11 June 2011

A Day in the Life of Jenny Hart - Sublime Stitching

What's it like to run a successful stitching business? In this month's A Day in the Life, we get to be a fly on the wall chez Jenny Hart, the brains behind the marvellous Sublime Stitching. Jenny discovered the joy of embroidery in 2000 and set up her company a year later to offer an alternative to the difficult instructions and ubiquitous cutesy designs. You won't find teddy bear patterns at Sublime Stitching - think vultures, sushi, and (my favourite) sexy librarians. "But what does she eat for lunch?" I hear you cry. All in good time...

"My day usually starts not long after I get out of bed.

I often get up around 6:30 or 7:30 am, but never to an alarm (which I consider a luxury). If I get up past 8 I consider it “sleeping in”. I try not to look at email until after I’ve showered and had breakfast but usually, I can’t resist. Ideally, I get up, eat oatmeal and go for a bike ride before I settle in to work. Otherwise, I’ll get snagged and be on the computer until noon in my pajamas without brushing my teeth or eating a thing (this is not a good state to be in). Because I work from home, I don’t have to be dressed, fed and out the door by a certain time. Conversely, I probably start working earlier than most. I’m often on my computer as early as 7:30 am, but no later than 9am. The morning is my favorite time to work. I feel I can tackle the most, have the best focus and energy - which wanes as the day goes on. So, I try to make the most of my mornings and get the most accomplished then. The fact that I don’t have to drive to work is something I’m continuously grateful for. I work 10-12 hours a day, 6-7 days a week, and I love what I do. Even though it presents enormous challenges, frustrations and constant hurdles to overcome, it’s all worth it.

I work from home and rent a very small, off-site office (it’s more like a hut) where my patterns and kits are stored and shipped. Everything had been in my house up until a couple of years ago, so moving it out was a big step. I like to work from home because it keeps me free from distractions and I can communicate with my two part-time employees via chat.

Most of my day is spent prioritizing what needs to be done. That means paying attention to issues that crop up that I must address without delay while actively not paying attention to things that will pull me away from important projects. It’s very, very easy to spend an entire day being active and getting nothing done. I try to avoid getting pulled into activity that takes up a lot of time, but accomplishes little.

My day is a mix of checking emails, updating my website and managing numerous, ongoing projects. New patterns, re-prints of old patterns, researching new product (sometimes it can take years to find what I’m looking for)… Running a business also means there are daily operations that have to be constantly kept in check. Checking my bank balance, bills, mail, inventory, follow-up with vendors, doing research, blogging, website maintenance…there is never a day with a clean slate.

Lunch is usually an opportunity for me to get out, so I like to go grab a sandwich or a taco and read. It’s a nice break. I usually don’t take more time than I need, but I don’t rush myself. It ends up being about an hour lunchbreak, but often I’ll fit other errands in at the same time while I can.

I deal with a lot of different people throughout the day. They can range from customers, to longtime crafting friends, to obscure vendors across the country, inquiring tv producers, bloggers requesting interviews (wink) book editors, magazine writers requesting images or product samples (most often overseas), advertising salespeople…I deal with all of them throughout the day, nearly every day. Managing the inflow of my email is never easy! But one of the most incredibly rewarding aspects of what I do is the people and friends that have come into my life because of it.

Time management and goal management are the most difficult part of what I do. I never look at the clock and wish time would go faster. Days absolutely fly by. Being self-employed, I have to wear many, many hats. You don’t have the luxury of focusing on just one aspect of the business (unless you have brought together an incredible staff for yourself, and that takes time and money -and even with time and money, you aren’t guaranteed to find the right people). Independents have to focus on every single aspect of their business. I think this is what is so principally different about an independent business vs. being an employee or having a job title. If you have a job title like “creative director” then, you get to be creative director. You don’t have to figure out accounting, running payroll, tax laws…if you are an independent, you do. And, it’s very, very hard to manage all of those things while trying to grow, especially when you are the creative element of your own business. But, it’s not impossible.

One of the things I’ve learned is that I actually enjoy building a company and putting it all together and making it run. I like operations. Not all of them (I have a pathological dislike of filing), but it’s incredibly satisfying when it comes together and works. It represents what you’ve put into it. One of my favorite things to do, as odd as it sounds: is pay bills. Money management and cash flow is extremely tricky for any business, and not getting it right means you’re out of business. So, whenever I can sit down and pay my bills (which 90% of the time are going to other independent businesses) it’s a nice feeling of satisfaction and pride of making it work.

In the evenings, I usually unwind by embroidering (it’s true) and watching tv. Otherwise, I draw. Currently I’m working on a series of drawings for an upcoming solo show in Paris, so when I stop “Sublime Stitching” work, I head to my drafting table to draw. This is often accompanied by a beer and watching something on my laptop. It’s work that I love, and I rarely take it for granted. When you work so hard to make it happen, you don’t easily take it for granted.

By 10:30, I’m out like a light. Sleep overtakes me. Wake up, repeat!"


Thank you, Jenny, you're an inspiration! Readers, if you liked this post, check out A Day in the Life of Tasia - Sewaholic if you missed it last month. Who else's day would you like to read about? Let me know!