Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Self-Employment Update: 1 Year in with a Family

I've written and even spoken pretty openly in the past about my reality of being self-employed and  trying to make a living from my creative and sewing related endeavours. I've been meaning to write an update on the subject for ages. There's been a fair bit written in the sewing community of late about bloggers who make money from sewing, and whether or not their blogs should or shouldn't be used to promote their money-making activities. Sadly, I don't have a fraction of the time I'd like for reading blogs these days so I'm not fully versed in all aspects of the debate. However, reading Karen's fascinating recent post and all the interesting comments that followed, I found it surprising that there was such a clear opposition from some to sewing bloggers making money from their passion. 

I don't have the energy to wade in to the debate right now, but I'm certainly not about to stop mentioning things that are related to my income if I feel they may be of interest to some of my readers. For example, if I'm teaching a class on how to Copy Your Clothes (which I am, BTW), for you to decide that it's a class you'd like to take to expand your skills, you're going to need to know that it's happening. And if I've developed a sewing pattern to sell and you're into sewing, how can you decide if you want to buy it if I don't tell you about it and show you versions already made? I respect the emotional intelligence of my readers to engage with and/or enjoy the parts of my blog that interest them, and to click away when it doesn't feel relevant to them. 

Plus, I can't help but feel that a significant number of people would like to make at least part of their income from their hobby, so my assumption is that at least a handful of people who read my blog will be interested in me writing about my experience of this. Indeed, from the comments I've received from all those posts in the past, quite a few people are interested in that as a subject, and some even pondered how I'm going to juggle those things with a baby/child on the scene. So here goes...

The main reason that it's taken me so long to write a self-employment update since becoming a mum is that things have been in pretty constant flux. It's only after a year that I feel that things are starting to stabilise for long enough to have a status quo to write about. It's been a hell of a learning curve, in every respect, and it's been both the most amazing and the most difficult year of my life. The majority of the difficulty, I can now see, was perpetuated if not caused by my foolish assumption that I could achieve just as much with a baby as I could without one, with absolutely no additional childcare. That and a lack of sleep!


Before Dolores was born, Pat (Mr So Zo) and I decided that we would undertake all childcare ourselves until she becomes eligible for the free 15 hours per week that all three year olds in the UK are entitled to. That decision was based on a mixture of what we felt would be best to create stability for her, as well as necessity as we live prohibitively far away from any family assistance, and we couldn't afford additional childcare even if we'd wanted it.  

This year has been a constant juggling act. We are always negotiating with each other about what time we need, work-wise, and when we can take the baby. At times Pat has had to work full time, so has been around very little during the week and I have had to cram everything I've needed to do into nap times, evenings and weekends. There has been very little family time, to be honest. But I have plans for that to change in the New Year. So what have I been working on?

Sewing Classes

The majority of the money I bring in is from teaching sewing classes. Which is fortunate because I LOVE teaching sewing stuff. I literally get paid to talk about my favourite subject for hours on end with lovely, engaging people who want to learn and enjoy themselves. The downside is travelling. For financial reasons, we had to move from Brighton to a cheaper town on the South Coast which has made it harder to get to the schools I teach in. But it's fine, time to myself sitting on trains is pretty welcome! 

Currently I'm teaching at:

Tilly and the Buttons HQ in West Dulwich, London. 
Currently I'm scheduled to teach a Coco workshop, a Francoise workshop and some Copy Your Clothes classes. Check out her workshops page for details here

The Village Haberdashery in West Hampstead, London. 
There are plans in the works for lots of classes next year, and currently scheduled are an Emery dress class, a Renfrew top class and a Sureau dress class. Check out their classes schedule here

Badger & Earl in Chiswick, London.
The new kids on the sewing-cafe block, I'll be teaching a beginner's dressmaking class for making a pair of child's PJ bottoms. Check out that and the rest of their range of classes here

Sew In Brighton in Brighton & Hove, East Sussex.
As soon as I moved away from Brighton, I picked up a job in Brighton. Genius! Anyway, I can sometimes be found here teaching beginner sewing classes and my very own 'Rework Your Wardrobe' class. Check their extensive list of class options here

Sewing Patterns

You may have noticed that I released a sewing pattern a couple of months ago! The Dolores batwing pattern has been selling steadily and it's been thoroughly wonderful to see other peoples' versions start to pop up on the internet. I currently have no plans to release any more patterns, but never say never! However, please remember that I have also designed two other sewing patterns which are available here FOR FREE.

Brighton Craftaganza

See the beautiful poster at the top of this post? That's the artwork advertising the latest craft market event which takes place at our usual location of Fabrica Gallery in Central Brighton THIS WEEKEND!!!! If you happen to be in the South East of England and at a loose end, this event won't disappoint. 

From a personal stand point, I've found this year's event much easier and more enjoyable to organise. After the ridiculousness of organising last year's double weekend market around the time I went into labour and then with a tiny baby, I decided more hands were needed on deck. This year I have shared the organisational responsibilities with my super talented friend/jewellery maker Kirstin, and brought in my event-organiser friend Claire to inject some energy and creativity into the decoration.

'Hey Baby Yeah'

For some unknown reason, when Dolores was about three months old, I decided to set up a little baby wear range. Actually I think my reasoning was that I wanted to be a seller at craft events, not just an organiser. Maybe I wanted to spend more time sitting down! (Not that I sit down as a seller, BTW.) Anyways,  I developed a simple range of three products: dribble bibs, jersey trousers based on the ones I'd been making for Dolores, and washable breast pads for boob-feeding mamas. Some of my products can be found in my Etsy shop and I've been really enjoying selling at a few craft fairs here and there. 

My Blog

I've met and 'e-met' some wonderful people through having this blog, it's my favourite outlet for self expression (aside from sewing itself) and it has opened up some great opportunities as well. It's been the source of so many good things for me, particularly since I became self-employed. I don't feel I currently have sufficient brain-space to write as often or as in depth on certain topics as I'd like to at the moment, but of course I'm not apologising for that!  I'm blogging when I can, and not feeling pressured to do so. Plus, FYI, I'm going to continue organising Me-Made-May for as long as the sewing community wants it to go ahead. 

Next Year...

As I mentioned above, it's taken me all year to figure out that I can't pile on the projects and plans like I used to. I used to get a real buzz from having my fingers in lots of metaphorical pies, and plotting and scheming new angles of income. Now I have a child though, I (perhaps unsurprisingly) find it very stressful having lots of things on the go at the same time. With limited attention and energy left for work, I'm worried I'll miss something or end up doing it half-arsed. 

So I have vowed to have a new approach next year. Looking after Dolores is my full-time job. Teaching sewing classes is my part-time job. Anything else is extra and must only be undertaken if I am sure it's not going to add unnecessary pressure. Let's see how that works...


Marilla Walker said...

Ha ha, I love that apologies post! Why do people do that? Keep doing what you need to do for yourself and your family and I shall always welcome new posts from you when you've got a spare minute. Mumming is hard and you are totally inspiring BTW! Xxx

stitchynotions said...

Personally I think it's great to see people making money from their interests. It can be very difficult juggling the whole work-life-balance thing, especially when you are sleep deprived and I think if you can get something that works for the family, then that's great. It maybe makes it a slightly different style of blog (ie. maybe less lifestyle & more business)but so what, we all have individual taste and choices. I gave up full time employment when my youngest was born (now 12) and became self-employed (mostly working from home) One thing I will say is it can be very easy to get distracted (housework, other family demands etc) so it's good to try and have a weekly plan of things you want to achieve. Good luck with it all anyway.
PS Haven't tried your pattern yet, but it's on the list.

Anonymous said...

No matter how much everyone warns you, I don't think anyone can truly foresee how much energy, time and compromise goes into being a new parent, but particularly for us Mums. Well done for stepping back and re examining your priorities! I also think it's fab seeing bloggers releasing their own patterns and other products, it's great to see all that creativity channelled into such personal products, and if readers don't want to purchase, then surely we're intelligent enough to simply bypass that particular post and move onto the next.
Your baby wear range looks fab by the way :-)

Anonymous said...

It can't be easy balancing multiple gigs, plus childcare- I struggle to keep my schedule sorted because I'm working multiple part-times right now instead of one full-time, and I don't even have a kid! I hope that it gets easier to balance everything and to deal with your commute.

Miriana said...

I have two kids, one of whom is a similar age to your daughter, and I'm amazed you can get anything much more than housework during nap times.

the craftytraveller said...

Oh my goodness, you are a wonderful multitasking machine! Many of those things I don't even know *how* to do in a technical sense (design patterns or parent for instance, lol) let alone manage to achieve simultaneously. So here's a virtual high five (and a cuppa!) coming down the line from Edinburgh to the South! Rachel ☺

Cucicucicoo: Eco Crafting & Sewing said...

You are amazing, that you manage to get so much done without childcare! I also find it bizarre that some people get so offended when people try to make money off of blogging or doing whatever crafty thing they do. I think that people are so used to getting things for free online (and not only) and the whole cheap sweatshop mentality keeps people from realizing just how much work there is behind handmade items and keeping up a blog, and they don't quite realize that there are real people putting in their time, effort and knowledge and they deserve to get reimbursed for it. This was very interesting, so I thank you for sharing! :) Lisa

Kestrel said...

A very interesting round up post Zoe. You certainly have a lot on your plate. I work part-time (4 days/wk) and find it hard enough to organise things and get everything done with a wee one around. Like you, I definitely overestimated how much I would be able to do with a baby around :)
As for the business/personal blog crossover, I personally don't resent anyone making some cash using their blog, I think many of us would love to do that. I find that some blogs have just shifted in tone to become a way to relentlessly push the blogger's own products which is very dull and so I have unfollowed. You blog about a range of topics plus I liked the way you handled the release of your own pattern and your offer of it to a wide range of bloggers. I hope sales are going well for you.

tialys said...

I don't resent your blogging flogging at all! Certainly you are subtle about it and I never feel as if you are always trying to sell me something and, if I do feel that about somebody's blog, there is always the 'unfollow' button.
I was dying to do one of your 'copy your clothes' classes but they are always sold out and it is hard to schedule in advance as I will have to combine it with another reason to visit the U.K. I'll keep my eye on it...

Anonymous said...

I'm happy to hear that things are going well for you and you and Pat are getting by doing things you like to do. It's a real hustle in the self-employment game, and I say do whatever you have to do, no apologies!

p.s. still need to photograph my Dolores top as promised, but it keeps ending up in the wash. Must be good!

Unknown said...

Super interesting read, thank you!
Was on your last copy your own clothe course at Tilly's and absolutely loved it! Learned so much and cant wait to finish my blouse and tackle tose jeans!! Andrea

French Toast Tasha said...

I also was very surprised at how many people seem to resent sewing bloggers transitioning into business. I started my blog around the same time I started ramping up teaching and offering products online, and while I want the blog to be first and foremost a place for ideas & inspiration, I always intended it to help get my name "out there" as well. I guess I just need to keep in mind being subtle about it! You do a good job of that I've always thought.

Good luck with your new system! I've been thinking a lot lately about assigning myself fewer things to do, and how it actually feels better that way.

Thanks for the update!

Anonymous said...

As a self employed mum- I know where you're coming from. It gets easier every year. You sound like you're taking the right approach:) ps.... followed that link and found it had David o Doherty clip which is a favourite of mine !!!!

Ros said...

Hmm. I think there are maybe two different things being conflated: monetising a blog, and blogging while running a business. I don't actually think anyone has a problem with the latter. It's a perfectly normal and reasonable thing to set up a blog which links to your business activities and mention those activities on the blog. It's important to be clear about the link between the blog and the business, but I don't think there's any conflict of interest. And of course your readers will be interested to know about things like your teaching, your pattern and the Craftaganza. No problem at all.

The problem I do see people expressing discontent about is monetising a blog. That is, setting up a blog, building a readership and then leveraging that for personal gain, whether by accepting freebies, doing sponsored posts, getting book deals or whatever. Especially when the blogger is not upfront about things like the freebies. I've even seen bloggers using their blogs to fundraise for new sewing machines and so on. It's true that blogging does take time and work, but I don't think anyone owes bloggers money for that. If someone doesn't want to put in the effort to blog, then they don't have to.

And personally, I would prefer it if sewing blogs weren't so saturated with promos for the same patterns, fabrics, books and so. I think that has homogenised a lot of the blogs I used to enjoy reading for their individual take on sewing. The promo posts are boring and unhelpful, because they're all the same and no one ever points out problems or flaws. And I would definitely prefer it if the people who get book deals and teaching gigs and draft patterns for sale and so on were those with real skill and experience, rather than just those with lots of hits on their blog.

JustSewJenna said...

I am in awe of you and everything you have done since having Dolores, you have achieved so much. I love your new work schedule, it sounds very positive. I've only worked part time since E came along and sometimes it has been a struggle finding the balance. Thank you for the update, you are very inspiring! xx

Rosie Sparkleneedles said...

This is really fascinating: thanks so much for posting :) And indeed, never feel bad for taking some time to raise your lovely daughter

Rehanon Mackenzie said...

Ah doll you do a tonne and a half and with a babs. I'm for any course of action that gives you a solid footing. You're excellent and you'll always be excellent. Here, here to the New Year mwah xxx

frk.bustad said...

I still love your blog the most after all these years, and I love how you include Dolores! As I now have a four month old daughter I am so impressed by everything you've managed to do! Being a mum is so time- and energy consuming! don't underestimate yourself, and be proud. I love how your blog is still rooted to the ground and that you keep it running. Mine is hibernating, and I don't want it that way, but it's partly because I don't have the energy for sewing. You are super inspiring!

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