Stop what you're doing!


My days are often filled with a bit of knitting, a bit of computing, a bit of packaging, a bit of admin, a bit of photography and then maybe, if i'm lucky (or stir crazy) a little walk, some exercise or visit to see some friends (or maybe even a trip to the pub). As you can imagine, it's rather normal and uneventful. I plan my daily schedule a few days in advance depending on what i've got on, how many orders need to go out and when I may need the occasional day off. Endless lists and spreadsheets keep me organised and on track. As a small business I believe its vital to stay on top of things. I like to reply promptly to emails, try to keep my website up to date, do my blog weekly and of course get my orders out on time and ideally ahead of schedule. 

Lauren Aston To Do

But something i've learnt since starting up has been the need to 'wing it' when necessary. No matter how much you plan and organise there will always be curve balls flying at you when you run a small business. Things that you couldn't possibly have imagined so how on earth could it go into the spreadsheet or timetable?! 

These things normally revolve around other people, opportunities we couldn't have foreseen because we had no idea these other people even knew of our existence. Recently for me, these types of things have generally been press related. They are emails that drop into my inbox unexpectedly and sit there quietly waiting like a surprise party. Once I spot them I get ridiculously excited, I squeal, I jump around, I wish I didn't work alone so I could have a jumping, squealing partner, then I see the deadline and fall into a flat out panic. 

This has happened a few time recently and it's what prompted this post. At the time it's so stressful, so flustering and panic inducing. The perfectionist in me makes everything long winded and more time consuming because I can't just let it be 'OK' it has to be perfect ('cuz that's possible *eye roll*). So at the time it's petrifying, in hindsight it's hilarious. Running around like a crazy person so many times is what made me think 'do other people do this or is it just me?!' And after some casual research (chatting to friends) it seems the answer is NO, of course it isn't just me! Whether it's something that slipped the list, an urgent press request or a special customer order to be rushed, we all do the headless chicken run, somehow squeezing 5 hours of work into a 1 hour time slot without compromising quality. Throwing caution to the wind as well as 'stuff' into cupboards, (no matter what the challenge is, when it involves a rush, it always seems to result in my being surrounded by a huge mess!) We do it because we hope or know, it will be worth it later, either for us or for the person we are doing it for. 

So when one of these emails jumps into my inbox, I see it, I celebrate, then the reality of what needs to happen hits - It really is a "STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING!" moment and everything changes to accommodate. The timetable must change! What can go? knitting? no. Orders? no. Photography? no. Admin? Yes it's dull. So that's the time slot sorted now to deal with the request. Do I have the stock? the photos? the words? probably not as I don't have time to tie my shoe laces these days. Which leads to the big question - How can I make this work? - 'cuz you can be damn sure it will. Some opportunities are too good to miss and are worth the headless chicken act. 

I'm so lucky and thrilled to have had some incredible opportunities in the last 6 months and each and every one of them has brought a different challenge that has made me raise my game and become better equipped for the future. Some are easier that others of course. A few days ago I was asked to give an interview for a campaign that would be featuring my Large Welcome Throw, the interview needed to be done and sent by the following morning and I got the email at 4pm. Of course I don't work 9-5; like most people in business I work from wake up time to bed time with some short breaks for food and/or conversation. However I do have other things to do. This particular evening we were going out, I also had to get 3 parcels in the post before it left (which I hadn't packed yet) and needed a bite to eat at some point. But these are the things you do; you make it work, you fit it in, you somehow create more time (and if you're anything like me you're late to everything that isn't business related...sorry to all my friends) 

So some of these unexpected challenges are small and manageable with a bit of compromise and a tweak of the old schedule. Some are simply challenging. And others are manageable but we make them challenging. A few months ago I had one of these special emails drop into my inbox from one of my favourite magazine. It was from a lovely Features Editors who asked for me to send over a couple of images of my home, where I work etc etc to consider me for a feature. The pictures didn't need to be anything special, she assured me, just quick snaps on my phone. The sound that followed was of my jaw hitting the floor. Cue mad excitement, cue mad panic.

This was most definitely one of those time where the perfectionist in me made it more complicated than it needed to be. Our little house is a new build and although we have finally painted every inch of it (damn you magnolia!) we are still lacking a few pieces of furniture, in fact theres a side table snuck away in one corner that is actually a box with a table cloth over it as a disguise! So for these 'quick snaps' I went full force. I kid you not - I got the nails and hammer out and I put pictures up! I went to the shops to buy nice looking food as props. I tidied (mainly just moving mess out of the shot into another spot but it sort of counts) I moved furniture around and I got the images to them that evening as requested. PHEW. 

Lauren Aston Blog

Turns out that the magazine had a certain look in mind that my abode didn't fit into but I'm thrilled to say that they decided to do a feature in their January Issue instead! I will admit that it's unlikely that the biscuit filled jars or the pictures I put up my wall were integral to the decision making. I can't imagine in hindsight that the many props and pieces of furniture I moved around made a huge difference to the editors verdict. And I probably could have spend my time in a better way that day. My need to make everything as perfect as possible went a little out of control. However I did manage to prioritise and still put the important things ahead of turning my home into a set. And most importantly I got a feature which will be incredible exposure and hugely exciting for both me and my little business. I now also have the pictures at the ready in case they are requested again.

The point I'm making is that the running of a small business is a well oiled machine. There is a lot of organisation and planning that goes into it and sometime an extra cog gets thrown in and it probably will throw off the balance for a little, but its up to us to make it work again. To figure out whats important, prioritize and get on with it. Sometimes the challenges seem to be too much or too technical but thats what's amazing about all these people running their small businesses - they rise to the occasion and totally nail it. There's a reason that not everyone does it! As I am figuring out - You need to be made of tough stuff. I'm still learning the ropes and i'm truly in awe of the incredible people i've met and how they've kept it together and done such a great job! 

There is no intended moral to this story. You live and you learn. But if you too run around panicking when you get certain emails or phone calls just know; you aren't alone! We all do it, at the time its crazy and intimidating but looking back it is so funny. It may not always work out the way you wanted but something good will come of it at some point. All I know is that I'd love to be a fly on the wall watching my face when I read the news and then see the whirl of action making it happen. I bet it's quite a sight!

I'm sure i'll continue to be a perfectionist and turn the house upside down just to get one shot that I'm happy with and although it can be a bit of a nuisance and make a few things more long winded than necessary it is also what makes my standards high in the rest of my work, and that can only be a good thing. The key to small business success seems to be organisation and adaptability; having a plan and then being willing to tear it up. So heres to future emails and the next time I manically cause chaos in my home....I wonder what I'll do next time - It'll no doubt include a trip to B&Q buying paint for another feature wall, at least that'll be cheaper than replacing the carpet. 

As ever, thank you for reading!  

L x

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