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Nicole’s Corner: Darn Good Summer

July 17, 2014

Hey Everyone!  It’s been one jam-packed summer so far!  If you haven’t heard yet, we moved our operations to Schenectady, NY.  I’m crazy excited about our new space!  It’s in the the Stockade Historic District, a neighborhood that’s been around for over 300 years.  It’s full of window boxes, quaint old buildings, so much character and I’m in love!  Squeakers and I make the mile and half bike ride to work which is helping me recover from a long winter and I’m happy to report that I can fit into my jeggings again!

Darn Good Yarn’s shipping operations are up and running here now (thanks to our fabulous new team member, Joie) and by the end of the summer, we will open our first brick and mortar store!  I’m so thankful to be a home grown in Maine business.  I still have family and a home there and will run my consulting business from there, but I chose NY for Darn Good Yarn because I’ve wanted to find more balance in my work and family life since Mike changed jobs.

 

And I went right back to Maine last weekend to be a Breakout Leader for the Sustain Maine Entrepreneurial Conference.  I got spiffed up with a new haircut and color and was on my way to the beautiful Chebeaugue Island.  Did you catch the picture of my view?  That’s what the amazing Ann Marie Almeida and I woke up to every morning in our shared house.  She is a Senior Director at BRAC, an organization dedicated to building opportunities for the world’s poor and the #1 NGO in the world, and if that wasn’t enough, she also works to inspire women to make changes in their local community through Leadership for Local Change.

The organizers filled the conference with so many inspiring individuals.  Eric Hopkins, is a super talented artist who got the wheels in my head churning with his speech and I hope to share more of ideas here.  The energy when entrepreneurs get together, share ideas, and make things happen truly motivates!  And that’s what we did in my Breakout session…motivate through strategizing about using out-of-the-box solutions for branding, content management, and building small e-commerce businesses on bootstrap budgets so you can make your business work for you.  I was lucky to have Deb Buxton from North East Forest Products, Jim Van Fleet from Mainely Tubs, Emily Nelson from Nelson Treehouse and Supply, and Christine Williams from Crockett’s Cove along for the ride.

Oh, and I can’t forget the delicious food from Jen at Shady Grove Farm, Kitchen and Events.  She does farm to table catering and it’s simply fabulous!   And, of course, at the end of the day, I sat down with a glass of wine to chat up some great business ideas with Chris Rector, the Regional Representative for Senator Angus King.   What a day!  So many great people with great ideas and I’m looking forward to sharing more details here.  I’m happy I could be there to support the growing businesses in Maine and make connections that will bring more purpose to our mission here at Darn Good Yarn.

Back in Schenectady, we’re working on projects to spruce up the outside and inside of our new space.  Our building had been empty for five years, so we have a long to-do list and we are transforming this place!  Joie, Mike, and I (ok, mostly Joie) have been cleaning up, planting, and pruning our grounds here.  There’s magic in the air around here, or at least it seemed like it,  after we found free flowers to plant in our beds and had a visit from our very own landscaping fairy!  One day, Mike pruned our gorgeous shade cedars (can’t wait to yarn bomb them!) and left the pile of branches in parking lot.  When we arrived at the shop the next day, the pile was gone.  Come to find out, the landscaping fairy was our neighbor, Terry, and I love that he’s making us feel right at home!  Indoors, we are hoping to fill the entire store with re-purposed furniture.  Joie and I took a trip to the local thrift store and we found some pieces with great potential.  Now onto sanding, painting, and putting that Darn Good Yarn touch on them.  How many chairs do you think we will need for the knitting space we are carving out?  Better too many than too few, right?  So many plans and so much happening!  We love being here in Schenectady and I can’t wait to get the store open and get feedback from the community so we can tailor our classes and offerings to their needs.  If you are in the Schenectady area, be on the lookout for the plans for our grand opening and be thinking about the perfect local yarn store because we want to hear your ideas!

I’ve always been a big dreamer and I’ve loved seeing my dreams come to life this summer because it means that we are doing more good, empowering more women in India and Nepal, and bringing your creative ideas to life!

Love, Nicole

 

 

Secrets of Darn Good Yarn’s Business Success

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.

Happy Crafting!

Marissa :)

Behind the Scenes – the Business of Rosy Toes Designs

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.

I-Phone wristlets, recently seen at seen at GBK’s 2014 MTV Movie Awards Celebrity Gift Lounge!

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.

Organic wool messenger bags, as seen in InStyle UK, September 2013

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 and her kids!

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!

Marissa :)

 

 

Your Business and Your Passion – 10 Hours or Less George Shaheen

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.

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!

Marissa :)

Darn Good Advice for Your Business

March 20, 2014

Here at Darn Good Yarn, we are all about supporting others out there starting and running their own small businesses.  Whether it’s by offering artists awesome pricing through our Wholesale site, (check out more about that here) sharing your work on Facebook or telling folks all about your work on this blog, we want to get behind you and cheer you on.  Toward that end, we are starting a new blog series, “Darn Good Business Advice” with pearls of wisdom from Nicole, Darn Good Founder and Entrepreneur Extraordinaire, along with other successful business types we collaborate with!

Hopefully, we’ll be just what you need.  :)

To start off, I wanted to feature some great tips from Nicole gleaned from a recent interview she did for an upcoming book on internet businesses.

She was asked, “If you had to share exactly 3-5 keys to building a successful online business, what would they be in order of priority?”

1.  Define your customer segment.

Knowing who your customer is and starting a dialogue, even a personal relationship with them is the most important thing you can do.  Knowing your customer helps you know where to best advertise to reach them, what products they will like and what pricing you can offer.  Having a great relationship with your customers is at the root of everything.

2.  Figuring out what channel you are going to use to reach your customer.

Do you have a brick and mortar store?  Then maybe advertisements in local papers or radio is your best bet.  Attending lots of Art & Craft fairs in the area? Maybe taking email addresses and starting a newsletter, or advertising on popular local blogs for the area would work for you.  For almost any business, Social Media marketing is going to be a great way to reach out.  Make sure whichever way you choose is the absolute best way to reach your particular customers.

3.  Perfecting those marketing channels – in my case, making darngoodyarn.com the best website I can.

If you’ve got an ad in the paper, make sure it is eye-catching and informative.  If you connect to your customer through social media, make sure you put up interesting and informative posts your readers will want to share.  Take crisp, clear, well-lit pictures of your work.  Make sure to respond quickly to questions and comments.  Make sure websites are easy to navigate and customers have an easy way to contact you.  As a whole, make sure your marketing channel reflects well on your business and communicates exactly what you need to get across.

4.  Create a strategic marketing plan to target your customer segment.

Figuring out how much money you can spend on marketing can be tricky.  Make sure your dollars are being spent as effectively as possible.  A great way to help visualize what you have and what you need is a “Business Model Canvas”.  Read all about those here.  There are many great online resources to help you fill out your Canvas as well.

5.  Continuing to revise all of those steps as you learn more – it’s all about the customer.

Don’t get stuck in a rut and only rely on your first evaluation!  Keep learning more about your customer.  You may discover a segment you didn’t think you would appeal to loves your work!  As you update your definition of who your customer is, update each of the next steps as well.  You will evolve along with your fans!

 

I hope that information helps!  Feel free to comment with tips and strategies that have worked for you in your business.  And it doesn’t end here!  Stay tuned for more blog posts all about succeeding in your business.

Happy Crafting (and business building!),

Marissa

 

 

Darn Good Yarn & FedEx Both Love Small Business!

January 20, 2014

Thanks to all the support of fabulous Darn Good Yarners, a unique and innovative business plan, and the dedicated passion of DGY owner Nicole Snow, Darn Good Yarn was the first Grand Prize winner of the FedEx Small Business Grant last year.  We won $25,000 to help expand Darn Good Yarn, support more women in India, Nepal and now Chile, and bring the best products to you!  Working with FedEx has helped Darn Good Yarn reach more people, save money along the way, and ship faster despite being located in a tiny, often snow-bound town in Maine.

See FedEx in action and see the lovely video created after Nicole won the grant last year here.

After the success of the first Small Business Grant, FedEx is offering another one this year!  Hear more about what Nicole and one of the other winners, Danny Catullo, were able to accomplish with their winnings.

Darn Good Yarn is a very small business indeed (feel free to get to know all of the Darn Good Employees here!) and we try to support other small businesses.  Not only do we support micro-enterprises and small businesses in India, Nepal and Chile, we also try to help out Darn Good Yarners and their businesses with our great wholesale opportunities.  (Learn about those here.)  FedEx wants to help small businesses too!  They are again giving away $50,000 in grants to 10 small businesses.  Check out their grand announcement here.

If you have a small business, or know one you’d like to support, make sure you tell them all about this great opportunity.  Here’s the vital stats:

Register your business or vote for one you’d like to support at http://smallbusinessgrant.fedex.com/.

Need tips on the best way to win?  Check out recommendations from last year’s winners, Nicole included,  here.

Spread the word and make sure to support the business you love!  And in the meantime, Happy Crafting.  :)

Marissa

Expand your Business, Love your Local Chamber of Commerce!

October 29, 2013

Recently Nicole Snow, owner extraordinaire of Darn Good Yarn, had a chat with Denise Buzzelli, the Executive Director of the Piscataquis Chamber of Commerce.  Piscataquis county, according to Google, is the least populous county in Maine.   You can totally invite the Director of the Chamber of Commerce over to your house for a chat if you live there.  You especially can if you’ve been working together to help local small businesses and micro-entrepreneurs!  In this video, Nicole discusses how awesome it is to have community support, the need for diversification of industry, and some courses she will be teaching at the Chamber of Commerce.  These classes may be going online, so keep an eye out!  You can also subscribe to the Darn Good Yarn YouTube channel here.

-Marissa :)

 

FedEx Hung Out with the Darn Good Yarn Crew: Behind the Scenes! – Darn Good Yarn

March 5, 2013

Okay, so it’s been a few weeks since they were here, but I wanted to share with you all the great fun we had with this sweet little sampling of candid pictures. You can always find more of the photos in my Facebook fan page gallery!

Squeakers just has to take the show!:

FedEx and Darn Good Yarn Behind the Scenes

This is how those fabulous Heirloom Knitting Needles are made:

FedEx and Darn Good Yarn Behind the Scenes

Making great content isn’t always beautiful. Sometimes you have to cook in front of the fire, like poor Greg had to do for the audio!:

FedEx and Darn Good Yarn Behind the Scenes

And finally, a sneak peek at the basement. Squeakers is exhausted from all of the excitement. What a day it was!:

FedEx and Darn Good Yarn Behind the Scenes

Again, without all of you to support us, Darn Good Yarn would never have won this awesome grant. Thank you for everything you do!

xoxo,

Nicole Snow, President of Darn Good Yarn

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Watch: http://www.youtube.com/snowbigdeal08

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FedEx Had a Great Time Hanging With the Darn Good Yarn Crew!

February 21, 2013

Alright, it’s all over. Time to resume a normal day at Darn Good Yarn (I might be too ecstatic to do that!). Mike, the Darn Good Husband, and I had such a blast with the FedEx crew! They were absolutely amazing. Thank you all for coming out to hang with us!

We managed to take some fabulous behind the scenes photos while they were here. Check them out!:

FedEx at Darn Good Yarn

FedEx at Darn Good Yarn

I don’t think I could have a bigger smile! I can’t express in words how exciting everything was!

FedEx at Darn Good Yarn

And here’s a thumbs up from The Darn Good Husband (he was such a wonderful husband that week!–well, he’s always wonderful):

FedEx at Darn Good Yarn

One of the other things Darn Good Yarn did was show FedEx how we work in the community. Here’s a picture of us at the Agway, teaching people to knit (with big needles and fabulous yarn, of course!):

FedEx at Darn Good Yarn

This was such a memorable event for us, and we have to send a big thank you to ALL of our Darn Good Yarn fans! We couldn’t have gotten here without you. :) Big love going out to everyone!

xoxo,

Nicole Snow, President of Darn Good Yarn

Like: http://www.facebook.com/dgyarn

Watch: http://www.youtube.com/snowbigdeal08

Add: http://www.facebook.com/darngoodyarn

Follow: http://www.twitter.com/darngoodyarn

 

FedEx is Filming Darn at Good Yarn!

February 13, 2013

Hey everyone! Some really cool things have just happened. Remember back when Darn Good Yarn won that $25,000 grant award from FedEx? Well, they’re in my living room! Yup, here’s me sitting all cool and collected (psst! Look at how tidy my desk is!):

Fedex is coming to Darn Good Yarn

..and look at that, I’m even wearing FedEx colors! Alright, deep breath. It’s going to be hectic here with the filming crew, but it’s a great way to show a big business how hard small business owners work. I mean, most businesses start out this way, right?

Here they are setting up for the interview:

Fedex is coming to Darn Good Yarn

It feels really official now! Well, I can’t post too many behind the scenes pictures right now…I gotta build up the suspense! More pictures can be found on my Facebook page if you haven’t already joined me. :)

Oh, and here’s a picture at the Agway, just before we start the knitting class! (Yeah, that’s the Darn Good Husband in the background there!):

Fedex is coming to Darn Good Yarn

So excited! Stay tuned for more teasers. :D

Like: http://www.facebook.com/dgyarn

Watch: http://www.youtube.com/snowbigdeal08

Add: http://www.facebook.com/darngoodyarn

Follow: http://www.twitter.com/darngoodyarn

xoxo,

Nicole Snow, President of Darn Good Yarn (nicole@darngoodyarn.com)