Friday, February 28, 2020

10 Things that told me it was a business not a hobby.

On this blog, from time to time, I  share some of my experiences while I was converting my passion of quilting into a profitable business.
Today I will tell you about the 10 things that made me realize that I what I wanted to pursue was not a hobby, but a business.
When I started quilting in 2010, I always thought of it as a means to occupy myself while I was on a sabbatical. I was an architect earning a five figure monthly income in a small town. I was working with one of the best architects in the town and had complete creative freedom in the office! I could see myself going places! I had plans of doing my Masters and maybe even a Doctoral Degree. 
But then, I fell sick! I contacted Chikungunya. I was among the few unfortunate people for whom, the joint pain lasts for months.
I taught myself to sew when I was working with the women in the slums of Sangli - 'up'cycling old clothes into beautiful items of use.  To be honest, in the beginning, I did not even enjoy it much. I had the typical mindset of an Indian career woman - who thought sewing was 'below' her. I had grown up watching Niroopa Roy in old Bollywood movies! 
Over months and years, I taught myself how to sew. And with every stitch, I got better... And my confidence grew. I did not even realize when I fell in love with it!
Earlier I had made quilts for my family and friends, some of them paid me for making it while some didn't. But I was happy and content with how things were progressing!
And one year (I think that was in 2012) I exhibited my work for the first time at a local craft fair. I was super nervous. At the end of it I was pleasantly surprised. I sold 7 quilts! I have been participating in that craft fair (we call them exhibitions in India) every year since then (with the exception of 2015 when I did my first solo exhibition of quilts in August). 
That was the time I realized I could earn money from selling the stuff I made. But I still considered it as a 'temporary' phase - to occupy myself while I recovered and my son grew up. 
It was in December 2012, that I realized my own potential. My husband's family business was completing 100 years! A huge milestone. I wanted to gift my husband, his father and brother something precious to celebrate the occasion. It takes a lot of efforts to keep up the legacy left by someone. And all three of them have done a brilliant job of it! Being out of work for over two years meant I had a shoestring (maybe only half of a shoestring) budget.
On one of my regular Pinterest adventure, I discovered the world of Portrait quilts! I came across the fabulous self-portrait by Sandra Bruce. I sent off an email to her and after discussion, I actually ended up NOT making one in that technique. I chose to make one using raw edge applique instead. It took me three months to complete the quilt. And I made it using more than 3500 (that's when I knew counting was hopeless) pieces of fabrics! Some as tiny as 5 mm! The day I finished making the quilt, I knew that I knew what I was doing! I knew I was good at it! I knew this was going to be something more!
 I knew deep down at that time that I wanted to do this all my life.
I knew I wanted to give up AutoCad and play on my Bernina instead.
But I still did not know that it would be my business.

What are the 10 things that made me realize that quilting would be my business and not a hobby?

I come from a business family. And I wouldn't be wrong if I say that I have been a business woman since I was in eighth grade. I used to make Diwali Lanterns from Styrofoam (Thermocol) sheets at that time and sell them in my uncle's shop. I involved my brothers in the 'venture' and even shared my 'profits' with them for helping me sell. I planned 'targets' and celebrated 'successes'. I also 'reviewed' my strategy when sales slowed down and changed my 'approach' by lowering my prices when the competition became fierce (The son of the shopkeeper next to my uncle's shop also started making and selling lanterns - he was 5 years older and better at it than me!).
I also had a successful practice as an Architect before I got married to Rohit and moved to Sangli. In the three years of practice as an Architect, I had single-handedly completed over 12 projects - that included residential, commercial and even industrial buildings - and jointly (with a dear friend) finished 6 others! I had ample experience when it came to running my own business and what it looked (and felt) like.
Here are 10 things that told me that what I was doing was a business and not a hobby.
1.  I changed the name of my blog. Earlier, I had been blogging as 'Shrutiz'. It was a poor little blog on Wordpress. I knew that if I wanted to be successful as a quilter, I wanted a name that will not 'brand' me. I wanted a name that would help me be a part of the crowd and let people look at my work with an unbiased view. After a lot of thought, I settled on 13 Woodhouse Road. It is actually the pre-independence address of my home! It was later renamed to North Shivaji Nagar. 13 Woodhouse Road gave me an identity that was not cloaked by my 'Indian-ness'. I was one of the crowd. Now I knew that the comments - good or bad - I received were directed at my work and not at me.
2. I started planning. This was the first tell-tale sign. I would take a calendar and write down what I wanted to do and when. I would also plan my blog content accordingly or plan my quilts according to what was happening on my blog. I was thinking ahead - about 2-3 months. That was new. While it was a hobby, I just made what made me happy in that moment! 
3. I started thinking about pricing. I started looking at my quilts with money on my mind. I wasn't selling them at this point, but I kept on working out how much I would make if I sold it. I did not just wonder. I wrote down my costs and added labor cost and then some profit. My pricing system was not refined. But I was working it out - on paper! While it was a hobby, I was happy to get just the cost of material! But now I wanted more!
4. I started paying attention to trends. I started reading blogs by other quilters, who were selling their work, and observing what the trends were. Which were the fabrics they were using? I started spending a lot of time looking at the 'coming soon' sections of the online quilt shops I ordered from. I was once again, looking ahead, almost a month or two. I was no longer working with what I have and what I love. I explored color combinations that I would normally not work with because it was 'in'.
5. I started paying attention to my own work. I compared my work with some of the biggest names in my field. I worked hard to improve my work. I worked on my finishing. When I visited blogs of people like Elizabeth or Rita , I zoomed into their images and looked at it in detail. I followed their tutorials. I imitated their color choices. I worked hard to make my work look like theirs. Earlier, I had been doing what I loved, I did not care if it was not the 'best'. I was doing it to make myself happy. 
6. I started experimenting. I took all the knowledge I had assimilated and started experimenting with what I had.
No batting? Use fleece blankets!
No designer fabric? Buy lovely tea towels from D Mart and cut them up! 
I experimented to make myself stand out. 
I clicked pictures of stuff online and descriptions of them, printed them out and scoured the local markets to look for alternatives. I did this not just for ease, but to bring down the cost of making my quilts. Earlier I did not bother with my cost price as it was for myself!
7. I was ready to stand out. I started making quilts that were 'me'. I found my own language and developed it. I looked at anything I liked and made it 'my way'. Sometimes, it meant using a totally new technique or otherwise, new material even! I wanted to leave a mark on people.
8. I went to the USA for QuiltCon. I decided to spend more than 2,50,000/- Rupees (I ended up spending much more than that) to visit Austin, Texas for QuiltCon. I had no plans for any sightseeing. All my attention and my money was focused on assimilating all the knowledge that I could. I also raised my own money for the trip! I sold my quilts to raise the sum. I set myself a target and worked towards it. Earlier, I had never been so focused on money goals for something that was supposed to be a hobby. I remember, when I went to Dubai, I wanted to buy a designer purse much more than I wanted to buy quilting supplies on my first visit to a brick and mortar quilt store. I was excited about the visit to Classic Quilts & Quilting, but the thought of all my adventures was much more exciting.
9. I streamlined production. For an upcoming craft fair, I hired someone to make stuff for me. When I realized I could not make enough stuff to make the profit I wanted to at the annual craft fair, I hired a woman to make some stuff for me. Soon she had to bring a friend along and I had staff for the manufacturing. I made notes and found the fastest way to get stuff made from them. I worked out how to create an assembly line to make everything that I wanted to make for the fair. Earlier, I would have shown up at the fair with whatever I had made and hoped that they sold.
10. I decided not to go back to my job. In the end it all came to the day when I said to myself, "This is what I want to do for the rest of my life." And I also wanted this to give me enough income to replace my full time day-job. I did not need to earn that money. I was fortunate enough to have a husband who could support me if I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. But I wanted my own identity.
It was at the end of 2013 that I finally announced my decision of not going back to my job. I started exploring avenues of making money other than making quilts and selling them. I started teaching how to make quilts my way. My classes prospered and it gave me confidence to take the plunge and make this into a full time business.
I have been running this venture as a business for a couple of years now, and fortunately, have had my share of success. I have also seen failures - even BIG ones. But they have only helped me grow my business further. 
This blog is the space where I share all my experiences of being a business woman along with being a quilter. I am hoping that my words might be able to guide someone to convert their passion into profit!


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