Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Self-Employment Update: Six Months in...

Umm, where did six whole months go?! There I was last August, ploughing head-first into a schedule-less void of panic, then by November I'd scrabbled together a group of activities that I could collectively call 'work' and was vaguely financially keeping me afloat. Now I'm six months into self-employment and it feels like a good time to have another review and check the lay of the land. I was slightly reticent to continue posting about this subject as it feels a little self-indulgent and somewhat off-topic from sewing, sustainably or style, but the last self-employment update post received so many lovely comments from people who found it interesting and/or they could relate to my experiences so I've decided I'm going to continue to do so. If you want to pass on this one, come back on Monday when I'll be writing about something else, no doubt!

So what am I doing these days:


Teaching

This activity has gone to the top of the list this time because the amount of classes I'm teaching has increased a lot since November and therefore it has become a more significant activity financially:
  • I have been teaching quite a few sewing and pattern cutting classes at Sew Over It in Clapham, South London as well as helping them prep and test patterns and instructions (for example the new Tulip Skirt class, pictured above). It's such a nice place to work. Everyone I've come into contact with through that place, both staff members and customers, I've found to range from 'really nice' to 'freakin' awesome'! As you may have noticed in the right-hand side column of this blog, they are now one of my sponsors. This is a reflection of how supportive the owner Lisa is of her staff. However, that's not to say that it is easy-peasy work, obviously it differs from class to class but I put A LOT of energy into those classes. Helping six or seven people through a complex garment project all day, keeping momentum and positivity and dealing with sporadic technical difficulties whilst not letting anyone fall behind definitely feels a bit like keeping plates spinning whilst on stage (I'd imagine)! 
  • I also have a monthly 'Rework Your Wardrobe' class which takes place at Super+Super HQ in Brighton. These classes are really fun and it's wonderful to see some previously unwearable garments brought back to life. It's great to share the skills, techniques and approaches that a lot of us who have been sewing/refashioning for yonks may have started to take for granted. I also have another 'Intro to Commercial Sewing Patterns' class coming up at Super+Super. Amy and Claire who own and run this lovely space are very open to trying new classes and workshops, so I may rig up some others before the year is out. I love the freedom I have working with Super+Super, but the downside of teaching classes there is that I have to do quite a bit of organising and promoting. I'm totally spoilt by Sew Over It, where I just need to turn up and not worry about getting bums on seats!


Brighton Craftaganza

My baby contemporary craft market is a baby no more! It is now in its third year. How quickly they grow... Since becoming self-employed, I've definitely been able to devote more brain-space to how I want it to develop and grow. Interestingly, when I very first became self-employed I really tried to put a rocket under it and even researched options for making it monthly rather than quarterly, but I kept hitting brick walls. A few months on I think that was totally for the best and I now feel its strength lies in being less frequent and therefore a more special 'event'. I may have misinterpreted feedback, but it appears to be getting a rep as one of the better, more interesting craft/handmade fairs/markets in the UK. Hurrah for that! 
  • My main Craftaganza tasks are still organising the actual events themselves. This year we are doing more events than previous years, so as soon as one market has taken place, I have perhaps a few weeks before I need to start it up all over again. Each event takes about three months of fairly intense part-time work, even though to the lay-man who doesn't know me, it may look like all I do is rock on up to the actual event and put some tables out and tell Pat where to hang the bunting! If only they knew... I'm not entirely sure Craftaganza is financially worth all the time and effort I put into it, but I do think we are doing good things for the local and perhaps national handmade/craft scene and by spreading the word that handmade is more special and valuable than mass-produced (which I guess is kind of what I try to do in regards to clothing with my other activities). 
  • I'm still firmly involved in co-promoting and co-hosting our new Craftaganza Live free creative meet-ups. These are monthly events to provide opportunities for local creative types, very often designer-makers, to meet, have a drink and a chat. Each event starts with a talk by a member or members of the crafty/handmade scene about their work, business and inspiration. Last month's speaker was the amazing Eleanor Callaghan, designer of Etsy and Pinterest favourite label 'Dig for Victory' (one of her beautiful creations is pictured below). She's just opened a bricks-and-mortar shop and her whole story was totally fascinating. Tonight's Craftaganza Live will be featuring, umm, me! I'll be talking about my experience of starting up and running a craft market and hopefully imparting some helpful hints to sellers/potential sellers. Wish me luck, I'm really nervous!!!



Sewing and Blogging

The fact that I spend a fair bit of time sewing and blogging probably won't come as a surprise to you! But the reason that I'm adding it to my list of activities these days is because (in the very best sense) I now take blogging more seriously and no longer feel it's an indulgence to spend hours taking/editing photos and writing blog posts. My husband Pat helped me realise that I should be considering it one of my main activities, rather than just a hobby, because this blog is my calling card of sorts. It speaks entirely of my passions, skills and interests and has opened lots of doors for me. For example, I probably wouldn't be teaching at Sew Over It if I didn't have a blog that got me an invite to Lisa's book launch and a chance to put to her the possibility of teaching at her sewing cafe. Also, as mentioned above, I now have a small number of selected sewing-related sponsors that bring in an (albeit tiny) income.  

Mystery Projects

I apologise for the guarded nature of this section, but it is currently too soon to disclose the details of a couple of exciting projects I've got on the go. Maybe they won't pan out, maybe they will. Maybe they will flop, maybe they will be game-changing. All I can currently say is that both are taking a fair bit of my time and brain-space. 

One notable absence and lessons learnt...

If you have been paying close attention, you may have noticed that hat-making or any kind of sewing-for-money is no longer on this list of activities. I shall explain... The run up to Christmas was totally stressful. I know it is for most people, but I felt properly snowed under (excuse the pun) with organising the Christmas Brighton Craftaganza market, organising and teaching classes, rigging up some 'Sales For People Who Hate Selling' talks, making stock for some craft fairs I took part in, co-organising and promoting 'Miniclick-aganza' which was a combined photography and craft Christmas party (don't ask, surprisingly it was carnage!) and doing extra shifts at the hat-making job. I knew it was going to be a stressful time, which always has detrimental effects to my sleep, but I thought I saw an end in sight.

I took a couple of weeks off over Christmas to visit friends and family, although I was still sleeping very little. I thought that things would start to balance out in the new year, but they didn't. I had to immediately start organising the Spring Brighton Craftaganza, and the number of classes I was scheduled to teach amped up. For some reason, orders kept flying in at the hat-making business so things didn't let up there. I was struggling to spend time doing the things I love (like sewing and blogging) and I was becoming a physical mess. I actually have a draft of half a blog post saved I tried to write at that time (it was written at 3am or something when I was going through a phase of insomnia). It's such a pathetic mess of garbled thoughts, it helped me realise something had to give. 

I think if you are self-employed or freelance, there is a compulsion to 'make hay whilse the sunshines' and push yourself to do as much work/take on as many projects as you possibly can for fear that there will be a dry period just round the corner and you'll be thankful you made as much money as you could when you had the chance. Although dropping one of my income streams was going to make things tricky financially-speaking, I had to take one thing off the pile of activities if I was to get some sleep and leave some brain space for the other things I want to achieve this year (including the mystery projects). So I chose the hat-making as the thing to let go. It wasn't an easy decision to make because my boss is really lovely. But I kind of got to the point where it wasn't much of a challenge anymore and as the one thing that wasn't self-directed, I didn't feel as invested in it. Plus it involves working longer hours for less money than teaching does!

So apologies if this post has gone on a bit long! I'm going to publish a kind of 'Part 2' to this post next Wednesday that will be more directly useful if you are thinking about becoming self-employed/free-lance yourself. Not that I'm any kind of expert, or have even done a particularly good job of being self-employed in the last six months, but I think sharing my experience and some extra info may be beneficial to others.   

33 comments:

Philippa said...

I am interested to read about your self-employed escapades. As you know we lost our main income about the same time as you and mid-December to end of Februaury was a 'dry spell' so we totally understand the 'work like crazy while you can' mindset. In fact we are doing it now! We are so glad the bank holiday is nearly here as it is an 'excuse' to take a break! I can also identify with the need to drop something and have done so myself in the past as if you let your health suffer it reduces what you can do on all other fronts. Good luck with your talk, I am sure you will do well as you are clearly a good communicator! And very best wishes in all of your endeavours! X

MrsC (Maryanne) said...

Zoe good on you for starting to focus. I think we all go through that - it takes a wee while for what is important to come to the surface. And, balancing short, medium and long term projects takes a lot of energy and commitment. I am lucky in that I have a structure to my work that means I just turn up and work, but I struggle to find time and energy to include all the other, important projects that add the magic to my work life. Good on you for sticking to your commitments :)

Laura Sinclair said...

Gosh, don't feel self indulgent, I actually really enjoy these posts. Congrats how it's all working out!

Claire said...

I really enjoyed reading this. You have a great range of activities. I can relate to the organising of events, they always take more time than you imagine but it looks like you're onto a great thing. I'm glad that you have found some balance. To me, this is a very important thing in life and finding time to be creative (whether sewing, designing, crafting, blogging or whatever) is a key part of that balance.

Miriam said...

I find these posts interesting. I love your blog which conversely means i feel I have some sense of connection with you so I am interested in how your life is panning out. Good for you for dropping things that needed to go.

Kelly's Korner said...

I dream of one day giving up my day job, so I like these posts! I'm storing all the ideas for future reference. ;)

velosewer said...

It's great to see you taking on different projects and seeing if these work for you while you have the energy.
You are at the start of your career so I hope to read about how you're going. It's kinda like sound boarding ideas.
Wishing you lots of energy and me time.

tialys said...

Well done you! It's hard to juggle lots of different activities. I find it very easy to waste time and very hard to prioritise what I am doing. Ironically I am married to a professional Project Manager who, when he's not organising other people for a living, seems to find it very difficult to organise himself!
BTW I love the photo of you in your tulip skirt.
Good luck with your talk.

Tilly said...

These updates are really interesting for those of us interested in doing more of what we love more of the time, so thank you for sharing! Writing them is also probably a useful exercise for you, I imagine, to reflect on what you've achieved and whether the balance is to your liking. You're an inspiration, mrs! xx

Sewing Princess said...

Happy to see that you've been busy in the past six months. It's very interesting to read about your experience. It's great there are so many places for you to teach at! Fingers crossed for your secret project

Didyoumakethat said...

Zoe, you work so hard. If anyone deserves success on the back of their graft alone,MIT is you.

Amanda said...

What amazing things you have achieved in six months! This is absolutely awesome to look upon and I do so hope you are proud of what you have accomplished! Epic work, Zo!

Jane said...

I'm so pleased you've been able to earn a living doing what you enjoy these past six months Zoe! And well done for dropping the millinery work - that can't have been an easy decision, but was obviously the best one for you, which is what it's all about. Things can only get bigger and better for you my friend. xx

Goodbye Valentino said...

I loved your post. People often romanticize the idea of being self employed and your post shows the reality. It takes unbelievable time and effort (not to mention talent and expertise) to become successful and one must be aware that the road to success is ever changing. You were smart to drop the millinery work.
Blogging is so worthwhile on many levels! It represents your work to the world. A writing teacher once told me (in a class) that you MUST have a blog to get any work published.
Good luck and congratulations!

Helen said...

This is really interesting , and not self indulgent at all. I live knowing what you are up to and only wish I lives closer to take advantage of all the great stuff you're working on.

Adrienne said...

Like everyone else, I find reading about your resourcefulness and creativity in making a living from what you love not only interesting but inspiring! Looking forward to seeing what mystery projects you are cooking up. :-)

Janey said...

I really liked reading this, very interesting and I'm so glad you're going to continue these posts. It sounds like such hard work! Good luck in all your existing and upcoming ventures!

gingermakes said...

It's so interesting to see the way that you're honing in on what works for you and directing your energy towards that. I can imagine that it's very tempting to chase down every opportunity and try to commit every minute of the day to some form of work, but I'm glad you're realizing your limits and dropping a few things that aren't as important to you. Wishing you continued success on your self-employment journey!

Seraphinalina said...

The self employment posts are interesting. I think that most of us have times where we think about what it would be like to be self employed or how a little extra money would help, and the added comments of "you should sell your sewing"... it's good to hear a balanced report on the good and bad.

My mom is self employed and she was just commenting on how interesting it is on where her money comes from. She sells things she sews at craft shows and now on Etsy, but she's recently started teaching "intro to quilting" classes and was asked to make triangular bandages for St John's Ambulance to teach with. Neither are things she seeked out, but the work ended up coming her way. Sometimes you do have to say no to some projects (she won't make curtains for example) so you have the time to do other things you do want to do.

EmSewCrazy said...

Please keep your self employment posts coming! So much of what you do goes against mainstream consumption and I think that can spill into our job/career choices as well.
I would love to be able to support myself with my sewing skills and hearing how you are doing it helps a ton!
Keep up the good work!

Michelle said...

I admire your willingness to share your process of self-employment. It's really neat to get a perspective from someone who has committed to taking on the challenge so many of the rest of us only dream about.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad this is going well for you, Zoe! Lucky you--you have learned to focus and prioritize early on in the self-employment process! As you said, it is so easy to focus on the monetary reward--financial survivial!--in the early stages and run ourselves into the ground.

These posts are not self-indulgent at all. They are part of the process that makes this blog uniquely "So, Zo..."! :)

Taja

Kelly said...

I'm with everyone else - these posts are SO interesting and not self-indulgent at all! I'm not at all surprised you're keeping busy doing all these great things, but I also want to commend you for putting your health first. Sleeplessness can get serious!

Lovenicky said...

Thanks Zoe for sharing what you have been busy with in the last 6 months. I had been made redundant myself before so I can totally understand that 'feast or famine' fear. I really enjoy your posts, and this post in particular, because I was hoping to do some refashioning classes for teens (at-risk teens or not) to get them interested in sewing/refashioning what they already have, and not running to the shops every day to buy new cheap mass produced clothes. Your insights and experience will really help! Looking forward to more of them!

KayoticSewing said...

So lovely to read your self employment journey as always, Zoe!

Christina said...

So lovely to hear how you are doing. Half a year already?! Amazing! I'm looking forward to your second post. And all the follow ups that might come... :D

sarahp said...

Love the posts! It's great to hear about how you're doing, and also what a crazy juggle it is- many people don't realise how much work goes into taking classes and other creative 'jobs'

Tasha @ Stale Bread into French Toast said...

Great to hear what you're up to! I agree, teaching can wear me out for sure, but I love that feeling when one of your students really "gets" it, that's the best. Good luck as you continue your adventures, and good on you for realizing that at some point, you have to sleep!

ClippedCurves said...

It sounds like things are going really well. Without challenges there is no satisfaction. Best of luck for the next 6 months.

Danielle Krivan said...

These posts aren't self-indulgent at all, they're honest and genuinely helpful. For what it's worth, I think you're negotiating a pretty damn steep learning curve with enormous grace. It takes a lot of courage to honestly self-evaluate, and a great deal of wisdom to then discern what the best course of action for yourself is. Good for you! Hope you're able to catch up on all that lost sleep soon :)

Donna said...

This is totally relevant and helpful. Thanks for sharing this part of your life! :)

Erika said...

Wow, you keep a lot of balls in the air! (Hmm, is that a swedish figure of speach? Might be, but you get the drift :) ). Being selfemployed seems like a lot of fun in so many ways, but I have a feeling I'd have a hard time seperating work from leisure, until the point where I'd be working every waking hour... How do you manage keeping work and private life separate? Would love to hear your thoughts on this!

Margaret said...

I'm glad to see you are finding how to get balance in your self-employed life. Something I struggle with a LOT. This comes very timely as I am at wits' end with one of my jobs and must resolve to let it go because it, too, is affecting my health. I think this is something 9 to 5-ers don't often understand.

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