Everything I wish I’d known when I started pt.1

The inspiration for this guest entry series comes from a DE I’ve had the pleasure to work with a few years. She started like nearly everyone else and grew her business into a wildly popular product line with rabid fans. Her product is a utility sewn product that is the farthest thing from “fashion” you could imagine but she’s managed to position her product to become a collectible and universally coveted item.

Here’s the spoiler to the whole series that she wants to share with you: After building economies of scale and using sewing contractors for production, she’s gone in the opposite direction to take sewing back in house. Not only that, she’s producing much smaller lots than ever before. She’s inspired to write this because I’ve been telling you this is the direction to go. Too many of you think you need to emulate the biggest players with the largest lots you can order, passing it all off to contractors but the opposite is true. If “Annie’s” story won’t convince you, nothing will.
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I laughed and laughed and laughed when Kathleen suggested I write everything I wish I’d known when I started. “That would be an entire novel, Kathleen.” And oh, how I wished I’d had that novel in-hands five years ago.

I remember when I got started, I sent one of Those Emails. You know the ones, where you get up the guts to email someone you admire in the business and ask them for their advice? I don’t recall what I wrote but this is the kind of email I get these days:

Dear You, I really want to make some extra money. I’m thinking about maybe doing my own business too, maybe selling ______ [insert some totally oversaturated and overdone home crafty product here]. What did you do to make your business such a success?

I’ve gotten them myself and I can tell instantly if this person is going places or not. If they are asking me to point them to the Easy Button To Loads Of Cash, I know they won’t even get off the ground. If, however, their questions reflect work, thought and homework already done, I know they may have a chance. Of course the first thing I do is ask them if they have read The Book and point them to it. Then I encourage them to get back to me after they read it.

I’ve never heard back from anyone. Really! Do I make it look that easy? I doubt it. What I really think is people are either entrepreneurs or they aren’t, and there just isn’t any way to teach that. It’s inside you. Most people just want an Easy Button.

Back to The Email I sent. I did get a reply, and she said to me, “You are exactly like me two years ago. I have conflicting feelings. Part of me wants to tell you, ‘Don’t do it!’ and the other part of me wants to give you a filing cabinet.” Now I know exactly what she means.

I started out like so many of us. Sewing as a child. Making up designs. Creating my own prom dresses. Copying vintage styles. Dabbling in all kinds of fiber arts as the circumstances of my life allowed and didn’t allow large dining-room-table-consuming sewing projects. (Knitting just fits in a basket, don’t you know.)

I also started out running a business out of my cubby in the second grade. The teacher couldn’t get me to stop until she brought in the principal who very seriously informed me that I was not allowed to run a business without a license or the police would have to be involved. Nothing less deterred me, even at age 8.

I had a string of little businesses after that, none of them failures, but all of them outgrown by me or not taken to the next level due to other goals taking precedence.

Then five years ago, the bug bit me again. I saw a niche. I saw an opportunity. And I jumped. Pretty soon I was staying up all night sewing on my home machines. I knew I needed industrial machines. I had the money for industrial machines. However, I didn’t have an extra inch anywhere in my tiny house for even the footprint of a single industrial table. I measured. I really didn’t.

I sent The Email. I got that reply. I was encouraged. I found The Book. I can’t remember how I found Kathleen. I think I just kept doggedly googling until I found her. I couldn’t get the paypal checkout to work, so I called the number and Kathleen answered.

She spent over an hour on the phone with me.

I would say the biggest secret or the closest thing to one in this business, is that people are willing to educate you if you are willing to listen to them. I’m sure my story is an example of both Listening and Not Listening, but all the listening I did always paid off.

Because of my living circumstances, and because I had four young children, including an infant, I decided to go the Find A Sewing Contractor Route in my path toward Sewn Product Manufacturing, rather than the Set Up Your Own Shop in my pursuit of Design Entrepreneurship Success. I was over sewing. I was over staying up all night. Quite honestly I found making my flagship product nerve wracking. I was confident in my design and its abilities to go places. I just wanted someone else to make it.

Besides that, the Sewing Contractor route seemed hard enough. The Build-Your-Own-Shop looked like Everest, and I was tired.

Related:
Everything I wish I’d known when I started pt.1
Everything I wish I’d known when I started pt.2
Everything I wish I’d known when I started pt.3
Everything I wish I’d known when I started pt.4

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