A Year in Business - 5 Lessons Learned
The eagle eyed of you, yes, I have been in business longer than a year, but "16 months in business - lessons learned" doesn't have the same ring to it, but from that day in October 2011 to now, I have learned a few things...mostly by mistake. ;)
1. You can do anything you want - just not everything: The nature of self-employment means that it is very hard to say no to work. You never know when the next paycheck will come in, so there is a temptation to just say yes and make it work. After 2 customer complaints in the space of a few days, I realised that I simply couldn't maintain the quality of my work, whilst juggling the quantity. I have had to refocus and do the things that I do well and ask for help or drop the things I don't. This is a constant process as well - reassessing what priorities are whenever I feel the crunch. I am currently reassessing Not On The High Street at the minute. Its important to remember that its not an all or nothing equation - increasing prices or lead-in times, offering a more limited range of options or bringing in help in the short term, have all been ways that I have managed workflow at peak times.
2. Find your tribe. I am incredibly lucky. I have 2 of the most amazing business partners working with me and a mother who is about as business savvy as they come. Both Joanne and Kat are incredibly talented in their own right and they are there to listen when I am frustrated, help when I have a question and take on some of the share of work in our shared ventures. From my perspective, I simply could not do what I do without them and wouldn't want to.
But beyond them, I have an amazing community of online and offline people who were there in those early days to support my business - as customers AND cheerleaders. Everyone needs a sounding board. Self employment is lonely - so find your people and hold on tight.
3. Money is Very Important: One of the things that bothers me in discussions by and about crafty professionals is the underlying tone of "You don't make any money, but at least you love what you do". There is no question that it is a very underpaid sector, but that can't be an excuse to undercharge for your work. If you undervalue your work, so will everyone else. This is an area I have had to think a lot about, as the entire reason for starting selling hats and patterns at the beginning was to meet an income shortfall in my family. From the moment my business started, I have had to be focussed about making enough to pay the bills. I have income targets I have to meet every month and when I don't...well, the result isn't pretty. For me, this about keeping very close tabs on business spend, looking at promotion options and timing new pattern releases.
4. What will you have left, after the adrenaline runs out? Starting a new venture is exciting. I am a bit of a start-up junkie and love the adrenaline of a new idea. That excitement saw me through a lot of missed days out, cancelled visits to friends and many sleepless nights. However, it is only so long before that fuel runs out. It was this past Christmas when I realised that the high that got me through the previous year of working from 4:30am to 11pm had simply gone. I struggled to find the motivation to do all of the things I needed to and get back on track. I have had to re-prioritise friends and walks and reading and leisurely baths to keep my sanity and fill my own cup. I also make a point of doing one (small) nice thing with the money I earn each time I am paid. Nothing big, but something to improve our lives in a way and is a tangible way of feeling like I am not just pouring money into a black hole and working for "nothing".
5. Get Help: There is a huge temptation when you are a work at home parent to take work on "in addition to" your other work of child wrangling, parenting, running a house, and organising the social calendar. Last summer, I wrote a book and started a photography business with 3 kids at home. I had one day of childcare/week...and I worked at least 80h/week. In retrospect, I am not sure how we managed, but I now know that we can not do it again. The house still hasn't recovered from 8 months of total neglect. Everyone got the worst of me - work took longer because I was constantly interrupted or exhausted and the children were often left to their own mischief making. For us, the solution was to get help with the kids and bring in someone to help with the garden. We do not have family nearby to help us, so we have bought more days at nursery for the younger 2 and after school club for Ellis. It has made a huge difference, to both my sanity, but also to Kevin and my relationship. It means we don't fight about who needs to work when and can devote more time together as a family. Yes, the cost is extortionate and not money we really have, but it is required so we can give the best to everything...especially the children. Now, for some people this may not be true. There are plenty of work at home parents who have young children and just juggle work and childcare and can make it all work. I am not one of those people.
I think this holds true for any one, not just parents. You have to take the work you do seriously, commit the time and energy to it, or else it simply won't be anything other than a hobby (there is nothing wrong with that, if that is what you are aiming for). Setting aside devoted time and energy to it is key to getting the headspace to do it well and asking for help with other things is an important part of that.
So there you go, my nuggets of wisdom. Oh these and that coffee/wine/beer/chocolate/washi tape are essential business expenses.