Episode 8: Friendpreneur Over Solopreneur

Frenemies. Frenemies are those sneaky people who present themselves as your friends, but in truth, they either rival against you or they pull you down. Or sometimes a blend of the two. You’ve probably all found a frenemy or two along your path, and hopefully you’ve realized what they really are before things get out of hand and learn to move on.

In business, frenemies can manifest as other business owners with a super-keen interest in every single thing you do. Sometimes they can go so far as to copy your work or undermine your customers. But sometimes they come across as innocuous or well-meaning but end up dragging you down, not understanding your goals, questioning or criticizing your skills, and failing to support and encourage you when you need it most.

But what about the opposite? The Pro-friend-sionals? The Friend-leagues? The Friend-sociates?

The “friendtrepreneurs”!

Friendtrepreneurs are the business besties that boost you and your handmade business up. They are your cheerleaders, your shoulders to cry on, your brains to pick. Friendtrepreneurs are the antidote to your business blues and the biggest fans of your handmade business. And they know just when to tell you what you need to hear to keep on keeping on.

Let’s settle in for storytime, shall we?

Back in 2008 I stumbled into a handmade business making cuff bracelets from the focus rings of old camera lenses. It was one of those things where I wanted to try my hand at something different, really enjoyed the process, and decided to make a go out of selling my wares to others.

Being a relatively internet-savvy individual, I started an Etsy shop and pretty quickly started selling things! Back then it was a lot easier to get a little boost right out of the gate. But then I had to figure out all those nitty gritty details of shipping, pricing, and all that business stuff.

One day, I was getting my haircut from my favorite stylist whose salon was in one of those active creative studio buildings. I was telling her about what I had been working on, and she said, “Do you know my friend Betsy? She sells on Etsy, too!” It turns out, Betsy had just started renting a studio next door to Jen’s salon, so once I was cut and styled, Jen introduced me to Betsy and told her about my own handmade goods. Betsy’s eyes lit up and welcomed me into her workspace. We chatted for about twenty minutes learning about each others’ work and business.

The next month I got my haircut and peeked back into Betsy’s studio after I was done. And then the next. And then the month after that. Our conversation turned to the actual nuts and bolts about our businesses. You see, Betsy had been working on her own jewelry business, Betsy and Iya, a full year longer than I had. I quickly caught on that she was consistently two or three steps ahead of me, and went through a lot of the same things that I did as she started her business. We started comparing notes and I started asking questions.

“How did you figure out your shipping policies?”

“Where do you get those little jewelry boxes?”

“Do I need to get a business license?”

“What’s a merchant account and how do I accept credit cards?” (This was before Square, people!)

Betsy was so warm and open about sharing her own opinions and experiences that we started regularly chatting about our businesses and quickly became friends. She helped me refine my pricing, was a sounding board for my redoing my packaging, and pointed me in the direction of the right craft shows to sell at. She loved my work, too, and was always telling her customers and friends about it.

When she converted her studio into a miniature retail counter, she offered to display some of my bracelets along with her pieces. Betsy understood where I was coming from, had been down the same path, and wanted to lend a hand. But she wasn’t really a mentor in the way you might think. Our businesses were too close in age for her to be considered an expert. It was like she was a grade or two above me in school and was my business’ big buddy.

Our business friendship evolved to more than just advice and best practices. We started sharing booths at craft shows to save on costs, cover bathroom breaks, and help sell each others’ work. She introduced me to other makers that she knew. Our businesses started growing together. We attended our first cross-country show together. She counseled me on which tools to buy (and where to buy them), helped me troubleshoot finishing techniques, and so much more.

And to take things one step further, we started collaborating on the jewelry itself. We started a line of jewelry with Betsy’s aesthetic that used the leftover parts from these camera lenses I had dismantled. Shutter blade earrings, lens pendants, and more.

One time, we even caught a shoplifter at a craft show! We we were unstoppable!

Betsy was indeed a friendtrepreneur. I watched with pride as she hired her first production help, was joined by her husband when he quit his job to work on her business development. And eventually opened an entire retail boutique and production studio.

When it came time for me to make the decision to close down my business and pursue other things, Betsy was heartbroken but supportive and encouraged me that I was making the right decision. And her business has continued to thrive as a jewelry studio and retail shop. I couldn’t be happier for her and her husband.

Betsy lifted me up when I needed someone to turn to and was instrumental in helping my business because I couldn’t go it alone. She wasn’t interested in making the same products or stealing my customers. She just wanted to help—to share her experience with someone else.

By no means was she the only one in the community that I benefitted from, but Betsy is one of the reasons I was inspired to continue doing *this* kind of work—helping other makers find their friends and build healthy social and professional connections that will help them succeed. Betsy got me out of my house and studio, and out of my own head.

The gifts I was given by Betsy (and others)—gifts of knowledge, gifts of support, and gifts of encouragement—the gifts benefitted me and my handmade business so greatly that I felt compelled to share those gifts upon other makers in any way I could. We give what we receive. As I’ve mentioned before, that is one of the most amazing things that attracts me to this community of makers is our willingness to share and support each other for the greater good of our efforts.

In the last episode I dispelled the myth of the solopreneur—no woman or man is an island of knowledge and know-how that can be everything to everyone in their business. Moms are great at blanket cheerleading, but they often don’t fully understand what you’re trying to achieve or have their own hopes and dreams they expect you to live up to.

You know what? Moms aren’t enough. You must find and keep friendtreprenurs along the way: people who understand what you’re going through, support your efforts, and lend a hand when needed for the great maker good.

You cannot expect to thrive as a maker if you do not seek out a community or a few individuals who will lift you up and carry you to the finish when you’ve fallen down, and who will do everything they can to support you along the way. This is a community where you give what you get.

Lewis Hyde’s book, The Gift, was quintessential in helping me understand this, so I’ll walk this out with what I think is the perfect way to sum this up.

“All who have succeeded as artists [or as makers] are indebted to those who came before. Sharing the wealth offers a concrete way for accomplished practitioners to give back to their communities, to assist others in attaining the success they themselves have achieved.”

Seek out help in other makers—find those friendtrepreneurs who will raise you up.

Give of your help when asked of it.

Share your experiences and support for those who need a hand.

We are stronger together than when we stand out on our own.

Links

Membership Lowdown Webinar

Dear Handmade Life Episode 50: The Important of In-Person Connections