Friday, November 30, 2018

Reasons to Say No

I recently found myself in the position of saying no to two opportunities for many complicated reasons. Shortly afterward this great article turned up in my inbox. It was a link from another knitting industry insider. It confirmed that my decisions were correct.

The full article is here:   
by Kevin Daum

I've added in my own comments with each reason.

1.  Say NO! When No One Is Ready
Many people say yes to a boss or customer request when the pieces of the puzzle aren't in place. Great work requires preparation. Great teams require alignment. If your team isn't prepared or aligned, agreeing to take on difficult initiatives is a disaster waiting to happen. Young companies often try to speed forward before their organizational structure or business model is ready. They instead end up burning investor money while killing dreams and reputations. Say No! so you can get everything and everyone on board and ready. Then you can say yes with confidence.

I've had lots of conversations with people who wanted commitment to projects which clearly hadn't been thought through at any level of detail. More than a couple of answers to my questions of "we haven't worked that out yet" are a huge red flag.    

2. Say NO! When It's Not a Fit
Salespeople and entrepreneurs alike tend to see the potential in everything and everybody. But a ton of time is wasted on prospects who are never going to be customers, never going to invest, or never going to be amazing employees. Instead of looking for all the reasons why things will work out, save time by focusing on the reasons they won't. Even if you say No!, you can always revisit the opportunity if compatibility improves.

This happened to me on many occasions. People would ask me about collaborative projects that didn't really work with what I was doing. As an example a printer who wanted to get in on the business of printing patterns and was very confused about the PDF pattern download world. 

3. Say NO! When You're Overloaded
Some people are afraid to say No! even when they have too much on their plates. They think it's necessary to respond positively all the time to avoid disappointing others. Then they let things fall through the cracks, get sick or have a breakdown. In this case, an impossible yes causes far more frustration then just saying No! in the first place. Have a realistic sense of your capacity and don't go past your limit.

I made this mistake once and spent quite a few very late nights trying to live up to my commitment. Lesson well learned.

4.  Say NO! When It's Unrealistic
You can't assume that every request has been thought through in detail. Often people ask for what they want with little or no consideration of what's involved for delivery. I never subscribe to the "customer is always right" theory. As a consultant, I wonder, if they are always right, why would they want to pay me? Be the expert when someone asks for something. If you don't know how it works, do your homework and say yes only when you know it can really happen. Otherwise, keep that "maybe" handy.

I once committed to something, thinking that the request was complete only to discover that every week the expectations had been increased. I met the first ask but tried to pull out of the deal on the next which was even more unrealistic. In the end they wanted the pattern as it was instead of insisting on the additional work. It taught me a lot about establishing complete parameters early on in a project.

5. Say NO! When You Have to Go Backwards
It's hard enough to move steadily toward your goals without having to regain lost ground. When approached with an opportunity that doesn't obviously propel you forward, ask yourself: "Why am I even interested in this?"  You may be surprised to find there is simply no justification for saying yes. When that happens, loudly declare No! and move on to opportunities that better align with your goals.

There's a supposition on the part of those who don't write patterns that all other work (teaching and speaking) is just done to promote pattern sales. It takes me about three weeks of full time hours to write a class or presentation. I see that as separate work not promotional work. I think of my Ravelry ads and social media as promotional. The catch all phrase "you should do it for the exposure" gets loud groans inside the industry because we all hear it so often.
6.  Say NO! When It's Unprofitable
You are in business for many reasons, but nearly everyone--founders and employees alike--is in it to profit. Not all profit is related to money, although young entrepreneurs should take note that consistent monetary profit does help your sustainability and your valuation. Sometimes a transaction can pay off in connections, exposure, learning, satisfaction or, yes, money. But when a transaction does nothing to better the people involved, then the word No! should be used. The key is to make sure everyone in the company can understand, recognize and justify a profitable deal. That requires openness and education, so get to work.

The minute I published my first pattern I started getting requests for freebies. In the beginning I was generous and did things at a financial cost to me. After a few discussions with industry insiders I realized that I was doing a disservice to everyone by artificially reducing margins.  I'm in touch with a number of teacher/designers who have left the industry who all cite free patterns and the undercutting of  payments by newbies trying to get their start in the knitting world. I also had a few pros who were very angry at those of us who did this and didn't hesitate to let me know. 

This goes on for several reasons. First, lack of knowledge on the part of organizers, the knitting world is full of wonderful volunteers and new business owners popping up all the time who don't yet have a handle on the marketplace. Secondly, due to the total stagnation of compensation in the knitting world. Payment is set in the mind of the person making the offer and varies widely between organizations or within them during management changes.  Ten years in and I still receive teaching offers for less than what I got in my first year. My favourite ridiculous offer is the profit sharing scheme with no basic compensation to cover my expenses for travel, food or accommodation. I think in this case the organizer was not low balling teachers she really didn't know what the margins actually are. She seemed convinced we'd all be making a reasonable amount. Finally it's a world of women who play by the rules of a hobby and want to play nice. 

7.  Say NO! When You Can't Meet Expectations
People are often optimistic about how quickly and how well they can get things done. Combine that hopefulness with the desire to please a customer, and you are left over-promising and under-delivering. Save yourself the mea culpa and say No! to what you know you can not do. Be accountable and manage expectations. Whatever you do, don't say yes to get the deal signed if you're assuming that, once the prospects are in the door, they'll have to adapt to your change in quality, timing or price. After they realize what's happened, few will come back to say yes and do business with liars.

I previously worked in two industries which were both highly time pressured. I have a very strong protectionist attitude when it comes to not over committing. It's amazing how hard others will push to get you to commit to their timeline when you're being very clear it can't be done.


Friday, November 23, 2018

An Interview with...Lisa McFetridge

Upcoming publication please see the note at the bottom of the post.

Once a week I post interviews with interesting people about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every one of these individuals makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the knitting world.

You can find
Lisa here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration everywhere that I can see the play of different colors, including, but not limited to:  store displays, walks in the woods, flower gardens, wallpapers.  Pretty much everywhere.
What is your favourite knitting technique?
I am a stranded knitter.  I like to use traditional motifs from Scandinavia and Fair Isle but many of my motifs are mine, created as I need them to execute a new idea.  A good example of this is my collection "Exploring World Cultures" which takes a look at many different cultures, many with no real knitting traditions.   Once I have found motifs / stories relating to the country, I turn them into motifs and create a piece that tells a story about the country and its history and folklore.  (See the Ravelry Bundle "Exploring World Cultures") This is the type of stranding design I love.  To make a design that is efficient and tells a story but doesn't look childish.
Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
That is a great question.  I don't look too much at others work mainly because I knit small pieces only.  Hats, mittens, cowls etc... as I like to move quickly onto the next piece.  If I need one of these pieces, I design them.  BUT, I am influenced by everything I see, especially play of color.  I am more likely to notice color combinations than the design.  My mantra when teaching stranded design classes is "Color changes everything"   When someone posts a photo of one of my own designs, I am often taken aback at how their choice of color changes the final product.  Any knitter who takes a pattern and makes it his/her own by changing colors, or making pattern modifications to suit their needs, is a designer and I am influenced by what they do!
Two of my most popular designs are inspired by Olympic Hats - The Latvian Hat from 2018 and the Slovak Folklore Hat from 2014.  
How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?

I have had many over the years.  It depends whether or not  I have lots of new elements in a piece if I have it test knit.  I find testers on Ravelry and have had a wonderful experience with the process.
Did you do a formal business plan?
No.  When my youngest was small, I began designing.  This was in the paper publishing world.  It was labor intensive, printing patterns, flyers, doing mailings.  In the end, making money was difficult.  I taught a lot at that time in local shops.
I stopped publishing for about 10 years, then discovered Ravelry.  I still remember figuring out how to put a pattern up and creating my designer profile.  About 5 minutes after putting it up, I had my first sales.  I was blown away at how easy it made the whole industry.
Now, of course, there are so many patterns available as well as free patterns to compete with, but still, it makes a one-person business much easier to run.  There are now many other sites now, Etsy, Craftsy, LoveKnitting, Patternworks.  I sell on many of these as well as WEBS.
In truth, my business plan has evolved over time.  I have geared my business toward charity.  Nearly all the money I make with my patterns goes to charity.  I don't really advertise this fact though I have many patterns that explicitly state that all proceeds go to charity.  I have created many hats for specific events, the most well known being the Boston Strong hat created after the Boston Marathon Bombing.  All proceeds to the victims fund and also a large volunteer effort to put a hat into the hands of every victim who wished to have one.  Photos of some of these folks in their hats are shown at the end of the movie "Patriot's Day".   
Do you have a mentor?
My truest mentor is Susan Shabo, a designer and my first knitting teacher and a cheerleader for me over time.  She is a wonderful person.
Do you use a tech editor?  
I used to, but since my pieces are all small, I have a formula for sizing and find that I don't need a tech editor unless I have something so new or different that I am not confident.  Usually in this case, test knitters turn up issues in the instructions.
How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I set aside a certain number of hours a week to work on design.  After that, I volunteer.  I work for a dog rescue, a homeless shelter, I dance with Alzheimer's patients and am currently training to be a hospice volunteer.
How do you deal with criticism?
Initially it stung.  Now I take it in stride.  The Internet is a wonderful thing, it brings so much to the knitting community, allowing connectivity and sharing of ideas and advice.  The flip side is the anonymity, folks can say things in a way that they wouldn't if they were sitting across from each other.   
I have had few issues in this vein, one after I published a simple hat using a traditional tree motif.  A raveler saw the hat and commented that I had stolen the design as she had knit one similar from another pattern.  I responded that I had not seen the other pattern, but that since it used a simple, traditional motif, there were probably lots of similar hats.  It was fine in the end.  I try not to make it emotional or angry, as it solves nothing.  
How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I have never tried to support myself, always considered it "extra money" and have been very happy with what I make.  My background is in computers, so I could make more money in computing, but this gives me money and the flexibility to do the other things I like in life.
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
It is a niche business and some folks make a true living at it.  I think of it like sports.  Everyone has a team they love, merchandise they love to buy, but when it comes down to it, there is only room for a limited number of players who can become Superstars.   I do it for the love of design and am rewarded with followers and purchasers of my product.  I won't live in a mansion because of it, but I have raised a lot of money for charity, I have met some of the most amazing people, I got to teach on a knitting cruise and get to do what I love.
My advice:  Be ready to work hard, have a real business plan so you can measure goal attainment and give yourself time to "become".  You have to survive the first few years of losing money or breaking even before you can assess your real future.  Working for yarn companies if you can find a partner, is a big help.  Stick with it and you get to something you love.
What’s next for you?
It's winter.  New Indie yarns.  More hats.  It never gets old.  There are so many designs that percolate in my brain.  Time to knit...

The “Storyteller’s Gift Cowl” is so named as the knitter creates the gift of a story to the recipient.  Use the charts here or create some of your own.  Many here are versions of ones used in many of the hats in my World Cultures Hat Series - motifs from around the world, many not meant as knit motifs, but created from folk motifs.  Knit a cowl using the charts shown here or make up a new combination of charts.  A blank chart is included for personal use.  When finished, wear it.  When the right time comes, find someone who can use the warmth of a hand knit hug.  Gift the cowl to that person, wrap it around his or her neck.   It may be someone you have never met, or someone you know quite well, someone in need of your hand knit support.  That person may choose to pass it on in the future.  One day you might receive one back... 

The first cowl I made to give away has a special story.  A friend lost her adult son in workplace accident.  In the family’s grief, they did courageous thing and donated his organs.  Four people were saved.  My friend is the first recipient of a Storyteller’s Gift Cowl.  All the motifs are here:  A trio of hearts, one healthy, one broken and one large heart representing her son’s gift; a happy pup, Mingus, her son’s favorite; music motifs representing his work and love of music;  stars, sun & moon, a connection to the song “Close Your Eyes”;  the word MOM (WOW upside down) she is both to me;  an anchor for Hope; a flower from a knit class we were to attend together in Vermont at the time of her son’s passing.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Fitting - A Video Link

I've started another sewing project of a tissue weight knit top. I want to share a video series on fitting a simple knit top because it answers a question which is often attributed by knitters to the wrong cause. Some knitters have a problem with the neckline of sweaters sitting incorrectly and falling backwards. Often this is attributed to back neckline shaping. My sewing and pattern drafting classes always changed the shoulder seam and the centre point of the sleeve to add extra length over the fuller back arm. Most fitting improvements are tiny little adjustments that don't always make sense in the beginning. I was lucky enough to take classes with two teachers who were fantastic fitters, now you can learn a lot of these things online.

The details are in the third video, Balancing Armholes and Shoulder Seams. I recommend that you watch the whole series. Each video is quite short and you may find solutions for other issues. The blog it's hosted on is written by a very popular sewing teacher and pattern maker. Marcy Tilton.

The blog post is here.

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Creative Jolt I Needed

I think I must be craving a creative break from knitting. I did some jewellery making at the end of the summer as an attempt to get a creative jolt and quite enjoyed it. However, what I really wanted to do was some sewing. I'm becoming increasingly frustrated with the poor quality of everything available at retail. I also buy way less than I did when I had a full time job which means I want very specific things which are often not available. The other sign was I bought a few patterns and a piece of tweed for a jacket. 

I mentioned the craving to sew to a friend and the next thing I knew she got me to go fabric shopping twice! On the first trip I bought upholstery fabric and recovered all of my living room throw cushions. I had searched for replacements in a few retail shops and the cost IF I had found something I liked was crazy. 

On the next trip I bought fabric for a dress and some notions to get me going. Oh but I needed some serger needles which required a trip to Toronto's fabric district on Queen St W. It turned out my serger needed a tune-up and my sweet husband took it to be repaired and picked it up once it was ready. 


That trip for the needles lead to a few other purchases. I've now made a white faux fur vest, and a pink oversized knit top. 


I completed them while I waited for my serger to come home. The vest is fully lined so no seam finishes were required. I did french seams on the top and finished the double turn hems by hand.  I used a hand finished band on the neckline. The dress is almost done, I just have to complete the neckband and hems.

The top is to wear with these fabulous suede boots my husband gave me for Christmas 2017

Then Craftsy did a free week of classes and I went a little crazy watching and reminding my self of my forgotten skill set. I've dug up my old tailoring notes to review before I start that jacket. 

If you are worried that this will become a sewing blog, don't be, I suspect this is just a lull in my knitting activity. I might share some sewing fitting resources to help knitters which I've done in the past and they are often my most viewed posts.