This month is ‘Indie June’ and it seems like a good time to celebrate the joys and share the hardships of working as an independent.
Most of the time I don’t think too much about the fact that I’m self-employed and work primarily alone. It just sort of sneaked up on my as a necessity over the years so that I could combine children with work. I wasn’t happy sitting fully into either camp so working for myself is the only really way to easily combine them for me. When I had my first son I was living in Florida working full time as a structural engineer. It was 19 years ago and I was young. I was completely unprepared for the body slam that is parenting, especially with my own family support back in Ireland. The US system of maternity care is, well quite frankly, non-existent and as I was the first engineer in the company to be pregnant they didn’t know what to do with me. There was no maternity pay and the best I could hope for was they they would ‘hold’ my job for 12 weeks. By 6 weeks I knew there was no way I was up for both full time work and mothering. My first was a demanding baby, I was clueless and I was a physical and emotional wreck. I actually lost so much weight I was asked if I was anorexic!
When he was a toddler we moved back to Ireland and I started to figure out the juggling game. I began by getting a childminder in the house and worked on some freelance engineering work for my father. It felt good to get my brain moving again, I adore my kids but I like to have both! After my next son was born I accidentally fell into the online natural parenting business. It grew very fast and I loved the process of growing a business. What I didn’t love was the management end of it; accounts, stock keeping and the stress of new competitors entering a very small market. I learned so much from that business; the nature of online business, basic pricing and stock management, promotion and accounting. But most importantly, what I loved and what I hated. None of this was conscious learning but under the surface these lessons influenced future choices.
I sold that business before my youngest was born, intending on trying full time motherhood again. Well as you can see 11 years later it didn’t stick that time around either! I did not intend to become a knitwear designer, it sneaked up on me slowly through obsession. I started as a new knitter rediscovering an old love, then it moved on to experimenting and then I started pushing it out into the world to see what the feedback would be. The lessons I learned in my first business eventually all came into play but I do need to regularly reaffirm my own commitment, and be reminded to follow my own path rather than the ‘right’ one. When you spend a lot of time with more business minded people it can muddle your brain. I run a business that serves me, I have no need or desire to grow it to an enormous scale but I want it to keep evolving and moving in new directions so that its stays fun and challenging. Obviously I don’t want my income from the business to drop off but I don’t need massive growth or expansion either. I know that growing often doesn’t end up creating more income. If I grow the physical sales that means that I can’t do it myself and I’ll have to hire someone to help packing. If I expand the number of patterns I produce then I need more knitters to knit them and there’s the potential for the quality to drop and I’d feel like a pattern factory. If I teach more I’ll miss my family life and would have to design less. So every potential growth means sacrificing something else.
It really is true though that in business you can’t stand still. It’s fun to try new things but if you’re aware that they come with a sacrifice then you need to weigh up if the change is worth it and if it will lead you in the direction you want to go in. My husband is especially helpful for talking these things through even though it’s frustrating. He will not take any business decision at face value. He forces me to back up why I’m doing it and where it will lead. It doesn’t have to be a monetary gain but I have to articulate what I want to gain from the move. It does make it hard work though!
So that’s my convoluted path to being an independent designer. As an independent I juggle ALL the jobs with help along the way; designer, teacher, video maker, pattern writer, knitter, accountant, wholesaler and social media person. Over the course of every week I touch on every one of these jobs and operate multiple ‘to-do’ lists to keep all the balls in the air. Sometimes its fun, other times are challenging but it’s always exhausting! The support I get from Nadia helping on Social Media, Joe doing photography and pattern layout, my oldest Caelen doing website redesign, tech editors, knitters, house cleaners and helpful parents meant that it all holds together and keeps moving along in the right direction!
Over the coming weeks I’ll explore different parts of my independent working life that are an important part of my work. Next week I’ll start with the idea of technical editing and how that works to help me improve my patterns.