Oh man, things sure would look different! If I had to start my sewing business all over at square one, I can think of a handful of things I’d have either avoided like the plague… or polished up a little better before things truly grew. If I got to spend 5 minutes with myself from 5 years ago, this is what I would say…
I’d pick one niche and nail it down hard. When I started I was still trying a lot of different things to see what I liked and what I was actually good at. I was also downright terrified of not making rent, so no matter what people wanted done with a needle and thread, I said yes. I thought that if I kept taking on the odd projects, I would be challenging myself to get better at the things I wasn’t good at. Although this was a good way to refine my skills while also learning what I liked and didn’t like, it was a downright awful way to move the needle… aka make freaking money. I wished I had paired down what I really liked to do vs. what made me money, and somehow find a balance between those two from the get-go so that I had enough runway to learn the hard stuff later.
When you’re doing a completely different project every week, you get good at problem solving, but since you’re not repeating a single process, everything is slow. And no one’s compensating you for the learning curve. Zero in on 1-2 niches early and find freedom in telling people to go elsewhere for the projects that are so bizarre and off the wall that you’ll have to take a college course on their behalf just to sort them out.
I’d document how I solved customer problems better than I did. I think I tend to focus so hard on getting the finished product, that I neglect documenting the process. Had I been better at that, I think I could’ve proved my solutions quicker. I also would’ve had proof that I can do what I say I can.
This also plays in to leaving yourself a paper trail… do it. I didn’t - take it from me, it’s not fun to ‘figure it out later’.. it actually sucks.
I would’ve put myself out there earlier and more often. I would’ve jumped right in and connected with others who do what I do immediately, rather than standing back and assuming they viewed me as a competitor (hint: they didn’t).
I think it’s so easy to get distracted by all of the things that you need to get done, that you end up not doing anything exceptionally well. It’s the age-old tale of the guy who tries to network the entire room - and ends up not truly connecting with anyone. Had I spent more time engaging with my specific niche, and not just my industry as a whole, I could’ve identified the problems that actually needed solving and in turn, I would’ve been able to help people better. For instance, rather than being so present on music row/in production, I wish I spent more time around the costumers and dressmakers and theatre kids, who, even though we don’t share the same audiences or client bases, could’ve prepared me better for the actual sewing challenges I would face later.
After working with numerous people that drove me up the wall, didn’t ‘get’ what I was trying to do, didn’t pay on time, brought me the worst materials, etc., I sat wondering why things were so bad. Then it hit me…
You can’t be everybody’s cup of tea. Some clients are meant to be yours, and some just aren’t. And when you take those on as your own, you clash heads, you disappoint, and you get totally stressed out because they’re blowing you up at all hours of the night. It took me a while, but I created what’s called an ideal client profile.
I wrote down my top five favorite clients.. then I wrote down every detail I knew about them. I quickly identified similarities between my ideal clients, and those became client requirements going forward. Had I done this from the start, it would’ve given me some much-needed confidence, I would’ve been less afraid of looking stupid, and more gutsy with what I would and wouldn’t accept from clients. I was so afraid of not getting the gig that I let myself take the beating for clients’ bad decisions (such as fabrics or designs), when it was absolutely pointless to allow, since those choices weren’t critical to the bottom line. I should’ve bossed up and said “no, but we can do this instead” rather than “okay, let me figure it out” and spend A MONTH decorating stretch velvet because they think that’s what they want.
Let me explain. As someone who is self-employed, you’re going to have to buy a car, a house, get a loan - whatever, at some point. And no matter how profitable you are, the bank is going to want to see regular deposits pop into your account. So whether it’s $5 or $5,000, find some structure and regularly withdraw money from your business bank account to your personal account - on the same day, every month. So if ‘payroll’ for you runs the 15th and the 30th, then no matter what, it’s time to withdraw several days before every single month. It’s also helping you create a healthy money habit before you have a true payroll situation in place. Just trust me here.
So there it is - if I had to start all over, or if I ran into myself from five years ago, this is exactly how I’d do it.