From Pleasure to Business -- or, From Pleasure to a Different Kind of Pleasure (I hope)
I've gotten some negative feedback on my visibility here on TFL as someone with an economic interest in bread baking, and it's been suggested that instead of flying my flag all over the place, that I focus on keeping a blog that details my hopes, expectations, worries, goals -- all the stuff that goes into turning a hobby into a business.
It's hard wearing two hats. On the one hand, I've been baking bread for a long time and have had both great loaves and doorstops come out of my oven. Engaging with flour, water, yeast (wild or commercial) and salt -- plus heat and maybe steam -- has been, and continues to be a source of great pleasure and challenge for me. In fact, it was the frustration I continually felt around getting reasonably priced bakers' flours, yeast, and other ingredients -- as well as decent equipment -- that motivated me to start my e-biz, so that I could provide a place for other hobbyist bread bakers, like myself, to find the things they need without having to go into their 401ks to do it.
I've been playing with the idea for years, decided earlier this year that 2009 would be my launch year, and then kept procrastinating out of pure anxiety.
Finally, in mid-August, I posted here saying that I had flours and baking stones for sale. I did it as a way of forcing myself to move forward, because I knew that if I didn't do it that way -- if I didn't make promises I had to keep -- it would never happen.
So the past month has been a mad game of catch-up. I had my suppliers all lined up before that first post, and that was really pretty much the only thing I had. Didn't have a website; had no idea how to put one together; took me a week or so of trying out half a dozen different web design programs and intensive browse through 4 or 5 books on web design and html to find the right tools. My website came together during the course of an 80-hour week, filled with trial and error, learning htmal (or at least enough to get things going) from scratch; learning about and contracting with a web hosting service. Finding space where I could set up shop. Getting all of the necessary licenses, permits and tax matters in place. Developing labels, catalog entries, packaging, finding an affordable shipper, legal-for-trade scale, and on and on. And, of course, paying for all of it.
Fortunately for me, I have a great spouse and some very good friends, both old and new, who have been incredibly supportive and who have offered their expertise. Even with their help, though, there's still so much to do. Now that the website is up and running and orders are starting to come in, I'm discovering additional layers of things that need to be taken care of -- stuff that I never knew existed, like search engine optimization and payment systems. The website, I've discovered is much less an end than it is a beginning of a whole set of processes I never imagined existed.
It's like having a new child, with the obvious difference that newborns come with a certain amount of immune system strength already programmed in and a ready-made support system. nybakers was born with only my hopes and aspirations to nourish it, and an ongoing commitment to myself and those who believe in me to make it happen.
It makes one feel very vulnerable ... throwing one's doors open and saying to the world, "here I am," and hoping that someone -- anyone -- else cares, and maybe comes in, looks around and buys something, as much to show that they're paying attention and that they support my larger goals as because they need it. But that kind of good will doesn't last, and the 300, 400, 500 hits a day of the early days dwindle down to 15, 20, maybe 40 or 50 on a good day.
And so there's anxiety, and maybe I let my anxiety show by waving too big a flag and talking too loudly, because I'm afraid that nobody cares. And if that's what I'm doing, and that's pushing people away, then it's clearly the wrong thing to do. I believe in what I'm doing, and believe there's a real need out in our world for the things I offer -- which are the things I use myself in my own baking.
It just feels very lonely out here, sometimes.
More to come.