Saturday, May 1, 2010

So much for weekly updates!

It’s not that I haven’t been doing anything since January, but I am still lacking the discipline to update my blog regularly.  Blogs are very important tools for small businesses and I need to make sure I keep mine up to date.  *Gentle slap delivered!*

I think this blog is evolving into my journey, potholes, breakdowns and all, towards starting my own business, promoting my love of knitting and crocheting.  So far, there has been much more theorising and dreaming than actually building!  I’ve been held up by the lack of NEIS funding (which I mistakenly reported earlier was cancelled, which it isn’t) which has put me in a bit of a limbo situation.

I was told a month or so ago that I am now on the top of the list to start NEIS in June or July, which is a far cry from the January I was first promised.  The good thing about this delay is that I have had time to re-think my ideas and have done more research and training.

I picked up a book called “Tea in the Library” at the Good Sammy Op shop in Fremantle.  It is a fascinating account of the rise and demise of  Annette Freeman’s dream to open a book cafe in Sydney.  I am treating it with as much importance as any text book on Business Management.  After reading it, I realised that opening a retail shop is a huge undertaking and that even if I had started NEIS in January, I would have had no hope of achieving even a fraction of what my original dream was.

My current vision is to start my business online, selling patterns and kits for small items, ie, hats, cowls, bags, baby items, along with a selection of yarns and patterns.  I am working on my own designs (more of this in the next post!). 

The big thing when you are starting a business is to define and promote your USP – Unique Selling Point.  If you have a look at any product available these days you are swamped by the variety available.  How on earth do all these companies survive?  Just how many dogwash (for example) companies can the world sustain?  Now, I’m no expert on washing dogs, but I do recognise that to consistently be the best or most popular, you must offer something that other companies don’t OR your product or service, while similar to others, must be offered in a way that your competitors aren’t.

So, looking at my own business dream, what do I have to do that will allow me to survive and thrive along with all of the other woolly businesses?

1 – Offer something that other online businesses don’t. 

2 – Add value to each visit to my website.  This might be links to YouTube videos (starring me of course!), free patterns, links to related sites.

3 – If I can’t offer something truly unique, then I must offer the best service possible.  Of course exceptional customer service is a given.  I’ve worked in CS for many years and know how vital this is.

4 – Appeal to a wide range of knitters/crocheters, from beginners to experts.

And finally, here is a pic of the first of my designs that has actually worked!  I just need to finish writing the pattern and find someone to do an independent test knit.  I have knitted several tests so far.


Until next post….

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Setback – hopefully only a little one

Well the good news is that I now qualify for the NEIS program.  This is a government funded (more about that in a minute) program for registered job seekers who have a viable business idea and want to start their own business.

The bad news is….although I’m signing the paperwork on Monday I’ve been told that the funding has run out and probably won’t be topped up!  I did a little googling and found that the program was actually cancelled by our illustrious government in June last year and is due to stop in June this year.  I’m guessing that squillions of people have signed up in the last few months to grab their share of the money.  Apparently it has been in operation for 23 years and is the most successful program to get jobseekers into meaningful employment.  So why cancel it?  Who knows…I’m no expert on politics but then again is the average pollie?

So what does this mean for me?  Financially probably not an awful lot.  I can still do the Certificate 4 Small Business Management at my own expense and it is heavily discounted for job seekers, which is technically what I am.  I can still work as long as my income doesn’t go above a certain amount.  The killer is that the complete program offers more than just the course.  You are assigned a mentor and are monitored and assisted throughout the 12 month program.  This is something that money can’t buy.

There are other ways I can achieve my dream but I will probably need to pursue them without assistance.  I’m a bit disappointed, as doing the course is just part of the whole thing.  I’m still clueless about where to buy stock, how to display it, and even if this thing is ever going to get off the ground!  But I am determined which I guess is part of the bigger picture.

So from now on, I’m going to try to give at least a weekly update on progress, warts and all!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ever Creative

One of the best things about the changes I have made in my life recently is working part time.   I now have time to spend on my crafts and I can spend a whole day sewing or knitting if I so choose.  Admittedly my job doesn’t pay enough to fully support me, but I reckon the trade off of using some of my savings to supplement my income is well worth it. 

I’m still trying to figure out a way to start my wool cafe.  The only way I can study the small business course for free and receive mentoring is if I’m not working. The allowance I can get for doing this is around $A550 a fortnight, which will only just pay the rent.  I would have to use more of my savings just to survive, then take the risk of trying to get finance to open the shop and risk not making any money for at least a couple of years.  Pretty scary! 

I’m in an interesting place…I now have a way to realise my dream but I will have to whittle away what little savings I have.  I could just give up on the dream and get a full time job and a mortgage, but somehow after all I’ve been through in the past few years this doesn’t look like much of an option to me.  I’ve realised that all the time I work to fulfil someone else’s dream I’m ignoring mine…not what I want at all.

I’ve been branching out with my crafting, partly to take a bit of a break from knitting/crochet, but also with a view to incorporating another craft into my business plan.  I realise I can’t go too crazy and get too far away from my basic idea but wool crafts in summer in Australia does take a bit of a back seat.  Our summers are usually long and hot, not conducive to knitting at all.  Granted, I and many others are hardened to our climate and will knit no matter what the barriers, but the new knitters that I am trying to target aren’t interested until Autumn!

I’ve been playing with a semi-decoupage idea of mounting retro adverts onto MDF boards for hanging.  I’ve done a couple but I’m still working on getting them mounted smoothly.  It’s getting there but nowhere near ready for public consumption.  I’m also revisiting cushion making and mounting funky matching fabrics on canvas to sell in sets. Pictures to follow!  I’m also looking at re-purposing old furniture, but I don’t have the necessary skills just yet.  I’m thinking about doing a couple of courses to bring myself up to speed.

So, after reading all of this, I’m sure you can see why I’m so happy to be working part time!

If I don’t get to do any more blogging this year, I wish whoever is reading a safe and happy Christmas and New Year.  Cherish your family, be thankful for the good that may have come about for you and let the mistakes of the past year help guide you to better experiences for 2010 and beyond :-)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Good and not so good

The good bit?  I have a job!  It is in a call centre, part time, and pretty much all I do is read from scripts over and over again.  It isn't rocket science, but after the stress I've was under in my previous job, this is perfect for  me at this time.  I guess a lot of people would look at me and say that I'm a bit of a in a house that is due to be knocked down, little part time job that doesn't quite pay the bills.....single at 48 etc etc....but right now I couldn't be happier :-)

The bad?   This won't mean much to those "ordinary" folk who don't knit or crochet (or do any other art or craft work for that matter) but almost every thing I have tried to make over the last few weeks has been a disaster!  I've made -  a cushion cover for my daughter - this turned out alright in the end but I forgot to make a 3rd buttonhole in the centre of the front flap so it doesn't sit quite right...she loves it anyway so that's a good thing!

In progress - a mohair blend wrap - it's going alright but I managed to drop 2 stitches right at the beginning and didn't notice until I'd done 10cm or so of rib...will have to darn when I'm finished and hope it looks alright.

A felted crochet bag - first of all I couldn't get the squares to look right so had to dump 3 of them and use another square pattern that I use a lot.  Next, I joined the squares but managed to join one to the wrong corner....after 6 or so rounds in different colours I realised the item was twisted, so had to pull it back and re-do.  This bag should only take me a couple of days but so far has been over a week!  Grrrr

I'm wondering if I can only crochet and knit properly when other aspects of my life are in turmoil.....knitting as therapy!  I wrote about this aspect of crafting in an earlier post and have found that I do go through periods where everything I touch turns to knots!  On the other hand, when I'm going through a therapeutic phase, I probably still make mistakes but am more determined to keep going until I fix it.  Now that I'm more relaxed I make a mistake and put it away for a couple of days until I can be bothered to correct it.  I guess that at the moment the need to prove to myself that I am good at what I do isn't as critical as a month or so ago...after all I feel that I have my strength and self-esteem back after a prolonged and intense battering by my former employers....!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

I’m going on a treasure hunt!

When I left Canberra for Perth in June, I had to put  most of my belongings in storage until I knew where I would be living.  Now that I have decided to stay in Perth and am about to move into a rental property, it’s time to gather all of my stuff and have it shipped over. 

I wasn’t able to store anything big, like furniture, so have “lent” my kids things like my bed, fridge, washing machine etc.  I don’t expect to ever get them back but at least I’ve been able to help them out a little.

As I remember, the boxes contain the things that I can’t get rid of.  There are albums of family photos dating back to the early 1900s, linen, books, jewellery making books and supplies and……my big box of knitting stuff!

I think I’m more excited about getting the knitting stuff back than almost anything else!  I bought quite a few Creative Knitting Australia magazines (I wonder what’s happened to that one?  I haven’t seen any new issues for ages), along with some overseas issues.  My main collection is old pattern books that I have found on eBay, Oztion and op-shops in Canberra.  I’ve found that Perth op-shops just don’t have the same range of old patterns as Canberra, which surprised me, seeing as Perth has 3 times as many people living there. 

So, being able to immerse myself in my stash of books and possibly some wool that I couldn’t fit in my suitcase is going to be great fun!  I’m a bit nervous about how much it is going to cost to get the boxes freighted over.  I might have to be ruthless with some things and get rid of some of the crafts that I haven’t touched for years, like my collection of cross stitch mags and a huge box of jewellery mags and supplies.  I loved making jewellery but just don’t think I’ll be getting deeply involved again.  I know that knitting and crochet is my main passion and will continue to be until my hands and eyes give up on me, which hopefully won’t be for a very long time.

I won’t be posting any new pics until I get back to Perth….USB cord is still there!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I’ve been busy!

I've had a bit of a rush of blood to the head in the last few days. In between trying to teach a 17yo boy how to apply for jobs – I’m doing this via msn and hotmail, and trying to sort out something for me job/house wise, I’ve been madly crocheting, partly to build up items for possible sale but also to keep improving my techniques and learning to adapt existing patterns to suit my needs.

I’ve found this to be a great way to start designing, because I have a solid base to work on and make enough changes along the way that there is nothing much left of the original pattern. There are so many generous people on the net who have posted patterns for anyone to use however they like. I’m becoming more aware that, if you look carefully, most “original” designs are based on a standard pattern type. As long as you don’t copy and market a design stitch for stitch, you can make changes to the basic shape etc. For instance, you can make a freeform bag that is based on a bag of similar measurements but by the time you have put your own touches to it, it is your design.
Anyway, while I’ve been waiting to hear if I am the successful applicant to rent a house for 3 months which will get me back into the rental system, I’ve been making some bags, slippers and the odd washcloth.
I have added a couple of these to my Ravelry account.
Market Bags
This is the first one based on a free design that I found on Ravelry. The original pattern is by Jill Chatelain, who’s blog is here Jillsknit....the pattern is here Rust Goes Green Market Bag . I found that, when joining rows as stated in the pattern, a diagonal line developed up the bag – pictured. I made a second one and worked in the round, which made the stitches look much neater. When I changed the stitch pattern for a panel or 2 (my variation) I worked a couple of half trebles (hdc) to make for a smoother gradient....I was happy with the result. I changed the handle on one of the bags as well. I used some of my extensive stash of Anchor Magicline, purchased at various Perth Spotlight branches. They are currently selling bags of 10 balls and a free pattern for $10...bargain!
You can see the diagonal line running across the design. It is only on one side but I wasn’t keen on the look.

This is the version I made in the round. You can’t quite see the adjustments that I made but it is far more subtle than the first.

Daggy Slippers
Check these out! I found the pattern somewhere (will post a link as soon as I find it!). They are officially daggy, but as they only take one 100g ball of acrylic doubled, they are super easy and quick to make. They can be a bit slippy on wood/tiled floors but as long as you are careful you shouldn't break a hip! So far I've made about 6 pairs and have given them to family and friends who happily scoot about the house in them.  I found the link!  Crochet slippers

My "Inga"Bag

This is my current favourite! It is from this pattern Inga's Crochet Bag. I made this one using Magicline and I think I made the squares 1 round bigger than in the pattern, which may be why I used 6 balls instead of 5. I lined the bag with calico. Sewing up is a bit weird, it is a bit of a puzzle but once you get the hang of what is happening it's like magic! I'm now working on a slightly smaller version (4 rounds instead of 5) in the variegated blue.

Well, this is lovely diversion from job-hunting...not! I'd better get back to it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How to open your own wool shop when you don't have a clue!

As the title suggests, I would love to run my very own wool shop. Not just to satisfy my obsession with the stuff, but to provide a funky, welcoming environment to all knitters and crocheters, both experienced and newbies. I have a vision of a light, bright area where the walls are taken up by rows of colour and texture, with a central work/relaxation area. I would love to offer coffee and snacks as well. I'd offer lessons, knit group venue, charity knitting, guest speakers etc etc.

This is all very nice, but I've never come close to running a business in my life, unless you count some eBay selling off and on over the years. I am doing a small business course to build some skills in that area and am waiting to get accepted on a Government funded program so I can take advantage of the mentoring and support that they offer. Whilst I'd love to spend all my time for the next 12 months getting this dream into reality, there are a couple of life issues to be dealt with first.

Firstly, I'm boarding with my daughter, her fiance and their 3 month old baby. This is fine at the moment but it can't last forever. I left my job in the Public Service earlier this year due to extreme stress and finally accepted a redundancy. This, combined with selling my house in Canberra at a really good price (for the buyer!) means that I have a little cash to play with...or do I?

I've been living off this money since June this year, and I am fast approaching my bottom line. I can't get Centrelink until I've served the waiting period imposed after a redundancy. Combine this with the problem of my 17yo son, who I left back in Canberra to finish Year 12 and is taking up valuable real estate at my eldest daughter's house and I have a dilemma!

I've looked into buying a house here in Perth and even if I was working as a full time wage slave I would only be able to manage a very small mortgage, say, under 200k. I would be looking at a purchase price of no more than 250k which is almost impossible to achieve. If I was to rent I would still be paying around the same as a mortgage payment, so buying would be a better economic well as not having to endure 3 monthly rental inspections!

I've been studying various online real estate sites and found that I could pretty much afford a 3 bedroom house a *little* way out of Perth....4 - 5 hours drive! Err, no thanks. I'm a city girl, or at least a coastal town girl. Living in the middle of nowhere on my own (or with a 17yo metalhead son who needs a job) isn't my idea of a good solution.

The other option I've looked at is park home living. I've seen a few places for sale on the net and am taking a drive to Rockingham/Mandurah later in the week after the dreaded inspection, to check out some parks and see if this is a lifestyle that I could handle. I've heard good and bad about living in van parks and am a bit nervous about the whole prospect. Economically, it would allow me to live cheaply once I've bought a place and work part time while I build up my business. I think that part of Perth could sustain a wool shop too.

What if I can't go down the van park route? I have no idea! I really don't want to put aside my dream. I've spent many years as a single parent working my arse off to try and get ahead but I feel like I haven't made a dent. Sure, I have a smallish lump of cash to call my own, but that won't go far and I can't stay with my daughter forever. I'm not old enough to retire but I'm pretty nervous about going back to being an employee....the stress I was under and some of the things that happened at work are still weighing on my a nutshell, I'm not sure I'm ready to put up with bullying behaviour again, or ever for that matter.

So, I did say earlier that I'd post some pics and patterns here to get myself started in business mode. As you can see it's all words and no piccies just yet! If you are really desperate to see some of the stuff I've been doing, here I am on Ravelry.

Back to the scrubbing!