Weekly-ish notes on navigating big change


276: Q+A: promotion, saying no, and balancing multiple businesses 

“Email is still the most effective place to make a sale.” -Tara Swiger Listen in at TaraSwiger.com/podcast276

What is the BEST tool to promote your business? How do you say NO without losing customers? How do you balance multiple businesses?

Today I am answering YOUR questions in this Q+A episode!

Thank you to my Patrons

Most weeks I teach a lesson to help your creative business, but today I am answering YOUR questions! I gathered questions from my community of supporters on Patreon, and my Instagram comment section. I am going to answer your questions about the BEST tool to use right now to promote your business, how to balance multiple businesses and how to say NO.

And if you want to learn how to avoid the three mistakes I see most creatives making, come to my workshop THIS week: TaraSwiger.com/foundations.

Before we get into answering these questions, I want to thank Sarah Schira of Imagined Landscapes for her support of the show! Sarah makes best Gnome puns around! If you need more gnomes in your knitting, check her out!

Thank you to Kim Werker, longtime friend, colleague and fellow Enthusiast. She’s starting a free community, that you should definitely take a look at.

The Questions:

A patron asks:

I would be interested in hearing ideas about how to balance multiple small businesses.  I have a vintage clothing business in a brick and mortar antique store, an etsy shop selling vintage sewing patterns (both of these are very established, but small volume), and a much newer fine art business making art toys.  I also freelance as a filmmaker and event photographer (my main source of income). I feel like if I picked only one of these, doubled down and really ran with it, I would get further, but I like the variety and I like having multiple sources of income.  So all of them kind of poke along slowly. Thoughts?

This is a lot of businesses! I think your intuition is right – the way to build fast would be to focus on one… but if that leads to a life you don’t want, why do it?

Why do you need them to get any further? Growth is not the highest good – your own wellbeing, enjoyment and the business doing what it needs to do is the goal.

So DO they need to grow faster? What gives you the most joy?

What do you need your businesses to do financially? What would that look like? How could they work together to do what they need to do?

Then divide up your time accordingly.

Kristina asks: 

How to say no to a potential or current client without being mean or burning bridges. Do I always need to give a reason or excuse? 

I have a whole series of articles and podcast episodes, on how to say NO, with scripts!

The first thing is that you need to reframe this! Saying no, especially when you simply can’t take on a job at all, is not mean, it’s a part of business. In fact, someone reaching out to see if you can take a job is probably expecting that you may say no. That doesn’t mean they won’t come to you with their next project. They may even appreciate that you are so in-demand, and book ahead next time.

Now it’s slightly different if you’re not just turning down a job, but you are saying no to a current client on a current job. Like no, I can’t ALSO do X, the scope of this project is Y. But you have to remember: that’s why they’re asking. You have the choice to say no.

In most cases I would NOT give a detailed reason or excuse, the other person doesn’t want to hear it! Also, the more you say, the more they have to argue with. They can delegitimize your reasons.

For example, I have had conferences ask me to do more than we had contracted for, “oh, could also be available during this time? Could you also sit on this panel?” Quite often I say yes, because I like getting chances to talk to more people. But if it doesn’t sound fun or it will exhaust me, I say “Oh, our agreement was X, so that’s all I’m going to be able to do.”

It’s hard, but don’t give any more explanation.

You can have a standard reply, like “Thank you so much for reaching out, I would love to work with you. However, I’m booked up with projects and my timeline is X weeks out, so unless that works for you, I’m going to have to say no.” And if they’re asking for more once you’ve started working together, quote a policy. “My policy is to not….” or even, “Our initial agreement is…”

Before I answer the last question, which is quite a doozy, I want to thank Brenda, who makes gorgeous knitting patterns. I’ve linked up to a blog post she wrote on her site about the experience getting her website made, because it’s really great!

Thank you to Erin, who designs beautiful shawls.

On Instagram someone asked:

What is the best tool to promote your creative business these days? When you are just starting and don’t have time to be on every platform and do email, blogging, in-person promotion, etc? 

My answer is the same as it was 5 years ago when I wrote my first book, Market Yourself, and I’ve seen newer data that shows it is still the right answer: Email is the most effective place to make a sale. So if you want to increase sales, and you want to REACH the people who want to hear from you, email is the answer. Email reaches those who have said they want to hear from you, and people take action from emails. It doesn’t take much time at all to set it all up, so the hardest part is getting people ON the list (who are you sending these emails TO?!) and then actually SENDING the emails.

The good news is – once you have decided what you’re going to regularly send, it doesn’t actually take that long to put it together each month or each week. If it is taking a really long time (because you’ve made your emails complex), then simplify it. Simplify it down to whatever you can consistently do. That can be as simple as hooking up Mailchimp to Etsy and having it populate your 5 most recent products.

So hook it up in an afternoon and decide what you’re going to send. Every email software generates a form that you can either link to or embed, so the “where do these people come from” question is simple – anywhere you already are. Put the form on your site. Link it in your etsy profile and your Etsy thank you messages. Link to it on Facebook and in your Instagram profile. Every time you send an email, do a post WHEREVER YOU ALREADY HAVE ANY CONNECTIONS about what will be in the email and share the link to sign up.

It could be that you have a personal facebook page, and you think your family and high school friends aren’t going to want your emails? Link it up anyhow, you may be surprised! They may be super into whatever you’re selling or they may have a sister or cousin who is. My husband’s uncle shares links to my work sometimes, and I’m surprised by how many people who he knows who sign up to hear from me.

So, you may be thinking, but Tara, it sounds like you’re saying we have to be everywhere to get people on our lists! And the truth is – you do need to be somewhere other than just in your shop and in your emails. You have to GO somewhere and meet new people. For you it may be having a booth at the local farmer’s market (one of my Starship Captains has absolutely CRUSHED her local markets and doubled her sales), or it may be a FB group with local moms, or it may be talking to your local yarn shop about carrying your work. But your work (and you) have to show up somewhere where people can encounter you. And when they do, invite them to sign up for your emails because that’s going to be the most effective way to make sales.

I hope that answers your questions! If you want to learn more about how emails fit in with everything else you have to do in your business and how to focus ONLY on what matters, join me in a LIVE workshop this week! Sign up at TaraSwiger.com/foundations.

Before I go I want to thank Marianne Weber of MWsDesigns , who makes notecards and greeting cards! And the artist Rowena Roberts, who does beautiful paper-cutting!


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.

238: Staying sane: Let go of holiday expectations

The holidays can be incredibly stressful - especially if you’re running a creative business. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Learn how to stay sane and keep the holidays enjoyable at TaraSwiger.com/podcast238

Are you feeling a little overwhelmed? With holiday fun, holiday obligations and, uh, you're whole business to run? If so, you are not alone. This week we're going to talk about keeping your sanity and having as much fun as possible, while keeping your business going.

We, as a community,  have been talking about staying sane during the holiday season since 2010, when I created the first version of the Holiday Sanity Guide. This comes up every year, because, guys, this season can be HARD. You've got more family responsibilities, more business responsibilities, and on top of all that, EXPECTATIONS of how it should all go. So I wanna talk about that today, how to handle your own expectations while still meeting your responsibilities. And if you're new here, or you're just really feeling the holiday stress, check out alllll the past posts and episodes in a Definitive Holiday Sanity Guide at the bottom of this post.

First, you gotta acknowledge what is making the season hard: responsibilities and expectations. Sometimes we confuse the two, or we agree to unstated expectations, without really deciding if it's right for us or not. For our discussion Responsibilities are those things you really do need to do, or the things you owe other people. It may be that you see your family each year at the holiday, you promised that you would and it is important to you. You have a responsibility to your business to show up the way you promised to show up (whether that's delivering an order or publishing your podcast weekly). Take a minute and write down your responsibilities.

The Holiday season also comes with all these expectations, about what you'll do but also how it will feel. We have stated and unstated expectations for both ourselves and for others (and other people have expectations for us), about both actions and feelings. For example,  maybe you expect that you'll bake a million cookies, or that you'll feel a certain way. OFTEN when I'm talking to someone about why they are stressed or not enjoying the season (or any season), it's NOT because of what they have to do (responsibilities) it's because of how they thought they'd feel (expectations) or the expectations of others.

So how do you deal with this?

Make everything explicit.

Take a minute and write down all of your expectations of the holiday season. (You can do this any time of year, especially if you're doing something very exciting in your business).

  • What do you hope to do?
  • What do you hope to accomplish?
  • How do you hope to feel?
  • Where do you expect to go?

And then meet with your loved ones and ask them what they expect of the holiday season, and of you. This “meeting” can be as formal or as informal as you like. You can do it around the dinner table tonight or you can call each of your sisters or parents up and ask them.

One way to frame this is “I'd love to make this season wonderful for all of us, so I'd love to know: What are your expectations or hopes for this season? What matters most to you?

Warning: Be sure you're only soliciting expectations from people you really desire to fulfill expectations of. (Hint: Maybe don't ask your never-happy-with-anything mother in law).

Now! This is really important: You get to decide what expectations you take on! You get to agree, with your immediate family or friend group, what expectations you'll meet and which ones they'll meet. For example, maybe your kids really want a billion cookies but you don't like to bake, so your partner agrees to do cookie baking, or you reach out to another family member who would love to spend that time with your kids.

Or maybe you have expectations of beautifully wrapped gifts under the tree – who is going to do that? Are you going to wrap them all? Do you want to ask for help? Could you maybe lower your expectations about beauty and let your 5 year old wrap some gifts?

The examples I'm giving here are lighthearted, but I know the season can come with some heavy feelings of obligation. That's why I'm suggesting that you first make everything explicit, and then you spend the time to decide what expectation you want to meet and what you don't. Here are three principles for that sorting process.

1. Focus on what matters to you

What makes this season wonderful to you? What drives you crazy?

Filter all the expectations through the values you care most about.

Look back at your responsibilities, are some of them just expectations? Can you let some of them go? Maybe you take a week or two off from your weekly business obligations?

The better you get at filtering things OUT, the happier your season (and your life!) will be.

2. Let go….without guilt

Once you've got your list of what matters, you gotta really, actually let go everything else. I'm serious. Just let it go.

Will you disappoint some people? Yes. That's ok, that's part of life.

Your job isn't to make everyone happy. It's to do your best and you can only do your best if you're taken care of.

I'm going to remind you of one of the first holiday related videos I ever recorded – people's feelings and expectations aren't about you. It's about them. What people say to you or expect of you is about who THEY are. It has nothing to do with who you are. (Yes, they may be pointing it at you, but it's still about them).

3. There is always more time.

You don't have to have all the gifts purchased by Dec 25th, maybe you'll give friends gifts on the 27th? You don't have to reach your business goal by Dec 31, maybe you can reach it Jan 31? Or next spring?

You have more time. The goal of your life isn't to cram everything into RIGHT NOW, it's to enjoy right now (because you might not actually have more time, and wouldn't you rather enjoy this while you know you have it?) and keep growing and learning. So let things unfold, let things go, and know that you can always do the thing when everyone's bored in Jan or Feb or next year.

This process of focusing on what matters, letting go of the rest, and planning in a way that lets you enjoy where you are right now? This is the process of building a business and building a life. You're going to need to do this over and over, to keep realigning with what you really want and where you really want to go. If you'd like to do that in your business this year, and do it in a community with other makers who are making the same decisions and sharing the reality of that journey, check out the Starship. It opens Dec 27th and in it I guide you through figuring out what you want in the New Year, making a plan to get it, fixing your profitability so you CAN reach your money goals and improving your marketing so you can reach the right people. You can sign up to learn more about it Taraswiger.com/starshipbiz

Definitive Holiday Sanity Guide

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 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

Yay! Fall! #yayfall
For the first time in years I knit an actual swatch. In 2 different needles. I even washed and blocked it! For my #bluesandcardigan out of Flannel Plucky Primo. #plucktember
Yay! I am holding @mercedesknits's book in my hands and it is GREAT! Happy birthday, friend and congrats on a job well done!  I am so thrilled to have been able to see the amazing stuff you've made over the years! Love you!
A VERY good Saturday morning. #taralovesmornings   (More on my (crazy) #greatbooksproject on the FB page. Link in profile. Join me?)
I so love this mossy little bridge over a tiny creek, in the middle of a totally normal neighborhood. #foundwhilerunning in #easttennessee    #taralovesmornings
My knitting matches the nebula in Wrath of Khan. #geekySaturday

I am so grateful for…

  • Getting to play a small part in the successes of Starship Captains (and getting to share their celebrations!)
  • Hours spent reading + my new reading project.
  • New obsessions.

The Finds:

I’m reading:

I’m eating: 

In case you missed it: 

What adventures have you had?