Don’t Judge Your Year One by Someone Else’s Year Ten

The PBS Blog

One complaint I hear from new Self-Publishers (a lot) is how much they wish they could do what they see other authors doing.

Usually, these are authors they perceive are more successful. I say perceive because you really don’t know what that person is going through, has gone through, or what they sacrificed to be where they are now.

But know this:

You are doing yourself a disservice when comparing your progress to others.

If you’ve published your first book, it is not fair for you to compare yourself to someone publishing their third or fourth book. Your journey will not be the same. Never measure your year one with someone else’s year ten.

My first few books were duds. I’m talking bootleg covers and crappy editing. The only people who bought them were members of my organization at the time—like someone whose church family buys their book.

The problem…

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Old Becomes New At Sand Box Farms: What I Learned Visiting A Young Farm and How It Changed Me

In May 2022, I had the opportunity to visit the farm you are about to read about, and what I saw impacts me still four months later. You are about to meet two people who believe in hard work and never giving up on a dream. You are about to meet two people whose enthusiasm for farming made me want to be a farmer too–almost.

The one thing I learned that I hope you do too is that enthusiasm is a fire that can set a forest ablaze. When you truly believe in something and pursue it with tenacity–don’t give up, you are living the American Dream.

This elusive thing we all aspire to live looks successful in the long run, but it sometimes looks like failure in the daily grind. The American Dream is not for the faint of heart; it’s for the visionary.

Some people say that younger generations have lost the work ethic to get anything done, but that is not true of all of us. It certainly is not true of the folks at Sand Box Farms. As you read this story, I hope it inspires you to see innovation, hope, and promise in agriculture and in young people with a dream and a steady hand on the plow.


Sand Box Farms

In a little white 1920s farmhouse in Warsaw, one young married couple is proving that the American Dream is still alive. Sand Box Farms was just a high school dream for AJ Searles, a first-generational farmer, who is as comfortable with a power tool as he is behind the wheel of a tractor or standing in front of a crowd talking about his business. “Because AJ is doing this as a new start-up not something he grew up in,” his wife, Krystle Owen explains, “he gets invited to speak often about his experiences and how he got started in the agriculture business.” 

Krystle is equally busy and accomplished. She works as an Agronomy Sales Manager for Southern State when she is not busy farming pumpkins, raising cattle, baking cakes, and balancing several upgrade projects at the farm. “We all wear multiple hats and have to be capable of doing any of the jobs here on the farm,” Krystle says. “We couldn’t possibly do this business alone. We are so thankful for the workers we do have and the other business partners that work with us, but turnover in the labor force is high for agriculture. We have to always be ready and moving quickly to stay ahead of the demands of our consumers. In the industry, seasoned farmers are aging out. Soon there will be a gap of need as great in food production as anything we see in other career fields,” Krystle explains. 

Beef cattle say hello to an inquisitive visitor.

AJ Searles and Krystle Owen are members of the NC Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Association (YF&R), an organization of people between the ages of 18-35 who are interested in agriculture. Members of the organization benefit from the Farm Bureau’s larger mission of advancing the agricultural community through networking and educational opportunities. As members, AJ and Krystle have been able to explore operations and learn new practices in states like Florida, Arizona, and Iowa. AJ Searles and Krystle Owen now serve as Duplin County Representatives on the state committee for YF&R. As representatives of the state, AJ and Krystle had the opportunity to meet with legislators in Washington, D.C. to discuss the long-term impact certain bills would have on young farmers and ranchers.

Your voice does matter, and you need to make it matter by getting involved, making the meetings, and having the face-to-face conversations with leaders who make policies affecting you. You don’t have to travel to D.C. to make a difference. Local town governments are important too, and Duplin County has been extremely welcoming to future generations expressing their needs and concerns.

Krystal Owen

AJ and Krystle hope to encourage young people to see agriculture as a career field with endless opportunities–especially in Duplin County. “We have advantages here because we are within thirty minutes of a lot of what we need. We produce a lot of our own food in North Carolina, and our products are being sent to other states and countries. In Duplin County, we have some of the best soils, and others are interested in investing in that for what we can do here,” Krystle explains. “You don’t have to leave your county to have a good job, and you don’t have to be a farmer either. There are plenty of other jobs that intersect with farming here.” 

Even just a day’s experience on a farm can change a person’s life forever. “Farming gives you the opportunity to see and experience the circle of life firsthand,” Krystle says. “Just interacting with the environment teaches you to be incredibly grateful and not wasteful of the food you have. It also builds confidence, leadership skills, and critical thinking skills.” One of the big pushes in the industry now is to monetize this benefit by increasing agri-tourism opportunities. Even though Duplin is a rural county, it still has opportunities to explore in this area. 

Farming today is nothing like it was a hundred years ago. While it may look simple and peaceful, farming life is incredibly complex and diverse. Profitability for farming now is a balancing act of monitoring trends, precision planning, and being as efficient as possible with the resources that you have. “Farming is a business. There is more time spent planning than in a tractor or a field. It is a very strategic, thought-out process,” Krystle says. 

Stock market supply and demand determine prices; farmers don’t have a say in it. Government regulations hold US farmers to high standards concerning food safety and business practices all the way down to how a plant or animal is fed, produced, and processed. These standards set a high bar for quality that is further backed by distributors wanting GAP Certification to sell their goods. “Many stores like Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, or Harris Teeter won’t even take your product unless it is GAP Certified,” Krsytle says, “but there are lesser quality countries able to produce the same products cheaper with less regulation. Most farmers want to market on a level playing field, and GAP certification is part of that.” 

One positive of all the regulations, however, is that it contributes to giving US-made goods a reputation for being better and worth the extra investment. “We have some of the safest food sources around,” Krystle says. “Companies like Carnival Cruise Lines choose us and our products over cheaper options on the market because they know we offer quality goods that are regulated and tracked.” 

Technology for farming is continually growing and making it easier for farmers to control what they do from the cab of their tractors, but all that advancement comes at a price. Many farmers live frugal lives and save with the goal of investing in some of this better equipment. “It’s something we all work towards,” Krystle says, “but sometimes we have to start without the technology and use what we’ve got to build the business and make it grow. Not having everything perfect makes you get creative to get the job done,” Krystle says. “For us, success is measured by being smart and diversifying our business to be able to overcome challenges, be good at what we do, and justify our equipment.”

A lot of creativity is required to do well in the farming business. “This year and last, our fertilizer cost went up significantly. It now costs at least three times as much to fertilize the same amount of fields. Also, many of the products we relied on are just going back into production which means they are going to be at least two weeks behind making it to the farms,” Krystle explains. “We have to look for alternative sources of fertilizer or we are forced to buy more expensive options and find other ways to offset cost in other areas of the business.” 

Despite all these challenges, most farmers describe what they do as a lifestyle and a calling; they feel drawn to protect and steward the land for the next generations. Even though AJ and Krystle don’t have children yet, they still plan for them today. From the small details of having a bolt bin for parts to the larger details of planning how to repurpose the older buildings and bring new ones, they think about the lives that will be lived on their farm. 

“What I hope, is that more land owners will be interested in partnering with new growers to rent their properties and keep the land producing agriculturally instead of turning it over into commercial land,” Krystle says. Landowners interested in connecting with potential renters for their land or young persons interested in developing an agriculture business are encouraged to reach out to YF&R.

10 Tips to Create a Social Media Platform That Promotes Your Business (Not Controls It)

10 Tips to Create a Social Media Platform That Promotes Your Business (Not Controls It)

By Rebecca J. Whitman

No matter how long you have been in business, you have most likely heard that you need to have some sort of presence online. Some advise having a page on Facebook. Others say that’s not enough; you need a website too. Still, others say you are going nowhere without a presence on major social media channels including Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. With so much busy work involved in promoting your business, where is the time left to work on your business? In this post, we will debunk the myths surrounding social media marketing and help you get started with creating an online presence that works for you and your business.

What is an online presence?

An online presence is when a business does not just exist in a physical location but is also represented online. In most cases, an online presence consists of a website or public page and social media accounts on at least two different platforms. 

Why is being online important for small businesses?

According to Forbes magazine, most potential customers check out an organization online before they ever consider supporting it in person. If you want to increase readership, bring in new clients, and increase customer conversions, you need a website and social media presence. 

Who manages an online presence for a small business? 

Social media marketing encompasses most of the busy work of having an online presence. Some businesses have employees hired exclusively to manage media and marketing. Others hire marketing firms to handle the work externally. For most of us, social media starts very do-it-yourself with what you can personally understand and maintain. 

Regardless of where you are in the scale of your social media marketing, the important thing is to have a plan, have fun, and be consistent. 

What are the different social media platforms good for? 

Social media platforms continue to grow, evolve, and change over time. What is important is not what seems popular to someone else but what you personally enjoy using and what you think is a platform your potential customers use. Social media marketing only really works when you are consistent, and you won’t be consistent if you can’t stand using the platform. 

When you think about your customers, look for a platform that also serves your ideal customer base and product line.

Currently, the top 4 social media platforms are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. This fluctuates over time, but Facebook and Instagram have stayed pretty consistent for many years. 

Facebook

Facebook is the oldest of the four and keeps the oldest demographic. Most Millennials consider it outdated, but older generations gravitate to it because they understand it. Social groups connect easily through Facebook Groups and Pages. Media can be scheduled to appear on Pages but not individual Profiles. Live video, stock video, still images, and text can be posted freely on Facebook, but they will be monitored. If anything is deemed a copyright infringement (like singing the cover of someone else’s song) or is even remotely offensive (like an anti-vaccination post), it will be pulled from the internet. Facebook is highly censored.    

Instagram

Instagram is actually owned and operated by Facebook, but it is a completely different platform. Instagram is image-driven material; no text can post without a still image or video reel. It makes Instagram appeal to visually motivated crowds including travelers and artists. Mini reels of vacation getaways, art tutorials, performances, and more are shared on Instagram. Some Millennials have Instagram accounts, but it is primarily used by GenX, Celebrities, and Influencers. Instagram does stick to a distinctive square shape, so images shared from other platforms can often get the edges of their graphics cut off. Instagram is also not friendly with hyperlinks to external sources, so it is hard to use it to link to a personal website or resource. 

Twitter

Twitter has faced some controversy recently concerning fake accounts and buyouts, but it is still  an account used by many real people too. Twitter focuses on very short phrases and links to external sources. It is news-driven and appeals to a politically charged audience. It is not a good place for a rant because the character lengths are limited, but it can be a great place to share business-minded posts.

TikTok

TikTok is a relatively new platform that focuses on a constant stream of short videos. There is very little room to add text or link to external sources on TikTok. It appeals to those who love to consume massive amounts of content with little to no filters. Imagine a social media version of YouTube, and you have a close idea of how it works. TikTok is primarily popular with Millennials.

How do you create an online platform that is not overwhelming? 

Managing social media for your business can be overwhelming, but you have to keep it in its place. Remember that it is a necessary part of marketing yourself, but it is not the business, it is not you, and it can’t run you. The key to not being overwhelmed by social media presence is to 1) Focus on one or two platforms that you enjoy using NOT all of them, 2) Create a plan for what and how often you want to post, 3) Have fun with it, and 4) Stay consistent.

Social media is a great place to try out new ideas and poll your audience for their likes and dislikes. With active followers, you can often learn as much from their engagement as you can from anything else you do for your business. Learning how to be more effective makes it fun.

I also find it really helpful to chunk as much work together as possible to save time and avoid scrambling the day a post is due. Remember: you set your own schedule, so make it something you can reasonably maintain. With the exception of influencers, most people post new content once a week. 

What is a social media calendar?

A social media calendar is a schedule showing what you are going to post, when you will post it, and where you will post it. Calendars are extremely helpful for pre-planning media and structuring campaigns. This is how a post can build on a prior post and point readers to specific actions. Planning creates positive outcomes. 

Planning also makes it clear where you need to put in extra work and where you can chunk work and save time. When it comes to technology, always allow more time than you thought it would take to get the job done. The power goes out, and the internet dog eats your homework in social media marketing too. 😉 

How and why should you schedule posts?

Scheduling posts takes the stress out of social media posting and blogging. As much as possible, you should use these tools to be proactive in your business and work ahead of your deadlines. Working ahead gives you the freedom to do other things–especially create more content and work on the projects that you love.

Depending on the platform, there is usually a way to schedule a post to appear at a later date. This feature is often only available on the desktop version of the platform. With Facebook and Instagram, there is a wonderful free tool called Meta Business Suite that lets you schedule posts across both platforms, individualize them, and work months in advance. The Meta Business Suite also gives audience insights including what days and times are best for you to post to reach your followers. (All that creepy “they are watching you” info is finally put to good for your business.) 

What are some tools you can use to create graphics?

Some graphics tools are built into the sites for you. TikTok has its own audio clips and filters. Instagram has formats and filters for reels and photos. What I like best is creating graphics using Canva. Canva is a mostly free app that can be used on your mobile device or desktop. It cloud stores all your work, so you can access it across multiple devices easily. It keeps on top of the trends for good-looking graphics, and it auto-formats them to fit the space you are putting them in. If you are like me, you can make one graphic to share across all platforms by using a standard Instagram size or leaving a ¼-inch bleed around the edges of your image.  

How do you learn new trends and techniques for social media marketing?

There is always something to learn for social media and marketing. Challenge yourself to learn something new about your technology as well as what the market trends are currently. HubSpot is a marketing firm that knows a lot about its business. You can research topics in their blog or sign up for free newsletters to learn something new throughout the week. 

If you are a visual learner, you have a wealth of tutorials on YouTube. Curious how to create a reel on Instagram? Google it, and you will find a list of tutorials available on YouTube. This one with Stephanie Kase was very helpful, and it led to a whole channel of other helpful videos. 

When do you know it is time to change your online presence? 

Changing your online presence and marketing plan is usually necessary if you have been doing the same thing for a considerable amount of time but not creating new traffic to your business. You may need to do more research or switch to another time and day for posting. You may also need to consider moving to a different platform. For consultations about your existing media and personalized help to make it better, feel free to reach out to me. 

Leave a comment below if you found this post to be helpful.

Thanks for reading!

Mentorship: Finding Purpose in Helping Others and Knowing When To Invest in Being Mentored

If you ask Google about mentorship, you will get all kinds of results. It will define the term, explain its purpose, tell you there are different types, and even advise about romance between mentors and mentees.

There is nothing wrong with Googling how to do what you want to do, but at some point you need guidance specific to you. That’s where mentorship comes in. Mentorship is available everywhere at every level from close friends who can give you free advice to paid memberships and hired professionals.

Mentorship is a Biblical concept. It is the idea that one generation (often older) has something to teach or give to another (often younger). It is about generations working together to glean wisdom that only time and experience can give you.

Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximize their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be.

Types of Mentoring

Traditional One-on-one Mentoring

A mentee and mentor are matched, either through a program or on their own.

Distance Mentoring

A mentoring relationship in which the two parties (or group) are in different locations.

Group Mentoring

A single mentor is matched with a cohort of mentees.

Every major decision of your life ought to be confirmed (through prayer and fasting, going to the Bible, talking to your spouse, getting counsel from your pastor, and talking with close Christian friends).

It should not just be you alone. You don’t just walk through any opened door.

Jantzen Franklin, The Legacy Study Bible

How To Know When You Need A Mentor

I believe it is important to seek out mentorship for any major decisions or life changes in your life. It is an act of wisdom to seek the wisdom of people with more experience and success in the areas that you are stepping into.

But how do you tell the difference between needing mentorship for a moment, a season, or a lifetime?

Mentorship length is determined by the need. If what you are needing council on is just a few decisions, you may only need to consult someone in a few sessions. If you are experiencing a roadblock or needing to gain knowledge in a certain area you are stretching to, you probably need a mentor for a season. If you are experiencing continuous transitions like business startups, growth, and expansion, you probably need a mentor that can help guide you through all those changes over a lifetime.

How do you pick a mentor?

When you are looking for a mentor, look at two things: what you need them for and who you know that has done that work successfully. If you don’t know someone successful in that area, do research and find someone. A lot of times friends and mentors who have helped you in the past can suggest good resources for your next level of need. Remember to be mindful to consider mentors that reflect like-minded faith.

Mentorship is a partnership that is often long-term, so you want mentors that you can get along with personally as well as admire professionally. If they are where you want to be or past it, that is a good sign. Of equal or greater importance, however, is that they share your faith.

Where do you find a mentor?

Once you determine who you know that has had success in your area of need, you have a list of contacts to approach for mentorship. Start by asking the successful people you know if they would be willing to mentor you. If you don’t know anyone successful in your area of need, research people who are and message them about mentorship.

Be reasonable in your expectations and vet the people you research. You can’t expect Jeff Bezos to personally teach you how to be the next big online marketplace, but you can find people online who will teach you how to sell well in an online market. To prove they are worth your investment, check out their work and Google their customer reviews. What other people say about working with them can be very telling. Don’t invest time or money unless you see proven results of what you want to achieve.

Why is a person’s faith important when determining who you should get for mentorship?

Scripture teaches us that we become what we believe, and we become like those we spend our time around. While it may be possible to takeaway universal truths from people outside your faith (like when you read a book from a secular artist), it is more likely that the outside faith will influence your belief system if you build a relationship with them where you are seeking their guidance.

The Christian faith is one that grows based on individual study of the Bible and partnership with Godly Christian mentors. Our faith waters down and steps away from Christianity completely if we step away from the Bible and follow guidance not based on it. So it is very important who you choose to be your mentor.

Should you pay for a mentor?

This is one I struggled with, but the answer is that sometimes paying for a mentor is necessary. There is an old saying that says “you get what you pay for”. In mentorship, if your only advice is free advice, you are not always given priority. When you pay for mentoring services, you are investing in yourself and your business as if you were pursuing a college degree in the area you are needing help with. Don’t be ashamed of needing to pay for someone to help you, and don’t be too cheap to think everything you pursue should be free. The best counselors charge for their time, and those rates vary often by how successful they are. Even if the rates are high, find a counselor that will work with you on a payment plan. It is worth it.

Final Thoughts

I have had both free and paid mentorship. When I first started my business, I relied a lot on close friends to help me with their free advice from their experience in the business. I also did a lot of research and signed up for all sorts of free resources like the amazing wealth of knowledge about remote jobs at Home Working Club and marketing insight from HubSpot.

Later, I realized I needed to grow in knowledge beyond our areas, so I invested in subscription-based mentorship with Matt Tommey Mentoring and Hope Writers.

The problem with subscription-based mentoring for me was there was little to no accountability. I had paid a lot of money to get into the system, but I was barely using it, so it made little impact on my business. Later, I made friends with other users in the subscriptions, and that helped me use them more for learning.

I got to a place where I was roadblocked personally and professionally. I didn’t know how to move forward, and it was effecting my mental health. I started to not care about life. I discovered I was actually afraid of being successful. That’s when I realized I needed to hire a recruiter and relationship coach.

Making that decision was hard for me because it was a big financial investment, but the return on my investment was immediate. I had daily texts, insight, and assignments. I had a whole path to follow to get out of my roadblocks, and I had people with proven success guiding me.

No matter where you are in your level of need, I hope you realize that your life and time is valuable. Don’t waste time trying to figure out everything on your own. Seek a mentor.

Phinite Drying Systems: Innovation from Australia Brings Revenue and Problem Solution to Pork Farmers

(Previously published in The Duplin Times)

On Wednesday, June 29th, an Australian inventor from Crocodile Dundee country visited Duplin County to show pork farmers a way to turn the sludge in their lagoons into additional revenue. 

Inventor and founder of Phinite, Jordan Phey, was a water engineer working to bring “simple and robust safe water treatments” for aboriginal people in northern Australia. He discovered two technologies to make money from water, and he began the process of developing them. In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a contest called the Nutrient Recycling Challenge. Phey entered his invention in the challenge and won an award at the White House for being one of the 10 best ideas in the world. Smithfield Foods was a judge in the competition, and they were so impressed with Phey’s work that they invited him to North Carolina. 

First, Phinite partnered with the NC Department of Soil and Water Conservation to conserve water in a wetland in Bladen County in 2019. In 2021, The Department of Soil and Water Conservation secured a Project Impact Grant to help make the technology accessible for farmers. “We have spent 16 million dollars in projects so far,” Executive Director Amanda Sand said. “We consider ourselves a conservation incubator.”

Phinite learned a lot from the wetland project and began to see the changes necessary to make their product commercially helpful for farmers. “Lack of access to cost effective drying systems is why farmers have such a big problem with waste today,” Jordan Phey said. “I felt this was a problem worth solving.” 

Jordan explains his drying systems process to farmers.

Phinite is a drying system that mines solids from hog lagoons and dries them in onsite drying stations using natural air flow and remotely operated equipment. Within 4-6 weeks, a batch of manure–approximately 100 tons–is dried. Then it is crushed and put through screen filters to prepare it for market. “We are in the business of mining solids,” Jordan Phey explained. “Solids are where the good minerals are, and 30% of them are within a foot of the liner in lagoons.” Phinite uses long-reach back hoes and other custom designed equipment to mine lagoons. They are able to harvest two years of manure for every one year of waste production. Set up in a research and test site on Dexter Edwards’ farm, they plan to have all the kinks worked out of the product and able to use them on farms as early as this October.     

Phinite handles the whole process from mining to market sales and returns a percentage of the sales to the farmer as a return of investment on their asset. Initial costs to install the equipment as well as some small maintenance is the responsibility of the farmer, but the difficult technical operations and everything else are managed by Phinite. 

Dexter Edwards, Don Butler, and Jordan Phey talk to pork farmers about Phinite Drying Systems.

Long term pork farmer, Phinite investor, and Phinite North American Representative Don Butler said, “in order to be successful, we have to address one of the biggest issues in North Carolina and that is our accumulating sludge. Phinite takes a problem and turns it into an asset. We think we have a valuable product that is perfectly timed for what is happening in the market (with fertilizer availability and cost). We view this as an ongoing mining operation with a revolving service.” 

Dexter Edwards, an executive with Smithfield Foods and one of the largest pork farmers in the state, said, “we’ve had a lot of people come to us claiming they had a solution. (We are well known for and made rich by our pork, turkey, and chicken products.) We are overproducing our product but today we have a solution that turns the waste burden into a product itself. I invested in bringing this to my property as long as Phinite was committed to making the changes to make it work. We are only time away from having this become a money maker for Duplin County. What we are going to be able to have is something that helps everyone. We will remove the argument that we are over producing (and we will have) a product to return to the farmland.” 

Dexter Edwards is known for being a frugal investor, but the Phinite operations on his farm are considerably large. He is not the only investor that sees Phinite as a working solution. HogSlat, Prestige Farms, and several other large family farms have invested in the company.
Farmers interested in having a Phinite Drying System are encouraged to contact the company through their website, via email to: info@phinite-us.com, or by calling 910-337-5662.

Art Happens in Wilson, NC

Originally published in Summer SENC Magazine, Adams Publishing Company

By Rebecca J. Whitman

Stained glass is nothing new to artist Kim S. Joy; she’s been creating in it since 1982. Kim found the beauty of making art in glass through a stained glass class in New Mexico, and she followed that experience with an apprenticeship there to really learn the business. By 2004, she became a full-time stained glass artist living in eastern Virginia, selling her work, and teaching classes. In addition to teaching classes out of her home studio, Kim taught stained glass to interested students in community centers such as Fort Belvoir Arts and Crafts Center, Arlington Adult Education, and Fairfax County Parks and Recreation.  

Swirls of color and geometric shapes with a recognizable nod to Frank Lloyd Wright capture Kim’s personal style. Sometimes Kim allows the glass itself to speak to her. Like the Tiffany glass that was custom created to create drape within the glass itself, sometimes the glass pour is so beautiful that Kim frames it as is without any cutting. Other Kim S. Joy pieces capture your imagination–like the non-traditional mixed media of round blue and purple waves cut around a hanging fabric of woven fibers. “It’s not your grandma’s stained glass,” Kim remarks. Originality is important in all art forms including stained glass. “If you are going to just create not for sale pieces, there are plenty of pattern books, but once you start working in glass then you want to make it yours and unique instead of like everybody else’s work,” Kim said.  

In 2018, Kim moved to North Carolina and opened Art Happens at 106 Tarboro Street in Wilson. Above the door to the store, there is a stained glass panel of a thistle. Kim designed the panel as a nod to her Scottish heritage, and it has served as the original logo design of her business. Guests to the studio are welcomed by the colorful pieces throughout the studio, the expansive work space, and a playfully exuberant pup, Fred. 

While abstract art is her favorite, Kim recognizes the need to do other things. “What I like and what other people may like is not the same thing, so you have to do a little bit of everything,” she says. To meet that diversity, Kim carries everything from stained glass jewelry to lamps, boxes, and simple panels. 

More than sold pieces, Kim finds that a lot of her business is actually in teaching classes and selling supplies. “A supply store that everyone used in Raleigh closed,” Kim said, “so many of those customers found me to buy their supplies from.” Kim carries all the necessary basic tools, solder, and flux as well as an impressive glass collection. Her glass collection includes vintage makers that no longer exist as well as known brands like Spectrum, Oceanside, Bullseye, and Youghiogheny. Imported glasses like Verrerie de St. Just from France are also in her collection. Stained glass artists can buy sheets of glass for $5-95 a sheet, or they can buy scraps by the pound for $3 a pound. 

Though she stays busy and could drive sales for supply in our area, that is not Kim’s passion. “I consider myself a teacher more than a salesperson,” Kim said. “I like creating stained glass and working with people on commissioned pieces. A lot of repairs come in here, and I love that too because it’s like trying to fix a puzzle without taking the whole thing apart.” There are limitations to the types of projects that Kim can take on. Church windows, for example, are not something that she will take on restoring. 

Many people interested in stained glass can get surprised by the cost involved in just having the right equipment. “If you had to buy all new equipment, it would be over $400 in tools and you don’t even know if you’re going to like doing stained glass or any good at it really,” Kim says. Kim suggests people interested in stained glass sign up for a class first. With classes at Art Happens, the tools are provided on loan as part of the cost of the class itself, and students have the benefit of an experienced artist helping them avoid making mistakes that can ruin their projects. 

In Art Happens classes, students only buy the glass and sundries (copper foil, solder, etc.) used in their specific project. “We start out with a 12×16 panel with 14 different patterns to choose from..but you go home at the end of it all with a finished product at the end of the class,” Kim explains. “It just makes it a lot easier if everybody is on the same plan in the class…and it is less stressful for everyone. If this is the only piece they will ever make, we want to make it worthwhile.” The stained glass panel class is a seven week long course that meets once a week for 2.5 hours each session. Other classes include nightshades, lamps, boxes, jewelry, yard art, kaleidoscopes, and pet memorials. “It’s just things that people have asked for,” Kim says, explaining the diverse mix of classes. 

Following COVID, people spent a lot more time at home and began looking for something to do with their down time. Kim believes that this led to an across the board interest in the arts. “Classes are pretty full around here, not just in stained glass,” Kim said. “The Arts Council here has sold out classes as well. Doing any form of handiwork is therapeutic. It gets you out of the stress you had that day and gives you the chance to explore your own creativity.”

After 20 years of growing in skill and mastery of her craft, Kim has a lot of wisdom to pass on to future glass artists. “Stay true to yourself. When you think that stained glass isn’t alive or worthwhile doing, keep doing it. There were times, over my life, when the market died out, but I kept making stained glass. I can’t imagine my life not doing this. Think about your legacy and how you are going to be remembered. I don’t think I will be remembered for all the pieces I sold at craft fairs. I think I will be remembered more for the students that I taught, and that’s fine with me. I’d rather share it than have it be lost.” 

For more information about the artist, check out her website at: https://www.kimsjoy.com/#/. For information about classes or to visit the studio, check out the Art Happens page at: https://www.kimsjoy.com/art_happens_on_tarboro.html#/

Top 5 Important Lessons Learned From My First Year Of Entrepreneurial Business

Has it really already been a year?! WOW!What a whirlwind it has been!

Whether you are a seasoned business person, a curious contemplator considering a startup, or a faithful reader of this blog, thank you for taking a moment to let me share about my first year in full-time business for myself and some of what I have learned from it. My hope is that this transparency will help you in your own businesses and aspirations.

1. Bring God Into Your Business Plan

When I first started, it was easy to get overwhelmed. My mind was racing in a thousand directions. I knew I wanted to make writing my business, but what did that look like?

One of the most important things I did was let myself freewrite (in my case, paint) what I thought my business would look like. Freewriting pulls out the heart of what you want to be without all the edits and filters that “be reasonable” will put on it. It helped me see what was most important to me as a person as well as a business.

Next, I needed to translate that into a written vision and mission statement. People call this all sorts of things in business, but it is generally your articulation of who you are, what you do, and why you exist as a business. Writing your vision like this is an important part of guarding yourself in business too.

The most important part of planning your business is praying and inviting God into it. I gave it all to Him. I would be nothing today if I hadn’t done that.

Over this past year, God has led me to do some pretty crazy spontaneous things (which only served to deepen my dependence on Him and joy in what we do together now). He has opened doors for me to meet and have favor with people I would not normally have that with in my own strength. In each step of this journey with Him, my business plan has become more clearly defined, and I have grown in character and confidence. I’ve had to trust God to provide when money wasn’t coming in as well as when it was. I’ve had to learn to be fearless and even excited when my calendar filled one day at a time instead of months in advance.

2. Say Yes To Every Good Thing

In the beginning, you say “yes” to every job you can do. Even when it was a stretch, I said yes to it. Why? Well, the obvious reason is that you need the money. The less obvious reason is that you need the experience.

Writing as a business takes business acumen. You have to learn what is a marketable skill that you can offer and others will pay you to do for them. In my case, I have a talent for capturing the heart of a business or story in words and pictures. I am also good at capturing how to represent someone online with their own website, logos, print graphics, etc.

I’m not just good at this list of tasks, I enjoy doing them. That is important! If you are going to work for yourself, you have to be willing to work harder and longer hours than you would for any other job. That is just how it is–especially in the beginning. If you want to stay in business, you can’t be a slacker. Success in business comes from being a person of integrity that keeps their word, balances multiple tasks at once, and is a good steward with the resources they are given.

Equally important as the things you say yes to doing are the thoughts you say yes to entertaining and believing about yourself and your business.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

Matt Tommey, a mentor to artists and successful artist himself, says that negative thoughts stifle creativity. If you allow yourself to entertain fear, you stop seeing creative solutions to your problems. That is so true! Many times I had to repeat Philippians 4:8 over and over before I could start my work day because I was so paralyzed in fear. Entrepreneurship has no room for fear. You have to keep your mind open and flexible to knew ideas and things to try.

3. Make Time To Learn New Skills

Entrepreneurship takes a lot of different skills at once. On one hand, you need to develop mastery of the craft you are trying to sell. On the other, you need to understand how to handle your finances, taxes, marketing, etc. There are infinite opportunities to grow and learn new things in both directions.

Don’t let the things you don’t know overwhelm or scare you. Believe it or not, it is better to get started than to try to know everything first.

The real truth is that we are always learning and striving to remain relevant. You never fully know all you should know, and if you think you have, you probably aren’t paying attention to your market anymore.

Education is a passion for me, so this was not a hard sell for my business. I made time for mentorship, webinars, workshops, conferences, software training, email subscriptions, and more. If it was even remotely related to what I do and came from a source I trusted, I signed up for it. I learned so much that I became a resource for others.

One other important reason to learn new skills is to expand your portfolio. Learning how to market myself on social media helped catalyst me into helping other businesses do it as well. Learning how to build my own website helped me get hired to build websites for others. Skills learned equate to more dollars earned (and saved) in the long run.

4. Say No To Some Things

Remember that business plan in my first point and how I said it protects you? Well, this is where it protects you. In the beginning, you do say yes to every job you can possibly do that fits within the guidelines of your plan.

You start very open minded. The world is your oyster and you shuck every oyster you can to find your pearls.

But with time, you learn what you like and dislike doing, so your plan becomes a little more clearly defined. You also begin to learn the limite of your time and have to be a little more discriminating. There is only one you, so you have to figure out what tasks are the best use of your time and which you should probably pass on to a colleague. (That means you also need to know good people who do stuff like you that you can send people too. Yes…work can get that hectic sometimes.)

My best example of this was with my sister when she was a massage therapist. Even though she could do anything she could (literally) put her hands to, she realized quickly that she only had a certain number of hours to work each day with full strength in her hands. That made her have to alternate times of services as well as what services she offered to be able to maximize her time each day.

It is not just saying no to jobs that aren’t the best match for your business, it is also saying no to some things so you have time for self care and fun too. Life is not just about work–even for us 5-percenters (the estimated percentage of the world that claims to be entrepreneurs). Making time to do what brings you joy requires saying no to something else.

5. Break The Plan

The most important part of your business is flexibility. You are going to have things that don’t work out the way you thought they would. As precious and essential as that written plan is, it’s not the details that matter as much as the core of who, what, and why you exist as a business.

When I first started, I thought everything I did was for artists only. I wrote to help mentor younger versions of myself. Even my first business cards said I existed as a business to “empower makers and young artists to live out their callings”. Imagine how hard that was to explain when I handed it to a business professional telling them I could help them. The whole first year of making any money in my business relied on proving my worth, necessity, and value to small business—NOT mentoring artists.

One thing I learned was that my passion for the arts (as an artist and business woman) is also my passion for small business. I want to help people get more exposure, expand what they do, and get better at it. Sometimes that is mentorship, but most the time that is marketing. It took time working my business to know that.

You can’t treat every little thing you write in your business plan like it is the holy grail, but it isn’t. You wrote it, and you are not God. Be open to wherever God will take you with your business because the more open you are to Him, the farther He can take you.

One of the things I like to do now is do an assessment at the end of the year of how the business is progressing. I look at my analytics and stats to see what is resonating with you, my readers, and plan how I can create more content like what you love to read. I do the same with my business and see what areas have sold the best and what areas I want to pursue more. I make goals and work towards them throughout the year, but I remain flexible to change them if the Lord clearly shows me something else I need to focus on. I encourage you to find a similar rhythm and pace yourself in your business. Oh, and I made new business cards. 😉

I hope this helps you.

Be blessed!

Art of Hope: Where Dreams Come True in Wallace, NC

Art of Hope galleries and framing shops in Wallace and Clinton, NC are evidence of an impossible dream that came true for artist, Hope G. Smith. In the art business for 18 years, Hope has over 1000 paintings, two Art of Hope galleries, and work on display around the world. 

Hope grew up as an artist in a family of creatives and entrepreneurs. Though they have been helpful for her development as an artist and businesswoman, Hope was not encouraged to see art as a viable career early on. She pursued teaching for a more steady income but found herself writing her own business plan after just three years of teaching. In January 2004, she opened a studio out of her home and began the journey of entrepreneurship. “I taught private lessons, made my own art, and did custom framing,” Hope says. “I took on any job possible, and it just grew from there.” In the beginning, Hope went to shows, expos, and all sorts of events to get her work seen. She also kept expenses low by working from home. “Until you get on your feet,” she says, “working from home cuts the overhead.” 

With no formal business training of her own, Hope surrounded herself with a strong support system.

You need to know who you can trust to surround you. It should be a partnership where you help each other out–not just one benefitting from the other.

Hope G. Smith on business partnerships

Hope’s most important partnership is with her husband. He did the hard work of researching the business side of what she needed to do to make her dreams come true.

Two really are better than one if you let it be, but you have to work at it. It isn’t easy; it’s hard work.

Hope G. Smith about marriage

Hope’s artistic style has been described as whimsical, colorful, and loose. She tries to capture “the soul of the moment, not a photo-realistic portrayal of it”. Her art also incorporates Bible verses as an intentional attempt to be a positive light. “If we can be a light in whatever work we find ourselves in (mine is art), we should be one!”

Prints from selected originals are available for purchase within Art of Hope galleries and online. Some originals can be purchased as well as custom framing jobs at either location. Hope is also available for hire to do custom commissions and live wedding painting. 

Hope G. Smith is a founding member of the Downtown Wallace Merchant Association, and she is a strong advocate for the value of a healthy Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber is what visitors look at when they come to a new area. When a Chamber is healthy, it goes to businesses and supports them, it sends customers to them, and it shops locally for its own needs before it looks elsewhere. Good leadership is a partnership with business, and we support each other.

Hope G. Smith on the importance of a Chamber of Commerce

The Downtown Merchant Association works with the Chamber of Commerce to support downtown businesses and bring activities there like the semi-annual Shop Hop in April. This ticketed event includes lunch, coffee, free merchandise, and discounts at 15-20 downtown shops in Wallace, NC. Downtown Wallace is a thriving place with businesses that have been in operation there for many years. When asked about why small-town America is thriving with culture today, Hope’s answer was sincere. “People are hungry for a small-town community. Covid has taught us all that we need each other; we need community.” 

Hope doesn’t take for granted that she has been blessed to be in business as an artist for 18 years. “The art business isn’t easy. Sometimes you overwork and have to be willing to put in the hours that nobody sees. When you are doing what God has called you to do,” she says, “you are doing that thing that fills your soul. The money will follow after that. It is much harder to do something you don’t love, so pursue your passion and don’t feel guilty for doing something you love. We need to be able to embrace people for what they are, not necessarily the 9-5 boxes we want to put them in.”

A lot of people, over the years, have told Hope that they are not creative, but Hope looks at creativity much different. “Creativity breeds creativity,” she says. “People do it all the time and don’t realize it. Creativity is an important part of how we nurture humanity. It is when we aren’t nurturing others that problems arise in society.”

When she is not out painting in the community, Hope G. Smith can be found in one of her two galleries: Art of Hope in Wallace or Clinton, NC. She is also available online at hopegsmith.com.

Walton’s Distillery in Jacksonville, NC: A Family Heritage Publicly Shared

Donald G. Walton Jr. at the gift shop at Walton’s Distillery

When Donald G. Walton, Jr. left Onslow County to pursue a law degree in the 1980s, he never knew he would return to the area with a heart for distilling spirits much like his ancestors. “I fell in love with the distilling of bourbon while studying law in Kentucky. (When we started the distillery in 2013), bourbon was a very difficult spirit to start, so we began with our very own corn whiskey,” Mr. Walton said.

Distilling bourbon or whiskey is a time-intensive process involving locally sourced corn that is blanched to produce an enzyme-rich liquid. The spent corn is sold back to local farmers for their cattle, while the liquid stays to become the base of most distilled spirits. It is cycled through layers of fermentation to create grain alcohol. “The objective for whiskey,” Walton said, “is to condense alcohol and clarify the spirit.” For bourbon, the highest proof alcohol is then also exposed to a new aged oak barrel for 2-3 years. “During that time, the liquid breathes in and out of the wood, infusing its flavor, and letting the charcoal remove any impurities,” Walton said. Without any additional flavors, the final product is a clean flavor of earthy corn and smoked oak within the fire of a 90 proof alcohol. 

Bourbon aging in oak barrels at Walton’s Distillery

Perhaps more approachable than the bourbon is the moonshines made by Walton’s Distillery. “My family had been distilling moonshine for generations in the woods,” Walton said, “and after some persuasion, I decided to continue on with the family recipe and distill moonshine as well.” At 40 proof or less, the moonshines are considerably lighter and come in fun flavors to pair well with drinks and cooking. My favorite was Mag Walton’s Peach Shine. Many guests raved about adding shots of it to sweet tea or champagne, but I think the bright fruit and floral notes will be especially fun to cook with. Equally beautiful is Kitty Walton’s Apple Pie Moonshine. Infused with real apples and all the spices of an apple pie, this shine has all the flavor of its name with the kick of the shine. I expect it to make fall cooking with apples extra special.

“Moonshine is more of a novelty product,” Walton says, “everyone wants to buy it thinking of the Prohibition era, and, in my family, our ancestors were making it here and transporting it to New York during that time (illegally). Most makers that make shine now do so as a hobby following the same regional methods of their ancestors to create a quick liquor with a cheap and fast yield.” That novelty is often quite personal for the guests at Walton’s Distillery; many come as descendants of moonshiners with familiar ties to what the Walton products offer legally today. Some have gifted Walton with photographs and memorabilia for display at the distillery. 

Vintage truck from the Prohibition era at the distillery

Moonshining was such a source of pride in Walton’s own family that the cousin that helped start the moonshine still, Norwood Rochelle, shared his version of the generations-old family recipe without a penny of payment. “When he wouldn’t take payment,” Walton said, “I told him I would never sell a jar of shine without giving him credit for it. To this day, his picture is on every label.”

Portrait of Norwood Rochelle hanging in the gift shop at the Distillery

Family remains the heartbeat of Walton’s Distillery. Built in 2013 on the site where numerous illegal stills had previously operated, Walton’s Distillery is a family-owned and operated business. “All our products bear the names of my ancestors as a lasting tribute to them, the hardships they endured, the goals they obtained, and the legacies they have left,” says Walton. 
Unlike beer and wine, distilled spirits cannot be sold online. This makes distribution and growth a real concern for the business. “The easiest part of this business is making the spirits,” Walton says. “The hardest part is marketing and selling. You’re out if you can’t get into an ABC Store. Without that, you limit yourself to local customers.” Growth and marketing for distilleries has to be creative. To that end, Walton’s Distillery hosts five open house events with live music and free food for the public. You can visit the distillery for tours and free tastings throughout the year, Monday through Saturday, from 10AM to 4PM at 261 Ben Williams Road, Jacksonville, NC 28540. For more information, check out their website at www.waltonsdistillery.com

Godmothering: The Power of Mentoring To Change Lives

“Profound Accord” by Tracey Penrod

A year ago or more, I bought this print from my friend Tracey Penrod. The image spoke to me of friendship and motherhood…of dreams yet to be fulfilled. I kept both the impressions and the artwork to myself until today. With permission from the artist to reprint her work here, I tell you that today, this image speaks to me about mentoring others.

What is Mentoring?

Mentoring is about giving back to the world some portion of what you have learned in it. When I write to you, dear reader, it is my attempt to help you learn and grow from my experiences.

But, actual mentorship gets more personal than a conversation like this. Mentorship is face-to-face and walking out life together with someone that can learn from you.

Why Do You Need Mentorship?

If you are young, the Bible says you are supposed to be mentored (into godly character and living) by older, more experienced Christians. So, in part, you can say mentorship is a part of developing your faith. But it is more than that.

To be a mentee makes you have wings to fly in your business, relationships with others, and personal life. It helps you more clearly define who you are to yourself and others. That clarity is immeasurably important–especially in business–because you have to be able to advocate for yourself to get ahead in this world.

Why Should You Be A Mentor?

If you think back to when you got started in your adult life, you did not do it alone. You had parents, teachers, or other business owners answering your questions. Most of the time, they did that all for free just to help. That is what mentorship is: selfless sacrifice for the good of others.

If you still don’t get it, think about how you want to be remembered and celebrated when you die. Will your funeral be Ebenezer Scrooge with one faithful employee that shows up–if you are lucky? Or will it be Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose passing was felt around the world and, when he died, a funeral train carried his body 3000 miles through 9 states for people to gather at the tracks and say farewell to his body as it passed.

What I find surprising about death is how much it tells you about the person. You learn things you never knew about them when they were alive, and you find out just what they meant to you emotionally.

Such was the case with my friend, Juanita Green.

What is a Godmother?

It wasn’t till she passed that I realized who she was to me. Juanita was a godmother to me, and by that I mean she poured her life sacrificially as a mentor. Pastor Jim Wall, the Senior Pastor of The Bridge Church, used 1 Corinthians 4:15-17 to show us that the church “is desperate for some spiritual mommas and daddies”. Do the needs of the early church still stand true today? The answer is: absolutely!

Lisa Bevere coined the term “Godmother” for this in her latest Bible study, Godmothers. It means someone who is investing actively in the lives of other people around them. They do life with these people and show them God’s love in practical ways. They invest even to the point of taking a risk because they see value even when it isn’t there yet. They make sacrifices and sometimes live frugally because it is more important to them to make other peoples’ dreams come true than their own.

Show God’s Heart

1 John 2 has some strong words for those who claim to know Christ but hold on to hatred and unforgiveness towards others. I have to admit–I struggle with this one two. What it is trying to say is that God is not a god that plays favorites; if we want to be like Him and claim to be his, we have to be less and less prejudiced with our love. It also means that we have to be willing to forgive when people mess up–because they will…we all do. If you are honest with your own relationship with God and you show who you are with actions not just words, you will exhibit the character of a person who is what they say they are. THAT is a person people will follow and trust.

Make Room For Love In Your Timeline

All throughout the New Testament, Paul’s letters open and close with reminders of what he did in the presence of the people he was writing to. They also talk about people he left or sent to them as examples and witnesses of what he was saying. All those verses are good examples of what it looks like to make yourself available. Paul wasn’t always able to physically be where someone needed him to be, but he was always with them in spirit. I think that is an important thing to note because we all struggle with time management. Nevertheless, he made it a point to make time to communicate to the people he cared about. We should do likewise.

When is the last time you sat down with the people you loved and spent quality time with them doing something they cared about? When have you last told your loved ones that you love them? As a mentor, you need to be clearly communicating all that to your loved ones, but you also need to be available for the people you mentor.

Being a spiritual momma and daddy is about every interaction you have. It’s being available and sharing your life–not just leading a meeting.

Jim Wall, Senior Pastor of The Bridge Church

Deuteronomy 6:5-9 gives us a picture of what this looks like in a family setting. It shows us parents who make their faith a part of their everyday living. They teach their faith to their children and children’s children. They set up reminders around the house of the goodness of God.

How does that translate into mentorship?

Mentors need to see themselves as spiritual parents and grandparents. They should make faith a part of their everyday lives and live it out with their mentees in a true honest friendship relationship.

Believe To The Point Of Taking A Risk

Every great person in the Bible had someone believing in them when they were not yet great. That is what Jesus did with the disciples—especially Peter. How could Christ look at the man that would deny him three times and still say, in Matthew 16:18, that he would be the rock on which the church would be built? He said this not just because he was God. He said this because he believed in Peter and saw his potential even before there was evidence of it.

To be a good mentor, you have to be willing to do the same thing. Sometimes you have to trust someone when they are not currently getting it right or being trustworthy. This can be a risky thing to do because sometimes you have to invest in them in ways you don’t know how they will end up. Paul did that with a former slave in Philemon 1:18-19. He offered to pay off the debt he owed for him! And guess what happened to Philemon after that? Scholars believe he went on to pastor a church that changed a whole city!

The Risk Reward is a Legacy

The legacy you leave behind when you are a mentor is the people you invested in. It is their lives living on after you, leaving a mark in the world, that you have made different. Whether that is one life or one million doesn’t matter. What matters is that you didn’t keep it all to yourself. What matters is that you took the risk to gain the reward of a legacy of lives touched by your presence in it.

That is the risk Juanita Green took at the end of her life. She did not always live life well, but at the end of it all giving and mentoring was the refining fire of all her former selfishness (as she would have called it). She was not the first important mentor in my life nor will she be the last, but I think it is important to note here that she left the impression she did on me in just four months. It doesn’t take a lot of time to make a difference that changes a life for a lifetime. It just takes a heart open and willing to love.

A father [or mother] who serves the destiny of others above serving his own, will, in the end, fulfill his destiny.

Pastor Bill Humphries

Rico Dawson: Local Artist Brings Music Industry Knowledge and Talent To The Classroom

Making a Difference

If you hear him in church, you may know him for the sharp tenor registers of his voice. Most people know him from the work he has done with at-risk youth, coaching football, or teaching music. Teaching now for over 20 years, Rico Dawson leverages his connection with kids to make a difference in teaching them both music and life.

Kids today are different. They feel entitled to success but don’t want to work for it. They don’t have the work ethic that they should. I tell my students there is a beginning and there is a manifestation at the end, but there is also an in-between wilderness and you have to go through that to get to the end. A lot of kids want to be great, but they don’t want to invest time in themselves to be great. A lot of kids don’t reach their full potential if they don’t have anybody pushing them.

I tell students the things they need to hear as it relates to what is ahead of them. I am intentional about spending time tying in life skills, teamwork, and emotions in what I talk about. In music, their emotions bleed into the music. They don’t know how to seperate that. Professionals learn how to seperate it out, but children can’t do that. When they sing or play, their heart bleeds onto their sleeve.

I tell my students this is business not personal because I am always thinking ahead to how they will be able to perform in the future. I push them hard because they won’t be able to “get in their feelings” in what’s to come as they work a job and perform at a level to meet that industry’s demand.

There is a human element to teaching. If you don’t have a relationship of trust with them and show that you care about their lives, they are going to turn you out.

Rico Dawson
Rico teaching a music class

An Artist In His Own Right

Very few people know Rico Dawson is actually a recording artist in his own right. He was recently ranked #1 Inspirational Gospel music artist in Goldsboro, NC on Reverb Nation and #45 in the region of Fayetteville, Raleigh, and Durham, NC. Mr. Dawson’s music has a global audience with a lot of interest in Europe and France. His music has an R&B feel with God-inspired lyrics.

Mr. Dawson completed a Bachelor’s degree from Elizabeth City State University in Music Industry Studies with a concentration in Business Administration. From there, he interned with a small independent record company in Virginia Beach, VA. As an intern, Mr. Dawson had the opportunity to see how musical talent is acquired and participate in talent scouting, acquisitions, and talent retainment.

Because of my background and training (in music studies), you can know in the first 15 seconds if a song is worth listening to. I would listen to the demos sent to us, write down the songwriter and song, listen to them, pass them on to the president, and contact the artists that he decided to hire for either contract work or negotiations for exclusive agreements.

Rico Dawson

#1 Advice to Young Artists Aspiring To Get A Recording Deal: Work On Your Craft

Many reality shows have chronicled what the gauntlet looks like. Though it is glamorized for entertainment value and details are added for us to have the buy-in in the audience, the real music circuit runs in very similar ways. In music, artists submit their work to a showcase of some sort with significant competition. 500 acts may be present in the beginning for what will widdle down to 3 actual recording deals. It starts with presenting your work to a panel of judges who look for what makes you stand out as new, interesting, and different from everything else they are hearing on the market. If you pass the first panel, you go on to the second with more scrutinizing tastes. It continues in this fashion till the end of the so-dubbed “gauntlet”.

The struggle for young artists is to work on their craft and get in front of the label heads at the time when they are looking for new talent.

Rico Dawson

Advantages of Modern Technology for Musicians Today

Artists today have more direct control over their material and what happens to it than they ever had in the past. With the help of social media and YouTube, individuals are able to connect directly with their audience long before a recording company gets involved in promoting them.

During Covid, a lot of artists were doing performances virtually and were able to monetize those performances through Eventbrite tickets. That helped a lot of artists stay afloat. Virtual is another space to reach the audience now.

Rico Dawson

A service that provides great industry reach and business management now is called Reverb Nation. Reverb Nation provides artists with the ability to distribute and track their music, collaborate with other artists, and submit press kits to active venue listings. It allows fans to contact the artist, and it gives real-time feedback demographics on who is listening to the music. Music is distributed easily through Spotify and other streaming music platforms. Reverb Nation has been a great tool for Mr. Dawson. Interested fans and venue opportunities have been able to reach out to him through the site from as far as England.

Reverb Nation lets the people decide what is important. I let the people decide.

Rico Dawson

#2 Advice to Young Artists Aspiring To Get A Recording Deal: Think About The Bigger Picture, Know Your Rights, and Protect Yourself From Bad Deals

When you are controlling your own content, you have to have a vision for where you want to end up. Do you want to play venues live? You probably need a set list of songs ready to perform and full albums and merch you can sell at the event.

Knowing what you want in the big picture is going to help you know how to navigate the smaller decisions. Don’t be misled by what you see. Some of the artists that look so successful are actually living on credit trying to work hard and pay back the studio for all they paid on them. Contracts with record companies can often keep artists in bondage paying back their debts for studio time, production, video, etc.

It’s industry standard to split 50/50, but some contract opportunities ask for more than that. When you sign with somebody, they control the narrative and sometimes your masters. You don’t want to lose your masters because that is where your big money comes from (in licensure).

Rico Dawson

At the time of this interview, Rico Dawson was working on his second album that will feature a fresh inspiration and word from the Lord. For more information including links to Rico’s music and videos, check out his site on Reverb Nation.

How To Protect Yourself Online: A Catfisher On Social Media and What Finding Him Can Teach You

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Identity Theft…Fake IDs…Cyber Bullying…Catfishing…Cyber Terrorism…these are all ugly things to talk about and definitely not what you want to start a year on, but if you have ever been a victim of it, you know the truth: it can stop life as you know it from then forward. Some victims are so embarrassed by what they let themselves believe that they never get past that dark moment. Unfortunately, I know at least one reader who killed herself after what happened to her. That is why I hope you take very seriously what I am about to tell you and alter your life online going forward.

Cyberbullying and catfishing are a very real and rising crime. In 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimated that nearly 20,000 people were victims of some form of online romance or confidence scam. In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported $304 million in losses to such scams. Statistics on such crimes are astounding and confirm victims and criminals are not who you think they are; this is a problem effecting all age and genders especially men.

Catfishing is deliberately creating a fake character and story to interact with others online, and cyberbullying is abusive behavior done online with or without a fake character to protect the abuser. Cyber terrorism is using the internet to perform acts of terror on others. In my experience, being the victim of catfishing feels like experiencing all three of those things.

How To Protect Yourself Online

  1. Protect Your Images Online
  2. Insist on Video Chatting with Strangers Before You Trust Them
  3. Create Alternate Phone/Email Information To Use Online
  4. Never Send Money or Gift Cards to a Person or Organization You Haven’t Met in Person
  5. Report and Block Abusers When They Are Discovered

Protect Your Images Online

When I was catfished by a man claiming to be in the military, I was really angry at the real man in the photos for not protecting himself more. The truth is that I can just as easily take a screenshot of my friends’ social media accounts today and recreate a persona of them online that isn’t them in five minutes. If you choose to be online, you need to understand that EVERYTHING you put online is there forever no matter if you delete it, so choose wisely what you share–and don’t overshare. The whole world is not your friend, nor is it the place to share every detail of your life. Share the important stuff privately in protected groups or emails not on your newsfeed. Change the status to “friend” or “friend of friend” on most of your posts. If your social media platform offers it, remove the ability for your images to be downloaded. You can’t stop someone screenshotting what you share, but you can stop them from downloading the pictures of your kids and using them as their own.

Insist on Video Chatting with Strangers Before You Trust Them

This is a real big one and it stops the fakers EVERY time–so do this early in your conversations and before you invest your heart or time more than a few days. You can’t make a static image talk, walk, and breathe; video will force the real person to be revealed. Either they shuffle and come up with excuses for why they can’t connect, or they give you a hard time for making rules for them to jump through, or they show up but the person you see doesn’t match the person you have been talking to in text and still images. One catfisher went so far as to string a series of still images together and talk to me like a voice over on a “bad connection”. The most recent attempt asked to call me on WhatsApp. When he did, his voice was clearly not who he claimed to be. He turned out to be “a black boy” most likely from Nigeria instead of the German/Scottish white man in my pictures.

Side Note: It pays to be a student of language, accents, and cultures. Don’t be naïve and take people at their word; know what their claimed culture should look and sound like. If you can’t get them to video chat but you can get them to call, knowing the difference in sounds is enough to often confirm or deny their identity.

Create Alternate Phone/Email Information To Use Online

You live with real people and places you love and protect, so don’t give away your real personal information online. I have a separate Gmail account just for social media and interacting with strangers. On that account, I also have a Google Voice phone number and attached it to WhatsApp and Signal. If someone needs to call, text, or video chat, they have to go through those channels first if I don’t know them AND I am honest about it. I tell people up front that I have to be guarded and don’t share personal information until I know you better. That should be a deterrent, but it is a worm on a hook to predators. They don’t mind the chase if they think their is a prize at the end of it.

Never Send Money or Gift Cards to a Person or Organization You Haven’t Met in Person

Not everyone is going to ask you for money, but a lot of them are in it for the long haul to get you to offer it. There are a lot of different reasons why people catfish, and it isn’t all just money either. Some do it for emotional reasons. Others do it just to mess with you. The last guy that did it to me said he “wanted to try it” and “needed help” with financial costs. Unfortunately, some parts of the world treat catfishing like a job and operate in teams to get as many people on the hook at the same time as possible.

Report and Block Abusers When They Are Discovered

Don’t feel sorry for them when you catch them in their lies; they are counting on that! A novice liar is easy to spot. They are over anxious, have broken English, and there are all sorts of holes in their stories. An experienced catfisher is well polished and in it for the long haul. He/she creates a believable lie with enough images and encouraging words in proper English to make you think they are legit. They even get the time zone differences right! They are perpetual students of you. They watch your social media, know what makes you tick, and see your bleeding heart to rescue people from the error of their ways. They are counting on you caring enough to give them what they want even after they are discovered–enough people have done it already to make them think you will too.

DON’T CONTINUE TALKING! Screenshot your conversation and images for proof. Then block and archive them. Report them to your social media or whatever platform they met you on. I had so many catfishers to report to one dating website that they ended up telling me I was “too picky” and needed to “lower my standards”. Most social media platforms take your reports into consideration and act on it following an investigation. At Daily Testify, reports are taken seriously and abusers are shut down quickly with less hesitation than every other site on the market.

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

How To Heal From An Attack

  1. Allow Yourself Time to Cry
  2. Educate Yourself to be Better Prepared Next Time
  3. Let Trusted Friends Know and Reach Out For Their Support
  4. Seek Professional Counseling for any Deeper Issues
  5. Get Back on the Proverbial Horse

Allow Yourself Time to Cry

It is not easy being human. Sometimes the cost is so high we just want to ball up and choose to hate the world or leave it. Neither option is a good one. No matter how many times I have been through it, it still hurts to be catfished. Though I didn’t let myself trust or give anything really personal away to the last two scammers, I did have the hope they were real and that hope deferred made my heart sick. It’s okay to cry. Let yourself express those emotions. I’ve gone on walks through the rain-soaked countryside talking to God and crying till I found peace again. He met me there, and he can meet you too. Allow yourself the room to feel, but don’t let the bad experiences close the gift of your loving heart.

Educate Yourself to be Better Prepared Next Time

We don’t live in a sinless world where you can take strangers at their word and trust them. The people you trust and invest in should be people who earned your trust over time. Learn more about the ways of the world and online community through organizations like The CyberSmile Foundation that help teach you safe ways to interact online. Read reputable articles like the ones linked in this story and on our blog. Begin to see yourself as less of a victim and more of a warrior loading up for battle. Knowledge is an arsenal that never fades or requires a concealed carry permit.

Let Trusted Friends Know and Reach Out For Their Support

Most victims have people in their lives that love them, yet they feel isolated. Whether they physically live alone or they are in a house with other people, some need in their heart was being missed and that need was the hope the abuser claimed to fill. As public as I am online, none of my abusers read my blog or claimed to know anything from it. Unless they are stalkers, abusers don’t put much effort into chasing you past your social media, yet–in that moment–you think they are the only person in the world that really cared about you. That is the opposite of the truth. You don’t need to tell the whole world like I am literally doing here, but you need to tell someone what happened to you. You can’t navigate the dark thoughts alone. Share your experience with someone you trust and lean on them for emotional support.

Seek Professional Counseling for any Deeper Issues

Depending on how deeply connected you were to your abuser, you may need to talk to a professional. This may also apply if you knew the abuser a few days but have deeper baggage to work through. Sometimes being vulnerable emotionally reveals places in our hearts and experiences that we haven’t dealt with and didn’t know how to. There is no shame in seeking help to work through it. In fact, that is the brave thing to do. It is the ones who needed it but didn’t pursue it that end up caving to the dark thoughts and ending their life.

Get Back on the Proverbial Horse

No matter how many times you have been the target victim, it is not an excuse to hide forever from social media. Maybe you need to learn better practices and change what you do online, but you don’t have to leave it completely to be safe.

I don’t look to social media for my real world connections. The people I trust the most are not people I met online, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have meaningful relationships with people online. I met a couple online last year that are sitting in a country on the other side of the world right now reading this. We haven’t met in person, yet I consider them friends.

I get messages almost daily from strangers on my social media platforms, and almost all of them are men. Instead of feeling flattered by the attention and remaining vulnerable to every possible risk, I have to be wise enough to realize they could be scammers. I treat social media as a marketing space and share what I do there, so I will friend strangers on social media, but I follow my own advice to stay safe. If someone turns out to be a predator, I report them.

Maybe someday the bad ones will hurt less. What I share next is to show you just how real this can be. The screenshots below were captured over roughly three days of communication with a catfisher that contacted me through Daily Testify. Read on to see how I caught him in his lies and ended it.


Following this conversation on a private email channel, I screenshot everything, archived the message, and blocked the person. I then went to Daily Testify and reported him, stored the images elsewhere, and deleted them from my phone. Seeing the images later can cause setbacks in healing.

If you have been a victim of a scam, waste no time in reporting it and moving on. Don’t let them steal your joy or make you think you are the problem. Seek God! Let Him fill the places that you lack, and give Him the responsibility to play matchmaker with your heart.

It’s A Wonderful Life In Mount Olive: How I Launched Into a Full-Time Writing Business in 2021

In 1946, Frank Capra told a story about how the life of one ordinary man in one typical small town made a difference that impacted the world. This story went on to become an icon of the holiday season and a movie many of us watch every year, but this year became the year I lived it.

For eight and a half years, I taught proudly at Wayne Community College. It was a job I had prayed for and thanked God for daily. Then Covid-19 happened, and we all shifted to working remotely. I worked primarily from home but went into my office occasionally. When I did, everything had changed. Fellowship was truncated. Everyone kept masked in their separate offices and rarely socialized anymore. Covid-19 stole the heart of our connection to each other. That impacted me more than I realized.

I thought the grass was greener in other departments, but I had no opportunity to move there. Then I thought the grass was greener outside the pasture, and I left Wayne Community College.

It was a golden opportunity that promised to pay me double what I made teaching and let me stay home all day building curriculum. Within three months, I was putting down money on land and finally building my house. Before the land was fully in my name and the contractor was hired, I was fired.

Closed Doors = Opportunities

I didn’t see it coming, and I was in shock. Then I got angry. God and I had a few choice words as I walked my property and realized I couldn’t move forward with the dream and everything I had longed for was on hold once more.

I felt so foolish. If I had known it would end like this, I would have never left Wayne Community College. Sitting in a field full of weeds looking like I’d lost my mind, I cried out to God for answers.

God didn’t answer me in that moment or even the next ten, but He did answer. First of all, He showed me that the cost of building during Covid was so high that I would have been upended if I started the house build when I wanted to. It was better to let the ground rest for now.

Secondly, He showed me that He had to let me go through all that to pull me out of my comfort zone and into my calling as a writer. As a teacher, I didn’t make time for writing. I thought I would just wait till I retired. God said, “nope, I need you now.”

The Difference One Life Can Make

What proceeded to happen was a series of open doors that only could have happened by God’s hand. I walked into small businesses, corporate offices, and local government and found favor to tell stories about all sorts of people and places. The blog grew to an international readership in over 30 countries with over 10,000 views. That gave me a platform to talk about social issues and advocate for change on a national and global level. All of a sudden, this little ordinary girl in a little ordinary town was making a big world difference.

Doing the right thing doesn’t always pay you back monetarily. In fact, this year closes out on the lowest bottom-line in my bank. But what God and I have built together this year on faith is something I couldn’t have imagined with thousands of dollars and plenty of job security.

What God Saw That I Couldn’t

In the Fall, parents across the country were enraged with Covid-19 restrictions hurting learning for their kids, LGBTQ agendas forced into education, and Critical Race Theory being taught in school. Even at the college level now, curricula are being rewritten to divide people over issues of race and sexuality. As I watched the news unfold, God spoke to me:

If you had stayed in that curriculum creation job, you would have been forced to write something you didn’t agree with. I took you out before that could happen.

God

I was contacted by a K-12 school in Minnesota. The administrator and I had met in a small group online, and she had been reading my work at The Bohemian Princess Journal. She called and asked me to write her school’s entire curriculum.

With 75 committed families on the line, it just got serious. God started putting people in my path to partner with me in the vision. All of a sudden, I knew what to do and who to pull in to help make the best curricula possible for them. The biggest project of 2022 will be creating this curriculum.

Simultaneously over the summer and fall, I was busy networking with small businesses, local government, and non-profit organizations. God opened doors for me to walk into places I never thought I would go, and He gave me favor with important people when I went there. Out of those meetings came paying writing gigs and networking connections that would build into 2022 and beyond. From those opportunities came bigger opportunities to help my town and community in tangible ways including partnerships with Wayne Community College to bring classes into the community. That’s when God revealed another truth.

Your time at Wayne Community College in the specific department you were in was strategic. I needed you to have those relationships to form the alliances we need now in ministry to the community. Your faithfulness there created a bridge here now that will help people in crisis as well as your friends back at the college, and that couldn’t have happened without removing you from your comfort zone and putting you in this place of complete dependency on me.

God

What’s Next…

This year didn’t start out to be anything I thought it would be and, like George Bailey, I had some dark moments where I didn’t want to be part of it anymore. But God saw me and all the talents I was hiding and called me out of hiding forevermore. Rebecca J. Whitman Writing Services and The Bohemian Princess Journal are here to stay. I can truly say, now, that it is a wonderful life in Mount Olive.

I am not sure about God’s timing, but this year has taught me to discern God’s voice and follow it no matter what it tells me to do because there is always a reason for it. God has sent me on some crazy adventures this year and shown His hand in more ways than I can count. Here are some of the adventures slated for 2022:

  • Build a non-denominational Christian curricula for K-12 instruction that is also applicable to Adult Education
  • Launch The Bohemian Princess Journal into weekly podcasts on Mondays.
  • Streamline the content and change the look of the website; make blog posts follow a theme and post once a week on Fridays.
  • Work with non-profits, churches, and small businesses to write promotional materials and branch into social media marketing.

Please pray for the success of these adventures and consider donating to keep the work going.

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May you be blessed and may God shake your own foundations and send you on new adventures in 2022.


For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.

All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:6-18, NIV

Two Are Better Than One: How Partnerships Make The Dream Work

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. 

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

As a small business, I hear a lot about partnerships between organizations. This business partners with that one to facilitate this service and now both entites had a point of impact in the community. In fact, greater impact is accomplished because of their partnership than could have been even imagined if they stuck to doing it all alone.

The principles of partnership are as ancient as the Garden of Eden. When God created Adam and looked down on him, he didn’t say, “good job, son, you are killin’ it on your own!” No, on the contrary, he said it is not good for man to be alone, let me make him a helper. Why? Because God designed us to live and work as teams–not individuals.

Business

If you look at the needs of your organization–your specific business plan–you should see a target demographic that you want to reach. To truly accomplish that goal, you can’t do it by yourself, you need to bring in other people who can agree with your vision and have the passion for it that you do.

No organization grows from idea to thriving business with just one person. If you want to be successful, you have to have vision for the future and a plan to mentor others into your seat on the company because eventually you will retire or pass away and you don’t want to build something that just ceases to exist in 10-20 years.

Entrepreneur

It might sound silly to list this separate than business, but the truth is that they are not the same. Though every small business needs to have vision and growth, many are franchisees of bigger businesses. An entrepreneur is someone who is a one-off business: they came up with an idea and pursued it based on their own creativity, vision, and willpower.

Entrepreneurs are the invisible demographic in a community. They are the people like Amy Brogden who look at a town, see a vacancy, and believe they can do something to meet that need. God bless them! We need more people like that everywhere. Small towns are dying without them.

Entrepreneurs work hard to make their vision prosper. They live with the daily reality that the economy can change in a minute and they can be out of a job, so they are always on pivot to stay relevant. The bigger they grow, the more people they carry under them, and the more burden they feel to be successful; no one wants to work as hard as we do to build a business that dies in a couple years.

Relationships

Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord.

Proverbs 18:22 KJV

From the beginning, God set us up to work together in partnership. He took a rib out of Adam to make Eve because he wanted her to be something standing beside him and working with him not ruling over him or trampled by him.

Women of God, you have such an amazing Creator! He saw your worth and recognized you long before Susan B. Anthony or any of those other folks even existed. Get to know Him and praise Him because our Lord Jesus really is a good God to serve.

–Rebecca J. Whitman

It is tempting to live life single–especially if you have faced any heartache in relationships–but I really don’t think that was God’s design for the majority of us. There are far more verses in the Bible about love and marriage and filling the Earth with children than there are about the blessings of singleness. We all must be single for a season, but we are also responsible for being able to see when that season has ended.

Mixing Love and Business

If you are an entrepreneur, it can be really hard to be in a relationship. Sometimes the demands of work make it hard to have room to share your life with anyone else. It is easier to say a relationship will hinder your productivity than it is to say it will help it.

Still, I have seen too many married couples thriving in business to say that single mindedness is really the truth we should hold to—and I am not the only one. According to this article from Entrepreneur.com, research shows that growth in business is tied to a strong and thriving marriage.

Truth Hits Home

When my maternal grandparents came home from their honeymoon, they came home to a box full of baby chicks, and my grandma cried. We were never told why she cried, but I have always believed it was because she knew how much work was ahead of them and the weight of it was frightening. Entrepreneurship is an often scary adventure.

From then on, the adventure was non-stop for them. From chicken farming to dairy farming to firewood to restaurants and everything in between, my grandparents were successful entrepreneurs in Colorado. They were married over 50 years and now rest buried together.

I never saw that entrepreneural life buy them a fancy house or lots of things, but we lacked for nothing at grandma’s house. Their faith and love poured into everyone they knew: friends, family, and strangers. It was a level of kindness and generosity so great, in fact, that it took multiple funerals to celebrate them when they died—and we still talk about them years later today. That kind of legacy doesn’t happen when you live life alone.

This godly heritage reminds me every day that true love and business success are possible. The wedding rings that honored that marriage wait to honor my own now. I like to think my grandparents would be tickled pink to know I will wear grandma’s rings someday. I like to think they would be proud to see me in business now much like them—living day to day on my faith in Jesus.

There is nothing easy about being in business for yourself. Some days you want to curl up and cry or just go back to working for someone else so you can sleep at night.

But all those fears are just growing pains. In time, the business you are building will establish itself if you don’t give up and if you make strategic partnerships that will propel you forward.

Don’t be afraid to risk failure for love. When you find someone worth giving your heart to, be bold enough to speak your truth even if that means writing it down in a letter. Pray for them. Invest in them. Make them a priority and trust me in this: the ROI will be worth the effort.

The Story of The Bohemian Princess Journal: How This Blog Came to Be

I’ve heard a lot of stories about stay-at-home moms, traveling writers, photographers, and techies starting blogs to earn money, but that’s not my story. My story begins in a little town in western North Carolina: Morganton. While visiting the town for the first time in 2014, I was overwhelmed with the warmth of the people; everyone had a story to tell and was eager to tell it. As a graduate of a prestigious writing program and a life-long writer, I felt a hunger to reconnect with the writer roots I had let go dormant. So the blog began.

I began writing on a private website for the students I taught in adult education. I shared the blogs with friends and family, but I still kept the words privately circulating amongst my friends and students for over a year. Nevertheless, the website got traffic and even pulled in business for some of the people I talked about on the blog. That’s when I decided to take it a step further.

Between 2014 and 2019, I blogged publicly on three different blogs and two class websites. I became well known for it and was even featured in a cover story by a local newspaper for my writing. I was writing in seperate places to keep ideas and branding seperate, but it became quickly overwhelming. In 2019, I decided to take stock of my blog inventory (over 50 blogs at the time) and define my content areas. Using the tools available to me through WordPress, I consolidated the blogs into one site under my name and organized the content by categories and pages.

2021 was a big year for us. Early in the year, I left over eight years of teaching to pursue other career options and, ultimately, start my own entrepreneurial business in writing. We finally gave the blog her own name, The Bohemian Princess Journal, and gradually increased publication frequency to weekly then bi-weekly posts.

Readership continued to grow. By the grace of God, in 2021 we crossed unimaginable boundaries. We were able to touch readers across the entire United States and over 30 countries with 10,000 views and counting.

Before the year was done, I had written more content in one year than almost all previous years combined. It is humbling to realize just how far I have come from the dormant writer I was in 2014 to the prolific book-length content creator I am now.

New Location Celebrates Growth and Community at Southern Ground Coffee Shop, Mount Olive, NC

When you walk into the new location of the Southern Ground Coffee Shop at 1037 N. Breazeale Avenue in Mount Olive, NC, you immediately notice it is not your normal commercial experience. Farmhouse style home decor, handmade hardwood tables, a corner booth filled with pillows, and plush, earth tone couches and chairs welcome you. Girls behind a long colonial blue beadboard counter with coffee beans epoxied into the top greet you by name and take your order. These girls are more than baristas; they are family to the owners, Amy and Robbie Brogden. The personalized care they put into their service is a trademark quality of the location. They don’t just know their regulars by name, they know what they want to drink and what temperature they want to drink it.

The Journey Here

Before we can celebrate where Southern Ground is today, we need to tell the story of where they have been. Owners Amy and Robbie Brogden did not see coffee in their future when they met and started dating 8 years ago. Amy was a successful independent woman in the securities industry in Wilmington. Robbie was a father with four teenagers and his own construction business in Mount Olive. Though they saw the potential for partnership in each other, they took their time getting to know each other before they were ready for marriage. When they did marry, Amy took a position in insurance sales in Duplin county. Amy’s manager encouraged her to increase her sales by working from a local coffee shop and letting the busyness lead conversations and potential sales to her. The problem was that there were no coffee shops in Mount Olive. That need birthed the idea for Southern Ground.

When Amy told her husband about the advice from her manager and the idea of a coffee shop, he took her driving around the town of Mount Olive. Coming from a family with deep roots in the community and over fifty years of knowledge serving it himself, Robbie knew that the right location for a business like that would be near Interstate 117 and the University of Mount Olive. With no business plan and no money in the bank to fund it, they found the perfect location, made the decision to act on it, and did every sort of odd job they could to pay for it.

Robbie and Amy Brogden, owners of Southern Ground Coffee Shop.

My husband is the kind of person that you don’t tell something to unless you really want it. He is an encourager and will move heaven and earth to make that thing come true for you even if it means he has to work hard, long hours to do it. His confidence empowers me. We are a team, and when we work together, the dream happens.

Amy Brogden

I’m not scared to take a chance. If you don’t play the game, you know you’re going to lose. I make a decision and live in the reality of it, not the fairytale.

Robbie Brogden

Faith in Business

Both Amy and Robbie Brogden were raised in Christian homes, and that faith is the root of their business. Southern Ground is not overtly religious nor does it hound guests with the Bible, but neither are they ashamed of who they are and hiding it. Most of the girls serving are Christians as well as the owners, and they are kind and respectful to everyone. They genuinely don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings; nevertheless, what you see is what you get with them. They won’t sugar-coat things or change who they are to please others. Southern Ground knows they won’t be liked by everybody, and that’s okay.

The Brogdens are also hard-workers with giver mindsets. Often working 80-100 hour weeks, they give most of what they make to the community because it is what they feel they are supposed to do. They are not perfect people. “I disappoint God everyday,” Amy says. “I am so not worthy. But He knows we are trying hard, and He is honoring that not just for us, but for the others that come in here.”

How Covid Affected Their Business

While Covid-19 caused many small businesses to close their doors, Southern Ground found its start in it. Campus closures and quarantine caused less traffic to come in from the university and businesses, but something surprising happened to fill the gap: Google. People began to intentionally Google search for them because they wanted to support a local small business. From this traffic, a loyal following developed, and many of those people still patron the business today.

Supernatural favor protected and blessed Southern Ground because God wanted them to be there. Far more than a cup of coffee, they are a place of service and ministry to the community. At Southern Ground, students congregate and study, small groups meet, and families hold celebrations. Southern Ground is a launching place for fellowship and wholesome, healing community. The impact of their business has only just begun.

Supporting Small Business

When they were just starting out, Amy had to learn everything she could about coffee. She researched the business and learned how to operate her business well. Amy and the girls on her team were mentored by other established coffee shops. They learned how to properly make and serve gourmet coffee and smoothie drinks, play with the ingredients, and make their own recipes. Those recipes are featured on their menu today, and Amy is now mentoring two women wanting to open two coffee shops in eastern North Carolina.

Southern Ground supports many small businesses and an example of this is in the fact that they source everything they can locally. “We are a small business and couldn’t make it without the small businesses supporting us,” says owner, Amy Brogden.

Southern Ground takes pride in the uncompromised quality of their products. Their coffee is exclusively sourced from a North Carolina roaster, Cactus Creek. Part of their partnership includes a proprietary blend, Southern Sunrise, that can only be purchased at Southern Ground Coffee Shop. The milk used is sourced locally from Simply Natural. Cinnamon rolls and other pastries come from local bakers, many of whom are in-home makers. Supplies used to remodel their shop came from local hardware stores including Jones True Value. Even their social media presence supports a local business, Daily Testify.

The First Location

The first location at 997-E Henderson Street, Mount Olive, was a beautiful hole in the wall that opened in 2020 and holds a lot of fond memories. Everyone at Southern Ground recalls times when the whole shop–every guest and employee–contributed to the same conversation. They loved that sense of community engagement, and they hope the new location will see more not less of it.

The first location was the place where standards of excellence in customer service and branding were established. In this place, Southern Ground Coffee Shop became known as a home away from home with Farmhouse Style similar to Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Fixer Upper and Magnolia Network. The commitment to make everything welcoming even extended to the bathrooms.

Advice for Business

Both Amy and Robbie agree that being in business for yourself is not for the faint of heart, but it’s worth it. The step of faith that started their business is still a step of faith today; all the profits from Southern Ground’s first location were put back into the business.

We knew God wanted us to open the shop because He kept putting the right people in our path to make it happen just when we needed them to be there.

When God does that, you have to go; don’t question it. It is a day-by-day step of faith and trust in Him. You figure it out along the way.

Amy Brogden

What’s New

The new location more than doubled the space for Southern Ground from 1200 sq. ft. to over 2600 sq. ft. That extra room brings some exciting new perks along with favorites from the old shop.

For example, the large round Magnolia Co. clock iconic from the first location fills part of the back wall while a new stone fireplace and magnolia log mantle fill the other.

A large black and white conference room sits tucked behind a warm rust wall to the left of the fireplace featuring the signature dry-erase board from the old location.

A new white board gives the shop the opportunity to celebrate the diversity of their patrons. Guests are welcomed to sign it and share where they are from.

A drive-thru window welcomes guests to get service on the go without leaving their vehicles.

What’s Coming Soon

  • Artists from the Art Department at the University of Mount Olive are currently working with Southern Ground to put a mural on the side of the building.
  • A copper framed hood behind the counter welcomes a stove to expand the menu. Later this fall, Southern Ground plans to add soup, sandwiches, and salads to their gourmet coffee and smoothie menu.
  • Online ordering will soon make it possible to offer quicker service.

For the latest updates on Southern Ground, check out their social media on Facebook, Instagram, and Daily Testify.

Make plans to stop by the shop on Breazeale Avenue. They are closed on Sundays but open 7am-7pm Monday thru Friday and 8am-7pm on Saturday.

Advice for Artists Pursuing Art Full-Time: A Discussion with Tracey Penrod, Acrylic and Mixed Media Artist, Downtown Goldsboro

Disclaimer: This article is written in conversation with the artist. It is not meant to be a representation of her voice but, rather, of what the author learned from her.

In the thriving arts district of Downtown Goldsboro, NC, acrylic and mixed media artist, Tracey Penrod, is making a name for herself and living out her calling as a full-time artist. If you missed it, here is a link to her story. Today, we share insights into the business side of being an artist full-time and some of the advise and life lessons that got Tracey to where she is today.

Shared Space vs. Studio Space at The Arts Council of Wayne County

When Tracey began to take herself seriously as an artist, she entered a transitional period of working out of her home using her dining room table and part of her kitchen as her studio. None of that space was dedicated to the art exclusively. If she needed the space for dinner or guests coming over, she would have to move all of her art and set it up again later. Constantly moving her work made her lose time doing the work because she struggled to find supplies disorganized by the move. She also struggled to get back into the head space to create the work.

When Tracey moved to a dedicated studio space at The Arts Council of Wayne County, everything changed. Not only did she have everything where she wanted it and didn’t have to move it anymore, but she had a community of other artists to influence her work. The ability to walk out next door and ask another artist for a quick opinion on something was an invaluable resource for her.

The Arts Council of Wayne County is the hub of artistic expression in downtown Goldsboro, and the arts bring in so many other things to the community in business. People familiar with (what the artists and Arts Council has to offer) will come here for it. There is a visibility here that can’t be found somewhere else or out on your own.

Tracey Penrod

Audio Inspiration

Part of Tracey’s unique process is that she creates with music. Many of her pieces have playlists created for them, used to inspire them, and often sold with the piece.

In addition to custom playlists, Tracey considers herself addicted to podcasts and Instagram accounts. She follows artists she likes and those who influence the techniques she uses. Many of the visual artists are contemporary and abstract painters influencing her landscapes.

Of the 1,000+ Instagrams that she follows, she recommends the following Top 3 for inspiration:

Of all the podcasts on the subject of art, Tracey recommends the following Top 4 on Spotify:

The Business of Art

In consideration of the keys to being a successful art business not just a hobbyist, Tracey suggested the following four points to consider.

1. Figure Out Your Branding and Identity

Though it is tempting to think you have to be everything to everyone when you are in business, specialization is actually preferred. People want to know what makes you special, what makes you unique. To clarify your brand identity, Tracey recommends that you spend some time connecting with what you feel makes you unique, where it came from, and why your story is what it is.

An artist can duplicate any other artist, but that is not the same thing as your identity. You have to know yourself and how you want to put yourself out there. Ask yourself: What is my eye drawn to and how am I supposed to relate it?

The more you create, the more you know your voice.

Tracey Penrod

2. Get Your Financials In Order

Before anyone else can take you seriously, you have to take yourself seriously. Opening a business account with your bank can help you tell yourself you are legitimate.

Whether or not you have a lot of money to start your business, you do have to be a responsible steward of what you have. Make time to track your expenses and keep accurate records of your sales and expenses. You can invest in money management tools later, but even just a Google Spreadsheet is better than nothing at all when tax season comes.

3. Establish A Designated Place and Time To Create

One of the biggest things that turned me into a business was establishing a regular studio space and schedule outside of the home.

Tracey Penrod

If you are not ready to afford a space outside of your home, what can you do to make a dedicated space for your work–a place away from distractions–with what you have? Jane Austen created some of her best work including Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility at a tiny round table by a window in her family home. It doesn’t have to be elaborate to be successful.

4. Make Room For Self Care

When you are doing something you love, it is something you want to do seven days a week, but you have to pay attention to your other needs like family, home, doctor appointments, etc.

If you are still in transition, however, your art can be your therapy. When she was not able to work full-time as an artist, Tracey noticed that creating art was therapeutic self care for the stress she experienced teaching. Looking back on it, she wished she had started creating sooner in her teaching career so that her teaching would have been easier.

It is important that you are intentional about filling your well of creativity. Tracey enjoys experiencing new restaurants, museums, destinations, and art with the people she loves. She also enjoys reading good books and attending art events with other Christian artists.

Take care of yourself first, and then everything else. Don’t make yourself the sacrifice.

Tracey Penrod

Final Thoughts from Tracey to Artists Starting Out

Are You Ready? Are You Coming? by Tracey Penrod

Don’t believe the lies!

Put yourself out there.

Make yourself available. Seen.

Stretch beyond your comfort zone.

Pursue a career in something that brings you joy not something that drains your spirit.

Let your work be a place that inspires curiosity in others. In my work, I take things like books pages, and I repurpose them into something that causes people to give a second thought to objects they otherwise ignore. They wonder about the stories behind my work, and they ask questions that lead into conversations about God.

There is nothing overtly religious about my art, but it is still enabling those moments to happen.

Tracey Penrod

We hope this story inspired you. If so, please take a moment to leave a comment below. If you would like to connect with Tracey Penrod, visit her website, Facebook, Instagram, or studio.

Tracey Penrod: Acrylic and Mixed Media Artist, Downtown Goldsboro

Artist Profile by Rebecca Whitman

In the thriving arts district of Downtown Goldsboro, NC, there is an artist who sees the world in layers of light, color, and geometric shapes and translates her visions into masterpieces of paint and mixed media. This is the story of who she is, what inspires her, and how she became a full-time visual artist.

For Tracey Penrod, the question was never when did she see herself as an artist; the question was when did she not.

Growing up, creativity was nurtured by her mother (a teacher) and grandmother (a quilter). Tracey remembers enjoying dime store coloring books with watercolor brushes and embedded paint in the pages. Those early watercolor experiences became a lasting influence on her creative voice; many have said her work reflects a watercolor effect without the application of watercolor.

She laughs at the memory of “Patch the Pony”: an early poster figuring out how to make mixed media work using glued food on a horse. Tracey still sits in wonder under the memory of her grandmother’s quilt frame. She remembers the square, rectangle, and circle shapes raising a canopy of filtered light over where she played as a child. These shapes left such a deep impression that they are a feature replicated in many of her works today.

Creativity wasn’t the only thing that Tracey learned growing up in rural North Carolina; she also learned the value of order and cleanliness. Her mother set a standard of excellence for her home that was hard to live up to at the time but, in the long run, prepared Tracey for successful work habits as an artist.

“I was the sloppy teenager leaving messes in my room and stuffing stuff under my bed to clean up when I was told to….Now I can see how disorganization hindered my art and how taking the time to organize makes me able to see my supplies and work quickly in the studio now.”

Tracey Penrod

Take a peek inside her studio…

Such an inspiring childhood would seem like a fertile soil for translation into art as a business, but it didn’t work that way. Like so many artist stories, Tracey didn’t know what opportunities were available to her as an artist in business when she graduated high school. That lack of information and vision caused her to pursue career paths in college that were close to her calling but not actually in them. She started pursuing being an art teacher then switched to Commercial Art and Advertising Design.

Then the doubts settled in–the same doubts we have all heard at some point or another in our artistic careers–the doubts that say: What am I doing? There’s no money in this! Nobody in my small corner of the world is going to pay me to do this! I need to just go find a real job and let this just be some hobby thing for me.

Those doubts made Tracey feel like it was a waste of time to pursue a career in art, so she gave up on creativity and chose what seemed logical at the time: a career in teaching. In 1999, she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Middle Grades Education: Social Studies and English Language Arts. From 2000 to 2021, Tracey devoted herself to her teaching career and spoke life into the hearts of many young people.

Teaching children was both rewarding and challenging for the artist heart of Tracey. While she loved being able to make a difference, the effort took all her energy and left little to give back to herself for her own creative work. Nevertheless, Tracey began to see the need to purposefully pursue her art while she was still in her teaching career. From 2012 to her teaching retirement in 2021, she allowed her teaching career to be her bridge job transitioning her to a full-time artist career.

During those bridge years, Tracey took advantage of opportunities to elevate her level of mastery in her craft and grow in her business acumen. She challenged herself to create professional quality work, learn how to frame with exhibition-level standards, enter local art shows, and get her work seen by a larger audience. She attended workshops and artistic events both locally and abroad including Gathering of Artisans in western North Carolina. She learned new techniques and how to apply professional finishes like cold wax to her work. She continues to gather inspiration from other artists on podcasts and Instagram.

You never stop learning; however, the time spent on mastery of one’s craft can’t be undervalued. It took Tracey over 20 years to step into her calling as a Christian artist, but her customers would tell you that the time spent in mastery was not wasted. What she can offer clients now sets Tracey apart from hobbyists and drives clients to her that are expressly wanting professional work. In fact, ownership of a Tracey Penrod original is considered a privilege for most of us. While those 20 years in the desert of another career felt a lot like striving to be an artist, they led to where Tracey is in business today.

For more about her business and the advice she would give other artists today including her top 4 Spotify Podcasts recommendations, don’t miss our companion article on Friday at The Bohemian Princess Journal. If you have been a client or colleague of Tracey Penrod, please take a moment to comment below and share how her art and work partnership has been a blessing to you. If you would like to connect with Tracey Penrod, visit her website, Facebook, Instagram, or studio.

Elevator Pitch: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How To Write It

In last week’s post, we talked about the importance of writing down your vision and guarding your influences. This week, we are discussing the short conversation starter known as an elevator pitch. US National Elevator Pitch Champion and Top 10 Business Coach, Chris Westfall says we need to ditch the old pitch idea. In this article, we will discuss what an elevator pitch is, why it is important, and how you can still craft on in a digital age.

What is an elevator pitch?

An elevator pitch is a short speech that invites people to have a conversation around the topic of who you are and what unique service you can offer them. Think of it as what you would say to a multi-millionaire investor if you had one minute alone with him in an elevator.

An elevator pitch is part persuasive story and part conversation starter that has three key components: introduction, summary with USP, and specific ask.

A good elevator pitch is important because it’s an effective way to demonstrate your professional aptitude, strengths and skills.

Indeed.com, “How to Give an Elevator Pitch With Examples”

Key Components of a Successful Pitch

Introduction

The introduction is where you invite the listener to start a conversation. Think of simple manners here; give your name and title then ask for theirs. This is something as simple as “Hi! My name is Rebecca Whitman. I’m a writer. What’s your name? What do you do?”

This is not the time to be timid; be bold and confident! Believe in yourself and be yourself. Since you are delivering this speech in-person, your body language is half of the selling point. Genuine interest in others and confidence in yourself will attract opportunity.

Summary with Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

The summary is a synopsis of what you do and what makes you unique from others in your field. There is a whole separate art to crafting your USP that is worth researching. I found this article from Entrepreneur to be helpful in explaining it.

Part of being successful here is being introspective and curious, but the other part is being a good listener. Before the moment when you deploy your pitch, you should think about your ideal customer and what would make them choose you over everyone else on the market.

Sometimes this is a clever hook. For example, the founder of Revlon used to say he sold hope, not makeup. However, many times this is about listening to the person you are talking to and discerning, in that moment, how you can best serve their needs.

The New Elevator Pitch

US National Elevator Pitch Champion and Top 10 Business Coach, Chris Westfall says the internet and social media changed everything about how we should approach an elevator pitch. The new elevator pitch is all about knowing your story and how to have a conversation about it with others; ditch the old pitch idea, Westfall says.

As you listen, be truly present not just looking for an opportunity to sell yourself. Listen to what they do and how they express their interest, audience, and needs. Do you have a skill that can add value to their lives? Do you know someone that would be a good partnership with them?

Specific Ask

The specific ask is where you offer solutions and partnerships to the listener based on the problems they have expressed.

If I am listening to someone and they tell me that they are looking for a new cook for their restaurant, I am going to think of my friend who has been working in the industry and looking for a kitchen to call his own. I am going to tell that person about my friend and help facilitate a meeting for them to talk about working together.

If I am listening to someone and they tell me that they are unhappy with their marketing and the way their story has been told, I am going to give them my card and tell them how I can help them with my writing services. I am going to show them what I can offer that is different and unique from any other writer or reporter that comes wanting to tell their story.

Final Thoughts

It is tempting to shirk back from expressing yourself as a confident business person to a stranger. Sometimes you have to just have do it afraid, but the point is to do it. Have a mindset to network and add value to your community. You may not win an opportunity with every pitch, but you lose 100% of the opportunities if you don’t try.

By not even asking, we are rejecting ourselves by default—and probably missing out on opportunity as a result…

When you are not afraid of rejection and it feels like you have nothing to lose, amazing things can happen.

Jia Jiang, “Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection”

Remember to be brief and memorable. Great conversations leave an impression, but memorized speeches make you come off as a sleazy car salesman. At the same time, an excellent connection can become a missed opportunity if you don’t leave a way to connect later. This can be something as simple as a business card exchange, but be diligent to follow up with that person after the event where you met.

If you would like a more traditional approach to elevator pitches, you can find examples for every level of your growth and development in this article from YourDictionary.com. For more details about structure and avoiding common speech delivery mistakes, check out this article from Indeed.

Guard the Root! The Importance of Writing Down Your Vision

When God begins to show you your purpose and calling, there are some important steps you need to follow through with to help you keep on track to seeing those goals realized.

In this post, we will dig into the scriptures and discuss the importance of writing down your vision, guarding your influences, and avoiding dream killers.

Write down the vision and make it plain on tablets that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time but at the end it will speak and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it because it will surely come; it will not tarry.

Habakkuk 2:2-3, NIV

Write the Vision

  • Physically writing is part of committing the message to memory for yourself and future generations.

Habakkuk is not the first or last time that God told someone to write something down. We see the same instruction to write given in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Revelation.

Did you know that Jewish synagogues all across the country open scrolls of the Torah during their Shabbat to read from the same selection of readings? Every year, they read the complete Old Testament (Torah) this way and remind themselves of the faithful character of God.

Physically writing stuff down matters. It creates a record to remember something important and it serves as a guide map to the road ahead.

  • Writing your vision is also submitting to the power and voice of God to fulfill it.

We know that the Bible is the unaltered word of God. We recieve it like a set of precious letters from our Father. We honor it as the guidebook of our lives. That is Biblically-based Christianity. But did you realize that we wouldn’t have that letter, that guidebook, if it weren’t for a series of people saying “yes” to writing it down?

In a similar fashion, God wants to partner with you to see amazing things happen in your life. It starts by seeking him, getting quiet, and listening.

For more details on hearing from God about your calling and writing it down, check out this blog.

  • Writing captures long-range goals and gives you an action plan to avoid common mistakes.

I love the practicality of the book of Proverbs. Solomon spent a lot of time giving advice on avoiding foolish mistakes. In Proverbs 29:18, he warned that lack of vision causes careless living. We know that mistakes are going to happen as we grow in discovering our callings, but we can avoid many of them by having a vision to focus on and commitment to Godly character as we grow.

Part of Habakkuk 2:2 said to write the vision down so the person reading it could run with it or implement it. When you have a written vision, it’s not just for you. People down the line will catch your dream and come along the journey to help you fulfill it.

Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Matthew 7:6, NIV

Guard Your Influences

  • Bad influences can be dream killers.

Especially when your dream is new, it is precious to you. Some days you want to share it with the world; other days you want to protect it like Gollum did the ring in Lord of the Rings.

You are not wrong to treat your dream like a precious pearl and protect it.

If you share your dream with someone who doesn’t believe in it, their advice can stop you from pursuing it altogether. If you share it with someone who doesn’t have the same heart as you, it can send you down the wrong path in how you pursue it. All of that really matters if you want to be successful and see your dream fulfilled.

  • Learn to discern the pigs in your life.

This lesson has been a hard one to learn, and I am going to speak directly to the artists here, but it really applies to anyone.

If you are serious about your art, your art is your business. As you build your business, it is important that you are careful about the culture you establish for your business by the people you allow to partner with you in it.

You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16, NIV

What you allow to speak into your business will breath life and make it grow, or it will kill it at the root. This is why I titled this post, Guard the Root!…it really is that important who you allow to influence you.

  • Develop an elevator pitch.

Not everyone you meet is going to be someone that partners with your vision, and that’s okay. You don’t need an army of followers to believe in what you do to make it successful.

Whether or not someone supports you, they still want to know what you do. This is what an elevator pitch is for. An elevator pitch is what you would say to a potential client/friend/family member/supporter if all you had was five minutes in an elevator with them. Think of it like your testimony in a nutshell. Tune in next week for more on how to write your elevator pitch.

Bottomline: Don’t tell everyone everything; give them the elevator pitch and listen to their heart. Pray for discernment to be able to know when something is not right and when you shouldn’t be listening to it. Don’t go past the elevator pitch or waste time listening to a resource that reveals it doesn’t support your vision.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.

Psalms 1:1-3, NIV

Gather Wise Counsel

  • Plant your root in the water of the Word of God.

We all make excuses about the amount of time we have to read the Bible, but that is all they are: excuses. If you want to be serious about your vision, you need to make sure it is a godly one, and you need to protect your heart while you pursue it. There is no other way to do that than through studying the Scriptures.

God doesn’t have a time requirement. He will take as little or as much as you can give him, but he does want your heart. Don’t just sit down with a Bible verse and think that is enough time to really answer your questions.

Let the Word of God be your primary resource for knowledge and wisdom. Take all your questions to God in prayer and seek answers in His Word. God will show up and answer you because he delights in the hearts that diligently and desperately seek Him.

  • Invest in doing the research and development of your craft.

Get a good concordance or index that can show you where topics are mentioned multiple times in scripture. Get a good commentary to dig deeper behind the meaning of the words you are reading. Most theologians start with Strong’s Concordance and Matthew Henry’s Commentary. I have a copy of both and reference them, but sometimes I get as much from the index and footnotes in my Bible. The key is to read the Bible in context and not take things to mean something they do not. Look for more about studying the Word in context in a future post.

Investment does not just mean money; it means time. Whether it is time reading the Bible or time learning a skill, your vision will need you to invest time in learning how to make it grow.

None of us are born with all the knowledge we need to be successful, nor can we accomplish success overnight.

  • Give yourself time to develop a network of support and encouragement.
  • Give yourself time to develop your business acumen and marketing skills.
  • Give yourself time to develop mastery in your craft.
  • Give yourself time to develop your working schedule and culture.
  • Give yourself time to develop steady clientele.
  • Glean from godly friends who are successfully following their visions.

When God calls you to something, it is important to find like-minded people who are living out their callings to encourage you in yours. They will have wisdom from their experiences to help you navigate through your journey with less stress and discouragement. This blog can be one of those resources for you. If you aren’t already a follower, make sure you join at the end of this post, so you don’t miss future posts. (It’s free!)

Godly friends are friends that are not perfect people but people who believe what you do about God and live transparently with their faith. They don’t tell everything to everyone; they share important things with a chosen few. They exercise wisdom and kindness; they greet everyone in genuine love.

Godly friends are not going to be just like you. They may be farmers, business people, healers, helpers, pastors, or servants. Whatever gift they are called to operate in doesn’t matter. What matters is that their faith and work ethics inspire yours.

Additional Scriptures

If you would like to do a deeper dive on this subject, here are some additional scripture verses I would encourage you to read. Scriptures are listed in order of where they are found in the Bible.

  • Proverbs 4:23
  • Proverbs 11:14
  • Proverbs 27:17
  • Isaiah 30:8
  • Jeremiah 31:33
  • Luke 14:25-33
  • 2 Corinthians 5:12-21
  • Galatians 5:7-9
  • 1 Timothy 4:12
  • 1 Timothy 6:20
  • Titus 2:6-8
  • Hebrews 11:1
  • Revelation 1:19

Final Thoughts

God is calling artists everywhere to rise up and use their talents to bring Him glory. I have met writers, painters, musicians, sculpturers, dancers, gardeners, and bakers who have all caught the vision to use their talent for the glory of God. None of these people, by the way, were struggling, penniless, artists.

There is no short-cut to success, but God can anoint and bless your vision if you choose to believe and follow Him.

We all have different missions in life but, I believe, they all root back to a ministry of reconciliation on Earth (2 Corinthians 5:12-21). If what we are doing does not point people to Christ, it probably isn’t a godly vision for us to pursue.

I’ll see you next week! Until then, safe travels on your journey…

The Flow of Creativity and Why It Moves Through Different Artistic Expressions During Our Lifetime

There is a picture of a pier on a wall where I work. It stretches out over a placid blue sea where grey clouds hover just above the surface in odd shaped boats and hearts. It is dusk and the lights are on. In the distance, yellow lights illuminate life on distant islands. My little pier is empty. It is illuminated just to look out on other shores where richer people than I are living richer lives than mine. It reminds me of The Great Gatsby.

In The Great Gatsby, a poor man fell in love with a rich girl and spent all his efforts to build riches to win her. Though she is married to another man, he still builds a mansion across the bay and looks out across the end of his pier to the green light beaconing from her house to his. It doesn’t end well, but the beauty of his love for her and his willingness to work hard for an impossible dream is an inspiration. It is what I think of when I think of the American dream.

Creativity is like that.

I used to think that words were endless. I would have no shortage of ideas to share or people to listen. Then I discovered new art forms.

When I was exploring painting, I made things up as I went along. I played with paint and glue and ketchup bottles and made my own Jackson Pollack-like painting with embedded words and pictures in the paint. People still stand in awe of that painting and want to buy it.

When I started baking castle cakes, I had a base recipe and experimented from there. I made a castle shaped cake that was split diagonally in half as chocolate and vanilla. I took it to a party and it became all the rage to do again and again in different flavors. I made homemade sorbets to pair with the cakes too. My favorite was a mixed fruit pair that tasted like Juicy Fruit gum.

A friend taught me how to knit and purl, and I was smitten. I took two sticks and started playing with yarn. I figured out how to cable stitch and create different knit textures. I made several scarves freestyling this way before I ever figured out how to read a pattern. It was something my more accomplished friend said she wouldn’t dare to do.

I have been actively exploring a great many creative gifts. It is my passion and my guilty pleasure, but I have learned it may be the reason my writing has gone silent from time to time.

I will let you in on a little secret: I don’t think creativity really leaves us. I think it migrates to other forms of expression. When I was painting and baking and knitting, I wasn’t writing as much. I left the words alone on the pier so I could go party in the greener pastures of my other creative endeavors.

Sometimes creativity in one area takes away from creativity in another. We have a dominant creative voice, for me, it is writing, and when we pull too far from it we start to miss it so much we aren’t whole till it is back in our lives.

Something else about creativity is that it takes discipline and hard work. It is easy to play with different expressions of creativity as an outlet; it is a whole different thing to hone one’s skills into a well-crafted art. We have to make time for ourselves to work on our gifts even when time itself seems to be working against us.

Sometimes creativity migrates; other times it hides. Doubt, stress, and the sheer responsibilities of life keep us from being our best selves.

I have a goal to blog weekly on this blog, seasonally on bairnsbard, and as needed on whitmansacademics. Every week that I got behind on my own deadlines to write made me feel like a failure. The guilt compounded till my words ran dry and over a month of blog posts passed me by. I regret that.

Recently, a local newspaper featured me on a front page story about my blogging and teaching. It reminded me of my responsibility to my writing and to my readers. After some priming, the words returned to the well.

When you think you are in a creative block, have you noticed yourself expressing yourself creatively in other areas of your life? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Why Reading Is Important (Especially For Writers)

Just how important is reading in the life of a busy adult today? Can reading help you be a better writer? How do I become a better writer without surrendering my originality? I used to have all those questions and more about reading. This post is my attempt to answer them.

It is a not-so-hidden fact about myself that I love to read. I read books all the time, in every spare minute of my time, on trips, at home, in the day, and at night. The bare white pages freshly inked with words are a magical aroma better than any perfume. I can go anywhere in a book. I can be anyone in a book. I have an unlimited passport and a free ticket to wherever I want to go in a book. I live to experience these moments.

Or, I should say, I DID…

Until I grew up.

There is something about grownups that’s gone terribly wrong in the world. Somewhere between high-flying fairytales and real-life careers, we have forgotten how to dream anymore. Heck, we work so hard we barely sleep anymore. Worst of all, we stop reading–apart from the latest status updates on social media and the mandatory readings for our careers, that is.

But did we really run out of time or did we run out of love? Where did the love of reading go?

In the home stretch of my Master’s degree, my love of reading got sucked up in all the boring mandatory texts I had to read for my career. I’ve read more textbooks and articles than I can count–I’ve written some too–but I can’t remember past the highlights of a few of them.

After college and in my career, I found my way back to reading through audiobooks. The commute became my favorite part of the day because my head was filled with the skilled craftsmanship of my peers: other writers. Something happened to my heart and mind in all that reading time. Books were strengthening my spirit and honing me in my skill.

When I became a remote worker and the commute went away, reading became something I had to be intentional about. I couldn’t listen during a Zoom meeting. I couldn’t listen while processing through writing. But that didn’t change the fact that this was still a very important part of my life and learning.

I couldn’t always give it the same quantity of time per day, but any amount of time I gave it made me stronger and more focused. I also discovered that I could read self-help books better when I had the physical book in my hand, so I used this intentional time to help me get through some books that were more like textbook pills for me to swallow.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut… If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.

Stephen King

Writers have a lot of opinions on what it takes to be a writer, but more often than not, they all agree on this point: you can’t be a writer if you aren’t a reader first. For more quotes from writers on this subject, check out Austin Kleon’s blog.

Final Thoughts

I used to wonder why I struggled so to read self-help and textbooks, but I could remember full plots and details of the stories I read and loved. What’s the difference? The difference is love. When you find a genre that resonates with you, embrace it. It may be that it will speak life into the work you are supposed to do down the road. Either you will write for that genre or it will be an inspiration for what you do in service to your community.

The people and places and things we see and do and say that we enjoyed, leave a mark on us. We are shaped by these moments of pleasure as much as we are the moments of pain in our lives–if not more. When I look back on a childhood filled with books, I see a life full of adventure and joy.

Adults have to make a conscious effort to read for fun today. Turn off the TV and pick up the book. Skip the talking heads and play the audiobook on your daily commute. Share the experience; sit and read a book to a friend. I promise you will get more out of it than all that other stuff. I am.

Why Art Matters

Over five years–and five lifetimes–ago, I was on the streets making art with the homeless. I can’t remember how I learned this, but I learned that there were homeless artists on the streets no longer able to make art because they couldn’t afford their supplies. What I did after that was a series of intentional choices that made me feel fully alive.
Let me explain.
I became very intentional about finding a way to empower the artists to create again. I found ways to use throw away things like coffee grounds and flowers to create paints and dyes. I found cheap colored pencils and wood (less than a dollar each) from a local craft store to create with. Then I talked to some church leaders about what I was doing and I was asked to teach a class. I took what I’d discovered–and my own craft supplies–and taught them about ways to be creative with stuff they see on the street. I told them God had a plan and purpose for their lives and for their gifts to be used to bring Him glory.
The class was such a hit, I was asked to teach again at an outreach event. This time, I took a bag of wooden apples I got at a yard sale and told every artist in my class, “you are the apple of God’s eye. He loves you and has a plan for your life. Now paint or decorate this apple any way you choose. This is your apple, your reminder of how God feels about you.”
At the event, the class was so popular that I ran out of supplies in the first day. I was given a small budget to buy more supplies and continue classes.

There were other events and holidays and days when my church intentionally stepped out into the community with art as an outreach tool. I look back on it now, and think it was so effective because it was doing Christianity in a way people weren’t used to but could grasp.

That’s why Art is so important.

That’s why Art matters.

Art is an expression of the soul. It is a pulse on the thoughts, ideas, and passions of our culture. Other fields like medicine and business may be necessary, but art is the only field that captures what all of us are working for. As we are trying to discover our place in the world, art gives us a voice and a guiding light along that journey.

That’s why Art is so important.

That’s why Art matters.

Art is also a gift from God to intimately connect with Him. Creativity has a source, and the best artists have been the ones with a God-given knack to do what they do.
Sometimes, however, they get distracted by other influences and lose the ability to really project God’s heart. Sometimes they are shunned by the church and feel equally shunned by God.

It’s time art was reclaimed for God.

It’s time artists felt they had a place and purpose in the church.

Follow Your Heart: What All These Success Stories Have In Common

As I travel–and connect locally–I meet a lot of interesting people with stories to tell. They are independent business owners, artists, crafters, teachers, stamp collectors, etc. Some are single. Sone have been married for years. Then I ask, “what’s been the one secret to your success?” Most of the answers come back to this one phrase: follow your heart.

Follow your heart.

That means follow the gut feeling you have on the issue and trust it.

There is some science to this idea too. When we educate ourselves about anything, part of the process of learning involves thinking about how we think. This is called metacognition. We think through patterns; Metacognition is recognizing those patterns and learning to trust them.

There is some spiritual truth to this idea as well. If you are a Christian, and you are following what the Bible teaches, you have the Holy Spirit inside you to help you make decisions that follow God’s will for your life. Your desires and wants can still get in the way, but “following your heart” for a Christian should actually follow the spirit of God.

Regardless of how you approach this issue, we all need to become more self-aware and take responsibility for our decisions. Learn to be true to yourself and “follow your heart” into the good future God has for you.