Gentle Business with Nicola Newman (an interview)

As you may have heard, Amanda Rootsey, Nicola Newman and I recently launched the Gentle Business Mastermind. In doing so, we thought it’d be fun to interview each other on our blogs. I’m first off the ranks and will be interviewing Nic – and then over the coming weeks Mandy will be interviewing me and Nic will be interviewing Mandy.

For those who aren’t familiar with Nicola Newman and her work – she is a professional artist, writer, painting teacher and retreat host. It’s such a treat for me to interview Nic. She is someone who has inspired me deeply, from before I even launched my business through to this very moment while reading her responses to my questions today (and looking at the beautiful pictures she sent through, that I’ve included below also). I still pinch myself when thinking about the fact that she is now my mastermind buddy and dear friend. Her infectious giggle and enthusiasm, creativity and wisdom, generosity and kindness always make me smile. 

Okay, let’s jump into the questions…

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Q&A

What does a day or week look and feel like when you are doing business gently (while living on a sailing boat!)?

Every day and every week is different on the boat. Sometimes I’ll be writing all day, other times we have boat chores to do (there’s always something that needs doing, from washing, or getting groceries – which can be a full day’s task in itself – to getting fuel or finding supplies) and other times we are socialising. We’ve never been so social since moving onboard the boat!

The sailing community is very welcoming and friendly, especially amongst people who live on board cruising the coast or even around the world. We have sailors drop in for catch ups and we also postpone jobs, or even delay departure dates, if the opportunity to hang out with other cruisers pops up. At other times the weather changes, either the wind or swell picks up, or both, and to remain safe and comfortable, we have to move the boat. That happens quite often!

So doing business gently in this environment means being adaptable and flexible.

While I don’t like to work to strict timelines or schedules, I do like to have an outline of what tasks I’m going to do and when. And yet plans so often change with this lifestyle. Just yesterday a boat was dragging anchor right beside us and my husband jumped in our dingy to go and stop it hitting a boat behind. I spoke to Marine Rescue on the VHF radio to tell them what was happening and by the time all that was over, I felt completely exhausted. So I didn’t do any writing yesterday, even though I had planned to. Instead I let myself catch up on rest.

That’s why I rely on keeping a record of all my tasks in Asana, so I can find where I’m up to when we have settled into a new anchorage for a few days, or the weather keeps us in one place. Being organised in Asana allows me to pick up where I left off and not worry about forgetting anything important.

Can you think of a time when you were not doing business gently? What did a day or week look and feel like then?

I’ve been pretty good over the years at allowing myself to take breaks, follow my inspirations, act on my impulses, create things I’m curious about and do what I love in business. I like who I am and am kind to myself (well, the majority of the time!), so working for myself has been great. I’m not a terrible taskmaster or over the top perfectionist.

However, my growth point has been around working with others, valuing myself, and giving myself permission to chose who I work with.

I’ve found as an artist in business, stakeholders I’ve worked with didn’t necessarily value the same things as me. Some stakeholders were quite manic and abusive, and while they were nice to be around in person, the way they did business didn’t suit me. They had a belief you must be ruthless and tough in business in order to be taken seriously, succeed and get ahead. But working with them drained my energy and inspiration. And as an artist, my inspiration is my most important asset.

So I decided to walk away from those stakeholders. It was very difficult and scary, but I wanted to believe there was something better out there for me, and made the decision it didn’t matter even if there wasn’t, I was no longer willing to be treated the way I was being treated. I confused business with friendship, and held onto misguided loyalties towards people who didn’t truly have my work’s best interest at heart. It was up to me to take the initiative to take care of myself and set the standard for how I was going to be treated in business.

Since walking away, I’ve been relieved to discover business can be done gently, with great respect (even during high stress situations), and without ranting, bullying or yelling to get a project completed professionally and on time.

The second part of discovering how to work with others, is related to the financial aspects of working with stakeholders. I’ve had experiences with businesses where I would ask questions about normal financial arrangements, only to have those questions pushed aside. Consequently, I didn’t know where I stood financially.

I’ve learnt when other businesses are handling your money, such as selling your art, it’s very important there is complete transparency in business and it should always be ok to ask the hard questions about money. That’s a lesson I’m passionate about sharing, especially with other creatives.

Think of who you respect in business and you’ll probably find they are cool, calm and collected people. They are confident in themselves and they value integrity and honesty. Working with people whose values line up with how I want to do business has been a revelation and a milestone in my business’ development in the past few years.

Working with people I like working with has become a huge part of doing business gently for me. In doing so, I value clear boundaries, deep respect, open transparency, and setting expectations up correctly from the beginning with clear contracts, agreements and guidelines.

I believe we all go through periods where we begin to notice we need to be more gentle with ourselves and how we live and work. Have you noticed any warning signs or signals that show up for you in these cases? If so, what are these warning signs or signals? And how do you get yourself back on track and in flow when you notice them coming up?

Oh absolutely I have warning signs when I’m stretching myself too thin. Signals that show up for me include feeling short tempered, getting run down, and a big one, not feeling motivated or inspired. When I’m short tempered, it’s usually a sign I’m tired, or I’m being too hard on myself and have set extra high expectations of what I think I should achieve.

As a woman too, I’m more aware of my menstrual cycle and how fluctuating hormones can impact my self esteem. After ovulation I notice my self doubts can be a lot more amplified, particularly if I’m putting something new I’ve created into the public domain, so I try to take extra care to speak kindly to myself during those times. I also give myself permission to stay offline and away from social media if I notice other people’s energy or opinions are draining me.

Things that help me get back on track include:

  • Going for a walk, that’s a great one.
  • Swimming off the back of the boat, (mmmmm, I love that, especially now the weather has warmed up!)
  • Cuddles with my husband
  • Talking with a close friend
  • Playing with my dog Lacey (she’s soo cute)
  • Watching DVDs of Friends in bed (I have no idea how many times I’ve watched that series!)
  • Writing in my journal
  • Listening to something inspiring, either a recording from an online course or a podcast
  • Reading for pleasure (I always love reading)
  • Snuggling up in bed
  • Making a cup of tea as a creative ritual
  • Painting just for fun is great too

When I’m being hard on myself, once I notice it (or my husband points it out – he’s very attuned to my moods and energy), if I can find enough presence to reassure, nurture and comfort myself, that helps me soften again. I often talk to myself as a mother would talk to a young daughter she loves, reassuring myself everything is ok. That helps me enormously and is something I’ve relied on through all kinds of difficult times; from heartbreaking experiences to more mundane stresses such as having to meet a deadline.

Louise Hay calls it mirror work, and it began with me talking in the mirror when I was a teenager, but these days I just talk to myself at any time throughout the day. It’s the best thing I’ve found for calming my nerves, that, and a freshly made bed in a cool, darkened room 🙂

Selling everything and moving to live on a boat obviously meant some big changes and adjustments to how you live and work. How have you had to change the way you do business (and remain gentle in your approach) as a result?

When we sold everything I had to move away from painting large oil paintings on linen (since we don’t have space on board the boat), stop hosting retreats and workshops in my studio, and even launch my online programs less this past year because I’ve had so many adjustments going on. I didn’t have the energy or focus to launch live rounds of Flourish with Painting & Creativity, my online painting course, so I sold it as an evergreen product for a large portion of the year instead.

At the heart of developing new offerings and new income streams during this lifestyle change, has been, once again, giving myself permission to do things I love and following my curiosities.

Some of the things I’ve done have included:

  • Inviting my private painting retreat client if she’d like to paint with me on a tropical island instead of in my studio (since we’ve sold the studio).
  • Letting myself trust there will be studios available to rent when I need a large physical space to work (I found one late last year to complete a massive commission measuring 3 x 12m painting for the foyer of The Star, Gold Coast).
  • Exploring water-based mediums to paint abstract seascapes on paper (they are small enough to do and store on the boat).
  • Investing in a writing and self-publishing online course with one of our guest mentors, Fiona Ferris, to find the motivation, tools, self-belief and community to publish my work on Amazon this year (I’m so excited about this!).

I also let myself take a number of months away from work to focus on getting the boat set up and settling into this new lifestyle. That was really important for me to feel gentle during this transition.

As an artist and creative – what role has art, creativity and play had in how you do business gently?

Those qualities of play and creativity have had soooooo much to do with how I do business gently. Without playfulness and gentleness, I couldn’t do what I do. I couldn’t sustain the creative output needed to be in business as a creative. I doubt I would feel safe putting myself ‘out there’ in public over and over again. I have a feeling I could easily become a rather serious person. I’d probably still have a rich inner life, but not nearly as much joy. I’d burn out, become brittle, rigid and sad, if not completely, and debilitatingly, depressed. It sounds so unappealing doesn’t it!?

So instead I like to incorporate art, creativity and play throughout my life, regardless of my situation, location and environment.

Last night, for example, I picked up my new art supplies to do some painting on the boat. I’d been tired all day (launching a new program is very tiring!) and yet I was feeling restless. Even though I didn’t feel like finding the drop sheet to cover our table and upholstery in the saloon, with the encouragement of my husband, I found the energy to get set up for an evening of making things.

And what fun it was!!!!

I played and painted for hours. My heart sang. You could probably have heard my heart sining if you listened closely (I was certainly humming, a clear sign I’m enjoying myself). The resulting paintings delighted my soul, nourished my heart, and revitalised my work. In fact, today, I spent the day buying frames for them, photographing them and uploading them as new works for sale on my art website. So in this case, playing led directly to creating new products and eventually income in my business. (Note from Naomi: I loved these so much that I may have purchased two of them already myself. Oops!)

Play almost always leads to more income in my business, and I would dare say, in most businesses. We are more productive when we’re feeling good and willing to try new things, so playing is a great process to embrace. When we combine play, gentleness and giving ourselves a sense of safety, I don’t think there is much we can’t achieve if we set our mind to it and follow our heart.  

Thank you, Naomi, for your insightful questions! You got me thinking, that’s for sure. I have so much gratitude for you and Amanda and the amazing support you’ve both given me over the past few years. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I can’t wait to open our space to all the beautiful new souls joining us in the Gentle Business Mastermind. It’s going to be an amazing experience and a truly rewarding year, I can feel it already.

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If you would like support in doing business gently this year, learn more about our Gentle Business Mastermind here.

In the meantime, you can connect with Nicola via:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Patreon | Youtube

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  • Hello Beautiful Naomi! Thank you so much for featuring me on your blog today. What a pleasure it is knowing you and getting to work together on this new Gentle Business Mastermind project. You are a gem and I’m so thankful for you in my life. x