Category Archives: Business for craftspeople

Quelling the inner critic

Are you your own worst critic?  I know I am.  I can immediately list all the things that I have done wrong, could have done better, should have done better, should have known better, but I have to stop and think before I can list what has gone well.  You may have noticed in my posts that I try to talk about the good things that have happened.  This is my personal training ground to focus on the good and put the not-so-good into perspective.

With that in mind let me share what I have achieved in the last few days!  I sat down on Saturday and made 5 and 3/4 handbags (the last quarter had to wait until the next day when I realised, late at night, that I had made a small error that required a lot of unpicking to rectify). And I am proud of them!

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One of them sold that night, so I made a another one from the same fabric the next day, and finished off the one that I hadn’t completed on Saturday.  So in one weekend I made 7 handbags.

Then I sewed up 14 bibs, without their snaps and chews.  I was kicking goals for those two days!  I even managed to do a load of laundry, undertake yet another (futile) search for missing items of clothing for the chicks, take the dog for a walk over to drop some things off to the chicks at their father’s house, and to talk to my Mum for over an hour on the phone.

On Monday morning I zipped around cleaning the house in readiness for a mentoring workshop.  (I will come back to that in a minute).  Over the noise of the vacuum cleaner I heard the dog going berserk and opened the door to find a courier delivering a large box from China.  My teething chews arrived!

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The colours are delightful and just as I ordered them, the quality is great and the sight of them had me dancing around the house (which meant that it wasn’t particularly pristine for my mentoring session but it wasn’t the end of the world!)

The mentoring session was fantastic.  (Yes, yes I will get to that in a minute.)  I felt inspired, energised and ready to tackle my own business when we finished.  And then….I tried sewing my new teething pieces onto my bibs.  Slump.  Big time.  The improved quality and flexibility means that, even after a lot of research and tension, needle and thread adjustment, my domestic machine can’t cope with them.  (The samples were okay to sew but I increased the thickness in order to provide a better quality…….without realising that this would impact the ability of my machine to sew through them.  Obvious now of course.)  Determined not to feel like a complete failure I drove across town to collect my good old workhorse Bernina that has been in for a long overdue service.  And discovered that the shop that was servicing it sells Industrial machines.  I have been researching them online for a while so took the opportunity to pick the brain of the shopkeeper.  Then I went back this morning with samples of leather, denim, bamboo, the silicone teethers, etc and tested them out.  What a difference!!!!!  The stitches through the teether looked perfect – and doubling over my thickest leather wasn’t a problem for the machine.  I am hooked!  But this particular shop has only just started stocking industrial machines, hasn’t built or set them up properly, doesn’t have a lot of options or choices, and they are quite expensive.  So…. back to the computer, more research, phone calls, searching, tagging, searching…….  My head hurts!  I finished off the new bibs with some of the original stock of teethers, and will have to hold off on launching the new teethers until I acquire an appropriate machine.  I have a solution, but it has exhausted me in the process!

The mentoring?  I told you I would get back to it!  As part of my reflection on what I have to offer, what strengths I have, and what excites me, while assessing how I want to live my life, and find that balance with the needs of my chicks, I realised that all the growth I have experienced over the last couple of years with starting and building my business, and researching every step of the way to the nth degree means that I have a large body of knowledge to share!  And I get really animated and excited when I get to share it with other people!  (My years of being a lawyer, manager, leader, etc don’t hurt either!)

Because I am working on quelling that inner critic it took me a while to form a firm plan, but the plan is taking shape, the inner voice is being told to pipe down, and I have started to offer my services as a mentor for other creative people in business.  I have held a couple of group sessions that have gone really well, and have more planned.  I have come away feeling energised just from the community that exists in a group of craftspeople and artists.  I am excited to see where each of these women will grow their business to, as their ideas and talents are inspiring.   At this stage I have only offered the sessions to a small group of people I know, while I assess structures, venues, approaches etc, but over the next few weeks I hope to launch this as a service that can be utilized by people in my local area, but also people anywhere in the world, through the wonders of Skype!  My feedback so far has been positive, and useful, but I am taking my time and not rushing in to oversell what I have to offer, and not undersell the value that I can add!  Another exercise in taming the inner critic is underway!

Other lessons so far this week include that taking a fresh look at branding and marketing my business is useful.  A reminder from the lovely ladies at Shop Handmade (where I sell my bibs and bags here in Canberra) about packaging saw me re-evaluating what I like in a product and looking at my products from that perspective.  Today I spent some time designing a new package for the bibs.  They will now be packaged in a clear bag (that can be resealed if customers want to open it to feel the fabric) with a sticker on the front telling them who made it, and an insert inside with the care details and the story of the bib (you know – where it was made, what music was playing, etc!)  I am not sure if this is the final design for the packaging, because everything is evolving, but for now I am happy to put them on display in the Shop!

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After a few days of highs, and then lows, I think that tomorrow is a day for even-ness.  Hmmmm…. lets see how that plan goes!

Celebrations

I can’t believe that I completely skipped referring to Mother’s Day in my last post – and that it has taken me all week to post again!  My own beautiful mother (you know – the one who flies in to help at a moment’s notice, who was my super-assistant preparing for the Christmas markets last year, who is amazing in all areas) is worthy of a day of her own.  Last year she was with the chicks and I on Mother’s Day and was part of the celebrations.  This year we missed her and had to suffice with a phone call.  That meant that I got all the celebration fuss from the chicks on my own!  First of all they presented me with the most wonderful gifts including a ‘Mummy Survival Kit’ they had made with their step-mother – chocolates, panadol, throat lozenges (for when I have been yelling too much!!), tea bags, a scratch and win lottery card (I didn’t), a needle and thread so I can always sew, a bottle of gin (they know me so well!), and bed socks, all in a beautifully decorated container!

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The middle chick had made me a jar of cleaning slime (!!), the boy bought me a new mug with chocolates inside it, the eldest chick bought me some bath fizz, and they all gave me a mug decorated with little birds.  Now this was all pretty wonderful, but they topped it all off with my breakfast in bed.  First the menu, then the preparation and delivery.

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(For the record I had ‘Perfect Pancakes, Everything tastes better with Bacon, a cup of tea and freshly squeezed orange juice!)  They even stuck the order up on the cupboard above the stove, and presented me with my bill (to be paid in hugs and kisses) when I was finished.  My little people never cease to amaze me at all they can achieve!

I hope that you were able to celebrate Mother’s Day with your mother, or, if you are a mother, with your children.

The week then started off with a new idea I am pursuing.  I invited a small group of craftspeople that I know to participate in a group mentoring session, facilitated by me, to discuss the business side of having a creative business.  Three amazingly talented women were able to attend and we had a really interesting two hours talking, sharing, and exploring ideas.  It is such a privilege to be able to share the knowledge that I have gathered about having a creative business, and we are going to meet again soon to continue our discussion.  I am exploring the concept of being able to offer this as a service for individuals and groups – including by Skype for those who don’t live close by, so as I develop the concept I will keep you informed.  There is something so invigorating about being in a conversation with other people who are developing their craft and are interested in how they can take it to the public – this is going to be fun!  I added a few new links to the Resources page (at the top of the screen) so do pop by and check them out.

A large part of my week has been spent juggling children’s sporting activities and social lives, attempting to get organised at home, and getting involved in some discussions about my future (wooooo…..scary stuff!)  This has meant that not a huge amount of sewing has happened.  Which is a bit slack given that it is three weeks until the Handmade Markets and I have 1000 ideas that I wanted to have completed for the Markets!  Looks like I am going to have to rein in my ideas and streamline the items I am making (which is of course very sensible, but always slightly frustrating to any creative person who loves to follow bright and shiny objects and ideas wherever they may go!)  I have cut out a pile of fabrics ready to create bags, and will be making bibs this weekend too – all those pretty fabrics have been calling my name all week!!!

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However today I spent the day working with a fellow craftsperson, teaching him how to sew a cushion cover.  He normally works with wood (and makes beautiful creations with his wife that you can see at Creations by Holmes) and it was really interesting as we worked together on designing and making the cover how similar the principles of construction using fabric and wood are.  Although it took most of the day we were both pretty happy with the end result and, as usual, identified how to do it much more efficiently on the next occasion.  The exchange of ideas and concepts in sewing and wood-working was a really good intellectual exercise too!

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I wrote last week about the humour that we have been enjoying about the fact that I am officially a ‘human’.  Another factor in being a human is that we ‘mature’ according to my optometrist.  I tried to tell him that it is just getting older but he insists that my eyes aren’t getting older, they are ‘maturing’!  Anyway – whatever the phrase, I have had to accept that my eyes are changing and after wearing glasses since I was 12 I now discover that I need to move to multi-focal lenses!  Eeek.  Forget the ‘maturing’ thing – that just feels old!  A friend and I had vowed not to move to multi- or bi-focal lenses until we were 50.  I had to send her a text of defeat telling her that I couldn’t wait that long after all.  She was in a very high level meeting and tells me that she saw my text and couldn’t help laughing despite her surrounds!  Ah well – at least it brought a smile to someone’s day!

I have many other exciting things bubbling around in my head, but have to wait a while before sharing them.  What I can say is that I have had great joy this week in making decisions that are good for my family, even though they may not be good for my finances.  The future looks different, but it looks happy.

And now I need to leave the vortex of the internet and get to work sewing!!!

 

Being human

This week I am able to announce that I am officially human.  Even better, I am a local human.  I am one of 101 local humans selected to be part of a ‘human brochure’ about Canberra.  My chicks think it is hilarious that I am now a local human.  Over the next couple of months I will meet my fellow 100 humans and we will get to visit all sorts of VIP events at local attractions – many of which involve food and/or alcohol, and places I haven’t visited.  The chicks get to attend a few events with me too.  Then we get to spend time sharing our experiences in our local region, using social media, culminating in a weekend in October where we can show our city off to family from out of town.  It is a pretty big deal.

Of course, you know me – part of me is terrified about all the juggling of competing priorities, about letting myself put me first for once, about meeting all these uber-cool fellow humans and remembering that they have all been fooled into thinking that I am uber-cool too.  The other part of me is really excited about getting to go out and have fun with adults doing cool things!  If you follow me on any of the social media I use (instagram, twitter, facebook – oh my I am so cool these days) you will see the hashtag #humanbrochure appearing and you will now know what it is about! (and I promise I will try to reduce my use of the word ‘cool’, given that it isn’t actually that ‘cool’ these days.)

Of course, with the confirmation that I am human, comes the realisation that I am a mere mortal, and therefore fatally flawed.  Which isn’t really a surprise to anyone!  The notification about being human also arrives at the same time as a whole slew of good things, and an avalanche of challenges.  Life.  Gets you every time doesn’t it?

Good things first (then you can choose to skip the challenges if you want!)  I was selected as part of the launch of a new feature on Ebay where you can make your own collections of things that you like.  They selected a pile of bloggers and other people to create the first collections, to set the scene for the launch.  So far I have had two sets of 5 collections approved, and am working on a 3rd.  I tend to use Ebay for very functional things, so taking the time to stop and look around has been interesting.  One thing I have learned, very quickly, is the importance of good product shots.  I have been aware of it for selling on Etsy for a long time, but really hadn’t thought about it in the Ebay context, until I was looking for images that would hang together well.  Oh my there are some shockers out there.  One image of a gorgeous vintage porcelain piece had a background of a piece of uncovered, dirty rubber foam.  Others showed delicate things for babies sitting on the carpet for the shots – which just didn’t work!  The whole image of Ebay as a place for bargains might be the reason, but given the amazing array of good available there, I suspect that the move to collections might start to have an impact on the way people choose to display their wares.

The next good thing was lovely feedback from a customer, lovely feedback from a colleague, and a request to be allowed to quote one of my blog posts in someone’s book (!!!) all within a day or two.  It is a bit like getting a compliment from a random stranger while walking down the street – it makes your day!  I have also managed to have some of my items on Etsy make the front page after renewing my involvement in my teams on the forums – one of those cases where promoting others really does help yourself.

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This one made the front page of the US site, so massive exposure for my bag!

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The middle chick is currently directing the shooting of a video that will star the boy, as an entry in a competition to represent the local milk company.  Whether they win or not is irrelevant as they are having so much fun making it, negotiating the story line, and adding special effects – it is hilarious to listen to them!

And finally, I was able to sit down and make my first bag using the leather I recently purchased.  It is very different from sewing with fabric – not just because of the bulk of the leather when dealing with seams etc, but because it seems to stretch and move when it is sewn (despite my judicious use of clothes pegs to hold it together) and unpicking (which I did a LOT of) leaves holes in the leather that don’t disappear like holes in fabric do.  Still – the results are so different to fabric that I think I will continue learning and practising.  I am considering investing in an industrial machine – I suspect that would help a lot!  For this one I used some leather from a piece of milled hide, a part of a sleeve from a suede jacket a friend sent me, and lined it with an indigenous print cotton.

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As for the challenges?  My boy.  That beautiful soul who snuggles in and remembers the most awesome details about conversations you have had years before, who loves to be able to help, who fills my heart with joy.  Once again we are back to dealing with challenges.  The respite gained after the trip to the chiropractor was short lived.  I suspect the change in houses over the weekend contributed to it.  For a boy who doesn’t deal well with change, moving between houses each week is challenging.  I have said it before and I will say it again.  Divorce sucks.  It doesn’t just suck because the adults are hurt and grieving. It sucks because the children who have no control over their environment get hurt, over and over, for years after the fact.  I struggle every day to think about how I can reduced the impact of our family circumstances on my boy.  There are no simple answers.   However his school continue to find ways to support him to feel okay about himself.  When a relief teacher did something in reprimanding my boy that still makes me shake with emotion, the boy was able to come home feeling good about himself (and completely unaware of how upset I was) because the executive teachers made sure that he was safe and felt wanted and useful.  God bless them.   We are entering another phase of analysis and diagnosis with yet another specialist.  The next few months will be challenging.  Again.  Thank heavens that when he is good he is awesome!

Heading into the weekend with the rounds of winter weekend sports, children who need to be ferried from friend to friend, and all the other activities that seem to fill our days of ‘rest’ I am hoping to be able to get a little bit of sewing done – and finishing those last few rounds on the rug for the girls’ room!  I’ll check back in and let you know how it went!

Have a great weekend, wherever you are!

Ruminations on value

If you ever want to start a heated discussion between craftspeople, bring up the topic of pricing.  How to determine the value that you will charge for your chosen craft is an extremely emotive topic for many people.  There is a well thought out ‘formula’ that is suggested as the model for calculations.  A post at Ink and Spindle (just one of the many, many places you can find this discussed) explains it well (and if you read the comments following that post you will begin to see the passions that this topics can arouse.)

In simple terms, the theory is that materials plus labour (charged at an hourly rate between $10 and $20 here in Australia) provides you with your cost price.  (I note here that for many craftspeople that rate is covering their skills as a designer, maker, marketer, cleaner, material sourcer, etc.  Just sayin’.) By doubling it you arrive at your wholesale price – a price that allows you to cover your overheads like electricity, insurance, rent, machine maintenance, accountants fees, bank fees, advertising, marketing, product photography, packaging, labels, care instructions, and all those other little things that go into the production of any product.  That means that if you are able to sell your product to a retail outlet to on-sell, you aren’t selling at a loss.  (Because that would actually defeat the purpose, surely?!)  They, having their own overheads to cover, will sell it for double the price they buy it for.  And that makes this your retail price.

Which all makes sense until you start doing the calculations.  Amongst the many, many craftspeople I know, who make items to sell, I can count on one hand the number who actually apply this formula without modification.  Sometimes the modification is sensible – very low overheads for example, or absolutely no intention to wholesale, so a lower retail price that still allows for reasonable profit to put back into the business.  But often the modification is based on a statement like ‘but no one would want to pay that much for this’.  And there you have it.  A self-licking ice-cream, as a colleague of mine once put it so nicely.  Craftspeople sell for lower prices thinking that people won’t pay for higher prices, so the customers expect those lower prices to be the usual price.  Some craftspeople feel guilty charging ‘higher prices’ and will make statements like ‘but I only want to cover my costs so that I can keep making things’.  Which is all well and good if you are making things as a hobby, but is that self licking ice-cream if you are in business.

I am guilty of all of these things.  I have said, both out loud, and in my head, “I couldn’t charge that because people wouldn’t want to buy it at that price.”  I have said ‘oh but I am unknown, so I will have to have lower prices to start with’.  How ridiculous is that when you think about it – takes the same amount of time, materials and skill whether you are known or unknown.  I have improved my processes, reduced my material costs, and streamlined some practises so that my making is more efficient, which means that the gap between my ‘retail price’ under the formula and the price that I sell my products for is slowly getting smaller. (I still couldn’t ‘wholesale’ my bags and properly cover my costs at this point though.)

But I had a revelation tonight.  I was comfort browsing on a discount website that I like (sad but true) when I saw that they had handbags on sale.  I was having a look at what styles they had etc when I looked at the prices.  These bags, made in a factory in China, from synthetic materials, and on a discount site, were selling for over $200.  And no one was commenting ‘oh that is too much for a bag made in a factory out of fake leather that will peel after I use it for a while.  I don’t know the person who made it, or how long they have been making them for.’  Most consumers would look at it and said ‘I like it’ or “I don’t like it” and “I am prepared to pay that” or “I don’t want to spend that much on that bag.”  End of story.  The brands, while well known as being ‘fashionable’ are not necessarily known for having high quality.  Often you are paying for the cachet of the label, the trendiness of the design, and not the care with which it was crafted.

My question is then, why so many craftspeople, myself often included, spend so much time worrying about how much we are going to charge for an item made with skill, love, original design, integrity, and made locally and ethically?  If a customer likes our product they will buy it.  If we are worried about whether they will think it is ‘worth it’ then maybe we need to think about how we are marketing and presenting our product.  Is it a ‘handmade tea towel’ for example, or an ‘artist’s original design hand printed on eco-friendly ethically sourced cloth, that is a piece of art in it’s own right, but can also dry dishes’?  (You will note that I don’t print tea towels so am not using my own work as an example!)

I am not about to hike my prices up to over $200 for a tea towel, but I am going to remember that if I don’t value my work, why should my customers?  Ruminations indeed.