Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Small Business Insecurities (Shop hiatus?)

Lately, I've been thinking really hard about my shop, Love Forward.

Well, really, I've been thinking about a lot of things. My monthly goals this year have me reevaluating a lot, in a good way. And lately, I've felt pulled in a different direction.

Here's the thing. I like to keep busy, but probably not as you picture that to mean. I am very content with being at home, and I don't always love to be out and about, but my hobbies and interests are many. Like, many many. I've been a SAHM for over 5 years now, and in that time I've never not had something to put on my some-day resume. Volunteer jobs of all kinds, paying side-jobs, getting involved in causes, blogging, joining and organizing groups. And on top of that, I've read 20-40 books/year, dabbled in so many crafts I can't even keep track, had about 10 different blogs, and added an extra two children to the mix. So even though I'm not always running around in public - my life, my calendar, and my brain, are busy.

I've said it before, but Jake is more difficult than my other babies - not in a way I can't handle, but he's very demanding in comparison to the others. In addition, Henry is a handful. It was always recognized, but it was in a, "Oh Henry, you're so crazy!" kind of way, and now that he's approaching 3, it's becoming a problem. He needs more behavior correction - not to mention potty training is on the horizon. And of course Luke, our resident "easy" kid, doesn't come without emotional complications (he's our sensitive guy!), and as he approaches Kindergarten and takes real interest in sports - his plans are multiplying. So, my life seems to get busier by the day.

It's been a learning experience, and you've probably seen me mention the fact that having three kids has called for more schedule organizing than before. I swear, this is the biggest difference in the jump from 2 to 3 children. With 1, you can totally go with the flow. With 2, it's a little harder and messier, but it can be done. And when you hit 3, if it's not scheduled, it's not happening. It's tough for me to adjust to, because I operate best in life without schedules, but - in having Jake, I've kind of unexpectedly changed that for myself for good. (File this under things I wish people had told me!)

Anyway, that's not the point I have to make today. But related is the fact that - something has to give.

So I've wondered - out of all the things on my plate, what's the one thing that brings me the most stress and least reward?

Unfortunately, it's my own shop. And I hate that, because I'd like the thing that was created and operated by me to be the thing that brings me the most joy and reward - but it's just not. I don't want to totally give it up, but I'm considering an extended hiatus. So I've been thinking hard about this, and exploring the reasons that have lead me to this point.

When I started Love Forward, I had two kids that napped consistently at the same time, and went to bed early. I was crafting all the time, gifting some of my projects, and everyone would say - "You could totally sell this!"  So I'd just make a double of whatever I was making and stick in in the shop. It was fun, but nothing really sold until I came up with my bow cozies. People really liked them, so I focused my shop on those. I always had a lot of fun combining themes and colors, but I found that once people had 1 or 2 of them, they didn't want more. Repeat customers weren't really a thing, and my community wasn't big enough to attract new buyers. I added other items, but they were time consuming to make and I didn't have the same enthusiasm about them. I made them because people asked me to.

There's two sides to that. It's really great to be paid for doing something creative, but it's really tiring to feel obligated to make something you weren't inspired to make. 

That year, when I first jumped in, I experienced the Christmas shopping rush. I made a couple hundred dollars in a couple days, and I was excited about that, but it sort of set me up for a weird situation. It was really exciting to buy my husband a Christmas present with money that didn't originate in his own paycheck, but the work it took to earn that money was very time consuming and cost me a full day and a half away from my family in the middle of the Christmas season. So there was an emotional trade off there.

It didn't help that I always have insecurities about my products. I always feel like people will say "I can make that myself, why would I buy it?" Sometimes I remind myself that not everyone has the time to make things themselves, or maybe they don't know how to sew or crochet and they just want someone to do it for them, and I should be honored that they're paying for my craftsmanship. But then I worry they'll be disappointed when they get it, or notice flaws. And depending on my mood I may feel like, "Well handmade items have human flaws and that's what makes them so endearing!" or "Why would someone pay for something that has any flaws at all?"  I stress that people will leave me bad feedback, or send me an email saying that this or that was wrong with their product. And despite the fact that that's never happened, I still fear it every single time I send out an order.

I enjoy the creative process of putting new things together. I love seeing my shop all full of color, and having a visual of things I pictured in my head come to life. I like offering specials and coupons and things, and designing new lines - those things are fun for me. But it's really disappointing when not a single person pays attention to them. And there's nothing I can do about that. I can try all I want - if no one's interested, no one's interested.

And then there's NYS. Sighh. I almost didn't open my shop because of their tax laws. And then after I opened, I almost quit because of them. They are so complicated and confusing. It doesn't help that Esty is not set up to handle NYS' complicated tax system, and accurate taxing is nearly impossible. And then there's the risk. See, according to NYS Tax laws, if you make a sale within NYS, you need to collect sales tax and turn it in once a quarter. The very first quarter I'd registered my business (as an attempt to be legit from the very start, and to have a permit number to do craft shows), I didn't collect any sales tax. I stupidly thought that meant there was nothing I had to do. Then a notice showed up in the mail saying I owed the state $50 for neglecting to tell them I had no sales tax to report. So basically, I paid the state $50 for doing nothing. I of course will never make that mistake again - I signed up for their email reminders and I put a reminder on my own calendar as well, but it's maddening to be required to report $0 amounts 4 times a year or risk paying the state $200. You guys - $200 is pretty close to what I make in my shop all year long.  Is it really worth that risk?

This year, I vowed to work harder with my shop. I scheduled releases every month, offered a monthly subscription, ordered business cards and more shipping supplies, and began promoting in ways I hadn't before (submitting items to giveaways and things on other blogs). You know what all of that has gotten me? Debt. I haven't made any sales. Maybe a few more people have heard of my business now, but that hasn't equated to any purchases. Not-a-one. So does that make all of my hard work worth it?

I'm willing to except that you have to spend money to make money, and that my income and sales are not going to be equivalent to my cost and work - for now. Because starting any business of any size is usually in the same situation. But not one sale? Not one in months? I don't think that's the same thing. I think that's next to failure.

I'm going to be very honest and frank about it and tell you exactly the situation I'm in during this first quarter. My first quarter shop account (which I've kept very careful record of), which includes all of my material costs, promotions, labor, shipping costs, and Etsy fees, is currently at -$175. Yes, NEGATIVE $175.

Clearly, this isn't working. Not only financially, but I have poured time into my listings that I would have rather poured into my own personal crafts, or reading. My time to myself is incredibly precious and limited right now. So why am I spending it on crafts for hypothetical people that honestly do not exist at the moment? There are no customers right now. Despite people urging me to make this kind and that kind of cozy, or that I "definitely" need to share this idea with the world - the people aren't biting, folks. And I need to stop listening to this sort of encouragement (as well meaning as you are!), because I end up doing this for everyone else but me. Which is silly, since there's currently no return.

Which has lead me to this point. The number one item in my shop is the bow cozy. When sales are happening, those are the things being purchased. But it's about to be spring, and people are no longer looking for cute and cozy things to wrap their steamy coffee cups in. (Well, here in Buffalo they are, but I can't just cater to my hometown!) I have no idea if my cozies fit iced coffee cups, I've never tried, and even if they fit - I don't feel like that's the way to market them. And despite the admiring I've had of my crochet garlands, they are time consuming to make and I'd rather make them for myself and my friends when I have spare time, rather than make stock that will sit around forever. So should I really spend my time creating during a time that promises little to no sales? Especially when I can be spending that time on my personal goals and adding more time to my kids and my house?

Plus, you guys - getting to the post office with my brood and getting things shipped out? That's probably the hardest piece of the puzzle. I want to be an extremely efficient shipper, but it is exhausting. I sent out 4 packages the other day (not sales, as you have probably gleaned - they were giveaway winners and such), and I had Jake in the car seat hanging on my arm, my bag of packages and my wallet, and I was trying to wrangle Henry and keep him from pushing buttons and slamming doors, and I think I even accidentally tore his coat a little when I was attempting to keep him from running off. I felt like we were flopping all over that office while an extremely long line built up behind us and all I could think was - why am I doing this?!

You know, I feel like maybe - my shop was born in an overly-saturated market. I personally adore handmade businesses and I hope they never stop popping up, but I don't know that my life situation allows for me to put the work required into making it something in this type of situation. I may have the only bow cozies in the specific style I make them, but there's a countless amount of other Etsy shops making them in other styles, and they probably have a bigger following and history, and maybe more time, and I just feel like I should leave it to them!

I should feel sad about that, probably? But I don't. The idea of closing my shop for a while and not having to "worry" about it sounds very appealing.

My feeling right now is that I will close up shop until Fall. Fall is usually when people are excited to buy cozies, and then shortly after is the Christmas shopping rush. If I feel so inclined to partake in all of that again, I will. But it will depend on the situation we're in at the time, I think.

For now, I'm going to delete the cozy subscriptions. Since no one has signed up for those, I don't feel bad taking them down, and I know that I will at least have freedom from having to ship those out every month. I think I will keep the shop open with everything else in it until the listings run out, and then I will close the shop for vacation until September. Or maybe not even then, if I feel like it's not right for me.

The time it takes to come up with ideas, execute them, photograph them, edit pictures, create listings, promote them all - it's a lot. And for now, I want to spend that time on my kids, my 30 by 30 list, and my house.

I know that every handmade business owner has their fair share of insecurities and doubt when running their shop, but have you ever hit a point like this? Have you ever decided that stepping away is just the best thing for the time being? It's so hard to do, because I've had so many ideas for expanding it this year - I even bought supplies for new products I had planned (and, I don't know, maybe I'll just make them all for myself and my friends instead, or maybe I'll end up with some extras and pop them on Etsy just to see what happens). But when you're a quarter into the year, after putting more effort than ever into it, and have nothing to show for it.....what's the right thing to do? Keep going at that pace, even though it's stealing time from other (more important) things? Or step back for a while?

What would you do? Do you have any advice to offer?

1 comment:

  1. I know how frustrating it can be to watch months go by in your shop with nothing happening, and there's nothing wrong with giving up on something that you're not excited about anymore. It's not a failure- you tried something lots of people want to do but never get around to or work up the energy and gumption to try!

    That said, my shop has been open for 2.5 years and I just cracked 20 sales on Etsy recently. I did my first few craft shows in 2013 and some were bad and some were very good! For the longest time on Etsy, though, my sales were from people I knew. Only within the past few months (ironically during a time when I haven't actually made anything other than renewing stuff that expires) have random people started to buy things. It can take a long time to get found on Etsy, I think.

    But do what you feel is right. It's okay to close up shop for a while and better to focus on things that you enjoy. Etsy will still be there when you're ready to try something new :)