Jarrod Dahl made a good point in one of his recent blog posts the other day, about how much administrative work goes into being a craftsman. Instagram, the main vehicle for many of us, is good at capturing the glamorous part of what we do as makers, but it is more difficult to give appropriate weight to all of the other parts of the process that go into making a living from something like carving spoons. So I thought I'd document a sale from beginning to end, with the goal of providing an accurate picture, not so much to impress anyone with what goes into it, but to help any of you who are looking to scale your hobby up to a real part of your income.
Sales for me usually come in the form of a message request on Instagram or email, someone reaching out asking if they can order some work. Often this comes in reaction to a recent post showing the glamorous side of things (finished work or a pile of blanks), and often it is someone who has followed along for awhile before ever being in touch. About a third of my orders come from repeat customers, and you can read my thoughts about that in an earlier blog post.
So there is usually a message or two to iron out what I can do for them, at which point I enter the name, address and order into my daily planner. I used to just use scraps of paper when I was able to turn work around in a day or two, but as demand increased so did my waiting list. For awhile I used a big sheet of paper tacked to a wall, but this year I have found it crucial, with a now five week waiting list and growing, to use a daily planner. This allows me to loosely schedule work (while leaving me wiggle room to accommodate the vagueries of life and people adding onto orders last minute) while giving customers a sense of when their work will be done.
In general, I aim to create between $45 and $90 of work, which usually takes 3-5 hours. I have other work I need to accomplish (writing and editing) so I don't do this all day, and quite frankly it has taken months to build my muscles up to the point where I can sustain these hours day after day. I do anticipate the number of hours to increase over the course of the next year by a little bit, and each year at the end of October my prices will increase slightly, to match my sense of inflation, cost of living, increasing or decreasing demand and my own gut sense of what my work is worth, but that is where we stand for now.
Each day I have work scheduled out, which is loosely scheduled in the day planner but then more firmly planned on a sheet of computer paper, where I often combine days of making blanks and try to schedule that for sunny weather, when the greenhouse where I do the axe work will be warm. Similarly, I try to schedule my day to do extended axe work from late morning to mid afternoon, when the sun will be actually hitting the greenhouse. During warmer months this is less important, as my chopping block is then in the shade of the woodshed.
So my weekly to-do list gives me the shape of things, and I probably re-write this list three times a week, to refresh my goals as the week progresses. Monday is usually post office day and bank deposit day, which I will describe later, but it is an important efficiency to batch these tasks together, since that way they takes less time in my week than if I attended to them multiple times.
As I do the day's work, I am constantly attuned to any moments I might want to capture, both for myself, but also to share because they say something valuable about the process or are funny or give an accurate picture of the moment. I've written extensively about my use of Instagram so you can read more about that in previous posts. Suffice to say, I stop to take pictures, but I mostly get immersed in the work and music or a podcast.
Sunday night or Monday morning I box up all the orders from that week. I try to keep packaging simple, with quality cardboard boxes and plain brown paper, and I use the names and addresses in the day planner to check that orders are complete and that all the information is correct. Names and addresses then get entered into a rolodex so that I can find them easily in the future. I used to just enter addresses into a book, but as the number of customers grew I recently decided to shift to an expandable, alphabetized system. It is analog to help reduce the time I spend on a screen, and I also like that it is safe from hacking or loss.
Packaging takes an hour or less, and the post office run takes about half an hour, since I live a quarter mile away so the travel time is negligible. From the bank receipt I know the shipping for each package, and then I round up and add a dollar to account for packaging costs and my handling time. With this and the order history, I know grand totals, which I then message or email to people, letting them know their order is in the mail, and giving them my address where they can send a check. I much prefer to trust that people will pay me than to ask for money upfront. I have never been stiffed, and that way people can add to orders at the last minute without further complicating payment. I also really appreciate the trust it builds into the relationship with each customer, the importance of which probably can't be overestimated.
Monday mornings or sometimes a different day, I take all the checks that have come in the mail that week and enter them into our bookkeeping software. I separate out the money from out of state sales from those that were in state (for which I collected sales tax). The law, so far as I understand it, is that at least right now, if you have less than a million dollars in revenue, out of state sales are not subject to tax collection. For in state sales, I simply calculate it and add it to the grand total I give the customer. These in state sales get entered separately, and once a month I go online and pay the sales tax owed the state. Once a month I also enter any international sales that came in through the app I use for that, retroactively dating them as appropriate. After accepting the deposit in the bookkeeping software, I prepare the total deposit using an adding calculator and bring it to the bank, also just a quarter mile away.
So I estimate that in any given week, I do probably about 20 hours of actual craft work (including the one lesson a week I teach on average), maybe seven hours of social media and this blog, and 4 hours of administrative work. From this I average (right now) about $1500 a month, which accounts for maybe a quarter of my yearly income.
I hope this helps give a realistic perspective of what the total process looks like. Please understand that this is a constantly shifting thing, and that much of what I do is positioning for the future rather than immediate return and that this does not represent the totality of my workday.
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.