Well, we're a week into the new year. The first working week is over, and apart from being full of cold, it's been an enjoyable few days of feeling excited about everything in store for us in 2018.
2017 went by frighteningly quickly for me, and it had some extreme ups and downs. It was a huge year for us as a community, and I feel like there were so many demands on my energies that I haven't thanked or acknowledged people as carefully as I would have liked. So, now that we're on our "proper" website (as of July 2017) rather than our "beta" website, I thought I'd start a new tradition where we reflect on everything that has happened during the previous year, and let you know some of the exciting things ahead, as well as asking for your feedback -- because we're here to serve you!
So this is a letter to you, our friends and followers, from me, Menekse -- the founder of Cheerfully Given. Buckle up!
Unique website visitors: 45,000
Most popular page: Homeware, closely followed by Gift Ideas
Most searched-for term: "Mug" (we also had 11 searches for "DedicaTiob" -- I think autocorrect might have had something to do with that one?!)
Traffic Sources: 44.1% Social Media, 36.6% Organic Search Engine
Facebook followers at the start and end of the year: 6002 and 11,616 respectively
Instagram followers at the end of the year: 6875
Twitter followers at the end of the year: 560 (as you can see, our Twitter game needs some levelling up!)
Staff: 1 - me!
Sellers: from around 40 to almost 100!
Photography days with Holly Booth: 7
To summarise 2017 in one word: Relentless.
January 2017: At this point, our beta website had been struggling for a couple of months, so despite the terrifying amount of money involved in building a new website, we stepped out in faith and Josh started building our shiny new website. I spent most of January preparing for a Kickstarter campaign -- researching what I needed to do, making a video, and liaising with the seller community to develop a range of rewards.
February 2017: We went down to London to stand at GirlTalk Social’s Dauntless event and got to meet the lovely Emma from Girl Got Faith and the amazing Taylor from Clarity Magazine. This is the month our Kickstarter launched, and so began the most exhausting, exhilarating, and overwhelming 30 days of the year. Kickstarter is an "all or nothing" platform, which means that we needed to reach £15,000 in pledges for the website to get funded. Despite how tiring the whole experience was, I had such a wonderful sense of peace about it! All the sellers were amazing at praying and sharing, and lots of them did Instagram takeovers to share more of how Cheerfully Given has impacted them and their businesses.
March 2017: The first two weeks of March were the last two weeks of the Kickstarter, and on the final morning of the Kickstarter, we officially got fully-funded, with 426 people raising almost £16,000 towards our new website. Honestly, it STILL hasn't sunk in and it's been months since it ended. You can see the full thing here.
April 2017: This month was an absolute blur. I'm going to talk a bit more about this in the future, but building an extremely complex website on an extremely tight budget with a remote team of three people, one of whom has no idea what they're doing (hai, me!) is extremely, extremely difficult (one extremely for the complex website and one extremely for the tight budget). Alongside basically being a full-time project manager, I was also trying to write over 400 thank you cards and get all the Kickstarter products manufactured. This was also the month I inexplicably agreed to exhibit at New Wine's United event in the summer! (With no staff and no car!)
May 2017: May was wonderful, because we got to have a really fun day in London as a community. Around a third of the sellers with some of their families gathered together in London to have some portrait photography against the colourful walls of Shoreditch and Brick Lane ready for the new website. Erin from Erin Photography came and did the shoot, and she was amazing! So much of our lives and communication is via the internet, so the opportunity to meet together in person and to eat together, and laugh together, and chat together was truly special. The final weekend of May was our first ever "big" event, where my long-suffering husband drove me to Big Church Day Out South near Worthing. Our precious friends had us to stay so we wouldn't have to camp, and Andrew helped me set up and run the stall for two days. We met lots of you who follow us on social media, and again it was just so lovely to meet people in real life instead of via the internet!
June 2017: Andrew and I have one week of retreat every year. It's the one thing in our diary that's immovable. Unfortunately, it turned out it was Monday-Friday in between Big Church Day Out South and Big Church Day Out North! The horrors. So I ended up spending two days of our retreat being ill with a stress-induced migraine before we left our retreat a day early to travel to Big Church Day Out North. Again, some of our dearest friends had us to stay with them so we didn't have to camp, and we were so grateful! Andrew helped me with setting up and running the stall again, and was delighted to get a photograph with comedian Tim Vine (whom he really loves). While they were getting their photograph taken, Tim Vine noticed that Andrew had a temporary tattoo on his arm, so he came into the stall and bought a packet and I helped him put one on his wrist -- quite a surreal experience! I also met Stuart Townend and his son, Joseph, which was really exciting as he's one of our favourite Christian song-writers. As June drew to a close, Josh, Cat, and I were all frantically working on the new website. I was liaising with the sellers to get their new shops uploaded and make sure everyone was happy with it all, and then within hours of everything being ready to launch... My kitchen ceiling fell in! Tremendously, and completely, and while Andrew was on ordination retreat. It definitely felt like a spiritual attack, I have to say!
July 2017: This was a celebration month for me personally, as Andrew and I celebrated 6 years of being married on the same day as he got ordained as priest in the Church of England. A couple of days later, the new website launched! We had a virtual launch party which involved a "treasure hunt" through the website as well as a Cheerfully Given version of bingo, and we sent out party bags to everyone who got involved. I then spoke at Nimbus Collective's Made to Make event on Saturday 8th July around Creativity and Business, and on Sunday 9th July, I went to the London Illustration Fair with a Cheerfully Given stand to share some of our illustrators with the wider illustration industry. On Thursday 13th July, I spoke at a 40acts event in London called Entrepreneurial Generosity, which was looking at the intersection of faith, business, generosity, and entrepreneurship. On Friday 21st July, Andrew drove me down to the Royal Bath and West Showground, where I would spend the next two-and-a-bit weeks exhibiting at New Wine's United event. Camping. Doing 14-hour days. With no clean showers. No car. No internet. Mostly on my own. After this humongous website project had been live for two weeks.
August 2017: I got home from New Wine on Sunday 6th August, and I felt utterly broken. I had some incredibly lovely people come down and support me while I was there (Andrew couldn't get the time off work) -- Courtney from Christian Lettering Company came and spent a few days with me, and my friend Emily (who subsequently created this "Cheerfully Given haul" video) was volunteering on the team for the first week so she stayed with me. My amazing friend Jen, who is the QUEEN of camping, also came down for a few days and, in between weeks 1 and 2, she took me to her parents' so we could have a night in a proper bed and get a proper shower. So many of you who follow us on social media also came by and brought me cups of tea, prayers, and words of encouragement -- a special shout-out in particular needs to go to Anna and Keith from Lost Shapes, Angela (who was running Bible journaling workshops in the art tent), and Hannah from Mercy Ships. I can't tell you how much it meant to me, and these amazing people are the only thing that got me through it! There were stalls at the event who had teams of 4, 6, or 8 people over the course of the two weeks, so for me to do it when Cheerfully Given only has one staff member was not my brightest idea! Thank you to everyone who came by and supported me, you are treasured.
Also in August 2017, we went to David's Tent. This was by far my favourite event of the year -- the timings of the marketplace were much kinder, and it just felt a bit more chilled so there was plenty of time to chat to people. Andrew drove me down to Worthing again for this and helped me to run the stall -- I hadn't really recovered from New Wine at this point and I felt quite delicate, so it was great to be able to spend some time with my favourite person even if he had taken time off work to work with me! We went to Brighton before we came back to Nottingham and had a nice day out eating ice cream and browsing Brighton's amazing creative business scene, so it wasn't all work and no play.
September 2017: If you're still with me at this point, then I salute you! The end is in sight, because as I'm sure you can imagine, after such a busy 8 months, I was a shadow of my former self. I spent September trying to catch up on some of the work that had gone undone during the summer months, and trying to tame the Inbox Beast. (Which is an ongoing battle, even now, four months later!)
October 2017: In October, I had the joy of travelling to Ashford in Kent to speak at the Ashford Christian Women's event about Cheerfully Given and my own story. Sara, who is the founder of the Ashford Christian Women's group, is an amazing prayer warrior and all-round encourager. The event was stunning -- so much thought went into it, and the group of women I met were all really lovely.
November 2017: With November came the start of the Christmas rush. This was our busiest month of sales ever, and was SIX TIMES busier than November 2016! I also spent part of November preparing for our Christmas Market - see December.
December 2017: On Saturday 9th December, we had our Christmas Market, which we did in collaboration with St Crispin's Church in Highbury Islington, London. It's a new church plant run by my spiritual mentors, and we wanted to support them by hosting a community event. It was really small-scale (we only had 8 stalls this year) but we had hundreds of people through the doors and we're hoping to do it across all three floors of the church in December 2018 with lots more stall-holders. In December, we also had our biggest day of website sales ever! Most of the sellers had a final posting date of 18th December, so on Tuesday 19th December I took a break -- I was still checking emails, but it was nice to be able to switch off a bit to rest, recuperate and prepare for 2018.
On personal failings
People don’t always realise that it’s just me here at Cheerfully Given, coordinating everything and working with the sellers and doing the marketing and dealing with customer queries and going to events and making decisions about things I don't necessarily have any experience with. 2017 has been wonderful and joyous in many ways, but for a lot of it, it's been incredibly exhausting. I feel every failure keenly, and when you're an introvert running a people-focused business, most of my failures are because I don't have enough of myself left to give out after doing the critical stuff.
It's been a big learning process over the past year accepting that I am called to this despite my introversion -- to me, it would make way more sense for a raging extrovert to run Cheerfully Given! Someone who can be energised by going to events and exhibitions, someone who can reply to emails with abandon and schedule 8 hours of Skype chats a day without feeling like they're going to dissolve.
But Moses was a bit of a socially awkward introvert too, and he did a pretty great job because in his weakness, the Living God's strength shone brightly! So stepping out in faith and confidence in my calling is my goal for 2018, resting in Christ and relying on Him for refreshment by His Spirit, but also knowing my own limits -- pushing myself beyond my boundaries and getting so exhausted that I have to not socialise for two weeks isn't in anyone's best interest!
Note: I don't see "introversion" as a failing, but finding ways of running a successful business while taking into account my own abilities and needs was not something I was good at in 2017. Which is why I ended up going to a two-week camping event where I had to work for 14-hours a day!
On having a big vision
I love my job, I adore the seller community, and my heart is to equip and strengthen them. But it’s been so hard to get people to see the vision, to support us before we’re already popular, and I’m grateful for organisations like 40acts and Stewardship, and for people like Benn at UCB and Lani at New Wine who have been incredibly supportive and kind to me and to Cheerfully Given this past year. For amazing people like Taylor at Clarity Magazine, Emma and Kate at Girl Got Faith, and Jonathan at Set Sail, who are doing phenomenally creative things and who have been a massive encouragement to me as I work on Cheerfully Given. For the kind encouragements of people like Paul and Liz Blackham at St Crispin’s Church and Beth Yearsley at the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham (our local diocese, and my husband's employer!). For each and every one of you, who follows Cheerfully Given and comments on our posts and buys products and sends words of encouragement. For every single Kickstarter backer who got behind what we’re doing and pledged to make our new website happen.
It’s an easy thing to run a business when everyone wants a part of what you’re doing, which is the point we're at now. People see you as being "successful" and they want a piece of it, too. But getting through that bit at the start where you have a big vision, but you’re a 25-year-old-nobody-from-nowhere and hardly anybody will take you seriously is really hard, and it takes a massive amount of stubborn determination and mental resilience to get through it.
I have a big, huge, tremendous vision for Cheerfully Given, and I’ve had to do a lot of praying to feel ok with that because culturally, we tend to feel a bit icky if things have any kind of financial motivation. But it’s part of our mission here at Cheerfully Given -- to support designers and makers to create a sustainable income from their creativity, and for that, we need to be selling lots and making money. (Shock, horror!)
But my heart is also to equip local churches and individual Christians to make an impact through creativity -- to create spaces and events and homes that fill people with joy and laughter and fun even when life is hard and dark and relentless. To encourage people to live a life fully given over to Jesus, to live in the joy-filled life of His Spirit and to share the light of His kingdom with those around them.
On the amazing community around Cheerfully Given
The levels of generosity, support, and encouragement we have received as a community are incomprehensible, and I am daily grateful for every single person involved in building this website and in making Cheerfully Given what it is today. I am pretty good at words, but I've also been so close to all of this that I can't really articulate my gratitude and thankfulness for each of you. The seller community has surprised me twice in 2017 with extremely generous gifts that made me cry; they are one of the most wonderful groups of people you could ever meet -- they are thoughtful, and sacrificially-generous, and kind, and their lives are dedicated to pointing people to Jesus. Our customers are incredible -- I receive so many messages and emails from people encouraging us and expressing thankfulness for our website. It's completely overwhelming, and I honestly just sit and tell God the Father how mind-blown I am by this community at least once a week, if not more.
Thank you, from the depths of my heart.
- Fresh blog content at least 3-5 days a week, which will provide lots of inspiration for local churches and small groups when it comes to having a creative impact for Christ in local communities.
- Interviews and features with Christian enterprises from all over the UK that will highlight the amazingly creative, missional projects going on around our country. These will be via Facebook Live interviews, blog features, and more!
- A space that is dedicated to sharing our wonderful Jesus and the life we have in Him, and that aims to bring joy, light, and laughter to our lives even in the midst of hard times and dark days.
Everything we do is because we want to share more of Christ with people. The past 18 months since we launched Cheerfully Given have been quite frantic in lots of ways as we figure out systems and processes and get everything running smoothly, but it's time to look away from the mundane day-to-day to-do lists, and time to get excited about the big vision for sharing the news of Jesus using our love of colour and creative gifts!
This has been quite a hefty letter, and a lot of musings and reflections from me. But I'd love to hear your feedback -- I'd love to hear what you think has or hasn't worked, and what kind of thing you'd like to see from us over the coming months. This can be anonymous if you'd like, but I'd love to know who it's from so I can follow up with you or chat to you more about any ideas you mention.
Thank you for reading this little letter, thank you for following along with our journey, and should you take the time to do our survey, thank you for generously sharing your thoughts with me and the wider seller community!
With love in Jesus,