Hey everyone! I posted on instagram today asking if anyone who is either a new or aspiring small business in our industry would like to ask me any questions. I've gone through and chosen some of my favorite questions that were submitted. I hope you find this helpful! I'm going to continue updating this post as new questions come in. If you'd like to submit a question for consideration, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line Q & A Submission.
1) How do you balance work and rest?
I love this question because this balance is essential to find when running a creative small business. You absolutely must recharge your creative battery to be able to keep making new, interesting, and innovative things.
These suggestions are going to be from the perspective of a dyer, but the general concepts can be applied to a multitude of different businesses.
1. You need a scheduled work day. Design your work like you would if you had a more conventional job. If you are working full time on your creative business, schedule yourself full time hours (ex: 8-5 with 1 hour for lunch and two 15-30 minute breaks throughout the day. Weekends off.) If you are working part time, schedule those hours in around your schedule and stick to them. If it helps you to be even more strict with it, give yourself a set number of vacation days and sick days as well and then take them. Part of the benefit of running your own business is the flexibility that it offers you, but too much flexibility can be counterproductive.
2. Instagram counts as work. Knitting/crocheting designs for your business counts as work. Making shop samples counts as work. Answering emails counts as work. Do these things during your work hours and stick to those boundaries.
3. Knitting is both my hobby and my job, so keeping those separate is extremely difficult. My tactic for handling this is to have "work knitting" and "pleasure knitting". All of my pleasure knitting is using someone else's yarn and someone else's pattern and that is what I focus on during my non-work time. You need to allow yourself to have projects with no deadline that can be riddled with mistakes and covered with pet hair and it doesn't matter because they are just for you.
2a) How do you find your target audience?
*Note: If this is an area you continually struggle with and are ready to look beyond free advice, there are a number of extremely talented individuals in our industry, such as Bettina (@bettinaknits), that offer consulting services.
Honestly, there's no easy answer for this one, but I think a lot of people ask this question without ever giving a lot of though to who your target audience actually is. Your behavior needs to mirror the type of people you want to attract.
Have a brainstorming session where you visualize the type of person you want to follow your page or buy your products and then ask yourself how you can appeal to them. For example: I dye mostly semi-solids in muted, earth tones. I decided that because of the colors I like to dye, my ideal customer was going to be a sweater knitter. I opted to dye sweater quantities in a smaller range of colors for updates rather than small quantities of lots of colors. The more you can narrow down who you're trying to market to, the easier it will be for you to reach your intended audience.
And finally, you need to believe that what you have to say or what you are selling is valuable (because of course it is!). You don't have to know everything to be knowledgeable and you don't have to be perfect to be proficient. Talk to us like you know what you're doing is cool (it is!) and what you have to say is important (it is x2!).
2b) How do you find your target audience without getting boxed in?
There's nothing wrong with changing gears in your business as you grow if you decide you want to take a different route. You may just need to alter your target audience slightly as you grow and cater your marketing accordingly. Where this becomes an issue is if you are making giant dramatic changes to your business every other month. If you start off as a knitwear designer and then decide a few weeks later that you want to be an indie dyer instead but then a few months after that you've decided you want to be a business coach, people are going to understandably get frustrated trying to keep up with all these dramatic shifts. If you do decide to make a major change, do so slowly and with intention so that you can bring your audience along with you. There's no need to box yourself in, but don't be unreliable and unpredictable to the point that people can't keep up.
3) If you could start all over again, what would you have done differently?
I'm not sure how relatable my answer to this question will be, but the major change I would make is to not rely on a brand new creative business for our sole income. Unlike most people in the industry (I assume), I started my business out of necessity after moving to an extremely rural area and being unable to find another job. The stress to make ends meet did help motivate me to get my business off the ground, but in the end, the constant financial stress was a major creativity killer and made it extremely difficult to stick to any kind of healthy schedule or keep work boundaries in place. Running a fledgling small business is difficult enough on its own without needing to worry about how you'll put food on the table, so if you are fortunate enough to have another revenue stream, hold onto that until you are really comfortable that your business can support you and don't forget to factor in healthcare and taxes when running those numbers.
If you don't rely on your business for money...honestly don't listen to any of the advice in this entire post and just do whatever makes you happy. Make your own version of success that doesn't revolve around money - especially if you don't need income from your business to live comfortably.
4) What are best practices for collaborating with designers (from a yarn dyer's perspective)?
This is such a great question and I have many thoughts about this. As a dyer, one of the most frustrating things about being asked to participate in any type of collaboration - either with a designer, yarn store, other dyer, etc. - was a lack of information and poor communication. A collaboration is essentially a business proposal and especially if we don't know each other, I need a reasonable amount of information to decide if I either have the time to or want to participate. I would have loved for designers to send me a "collaboration proposal" including information like:
Personal Introduction (if we don't know each other)
Timeline (soft, but firm. Most people are going to be willing to be flexible, but if you either can't decide on a release date or keep pushing it back for months, that can be frustrating.)
Colorways, Quantities, and Bases requested
Marketing Suggestions (Do you want me to have yarn dyed and ready for test knitters? Would you like to sponsor any of the test knitters? Are you hoping for a discount for test knitters? Would you like to run some kind of promotion when the pattern is released and what participation would you need from me in order to do so? Etc. etc. Basically the more information, the better.)
Especially if you are working with a one-person indie dyeing business, please keep in mind that dyeing the yarn for our collaboration takes time. Emailing me the day before your test knit opens up asking if I have anything to share with your test knitters is not enough time. Communicate these things as early as possible so that I have time to prepare and then if any schedule adjustments are required, I am not suddenly scrambling to adapt.