PlanetJune Craft Blog

Latest news and updates from June

Archive for My Craft Business

2017: year in review

2017 has been very far from the year I was expecting; when I started another year in South Africa, I didn’t dare to dream that I’d be back home in Canada by the end of the year. And yet, here I am – yay! ♥

An Unexpected Turn of Events

Things seem to have a habit of going in different directions than I’d anticipated, but at least the advantage of keeping my business small is that, without anyone else on the PlanetJune team, I can easily change plans and switch directions on the fly, to adapt to circumstances.

  • I invested a big chunk of time towards the end of 2016 in updating my Commissions system, but then decided that it was time for it to be retired (and, a few months later, I don’t regret that decision at all).
  • With a goal to concentrate on my YouTube channel in 2017, I invested financially in new video recording equipment and editing software, but a minor-but-ugly thumb injury that’s only just healing now has meant I haven’t been able to make even one new crochet video all year. (I’ve managed to keep making patterns through a combination of careful hand positioning and photoshopping, but neither of those are practical for videos!)
  • And, of course, the big one: I didn’t start the year expecting I’d be planning and coordinating another move halfway around the world, and have to simultaneously plan how to bolster my business to weather the storm of having no office/studio or equipment for 3 months, so no way to produce new patterns…

2017 Achievements

Wearing my web developer hat, I’ve completed some dull-but-necessary tech projects:

  • Added a privacy policy page to comply with privacy and disclosure requirements.
  • Converted PlanetJune to HTTPS (so you can tell I’m 100% trustworthy by the green padlock in your browser’s address bar).
  • Added credit card processing in my shop (finally!) so you aren’t required to use PayPal any more.
  • Updated my shop to also allow payment in Canadian dollars, and to prepare for the sales taxes I’m going to need to start collecting from Canadians from today onwards.

Wearing my designer hat, I’ve been splitting myself in two this year, and squirrelling away half my new designs so I’ll have some new releases to get PlanetJune through the lean winter months while I can’t create new patterns! Despite that, I’ve had some strong pattern releases this year and made some good decisions that have helped PlanetJune to keep growing.

2017 PlanetJune crochet patterns

I’ve always said that quality is more important than quantity, so I’m not disappointed in my 10 new patterns (plus one re-release) this year – especially as so many of my latest patterns include multiple designs. Count up all the different options here and you’ll see I actually have 25 new pieces you can crochet – that’s not a bad number at all!

And, despite my thumb injury, I added a few new helpful crochet tutorials:

2017 PlanetJune tutorials

Planning for the move hasn’t left much time for creative pursuits this year, but I always try to keep some time free for crafting and personal development:

2017 PlanetJune crafting

I’m still knitting sweaters, I’ve played around a bit with needlefelting, and I’ve also started to teach myself Japanese (although I’ve let that slide a bit over the last couple of months – my brain has been fully occupied with more pressing matters!)

Lessons Learnt

Although this year has been anything but easy, I got through it and now I’m at the point where I’ve accomplished the move, and have the next 3 months of PlanetJune designs ready to publish! All this has proved to me that I can still be strong when I need to be, and that simplifying things is the key to dealing with major challenges. I’ll try to remember these lessons when things get overwhelming in future:

  • Don’t be afraid to make big decisions if they’ll bring you closer to your dream job/life/situation.
  • Know that even the best plans need to adapt to changing circumstances.
  • Keep moving forwards, even if you’re sometimes moving at a crawl.

I think these wise words can apply to anything you’re trying to do – especially a goal that feels like it may be a bit too ambitious or unattainable.

Looking Forward

It’s tempting to think that, now my move home is complete, I should be able to plunge right back into working hard for PlanetJune, to make up for lost time and get business booming, but the reality of a sustainable one-person business is that you have to balance building the business with caring for the person behind the business.

Although I haven’t talked much about this since it happened, I’ve struggled with my health for the past 3.5 years since the trauma of my home invasion experience. It profoundly affected me, and the PTSD hasn’t gone away.

I hope that now I’m back in Canada, my life will start to stabilise and I can concentrate on rebuilding myself. I think the distance will help me to finally recover from the mental trauma and give me enough energy to also start to rebuild my physical strength after being a virtual prisoner in my own home for years. It’s only been a few weeks and I’m already feeling much better, so I’m confident I can achieve this in the coming year.

You may have also noticed the absence of local wildlife posts since my bad experience – I couldn’t even find the courage to go into my garden alone without bringing on panic attacks, so sitting peacefully in nature with my camera is something I’ve sorely missed, apart from on our occasional holidays to safer places. But now (and especially once winter is over) I’ll be able to get back outside and enjoy nature again!

As for PlanetJune, I still absolutely love what I do here – designing new patterns, developing new techniques, and teaching people how to make beautiful things. I’m very motivated to keep doing all that, and I don’t need to set any specific goals to know that’s how I want to spend my time and earn my living.

I don’t know what the coming year will hold and how much time and energy I’ll have available for all the ideas I have for PlanetJune. As I can’t predict the shape of my life this year, I’m going to keep my business plans very simple and free from anything even remotely resembling a deadline. My overall goal is to work to the best of my ability with the time available to me, to explore, design and create new patterns and supporting tutorials.

For 2018, I want to dial way back on the excitement and build a strong foundation for the future, both personally and professionally. My wishes for this year are for peace, calm, and quiet strength. I wish those things for you too, and a very Happy New Year!

Comments (6)

all change… again!

I have some huge news to share: I’m going back home to Canada in 6 weeks!

Our South African adventure has given me some amazing experiences and a new viewpoint on the world, but I can’t wait to get back to the welcome safety of my beautiful adopted homeland. Happy Thanksgiving, Canada – I’ll be home soon 🙂

Once Maui, Dave and I arrive back in Waterloo, we’ll be vacationing for a while, and then Dave will be working remotely and I’ll keep PlanetJune ticking over until I have a new office/studio organised and my computer and photographic equipment arrives by sea.

Working out how to manage a massive round-the-world move while keeping PlanetJune running smoothly has been a mammoth task – my business is three times larger than it was the last time I attempted an international move, so I have a lot more to manage! I’ve been doubling up on work all year in preparation for this time, so I’ll still have new patterns ready to release during the months I’m living out of a suitcase and can’t create new designs.

Repatriation is also proving to be a more difficult task than I’d anticipated. For example, I was able to exchange my Ontario driver’s license for a South African one fairly easily, but I now discover that Ontario won’t let me exchange it back again, so I’m going to have to take a new driving test (both theory and road) as soon as I arrive back. Let’s just hope I’m not so jet-lagged that I forget to drive on the right side of the road during the test..!

Everything feels very overwhelming at the moment, and I’m sure I’ll discover plenty more hurdles ahead in the coming months, but I’m full of hope and excitement for 2018 and beyond.

I’ll keep you posted on how things are going – please wish me luck!

Comments (16)

retiring PlanetJune Commissions

This is a really hard decision to make, but I think it’s time to retire my PlanetJune Commissions – at least in its current incarnation…

I first created my own Kickstarter-with-a-twist commissions system over 5 years ago. My crowd-funded system helped me to see which of my potential animal designs may be most popular by letting people ‘vote’ with their pledges, and helped me create some lovely animal patterns I may never have got around to designing otherwise.

PlanetJune commissioned crochet patterns: 18 designs in 5 years
(And there’s still one more commissioned design – the Goat – coming soon!)

Why Close Commissions?

It was a great idea, but a combination of my reluctance to raise the prices ‘too high’ and the reality of life circumstances beyond my control meant that I was always in danger of drowning under a wave of far too many commissions, and never-ending deadlines don’t make the best environment to foster creativity.

I’ve finally got the pricing right, so the rate of new commissions has stabilised to a manageable level, but now I have a different problem: disappearing pledgers. I was left $54 short on the (currently in-progress) Goat commission, due to people who never responded to invoice reminders or personal emails!

I hope nothing bad has happened to those people who I can’t seem to reach – maybe they just changed their email address and forgot to notify me – but the upshot is that I can’t contact them to ask for payment when the time comes, so their non-paying pledges are fogging up the system.

I’ve checked up on all the other current pledgers and I can see that 45 pledges were made by people who haven’t signed into their PlanetJune account in 2017. That means they didn’t check their pledges (as I asked them to do in January) so it’s a good indication that they aren’t receiving my emails and are unlikely to make good on those pledges. And there could be more pledgers who’ve changed their email address since then.

PlanetJune Commissions Leaderboard
What fraction of these pledged dollar amounts is real..?

My main concern is protecting the commissions system against this happening again in future. It’s not fair to the people making pledges if the design that has more real pledges is not the one that gets made.

I could see only one way to safeguard the current system: by adding an extra layer of rules and confirmations…

  1. To check that everyone is still happy to pay before I send out any invoices
  2. To suspend pledging privileges for anyone who’s failed to pay up in the past
  3. To regularly ask everyone to reconfirm their pledges (and then I’d delete any pledges that weren’t reconfirmed)
  4. To regularly remind people to update their email address if/when it changes

All that sounds like a lot of extra inconvenience for my pledgers! Being part of commissioning new designs is supposed to be fun, and all those new rules and checks would be anything but, so this isn’t a solution I’d be happy with.

My Decision & Reflections

I’ve reached a point where big life changes are approaching (I’ll share more on that at a later date), and I need to simplify as much as I can. With my choices to either start coding all those new unwanted rules into the commissions system, or call time on this aspect of my business, I’ve chosen the latter.

It’s sad to have to withdraw a popular service from PlanetJune. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into building and coding this system from scratch. I’m proud of how well it worked, technically, and how it allowed my customers to help select my future designs.

(And this decision may not last forever: I could resurrect the commissions system at some point in the future, if and when I can figure out how to combat the problem of non-payers without inconveniencing everyone else.)

Moving Forwards: What’s Happening

The in-progress Goat design will be the last commissioned pattern in this system, and the usual commissioners-only exclusivity period will apply before it goes on general release. I’ve cancelled all other outstanding pledges (so don’t worry – you aren’t liable for any other designs you’ve previously pledged towards!)

I still have the chart showing which designs are clearly more popular than others, and that will definitely help me choose which animals to design in future. (If you’re interested in patterns for one of these animals, keep checking in with my monthly newsletter to see if I’ve designed your favourites yet!)

PlanetJune Commissions chart of most popular designs

I also have lots of great ideas for other designs that didn’t fit under the Commissions umbrella, and I’m not scaling back on those, so please don’t worry that I’m moving away from designing crochet patterns – that couldn’t be further from the truth!

Private Commissions

I am still available for private crochet pattern commission, with the usual base rate of $300 for a design that I feel confident I can create with the skills and techniques at my fingertips, and will be able to sell in my shop. The price would be higher for anything else (e.g. a design that requires more development and prototyping or has a larger size or complexity; if you want exclusivity; if I don’t see a further market for it).

(I don’t expect to be commissioned very often at these rates, but please understand that I can’t work for any less – my designs are extremely time-consuming to create – see my Meerkat Design Report series for an example of the work that goes into a commissioned crochet pattern.)

For a much more reasonable rate, please feel free to suggest your pattern ideas to me – if I feel inspired, I’ll create the design anyway (no commission necessary) and you can buy the pattern from my shop for the regular price when it’s ready!


It’s Been a Great Ride…

I’d like to thank everyone who’s taken the time to pledge for new PlanetJune designs – I’ve enjoyed making them for you over the past 5 years, and I hope you’ve enjoyed being part of my design process!

And I’ll be keeping the list of popular animals that didn’t quite get commissioned, so I hope I’ll still be able to make at least a few of your favourites, in time 🙂

Comments (6)

Commissions update: 5 years

The first cycle of the new and improved PlanetJune Commissions system is complete, with the completion of my Capybara pattern. (That takes my total to 18 commissioned designs in 5 years!)

PlanetJune commissioned crochet patterns: 18 designs in 5 years

The system is much more efficient now: you can manage all your pledges from within your PlanetJune account, and each new commissioned pattern is now automatically added to all the pledgers’ PlanetJune accounts when it’s ready.

I’ve also made a few customer-suggested improvements, going forwards…

Pattern Exclusivity Window

From now on, I’ve introduced a 2 week exclusivity window for the pledgers of a new commission before the pattern is available to the public, as an added ‘thank you’ to those who pledged towards the commission.

Capybara crochet pattern - exclusive to pledgers for now!

(If you didn’t pledge towards the Capybara and would like the pattern, sign up for my monthly newsletter if you’d like notification when the pattern is ready to purchase! I’ll also be blogging details about the pattern and sharing some Capybara fun facts at that time…)

New Progress Chart

I’ve refreshed the main Commissions page by reordering the progress chart by amount pledged. Now it’s easier to see which of your favourites are closer to being fully pledged and could do with a top-up:

new commissions options

New Animal Options

I’ve replaced all the animal options that were less than 25% funded with new options. (The retired animals aren’t necessarily gone forever, but they’ve all been there for a long time and received little interest, so it’s time to give some different animals a chance without making the list ridiculously long.) Here are the new options:

new commissions options
Bilby, Dodo, Kiwi, Numbat, Pangolin, Pot-Bellied Pig, Puffin, Tasmanian Devil, Tortoise (Giant, Galapagos), Tortoise (Small, Pet), Tuatara

Which of these would you like to see made into a PlanetJune crochet pattern? The most popular so far have been the Kiwi and Dodo, but it’s early days yet, so get pledging for your favourites of the new additions!

My next commissions timeslot will begin at the end of May, and I’ll be starting work on my Goat design then, as it’s already fully-funded. But I wonder if the following commission will be one of the current front-runners, or one of the new additions? That’s up to you 😉

Comments (3)

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)

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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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