Saturday, 30 August 2008

WAHMs, professionals and dressmakers

A bit of a philosophical ramble inspired by two things I read this week. I've been writing it for a few days, finally got to finish it!

The first was an article saying that women shouldn't call themselves WAHMs if they want to be taken seriously, unless it is an important part of what they do. To explain a bit better if you are a writer, or a computer tech, or a florist, who happens to work at home and have kids, then you shoud call yourself a writer, a computer tech or a florist. I agree completely.

I have still made the decision to label myself a WAHM because it is a selling point in what I do. Who wants to buy nappies designed by someone who isn't a mother? But normally from the customer's point of view there are some disadvantages:

  • Your order taking longer because someone got chicken pox.
  • Possible sticky fingers.
  • Being down the priority list.
  • Being lost because work is being done in 10 minutes here and there.

These are problems every WAHM has to decide on, and each one will put the balance between work and family where it suits them, which is not necessarily the place the customer wants it. Personally I try to avoid most of these problems by offering mostly in stock items, not customs. I've been burnt as a customer myself having to wait weeks for orders, so that one is important to me. I do have a sticky finger problem, because Widget adores anything to do with sewing or photography and will make off with anything not nailed down. So the occasional nappy which is accidentally left within reach has to be checked very carefully. And I do occasionally forget an email, but I have a system for them and hopefully I'm catching them.

The second comment was said by a customer to a dressmaker. After ordering a custom fitted and designed dress for her daughter she complained about the price, saying "You're not a professional, you're just a dressmaker."

As someone who would one day love to own ANYTHING custom made I was shocked. How can something that is unique, something that fits perfectly and was designed to enhance one person's features possibly be not as good as something mass produced?

Obviously quality comes into it. This is the bit I worry about myself, because I'm NOT a sewer from way back. When I'm sewing 4 layers of knit fabrics together the hemp terry has a tendency to stretch, and I just can't convince myself that the snappi tab being uneven at the end is that important. I'd like it to be straight, and I have recently thought of a possible solution to that particular problem, but it's not going to stop me selling the nappy. If others disagree that could be a problem for me.

So what makes a professional? I've been musing on it, this list isn't exhaustive but applies more to me.

  • Time. There are two aspects to this

- Time to do a job uninterrupted, whether that be sewing or answering emails or uploading new stock. Because interruptions DO affect quality.

- Time to do enough that you are a serious seller. There is nothing more annoying than a shop with only 2 products and a heap of sold out signs (actually there are lots of things more annoying, but you get the idea). They may be beautiful, but it's a hobby rather than a business.

  • Quality.

For me nappies are a practical item. They have a job to do, so they have to be of a quality to stand up to it. So seams that are dodgy, fabrics that wear quickly, or snaps that won't do up properly are out. It may sound obvious, but surprisingly I have bought a few of these and it's not the sort of thing you can tell until you use them. I really should let the seller know, I'd like to know if there is that sort of problem, but somehow I've never got to it.

The next step up is having all the snaps lined up and tabs exactly even. Something I definitely aim for but worry I don't get, but it wouldn't put me personally off a nappy if it still works. It also depends on the nappy and my "problem." If I just need a fitted nappy and it doesn't have to be pretty or have a particular closure then I'll be picky. If I need something unique I'll be more forgiving. I'm also forgiving of things I have difficulty with.

Then there are other things that I think are more likes and dislikes rather than quality and have to be looked at with an open mind. For example I really like topstitching, I think it finishes the nappy beautifully. However it's not possible with my design or it would put holes in the pocket! Same with overlocked nappies - some people love the frilly look, to me it just looks unfinished.

  • Service.

This one is linked to time, because it's the time to answer emails and queries, have products ready, pack them nicely, answer queries, and do follow-up.

So am I professional?

My answer would have to be no. I aspire to it and I would like to be, but there are lots of things going against me. To get more time I would have to put my kids in care, and that's not going to happen. To get better quality I would need more time and practice. And I would have to expand the business so it's worth it to put in that time, effort and resources. And to expand I would have to look at advertising, working with other people and getting that side-snap design up and running!

On the other hand, I've always been realistic that I won't be doing this long term. It's something I enjoy and am passionate about while my kids are young, but it's also a place to learn and make my mistakes and plans before I move into the business I really want to be in.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

You are not your market

That's what I was told at an e-marketing seminar, and it's so true.

I'm coming to the conclusion that my children and my taste are both radically different to the rest of Australia!

So, some changes - most of the markets I do are mainly kids and people wandering around on a weekend, they don't carry a lot of cash. So I'm making up little things to add to the stall that cost less than $5, selling a few of those will probably be easier than nappies and also quicker to make!

The real life shop is a different market again. Some of the feedback from them was that people wanted more neutral nappies, which confused me because I'd given them mostly gender neutral prints. But after thinking about it I realised a lot of their customers aren't parents, they're pregnant. My nappies are one-size, so I tend to look at outers that suit older babies or toddlers, because they will only be little babies for a few months. But the people shopping there are preparing for their tiny little newborn, so they want sweet prints. I think I've got a solution, I have some solid knits in mint, mauve, apricot and lemon, the traditional 'we don't know what we're having' colours, and I'm going to make the bulk of the nappy from those but with the top and cover flap in a co-ordinating print. That should make them more appealing to parents-to-be, but still work once the babies grow out of the teddybear and rattle stage. I was planning on doing some nappies with the different fabrics anyway, it's just been moved up the priority list.

I was working on a cover next, seeing as I've introduced the fitteds and am using them myself. Much easier for people to have everything in one place and know that they will work together. However I think I'm going to have to bite the bullet and admit that snappi nappies are just not popular and dust off the side snap design I was working on ages ago. Obviously other people don't have the same fitting issues we have, or have different things they look for in a nappy. I'm getting a bit sick of the "snappis are too complicated" idea. Personally I can do up a snappi in about 2 seconds flat on a wriggly bub, but getting velcro on properly or finding all the snaps takes me ages. But I don't say they're too complicated, I just accept that I'm not used to them and it will take longer. But, to quote the title, I am not my market and the customer is always right. My private opinion can remain unchanged, but as a business I'm going to have to listen, not tell people they're wrong.

Monday, 11 August 2008

To-do list

I can't believe it has taken me this long to get one of these going! So simple, but so powerful.
I started one a few days ago and have got so much done. Rather than thinking I don't have time to do anything or aimlessly surfing while feeding I have managed to get lots of the little ten minute jobs done. It's in the book with my sewing/marketing ideas and whenever I think of another thing I just add it on the end. Being able to tick things off feels really good, it makes me realise I am doing things even if I can't see them. And writing things down as I think of them means they actually get remembered and done.

I'd love to have a timetable and dedicated business time, but I can't see that happening soon, everyone else in my life is too unpredictable. So instead I'm keeping track of when I do things, even if it's 10 minutes to answer an email, and recording it. Just another way I can see that I am getting time, rather than resenting that "I never have time for my things!"

Friday, 1 August 2008

Being self-employed is backwards.

Bear with me while I try to explain what I mean. When I had a job there were deadlines and schedules, things were done as a result of something else. So for example I had a deadline to write reports, they were the result of the work done during the term. Or I'd have a deadline to get a unit finished, or if I was going for a job there would be a deadline on the application. And once the deadline had gone and the work was done it was over, sit back and relax.

WAHMing means I set my own deadline and put my own pressure, then sit back and hope. I've just spent a really intense week because I wanted to get my new fitted nappies up in my store, plus I wanted to re-open on WAHMania. So I've been working past midnight and I'm exhausted. But I don't have anything to show for it, and it isn't the end, it's the beginning. Now I have to see if any orders come out of it. Plus I can't sit back, I have to get on the advertising roundabout and tell everyone they're there. So blogging, forums, newsletters and I want to start writing articles as well.

So here's today's bit of advertising :)

The back of a painted bamboo velour fitted.
The front of one with a quilting cotton outer, showing the bamboo velour in the wet zone.
The fit of a natural velour on my toddler. She's having a ball being a model for me!
Another painted one just 'cos I like it.