Our Entrepreneurship Spirit

Our Entrepreneurship Spirit - Deborah Barker

Working on or in the business? Offering hacks for entrepreneurs, Deborah Barker FRSA, Director at Field and Folk is a natural dyer and works on regenerative Fibre Projects. Deborah makes a useful distinction between working in the business and working on the business. She explains

Working on the business includes anything strategic. It is when you take a step back and look at the bigger picture. What is the vision? What are the decisions you are making and how do these decisions align with the values? Where do you want to go? What are you’re doing? What are you being? How are you thinking about your long-term strategy? What are your plans relating to social media marketing? What is your thinking relating to finance? All these things particularly with creatives are the kind of heart sinking moments. That is why they tend to get relegated”.

When working on your business you are intentionally creating the right environment and culture that inspires others and that invites contribution and growth. You are also building value in your organisation or network.

Deborah talks about her own learning

Working in the business is anything that is job execution.  It is the management of the execution, such as when I am doing the work or delivering the programmes.   I have learned myself and I’ve seen numerous times how absolutely critically important it is to think strategically about my week, my month, my year, and give enough time for working on the business.  When I start to let it slip, I can find myself back paddling because I don’t really know where I am going.   My brain gets foggy, my project management and my enthusiasm get muddled. This hampers my ability to get things done as I am unable to think of other ways to do business”.

Creating generate income and a sustainable organization

This can be around organization as well as being creative.  Forms and structures that are just an everyday part of life in business can be really helpful.  Regenerative thinking is another way of thinking.  Rather than just maintaining the status quo or maintaining this current level of it creates a new paradigm that’s regenerative. It links into the lives of the people who are leading that organization. For a small business, it’s really helpful to think about not just the business, but with bigger picture, working on the business to think about what your values are and what you want.

Women recognise that it is difficult to separate life from business – they’re one and the same –  an integral part of life. identifying your values and then how they inform your working week and create the pattern for building sustainability.  The time you put in is really, really important. 

“We recognize that we can stop, and things don’t fall apart and the importance of taking time out to nourish ourselves before we get to the point of burnout. We build in time for reflection, we build in dream time, we build in time for doing nothing, for just wondering and meandering. That aspect for me really nourishes.  Moments of wonder really nourish us and give us so much energy and inspiration. I find myself working twice as hard when I’m revived, revitalised and refreshed!”

Deborah’s checklist

There’s a checklist of things that I know bring me joy and there’s meaning in my work. And interestingly, I think it can be just as hard to avoid burnout when you love what you do as it is when you’re doing something you don’t want to do.”

Deborah hold’s herself to account

“I consciously set up times and block periods out in the diary when I would be doing something that wasn’t work related. I would switch off the laptop, the phone, really take time away from anything digital and really invest in just being”

She quotes Simone Veil the philosopher. “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”.

Remember that you are a limited resource. “We must give ourselves the time and space to be nourished. That in turn feeds back into the business” are Deborah’s parting words of advice. 

Deborah Barker is Director of Field and Folk and co-founder/director of Southeast England Firbreshed. She is passionate about creating new possibilities for collaboration, partnership and engagement and particularly interested in exploring the meeting point between urban and rural and agriculture and fashion.

Where you can find Deborah

Instagram: field_ folk“. 


00:00:00 Paula: Welcome to “TesseTalks” with your host Tesse Akpeki and cohost me Paula Okonneh where we share with you top leadership and management strategies. This is a journey of discovery. We are learning that leadership is personal and professional, and we hope you can walk with us in this adventure. Our guest today is Deborah Barker, and we are gonna be talking about golden threads for small businesses. I’ll tell you about Deborah. Deborah works at the Intersection Of Visual Art Craft, Fashion, Textiles, and Agriculture. From her natural dye studio in East Sussex, she collaborates with farmers, independent designers, makers and artists. Alongside her work as a natural dyer that’s “DYER”, she works as a freelance researcher as a consultant and project manager for “Regenerative Farm And Fiber Projects and Designers”. In 2019, she co-founded the Southeast England FiberShed, which is a not for profit organization. And through that creates a regional regenerative fashion and textile system. Deborah is a fellow of the Royal Society Of Arts and contributed to the RSA regenerative futures program. Welcome to “TesseTalks”, Deborah, your bio is fascinating.
00:01:44 Deborah: Thank you. Yeah. Sorry it’s so long, but I’ve worn many, many hats and that’s a sort of shortened version.
00:01:51 Tesse: Deborah, we love your many hats and we encourage you to share some of those hats with our listening audience today. I’m gonna kick off small businesses, and I declare an interest that both Paula and I are small business owners. So we are as much intrigued by what you’re going to say and share as our listeners. So what are your thoughts on how entrepreneurs or solopreneurs should be thinking or what they should be caring about in terms of working in the business and working on the business? What kind of thoughts do you have in this area?
00:02:27 Deborah: I think this is the biggest area and the biggest challenge even for me after 40 years of being self-employed. I still find working in the business and on the business the biggest challenge. And working in the business is actually doing the work. So for me, that’s being my textile studio, doing the dying, growing dye, plants, meeting clients, talking about projects. or what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. So some people like to do it so they’ll take sort of like a week off and they’ll just spend that week on websites and marketing and the whole strategy. Other people can do a half day in the business and a half day on the business. Not Working on the business is when you sort of take a step back and you look at the bigger picture where you want to go? What you’re doing? How you think about your sort of long term strategy, your social media marketing, finance. All of those sort of things that particularly with creatives are the kind of heart sinking moments , which is why they tend to get relegated. But also I have learned myself and I’ve seen numerous times how absolutely critically important it is to think strategically about your week, your month, your year, and give enough time for working on the business. I think if you start to let it slip, you can find yourself still back paddling because you don’t really know where you’re going my brain and my kind of project management and my enthusiasm doesn’t work like that. So I find it’s better to do periods blocks of time, where I’m working on the business and in the business. And there’s actually a brilliant book by someone called Sheila Chandra. It’s called “Organizing Your Creative Career”. And she really explores it and explains it very well. The importance for creatives, but I think it applies for anybody. I mean, I think anybody who’s an entrepreneur has to be creative because otherwise you don’t have the imagination to actually make that leap and become self-employed or freelance.
00:04:40 Tesse: That’s excellent. Paula, you were curious about other things. What came to your mind?
00:04:45 Paula: So I noticed that you, Deborah, you’re committed to bringing all the experience you had from, for profit businesses into the not for profit businesses organizations, I should say. How successful have you been at that ? Or that’s one question.
00:05:04 Deborah: I think that a lot of not for profits really need that entrepreneurial aspect to make them successful.
00:05:13 Paula: I’m referring to you taking the experience that you have from working in businesses that generate profits. So for profits businesses and taking that into nonprofit, as they say in America, I guess “not for profit’ in England, businesses. Yeah.
00:05:29 Deborah: Yeah, I think it’s really important that the entrepreneurial aspect is there still in the, not for profit that often. Yeah, particularly in the current climate, it can be really hard to generate income and we’ve had a very good funding system for the arts here. And a lot of the grants are sort of slowly being eroded or taken away. So in America you have a system where you have a lot more patrons. We don’t really have that system here. And so I think bringing some of that entrepreneurial aspect into the not for profit helps people think about how they can generate income and, you know, create a sustainable organization. I think there’s things around sort of organization. Often people who are value driven, I find quite resistant to form and structure. Particularly and again, if you’re working in a creative organization. And I think some of those sort of forms and structures that are just an everyday part of life in business can be really helpful.
00:06:33 Paula: Awesome.
00:06:34 Tesse: That’s really the models that will help build more sustainability into the creative environment. And that actually leads me to another question about sustainable leadership. And I know that sustainable leadership can mean different things for different people, so I’m not assuming anything. I’d love you to say a few words around sustainability linked to leadership, because people keep the two apart, and my way of thinking is that they’re not, yeah. They’re actually integral to each other.
00:07:05 Deborah: Yeah, I mean this is the thing that really excites me is how to bring regenerative thinking, which is sort of beyond sustainability. So for me, sustainability is about how do we maintain what we have? And how do we just keep that going? And actually we know that we’re in a climate crisis. We know that society is in crisis. And actually, I don’t think many people, if they really honest want to keep things as they are, and there’s certainly a lot of people who don’t. For me, regenerative is another way of thinking so that rather than just maintaining the status quo or maintaining this current level of consumption or whatever area is you’re looking at. For me, it’s particularly in the area of textiles. It’s about creating a new paradigm that’s regenerative. And in that, not just thinking about how do we create regenerative products or how do we create services that offer a regenerative service? But how does that regenerative culture then link into the lives of the people who are leading that organization? And I think for a small business, it’s really helpful to think about not just the business, but in that sort of bigger picture, working on the business to think about what your values are and what you want. And I think what’s really interesting, I was looking today in preparation for the podcast are the people who’ve inspired me around small business and actually they’re all women. And I think that’s partly because it’s women who recognize that you can’t separate life from business. That they’re one and the same. It’s an integral part of life. Perhaps if you’re lucky enough to have parents or children or to run a house to work. It perhaps lots of people who are self-employed have portfolio careers, they have to work in other areas. And the books that I’m drawn to recognize that, life is multifaceted and that we have to think about all of those things. And whenever I’m asked to run a session on business and small business entrepreneur focused event. I always get this sort of like Ugh, feeling from the people. And I think they imagine I’m gonna go straight into kind of registering as self-employed. But actually the place that I start is, what do you want? What are your values? Because if what you really want is to make a lot of money and that really genuinely is your primary focus, that’s one starting point. But if you really love your life and you love gardening and you can afford to just earn an amount that will keep you ticking over, and that’s your interest, that’s your commitment. Then you have a very different kind of business. And I think identifying your values and then how they inform your working week and the pattern and the time you put in is really, really important.
00:09:58 Tesse: I really love this. And what I particularly love about it is that ,it’s really aligned to things that I wish I had known when I set up my business. I didn’t know any of this. I knew that I loved governance, that’s what I knew, and I loved training. But I didn’t know these things you were talking about actually working in the business, working on the business, et cetera. Came as a big shock to me that a lot of time will be taken up around the other pieces. What I won’t be training and developing. And when you say listening to the regeneration as beyond sustainability, that will also interests me. Because I think what we are simply seeing from our young people now is we are seeing young people who want to be regenerative. We’ve seen young people who are values driven and purpose led and that’s really good. But I’d like to ask another question, which is linked into regeneration and sustainability, which is mental health and wellbeing. What I’m seeing, and Paula, I welcome your views here as well, are high levels of burnouts. I’ve seen an increase in mental illness, mental health. I was reading about America in the Washington post and in the Inc newsletter and so on about people who are now leaving their jobs because the pandemic has given them the feeling they don’t wanna be in those jobs no more. And in the UK, for sure we know that figures coming out from human resource researchers specialists, are saying that the burnout has never been so high. So what are your thoughts in this area Deborah?
00:11:29 Deborah: Well, I think it’s really important that you have your own values framework. And I’ve done that formally with the organization that I work with the Southeast kingdom FiberShed. And it prompted me then to go away and come up with my own values framework so that when I was under pressure I had something written down that I could look at to measure what my values were and whether I was aligned to them? Because I think often burnout comes, having suffered it myself, I know it well. It’s where everything just feels like it’s sort of biting at your heels and you don’t have time to breathe and think and stop. And you fear that if you don’t keep going that there will be consequences. But actually there are consequences with not stopping. And I think actually it’s really important to recognize that we can stop and things don’t fall apart and to take time out and to nourish ourselves before we get to that point. And I think that’s the point of regeneration that you build in time for reflection. You build in dream time, you build in time for doing nothing, for just wondering and wondering. And I think that’s the aspect that for me really nourishes. It’s that leaving time for moments of wonder, which then really nourish you and give you so much energy and inspiration that you go back. And for me, my experiences of working twice as hard because I’m revived and refreshed, rather than this kind of driven living on coffee, staying up late, making mistakes, being ineffective. It’s not easy. I think it takes courage to stop and it often needs someone else to point it out to you that you are going and driving too hard. But if you have a values framework and you’ve written down that you want to do certain things, and for me that will be gardening, and growing my vegetables, and seeing my children, and spending time with friends, and singing. I have a kind of list and I don’t get to do them all every week. But there’s a kind of checklist there of things that I know bring me joy and there’s meaning in my work. And interestingly, I think it can be just as hard to avoid burnout when you love what you do as it is when you’re doing something you don’t want to do. Because it feels really difficult to acknowledge that you love doing this thing, that it nourishes you, that you meet wonderful people, that you’re doing meaningful work, but you still need to stop. And I think that was the biggest lesson for me to do that.
00:14:01 Tesse: So what helped you through that burnout period? What helped you come back? What helped you get back into flow?
00:14:09 Deborah: I think doing this work, really looking at what my values were. I think up until that point, I’d probably separated out my personal life and my work life, and I sort of put a firewall between them. And my personal life just had to take the consequences. I had three young children, so that was quite an intense personal life. My partner was away a lot, traveling. And it was really recognizing that I had to have a more integrated approach and to value the time away from work, as well as the time in work. And then actually recognizing that I was more effective when I did shorter hours, when I was boundaries about the work. And I think it’s very common with creatives, when you’re doing creative work. I mean, everything you do, everywhere you go, everything you can see can feed into it. So I had to really consciously set up times and block periods out in the diary when I would be doing something that wasn’t work related. I would switch off the laptop, the phone, really take time away from anything digital and really invest in just being. And being in nature, I think for me, that was really important. I think there’s all sorts of research that shows if you walk barefoot on the grass, that it changes your. I’m not a scientist here, but I think it changes your magnetic fields and it can really literally help ground you. And walking in nature, you know, seeing birds and just, yeah, it just brings me back to myself.
00:15:44 Tesse: Brings me back to yourself. I mean, unfortunately the guy who wrote about flow, he died recently. It’s all the thing about flow and what being flow means. And you said a few things about dreaming and wonder, what does that feel like? Give us some examples of how we, how Paula, how I would know that we have connected with wonder? Or how we’ve connected with our dreams? What be going on there?
00:16:09 Deborah: I think it’s very personal. But for me, it’s when I allow myself to step outside the every day and really allow my imagination to take flight. And the sort of thing that excites me, is when I think about the fact that I can be standing outside looking at color. So I’m a natural dyer, so I work a lot with color, and the hardest color to get is green. Which is quite fascinating. Because the green isn’t held in the leaf it’s reflecting; it’s holding all the colors of the rainbow in that leaf and reflecting green. And the light that is reflecting on that green has come from the sun, and it can have taken anything between 2 million and 200,000 years for those photons that are hitting that leaf to leave the sun and then reach the earth in eight minutes and reflect that light back. I mean, this just for me, it’s just blows my mind when I stand in front of a leaf and I imagine all that life force pouring into that leaf. And then that color being sent back to me. And I think to be in that space, it’s such a privilege really, because I’m aware for a lot of people, it’s a real struggle. But just to be able to drop things, to really let go of pressures and what you should be doing and you ought to be doing, and all those pressures that we put on ourselves, all that internal pressure. And for me, it often takes a period of meditation or yoga or consciously working to inhabit that space, before I can allow myself to go into a space that excites me. But I think anything that excites you. For some people it’s cooking and being at cooker or working with ingredients, and some people it’s animals, or. But I think when you allow yourself to give attention, I think that’s really key. And I found a wonderful quote actually by Simone Veil. I was thinking about that Simone Veil philosopher. She said “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”. I love that expression. And I’m often amazed at the capacity of people who give incredible attention to something. Whether that’s an insect or birds, or it may be something I’m really not that interested in, or I didn’t think I was interested in. And then they give this incredible attention to it. And then they invite you in to that space, and it opens up that space of wonder.
00:18:39 Paula: I’m in wonder listening to all what you’re saying, and seeing how you are bridging the gap between our personal lives and our business life and saying they should be integrative. And you’re giving tools on having the values framework. And also just realizing that all businesses are made up of, well for now, all businesses are made up of human beings. And so we need to regenerate, and we need to have that regeneration within us. Dream more, sometimes do nothing and just be. Our business and our personal lives are all competence of ourselves. I’ve been just silently listening to you and admiring you for all the tips that you’re giving to small business owners. And so with that, I was wondered if you had anything, any extra tips to share? Because I’ve gained so much just listening to you. As a small business owner, I think I’ve gained a lot, not just so much. I’ve gained a whole lot just listening to you.
00:19:45 Deborah: I think it fits anything, it’s remember that you are a limited resource as well. We tend to be quite cautious with how we use computers, or our phones, or. We recognize that they’re a limited resource, they’re not renewable that at some point they have a life cycle and that life cycle will come to an end. And I think when we are really driven, we tend to forget that we need to treat ourself as a really the most precious resource in the business. And to give ourselves that time and space to be nourished .That in turn feeds back into the business.
00:20:22 Paula: In other words, it’s a cycle, you know. You gotta replenish yourself so that you can give back to the business, which in turn gives back to you. So we need to be cognizant of the fact that it’s all integrative,
00:20:38 Deborah: it’s a reciprocal relationship.
00:20:40 Paula: Reciprocal, love that way of describing it. Well, all good things have to come to an end. But before we wrap up, where can people find you online Deborah?
00:20:51 Deborah: Well, I’ve got an Instagram, which is, “field_ folk”. And that’s probably where I’m most active. I’m building a website currently, which is, “field and folk.org”. Those are the two places.
00:21:07 Paula: Awesome. Awesome. Tesse I can see you are so intrigued by this.
00:21:13 Tesse: I, you can tell, I’m just, because my business now is 16 years old and I’m thankful that I’m still here 16 years later. But I’m just kind of leaning in really, because a lot of the things that Deborah spoke about, I didn’t know these things. I’m still learning now, but I’ve learned a lot of the lessons that Deborah has shared the hard way. Making a lot of mistakes and sometimes even beating myself up when I felt I wasn’t getting it right. And it’s better sooner than later. But I’m so intrigued by what Deborah is saying. And the other thing that I really like about what you’re saying Deborah, is the currency that we use, because sometimes success in business is measured, particularly bigger businesses, I have to say rather than smaller businesses. Buy money and the bottom line and the amount of profit. So if people make 15 or 20% profit, they’re like, we’re not satisfied we want to make more. And so the success measures is about money. Whereas as a small business owner, I have loved the intimacy of knowing my clients. I’ve loved intimacy of feeling that my work is making a difference. So what you’ve shared today, as I said, I didn’t know then, but hey ho, I know now and I hope that business owners will get people like you, who show that it’s not just about a financial bottom line it’s just so much more to it – and being a solopreneur and entrepreneur than actually making loads of money. That’s good, if that’s what trips you, but it’s not the whole picture. Paula, what do you think?
00:22:45 Paula: I agree with you. I agree with you. You know, what you’re essentially saying is that the wellbeing of the business depends upon the wellbeing of the entrepreneur, the solopreneur, the people that are in it. We are the life of the business, and we got to realize our clients too are the life of our livelihoods. And so recognizing that and valuing ourselves, you know, and valuing our mental health valuing the times where we just need to stop and be still and as you said, enjoy nature. Walk barefooted outside, all brings value back into the business so that we can serve others.
00:23:24 Tesse: I love the thing you said, bringing value back. Because one of the things that recently I went, I co-facilitated an event and part of the event, the afternoon part was going out to the field and looking at the mountains behind us. And I thought, what kind of away is this gonna turn out? Luckily for us, it was in England and lucky for us, it was a good weather day and the sun came out and I’m telling it was one of the best away days I’ve ever attended. Seeing the tree, seeing the water, seeing. Cause people were bringing them in as images as how they saw the business and how they saw themselves, sustaining themselves within the business. But one of the things that strikes me as what you’re sharing Deborah, is this thing about sometimes businesses see this as a waste of time, that we are wasting time by having these moments. And I think there is something about these moments being not just permitted but supported in order to bring the best out of people and help them help us to get into that kind of right brain thinking, that is creative, that is generative, and that is as helpful. I love what you said. And I think that we don’t have enough of that as aloud and welcomed in our business places.
00:24:42 Deborah: I absolutely agree Tesse. I think it’s so important that you identify your values and those other spaces aren’t wasted. Cause there’s so much, I think particularly the American culture has become very strong in the UK. And it’s sort of like 1, 2, 3 to, I think five, maybe steps is the most you ever see like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 steps to be successful. And there’s this feeling that, you know, we should be so economical with our time and so absolutely honed so we know what we’re doing with every minute and be efficient and personal lives and efficient in our business lives. And actually as human beings, that may work for a short time, but we really need to expand and contract and work with the seasons. I think particularly in the Northern hemisphere where it’s very strong. You know, sleep longer in the winter and work longer days in the summer, or, you know. I think having a sense of being able to breathe in and out and to move with your own internal rhythms and the seasons rhythms is really important for our longevity, both as individuals and as businesses.
00:25:49 Paula: I agree, 100%. Yep, yeah. I think COVID might have made that possible as horrible as COVID 19 has been, I mean, and how much it’s affected us globally. It also made us look internally at you know, our lifestyles and, you know, the way we do business and, you know. Because everyone, those who could work from home, now realize that, oh, I can, you know, sleep longer, and change by working hours instead of commuting getting up at 6:00 AM and having to commute at seven to be at work at nine, at least in the United States. You could probably sleep until eight and roll out your bed. But even more so it meshed the two business and personal lives . It became more natural to be on a zoom call and see a child wander into the room or a dog, or, you know, a cat. And people became a lot more understanding and receptive to those, what would’ve been considered completely unprofessional a year or two back in 2019, or prior to the pandemic. So in some ways we have benefited, in some ways. From having to slow down and stay home, and work from home. Would you not agree?
00:27:06 Deborah: I totally agree that the pandemic was a big reckoning for a lot of people. I think particularly for those of us who were Lucky enough not to be on the front line of sort of services that required 150% or 200%. It was a time to just stop and recognize what was important, really. And I think what’s interesting is looking around the people that I know is seeing how many of them realize that the activities that they were doing had kind of become almost like a wheel of activity. They hadn’t really considered why they were doing it. So a lot more people have slowed down in terms of the work that they’re taking on or the way that they’re structuring their workday, or even changing the work that they do. I’ve spoken to people who were furloughed and thought about the work that they were doing prior to the pandemic, and have realized that their own values, and their a sort of alignment to what’s important to them won’t allow them to go back. So I think it’s had some quite profound impacts.
00:28:11 Paula: This has been a very interesting conversation, but alas good things do have to come to an end. I wanna say thank you so much, Deborah, for being on “TesseTalks”. For our amazing audience, we wanna thank you for tuning in. Please head over to Apple podcast, Google podcast, Spotify, or anywhere else, where you listen to podcasts and please click subscribe. If you like what you just heard from our amazing guest, Deborah Barker, please write us a raving review. And if you have any questions or topics, you’d like us to cover that are related to leadership or governance, please drop us a note. If you’d like to be a guest on “TesseTalks”, please head over to “Tesseakpeki.com/tessetalks” to apply. Thank you ladies. Thank you, Deborah. Thank you, Tesse for asking me to cohost this, I always enjoy every episode, and being a part of this journey.
00:29:14 Tesse: But thank you so much Deborah for coming. And Paula, you know I love you so much. You’re like wine, you just get better. Take care .