Some advice from the great coaches on Etsy prompted me to write this piece on what happens when your workload starts to take over your life. I know many of our readers are jewelry artisans who have day jobs and make their art on the side -- either custom-designed or 'in bulk', to sell on Etsy, Artfire, on the Craft Fair circuit, or elsewhere. If this describes you, or if like us, you have an on-ground or online shop, in this situation you are your own boss. And that means you're at risk for having the line blur between work and your personal life. You can work any hour of the day, so you often do (for example, I'm typing this at 4:27 a.m.). If you do that too much, you can get overwhelmed and want to just give up.
My worst experience with burnout (recently) was when I had put in a 10-hour day at work, then came home to a messy house and had to fix dinner, and when I was just about to collapse, I remembered I had signed up for an Etsy team activity that obligated me to do a complicated treasury/pinterest thing that I had never done before, and had all kinds of rules that I couldn't quite figure out. I can be pretty Type-A, so I was determined to get it done, but I wanted to tear my hair out! I didn't quite think about giving up the business that night, but I realized I needed to put better limits on myself.
Because I've learned to deal with burnout in other jobs & settings, I know it doesn't have to be an inevitable part of running your own business. And if it does happen, there are lots of good ways to deal with it. But you do have to make some deliberate changes. Here are the tips I got from Etsy; they helped me, so I'm sharing with you.
1. Put on the Brakes
Having lots of orders is a great thing, but it can also be overwhelming. If you need time to catch up on shipping, consider updating the processing times both on your Shop Policies page and in item descriptions to give yourself some breathing room. Take a night off to completely relax: order takeout, watch a movie or take a bubble bath. Then, catch up on the work you already have. Pack up your open orders, and finish any made-to-order items. Knowing you have extra lead time on incoming orders should take a load off your shoulders.
2. Eliminate Stressors
Think about which part of your business brings you the most stress. What are the little "snags" in your day? What do you dread having to do when you wake up? Which products do you no longer enjoy making? Next, turn the focus on the tasks that bring you pleasure. Which products do you enjoy making the most? Brainstorm ways to develop and expand those product lines. Also, streamline or outsource the work that drags you down. Don't enjoy packaging orders or running errands? If you can, hire a part-time assistant. If you can't, be sure to coordinate your schedule so you can get most shipping done in one or two days a week. Too many emails? Hire a virtual assistant, our put on an 'auto-response' letting people know how to signal any time-sensitive matters in the subject line, and catch up on non-urgent messages just once a week instead of every day. Sometimes it's worth spending some money or reorganizing so you can have a lighter schedule.
3. Re-examine Your Schedule
If your work/life line is too blurry, it may be time to set boundaries. Taking care of yourself is key in preventing future burnout. Remember, your needs are as important as those of everyone else in your life. When those needs are met, you will be at your best. One way to do so is by implementing business hours, and then sticking to them. Also, think about setting aside time each day for whatever makes you feel happy and energized. Set aside a block of family time each day. If you put family first, you won't sacrifice your precious time with them, and you'll ultimately feel better about your work. On the other hand, give your work its due. If you always focus on personal things and not enough on work, you can get an enormous backlog and feel too overwhelmed to ever catch up with tasks you need to take care of. Be sure to dedicate a block of time to your business at least 5 days a week as well. A little work each day is better than a mad scramble when the weekend hits or when your to-do list has gotten so long you can't ignore it any more.
4. Raise Your Prices
Handmade sellers often undervalue their own work. While raising prices may discourage some customers from purchasing your products, over time you could end up earning more money for doing less work. It's all about finding your product's pricing sweet spot. For instance, if I sell an average of 10 pendants a month for $10 each, I'll make $100. If I increase the price to $14 per pendant, I might lose a few sales each month. But if I sell only 8 pendants, I'll still make $112. That's $12 more a month for doing less work than before. Try experimenting with your own pricing to discover the sweet spot for your products.
5. Manage Customer Expectations
Control the workflow of made-to-order items by increasing turnaround times and communicating them effectively with customers in item descriptions and your Shop Policies page. Creating a custom order queue can also help you schedule projects and reduce the pressure to complete them. Then you can feel good -- knowing your customers have a realistic time frame, and that you will be able to handle any incoming orders going forward.
6. Remember Why You Started Your Business
In the midst of feeling burnt out, you might lose touch with your creative drive. You might forget why you even started your own business. It might help to keep a clear reminder of your motivation in your workspace – a favorite quotation, or a photo of the world travel you want to take someday with your earnings. It might sound silly, but sometimes just having a cup of my favorite 'luxury tea' (high-priced tea) will remind me how lucky I am to be the co-owner of our business when I feel overwhelmed or frustrated. It's a reminder that without the business, I woudn't have the income for special little treats like that -- much less the hope of more independence (and world travel!) someday.
I hope you'll take time to comment and share your own 'survival tips' with us.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Why I Love Etsy.
Until next time,