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3 Very Practical Ways to Do Less and Get More as a Maker

Jan 03, 2022

 

“Discipline is remembering what you want.” 

- David Campbell

 

Believe me when I tell you: I understand the drive to do more.

We have big dreams. We feel a responsibility to follow through on what we’ve started. We are tired of scraping by on too-low income. We are afraid that if we do less, take a pause, or step off the treadmill, everything will come tumbling down. 

So we do more. More collections. More promo. More offerings. More sales channels. More saying yes to requests of all kinds.

And so many times, the call to do less comes with soft, gentle reasoning: you deserve to rest. Be kind to yourself. There is no rush. 

I don’t know about you, but I hear these phrases and they do resonate with me. But they don’t help. They don’t actually meet the needs that cause me to overwork or overdo in the first place.

But here’s the thing: in working with maker after maker, I’ve found that there ARE real, concrete, hard-nosed reasons to do less in certain ways, in your business. This isn’t bubble bath self-care. This is smart, strategic, lean business wisdom. And that’s precisely what we’re diving into below.

 

 

3 Mini Case Studies

Do you see yourself in any of these stories?

  • Tamar is grateful because she is busy (after a sales lull during Covid). But with production for markets and wholesale… plus all the work of running her website and social media… she can’t find the time for creativity and making and design. It’s the part of her business she loves -- and she puts a time block for it on her calendar each week -- but she says “Something more urgent and sales-related always seems to come up that makes it hard to take the time to actually do it.”
  • Linda starts each day with packing orders, doing admin, dealing with things like bookkeeping, and handling social media. Each day, she intends to finish out her work hours with actually jewelry-making but finds that most days, there is little-to-no time or energy left. Further, she finds herself working most weekends and feels like she is nearing burnout. 
  • Jayla feels pressure to release four collections of her work each year. And she does love the design and creative part of designing those collections. But she finds that with so many new releases and new pieces, she ends up spending a huge amount of time and money on materials sourcing, creating production systems, promotion, and the other moving parts of releasing a new collection. She feels like she’s constantly behind this schedule but is concerned that if she doesn’t release at that rate, she’ll become irrelevant to store owners and ultimately just won’t be doing things the right way.

These are just excerpts of three conversations I’ve had with makers in the last two months. But I hear this pattern over and over again. What we find is that none of the above approaches are achieving success (as defined by the maker herself). And yet the maker feels compelled to keep up the pace and the approach. We’ll return to possible “fixes” for these situations at the end of this article, but first, let’s talk about Kendra Scott.

 

A key principle: you are not Kendra Scott

Many makers feel beholden in some way to the standards and frameworks of the broader fashion industry and they feel a need to follow the patterns and frameworks of these huge brands. Folks ask me questions like: 

  • “How do major product companies plan their lines?”
  • “What is the industry standard for the number of collections to release each year?”
  • “How can I keep up with the pace that’s expected of me?”
  • “How do I make time for creativity and making with everything else I have to do?”

Most of the time, I tell makers that the answers to the above questions aren’t relevant because the answers mainly apply to businesses that are dramatically larger and of a different character altogether. As an example, jewelry brand Kendra Scott has sales of $100mm-$500mm/year and has 1,500 employees. In my experience that’s not a little bigger than most makers aspire to — it’s 100-500x larger than any maker I work with aspires to. Rifle Paper Co has revenue of $25mm with 200 employees — much smaller than even Kendra Scott but dramatically bigger than most makers would actually want their company to get. 

And that’s not because the makers I work with suffer from a lack of ambition. They are deeply ambitious and visionary. But their vision for their company is to lead, to have impact, to generate abundant revenue while they also stay close to the design, production, and values-shaping of what they do.

Companies in the size realm of Kendra Scott and Rifle Paper are running a completely, dramatically different kind of business than you are running. And their needs, opportunities, and approaches are likely all but irrelevant to your business. How Exxon does their yearly planning (likely a months-long process informed by a large team of people and driven by quarterly profit and regulatory demands) simply shouldn’t influence how you do your yearly planning.

It’s like trying to drive your car but covering up the windshield with a giant video of where someone else is driving. It’s not that it’s a little helpful — it’s completely unhelpful, and probably dangerous. 

My honest answer is this: it doesn’t matter what Kendra Scott does. Unless you actually intend to build a $250mm company with 1500 employees, you need to build the company you actually want to have, run, and work in.

For many makers, their path to success depends on learning to do less of the things that truly aren’t relevant or important for their business. And to do more of the things that are relevant and important. So what are those? Read on.

 

 

3 ways to do less and get more as a maker

 

Prioritize creativity, design, and making. 

You’re not being frivolous when you try to eke out time for making and creativity and design — this is honestly the biggest driver of your long-term success and it should be your biggest priority. Put it first. Cut things from your weekly schedule that are taking time from it. 

There are two big reasons for this: one is that in all likelihood, creativity and making are the reasons you want to run your business in the first place. So if that ceases to become a key part of your days, you’re no longer achieving the main aim of the work. The second reason is that small creative businesses have one key advantage: that they make interesting, unique, inspiring things. No large company can stand a chance of the heart, story, and unique perspective that you bring to the work. So when you don’t make time for making, you’re undermining your biggest advantage in the marketplace.

The first step to making time for making requires recognition of the huge value of your design/making time. But it may also require cutting the hours you spend on other things in your business -- ultimately the time for making has to come from somewhere. So that might mean hiring part-time help, cutting unnecessary expenses to decrease the pressure to keep up revenue, or spending less time on underperforming sales channels (see the #2, below.) 

 

Cut sales channels that don’t earn their keep.

One critical thing to doing less while getting more is: getting real about where your profit is actually coming from. It doesn’t pay to follow a cookie-cutter strategy of commissions+markets+wholesale+online if one or more of those channels is actually not profitable in your unique case. And keep in mind the difference between revenue and profit. So in figuring out which channels are earning their keep, you’ll need to think about how much revenue a channel brings in, as well as how much of your time and resources it takes to service that sales channel. For some makers, commissions are very profitable. For others, they realize that once they factor in all the client interaction, making, materials, and other time, it’s not actually profitable. This varies a lot, maker-to-maker, though -- so you’ll need to do your own analysis of where money is coming from and how much time it’s taking you to bring that money in. 

Keep in mind that it’s almost always better to cut sales channels that are profitable but not as profitable as your others. It saves a lot of time to focus on fewer, better-performing channels than to spread yourself between several channels you think you should be doing. 

 

Do fewer collections and offer fewer pieces.

If you are a large jewelry brand operating within the larger context of the fashion industry, the timing and frequency of your collections should be standard. They should be consistent, seasonal, and on the schedule of the major fashion buyers, reps, distributors, and other frameworks within the industry. 

Kendra Scott needs to worry about these things. You, however, likely don’t. 

If you’re not selling wholesale, consider the fact that consumers are actually 10x more likely to buy when there are fewer offerings rather than more. So you may be adding pieces and collections and actually decreasing your sales. 

If you are selling wholesale, store owners do value having new pieces and a new story to tell about the work -- but we’ve found that one new collection per year is more than enough to meet this need. And that generally, store owners buy more frequently with smaller, slower releases in conjunction with exceptional storytelling -- rather than lots of releases with less-good storytelling. 

There are also the operational, sourcing, training, marketing, and management pieces to consider. Every collection you create carries with it hundreds of to-dos to market and produce that collection. In a small business, that overhead can have a really negative impact on profits. Need proof? The restaurant industry gives us clear data that in their world, smaller menus tend to dramatically increase profits. The less you do, the less operational complexity you have, the less stress, the simpler and more resilient supply chain, reduced waste, easier training for employees, higher quality, the more profit. 

Ultimately, I recommend dropping the story you might have about what is “standard” around release of collections or new pieces. Your collection timing should be primarily about your own creative vision and needs around making and design. 

 

 

What you should be doing more of

This article isn’t intended to say that you should be doing less of everything in your business -- only that you should be doing less of the things that don’t pay off for you. 

For most creative business owners and makers, there are several things that you almost always should be doing more of, including: 

  • Building relationships (retail and wholesale) with people who have bought from you or are on your mailing list. 
  • Understanding (and doubling down on) the things that drive profit for you. 
  • Creativity and making.
  • Storytelling. Engaging people in the real meaning (including process, inspiration, etc.) of the work -- effectively and consistently. 

Most makers feel overwhelmed and teetering towards burnout, most of the time. And one way out of burnout is to do more of the things that matter (to you and to your business) and less of the things that don’t. 

So many makers do more-more-more out of a sense of hard work and discipline. But the reality is that this more-more-more activity can come at the cost of your actual dreams. It’s like drinking saltwater to quench your thirst. It’s not that it works a little bit — it doesn’t work at all. 

 

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