Business as usual

Hello February!

Stella designed by Maureen Clark

Taking January to rest, reflect and rejuvenate was a REALLY good idea. I did a little bit of work (knit this Stella sweater for Green Mountain Spinnery) but didn’t subject myself to insane deadlines.

By the end of the month I was itching to get back to work. I almost didn’t know what to do with myself (but I figured it out 🙂.)

One of my biggest projects during the month was to get a handle on my personal knitting queue and stash. It had felt enormous and a bit overwhelming, but the organization process helped me see it wasn’t so bad. To start I pulled out all the projects in progress. Three scarves/wraps suitable for travel knitting or social settings. One wrap with really complicated charts. One sweater just barely started and one sweater lacking just a sleeve. I finished knitting the one-sleeve sweater (Meris) and blocked it.  It just needs the buttons sewn on to be ready to wear this spring. I finished the shawl that was 95% done (Hillhead). The two remaining easy projects are bagged up and ready for road trips or knitting group so I’m not worried about finishing them.

 

That complicated project I wrote about a year ago. I wasn’t loving the yarn I’d chosen and couldn’t decide whether to keep going or not. Apparently I spent a whole year not making a decision. So I hauled out the project, figured out where I was and started knitting. A few rows in I remembered why I was unhappy. The pattern calls for a tightly spun and plied yarn and I had one that was loose. This is what happens when you pull yarn from the stash in a hurry because you want a project for vacation and you are leaving right away. It wasn’t a great match and I knew I wasn’t going to be happy either knitting it or wearing the garment. So, finally, I have ripped it out and replacement yarn is on my shopping list.

Next up was the pending projects list. These are patterns for which I already have the yarn and I just need to decide when to start. Since I finished a sweater I was ready to add a new one to the works-in-progress list. The one other in progress has the occasional complicated bit but is mostly an easy knit. the new one has lace panels and will require some concentration. I’d swatched already so this was ready to cast on. So that’s two sweaters (one easy, one requiring more attention) and two wraps on the needles. Since I have new commissions, this is more than enough for my limited personal knitting time.

The project I didn’t tackle was the inventory of “yarn for which I have no project in mind.” Turns out this is the one producing the most angst. I can see most of it (I have open shelving), so it isn’t that it’s unknown. But I’d like to match more of it up with patterns and have a plan. 

New work

One of my regular clients sent a box with 4 knitting projects, and I’m expecting yarn for a sweater commission any day now. I’ve already started one of the 4, a cowl, and I’m using the 1:1 allover rib pattern to become faster in continental style knitting (left hand carries the yarn, right needle picks it), and using Norwegian purl to avoid flipping the yarn front to back.

I’ve got the sock machine cleaned and I’m ready to put the needles back in. And my empty loom is calling me. I have a scarf warp all wound and ready to be threaded. It’s been waiting since mid-December when I thought I’d get just one more scarf done before the holidays. Rested now, I can’t wait to get started.

Be yourself (or, “Should” is a bad word)

It is January (or it was, as you’ll see at the end.) Time of resolutions and reviews. My social media feeds are full of lists and picture grids. 9 things. Resolutions. Best of 2018. Hopes for 2019.

As a business owner with just one employee, me, I have consulted many resources over the last 8 years to help me shape and build my business. There are tons of podcasts, blogs and books. Lots of suggestions. Lots of things I could be doing to build my business. And lots of “should”. You should be on Instagram. You should have a newsletter. You should post every day. You should do this show or that.

The social media pressure is enormous. Where do I post? How often? What if I don’t post as often as that other business person? Am I doing it wrong? Do I do a top 9 post? What is a top 9 post? Huh. Turns out there’s an app for doing a top 9 for instagram post. Who knew?

And the business stress can be enormous too, if you let it. Grow your business! Double your sales! Reach more people. Get 10k followers. Never mind FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), I’m feeling PtP (Pressure to Perform).

As I mentioned in my last post. I’m taking stock. Circling back to some of my earlier reading about how to define my business and set my goals. There was advice I understood in principle. Define your product. Understand your customers. Be where the customers are. I knew what they were saying and I made a good first attempt at trying to define those things for my new business.

I’ve come to realize that I can only begin to answer the question of what I want my business to be as I look back on the past 8 years and assess what I’ve been doing. “What isn’t working for me?” is as important as understanding my successes. While I appreciate all the business experience that may sit behind a list of things I should do to grow my business, that’s only good advice for me if I can be comfortable, confident and real while doing those things.

My social media presence needs to be about me and what I bring to my business. It won’t be successful, or even sustainable if I’m trying to copy what someone else is doing.

February note: I started writing this early in January and set it aside because I hadn’t figured out my conclusion. Still haven’t really, but all that I wrote is still valid so you’ll get it as-is.

Work zone ahead

I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed lately. I have a lot of work to be done between orders from clients, weaving for the galleries and shows, and paperwork. Many things have useful deadlines so that helps structure my days, but that’s not always the case and then a bit of panic sets in.

I didn’t think, when I started this blog, that I’d be writing so much about my feelings about owning a business. This morning when things felt really huge and looming I knew that the right next step was to try to write down the plan. Making lists is second nature for me. It helps me alleviate the worry, it helps me sleep at night, and it helps me prioritize.

I’ve been struggling for quite a while now with how to best keep track of what needs to be done and how to make time in the schedule for the less tangible output. I’ve played with lists, big calendars with projects blocked out, electronic reminders, daily planners with intents and accomplishments recorded. I’ve got a big shelf unit with pending, in progress, and completed projects. I know I’m a visual planner. If it is out of sight it doesn’t happen.

Paperwork seems to get slotted in when it becomes critical: adding pieces into inventory so they can be sold at market or sent to galleries, preparing bank deposits, printing sock labels.

Making time for the planning is still weak for me. As long as there is work in the queue I can get away (mostly) with doing less planning. And if there’s no work there’s plenty of time for planning! I think part of the overwhelming feeling lately is the desire to do more of the thinking work but not really justifying the time spent when there are products to make. Every year I feel like I’ve gotten better at this and yet I still don’t feel like I’m good at it. Maybe I need to hit on something tangible to represent planning I can put on that project shelf.

As I’m writing this on Sunday afternoon after working most of Saturday I decided that I could spend a bit of time wallowing in the overwhelming instead of making this a full working weekend. Writing this blog post is part of the wallow. Kvetch a little as I organize my thoughts and soon I’ll be ready to get those next steps sketched out.

I’m working on a knitting project right now for a client. It’s a wrap in gorgeous wool.

IMG_0536

I know how far along I am, how I’ll know when I’m finished and can probably make a good guess as to how many hours more it will take. Enough wallowing, I’m heading back to the tangible. Meanwhile, I’ve got a pad right here and maybe a list will get made while I’m doing some nice soothing knitting on a nice bounded project.

Edited to add: I realized two things right after I scheduled this to post. 1) I maybe need a day off (I should schedule one), and 2) I probably do quite a bit of “planning” and if I stopped to define what some of those tasks are and wrote down every time I did them that I might feel less like it isn’t happening.

The business side of my business

Today I’m thinking a bit about what it means to be in business. I started out, as many do, by turning a hobby (knitting) into something to do in exchange for money. All of my early work came by word of mouth. I knit shop samples for my friend Ellen who owns Ellen’s 1/2 Pint Farm. I printed up some business cards at home and left them at the local yarn shops who in turn referred me to their customers who knit sweater pieces and needed someone to assemble them. Assembly and repair turned into knitting complete sweaters.

Before too long I had a website and a bigger audience than my hometown. I got commissions from people far away who I’ve never met.

I kept on knitting samples for Ellen and that work plus a knack for finding errors in knitting patterns turned into an opportunity to do some tech editing and test knitting for a knitwear designer.

When I added handwoven goods and knit socks to my inventory I had to shift my mode of operation. Word of mouth was not going to get scarves and socks out of my studio and into the hands of buyers. I started small, approaching a local gallery to see if they’d carry my work. When they said yes it was time to develop more marketing materials: hang tags and sock bands to reveal fiber content and washing instructions and woven labels to sew into my scarves. Oh, and I got to learn about commission.  The gallery takes a percentage of the selling price of each item.

Though I secretly hoped to sell out quickly (and who doesn’t?) the reality was a slow/steady stream of sales. It was manageable. After more than a year I started to think about approaching a second gallery. I’d been doing the local farmers market and a craft fair, but those are a lot of work. Hauling goods, setting up tent, table and displays, and dealing with weather. I enjoyed talking with customers about my work, but I also hoped for more sales if I had a wider audience.

I agonized over this decision. I didn’t think I was ready to handle the extra volume. The gallery was over an hour away so I wouldn’t just pop over to replenish stock. I worried about my capacity to keep up with the inventory when my scarves, hopefully, sold. I finally decided to move ahead. Sales started slow, but picked up around the holidays and I’ll soon have been there for a year.

I still worry about my capacity. Every time I take on a knitting commission I fret about the time I won’t have for weaving. And whenever the knitting queue is empty I worry that nothing new will come along. Because after more than 5 years in business I still haven’t settled on just weaving or just knitting. And I’m not interested in hiring any staff so it is just me, juggling the two crafts (and marketing, paperwork, finances and long-range planning.)

Next challenge? I’m looking at another gallery……


 

If you’re local, I’ll be at the Norwich Farmers Market Saturday Sept 19 and again October 17. 9-1 Route 5 (we’re outside until the end of October). And I’m at the Vermont Sheep & Wool Festival at the Tunbridge Fairgrounds October 3&4. Come find me in the main vendor pavilion.


I’ve just started using Instagram, follow me if you’d like to see more pictures.