Saturday, January 1, 2011

Looking Back on 2010, Looking Ahead to 2011

I realized only a couple days ago that I wanted to do a review post, and have had enough on my mind that I find I still don't have a clue what I want to really say in this post. Yet, I'm a person who definitely finds taking these moments to collect my thoughts and look at where I've been and where I'm going to be very helpful. I have already done this for my life in general over on my personal blog (in my Birthday egotism post, which reviews the years positive accomplishments while ignoring the bad, and in my review of 2010 goals and setting of 2011 goals post - I don't make resolutions, I set achievable goals and objectives which, if I had to, I could delineate the steps and benchmarks involved in meeting them. This is a natural side effect of being a professional program evaluator ;) ). However, I wanted to spend some time reflected on where I've been and where I'm going as regards the craft business, because I'm starting to feel that I might actually being going SOMEWHERE, and I'm not used to it yet.

Oy vey. I have no idea what to say next. Thank god I need to pull the baking out of the oven, it'll buy me a few minutes to think. (oatmeal cookies, and oh man, they turned out yummy... :) )

Right. So, after years of trying to figure out some way to make money through crafts, this past January I opened an Etsy store featuring my photography. I called inane related to cards, I think. My friends bought some stuff, and I got one sale to a stranger almost right away, which was very gratifying. It is still one of the only photography sales I've made to a stranger! Funny how that worked out. Anyway, not long after, I made my first couple amigurumi, and within a month I was designing my own, starting with the ant, and adding the goose and brontosaurus pretty soon there after. My mother and I edited the patterns, and I listed them on Etsy, and had a little success selling them. In March, I got my first custom commission, to design a peacock for a friend of mine. This proved to be so much work - and I was so stressed from other stuff going on - that I procrastinated this until the last minute; it took 16 hours, and after paying for materials, I made 50 cents an hour. Needless to say, this caused me to reflect on the nature of the business. I took a break from crafting, then in July I bought a cross stitch, the making of which consumed most of the rest of the summer. Sales were also close to non-existent, which was hardly encouraging. In the meantime, though, I'd let my second commission - a squirrel - languish, and so as soon as I finished the cross stitch (but not the backstitching, still haven't done that, lol) - I made the squirrel. By then it was mid-August, and while I can't remember what prompted it, I decided to join Ravelry, and on a board there I heard about the Hive. I'd say that this was an important turning point for me (coupled with the encouragement of my friends). Having strangers, with no particular investment in my success or failure, praise my work and indicate that they thought I might have something here was very gratifying, and has continually helped to renew me when I've wondered why the heck I'm doing this. I designed another pattern before I left on vacation, and when I got back, I got back to work. In October, I met a very nice couple who had started their foray into this world not long before, and I had a long and extremely helpful conversation with them that really got me thinking in all kinds of new ways, especially as regards craft shows. I also finally came up with a name that I liked, and made it "official" so I wouldn't have to change it again - Curiously Crafted Creations - and made an aligned FB page. Oh, and I started this blog, in September. :) I got my first doll commission from a stranger in late November - not by them finding me, but by my outreaching to them when I thought I could do what they wanted - and they loved the result, and I've gotten positive feedback from numerous others, too (on Ravelry and on Flickr, as well as here and the Hive). I started doing official pattern testing, to improve my work, and got even more gratifying and helpful feedback. I started to meet other amigurumi designers, some very successful, and learn from them. I also began to put a LOT of time in to all of this, and to start to feel that I was getting something back from it. A friend bought her entire set of Christmas cards from me, and I decided to send out my own work as Christmas cards as well - and got some feedback that once again encourages me to not yet give up on the photography part of this business, even though it makes me feel like I'm running a business with multiple personality disorder. :)

That something I'm getting back isn't fiscal. Now, there might be reasons not to share some fiscal data about my business, but in general I find that people everywhere are far too cagey about such things. Talking numbers can help others establish ideas about what is normal and what isn't, and I think that it's important. I've kept pretty good records since the very beginning, using an improvised spreadsheet that's gotten more ridiculous the more things I've done. :) It took a bit of an initial investment, because I needed to get the materials to make the cards. Indeed, the majority of the money I've spent on this business has been for the photography part, whereas most of the crochet has been done with left over yarn in my stash or that my mom didn't want any more.

So, down and dirty. I've sold 59 cards, almost all to friends and family; and 27 patterns, all to strangers. I've also sold 6 larger prints of photos, 5 dolls, and a scarf. These low numbers are despite trying several strategies to drum up sales, and setting my prices low. I've spent just a shade under $250 (56% on card making supplies and photograph prints; 22% on sellers and listing fees from Etsy and Paypal; 22% on yarn for commissions) I haven't "charged" the business for yarn I already had, and sometimes not even for yarn that I bought, just cause I figure I'd have been making something anyway. :)

I've earned just under $275. I've managed a profit of $25 (my exact profit for Year 1 is actually $24.57) Hands down, it's the commissions that have made the difference. They are the only thing I've sold that has had a decent profit margin on it. I've done a total of four commissions (three for friends), plus I've sold one of the dolls I made just because (also to a friend).

I have a lot of stock at the moment. I've got about 60 cards ready to go, and the photographs to make hundreds more (though I'd have to buy more envelops, I'm running low, and they're 19 cents per card, which seems like a lot to me, though it was the best I could manage when I did the initial shopping around for materials...) I've also got about 10 dolls I would be happy to sell - and I'll have more soon, cause I'm gonna get to serious work on building up a stock of finished items, and also I need to test all my old patterns, which means first remaking them all.

I know these numbers are all pretty small, but all in all I'm actually pretty happy with all of this. When I started the business, I thought, well, what's the worst that happens? I could be out the $100 I initially invested. Heaven forbid! I don't really need the money at the moment, and I'd be making things anyway. That said, I would like to feel like I'm getting paid for my work. I chronically under charge people (with the peacock being the worst example), and even my "well payed" jobs generally work out to only a few dollars per hour. This isn't a sustainable model in the long run.

And I'd say that leads perfectly in to the capstone point for me, in Year 1. When I started, this was a temporary experiment. I don't feel that way any more. Now, I think there is a long run, and I want to work for it and try to get there. I'm not the most talented crafts person around (heck, I think almost everyone I've met in the crafting communities I've joined is more talented than I am, ya'll are amazing) but I'm stubborn and willing to work hard, and it's been a dream of mine since I was a teenager that it would rock if could figure out some way to make money crafting. I was always told "do what you love, and it'll work out" but I couldn't get there from where I was - because no matter how much I loved cross stitching, it really just isn't possible to get payed enough to make the labor make sense unless I was prepared to churn out loads of small, simple things - which I'm not. But I love doing photography and crochet, too, and people respond well to what I have shared, which makes me think that even if I'm not in the upper echelons of talent, I may yet have enough to get by if I just keep working. And that's very heartening to me. :) I've known for about a year and a half that I wouldn't be able to do my current job for more than a few more years (for a lot of reasons) and I've spent tons of mental energy trying to figure out what I was going to do next. I thought I'd settled on geology (cause man, I do love rocks...) but now I'm not so sure that I can't make a go of it on some combination of crafts and writing. But first, I have to make way more than $25 a year. (I have to earn a minimum of about $35,000 a year in order to make ends meet in my current living situation, but that little would really make things tight - I make more than double that in my current employment.)

2011 Goals/Tasks:
Some of these are really tasks, as in, things I just need to get around to doing. :)

1. Raise my prices. I'm thinking $2 or $2.50 each for the cards. It'd still be a little below market, and would improve my profit margin noticeably. I mean, I have no reason to think that the price is why they're not selling.

2. One free pattern a month. I released my first free pattern, for the dreidel, at the beginning of December, and I have been shocked by the response this has gotten. I'd say, hands down, this has been the most helpful business move I've ever made. Not that it's generated sales, but it's generated ATTENTION, and I think that's more important at this stage of things. I already know what January's is gonna be, I should have it done by the end of the weekend.

3. At least one pay pattern a month. I'm a little behind right now, but I'd like to be able to release at least one a month. I mean, the first month I made amigurumi's I released three in a week! So I know I can do it, though the testing obviously lengthens the process. I did release one in December, though (Blub Blub), and Santana Squid is just waiting for the finishing touches, so I can roll him out for January - that buys me some time. ;)

4. Keep pushing myself to take long walks expressly for photography. Almost all of my best work seems to come when I go out and walk and explore with an eye towards taking pictures. I need to keep making sure that when unusual events happen (like a blizzard, or lovely fall weather) I'm out there striking while the iron is hot, and not missing my chance to enhance my portfolio.

5. Experiment with the cards. One of my friends suggested that I try decorating the borders of the cards with stamping and embossing. I meant to try it but haven't had the time yet, but I bought a few stamps, ink and embossing powder. A different friend sent me a stamped and embossed Christmas card that she made herself, and I thought it looked very nice, and makes me think that if I'm tasteful about this, it could enable me to fancy-up some of my cards, and raise the prices, too.

6. Go to at least one craft show. I need to start giving out massive numbers of these business cards I've got, to people who might actually buy something. I think successful craft showing is going to be a very important part of this process, particularly for the photography. The cards don't scan terribly well, but everyone who has commented on an actual finished product that they've physically since has told me they look lovely - and since they weren't all my friends, I think I believe them for the most part. :) I already know which one I'd like to do first, it's called Odd Mall, it's in Ohio, and it's a juried show run by an acquaintance of mine (an artist whose work I have bought a couple times) - and based on the description of the show, I think I can pass muster on the jury part, as the main requirement is that your work be, well, odd (or at least quirky ;) ). Maybe not an ideal market for the photography, but definitely an appropriate one for the dolls - and I will know people there, because a handful of the artists whose work I collect are likely to be there. The problem is that it's the second weekend of May. I have been invited to weddings on the first weekend of May, the third weekend of May and the fourth weekend of May, and these weddings are in Kentucky, Bali (yes, Indonesia), and Michigan, respectively. I'm already committed to going to the first two. And I have a whole bunch of day job stuff that is going to have to happen and can't be done while traveling. So I'm not sure this is at all a good idea...but that's never really stopped me before. But I may have a breakdown in June. :)

7. Maintain the friendships I've been making with other crafters. This has been absolute essential for my motivation and inspiration since I joined these communities, and it's not just about the other amigurumi makers. It's time consuming maintaining all of the contacts, but I enjoy it, I like ya'll, and I want to make it work.

8. Maintain this blog. I've pulled it off for 4 months so far, I think I can keep it going. I think it's pretty important, it's a great way to share yourself, your work, and get yourself out there. I've found that people seem more likely to find me here than on Etsy (heck, for some reason people seem to be more able to find me on Flickr than on Etsy, sigh).

9. Hone my skills and learn some patience. Of late I've been experimenting and learning new crochet techniques. It's improving my work, and I want to keep it up. As for patience, I specifically mean patience while crocheting. I have a very bad habit of looking at something I've spent four hours on, thinking there are some problems, and then finishing it anyway. I need to learn to take a deep breath and undo all that work, if it means the finished product will be better. It's hard, but I think it's important. (which is not to say I've never frogged part of a project, cause I've have on most of the things I've made; I frogged a big chunk of the peacock three times, that's why it took so damn long to make - just that I don't do it as often I know I really should).

10. Turn a profit. Even if it's only a single damn penny, I'd really like to end Year 2 in the green. :)

11. Submit paperwork for a sole proprietorship. This will cost $25, but will open some options, especially local craft shows, which require that I have at least sole proprietorship and that I have it set up to pay state sales tax.

I wrote in FB today, and I think it's true, that I have the feeling that 2011 is going to be a year of a lot of hard work and relatively little reward, and that 2012 is the year where things are going to fall in to place. I can live with that. I just have to make sure I put the hard work in.

Happy New Year! I hope you all have a great year!! :)

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