Behind-the-Scenes: Honest Reflections on 2018
January feels so long ago. The first few days were spent preparing for the first Creative Countryside gathering in Edale, and I had no idea what to expect. Memories of the weekend include stargazing and watching shooting stars in the biting cold; frosty morning walks and diversions through farmyards; losing a sponge down the sink and flooding the kitchen(!); being pleasantly surprised that the cashew cheese I’d made was a hit; and most of all, meeting and chatting with the most incredible women and men, forging friendships that have lasted all year.
February was spent putting together the spring magazine (issue 3), and it was the month Monty started nursery, which meant I gained two whole mornings a week to work on the business. It made such a difference, and even though I was still working evenings – especially when one of my Masters assignments was due – it felt more manageable. Dan and I also managed to escape for a weekend away to The Welsh House, and we worked together on a piece for issue 3 that explored slow, simple living. It felt much needed after a busy start to the year.
March marked Monty’s first birthday and his Christening, so it was a busy month family-wise! Issue 3 – spring – was published, and it didn’t sell as well as I had hoped. This was made worse because I had ordered more copies based on sales of issue 2 and how I had expected the magazine to grow; I began to realise that changes were needed for issue 4. I also met Maddy from A Slow Adventure for the first time, and we immediately connected over a plate of pancakes and maple syrup!
Reflections: Hosting my first event was exhilarating because everything was new. I was nervous, but knew I had to do this. It broke even, which was my goal, and the magazine was selling slowly but steadily at this point. Really, my only hope during these first few months, was to make it through without sustaining a loss.
April was spent preparing for the summer gathering, and it was lovely to work with those who had attended the winter gathering to plan the workshops. We managed to escape to Northumberland for a few days for a family holiday, and the weather was glorious. This month flew by and it felt like we were on the cusp of summer.
In May we welcomed Rhiannon and Rebecca to the team, as Poetry Editor and Book Editor respectively. Getting to know and work with incredible creative folk such as these two has been the highlight of my year, without a doubt. I was also working on the next gathering, and preparing issue 4, complete with re-design, for print.
Our second gathering of the year took place in June, and it was hot. It was wonderful to spend an evening with Chelsea (Loving Life in Wellies) and Rik prior to everyone else arriving, and things felt much more relaxed than the winter gathering. Memories of the weekend include learning so much about wild plants and flowers from Heather; Elizabeth attempting to go barefoot at all times, even making it across the service station carpark on the way home!; all the sunflowers; battling with clouds of midges by the bonfire; and hugging trees in a shaded circle of earth. Issue 4 – summer – was also released, with a whole new design, and 40 more pages. I felt so much happier with how the magazine looked when this issue was released.
Reflections: Hosting an event in the summer means everything costs more. Despite selling almost all the tickets (two were left), the event lost money, and financially was a failure. However, I was so pleased with the re-design for the magazine, and the feedback was also really positive.
In July I went to Timber Festival with a friend, and it was the first festival I’d been to where everyone sought the shade! It was lovely to have a couple of days to myself though, and the weekend itself was full of enlightening talks, nature-themed workshops, and relaxed music that we dipped in and out of during the day. This was the month where I felt creatively like I wanted to move forward, and in the final few days, I booked the venue for the autumn gathering and decided to launch the Creative Countryside Community. It was the first ‘oh let’s just go for it!’ decision I made of the year, and thankfully, it was the right one.
August was the month of community and connection. Supporters of the magazine right from the start and those who I’d never met before joined together to create the membership community that I’d been thinking about for a long time. It was a really exciting time, and I remember feeling so lucky that I was in a position to be able to bring people together in this way. I also began to write my final (15,000 word!) assignment for my Masters, though I didn’t get much done…
In September the first community e-book was sent out, and I spent a long time cultivating the Facebook group and thinking ahead to future resources. I finished my Masters (just in time!) and also ran my first workshop at Maddy’s harvest-themed gathering in the South Downs. It felt quite strange being on the other side of things, and sleeping in a tent reminded me so much of the year we lived in one at home. Issue 5 – autumn – was also released, and it was definitely my favourite one so far. We received the copies just before leaving for The Good Life Experience Festival with a stall, where Dan was my number two. It was busy and stressful, but we met some lovely people and I got some incredible feedback about the magazine. We sold just enough to make it worthwhile, and for our first stall I was pleased.
Reflections: Sometimes choosing to do something really quickly that you’ve been planning in your head for a while, is worth it. The community launch was a success and is something I’ll be focusing much more on in 2019. However, choosing to take on so much in September meant I finished this part of the year burnt out and creatively exhausted.
After a hectic September, we spent a few days in the New Forest at Warborne Farm at the start of October. I was still a bit overwhelmed by everything going on over the previous couple of months, and I think it was only as we drove home that I felt like things had started to re-set themselves. I spent a lot of the month preparing for the autumn gathering, and towards the end we had the first community meet-up at Attenborough Nature Reserve. We crafted twig stars, drank cinnamon tea, walked and talked and basked in the autumn sunshine; it was my favourite part of the working month.
November was consumed with producing the winter issue of the magazine (issue 6) and preparing for the gathering. We travelled to Shropshire for a weekend in a rustic farmhouse, hung leaves from the beams and lit candles to guide us into the darkest part of the year. Feasts, leaf art, branch calendars and lots of laughter featured throughout the weekend, and I felt like this was our best event yet.
December arrived with all its festive cheer, but I spent the first week finalising orders for issue 6 and preparing for our solstice celebration in Hereford. The venue was beautiful, and the small group size was perfect for a quiet, reflective start to what can be a busy season. It was lovely to connect with everyone, and I caught up with Jenny, who began a sabbatical for Creative Countryside at the start of the month. Dan and Monty came with me as the venue was booked for a few days, and we were able to enjoy some much-needed time as a family. I also included a few ‘bundles’ in the shop for Christmas, and hand-picked a few products from makers who I really love.
Reflections: The autumn event was by far the most popular, and sold out in twelve hours. Marketing really does pay off. But deciding to book in two other events in close succession wasn’t a brilliant idea. The solstice celebration lost money and the first event for 2019 didn’t sell as many tickets as I had hoped. Selling bundles in the shop was also time-consuming and didn’t make me any money.
2018 in review
Now for some honesty and straightforward facts.
From January to December this year, Creative Countryside made £4,238. The autumn gathering was by far the most successful, making a profit which all three of the other events did not. Issue 2 continued to sell well throughout the year, and issue 5 was the most successful issue after the re-design. The community accounts for around half that profit, and we ended the year with around 50 paying members.
I’m sharing this number to give you some idea of what the first full year of running a part-time business alongside a toddler and a Masters degree can look like. Segmenting the profit equally evens out to just over £350 per month, not enough to sustain a business, but it covered Monty’s nursery bill, and helped a little towards household costs. But the magazine makes very little per issue, and for some issues make nothing at all. Money is not the reason I do this, but it has to play a part, and as such I’ve been thinking very carefully about how to move forward with the various elements of CC as we move into a new year. But more on that next week!
The biggest part of looking back over 2018 is an immense feeling of gratitude. That I’m in such a privileged position to be able to experiment with what works and what doesn’t. That I have such a wonderful support network around me. And most of all, that you’ve all stuck around.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You make all of this possible.