This time of the year is also when I entertain thoughts of shutting down the business, I loathe record-keeping so much. I sit there with my calculator and spreadsheets and strong, strong tea and ask myself, "Why can't I just sell one thing? Like just pdf patterns? Or just etsy items? Or just get paid for publications? Why is it that I can creatively multitask and multi-media dabble, and multi-child co-craft but I can't for the life of me document these various arms of my business without getting them all mashed up together up in my head?"
I think I need an administrative team, is why. Like a secretary to field all my email, and not just the ludicrous ones that beg for free tutorials and free dress patterns in their preferred size. And a legal advisor to sit me down and translate legalese into English and to draft all my formal letters and tell me all about copyright and why I should not accept this contract and that assignment. And a financial accountant to do, well, all those number things that give me rash just to think about. And an editor. And a chef to feed my children, and a driver to get me library books and interfacing and zippers and bring my children to gymnastics and swimming. And a cleaning crew so my house doesn't fall to ruin every time I have a deadline to meet.
And that's just taking care of the basics. We haven't even considered the other people I'd like to employ to enrich my life, like a personal trainer, drum instructor, violin teacher, Spanish language coach, hairstylist that does house calls, aikido sensei . . .
I'd probably also need a resident sorceror, to magically add hours to my day to squeeze everything and everybody in.
So what were we talking about before I went off on my Rant of Discontentment?
Running a business. Right.
So I have a craft business. Yes, I admit that publicly. I started officially sewing-to-sell about 6 years ago but it took me at least a couple of years after for that fact to sink in and for me to accept that I was, once again, working. That I was in employment. That I had income. That I was no longer a hobbyist only. That my work was public and priced and accountable to customers and the tax people. That there were expenses and profits and overhead to document. That there were legal things to know and financial things to do and marketing things to perform. That there were now different standards and expectations on my work. That I needed a different way to use my time than when I was just sewing to blow off steam after the latest naptime power struggle.
Yet it seems like I am holding back.
I have said no to endorsements and reviews and advertising. I have said no to projects and assignments and commissions. I have said no to collaborations. I have said no to publication. I have said no to commercial outsourcing. Some of those Nos have been actual words, turning away actual email, letters, suggestions from actual people. But some of those Nos have been only in my head as I close doors to possibilities and fantasies.
I am not unhappy about my Nos. I think, were I at a different place in my life, I might have said Yeses. I would like to publish a book, design for a big corporation, launch a sewing movement, lead a team to teach in a third world country. And at the end of my life, I'd have been able to say, "Look what I did - single-handedly transformed the way America sews by bringing flat pattern drafting into every home seamstress's sewing room!"
Oh, that would have been grand.
Stark truth: I have only 24 hours in a day. And it takes quite a few of those hours to not only start a business but to maintain and grow it. So this is what my business looks like right now - it is more cottage industry than empire. My etsy store is only erratically stocked. I write patterns whenever. Occasionally I am in some magazine or book, and never as the author.
Abby Glassenberg, toy and pattern designer and author of books like Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction and who blogs at While She Naps, recently emailed to pick my brain on the state of my sewing business. We talked about choices and motivations and considerations and other things that are behind why some people craft as a hobby rather than for profit, in spite of all that indicated they'd be roaring business successes if they so chose. Read her post here - I share some of that conversation, alongside others who have made similar decisions with their hobby/business.
The irony is that turning one's hobby into a business (and I don't mean accepting adverts or sponsors on one's blog; I mean actually selling the physical work of one's hands) is an intensely personal decision for something so public. And I get the sense that many of us who similarly say no sometimes feel regret, as if they might be passing up something that they should be saying yes to.
Now, years later, I am at that same place, except with children and my own house to run (and meals to cook and laundry to do). More than physical responsibilities that splinter my time, I also have different roles to play to people who need me to be there for them: mother, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, occasional teacher-helper, crafting coach, party planner.
I think that we need to develop thick skins as artists and know what motivates us as hobbyists and/or businesspeople. By that I mean that we should not be ashamed if our art is motivated by profit - we have bills to pay, after all, and it is a perfectly honorable way to earn an income. Nor should we be ashamed if our art is motivated by other things: expression, or pleasure, or prestige, or the esteem of our peers. That motivation will cause us to set our expectations and standards accordingly. When our work becomes public, we put pressure and expectations on ourselves to constantly improve our art and we feel obliged to keep abreast with what's trending, what's in demand, what people like. When we slap a dollar value on that same work and attach both our reputation and heart to it, it becomes even more so. And that in itself is not a bad thing, because it helps us do the best work we can and it shows respect for our craft and for the artistic community we are a part of. But it's a big enough investment of ourselves that we would be wise to know why we do it, so that we can be true to ourselves while doing it.
For me, time and timing are a somewhat Big Deal. Because I don't have a lot of it right now, and not just for actual sewing. Let me clarify. I can mass-produce like a maniac because I've been doing it all my life. And I can do it with loud music blaring and while talking to my children and while Skyping Mum in Singapore and while alternating between stirring soup on the stove and watching TV. But creative designing - the truly artistic aspect of my work - I can only do in a vacuum without distractions, and without deadlines. Anyone who's had to incubate an idea will know this - you cannot produce it on demand, and there are no rules to tell you when you've Got It. You'll know it only when it happens - that moment when the various floaty, ethereal inspiration things in your brain coalesce and you just know: this is it. Yes. It can happen anywhere - in the shower, while bouncing sub-ideas off a friend, in the car in the pick-up line at your kid's school, as you watch your toddler play. But it very, very rarely happens when you will it to.
It's a delicious thing to do this on your own time - sometimes I sit on an idea for years before it is fully cooked and pops out of the mental oven, so to speak. And even then, those years are never dormant - other, earlier inspirations are concurrently percolating, so that at any given time, any number of developing ideas can hatch and demand to be put on the production line to be turned into fabric, cardboard, wood, words. That is my mind on creative mode: unorganized, unsystematic, non-linear and unconstrained, completely opposite to what it has to be when I am mass-producing or accomplishing chores or checking off to-do lists involving homework and meals.
It's different for everyone but my own rule-of-thumb business guiding principle is this: when the Time I need for creative incubation intersects serendipitous Timing, I say Yes. And I slot the comparatively mindless mass-producing in the gaps.
And I don't worry about what a full-fledged business is supposed to look like, or other people's definitions of ambition or enterprise or balance. Because some months my craft looks like a hobby. Other months it looks like work. And still other months, it just looks like taxes.
Over to you: is your hobby your business? Or not?