I sat down with my sister, Ashley, this week on the podcast. In the last year or so, she has transformed the hobby she loves into a small business that she can do from home. I enjoyed talking to her about how she got started and how she continues to evaluate her priorities.
Transcript of Interview
Tina: Tell me a little about yourself.
Ashley: I live in Minnesota, close to where I grew up. My husband is from Missouri, so we also lived there for several years. We have been married for 11 years, and we have three kids. The two girls are in 3rd and 1st grade this year, and our son is 4. We have been committed to homeschooling from the beginning. My education is in English and linguistics, which has been the perfect foundation for me to teach my children.
Tina: How long have you been knitting? Why do you love it?
Ashley: I started knitting almost 13 years ago after a college friend taught me. I love learning new techniques. The precision of it appeals to me, but also, the past few years I have gotten more into playing with color and being more artistic, rather than just replicating patterns. I also dabble in crochet, and in the past year I have taken up spinning and weaving. I now try to see my crafts as a way to unwind and express myself, instead of just making it about finished items. A few years ago I wrote a pattern for children’s mittens, and now I am in the process of improving that pattern and adding more sizes. I also want to make video tutorials to go with it, so I probably won’t get the updated pattern published until next winter.
Tina: What sparked the idea to create a business from your hobby?
Ashley: The first nine years of our marriage, my husband had a string of disappointing jobs. I wanted to come up with something that I could do from home to increase our income, but all the things I heard of other moms doing sounded really boring to me. Eventually, I heard of tech editing. A tech editor checks knitting patterns for accuracy and consistency. Tech editors need to have a lot of knitting experience and knowledge so that they can read the pattern, picture in their mind what is happening, and figure out if the pattern is written correctly. In college, I worked as a writing tutor and proofreader, so when I realized that I could combine my love for proofreading, my experience in knitting, and my perfectionistic personality, I knew it would be a great job for me.
In the spring of 2018 I cashed in a few old savings bonds to pay for an online class in tech editing. I put off starting my business while we were buying our first house that summer, but a few months after we settled in, I found my first clients. At this point, I have been editing knitting patterns for a year. My basic schedule is to do school in the mornings and editing in the afternoons while the youngest naps.
Tina: What are some pitfalls that you have had while starting your own business?
Ashley: I really enjoy tech editing. I have met some really great designers who have written me enthusiastic testimonials. Some of my designers send me work regularly, but I also get contacted by new clients who randomly come across my website. My favorite patterns to work on are lace shawls, but I learn something from every project.
There is an online community of tech editors who share advice with each other, and in this community I have become acquainted with other editors who have a lot more experience than I do. When I first started out, I wanted to be good at everything and be as expert at my work as these other women I saw. I had several ideas for expanding my business. However, I eventually realized that these women got to where they are today by working steadily for several years, and now that their kids are older, they are working more hours and becoming well-known in the industry. I am in a different phase of life than they are, I am relatively new to this, and I need to accept my limitations and work within them.
Tina: How did/do you determine steps/goals?
Ashley: One idea that I had was that it would be really great to work on larger projects like pattern books. I think I was attracted to the idea of seeing my name on a copyright page as a book editor. Last winter I worked on a book project that included seven patterns. She sent me the patterns one-at-a-time, and it was a positive experience. A few months later, the designer emailed me asking if I would be interested in doing another book with her in the summer. I was excited. However, the entire project ended up arriving in my email right before you came to visit me, and then I found myself busy working while the rest of the family was having fun at the pool. I didn’t want this to happen again, so I began to give serious thought to my work load.
Tina: How did you step back? How did that help?
Ashley: There are days when we get all our school finished around lunch time, and then I get enough work done during naptime that I can be finished when my son wakes up. There are also days when he wakes up, and I am still trying to work and having trouble focusing. Then I’m late starting supper, and I feel like a time-management failure. There was a point where I was
regularly doing three patterns a week. I thought I could handle it, but then I started having to tell the girls that I didn’t have time to do music practice with them, and I didn’t have time to take my son outside. I had to re-assess my priorities. I came through that phase fully convinced that homeschooling my children is so important to me that I am willing to limit my work so I can
give my best focus to it.
Tina: What is the next step? Will you pick back up?
Ashley: After my disappointing experience with having too much work over the summer, I made a decision that I was only going to take on two patterns per week. This is something that I continue to assess. This fall I learned that if I receive a sweater pattern with ten sizes, then that should be my only project for that week. I also made the decision that whenever I have multiple requests for editing, I should prioritize patterns for accessories over sweater patterns, because hat, sock, and shawl patterns don’t take as long to edit as sweater patterns do. I also enjoy those more.
Now, there are weeks when I have two patterns to work on. I enjoy the work, and I enjoy making some income. There are other weeks where I don’t receive any work, and I see that as a good opportunity to get caught up on things around the home. Both of those states are from the Lord, and I want to be a good steward of both.
I have a plan in place for how I could increase my business and find more clients, so I could do that if we suddenly needed more income. In the meantime, I am holding off on that until the kids are all older and able to do more schoolwork independently.
Tina: Did you ever reach a point where you lost your joy in your hobby? If so, how did you work through that?
Ashley: I get really excited about new techniques, so starting a new project is really fun for me. Then, I get to the point where I feel guilty about having so many different projects going, and I try to get some things finished up before I start new things. I sometimes have to remind myself that my craft is supposed to help me relax and unwind, not be another stressor in my life.
Tina: What things have you done to be intentional with your time as a wife, mom, and homeschool teacher? That’s a lot to juggle!
Ashley: I am continually learning how long various types of projects take, so I can better plan out my time. It would definitely help if I were not so slow in the mornings, because then we could start school earlier and be finished before lunch. I try to keep an open mind that the way I am currently doing things might not be the best, and I might need to make changes.
Tina: Advice for other mom-preneurs?
Ashley: Be continually re-assessing your priorities, and talk to your husband about your feelings and doubts. Every family is different. Some families are able to give more priority to the wife running a business. One of the major factors in my life is the fact that my husband is a UPS delivery driver. He works long hours, and I never know when he will be home for supper, and when I will be doing bedtime by myself. In order for him to succeed at this job, it takes both of us being committed to making our family life work under these circumstances. We appreciate the income and benefits he has with UPS, so we are content with the way our life looks. My being at home is what gives our family stability, and I need to make sure I am available to meet everyone’s needs and to keep things running smoothly. Also, during those times when he is gone a lot, I don’t want to spend my nights and weekends working, because that is the only time we have together.
There was a time when I was so excited about tech editing that I briefly imagined what it would be like if I sent my kids to the local charter school and spent more time on my business. I realized that my future self would actually be very disappointed if I gave up the opportunity to teach my children. While I am keeping my workload light right now, I see it as laying a foundation for the future. Someday I would like to make editing a bigger part of my life, and when that time comes, I will be ready. In the meantime, I want to make sure I devote my time to the things that are most important to us, so I don’t have to look back with regrets.