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. Learn more + join the class right 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 the book doesn't dive too deep into any particular tool (because I knew they'd become outdated) and instead focuses on foundations of an effective marketing plan.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!).
“I do some design work for the knit/crochet toys I make. What should I
do with my “seconds” or failed design attempts? They are completed,
it's just that I'm not really happy with the way the turned out and
end up making a modified version of the same toy.
Would selling them at a discount at a craft fair devalue my other work?”
In the second episode of Ask Tara – I answer this conundrum with three options.
Not everything requires a complex solution. Sometimes, you need to make a decision but you feel stuck. You're not sure what you should do and your head is all swirly. It's time to pull out my favorite business tool: a conversation.
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?
Firstly, I really struggle maintaining schedules and blocked off hours so I work from a To Do List and that means I have one big project every day that is comprised of several little supporting tasks.
The biggest fantasy fulfillment is right there – knowing I suck at schedules and being able to work with my strengths to find a rhythm that works for me and my business without outside pressure.
The structure of my days are pretty consistent though, regardless of what big project I'm focused on.
I usually wake up at 5 in the morning to my Army husband's PT alarm and then fall back asleep unless he's lost his keys (like this morning!). I'm awake again at 7 when he gets home to change and go into work. I finally wake up naturally at around 10:30 or 11. This part is great, I lay in bed from the time consciousness is barely on me to the time I can't help but open my eyes and think about my day and my big project and whatever else is on my brain. It's my personal form of meditation!
From there I check my phone and do any quick replies to emails or Etsy messages from bed.
Then I'm up and ready to do whatever big project is at hand, today it's writing here and working on my blog so “up” just means an extra pillow to prop me up. However this afternoon I am finishing up yesterday's big project by spinning in the living room, so I do get up-up eventually!
The evening brings my mate home and I generally spend it cooking dinner, doing chores and cuddling up with a new favourite on Netflix.
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?
I started selling hand dyed fiber with this vision of being 100% supported by it. That was 5 years ago.
I've grown a lot and learned to listen to my North Stars and myself in terms of success. Once I started to look inside instead of outside and slowly shed the playlists I thought I had to follow I really started to hone in on what my business looks like now.
I still dye fiber, but I only dye 4-6 pounds a month. I specialize in unique blends and you will rarely ever see Merino shadow my door. By keeping it small I find I look forward to each dye day instead of panicking about how I am going to get all this to sell FAST so I can dye X lbs by YESTERDAY!
Next are my ebooks. I went through a lot of crash and burn variations of packing up my teaching passion into a neat e-course before I landed on ebooks. I adore the entire process of creating these and foresee them being a huge part of my business for a very long time.
The final major component is blogging. Building a thriving handmade lifestyle brand with my blogging is one of my big overarching goals this year. I have had a blog since that first sale but in the last year I have really buckled down and created something I am extremely proud of.
I also write for magazines and sometimes teach in person.
What new thing are you exploring now?
Right now I am stretching my wings in this new kind of peace that comes with having stability in my business and my personal life that I've never had before.
In all honestly, it's been a really hard stretch.
To a kid who has always found home in chaotic frenzy, it doesn't feel totally okay to be at peace with where my business is.
I'm leaning in and trying to embrace this stability by improving the aspects of my business that I didn't feel like I could focus on before like building a store apart from Etsy and my email list.
To me success is being able to do what I love, which is living and sharing a handmade lifestyle. I get to share my passion through teaching and blogging and supplying beautiful fiber.
I also get to share by being able to buy handmade and ethical products for myself and my family, which means I put my money where my mouth is in terms of my ethics and beliefs. For example I bought my husband and I handmade slippers from Ukraine instead of Wal-Mart because I now have the financial freedom to do that.
Making thousands of dollars a month or making enough so that my husband can quit his job (he'd be crushed to leave the Army) isn't what I want or need. Understanding that is okay was the most freeing lesson I've learned in business to date.
What's the next destination you're working towards?
Right now that means building a strong foundation under my business which is requiring me to be bold and intentional because it means not losing myself in another chaotic new project but also because some of those tasks are extremely scary or boring, usually both!
You do not need to get better at “managing your time.” You need to take action. This is not about getting more done. It's about spending the time on the things that matter to you (including your business!).
Welcome to the first episode to Ask Tara!
Today I'm answering the question of where to start with accounting and bookkeeping for your small creative business. I share my clients' favorite accounting resources and walk you through what I do.
I 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 read
Art of Asking, by Amanda Palmer – This book was recommended to me a million times, and then a thread popped up in the Starship where Captains started reading it together. Oh man, it is just so good if you're an artist or maker who has a hard time with the exchange of your art for money. Amanda built her tribe, person by person, hug by hug, at hundreds of shows and she shares in this book about how she built the relationships. I highly recommend it (if you're not easily offended!).
The Art of the Book Proposal, by Eric Maisel – I've been working on a proposal all quarter, and this book is keeping my company. Unlike a lot of other books about the parts of a proposal, he digs into how to think about it, which I love.
The 4 Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferriss – I read this waaay back in 2009 when I first left my day job. I wanted to revisit it to see if it's a good resource for my clients, and this time I took completely different lessons from it. It's a classic and bestseller for a reason.
It's Not About The Money, by Brent Kessel – I talk a lot with my students about their issues with money, and this book, which identifies different archetypes that we approach money with, provided a great new perspective at these issues we all have.