Business Tips Part 40: Getting a Creative Block

Have you ever experienced writers or creative block? It's awful isn't it? It happened to me today whilst I had new products to make, I was sitting looking at ALL of my supplies and nothing, there were no ideas there. I also experience writers block sometimes whilst I write this blog or write my articles for Handmade News.

I often find that creative block pops up its ugly head if I've been focusing on the "business" aspects of Butterfly-Crafts for a period of time rather than playing with paper and sticky tape. Here are some suggestions about how you can bring it back:

  • Take a nap!
  • Go for a walk in the park,
  • Change your scenery for a short time especially if you work at home. Work in the dining room or lounge or garden.
  • Go to the gym/run/swim/yoga,
  • Visit a museum or art gallery or a book reading. These types of activity can inspire you more than you realise,
  • Walk arounf your nearest craft shop. Don't have anything in particular in mind but you may find something new,
  • Do you listen to music whilst you create? What about switching over the station for the afternoon - change can be good.

The saying "a change is as good as a rest" is very true, especially for people who earn through creativity. Change is a renewal process - mentally, spiritually and physically as it allows you to return your base point feeling refreshed and raring to go.

What do you do when you get hit with the creative block?

Coming on the next business tips post: What to do when babies come knocking!

Friday, 30 April 2010 | 0 Comments

Business Tips Part 39: Life Balance Part 2

On Friday I posed a number of questions for you to assess your work/life balance. There are also questions you need to ask to ensure you are not falling behind on your business. Some of these I think are ok to ask yourself every couple of weeks but others may need to be asked weekly, if not daily.

  1. Do you have emails that need to be returned? An unreturned email may be a potential customer or a wholesale enquiry. Emails really should be responded to within 24hours and if you are on holiday/craft show/sick set an out-of-office response.
  2. Are you paying your bills on time? In my opinion this is almost more important ro replying to an email because a cut-off from a supplier, whether they be inventory supplies, electricity, telephone or internet, is something a business cannot function without.
  3. Do you need to collect payment from vendors? If you have any wholesale or consignment accounts, do the vendors owe you money? Does anyone else owe you money for that matter? You need to be paid on time to keep your cash flowing.
  4. Are your accounts reconciled on a monthly basis? I am very guilty of this one: FAIL! Not because I don't have the understanding or the information but because I haven't quite developed a system I am happy with. When I have, I will sit down on the last day of the month and reconcile.......with a bar of chocolate at my side.
  5. Are you making enough money? Now you're not going to outrun Alan Sugar or Donald Trump for their bank balances but you do need to know if you are making enough. Are you charging enough/fairly for your time and supplies? Perhaps give your competitors the once over to benchmark. I wouldn't recommend making frequent price alterations but the beginning of the year is a good opportunity.
  6. How clean is your workspace? This is really important because there is nothing worse than suddenly feeling inspired to create but having to tidy up first. Find a storage system that works and use it. It will also keep you more aware of when supplies are running low.
  7. Have you spent a satisfactory amount of time on marketing? Have you increased your Twitter followers? Facebook fans? Blog followers? Do you look at your Google Analytics to see what is working? Only you can know what works and if you have done enough to feel happy.
  8. Is there anyone you need to network with? Has a new shop opened up in your area you could wholesale with? Stop by and say hello.

That is a lot of questions to think about! But you may find you can make a few changes and actually increase the time you have to create or spend with family.

Coming next time on April 30th: Getting a creative block.

Monday, 26 April 2010 | 0 Comments

Business Tips Part 38: Life Balance Part 1

In the last business tips post we looked at what happens when you feel exhausted. This can pose the question about is your life in balance. Do you ever find yourself with more than one personality? Does multi-tasker / control freak and over achiever sound familiar? It is no real surprise really if you always have a to-do list that reads a little like this: finish orders, begin X project, spend time with family/friends/significant other, eat, sleep and run household. If you haven't realised it by now - a business can completely throw your life out of kilter.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to check your work/life balance, you may need to do this frequently:
  1. When was the last time you were physically active? - walking up the stairs does not count, I'm meaning swimming, dancing, a long walk, a "night in", running and yoga are all good examples.
  2. Are you eating regularly and not relying on junk/fast/processed food? - Why not make an agreement with yourself that at least three days a week you will eat a well balanced and nutritious meal and always have fruit and seeds on hand for snacks.
  3. Did you sleep well last night? We all know the recommendation is for seven hours sleep a night but how many of us actually get that? Sometimes, if not frequently, I'm lucky if I get five, but I try to compensate at the weekends. You need to find out what is right for you.
  4. Got a mirror nearby? Go take a look in it, how do you look? When was your last haircut or time you put some makeup on? Im not saying you have to do this but sometimes it can make you feel a little better.
  5. Have you visited a museum, restaurant or cinema lately? Treats like these are important for well being and giving your brain a rest as well as a treat! It doesn't need to be expensive. With some of my friends, the restaurant we go to depends on what vouchers we can get.
  6. When was your last day off or even a holiday? It can be difficult to arrange a break when everything is resting on your weary shoulders - but it is so important. If time and funds don't allow for a holiday then the minimum should be to take a day off, not to catch up on household chores but to go and have fun!
  7. Do your friends and family know you are still alive? It is important to keep these relationships alive and kicking and sending a few emails/texts/phone call won't really take that long but will keep you all happy.
  8. Do you have appointments to make/keep or emails to return? Set aside an hour or two a week to tackle these.
  9. Are you being a good friend/daughter/son/wife/husband etc by supporting your friends and family in their projects? You need to keep a tie to friends and family and mark their celebrations or you may be cut out of the loop altogether. I often struggle here but in reverse - I always try to be available and supportive of my friends and family but as it is not often reciprocated it makes me question why I actually bother.
  10. Finally, are you attending any events you are invited to like Christenings, Weddings and Funerals? Keeping on top of birthday cards or other cards you need to send? Forgetting the birthday of a friend is marginably acceptable once but twice is a huge big black cross in my book. I find it helps to keep one central diary where both business and personal events/dates are combined. I have a beautiful purple leather Filofax which is with me at all times. It is also a good idea to keep a calendar central in the home so all family members can see it.

Coming next time on April 26th: Life Balance part two.

Friday, 23 April 2010 | 4 Comments

Business Tips Part 37: Feeling Exhausted?

What would you think if you were to open a magazine and see the pages full of an artists' handmade items and know they have their items in all the big department stores? I bet you'd assume they are sitting back and counting their pots of money? Right? Well not always.

The reality is more likely to be they are in their studio pulling out their hair, worried sick about how to keep up with the demand! To them, what started out as a reliever of stress is in fact now a major creator of stress.

I certainly find it difficult to step away from Butterfly-Crafts for fear of falling behind. There are always new products to make, promoting to do and business admin to keep up with. However this heroic lifestyle will take its tole. I have suffered creative exhaustion and frequently sleep issues due to worry. Other signs of exhaustion might be anxiety, headaches, restlessness and in severe cases even rashes.

I really don't think I'll be alone in saying I have been exhausted with my business, I think that all business owners probably do at some point. If they don't I'd like to know their secret!

If you are feeling exhausted is it possible you are trying to be too ambitious and consequently feel overwhelmed? Do you need to rediscover your creativity with some quality time with your beads / knitting / soap etc? Perhaps you need to set more of a routine; or you might just need a complete break.

I truley belive the only way to overcome exhaustion (beyond taking a complete break) is to recapture the fulfillment your business used to provide you. Know when you have done a good days work and then stop and relax rather than work all hours under the sun and then at weekends too.

It is difficult in this business to be all things to all people - controller of stock, designer, inventory creator, accountant, purchaser, press guru, customer services manager, agent and cleaner. If this sounds like you, perhaps you need to enlist help - more on that in a later post.

I'd really like to know what you do when you are feeling exhausted with business?

Coming next time on the 23rd April: Life in Balance

Monday, 19 April 2010 | 6 Comments

Business Tips Part 36: Where are all the sales?

Does this thought sound familiar: you've spent hours, days and even months creating product, really putting your heart and soul into every piece but where are the sales? Or if you are getting sales, why aren't there more? We've ALL had those thoughts.

It's easy for me to say don't panic or don't give up. The first step is to take stock of the situation you are now in. Might you have launched at the wrong time? Do you only have Christmas products and it's only March? However, it might not be down to your product, it might be your marketing strategy at fault.

Ask youself one very important question: Do I believe in my products? If you do, and I hope that you do, think long and hard about what it is you can alter. Would making your aprons available as vendor aprons help or change the fastening on bracelets?

It is also worth revisiting your pricing strategy. However do not automatically assume that you need to lower your prices, it may be that you actually need to increase them. We've covered pricing handmade items before in previous blogs and it is true that buyers of handmade items associate the product with quality and something special and so are willing to pay for it. If they see a beautiful handmade piece of jewellery but priced too low they may either question the quality of the work or how much the artist values their work.

Something similar happened to me with Butterfly-Crafts. When I first started selling I priced low assuming this was the best way to get sales. That was until a very kind Artfire seller advised me that pricing low made it look like I was a) not valuing myself and b) desperate for a sale. I revisited my pricing formula, tweaked my prices and then the sales started to come in.

Overall, it is so important to realise that having a creative business is a brave task because you are exposing yourself to other people's opinions. Don't get discouraged though, as it can take time before you are making a profit. You need to maintain a belief in yourself and your abilities because one day, you may be struggling to keep up with the demand!

On the next Business Tips blog on the 19th: Feeling exhausted?

Friday, 16 April 2010 | 0 Comments

Business Tips Part 35: Taking the Rough with the Smooth

How long have you been running your creative business? For me its been a little over a year and one thing I have learned this far is that it will not always be rosey and there will be high points and low points.

Unfortunately one of the biggest low points for any creative business is to find out your products have been copied and are being sold elsewhere at a lower price. As unfortunate as it is, everything that you create can be copied somehow.

If you are copied, it is likely the biggest culprit will be a mass merchandise company who can make similar items on a large scale for just a fraction of the price. It is sad to say their latest victim is often found at a trade fair and they may even place an order with you to receive samples. But, independent designers can do exactly the same thing but perhaps for a different reason: envy.

As I've said, virtually anything you make can be open for copying, But there are steps to take to help lessen the blow: Have your work protected with either a copyright, patent or trademark. But if you have been copied it might be wise to seek legal advice with regard to any action you can take.

The other aspect of having your work copied is emotion. Knowing that something you have spent weeks working on have been copied is extremely upsetting. But you need to stay confident in your work and your abilities because keeping the emotion bottled up could stop your creativity flowing.

If you are copied, as awful as it may be, keep one thought in mind: "I was one step ahead of the crowd and always will be" and those who copied you will just get left behind!

Coming next time on April 16th: Where are all the sales?

Monday, 12 April 2010 | 0 Comments

Business Tips Part 34: Customer Service

Cast your mind back to when you had that lightbulb moment about running your own craft business and how great it would be to be your own boss, make all the decisions and report to no-one. Have you realised that's not strictly true - you now report to your customers, buyers and possibly the press.

The way to respond to your ne bosses can make or break your business. A quick well thoughts out response can help you make your business, but a short and shoddy response will be a business breaker.

We now live in a consumer society and as such, you and your business will be judged on short customer interactions. These interactions may be telephone calls, emails, in person within your shop, at a craft fair or just passing on the street.

If you feel exhausted from running your business, beware, a tired owner will end up being your worst enemy! No matter how tired or busy you are you cannot avoid emails or dismiss phone calls. If you do, you will give the impression that you either have too much to do and cannot cope, think yourself too important to respond, or are simply incompetent. Be refreshing and surprise people with a response within 24hours or if that is not possible 2 days at most. On the reverse side, responding instantly may give the impression you don't have much else to do - I always wait an hour before responding to someone so I can think about what I want to say in the first instance.

Another potential downfall in business is being too formal. I'm not suggesting you treat your buyers as if they are your best friends (unless of course they are) but a degree of human interconnectivity can go a long way. For example, I would rather be addressed in an email as "Hi Victoria..." rather than "Dear Miss Heath".

There is however a line that cannot be crossed. Never use your daughters dance class as an excuse as to why you have not mailed out a parcel late or that you needed to take your rabbit to the vet. Stay professional at all times but do allow the real you to shine through.

Comine next time on April 12: Taking the Rough with the Smooth

Friday, 9 April 2010 | 0 Comments

Business Tips Blog Part 33: Fulfilling Orders

What happens if you have been putting all of these tips into practice with wholesaling, consignment, trade fairs, craft shows etc? Well, you will need to think about fulfilling orders.

Independent businesses are able to gain huge orders from major retailers but more often than not, the big order will come with a list of do's and dont's. It is essential you read these guidelines with a fine tooth comb and if there are no guidelines, you may wish to create your own.

It can be tempting to save a few pounds but do not scrimp on packaging. Buy good quality boxes and tape and use some filling materials like polystyrene or air packets. The best way to save some money with packaging is to buy in bulk at wholesale prices rather than from your local Rymans or Staples.

As you package up your lovely handmade products, assume that the parcel will be knocked about during transit. Therefore consider a "fragile" sticker and fill every last space with filling materials to help make it resistent to compression.

Postage costs can put a potential buyer off so consider buying a postage scale to achieve accurate costs. I have my postage as accurate as possible but I have added a policy to Butterfly-Crafts saying if postage paid is more that 70p different I will refund that difference.

If you receive a large wholesale order that you are posting rather than hand delivering consider using Royal Mail parcel force or another large carrier such as FedEx or DHL and they provide an online tracking system.

Postage is also a great opportunity to add the personal touch. For example I include a business card, a hand written thank you nore, occasionally an offer for a future purchase and often matching gift tags.

Remember the joy and excitement you experience when your purchases arrive? That is what you are trying to recreate.

Coming on the next Business Tips blog on the 9th April: Customer Service

Monday, 5 April 2010 | 0 Comments

Business Tips Part 32: Being a Salesperson

Something very important to learn with owning a craft business is that you will be the chief salesperson whether you like it or not! You have probably had to learn many skills to get your business set up but sales skills, in my opinion, are the most important.

I find it still a little embarassing talking to people about my business, especially on days when I still think of it as just my hobby but the more i talk to people about it the easier it is becoming. Always smile and make your customers, both potential and existing, feel important, but without being insincere.

Two excellent salesperson traits are being visible and spirited. Staying behind your craft fair table or visibly day-dreaming or reading is a big no-no. Remain alert at all times and ready to attend to needs and answer questions.

It is important to never make an assumption about a buyer if they enter your space at a craft show or even cross into your physical shop door. This is especially important at a tradeshow - don't even contemplate the way someone has dressed and don't ignore an independent buyer to spend more time with department store buyers. Engage with every single person and have a conversation without pushing a sale.

An important lesson to learn as a salesperson is that you never have a second chance to make a first impression. Therefore dress to reflect your brand but be professional at all times.

If you are at a tradeshow, these can be stressful enough if the future of your business rests on its success. Be ready and open for any feedback - both good and bad. You should already know that your products will not appeal to everyone so try not to get discouraged or take comments too personally - yes this is super hard I know! Don't let a negative comment or someone walking on by affect your poise. Be open to all comments as it can only help you develop.

It is enevitable that at some time in your business you will have a bad experience or a bad show but you need to learn from those lessons and enjoy yourself. Once you begin to enjoy talking about your business, others will be more receptive.

Coming on the next Business Tips Blog on Monday 5th April: Fulfilling Orders

Friday, 2 April 2010 | 0 Comments