Choices. We all have them and make hundreds of them every day. Some are automatic and simple (do I want cream or milk in my coffee) while others can be more difficult and have a lasting impact on our lives or businesses.
This is especially true if you have your own business. While it may seem to be really glamorous and ‘cool’ to be able to make all the decisions regarding your future, sometimes it can get taxing. Some decisions aren’t as easy to make as others and the right answer isn’t always apparent. And the consequences of those decisions can be something that will have an impact on you or your business for a long time to come.
For those of you who read fairly regularly, you know that I have been branching out into some new areas regarding my business. While making scroll sawing and woodworking patterns is something I love to do, with all the free pattern sites and sharing of pattern through networking, it is a difficult area to make a real living at exclusively. However, doing it at the level that Keith and I choose to do it requires a full time commitment – from both of us. I often wonder how I used to do this by myself (Oh – I wasn’t doing really well then!)
So in order to supplement our income from scroll sawing woodworking patterns, we each do additional things to fill in the gap. Keith is working on selling his pens and I am also designing and cutting decorative painting ‘kits’ where I provide the wood pieces and also the patterns for small projects. This allows both of us to still be creative and be involved in all aspects of the business.
However, these additional tasks naturally take away from our main objective – creating scroll saw patterns – and sometimes we have to pay the price in one area in order to advance in another.
I am thrilled that the painting kits are going so well. This is a traditionally slow season for the scroll saw business in general and this year is no exception. In looking at our records for the past several years, spring and summer seems to be the slowest time for us. People are tired of being cooped up all winter and with the additional outdoor chores and activities that the warm weather allows, many do not spend as much time in the shop. It is just a natural part of the business.
I thought this would be a great time to get some painting patterns and kits ‘out there’, as it would come at a time when things were sluggish anyway and I would be able to balance things out. I was really thrilled at the opportunity to be able to work in this area too, as I do love the painting aspect of creating as much as I do woodworking. I am also thrilled that my designs were so well-received and hope to continue to grow in that area. But something had to give.
My grandmother used to use the analogy that we are all like a pie. Where we spend our time is represented by a piece. The more we spend our time in something, the bigger the piece. The more we spread out our time to things, the smaller the pieces. But there is only one pie to give from and when it is gone, it is gone. Thus, we need to make choices.
I spent pretty much of the weekend cutting the kits. I am just about done and only have an hour or so to finish up. The 200 patterns I need are all printed out and ready to package up too. (Kudos again to my little Canon Pixma printer! It printed 200 patterns flawlessly!) As I look at the pile of patterns and the piles of wood pieces, I feel very accomplished and happy. The last three days were well spent and I know that not only the quantity of work is there, but the quality of it is good too. Here is a picture of the pile of waste sheets from my weekend’s cutting:
That stack beside my stool are the 1/8” thick boards that I used to cut the pieces from. Even though I stacked them a couple of layers high, it is still a lot of boards.
But yesterday Keith informed me that today our deadline for one of our catalogs was due. This was (already) for the catalog that comes out in late August or early September. I am sorry to say that I only have a couple of things to offer them as new items.
So what have I been doing?
I immediately felt like I somehow failed in that area. Last year, we had probably 25 or 30 new things for this same catalog. I know Keith feels the same because he said as much to me. We just aren’t working hard enough.
But realistically, we are doing what we need to do by diversifying into different areas of woodworking. There are very few people that are able to make a clear cut living by doing what we do. We knew that when we committed to our business. We are finding that it is not always clear which choices are the best for our business and which ones will ultimately not be a good use of our time. Only time will tell.
Do I regret branching out into the other areas? Absolutely not. I feel that in the long run it will only help the business stay solvent and prosperous. I look at the percentage that we need to give the catalog companies and there is part of me that would rather spend the time on my own site and my own distribution of my work. Little by little people are finding us and we are growing. We had our best year ever last fall. We hope to do even better this year and be able to top that with the addition of new patterns and kits.
I have a backup plan if I feel that I get too many of these kits ordered. I am just not ready to use it yet because frankly I still could use the income for myself. When things do get swamped though, there are others who I know I can depend on to cut these and ship them without me worrying about the precision or the quality. I just am not ready for that yet.
It is hard to feel bad about not having lots of new stuff to offer the wholesalers when the retail side of my business is still growing. Unfortunately, there is only one Sheila and one Keith and decisions have to be made as to where we will spend our time. Not knowing the outcome is part of the excitement and nature of the business. We knew that when we signed up.
So for now, we are just going to have to go on doing what we are doing. This deadline was a good checkpoint for us and a good chance for us to realize where our time was being spent. Not being able to contribute the amount of work to the catalog is not necessarily a bad thing. It just shows that we are working in other directions. However, it is certainly a reality check for us that we are collectively only one pie. We really need to decided who gets the biggest piece.
I hope you all have a great Monday.
-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs (http://www.sheilalandrydesigns.com) Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"