Okay, so I did an episode on my new podcast, Emmet Audio (find it anywhere you get your podcasts), about just this. About the need to build a community rather than amass a following. In the episode, I said that the community is what really matters in the end.
So for this second to last week of the Virtual Apprenticeship Challenge, I want you to come up with a community building project that will create value or others. Here are some examples of ones I have done:
The @spoonesaurus feed on Instagram, which, while it did not live up to me and Matt's original vision of a community project, nonetheless created a valuable resource for fellow spooncarvers.
Gathering and shipping spoons to send to a fellow spooncarver who had lost a daughter.
The free Spoonesaurus Gatherings that Matt White and I host twice a year.
Spoonesaurus Magazine, even though it isn't free, has the goal of strengthening and enriching the spooncarving scene.
This challenge itself, which I have seen foster connections between people and a shared sense of purpose and support.
I am excited to announce the most recent of these projects, which is the Spooncarving Collective, a network on the Mighty Networks app. There is a link in my Instagram profile, please check it out. Basically, Mighty Networks allows users to create communities that people can join and then mess around in. My thought was that the Spooncarving Collective could provide a permanent home to these threads of connection and advice sought and given that currently live in my DM lists on Instagram, and which are limited to the max number Instagram allows.
Am I asking you to download yet another app and figure out how to use this new-to-you software? Yes I am.
Because I think it can be a space that we can organize to provide the ultimate resource for other spooncarvers. I think we can together create the community that we all want, that right now lives in a very diffuse way because Instagram puts such a heavy focus on each of us presenting our lives. Don't get me wrong- I think that's important. But what that misses, and what the Spooncarving Collective can provide, is a place for us to all gather and be seen and heard.
So go check it out. I have spent basically no time on it because I'm crazy busy these next few weeks with the Christmas trees, but I've established some topic threads for people to add to, including a suggestions one so you can let me know what else you want to have in the space. I'm really excited to have this space that we can all add to.
Also, if you are doing the challenge, I want you to think about what other community building project you can start. Remember that you don't need permission. Remember that it might as well be you. Remember that it can be small, local (host a spooncarving gathering) or giant and grand (start a non-profit to send a cooking spoon to every refugee family). Build your community by reaching out to people, and by responding to every comment someone makes on your work. Build a community by actually caring what someone thinks. Build a community by being brave enough to share your truth in your posts, and taking the time to actually contribute something meaningful.
So, to recap. You should be carving every day. Because getting good at this thing you want to do is the only way to get where you want to go. You should be posting every single day to social media, and scaling that up as you can. Read my blog post a long time ago about what I think is important in balancing out an Instagram feed. You should be building a website to give you a home base on the internet that is yours and can never be taken away. You should be registered with whatever government entities need to know you exist and have established bank accounts and bookkeeping processes to support this. And now I want you to give back.
Because the more you give, the more you get. But you have to give first. That's how it works.
So there's this moment when you are starting a business when things start to feel very real, and it's not when you get your first customer, or hang the sign over the door. Nope.
It's when you register with the state and town and open a bank account.
I know, sexy, right?
But the thing is, even if you are operating under your own name, you will need to do these things because that's how you fit into the social fabric.
I don't know how things are done in any state but mine, and I certainly don't know how things are done in other countries. Heck, I barely know how to do things here. But at least in Massachusetts you need to register with the state, who issues a taxpayer identification number (search for how to do this online), and you take this number to the town clerk who registers you with the town (or city), and you then take both those things to the bank to open the business accounts. Oh it's scintillating stuff.
You then need to get some bookkeeping software, and here's where my knowledge gets really sketchy, because I only know one system and that barely. But unlike your personal money, you actually need to keep track of your orders and expenses and collect sales tax as appropriate and pay that to the state each month. You might need to pay taxes quarterly. You might need to hire an accountant or a bookkeeper to at least help you get set up.
Don't shy away from this, because if you do, you will never transition your business from more than a way to earn money to buy more tools. You need to embrace these dry, boring, confusing things, and it is best to tackle them now. Do some research on Google. Figure out what you want to use as a system. Figure out what you are required to do. Understand all that because understanding it is the foundation of your business.
You might be carving spoons, but keeping books is keeping books. You can't get out of it. So get into it.
Okay team, here we are at week three of the Virtual Apprenticeship Challenge! And anyone else reading this but not taking part, keep reading because this is for you, too.
So the time has come. You sorta knew you would get to this place eventually, although you probably have told people that you never will, or maybe you just can't believe it's actually necessary. That's right: you need a website.
You need a website because if you are trying to build an identity, reputation or brand for yourself (note that I did not say business), you need a spot for people to go to learn more about you. This, unlike your social media accounts, is fully under YOUR control. As long as you pay those yearly fees, no one can take this away from you or dictate how you present yourself. I would argue that a website (and the blogs and mailing lists and links and information that go with it) is the only part you can for certain count on. Instagram is seven years old. It will probably be here in seven years, but maybe not. Will it be here in 15 years? 20? If you are trying to build the sort of reputation or brand equity that will allow you to do all sorts of things (sell stuff, teach stuff, share stuff) you need to be thinking long term. A website is the corner stone of how you do this.
I never thought I'd have a website. Now I have four of them. One for the tree farm, one for the editing business, one for the magazine, and one just for me. This last one is the most important. It started out an awkward amalgamation of the different things I wanted to share and promote, and this mix has gotten more comfortable and changed quite a bit over the two years I've had the site. The trick is that I make myself sit down every six months or so and overhaul the photos, the text, the very identity of the pages.
Now, I am not particularly savvy when it comes to technology. I was definitely snookered by the "drag and drop" claims made by the leading website builders, and then I had to spend a very frustrating couple of hours trying to figure out the way the software worked before I had any sort of familiarity with it. But I think it is crucial for you to be able to change your own website, at least one that doesn't handle complicated transactions like my editing one, which is built and maintained by a professional. So if I can do it, you can do it.
Like your social media handles, I would argue that you need to have your website just be your full name and .com. The reason for this is simple: life is long and things change, but you will always be you. Your website is not you putting on airs: it's you sharing who you are and what you have to offer, and that will of course change over the years.
So your challenge for this coming week is to make your website. I don't say this lightly. I know that is will cost you a couple of hundred dollars to buy the plan and the domain. I would recommend that you think about what you want your website to have in terms of options (store? mailing list? reservations?) The top builders-- squarespace, wordpress, weebly, shopify, wix-- all have these options, so do some research to figure out which one is the best fit. If you plan to try to sell, I would recommend getting the cheapest paid plan rather than go for the free one. Most of these will also host your domain and help you buy it, so figure that out too.
I know that this is a lot coming on top of continuing to carve and post, so if you need to do this instead of carving for a couple of days, do that. Use the photos you have been posting to flesh out the site, and in particular make sure there is a friendly picture of yourself on the home page.
Check out various makers' websites until you have a sense of the aesthetic, language and types of pages you want to make for yours, and then do a quick outline of what pages you want and what you want them to achieve. If you are like me, you might not want to actually enable the store feature but handle any sales in person, although I'm certainly not advocating for this.
Why bother doing this, if you think you are still a ways away from wanting to sell? Or maybe you don't want to sell at all, and think this is just wasted money. But what I'm saying is that this is a homestead. It starts out as a plot of ground with your stake in the center, and then log by log you build that cabin over time. You clear the trees and fence the pasture. This is your home you are making. And you don't need to know what you will use it for for it to be a good idea to start building it.
I know this is big. I know this is scary. I know this is not what you signed up for when you decided you wanted to take your carving to the next level. But I promise you, this will be the move that you will be glad you took three years from now. And setting it up is a one-time proposition. So put your shoulder to the wheel and push.
PS for those of you who already have a website, congratulations! I want you to update that website. Then I want you to start a blog.
For week two of the virtual apprenticeship challenge (and if you are reading this and aren't one of the 90 participants, don't worry, this is for you, too) I want you to start using social media with discipline.
Now most of you are probably thinking about the discipline of not spending hours poking around in the explore section of Instagram or not checking your facebook updates like a nervous tic. And we'll get to that. But this is about building your craft and laying the groundwork for you to start building a platform for yourself and for your craft, so I'm actually talking about the discipline of USING social media.
Since all the participants found me through Instagram, I'm going to talk about that, but really what I'm about to say can be applied to any app, any social media.
Starting tomorrow, I want you to start posting something EVERY DAY. If you already post every day, I want you to post twice a day. Whatever you are doing, double it. Already post three times a day pretty regularly? Make it consistent and then start using Stories and Live features on a regular basis.
The thing is, carving spoons (again, this is the basis for the challenge, but it can apply to WHATEVER you want to be doing with your life) can't make you a living in a vacuum. You need to build a following. This following will be built on the basis of your skill (hence you will continue to carve every day), but it will also be built by just being present.
Posting every day will build your photography skills, something I will go into in my podcast over this next week (if you aren't listening to my podcast, Emmet Audio, start. It's available on every major podcast platform and covers topics that are relevant to this challenge. It's short, it's daily, and it's just me talking). But a good photograph is not enough. You need to have something to say, also. Writing, "this is the spoon I just carved" is not going to get you to where you want to be. The good news is that the caption doesn't need to be just about what the photograph is of. You can talk about ANYTHING. Your grandma. Your philosophy. What is hard. What is surprising. What you love to eat. What bugs you.
You also need to start using hashtags, and be thoughtful about which you use and how to rotate them through so you are showing up in lots of places. Using hashtags is another podcast, I can feel it. Suffice to say, you get to use like 25 hashtags. If you don't have 10k followers, you should be making use of every single one on every single post. Check out people you think are doing a good job and see what hashtags they are using. Copy that. You want a medium sized hashtag, one that gets enough traffic to have your photo be seen but not so many that you immediately get buried. You will need to type them in each time, and this sucks, but it's also how you build a following. Suck it up.
Be mindful to not just post pictures of spoons. Remember that someone is following you because of the spoons, but they bond with you over you as a person. Be real. Be varied. Be interesting and honest. Don't get pigeonholed. Don't let your feed get monotonous. Pay attention to how your feed looks to someone just going to it and checking it out for the first time. Delete the weakest photos from time to time to improve the caliber of your feed.
And now, the hardest part for almost all of you, but I think the most important in the long run: change your handle to just be your name. Trust me. You want to be known for you. You want people to think of your name when they think of you, not some handle that sounds like a million others. I know this because I started out with a handle that reflected my tree farm, and then when I finally switch to my name I felt free, free to be ALL of what I am, free to interact openly with people, and they felt that shift. Things started to change. If you don't do anything else, do this. I will do a podcast to talk more about my thoughts here, but I cannot stress it enough.
Okay, so you are going to continue carving every day. You are also going to start posting every day. Make the photography the best you can, and be thoughtful about what you say. Use hashtags! Lot's of them. And make sure you interact with every single person that reaches out with a comment. You are building the community that you will serve and that will serve you from here on out. Carving is not enough. You must master this also.
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.