PlanetJune Craft Blog

Latest news and updates from June

Alpaca Loom farm visit

At the weekend Dave and I took a trip to Alpaca Loom, a local working fibre farm near Paarl, with a herd of hundreds of alpacas (and a few rogue llamas, camels, horses and donkeys in the mix too!)

We got to handfeed the beautiful alpacas and see all the adorable newborn crias (babies) playing. There’s nothing like looking into an alpaca’s huge dark eyes and feeling its hot breath on your hand as it delicately snuffles up grains with its soft mouth…

June handfeeding an alpaca

At the Alpaca Loom, they process the alpaca fibre from start to finish on site in the traditional way, from shearing, to hand-spinning the fibre into yarn, to weaving the yarn into fabric using floor and table looms.

Take a look at a few more of my photos in the gallery below:

I also couldn’t resist buying some (unprocessed) silky soft fine alpaca fleece for… spinning? needlefelting? art weaving? I’m not sure yet, but I’m looking forward to making something with this gorgeous fibre – you can definitely expect some alpaca-fibre craft posts from me in the coming months 🙂


And, if you’d like to make your own gorgeous Alpaca, try my bestselling Alpaca crochet pattern! (I made my dark brown alpaca with real alpaca yarn and it’s so soft and snuggly!)

alpaca crochet pattern by planetjune

Comments

free crochet pattern: Carnations

It’s Donationware time again! Put a smile on someone’s face with my new Carnations pattern:

Carnations crochet pattern by PlanetJune

Beautiful, realistic, and so easy, you can crochet a pretty one-piece carnation in minutes – and I bet you won’t be able to stop at one!

Carnations crochet pattern by PlanetJune

Here are some ideas for use:

  • Use the optional stem instructions to create a bouquet or vase of carnations
  • Stitch a pin to the back of a carnation to make a pretty brooch or buttonhole
  • Accessorize a bag by sewing on a couple of carnations
  • Sew or glue one or more carnations to a hair clip or plastic hairband

As I like to reward people who chose to donate for my donationware patterns, the PDF version of this pattern includes additional assembly photos and a special technique for fastening off the yarn neatly at the base of the stem. As always, the pattern is free for you to use, and you need only donate if you’d like to thank me for my time in creating it, or if you’d like the easy-to-print PDF version.

Carnations crochet pattern by PlanetJune

I hope you enjoy my pretty Carnations pattern!

Go to the Carnations pattern >>

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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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Mini Mammals 2 Expansion Pack crochet pattern

Mini Mammals crochet pattern by PlanetJune - crochet an adorable Sengi, Jerboa and Mouse

There’s a little story behind this Expansion Pack. When I originally came up with the idea for Mini Mammals, I had 6 species planned. I didn’t think anyone would want a huge set of six, though, so I chose Sengi, Jerboa and Mouse for my set, but as soon as I released the pattern, I had requests for all of the other three I’d left out!

Now, if that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is…

So here’s Mini Mammals 2: an Expansion Pack for my Mini Mammals pattern. It includes all the modifications you need to convert your Mini Mammals into a Hamster, Gerbil or Kangaroo Rat.

Mini Mammals 2 crochet expansion pack pattern by PlanetJune - crochet an adorable Hamster, Gerbil and Kangaroo Rat

Meet the newest Mini Mammals!

Hamster:
Mini Mammals 2 crochet expansion pack by PlanetJune - Hamster

  • Hamsters are crepuscular seed-eating rodents (crepuscular means they are most active around dawn and dusk).
  • There are many species of hamster, but the most common domesticated type is the Syrian (Golden) Hamster.
  • Hamsters hoard food and have expandable cheek pouches inside their mouths so they can carry food to store.
  • Wild Syrian Hamsters hibernate during the winter, but pet hamsters won’t hibernate (unless they get too cold!)

Gerbil:

Mini Mammals 2 crochet expansion pack by PlanetJune - Gerbil

  • Gerbils are burrowing seed-eating rodents from the deserts of Asia and Africa.
  • There are over 100 species of gerbil, but the most common domesticated type is the Mongolian Gerbil.
  • Gerbils are highly social animals and need to be kept in pairs or groups.
  • They are diurnal (active in the daytime) and love to dig tunnels.

Kangaroo Rat:
Mini Mammals 2 crochet expansion pack by PlanetJune - Kangaroo Rat

  • Kangaroo Rats are seed-eating rodents from the deserts of North America.
  • Like Jerboas, they hop along on their long back legs, using their long tails for balance.
  • They get all the moisture they need from seeds, and can survive without drinking any water.
  • Kangaroo Rats harvest seeds by collecting them in their pouches and storing them in caches for times when there is no other food available.
  • Unlike Hamsters, though, Kangaroo Rat cheek pouches are fur-lined and are located outside their mouths!

Mini Mammals 2 crochet pattern by PlanetJune

What is an Expansion Pack?

Expansion Packs by PlanetJune

  • An Expansion Pack is an add-on to an existing PlanetJune pattern.
  • The Expansion Pack lets you modify or add to the original pattern to create something else.
  • You cannot use the Expansion Pack alone – you must also purchase the original pattern in order to be able to complete the pictured items in the Expansion Pack pattern.

You can buy the Mini Mammals 2 Expansion Pack for only $3.50 individually from the shop, or, if you haven’t yet bought the original Mini Mammals pattern, you can buy the multipack of both sets, and save 50c on the pair.

Launch Discount

If you’ve already bought the original Mini Mammals set, you won’t be able to save that 50c. But, for 7 days only, add the Mini Mammals 2 Expansion Pack pattern to your shopping cart, together with anything else (totalling $5 or more), then use the code SQUEAK at checkout and you’ll still get your discount! (Valid until next Wednesday: 22nd March 2017.)

Note: If you don’t need anything else right now, this also applies to Gift Certificate purchases, so you can pick up a $5 gift certificate now, get your discount, and have $5 in your PlanetJune account ready for your next purchase, or to send to a crocheting friend!


Aww, a family portrait! Don’t they look super-cute all together like this?

Mini Mammals 1 & 2 crochet patterns by PlanetJune
Clockwise from bottom left: Sengi, Jerboa, Mouse, Kangaroo Rat, Hamster, Gerbil

If you’re not ready to buy just yet, please remember to heart or queue them on Ravelry so you don’t forget about them!

Mini Mammals:

Mini Mammals 2:

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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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  • 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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