Weekly-ish notes on navigating big change

Month: February 2014

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

Too good to wait. #taralovesmornings
Gorgeous day, and art. #motherdaughterfun
Picking fabrics for my Cat Lady quilt. You, @pennyshima?
Beau isn't sure about this layout... #yearofmaking

I am so grateful for…

  • A lovely weekend with my mom
  • The  opportunity to use my doable-plan-creating superpowers for two dear friends, and being witness to the resulting awesomeness they've crafted.
  • The return of my quilt-making mojo. (I started this quilt. I am officially a Cat Lady.)
  • Dude. The thank you emails from Pay Yourself students, and  their epiphanies in the discussion space are THRILLING. And humbling. I've had other teachers/superstars email me to say their students are telling them how much they love it. I was proud of this material, but I am so much more fulfilled knowing that it's being applied and is useful. My heart has grown three times.

I can't say enough how overwhelmingly grateful I am to be doing this work + to be helping gorgeous, generous business ladies rock their own art. Group hug!


The Finds:

Read this:  

Listen to this:

What were your adventures this week?  

How to increase customer interaction {Free Worksheet}

Increase Customer Engagement

There's no denying that customer interaction – having real conversations with my customers (or potential customers) and using what I learn about what they need – is the cornerstone of my business. So when Abby asked Stacey and I to join her in writing about customer interaction, I was delighted! Be sure to scroll down for your free worksheet and to find the links to the rest of the posts in the series. 


No matter what business you're in or where you're at, you probably wish you had more engagement – more blog comments, more email subscribers, more sales.

This what everyone wants!
Sadly, there's no one-size-fits-all solution. This is an iterative process and it will likely change as your business changes. It's unlikely that exactly what works for me will work for you.
But you can, through experimentation, discover what works for you and adapt it as you change.

1. Identify the purpose it serves.

One of my personal pet peeves is when makers judge the health of their business by their blog comments. The two things have nothing to do with each other. Social media makes it easy for us to measure metrics that don't matter. So instead of being distracted by numbers that don't matter, start (as always) with what you want:

Do you want to get feedback on a prototype?
Do you want to discover their favorite color?
Do you need help naming your newest project?
Do you need to get to know them and their needs better so you can improve your offerings?

2. Make it all about them.

Now that you know what you want, translate it into the benefit for your people. If they take your survey or reply to your email or share your tweet…what's in it for them? Now, you don't have to give an actual physical product – you only have to explain that their feedback really matters. For example, perhaps I'll take your survey, because you let me know it will affect the kind of products you create. Perhaps I share your tweet, because it helps me serve my own audience.
If interacting with you is useful, entertaining or interesting, it'll be an easy decision.


3. Make it easy for them.

You can make it easy in two ways:

Make a clear ask. Be crystal clear in what action you'd like them to take, don't just hope that they'll guess at it. (We talked more about this in Abby's podcast.)

Go where they are. I like sending emails and asking for replies because I know my people are already in their inbox. Very few people hang around all day on blogs, or comment on many blogs, so that's not easy for them. If you're people are on Facebook, ask them to interact with you there. If they're on Twitter, ask them questions.

And this goes the other way – if you serve a local audience that's not on social media, don't try to engage there. Invite them into your shop for a free tasting, offer classes, or go where they are and chat with them there.

Remember: it's normal for this to take a while to figure out! Give every new experiment a while to work out before you decide if it's working or n

Make your own plan for customer engagement.

I created a free worksheet to help you start improving your customer interaction today. Download the Customer Interaction Worksheet by clicking here and saving it to your computer.

Learn more

For more strategies on increasing customer engagement, read the other posts in this series by Abby and by Stacey.


Important announcement!

Pay Yourself closes TONIGHT. Sign up here before 9pm tonight, Friday, 2/21.



Why selling more might be a bad thing

When selling more is a bad thing

This is one of the trickiest things to grasp, but one of the easiest things to fix, in most of the crafty businesses I work with:

Selling more products doesn't necessarily equal making more money.

I think most of you know this, somewhere … but it's so counter-intuitive to how the rest of our monetary world works. At a job, if you work more hours, you make more money. At the store, if you buy more products, you spend more money. But in your small biz, it's possible that having more sales does not create an increase in profit.
And while you know that, have you done the math to really work it out? Have you figured out what your break-even point is – and if you're close to it? Not just for a usual month in your business, but for each craft show and wholesale order?

I'm guessing … not, because I know I didn't when I first started my business. Heck, I even quit my day job and did shows around the country before I really figured out all the ins and outs of my profit margin.

It's easy to skip this because it's easy to sucked into the simplicity of what a zillion articles  tell us: more sales = better. When that (more sales) becomes your goal, it's easy to forget all about profit margins and expenses and do whatever it takes to sell more products. You make shipping free, you discount heavily, you throw in extras and specials and fanciness. And you sell a big pile of products – but you don't have any money.

This frustration, from successful sellers, is something I've been hearing for the last three years.  But honestly, I resisted doing anything more than having deep (somewhat uncomfortable) conversations in the Starship. Because I'm not accountant. and I don't like math. And I still haven't figured out how to pay my estimated quarterly taxes in a way that doesn't leave me with a big tax bill at the end of the year (because I do make a profit, which means I do owe taxes!).

But the more I've talked about this over the last year, with online and traditional crafters, the more I've come to realize that this is exactly why I need to talk about it. Because if I – math-avoiding, mistake-making, bold explorer – figured it out but I don't talk about it, we might just keep going on thinking that more sales = better, and that only math-geniuses, accountants and non-creatives have to do the work of finding out what makes their business profitable.

And that's dis-empowering and discouraging.  If I figured it out, then you can too.

We – artists, writers, makers, and designers – we deserve to live comfortably with our work. We are capable and smart and can figure this out, if only we know where to start.

So that's what we're going to do in Pay Yourself. We're going to find your numbers: the profit of each product and the profit/expense of your entire business. And then we'll use those numbers to make good decisions in the future.

In the last year of teaching this class online and in person, I've seen this material transform businesses. From a full-time artist who changed the galleries she works with to a yarn-maker who shifted her focus, to a maker who cut back on craft shows in order to do more wholesaling (and found more profit). I was convinced by their successes to offer this live online again and to make it even better – to reshoot all the videos, update the worksheets, and offer it in a self-paced e-course.

The class is now available as a self-paced e-course – every lesson will be delivered to you, when you're ready for it. You can read more about the class and register for it here: https://taraswiger.com/product/pay/.



How to have a profitable business, Step 1

The first step to a profitable business

When I quit my dayjob to make yarn full-time, I had worked for months towards an income goal. But then, life fell apart. In one month, my car caught fire, my husband lost his (only-part-time-anyhow) job, and my house was broken into (yep, everything electronic was stolen. Thank goodness they didn't know how valuable my little wooden spinning wheel is!)

Since that inauspicious start, my creativity has been my ticket to paying bills, traveling the country, going to movies and generally living life. In the beginning, I didn't know what to do except: SCRAMBLE. And, to be honest, sometimes it's still a scramble.

But I make it work.
 I take my family to a hotel + fancy dinner + the Chocolate Lounge for Mom's birthday. I take a week off to be in San Diego after teaching at TNNA. I get stuck overnight in an airport and can afford to get a hotel room at the last minute. I drive 3 hours and get a hotel to visit my husband's grandpa before he dies, then the next week for the funeral…then the next week for Thanksgiving.

These aren't glamorous rolling-in-the-dough stories. But this is real life.
I'm a 31-year-old married French major who likes to watch movies in a sofa cinema and can't bear “office casual”.
I bring home the puppy chow from my ideas and my words and my hands.

And in the nearly 5 years of doing this full-time, I've learned how do it, and do it with some ease.

And so, I think long and hard before I answer a question like the one Laura asked: “How do you create the income of your dreams when creating the products by hand?”

The answer is GINORMOUS.

But it's also kinda small: Profit. 

Everything you sell, every project you work on, and every opportunity you jump on must be profitable for your overall business to be profitable.

But doing that! It involves…math, my dear friends.
And it involves bold honesty. We tend to avoid the things we're not-so-comfortable with, so I created a class that walks you through all of it. From individual product profit-testing, to the things that keep your whole business paying you. It's the systems I use (and that I've helped other crafters in the Starship use) to launch new products, find new income streams, and pay the bills.

In the meantime, I can begin to answer Laura's question, with the very first step of profitability: Knowing your numbers.

Watch the below video to learn about your numbers and what they teach you:

(I made this video last year. Pay Yourself  has newer, better quality videos – watch a sample here.)


Once you know your numbers, it's time to learn from them + to  Pay Yourself




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

The best part of handquilting is that you are UNDER A QUILT. #snugly #yearofmaking 43/365Really, very snowed in (that's my car in the bottom right), which I was looking forward to, since I have 50 cupcakes to bake by Saturday (for a wedding). And then we ran out of flour. #dohBinding off Color Affection! (k2, k those 2 sts together) #yearofmaking 40/365I've been wearing my newly-finished Color Affection around the house all day -with bed hair, my dad's old thermal & slipper-boots. #keepinitrealRemember how I was looking for (& couldn't find) motorcycle cupcake toppers? My solution: make my own! With good dark chocolate. #yearofmaking 44/365 #veganThe bride brought me flour, so cupcakes are ON! (I had to hike down to the main road so she wouldn't get stuck.) This is the first of four (dozen).

I am so grateful for…

  • Restful Snow Days (+ giving in to the lazing-around-the-house)
  • the opportunity to help friends create their wedding day (the brownies + motorcycles above are the groom's cake!)
  • a successful and stress-free launch of Pay Yourself
  • Getting to know my smart + clever readers (when you subscribe I send you a personal note, which often leads to great conversations!)


The Good Stuff

This week I started a Pinterest board full of Pay Yourself-related resources. You can find all the great articles, books, and ideas here.

I finished my second Color Affection and I really really love it. I call it Boston Affection, because the gray yarn is Toil + Trouble (Ana's responsible for my last trip to Boston!) and the blue is from Gather Here (my fave Boston yarn shop, bought after teaching there).

I love how Elise Blaha is willing to try new things + crazy ideas for her handmade shop. Her Make29 project is proof that you don't have to do things the way everyone else does.

I've been obsessing over two cat fabrics: Lizzy House's Catnap and Aneela Hooey's Hello Petal. I think I need them both TOGETHER for the ultimate in a cat-lady sewing. A pillow for the couch, perhaps? (Know of another cute, modern, not-too-girly cat fabric? Share it in the comments, please!)

The Wardrobe Architect series by Collette Patterns is rocking my world. As a hater-of-shopping, this is very useful in defining my style (I have a very easy time saying a firm NO to anything I don't love, without being able to articulate why…leaving me with very few clothes. I think this series is going to help. )  A huge thanks to Kim Werker + her newsletter for pointing me towards it!


In case you missed it, Pay Yourself is now open, for only ONE week (it closes next Friday). Read more and sign up here. 

Let’s explore profit

let's explore profit

Money. Profit. Pricing.

These are some of the hardest things to talk about in our businesses (and lives!), for a many reasons: because of our culture and its messages, because we might use it as a measure of our self-worth (and thus, it becomes a tool of self-doubt), and  because it is so easy to get lost in the Comparison Game.

This is exactly why we should explore it. Not just explore the ideas of profitability or making money – but explore your actual, real-life numbers, no matter what they are.

You see, in my work with creatives I find two things that routinely get in the way of their doing what they want to do:

  1. They don't have a plan, they don't know exactly where they want to go. (Which is why I created this.)
  2. They don't know where they are, they don't know their actual numbers. (Which is why I created this.)

If you want to go somewhere else, you have to know where you are right now.
If you want to make more money, you need to know what your money is doing right now. You need to know your expenses, your profit margin, your minimum break-even point and your most profitable products.
With this knowledge, you can grow, build, and expand. You can spend your time on what works and stop doing what doesn't.

But this doesn't have to be hard or stressful or self-flagellating. We can pull out these numbers, run a little math, and then learn the lessons. We can explore instead of hoping, comparing, or grasping.

If you'd like to join me in this exploration, it's time to learn how to Pay Yourself.




Image by Lacey Atkinson

Instead of comparing, explore


instead of comparing explore

“I'm just not doing enough. I thought it would have already happened. I might be missing *something* because everyone else is doing so much better, faster.”

I hear this all the time, from Captains, clients, friends…and inside my own head.

If you read some blogs, it seems that everyone is always killing it. That they're making a lot, selling a lot, and generally rolling around in piles of money, while working on a beach.

Apparently, everyone in the world is measuring the success of their business in figures. And they're all large. And successful.
{Click to Tweet this!}

Perhaps I'm especially sensitive to this because in the last year of teaching Pay Yourself (a class about calculating profit) to a variety of artists + makers, I had the chance to dig into real numbers from real people.
And in every instance, the things that were not profitable were the things they didn't really want to do. They were only doing them because someone else did. Or someone “successful” said to.

So I've got this unique perspective. I see the loud claims of showy success and I see the real insides of some amazing creatives. I see what really works and what is supposed to work and doesn't.

But when you can't see the insides – when you're just you,  working away at making your dream real – all these “success stories” can wear you out, discourage you, or worst of all – kick off a new round of the comparison game, where you start measuring your success by everyone else's. 

No matter how many times you tell yourself to ignore it, it can be discouraging. You forget that gross income (or, the money you take in) is not the same as net profit (the money you get to keep after paying all your expenses)…and most people are talking about their gross income. You can think that every month is a big blockbuster month for everyone and that no one else has slim (and fat) months.

(They do, they really do. In a recent Starship chat every single member present spoke up to encourage another and said: Yep, I've been there.)

All of this confusion about what's real + the non-stop comparison game going on in your head is why you won't hear me talking about “how to make six figures.” I'd rather help you explore where your profitability already is. I'd rather you  set a doable goal for the next three months and work towards that. I'd rather you explore what you want, so you can pursue it wholeheartedly. I'd rather connect you with other explorers who are real and encouraging and honest.

Because THAT is the real secret to how you get to those huge numbers – you slowly build to them step by step, by expanding on what's working and sustainably growing your capacity and your audience. 

That's how you get the small successes that lead to the bigger picture.

It's not a sexy message, I know. But it's real and true and encouraging and full of so much HOPE. Your tomorrow can be different. If can be what you want, but you have to make it so*.


*A Captain Picard nod for my fellow geeks

Tomorrow I open Pay Yourself. 
In it, we'll work with your real numbers to determine where the profitability is (and isn't) so you can laser-focus on the aspects of your business that support sustainable growth. It's not sexy, but it's gentle and encouraging and you only have to do math on ONE day. Registration opens tomorrow + it closes in just over a week, on February 21st. This is the last time I'll be holding it live online with a community of fellow explorers.

If you'd like to get real about your money, the downloadable class is available any time, right here!

If you'd like a sneak peek at how we'll talk about budgeting as a tool for earning more inside Pay Yourself, you can read my post here on OhMyHandmade.

What I’m Reading: February 2014

follow my enthusiasm by reading…a lot. And once a month, I share (some of) the books I read last month and the books I intend to read this month. You can join the informal book club by sharing your own list in the comments and find all the posts here

What I'm reading, February 2014

This was the month of starting and then giving up on books. Even though I'm a fan of  quitting (it's one of my reading rules), it's still a bummer when I realize that the book's not getting any better.

What I read: 

Ape: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur Everything you need to know to self-publish including laying out your book + making all the different ebook formats.

Released, S.J. Pajonas – So good! And I got to interview her here! 

The Nerdist Way, by Chris Hardwick – This was a Christmas gift from Jay, because it's been on my list for years and we're fans of the Nerdist podcast (the perfect road trip sidekick – something for the radio that we can both agree on). Loved that it was so in line with what I teach, especially the Map Making Guide.

Rockabye: From Wild to Child, by Rebecca Woolfe – I love this blogger's voice so when I saw the book at the library, I snatched it up. Quick, easy, entertaining.

Give and Take, by Adam Grant  – Well, I got about halfway through this, then skipped around. I agree with the premise, but all the examples are a bunch of old, corporate white guys who “give” by introducing tech companies to possible investors. This got old, so I decided to give it up. 

Allegiant – another book I gave up on after being annoyed. So sad, because I loved the first book in this trilogy. Oh, and I skipped ahead and read the last chapter, so I know how it ends. (Harry had it right)

What I hope to read: 



How about you? What are you reading? 


Disclaimer-y Disclaimer!  Or course I’m biased when my friends write a book, but I don’t mention things I don’t like. Read the usual disclaimer here.


Adventures in publishing and editing, with Alicia + Kelly

Today I'm happy to be talking to author Alicia de los Reyes and her editor and publisher, Kelly Rizzetta.

We talked about

  • the self-publishing options,
  • the importance of an editor for improving your framework
  • how they collaborated together
  • their best marketing tactic (not what you'd think).

(If you're reading this via email, click through to see the video! If you'd like to get posts via email, click here.)


Alicia de los Reyes is a writer and teacher  in Seattle, WA. She recently published an ebook called The Chick Lit Cookbook: A Guide to Writing Your Novel in 30 Minutes a Day, and she's now blogging about her experience using that guide to write a brand-new novel here. Kelly Rizzetta is the editor-in-chief of New Jersey-based KMR Publishing, which produced The Chick Lit Cookbook.


If you're an author, whether self-published or traditionally published, I've put together a list of resources for you! If you'd like to work together to create a marketing plan for your book, I can help you with that!


You might also like: 


The easier way to make a decision: filters

Don't wait for willpower to resist the cookies.

How do you make a decision?
To buy a class, a book, a new accounting software?
To advertise, join a new social site, to price that item?
How do you decide what to blog about, what to tweet about, what photographs to share?

Crafting your own business is full of zillion daily decisions, some so tiny we don't recognize that we're making decisions. In order to deal with it all, we fall into automatic patterns of reacting, responding, even of buying.

And this is good. Studies show that we have a limited amount of willpower, and thus it's more effective to have systems to automatically make decisions and take action. But if you're not happy with the results of your automatic reaction, or want to do something new and different, the answer is not to “try harder” but to craft a new process for making that kind of decision.
(This could be anything – from how you share your work, to what books you read, to what you do with your workday.)

The easy way to craft a new decisions-making system is to create a filter.
A filter keeps out all the stuff you don't want and allows in more of what you do want. (Like panning for gold!)
Creating a filter is easy: You make one decision (not a resolution or a goal, but a commitment) and that produces a filter – every decision is filtered through that decision.

For example, you decide (in map making) that this quarter you really want to finish your book. This is your filter. Everything that comes at you – opportunities, ideas, suggestions – it's all filtered through the question: Does this help me finish my book? This is the power of crafting a plan – it makes all your other decisions (and thus, your whole life!) so much easier, and less reliant on willpower.

Another filter that's easy to forget when we measure success by “followers” or “likes” or blog comments  is PROFIT. No, your business isn't just about money…but if you don't have profit, you don't have a business (for the distinction between a hobby + a business, watch this). As a savvy business lady, you filter every product + buying decision through Profit: How does this impact the profit margin? How many units  do I need to sell before it's profitable?
(By the way, it's ok if this makes you a little queasy and you don't know your actual numbers. This is why I'm working on a new exploration into profit.)

Other filters you might use: Customer Delight, Sales, Enthusiasm (my favorite!).

What filters do you use?