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5 Income Reports from Handmade Businesses

realnumbersfromahandmadebusiness

Last week I shared the income reports from knitwear designers and this week I’ve gathered up the data from makers who sell a product. These numbers were self-reported in my Real Numbers Project Survey, which was completely anonymous. Please remember, before you dive into the numbers, stop to think about what you can learn from the numbers.

This batch of reports has a much bigger range in income AND in lessons from the numbers.

First, let’s look at an overview:

Gross sales (before expenses) per month:

  • 15% businesses with $0
  • 25%  businesses under $300 (there were several people who said they considered this a “hobby”, and I’ve taken them out of the results)
  • 31% business between $300 – $1000
  • 21% businesses between $1000 – $10,000
  • 8% businesses over $10,000

Next, we’ll look at some real numbers, from the youngest, the oldest (and most profitable!) and two that represent the middle. After the reports, I’ll share the findings I found most interesting.

 

Youngest business:

What do you make or sell?
branded stationery and gifts

How do you sell it?
online to customers, wholesale or consignment

How long?
7 months

Do you consider this a business or a hobby?
business

How long have you been dedicated to working on it as a business?
12 months

What was your gross income last month?
$0

How much were your expenses last month?
$500

What was your net revenue?
$-500

Was last month a normal month?
Normal – I’m working on a full launch over the summer and into the fall.

What aren’t the numbers telling me?
That presently the focus is on getting the branding right, the product line more established. We are working on building “trust equity” with our audience before we start any kind of focus on sales and we understand things take time.

What else do you measure month-to-month?
social media followers

Do you focus more on a metric other than money?
Trust and loyalty. We are working on building and sustaining an audience that is loyal to our values and the brand’s values.

Where do you think most of your sales come from?
Etsy

What kind of marketing do you do?
Social media via Hootsuite

How do YOU feel about the money in your business?
It’s fine, and exactly where it was expected to be.

What’s your goal for your business, big picture? Where do you want it to be?
To be a thought leading brand within the “tribe” that is our audience.

How do you feel about that?
Confident. Much of our research has been about understanding the needs and aspirations of the group.

What was it like answering these questions? How do you feel?
Felt fine, nothing particularly surprising…

Is there something in particular you think helped move your business forward?
Building trust with the core audience.

Was there anything that you’ve tried that just did NOT work for you?
Overselling, maybe? In other words, overdoing social media selling … Otherwise, nothing yet.

 

Example of Average Biz #1:

What do you make or sell?
pottery

How do you sell it?
online to customers – wholesale or consignment
in person at events – farmer’s markets, craft shows, etc.

How long?
2 years

Do you consider this a business or a hobby?
business

How long have you been dedicated to working on it as a business?
1 year

What was your gross income last month?
$309.10

How much were your expenses last month?
$360.37

What was your net revenue?
-$51.27

Was last month a normal month?
Higher than usual for not having a craft show in the month … being almost exclusively Etsy sales (almost all custom orders).  Lower than the average month that has a craft show.

What aren’t the numbers telling me?
$290.00 of the expenses was prepaying for 2 large craft shows much later in the year which are very well attended … my first time participating in such large shows. So my expenses that actually relate to the last month are actually only $70.37.

What else do you measure month-to-month?
Total number of individual sales

Where do you think most of your sales come from?
craft shows

What kind of marketing do you do?
Facebook and Instagram several times per week.

How do YOU feel about the money in your business?
It is growing at a slow but steady pace.

What’s your goal for your business, big picture? Where do you want it to be?
This year is a test.  My goal is to make enough with my pottery business to take one day per week off from my day job next year, growing that to 2 days in a few years until eventually I can work just a couple of days per week at a day job and focus on growing my business.

How do you feel about that?
Some days I feel that it is too slow, and that in order to grow the business, I need to be taking time off work now … but I need to make sure the market is there before I can take the jump.

What was it like answering these questions? How do you feel?
Nothing really surprised me as I have been thinking about these things from my reading and listening to podcasts (thank you Tara Swiger).

Anything else you want to tell me or your fellow creatives about your numbers or how you feel about them?
For most people who participate in craft shows, I don’t think looking at one month individually is a very accurate depiction of profit vs expenses because it seems that all of the craft shows for the year have to be paid for in a period of about 2-3 months – and usually before any of them actually start.  I only do about 6 craft shows or so per year, and 5 of them need to be paid for in the March – May window, even though the first one doesn’t start until mid-April.  I am tracking my numbers over the period of 1 year to see if I reach my “magic number” by the end of the year  (so far, I’m almost – but not quite – on track to reach it).

Is there something in particular you think helped move your business forward?
Plain and simply dedicating more time to my small business. Since December or January, I have made a conscious effort to do “something” each day for my business … whether that be making new products, advertising, listing on Etsy, working on packaging or branding, etc. This is done every evening and on weekends as I still  have a day job.

Was there anything that you’ve tried that just did NOT work for you?
Facebook does not work very well for me as I do not have many followers so far. With each show that I do, my audience grows, but only a handful at a time.

 

Example of Average Biz #2:

What do you make or sell?
fabric purses & wallets

How do you sell it?
online to customers
events

How long?
8 years

Do you consider this a business or a hobby?
business

How long have you been dedicated to working on it as a business?
8 years

What was your gross income last month?
$1522

How much were your expenses last month?
$389

What was your net revenue?
$1133

What did you do with the profit, if there was any?
pay the rent & other living expenses

Was last month a normal month?
Last month was the highest non-holiday month I’ve ever had.

What else do you measure month-to-month?
total number of individual sales

Do you focus more on a metric other than money?
Looking at where I was last year, two years & five years & ten years ago and seeing how far I’ve come.

Where do you think most of your sales come from?
people searching for my products on Etsy

What kind of marketing do you do?
Twitter, newsletter, Facebook, word of mouth, some yearly craft shows.

How do YOU feel about the money in your business?
I’m very discouraged that I make so little income for all the time and work I do.

What’s your goal for your business, big picture? Where do you want it to be?
I want for my business to pay for all of my expenses.

How do you feel about that?
I’ve seen improved sales these past weeks and I’m continuing to improve and expand my product line & improve as a seamstress, so I think that it’s realistic.  However I often have days, weeks & months where it does not seem or feel realistic at all.

What was it like answering these questions? How do you feel?
It felt good to talk realistically. I rarely (pretty much never) talk realistically about numbers with anyone, since the few times I have people have said discouraging things to me like “I should consider living in a homeless shelter.”

Is there something in particular you think helped move your business forward?
Re-branding my business last year from using recycled fabrics to using new fabrics.

Was there anything that you’ve tried that just did NOT work for you?
Blog features and giveaways, don’t think this led to any sales, really.


Highest Net
(Note, this is ALSO the longest-in-business):

What do you make or sell?
Waldorf toys

How do you sell it?
online to customers, wholesale or consignment

How long have you been dedicated to working on it as a business?
21 years

What was your gross income last month?
$50,000

How much were your expenses last month?
$30,000

What was your net revenue?
$20,000

What did you do with the profit, if there was any?
We reinvest in inventory.

Was last month a normal month?
That’s the monthly average.

Where do you think most of your sales come from?
stores/wholesale

What kind of marketing do you do?
blog, email, FB, IG

How do YOU feel about the money in your business?
We need more sales.

*****

Isn’t that interesting?

 

What’s even more fascinating is the broad range of reactions people have to their income and where they want to go. I asked, “How do you feel about your goal?” and this a sampling of responses:

“Looks like it will happen, I’m optimistic!” -a business that had $6 profit

‘I’m pretty confident that I can get there. I’m still figuring out what sells best, where my sweet spot is for the profit margin, and how to build my customer base.” – a business that had -$160 profit

“It is a little scary to put this is writing. I’m worried about judgement by others….and my own judgement of my progress towards my goal.” – a business with over $900 in profit

“Excited? Scared? It’s always a bit scary when you change direction…”  – a business with $1076 in profit

 

What I hope you see here is that the happiness or contentedness of the answerer aren’t correlated with the income (or “success”) of the person’s business. Instead, they are related to that person’s goal and where they think they “should” be by now. People making $0/month and $1000/month both wrote that they felt doubt and worry. People making $0 and $15,000 both felt excited and encouraged. You see, it’s not the numbers that matter, it’s what you choose to do with what you can learn from the numbers.

 

Another important piece to note is how (un)comfortable people are in looking at their real numbers. When I asked how people felt after answering the questions, they said:

“I don’t like to think too deep about my business – it’s scary and it makes it feel very real. I don’t like to answer in depth questions, I like to just go with the flow and be surprised by the results. That way I can never be disappointed. But it’s not the best strategy.” -business with $0 in sales

“Good! Nothing surprised me, but it’s always good to have to answer these questions. It makes me think. It makes me make sure that’s really how I feel, what I want, etc. And it helps me get crisper on my goals and why they are my goals.”

“I feel fine, but only because Starship had helped reign in my focus, helped me recognize where I am right now and what I need to do to get where I want to be.” – business with over $500 in sales

“It’s great to reflect on this topic. Its something I hadn’t given enough thought to in the past. Writing it down here made me realise how much I want this to work.“  -business with $1,000 in sales

“I always feel a little bad about not being great at business when i think about the money, but since I took your Pay Yourself e-course winter 2014 I have really tackled this money issue head on and made big changes to help push me toward financial sustainability.” -business with $1,009 in sales

 

I also noticed that of the business owners who made more than $1,000/month, NONE of them were suprised by the numbers – in fact, they all had the numbers easy to gather, while businesses who made less than $300 had to spend more time gathering the numbers, and many of them were unsure of their exact expenses, or the answers to some of the marketing questions. One way of looking at this is that people who don’t make very much per month don’t feel pressured to keep up with it. But I’ve learned by working with students long-term that the very act of getting on top of your profit margin increases your sales. When you know your expenses, you’re sure to price right. And when you know what you made in one month, you can make changes (and measure the results!) to increase your sales next month.

Or as one Starship Captain said in the survey (who had a net profit of $6,129 in March):  “Keeping close track of my sales vs. expenses has helped me streamline my process and keep me profitable. It’s also allowed me to plan for realistic growth.”

 

If you don’t know your numbers, I strongly recommend that you take a moment now and do the math.
You can use Pay Yourself to learn how to do the math, and to identify the profit margin of your products and your business’s break even point.

It’s my hope that this Real Number Project has given you a dose of reality and encouragement. I’ve heard from so many of you that you’ve loved it, and that thrills me! Please remember not to compare yourself, but to learn what you can, and then get back to doing your own work.

If you feel overwhelmed by all you could do to improve your numbers, let’s cut through the overwhelm.  I’ll be sharing (free!) resources about the only things you need to worry about (so you can ignore everything else!), with everyone who’s interested in Lift Off – a program that guides you through building the foundations (including profitability) in your business.

5 Income Reports for Knit/Crochet Designers

RealNumbersblogpost

You know I love Income Reports, right? I love reading what’s actually happening in a small business, and I love that people will just share these numbers with us!
Now, not everyone wants to put their income on their website, nor does it make sense for them to! But this means that there are lots of income reports from businesses-who-sell-business-advice but not a lot from other makers.

I set out to remedy that a few weeks ago, and launched the Real Numbers Project. Over 50 (!) of your fellow makers submitted their numbers, and now it’s time to take a look at the results!

I’ve thought long and hard about how to share this info with you, so that it’s as useful to you as possible. I decided to split the responses into two categories: designers (those who sell patterns) + finished-goods makers. There were other businesses who submitted their numbers (thanks!) but not enough to (yet!) put together a comprehensive look at the numbers.

This week I’m sharing the Income Reports of Designers (all of them happen to be knitwear/crochet designers) and next week I’ll send Income Reports of finished-goods makers.

A few things to remember: These numbers represent a TINY slice of possible designers. These are the people who either read my blog, or were sent here by a friend, so I can tell you that they are overwhelmingly women, ages 30-60, who have a college degree or higher, who are VERY comfortable online. That means these numbers don’t represent the many makers who make a living primarily offline.

I chose to share information from the youngest business, the highest and the lowest numbers that were shared with me, along with a few that represented the majority of respondents (both in sales numbers and time in business.) Based on the emails and comments I received, those with the truly lowest numbers (those who are making no money from their business) chose not to fill out the survey. So you should assume that many people make $0. In other words, these numbers aren’t a representative sample of everyone trying to make it as a knitwear designer, they are representative of the people who are making some money as knitwear designers.

Now, before you start reading the numbers, I want you to be aware of two things as you read:

  • How do you feel? (Be aware of the Comparison Game, jealousy or disbelief!)
  • What can you learn from this business?

Let’s jump in:

The Youngest Business

What do you sell?
Knitting patterns
How long have you been in business?
8 months

How long have you been dedicated to working on it as a business?
3.5 months

What was your gross income from your business last month?
$174.00

How much were your expenses last month?
$150.21

What was your net income?
$23.79

Was the last month normal?
Slightly higher

What else aren’t the numbers telling us?
I am still purchasing educational materials to learn more skills.

How do YOU feel about the money in your business?
Hopeless, although I suspect I might be selling more than others who have only been going a few months.

{Tara’s note: Do you see how this maker feels hopeless even though she has an actual profit, after just 3 months of focus? This is totally normal! Use this as a reminder to catch yourself when you start to lose perspective!}

What else do you measure month-to-month?
I track email subscribers, social media followers and number of individual sales.

Where do you think most of your sales come from?
Hard to say. Promoting helps I think but I’m trying so many things I’m not entirely sure which is having the most effect.

If you care about something more than sales, what is that specific number?
Email subscribers to my newsletter is important – 463 signed up since Jan.

What kind of marketing do you do? How do you spread the word about your work?
Instagram, Facebook, (automatically sends Instagram to Twitter), blog, podcast, new Ravelry group.

Is there something in particular that you feel helped your business move forward?
The gradual shift towards believing I could do it. I’ve been a stay at home mum for over a decade so part of it has been readjusting my beliefs that I’m “working,” not just avoiding housework. I’m not there yet! It’s also a major career change from my job before kids so I am working hard at convincing myself that I can actually do this.

Was there anything that you’ve tried that just did NOT work for you?
It might be too early to say yet. I am doing a scattergun approach to marketing – sort of – and will narrow things down as I figure out what works and what I actually like doing.

What’s your goal for your business, big picture? Where do you want it to be?
I want to be able to earn a reasonable income from home so I have flexibility for my children. I would love for my job to encompass more than just designing, I’m working at writing, too, and hope to get work from that. I’d like variety. I’m giving myself a few years to see how this works out.

How do you feel about that?
I feel slightly frustrated that I’m at the beginning, yet that’s also exciting. My biggest challenge is time management. And juggling my existing full time job as a mother! I’ve just hired a cleaner to come once a week. I have got to start making some money! I’m desperately needing to produce more patterns both to get a bigger portfolio and also to learn more. I’m also still finding my style so I’m expecting it’ll be a while before I get any real traction.

What was it like answering these questions? How do you feel?
I’m feeling such a mixture of feelings. My suspicion is that lots of new designers are slower to earn money – but maybe I’m deluded about that?! So a part of me is pleased that I’m earning anything at all. But on the other hand I wonder if it appears I’m doing better than I am so I feel a bit of a fraud. I have a deep feeling that I can do this but I need time. The day to day chugging along is becoming more familiar – although a little voice is telling me I might be putting in lots of effort for a pipedream – that only a few people make money in this business. Confused much?!

 

A typical responder (about half the responses were similar)

What do you sell?
knitting patterns

How do you sell it?
Ravelry

How long have you been in business?
5 years

How long have you been dedicated to working on it as a business?
about 4 years (but only on evenings and weekends)

What was your gross income from your business last month?
$200

How much were your expenses last month?
$2

{Tara’s note: This made me wonder if they counted Paypal fees, website hosting, or anything else?}

What was your net income?
$198

Was the last month normal?
About average. Summer is worse and Nov / Dec is better.

How do YOU feel about the money in your business?
I don’t think I earn enough for the hours I put in..

What else do you measure month-to-month?
Total NUMBER of individual sales

Do you focus more on a metric other than money?
Fun. Knitting, designing and selling make me happy. I love seeing people knit my patterns. The cash I make allows me to spend on expensive yarn guilt free.

What kind of marketing do you do? How do you spread the word about your work?
Facebook, Ravelry groups, Pinterest. I don’t do much marketing other than being present on social media and engaging with customers. I get a lot of word of mouth recommendations that way.

Is there something in particular that you feel helped your business move forward?
Being brave enough to submit to magazines. The income is more reliable and I reach more potential customers in a different marketplace.

Was there anything that you’ve tried that just did NOT work for you?
Blogging. I feel uncomfortable and I don’t enjoy it enough to make time to do it regularly. I’m much happy chattering on Facebook and posting tutorials on my website.

What’s your goal for your business, big picture? Where do you want it to be?
I want to retire early (in about 20 years time). I have pensions which will provide the bulk of my income but I would like knitting pattern sales to provide a reliable income for treats.
In the meantime I want it to keep me in yarn & patterns.

What was it like answering these questions?
I did Pay Yourself so I understand where I am and I’m OK about it.

Anything else you want to tell me or other creatives about your numbers or your feelings about them?
I don’t ever expect knitting to provide a living wage. I treat this like a business but it’s really a hobby that pays.

{This is super important to note! She’s clear about the kind of business she wants, and what she expects from it!}

The Lowest Net (but look at the gross and the reason why!)

What do you sell?
PDF patterns, some kits, tools, supplies

How long have you been in business?
4 years

What was your gross income from your business last month?
$5,823.27

How much were your expenses last month?
$6,601.32

What was your net income?
$-778.05

Was the last month normal?
Pretty normal for a March for me, up 20% from last year which is my goal for this year most every month.

What else aren’t the numbers telling us?
I made a downpayment last month on a new website – a huge investment for me. It’s going to eat all my income for the next few months (actually – it will cost the entire 20% increase in my gross projected for this year) but it will pay off for years to come. I’m very excited about taking this step!

How do YOU feel about the money in your business?
Awesome! I’m actually making a living at this!

Where do you think most of your sales come from?
my newsletter subscribers and regular customers

What kind of marketing do you do? How do you spread the word about your work?
Almost entirely by newsletter. I have almost 7500 subscribers and that’s increasing by about 300 every month. I use Facebook to chat with customers and Twitter to chat with colleagues. My YouTube videos also drive a lot of traffic.

What’s your goal for your business, big picture? Where do you want it to be?
In four years I want my average gross monthly revenue to be $10,000.

How do you feel about that?
Like it’s pretty doable. Last year my goal was to double my sales and I did that. If I can increase 20% a year for the next four years I’ll be there – and I’m on track for that so far this year.

What was it like answering these questions? How do you feel?
I feel so PROUD that I have a thriving and growing business that brings such satisfaction to so many people!

{YAY!}

Anything else you want to tell me or other creatives about your numbers or your feelings about them?
Don’t rely on anyone else to bring you business. My shop is self hosted and I don’t rely on Facebook or anyone else’s algorithms. I built my customers one by one. That seems really slow when you’re starting – but it’s pretty incredible how those single customers add up.

 

A typical responder (the other half of middle responses were similar)

What do you sell?
Knowledge: Patterns, Authorship, Workshops, Consulting

How long have you been in business?
3 + years

What was your gross income from your business last month?
$1,616

How much were your expenses last month?
$353

What was your net income?
$1,260

Was the last month normal?
Average gross sales are about $2,200

What else aren’t the numbers telling us?
I am overly cautious with investment in the business. Don’t spend what I don’t have. My main commodity is TIME.

How do YOU feel about the money in your business?
I’m happy to have turned a profit from day one, but still struggle with getting enough for capital investments and bigger risks

What else do you measure month-to-month?

  • Website traffic
  • Email subscribers
  • Social media followers

Do you focus on something other than money? What’s that number?
Engagement numbers—mailing list, social media
300 email subscribers—want 1,000 by end of year

Where do you think most of your sales come from?
Mentions online, my own blog posts and newsletters

What kind of marketing do you do? How do you spread the word about your work?
email newsletter, blog, social media (Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube), trade shows, teaching, publishing projects

Is there something in particular that you feel helped your business move forward?
Networking with other small business owners and not being afraid to let my petticoats show.

Was there anything that you’ve tried that just did NOT work for you?
Trying to work with folks that don’t understand the maker market—big box marketing. Folks whose heart is in Marketing with a capital M and not Making with a capital M.

What’s your goal for your business, big picture? Where do you want it to be?
To be able to support my monetary, social, and emotional obligations to my family while working as a freelancer in a small town with very few other opportunities in my field (or any field). I’d like to double my business income over the next two years and keep my expenses to about a quarter of my income.

How do you feel about that?
Like it’s pretty doable. Last year my goal was to double my sales and I did that. If I can increase 20% a year for the next four years I’ll be there – and I’m on track for that so far this year.

What was it like answering these questions? How do you feel?
That I really do have a plan!

{YAY!}

Anything else you want to tell me or other creatives about your numbers or your feelings about them?
I feel very lucky to be able to pursue my goals.  

 

The Highest Numbers:

What do you do?
I’m a knitwear designer, instructor, author and run a craft website.

What do you sell?
Patterns, yarn-based products

How long have you been in business?
7 years

What was your gross income from your business last month?
$14,500

How much were your expenses last month?
$5,800

What was your net income?
$8,666

Was the last month normal?
There are higher and lower months, but this is a pretty normal month.

What else aren’t the numbers telling us?
It’s incredibly hard to make a living selling $5 patterns. This number includes income from books (which have been written over a number of years), classes as well as product sold on my site, including a subscription-based product.
How do YOU feel about the money in your business?
I’m pleased.

What else do you measure month-to-month?
Social media followers + email subscribers

Where do you think most of your sales come from?
My website

Do you focus more on a metric other than money?
Yes, I definitely care far more about the spare time/flexibility I have, because my life is more important than cash :)

What kind of marketing do you do? How do you spread the word about your work?
Only organic tweeting/blogging/stuff. Very little paid advertising (prolly $40 total in Rav ads)

Is there something in particular that you feel helped your business move forward?
My Craftsy class was a huge leap forward, mostly in terms of street cred. Having a subscription-based service has also helped tremendously in terms of providing a more steady/reliable income.

Was there anything that you’ve tried that just did NOT work for you?
More complicated patterns are NOT what my customers are interested in. Giving away a free pattern also didn’t work well, because I find that folks looking for a free pattern are looking for free and don’t convert into buying patterns.

What’s your goal for your business, big picture? Where do you want it to be?
It’s my happiness. I want to keep a flexible schedule and have a job that’s intellectually interesting.

What was it like answering these questions? How do you feel?
I usually ask myself these same questions :)

Anything else you want to tell me or other creatives about your numbers or your feelings about them?
Having a business takes a long time to build. I’ve talked to lots of people in this industry, and no one is making a living because they ‘had a lucky break’. Luck may play into one pattern release, but a successful business is the result of hard work and persistence.

**

So, what did you learn? Did this give you ideas (or clarity) for your own business?

Remember, there is no good or bad, it’s all just data. There’s what you want and what you don’t want.
But you have to have your own data. If you don’t know your numbers, Pay Yourself will walk you through figuring it all out.

Above all, I hope this showed you that you can build whatever kind of business you want, as long as you know what it is and you’re ready to commit to the work it’ll take.

PS. A GIANT thank you to those who shared their numbers so generously. As I hope you can see, your numbers provide both reality and encouragement to others who are struggling.

The Myth of a Big Audience

themythofabigaudience

Last week on the podcast, I shared an interview I did with Blair Stocker at Craftcation. Although I played it cool in the show notes, I have been a HUGE fan of Blair’s, for years. The same is true for this week’s podcast guest, Kim Werker. I remember the first time I connected with Kim was when I commented on her Flickr (!) photo and SHE COMMENTED BACK. I was so excited! We eventually became Twitter friends and real-life friends. Ah, the magic of the Internet!

I share this with you because as grateful as I am for Internet relationships, I’ve become increasingly aware of how dangerous (to your business growth) they can be.

You feel like you know the person you’re reading and watching. And if they’re being honest and authentic, you probably do know them a fair bit. (The best part of being myself (and not a fancier, more “together” version of myself) online is that when I meet up with Internet acquaintances, we always fall immediately into fulfilling conversations.)

As for you, if you’re building a business, you want your own audience. So not only are you a reader and fan of Internet businesses and blogs, you also want to figure out how they’re doing it and how you can do it and gather your audience.

This leads, naturally, to a lot of comparison (What are they doing? What am I NOT doing?!) and that naturally leads to some misconceptions. Misconceptions not just about the individual you’re reading (which is inevitable!), but misconceptions about what it must be like to have an audience, especially a big one.

I come across these misconceptions all the time when I talk to makers who are working to grow their audience. These fallacies are sneaky, because they present themselves as facts, and these “facts” distort reality and practicality, which leads you to make mistakes as you build your own thing.

I want to break down some of these myths, so that, instead of focusing on the size of your audience, you can shift your focus to making your business profitable and serving the audience you do have. (Which is the surest way to grow your audience – a happy customer talks about you!)

Here are some of the myths and misconceptions of what it’s like to have a big audience:

1. A big audience = more money.

Not necessarily. Not unless you are selling that audience what they want to buy. For example, if you create amazing free content that Pinterest loves … but it’s aimed at other crafters (and you sell finished goods), well – that’s not going to increase sales.

You won’t believe how many makers have this problem, so please remember: Your free content (blog, newsletter, podcast, whatever) has to be aimed at the buyer of what you sell!

 

2. Anyone who has it together online must have a giant audience.

Not true.

For example, I have, by comparison to many of my peers, a super small audience. When I quit my day job, my yarn company just had over 300 subscribers to the email list. And this is where 80% of my sales came from.

Currently, traffic to my site is about 1/10 of most of the teachers I talked to at Craftcation. And yet, this little business is paying 100% of the bills for my family.

Remember what I said above:

 

3. At a certain point, you’ll be happy with your business.

I want to let you in on a secret: you can be happy with your business as soon as you decide to be. Seriously.

If you wait to have X sales or Y subscribers to be happy … you won’t be happy when you get there, you’ll be on to the next big number goal.

And that’s good and natural, that’s part of growth. (You know I’m a huge fan of goal-setting!)

But you don’t have to wait until you reach that goal to build a business you like, and to like the business you have. You can decide right now to enjoy the work of where you are. You can decide not to sacrifice what matters most to you, at the altar of growth and numbers.

I’ve met miserable people who have giant audiences and national press. I have met adventurous makers who have tiny audiences and are enjoying the process. There’s no outside metric (money, sales, pant size) that’s going to make you truly happier.

There’s a big difference in being happy about your business growth and being happy in your life.

Life happens no matter how big your audience is and no matter how many people love your work. As long as you’re waiting for your business to satisfy you, you’re going to feel unsatisfied. And that unsatisfied, grasping feeling? It comes across to your audience. It affects your productivity.

Take a minute to recognize the assumptions and myths you’ve been believing about what it means to have a big audience. Check your goals and your actions: Are you taking your business in the direction you want? Or are you doing things you think people have to do to be “bigger”?

Don’t let these misconceptions cloud your judgement and impact your decisions. Decide to love your business (and, well, yourself!) where you are. (And if you can’t, change something.)
Be grateful for every single customer and subscriber, and work hard to delight them.

Wanting a bigger audience isn’t a bad goal, but it’s not the only way to measure growth. Be sure you focus and measure the things that most matter to you and a business you’ll actually enjoy working in.

Want to learn what I measure in my business? I’ll be sharing the exact spreadsheet I use (and a template for you!) in the upcoming series on business foundations here.

5 Lessons in 4 Days

5lessonsfromcraftcation

Last month I spent 4 days with over 500 makers, crafters, and artists, at Craftcation. It’s the first time in my life I’ve been surrounded by so many of my people. It was a fantastic experience and I left feeling completely refreshed and inspired. It’s taken me a few weeks to recover and crystalize the lessons I learned while I was there. These lessons come straight from other businesses just like yours, so I hope they inspire you as much as they did me!

1. You are not alone.

Everyone who is doing this (building a business from what they love), feels the same way: they doubt their ability, they doubt their sanity, they don’t know which of the 100000s of things to start with. So! Your self-doubt and overwhelm is NOT a sign that you shouldn’t be doing this, or that you’re failing. It’s a totally normal part of the process.

 

2. It’s all about the head game.

Guess what’s true about all the people who have seemed to have “made it”?

  1. They are worried about the same things (see #1 above).
  2. They have figured out a way to take action despite self-doubt and overwhelm.

The difference between the successes and the people who have quit in frustration? They mastered their own doubt. They figured out how to keep themselves motivated. They figured out how to get the most effective work done in even the tiniest pockets of time. They stick to their own definition of success instead of getting wrapped up in what other people are doing. 

That’s really it. They’re not super special. They don’t possess some secret knowledge (except how to not let their own doubt derail them). Really.

 

3. It’s good to know how other people describe your work … within reason.

I had two peers tell me, at completely different times, that when they get an email from someone struggling with the emotional stuff of running a business (self-doubt, motivation, getting distracted), they recommend my work. This is so very flattering (and a bit surprising), but I guess it makes sense: what we talk about here is not just “do this”, but “this is how you’ll actually get up the nerve/motivation/time to do this”.

Although I know what I write about, I had no idea how others (who aren’t students) perceived it and hearing from them taught me a lot about both my messaging and my actual skills. (I DO like talking about feelings…and most other small-business-teacher-types do NOT.) This was an awesome reminder to keep focusing on what I’m good at, what I’m enthusiastic about, and what actually helps my people.

The caveat, of course, is to not let yourself get distracted by what other people think. I also learned someone had misrepresented my work to others (years ago), and it was VERY easy for me to spiral into “OMG! Everyone hates me!”…but the fact is, my peers’ opinions of my work matters NOT AT ALL. What matters more is what my customers experience and if my work makes their life better or not. If the people I’m writing for get it, and my work improves their life … that’s where to put my attention.

 

4. People are looking for realness.

I can’t believe how many conversations I had with teachers, students, and strangers stating that what they appreciated about Craftcation was the experience of seeing everyone else (even rockstars of our world) as real, normal people. The teachers were honest, the panelists got real, and that’s what makes talking to other makers (at all stages of the journey) so valuable – hearing that you’re not alone. But the only way we get to have this experience is to actually, ya know, BE REAL. That means admitting when you messed up, owning up to your successes and not hiding behind a “I got it all figured out” facade.

No, you shouldn’t email your customers when you’re upset, but don’t be afraid to be real with them, when you get the chance. Don’t pretend like you know it all. (You don’t. No one does). If you show up as yourself, your relationships (with customers and peers) will be a zillion times more real and nourishing. You’ll learn things you didn’t know you didn’t know. And you’ll have more fun.

(I got a lot of comments from podcast listeners saying some form of: “Oh my gosh! You’re so real and humble!” Um, of course I am! I had to figure out how to get good coffee each morning, just like everyone else. Caffeine addiction: The great equalizer.)

 

5. Other people are doing this. Use that fact as motivation.

There are hundreds (thousands?) of makers who are doing this. Mothers. Fathers. Cat Owners. Painters. Bakers. Bloggers. Quilters.

When you doubt if this is even possible, look to those who have done it, not as an excuse to beat yourself up, but as a reminder that YOU CAN DO THIS. This is do-able. If that person figured out how to do it, you can too. It’s all learnable.

Remember Lesson #2?  Using real life examples as motivation and encouragement is part of winning the head game. It’s how you keep moving forward even when you don’t feel like it. It’s how you convince yourself THIS. IS. POSSIBLE.

 

Because here’s the biggest lesson: If you don’t believe it’s possible, you won’t do it.

I know, that could be on a motivational poster in Barney’s office , but it’s so so true. If you think “there’s no way to make money at this“, you won’t find a way to make money. If you believe “She figured this out, so there must be a way, I’m going to keep going” … well, you stand a chance.

If you’re feeling like you just don’t have time for everything you need to do for your business, let’s fix that. Learn how to get stuff done, in a way that works for you (no matter how much or little time you have), in Wrangle Your Time. Registration is now open, and closes on Sunday. Class starts next Monday!

My secret to “balance”

secrettobalance

If you follow me on Instagram, then you might have seen this last week:
17119208052_92961b33ac_o“In the 2 days since my Big Spring Adventures (#craftcation15 followed by a week in SoCal with bro, followed by 5 days with out-of-town friends) have ended, I’ve been in deep #introvertrecovery. Snuggling, reading, baking, finishing my taxes, staring at the wall” 

My real-life friends tell me that based on my Instagram account, my life looks either incredibly lazy (reading, snuggling dogs, etc) or incredibly adventurous (travel, conferences, etc). The truth is, it’s both, depending on what day it is.

But the REAL truth is, 99% of the time, it’s neither.

99% of the time I’m neither laying in bed, nor meeting cool people, nor reading at the ocean.
My days are spent working. Coffee cup in hand, journal at my side, computer screen open…working. Right now, as I write this, there’s a dog at my feet, and he’s super photogenic, but it’s hardly glamorous.

This is my idea of “balance” – there’s intense fun, intense rest, intense work.

There are moments, even weeks, of awesome travel and companionship and in-person teaching. There are moments of complete Introvert Recovery (usually on weekends), doing absolutely nothing but reading and staring at the wall. (True fact: during Craftcation I went to my room for at least an hour midday and just laid down and stared at the ceiling.)

But most of the time, there’s just normal, work-filled workdays. Writing podcasts, newsletters, and classes. Talking to clients and Captains. Leading the Starship chat, answering the forum questions, and replying to emails.

That’s my balance. Without any one of these things, I couldn’t do the other. If my life was all travel and in-person teaching, I’d get burnt out. If it was all lazing around and staring at the wall or dogs, I’d be broke. And if it was ALL normal workday (with no travel or teaching), I’d be bored.

But at no one moment is everything in balance. Instead, I’m balancing it over time (I hope).

I (and you!) don’t have to have it all balanced 100% of the time. Some weeks you’re going to spend more time on work, some weeks you’ll spend more time with your family. Some seasons of life are for growth, while others are for rest and recovery. It’s all cyclical.

Remember this, when you look at anyone’s Instagram feed. For every beach photo, there’s hours on a plane. For every dog napping photo there’s hours of staring at a screen. (Tweet this!)

Remember this, when you worry you’re not “in balance” –  when you work hard on a new project, or when you need take an afternoon off to rest.

Where are you in your own balance right now? Do you need more of fun, rest or work?
In my upcoming class, Wrangle Your Time, you’ll create your own balanced day, week or month, so that you can get more done. Sign up here to be notified when it opens. 

The Adventures

Every day is an adventure. I share the view, the gratitude and the news  on Fridays – you’re invited to join in. You can find all my adventures here, or follow along via email here.

The view

I promise #craftcation15 isn't all beaches and sunrises, but waking up to this is the first (& the most photogenic) example of the awesomeness.    PS. Remember! #StarshipBiz closes today at 9p PDT. An online community full of smarties like fellow Craftcat
This is the moment Baby Mari realizes how ridiculous I am. (Look at her face!) @j_fetz recognized years ago.

One last beach-y photo now that I've landed in rainy (but warm!) Tennessee. Had to pull over for these flowers next to the beach. #taralovesadventure
Friday Night Party Night in the Swiger house
Delighted to find everything is blooming! #foundwhilerunning

I am so grateful for…

  •  SPRING! Tulips! Flowering trees! YAY!
  • Getting back to work after weeks of adventuring
  • Finishing taxes! So glad it’s all done.

The Finds:

I’m reading:

In case you missed it: 

  • I’m all about getting real with what’s possible in your handmade business. So in the next few months I’ll be sharing real stories, YOUR real stories of what you’ve done and what that means. Please share your numbers here (no matter how small or weird, your numbers are going to encourage someone. I promise.) Totally anonymous. More info on the project here and in this podcast episode.

What adventures have you had?

 

 

The Real Numbers Project

Real Numbers Project

Confession: I’m obsessed with reading income reports.

It was Abby who first introduced me to the idea when we met for coffee (she pointed me towards Pinch of Yum’s) and a few months later she started doing quarterly reports. Since then I’ve found them from all kinds of businesses. Some are impressive, some are informative, but all of them are educational. Instead of talking about “success” and “growth”, they show you the real facts on the ground. I’ve considered sharing my own, but that wouldn’t be very helpful to you, because your business is totally different than mine. (You sell a product you make by hand, right? I sell words and education. Our models are different, so the numbers are different.)

But there’s something here, right? Something that could serve you and inform you and help you feel not-so-alone … if we could find income reports that actually relate to what you do and that are relatable in their scale.

So let’s do it together.

I’m going to do a series on Real Numbers of (creative) Entrepreneurs – with real numbers and data, from real businesses. In order to do this, I need to collect the numbers – YOUR numbers. But I want this to be totally honest and easy, so it’ll be completely anonymous. All you have to do is fill this out. There’s no spot for your email address or your name, so no one will know it’s you.

And then, I’m going to share it with you here, in the newsletter and on the blog. Not as statistics, but as individual case studies. I’m going to show you what other makers, just like you, are doing – how they’re doing it, what works for them and what doesn’t. It’s my hope that seeing this broad array of ways-of-making-it-work will help you feel not-so-alone, and  help you stop comparing yourself to all those super “successful” businesses that are in a totally different place than you.

But this only works if you share your numbers (no matter how tiny they are). There is nothing to be embarrassed about here – your numbers won’t be shamed or judged – they will serve as inspiration and encouragement for your fellow makers.

To make this happen, I need your help.

Fill this out in the next 48 hours: http://goo.gl/forms/pZmH1xP4bg

Don’t know your numbers? You need to. Seriously, for your business to grow, you need to know the very basics of your income and expenses. It’s not hard, and you can start with this advice. Pay Yourself walks you through this math.

And keep your eyes peeled for the Real Numbers series – it’ll be coming your way, soon.

PS – Got creative business-y friends? Share it! 

What do creatives REALLY make? How long does it take? @TaraSwiger is collecting real numbers. Add yours here: http://goo.gl/forms/pZmH1xP4bg

{Click to tweet}

 

What I’ve learned about marketing since writing the book

What I've learned about marketing

I’ll be honest with you, this week I am deep in writing content for the new class, and I can think of very little else…so that’s what I’m going to tell you about.
(The class is a kind of read-along + deeper dive into my book. It’s closed, but you can get the book here.)

To write the lessons, I’m reading through the book that I wrote 3 years ago and well, to be honest, it’s awesome. I am thoroughly enjoying myself (I crack myself up) and am totally inspired to say a million more things, deeper and more specific things about it (which is good, because that’s what the class is!).
Luckily (well, it wasn’t luck, I planned it!) the book doesn’t dive too deep into any particular tool (because I knew they’d become outdated) and instead focuses on foundations of an effective marketing plan. But there’s so MUCH I’ve learned in the intervening three years. I have worked with hundreds more small businesses. I have seen some Captains’ businesses quintuple in size, and others (even ones I used as examples!) blink out of existence, because the makers burned out or just found something they wanted to do more (which is great!).

Here are the additional lessons I’ve learned about marketing:

  • New content is king. No, everyone doesn’t need a blog, but everyone does need to give their people something new to share – whether that’s new images, new posts, new events, or new products. You can systematize this so it doesn’t drive you crazy, but you can’t ignore it.
  • Ignore everyone else. I think I say a version of this about 100 times throughout the book, but you know what? Working with more students has taught me that you need to hear it another 100 times before it sinks in. IGNORE EVERYONE ELSE. Their success, failure, decisions have nothing to do with what’s going to work for you.
  • You stand out from the competition by not only focusing on your sparkle and your people (which we cover!) but also by building a business YOU want. Because, you see, you’re going to want a different kind of business than everyone else. So you’ll make different decisions, use different tools, show up in a different way. By doing this, you’re going to have a business that looks and feels different. I’ve seen Karen do this beautifully with Gentle Clothing. She got clear about her North Star, and then built it right into the business and she ended up with something totally new and fresh.
  • It’s all about feelings. (Really!) How do you want your buyer to feel? How will your product make her feel? Take THAT and infuse it everywhere – your website, your descriptions, your photos, your emails, the way you write your contact page! The book actually has a worksheet about this in Chapter 4, but over the last three years I’ve become 100x more addicted to this idea, as I’ve seen it work over and over for clients (and my own business)!
  • The more you can strip away your I-don’t-want-to-fail or I-don’t-want-to-look-stupid, the faster you’ll do work that matters and that stands out (and that sells). This is just a fact of life and it’s true in every arena.

If you’re feeling stuck or confuzzled or not sure where to start, start here. Start with what you want from your business, how you want people to feel, and keep giving your people new things to share and talk about (uh, and then share and talk about them!).

PS. The class is closed, but you can get the book here. Everyone aboard the Starship gets the class, so sign up here if you want to be notified when that reopens.

Are you doing what matters? Here’s how to know.

are you doing what matters

What are the last 5 things you did for your business?

I don’t mean big crazy things, but the very last 5 actions you took.

Now zoom out – what were your big goals for 2015? What had you planned to work on this quarter?

Do the actions you recently took have anything to do with the big goal? Can you see how they fit together?

Or are they totally unrelated? Are you spending your working time reacting or distracted?

What about today’s to do list and plan? Is it related to your goals?

As we wrap up the first quarter of 2015, it’s the perfect time to check in on what you’ve done (celebrate it!) and realign your daily actions into a plan for what you want.

If you find yourself doing a lot of unrelated stuff that has nothing to do with your goal, don’t beat yourself up, just take the time to reset. There are lots of ways to reset. You could:

  • Revisit your map (if you made one) and mark off all the things you did (and celebrate!) and pick 2 of the next steps to do this week.
  • Write down your goal and brainstorm the VERY next action you could take towards it.
  • Tell someone what you’re going to work on next (accountability makes it much more likely to happen!)
  • Schedule a time to work on your goal, in the very next 2 days. Put it on your calendar.
  • Take a dance break…then sit down and get to work.

Need help getting clear about what actions will move you towards your goal? Want to make a plan for getting there? Need accountability?

The Starship provides exactly this..and it’s now open! Make a plan, choose the best actions, and be held accountable when you beam up here: http://taraswiger.com/help/starship-adventure

Boarding this quarter is super-short and it closes on FRIDAY. Join here.

 

A plan for sharing your work (+ a peek at my first marketing plan)

So what's your plan

Last week we talked about how to sell something:

  • Identify the person who will love it and buy it (I call this your Right Person).
  • Figure out what she cares about and why she buys your product (in the beginning you’re guessing; as you get more sales, you’ll ask her directly).
  • Explain how awesome your thing is, in terms she understands.
  • Go where she already is and talk to her there.

I heard back from lots of you that you KNOW you should be doing this, but it just feels overwhelming and like a lot to keep track of.

But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, all these pieces can fit together into one plan, that you implement day in and day out, without worrying too much about it.

Yes, it takes time, energy, and commitment to set it up, but once you have it…it just works. You know what to do, every day. You’ll continue to test it, improve it, and work it…but first you have to have it.

This knowing what to do thing feels AWESOME. It helps alleviate so much of the doubt and second-guessing you’ve been struggling with. It focuses your working time. It allows you to be consistent, which builds trust with your people, expands your reach, and – yes – leads to more sales.

This plan for reaching people is called….a Marketing Plan! (Imagine that!) Remember: Marketing = any communication you have with your people. So this is just a plan for reaching your people on the regular.

My first marketing plan was scribbled in my day job office, on a post-it note I kept hidden under my keyboard, circa 2007. It said:

  • Post one new picture to Flickr each day + add to groups (the days before Instagram!)
  • Tweet picture (ask for help naming?)
  • Reply to 3 new people (Flickr, Twitter, knitting blogs)
  • One new Etsy listing/day
  • Blog 1x/week
  • Email list every month (new yarns)

You see, your marketing plan can be as big or small as you need it to be. I added new stuff to the list all the time to see what might work, but knowing the absolute minimum kept me focused when things got busy. What you can’t see from the list is the time I spent finding my possible customers (knitters who knit with handspun yarn…which was harder before Ravelry!) and figuring out what groups or tags would help my yarn be found by more people. But once I did that … I just followed the plan.

To make your own marketing plan (that actually works, and isn’t a waste of your time), you need to:

  1. Know what makes you and your thing sparkle (stand out from everything else).
  2. Identify who some of your people are, what they care about, and where they hang out.
  3. Choose the methods you’ll use to reach them.
  4. Put it all together in a plan that you implement, day in and day out.

 

If you’d like guidance and a clear path for making your own plan, check out Craft Your Marketing. In this 6 week e-course you will identify your sparkle, find your people, choose your tools and then make a simple, post-it worthy marketing plan that will bring you more fans and more sales. You don’t have to do this alone. I’m here to help with audio lessons (and enhanced transcripts!), worksheets, and FUN.

If you don’t know what you’re doing TODAY to connect with your people (or who they are or what to say), I hope you’ll join me in class: http://taraswiger.com/craft-marketing/.

 

PS. This class includes a signed copy of my book, so I’m closing registration next week so I can get the book in the mail to you in time!

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