PlanetJune Craft Blog

Latest news and updates from June

Archive for My Craft Business

Tracking Customer Queries in your Craft Business

It’s been three years since I started logging my customer support requests, or, more accurately, questions, comments and suggestions that ask for a response from PlanetJune.

I’ve recorded almost 2300 interactions, and now I have three full years of data, I can do a comparative analysis and see if the ‘improvements’ I’ve been making to PlanetJune have actually been making a difference to my workload!

(If you run your own business and don’t already track your customer interactions, you’ll definitely want to read on to see how tracking this info has helped me…)

The Numbers

The number of support requests I’ve received overall has dropped slightly each year (from 788 to 757 to 735) – that’s almost a 7% drop since I first started logging requests.

(But that doesn’t show the whole picture: during that time I’ve increased my sales significantly without any sign of a corresponding increase in the volume of customer support. If the same proportion of my customers had a question for me now, I’d expect to see well over 1000 queries per year by now, so a small drop actually represents a big win!)

I’ll give you some more details below, with the overall percentage first, followed by a breakdown by year, from three years ago to today: (Year 1, Year 2, Year 3), so you can see any trends over time.

Sources

69% (70%, 69%, 65%) of support requests come directly through PlanetJune (email, blog comment, shop message form).

The other 31% (30%, 31%, 35%) comes through Ravelry, Etsy, social media, YouTube, etc.

Type of Support Requests

17% (12%, 20%, 19%) are Etsy-related.

16% (20%, 16%, 14%) are for technical support.

14% (13%, 13%, 16%) are for general crochet/craft support or requests for help with another designer’s pattern. [I only log these requests when I respond to them, so this number is far smaller than the actual number of questions I receive.]

13% (13%, 14%, 12%) are for pattern support (pre- and post-sale).

10% (13%, 12%, 8%) are for account administration.

6% (7%, 5%, 5%) are suggestions for new content (patterns and tutorials).

6% (5%, 6%, 7%) are requests for items I don’t sell (finished items, patterns for art pieces, translations).

5% (3%, 5%, 6%) are navigation related (where to find a certain pattern/tutorial).

The remaining 13% covers a miscellany of different subjects, ranging from requests from the media and offers to write books, to notices of my patterns being copied or pirated.

Improving Systems

My goal when I started tracking these numbers was to see where I can make improvements to streamline my business by:

  • Reducing customer questions and building my FAQ so people don’t need to contact me for help
  • Setting up canned responses for common questions so I can minimise the time I spend answering the remaining questions

I’ve improved several systems during these three years, and I’m happy to see that those are having a clear effect: despite having more customers, I see fewer tech support and account admin questions each year, as I keep trying to make every step easier to understand.

There’s still room for improvement; for example, I’m seeing more people every year contact me to ask for the link to a specific pattern in my shop. I don’t know why this is, but perhaps there’s a way I could make it more obvious how a customer can find the answer without contacting me.

The Etsy Factor

The biggest barrier to my success in reducing queries is the customer support burden from Etsy, and I know exactly why that is: people on PlanetJune.com generally know where they are and what they’re buying, but many shoppers on Etsy see a pretty photo and hit ‘buy’ without reading the title or description, leading to a lot of misunderstanding about:

  1. What they’re buying (yep, it’s a downloadable PDF pattern, not a completed toy for $5 with free shipping!)
  2. How they’ll receive it (clearly stated in both the item description and in the ‘note from seller’ that’s sent with every order, but many Etsy shoppers don’t read any of that)

I see this as a part of my cost of using Etsy – not just in terms of the tangible cost of the Etsy fees, but the time cost of dealing with customer questions and misunderstandings. Despite this, Etsy remains a valuable funnel for new customers to find me (and then, hopefully, to buy directly from PlanetJune in future) so the fees and time are worthwhile expenses.

Even though my sales through Etsy make up only a small percentage of my income – and a much larger fraction of my customer support interactions – not having a presence on Etsy would be a mistake, as many potential customers only think to look for crochet patterns on Etsy and would never find me in the first place if I didn’t show up in the Etsy search results.

And, although the numbers are high, the misunderstandings are the same things over and over again: people not realising what they’ve bought or how/when they’ll receive it, so I’ve set up standard responses that make dealing with these questions very fast.

Verdict: Is Tracking Queries Worthwhile?

If you run a small and growing business, I’d definitely recommend tracking your customer support requests. It’ll give you a clear picture of support areas you may be able to improve, and the data to be able to provide the answers to questions on your website so your customers don’t need to contact you.

If you’re planning for the future of your business, being able to calculate whether you can expect to be overrun with customer support as your business grows, or whether this is an area you can continue to manage yourself, is critical. Might you need to hire a customer service manager at some point? Or will your systems be able to keep your admin workload in check?

For me, for the time being at least, the answer as shown from my analysis is encouraging. I’ve created a solid foundation for a long-term manageable business, but I’ll keep tracking requests so I can monitor my workload and keep looking for areas where I can tweak my systems to improve the PlanetJune experience for all my visitors.

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Trend Watch: Crocheted Plants

Ever since I designed my African Violet pattern in 2009, I’ve been steadily building my collection of crocheted plants in crocheted pots. I love how they look realistic, but not in a tacky plastic-faux-plant way – they’re obviously handcrafted.

potted plant crochet patterns by PlanetJune

Whenever I give a crocheted plant as a gift, it’s always really well received. And they’re so much more convenient than real plants:

  • They’re always in bloom
  • They don’t need sunlight
  • You don’t even need to remember to water them!

Now, word of my crochet pot plants has spread beyond the crochet world and my designs have started a trend in home decorating circles. In the past couple of months Homemaker (UK) and MiCasa (Spain) have included some of my crocheted plant designs in their home dec suggestions:

potted plant crochet patterns by PlanetJune, featured in MiCasa and Homemaker magazines

If you’ve ever admired my plant patterns but wondered how well they’d work for decorating your home or office, giving as a gift, or to sell online or at craft fairs, you no longer have to take my word for it!

The masses have spoken, and crocheted plants are officially on-trend and in demand – and that’s good news for everyone 🙂

10 cactus crochet patterns by PlanetJune (Cactus Collections 1 & 2, Heart Cactus Collection)

So, how about picking up a plant pattern or two and getting in on the trend?!

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Celebrating 10 Years of PlanetJune

10 years of PlanetJune

I can hardly believe it, but today marks the 10th anniversary of the day I self-published my first crochet pattern, Fuzzy Bear – and the day a new career path began to open up to me. After two years of running PlanetJune as a side-business, I quit my day job and struck out into the unknown, without knowing if it was even possible to support myself through crochet design alone.

Happily, 10 years, 2 books, and over 150 self-published patterns later, I’ve proven that it is possible to make a real living doing what I love, thanks to a measure of luck and a lot of hard work. And, best yet, I’m still excited by the idea of coming up with new designs and new techniques and sharing my love of crochet and nature with the world.

Maui and Fuzzy Bear on their birthday
It’s also my sweet Maui’s 13th birthday today! Here are the birthday boys one year ago today, on their 12th and 9th birthdays.

I asked my customers to join the celebration by sending me a photo of their favourite things they’ve made from a PlanetJune pattern, and most responses said it was too hard to pick just one (thank you!), but here’s a small selection from those who managed to make a choice…

From the PJ ravelry group (clockwise from top left):

10 years of PlanetJune - customer photos

  • jukatca: [Aardvark, Armadillo and Camel are] my all-time favorites. They all have really cute faces, great shaping, and no color changes!
  • Pyroteca: I think my favorite will always be the fuzzy patterns – they are just so cute and innovative as there was (and still is) nothing out there like them. Let alone the fact that the patterns are so well written and can let someone on their first or second try at amigurumi produce something that looks amazing.
  • petrOlly: I think my favourite pattern is the plumeria flower. I love the magic in this pattern – the last few stitches give you the perfect plumeria, and the pattern always works.
  • Fatals-Attraction: I will chose a favourite project, my Discworld, which I gave to my mother-in-law (it is now her favourite!)

And from Facebook and my newsletter subscribers (clockwise from left):

10 years of PlanetJune - customer photos

  • Peggy A:Your baby sea turtles on my blanket. The turtles have abalone buttons sewed to their undersides so you can change the placement and remove them for washing the blanket.
  • Anna B: My favourite patterns by far are the AmiCats.
  • Erica A: Very hard to pick a favourite, but frogs are my favourite animal, so frog it is. Just like the cats, I loved the clever shaping on this pattern.
  • Belinda Y: I love my low maintenance succulent garden! I collect real succulents and cacti too, so your patterns really caught my eye.

Thank you to everyone who sent me their photos – I’ve really enjoyed seeing them all over the past couple of weeks, and hearing which PlanetJune patterns mean the most to you! It was especially heartening to hear from those who learnt to crochet (through my books and tutorials) just so they could make one of my designs.


It’s a real privilege to have the opportunity, through PlanetJune, to add a little more joy to the world through my creations, to help you to crochet your own special pieces from my patterns, and to raise a little more awareness and appreciation of our precious natural world.

Thank you for being here with me! I hope PlanetJune has made a positive difference in your life, however small, and will continue to do so as I head into my second decade of crochet design. ❤

Comments (8)

new and improved PlanetJune Commissions

PlanetJune Commissions has been revamped to be easier, faster and more fun. The basic premise hasn’t changed – you can help to choose and crowdfund new PlanetJune crochet pattern designs by ‘voting’ with your commission pledge!

But I’ve reworked the mechanisms to make it more fun for you from now on, and so you won’t be stuck with pledges you made forever ago.

A Little Background…

It’s coming up for 5 years since I first launched my crowdfunded commissions system as a barometer of public opinion on which potential animal designs may be most popular. Every animal on the commissions list is one I feel confident I’d be able to design, and happy to do so if enough people show an interest. I don’t have time to design them all, and using the commissions system as a gauge to which may be popular is a useful method to decide between multiple designs I’d be equally happy to create.

After a few hurdles (I set the prices far too low, so too many designs were being pledged for me to keep up with!), I temporarily withdrew the commissions system while I completed all the fully-pledged designs and worked on upgrading the system to make it more sustainable.

PlanetJune Commissions - 17 crowdfunded crochet pattern designs so far

Thanks to my supporters, I’ve now completed 17 crowdsourced commissioned designs – and I’m ready to start on the 18th! Which animal will it be..?

How It Works

Commissions are now linked to your PlanetJune account. Once you’ve logged in, you’ll find the new commissions options in ‘My Account’, and from there you can make pledges, view your existing pledges, and upgrade, downgrade or delete your pledges.

Now you can pledge any full dollar amount (although there’s still a $6 minimum) so you can pledge $7, or $10, or $25 – or whatever you want!

PlanetJune Commissions - 5 step cycle

Your pledge indicates your intention to pay that amount towards the commission of the design in question, should that design become fully-funded. But, your pledge will only become locked-in at such time as the design is a) fully pledged and b) at the top of the queue.

This means you won’t be stuck with a pledge you made months or years ago – you can log into your PlanetJune account and change or delete any unlocked pledges at any time until the next commission is ready to begin (at which time all pledges towards the next fully-pledged design will be locked).

This gives you the freedom to pledge as much as you like towards as many designs as you like. At most, you’ll be committing to one of your pledges, as only the first fully-funded design will get locked and made. Even if there are other fully-funded commissions, no further pledges will be locked-in until I’ve completed the previous design, published the pattern, and announced the date of the next commissions slot – you can still delete those pledges if you change your mind.

So you’re only ever committed to your pledge for the current commission. Let’s say you want to pay $30 for any one of 3 designs (but not for all of them!), you can pledge $30 towards each of them in the hope that one will grab the next commission slot. Once that happens, you’re free to delete your remaining pledges if you want, so you won’t get a surprise $30 invoice several months (or even years) later.

In this way, we can have a ‘bidding war’ every time I have a commission slot available. I’ll announce the slot via the Commissions newsletter, you make your best pledge for all the designs you’d like to commission, and whichever hits the jackpot first will become my next commissioned pattern!

Then, after the bidding war is over, you’ll have at least a month to decide if you’re still happy to honour all your other pledges, as no other design will be locked-in until I’ve completed the current pattern and announced the date of the next commission slot. Edit or delete your pledges from your PlanetJune account as often as you want – it’s all automatic.

Design Options

To give you a better idea of what I plan to design with each option, I’ve added a representative photo of each of the animals, either from my own photos, or licenced through Creative Commons.

PlanetJune Commissions - some of the animals I could recreate in crochet...

The photos above are just a sample – you can see them all on the Design Options page on the new Commissions microsite.

Note: I had planned to add some new options to the commissions list at this relaunch time, but the list is plenty long enough already, so I’m keeping the options as-is for the time being. Once we’re well into the first cycle, I’ll get rid of some of the least popular choices and replace them with new requests. So please:

  • Pledge now (see below) for any poorly-pledged designs you don’t want to see removed from the list – even if it won’t get made now, your pledge will keep it in the running to be made in future
  • Leave a comment if you have any design requests – I may add them to the list very soon!

Stay Updated

I highly recommend you sign up for my Commissions News mailing list to be notified whenever new design options are added. I’ll also be emailing the list with a reminder a couple of weeks before I open each new commissions slot, so you’ll have an extra chance to check all your pledges and delete any you’re unhappy with – or add some new ones – before the next commission gets locked in.

Pledge Now for the February Timeslot!

Make your best pledges right now for the animals you’d most like me to design. At the time I write this, Goat is in the lead, with Raccoon and Capybara coming up fast and a whole host of others closing in – but that could all change in an instant… Make your best pledges now for your favourites, and maybe your design will be the one I start in the next month!

Ready to pledge? Login to your PlanetJune account – you’ll see the Commissions options (to make/edit your pledges) in ‘My Account’.

Or check out the design options and FAQ on the Commissions microsite.


I hope the new and improved PlanetJune Commissions will lead to lots more lovely animal designs to add to my portfolio – I’m looking forward to seeing which I’ll get to make first!

Comments

2016: year in review

It’s easy when you’re immersed in a business every day to jump straight into the next thing, keep tightly focused on the next task, and not really see how far you’ve come. This Year in Review post is the one time I actually stop and think about what I’ve accomplished over the past year…

In 2016, I released 14 new crochet patterns, adding a varied mix of animals, plants, accessories, donationware and seasonal designs to my catalogue:

2016 PlanetJune crochet patterns

I haven’t had a lot of time for non-work crafting, but I have knitted another 1.5 sweaters (although I’ve just realised I haven’t even photographed/blogged my last 2015 sweater yet – oops!) and made a few other things, including my polymer clay BB-8 🙂

2016 PlanetJune craft projects

Personal Report

From May-August, I spent 1-2 weeks of each month travelling (to the UK, Hawaii, a Kruger safari, and Canada), which was far too much, but I either take the opportunity to travel with Dave when he has observing trips and conferences, or we miss out on the chance of a short holiday at an exciting location for little more than the cost of my plane tickets.

But, especially as we decided (for safety reasons) to not announce when we weren’t going to be home, that put a lot of business stress on me. How can I stay active on my blog and social media when all I’m doing is visiting places I can’t mention or struggling to catch up and get the next pattern ready before the next trip?

It was exhausting, and it took its toll with another 2-month bronchitis episode, which forced a lapse in my knee rehab exercises, so now I have knee problems again… I know I did too much, and I’ve learnt my lesson.

But, although I’d like to travel less frequently in future, I don’t regret my choices: we had some spectacular travel adventures with memories I’ll always treasure, I got over the bronchitis, and I know I can get my knee back to its still-wobbly-but-not-painful best in time. And I have an amazing amount of new wildlife inspiration:

2016 PlanetJune wildlife pics
Clockwise from top left: I photographed a UK robin, Hawaiian turtle, Canadian chipmunk, and African elephant – all in one year!

Business Report

My most popular patterns in 2016 were my turtles, cacti/succulents, and AmiCats (all pictured below), followed by the new 2016 releases.

2016 bestselling PlanetJune crochet patterns

It’s always the case that a few bestselling patterns make up the majority of my sales, but the size and variety of my catalogue as a whole is equally important – looking at my sales statistics, I can see that I wouldn’t be able to make a good living from my patterns without having both a) a handful of very popular designs and b) many dozens of other choices.

For the past five years, I’ve kept an annual list of large project goals for PlanetJune, to complete as time permits. In 2016, I completed the last of these large behind-the-scenes projects to improve the running of my business:

  • Upgrading and relaunching my shop with new features
  • Splitting my FAQ into its own microsite with each answer on its own page
  • Adding closed captioning to all my YouTube video tutorials
  • Relaunching my newsletter with a new branded look and better anti-spam protection
  • Developing and coding an improved pattern commissions system (to be relaunched later this month – watch this space!)

What’s Next?

It’s exciting to have completed all my big projects – I usually spend a large fraction of each year working behind the scenes on tech updates and improvements. But patterns and tutorials are big projects in themselves, and there’ll always be new tech/security updates to implement, so I’m happy to start 2017 without any additional goals. If I leave myself with more time to play around with new design concepts, who knows what I’ll come up with..?

My wish for 2017 is for creative freedom, light-heartedness, and time to relax. I think PlanetJune will benefit from that too, and I hope you’ll also be able to find those things in the year ahead. Happy New Year!

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  • Welcome to PlanetJune!

    June Gilbank

    Hi, I'm June. Welcome to my world of nature-inspired crochet and crafting. I hope you enjoy your visit!

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