The actual key to being an amazing mother

 

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A photo of me by my beautiful friend Cara Solomon

Right now in London, it’s hard being a mother. Not because of the hard, continual work it entails – humans are good at labouring. And really the work we put in is not the same as that done by previous generations of mothers – hand washing clothes on rocks, waking men up from their naps so they can go and chase lions.

No – it’s tough in a totally mind-fucking way. Our generation of mothers are being constantly attacked by ideas on mothering. I wouldn’t mind if they weren’t all so sure of themselves and yet completely contradictory. Don’t let your children eat sugar! Let your children eat all the sugar they want so they learn natural balance! Don’t let your kids play computer games, they warp their brain! Let your kids play more computer games to prepare them for the new world of work!

There is probably truth and logic in every theory that comes out. But you know what – I am calling them all out as bullshit. They are all wrong. And you know why? Because they induce fear and anxiety and stress. They inflame many women’s natural tendencies to want to be perfect, to do it completely and utterly right. But you know what is worse than doing it all ‘wrong’ as a mother? Being stressed.

You know how I know this? My son told me. In fact he reminds me often.

Don’t use that stressed voice with me mum, I can’t bear it! He will shriek as little tears spring from his eyes when I have wound myself up into a lather of anxiety.

It’s terrifying when your children gets to an age when they can articulate everything you are doing wrong. And the child I birthed ten years ago is extremely articulate at identifying the intricacies of my inadequacies.

But really thank god he is because he is making me a better parent.  

I have realised that I have spent too long in the sway of the tyranny of ‘ideas about parenting’ (we need more wooden toys! ) and not enough time in the beauty and joy and wonder of it.

After much thinking and analysing the different ways of parenting – I truly believe that the most positive thing you can give you child as a parent is your joy. By being joyful you transmute by osmosis joy to them. How you feel about life deep inside is often how they end up feeling about life. (Proof: I’m scared of geese, guess what, both of my children are scared of geese)

And for me joy is the one skill that will take take them through life with the best possible chance of making great choices and being happy.

So – I am going to stop analysing my decisions about sugar, play, school, computers etc. based on some theory or other. And I am going to do whatever makes sense to me and feels joyful. I really believe that making a point of killing stress and awakening joy is more important than ANY choice you could make about if they should watch TV or not, if they should have a Barbie or not. Your inner feelings about life, your way of handling life, how you relate to life is way more impactful than these decisions.

I would encourage you to ignore what everyone else is doing (including me) and just listen to what your heart, your child and your intuition tell you. Because when your choices flow from a place of joy and happiness – rather than stress or fear that you’re doing it wrong or because there is only one way to do it right – they will create so much more positivity in your household.

There is no one right way. No-one has the key. Every way is valid when done with joy.

I no longer care what theories are prevailing in the current climate of parenting. My aim is to be a good-enough mother, not a perfect mother. When my son and daughter are adults and talking about their childhood, I want them to say – wow my mum was rather messy and disorganised, but boy was she happy. She really loved life.

So I am going to chase joy like it’s Ryan Gosling walking down my street in small shorts. I am reminding myself daily to infect my house with joy – and prioritise it over everything. Literally everything.

And it’s starting to work. Yesterday my son said:

Mum, you’re doing so much better! You are so much less crazy now. Well done!

High praise indeed.

 

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What I’ve learnt by being kicked in the butt by my business

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It’s early evening and my daughter and I are sitting in a trendy coffee shop in Istanbul. The many (many) fears I had to overcome to get to this city feel like thoughts from long ago, but the feeling of pride of challenges overcome is lingering. And it’s making me deeply happy.
The fears of coming here were more than I usually have. Perhaps because Istanbul marks a new level of exotic for our trips (I know, I know, there is plenty more exotic places, just taking slowly man, slowly). Fears of Istanbul included, but weren’t confined to: an abundance of street dogs; travelling alone with my children as the husband was already here (flying appeals to me less and less each time I do it); the density of the city; the terrorist attack in Ankara a few days before we left; earthquakes (that one was given to me by my son, who had his own list of fears) etc. etc. But they are long gone now, as I sit and watch the hipsters of Istanbul drink their coffee and, along with my daughter, mouth the words of some reggae playing in the cafe.
The sonorous, soft sounds of the call to prayer echo throughout the neighbourhood. My daughter isn’t sure what to think, but to me I already love it, I already yearn to hear it. It speaks to me of places beyond this little bubble I live in, something beyond our time, of sound echoing through the city for hundreds of years, part of what makes it feel so magical.
A few weeks ago my little girl turned four. And it marked an anniversary of sorts for us and our business. We’ve had a strange, difficult and exhilarating journey building this business. Which is now, sitting and surveying the years, a business I am supremely proud of. I have built things in the past that I wasn’t proud of, and I’ve built things within this business that I haven’t been proud of: it’s never a given. And in fact it’s easier to build things you don’t like or don’t make money from or you resent as they become giant weights around your neck pulling you down, than it is to build something you love and cherish. I agree that:
“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” Maya Angelou
So in the spirit of reflection, here are the most important things I’ve learnt starting and running our business – in particular what I’ve learnt when the sticky stuff has hit the fan or when I’ve been backed very tightly into a corner.
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How to be brave (most of the time)
Without sounding like an American self help manual – and I say this is in the most endearing terms, given that I am married to an American and have many American friends – you could almost say I have a fetish for their straightforward ways of communicating and their relaxed friendliness. Ok – without sounding like any self-help manual – the biggest battleground you have when starting and growing a business is not the market place, but yourself. I truly believe that unless you are really really prepared to look at yourself and look at how your fears and anxieties and preconceptions will impede your business and the choices you make then it doesn’t matter how much you do in the market place, you won’t have a clear and sustainable path to success. If your business is built on choices you made from fear and anxiety – that will take its toll somehow. Either on you or the business – or both.
Why?
We are all so laden with fears and anxieties that many of us don’t even realise it. I would say it’s our fears and anxieties that hold us back more powerfully than our talents push us forward. And many of us are totally unaware of how that affects our choices in life.
For me, when I am fearful, even a little, it makes me make smaller and smaller choices. Anything I don’t do right, leads me to be less bold the next time, until I end up making almost no choices at all. Another big issue for me has, conversely, been accepting what I do well and the successes I have and not be driven to run away from them. It makes me feel super fucked up to admit this, but there have been numerous times in the past year when I’ve received amazing feedback on things I’ve been doing for the business, and it makes me want to go away and hide in a dark room. So you know, I’ve got stuff to work on.
I was sent this video recently by my brother, about how your thoughts shape and influence your life and I think it’s completely true. Hey, not only did the Buddha say it – We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”
An other wise mind also agreed by saying:
“Our life is what our thoughts make it.” Marcus Aurelius
So if we are the sum total of our thoughts – isn’t it useful to get a grip on what’s going on in your head so that you can challenge your preconceptions, tackle your deeply embedded fears and thoughts about yourself and the world (and of course, business and money!)
And even if you didn’t start out with a bunch of fears that control your actions, business will be sure to kick you in the butt and create a bunch of things that you need to be aware of and challenge.

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How to make choices based on passion and money
I learnt early on that most of my motivation comes when I love an idea. I am not deeply motivated by money (and, like your thoughts and fears, it’s also important to know what deeply motivates you). I love having a business because I love nurturing into the world ideas that excite me. And I love that part of me, it’s a very powerful force and when I am deeply excited I move mountains to make it happen. But love of ideas does not equally equate to money making.
Having said that, ideas that are only about money are not those things that set the world on fire. They are not game changers or things that will deeply deeply inspire people. Which is all well and fine if that’s your aim.
Often when you are someone who is motivated by ideas you get yourself going and then when you’re not making enough money you panic and think – ‘OK, shit! Think brain, think – how can I make money, and quickly.’ Making choices when you are in a deep state of panic about what your business could be doing is rarely a pathway to riches. Sometimes when you have your back against the wall it can pull out of you a beautiful, pure and worthwhile idea. But panic usually breeds useless, foggy ideas. Even if these do help get you to the end of the month and pay your bills, they are not the shining glittering ideas that will make your business strong, and grow you a fortune.
The true magic happens when you have an idea that encompasses both – money making potential and a deeply inspiring idea. This may sound like an obvious distinction, but when you are down in the trenches getting your business up and running, moving small and enormous mountains out of the way, dealing with hundreds if not thousands of things on your to do list (many of them not going right) then clarity of purpose is often absent. Most small business owners are thinking – how can I make enough to pay all my bills this month? Not, what is my overarching vision here, and am I on track to make more than enough money and create something that people both love and want.
This has been a slow  burning lesson for me. I have done more projects that are purely beautiful ideas or beautiful ideas that make some money but not enough to justify effort. I have been in the trenches many a time, working in a short-term way and trying to get to the end of the month. But no more. I refuse to make only short-term choices, and instead everything I do is now weaved into a larger, long term plan.
I am now dedicated only to the ideas that will justify acres of time spent crafting something incredible and launching it into the world. I have some really exciting plan for the next twelve months for our business. And I am thankful for everything I have done that regardless of their effect, has got me to this spot.
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How to accept my husband, for who he is
As you can well imagine working with a spouse ain’t easy. In times of stress things have been said and done between us that I shan’t repeat. They would incite deeply painful prickles of shame which aren’t helpful to where I am now: we have arrived at a good spot.
Just like my belief that you need to know yourself when you are running a business, and to be aware of all the thoughts and preconceptions you have – the same is true for your relationship. The husband and I had been together for twelve years when we started this business. I thought we’d endured a high level of trauma – a late loss in pregnancy followed by multiple miscarriages, death of a parent, severe financial stress, multiple moves including moving country etc. I thought we’d done trauma. I was wrong.
But you know what I’ve learnt throughout all of the discussions about who should make this decision, which bill we should pay first, who should be allowed to work today and who should look after the kids. Or the generalised stress of being 24/7 with your family will invite.
None of this petty shit that we argue about matters.
I have come to the conclusion – who cares who is right and who is wrong? It’s our whole lives that matter.
Now I ask myself- what do I want from today? And it is never arguing, disagreement, stress. So I have pulled forces out of my ass to move mountains and remain cheerful and positive with him, most of the time. And you know what, the more cheerful and positive I am, the more cheerful and positive he is – as is the rest of the family. Who knew I was so influential?
So maybe he was rude to me when I asked him a question on the boat yesterday. I say, that was rude and then I move away, calm down and instead of allowing myself to get wound up for minutes or even hours by perceived injustices I push my mind to think of other things. I respond to things as they arise, and try not to drag our history into every small argument we have.
I don’t want to be pulled hither and thither by the multiple emotions I can have at any one time about my husband. I don’t want feel deeply annoyed. I want to feel love and joy and respect. And the more I put out those things, the more I get in return. And being with him so very much, especially when we travel, has made this essential in remaining sane, and being happy.
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How to live
By the time I was thirty three and I started this business I realised that I was laden down with habit. I had created a life that was lovely, and full of things that I had ‘learnt’ about myself – I must have coffee as soon as I wake up, I am a night owl, I don’t trust strangers in public places. etc. It seems weird to me now that I had created so many – ‘this is who I am and what I do’ – thoughts. It was almost like I had closed myself off to most of the new experiences that were available and open to me.
Part of our business involves travelling for weeks or sometimes a month or two. And it was during these trips that I realised that I was skating over the surface of life, I wasn’t jumping in and enjoying all of what the world had to offer. And the more I relied on my preconceived ideas of this is how I am – the more I realised how much I was then thinking – this is how other people are.
By attempting to give much of that up, I realised I could experience a lot more of life on a much deeper level. I could meet people and see who they were, rather than whatever random thoughts appeared in my mind.
Once I started being open I started to meet more people, have more interesting conversations and have amazing and beautiful experiences. In Rome earlier this year we met an amazing Italian/American homeschooling family in a park and ended up spending almost two weeks hanging out with them, having dinner together, talking, walking and having amazing fun. They had vastly different political views to us and that ended up being part of the fun. Listening to the other side.
This business has taken me to the nether regions of myself, and pushed me to my limits and beyond. But I have learnt and grown so much. Like giving birth, starting a business will stretch you in places you didn’t know was possible. I have learnt to stay open to new ideas, new experiences and new ways of doing things – and in the process I have never felt more alive.

A change is as good as?

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Photo by the unbelievably awesome woman that is Cara Solomon.

One lovely late morning recently, I am at home making bread with several children running around the house playing a game they have created called ‘Terrorists and Fairies’ (the modern day version of Cowboys and Indians p’haps?) My friend is here, having stayed the night with her kids, and she has done a natural hair treatment for me. My locks are luxuriating in rosemary oil and we had just finished a bountiful breakfast of organic porridge and raw honey (can you see where this is going? If this was a film you’d know that this gorgeously, hippy idyl was moments away from shattering). Life is just lovely.

And then… I check my phone and I see an email from a client postponing a big job by several months. One that was going to bring in all of our income for March. Big picture says it’s fine because the work will come eventually…..but fuck, fuck, fuck I say to myself, how can we replace that cash? I need quick solutions. I need to act now. But here I am, being an organic mother at home. Not in the office where I can do something about this totally crap situation.

The cacophony of children’s noises that a few minutes ago sounded wonderfully fun and free spirited, suddenly starts to sound like a chainsaw slowly making its way towards my brain. I look at the homemade bread, lusciously plump as it lays on a board rising and want to devour it all, uncooked. The hair oil suddenly seems greasy and I start scratching at it manically. I spot the front door, and wonder if I could just make a run for it, and would anyone notice I was still wearing my nightie? This is the final straw in a selection of iron-rich straws falling on me over the past few months.

And so I say – I need a year out. I need to get totally obsessed by this business and build it up so that it has a stronger foundation and things like the odd job being postponed won’t kill us. For several weeks I feel insanely sick. I have love homeschooling for the past three years, I love this life we have created. I love that we have a great business that, though small, is putting food on the table. But I have also this nagging, itchy feeling that I want it to grow. We need it to grow, because right now it’s just not reliable enough for us. And once that begins to take root in my mind, I start to get excited. Really excited.

I feel incredibly blessed that I’ve had such a long time to spend with my kids, and really learnt how they learn, get involved in interesting projects with them. We will now enter a new phase; life is all about change isn’t it, and it seems like beginning a new rhythm of family life feels right at the moment. Homeschooling can return, a year from now or not at all. What’s important now is our family is happy, together and united.

Our business has done some great things, some stupid things and some incredible things. But it’s done everything in a very slow way. I should start a new genre of business building –  it’s not just food that can be slow, I’ve invented slow business. Or I shouldn’t because this is NOT the way to start a business – working on it a few days per week with the constant children-needs interrupting – if you want it to get anywhere fast.

Business building requires tremendous obsession. It’s a little like pushing a large rock up a mountain, and we are only mid-way (or maybe even lower than that, but I don’t want to be too realistic on how much work lies ahead, it may just put me off).  It requires that you start ignoring your friends’ requests to go out to the pub so that you can get up early and squeeze a few extra hours of work before the kids get up, to wake in the middle of the night with an amazing solution to a problem that has arisen and to make giant courageous leaps to capture new clients.

“The entrepreneurial journey starts with jumping off a cliff and assembling an airplane on the way down.” Reid Hoffman

And for the last three years most of my attention has lain with my kids, not my business. Unless I want this business to stay very small, I need to check out of being homeschool ‘immersive’ mum for a while (I am giving myself a year). photo (9)

There are now too many opportunities that we are not taking advantage of, too many things we aren’t growing that I desperately, passionately want to grow. But I am also TERRIFIED. Because you know when you say things like – if I only had more time to do X,Y, Z it would be amazing and we could see all of these extra results. Or if only I was given this opportunity then…. Well, that opportunity has arisen. I have to bloody well step up to the plate. Shit.

One thing I don’t like about blogging is how it feels like you are presenting yourself and packaging your life up in this way that feels untruthful. Either you are making your life look much better than it is (most blogs), or worse (my favourite blogger, Penelope Trunk, who is so honest and raw I think she makes her life sound way more harsh than it actually is), when really our lives are just a messy jumble of everything.

There are some insanely beautiful things about my life that fill me with such searing joy I can’t believe I’m allowed to live this way.

It’s organising the start of our next project on Istanbul at dawn, and feeling that swelling of pride in my husband, knowing that his photos will be incredible and inspiring. That I am helping to bring something beautiful to this world in my own small way.

It’s coming into the living room yesterday to see my son laying on the floor drawing and listening to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue that he put on himself because he thought the music matched the feeling of the rainy day. He’s nine.

It’s the amazing community of families we’ve met whilst homeschooling who make me feel like I am not a crazy weirdo in my approach to family life. It’s the little hands that grab my head in the morning and the whispers of: ‘I love you mummy, you’re so beautiful’.

But it’s also messy, and hard and complicated. It’s me crying in the bath because I’m so frightened by the courage I need to summon for this next phase of my life; the feeling of being stabbed in the heart when I see my son’s flickering, emotional eyes getting worried on his first day back at school; it’s my being so overwhelmed by everything I am out until 2am drinking wine and feeling like I just want to run away; it’s me wondering how I can possibly have a planning meeting with my husband now when I just want to smash plates over his headstrong ridiculous head.

It’s what Buddhists call the ‘10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows of life’.

Yesterday, in a fog of my hangover I listened to a beautiful talk on compassion by Jack Kornfield (something about the sonorous American accent makes Buddhist and spiritual ideas so much more appealing to me.) He asked the question:  what beauty will you bring to this world? And I loved that.

My life will continue to be messy and intense. That’s just me, that’s the type of life I create. But I am committing always to do as much good work as I can, to bring as much beauty in to the world as I can, through my business and through my friends, and still, most importantly, my family. And so again, a new adventure begins. Similar to the last adventure, just a little different in its weighing of priorities. A little shift in focus. But it throws everything up in the air again, and I will be remembering that it will take a little time to come back down again.

The art of making mistakes (part 19)

Help me by Anthony Epes

Help me by Anthony Epes

At least 20% of businesses go out of business in the first year. A further 50% of businesses go out of business within five years. Why does this happen? The obvious one is money (not made enough, spent too much, business not viable) but I think an equally significant reason is that it is so so so bloody hard getting a business started and keeping it running as you fight to establish the business and yourself. Everyone will hit a wall along the way and start to wonder things like – if I gouge out my eye might it help to relieve the pressure I am squashed under?

I’ve hit a few walls of late, hard.

Last year was amazing. Lots of successes; we launched our books! We raised almost £11,000 on Kickstarter! We had a sell out run of London workshops! We got more commercial clients! We had two exhibitions! The documentary being made about us is almost finished! But is this what I think about when I lay in bed at night? Noooooooooooo.

We made some mistakes. One big enough to financially echo into this year, but not big enough to sink us (just). It’s really easy to get derailed by your fuck ups. To ponder, ruminate; probe that dark place in you that tells you I knew you couldn’t do this. I knew you were worthless. WHO do you think you are anyway? I am very familiar with that dark place and doing hard things means that dark place stays close, ready to swallow you whole if you step out of line.

So what has kept me sane?

I could say – oh all the good stuff, the successes – the book sales or responses from people who love our work or the acknowledgement of our legitimacy in the form of press. Or perhaps my beautiful kids. Their cute little faces, their total love of me in spite of my inadequacies.

But I’d be lying. My brain doesn’t work like that. So here is what has kept me going.

Don’t waste the mistake

There is lots of talk right now about failure, and how we as a culture need to get more comfortable with it. Because don’t lots of really successful business people say that failure is a necessity on the pathway to success? It may sound like they are just saying that to make us non- successful minions feel better about our lives – but it’s actually true. When you can get past the stinging humiliation of making a mistake, there is actually some really interesting stuff to poke around in and learn from. Once we stopped feeling sick, Anthony and I discovered that this ‘poor choice’ actually helped to bring our vision of the company together. I hadn’t realised that we were on slightly different paths; our goals were almost the same but not completely, and that was creating friction.

Sharing and connecting

It’s easy to live in a bubble when things are going well, but when you have problems in your business it’s vital to get out there and meet other entrepreneurs/crazy people. Only they can really understand what you’re going through and are more likely to be able to help (like how only another parent can get the proper craziness of being a parent). It’s easy to think that everyone is doing/has done really well. It’s easy to take mistakes as a personal failing. But when you talk to other business owners, everyone will have a list as long as your arm of things they fucked up. And for me that is comforting.

Remember you’re still here

Seth Godin’s blog is one of my useful resources for advice. Sometimes I feel he is reading my mind when he churns out his advice about starting businesses, being an artist and marketing among other things. He has had a bunch of business failures, and failures along the way to successful businesses. But he said that he didn’t mind because after each one he was still here, he still got to play and so it wasn’t a real failure.

It’s really easy to think everyone is doing really well and never struggling. I love this post from Marie Brophy which reminds me that we are all feeling inadequate.

Don’t take it personally  

This reminds me of the Tolstoy quote, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I think it’s the same with mistakes. You are most likely to be objective with other people’s mistakes, but with your own they seem so ridiculous and worse than anyone else could do. When I find it really difficult to be objective about things I’ve fucked up, I imagine my best friend or my son telling me that they had done it, instead of me. When it comes out of the mouth of people I love I find it so much easier to see it for what it is. And, in general, getting emotionally involved in your business is a pathway to hell, so practising emotional distance is ALWAYS useful.

Remember that why you are doing this is bigger than the mistake

I want this to be successful more than anything I’ve wanted before. The success of this is not just a win for me; it’s a win for my whole family. It’s us being together, it’s me not working full time but still having a ‘good job’, it’s seeing my husband’s beautiful talent spread far and wide and giving people something special. I want this with all of my heart and that is why I persist when the going gets tough. When we make mistakes, when my husband’s persistent annoyingness makes me want to remove his vital organs, when I feel ill or disheartened, I remember why I am here and it keeps me going.

(We’re not stressed) it’s Monday

Anthony is frying bacon.

I am having an aneurysm Di! I really really am.

Darling – I really don’t think you are.

OK I’m not but I really think one is coming!

Tensions are running high in our household. A lot of highly dramatic speech is being thrown around as we try to organise what feels like a hundred thousand projects – but is in fact only three – all at the same time. It’s crunch time.  Or as I like to sing (and get immediately booed for doing so) It’s the final countdown…..!

But what feels so funny about the ridiculous deadlines that have appeared way too quickly – is that Anthony and I are both getting hung up on the smallest strangest details. Neither of us are having breakdowns about our Kickstarter campaign, the exhibition that needs to be organised before we go to Venice next week, the books that our future hinges on – or even the greetings cards….

No Anthony is worried about where he is going to meet his group of photographers who are coming on our Venice at Dawn workshop in 3 weeks.

What if everyone gets lost and we never meet up with them! I mean, I don’t know where everyone is staying. Everyone gets lost in Venice, even the locals. How the hell are we going to find any one Di??

But darling, we are going to be there for ten days before everyone arrives, don’t you think we can sort this out when we get there?

I really don’t think so Di, this is really stressing me out!

I admit to finding this ridiculously funny.

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On my part for the last month  I rang and emailed Anthony daily

Tony – our new website address hasn’t been transferred

OK Di, I’ll get on it

But what if it doesn’t work? What if we don’t really own that website domain and we’ve put it in the book designs and we’ll have to print stickers to stick over the website address we don’t own with a different website address?

That won’t happen. We own that domain, I just haven’t got round to transferring it

But what if it doesn’t work

Di it will

But what if it doesn’t

Seriously I felt like my heart would seize up every time I thought I about this bloody domain transfer. I thought the world was going to collapse if it didn’t work. Turns out Anthony was right and it worked. No need to get the world to collapse.

So I am thinking that these obsessions over small details must serve as a diversion from the real stresses – the big things that if derailed could really fuck our business up. So rather than having sleepless nights over if our Kickstarter campaign will work and if we can get our books – we are worrying about things that we can actually control. Gosh, the human brain is pretty smart. Lucky for us. 

The tale of not being poisoned

Quite possibly I am the only person in the world who didn’t realise that berries from the yew tree are highly poisonous, particularly for small children. Which is why, when in Kew Gardens yesterday, I had noticed the toddler chewing on something and saw a red yew berry in her hand, I just threw it away and went and had tea.

Ten hours later, with a perfectly healthy toddler in bed, I mentioned the berry to my husband. You should check that out, he said. And so I did. Moments later I was reading a news article online titled

Boy, 2, survives after eating a yew berry.’

I rang the NHS. The poisons team informed me that if I had rang straight after the incident they would have immediately directed me to the emergency room. But seeing as ten hours had passed with no reaction she obviously hadn’t eat a berry (I suspect she was chewing on one of the acorns which she had been collecting)

The seeds of the yew berry, especially when chewed, are highly toxic. And as my mum said – if the birds don’t eat them nether should we.

Who knew that such a poisonous and highly toxic thing existed in this green and pleasant land? Well obviously people who aren’t as ill informed about nature as me. I thought this kind of danger in nature only existed in hot, more exotic climes. Not in manicured gardens on the outskirts of London.

I can’t back out now…or can I? (8 things I’ve done to launch a Kickstarter campaign)

62-hours ago I pressed the ‘Go live’ on the Kickstarter campaign that will reveal if my husband and my past two years of hard graft will be met with applause – or rejection. Naturally I am nervous. Let’s also say that there is fear and intense excitement too. It’s strange to have such opposing emotions racing around my body.

This Kickstarter campaign that is causing the nerves that feel worse than those of a teenage first-date is for two books that my photographer husband and I have spent the past two years creating. OK let’s load even more pressure on – creating these two books is the reason I left my job whilst heavily pregnant and took off to Paris, with first child in tow. I say this not to make myself look desperate but to show how much I believe in this project. How much I wanted these books to be created and shown to the world.

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I knew from the day that I got pregnant again that it was now or never. I had fallen in love with my husband for his ability to notice the beauty in one’s every-day surroundings: a bilious white cloud on an otherwise grey, miserable day; a shaft of intense light appearing momentarily turning a tree golden and magical; the deep green of the grass after rain. It’s because of his photographs that I notice what is special in my every day.

Fuck good jobs and regular pay cheques. This is art, the art of life.

So here we are two years down the line. A hundred (and fifty thousand) ‘creative arguments’ had; a baby-turned toddler; an ever growing boy who has become wild with knowledge and curiosity since we started homeschooling – and two breathtakingly beautiful books. I can say that because I did not take the photos. I am the woman supporting the man holding the camera. And I don’t care how old fashioned that sounds, it’s friggin’ awesome to know that it’s because of me that all this is happening.

ImageSo, after my digression I wanted to share with you the things I have done (on other very wise people’s advice) in preparation for my Kickstarter campaign, in the hope that it might inspire you to take the plunge to do something creative (and possibly nuts) yourself. In 30 days time I will probably look back at this list (see below) and roll my eyes – why didn’t I think of this, that and the other? Well – good news, the web can accommodate my love of list making, so I will republish this list as I go. I am so inspired by Kickstarter and the other crowdfunding platforms like it. It is an unbelievably amazing way for creative projects to get off the ground – and an opportunity to cut out the middle man and build your audience for your work.

I would SO SO SO welcome thoughts, comments, ideas and any other thinking things you can throw my way. This is super intense, and so I’d love to hear some words from you guys.

1. I am not going to think this will be easy

The best article I’ve read (and advice taken) was from Nathaniel Hansen. Some of his key advice is that you have to fundraise like it’s a full time job. Every day, getting the word out there and yes, losing sleep, lots of sleep.

I have done one previous crowdfunding campaign for £2000. It was to raise money for Anthony to go and photograph the Homeless World Cup and even though it was for 5 times less than what we are now asking for, it was CRAZY INTENSE. I was constantly emailing, facebooking etc. It was a real shock to realise that you may be super super passionate about what you do – but to get other people to feel even a tinsy, winsy bit passionate, requires a tremendous amount of hard work. There is a lot of stuff in this world competing for their support.

2. I need my campaign to be seen by 30,000 people

In this article on 99u they explain some of the things you need to work out to get your campaign funded:

“Ryan Koo of NoFilmSchool.com ran one of the highest grossing film campaigns in Kickstarter’s history at $125,000. He decided to set a big goal to make himself rise to the challenge, but he also made sure it was viable by calculating the number of people he had to reach at a 1% contribution rate for an average of $50. Don’t be afraid to dream big, but back it up with some math.”

If my average contribution is £30, and the contribution rate is 1% then 33,333 people need to see my campaign. That’s pretty wild.

3. I will be shameless (but polite)

If this is going to work I am going to have to turn on a giant ‘I love this and I hope you will too’ button and just tell everyone and any one about what we are doing. I am not going to spam, but this has to be my obsession (polite obsession) this month.

4. I have asked many of my more talented friends and family to help

When I told my husband that we would be a perfect team, one of the reasons I gave was that I would be awesome at writing about his work. I would tell his story beautifully, perfectly, amazingly. But you know what – I can’t. I have now grown too close, and I write like I have a proverbial stick up the proverbial place. I am so in love with what he’s done, I have paralysed myself. And so my film maker brother has stepped in, made a film about the project and told the story we wanted to tell, without knowing how. Telling your story in a compelling, real and interesting way is imperative to this process, so because I couldn’t I asked someone who could.

5. I have written lists, and more lists of people I can tell

I have done epic amounts of research – bloggers, journalists, tweeters. Anyone who might think ‘this is awesome’, I have on my list of people and I will tell. In my previous lives I’ve done lots of press work myself and I’ve also hired, at great expense, fancy PR firms. One thing I’ve learnt is that if you are really passionate about what you are doing, you don’t need a fancy PR firm. If you have the money and no time – a PR firm is brilliant. But I am in a lots-of-time – no-money situation so I am going it alone and that’s fine. My advice on this front is:

Research your journalists, bloggers: Don’t just send a press release to every magazine you can think of, that will turn people off. Find out what writers are interested in your subject and carefully sculpt an email to that person. Don’t spam.

Be yourself and be passionate: people respond to real people, real stories and interesting journeys.

A lot of people think that getting on the TV or radio, having  a piece written about you in print or online is going to be world changing. On rare occasions it is. But most of the time it’s another trickle in the bucket, of which you need hundreds of trickles to get the bucket to over flow. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do it, of course you should, but you need to lots of press, lots of promotion, all the time. It’s super rare that one piece will make your business. So reach out to lots of people. Again and again.

6. And I have templates for emails coming out of my ears

I know myself well enough to know that intense pressure and me are not great friends. So before we pressed go I wrote a bunch of emails for different situations and stored them. What I didn’t do was think of a subject line for said emails. Doesn’t sound like a big problem? Well, we spent an hour coming up with lame-ass subject lines yesterday. I should have done that when I had more head space. Here is an awesome article that has tonnes of templates for you to use and generally great tips for other crowdfunding tools.

7. I have looked at hundreds of other crowdfunding campaigns

I have modelled our campaign after two highly successful photography campaigns on Kickstarter. They chose to be short, let the photos do the talking, and have less than ten rewards. To the point. I’m sure it’s possible to innovate, but for me I find it easier to emulate what seems to have worked for others. Choose your path and stick to it.

8. I have chosen the crowdfunding platform that I think is right for me

There are tonnes of crowdfunding platforms that are out there and I have done extensive research as to which one is right for us. We have chosen Kickstarter because I thought we would get more contributions from people we don’t know and as we are a creative project I think the site looks better overall. Also there is lots of research to show that the all or nothing way is the most galvanising for your crowd and the most successful way. Look here and here

Ok, so that’s not everything, but it’s pretty much most of it. I’ll keep you posted! See our campaign here.