The last couple of weeks I’ve been working on a business plan for Idiorhythmic Designs. Last year I had been dedicated to making it my full-time job, and last year I was still working on my depression and anxiety, so I didn’t make much headway. During my down time I decided to approach it from the ground up, writing a business plan, coming up with a logo, getting my social media use up again, all the ground floor stuff you do when you start a business.
I spent a few days at the library reading over business start up books, books about how to write business plans, books about how to run a crafting business, books upon books. And I sat there and answered questions about my business vision, my projected revenue and expenses, my ideal customer, etc. I felt frustration creeping up on me. It’s a feeling I’ve gotten every time I’ve read business books.
I love reading business books. I find them entertaining and informative. And as someone who never studied business and has difficulties with impostor syndrome, I am always trying to fill the gaps in my knowledge. But I find that they all seem to come from the starting point: a point in which the way business is run and has been run for seemingly forever is the default to aspire to. There are books that are aimed at “creatives”, at “non-business people”, at new comers and outsiders. But their goal is to teach those without an MBA how to fit into the business system. These books accept, without question, that the current system. And it is a system predominantly rich, white and male.
Two years ago I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. I was excited when I started the book. I wanted to find ways to approach being a business owner that weren’t rooted in telling women to be like men to succeed in business. I believe that there is so much corporate culture could benefit from if it stopped making white and male the ideal. I especially wanted to see examples of cultures that honored and valued other measures of success beyond the bottom line (employee happiness, how the world is made better by companies existences, benefit to society, etc.). Mostly, I wanted to see a shift in way companies behave, because if I am going to live in a country where corporations are considered people, I want these corporate people to be productive members of society instead of the sociopaths the so routinely are.
The more I read Sandberg’s book, though, the more frustrated I became. At one point she wrote a description of a meeting of female engineers at Facebook, “…she encouraged them to share the progress they had made on the products they were building. Silence. No one wanted to toot her own horn. Who would want to speak up when self-promoting women are disliked? Jocelyn switched her approach. Instead of asking the women to talk about themselves, she asked them to tell one another’s stories. The exercise became communal, which put everyone at ease.”
The next paragraph is about how women need to be more self-promoting (an assertion that I don’t disagree with) but I felt Sandberg had missed a very important point. That meeting told me that there were other ways to do things, that communal sharing could be just as important as tooting one’s own horn. And rather than celebrating having found a new way to get those engineers involved, she took it as a sign that those women really needed to work on molding themselves into someone else. It was so disappointing to see that moment of epiphany taken to that same old ground.
I’d much rather an environment that encouraged sharing and cooperation than one that insisted on the individual over all. And seeing how businesses currently work, placing emphasis on profit over everything else, rewarding CEOs even when they fail at the expense of the employees at lower levels, etc. that some community-minded policies might just be a better change.
All of this has been hanging heavy on my mind as I work on building Idiorhytmic Designs and pondered all the ways I went wrong with Eggplant. I recognize that I fell into several traps with Eggplant: I put too much emphasis on what a publishing company should look like, I spent too much time trying to “fake it till you make it” which made it impossible for me to say I was having mental health problems and ask for help. I was trying to fit the way I wanted to work, and the type of company I wanted to run into a corporate ideal I found uncomfortable, to say the least.
As I sat in the library study room, I tried to concentrate not on numbers and marketing speak, but on how it would feel to run Idiorhythmic right. On what it would mean to me and my family to be able to get to four large conventions in a year. On how I would balance having Ben underfoot while I sewed hundreds of dice bags. I focused on what I wanted to accomplish, not in terms of money, but in terms of how I run this business will support and amplify my values of sustainability, small business success, custom work, equality and justice. It is an ethic that means I want to buy supplies from local stores and from other sellers on Etsy. That means not buying supplies from Hobby Lobby (because I find them ethically offensive) or from mass producers in China (who are easy to buy from now that Etsy has allowed them to operate carte blanche). It means a focus on making a modest profit and feeling good about myself, rather than making a larger profit and contributing to a problem I see.
I ended up drawing a lot of my business plan. I don’t consider myself an artist, but I have found the mind map method of plotting to be very helpful. I’ve also not taken the writing of my business plan too seriously, as evidenced by my Facebook statuses at the time
It’s not that I don’t think that a business plan is important. I know it is. Right now, though, it is just for me, and taking a irreverent keeps me from falling into those old mindsets. Will I be able to stick to my beliefs going forward? I don’t know. But at least I am trying to shape my worldview and my business goals so that they are in harmony. And if that isn’t worth trying, then I don’t know what is.