Weekly-ish notes on navigating big change

small business

Why selling more might be a bad thing

When selling more is a bad thing

This is one of the trickiest things to grasp, but one of the easiest things to fix, in most of the crafty businesses I work with:

Selling more products doesn't necessarily equal making more money.

I think most of you know this, somewhere … but it's so counter-intuitive to how the rest of our monetary world works. At a job, if you work more hours, you make more money. At the store, if you buy more products, you spend more money. But in your small biz, it's possible that having more sales does not create an increase in profit.
And while you know that, have you done the math to really work it out? Have you figured out what your break-even point is – and if you're close to it? Not just for a usual month in your business, but for each craft show and wholesale order?

I'm guessing … not, because I know I didn't when I first started my business. Heck, I even quit my day job and did shows around the country before I really figured out all the ins and outs of my profit margin.

It's easy to skip this because it's easy to sucked into the simplicity of what a zillion articles  tell us: more sales = better. When that (more sales) becomes your goal, it's easy to forget all about profit margins and expenses and do whatever it takes to sell more products. You make shipping free, you discount heavily, you throw in extras and specials and fanciness. And you sell a big pile of products – but you don't have any money.

This frustration, from successful sellers, is something I've been hearing for the last three years.  But honestly, I resisted doing anything more than having deep (somewhat uncomfortable) conversations in the Starship. Because I'm not accountant. and I don't like math. And I still haven't figured out how to pay my estimated quarterly taxes in a way that doesn't leave me with a big tax bill at the end of the year (because I do make a profit, which means I do owe taxes!).

But the more I've talked about this over the last year, with online and traditional crafters, the more I've come to realize that this is exactly why I need to talk about it. Because if I – math-avoiding, mistake-making, bold explorer – figured it out but I don't talk about it, we might just keep going on thinking that more sales = better, and that only math-geniuses, accountants and non-creatives have to do the work of finding out what makes their business profitable.

And that's dis-empowering and discouraging.  If I figured it out, then you can too.

We – artists, writers, makers, and designers – we deserve to live comfortably with our work. We are capable and smart and can figure this out, if only we know where to start.

So that's what we're going to do in Pay Yourself. We're going to find your numbers: the profit of each product and the profit/expense of your entire business. And then we'll use those numbers to make good decisions in the future.

In the last year of teaching this class online and in person, I've seen this material transform businesses. From a full-time artist who changed the galleries she works with to a yarn-maker who shifted her focus, to a maker who cut back on craft shows in order to do more wholesaling (and found more profit). I was convinced by their successes to offer this live online again and to make it even better – to reshoot all the videos, update the worksheets, and offer it in a self-paced e-course.

The class is now available as a self-paced e-course – every lesson will be delivered to you, when you're ready for it. You can read more about the class and register for it here: https://taraswiger.com/product/pay/.



How to have a profitable business, Step 1

The first step to 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 know 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 after teaching at TNNA. 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 31-year-old married French major who likes to watch movies in a sofa cinema 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 5 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 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. 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.

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

Watch the below video to learn about your numbers and what they teach you:

(I made this video last year. Pay Yourself  has newer, better quality videos – watch a sample here.)


Once you know your numbers, it's time to learn from them + to  Pay Yourself




6 Thoughts on Before Happiness

6 thoughts on Before Happiness
This month I've been reading Shawn Achor‘s second book, Before Happiness, and HOLY COW. I can not get over how very applicable it all is to what we do here, in exploring and crafting a business (and life) we actually love. I took copious notes all through reading it and wanted to share just a few with you. (I highly recommend reading the book for yourself!)

Love this book! Talking about it tomorrow on the blog. #holidaysanity
Here are a few of my thoughts as I read:
1. This book isn't so much about Happiness, as it is about having the life (and business) you really want, by paying attention to how you perceive the world around you. As a positive psychologist researcher (“positive psychology” is the branch of psychology that studies successful people as opposed to other areas of psychology which study the ways we can be unwell), Anchor is reporting on experiments (both his own and others') on how perception shapes reality.

2. When we talk about perception vs. reality it sounds a little woo-woo (but the science shows it's a measurable fact!), so you can think of it like this: In the middle of winter, after days and days of sub-freezing weather, a sunny day in the mid-50s causes you to exclaim that it is SUCH a nice, warm day! But a sunny in the mid-50s during the heat of the summer, will having you commenting on how cold it is. This is an example of how your perception changes the reality. The same temperature warms you up or has you shivering. The temperature (reality) is the same, but the perception of the temperature changes.

This same perception/reality thing comes into play in your business: Is a month with a $1000 in sales a “good” month or a “slow” month? Neither answer is objectively right or wrong, it depends on your situation.
So this book is about that,  and about whether you are choosing a positive (and true) reality or a negative reality (which might also be true, but closes you to finding more opportunities and paths to success).

3. I love reading about studies about this, because it reflects exactly what I hear from YOU. Many of you have amazingly brilliant ideas and you did have lots of enthusiasm…until you started to focus on the competition, on all the hard work, and how very many things could go wrong. The enthusiasm and energy drains out of you, until you can't see any of the opportunities in front of you, and you can't spot any path that would lead you to success.

I was delighted to read that it's not just you, it's how our brains our wired (watch out for danger, in order to stay alive!). But I'm even more delighted to have learned ways of getting around the Inner Eyeore, to help you find the light + enthusiasm again.

4. As I suspected based on experience, celebrating successes (and being reminded of them) really is a proven path to success. Yay!

5. Your map needs to be centered around your very own meaning markers (Yep, Shawn uses the same language I've used in the Map Making Guide). It's not enough to just set goals or have dreams – they need to be centered on what really matters to you, and how you are going to most enjoy getting there. I talk more about this in this video+ I'm editing the Chart The Stars guide (available only to Starship + Solo Mission captains) to not just  discover what matters to you, but to remember it over and over during your normal everyday planning.

6. I  could very easily list every point in the book that lines up perfectly to what we already do inside the Starship + Solo Missions. (In fact, I started a big list for myself.) But I think it's sufficient to point out that all this science and knowledge is useless unless you apply it to your business – not just once when you read it, but again and again as you reassess and reorient as you move forward (which, by the way, is one of the best ways to make sure you end up where you want to be).

In order to make it truly useful, I've baked the book's “success accelerants” right into the experience of being on a Solo Mission or in the Starship. You don't just learn about them, you'll act  on them, simply by opening the emails and filling out the worksheets.


My goal is to make your success, towards your very own dreams, completely unavoidable.

For more thoughts on books, check out the discussion around the New Domesticity

Explorer Club of Book Lovers – December

follow my enthusiasm by reading…a lot. And once a month, I share (some of) the books I read last month and the books I intend to read this month. You can join the informal book club by sharing your own list in the comments!

It's book talk time! What are you reading? Find my list on the site!


What I read in November


What I'm reading in December



What are you reading this month?

What was your favorite book of November?




Disclaimer-y Disclaimer! I’m not in any way coerced into saying nice things about anyone's book. Or course I’m biased when my friends write a book, but I don’t mention things I don’t like. Read the usual disclaimer here. 



How to do the right thing, every time

The worst quilting assistant ever. He lays on the notebook but refuses to take notes.

A regular question I hear from clients + Captains, whether they're just starting up or are fully  self-employed is surprisingly simple (and utterly frustrating) :

What's the right thing to do next? How do I know if I'm doing on the RIGHT things?

This gets to the heart of what frustrates me about working for myself. There's no one tell me what to do next. There's no one to tell me if I should be doing that. Or if I'm wasting my time.

In your business, not only do you have to decide what to do in any given moment, but you also have to determine afterwards if that was a valuable use of your time and energy. Whether it's how to market your newest pattern or what project you should start next – you're in a constant question flow: What now? Was that right? How can it be more effective next time?

(This is why we're so drawn to business “experts” and their Do Exactly This classes. We just want to know that we're doing the right thing, at the right time, and that all of work is not for nothing.)

But the fact is, only you can decide what the right thing is, in your unique situation, every day.

You can systematize this process so it isn't so hard, in order to spend less time stressing and more time making. The system/flow that I teach is simple + powerful:


When you reassess, you're not judging the results, you're only gathering information. You're looking to see that you current calendar and to-do list is filled with Next Right Thing.
How do you know if something is the Next Right Thing?

The Right Things:
Matter in the long-term.
Bring you closer to a goal you truly care about.
Create an experience you enjoy.
Generate the feelings you want to have.

What's on your list that doesn't fit the above requirements?

(Hint: Most things that you do simply because you “should” aren't “Right Things.”)





What this is all about.

Finally cold enough for tights, sweater, shawl. #yayfall

This is not about making more sales.
This is not about making more money.
This is not even about following your passion.

What we're doing here, together, is exploring your business to make it more sustainable, and more in alignment with your values, vision, and self.

But it's not so that you can get more customers, pay your bills or do what you love.
Those are metrics – they help us measure how sustainable and healthy your business is.
But they are not the real why.

This is about personal responsibility.

The real goal, the reason for you to build a sustainable business + to take the time to explore it is because you are responsible for your life + happiness. You are the only one who is going to create the change you desire.  You are the author, the actor, the stage.

When you begin to take responsibility, when you start to follow the threads of your enthusiasm towards a craft, a business, a calling, you grow more confident.

With that confidence, you are able to bring more peace, joy and love into the world.

You start to wonder…if you can start a business+ provide for your family, what else can you do? If you can define success for yourself, and work in a way that works for you, where else can shift your expectations? Where else can you bring integrity and wholeness?


This is really about bringing more peace, joy and love to the world.

Making your art brings you joy.
Sharing your art is an expression of love.
Living in alignment with your values (whatever they are: beauty, peace, freedom, self-expression) brings you + your family more joy and peace.

 But how you go about it matters. If you pile on “shoulds”, expectations and other people's values, you'll crush that spark. You'll suck out the joy, the expression of love. You'll miss out on the confidence because you'll never fit in someone else's mold. And when your spark is crushed, your work won't have the same power to move, inspire or change the world.

This is huge, world-changing stuff, but it doesn't have to be a huge production. You don't have to sell* a zillion things to change your life (or someone else's). You don't have to create the perfect, peaceful workday to take joy in your work.

You only have to explore.
Pay attention.
Revisit your expectations.
Define success for yourself.
Make your own map.
Look for ways to integrate your values into what you do, how you talk about it and who you serve.


PS. I call the above “exploring” – an active verb – because you'll never be done with it. This is the real work of your art, the real work of changing the world.


*You don't have to sell anything to change the world. But this is for the makers I work with, people who are called/inspired to share their work by selling it. If you're not called/inspired, know that you can take personal responsibility in another way.


The Adventures

The view

Every day is an adventure. I share the view, the gratitude and the finds on Fridays, and you’re invited to join in.
You can find all my adventures here, or follow along via email here.

Today's favorite tree! #yayfall #foundwhilerunning
Stella doesn't mind me writing...as long as I don't want to use the mousepad.
The view from today's hike: all of Johnson City.

I am so grateful for…

  • My yearly tradition of picking “favorite” trees became a mini-series of photographs. I am so glad I captured these fleeting moments (all tress pictured are already bare!)
  • I just can't get enough of hearing your Holiday Sanity stories.
  • My town's ONLY coffeeshop has been closed for repairs so I've been working out of the library. It's beautiful, quiet, with abundant  plugs.  (I'm also thankful that the coffeeshop reopens tomorrow so I can return to proper caffeination levels!)
  • Wool provided me with hours of that delightful lost-in-a-novel feeling.
  • My writing project is going splendidly – I finally have a clear vision of what I'm creating.
  • I went to my first ever write-in and I actually spoke with humans! A major achievement for this introvert!

The finds

  • I love reading about Abby and Kim's internal rules for adulthood. It certainly got me thinking about my own rules, and difference between stated rules and unstated (but accepted) expectations.
  • If you want to start selling digital sewing patterns, you gotta read Abby's new book. She sent me a copy and after a quick skim, I can attest that it has everything you need to write the pattern, make it available online, and launching it to the world!
  • Amy's once-a-month Floating Gallery closes TODAY. Get your geek-loving art here.
  • Stacey of Fresh Stitches shares her thoughts on making gifts for those who will appreciate it + Xiane of Three Ravens starts on her own Holiday Sanity adventure. Do you have a Holiday Sanity story? I'd love to hear it!


What adventures did you have this week?



How to deal with your family + maintain Holiday Sanity


Do you dread those family dinners where everyone has an opinion about what you should be doing?


Last week a Holiday Sanity Seeker  asked:
How in the world do you deal with family members who keep making lame suggestions about my business? They're treating me like I'm not capable of doing this myself!
Ugh. I know, this is totally annoying and wish I had a magic wand that I could wave over all family members so they'd just be supportive of your venture!
However, the fact is, we can't do anything to change what someone else says. You can absolutely ask them to back off, but they're unlikely to be able to stop themselves.

You can't change your family, but you can change how you receive it.

In this week's video I share my favorite thing to do when someone gives unsolicited advice.

(If you can't see the video above, click here!)


Just remember one thing:

What a person says is about them, not about you.

Remembering that whatever someone says is about THEM and not YOU is not easy, but I hope it helps you navigate the holidays!
For more help with holding onto your sanity, check out Holiday Sanity.

What do you do with meddling advice? 



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.


Get your family (+ spouse) to support your business

Beach pup. #adventure

Yesterday we talked about getting more support for your adventure. The first challenge many new explorers experience is…their family. Getting support, encouragement, or even just surviving a hailstorm of questions and doubt. It can make you feel like your family is the last place to get support, but, honey, having at least one person who knows you sooo well, and believes in you can do wonders for your confidence (and thus, business).
Today, let's talk about you can bring your family on board with your adventure, and specifically, how you can ask your partner for more support. *

Your family is a double-edged phaser. They can be an area of support…and a reason you need outside support. Getting your partner behind your business idea is the thing that just about every new business mentions to me – How do I get them to respect this? How do I get them to see this as a real thing? And a bigger one: How do I get them to respect the money side of thing? (Hey, I wrote about that here!)
The answers to these questions are as unique as the situation. In most cases, you've got to have a series of conversations. In some instances, for some partners, you need hard proof and Spock-like answers. (I have a list of answers here, regarding the Starship, but I really need to create a book full of Spock-like answers for every aspect of your business, don't you think?)

But no matter who your partner is or what you need, you can find a way to talk to them.
Your job is to figure out:

1. What kind of support you need. Do you need them to take the kids for…how many hours? Do you need them to make dinner? Do you need them to get behind you by investing money in it?

2. What their brain will understand (this is probably easier to know the longer you're with someone – if you haven't figured this out yet, I promise it'll help every aspect of your relationship!). Some people need charts and graphs. Some people (like my Jay) don't want too many details, but want to know you have a plan. Others have extensive experience with “big” business and won't understand that the rules are different for a one-gal-show. Yet others will have no experience with anyone they know being self-employed and the whole thing will seem like a ginormous risk. Others (like me!) have self-employed people everywhere, thus they see it as a normal career path.

Knowing what they need to know (and their own risk-tolerance) and presenting your request to them in a way they understand will make everything go smoother.


3. How you can ask for what you need + deliver what they need in a way that respects you both.

Here's the truth – your relationship has an agreement in place. You might never have spoken it, but you've come to embody it through the years. The agreement might be about who does the dishes or who provides child care or who “deserves” a break when they get home from work. Every relationship has an agreement, no matter how progressive and feminist you both are (your agreement might be that there's no gender-based roles! That's an agreement too!).

When you start to ask for what you need, what you might be asking for is a change in the underlying agreement of your partnership. This can be scary for both partners.  You can sidestep some of the fear and conflict if you first notice what your current agreement is and acknowledge it together. And then, start talking about changing it.
You see, if you just rush in with all these changes, without acknowledging that you are fundamentally changing the foundation of your relationship,well, you're really shaking up the world of your partner, which can lead to a response that's defensive or aggressive.
It's not that they don't want to support you, it's that you're asking for more than you think. You're asking for a total shift.


So! Your job here is to acknowledge the current agreement (together!) and start talking about a new agreement that would suit your new goals.

Of course, it's possible that your current agreement suits your business growth just fine and no roles are changing. But just recognizing the underlying agreement will go a long way to understanding every kind of support you need.

The final step – start talking! Ask them how you can explain this in a way they'll understand. Let them know how important this is to you. Ask for the kind of support you need. And ask, over and over. In every moment, when you need support, ask for it. Be specific.

Say: I really just need you to listen and reaffirm that this does suck, I don't want any advice for fixing it.
Say: I really need help finding solutions to this.
Say: I need a hug.
Say: I need to spend another hour finishing this project. Could you please do X, even though I usually do?

Don't wait for them to notice what you need! Ask for it! 


And above all,  assume the best.

If you have a healthy, loving relationship, assume that your partner is trying their best.  Assume that any mistakes are not malicious. Assume that a miscommunication is just that, not a sign of DOOM. Assume that if you ask, clearly and without blame, they will step up.*

Assuming the best of people tends to bring out the best in them.

Although this is a little outside of what we usually talk about it here, I think it's important to address. Because you are not alone. If your partner seems unnaturally (for them!) dismissive, or unwilling to give you the support you need, you're not alone. I hear this from women all the time. And it's ok. It's not a sign that you've partnered with a total jerk*. There's hope for working this out and shifting even the longest-held roles. And it's ok to ask for what you need.


All of the above applies to asking the rest of your family, with the added step of figuring out who you can truly ask for support, and what relationship will not support a direct request. (It's ok that you have some relationships with your parents, siblings, in-laws that are not built for this kind of mutual support.) Once you have recognized that this a relationship that can provide the support you need, remember to ask for it in a way that the other person will understand and appreciate. And keep asking for it. And, of course, assume the best.



How do you get support from your family and partner?

What have you learned to be the best way to approach them?


*I am not a relationship expert! I have a happy 9 year marriage (after a childhood surrounded by unhealthy, abusive partnerships), and have spent my life surreptitiously studying what makes happy, supportive relationships last…and performing experiments in my own marriage and that of my clients.
This is all assuming you're in a healthy, non-abusive relationship. If you are with someone who doesn't respect YOU and your smarts, creativity and general awesomeness, that's something else entirely.



Avoid the post-holiday sales slump

Avoid the post holiday sales slump

Welcome to a brand-new video series!

Each week I'll answer your creative-biz questions in a short video. Subscribe so you don't miss a one.
(Got a question? Ask me!)

Today I answered Ana's question:

How do I avoid the post-holiday sales slump in my online business?

If you can't see the video, click here.

I have four suggestions for keeping your hard-earned holiday momentum rolling through the New Year:

  1. Keep the new people around.
  2. Offer them something new (that goes with what they already bought)
  3. Ask for the share.
  4. Plan for the slump.


PS. Like my dress? Me too! It's Megan, from Karina


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