2018 has been all about putting the work in. We closed in on the end of year with having hit some milestones and overcome some challenges. One takeaway that has been really apparent is that no matter what you plan at the start of a year - life will send you in some interesting directions and your success really depends on how flexible you can be when challenges come up. When we started Slap Stuff Together, we really thought that it was going to focus primarily on woodcraft and photography. My photography business coming out of 2017 had a nice growth and it also felt like that would be continuing to grow in 2018 along side of the woodworking arm. Ben had been solidly increasing his skills, he was gaining more customers, we had anticipated our partnerships to continue the way they had in 2017. However, what we expected and what actually happened are two different things. As important as it is to take a moment and reflect on a personal level, it's even more important take the time to self-evaluate when owning a business.
The first 2018 hurdle came with the break down of our truck. We had invested in a vehicle that would be a good tool for getting wood and projects delivered. However, we put our trust in a shoddy used truck salesman and that truck barely made it through 2017. As soon as we pulled in the driveway we found issues. The gas tank had a hole in the line leading to it. So the sales guy gave us the part to fix it... The panels started falling off in the summer as we realized that they were just held together by putty alone, there was actually no metal left on the wheel wells of the bed. The gas tank was still leaking, the exhaust fell off, and when we went to get it inspected for 2018 we were given the news that it wasn't worth saving. We were duped and I felt terrible. So, the money we had saved and put aside for trips and projects in 2017 for 2018 was now eaten by having to find a reliable vehicle. It was a major blow to my psyche. I knew Ben was pretty upset at the loss of his truck and this kind of soured my perspective of what 2018 would be for us. It was a low point to really start into the year. Then, my photography bookings were a bit non-existent for the first half of the year. The growth I had experienced in 2017 all but stopped in 2018. In some ways, I felt relieved. I was working full time and the previous year had been difficult to manage all of that time investment in that portion of the business. I really had to take pause and determine if the effort was worth it for the photography business. I needed to revisit my strategy. So I happily took on assisting my photography partner instead of hitting the pavement for more photo work. The other ball that dropped is that we had been excited about some of the partnerships that were starting to look promising from 2017. Unfortunately, illnesses and money became an issue for the other parties which waylaid what had been part of our vision. It just really seemed like nothing we had planned was going to work for 2018. It was all kinds of sour grapes early in the year.
We were on a budget so, we couldn't do many if any of the big maker events we had hoped to do. Instead, we decided to hit up meet-ups when they would be within driving distance and if we were going to spend money - we were going to use it on education first. Ben and I took a course with Jesse and Carrie Savage at the Center for Metal Arts in Johnstown, PA. It was so worth the little bit of money we invested to have our first forge experience. Ben loved it so much he's been really wanting to build a forge and has a lot of ideas on what he can add to our shop portfolio. We used our vacation time to head up to Upstate New York to hang with Tony and Mac for their slip and slide party. There we got to recharge our batteries midyear and connect with old friends and new. It was nice to include that into our summer vacation plans. In the fall we opened our house up for our first Slap Stuff Together Weekend which was a nice time. Folks came in to play with clay on and on the lathe and just hang out with each other. We're hoping to really get to know more people in our area that we can find commonality with and can't wait to see what that brings. It was nice to dip our toes in the networking arena a bit more.
For me a surprising thing happened. I think I became a for real potter, not for fakes, for real. It had always something zen for me to do so I wouldn't freak out about life, I'd work in clay from time to time maybe make enough to fire the kiln 2 times a year. Then, Ben made the suggestion that I should start posting my pottery to our slap account more regularly. I had posted a few things in 2017, but nothing major. I was hesitant at first but then started looking into other newbie potters and gained some confidence. This is what Slap is essentially about. Jumping over that fear monster and showing other people what it looks like to try something new and pursue something creative. So, with that I swallowed my fear and did a youtube live video in my studio while I worked. It was GREAT! People asked a lot of questions, I was able to show what I was working on and it really was a lot of fun. I pulled the trigger on an idea I had previously on making custom mugs using 3D printed stamps so we invested in a 3D printer. By midsummer I was sharing my kiln openings and selling my work for the first time and taking on commission work pretty regularly. Not only had this turned into a huge passion this year, but it was actually creating a more sustainable opportunity for us than my photography had ever been. Instead of being away from the house to shoot photos, I was able to create on my time and sell my wares. It was a big turning point for me and was a lemonade moment - no photography - then do something else.
Ben hit a milestone too. He built his first workbench this year (I'm not considering the lathe-stand a work bench). I'm talking about his beautiful work bench he completed at the end of the year. He took all of his learnings from the last two years and made himself and really nice bench that he will be able to take pride in and work on in his shop. It's something he definitely needed to do and I think proved to him that he was a capable woodworker. He has really come a long way with his craft - not that his first project was junk by any means - he just has really fine tuned it. Also during the year, a lot of his commissions were right in his wheel house. Mostly small keepsake carved pieces. A purple acorn box - a wedding card box themed like Zelda - an Elephant bandsaw box. He has some nice showcase pieces in his portfolio now. Where we had been nervous that losing the truck would make things extremely difficult, it turns out it was a great opportunity for him to think smaller and go for his strengths with his craft.
We also worked on a few collaborative pieces too. I liked them the most out of this year. Our first piece was a face mug I just wanted to make for fun. So, I threw the vessel and then Ben sculpted the face. We made a short video and that landed us a commission for a more elaborate one. It was a cowboy mug that turned out so friggin' cool! We didn't do a video for it, but it got a lot of attention on our Instagram account. Then, I 3D printed a Mjolnir and Ben assembled and painted it. It was a load of fun and we'll definitely be using it for a future project.
One of the most challenging things to realize looking back on this year is that my head was so wrapped up in what I'm used to - I go to work every day and I know what I'm supposed to do, I generally can predict my entire year. Owning a small creative business is not like that at all. You have to evaluate month to month what you are going to do or who you are helping. You have to be flexible, not focus on the speed bumps, use deviations to your advantage and always be innovating. I've never been more stressed out or more proud of us. Thank you to everyone who has helped us this year and let's have a fantastic 2019!
Small Business owner and Artist, committed to growing as a maker as well as sharing her and her husband's experience with owning a small maker studio.
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