Weekly-ish notes on navigating big change


The Adventures – January 2017

Here’s a round-up of what I saw, did, and read this month! Follow my Instagram Stories for in-the-moment photos + videos. You can find years of Adventures here.

The News:

  • My new book, Map Your Business, is now out on Amazon! I've also got several boxes here of the print version and I'm sending out copies to everyone who pre-ordered first, and then I'll have more available. If you want a signed copy, find it here!
  • I'm teaching at a summit for LYS owners with Gwen Bortner in Asheville, NC in April. More info here!
  • I've started a new Friday video series where I talk about the lessons I'm learning while I build my own biz. Find it here!

The View

A photo posted by Tara Swiger (@taraswiger) on

A photo posted by Tara Swiger (@taraswiger) on

A photo posted by Tara Swiger (@taraswiger) on

A photo posted by Tara Swiger (@taraswiger) on

A photo posted by Tara Swiger (@taraswiger) on

A photo posted by Tara Swiger (@taraswiger) on

I am so grateful for…

  • TNNA! Meeting students + hanging out with Starship captains is the best part!
  • The community that has grown around the #ExploreYourEnthusiasm hashtag. I love seeing what you're working on while you watch or listen to the podcast!
  • A series of complex adventures (print book, travel, teaching, webinars, online classes) all going very right, in a very short period of time.

The Finds:

I’m reading:

I'm listening to: 

I'm eating: 

I'm loving:

What did you read, listen to and eat last month? Come tell me on Facebook!

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

The most decadent cupcake ever. #Vegan caramel-filled chocolate cupcakes topped with salted caramel buttercream dipped in toasted coconut. Samoa Joe cupcakes, my anniversary gift (everything from scratch, with the thousands of dishes to prove my love.)
Adorable & delicious all-#vegan cafe in the middle of West Virginia. Just what we needed  & we could sit outside with pup! I got a DANDELION latte, and it is GOOD.
Teaching 100+ alpaca farmers how to reach knitters & spinners (like us). SUCH a great group!
Yay! My knitting is in my first-ever project bag! Made by the fabulous @mistydot!
A great Southern, #vegan meal. Black eyed peas, greens, and marinated, baked tofu. #whatveganseat #yum
YAY. My fiber from @graceshalomhopkins arrived! #nofilter needed, it is GORGEOUS. #spinzilla #spinning

I am so grateful for…


The Finds:

I’m doing:

This week I joined Spinzilla! It inspired me to get out my dyepots and dye someroving from my mom's sheep, and I gave her a call to see if I could get more…and there's only ONE pound of white left and three pounds of gray. So if you wanted to get some small-farm roving, snag it here. (Before I do.)

I’m eating: 

  • So much good food on the road! Mission Savvy is all-vegan, in the middle of West Virginia (kind of a shock!); a (small) vegan menu at TJ's in Wooster, OH; a great breakfast at Spoon Market in downtown.
  • Tupelo Honey Cafe for our anniversary!
  • Ridiculous cupcakes: Samoa Joe cupcakes from Bake + Destroy = chocolate cupcakes filled with vegan coconut caramel, topped with salted caramel buttercream and rolled in toasted coconut. YEAH.

In case you missed it: 

What adventures have you had?



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! Magnolia trees! #foundwhilerunning
Note to Future Self: you are happier when you put in random receipts every month. (I skipped it in Q2. Sigh.)  Today = very last step of taxes - finalizing my expense category totals. #smallbizglamour #keepinitreal
Flowering trees! Yay! (What is it, cherry?) A VERY warm 3 mi today.  #foundwhilerunning
Special dinner for The Walking Dead: #vegan manicotti. (Recipe from @vegangela_food.)
Best $2 buy. #yayspring

I am so grateful for…

  • The support and generosity of the Starship Captains. They've been blowing my mind with their vulnerability and kindness to each other this week.
  • $2 tulips
  • Finishing + filing my taxes!
  • Flowering trees! Every corner brings a new smile.

The Finds:

I'm reading:

I'm listening to: 

I'm cooking: 

  • These gluten-free, vegan, protein-rich cookies are actually super tasty!
  • Manicotti! Cheese-stuffed manicotti was the first special meal I made for Jay and for years it was our anniversary dinner. Since going vegan I kinda forgot about it. But this recipe brought it back!

I'm teaching locally:  

In case you missed it: 

My website's getting a spring cleaning this weekend! It may be offline for around 24 hours from Saturday afternoon – Sunday. So don't fret! We'll be back on Monday with a new site, a new shop and a brand new class! (Sign up here to be the first to know!)

What were your adventures this week?  

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

In preparation for two live classes,  countless face-to-face meetings , and cross-country travel, I have braved the snowy mountain pass in search of that one evasive necessity...a haircut.
And this is what 0* looks like on me. #longlivehandknits #nofilter
This what 0* looks like on my mountain.
Paper piecing under a cozy crocheted blanket. #yearofmaking 6/375

This weather has me longing to finish a sweater! #yearofmaking 7/365  (#staccatokal under my #scrappytrip quilt, with Beau)


The News

I'm in San Diego! And if you are too, I'd love to meet you!
You can come to dinner here (totally casual, everyone is welcome!) or take one of my classes at TNNA.

Not in San Diego? I still want to meet you! Invite me to your town here.





3 Things I’ve learned from teaching 5 workshops in 2 weeks

Over the last 2 weeks, I have taught 5 live workshops to over 75 students in two different states.3 workshops were in partnership with Handmade In America, at North Carolina community colleges. The other two were in partnership with friends + students in Boston, MA.

It wasn't planned, it just happened through a fluke of scheduling, but this packed schedule was the best thing for me. You see, just a few months ago, I was nervous about teaching live, to an audience that didn't already know me. But this total immersion in live teaching, new students, and  unknown venues has cured me of any stage fright I ever had. (Have I told you that the entire reason I didn't go to grad school and become a French Professor as planned was because I couldn't stand up in front of the class without puking? Yeah, it's ironic.)


Creating "market your class" workshop for Cabot St Studios in BOSTON! #cantwait #mapmaking (details on site)

Along with becoming a braver, more adventurous teacher, I've learned three big lessons that I don't want to forget.

  1. It's not about me, Part 1.

    I've created a lot of content in the last 3 years of writing about business and I've systematized how I think about businesses. (I have a system for turning your ideas into action, a system for creating a sane holiday, a system for improving your profitability, a system for your overall marketing).

    But the most valuable thing I can offer is the experience of everyone else. You see, I'm in this unique (and delightful) position of having talked to, worked with, or worked in hundreds of small businesses. My own experience running a handmade business pales in comparison with all I've learned from working with a copywriter, a retailer, a tech start-up in addition to what I've learned in hundreds of solo-sessions with smart and successful artists, authors and makers, mixed with the deep conversations I've had over coffee with friends and strangers about what works for them. This massive database in my head (and my connection-spotting superpowers) allow me to answer student questions with real-life examples of what's worked for someone in a similar situation. (From knitting-book launches, to magazine submissions, to press releases, to finding more profit, to changing your business model drastically – my students, clients and friends have done it all.) It's not about me, it's about what works for individual situations. The longer I do this, the more individual examples of success I amass + the quicker I can give you examples of what worked for someone else (and brainstorm ways to morph it into something specific that will work for you.)

  2.  It's not about me, Part 2.

    Two years ago someone told me that their favorite part of my classes were the massive amounts of worksheets that I make you ask you to fill out. Hearing that shifted everything – it completely changed the way I was writing the book (it's more of a work-book than a reading-book). When I teach a live class, I'm actually doing very little teaching. Instead, I'm presented some ideas and then forcing asking you to work with them by applying it to your own business. Instead of using live events as an opportunity to spread my own ideas, I think of workshops as giving you the time and space to work though an aspect of your business. Because let's face it, most of us do not put into practice what we learn. We just file it away for “when I'm not busy” and then never get to it.

    It's not enough for me to talk at you about business (or life) principles, I want you to start putting it into practice and shape it to fit your situation, right now. So I regularly stop and say, ok, fill out your own answer to that question on page 5. And this is by far the biggest aspect I get feedback on. People love the worksheets. And they love that I gave them two hours to think deeply about their business.

  3. Everyone has the same questions.

    You really, truly are not alone. The  HIA workshops have included a huge range of students – from party planners, to new bakery owners, to massage therapists to personal stylists.

    And everyone of them has the same questions:
    What do I do next? (This is usually answered by breaking down your big goals into actionable steps)
    How do I find more customers? (The answer is usually somewhere in the message-creating process – either by clarifying who you you serve or what the benefits are.)
    Am I doing the right thing? Should I even be trying this? How do I know if it's going to work? Is it my fault it's not growing faster?

After every new adventure, I like to take a few moments to reflect back on what I've learned (I remind Starship Captains to do this every month!).

What about you? What have you learned from your last adventure?


cross_stitchesWant to attend one of my live workshops? 
I'm now planning my 2014 tour. Find out how you can help here. (First stop: TNNA in San Diego in January!)


Bravery outside the safe space

Ok, time for another un-awesome truth.

Yay! New pink shoes thanks to my shoe-fairy @lindsaydrake.

You know how I'm teaching 4 workshops in the next few days? Yeah, I'm nervous.

Although I teach all the time, I don't often hold in-person workshops. On top of that, the Western North Carolina Art Councils are not my typical audience. Usually, when you come to one of my classes (in person or online) you already know me. You come because you've been reading this blog, or my book, or you get my emails. You have an idea of what you're getting – a fast-talking, pink-haired, enthusiastic book nerd with a few too many pop culture references.

That's because, like I'm always encouraging you to do, I fill my business with my Right People, and I focus all my energy on serving them. That means I am pretty much always surrounded by people who both get me and like me. But at these workshops, students aren't coming because they know me, they're coming because they're HIA members and they want to learn the subject matter.

This tiny shift is monumental.
It means that, for the first time in a long time, I'm not already totally comfortable. I'm hesitant being my weird self. And the truth is, I debated with myself: is it better to focus solely on the self-selected Right People…or go outside my already-defined comfort zone and serve not-yet-my-Right People.

But even though I still have no idea how it will go, or if I'll fail miserably, I am confident that this is the right thing to do. I know I need to wade out into unknown waters and try something new. Even if I bomb, I need to show myself that I can take the flawed, enthusiastic self and be fully ME in front of perfect strangers. I need to trust that what holds true with us, here, in the safe spaces I've built (on the blog, email, Twitter, and the Starship), will hold true in the Outside World. That openness, bravery, and exploration work for me all the time, and that business help that centers on defining your ideal business speaks to everyone.

Oh, I still stand by my assertion that you should focus your marketing energy on your Right People, 100% of the time. You don't need to try to make yourself uncomfortable and scared. Life provides enough moments to be brave. But if an opportunity comes up for you to meet a whole new audience? One that you just don't know about yet? Take it. Try it.

What Brave New Thing have you done lately? Let's celebrate our bravery in the comments!

PS. Also, thanks to a tip from Alex, I'm using science to calm myself. I'm not nervous, I'm vibrating with anticipation! I'm not sweaty, I'm enthusiastic!

Adventures in business: with teacher Gwen Bortner

Today I'm delighted to have teacher, designer and Starship Captain Gwen Bortner sharing her experience with us. You can learn to teach your own craft with Gwen's Craftsy class, How to Teach It

Gwen Bortner, teacher at Craftsy


You're a full-time knitwear designer and teacher, which sounds like you get to spend all day knitting with beautiful yarns…what's a typical work day actually like for you?

I actually consider myself a teacher first, so much of my time is spent marketing myself as a teacher, preparing to offer classes and since I travel around the country, a surprising amount of my time is spent in airports and airplanes.  However, that is some of my most productive knitting time, so I don’t begrudge it! When I am in my home office, most of the “work day” is spent at the computer doing administrative things, publishing type activities (for handouts or designs) or marketing. There really isn’t near as much knitting and playing with yarn as one would think (or hope).


There are so many ways to make a living as a designer and teacher – how are you doing it? What have you combined and how has that changed through the years?


My original business plan went through a number of iterations before morphing into what it is today. And I think that is one of the keys to my success, my ability and willingness to be flexible. But once I realized that teaching is my gift and what I really love and then made that the focus of my business, it almost immediately became profitable.  So now my income is about 85% teaching and the remaining 15% is mostly from some sort of designing either for my own Knitability pattern line or for magazines or other folks purchasing designs. My continued focus is always to increase my teaching income even though that means I am away from home quite often.

 Gwen Bortner teaching on Craftsy

What's surprised you most about what full-time teaching?


I wouldn’t actually say I was surprised because I have been self-employed before and worked in the yarn industry for a short time in college, but this is a tremendous amount of work for a relatively small income. There is always a few folks who make it “look easy”. But once you get to know them, you also find out that they had to work really hard and for the most part are still working very hard. And in the end, there is no formula, everyone seems to have to find their own path.


What new thing are you exploring (in your business)?


The newest thing in my business has been teaching online via Craftsy.  My first course, Entrelac Knitting  was filmed just about a year ago and was easily one of the highlights of my career thus far. So I was very excited when I was invited back to film a second course.  This one is called How to Teach It  and is designed to help both new and experienced teachers of any type of hand craft develop a teaching business. I have long believed that the more good teachers we can develop the more likely our crafts will continue to prosper. Hand crafts just are not “handed down” any more, so teachers are just that much more critical. So I am also looking at developing some of my own online courses for much smaller markets and right now I am taking a course from Diane of CraftyPod to build my skills in that area.


What's your definition of success for your business?


For me, a successful business is a business that is profitable (providing me my desired level of income) and allows me to do what I enjoy. So specifically success means I am making a reasonable income while sharing my love of knitting, sharing my passion for teaching and encouraging and developing new people. And the bonus is I get to do this while getting to travel, meeting new people and making new friends.


What's the next destination you're working towards?


So my next destination and the reason I joined the Starship is to figure out how to move beyond the yarn industry.  The Craftsy class, How to Teach It, I think will open some of these doors, but I believe I have even more knowledge and inspiration to share outside the fields of knitting and teaching. So I am not exactly sure where my final destination is going to be, but I know I am ready to start moving beyond where I am right now!


Thanks, Gwen!

Now how about you, Dear Reader? Do you teach your craft? Do you want to?

Teaching Your Craft

I'm super honored to be interviewed by the fabulous Diane of CraftyPod about teaching crafts (and specifically, knitting). We had a great conversation about the experience of teaching and how to get started teaching.

If you've wanted to start teaching your craft, listen to the conversation here.

Diane mentions that my Learn to Knit kit taught her to knit (squee!), you can find the kits here. Even if you know how to knit, these kits are a great way to teach a family member and avoid frustration that comes from not knowing how to describe when-the-loop-does-this-you-do-this.

Have you taught your craft?
Anything you'd add to our conversation?