As it turns out, being the proprietor & only employee of your super small business is really hard work... who would've thought? Amongst the chaos of sometimes intensive manual labor, wood shavings everywhere, and the looming fear that no one is ever going to buy your products again-- you have to learn to embrace the fact that, "it takes a tribe" is a quote that can apply to more than just raising the neighborhood children. Friends, family, and random strangers are all going to have some sort of vision or belief for how your work goes, things you should make, things that will sell great, things that you shouldn't do, all mixed in with unavoidable emails pointing out that the website has this or that issue. Building your business is stressful, but my first lesson learned was that networking is pretty much the act of developing friends who can toss out a float if you ever start to flail around and drown in your pile of wood shavings.
I mentioned Eric Thomas motivational videos in my introductory blog post and I figure I should take a quick second to provide some context. Around the same time I began woodworking, I discovered a couple of those weird compilation videos on YouTube, set to the background of your favorite cliché classical musician, sprinkled with a little bit of your favorite action movies climactic music. I'd like to think these little weird videos were my precursor to networking. At times when I was discouraged, Eric Thomas' angry yelling voice put a little energy back into me & provided me with an extra sense of pride and determination. I'd hear things like:
"... Just as a mentality, like, you've gotta live this, you've gotta eat this. Every single thing you do is not an acute thing, it is a way of life. It's got to possess everything you do. Its got to own you.." - Eric Thomas, random weird Youtube compilation
Repeat messages in these compilation videos taught me how to be my own, and most basic network. I've learned that when things get overwhelming, I can toss out my own float and hang on.
6 months or so into my journey, I realized that if I wanted to be successful in making a business with such a specialized set of products, I'd need to begin the process of building my professional friendships and contacts. Originally, @TheTimberedWolf on Instagram was about the only social media that I had created, and I only had a couple hundred followers (who were mostly those weird fake russian accounts). I decided that my best decision would be working with a knife maker. Someone whose craft paired well with my own. I began messaging knife maker after knife maker, trying to find someone to collaborate with. "You make a knife, I make a board, we exchange with each other or sell it?" kind of stuff. No success through messaging. I took the time to meet a few knife makers in person, pitch my ideas, show a little of my work, but no success. Time and time again it was kindly suggested to me that I should focus on building my customer base where I am, attend shows that are a state away and a year or two in the future. I became fairly discouraged, overly frustrated, and had run out of ideas.
Looking back, I should have posted a picture asking for a collaborator and a helping hand up the ladder much, much sooner. I finally posted said picture and within a few days I received a message from Joel Adler, Founder & Maker of North South Knives just outside of New York City. Joel saw an opportunity to grow, I assume, as well. We got to know each other, developed a pretty good friendship, and eventually came up with a trade for each others work - tokens of our appreciation, and weirdly it felt like we had given each other peace offerings. Nowadays, Joel & I's relationship is professional, efficient, and its generally taken on everything you'd expect of a symbiotic relationship. He advertises my work a little, and every knife you've seen on this website has been a creation of his. hopefully in the next month or two, we'll be putting out our knife/board sets on the website! Doesn't get much cooler than that. Make sure to swing by Joel's Instagram, as he's a pretty active guy on there - @jma996. You can also check out his etsy, NorthSouth Knives, although he stays pretty slammed with custom work - so shoot him an email in the event that you fall in love with any of his works of art (You will).
Lesson #1 for any up and coming makers or anyone looking to build a company: Network. Find people who are like minded in terms of goals, success, and/or why they do what they do.