14 December 2007

Well, hang it all!

Just a quick blog today - had a query from a shop in Dorset saying they love my Let's Sail Away Wallhanging and did I do wholesale? Am chuffed to bits that they like it enough to ask! I know little about the ins and outs of wholesale apart from the fact that it can mean working to tight deadlines for little money BUT I have had some advice on what to watch out for from some dear people (you know who you are) and I thank them heartily for it.

And so I shall wait to hear more and then make my decision. Who knows?

But it's nice to be asked....

11 December 2007

The Quiet Time

As those of you who read my blog yesterday will know, I spent most of the last few days sitting with the littlest one on my lap. Lovely on the one hand as I not only got those cuddles, but time to think as well. Unfortunately the other hand provided the downside; this time to think meant my mind dwelt on the problem of what seems to be referred to in small business land as 'The Quiet Time' - specifically January and February. Now I have worked hard to avoid thinking about this for now as it has taken all my energy to get this project off the ground and keep up with the unexpected (but lovely) early success of it. This is not how I usually work. I worry over a problem until I come up with a few possible things to try, decide on the one that appears to offer the most possibilities and then give it my all. This time I think it feels too big or maybe I am just a bit tired; either way, I have swerved around the problem of The Quiet Time and left it well alone for the moment...or so I thought. Yesterday the Quiet became a booming noise insistently crashing in my brain, refusing to be quelled and demanding to be dealt with.

I wonder what other small businesses of a similar ilk do in these months when we all nurse our over-stretched purse strings? I guess established groups have long term custom that call for those gifts/birthday presents/treats that sell all year come what may, but when the business is as new as mine (still only 3 months) then this is unlikely to be the case. One avenue I hope may help a little is the NoTHs 'store' which I joined recently, but the bulk of their sales also come in the lead up to Christmas and so I expect a drop off there too.

Of course, this could be a wonderful time for exploring new designs for the Spring, a time to play with fabrics and let the imagination become immersed in the warmer months without the pressure of fulfilling orders needed in a hurry....that's if you live in the land of Country Living (where I would sooo love to live!) and have a hubby who works in the City or is a property developer or...well, you get the gist. Many of these people we read about have another string to the financial bow in terms of a partner with fairly substantial earnings. Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to belittle what these people do just point out that the risk is not the same. For us, as with so many of you, the business is a huge risk as we need the income. Should I be doing this or should I be going back to a regular wage? With the instant orders that rolled in it has been easy to believe I am doing the right thing - that was until The Quiet Time shouted in my ear.

I have a few things up my sleeve, one of which is going onto my website later today -my Heirloom Cloth (shown in yesterday's pics for some reason!). This has been something of a pet project of mine, tried and tested on a wide group of people in Cornwall and seems to have struck a cord in a way I hadn't quite expected. The notion was simple...a cotton cloth which I send out complete with indelible pen which your family/friends/whoever is around your table sign and which is then returned to me in the bag provided to have the names embroidered as a permanent reminder, as an heirloom to be passed down through the years. I sold some and was pleased with the reactions to the idea even from people who I admit I thought would not particularly want this kind of thing. Word spread a little and I sold a few more. Now I am beginning to think I am on to something as I have been asked by quite a few people for one of these cloths. Some want to know if the names can be embroidered in colours; others want to know if they can have messages. One lady wanted to know if I could scallop the edges and did I know how to do drawn threadwork (where you create decorative holes in the cloth). The answer to all these was yes and so the Heirloom Cloth was born and will bring in a tiny, but important nonetheless, income in The Quiet Months as these cloths return for their names to be stitched.

Just need to think of a few dozen more of these Good Ideas!!!!

Pipany xx

Ps. If you are after a gorgeous Christmas door wreath and can't make your own have a look at the ones made by Jane of Snapdragon; they are truly beautiful - the best I've seen - and there's still time to order!

The Big Match

It's funny how things go. There you are one minute feeling as though you have things sorted, under control, and then it all changes. I was feeling a tad smug that's the problem. On top of orders, nay ahead of myself I'd go so far as to say, and even thinking about scribbling some ideas onto paper for next year - ways to move things on, new products, etc - but the gods were bored up there on their fluffy clouds and decided to bring some reality back into the world of Miss Pipany-too-high-on-her-pedestal.

We had storms and on the Sunday a walloping great willow departed from the hedge to land crashing into two gardens which run down the length of ours. It took a fence or two on its merry way and telephone cables to boot; miraculously no-one was hurt and the neighbour's new, partly-finished garage build was left intact, but there it is lying like some vast creature across two previously neat gardens while our own lies untouched by its descent....which means the insurance won't touch us. Only if our own buildings, fences, etc had been touched would they have helped. Lovely.

But this was not enough for the gods...no, Pipany had been just too cheery in her little sewing room so they made sure the 77mile an hour winds also drove the torrential rains into her precious sewing room and thus she ran with bucket to hand and almost wept at the potential devastation the night could bring. Peachy.

Enough surely, I hear you cry. Er, that would be a no. Determination straightening her spine and manically shouting 'Ha, Bring it on!!' to the world at large, Pipany then found a further challenge to the running of her empire-ette (I kid myself)...Isabella got croup. Now, to the uninitiated let me tell you what this usually means; the nights have passed in a blur of wheezing, crying and coughing fit for a Dickensian novel. Bless her little socks. She has been poorly and wanting to sit on her Mummy's lap, while her Mummy has been sitting thinking about the orders needing to be completed in the erste-while dry sewing room and also nursing dark thoughts about insurance companies which may/may not involve dolls and pins!

And sew (forgive me, but I am truly sleep-deprived!) to end this sorry tale on a brighter note.... did the gods win? Did they heck! This is me and I will not be flipping beaten quite yet! The tree will be turned into much firewood at vast expense, but ah well, at least no-one was hurt. The sewing room has been sealed up and nothing got wet so that could have been worse. And poor little Isabella being poorly means my tiny whirlwind actually sat snuggled up for extended periods rather than racing off to new adventures every two minutes which was pure bliss for a mummy who loves to cuddle (and sit come to think of it).

And as for the empire? The orders are done and packaged ready for the off (what else are the midnight hours for?) and I have written down a few ideas for next year after all. I have finally worked out how to market my heirloom tablecloth as a kit and will be putting it onto my website tomorrow which I am quite excited about...or I would be if only I didn't have this need to curl up and snooze...just for a minute...honest...

The Final Result

The gods - 0 Pipany - 1


Pipany xx

4 December 2007


Ship, Ship Sailing Game

The last week has flown in a flurry of adding yet more new skills to my repertoire. Having mastered the management of my own website I also had to set up shop within the NOTHS store and this of course involved a completely different system to my own. Reams of advice, rules, regulations and 'how to' appeared on the screen. Not very encouraging. I had orders calling me back to the sewing room, but knew that having invested my money I needed to get this new site up and running to maximise the selling potential for Christmas. I worked all through Sunday, most of Monday and a bit of Tuesday, and finally it was ready for me to click the activation button. The site was live by Monday evening and actually wasn't as bad as I thought it would be to do. I suppose I actually know what I am doing now rather than feeling the world of websites is beyond me.

So, to todays lesson....don't let yourself be put off.

A business needs a website in this computer savvy world and therefore it pays to learn the skills. Most of the sites, whether a package set up such as www.moonfruit.com , the one I used for my own site, or a portal site such as NOTHS there is usually plenty of info to guide you through. It may seem off-putting but, trust me, it is just a case of sitting there and doing it. Anyone who has filled in endless forms for Child Benefit, Tax Credits, etc is more than capable of working through this kind of information. What you need to remember is that these companies want your business; it doesn't pay them to make it impossible for their customers to do, espeially as anything internet based is already part of a highly competitive market.

And lesson no.2....TIME.

These sites are your showcase. They are your way of reaching a potentially wider marketplace than any number of shops, fairs and occasional magazine articles can ever do, not that these aren't all worthwhile and necessary means of promoting a business too. The global market is huge and can be accessed by most, but for it to be effective you must be competitive - the layout, the copy used to sell your goods and the images all have to work together as the problem with such a massive market is that the competition is also massive. All this takes time and effort which will take you away from producing the stock you need. It's a dilemma and definitely suggests paying a website designer would be the way to go, but for most small businesses this is an impossible cost to justify.

What's the answer? Determination and endless energy I suspect! Certainly scheduling in time for this important work is a definite must. Though not difficult once you are familiar with the format, it is not something to be considered an after-thought and, as with any good shop, there is a need to move things around and add/remove stock periodically to avoid a stale look which will stop people from returning. Again more time. Certainly in my own case where I am now effectively maintaining two sites, it is time for me to move away from lists on bits of paper and move to an organised yearly planner where all these things are given an allotted space and do not get pushed to the backburner (soory Zoe, bit slow but I got there in the end!).

Time...don't underestimate it.

Oh and before I go, a little update on NOTHS - my store went live on Monday evening and yesterday I received two quite substantial orders; the beating heart is stilled...just a little.

Pipany x

30 November 2007

My decision.

The cowardly part of me wants to tell a wee, well a huge, fib and say I decided not to go ahead with the offer re: Notonthehighstreet.com (NOTHS) for fear of the resounding tut-tuts which may follow close behind; perhaps a part of me feels these tuts are completely justified? Whatever the reason, I am finding this a hard blog to start, so I'll just grit my teeth and go for it...

After a day of umming and aahing, a day where I desperately sought and got advice, thoughts, etc from you wonderful people - Thank You all - I at last came to a decision. My head was pounding from the stress of it all, the endless projecting of imminent failure and loss of money over the possibility of increasing sales, if not immediately then for the future. I received many thoughts from others in a similar boat, some of whom have gone ahead with NOTHS and some who chose not to, and also was lucky enough to have some give me the benefit of their own facts and figures since joining this company - something I cannot thank you for enough. It was this insider-info which helped in my final analysis of things; not one of these people claimed to be making a killing and not one of them painted a picture so rosy the apple was impossible to resist. What worked for me was their unfailing honesty, something which has drawn me to their blogs in the past. They pointed out the pitfalls and they are things which I had already earmarked as possible concerns. For one, I will not be able to have a link to my own website. Also, the commission costs are high, meaning that any income will be lower than if people buy directly through my site. Ok, how do you get round these problems?

Well, firstly although the lack of a direct link is annoying, I will have my own shop that showcases my products. Whenever I have browsed this site in the past I have usually noted the names of the companies which I particularly like and searched to see if they have a site of their own outside of NOTHs. I don't think I am unusual in this. Todays shoppers want to buy into a lifestyle; we want to know about the company we are buying from, particularly I think in the case of handmade goods. The background matters. There is a need to know that the person making the item you are putting money toward cares about what she/he does; surely that is why so many of us love magazines such as CL (I know, I know!). Also, this will be one of the ways I shall market the business. It may be my biggest outlay so far, but I hope it will reach a far larger audience than I am able to from Cornwall. Should I decide to do large fairs, etc then it is not just the cost of the stalls to take into account - fuel costs from the back-of-beyond are a high consideration as all fairs worth doing are a long way from South Cornwall. I am not saying this is a route I won't explore, merely that it is not the quick fix that it can sound. One fair alone could come close to the cost of the outlay for NOTHS and would need high sales to recoup.

Sounds like I am talking myself into it doesn't it? Dave came home last night while I was still hovering, not sure what to do. I had contacted NOTHS and had some queries answered promptly and clearly. I put the whole case to Dave - opinions for and against, costs, bad points and good points.

"What do you think?" he asked.

"That I should go for it." The words were out of my mouth before I had even considered them!

He smiled. " So do I." He kissed me on the top of my head, brought in a couple of glasses of flat cider (typically out of champers!!!) and told me that he had felt it was the right thing to do from the start but knew I needed to work it through for myself. I am fairly sure I would have reached a different decision had the offer not been for a period of five years as opposed to the same amount for one which is the usual tariff, but it felt like it was a risk worth taking.

And so, here I am a fully paid up member of this company who may/may not improve my business standing. I lay awake terrified about the money as it is a lot to take out of a rapidly diminishing family fund and could see me going back to teaching despite our every hope to the contrary but, as my dear Dave said, "at least you'll know you gave it your all."

Thank you all again; you are so very appreciated by me.

Pipany xx

29 November 2007

Spreading the word.

I had intended to post a blog on building websites and website packages, but something more pressing is on my mind and so it will wait for another day. The topic constantly popping up in my head is that of marketing.

Now, I said from the start that this would be an honest blog about the ups and downs, ins and outs of starting up and running a small business, and so honest I shall be. Money is an issue. There, I've said it. We all mostly feel the need to play down problems and never more so than when writing a blog that may be read by the world at large, but there are not many of us who do not have an issue with money at some time or another. Mine is that there is little of it due to the fact that we are on a single income while I am home with Isabella. It's fine. It could be worse. BUT there is not a whole lot to go putting into the advertising and marketing that ensures a business's future success.

My business started officially on September 4th 2007, yet despite only running for under three months it has done amazingly well. Orders are frequent, both locally and via my website and feedback has been fantastic which is very encouraging. All feels exactly as it should be and as I hoped it would be at this stage, so where do I go from here? I know that for a business to progress it needs to widen its market; the question is 'How'? There seem to be a number of options:

1. Fairs and trade exhibitions
2. Newspaper and magazine space
3. The internet

Obviously, there are many more ways to increase visibility, but these are among the more high profile versions, and therein lies the rub...none of them are cheap.

Recently I was working on updating my website and took a break to surf the net hoping to get some idea of what was out there. A name kept cropping up, one I already was aware of from endless references in magazines - notonthehighstreet.com This is an online marketplace for small businesses many of which sell hand-crafted goods and therefore seemed to be a perfect place for a business such as mine. I visited the site, not for the first time, and decided to find out more, clicking on the 'join us' link. A form appeared which asked me to describe my business and stated that businesses without a company name and good images should not apply as 95% of applicants are turned away. I have always felt the products sold through this site to be of a very high standard and somehow this felt reassuring. A message returned promptly thanking me for my request for information and I waited for what I thought would be info on pricing, etc. A further mail came requesting images of a range of my products and was duly despatched. yesterday a highly efficient and effective brochure arrived in the post informing me that I had been accepted - and I admit to feeling on something of a high; I was not one of the 95%! More to the point, I WAS one of the 5% accepted!!!! Call me shallow, but it felt good.

I had only actually expected information on how to apply in full, yet the offer to join was here...and so were the costs. Not cheap, but around what I had thought: £450 per year. Yes, I can hear the sharp intakes. I did it too, but I knew that a company with such high media coverage would be costly. Comparing this option with fairs, etc is difficult as they vary so much. A high quality fair can cost upwards of £300 for a stall unless you trade at one of the more frequent markets; feedback received from friends with craft-based businesses is that such markets rarely bring much business as people don't expect to pay much for the goods. I do not want to work for peanuts. I know my products and finishing are of a high standard, and I am in this to earn a living; it is not a hobby but a business and I want to be paid a price that reflects that. The offer from notonthehighstreet.com came with the relevant charges - commission on items sold and transaction fee - both of which were similarly high. On the upside, there was the chance to join for 5 years at the price of one; i.e. £450 for 5 years. This seems an excellent offer and has made me wobble over what I should do. Is it too good an offer to miss? Is it better to invest money in other areas (fairs, etc) and not pay the commission and transaction fees, or is this money down the drain (my gut feeling)? It's a tricky one and I need to find out more before I decide, but it feels hard to 'use' that large sum of money and risk little short-term return, yet how can I expand the business profile without?

all answers on a postcard please!!!

Pipany x

26 November 2007

A bit quakers?

I love my life, but there are times when I think I must be slightly insane. Here is today's list of jobs relayed to you in no particular order:

1. Put new things onto website, which entails....
2. Re-learning how to do this (Dave did the most of the previous work)
3. Feed ducks and hens and cats.
4. Finish an order for lavender hearts and package/post them off.
5. Complete Christmas Bunting for another lady and post off.
6. Contact some companies about cost of bulk buying boxes for packaging.
7. Email two people re-order enquiries.
8. Mend the tumble dryer ..again!
9. Embroider the names onto a cloth which I have been asked to do as
a last minute present for a local lady who has ordered from me in the
10. Contact a company who has asked for some images of my products in
regards to advertising.

Oh, and then there are the usual...cook dinner for the hungry masses; hear
Lucy read; read bedtime story to Lucy; have chat with Sam to make sure all is
right with his world; washing; hoovering; breathing....

I am not for one moment suggesting I am any busier than anyone else; I'm not. It is more about how we try to fit more and more into our lives, often when they are already full. What is it that drives us on endlessly, I wonder? Speaking for myself, I know I have a personality that likes to be busy. I enjoy on some bizarre level the rush that achieving gives me, even when it sometimes feels the odds are stacked against me (broken tumble dryer? With a family this size? Come on!!!). I also am driven by the never-ending worry of money and the lack of, constantly trying to balance being the mother I want to be against the need to help Dave with the financial support of our family.

Of course, I am also now driven by the need to make my little business work and although it is very new - only actually running since the 4th of September - it is already showing signs of doing well. Feedback has been good and I have many plans for the future, some of which will have to take their place when Isabella is a little older and time is not such an issue - if there ever is such a time!

So, back to the issue of time and the fact that I think time-management plays a huge part in running a business. What can I do to improve my own management? Well, some of the above could be left out I suppose; does the washing matter or can we all wear grubby clothes for a bit? Would it hurt if the ducks waited for their food or could they just grub around for a day or two? Do the children really need me to spend time with them? Should I be on here blogging? And the answer to all these is that of course they all need doing. Dave already more than pulls his weight (how grateful I am for a man who doesn't believe the household/family chores belong only to me) and the children reluctantly do their chores. My own well-being relies on me spending precious time with the kids and therefore that will not change. And blogging helps me to organise my thoughts and clears my head ready for whatever is to come. No, I like the challenges inherent and if I should end up collapsing in a heap, at least I'll know I tried...

anyway, I'm a Capricorn - and Capricorns Never Give Up!!! Now, to the ducks..

Bye for now xx

25 November 2007

An improvement?

From this....

To this...

and these...

And finally this...

Yesterday's lesson in photography certainly made a difference and these will go onto the website later today; now I just need to work out how to set them out better on my blog!!!

Enjoy the rest of today

Pipany x

(p.s. Please click on images to enlarge)

24 November 2007

A crash course in photography.


A favourite of mine taken by Dave.

I have increasingly become aware how important good photography is to a business such as mine - in fact, I can't imagine a business that doesn't benefit from good images of their products. In this day of digital cameras it would seem anyone can take a wonderful photograph....not so. I can vouch for the lie in this claim, having a huge folder of somewhat dire images of my own stored away on the computer. It never used to be the way; back in the days of yore, when cameras were peered through and held to the eye, I was something of a nifty photographer though I say so myself. Now, I am the mistress of the 'quick snap', those endlessly uninteresting, badly lit shots of people, their presence vying for focus with a plethora of Things I Forgot To Move...yet again. This is a bit of a problem when it comes to taking photographs for the website. Funny how a beautifully embroidered bag doesn't quite seem the thing when a microwave is perched noticeably in the background; depressing when a picture of a delicately sewn cloth of finest cotton should reveal the soft, woven signatures of an heirloom cloth and yet actually reveals the junk piled high on the dresser behind the table.

And so today I am having a crash course in photography with Mr Dave who knows about such things and took all the gorgeous pictures for the website (albeit with my endless demands for how they should look ringing in his ear). Already this morning I have discovered da Vinci's Rule of Thirds and applied it to a number of things; I have found the button to press for the grid with which to apply this rule, considered close ups and macros, waxed lyrical on lighting and where it should fall and, to my shame, found I already knew most of it as back in the even darker ages I trained as a florist and the same basic concepts apply. Ahem, well we'll gloss over that eh?

Small businesses can rarely afford the high outlay required for a professional photographer and I am no different, yet the phenomenal time it takes to set shots, photograph, work on the images, etc means I feel unable to 'use' Dave for this side of the business even though he clearly is skilled at it. He holds a demanding job of his own and, highly supportive though he is, it feels wrong to use his entire weekend in such a way. I shall learn and apply what he has taught me and somehow fit this in to the myriad other tasks involved as so many other businesses have to do and if sometimes my blood runs cold at the idea of cramming anymore into this rather full life then I shall take a deep breath, hold the thought and focus; after all, I like a challenge - Click....

And here's a not so good one by me - click to enlarge and it improves a bit, but still much to learn!!!

23 November 2007

Well, this is it!

I have been mulling over the idea of setting up a blogspot dedicated to my new business for some time now as I feel I need to have a place to work through some of the ideas and issues that crop up on a daily basis, a place to air frustrations or blow my own trumpet when things go well. Today I actually did something about it! So, to kick off here's a little background.....

Having sewn, knitted, created in a variety of ways since I was very young, I decided this summer to put this need to make things to some (hopefully) good use by setting up a business. Now I am something of a realist and there is no way I was wearing rosy specs when I undertook this task; for a start, I am a mother of five children and two step-children ranging in age from 18 months to 25 years! Reality plays a very large part in my life. I have also thought about doing this for years and there comes a time when you have to say enough thought, time for action. And so, with much support from a wonderful partner who set up my website with endless demands on how it should be from me, I now have a business named 'pipany' after...well, me!

Most of my products are textile based as I have an enduring passion for fabric and can easily pass away the hours perusing shelves of multi-coloured cottons, comparing the textures and imagining what they will become. As the business is new I decided to keep the range quite simple intially with bags for both adults and children, padded hearts and lavender sachets, but gradually I shall increase it to include a wider variety of goods, many of which will feature hand embroidery as it is another passion.

This blog will be all about my struggles to work around our huge household - albeit in a diminutive house - while learning the ins and outs of running a business and trying to make it pay. I hope you enjoy coming along for the journey.

Pipany x