State of the Biz: “How large is my margin of error?”

One topic in particular that never bores me is on the business side of blogging and handmade shop ownership. And when I think about it, this topic goes back to the beginning roots of my blog’s content. For this very reason I’m inspired to introduce a new series, State of the Biz: blog & handmade shop. Inside each post a reader question will be featured and answered. I’m really excited about this and how it will allow us to dive even deeper into a multitude of business topics. Do you have a topic suggestion for this series? Perfect. Either leave a comment below or send me an email.

Whenever I reflect on why I truly love blogging I come back to this thought: I thrive on community and the personal encouragement that swells from it. This is going to be a really fun series to write, no doubt…

state of the biz maggie whitley

Q: Could you speak briefly about the issue of imperfection in regards to sewing. I feel like all I can see in my products (I make custom iPad covers) are the little imperfections, and it holds me back from feeling secure enough to ask the price they are worth, because of MY hang ups that they are not “perfect” (store bought looking). Does this feeling ever go away, the longer you sew? Or is it feeling you just try to manage? — Jessica

A: It’s so easy as a maker to see our imperfections everywhere (we can be overly self-critical with our work, yes?), so my advice is to ask a few trusted sources for feedback. Start with your spouse/another close family member, then add a couple other people to the list: fellow handmade makers, close friends, mentors you trust. Your goal is to receive their feedback as a buyer. Would they buy your product “as is”? What would they like to see differently in your product that would encourage them to buy? That sort of thing. But, it is also important to spend some time making your product as perfect as it can be, within the handmade/”small imperfections are beautiful” mindset. Remember you’re exchanging your work for the buyers money — you’re running a business here!, so you should aim to produce high-quality work.

Your products prices should reflect your materials, labor, profit and overhead — but also included in your labor rate is your experience. The more experience you have the more you are able to charge for your time (or your seamstresses time, should you have hired help). You also need to decide the amount of flexibility you’ll allow for visual variances from piece to piece. Definitely make sure the product is 100% functional, but the beauty of handmade is there are tiny margins for variance. Note, I’m not saying the finished product should be negatively different from what you’re advertising it to be.

Also consider yourself as the customer: would you be 100% satisfied with the finished product even though it has an “error” or two?

With sewing, for example, you’ll want to pay close attention to ensure your zippers are sewn in straight, your stitch tension is even, and your materials aren’t flawed. Of course there are other things to be on the lookout for, these are just a few things that come to mind right away. I think ultimately you have to decide what you’re comfortable putting your name on and selling for profit, and then that will likely help you decipher what you’re not comfortable selling. Lastly, don’t be afraid to spend some extra time perfecting a technique so your business can grow and be it’s best. 

Have a “State of the Biz” post question you’d like me to answer? Leave a comment below or send me an email!

State of the Biz: “How do you decide what to blog about?”

One topic in particular that seems to never bore me is on the business side of blogging and handmade shop ownership. And when I think about it, this topic goes back to the beginning roots of my blog. For this very reason I’m inspired to introduce a new series, State of the Biz: blog & handmade shop. Inside each post a reader question will be featured and answered. I’m really excited about this and how it will allow us to dive even deeper into a multitude of business topics. Yeow!

Every time I reflect on why I truly love blogging I come back to this: I thrive on community and the personal encouragement that swells from it. This is going to be a really fun series to write, no doubt. Do you have a topic suggestion for this series? Perfect. Either leave a comment below or send me an email.

state of the biz maggie whitley

Q: I think I want to start a blog. Of course I love to read other’s blogs, and I enjoy writing and taking photos. My problem is I’m not sure what my blog should be about. How did you decide when you first started blogging? And does your blog cover the same content as it did originally? –Jamie

A: Ahhh, this is a fantastic question! And one I have two ways of thinking to consider when deciding what exactly to blog about.

The first is to think of your blog as your dream job. If you could blog about any favorite topic(s), what would you pick to write about?

Some questions to ask yourself… What topics encourage you to continue learning? What topics do you already have a lot of knowledge on? What topics are underdeveloped, but you feel should be more developed? What topics are easy for you to share because you are passionate about them? One of the beauties about blogging is you are totally in charge of your blog. No one else is in charge — you’re the boss lady! :) Here are a couple other questions to consider… What don’t you want to blog about (what is off-limit, for any reason)? What topics drain your energy?

The second way of thinking is to grab a piece of paper and work through a simple brainstorming exercise. One you have some paper and a pen, write down all possible/realistic topics that come to mind. Be sure to leave a few spaces between every topic as you list them out on paper. Once you have exhausted all possible topics for your blog, review what you’ve written down. Consider the questions I’ve typed above as you review your topic list. Your goal is to have a list of master topis with subtopics written beneath. The more realistic subtopics you can write down the better, because you know you can cover that topic for many, many posts. You can either rearrange your original list to create subtopics or you can add subtopics under the topics you originally wrote down, whatever makes the most sense.

Something else to consider is creating a series (short or long term) on a specific topic. Creating a series can help you decide on whether a topic should stick around or get booted.

Spend some time defining your blog’s purpose. Is it to teach others, to encourage, to provide updates on a personal project, etc.)? Whatever you decide for your purpose know your blog is firstly for you. Don’t start a blog for anyone but yourself. I consider my blog a lifestyle blog and cover the topics of inspiration, adventures, family and blog/handmade encouragement. Also, when I write my posts I write as though I’m talking to a friend, since that matches my blog’s purpose the best. Maybe it is better for your written voice to have a more professional voice, but be sure to know and maintain your voice at all times when writing. Defining your purpose and knowing your voice will help you maintain momentum as the months and years pass.

If you need additional encouragement on what to blog about, consider asking your family and closest of friends — those that know you the best and you trust their feedback. But keep in mind, they may suggest a topic that you really don’t want to blog about (like baking, for example) — even if you are amazing at it and enjoy it very much. Maybe baking is something best reserved as a personal stress reliever instead of a “dream job blog topic”. If any topic suggested is going to exhaust you, like I mentioned above, kindly accept their suggestion but know you don’t have to consider it once the conversation is over.

Jamie’s last question asks whether my blog content is the same today as it was when I originally started blogging (in 2008), and I’d say “yes”. Although I have developed certain master topics over the years, and others have ebbed and flowed in frequency. There are a few particular life events that have helped shape my post content: starting a handmade business, traveling to Tanzania, Africa, and having a baby (with a second baby on the way!), and it’s been interesting to watch things unfold. I think I was personally most surprised that having a baby would encourage me to slow down with my work, because blogging has always fueled me in great ways. But I think what I’ve learned is to be OK with the seasons of life and how my work fits into all of that. I’ve recently decided to slow down with my work and being an owner of two handmade shops, but ironically it’s fueled me in grander ways with my blog — like better blog posts, consistent and long-standing inspiration, and greater overall personal satisfaction. Sometimes the less you put a limit or expectation on something the more it can (naturally) bless you.

So that’s my response! Kinda a bit to digest, but ultimately know you’re the boss lady (you can make any changes you want), maintain your momentum by writing about topics that inspire you, and think of your blog as your dream job — enjoy it! :)

Have a “State of the Biz” post question for me? Leave a comment below or send me an email!

How to design a handmade shop: the story behind Caroline-made.

caroline_made_logoX

It took me two years to make this shop happen. Does that sound a little bit crazy to you? I’ll be honest: it sounds a big bit crazy to me. Part of me thinks that two years is way too long, what was I possibly doing all this time while waiting to launch Caroline-made?

Well for one, launching a handmade shop has it’s scary moments. I mean, more often than not I’m putting a big part of who I am as an individual into the products inside my shop. When I started Gussy Sews I was very much into exactly how those products looked. And ruffles? Ruffles everywhere, please.

But what I’ve learned over the years is that it’s the easiest to design an item to sell that I’ll use on a regular basis because it will serve me so much better. So Gussy ruffles made perfect sense. A few things have changed since then: we’ve moved twice (Minneapolis and Los Angeles), we traveled around the world to Africa, and we welcomed our firstborn into our arms.

How to design a handmade shop // Maggie Whitley Designs

With all of these exciting changes it’s only natural that what I look for in a bag or organizational pouch has changed, too. It’s not that I don’t like Gussy ruffles, it’s that the aesthetic/design of Caroline-made serves me better.

Do you own a handmade shop? How can your products serve you to be the best designer and seller of your wares?

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