The ‘Darn Good Business Advice’ Category...
August 15, 2014
Hello! If you haven’t heard, I’ve been super sick with whatever the latest hack up your lung cold, cough and flu that has been going around and even though my body didn’t let me keep up with all of the things I had planned for last week, I didn’t let it keep me from being productive! I’ve said before that when the unexpected comes, it’s time to be flexible and go with the flow. Downtime is the perfect time to put a new project on your needles, and then think, get perspective, come up with new ideas, and make sure that you are staying true to your vision. When you have a chance (or are forced to) to step away from the daily grind, it’s easier to remember the big picture and think about whether all of the day-to-day is helping to achieve it. So, let me share just a few of the thoughts and ideas I had while recovering…
-New patterns…on day one of being under the weather, I took some Black Yickity Yak Wool, Reclaimed Suede Ribbon, and Recycled Rainbow Silk Yarn and came up with the Black Magic Woman Shawl. I’m looking forward to wearing this more and more as the weather turns cool with the upcoming fall! It’s going to be great for putting around my shoulders or tying around my waist with some leggings and t-shirt. I also made a wine bottle gift bag with our At the Bahamas Sari Silk Ribbon Yarn. This is going to give you a great way to present that bottle of wine to your host with the upcoming holiday party season. Better yet, make one for the host, but make sure to make one for yourself too! This looks amazing just sitting on the table. I’ll have the pattern out ASAP, so watch for it!
-New products…we just got in a huge shipment of product and there are so many new items on the site and so many more to come. Did you catch all the fun and vibrant colors of banana yarn? That’s just a piece of it! Thank you to all who are participating in our naming contests on our Facebook page! We love your ideas and wish we could use them all…but if you didn’t win, keep your eyes peeled for more because we still have lots of fresh products to bring you. We just got a fresh batch of sari skirts too! They won’t last long, so if you’ve been waiting to get one, now is the time. Between the new products and my next share, I’ve been spending a lot of time sitting at the computer.
-A book…yep, that’s right! I’m writing a book. Can you believe it? Sometime I can’t, but every time I get a second, it’s on my mind. And every time I get a minute or two, I sit down and try to get my ideas out. It’s going to be all me, all small business, and all to help you know all the secrets of how Darn Good Yarn became what it is and how I work to keep it going and growing…consider it my own personal consultation session with you!
-StitchesEast…if you’ve been reading the blog, you know that we’re going to be at Stitches East! We cannot wait to be part of the fun in Hartford, CN from October 9-12 and we’re making plans for a space that’s going to feel like home. We’re hoping you’ll feel as comfortable there as you do in your own living room. Please come see us, sit and chat, and knit or crochet a little or a lot. We’ll bring the yarn and needles, you just bring you! I can’t wait to see you there!
-Oh, and let me share one more thing with you! This week, we had a special visitor to our Schenectady, NY space. Linda, one of our fabulous Darn Good Yarn wholesalers, came to pick up a ton of yarn to take to the New York State Fair! Be sure to check her out in Syracuse, NY from August 21 to September 1 in the Wool Center across from the sheep barn. She says she’ll have all of Darn Good Yarn’s fibers that “grow on four legs.” Here’s wishing Linda a fabulous time at the fair - thanks for taking Darn Good Yarn to the people of New York!
So, sure, I wish that nasty virus had passed me by, but even though it didn’t, the upside is that my ideas bucket is full and I’m feeling more grounded in my vision of what I want Darn Good Yarn to be. And now with all that time to think and plan, it’s time to get back to the doing! Hope you all have a wonderful week!
July 31, 2014
Phew! Time to sit down and take a break. It’s been one jam packed week! And I mean that in a good way. Maggie rolled into town on Friday and we have been going at full blast ever since with meetings, planning, photos, and more meetings. It’s been a week for making connections. I’ve learned that it pays to reach out to those around you, even if you’re not sure if anything will come of it, even if you think that person is “bigger” than you, and especially if you think it’s out of your comfort zone. Reaching out to those that can help you and those that you can help is an essential part of making your dreams happen.
That’s what happened with Mikey of the The Crochet Crowd and me. Mikey and I have been internet friends since 2008 when we were both just beginning to make steps towards our dreams. A few weeks ago, Mikey told me he wanted to stop by our new space because he was going to be close by in Manchester, NY for a show. After six years of being friends online, we were finally going to meet. And on Monday, it happened! Mikey and Diva Dan stopped by and we had a fantastic, whirlwind, fun and laugh filled time together. We only left the shop to go get dinner (everyone else got Shepherd’s Pie and I had a salad – I’ve got an image to uphold, you know!), and the rest of the time we sat surrounded by all of the fabulous yarns and shared potato chips and wine. You know how you meet some people and you just click? That’s how it was. Mikey even contemplated crocheting something out of my hair…perhaps a new trend? Well, probably not, but it was fun! We tried to make our time together last as long as possible by staying up late and I sighed as they left, but Mikey and Dan left with armfuls of yarn and I can’t wait to see what they make with it!
Another big announcement I’m so excited to make is that we are going to be at Stitches East! Of course I said, “YES!” when we got invited to come by CEO Benjamin Levisay. I loved our time together when he interviewed me for the Fiber Hooligan podcast and one of the things we talked about was how we had never met each other before. Now, I am sure we will get to meet and I’m ecstatic that Darn Good Yarn is going to be part of this event. If you’re in the area, or if you can travel to make it, Stitches East will be held in Hartford, Connecticut from October 9-12. I would love, love, love to meet as many of you as possible there!
And one more story, just to keep it real here. I always love when Maggie comes to town and we work around the clock when she is here, making the most of every moment we have together and taking advantage of that synergy. So, on Tuesday, after a long weekend and our late night with Mikey and Diva Dan, I packed my bag for a day in the office. Maggie took one look at it and said, “So, I see it’s going to be a real day.” Yep, she was referring to the box of wine I had packed, my adult Juicy Juice, if you will, slipped right in there next to my notebook. I know me and I know a glass of wine is just what I’m going to want at the end of the day, so I prepare! Embracing your own quirkiness and those things that make you unique is essential to success. So many things want to change us, mold us and conform us, but Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke truth when he said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
July 29, 2014
Darn Good Yarn and Nicole have been up to some big things this summer…here’s a re-cap in case you missed anything!
*As a 2013 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest Winner, Nicole attended the US Chamber of Commerce’s America’s Small Business Summit. Not only did she hear an inspiring speech by Colin Powell, but she was part of the teaching as well and helped lead a breakout session on Small Business Insider Tips with the other winners from the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest, Danny Catullo of Catullo Prime Meats and Ari Hoffman of Gobie H2O.
*Nicole also attended the IRCE, the Internet Retailer Conference Exhibition, in Chicago and gave an insightful interview with Daniel Burstein of MarketingSherpa Media Center about starting a small e-commerce business. She gives her best advice and tells how she grew Darn Good Yarn by 2900% on a totally self-funded budget.
*Another great interview with Nicole happened on The Shut Up Show with Berni Xiong. Nicole chats with Berni and shares the story of Darn Good Yarn, how she finds courage in the face of fear, and how to build purpose and connection in your business. If you haven’t watched yet, you are missing out!
*And just a teaser here…Nicole took a trip to Toronto to get the ball rolling on something huge! I can’t wait to tell you what she is up to!
July 24, 2014
Hey there everyone! I’m back in New York this week and ready to rock this remodeling out with Joie – we are two chicas on a mission to use our girl power and spruce up this space! I am a firm believer that every girl needs to know how to use a rachet strap because when you are at Lowe’s gathering supplies and you’re not quite sure how they are all going to fit in your Honda Element, a rachet strap always saves the day! And that’s exactly where Joie and I found ourselves this week. The scruffy contractors rolled their eyes at us, but after shuffling a few boxes of yarn around, everything was in and we were on our way and ready to get to work.
But, when we got back to the store, we noticed the toilets were making a funny noise. I made the mistake of flushing when I went to check it but it only made things worse…the water started to rise and we didn’t have plunger on hand to help. Yikes! Time for an emergency trip back to Lowe’s for two plungers and snake! And then the real craziness ensued. After snaking and simple plunging didn’t solve the problem, Joie and I each armed ourselves with a plunger and made our way to the two different bathrooms. We thought that synchronized plunging might provide enough power to clear the backup. I yelled down the hall to Joie to start and then we counted and plunged together…one, two, three, four, five, nothing, six, seven, eight, still not working, nine, ten, and all the way to twenty-five. And in the end, all we got out of it was laughs and we had to call the plumber. One thousand dollars later, the tree branches that were blocking our pipes are now cleared. Situations like these confirm that the emergency fund is a necessity, not a luxury.
After a day spent on plumbing issues, we made our way to work with the intention of making good use of the remodeling supplies we’d picked up the day before. As I pedaled up to the parking lot, an incredibly large piece of our maple tree stopped me in the parking lot. The thunderstorm from the night before had broken it off, and I had to change my plans so we could lop this monster of a tree branch (it was as big as a small tree) and get the parking lot cleared. So, Joie, Terry (our landscaping fairy, remember him?) and I (good thing this Jersey girl spent some time in Maine so she would know how to properly lop a tree) made quick work of it and we were back to business.
Even with couple of unexpected setbacks this week, we are making progress. A few weeks ago when Joie was out walking Squeakers, she found a free pegboard on the street. She called me to come pick it up (and yes, if you’re wondering, I did have to use those ratchet straps again) and this week, Joie painted it and made it into a fabulous display our kits. The painting of the office continues and we are saying our goodbyes to the eighties wallpaper. And I’ve been doing lots of picture taking and description writing – there are oodles new products going up this week that I can’t wait for you to see.
And one more thing…I’m excited that something we’ve had in the works for a bit is ready to go. We have new custom and one-of-a-kind drawstring sari silk pouches made just for us that use to pack any order over $30! And orders over $87 get the larger size! These sacks are so fabulous and soft, I want them all for me! Really, I got them for all of you, so I will share and I can’t wait for you to get one!
Those unexpected things always come up, but I take them on with an open mind, flexibility, being able to draw on the emergency fund when needed, and good friends (and landscaping fairies) to help!
May 14, 2014
Have you ever wanted to know some of the secrets to Darn Good Yarn’s success? Don’t worry, we don’t have them locked away in a vault somewhere. The good folks at FedEx, who have helped support Darn Good Yarn through all kinds of growth and changes in shipping needs, have sponsored a great article about us on the website “Small Business Trends”. The site has all kinds of great business advice, check them out here.
The article describes how Nicole’s choices in technology, the folks she went to in order to gain support and advice, and her marketing strategy all helped to make Darn Good Yarn a successful, expanding business. There are also some great business tips for anyone looking to expand their own business! Well worth a read. Check out the full article here.
April 30, 2014
It’s time for another (slightly belated) business blog Wednesday!
Getting new customers is, of course, extremely important for any company, large or small. But what about repeat business? How do you get customers to keep coming back?
A great app that we use here at Darn Good Yarn is called RetentionGrid. It helps organize sales data in a way that anyone can understand. Which people would most appreciate an email blast about a new art yarn? Which people need to know about new colors of an existing yarn? RetentionGrid takes the guesswork out of these questions. RetentionGrid has really helped us get more repeat customers. In just 4 months our percentage of repeat customers went up from 28% to 46%!
A few months ago, the folks over at RetentionGrid were nice enough to highlight Darn Good Yarn and our successes over at their site. The feature includes some great tips from Nicole about how to drive growth and revenue, how to keep loyal customers, and what’s on the horizon for Darn Good Yarn. Read all about it here.
Thanks to Kalie Moore for writing such a great piece! You can learn all about what RetentionGrid could do for your business by clicking here.
Happy Crafting (and business building!)
April 16, 2014
Lucy Chapman runs the one-woman business of Rosy Toes Design from her home in Ohio, but her products have been seen in nation-wide magazines, publications in the UK, and backstage at Hollywood events! In this week’s business blog, learn all about the unique ways Lucy has managed to get her business in the public eye, her tips for other business craftspeople, and how she does her best to balance business and family.
Lucy is a member of an elite group of artists and craftspeople that make up The Artisan Group. This group’s goal is to “…introduce Hollywood to the best-of-the-best in handcrafted products.” In order to apply, you must handcraft all of your products yourself, not send them off to be mass-produced somewhere. Along with the quality of your work, they also look at your website and social media presence in order to be accepted. The members of this group give their products to celebrities, important media and advertisers, and other people with a large social impact at A-list events. Hopefully this will get celebrities and other folks with a large social media following to talk about an artist’s products, and help smaller artists to really get their name out there. Being a part of The Artisan Group has already helped Lucy. She has gotten articles, magazine mentions, and online reviews – all which has helped increase traffic to her website.
Lucy has also been featured in magazines like Vogue UK, InStyle UK, and Urban Farm magazine. She discovered opportunities to be involved in each of those magazines through social media! She found someone to refer her work to the British publications through LinkedIn, and knew someone who worked for Urban Farm magazine who asked for submissions of organic arts through Facebook. She told me, “You really have to become involved yourself, you have to keep putting yourself out there,” in order to market your business. She certainly has excelled at doing just that!
Like so many small craft businesses, Lucy is the designer, owner, and sole worker at Rosy Toes Designs. It is only somewhat recently that Lucy has decided to really put all her effort toward making Rosy Toes a successful business venture. Before focusing her energy, she was being pulled in too many directions at once, and none of those paths were very fulfilling. “Focusing energy was the best decision I could have made! I won’t ever regret trying to make the business work,” she asserts. With that energy, she, “…was able to prioritize, figure out where I wanted things to go, what direction I wanted to move in, where I wanted the business in general to ultimately go – that is when Rosy Toes jumped from ‘hobby’ to ‘business’,” she remembers.
I asked Lucy if she had any tips for other people with craft businesses based on lessons she had learned. She shared many great ones!
- Don’t be afraid to take risks in approaching others for help!
You don’t have to do absolutely everything. It’s not a requirement. For example, Lucy recently went to a professional photographer to make sure she had great pictures for her website, and got some help with press releases and marketing. Also, don’t be afraid to ask someone more established for ideas and pointers.
- Little steps are fine, but have a larger goal in mind.
Even if you can only take your business is tiny steps, make sure those steps are headed in the right direction. Be purposeful.
- Learn to market yourself.
It isn’t about bragging or boasting – knowing how to market yourself and your business is essential to getting your name out there. Have confidence that your product is great, and other people will want to buy it!
- Know your market!
Are all of your customers women over 50? Boys around 10? Retirees? Golf enthusiasts? You don’t have to get too specific, but knowing the general demographics of your market will help you make things they like, sell more, and help you know where to market your products.
- Be flexible! Change things if needed!
Don’t be so attached to your work that you refuse to ever make any changes – but make sure not to change your artwork to the point where it’s no longer “you” just to make a sale. Stay true to your passion, but be flexible – especially in the marketing and selling of your work.
- Don’t give up when things don’t go quite how you thought they would.
Sometimes you won’t sell as much at a show as you hoped, your Etsy site stays quiet for a while – don’t be discouraged! Try some new methods of advertising your site, sign up for a different show – always keep trying.
Lucy has some more great advice on an issue that I’m sure many at-home crafters deal with – trying to balance business and family! Here are some of the solutions she tries to implement.
- Try to compartmentalize your day.
If you’ve got a kid-free morning, try to get as much work as possible done then, so you can put it away for a kid-filled evening. Will this work every time? Of course not! But it helps to structure your day.
- Involve the kids when you can!
Lucy’s kids can make small projects on her knitting machine, and they also help with putting tags on finished pieces. Involving family in their own craft projects can be great too!
- Make sure to carve out time for family! If you concentrate so hard on your business that you start neglecting other parts of your life, it’s easy to burn out.
Lucy tries to give herself at least one day off every week, and volunteers at her children’s school once a week as well. She knows that when everything you need to do is right there in front of you in your home, it’s hard to put down. “One of the most difficult things about operating a business from home is always thinking about the next thing I need to do, next person I need to contact – it’s very hard to put aside,” she remarks. One of the things she has found she needs to do to accomplish this is to put away all devices – phone, ipad, laptop, whatever – when she wants to concentrate on family. The business will still be there later to come back to!
I hope these tips have helped you think about what you may need for your own business. If you want even more great advice and insights, check out Lucy’s blog here. She’s also got a great sale going on to clear out her inventory before releasing new products – check out all of the great stuff that is on sale here!
Best of luck in all of your business endeavors, and Happy Crafting!
April 2, 2014
Just starting up your business or considering starting one? This week’s tips are for you. Even if your business is more established, these points are worthy of review!
I asked Nicole, Darn Good Yarn’s founder and president, some questions on the behalf of an author writing a book about successful internet businesses. The following tips are from her responses.
Let’s start at….
What are some vital areas you should concentrate on when starting up your business?
1) Make sure you have a strong support system of friends and family.
Even if you aren’t being supported financially by friends or family, these are still some of the most important people to your business. The time and emotional support they provide make them essential shareholders in your endeavor. Nicole knows the pitfalls of becoming so involved in business you lose sight of the important things. “People who own businesses tend to isolate, and my family helps me keep my priorities in check. They help remind me that it’s not only all about making money,” she says.
2) Figure out how much time you can really devote to your business.
“I do 16 hour days pretty regularly!” Nicole shares with me. If you are not ready to put in the time you may need, maybe this isn’t the best time for you to start a potentially very time-consuming business.
3) Have a higher purpose, try to make the business about something outside yourself.
Are other people relying on you for a paycheck? Can you support those in need through your work? Bringing in a wider and more beautiful or inspiring idea of what your business is and what it can do can inspire your work and help you avoid burning out. If you make it about something more than just buying and selling, you can make it personal, and make it a community.
And finally, an important one to keep in mind as your business grows…
4) Learn every process you can involved in running your business – from packing, to taking pictures, to customer service – then delegate some of those processes. Make sure to give the majority of your energy to the things that only you can do for your business.
I hope that helps those of you just starting out, or helps those of you in a business rut to re-imagine what you can do! Looking for more inspiration? Nicole also shared some of her favorite business resources.
The Accidental Creative podcasts – available here.
Inc Magazine – be inspired by their website here.
The book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh. Check out the “delivering happiness” movement here.
Best wishes in all your business endeavors, and Happy Crafting!
March 26, 2014
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.
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!