When I quit my seasonal job two years ago (I already had the tree farm and editing business, but I had a summer job managing a public property, building trails, creating the grounds, repairing the buildings and teaching workshops), my plan was to get a smart phone, get on Instagram, get my spoons into a bunch of stores and build a business like so many you see, where the person is almost anonymous and the spoons are all you see.
That is not what happened.
Looking back now, I can see that my spoons were just not that good. Better than some, but not nearly good enough to command the prices I was asking of the stores. Only a few ever bit, and then I never heard from them again. What was supposed to be me revealing my talents to the world became a disillusioned slog, reaching out to stores, carving more spoons, reaching out to stores, carving more spoons. I sent out over a hundred and fifty spoons, in pairs of two, to about 80 stores over the course of five months.
It came to nothing.
Except not quite, because the process of making and giving away so many spoons pushed me to think about my process critically, to evaluate the time I was taking to do things, the ability I had to repeat forms and the ultimate functionality of the spoon I made. I got better, slowly.
I also got better at using Instagram, figuring out how to take photographs that looked good and were meaningful beyond just the product (for more on that, check out my blog post How I Use Instagram). As my followers grew, slowly (oh so slowly!) I began to receive inquiries about buying from individuals. At first I didn't know what to do with this-- I was all set up in my mind to sell wholesale to stores, that was the identity I wanted. But a sale was a sale, so I began saying yes.
Back then (in the Jurassic, apparently) I was so dogmatic about what I did and did not want to carve. I wanted to carve eating spoons and cooking spoons. That's it. I didn't want to carve scoops, or spatulas, or ladles, or anything else. I had pretty rigid ideas about what I was into and about.
That all went out the window, bit by bit, as I realized that all of my best moves kept coming from a customer asking if I could do something for them. I began saying yes instead of no, and I began to find that these shapes I was so against before had become a backbone of what brings me joy.
It took a year before I started consistently selling everything I made, and a year and a half before I needed a waiting list of any form. For that whole time, I was posting 3, 4, 5 pictures a day to Instagram, researching new hashtags, responding to every person that reached out, and pushing myself to carve at least one thing every day. Even a year ago, I was carving one thing a day, with no real thought of how that could possibly scale up.
Then people started to order spoons instead of just waiting for me to make something. Then people started to order more than one spoon at a time. Then I made some spoon blanks for someone who asked if I could do that and then more people started to order blanks, first a couple at a time, and now 10-15 at a time. I had to keep changing the way I kept track of orders to stay organized enough to keep on top of it as the waiting list grew to two weeks, three, four, and as of right now, 6 weeks, even as I increased the amount of time I devoted to it each day. Right after Christmas, I had scheduled about three hours of spoon work a day: now I schedule about 5 hours of this work a day.
My point is that this did not happen overnight. I wasn't discovered and I never trended. Nothing I've done has ever gone viral. This whole thing is the result of consistent, disciplined action, slowly scaling up as makes sense. And for a long time, nothing about it made sense. If I had given up when those stores didn't want the fairly crummy spoons I sent out, I would not be here. If I had stopped believing that I could make a living out of this when all I was doing was making and selling one spoon a day, I would not be here. I am here because I was patient beyond reason. Now it all makes sense. But when there is no clear path, when you cannot see the steps you will need to take to get from A to B, it is easy to think you won't get there. But you can, if you are patient.
This spooncarving thing is new enough that there are relatively few examples of people doing this, and each of us has a different road to success. Some crushed it on Etsy. Some crushed it on Instagram. Some had the connections or the blog or the positioning to define the whole thing as it blossomed. I had none of these things.
But what I did have was patience. And you can too.
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.
One idea is as worthless as another until you actually do something about it, and then it is the action, not the word that matters. --Orson Scott Card