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Getting the balance right – running a business from your phone

I’ve recently had a painful, but insightful experience. I fell down the stairs and my phone bore the brunt of it (luckily I wasn’t hurt). But this meant, I had to send it off to be mended (for a lot of money) and I was left for four whole days with no phone. No instant access to email, no access to my Etsy or Amazon seller apps, or my website. No instant access to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest. And no camera to snap product pics and life pics. Each time I wanted to check anything, I had to log into the laptop, and if you’ve ever used Instagram on a laptop, you will know, it just isn’t worth bothering. Not to mention the annoyance of no one being able to call me either.

Balance

Anyhow, this experience got me thinking about my phone usage. Getting the balance right is a tricky business. If you are running a business from your phone, modern life dictate that customers want instant responses, and an active presence on social media is essential. And so, I do use my phone quite a lot. But sitting there with your nose stuck in your phone 24/7 is also no good. Firstly, for actually producing your products; and secondly for the rest of life –  family, hobbies, partners, friends etc. They are not going to be impressed if you are constantly on your phone.

Phone-free time

I realised from my four days phone-free that I love my phone and everything it provides me in terms of speed and ease of running my business, as well as camera quality, keeping in touch with people, looking things up on google, tracking my fitness, etc. Conversely though, I did partially enjoy being without it. I had more time for other things and gave me a feeling of freedom. I enjoyed just watching tv and not scrolling through my phone at the same time. However, I just couldn’t quite shake the feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out) on orders, conversations, news etc. etc.

Getting it right

So is it really possible to get the balance right? I think that it is. In reality, the length of time it takes to reply isn’t going to make or break a sale, I don’t think. People will wait a few hours for a response. Actually it may also be quicker to do all your emails in one go, rather than constantly checking them throughout the day. The same probably applies to social media too. Less of the mindless scrolling and more intentional interactions.

A few hours a day phone free is definitely recommended anyway and I plan on trying harder to organise my time on my phone better. Less procrastinating, and more productivity. Saying all that, though, it’s so easy to fall back into the same old routine…

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Too early for Christmas?

There’s a lot of debate in the crafting world around when the best time is to start advertising and selling Christmas products, and I don’t think there’s a right answer.

Concrete Christmas star

I had a sale of a Christmas decoration in February, and that couldn’t be much further from the next one.

Generally though, I don’t think people start buying Christmas stuff until after a specific date, such as Halloween or a birthday. For me, is after my birthday in October. However there are, increasingly more it seems, people who like to get organised and start stocking up throughout the year.

So what’s the best way to capture these sales but equally not annoying the people who don’t want to think about Christmas until at least the autumn.

From my limited experience, I think the products should be available from July/August time but posting about them should come slowly. Maybe test the waters in August, but don’t go full on Christmas in every social media post until October.

That said I know of some who have already been making Christmas orders, so who knows really. Let me know what you think!

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Things are changing

I wanted to let you all know that there are a few changes which may affect how you view this blog and I wanted to make sure you had plenty of time to adjust.

Gem’s Concrete Gems has a brand new name, a new logo and soon, a new website.

I am becoming Concrete Gems, a more succinct name, but retaining the same ring and analogy to my name.

From 20th August, you will no longer be able to access gemsconcretegems.co.uk. Instead I will be at concretegems.co.uk where you will find not only a blog, but also my beautiful new shop. It will be changing as I get to grips with it all, so please bear with me.

To ensure you don’t miss out on anything, please do sign up to my mailing list, where you will be privy to special offers as well as the most up to date news.eepurl.com/dK3ccc

Social media links may also be changing so please keep an eye out for that too.

Apologies for any hassle this may cause, but I hope you’ll agree that this is exciting development for Concrete Gems.

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Just a Review

I started following the “Just a Card” campaign when I saw Gemma mention it. The campaign aims to get people to support small independent business such as Gem’s Concrete Gems, and to realise that every little purchase makes a difference.

The other night we were talking at our crochet group about the various businesses people are involved in. The conversation went like this:

“I saw X, she and her friend went on one of your courses and they loved it.”

“I wish they would write a review.”

Followed by a collective sigh, as everyone knew of people who love their products and services but don’t post positive reviews.

I came home and posted reviews on recent Etsy purchases that I had liked but never got round to writing. I would have posted reviews on NuMonday purchases but they don’t seem to have a review mechanism…

However I have a caveat to my recommendation to post a review. If the service or product you get from a small business is not what you would expect don’t immediately post a negative review, contact the supplier and explain why you are unhappy and maybe suggest how they could improve. I bought something that was a long time coming and what was delivered wasn’t quite what I ordered; when I contacted the supplier it turned out she was a young mum, on jury service for something lengthy, and she had sent my order out in a hurry when distracted. A negative review would do no good in this case, jury service only lasts a short time and hopefully her experience with me was a prompt to be careful in checking orders.

So when you buy something from an independent business take the time to give them a 5 star review. If they are not up to scratch don’t post a negative review unless they are dreadful and you feel strongly that fellow buyers need warning off.

If you have bought from Gem’s Concrete Gems, please consider leaving a review on Etsy or Facebook.

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Keeping it real in 2019

It’s always tempting at this time of year to make crazy unrealistic resolutions, whether for yourself or for your business, and I’m not saying that I’m not going to do the same, but it is so important not to put too much on your plate all at once either. This is perhaps why I’m writing this post now rather than 3 weeks ago.

I have some big plans and plenty of new ideas for Gem’s Concrete Gems for 2019, but I’m also massively aware of my limitations, the biggest one of which is my time. I’ve always said my business is going to be a slow burner, due to having small children which take up most of my time, and working 2 days a week, which pretty much takes up the rest of the time I have! I’m just left with evenings and the odd nap to ‘concrete’. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation really in that if I don’t have time to work on the business, it will never grow enough to be able to stop working at my ‘proper’ job, which would then give me more time to work on growing the business!! That said though, as the boys get older and start school / preschool, I will gradually have more time to devote to concreting anyway. So whilst I’m keen to move forward, it’s understandable if I don’t get very far I think.

Anyway, back to my big plans! I have set myself the usual goals of being more organised and spending less time procrastinating, and these have largely started out well (I think). I’ve bought some new shelving units (see below) and finally unpacked my stock after December’s craft fairs. This made me realise that I need to build up more stock, so I’ve been in the workshop a bit as well over the past couple of weeks.

Procrastination is a hard one for me, as I am trying to increase my social media following (in the hope of converting followers to sales) but this seems to require a lot of liking, following, posting etc. which feels like procrastination really. I try to do it whilst watching TV in the evening but then it feels like I’m never really relaxing, so I’m not sure whether I need to look at my approach a bit. I’m definitely thinking of scheduling more posts so that I can do more in one go and then ignore it for a while, but I guess it’s just one of those necessities when trying to run an online craft business!

Bigger plans that I’m not sure whether they are achievable this year are to get myself into a physical shop or two! This would be amazing, however it feels like a long way off yet. It requires firstly more stock, and secondly lots of networking and applications to stores. Obviously once again, these things take time, so I will see how it goes.

I’d also like to grow the blog, and possibly set it up so I can sell directly from it, but I’m not sure if this is feasible at the moment (possibly part of the 5 year plan).

New ideas!

I have so many new ideas floating around in my head that it’s impossible to put them all into writing. However, I’m currently working on some pieces for Valentine’s Day, which I will be selling over on my Instagram account @gemsconcretegems as part of the @craftyfeatures Valentine’s market on 1st February. Be sure to check it out!

I’ve also been working on some miniature pots like the ones below, which will be going on Etsy soon! Keep a look out or send me a message if you’re interested.

Colour is another area I am experimenting with at the moment, in particular marbling in the concrete, such as in the coasters below. I love the effect in these.

Marbled hexagonal concrete coasters

Finally I have started to offer personalisation, so that customers can have their initials or a word on their item, as below.

Hexagonal concrete tealight holder personalised

So, these are my plans, we will see how it all pans out, but I’m not going to be too disheartened if I don’t make as much progress as I’d like, because I have time and it’s better to get it right in the long run than mess it up now! It’s all about keeping it real and enjoying the ride!

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Craft fair debrief

Last weekend I had a stall at my first ever craft fair and it was certainly a fantastic learning experience! I didn’t sell as much as I’d wanted to and only really sold to friends and family, which is definitely not the way to have a profitable business, but hey ho it is still early days.

Gem's Concrete Gems craft fair stall display

The above picture is my stall table. I think it looks quite good but it definitely couldn’t have had anything else on it. I actually requested a smaller table, not realising quite how much stock I had and how big some of the pieces are. Luckily they were able to squeeze in a bigger table for me, but I did feel a bit silly and guilty for messing them around. So I’d really recommend doing a full mock up of your table before you go if you can. I only mocked up a few items at home beforehand but that obviously wasn’t enough.

It took a lot longer than I thought it would to set up my display. I had a lot of stock as I didn’t want to risk running out, so it took quite a few trips from the car to bring everything in and then I had to unpack it all and figure out how to display it best. I moved things about quite a lot and rearranged it as the afternoon went on. This is definitely one of those things that gets quicker with practice and experience.

My biggest light bulb moment though was that it is so important to present your items to the right demographic. The fair I attended was in a church, where the majority of footfall were the elderly population, who were buying things like cross stitched Christmas cards, mini paper Christmas trees and stained glass decorations, all of which were at the lower end of the price scale and were quite traditional in design. It seemed like a lot of people weren’t even there to buy anything, except many some tea and cake! My products are definitely more on the modern and on trend size of things, which is in opposition to the majority of customers.

Now I did have items on my stall which fitted a range of price points, but I think that my ideal customer just wasn’t there. So many people complimented my products, which suggests that they are aesthetically pleasing, but obviously they didn’t like them enough to actually pay money for them! My ideal customer is in the 25 to 45 age bracket, mostly female, with disposable income and a liking for unique, modern trends, and that is not who came to visit my stall!

Another factor in this was that there just were not that many people attending and there were not that many craft stalls either, which wouldn’t have helped bring in customers. So I now know that I certainly need to consider who might be attending a fair before I decide whether to have a stall there or not! If I want to make a profitable business, then I need to be a bit savvy in this respect, otherwise it is just a waste of time.

However, in spite of this, I think this was a really beneficial experience as a first attempt. It made me consider how to set up as stall, what stock and equipment I’d need and how to behave whilst there, so now I feel much more prepared to tackle a bigger fair in the future!

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5 tips to starting a handmade business, going back to work, and enjoying family life, without having a breakdown!

Not possible, I hear you say! You’ll burn yourself out! It won’t work! You’re burning the candle at both ends!

Fire-related clichés aside, I received much concern when I suddenly announced I was going back to work. It was a shock to me too. I had committed to making Gem’s Concrete Gems work and was excited (still am) by this new chapter of my life, away from the 9 to 5, being able to be at home for my boys and crafting in between times.

All that changed when my old job begged me to come back with an offer I couldn’t really refuse. Everyone knows that setting up a craft business takes time and money, neither of which I had stacks of, and so here I am. I am still convinced this is only until I get the concrete business up and running.

And while I’m fully aware that this is going to be a test of my organisational skills, I really believe I can make it work and still have time to spend with the boys. So here are my top tips to help you if you are in the same situation as me, or are wanting to start a craft business on top of a regular job and family commitments.

Tip number 1

Your calendar is your friend.

Plan everything: The meals for the week, when you’ll do the shopping, what you’ll need to get, who needs to be where when, when you will work on your business and when you will have family time.

We get our groceries delivered in the main. I do the shop on a Sunday night and it comes just after lunch on a Wednesday. We also visit the market for fresh fruit and veg on a Saturday morning. It’s probably a bonus that we live minutes from the shops but if you’re organised, then it shouldn’t be a problem.

Scheduling in craft time can be important if you’re the kind of person who procrastinates and doesn’t get around to it. For me at the moment it’s scheduling in time with the ever suffering husband which I need to prioritise, as I’m full of enthusiasm for the business and end up doing bits and bobs for it even when I should be chilling out in front of the TV.

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Tip number 2

Do not rush!

Although I really want to succeed in my craft business as soon as possible, it is important not to rush and compromise on quality. Remember, people will choose to buy from you because your craft products are better than any other they have seen. So making sure quality is high on your list is important. Granted, it’s very easy to think in those few spare seconds, ok, I’ll just rush through that bit of decoration, or paint this or that, but this is invariably where mistakes come in.

It doesn’t actually matter and no one will notice whether you are posting to Instagram every day or not, or whether you are pinning the recommended 10 pins a day or not. All that it means is that your followers will grow more slowly and your business will grow more slowly.

BUT this is not necessarily a bad thing!

This will give you the chance to learn from mistakes, to perfect your products, to practice your photography and amend your SEO. So that at a certain point in the not-too-distant future, you will suddenly look up and find that you are a success. This is what I hope will happen for me anyway!!

Tip number 3

Do a course!

I know you can find everything you could possibly need or want to know, and lots that you don’t want, online, but finding the right information will take time. Lots of time! And time is something that is in short supply. So I really recommend taking a course. Not a super expensive one or anything! There are lots to choose from. This is what I’m doing at the moment and I really hope it will help me kick start my business so that I start making some serious money in time for Christmas, and avoid many of the pitfalls that other craft businesses fall into.

Tip number 4

Accept help!

I am really lucky that my husband doesn’t work long hours and is around to help out with the housework and looking after our boys. We’re also lucky to have both sets of parents close by who help out with childcare when I’m at work. This means that we do not have to spend a fortune on nursery which is great. It also means I occasionally get time to do my business stuff when I’ve finished work but before everyone else gets home, which is a massive bonus. Without them, none of this would be possible, but that’s not to say it’s not possible if you do not have this option.

So if you have people who are offering to help out, accept it gratefully, although I would say, be wary not to overuse people, otherwise you are likely to end up in a worse place than before.

Tip number 5

Enjoy it!

You only live once, and if this is what you really want to do, enjoy it! Enjoy the journey and not just the destination! Enjoy the making and enjoy the  mayhem! I know this is much easier said than done and juggling life can be super hard work, however it’s important to have this in the back of your mind because otherwise things can seem very overwhelming.

Just remember that it doesn’t matter if your schedule slips or you take some extra time out with the family. Your craft business will wait for you! I’m going through a stage of very little sleep at the moment due to a smaller member of the family, and so this makes everything else seem much harder. I sit at work feeling like I could fall asleep on my desk. But as soon as I get home and have half an hour spare, I get the rush of excitement again as ideas and inspiration for my craft business comes pouring in! This is what proves to me that Gem’s Concrete Gems is what I want to do with my life long term, and that it is so worth pursuing and persevering with! Don’t give up!

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