How to Succeed With Your Own Embroidery Business

4 key steps to make working for yourself your biggest reward.

Now is the perfect time to take an honest look at your embroidery and apparel decoration business, take stock of where you are, and define where you want to be. Evaluate what has worked well, and, more importantly, what has not worked. They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Now is the time to brainstorm ways to do things differently so that you achieve different results this year.

One thing that I have discovered while working with thousands of embroidery business owners for the past 30-plus years is that the profitable ones have several things in common. First, they have clearly defined goals for their businesses. Second, they have a crystal-clear current working knowledge of the numbers that are the backbone of their businesses, and their costs to produce their various processes, products, and services. Third, they have no issue with setting prices that allow them to earn their desired profits, on every single order. Fourth, when something does not line up for them, they do not repeat that mistake.

They adapt and adjust so that the outcome meets their needs the next time an order like that comes along. And finally, they are having fun running their businesses. Yes, it is work; and yes, there are bad days; and yes, mistakes are made; but by and large, they are having a blast and are glad to be doing what they do instead of anything else.

1. Evaluate your goals

Your goals can be set for a variety of benchmarks. Where they involve total sales, average order size, average hours worked per day, week, and/or month, average profit per job, sewing head, product, and/or hour, it is up to you. There are no wrong answers — other than having no goals. If you have no goals, how do you know if you are attaining or surpassing them? How can you measure your growth or success? Take time to assess which goals are important to you this year and write them down somewhere you will see them daily. Studies have shown that even something this simple has a dramatic impact on the likelihood of accomplishing specific goals.

2. Know your numbers

It is shocking to me every time I speak with an apparel decoration business owner, and they do not know the numbers for their business. If you have been in business for at least a few months, there is enough data to determine your operating costs and your production costs. With these numbers, you can effectively set your prices so that you hit your profit goals. When you do not know or use these numbers, the profits you earn will be random at best, and certainly not consistent. Profits are only possible when you charge more than it costs you to produce an order. Every time you estimate your pricing, you are potentially losing income. That is a tough way to run a business.

Building and running a business without knowing your numbers is like driving across the United States without using a map or even the roads! Why would you do that? With the framework of your numbers, you can plan for growth, change, improvements, and staff, and point your business in the right direction.

3. Value your services

I cannot tell you how many times an embroidery professional has said to me, “People where I live would never pay that.” News flash — you are wrong! We customize everything we touch. Whatever you create did not exist on this planet until it went on your equipment, and you decorated it. That is a valuable and unique offering in your community. We are not selling widgets that are easily available on every corner.

We are selling customization, brand, identity, and community; we are not selling clothing and products. Yes, some customers are searching for the lowest possible price and will never be loyal customers. These folks exist in every industry. The bulk of the buyers in your community, however, are looking for a partner, someone who can help them reinforce their brand awareness, help them make their employees and team members look good, and be easily identified.

They want and need someone they can reach out to whenever necessary to recommend the best products to solve their problems, no matter what the situation may be. These customers have closets full of clothes. They are not coming to you because they need more clothes. They are coming to you because they need custom clothes. It is reasonable to price your products and services accordingly.

4. Access and adapt continuously

Some orders just seem to flow. They progress from the initial customer conversation to the customer being delighted with your products and paying you without a single hiccup. And then there are those other orders — the ones that seem to continually bog you down. There are backorders, the thread color is not quite right, the digitizing needs editing, you need to order more of the right stabilizer, the job took longer to produce than you expected, the customer has not yet signed off on the sew-out or provided the deposit. It can be any one or several of these things that sidetrack the job.

This year, pay additional attention to these jobs. Are there any patterns to these snags in the workflow? Is this customer always difficult to please, slow to pay, or unresponsive yet still expects the deadline to be met? Does this particular brand and style of cap always run poorly on your machine? Do you find that you always have to reach out to get the rest of the details on the orders taken by employee X? When you identify what causes these snafus, you have an opportunity to improve that situation so that future orders move along more smoothly.

Are we having fun yet?

Remember, you could be punching a clock for someone else instead of running your own business. Hooray for you! For me, the release from working for someone else was massive. Yes, I worked longer hours. Yes, I had more nail-biting moments than I ever did working a traditional job. I had plenty of long days, and nights, trying to make a deadline or embroider that wedding gown flawlessly. But I was the driver of every one of those moments.

My son took naps in a Pack ‘n Play set up next to my desk, and then had his grandparents as well as a building full of “aunts and uncles” when he woke up whom he adored. I went to the elementary school weekly, and I read to the kids, and they read to me. I was at every parent-teacher conference. I never missed my son’s ball games. I went to every single dress rehearsal and dance recital.

We had pizza parties on Fridays when we finished a huge run of jackets for a local factory. We closed the business during the entire winter school break so we could all be home with our families. We closed the shop for an ice cream run when we found out we won the bid for a large local business. We covered each other’s vacation times so no one ever missed a family gathering or vacation opportunity. We had fun, we laughed, we played jokes on each other. We got the work done, we enjoyed the majority of our customers, and we enjoyed helping them with the custom goods we created. Life was good.

Remember, you chose to start your embroidery and apparel decoration business. Set your goals, and then figure out how to make them happen. Have fun and make good money and profits while you do it. When things get bumpy, tweak your way of doing things and smooth it out. Order pizzas the next time you hit a big deadline and take a moment to bask in the glow. After all, it sure beats flipping burgers for someone else!

jennifer cox

Jennifer Cox

Jennifer Cox is one of the founders and serves as president of the National Network of Embroidery Professionals (NNEP), an organization that supports embroidery and apparel decoration professionals with programs and services designed to increase profitability and production.

View all articles by Jennifer Cox  

Related Articles

Back to top button