I hope you enjoy my new blog, with fluffy love and quacks, Mother Duck xxxx

Monday, 24 February 2014

Craft Fair Dilemma ... small business handmade -v- hobbyist homemade and mass produced

Hello there long time no see!
Apologies for the lack of Blogs but having decided to close Dizzy Ducks Creations in the Autumn of last year my time has been channelled towards slowly selling off the contents of my workroom (still so much left to go) AND working hard to get into a position of launching a new small business; still a way to go with that.
fluffy love Mother Duck xx

Craft Fair Dilemma
A few days ago I was having a chat with a lady who was trying to decide whether her hand knitted items would be something that people would buy at a craft fair. It put me in a rather awkward position because whilst her knitted items were lovely they had an air of 'made by me nan' about them - anyone that wore hand knitted sweaters to school a few decades ago will know what I mean; whilst they were made with love they were still clearly homemade.

I personally believe there is quite a difference between handmade items and homemade; the first giving the suggestion of beautiful individually created items that people would love to buy and the latter being made with love by a family member or friend but not always of the best quality. This is a simplistic description but I think most people will understand where I am coming from.

Some craft fairs do have a selection of stands that are of the 'homemade' variety adjacent to those of small businesses creating stunningly unique individually designed items. We also have to bear in mind that they both can be standing alongside stands selling imported mass produced goods. I personally believe the price point can often guide the customer (should they need the help) which category goods fall into. Many of those selling homemade items, often as a hobby, might place their goods at a lower price point, dare I suggest they might be going for quantity over quality. The sellers of the fine quality handmade goods will be at a price point that allows them to cover price of the materials, overheads and profits. The imports are also often at the lower price point - buy cheap, sell cheap.

It can be soul destroying for a small business selling at craft events to find themselves next to a hobbyist or indeed someone that has bought in their goods. They might find themselves watching people buying items from the others and passing them by; this doesn't mean that their goods are priced too high but it could be as simple as the available funds just are not there. More and more people are tightening their purse strings and they see high quality handmade items as luxury goods and are finding the lesser quality homemade or the imported goods more to their budget. Small businesses, should also bear in mind that whilst they may be watching the homemade hobbyist and the imported goods sell,the sellers are not necessarily making a profit or indeed feel the need to make a profit, they may be happy just to get back the cost of their materials and the stand fee. So standing next to the hobbyist saying I made £300 today when you have made far less than that has to be looked at objectively; that £300 may not take into account all the outgoings involved in stocking their stand and actually standing at the event. I have personally gone home from an event distressed a low sales but having spent the day next to someone selling homemade knitted items being sold at 50p - £5 price point, comfortably competing with the mass produced knitted goods found at the low end stores on the High Street versus my cheapest item at £10 and most expensive being £40+

Here in Yorkshire we seem to have had an increase in people putting on craft events, some more successful than others (trust me I have had a stand at many) often populated by hobbyists encouraged by TV programmes & books convincing them that anyone can make to sell and make money in the process. The answer may be for the small businesses in the crafting world to attend those events that have a selection process, curated to determine the quality of the goods being sold with some guarantee that a high percentage of items to be sold are handmade. 

This will always be an ongoing dilemma but we have to remember that no matter how good the quality of the goods being sold, how well advertised the event is nor how many people through the door, nobody can force customers to open their wallets and buy. 

So what is best homemade or handmade or mass produced at craft events? I think each has its own place but not necessarily all at the same event. 

Sunday, 28 July 2013

I am my own worst customer for bespoke items!

How hard can it be?
After all I do it all the time, for customers
I am trying to create a bag for myself.
Seriously how hard can it be?

I sort of know how big it needs to be and I sort of know how many pockets it needs.
I sort of know just how long the handles should be too.
But I cannot translate that into a sketch, and I don't think I will ever get to the real design stage where I can draw a pattern for my bag.

When I talk to my customers about how they want their bags to look it all seems so much easier; they know sort of what size it needs to be and by talking to them I somehow manage to help them settle on the exact size and shape. So why is that so hard for ME to decide?

When I talk to my customers about what they need to put in their bags we manage to decide on the number of pockets, inside and out. So why is that so hard for ME to decide?

When I talk to my customers they know whether they want zips, magnetic catches, a flap over the top of the bag AND how long they want the handles. So why is that so hard for ME to decide?

The subject of fabric is always the one that causes the biggest problem ... because of course that is what decides what the bag will ultimately look like. The choice isn't as simple as patterned or plain fabrics; the type of fabric really helps decide on the finished structure of the bag, a simple cotton will not have as much structure as canvas for example (although a cotton fabric can be given structure if needed!) I haven't even thought about what fabrics I want to use!

I seriously thought making a bag for myself would be easy, after all I do it for other people but I am totally scuppered. I know that it needs to be large enough to carry all my kit and caboodle and a I prefer longer straps BUT that does not make a bag!

What do you like about your favourite use every day bag?
Do you carry things that need special sized pockets?
Do you like pockets to be on the inside or the outside?
What about zips - love them or hate them?

Tell me about your favourite bag and what makes it your favourite. I need all the help I can get to help me channel my mind into making a bag for me.

I think I might even be tempted into giving away a bag once I have made my own!
So keep watching the Blog (I know I don't write it as often as I should) and you will see my new bag created and I will announce a chance for you too win a new bag - the give away won't be one of my bespoke bags but the winner might have some say in the colours etc (I haven't decided yet)

So please help me create my perfect everyday bag by telling me about yours.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Not on the naughty step - just a time out.

If you follow Dizzy Ducks over on Facebook you will know that I frequently remind everyone that they should take some "me time" - I don't mean a spa break or desert island holiday (although both do sound rather blissful and divine). I mean just a 10 minute break from whatever you are doing to allow you to recoup your energy or flagging spirits.

I am as guilty as the next person for not taking breaks when I am up against a deadline or so into a project I just forget to stop. I have on occasion even forgotten to eat or stop for a drink!

No matter what you do find time in your day for some me time ... a 10 minute break in whatever you are doing (more than one a day would be better) or at the very least a lunch break. If you can, I suggest you leave your work area, a short walk maybe? Take a 10 minute break, a cuppa, lunch, a stroll, a walk round the garden ... ten minutes is often all you need to recoup flagging spirits, especially if you manage to eat or drink in the process.

So take a time out ... and not on the naughty step (unless you think you should) look after yourself, especially if you are working for yourself - I have heard the excuse "but I am a sole trader, if I don't keep going things just don't happen" - I say to those people remember that me, myself and I all become exhausted at the same time when working on your own. If you look after yourself you are making sure you are fit to look after your business.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Refuse to be flattered if they copy your work!

'It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation' .. Herman Melville

Imagine the scenario ... you have an idea, you sketch and re-sketch until you think it is just right. You then spend time creating the item to see if the idea will work, you work and re-work it until you are happy with it. Then the fun begins you get to do more research looking for suitable materials to create it in a form that you think it might sell. You order the materials and get excited when they arrive. After unpacking them, checking and rechecking your sketches and patterns you take the plunge and go for it; carefully and lovingly creating the finished item. Hurrah, it looks amazing and you can't wait to see what your customers think. You work and re-work the costing of the item making sure that you have dotted the i's and crossed the t's - you are happy with the figure you finally come up with.

Then there is more planning in preparation for the launch of the new item; it needs photographing and the words writing to describe it, making sure you show it at its best. Finally you are ready to launch it via whatever sales platform you are going to use, you announce it on your Blog, Facebook Page, Website etc and you wait, a little bit afraid that nobody will like it. If you got all the planning right someone will think it is wonderful and want to buy it; then you allow yourself to sigh in relief, especially if more than one person wants to buy it!

Then it happens, something that many crafter designers dread, you are told that so & so are selling a bag, box, vase, ring or whatever your wonderful new item is on their website, Facebook page, etc  you grit your teeth, try hard not to get angry and upset as you go in search of your item being sold somewhere else. There it is, maybe the colour is a little different and you are convinced the quality is no where near as good as yours BUT it is your new design in all its glory. What do you do next? If you are an emotional person you are likely to shout, maybe even scream and possible cry. After all, you put in all that hard work, for some crafter designers a new design will be years in the making, you can't believe that somebody has done this to you.

What do you do next? Some people will just brush it off and say hey its ok everyone gets copied at some time, others will prepare themselves for a battle and do everything they can to claim back their design as their own. If you want to do that, seek advice first, don't go in there all guns blazing, know exactly where you stand in the law etc. Just knowing it is your design is not enough to stop someone copying it and using it to make themselves a profit.

In the past I was told that I should be flattered that someone has copied my work. I wasn't, trust me. I was emotional, angry and weeping all over the place. I wasn't able to do anything about it at the time but I learnt from the experience. I try to make sure that photographs of my work have my mark on them ... often the company name, my name and the month/year. I have stopped sharing work in progress photos on Facebook, and I tend to only share ideas with people I trust but much of my new work never sees the light of day because I feel they are too easy to copy.

What I am trying to say here is, should you be tempted to copy anyone, stop and think before you do, think about all the hard work the designer has to put in BEFORE they created an object they considered ready to sell. After all think of what work YOU have to put in when you steal a design ... you may be able to copy the idea from photographs but you still have to figure out how the original was made; with some items it may be easy but with others you will have to buy the item and de-construct it, make a pattern and work from it. That is actually a lot of work, people, including me, have called those that copy LAZY but actually copying a design can be hard work too, the lazy part is the actual stealing the idea/concept.

Please be unique, use all the energy you have to copy in creating your own designs, give it a go you might be surprised at what you can do.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Lists,sticky notes & mind mapping BUT what is the answer?

No matter how hard I think things are as a self employed home worker I know that by some planning and hard work on my part I can actually make it easier.

How many people have a rolling to do list - one that never ends - as you take one job off the top you add half a dozen to the bottom. What happens to the BIG stuff, the important stuff that you know you have to do but avoid doing, those things that are perhaps a bit scary to face up to. Where do they go? Do you just hope you will get round to them soon or are you proactive and push through those scary phone calls and emails/letters? Mother Duck has lists upon lists upon lists and can guarantee that somewhere along the line something important will get lost or forgotten.
I am addicted to little sticky notes, in bright colours; I stick them on the shelf above my desk, on the desk, in my diary, indeed anywhere that I think they might act as a prompt to make me do something from the to do list. They fall on the floor, get lost and another 'thing' is forgotten.

At the start of each month I try to create a mind map of the month - appointments, events I am standing at, orders to complete etc. from that I try to create a further mind map that should enable me to see exactly what has to be done for each appointment/event. On a good month this works but it is by no means foolproof, some things still get forgotten and have to be shunted to the next month.

I have a business diary, a family diary and a personal diary!
I have to make sure that all three match but can guarantee that something will get missed out.

I am trying to find the perfect answer ... I have tried wall charts, to do lists, mind maps, diaries and the throw it all in the air in frustration method. I haven't yet found the one method that works for me, although I have to say mind mapping is the better of my choices, for me.

One thing I do try to do is move those important items off of the general to do list. I take those one by one and face them head on. They may be the most scary, which is why they have sat on the to do list for so long, but they are usually things that make me move a step closer to a more successful business. They make me acknowledge that I am a small business, that I have to answer to me and my customers if I fail to meet a deadline.

So what is the answer? I am sure that there are books on the market that will give you advice on how to organise your life, office or business. I have read many books giving advice on running a small business, running a craft orientated business, how to Blog (I'm still learning) indeed I have a shelf full of advice for my small business. I have used some of it successfully, some not so successfully and yet I struggle to find the most perfect way to organise myself and my workroom.

I am sticking (pardon the pun) to using my little coloured sticky notes and mind maps and I will be taking those scary items off my to do list one by one and facing them head on ... OK maybe I'll start with those tomorrow.

Anyone have any hints and tips to help organise this daft old duck they really would be much appreciated, leave me a comment.

Friday, 10 May 2013

But my Muse likes the mess

My workroom is in CHAOS!
Indeed it is getting out of hand; so yesterday I decided to tackle it, to put everything back in boxes and onto shelves - a big mistake. I started to discover some beautiful items which in turn sparked ideas which I just had to get down on paper; then of course I had to try some of the ideas which generated more chaos.

When in total chaos I do find that it winds me up and screams at me BUT this is whilst I am creating orders and stock. I don't like the clinical look of a perfectly clean and immaculately tidy workspace but I can no longer work scrabbling for a tiny bit of clear table space. It would be nice to be able to work at my desk without feeling claustrophobic from the piles of paperwork on each side and often obscuring the computer.

So I have pushed some papers, beads, ribbons, glues and other wonderful crafty goodies aside and started to create. I cannot see the desk top. I cannot see either work table. I cannot see most of the floor. I am not proud of myself but I cannot switch off my muse when it strikes.

I have some AMAZING shelves in the workroom AND most of the contents of the workroom do fit into boxes and onto the shelves.

BUT when I am creating I tend to take different bits from different boxes and stack the boxes on the floor next to me as I work. After I have knocked the boxes flying a few times I try and put all but the most essential ones back on the shelves BUT then they come out again because you can guarantee there is something I really need that I put back on the shelves.

It is a vicious circle.
I need taking in hand, I need an assistant, not in any real role just a wee person to sit on my shoulder reminding me to clear away as I move from job to job. To encourage me to tackle it without giving in to the temptation to create something new from treasures I find during the process.

Every so often I take a few days off and clear the workroom, until it looks terribly clean and organised. Massive work spaces uncovered, recycling dealt with, rubbish dealt with; all surfaces cleared and cleaned. Once this is done I then really struggle to become enthusiastic about being creative, almost scared to move anything, accompanied by a total creative block. My muse seems to leave home whenever I tidy the workspace completely and yet I don't see the point in doing half the job. I am sure it would be easier if I only did one type of crafting but I don't, I have so many irons in the fire (not all for the business) that it really is the problem. Yesterday somebody suggested that I tidy it in sections over the space of a week but I can't afford to take a week away from orders and creating stock.

My son took this picture of me, when we could see some of the work table ... he says I am wearing my halo BUT I am too ashamed to take a pix of what it looks like now!

In my past lives in office admin and teaching I had to be organised and tidy; often running several diaries for different people, working on lesson plans, marking etc etc BUT since I have let my creative muse take charge things have gone to chaos! The organised me exited stage left as my muse entered stage right.

How do you work?
Are you a super tidy workspace person of happy in chaos person?
Do you have any hints and tips you can share that might help organise this disorganised old duck?

love & fluffy hugs from a frustrated organised soul turned crafter
Mother Duck x

Friday, 3 May 2013

"It's the way you do it"

I have been a sole trader self employed crafter/designer/maker for a few years now and still my biggest problem is time management. When I was a teacher it was not a problem; when employed in various office roles it was not a problem. So why is it now?

Part of the problem is that I work from home; I know I am not alone in this as there are many people in different sectors working from home. Suddenly our working environment is the laundry, the dining room, the playroom or all of them. Our families and friends find it difficult (as do I, often) to distinguish between just being at home and working. 

So how do you solve the frequent visits, quick coffees and invitations to go out problem; how do you manage to get family and friends to accept that even though you don't leave the house you are working? 

I asked a friend this question recently and the reply was "it's the way you do it". I must have looked at her a little strange because she then tried to explain, at length, what I was doing wrong and how she thought I could put it right. In a nutshell she explained that I need to set boundaries, have fixed working hours and be stronger in saying no when asked out for a coffee. Simples!

Taking that advice on board I am now lucky enough to have a dedicated workroom in the house, making it easier to close the door on the rest of the house, especially at the end of my working day. I have looked at the number of hours I work and have tried to set fixed working hours; my hours are now 10 - 4 daily (Monday - Friday) BUT I often work evenings and of course weekends when doing craft fairs. If I have a craft fair at the weekend then I do allow myself time off during the week to counter the extra evenings/days.

This is all very well in theory but how do I train my family and friends to stick to my working hours? How do I train myself because I cannot control when I feel creative, when a new idea will pop into my head that I just HAVE to sketch/sew/make etc. So will find myself sketching on a napkin or scrap of paper when out with friends or at 3am when the idea just won't go away.

I don't have the answers, although I have started to plan my time better ... I love mind maps and find they are the best way for me to plan. I look at each month and try to map it ... looking at each craft fair, wedding fair and appointment deciding what they need in terms of stock to be made and supplies to be purchased.
I have abandoned my traditional style 'to do list' and each day I select one thing that I know I have been putting off and try to tackle it. I am playing with my to do list in that I avoid it being longer than 5 items long each day ... although I can of course add something new to the bottom if I cross an item off the top. Just a couple of things I am doing to make my day more effective.
This works to a certain degree but I still get easily distracted from what I should be doing by a coffee out.

I am fighting the time management demons and if anyone has any methods I could try to improve my success rate please let me know.

love & fluffy hugs from
Mother Duck