by Patrice Lewis

Courtesy of Handmade Business

Of all the excuses people use about why their hobby could never be turned into a business, the most insidious and devastating are those inner voices--the creeping doubts from within--that tell you why you'll never succeed. Last month, we looked at craftspeople who faced doubts from friends and family, and how they overcame the naysayers and turned their hobby into something successful. This month we'll look at those scary inner voices that make us doubt our ability to start a business.


The genesis for this idea came from a friend named Patty, one of the most skilled and talented needleworkers I've ever met. She can knit, tat, crochet, sew and do any number of miracles with thread and fabric that leave me awed.

As a labor of love for her church, Patty started making liturgical garments for her parish priests. She discovered there was a desperate need for skilled needlework to replace old and worn vestments. But she hesitated turning her skill into a business because she doubted her abilities. ''The priest would wear one of my vestments during Mass,'' she told me, ''and all I could see were the mistakes I'd made.''

I learned these self-doubts are more common than I thought.

What causes someone to sabotage their dreams?

For internationally recognized artist and sculptor pablo solomon, it was ''the fear that I really might not be as good as I thought I was. It is one thing to do art and have good input from friends and other artists. It is quite another to say that your art is good enough to make a living. I was afraid that I would be ridiculed as an artist and then double-ridiculed for failing to make a living as an artist. Art is so subjective that it is often difficult to separate confidence from delusion.''

For solomon, it was his wife (Beverly) and an artist friend (Marilyn) who yanked him out of his self-imposed doubts. ''They sat me down and basically laid out a plan of action for me. Although I had been an artist since childhood and had sold work as a teen, I never went full-out, so others never took me seriously. Until you actually make a living doing art or crafting, people see you as an amateur with a hobby.

''I grew up in a poor neighborhood and was the target of bullies because I was sickly and liked art. I became interested in martial arts at age 12, and after years of training became very skillful and overcame my fears. I think that I always used the martial arts model to advance in my art--the step-by-step discipline and dedication which leads to skill and confidence. In martial arts, you cannot bs yourself. If you really are not good, you get your butt kicked or worse. Everything had come together by the time Beverly and Marilyn challenged me to step out and face my art dreams. After decades of perfecting my art, I felt that I was ready to take on the art world. I knew it was not a sure thing--just like no matter how good you are, you can still lose a fight. My success has been the result of a life of hard work, vision and discipline. My life consisted of many failures from which I learned lessons that contributed to my eventual success.''
Achievement guilt

Nacie Carson, a personal development specialist focusing on entrepreneurialism, points out how some people have what she calls ''achievement guilt.''

''Over the past 15 months, so many people have been fired for no other reason than their company couldn't afford to keep them,'' she notes. ''There was nothing they could do about it, and many undeserving people are on the breadline these days worried about their families. A small percentage of these laid-off individuals will turn passions, hobbies and interests into new professions. However, one self-sabotaging and often unconscious emotional hurtle they need to handle isn't necessarily a fear of success, but a fear of achievement when so many around them are in dire straits. The idea that they may be able to become financially stable doing something they love causes 'achievement guilt.' This is characterized by (1) a sense that you're not better or worse than anyone else; (2) anger and frustration at 'luck' or 'opportunity'; (3) perception that your success will diminish the position of others out of work; and (4) the fear that you don't deserve to take the 'easy way out' while others are struggling. In hard times, this fear affects many entrepreneurs and start-up business owners who are socially and community conscious.''

Who would pay for this?

When Amy Dalrymple Murphy started her business over four years ago, she just did things for trade. After all, she wondered, why would people pay for what she makes?

''I did many things that, in retrospect, were due to insecurity about skills and fear of failure,'' she admits. ''One is undercharging. Most craftspeople do this, I think.''

Insecurity led Murphy to attempt to please customers to the point where she was unhappy and unsatisfied with what she made. ''You can't please all the people all the time,'' she says. ''If you try, then it means you're trying to find the market, not the other way around. This is another way people get depressed about their craft--they try to make what people want rather than what they want to make. They end up either burned out from the success of becoming a machine or just exhausted from chasing something.''

Murphy started organizing craft fairs and talking to craftspeople about their fears and expectations. She learned it was common for craftspeople to fear others didn't like their stuff. ''Starting slowly is the best advice I can give to overcome fear and lack of support,'' she says. ''It's hard to not listen to fears, but I try to think of how I would talk to my friend if she were afraid of rejection and I try to talk to myself in the same way. My aprons are now for sale in the local Whole Foods Market. This has brought with it tons of those same fears. You know: Will they sit there? Will people like them? So I am always striving to make exactly what I want and follow the vision precisely so that I can satisfy myself.''

''Something to keep women and children busy…''

Trish Hodgens of Poly Clay Play tried a number of crafts to make some money, but ''most people look at crafts as something to keep women and children busy…not a legitimate way to make an income.'' She adds, ''I started with the fear of not being good enough. Who would want what I have to offer? There were so many who were better. Then I looked around and decided there were so many who were worse.''

For Hodgens, it was the fear of putting herself out there and failing, then facing doubting friends who would say ''I told you so.'' ''I've learned that you need to surround yourself with cheerleaders,'' she says. ''Those that will say, 'Try again, you can do it!' I am open to constructive criticism, but I take it all with an open mind. I have listened to advice, but the most important thing to do with advice is take what works for me and leave the rest.''

Trish offers the following rules of thumb:
  • Believe in what you are selling. If you don't, don't offer it. If you don't believe in it, how can you honestly convince someone else that they need it or want it? …and that brings up…
  • Be honest. If you make a mistake, most people will forgive you if you are honest with them.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of your customers. Listen to what they say. Remember to take the advice that works for you, but you have to listen to it first.
  • Take a chance. Put yourself out there. Some people will like you and your product and some won't. That is what makes the world go 'round. If you don't go for it, you will never find the wonderful people that like what you have to offer. Tell everyone you can about your business and what you love about it. List your business everywhere you have the opportunity to. Get the word out, and if you love it, they will too and will want to share what they have found with their friends. Word of mouth is the best advertisement you can have.
  • Do your homework. Learn all you can about what you want to sell. Learn all you can about what you are trying to accomplish and then make it your own. Put your own personal fun into it.
  • The most important thing? Love what you do! Life is too short to put your heart and soul into something you don't love.
I'm a nobody

Raia King teaches classes for creative entrepreneurs, and she often has craftspeople attending to learn how to turn a hobby into an actual moneymaking business. ''Many are filled with self-doubt fueled by comments from family members who tell them, 'You can't make money doing that!''' she says, adding, ''Many of these people are incredibly talented, but they aren't familiar with the things they need to know about starting a business, so they are frozen by a fear of failure.

''When I have asked craftspeople what is preventing them from turning their hobby into a profession, some of the most common reasons they have given are:
  • 'I don't know enough about business.'
  • 'I'm intimidated by the process of negotiating business opportunities.'
  • 'No one is familiar with my name, so how can I sell my crafts?' (That's when I teach them how to build their brand equity.)
  • 'Most small businesses fail in only a year or two.'
  • 'My husband/wife thinks I'm being silly.'
  • 'I'm a nobody.' (That one breaks my heart.)
  • 'I can't compete with established craftspeople/my work isn't good enough.' (Some incredibly talented people are very hard on themselves and don't recognize how talented they really are.)
''When I talk to these people, I encourage them and teach them the skills they'll need to get started,'' notes King. ''Many of them simply have no idea where or how to begin, and all they need is a bit of information and some emotional support.''

''Fat, plain and dumb''

Sheryl Parsons grew up ''thinking I would never be good enough because I was made to feel fat, plain and dumb. In my mind, it was only the pretty and thin girls that got anywhere.''

Parsons put her art dreams on hold. ''My stepdad said artists were a dime a dozen and I wasn't good enough.'' Instead, she went into computer programming. ''I set my art aside for a long time, as my self-esteem was so fragile that it didn't take much to put me down. I was told I had a chip on my shoulder and to get over it.'' Over the next few years she dabbled in art, but nothing more. ''For me, finding out who I really was, as in not really the daughter of the person who called me fat and told me I wasn't good enough, was a start on the road to gaining confidence in myself as an artist and overall person.''

An accidental encounter with a bit of wood slab gave Parsons the idea of turning it into a Santa. Soon she was making Santa ornaments and painting driftwood Santas. She learned a lot from a primitives craftsperson group on eBay. ''I was contacted by an artist who was interested in starting an all-holidays ornament group for artists and collectors, which evolved into American Holiday Artists. The rest, as they say, is history, with much exposure and many successes. A lot of my older family members are now behind me 100 percent, some even expressing regret at having not supported me before. I have developed confidence as I gain more collectors and recognition. Life has taught me not to listen to nay-saying, whether it comes from outside or from within.''

Postpartum depression

Victoria Tillotson, a well-known jewelry maker and author of Chic Metal: Modern Metal Jewelry to Make at Home, suffered from something far more challenging: serious postpartum depression.

''My craft was nearly halted by the birth of my son,'' says Tillotson. ''At the time, I had launched my line and was doing well. I worked by myself, but I had a good rep and about 50 accounts. My jewelry was getting editorials in magazines, too.

''At first, when my son was a newborn, I brought him to my studio (in a commercial building in downtown Manhattan) and worked between feeding him and his naps. I got lots of work done--I felt like I could do it all!

''Then one day, my neighbor in the studio next door complained about my son crying. I felt I had to leave my studio, and I spiraled into a deep crisis. Working at home, I couldn't keep up with the frantic fashion industry and take care of my son as he grew older. My depression and anxiety grew worse and worse and I felt like a failure.

''I got myself help and learned to alter my expectations of what 'success' means. Once I came to terms with this as a mother and a single business owner, I moved forward again happily.

''My career is now a bit different than it was. I concentrate on writing and offering courses in jewelry making and breaking into the fashion world. I make one-of-a-kind pieces for art books. Ironically, I still get press, TV work and other media opportunities. Maybe I will get back to creating a commercial line, but not now. I have learned success has many different meanings and that it can change with time.''

Turn negative into positive

Michelle Girasole, co-author of The Sassy Ladies' Toolkit for Start-up Businesses, suggests turning negative talk into positive. ''Self-talk can be defeating--or empowering,'' she notes, and gives examples of positive self-talk:
  • Instead of ''I'm scared,'' say ''I'm excited about this new adventure.''
  • Instead of ''I will probably fail,'' say ''I will try my best.''
  • Instead of ''I'm not smart enough,'' say ''I will learn.''
  • Instead of ''I've never done anything like this before,'' say ''There's no time like the present to try something new.''
  • Instead of ''I can't do this,'' say ''I'm excited about this new adventure.''
  • Instead of ''I don't have enough time,'' say ''I can manage my time better.''
Some advice

From those who have been-there-done-that in fighting those dark inner voices of doubt, these anecdotes can be distilled down to several bits of advice:
  • Learn the ropes. Teach yourself the ins and outs of starting a business.
  • Give yourself the gift of learning from your failures, rather than giving up in despair. Everyone fails. It's up to you to figure out where you went wrong and then try again.
  • Surround yourself with support. When your spouse, family and friends encourage you, you'll strive to prove them right.
  • Tune out the naysayers. This is easier said than done, I know, but there are some people who just get their jollies out of discouraging you.
  • Turn negative self-talk into positive, because quite often the emotion follows the action.
  • Get professional help if needed. Clinical depression is not something to ignore. Good luck--and happy crafting.
Patrice Lewis is co-founder of Don Lewis Designs. She and her husband have been in business for 16 years. The Lewises live on 40 acres in northern Idaho with their two homeschooled children, assorted livestock and a shop which overflows into the house with depressing regularity. Her e-book, The Home Craft Business: How to Make it Survive and Thrive, is now available.