Timing Challenge Update

I received this email a few days ago –

I’m reporting on your challenge! I have taken your challenge and mostly been able to stick to it by using a stopwatch feature on my FitBit, and when I forget to hit the button, I guesstimated.

I recently did a batik throw, measuring 48 x 41. (1968 square inches) Originally I was going to do an allover pattern but the quilt “spoke” to me so I ended up doing more creative things on it. Here are my statistics.

Setup on longarm, including quick pressing, winding bobbins, pinning on and basting. – 0.75
Quilting Time – 1.0 + 0.5 + 2.5
Finishing Up – rough trim, bury threads I missed, check over and recheck, invoicing – .5
Total time 5.25 hours.

At 0.4 cents per square inch, that invoiced out at $78.72, or $14.99 per hour for my time, which isn’t bad, but my “hourly” rate is $25, so this quilt either took too long or I am not charging enough. Basically it should have taken me three hours start to finish based on a $25/hour labor rate. No way could I have done this amount of work in that time, unless I had stuck to my original plan of an all over design.

I have eight more quilts lined up to go so I will continue the challenge and see how things really are… It’s eye-opening!

Karyn Dornemann
www. karynquilts.com
(posted with the quilters permission)

Here are some photos of the quilting Karyn did – Please click on the photos to enlarge the view. I left the photos large so that you can see the detail of the quilting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Karyn, I am glad to hear that you timed yourself when you were working on this quilt – which, by the way, is amazing! You did a fabulous job on the quilting!

I agree, timing your work IS eye opening! When something like this happens to me, I call it a “learning experience” and I hope that I do LEARN something from it.

I would like to make a couple of comments-

I think all quilters, at one time or another, have had a quilt “speak” to them and they change the original quilting designs to something else. It always seems that the change(s) will take more time and be more detailed quilting.

All of these changes are assumed to fall under the “do whatever you want / quilt as desired” statement and documented on the worksheet and approved by the quilt’s owner.

Personally, if I choose to quilt a more complex, detailed design, then I “absorb” the extra time and the (potential) loss of the extra quilting $$.

I do not add extra $$ to the cost of the quilting job after I give a written estimate to my customer. Think of how you feel if something costs more (possibly way more) than what you were told it was going to cost at the start! (Think car repairs!)

I will still keep track of the quilting time involved so that the next time I use that technique, pattern, template, etc., I will be able to give a more accurate estimate due to the extra time involved when using that technique, pattern, template, etc., on the next quilt.

Let’s say you are intaking a quilt and the customer says, “I really like what you did on so-and-so’s quilt, (or seen on another quilt someplace else) can you do it on my quilt?” You know what pattern / design / technique that she is talking about and you know that it will take longer to complete. Or, you suggest a pattern / technique / template, etc., and you KNOW that it will take more time to complete. Whatever the scenario, in your mind, figure out how many extra hours it will take – then by all means, ADD extra $$ to what you will charge to cover the extra time it will take to for you to complete the quilt!

Going back to my contractor example from a few posts ago – if you were working with a contractor on a home improvement and you wanted to add something that would take more time and effort for the contractor to do, wouldn’t the contractor charge extra for this? Then why shouldn’t you, as a “quilting contractor” do the same thing.

Recently, I was working on a customer quilt and I came up with a new border design using one of my templates. I knew it was going to take more time, but I didn’t know HOW much extra time it would actually take. My choice was to go ahead and use the new design and assume it would take extra time to quilt.

The quilt was 96 x 96 inches and I estimated about 2 hours for the (original design) border quilting. The actual quilting time for the border, using the new design, was 4 hours! This was a “learning experience” for me (one of many.) If I use that design again, my choice would be to add extra $$$ – a lot of extra $$$ – to my fee! OR, I can do less intense quilting in the body of the quilt (less time) and the more intense border quilting (more time) and between the two, they would equal the time for a “normal” quilt, which I would charge accordingly.

I know, this is all as clear as mud!!

Going back to the Karyn’s quilt in the email – small quilts are NOTORIOUS for taking a LOT longer to quilt! (Ask me how I know this!)

I know that I will look at a smaller quilt and think “if I do this more complex, time consuming technique /pattern, template, etc., it won’t take THAT long!” Guess what? Most of the time it does take longer (sometimes a lot longer) to finish!

With a small quilt, I will generally over estimate the time / cost of the quilting. If it takes significantly less time to quilt, I can always reduce the price of the quilting, which makes my customer happy. But if it takes longer to quilt, then at least I have some $$ for my time and effort.

Having these “learning experiences” is how we learn what techniques take more time, and on the flip side, which techniques take less time to quilt!

By timing your work, over time, you should get a bunch of averages. You should get an average amount of quilting time on a quilt, which you can break down to Queen size, King size, etc. You should also get an average price for your quilting, which you can, again, break down to techniques, such as average price for template work, free hand work, pantographs, etc.

From all of this, over time, you will be able to figure out if you are really making any $$ with your quilting!

Yes, I know we all are having way too much fun quilting, but, if you are quilting as a business – and many of you are quilting as your main source of income – then you NEED to KNOW all this information and you need to KNOW if you are making any $$.

As always, I welcome your comments and I hope to hear from more of you about your results from timing your work.

Post any comments in the comments box or if you would like to contact me personally, send me an email at longarmu@aol.com.

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Challenge Update #1

Last month about this time I challenged you to time yourself when you are working on any quilt, whether it was for a customer, for a charity, for family or for yourself. I am hoping that by doing this, you have discovered some interesting information.

To begin discovering some of this interesting information, let’s start with the obvious.

To determine how much $$ you made per hour when working on an individual quilt, take the total hours worked on the quilt (from when you timed yourself on this quilt) and divide it into the price you are charging.

If you go back to my post from last month, (to view that post Click Here)I documented two customer quilts I worked on. The first one, Starry Night Quilt, 74 x 83 inches, took me 4.83 hours to quilt. I charged my customer $250 for the quilting labor. So, $250 divided by 4.83 = $51.75 per hour that I “made” when I was working on this quilt.

The other quilt I documented was All My Scraps are Stars, 91 x 108 inches, with a LOT of detail quilting. This quilt took me 14.57 (rounded down to 14.5) hours to quilt. I charged my customer $500 for the quilting labor. So, $500 divided by 14.5 = $34.48 per hour that I “made” when I was working on this quilt.

These numbers do not include any business or operating expenses or any self employment taxes. A very general calculation would be – one third of your hourly “wage” goes to business and operating expenses, another third goes to self employment taxes and possibly recovering the cost of your quilting machine, the remaining third is your profit or what you actually make! Yes, all this can be individualized to your personal situation.

If you track what you make per hour, per quilt, over time, you should be able to come up with two important pieces of information. You should determine 1) the average time it takes you to quilt a quilt – you can break that down into quilt sizes like King size, Queen size, etc. – and 2) you should be able to determine an average hourly rate / wage you are making when you are working on these quilts depending on the pattern / technique you are quilting.

For example – I can quilt a Queen size quilt with medium density, “light” custom, free hand quilting in about 6 – 8 hours. If I charge, on average, $300 to quilt a Queen size quilt, then my hourly “wage” will be between $50 – $37.50 per hour. ($300 divided by 6 hours = $50 per hour, $300 divided by 8 hours = $37.50 per hour.)

Knowing this information, when I am consulting with my customer about quilting designs – and I have been tracking the time it takes to quilt the patterns / designs / techniques – I can recommend quilting designs that are appropriate for that quilt, that I can quilt in 6 hours, maybe less, but no more than 8 hours.

Also knowing this information, if the quilt says it needs a pattern / design / technique that will take MORE time, then you can start raising your price accordingly for that project. Estimate how many extra hours it will take you to quilt the particular pattern / design / technique, multiply that by your hourly “wage” and add that to your price.

Example – Let’s take the Queen size quilt from above and even though I may be doing somewhat simple quilting in the body of the quilt (let’s assume there are many busy prints in the body of the quilt) my customer decides she wants a feathered cable design in the border. I quilt the feathered cable design with templates, which is a more complex, time consuming technique. I have to determine HOW much extra time I will need to quilt this border design. Let’s assume that I estimate that it will take an extra 3 hours to quilt the border. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say I have an hourly wage of $30 per hour. Because I KNOW all this information, I will ADD an additional three hours to my estimated time of quilting and ADD an additional 3 hours of my hourly wage to this quilt ($30 x 3 = $90, rounded up to $100 to make things easy.) An estimated price then would be in the $400 range, for quilting labor only!! Batting, backing, thread and binding are all charged separately and not included in this price.

What if you don’t know how much extra time it will take you to quilt a different pattern / design / technique? Then I add percentages such as an extra 25%, 50%, 75% or more, depending on the complexity or difficulty of the quilting.

For our Queen size example from above with $300 for “basic” quilting, 25% extra would be $75, which I would probably round up to $100, which is about 30% of the basic price, 50% extra would be an additional $150, etc.

I can hear some of you right now saying, “Cindy, you are a crazy woman!! I could NEVER charge my customers that much money for my quilting!!” And I would answer you by saying “Why not???”

YOU are a highly trained, skilled, professional person. If machine quilting were so “simple” your customer could do it themselves – but they don’t. YOU have invested thousands and thousands of dollars into your quilting machine. YOU have invested hours and hours of your life learning how to use your quilting machine. YOU have invested more hours and hours and hours practicing, practicing, practicing your quilting skills. YOU can do things with your quilting machine that your customer CAN’T do and they are paying YOU to do this!

I travel around the country and talk to other quilters about their businesses. So many quilters are “locked” into the length x width x XX cents per square inch pricing. They will do all sorts of fancy, complex quilting – free hand, pantograph, computerized, templates, etc. – and NEVER charge anything more than length x width x XX cents per square inch, AND they will spend HOURS AND HOURS AND HOURS working on the quilt with NO idea of how many $$$ they are making (or loosing) per hour!

Let’s say you are thinking of putting a deck or porch on the back of your house. You want the deck to be 7-1/2 feet x 9 feet. You talk to a contractor about this and he says a basic deck / porch, no railings, nothing fancy will be $500. You think that having railings around the deck / porch might be a good idea, especially when the kids and /or grand kids come to visit. You also say that you would like to have a cover over the deck / porch, seats built into the railings and some planter boxes on the top of the railings. Is the contractor going to do all of the extras for the same $500 cost? I don’t think so!! He would – and he should – raise the price he is charging you according to what you want to have done to your deck / porch.

Why are YOU any different from the contractor in this example? If you haven’t figured it out, 7-1/2 x 9 feet is 90 x 108 inches, the same size as a Queen size, pre-cut batting! Think of yourself as a “quilting contractor” – the more quilting your customer wants, the more YOU SHOULD be charging for it, and they should and WILL pay for it!

Trust me, I have a LOT more to say about this, but for now, let’s finish with this – keep timing yourself on every quilt you work on. Begin to collate and group your information by quilt size, technique, pattern, etc., and see what information is starting to emerge about YOUR quilting.

As always, please leave a comment – I WILL be wearing my flame proof underwear or maybe I should make it a flame proof suit!

If you would like, send me a personal email at longarmu@aol.com

Make it Happen!

Happy 2017!

new-year-lgI hope that 2017 is a year of great things, many quilts, and great prosperity for you!

Make 2017 be the year YOU “make it happen” in your quilting business life.

How do you “make it happen” in your quilting business? First, decide what “happen” is. Is it more customers? Is it more $$$? Is it getting more inspiration or creativity? Once you can decide what you want, you can then work on getting it!

I know, it sounds so simple, but sometimes it is the hardest thing to do! I am going to take the next few blog posts and write about some of these “wants.”

You want more customers.

If you want more customers, think about who your customers are, where are they, and how are you going to let them know what you do?

We are machine quilters and if you ask, who is your customer, you usually respond with “anyone who makes a quilt!” But let’s try to be a little more specific. If you say ANYONE who has a quilt is a customer, and someone brings you the worlds ugliest quilt that is poorly pieced, has LOTS of threads hanging from it, it does not lay flat,  it’s not square and it (literally) stinks – your customer is known as the local cat lady – and the customer wants you to quilt it for el-cheapo prices, will you quilt it? Before you answer that, ask yourself – Do I REALLY want this person as a customer? If your answer to both of these questions is NO then something has to change.

Let’s also assume that the last few customers have been like this. You may have to play detective to find out how they found you. When you learn that, then you can do what is necessary to get your information off the “bad customer list”.

Now you have to find out how to get your information onto the “good customer list” and find “good” customers!

Here are some of the typical ways of doing this –

  • Join a quilt guild in another part of your neighborhood, city, county, etc.
  • Work with other quilters doing other quilting “stuff.” Is there is a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly sit-and-sew in your area? Join it. Work on your projects, but bring completed works for show and tell!
  • If you can teach piecing, teach at your local quilt shop or even teach in your home or community center. This is double $$$ for you! For a fee you teach them how to make the quilt and then charge them for quilting the class project!

Here are some other ways to find new customers –

Find out who the teachers are in the local, or not so local, quilt shops and offer to quilt their class quilts for a discounted fee. (In general, I’m not a fan of discounts, but this is one place where I feel it is justified.) Many quilt instructors teach at several shops and your quilting could be shown in a wider area. I would get an email or physical address of the teacher and send any discounts directly to her/him.

A while back when I was teaching out of state, I was talking with a quilter who said they were concentrating on getting customers from a specific zip code. (This zip code was in a large metropolitan area.) I asked why that zip code? The answer was “that is where the rich people live!” This quilter was doing what was necessary, in that zip code, to contact, connect to and work with new customers.

I have talked with quilters who live in smaller towns and they say they “can’t” attend guild meetings out of their neighborhood because of where they live, etc. I am a “big city girl” and I don’t really understand this way of thinking. You have the courage to purchase a quilting machine, learn how to use it, practice, practice, practice some more and start a machine quilting business. You do all that and you don’t have the courage to go across town to a quilt guild meeting? YOU have to choose what is best for YOU and YOUR business. I say, take the deep breath, bring your show and tell, and GO to the meeting. You might be surprised – you should get a warm welcome, and possibly some more customers!

Where is it written and what “rule” says that your customers are ONLY from your area? Have you ever thought of getting customers from away (maybe far away) from where you live?

Do you live in a tourist area? Are there any gift shops you could put some quilted items (pillows, coasters, table runners, possibly lap quilts, etc.) for sale? Of course on all of these items you include a label and / or business card with your contact info, maybe even stating that you quilt for others.

You might offer a “drop off” service, where the customer who is coming to your area for vacation can drop off their quilt with you to be quilted. When the quilt is completed, you ship it back to them for a shipping fee. Or you might offer a “pick up” service where the customer ships to quilt to you before their vacation and they can pick it up when they are in the area. Note: You MUST be able to get the quilt done before their vacation time ends!

If you have things planned properly, the out of the area customer could drop off their quilt at the start of their vacation and pick it up at the end – assuming the vacation is more than a day or two. I consider something like this to be a “rush job” and a rush job usually requires more $$ to do! And, if the customer wanted the quilt back in a few days, and you can do it, that would be a MAJOR rush job with MORE $$$ added to the cost!

You will have to be a little creative to find these customers, but I know it can be done!

Does your local quilt shop have a Block of the Month quilt where you have to attend a mini-class to get the next part of the quilt? If so, join it even if it isn’t your favorite type of quilt. Be there at every mini class with something that you made – and quilted – from the previous mini-class. You could make tote bags, table runners, lap quilts for a charity, etc. But SHOW what you can do with your quilting! Bring business cards but don’t do a “hard sell.”

Do you have a special technique or style of quilting that would appeal to other piecers and quilters? For example –

I know of a quilter who LOVES Judy Neimeyer quilts!  (For information on these quilts Click Here) She has pieced and quilted several of these quilts and is targeting other piecers who love this style of quilts. Quilting this type of quilt (foundation pieced with many, many,many small pieces) has many challenges and, because of this, a lot of extra $$$ can be charged to quilt this type of quilt.

Another quilter I know loves Civil War Reproduction quilts. Not only that, she lives in an area that is a Civil War battlefield tourist area. She is “targeting” other Civil War Reproduction quilt enthusiasts and working with local businesses / charities, etc., to showcase her quilts and quilting in their advertising and in their businesses.

Personally, I love doing Sashiko on quilts and I promote my Sashiko work on my personal blog  (To view some of my Sashiko Quilts Click Here)  And yes, I have done several quilts for people from other parts of the country who saw my work online and sent their quilts to me to quilt.

This should give you some ideas of how to get new customers. YOU have to think a little “out of the box” but I know you can do this.

I know that there are even more ways than these to find new customers! If you have another idea please send it to me in an email to longarmu@aol.com or put it in the comments section.

In my next post I will talk about getting your information out to others!

 

 

 

A Milestone

A Milestone
I have been a professional machine quilter for nearly twenty years and in all that time, I have never had this happen – until now. I made $100 per hour working on a quilt!

This is the first time I have made this much per hour on a quilt, and who knows, it may be the last time that “things” lined up for this to happen.

Here are the details – it was a Queen size quilt, so it was going to cost more than a few $$ to quilt anyway. After talking to my customer about several quilting designs, she saw another (customer) quilt hanging in my studio and said “I want that quilting.” I looked at the quilt, and enthusiastically said OK!

The quilting design was my free hand, all over swirls and hooks pattern – which was totally appropriate for this quilt. This all over swirls pattern is a really fast and quick pattern and I use it a fair amount on charity quilts. I knew that this was going to be quick quilting, but I didn’t know HOW quick it would be to complete.

Including putting the quilt on the machine, it took me 3 hours to quilt. So, at a quilting fee of $300, I made $100 an hour!

Quilting like this doesn’t happen all the time, so please forgive me if I may be bragging a bit.

I don’t have a multi-tiered pricing system. I have a “base” price of 3 – 4 cents per square inch, and then an “and up” price which as no limit. I have used this pricing system for many years with great success.

Using this system, for this particular quilt, the quilting fee was $300. Batting and binding was extra. I would have charged this much if I quilted a pantograph or some moderate custom quilting – and my customer agreed to this price.

I know that some of you may be thinking “if it was that simple of a quilting design, I should have charged less for it.” And yes, I did consider that, but only for a second.

Here are some thoughts on charging less for simple quilting.

When you charge less for simple quilting, I feel that you are devaluing your skills and time it has taken to LEARN those skills. I have been machine quilting for almost 20 years. I have 20 years of experience that, in a perfect world, I should be compensated for. My compensation in the real world is – learning how to quilt efficiently, having a few patterns/designs I can quilt quickly and knowing when to use these designs on an appropriate quilt.

If you continually use those quick quilting designs at a lower price, when your customer’s quilt really need custom quilting or detail work, they will probably balk or be unhappy with a higher price. You are training your customers to expect simple quilting! Imagine if you were quilting only two, maybe three designs on almost every quilt you quilt! BOOOORING!!!

I know, everyone has the “little old lady on a fixed income” customer. Yes, do the simple, less expensive quilting on her quilt. But remember, some of those “poor” old ladies may be in a better financial situation than you are – especially if you depend on your quilting income as your only source of income or as a significant supplement to your income.

In every business, there is something that is relatively easy and cheap to manufacture, do or create (wholesale cost), that is sold at an extremely high (retail) cost. And, we willingly pay those high costs! (What are the profit margins for a cup of brewed coffee in a restaurant? And how much do we willing pay for it?) Our quilting businesses are the same!

When the quilting goddess smiles on you and something great like this happens, enjoy the moment and don’t feel guilty.

What are your favorite quick-to-quilt patterns / designs? If it is a pantograph or digitized design, list the name and where you purchased it from.

What was the most per hour you have made on a customer quilt?

Post a Comment with your responses.

December Business

It’s December! Either you are in a panic or you have things totally under control. Personally, I feel like I am half way in between those two extremes – which is where most everyone is at this point.

In my “totally under control” moments, I have looked at my quilting schedule and I can quilt maybe two more customer quilts before Christmas. In order to tell my customers about these open quilting spaces, I put together a quick note and I’m sending it to selected customers.

I looked through my list of customers and their contact information. (To see my previous post about this Click Here) and chose about 10 customers to contact. They are fairly steady customers who live relatively close.

I am sending them a note through the mail which I have put into a pdf file that you can save and print out. Click on the highlighted text to download this file December Letter

You can see that I kept the note short and sweet – no discounts, no special offers – just that I can get their quilt done for them before Christmas ONLY if they call me ASAP.

I printed the notes on card stock and cut them in half. I will fold them in half and put a piece of tape on the bottom. They do need a First Class stamp, which I will get at the post office today.

If I have only one person respond, that would be great. If two respond, that would be wonderful. I am making about a $5 investment into this mailing, most of which is the cost of postage.

If you decide to do something like this, feel free to use my note as a guide. If you would like the Publisher file for this note, send me an email to longarmu@aol.com and I will send it to you as an email attachment. You can open the file and add your own information.

I know that this can be a very stressful time of year – take a deep breath or two and try to relax!

I will let you know if any of my customers respond.

Your thought and comments are welcomed.