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.

Space

My usual morning routine finds me in the studio with a cup of coffee and a knitting project. I love the early morning quiet, watching the sky lighten and the sun rise. And there is almost always some client project on the needles looking for my attention.

But this morning, I decided to spend some time reading first. I’ve pulled back to the top of my reading pile “Master Your Craft” by Tien Chiu. A book that I was very excited to purchase last summer and which has been falling ever deeper into the reading pile since. I had read a few pages when I first brought it home and was enjoying it, but production deadlines pushed it firmly into the “someday” pile.

I don’t know what prompted the shift in focus this morning, but as I read strategies for exploration, creativity and design I recalled that I have been wanting my studio time to be more than just production, more than just pushing out designs that I’ve already developed and refined. But I haven’t yet figured out how to do that. How to explore. It’s so … unstructured. There isn’t a plan to follow. And telling myself to “just play” hasn’t worked out so far.

Recently I was lunching with an artist friend, talking about this same idea and I mentioned that I’ve been wanting to try quilting and had even bought a small amount of fabric to play with. I committed, at that lunch weeks ago, to find the fabric and do something with it.

So after a few sections of the book I wandered into the studio to find the fabric. Finding it wasn’t really the issue, I knew exactly where it was, in a box marked “studio art” on a shelf in the closet. A box I packed up last summer before we moved into the new house. A box of art supplies, design prompts and fabric that I’d not made time for. As I found places for most of the box contents, I moved into a declutter and discard mindspace. I filled a bag with yarn donations from a bin that hasn’t been opened since the move. I found yarn that I thought I’d lost, and yarn that desperately needs a project to use it.

And as I was emptying and sorting and rediscovering, I realized that I wasn’t fretting at all about the production that wasn’t happening. I was allowing myself the space to be with my stuff and think about what it might want to be.

I was allowing myself space to be. To imagine. To not be manic about a deadline. It was an important first step on the way to experimenting/playing. To allowing myself to believe that there is more to my “work” than churning through production. That my growth as an artist requires having the space to try something new. And that the lifestyle I want to have is not that of a one-woman factory churning out the same thing over and over.

The fabric is on the sewing table. I didn’t get to it today, but it is out in the open waiting for me. And I thought, as I sorted, and then moved on to my current knitting project, about what my fabric might want to be.

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.

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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.

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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!

Welcome to my Etsy Shop

What do you do on a Thanksgiving morning while waiting for the turkey to roast? In my case, open an Etsy shop.

This was a move I’d been contemplating and researching, but had thought to defer it until early next year when life was a bit slower. The Square store had worked adequately as a storefront to which I could point customers, but didn’t have any marketing reach outside of what I could do myself. I have no illusions that being on Etsy will suddenly result in tons of orders. I think those magical discovery days are over given the vast number of sellers there. But getting my work in front of browsing shoppers and into the Etsy search results surely wouldn’t hurt.

But I had some time to kill so, armed with my trust iPad, I set out to see how much I could accomplish. The configuration went swimmingly. Nobody owned my store name yet so I snapped it up and set up the bits and pieces: description, location, bank account (for the sales revenue deposits) and most important: scarves!. By the time the turkey was ready I had a store with two listings.

I spent the next few days taking pictures, adding stock, and getting the store ready for a soft launch. The final step was to point heronponddesigns.com/shop to Etsy and start marketing. I’ve had a good response to my instagram feed and my shop already has some likes and favorite items.

So, pour a cup of your favorite hot beverage, get cozy on the couch and come browse the store for socks and scarves at heronponddesigns.etsy.com. I still do custom orders, so if you don’t see what you want, don’t hesitate to ask.

Avoiding burnout

Scarf production has been in full swing for a few weeks now. I’m weaving for a new show (for me), Craft Vermont, which is the weekend before Thanksgiving. I have just a few patterns that I weave regularly, one being this huck.

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Huck in hand-dyed alpaca silk

I switch up the materials between alpaca silk and tencel. I shift from variegated (as above) to solids with funky accents.

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Orchid tencel with fringed accent yarn

But underneath it all, it’s the exact same weaving pattern. I have the counts memorized. I know how many threads to wind for the warp. I can practically thread the heddles in my sleep. And my feet know how to treadle the pattern repeat.

And suddenly I was bored. No color or texture change was enough. I avoided eye contact with the loom. It holds a warp for 3 scarves in the huck pattern. I wasn’t going to throw away the materials, so I started bargaining with myself.

Just weave those three scarves. They’ll go quickly and then you can do something else. I’ve got two of the three done and it is true that the third will go quickly. Meantime I’ve gotten out the Merino/Tencel yarns and I’m planning the next scarves.

The yarn is soft and yummy with a slight sheen from the tencel. I’ll use it to weave some heftier warm scarves using a Pebble Twill pattern that I really like. Here’s an in-progress shot of one I did a while ago.

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Lilac on black pebble twill Merino Tencel scarf

I still work towards my inventory building goal, but I get a change of scenery in the process. I’m looking forward to watching the subtle patterns emerge.


Mark your calendar to visit Craft Vermont at the Sheraton Burlington, VT November 18-20. Or shop online where the store is always open.

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!

Binges or stints?

I’m coming to realize that I tend to have a binge work style when I should be a “stint” worker. When I settle in to weave scarves I tend to do a bunch in a row. Likewise with sock knitting. I have quite a few knitting projects in the queue and when I settle down with one my inclination is to keep at it, to the exclusion of all other work, until it is done.

What I need to be doing is pecking away at building my scarf and sock inventory while still making progress on the knitting. I’ve always struggled with prioritizing my production work. When I have a choice between knitting, for which I will get paid upon completion, or building inventory, which I hope will sell in the future it is too easy to focus on the knitting.

I know, of course, that I can’t sell inventory that I haven’t created. An empty booth at the craft fair isn’t going to bring much income. So I’m trying really hard to be realistic about what needs to be done, and dole out my time between all of the projects.

I’d like to blame my work habits on not having the right planning method. I’ve tried a few different ideas for how to track what I need to do and still haven’t settled on one that I love. But really? I do know that if I spend a week knitting then it probably means I didn’t do any weaving. So I can’t really say the tool, or lack thereof, is the problem.

Right now I’m back to the weekly planner with the to-do section at the bottom of the pages. I’ve written in show dates and other obligations, and set target numbers for scarf and sock inventory. I’ve also noted the current quantities. I’ll update these numbers as I move to each next week which should make it pretty obvious whether I’m working on the right projects. [It has just occurred to me to flag the pages that have shows as a quick way to remind myself how soon they’ll be happening.]

So, back to that question. I think that bingeing on a project makes sense if it small enough to be finished quickly. Think knitting a hat vs. knitting a sweater. Or if the deadline is very close. If neither of those cases are true then stints on each area of work are a better way to reach my goals.

Although it tempting to schedule weaving on Mondays, socks on Tuesdays, etc it turns out that bingeing on one type of task for the whole day isn’t so good for my body. So smaller stints on a variety of projects is the new mantra.

And maybe it is working. Over the last week or so I’ve woven 3 scarves, remembered to post to Instagram occasionally, put in time on three knitting projects for three different clients and kept up with my business bookkeeping. I didn’t get to socks, other than counting them up for that weekly tally, but I’m sure they’re going to come up soon in the rotation 😉

And a p.s. to my fellow blogger Kerry who not too long ago wrote a great post about working in stints. You had such a great idea about using a reminder app that I had to try it for myself. Turns out that when I couldn’t complete the task when it was scheduled I just agonized over whether I should give up and skip it or mark it done, even when it wasn’t, just to make the reminder go away. It was too silly to let the tool control me like that so I’ve put the idea aside for now until I can figure out how to make it work for me.