Thursday, January 25, 2007

A busy fool . . . .

When I began to think about starting my own business, about 6 years ago now, I used to attend a lot of networking events run by Scottish Enterprise and the like.
One of the co-ordinators was a lovely woman who had once worked for Scottish Enterprise and had then left, wangling herself a freelance consultancy job for Scottish enterprise, working her own hours, being her own boss and earning a lot more money. She gave me a lot of very good advice the most important piece of which was to resist becoming a busy fool.
As I rush about painting mood boards for weddings and sewing up glazed cotton hearts I'm not sure that I have followed that advice.
I am also a great fan of Michael Gerber and his book The E-myth Revisited which looks at the way in which skilled workers - gardeners, shopkeepers, knitters, florists - begin their own businesses and keep on doing the type of skilled craft that they feel comfortable with - become busier and busier until it isn't sustainable and they become exhausted. They become busy fools.
Working in a craft based field, it is very difficult to avoid the trap. Initially I was so worried that no-one would buy anything that I pitched prices low - then when people did buy I felt that I had set a price level and couldn't raise it much. It has taken 5 years to get prices - both flowers and crafts - up to a sensible level. My worst habit is forgetting all the extras that go into making things - not the ribbons and so on, but the time spent buying materials, the petrol for delivery, the stall costs, the sandwiches and so on.
How does everyone else solve this? There are obviously a number of crafters who are even more foolish than I am if the e-bay prices are to be believed (* I put this bit in for Lisa whose doorstops are 100% nicer than the copies on ebay) and then there are those Chinese imports.
This year I am hoping to be just as busy but a little less foolish.


Primrose Hill said...

Hi Jane,
The whole e-bay thing really annoys me, these are people sat at home with a bit of spare time, NOT trying to run a successful business. But that's a rant for another day! On the pricing thing, that's why I went down to the trade fairs initially so that I could suss out pricing, it's not easy if you are going to supply at trade and retail - and if you want to become known for your work, supplying shops is the best way to do this initally. The way I look at it is, you don't do yourself any favours by underpricing, there is a certain type of person that our type of products appeal to, those that appreciate the time that it takes to make the product from start to finish, and they also know that it's not been shipped in from the far east for peanuts, therefore no "craft miles" etc. Also if you underprice, will people not think they are getting a substandard product? Just my thoughts on it all...............

Primrose Hill said...

P.S. I've still got your Michael Gerber book, it's beside my bed still unread!
Really must make a point of reading it!
L x

Heather said...

ok - Accountants hat on now!!

We give Gerbers book to start ups or at least pitch them in his direction.

The aim of Gerber is to stop you simply doing the business - and to allow you to step outside the business and systematise it to a point that it ceases to be a job you do - it is ready to be handed on and managed by others. The key is knowing how to replicate what you do so others can do it the same as you do it.

Running a business is very different to doing the job

Thats why many sole traders see themselves as a sum of the job they do and do not become a business - becoming a business is something that craft people rarely manage - because they have too much heart in the process and not enough business acumen.

Craft people are also incredibly bad at finance.

However, Gerber is really about Franchising out and thats not always the goal for small start ups

The trick is to see what you want from your business and stick at it - keep the big goal in view and don't get bogged down with inconsequential detail

China and ebay does however manage to undervalue the craft worker because people want quality without the cost!!


Jane said...

Hi Lisa - thanks for the advice - I am sure that getting things out to trade would be a sensible route.

I have decided against it now, partly because I am a control freak, and partly because I hope that be keeping the design, growing, making and selling all in house we shall cut out the middlemen and be able to keep quality high while paying decent wages.

Mine is a very amorphous business -only really connected to the garden and to my sewing basket. I see this as an asset - and I suppose the challenge is to replicate this on a greater level.

I don't think that this can be done without losing the heart of the business unless it continues to be rooted so to speak in the garden.

I am however seriously considering the offer of a concession at a local craft gallery.

The NO CRAFT MILES is an excellent idea - perhaps we should get stickers made for the CL Fair?

Heather - I am so glad that you rate Gerber. When I first read his book it was one of those lightbulb moments - I could suddenly see what was needed medium term to make the business work, to make it something that I can walk away from in the future if I want to ( even for a holiday!).

So much of the writing is cheesy though that I am always slightly embarassed to recommend it.

His later book E-myth Mastery is quite scary and I think that there should be a support group for readers.

Thanks for taking so much time to comment.

carolyn said...

I briefly dipped my little toe into the world of "selling crafts" when my eldest was about 1. We were skint, I wanted to look after my baby myself and interst rates were rising at a rate of knots. It was before the internet and my activities didn't go beyond a few craft fairs and a consession in a shop for the 6 week run up to Christmas. My prices were low otherwise I wouldn't have sold anything, to be honest I was not in the right location. It was a lot of work and at the end of it minus costs I had made the equivalent of 2 weeks housekeeping!Fortunately Stuart got a better paid job.I think you have to price for the market you are aiming at and I would imagine that your market is the "cash rich / time poor" one. So you can add a premium there. I do know someone who actually costs each individual thing she makes, including her time, before deciding if this is going into her range which seems sensible to me. Many people undervalue their time because they fear they won't be able to sell or maybe they just undervalue their abilities I'm not sure. Ebay and made in China is quite scary, things are so cheap but I don't think that the people who buy from you are actually looking for bargains, they are looking for well made beautiful things that they can't get on the High Street.
So maybe you need to take that into consideration when you price.
Alicia over at Posie gets Cosy (yours is one of the few blogs that doesn't seem to have her in your sidebar) has quite a lot to say on being an "indie business" both in her blog archives, she does mention the pricing issue, and in the FAQ's section of her shop there are links to interviews she has done.You may find her views interesting.

Nonnie said...

Love Lisa's 'No Craft Miles' idea. As someone who is just barely starting her own business I find it so interesting to read what you and Lisa have to say. I find the pricing thing really difficult. After not doing so well at the Christmas fair Cherry attended it was really tempting to cut my prices drastically but really I don't think that works either. It just undervalues my products. I suppose you have to accept that there are always going to be people who only want cheap things and that hopefully the kind of people who appreciate hand made items will pay a fair price for them.
Ebay annoys me a bit too. I tried selling cushions on it and it was really soul destroying. I sold one for a price that barely covered my costs. Very frustrating.

gillian said...

Hello Jane,
I really apreciate your honesty and all the great advise that I have read on your site. I am CONSIDERING setting up a similar business - to a great extent based on the inspiration that I have received from you - thank-you! I hope that you have a very successful 2007. If all else fails you could always write a book about your experiences - you certainly have lots to share with all simillarly minded folk.
Thanks again - Gillian.

Tracy said...

Pricing things correctly is the hardest part of my job - even the brought in items that i have to stock in order to pay my rent and rates are difficult to price - are they cheaper / more expensive than the shop in the next village???
When it comes to pricing my handmade items it is even harder!!!
After all as craftworkers we love everything we make and i do not feel that any of us should sell ourselves short by reducing prices.
In my experience in my shop - the handmade items WILL sell when the right person comes along and falls in love xxx

Jane said...

I grew up in the antique trade - and that is even wierder, if something sells quickly you know you have made a terrible mistake.

I read in one book that you should aim to price your goods so that people go "Hmmmm" and screw their faces up . . . but buy it anyway.

I'm not sure that I could cope with the tension of that!

Thanks for all your comments.


Gigibird said...

Hello Jane - I thought this post was an incredibly sensible piece of writing and so refreshing to read advice from someone experienced. My friend and I say designing and making things is the easy part, it's the selling that stops us in our tracks!

Jane said...

Lynn - now I remember your blog - you are Florence Hope ? Your labels with the 2 layers - floral wallpaper (I'm guessing)and translucent plastic are one of the best things I have seen in a blog and if you had not been UK based I might have copied them!
I actually love your work - the flowers are proper 50s inspired,not pastiche. An unusual example of something original,