Tuesday, 20 January 2015

My week on Instagram

I don't know about you but, as time has gone by, I've moved my main focus of attention around different social media - sometimes the blog, sometimes, twitter, sometimes Facebook, sometimes Flickr.  I've never really got into Pinterest although I know so many people adore it.  My current favourite is Instagram because it's so quick - kind of social media instant gratification.  If you're not on Instagram, it's a really fun place to follow quilters, fabric designers, quilt shops and quilt fabric manufacturers.  So I though I'd start a new weekly post called My Week On Instagram giving a round-up of what I've been doing over there which so often gets missed from the blog.  If you want to follow me over there, I'm @lilysquilts.  Firstly I worked on a Gardenvale project (the new line by Jen Kingwell for Moda).  I drew the design for the quilt up in Touchdraw.

There are three cheater prints in Gardenvale which lend themselves perfectly to a scrappy binding. 

The photos below show close-ups of the quilt starting to grow.  You really need to squint to start to see the pattern emerging.  

Later on in the week, I drew up this quilt for a new line from Makower.  That's 320 HSTs which took me less time than you'd think as I used the paper method where eight HSTs (or more if you're making smaller ones) are made in one go.  There is no trimming involved making this system perfect for me as I find trimming to be a right royal pain in the a***.  

I also started work on a couple of projects for a new Makower Christmas line.  This is the panel from the line which forms the centre of a wall hanging I'm making.  Too soon to be starting on Christmas?!

The fabrics from Suffolk Garden (by Brie Harrison for Dashwood Studio) also came in this week.  I've made the top for this project but it's not yet quilted so I'll save the photo session for when that's done unless we get serious snow tomorrow in which case I will photograph ALL THE QUILTS because everything looks amazing in the snow! 

And what about you, what have you been up to this week?!  And are you on Instagram yet?  If so, what's your username?!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Turn your hobby into a business - part 3

Today we have the final part of a three part series running last week and today on the blog entitled "Turn your hobby into a business".  This was brought to the blog by Fiona Pullen from The Sewing Directory who is also the author of Craft a Creative Business which came out last week in the US and is already out in the UK (UK readers click here, US readers find it here) and you can find my review of the book here.

Part 3 – Pricing 

This is the tricky bit, get this wrong and you could be working very long hours for very little money or struggling to sell your products because they are priced too high. Before I discuss my pricing formula I want to warn you that there is no guarantee that one set formula will work for all industries or all products, use a pricing formula as a starting point but use common sense too. 

Take a look at your competitors’ prices, and how well their products sell at that price. Most markets have a natural price bracket where most products sell, that’s not to say you can’t sell higher than that price but you may need a justification as to why to help convince buyers to buy your more expensive product rather than a cheaper version. Something like using only organic or fair trade materials could help justify a higher price for example. 

Do bear in mind that there are some ‘hobby’ sellers out there who sell at a low price to just cover materials so they can buy more supplies and carry on sewing. They don’t run as a business or factor in the time taken to make their products. Don’t attempt to compete with them price wise or you will find your business unsustainable. 

So onto the formula: 

Production costs + time + profit = your retail price 

Production costs - You need to know what it costs you to make your product to get your production costs. So for a quilt for example don’t just count the fabric and wadding for your quilts but the thread, quilt label and binding too. You also need to account for the electric you use, items you have to replace on a regular basis like sewing machine needles and rotary cutter blades. Your website, any payment processing fees or other selling costs and the packaging too. You may add postage and packing as an extra cost, but if offering it for free it needs to be factored into your production costs. 

Time – You need to time yourself to make sure you are paying yourself for all time spent making the item. Not just the actual sewing but the cutting out, time spent discussing the design with the customer or designing/researching ideas, time spent packaging and shipping the item etc. You also need to know what you expect to be paid for each hour’s work. Are you happy with minimum wage? Do you want a skilled worker wage? 

You also need to weigh up the hourly rate you want to earn v the realistic sale price of your product. We’d all love to earn £50 an hour but most of us would struggle to sell any item costed on that basis! 

Profit – This like the hourly wage will vary from person to person. It will also help if you have done your competition research at this point as you’ll then have an idea of what overall price you can charge, so once you have your costs & time figure you’ll be able to see how much profit you can add on top. From what I’ve seen most crafters seem to add 15-30% profit on but this will depend upon your market. 

Now you can see why selling a quilt leads to a rather high retail price. By the time you take in account all the materials used, time spent and then add a profit on top you are generally into the hundreds. 

If you plan to craft as a business you want to set wholesale accounts up as soon as possible, buying your supplies at around 50% of the retail price will make a huge difference to your profit. I have a list of fabric wholesalers on my site plus a guide to finding craft wholesale suppliers

You may also want to see if you could produce your products in batches to help save time. There’s a useful post on that topic on Sew Mama Sew

There are also some interesting posts on selling quilts here and here

There is also a lot more information on setting up a handmade business, pricing your products and reaching your target audience in my book. You can find the book on Amazon UK here and Amazon UK here. Plus Lynne did a lovely review of the book here. 

I really hope you’ve enjoyed this series of posts, you can find more free business guides on Fiona's website: www.craftacreativebusiness.co.uk or find her on Twitter @craftabiz or @sewingdirectory

Best of luck with your creative enterprise.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Turn your hobby into a business - part 2

Today we have part two of a three part series running this week and next week on the blog entitled "Turn your hobby into a business".  This brought to the blog by Fiona Pullen from The Sewing Directory who is also the author of Craft a Creative Business which came out this week in the US and is already out in the UK (UK readers click here, US readers find it here).

Part 2 – Research and Planning 

Now if you’ve read part one, and think that running your own business is for you the next stage is to research and plan your business idea. Many crafters kind of fall into running a business, people offer to buy what they make so they start selling it without ever having properly thought it through.

Most of them haven’t costed it out, haven’t researched which products to sell or planned where they want their business to go. They start selling a few items to friends and family, which goes well so they decided to start selling at craft fairs or online. Before they know it they are running a business with no idea of what they actually want, or need from that business.

Even if you are already at that stage there is nothing to stop you from taking a step back and doing your research and planning now. Nothing is set in stone, if you research tells you that you should be doing something a little different then you can do it. If it shows you there is no way to make a profit carrying on as you are then you can adapt.

So where do you start? Grab a pen and paper (or a computer if you prefer) and start writing down what you want to do. What do you want to make, how do you want to spend your days. Close your eyes and envisage a shop of your products, what products would they be? What would they be made from, how would they be presented. Draw it in your mind and note down the finer details.

This is your starting point, the dream! Now you need to look into how you could make it a reality. Firstly you want to see what competition there is. Is anyone else doing what you do, if so how can you differentiate yourself? You don’t want to be seen as a copy of another business, you want to be offering something unique. If there is no one else doing it all you need to investigate why not. Have people tried it and found there was no market? Or do you have something really unique?

Even if people have tried it and failed it doesn’t mean you will, you need to study what they did and see if you could identify where it went wrong, and what you could do differently to make it succeed. Speak to people in the industry and get feedback, research online, look on blogs/sites/forums to see what other people said about the businesses that failed. This could help you identify how to do it successfully.

If others are already doing something similar to what you want to do you want to study them and assess their strengths and weaknesses so you can learn from them. How will you do it differently? How can you improve on what they offer? How will your products stand out amongst all the others? Is there too much competition already or space for another business such as yours? Do their products seem to be selling well? Are their customers happy?

Another thing you want to research is where best to sell your products. Visit local craft fairs and see what sells well and what doesn’t. Weigh up the pros and cons of the various online market places. Look at options for setting up your own website and think about how you could market it. You need to decide what is the best option for you to get your product in front of your potential customers. 

Competitor analysis is an essential part of business, but I want to emphasise here that you want to learn from them, be inspired by them but do not copy them. Apart from that fact that breaching someone else’s copyright is illegal, you will also lose the respect of industry peers, and your customers if they see you copying someone else. It would be very hard to re-build that trust should that happen.
As well as researching your competitors you also need to research your customers. Who are the type of people that would buy your product? You need to narrow it down as much as possible, don’t just say all women would love what you make because that isn’t true. Not everyone will, so what differentiates those who will like it from those who won’t? What will make people buy it as opposed to just looking at it and admiring it?

The more precisely you can identify your customer the easier it will be to target them with your marketing. You want to have an idea of what sex they are, roughly what age they are, where they shop, what they read, where they hang out, how much they spend... All of these things will help you plan your marketing strategy. If you don’t know the answer try conducting marketing research surveys to find the answers.
Let’s face it if you are talking full size quilts you are looking at people with fairly big budgets. Quilts are not cheap to produce and take a lot of hours to make therefore making your costs high, so someone buying a large quilt is going to have a very different budget from the kind of person that would buy some quilted mug rugs.

In part 3 on Monday 19 January we will look at pricing your products to make sure you make a profit.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Sponsor News

The latest update to the Quiltography quilt design app - version 1.3 - is now out and adds a yardage calculator along with a visual overhaul.  Existing users can update their app for FREE.  For everyone else, it can be downloaded on the Apple App Store.
New cotton poplins have just arrived at Celticfusionfabrics.  Printed in Britain, they feature some treats such as coloured retro phone, scottie dogs and push bikes, great value at £1.75 per fat quarter.

Purple Stitches are having a big clearance sale to clear out some space for new fabrics due in the next few weeks. 100+ designer fabric are now priced from £2.50 per fat quarter. To get extra 15% off on your order, use code JANSALE15 (valid until 7th Feb).

Elephant In My Handbag have just taken delivery of this gorgeous Woodland fabric fromTimeless Treasures.  And don't forget that you have a10% discount with your first order from the shop using code Lilysquilts.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Turn your hobby into a business series - part 1

Today we have part one of a three part series running this week and next week on the blog entitled "Turn your hobby into a business".  This brought to the blog by Fiona Pullen from The Sewing Directory who is also the author of Craft a Creative Business which comes out TODAY in the US and is already out in the UK (UK readers click here, US readers find it here).

Part 1 – Could you be an entrepreneur? 

You’ve been quilting for a while, you make gifts for friends and family, people admire your quilts, cushions and other makes and then someone mutters the immortal words ‘you really ought to start selling those’.

You probably brush it off, make an excuse as to why you don’t want to. But once the idea is there in your brain you start to think it over, could you sell your creations? Could you turn your hobby into a business? Sure the extra money would be nice, more money = more fabric after all! But can you handle the business side of it? Is there too much competition? Is it even financially viable?

Well in this series I’m going to help you work through that idea to see if it is viable, and the right decision for you.

Before jumping into the financial and practical side of things there’s one important thing that many people overlook. It takes a certain type of person to be able to run their own business, to be able to stick to budgets, to be prepared to put their work out there and market it to the world, to keep on top of the admin and wrap your head around the finances and most of all to cope with being an entrepreneur.

I’ve identified a few characteristics I think are essential to entrepreneurs. Do you have them?

Passion - This is the most important thing, you should love what you do. This is what will get you through the tough times. Plus your passion will come across to your customers and make them more interested in being involved with you. You need passion to sell, and selling is something you have to do if you want to make money.

 Self-motivation - You will be your own boss so there is no one else to tell you what to do and when to do it. You have to be able to stick to the deadlines you have promised your customers or the other businesses you are working with. You also need to make sure you do not spend most of the day procrastinating and not actually doing anything productive (step away from Pinterest!) Let’s face it we all have days like that, but you need to be capable of making sure it isn’t all of your days. 

Organisation - There is a lot to co-ordinate from buying in supplies to setting up a website, doing the admin to managing your accounts. You need to be able to structure your working week to make sure you keep on top of all of the ‘boring’ aspects of running a business like the accounts and admin as well as spending time doing the things you love.

Willing - Willing to try almost anything, there are many things you have no experience in that you just have to try when you are self-employed. Particularly if you are a one man company, you cannot delegate the daunting tasks to other people so you have to take them on yourself. Some things like accounts, sales, marketing or admin can be delegated out to other people but it will reduce your profit when you are paying someone else to do them.

Positivity - Quite often people are investing in you as a person and not just your product. If you are positive and friendly people will want to work with you or buy from you. Furthermore there will be many days where things do not go the way you intended. You will come across all kinds of obstacles that you never envisaged when starting out. You have to be able to pick yourself up and get on with it and not become demotivated and give up.

Adaptability - If you can respond quickly and are willing to adapt your business plan to suit demand you can keep on top of current trends, customer demands and industry changes. It is also an advantage we small businesses have over larger businesses. Often their corporate structure means that it takes time for changes to be implemented where as we can do it straight away and be ahead of the game.

Honesty - Trust has to be earned over time and if you are true to your word your reputation for being trustworthy will spread. Equally in this internet age a bad reputation spreads even faster and it can be very hard to win trust back once lost.

Drive - It is your energy and drive that will help determine the success of your business. You need to be prepared to work 7 days a week if necessary, to be working past midnight to fulfil an urgent order or forgo a day out to catch up on work. There will be sacrifices to be made, especially at the beginning but the plan is that in the long term it will all pay off. Does that sound like you? Are you motivated and positive enough to keep going through tough times? Can you sacrifice sewing time to do admin? Do you have the drive and passion to promote what you make? Are you willing to step outside of your comfort zone?

If so pop back for part 2 where I’ll be looking at researching and planning your business idea. If it’s not for you then don’t beat yourself up about it, it is better you think about it now than realise several months down the line. You don’t want to waste time and money starting something that you cannot see through. I’m not going to lie entrepreneurship can be hard, it’s certainly very different to working a 9-5 job for someone else. Not everyone is cut out to do it, but for those who are many thrive off the challenges that come from running your own business. Personally I love it and never want to go back to working for someone else again. I find it is as rewarding as it is challenging.

Posts two and three in this series will be published Friday 16 January and Monday 19 January so stay tuned.