I have a confession to make. Whilst I know I’m not the only one in this position – far from it – it’s time to come clean all the same.
I am living a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde life.
By day I toil away in my desk-bound “regular day job” and by night I alternate to the creative mindset of designing and making handmade craft.
A little over a year ago I started experimenting with felt and turning the creature designs in my head into reality.
Like many people, I wasn’t overly confident in what I was making at first, but eventually plucked up the courage to start a dedicated Instagram account, Facebook page and ultimately an Etsy store, on the back of some solid encouragement from family and friends.
The plethora of you living similar lifestyles know how demanding it can be to turn around the mental drain of your day job, switching gears in the evening in tackling the swathe of demands that come with starting up a handmade business.
Of course, the creative outlet which my business provides, and the humbling feedback from customers make it all worthwhile.
When it comes to running a business, designing and making products is simply the beginning. I’m fortunate that when it comes to many of the administrative and commercial aspects, the skills from my day job actually come in handy.
I’ve always enjoyed design and craft – long holding a latent desire to convert on previous study in industrial design. It’s really satisfying when you put it all together and see the final product out there in the hands of customers.
I’ve been incredibly inspired by the sense of community amongst handmade makers and those who appreciate craft. The comments that I see daily on Instagram, Facebook, and craft blogs are so refreshingly positive, it keeps me going!
It’s wonderful how many people you can touch across the globe with creations you’ve made from the comfort of your own home.
Every week I set myself a challenge to design a new creature to add to the family. Inevitably the true challenge is not in finding inspiration, but rather time.
I have a myriad of plans for new creatures I’d like to develop, and other types of products to grow my range.
Stay tuned – I hope that we can inspire each other in our Jekyll and Hyde lives.
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.
If you cannot physically fit in any more production time for your goods or services, it could be time to outsource jobs such as admin, bookkeeping etc.
Find the parts of your business that are causing you the most frustration and see what you can hand off to someone else, who will probably love doing that job.
4. Connect with your WHY
Allow yourself time to focus on why you started the business in the first place. We often get side tracked by the “should dos” and the emails or orders but it is important to stay rooted in your core purpose.
That might mean for a day of creative play in the studio, it might mean connecting with your tribe and reminding yourself of the value you bring to their lives. Whatever it looks like for you, give yourself permission to play in your business and remember your WHY.
5. Recognise your Superpowers
Once you have re-connected with your why, it’s time to be loud and proud about what you totally rock at.
Take some time to read your testimonials, customer emails and other positive feedback you get for your business.
Remind yourself of the things you do that make you awesome and know that your work is a gift to the world.
You don’t have to be loud about it really but don’t be afraid to share with your tribe the good things people say, it might even prompt others to share their feedback.
Running a Business is Tough
If you are having a bad day, or even a bad month, be kind to yourself and know that it’s all part of the journey.
There might have been tears, sleepless nights and moments of dread, but I want you to know it will all work out.
If you believe in what you are doing, put in the effort and stick it out, it will all be worth it.
You are amazing and intelligent and you can figure it out. The world needs what you have to offer!
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.
If you are waiting until something is perfect to put it out into the world – your photos, your brand, your tweet, your product… you will never do it.
We often hold back from putting ourselves and our work out into the world because we’re afraid. We cloak it in the idea of ‘perfectionism’, because that gives us a seemingly lofty and logical reason not to ship the work.
“Oh, I’m still working on getting my product design just right.”
“Oh, I’m still tweaking my photography, but I’ll have it sorted soon, and THEN I’ll open my shop!”
“Oh, I’ll never be able to keep up a blog – so why bother starting?”
We’re not waiting until it’s perfect, because deep down, when we’re really honest with ourselves, we know it will never be perfect.
What’s really stopping us is fear.
Fear that we’ll do something wrong.
Fear that no-one will like what we have to share, or – horror of horrors – actually actively dislike it.
Fear that we’ll be discovered for the fraud we are, because we don’t really know what we’re doing. (Did you know that we ALL feel this way? Because we do.)
Fear that we’ll fail.
Fear that we might actually succeed, and what that might mean for our life.
What we’re really waiting for is courage. For that moment of bravery where we say to ourselves “$&@# it, I’m going to DO this!”
Nobody else can give you this courage. Nobody else can make the decision for you. Yes, other people can help – through their support and advice, and that’s why having a community of like-minded folk around you is really powerful.
That said, the honest truth is that it’s all up (and down) to you – you have the power and the strength to do this thing you’ve been dreaming of and scheming on for… well, possibly for years. Or even decades.
It can be tempting to look at those who are ahead of you on the path and think “but, it’s just so easy for them! They know what they’re doing, and they do it so well. I’ll never be able to do what they do.”.
That. Is. Rubbish.
Do you really believe it was always like that?
You know that we all started out knowing absolutely nothing, right? Every single one of those people you look up to started out with zero knowledge at some point in their lives and careers.
The difference between you and them is that they have years of hard work, late nights, reading, learning, stress, failure, success, more failure, and guts.
They have grit. They have perseverance. They have patience. They have done the work, and stuck it out because they have an unshakeable faith in themselves.
* Actually, I lie. I LOVE to break this to you, because if you finally, truly believe it, there’s no limit on what you’ll be able to achieve.
If you’re already showing up and growing a successful business… but want MORE, then don’t miss out on joining me and a group of other dedicated, passionate creatives for SHIFT – my e-course for more advanced businesses. It will help you shift from 2nd gear to highway speed with your biz, and it starts March 9. Registration opens soon, find out more here.