Everyone told me not, under any circumstances, to stop trading for any amount of time. As soon as you stop, you won’t be able to start again. Customers will desert you.
When you try so many different solutions and end up in exactly the same hole, sometimes a bit deeper, there can be no other choice. I was working so much that I’d stopped giving the service I had set up to give from the start and we were just firefighting to keep up. I had lost confidence in what I offered. Through stress I wasn’t able to think straight or make logical decisions. As many people are experiencing these days, anxiety and worry were through the roof so I didn’t contact people to give information about their frames – even if they were complete. I just couldn’t pick up the phone. When I stopped I realised I had been like this for a long time, just differing severities.
Running a design/manufacturing business alone
Framing is a difficult thing to carry out on your own. In the past, on a normal day, I’d have come in at about 8.00. I’d go through admin tasks – emails, checking work is properly accounted for in the workflow, ordering the right materials and going through any difficult frames that need specific solutions (which can be a majority of frames). I’d then check the existing materials that I have for flaws and reorder the materials that weren’t up to standard. When 10am rolls around the phone line switches on and I would get a couple of calls to take care of. Throughout the day, every 15 to 45 minutes I would get either a phonecall, a visitor or email to attend to. Each of these will take between 5 and 30 minutes to sort out, with some level of additional admin to establish quotes or material types. Between those times I have to frame, but every enquiry disturbs framing which requires a completely different part of the brain. It takes a bit of time to get back into efficient making, sometimes only just before the next call comes in. There were times where I could go 3 or 4 days in a row without being able to make frames during the day because there were so many enquiries. Which would mean I had to start framing at 5.30 when I could close the doors. I would sometimes return home anytime between 10 and 12 at night. It was common for me to work 16 hour days every single day, and occasionally 20 hour days, for weeks on end – including Sundays, bank holidays etc. These long hours were basically down to me becoming less and less efficient and having to put more and more hours in. When you’re in that sort of loop it is so hard to get out of it.
I stopped all this a few months ago and did what everyone told me not to. During that time we still accepted a few orders from repeat clients and some walk ins. The main thing we’ve noticed since stopping is stress levels reducing. Day to day is still stressful but in a more exciting, dynamic way. I love what I do even more now that every day I see positive progress rather than fighting a storm too strong and ending up further back than I was in the morning. Some regular customers went elsewhere in that time, but mostly they contacted me to ask if I could honestly do the work and whether they would be sensible to go elsewhere this time. It’s this kind of honesty that we’ve had in our business that people respect. Our regulars understand that I put everything into finding the right frame design for their work at the price they need it for. I don’t charge for this, but I am relying on this work to be repeated in order to cover those costs, so it’s nice when they check it’s ok to go elsewhere.
One thing I’m understanding now is the importance of baby steps. Although I’m a very patient person and maker, I am fantastically impatient for larger tasks to be completed. Which is quite foolish because they naturally take a long time. I’m now becoming happier in the small steps and recognising the progress that is occurring. I would avoid a task if it took 2 hours, waiting for a suitable 2 hour slot to become available. Of course it never does but just spending 10 minutes on that task means it’s complete so much faster. Simple logic, I know, but so hard for me to grasp and put into practice.
Share the load
This isn’t a message about how I suffer with anxiety and stress levels, it’s not about pity or being a martyr. It is about acknowledging a journey and how easy it is to wander down a side track. There may well be an easier route in life but if it’s not on the map you may have to take the harder route. But if there’s a chance to stick your head above the clouds and check for a better route then grasp it with everything you have. A key difference now is Joe. He’s been with us for over 2 years now and he really understands what we’re trying to achieve. He’s become a hand finisher extraordinaire and he’s taking hold of the workshop admin really well. I can totally trust him to do many tasks here without me having to check. If Joe says a frame is ok, then it’s ok. Jennifer is always here and is taking the role of art director to keep a solid aesthetic look for our business. We have also taken on Tom Baskeyfield who is still learning but is naturally adept at making. He is taking care of all the work that errs toward cabinet making – specialist corner joints like splines, and subframes for strengthening deeper frames. We have also taken on Hannah who has been framing for 5 years. She’s a safe pair of hands who can make frames carefully and efficiently.
If that weren’t all, we’re expanding the installation side of the business. We’re working with Allan who’s recently moved down from London. He has worked as an art handler, installer, and crater for years and we’re excited to see where this partnership can go.
The way we’re reforming the business should mean that essentially no one would want to go anywhere else for framing. I say that with a pinch of salt as everyone has different requirements from their picture framer. I’m separating the framing into 2 streams – cheaper and simple, and longer lasting and more money. Framing has very variable outcomes – if all combinations of mouldings, mountboards, glass and mounting styles were added up there are literally (and I mean literally) millions of different possibilities. When looking at different framers it boils down to the following 1. Their knowledge of design 2. Their knowledge of conservation and 3. How fast can they make a frame to the standard you require. All framers have access to the same few suppliers, so it all depends how they put those materials together. We’re now focussing on constant improvement in three areas:
1) complete design-led service for printing, framing, graphic design and installation.
2) transparency, including environmental and ethical transition
3) to provide excellent customer experiences.
I’ll do it bit by bit, and accept we’re a work in progress. We may not be at the level I want to be yet, but all the time we’re getting closer.
Read our next blog post for more details about our next phase and where I want to take Mount.