If you run a crafty business, do you ever feel like it’s overwhelming you? This is how I’ve been feeling:
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).
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!
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).
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.
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 🙂
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!
A couple of years ago, I bought 2 bottles of IKEA Pyssla – more commonly known as Perler or Hama beads, or the generic name, fuse beads. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re little plastic beads that you arrange into a pattern or picture on a special pegboard, then heat using your iron to melt and fuse the beads together. You end up with a plastic sheet you can use for keychains, coasters, or as decoration.
On a regular pegboard, each bead melts into a square shape, so you can use any pixelated sprite (a character from an 8-bit video game, for example) as an instant pattern. One square per pixel – it’s like an instant gratification version of cross-stitching, as you can complete a coaster-sized picture in just a few minutes.
So I borrowed some ideas from sprites other people have made, and searched for game sprite images to make some of my own. Here are my first few:
New coasters! Don’t worry, I’ve tested them and the heat of the hottest mug of tea isn’t enough to melt them 🙂 And, because they’re made of plastic, they’ll be easy to wash clean if they get dirty. You can add a background colour to make your coasters into squares, but I purposely chose round-ish sprites that are large enough to function as a coaster without a background – saves time and beads!
My tips if you’d like to try fuse bead crafting:
If you have access to IKEA, PYSSLA beads and shape boards are much cheaper than the Perler/Hama equivalents (and the bottle of beads is huge and will probably last forever!)
Pre-sort your beads by colour – it makes it much easier to create your designs.
Use tweezers to position the beads onto the pegboard more easily.
I ironed my coasters for longer than the instructions suggest, so they’d melt together more and bond together more strongly.
We all (I hope) know by now about the invisible decrease, to smooth out your amigurumi decreases and make your amigurumi look much neater. But what about increasing? Increasing doesn’t have as much of a problem as decreasing, but forcing 2 stitches into one hole does stretch out the hole and leave a slight gap beneath it compared with the surrounding stitches.
Is there any way to reduce this gap and make your increases less visible? Let’s do an experiment to find out…
A standard increase consists of two single crochet stitches, both worked into both loops of the stitch below. But either or both of those single crochets could instead be worked into the front loop (FL) or back loop (BL) of the stitch below. Here are all the possible permutations of loops to work into to make a sc increase:
Option 1 is the standard increase, included for reference as the control: the yardstick to compare against, to see if we find a better option.
We’ll omit Option 9 (both stitches in BL only) from the remainder of the experiment, as I already know that the unworked front loop will leave a visible bar on the surface, so it clearly isn’t an ‘invisible’ candidate. That leaves us with 8 candidates, including the control, to include in our experiment…
I crocheted an amigurumi-style shape with a flat top and bottom, and 8 columns of increases around the sides (one column for each option 1-8). Each column includes 3 sample increase stitches, separated by a non-increased round above and below each increase so I could isolate each specific increase stitch. I noted any difficulty with creating each stitch combination as I crocheted.
Then I stuffed and finished the test piece as though it were a regular amigurumi, and then inspected the finished piece to see which columns of increases were least visible.
You may not be able to see the differences clearly here – my observed results (below) are far easier to see by eye than by looking at the photos.
To reduce the hole size, one of the stitches must be made through both loops. => #4, #5, #6 rejected
If either stitch is made through the back loop only, it will leave a visible bar on the front of the work. (Note: Those visible bars may not look too bad in my sample, but would be far more prominent if the increase round and previous round are worked in different colours, as they’d show up as a bar of the wrong colour.)=> #3, #8 rejected
It is easier to work the FL/BL stitch first followed by the both loops stitch than vice versa. => #2 is better than #7
#2 and #7 had the best appearance, but #2 is easier to work than #7, so that gives it the edge and makes it the winner in this competition. But, hang on, is there a genuine improvement over a standard increase?
Introducing… the Invisible Increase!
I know it’s hard to see the differences between all the options in the above photo – they’re much more noticeable when you look at the piece in 3D. To make it clearer that there really is a difference, I’ve drawn around the edges of the ‘hole’ beneath a standard increase and the new invisible increase:
You can see that the hole is much smaller if you use the invisible increase; in fact, if anything, I’d say it’s smaller than the hole beneath a normal sc stitch. Mission accomplished!
So, if you’re looking for a less visible increase for your amigurumi, here’s your answer:
Invisible increase: sc in front loop only of next stitch, sc in both loops of same stitch.
Unlike the invisible decrease, which I recommend you always use for amigurumi (unless there’s a specific reason not to, e.g. turning your work between rounds), I’d definitely call the invisible increase an optional technique, but if you ever notice that the holes below your increases look too large, give my invisible increase method a try and see if it alleviates the problem!
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Not only fun to roll, stack, throw, and catch, these Polyhedral (‘many-faced’) Balls are very special: they are crocheted versions of the five Platonic solids; the only five geometric solid shapes possible where every face is identical and the same number of faces meet at each vertex (corner). Fun and educational!
Not ready to make it yet? Add it to your Ravelry queue!
I carefully designed the component shapes so that (within the limits of 1 round of crochet) the finished balls are all the same size. And my construction and edging methods mean that they don’t turn into spheres when you stuff them – the sides stay relatively flat without any hidden reinforcements, which not only makes them simpler to crochet together, but with no rigid plastic inside the balls, these are totally child-safe toys, made from only yarn and stuffing.
As well as being great as toys for kids to play with, they make good stress toys for adults! Plus I’ve discovered an excellent concentration/relaxation game: try balancing them all, one on top of the other – it is possible (provided the tetrahedron is always on the top), but surprisingly difficult to get all 5 to balance. You’ll see I managed it for my cover pictures – there’s no photo trickery there 🙂
If you’re not tempted yet by the fun or math-geeky aspects of these balls, here’s one more fact that might persuade you: these are no-sew patterns. 100% crocheted, you only need a yarn needle to weave in a few ends and you’re finished! And most of the ends are cunningly hidden on the inside, so even the end-weaving is very minimal too.
This pattern includes:
Crochet instructions for the 5 component shapes
A step-by-step photo tutorial for how to crochet the special edging
Right- and left-handed step-by-step assembly diagrams, if you’d like to assemble your balls in the same order I did (leaving the minimum number of ends to weave in)
Tips for speedier assembly and less yarn ends
A special technique to improve the look of the finished corners
This is also a modular pattern: although it includes all the detailed instructions you need to be able to recreate these balls perfectly – 16 pages total – if you’d like to save on paper and ink, you can choose to print only the pages with the pieces you need: a) the crochet patterns, b) the general assembly photo tutorial and tips, c) the right-handed assembly order diagrams and/or d) the left-handed assembly order diagrams. If all you want to do is print the crochet patterns for the 5 component shapes, that’s all included on one page! I’m doing my bit for the environment 🙂
Gamers take note!
Now, I don’t know how much of a geek/RPG audience I have, but there’s an obvious application to these balls that is just missing one little piece: with this set, we have a d4, d6, d8, d12, and d20… We’re just missing a d10 to have a complete set of gaming dice! The construction and ridged edging of these balls mean that, as well as being a cute decorative set, they can actually even be used like real dice: they’ll always land on one face. (To actually use one as a die it’s best to throw it up in the air, spinning, and let it land – as it’s large but lightweight, unless you have a large area to roll it across, you’ll get a more random result if you throw it in the air first.)
The only problem is that a d10 is not a platonic solid – its shape is a little more complicated, as each of the 10 sides are slightly truncated kite shapes. I can do it, of course, but it would take a little more time, and trial and error, to figure out a) the right shape for a d10, and b) the right size so that the finished ball would match the rest of the set. So, the question is, would there be a demand for a 10-sided dice ball to complete this set?
If so, I’ll design an add-on to this pattern that would include:
A truncated pentagonal trapezohedron (better known as a d10 to gamers) ball
Instructions for how to properly label the sides of all 6 balls to turn them into a set of functional gaming dice (embroidered numbers would look great for this, or fabric painted numbers would be a far easier option if you’re not confident in your embroidery skills!)
So please do let me know in the comments if you’d be interested in buying the add-on pattern. I mentioned it on Facebook yesterday and I’ve already had a small positive response, so I need to know if there are more interested gamers/geeks (or people with gamers in the family – what better Christmas present than a set of giant crocheted gaming dice?!) before I design the d10. I’d do it with my commissions process, but of course I’m not going to charge anyone $6 for an add-on pattern!
This is the twelfth post in my monthly series on the fascinating nature I encounter here in South Africa.
That’s a whole year of photos, and so I think this is a good point to take a step back and make some changes…
I really enjoy sharing my photos with you, but the monthly deadline has added too much pressure to my overly-busy life, so, after today, I’m changing the format to an occasional series instead of a monthly one. That means I’ll be able to do a post when I have something amazing to show you and have the hours necessary to first choose and edit a handful of photos from the hundreds I’ve taken, and then research and write the accompanying text.
I know this decision will disappoint some people, but writing these posts has become more of a burden than a joy, and continuing like that makes no sense. One post a month doesn’t sound like much, but my business has me working through most of my waking hours at the moment: I need to do less, so I can reclaim my life. With the deadline pressure removed, I’ll be able to write my nature posts when I want to, and they’ll be better for it.
For my final monthly post, I’ve selected the most interesting photos I haven’t had a chance to show you yet, starting with one from today! We checked in on the penguin colony (see my previous photos here) and the first babies are hatching – African Penguins are endangered, so this is wonderful to see:
A fluffy African Penguin chick emerges from his burrow (left) into the rain, to be fed by one of his doting parents.
A couple of months ago, I saw, in the distance, a tiny antelope cross the road I was driving along, and noted where it had disappeared into the bushes. I pulled over when I reached that point, and discovered that it was grazing in full view a couple of metres back from the road! We’d have driven right past it if I hadn’t happened to see it and known where to stop and look:
This adorable mini antelope was easy to identify as a Cape Grysbok (male) – it looks exactly like all the Cape Grysbok photos I’ve seen online, which makes our Christmas mystery antelope even more of a mystery, as it’s clearly not the same species as this cute little guy…
Okay, now scroll down quickly if you hate giant bugs…
This grasshopper (in my garden) is absolutely enormous – at least 3″ long! Very interesting at a distance, but the time it flew directly at my face was not fun…
Okay, you’re safe, we’re back to cute now:
At first sight, we thought this was a chipmunk, but it’s actually a striped mouse (there aren’t any chipmunks here). Very cute!
We have access to such a variety of wildlife here, all within a couple of hours (or much less) from home. Both of these photos were taken less than half an hour’s drive from our house:
Not the greatest photo, but I hope you can just about see an adult (left) and 2 baby dolphins (back, front) in this photo.
And this is a terrible photo apart from the content: a real wild zebra! We’ve seen them a couple of times before, but only from the road, so this weekend I had my first opportunity to capture one with my camera (from a great distance, hence the photo quality), on the slopes of Table Mountain.
I’ll be aiming to get some better photos of both dolphins and zebras in time. If you’ve been avidly reading these posts, you may remember the sub-standard kingfisher photos I showed you a year ago. A tiny, lightning-fast, nervous bird is not easy to photograph, but, thanks to a bird hide, some patience, and figuring out the manual focus setting on my camera, I was finally able to take some good Malachite Kingfisher photos:
I think this is my favourite – not the most dignified shot, but I love how the tiny striped feathers on his head are blowing about in the wind!
Putting these posts together has been a lot of work, but also a nice record of our first year in South Africa. I’ll obviously never stop appreciating and photographing wildlife – both for fun and as inspiration for future designs – so I’m sure I’ll have more photos to show you soon as time permits.
At a bird sanctuary, I stroked a little wood owl! It was incredibly soft and fluffy.
As a grand finale to this year of nature appreciation, I thought you might like to see this time-lapse video I recorded of a spectacular sunrise over the city of Cape Town. I recorded it exactly one year ago today, but hadn’t found the time to edit it until now. This was taken from the apartment we lived in when we first arrived in South Africa, which, although cold and inconveniently situated miles from the observatory, had a spectacular view out over the city and harbour:
Maui liked the view too
Now we’ve exchanged the commute and the view for our own little house in the suburbs, a garden full of wildlife, and a beautiful river just down the road. It was a good trade, but I’m glad I have this video to remember the city sunrise by, and I hope you’ll enjoy watching it too:
Click through or full-screen it to see the full size version
Thank you for accompanying me through my year of nature photos – please leave me a comment if you’ve enjoyed this series!
Maui loves his double-wide corrugated cardboard scratchers – it’s the only type he’ll use. The pet shops here are tiny, with very little selection, and this type of scratcher doesn’t seem to be available anywhere. Luckily, we have an almost-infinite supply of boxes stored in our garage, which I kept after our move for just such thrifty/crafty purposes…
Maui supervises as I get to work
The flaps of the moving boxes just happen to be exactly the same width as the length of Maui’s old scratcher, so I kept the old outer box and cut 1.75″ strips of corrugated cardboard to make a new scratching surface. Measure, mark, cut, repeat… I needed 60 strips to fill the old outer box.
Measuring and cutting strips of cardboard
After that, I just ran a line of white glue along the centre of the length of each strip, stacked them all together, and applied pressure for a couple of minutes so they are all packed tightly together. Edge on, you have the perfect scratching surface for the demanding kitty:
As good as bought!
Cutting 60 strips was a lot more effort than I thought it would be – I had to split the task over several days, as my hand holding the ruler in position would start to ache after 5 or 10 strips. If I still had access to buy a new scratcher instead, I would. But, as I don’t, it’s worth a little hard work to make one for Maui every now and then.
This is the state of the old one – better that Maui does this to the cardboard than to our furniture!
As a bonus, it’s fully reversible, so when it looks like the photo above, I can just flip it over, and Maui will have another new scratching surface to decimate before I have to make another one.
After extensive quality control testing, Maui proclaims it totally scratch-worthy.
I have a new Crochet Quickies video for you today, showing how to make clean colour changes for amigurumi. This is the same basic technique I explain in my original Changing Colour tutorial (and you may also want to check out my tutorial Changing Colour: Managing the Yarns for my advice on what to do with all the yarn tails you end up with when you’re changing colour).
In this short video, I demo the colour change technique, and show you what happens if you don’t use this method!
Note: The videos may look a little small embedded in the blog: if so, you can fullscreen them or click through to YouTube to watch them full-sized 🙂
Although I’m demoing with single crochet for amigurumi purposes, you can also use this technique with any other crochet stitches, to give cleaner colour changes. The trick is to always pull through the last loop of the stitch before the colour change with the new colour, no matter which crochet stitch you’re using.
(I’ve made this video now for a reason: you’ll need to know this as background info for a brand new exclusive crochet technique that I’ll be demonstrating in my next crochet video…)
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