Taking stock

Towards the end of last year, as a very busy fall show and sales season was winding down, I casually mentioned to a few friends that I was tired and wanted to “take January off”, the subtext being, to relax and recharge. When pressed by these friends as to my intentions and specifics I started listing some of the things I would/wouldn’t do.

I wasn’t going to “work.” I wasn’t going to accept commissions, unless they were really interesting. I was going to tidy up my studio, sorting files that had become disorganized, and dealing with the scattered “to be filed” piles. As the conversations progressed, my friends gently pointed out that I didn’t really seem to be resting. Resetting my studio was still work (it’s where I work after all), and I was listing a pretty extensive set of things to do when I said I didn’t want to do much.

While a part of me was willing to admit that they were absolutely correct, I was also kind of irritated that they weren’t more supportive of my plan once I’d defined for them what I meant by the very vague “not working”.

A chance conversation with my cousin about her plans to start a business gave me a good deal to think about. As another solo-preneur she and I have similar business practices problems to solve and I offered myself as a resource. In the days following our chat one question came to mind that I’d forgotten to ask her, which was how much time was she planning to put into her business? Full-time? Or something less than that?

And then I had to laugh at myself. Because over the last few years as I’ve been building my business each of my friends has patiently listened to me talk about how it is going. These conversations were often a bit angst-ridden on my part as I would relate that I was tired, or not getting to the things that I needed to, feeling guilty about personal stuff that took time and meant I wasn’t working “enough” or wondering if I was “doing it right”, should I be doing X, Y or Z that other business people were doing?

Gently, but pointedly (they’re really good friends), each have asked me the same questions: How much time do you want to spend on your business? How many hours a week do you want to work? Invariably I’d squirm a bit and give one of these answers: “I still need to figure that out”, “That’s a really good question”, or “All of them?”

So, here it is mid-January. My vague “take the month off” plan has been refined somewhat. I’ve done a bit of studio infrastructure work; taking end of year inventory, restructuring my filing system. I’ve accepted a knitting commission, because I wanted to rather than from a compulsion to keep earning. But most of all I’m trying to give myself space. To think, to rest, to stop feeling guilty about taking time to think and rest.

I haven’t answered the How much time? question yet, but I’m starting to get a sense of it and that’s good for right now.

Rainy day bargain

It’s pouring down rain here in my bit of Vermont and rainy days make me want to sit on the couch with knitting and movies I’ve seen dozens of times.

But I’m behind on my weaving quota for the week so I’m at the loom for now.

Birds eye twill scarf. Variegated warp, solid weft, both Tencel.

The quota is, of course, self imposed as I am my own boss. So I bargained with myself. If I wove this morning I could knit this afternoon.  I don’t dislike the weaving process at all, I was just more inclined to something else today. I already feel great about the weaving progress and will likely finish this scarf and start the next before I call it quits at the loom today.

The eternal struggle

What I want to do today vs. what I should do today…

The luxury of being your own boss comes with a need for responsibility. Sure, I can take a day off whenever I want to. Or always prioritize the fun projects. But since I don’t have any employees, it only gets done if I do it. And my overarching business goal is not just to have fun.

I’ve just gone through a business assessment process with a fellow business owner. We reviewed our 2016 goals and set plans in place for 2017. We each have a good idea of what the first quarter looks like and we are creating the action item lists that will get us to our goals. For instance, it’s all very well to say I want to increase sales by 10% over last year. But I’m not going to get very far with that if I don’t work on my marketing consistently. Much as I like to pretend otherwise, serendipity is not my marketing tool.

Which brings me to today, and a little bit of self-back-patting, for putting aside the sweater I’m knitting for a client (the fun project) and setting up for a photo shoot (the responsible task.) The sun was out this morning and it was a perfect opportunity to take pictures without setting up all the supplementary lighting.

At the end of it, I’ve come away with fodder for this blog post, additional photos for an Etsy shop listing, some future instagram photos and most of my February newsletter (subscribe here.) And I’ve banked some time against my marketing goals, which in turn lessens my guilt when I next sit down to knit.

 

Getting back to normal

Does January feel like a let-down to you after the holiday flurry? For me it is a chance to breathe again. The busy show season is over and now I just have a few well-spaced winter farmers markets to attend. I’ve got a reasonable inventory of scarves, so I really only need to produce socks right now.

There are very few deadlines this time of year, so work here in the studio feels less like a mad juggling routine. It’s a time to clean out the corners and find the projects I deferred during the last quarter of 2016.

I’ll do my end of year inventory, counting cones and balls of yarn.

img_1207
Barely started, I’m on page 1 of 10

As I’m working through these counting and tidying processes it is an opportunity to let my mind wander a bit through the landscape of my business. What is working? What is frustrating me? What do I want to be different this year? And, inevitably, am I ever going to use some of the yarn that’s been sitting idle on the shelf?

During the rest of this week I’ll be doing 2017 planning. Running the sales and expense reports for 2016, pulling together social media stats, and digging up the Q4 goals are the start of the process. I’ve already started making notes about directions for this year. Having the numbers in the mix will help me figure out what is practical in my goal-setting. A meeting with my business buddy (we each are self-employed, running our own companies) will add a good reality check. Not only will she tell me if I seem to be taking on too much, but she’ll give me a nudge if she thinks I’m ignoring or shying away from a key area.

I usually have to force myself to work on this kind of planning. It doesn’t feel so much like “doing”, as weaving and knitting do. But I’m waiting for these swatches to dry.

img_1206

They’re for my next sweater commission, and as impatient as I am to start, I’ll be really, REALLY upset if I have to rip it out because it is the wrong size.

So, as the swatches dry, I’ll fire up QuickBooks and see what I can learn.

Happy New Year!

Tipping point

Things on my project list with no firm deadline have always been a challenge for me. These aren’t things that shouldn’t be on the list because they’re not relevant to my current goals. And they aren’t things that will never get done.  They are commitments I’ve made, to myself or others, that just need to get done sometime.

This happens when the client says “whenever you can get to it” and I look at the current list with firm deadlines and say “OK, sure” because I know I can get to it eventually. In some cases the “client” is me. I may assign a far future due date as I put it into my queue, but I’ll let myself slide that date if something more time-critical comes along.

And that’s when the trouble starts. Soon that thing has been hanging out on the list for an embarrassing number of months. It’s easily brushed aside. It doesn’t take offense. It knows I’ll dredge it off the back of the shelf sooner or later.

It doesn’t take much though for an “I’ll get to you soon” to morph into an “Oh my gosh are you still here!?!?!?!” I’ve reached my tipping point. At that moment “do sometime” turns into priority one. It happens with unstarted projects and it happens with things that are in progress.

My knitting is more portable than weaving or using the sock machine. I can pick it up when I have just a few spare minutes, or spend hours on it. Lengthy projects have tipping points too. It isn’t that I’m not enjoying the process, but I’ll get close enough to the end that 15 minute stints are just frustrating. I want to be done. I want the thing off my list, off my couch and out the door.

The current knitting project has enjoyed both of these scenarios. It took me forever to bubble it up to the top of the list and now that it is going I can’t finish it fast enough.

I’m trying to be better about this. I’ve considered that I might need to say no more often. Or maybe “yes, but not for n months”. Or perhaps I just need to set those deadlines and stick to them.


Want to hear more from me? Subscribe to my monthly newsletter.

A day in my studio

I often get ideas for my blog posts while weaving. In this case I was hemstitching the leading edge of a scarf.


Before I sat down at the loom this morning I was doing a bit of mental whining. As I write this, it is a gloomy day, heavy with humidity with a large blob of rain heading our way. It’s the kind of day that whispers “curl up on the couch and knit” but I’m not giving in to that tempting voice just yet.

My day starts with yoga or stretching, coffee and the morning email check. Then I consult my schedule. I’m writing this on Tuesday and the plan is weaving in the morning and socks in the afternoon.  I don’t always adhere strictly to the schedule, but I’ve found it to be a useful defense against the knitting whisperer. I have three products: handwoven scarves, knit socks and custom knitting. Allocating time in the week to each of them helps me stay on track with my production goals.

It’s all posted on a whiteboard in my studio. I’ve also got my goals for that week, the chart where I tally how much time is spent in each area of the business and a list of long term projects to consider. The board can be something of a nag. Since I see it constantly I’ll feel guilty if I’m straying too much from the plan.

Throughout the day I snap pictures for Instagram and Facebook. I try to resist the urge to check email often, trying to limit myself to 3-4 times per day. Every interruption in the flow is an opportunity for me to be distracted from my current task.

After a quick lunch and email break it was time for socks. But as I passed the loom I realized that I was nearly done with the scarf and decided to finish it.


A quick session with the fringe twister and I can wash the scarf to “finish” it. This one is tencel so it will shrink just a smidge. At this point in the day I’m not feeling the sock machine love, so I settle down to cast on a new knitting project, the first of two Christmas stockings. A couple of hours later it is time for dinner and time to stop working.

It was a good day. Some finishing, some starting and not too many self-generated distractions. Oh, and it finally rained sometime in the late afternoon.

 

Flying Solo

Working alone, as I do, presents challenges to be overcome (or at least managed.) Generally speaking, I know what I need to do. I make stuff, I sell stuff, I keep track of what I make and sell. But anyone who has ever read anything about getting things done knows that it isn’t quite that easy.

You set goals — “make” 5 scarves this week. You set interim tasks to reach that goal — wind 5 warps, weave 5 scarves, twist fringe on 5 scarves, take pictures of said scarves, sew in labels, add tags, upload to online store and stash away into finished inventory.

Easy as pie. I could do it in my sleep. And that general process of detailing steps? I know that process. I used it when I was a computer programmer. You don’t just start at the beginning and write until it is done, there are subprocesses and segments that make up the whole. And I took enough project management classes to have that method fairly well ingrained.

But you know what? Sitting here in the studio, trying to figure out and do everything I should be doing, even after a few years, is still a challenge for me. Make stuff? No problem. Something like marketing? Whoa, now what do I do? It’s big, scary and not well-defined in my head.

Fortunately, I have some resources to help me through all this. I stumbled on this great podcast called Explore Your Enthusiasm which led me to Tara Swiger’s website. Her focus is on helping crafters like me build the business they want to have. Her weekly podcasts and other lessons and activities have given me lots to think about. Right now I’m participating in her #monthofbizlove challenge, 30 days of tiny actions to build the business you love. You may have seen some of my responses in my Instagram feed.

I have you, my readers and customers. Your comments and my blog stats prove that I’m not just talking to myself and believe me that helps me show up consistently.  You buy from me and that’s incentive to keep going and figure out the hard stuff.

And now I have a “we’re both running a small business” buddy. My friend Sarah lives a couple towns away from me. She’s the owner of Vermont Natural Sheepskins and like me she works solo. We’re facing some similar challenges in our respective businesses and it has been great to be able to brainstorm with her, share ideas, and help each other think through problems and solutions.

So now, if you need a fabulous scarf, check out what’s available from Heron Pond Designs. And if you’ve always wanted a sheepskin go visit Sarah’s shop. They’re lovely, so soft and cozy. I have two already!