with life. Much easier said than done.
Even though things look really different this year because we closed Sweet & Spark, I’m celebrating a decade of entrepreneurship by sharing the 10 most transformative things I’ve learned thus far. When I quit the corporate world back in 2012, I knew this path wasn’t going to be easy but I thought that at least by now, I would have made it big. I envisioned owning a home, being the face of a cool company and leading a creative team in a hip office. But, that’s not exactly what happened.
Ironically, I’m back to what appears as where I started. Things don’t look that much different than they did on day one but they do feel a lot different. I fully enjoy working in the warm and beautiful light in my apartment, styling my vintage collection with the clothes in my closet, chatting with you on Instagram, encouraging my coaching clients on google hangout to keep going for their dreams, my afternoon decaf americano trips around the block and getting up before the sun on Sunday morning’s to go vintage hunting. I’m content with whatever it is and thankful to know that it is enough.
In my opinion, I think it’s safe to say I’ve made it big. Maybe I won’t ever be rich and famous but I know that joy is here right here, right now. And I’m not going to miss another day trying so hard to find it.
1. You can create anything with willpower. But that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be fulfilling. One season I was inspired to try jewelry home parties and got a few customers to sign-up. If you make sales in another state you are required to hold a sales tax license and make quarterly payments in that state. I found myself swimming in paperwork and on hold with government officials for an entire fall. It took the fun out of it. Sometimes I still dive headfirst into a new idea but as soon as it starts to feel off, I stop and check in with my gut. Am I co-creating with what’s meant for me or am I trying too hard to make something happen? Frustration is your friend, tune into it.
2. Bigger is not always better. I started my business selling vintage costume jewelry for around a $50 price point. The business model was to move volume in order to create financial success. To do more sales I would need more help. So I hired interns and then an assistant. I went to a tradeshow in Las Vegas and started selling wholesale around the country and on consignment to local boutiques. That didn’t solve my financial challenge so I drove to Los Angeles one weekend to buy clothing wholesale at a tradeshow so we could introduce a new product offering to our customers. That didn’t solve the problem either. So we borrowed money, launched designer vintage accessories and opened a store. That wasn’t quite enough so we borrowed more money and opened another store. Long story short, if people aren’t buying your product or service at a rate you can’t keep up you’ve got either a size or value proposition issue.
3. Selling is fun. My mom flew out for my first trunk show (aka a Spark Party!) at my friend’s quaint San Francisco apartment. I had just gotten back from a vintage jewelry buying trip in Florida where I spent close to $3,000 on a new assortment. Friends and influencers came over to support me and in my brain I was wondering why anyone would want to give me $50 for something I spent maybe $5 on, I felt like such a fraud. It took me hundred’s of pop-ups, hosting shopping parties at my apartment, opening two stores and reading Zig Ziglar’s iconic book on closing sales to understand that selling should be easy. It’s not about you, it’s about your customers and their needs. How can you service them? My customers want to own special pieces that are wearable and I have a lot of stories to tell about how unique they are and the effort I put into finding them. It’s true what Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” Let people feel your passion, it will close the sale.
4. Your transformation is in the journey. The first video Emilee and I filmed together, we did about 20 takes. It felt so scripted and was beet red from embarrassment. We never published it, thank god. We let the idea go for a few weeks. Naturally, I found myself curious about video and started filming outfit selfies in the mirror that I never made live. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was helping build my confidence in expressing myself. Watching videos of yourself challenges you to love every angle of yourself, you are beautiful just the way you are. If you want to be seen, you have to get comfortable seeing yourself. Same goes if you want to be heard and respected. You deserve to tell your story now. If you’re waiting on more time, knowledge or money, you will wait forever. So do the thing you want to do.
5. Progress over perfection. You name it, I’ve tried it. I’ve traveled to over twenty states hunting down and learning everything there is to know about vintage jewelry. I’ve styled and sold every decade and aesthetic out there. I’ve thrown trunk shows in cities all around the country and hosted my fair share of them at my apartment. I’ve done design collaborations with brands and sold both wholesale and consignment in boutiques. I’ve worked with a plethora of creatives to learn how my to create content and tell stories. I can even say I owned and operated two stores in California that produced our own line (do you remember our sequin bon bons?). I’ve both set-up at a vendor and shopped as a customer at tradeshows. Baby steps is how we find our power.
6. Take the risk. I don’t regret signing my name on a lease that I knew in my gut wasn’t going to solve my scaling challenges. I didn’t have another idea and I wanted to do it. Going all out is how I learned both what I and my customers need. You have to create things to experience who you are. Two stores, two break-ins, a pandemic and a deleted 50K follower Instagram account reflected back to me my own chaos and overwhelm. Seeing it helped me to start choosing differently. It’s such a gift to be able to take what you learn from your experiences and build on it.
7. The journey is learning how to trust your why. I started Sweet & Spark to bring joy to the world because we all deserve to feel that. My charming San Francisco apartment was our full-time headquarters for nearly 5 years. With the possibility for growth, right before the pandemic I sold my couch on craigslist and decided to convert my living room into our full time creative studio. I was so busy packing orders, mentoring employees and interns to even notice that I missed the comforts of my own home. Freedom and joy come from mindfulness, something I traded in early for desire and hope. Make sure you are taking good care of yourself.
8. See to believe. I was in Palo Alto the other day and I smiled to myself thinking about the first time I was there. I drove an hour from San Francisco to meet an influencer for lunch because I admired what she was doing on her blog so much that I wanted to know more about her process. We’re still friends to this day. We used to take each others outfit photos and go to events in the city all the time together. I miss the early days networking; meeting new people always inspires me to think about things differently. Being around so many other creatives so early on encouraged me to believe that I had what it takes too. Fun fact, do you know that I was introduced to Emilee by someone I’d met at an event? Don’t be shy, let yourself be touched by other people’s art.
9. Fear is not real. We were denied a loan once and really needed the money to make payroll and pay for clothing invoices that were shipping the next week. I balled my eyes out in my bedroom that night, rocking myself like a baby. The world felt like it was crumbling and I was going to disappoint those who trusted me. The fear was real but the story was not, it was false evidence appearing real. A few days later we got approved for a loan four times the size. We can’t do everything on our own nor do we have to, we all need support to reframe our emotional stories. I wish I went to therapy sooner than I did. Also, know there’s always more money out there if you ever need it.
10. It’s how you’re being while you’re doing it. As I was curating photos for this post, I realized that as much as I’ve tried to make things happen in business over the years, what I’ve appreciated the most are the opportunities I’ve had to experience my own creativity, connection, curiosity, courage, compassion and confidence in action. Those are the things I want to be more of. Seeing the past now with such clarity is going to help me relax into what feels good and trust that that’s what living a creative life is all about. I think this is where the magic is, the sweet spot between feeling safe enough to receive and loving whatever comes your way! We were all born to be the creators of our lives and I’m grateful to be here and learn how to do it.