Walk with me, every step of the way as i try to grow my teeny craft business into something sustainable… watch this space!

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Success List

ok to be happy with a calm life

This week I have decided to continue on from last weeks thought, only with a more positive spin. I talked about losing motivation, due to completing so much… but I didn’t feel happy I had completed so much like you’d expect… I felt overwhelmed, lost, directionless and doubt had started to set in. Then, just when I needed it I got the Create & Thrive newsletter delivered to my inbox. It was just the pick me up I needed. The thing that caught my eye was this post entitled ‘The Success List’ where Jess listed what success means to her. It sounded like she enjoyed the process quite a lot;

“It’s amazing how writing this list opens you up – not only to the possibilities, but also to the awesome things you already have in your life!”

Although I enjoyed reading hers, I wasn’t completely sold on writing my own… it all felt a bit narcissistic and when you think (as Jess points out early in the piece) that when you work for yourself business success and personal success are very closely related. At times it can be hard to see where one starts and the other stops. That said, it is quite a personal exercise. I mean it’s hardly shouting from the rooftops, writing it on my blog is a slightly smaller stage, but it seems just as scary and very public.

At the end of her post Jess goes on to challenge us to write our own. Never one to back down from a challenge I decided to give it shot. I was very surprised with the results!

Success Is…

…being brave enough to make the huge leap and quit my 9-5 job

…not being afraid to put myself out there, to email around, make connections, meet people. To promote not only my work, but at the end of the day myself

…being able to do my hobby, my passion, the thing I do by choice in my spare time everyday as my job

…having completed two ‘self employed tax returns’ myself

…wearing all the hats of the business process myself, from concept to shipping (and everything in between)

…learning something new everyday to make what I do easier and more efficient. If it’s going to work, and grow, I may as well work smarter not harder

…choosing my own hours

…working in my PJs if I feel like it

…having a cooked lunch on a cold day because the kitchen is right there

…going outside to have a coffee in the sun in the middle of the day, if I feel like it

…making things every day

…making things I want to wear which I am lucky enough that people also want to buy

…having more than just my husband reading my blog and my best friend commenting on my Facebook business page

…making connections with people all over the world who do the same kinds of things that I do, brought together by the power of the internet

…getting  up bright and early on a Monday morning and deciding to take a stroll to the beach first thing and start work a bit later (today!)

…doing the work I want to do and doing it when I want to (not working to someone else’s schedule)

…being happy

life happy to be living it

In the future, Success will be…

…supporting my husband and I both financially, so he can follow his dream too

…being able to employ someone to do the bit’s I don’t have time for any more as things have grown bigger…

…to take this dog and pony show on the road! I’d love to buy a wee caravan and travel round NZ working as we go and I love that what I am doing I can do anywhere if we decided to move city or country

…“teaching people that they CAN live life differently and make a living following their passion” This one I copied from Jess. She has been such an inspiration to me and I hope I can pay it forward and do the same for someone else in the future

…buying a house


Oh wait, it looks like we’re already there!

Gosh, what a learning curve writing that was. Firstly I was surprised how long it took me. It took me a good 15/20 minutes staring at my computer to come up with the firs two things… When I was finished I had to go through and take out all the negatives I had included… such as “Being brave enough, or possibly stupid enough to make the huge leap and quit my 9-5 job“. Before I started writing this I was pretty sceptical. It felt a bit egotistical… maybe because I’m publishing it on the internet? When I read it over to edit it at the end I had a bit of an emotional ‘moment’.  This exercise had left me feeling so lucky. I would highly recommend doing one yourself, even if you don’t want to publish it online…



Fake It Till You Make It

The week before last I talked about how, what I wear and when I get up affects how I work. The gist was; it doesn’t. In my three months of self employment I have never had a problem with motivation, keeping busy or keeping focussed. Yet by writing that simple blog post I seem to have jinxed myself in some horrible way.

It's all or nothing...

It’s all or nothing…

To be fair, a couple of things happened simultaneously, not just the bad luck that comes with professing your own awesomeness publicly. I completed my To Do List. A mental list which, along the way, has taken at least 50 physical paper states and just as many digital. A list I started this time last year, that’s right a year long list… because that’s how I roll, apparently. Since the inception of this list I have been flat out, luckily for me I’ve never been particularly good at sitting still anyway, especially when there is a lot to do. Last June/ July I started wedding planning, which continued on through till October when the Christmas rush started and took over most of my focus (at both my full time day job and my Jewellery business) – this went on, as you’d imagine, till late December. Then there was actual Christmas, New Years, wedding planning was of course still ticking away in the background while all this was happening. January was full of the stress involved in deciding to, and then actually, quitting my 9-5 job. February was making sure all the shops I deal with had enough stock as I was about to go away, finishing up my day job, and jumping head first into the idea of self employment… but first I decided to add a huge dollop of stress to the equation of doing so by spending all my savings on… March, the wedding and all the related stress and good times that go along with such an occasion, then a two month honeymoon in Asia. While (don’t get me wrong) the honeymoon was great fun and relaxing for the most part we did it more like backpackers than normal honeymooners, so there were many logistics to organise, travelling, culture shock, new food, even when it was good… there was always something going on to think about and keep us busy. In May when we got back I started on the Jewellery related list that had been niggling un-resolved since August when I stopped having time for such things, contacting shops, taking new product shots, starting on some new lines, re-opening my Etsy shop, new packaging & logo design, getting a Facebook routine, opening a Pinterest account, starting a Blog, doing tax, getting a handle on accounting.. the list was endless… and I chipped away at it in some way every waking hour, every day of the week.

Two Thursdays ago I got up and realised I had nothing ‘To Do’. Don’t get me wrong, there is ALWAYS something to do in a business like this, and I still have many ideas sketched out, or things on the back burner. But for the first time since this time last year I felt like I deserved a day off, so I went back to bed.

It was a great day! I read, relaxed and stayed warm. I met a friend for a drink in the afternoon and then another for a big catch up in the evening (many beers followed).

The next day I was hungover, I slept in a wee bit. When I got up I had no direction… no purpose… I procrastinated finding something useful to do. Then the doubt set in, the ‘can I really do this’ moment we all have from time to time. It’s winter, it’s a slow time of year… nothing much sells in winter, bank levels dip as does confidence. What to do in the quiet months is an endless battle with your internal voice- ‘Make more stock, you’ll need it come the busy season when you’ll have no time to make it’ fights with ‘I have so much stock, no one will ever buy it all’. Being able to quell that inner voice, to busy it with next season’s products, getting a handle on accounts, a new project… is key. Fake it till you make it they say… I say let’s make another ‘To Do list’!

Hmmm, they might be on to something!

Hmmm, they might be on to something!

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Make Love to the Camera

May 2010, my first ever product shots, luckily just for my records as everything about them are a good example of what not to do , it's all bad

May 2010, my first ever product shots, luckily just for my records as everything about them are a good example of what not to do , it’s all bad

Everyone knows how to take a photo, be it a holiday snap, a family portrait or a selfie, we’ve all attempted one at some point with varying results. But taking a photo to sell something online is something completely different and something that eludes many, including me. After the failure of my first batch listing on Etsy (I sold one thing, out of about 30, I’m calling failure). I was disheartened, but it was at a time I still had a full time job so I didn’t let it bother me too much. Now that I am selling full time it’s a bit more important… so I started to read other people’s tips on what makes and what breaks an Etsy shop.  There are many things that will instantly be the make or break of your shop, but the most obvious to address first seemed to be photography.

I have read time and time again, it’s not the camera you have it’s how you use it. My trusty 10 year old Cannon point and shoot had been used tirelessly for previous product shots, had travelled with me through Europe and Asia and sadly had been dropped more times than I can remember. It was my trusty companion through the good and the bad times. But when (in Asia) it started turning off mid photo I realised it was time to retire the old girl. In Japan, home to cheap ‘last season’ electronics (that haven’t even been released in NZ yet) hubby and I decided to buy a new camera. I wanted a pocket sized point and shoot, my new husband wanted a digital SLR. We settled on a bit of both with a pancake camera (a small point a shoot with huge lenses that can be attached at whim- something for him AND her, if you will) but the reviews we found online weren’t very good… so after much trial and error at a multitude of Japanese electronics stores we settled on two cameras (still heaps cheaper in NZ dollars than just buying the camera my husband wanted if it were purchased on our fine shores). So we both got what we wanted. I got a small-ish point and shoot for holidays, he got a big, chunky, seriously zoomey digital SLR for hobby photography that I could also use for product photography… win, win.

L-R: My trusty camera of 10 years, My new point and shoot, My husbands new toy/ my product photo tool

L-R: My trusty camera of 10 years, My new point and shoot, My husbands new toy/ My product photo tool

Of course when I tried to use his for my first round of Etsy shots, never having picked it up before, I had no idea what I was doing (photos below of the camera in action, with varying results- this was the first and last time I used it). A serious read of the manual was in order, and I didn’t have time for that. So for the time being I decided to use my point and shoot… and I have to say it’s done me pretty well so far!

I like to think I understand composition, or at least that I know what works when photographing my own products. But something that drove me nuts time and time again was wanting but not knowing how to achieve a cohesive looking online shop. This was due mainly to lighting. I had read that natural light is the best light, so had taken my photos near a large window. That was all well and good but it restricted me in many ways- I could only take photos on bright sunny days (not something that happens often in Wellington), each time I took the photos the sun was a slightly different intensity, and the photos showed this in many ways…

All of these photos are taken on the same camera setting, in a light box, with different light source

All of these photos are taken on the same camera setting, on the same day. Each with a different light source, some with natural light, some with a light bulb, some a lamp. None have been edited online afterwards. Not so cohesive are they!

Looking back now two things would have immediately helped my shop look cohesive (even without a camera upgrade).

A light box is key – no matter what kind of lighting you are using, it diffuses the light and keeps it even- especially good if you are photographing reflective objects like glass (it reduces the reflection and glare they can cause). I had heaps of fun (and all with a minimal amount of swearing) re-creating one I found on Pinterest. It was my first Pinterest project and I felt it was a success…

L-R: My lightbox inspiration (on Pinterest), My attempt, The lightbox in action

L-R: My light box inspiration (on Pinterest), My attempt, The light box in action

Some post photo editing – Something the many guides to photographing your work for successful online sales tell you is that (unlike I had previously assumed) taking the photo isn’t the end of the process, it’s the beginning. Image editing software is your best friend, and the only way (for me at least) to get the photo I imagine in my mind’s eye is to use it. It’s a shame really as after spending so much time creating a light box, finding the perfect lighting balance and getting a good composition, to have to edit on a computer felt a bit cheap and dirty… like I was cheating the system. But oh how it works, and I’ve never looked back.

Editing post shoot can be your saviour in many ways you may not realise. You can crop something you don’t like out, zoom in on something you do (assuming your camera is high enough quality to not leave the results pixelated), you can get rid of a bit of fluff you see on your background (that you curse yourself for not noticing while taking the photo in the first place). For me the most important bit of this was matching the lighting with my other listings, to create the cohesive look I mentioned earlier. When brightening, lightening or editing the colours it’s important to remember you still need to accurately show the colour of the product as the person buying  it can’t see it ‘in the flesh’ to judge it themselves. Just because bumping up the contrast makes an awesome looking photo that doesn’t mean you should (unless it still accurately shows your product and it’s colour).

Am I an expert? Absolutely not. But have I improved? Absolutely. It’s cringe worthy for me to show these off instead of hiding them away and re-doing them at my leisure… but it’s important to compare before and afters, I think. So here is my online shop before and after… I hope you’ll agree the photos at the top aren’t awful composition wise, you can definitely see a style I apparently continue through to the new and improved Etsy shop below. But the colours are all over the place, washed out in some, over contrasted in others and plain old dim and murky in the rest.  The new Etsy shop, below, is clean and fresh, the colours are accurate representations of what is for sale and they are cohesive as a ‘family’ of products.

My a selection of images from my current felt shop -an obvious 'before' as far as lighting and cohesiveness is concerned.... re-taking all these photos is on my new to do list!

A selection of images from my current felt shop -an obvious ‘before’ as far as lighting and cohesiveness is concerned… re-taking all these photos is on my new to do list!

My Etsy shop similar backgrounds & lighting make them feel cohesive

A selection of images from my current Etsy shop similar backgrounds & lighting make them feel cohesive- this is the ‘after’

I am defiantly not a pro, and I have a ways to go (learning how to use the big fancy camera for one), but considering how far I’ve come I’m pretty proud! Do you take your own photos or pay someone else to? Did it take you a long time to get the hang of it? What tips do you wish you could tell yourself starting out? I’d love to hear from you!


The Early Bird Catches the Worm

As someone working from home, and for myself, discipline and motivation are hugely important in the successful running (or failing) of anything I set out to do.

early bird catches the worm

The two things that always seem to be the forefront of people’s minds when you tell them you work from home is how lucky I am to get to:

(1.) sleep in

(2.) work in my pyjamas

I would love to tell them it’s not all roses (I’m more of a Whittaker’s girl) but to be honest on occasion I do both. Occasionally that is, not as a rule, which is the most important bit (that’s what I tell myself anyway.)

I have never been a morning person, I have always found getting up hard. So when I became self employed I decided getting up early was an important thing to push, routine would be the making or breaking of my endeavour and I would work from ‘9-5’ everyday. HA is all I can say to that. If I get up and am at work at 9am I work till 7pm, maybe later, and often again after dinner. If I sleep in a bit and am at work at 10am I work till 9pm… this is just an estimate of course, but my point is, it doesn’t matter when I get up, which days I ‘give myself off’ I end up spending ALL DAY making stuff, planning what to make next, online (or in book) reading how to do things better, faster, smarter. Doing tax, designing packaging, taking photos, editing photos, emailing retailers or listing online. It’s never ending and I love every second of it.

entrepreneurs work harder

Truer words were never spoken

When my husband was working from home, or (years ago) was studying, he would often work in bed or on the couch in his PJ’s. I used to tell him that it wasn’t a conducive work environment, that his brain needed to be in work mode and it couldn’t do that in his PJ’s or in bed. I don’t know where I had heard that… but I believed it, and I got my subsequent nag on.

get up and get dressedNow that the slipper is on the other foot, I’m not sure how I feel about it all. That may be because it is the middle of winter and I achieve more when I can feel my fingers, but currently my lovely husband makes me breakfast and coffee in the morning. I eat the breakfast in bed, take the dishes to the kitchen and the coffee to my studio. I update Facebook, check emails, do the first pinning for the day while I drink the coffee, all of it while I am in my PJ’s. Often this will get the ‘ball rolling’ for the day and I will keep working unaware that I am still in my PJ’s till after lunch when I will either get dressed or continue the day snugly. This of course totally depends on the work I am doing- metal work (dirty and messy) requires getting dressed, as does varnishing (something I do outside). I don’t consciously decide to stay in my PJ’s I just get swept into the day and before I know it half of it is gone.

I recently said something to my Mother about some days not getting dressed and she got her (see above) nag on. So I suppose my question is, if you work from home, do you get dressed? Should you get dressed? Do you achieve more if you do?

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The Only Things Certain in Life – Death and Taxes

Around this time last year I was a frazzled wreck. Still at my full time job, making jewellery in my ‘spare’ time. I had just completed and sent off my first self employed tax return. Not just the normal IR3 that I’ve filled in for the last ten years, but an extra yellow form called an IR10 detailing all the incoming and outgoing money I had dealt with over the year, so I didn’t have to send them a box full of paperwork… When I realised I had to fill it out I was quite excited.

It’s OK, I’ll give you a minute to get the laughter out of your system, I’ll wait.

So grown up

So grown up

I felt so grown up and responsible filling out a form like that. I thought at the time that I kept quite good records, that they were filed in a way that made sense and could be accessed easily. Oh how wrong I was. Filling out this seemingly ‘simple’ form took me weeks with paper strewn all over the floor. I stressed, worried and cursed the ‘language’ that it was written in, I am told it was in English but you could have fooled me.

It wasn’t so much the new and convoluted sounding words they used. Things like Dividends, Liabilities, Depreciation and Bad Debts (who knew there was a good kind)- they could be googled, or sometimes explained in their ‘easy guide to the IR10’. The hard bit was the instructions to explain how to get to the figure you needed, they were so long and had so many steps and variables that by the time I’d got to the end of reading it (no matter how simple or difficult) I’d have to start again to remember what the first bit said… Amidst the haze of 50 steps and descriptions like the one below and a year’s worth of receipts… trust me, it could have been written in Arabic.

“Enter the total amount of purchases and other direct costs as shown in the income statement. Sometimes only the cost of goods sold is shown in the income statement. In these cases, add closing stock to the cost of goods sold and deduct opening stock. The answer should be treated as purchases, although it may include other direct costs. Direct costs (labour and other) of a business that provides services should be treated as purchases. Do not include purchases of assets where the proceeds of sale of the assets have been included in Box 26 (exceptional items).”

How could I know that filling out the damn thing would only be half my problem. As soon as I put it in the post I started to fret. I had filled it out completely honestly, sometimes not claiming things I knew I had spent simply because I couldn’t locate a receipt… But what if I’d filled it out wrong? Would they come and arrest me, or even worse, would they make me fill it out again?

The only things certain in life...

Franklin was right, they really are the only things certain in life…

After a couple of weeks of these worries I looked through the IRD website and discovered they have a FREE workshop to help people fill out their tax forms. I booked myself in, took the morning off work and dragged my boyfriend along (two pairs of ears are better than one). I left feeling confident, realising how little I had claimed compared to what I was allowed to. The worry stopped and I implemented some rather simple things to make impending tax time 2013 a little less stressful. I started ingoing and outgoing folders on my computer; inside each of them was a folder for each month. I collected some envelopes and made one per month for easy receipt stuffing. I started a new ‘tax’ bank account to put money into periodically so I wouldn’t have to save up to pay next year’s bill. It seems so simple looking back, but even these simple steps I hadn’t thought of till that point. I started (and two months later gave up on) an ingoing and outgoing Excel spreadsheet. Most of the stuff I was inputting into the spreadsheet was off the computer so the backwards and forwards between windows was making my head spin, so I went out and bought a nerdy Accounting book, which I of course put in a draw and never looked at again.

Weeks later my bill arrived from IRD, I was over the moon, I owed them exactly what I had calculated I did. Who knew I could be so happy OWING money. I was so pleased with myself. Then a surprise bill arrived from the Student Loan people and another from ACC ‘based on my self employed earnings’ I owed them both a slice too. What a kick in the shin, couldn’t they tell I was possibly the only person in NZ who was excited to be paying them the amount I owed.

So I paid them, begrudgingly, as you can imagine there aren’t really that many other options…

This year will be different

This year will be different, or so I thought…

Which brings us to this year’s tax. I was so much more organised, I had my envelopes, my organized folders, my Accounting book… which when I opened it I realised was totally empty…

Hmmm maybe next year will be my year…