15 Years of StudioKat Designs: NINE Things I’ve Learned

So…

I’m not normally a person who takes time to stop and appreciate accomplishments, whether they’re large or small, so for the past 14 years I’ve celebrated the birthday of StudioKat Designs with only nominal recognition, (“Oh, that’s right, it’s today!”), and then just plowed ahead to the next task rarely taking a moment to really soak in what this business has meant to me, my family or our online community.

But this year is different!

That’s because 2018 will be our 15th year in business as an independent pattern designer and purveyor of custom zippers & hardware. I’m grateful to be a small business owner and as we approach our 15th anniversary year, I’ve created a 3-part series about the 15-things I’ve learned… am proud of… or have truly appreciated about the business of being StudioKat Designs.

First up- 9 Things I’ve Learned

1) Learn Low-Level Skills. I found out early on that everything I didn’t know how to do myself, I’d have to pay for – usually in money, time or something else. So I taught myself HTML… and coded our first website… and took my own photographs… and did my own books… and created my own print & internet ads… because here’s the deal, when you’re a small business you really don’t have to be great at these things… you really only have to be decent, OK or adequate. Besides saving you money, it’ll make you better at understanding things as you grow because you know what? I’ve NEVER been sorry I learned basic HTML. It’s come in handy more times than I can count even though I get teased about it a LOT, particularly by my son-in-law.  🙂

2) Be Prepared. Make or take backups as much as possible. I learned this one in a terrifying way. In getting ready for our 1st major retail show in Houston I knew I had to have a FAST way to process credit cards so I bought a Verifone thru Bank of America but guess what… it worked great for precisely THREE sales. That’s right, it died exactly 7 minutes after the opening bell at International Quilt Festival leaving me NO way to do business other than cash because I stupidly didn’t bring my old-fashioned manual device. Bank of America was predictably… NO HELP. Tech service was a nightmare. I was heartsick with despair when an angel of a neighbor (KalCollections) offered us a spare Square device & within 30 minutes we were up & running with nary a problem, (but always with a spare device in our bookbag in the five years since).

3) Ignore Friendly Advice, Unless it’s Expert Level. To be sure, I really love hearing comments from friends, family & customers as I’m in the process of developing a new design. “Would this design be something you’d carry?” or “What do you think of THIS feature?”are questions that give me great feedback and I’m always up for that. But I’ve learned to only consider business advice from an expert or someone I particularly admire, and opinions about what our next bag design should be are basically ignored because when it comes to bag design, no one “does me” better than me.  🙂

4) Play to My Strengths. It’s been tempting along the way to “dilute my vision” in an attempt to have a broader appeal or a larger customer base. For example, what I like doing and what I do best is detailed exteriors and organized interiors and it seems my customer base appreciates this. But we’ve been pressured at times to create a few easier, quicker-to-complete projects to appeal to beginners and weekend sewists. By my way of looking at it however, the intermediate level sewist who is looking for challenging, professional-looking projects is VERY under-served and I’m really glad we maintained this vision over the past 15 years.

5) If Something Feels Wrong, It IS Wrong. There have been several times over the years when I had opportunities that looked great, but something in my gut kept warning me not to proceed. Always listen to you gut! If something feels wrong, it is wrong (at least for YOU) so you should just keep moving.

6) Cash Flow is Queen. If you don’t have good cash flow, everything suffers. The whole idea is to figure out an economic model that makes sure you can pay bills when you need to. This was tough for me to start with because the whole idea of net 30 was hard to get used to especially when there were those that extended it out to net 60 (and a few who didnt pay at ALL). Grrrrr…. I wish I’d have been much better at managing our cash flow when I started 15 years ago.

7) There are STILL Kind People, Even in the Competitive World of Business! Certainly the most pleasant surprise of the past 15 years is how “friendly” the competition is in the sewing industry. There have many people who have been willing to share advice with us along the way even though we were technically “the competition”. I’m not going to name names for fear I’d forget to name someone but I appreciate this more and more as time goes on and I have tried my best to pay it forward when I’ve had similar opportunities!

8) Have a Mentor.  I’ve had plenty of people who’ve given me advice. But I’ve never had a mentor and that was a big mistake. I’ve since taken on that role with others, and I can see how much it would’ve helped us “way back when”. But you know what? The world if FULL of people who want to help (See #7)- but as a rule you need to ask them to help you before they’ll do it. And here’s the deal, if only I’d sought out a mentor 15 years ago it might have taken me less time to learn these 9 things! 🙂

9) You Never Lose in Business. You Either Win or You Learn. It’s impossible to be in business without making occasional mistakes or miscalculations! Yep, even after 15 years I STILL make mistakes! But rather than thinking of mistakes as out & out failures, I prefer thinking of them as learning opportunities! And I hope there’s STILL plenty of lessons to learn.

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And now…. it’s YOUR turn!

Do any of these 9 things resonate with you? If so, please remember we love reading your comments and answering your questions too, so feel free to leave either or both in the space provided below.

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And guess what? We have a brand new private FaceBook Group page  just for StudioKat Designs customers?  It’s the perfect place for you to post pictures, comments or questions about our patterns! How cool is that, right? And don’t forget to check out the best sewing pins with me on Pinterest, get your daily sewing fix and behind the scenes scoops on Instagram, and be the 1st to know about new patterns, discount codes and sample sales by signing up for “Kat Bytes”, our monthly newsletter.

5 Comments So Far, You're Next!

  1. Thank you for number four! Yes, sometimes you need quick and easy but those of us with LOTS of experience (40 years or so) sometimes feel forgotten. While I applaud the effort to encourage new people to sew, there are still many that want to learn skills that give professional looking results. Thank you for not ignoring experienced sewers.

  2. Louise j. Mishler

    Kat: I applaud you for moving forward on your own.
    I taught myself the apple computer than I picked up just sewing patches, then a quilter told me I needed to learn how to do hand appliqué, she taught me in five minutes, but I started my own leaded glass windows when I married my husband Terry and he built custom homes so I took several classes and I was building and designing in no time. So my quilts took on the same feeling bright and professional. I’m ADHD so I don’t do well in classes and no one can understand what I do in such a short time. My big thing I learned from my mother is finish a project before you start another. Well I grew up in the 40’s, now 84 and still sewing and loving it. I use the gifts given to me and give them to the sick and suffering so I make them bright and bold. Don’t know if I have room here but in 2010 I started making dresses for (dressagirlaroundthe world. com) I told people about it to donate fabric and I would do the sewing. I sewed all year-made 524 jumpers(simplicity pattern) they went all over the world. 3 ladies donated over 80 years each. It was fun, now one shop gives me 10% off everything I buy. I love sewing.

    • Your story shows that sewing is a pastime, hobby, job that can be enjoyed for the entirety of your life! Thanks so much for sharing Louise! 🙂