So what is it really like to own a fabric and wool shop?

 

Have you thought about opening your own craft shop?

Have you thought about opening your own craft shop?

Hello readers!

I have just returned from my second speaking gig on behalf of Coats Crafts UK at the stunning Newbury Race Course (on a completely different aside – I drove there from Wantage in Oxfordshire and took the B4494 road to Newbury - absolutely take-your-breath-away beautiful). The talk was pretty much the focussed on the same topic – finding (and flexing!) your social media muscle.  I even added a bit about my journey as a marketer – as both a marketing professional and as the marketing person for the Studio. It has been an interesting journey between these two completely different job titles that is for sure!

But I really wanted to chat to the retailers who were there to find out what it is like when you decide to go from being a shop owner wannabe to someone that carries a much bigger share of responsibility (and exposure!) by taking up space as a shop owner. The conversations were so interesting that I thought I would share with you parts of the discussion that were worth passing along.

Look really close and you can see the crystals winking at you!

Look really close and you can see the crystals winking at you!

There was a range of shops that were there – from long established (often family owned) businesses to one that was celebrating her shop’s one year anniversary on the day of the event.  It was obvious from talking to many of them that the internet has posed both opportunities as well as threats to their businesses but that those who were up for the challenge were fighting back…and gaining ground.  As much as some of the people there might not like to have heard it – the key to it is engaging with social media and knowing what is working when you are doing it and when to change gears.

 

Socks. socks and more socks!

Socks. socks and more socks!

 

During the Q and A sessions (which I love to have people ask me questions!) there was a lovely older gentleman that raised his hand and proudly told us about how his shop had used Facebook ads successfully (again, music to my ears!) and also was working with Mailchimp to get their mailing list up and running (I have said that a good mailing list is as important as your social media presence). You could see he wanted to tell other shops that if he could do it – so could they!

My favourite story had to be from Jenna Clements of Exeter Sewing Machines who was sat in the front of the room and enthusiastically nodded her head as I was giving my talk. She also said that for her business, they have someone employed to help them keep up with the social media updates and that this pays for itself in so many ways. She even shared a tweet that they posted during the last Sewing Bee which was retweeted by none other than Patrick Grant himself (she said it was one of only two tweets that he retweeted that entire day – imagine how many people got to see it!). 

Yes - Twitters means you can even have make contact with Patrick Grant if you wear a moustache!

Yes – Twitter means you can even make contact with Patrick Grant if you wear a moustache!

But the most touching thing that Jenna told me was what about the activity on her table of other shop owners:

“It was lovely to see people on my table who clearly had little confidence with social media frantically writing notes during your talk. One man even wrote down “it is never to late to start!” 

That “it is never too late to start” was one of the last slides I presented. I can completely understand how daunting it must be if you feel that everyone is doing it and you are only starting – which is why I included that slide.

It isn’t too late – just get started.

When I have done my last talk (in Edinburgh next month) I will take the talk and convert it into a slide presentation for all you folks as I would like to have it available for everyone to use.

Always happy to spread the good news on social media and again thanks to the fantastic folks at Coats Crafts for giving me the opportunity to talk about this important tool for small businesses.

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My day with the lovely people at Coats Crafts UK

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If you have been following the Studio’s Facebook page, you will know that recently, I have been doing a fair amount of speaking. My husband would say that me speaking a lot isn’t a bit deal (ahem..) but this is different. This is speaking to those in the crafting industry about something I am passionate about – flexing your social media muscle to help your small business.

About six weeks ago, the folks at Coats Crafts contacted me to ask if would be a guest speaker at their retailer events scheduled to take place around the UK from April to June. I have been a big fan of Coats for years – they distribute some of my favourite fabrics (Amy Butler, Joel Dewberry, Kaffe Fassett) and we love their wools and use them exclusively in our crochet workshops here at the Studio. So to be asked to work with a brand you already know and love is a no brainer.

Their specific request was that I speak about the importance of using social media in the changing face of retail for small independent shops.  And when they told me I would be sharing the stage with Stuart Hillard, from the Great British Sewing Bee first series, even better!

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An assortment of new fabric lines in beautiful Spring colours.

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And in my favourite colours – orange and grey!

This type of event is new for Coats Crafts UK and they were keen not to just promote the upcoming lines of fabric and wool, they wanted to identify where they could help the retailers with information that they will be able to use in, hopefully, raising their profile and gaining more business.

coats_wool_children

The new line of wools made into an assortment of sweaters for both children and adults.

My role was to speak about the use of social media and how it can be one of the best tools that small businesses have available to them to enable them to grow. I love to talk about this incredibly important aspect of small business stewardship – it really is so important.  I got a chance to chat to quite a few of the retailers during the lunch and found that they agreed wholeheartedly that they needed to use social media (some were doing great things) but that there was more that they could learn in terms of how to use it in a continued and focussed way.

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If only my daughter was a bit younger….this is gorgeous.

Stuart spoke about the importance of displaying merchandise in a way that will invite the customer in to be part of the creative experience the shop has to offer.  They say people eat with their eyes but I also believe they craft that way too – they see a sample of how to make something and they instantly want to try themselves.

I did have to laugh as Stuart was obviously the big draw as he is so well known – I felt like a really unknown warm up band to Ed Sheeran!  But we had had some lovely chats in downtime, talked about Quilt Market in America (he’s been and I am desperate to go!), had more than a few laughs and said we would pick up where we left off when we met again for the next date in May (we are doing this again for the retailers located in the South of the UK at Newbury Racecourse).

Stuart Hillard showing how to make a no-sew cover for a cushion.

Stuart Hillard showing how to make a no-sew cover for a cushion.

A quilt doesn't have to have loads of patterns to make an impact - this one is gorgeous!

A quilt doesn’t have to have loads of patterns to make an impact – this one is gorgeous!

My next post about the Newbury session and my aim is to speak to some of the retailers about their own experiences. They are the backbone of the crafting industry and it will be interesting to hear what they have to say about what it is really like from the shop floor.

And it won’t take me so long to get that post done – promise!

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My 5 top tips for working from home…with kids!

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Those of you that follow us on Facebook will recognise the image of me above from earlier in the week…at near meltdown.

I had all three kids at home on Easter holiday, the weather hadn’t quite reached the loveliness that we are now experiencing and my husband was at his work. So I/we was stuck inside, no-one to tag team on the kids front as I stared down the barrel of blog posts and FB updates to do.

My fault really – Georgie & Gus is needing my time as well as the normal Studio stuff. But I was starting to get that clenched teeth feeling when I was answering questions about snacks, toilet trips and sibling arguments. The meltdown occurred when I turned around to see ALL my kids in the room with me, but busily getting on with their own activities/arguments.

That was when I snapped the photo you see.

Sometimes, you gotta laugh or you are gonna cry…or more likely, go postal.

But I also know, in my crazy “got to get this done now” scene, I was forgetting my golden rules when it comes to working from home. Rules and I have a love/hate relationship…but when it comes to working from home…the rules RULE!  Here are the 5 that work for me:

1. I get up at least an hour before the kids do and work on the most important things on my to do list. I am a morning person when it comes to work and I get more done in that golden hour than if I try later on in the day.

2. Where I am able, I order anything I need (from groceries to printer cartridges to windshield wiper blades) for delivery. It gives you more free time to juggle things around – nothing is worse than when you can see a free hour in your schedule but know you need to go grocery shopping instead.

3. If the kids are home with me, I try and make sure that they have activities to do, preferably at the same time so I get a window of time free. Normally, I can get an hour of them doing an activity and then they get bored. So I make sure to really work for that hour.

4. See if you can get one day (of a week) where they are ALL booked in activities or at friends. One clear day is better than trying to grab an hour here and there each day.

5. This last little bit of info sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t but when it does, it is magic! I will give my 7 year old a task but word it in a way that makes him think he is doing it for a greater cause. As an example, if I ask him to make his bed as good as Stampy Longnose, he practically runs to his room to do it. When he is finished, really truly finished, we take a photo and then send it to said Mr Longnose…(I hope you all know who Stampy Longnose is…). Try it!

So I have one more week to go of this balancing act. Feel free to keep checking back in to see that I am compis mentis!

X

PS –   Okay, so those are my top tips…what do you do if you need to carve out time to finish a project while the kids are swarming around you like bees to the honeypot?

Spring clean your in-box (no duster required!)

 

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As a busy Mum, small business owner and lover of the internet, I find my in-box both a source of joy and frustration. It is what keeps me on top of my game until someone changes the rules of the game.

A few months ago I had so many emails in my inbox that it ground to a halt. My emails were only allowed in under a very strict “one out..one in” policy as per my email provider. My husband, who is my resident Dr Spock, looked at my in box and said quite bluntly…”your email is full of crap”.

What? I only have emails coming in that I want to get – what is he talking about?

He told me to start taking a look at what I really get in my in-box every day..not what I think I get in my in-box.

So I started to take note of every email that I received which fit in to one of three categories: never opened, never asked for or just not needed.

Oh my - what an eye opener.  

The biggest offenders were Amazon (at least 3 a day!), Boden and Facebook. One day, I counted over 35 emails in my personal inbox that didn’t have to be there…and my mail box for Make and Do was suffering from the same fate.

I have given it an official name #overinboxitus.

So the first thing on my list of Spring cleaning was to identify the biggest offenders and unsubscribe them. In the case of Facebook, you can tick unsubscribe for only certain things – like being notified if a friend of a friend posts – but still get notified of posts that you want to see.

And then if there was an email that was sent to me without my notification, I unsubscribed and reported it as spam. That was a bit harder as some of the senders made it REALLY hard to find that little unsubscribe button….but keep looking as, by law, it should be there.

And now I really like my in-box as when I see an email coming in, it really is from someone that I want to hear from.  

Do you suffer from overinboxitus? Really look at what comes in…it is eyeopening

And then get Spring cleaning that in box and I promise you that the side effect is that you don’t feel like your inbox is so overwhelming!

Have a great Easter!

X

PS –  I also wanted to say that my Spring has started on a real high note as I am going to be a Keynote speaker at both the CHA’s Creative Exchanges in a few weeks time and then again on behalf of Coats Crafts (they are the people behind names like Rowan and Free Spirit Fabrics) about the changing face of craft businesses….very excited!

Think that good business karma is an accident?

karma_flower_business
Do you believe in the idea of karma?  And can you learn how to cultivate good karma and keep on growing it for your business?

One word answer - absolutely.

Karma is just an exchange of positive energy combined with a bit of luck as well as the ability to see more than what the immediate picture has to offer. I know it can sound a bit hippy dippy but I have seen good karma manifest itself again and again and in particular, the last few weeks.

So how can you cultivate good karma in your business?

You look for an opportunity to say yes where you are able. Because that is the positive energy that karma needs to grow.

When someone asks you for help, say “of course – what do you need?“.

Can you spare five minutes to look at this for me“sure, happy to help”

I know you are a bit busy but if you could give me advice...”thank you for asking for my advice. I am busy at the moment but can make time later in the week to have a quick chat”.

And no, I don’t mean say yes to everything. That would be completely soul destroying and energy draining. I mean that when you are asked, you say yes if your head (and your heart) tells you that saying yes is for the right reasons.

You cannot grow and cultivate good karma if you only do things that will benefit you or your circumstance.  

But if you try and get that Karma gig going, you will be amazed at how slowly, slowly…it starts to come back to you.

The last few weeks have been busy here at the Studio –  between getting the final list of speakers for our Georgie and Gus event lined up, adding new workshops to our schedule, teaching workshops that are already there! and just keeping all the plates spinning that family life requires. And every time I have gotten myself in to a bit of pickle while keeping all these plates in motion, good karma has stepped in to give me the space and energy required to keep the plates spinning.

So get going on the good karma, because the sooner you start, the sooner it comes back your way!

X

PS – Isn’t that a gorgeous flower in the photo? I snapped it a few weeks back and it is a boutonnière that was on display by the talented Living Colour Flowers at a wedding fair that we both were involved with. Stunning!

So the chance to try something new isn’t really your thing? Read on!

Why would you ever?…

….agree to speak to a room full of strangers?

…about a topic that could quite easily be boring if you aren’t careful?

…at an event that is one of the largest in the UK crafting industry?

..and then agree to do it again if asked?

Because, quite simply, sometimes it is really important to do something that scares the pants off you.

When you were a kid, you did this on a daily basis and it was part of the thrill of being a kid.

Growing up on a farm in very rural Vermont (read: middle of nowhere…) we often had to create our own experiences. It was back before the days of play centres and afterschool clubs. So, depending on the season, we would try and invent activities based on things we hadn’t done before….going through a deeper part of a river, swinging on an even higher rope, on a snowy day going as fast as you can on your sled (which happens to take you across a busy road) while your brother makes sure there are no cars coming across said road.

Each time you did it, you got that tingle in your tummy. The one that says “ooohh..now this should be interesting!”.  

And I don’t think, just because we are a bit older, we should try and avoid that feeling. I think we get scared of what doing that “new thing” will cause – and our brains think of the negative possibilities and we push that “new thing” to the side. And you miss that tingle in the tummy feeling.

So next time you are given the chance (or maybe you make the chance?) to do something new….don’t listen to the naysayers in your head….just grab the sled and get going down the hill!

X

My best December present and what you can learn from it

Last year at the beginning of January, while thinking hard about what I wanted to achieve in the year 2014, one of my intentions was to take time out to sew more. As my business has gotten busier, I have sewn less and that was bugging me…

My sewing habits did increase last year – as they say, that when you set an intention, it tends to get done. And they are right.

But there are/were two things I was struggling to get started/finished…I started a single sized quilt in August that in soooooo close to finished  (if you followed my visit back to Vermont on Facebook, you will have seen my Mom and I working on it),  as well as a lap quilt for my nephew, born in May, which I started weeks before his due date by designing and cutting out a nine squares. I didn’t want to use a pattern so was just kind of making it up as I went along but according to my maths, I was going to need alot more than the nine squares, but hey, I had loads of time before the baby came along.

And  sure enough, Jack came in to this world a bit late but pretty much around his due date. And there sat the squares in a nice neat pile. And they pretty much stayed in that pile, bar a few times I spread them out to see what they looked like. And then scooped them up and put them back in the pile…and the guilt from not having sorted the quilt out started to eat at me.

So I made a decision...better to be late than not at all….and maybe not quite what my good intentions created.

And a week before Christmas, I delivered Jack’s quilted cushion:

quilted_cushion

Here is a close up of one of the squares:

quilted_cushion_close_up_map

And when I decided to add the blue trim around the squares, and was spending ages trying to figure out how much fabric to cut for the fabric (and a fair bit of swearing! , my clever husband whipped up a spreadsheet that does it for me… all I do is add some basic numbers….and out spits my necessary requirements!

cushion_fabric_calculator

So, with all of us rolling in to 2015 with intentions of being better at whatever we think we need to be better at…maybe just go a bit easy on the expectations, deliver them when you can and high five yourself when you do it?

Anyone else agree?

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Let me and my Dad give you a lesson on perspective

Dads_biggest_tomato

You must be wondering what this photo of my Dad’s tomato has to do with perspective?  More than you would imagine and that is what I want to share with you.

At the tail end of my month back home, my Dad’s tomato’s started to get ripe and were teasing him with their “almost readiness”.  And for those of you that tend to a garden, you will struggle to find more joy than when everything starts to need to be picked. I would say “fruits of your labour” but really in my Dad’s case, it is “vegetables of his labour”.  And this beauty was the first one off the vine.

I suggested we take some photos as it was such a source of pride for my Dad and as I am slowly finding confidence in trying to take better photos,  I thought the tomato was a good subject. So we started to snap away and I showed him my first few attempts which were okay but not great.

So we both wondered what would happen if we turned it this way, shined it up a bit (like you do with an apple - rubbing it on your trouser leg) and that helped a bit. But as we got better at making the tomato look like the perfect tomato by hiding the blemishes and shining it up, we decided to see if we could make it the biggest tomato as well.

So in came little Addison and his small hands  - and suddenly, my Dad’s first pick of the season looked like the size of pumpkin and was perfect in all aspects.

But it just looks perfect folks. Trust me (sorry Dad!) there were loads of dings that you are hidden and well, if it WAS that big, I would be on the horn to Guinness World Book instead of writing this post.

And it occurred to me that it is important to remind people that this tomato is a good lesson in perspective.  

And reminding yourself that what you see isn’t necessarily what reality is.

 

That parent who has perfect children? No they don’t – they just know how to behave better in public.

Dang – their house is always clean. No it isn’t – everyone has a junk drawer and we all know it.

Your business is floundering while your competitors is flying. Nope – everyone has peaks and troughs….they just show you the peaks.

Her ass looks so much better than mine!  One word – Spanx.

You can let that distorted vision of perfection make you feel less….well, just less.

Be vulnerable and truthful enough to not be afraid to show the imperfection in your life.

It will make you feel more human and real.

And stronger.

Here’s to imperfect tomatoes!

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It’s all about the number of heartbeats…

son_number_oneIn amongst the preparation for our trip back to the mother land, son number one, who is 15, is making a quick trip to Germany for work study.

I dropped him off early Sunday morning, the first light rain in what seems like ages, misting the windshield as we drove to the airport. Everything about the morning was telling me to  go  slow and be present – this was his first trip on his own and my first of letting him go.

I also had to be conscience in not taking the lead  - it was, after all, his trip. So I explained the importance of checking the flight board and then let him stretch his wings.

And then we were at that moment where we were stood by the mouth of security and he wanted to go and I couldn’t think of any more words of wisdom to impart to him. And in typical man/boy fashion, he turned and started to walk towards the security gate….I had to call him back for a hug and a kiss. He laughed at his mistake, bent down and gave me one of each.

And then as he strolled down in to the sea of people, my tears came out of nowhere. The kind and volume where the security lady looked at me, smiled and said “he will be alright”.

The assurances that he would be “alright” wasn’t really the reason for my tears (okay – maybe just a few!) it was about the fact that I get a reminder every once in a while, that life is a finite amount of heartbeats. Nobody knows how many but you will have some – hopefully many. But watching son number one stroll away made me realise just how many heartbeats had passed since he first came in to my life and how quickly they grow up and leave.

Enjoy this summer with your family and friends – be present as much as possible.

Take that time to remind yourself about the number of heartbeats….and make sure you spend them making memories…

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Travel tips for the nosey: what is inside my travel bag

Two weeks from today and I will be clutching my passport with almost youthful glee at that thought of getting on Mr British and Mrs Airways for our early afternoon flight to Boston. I have been doing this journey for over 21 years now and I still get that “clappinghandsaren’tweexcited” feeling about this time in the pre-trip run up. Our dinner conversations are now wrapped around swimming holes the kids want to invade, shopping that they want to do (they love Target-how high class!), people and family we are going to reconnect with and the easy comfort that going home brings me.

Having done this journey so many times, I thought I would share with you what goes in my bag when I get on the plane and also a few things not in my bag but worth knowing about (seriously, some of these are lifesavers!):

Tech, smells and meds for easy travel

Tech, gear and app stuff  (because we all use our phones as our third arm):

 

: fully charged iPhone with earphones.  I also have a real good sweep on my phone of all the apps I don’t need (delete!) or need upgrading (upgrade!) to free any memory that I might need for later.

: I have discovered that my iPhone seems to practically sprint through its battery life compared to when I first got it. I thought at first it was the battery just giving up the ghost but then I did a bit of research and it is do with with all the stuff that is going on in the background while your phone is just sitting there.  You don’t always need these things to be running so you need to shut them down – here is a list of what you can shut down and how (and you can use this list even if you aren’t travelling to get the most out of your phone).

: it goes without saying, if you are travelling anywhere outside of the UK, check your data and roaming charges for your phone.  Here is the master Martin Lewis and his input on how to make sure you get the right package for where you are travelling and what your usage is.  Me? I know that in the States free WiFi is everywhere so I plan to just ride on the back of that as much as possible and there are websites that show you where the wireless spots are to help you plan your data usage around that. It involves a bit of discipline in NOT checking my phone all the time but I am on holiday so I just switch gears and use my phone as a camera and not a distraction.

Potions. Lotions and Meds

: a spritzer water bottle (regulation size!) of water with a bit of rose water, bergamot and ylang ylang (thanks Sue Lacey for introducing me to these luscious smells!). I use it to keep my face from drying up like a prune when in mid air (someone mentioned forgoing alcohol mid flight to keep your moisture levels up – I would rather use my spritzer thank you…) plus the smell is lovely (mine are from  Neals Yard in case you are wondering).

:Vaseline as you can use it for dry lips, dry bits and everything in between.

: aspirin or ibuprofen – ever been somewhere with a headache (or a neck ache from the oh-so-comfortable seats in cattle class) and no pain relief at hand? Not nice so get the pain relief (only a few pills are needed for keeping your bag from getting overfilled) and be smug in your preparation.

:anti sick meds for my kiddos…no need to explain that one!

:toothpaste – I am a stickler for dirty teeth and stale breath so I pack a regulation size tube of toothpaste. If space allows – a toothbrush as well – but if not, a finger will do (come on, it reminds you of it what as like to have a night out at a place other than home where you got up, fixed your hair, gargled with toothpaste and walked out like you didn’t care!).

Comfort things

:spare pare of ped socks as I hate cold feet in flight

:a Pashmina given to me many moons ago  - it is a great blanket, light-blocker-outer and even classes up my in flight outfit.

:my latest crochet project

:a small paper notebook (this one is from the Lyndsey James photo workshop I took last Autumn) for taking down ideas of moments of inspiration. And my Bic pen of choice for flights.

: my Kindle fully charged and downloaded with some holiday  literary goodness.

Hope that helps those of you going on your travels this summer…..if you want to post any travel hints that have been helpful to you, feel free! signature