Or how to make every mistake in the book
It started with a comment from my mother-in-law. You love to embroider, you might as well make some money from it.
I have no idea if granny hobbies like embroidery, knitting, and crochet are still all the rage with the kids these days, but in 2010 it was as hipster as you could get.
So I started my little business, born from my hobby, hoping it would have enough legs to become a real business and buy my freedom from corporate life.
It wasn’t. And along the way, I made every single mistake in the book.
It’s entrepreneurship 101 — charge your time accordingly.
I had chosen to work in cross-stitch, the most laborious of all the granny hobbies. Have you ever seen someone do it? It takes FOREVER. Even worse, I loved to stitch big pieces, like covering 12-inch cushions and tote bags.
The cushions would take something in the region of 20 hours to make, give or take. But I couldn’t charge much more than $35. Take off $10 for supplies and you’re left with $1 an hour for my labor.
Yeah, well done Charlie.
I used to justify it by saying, but this is also my hobby, I’d only be stitching in front of the TV anyway, so I might as well get paid something for it.
No successful business was made on these justifications. I had fudged my costings and I buried my head in the sand about it for a long time.
Takeaway: It goes without saying. You are worth something. Your time is worth something. So charge fricking accordingly.
It’s not like when you make $1 an hour, you have spare cash to spend on quality supplies.
The threads I used were cheap, as was the material. The sewing machine I bought was shoddy and constantly broke down.
My mother — my biggest customer of course — still has some of my cushions in her living room. Even though they are not often used, they are still worn out, the colors have faded, the threads have come loose.
I didn’t want to — or have the means to — pay for quality. And it showed.
Takeaway: This is probably the most important lesson I have learned from my decade of entrepreneurship. People pay for quality. It trumps quantity every time. From selling goods to writing, quality is where it’s at.
I was trying to make a successful business from what was previously my hobby. I loved the physical act of stitching; it was my version of mindfulness.
So I refused to sell anything that I hadn’t made myself. The problem was, there is only one of me.
If I had thought about my business with an entrepreneurial hat on, I would have realized this was ridiculous. I could have designed embroidery sets for other avid stitchers to take home and re-create themselves. I could have taught stitching (at the time, there was a huge demand for this).
Both of these ideas are scalable; there is no limit to how many design kits I could make and sell. Hell, you can even get companies to do that sort of thing for you.
For me, it was all about my desire to stitch but that wasn’t enough to build a business.
Takeaway: Concentrate on the scalable aspects of your business. If it relies to heavily on you, what can you do to take the burden off? Because burnout isn’t pretty.
Aw man, this is actually embarrassing to talk about.
My business was called Crafty Monster because monster used to be my husband’s pet name for me. My artist mother designed me a colorful cartoon monster logo.
I thought it was cute when in reality, it was just infantile. It didn’t say what I did, it wasn’t reflective of my work and it certainly wasn’t in line with what people wanted to see in brands at the time. Cute cartoons were out. Clean lines and muted colors were in.
Takeaway: Does your branding reflect who you are? What you are selling? Who you are selling to? If not, chuck it in the bin and start again.
I didn’t even really know who my customers were. Were they kids? No, my work was too expensive for them. Hipsters? Maybe, but I wasn’t particularly hipster myself so I never managed to properly bag that crowd.
I made a common mistake. I had an if I build it, they will come kind of attitude.
They didn’t come. And I didn’t think to ask why. Yet again I was shot in the foot by thinking my business was there just to serve me. My handiwork, my mindfulness outlet, my baby.
I forgot I had to actually have customers in order to make a business in the first place.
Takeaway: Just as if we were in business school, I have an alliteration for you. The 3 Rs — Research, Refine and Reconsider. Do your research before you start. Refine as you go. And don’t be afraid to Reconsider if your idea is dead in the water before you even start. Because with no customers, you don’t have a business, you just have a hobby.
In other words, I used old-school ways of selling.
The world’s largest creative marketplace Etsy had recently launched and although I listed some work on the site, I had a healthy (read stupid) level of distrust of selling on the internet. Surely people want to see my products for themselves before buying?
So I went old school and enrolled in craft fairs, school fetes, and community events like it was 1995. I spent every weekend in draughty school halls, sitting around for 7 hours, trying to sell to the wrong crowd and making $100 (if I was lucky), $30 of which would go straight into the organizer’s coffers for the privilege.
It’s safe to say my approach to selling was not on point.
Takeaway: The way we buy goods and services may have changed in the last 10 years, but the principles remain eternal. Not every selling / writing / social media platform is made equal. Park your expectations at the door and experiment to find what works for you.
Although this entrepreneurial scheme went down the crapper, it made me hungry to work for myself. Just one year after Crafty Monster (urgh, the embarrassment of that name) fell on its arse, I was the proud owner of my own wine store and bar which, not to blow my own trumpet too much here, was the biggest business success of my life. It had employees, it was named the best independent wine store in the UK and eventually, it was sold and secured a new life for me and my husband.
There is always something to take from failed endeavors. You learn what — and what not — to do. You can take comfort in the fact that at least you gave something a shot. That alone puts you ahead of the crowd.
And you build on your knowledge for the next time.
Because if you’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, there will always be a next time.