Weekly-ish notes on navigating big change

We are Adventurers

#BizConfidenceChallenge update!

How much would your business grow if you stopped letting self-doubt hold you back from doing what you most want to do? Join me for a FREE 6-week ecourse to build your confidence, crush self-doubt, and grow your business. At TaraSwiger.com/bizconfidence

Are you following along the #BizConfidenceChallenge? I have been blown away by the depth and brilliance of the replies so far. I wanted to celebrate this Confidence Journey we've started together, by highlighting a few of the replies here. You can find more on Instagram here. (If you can't see photos below, you might need to click through!)

If you haven't joined in yet, it's not too late! Just sign up here and reply to one of the past challenges (below) or start with the very next challenge! (You'll get the next lesson on Thursday and the next challenge on Monday.)


Challenge #1 of the BizConfidenceChallenge


Week 2:

Last week’s reaction to the #BizConfidenceChallenge blew me away. YOU have so much to be proud of, you have so much to build your confidence on! So…what’s up with the self-doubt? Why do you doubt you can do awesome things when you’ve already done SO MUCH? Often self-doubt (or lack of confidence) is tied to fear – we hold ourselves back (or think we're not good enough), not because we have any proof, but because we're afraid of … something. When I ask my clients and students what they're afraid of, the answer usually surprises them. (It's easy to let the fear rule you, without ever even knowing it's there!) And yet their answer never surprises me – I’ve either felt it myself, or talked to MANY makers who have! But once they identify the fear, we can work with it. We can question it, challenge it, or just allow it to hang around. (@Elizabeth_Gilbert_writer talks about letting your fear ride with your creativity in #bigmagic). That's your challenge this week: Look at WHAT lack-of-confidence is holding you back from. (Sharing your work? Social media? Sending a newsletter? Hiring help? Taking the next step?) Then ask: What am I afraid of? If I did the thing now, what am I afraid of happening? Finally ask: What's the WORST that can happen if that fear comes true? Could I survive it? And what's the REALISTIC outcome? This isn't (necessarily) going to dispel this fear forever, and that's not our goal. Our aim is to see it for what it is and RECOGNIZE THAT YOU CAN SURVIVE IT. You see, even the most confident, brave people feel fear (of being “found out”, of being judged, etc.). The difference is, they feel confident that they can handle it, and so the fear doesn’t keep them from doing what they need to do. ✨To take part in the challenge: Share a photo inspired by either *What your fear holds you back from doing in your biz *What you're afraid of *Your worst case scenario and tag it #BizConfidenceChallenge! New to the challenge? Learn more and sign up for free lessons in profile!

A photo posted by Tara Swiger (@taraswiger) on

Know some friends who could use a confidence boost?

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Adventures in Business with Fiber Artist Riin Gill

Today I'm happy to share the adventures of Starship Captain Riin, who is the owner of Happy Fuzzy Yarn. Riin knits, spins, dyes, runs Happy Fuzzy Yarn, and drinks a lot of strong black tea. She lives with her boyfriend, two rabbits, and a really astounding amount of wool in Ann Arbor, MI. Connect with Riin on Twitter, Facebook,or Ravelry.


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?

Ha! There is no such thing as a normal day! Ok, there are some similarities … I get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, the minions start arriving … and after that, I could be redesigning labels, or writing a blog post, or fixing a spreadsheet whose formulas went wonky, or coming up with a new colorway, or dealing with petty bureaucrats, or designing a shawl … There is always a lot of strong black tea involved!

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?

In the beginning I did everything — the soaking, dyeing, washing, rinsing, labeling, packing, shipping, getting things online, maintaining the inventory, all of the social media, all of the response to store inquiries, all of the advertising, all of the designing, all of the writing, all of the editing, all of the everything. As Happy Fuzzy Yarn has grown, all of that has grown to much more than one person can do.

I've been moving into more of a Creative Director role. The brilliant and amazing Carol Ullmann has been interacting with stores, writing, doing social media, and designing, and she's working on a business plan. The extremely talented Heather Sauntry has taken over most of the dyeing, and is also doing some designing. Other minions are doing things I never had time to do when I was trying to do it all, like make lots and lots of little sample skeins.

Aside from money I've spent on things like my mortgage and groceries, I've put nearly every penny back into the business, so I'm not sure I actually am making a living yet. I've got a roof over my head and I'm not starving though, so I guess that counts for something!


What new thing are you exploring now?

I just started advertising in Yarn Market News (the trade magazine for the yarn industry), so that should increase my brand recognition among LYS (local yarn store) owners, especially ones who don't make it to TNNA (The National Needlearts Association – a trade show for the needlearts industry).

Also I've been working out formulas to do gradient sets. I am really excited about that!

What's your definition of success in your business?

To be honest, I have two.
On the one hand, I just want to make enough money so I can enjoy what I'm doing and make beautiful things and not have to worry about whether I have enough money to pay wages AND taxes AND my mortgage AND order supplies, but just know that yes, there is enough, and I am happy, and my employees are happy, and our customers are happy.

On the other hand … ok, let's face it. I want fame and fortune (or as much fame and fortune as one can get in the yarn world anyway). I have had people tell me my yarn is nicer than Wollmeise or nicer than Madtosh or nicer than anything else at TNNA, and obviously those are subjective statements, but if a lot of people think my yarn is nicer than yarns which are thought of as the holy grail, I think my yarn should be just as famous and fast selling as those yarns! So I want that, plus everything on the first hand!


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

We desperately need to move into a larger space. We've been starting to scope out commercial real estate, seeing what's available, what it would cost, and figuring out how that would affect, well, everything! Happy Fuzzy Yarn has grown to the point that it simply doesn't fit in my house any more. We need a light industrial space so we can dye more at a time, have more drying space, more storage, a larger shipping area, and so on. We're thinking a small retail area at the front would be a natural addition.


Want to learn more about other Starship Captains like Riin? Sign up here for an Early Boarding Pass and be the first to know when the Starship reopens for boarding!

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!)

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!

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Adventures in Business with Fiber Artist Grace Shalom Hopkins



Today I'm happy to share the insights of Starship Captain and fiber artist, Grace Shalom Hopkins. Grace Shalom Hopkins is an author, handmade lifestyle blogger and all around handwork geek. You can find her beautiful photos, videos and fiber 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?

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.

What's your definition of success in your business?

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?

My North Stars this year are Bold and Intentional.

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!


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ThreeBirdNest (the Etsy “success”) has nothing to do with you.

ThreeBirdNest has nothing to do with you

This week I read an interesting article about how one experienced businesswoman made a heck of a lot of money selling products, on both Etsy and her own e-commerce shop. I was thrilled, because women in e-commerce who are making it aren't featured as much in the national press as tech companies are and I think there are some interesting lessons shared.
I never read internet comments, so I had no idea (but I should have guessed) the firestorm happening in the comment section – angry Etsians crying out that this isn't a “real” Etsy seller. I was unaware of this until I read Abby's great article on how this “success story” is an example of how Etsy has redefined its own goals and mission.

And here's the thing – Etsy has changed how they define “handmade” businesses. They have changed who's allowed to sell. And this is going to change the way the rest of the world defines handmade. (Also, the journalists got it wrong – this woman isn't “knitting socks, scarves, and headbands” – she clearly states she's importing them.)

But as I think about you and I think about this story, I keep coming back to one thing: Etsy is not you. Your business is NOT Etsy. Your business is its own entity. Your business is based on your products and your customers and your work. If you're hoping Etsy is the solution to all of your problems, you're going to be disappointed. It was never going to be. (It is a great solution for setting up a shop quickly. It is not a great way to find new customers.)

The many many commenters that say “I have very few Etsy sales! Etsy is ruining my business!“…well, they are missing it. Etsy is not your business.

Women have been building businesses for all of time without Etsy. If you have not built a business that you want, it has nothing to do with Etsy. You could have used Shopify or WooCommerce or the local farmer's market. Of my many clients + students who are self-employed (ie, the business is paying their bills), 100% don't rely on Etsy exclusively.

You should take the ThreeBirdNest story neither as a measuring stick (I know your inner voice is shouting: “Why haven't YOU done better?”) or as an outrage (“How could she?!”). It is not an example of what's possible in a truly-made-by-hand business. Instead, take it for what it is – the story of how one woman choose to build a business selling + marketing a product. It is an example of what's possible with this particular business model. It is an example of what anyone could do, if this is the kind of business they chose to build. This story in particular tells you what you need to do in order to build that kind of business (professional photographer, model, importing wholesale goods, etc).

But honey, if this is not the business you are trying to build? Forget about it. It has nothing to do with you.

Remember the great Amy Poehler quote: “Good for her! Not for me.”

The trouble comes when you take the results of someone else's business model and you try to compare it to the outcomes of your (very different) business model. An importing business is going to have different results than a handmade jewelry business, which is going to have different results than a pattern-selling business. Different business model = different outcomes. This is why we use three different equations for pricing – you have different costs, time, and expectations.

I agree with the larger point in Abby's post: Etsy is changing its definition of success. The question is: Have you? How do you define success?

Be sure that what you read on the internet, the examples of success, doesn't deter you from your own definition of success. Build the business you want.

Adventures in Business with Knitwear Designer Denise Twum

Today I'm sharing an adventure with Starship Captain and part-time knitwear designer, Denise Twum. Denise was introduced to knitting by her supervisor while working at her college’s science library in 2006. Knitting kept her company as she traveled to five countries for a year of independent research, and she’s been addicted ever since.  You can see more of her designs on Ravelry  as well as her website.

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?

I used to be a full-time maker when I was at home with my newborn baby, and each day was different. What I realized very quickly was that, if I didn’t lay out a plan for the day, or list out a few things I wanted to achieve, the day would go by quickly without me achieving one thing.

I’m currently a part-time maker and it’s definitely very challenging, balancing my passion and love for this with a full-time job that I also love, but which is unrelated to my knitwear business.

On a typical day now, I spend most of my day at my full-time position, sneaking quick looks at my knitting emails during lunch time to see if there’s a sale or an interesting email for possible collaboration. After work, I spend a couple of hours with the family, eating dinner and relaxing together. After the little one is asleep, that’s when I get to party!!! …Okay not really, but I love my knitting work so much that it feels like a party for just me, from around 9pm to midnight every day.

Usually I bust out my needles and start knitting anything, with a vaguely formed idea of what I want to knit. I often undo my work a number of times before I find a design I like. Once that design makes me happy, I try to knit it in multiple color combinations to see how it looks.

In recent times, as I think about how I want my business to grow, I’ve realized that I also need to concentrate on the non-knitting aspect of the business, so some evenings, I’ll dedicate some time to conducting research on what the current market looks like, what color trends are being set for fall, what my competition is doing, and ways to market my work and get it out there some more.

Denise's "Procragratification Infinity Cowl" patternDenise's “Procragratification Infinity Cowl” pattern

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?

Once I accepted that it would take a lot of work for me to convert this business to a full-time endeavor, I no longer feel that pressure and burden on me to succeed right now. I’m learning how I can use the seasonality of my sales cycle to my benefit, shoring up and knitting a lot of items, or coming up with ideas for new patterns during the summer lull, in order to get ready for the holiday and winter season.

I’m also getting more aggressive about improving and scaling the designing portion of my work. Compared to a handknit item, patterns are a lot cheaper cost-wise for my customers to purchase, and those sales will also boost my visibility on the outlets I use.

I’m also looking into selling in multiple channels, as opposed to my Etsy/Craft Fair combo that I’ve worked for the past few years. I’m very excited to see how that goes.


Denise's studio space

What new thing are you exploring now?

Right now I’m exploring a more unified packaging for the items I mail out. Right now I wrap my items and add a label, and it looks nice, but I’m looking to create an experience even with my packaging, so people are excited to open a package from NiseyKnits.


What's your definition of success in your business?

My definition of success right now would be to break even, be able to forecast how much I’ll make each year, and to become one of the vendors people think about when they are looking for quality, handmade knit items.


Denise's BlockTure scarf designDenise's BlockTure scarf design


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

I’m hoping I can get some of my items into some shops in the coming year, and publish some more designs.


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Adventures in Business with Fiber Artist Sasha Torres

Today I'm sharing an adventure with Starship Captain and fiber artist, Sasha Torres. Sasha Torres is a cerebral-yet-whimsical yarn maker, dyer, spinner and knitter who loves the ocean, really good vanilla ice cream and the smell of raw wool. Her passion for all things wooly led her to start her yarn company, Sheepspot, which sells breed-specific, hand-dyed wool yarns and fibers for those craving sustainable stash from happy sheep. Find her at sheepspot.com.

People have this fantasy of what it's like to be a fiber artist. But what's a normal day for you really like?

Well, I still have my day job, so I spend 3-4 days a week largely focusing on that. The other days I spend on Sheepspot.

I try to start every day by meditating for about fifteen minutes and writing in my journal. Both are ways of checking in with myself, partly to figure out priorities for the day, and partly to see where I am emotionally. The business, and the things I need to do to help it thrive, often really scare me, and I’m trying not to let my fears run things without my knowing that’s what’s happening. So I basically start the day by asking myself how I feel and writing about that a little bit. Some days I feel fine, and I’m just eager to get to work, so I just let myself do that.

Then I do a quick triage of my email and check in with my Ravelry group and social media. I’ll respond to any questions or comments, and If I have items going up on the website that day I make sure that the posts I've scheduled in advance to go to my Twitter, Facebook and Google+ accounts look OK. I’ll also post the new stuff on Pinterest, in my Ravelry group, and perhaps on Instagram.

Then, if it’s a Sheepspot day, I head to the studio. I usually start by immersion dyeing a batch of yarn that doesn’t need to be watched that closely, so that I can re-skein whatever I've dyed the previous day and get set up to dye more complicated colorways. I find that with my current studio setup I can comfortably do three batches of yarn or fiber a day. Once all the batches are finished and drying I usually head back to the computer and deal with shipping or marketing stuff. It’s a long day, but fortunately I like all the different parts of it.

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?

Sheepspot is still very new, so my income right now is still coming from my day job. I expect that this will be my situation for the next 18-24 months, and I'm OK with that.

What new thing are you exploring now?

I'm learning a ton of new stuff every day about all aspects of the business, from the kinds of fibers that my local mills can and can’t work with, to where to buy recycled mailing supplies. But the most intense and satisfying exploration I'm engaged in right now is in my studio. I'm trying to stay improvisational while dyeing. I am finding colorways I love making and techniques I love using, but I'm very conscious as well of the need to keep experimenting. It’s a delicate balance. On one hand I'm trying to work out how to be more efficient, but on the other I want to keep playing and learning.



What's your definition of success in your business?

Everything I sell is either sustainably grown and/or processed in North America. The majority of it is both. Sheepspot exists to provide options for fiber artists who are interested in small, sustainable agriculture, or who care about genetic diversity among sheep, or who are concerned about the quality of life of the sheep that grow the wool with which they work, or who are dismayed about the near-total disappearance of the textile industry from North America. All Sheepspot yarns and fibers have to earn their way into the product line by answering at least one of these concerns. Success? Making a living getting these materials to the folks who want them.

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


Every year, Tara encourages all the Starship captains to choose a “North Star”—a quality that will guide our business decisions. My North Star for the year is “sustainability.” I'm working toward building a profitable company that I love working in and that’s friendly to the earth and its inhabitants. In other words, I want Sheepspot to be physically, emotionally, financially and ecologically sustainable.


Would a North Star help to guide you on the path to your business dreams? Sign up to find out when the Starship opens for new Captains!


Adventures in Business with Writer Alicia de los Reyes

Today I'm sharing an adventure with Starship Captain and writer, Alicia de los Reyes. Alicia is a writer and teacher in Seattle, where she lives with her husband and her cat. Alicia likes to write fiction and nonfiction, especially fun writing guides. 

You can read some things she has written here. She also likes running and hiking, eating cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies, and reading Gothic novels.

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

I'm not a full-time writer yet, but I try to live and work like one. So, most mornings, I get up at 6:30 and write from 7-9. Then, I do some marketing/blogging/guest posting/pitching/querying/submitting for another hour. Three hours of work doesn't sound like much, but I'm usually pretty wiped by then. I go for a run, take a break, and get ready for my other job, tutoring. 

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

Alicia's bookI do it by tutoring and teaching SAT prep classes in the afternoon and evening — so, right now, by not writing, though sometimes I get to tutor kids who want to write, which is fun. My writing income comes from my ebooks: a guide to writing chick lit now called DIY Chick Lit (formerly The Chick Lit Cookbook) and a guide to taking yourself on a writing retreat, called, creatively, DIY Writing Retreat — coming soon. I also submit my work to lots of journals, and sometimes it gets published, which is very exciting. Eventually, I hope to get a book deal for my narrative nonfiction book about hanging out with evangelical Christians for a year, and for my novel about a missing woman's family.

A year ago, I was a teaching assistant at the University of New Hampshire, where I was earning my MFA in writing. That was probably the ideal writing lifestyle for most: write for 10-20 hours each week, teach for 20 hours each week. But grad school doesn't last forever, alas. Before that, I wrote infrequently in my free time while I worked full-time at various places.

The biggest change is that now I have a cat supervisor (her name is Mitzi).

I don't think I've found the perfect way to write and work at the same time, but tutoring lets me have a lot of free time and a break from writing that I think is necessary for me.

What new thing are you exploring now?

I'm always working on lots of projects. I'm exploring how my “platform,” a word that I can't stand and don't really understand, can help me get published and find readers. An agent I pitched a book to told me thought the project was great, but that I didn't have a platform. That stung! So I'm trying to increase my web presence in a way that feels good to me, basically by blogging. I was inspired by {fellow Starship Captain} D.N. Frost for how professional everything looks on her website & social media accounts.


What's your definition of success in your business?

My definition of success is related to several things. One is productivity: am I writing? Am I generating pages? I think this one is the most important to me — I sometimes think, if I end up with a drawer of beautiful writing, that will be enough. The writing is the most important part.

Another is financial: I have a number of sales I want to reach and a monthly income I want to make. I would love to write full-time and spend my free time making crafts and hanging out with my friends. Right now, my free time is pretty limited. Not a lot of crafts.

I also measure it in readers, using markers like getting published, tracking visits to my site, and reviews of my books. It's good to have a few different measures, because I'm usually happy about one or two of them, but rarely all three at once.

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

I'm working towards increasing my web presence. I've been blogging regularly, tweeting, and reaching out to other writers and bloggers to share my work. I'm usually shy about telling people what I've been working on, but I'm forcing myself to get over it.



Are you a writer in need of accountability and support as you build your platform? Check out the Starship and join Alicia (and D!).

Adventures in Business, with artist Violette Clark

Violette Clark headshotToday I'm sharing an adventure with Starship Captain Violette Clark. Violette is a mixed media artist, art journaler, cartoonist, author and Idea factory.  She lives in a magic cottage with Mr. G in White Rock B.C.  you can find her on herblog or on Facebook.



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?

My day tends to vary depending on what's up.  I usually get up and check my e-mail around 7:30ish. Then I respond to Facebook mentions and comments.  On Monday, Wednesday and Friday I blog in the morning usually and then share the post on FB.  Also I post photos of my art or funky home and garden on FB since that's a big part of who I am.  I probably spend waaayyyyy too much time on Facebook but then that's the place I have the most interaction on.  I'm also on Pinterest but don't like to go there too often as you can spend a whack of time there.  Afterwards depending on what I'm working on I may create a Journal Page or a cartoon like my 60 in 60 cartoons I made.  Since I'm an illustrator/cartoonist/art journaler my time is often spent drawing … but more time is spent connecting with other artists, working on interview questions, responding to social media and marketing etc. I think it's a fallacy to think that artists spend the majority of their time creating. They don't…..and quite frankly “I just want to draw!”.  Drawing makes me happy.  You might also find me working on a video – sometimes I post how to videos on Youtube or videos showing what I've done in my home I call the Magic Cottage. Because I'm a grandmother and daughter – I sometimes spend time with my grandchildren (often teaching them crafts) or with my elderly parents. Thankfully what I do is pretty flexible so if I'm needed I can take time off to help out.  If I'm teaching a live workshop much of the day is spent preparing for it and teaching it.

Violette Clark's Art, on TaraSwiger.com

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?

Well I teach art journaling online and live classes. I've been blogging for 9 years, that led to a book deal 5 years ago and a book published on Art Journaling. My book, Journal Bliss, led to online classes as well as live classes. Right now I'm creating cartoons – 60 cartoons which are being made into a book, postcards, and tarot cards.  I'm not sure what that might all lead to but I'm open to what happens. I'm hoping to do some public speaking using my cartoons and art journal pages in inspiring PowerPoint presentations.  Also I have been asked to be a part of some online creative workshops so I'll be working on that soon.  For the last several months I've offered “mojo sessions” to help women in small businesses get their mojo going again – helping them with promotional ideas and inspiration.  I'd like to do more sessions in the future which can be done live or in person. I have a ton of ideas and love to share them with creative women.

I am moving away from doing live classes on techniques – I don't really enjoy that anymore and want to focus on creative activities that are meaningful and inspirational. So to sum up your question:  I teach, draw/journal, do 1 -1 consulting sessions and soon I'll be selling my cartoon creations on etsy and on my blog.


What new thing are you exploring now?

I guess you could say what I'm exploring now is “What gives me juice?”.  What that is is drawing.  Drawing makes me happy. Right now I'm assembling my 60 cartoons to fit into a book format as well as into a tarot deck.  Because I have never made my own book before (self-published) I'm freaking out a bit about doing it – change is always scary for me. I'm sure once I figure it all out I'll laugh at why I was so nervous about the entire venture. Also the wheels are turning on a possible online class that would embrace creativity and spirituality. I'm thinking in this might happen later

What's your definition of success in your business?

Doing what I love, inspiring people and making a decent income from following my bliss is my definition of success. Also success for me would be to have my business in my home in a quiet place near the ocean away from the big cities.  In my world I don't need a ton of money however that would be fine too!


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

My next destination is completing the inspiring book of cartoons, tarot deck, postcards to be available in the fall – just in time for the Christmas buying season.  Since it's the summer now things are a bit quiet so I can focus on getting the cartoons into a marketable format.  Also I'm working towards having a landing page for my two websites – my business site (http://www.purplejuice.ca) and my blog (http://www.violette.ca) are too confusing for me and everyone else. I want to blend the two into one place but for now I want to create a landing page where you can click on the services and it will take you there immediately.


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