Recently, I’ve become very interested in how creatives can add multiple income streams and expand their reach!
I interviewed fellow maker and New England based small business owner, Ana Campos of Toil & Trouble, about how she brought a line of hand dyed yarns into her existing line of finished hand knits. She has seen many positive results and I think we can all learn from her experience!
Hi Ana! Tell us a little bit about yourself and your business.
Hi Danielle, thanks for having me! I am the owner and maker behind Toil & Trouble, and I create original knitwear and hand-dyed fiber inspired by my love of books, mythology, and geekery.
Your product offering has evolved to finished knits, patterns and also hand dyed yarns. Tell us a little bit about the timeline of when these products were added.
I started out with just knitwear. The truth is that I didn’t start out to create a business, it started out as a hobby while I was in graduate school. At that point, I didn’t even know there were people out there making a living from creative businesses! But the more involved I got in the indie craft movement, the more I understood the amazing opportunities people can create for themselves.
I realized I wanted to have a “proper” business. I sat down and wrote a business plan and did a lot of math. This is when I understood I needed to diversify my income streams if I wanted my business to be a viable source of income. I had already gotten requests for knitting patterns for some of my pieces, so I started selling patterns.
What inspired you to begin dyeing yarn and adding it as a product to your customers?
After I started selling patterns, I realized that the market of knitters was a fantastic market to tap into – as a knitter, I knew how to appeal to people like me. Starting to sell patterns was a great next step, but creating my own line of hand-dyed yarn was a huge step. I admit I didn’t even know about indie yarn dyers when I first started my business! When I discovered them, I knew it was something I had to try.
I did oil and acrylic painting for many years. I love playing with color, and I (obviously) love fiber. Dyeing yarn became a way to play with two of my biggest loves: I get to play with color, use yarn as my canvas, and end up with something that can be turned into knitting.
How has adding the hand dyed yarns enhanced your business? Have you found it opened your business up to more opportunities? If so, to what extent?
My line of yarns is now the biggest part of my business. It has enabled my business to grow in ways I never imagined. I have been contacted by yarn shop owners all over the country, and this year, I got a request from a shop owner in Japan! My yarn is now sold at Yarnaholic Forever a Japanese shop specializing in hand-dyed fibers. I am so excited!
What have you learned about managing multiple income streams?
Multiple income streams are key – it means your business has many places to draw from, so when one slows down, you have backups. It can be tricky though, because it’s easy to get caught up in one stream and neglect the others.
It’s a constant game of balancing and re-evaluating priorities. I try to set goals each week and each month, but I have to keep myself flexible so I can embrace unexpected opportunities.
I imagine you have two distinct audiences now – people who want to buy finished knits and people who want to knit their own projects. How do you promote these in tandem? Have you encountered any challenges?
Yes, two completely different audiences! I didn’t quite realize what I was getting myself into when I added more products to my business – I sort of figured, knitwear and yarn, it makes sense.
But the people who buy finished knits are not the people who buy yarn, and vice versa. This became very clear when I was writing my newsletters and trying to speak to both audiences at once. After a couple of months I realized it was impossible, and made two separate mailing lists.
The same thing happens when I go to events. There are a few events I bring both knitwear and yarn to, but for most events I do, I am selling either knitwear or yarn, not both.