Most Freelancers and Small Business owners have a List. Sometimes it's a full blown 5-year Plan. And on this List are all the things they are going to do to level up their business. You know… when they have time.
It isn’t surprising when it’s hard to check tasks off this List. “Billable hours” come first. These are the tasks that directly bring in money and keep your business going. But if billable hours are slow right now (and you’re in a financial place to do so), dust off your List, “clean house”. It’s time to level up.
Much of your home office may already be digital, but go through your files with a fine tooth comb… Have a stack of bills and records you are required to keep, but otherwise don’t need? Scan them in and let go of the paper trail (and all the space they take up). Draft patterns by hand? Start exploring digital pattern drafting software. Another idea may be to evaluate your work flow and create digital templates and checklists for the tasks you do most often. A little work now could save you a lot of time and energy later when you're stressed and rushed.
Expand or Customize your Size Chart.
When we’re starting a new label, it’s easy to feel like you just need to get your first pieces out there. Creating your patterns and prototyping to perfection may have been a part of the process where you were tempted to cut corners and save time and money.
Starting with ‘standard’ size charts and blocks were good at the time, but take a look at customizing the fit of your line and create custom blocks for your upcoming pieces. If you limited yourself to small size range in the beginning, also try working with your Patternmaker to expand your customer base by expanding your size range.
Strengthen your Social Media Presence.
We humans are social creatures. And all that incidental social interaction we get in 5 minutes at the coffee shop or in an office, we’ll be looking for online.
Now may be a good time to do a weekly “Ask Me Anything” or “Outfit of the Day”. Start a new habit of posting one, small, quick thing a day to build up your online presence. Ask your followers questions (that require more than a yes or no answer) to engage them in conversation, that could help build a relationship that will stick around.
Create a ‘Customer Experience’ Plan.
Store fronts are empty and shopping online lacks a certain amount of ... customer service. Instead of rushing to go back to the way things were, take a look at how your business can evolve by focusing on the experience of how your clothes are being bought. Even when we’re free to wonder and congregate, clients and customers may be reluctant to be a part of larger crowds. So how do we draw them in to where we are?
If you’re already making custom pieces, make sure that each fitting is worth going out for. Create a space that is warm and inviting, and easy to clean. (Do you have time and space to serve tea or coffee?) State ahead of time what to expect, not only to put them at ease but to prepare them to accommodate any new social distancing procedures. (No one enjoys an inconvenient surprise.)
Even if you’re working with ready to wear, look at building in customization processes to reduce the amount of people handling the same items. Can you switch to made to order? Or offer a personal measuring service, that allows you to assist them with finding the best size and fit (without the pile of clothes left on the fitting room floor)? Another option could be to host timed and ticketed Shopping experiences, similar to the crowd control set up in more popular Art Museum exhibits. It give you a better handle on how many people are in store at one time, and gives your customers more time with you.
Add to your Skillset.
In a recent Webinar, the fit and garment-making technology company Alvanon casually dropped a huge pearl of wisdom. “Don’t focus on what you CAN’T do. [Instead ask…] What do you have to learn?”
If the answer is "a lot", here are a couple places to start:
Zoe Hong - A Fashion Illustration teacher on the west coast, Zoe has an amazing catalog of videos on design process, fashion sketching, and don't miss her "Ask Me Anything" live streams.
Sew Heidi - Heidi not only just published a book on how to be a successful freelancer, she hosts many tutorials on working with Adobe Illustrator for Technical Design.
Alvanon/Motif - In 2018, fit & tech experts Alvanon launched an educational platform called Motif, hosting a number of online courses. One highlight - an overview of 3D implementation in product development.
Fashion Incubator - As a Pattern maker, Kathleen Fasenella has worked with Designer Entrepreneurs for almost as long as I've been alive (possibly longer). She wrote the original book on production management in language designed for Designers to understand and has a long list of tutorials on topics from patternmaking to production stitching.
Speaking of Pattern making, check out this video of Shingo Sato teaching his Transformational Reconstruction technique.
And last, but not least, here is AIBI's own Ms. Jackie with instructional videos from previous in-person classes. Check out this video on stitching welt pockets.