Weekly-ish notes on navigating big change

Month: June 2015

Adventures in Business with Indie Dyer and Designer Karen Robinson

Today I'm happy to share the adventures of Starship Captain  Karen Robinson. Karen is a knitting designer (KarenDawn Designs) and yarn dyer (Round Table Yarns) with an advanced degree in medieval literature, so her pattern and yarn names are based on medieval texts. You can also find Karen's designs on Ravelry and her shop on Etsy.

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

I try to get up before my 3-year-old son so I can have time alone in the morning to drink coffee and check my email and Ravelry. The rest of the day depends a lot on whether or not we have any activities planned and if I have any editing projects. My “day job” is a freelance copy editor—I work with indie fiction authors and I’m also the copy editor for PLY Magazine —so the amount of work I have each day can vary quite a bit.

If it’s a stay home day, I get some yarn ready to dye by soaking it in a bucket. I dye very small dyelots (just a skein or two at a time), so I dye a little bit each day if I can. I make a list of what I need to do that day and get breakfast ready. Once we’ve eaten (it takes the 3 year old a long time to eat), the yarn has soaked enough, so I prepare the first round of dyeing and put the yarn in the dyepot. Then if I have an editing project, I may try to work a little on that or take care of some other tasks on the computer. But mostly this time in the morning revolves around my son, so I don’t do anything that takes too much concentration. Every hour or so, I swap out the yarn in the dyepot for another batch.

Then lunch and after that my son goes down for a nap. He’ll be four in August, and I know that he’s bound to give up nap time in the not-too-distant future (although we’ll change it to quiet time when he does), but that’s really when I get the bulk of my work done. As soon as I close his bedroom door, I’m on my computer, editing if I have that work or working on a pattern or making changes to my website or adding new yarn to my shop. He naps anywhere from 1-3 hours (I love those 3-hour nap days!), so I know I have a limited amount of time to work which is a great motivator for getting stuff done (although I do still occasionally get sucked into spending way too long on Ravelry).

Once my son is awake, it’s not too long before my husband gets home. Depending on how much I got done during nap time, I might have to work a little more after that or I might get to be mostly done with work on the computer that day. After my son goes to bed, my husband and I usually watch TV together and this is when I get the bulk of my knitting time.

Karen's Blanchefleur Shawl (www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/blanchefleur-shawl)
Karen's Blanchefleur Shawl (www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/blanchefleur-shawl)

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?

The way I’ve been involved in the business side of the fiber world has changed over the years, but it’s finally evolved into something that I’m happy with. For a while, I wanted knitting to be completely a hobby and not something I would ever do for money or as a business. My mother-in-law is a quilter and when someone asks her how much she charges for a quilt, her response is “a million dollars.” Her explanation is that quilting is something she does for fun and that she doesn’t want to feel pressured by it, which is how she would feel if she were working on a commission. So she’s happy to make quilts as gifts for people she finds deserving, but she does it in her own time on her own schedule.

I had that attitude for a while, but then I had my son and I left academia and felt strange about not bringing in any money to the household. I was tired all the time (newborn!) and still wanted to knit, but I couldn’t concentrate on the types of projects I enjoyed doing (intricate cables or lace), so I started making super simple things like stockinette baby hats. But even though I had a baby, he didn’t need that many hats so I got the idea to try selling them. I did a couple of local craft fairs and also rented a space at an artisan shop to sell my knitting. Or attempt to sell my knitting (I also got a sewing machine during this time and sewed some things to sell as well—those things did a little better). I learned that many people didn’t understand how much work it was and I liked using “good” yarn, so the price points I had my items at seemed to be too high for what people were willing to pay but I didn’t want to give them away either, so I actually sold very little.

That whole situation (lasting about a year) was kind of a dark time in my knitting life. I look back at my Ravelry project page for that year and see how little I actually did. And everything I did do was super simple and unchallenging. That’s not the kind of knitter I had been before—if I saw a project I liked, I made it. If it used a technique I hadn’t tried before, I learned it. I didn’t shy away from something because it seemed difficult. So, quite frankly, after that year of selling knitted items, I was completely bored.

I realized I’m a process knitter. I greatly enjoy the actual act of knitting. And I do like using the items I make, but mostly I have stacks of shawls and hats even after giving away a lot of gifts. I had thought the answer to that was to sell those items, but I knew that wasn’t working. So what could I do instead? And how could I get my knitting mojo back and start really enjoying and exploring again?

I had taken a class a few years back at my then LYS about designing a scarf, and I liked that process quite a bit. I finished the scarf, got some test knitters on Ravelry, and posted the pattern for free (my Criseyde Scarf). Over the years since that experience, I had thought about doing more designing, but it was always something that was just in the back of my mind. Then I was trying to find a cowl pattern that matched the image in my head of what I wanted but was having trouble finding it. That’s when things clicked and I decided to try designing my own. I learned a lot by going through that process with the cowl (I have an entire finished cowl that I am completely unhappy with—I’ve kept it rather than frogging it as a reminder that if I’m knitting something and not liking how it’s turning out, I should stop and figure out what I don’t like rather than just thinking “I’m sure it’ll look fine once I finish it.”), which became my Lady Bertilak Cowl.

The act of figuring out how to construct something based on ideas in my head and then putting those into actual knitting is “the thing” that is making me feel completely happy and fulfilled in my knitting life. I have challenge, a lot of process, and a good reason for keeping the finished objects (samples!).

Around the beginning of this year, a friend had decided not to expand her fiber dyeing business into yarn dyeing so she gave me a bag of undyed yarn—with the idea that I could use it for swatches. (I do so many more swatches now as a designer than I ever did before!) But that undyed yarn was calling out for color, so on a whim, I got some acid dyes and started experimenting. And fell completely in love with the process of adding color to yarn. Thus Round Table Yarns was born, and I selected yarn bases that matched up to the patterns I’ve designed. And although I never want to be completely insular—so much beautiful yarn out there!—I am designing more in mind with making the connection between my patterns and yarn (and dyeing colors based upon what might work well with my patterns).

A basket full of Round Table Yarns in the Camelot base, which is a fingering weight MCN.
A basket full of Round Table Yarns in the Camelot base, which is a fingering weight MCN.


What new thing are you exploring now?

Different shapes for shawls—I love the triangular shawls but I don’t want to get locked into that construction all the time so I’m trying out some new ideas. Different yarn colors and dyeing techniques. Making self-striping sock yarn (so much work but the results are so much fun!). Knitting with breed-specific wools to see how their characteristics affect the results of the knitted item.


What's your definition of success in your business?

It took me a while to figure this out (and I figured it out thanks to a worksheet in one of Tara’s classes), but I realized that it’s pretty simple: I love seeing what other people make with my “stuff”—either one of my patterns or out of some of my yarn (or both!). So I feel successful when I check Ravelry and see someone has posted a picture of a project using my pattern. Although it feels good to sell a pattern, it feels amazing to have someone actually use that pattern. My dream is to be at a fiber festival (either as a vendor or attendee) and see someone wearing one of my designs (or something with my yarn). That experience would make me feel like I’m truly a success.


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

I’ve been working on a pattern collection with five crescent-shaped shawls. The goal is to have it finished and ready for STITCHES Texas in September (where I’ll have a booth), and I’m on schedule (dare I say even a little ahead of schedule) for it. I’m working with the ladies of Stitch Definition for photography, tech editing, and layout/design, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how it all comes together. Along with that, I’m gearing up for several fiber festivals/events coming up in the fall.

Want to join Karen and other Starship Captains? The Starship is open now (it closes tomorrow!)

The Four Tendencies: How to make real change in your life and business


How do you make change in your business or life that sticks? In today's episode, we'll explore the kind of habits your business needs, how your reaction to expectations impacts your habit-formation, and how to finally do what you want to do (no matter what “type” of person you are!).

Links Mentioned

How to listen

Find all the podcast episodes here.

The process of introspection, implementation and growth

 The Starship is Now OpenThe Starship is now boarding!

You can read all about it here, but I wanted to give you a bit of a backstage pass into why the Starship is built the way it is.

The Starship only opens once a quarter*, in order to make sure everyone gets started from the same place (and to ensure that I have time to get to know everyone and their business).

*To keep it small + personal (so you can connect, collaborate and befriend each other) only 12 new Captains will beam up this quarter (to join the 70 who are already aboard). After that, boarding closes until October!

The Starship is a place for weekly accountability, monthly review and anytime-you-want-it question-asking…but I’ve learned over the last 5 years (!) that it’s not enough to have resources, you have to know where and how you want to use them. Unless you start with a plan and intention, all the resources can overwhelm you.

Over the years, I’ve built in plan-making, intention-setting rituals + resources, into the schedule of the Starship, so that you will use it to grow and improve your business.

Here’s the process of intention-setting and implementation: 

1. Get oriented in the Starship.

With a quick email series, you’ll learn how to navigate the resources available to you. You’ll also learn how to make a Clear Ask, so that you get the help you need (Captains have told me that they now use this in all their communication!)

2. Get oriented in your own business.

It’s vital to know where your business is, right now. (Not just where you want it to be, or where you think it “should” be). You'll do this by Charting Your Stars. You'll take a week-long course that helps you find your North Star, make your own Star Map for navigating your dreams, and set Destinations that actually matter to you.

This is the first step to ensuring you move forward, in the direction you really want to go (and it's exclusive to the Starship and Lift Off).

3. Make each dream do-able.

On July 6th, the entire Starship makes a Map, using this guide. With a 6 day e-course and a dedicated forum, you’ll identify your next Destination (for the next 3 months) and break it down into do-able To Dos. This is where everything you dream about doing becomes practical.

If you've never set and reached a goal in your business, this process will change your life.

4. Learn how you best work.

After you’ve got your do-able To Dos … you actually have to do them. Through forum posts and weekly check-ins you’ll identify how you best get work done, and we’ll help un-stick you when you get stuck.

5. Learn what you don't know. 

Whether your goal requires you to improve your profitability, create an effective marketing plan, or become more effective with your time, The Starship Library has you covered. You'll have immediate access to over a dozen classes (find the full list here) AND you can sign up for Lift Off (for free!) and build the foundations of your business over the next 6 months

6. Stay on track.

Every month we look back and review your adventure so far in a super-quick Reassessment Log. You can see where you swerved and what you learned. We’re there to cheer on every mile marker you reach!


Grace says: “Every year I go through the entire process of Chart Your Stars and Map Making, cover to cover. The insight into what is right for me is undeniable and incredible. So helpful in fact that every month I go back through them and touch up the areas that need to be redefined – a big part of running a successful business is constantly checking in and making sure I'm staying true to my mission and myself!”

After 3 months, every quarter, we start the cycle again with Map Making and review – so that you’re always moving forward, always identifying the next Destination and going after it with the freshest information on your very own business. (This way we avoid the I forgot about my New Year’s Resolutions! problem.)

You don’t need another thing to remember. 

Have you ever bought an online class and then didn’t know what to do or how to navigate the space or what happened when? I hate that! So I’ve built the entire process to come to you easily + simply.

That’s why Starship Captains don’t have to remember ANY of this. Everything I mentioned just comes to you. You don’t have to remember to check a website, or log in, or anything. Every Wednesday I send an email with a mini-lesson, reminders about what we’re doing (the Map Making, the classes), and an invitation to the weekly chat. So if you take a week (or month!) away, you have a chance to jump back in, every week.

What's new

Every quarter we add something new to the Starship, based on member's suggestions. Last quarter I created my most-thorough marketing class (Craft Your Marketing, which you'll only find in the Library!) and Wrangle Your Time.

This quarter we're adding

  • Accountability Partners – want someone to check in with you via email, phone, video, Twitter or something else? You tell us your preferences and we'll hand-match you to an accountability partner.
  • Live Q+As – once every three months, I'll answer all of your questions, via a live video! (Yep, there's a recording!)
  • Every worksheet, video, and audio lesson has been newly edited! This means a more seamless experience for you!
  • A new, seamless payment plan with smaller monthly payments. (Details here)
  • A brand-new option: Warp Drive! If you want one-on-ones with me, you can get that with a Warp Drive Starship membership. And if you don't need them, there's now an option without the one-on-ones.


Any questions?

Read all the details here, then send me an email (tara@taraswiger.com) if you've got any questions!

PS. Every class, workbook, and Guide I’ve mentioned comes FREE with your Starship membership. You’ll get access to absolutely everything I do (including exclusive access to one-on-one sessions).

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

A pronunciation guide to my name, courtesy the barista. It's Tar-ah (like star-ah).
???SUCCESS! Now! What would YOU do with a gallon of strawberries?
What I did with some of those strawberries: Smitten Kitchen's #vegan crumb bars. ? #whatveganseat
It's just a lazy Sunday. (Beau is yawning)

I am so grateful for…

  • The fantastic people I get to work with. They inspire me more than anything.
  • Coffee.
  • A last-minute chance to go to the beach for 2 days.

The Finds:

I’m loving:

I’m eating: 

In case you missed it: 

What adventures have you had?

Interview with Fiber Artist Sasha Torres


Today I'm thrilled to have fiber artist and Starship Captain Sasha Torres on the podcast, sharing her business journey! Sasha makes gorgeous breed-specific yarn and fiber, which you can find at SheepSpot.

We discuss:

  • What inspired her to start her business
  • The major turning points and epiphanies that changed her business (you can apply them to yours!)
  • How “No one is thinking about you” helped her marketing
  • The wonderfulness of email UNsubscribers
  • Feeling satisfied with what you've accomplished
  • How a survey helped shape her new offer

Links to what we mentioned: 

Sasha mentions our one-on-one sessions and Map Making, which come as part of her Starship membership. Sign up here to be notified when it opens next!

How to listen

  • You can subscribe to it on iTunes (If you do, leave a review!)
  • You can listen to it using the player above or download it.
  • Subscribe or listen via Stitcher (or subscribe in whatever you use for podcasts – just search “Explore Your Enthusiasm” and it should pop up!)

Find all the podcast episodes here.

Adventures in Business with Designer and Tech Editor Joeli Caparco

Today I'm happy to share the insights of Starship Captain and knitwear designer, Joeli Caparco. Joeli designs classic, practical knitting garments and accessories that are road-tested for life's adventures. She also is a knitting pattern tech editor and creates online courses to help people discover the secrets of tech editing themselves. Find these patterns and courses plus her podcast at joeliskitchen.com

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

I still have my youngest son home with me, so I'm not quite a full-timer yet! Mornings are spent with my son until he goes to preschool at 1pm. I then work until 4 or 5pm. Once a week I work from 1-9pm and to be honest I work a other few evenings as well, sometimes until 2 in the morning. When I'm working I could be answering emails, writing a blog post or newsletter, doing tech editing work, designing, or podcasting. Sometimes a work day is spent knitting whilst watching a movie and sometimes I'm stuck in spreadsheets the whole time. It really varies. It's also quite challenging to be flexible and accept that sometimes one kid or the other will be sick and need me and I have to give up my work hours then. I need to be sure there is flexibility in my deadlines or if I want to take on a big project with a strict deadline then I need to be sure that I communicate with my husband to make sure he can be on kid-duty that week should something happen. (He's totally supportive but also deals with project deadlines at work and it can be difficult for him to take time off.)


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'm doing it by being really aware of our expenses and making sure we can meet the essentials with just my husband's salary. This was simple for us to do because we started our family straight out of university and so we never got used to having two salaries. My work hours have varied massively throughout the years — I started out working just one afternoon a week and at one point built up to 3 full days (and a couple evenings). That felt too stressful on our family, though, and came with a hefty childcare bill – so I cut all the way back down to two afternoons a week. (For the full story about that and how not-so-easily I took that change, you can read this post here: My Journey to Fearlessness.) I'm building my hours back up again but doing it slowly and mindfully.
I also have a wide variety of sources of income — I have my tech editing, online courses, knitting patterns, craft shows, in person teaching, as well as consistent work from a couple publications that I work with. I find that having a variety of work means that when one thing is a bit slow another thing is picking up. It also means that I can spend time on things that don't directly provide me income (working on my website, doing the podcast, etc.) because I have other things that provide a stable income.




What new thing are you exploring now?

Right now, I'm working on ways to grow my YouTube channel. I really enjoy making videos and so I'm working on making tutorials and doing reviews as well as keeping up my normal podcast. I'm also really fascinated by Periscope and am exploring live streaming my podcast as I record it so I can interact with the audience in realtime. I've been watching gamers do livestreams for a while now and would love this to become more popular amongst knitters.


What's your definition of success in your business?

My definition of success is sustainability. For me that means making a reasonable hourly rate. I track how many hours I work in a month as well as my monthly income. As long as my hourly rate is the same as working the checkout at the grocery store then I feel good about my business. It's not about overall income numbers because sometimes the kids have school holidays and I don't work (and therefore earn) nearly as much as I do in a typical month. I want to be able to take that time off and enjoy their holidays with them and so I can't focus on monthly targets. Looking at an average hourly rate gives me personally a much better indicator of how well my business is doing.


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

Eventually (next year) both my boys will be in school and at that point I would like to be looking at getting a studio space and using it to start teaching knitting, spinning and weaving classes to people (especially kids) in my local community. Until then it's keep doing what I'm doing and enjoying the little successes!

Want to learn from other Starship Captains? Sign up here to read their stories!

What I’m Reading – June 2015

WARNING: Lift Off closes today!
My bedside reading stack. I've got links to everything I read in May and everything I'm currently reading, on the blog! #fridayreads

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

  • Playing Big, by Tara Mohr. This book guides you through the process of finding and stepping into the next stage in your life. Whether that's massive business growth or changing careers or starting a non-profit or..anything – this book is filled with insight into what you're going to encounter and journaling exercises to help you move past it. Considering the “guided meditations” in a few chapters, I was pleasantly surprised by how full of applicable, pragmatic advice it was. It was exactly what I needed for where I was this Spring.
  • War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy. HOLLA! I finished a big one, yo! I read this all through my trip to Oregon and although I felt self-conscious (What's that you're reading? Oh, WAR AND PEACE, no big deal.), I think it was easier to stick with when I didn't have anything else. Surprisingly – it was actually compelling and interesting (if you let yourself get sucked in and don't worry too much if you really know who is who in the beginning.) It all comes together!
  • In the Woods, by Tana French. After W+P, I needed something fun. And well, this novel isn't fun as in happy, but it's definitely engrossing and thrilling. I read it all in a day and I have the second one waiting for me this weekend.
  • The Secret History of Wonder Woman, by Jill LaPore. This is more of a history of the creators of Wonder Woman than an actual look at the comics itself. But the creators, they were colorful, so their story is an interesting one. (By the way, I was bummed by Dr. LaPore's article in the New Yorker, it just didn't provide any cultural context. I highly recommend this response if you're interested in feminism + comics.)
  • Season 8 of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. I didn't love it, but I loved parts of it. I was totally over the “slayer army” in Season 7, so I waited a long time to read this. But now I'm hooked!

What I'm reading

What I read last year

What are you reading?




The usual disclaimery disclaimer applies! 

The most effective way to grow


How do your grow your business? 

This question seem like a big one, with a million answers, but the truth is, you can narrow your focus on just four levers to create massive growth in your business. In today's episode I'll discuss these four levers and how they impact your business growth.

How to listen

  • You can subscribe to it on iTunes (If you do, leave a review!)
  • You can listen to it using the player above or download it.
  • Subscribe or listen via Stitcher (or subscribe in whatever you use for podcasts – just search “Explore Your Enthusiasm” and it should pop up!).
  • Get all the blog posts, email lessons + podcast episodes in your inbox, subscribe via email.

Find all the podcast episodes here.


5 Lessons I learned from your Income Reports

whativelearnedfromyourincomereports copy

Over the last two weeks, I've shared the Real Numbers, via Income Reports, of other makers just like you. (Find Income Reports of Knitwear Designers here and Handmakers here.) This whole project has opened a lot of conversations and has taught me a lot. Today I’m distilling it all into 5 lessons.

So here's what I learned from looking at the numbers, feelings, and reflections of over a hundred makers and designers:

1. MANY many businesses (ie, people who specifically marked it as a “business” and not a “hobby”) had no idea what their numbers are, in a single month.
I got many messages from makers who wanted to fill it out, but they couldn't. They didn't know where to start in gathering their numbers, or maybe even what the terms meant. This bummed me out, because you can't fix what you don't measure. There's no way of knowing if what you're doing is working unless you've got a way to measure it.

(I share the very beginnings of how to track your numbers in this video.)


2. Many makers don’t know what they want.  
When I asked in the survey “How do you feel after answering these questions?” the responses ranged from “Depressed” to “Scared” to “Excited!” That's perfectly normal. I feel all of the above, just about every week. That's just part of being an entrepreneur and building something completely new.

But what stood out for me were the number of respondents who said they didn't know how to feel about it. Is it good? Bad? They didn't know what their numbers meant for their business health. That makes sense, because numbers don’t mean anything on their own.

For example, let’s say you made $20 yesterday. That might be an awesome day if you sell $5 products, or if you don't make daily sales. It might be a miserable day if you sell $500 products, or if you want to make $2,000 a week.

If you don't know what you want from your business, you won't have any context for what a specific number means. Remember: No one number has meaning without context.

Solution: Put them in context! Get clear on what it is you want from your business by defining success.


3. Many makers feel disappointed and overwhelmed.
What's interesting is that disappointment and overwhelm aren’t correlated to the income numbers. We all feel it at one time or another. But it did seem to be correlated with how much the respondent understood cause and effect in their business. In other words, if a maker is measuring other numbers (conversion, email subscribers, etc.), they are less likely to be overwhelmed. Why? Because they know what they can do. They recognize that they have options, and that they can experiment. I've seen this to be true, time and again. Just understanding the variables that affect your sales, and how you can experiment with those variables to increase sales, can keep you from feeling so hopeless about your business.


4. When you focus in on what matters in your business, everything else becomes obvious.
Several of your fellow readers wrote me to say, “After doing these numbers I realized that I've been wasting my time worrying about X” (X = all the things that have nothing to do with the 4 important business foundations. All the things you think you “should” do).


5. You are not alone.
Whether you don't know what your numbers are, you don't know what you want out of your business, or you just feel overwhelmed with figuring it all out – you're really, really not alone. There are hundreds of other makers who feel just like you.

Good news: this confusion and overwhelm can be overcome by focusing in on what you want and building a business based on that. You don't have to feel like this forever. I've worked with dozens of makers who feel a zillion times better about their business. In fact, I created a program to help you do exactly that, and it's open now (come on inside here).


What did you learn from the Income Reports?



What I’ve learned in 33 years


Today's my birthday! In today's episode, I look back at all the awesomeness of the last year and share what I've learned about my business (and life).

Past birthday posts:

How to listen

  • You can subscribe to it on iTunes (If you do, leave a review!)
  • You can listen to it using the player above or download it.
  • Subscribe or listen via Stitcher (or subscribe in whatever you use for podcasts – just search “Explore Your Enthusiasm” and it should pop up!).
  • Get all the blog posts, email lessons + podcast episodes in your inbox, subscribe via email.

Find all the podcast episodes here.

1 2