Thursday, December 11, 2008

Decisions...Decisions...


I've been doing a lot of thinking recently, regarding my little 'Nostalgia at the Stone House' empire! It has become very difficult for me to have the small business that I crave and care about, when I have to fit all that needs to be done into a 7 day week (or ideally a 5 day, 9-5 working week!) I've never been one to back away from hard work and am often typing away on the PC, or crafting late into the evening. As some of my customers will agree, it’s not unusual to receive an email about an order or an invoice from me at 9.30pm or beyond. But I do feel that this is starting to take its toll, especially when I have to fit things in around family commitments.

I have therefore decided to make some big changes to my website. It has become evident that it is my handmade goods that most customers are looking to buy. Of course I am thrilled that anyone would wish to buy something I have made; it is a real compliment and I’m grateful for the continued interest and support that I have received over the years. I do feel however, that there is never enough time to really do justice to my work. My head is always buzzing with ideas that I want to put into practice, or designs that I would like to develop, but again the time ticks away far too quickly.

I spend so much of it photographing, listing on the website, answering emails, invoicing, wrapping and packing, as well as trips to the Post Office (in the next village 3 miles away), not to mention book keeping/tax etc, and sourcing materials from all over the SW, that it leaves me with very little actual sewing/crafting time. (Oh' dear, hope that doesn’t sound like a huge whinge! – Of course all of this work is part and parcel of a busy website. I’m just justifying my reasons for change) I know that I could automate a lot more of my website, but I do believe that the majority of my lovely customers appreciate the personal service that I provide. I answer all emails personally and send out accurate invoices with actual postage included, having located a suitable box and weighed their parcel. (One of the best compliments that I ever received was from a lady in Italy. She said that ‘Due to your kind emails, customers feel cuddled... And your prompt service is impeccable!’) In fact I enjoy the interaction that this allows me and feel that I have built up some good friendships with like-minded women.

On an almost daily basis, I receive emails about my handmade dolls. It is clear to me that this is the main area that I need to work on and develop. Each of my dolls takes at least one day to complete, usually two. This doesn’t include the sourcing of vintage fabrics and adornments, or the associated paperwork. So I shall never be able to churn them out by the hundreds. Besides, they would no longer be special and unique and be what people would be prepared to pay the little extra for. But it would be nice to have the time to think about each design in a less rushed state and perhaps to make a few extra over the months, than I can at the present time. The emails often express disappointment that the dolls have sold quickly and once again the person has been unlucky. I would be unhappy to think I had permanently lost a customer visiting my website because they didn’t see the point, when stock is always reserved within hours.

I am often asked if I take commissions for dolls, but for several reasons I prefer not to. The main ones being:
1. I work with antique and vintage fabrics, so I cannot always produce a doll in a required colour scheme/style/era etc. if the fabrics aren’t in my store cupboard.

2. If a customer wishes me to repeat a doll’s design that was sold on my website previously, it may be impossible if I no longer have enough of the fabrics/trims. I usually add a unique touch to each doll which is impossible to replicate, for example an unusual vintage brooch, or a fragile lace trim. Plus the doll that has been sold has been bought in good faith, in that it was a one-of-a-kind creation and the customer was buying into this fact.
3. A commission order could be placed with very specific requirements and if I cannot carry out a customers wish exactly, they may be unsatisfied or disappointed. And perhaps even return the doll and I would be left with a doll not totally to my design and perhaps not saleable.
4. Time, of course. If I was always working to commissions, I may have no time to keep my website stocked. I have a large mailing list of interested customers and it is my aim to try to keep them all happy where ever possible.
5. At the end of the day, I also need to enjoy what I do, or it will begin to show in my work. I’m not a factory, so varying each item that I produce keeps it interesting and exciting.
*

One of the decisions that I have made, is to cut back the amount of vintage stock on my website to one small category of special vintage treasures. I won’t have to spend quite so many hours sourcing items. I will always be on the look-out for beautiful fabrics and trims for my crafts on buying trips, so I am bound to discover other interesting pieces whilst at fairs etc; but the smaller vintage category will mean I can add special finds when they really ‘speak’ to me. Less stock should mean less time spent on all the ‘background stuff’ that I have mentioned previously.

There will be 3 other categories on my site which will be handmade goods– ‘Dolls’, ‘Handmade Assortment’ and ‘Gift Sets’. It is my hope that this will allow me more sewing time, without so much invoicing/packing etc to be done. And perhaps all of those who would like to own one of my dolls will have a chance to order one sometime over the next year…
*

I have also been successful in booking a stand at the ‘Vintage & Handmade Fair’ next May. That possibly sounds a long way off just now, but I will need time to create new items for this as well as keeping my website stocked. I want to work on some new original ideas for affordable gifts, which will hopefully be what customers to the fair are looking for. I have a little notebook by the side of my bed, which I jot down ideas as they pop into my head. I can’t wait to get started on some ‘smalls’ for the spring fair. It will be fun too, to actually meet some of my customers face to face for a change…
And talking of next year, I shall re-launch my website early in January with its new look. Hubby and I will take some time over the Christmas break to work on the changes, but rest assured, it won’t change dramatically and should continue to be easy to use and navigate.
I will be closing it towards the end of next week for the holidays. I would like to thank everyone who has visited during 2008. To those who have made a purchase or two…and who have sent me such kind and friendly emails. May I wish you all a very ‘Happy Christmas and every good wish for a wonderful New Year!’

*One final thing; my ‘Living with Nostalgia’ calendars were flying out yesterday, so I have now added another lot to the website. My very grateful thanks to all who bought a copy and I hope that you will enjoy using them throughout 2009!
Niki x

19 comments:

  1. I do totally understand where you are coming from. I know how much time it takes me to create and bring to life my bears and also take a lot of time to deal with everyone personally. Your dolls are so very charming and I am sure it is good to focus on them, hard to keep everything going :) Catherine x

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  2. Sweetie! That all sounds excellent to me! A happy crafter makes beautiful things - no point running yourself down on all that boring admin stuff! You'll find the right balance in time and your loyal customers won't mind in the least! Good for you for taking the plunge! Have a lovely holiday. I'm having my giveaway so pop in before you shut down the PC for Christmas! t.xxx

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  3. Hi Niki, sounds like a plan! I'm in total agreement on those commissions. It takes all the fun out of it if someone wants to take over creative control. Good luck with the site next year, I'm sure you will sort it all out. It's a nice dilema to have isn't it, being so successful!! Happy Holidays! xo, suzy

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  4. Anonymous12:25 pm

    Hi Niki
    I have often wondered how you manage to do it all! You are always so prompt in replying to emails and posting parcels when you clearly have so many other things to do. I am very sure that your loyal customers will understand. It is not a bad idea to remind people sometimes of what is involved in running your own business as it is not always appreciated or understood by all.
    Good luck with your new ideas. The most important thing is that the work that you do still gives you immense pleasure and satisfaction.
    All the best Niki.Have a fabulous Christmas and New Year! Love Isabelle W x

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  5. I totally understand what you are saying and it is always difficult to strike that balance - producing lovely things and keeping people happy but not being so overwhelmed that it gets you down. I'm sure it will all work out for you and your handmade wares will continue to be beautiful and unique. I certainly appreciate the individual touch you bring. Look forward to meeting you at the V&H fair.
    Hen x

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  6. Oh Niki, I can relate to all you say! Your dolls truly are the creme de la creme (and I confess I am one who sorrowfully sees they are already gone, once I click on your link when emails have gone out that your shop has been updated). I would love to see you concentrate on your dolls (and perhaps add a ragdoll to my collection of two of your fairies)! When maintaining your website has become a chore, then it cetainly is time to switch gears. You do such beautiful handiwork, and I think we all agree you should spend that time doing what you do so beautifully at!

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  7. It sounds like you've had a lot of thinking to do. I suspect one of the reasons that your shop and blog are so popular is because you put so much of yourself into them. I only wish my own venture was half as successful as yours!

    Good luck with the new website and hope to see you at V&H, if not Shepton Flea on Sunday.

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  8. Good for you Niki, it all makes excellent sense. Look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
    Liz xxx

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  9. Well done you! I think you have made absolutely the right decision, it is so hard to get the balance right and first and foremost you need to be able to enjoy what you do and have the time to do it the way you want to. Hope you will be able to enjoy the benefits of all this. Take care
    Kimx

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  10. Gosh Niki...it is so hard to juggle it all and get the right balance between the enjoyable work ie the creating, not so enjoyable work ie accounts and paperwork and the best work ie home and family. Seems like you know what you are doing for 2009. I wish you all the best and look forward to the new website soon. Lucyxx

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  11. Your teacup pin cushions are so pretty!!

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  12. Yep don't blame you, once you've made up your mind that's half the battle... the rest is in the 'doing bit' well done you....
    :O)

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  13. It's so difficult to get the work / life balance right isn't it? Especially when you are as successful at what you do as you are. When I visit I often look at this quote 'Please help me not to be so busy making a living
    I forget to make a life.'and think how it applies to me, but in my case it would read "Please help me not to be so busy making a life that I forget to make a living!"
    You're making hard decisions, it's always hard to change the way we do things, but it only makes sense to concentrate on what you are so very good at and what is afterall so very, very popular. I'm sure that Nostalgia at The Stone House will continue to go from strength to strength.
    Wishing you all the luck you so rightly deserve.
    Carolyn x

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  14. Hi Niki

    More gorgeous photos to illustrate your words!I'm sure your decision will help to make things less stressful in 2009, and I for one am looking forward to seeing more of those lovely dolls.

    Sue xx

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  15. Niki I think that it just makes good business sence to refin the way you do business! Good luck -may 2009 be a very good year for you and your business! I love all of your beautiful work!
    ~Smiles~Tam!

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  16. Niki, you know what's best for you and your business. You are mega talented and I admire you for that talent.

    When you have time..hop on over to my blog and pick up an award. Don't feel you have to post it but I did want you to have it.

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  17. Dear Niki,
    I think you came to the right decision. People often do not understand how much time is necessary to create handmade things (especially original and VERY WELL finished ones!!), and the huge amount of creative energy an 'artist' spends making them!!
    My Christmas wish is for you to find your balance, and more relaxing time to enjoy what you like the best...

    Hugs,

    Monica xo.

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  18. Niki, I just posted Monique in a festive atmosphere! Please pop around if you'd like to see her!

    Monica x.

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  19. Niki what a sensible decision to make we, as women always try to spread ourselves so wide with our time. I dearly dearly want to reduce my hours at work - I sit there at my desk longing to be at home - and I often pop onto blogs at lunchtime - sometimes to my own just to see pics of where I live cos I want to there sitting at the table creating and sewing, even one day would make a difference. It is really time you were doing exactly what YOU want to do

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Thank you for finding the time to visit me...
Niki xx