Case Study: Bringing in new revenue streams by diversifying your product line – Ana Campos of Toil & Trouble

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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.

 

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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.

What’s in the future for Toil and Trouble?

More fibery goodness! I am always working on new designs, playing with new colors, and looking for new yarn.
I’ll be releasing new designs throughout the year, and I have a couple of new yarn collections coming out too.
But I’ve always found that the most exciting stuff that happens is the stuff I don’t plan for at all, so I can’t wait to see where I end up!

Big thanks to Ana for sharing her insights and experiences!!

Have you added any new revenue sources to your business? Share your experiences in the comments!

Success Stories ~ Stacie of Gingiber

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Stacie of Gingiber with her hands full of pillows

When I started my own shop on Etsy, I looked up the best sellers in illustration and found Gingiber’s shop right near the top.  Her whimsical drawings were selling like hotcakes and I knew in that instant that I wanted to be just like Stacie in a few year’s time.  Stacie recently launched a new website for her work and I knew she’d be a great maker to interview.  You’re going to love the story of how she’s juggling her full-time work with two kids and an academic husband.  It just goes to show you that even the big guns struggle with balance.  Hehe.

Can you take us on the journey of your creative career path so far?

I have always wanted to be an artist and eventually studied design and fine arts at a university in my hometown. But after graduation, I sort of “put off” pursuing art and instead moved up in management at a national coffee chain. I spent several years working erratic hours, and along the way got married and had my first child. It was around the time that my daughter was born that I was searching for artwork for her nursery, but nothing really suited my taste. So instead I put that old art degree to use and created my own prints. My husband encouraged me to try and sell my artwork and soon thereafter opened up a shop on Etsy. Gingiber was born.

For the next several years, I worked on Gingiber at night after my daughter would go to bed, all the while dreaming that I could create art full-time. My husband was a grad student at this time, so leaving a steady job (with insurance) in order to work on Gingiber was really not an option. That was until I became an Etsy featured seller in the winter of 2011. I had given birth to my 2nd daughter 2 weeks before my feature went live and suddenly Gingiber exploded! In January of 2012 I gave my notice at my day-job and my dreams suddenly became a reality.

Now not only do I run Gingiber full-time, but I have a lovely group of ladies who work part-time for me in order to keep up with shipping, fulfilling wholesale orders, and generally keep me organized. Gingiber is now sold in 50+ stores worldwide, and my Etsy sales are steadily increasing. Creatively I feel so full! And I feel like these are the good times, so I am trying desperately to cherish them.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome so far in your business?

Finding time to create is so difficult. My husband just completed his PhD this past December, and with 2 little girls to take care of, I struggle with finding the balance of time. Also over the holidays, I had to handle a situation where a large Korean company stole my best selling orange fox pillow design and were replicating it in their factories for a fraction of the price that I can afford to sell them. However, through the power of social media, myself and the other artists who were also affected by this staged a large campaign to move for the removal of our products. Within 24 hours my pillow was removed from the site. I haven’t checked again to see if they are selling it again, but honestly that was such a stressful situation with a remarkably swift and positive outcome.

What has been the biggest ‘fist-pump’/successful moment for you so far?

Hmmm. That would probably be my Etsy Featured Seller feature in 2011. It gave me the courage and momentum to believe that I could illustrate full-time.

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Owl Tote Bag

Do you ever have doubts as to your future creative direction?

Yes, I have struggled with what direction to take Gingiber. Being the type of illustrator that I am (appealing to a wide audience) I have recently decided to stop focusing exclusively on nursery decor and am trying to become more of a lifestyle brand. I am the type of person who has 100 ideas an hour, so figuring out the right direction to take my business is hard. I am actually currently working with Grace Kang of Retail Recipes. She runs a retail consulting business and it has helped me tremendously to identify the strengths of my business & how to grow in the right direction.

Are there things you yearn to achieve, but haven’t yet found the time for?

Yes! I desperately want to turn my 52 Weeks of Dogs illustration project into a book, but haven’t had the time to shop around the idea to publishers. Also, I dream of someday working with big brands like Urban Outfitters, Land of Nod, etc. on an art licensing level. All of this will come in time.

Are there times when your creativity and inspiration seem to disappear? How do you handle that?

Absolutely! I find that I am so connected to my business that if I have a slow month of sales I become despondent & discouraged. But I have been trying to approach these slower times as opportunities to hold “flash sales” or work on a new project. Also whenever I am just in a creative funk, I try to change up my routine. That seems to help me get out of a creative block!

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Custom Pet Portrait – Greyhound

How do you balance your work with the rest of your life ~ what does a typical day in your life look like?

Since my husband works in academics, my schedule is tied to the school calendar. Every day I wake up around 6 AM. My husband and I make breakfast, get the kids dressed and out the door by 8:30. I’m fortunate the my oldest (Violet)  attends a free pre-school, so every day from 8:45-3:45 she goes to school. My youngest (Lucy) goes to a Kid’s Day Out 12 hours a week. So that 12 hours is when I get the lion’s share of work done.

I lease some office space near my home, so on those days that Lucy is at KDO I drive to Gingiber World Headquarters and fill orders. I have a part-time worker (Vanessa) comes into the office 2 days a week to ship Etsy items. I also have a part-time gal (Angela) who helps me sew pillows. And most recently I hired my sister (Angie) as my virtual assistant. I do anything from sew pillows, fold tea towels, print artwork, fill wholesale orders, etc. Anything that I can squeeze into my 4 hour block of time I get done.

When 2 o’clock rolls around, I lock-up shop & pick up Lucy from KDO. Soon thereafter we are back in the car picking up Violet from pre-school! Then I make after-school snacks, start dinner, and hang out with the family. By 7 PM the kids are in bed & then I start working again from home. I usually get my drawing done for new ideas in the evening hours, accompanied of course by a French Press and some Netflix. It is really a blur of a day.

What has been the best marketing move you’ve ever made for your own business?

Partnering with blogs has been a valuable way to gain new customers. But definitely I get the best customer interaction from social media, specifically Instagram. I post on IG daily with sneak peeks behind the business. I launch new products there, host Flash Sales, and gain a great sense of what Gingiber customers are interested in. I LOVE INSTAGRAM!

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Giant Handmade Sheep Pillow

What is one piece of advice you’d like to give fellow makers about running a successful creative business?

Love what you do & share it with others. This is something that was drilled into my head when I worked for Starbucks, but it completely rings true. I love what I make. It makes me happy. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else for a living, and for the 1st time I feel really and truly happy creatively. Also, plug into a creative community. Passion is contagious, so surround yourself with other makers who are also passionate about their work. Having a creative community is important when you are dealing with the day to day trials of running your own business. I have found an amazing group of makers on Twitter. Everyday we encourage each other, share our daily frustrations, and sharpen each other. It is wonderful!

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

In 5 years I want to be more in the “creative chair” of Gingiber. I have more ideas than I have time to draw! In 5 years I hope to have some great licensing contracts with some of my favorite brands. And I want to see Gingiber products in retailers across the globe. Oh, and I want to publish books. And why not throw a fabric line in there, too? I like to dream big and work backwards.

You can find more of Stacie’s work on her website: www.gingiber.com

C&T Q&A – What makes YOU subscribe – and stay subscribed – to a mailing list?

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Normally, it’s you asking and me answering.

But this week, I thought I’d turn the tables!

You may have noticed that we’ve been talking mailing lists this week on C&T, so I wanted to continue the discussion and ask you:

What makes you subscribe – and STAY subscribed – to a business mailing list?

Food for thought:

  • What sort of incentives encourage you to subscribe?

  • How many emails are too many… and how many are not enough?

  • What sort of content do you enjoy reading in email newsletters?

  • What sort of content turns you right off, and makes you hit the ‘unsubscribe’ button?

  • Think about which newsletters you ALWAYS open – and those you almost NEVER do – what is the difference between them?

By thinking about why YOU sign up and stay subscribed, it will help you work out the sort of content you should be sharing in your own email marketing. Would you read your own newsletters??

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Ask the Makers: Email Marketing Incentives

I’m so excited today because we’re debuting our new monthly group post.  Getting advice and tips from one of us Create & Thrive writers is wonderful but what if our business doesn’t look anything like yours?  With five of us giving our personal solutions and know-how on the same topic, you’re bound to find something that fits your business.

This first month, we’re talking all about email marketing incentives.  What do we offer our visitors to get them onto our mailing list?  How did we decide what to offer?  Is it effective?

Jess’s answer:

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I’ve experimented with a number of different incentives – and it’s different depending on the mailing list. For example – my Epheriell jewellery list has a number of incentives to sign up – you go in a monthly draw to win jewellery, get access to exclusive specials, and you get 10% off your next order after sign-up, too. I think a combo of things works well in this case. For the C&T list, however, the incentive is simple – a free ebook you can’t get any other way. And the incentive of getting a round-up of the blog sent to your email once a week, too – I think for those who are busy, but don’t want to miss the C&T posts, that’s an incentive in and of itself. I know I sign up to similar emails for that very reason!

 Danielle’s Answer:

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I have an opt in on my blog.  It is for a free download of a perpetual calendar that I designed using an image of one of my hoops. I think it would be more effective if I showed a picture of the download file… I am going to experiment with that later on! I decided to offer this as my opt in because I thought it was useful and different!

Katia’s Answer:

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The incentive for Plushka’s customers to subscribe to our newsletter is a monthly giveaway that is exclusive to subscribers. Every month I pick one of my creations that is seasonal or just something from a new range to give away and draw a winner in the last newsletter of the month (my newsletters are weekly). When the winner is announced, the subscriber needs to reply with the postal address and this way I can see that they do open and read my newsletters. If the person doesn’t claim the prize within a month, I re-draw a winner. So far I have had a good response and once I post a prize of the month on Facebook, I get new subscribers. I went with monthly giveaways because I wanted to motivate people to stay subscribed. The subscribers also get exclusive offers and discount codes so in combination with a giveaway, I make sure it is worthwhile for people to subscribe to my updates. However, the content is important too so I make sure I include some interesting links and some unique content along with Plushka’s updates.

Megan’s Answer:

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My opt-in sends out a free, illustrated book.  It’s a very short story about ‘The Luxurious Life of Rigel the Cat’ and includes 10 pages of text and cat drawings.  This introduces people to my artwork and humor.  Plus, it gets them primed for the weekly emails that I send out about new creations and more silly stories.  I originally contemplated giving out free shipping but I know that my customer is there for my creativity, not to get deals on my products.

Got a burning question you’d love all of us to answer?  Email me at megan@epherielldesigns.com.  Also, let me know below if you enjoyed this post.  Above all, Jess and I want to make sure you’re getting the most out of us.

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