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Small Biz Advice: How to adjust during a personal crisis

Photo from family trip to Maine

Life has been severely challenging for me for awhile now.  I am currently on a long, hard road full of family emergencies, sickness and, for one of my dear parents and other people I was close to, death.  Of course, in the midst of all of this I started my own business and in November 2011 quit my day job to become full-time.  I am a big believer that one is not given more than he, or she can handle, but these last few years (especially the last 10 months) have been a direct challenge to that belief.

Often when I speak to my peers about what I am going through, they express sincere sympathy, but have no idea what it is I am going through.  I’ve even gotten reactions like, ” Well, you know your parents will die someday…”  Ummmm…yes, sure, but a part of being a mentally healthy individual is having a dose of denial.  We cannot live our lives fully knowing we are going to die, or at least, knowing that all the time.  Having that knowledge be the theme of our lives puts a twinge of ending into everything and I cannot live like that.

In the midst of all of this, I have searched for people in the same boat…those in the independent craft/art/design world who may be struggling to keep it all together and be an entrepreneur, too.  Mostly, people in this group are relatively young and are not caring for older relatives.  Instead, the closest resources are those for women who have children that need to re-learn how to multi-task, prioritize and still keep time for themselves.  These articles for Stay-at-home moms are helpful, but they do not speak to what it is to be going through grief, caretaking through sickness, fear of losing a loved one and still trying to make a living doing what you love. 

So, I thought, for all of us out there who are going through this phase of life and are trying to stay healthy, sane and productive through it all, here are some of the things that have kept me going.  I cannot and do not pretend to know everything about this.  I do not pretend to get it right even most of the time.  However, I hear you.  I see you trying.  And I hope these methods to prevent my madness  can help you, too.

Reduce yourself down to your simplest parts and make those the best they can be.  The best communicator.  The best child, partner, friend (to yourself and others).  The best manager of employees and/or independent contractors.

my partner and I

Communicate often and well with everyone involved in your situation.  Develop a network of people you can call who will listen.  Who will tell you that you are doing alright.  That you are loved.  Make sure to tell your customers a little of what is going on, if it is affecting their order, or your business as a whole while knowing your line between public and private information and stick to it. Get a therapist.

Say I love you a lot. Everyday to everyone you love that you talk to.

Ask for help. Learn to delegate.  Can your friends come over and help you package your wares to send? Can you slip someone some money to respond to emails?  Your friends and family want to help and it is easiest to feel helpful when there is something tangible to do.

Learn how to work virtually.  If you are like me and have to travel to be with family, consider re-orienting your business to be more “location independent.”  There are a lot of resources for this kind of thinking including

Simplify EVERYTHING. Get rid of extraneous anything. Put things on auto-pilot.  Connect your Facebook, twitter and blog, so that your social media marketing efforts can work for you all over the place with little effort. Stitch Labs is a great inventory management site that has helped me keep track of my inventory and sales in one place with minimal manual entry.  Though not perfect, it will help me be away from my studio, so that someone else can pack and ship orders, or sell my work at craft fairs over the holidays all while keeping inventory accurate in real time.

Stay on task and concentrate your tasks around the income stream that makes you the most money.  This may be the hardest for me.  Even now I am thinking about a lot of things.  I should be sewing Hoodie Vests and I am writing this blog post!  However, staying on task as much as possible while you have the time means you have the best chance of succeeding, especially if you are like me and make handmade wares that can only be made by you.

Do what you need to do.  Yes, I “should” be sewing, but, honestly, writing this post is a better use of my time right now because it is a tad therapeutic and I hope it helps other people.  This may also mean saying no to taking on extra family responsibility for a week, so you can concentrate on work.  Saying yes to a day off to be with family, or to go to a hotel with a hot tub. We only get one life and we need to live it to the best of our abilities within the parameters of what we find ourselves immersed in.

Try out new income streams with low amounts of learning involved.  Affiliate income can be helpful with this (see e-junkie’s list of affiliate programs here).  Or, try digital downloads, e-books, etc…that require a lot of energy at one end, but can be sold and sold and sold again with little effort.  (Here’s my e-book on how to begin to sell on Etsy.)

Consider changing your business model, at least temporarily.  Since my main income stream is sales, my sales model for 2012 has had to change.  In my business this means that for the Holidays 2012 I will not be offering custom orders and made-to-order items will be limited.  Instead, I am making a lot of inventory ahead of time and will be selling 95%  in-stock merchandise only.  My partner and a friend of mine will help me ship items when online orders come in.  I am also limiting my craft shows to my local area and have asked friends to be at the shows if I cannot.  Plus, I had to stop promoting my wholesale line that requires a lot of preparation and has the caveat that new shops usually order several times with small orders which is too hard for me to logistically keep up with.  Instead, I have partnered with consignment shops  that will gladly accept a lot of inventory at the beginning of the season.

design inspired by a detail of the 7th Street bridge in Pittsburgh; copyright 2012 by Amber Coppings Designs

Learn to live with less money. Maybe this won’t apply to you, but it is certainly applying to me.  Who knew the year after I quit my day job would be worse than the year before in terms of family care? I am frugal, but had gotten used to a level of financial income that I am unable to achieve when my own energy input into my business (which is basically just me) has to be lessened by half. I am working with scraps of fabric, offering less color combinations so I don’t have to spend as much on supplies, eating PB & J a lot more, etc…BUT I get a small soy latte every week (or some other time off with a treat) in order to keep my spirits up.

Create contracts. Need to hire an employee, or an independent contractor to help with your business? Make sure you create a contract. Need to lay it out on the table and establish a care-giving schedule and guidelines with family members? Check out the myriad of resources from Nolo legal books to help guide you.

Take time for yourself. Even though taking a class is making my life a bit more full and complicated, I signed up for The Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design. My heart wants to digitally design textiles and I have been trying to teach myself.  I decided to invest in myself, my heart and creativity by concentrating a lot of my creative time on learning new skills (which eventually may help me be more location independent and be able to sell more digital items- see all that stuff above).  This also gives me a firm framework on which to make decisions.  For instance, I have to make time for this class and I want to.  Having something like this in my life allows me to say things like, ” Well, I would love to do that, but I have to work on my classwork, so maybe I can do this for you tomorrow instead.” We cannot be available all the time for other people’s needs.  Also, make sure to eat well and exercise even if you have to wake up early to do it.  It will be worth it!

A sample of a portion of a new textile design from 2012 by Amber Coppings Designs

Be in denial. Not all the time. Some of the time. When you are immersed in what you love and that awful inkling of knowledge creeps in that reminds you things are kind of crappy comes through, ignore it. Deny it entry. Support your happiness and creativity.  Laugh a lot. Make each other laugh a lot. Spend less time online doing research about the big bad things going on around you.  Keep hope alive.  It will sustain you.

Enhance your small, simple, lovely life and support that in others, too.

Most importantly: Don’t try to be perfect, just do what you can. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get to something when you wanted to.  Just do what you can.

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