A busy weekend is coming!

If you are a regular follower of my blog, which I hope you are, you will be expecting a business tips blog this Friday. Well, I'm afraid there will not be one this weekend but it's for a good reason. My big brother is getting married and its an all weekend affair!

On Friday I will be driving to Wales with my parents, a good 4-5hours drive, where will will stay until Monday night. We get to help out with my gorgeous nieces (Bridesmaids) and then the rehearsal in the late afternoon. I have a reading for the ceremony so I get to reheare it.

The wedding is on Saturday in a castle near to where they live, its a gorgeous building as you can see. A hundred people have been invited and then a further 50 will join us on the terraces for drinks. Then its back to the farm for the party!! My almost-sister-in-law's parents are farmers and have a big farm where there is currently a marquee being built. After the meal a further 100 people will be turning up for the dancing! So 250 people in total - going to be fun!
It is a full military wedding as my brother is a Sargeant in the Royal Marines and there will be ten Marines in uniform so it will be a special occasion. On the Sunday, a lot of us will be back in the marquee for a Hog Roast for which we all have to make a donation to Help for Heroes, a charity close to all of our hearts in this family.
So...I wanted to explain why there will be no business tips blog this Friday or Monday but service will resume shortly.

Thursday, 27 May 2010 | 1 Comment

Business Tips Part 47: Growing Your Business

If you have made it this far with your craft business you have a lot to be proud of - growing your busines into what it is today. But, as you have grown I would imagine everything has grown in terms of your bills?

Now is not the time to be complacent and sit tight. You need to aim for steady growth at a manageable pace that will provide you with a steady income. To do this you need to launch new products regularly, remain in the public eye and keep an on-going marketing programme.

Keep an eye on your business practices to steadily improve them. If you spot any problems, throwing money into marketing isn't necessarily the answer - especially if your cash flow is low and tight. Consider reassessing your payment terms or your work force to produce more before increasing your marketing budget.

There will always be new goals to reach and growing markets to cover. This is a great opportunity to adapt your products to fit a new market or a niche group. You may find that anm offshoot project can open up income streams, especially if they are not too labour intensive like a licensing agreement for example. What about writing a book on techniques or if a book is too scary then a magazine column? Do you struggle with the written word? Then what about teaching a workshop - something I would LOVE to do!

In business it is important to accept you will go through changes. For a period of time you will be heading in one direction and then suddenly veer off in another way. This is perfectly acceptable so long as you ar enot altering the identity of your business. Marketing efforts are aimed at getting your brand recognised, if you change this too frequently or too quickly you will destroy all of those efforts. Maintaining consistency is absolutely essential.

There is no specific criteria or path to follow that will make your business successful - believe me I wish there was! There will be highs and lows and varying levels of profitability in between. Lows may break your heart like having an order returned because it was damaged or faulty. But then you will receive fabulous reviews by a customer that will cheer you up.

As a small business you must learn a lesson from every experience. Only you can define what is successful - it might be your bottom line, gaining fame and recognition or simply the fuzzy feeling of pride and happiness that you are producing work you love based on your creativity and living your dream. I have a sign that hangs by my computer and it simply says

If at first you don't succeed,
Redefine success
Coming next time: Time management tips

Monday, 24 May 2010 | 0 Comments

Business Tips Part 46: Calling it Quits

Being determined in business is vitally important, but so is the willingness to accept defeat as a possibility. The payoff in business is not immediate and even a business that thrives may suffer as trends change. It is also true that people struggle at being both a business person and crafter whilst some are too attached to their products when they should regard them as something they manufacture.

Even good things come to an end whether by slow or fast decline. You will know in your heart when it is time to move on. But first it is so important to congratulate yourself for taking your crafting hobby up to the next level. The next steps you make are entirely up to you.

You may prefer to go back to a regular 9-5 job but you will need to realise and accept some potential employers may not recognise or understand a self-started in the handmade industry you will need to adapt your CV ensuring that it reflects the skills you have developed.

You may even choose to stay in the handmade/craft field - perhaps teach your skills, write a book or take on a magazine column if it is an option. How exciting would it be to remain in the craft industry with a steady salary!

Coming next time: When you need to grow your business.

Friday, 21 May 2010 | 0 Comments

Business Tips Part 45: When Home Isn't Big Enough Part 2

Int he last blog we started to look at options for when home just isn't big enough for working anymore. So, now you have taken the plunge and decided to branch out into a studio/shop/office.

Remember one key thing: location, location, location. Is there foot traffic in the area to provide a good passing trade? If not, do you truely believe that your products are popular enough to pull shoppers to your destination? Set yourself regular opening hours which may include weekends and an evening opening. You may decide to hire an assistant so that they can tend to the customers whilst you renew displays and try to figure out what will attract repeat business - along with finding time to make new products!

There are some questions you need to ponder before you look for a space:
  • What purpose does the space have? i.e. will you create products from there or is it just to sell?
  • What amenities will you need? Internet, kitchen and even windows can be optional.
  • Is the location convenient and provides foot fall?
  • What is the minimum space you will need?

Also, some questions to ask the landlord and/or Estate Agent:

  • What do you get for the rent?
  • Is there access for deliveries?
  • How long is the lease and is monthly acceptable?
  • Are you allowed to decorate?
  • What is the storage capacity?
  • Are there parking spaces nearby?
  • Is there a bathroom and kitchen?
  • What is passing trade like in the area?

It can also be advisable to have a chat to other shops in the area to guage their opinions on passing trade etc. But, if you feel ready to take the plunge - go fo it and enjoy!

Coming next time: Calling it quits.

Monday, 17 May 2010 | 0 Comments

Business Tips Part 44: When Home Just Isn't Big Enough Part 1

One day it may just happen that you will need to leave the confines of your home office and studio and expand your business into new premises. A good indicator of this is when your cupboards are filled with your product inventory and your garage or shed id piled high with packaging. So far I have 2 drawer units, under bed drawers, 2 plastic crates and half of the spare wardrobe! Another sign might be that you need a more formal showroom in which to meet clients and buyers. However bear in mind that having a bricks and mortar location is not essential so don't make the move purely to boost your ego.

The benefits of your own shop-cum-studio or professional office include allowing you to showcase your brand and business, develop merchandise and perhaps more importantly keep personal and professional lives separate. However managing premises will be a lot of work and may reduce your flexibility.

You might prefer to test the waters by finding a retail partner in your area who also wants to expand or look towards a co-op where you could have your line of products on consignment, but you also have to work there allowing you to develop customer services skills, test new products and gain valuable feedback,

What ever you feel most appropriate: studio, shop or office, your schedule needs to be ready for it, and more essentially, so does your finances. Set a budget and STICK TO IT. See if you can negiotiate a lower cost lease and if everything is over your budget, consider the co-op option.

Next time we'll look at some points to consider when you do decide to take on a studio/shop/office.

Friday, 14 May 2010 | 1 Comment

Business Tips Part 43: How to be a Good Boss

In the last Business Tips blog we looked briefly at the need to hire new staff, well now it's time to think about how to be a good boss. I would imagine that most people have stories of good and bad bosses they have encountered, I certainly have and I hope I would know how to be a good boss.

Having worked on your own, you may find delegation hard work along with sharing your work space and/or home. You will need to have clearly defined policies for your company outlining your expectations and what you will allow in the workplace. For example is there a dress code? Can music be played? How long can lunch breaks be and are there core working hours that need to be kept? Putting together an employee handbook can be very useful, even if it's a bullet list on headed paper. Also include your complaints proceedure, how often appraisals will take place and if there is a probabtion period.

Being a good boss will encourage productivity and efficiency, here are some leadership tips:
  • Keep financial issues private, especially if you have hit a rough patch,
  • Keep personal and professional life separate. If you become too friendly with your employees you risk becoming a threapist if they have personal issues. Talk about serious issues that may be affecting their work but leave dating advice to their friends,
  • Project a caring demeanour but know you can't always be nice e.g. refusing holiday requests or letting an employee go.
  • Only give employees responsibilities related to work. You hired someone to do your marketing/design work etc, not collect your children from school or your prescription from the chemist.
  • Show respect for an employees ideas. Give praise in public and if correction or constructive criticism is required, do it in private,
  • Do not let small problems escalate for example too many private phone calls, surfing the internet or constantly arriving late,
  • Accept that NO task is below you as it shows you are willing to be part of the team. Take out the rubbish and clean the tea mugs when it is your turn.

Have you got any tips about being a good manager? Share them here...

Coming next time: When your home work space is no longer big enough.

Monday, 10 May 2010 | 0 Comments

Business Tips Part 42: It's Time to Hire

If you are anything like me you will hope that one day your craft business will turn full time. But, what if you have too much for one person to do? To start with you might "hire" your husband, wife, mum, dad, sister or niece - you catch my drift - but the need to find more qualified and skilled assistance may at some point be apparent.

Taking this step can be bittersweet. Yes, you will get the help you need but the flip side of that is having to pay for it. Of course you will want an intelligent and hard working assistant but if you cannot provide a suitable pay package then an intern, work experience student or even part-time employee may be the best way to go as you will not necessarily need to provide benefits.

As a small business owner I would imagine that you have become pretty skilled at the things that you need to do, so, when you decide to take on staff, think about your weak areas or the tasks that you do not really enjoy doing. Have a serious thought about what you are able to pay, what skills you require from someone and what their workload is likely to involve. It is really important to ask for a CV and covering letter and give thought to "pre-screening" with Facebook and Twitter research if possible. You don't really want someone who's status update is "I'm bored and online shopping at work". You are in the position to hold out for the perfect candidate who will not only be happy with the money you are able to pay but also someone who sincerely wants to work for you.

Employing someone can be a great help but you will have legal responsibilities for them such as allowing a break in the day and maintaining a safe working environment. You should consult your accountant with regard to payroll and taxes, National Insurance and student loans if applicable. You will also need to look into the relevant insurances in case there was an accident in your work place.

Employing staff can be great but do you know how to be a good boss? We'll look into that next time.

Friday, 7 May 2010 | 0 Comments

Business Tips Part 41: When Babies Come Knocking!

When babies come along, everything changes and that's obvious. But, it can bring an independent business to a standstill or at least a slowdown. The way you work and function will have to alter in ways you may never have realised because even though combining raising a family and growing a business will be twice as rewarding, it will be twice the challenge as both areas of your world compete for attention. Creating new products can wait, a screaming baby cannot.

Unless you have a business partner it is unlikely that you will get a true maternity or paternity leave as there is no one to fill your shoes. Therefore it is advisable to slow things down whilst still expecting the arrival: design products that are quicker to porduce and take on fewer custom orders and such like. If you are the one carrying the baby, avoid working up until your due date as you will need to rest and prepare for your new arrival.

It would also be a good idea to skip any trade shows or craft fairs unless you can guarantee an assistant....or three. It is not wise to schedule too much in the following few months after the birth as you have no idea of knowing what you will be able to handle. If you find the delivery date approaching and you still have orders to fill then enlist help - FAST. But also talk to your customers, many will be understanding.

The biggest challenge you may face will actually be a mental one. First and foremost you are now a parent and the needs of your child will need to come first. However you cannot let business slip to the point you forget to file your tax return or deliver late on orders. The easiest way around this is to get both yourself and the baby into the best routine you can. Creating a schedule for your child so that they nap, eat and play at similar times each day will allow you some element of control. If you do find yourself struggling, or are suffering sleep deprivation, ask for help from family and friends, or hire an assistant.

Often many people believe the stay-at-home but working parent is the ideal situation - being with your children all day but the flexibility of running your own business. Mixing the demands of a family with the demands of a business can create stress you never knew was possible. Everything becomes a balancing act of craft studio vs. dining room vs. play room, taking a business call in fear of your baby starting screaming and trying not to laugh when they distract you on the phone.

It will get easier because as your child grows they can play with you and you can work at the same time. I have one friend who's daughter loves to help her pick out the fabric for her dolls clothes and likes to be involved. When your child arrives at the inquisitive stage, you can utilise them - get them to stick on your address labels and decorate your packaging. They will be proud to help and you not only get the job done but also spend some time together.

If all of this sounds too much, think of the alternative - sitting in commuter hell for the daily commute to a job you don't really like, that saps your creativity - just so you can pay for childcare and a work wardrobe.

I know which option I'd prefer!

Coming next time on the 7th May - It's time to hire.

Monday, 3 May 2010 | 0 Comments