Starting a Small Business

I spend a lot of time crocheting and knitting, particularly toy animals for charity (have a look at my other blog here). But I’d never thought of trying to sell the things I make until recently. Partially because I didn’t think anyone would actually pay money for the things that I make, but also because I didn’t want the faff and scrutiny that comes with having a business (it’s taken a year but the student loan company are finally satisfied I’m not frauding them because I no longer have a job, for example).

A friend asked me to make a rainbow Unicorn for a colleague who’s big into LGBTQ things. I had a look for patterns online but couldn’t find anything that I liked or matched. Having spent the best part of a year making animals, I decided to design and make one anyway- most animal patterns start the same and have similar shapes in, so I was able to do this quite easily based on what I already knew. After I’d made it, I posted it to Facebook, like I always do, and a lot of people asked me if they could buy one. Which got me thinking ‘hey, maybe I could make some money from this!’

Except you can’t just (or shouldn’t) put things online that you’ve made and sell them. I’m well aware that lots of people do break the rules and sell without doing the ‘proper’ things, but that’s really not me- I like following the rules. With the help of my mum, I registered with the HMRC, completed the testing and risk assessments I needed to do in order to be able to sell toys (like the unicorn), sorted out some insurance and a few other necessary things, and, this week opened up an Etsy shop.

Here’s the link to it if you’re interested in having a look:

Visit my OkThenWhatsNextCraft Etsy shop

It’s a bit tricky to start off with because you can’t really sell anything until you have reviews- I know I wouldn’t buy anything that hasn’t got reviews- but you can’t get reviews until you sell something. I’m not sure how to get around that yet. I have sold things, like unicorns, to people, but not through Etsy yet, hence no reviews.

Setting up as a small business took a bit of work, but that’s why I got my mum to help. The advantage of being a small business alongside having a chronic illness is that I can do things at my own pace. If I have a bad week, I just don’t do anything to maintain it for a week, or mark my Etsy shop as me being ‘away’ so that people know to expect longer shipping times. If it gets too much, I can walk away and close it down quite easily. Yeah, I’ll lose sales but health is more important. There’s no pressure basically. But it does mean that I can earn a bit of money which will help pay for some of my treatment (not all of mine is available on the NHS and costs me about £250-£300 extra a month). Some people might think ‘if she can do that, she can go to work’. Wrong- I’ve been sitting in my pjs crocheting anyway, and I like making simple things like snowflakes at night when I can’t sleep because it calms my anxious mind, I’m just selling what I’ve already been making, rather than me having a million snowflakes to make my home a grotto. This is how many I made in 2 weeks, crocheting when I can’t sleep, when I was having a particularly rough time:

And I have help with the admin side. How many employers do you know who let you take naps, food breaks, go to the toilet millions of times a day and take 2-3 days to complete something that most people can do in 2-3 hours? Oh, and turn up as and when you feel like it? No one.

It also gives me a bit of a boost. I can tell acquaintances I meet at events that I have a small business rather than I’m unemployed due to sickness. I can say I design and create things. It gives me a bit of pride back. Even if I don’t sell anything, I can feel a sense of accomplishment that people are viewing things I’ve designed and made. All of these things are important for self esteem, which is something that’s really hard to be positive about when you’re unwell and unable to do things for yourself.

So I don’t know how successful I will be, but that’s not what I’m aiming for. I don’t want to be the next Apprentice or look to expand my business. I wanted to do it for me 🙂 .

Week 3: Advent Challenge

This Advent I was joining the Bible Society with their Advent Challenge, focussing on the true meaning of Christmas. Here’s how I got on in the third and final week: 

Day 15: offer to do something someone else would usually do. I tried really hard to load the dishwasher for my husband that day- he usually does everything for me because I can’t. However, after watching me do it over the course of about 2 hours (lots of breaks) he eventually said ‘I appreciate the gesture but it would be so much easier if I just did it myself!’. It made us both laugh anyway! 

Day 16: recycle as much as you can. We recycle a lot anyway so this wasn’t much of a challenge. 

Day 17: write a list of 10 things you are thankful for. I enjoyed this challenge and wrote a separate post about it here.

Day 18: teach someone a skill you have. We had some Christmas crackers which had handbells in them for our Christmas meal with friends. I guess I helped a bit with my music teacher background.

Day 19: talk to someone about what Christmas means to you. I’ve actually done this a lot this advent. This year has made me take a step back and realise what’s important, particularly at Christmas. So I ended up talking to a few people.

Day 20: ask someone how they are rather than just jumping straight in with what you want/need. This is actually one of my pet hates- lots of people I know use or exploit people for what they can get out of them and then don’t care in return. If someone does something for me I always thank them and/or buy them lunch/coffee so we can chat. 

Day 21: invite someone lonely over or take them cake. This one was slightly more difficult because I’m probably classed as the ‘lonely’ one in my circle of friends since I can’t leave the house by myself, and we don’t know anyone elderly locally. So I decided to teach our to people who seemed lonely on social media and offer support that way (and virtual cake). 

Day 22: plan to do some of the Bible challenge things in 2017. Coincidentally, I’d already decided I would do this earlier in the week. Now I definitely will! 

Day 23: phone someone who might be alone over Christmas. Again, most people we know have plans over Christmas. But I’ll continue to chat to people on social media. 

Day 24: finish your preparation early and bin your to do list- spend time with family or God instead. I plan on spending some quality time with my husband later today. 

I enjoyed the challenge. Some things weren’t necessarily any different from what I usually do, but it was nice to have a different theme for each day and to be thinking more consciously about the meaning of Christmas. 

Reindeer Post for Post Pals

A couple of months ago, I started following a charity on Twitter called Post Pals. It’s a charity which coordinates sending post or cards or small presents to seriously ill children and their siblings. As part of their Christmas programme, they were looking for people to send Reindeer Post. It sounded quite fun so I asked to have a family allocated to me. Basically, I pretended to be each of the reindeer and wrote a card from them to the family, so they had 9 cards in total across December.

I think it’s a great charity to be involved in because it’s a really simple concept and also can be something fun. Having a chronic (albeit non-terminal) illness myself and having had to stay in hospital in the past and go to lots of outpatient appointments, I find the routines of it at times tiresome, isolating and unpleasant- and I’m an adult. It must be even more difficult as a child, and for the other children in the family. No matter how used to it you are, it’s still hard work, so Post Pals gives a bit of light relief. Plus I know I like receiving post as an adult (that’s not bills anyway), so it must be even more exciting for a child!

The child allocated to me is a 5 year old boy who has a type of Leukaemia and, according to his profile online, he has had chemo every day for 2 years. He must be a really resilient kid! I decided to make some of the cards myself, bought some cards with superheroes and princesses which are the kids’ likes according to their profile and put some small presents in some post.

The first post I sent was from Dasher:



The second one was from Cupid:



Next up was from Vixen:IMG_8386.jpg


The fourth one from Comet:IMG_8546.jpg

Donner came fifth:


Prancer was sixth:


Next up, Dancer:



Eight was Blitzen:



And the last one was from Rudolph:



I quite enjoyed doing it from a creative perspective but I also wanted to do something that might brighten someone’s day. I like doing charity work where you know you’ve had an impact but the emphasis is still on those who benefit from it, rather than how wonderful the person doing it is or fundraising money not actually getting to the people who need it and going on advertising costs instead. Post Pals is great for that because anyone can be involved at any age, the children directly benefit and it’s something a bit fun. I’m definitely going to keep sending post to some of the other pals after Christmas as well.

Week 2 of Advent Challenge

It’s the end of the second week of the Bible Society Advent Challenge. Here’s how I got on the last week:

Day 8: hold the door open for someone 

This was a pretty easy one, I don’t make habits of shutting doors in people’s faces anyway! Today I held the door open for my physiotherapist.

Day 9: make and give someone a homemade present 

I was actually doing this anyway for some people but I made extra so I could give to my chiropractor. I won’t post a photo though because it might ruin it for people who haven’t opened their’s yet!

Day 10: give your lose change to someone who needs it

I put some coins into a charity box at the end of a till. I think it was for a children’s charity.

Day 11: smile more

I was not having a good day and felt pretty rough so this one was more of a challenge than a usual day would be. That’s mostly why I picked that one from the options given to me that day. But I managed it!

Day 12: talk to someone you see often but don’t speak to

I don’t go out a lot by myself so I don’t tend to see many people who I don’t already talk to. But I did have a very brief conversation with our neighbour that day while she was going out to the car.

Day 13: call someone you’d normally speak to online 

I don’t talk to my dad online but I usually text rather than ring. So I rang him oh that day. 

Day 14: out chocolate through someone’s door. 

I’ve bought the chocolate, I just haven’t managed to get to the person’s house to put it through their door yet! 

Festive Things

Last week I would class as particularly festive and I felt like I was properly getting into the Christmas spirit. I love the build up to Christmas anyway, but if I wasn’t sure Christmas was on its way, I definitely was by the end of it! 

Carol Service 

A friend, his mum and aunt and I saw the Westminster Abbey Choristers perform a lunchtime carol service at Symphony Hall. Apparently it was the first time they’d performed out of a church or abbey setting. The boys are all aged between 7 and 13/14 and performed carols both unaccompanied and with an organ. The hall was almost packed and the boy who started the concert off with a solo of I Saw Three Ships must have only been about 9 and sung beautifully without any backup from organ or the choir- that must take some nerve! They sang traditional carols in English, Latin and German and there were a couple of congregation carols as well. It was a really lovely hour!

Christmas Market 

Symphony Hall is really close to the Birmingham Christmas Market so we had a quick wander through part of it. I’ve been to the market most years since I’ve lived down here so it’s something we do every year. It wasn’t too busy because it was mid-week but at weekends it can be packed. 

Christmas at Blenheim Palace

The next day, my husband and two friends went to Blenheim Palace to see the Christmas Trail. Each garden has been designed by a different artist and has a different theme which comes alive at nighttime through different lights, sounds and fire used. The photos I have won’t do it justice but it was incredible. We got there about 6pm when it was properly dark and spent about 2 hours on the trail, but we did stop to look, sit down a lot and eat toasted marshmallows. My favourite was the Electric Waterfall which was essentially a slope covered in colour-changing lights: it was pretty hypnotic! Afterwards we had (posh) hot dogs and pulled pork rolls which were very good! There were also things like mulled wine and waffles available as well. 

A really good week! Going to the market and a carol service are definitely things which I consider essential to feeling Christmassy every year. What are yours? 

The Other Side of Christmas

Christmas is a ‘complicated’ time for many. I had this conversation every year with trainee and new teachers, but as I’m not teaching this year, I’ll share my thoughts here!

Lots of vulnerable people hate christmas. The level of disclosures (when children report child protection issues, such as abuse) increases a lot in December. Children can become really unsettled and their behaviour changes. Some have christmas as a specific trigger for a memory, for others it’s because they can’t face 2 weeks at home out of school. The difference between Christmas holidays and other holidays is that it’s cold and dark, so going out safely becomes problematic, shops and community centres close so there aren’t safe places to go and people focus on their own families and needs at this time of year meaning some support networks vanish over the festive period. 

It’s not just children though. The elderly also face similar problems because their services might be reduced. People who don’t have families and live alone find that their social contact might change. Or someone might have a family but relationships might be strained so there might be anxiety about meeting up over the holidays. 

It can also be tricky for people who have lost relatives or friends in the year- their deaths seem more acute in a time where the emphasis is on family. New Year is all about resolutions and future plans and prospects but some people can’t think that far ahead because their futures depend on something else. But the season expects you to put your best happy expression on and act like everything’s ok. 

It doesn’t help that social media commands us to put up photos and statuses about the amazing times we’re having, how much we love our family and the wonderful presents we get. The more glittery proclamations of us going out and ‘getting in the festive mood’ is supposedly a reflection on how successful we are at encompassing the meaning of Christmas. 

But lots of people miss the point. Christmas is a time of reflection, not a time to prove to people that you’re an amazing family member because you’ve managed to see all 20 uncles and aunts and taken selfies with them and the presents you bought them. There shouldn’t be a couple of weeks of the year where you do ‘nice’ things for people, you should do it all year round and reflect about it more at Christmas. It’s not about parties and getting drunk. It’s a chance to take stock and be grateful for what we have and support our family and friends. If you don’t believe in the religious aspect of it, it makes it even more trivial- it really is ‘just another day’. 

Having felt terrible for a few Christmases now and on other ‘important’ days like our wedding, it kind of hits home that it is ‘just a day’. In fact, one Christmas Day I spent at my grandad’s bedside in intensive care talking about his impending death (he died 27th Dec). We had Christmas dinner but our thoughts quite clearly weren’t on the copious amounts of food we had. It was a rubbish Christmas Day by almost everyone’s standards but I wouldn’t change the time I had with him. Don’t get me wrong, I love the hype and festivities that come with Christmas, but the thing I look forward to more is thinking about why we have christmas and the religious story behind it, spending time with people who I care about and who care about me, and thinking about how I can maybe make other people smile. 

Lots of people say they think about others at this time of year but the reality is most people think about people who are less fortunate in the context of ‘at least I’m not like them’. I can’t help the pupils I used to teach now, but I am still trying to think about what other people might be experiencing and what I can do to help. 

Winter Fayres

I love festive fayres. Even if I don’t buy anything, I like the atmosphere, and they’re great for Christmas present ideas. I particularly like it when people sell things they’ve made themselves (rather than sellers buying things in and selling them on). 

I’ve been to 3 so far this year. The first one was at The Herbert Art Gallery in Coventry. My husband and his choir were singing Christmas songs at it so I went along to have a look at the Fayre and help hand out flyers. It wasn’t a huge Fayre but there were a lot of handmade things which I liked. 

The following day, we went with some friends to a Fayre at Stoneleigh just outside Coventry. This one was a lot bigger and had a few extra things like cooking demonstrations and activities for kids. 

We had a really good roast at Farmer’s Fayre which is also on site.

The third one was last weekend at Fargo Village in Coventry. Fargo has lots of independent boutique shops on site as it is, but their Winter Fayre also had a bit of a difference: instead of Black Friday sales, the vendors would donate some of their profit to charity rather than slashing the prices. 

Fargo have a few more festive things coming up so I’ll hopefully be able to check some of those out too!