Before interviewing George Shaheen, owner of House of Shaheen, Inc. publishing which produces "10 Hours or Less" patterns, I came up with a list of questions based on the type of small-business operation I assumed he was running. "Maybe he enables a small group of pattern designers to publish through his brand," I thought. "I'll ask how many people he employs and what it is like running a small craft business." Shortly after he answered the phone of the personal contact number he gave me with, "House of Shaheen Publishing" I realized I was quite, quite wrong.
In an earlier interview with Nicole, one of the questions was, "What are areas you should concentrate on when starting a business?" I'll detail more of her answer in future blogs, but one of the things she said that really stuck with me was to: "Bring in a bigger and more beautiful picture of what the business is, not just buying and selling on the internet." George Shaheen really has that passion, that driving more beautiful vision behind his work. This man loves creating, loves playing with yarn, loves the creative process. During our chat, he said, "If I were independently wealthy I'd give the patterns away for free!" Unfortunately for him (and for so many of us) he is not independently wealthy. And he is selling patterns in a market where many large companies can, in fact, afford to give them away for free. And he is doing it all on his own.
When I asked if he had any advice for people who might want to sell their own patterns, his first response was: "Don't quit your day job!" He has learned over time just how hard running a one-man business can be. He told me: "...if I knew how hard it was going to be in advance, I would have been discouraged!" Not only does he design each and every pattern, but he painstakingly tests them, he makes his own diagrams, he lays out how each pattern will look when published, he takes his own photos, does his own printing, his own shipping, his own billing, and of course, answers his own phones. He listed his titles for me: "“I’m the Design Department, the Procurement Department, the Production Department, the Photography Department, the Publishing Department, the Sales Department, the Marketing Department, the Accounting Department, the Customer Service Department, the Shipping Department…and the CEO.” I will expand more on George's story in a blog next week, but for today's business-related blog I wanted to share some of his methods he has used in making his business in a crowded market a successful one.
- You have to be prepared to do several jobs at once in a one-person business.
First and foremost, again, is the passion behind what you do. George said he has always been, "Fascinated with the process of turning string into fabric,” and has tried cross-stitching, needle-point, tatting, and has attended design school where he learned pattern-design, drafting, and construction - but nothing truly spoke to him like knitting and crocheting. In fact, he sold his first crochet pattern when he was just 13! He went on to do free-lance designing and eventually decided to go into business for himself. "I think it is uplifting for the spirit to be able to create," he says.
His first piece of advice? ""You have to know your strengths, know what unique benefit your designs bring to the market."
"What I'm contributing to the market has to have value so people will put down the money to buy it – you have to define a brand and a 'design identity' so people know what to expect from your work." The 'design identity' of 10 Hours or Less patterns is very important to how the patterns will sell. George describes what he looks for: "I need it to be practical, I need a large number of people to have it fit in their wardrobe, and it needs to be as multi-purpose as possible." He also needs patterns to last for years on the market - he tries not to be too trend-reliant or gimmicky. Due to these pressures, his patterns have tended more toward the conservative - but that is what sells. Even within these constraints he still finds the joy of creation. "Even when the yarn turns out differently than I thought it would I still love trying to make it work! The pattern can turn out even better than I originally planned," he reflects.
10 Hours or Less patterns are distributed by Leisure Arts and can be found in big retail stores like Jo-Ann Fabrics and Hobby Lobby. However, recently George has found a better market for his patterns through social media - especially Ravelry! (You can check out his Ravelry page here.) In working with the large retail stores, he found he was always talking to people who weren't knitters or crocheters. They didn't know the merit of the patterns he was offering, they just cared if they sold or not. However, on Ravelry he was talking to people who were passionate about their hobbies. 10 Hours or Less began to grow through word-of-mouth, through crafters who were really passionate about the brand. He designs were mentioned in crafting podcasts, featured in give-aways, and have been donated to great causes. Ravelry really allowed him to be supported by others - and then support them in turn. He is very active on the site - answering questions quickly with knowledgeable, detailed responses. Even when he is feeling bogged down by all of the different roles he has taken on in his business, he is excited by the kind of response he gets through the Ravelry community. "The energy of great comments from across the country re-invigorate me in my work!" he enthused.
His last piece of advice? "Know what other small companies you can work with in order to help each other grow." That's just what he has done with us here at Darn Good Yarn! Check out the first of 3 gorgeous patterns George designed at his website here. Here's a sneak preview of the first of the patterns.
You can even get 20% off George's great patterns with the discount code DGY20. So go visit 10hoursorless.com, support a great one-man business and get crafting!