Business Development – OMG Yarn (balls)

Business Development

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting or Growing Your Fiber Arts Business

June 17, 2017




The OMG Yarn (Balls) blog and Etsy shop may seem like an overnight success. In fact, it’s been a LONG time coming.

I opened an Etsy shop back in April 2011 after becoming a stay at home mom to my oldest, Peanut, who was about 18 months old at the time. He was an easy baby who’d started sleeping through the night at 6 weeks old, so I was feeling a little bored. I started knitting again. All the time.

By the following year, I’d opened a little yarn shop to keep me occupied. Peanut tagged along and took on the role of shop helper and the self-designated door opener for customers.

The success of my little yarn shop was not short lived, but I closed my doors to evolve the business beyond the storefront and do the things I loved.

Even with a Master’s in Business Administration and half a decade of management experience in the health care industry, I still made some mistakes and/or noticed other businesses make certain slip ups when it came to the billion dollar + fiber arts industry.

I warn you though. You can do EVERYTHING “right” in business and still not have the kind of success you want. Some of us will never be WEBS Yarn Store or Debbie Bliss, BUT we can have the kind of success that will feed our families or at least give us a little extra money to spend on more yarn. (That’s why we’re in this business, right? We love yarn.)

Let’s chat a little about some of those mistakes and what you can do to avoid them, shall we?

  1. Diving in head first without a plan or a safety net. 

    They tell you that entrepreneurs dive in and build the parachute on the way down. In a sense, we do, but really, there’s so much more involved.We stand on the edge of the cliff and decide whether or not to jump, whether or not the build the parachute, what color that parachute should be, and whether or not we might be able to aim for the bushes or not. What does that really mean?

    Start with a business plan. It doesn’t have to be a 50 page dissertation on why yarn and wool is awesome and that you think you can make money off of it, but it does have to lay out the basics – the Who? What? When? Where? Why? And How?

    I’m not going to go into how to write a business plan here, but things to keep in mind: Who is your tribe (target audience)? What services and products you plan to offer? What sets you above the rest (find other businesses that you love and write down what you could do better than they can or what you could stand to improve about yourself to be successful)? Where you will operate (a physical location, online, or both)? Why you are doing this (and no, it’s not just about making money)? What are you goals (mission and vision in the business vernacular)? How will you achieve your goals (include milestones and numbers – determine what success looks like to you)?




  2. Copying someone else’s business plan or strategy and not finding your own “OMG Factor”. 

    I often joke about making a project “OMG worthy”. Well, your fiber arts and your business should have that “OMG Factor”: something that’s unique and sets you above and beyond all the rest.Seriously. Don’t copy other people’s businesses. I’m not going to offer you a course on business ethics and it doesn’t matter what other people do. You need to do you, not be like someone else (and that’s a sub-point here too: don’t focus on what other people are doing). This isn’t high school.

    I once panicked because a local yarn shop opened up nearby and you could tell that the owner had essentially looked at my Facebook page and website and copied a lot (almost verbatim).The mistake there: businesses are more than just the sum of their parts. Fiber artists each have their own magic that they bring to their business. That means, you can copy EVERYTHING about a successful business and call it your own – you might even make some money from that strategy – but you will never have exactly what that owner and fiber artist offers to his or her customers.

    There’s also karma…eventually it’ll bite you in the ass.

  3. Not paying attention to overhead costs. 

    This kinda goes along with a well-written and executed business plan, however, overhead (operating) costs will make or break any small business.There are fixed costs – costs that won’t vary much or at all each month like rent, utilities, wages for employees (if you have them), etc – and there are variable costs – things like merchant fees that go up or down based on sales volume, etc.Offsetting those costs is what you need to do to be profitable. The more costs you have, the more sales you need to make in order to be successful.The best strategy is to keep your fixed costs low.

    For example, I took advantage of the fact that the real estate market in the area had not recovered yet from the market crash of 2008. I found a space where the landlord was desperate to find an occupant and ended up with 1,000 square feet of retail space and 1,000 square feet of storage for about $650 a month. There were no triple net fees like strip malls or other commercial spaces have.

    Because of how low the costs for my retail space and maintaining said space were, I could get away with just a few sales a day in order to break even! Any months where I got more than that offset the summer months when the shop was dead.

    I also did not take out any loans whatsoever. Not a Kiva loan, not a small business loan, nothing. Could you imagine getting a $100k loan and then not being able to pay it all off? I couldn’t take out any loans anyway, so paying cash for everything, learning to budget and managing cash flow were very valuable lessons I learned “on the job”. And it translated to my personal life well too. I don’t own any credit cards, I spend below my means, and I still have all the fiber toys I want!

  4. Offering only one or too few products to survive. 

    You think you can get away with just selling your yarn? Nope. You need to be creative with how you diversify your creative business.Sell your yarn. Work with a designer and offer patterns (or design your own). Find some unique tools or signature items that show off who you are as a fiber artist and stock them. Sell in multiple venues (online, retail space, craft fairs, trade shows, etc). Collaborate with other fiber artists or makers.

    The sky is the limit.

  5. Expecting it to be easy, find the magic formula, or be an overnight success. 

    As much as business coaches want you to buy into how you can be a success overnight, it’s always the exception, not the rule. Yea, there are people that are successful almost overnight, but you cannot compare what you see on the surface to what you have to do. You need to pay your dues (for the most part).

    The first thing a yarn shop owner told me when I was doing my market research was, “You know it’s a lot of work, right? You can’t just put in 40 hours and think you’re done.”She was right. I’m used to working a lot. I completed my MBA full time while working full time. By the time I was 24 years old, I had a Master’s Degree, an awesomely difficult job, and did nothing but work and sleep.

    I now have three kids and work from home. I ALWAYS have to be on the go (I’m my father’s daughter that way).Expect 60- to 80-hour work weeks. The front door of your shop may be locked and the sign may say “Closed” but you’re not done. There’s paperwork, bookkeeping, “running the numbers”, keeping track of sales, and so much more.It’s the stuff most people hate, but that I love doing and do it quickly and well.

    There are multiple things you will have to learn by doing and some things you can take classes for. Accounting/bookkeeping, basic business operations, and marketing skills are just some of the things you will absolutely need, even if you hire someone to help you.

    If you plan on blogging or having a kickass website, expect to have to learn some coding or server maintenance skills, depending on how you plan on running your site.




  6. Not keeping your business organized. 

    I prefer a little chaos, but I also know that there are certain things I need to find on a moment’s notice.Keeping organized is a must, so find tools to help you do that.My landlord noticed once that my studio space was always chaotic, but if he needed a copy of a canceled rent check from the beginning of the year, it took me two seconds to find it.

  7. Lastly, not sticking to a marketing strategy. 

    This is a BIG one. BIG. Focus on social media or another marketing avenue to let people know about your business. This was my biggest mistake.

    In fact, most of your time is spent on marketing, not actually making your signature product. I thought that all you had to do was publish patterns or tell people about your products and they’d buy. That’s not always the case.

    You need to make them want to buy from you. Make them see how awesome you are. If you’re on Facebook, engage your audience in a group, through your page, and in other groups as well, but don’t be spammy. If it works for you, stick with it.

    On Instagram, find your audience and cater to them by telling your story. They’ll be more likely to buy if you can show them your passion for the fiber arts and have something unique to offer them.

    Don’t just show your yarn. Show people how you make it. Show them what inspired your creations. Show people what they can make with it. I mean, not everyone buys yarn for the sake of buying it, some people want to have a project to make with it.

Above all else, have fun and fill your life with the “OMG Factor”. If fiber arts is your passion, you should be able to show that. It’s endearing to see how much other people are obsessed with their craft, because after all, we all love yarn.


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Baa Baa Black Sheep: Being a Person of Color in the Fiber Arts Industry

May 2, 2017




*Hits publish and waits for the trolls* I got my first trolls a few weeks ago. Seriously, just don’t bother, I won’t engage. Didn’t I tell you I was a little bit sassy? PS. My title was meant to be a little bit provocative to get your attention.

Reviving my fiber arts business has made me personally reflect on my life experiences, not only as a business person, but also on my career as a yarn shop owner and yarn dyer. Most of my experiences are good and only very few laden with the self-doubt that usually is involved with being a person of color in any realm of life. What does that all mean? Well, let me share a little bit of that with you today.




First, A Brief Sociology Lesson 

Although I was born in Florida, I have spent most of my life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and its suburbs. Milwaukee competes with other major cities each year being one of the most segregated cities in the country.

That doesn’t necessarily mean what most people think it means; it means that there are pocket communities within the city itself, but it also means that there is a lot of racial disparities, class/caste divides, and a ton of stereotypes about ANYONE and EVERYONE flying around.

Race is actually a social construct, so the definition of being a person of color has changed throughout history. Being black usually meant being an “undesirable” or “unacceptable”. It didn’t always mean African American, but included a number of ethnicities that now would be classified as Caucasian or White. It is because of that fact – and my personal family genetics – that I do not personally identify as black, but as either “other” or “mixed race”.

So WHAT are you?!

Sassy answer: I’m a superhero.

Semi-sassy answer: I’m human.

Real answer: There isn’t a real answer. I don’t fit into a nice and neat category and that bugs A LOT of people. My father’s family is Jamaican and Costa Rican with history that can be traced back to a dude that got kicked out of Ireland (What the hell do you have to do to get kicked out of Ireland?! ). On my mother’s side there’s (*deep breath*) German, French, Swiss, Native American, Chinese, and somewhere, buried deep is a couple drops of African American.




As a result of that cocktail of nationalities, this All-American Navy brat has “frotastic” curly hair, freckles, and white chocolate, mocha-colored skin with olive undertones (thanks to my Costa Rican familia). All that European background means I have some blonde hair mixed in to my deep brown and ZERO booty to shake, but all the other bass clef, Marilyn Monroe-esque curves.

My kids are various shades of beige ranging from “glow in the dark” to caramel latte. Ola has auburn/red curly hair, Sharky always looks pale, and Peanut was born with Royal Blue eyes (which has changed to a gorgeous shade of hazel).

But This is 2017! How does being a POC effect your fiber arts business?!

Meh, most days, it doesn’t. Seriously, I’ve been #blessed beyond words. My regular customers are wonderful and I have no complaints. In fact, I would argue that the fiber arts industry is much more open-minded than the rest of the country, probably why fiber artists have been the face of a lot of different social change movements both recently (think pink hats and knit/crochet uteri) and in the past. Remember, the road to change is paved with yarn.

Most of the effects are self-inflicted, but I have had some experiences that shape how I personally choose to do business. How?

    1. I refuse to be a patron to businesses that show obvious bias against me personally or my business. Not naming names, but outside of the fiber arts industry, there are some hotels that I will not stay at because of terrible service as the result of my perceived race and also because of my gender. One chain even went so far as to not return my calls when I filed a complaint, but they would return my then husband’s calls within minutes of his voicemails.It was only months later, when I filed a public review of management’s treatment of me and had the credit card company reverse charges, did I receive a call, which went something like, “You can’t possibly think we discriminated against you. Come stay with us again, free of charge, and we’ll change your mind.” To which I responded, “You couldn’t pay me enough to make me want to stay there again. Money is not something that motivates me.” *click*
    2. I am actively inclusive of ALL people. Hey, I may not always be able to properly vocalize how much of a neutral person I am, but seriously, everyone who isn’t a danger to me or my family is welcome in my proverbial store and is welcome to a hug if we ever meet in person. I also started out with silent tutorials to be inclusive of my hearing impaired audience.
    3. I pledge to get in front of the camera more so that people of color can have a fiber arts hero that looks like them, even if I didn’t.  My new motto these days, “If you can’t find a hero that looks like you, be that hero.” I am working on building up my self-esteem to get in front of the camera and introduce myself to you personally. See the person behind the knitting and crocheting hands and the personality behind the crass and sass.

We don’t always get to see people of color in fiber arts, so it can lead to a lot of self-consciousness for those of us to don’t fit the mold of stereotypical knitter or crocheter.Since knit and crochet design also fits into the realm of fashion, I need to get out and represent the curvy-hipped, larger-bosomed ladies like myself. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and colors of the rainbow, and I want OMG Yarn to reflect that vision. I’m totally ok with you and want you to be ok with you too!




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It’s International Women’s Day: Support These “OMG Worthy” Local Female-Owned and/or -Operated Businesses

March 8, 2017

Image Credit: www.pixabay.com

It’s International Women’s Day today! I’m sharing links to female-owned or female-operated businesses of women I know and women they know. Some are local to OMG Yarn (Wisconsin area), a few are not. Feel free to check these awesome boss ladies’ businesses and show them some love today (and beyond).

  • Alice’s Garden – A woman after my own urban gardening heart.
  • Authentically Beautiful Custom Creations – I LOVE her designs.
  • Azure Mahara Photography – I am in awe of this woman’s artistic talent as a photographer. I follow her on Facebook just for the photos and the moments she captures on film.
  • Birdman’s Pheasant Fare – Family-owned business that operates here in Wisconsin. A lady in a local mom’s group is part of the operations team. It looks like all-natural products too! Yes, please!
  • The Body & Soul Healing Arts Center – Creative arts for the mind, body, and soul? Count me in to visit, like yesterday.
  • The Creative Social – They bring the creative spirit to you! What’s not to love?
  • Frontiere Farm House – Long-time online fiber artist friend’s new little farm in Michigan. She’s living my dream of running a cute little farm!
  • Irie Zulu – On the must try list if you’re in the Wauwatosa, WI, neck of the woods. African-Jamaican fusion? Um, shut up and take my money. All of it. Feed me forever.
  • little om BIG OM – Yoga for the whole family in Madison, WI. Run by a lady I’ve known since high school. Wishing I lived closer so that I could bring my kiddos there!
  • LulaRoe Amber and Mike Gallun – Amber and her husband are totally killing it with their LulaRoe business in the Milwaukee Area and in-home boutique.
  • Mercantile 519 – Fiber artist Nicole Geotz’s online persona. So many little knit projects as inspiration, so little time.
  • Milwaukee Blacksmith – If you haven’t met Shannon and Kent Knapp and their talented brood, you should. Their passion for passing on this near-extinct art form is beyond inspirational. Shannon has been a role model of mine for years! Zoey is an amazing artist as well. The episode of their show where she sketched out the dinosaur bones and helped make it happen…BRAVA!

  • Miss Social – A local lady whose expertise and passion is for helping other local small businesses succeed in their social media marketing.
  • Sparrow Collective – An independent artisan boutique here. These businesses support crafters and their passions!
  • Sweet T Knits – A new friend of mine who dyes yarn. She’s a craftivist and one cool lady!
  • Swoon – In need of a clothing boutique with great atmosphere? This is your place.
  • The Tool Shed – An Erotic Boutique with classes and more.
  • UberDork Designs – We *heart* UberDork in this house for so many reasons. One bad a$$ creative troublemaker raising two little female forces of nature. Her ornaments are pretty stinkin’ awesome too!
  • Wasabi Sake Lounge – This one is on my “to visit soon” list.
  • The Waxwing – I love this store on #teamdennis’ delivery route and owner Steph Davies is pretty great if you ask me (and the rest of Milwaukee).

Image Credit: Plusquotes.com (Found on Pinterest)

This list is a work in progress. I have a list of businesses I am adding within the next 24 hours or so.

Contact me if you’re local or online and would like to be considered to be added.

 

 

Work from Home Mom Tips: Time Management

February 16, 2017

As irony would have it, the time I had scheduled to sit down and write this post kinda fell by the wayside due to a fussy baby girl who needed her mommy. Family ALWAYS comes first, so this post is slightly delayed. Baby girl got her nap, and mama got the best snuggles. You can’t get these early years back…

There’s a hashtag floating around Instagram using the term “mompreneur”. I suppose you could say that I have been a dedicated mompreneur for a good five years now, and it has not always been easy. A lot of people ask me how I do it, and I even blogged about being a mom and business owner back in 2012. Back then, it was just Peanut and I.  Sharky and baby Ola have been added to the mix, so how we do things has changed a lot.

With the support of my partner, #TeamDennis, and the encouragement of my mother, I’ve been back at it doing the mompreneur thing. I’ve likened it to spinning plates that are on fire in a lion’s den while those lions are juggling chainsaws, but that could possibly be a slight exaggeration.




Being a work from home mommy is not for the faint of heart and it’s not for every family. Every family has different needs. It’s important for me to have something to do while my kiddos are in school or enjoy free play time around the house, because they all are pretty independent.

I thought that my personal experience may not be like everyone else’s, so I consulted with a few of my mompreneur friends for input as well. Here’s some tips and tricks on how you can manage your time and work flow with your babies in tow:

  1. Be productive during nap time. Just about every mom that responded to me mentioned that they try to get the most work done during nap time. Every so often, the stars align and I can get Sharky and Ola to nap at the same time and I can focus on items that require my undivided attention. If your babies can sleep through conversations, get your important phone calls out of the way. You’ll have little to no interruptions from your toddler who might want juice, food, potty time, or just needs mom’s attention. If you have a business where you utilize shipping, make sure shipment pick ups or drop offs are scheduled around naps. There’s nothing worse than a kiddo who has not gotten their full nap AND there’s some valuable time lost if your deliveries wake up the kiddos.

    Sharky is proudly proclaiming that he’s helping mommy carry the mail.

  2. Plan, plan, plan. Planning and to-do lists help us maximize efficiency as well. How do you know how to prioritize if you don’t even know what needs to be done and when? When I worked in account management, I spent the first hour or so of my day sipping coffee and building my to-do list in order of priority. Projects with upcoming deadlines came first; projects that were on hold because of data issues came last. Emailing clients came somewhere in the middle, depending on the urgency. I’ve also had it where there was a National Needle Arts Association show and I only had one day to dedicate to the out of town show. I planned the heck out of that trip and went through the entire show in a blaze of glory, seeing all that I needed to and even managed to have time to lose my rental car keys for a while. Yup, I flew to Columbus, rented a car, saw the sights, got lunch, and flew home in an 8-hour day. It was glorious.
  3. Automate as much as you can. With social media being a major part of marketing/advertising for online businesses, you can utilize tools like Hootsuite to plan your social media posts around peak usage times for your followers. My followers tend to respond more to Instagram posts around 6pm Central Time, which unfortunately, is dinnertime for our family. I believe in having all of us eating dinner at the same time, so this tool is especially important. Tracy B., owner of Nails by Tracy on Milwaukee’s East Side, likes to use Google Calendars for reminders on upcoming events and client appointments. This eliminates the need to carry around a planner and allows access to her schedule from any mobile device. I prefer my iPhone calendar, but have linked it to Google Calendars and Facebook Events as well (that way I don’t forget birthdays for family and friends either).
  4. Let kiddos help with some basic tasks. I’ve found that it’s a good life lesson for older children to help with some basic housekeeping or assisting with specific things. It helps them take ownership and see how well hard work pays off. Amanda C., a Perfectly Posh consultant and mom of three, plans everything from her Facebook posts to in-home parties around her husband’s schedule. If dad cannot bearound to watch one or more of the kids, she baby wears or has her oldest daughter assist with showing off products. I’ve had Peanut show customers his favorite yarns around the yarn shop or sweep the front walkway when he offers. Sharky enjoys helping carry packages to the car or handing them over to our letter carrier if we can’t make it to the Post Office.
  5. Go mobile – make the world your office. It’s the age of the iPhone (or Android, etc.), so take advantage of the powerful mobile devices you have available. Sure, it’s easy for me, because of the industry I am in. I can knit or crochet anywhere, I have a portable spinning wheel, and do not always have to dye yarn. When it’s nice outside and I need to take the kiddos to the park so that they can run off some energy, I bring my most portable project along with. If I got emails or calls to the Google Voice number that were for my yarn shop, I could literally operate my business anywhere. Somewhere there’s even a picture of me knitting by the side of the freeway when our transport van broke down on vacation (kiddos weren’t with us, so I worked on knitting a shop sample to pass the time while we waited for help).

    Yarn, coffee, and soda: Just about everything a fiber artist mompreneur needs to take the show on the road.

  6. Keep the kiddos entertained with things that interest them. Katurah M. always kept her boys entertained with their favorite toys when they were younger. Peanut always had an iPad to work on his home-school work or to catch up on the latest episodes of his favorite cartoons on Netflix. It was definitely a good way to keep him busy during knit and crochet lessons.
  7. When all else fails, get baby sitter, grandparent, or someone else close to you to help with kiddos (if you can). I always enlist my mom for wrangling the kiddos when I have trade shows or big meetings. It is poor business decorum to bring children or babies to some of these events (although, I have attended a few trade shows where it was acceptable to be a baby-wearing, breastfeeding mom – those shows know how to cater to us hardworking ladies).

I hope some of these tips and tricks gave you perspective on how to get more done as a mom who works with her kids around. Feel free to share some of your mompreneur hacks in the comments below!

Additional momprenuer tip: Baby wear or tandem baby wear if you have multiples. You’ll be happy you did. It maximizes my efficiency and lets me run around doing housework whilst multitasking business items too.

Special thanks to: Amanda C., Katurah M., and Tracy B. and all the other hardworking moms that contributed to the making of this post. Make sure to check out their businesses too, by clicking the links where they’re mentioned above!