it’s hard to believe but we’ve actually been business as an independent pattern designer for almost 16 years now and here’s the deal…. during that time we’ve seen what amounts to a HUGE turnover in pattern designers! With only a few notable exceptions, the folks who were designing patterns when we were newbies have either retired, gone out of business or changed their focus and in addition to that, during this time period we’ve watched a plethora of rising stars burst on the market only to fade off the scene as quickly as they appeared!
All of this begs the question… Does this qualify us as some sort of reluctant expert, a grizzled veteran or a stubborn survivor? I tend to think it might be some odd combination of all three and with that in mind I thought it might be a good time to share a little of what we’ve learned thru the years. So without further delay here’s 10 things I’ve learned (some times the HARD way), while starting and growing our online business!
1- READ! Read as much and as often as you can! And by reading I do not mean best-selling fiction (although I love that genre). When I was considering starting this business I read every business book I could find that I thought was even remotely applicable PLUS multiple books on marketing, social media and graphic design along with book about specific applications like HTML coding, Photoshop and Corel Draw, but without a doubt the book that was the most help was “Publish Your Patterns” by Nancy Restuccia. It’s literally the only book of its type on the market and even though it was out-of-print for a while, you can still snag you a copy here.
2- Hold on to your “day-job” for a while. I stayed with my job with the City of Winston-Salem for a little over a year until I was able to retire and devote my fulltime attention to the business, and I know how fortunate I was to have that safety net under me during the “lean times” when I was just starting out. Starting a home-based business is not for weinies! It’s hard work for very little reward in the beginning and it’s a lot less stressful if you have a dependable source of income (other than your business) for a period of time!
3- Learn a little HTML. When I started work on my first website there was no such thing as WordPress. If I wanted to have a website (which was essential), I basically had two choices; pay someone to design us a website or write it myself! And since I was doing everything on “the cheap” at that time, this was a no-brainer to me… I taught myself HTML and voila! Of course in the beginning my website really only consisted of 4 or 5 pages, but we actually used and built upon this original website until just a few years ago when my son-in-law convinced me that a WordPress site would be SO much easier to handle (and he was right). But you know what? I’ve never been sorry I learned a little basic HTML coding because it comes in handy more times than you’d think, even with a WordPress site!
4- Wear as many hats as possible in the beginning. It’s tempting of course to hire people to do the things we don’t like to do, right? But it’s really not a good idea unless you have a well-established business because let’s face it, every job you hire out will effect your bottomline and ultimately your cash flow, which can have a negative impact on the decisions you make. The only 2 things I have consistently hired out is tax prep (because I don’t want to go to jail) and the graphic design for our pattern covers, mainly because I pretty much stink at it and it’s “the face” of our product. After a couple of years it was no longer cost-effective to print our own instructions and pattern templates at home, so we now have that done by a local printer. My Dad helped me out some with pattern & hardware packing, (thanks Dad), but otherwise I was very resistant to hiring ANYthing else out, because by my way of thinking, no one else could possibly be as interested in doing it the right way (read that MY way), but me. 🙂 Then my sister-in-law (Lina) moved here from Ca. and I quickly found out that she was actually more detailed oriented than I am! Over the last 6 years she has totally taken over product packing and order fulfillment which is a huge time-saver for me! And yes, I know how lucky I am to have her! 🙂 Thank you Lina!
5- Develop a social media presence. When I started out (in 2004), social media was in its infancy and Blogs & magazine advertising was the best way to reach new customers, but my oh my, how things have changed since then. Nowadays, w/print advertising all but dead, you simply MUST have an active internet presence to get the word out about your products. And needless to say, this didn’t come naturally to me.
I didn’t understand it’s importance or how to “play the game”, but lucky for me, my daughter did and taught me well enough that we’ve grown our mailing list to over 25,000 as well as our other social media outlets like our FaceBook page and our special FaceBook Group. Now I need to figure out Instagram (which seems more complicated to me!) And just in case you didn’t know, developing a social media presence is WAY cheaper than print advertising but also WAY MORE time consuming, so you better plan for it!
6- Be flexible and open to learn & change along the way. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last 16 years it’s that nothing stays the same. In order to be successful in business today you need to be constantly thinking a couple of steps ahead to whatever the “next thing” is. You may need to start providing a new service, or add a new line of products, or revamp your website, but the main thing is to not allow yourself to coast! Try new things, test the waters, keep moving forward!
7- Know your customer. I’m sure you know what your best-selling product is, but do you know which product sold best in the first month just after its release? Because that could tell you something about your pre-rollout marketing strategy. Or do you know what percentage of your sales are online, to wholesale, or to distribution accounts? And are these percentages the same as they were 2 years ago? or 4 years ago? Because that could tell you something VERY important about where & how you should be marketing your products? It’s not only important but vital to your success to keep records about these type of things and to study them on a regular basis!
8- Know your metrics. Do you know WHO your target customer is? and by that I mean do you know how old she is? Or where she likes to hang out? Or what her income level or sewing experience is? Because this is where social media can really be invaluable because of the opportunity for direct communication with your customers! After all, the more you know about your target customer… the more you know about what she likes and dislikes… the more you can fine-tune your products to meet her specific needs!
9- Grow some thick skin. Because you’re gonna need it. There’s just no way your products, your website, or anything you do for that matter is going to please everybody…ALL the time. As a matter of fact, this shouldn’t even be your goal because the sad truth is, the anonymity of the Internet has made it all too easy and way too common for folks to behave badly. People will say things to you in an email that they would never, EVER say to you face-to-face. Lucky for you, there will be ever so many other kind and thoughtful customers, than crotchety ones. My advice to you… keep a few of the friendlier pieces of correspondence in a file and on days when one of those “barn-burners” show-up in your INbox, just hit the delete button and pull a letter out of your file and read it instead. (Your skin will get thicker with time.)
10- Enjoy the process & never stop learning! Starting a new venture can sometimes be stressful and scary, but it also can be fun, and exciting and here’s the best part…since you’ll be working for yourself there’s no need to be on anyone else’s timetable but your own, so take your time, work at your own pace and enjoy each and every step along the way!
And now…. it’s YOUR turn!
What questions or comments might you have for me? Remember, we love reading either or both, so please feel free them in the space provided below.
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