Weekly-ish notes on navigating big change

Explore YOUR Business

But do you make any money?

While getting ready for tomorrow's How to Rock a Craft Show class, I surveyed a bunch of crafters and asked them for their craft show questions.

The most-oft asked question:

Do you make any money at it? How much?
Did it REALLY help you quit your dayjob?

To answer this, I think it's best to look at hard numbers.

What percent of last year's income came from craft shows?
Could I have quit my dayjob without that income?

To figure it out, I added up all my sales both online and off of yarn + fiber + lessons.
Then I added up my craft show sales.
I divided my craft show sales by my total sales to get the percentage.
(Note to the more-math-minded…did I do this right?)

I got .48

48% of my sales came from craft shows.

I did the same math for 2008: 42%.

Considering I only did 2 shows in each year, I think that's pretty significant!

To get a really clear picture, I looked at the months around the craft shows. In the month preceding Urban Craft Uprising, I had 1/5 of my normal online sales. In the month following UCU, I traveled  extensively (and didn't reopen my Etsy shop) so I made about 1/10 of my normal online sales.

So while doing the show  made up for those two months, it's clear that the percentage would have been different had I kept my online sales going and didn't do the show.

In other words, I sacrificed sales before and after the show to make one big chunk of income in 2 days.
Had I not done the shows, my online sales might have made up for it.

But another consideration is that I prepared for the show during July, the slowest month for yarn sales (both in my shop and throughout the industry).
I probably would have low online sales even if I hadn't done the show.

Is there no clear answer?

I've left one thing out of the equation: post-show sales.

And those blow everything out of the water.

The people I meet at craft shows become online customers at an incredibly high rate.

It's a little hard to track, since I don't have any way of knowing how many hundreds of people I talk to at a show.
But I do know when they come online, because I recognize their names or see it in their address.

And I do know that many become repeat customers, buying yarn every month for years after the show, because they become my friends. On Twitter, in the blog comments, in my inbox.

Post-show sales come as quickly as the night after an event, when people I met that day log-on to my online shop.
Post-show sales come from people who sign up for my newsletter and buy something after getting that first newsletter.
Or the fifth.
Post-show sales come from someone at the show blogging about what they bought.

In other words, it grows.
By meeting people, talking to them about yarn, sharing my passion.

This is the aspect that makes the answer to today's question an unequivocal

It's worth it, for the people.
It's worth it, for the marketing.
And it's worth it (as I wrote yesterday), for the fun.

If you want to learn HOW to get those fabulous post-show sales, check out the class How to Rock a Craft Show.

If you have any questions, ask them in the comments!

In which I gush about how much I love you…

Last week I listened to the BEST podcast I've ever heard about sharing-your-crafty-thing. It was Sister Diane's CraftyPod show about Engagement Marketing.

If you sell your crafty thing (patterns, yarns, purses, whatever!) you really need to listen to this.

What's Engagement Marketing?

Diane gives a great definition and explains why you'd want to use it, but I can't resist putting it in my own words.
It's sharing your thing by connecting. By making relationships, by talking to your customers one-by-one. It's what we (you and I) do here on the blog in the comments. It's chatting on Twitter. It's leaving comments on Flickr.

Ignore the word Marketing.

Because it's so much more than that.
(and I don't like the word marketing)

It's not just sharing my passion with you, even though that's always fun.

In all of this connecting, sharing, chatting; I've gotten to know you.
You share your yarn-ideas with me, you help me crochet, you review my class.
You challenge me, encourage me and inspire me.

For that, I thank you.

Enough with the gushing.

If this all sounds like utopian love-fest, it sort of is.
It makes my working life so much better, that I get to share it with such fabulously brilliant people.

But it's also REAL. And useful.
Useful in sharing my thing and useful in making my business sustainable.

And it's accessible to anyone. Really!

Want some of this gushy-ness?

To feel this good and gushy about the people involved in your business, start by listening to Diane's podcast.

And if after you've listened, you're looking for some concrete ways of applying it, check out my Share Your Thing class (which is now available for homestudy).


Helping Yarnies Share Your Thing

My work A Novel Yarn (you know, my real-life yarn store!) has put me into contact with hundreds of independant yarnies.
I've read their blogs, poured over their online shops, signed up for newsletters.
I have observed.

And all this observing (combined with my own yarnie-experiences) taught me a few things:

  1. Everyone really has their own style of yarny-ness
  2. That own-style-thing means that everyone has something different to offer
  3. A lot of yarnies aren't highlighting their own, unique, awesomeness on their website, blog, twitter…in other words, on their public face
  4. Many of these yarnies have scattershot marketing, if any at all.

These problems are so overwhelmingly universal (with a few exceptions like ColorBOMB) in the handmade world – this is so NOT limited to yarnies.

And this is a shame,  because there are so many awesome makers of awesome things that are toiling in virtual obscurity because they don't know how to share their thing.

All this observing has ignited a passion inside me.
What was once just a vague thought (I'd really like to somehow, someday  help other handmade businesses) has turned into a solid plan.

I want to help handmade businesses reach their right people in a non-icky, super simple way.

I don't have all the answers, but I've studied a lot and I've done a LOT of trial & error (& error & error).

I've put together systems that have worked really well for me (newspaper & magazine articles, showing up in books, etc) and that can be applied to ANY crafty business.

And as part of my Sharing-It Pledge, I'm ready to share this aspect of my business in a 3-week online class.

You can read all about the class here and the subjects we'll cover, but the short version is this:

  • You want to share your thing with the world
  • You have something unique to offer
  • Together we'll discover the best places for you to share your thing, a system for doing it consistently AND ways to highlight your you-ness.

If this seems like something you might like, you can learn more and register for it here.

Have any questions or comments? Leave them below!

How I came to be a Blonde Chicken

Usually, on Thursdays, I post manifestos, love-letters to the season, but today, my Jay's birthday, I want to post a little manifesto for him.

I'm often asked “What's a Blonde Chicken? Where'd that name come from?“.  It's an adorable little story, so be forewarned: Cuteness lies ahead.

Jay has a huge family. Over 15 aunts and uncles (not counting their spouses, their children and their spouses). Huge. One day they all came to our college campus for a big family thing for Poppa, the family patriarch.

Jay and I had been dating…maybe 2 months? And he wanted me to meet the family.

When it came time to meet Poppa, I leaned down (he was in a wheelchair), gave him a “kiss on the jaw” and moved on. I might have said “Hi, Nice to meet you”. Maybe.

Jay was behind me and Poppa grabbed him and said:

“Don't let go of that blonde chicken!”

As a proper young feminist, I was appropriately disgusted with the nickname.

Jay and Tara

Of course, Jay used it to relentlessly tease me.

Months passed, Poppa passed away and Jay kept calling me his Blonde Chicken.

We fell deeper in love, graduated, got married, got jobs and when I started to think about maybe, sorta opening a business, Jay insisted that I should do it.

When I faultered for a name, Jay offered up “Blonde Chicken”.

When I doubted that I could really, truly put all the parts of a business together, Jay insisted.

When I considered quitting my day job, Jay insisted.

At every step, at every opportunity for me to turn back, Jay's had my back, insisting I could do the Thing.

And for him, it isn't even a big deal. It's just the Thing, Tara's Thing She Needs To Do.

He's just quietly certain I can do it. No big pep rallies (even when I thought I wanted one), no big deal. I can do it. Period.

Today, on his 27th birthday, here, in this space he's helped to create,  I just wanted to acknowledge his insistence, and to thank him for not letting go of this blonde chicken.

(PS. The real tragedy – Jay's red/green colorblind. I work with color all day and he can't even enjoy my current favorite color, an enchantingly juicy Cherry)

Path To Yarn – Moving into Cubicle-land

This week I’m celebrating the launching into my new life by sharing the path that led me here. Follow along all week!

The crafty-ness started at home, then  I went to college and learned to knit. Yesterday, I ran a business, but today, I move and lose it.

After working at the Kil'n Time for 2 years, I wanted a change. Jay & I had always wanted to move to Tennessee and we decided now was the time. We were young, underemployed (neither of our jobs required the Bachelor's degrees we had) and had few responsibilities. 2 weeks later, we lived in Johnson City, TN.

We launched blondechicken.com (it looked a bit different then) the week after we moved. I was selling my handdyed yarn straight from this website, not Etsy. I waited for the sales.


I imagined that my experience as a store manager of a pottery studio would provide me with another interesting, arty job. After a month of searching, talking, applying and interviewing, I had landed two jobs: office temp at the local state university and barista at Starbucks in the evenings.
In July and August 2006, I worked 80-90 hours a week. I had no time to make any yarn, let alone market my “new” business.

By September, I quit Starbucks and was busy temping around campus. I worked full-time, had all the responsibilities of a regular employee, but had no benefits or time off. I temped in the same position for nearly a year before I was hired to do the job I was already doing.

This time in my life is the hardest to write about. It was the “dark before the dawn” or whatever, but at the time, I didn't know there would be a dawn.

I started to fear that I was an office drone and would always be an office drone. My coworkers were miserable women in their 60s who hated what they did, and had hated it for 40 years. They monthly counted down until retirement, weekly counted down to payday and daily counted down until Friday.
It sucked me under.

One day my mom and I were wandering the local art supply store. The owner commented on my mom's shawl, one I had knit from my handspun yarn. My mom (of course) gushed about the beautiful yarn I made and the shopowner asked me to sell some in her shop.

In April 2007, I gave her 12 skeins and they hung in the attached art gallery.
Not a one of them sold and she returned them to me in October 2007.

After a year of the soul-sucking, I got a job in a different department in November 2007. Same job, better pay and MUCH better working conditions. When I went home from work, I actually had energy! I even had something approaching ambition.

In one of my energy-filled Saturdays, just a week after I started the new job, I took pictures of those unsold skeins of handspun and listed them on Etsy. (you can see them here)

They sold by December!
So I spun more, listed more, they sold!
By January, I was spending my days (at the day job) reading about succeeding on Etsy and my nights spinning.

And that was it.  I dedicated myself to building a plan that would get me OUT of cubicle-land and INTO the doing what I wanted. I read everything I could about small businesses. I learned all I could about the yarn industry. I tried every marketing strategy suggested. I spent hours in the Etsy forums and reading business blogs.

A year later, January 2009,  I made the official  Quit-My-Dayjob Plan. More on that tomorrow!

PS. Don’t forget: I’m answering any and all questions on Twitter, today at 4 pm EST. Just put #AskTheChicken in your tweet (at any time) and I’ll answer! You can follow along and see all the questions and answers here.

PPS. The sale! Don’t forget there’s a yarn sale with discounts for both new and returning customers! Grab your yarn right here: http://blondechicken.etsy.com

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