Tag Archives: business

Acknowledging the worth of your creative output

In planning a business I find that it is useful to focus on that word ‘business’.   I also find that it is really hard to bring that focus when the business involves handmade products. When we make something ourselves we naturally pour a piece of our soul into the end result.  I can associate different products that I have made with different times in my life – music I was listening to, TV I was watching, emotions that were being experienced – and bringing a business lens to those products feels like I have to turn off the connection I have to the piece I have made.  When I think of business I tend to think of words like ‘practical’ and ‘hard’ and ‘serious’, which aren’t the lovely creative feelings that I have when I am designing a colour combination for a crochet project, or thinking about the design aspects of a piece of jewellery.  How to bring those two concepts together is the struggle that many artists experience.   I don’t have all the answers to this, but wanted to share some of my thoughts in the hope that they may be of use to other creative business people.

The first part of finding the connection between your creative side and your business side is to work out whether in fact you want a business.   I see so many discussions online that start with the line “I am starting a business sewing children’s clothes.  I don’t want to make money from it but I want to know about insurance and other requirements”.   The concept of running a business and not making money means that straight away the maker is having a conflict – if you don’t want to make money then it isn’t a business.   You might wonder why someone wants to make products but not make money.   Personally I don’t think that these people truly don’t want to make money from their products – I think that they don’t feel worthy.   They don’t believe that their products are as good as someone else’s and therefore feel bad charging money for what they make.  They think that because their goods are handmade, they are somehow inferior to what is sold in shops, or that people won’t want to pay for goods that aren’t sold in shops.   I think that there are a small number of artists/designers/creatives who truly don’t want money – they want appreciation and love, but they are rare, and appreciation and love does not pay the bills.

If you want to make goods and sell them to cover your costs because you get joy from making, then you aren’t really in business either – you are just selling your products to pay for your hobby.   Which is awesome!  Nothing better than selling a painting and knowing that the new set of watercolours that you have had your eye on is now within reach!  But you aren’t in business.

You know that you are in business when you make products with the purpose of selling them for profit.   Profit does not mean that you make a bag using materials that cost $5 and you sell it for $8.   Profit means that you take into account your time and expertise, all the costs involved in making products including electricity, insurance, time for research, time spent marketing, and then add on profit on top.   Profit is what allows you to earn a living from making, rather than just covering your costs.

Having worked out that you are actually in business, and that you want to make a profit, it is time to hit any feelings of unworthiness on the head.  Any time you have the thought that ‘but I can’t charge that much, it is just handmade’ you need to smack that thought out of the stratosphere, because whether something is handmade or mass produced in a factory doesn’t determine whether an item is worthy of being purchased.  If you make an item that someone else wants to buy then you are entitled to charge for your time and skills.   People buy products that they need or that appeal to them. Some people don’t understand that pricing for handmade items and will say it is too expensive – they are not your customers.   They might become your customers with a bit of education, but on the whole they are not the market you need to target.

To bridge that gap between your connection with your products and treating them like a business you need to build a bit of faith in yourself.   Once you have confidence that your products are made to a standard that you approve of, then you have to accept that they are worthy of being sold, and that selling them properly, for the right price, is just acknowledging or respect the intrinsic value in what you have made.

There are many well written articles about how to price your goods, value your talent, and promote your wares. Read them, and learn from them.   In my own experience, charging the higher price does not mean that items don’t sell.  However helping a customer feel good about spending that much money on your product by creating the story that goes with it can encourage the purchase, and help them to find the connection to the piece that you have yourself.   This is how we take the creative connection and successfully combine it with a business approach.   I recently sold a handmade tea cosy to a customer who saw a picture of it on my Facebook page and wanted to buy it, without knowing the price.   I gave her the price and then told her the story about how the wool that it is made from is grown on farms in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, not too far from where I live, and then processed in Victoria, making it authentically Australian wool.  I explained that I had made the cosy myself, using my own design and I was particularly taken with this design and colour combination myself.   She happily purchased it, because the tea cosy was now more than a photo on a screen, but had a story about it, that included where it came from, and the love that was put into making it.   The connection between business and creativity was successful!

Creating the story about your product is what makes it different from every other product out there.   It shows that your product has qualities that other products don’t have, whether it is in your choice of materials, or the patterns you use, and that your product is made with personal care and attention, and that these are qualities that are valuable.   It is part of your marketing campaign, but also part of your process of acknowledging the worth of your creative output.

 

Presenting…..

Fanfare please!    Da da da da dum…………Big news from the nest today.   Starting from 1 February 2018 you will be able to find a selection of my products stocked in Melbourne!  I know – interstate even!   I have signed an agreement with the wonderful in.cub8r gallery and emporium, found on Smith Street in Fitzroy,  to take over one of their ‘cubes’ and make it all about tea!

After that news everything else seems a little pale in comparison, but there actually is more news!  The holiday period has been delightful.   We have had a house full of visitors several times a week, lots of kids laughing and playing, and generally sharing time happily.   And this means that I have had time to get some work done on my business.  Planning, scheduling, making and a bit of dreaming have all been happening.  I even did my filing and bookkeeping (just a few months or years overdue – ahem).   Of course this is how I was able to make the arrangements to start stocking my products in Melbourne.   There are further plans like that in the works, but I am sticking to my plan and not getting ahead of myself.

All of that lovely time to work means that there are new products in the pipeline, while some will be quietly retired as not really representing my brand.  I am eagerly awaiting some deliveries before I show you part of the new range I have planned, but can share my latest crochet pattern here today.   This came about after watching a friend put one of my cosies on her steel teapot.  I realised that it’s different shape meant that she was likely to burn her fingers putting the cosy on when the pot was full of hot water, and started looking at a design that would address the massive range of different shapes and sizes that teapots come in.   A few different ideas clicked together and the end result is this new design – classic, flexible, a little bit different and ridiculously practical despite it’s beauty!

The theory behind the design is that if you can slip a hot teapot into a cosy without having to fit the cosy over the spout and handle, the chances of being burnt are reduced.   So instead of slipping it over the top of the pot, the pot slides in from the side of the cosy, and is then fastened with a cord to shape the cosy to the pot.

The design is so simple that it provides its own embellishment and doesn’t need any added if you want to maintain that classic style.

But of course I can’t just leave things alone, so there is a rainbow and flower version coming along in the next day or so too!

Speaking of rainbows and flowers, here are two recent creations completed and listed in my online shop.   The Ladybug’s garden cosies are always popular, and everyone is unique.

And rainbows lend themselves to needing statements, so this time I added a proper statement – “Tea”.

It isn’t quite world domination by tea cosy, but it is a good start!

The next few days here are going to be extremely hot, so my plan is to move between the pool that I bought the children for Christmas (honestly one of the best ideas I have had in a long time) and the beautifully cool family room where my wool is all set up waiting for inspiration to hit while I have downtime from supervising the children making whirlpools and floating in an inflatable flamingo.

Stay cool, leave water out for the animals, and look after yourself.   This year is definitely going to be a marathon not a sprint.    (And if you are reading this in the northern hemisphere do the opposite – stay warm, and make sure your animals have shelter, but still look after yourself!)

New beginnings – sort of

A few weeks ago I found myself lying in bed thinking about this website and wondering whether I should just delete it and accept that I wasn’t going to be in business anymore.  It was a hard conversation to have with myself, but I couldn’t see anyway to move forward.   Fast forward to this week and I have just reopened my Etsy shop (you can get there by clicking the link at the top of the page) for the first time in over two and a half years.    Wow!

What happened to change things?  I had a couple of lightbulb moments.    I just couldn’t get excited about making any of the things I used to make, wasn’t inspired to design anything from those lines, and had pretty much abandoned my studio as the household dumping room for anything that didn’t have a home.   Then we had a two week school holiday break for the children where we made no plans – no trips, no big outings, and no commitments.  After a few days of mooching around while the kids did their own thing in their own parts of the house I decided that it was time to tackle the sewing room.  Which took about 6 hours less than I thought it would, and was not stressful.   The light was beginning to shine through the gloom that had been sitting over my creative self.

Then I decided that I needed a tea cosy for my glass teapot to keep it warm when friends dropped in and we drank multiple cups of tea in one sitting.   I did a bit of looking around on line and ended up making my own pattern and whipping this up one evening.

That was the first light bulb moment!   I found myself wanting to create!   I kept making tea cosies, even though I didn’t have a person in mind to give them to.   Then I found myself looking at all things tea related online and had my second light bulb moment. By starting to make again, but not sticking to just one method of making (sewing) and not just one type of product (accessories) I could delve into making but instead focus on a common theme.  Tea!   From there I started down the road of making resusable tea bags.   I drink a lot of tea and always put any tea bags in the compost or the worm farm.  Recently we emptied the worm farm and dug over the compost and all the tea bags appeared amongst the lovely dirt – not at all broken down.  I have since discovered that tea bags are manufactured using plastic!  While I often use an infuser I have found that the hinged ones break, and the cup ones aren’t always the right shape for the cup I want to use. The sewing machine came out, the fabric scrap bin was opened and the experimenting began.

 

After a lot of research I decided that using GOTS certified organic cotton was the safest option, and that using a tighter weave rather than the traditional loose weave muslin would ensure that the bags lasted longer.   Then I drank lots of tea (oh the hardship) using various shapes and sizes of the tea bags, decided on the best combination and sat down and began making them.  Making them involves cutting, sewing, threading, sewing, turning, ironing each little bag, so they aren’t particularly cheap to make, but I believe that they are a good investment in reducing the amount of plastic we are pouring into the earth.

This morning I got up bright and early and photographed, staged, took more photos, wrote descriptions, edited, wrote different words and finally, after a very long time, pushed the ‘publish’ button to list items for sale in my shop again.   It felt good!     I have a lot of ideas but have learnt a lot over the years about what works for me, what success looks like for me, and what causes me to become overwhelmed and freeze.   This means that I am not putting pressure on myself, and will make and list items when I can.  I am a bit proud of these first listings though!  Check out my tea cosy collection!

Yes that is eggs and bacon

And even better, yes that is avocado on toast!

I have also used this new found creative surge as an excuse to hit the charity shops in search of teapots to use for sizing the cosies and tea cups to use in making ‘things’, like a pincushion.

And then because I like having a new pincushion for my pins I made another one for my needles, using a pattern from the Lion Brand website.

So there you have it.  My creative urge is back and I am back in business, but with a new twist. Let’s see how it goes!    There has been a lot happening apart from the creative explosion, but I will save that for another time as there is a pile of crochet calling my name, and some Netflix series to binge watch.

 

Joy in the little things

This week I have been spontaneously stopping at different moments throughout the day and just enjoying being happy.  Not because of big momentous things, but just through the joy of little things.  I have had a visit to the post office each day this week, with a little pile of parcels wrapped in brown paper to send off to customers.  I get such a thrill from wrapping them and carrying them into the counter.  Getting to do it every day is so cool. It makes me happy!

I also got to hand deliver three other sales.  Which meant having lovely chats with the people I am selling to.  Joy!   It is such a privilege to make things for other people that they want and love.

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A lap top sleeve for  an English student – she chose such appropriate fabric!

I have started and finished three custom orders in the last two days.  With no hiccups!  Again – happy!  I have cooked a lovely (she says modestly) meal for a friend, spoken on the phone with another, and had lunch with yet another.  All moments that give joy.  I have sat and watched the rain soaking my garden, and while I am sure that my joy cannot begin to match the joy of local farmers who have needed this so much, it has still given me joy.

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The grey wet day through my window when I stopped to refill my bobbin!

I think that knowing that I have time to plan for my future and my family’s future is giving me the time to appreciate the little things again.  And it feels good!  It also gives me time to come up with all sorts of ideas – which, upon closer inspection, turn out to be a mix of brilliance and complete rubbish!

On the handmade front I am, and will keep being, busy.  I have further custom orders to complete, stock to make for the Handmade Shop, stock that I want to make for my Etsy shop, a business plan or two to write, some research to do, and some articles to write.  All of that means that I am expecting a fair few more of the little moments of joy!

One of the projects that I want to put some time into is preparing some online resources that share some of the lessons that I have learnt over the last couple of years about building a creative business, becoming a stall holder, planning, selling online, and taking the steps to translate a hobby into a business.  If there is something in particular that you would like to know, please let me know – either in the comments, or by email (Theresa@alittlebirdmademe.com) so that I can be sure to include some answers for you in the materials that I prepare – or get one of my many friends with expertise to help me answer your question!!

For now – back to little moments of joy.  I have just one chick in the nest tonight, so she gets extra cuddles and stories for bedtime and that is where I am headed.

What moments of joy have you been able to find this week?  I would love to hear about them – big or small!