Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi there! My name is Elizabeth Russell. I’m the creator of the Dreamfruit Almanac for Earthlings, which is a moon-based planner and guided journal that I self-publish each year.
I deliver year-round interactive sessions to bring the themes within the book into focus in a more personal way. Most of the people who love Dreamfruit are looking for creative ways to respond to the changes and challenges of our time.
I call myself a protector of the deep imagination, as I believe that the imagination can be a generative, practical tool for dreaming something better in our personal lives, but also for the world we’re living in.
Dreamfruit is a unique project that feels more like a “sacred assignment” than a business. That said, we are in year four and have just completed our first crowdfunding campaign with over 100% community support!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I was raised to pay attention to birds, plants, stars, and all the rest, so I’ve been apprenticing myself to the voice of nature for most of my life. I feel that we modern humans are in deep need of reconnecting with the wisdom found there.
That early encouragement to look for guidance in the natural world has led me on a pretty unconventional professional journey. Even when I’ve been successful with traditional employment I inevitably burn out. I seem to be hard-wired for innovating and creating my path.
The idea for Dreamfruit came after time spent in what I call the “fertile void”, though at some points it felt more like a bottomless pit. I had just closed the doors of my business in Portland Oregon, which I had operated for seven years as an integrative arts and community event space. The costs of maintaining a physical location had just become insurmountable, and so my partner and I packed up and moved to a new town a couple of hours away.
It wasn’t in my mind that I was going to launch an entirely new product. Instead, I was still operating under the illusion that I would somehow resurrect my integrative arts programs with a modified business model. But nothing was clear to me. To make ends meet I picked up a miserable part-time job in a nurse practitioner’s office and was feeling a fair amount of doubt about the next step.
So I was pretty surprised when I sat down one night and created a prototype for a moon-based planner/journal hybrid. That was in January 2019. What I created in just those few hours was incredibly inspiring to me. I loved that its structure and content blended my sense of grave concern for our world today with my abiding faith in human compassion and ingenuity. I was hooked.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
When my partner got home that night and saw what I was working on, he couldn’t keep his hands off it. He has a strong background in graphic design and can’t resist a creative challenge, so we workshopped the design together.
Since he had very little experience with some of the esoteric features in Dreamfruit, he was the perfect collaborator for design. He asked a lot of questions that forced me to see what I was working on through the eyes of a total newbie.
We made a mockup that we printed at home and disc-bound so I could test the flow and functionality. There were several design adjustments, lots of paper samples, and conversations with printers along the way.
By the time it was ready to print, I had incorporated several more layers of insight, structure, and valuable features into the book. Of course, to produce a physical book, I had to learn quite a bit about printing, copyrights, ISBNs, and all that. It was a steep learning curve, but I somehow got the first edition (2020) printed and ready to ship in time for the new year.
There are a lot of tiny pieces to keep track of in self-publishing, and there are also a lot of scammers looking for naive creators trying to make sense of it all. I found that the best and most affordable way to set things up was just to do it myself. In my case, that meant creating a publishing business (Earth Dragon Press), buying the ISBNs directly, registering my copyright, and finding a local printer who could create what we designed.
The first edition of Dreamfruit is what I call “the motherbook”. It is a gorgeously designed book, complete with foldout pages and thoroughly pen-tested heavy paper stock. That’s great, but not an easy ask of most local print shops. I still publish a limited number of this format each year (working with the same local printer each year), but saw early on that it is too complex of a product to be able to scale.
To create something that could be distributed more widely, I did a lot of comparison shopping and found that I could do print-on-demand through Ingram Spark and achieve global access while still retaining full creative control. This allows me to offer a simpler format that anyone can buy through Amazon or other major online booksellers and that bookstores can order through their wholesale suppliers.
With the print-on-demand approach, I have a range of options – in addition to selling wholesale, which pays me a ridiculously small percentage, I can buy my books in small batches and sell direct (this gives me the best profit margin).
Buying my print-on-demand books also gives me the option to modify the books before selling. 2023 will be the first year I’m offering an alternative spiral binding (instead of the default perfect bound format) on print-on-demand. I’m able to do this by taking my preprinted books into a local bindery and having them trimmed off the spine and replaced with the coil binding.
As I mentioned, there are about a thousand little things to work out to go this route, but for me, it’s been worth it because it has given me flexibility & creative control along the way. With each year’s publication cycle, I learn more and become more adept, which positions me to understand pretty clearly what kind of support I need from others when I’m ready to bring on staff.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I didn’t have a big plan for launching, but luckily there was a core of supportive people from the community I had hosted for all those years at my studio in Portland. They may have just bought the book out of kindness that first year, but the response was pretty favorable right away.
The costs for getting things rolling were directed toward updating my brand and website. I was reluctant to let go of my prior business’s site and branding – they were so beautiful and had a solid following. But Dreamfruit is a 100% different product, so I had to find a way to introduce it to people without losing the value & goodwill that had accumulated during my time with the Be Space studio.
Creating the new website presented me with an opportunity to get clear about how I wanted to show up for people and to create a visual narrative that linked my past business to my present offerings.
Fortunately, I worked with a really helpful designer to build the new site. She asked a lot of questions, some of them challenging. While I did have to think through all of the layers of visual representation, she was a great sounding board and ultimately translated all of my sketches and maps into a visually beautiful site.
I encourage anyone creating a new project to work with an outside eye – the main reason being that it will force you to explain and describe what you’re up to someone with a completely fresh perspective, which is ultimately the challenge of any marketing communication you’ll do going forward.
Let your business vision be something that serves a larger purpose than just its success.
I made a series of videos walking through the pages and showing how Dreamfruit works. Then I put it up on my website and shared it with my email list. That’s where most of my sales in the first year came from. It is important to note that at this point in the production process I was incredibly exhausted, creatively and physically.
It is one thing to create an entirely new product, brand it, and produce it, and an entirely another layer of effort to market it. But I am grateful to my partner for helping me push through. Launching a new business is a marathon. Or maybe a grueling series of sprints.
Because Dreamfruit launched in 2020 there was only one in-person event that I was able to vend at before the pandemic shut everything down. I will say, though, that setting up that booth was an amazing experience. It gave me the chance to talk face-to-face with people about the underlying purpose of Dreamfruit and to show them how it works. I still count many of the folks I met at that single event as friends and customers today.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
One of the best decisions I made early on was that I wanted Dreamfruit to have a live-event option. People can just use the book on its own, but they can also sign up for a monthly call where I talk about that month's themes and offer guided creative experiences related to what’s in the book. Because of that community feature, a community of people has grown into a vibrant core that centers around Dreamfruit as an annual guidebook and supportive tool.
In the second year, I set up a print-on-demand format for the book that allows it to be sold on Amazon. While I’m happy to have Dreamfruit listed there, it is not where I’ve found the most traction. For now, anyway, it seems like the energy is in the connections and community that people experience when they come to my Dreamfruit events.
Marketing has been pretty focused on word-of-mouth and networking. I do keep a presence on Instagram and Facebook, but not to the extent that all of the ‘experts’ recommend. I started a Facebook group of Dreamfruit Travelers a couple of years ago, and have found some of the most authentic connection comes from that.
We’re just now printing the 2023 edition of Dreamfruit Almanac for Earthlings, and I am extremely proud of what this book has become. I self-funded this project for the first three years and was simply unable to continue doing that. So, for the first time, I went for a crowdfunding campaign for the 2023 edition. It’s been a great experience of transitioning to a community-supported model for publishing this special book. I think crowdfunding is the right fit for what Dreamfruit has become.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Self-publishing is not for the faint of heart. Each year I spend months writing new content for the year ahead. Then an additional month working on any re-designs or new features that need to be incorporated into the new edition. And all of that is way in advance of actually setting up any marketing for the pre-order campaign. The many many hats I wear make for a complex and demanding project.
I’m pretty sure that shifting to a community-supported publishing model will prove to be a game changer. Of all of the paths that Dreamfruit Almanac for Earthlings could take, this feels like the exact match for the spirit of the book itself. Although it hasn’t been profitable in these early years, I see this as a developmental time, giving plenty of room for the business to find its right shape.
The first-level crowdfunding goal we set on IndieGoGo was based on an extreme minimum – $6500 allows me to pay for the minimum print run and pay for some of the additional supplies and professional help that goes into producing the book. I wanted the number to be achievable and not overwhelm the people who have been long-time supporters. I’m glad I started with such a humble target, but we need to triple that number for next year’s pre-order campaign to achieve a sustainable model.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I’ve been very supported by the talent and generosity of my friends. And the book design would simply not exist if not for my partner. So the big lesson in that is that nobody should try to do something on their own. I’ve got a long way to go on this lesson, and am excited for year five to bring Dreamfruit that much closer to a functional organization that isn’t 100% reliant on me for each moving part.
The other piece I’ll mention is that over the years I’ve enlisted marketing support from independent contractors. This is a tricky situation because they are not familiar with the product they are trying to help me sell, and they are not invested in its success. As long as my project shows up for them as another gig, they are going to just apply their formula service and let it play out in whatever way. I feel like this is a casualty of the gig economy and that we would do well to build in commissions or some sort of incentive when asking for marketing help.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I used IndieGoGo for our crowdfunding campaign, and feel like that is a good choice for Dreamfruit. They allow for “flexible funding” which means that even if we hadn’t hit our goal, we would have been able to keep the funds. They also have an “In Demand” feature, which allows us to stay on the platform if we meet our goal. So people can continue ordering even past our campaign’s end date.
MailChimp has been my email tool for decades. I can’t say I love it, and their prices have gone up as their services go down. But they kind of have me for now because my plate is full and it takes time to make a switch. That said, now that I have a more solid foundation and more of my processes take care of themselves, I am preparing to migrate to a more sophisticated tool – at the moment I am considering ConvertKit as it is made for writers and creators, and suits my business model.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic is great for getting clear about how inspiration works and where ideas come from.
For women who are visionary entrepreneurs, Kaya Singer’s book Wiser and Wilder helps tremendously in shifting your business mindset away from cookie-cutter business models and making your business suit your style.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Be clear! Try not to jump on the first good idea that occurs to you. Get used to doing a gut check to be sure it’s something that you’ll be interested in and that’s in alignment with what you know about yourself. Your business vision should be something you can stay with for the long haul.
Be patient! If you are truly inspired and committed to your project then you want to be able to give it plenty of room to breathe and grow into itself. A wise friend once told me that it takes three years to grow anything. She was talking about relationships and community, but I feel like that applies to business as well. Stay the course.
Be generous! Let your business vision be something that serves a larger purpose than just its success. Consider that we live in a time of unparalleled complexity and that we all need to be finding our way to be part of the solution.
Be kind! On a practical level, it will grow your base in a lasting way. But also be kind to your vendors, your contractors, and your competitors. We are all in this together and kindness always makes good business sense.
Where can we go to learn more?
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