By: Meighan O’Toole
Every time I leave a conference, I feel exhilarated! Once home, I start to apply everything I’ve learned, and try and harness that energy. In the past, it’s faded after a few weeks, but over the past year I’ve learned how to keep the momentum going.
An important part of being a successful business owner, I’ve come to understand, is continuing to learn, building your community, and evolving. Experiencing this once a year is not enough, and doesn’t help your business.
A few weeks ago I attended Craftcation for the second time (I was also fortunate to teach too, this time my first!), and like the first time I attended in 2015, I was surrounded by incredible energy. Everywhere one looked people we’re making, learning, connecting, and networking. It was such a perfect experience after a long winter (I live in New England and regardless of how much snow we get, it’s always a long winter! ?).
The Monday I got back, after taking a red eye from LAX that was delayed by two hours, then add my immense fear of flying on top of that. Ugh. I was exhausted. As I puttered around my apartment, unpacked, and settled back home after being gone for a week, I felt a little sad. It sort of came over me quickly and abruptly: “Oh. Now I have to do this alone. Again.”
It made me tear up a bit and scared me *just* a little bit. But then I remembered all of the things that last year’s Craftcation instilled in me and brought into my life.
I thought about how hard I’ve worked on my business since last spring, and all that I’ve learned in that time. I reminded myself that yes, I may be alone in person, but I’m not in spirit. And while I may be feeling a little culture shock after being surrounded by so much positive business energy, there’s really nothing to worry about. And the reason is because I’ve put a ton of things in place to keep me grounded, continue to learn, build my community, and to have my back within and around my business.
I originally shared the below list as a post in the private group for Craftcation attendees and teachers, not just to share with others, but to also remind myself to keep at it. I share it here with you too, in hopes that you’ll be reminded that continuing your professional development and building your community should never stop.
Make Time to Hang Out with Your Online Friends
One of the best things about our online friends, is that they just get us and what we do. Set aside time to connect with them beyond social media.
Schedule “coffee dates” via Skype, Google Hangout (I find phones to be a little weird because you can’t see the person – plus you can show the other person things you’re working on, making, etc.) It may feel a little awkward at first, but trust me you’ll slip right back into your friendship. I do this with many of my online friends that I only see once a year. It’s huge for getting me back to why I do what I do, and it helps me connect with my community in a quick and easy way.
Never Stop Learning, Keep It Going!
Your professional development is instrumental for pushing your business forward. Don’t leave learning just conferences or workshops as places or events to learn. Continue to seek out professional development on your own time, schedule it into your calendar to make it happen.
Look for podcasts, online classes or courses (make sure you’ve vetted through other friends or communities – Facebook Groups are great for this – that have taken them), audio books and books, in person classes, etc. Don’t leave your professional development to just once a year, make it throughout the year, your business will thank you.
Keep in mind a lot of business stuff can be a write off at tax time – check with your CPA or accountant.
Find Valuable Info & Stay Accountable
There is so much noise, and we’re constantly being sold to online. Which isn’t a bad thing those marketers (including me) do, but it can feel really overwhelming and confusing. Get a buddy and sort through it all together. Reach out to some of your friends you’ve met at a conference or online. Make sure they are people you really clicked with, those who really get you and ask him/her to be your accountability partner, or form an online mastermind with a few people to hold each other accountable for building your individual businesses.
Meet in Person & Network
One of the wonderful things we enjoy as small business owners is that we work from home, in our studios, or in our own shops. It can also be a curse too, because it’s real easy to never leave.
I need a lot of solitude to work, but I also get a ton of energy from being around my people. Push yourself to meet with peers within your industry. Find your people in your area, organize meet-ups, or monthly hang outs where you and others who are running creative small businesses can get together, dish, support each other, and offer honest feedback and resources. It will not only help your mental health, it’ll give you the opportunity to connect and share info that may help you or someone else within their business.
Stay open & curious
Not many of us can talk extensively to our IRL peers or family about what we do day to day, and the issues and achievements we deal with. So make it a priority to take some of what you get from conferences and workshops and continue it throughout the year. It makes such an enormous difference, and will only benefit you and your business in the long run.
Don’t stop being open and curious. I know just how easy it is to put your head down and start working again until the next big in person event. Don’t let it go for so long. Remember one of the things that makes conferences and workshops so magical is it shows us that we truly can’t do it alone, so don’t.
Meighan O’Toole is a Digital Strategist, working with creative individuals, brands, and companies to help develop and define their voice and build community through social media, content creation, and overall strategy online. She’s a seasoned independent business owner who has over a decade of experience working for heavy hitters like Yahoo, Wikia (Wikipedia’s sister community website) and Silicon Valley’s Wired Magazine. She produced and hosted the popular podcast “What’s Your Story?” and ran the art blog “My Love for You”. In her spare time she’s learning more about plants, diving deeper into her passion of fiber arts through sewing, embroidery, and block printing, and falling deeper in love with being a complete novice at watercolors. Meighan lives outside of Boston with her cats Percy and Sweet Bea, and her dog Stella.