Craft Industry: Don’t Spread Yourself or Your Company too Thin

As a self-employed craft industry professional, you wear a lot of hats. It can be difficult to figure out which tasks you can contract out and which are essential to your creative vision, on top of which you may feel like you can’t afford to hire someone else to do such tasks. But doing everything yourself—especially tasks that are outside your area of expertise—could be costing you. After all, you have to consider the opportunity cost of how else you could be spending your time. Allocating your time and energy efficiently will make both your business and your life more successful, ultimately letting you spend more time doing the things that make your business unique. Let’s look at how to figure out your next move.

The Hot Indie Dyer

Your line of hand-dyed fingering weight yarns has taken off. You’ve moved beyond Etsy and have taken your yarn to some fiber festivals, where you’ve sold out your stock within the first day. The buzz on Ravelry is great, and you’re gaining Instagram followers by the hour.

It’s time to broaden your market by expanding your product line: lace, sport, DK, worsted, chunky, bulky, and super-bulky, because everyone loves a super-bulky hand-dyed yarn, right? Oh, and if you’re going to dye more weights of yarns, you might as well dye a wider range of fibers, too. Not everyone wants a nice 75% merino/25% nylon washable blend. You need 100% wool for the natural fiber purists—merino is good, but a different, less-common specific breed might be even better. And what about some sort of luxury blend for the yarn snobs: merino/cashmere/nylon or merino/cashmere/silk? What about mohair? That introduces questions of other yarn textures, too. Should you do a loopy or boucle yarn? Should you only have plied bases, or should you introduce some singles? Knitters really like those for lace work. And what about your colorways? You don’t want to stick with only what you have been doing. Is it time to offer semi-annual seasonal palettes? Should you create a theme for your brand and develop colorways to fit the theme?

Hand dying is a lot of work – and so is marketing your efforts! [Image by Shestock | Getty Images]

Take a deep breath. You have built your reputation and your business on a product with 2 features: your dyeing/color sense, which is unique to you, and the fingering-weight machine-washable yarn base on which you express your color sense, which is available to everyone from the smallest indie dyers to the largest multi-national yarn manufacturers. So it’s actually your color sense that makes your products unique. That should point to the direction you should take as you contemplate your future growth.

Putting your hit colorways on new weights/fibers/bases will help you reach the customers who aren’t knitting socks or shawls, but make your expansion gradual. Do some research. Look at the average price per yard of yarns similar to what you’re considering adding to your lineup and calculate if you can produce your yarn on the new base with a healthy profit margin. If your main yarn is the recommended yarn for a particular pattern, look at the projects that used your yarn on Ravelry, then look at the other projects of the Ravelers who used your yarn. Do you see a particular weight or fiber appearing often? That can suggest what to add next – something you already know your existing customers like. Add one weight or texture or fiber (not all three) per season and monitor sales; be willing to drop a line that isn’t selling. Within a couple of years, you’ll have a full product line, which will give you the space and time to develop new colorways twice a year.

Doing everything at once is a great way to burn yourself out and begin to hate the work that was once your heart’s delight. Controlling your expansion over time allows you to perfect your process, tinker with it to account for the ways in which different yarn bases react, and document your results so that they can be duplicated by the employees you will need to bring on to handle the workload for your growing company. Also consider if there are other tasks that can be done by someone else. Could you bring in help for skeining and labeling? A bookkeeper or virtual assistant? If you feel you can’t afford to bring in help, you may have expanded too quickly. By expanding gradually, you can make sure the demand for your products is there so that you have the revenue you need to pay for the help you will need to keep growing.

The Self-Published Designer

You’re a knitwear designer and your latest pattern release rocketed up the Ravelry Hot Right Now list. You’ve got designs forthcoming in 3 major publications, you’ve been interviewed on 2 different knitting podcasts, and you’re working on an e-book release of a pattern collection.

You’ve got to find models for the photos for the e-book. Oh, and a location, preferably one where you can get a variety of different looks to complement the range of pieces in your collection. Your iPhone is great, but shouldn’t you really have a professional photographer for this collection? And who is going to design your e-book and lay it out? Who is going to write the pattern descriptions that compel knitters to buy and knit your designs? How are you going to promote your e-book release? And on what social media channels? What is an Instagram story, anyway? What about cross-promoting with the dyer(s) whose yarns you recommend for your patterns? How are you going to coordinate that with them?

Don’t let your focus be pulled from the effort that it takes to make your brand special. [Photo Credit Shannon Fagan | Getty Images]

If you’re running a craft-based small business on your own, success comes with its own pitfalls. When you’ve connected with a customer base that clearly loves your products and wants more of them, it’s easy to decide that your next best step is to give them even more of what they want. But meeting that demand can not only wear you out, it can eat up your resources, too. You need to consider your next steps wisely as you grow your company and your product line.

So where should you take your design business? Obviously, you have a great understanding of fashion and the techniques of knitting that allow you to design a garment that is both flattering to wear and fun to knit. You also have the technical skills to write a knitting pattern that has reproducible results for a range of sizes and knitters. But let’s face it, you might not have experience in marketing, copywriting, graphic design, or photography. Those are all professional skills that are not necessarily part of the designer’s toolkit but are essential to selling patterns, which is how you are making your living. You may be able to barter with friends who do have those skills to cooperatively put together a compelling e-book pattern collection that will sell like hotcakes.

But maybe you don’t want to have to ask (nag) friends to follow through on work they have volunteered to do for free. Or maybe the layout your graphic designer pal came up with isn’t really what you had in mind for the collection, and the photographer just didn’t get the money shot that captured the unique construction of the cardigan that will make knitters want to cast on right away.

Control the Controllables

It can be hard to express dissatisfaction with work someone did as a favor to you. That’s where contracting out these parts of production makes sense. Paying professionals for their skills to present your work in its best light is a win for everyone. You get to concentrate on what you do best–designing knitted garments and writing the pattern instructions so that others can make them—and leave the words, images, presentation, and marketing of your beautifully designed and written pattern to others who may do a better job than you.

And don’t stop at self-publishing. Yarn companies and craft publications are always looking for designers whose garments can promote their sales. Think of them as a showcase for your talent. Consider your own aesthetic and think of the magazines or company leaflets that would be a good fit. Follow their submission guidelines and bring your designs to a new audience of potential crafters. The production departments of these larger companies have the resources to present your designs in the best light. They may also promote your designs on a platform that wouldn’t be practical to you as an independent designer, like taking it to knitting shows around the country, sending it to trunk shows, and featuring your garment in their print advertising. Being featured as a designer in a magazine or yarn company collection will boost your back catalogue of designs as well, as yarn crafters favorite, queue, and cast on your work on Ravelry.

Keep at it! Your talent in craft is what makes your products shine. [Photo by Richard Drury | Getty Images]

If you need some help figuring out the right publications and how to approach them, we can help. Stitchcraft Marketing’s Pattern Support Program works with designers and yarn companies to facilitate pattern development in the best interests of both parties. We are always looking for new designers to work with our clients. Both the indie dyer and the pattern designer have unique visions that have struck a chord with segments of the yarn world that want their products. Their businesses are based on those visions, and that’s the thing on which they should be spending their time and energy.

At Stitchcraft Marketing, we can take on the pieces of growing a creative craft business that aren’t your strong suit. Whether it’s photography and design, brand identity, a social media campaign, or a partnership with another creative entrepreneur, let us use our skills to help you grow your vision.

Contact for more information about the services we offer to creative business owners.

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