Third phase of Business

The realities of running a craft business

The third stage of running your business

You no longer wake up in the morning wondering where the next bit of business will come from!  You are now firmly standing on your two feet and are now the CEO of your small business, which has started to have a life of its own. You bask in the sunshine of your success, turn your face to the warmth of the sun and think “yes - I am there!”.

So what is this magical, final third part of your business about?   It is about scaling, sharing the load, simplifying your processes and (out) sourcing. And trust me, you will want to read this part as the ending is probably not quite what you think.

Burnout stage of running a business

When you start your business, you do it for the love and the passion that you can bring to the table.  But what they don’t tell you is that as your business grows, based on all that love and passion, it can be tiring.

Really tiring.

And suddenly, as you run around look a lunatic, fueled by your passion for your small business but this passion driven fuel tank is slowly emptying.  There will come a time when the reality is that no matter how many more hours you work, there are only so many hours in a day you can be productive -  you will have hit the wall in terms of time available to earn a living. (Note from Fiona: I've just blogged about burnout here). 

Because at the end of the day, this love for what you are doing has to convert into a wage. A living. A bit of crust.  And if you don’t feel that the amount you are working is turning in to the wage you had hoped for you need to have a serious think about if it is possible to look at other ways to earn your keep. 

I know this as I was that crazy lunatic 18 months ago until I got a whacking case of shingles...

....“Shingles” the nurse said and handed me my blouse….Shingles I mouthed with my forehead wrinkling up in confusion.  “Are you sure” I asked?  "I thought that was just for older people?” as I had a distant memory of my Dad having it a few years back.  The nurse looked at me and I she said to me “it can happen for several reasons but the main reason is a suppressed immune system - in other words, you are run down." 

I knew I had been burning my candle at both ends. The number of workshops was now over 25, we had expanded out in other new areas like corporate training, I had just revamped my website from top to bottom and I was still trying to do everything.

Enough. Mother Nature - and my body - had spoken.  

Learn to take a break when running your own business

And I listened while mending my body and spirit with a few weeks of cancelled workshops to get over shingles.  I decided to I needed to streamline as much as possible about my business which would free up more time.   I also decided to make my workshop schedule more efficient and work smarter.  I also knew that what I really really needed, was someone to help me on the admin front which was the crux of my problem. I kept thinking I was better at getting rid of my work load, but I wasn’t. I just convinced myself I was.  

And so I got myself a Caroline. It took about 4 months but through a series of lucky experiences, I now have Caroline, who has transformed what my working day looks like. She works remotely - albeit about 5 miles away - so much of the time, we use things like DropBox or Evernote to transfer work related stuff. We both love to use technology in order to make us work more efficiently together.  She handles all my scheduling and updates to my website (we are both huge fans of Wordpress and she is ace at troubleshooting) and she is working on a few other websites for me for other projects that are on the horizon.

But the biggest thing that the Caroline experience has taught me is that I can benefit from the help of others. I really had convinced myself that getting someone on board would be more hassle that it was worth.  But shingles told me otherwise.

I also decided to sign up for an online mentoring programme for women in small business but based in the US not the UK. In my research, I found that the US market for small creative businesses was far more along in the development process than the UK and that I would benefit from the fact that is was just that bit ahead of the curve. It cost much more than I would ever thad thought to spend before I had shingles, but it has proven invaluable for me as a resource for just about everything related to what I am doing. This was part of me reaching out to share my load.

And I decided to look at where else my business could develop (or scale if you want the business term) using my experience from having a small business.  The idea of scale is to create additional business from your existing structure by growing it up versus growing it out.  And it is so important if you want your business to change with your customer’s expectations.  

Out is adding more workshops which really isn’t adding anything new….just adding more of the same.  And eventually, your customer base will get enough out of what you offer and want more - if you don’t have it, they will move elsewhere. 

Up is adding something new to your existing business that someone who comes to a workshop could benefit from. In our case, it would make sense to start selling the items that people use in the Studio, which we now do. And in April, we will hosting a one day workshop on creating sustainable small businesses with an equal mix of business help and self-care wisdom. Much of it is based on what I have talked about here in these three posts.

But I also wanted to say that they key to this phase is really looking at your finances.  If you are scaling just to fix a sinking ship, it will be putting good money after bad. I know many businesses in our local area that simply close up shop as scaling will take too long to really help them achieve their financial goals.

Maeri and her dog

What was the most important thing I have done in this phase?

I got a dog. 

WHAAAAAAT? I hear you saying.  

That has nothing to do with having a small business!  Yes - in fact - it does.

After I got shingles, I realised that I was doing very little to keep myself moving.  And when I wasn’t sitting in front of a computer, I was sitting in front of a sewing machine.   And I was always tired. Or about to be tired. Or thinking about being tired. And it was starting to really effect my output (and my trouser size!)

I saw an article about how people who work from home work better when they have a dog. The premise of the article is that a dog at your feet is a reminder that there is more to life than just what you are doing at that moment (we small business owners tend to live in the moment). Your daily partner in crime will want to be petted and need a walk. You can talk to them without worrying about the content. You have a reason to stop what you are doing and throw them a ball.

We got Janie from a local dog’s home in early September of this year and it has been a turning point in being open to new things. She loves to come in to the Studio and check people out when they are busy beavering away at their projects. Walking her has reminded me of how beautiful Autumn is but also how even huge things can seem manageable when you have had a walk in the midday sun.  It gives my mind the freedom to problem solve in a way sitting in front of computer doesn’t. And my sleeping has never been better!

So I know this perhaps wasn’t exactly what you were hoping for in terms of how this series of blog posts would end. I could have listed books to buy and courses to take. But then Fiona’s book has a lot of that covered already and I don’t want to recreate the wheel.  My job in writing this series of blog posts is to show the side of small businesses that perhaps go unsaid or unnoticed.  The sweet and the sour of being a solo-preneur. 

Now if you will excuse me, I have a cold nose pressed to my foot that is reminding me it is time for a walk.

Maeri Howard business tipsMaeri Howard is the founder and owner of the Make and Do Studio, which was started in 2009 as Cheshire’s first boutique crafting studio. Since then, the Studio has helped 100's of women and men learn to make their Pinterest boards a reality with their unique brand of creative workshops. When not busy helping people make time to be creative, she loves to figure out what all the buttons on her DSLR camera are for as well as walk the newest member of the family Janie Dawg, whilst talking to herself with wild abandonment (it keeps her sane!).