PlanetJune Craft Blog

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Archive for Craft Business Help

Professional Design vs Hobby Design

If you’ve ever considered upgrading your craft/design hobby into a business, this post may offer an interesting insight, as I’m now both a professional designer in one field (crochet) and a hobby designer in another (knitwear), so I can speak to both sides of this.

12 knit sweaters project

My Hobby/Pro Designer Experiences

I’m really enjoying my journey as a knitwear designer – I get to design, make and wear my own clothes, and that feels like a pretty amazing process. Every now and then, I feel a little wistful that I’m not parlaying my designs into a new income stream by selling patterns for my sweaters. It may seem like an obvious next step, but there are many reasons why I don’t want to do this.

Knitting is my hobby. I enjoy doing it for relaxation in between my crochet designs. I like making clothes for myself, that fit me and in colours I’ll wear. I can take months or years to finish a design and it doesn’t matter. If something isn’t perfect I can fudge it to make it good enough to wear.

Crochet is my business. It’s how I earn my living. I enjoy the challenge of developing new designs – and I love the things I design! – but there’s always a voice at the back of my head thinking ‘How well will this translate into a pattern? How can I explain this technique? Can I simplify anything to make it more enjoyable to crochet?’ Every new design has to be as good as I can possibly make it, and, while I never hurry an individual design, there’s always pressure to have regular new pattern releases, to keep PlanetJune in people’s minds and keep my business going.

PlanetJune Accessories 2018 Shawl crochet pattern collection

Support. I’ve built an extensive website full of tutorials to help crocheters successfully follow my patterns. I don’t have the time or inclination to do that for knitting techniques. At best, I could provide links to other sites that offer tutorials, and that’s not the level of service people expect from me.

PlanetJune Crochet Video Tutorials on YouTube

Fitted garments. I intentionally don’t design fitted garments in crochet. When I design and knit clothes for myself, I make them to fit me (short and pear-shaped). There are so many different body types and shapes, and it’s important that your clothes fit your shape as well as your size, or they won’t look or feel good on you. And I love making knitwear for myself that makes me feel good when I wear it!

silver thermal pullover by June Gilbank

If I designed a (knit or crochet) garment in the style I like as a pattern for sale, I’d have to:

  1. design it for ‘standard’ body measurements
  2. make a standard-sized sample (that wouldn’t fit me well!)
  3. find a ‘standard’ shaped lady to model it for the pattern photos
  4. either accept that ‘non-standard’ bodies (i.e. most people!) won’t be 100% happy with the result of my pattern, or offer extensive customization advice for how to modify the sizes to fit your own shape

The other option would be to change my design style to create very simple, non-fitted, rectangle-based garments that will work for most people as-is, but that’s not a style I’d enjoy either making or wearing. (There are also plenty of designs like that already, so I probably wouldn’t even make any money from trying to sell something I didn’t want to make in the first place!)

My Decision

I’m sure there are many more potential difficulties I haven’t even thought of, but just these few are more than enough to keep me from starting down the path of publishing my knitwear designs.

I know I don’t have time to start a parallel second career, and certainly not to run a knitwear pattern business with the level of quality and support that (I hope) people have come to expect from PlanetJune.

So, at least for the foreseeable future, I’m keeping my knitting (and garment design) on a purely hobby level. But I do love sharing what I’ve made, and I hope my projects will inspire others to try knitting (or crocheting, or sewing) a garment. It’s a very empowering feeling to be able to make your own clothes, and so satisfying when you get it right and it actually fits!

12 knit sweaters project

Hobby or Business?

Finding a way to make a profitable business from your hobby may sound like a dream come true, but it has the potential to suck all the joy out of your hobby, and, at best, it permanently changes your relationship with your craft.

I’m endlessly grateful that I’ve been able to build a successful business from my crochet designs. I try to keep innovating and developing new techniques to keep my designs fresh and exciting – both for my customers, and for my own enjoyment and improvement in my craft!

PlanetJune pattern selection

But, even so, I do sometimes miss the freedom of being able to create more complex crocheted art pieces that wouldn’t make a good pattern. Keeping my knitting as a purely creative outlet, with no motive other than making things I want to make, has given me that freedom back. It’s a way to balance the pressure of creating for my business with the joy and relaxation that only comes with making for fun.

WIP cardigans - knit and crocheted - by planetjune

So, the moral of the story is: there’s no right answer as to whether you should try to turn your hobby into a money-making venture:

  • A hobby gives you complete artistic freedom, relaxation, enjoyment, and personal satisfaction.
  • A business reduces all those things in exchange for the possibility of success: happy customers, recognition, more financial freedom, etc.

Having a hobby can give you a release from the stresses of everyday life. Turning it into a business adds to those stresses, but if you’re willing to put in time, hard work, and the determination to keep going even when you don’t feel like it, turning your hobby into a business can be very rewarding.

Or you could keep it more casual – instead of aiming to start a serious business enterprise, you could have a ‘hobby business’, where you sell a few things you’ve made to pay for your craft supplies etc, but don’t try to scale it up into a full-time business.

On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for the pure joy of making just for fun! Maybe you should keep your craft as a hobby, like my knitting- it’s important to protect the things that make you happy. 🙂


So, what’s your experience? Have you ever considered turning your hobby into a business? Have my words made you think about doing (or not doing!) it? Or have you already tried, and how did that change your relationship with your hobby?

I’d love to know! Please leave your thoughts in the comments below…

Comments (6)

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.

Comments (3)

Captioning YouTube Videos

Yesterday, I spent the entire day transcribing all my crochet video tutorials so I could add closed captioning to my videos. From now on, if you’re hard of hearing or have any problems understanding my accent, you can turn on the subtitles (it’s the ‘CC’ option on all YouTube videos) and read along as I talk.

PlanetJune crochet video tutorials on YouTube - now with captions
An example screenshot of one of my tutorials with CC turned on.

An added bonus is that, now YouTube is owned by Google, non-English speakers can use Google’s auto-translate to get a (reasonable, if not perfect) translation of my videos, too:

PlanetJune crochet video tutorials on YouTube - auto-translate captions into any language
‘anneau magique’ = ‘magic ring’ in French! (Note: as far as I can see, auto-translate only works on the non-mobile version of YouTube at time of writing.)

I think adding these captions is a valuable addition to my video tutorials, and I’ll be creating transcripts for all my new videos in future, too. But doing this wasn’t something I’d planned…

Auto-Captions: a Cautionary Tale

Did you know that YouTube now adds automatic closed captioning to most videos? That sounds like a great feature, but it turns out it’s appallingly (and hilariously) inaccurate.

Yesterday, I looked at the auto-captions for my videos for the first time and was truly horrified. They made no sense at all; almost every word was wrong (e.g. it’s ‘loop stitch’, not ‘lipstick’). But, worst of all, they also included some adult words and phrases that often made it sound like I was describing something very different from crochet..!

After working so hard to produce clear, comprehensible video tutorials, to find YouTube had added this comedy subtitling was a big disappointment – anyone who’s tried to watch my videos with the closed captioning turned on must think I’m a complete idiot. (But, this was also an opportunity for me to enhance my videos by adding this feature properly, so it’s not all bad.)

As I was replacing the auto-captions on each video with my new transcripts, I kept a list of the old captions for one phrase that I always say at the start of every video: “this is June from PlanetJune”. It’s a good indication of how poor (and inconsistent) the auto-captioning is. For my 30 video tutorials, YouTube mis-interpreted that same phrase in 15 different ways:

  • this is Jin from panicking
  • this is came from panicking
  • this is Jim component you
  • this is Kim from time to time
  • this is Kim from from gene
  • this is Kim from pumpkin
  • this scheme complaint came
  • this is Jen from Panaji
  • this is Kim from Planet game
  • this is Jim component to
  • this is Jim from Planet came
  • this is Kim from planet King
  • this is Jin from panicking
  • this is June from panicking
  • this is Kim from panicking

…so I’m sure you can imagine how bad the captions for the remainder of the videos were (although “this is June from panicking” was a pretty accurate description of me when I first discovered the extent of this problem!)

I don’t know if my English accent caused extra problems for the auto-captioning, but, given the results I got with my fairly common/neutral accent I don’t have high hopes that auto-captioning is ever accurate enough to be useful.

Check your Video Captions

If you make YouTube videos, I’d recommend that you check the results of your auto-captions as soon as possible, and see if yours are any better than mine were!

  • If there are only a few mistakes, it’s easy to edit the captions to fix them.
  • If they’re as bad as mine were but you don’t have time to create proper transcripts at the moment, you can at least turn the auto-captions off for each video, so people won’t laugh at you!
  • Or, you can do what I did and replace the auto-captioning on each video with a text file containing a complete and accurate transcript. (This takes time, but it’ll help people to find you in search as well as being useful to your viewers, so I’d say it’s well worth doing.)

How do you do these things? Here are some helpful links from YouTube to get you started:


Closed captioning my videos wasn’t something I’d ever thought to do, but yet again (as with my mobile-friendly site redesign last year) Google has forced my hand in a way that’s made me improve my offerings. So, um, thanks, Google?

If you’d like to see my tutorials, I have playlists for them in my YouTube channel:

I’m very happy to have accurate and helpful subtitles on all my video tutorials now, and I hope they’ll make my videos an even more useful resource for crocheters. 🙂

Comments (8)

Failure: Part of Success

I’ve been thinking about the ‘perfect’ craft world that we usually see online – endless photos of beautiful finished projects – and how they rarely, if ever, show the whole story. I’m as guilty as anyone else: unless I’m planning a tutorial, I almost never take photos until I finish a project, so you never get to see how many times I re-knit and adjust until I end up with the sweater I had in mind (or something close to it, at least).

And yet, with everything I make, whether that’s a new crochet design or a personal craft project, nothing ever goes entirely to plan! I enjoy the process of making at least as much as I enjoy the finished item, so I don’t see spending some extra time with each project as a problem. But it’s important to remember that failure is a part of learning and growing, and you shouldn’t be upset when something creative doesn’t go as expected – just learn from it and move on.

Burnt Buttons

I thought I’d share a pretty hilarious example of one of my failures with you – remember this purple cardigan I finished knitting a few months ago?

purple cardigan

The handmade polymer clay buttons were supposed to be the finishing touch, and I spent ages perfecting a set of 8 lovely 4-hole buttons. Then I put them in the toaster oven and waited. I have no idea what happened – I’ve baked polymer clay dozens of times before, I use an oven thermometer, and I monitor the temperature regularly, so I don’t know what could have gone so badly wrong. And yet, my poor buttons grew and swelled and darkened and turned into…

burnt polymer clay buttons that look like chocolate brownies!

Chocolate brownies?! With their bubbled glossy surface and rich brown colouring, I seem to have accidentally discovered the formula for perfect replica brownies – but definitely not the formula for perfect buttons for my cardigan!

After this disaster, I almost gave up and abandoned polymer clay forever, but I thought I’d have one quick last try before making such a drastic decision. I quickly cut a new set of buttons, simplified to thinner circles (one sheet of clay, straight out of the pasta machine) with just 2 holes per button, and popped them in the toaster oven. And, this time, they baked exactly as expected:

replacement polymer clay button with burnt first attempt

It’s hard to believe that these two buttons were made from exactly the same materials – the only differences before going in the oven were the thickness (although the ‘brownie’ buttons were much thinner before they were baked/burnt!) and the number of holes. I still don’t know what I did to make such a difference between the two batches of buttons (although I have several theories as to what may have gone wrong the first time), but, luckily, the new buttons are fine, so I just quit while I was ahead and sewed them onto my cardigan!

Unexpected Inspiration

Failure can even be a good thing, provided you don’t let it defeat you. When it comes to my crochet designs, interesting discoveries often come from my failures in the form of techniques or shapes I can adapt for a future design…

planetjune meerkat head prototypes

One of my failed prototypes for my Meerkat‘s head (above, right) gave me the inspiration for what became my Aliens pattern (below)! I love my cute little alien, but that design would never have happened if I hadn’t seen the potential in the meerkat failure.

Aliens amigurumi crochet pattern by PlanetJune

Fear of Failure

The fear of failure can be even worse when you’re trying something new. I’ve been wanting to take up painting again for a long time, and I’ve stocked up on paints, brushes, and canvases, but I’ve been too afraid of messing up to even make a start!

I think it’s time to take my own advice: it’s okay to fail. I know I won’t be any good at first – or maybe ever – but I should just paint something and see what happens, shouldn’t I?

Final Thoughts

It’s rare for anyone to show their failures, but we all have them. There’s no chance of success if you don’t even try – and then keep trying, and learning, and improving, until you end up with something you’re happy with.

Nobody is perfect, and (despite what you may think from viewing craft blogs, Pinterest boards and Instagram feeds) many projects don’t go as planned! Some things are beyond our control, but you should never let a crafting mishap stop you from having another go. 🙂

Comments (5)

Managing Customer Support

Customer support is an area that continually grows as your business expands and you acquire more customers who may need your help. I’ve been running PlanetJune for over 7 years now, and I have many thousands of customers – that’s the potential for a lot of people who may need my support!

Sometimes the task of helping my customers seems overwhelming and never-ending, but I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and I’ve realised it’s partly just my perception:

  • Requests tend to come in clusters: the days that stand out are those where I wake to a dozen customer problems to solve, not the pleasant days where my inbox is filled with only orders and compliments.
  • The hurt caused by one rude or demanding email outweighs the joy of receiving ten kind messages, and it weighs on my mind for much longer.
  • Many of the questions I receive aren’t even from customers – some are general queries related to one of my tutorials, and many others are specific questions relating to a non-PlanetJune pattern. I need to set rules for how much time I can/should devote to these types of questions.

Reaching this point has helped me find a better perspective to cope with all the emails and requests from other sources (blog comments, and messages via Ravelry, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc), but I still didn’t have a way to quantify how much work I really do to support my customers (and other people with questions for me).

A month ago, I started logging my customer support requests by categorising them, so I’ll be able to see a truer picture. Keeping track of how many questions and problems I actually deal with will help me figure out how much of my time I devote to customer support. Keeping track of the types of support requests I receive will help me to see where I can improve my instructions, systems and support resources to reduce that time commitment.

One month into this, I have enough data to do my first analysis. So what’s the verdict?

  • The largest number of requests by far are for technical support. This is to be expected as I run a shop selling downloadable products, but I hope to reduce the number dramatically by making improvements to the way my shop works. That’s a long-term goal (I’ll start working on it once my pattern re-release project is complete) but I’m already planning the conversion and it’s exciting to think how much customer support time may be saved once I’ve completed it.
  • The second largest category is people asking for help with non-PlanetJune patterns. Since I began blogging, I’ve spent countless hours helping people understand other (poorly-written) patterns, but I now have a policy on that: I provide unlimited support for my own patterns, but I can’t offer a free service to support other people’s patterns – that should be the responsibility of the designer or publisher of those patterns. Having this policy frees me from agonising over whether I should offer help just this once, and from feeling guilty when I don’t. I’m happy to support my customers; I can’t support every crocheter with internet access.
  • The best statistic so far: only two support requests have been for pattern support for PlanetJune patterns. That means I’m doing my job properly by creating error-free patterns that very few people have any difficulty in understanding. And those two questions were both regarding amigurumi techniques, not my pattern instructions, so I could easily respond with a referral to my tutorial on the technique in question.

With only one month of data, I’m already seeing areas of my shop, website and business I can target for improvement. I’ve learnt so much already, and my log will become even more valuable as I add more data over time. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been adding to my FAQ and building a bank of canned responses (stock answers I have ready to send in reply to common questions), and now I can judge how effective these are, and identify more FAQs and canned responses to develop.

I wish I’d thought to do this years ago, instead of relying on only my judgment to feel where things could be improved! I’ll be using the data from my customer support log to inform the systems I create, which will automate my business as much as possible. My end goal is to free up more time to concentrate on designing patterns and teaching through tutorials, and to allow my business to continue to grow without overwhelming me with a growing volume of administrative tasks.

If you have a craft business, how do you identify areas where your business could be improved, simplified, or streamlined? Could your business benefit from tracking your customer support requests?

Comments (4)

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    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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