Saturday, February 16, 2019

Small business musings

A purse made from Wickett & Craig bridle leather.  I'm happy how it turned out.
     Since I last posted in 2017, I have continued with my leather working enterprise.  I typically sell between one and two items per month, and take in about a hundred bucks.  Thank goodness I have an amazing day job!  Really, though, I'd never thought of this as anything more than a hobby that would help offset my hunting and fishing, especially as my kids get older and show an interest in those same, bank-account ravaging pastimes.

There are, of course, upsides and downsides to running a hobby as a small business.  In my case:

  • I am forced to the workbench if I have an order, even if I'm not feelin' it.  Fear of being late to finish (or start!) a project that somebody already paid good money to receive is a pretty effective motivator.  And when I get to the bench, I remember in a visceral way just how much I love doing the work.
  • I am forced to repeat processes and techniques.  This sounds boring, but if you love the work and love getting it just a little bit better each time, it is a remarkably satisfying experience.  Also, repetition of proper technique in handcrafts is essential to creating good, high-quality work.
  • I have a reason to buy decent quality, and proper, tools and leather.  This is a big deal, because it really helped me get off the ground.  Let's be honest here -- when it comes to buying stuff for me, I squeak when I walk.  They greet me by name at Harbor Freight.  But when I started making nice stuff, I realized that I'd need decent tools to get the job done.  A bonus is that I deduct the cost of this stuff, and that really helped me to get started, for sure.
  • I get to go off by myself and do something that I love.  My family is super-supportive, but I still carry with me some internal guilt whenever I go off to do something alone... that's natural, and a good check on complete hedonism.  But sometimes it gets out of hand, and so it's nice to have a little mental crutch ("yikes!  I have to get that order in!").
There are, of course

  • It is, indeed, a business -- which brings a number of headaches, like keeping receipts, and tax time.  And state and federal and regional and local taxes don't always match up chronologically.  And fees can bite you in the butt, big-time.
  • I have less time for new ideas.  If you have to get the same five things out that you know you are good at getting out, then you have less time in your life for experimenting with new styles or products.  I haven't hand-stitched nearly as often lately, for example, nor laced up anything like that purse in quite a while.
  • I'm stressed!  I do stress about getting a product out on time, and that carries its own baggage, even if it ultimately results in a good outcome for me.  Adding hobby stress to my work stress is not always the best idea.
  • This hobby takes precedence if an order is in.  Since it is in my, "me" time, it sometimes takes time away from other things I'd like to do -- like fishing and hunting or gardening.

I also teach archery as another hobby/business, and much of these apply to that work, too.

Do you run a hobby as a business?  Have you taken it up to become your primary income, or kept it small?  Are you happy with it, either way?  I'd love to hear from you, especially any tips and tricks you might want to share.

Of course, everybody is welcome to leave a comment here if you like!  Let me know what you think.

Also, I am looking for ideas for leather work, so let me know if you have any.


Annie MacHale said...

I've been doing my own thing full-time for 4 years now! I just keep trying new things and adding what seems to work. I do make a profit, but don't have a business plan. Recently, I met with a business consultant who worked out a little spreadsheet for me to be able to gauge the profitability of any one particular product. This way, if I can choose which direction to put my attention if I want to grow my business. What pays the best? Teaching? Writing? Selling my handmade items? Selling supplies? Wholesale? Shows? I'll let you know! ~Annie

Unknown said...

Thanks, Annie! I love your stuff, and I think it goes well with some of the bags I make. That spreadsheet idea sounds like a great idea. Was the consultant very expensive? I've written a business plan for my archery work, but I'm nervous/too new to know what to do with it now.

And yes, please let me know what pays the best for you, and why!

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