The State of My Union Update

I’m writing this post with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’m ready to make a few changes in my life. On the other hand, I am not happy that those changes need to be made. And in any case, I’m frustrated and I feel like I’m bouncing from place to place, throwing things against the wall to see what sticks. As a result, I feel like my attention is split, my efforts are not focused, and my bank account is quickly being depleted.

A year ago, I started Old Fashion Soap Co., with the idea that I could take my tried and true soap making skills and turn them into a viable business. I had all these illusions of grandeur, of becoming The Next Big Thing in the cosmetic industry, and growing my business in to an empire of epic proportions. Of course, I didn’t expect this to happen overnight (or in a year’s time), but I did expect to be doing a little better than I am by this time. Still, we are building brand recognition, and our customers love our soaps. We’re getting that prized repeat customer, and that makes me very happy. Looking back, I realize it wasn’t very realistic of me to expect big things in a short period of time. I have never given up hope that one day, this little business can sustain our financial needs. But I have, on several occasions, lost my focus, mostly in an attempt to gain more sales in a short period of time.

In August of last year, I purchased an embroidery machine, primarily because my machine guy told me that people are “making six figures!” with their embroidery businesses. And that might be true, but this machine is not really conducive to that. A single head, single needle machine doesn’t turn out items fast enough for me to make six figures while also running a soap business. I started out by setting up the embroidery business independent of the soap business, but then combined them in a fit of frustration over paperwork and administrative tasks. That was a huge mistake, I know now. It has confused my customers, confused my potential customers, and, I think, diluted my target audience for each of the two lines. The biggest issue, however, is that the embroidery just doesn’t sell like I’d hoped it would. It really has become a financial drain on my business.

Last month, I purchased a heat press for a few reasons. One, I think that my target customer will like heat press items far more than they will embroidered goods. Two, I would like to be able to do more than just t-shirts and hoodies – I really would like to be able to offer some gift type items to my customers that are unique, customizable (I probably made that word up) and fun. And finally, I am tired of looking for things I want and not being able to find them. It’s annoying, and I want to create them myself since I can’t find a place to buy them. But you know … I really didn’t want to add yet another line to an already schizophrenic business. I know, you’re thinking, Let’s cut to the chase here, Jill. What are you trying to say? Well, here it is …

For the very last time, I’m making a change in my business structure. I’m separating Old Fashion Soap Co., out into its own company once again. There are caveats, however. I will be discontinuing the wax line once I’m sold out of what I currently have in stock. We will be offering soaps (bar and liquid), lotions, creams and lip balms. The product lines will be easy, simple and fluid, i.e., the scents may not always be the same, or everything may not always be available. There will be some “core” items that we will always try to have in stock, but there will be a bit of fluctuation, too. If you want an old favorite, we can and will make it for you, but it will take about a month for you to receive it (potentially longer if we have to order an ingredient in for it). But for the most part, the line up we have now will continue on, even if it’s not in stock every day.

I am setting up a new business for the t-shirts, gifts and other fun things. It’s called Heat Wave Designs, and I’m in the process of setting up a page on Facebook for it. There will be a website, and we will be at shows (even if it’s part of the OFSC booth). I also intend to set up an Etsy page for the company, even though I do believe that Etsy is over-saturated. To begin with, I will offer mugs, coaster sets, and t-shirts, and maybe a couple other things as I find them. I encourage you to follow the page on Facebook, even as I’m just getting started, because there could be some rockin’ deals on things that don’t work out exactly as I had planned. LOL But I think I’m on the right track; check out these items I’ve been doing lately …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will also be offering customized items so you can give gifts that are unique and fun, like photo mugs and coasters.

As for the embroidery, I haven’t quite figured that out, but at this point, I will still be offering embroidered monograms and a few items like the fishing cooler. One of the things I realized was that even though I was trying to give people more choices in the way I set up my current website, the reality is that people just found it confusing. So whatever it is I decide to do, I will definitely be addressing that issue by offering a particular t-shirt with a specific design. The only options will be color and size, and even the color selection might be reduced a bit.

These changes will start appearing soon. You can still use the same link to get to the website, but in the end, it will be more of a gateway to the two completely separate and different sites. Sometimes, I guess we have to learn by doing and failing, and this was a heck of a lesson. I really hope that you will check out both businesses, and that you will consider supporting small business by purchasing from one when it makes sense. And as a final plug for Old Fashion Soap, you should totally check out the website, because our May special is four bars of soap for $20. That’s just $5 a bar, and it’s a great value (most of my customers say their average bar lasts four to six months).

I am also looking for a job at this point, so if you know someone who needs a great all-round person, or a good cost manager, let me know.

Finally, I want to thank all of you for sticking with me through the last year. When I got laid off last year, I think I said that it was going to be a new adventure, and it has certainly been that. Your support has meant a lot to me, and I am grateful for all the kind words, the emails and messages that I’ve received. Thanks for everything, y’all!

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Self-doubt and the Modern Woman

Earlier this week, I wrote about my concerns – for myself, my business, my general state of affairs over all. I’m doing a lot of soul searching, because I think I need to know what’s truly bugging me. I keep coming back to one thought – I’m just not happy. We all go through it – at some point, we realize that we’re just not happy. We’re not happy with where we are, what we’re doing, and sometimes we’re not happy with our mate. Fortunately for me, my unhappiness has nothing to do with my husband. It has everything to do with my business. Everything that is bothering me is a result of my business. And so, I’ve made a decision, one that isn’t what I hoped to be considering after a year in business, but one I think is best for me and my family.

After the spring shows are over in May, Suds & Stitches will become primarily an online business. I will do the occasional show, but for the most part, it will be online. I will also be cutting back on the number of soaps I keep stocked – perhaps six to eight “regular” scents/bars that I keep on hand at all times, and a few rotational/seasonal type fragrances, for not more than 15 variations available, with the exception of the Soap of the Month Club offerings. Soap of the Month will still continue on, of course, and I will still offer lotions, night cream and lip balms. I will also continue to offer monogramming and the occasional embroidered items.  And I will continue to pursue some wholesale opportunities, so if you know anyone with a small business who might be a good fit, let me know.

This is not where I wanted to be at this point in my business, but the reality is, we’re just not making money. The booth fees are high (often $100+ for each show; we have one coming up that I paid almost $300 to be in), and for items that sell for, on average, $5 each, we have to sell a LOT of soap just to break even. My hope was always that we’d eventually be able to stop doing the shows and just move to an online store (and maybe eventually, a brick & mortar), but I thought I’d have more repeat business before that happened. We do sell quite a bit of soap at our shows, but after taking in to account the cost of gasoline, booth fees, food, the occasional motel, and the cost of making product, we’re usually lucky to break even.

For the most part, our customer base has been fabulous, but we’ve missed some sales I thought we’d make. People who encouraged me to do this, to expand into making more wax items, more soaps, more lotions, embroidery, and who swore they couldn’t wait until we did it so they could buy the things they requested. I understand that things come up, and no sale should be counted on before it happens, but I’ve had so many people who claimed they “couldn’t wait” who then never placed an order or came to a show to see what we have to offer. I’ve offered discounts and coupons that no one ever took advantage of, and made sure that not only was I competitive with my prices, but that I offered more than others – more variety for shirts, bigger bars of soap, show special discounts, and other things. Things that no one took advantage of, and things that no one showed any interest in at all. It’s depressing. People at shows who “just love” this t-shirt or that, but wanted it in a different size/color/style. People who swore they were going home to place their order on the website, then never visited it at all. People who would PM me on Facebook wanting special discounts, shipping offers, etc., who then wouldn’t buy whether I gave in to their requests or not. Friends who wanted me to make this fragrance or that and they would DEFINITELY buy it, but when I made it, they were no where to be found. I’m not bringing all this up to make people feel bad; it’s just part of the process I’ve gone through to make the decisions that I’ve made.

I’m looking for another job. I have hope that I can find something soon so that we’ll still have money in our bank account that we can use to pay off some bills, and maybe take a little vacation. I’m not looking in just Houston, because let’s face it; no matter what people tell you, this is still an oil town, and without the oil, there aren’t many jobs. I want to stay in Texas at least, but if I can’t … well, things happen that are sometimes out of our control and we have to roll with the punches. It’s what I’m best at doing, after all.

One area where owning my own business has impacted my decision making, however, is in trying to shop local and small as often as I can. It’s not always possible, because sometimes local places don’t have what you’re looking for, and small doesn’t always have the variety. But it’s taught me to try the local places first, because when I can purchase from one of them, maybe I’m helping to keep their doors open. And there is little that is more depressing than having to close your business.

All in all, owning my own business has been an interesting experience, and I’ve learned a lot from it. I wouldn’t trade the last year for anything. But perhaps now it’s time to move on and find something else to do.

An Awakening

This morning, I came to a realization – I’m not happy. My marriage is good – better than it ever has been, I think, so that isn’t the problem. It’s my business. My weight. My house. I feel like it’s all pretty much spun out of control. When I look around me and see that my house is a wreck, my business isn’t where I want it to be, and as a result, I’ve gained weight … well, it’s time to change pretty much everything except the husband. Him I plan to keep for a very, very long time. I guess you could say he’s just stuck with me.

Before I took a shower this morning, I did the dreaded deed – I stepped on the scale. As I stood there staring at that horrible number, it dawned on me that I’m not happy with most aspects of my life. Only my marriage and family bring me any joy right now; the rest of it just drags on me and makes me feel depressed. I realized that if things don’t start to change, and soon, I’m going to be in some pretty serious trouble. And I also realized that not being accountable is not going to help, either. So, this is my confession, my new beginning, if you will, because today things have to start changing. Today, I have to take control of my life once again and stop screwing around.

I know I’ve said this before; we all have, haven’t we? At some point we hit a wall and we think, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! But this is seriously ridiculous. I am stunned and embarrassed by my weight right now. I would DIE if anyone walked in to my house at this point, and my business … well, yet another weekend of lackluster sales isn’t making me want to run out and sign up for more shows. So, here is my very basic beginning plan for each one in turn.

My weight – first of all, my biggest issue is night time snacking and eating the crappiest of foods. Before I sat down to write this, I threw a Lean Cuisine frozen meal in the microwave – not the best choice, I thought, but better than anything I could have pulled together for myself from a fridge full of left overs that need to be thrown out and a pantry full of things that I probably shouldn’t eat at all. When I took the meal out of the microwave, this is what it looked like …

Believe it or not, overall the taste wasn’t terrible. I added a little Tony Chacerie’s to give it a little more flavor, but after eating it, I was still hungry. I looked at the calorie count – 170 calories. Wait, what? Only 170 calories, and this is supposed to be a FULL meal?!?! Are you freakin’ KIDDING me?? I could eat TEN of these and not even get in the number of calories I can eat in an average day (according to the iPhone app Lose It!), but it would provide me with more than two days’ worth of sodium. And I’d probably still be hungry. So I added a Dannon Light & Fit Greek Yogurt, and I will probably find myself digging around for something else after that, because according to the Lose It! app, I should be eating about 2,000 calories just to lose weight (yeah, I have quite a bit of weight to lose so I get more than the “standard” 1,200 calories that many diet plans seem to think women should live on).

Today’s weight loss goal – go grocery shopping and do some food prep for this week.

My house – Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Honestly, the downstairs isn’t so bad, but upstairs, my bedroom is the place where everything that otherwise doesn’t have a home lands. And it houses a good bit of my business inventory. It isn’t very peaceful or restful, but it IS big. It’s time to do some spring cleaning all over the house, though. I tried to do the FlyLady thing recently, but it was 12 or more emails a day, most of them trying to sell me something. It just about drove me insane. I do like the basic premise, however – focus on one area of the house each week, at first getting to the point where it’s presentable, then doing deeper cleaning as you go along, while maintaining the presentable part. This week, it’s going to be tricky, because we have a show mid-week (this is the first time I’ve ever had a show that wasn’t on a weekend), but my focus spot is going to be the studio. I chose the studio for two reasons – it’s the very first thing people see when they walk in to my house, and it will require the least amount of deep cleaning. Most of the focus will be on clutter, and that’s something I can handle easily. Also, as a “bonus” Chris and I will spend a fair amount of time on getting all the laundry caught up.

This week’s house goal – declutter the studio and get all the laundry caught up

My business – This is the one that’s most difficult for me, because I’m not sure what to do to fix the issue. I’m not sure I CAN fix the issue, because I’m not positive it’s my issue to fix. I’ve been in business for a year now, and sales are lackluster. I thought it was my product, but now I don’t think that’s it, because after talking to several vendors over the last few months, everyone seems to be experiencing the same results, even at shows that were once very good. I don’t know if the problem is that people are getting away from handcrafted items, or if it’s that people just aren’t spending money, but the only booths that seem to have a lot of people looking and buying are those who are selling clothing, jewelry and/or other accessories. I didn’t keep a blow by blow record of sales by the woman across from us this weekend, but I think her weekend was much better than mine (she was selling “boutique” clothing). The couple to the right of us were selling a variety of things – jewelry, purses, and other trinkets – and they seemed to stay fairly busy, though I’m not sure what kind of sales they saw. We did ok ourselves, but not, “I can live on this” ok. We did, “Well, this is nice extra pocket money if I don’t reinvest every penny” ok. And my online and Etsy stores aren’t exactly on fire, either. We also paid for a motel for one night for this show, further eating in to my profits.

I’ve also been looking for a job, with no results. I don’t want to abandon the business, but I thought if I could find a job, I could continue the business on the side. So far, no luck finding a job, and many of the jobs I do see are part time. It’s crazy; I really don’t understand it. At this point, I’m ready to apply for part time bookkeeper jobs and try to get clients to hire me on a 1099 basis, so I can have several at once. I was looking through jobs last weekend and there wasn’t a ton of stuff out there, and then it hit me – I don’t recall seeing any jobs listed with any of the O&G majors, and only a few with the indies. There are a lot of medical jobs – for which I am not trained. There are retail jobs – which don’t pay much, are part time, and would interfere with my show schedule. And there were some accounting jobs, which require an accounting degree, preferably a master’s degree and a CPA (even when it’s clear the job doesn’t need a CPA; they’re doing that because these companies know there are hundreds, if not thousands, of young people out there with a CPA who are desperate to find a job and will work for enough to pay back the crushing student loan debt they accumulated over those years).

I went to a business seminar last year, but frankly I’ve forgotten a fair amount of what I learned, so …

This week’s business goal – Go to the show on Wednesday, and read through the course materials from last year’s seminar. Continue to look for a job.

And there you have it – a week’s plan in writing. I am also making notes in my calendar to help me stay the course for the week. I will try to remember to report back here periodically, because I want to keep track of how things are going. If I were more disciplined, I would do a daily post to keep track of what’s going on and how things are going, because that’s really the only way to remain accountable to myself. Maybe I’ll try doing that … but it probably won’t happen (I may be trying to turn over some new leaves, but I’m also realistic).

All quiet on the western front …

Or at least the home front. I haven’t really been involved in the studio due to some personal things. I’ll be back in the studio this week, though, and I hope to be able to post some new stuff in the coming days. I’ve been more interested in getting past this week than I have been in sewing and doing artsy/craftsy things, but now I can focus on things that are more fun.

In other news, I have a new blog that will document my transition from corporate life into the next phase. I’d be so happy if you’d stop by and take a look.

Until next time …

In to the home stretch

Today, I’m starting my last week of employment with my current company. While I’ve got a plan for the future, I’m still a little nervous. I feel like I’m jumping off the deep end, working without a net … taking unusual risks that I normally wouldn’t take, at least not with my livelihood. And yet, I feel like it’s the right thing to do. It’s definitely time to move on from Corporate America and take the next step.

However, all of this change and upheaval have taken a toll on my studio time. I just have not been focused enough to do anything in there lately. I have the Cat in the Hat quilt in the process of being free motion quilted, but I haven’t felt the pull to work on it lately. I haven’t been able to focus on anything creative because I felt the need to nail down a plan of action on my career first. I did some fabric dyeing in yellow, which turned out quite well, in my opinion.

Deep Yellow Fabric Dyeing

As far as my career goes, I’m registered for a couple of “spring late start” classes at the local community college. It feels weird to be going back to school now, but I think that getting the accounting courses completed and sitting for the CPA (and possibly the CPB – Certified Public Bookkeeper) exam is the right thing to do. I’m going to be starting my own bookkeeping business on a part time basis at first, then once I’ve gotten my certification(s) out of the way, I’ll expand to a full time business. I’m doing a weekend seminar in March on how to start and run a successful and profitable small business. I’ve got my summer classes planned out, even though I have another month before I can register for them. Once I had all this worked out, I began to feel far more confident about my impending unemployment. In fact, I’m really beginning to look forward to it!

One thing I have realized, though, is that I need to be sure I have regularly scheduled things to do, because if I don’t I have a tendency to want to just sit around doing a whole lot of nothing. OK, maybe not nothing, but I do not need to sit around for hours several days a week to read books, or crochet or knit. I can do those things in the evenings, while watching tv, or in lieu of watching tv. I don’t really have anything specifically planned until  my classes start in March, so until then, I’m going to take a couple of classes on my new Pfaff sewing machine, do my spring cleaning, make some things that I might decide to sell, and spend time working on a business plan. I also intend to make myself some clothing and spend some time with family.

Hopefully, my next post won’t be about work stuff, and I can share some new projects I’m working on, or have finished!

It’s time to get serious

Almost 17 years ago, I accepted a two week temporary assignment at Texaco. It was a decent paying job in downtown Houston, and I welcomed the opportunity to learn something new. Although I had worked in the petrochemical industry at a couple of points in my career, up until that point, I had sort of drifted from industry to industry, trying my hand in the medical, legal, and miscellaneous categories of administrative support. Two weeks turned into six months, and by the end of that year, I was a full time Texaco employee. I will never forget one question that the hiring manager asked me – “You’ve changed jobs every year or two; how will I know you’ll still be around in a couple of years?”

It was a fair question, and obviously one that’s stuck with me all this time. In an ironic twist, two years later I found myself moving to a different group and new job in the newly merged ChevronTexaco, while that particular hiring manager found himself looking for a new job elsewhere. I ended up spending 11 years with Texaco, then ChevronTexaco, and finally, Chevron, before finding myself looking for something new in the Spring of 2010. I really enjoyed most of my time there, and I learned a lot. When I left Chevron, however, I thought it might be a good time to find a job in another industry. God had a different plan for me, and I found myself once again employed in the oil & gas industry.

I was given official notice in December, right before Christmas, that my job was being eliminated, and that my employment would end in mid-February. To be honest, I thought I would find another job within the company, and to date, I have applied for no less than 13 positions, most of which I thought I was qualified to fill. Hiring managers, however, seem to disagree, and almost six years after first coming to this company, I again find myself in need of a new job. Up until a couple of weeks ago, I just did not believe that I would find myself back on the unemployment line. Ha. Ha. Ha. Joke’s on me, I guess. There is still a very small chance that something could pop up and I could get a last-minute reprieve, but with a little more than two weeks left, I don’t think it’s going to happen.

So, I started looking for a job “on the outside.” But let me tell you, job hunting has been a harsh lesson in “Things I should have done before now.” Every single rejection I have received has told me that while my skills, accomplishments, achievements and background are “impressive,” there are better qualified candidates that applied for the job. I know there will always be someone who’s “better qualified” but the common theme in all of these jobs is that they want an accounting or finance degree, and a CPA would be preferred. So, facing at least another 15 (maybe 20) years in the job force, I have decided it’s time to get serious.

I am not totally happy about this, but it has to be done. I’m going back to school. Not to get an MBA or an advanced degree of any type, but to take the classes I would need to get my CPA. I started to do this a few years ago but I found I really didn’t have the drive or desire to make it happen, but something I learned a few years ago is that once you have a bachelor’s degree, regardless of field, there is no college in Texas that will allow you to earn an accounting degree. You can take the advanced accounting classes that would have earned you the degree, but instead of an actual degree, you get a certificate that can be used as proof of education to take the CPA. I am not a fan of long, boring certification tests (I took one many years ago to get my Certified Professional Secretary designation, and another a few years later to get my Certified Administrative Professional rating) but I think that in this case, it’s an absolute necessity, because I don’t think most employers are going to understand that I took all the classes even though I don’t have the degree to back it up. I think the CPA would be the definitive proof needed to show that yes, I can do an accounting job. Clearly, ten years of experience isn’t enough; I need some paper to back it up (isn’t that always the way?).

As you can probably predict, I missed the cut-off to enroll in Spring classes by HOURS. It’s ok, though … I will get enrolled for the summer session, so I have some time to get ready. Although I haven’t even started the classes yet, I’m thinking about purchasing a study guide for one of the modules. I think it might be helpful to know what kind of questions are on the test, and to start thinking proactively about my next steps. Maybe it won’t make a difference, but really, can it hurt? I think it might be a good idea to know what to expect on the test, so that when I cover that material in classes, I can ask for clarification on things I don’t understand, or when the information the instructor gives is vastly different from what the study materials include. I don’t know; I’ll have to think about it, but I don’t see how it could hurt to start thinking about and prepping for the test now.

Either way, I think that pursuing my CPA is the right thing to do. And who knows, once I have it, maybe I’ll decide to strike out on my own and leave Corporate America behind. Who wouldn’t love that?!?