Sunday, 15 December 2013

Starting a crafty business - what are you trying to do?

What are you trying to do, for goodness sake? 
What are you trying to do - it won't work, whatever it is ... 
What are you trying to do, woman?  

And so on ...

If you're thinking of turning your hobby into a business, the moment you mention it you'll be asked this question, with variations in exactly where the emphasis lies, by everybody who thinks they are anybody in your life, and by plenty of people who are nobody in your life.

However, this question is most usefully asked by yourself, to yourself - and answered by yourself. 

Ok, what you want to do is to start a business from the craft or creative hobby that is your passion. 

We know that already! 

But what sort of business and what is your eventual aim? 

Are you trying to be able to give up a boring, ill-paid job and, instead, do what you love, all day long? 

Are you trying to make your fortune in a year's time with the simply BRILLIANT whatsits you craft? 

Are you trying to make a bit of extra money doing what you love in your spare time? 

Or are you trying simply to subsidise your hobby? 

Perhaps you want to try to use the creative hobby you love to raise the profile of a cause about which you are passionate?

There are many, many legitimate reasons to want to turn your crafty hobby into a business - few, if any, are bad reasons (unless your hobby is making nuclear weapons and the reason for turning it into a business is try to rule the world ...) although some are less likely to be successful than others. 

You really do need to decide what YOU are trying to do, before you dive in. 

Now, I can't and won't give any advice on your brilliant whatsits and your intention to make a fortune in a year's time, except you must go elsewhere for this sort of business advice - have you tried Dragon's Den?

If you want to pack in a boring but secure job, and try to replace a steady income with the proceeds of your own creative efforts, the best and only advice I will offer here is to carefully consider your circumstances. If you and/or your family rely on your income to pay the costs of food, housing and utilities, you must make sure that you have a sound financial plan in place to take care of these essentials before telling your boss what to do with your job.

You can start this planning by looking at where and how you can cut your outgoings, and how you could supplement your income if necessary. And it probably will be necessary; typically it can take four or more years after startup to replace a previous mid-range salary. Most new businesses don't even last that long!

So what's left? 

Part-time/spare time, of course, is far less risky  - and who knows how far, and to where, it might  lead you? 

Wait a minute, I hear you saying. I want to be a business person, not a glorified hobbyist!

My answer to that is that you are no longer a hobbyist if you treat your hobby like a real business - and you can start doing that right now, while still only crafting in the odd free minutes you can grab while baby's sleeping, or the day in lieu you take for working the bank holidays, or the half-hour break from exam revision. And if you are unemployed and hoping against hope that you might just be able to make it in the self-employed world by developing a creative hobby, you can most certainly treat your hobby like a business, right now, without compromising your benefits and as a bonus learn useful skills.

Just read tomorrow's post to find out more!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Why bother trying to help ...

... if offering an honest opinion when it has been asked for is considered hurtful and upsetting?

On a forum I've been frequenting for the past couple of years, new members thinking about, or in the process of,  turning their crafty hobby into a small business often post asking for advice and opinions. 

Being in the fortunate situation of having run a successful part-time specialist sewing business for the past several years, and having run a very successful part-time home baking business while living overseas some 25 years ago, I think I have some experience to share, and I try to help others when I can.

I also enjoy learning about the trials and tribulations of other crafters in other areas of the country. Sharing experiences of UK craft markets and customers in these difficult economic times is really helpful, too. Most of the writing on these subjects come from the USA, and although always interesting, is of doubtful relevance here in the UK.

However, I won't beat around the bush if someone asks for opinions on an idea. I will give my honest opinion, neither dressed up not toned down, and will not mince my words if I think an idea is ill-advised or ill-considered. 

I also refuse to call a spade an implement for  manual garden-soil disturbance, and cannot abide posters who make suggestions that one need  not 'bother' complying with business and taxation law. It seems to be a fairly common 'folk' belief that there's no need to register with HMRC or even abide by the recommendations of Trading Standards or Environmental Health, if one's business is 'small enough' - although no-one is ever able to define how small is 'small enough'...

However, it seems that this particular forum is losing its way and becoming nothing more than a cliquey bunch of histrionic people who claim 'hurt' and 'upset' if any member expresses disagreement with their own pet opinions, even when other opinions on a matter have been specifically requested!

Sadly, several experienced and successful  craft-business owners are being and recently have been treated like rude and naughty children for doing nothing more than offering their honest opinions when these are requested, and for issuing warnings against what they consider may be a dodgy business practice or an overly-risky decision.

So I'm on the lookout for another creative/small business forum with an active UK membership - somewhere with a more down-to-earth ethos, with less diddums diddums soppiness about it.

A pity, as I'll miss some of the members.

In the meantime, though, I'm going to post a series of 'advice' posts which will pull no punches and which will be full of MY unvarnished opinions and of what does and doesn't work for ME. 

Starting tomorrow, with 'Starting a crafty business - what are you trying to do?'

Monday, 4 November 2013

Christmas rush!

I am busy busy busy and my internet is intermittent after the recent windy weather. Well, it's more intermittent than usual!

As usual, I'm very happy that I haven't put my business on-line at all, given the vagaries of rural broadband. When my current contract expires, I'll be moving onto Boundless Communications, which is a specialist rural provider and provides fast broadband through a microwave network. When that happens, I might think again about going on-line with my business (or part of it at least) - we will see.

To be frank, I don't actually need to go searching for more customers - they seem to find me - but it would be nice to have a website just containing photos of my work, to which I could point prospective customers who are 'just enquiring'.

Ah well, I suppose it's better to be a little too busy than scraping about for work! 

Back to the sewing machine now after that short break!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Let's give credit where credit is due

This is a post I never thought I would write.

In praise of Primark!

Picture of a Primark shop window and name above the window
A rare thing, sadly - a discounter with a social conscience
Primark clothing is cheap, no doubt about it. Monetarily, for us in the West, that is.

It's not so cheap for those who lost their lives, their limbs or their loved ones in the Rana Plaza disaster back in April this year. See my post here. (warning - scrolling down that post, there is a graphic photo which may be upsetting. Wait - which ought to be upsetting).

However, although often reviled for all sorts of things - sometimes with justification, sometimes without - Primark has, unlike almost all the other companies involved which used the Rana Plaza factory sewing facilities, stepped up to the mark in this desperately sad situation, not only expressing its frustration at how long it is taking to agree on compensation for the Rana Plaza, but in the meantime arranging 'emergency' payments equivalent to normal salary (vanishingly little in the budgets of multinational brands) for the affected workers and their families.

Having paid all those affected - not just those on its own production line - their wage for the first three months following the disaster, when no agreement was forthcoming by other brands, they paid another three months. I suppose they anticipated the September meeting in Geneva, under the aegis of the International Labour Organisation, might lead to some agreement or resolution about compensation from the other brands using the factory.

Sadly this was not to be, and most of the brands did not even bother to attend the meeting. Disgraceful!

Thus the parent company of Primark, Associated British Foods, has quietly and unilaterally,decided to continue with these payments for yet another three months. 

Their corporate governance section, and the head of it, Paul Lister, are to be commended on this action.

Of course it is too little too late, of course a miserable £30 a month isn't going to bring back anyone's loved ones, and of course it's nothing more than closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, but heck, the other brands - Walmart/Asda and Benneton among them - don't even know the stable has got a door, still less that it was left open and that the horse bolted after having a good sh!t inside it.  

The stable needs mucking out and they don't want to get their hands dirty doing it! Oh no, that would mean admitting some degree of responsibility towards the people who enable them to make simply HUGE profits.

I never thought I'd say it, but tomorrow I'm going to buy some clothes from Primark. Just socks, so I'm not exactly the last of the big spenders, but I'd rather let a company that admits its responsibility openly, and shows contrition in a useful way, have my money than one which doesn't.

This BBC piece is interesting. 

I don't usually hold much truck with high-up company execs, and too often corporate governance largely consists of producing glossy brochures extolling company actions  and 'achievements' which are no more than minimum legal requirements (ask me how I know - I had a long affair with somebody very high-up in that line of 'work'). 

Paul Lister, though, does appear to have a genuine concern for the victims, together with an understandable - though carefully-expressed - annoyance with other brands which are clearly reneging on their moral, if not legal, responsibility. His and his company's attitude is refreshingly responsible in the mucky morass of buck-passing that marks this disaster.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

A bit of advice from an old hand

... on the purchasing of fabric. 

Buying online is not easy when it comes to fabric, but often there seems to be no other option.

Imagine having to buy your vegetables from an on-line retailer who can't tell you - and doesn't care! - if what you are buying is a carrot or a parsnip, or whether the potatoes you've ordered are Maris Pipers or Jersey Royals. 
Abakhan fabric shop in Manchester city centre
This is a rare beast - a city-centre fabric shop!

As for whether the plums have got mouldy spots on them, well, if the seller doesn't know if he's selling big fat Italian plums which never seem to ripen, or squishy English Victorias - just that they're plums, and have stones in the middle - why would you even expect them to care?

That's the equivalent of what many sewers and crafters throughout the country encounter whenever they buy fabric. 

Although I chuckle to myself when browsing fabric websites and see statements such as '100% polyester silk' and 'pure linen cotton' (yes, I have seen both of those within the past few months!), it really isn't funny and could be considered fraudulent at worst, misleading at best. It is certainly 'sharp practice'.

There are all sorts of problems with the online purchase of fabric, even from the very best of shops.

Accurate colour-matching is well-nigh impossible, and until 'telefeel' is developed, no estimate can be made of the hand, weight or drape of fabric. How opaque is this fabric? Will it need lining? What shade lining will enhance the pattern colours? Will that fabric crease too much, or will the other fabric hold a crease at all? 

None of these questions can be answered with any real degree of accuracy by even the best web-site.

Some of the better suppliers make valiant attempts to address these problems, with mixed degrees of success. I especially enjoy the sometimes tongue-in-cheek descriptions on Croft Mill's website, which is written by enthusiastic experts. Their website has a useful glossary, too. 

Samples help, of course, but are often too small to give a real indication of drape and hand, and if the pattern of the fabric is large, may not even give a good rendering of the colour. Sending for samples merely adds to the delay, uncertainty and expense inherent in any sort of remote purchasing.

This is a fabric shop - unless you already knew 
it was there, would you know what it was?
A large number of old-established, reliable fabric retailers shut up shop in the past 20 - 30 years, only to be replaced a few years ago by an influx of new sellers, many of whom have just jumped on the bandwagon of the needlecrafts boom, and have no knowledge of what they are selling at all.  

Of course there are many reliable, knowledgeable retailers of all types - I wouldn't want anyone to think otherwise - but it can be hard to find those which don't have an internet presence.

Especially if you're a new sewer, it's easy to think you have no option but the internet. For some of you, that will be true. Long before the days of the internet, mail-order fabric supply was flourishing to areas remote from fabric retailers.

There might be fabric retailers closer to you than you think, though! 

Although it's rare to see fabric shops while driving to the supermarket, wandering along the local High Street, or having a day out shopping at a mega-mall, they are still around.

They will most probably be in the 'poor but respectable' part of town, in the part where recent immigrants live, on the old open market, on a slightly down-at-heel trading estate, on the edge of a regeneration project that never quite got regenerated, in an old mill, a deconsecrated church, under the railway arches or round the back of the bus station.You get the picture. 
Liberty silk-and-wool on a market stall
Quality fabrics at bargain prices

These shops may not be in the first rank of fashionable retail destinations, but by 'eck you can often find some bargains!

Even the more up-market fabric retailers are usually to be found in a lower-rent area - the space required for fabric storage, the relatively low profit margins and lowish turnover dictates this.

Dismissing market stall fabrics - as some do - as being limited to 'cheap and nasty' garish polyester prints is simply foolish (and often a form of personal insecurity or lack of confidence) when there might be fabrics like these on the left available!
Inside a big fabric warehouse
Fabric, fabric everywhere! Someone reviewed 
this shop as 'not having much in'.

Claiming that there is 'nothing much' in a fabric shop because the stock isn't 'displayed' but is merely stacked in rolls as a space-saving measure, is both lazy and untrue.

Shopping at a well-stocked fabric retailer is a delight for the senses. Unlikely colour combinations jump out at you as you caress thick velvet pile; a tumbling river of chiffon catches in the draught from the door and ripples sinuously as if alive. 

Go on,  if you normally make your fabric purchases on-line, hunt around on yellow pages,  get on a bus which goes through the low-cost areas and peer out of the windows, or visit the local open market - and find a bricks-and-mortar fabric retailer to visit, and wallow in the sheer sensuality of it!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

It's happened again

Unethical buying - or just economical?

Someone who doubtless wants to get the best price they can for the items they make and sell either in person or on-line, thinks that others don't deserve to earn decent money for the work they do.

Last time (as mentioned in this post, it was someone stating that they would like to see, in craft fairs and the like, 'more affordable' - ie cheaper – and more original clothing than that available in High Street shops. 

I asked why on earth anyone would think that unique garments made here in the first world would or could be made and sold - for a profit, of course - at a lower price than those made by poor folk paid pennies to work in appalling conditions in China and Bangladesh.

There was never any response. Well, there couldn't be, could there?

Now, in the same forum, we have someone remarking – in a discussion about faulty imported-from-the-third-world beads and charms and what to do with them – that

        It's a shame there aren't many charms of good quality but for 
        similarly low prices around.


I asked if it was not perfectly reasonable to expect to pay a higher price for items of better quality, and reminded the poster that we as skilled craftspeople rightly get annoyed if people want to pay 'imported tat' prices for our high-quality work, and that others deserve no less,, no matter where they are in the world or what they may be making.

I don't expect any sort of sensible response to this,either.

Why don't people just exercise their brains a little, and think?

The only shame in the matter is surely that those who buy such items so very cheaply would so openly care less than nothing for the people who make them.

Out of sight, out of mind  is a very old maxim with a very current validity, it seems.

In days gone by, when news came slowly if at all, and in limited quantities - ie, as much as a newspaper could print - there was good reason that many people didn't care about what was going on in the world - they didn't know what was going on in the world. Not so nowadays!

I am an atheist but sometimes I think it would be convenient to be religious, so that when people say to me 'Why do you care?' in a dismissive sort of way, I can at least embarrass and annoy them by saying 'Because I'm a Christian, like I thought you were, too' instead of having them toss their head and walk off, leaving me feeling embarrassed and angry when I answer 'Because it's the right thing to do'.

Here endeth today's lesson!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Fabric purchases

Buying fabric

Buying fabric has to be one of my favourite pastimes! It has so many possibilities, and I'm incredibly fortunate, here in the north-west of England, to have a range of fabric retailers within easy reach. 

I love cottons, for practical purposes, and I adore brocades, silks, embroidered taffetas and other super-luxury fabrics, too.

Here are a couple of recent purchases on the line after washing, and all wrinkly!
Fabric with a design of silver birch tree trunks
Maybe a skirt?

This one on the left is called 'Silver Birch'. I bought it because I liked it, without any purpose in mind, but now I'm thinking it could make a very interesting, versatile and flattering straight skirt, with its combination of neutral colours and what are effectively vertical stripes.

The fabric below was bought for apron-making. It's 100% cotton in a light upholstery/curtain weight - considerably heavier than a dress-weight - with a lovely smooth finish. Although very creased on the line, it took only a brief pass with a hot iron to get it looking pristine. All these qualities make it ideal for aprons. In addition, it's printed in the UK by a highly-regarded British company, normally sells for between about £12 and £15/m, very occasionally as low as £8/m - and I paid £1/m. Yes, you read that right - £1/m. Doesn't get much better than that, does it?

bright abstract printed cotton for aprons
To become cheerful pinnies.
I've also got a couple of very floral-y florals in the washing machine as I type. Cath Kidston, eat your heart out!

I'll start cutting out some more aprons tomorrow. I've got two lovely - and very different - patterns drafted, both of which I'm familiar with so can complete quickly, but want to work on a third design to the stage when I have a pattern drawn up, marked and cut out on the brown wrapping paper I like to use for patterns I intend to keep. 

As they used to say on Blue Peter and on cookery programmes: 'Here's some I made earlier'. These are almost-dry, ready to bring indoors, iron and fold. The spotty fabric has been very, very popular this year - but I think I'm using the last of it. I'm unsure if I'll be able to get any more.
Colourful aprons hanging on the washing line
Freshly-washed aprons on the washing-line