PlanetJune Craft Blog

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beating craft business overwhelm

If you run a crafty business, do you ever feel like it’s overwhelming you? This is how I’ve been feeling:

craft business overwhelm by planetjune

It’s the price of success: as your one-person business expands, so does your workload. At some point, you have to change something about the way you conduct business. According to this article, the options are to either limit the amount of business you can do (and hence the income you can generate), or continue to expand (by hiring employees, buying new equipment, etc) and spend more time working on your business, and less time in it.

Neither of those options – limiting or employing – appeal to me, so I’ve been developing strategies for coping with my business growth and reclaiming my time both to be creative within my business and to have a life outside of my business. If you’re also feeling overwhelmed by your business and wondering what you’ve got yourself into, maybe my ideas can help you too!

So, how can a crafty business continue to grow without its owner being worked into the ground?

Three Strategies to Beat the Overwhelm

I’m sharing my strategies here in the hope that they’ll help other people with their own creative businesses to improve their working situation and work/life balance. Of course, each crafty business is unique and the way you tackle this depends on what you sell, how you like to work, and the specific situation you’re in with your business right now, so it’s up to you to figure out how you can implement these strategies in a way that makes sense in your situation.

1. Streamline and Automate

How many tasks do you do multiple times that you could streamline or automate in some way to save time in future?

There are several ways you could start to automate your most repetitive tasks:

  • Employ someone to do them for you. The classic way to begin to grow your business.
  • Create (or purchase) technical solutions. See my examples below. Even something as simple as saving stock responses to paste into your emails (to answer the questions you’re asked over and over) can be a huge time-saver.
  • Create batch processes so you can be more efficient by doing each task multiple times before moving onto the next stage. This can apply whether you make handmade goods (making your items in batches vs individually could save a lot of time) or for any other tasks (e.g. processing Etsy orders once a day instead of dealing with each order as it comes in).

2. Prioritise

Firstly, what’s your prime focus for your business? Is it to make lots of money, or to do what you love and, hopefully, earn enough to live on in the process?

(A little aside: if your main aim is to make money, you may want to think about whether a craft business is really the best way to do it. When I told you about reaching a huge financial milestone, I didn’t mention that I’m still working probably twice as many hours to earn that money as I did in a day job, and I work equally hard even on the slow days when I may bring in nothing at all!)

  • Passion questions: What do you most love to do? Which areas are you less passionate about?
  • Finance questions: Which areas are bringing in more money? Which don’t make financial sense to continue working on?

Note: ‘areas’ could be different crafts, different product ranges, different tasks, or any different aspects of your business; the specifics depend on the nature of your own business.

Ideally, you’ll be driven by the answers to the passion questions, but it’s useful to at least think about your answers to the finance questions. Maybe, if an area is a bust financially but you still love doing it, you can relegate it back to ‘hobby’ status and just enjoy it with no pressure of success. (And nothing is set in stone. Taking a break may let you return to it with a fresh perspective in a few months/years – it could still be a huge success in the future…)

Once you’ve figured out your priorities, you’ll know where to concentrate your efforts and what to stop (or to outsource, if that’s a possibility for your business). These decisions are always hard to make but you’ll know when you’ve made the right choice for you – a weight will be lifted off your shoulders!

3. Re-energise

It’s easy to get so bogged down in work that you feel you don’t have time to do anything else, especially ‘frivolous’ tasks like other hobbies with no purpose other than enjoyment. What do you love to do, apart from what you do for your work? Make time to do it!

You’ll feel better for taking a break, it’ll give you a chance to clear your head, and you’ll be able to bring the creative energy and feeling of accomplishment from having done something fun back with you when it’s time to start work again.

You may even find that your brain will keep working subconsciously and, while you’re concentrating on something completely different, you’ll come up with a solution to something you’ve been puzzling over – I know that works for me!


How I’m Applying the Strategies

I’m working far too hard, and something has to change if I’m going to continue without burning out. I know from my ‘colleagues’ on twitter that I’m not alone in this situation: running the business has become so overwhelming that there’s almost no time left for the creative side of it. My design time is currently limited to evenings and weekends, and my time when I’m not working is pretty much non-existent – not a great situation to be in!

I came up with these strategies last Christmas, and, although I still have a long way to go to bring my workload under control and to be able to manage future growth, I can already see results, and I know I’m taking steps in the right direction. Here’s what I’ve done so far to implement each of the strategies:

Streamline & Automate: I’ve read a lot of advice that says at some point you must hire help if your business is going to succeed, but I don’t want to be at the helm of a PlanetJune empire! I didn’t go down this path because I wanted to run a business; I want to make beautiful things and to help other people to make them too with my patterns and tutorials. The business side of it exists solely so I can distribute my work and earn a living from my creations.

As I know I don’t want to become an employer, I’m creating technical solutions – setting everything up means extra work in the short term, but the resulting systems will reduce my workload in the long term: my own website will be my ‘assistant’ in the future! Here’s what I’ve done so far:

  • Making my blog navigation clearer, building up my FAQ and adding more tutorials means I get less questions by email.
  • Answering emails with a brief link to the relevant FAQ answer or a pre-written canned response helps me get through the remainder more quickly.
  • Setting up automated systems to manage my pattern commissions, to log requests for new commissions, and to create photo galleries for the PlanetJune Crochet-Along roundup posts – all big time-savers.

Prioritise: Before I can scale back on the amount of work I do, I need to identify which of the things I do are really important to me, and what I could (reluctantly) let go.

  • I set up my Seller’s list when I realised I’d never find time to accept commissions for finished toys (coming up with new designs beats remaking old ones).
  • I’m cutting back on tech editing and drawing crochet stitch diagrams for other independent designers (time is more precious to me than money at this point, so I have to concentrate on my own business).
  • I’ve stopped designing new punchneedle patterns (they have limited selling potential as the craft is relatively obscure).
  • I’ve stopped my monthly wildlife photography blog posts (they turned into a huge time sink and became more stressful than enjoyable).

None of these were easy decisions to make, but they’re all helping me to reclaim some time. And, I’m also trying to think more carefully before acting on my latest spur-of-the-moment great idea: is it really such an amazing idea that it’s worth exploring right now, or should I just keep a note of it and come back to it at some point when my schedule is less full?

Re-energise: When I started this blog, I used to just craft because I love making things – if you go back through the blog archive, you’ll see lots of those projects in the early years. In the crazy rollercoaster ride that took me from hobby to business, some of the fun got lost somewhere along the way…

For the past few weeks, I’ve tried to give myself enough time to make some quick, easy craft projects (you may have already noticed a few posts popping up here as a result – pictured below). They are nothing to do with work, nothing I need to write a tutorial for, and have no schedules or deadlines. It’s really refreshing to just make stuff with no agenda.

quick crafts by planetjune
L-R: beanbag smartphone stand, cardboard cat scratcher, fuse bead coasters

As I’ve been posting the finished projects here, even with no tutorial (and I really don’t think many simple craft projects need a full step-by-step tutorial – you aren’t stupid!) I can already see from the comments that my fun projects are inspiring other people to make stuff too – an unexpected bonus.

Continuing: I plan to keep going with all these strategies for the rest of the year, and, fingers crossed, I’ll be finding things much easier to cope with by the time 2013 comes around :)


Join Me?

So, that’s my plan to beat the overwhelm, through the strategies of automating, prioritising, and re-energising. What do you think? Can you see how my strategies could also be applied to your own business – or even to your life in general?

And if you have more or better suggestions to beat the overwhelm, I’d love to hear them too!

18 Comments »

  1. I think you’re right on target: if you want to run a business, it takes a ton of work, BUT you have to make sure you’re not completely overwhelmed, or else your creativity (and life) goes down the drain!

    My goal is to work 9-6 (or so), 5 days a week. I don’t work on evenings or weekends, and I save that time for my ‘fun’ crafting (knitting/crocheting items for me), spending time with family and doing other stuff. At first, it seems like I wouldn’t have enough time to work, but I’m incredibly refreshed each day, and I find that I work quite efficiently.

    I’ve also let go of some things that I feel like I ‘should’ do… but just don’t have the energy for- like Flickr. I know of amigurumi designers who keep a fabulously successful Flickr group, but I just never got into the habit. Instead of beating myself up about it, I’ve let it go! That’s just not going to be part of my business!

    A final thing (that I’ve only resolved to do recently) is to remember that people are interested in *seeing me be creative*. I got into the habit of feeling compelled to do admin all day, because I felt guilty having fun with my crocheting… but the crocheting is what people want to know about! Now, I take on projects that are fun, blog/tweet about them… and everybody wins!

    Like you, I have no interest in having employees, so I’m with you in streamlining my current processes :)

    • June said

      That sounds very healthy, Stacey. I certainly wouldn’t feel guilty about crocheting during the day – hopefully by the end of the year my strategies will have eased my workload to the point where I can do that more often too :)

  2. I think this post will be very relevant to most of the makers I know so I thank you for sharing the information you gathered. I recently did a podcast with SisterDiane on CraftyPod where I spoke about how I thought I would be insanely busy after appearing on TV with Martha Stewart back in 2010, but, spoiler alert: that did not happen. After I worked through the bewildering disappointment, I realized I was relieved not to be very busy! Of course my business needs to make money, this is not a hobby, but like you, I never want to hire anyone and I don’t want to spend all my waking life on this venture. I see people who do that and I admire them, applaud their efforts, but they make me feel tired just seeing their late night making sessions on Instagram. Running Made in Lowell is a passion, but I don’t want it to be an all-consuming one. I want to continue to feel grateful and excited and that’s hard when you are always overwhelmed. Meanwhile I cut back my craft show schedule (which was a lucrative part of my business) and started a local access TV show (which earns me nothing and takes a lot of time and energy!) So that’s my perspective from the “not too busy” side of things. I haven’t maxed out my potential earnings and I will probably never reach that ceiling. But it turns out it’s because I don’t want it badly enough.

    • June said

      You’re way ahead of me, Liz – I’ve also realised that money is not my primary goal, but I’m still trying to get to the point you’re at where I can enjoy my life and my work again, and find time for enjoyable projects like you have with your (amazing) TV show!

      The overwhelm crept up on me as my sales increased (and the resulting admin along with it) so it was only when I took some time off at Christmas that I realised I’d been spending pretty much every waking moment working, and that I can spend entire days doing nothing but customer service… That’s what I’m trying to fix.

  3. This is a stellar post, June, and thank you so much for sharing your experiences and strategies! I just watched a Neil Gaiman commencement speech, in which he mentioned “the problems of success that nobody talks about.” It’s really important that you’re talking about them so honestly and constructively here.

    I’m definitely in a big period of re-prioritizing with my business right now, and am slowly retraining myself to take those non-working breaks. My solution to everything heretofore has been “just work harder,” and I finally reached the wall with that bad strategy. :-) It really is amazing how much more flow I’ve been able to access just by creating some spaces for it in each day. And, like Stacey, I discovered that I actually work better by working a bit less.

    I’m also trying to find comfort with the fact that there may be aspects of my business that are still lucrative, but aren’t really nourishing me anymore. There’s a lot of fear to be faced in the idea of walking away from income, but at the end of the day, like you, I don’t want to run any kind of empire here. I just want to do work that satisfies me (and my landlord. In that order).

    • June said

      I know how you feel, Diane, about walking away from income sources – that’s exactly how I felt when I made some of my tough scaling back decisions. In the end though, if you’re not happy in your work, you may as well be making better money working a 9-5 job for someone else! We have to make the decisions that let us keep enjoying working in our businesses, and not let the money rule our choices. I believe that it’s very obvious when your heart just isn’t in it – one of the reasons people connect with us and choose to buy our products is that we are genuine and we care about what we’re producing and the people we produce it for. That counts for a lot.

  4. Marion the Geek said

    Wonderful post, June. I am just starting out in the craft business world. I’ve got the business license and most of a plan… but it is a lot to take in. Just learning to handle the business end of things is a feat. I’m having to take it slow for health reasons, and sometimes I feel like I’m getting nowhere. But little by little, it’s all coming together. Just knowing I’m not the only one overwhelmed is good to know. Eventually my yarn/pattern/accessories online shop will be open: Purple Okapi Yarn Studio.

    Can you recommend a blog service provider for a newbie?

    • June said

      I do like your business name, Marion :) As for the blog question, if you mean a blog platform, the two main options are WordPress and Blogger. Personally, I’m a WordPress fan, but you could always try registering for a blog with each service, play around with both and see which you like most, then stick with that one for your public launch. Good luck with it all!

  5. Barbara said

    I’ve gone through phases like this a few times since I started selling my knitting patterns. However, much of my difficulty has come from being a full-time mom the past 4 years. My youngest will be going to day-care this fall, so I can get back to the work I love. You have some great ideas that I think will be a good way to start reorganizing the way I run my business, so I have time for it, and still have time for my kids. It’s sometimes hard to wait until then to get back into it, but perhaps it will be smoother if I first plan ways to be more efficient.

    It surprised me when I discovered how many different roles I had to play when I started my own business. And there are certainly some jobs I will never be good at. I never wanted to hire employees either, but I’m lucky enough to have a partner who helps with some of the things that are harder for me. I’ve also asked for help from friends and family when I really need them – all the knitters in my family are great for testing patterns!

  6. Kristine said

    Thank you for this post. I also struggle with many of the same things, and with the help of this post, I’m going to implement some changes. Most of my problem seems to be not enough time for the creation part of my business. I have 6 children, 4 of which I homeschool, so that takes priority. Then when I do have “business time”, I seem to invest it in the technical side, not the creative side. By the end of the day I’m out of energy. I think setting up some sort of schedule for myself will help greatly. Thanks again for your great suggestions!

  7. Lupin said

    Ah, this is such a timely post for me, June! Apologies in advance if this turns into an essay :)

    Like you I have been feeling increasingly overwhelmed by the demands of running my business as it’s grown and changed over the years, and I’ve definitely noticed how the creative/crafty bits get squeezed out of my schedule by emails and admin and website tinkering and parcel packing and all that other stuff.

    I’ve been running my business full time for a while and the feeling of overwhelm was definitely starting to be a problem, but it has become especially pressing as I’m now single. Previously I had my ex to help out with things like Post Office trips in the busy season / cooking dinner etc when I was busy with a crazy workload or a looming deadline, and I could fit my work in relatively easily around evenings watching DVDs together or popping round to our neighbourhood friends’ houses for tea & a natter.

    I now need to make sure my workload is more manageable so I can deal with it all myself even in the busy season, and make sure I limit my working hours so I can carve out some proper space in my week to get out and meet new people now I’ve moved to a new place (I have no desire to become a hermit!) …. but I also now need to be able to cover all my rent/bills myself instead of sharing them with someone, so the pressure to work more / earn more money feels even stronger than ever and I’m even more likely to end up working too hard & getting totally burned out! Argh.

    I’ve been thinking about things along similar lines to your three strategies, trying to make my working life as streamlined/efficient & focused as possible, and to keep it *contained*, so I can carve out more time in my week to rest and relax and be creative and sociable.

    I’m trying to keep to much more “traditional” working hours, taking a proper hour for lunch and switching off my laptop when I finish work in the evening. Even if I don’t have my inbox open, reading blogs and chatting to people on Twitter overlaps so much with my “work life” that it makes it really hard to properly switch off, and I spend enough time staring at a computer screen as it is!

    It does help that in my new place the internet connection gets really bad in the early evening as everyone is getting home from work, so I get kicked off the internet whether I like it or not. I’m also trying to turn on the laptop to do computer work when I need to, then to turn it off to do other things (again, this is made easier by my wifi connection not really working in my studio space, so I have “office” time and “studio” time). It’s just so easy to “accidentally” spend a morning doing bits and pieces online and neglect my to do list, and I am always amazed at how much more focused and efficient I am without my laptop on in the corner of my desk when I’m doing other things. And at the moment, less internet time means more time to work on the spreadsheets and other organisational things I’m working on that will make my busy season run much more smoothly.

    It’s taking a while to break out of the habit of just working all the time, but I’m also trying to take two proper days off a week (one weekend day, and one weekday so I can go to museums etc during the week when they’re quiet – one of the great perks of being self-employed!) with just an hour or two of totally essential emails / customer service stuff in the morning.

    I tried having a “making day” once a week to really focus on creative stuff, but I’ve unfortunately not managed to keep it up. It was wonderful to have that space in my schedule to devote to the creative side of my business, but it’s just so easy to say “oh but this bit of work needs doing…” I am determined to try again though, probably with a “making afternoon” after a weekly morning devoted to admin to cheer me up after hours of accounts, etc!

    I really enjoy being self-employed and running my little business, so I hope I can make it work! Even if I can only get some work-life balance for the 9 months before the busy Christmas season that would be a big improvement, and hopefully recharge my batteries enough for that annual bit of madness :)

  8. I might have to bookmark this post for later as my crafting business is far from overwhelming at the moment. Maybe once my Web Design business takes off things might be different.

  9. Monica Ballinger said

    YAY! a refreshed June! ;) I know this is kind of cheesy but, YAY! Good for you June!!! This is a wonderful entry! I think it would deffinetly work for life as well as a job. I love that you are being able to “straighten” things out, and be able to do what you love! thanks June!!!

  10. Birdie said

    Eek. I had NO idea a small business is such hard work! Well congrats to you, June for figuring out how to conquer the overwhelm!

    You’re doing what you love, June, so keep it up. Because if you aren’t doing it for the sake of doing it, maybe you shouldn’t be! But anyways, you are very good at this so keep up the good work. :D
    All the best,
    Birdie

  11. petrOlly said

    I was wondering if this applies to any business – well, it seems it does, at least for similar small ones like yours. Maybe it won’t cheer you up but it surely will confirm you are on the right path — check out this Cigar Box Guitar forum thread: http://www.cigarboxnation.com/forum/topics/builders-burn-out.

    And I still have to find out if/how your hints and strategy may be applied to my own life :)

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. This is a truly helpful and interesting article.

  12. [...] Beating Craft Business Overwhelm. Some practical tips and real life ideas about handling the overwhelming parts of a craft business from @planetjune [...]

  13. Annette said

    Hi June,

    I’m a bit late to the party, but that’s just because I’ve been reading and re-reading your post and thinking about it (yes, I printed it, so I can write in the margins!) for the past few days.

    I was very much on the burn-out route these past months, and suddenly realized that I didn’t want to work when I got up in the morning – really a proof that something was wrong,, I love my work so much!

    I’m only at the beginning of the “remodeling” of my work and life, but have decided to take on a couple of new habits.

    I try to spend about half an hour in my garden every day. This is something I find extremely soothing, and doing it a little bit everyday seems to be extremely therapeutic. I can plant, weed, water, dig, anything – it all works fine.

    I spend just 15 minutes just after lunch organizing something in my home. Clearing up a messy spot, organizing a shelf in my library, going through a magazine stack. This is quite recent, but I have the feeling to really be in charge of my home again, not being just a victime of general mess and overwhelm.

    I try to spend half an hour during the workday working on a personal design project. I’ve involved other indie designers in my craft business. I love working with them on patterns, translations etc, but my own designing got completely lost somewhere. Little by little, I’m getting back to it and allow it to take up space and time in my life.

    All this naturally means I spend less time doing my admin and sales work. With two kids, a house, a garden and a husband who works crazy hours and is away from home several nights a week, I can’t fit it all in. Something’s got to go.
    However, I don’t get less things done. I’m much more efficient when I’m working on the day-job-like stuff.

    When you have a craft business and work from home, I think you can’t think of it in a work/life dichotomy. It’s all your life, and you have to make it work for you. To me, I think the solution is to turn off the computer at 6.30 pm (which doesn’t mean I don’t crochet, knit, and pack orders in the evenings – but the computer is turned off), and allowing some extra-professional concerns to take up time and space during my workday.

    Thank you for your post – I know I will keep getting back to it while I’m trying to carve out a work-and-life model for myself.

  14. pam said

    Sharing your journey and your insights and solutions is a valuable gift to all of us because most of us these days, whether we are running businesses or simply trying to keep up with writing good blog content are becoming overwhelmed and sadly sometimes burned out.

    Thank you.

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    Hi, I'm June. Welcome to my world of nature-inspired crochet and crafting. I hope you enjoy your visit!
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