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20 Oct 2016

Maker Owner Spender Spy Part 5- Promotion

Here’s part 5 in a series meant to help other maker-owners navigate minimal stress improvement in different areas of making things for a living.  Improving your work day conserves energy for living life outside of what you do for work.


This isn’t so much about the how  but here’s some observations I’ve had:

  1.  In the big picture, no one knows about you.
  2.  This is the internet age, if they don’t know about you you have been around long enough or doing enough typing.
  3. Do forego the way your forefathers sold things – just show up and see what happens.  It’s more powerful than typing.
  4. No one on Facebook cares about the stuff you make. Instagram is better.
  5. Even if you have nice videos, no one really watches them. Good pictures work better.

This is more about the more important stuff. I was listening to a podcast with Malcolm Gladwell and he said something that really changed my perspective on getting your stuff in front of people, “It takes work to be authentic.”   I think something I really bristle at are makers using inflated language to sell their stuff, or inflating an image to come across as authentic.  Locally sourcing your hand woven 65 weight hypoallergenic  exclusive canvas…. woof.   Seeing you make coffee in a leather apron, knickers and a wide brimmed hat…. come on.  So initially I wanted to use as little words as possible.  “This is my stuff” and either you liked it or you didn’t.  You hear a lot about your ‘brand’s story’.   I totally dig that, but that can also be abused.  When your story turns into a big fish tale, it becomes hyperbole.  You know it when you see it.

I think the way you promote yourself is through consistent effort and connection.  Seth Godin uses an analogy when it comes to marketing of ‘being the needle’. Don’t spread yourself all over the place, try a bunch of stuff, then circle back around to the first thing to prove you’re trying everything.  Be precise. Be the needle.  Through persistent, focused effort one day you’ll break through.  Not in a magazine yet? Maybe you haven’t put in an enough work.  The dream of being an overnight, an over year, viral maker ….? How would that even happen? It doesn’t. Keep showing up, day after day, year after year.

The way people stick around is through connection. They hear what you have to say, but what you say isn’t preachy or elitist.  You have people like that, right? I knew a person to whom everything was the best, spoke FOUR languages, VEGAN, sustainable biodegradable EVERYTHING, giving to all the charities.   Meh, not for me. I don’t do those things, am I a bad person now?  The way we connect is through being real.  You have to know who you are, why you do what you do, and have some humor about being human.  Humor is key.  Self  deprecation is not.   Ask people about themselves, if the people following you are really part of your story, include them.

In the end, this is not about you.

The short of it:

  1. It takes work to be authentic.  Put in the work to show people the why of what you do and who you are apart from what you make.
  2.  No bullshit.  Let’s show other makers that not everything has to be the best, the most dedicated pursuit, the unswerving journey towards…whatever.  If you have to spruce up your stuff with fancy langauge you should spend more time on your stuff.
  3. Connect.  How do you connect with your friends? Do you just talk about work all day and the materials you use?  Is everything you do perfect ? Do you not ask them for their opinions on things?


19 Oct 2016

Worklife Balance for the Maker-Owner – Part 4 Production

Part four in a series directed at helping other maker-owners balance their worklife- minimal stress progression in all the areas of what it takes to make things for a living.


“What you do for a living is not ‘be creative’ what you do for a living is ‘ship.” Seth Godin

“Quantity is just as important as quality”- Bob Taylor

One of my musician friends was talking about a song he was about to play from a stage and he said it was about a friend of his, “a creative and a productive”.  I’ve thought a lot about that.  We hear a lot about ‘creatives’.  I think there are avenues in life where creatives can be successful simply by creating novel ideas. But not you and I. You and I make stuff.  We aren’t painters where you have to be able to paint and also come up with new ideas every time, we aren’t in a board room running a company. We make guitars, hats, jewelry, tools- and that’s it.  Sure they have different options (more on that later) but it’s always the same object.  That means the better and faster we get at making it the more time we have to attend to areas of this life-whether it be worklife or life after work. Efficient production means breathing room.  Makers sometimes bristle at the word, ‘production’, because it seems in opposition of the idea of handmade. Stop it.   That’s an assumption that’s killing your business and your life.  Production doesn’t mean buying a CNC machine and incorporating.  If you spend some time learning about flow, processes, and looking with a constantly critical eye at how you do your work, your work will be better and you will get it done faster.  You can use that time however you please. TIME IS THE MOST VALUABLE THING EVER IN THE WORLD.  There is nothing that can buy you time, except for taking less time to do exactly the same work you’re currently doing.

What is production? For purpose it’s this: Amount of time spent between someone paying you money and you shipping it. I’m not going to be able to tell you how to do your particular thing faster but here are the thoughts I’ve developed on the subject.


The biggest thing you can do to improve production is improve flow. What’s flow? Read this book: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Honestly.  You’re costing yourself life by not reading it.  Flow is ‘the zone’. You forget to eat lunch because you’re working.  You’re not distracted, things are just happening. That’s flow.  Almost every idea that follows affects that mental state somehow.  Efficient production preserves the flow.  You’re ability to get into a flow state of mind affects your business’s finances, craftsmanship, and efficiency,  which in turn affects your non -work life.  Get it together.

Have a system.  Here’s mine, at least for the time being.


It’s taped on my wall.  I check it every morning against my Wunderlist.  THe schedule on my wall is production stuff that must be done.  It is my bread and better. There are only three or four things everyday.  I can get it done, except for Monday, in about 4-6 hours.  Then I look at my wunderlist to see where the incidental stuff can fit in.  Here’s the thing: I check it EVERY morning. I have made it my boss.  I can alter it if I see changes that need to be made. But I don’t make those decisions on the fly. If you do, you miss the big picture.  That’s the root of the “it feels like I didn’t get anything done” days.

Distractions kill flow. Don’t check your phone. Don’t check your e-mail. When you realize you have to order something write it on your phone and go back to work.  It’s a battle.  Go into it with that mindset and you’ll start recognizing all the things that are distracting you.

Delegate your day

When I arrive in the morning the first thing I do is get right to making stuff.  I don’t respond to emails, I dont write a blog post, I don’t order things even if I need them. I get to work.  It’s why I have this business.  If I know when I get up that when I walk in I can start carving a neck, it’s a little gift to myself.  When I get that core schedule done then I can do the other stuff. I earn that time.  Save the non production stuff for the end of the day. You get that ‘end of the day’ time when your production is nailed down enough – you don’t have to make too much, you aren’t making too little. It doesn’t take too long, or too short. You have enough production work to fill your day. I think the hard thing about being a maker-owner is that it’s all connected. You can’t start making more stuff without having to keep better track of ordering stuff, having more money to track in and out, and more people you have to get your stuff in front of.

Don’t Batch Build

You aren’t more efficient when making 10 things at once compared to one.  The set up time does not hurt you more than the act of building in large batches. If you’re set up time sucks that bad, fix it. That’s the problem. You can’t fix bad set up with building in large batches.  I have 8 routers with different bits. Four dremel tools.  A crazy amount of templates. I never measure.

Oh I know the feeling. I worked in factories and there was a certain amount of satisfaction with seeing an entire warehouse wall full of engine blocks and at the end of the day the wall was empty. When I worked at Huss and Dalton as a youthful enthusiast I would pride myself by making 50 x braces at a time.  But here’s the thing. It’s not any faster and it’s a waste.  Lets say you build 10 guitar bodies at once.  First, how excited are you about bending the 10th set of sides after dealing with issues from the previous 10? Zero excited.  You put all of that time (your most valuable asset) into building those bodies and now they are all going to sit there waiting until you carve, set, sand and finish 10 necks? And deal with mistakes x10? It’s a waste.  It’s time and money just sitting on a shelf. And it’s no fun.  You might think the flow is better because you bind, and then bind, and then bind… but that’s not flow. Flow is getting somewhere.  Flow is going from the thing that needs to be done now seamlessly into the thing that needs to be done next.   I tried the batch building thing when I started again with these resonators and all that piled up were bodies that had no owners.  A pile of mistakes that aggravated me. Bob Taylor talks about it in his book “Guitar Lessons”. I’m paraphrasing here but Bob called lean manufacturing (doing things just-in-time) the biggest improvement he made.  When they were struggling in the beginning, he noticed that they had no money but a whole building full of guitars that needed to be fixed or sold.  See the issue? Those guitars need to be done NOW. Do the thing that needs to be done now, the thing that gets you closest to shipping. Ship, then begin again.

Limit choices

Decision fatigue. I have 20 of the same t shirts. They are Next Level Triblend. I wake up put on a shirt.  I like ice cream. If someone says, ” I have ice cream, you want some?” I say “yes”. I eat it and am happy.  If that person came and said “I have chocolate fudge ice cream, sherbet, raspberry, french vanilla or vanilla bean,”I say, “uhhhhh”. Your customers are doing the same thing.  Chances are they love what you do, which is why they are talking to you.  But now they want to know the difference between the three types of blue dyes you have, the sound difference between this nut material or that nut material etc.  It’s indescribable.  And most times it doesn’t matter. It’s chocolate or vanilla.  You’re the professional. You have played more of these guitars than anyone in the world, you have seen more of your hats than anyone. Don’t fall into the ‘custom everything’ trap.  It wrecks your production, and it doesn’t matter your customers proportionally happier.  You know what options you need. Be the decider. Limiting is a huge deal.  That fifth blue dye you’re trying isn’t productive. It’s creating problems.  When I started offering tri-cones I started getting really satisfied customer e-mails that ended with something like, “maybe next time I’ll try a tricone!”  There’s a bit of dissatisfaction with that fear of missing out isn’t there? Maybe your customer can only afford one, but really loves the blue and the red.  They buy the blue, but there is a part of them that still loves the red.  YOU did that. Not them.

The short of it:

  1. Flow – Read Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. You need to set up your production so that you can get into flow daily.  Eliminate distraction.  Observe the time inbetween steps, work on improving that.
  2. Don’t Batch Build-  Having excess work that is semi-done sitting around is waste.  Get stuff completed. Now.
  3. Delegate your Day – Have a system so you can go into each part of your day with purpose.
  4. Limit options – Be the professional. You know what is best or what you want to do.  Don’t think you’re gaining an advantage by drowning your customers with decisions.



15 Oct 2016

Owner Maker Spender Spy- Balancing Worklife for the Owner-Maker

This is Part three in a series of posts geared towards owner-makers that are looking for a system for ensuring balanced progress in all the aspects of making a living while making stuff.  Scroll back to part 1 and 2 if you have read them, you’ll want to go in order.

Recognize and Challenge your Assumptions

Other than “Make a system” and “If it’s important do it everyday,” “Challenge your assumptions” is the most powerful phrase I use. Once you realize what an assumption is you’ll notice them all day long.

What’s an assumption?

You think you know something but you don’t until you put it into words.  Try it. What’s an assumption? What have you assumed to be true today already?  For me an assumption means this “a statement of fact, current or future, without evidence”

“Commercial rent in my town is around $1000/month.”

“No one will buy this.”

“Everyone will buy this.”

“It takes five hours to make the widget.”

It’s ok to make assumptions. Our brains do it naturally. It’s how we start seeing the sides of the coin. But the mistake we make is not in making assumptions but our failure to recognize them as such and then using them to make important decisions. If you don’t make a system to prove/disprove your assumptions, you’re screwed and you probably won’t even notice.

An assumption I lived with for a long time was that renting real shop space would be too much money.  I tried a couple places, they didn’t respond so I took that to mean, “Rent is expensive and no one will lease to me in my town for less.”  I didn’t need space anyways, I thought. I’ll just stay in the basement and rough it out.  I stayed in a 20×15 basement room with one little window for THREE YEARS. I shelved the idea of space until I hired two people and NEEDED to move. I was coming around to this idea of challenging assumptions at the time, so when I went looking I recognized the ones I was making.  So when I went looking I said ‘I want 1,000 sq ft. for free’. Saginaw has plenty of empty suitable space.  This was a fact because I looked.  I wasn’t going to assume the price I would pay, I wanted the least amount, which was free.  When I disproved ‘free’, I looked towards my second choice which was ‘less than free’. I found 1600 square feet in a beautiful old warehouse in Saginaw owned by a man who loves guitars, loves helping starting business people and he said “Pay what you can pay, we want you here forever.”  He was here three years ago, where was I? Holed up in the basement with my assumptions.

I don’t want opinions, I want facts.  You get facts by making a system. You get numbers, you get anecdotes, you get timelines.  If you recognize assumptions in yourself and people you work with, defer to a higher power-proof.  “It takes five hours to make a widget.” Really? Why? Have you timed the steps, including time you get distracted and mess up the work flow, check instagram, run out of supplies? Maybe you are just plain not working hard and fast enough. Maybe you’re working too fast. Maybe you think there is a certain amount of virtue in spending five hours on something that could take two. You’re assuming that means you’re doing a better job, that people will value it more.  There are numbers there and until you find them you’re assuming five hours is what it takes.

“No one will buy this” Why? Because you in this room five seconds after an idea was proposed analyzed all factors involved in making it a success? Prove it. Less thinking and more doing. Make a system. Make the part. Call 50 different suppliers.  Assumptions identify possible outcomes. That’s it. Recognize them, and then stop talking and get to work.

The short of it:

  1. Recognize assumptions – We assume things constantly.  Just because our brains think them doesn’t mean its true.  Our impulsive reactions are us trying to figure things out without having to do the hard stuff. Get out of your head.
  2. Challenge them.  Ok, tough guy. You say we won’t find a place to rent for under $500? Prove it.  Either you do and we can continue moving forward, or you dont and we have cheap rent.  Both are wins.

In what areas of your work do you make the most assumptions? Process? Financial decisions?  Quantity of work required to succeed?


14 Oct 2016

Owner Maker Spender Spy: Maker-Owner Worklife Balance Part 2

This is Part 2 of a series of posts aimed at helping other maker-owners achieve balanced improvement in all the aspects of owning a business and making what they sell.

“If its important do it everyday.” – Wrestling Coach Dan Gable

I first heard this quote from strength coach Dan John.   It’s brilliant, right? One of those quotes that say something obvious that everyone has been missing.  We all run around looking for the flashy answers. We climb up mountains to speak to the wise man sitting at the top just to come back down more confused. The farmer at the bottom gives us a sideways look and says something like “Less thinking, more doing,” and goes back to work.

How did we learn to walk, talk, play sports, do schoolwork, communicate ideas with others? We did it everyday.  We didn’t have a 6 hour practice on Saturday and then show up for a game the following Friday.  We learned to talk – without much direct instruction everyday- just by hearing people talk, a lot, everyday. It was almost effortless.  THe same should be true with our worklife.   Do you suck at the financial side of things? Maybe it’s because you’ve been business for a few years and the only time you learn new financial ideas is when you made a giant mistake. Or tax season.  Or you stumble across a term online and look it up.  What about your process?  It takes you five hours to make the widget. Why doesn’t it take 4? Do you know why?  Maybe it’s because you haven’t set aside deliberate time to study your work flow, make notes on your mistakes so you can see trends, or read books on process engineering like Toyota or ISO 9000.

If you don’t set aside daily time for every aspect of your work you’re digging a hole somewhere.   Stress starts when we don’t realize that and we let holes get bigger than we can handle. Then we realize we have more holes and the reckless sprint begins, overloading our brains. Our brains try to cope and then filter out information that may be necessary. The cycle continues.  A system that  provides consistent forward progress in all those areas eliminates the stress and provides evidence based information towards improving the system.

“If it’s important, do it everyday” is the basis for my thoughts on designing a system for the maker-owner.   Consistent work in achievable amounts is how we learn and master anything and making things and owning a business is no different.

The short of it:

1. “If its important do it everyday.” Consistent work in achievable amounts is how we learn and master anything

2. If you aren’t attending to an aspect of your work daily a hole is being done.