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Laila’s crafting a community-lovin’ business

The concept of “creating community” can be tricky. I asked Laila, who is the creative genius of LaiGrai to give us her insights, because the Ravelry group for fans of her work is seriously fun place. Unlike a lot of other groups based on a shared passion for an artist's yarn (even mine), hers is filled with fun, sillyness and non-stop interaction.

Long before I knew I was going to create my own little community of craftybiz'ers (the super-awesome gathering place is coming in just! 4! weeks!), I was curious about Laila's and so I shot her these questions.

 

(because I find everything about Laila completely adorable, I'm keeping her answers in her own voice + style of writing. I know you're going to fall in love with her!)

Laila, your Ravelry group, which celebrates your handmade yarn and spinning fiber is seriously rocking.
Has it always been like this?

In short, yes and no.

Let's start from the beginning.

Businesses aren't islands- we all help each other. so from the very start, i had the aid and wonderful support of my first yarn mentor rachel-marie. rachel marie wanted to help me get my newly formed group going.

we kicked it off with a big shared knit-along … bringing in a THIRD person,  melissa of yearofthegoat, by deciding to use her “the medium is the message” tunic sweater as our knit-along pattern.

it was completely unintentional- it wasn't like, i'll do this KAL and people will flock to me- or anything. it started that rachel & i were going to work through the pattern together and people saw our photos on flickr and wanted to make it too- so we put up a thread and more and more people joined… it felt SO great!! many people came out of lurking + rachel marie brought her base + melissa helped point people our way with mentioning our KAL & my group in a magazine… so that was the start of my group becoming “active”!

next, a knit-along-er who made the sweater with us, { & who would later become one of my close yarn friends}, drucilla pettibone, suggested that i host/participate in the tour de fleece in 2009, something i had never really heard about… so just like that, we started a tour thread seeing if anyone was interested in doing this crazy thing? the tour  team was born – that is sort of how i reached my core group of fiber friends,

the first team had a full pirate theme and i custom made over 20 ravatars (avatars for Ravelry) in photoshop- everyone picked monikers like “marooned hot pants”  – it was a hilarious good time and that was the first thread that reached over 1000 posts!!

now i host a team annually, this july will be our 3rd year.

there is a lot of silliness that happens in the group and we sort of feed off each other with that- nothing is too silly for us.

as a way to pay it forward with all the help i received, i keep my group super super OPEN to any and all fiberistas looking for a place where members are already active & looking to host a KAL {maybe as a way to test a pattern, or just for fun}

last year, rachel-marie was hosting a handspun sock-along (one of the owner's of webs was participating!) and rachel was hosting a sweater-along. this year- currently dani is hosting a shawl-a-month-along

The  KALs (knitalongs) are open-ended so the most recent couple are STICKIED to the top of the board but the others are not archived so anyone can pop in & use all our past comments as helpful bits on how to get past a tricky spot that had the rest of us stumped (or  more like, just me ;)) or to revive a KAL that petered out.

it is more fun that way- no deadlines to stress over, make what you want..when you want it!!  we also have a thread dedicated to just SUGGESTING what we want to make next called “future fun-alongs

Do you think a lot about “building community” or has it happened organically?

so yes, it has happened organically- but also because i realized that what makes me most happy about being a fiberista is the community. and that is beyond etsy, beyond ravelry even, i spend every day corresponding and emailing the friendliest (!!) knitters and spinners and chatting about fibers. i love talking about yarns and wool breeds and even just seeing what people are creating.. another thing that keeps it open and friendly is that i never force anyone to use only my fibers- b/c that's not the point.  so despite it having the most like ME-ME-ME name ever “i love lai grai” – it is really way way way way more than that! it should be called- “i love talking to like minded spinners, knitters, crocheters, who are funny and witty and just want to be able share jokes and humor and recent projects and new fiber acquisitions and of course, gab about the latest fiber club shipment, or show what just came out of your dyepots!”

i don't ever want it to feel like- THIS IS ME BEING PROMOTIONAL. b/c it was never about that- i love that it stays true to what the rav boards are… FORUMS! anyone can start a topic- i love that there are definitely ancient threads, showing my history- i love that threads can get buried and pop! back to the top after a long hiatus and i'm like, oh i totally forgot we had a “what are you watching?” tv thread! i love the IT crowd, it's great to see that my friend dani's kids do too! haha, and we are ALL true blood fans! tara- you and i discussed our love for HIMYM! 🙂  (we also have a what are you reading thread + a what are you listening to music thread!)

it's just a place to come and chat and sometimes bitch and always laugh and be super super friendly!

Most everyone you listed here, the most active community members, actually sell what you sell (as do I!)…but there's no hint of competition in your description.

sure, technically we are all in “competition” with one another, but i just DON'T see them as that- they are truly my friends.  some of us talk every day. we try to plan fun things to share together. lacey dished how she works in those awesome knitted icords, and dani shared her awesome triloom photos, and faun shows peeks at some of the awesome flea market finds she digs up (for crazy cheap too!!) and despite them having their OWN ravelry groups- i like that we are able to cross over without being like … oh gawd, stop pushing your fiber in my group (well they never do that anyway, and certainly aren't PUSHY) but still, i would LOVE if one of my customers bought from them- i support all their shops – why shouldn't my customers?

i feel like there is plenty of fiber-love to go around! the more you give, the more you receive. b/c i have their backs- they have mine & we never planned that- we just became pals and WANTED to spin-along together or knit-along together. but then, i have to step back and remember that each of these gals are ROCK STARS, i am honored that we get to be pals and i love that my ravelry group makes it even easier to connect with even more yarnies like them- b/c i am ALWAYS open to making more fiber friends! 🙂

It seems (from your explanation), that the steps to growing your community were:

1. Partner with others in the community
2. Create a space where everyone (even “competitors”) are welcome
3. encourage sillyness, inside jokes and fun!

yes!

partnering with others & embracing competitors are kinda the same! they go hand in hand.

plus, yes- silliness, inside jokes, fun are crucial. start with a core group of 5-10 participants that are really active + good friends.

reach out to include others- that means -ALONGS! spin alongs, knit alongs, hug alongs, laugh alongs! those are really the cornerstone foundations of a fun group.

try to create some base rules, but keep it loose. by not demanding that everyone only use my fiber- it made more people feel able to be included without financial pressure.
also, create some threads that are not about fiber/yarn/knitting/spinning. yes we all love those things- but what ELSE do we have in common?
a love for true blood? AWESOME!
a hankering for british comedians? yes please!
coffee addicts not-so-anonymous? yes, yes, we are all that too!

and like you always say, tara, let YOU shine through and they will come & want to hang!

 

A huge thanks to laila for giving us a look into how she's done it.

Even though she's a knitter + talked about knit-alongs, I'm certain you can adapt them to fit your own craftybiz.

What bit of community-lovin' can you apply today?
Tell us about in the comments!

 

(all images courtesy of LaiGrai.com)

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Liz is crafting a (Martha-approved) business

A few (uh, many) months ago, I read a blog post at Made in Lowell that I just loved.  I know Liz on Twitter, so I just had to ask her more about it. Below is our conversation…

You said, “I had about 20 years prior experience making and selling things at craft shows before the popularity and ease of internet shops existed.”
How do you think all that past experience has informed what you do now?

I think doing shows and trying to sell things for years and years did not dampen my hope that my business would at some point catch fire, but it did give me perspective on how people react to handmade items and their purchasing patterns. I knew that you could really bust your butt and not sell a thing or you could sit back and collect showers of money, each show is a gamble. I learned to take a long view to appreciate the slow build of my business.

Do you consciously pursue PR? If so, what's your plan look like? (I completely suck at this, so I'm fascinated!)
If not, how in the world do you keep getting it? 🙂

Ha! I do not consciously pursue PR. Or if I do, this is my method: I make myself available online, make all my accounts (Etsy, Flickr, Twitter, blog) have the same username.

I try to represent my personality in my online presence.

And I answer every email, every convo whether I think it might be a waste of my time or not.

I graciously, and in a timely manner turn down vending opportunities that don't suit me instead of ignoring them, follow up on every question even if it to politely decline to share technique secrets or to kindly say no to sending a “sample” for a blog review.

I want to be approachable and friendly online because I think people want to buy things from people they like! I know I do.

I hope this doesn't discourage anyone, but a lot of my PR exposure has been luck! For instance, Kari Chapin befriended me on Etsy back in the very beginning of our online market adventures, who knew that would turn into being a contributor to her amazing book The Handmade Marketplace?

And getting a spread in Studios magazine happened after Pokey Bolton from Interweave Press stopped by my studio randomly!

How did you get on the Martha Stewart show? What led to that?

Martha Stewart’s producers regularly trawl Etsy for show segment possibilities! One of them contacted me through Etsy. She said she’d seen my polymer clay eggs and ALSO that she’d seen my name in Kari’s book. That gave her the confidence to approach me.

I still wasn’t in though, it took a month of emails before the whole thing was a lock. A long, nervous-making month! I blogged the experience, if you'd like to read more.

Anything else you'd like fellow crafty businesses to know about what makes you or your biz tick?

I think the heart of my business is craftsmanship; the careful, painstaking time I invest in each item I make is something people can really see.

It also means I won’t be expanding my little biz into an empire, but that’s not really what I want. If you make things beautifully, photograph them beautifully, transmit your personality to the world and make yourself available for interaction, people are going to notice you.

Thanks Liz, for the peek into what's worked for you!

I particularly love Liz's point about responding to every query.
What was your favorite part? Share it in the comments!

(Want to share how you craft your business, leave a comment and I'll interview you)

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Danielle is crafting a (whitehot) business

This is the fourth in a series of  interviews with smart people who are crafting a business. Part friendly chat, part case-study, all helpfulness!
If you know someone I should interview (even you!)
let me know.

Today I’m talking to Danielle of WhiteHotTruth. While her business isn't crafty in the make-a-craft-sense, it is entirely handmade, built from scratch and filled to the brim her brightly shining Daneille-ness.
I was delighted to ask Danielle a few questions after devouring her Fire Starter Sessions book. That book (and the thinking and scribbling it provoked) directly led to this site and my favoritist, love-filled  part of my own business.

You combine the visual + the verbal beautifully in your notecards and in your truisms: how did you develop your sense of design?

It gets down to this: strip it down. I haven't always been a champion of simplicity, but I got there, because I got clear that it's all about the message, baby. And judging from your next question (I peeked ahead) you get that too!

Your eye, your style, the layout of everything from notecards to FireStarter Sessions to your website all reflect and highlight the meaning, the message.
And at the same time, it reinforces your brand. Do you think of it as branding? Or something else?

Whenever someone asks me about ‘how I built my brand' I giggle inside. So, nope, I don't think of it as branding…but it is. Confusing? My quick definition of a brand is a persona. Some personas are manufactured for appeal, some personas are a reflection of someone's authentic self. The latter is more sustainable, and fun.

I've got a message, and I focus on being straightforward about it…usually in Helvetica and black & white.

The exercise I found most powerful in the FireStarter Sessions was figuring out what I wanted to feel and then work on bringing those feelings into my work in whatever way I can. It sparks all sorts of crazy ideas and new directions.
How did you discover this method of decision-making?

So glad that worked for you because it's the focus of my next book. It's been a long journey to finally getting to the heart of it: that everything we do is in order the generate a desired feeling. The short answer about how I got there: take years of faking it to make it, too many new age self help books, a heaping does of passion, meditation, and consistent courage, et voila! Conclusion: the best life strategy is to get clear on exactly how you want to feel and set about creating those feelings in every area of your life. Feels…good.

What do you want to feel more of right now?

I always want to feel more innovative, affluent, connected, and…divinely feminine.

You recently wrote that doing what you say your going to do is the secret to success.
How do you make sure you aren't promising things you can't do? How do you set boundaries to respect your capacity?

I say ‘no, thank you' about 80% of the time. I work with some A+ people, so I can focus on what I do best. I pay attention to when I feel inspired, or heavy – and I try not to let heavy get on my to do list. Inspiration is a very simple, but powerful formula.

Thanks Danielle!

If you enjoyed this interview, let Danielle know! She’s @daniellelaporte on Twitter.
My favorite bits of Danielle-wisdom:
  • “Strip it down.”
  • “Inspiration is a very simple, but powerful formula.”
What could you strip down today?
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Rob + Sam are crafting a (photography) business

This is the third in a series of  interviews with smart people who are crafting a business. Part friendly chat, part case-study, all helpfulness!
If you know someone I should interview (even you!)
let me know.

Today I'm talking to my friend Rob, who has the dubious honor of being the first of these interviewees that I knew pre-Blonde Chicken Boutique. In the 6 years I've known him, he married the gorgeous Sam (who I taught to knit!), made an adorable baby (see below) + grew a photographry business.

How'd you get started in photography?

I have liked photography as far back as I can remember. I always like learning a new skill, even if I don't pursue it beyond learning the basics, and both my grandfathers were amateur photographers.

My father is a bit of a photographer, and so when my sister was old enough to start learning photography she took his camera. And he eventually bought a newer, slightly nicer camera. Once I was old enough to start really experimenting with photography I took over that camera. No doubt, in a few years my son will have his eyes on my camera.

For me, it was the first form of art where what I produced matched or approached what I had imagined. My drawings, and later my prints and sculptures, rarely end how I hoped when I started.

What led you to start the business?

I never planned on photography as business.

Photographers become known for their style and themes, and I had a hard time imagining my path to success would be a nationwide fame for documenting my parents' back yard.

My mother is a ceramic artist, and we went to a lot of craft shows.  In my mind, craft show photography and gallery photography were my two choices.
Service photography, I hadn't thought about.  Later I would consider
journalism, portraiture, studio, and event photography, but that all
came after my first professional work.

How it really began…

One day, I go over to my friend Westen's house.  Right after I arrive,
I overhear her mother say,

“It's ok, Rob will take care of it.”
“Hey Westen, what am I going to take care of?”
“Rob, you might be a little annoyed.”
“Why don't you tell me while I make a sandwich.”

A delicious sandwichis very calming, so I started making a sandwich.

“You're going to be my wedding photographer.”
“Westen… there are normally steps, like, ‘Hey Rob, guess what, I'm
engaged' and then maybe a ‘Hey Rob, can you do my wedding photography?' and so I feel like me overhearing you already telling people I'm the photographer is kind of doing it wrong.”
“But that's not what I did.  So now you're my photographer.”
“Okay then.”

And from then on I was a professional wedding photographer.

How has your business changed through the years?

What's changed the most, and continues to change, is the amount of not-photography that my wife and I do as part of the business.

We had a very unique business model for our location when we started.  Sam
was my just girlfriend at the time of the first wedding, but I realized I was in over my head, and needed a partner to help me through.  So we always shoot a wedding with two photographers.  Not a photographer and an assistant, but two full photographers.

And does that make you different from most wedding photographers?

When we moved to Madison, what made us unique in Dayton (2 photographers)  made us part of a regular subset of wedding photographers: husband and wife teams.  So
as I started to realize how much more competition we had, I wondered
what would make us stand out now.

What makes us stand out from photographers in the sames groups?  It's our experience, and how we share it with the customer.  As we learn from each wedding, we are able to share with our customers what we've learned about making the day go smoothly.

We share so much information with our customers, starting right at our
first meeting.  We make sure that we're the right fit for the customer.  As much as we would like everyone to hire us, we have a specific service we offer, and it's not right for everyone.  It's better to make sure you really are the customer's ideal, than to have a large base of unsatisfied customers.

We start fishing out what the customers' are looking for, and giving back to them a sense of how we will be able to meet their needs.  There's a balance that every artist who offers a service has to strike, between flexibility and sticking to who you are.  There are services we will never offer, because that's not who we are, and there services we will do by request only.

Right away we make ourselves clear on who we are, and what we can do for you.  But then we start asking questions about the plan for the whole of the day,  and that's when we really start sharing our non-photography part of the business.  Often our questions are met with “I don't know” and “We haven't talked about that” or “I didn't even know that happened.”

Sam and I have coached couples through cutting the cake.  We've trained ushers.  We've been the phone line from the girls getting ready to the guys getting ready.  I often teach the guys how cuff-links work.  For eight hours, we work with the couple, we work with the videographer, we work with the mc, we work with the officiant.  We become part of the day.  And that knowledge and involvement, grows a little with every wedding.

What has changed about the way you look at your craft, now that it's also a business?

Photography really appeals to me, not in spite of being a business,
but because of being a business.

I am able to earn part of my living capturing moments.

Especially with weddings, Sam and I are able to share scenes from a day to audiences who have personal connection to the images.  The bride and groom get to see what the other was up before the ceremony.  Family get to see pictures of three or four generations of relatives all interacting.  Invited guests who were unable to attend can watch the story of the day.  We, as photographers, effect how the day will be remembered in the years to come, and that's an amazing feeling.

Isn't that delightful?

You can find more about Rob + Sam (along with even more of their gorgeous photos at their website or hang out with them on their Facebook page.

My favorite bits of Rob-wisdom:

  • “There's a balance that every artist who offers a service has to strike, between flexibility and sticking to who you are.  There are services we will never offer, because that's not who we are.”
  • “It's better to make sure you are their ideal, than to have a large base of unsatisfied customers.”
  • “A delicious sandwich is very calming.”

You see? It's all about Right People!

Finding your People starts with paying attention to what you do + don't want to do and making sure you don't take on any clients that expect something else from you.

How do YOU make sure you are working with only your Right People?
Tell us  in the comments!

Lindsay is crafting a (generous) business

This is the third in a series of  interviews with smart people who are crafting a business. Part friendly chat, part case-study, all helpfulness!
If you know someone I should interview (even you!)
let me know.

Today I'm talking to Lindsay of Simon and Ruby, a shop full of gorgeous, handmade jewelry. I was inspired to interview Lindsay after learning she gives freely and generously.

I noticed (right away!) that you give 5% of every purchase to World Vision. I love that! Can you tell us more about why?

I’ve been involved with World Vision in various ways since 1996 or so. Consistently, this support began before I created Simon and Ruby, but I wanted to make sure that I had the means to continue to contribute to an organization that stole my heart.
My husband and I began supporting a little boy from Haiti (who is now not so little) back in 2004. His name is Blondeng and he just turned 16 years old in May. We’ve written back and forth with him for the entire time we’ve been married and we always joke that maybe one day he’ll come visit.

By using proceeds from Simon and Ruby to continue this support, we’ve also been able to give to others in our private lives as well. For a long time, I wanted to go work for World Vision. I truly believe in what they do in communities and would love to be a part of that.

To be involved, even on a small scale, is a huge pleasure for me.

Just to give a little background, World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities providing emergency and hunger relief, long-term community development programs, agricultural development assistance and leadership training. Check them out at: http://www.worldvision.org

I just recently read a quote that said, “Generous people have more to give”. Do you think this is true? How has it been true in your life?

Gosh, I’d love to have more to give than I currently do. I think that if you have a generous heart, you find ways to give, even if you don’t have the financial means. You give your time, your ear, and your energy.

I have a close friend that completely exemplifies this phrase. She’s a consistent inspiration in this regard. She opens her home, her heart, and gives more time and compassion than you can imagine. I think that if you really want to give back, you’ll find a way. Life has this funny way of working out so that you can.

I love your little descriptions about the people you've named the item after (“Rayen learned to do the hula last summer.”) Are these real people? Imaginary people?

The people in my life inspire some of my pieces and anecdotes, but many come from books I read, songs I listen to, or movies that I watch. I’m an avid reader and adore watching movies. Much of my inspiration comes from these.

Does the person inspire you first? Or do you make the item and then name it?

Most of the time, I begin with a color scheme or vague impression of what a character would wear and the design forms from there. I take the inspiration, but the name usually doesn’t come until later. Sometimes I’ll make a piece and look at it later and a friend immediately comes to mind. Then it becomes her necklace.

When I was little, I wanted to be a writer, so the anecdotes that accompany my pieces give me the chance to let out that 12 year old version of myself every once in a while. I’m no Carolyn Keene, so I’ll stick to the basics.

One of the most common questions I get is “How do you manage all the tasks involved in a business? How do you organize your time?” So…how do you?

Hahaha. Time management. I like to think I’m pretty good at it. You have to be. Juggle a full time job, a full time creative passion, your home life, and a few hobbies… you have to become good at it. Otherwise you’ll end up letting something slide. I’m not willing to do that. Each week, I take a look at what needs to be done and make my list. I love making lists. And more than that, I love checking things off my list. Then, I wake up each morning and form a game plan for that day. I’m still learning that sometimes what I think will take an hour actually takes two. Or that phone call in the middle sometimes sets me back a bit. Life finds a way of fitting itself in the cracks. Some days are better than others, luckily I have some very understanding, patient friends and family. One day, I’ll be able to pursue my creative life full time. I imagine my intense schedule won’t be left behind, but at least I won’t have the commute!

If you enjoyed this interview, let Lindsay know! She's @simonandruby on Twitter.

My favorite bits of Lindsay-wisdom:
  • “I think that if you have a generous heart, you find ways to give, even if you don’t have the financial means. You give your time, your ear, and your energy.”
  • “Life finds a way of fitting itself in the cracks.”

You can support World Vision by shopping with Lindsay or (and!)  you can support Pancreatic Cancer research by shopping with any of the generous crafters in Kim Werker's Pancreatic Craftacular (even if you don't plan on shopping, read Kim's story, it's powerful.)

Generosity is hard, especially when your energy is focused on just paying the bills. But I'd like to invite you to join me in challenging ourselves to generosity.
What can you give? What would really stretch you (and your biz)?

Shannon is crafting a (publishing) business

This is the second in a series of  interviews with smart people who are crafting a business. Part friendly chat, part case-study, all helpfulness! If you know someone I should interview (even you!) let me know.

Today I'm delighted to be talking to Shannon Okey of KnitGrrl.com. and Cooperative Press.  Designer, author, publisher, editor; Shannon has done it all in the knit-publishing world and generously shares her expertise in her recently released book, KnitGrrl's Guide to Professional Knitwear Design.

Shannon, let's start with how you got into publishing?

I set up my publishing company a few years ago because I had big plans for my own projects, but the first book we actually published was Purls Forever, by the owner of South West Trading Company, whose yarns I really loved. She was getting barraged by publishers who wanted to work with her, yet didn't want to include what she thought made her book idea so unique and valuable. It's that whole “water it down to appeal to a broader audience” conundrum… yes, you MIGHT appeal to more potential readers, but there are so many overly-general books out there already.

I want specificity and personality! I suppose those two things are what have really driven my move into independent publishing.

(Note I say “independent” and not “self” publishing, because my company Cooperative Press is not just doing books by yours truly).

Do you suggest new knitwear designers go the self-publishing route first or build a reputation through other publishers?

I think these days they might not have a choice! The economy has driven many larger publishers to scale back, and it isn't as easy to get a contract as it once was. I know that there's an argument to be made for the PR value of having a big company behind you, but after the initial release, you're pretty much on your own and it either sells or it doesn't. If you're the one in charge of making sure people know about the book (through good social media use, getting out there to events, etc), you're personally invested, and you're more likely to do a good job of it.

Don't get me wrong, you need to allocate a decent amount of time to marketing, but you'd be doing much of the same even if a big publisher put out your book. I'm not going to be quiet about my book on Twitter and Facebook and Ravelry or whatever just because Big Publisher X's PR people are out there promoting it, too.

What about writers?

The craft niche is a unique one — we have a fairly small circle of places for people to find out about things. Print knit magazines, Ravelry, Knitty, the popular knitblogs, etc. If you're a novelist, it's going to be a little more difficult, unless you are already well known or unless you have a very very very specific audience you can target. (See: Debbie Macomber and her knit-related books).

However, it really boils down to quality — if your work is good, and people like it, word will get around! Give them tools to recommend your book to other people, whether it's offering up a sample chapter they can send to their friends (with ordering info at the end, of course! think Kindle and how they offer samples of their books), or planning an interesting online event, or…?

So which comes first: building an audience or self-publishing?

It definitely helps to have SOME kind of audience going in, but as I said, if your work is good and you help people to spread the word on your behalf, you'll GET an audience.

Is this changing as the industry (both yarn industry and publishing industry) changes?

I think so. I think people are more willing to purchase independently-published work now than they once were, and I think that pattern PDFs had a lot to do with it! The convenience coupled with the large selection of items available online (thousands upon thousands more patterns than you could buy in print magazines, for example) influenced purchasing behavior for hundreds of thousands of consumers around the world. I suspect that companies who don't offer digital options will see people moving to the ones who do — it's important to assess what your customers want, after all.

Why did you self-publish your latest book?

It's a topic no big publisher would touch, it's too niche-y. Despite the fact there are 5200+ people in the Designers group on Ravelry (and if every single one of them bought a PDF copy of my book, I think I'd earn more than I've made on my 12 big publisher books combined), there's this assumption that designers — and people who want to be designers — are in the minority. Spend some time on Ravelry and then tell me that's true. (Hint: it isn't).

In addition, this book (ignore the title!) holds plenty of solid information for creative professionals of all kinds, so there's an even bigger potential audience than those 5,200 people. I don't think a book needs to sell 50,000 copies in order to be a success. It's about getting the right information to the people who need it when they need it.

What have you learned from self-publishing (marketing, business skills)?

I know a lot more know about ebook file formats than I ever thought I would! The marketing skills I already had, I was just pushing them into a different direction. My new challenge has been forming the right relationships with distributors so we can get into more of the craft chain stores, etc.

Other than the scale of the project, what has been different from publishing your own patterns, to publishing a whole book?

It's much the same — you have a lot of prep work followed by doublechecking everything over ten times, staying in touch with various people (for example, all the people I interviewed in the latter half of the book), designing the layout, figuring out how to optimize the PDF version, etc!

Thanks Shannon, for answering all my questions, I've learned tons!

My favorite bits of Shannon-wisdom, that apply to ANY business:
  • “I want specificity and personality!”
  • “It really boils down to quality — if your work is good, and people like it, word will get around!”
  • “I suspect that companies who don't offer digital options will see people moving to the ones who do — it's important to assess what your customers want, after all.”

If you are a knitwear designer who'd like some help getting published, definitely check out the book and Shannon's Get Published! class.

Heidi is crafting a business

This is the first of what I hope will become a regular-ish feature: an interview with someone crafting a business. Part friendly chat, part case-study, all helpfulness! If you know someone I should interview (even you!) let me know.

I am super excited to share a look into how Heidi Fischbach of Heidi's Table and Aardvark Essentials crafts her business. She is a massage therapist, a potion-maker and a delightful writer. We talk a bit about the elusive “multiple streams of income” and speaking to your Right People, even when it's scary.

First, you work with an aardvark. Can you please explain?

The aardvark wasn't in the plans. Actually, there weren't ever big plans, just an idea that turned me on and then doing the next thing. I didn't even know, really, what an aardvark looked like. But I must have known someplace in my subconscious because there one was, one night, in my dream, tagging along beside me, and then, after I tried to give him the slip–I had much more important things to focus on thank you very much–he jumped up and bit my hand, all, don't you be ignoring me, missy!

He appeared in my dream when I'd been experimenting with my lotions and potions over a couple months, and the initial excitement had worn off. I was discouraged and feeling alone with my idea, thinking I might just scrap the whole thing. But he, this aardvark, would not let me.

He bit me so hard in the dream that it woke me up. In the morning I became curious about aardvarks and found out many things, including how they have all these qualities I'd been trying to nurture in myself or that simply were vital to my idea.

For one, they have a super thick skin. How thick? Well, they can stick their tongue into a nest of termites or red ants and feed, impervious to the insects' stings. I wanted to develop a thicker skin so that I'd do what I wanted to already and quit worrying about what people thought of me.

For two, they have a very keen sense of smell. In my business I'd learn to trust my keen sense of smell: knowing when a potion I'm working on is done, or when it needs a little more of this or that.

And three, aardvarks are native to Africa, which is where the Shea tree, from which the seeds are harvested for shea butter, grows. Shea butter is a key ingredient in the creams I make.

Your business is fascinating because it includes several aspects of you in a cohesive whole. Did you decide to branch out like this on purpose? Or did it happen by chance?

It wasn't so much a conscious decision, as the fact that I am someone who loves to have multiple streams, period. I love being stimulated by new ideas, new places, new ways of seeing things. I stagnate a bit if I'm sitting on my butt doing the same thing over and over day in and day out.

Also, massage therapy is a profession that tends to see its therapists burn out rather quickly. I read and observed this trend, and noticed that it seemed to apply mainly to therapists practicing what their employers defined as full time, employers who probably weren't themselves bodyworkers, who didn't know the energy, the love, the passion and the in-between-clients-schlepping and footwork that our work involves…

I did not ever want to see just another body on my table, which is what happens to me if I see too many people in a day. Rather, I want to approach each client from a curious and open place, ready to listen for their you-ness, and to have my senses finely tuned to the unique way in which their body is expressing the stuff of their life, including all its pain, discomfort, and stuckness. I knew that if I saw 5 or 6 people a day, 5 days a week I'd become a machine, and, a quickly expiring one at that.

Mixing potions started when I decided to make my own massage cream. The woman that had been making them for me moved away and I really didn't want to go back to the commercial, mass-produced, full of preservatives, stuff. I love the idea of knowing exactly what is in and where what I put on my body, or on my client's, comes from. Calling them “potions” is my way of honoring the emotional and energetic component of the tension in our bodies, without getting all preachy-teachy and long-scientific-wordy. I get to be playful and leave lots of room for magic, which is what I call the mysterious, I-have-no-idea-how-it-really-works-but-it-does quality of potions.

Writing hasn't provided me too much income, per se. However, I do write my own webcopy so in that way it is an indirect stream. Writing about the potion-characters is probably my favorite part of my Aardvark Essentials business . That and creating/concocting the potions. The day may come when someone else mixes the creams, packages and ships the boxes, and takes care of all the technological backend of my business (oh please may that day come soon!), but the writing and the potion-creating? I don't see handing those over to anyone anytime soon. I have far too much fun with those.

Do the various aspects enhance each other, while you work? Or do you feel like you're spread thin to keep them all in the air?

They do enhance one another, and I also sometimes feel spread too thin.

It's a tricky balance and being mindful of it continues to be a challenge. It, my business and balancing things, is one of my greatest teachers and my body lets me know when things are out of whack. If I'd known the amount of time and effort and middle-of-the-night thinking (er, worrying) that starting and running a business would involve, I don't know if I'd have done it. But, here I am. It happens, one little movement at a time, and at some point you notice that all the huge things are but a string of one-little-movements, right?

It is also crucial to have people you love and trust cheering you on, at hand when you freak out. They believe in you and your baby-idea even when you say it's crap because it's 2 in the morning and you got a weird order of shea butter from your supplier, and it's Christmas, and you just launched, and how in the world are you ever going to fill all your brand new orders and make shea butter souffle from that! Yeah, I could not do any of this alone, even though at the end of the day it is me and me. And the aardvark, of course! (He is the calm, by the way. The matter o' fact voice of, “now we do this, Heidi.” And too, he delivers potions to our people. OK, via USPS, but still. I like to picture him all decked out and channeling Snoopy in goggles in a little propeller plane, flying around the world to drop off people's orders.)

Your entire site (everything you do!) speaks so clearly with YOUR voice and your writing is utterly delicious. Does this come naturally or has this been a challenge?

Trying to change myself into what I think people want and then writing from that place is energy-crushing. Not to say it's always easy, but writing in my own voice is actually much more filled with ease than bending, pushing, pulling and second guessing myself to fit into a dress that is too small. Besides, I probably don't even like that dress called “other approval” anyway, you know? If I am writing the way I think you will like me to sound, about the things I think the market or you or Aunt Mildred or whoever thinks are cool or acceptable, and what I'm writing is not really me, then I might as well go back to 9 – 5 jobs I didn't love, writing for other people about stuff that mattered to them.

In my own reading, I love getting a sense of the writer and who s/he is. That's when I feel a connection, and for me, everything pretty much always boils down to connection. What connects me to myself? What connects me to you? What connects me to this our amazing world? I notice that impersonal and technical language makes my eyes glaze over… hunh? wha–? Technical jargon and fancy for the sake of fancy, leaves me feeling far away from whatever it is I'm reading.

Plus, if I were to write just what I think people want to hear, in a voice I am bending to be what I think they will approve, in the end, who is it they like? Not me, that's for sure. The irony is that if I'm writing from my me-ness, I am much more likely to please and connect with my “right people.” You know?

I may be making this sound easier than it is. Often I still care a whole lot about what people will think. One difference is that I tend to notice much sooner than I used to. And once I've noticed, then I can be with that part of me. She's usually young, and she tends to feel alone. It is for me to take care of her, not you, not my readers. There must be something she needs, even if nothing more than my company. It comes back to connection, again.

Oh, I love how you put that…being with the part of you that is uncomfortable and then figuring out what she needs. That seems like an ultra-important step in the sometimes scary process of connecting with your Right People.
Do you have any tricks or tips for tapping into that YOU-ness before you write something business-y? In the hard (practical) OR soft (inner work)?

In “the soft” , I notice the place from which I'm writing. Am I feeling insecure, wanting people to pat me on the back or validate me? If so, there is stuff inside me that needs my presence and attention before I publish that thing. I probably need to attend to myself and some unmet needs, so that I don't end up putting them onto my readers.

In “the hard” (meaning practical, actionable, maybe physical steps… more concrete) I might put on some of my potions. Maybe Night Queen, for confident passion. Or Sassypants, to say it like it is. Or I take care of the animal me. By that I mean my physical body, which I've grown to appreciate immensely for its wisdom and straightforwardness. My physical body needs movement. She needs fresh air. She needs food. She needs a lovely environment. And she lets me know, in various ways–discomforts get my attention the quickest–when I'm not taking care of myself well.

When I'm writing a “sales page” for, say, one of my potions, I don't think of it as writing a sales page. Ugh! Or, yawn! I think of it as writing an “About Me” or a bio page for her, or him. And yes, I think of my potions as characters with qualities I want more of. Who is this potion, I might ask myself? What was the hard thing going on for me that inspired her creation? And then I tell the story. My “right people” can relate. There's a way it feels like their story too. Who doesn't “lose it” at times? Who doesn't bite their tongue and worry about what others think? Who doesn't get exhausted? And if they relate and like the story, maybe they'll want to meet my potion characters in person!

Havi Brooks taught me so much about this whole matter of starting and running a business. From her learned that I don't ever have to write a “sales page.” And to step back and identify what I love and what works for me. And to call what I do whatever the heck I want.

Sidenote from Tara: yes! Totally call it what you want! I brunch (instead of launch) and I bake (instead of writing a sales page)

Thanks so much for agreeing to do this! I've loved getting a glimpse into how you work!

Thank YOU, Tara. I love doing this! It helps me understand my business and myself better. And, I'm super excited to connect with your people. I do believe I adore them already.

My favorite bits of Heidi-wisdom?
  • “I want to approach each client from a curious and open place, ready to listen for their you-ness”
  • “If I'd known the amount of time and effort and middle-of-the-night thinking (er, worrying) that starting and running a business would involve, I don't know if I'd have done it. But, here I am. It happens, one little movement at a time, and at some point you notice that all the huge things are but a string of one-little-movements, right?”
  • “Writing in my own voice is actually much more filled with ease than bending, pushing, pulling and second guessing myself to fit into a dress that is too small.”
What did you learn? What was your favorite bit? Share it in the comments!

Who You Know – Diane’s Story

In celebration of our upcoming class about Who You Know, Diane and I are sharing our own stories about how getting to know some awesome people has resulted in biggification.

Check out Diane's story (and my ridiculous responses) here:

If you are completely smitten with Diane, after watching this silliness, you can get to know her better at CraftyPod.com

And if you're interested in getting to know people in your industry, you can check out the class here.

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