Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Tips for Turning Your Hobby into a Business



Exciting times, people. Not only are more and more people getting into sewing and making, but more and more small businesses are popping up on the scene to cater to our crafty needs. It’s wonderful to see women following their dreams of starting a company – and bringing us new options and fresh approaches for reviving traditional crafts. Yay for crafty biz!

Every few days I receive an email or DM on Twitter from someone seeking advice for setting up a small business – whether it’s a sewing school, clothing line, e-book business, pattern company or fabric shop. I started earning a bit of money from Tilly and the Buttons in the Summer of 2012, and took the plunge into full time self-employed mode a year later – so I’m very much still learning (every day!) and wouldn’t call myself a veteran business owner with all the answers. But what I can share are my top tips on starting up – some of these are things I’ve done from the very beginning, others are things I learnt the hard way...

1) Test the waters
Before you invest all your savings into putting a deposit down on that shop space or manufacturing your product line – and definitely before you quit your day job – make sure you’ve tested out your idea to see if people will actually buy it. I highly recommend the book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries which talks about how to apply the principles of lean manufacturing to business. The thrust of it is that, rather than wasting time and money developing something that nobody wants, put out a beta version of it, get customer feedback, and learn from that to improve your product or service. For example, if you want to design sewing patterns, start by releasing PDF versions and monitor your sales and get feedback on them before you invest in printing. Or if you want to open a sewing school, how about starting by running a time-limited pop-up or monthly events at an existing venue first? You’ll learn so much from putting your stuff out there into the world, and testing the waters like this will allow you to tweak your idea before you’ve invested too much into it.



2) Be clear who your work is for
Your work isn’t going to appeal to everyone. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s a good thing! If you try to create a product or service that everyone likes, you’ll be spreading your efforts too thin, creating something a bit bland and probably won’t end up making much of an impact with anyone. So be specific about who you’re trying to appeal to (their age, gender, lifestyle, hobbies, dress sense, favourite magazines, pets…), and pitch everything you do directly at them. You don’t have the marketing resources of Coca Cola. What you want as a small business is to be niche – niche enough so that the clearly defined group of people who you want to love your stuff REALLY love your stuff. And buy it. And tell all their friends about it.

3) Cost everything from the start
Get out your spreadsheets – creating a detailed, honest, realistic budget is reeeeally important. If you want your project to be a real, sustainable business some day and not just stay a hobby on the side of your day job forever (hello impending burnout), then before you set the pricing you really need to work out the cost of producing your product or running your service. I don’t just mean what it costs you right now, which may be very little if you’re working from home, earning your main salary elsewhere, and using equipment that you already have to hand. I mean what it will cost you when you’re running the business the way you would like it to be in the future – when you’ve outgrown the kitchen table, have created staff positions, are using professional services and producing and selling on the scale you would like. Research or make an educated guess as to how much it’ll cost in terms of supplies, manufacturing, rent, overheads, insurance, packaging, staff salaries, depreciation of equipment (at some point you’ll need a new laptop or sewing machine), stationery, software subscriptions… etc etc. And – assuming you’re not independently wealthy – don’t forget to pay yourself! Once you've got the actual costs, you'll need to add some kind of profit to your price if you want to keep the business going and growing. If you'd like to see your stuff stocked in shops one day, you’ll also need to factor in retailer mark ups, which can range from double to triple your wholesale price. If you’re in the UK, at some point you’ll (hopefully) hit the threshold at which you have to include VAT in your pricing (the VAT threshold for 2014/15 is £81,000 turnover), so even if you’re not yet registered for VAT you’ll need to be prepared to pay this out of your sales to the tax man. (I don't know how sales tax works in other countries, please share in the comments if you do.) Work all these things now, before you announce your prices to the world – it’ll save you a nasty shock later!


4) Dream big, but start small
If you’ve read this far, I’m guessing you have big ambitions. Maybe those ambitions are to quit your job and to work for yourself full time, to have your own fabric line stocked in your favourite shops, to rent a beautiful office space, to employ a whole team of people, to have a custom-built website, to run a sewing school in the Bahamas… Having a vision for what you want your business to be is wonderful – but don’t let the pursuit of perfection hold you back. It’s probably not going to be exactly what you want it to be at the beginning. For the first few months (maybe even years), you’ll probably be running your business in your pyjamas from the kitchen table, with very little money, working all hours, doing absolutely everything yourself, and dreaming of the days when you’ll have more to invest into your product or service. It may not be everything you dreamed of – but the important thing is that you’ve stopped simply dreaming about it and have started doing it. Brixton today, Bahamas tomorrow...

5) Be a do-er
It’s easy to sit around talking about what other people are doing – whether you love it or hate it. Where the challenge lies is putting yourself out there and doing something yourself. It’s hard work. It’s scary. You’ll be making yourself vulnerable to mistakes, criticism and burnout. But all that pales in comparison to the exhilarating sense of fulfilment you will get from taking control of your life and creating work to share with the world. Cliché alert – at some point we’re all going to die, and while I’m alive I want to make stuff and share stuff and build something positive that I can be proud of.

I love this quote by George Bernard Shaw:

“This is the true joy in life — being used for a purpose recognised by yourself as a mighty one… being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.”

Wishing you lots of happiness and fulfilment in your ventures!

Friday, 17 October 2014

Red Button Delphine Skirt



I've been daydreaming about making this skirt for months now, and finally made the time to stitch it up this week. My other four Delphine skirts (pattern in my book) get worn all the time, and I wanted to add a red one to the collection. There's something about red that instantly makes an outfit feel more special, I find - even if it's a simple skirt thrown on with a stripy top, AKA my signature style! A-line mini skirts are on trend (en trende, if you will) right now, apparently - not that I pay much attention to trends, but there is something so lovely about wearing a little skirt over wooly tights on chilly Autumnal days, don't you think?



The fabric is gabardine, one of my favourite materials to sew with, and perfect for this skirt as it holds the structured shape really nicely. Although it does tend to get a little crumpled and creased! I covered some buttons in the same fabric and hand stitched them onto the front. I lined the skirt with this polka dot lining in my stash - here's a tutorial on lining the skirt that I wrote a few months back if you want to do likewise.


I'm teaching a workshop on how to make this skirt on Saturday 25 October at my studio - I'm really looking forward to seeing what fabrics everyone chooses!

What have you been sewing recently, please?

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Love at First Stitch in North America!

sewing book for beginners


Today's the day - zips become zippers, tacking is now basting, overlockers morph into sergers... The North American edition of my book, Love at First Stitch, is released today - hooray! You can order the book from Amazon.com now...



Love at First Stitch is the book I wish had existed when I started sewing. It takes you from the absolute basics of threading your sewing machine through to creating a wardrobe full of clothes you'll be proud to say you made yourself. Since the best way to learn is to get stuck in, rather than being overwhelmed with theory, each chapter is structured around a project and teaches you just enough techniques to make it.





The projects start off really simple - a headscarf and pajama pants (pyjama bottoms to Brits!) - and build in complexity so before you know it you're confidently stitching up a chic Chelsea collar blouse with pleated sleeves and a lined party dress with scallop neckline (and not a cushion cover or apron in sight). Since sewing should be fun, the tone of writing is encouraging and down-to-earth, hopefully inspiring you to just go for it :)


If you already know how to sew, you can skip over the techniques sections and focus on making up the patterns. There are five patterns included on full scale sheets in the back of the book (some of them require tracing off) - Margot pyjamas, Delphine skirt, Megan dress, Mimi blouse and Lilou dress - plus instructions on how to draft your own simple pattern for the Brigitte scarf and Clemence skirt.


Each chapter also includes a section called 'Make It Your Own' which demonstrates variation ideas for all the projects - making 21 projects in total. The 'Make It a Lifestyle' sections feature (slightly tongue-in-cheek) musings on hot topics around becoming a DIY dressmaker, such as how to fit sewing into a busy life and how to behave in a fabric store.



The book has received over 100 five star reviews on Amazon.co.uk (thank you!) and has been nominated as Best Sewing Book 2014 in the British Sewing Awards (please vote if you haven't done so already!).

I can't wait to see what you make from the book - do send me a photo (or Tweet me), and I'll add it to the other lovely creations in the Maker Gallery.

Order the book from Amazon.com now!

Friday, 10 October 2014

Behind the Scenes... Workshops in the Studio



This time last week I was busy arranging the studio for the sewing workshops we've started hosted. I've been designing and teaching courses for ten years now, but last weekend were particularly thrilling because they're the first I've ever run in my own space. Once I'd nailed the lesson plans, I got a bit (over?)excited making the other preparations...

sewing classes London
sewing classes London

Fiskars sent over an assortment of dressmaking scissorsrotary cutters and - best of all - these dreamy A1 cutting mats. Why so excited? Because they're not that standard shade of dark green, no. They're banana yellow! One of my two favourite colours! Sigh... they make me so happy...

sewing classes London
sewing classes London

Something else that makes me happy is having a MASSIVE THREAD STAND in the studio. The lovely people at Mettler brought this round this week, so in future workshop participants can choose a shade of thread for their project right here. Duncan from Mettler was quite excited that the studio is north-facing - apparently it means the light is perfect for colour matching. Not something I'd really thought about before!

sewing workshops London

And of course you can't have a sewing workshop without a goodie bag, and you can't have a goodie bag without sweeties. Stitchers need sugar sustenance! Mollie Makes sent over some mags for the bags too, so the participants would have plenty of creative inspiration (to go with their sugar rush) to take away with them.

sewing workshops London

We had a full house on Saturday, with eight lovely ladies for Learn to Sew 1: Make Friends with a Sewing Machine. Some of them had never used a sewing machine before in their life, others hadn't sewn in a while and were looking for a refresher. They all got stuck right in and we had such a giggle that some of them have now become friends after the class.

sewing workshops London
sewing workshops London

Once they'd got to grips with the (not so) mysterious art of threading a sewing machine, we moved on to sew a Brigitte head scarf and play around with decorative stitches. At one point the room went particularly high pitched when someone discovered the kitty embroidery stitch on the Janome DKS100. (Awwwww!!!) Cue eight kitty themed head scarves!

sewing classes London
sewing classes London

On the Sunday, four stitchers returned for Learn to Sew 2: Make Pyjamas. Even though I wasn't sewing myself, I found it the perfect way to spend a Sunday - cutting, stitching, chatting and drinking tea. Look at those grins - these ladies did themselves proud! We toasted their achievements at the end of each day with a glass of prosecco. You've gotta celebrate learning, haven't you?!


sewing workshops london

It was such a wonderful weekend and I'm looking forward to our next workshops already! Most of the workshops for the rest of the year are sold out, but we do have places still available on Learn to Sew 1: Make Friends with a Sewing Machine on Wednesday 12 November (6.30 - 9.30pm - for novice stitchers or those looking for a sewing machine refresher) and Learn to Sew 3: Make a Skirt on Saturday 25 October (10am - 5pm - for beginners who can use a sewing machine and want help starting dressmaking). And if you're desperate to do one of our sold out classes, just email hello at tillyandthebuttons.com and we'll put you on the waiting list and let you know as soon as we have new dates.

Hope to see you there!