What To Do... Paola Thomas

I'm still feeling a bit groggy from all the meds I'm on, but I can't stop thinking about you and your many emails and comments that continue to wish me a speedy recovery. Thank you so much for your caring words but it's just a virus, nothing major really! :) I thought that since I'm not up to blogging at my regular Holly speed, I will post a few things today and tomorrow to keep you inspired until I'm back on Monday. Since I have a few more posts from the What To Do When You Don't Know What To Do series, I think I'll start with these...

Today we'll hear from creative lady Paola Thomas who is a Seattle-based mother, wife, blogger, and online shop owner of MirrorMirror. She, alongside Velocity Art & Design, just recently launched a creative meet up in Seattle called The Lab, too. Busy lady! Let's talk to Paola, shall we?

How do you think a person can find their spot in the world of design?

Take a long hard look at yourself and what you can do and what you enjoy doing. What do you really LOVE to do? I guarantee the business you end up doing will not be the one you envisaged, so don?t wait for something fully formed to drop into your lap, start experimenting with something TODAY and then watch it unfurl and grow. Do a new thing to your baby business every day, and grab every opportunity with both hands. You can always stop and change direction if you?ve made a mistake.

Let's say a person found what they love to do, is there more to it than creating pretty things?

Oh yes! Be truly honest with yourself and also focus on what you CAN'T or don't want to do. emember if you want a real money-making business that there's an awful lot of selling and marketing and networking and finance that needs to be done. You can hire people to do some of those things if you've got the money, but you have to at least be able to manage those people. I happen to love that side of things, but if you don't, then I really would think long and hard about whether you want to turn your creative passion into your business. I've seen people end up hating their passions. Instead have a job that pays the bills and develop outlets for your creativity in your spare time.

One thing I've heard a million times over is to see if there's a market for your work. Just how important is this?

One should think seriously about whether there?s a market for what you do. Just doing what you love is not enough. Keep testing and experimenting to see what will get you an audience. If you make stuff, get an Etsy shop; if you take photos, get on Flickr; if you want to write, start a blog. If can get an audience in these challenging environments, then maybe you have the beginnings of a business.

Great advice. Speaking of blogging, I met you in 2005 long before you had a blog. Can you tell us how that came about?

I find my blog tremendously useful for exploring ideas. It started as a marketing tool for my shop, but has now become a way for me to experiment with ideas, practice my writing and photography, and act as a platform for the things I like doing such as cooking, knitting, decorating etc. I doubt very much I?m going to make money out of these things, but having that outlet for my personal creativity is enough. For example when I started my blog I didn?t possess a digital camera. Now photography is a huge part of the blog and of my life.

Do you feel that you've found your 'calling' as a web shop owner and blogger?

I'm definitely going in the right direction but I'm nowhere near where I want to end up. My background is in finance and business development ? I worked for many years as an investment banker and then management consultant, before losing my job at a small Internet company in the dotcom crash. I realised then that I liked cushions and colour more than spreadsheets and legal docs and started combining some freelance journalism with doing a home study course in interior design. I soon realised that I don?t think spatially enough to be a great designer (and I want to be great at what I do) and also really missed the commercial side ? I love marketing and I love the Internet. Which is why I decided to set up a business that's actually primarily all about selling and marketing and the Internet, but focused on a market I really understand (women like me) and brings me into daily contact with beautiful things and creative people. And along the way I've had to write a business plan, get a bank loan, manage the building of a complex e-commerce website, run a customer database and PR list and pay sales tax etc. It?s not all about cushions.

You mentioned you lost your job and launched your web shop, but how can one afford to do that?

The upside for me is that my husband's salary has been enough to support us in this ?experimental? phase ? every penny the business makes gets put straight back in - though we have far less money than we used to. The downside has been that I've been combining it with being at home with a baby/toddler, so am only doing this stuff very part time so far. But I love what I do, I have created myself a ?job? where reading design magazines counts as work, so therefore I'm happy.

Thank you Paola! If anyone has questions to ask Paola about running a web shop, etc. please use this as your opportunity and ask some questions in the comments section below...