Lots of Projects

Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

It’s been a busy and cold week here at the Hermit Hut. I haven’t seen temperatures this cold in decades where I live. And it’s slated to be even colder next week.

Brrrrrrr.

I’m not looking forward to the cold, but at least I get to be inside. My poor husband works outside, although he’s used to colder weather, being Canadian.

I’m dreaming of being sitting in front of the fireplace or wood stove, drinking hot cocoa, reading a book, and snuggled under a cozy blanket.

Alas, it will remain a dream for a while longer. Next week will be a short week at work since it’s President’s Day, so that will be nice. And as I’ve been planning lessons, I realized that it’s only about a month until Spring Break. Which is kind of hard to believe – where have January and February gone?

It will be nice to get some hopefully warmer weather, if only so the kids in my class can go outside and run off some of their energy. Having to be cooped up indoors all the time is hard on the little wiggle worms, and even 5 minutes outside can make a huge difference.

Besides work, I’m staying busy with various projects. I finished several diamond paintings, including a mystery painting, which was fun to do. With a mystery painting, you don’t know what the picture will be until you get done with it. It was fun to do, but it ended up being a picture of a cat – something I have zero interest in. So it went into my portfolio with all the other finished paintings I don’t know what to do with.

I had to buy a larger portfolio (big enough to fit a TV in) to fit some of the larger diamond paintings I plan to do. I’ve also completed a couple of smaller paintings – the mystery cat, a butterfly journal, and I’m currently working on a cute little elephant.

I’ve purchased another mystery painting, but I think I’m going to start one of my bigger projects before I open that, because I know I’ll want to do it first – I have no patience. 😛

I’m also still working on mandalas and my fledgling YouTube channel. I think I’ve found a decent setup for filming, so I can start drawing and filming a little more often than I was able to before. I hope, anyway. Once I get a decent backlog of mandalas on the channel, I may bundle them and put them up for sale on my Etsy shop.

I’m debating whether some of my mandalas (colored ones) would make good custom diamond paintings. I may try ordering one and see how it turns out. I don’t know how much something like that costs, so it might end up being prohibitively expensive. We’ll see.

I also have a couple of sewing projects that I need to get completed – a t-shirt quilt/lap blanket, and a quilt made from squares that my mom embroidered before she passed. My eyes aren’t that great for sewing anymore, but I’m having no luck finding someone who could finish them for me locally.

The last project on my to-do list is a blanket from the last bit of yarn I have left. I started to make an afghan for someone, but ended up undoing it all. Now the ball of yarn just sits there, taunting me. Not sure what kind of afghan I will end up making, but it would be nice to have a warm blanket over my lap while I sit and crochet of an evening during these cold winter nights.

Pay Yourself First

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

I’ve written before about my financial goals and my journey to be debt-free. It’s still slow going, but any progress is good, especially when it comes to debt.

Lately it has felt a bit like we were stuck – not making any big purchases to add to debt, but not making any huge payments to make a dent in the debt, either. As we headed into 2021, we sat down and had a discussion about what our financial goals were.

I don’t think either of us had ever actually sat down and had a discussion about what financial goals were important to us. It was extremely helpful – both for us to see what goals were most important to the other person, as well as to discuss whether we agreed with those goals and then how to reach them.

With two kids in college, tuition is a big goal. I want both my kids to graduate debt-free, as I did. My oldest should graduate in May, and I just made the last tuition payment for her. So yay! That goal is met for her, now I just have to concentrate on my youngest. I’m so glad that we only had one year of paying tuition for both of them – I have no idea how people do it.

Of course, we’re continuing with our previous goals – to pay off as much debt as possible. We’re down to one car payment, our mortgage, and one credit card. The mortgage will be gone when we move, so for now I’m ignoring it, though we do pay extra every month to get it paid off faster. The less we owe, the more we’ll have in equity when we do move.

The car payment also gets a bit extra added to it every month, but for now I am focusing on the credit card and trying to get it paid off. My husband was in agreement with all those goals, but also wanted to start saving for a vacation – something we haven’t had in a while (and we wouldn’t have been able to travel, even if we’d had the money, with the current state of affairs). As we talked, something I’d heard somewhere stuck with me – ‘Pay yourself first.’

I don’t remember where I heard it, but the gist was to make sure that you were paying yourself – by saving some money each paycheck, even if it was a small amount. After all, you work hard for your money, so you should get to enjoy it too, right?

So we decided that we would put a small amount aside each paycheck for a vacation fund. It’s not a ton of money, but if we put money in it consistently, it won’t take long to build up. I’ve been doing it since the first of the year, and honestly, it’s felt really good to see the balance growing.

I know that most financial advisors would tell us to use that money to pay off debt faster, and I get that. But psychologically, watching that small bit of money grow each month is more motivating to me than using it on our debt. It’s small enough that it wouldn’t make much of difference to the debt, and it’s worth more to me for the motivation factor in the vacation fund.

Who knows, we might decide at the end of the year to use the money for debt rather than a vacation, but until then, watching it grow is financially motivating. In the meantime, we’ll keep plugging along, working day jobs and trying to grow side hustles (like Etsy and YouTube). Maybe one day we’ll get lucky and one of those lottery tickets my husband buys every week will pay out. Okay, probably not, but we can dream, right? 😀

Feeling Like a Failure

I promised myself that I would spend time this week working on various things related to my (supposed) online business. I want to 1) add things to my Etsy store, 2) create products that I can sell on TeachersPayTeachers, 2) research how to increase my sales on Etsy (keywords, SEO, etc.), 3) research whether a Shopify store would be worth the time/effort/money, 4) set up my YouTube channel, and 5) upload videos to said channel.

Except after about 10 minutes of sitting here on the computer, I feel almost paralyzed. I have no idea what I’m doing. I know what I want, but there are so many things I need to learn I don’t know where to start. Do you ever get that? Overwhelmed because there are SO MANY choices?

It can’t be that hard. People start and run online businesses every day. And I’m not looking to become a millionaire overnight. I just want to have an online source of income so that I can be mobile and still be able to work.

I’ve been blogging here for over a year and have launched my Etsy business. I have a ton of ideas for products, many of which I’ve already created. I just can’t seem to buckle down and get anything done. I can’t seem to force myself into gear to be productive.

It’s easier for me to work with external deadlines, even if there are no real consequences for missing them. My own deadlines, however, I can ignore with apparent ease, even though I feel horribly guilty for doing so.

Sometimes there’s just no way but through, right? So I am going to force myself to get SOMETHING done today, even if it isn’t everything. I’ve already had my workout, done my cleaning, have laundry going, and I’m writing this blog. So SOMETHING has been done, even if it wasn’t what I intended. That’s better than nothing. It’s not even noon yet, so I have time to work.

How do you hold yourself accountable? Force yourself to be productive on those days when you’re overwhelmed?

Taking the Plunge

photo of man jumping from boat to the sea
Photo by Oliver Sjöström on Pexels.com

With the extra time I’ve had in the last few weeks, I’ve been doing research and trying to figure out how to make my business a good fit for me.  So much research that my brain is now filled with what-if’s – What if it doesn’t work?  What if I can’t figure out the tech pieces?  What if I screw up on taxes somehow?  What if I’ve missed something vital?

The panic and anxiety my brain can produce is endless.

But I’m not going to let it win.  So, I’m going to just take the plunge and hope it works out for the best.  That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to do everything I can to make it successful, but it does mean that I have to let go of my fears and do SOMETHING.

Anything is better than standing still.  A journey starts with a single step.  (Feel free to throw in any other cliches that seem to fit here. 😛 )

What I’ve decided to do to start is to upgrade my plan here on WordPress to Premium.  I already pay for the Personal plan, so upgrading won’t be that much more.  Doing that will allow me to use their Simple Payments for selling digital downloads.  I already have PayPal set up, so it’s just a matter of hosting the files and posting them.

I’m still going to be writing posts about other things, but I will be adding more posts about my mandalas and the stickers I make.  I haven’t worked out all the details yet, because some of the products I want to sell are physical, not digital.  But digital is a good place to start, especially since selling them here on my own site means I don’t have to worry about pesky sales tax!  My state doesn’t collect sales tax on digital goods, and since I’m using my own website for sales (instead of a marketplace like Amazon or Etsy), I don’t have to worry about any other states either – I won’t ever hit their revenue/number of sales limits for small sellers.

In the meantime, there may some changes here and there so I can arrange things on the site for selling some of these goods, so bear with me.

Side Note:  Did you know that under your media tab here on WP you can access a library of free photos?  There’s a menu option called ‘free photo library’ with a ton of pics that you can use (the attribution is attached to the photo, so you don’t have to do anything except add it).

March 2020 Kit – Big Happy Planner

February just flew by, didn’t it?  I suddenly realized I hadn’t created a kit for March for my planner yet.  I have decided to move from the classic size Happy Planner to the big size – I have tons more room to write, and I can still see everything at once, without having to flip back and forth from the weekly views.

I tried using the weekly views, but having to flip back to the monthly overall just got annoying.  I guess I’m just set in my ways. 😛

Anyhoo, here’s the kit I created for March 2020 for my Big Happy Planner:

IH March 2020 Big Pg 1 JPEG

It’s a fairly simple kit – just the two top washi, two bottom washi, a couple of holiday stickers, some full boxes, and the date covers.  I printed the payday stickers, but I keep all my budget stuff in a separate planner, so I don’t really need those for my big planner.  Same for the bill due stickers.  I know a lot of people find them useful, so I included them in the kit.

Here’s what it looks like after I applied it to the pages in my planner:

March Kit HP Big

Again, my photography skills aren’t the best, but you get the idea.  I am still deciding what to do with the kits for the big Happy Planners.  Because they are so large, it takes an entire 8.5″ X 11″ sheet of paper just for the stickers.  Which means they will cost more to mail, so I am considering whether I should make them available for download rather than as a physical product.  We shall see.

Making Mockups

As I get closer to opening my Etsy shop, one of the things I need to do is to take product photos and/or have mockups of them so that I can show buyers what my stickers look like.

My photography skills are still not great, and even with a light box I’m getting weird shadows on product photos.  So I thought I would try using some mockups, since my products are created digitally first.  I’ve seen a million of them used on Etsy, so a quick internet search would net me some options, right?

Wrong.

Oh, sure, I found a ton of mockups available for free and for sale, but none of them were really what I needed.  I’m not selling photos or prints, and that was the majority of the mockups out there.  After an afternoon of fruitless searching, I decided I would try to make my own.

I own Photoshop CS6 (the last version you could actually purchase, rather than a subscription).  I’m no expert user by any means, but I figured I would at least try.  It turned out to be easier than I thought.

Because my monthly kits will be multiple pages, buyers will want to see what is on each page.  Also, I may offer pages for individual sales, so they will definitely want to know what they are getting in that instance.  So I needed two different mockups – one to show the entire kit, and one to show each page.

Using my limited Photoshop skills, I managed to come up with the following:

Test 3 Stack
This is the mockup for the entire kit

I’m using the kit I made for myself for February as an example.  I managed to figure out how to make each page of the kit a smart object, so now I can just replace each sheet with an image from my Silhouette software, and I’m good to go!

Here’s the mockup I made so that you can see what’s on each individual sheet of the kit, in case someone wants to purchase only certain sheets:

Test 3 Straight
Here you can see each sheet

I’m really happy with the way these turned out.  I now have an easy way to show buyers what they are getting and all the front-end work I put in will make any new images I need to create fast and easy.

Now if I can just improve my photography skills!

Sticker Tetris

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Credit: Pixabay

I’m still working on my sticker templates for my sticker business.  I’ve designed monthly kits for both the Happy Planner (mini, classic, and big sizes) and the Erin Condren Life Planner.

Now that the templates are done, I can simply fill them in with designs and then sell the themed kits.  Designing the templates, however, was an experience.

First I had to acquire each planner so I could measure for sizes.  I did try just looking up the sizes on the internet, but every site had slightly different sizes, so I decided to measure them myself.  Also, most of the measurements I found were in inches, and they weren’t easy measurements.  For example, some of the monthly boxes were listed as 1.56″.  That’s a weird measurement when you’re working in inches.

So I decided to try metric.  You remember metric? That system they had us learn in the 70’s because the US was going to start using it?  The one where everything is in multiples of 10?  Yeah, that one. 🙂

Amazingly, using millimeters to measure, I ended up with easy to remember numbers.  40mm X 40mm.  40mm X 20mm.  And so on.  No weird decimals to deal with.

So once I had all the sizes I need for the various stickers that go in a kit, I had to try and fit them into a small sheet.  I have to mail the sheets, so I wanted to keep the sheets small to save on postage.  Somewhere around 7″x5″ is pretty typical for the kits.

But trying to fit all the stickers into that 7″X5″ area is like playing a game of Tetris.  You think you have everything placed perfectly, and then realize you forgot a sticker.  Or you want to try and fit in just one more sticker, and that means rearranging everything else.

I persevered, and the templates are done.  Now I can move on to the next job.  😀

February Planner Stickers

Once again, I am behind schedule.  I have been working on my sticker business, creating stickers and figuring out what works for me.  If I wouldn’t use it, I don’t want to sell it.

It’s taken more trial and error than I had anticipated.  I wanted to start offering my monthly sticker kits in February, but since I’m behind, now I’m aiming for March.  Le sigh.

However, there is good news.  I’ve been creating stickers and I’m happy with how they’ve turned out so far.  I’ve avoided posting pics of what I’ve created because I want to wait until I have them ready for sale (i.e., when I’ve finally decided if I’m going to plunge into Etsy).  But since I’m not going to sell this February kit, I thought I’d share it.

My picture taking skills still need work, but here’s what the first two pages of the kit look like:

IH Feb Tulips Monthly Kit

It’s not perfect (the kit or the picture), but I’m working on it.  I am going to use this kit myself for February.  I made a winter-themed kit for January that I’m using as well.  I didn’t think initially that I would need weekly kits, but I am going to try creating some of those as well.

Using kits like these are any easy way to make my planner prettier, while still remaining functional. There is a third page with some additional full and half boxes, as well as some script and scalloped stickers.

Here’s a picture of the kit in use:

IH Feb Tulips Monthly Layout

I think it turned out pretty well, though my sticker application skills could use some work.  As could my photo skills, since there are weird shadows on my photos – I took this using a light box and they’re still there.  I guess I need to use the light box and my ring light.

I made these for my classic Happy Planner, but I’m struggling to keep from purchasing the other sizes and brands to see which one I like better.  I have to say, I love the disc system and the fact that I can take the pages out and write without the discs getting in my way.

My next tasks are to improve my photography, get busy creating for March kits, and working on other functional stickers.

Is Amazon Associate Program Worth It?

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Credit: Pixabay

I follow a lot of YouTubers and bloggers in the sticker/planner community.  Most of them are Amazon Associates (used to be called Affiliates).  Basically, you can get special links for items for sale on Amazon and get paid if people use them.  You, of course, have to promote and/or talk about the products, but it seems like a good way to make some (mostly) passive income.

I myself use Amazon a lot.  We’re Prime members and I live in a rural area, the membership fee is more than covered by the free two-day shipping I receive.  (I know, technically the shipping is not free, it’s covered by the membership fees.)  I purchased most of my holiday gifts from Amazon, and all of my husband’s birthday gifts were purchased there as well.

I’m currently waiting on a delivery of calligraphy markers that I ordered so I could practice my hand lettering for my planner.  In fact, I’ve ordered a lot of my planner/sticker products on Amazon, so it seems like a no-brainer to talk about them here on my blog and be able to have Associate links that would put a few pennies in my pocket.  (And it likely would be pennies to start, while I am building up my audience.)

Have you been or are you an Amazon Associate? How is it working for you? Are there things you like about the program, besides than the income? Any things you dislike?