During the Holidays, it’s no doubt you get together with family that perhaps you don’t see much of the year.
Inevitably, you will be asked ‘What have you been up to?’When you start telling them about working for yourself from home, I am sure there has been at least one person who exclaims, ‘MUST BE NICE!’Little do they know!
Working from home is not as easy as the stereotype would have you believe.
In fact, it can end becoming MORE work than the ol’ 9-5 you ditched to become a full-time entrepreneur.
Now that’s not to say it can’t be everything you ever hoped for.
Treating your business seriously and learning to practice professionalism and are a must.
Here are five tips in order to keep from losing your mind and throwing in the towel:
1. Always make sure to present your best self. You may not be going in to an office where you are surrounded by coworkers, but this is not the time for ratty sweats and last night’s mascara. Make it a pre-workday ritual, wash your face, comb your hair, get dressed! You wouldn’t present a sloppy piece of work, so don’t present yourself that way (even if no one is around).
2. Create a dedicated working space. Having a space you set aside just for your business, will mentally prepare you to get busy! It also allows you to create that separation from your work when the day is over and you move to the next room (or the other side of your apartment).
3. Always remember, YOU ARE NOT A RECLUSE. Have a life outside of your home. Just because you work at home and live at work you are not a shut-in! You need to make that physical break regularly.
4. ORGANISE. ORGANISE. ORGANISE. Clearly, I think highly of this practice. As a small-business owner, you are juggling many, many roles. You will need to have a good handle on your different tasks and learn to manage.
5. Having a plan will help with this. Do you have yearly goals? Monthly goals? Daily goals? Well you should!
Know where you are going, and plan a clear path. Write down your daily tasks that get you to those goals. Set deadlines! Meet those deadlines!! You always need to know where you are going and how you are getting there, or what is it all for?
Lastly, be prepared to plan again if you get thrown off course.
All that being said, working from home really can be wonderful!
You need to develop discipline, though.
Keep reminding yourself why you love what you do, and stay focused. And maybe you can even initiate casual Friday and show up to work in your gym clothes and top knot.
Do you have your own practices that help you work from home?
Creating that separation between work and home is already hard enough for the average person.
Finding that space is even harder for us entrepreneurs.
Admittedly, I have been guilty (okay, sometimes still am!) of letting the pendulum swing in favor of work. Thankfully, there are a few tricks that help me to keep that tendency in check.
One change I’ve implemented that has helped is creating, and sticking to, a morning routine.
Your current routine may look something like this: wake up, grab smart phone, check emails, scroll through social media updates you missed while sleeping.
But where are YOU in that wake up call?
From that first moment in the day, you are catering to others. Put aside business (and hey, that includes your iPhone!) and allow yourself to transition into work at a more emotionally-appeasing pace.
Here’s a sneak peek into how I begin my days:
Alarm clock. No snooze! No phone!
By having an alarm clock, I’m avoiding the temptation of grabbing my phone. I also NEVER hit snooze. Let’s be honest, 15 minutes extra does not create any sort of satisfaction.
Our bodies deserve to be treated nicely. And what’s nicer than a nice series of stretches after a good night’s sleep?
Warm lemon tea and a Gratitude Journal.
Lemon and water have a magic energizing effect. I am also a big proponent in everyone keeping a gratitude journal. Start your day with some serious positivity.
20 minutes of Reading.
This is my favourite part of the morning. Your mind is clear, it’s still early and quiet, and it’s all for you. I like to read a motivational book for these twenty minutes. Currently reading: A New Earth (again).
10 minutes of meditation.
Lie down. Close eyes. Breathe. Okay, we all know that meditation is not as easy as that! But I do find that in these morning hours, especially after warm tea and a round of gratitude, I am in the best possible mindset to meditate. Practicing focused presence for a short period each day will help you handle whatever comes at you.
Shower and Get Dressed!
Now this is an important one! I feel it’s important to include as part of your routine. Too often as entrepreneurs who work from home, we grow comfortable. And by comfortable, I do mean quite literally as well. Sweatpants and oversize shirts. Take yourself seriously. And dress to impress, even if it is just impressing yourself. You’ll also do better work if you feel good about the way you look.
Of course, your routine can and should vary!
Find something that works for you.
But do remember, in order for it to be effective, you must stick to it everyday. Preferably at, or close to, the same time everyday.
And don’t worry, I won’t tell if your sweatpants do make an occasional appearance…
Now I’m curious, what things will you add to your morning routine?
Despite giving many talks on signature style, market stall prep and business planning (yikes!) the topic I’m most asked about is how I’ve managed to combine creativity with motherhood.
I’m so glad when this comes up because it’s a topic that’s incredibly close to my heart!
Firstly, let me tell you a little bit about me.
I’ve been creating for as long as I can recall. It’d be safe to say that it’s in my blood, and it has helped me though many things over the course of my life.
For me, making and creating is a need that feels as necessary to my existence as breathing.
You can imagine then how it was to have my first baby, 10 years ago. All of a sudden there was no time for self-indulgent weekends filled with painting!
I struggled through the first year uncreatively, yearning for the me I thought I’d have to set aside and then one day I realised I could be creative in different ways to before.
Ways that would work with my new role, and ways that would fit in to my new timetable.
The first thing I did was let go of the idea that my only creative outlet was drawing and painting.
I learnt how to sew and appliqué and made clothes for my first-born, which surprisingly to me satisfied my creative urge at the time. Time went quickly as it does with a baby and pretty soon we welcomed our second baby into the family.
Not long after this I discovered something that changed everything for me. I discovered a whole network of other creative mums online! I connected with them and suddenly I wasn’t alone anymore.
I sketched out and designed complicated appliqué designs and began selling my work at local markets and on Etsy.
It’s now 7 years down the track from that first market and along the way I’ve landed back at my first love of painting and drawing with a little woodwork tossed in for good measure!
I still enjoying sewing and crocheting but now I just do those things for my family.
I look at my 3 kids and see the amazing influence staying true to my creative self has had on them as they see creativity as a normal and everyday part of life.
They are excited and encouraging of my artistic achievements and are most importantly confident in their own creative selves.
Here are my top tips for combining motherhood and creativity
1. Relax your mindset
Sometimes you have to change your creative expression up a bit for a short time.
Join a group, make connections with other crafty people and other crafty mums either online or in your local area.
Treasure your creative side, it is valuable and provides your kids with different experiences and skills.
Create when you can squeeze it in. A quick sketch before breakfast or some jewellery making late at night, if it’s important to you make sure you fit it in.
Create around your family. Let your kids see what you’re doing and they will begin to create alongside you.
6. Let go
Release any guilt you feel from indulging your creative side. Having a mum who is sometimes a bit distracted by her latest creation is much better for your kids than a mum who is sad and lost from not following her dreams.
I’ve been feeling a little bit guilty lately that I’ve let things get away from me with my business and my life.
About 3 months ago I had everything stable and in a great routine.
I was working two days a week on my passion projects, the local Community Centre, as well as being the Assistant Editor here at Create & Thrive.
I was getting my recently re-branded soap business This Soap Smells Good up and running from home and my mini-store, Handmade High Street (HHSt) at Southside Antiques where I work one day a week while I look after their website and social media.
I was also running 4 creative workshops a month which go hand in hand both the Community Centre and HHSt.
Plus, on the back-burner I had a few other little projects which I’d been dabbling in including a market which I organise twice a year for traders in my local neighbourhood
My plate is full.
But it doesn’t feel full most of the time because I’m used to it and I have a pretty strict routine which helps me to keep all the balls in the air.
We live in sunny Brisbane and my husband worked at the local Children’s Hospital which was only 4 minutes drive away and we had one car, our little house and two rascally pups.
I also almost started a Graduate Certificate at University this Semester but I have now deferred until 2016.
Recently, husband has started a 6 month stint at a hospital around 1.5 hours away from our home and we have moved part-time to my family’s house which is close by. (It does mean that I will have to do that 1.5 hour journey once a week for my Centre job but it’s not so bad).
He has also started studying again so he’s going to need my help to get his work done and that piece of paper signed off at the end of it all.
Now I can feel those juggling balls slipping out of my fingers: I feel like I am trying to grip each too tightly, not giving me enough time to catch the next one in line.
I looked at the list of things which I am responsible for and I had a sudden realisation:
I’ve lost my focus.
I’m a ‘yes’ person. I love to do more, try everything, never say no!
But in reality, consecutive rather than concurrent will give each project, task or job more clarity and will ultimately make you feel more accomplished and on the path upwards rather than in the wiggly track I’ve found myself on.
So here’s my tips for getting your focus back if you’ve got yourself into the bother that I have and need to streamline your business and life… and even cull some of the extraneous tasks or jobs to help you have a better work/life balance.
1. Write down every project, responsibility and job you currently have
Make sure you write down everything.
Don’t leave something off to make your list look easier or more achievable, that’s cheating yourself and you’ll lose clarity.
Here’s mine as an example: believe it or not, there used to be more on it.
Fundraising and Grants Portfolio
Town Hall Meetings and Annerley Support Meetings
Annerley Junction Traders Association Markets
Create & Thrive
The Thriver Circle
This Soap Smells Good
Handmade High Street Mini Store
Southside Antiques (media and marketing)
Grad Cert Community Development
Look after Husband when he’s working long shifts and studying
Look after two dogs
Keep the house tidy and household happy
Look after me
You can’t focus without specifics so it would be a good idea at this point to drill down on each of these jobs and projects with individual tasks and the time it takes you on average each week to achieve them.
Breaking things down into smaller parts makes it clearer how much time and energy they are taking up in your day.
I’m not going to bore you with mine – we might be here all day!
2. Decide what can go and what must stay
What’s the bigger picture here? What do you want to get out of your business and how will that balance with your life?
After writing that list I realised something really important.
Look where I put the words ‘Look after me.‘
There I am, right down there at the very bottom.
We’ve talked about self-care many times on this blog and I’ve realised that I’ve slipped out of the routine of looking after myself.
Also, where can I fit in my ‘useful distractions’? Things like hanging out with my friends and going out to dinner with my husband are important for overall happiness in my life.
Now, it’s time to decide what’s going to stay on that list and what’s got to go.
You’ll know what needs to stay and I bet you can look at my list and make the same decisions I would. Some things are so important that you can’t take them off the list – I can’t just stop looking after my dogs, my husband and myself can I!?
But there are going to be some things on that list that you’ll realise straight away are time-eaters or might be able to be postponed to a time when they are more achievable.
What can you put on the back-burner for while? Or maybe get rid of completely?
3. Make a Pros and Cons list for the things you’re not sure about
I have been thinking about some of my roles for a while and I just can’t seem to make a decision about whether or not I should keep going with some of them.
The important part here is getting out all your emotional, practical and logistical thoughts about each project or job and thinking critically about whether you want to do it, should do it or can do it… or not!
If you’re really into analysing your data, there’s a great post here about how to write an amazing Pros and Cons list.
After you have made your list for each task, really think about it with your heart – can you bear to let it go? Are you really invested in it?
If you feel like you can let go, it’s time to make a move on culling those things in your life which just aren’t working for you – at the moment.
You might find some of them can be left on the back-burner whereas others are now-or-never kinds of projects and roles. Make sure you take this into consideration.
4. Start a calendar and plug in times for each project, job or task
Take a break and make sure that all sits well with you. It’s a really tough thing to do but finding Focus takes… well… focus!
Now is the time I start looking at my time and a calendar is a really great place to start.
I looked at all the tasks I wrote and ‘drilled down’ on in the first place and see how much time each one of them takes.
I use Google Calendar but you could just as easily use a paper calendar or make one yourself.
First thing I have done is lock out Saturday and Sunday. I don’t want to work on weekends and that’s part of the reason I own my own business and have such a flexible work situation.
I want time off with family and friends on the weekend when everyone else is free.
Then I have slotted in things which have set hours so that I know those times are booked out and I can’t schedule other tasks there.
I also have multiple Google calendars so I can turn them on and off if I’m taking a holiday or having a break from one of my projects or jobs for a week or two. Plus I can see them all on my phone when I’m not near the computer.
When and how do you do your best work? Make sure you’re slotting things into your calendar at times and in timeframes that will allow you to give the best output.
You might realise after slotting everything into your calendar that it’s still a bit cramped.
5. Streamline each Project or Job
Go back to the beginning of this list and see all the jobs and projects you now have on your plate after your cull.
Look at the tasks that go along with each one: where you ‘drilled down’ and elaborated on each job.
Are there things which you are doing which might be able to be dropped or at least put aside for now?
What can you outsource or get help on?
Can you take a little extra time now to work on streamlining a process which will save you time in the longrun?
Could you ask someone in the same industry to help you find a quicker way to get a task done?
You could also do the exact same process we went through with your Pros and Cons earlier but on a deeper level of your list.
Once you have streamlined these tasks, you can rethink how much time you spend on each job or project and help you to prioritise time into your calendar.
6. Review, review, review
Now you have taken a step towards a more focused life and business, you can sit back and ride the wave of success.
You’ll need to keep an eye on your jobs and projects within your business and other aspects of your life or things can have a habit of creeping up on you.
This is exactly what has happened to me!
If you feel like things are becoming too much, you can’t keep all the balls in the air or you’re simply not getting enough ‘me time’, take a deep breath, and start from the beginning of this post again.
I feel much more secure now I have really thought through all my roles in life and made decisions which will make me happier and healthier in body and mind.
I know I talk a lot about how to get your nascent handmade business off the ground. That’s a vital part of the business journey – and it might even be the hardest part – but it really is just the beginning of the learning you are going to have to do.
When you’ve been running your business for a while, and achieved some success, you come up against a whole new set of challenges – things that may have never crossed your mind in the beginning, but that are now becoming pressing concerns.
How do you keep up when you’re getting more orders than you can handle? How do you make time for creating new designs when you’re flat out keeping up with making and admin? How can you streamline and simplify in every area of your business so you have time to do everything?
It can be easy to fall into bad habits when orders are few and far between, and you’re spending most of your time making new designs, adding new stock to your website, and getting the word out about your business.
If you find yourself stretched for time and stressed out because your business is growing, I’ve got 10 tips for you today that will help you to claw back a whole lot of control via simplification, systematisation, and more effective time management.
1. Streamline your order processing system
When you’ve only got a few orders a week to handle, it’s easy to be a bit lax about your order processing system. When you’re getting multiple orders a day, having a set, determined system – from the moment the order hits your inbox, till the moment you click the ‘shipped’ button – is absolutely vital. Not only to save you time and stress, but to make sure you don’t make mistakes, mix up orders, or miss orders.
I talk more about my own personal system for Epheriell in this post.
2. Reduce + simplify your inventory
If you’ve been in business for a few years, your product line might be getting a little bit bloated. Are you still hanging on to products you designed years ago, but that no longer fit the aesthetic of your brand – or that don’t reflect the direction you want to take your business? Do you have old designs sitting there that never sold well, but that you’re holding onto for sentimental purposes?
Even if you love them, sometimes it’s best to let go. Take a step back from the products you’re currently offering and ask yourself ‘is this still what I want to be putting out into the world?’
By streamlining your offerings to ensure you’re only putting your best work forward, you’ll not only tighten your brand, make life easier for your customer (because there is less dross to sort through when they visit your shop) – you’ll also make your own life easier, because you will have much less inventory to maintain (both physically and digitally).
Having a robust product range is a good thing – but you can have too many items. The key is ensuring that everything you offer is top-notch, and reflects your business as it is now – not as it was 2 years ago.
3. Get strategic with your social media
Chances are, if you’ve been in business for a few years, you’ve got a number of social media accounts floating around. But are you using all of them? Or, more to the point, are you using all of them strategically?
The more successful your business becomes, the less time you have to devote to maintaining social media. The solution is to get focussed and strategic.
Plan it out. Decide which social media you are going to focus on (I recommend no more than 2) and do a plan for what content you are going to share on a weekly basis. Maybe you want to have a rotating list of content types. Maybe you want to devote one hour a week to scheduling up posts or creating photos/images. Perhaps you need to put an alarm on your phone to remind you to spend 10 minutes a day morning and night pinning content.
Your plan will differ depending on your business and your goals. But if you don’t have a plan, you will soon (if you haven’t already) find that your social media marketing falls by the wayside in the face of more urgent tasks.
4. Hire help
Are you still a one-person show? Is that still working for you? Or is it time to take the next step and hire help?
If you’re like me, this sounds like a super-daunting step, because you like being in control of every single aspect of your business! However, if your business is growing, there comes a time where you either have to deliberately slow things down (more on that later) OR you need to bring some help on board.
Start with discrete tasks – things that you can hand off, in full, to someone else. An example of a discrete task would be your bookeeping. Or your shipping.
Also, don’t forget all the other parts of life you might be able to outsource – how about hiring a cleaner so you don’t have to do that any more?
Look at your business – and the rest of your life – and aim to find these discrete bundles of work that you can hire someone to do for you. Chances are, you can hire them at a reasonable rate that will free you up to spend more time on the activities that actually grow your business and bring in more money. It’s a win-win upward spiral.
5. Schedule breaks
It’s oh-so-easy to let a growing business spread its tendrils into every waking hour of your life, until you find yourself checking your email when you wake up in the middle of the night, and start breaking out into a cold sweat when you accidentally leave your phone at home.
This hyper-awareness keeps your body in a constant state of stress, and that is just no good for your mental (or physical) health.
Learning how to set boundaries and take breaks is a crucial skill to master if you want to continue to run your business into the future without burning out.
Work out what sort of rhythm works for you, and make taking down-time a priority. Maybe you want to set daily work hours, or discrete work days. Perhaps you know you need to switch off a few times a year and take a digital sabbatical. Perhaps you like to go all-out for most of the year, then take a whole month off.
Whatever works for you – do it, stick to it, and remember there is a life outside of work, too.
6. Raise your prices
When’s the last time you reviewed your prices? If you’ve been in business for a few years, but haven’t reviewed or raised your prices in the last 1-2 years, this should be a top priority. Not only are you now much more experienced than you were then, but you’ve probably also got a more established brand and a strong reputation. It might be that your current prices don’t reflect that.
Raising prices can also be an incredibly useful tool if business is booming beyond the point where you can keep up. Imagine doubling your prices… and getting half as many sales. If you’re still measuring your success by ‘number of sales’ this idea might horrify you. But if you’re measuring your success by how much profit you are making, this idea should delight you. Imagine – the same amount of gross income you make now, but with half the work! Not to mention, more profit, because your margins are much higher.
If the idea of doubling your prices sounds way beyond what you’re comfortable with, how about just adding 10 or 20%? You may find that the extra cost reduces the number of sales you make, and gives you a bit more breathing space.
Then again, you might discover (as many makers have) that raising prices actually makes your items MORE desirable to customers, and you actually increase sales. At least you’ll be able to afford to hire some help!
7. Establish a morning routine
How you start your day can have a huge impact on how productive and happy you are. We’ve all had those days when we’ve crawled out of bed late, and then felt like we were falling behind all day. When we start the day rushed and stressed, chances are that’s how the rest of the day will go, too.
How much better would it feel to have a routine that ensured everything that needed to get done before you started work did get done – in a relaxed, uplifting way?
Establishing my own morning routine has been (and is) a constant work in progress, and I still have those days where – because I have an early appointment, or some other spanner in the works that is outside my regular routine, I can’t stick to my full morning routine (which, when done properly, takes me 3 hours!). But when I do stick to it? Man, does it pay off. I start my workday calm, happy, knowing I’ve already taken care of myself (I’ve done exercise, yoga, meditation, some reading, and I’m showered and dressed).
Figure out what activities you really love to do in the morning – those things that get you in the right head-space to tackle the rest of the day. Then, work out what order you want to do them in, and when.
Yes, it might mean you have to get up a little bit earlier. I have NEVER thought of myself as a morning person, but I’ve chosen to change that, and now wake up by 7 at the latest every day (even though I’m self-employed, work from home, and don’t have kids to wake me). It’s made a world of difference to how I feel every day, and it means I reduce my cognitive load in the morning, because I don’t have to think about what I’m going to do – I just follow my routine.
(I’m so passionate about this, that I’m going to talk about it at length in an upcoming podcast…)
8. Dump venues that aren’t working
When you started out, you might have done what I did – put your work into any and all venues you possibly can! As many online selling sites as you could, as many shops via wholesale and consignment, as many markets as would accept you.
But now… you’ve reached some level of success, and it’s time to be more discerning.
I get emails – usually a few a month – from people starting up new online handmade venues. I’m honoured they’ve reached out to me – it is a sign that I have built a reputation for quality work – but I am also firm in the fact that I cannot invest the time to set up on yet another online venue. In fact, a year or so back, I actually shut down the majority of my shops on different venues, so I could focus on the ones that were bringing me the most success.
Managing 2-3 online venues is hard enough when you have hundreds of products – let alone managing 10 or more. Do you still have work on venues where it never sells? There is something to be said for having a presence wherever you can, in order to possibly spread the word about your business, but you have to weigh that up against managing all of those venues – keeping them up to date with new products, updating prices, updating them when you go on holiday or take a break… all of that adds up to time you might well find is better spent elsewhere.
And when it comes to retail stores – start being more choosy. Pick the ones that really work with your brand (I know my friend Megan Auman focuses on getting her work into gallery stores, because that’s where her ideal customer is).
Don’t automatically jump at the chance to get your work onto that new site, or into that new shop or market. Have a plan for how you want to grow your brand, and choose sales venues accordingly.
9. Plan your time better
Flying by the seat of your pants when it comes to time management and planning might get you so far, but once business picks up, you’ll find yourself missing appointments, forgetting things, being late with orders, letting your inbox pile up, and generally feeling like you’re never on top of things.
If you don’t already have a coherent, interlinked time management system, it’s time to change that.
Everybody works differently, so no-one can give you a one-size-fits-all solution to this, however, there are oodles of options out there for how to keep track of everything you need to do, and structuring your time.
Personally, I use a combo of a yearly wall planner, a weekly desktop planner, and google calendar (including those handy alarm reminders!).
That system works for me, because it lets me look at my time in a range of increments – from the year ahead, to the week ahead, to daily tasks. I sit down on Sunday night and Monday morning and schedule must-do tasks for the week on my weekly planner, so I know what’s coming up for the week ahead, and can make sure to allot the time for those projects.
10. Do some long-term goal-setting
When’s the last time you sat down and looked at your 6-month, 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year goals? Have you revisited them within the last 6 months? If not, now’s the time.
Long-term goal-setting is crucial to give you something to aim for – but it needs to be modified on a regular basis as your business grows and shifts. The 5-year goal you set 2 years ago might be wildly out of sync with what you want now.
Without long-term goals, you’re sailing around in the dark. Sure, you’re moving… but are you moving in the right direction? How will you make big decisions for the direction of your biz if you don’t have some sort of vision for what you want it to look like a few years down the track?
These goals are never set in stone, and you can change them – but by doing the work and setting them, you’re in a much better position to be able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the opportunities that will come your way. The Captain of the ship always knows where they’re going – so make sure you’re acting as a Captain should when it comes to steering your business.
This is just a taste of the sort of content I cover in SHIFT – my e-course for more established handmade business owners.
SHIFT Alumni, Carolyn Kospender, said of the course: “I feel like I’ve read so many books and essays covering information that never really hit the point. But your course not only gave me concrete steps and plans to get me going but more importantly, opened my eyes to the true purpose behind what I do.”
If your business is already cruising along, but you want to shift things up a gear (or two or three!) and hit highway speed, join me for a month-long virtual road-trip that will help you #SHIFTyourbiz. Registration is open now. Class starts March 9th.