Sage Advice – Wisdom to Keep You on Track

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After more than 25 years as a self employed person in some capacity or another, I’ve learned a few things. I realize that most lessons in life and in business often don’t really “stick” until you learn them first hand but humour me and read through my list of insights that either came from other entrepreneurs and their wisdom or my own foibles and f*ck ups.

 I’m so far from ever achieving self-employment mastery but I have managed to figure a bunch of things out and if sharing them here helps you shorten your learning curve then my work here is done. The list is short but meaty. Read it through to the end.

  1. YOU aren’t your target market.
    What I mean by this is that you aren’t selling your product or service to someone just like you. I know this because you’re offering the product or service instead of paying someone else for it. Don’t measure your pricing against what you’re comfortable paying. This is a SUPER biased, highly flawed way to determine your pricing and you’re probably dealing with a fair bit of impostor syndrom which interferes with charging what you’re worth. Do the math – costs including a wage plus markups for profit. “Profit” isn’t a dirty word. There’s no room for “feeling bad” about charging whatever it is that it costs to offer your product or service in a way that’s profitable (aka sustainable). This is how you position yourself to not just survive in business but also to grow! I mean, unless you want to stay stuck in the startup phase and have to close your doors as fast as you open them, in which case carry on. But I get the feeling you want more. Trust me on this one. It’s stone cold truth.
  2. Someone’s already doing it so I cant/shouldn’t.
    Nobody can do what you do exactly the way you do it. If someone else is already serving the market (aka competition but more on that in a minute), that’s proof that there IS A MARKET! If one business is doing what you want to do, they’ll do it their way and you can do it your way. You can’t satisfy everyone, nor should you try. Let consumers shop around for the best match for them. In the meantime, get really good at doing what you do YOUR way and then you’ll be golden. The other part of this point is the matter of competition. Don’t be threatened by it. It’s proof again that there’s a market. As long as you’re solid in how you do what you do and why you do it, you have nothing to worry about. What other people/businesses are doing is none of your beeswax anyway. You do YOU.
  3. If your product or service sells out too fast, it’s too cheap. 
    Would you rather make a thousand widgets for $1 each  week and sell out or would you rather make ten widgets for $100 each and sell out? This is a matter of working smarter, not harder. If your product or service is selling out as fast as you can fulfill the demand, you’re likely under pricing yourself. I’m not suggesting increasing your pricing 100x overnight but what if your prices crept up gradually so that you made the same if not more money with 10% or 50% less output. See point 1 and ask yourself how that fits into this issue for you. Also, something to consider, you probably don’t want to be known in the marketplace as being the “cheap” product or service provider.
  4. Where’s the value/what problem are you solving?
    This is the secret sauce to increasing price without it being a sleazy price gouging tactic. Don’t be greedy and just randomly jack up your price. Instead, when you DO increase your price, you need to be able to explain where the value is. If YOU don’t see where the value is, your customers won’t either. If you’re offering a product or service that is in demand or that makes your customers’ lives better/easier/more efficient/etc., figure out how to clearly communicate that to anyone, anywhere, anytime. If you can identify the problem that your product or service is solving, you’ve just increased its value.  Price matters much less when there’s real value in a product/service. Know how to identify it, make sure you belive it, and then tell everyone.
  5. You belong here. 
    For a long time in each of my businesses (going back to my second buisness at age 17) I was certain that “they” (who are they, anyway?) were going to show up any minute and tell me that it was time for me to stop pretending to be a business owner and that it was time for me to pack up and go get a real job. Now, obviously that never happened but my Imposter Syndrome was very real. I was sure that everyone knew I had no idea what I was doing and that I was going to get caught. I understand that this happens to most entrepreneurs (or humans, really). I’m happy to report that while I know I have a lot to learn, I’m definitely not an imposter. I have expertise but I’m no expert. However, I am often the expert in the room. This qualifier allows me to take up space – my space- in conversations in my store pertaining to matters that I do hold knowledge about. I belong here. I’m no imposter. I belong here. I’m not faking it. I belong here. So do you. This is your space, your time and you deserve to be doing whatever magical thing it is that you’ve decided to do. You’re the expert in the room!
  6. Don’t Fake it ’til you make it. 
    This adage is horsesh*t. Don’t fake anything. If you don’t know the answer to a question, own that. Say “I don’t know but I’ll find out”. Always be genuine, honest, and real. It’s ok to still be learning. It’s ok to not have all the answers. It’s ok to be unsure or figuring things out. Nobody starts out a Jedi master. Everyone has to start at the beginning. That means that having the confidence and humility to admit when you don’t know will build trust. Following through with your commitments (to learn more or find out answers) will benefit you by arming you with more knowledge AND strengthening relationships. Your work can only get better if you practice honesty and build trust with yourself, your colleagues, and customers.
  7. NO SALES! NO SALES! NO SALES! 
    In my jewelry business, I do NOT do sales. Sales are a nasty byproduct of the consumer goods industry that is perpetuated by overproduction and throwaway products. This gross cycle has trained consumers to wait for discouted pricing on goods that are usually still in season. Many big retailers do sales because of the surplus of inventory they carry, their ability to buy in massive quantities,  and they’re unable to build relationships just by virtue of their business models.  Without relationships, they cannot cultivate loyalty. In my business, instead of sales, I’ve created a loyalty program that allows me to not only reward my loyal customers but also to tell them explicitly at the first transaction that I don’t do sales but instead choose to reward my customers with a very nice discount that’s earned after qualifying purchases (those purchases are all opportunities to get to know one another, to share information, to find out preferences). Now, the math may shake down about the same as a sale in terms of the decreased retail value after redeeming that discount but it prevents my customers from being trained to wait for sales. It also allows me to create opportunities to give more (double stamps, bonus stamps, etc.) on special occasions. So the goods are always bought at full price, the customer’s loyalty is rewarded, and my revenue stream doesn’t fluctuate as a result of sale season. The value of the brand never suffers because of sales, instead those who earn the loyalty discount become VIPs and often brand ambassadors. Everybody is winning.

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Whatever your business is, whether you’re still figuring out how to start or you’re up and running I want you to consider these points. I’ve integrated each of them into my businesses and have benefitted because of them. Go ahead and start introducing some of these ideas and see things beginning to shift for you. I want to see you succeed and I know you can. You have a gift that no one else has and it’s your life’s purpose to share it with the world.

I want to hear your thoughts on this list. Let me know if you use any of these ideas/concepts in your own business and how it’s worked for you. I want to hear about your wins and your failures. Especially the failures. We learn the most from those. Thanks for taking the time to read what I have to share with you today. I wish you all the best and I’m so grateful for you.

Our Company Values and What They Mean

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It’s imperative that a company or organization have the ability to identify their core values AND be able to speak to how they embody those values in the day-to-day operations of their organization. Because our businesses – both the V.Ægirsdóttir© brand and the Wild Yukon Furs© brands are values-driven, our company values are easy to identify and easy to explain. Every part of how our businesses function integrates our values and this is something we’re very proud of. I can’t wait to share them with you.

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Before we do anything within our supply chain, we centre ourselves in a perspective of respect. We respect ourselves, our supply chain partners, the animals that give themselves to us, the ancestors who came before us, those who lead and guide us in this life, the generations of those who will come after us, the land upon which we work and play, the people whose traditional territory we are on as we work, learn, and play, the sky, water, and earth. When this is how we begin, we are ready to go forward.

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After we’ve tuned ourselves into all the ways we enact respect in ourselves as people and within our business interactions, we shift slightly to include humility. In trapping, humility looks like accepting each day as it comes and knowing that what’s meant for us will come to us. We don’t brag about the quantity of our fur harvest and we do not pose for photos with the animals. We don’t say negative things about the animals because we know that receiving the gift of their furs is one that can be lost as a consequence of such behaviour. We understand that an empty trap isn’t a loss, rather a lesson that is being given instead. We know we aren’t owed one single fur and that every one is something to appreciate.

In the design and retail context, humility is shown by welcoming every person equally and being open to learning as much as we teach. It is about making the space a safe one for questions to be asked and for answers to be given kindly and in a way that promotes openness. We have expertise but we don’t know everything. The awareness that we we have much to learn is what humility looks like in our store.

Also accepting that we will have missteps in life and in business is how we practice living with humility. But the willingness to learn from those missteps and trusting that we will be held up with kindness and compassion when we err is what fortifies the safety of that space.

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Gratitude and humility travel together. We are grateful for every component of our trapping life – the beautiful weather, our cozy cabin, our reliable snowmobiles and vehicles, every single animal that gives itself to us. Those are all things we’re grateful for. We’re also grateful to learn about animal relationships, habitats, food sources, the interrelatedness of those things and the mystery of how it all works together. We’re grateful for every lesson that comes to us in every imaginable way. We have gratitude for deriving our living from this practice. We’re grateful that we are in a position to share the story of what we do and why we do it with a global audience.

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Our ethics are rooted in culture; particularly George’s Tlingit culture but also in a culture that is built upon all of the other values in this list. We firmly believe that we have a responsibility to model the values we hold so dear by behaving in ways that are in alignment with those values. We don’t waste the fur and meat that we harvest, we give offering (usually tobacco) on the trap line, when we harvest birch, when we pick berries or medicines to name a few. We give a prayer of gratitude and humility, asking for safety and happiness during our time on the trap line and beyond. We hold each other accountable to the expectations of respect, humility, and gratitude. We also remind one another that the power of our words is enormous and that we have an obligation to use words with great care. We are deeply committed to the ethical standards that are established by the governments responsible for the fur harvest in addition to those established by the First Nation.

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At the end of the day, this is what it all comes down to. How the animals are harvested, how we interact with one another on the trapline or in the skinning shed. On a cold dark night and on a bright, clear afternoon. Rested or tired, hungry or fed. Every move we make originates in love, is fuelled by love, and continues because of love. Love for self, love for mankind, love for the animals, the land, creator, this life. All of it. It all is built upon love.

 

Because the V.Ægirsdóttir© brand and Wild Yukon Furs© are owned and operated by two humans who love each other, we are so deeply committed to ensuring that our companies reflect that. The late Travis Adams of NuWay Crushing in Whitehorse Yukon was said to be the kind of company president who wanted to build a team so strong that you couldn’t tell who the boss was. I’ll never forget this and it will become part of how we grow our companies. Travis’ example of leadership illustrates how you lead with respect, humility, gratitude, ethics, and love. We are so proud to do the work that we do and to have known leaders who’ve successfully achieved this kind of corporate culture. It’s proof that it’s possible. It’s the standard we’ve always held ourselves to and will continue to do so.

Comment below which one of these values resonates the most for you. Every one of us holds our own unique set of values, I’d love to know which ones we share!

Thank you for spending your time here today.  I really appreciate it.

 

 

 

In The Beginning

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One of the questions I get asked the most is about how I got started in my career. I love this story so much but it’s a little long so for today’s post, I want to tell you the part that takes place in my teen years.

I always knew from a young age that my dream job would include working with textiles. I’ve always loved and appreciated handcrafted textile goods, mostly because my home was full of them growing up. My brother and I had intricately hand stitched quilts on our beds, tapestries hung on the walls, many of the things we wore were hand sewn and embellished with hand embroidery, and our toys were made by hand. Each memory of cotton, wool, terry cloth, and a little nylon yarn (c’mon, it was the 70’s) is steeped in nostalgia so it’s no wonder I pursued a lifelong career that centred around these things (except the nylon yarn).

When I was a teenager, I remember walking up and down the aisles of the tiny fabric boutique that my mom worked in and just by looking at the finish of a fabric and sometimes by touching it, I was learning to identify what silk fabric looked and felt like, same with wool, wool and synthetic blends, linen, and so many more. It’s a skill that I cultivated at such a young age that has helped me deepen my love of and ability to recognize natural fibres (one that’s especially useful when thrifting!)

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I was 13 when I received my first sewing machine. It was a second hand Elna that my dad had bought from the wife of a friend for my birthday. I still have that machine, 30 years later. It needs a bit of work but it served me well for a very long time. It’s sewn everything from quilts and baby clothes to lingerie and wedding gowns. There’s absolutely nothing I haven’t tried to sew.

I was always impatient when it came to theory or slower paced instruction. I remember being very eager to get into the sewing or other hands-on making of whatever I was interested in. I definitely wasted a lot of material in my haste to cut and sew but I did also learn a lot about problem solving and innovating.

When I was in grade 10 or 11 Home Ec, my teacher, Linda Keetley shared a story of how she got her foot in the door of Vancouver’s fashion industry. Her detailed account of what she did and how she created opportunities for herself stuck with me. When I found myself living in Kitsilano, a neighbourhood in Greater Vancouver and looking for employment, I remembered her story. I also remembered reading about a pair of young women who made jewelry together in Vancouver. Their story appeared in a Canadian fashion magazine. Even today, I remember how I felt when I read their story. I knew that what they were doing, I’d be doing. I just had to figure out how. I pulled out the phone book because cell phones weren’t a thing yet and I certainly didn’t have a computer either. I looked up the name of their business, called them and asked for a meeting. They were surprised by my directness and confidence but they agreed to meet with me. When we met, I pitched my idea to them – that I work with them for a short time while we all decided if I was a good fit for their team. No commitment, no strings, just a trial. My hope was that they’d love me so much that they’d have no choice but to keep me on the team. However, as much as they liked what I was offering, it was unsolicited and they weren’t in a position to consider that yet. I later learned that their partnership was on the precipice of dissolving.

I tried again a few months later and was hired by the remaining partner, Kelli to design and fabricate plush silk velvet display fixtures for their retail clients. At that time, the two main clients were  Hills of Kerrisdale and Aritzia. I worked with Kelli to create fixtures that complimented her floral jewelry in a whimsical yet functional way. I loved every minute of it. As our business relationship grew, I was given numerous opportunities to work with her in the production end of creating her jewelry as well as the displays. I got to learn the basics of fabrication and design as well as how to source materials and the behind-the-scenes operations of a jewelry design business. We worked together, we shared meals and we traveled together. I can never properly thank her to teaching me so much and giving me a chance at such an early point in my career.

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Since then, I’ve worked in garment design including bespoke suits, wedding and prom gowns, and countless bridal party ensembles. I’ve worked with lingerie and sleepwear designers and I’ve mentored high school students who wanted to learn about fashion design. I’ve had other careers including portrait photography where I specialized in working with women at various stages of life including pregnancy and motherhood in all of its stages. Even my years of working in agriculture have granted me insights into market fluctuations and consumer behaviour that influence how I make decisions in my jewelry business.

When I look back and reflect on the extremely non-linear path my career has followed, I know that every step has brought me to this point, this place. I know that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be and couldn’t be more grateful. Not every day has been good. Not everything I’ve tried has gone as planned but every single thing has been a success, even the perceived failures. I’ve started and ended many businesses. But none have been failures. I’ve learned from each one and those lessons shaped who I am as an entrepreneur and designer. I couldn’t do my job without each one of those lessons. I know I’m going to persevere, achieve, and succeed because I’ll never stop asking for what I want and I’ll never stop trying.

I’d love to hear from you. Tell me in the comments what part of this little story was your favourite. Let me know if any of what I’ve shared has inspired or motivated you. I love hearing from my readers so please let me know that you’re reading along. Thanks for sharing your time with me. More stories next week.

A typical week – Summer Edition

It’s possible that my life couldn’t possibly get any cooler. I mean, I wake up early and enjoy amazing coffee with my husband in the cutest, coziest apartment ever and shop a thoughtfully curated closet in preparation for a day at work. And when I say work, I really mean in my tiny shop where I get to spend each day making stuff I love and folks come by all day every day to give me their money so they can keep a little bit of the stuff I make. That, dear human is what they call living the dream. 

So I thought it’d be fun to dive into what a typical week looks like for me in the shop. I currently work in the store Tuesday through Friday. I spend weekends with my husband either at our cabin, in the holiday trailer somewhere (Ideally fishing in Haines AK or doing amazing things with friends in Atlin BC or Smithers/Terrace BC). We recharge when we’re outdoors. Mondays, which are my favourite day of the week are when I do mountains of computer work (research and webinars, mostly).

This is what it looks like: 

Monday:

George departs for work shortly before 9 and my work day begins. Laptop is usually set up on the coffee table and I’m parked on the sofa with either a bottle of water or another coffee. The dog is always close by. If I’m watching a webinar, I’m definitely knitting but my notebook is right beside me for when I need to write things down. 

Tuesday-Friday:

I love Tuesdays almost as much as I love Mondays. Tuesday is my first day back in the store after the weekend and I get to MAKE THINGS! I try my best to leave my desk tidy on Fridays but sometimes, if I’m in the middle of a big project (weaving, knitting, sewing, etc.) I leave it out so that I can pick up right where I left off. But if I don’t have to finish up anything, I usually get to the shop with a renewed case of gotta-make-itis. Usually I’m making jewelry. This is a never-ending list for me. 

Wednesday is all about flow. I set the flow on Tuesday and keep on keepin’ on when it comes to Wednesdays. My desk is seldom bare mid-week. Reading glasses, fur bits, earring parts, paperwork. Definitely a water bottle and possibly a half-drunk coffee. One of the biggest occupational hazards for me is dust bunnies. I’m usually chasing them across the floor and more often than i care to admit, I’m also chasing them off my desk. Here’s a peek of me at my mid-week desk. No big projects currently underway. It’s possible I can pull off a decent before/after here. Cleanup sucks, the results are ALWAYS worth it. 

Thursdays aren’t so different from Wednesdays. Making, selling, socializing. While I recognize that this might sound dull, believe me when I say that I’m deeply happy and am my best self in this place doing these things. Grateful, joyous, grossly fulfilled. 

Fridays are when I try to wind down projects. I’m attempting to use my Fridays (AKA braindead days) for less mentally taxing work. This is often yarn spinning or creative writing like blog posts (which is only really doable and easy if I have a plan or topic ready to go. I’ve noticed that on Fridays, I know I won’t be in the shop for a few days and I’m a little sad. If I work late, it’s most likely to be on a Friday because I can’t bring myself to leave! I love it in here. I’ve created a space that is an extension of me. It’s what my insides look like (creatively speaking. def not my actual guts although, I wouldn’t be surprised if my guts were made of wool).

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Saturday/Sunday:

If we’re at the cabin (which is most of the time) we definitely sleep in. No alarm clocks, nowhere to be, just resting and restoring. Someone (George) lights the wood stove and when its warm and cozy, the coffee pot is usually perked and ready to pour. That’s about the time when I get out of the covers. I find a comfy spot near the fire with a coffee beside me and some kind of knitting project while I savour my caffeine. A big hot breakfast is usually the next step and an afternoon of myriad activities. This summer has been all about cabin upgrades – new windows, painting trim, etc. but also lots of foraging. The dog and i head up the road to one picking spot or another to gather Labrador Tea, arnica, rose petals, fireweed petals, berries, and sometimes birch bark but that’s better done when George is with me because chainsaws. 

We eat lots, we spend a ton of time outside and we often nap. It’s a life of luxury, for sure. In the evenings, we play cards – usually cribbage or sometimes dice like Moose Farkel. We laugh a lot and are reminded of all the things we have to be grateful for. The drive home is a few hours and it’s a nice, gradual return to the hustle and bustle, in time for another week of work. It’s a pattern we’re really happy to repeat. 

It’s not a fancy or glamorous life but holy hell, we’re happy. I hope you enjoyed getting a peek into a typical non-winter week. I’ll try and remember to update what this looks like in the winter because it’s SUPER different. I’d love to know what part of this week-in-the-life you enjoyed most or found to be the biggest surprise! Tell me in the comments below.

Finding Silver Linings

Friend, times are still very uncertain as we all know. But what I now know after the initial shock of what has happened to our world has eased slightly is that we must keep going. Yes, we’re adhering to new practices and change is definitely hard but we’ve really been given a gift. As crazy as that sounds, this forced pause has given me a chance to reevaluate my goals and the path I’m taking to achieve them. I’m betting you’re finding yourself taking stock of your own life in a similar way?

Now, having said that, I’ll totally own the Netflix bingeing that took place during the stay-home orders, the eating of my feelings (so much bread!), and the sleepless nights while I panicked about the future of my business. But in honesty, that is behind me. I have chosen to use this forced pause as an opportunity to step back from the way-too-close perspective I had on my business and get a look at what’s in my future. That shift in perspective has allowed me to initiate some really exciting work.

During the gnarliest stage of the not-yet-reopened phase of Covid in the Yukon (early May), I received an email telling me that I’d earned a prestigious award – The Design and Innovation Award from the Craft Council of BC in their annual earring show. It was such good news but in honesty, I couldn’t quite process the scope of the win. I was still feeling uncertain about my future and my confidence had definitely been shaken with the shutdown. My reaction to the win was totally underwhelming.

When the Yukon News learned of the win, they sent a journalist to interview me and the editorial that they published was fantastic. I was starting to experience a shift in my attitude. Thank god because the way I’d been feeling was exhausting and so dreary! I was starting to remember how inspiration and joy felt.

With a renewed sense of optimism and hope for the future, I’ve chosen to use this time to dig deep into PR and Marketing projects and am excited to be partnering with Erik Pinkerton Photography and Alistair Maitland Photography on a truly exciting if not intimidating undertaking but I BELIEVE that it will pay off. I’m often heard saying that the Universe is always conspiring in my favour and I know it’s true, even now. Especially now.

What I can tell you about how I made the shift is that I identified what made me so damned stuck. I believed that I had no power. Maybe I had no power to change the impacts of Covid on consumer behaviour or on where I was working (home or in the store) but I COULD set my sights on a target – a new project. Even with no guarantees that the project would bear fruit, I was able to create a super healthy distraction that served my business and my mental health. At this very moment, I still have no idea if the project will yield a single dollar of income (it’s actually costing a ton) but I have to have hope that it will be worth my time. I’m open to seeing the value of what I’m doing in ways other than short term cash gains. I have loads of new skills and resources as a result of how I’ve shifted so I’m already winning.

I’d love to know what things you’re doing personally or professionally to keep going forward and to nurture your own sense of future, hope, and possibility. Let me know in the comments section how you’re cultivating optimism, even on the hardest days or in the smallest ways!

I know this is a super tough time with no real end in sight but I can promise you that there are silver linings in your life, you just need to look for them! If you’ve found any, I want to hear all about them!

Take good care of yourself. We’re in this together!

xo
Vanessa