PlanetJune Craft Blog

Latest news and updates from June

Archive for Craft Business Help

beating craft business overwhelm

If you run a crafty business, do you ever feel like it’s overwhelming you? This is how I’ve been feeling:

craft business overwhelm by planetjune

It’s the price of success: as your one-person business expands, so does your workload. At some point, you have to change something about the way you conduct business. According to this article, the options are to either limit the amount of business you can do (and hence the income you can generate), or continue to expand (by hiring employees, buying new equipment, etc) and spend more time working on your business, and less time in it.

Neither of those options – limiting or employing – appeal to me, so I’ve been developing strategies for coping with my business growth and reclaiming my time both to be creative within my business and to have a life outside of my business. If you’re also feeling overwhelmed by your business and wondering what you’ve got yourself into, maybe my ideas can help you too!

So, how can a crafty business continue to grow without its owner being worked into the ground?

Three Strategies to Beat the Overwhelm

I’m sharing my strategies here in the hope that they’ll help other people with their own creative businesses to improve their working situation and work/life balance. Of course, each crafty business is unique and the way you tackle this depends on what you sell, how you like to work, and the specific situation you’re in with your business right now, so it’s up to you to figure out how you can implement these strategies in a way that makes sense in your situation.

1. Streamline and Automate

How many tasks do you do multiple times that you could streamline or automate in some way to save time in future?

There are several ways you could start to automate your most repetitive tasks:

  • Employ someone to do them for you. The classic way to begin to grow your business.
  • Create (or purchase) technical solutions. See my examples below. Even something as simple as saving stock responses to paste into your emails (to answer the questions you’re asked over and over) can be a huge time-saver.
  • Create batch processes so you can be more efficient by doing each task multiple times before moving onto the next stage. This can apply whether you make handmade goods (making your items in batches vs individually could save a lot of time) or for any other tasks (e.g. processing Etsy orders once a day instead of dealing with each order as it comes in).

2. Prioritise

Firstly, what’s your prime focus for your business? Is it to make lots of money, or to do what you love and, hopefully, earn enough to live on in the process?

(A little aside: if your main aim is to make money, you may want to think about whether a craft business is really the best way to do it. When I told you about reaching a huge financial milestone, I didn’t mention that I’m still working probably twice as many hours to earn that money as I did in a day job, and I work equally hard even on the slow days when I may bring in nothing at all!)

  • Passion questions: What do you most love to do? Which areas are you less passionate about?
  • Finance questions: Which areas are bringing in more money? Which don’t make financial sense to continue working on?

Note: ‘areas’ could be different crafts, different product ranges, different tasks, or any different aspects of your business; the specifics depend on the nature of your own business.

Ideally, you’ll be driven by the answers to the passion questions, but it’s useful to at least think about your answers to the finance questions. Maybe, if an area is a bust financially but you still love doing it, you can relegate it back to ‘hobby’ status and just enjoy it with no pressure of success. (And nothing is set in stone. Taking a break may let you return to it with a fresh perspective in a few months/years – it could still be a huge success in the future…)

Once you’ve figured out your priorities, you’ll know where to concentrate your efforts and what to stop (or to outsource, if that’s a possibility for your business). These decisions are always hard to make but you’ll know when you’ve made the right choice for you – a weight will be lifted off your shoulders!

3. Re-energise

It’s easy to get so bogged down in work that you feel you don’t have time to do anything else, especially ‘frivolous’ tasks like other hobbies with no purpose other than enjoyment. What do you love to do, apart from what you do for your work? Make time to do it!

You’ll feel better for taking a break, it’ll give you a chance to clear your head, and you’ll be able to bring the creative energy and feeling of accomplishment from having done something fun back with you when it’s time to start work again.

You may even find that your brain will keep working subconsciously and, while you’re concentrating on something completely different, you’ll come up with a solution to something you’ve been puzzling over – I know that works for me!


How I’m Applying the Strategies

I’m working far too hard, and something has to change if I’m going to continue without burning out. I know from my ‘colleagues’ on twitter that I’m not alone in this situation: running the business has become so overwhelming that there’s almost no time left for the creative side of it. My design time is currently limited to evenings and weekends, and my time when I’m not working is pretty much non-existent – not a great situation to be in!

I came up with these strategies last Christmas, and, although I still have a long way to go to bring my workload under control and to be able to manage future growth, I can already see results, and I know I’m taking steps in the right direction. Here’s what I’ve done so far to implement each of the strategies:

Streamline & Automate: I’ve read a lot of advice that says at some point you must hire help if your business is going to succeed, but I don’t want to be at the helm of a PlanetJune empire! I didn’t go down this path because I wanted to run a business; I want to make beautiful things and to help other people to make them too with my patterns and tutorials. The business side of it exists solely so I can distribute my work and earn a living from my creations.

As I know I don’t want to become an employer, I’m creating technical solutions – setting everything up means extra work in the short term, but the resulting systems will reduce my workload in the long term: my own website will be my ‘assistant’ in the future! Here’s what I’ve done so far:

  • Making my blog navigation clearer, building up my FAQ and adding more tutorials means I get less questions by email.
  • Answering emails with a brief link to the relevant FAQ answer or a pre-written canned response helps me get through the remainder more quickly.
  • Setting up automated systems to manage my pattern commissions, to log requests for new commissions, and to create photo galleries for the PlanetJune Crochet-Along roundup posts – all big time-savers.

Prioritise: Before I can scale back on the amount of work I do, I need to identify which of the things I do are really important to me, and what I could (reluctantly) let go.

  • I set up my Seller’s list when I realised I’d never find time to accept commissions for finished toys (coming up with new designs beats remaking old ones).
  • I’m cutting back on tech editing and drawing crochet stitch diagrams for other independent designers (time is more precious to me than money at this point, so I have to concentrate on my own business).
  • I’ve stopped designing new punchneedle patterns (they have limited selling potential as the craft is relatively obscure).
  • I’ve stopped my monthly wildlife photography blog posts (they turned into a huge time sink and became more stressful than enjoyable).

None of these were easy decisions to make, but they’re all helping me to reclaim some time. And, I’m also trying to think more carefully before acting on my latest spur-of-the-moment great idea: is it really such an amazing idea that it’s worth exploring right now, or should I just keep a note of it and come back to it at some point when my schedule is less full?

Re-energise: When I started this blog, I used to just craft because I love making things – if you go back through the blog archive, you’ll see lots of those projects in the early years. In the crazy rollercoaster ride that took me from hobby to business, some of the fun got lost somewhere along the way…

For the past few weeks, I’ve tried to give myself enough time to make some quick, easy craft projects (you may have already noticed a few posts popping up here as a result – pictured below). They are nothing to do with work, nothing I need to write a tutorial for, and have no schedules or deadlines. It’s really refreshing to just make stuff with no agenda.

quick crafts by planetjune
L-R: beanbag smartphone stand, cardboard cat scratcher, fuse bead coasters

As I’ve been posting the finished projects here, even with no tutorial (and I really don’t think many simple craft projects need a full step-by-step tutorial – you aren’t stupid!) I can already see from the comments that my fun projects are inspiring other people to make stuff too – an unexpected bonus.

Continuing: I plan to keep going with all these strategies for the rest of the year, and, fingers crossed, I’ll be finding things much easier to cope with by the time 2013 comes around 🙂


Join Me?

So, that’s my plan to beat the overwhelm, through the strategies of automating, prioritising, and re-energising. What do you think? Can you see how my strategies could also be applied to your own business – or even to your life in general?

And if you have more or better suggestions to beat the overwhelm, I’d love to hear them too!

Comments (17)

the secret of my success

Yesterday morning, I tweeted:

HUGE milestone reached: in February I earned more than when I had a day job! I’m awestruck..! #crochet #pro #dreamjob

…and all day, people were asking me how I did it. At first, I said “I have no idea!” but as the day progressed I kept thinking about it and I realised that’s not at all true: the last two months have been amazing, business-wise, and I can track that back to the fact that I decided not to let money be my priority any more. Putting that into practice, I’ve started to make changes. For example:

  • Sellers’ List: I don’t want to, or have the time to, sell finished toys. So, I set up the sellers’ list so I can field those enquiries to my customers who do want to sell finished toys made from my patterns. (I make nothing from this service.)
    Unexpected result: More pattern sales to happy customers who are selling the toys they crochet.
  • Videos: I want to continue to help other people improve their crocheting skills, so I’m aiming to create one new crochet tutorial video per month. Each one is a big time commitment, but it’s important to me, and people are responding well to my videos and asking for more, so I know it’s worth it.
    Unexpected result: As my videos become more popular, I’m actually starting to make a significant amount of money from the ads on my YouTube channel.
  • Succulents: I didn’t think my Succulent Collections would be big sellers; I just really wanted to make them for myself! I thought that, if I was lucky, maybe half the people who enjoyed the Cactus Collections might pick up the succulent designs too…
    Unexpected result: Not only have the succulents been wildly popular, but they are generating more sales of the cactus patterns too.
  • Baby Bunnies: I also didn’t expect my Baby Bunnies to be especially popular – I mean, there must be hundreds of bunny patterns out there already… I just wanted to use my angora yarn and make something cute that would make me happy.
    Unexpected result: Turns out that my Baby Bunnies make a lot of people happy!

2012 bestsellers: Succulent Collections and Baby Bunnies crochet patterns by PlanetJune

So what does this show? Well, embarrassingly, it shows that I’m clearly terrible at making calculated decisions when it comes to my business – after all these years in business, I still can’t predict what will be popular and where my time would be best spent! If I was just going for profit, I probably wouldn’t have designed either of these hugely popular patterns; I wouldn’t make a free list just to help my customers make money; and I certainly wouldn’t be ‘wasting’ my time making videos for free.

But all these things have actually helped to bring in more customers, more money, and more publicity for my site – all without me doing any advertising or marketing.

How can this help you?

I’m not telling you to stop thinking about making money! What my decision has really done is allowed me to be more me – to concentrate on what I do well and what I love, instead of what I think may make the most money. And people are responding to that – I have (inadvertently) created the PlanetJune ‘brand’.

You can do this too! There are countless designers/artisans/crafty business owners out there, but there’s only one you. What makes you special? It’s your unique qualities – your passions and skills – that set you apart from everyone else, and if you can build those into your business, you can create something that’s all you.

Passions

Take some time and figure out what you’re really passionate about, in your craft/business and in life. (If you can bring the two together, even better!) It’s about finding your own style and developing a brand for yourself, based on the real you. If you love what you do, it shows.

  • It’s pretty clear, when you read my blog, who I am and what I love: animals and nature; discovering crochet techniques and passing them on; finding a balance between a realistic design and an easy-to-follow pattern.

If you design crochet patterns, but when you’re not promoting your designs, all you talk about are your food photography and baking projects, it’s easy to see that your passions, at least partly, lie elsewhere. How can you bring those into your business? How about creating a line of crocheted baked goods that each include your recipe for the edible version? It’d be a unique and popular selling point, and help build your brand.

Skills

What can you do well, and how can you apply that to your business? Even the most mundane jobs and past experiences build your skills, even if the jobs themselves are totally unrelated to your business.

  • For me, I’ve learnt a lot of things that have no use to PlanetJune, but: 2 science degrees taught me the importance of accuracy; years of technical and research support taught me how to help people; and my technical writing experience taught me how to explain things clearly.

Maybe you have skills in photography, face to face communication, drawing, project management, storytelling… How can you make those skills work for you, to make your business better and more uniquely you? How can you provide a service that your competitors can’t?

Be Yourself

What sets us apart, as indie businesses, is the way we can interact with our customers. They get to know us and trust us through our blogs, through social media, and through the way we respond to their emails. They aren’t just buying a pattern from a faceless company, they are buying from you, a real, genuine person.

Let the world see a little more of the real you, and use your skills, passions, and personality to shape your business into something that only you could do. You can create a brand that will get people talking, make you stand out from the crowd, and sell your work for you!

Comments (27)

Pricing Amigurumi

Setting prices for amigurumi can be very tricky. I thought I’d offer some pointers that may help you to set reasonable prices if you want to sell the amigurumi you’ve crocheted.

As you may know, I allow people to sell items made from any of my patterns (provided they give me credit as the designer). As my time is more than filled with creating new designs, running my shop and blog, and providing assistance to my customers, I can’t accept crochet commissions any more, so I’ve started a list of people who sell PlanetJune-designed toys for people who want to buy finished PlanetJune items. If you sell items made from my patterns, have an online shop, and would like to be added to the list, please let me know!

Although the following post is geared towards online amigurumi sellers, there’s probably some value in reading it if you sell any kind of handmade goods. Read on for my pricing tips…

Common Handmade Pricing Strategies

Note: I’m ignoring consideration of profit above material and labour costs and the wholesale/retail price factor – these are outside the scope of this post, which isn’t aimed at people who want to sell their handmade work as a serious business, but for hobbyists who’d like to support their yarn- and pattern-buying habit while they enjoy their hobby, and maybe not fill their house to overflowing with all the amigurumi they’ve made!

Very simply, there are two general schools of thought for pricing handmade goods:

  • Set prices based on an hourly ‘wage’ for yourself plus the costs of materials
  • Set prices based on material costs multiplied by 3 (or some other number)

Now, neither of these strategies work at all well for amigurumi:

Hourly wage: Unless you can successfully market yourself as creating ‘art toys’, it’s very difficult to make any sales if you charge a decent hourly wage for everything you crochet. (And if you’re crocheting while you watch TV or chat, should you really be earning the same amount per hour as if you were giving 100% concentration to your task..?)

Costs x3: While this may be an appropriate figure for, e.g. a simple crocheted blanket with a repetitive stitch pattern, the material costs for making an amigurumi are miniscule (typically a fraction of a ball of yarn, a handful of stuffing, and a pair of safety eyes) and it can take just as long to make a toy that uses less than 1/2 a ball of yarn as to crochet a blanket that takes 5 or 6 balls, so the resulting price would be far too low if you use this formula for amigurumi.

So, as an amigurumi seller, you’re looking for some middle ground: a price that covers all your material costs and accounts for both the time taken and the complexity of the project (i.e. the concentration required to complete your item), but still gives you a number that your potential customers will find acceptable.

Know the Market

What do other people charge for similar items? Look at the other shops on my list and see what they charge. You should also look at other Etsy amigurumi sellers to get a broader picture.

Don’t try to beat their prices – it’s not a competition, and doing that will damage the market for both you and the other sellers! But do look critically at your work and theirs:

  • If you think your items look as good as theirs, charge the same (or more, if you want).
  • If you think yours are better, charge more (unless they have no sold items and you think that’s because their prices are unrealistically high).
  • If yours look worse, why is that? Don’t charge less; instead look at this as an opportunity to improve your listings by either improving your crocheting and finishing skills, or by learning to take better photos, as applicable.

Your photos will make a huge difference in what sells and what doesn’t. Is there anything that makes your items more special than other amigurumi sellers? Something that may justify higher prices? Show that in your photos, if possible, but otherwise, make sure it’s clear from your item description. If your prices are the same and your photos are equally appealing, the description may also be the deciding factor for your customer.

If you’re just starting out with your shop, you may decide to start by pricing slightly lower than others, to help you gain some initial sales and positive feedback from customers, and then raise your prices a bit once you’re more established. Please don’t sell yourself too short though, by setting your prices far below what other comparable items sell for. If your items don’t sell as well as you’d hoped, there’s nothing stopping you from lowering your prices, or offering sales and discounts, at a later date.

Hidden costs of selling online

Notes:

  • I’m assuming the most common scenario: you’re selling in USD through Etsy, using PayPal to accept payment, but the general principles apply however you’re selling, although the exact fees and percentages will vary.
  • Etsy selling fees have increased from 3.5% when I first wrote this article to 6.5% as of 2022(!) so I’ve updated the figures below to reflect that. You can also use Etsy’s own payment processing instead of PayPal, but your cost is essentially the same, either way.

If you started out by selling items to friends and family, or at in-person craft shows, you may be tempted to price your online items the same way. But remember you’re paying 20c per listing (whether it sells or not) plus 6.5% (if it sells) to Etsy, and PayPal will take 30c plus 2.9% (or 3.9% from an overseas customer), so your online prices should be higher by that amount, at least.

e.g. on a $20 item you’ll pay:

$0.20 fixed fee to list the item on Etsy
$1.30 to Etsy when it sells (6.5% of $20)
$0.30 fixed fee to PayPal
$0.58 percentage to PayPal (2.9% of $20)

Those small costs start to add up: that’s a total of $2.38 that you’ve lost by selling the same online vs a cash in-person sale. So you should consider charging $22.50 instead of $20 for that item, to cover those costs, unless you want to accept that you’ll only receive the lower amount.

In general, the amount you need to add is:

Amount to raise prices by to cover PayPal and Etsy fees = $0.50 + 0.094 x (in-person sale price)

Notes: If you regularly sell to overseas customers, use 0.104 instead of 0.094 in the above calculation. This also assumes that your item sells within 4 months of listing, otherwise you’d need to pay an additional 20c to Etsy for relisting it.

(If all this seems too complicated, you can use an Etsy Fee calculator and it’ll do the math for you!)

Shipping costs

Do your shipping costs include all your costs? Aside from postage, are you buying a bubble mailer, a box, bubble wrap, tape, mailing labels…? Any of these add to your costs, and you should include them in your shipping charge (or raise all your item prices by that amount, if you want to make your shipping costs look more reasonable), or you’ll end up taking a loss each time you ship a package.

Also, remember that the fee calculation above also applies to shipping costs, so you’ll need to add 9.4% (6.5% selling + 2.9% processing) to your actual shipping costs (e.g. that works out as 47c if you charge $5 for shipping) or you’ll be losing money! Once you’ve worked out the cost of postage plus all your packing and shipping materials, you need to add the fees like this:

Shipping charge = 1.094 x (postage cost plus packaging materials cost)

Note: if you offer shipping to overseas customers, use 1.104 instead of 1.094 in the above calculation.

These little amounts add up, and you don’t want to end up paying for packaging materials out of your own pocket.

Underpricing: Warning Signs

  • Are you selling items faster than you can replace them?
  • Are you crocheting every spare minute of the day to keep your shop filled?
  • Are your hands or wrists starting to hurt?
  • Are you starting to wonder why you’re even doing this?

All these are signs that you need to raise your prices, if you want to keep selling what you’ve made. Yes, you’ll see less sales if you do that, but if you make the same amount of money while selling fewer items, you’ll find it easier to keep up with demand, to avoid giving yourself a repetitive stress injury, and to (hopefully) not lose your love of crochet – which, after all, is why you’re doing this in the first place, isn’t it?

Go Forth and Sell!

I hope this has given you some points to consider, whether you’re setting your prices for the first time, or considering updating your pricing scheme. It’s perfectly okay to crochet for friends and family for the cost of yarn and patterns (or for free), if that’s what you want to do, but do remember not to offer those same bargain prices to all your customers, or you’ll burn yourself out and your hobby will turn into slave labour! You’re worth more than that, but ultimately, only you can decide how much money you need to make in order for it to be worth your while to sell your handmade goods.

Good luck with your selling!

(Please send me your details if you’d like to be added to my list of sellers – see the bottom of the linked page for details – I hope it will send potential customers your way for items you’ve already crocheted, and/or generate custom order requests for you. I’m getting a lot of requests for cacti and succulents at the moment..!)

Do you have any tips to add to mine? Or good (or bad) experiences with selling amigurumi? Please share them in the comments below!

Comments (28)

PayPal and rights for digital sellers

For the first time ever (as far as I know) PayPal has taken the side of the seller in a dispute over the sale of a non-refundable digital item. This is a very encouraging step in the right direction on PayPal’s part, so I want to make as many digital sellers aware of it as possible!

Here’s the thing: PayPal offers a very nice Seller Protection package that covers sellers in the event of disputes or chargebacks. But, this Seller Protection only extends to sellers of tangible goods (i.e. items that can be shipped). PayPal’s user agreement specifies that items/transactions not eligible for PayPal Seller protection, include “Intangible items, including Digital Goods, and services.” So if you sell PDF files, eBooks, mp3 files, etc, there’s no Seller Protection for you.

Rules that govern the sale and refund of physical items cannot apply to digital items: there’s no way to ‘return’ a digital item in exchange for a refund. For that reason, most digital sellers state that all sales are final.

However, sometimes a buyer files a claim with PayPal that the item was not what was expected, usually because they didn’t read the item title or description, just looked at the picture and assumed they were buying a ridiculously inexpensive handcrafted item (with no shipping charges!) instead of a PDF file containing the instructions to make the item themselves…

In these cases, PayPal seems to invariably side with the buyer (in the case of everyone I’ve spoken to about it, at least). They remove the money from the seller’s account and refund it to the buyer, thus making a mockery of the seller’s ‘no refunds/all sales are final’ policy. In this situation, the seller has no comeback: the buyer has the pattern and their money back; the seller is left with nothing but bitterness. Has this happened to you? Please share your story in the comments! I’d love to know how prevalent this really is.

In early December, one of my Etsy customers neglected to read the title or description and asked for a refund after receiving the pattern. I referred the customer to my ‘final sale’ policy but they wouldn’t accept that and launched a “significantly not as described” dispute against me. It’s taken over a month for PayPal to resolve the case, during which time they withdrew the funds from my account, but today, they found in my favour and returned my money to me!

If you’re a digital seller, you may find yourself in the same situation, so here’s my advice:

1. Gather your evidence

Why is the buyer’s claim flawed? Make a list of facts (and figures, if possible) that support your side of the story.

Here’s mine. I ignored my main shop when gathering my figures, as this dispute was over an item in my Etsy shop, so adding sales numbers from my own shop would be misleading. In my Etsy shop (at the time of responding to the dispute):

  • I only sell crochet patterns
  • 2919 crochet patterns already sold
  • 88 other copies of the same item already sold (all 88 using the same photos and description) with no other misunderstandings
  • 100% positive feedback
  • I state “CROCHET PATTERNS” (in capitals) in the item title and mention throughout the description that it’s a pattern that will be emailed as a PDF file
  • My Etsy seller policies clearly state that I sell crochet patterns, not finished items, and that all sales are final
  • The seller confirmation email from Etsy also states that the pattern will be emailed, giving the buyer the chance to contact me prior to my sending the patterns if they had made a mistake

Pretty solid evidence, I think, that “significantly not as described” was not something that can apply here!

2. Present your evidence

The key here is to be professional. Imagine you’re presenting evidence in a court case – the most compelling response is an objective account of the facts you’ve gathered.

You only get one chance to respond to PayPal, so make it count. Don’t hit ‘respond’ and begin typing directly within PayPal; compose your response in your text editor of choice, and save it. Then step away from the computer, do something else, and let yourself cool down.

When you look over it again, edit out any emotional phrases and any waffly bits, so it’s concise and to the point. Make sure you’ve included all the evidence that could count in your favour, and end with a short, clear conclusion. Read it over again, and only then paste it into the PayPal response box and submit it.

3. Wait…

It took over a month for the case to be resolved. During that time, I heard nothing more from PayPal, and I assumed the worst. Then, yesterday, I got the email:

We have concluded our investigation and have decided in your favor. The listing accurately described the item the buyer received. Any funds that may have been temporarily held have been returned to your account.

Victory! I don’t know if this is the start of a change of policy by PayPal, or my evidence was just too compelling for them to ignore, but please feel free to use my case as precedent if the same thing happens to you: PayPal case number PP-001-585-575-355 (or just share the link to this post).

Digital sellers are not a small minority group any more. Digital sales is a massive and fast-growing sector, as books and CDs are replaced by ebooks and mp3 downloads, and self-publishing becomes ever-more prevalent. PayPal would do well to look after their digital sellers; we’re making them a lot of money in commissions.

I hope that my victory this week is a sign of better things to come…

Comments (19)

3 tips for aspiring designers

My recent post inspiration/influence vs copying: drawing the line started quite a discussion! I’ve been answering questions in the comments of that post, but copyright is a huge and many-sided issue, and I’m not an expert by any means – I just know what I personally want in regard to my copyright from three different angles:

  • My designs: don’t copy them
  • My patterns: don’t share them
  • Items made from my patterns: yes, you may sell them, provided you give me credit as the designer

Another interesting topic has emerged from the comments, and I thought I’d address that today: the process of designing. Although I shared my research process in the previous post to demonstrate how much ‘behind the scenes’ work goes into my designs, I also hoped it would be of interest to other designers, and it seems that it was. Owein commented:

This post has another very helpful purpose for me. It is a rare treat to see a talented artist’s design process. I would never try to illegally copy any of your designs, but I hope you don’t mind if I emulate your process of producing a design. In fact, I’m sure there are a few blanks that you could fill in if you were to produce a post that outlines your entire design process. I know that was not your original intention, but it is a help to those of us who would like to design unique products of our own.

Now, I can’t share my actual design process – the part that takes you from all the information and pictures I showed in the previous post to my design sketch, because it all happens inside my brain, and so it must work differently for each person. But what I can share is the factors that I balance to produce my designs. These tips don’t apply to only amigurumi designers: this basic process applies to whatever you’re designing, be it patterns, handmade products, or inventions/designs to be commercially manufactured.


Tip 1: Research, research, research

You can never have too much information in the back of your mind when you design. Unless your design is purely fantastical, knowing as much as you can about whatever you’re basing it on can’t hurt, even if your design style is miles away from realistic. Do a Google image search, check Wikipedia, visit some official or fan websites about the subject matter for your design, and maybe even consult a book or two – your local library can hold some amazing reference sources.

Cactus Collection crochet patterns by PlanetJune

Example: Before I started work on my Cactus Collections (right), I visited several cactus websites to get a feel for different types of cacti, and I checked out half a dozen books on growing cacti from the library. After identifying some basic cactus types, I used the books and more websites to do more detailed research on each type.

The research stage also includes checking up on what’s already out there, not with the intent of copying it, but more to make sure that your amazingly original design doesn’t already exist. If someone else has independently come up with the same idea, you can still go ahead and make your own version, but wouldn’t it be better for you as a designer to tweak yours a bit so it’s more distinctive? Not only will this avoid any possible future accusations about copying etc, but you don’t want somebody to confuse your work with the pre-existing one and maybe buy from that person instead of you!

Example: Before starting my Pteranodon design, I looked for existing knit and crochet Pterosaur patterns (above), so I could make sure my design would be original.

Doing this step before you get too deep into your own design gives you a chance to avoid the similarities before they occur.


Tip 2: Find and follow your design aesthetic

The aim isn’t to make your design photo-realistic (unless photo-realism is your trademark style), but to convey the idea in your own style – this is where your inner artist gets to play.

You may not want all your designs to reflect exactly the same style, and of course your style will change with time, experience, and new inspirations, but however many ‘looks’ you develop, they should all be part of your overall style. It’ll help you to find recognition if your designs aren’t too eclectic and have some common stylistic elements between them. Ideally, you’d like people to be able to look at a photo of your work and say “oh, that must be a XXX design – I love his/her stuff!”.

If you’re just getting started in designing, you may not have figured out your own distinct style yet – it takes time.

crochet patterns by PlanetJune

Example: Here are some of my first designs. It’s pretty clear when I decided to do my research (below) instead of designing purely from images in my head (above) – that’s when my style began to evolve beyond cute (but generic) toys.

crochet patterns by PlanetJune

You can work on developing your style with research too: try looking at photos of your favourite stuff (Pinterest is a great way to keep track!) , and figure out what it is about each that especially draws you to it. I get inspiration from other handmade work, photos of nature, products I see in shops… there’s inspiration all around if you look for it. Then look for common elements or links between the things you like, such as colour palettes, scale, level of detail and embellishment, etc etc.

The more you know about what you like, the easier it is to reflect that in your work.


Tip 3: Consider the finished product and its purpose

For example:

  • Is it a pattern for others to follow? Then you need to balance the detail of the design with the ease for other people to follow it. The most wonderfully detailed design is no good if your customers give up halfway through in frustration.
  • Is it a toy for young children? Then you need to consider what is attractive to a child (bright colours, simple shapes) and avoid dangers (delicate parts, choking hazards)
  • Is it going to be mass-produced? Consider simple designs that can be produced with few pieces, or designs with pieces that can be created as multiples and then assembled separately, to save time.

The list could go on, but I hope you can see that there’s a delicate balance between what makes a good design in a vacuum and what makes a good design in the real world. If you actually want to sell your pattern/product (whatever it may be), it has to be functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. That’s why my art pieces (for example orang utan, Reepicheep) are far more detailed and complex than my patterns: a pattern for something like that would be hugely difficult and frustrating to follow.

art projects by planetjune

Example: Designing for function: my art pieces (above) would make terrible patterns! My pattern designs (below) are intentionally far simpler.

amigurumi dinosaur patterns by planetjune

Just because you can create something complex doesn’t mean you should (unless you’re designing art and it has no purpose other than to look good and/or convey your artistic message). I made the design decision to be minimalistic with my Dinosaurs (only one colour, simple stylised shapes) and yet they have become some of my bestsellers, partly because the simple design makes them a pleasure to crochet.

That’s not to say that all designs should be minimal – it’d be a boring world if they were! – just that what you leave out of your design can be as important as what you put into it. The trick is to figure out what to leave out, and why, by thinking about both form (appearance) and function (intended use).


Go Forth and Design!

If you’ve read through to this point and think you’re ready to make designs that look just like mine, then you’ve missed the point. If you’re serious about designing, you need to be original – the goal here is to create and develop your own distinctive style so that people will begin to recognise you by your work. I hope that following my tips above will help you along that path 🙂

Add your viewpoint! Join the conversation in the comments below…

Comments (22)

inspiration/influence vs copying: drawing the line

This isn’t the post I wanted to write today, but thanks to recent events, I’d like to discuss the difference between inspiration/influence and copying when creating designs (I’m talking specifically about my crochet patterns, but the same applies to any designer in any field, whether they produce patterns or sell finished items based on their designs).

Many times in my almost 5 years as an amigurumi designer, I’ve experienced other ‘designers’ copying my designs and selling the resulting patterns. I’m not talking about the outright theft where a person buys a pattern, copies it, and then sells it as their own work: my experience is a less obvious, less tangible theft, where people look at my photos and replicate my design without ever having seen the pattern.

For those designers, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt by assuming that you may not yet realise you’ve done anything wrong, and I hope that this blog post will help to clarify the distinction between inspiration/influence (acceptable) and copying (not acceptable).

My design process

To start, I’ll talk you through the design process of one of my most distinctive designs: my Pteranodon (a type of Pterosaur). I spent many hours doing research before I could begin to create my design:
(Image attribution: all images below are links to the sites I found them on.)

  1. I read up all about Pterosaurs and viewed photos of skeletons and pictures of artist’s renditions.
  2. I looked at commercially-produced Pteranodon/Pterosaur/Pterodactyl toys, both plush and plastic/rubber type.
  3. I looked for existing knit and crochet Pterosaur patterns, so I could make sure my design would be original.
  4. I checked to see if there are any Pterosaurs in popular culture (books, movies, TV shows, etc) that may influence people’s perceptions.
  5. Now, armed with all my research, I could begin my design process. I figured out what, to me, are the essential characteristics for my design, and what I could omit and still have it be recognisably a Pteranodon.
  6. I interpreted those features to create shapes and an overall look that would fit in with my ‘PlanetJune’ style.
  7. I worked out elegant methods to build those features into an amigurumi design.
  8. I created a sketch of what I envisioned my final Pteranodon would look like.

amigurumi pteranodon: from sketch to design

Finally, after going through all those steps, I could pick up my crochet hook and begin to crochet my sample and to create my pattern. As you can see from my sketch (sorry about the quality, it was never intended for anyone other than me to see!), 90% of the design was created before I ever picked up a hook – I just refined the proportions while I was crocheting to make it more elegant.

Two Scenarios (Designers A and B)

Now, let’s say that a couple of fellow designers (for the sake of simplicity in writing I’ll assume both are female) see my dinosaur patterns and are inspired to create their own.
Is this acceptable? YES, of course. I am not the first person to crochet a dinosaur, and I wouldn’t want to be the last.

Designer A does some research of her own and creates her own interpretation of a Pterosaur in her own design style. Maybe it’s crocheted in more than one colour; maybe it has an open beak; maybe it has legs; maybe its proportions are more realistic (or more cute’n’cuddly) than mine; maybe it has embroidered detail or crocheted textures; maybe it has felt accessories glued on; maybe it has big cartoon eyes, or any of a million other differences that make it her own design. Yes, it’s a Pterosaur, but it’s clearly a ‘Designer A Pterosaur’ – it fits in with the style of her other designs, and naturally any resemblance to mine will be based on the fact that we both used a real animal as our inspiration. Designer A decides to sell her Pterosaur pattern.
Is this acceptable? YES, unquestionably. I’m happy if I can inspire another designer in this way.

Designer B looks at my Pterosaur, figures out what crochet shapes and stitches she would need to replicate it, and makes a close copy of her own.
Is this acceptable? Let’s say MAYBE. I’m not thrilled, but if people have the talent to replicate my work without purchasing my pattern, for their own personal use, I can’t stop them. It happens. I’ll survive. Those people would never have bought my pattern anyway, so I’m not out of any money as a result.

Designer B now decides to sell the pattern for ‘her’ Pterosaur.
Is this acceptable? NO, absolutely not.

What’s the distinction between A and B selling their pattern? Let me explain:

  • Designer B has copied my design. No, she hasn’t copied my pattern, but those design elements that I created in my research and development process listed above produced a design that is my artistic creation and my intellectual property; it’s my interpretation of a Pterosaur. She has directly copied that without going through any of the work I went through to create it in the first place. If you show a picture of my Pterosaur to anyone who is familiar with the field of amigurumi, they’ll know it’s mine and will recognise my style.
  • Designer B is harming my income. By replicating my design style, she has cut into my market: anyone who wanted to buy a pattern for a Pterosaur and likes my style now has two choices for who to buy from. If she decides to sell at a lower price point, how many unwitting Etsy customers will choose my pattern over an almost-identical cheaper version? Designer A’s Pterosaur does not harm my income: a customer will either like my style or hers, or both, and will buy the one they like best, or both. But nobody would choose to buy two patterns for practically the same design.

I’d like to make it clear that although events of this week have precipitated this post (and thank you to everyone who notified me of the copying in question), my intent is not to single out any one person – I’ve experienced copycats for years now, but I’m intentionally not showing any specific examples. It is possible that some cases of ‘Designer B’ that I have experienced are purely coincidental, but the more identical design elements that exist between the two patterns, the less likely it is that we reached the same point independently.

In Conclusion…

Recreating an existing design serves only one person: the person who has recreated it. Pattern buyers gain nothing from the addition of a second copy of the design, and the original designer only loses by the existence of the copy. If you’re looking to build a career (or even a hobby business), then getting yourself known as a copycat is not the best long-term strategy.

If you instead put the effort into creating your own style and your own original designs, you can build a loyal following and, in time, become known and respected as an artist and a designer. It’s not the easiest path, but it is, ultimately, the most rewarding.

Comments (40)

getting an ITIN (for non-US contract workers)

…You’re probably thinking “huh?” right about now, and I know this post won’t have much interest to most of my readers, so if you’re not a non-US resident or citizen who wants to do contract work for US companies (for example: writing articles or patterns for US magazines, or writing or contributing to a book for a US publisher), you can skip the rest of this post!

Since I’ve been through the process of getting an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) I keep getting people referred to me for information about how to go about getting one. It wasn’t easy for me to find out the answers, so I’m sharing them here so that fellow non-US freelancers and contract workers can find this post through Google and figure out how it’s done without having to go through all the hassles I did.

This is how I did it, as a Canadian resident, but this information should apply to all other non-US contract workers and freelancers too; just substitute your own country for Canada throughout the rest of this post.

Note: I’m not a qualified tax professional and this information is based solely on my experience in late 2009. Please check with irs.gov or a certified acceptance agent (see below) to see if anything has changed before you submit your application.

Why do I need an ITIN?

If you’re Canadian and have no tie to the US, you should be paying Canadian income tax on your earnings, not US tax. However, if you want to do contract work for a US company, the IRS (the US Internal Revenue Service) requires the company to withhold 30% of your earnings to submit towards your US taxes, so you’ll only receive 70% of your money. (You then have to pay your Canadian taxes on that income as well.)

Although you can claim the withheld US tax back at a later date, there’s an easier way: if you submit Form W-8BEN to the company you’re working for, they don’t need to withhold the 30% US tax, and you’ll receive 100% of your payment (which, of course, you’ll report as income on your Canadian tax return).

To complete Form W-8BEN, you need to have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Your ITIN proves that you have no US ties and therefore do not need to pay US taxes.

How do I get an ITIN?

To apply for an ITIN, fill in Form W-7 and submit it, together with proof of identity and foreign status, to the IRS. (Let me warn you: Form W-7 is a minefield and it’s very easy to make a mistake on it and have it rejected.) This also means you have to mail off your passport to the US as proof of being non-American. You’d probably prefer to avoid that, right?

Okay, so here’s the best way around that: there are IRS-authorized Acceptance Agents outside the US (in Canada, and internationally) that you can visit. These agents can certify that they’ve seen your passport (so you don’t need to send it anywhere) and will also help you complete and submit your Form W-7 without making any mistakes.

It cost me about $120 (plus tax) – it’s not cheap to visit an accountant! – but it was well worth the money. Mine found and fixed a mistake I’d made on my application and wrote the letter certifying my identity and proof of foreign status. My application was approved and I received my ITIN about 6 weeks later.

How do I use my ITIN?

Once you have your ITIN, it’s yours to keep – it’s like a Social Security Number, except it proves that you’re not required to pay US taxes. You can fill in your number on Line 6 of Form W-8BEN and submit that form to each US company you work for, and you’ll be paid 100% of your earnings, without any US tax withheld.

Recap

If you’re not a US resident or citizen, you can receive 100% of your US earnings without the 30% federal tax withheld by following these steps:

  1. To get an ITIN, find an acceptance agent to help you submit Form W-7 to the IRS and to certify that they’ve seen your non-US passport.
  2. When you receive your ITIN, fill it in on Line 6 of Form W-8BEN.
  3. Submit a completed W-8BEN to every US company you do contract/freelance work for.

Yes, getting an ITIN is a hassle, a long process, and an expense (unless you’re willing to mail your passport to the US), but it’s worth it in the long run if you plan to do contract or freelance work for US companies: once you have your ITIN, you’ll never again have to claim back US taxes. 🙂

Comments (9)

Facebook Advertising redux

You may recall that I wrote a review of my experience advertising on Facebook last November. My advertising budget was $150 and I only made around $70 in direct sales – ouch. I concluded:

I love that you can specifically target the people who are your potential customers. But the advertising costs are just too expensive for smaller businesses to justify… Personally, I won’t be advertising with FB again unless I can find another promotional voucher for free credit – it’s just too expensive for my budget.

Well, now I have just that opportunity – a promotional voucher for $25 of Facebook ad credit, so I thought I’d try another FB advertising test, using what I learnt from last time, and trying to tweak things to give me better results. And once again, I’ll share my results with you, so you don’t have to waste money to discover what I’ve already found out!

The Ad Setup

(If you’re interested in advertising on Facebook, I recommend you read my previous report first, and then come back here – it gives a good overview of the FB advertising experience which I’m not going to cover again today.)

advertisement on Facebook
This is what an advertisement on Facebook looks like – I’ve circled the ad in purple

With only $25 (which I know from prior experience is very easy to blow through in a single day!) I set my daily budget at $12.50, so I could try different things on 2 days and compare the results.

I chose a CPM (pay per thousand views) bid, not CPC (pay per click), as I found that much more successful last time round.

Last year’s ad was a Christmas ad, so I had to change the image this time. That means I can’t directly compare the results to the previous experiment, as I’m sure the choice of photo plays a part in my success (or lack thereof).

PlanetJune Ad 2 on Facebook PlanetJune Ad 4 on Facebook

L-R: the old ad and the new one

I also excluded people who are already a fan of PlanetJune on Facebook, as the goal of this test is to see if I can attract new customers with this advertising.

Phase 1
I targeted all crocheters (around 150,000 people). I checked realtime stats in my shop throughout the day, and I could clearly see that customers who actually completed a purchase clicked all over my site and typically viewed 20-80 pages before completing a purchase. The Facebook clickers, however, typically looked at only 1 or 2 pages before leaving.

Phase 1 verdict: $12.13 spent, 99,000 views, 51 clicks, 0 sales.

Phase 2
I targeted only people who had listed amigurumi as an interest. This gave me a far more focused target, but only 2000 people have amigurumi listed as an interest. Could I get them ALL to click through? Or would anyone who lists amigurumi as an interest already know me, and not bother clicking?

My money went a lot further in phase 2, because I was targeting so few people. I actually managed to advertise for 5 full days using my remaining budget! A higher percentage of people clicked through (again not surprising, as many people who list crochet as an interest aren’t interested in amigurumi/toys) and people looked at an average of 5 pages before leaving.

Phase 2 verdict: $12.89 spent, 120,000 views, 207 clicks, 1 sale.

Conclusions

Targeted marketing
By focussing on only people who like amigurumi instead of crochet in general, I saw a 20x improvement in the number of people who clicked my ad. Assuming each person only clicked the ad once, over 10% of my potential audience clicked through! Targeted marking is a powerful tool. But it still didn’t lead to sales.

Saturation
In Phase 1, 150,000 people could have seen my ad – it could have potentially been seen by a different person each time it was displayed. In Phase 2, however, only 2000 people (at most) could see my ad, so that means that each person, on average, saw my ad 60 times! By day 5, the clickthroughs had dropped from about 50 to only 19, and that doesn’t surprise me: if you’ve seen an advertisement 59 times and chosen not to click each of those times, why would you click after seeing it for the 60th time?!

Return on investment
As before, I made less money in direct sales than I ‘invested’ into the advertising – here, a $10 return on $25. (Although, also as before, this doesn’t account for new people who may have found me through the ad and may become customers at a future date.)

Casual clickers vs shoppers
The one big thing I’m taking away from this experience is that Facebook users appear to be casual clickers; that is, they may click on an ad out of a vague curiosity, but not be interested enough to really explore my shop or make a purchase. This is a very different behaviour from people who find me through a google search and are actively looking for crochet patterns: these shoppers are in a ‘buying’ frame of mind and while they may come to my shop looking for, let’s say, a “sea turtle crochet pattern”, they tend to look through my entire shop before buying, and often end up buying far more goodies than they were originally searching for.

Of course, I could have seen more success if I’d managed to create a more appealing ad, but who knows?! Maybe I’d have seen more clicks, but the fact is that the people who did click didn’t follow through and make a purchase, so I could have multiplied the number of clicks with a better ad and still seen the same result.

Based on this, I’m really not sure there’s any value in my paying for advertising. People who are prepared to buy something can easily find me through Google, and that costs me nothing. I’ll stand by my conclusion from last time: it’s just not worth the money.

Over to you…

What’s your experience? Have you tried advertising, on Facebook or elsewhere? (I also tried a $100 Google AdWords advertising experiment – would you like me to report on that experience too?) Have you found something that actually works for you? I’d love it if you’d share in the comments!

Comments (36)

Next entries » · « Previous entries
  • Quick Links: Crochet

    navigation: arrow

    buy crochet patterns and accessories from my online store

    'Everyday Crochet' and 'The Essential Guide to Amigurumi' crochet books by June Gilbank

    Crochet video tutorials and step-by-step photo tutorials

    Free PlanetJune crochet patterns

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Quick Links: Crafts

    navigation: arrow

    Punchneedle Embroidery information, ebook & patterns

    Papercraft ebook & tutorials

    Free PlanetJune craft projects & tutorials

  • Blog Post Categories

  • Blog Archives

  • 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!

    If you'd like to get in touch, you can contact me here.
    crocheted Canadian flag by PlanetJune
  • A fanned-out pile of the books Everyday Crochet and The Essential Guide to Amigurumi, with text 'The answers to all your crochet questions at your fingertips - find out more'
  • Support PlanetJune!

    Want to say thanks? You can send me money in seconds at paypal.me/planetjune (over $20) or paypal.me/planetjune2 (under $20) or send me a donation through my shop.

    Or simply click through from my links before you shop at Amazon, Etsy, KnitPicks, LoveCrafts or Crochet.com, and I'll make a small commission on your purchase, at no cost to you! Start here:

    ♥ Support PlanetJune ♥

    Tip: This link is also in the footer of every page!

    Thank you so much for your support!