The one where I have a natter with Jane Hickman and we share ALL the knowledge bombs
Martine Ellis: Hello, it's Martine here and welcome to episode 51 of the Light bulb Podcast.
I'm really chuffed to be accompanied in today's episode by Jane Hickman.
Rather than tell you all about her, I am going to get her to tell you about herself. So Jane, welcome to the show.
Jane Hickman: Hi Martine. Thanks for inviting me on your podcast. I'm very honoured to be here.
My name is Jane and I'm the owner of a business called Gardening Witch Designs.
I make and sell handmade items for the yarn enthusiast, including project bags, stitch markers and shawl pins.
I live in a very small village in rural Bedfordshire, in the UK with my hubby, my dog, two hens and a large garden.
Martine Ellis: Lovely. And I should point out, one of the reasons that we have come into contact with each other is because, I indeed, am a yarn enthusiast. So I'm probably your ideal customer in some respects.
Jane Hickman: Absolutely. I always have you in mind when I'm making.
So as to my background. I trained as a bio-chemist back in the day and worked in the labs for a few years. And then moved into IT as an analyst/programmer then, a business analyst.
But throughout all that time spent in the techy scientific environment, I'd turn to crafting as my way of unwinding. And I just love making things. And I think my mum gave me the makers' habit. She taught me to sew and knit when I was little. And she was also a great gardener and instilled in me a lifelong love of gardening, although I think her flower arranging gene passed me by somewhat.
And then when I left paid employment some years ago, I took up knitting again with a vengeance. And that led to spinning and crochet and weaving. And obviously, I needed project bags to put my stuff in, and stitch markers, and shawl pins. But there's a limit to the number that you can use, really.
So I'd been toying with the idea of selling stuff for a while, maybe at a local craft fair or online. And then alone came Festiwool in Hitchin in 2014, which was a fibre festival organised by a member of one of my knitting groups that I go to.
So I decided to take the plunge. And I took a stall there in 2014 and sold my wares. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Went back the next year and the next year. And I'll be back there again in November this year too.
I also teach spinning on a drop spindle at a local place called the Makers' Cabin in Letchworth in Hartfordshire. And I'll be teaching some knitting classes there later this year as well.
I really love that aspect of being able to pass on my skills to others like my mum did to me. So I'm starting small, but I'm enjoying the challenge of turning my much loved hobby into a business.
Martine Ellis: That's a cracking example of a multi-faceted business already, because you've got the selling of the physical goods, and you've got the teaching element as well. And I just think that's such a great business model particularly in the creative realm. So I'm really glad to hear you're enjoying it and it's going well for you, Jane.
So we are going to talk today about information overwhelm and advice overload, because I think it is something that people listening to this podcast will be very familiar with. Because the internet, quite frankly, when you're starting a business is a really overwhelming place.
Jane, tell me a bit about your experience of that.
Jane Hickman: Gosh, yes. When I first started out, I looked to see what advice was available for starting in business. And there's just so much of it. And the tricky thing was knowing where to start.
I was lucky enough to get on a free small business startup course at a local enterprise centre. And they provided a lot of free seminars and workshops for things like tax advice and social media management and ins and outs of being legal and all that sort of thing. And the free thing was important, because I don't have a heap of money. I certainly didn't when I was first starting out.
So I'm quite a cautious person, I think. I like to thoroughly research something before I jump right in. So I searched the internet and I listened to podcasts. And I sought out business books. And I read blogs.
And there's so much advice out there, but it can all be rather overwhelming.
It's like, who do I listen to? Do I need to read it all? Sometimes the advice is conflicting. And the tone I've found can be very different according to things like, I don't know, the nationality of the content provider or what size of business they're aiming their advice at.
So it was really a question of finding the right style that worked for me. I'm British, so I don't feel comfortable shouting my success from the rooftops. So trumpet blowing kind of approach didn't sit right with me. so I ended up, at times feeling quite despondent and do I need all this stuff really? All at once? Will my business be doomed without it?
Martine Ellis: You're so right there. And actually, I think something that you said about the tone of the content is really important to anyone listening to the show who is actually a content creator, because when you create content for people, one size doesn't fit all. You're not going to appeal to everybody and that's totally and utterly fine.
But from a content consumption perspective, finding the type of content that really speaks to you is pretty hard work. But once you've found it, suddenly lightbulbs start going off, don't they? If you'll pardon the pun.
Jane Hickman: Lightbulbs really do start going off don't they?
Martine Ellis: Absolutely. So you were searching and searching for information. Interesting to hear about the free course, I take it, it was like a government provided type thing that you went to about startups?
Jane Hickman: Yes, it was. It was something that our local council provided.
Martine Ellis: That's so good.
Jane Hickman: Yeah, it was excellent.
Martine Ellis: I'm just thinking if we have equivalents over here in Guernsey. Actually, we have an organisation called Startup Guernsey. So if you're listening to this and thinking, "Oh, I wonder if my government do that." You can only ask. Hopefully, they will.
Jane Hickman: Yes, I would urge people to go and look for that sort of thing. Someone pointed me in that direction. And it was really, really useful.
Martine Ellis: That's good to know. So you're in this situation where you're seeking out information, books, websites, podcasts, all that sort of thing. And there's a lot of it. What do you do next?
Jane Hickman: Well, as I say, I got completely overwhelmed by it, because there's just so many people telling me, possibly the same thing in different ways and the advice was conflicting.
So in terms of the online stuff, eventually, I just dig myself out of the heap of online resources. And I found that I needed to limit myself to a very few key individuals whose style I liked and whose advice made sense. And that said, I'm not just one to follow blindly. It's in my nature, probably from my business analyst days to question everything. So why do you do that? What's the benefit?
I do keep an eye out for what's out there, but I try not to get sucked in to the latest, greatest business strategy.
So what I ended up doing was unsubscribing from a heap of stuff and stopped seeking out all the podcasts and blogs. And I fell back to those that felt right. Just going back to what we said about the style of delivery. The ones that felt right for me. And as you'll guess, the Lightbulb Podcast is a favorite.
Martine Ellis: Yay. Yay.
Jane Hickman: I listened to you when you were the iMake podcast and I've followed you ever since. And it's like you're in my brain sometimes.
Whenever I think I need help with X, Y, Z, up pops a podcast or a blog post on that very topic. It's all a bit spooky sometimes.
Martine Ellis: My work here is done. I'm officially a mind reader. Hurrah. You are clearly my ideal customer avatar as well by the sound of things. Well, that's good to hear.
Jane Hickman: It's all delivered in such a clear, concise way as well without pompoms and cheerleaders and high fives. And it's short and full of knowledge bombs.
Martine Ellis: No unicorns here either, definitely.
Jane Hickman: And The Lightbulb Club Facebook group that you've got is so incredibly supportive and informative. So that's been great. And of course right up there too is Jo Milmine's group. I've listened to and thoroughly enjoyed the Shinybees Podcast for years. And her sense of humor and style is right up my street. So joining her business Facebook group was a no-brainer.
But I must admit I did feel very daunted when I first joined there and saw who was in there. It was quite scary seeing some of the people who were in there, because I am a very small business.
Martine Ellis: And Jo's a friend of the show, so people listening to this podcast, I'm sure, have heard me talk about her before. But she also has a thriving group. And like you say, a wicked sense of humor. And it clearly speaks to you, which is brilliant.
Jane Hickman: Oh it does. And the support's so genuine. It sometimes can be tough love, but I'd rather have that then patronizing, fluffy stuff.
Martine Ellis: Definitely. I agree with that.
Jane Hickman: So it was all about finding trusted resources really and following these, but applying a common sense filter.
Like does the advice fit with what I need or want to do for my business now? If yes, then find out more.
If not, then park it for later. I'm a big fan of lists. I need to write stuff down to get it out of my brain.
Martine Ellis: Definitely. I think that's a great strategy.
So just to recap some of the things that you're saying in terms of advice for listeners then, you're saying, seek out the voices, the advice that speaks to you in a tone and a language that works for you where you are with your business right now. And focus on those.
And then always apply a common sense filter to what you're hearing as well.
That's pretty much what you're saying, isn't it?
Jane Hickman: Absolutely. Yes.
Martine Ellis: Brilliant. Okay, what else have you been doing in terms of streamlining the flow of information that's coming through to you?
Jane Hickman: Well the other thing that I've found really useful was, in real life, finding a local small business owner that I can talk to, bounce ideas off. And it absolutely had to be someone that I trusted.
And I think I came up trumps with my friend Helen, who owns Woolly Chic and has her own line of British yarn from her family's flock.
She lives locally. And every time I meet with her, I just get a real boost. And it's led to some great joint ventures as well. For example, I made fabric bag linings for one of her crochet kits. And I've designed patterns to support her yarn line. And she was the one that introduced me to the owner of the Makers' Cabin where I'm teaching at the moment.
So it just really works out well, the two of us talking together. And I've also got a wonderful accountability partner, which I know you've talked about a lot.
We meet up via Skype and talk through issues with our respective businesses and celebrate and congratulate each other over successes. So that's great.
I think above all, my main strategy, like you say, was to find a small number of trusted resources, to question what I'm hearing and always ask how this latest new thing fits with the aim of my business and the pace at which I can realistically grow. So it's good to step back every now and then and ask, is this what I want to be doing? Is it sustainable for me and those around me?
Martine Ellis: That's an amazing knowledge bomb just there, quite frankly. Going back to your accountability buddies. Just clarify. You've got one that you meet face to face in real life, I like to call it. And you've got one that you speak to on Skype. Is that right? So you've got two.
Jane Hickman: That's right. Yes. Yes.
Martine Ellis: Excellent. I can't emphasize enough the value of surrounding yourself with just a couple of really great accountability partners. One or two, it's a brilliant strategy.
And I have written a blog post. Maybe it was a podcast episode. I can't recall, but I've definitely talked about accountability partners before. And I'll make sure there's a link in the show notes, so you can check out those links as well as links to everything else we're talking about.
I second that recommendation of accountability. I think it's essential.
Jane Hickman: It also gives me support when I'm feeling a little bit overwhelmed, because sometimes I find, I compare myself to other people in a similar area to me. And I never come off well in my own mind. It's just so difficult, because I compare myself to people that are probably not in the same stage of their business. Or they don't have the same aim for their business.
Martine Ellis: I'm sure there's a motivational quote somewhere, which I would probably hate to utter about comparing your start to someone else's middle type thing there.
But I think what you're talking about is very natural. And I think we all do it. And because there are so many people fighting for attention online, you can't help but have your competitor's stuff in your face. So I think that's easy to do. And I'm sure everyone listening has done it at some point, compared themselves to someone else.
Jane Hickman: Yeah. Well my business is small. It's just me. And the financial gain is not make or break in terms of keeping a roof over my head or food on the table. But it has to be sustainable for me and those around me. So I've still got a lot of other things in my life that I want to do. So finding that balance is tricky.
Martine Ellis: Yeah. I think it is. And I think something, that if you are running a small business, that's a really fantastic, amazing thing. And just because it's a small business, doesn't mean that you have to grow it to be an enormous business tomorrow.
You're right. It has to fit into where you are with your life and your interests and your other commitments. And why don't we just take a moment to celebrate the fact that that's an amazing thing.
I think that there are a lot of people online saying, "How to take a small business to a massive business in three easy steps. How to get 10 million subscribers to your email list in about 35 minutes." For starters, that's all nonsense. I just think, whoa, reality check myself. Is this, like you were saying earlier, does this suit where I am in my business now? No it doesn't.
Jane Hickman: Yeah, sometimes it's hard to do that. So I mean, I still take my business very seriously. And I want other people to take it seriously too, because there are some people that knew me before I started out as Gardening Witch Designs and they think I'm just doing this for fun and it's not a proper business.
But I want to run it to the best of my ability. And being as professional as I can.
And I'm proud of what I do and the products I make, but I'm determined that it shouldn't become a source of unsustainable stress as well, because I gave up paid employment when my mental health was suffering badly. So I don't want that to transfer into my own business as well.
Martine Ellis: Oh, that's so true. And I guess there's also a danger. And I'd be interested in your take on this, in terms of taking something which you are passionate about as a creative outlet. So knitting related, yarn related stuff. And then making that into a business.
Is there a danger that that might suck the joy out of the creative stuff. That wasn't very eloquently asked, but do you know what I mean?
Jane Hickman: I know exactly what you mean. And yes, sometimes, I think, "Oh, I've got to sew this thing." Or, "I've got to make that thing." And it's not really sucked the joy out of it yet, but what I have to be careful about is the balance between doing the fun stuff and the making, which is what I set my business up for in the first place, doesn't get overwhelmed by all the behind the scenes stuff, because it's not all just about sitting at the sewing machine and having fun.
There's all the social media, that marketing, the accounting, the tax returns, the keeping it legal. And sometimes I find the balance is slipping a little bit too far to there and away from the making stuff.
So that's when the reality check comes back in again. Is this what I want to do?
Martine Ellis: And I think possibly the balancing the making stuff with the teaching is a win/win situations, because the teaching, probably, I imagine involved totally different skills, emotions all that sort of thing.
So do you find the balance of teaching and making works well for you?
Jane Hickman: It does, actually. And it's always something that I've wanted to do is to pass on skills to others.
And I'm not an extrovert. I'm an introvert. So it frightens the life out of me when I have to deliver a class, but I really enjoy it. And you get such a buzz from teaching other people to do things.
And also, once you've got a class at something, there's an awful lot of work up front getting it sorted out. But then, you can deliver it time and time again. And it gets easier each time if that makes sense.
Martine Ellis: It really does. And I think there's a huge amount of value in pushing yourself outside your comfort zone in that area.
I think that anybody who is passionate about their subject and who is able to communicate clearly what they want from people in their sessions, is able to teach.
I don't think it's something that's reserved for extroverts. In fact, an extroverted teacher really doesn't suit that many people. If you're in a learning environment, you are in a slightly vulnerable situation, because there's something you don't know. And if you've got a teacher who's coming in and bouncing off the walls, that's probably not going to set you up for the best learning experience it is?
Jane Hickman: No, that's true. And it's also, it provides a good counterpoint to sitting at home on your own with your sewing machine or your whatever it is, to actually going out and meeting people.
So that is quite a good balance. It stops you being quite such the creative hermit at home. And it means you actually have to get dressed sometimes as well.
Martine Ellis: Oh, tell me about it. Working from home is a very confusing thing sometimes. What's night wear? What's day wear? Who knows? Excellent.
There's some really valuable stuff in there, Jane. Is there anything that we haven't talked about? I'm conscious we kind of drifted into teaching, but it's such a relevant and important subject to me personally, as well that is great to get that out there.
What else do we need to talk about in terms of managing advice overload and information overwhelm.
Jane Hickman: I think the key things we covered about a small number of trusted resources, question what you hear and match it up against what your aims and goals are.
Martine Ellis: Fantastic. I think that's a great takeaway for the listeners. So Jane, where can we find you online?
Jane Hickman: Okay, well I'm on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Although I must admit, I very rarely use Twitter. It's mostly to complain about things really.
The best place to get all the links in one place is to go and look at my website, which is www.gardeningwitch-designs.co.uk.
Jane Hickman: Also, there's a sign up form for my email newsletter if you want to find to more and receive updates about what's going on at Gardening Witch Designs HQ.
Martine Ellis: Jane, it's been an absolute pleasure talking to you today. Thank you very much for coming on the show. I hope it hasn't been too traumatic for you.
Jane Hickman: No. Actually, I've thoroughly enjoyed it. I was very nervous to start with and thank you so much for having me on the podcast.
Martine Ellis: Oh, you're very welcome.