I don't always talk much about how I approach my business, yet I think it might be helpful especially as my circumstances are a little left of the normal. Hmm, maybe more than a little. This could be a long post.
You won't need to have been following for long to know that our lifestyle is somewhat different. We live in a bus, travelling when we can and staying put on a commune the rest of the time. We live a simple life - we live cheaply and without many of the material things common in general society. Our priorities can often be very different - that's not to say that anyone else's are wrong - simply that this is how we prefer things, it's our choice.
It has been mentioned before that my earnings, from book and pattern sales, supports our family. It puts food in our mouths and fuel in the tank. But I think it needs reminding that that doesn't mean I'm earning a lot. Ysolda's amazing donation to Hiati a few months back was more than I net in a year; whilst my donation was much smaller it was nearly a months' income. My business isn't big and doesn't yield an income to match. We simply don't have the outgoing expenses that most have and we can live comfortably on a low income.
We also have Aran, and we like to spend as much time as possible with the wise little dude. My working day is on average around 4hrs, sometimes more sometimes less but that's a typical amount. Tom doesn't work at a paid job, he builds our home and keeps things ticking over. If something breaks he fixes it. If we need new furniture he builds it. If the plumbing goes skewwy he sorts it. We share our child care and we deliberately keep my business and our working days short so we can spend plenty of time together.
That said, I do work hard at my job and try to maintain good customer service - and I'm pretty sure you know how important this is to me and this aspect takes up a lot of my working day, around 25%? Anyone in this business will tell you something similar especially if they work at grass roots level as I do. You'd be a bit delusional if you thought designing & writing knitting patterns was all about the yarn fondling & knitting ;)
Trying to maintain a business on short working hours and juggle that with a family and down time isn't easy. All too easily I reach burnout and need to be mindful of this. Deadline work doesn't fit in too well around here and for all the obvious reasons self publishing fits perfectly. I also need to make decisions about how much time I devote to each aspect of the job - if I spend my day answering emails nothing else gets done and if I don't design I have no product to sell. This means I've spent a lot of time investing in skills that cut down on the amount of queries I receive and that's worked really well - the customer is happy with their product and I get more time to devote to new things.
I'm often thinking of ways to expand the business and up our income without compromising my health or my family whilst at the same time, continuing to offer the best I can. One step forward was rephotographing & reformatting all of my single patterns last year. It took a huge chunk of time, 4 months or more? Yet was one of the most worthwhile things I've done. Not only did it massively improve my work and the product but it also allowed me to branch out into print and reach entirely different markets in both the US and the UK. Many indie designers print & distribute their patterns themselves as it allows them greater control (primarily over quality) and no doubt earn more per pattern. This just isn't practical for us - we don't have the spare money to buy a printer, nor do we have the space to store a printer and the printed patterns and nor do we have the time to organise the distribution and collect monies from accounts. That, to me, is one giant headache I can do without! Instead, I work with distributors who do all these things for me. Not only do they do a better job but they also have distribution networks I can only dream of. Sure they get paid for this service but that's a good compromise for me. Besides, my distributors are indies too and I'm happy to support them this way.
When I published Going Straight, my first ever book and the biggest project I've taken on to date (looking back I was a bit of a loon for tackling it, but hey ;) I wanted to publish in both print and PDF format. Before then I'd only worked with PDF's and as mentioned in the previous paragraph the single patterns took a couple of years to catch up and reach print status. A lot of time was spent researching the best way to do this, and eventually I went with Lulu, a print on demand (POD) service. This have changed since then but more about that in a bit.
Whilst researching printers & publishing possibilities many self publishers suggested not using POD and instead front up the money to pay for bulk printing. Sure, POD does make the unit cost slightly higher and the royalties perhaps slightly lower (depending on how you balance things) but POD allows many books to see the light of day that wouldn't otherwise just because their author is poor or doesn't fancy the restricting packages from mainstream publishers. I found myself having the same conversation that I'm having now (which is one of the reasons for writing this rather long post). The suggestions I received just weren't an option and POD was the best fit for that situation.
As you know now my books are published by Arbour House - an independent publisher who can produce small print runs if needs be and offer better opportunities than Lulu or other POD companies. The books are still available as PDF's and they always will be, yet they come from a different source - the printed books from Arbour House and the PDF's from me.
There's a new trend in self publishing, where the PDF is offered as part of a package with the print book. I find this quite interesting - when Going Straight was available in both formats on Lulu customers buying both were rare. When we were getting ready to launch Twisted Woolly Toppers myself and the lovely Susan discussed the option of offering both as a package but came to the conclusion that it just didn't suit our business model. First and foremost it would be a logistical nightmare trying to set it up and work out a royalties base. Secondly, how would it work for wholesale or books purchased at shows? It would be impossible to track individual sales. One of the reasons we work the way we do is that it simplifies the different options available to us - we can both do what we are best at which creates a good working harmony. Although we haven't dismissed the idea all together and it may be something we can rethink about at another time when both our businesses are better suited, it's not something we currently offer. As previously said, everyone works to a different business model with good reasons.
Now, as much as that doesn't sound like a big deal it appears to be to some. I have had emails 'politely suggesting' that I follow other indie designers' business models and offer the PDF free with the book. I was both amazed and annoyed by this and I really hope not to have to explain myself like this again. The PDF is a valuable item in itself and I'm concerned at this expectation to give it away free. If others are in a situation to offer products differently, and it works for them, then that's fantastic. But it doesn't work for everyone. As much as I try to accommodate everyone's needs there are always going to be people who are disappointed. Such is life.
One of things at the very core of me and how we live and how I work is simplicity. That and being true to ourselves. We eat, sleep, cook and generally live in a 15.6sqm space because we choose to and we love it. We like living small and my business suits us well, for which we are grateful. The business has been kind enough to afford us a new home (the double decker cost £2K, plus £1K to get it here and another £2K to fit it out - most people spend more on their new car than we spent on our new home!) and that's good enough for us (thank you for helping us buy it!). Sure, we'd like business to expand and afford us a few more things (me? I'm dreaming of our own little plot of land somewhere in Spain ;) yet we won't be compromising ourselves to get there. The business will continue to grow as we do. Maybe when Aran gets to school I'll be able to manage a longer working day but until then we'll carry on as we are.
And now it's time to get on the bike and go and collect the little dude!