Friday, 24 June 2016

Tales From The Disabled Crafter

 By Sarah Spratt of Spratt’s Designs

It’s a bit of an obvious title isn’t it but there is no point in hiding the fact, yes, I’m a crafter.  Oh, you meant the other, the disabled bit, well yeah I’m that too and together they can make a very interesting life for me, and I hope to tell you some of what goes on in my daily life and along the way introduce you to things that have helped or hindered me in the hope that you will find them useful.

Crafting became my work when ill health caused me to be medically retired at the age of forty.  Now I was left not able to work in employment but with a brain still active, I’d like to say fully functioning but I doubt anyone would believe me.  Well I needed to do something, and I have always crafted, so with encouragement what was a hobby making gifts for friends and family was launched to a wider audience.

Currently as I write this, I’m in a Hospital bed in a Specialist Unit in Salford where I have been for the last twelve weeks.  In truth it’s quite an inconvenience as it has taken me away from my crafting, well almost …

I never expected to continue work whilst an inpatient, or for that matter have the hospital actually be good for business.  Now, had my hospital stay been a bit more of a ‘routine’ elective surgery type, where I would have come in, had my operation and then gone home a few days after, I know this experience would never have occurred.  However there is some planning that I had done that could have been relevant for even a short stay.

Many Crafters use social media, and the Internet for business, be it complete sales or just advertising.  Yet we are mainly a sole trader, we are the designer, maker, secretary, accountant, advertising executive, shall I go on?  So when we can’t work we may have no one in place to pick up the pieces, putting ourselves at risk of damaging our business.  It may be as simple as not posting advertising as much and dropping off visibility, to not responding to a potential customer, losing a sale and perhaps your reputation you have worked hard to build.  It can be hard to let people in and be part of your business but it makes sense, you may end up in a situation where you end up in hospital tomorrow.  Myself, I have suffered from ill health for some time, after all it’s being disabled that got me into a crafting business, so I have been in this situation from the outset.  So what can you do?  Well in my case I have few people around me that help me out all the time, but at times like this when I’m in hospital they have stepped up to do more.  I have a good friend (who I actually met through social media), and she keeps an eye on my Facebook, Instagram and Etsy pages, she helps me out in general but has been there even more so all the time I’m in hospital.  We have a wonderful set of neighbours and one family have a spare key to the house and they take in deliveries.  Then there is my husband, not comfortable with my pages but is a second on them in case my friend needs to query anything.  He has processed orders that could be done, also I have taught him remotely how to complete some of my crafts that needed finishing at home,  He has been a great delivery man, bringing in crafts for me to make orders and then packaging them up and shipping them off.  Without them I couldn’t have done the orders I have in the time I’ve been in hospital, in addition they help me maintain my business when at home too.

So as you hear despite being in hospital I am still working.  Now don’t get me wrong there have been a couple of potential orders that would have required me to be at home to make, and which were impossible to remotely train my hubby to do on my behalf.  I found however, being honest with them and admitting I was in hospital meant that although I had to disappoint them I didn’t cause them to be dissatisfied in my service and therefore my business. 
One thing I didn’t expect from being in hospital was to actually grow sales.  But as I sat in my hospital bed finishing the hand painting on my Fairy Tea Light Lanterns and Jam Jars, Nurses and Patients would see what I was creating and then ask me to do them some.  From that they would ask me what else I did, and I could direct them to my website or Facebook page, and sales started to grow. 

As items were finished and waited to be collected others would see them and ask me to do creations for them.  In truth I’ve never been so busy.  Now this put challenges in my path to overcome, how to do the work, I started with taking orders with the plan to do them when I got home and send them out. 
I got a weekend leave and completed a lot of orders, it was then I realised that I couldn’t let them build up, and as I passed my initial discharge deadline I couldn’t offer a date.  So I sat down with Hubby and we worked out a way of him preparing some of my creations, and then the issue arose, how can I work on my designs on the PC I can hardly take my computer in and then if I was able to work on them in the hospital how could hubby access them to put them through the cutter?

Computers and access have come a long way in only a short time and storing and moving documents has become much easier.  It’s a great help to me that Hubby is an IT technician, but for those without that sort of access to hand there is great IT help in high street computer stores, but even the little local independent PC stores can have great knowledge.  Hubby dug out a laptop we inherited a while ago.  The Laptop wasn’t the fastest or newest, but it was more than suitable for what I needed to do.  He loaded on only the graphic programs that I would need.  Also a while back he had invested in a Terabyte (that’s big storage in my language) to run backup’s on a regular basis’s my PC. 

Now let’s stop and talk about Backup’s, if you don’t do it, you should be doing it.  Backing up your PC means if you were to lose the PC and you take it somewhere to be saved and they turn to you and say nothing can be retrieved, you then know that you can buy a new PC and pick up from where your last back up was recorded, without it you may just find yourself rocking and crying in a corner for all that work you have ever saved on your PC, accounts, photos, designs, articles, price lists and more.  Now these days hard drives have come right down in price and it won’t take you long to learn how to back up and you could even run one weekly.  OK Backup discussed.  But how does backup help me? My PC hadn’t died.  It helped because on a device really no bigger than my mobile phone sat a copy of all my work that was on my main PC, this meant that I could plug it into the laptop like you would a USB or CD and access all my documents, awesome. 

Next was the to-and-fro of a design from me creating it to hubby then cutting it, so that he could bring it back for me to unpick, before he brought in a prepped glass block for me to lay the vinyl on.  This was actually easy, I was already using an online storage system called Dropbox (there are others out there) to get designs to customers and printers, so we would fling the design in Dropbox at the hospital, hubby would pick it up at home and cut the vinyl, I could then archive the document off of Dropbox onto the hard drive so as not to use too much storage space on Dropbox.

OK so things are looking good but this meant one more thing I would need Internet access in the hospital.  Well here in Salford I was lucky they had free Wi-Fi access for the patients, it did however get overused at peak times and on occasion I needed something more. Hubby being technical had for a long time been renting (like you would a mobile phone) a Mi-Fi system, this gave us roaming Wi-Fi data on a monthly contract. Now we’ve used this for years, being able to use Facebook, email etc. when out and about, that in turn prevented us using our data up on our phones.  These Dongle devices (as they are called) have also come down in price, and in most places give good connection, so if you want to use a mobile credit card device or PayPal at a craft fair, a stronger connection can make it so much easier. So I was sorted I now had a strong connection to pass my documents back and forth.

So there it was, from my hospital bed and with the help of others I not only didn’t have to put up the closed sign while in hospital, and with still being in after 3 months it could have been fatal to the craft business and reputation I had built, but also I gained business from patients and nurses seeing me crafting from my Hospital Bed.

I’ll leave you with this idea, for those of you that are crafters  that do craft fairs etc.  Some hospitals have stalls in their main atriums every month or so, I remember Liverpool Women’s Hospital having some in their Main Entrance when I used to Teach. Now if I can do business from my hospital bed, I can imagine that booking one of these regular stalls at your local hospital if they run such things could be good business.

I hope you have enjoyed my ramblings; I’ll catch up with you again in another issue.


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