In with the new.

newyear

I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions.  But my business fiscal year ends in December, so it is a great time to evaluate the past 12 months and see where I can make improvements in the new year.  There is also a dead zone for work in the December 15-January 1 timeframe, so I spent time updating my portfolio and website, and thinking about what “in with the new” means for me and my business.

But let’s start with “out with the old…”

My 2014 Accomplishments and Struggles:

  • It was my first year of running the business full time, without any income from other jobs.  I was 100% Hitchcock Creative and it was GREAT!
  • I said NO.  NO to clients who needed everything yesterday.  NO to projects that weren’t financially viable.  NO to self doubts.
  • I said YES.  YES to projects out of my comfort zone.  YES to professional development.  YES to spending money on equipment upgrades.  YES to focusing on specific work hours so I could spend more time with the family.
  • I struggled with the decision to end a relationship with a pro-bono client.  I loved working with them, but with a toddler at home, my other workload increasing, and some other personal matters, I felt I couldn’t give them the attention they deserved.  It was a tough decision, but a necessary one.
  • I increased my business income by about 40%.  This was a huge leap, but also not an unexpected one since I did go from part-time to full-time (and spent 3 months of 2013 on maternity leave).

My Goals for 2015:

  • To say NO to wasting time on the internet during work hours.  NO to constant breaks during the day to see my daughter downstairs.  NO to distractions.
  • To say YES to being more productive, more creative, and more attentive.  YES to setting a specific work schedule (and sticking to it).  YES to getting my taxes done early.
  • To increase my overall business income by 5-10% by cutting expenses, using my hours more wisely, and pricing my services more consistently (and raising prices a small amount for the first time in 5 years).
  • To answer my emails more quickly.  I can’t explain why this is such a weakness for me, but it is.  I read a message, process it, and promptly forget to reply.  I think my phone is partly to blame – I like reading email on it, but hate responding with my thumbs.

So, we’ll see how I do.  Notice that I didn’t put “Blog more” or “Increase my social media presence” on the 2015 list.  I’ll talk more about this conscience choice in a future post.

2013 Postage for Weddings & Events

If you’re a regular follower of my (admittedly-not-so-oftenly-updated) blog, you’ll remember that I posted information about the postage increase and stamp design options last year around this time.  Well, it’s January again which means it’s time for a USPS postage price increase and new lovely stamp design options!

New rates will be in effect starting Jan. 27, 2013. 

Increase for International First Class Mail:

  • Regular Mail (under 1 ounce) is increasing to a $0.46 stamp.  Or you can continue to use or stock up on “forever” stamps.
  • Mail between 1-2 ounces (many invitation suites) will increase to $0.66.
  • Postcards will increase to $0.33.

Increase for International First Class Mail:

  •  All International Mail under 1 ounce will now use a $1.10 stamp (sorry Canada).

What this Means for You:

  • If you are mailing invitations BEFORE Jan. 27, you will save some money on your outer envelopes (aren’t you so smart!).  BUT, remember to use the higher postage rates or forever stamps on your RSVP postcards/envelopes so that your guests (who could reply after Jan. 27) will not be caught with embarrassing “returned due to insufficient postage” mail.
  • If you plan to mail your invitations AFTER Jan. 27, remember to use increased postage on both your outer envelopes and RSVP materials.

New Design Options:

stamps

Other Options:

  • Zazzle.com – “Create your own” and pre-designed stamp options in any postage rate.  But be prepared to pay twice as much as government issued stamps.
  • Vintage Stamps – Check Etsy,EbayAmazon, and local flea/craft markets for vintage postage sellers.  Some great online options are Verde StudioTreasuryFoxPreciousOwlKenmore Stamps, or Champion Stamp.
    • Pro Tip:  Be sure you’re purchasing stamps that are unused and uncancelled.  While postage technically never expires, if it is used or cancelled, it may not be usable.

Business Owners:

  • Do you love shipping USPS Priority Flat Rate like I do?  Rates are going up for us as well.
    • Small box — $5.80
    • Medium box — $12.35
    • Large box — $16.85
    • Large APO/FPO box — $14.85
    • Regular envelope — $5.60
    • Legal envelope — $5.75
    • Padded envelope — $5.95

Other Links:

Getting back to things…

As you may remember, I wrote a post a while ago on how many of us in the creative industry have other jobs to help pay the rent.  I think most of us dream of being able to design/photograph/create/plan full time, but running a full time business with no other source of income can be hard.  Having another job, either full time or part time, is nothing to be ashamed of in my opinion, especially when you’re first starting your business.

Since June, I’ve been freelancing as a designer and event planning after being temporarily laid off from my full time job while the space I worked in underwent a huge renovation.

Photos from Kennedy Center Facebook page

I was genuinely excited for this time off so that I could really look at growing my business and see if it was possible for me to design full time.  Or if I even really wanted to.  Well, as always, life has many plans for us.  I found out shortly after leaving that I was pregnant (hooray!).  And as the old saying goes, “having a baby changes everything.”  The pregnancy has been harder than I thought it would and I’ve had to take off more time to keep myself healthy.  So maybe this isn’t the right year to be expanding my business after all.  No problem.  Now I just have more time to plan for the direction of my business!

As of last week, I started working back at my “9 to 5” and I am really enjoying the work I’m doing there.  I’ll continue to juggle the two jobs, as I have for the last four years, until the baby comes in April.  From there?  Who knows. I plan to keep my options open and re-evaluate once I know how having a little one in my life will change things for my family.

Baby Items on Etsy – photo links:  1, 2, 3

How your small business handles unexpected time off

If you run a small business or have thought starting one, then you’ve probably read a blog post somewhere about the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.  People tell you that you get to set your own hours and don’t have to report to anyone but yourself.  But in reality your life revolves around your business so much more than when you have a 9-5 corporate job.

:: Hog Hill Road, East Haddam, CT ::

Last week we had a death in our family.  Coming at the tail end of my only week off this year, I scrabbled to figure out what to do with the cat, how we were going to travel the 400 miles home, then 400 more miles to the funeral, what do with the step kids who were staying with us at the time, where to find a black dress, etc, etc.  Oh right, and I have clients with weddings coming up so I have to finish their paper goods otherwise they’ll be left with no menu cards, escort cards, seating maps or programs for their big day.  So here I am, thinking to myself, do I skip my grandmothers funeral because I can’t let my clients down?  We’re not talking about being a few days late on a mailing…we’re saying leaving someone to find another designer within a week of their wedding to design, print and deliver everything.

So what do you do?  Having worked in the performing arts I’ve missed countless weddings, funerals, baptisms, birthday’s and family reunions due to our “the show must go on” mentality.  But where does it stop?  Do put so much of ourselves into our small business’s that we honestly consider skipping a close family  members funeral or wedding in order to keep a sale?  I love the personal nature of my business.  Getting to know my clients and help them with their wedding is so rewarding.  But am I missing my own life to make them happy?  Or do I just say, hey…this is a business and you’ve promised someone this work so your own life doesn’t matter anymore.

Lots to think about.  Perhaps I got a little too deep on that last paragraph.  :)  I’d like to hear from other small biz owners (especially wedding vendors!) on what you have done or would have done in these situations.

Milestones and What’s Next

June is a big month of milestones for me.  Of course it’s the official start of summer, Father’s day and graduation time.  But personally next week is my birthday.  Then there’s the 10th anniversary of my move to Washington, DC and the week after that is my 6th anniversary at my “other job.”  Working in theater, this time of year alway represents the wind down of the current season – the last show is underway, people start leaving for grad school or other jobs, and everyone starts thinking about what the next season will hold.  This June is going to bring lots of changes to my family and business.

In 2 weeks, I’ll be taking a break from my benefit welding, 401k paying, weekly paycheck supplying job.  It’s a blessing and a curse.  I’m going to have to work a lot more to make up for the lose in income, and tighten down on my personal and business spending.  But by designing full-time without the stress of the second job, I’ll be able to take on more clients and give more focus to my projects.  I’m hoping to really have time to sit down and be creative.  There are design idea’s I’ve been hoping to tackle for a while now; I just haven’t had the time for new product development.  I’m hoping this summer will bring such development.

I’m also looking forward to spending time with my family.  With my current work schedule, my husband tends to forget what I look like.  And my brother is spending the summer a mere 3 hours from here so I’m looking forward to visiting the Blue Ridge Theatre Festival in beautiful Amherst, VA a lot (if you’d never been to that next of the woods, it’s GORGEOUS and the perfect summer weekend getaway – lots of wineries, breweries, theatre and stunning countryside to see).

So, we’ll see what kind of changes and excitement June brings me this year.  It’s sort of like my own personal new year’s celebration.  Time to celebrate what I’ve done and begin focusing on what this next year is going to bring.

Yep, I have another job…so what?

Last week was a whirlwind and the fact that I was able to get any blog posts up at all was a downright miracle.  This was mostly due to…….my other job.

I haven’t exactly been hiding the fact that I have another job, but I also had not made a public announcement about it either (until now).  For a while I felt like people wouldn’t respect me as a legit business if I had this other full-time job that gave me a weekly check, 401k and health benefits.  But I realize now that it’s nothing to be ashamed of.  So today I’m going to share a little bit about how I got to this place, why it’s ok for me to tell you about my other job, why my design biz is not just a “hobby” and how it can be utterly overwhelming at times.

THE BACK STORY

As a loud, outgoing child I liked to act out movies while watching them (see the cute kid with the tricycle?  that’s me!).  My parents had a lightbulb moment and said, “hey, this kid might like theater!”  I could sing loudly and on-key, so it was fitting.  I did the community theater/summer stock non-professional thing through high school, at which point I started to dabble in building scenery and stage managing.  I still say I couldn’t act my way out of a paper bag, but don’t ask my folks because they’ll tell you I was destined to be the next Bernadette Peters.

Jump forward to college (Florida State University – go seminoles!), and my pursuit of a degree in Theatre.  I quickly became interested in fundraising, marketing and management courses and decided that theater management was something I was more interested in than acting.  After graduation I moved to Washington, DC to be an intern at Shakespeare Theatre Company.  Throughout the next few years I worked at STC, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, and Atlas Performing Arts Center before settling down at The Kennedy Center.  I spent 2 years in the Special Events office, and for the last 4 years have been the Asst. Theater Manager.  While I was in the Special Events office I became interested in graphic design (something I had dabbled in during college, but never had any professional training).  The director of our department was very encouraging and let me design a few event pieces before I moved into my native theater management specialty.  I took a few classes to learn some of the more computer/technical aspects of design, but the artistic part seemed to come naturally so I decided to embrace it.

STARTING A COMPANY – NOT A HOBBY

This is when Hitchcock Creative Inc. was born.  It is a real company.  As the daughter of a CPA/Businessman, I incorporated my business right away.  I opened a checking account, learned to use quickbooks and projected my expenses and income to make sure I was actually going to turn a profit.  Sure it’s just me and sure that “studio” I refer to is really the 3rd bedroom in our suburban house, but I’m a young company so I make no apologies.  I can charge the rates I charge because I’m NOT paying to lease a storefront and I’m NOT paying for my health insurance and 401k plan.  I stated this endeavor wanting to provide arts organizations and couples getting married with professional designs at a reasonable rate, and this is how I do it.

At some point I may grow out of the 3rd bedroom and into a storefront.  Or maybe I won’t.  I don’t consider not growing into a multi-million dollar corporation as a failure.  I am a small business, I am successful and I am happy.

BEST LAID PLANS

On paper this all seems to work out and in all actuality, it works fine about 90% of the time.  I spend my weekdays in the 3rd bedroom designing, invoicing and running my business (I won’t hide it, I’m currently in my PJ’s – you know you’re jealous).  Then in the mid-afternoon, I put on a suit and drive to the Other Job to manage a performance.  My weekly breakdown looks something like this:

But what about that other 10% of the time?  That was last week.  A colleague at the Other Job was out and I needed to fill in and cover their shows.  We also had two special shows happening which needed extra meetings and time/coordination to make sure everything went smoothly.  Plus a few small fires to put out.  Suddenly my week looked like this:

DESIGN JOB VS. OTHER JOB

For the last 2 years I’ve wondered if I’d have the guts/nerve/ambition/desire to truly take my design business full-time.  Quit the Other Job, work from home full-time and have more free time to do…..something.  Sure it’s do-able, but is that what I really want?  I’ve spent the last 10 years working in theater and as frustratingly dramatic as that work environment can be, I’m not sure I’m ready to give it up.  Over the last 2 years, I’ve thought a lot about how I need to choose between the two.  Then about a month ago, I had a lovely dinner with a designer whom I admire quite a bit and my opinions completely changed.  She asked why I couldn’t do both if I had such a great thing going?  And I thought, “Huh, well that’s a good point.”

So now, instead of trying to figure out which job I want to do, I’m working on finding a better way to continue to do both jobs.  I’ve raised my prices on wedding invitations a little, and I’m actually saying no to some design jobs if I can’t fit it into my schedule.  This is allowing me to see that husband of mine on occasion and to take a few minutes to get a pedicure without feeling guilty that I’m wasting time.

IT’S OK TO SURVIVE

Are you teetering between quitting your day job or not?  Take a look at the Etsy’s Quit Your Day Job spotlights.  I think they are an inspiration to a lot of small business owners who ARE looking to make that plunge.   But keep in mind that having both jobs may be exactly what you want after all.  And let’s be honest, in this economy it may be what you need.

You don’t have to apologize for making a living.