Say Hello To Free Pattern Mondays!

Say Hello To Free Pattern Mondays!

We all know Mondays can lag and drag ... so why not make sure to start the week right? My gift to you and help spread the fiber love. So Check back to the Free Patterns Section every Monday morning to start your week with a fresh new pattern to create and make the week FIBER FABULOUS!

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Mama Makers Are a Special Type of Maker

I don't have kids. I have poodles. Just how God designed my life. And knowing how busy my days are, I am constantly amazed at the Maker mama's I meet who seem to have super powers to do it all. 

My friend Stephanie of Triple Knot Studio constantly impresses me.  She is the dynamo of Mama Makers. She has 3 tiny humans, who I love and adore, a job as a scientist and still manages to make beautiful things, run her small business and be an amazing friend. It is why on the Mother's Day I am extremely excited that we have launched Stephanie's Summer Vest Kit.

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Another Mama Maker I adore is Kathryn of The Stitch & Hook. I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Kathryn and teaching her how to knit when she came to Stitch Up Chicago this year.

Getting to know Kathryn has been fabulous and feeding into her creative journey is such a gift for me. But the real gift is her Maker mama story. I invited Kathryn to share with us, to celebrate Mother's Day. And here's to all you Maker Mama's out there. You are so special!!!


The day begins at 6 am. As the alarm buzzes, and I open my groggy eyes, I spy the growing pile of crochet and knit projects that need to be worked on.

I need to get that sweater finished before the baby wakes up. And this blanket needs to go out by the end of the week. I’m already behind on that pattern deadline. And don’t forget this dress that needs to be completed by next week…

Coffee in hand, I make my way to my craft space and begin working on the last sleeve of the sweater that was supposed to have been finished two days ago. I am determined to at least finish this project before my toddler wakes up.

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I settle in, take a few sips of coffee, and get started.

Suddenly, as if on cue, a howl rises from the next room. “Mamaaaaa!” My heart stops. My eyes widen. “What?! NO!” I silently scream to myself. “He’s not supposed to be up for another hour! I only got 3 rows done! I need more time! Whyyy?!”

“Mamaaaaa….” The wail continues in the next room. I take a deep breath, close my eyes, say a prayer for patience, and put down the unfinished sleeve. I take off my Maker Hat and replace it with my Mama Hat, and head into the next room to start the day with my toddler, hoping that today he might take an afternoon nap, and praying that I might be able to finish that sweater before dinner time… but knowing full well that I’ll probably just be up until after midnight again, trying to play catch-up.

Welcome to the life of this Maker Mama.

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Life is full of tightropes we have to walk – at work, at home, in relationships. And perhaps no one knows this better than Mamas.

A Mama’s job is a full-time, nights-and-weekends, always-on-call kind of job. Mamas don’t usually {ever?} get to call in sick. You won’t find these synonyms in the thesaurus, but any Mama can tell you that other job titles that can be used in place of “Mama” include:

- “cafeteria lady”

- “janitor”

- “mediator”

- “professional cheerleader”

- “event coordinator”

- “caterer”

- “chief inspector”

- “head chef”

- “nurse”

- “pharmacist”

… You get the point …

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So when a Mama adds a side hustle to her plate, like a little maker business, it really is a “hustle”. It means less sleep and more juggling; less down-time and more tight-rope walking. It means having more ideas than time allows. It means almost never being “all caught up”. And it means working double-time just to stay in the game.

So Mamas, how do we to try to stay sane when we are feeling overwhelmed by being a Mama and a Maker? Here are a few things I try to remember to do:

1. Stay in Community

It is so important to be surrounded by people who are like you – who struggle with the same things you do. Nothing helps that crippling burden of loneliness like hearing someone else talking about the exact.same.struggle. When you find out that you are not alone in whatever it is that you may be struggling with, you can learn to laugh about the struggle instead of feeling overwhelmed by it.

 

2. Stay away from Social media when it gets too overwhelming

I love how huge the maker community is online. I love that there are a million people out there doing the same nerdy thing that I am doing, and that we get to share our creations with each other. But sometimes I just have to put the blinders on. Sometimes I have to just focus on myself, my capabilities, and my little successes. I have to stop comparing my feed to other amazing Instagram or Facebook feeds. I have to see myself for what I am worth, and not in comparison to anyone else.

3. Be Fully Present

Sometimes I can wear all the hats all at once. I can be a totally awesome mama and a super productive maker at the same time. But most of the time, I can only do one thing at a time. And that means putting away the hooks and the needles and the yarn and being completely present with my 2 year old as he uses his newest toy to destroy my flowers beds. Then, when I get to return to my craft after my child is in bed (or at least contained in his jail cell of a crib), I can return 100% with a renewed purpose and energy and be totally present with my craft.

Whatever you are doing to make it all work, know that you are doing your best, and that your best is all you can do in this season of life right now. Know that behind many of those gorgeously curated Instagram pages you admire is another mama who has also been pulling her hair out trying to simultaneously take the photo AND keep grubby hands from messing up that perfectly posed set-up.

As one of my favorite crochet/knitwear designers and mamas, Justyna from @ladyjaycrochet, posted a few months ago: “No matter what stage of life you are in, give yourself grace. It’s called #slowfashion for a reason.”

So here’s to all the Maker Mama’s out there, hustling and walking tight-ropes. You’ve got this. We’ve got you. And you are not alone in the struggle.

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I’ll leave you with one last quote that my own mama told me constantly while growing up:

“Do your best,

And leave the rest,

It will all come right,

Some day or night”

-Black Beauty

What's A Maker? I AM!

What's A Maker? I AM!

What defines being a Maker? How do we define ourselves? These are simple yet not so simple questions. For over a year or two since I first started hearing about the "Maker Community" shortly after joining Instagram, I was just so uncomfortable with it. I am not even sure why. Maybe because it felt exclusive rather than inclusive. Maybe because it felt limiting. But I AM A MAKER and you are too!

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Replenish. Recharge. Restore. Because Self Care Matters

I am so incredibly humbled and grateful and blown away by 2018 already. It has been non stop since day ONE and every minute has been more than I could have imagined. Opportunities I had only dreamed about coming my way. Collaborations. Travel. Relationships. It is all so fantastic and yes, a little overwhelming. And a LOT humbling. It is not lost on me that I get to do what I love every single day. I get to truly CREATE and live an inspired creative life.

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But... in such awesomeness of my passion becoming my paycheck, it is quite easy to forget to take care of myself. I am sure you know what I mean. We get so excited over a new design that we stay up until 3am, or all night at times working on it because we have that creative buzz. Going from one event to the next and non stop energy abound. For me, it is even more taxing because events take all I have to give. being an introvert by nature and completely socially awkward, when I go to events I need a few recovery days after.

This year, last week, I did something I have never ever done: I went on vacation!

What? You have never been on vacation?, you say. Nope! NEVER!

I have traveled for work and since I love my job and loved my old job it felt like fun, it was not vacation. I have added an extra "fun day" to work trips to great places, but not taken that time off to be on vacation or replenish. Last week, I did just that. I went on VACATION!

I went to the beautiful Fontainebleua Resort in Miami and can I tell you that it was just what I needed. In fact, I did not know how much I needed it until I got there. I had, being who I am, packed a few projects and planned to write some pattern notes and emails while resting on the beach. But when we got there, my husband and I looked at each other and almost simultaneously we each said: what if we do NOTHING for the week. It was GENIUS!

And so that is what we did: NOTHING for 6 glorious days.

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We took our cue from the sign at the Lapis Spa: no cameras. no cell phones and for most of the time that was our mantra. When we went to dinner we did not take our phones out. When we went to the beach we did not always take our phones with us at all. I popped on social for a few minutes to share the good vibes but the truth is I mostly disconnected. We made NO PLANS. We had no rules.

We ate when we wanted to eat and not to fit into our schedule. We lounged when we wanted to lounge and one day even slept until 10 AM! It was fantastic!

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We had deep belly laughs, Goofy moments and the truth is that the few times we tried to capture it on camera it was blurry because we were laughing so much. And we did not care. no need to "pose" and "recreate" for the camera. Blurry was perfect in that moment.

There was a freedom in each moment. We decided one night at 10 pm to go for a walk to get gelato. None of the "oh it's too late" or "that is too sweet for this hour". Nope. We just got up and went for gelato! And it was in fact the best dang gelato I have ever had!

Sure we captured a few moments here and there but it was not the focus. And it was not a task. We snapped a pic and laughed and moved on. No filters. No checking the light. No "retouching" to share. Just a few memories for us to have.

And yes, while I left the work I planned on doing in our suite, I did have one project with me that I took to the beach or the pool to work on. But it was different. It felt different. I wasn't pressured by design deadline. I had no pace to keep and just stitched for the joy of stitching. I crocheted for the joy of making. And I put it down when I want to just rest on the sand or swim in the pool.

And upon return home it did not feel like it flew by. It felt just perfect. I am so grateful that God allowed me to be present and shut out the world and truly recharge.

It occurred to me after we got home that I did not feel guilty once on this trip. Not one moment of "I should be doing this" or "I should check my email" or "I need to finish this class outline". Nope. None of the "I gotta post on social media to be relevant" or I need to keep the machine going" or "what if I miss this or that". Nope. Nary a care of any of it.

None of that guilt of what I should be doing and all of the living present in what we were doing at that moment. I also did not "dread" the stack of work when I came home.

It was as if the week of magic served its purpose to remind me to stop down, replenish and reconnect with gratitude for the work we do.

This was in fact my first ever vacation but won't be my last. My husband and I have made an agreement to do this more. How often? Who knows. Where will we go? Nope, dont know that either. Maybe back to the place that gave us the gift of replenishing. Maybe a new place. But the point is that now that I / we know the importance of this act and this time to restore we will not let it go so long before doing it again.

In the dictionary; "Replenish" is a verb and means to fill up again. To re-fill. How can we go through life always giving of ourselves and even in our work if we do not stop down and take time to RE-FILL! If you need a refill or a recharge - I encourage you to step back and take it. That business idea, that design, that yarn, that thing whatever it is will be there when you get back. And you will be better ready and able to thrive when you get back to it!

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The Secret To Social Media Success

I was recently included in a list of people who make social media better. It was incredibly humbling and I am honored. Not just because it was created by a professional content creator and marketer, but because it is really a message about social media and what makes it work. Especially for small brands. The secret sauce? Just Be Social.

For real. That is it. Seems simple right? I mean the thing is called SOCIAL Media. But yet it is not simple. I see so many struggle. Let me break it down for you & get real. Ready?

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Social Media is not a broadcast radio network. It is not a television channel for you to just run ads and broadcast content. It is full of noise from blind random contributors. Post & run is NOT a strategy. Sure you CAN do that. But there is minimal payoff (if any) and that is not what it is about. It is about people. Period.

Social Media is an amazing thing and yes there are lots of strategies and marketing perspectives out there. I may or may not agree with some of them. But for me? For my brand?  I look at it slightly different than most. Yes, it is marketing. Yes, it is a way to reach new audience. But most important, it is a way to CONNECT. Let me take it to you from a different perspective. The Grandpa Small Business owner perspective.

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My hero is my grandpa and my small business, 144 Stitches, is named after him. When I was a kid, one of my fave things to do was skip school and hang out with my him. I spent most weekends with him as a toddler and he became my best bud as I grew up. In fact, looking back, I probably learned more applicable life lessons from those days with him than in any classroom!

He was a cool dude let me tell you. He had swagger before swagger was even cool to have!  Somewhat older in years, he was a businessman in New York City. I did not really know what that was, a "businessman", but knew someday I wanted to be it too because I wanted to be as much like him as humanly possible.

One of the businesses my grandfather owned was a paper goods company. No, this isn’t glamorous, but we never ran out of napkins or plates so there’s that bonus. This business stood out to me, not because of the products but, because of the people.

I used to go with him when he would stop by stores who carried his product on those days I skipped school to hang out with him. Grandpa gave me a nickel or dime to go play at “the machines” and he would go about his business talking to store clerks, shopkeepers and owners about business, their families and life in general. It always seemed like these were his friends, not  customers. He knew their families and I played with their kids. Some came over to the apartment for poker games or dinner.

I also distinctly recall when we would ride down the streets and Avenues of Harlem and the Bronx, where he worked and had his warehouse, in his silver Cadillac with his custom tags, that people would yell out his name and wave as we passed by. They knew him and they knew his car. “Hey Mr. Al” or “Yo, Mr. G” they would say. It made me feel proud because he was clearly loved by so many.

I always thought it was interesting just how many people knew him.
Was he famous? No.
Was he a hero? Only to me.
Was he a politician? Nope, not even close.
He was a neighborhood businessman and that was his turf. Those were his people!

I always wanted that. Not for the fame and money - I wanted those connections. It left an impact and imprint on me.

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When I started my business as an online store I was crushed a little bit inside. I knew I would never have what he had. Without a cash register or storefront how would I make those neighborhood and customer connections? Who would I have a cup of coffee with or bring flowers to for their wife after birth of a child? How would I achieve those relationships? I had achieved only a small piece of the dream by starting my business.

Then I had an epiphany. I CAN HAVE THAT! Just different.

When I started managing my own brand I decided to do it differently than the norm and make it what I had thought I missed out on and social media became my store front. My “neighborhood”. I can go days on twitter without mentioning my products. Just interacting with people and building those connections.

It is not an easy task and I will tell you it takes work for sure. You can't force it. Just like opening shop in a neighborhood, starting out on social media is a slow build.  But it can be done. I am in fact creating an updated modern online version of the connections and relationships like my grandpa had.   

My platform of choice is Twitter, though I thoroughly enjoy Instagram as well.  Each is different and gives me different audiences. It is like having two store locations!

While I do post and share my links to products and special sales events, I do not use social media to spam people with my offerings or as a broadcast channel.  I have seen small businesses with twitter accounts that are merely link farms or post only products and sale info. Sell. Sell. Sell. Look at this product. And now look at that one. Look at this celebrity client endorsing me. And now look at this. That is broadcasting and not connecting.

It isn’t really the social media experience I wanted for my customers, or for me. I want something with meat on the bone. So I deliberately made an effort and started tweeting about NON business related things. Let that sink in for a minute.

Seems to go against the purpose right? Nope. It IS the purpose!  I use social media as a relationship builder to get to know people. I use it to JUST BE SOCIAL. Revolutionary right?

If there is a television show I enjoy, I tweet with people about those shows. If I need a break in my day I join a twitter chat. I like fitness and am a FitFluential ambassador, so I tweet about that. I tweet about things that interest me and engage with others who have interests like mine. In doing so I have developed and cultivated relationships, friendships, and yes, customers too.


When people I tweet with or interact with on Instagram come to meet me at my shows it is so incredibly awesome. These are just a few special moments out of many many more when I get to connect offline with my online neighborhood.

I love when I do events and people come to see me not just to shop but also people who I have connected with on social media. It is still surreal.  I think to myself, "You came just to see ME" and I am so grateful. I have met amazing people. And yes, some jerks. But hey, the world is a big place and there is an unfollow button available to us.

Social media is what we make it. I have decided to make it my neighborhood.

I have met some of my closest friends via social media. I have a group of women I mentor, all met through social media. I have connected with other small businesses for partnerships through social media. I have launched a campaign to give the homeless hats and scarves, through social media. and yes, I have made sales. In 2016 ... ONE THIRD of my sales traced directly back to social media somehow. So yes, I AM building that business but also building so much more.

If you are looking to use social media as a broadcasting tool then I have no advice for you. If you are looking to use social media to connect, grow and engage with people then I say pull up a chair and join the conversation!

When I spoke at an Etsy event on turning Twitter into my shop storefront people were amazed and so many noted how it never occurred to them.  They wanted to know how to use Twitter or Instagram as a marketing channel. I wanted to teach them how to use it as a SOCIAL channel. Those two are related for a small business. At least, my grandpa would say they are.

So what is the secret to social media? Just like my friend Joel Renner says: #JustBeSocial

Market Season Redux

Oh Autumn... how I love you and wait for you all summer long but still you sneak up on me and cause a fright. Anyone else?

 time for sweater weather is near

time for sweater weather is near

I find myself spending August clinging to summer sunny days and lightweight cottons while dreaming of sweater weather, layering up and cozy season. That duality always makes it hard to fully get into market prep and hustle mode for busy season. Then all of a sudden, as if to be a complete and utter shock, it is September and I am like... WAIT! WHAT?? HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? I must now make all the things. lol

But the truth is that there is no need for panic and stress. (Maybe just a little) :-) With some planning and organization all will be well and you too can be ready for a thriving market season.

 Booth is Up at 2016 One Of A Kind Show Chicago

Booth is Up at 2016 One Of A Kind Show Chicago

Part of my own "stress" is because I have made a change this year to my own show schedule. After 4 amazing years, I am sitting out the Chicago One Of A Kind Show. It was a hard decision but sometimes when those tough decisions come easy we know it is right! I am opting for a couple of much smaller area shows and events. I will miss the creative vibe and all my customers from OOAK but I felt this year it is time for something a little different.

But I still have to prep and plan and get ready for a new kind of show vibe. It is exciting. Like starting all over again. What will work and what won't? I ask this daily. Smaller spaces and new and different spaces will mean a new booth set up. Finding new ways to display my work and create an inviting "shop" is so fun. I am really excited for the challenge and creative opportunity to show my work and meet new customers. It all feels new and exciting and that is such a great feeling. I cannot wait to see what it brings.

So as you get ready for craft and market season keep in mind that it should be fun. Make lists. Have coffee and just do your best! And don't forget: visit the Stitch & Hustle Craft Fair & Market Series for all your market prep inspiration. From how to find and apply for the right markets to setting up your display for winning sales to selecting the right POS system, we've got you covered! And don't forget our handy checklist to help you Prep & Pack for Success!

Happy market season y'all!

Feel free to share your market prep tips in the comments as well.

Influencer Marketing 101 For Your Maker Business

To follow up on my Brand Partnerships and Mama Knows posts, I wanted to go deeper into this world of Influencer Marketing.

Even without my marketing experience, as a blogger and a small business owner, I am quite familiar with the world of influencer marketing on both sides. Influencer marketing can and does work when it is authentic and real and done right. Anyone who knows me from my old days has heard me glob off a good rant or two about the down sides and the “false influencers”. They are real. But aside from that, true authentic influencer marketing can work not only for the influencer and their community but for brands as well. And, I am advocate of true, authentic influencer programs.

Having said that, without proper planning or execution, it can also go terribly wrong and damage a brand and cost them customers.  I recently had an experience of Influencer Marketing gone very wrong and it made me want to share some how-to tips and turn it into a positive to help YOU, the Stitch & Hustle community. Let this experience help you guys set up for a WIN!

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I’ve also invited Alissa Trumbull, a good friend of mine who works in social media marketing, to share some tips to help YOU plan and execute an effective and successful influencer marketing program. I have known Alissa for a many years and she is a voice I trust on this topic. As someone who supports and builds small brands (and big ones) I am honored she is taking some time to share insights with us. Also Alissa is truly one of favorite human beings on the planet. Together we've come up with Influencer Marketing 101 for Makers! So let's dive in…

What exactly IS influencer marketing?

Simply put, influencer marketing is when you utilize niche, community, (or celebrity influencers in some instances) to promote your product or service. Influencer campaigns are a wonderful tool, if utilized correctly, as they get other people talking about your brand.

Who is an influencer?

An influencer is anyone who impacts the lives of your target audience and has sway in your audience’s decision-making. Using the crochet and knit world as an example, this could be someone like Stephanie from All About Ami who always has new projects or great finds to share or Jess from Make And Do Crew who is always introducing us to new yarns and ideas. Remember that the best influencers don’t have to have the highest follower count. You need to look at the purpose and goals of your brand and the campaign to determine who is the right fit.

 Take Time. Make It Personal.

Take Time. Make It Personal.

How to Create an Influencer Campaign:

  1. Figure out your end goal and working budget.
    Do you want to drive sales, increase brand awareness, or something else?
    Does your budget include compensation or just product or both or something else?
  2. Select your influencers.

    Ask yourself: "Which influencers speak to my audience?" Think about who your audience will be most receptive to and target influencers in that demographic. Is it stay-at-home-moms? Craft pros? That one music star everyone’s talking about?

    You are not confined to only niche or only celebrity influencers for a campaign. Often creating a tiered set of influencers can be beneficial, as long as the influencers you select are authentic to your audience and you build an authentic relationship between your brand and them.
  3. Do your research.

    Find out more about the people you’ve selected, their audiences, and expected payment. You have to take the time to dive deep and see the value and make sure it is the right fit. Some of the best influencers may have a small but active and dedicated following.

    Make sure the influencers you consider adhere to the FTC Endorsement Guides.

    Pare down your list to one that is manageable for your budget (whether that is in actual cash, event tickets, or product giveaways, etc.) and provides a good fit to meet your goals.
  4. Start reaching out!

    Get in touch with the people you really want to participate first. Don’t ask everyone at once. This helps ensure that you are not promising too much. If you only have the ability to send ten (10) samples, email 8-10 people. You may not know the response, but should always expect that everyone will say yes. Sending more offers and emails than you can deliver sets yourself up for failure and damage relationships before you can even build them.

    The spray and pray model for building an influencer community – and yes, this is a community you are building – is not effective and can end up with people having a negative taste about your brand and you feeling overwhelmed. Create lists and tiers and go from there. It may take more time but will set you up for the win!
     
  5. Be enthusiastic AND gracious.

    You are asking people to enter into a business partnership with you to test out your product or speak kindly of your brand. Approach potential influencers as if they are doing you a favor (because they are).

    Share the details and goals of your campaign and let your enthusiasm come across. You WANT to get people excited. Your enthusiasm can build the interest you want, and those whom you reach out to will respond positively to your energy and good vibes.
     
  6. Be clear in your ask!

    Let each person know what you would like from them and what you are prepared to offer. Your offer does not need to be the same for each person. Perhaps you create different offers for each influencer tier. Again, go back to the research and what is a good fit.
  7. Set deadlines.

    In your initial email, be clear on the dates of your campaign (when the campaign is taking place, when you need content completed by, etc.) and ask for a response by a certain date. This reply by date is very important, as it sets up a clear expectation that if they get back to you after this deadline, you may not be able to accommodate them for this specific campaign.

  8. Be prepared to say no.

    Some influencers may request more from you than you are able to give. Some may even ask for the moon in a pretty little box with a bow. While you may roll your eyes as you sit at your computer, make sure you decline graciously. You are growing the brand and may cross paths again!

  9. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

    Communication is key to planning a successful collaboration. From your first email, all the way through your final follow-up, it’s important to keep your updates clear, consistent, and personal. Don't let all that enthusiasm go to waste and fizzle away by sending generic emails and updates. If you are ONLY sending general and generic updates then you are not building a relationship. Ask questions. Engage people. Build the relationship. Keep their interest and use that enthusiasm to be contagious.

    If your marketing plans change and your strategy changes it is always best to communicate with people you have already reached out to. People (bloggers especially) plan content calendars and are people after all. We are humans behind these pages. People are excited and get others excited about your product, especially after you have contacted them directly to build that excitement. When you have a strategy change that changes a collaboration, communicate that to keep the relationship intact.
     
  10. Bring your campaign to life.

    Contracts are highly recommended to ensure mutual responsibility.

    Have a plan (and share it with your influencers) for how/when you’re going to amplify your influencers’ content on your social channels.

    Keep the energy and enthusiasm going all through the campaign. Treat your influencers like the VIPs they are - regardless of whether your supporter is large or small, or has a targeted or diverse audience, remember they are your customers first. Treat your influencers, customers and other supporters with respect and consideration for any time, money or effort they’ve shared with you.

    Think about every step all the way up to your packaging. The Reveal can be one of the most important parts of building a relationship with a customer (and influencer), and taking time to add a personal hand written note, extra gift or just a word of thanks can make a big impact in your favor. 
     
  11. Follow up

    Make sure your selected influencers are set to post their content and that the agreement is met.
  12. Wrap It Up & Track Your Metrics.

    (Is your social engagement up? Are you seeing an increase in conversation about your brand? In website visits? In sales? Track everything to know what is and isn’t working.) Numbers matter but look at more than numbers to see if there is actual influence. Are they engaging? Are people responding? Do they respond to their community and comments?

Last but not least, remember to thank the people who participated! Again, this goes back to building relationships and maintaining brand message and keeping it personal.

And remember, Influencers are not one-and-done, but should be viewed as part of your brand’s family. Who knows? You may want to reach out for another campaign in the future so build on this relationship!

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Here’s the biggest takeaway of all: Any marketing effort is to BUILD customer base. Are you creating Relationships that are long term and will grow with you and convert sales? Are you keeping your brand message and relationships in EVERY interaction? Are you missing opportunities to build and create your team of support? If you take the time to write a note how much MORE value will it add?!

As a blogger, I work with lots of brands. Small brands, big brands. You name it.  I am contacted by brands often and I also reach out to brands to collaborate for my own small handmade business as well as this blog. It is so important that the brands I work with and share with you guys are brands I can truly believe in. Not just the product but the company. Getting "free stuff" is far less important than what I can BRING TO YOU GUYS and the value I can ADD TO MY COMMUNITY. Sometimes I don't even get "free stuff" but the brand is so awesome I want to share about it.

Effective Influencer Marketing for your brand is more than just randomly contacting people with a following or with a blog. It is about connecting your brand and brand message with the influencer and their community in an authentic way. It is about contacting and connecting with the right people and growing those relationships. And it can work for you!

 ORGANIZE & PLAN

ORGANIZE & PLAN

Photo Hacks Too: Lighting & Instagram Live

I have gotten a lot of messages since my knit date with my gal Megan from Peppermint Pine shop about the table top tripod set in my crochet bag that we used for her Instagram Live video. So I thought this would be a great time do an update on my Photo Hacks post. Yup this post has affiliate links. I get credit if you buy these items. Let's dive in!

Checking the light meter setting up for pics

First let's talk lighting. Natural light is your friend. It is correct, easy to edit and gives you accurate coloring. Oh.. and it is FREE! But let's be honest, it is not always available. For me, I have one perfect area in my house that has amazing light. But for only 2 hours a day. When the sun shifts or if there is cloud cover then my photo plans are tanked. And while you can do a lot in post with apps and edit, it is extremely helpful to have some options.

I have an advantage having been a Production Manager & concert lighting technician and my husband still working in the field. So I get some cool toys I admit. But still, you don't need insider trading for badass lighting hacks. Here are a few I am fond of and use myself. Just remember this one thing: simulating natural light is not actual natural light. When you can, use natural light. Always. ALWAYS.

I bought this light kit on amazon because it has a great storage case and lots of options. There are LOTS of light kits so buy what is best for you but one thing is that no matter what light kit you get... BUY NATURAL BULBS.

The next thing is a bounce card. This will help you get more length of time out of that perfectly lit area of your home or studio. Basically, a bounce card is going to reflect light into a shadowy area. You don't need to be a photography pro to use one and in fact, this will illuminate your products in ways beyond imagination.

Next up: that table top kit from my knit date. It is what I call my secret weapon because no matter where I am I can always get the right angle. The right perspective and even the right distance. These will be your secret weapon too.

And for the products themselves, these are my MUST HAVES that live in my little crochet on the go kit and I use them for almost anything. Just not website product shots lol. Perfect for on the floor when I need that right angle. On the table. For Facetime so I can knit and converse at once. Yup... these are the ones you saw in the IG Stories with Megan and for less than $20 I got all I needed.

First up is my Jellyfish Mount. I love this thing. It holds my phone, my husband's phone (he has an iPhone +) and is so versatile and small and portable.

Now for my table top tripod. There are tons on the market. But let's be honest - this has a specific function. It is not for primary product shoots. I want something that is portable, lightweight and frankly can fit in my needle and hook case to go where I go. I also don't want to break the bank. I also didn't want something so flimsy that I would spend even more money replacing it. I did some solid research and this was where I landed and I love it!

There are lots of products on the market and everyone will always have their preferences. I can only tell you that I have in fact spent some money and time and found these to be the best, and for less than $20 it is worth a shot!

So get out there, get in the light and get your pics.

The Business of Handmade - Part 1: A Primer To Start Your Business

I have been very fortunate to find my creative journey and do what I love every day. I am truly living my dream. It is always magical but isn't always easy. It is TONS of hard work, even MORE mistakes than you can imagine, and some days I would rather play with a pile of yarn than be a business owner and do paperwork (I really loathe paperwork). And the truth is, by my own standard, I am not really that successful. I have SO MUCH I want to do and eventually land with my very own yarn shop with a classroom in the front for people to learn and share fiber love and an after school yarn program for neighborhood kids. Ah... I have so far to go. But I will get there.

And, while I am by no means a business guru or authority, I love sharing my journey and what I learn because it feeds my own success as much as it helps others. I get a LOT of emails, messages, tweets and posts asking for help on how to start a crochet, knit or creative business or open an Etsy shop. It is incredibly humbling. But... The truth is that this is a very difficult question to answer. There is no easy, "hey do this and you will be a success" formula. Every creative business is different.

You have to determine your own goals and road map. Hopefully, with this series: The Business Of Handmade, I can help you do that. Over this series we will talk about:

A Primer To Start Your Business (this post)
What Kind Of Etsy Shop Is Right For YOU
Do You Want A Business or A Side Hustle
If You Don't Love It Don't Do It

So let's get started!

Like I said above, there is no quick cookie cutter formula that I can give you to say do this and you will be a success. Having said that, here are 5 steps I took that may work for you and help you get your path started.

1. Open an Etsy Shop
Though the bulk of my business has moved off of the platform, joining Etsy was the best decision I ever made. Truly. Etsy gave me a place to get started, test the waters, learn about internet marketing and online sales without the burden of developing a full eCommerce site. It is SO EASY to use and setting up my shop took a matter of hours. When you join Etsy, it is not a magic wand and poof you will have sales. It takes work. You can use this link to get started with an Etsy shop and get 40 free listings!  (disclaimer: if you use this link, I will also get free listings as part of the easy affiliate program)

The next post in this series will dive into WHAT kind of Etsy shop is right for you.  Here are my general Etsy Starter Tips:

Join the Etsy Success Team. This is a team headed up by Etsy Admin for the community to discuss, exchange and explore ways to succeed

Read the Etsy Seller Handbook & Etsy Blogs. They are a wealth of information. Take the info and apply it to your shop. Not everything will apply. Go in baby steps. Do what you can so you are not overwhelmed.

Learn SEO. You do not need to become an SEO behind the scenes wiz. But it would be in your best interest to take time and learn the basics. Etsy has wonderful blogs and teams about SEO and how to make it work for you.

Take great photos. You don't need an expensive camera or to hire a photographer to get started. I still use my iPhone and some great photo apps sometimes. Show all the angles (front, side view, back view, etc.) and remember: Most shoppers are visual. Make your photos appealing.

Give all the information that you can without too much fluff in your item descriptions. That's not really the place to show off your creative writing skills. Give the facts: size, measurements, materials, use or functionality, etc. Check out my photo hacks here.

Use ALL the Etsy features. Etsy offers some really great shop features (About, Profile, online presence links). Use them ALL. Take some time to really think about telling your shop story in the About section but then maybe a little more about you as a person in your profile. Use the links to social media. I cannot say it again, Etsy makes it so easy why not use these areas?

2. Build customer relationships.
Social Media is an amazing overwhelming thing. I get it. But it is essential to grow your business in modern times because it IS your storefront. There are lots of different approaches to social media. You will have to work to find what's best for you and your business. Personally, I have more than one social media account. Some I use specifically for business, some I use to engage with other crocheters and others in the fitness community and other areas of interest.

I also started a blog as a way to take customers behind the scenes in both my design and creation process. It is a fun way to interact and share the backstory. I also offer free patterns and special coupons and articles like this that may be of help to my blog readers. We will be launching an in depth Social Media Series in two weeks.

3. Find your market.
In addition to my Etsy pattern shop, I also sell my patterns and designs on Ravelry and Craftsy. That is where my audience is. So if you know where your target market is, go there and sell to them. And look for new places to find them.
 

4. Build your own online presence.
In addition to my Etsy shop, I have my own stand alone website. This allows me freedom of design, content and inventory variation and control. It took some time to find the right platform. For me, I have a shop with supadupa and one with squarespace. BOTH are fabulous and offer incredible customer support. I have nothing but good things to say about them. I have been with each since they launched. Read Toni of TL Yarn Crafts talk about why this is important here.

5. Try new things.
My biggest tip is that you have to try new things. Some will work. Some will fail in epic proportions. But that is the best way to learn what works for your business. I cannot tell you how many things didn't work. But finding out that something doesn't work is not always bad. It often leads to something brilliant that does work.

Track things you try. Don't just haphazardly throw things at the wall hoping something sticks. Be deliberate and consider what will get you where you want to go. If something doesn't work, take a beat. Look at WHY it didn't work. Maybe it was an ad that just needs some tweaking. Maybe it was an ad that needs art and photos. Maybe it was the wrong demographic. There is ALWAYS something to learn from failure.

Finding those lessons and takeaways is how you will also find success. This is number 5 on the list but probably the single most important tip I can impart to you. Failures and mistakes are ESSENTIAL for success.

So there it is. My five tips to get you and your road map to a successful handmade business off the ground. The one thing I didn't mention (because I assume if you are here you know this) is you have to do the work. You can't be lazy. It takes lots of work and long hours but the joy and fulfillment I have found and continue to find is immeasurable. I work weekends. I work late at night. I work early mornings. I work! But I would not trade a minute of it and could not imagine it any other way.

The Name Game - The Mechanics of Rebranding

I recently had the opportunity to share the story about changing my small business name to 144 Stitches here and on my friend Nicole's Blog. Since then, I have gotten a few requests to talk about the mechanics of changing your business name.  So here we go.

So you are all excited, you have researched and brainstormed and picked your new business and gotten your new logo. Woohoo!!!  So much excitement. And now so much work to do to implement the change before you can tell the world about it! And I know you want to start using your awesome new logo right away. But don't ... wait. There is work to be done. Oh the mechanics!

And get it because it is hard enough to go through a re-branding without the mechanics. But there are lots of little steps along the way to prep and help you plan for a smooth transition so that you can focus on the brand itself. Here are some tips below and you can print this checklist.

Let's start with the nitty gritty. The business side.

Make sure to contact your local Secretary of State to get your business license updated with your new name. If you have an EIN, you will want to contact the IRS too. This is all very easy and can be done with a phone call or filling out an online form. You don't want to have any issues with payment processing so make sure to have a conversation with your bank that you are changing names and update your details on PayPal, SquareUp or any other processing service you use. Make sure to get your new email address and forward your old one. Also add the update to your signature for outgoing email.

About a week or two before you go live, do an email blast to your vendors and customers with the exciting news. This is ESSENTIAL! Vendors will need to update their billing and contact records so that you have a bit of a seamless transition but helps them as well. Customers will need to know. You can even tie it in to a bit of a re-launch promotion if you are so inclined. Make it fun! But just make sure to let your peeps know!

 

WEBSITE & Web presence side.

Now, do not laugh, but I suggest doing all of the web “switching” mechanics late at night. I did mine at like 2:00am one night. This is for a few reasons:

1.    Late at night it is quiet and I can focus and get it done without as much possibility of being distracted and making a mistake.
2.    Late at night it is unlikely that I would “lose” my name in the few seconds of the transfer
3.    Then I get to make a big woo hoo announcement in the morning.

WEBSITE:

Purchase your new domain immediately once you decide on your new name and redirect it to your current site.  Do not cancel your old domain, as you will need to redirect traffic to your new domain to capture any lingering hyperlinks as well as handle any traffic from people who may go to your old name as habit. I suggest to budget and plan to keep your old domain for at least one year or two if you can. Some keep them forever.

When you are ready for your 2am website switch, it is a few steps depending on who hosts your site. Check their FAQ page for the best way to update the domain then "forward" your old domain to your new one. This will allow all previous backlinks to remain active. If you are changing your name on Etsy, they will keep the backlins for you and will also not allow anyone to take the old name. But I would still suggest making a note in your shop announcements.

Check anywhere on your site that you may need to update your business name such as an FAQ or policies page. Maybe in some item details you refer to the brand itself and that needs to be updated. The logo and art will need an update as well. Do a full look through every page of your site to be sure nothing was missed.

Next Up: Web Presences and social media.

Register your social media handles with your new name as soon as you decide what the name will be. Do not “set up” the accounts. Just open them to get your name and then make them “locked” private accounts until you are ready to go live. Do not follow anyone or post or accept followers. You are JUST grabbing your name.

Then when you are ready, the day before you go live, have a late night switch sesh.

Ok the mechanics of the social media switch are a bit intricate, again why I did this at 2 am. Here is a step by step I did for Instagram and you can apply this to other channels as well.

1.    Log in to the account for the NEW NAME and change the “name” to NEWNAME1

2.    Log out of that account.

3.    Log in to the OLD name account (current account) and change the “name” to your NEW business name

4.    Log out of that account.

5.    Log back into the place holder account that you called NEWNAME1 and change the “name” to your OLD business name

6.    Add a note in the profile directing followers who go here to your NEW page

And last but not least: When do you do all these things?

As with most things in life, timing is key. I will use my own business as an example here. I sell mostly cozy gear. Wintry wool items and delights. So while I decided in December to change my name, it was the worst time to do so. First of all because I was at the height of my busy season. But second of all, and perhaps more important, because people were shopping for my items. Why make it hard or confusing for them to find me?

No. In this case, I put a pin in the project. Once busy season ended I started the behind the scenes process as mentioned about. Paperwork and filings and such. Filed trademark on the new logo. All the little details. Then, over the summer I implemented the change. Don't forget sites like Google and Bing and other search engine take time to cache your data. So for me, summer was a good lead time to the next busy season.

I made the change and then when I announced my fall collection it was a bit of a new re-launch. Very exciting and added a buzz to my next season. It was an added element that in fact made for a nice boost.

So think about your customers. Think about your market. And decide how much time you need to get ready. Take the above steps immediately (securing your domain, starting the paperwork, securing new social media handles) but perhaps wait for the right time for implementing them.

While rebranding can be an overwhelming and daunting event, the mechanics of it all do not have to overwhelm you. I hope these tips and checklist help the you through the process.

Customer Service: It Is Ok To Say No

Next in our customer service series is an important topic: Sometimes we need to say no. It is hard to do. I know. But it is incredibly important. There are many reasons to say no, and developing the ability to do so without guilt and in a professional way is essential for success.

I have invited Molly from Spearmint Spruce to share more on this important topic. I love how Molly handles her small business and her approach to customer service.

Take it away Molly...

As a maker, it is a constant struggle to find balance. To not overload yourself, but also to push and challenge yourself to grow. And who wants to turn down a chance to make some extra money? So I have comprised a little check list to help decide when you can (and probably should) say no! And a few examples to follow.

If you are saying yes to these questions, then it might be time to say no:

1. Will it take away too much time to be with your family and those around you?
2. Will it add unnecessary stress or anxiety to rob you of the joy of making?
3. Will it take more time to figure out than is worth your profit?
4. Do you already feel stretched too think or overloaded?

I know, this is supposed to be a blog post about saying no. However, if you answered yes to any of these questions, then you should absolutely say no to the request. It does not have to be a permanent no, but it should be a no for now. Let me explain a bit why it is important:

Every maker is different - some are students, some are mamas, some are part-time, full-time, any-time makers. Family and those you consider family, should never take a back seat to your business. This life is too short to spend all your time working (no matter how much you enjoy it!) and not enough time with family. The balance is hard, but oh man is it worth it.

If you take on more orders than you have time for, your quality will suffer...either the quality of your product or the quality of your life. If it stresses you out or adds anxiety - say no! You want to enjoy what you do, and if taking on too much robs you of that joy, then it is time to say no. Make notes of how much is too much and be diligent on sticking to that number. The number that still allows your success, but also your enjoyment.

So many times I get asked, "can you make this for me?" and usually the answer is yes. However, unless it is something fairly simple, then the amount of time it will take to figure out how to do it will significantly take away from my profit as well as my time to be working on my specialty items. For so long I was a "jack of all trades, master to none". Basically saying, I could do several things pretty well, but it wasn't until I truly found my niche that I could perfect my items and offer them with great pride. So yes, I can probably make that for you, but it isn't worth it at this point. I would rather point you in the direction of someone who specializes in that product! And we will all be the happier for it!

If you already feel like you have too much on your plate, chances are it is time to say no. If you are stretched too thin, you will break. And that extra order or collaboration will do you no good. Your sanity is more important than anything. The holidays are a time especially when we find it hard to say no. I am in the midst of still trying to remember that it is ok to say no. Even if it is a friend or family member, this is your business - something that you worked hard to build. It is ok to do what is right and healthy for you and your business!

I wish I could say I have arrived -  I have finally figured out how and when to say no every time. Alas, I have not. But I do know how to be more aware and to work harder to have boundaries of when to say yes and when to say no.

I hope you are encouraged to say no when you need to. Get rid of the guilt or that feeling of missed opportunity. You will see growth and success when you are more balanced and are enjoying what you are doing! Happy making, friends!

New Year: Set Goals & Make Plans

As the New Year ads start running and posts about #resolutions are abound, I thought I would take this moment to share something with you: I am not a fan of New Year Resolutions. Call me cranky, but I am just keeping it real. I am a fan of Goals, I am a fan of Plans. Here is why:

 

  1.  I do not believe you need a specific calendar date to give you permission to chase your dreams, follow your passion or make changes in your life. These things should be ongoing. Always growing and always going forward.
     
  2.  Thanks to the age of marketing and advertisers, society has been wooed into setting lofty goals we likely won't achieve. Not because we are not able. But because goals require ACTION PLANS & STEPS to be attained. New Year's resolutions has become about setting the lofty goal - but what about the action step?

 As we enter the New Year I want to encourage you to take a beat and do some self examination. Think not just about the things you wish for the New Year, but the things you want to make happen in the New Year. Then think about ways to ACHIEVE the goals. The work you need to do to achieve them. If you ask yourself the tough questions,  I promise you will find the goals and action steps reveal themselves.

While thinking about your goals, make categories. What are your personal goals? What are your business goals for your shop? What are your career goals if you are not a full time maker? Having seperate goals is an essential step.

For many, a small handmade business is more than a job. It is a lifestyle. So it makes sense that personal and professional goals are intertwined. But I encourage you to separate them. I encourage you to find that separate balance that will help you then achieve goals.

Setting goals in categories is key to achieving them. I know this from experience. I shifted to a full time "maker" unexpectedly but found it was in fact the right move. And, since becoming a full time yarnie, running my handmade knitwear & crochet business, I have learned a lot about the need for that balance.

 Left: January           Right: December

Left: January           Right: December

Last year I lost 50 lbs as a personal goal and launched this blog and launched my home accessories line as a business goal. Previously I had tried and failed to achieve all three goals. But by separating them and separating what they mean (personal vs. business) I had to make separate action plans and milestones to achieve along the way. Short and long term markers. Evaluations to help me be successful. It also helped me prioritize better.

 

Sure there were hiccups and failures along the way. Heck, there was one speed bump (read: epic failure) that cost me money, knocked me to my core and had me curled up in tears for three days. But what it didn't do is stop me. Because failure isn't the end and will happen on the road to success. It is almost is required.

And when that epic failure happened, the beauty is that by separating my goals and giving each its own action plan, the whole boat didn't sink. That failure may have caused a ripple in that category but the others were on track. It also helped when it came time to regroup because I had focus. There was no spillover.

While I know it's hard, I also want to implore you to embrace failure as part of the journey. See it as an opportunity to learn. Grow. Shift. It doesn't mean that you can't or won't achieve your goals. It just means that you may have to do some more work to get there.

So as we enter the New Year, be excited. Be resolute. But also be a planner. Take some time to really think about 2017 and how you can make it one heck of a year! Think about where you want to be in 12 months and what you need to do to get there. Then get going! Happy New Year everyone.

2016 Craft Fair Round Up

A big shout out to every member of our awesome community who kicked butt this year during Market Season. I am so thrilled with all the feedback to our Craft Fair & Market Days Series. Whether trying to find the right event, decide your set up, select the right payment processing system for you or getting into the nitty gritty of prep, so many of you have said our posts have helped. That is why I started this blog. That is the good stuff!

 Here are some highlights grabbed from Instagram from the #stitchandhustle community

Customer Service & Handmade Business: 5 Things Every Small Business Owner Should Know and Do

CustomerPatternReview

The idea of taking our talents and passions to the next level and turning it into a business is incredibly exciting. The thought that people will want to actually PAY for what I / we create is one heck of a piece of awesome.  And the truth of it all is that happy customers spreading the word is what truly grows a small artisan business. Customer reviews matter!

But when we take that leap and find ourselves running a business it is essential that we take a beat and are prepared for some of the changes that will come. Sometimes talent isn't enough. Once we make the leap into a business it is essential to shift our mindset to be successful. Our art then becomes only part of the package. We must now center our focus on the customer experience.

This was a review from a customer who received the wrong item. The solution turned this customer experience into a win.

I recently had a horrible customer service experience with a small artisan business. Part of me was so frustrated as a customer I wanted to scream. It was in actuality one of the most horrible customer experiences I have ever had. But more importantly than that, part of me was sad & frustrated as a fellow artisan small business owner that this person and her business simply do not have the basics for a successful customer service program. And the worst part was that in the whole exchange she wasn't even open to feedback to see this.

In the case of my recent experience, this artisan was simply unprepared to handle an influx of business, meet delivery dates and couldn't deliver on promises she made. She lacked customer communication skills to solve problems. All of which are essential in customer service. Especially the communication.

This experience is what inspired me to want to do a Customer Service series and why I've invited a few of my favorite small business owners who I also think have exceptional customer service to share their perspective on winning customer service.

Over the series we will cover:
The Basics: 5 Things Every Small Business Owner Needs To Know
It's OK To Say No
Custom Orders & The Collaborative Experience
Turning Mistakes Into Rave Reviews

First up: Krista Cagle from the Yarn Mamas and the basics of what every small business needs to know and do.

Now, if you follow me on Social media then you know I am practically a walking billboard of advertisement for the Yarn Mamas gear. Yes, Krista curates and serves up top quality and fabulous offerings. Comfy cozy wear and coffee mugs that keep my creative vibes flowing. But way more than that, her customer service is beyond reproach if you ask me. Aside from products I love, it is the thing that keeps me coming back again and again. In an era where we have choices of where to spend our dollars, I prefer to spend mine with small businesses who put the customer experience first. Krista embodies that concept. I thought she would be the perfect person to kick this series off with the basics:

 
5 Things every Small Business Owner Should Know and Do

Customer service is an important part of every small business. Here are five of the top things that I have done to create a positive experience for my business and brand.

1. Ask for Help

My business YarnMamas is built under my franchise Rescued Paw Designs. When I first started I quickly realized how incredibly hard, time consuming and stressful it can be to run two small businesses simultaneously. I felt like I was being pulled in many directions and I knew that if I wanted to continue to bring the same quality product to my customers, something had to change. I learned an important lesson: Don’t try to run a small business all on your own, ask for help. Once I hired a Virtual Assistant I was able to focus more on the quality of my product, customer feedback and building designs, which improved my overall customer service satisfaction.

2. Engage Customers on Social Media

I make it a top priority to engage my customers on social media. It shows consumers that you care, that you’re listening, and that you want to be involved. When sharing others projects and posts you are creating a community around your brand.

 3. Respond Quickly to Questions

I make sure to respond quickly and promptly to customer questions and to always keep them informed of their orders. My customers are notified, via messenger & email, when their order is placed, shipped and delivered. This has helped tremendously with customer satisfaction. I also send a follow up email after the customer’s order has been delivered, asking for feedback. It is important to keep communication open between you and the customer. If there ever is a concern, I always make sure to rectify the issue so my customers will want to come back again.

4. Listen to Customers Ideas

I occasionally receive messages from my customers who are looking for a particular design or look. I always keep the feedback of my customers in mind when I’m designing my clothes. I want my customers to feel heard and also, I want to make my customers happy and coming back for more. So when running your small business, always brainstorm new ideas and listen to your customer ideas (they know what they want!).

5. Updated Email List

An easy, but important aspect to customer service is to keep up an updated email list of your customers. It’s as simple as putting an email signup form on your website (I use hello bar) or an opt in button on your checkout page asking if they would like to receive marketing. I use this email list to send important updates, new designs alerts and as a way to keep past/potential customers engaged in my business. People lead very busy lives and it’s important to keep customers interested and informed about your business so they keep coming back.

I LOVE Krista's approach to the basics. It is those fundamentals that have set her new business on track to soar. What is your Customer Service approach? Share in the comments below.

Follow The Yarn Mamas on Instagram       
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Be Inspired By PurlBKnit

One of my favorite artisans I follow on Instagram is Brandi Harper of Purl B Knit. Maybe it is because she reminds me of my NYC roots that comes through in her work; maybe it is her awesome attitude or creative genes. Maybe it is her whimsical cheer that comes through each post. Whatever it is, I do not mind admitting I am a HUGE fan.

Well she shared this the other day and I was like YES!!!!!! So I thought I would share it with the community (with permission of course).

Thank you Brandi. Yes.. stay true. Stay on your hustle. Water your flowers. Let the dead leaves fall off. be on YOUR journey!!!!!! 

Hedwig & The Twin Rivers

Have you ever done a Pattern Swap? I haven't, until now. Toni of the very awesome TL Yarncrafts recently launched her new design: The Hedwig Beanie. Just about the same time, I launched my Twin Rivers Beanie. 

To support each other we did a pattern swap and during a few designated days made each others' hats then shared them.

It was so fun to try Toni's pattern and I am in love with it - the texture is yummy. Truthfully - I'm usually so busy sorting my own designs that it was a nice break to try one of hers. And I LOVE how her Twin Rivers Beanie came out. She chose great colors.

This was such an awesome experience and a true example of community over competition. By supporting each other we can ALL be successful! So if there's a designer or fellow artisan you like maybe try a swap and expose each other to your communities. Big thanks to Toni for inviting me to the Pattern Swap! Community over competition for the win!

Make Plans, Chase Dreams, Live Happy (and with a plan)

Following the theme of Nicole's awesome Time Management Tips post, I have been thinking about my own time management and how to streamline, improve and trim the fat. I want to share with you something that is a game changer for me. It actually came down to something as simple as I needed a new planner. What? YUP!

Although I am a roam the earth free spirit artistic kind of gal, I am also a planner. Shocking right? Well, let me explain.

Ever since I got my hands on my first FiloFax as a wee young up and comer, I have been a fan of the organizer & planner. It serves so many purposes. Not just helpful with dates and schedule but... It is a great place to stash business cards and receipts; it hold notes and numbers and random thoughts. My FiloFax has been around the world with me over and over until it died and finally the last stitch came apart a few years ago. Oh the stories it could tell. And oh the loss I felt.

Sure we are in the digital age and there are apps and tools for workflow. But for me, I like pen to paper. I am a fan of writing things down. I also like to gather my thoughts, spend a few minutes of quiet time and getting grounded. My needs have changed as I began to focus more on my small business, so I looked for planners that did more than just provide a place to write things down. I wanted to PLAN.

In my search I stumbled upon Passion Planner. What is this? I have Passion. I need a Planner. Hmmm..... As I read more & found out about the company (which has a great story you should read here) and the planner I discovered that they use mind mapping to help set a course to achieve goals. WAIT!?!? WHAT???

I LOVE Mind Mapping. How is it that I have never thought of this, but Thank God they did! It makes such perfect sense. I had to get one of these. And let me tell you- if you are an artisan, small business owner, human being with dreams & goals - you will want to get this too.

Granted, at first it is overwhelming. But the word itself means you need more than a notepad... we are making PLANS. In the short time since I have had my Passion Planner I can honestly say my efficiency has improved. My focus has increased. My spirit is lifted. Can a Planner really be the source of this? YES!

Because if you take the time in the beginning to invest and get going with the tools provided in the Passion Planner then it really does remove the clutter and help facilitate success. It is more than just things "to do". By following the Passion Planner layout tools, it has helped me prioritize, remove some clutter and truly come up with the HOW to achieving my goals. I am also a fan of the downloadable inserts. Because.. um.. graph paper :-)

As I gear up for busy season, it is crucial to streamline and be productive & efficient. I have incorporated spending a few minutes with my planner to start my day and it truly has helped me regain some focus I had lost in the clutter of To Do Lists.  I am stoked to see how this continues and mind-map my way to achieving my goals.

And now, OMG - get this- the fine folks at Passion Planner are giving one Stitch & Hustle community member your very own 2016-2017 GameChanger Passion Planner. Um helloooooooo... get in on this. Enter below. Don't wanna wait to win one? You can buy one here

Disclosure: Passion Planner sent me this planner free of charge for the purpose of this review and provided the giveaway. Although this is sponsored content, opinions and review are completely my own.

Cozy Season, Simple Season

As Makers & small business owners, this is our time of year. This is the time we live for... these months leading up to the holidays and all that comes with it. But for us, this time of year brings a unique set of challenges in finding balance and enough hours in the day. I am always interested in how to improve in this area and squeeze as much quality into those hours as possible. I've invited one of my favorite makers, Nicole Knutsen of Naturally Nora Crochet, to share her tips for not just surviving the bustle of the season, but thriving through it! Take it away Nicole...

When I was a child, my grandmother would overwhelm us with loving gestures all autumn long. Family outings, special celebrations, and gifts upon gifts upon gifts. We would find ourselves buried in an avalanche of white tissue paper and golden tinsel every year.

I read a book when I was about eight or nine in which the little girl protagonist received a set of colored pencils in a wooden box as her Christmas gift from her grandmother. This little girl cherished her simple gift and rode home with it in her lap, cradling it like a treasure. That year, I wrote a letter to Santa asking for only one gift, making sure to specify that I did not want anything else. I wanted to feel what the little girl from my book felt-simple pleasure from a simple gift and the freedom to pour out gratitude for a humble holiday. Even as a young child, I felt deep in my soul a longing for that kind of joy.

That simplicity becomes more and more difficult to claim as we grow into adulthood, as we marry and integrate two families, as we commit ourselves to meaningful friendships, as we have our own children, as we start our own businesses. Simplicity and slow living doesn’t just happen, it takes commitment and work.

The demands and expectations of the coming season can overwhelm,  draining the comfort and joy out of all the things that bring us our happiest childhood memories, particularly when you are a self-employed-maker-of-cozy. Your boss can be SUCH a task master! I know mine can.

I am taking some steps this year to make this my family’s most intentional holiday season yet, even though it is also likely to be my busiest season as a maker yet. As I tiptoe carefully into fall, I will be focusing on five commitments to help achieve the humble, joyful season I so desire for my family. Care to join me?

Make a Plan

I recently created my own planner, customizing it to include all the areas of my life I am currently attempting to juggle. In addition to daily tasks, I have an area for my various business needs, including weekly goals for making, designing, writing, photography, and social media. By splitting these tasks up throughout my week and planning goals a few weeks in advance, I know how much work I can realistically bite off on any given day. This has literally saved me from insanity as the season has already begun to ramp up with market applications and collaborations.

In addition to my weekly planner. I keep a very strict daily schedule. I am strictly disciplined about work on my computer-writing, photo editing, and patterning must be done in the two hour window my husband and I plan for when he is home throughout the week, before the kids wake up, or after they’ve gone to bed. This is the only way I, personally, can be fully present with my children, which is top priority for me (this is what works for ME; no judgment here at all if you do it differently!) I allow myself time to crochet throughout the day, as the kids play at home or at a park, while they are at dance class or as we wait for an appointment, but my computer stays closed.

Take Time to Prepare

I am a designer. I want to be creating new designs and writing patterns all the time. I am a blogger. I love writing and sharing my heart and soul to encourage others. But, this time of year, I am specifically setting aside one day a week when I work exclusively on building stock for fall markets. For me, it is so easy to get distracted from building stock. I have about fifteen ideas roaming like free range chickens in my mind at any given time (I know you have NO IDEA how that feels!). Compartmentalizing my various business tasks keeps me moving on the parts I wouldn’t naturally do first.

Focus on People

So far, I have talked about organizing your many to-do’s. It is a constant danger for me to focus so much on my to-do list, that the people right next to me who get in the way of said to-do’s are dealt with swiftly and harshly. This isn’t how I want to live, and it isn’t the kind of mother or wife I want to be. I am working this handmade business life in an effort to spend MORE TIME with the people I love. I must have the self-awareness to realize when the opposite is happening, and the discipline to reverse the effects by refocusing on the folks I’ve been given to care for and the folks I am serving through my designs and handmade items.

Develop a Comfortable Pace

Small tasks done consistently over time add up to very big accomplishments! Treat yourself well by having patience with the pace that works for you. A super-productive day is great; a well balanced day is better. I never feel less satisfied than when I rush myself or my family and the simple pleasures of being together are lost on the highway of life. Take a backroad instead-as Phil Dunphy says, “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast!”

Claim Peace

Peace is lost when the expectations we feel from others or ourselves are not met. We feel restless, less-than, harried, and worried. But peace is not a state of being that simply alights upon you-you must be intentional about claiming it. For me, this means letting go of those expectations. I had a goal for September to publish “x” amount of patterns. It didn’t happen. There were days and evenings I could have worked on them and I choose not to. I took my kids to their grandparents or had a date night in with my husband instead. Things went undone. I made peace with myself and let go of the expectation that equates success with productivity. Last holiday season, I had Christmas cards all designed, even printed. They are still unsent, sitting in my desk drawer. I claimed the peace the season is truly about and let go of the expectation that equates an adorable photo sent out in December with familial bliss. Above all the commitments I am making this year, claiming peace by releasing expectations is by fay the most vital.

Plan, and prepare, yes. But I challenge you this year to keep you focus on people, move at a healthy pace, and feel deep in your soul a still kind of peace that will last beyond your busiest season as a maker.

Nicole is the amazing designer and artisan behind Naturally Nora Crochet. Get inspired & follow her on Instagram here.

Get Your Craft Fair On: Prep & Pack For Success!

Next up on the Get Your Craft Fair On Series is the perfect prep and pack. It can be overwhelming to think about all the things you don't want to forget. For me, that's a trap. Instead of focusing on what I need and planning, we find ourselves getting a bit frantic with "oh, and don't forget" items. That can lead to stress trying to remember and missing things you need. This is all easily avoidable with some solid prep and packing for your event. 

For me, I break it down into four categories. This helps me go through each aspect of the event so I really don't miss a thing. I start this process as I am building the display and that way as I think of things, if they are not on the checklist already, I just jot them down. By the time for packing rolls around, I am a lean prepped machine and packing is a breeze.

Here are the categories and how I break them down followed by a sample of the checklist I use.

BOOTH: Display

Now that you have the perfect display layout for your items, make a detailed list of what you will need to get set up. By keeping the Booth Display its own category, you can focus strictly on the mechanics of setting up your display. Do you need any tools like a hammer, screw-gun, pliers, etc.? Do you need string or push pins? Will you need a step ladder or trash can? Go through each stage of your booth set up and make yourself a list of items you will need. Pack them all so that you can set up your booth exactly as you envisioned but also be prepared for what may come up!

BOOTH: Selling

What will you need to sell your products? What about payment processing; have you tested your device and updated any apps? Did you set up for Sales Tax and know the rate? Do you have business cards and a place to put them? Will you be taking custom orders? If so, how will you keep them? Do you have an order form? What about color swatches for your customers to select from? Do you need your business license on hand, is it required by the event? This is the finishing touches stuff that means so much. It is imperative to maintain brand through the whole selling experience so think of what you need to do that.

PRODUCT:

Prepping inventory can be overwhelming. That feeling of the need to make ALL THE THINGS. Take a beat. Breathe. Go through your current inventory and decide what you need to add. Make yourself a small list and production timeline to get items ready. Set mini goals such as 10 scarves week 1, 5 hats Monday, etc. Based on what you can truly achieve, don't over pressure yourself, you can create a schedule of what to make.

I also like to make a full inventory list of what I am bringing. This helps me track sales and inventory throughout the event and keep things easy. In addition to product for the event, you may want to make a list of what will be put out first so that can be packed where it is easily accessible. And, while in theory we should have all of our products prepped and ready, I always find myself with last minute To-Do's. Maybe you need to add fringe to an item. Maybe add a hem. I also like to have Work-In-Progress projects on hand to work on during slow moments in the booth. It is a great conversation starter and can help pass the time if you have down time.

HOTEL (if applicable):

For me, I like to have my tea and oatmeal. It is easy, portable and I can make sure I eat something everyday because it is easy to forget. So I have a little kit I take.

I also have my personal essentials to take to the booth each day: Travel Tea Mug, Flat Outs for my poor feet, mascara, lip gloss and face cream. If I've got these I am set for the win.

You can use this checklist that helps me or just make yourself a list of what makes you happy and get prepped to pack for success.