|I Have A Theory - "Tough Jobs First"
added Febuary 2004
Hello, my name is Tami and I just found your web site and love it. I am also a seamstress and am in the adventure of starting a home sewing business. I do alterations, custom dance outfits and western outfits for competition and stuff for myself when I get time. I was wondering if I may ask you a question? How do you prioritize your work? I am really having the biggest problem with many projects overlapping and never feeling that I am getting anywhere. Do you give your customers a time period that the work will be completed? Any advise would be wonderful. By the way, your studio looks great. I envy you, having so much space.
Glad to hear you have found me! I like hearing that my site has helped others.
I don't really prioritize things other than first come first on the calendar. I don't do much sewing from scratch so it's much easier for me to schedule things. My turn around is usually one week. For scratch items it depends on when they need the item. For costumes being used in a show, I plan to have it finished at least 2 weeks before the show so they can practice in it and find any thing that need adjusting in time for me to easily fix it.
It takes a long time to figure out how your working on things effects the time you slot for items to be finished. Having several projects going at once is a challenge. I know generally from years of doing this how long it takes me to do most things so I know how much time to allot. I break long projects up into weeks of when the fittings will be needed, schedule the work to be done for each interval and try to plot out the time I need for each that way. Altering a wedding gown takes me 6 weeks. I see the bride 8 weeks before the wedding date. The first fitting deals with only her bodice and usually the hem. I schedule her for a second fitting 2 weeks later and put her dress in my closet under a day to have the bodice work done and the hem basted sometime before that second fitting date. On the second fitting I check out the bodice and hem fitting and discuss bustling and schedule the third fitting just like the second. At the third fitting all items are rechecked and the bride brings the person who will be setting her bustle for a lesson on how to do it. At this point the gown is finished and it's 2 weeks before the wedding. We schedule to finish steaming and final pick-up.
I hope this helps you a little. This is pretty much something you have to figure out for yourself depending on how your life is and how you like to do your work.
added December 2003
One of the best things I ever did for my business productivity and my personal
sanity is to allow myself the right to not answer the phone. I have set up my
voicemail message to give basic information about my business for those first
time callers. It answers the most asked questions, directs them to my website
for further information, and frees me to keep working if I am on an important
project. I can also not answer the phone if I have family matters to tend to
or when I just what to be left alone.
This does make for a very long thing for people to listen to so for those who are repeat customers I inform them at the beginning of the message that they can push the pound button to go straight to the beep and leave their message. Most people don't know that that function comes with any voicemail.
I also have caller ID. I have 3 phone numbers and when a telemarketer calls me I get the same call 10 minutes later on the next number, and 10 minutes later on the third number. Now, I simply don't answer the phone when the number is not identifiable. Their is also a call blocker you can get that tells the unidentified caller that your number does not accept such calls, but I have found that that's not a good idea for a business numbers because many people calling from their work have no control over the way the phone system works and therefore won't be able to leave you a message. Simply not answering avoids insulting these potential customers and saves me from wasting time answering up to 20 bogus phone calls a day.
Now if I could only find a way to stop the telemarketers from leaving long messages about stuff I have no interest in on my voicemail . . .
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added September 2000
I do almost totally alterations of ready to wear cloths. My normal turnaround time is one week. Even if I have no work in que, I still "underpromise" for one week and tell the client that I will give her a call if it is done sooner. During busy season I have run up to a 3 week turnaround. I have a stern policy to never overbook myself. I have learned that it just does not pay. Sewing while stressed only leads to redo's and upset customers.
I do accept rush jobs only if I am not booked up. I do not think it ever a good idea to put off already scheduled/ promised jobs for a rush order. Again, working over time is not a good idea either. Most of my customers are good planners. I rarely get rush requests. Assessing a rush fee is often a matter of who the customer is. I will sometimes charge a $5 fee on a new customer. Doing favors for long time customers is just something I like to do since they do not take advantage of me.
I hardly ever get a hard time from my customers on this policy. If I do I simply explain that it is not good for a "stressed" me to be sewing on your valuable garment. I want to always do my best work, and I'm sure my customers want that too.
This goes double for bridal customers! I have been known to be sewing at 3 AM the morning before a wedding, but with all the stress even a simply wedding brings, does a customer really need this added?
I have a long standing theory that a "dream perfect" wedding all depends on the smooth operation of the alterations on the most important element in the wedding - the gown. Everything else a bride has to do in her planning just seems to go better if the all important gown fittings and results run smoothly. An unstressed seamstress is the bride's most valuable asset.
I have learned to say, "no" to any customer if I don't think I can do the work to my best ability, especially brides. I also never leave them without alternatives. I have several ladies around my area that I know do good work and I can give referrals to customers I can't fit into my schedule that say, "I have seen this person's work and they will do just as good a job as I would do for you." They are always grateful that I did not want to do a less than perfect job and was honest with them.
I have just turned down an opportunity to become the manager of a big bridal salon because of their scheduling policy of never saying no to any bride. It seems like a good policy and a bride might be comforted in the purchasing process to know that her alteration needs will be made no matter what we have to do, but it will surly prove stressful later on. I just could not bring myself to agree to such a policy that I know will bring more stress on a bride. So I have decided to stay independent and follow what my 15 years experience has taught me.
All this does not mean you have to say no a lot. I am often able to do rush orders and pull off things that have pleased my customer. Once I even got a $400 tip from the MOB- even after the rush fee. I think the key is knowing your limitations and keeping within your bounds. If you want to expand your knowledge and skills do it by taking a class. This is a much different topic for another thread.
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added September 2000
Seems like the easier something is the harder time I have doing it, sometimes. Do you have that problem?
YES!! Seems odd doesn't it?Sometimes I just hate having little to do because I can't get motivated. When there is a lot to do you have no choice but to dive in and get it done. I make it a habit to do the hardest things first. That way you have the simpler things at the end of the day when you are starting to want to do other stuff. Having other non-sewing hobbies helps too.
Lately, I've been setting up web sites for friends who have small businesses. It's fun and is holding my interests for now.
Well, speaking of work, I've got lots of it this week, so I better get to it.
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I love the scheduling freedom I have. I used to feel like I had to say yes to every job, but I came to feel that my sanity was worth more then that piddly bit of money a certain job would bring in. I give very high estimates for jobs I don't want to do, and they usually go away. I am the boss. I give myself the right to decide. The balance sheet doesn't matter so much as what I want to do. If you can't enjoy your work, you won't do a very great job anyway. So, if you know you are good at what you do, charge accordingly and don't let the customer set your price. You do need to please her with the quality of work, but you set the price.
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When I was in college I had a roommate who lived the saying, "Life is short, eat dessert first." I was embarrassed by her when we went to lunch together for the first time, and she actually did just that. She ate her dessert first right in front of my astonished eyes. She used to fascinate me in other ways too but this one incident returned from my suppressed memory recently.
I was discussing how to decide what alteration project one should tackle first in a given day. If you are like me and hate mornings you may be tempted to start off your day with a few simple tasks, (especially if you have one of those projects you bid a high price on because you didn't want to do it, but the customer said go ahead anyway). I find it extremely hard to concentrate early in the morning so I don't start sewing until around 9:00. Instead of starting off easy I pull down the worst thing I've got. I think that eating dessert first will only get you an upset stomach later.
Here's what I mean. Say you have a full rack of work all due tomorrow. After that second cup of coffee, you saunter to the line-up. You honestly can't handle messing with that velvet dress just now so you grab a handful of jean hems. By the time you finally finish the hems, you've answered two phone calls, hit yourself with the hammer at least once, broke at least one needle and searched every draw in the house for your screw driver to change it. It is now 11:00, and you are certainly too frazzled to look at "THE" dress, so you start on another simpler item. Somewhere in the middle of the afternoon you realize you do not have enough time to do "THE CURSED" dress before dinner, so you decide to do it after dinner. All through dinner "THE CURSED, TELL TALE HEART" dress calls to you from the sewing room. "You've got to get me done. You've got to get me done..." Late at night, sitting in your sewing room with an upset stomach, it occurs to you that 8 hours of work has stretched into 10 and you're at a loss to know why.
There's a Murphy's law that states that work will stretch to the time allotted to it. I do my best to combat this by taking on my worst project first, therefore I get it over with and can end my day with more pleasant projects and a sense of accomplishment that will make it easier for me to get out of bed the next day. My theory is that if life is short, I don't want to spend my time wasting it. There is another saying I like. "If you swallow a toad first thing in the morning, nothing worse will happen to you all day long."
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I started my business long before I meet my present husband. When he and my later my son, came along I adjusted some things but not many in the ways I conduct my affairs.
First off, I make it a habit to start off my business day with the hardest, or most tedious item that needs working on that day and go through to the easiest or small jobs. It's like the old adage, "If you swallow a frog first thing in the morning, nothing worst will happen to you all day." Getting rid of that hard job first just makes the rest of the day go smoother.
As for the kid factor, I do take breaks to spend time with my son. From the beginning, I kept him in a playpen in my sewing room. He would sleep or play, entertaining himself near my sewing table and me. I was able to give him a sense of my attention and I would always go to him when he called, dropping the work to pay him the little time he needed. For many, it may be hard to work this way, dealing with the interruptions. But he really did not interrupt much. He could see me constantly and knew he could so he didn't need to.
As he grew out of the pen, I still kept a play corner in my room for him and he did spend most of his time playing while I worked. Now that he is playing with neighbor kids outside more I still take breaks to have lunch with him. I even take my work out on the front porch on nice days to watch him play in the yard. He will sometimes bring a board game into my room in the middle of a project I'm doing. I do stop to play a round. He knows I have to work and doesn't ask to do this often. So when he does, I do.
I've tried to show him in this that he has to respect my work time needs and I will in turn respect his Mommy time needs. I can do this mainly because I refuse to take on more work than I can do and still have this flexibility. It may seem a bad thing financially to schedule work by this criteria. I have been doing this for many years and have come to the conclusion that money isn't everything if you have to sacrifice the things you cherish most to get it.
Sure I get big thrills out of creating beautiful things with my talents, but my son is the most important work of art I will ever have created, and that work did not end at his birth. There is so much I want to teach him, my values and ideals. I wish to do this through my example of how I make daily choices in my life. Putting down my work for the small time it takes to hug him and speak a few kind words I think teaches him everything he will need to know when he forms a family of his own some day.
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