Weekly-ish notes on navigating big change

crafty business

Your questions answered: email list growth, self-publishing and what I’d do differently

Get YOUR questions answered: self-publishing a book, growing your email list, and advice on building your crafty biz!

Today I'm answering questions from my Instagram followers (to get your questions answered, be sure you're following me!). In fact, I received so many questions, I split them into two podcasts!  You can find the first Q&A post here.   Today we'll cover:

  • Email List Growth
  • Self-Publishing
  • What I'd do differently



Check out these awesome handmade businesses:

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 first step towards a profitable business

First Steps toward a profitable business

When I quit my dayjob to make yarn full-time, I had worked for months towards an income goal. But then, life fell apart. In one month, my car caught fire, my husband lost his (only-part-time-anyhow) job, and my house was broken into (yep, everything electronic was stolen. Thank goodness they didn't how valuable my little wooden spinning wheel is!)

Since that inauspicious start, my creativity has been my ticket to paying bills, traveling the country, going to movies and generally living life. In the beginning, I didn't know what to do except: SCRAMBLE. And, to be honest, sometimes it's still a scramble.

But I make it work.
 I take my family to a hotel + fancy dinner + the Chocolate Lounge for Mom's birthday. I take a week off to be in San Diego for my Dad's birthday party. {This was the year both parents turned 50. It was a big deal. But don't mention it to them!} I get stuck overnight in an airport and can afford to get a hotel room at the last minute. I drive 3 hours and get a hotel to visit my husband's grandpa before he dies, then the next week for the funeral…then the next week for Thanksgiving.

These aren't glamorous rolling-in-the-dough stories. But this is real life.
I'm a 30-year-old married French major who likes to eat at Plant at least once a month, and can't bear “office casual”.
I bring home the puppy chow from my ideas and my words and my hands.

And in the nearly 4 years of doing this full-time, I've learned how do it, and do it with some ease.

And so, I think long and hard before I answer a question like the one Laura asked: “How do you create the income of your dreams when creating the products by hand?”

The answer is GINORMOUS.

But it's also kinda small: Profit. 

Everything you sell, every project you work on, and every new “opportunity” you jump on must be profitable for your overall business to be profitable.

But doing that! It involves…math, my dear friends.
And it involves bold honesty. And we tend to avoid the things we're not-so-comfortable with. So I created a class that walks you through all of it. From individual product profit-testing, to the things that keep your whole business paying you. It's the systems I use (and that I've helped other crafters in the Starship use) to launch new products, find new income streams, and pay the bills.

The class is Pay Yourself, and you can register for it here.

But in the meantime, I can begin to answer Laura's question in today's video, with the very first step of profitability: Knowing your numbers.

Once you know your numbers, it's time to Pay Yourself

Got a question? Ask me!
Like these videos? Subscribe and I'll beam 'em to your inbox each week!


Trust. Adventure. Explore. Beam. Boldly.

After working through Leonie's yearly workbook and finishing the Captain's Log (a new workbook/journal/stay-on-track-er that we'll be using in the Starship all year), I'm practically glowing with gratitude for 2012 and hope for the coming year. My favorite part is seeing how the disparate pieces fit together to create some overall themes and lessons.


2011 was the year of Yes.

Last year I wrote that I had learned (from 2011!) that saying yes even when I'm afraid led to amazingness. I practiced this consciously in 2012, saying yes to: a book party (and my first live-speaking thing…ever!); my first live workshop; following my enthusiasm; feeling good; creating what I longed to create.

Tara Swiger teaching marketing in Seattle


2012 was the year of Trust.

The thing with saying Yes? It involves a heckova lot of trust. Trust that you'll figure it out. Trust that it's all going to be ok. Trust that you've done your best, and now you need to let go. Trust that you're enough. Trust that connecting is more fulfilling and profitable than closing up.

Connection is Everything.



2012 was the year of Enthusiasm.

Saying yes to my enthusiasm is something I learned this year from reading Sarah J. and idea-partnering with Kelly P. I followed my enthusiasm towards Project Life, quilting, embroidery, writing on new topics and finally, finally finding the balance between creativity and work in my daily life.

Mother in law quilt. Finished!


2012 was the year of Adventure.

Oh the adventures!
Publishing: writing, writing, writing, thousands and thousands of words every day;  working with Shannon on the cover, title, layout; the endless tiny changes; and then! the release day! The lovely reviews, thrilling book party, guest posts, interviews, giveaways; and then! A royalty check! The magic!

Traveling: San Diego, Charleston, Boston, San Diego (again), Seattle, Asheville, Nashville, Knoxville for dates with a new baby and old friend, the heart-breakingly beautiful Oregon coast, the redwoods, the campfire pancakes.
Hello Redwoods.

Writing: Yes, the book, of course, the book! But I also wrote an three email mini-courses (one of them is free, here), a book read-along guide, a class (and then workbook) on blogging effectively, an all-new Holiday Sanity Guide, the Captain's Log, and the truest, most enthusiastic blog posts in my 10 year blogging life. And for the first time, writing came easy, it was a part of my life and my world and the very way I live in the world. And it's always, always an adventure.

I really am.


And with these lessons, with trust and enthusiasm and adventure, I turn towards 2013, the year to…


hot air balloon

While I have fewer “traditional” explorations scheduled (I'll be traveling much less), the close-to-home approach is giving me a chance to explore deeply. Home, new projects, researching what works for others, experimenting with what works for me…all of it is about exploring. I don't know what exactly it'll mean (yet), but here's what I do know:

  • Last June I sat down at the beach and outlined a whole new class – the title: Explore You. Obviously, now's the time for it.
  • There's so much I don't know, but so much new info I close myself off from, to avoid overwhelm. Explore gives me the frame to learn more, and be open, in a focused, healthy way.
  • I've started listing Things To Explore, and think I'll pick a new one each month.




Beam. Explore. The words of 2013. (So far. Life tends to show up with her own ideas.) cc: @leonie_dawson
I don't really get this one yet, but it came to me, strong and true and..Yes, Ok, BEAM. Here's what I know about it so far:

  • It's my job to not just shine my little light, but to make sure it beams.
  • Tractor beam, sunbeam, beaming beacon, a lighthouse beams into the darkness, beaming smiles
  • A light beams when: it's not gunked up with stuff, it is focused in one spot.


Join me. What was 2012 the year of? And what will 2013 hold?




This is one of the (over 45 pages of) exercises in the Captain's Log. If you'd like to get support (and practical dream-reaching), beam aboard the Starship. It closes to new members tomorrow.

How to survive the holidays as a Biz Lady

“For the busy Biz Lady, the holiday season is a time of joy (Peppermint mochas! Decorations! Candle light!) and stress (Holiday orders! The post office!). Sanity can be hard to hold on to between filling orders, fulfilling family obligations and standing in the dreaded post office line.

But sanity and profit are possible. It starts with knowing yourself, your business and what you want from the season and then setting expectations (and plans) for yourself and your community.”

Read the rest of my post on DesignSponge.


And if you've read that post, you might like

If this is your first time here

Hi! So nice to have you! Get to know me and say hello here. Don't miss the free mini-lesson How To Be An Explorer of your Biz. And, well, start at the Start Here page if you'd like more!

Want more survival tips? Check out the (free) Definitive Guide.

Sign up here to get more on surviving your business adventures, no matter the season.


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
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


The middle of the ride

When you first got on this ride (and started your business), you had enthusiasm. You had books. You read stuff and made a list (maybe even a map) and figured out where to go next.

The destination was clear: Selling My Thing.
So you figured out how to get there, and you did it! You sold a thing! Hoorah!

But then you realized the destination had shifted. It wasn't just enough to have a place to sell your thing, you also needed great pictures, compelling descriptions. No wait, that's not enough either, now you need to keep doing that, every week. And so now the destination isn't just to sell one of your things, the destination is to keep going with this, to keep it going even when you don't feel like it.
Oh! You need something outside of just your own whims to get things done…you need a whole system of getting your thing made and sold…it's….It's a business.

And so you read more books and tried more stuff.
You've figured out how to keep making things, photographing them, listing them.
You've met some of your clients. You've had conversations.

Now you have a business…but now you're destination-less. It's  not a place that you can point to on the map and be  all done with it.
It's ongoing.
It's iterative.
It's everyday.

You have to live with not having a destination.
You are realizing more and more each day that the plan is now to build something you love, something that's sustainable and that you like doing and find out all the ways you can keep it healthy and fresh and full of enthusiasm.
But when you turn to books, there just aren't any books for where you are. And they wouldn't help anyhow because all your questions are so specific to you and your business.

This is a place of journey-ing, of realizing that your business is this ongoing thing and you kind of won't ever have it “figured out”. This iskind of a lonely place. It's definitely a difficult place.

I know because I've been there. When I quit my dayjob to make yarn full-time, I came smack up against that on-my-own-ness, and it took me months to realize that I didn't need to power through, I needed to surround myself with others doing the same. And not just in an occasional Twitter conversation, but on a regular, business-specific basis.

And I know it's not just me, because last week I talked to all kinds of people (gym owners, jewelry-makers, vegan coaches) and real explorers (mountain climbers!), and everywhere it's the same. You feel like their questions are too specific, and that you're all alone.

What you need in this place isn't more books, it isn't more articles about 10 ways to make more sales, what you need is provisions for the journey. You need to embrace that you are no longer a person starting a business, you are a business explorer, one who will now live and learn and experiment in the wilds of business-land.

And every explorer knows, you can't do it alone.
You need a team who helps you explore, who shares ideas and who just keeps you from calling off the whole expedition when something goes wrong.
You also need to feel like you can ask your questions, your strangely specific questions about your incredibly unique business, and get the feedback from people who know it, and know you, and know what's worked for them.

That's why I built the Starship. Because all around me, from my classes and my twitter stream, were smart + clever businesses. But they felt discouraged and alone. They wanted regular encouragement. So I built a space for  them (and you) that  combines straight-up business advice in monthly classes with the accountability and encouragement of weekly live chats. It's for the middle of the journey, for when things feel like they're taking too much time, for when you're past needing the books, and you need daily movement. You can come aboard here.

But whether you come aboard or not, I want you to know that the middle is ok, it's normal, it's to be expected. It's not unusual to feel lonely or lost or destination-less. It's not unusual to be frustrated you can't find books about where you're at. Find encouragement in others who are going through the same thing. Seek out stories of the middle, and examples of people living in the middle. And maybe listen to this song.


The adventures

This week has definitely been an adventure. A travel-cross-country, get stranded in an airport, totally exhausted kind of adventure. But! I loved it! And it inspired me to add a new section to this here weekly round-up of Adventures: The Lessons. Scroll down to see 'em!


The view

Seattle skyline from Bainbridge Ferry :: Teaching an EtsyRAIN workshop :: Knitting the TARDIS shawl with a DALEK :: Captain Kirk's actual chair :: At the baseball game :: first Pumpkin Spice of the season, as I waited for my much-delayed flight

The lessons

Captain Kirk's chair isn't that impressive in real life (kind of a peel-y vinyl), reminding me again that the symbol is the thing, and the value we bring to objects.

Support is all around. Again and again during the trip, I'd worry about something (like which busses to take to get to my workshop, without getting sweaty) only to have support show up (within an hour, three different people texted, unprompted and offered to drive me.) This happened so many times I lost count. Note to self: Keep your eyes open, the help you need is within reach.

Setting goals is powerful. I've had a dream/wish in mind all summer, but didn't know how to make it happen. Way back in June, I wrote that I wanted the Starship to my full-time focus  by September. But it seemed impossible, so I didn't make any plans for it…and then a series of random events made it possible to extricate myself from long-term client projects (happy on all sides) and dedicate myself full-time to the Starship this month. Magical. Also, freaky.

The finds

  • Breezy – A life-saving app! I had to print worksheets for the workshop (and couldn't print them ahead of time or they'd get all squished in my luggage), and Breezy lets you send any document to any local, public printer (like, Kinkos!) right from your phone or iPad.
  • I like what Cairene is saying here about commitment leading to magic. I've been learning this lesson over and over again lately, and I'm so glad she wrote it.
  • This is a pretty impressive handknit sweater for a baseball fan. I'm kinda tempted. Recognize the pattern?
  • Marlo! We had lunch after my workshop and she is just…well, it's hard to talk about her without sounding cliched. Smart! Great! Hilarious! Also, so so in tune with what crafters need to know. Since I don't work one-on-one with clients anymore (unless you're already in the Starship), I'm referring everyone to her.

And that's it for my Adventures this week – what were yours?


Another lesson  learned? I love talking to you. So now, for this month only, every one boarding the Starship gets a free jam session. We'll talk about your questions, your dreams and your plans, so you enter the Starship prepared to get exactly what you need. Offer ends (and the Starship closes to new members) on 9/14.

Melissa makes a map

There's nothing so exciting as finding something you've made, in the wild. Living in someone else's life and totally transformed by them. And there's nothing I like better than seeing people's maps! I don't get to see many of these, because this is a personal process. But every once in a while a Starship Captain will share it as it unfolds, and it seriously the best part of my job.
Today, Melissa of Pressbound is sharing her map with us. You can read all about her process (trial + error!) on her blog*, but she also answered a few of my (squealing) questions:
*My favorite part of her post? She says “Tara and the Starship (this sounds like a band name, right?)” I am TOTALLY naming my band that! 
What did you learn during the process of map-making? 

It's really important to break every goal up piece by piece until you have small manageable tasks that can be completed within a day or two.

Before, I would state many smaller goals that would eventually lead to me achieving one larger goal and gave myself deadlines but didn't really think about the smaller steps beyond that. But that wasn't working well because I was constantly falling behind and unable to get everything done. I was overwhelming myself and expecting too much in too little of a time period. Once I broke it down and saw how many steps it would take towards achieving smaller goals/metrics that lead to the main goal, then I was able to determine what can actually happen in a certain amount of time (or what was unrealistic).
What surprised you?
The sense of clarity I felt once I finished my current revised map.

I've spent too much time flailing and not knowing what to focus on in my business. This map has given me the direction I needed and eased quite a bit of stress.

Now that it's been a few weeks, how's it going?
I've been working on developing 2 new card lines. I'm still in the design process. I've picked a launch date and gearing up for promoting the lines and developing a few launch offers. However, I'm realizing that maybe I should have broken some steps down even further and figured in marketing efforts into the map as well. A few products I thought I might develop may change into different products too. I'm realizing that this kind of map is organic and flexible and it's okay if some goals and actionable steps change as I move closer to my goal.
I asked Melissa these questions a few weeks ago, and since replying, she previewed one of the lines! 
Have you made your own map? 
If so, share it in the comments! 

How to Experiment (and scare yourself)

how to experiment

Confession: during this session of the Effective Blog class, I've been following along with the students and doing the homework myself. You see, I'm kinda ambivalent to blogging, but I love experimenting. But how I feel about blogging is old stuff. It's not new or based on the current reality. I need to experiment, to see if everything is true or not. The other day in class, Diane mentioned that she likes to do 30-day experiments to see if something works or not. That, combined with this post from Elise, combined with the excellent stuff I learned during our live discussion, inspired me to get started now.

So I'm doing a public 30 day experiment, right here. And I'd like you to join me.

I didn't plan on saying anything about it, but I'd like to have some company. And experimenting is better when we do it  together. I'd love for you to join in with me, to hold your own experiment!

Before we get in to it, let's talk about what makes a good experiment (you can find full How to Experiment instructions on page 100 of the book.)

How to Experiment

1. Set a thesis. What do you want this experiment to do for you? What do you think will happen?

2. Set the parameters. How long is this experiment? What will it entail? (You are so much more likely to stick with something if it has a clear end date. You'll also get better results if you plan a time to stop and reassess.)

3. Put the support system in place to hold it. What will you need in time, space and energy to do the experiment? How can you set up your day, week and life to make that possible?(Hint: if you're not writing every day now, something will have to change for you to be able to do that next week. Time, space, tools, etc.)

4. Review the results. What worked? What didn't? At the end of the experiment, make notes about the results, how you felt, and what you learned. Use it to set up your next experiment!

You can use this to experiment with anything (going vegan, trying a new marketing channel, increasing sales, etc). The really important thing here is to experiment with things that you expect a clear result from in the time allotted.

For our experiment, we're going to start today, and stop on 9/3. That's not very long, so pick something do-able for that long, and set your goal small. Very small. Even smaller than that. Got one? Ok!

Here's mine:

1. Thesis: blogging every weekday until 9/3 will increase my connection with the community or readers and explorers. How will I know that happened? People will join me in creating their own experiment, and even more people (let's say, twice as many) will join me for the next group experiment in September. (This will probably also result in more emails, Twitter conversation, etc, but I'm not measuring those.) This all serves my Big Goal for more connection (via vulnerability) in my life + work.*

2. Parameters: The experiment ends 9/3. It includes sharing something publicly here, in this space, every weekday. Something useful, entertaining or inspiring. At least once a week I'll hit “publish” on a post I'm a little afraid of.**

3. Support systems in place: Time to write every morning, creating a list of possible topics to carry me through the whole month, scheduling the ones I feel inspired to write. (In other words, my classic non-planning planning.) I'll talk more about the tools I use later.

*This goal isn't that business-y, because I'm plenty busy with current clients. But what I've learned through building the Starship is that there's an amazing private, deep community there, and I'd like to supplement that with a broader, more public community outside the Starship, so that everyone can experience at least a bit of the magic of exploring with others. In order to do create that, I have to stop doing all my stuff in the privacy of one-on-one and Starship work, and start bringing it here. That's the reason for this experiment!

**This week, that post would be this, right here!

That's my experiment. Would you like to join me with your own?

You can experiment on absolutely anything! (Blogging regularly, blogging about different topics, using Twitter, FB, Instagram or whatever in a new way…the possibilities are endless!)

To join in, just leave a comment with your experiment (including thesis, parameters, etc), and we can check with each other using #experimentFTW on Twitter or Instagram. Prefer to keep it private? Email me! On 9/3 we'll be back here with a new experiment!

It costs how much?! aka, Marketing with Price

This month we're looking at marketing without promotion and the other ways to market: using Place, Product and, today, Price to share your work.

This whole marketing-with-price thing is a tricky subject. You want to think about using price to find new (or repeat) buyers…but you don't want to slip into doubting your price, or worse, trying to compete on price. So before we start thinking about pricing and marketing, let's get one thing straight:

Your customer doesn't buy on price, she buys on value.

Value = How much your product is worth to the Right Person.  (This has nothing to do with numbers, and everything to do with how it makes her feel when she buys it).

Think about your last haircut. Did you pay $5 for it or $35 (or more!) for it? Why? Was the action the same? Before you got your haircut, you couldn't be sure of the results, so you didn't really pay for a better haircut, you paid for the promise of a better haircut. And you probably paid for a nicer environment in which to get a haircut. And a friendly hairdresser.
Why yes, I did bring my own creamer to the coffee shop. #coffeewasmylastnonveganholdout

Or your last cup of coffee or tea. Did you drink it at a gas station? Or a coffeeshop? Or did you make yourself a cup of the good stuff at home (with your favorite creamer and sweetener, in your favorite mug). If you drank it at the coffeeshop or at home, it wasn't because of price, it was because of value – you wanted the experience of enjoying that cuppa.

So how do you market with Price, without trying to compete on price?

Start by thinking about your price range.
What's your most expensive item? And your least expensive? Is that a very big range?
If it's a wide range, could you fill it in with mid-range items?
If it's a narrow range, could you add a lower-priced item? A higher-priced item?

Be careful! A lot of my students immediately think of offering a low-priced item to their range. You may want to do that, but before you jump to that conclusion, take a minute to think of a few other options. What could you create that would be worth a higher price?

When considering which to do, keep your Right Person in mind. What else could she buy from you that goes with her current purchase? Or how could you reach a new segment of your Right People with a new price?

Another way of marketing with Price is to group products together (a higher price, but perhaps a savings overall), or to break up a group of products. Or you can change the way people pay for and buy your item.
Freshly shorn fleece #shearingday

For example, I no longer sell single skeins of yarn online (you can find it in yarn stores) – instead I offer Monthly Yarn Mail. 1 skein of yarn, every month, delivered right to you. You sign up and are charged monthly, automatically. Or, you can buy a whole year of yarn at once.

While I didn't alter my pricing much, I did alter the way my customer interact with the price. They don't choose to buy a new yarn each month, it's automatic, and that makes the price less of a factor.
Other fiber artists offer “clubs” – where you sign up once and get three or sixmonths of yarn. It's the same principle – grouping something together, since we know our customers usually buy multiples (repeatedly) of what we sell.

Let's look at a few examples:

A jeweler can offer a high end range of jewelry and a more affordable teen-inspired line.
A bag maker can also offer wallets – a great, low-priced add-on to your order
A knitwear designer might create multiple lines – one of affordable basics and another that are very detailed, very intricate knit shawls.
A bookmaker might add a line of handmade bookmarks.

What else? How can you market using price?

1 2 3