This is a follow up story for The Girl with the Tree Tattoo. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hi everyone! My name is Katie Flashner, and I’m also known as The Girl with the Tree Tattoo. I am a blogger, author, and competitive ballroom dancer (when I’m not working the full-time day job). I’ve built a business around my blog and published books, the most popular being The Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancing. My niche audience consists of amateur ballroom dancers like myself who started their dance journeys as adults. My writing provides insight into the unique challenges they face and the inspiration and resources for overcoming those challenges so they can show up as their true selves on the dance floor.
The biggest difference between me and others who guide these dancers is I’m down in the trenches with them. I’m not a professional dancer sharing what I learned 10 or 20 years ago. I share experience and insight from the here and now, which allows me to connect with my audience on a deeper level.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Since I last sat down with Starter Story, I’ve added two additional products to my online shop - A Journal for the Whole Dance Journey and The Choreography Journal. These two journals were a follow-up to The Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancing. I had nailed down the solo practice part of ballroom dance training, but there was a lot more to it. I found that my dance training notes between solo practice, workshops, and private lessons were scattered among several notebooks and journals. I wanted to bring it all together in a journal that was structured enough to keep a dancer on track, but also flexible enough to accommodate almost anyone’s note-taking style. Thus, A Journal for the Whole Dance Journey came to be. The Choreography Journal was a necessary partner. Dance routines are studied over and over again and warrant a space separate from other training notes. I designed the pages of The Choreography Journal specifically for recording choreography.
I learned from my launch of the Solo Practice Guide and kept the launch of the journals simple. In September/October 2019, I did a preorder launch that included a bonus video of me walking buyers through each journal and providing tips on how to maximize their use. I launched my email list, my blog, and my social media following, and that was it. I sold 29 journals total in that launch, which was more than anyone launch of the Solo Practice Guide.
You have to be adaptable and ready to pivot whenever things don’t go as planned, so you can continue to provide value to your customers while staying true to your brand.
I had the opportunity to expand my reach beyond the ballroom dance world with a new partnership with Dance Dress Couture (DDC) toward the end of 2019. They served the ballroom dance and country western dance communities. At the first country dance competition where they brought an inventory of both the Solo Practice Guide and the two journals, they nearly sold out. I was so excited to be able to connect with a whole new group of dancers coming into 2020.
My 2020 plans included working with DDC to build awareness of The Girl with the Tree Tattoo brand in the country dance world and showing up more in the ballroom dance world. I was shifting focus from my writing to my dancing. My 2020 competition season was the most ambitious I had ever planned, and I knew if I wanted to continue growing my brand, I had to show up in person more. Of course, we all know that any pre-pandemic plans were wiped off the table in one fell swoop.
Like so many others, the pandemic has hit the ballroom dance industry hard. You can’t partner dance while social distancing! When things first shut down in my area back in March, I knew I’d have to pivot. I went back to that important question - what does my audience need from me? What value can I provide in this scary and constantly changing reality?
I decided to go for a win-win-win in the form of online workshops hosted by me and taught by some of the great professional dancers/teachers I knew who were quite suddenly without jobs. I came up with a simple plan (there’s that simple again) - charge $25 per workshop and split the fee with the teacher 50/50. I would do all of the pre- and post-workshop work and the teacher would lead the actual class. I hosted a total of three workshops between April and May and had between 7 and 32 registrants for each one.
After the last workshop in May, I slowed down the work on my business significantly to see to my mental wellbeing. Luckily, my day job was not interrupted by the shutdown and I’ve been able to continue working from home full time with full pay. It may sound strange to say, but I have to be grateful in a way that my business did not outgrow its side hustle britches because if I had transitioned to full-time entrepreneurship, my situation would look very different than it does now. I can afford to ease up on business building efforts and reserve my energy during these stressful times.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
I have to focus on lessons learned during this pandemic for this question. Taking care of my physical and mental health have taken top priority. Watching the world fall apart around me has made me appreciate having a day job that can be done from home, as well as having a roof over my head and groceries delivered to my door. Watching the ballroom community (and the rest of the world) react to the pandemic has also reminded me how important it is to be committed, but not attached, to your plans. You can have the most detailed 5-year plan ever designed, and a microscopic virus can show up and destroy it. You have to be adaptable and ready to pivot whenever things don’t go as planned, so you can continue to provide value to your customers while staying true to your brand.
As the old reality fades into just a memory, I’m seeing new ways of looking at things. Dance studios closed and competitions were canceled, so the “old” way of dancing wasn’t available. As more and more dance classes were offered online, I found myself, instead of attending class, spending more time reflecting on what dance means to me when I’m alone, without a partner or an audience to perform for. I started seeing how I connected to dance in everyday ways that I didn’t notice before. Just because the way of doing something has been lost does not mean we’ve lost that something.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
As our situation with the pandemic changes almost every day, it’s difficult to make any plans that go beyond the end of this week. The usual strategy of setting business goals for the next 90 days, 6 months, 1 year, etc. didn’t make sense to me when I didn’t even know if the ballroom industry was going to survive. So again, I pivoted.
Instead of starting with what, I focused on the who. I envisioned who I wanted to be and how I wanted to show up. That vision then inspired the aligned actions.
My goal is to always show up as my authentic self, whether that’s as a dancer or as a writer, and in turn, encourage and enable others to show up as their authentic selves. This goal doesn’t need to be restricted to the dance floor.
I thought the focus of 2020 was going to be a dance. I was wrong. Instead, the focus is going to be on personal wellbeing and writing. I’m taking advantage of my relatively stable financial status and giving myself the space to rest in the evenings and on the weekends, instead of using that time to market or plan my next launch. I’m maintaining my brand awareness efforts, as well as continuing to provide value to my audience, through weekly blog posts and social media posts every few days. In alignment with my goal to expand beyond the ballroom world, I’m also beginning to publish on Medium.
I have a feeling the next 5 years are going to be full of change for the better. At the beginning of 2020, realizing my 37th birthday was coming up in March, I mapped out what I would need to do to exit the day job before I turned 40. I don’t intend to be living where I am now in the next 5 years; however, my attitude around leaving the day job entirely has changed thanks to the pandemic and the fact that working from home is working quite well. The Girl with the Tree Tattoo isn’t going anywhere. I intend for her to show up in more places. But the pace will be slow and steady and breaks will be generous.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Only fiction. I’m currently rereading the last book in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
This is a crazy time we’re living in and it may get worse before it gets better. That does not mean you stop going for your dreams. It may mean you need to slow down or take extra breaks, like I have, to take care of your mental health. But it doesn’t mean you should stop.
Who knows what tomorrow or next week or next month will bring? If you’re not sure what action to take next, think about who you want to be or how you want to show up in the world instead, and see where that leads you. Just don’t give up!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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