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213: Your questions answered: Blogging, benefits and slowing down sales

Tons of listener questions about creative business, blogging, slow sales, and benefits vs features on this week’s episode of #ExploreYourEnthusiasm. Listen in at TaraSwiger.com/podcast213

Play

This week I answered questions from my Instagram followers!

  • collekecreations How do you feel/like blogging as a business model? So writing blog posts and having a shop added to your site with your handmade products? Thanks Tara 😊
  • devotedquilter I understand the difference between features and benefits when I'm talking about my quilt patterns, but I have trouble applying it. For example, I include the finished size of the quilt and the techniques used to make it, but those are both features. Other than when a design makes good use of fabric scraps or comes together quickly, I can't think of benefits to include. Do you have any suggestions for how I can think differently about my designs to see the benefits for potential buyers?
  • christmastreegifts I know this isn’t a question for most crafters, but… How do you keep control of sales if you don’t want to scale your business and hire or outsource help? As in.. How do you not get so many sales you can’t handle it?
  • bcastiel Hi Tara! For an Etsy shop, do you think it's better to have a low shipping cost that just equates to the postage, or a higher one that includes labor costs, packaging costs etc? Or should you offer free shipping, as an incentive?
  • francescaabram Hi Tara, I'd like advice on what to do when business takes a slump due to factors outside of your control e.g. Brexit, consumer confidence? 🤷🏻‍♀️Thanks!

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.

The Adventures

Every week is an Adventure..and this is round-up of the view, the links and the inspiration that made it special. You can see all the adventures here.

The View

Reason to love this town #324: this is the view. Everywhere. #nofilter
The lovely Johnson City
Finished!
The finished tree
Spinning this month's Yarn Mail by Christmas tree-light.
Yarn Mail by Christmas-tree-light
This is happening. (Both get on back of couch behind me) #snorgling
Back-of-the-couch snorgling
Everything is better by Christmas tree light. #quiltsbychristmas
Sewing by Christmas tree light
Love the reactions to this hat. #amusementorpity
This hat gets the best reactions…because it's a Happy Hat!

The Finds

  • “Yarnover Truck is your local yarn store on wheels, implementing the food truck business model and applying it to a mobile yarn store.” How cool is that? Support these clever entrepreneurs right here.

 

  • It's official. We're a total trend. This morning NPR did a story about what we're doing here: young (ish) entrepreneurs with no outside funding, who are succeeding thanks to….the internet! Read or listen here.

 

 

 

  • Planning your New Year in your creative business? Tammie has a list of 10 things people + spaces that can help you with that!

 

 What were your adventures this week?

2 years ago: Sabbatical 
3 years ago: My real-life yarn shop
4 years ago: Seattle recap

 

How to Experiment: Tools + Systems

The secret of epiphanies + clarity? Showing up with pen + paper everyday. (soy lattes don't hurt either)

This week, I'm not really here. I'm in the Pacifica Northwest, admiring beaches, rocks and evergreens. And yet, I'm still here. I'm still experimenting every day.

How?
Systems! And Tools!

Remember that Step #3 of creating an experiment is about gathering the support and tools you need?
For my experiment (and life), I needed tools + systems that would help me collect my ideas (especially since they're multiplying daily), a time + space to write (and write extras), and a way to keep the blog going while I was gone. Here's what's working.

Tools

Evernote: I use Evernote for everything: words, pictures, voice memos. If I want to remember it, it goes in Evernote. I use it everywhere: I have Evernote Clipper on my browser, so I can clip quotes or links I want to remember, Evernote Web for a quick addition while I'm working on something else online, Evernote on my iPhone for ideas when I'm away from my computer. Basically, if it's got an internet connection, it's got Evernote (and I pay for Premium so I can see my notes when I'm offline, like when I'm flying!)

WordPress: My blogging software lets me schedule posts ahead of time or keep them as drafts. All of the posts this week were written as drafts last week, then edited a bit and scheduled. I also use WP on my iPhone to do quick edits (but I don't love it), and I'm trying Blogsy on my iPad during this trip.

Noon: coffee + Starship chat

Journal: You've seen it before, it's by my side at every moment of anything. If I have an idea or even a sentence I like but I don't want to stop my writing flow and put it in Evernote (clicking away from a window can be detrimnetal!), I write it down. When I'm having a conversation with someone and I get an idea, I write it down. It just seems less rude to me to take handwritten notes then to pull out my phone and start typing while someone else is talking. I also use my journal to map things out visually or make connections that don't warrant a whole note.

iPhone: Of course I use it for Evernote and WP, but I also use it as a camera, to take pictures with my iPhone of ANYTHING I see that I want to remember: book titles, a funny sign, something a business is doing right (or wrong). Oh, and I use the voice to text software all the time, to make notes while I'm driving.

Focus Booster: Perfect for making sure I'm doing some writing, even on the busiest days. Just 20 minutes of writing per day adds up! (This post was written in 2 20-minute bursts) I like to leave the ticking sound on, it keeps me focused.

Systems

Catching ideas: This is absolutely the most important system. Without knowing what to write about, I can't write!

(If you sit down at a blank page everyday, with only the plan “to write”, you will likely be staring for a long time. Knowing what to write about is 80% of the battle (in my highly scientific studies).

Of course, you already know the tool I love for this is Evernote, and so the system is simple: Write EVERYTHING down. Don't count on memory, don't count of weird symbols. Write the idea out, as much as you have, as soon as you have it. Pull over the car if you have to (or turn it into a song until you can pull over the car.) Write out as much as you have, because you will not remember later.

Writing + Publishing: I already spend most of days writing (whether it's for and to clients, or in the Starship, or materials new classes), but writing for the blog needed it's own space and support. No email, no classes, no client work. And it's not enough (for me) to just plan to do it, I have to have it fit into the flow of the whole day (or everything else will take it over.) What this looks like in practice is that almost every morning goes like this:

  • Get up, get ready, go to coffeeshop (so my house doesn't distract me)
  • Sit down with oatmeal, coffee and journal and get out anything that's in my head – usually a To Do list for the day, plus random stuff (ideas for new products, what I want to make for dinner….whatever is asking for attention, it gets out on paper so it'll leave me alone)
  • Check email for important, urgent notes from paying people (clients or Starship Captains), every other email waits for later.
  • Open Evernote to pick an idea (sometimes I have these schedule, sometimes I just go with the one I'm most excited about)
  • Start Focus Booster (for 20 minutes, followed by a 5 minute break)
  • Open up 750words and start writing. When the time goes off, copy my writing into a blog post (if it's nearly ready) or Evernote (if it's a bunch of scraps).
  • Get another cup of coffee, answer emails (or hang out on Twitter) during the 5 minute break.
  • Set time for either another 20 minutes, or just 9 minutes (depending on how many client calls or commitments I have scheduled) and edit the post so it's ready to post (either the post I wrote that day, or one from the day before), add photos, links, and schedule it RIGHT THEN. (Even if this takes me over the timer, it's important I finish it)

And that's it. If it's a client-heavy day (Tuesdays) or a Starship filled day (Wednesdays) or if a client is doing something big (like releasing a new video, or going to a trade show), that might be the only personal writing I do all day, and I'm done with it by 10am. If it's a Monday or Thursday (Sacred Writing Days), I'll set the time for another 20 minutes later on and write posts for the future, or work on class materials. I write for clients, so Sacred Writing Days also include 20 minute chunks of writing for them.

I've laid it all out here nice and neat but the fact is, life is messy.

Some days a client email distracts me for an hour. The important thing isn't the time I write (but having a structure and a normal time is super helpful) but that no matter what, I write for 20 minutes everyday, 20 minutes that's prompted only by me. Not a Starship question, not a client project, just 20 minutes of writing what I've synthesized from all the other projects.

Why? 

Because building a business has to include building something of your own. Reacting to outside stimilus is tempting. It shows up and it begs for your attention. As long as you're looping through responding and reacting, you're not building something of your own, something will last beyond that email, or that one package. Whether your art is your writing, your designing, your drawing or your knitting, you have to have time to express what's in your own head, not what other people are asking for.

And lest you think 20 minutes isn't enough, it's how I wrote the book in 6 months. No matter what your experiment is, it only needs (your equvilent of) 20 minutes.

What are the tools and systems are supporting your experiments?

Experiment Report: Week 1

“What you appreciate, appreciates.”

I think I first heard this from Sarah, but it's one of those things we just all know to be true. When you turn your attention and intention to something, it flourishes like flowers in the sunlight.

Whether it's starting a business or learning to knit, anything you give your time and effort to, improves.
I knew this…but yet, somewhow, everytime it happens, I'm surprised. When I started the experiment, I didn't expect what happened: a flurry of new ideas. My idea bank appreciated.

Within a day of just setting the intention to write here daily, I had a rough outline of a schedule and a small list of real posts. Those first few ideas were difficult. I had to reach for them, to really think about it. But within two days of actually writing, I was brimming with ideas. I was recording them via voice note on Evernote, scribbling them down in my journal while cooking dinner, even waking up thinking about it. Where there once was a dearth, now there's an abundance.

What changed? 
Me. I started to bring attention everywhere I looked. I began to turn stray thoughts into full-fledged ideas.  I opened my eyes, and suddenly I can see the possibilities.

It's not that it's easy to write five things worth publishing each week. I still have to set aside the time, sit down, block out the time from other client work. (I'm scribbling this in the Dr's waiting room.) Honestly, I feel a little behind on everything else.
So it's not that this is easy – turning your attention to one thing necessitates that you're turning it away from something else.

But it's also encouraging: if you want to improve something, give it some attention.

That's it.
Just focus on it, a bit everyday or in one lump of uninterrupted time…and you will get movement or learn something.

Where could your business use some appreciation?

How could you give it some attention this week?
If you've joined the Experiment, how's it going? Are you seeing an appreciation of your skill, interest or ideas?

The Adventures

Welcome to a new little weekly thing, wherein I practice noticing the week's good and gathering it one place. Each Friday I share pictures (from Instagram), my favorite links (I usually tweet them), and whatever else I think you’ll like. This is totally inspired by Colleen and Elise.

This week was all about getting ready for next week's class. Not just because it's a lot of work, but because this is very rare for me. If you look around this site, you'll notice that there's not a lot going on publicly. I don't have one-on-one consulting open to the public, I no longer do small classes, and I don't have many products for sale. There's the book and Map-Making Guide (each around $25) and then…the Starship. Which is a one year, $500 investment. If you wanted to get my take on something, or just learn from one class, there's not a lot of opportunity for that. Monday's class is only the second one I've offered all year. But I do teach classes monthly, I answer people's questions daily, and I brainstorm and problem-solve  live for over 30 craftybusinesses every week…inside the Starship or with my long-time clients.

So this, this 8 day, $50 class, which comes with lessons and one-on-one conversations and question-answering – it's all the awesomeness of the Starship, but in a tiny, easy to digest bite. That's great for you, but it's challenging for me. Its a bit vulnerable to put out a class that might or might not fill up. To dive into something short-term so fully and boldly. To risk and to pursue, without getting a big commitment in return. It's an opening up (and it's kinda uncomfortable).

But!

This opening is a fractal. Both a sign and cause for openings all over the place this week.  I took part in my first on-air broadcast. In it, I spoke honestly about the wretchedly overwhelming year that came after I quit my dayjob.  I encountered (gently, and quietly) a personal pain I've been avoiding for a long time. I cleared up and automated my finances, so that I'm making measurable movement towards my goals. I created (and found a sponsor for) a live event in Seattle.* I got my first royalty check.

Here's what all that opening looked like:

 

Goodness from the Farmer's Market :: Sliced peaches for this cobbler:: Knitting with my Starship Captain inspiration :: a homemade vegan coconut mocha frappuccinno to power the live video chat :: celebrating with Your Sister's Sister in the sofa cinema

 

The places + finds

  • The video chat! I learned SO much from the smarties who shared their stories. You can watch the whole thing at the bottom of this page.
  • Wanna get your own royalty check? My publisher is teaching a class called Get Published. Check it!
  • I wrote about Speaking your Customer's Language over at Rena Tom
  • Yesterday was National Ice Cream Sandwich Day! My favorite favorite vegan treat is this sandwich. YUM.
  • In my work with Vianza, I discovered and fell in love with the packaging vegan body goods from LOVE + TOAST. Then, yesterday, I stumbled on them at my grocery store and scored some shampoo. Today my hair smells (and feels) fabulous.

 

*Details of the Seattle event coming soon, but for now mark your PacNW calendars for September 1 at Noon.

 


A friendly reminder: If you want to craft a blog that works for your specific business, today's the last day to register for Crafting an Effective Blog. Don't dawdle!

Got a question about creating an effective blog? Ask it. Live.

Ever get an idea and just DO it?
Right away in a flush of inspiration and excitement?

Well, that's what happened in a quick flurry of emails between Diane and me, yesterday afternoon.

We decided to do something we've never done before, and we don't ever do: Answer your questions live, for free, on air.

Hangout about crafting an effective blog

 

Tomorrow, at 10a PST/ 1p EST we're going to hold a live Hangout On Air. Watch it here.

We'll both be sharing what we've learned from our own experience of blogging, and we'll be answering your questions about making your blog effective for your business.

To get in on the action:

  1. Watch the video, right here. We'll livestream the conversation on the class page. So come back here at 1pm EST on Wednesday to watch.
  2. Ask your question off-air (in your pjs, even!) below in the comments or on Twitter. Just put #effectiveblog in your tweet between now and tomorrow 2pm EST and we'll answer it!
  3. Tell your friends you're chatting! Click below to share on Facebook or click here to tweet.

Our Special Guests include:

 

 Want a step by step system for making your blog effective?

Join the class. In it, we answer all of your questions with depth and consideration…and you get the fabulous feedback of a classroom full of other craftybiz smarties. Sign up here.

 

How to decide if you *should* do something

howtodecide

You're allowed to build the business that you want, the kind of day that you want, and that you can interact with your products, people, and time in a way that works for you. You don't have to do what you've heard you should do in order to be succesfull in biz.

I talk and write and think about this (shoulds + permission) a lot, because you're thinking and talking and asking about it too. Nearly every conversation I have with a craftybiz explorer starts with them saying “Well, I know I really should… {blog, tweet, send a newsletter, blah}

I always answer with two questions: Why? How?

No, really: Why?

 Why do you think you need to do it? What is your goal with it? Which one of your specific goals will it help you reach?

Everything you want to do, everything you think you should do – ask it: WHY?
This one question can keep you focused, can keep you with the effective, important work. It can wipe away the shoulds, and direct you towards what you really want.

 

One of the giant-est shoulds in the crafty world is that you should be blogging. And after being part of the blog-reading and blog-writing world for nearly 10 years (we're counting that Diaryland I had in college, because I made my first “internet friends” with it), I'm still not entirely convinced*.

*I get into why you should/should not blog  in a free mini-course you can get here.

But for a lot of us, we slice the should with a Why and our answer is simple and clear: because we love to connect.

We love to have a place to share our words, or our photographs. We have a business we love and we want to share more than 140 characters about it. We create products we love and we just want to talk all about it. We've met our customers and they are lovely and we want to have a way to communicate with them.

But blogging [personal, cooking, gardening, crafting]  is totally different than blogging for your business. Yep, you want to share your you-ness, you want to speak in your voice. But your purpose is different, your readers (and your relationship with them) is different, and your end result is different (do you want comments? or do you want sales?).

It's time for that second question: How?

Once you know WHY you want to do something (blog), HOW does it help you reach your goals? HOW do you do it in a way that's effective, creative and still fun? How do you connect to your Right People, and not just other crafters?

In the upcoming class, we explore these questions. We've put together everything we know about blogging (Diane's a genius at building an audience) and marketing your sweet crafty business (I kinda wrote the book on that) and we came up with a systematic approach, a series of worksheets and questions that helps you answer HOW for yourself. It  makes sure you spend your time creating a blog that's effective. You can join the class here.

And whether you join the class or not, turn these questions to the shoulds that are rattling around your mental To Do:

 WHY do you think you should do it?
And if you decide you really do want to: HOW? How will you make it effective and you-filled?