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Makers wear many hats. On any given day we juggle several roles and become the manufacturer, the marketer, the customer relations manager, the accountant, the cleaning person, the tech expert, the buyer, the sales person or the administrative assistant or whatever our business requires us to be. The list is (almost) endless.

In the words of artisan Nicole Rutherford being a maker becomes “a hectic blend of securing raw materials, setting up websites, working all-day fairs, nurturing a social media audience, balancing books and wrapping, labeling and dropping boxes at the post office.”  

Manufacturing, a.k.a. making and crafting is the easy part and often the most enjoyable. Yet for most artisans the job does not stop there.

Rutherford says:

“It's all the little things that trip you up. Making is my favorite part, and that I can do in between batches of mac and cheese, but the rest of it is where I start to get nervous or overthink it.”

Considering how much makers have to deal with, her words are not surprising. Most of us overthink and become frazzled on occasion. The resulting uncertainty and indecisiveness are poison to any business. Stephen Covey, business educator, author and entrepreneur offers a simple and time proven way for makers to stay on top.

 Dr. Covey referred to it as the big rocks method (which he actually adapted from another business expert’s lecture).

Here's the story, in Coveys own words:

“One day this expert was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration I’m sure those students will never forget. After I share it with you, you’ll never forget it either.

As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered over-achievers he said, "Okay, time for a quiz." Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, "Is this jar full?" Everyone in the class said, "Yes." Then he said, "Really?" He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. 

Then he smiled and asked the group once more, "Is the jar full?" By this time the class was onto him. "Probably not," one of them answered. "Good!" he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, "Is this jar full?"

"No!" the class shouted. Once again he said, "Good!" Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, "What is the point of this illustration?"

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, "The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!"

"No," the speaker replied, "that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all."

Let’s transfer Covey method to the hand-made industry. Following his approach, artisans need to consistently focus on the big rocks that underpin their business, i.e. those items that drive sales, cash-flow and profit. The little things, i.e. the water and gravel in Covey’s example, can be addressed in between managing the big rocks. 

Super entrepreneur and star of “Shark Tank” Mark Cuban summarizes this in 2 sentences:

Sales cures all. There's never been a company that succeeded without sales.”

Sales, profits and cash flow are generally driven by well known forces which are all well within the control of makers:

-       Marketing, especially promotion

-       Pricing

-       Customer Management

-       Production

-       Procurement

-       Operations

-       Distribution

Depending on the status-quo of your maker business you need to be laser focused on all seven forces all the time. The example below shows that you can place your big ticket items on a single sheet or paper and outline the key actions you have to take over the next few months. This becomes a very effective guide for keeping your business on track.   

This “big rocks grid” for X-Pert Leather focuses on distribution (shows, retail), production and promotion.

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Completing the grid, i.e. taking care of the big rocks first requires less than an hour. It will help you feel more confident in taking the right actions and provide you with an anchor to clarity when chaos threatens to engulf your business.

Clarity creates control.

Clarity creates profound outcomes.