A Weeks Work

According to some preliminary research, most countries in the world work a 40-44 hour work week. 8 hours a day sounds pretty reasonable, you figure 8 to work, 8 to sleep, 8 to do everything else...but it never does work out that way does it?

 I watch C since he is the one with the "typical" job in the family (if you can imagine his constant travel as typical, ha!), and realize that this certainly doesn't work out at all. He gets up two hours before work to shower, have breakfast, and drive to work, then he works 8 hours (only 8 if he is lucky). Then there is the hour or so drive home. So that's 11 hours right there. Dinner is another hour or so, so this leave 4 hours before bed time. Add in house things like paying bills, fixing the computer, calling mom, and sneaking in a hour of TV, and the day is gone.On a good night, he doesn't have additional work he has taken home, and he will get a good night's sleep.

Compare this with my "typical days": Awake at 5 am, on the computer printing orders and answering emails by 6 am, in the workshop by 7 am, out by 2pm. (8 hour day). Then running, errands/housework, dinner, and 2-4 hours of whatever I want to do (typically knitting, gardening, or reading). In bed around 9, asleep by 10. This is not craft show season...(during season I TRY to take a day off each week, notice I said TRY)

During show season it adds on two days a week of crazy. If a show runs from 10am-6pm this is my day: Awake at 5 and on the computer and printing orders/answering emails as soon as I can clearly see the screen, in the shop filling mail orders and packing last minute pick up requests by 6. Leave by 7am, arrive by 8 am, set up and be ready to sell by 10am. Close the booth at 6 pm, home by 7 pm. Grab dinner, take a shower, pack inventory needed for the next day, crawl into bed by 10, fall immediately to sleep. Repeat on Sunday, except add an hour of tear down at the end of the day too.

If you are C, you come with me because this is your only chance this week to see me, and you still go to work Monday as usual. If you are a part time craftsperson, you do the same thing. At least I can sleep late Monday if I want.

Then there are the really crazy shows. Kutztown is 81 hours in 9 days (that is two regular work weeks) , Musikfest is 105 (2.5 work weeks!) in 10 days...add in drive hours, showers, eating, packing inventory, answering emails/orders, and keeping the house in working order, there isn't much time left for sleep. 

This is why I get defensive when I am asked if I "have a real job" besides making soap, chuckle when I am told "I would love to do something like this after I retire", and try not to scream when asked "why does this cost so much". I used to keep a time chart to see how many hours I worked a year and what my true hourly wage was, it was too depressing so I stopped.I do this because I love it, I can't imagine anything different. C said to me the other day that crafting "came with the package" when he met me. That there was nothing else he could see me doing, and asking me to give it up would take away the woman he fell in love with. I do this because it is a passion, an addiction, a calling. That is why every artisan does what he/she does...we really have no other option and be happy.


Lessions in Business I learned from Running

Yep, really, it is a post about running.

I am not a "real" runner, not by my definition of "real" anyway: I only long about 10 miles a week, I have a 12-13 minute mile pace (some people walk faster than I run), I am discouraged by heavy rain, am totally stopped by snow, and currently I am following the Running Mate "Fastest 5K" program (because I just can't motivate myself without a program of some sort).

What I can say is that when I started this journey about 4 years ago, 30 seconds was too far to run without stopping, and no matter how slow I am now, I was slower when sitting on my sofa. But I am glad I have been on this journey and here are a few things I have learned along the way, about running, and running a business.

1) Half of everything is mental. If you can get your brain focused on something, if you can see yourself doing it, and enjoying it, the body will follow without much question. Your brain often tires out and gives in before your body does. That is why some days at the computer feel like we have run a marathon, we have exhausted our brains.

2) If you fall behind, regroup, and try again, you often haven't fallen as far behind as you think. When working the 5k101 running plan, I would have to stop for many things: long shows, winter, etc. When I got back to the program, sometimes after three months, I would only have to go back two or three weeks in the workout (not restart), and I bounced back pretty fast. Same thing with work, if you fall behind, get going as soon as you can, and the bounce back will be more painless than you expect.

3) Following a plan is good. I started with the 5K101, have moved onto the Fastest 5K program and plan on moving onto a 10k program near the end of the year. Having a plan helps keep me motivated, I can see my progress in a tangible way. Same for business: make a plan, actually make two or three plans: daily, monthly, yearly. Follow them and make changes accordingly. Not all motivation comes from within, and we can be our own worst enemy. Having a plan can keep us on track when our brains and bodies want us to stop.

4) It's all about the shoes. It took me 4 pairs before I found what works for me. Now I am pain free almost all the time. Find out what makes a task painless for you. It may take a few tries, but once you find it, stick with it.

5) Hills hurt both on the way up, and on the way down. Growth hurts, change hurts, but when you start to go down, fighting it hurts too. In running you try not to fight the down hill (too much pressure on the knees) but in business you have to fight it. Try to stay as flat as possible, don't grow too fast, the downgrade on the flip side will be just as painful. Little steps, small but consistent growth is the key to the least amount of pain. Remember you are in this for the duration of a marathon, not a sprint.

6) Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Eat right, drink water, go to the doctor, have your eyes checked and your teeth cleaned. Basically, take care of yourself. The better you feel the better you perform, in anything.

7) Ugly feet are a badge of honor. The worse my feet look, the harder I am training. Blisters, callouses, funky toe nails, all of it I have grown to love. What do you do that leaves an impression on you? Grow to like it, love it. Use it as a conversation starter, wear it with pride.

8) Competition makes you run harder, but find a pace you can handle and stick with it. It is tempting when new competition comes on the scene to try your best to keep up, or out pace them. But if that is too fast for you, you will burn out before the end of the race. You can speed up a little, push yourself to a personal record, but keep a pace you can finish with. My bet is you will pass some of those who just burst out of the gate before you finish. And even if you don't pas them, you will finish with your personal record, and aren't we really the only competition we have?

9) Add some fun sometimes. Not everything needs to be a competition. Do some things just because you like them. Color Run anyone?

10) Find your time of day for optimal performance. I like to run between 5:30-7:30 am. Some people prefer the afternoons. Same for work. When you are self employed, find the time you work best and stick to it the best you can. You get the most bang for your buck and work at your most efficient.

And at that, it is time for me to go for a run! Enjoy and hope to see you all soon!


Forest for the Trees

I have been banging around this concept in my head all weekend: do crafts fall in under the umbrella term "industry" and why would or wouldn't that matter?

According to Wikipedia the term industry is defined as "the production of an economic good or service within an economy." This sounds like crafts, yes? We produce goods within the economy. So much so that the Craft and Hobby Association says that the craft and hobby industry is worth a collective $30 billion dollars a year. (take note the craft section  of craft and hobby is just a portion of that number, and includes the business of craft supplies, not just the finished crafts themselves )

Meanwhile, in the UK, the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport is actually trying to remove "Craft" as an industry! Why you ask? Because...
"Most crafts businesses are too small to identify in business survey data, so while there has been a crafts section in the former classification, we've not been able to provide GVA [gross value added] data.
"We recognize that high-end craft occupations contain a creative element, but the view is that in the main, that these roles are more concerned with the manufacturing process, rather than the creative process."
So how far behind is the US with this idea? It is always hard to be the "little guy", the independent designer, the one man operation, but then to be not seen as an industry? It tears at the very fabric of the camaraderie we feel with one another. It  attacks our very existence and our self esteem. It adds to the collective consciousness that the arts in general add no value to our society and are not to be regarded and valued in any way. In short, this viewpoint will be the downfall of our society as we know it. Yes, I really think it can be that extreme.

This post started out in my head as a lesson why we need to come together, artisan and show promoter. Why we need to work harder at taking care of one another, to give the customer a better experience, to stop the shows where manufactured products are allowed, where artisans stand in mud for days at a time trying to make a living, and where customers are hawked at and lied to by fly by night vendors. It was supposed to be a post about protecting each other and acting like an industry rather than a hobby. It was supposed to be about being proud of who we are and what we do. It was supposed to be about producing high quality small shows rather than ending up with the mundane large shows that seem to be so prevalent. But now I have seen the forest for the trees: we need to come together as an industry before the industry is taken away from us.


Hidden Gems

I am always on the lookout for what I call Hidden Gems. These are small shows, with small entrance fees, that give back a large return on the investment. They are few and far between, and if we are lucky, after trying a dozen or more new shows each year we may find one hidden gem, and the next year it still may not be as good as the first time. 

Let's run some hypothetical numbers: if I pay $200 for a space at a craft show (and this is not any expensive show by the way), I would have to sell considerably more than $200 to break even. If my cost to produce a bar of soap is 50% of each dollar I make, then a $200 show would need to have sales of above $400 in order to show a profit. This break even point is considerably lower for shows that cost less to enter, but there is much more of a gamble that the show will not be well attended, organized, or promoted. 

It is because so often these small shows are put on by inexperienced promoters, have a committee that turns over every few years (thus bringing new changes with it), and are operating on a shoe string budget, that they are such a gamble. I like to think of artisans as just one level above cattle. Promoters are most often just selling spaces. If the event is "juried" then there is a chance they at least care about the level of arts and crafts being displayed, but that still doesn't promise a balanced show, there could be 90 jewelers and 10 soapmakers out of 100 total vendors. We just don't know until the vendor list is published, or until we get there. 

I have tried going to shows as a consumer in order to check it out. This rarely works for me. It does seem to tip me off to the shows I should totally avoid, but it doesn't tell me a lick out how I would do selling at the event. So many shows now have a high vendor turn over so just because this year there isn't a soapmaker, that doesn't mean next year the promoter won't let in five. Now I just sign up and go. I figure if I can break even on a new show, it is at the very least advertisement,and I hope to see sales in the future from new contacts made at the event. If I stay home and research shows I am guaranteed to make no income that day, if I just guess and go, at least I have a chance at finding a hidden gem. You can't win if you don't play;)

Mostly I rely on customers and other artisans for what shows to try. If my customers like me and like a show, hopefully that shows brings in more people just like them, and I may do well. My fellow artisans can give me the low down on what shows are good for them, but this still never guarantees success. But once again, if I like their work, then hopefully going where they go will lead me to people who will like my work too. 

So that is why you see us at so many events each year...we are in a search for a hidden gem!