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The Secret Power of Craft Shows

The Power of Craft shows

Craft shows changed my life.

(I didn’t know it until I started writing this post, but as I started to trace the roots of what I do today, I realized that’s where it all started.)

Last weekend I sold my yarn for the first time in over a year (I put my yarn business on hold when I could no longer get packages out on time, thanks to traveling to teach. This weekend I was back in the game with a few skeins of my yarn (and my mom’s sheep’s fiber). Preparing for the show and helping my pal Misty think through the process brought it all back in a rush.

Even though I help Starshippers get prepared for their first shows (and 50th shows) every month, I had forgotten what it was like to be in it.
To be worried you don’t have enough.
To do late night, last-minute labeling.
To get nervous about people seeing your work.

So, to calm my nerves, I searched my own site for advice (the major benefit of having a blog!). And sure enough I found it.

In 2008 (that’s 6 years ago!), I wrote about my first craft show here, in 5 1/2 Shocking Facts about Craft Shows.

“You don’t have to (and probably can’t) fake enthusiasm.”

A month later, I wrote about my next show, with even more lessons:

“Be prepared to answer the “Can you make this in ***” question. Know how long it would take you and how you’ll handle payment for a custom order. If you don’t want to do custom, come up with a nice way of saying no, so you’re not taken by surprise in the moment.”

One year later, I wrote about the Pain of Craft Shows:

” I do craft shows because it’s the one place, the one situation in which being a full-time yarnie feels good, normal, accepted. The people get me. They get my yarn. It’s a place to be me: handknit clothes, stripey knee-socks, pink-haired, yarn-making me.”

Two years after that first post and my first show, I wrote this: “That feeling hasn’t faded in the last 2 years of doing shows; in fact, it’s only grown stronger.”

It occurred to me, in reading through these posts that this where I really got clear on the power of following my enthusiasm. This is where I learned that it is OK to be weird, pink-haired, wonky me. Those first shows, while I still worked in a boring office in black slacks, were the first taste I had (maybe ever?) of being myself out loud and connecting with people as that true self. Once you get a taste of that, you can start to imagine the possibility of being yourself, expressing yourself, like … all the time.

And this taste, this experience totally transformed my life. (Very, very slowly.)
For me this meant making more yarn, doing more shows, and connecting with people in the maker community. That led to me spending my days writing, talking, and helping other makers bring more of themselves into their businesses, to craft a life they really want.


But for you, the path will be different. It will lead you in different directions. You can start to express yourself more in how you dress, how you tell the truth and how you embrace all your weird bits.

I totally haven’t figured it out yet, and I’m certainly not comfortable being myself all the time, but it’s a process. You can kick-start the process by choosing to do things you’re enthusiastic about, by doing more of what makes you feel like yourself, and by letting those experiences transform you.


Whether it’s craft shows, or making your art, or just starting to take your enthusiasm more seriously — it could change your life.

PS. I made a class sharing everything I knew about craft shows 4 years ago. Currently it’s only available in the Starship, but I hope to refresh it and offer it again in 2015. Sign up here to get notified when it’s ready.

Adventures in Business with Fiber Artist Ana Campos

Today I’m sharing an adventure with Starship Captain and full time fiber artist, Ana Campos. Ana grew up in Brazil, surrounded by beautiful colors and a ridiculous amount of books. She now combines hues and stories in her bookishly inspired hand-dyed yarn and knitting patterns. You can find more of her work here.

People have this fantasy of what it’s like to be a full-time artist. But what’s a normal day for you really like?


In some ways, the best part of being a full-time maker is that there isn’t necessarily a normal day. The flexibility in schedule is great, so I can choose to do something completely out of the ordinary without giving anyone notice (as long as it doesn’t conflict with my deadlines). On the other hand, the workload fluctuates a lot, so it can often mean working late into the night and on weekends. My time is taken up by a lot of things: dyeing yarn, working on knitting designs, book keeping, trunk shows, teaching classes, going to meetings, marketing, social media, product photography, customer service, and other odds and ends. The specifics of each day vary based on upcoming deadlines and priorities.

There are so many ways to make a living as a maker – how are you doing it? What have you combined and how has that changed through the years?

When I started my business, I was selling hand-knit goods. Since then, the focus has shifted to my line of hand-dyed yarn and knitting patterns. This means my customer base has shifted a lot – from people who buy finished knits, to people who are knitters themselves. What started as a strictly retail business is now a combination of wholesale and retail, and teaching is a big component of my business, too.

A skein of Ana's hand dyed yarn

What new thing are you exploring now?

My business is constantly evolving. For the last two years, vending at craft shows was a very significant part of my income, but the physical and emotional toll of the fall and holiday season was tough. I spent more than one Christmas morning nursing a bad cold, curled up on the couch with a thick blanket and a massive box of tissues. This year, I am exploring a different diversification of income streams to see if I can lessen my involvement in craft shows. My family will definitely appreciate having me be healthier and more present for the holidays.

A shawl design from Ana

What’s your definition of success in your business?

My definition of success is being able to pay my bills and have a bit left over to maybe go to the movies and have dinner out a couple of times a month. I definitely won’t be buying yachts anytime soon! Success is something that a lot of us in the handmade business struggle with – if we make enough to be able to take a vacation, there is this perception that we are “making too much.” But people working “regular jobs” are expected to be able to take time off and perhaps travel a bit. I don’t understand why there is an overall expectation that makers shouldn’t be able to have the same luxuries that other professions have, but that is something I hope to combat as I move forward.

What’s the next destination you’re working towards?

My new big thing is hosting my very first knitting retreat in May 2015. Community has become such an important of my life, both in business and personally. A year ago, I never would have imagined going in this direction, but I’m so excited!

Ana's sock design in progress

If you’d like to read more about Ana’s story of quitting her full-time job (it happened aboard the Starship!) and those of her fellow Captains, sign up for the Starship Early Boarding Pass! I’ll send you some more success stories of Starship members, along with notifications when the Starship opens – and closes –  to new members.

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

Yay! Fall! #yayfall
For the first time in years I knit an actual swatch. In 2 different needles. I even washed and blocked it! For my #bluesandcardigan out of Flannel Plucky Primo. #plucktember
Yay! I am holding @mercedesknits's book in my hands and it is GREAT! Happy birthday, friend and congrats on a job well done!  I am so thrilled to have been able to see the amazing stuff you've made over the years! Love you!
A VERY good Saturday morning. #taralovesmornings   (More on my (crazy) #greatbooksproject on the FB page. Link in profile. Join me?)
I so love this mossy little bridge over a tiny creek, in the middle of a totally normal neighborhood. #foundwhilerunning in #easttennessee    #taralovesmornings
My knitting matches the nebula in Wrath of Khan. #geekySaturday

I am so grateful for…

  • Getting to play a small part in the successes of Starship Captains (and getting to share their celebrations!)
  • Hours spent reading + my new reading project.
  • New obsessions.

The Finds:

I’m reading:

I’m eating: 

In case you missed it: 

What adventures have you had?

Boundaries for Business Health

Boundaries for Business Health1

How do you have enough time to grow your creative business and still eat, sleep, take care of your family, and, ya know, live life? 
Every week I talk to Starship Captains with four kids and Captains with full-time jobs and Captains (like me) with only a pet to disturb us…and everything in between. And every single one of us struggles with this having enough time thing (at least occasionally).

Like almost everything we talk about around here, there’s not an easy answer. But there is one way to make this a whole lot easier and less hectic:

Set boundaries.

Set boundaries around your working time, and stick with them.
Set boundaries around your not-working time, and stick with them.
What the boundaries are don’t matter. (You could work for one hour a day or one day a week or 120 hours a month. You can work in the mornings, evenings, weekends, full moons. Whatever works for you and your family.)

What matters is that you consciously choose boundaries and that you communicate them (more on how to communicate in tomorrow’s podcast).

You don’t know when to start, so you struggle to get started. (Oh, I’ll just do this first).
If you don’t know when you are going to be working, you may feel guilty every moment that you’re not working. (I could be working now!)
And when you do work, if you don’t know when you’re going to stop, the work can just drag on forever. (I don’t know when I’ll get back to this! I should do it now!)
When they don’t know when you’re going to stop, your family (anyone around you who wants to spend time with you) is going to be less understanding, because they want to know when they can go back to hassling you. (She’s always working!)

(If you feel like I’m describing your life, trust me, you are not alone. This is informed by many other makers who have the same experience).

So you see, knowing when you’re going to work and for how long, allows you to know:

  • When to start (no procrastinating!)
  • When to stop (no dragging it out!)
  • When others can engage with you (with no guilt!)
  • That you’re going to get your stuff done at a specific time, so you can stop obsessing about it right now. (In theory. I’ve yet to meet a maker who can stop obsessing full stop, but this certainly helps.)

Remember: The boundaries can be WHATEVER. They don’t have to be a specific time, they could simply be: One hour today, and I quit at the end of the hour. No blogs/social media/phone in that hour.
I’ve found that most people do best setting up their plan for the upcoming week (instead of waiting to figure out when you’re going to work each day), and the more ritualized you make it (I always start writing after my first cup of coffee or I sew for one hour after the kids go to bed), the less of an internal struggle it is.

What are your boundaries?

Do you need to set new ones?


How to make more money (with math)

How to make more money (with math)

One of the most-asked about topics in my inbox is money: what to charge, how to make more, how to thrive.

Last week in my free Q+A, Beth asked:

“How do I increase my rate of pay? How do I make more for every hour I work?”

The simple answer is: You change your numbers. Usually, you change your prices. Or it might be that you need to change your expenses. Or you change your efficiency.
You see, there’s no easy answer I can give you…but it’s very simple to find your own answer.

Do the Math


The math will show you how much your item costs, how much you can charge for it, and how many you need to sell in order to be profitable and in order to make what you want to make.

Instead, I talk to many makers who have set their prices randomly. They change their prices willy-nilly. They base it on other people, “the market,” or what a stranger said to them one time. They exclaim, “I couldn’t charge a fair price for all this!” They feel frustrated and confused, because they’re just guessing.

So stop guessing. Do the math.

The math is not that hard, and I’ve collected all of it for you in one place: Pricing 101. I’ve totally refreshed this popular class with 2 recorded audio lessons: the first with 3 equations for finding your right price and the second on how to actually get the price you deserve.

The class is only available in two places: As a bonus to Pay Yourself, and in the Starship Library.
Why? Because knowing the right price isn’t enough. You absolutely need to set your price…but then you need to test it in the real world of your business. You need to know your Break-Even point, your production capacity, and your monetary goals. And that’s what you’ll do in Pay Yourself.

So grab Pricing 101 (2 hour-long audio lessons + transcripts + apply-it-yourself worksheets) with Pay Yourself right here.



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

This tree is one of my favorites & I wanted to catch it now, before it changes.   Song of the run: I Believe In a Thing Called Love by The Darkness   #foundwhilerunning #taralovesmorningsMy best amigo endures the sombrero.   #becauseJayisthebest
Jay made delicious #vegan tacos, with red cabbage slaw.  #whatveganseat #becausejayisthebest
Loove the architecture in downtown Asheville.  Even better: the people! Insta-friend @carolinspinner came to tonight's class and made it that much better! (Her biz is gonna ROCK.)  (The picture isn't crooked, the hill is that steep.) #avl #taralovesadvent
Teaching at Haywood Community College tonight, so I drove over to Asheville early for a solo-adventure day. First up: haircut, followed by coffee & pancakes & soysage. #avleats

I am so grateful for…

  • An easy and engaging class (Pricing 101) at a local community college
  • Making new friends with awesome students
  • A fantastic birthday celebration for my love

The Finds:

I’m reading:

I’m eating:

  • Tacos with red cabbage slaw (no recipe, just saute up some filling, and douse your red cabbage/kale mixture in apple cider vinegar, oil, salt, pepper)
  • Tempeh Chili con frioles

In case you missed it: 

  • Monday I was interviewed by Michele Schism on her radio show! Listen in here (I join the call at the 30 minute mark)
  • I updated my Live Workshops page with dates in Spruce Pine, NC and Ventura, CA (Craftcation!)
  • Today is the LAST day to help me out by voting for my panels at SXSW. Please vote here and here.

What adventures have you had?


Sometimes, being an explorer means asking for help.

True fact: I have a hard time asking for help. But with the encouragement of the #starshipbiz, I'm trying to get better, especially in service of something scary and big and exciting.   Newest scary thing: I've proposed panels for #SXSW!  You can help by
Remember when I told you about TNNA and how it inspired me to commit to being OPEN to new opportunities, even if I didn’t see how I could possibly do it?

Well, more than halfway through this year, I can assure you that that commitment has definitely challenged me. It challenged me to teach for 18 hours (a good 9x more than the longest class I had ever taught), on video, in a fancy studio, in front of 5,000 (and counting!) students. It challenged me to start a podcast. And then another (knitting!) podcast with a friend. It challenged me to teach to my largest-ever in-person audience (alpaca farmers!).

And now my dedication to being Open is challenging me to do something new: Speak at SXSW. At the insistence of Shannon and Heather, I’m joining them in submitting two workshops.

And I could use your help.

You see, the panels are open to voting, and anyone can vote (whether you attend or not!). Voting makes up 30% of the decision (the other part: 40% by Advisory Board, 30% by SXSW staff). It will help us tremendously if you vote.

Here’s what we’ve planned

1. For SXSWedu (the education conference, for educators of all types), we’re going to talk about different platforms (like the Starship!) for adult education + how to choose which one is right for your goals.
2. For SXSWi (“Interactive”, for tech and entrepreneur-types), we’ll discuss the power of educational platforms in building your community…and how to actually find the time for it.

Voting is quick and simple:
1. Create an account.
2. Visit both of the class links (above) and hit the little “thumbs up” sign next to it.
3. That’s it!

To be honest, it was challenging for me to ask for this. I’d rather be useful and provide help, not ask for it. But my Starship Captains convinced me. So! Deep breath!
If you’ve enjoyed the podcast, the blog posts, the free weekly lessons, or just hanging out online with me, please vote here and here.


How to find your buyers

FInd your right PeopleThis is the single most-asked question I receive:
How do I find buyers? How do I let them find me? WHO THE HECK ARE THEY?!?

(You can hear the panic, can’t you?)

Well, here’s where you start:

(Click through to watch the video)


You see, instead of thinking about the buyer, you can back into figuring her out by first identifying what it is your (awesome) product does. What does it do for the buyer? And then, what deep need does that fill in your buyer’s life?


If you’d like to know what to do after you identify the need, check out the entire class here.

4 steps to make your dream more do-able

(If you’re reading via email, click through to watch the video)

Whenever I talk to makers about their goals, I hear the same frustration over and over:

I’m great at setting goals…but never seem to succeed with STICKING with them.”

In my CreativeLIVE class, we spent the whole third day translating your marketing and your dreams into a do-able plan, that will take you towards your true goals (and not just what you think you should do.

In the above video snippet, I share 4 actionable tips for making your goals more do-able. 
1. Get Super Specific
2. Recognize the support you have + the support you need
3. Keep it in line with your North Star
4. Be Flexible

If you want to get clear on your marketing and how they shape your dreams, you can buy the entire class (and watch a few more sneak peeks), right here:

Marketing for Crafters

How to Market your Crafts, on CreativeLIVE with Tara Swiger

Eep! It’s nearly here and I’m so excited I can hardly stand it!


This week I’m teaching a FREE three-day class on all aspects of marketing your handmade business. From your Right People, to clarifying your message, to crafting a Customer Path that effectively connects with your people, to deciding what (of the hundreds) of tools to use, to crafting a plan you’ll actually stick with…we’re going to cover it all, in detail. And best yet: We’re going to apply it to your business, exactly where you are right now.

Awesome, right?

In the last few weeks I’ve gotten a few questions more than once, so in case you have them too, I wanted to share them with you. Feel free to ask your questions in the comments, and I’ll get to them as fast as I can (while flying across the country!)

How does this work?

Go here and click “RSVP”. You’ll get both the syllabus and the workbook right away, so you’ll be ready to start class Thursday morning. At 9am PST (Noon EST) on Thursday, July 17th, class will begin! You’ll get a reminder email to log on and when you do you’ll see me teaching, in real time! There’s a chat room for you to ask your questions (the hosts will be lobbing your questions at me on the regular) and a hashtag (#swigerlive) so you can connect with your fellow students. Each morning you’ll get a reminder email so you don’t miss anything!

What’s the schedule?

July 17, 2014
Goal for today: You will end class with the language you can use to talk directly to your customer (and you’ll know exactly who that customer is)

9:00am – What Marketing is (and isn’t)
10:30 – 10:45 – break
10:45 – 12:00 – Crafting Your Message: Spot Your Sparkle
12:00 – 12:45 – lunch
12:45 – 2:15 – Your Right People (who they are, where to find them)
2:15 – 2:30 – break
2:30 – 4:00 –  Translate your message into your Right People’s language.


July 18, 2014
Goal for the day: You will understand how customers find you, fall in love with you, and buy from you – so that you can take focused, results-driven action.

9:00 – 10:30 – How to build (and improve) your Home Base
10:30 – 10:45 – break
10:45 – 12:00 –  Hi! How people find you.
12:00 – 12:45 – lunch
12:45-2:15 – Come Closer! Enticing a buyer into your world
2:15 – 2:30 – break
2:30 – 4:00 – Buy! That magic moment (and what comes next)


July 19th, 2014
Goal for the day: Create a concrete plan that aligns with your goals, and learn how to filter out everything that doesn’t.

9:00-10:30 -The power of knowing what you want.
10:30 – 10:45 – break
10:45 – 12:00 – Choose your tools: from Instagram to craft shows
12:00 – 12:45 – lunch
12:45 – 2:15 – How to hold an experiment (and learn what really works for you)
2:15 – 2:30 – break
2:30 – 4:00 – Make your own map: Create a do-able plan to get things done.

Keep in mind the times are approximate. Each segment might go over or under a smidge.(You can download this with a description of each segment here)

What if I can’t watch live?

Watching live is free, but you can purchase anytime access. You can get the whole class here for $59 (the price will go up after class, so jump on it!) or you can buy each day separately (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3). Each Day’s page tells you what we’ll cover on that day, so you can pick the one that’s right for you.

Whether you can watch live or not, you may want to purchase the class to get some amazing bonuses: 

  • Anytime access to the videos (so you can refresh yourself!)
  • Free access to Craft an Effective Blog
  • Free access to Automagical Email Series
  • $100 off the Solo Mission

Should I  take this class if I bought the book?

YES. Although I’ll hit on some book bits in Day 1 (specifically, Right People and Your Message), I’ve updated it all based on the last two years of working with designers, makers, and artists. I now know more about what really works in businesses just like yours, since I wrote the book over 2 years ago. Also: Day 1’s first segment is entirely new material (not taught in any class), and Day 2 and Day 3 aren’t in the book anywhere.

Should I take this class if I took the Customer Path class?

YES! We’ll cover the Customer Path in Day 2, but we’ll also hit on the big piece we couldn’t get to: How to build an effective Home Base (so your Customer Path leads people to someplace great). Plus, Day 1 and Day 3 will be totally new to you.

I’m bummed I missed the Customer Path class, where can I get it?

Well, you’re in luck! The Customer Path material is no longer available anywhere other than the Starship or in this class! (Day 2, Segment 2-4).

I don’t have a business yet, I just have ideas.

Ready for some tough love? If you are still just “playing around” with “some ideas”, but you really REALLY want a business (and not a hobby) – step away from the internet. Stop taking classes, stop reading books, and stop looking at what other people are doing. Go into your creation cave and create your best work. Make 5-10 of them (whether this is products, designs, artwork, whatever). Ask yourself if you enjoy this enough to make 50 more. Then, take some pictures and make it available for sale (either online or in a craft show).
THEN, you are ready to start thinking about marketing your work.
In other words, this class is going to be most useful to you if you know what you make and it’s available for people to buy, somewhere. If you’re not sure how to move from Idea to Business, check out Kari Chapin’s class on getting started.


Got a question? Ask and I’ll answer (in between traveling). Hope to see you in the class! 

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