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Made for kids, by a kid – Handmade Monster Scarves by Gauge!

One of my favorite things about homeschooling has been how Gauge has been able to pursue his passions & come up with new ways to learn on his own – like becoming an entrepreneur.

It all started last year, when he was still in school, and he told me about an idea he had for a monster product he wanted to make – kid size monster scarves with mouths for pockets to keep your hands warm while you wait on the bus, or between throwing snowballs. But with being in school, and then homework, we never had time to really suss it out. Over the summer, when we started homeschooling (since I was pregnant, we started in July to get a headstart for the inevitable break when she arrived and those days when we just wouldn’t feel like doing school work with a new baby in the house) he mentioned again his monster idea. A few weeks later, he sketched up a design and showed it to me, and we brainstormed how to convert it into an actual product.

Then the fun stuff started! His first prototype, he sewed the mouths in backwards. His second, he wasn’t happy with how the teeth were sewn into the mouths, and his third, he didn’t like his eye stitching. All part of the learning process. He got upset when he discovered how hard creating a new product from scratch was – but learned how to channel his frustration into action to resolve the issue at hand.

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By his next round of monster scarves, he had worked out pretty much all the kinks and was whizzing through a scarf or two a day!

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This was a great opportunity for many lessons, besides sewing. He learned about pricing for profit, structuring a sustainable business model around his products since they are seasonal, future planning, budgeting, measuring, graphing sales, targeting a demographic of potential customers, creating a marketing campaign, writing product copy, utilizing keywords to maximize SEO (search engine optimization), projecting ROI (return on investment), taxes and so much more. Skills he would most likely never have learned in public school, but that will aid him in a variety of professions. (plus taxes, why don’t they teach taxes in public schools?!)

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The end result? One proud, accomplished, educated, driven, hardworking, enthusiastic, passionate little person who isn’t afraid to follow his dreams, set goals, and is dedicated to working hard every day to make things happen and learn through life.

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Now, thanks to all his hard work, he is launching his first ever product line into the world at age 11 – kid size monster scarves! I listed them in my shop, and you can check out his work here. Thank you so much to everyone who cheered him on through social media as we posted photos of his progress – you have NO idea how happy you made him, how much you encouraged him, and how proud he is thanks to all of your support!

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2017: Achieve

It’s been a wild year and probably the worst year yet for my little biz, so I’m excited to wrap it up and head into 2017 with a blank slate & lots of ambitions, new products, and plans for improvement!

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See, my word for 2016 was Grind – I knew it was going to be a rough year: I got divorced and moved halfway across the country in November 2015, so I knew I’d be starting from scratch, struggling financially and trying to reestablish myself, my son & my biz. I had chose Grind because this year was all about breaking off the rough bits, uncovering the ugly and grinding it all smooth so I can polish my life & biz into exactly what I wanted it to be. Throw in an unexpected pregnancy & birth that were both exceptionally difficult, and woof. What a year. Grind was the perfect word for 2016.  

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My word for 2017 is going to be Achieve. Inspired by Lisa Jacobs, I decided to set monthly numerical sales goals – and I plan to shatter through them each month! I am going to Achieve more by focusing my efforts where I see the highest conversions for my business – here on my blog, through my newsletter, and by supporting other makers through community and collaborations. I will be relaunching my swag bag program & I am also going to book (at least) 3 events this year to continue establishing myself locally & spreading the word about my monsters, and also putting products up for sale in a local children’s boutique as well.

Besides the stereotypical “I’m going to get back in shape and do yoga every day and meditate more often” personal goals, I also am going to start attending a weekly mother’s circle, to help network & grow my local community, as well as attending more local events/dinners/shows/festivals. As a mother & maker, I feel like having a strong local community is imperative to growing personally & professionally. It’s so important to build your village!

I chose Achieve for my word for 2017 because I am going to achieve big things for my little monster biz, and in my personal life as well! This year is all about achieving my hopes & dreams. I want to spread roots here in Western North Carolina, to start making connections and friendships, and really make this place my home while growing my monster business to better support my growing family. ♥

Do you pick a word of the year to focus on? If so, what was your word for this year/will your word for next year be?

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On mothering a new baby & running a handmade business

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The last time I blogged, I was 40 weeks pregnant & had been struggling with prodromal labor for weeks. Though the last few weeks were incredibly painful and exhausting because of daily contractions that lasted for hours upon hours at a time, it was a painful, uncomfortable, difficult pregnancy from the get go. Zoey Rose was born October 12th, and it was a traumatic birth experience. Basically, it was all super rough. Pregnancy, birth, and new motherhood.

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I still get really emotional when I think of it, so I won’t go into details of her actual birth, but in my last post I talked about my frustration with the constant contractions & false alarms, and with everyone telling me “You’ll know when you’re really in labor”. I didn’t, actually. I had chorioamnionitis, an infection that spread from my amniotic sac & amniotic fluid to my placenta, uterus & cervix. I started having bad stomach cramps, followed within a few hours by a fever of 103.7 & uncontrollable shaking and vomiting. I thought it was just a stomach virus. My doctor wanted me to come in for fluids, and by the time I got there I was in so much pain I couldn’t walk or talk (except to scream a few choice words). It wasn’t contraction pain, it was constant, excruciating, sob-crying producing pain from the bottom of my ribs to my hips. By then my fever was 104.2 & I found out I was 9cm dilated. Thankfully they were able to get an epidural in to relieve some of my pain, and she was born a few hours later, through a fast, traumatizing birth. She spent an equally traumatic week in NICU.

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Finding out that I had a life threatening infection that could have taken both me & my daughter if I had waited just an hour or two longer to get to the hospital, followed by her NICU stay, shook me to the core. In the weeks immediately following her birth, I suffered from severe depression and what felt, inexplicably, like survivor’s guilt. Because of her NICU stay, our breastfeeding journey was a little rocky starting out, which any breastfeeding mother will tell you is an emotional battle to begin with. Due to the antibiotics she received, she had gastrointestinal distress for the following week and a half after leaving the hospital and cried & vomited almost constantly. After that, she was in a hip brace for weeks and constantly screamed and cried, and vomited, because of that.

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My pregnancy, birth experience and the early weeks of caring for Zoey were not bubbly, beautiful moments of motherhood. I struggled a lot with depression & anxiety as I tried to care for an extremely fussy baby, home school a 5th grader & somehow plan to return to my business, as NOT working at all was not an option because we simply couldn’t afford for me to not work at all for several months, unfortunately.

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I won’t lie – in those early weeks of fresh, angry, projectile vomiting babyhood, when she would scream no matter I did to comfort her, nurse to the point of projectile vomiting then scream some more, then wanted to nurse to comfort herself after screaming and crying, then back to screaming as soon as she finished nursing until she projectile vomited again, rinse and repeat, I would weep and tell my partner I was just going to have to go back to work outside of the home because I just didn’t think I could balance caring for her, schooling Gauge & running my own business. I was devastated at the thought of having to give up my monster making, but at the time could not see any way I could manage it all. I would get her to sleep and before I could take five steps or touch my fabric she would be awake screaming angrily again. I just felt so drained & like I would never be able to feel creative again.

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Then somewhere, around that fourth or fifth week, she finally started to chill out a little. That’s around the time she gave me her first smile and it was like the dark sky split open & kittens puking sunshine and farting rainbows spilled out of the crack. I started to put her in a Beco baby carrier my friend Magda sent me or the ring sling my friend Kimberly had mailed me while I was still pregnant, and was actually able to sew a little here and there. We readjusted our schooling schedule & lesson plans a bit, and my son quickly caught up on missed lessons & surpassed our semester goals.

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Over this last month, things have done a total 180. I surrounded myself with positive affirmations, positive people, and started meditating on positive thoughts every morning again, something I hadn’t been able to do in those early weeks no matter how hard I tried. I was able to get a large batch of monsters made & into the shop in time for Christmas – thanks to baby wearing. I think baby wearing literally save my sanity – she only sleeps when she is being held or very rarely, sometimes in her swing for 10-20 minute spurts. But thanks to wearing her, I was able to start sewing every day again while she napped against me, allowing me to slowly settle back into the mindset being a business owner. In the past two weeks I’ve even been able to outline ideas to make 2017 the best year ever for Lu & Ed – with lots of flexibility and options, because with this little firecracker, who knows what the next year will hold?

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Maybe it’s because I had unrealistic expectations about being able to dive right back into monster maker while I wore my happy, gurgling baby right out of the womb. Maybe it’s because I had rigidly blocked off the week following her birth from visitors at our house, unaware that week would be spent sleepless in the NICU unit. Maybe it’s because my son was such an easy pregnancy, birth and baby a decade ago, maybe that is why I felt so helpless & spent. Maybe it’s just because each pregnancy and birth experience and baby is so wildly different and unique, but these past two months were nothing at all like I anticipated. They were dark, difficult weeks & while the past month has been better and I am feeling more like my old self, and I am finally reclaiming and revitalizing my business from it’s stasis of the past several months, I would be lying if I said I was totally out of the dark emotionally and mentally. But I have learned a lot about what it means to be a small business owner & to mother a new baby at the same time, and these are important lessons for maker mamas because the stigma that new mothers should be basking in a happy glow with a pep in their step is just another one of those things that puts pressure on new moms & keeps them from reaching out when they need help & support. Motherhood and small business ownership isn’t some picture perfect Instagram feed. So here’s what I’ve learned about mothering a new baby and owning a handmade business:

It’s okay if you didn’t plan well enough for your maternity leave and unexpected  expenses, losses or struggles arise because of it. There’s no way to plan for every possible scenario, no matter how hard you try. I had a solid plan set in stone for my maternity leave but my last trimester was spent in so much pain I couldn’t even lean over to cut out monster bits, I couldn’t sit to sew, and I was unable to follow through with that plan because I wasn’t able to make the inventory to make the income needed to actually even take a maternity leave, not to mention our NICU stay drained the savings account between gas, lodging, and having to eat out constantly. And that created a lot of stress for me, but you know, c’est la vie.

It’s okay to avoid (or even remove from your life completely) negative, toxic people. I didn’t/don’t have the capacity to handle drama, negative degrading remarks or toxic people – and I’m pretty sure my mama fans know that nothing like a new baby brings out the judgmental and unintentional meanness of others. The first weeks when family members kept lamenting “She’s SO fussy, how do you stand it?”, “Haven’t you tried to get her to stop crying?”, “Does she always cry? Why don’t you do something about it?”, “Maybe she has a disease, have you asked her doctor why she’s always crying?” or “Why don’t you give her formula instead of breastfeeding if it’s so hard?” alongside remarks about how I had a BABY now, it was time to shelf my business; it was soul crushing. From there, I only made room in my life for people who empowered me, comforted me or gave me positive energy. I was not in a good place mentally to allow anyone else access to me without being reduced to a sobbing mess. And that’s okay.

It’s okay to feel guilty. Trust me, no matter how much grace you give yourself, there’s guilt. Guilt for working, for not working, for wanting to work, for not wanting to work, for not being able to work because your baby is needy, for never wanting to work again because you just want to soak up these peaceful, sweet sleepy moments with your baby, for asking someone else to hold your baby for a little while because you’re overwhelmed, haven’t peed all day & just need to breathe for a few minutes. So much guilt. So much stress.

It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to lose sight of your goals, it’s okay for things to not go how you planned, it’s okay to miss deadlines, it’s okay to be frustrated, it’s okay to feel like giving up, it’s okay to be unsure & insecure. You can make new goals, you can make new plans, you can set new deadlines. No number is worth unnecessary mental stress, especially during this already emotionally jacked up time of new motherhood.

It’s okay if what worked for someone else doesn’t work for you. You have to try absolutely everything to find what works for you. No one has any magic advice to make all the pieces of new motherhood & business ownership to go together seamlessly. (I don’t even know if they can go together seamlessly).

It’s okay to be frustrated and unsure. What worked yesterday may not (probably won’t) work today. What worked for your business last year may not work for it this year, or next year. What worked to keep your baby happy yesterday, may not work today. I learned you have to try new things, try a new schedule, try new content, try new creations, try new ways to make your baby happy, every single day. Some things work. Some things don’t. And that. is. okay.

It is all okay. All of your feelings are valid. All of my feelings are valid. There is no wrong way to feel. There is no right way to feel. Being a mother is an emotional shit storm. Being a mother to a baby who was in the NICU is an emotional hurricane. Being a mother to an extremely fussy baby while trying to run a business, is like an emotional nuclear explosion. It is all okay.

It. is. all. okay. That is what I learned.

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500 Monsters in 2016 update & some really BIG news

Going into this year, I knew Lu & Ed would be my sole source of income, and that I would have to increase production & sales greatly in order to make ends meet. At the beginning of the year I set a goal to beat last year’s monster production (just over 350 monsters) & exceed it by at least an additional 150 products – for a total of 500 monsters made in 2016.

And guess what?! I just made more monster making history: my 300th monster this year! Shooting right along towards the big 5-0-0!

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The 300th monster of 2016!

While this is a super exciting milestone to hit, I have an even bigger, much more exciting announcement to make – the reason why I’m hustling so hard to meet this goal early!

And that is that I’ll be a mama again in a few short months!

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Whoa, right? I know people will have questions, so here’s the short & skinny version: Several months after I moved, I reconciled with my son’s bio dad. It’s been amazing for me & G, and we are so super happy! The timing of it all and how things just rolled together is so serendipitous, I can’t even begin to explain it. And apparently this is just how things were meant to be, because now there’s a beautiful babe on her way this fall, and we are all so happy together!

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I won’t lie though, it took a really long time for it to sink in that I had gotten pregnant. Gauge is ELEVEN almost & I never thought I would have another baby. I have chronic ovarian issues, and had been told the odds of me conceiving again were much slimmer than that of a healthy woman with normal hormone production & no ovarian issues. But somehow, this little miracle happened, against all the odds. And it’s only just now sinking in that in just 3.5 months (or sooner, depending on when the babe is ready to make her debut) I’ll be a mother to a newborn again, for the first time in eleven years. Which makes me stupidly excited!

But it’s, like, really starting to really sink in that in a few months, I’ll be the mother to a newborn again. And that my goals for Lu & Ed this year, and next, needed to shift drastically. So I did some evaluations, and while it will be tight, I think I can still make my 500 monsters in 2016 goal – if I make 90% of the rest of the monsters before mid-October, when the baby is due. No big deal, right? (Seriously though, send me all the productive vibes!) If I can meet my production goals, I’d be able to take almost the entire last quarter of the year off post-babe from sewing monsters & soak up those weeks with my own new little monster.

So, I decided I’m still going to push to meet my production goal for this year. As far as next year, the unofficial goal (I don’t like to set goals in stone until the end of the year, but this was sort of a must-do thing) was to move into a bigger place with a 3rd bedroom I could use as a studio. Currently, we are living in a tiny little MAYBE 700 SF home with two tiny bedrooms and one closet in the entire house. (Seriously, it’s so little you have to turn sideways to walk by the sink to get to the toilet, and we have less than 24″ of counter space in the kitchen). But if we do upgrade to a home with a third bedroom, I wouldn’t be able to dedicate that to my studio space for long with babe needing her own space eventually. So now I am considering other alternatives:

  • Rent a one room office downtown to use as a studio
  • Scale down production to make room for babe (though how, I don’t know, I’ve already went from six totes of fabric to two, and less than 8 SF of production room, and it’s really really really difficult to get stuff done in this teeny space already).
  • Try to afford a four bedroom house (in WNC? HA! I would need to win the lottery).
  • Buy a three bedroom home with either a main level office or place that could be used as an studio, like a sun room (light is essential for product photography so a basement is out of the question, unless it magically has tons of natural light) or convert a shed into a kick-butt fully functioning studio space with heat, AC and good lighting within a year or two of moving.
  • Buy a school bus/camper and convert it into a mobile studio, with monster graffiti all over the outside of it, of course.
  • Set up a Yurt in the backyard of our tiny rental, move studio to Yurt. Or move us into Yurt, turn house into studio.
  • The most undesirable option is to shelf Lu & Ed for several months until we are in a better position financially & space wise. I am loathe to do that and completely halt the growth I’ve made since moving. I’ll empty the living room and turn it into a studio before I shelf Lu & Ed.

As you can see, I have a lot to figure out in a few short months about what path I need to focus my energy on – while still getting the house ready for babe. Renting a one room office space is so far the most appealing option for space requirements but I would have to greatly increase production & sales to make it a viable option for my budget which will be tough with a new babe – and the added rent & utilities for a space would be equal to what we’d pay on a mortgage for an additional bedroom or two…. so much to think about and decide on!

Right now? I’m just focusing on meeting the production goal. I have a lot of work & planning ahead of me, in order to keep Lu & Ed functioning at full capacity, but hitting that goal is the first step. After that, we will see what we are able to make happen after the babe gets here. It’ll be tough, but I’m excited to share this journey of new motherhood & small business ownership with all of you!

Got small space living tips? Please, share them with me in the comments – we need to make this tiny house work until at least March of 2017. Got space saving tips for babies (besides using lots of Mon-stors to hold clothes and toys?) – share those in the comments too! I’ll need all the help I can get!

 

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3 things your social media campaign should be doing for your followers

It’s crazy to think I’m in my 7th year as a maker! I’ve devoted a lot of those 7 years to market analysis, social media experimentation & researching different methods of campaign building. While I can tell you what works for the accounts I manage (did you know I offer social media consulting/management? Sure do! Feel free to email me at cody@luanded.com for more info!), I’m also a huge consumer, and work to connect makers with consumers. Given my experience in the maker movement, I always try to wrap up my knowledge into some info packed blog posts to help other maker mamas get their footing & give them things to experiment with on their own journeys.

When you are running a successful social media campaign, it should be capable of doing these three things almost effortlessly, all of which result in higher sales conversions and consistent audience growth in my experience, as well as more opportunities for exposure, both locally and globally. Implementing some of the simple posting tricks below into your campaign is a definite way to increase interactions & pave your path to becoming established as a maker, which looks a little different for everyone.

So grab your favorite drink, curl up & evaluate your social media campaign – can it do all three of these things?

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Painting a clear picture of what exactly it is that you do

This is the one I deem the most important, and while it seems like a no brainer, there has been a huge shift in how makers present their products, thanks to the brand rep movement. It makes it harder to distinguish artisans from wholesalers. So when I say your social media account needs to paint a clear picture of exactly  what it is that you do, I don’t mean “I make monsters, so I should have a picture of monsters on my account and say I make monsters.” I mean, you should be showing very clearly how involved you are in the processes of your business. From sourcing materials to product creation to packing orders. This can be done many ways, from regularly posting WIP (works in progress) Insta posts to a blog post showing the steps of your process for products from time to time. It’s important to integrate those behind the scenes photos; while having a stylized feed of modeled product shots is great, it can alienate you from those grass roots connections that could lead to many, many sales & opportunities – from features in blogs, magazines, and other publications to vending and wholesale opportunities – even opportunities like being nominated as Best Indie Crafter of your region.

For a quick example: Back when I ran the Daft Crafts blog, I did hundreds of product & maker features- but if the social media accounts were just stylized images, I was uncertain if the products were actually handmade. So those makers were never featured, because I didn’t have the time to individually contact every person with a product that caught my eye to verify they were made from raw materials and not purchased wholesale & were just being resold (which is another concern with highly styled feeds, but that’s a post for another day), and so some makers missed out on the opportunity of being featured on my blog with over 10K page views a month. There are literally thousands of blogs like Daft Crafts out there – and odds are, if their editors can’t distinguish if your products are handmade very quickly upon glancing at your site or social media campaign, they won’t be selecting your wares for features any time soon. Transparency is crucial to success in the maker movement.

So post those WIP photos! Show off your work space! Snap a shot of you out in the wild, sourcing materials!  Get someone to take pictures of you working that screen press or sewing machine! Hire a professional for a shoot if you want the images just right – but you need at least one behind the scenes image a week to be cropping up in your feeds to show consumers & publicists alike that your products are indeed made from hands and heart.

Not only do publishers love it, but consumers do, too! As a consumer, I personally don’t purchase from a shop if I can’t tell if their products are actually handmade and not drop shipped or purchased wholesale, and have had several discussions about this barrier between consumers & makers. Transparency completely eliminates this concern for consumers and handmade advocates.

From the maker standpoint, it’s very important for me to share my business processes. For every behind the scenes photo I post, I gain numerous new followers that day as well as see an influx in the likes and comments on photos both before and after the work in progress photo, as well as an increase in sales. I think it’s because it intrigues the audience – a lovely shot of something being made! What IS THAT?! So they click over to learn more. And isn’t the goal of social media that, to effortlessly create content that intrigues people about it to become a follower, then potentially a buyer, without having to give away product or spend time trying to make a sale? Showing the process of creation drives a genuine connection between you & your products, streamlining audience growth & widening your sales funnel.

I do want to address that I know it’s hard to let go of the Instagram mentality – that everything has to look the exact same, all your images should be similar – but really, you can build your branding into the process shots. It’s all about styling images, using key elements in your photos & having consistent lighting in your images. Baby Jives does an incredible job of maintaining her branding and stylized images even in WIP shots, as does Honey & The Hive, who also does a great job of sharing her family life and interests without straying from her brand, making her feel very authentic and personable.

Igniting conversations

I’m not saying every post should be some eloquently crafted conversation starter – but at least one a week should be.

With both Facebook & Instagram’s algorithms, posts with more authentic comments & likes (i.e., you aren’t link dropping or using comment pod groups)  pushes your posts and account higher in the algorithm and gives you better visibility. Both services have ways to detect inauthentic comments – ones that come from a link, for instance, or if 50 people are all commenting on each other’s accounts, it’s apparent to the algorithm these are not authentic comments. The algorithms are set to measure comments from followers or people who find you through hashtags, and tracks how many people who scroll past your photo/posts in such ways actually stop to interact with it. Those authentic likes and comments are what you want.

So at least once a week, create something great to talk about. It doesn’t have to be deep, or meaningful, every time – but it does have to be something worth talking about, or people won’t. Simple as that. I have a post here with ten Facebook statuses to get people talking – use it for a jumping off point and go from there!

Fostering community

And once you get people excited about your social media campaign & get them talking, keep them talking. Reply to their comments, ask questions, tag people who can relate to their reply – make them feel valued, like their words matter. Because they do – they spent valuable seconds of their life, time they can’t get back, investing in your business. They matter. So show appreciation!

Audience members who feel valued & appreciated are more likely to purchase & be a repeat buyer. Even if it’s as simple as saying “Thank you! How was your weekend?” when they say your latest photo is awesome on Instagram. Invest in your audience. Make them feel connected. They will only leave so many comments without reply or acknowledgement before they click that unlike/unfollow button.

Basically…

You want your social media campaign to feel like a place where people gather excitedly, happily, like an open studio night. Your social media campaign should be able to show people who you are, what you do, start conversations with them and keep those conversations going. Makers need to be as transparent as possible about their processes, to open themselves up to even more opportunities – maybe that’s their city’s indie craft niche, for instance, which can lead to newspaper or television features which leads to dozens of other opportunities, or maybe an invite to an exclusive maker’s group that is teeming with knowledge and support channels. There are so many benefits to sharing your processes with the world!

Embrace the maker movement & wear it proudly! Show the world the person, processes and personality behind the products, and you’ll feel a shift in how your audience responds to your content.

How important do you think these three things are to social media campaigns?

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Tips for Maker Moms: Make the most of your summer mornings.

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Summer break can make being a maker mom exceptionally difficult, especially if one or more of your kids are school aged and you have gotten adjusted to having several kid-free hours a day to get things done for your little handmade biz. I’m far from a list making, future planning, staying on schedule mama/maker (I’m actually REALLY FAR from even being remotely organized in any way, ha!) but I do have a few things I’ve implemented over the years that really boost summer productivity for your life on the maker end of things, while allowing lots of time for summer fun with your kids, too!

wake up early

I opt to wake up early, since my son stays up fairly late in the summer some times to use his telescope or watch a movie together or something. Plus, night time is my time – it’s time I invest in my partner, and myself. I watch some TV, color, read, have a sweet snack or just sit and stare at the wall. Gotta get that me time in! Self care is so important. Some mornings “early” is 7am, some mornings (like this morning) it’s 5:30, when my partner’s alarm goes off and my eyes pop open and I immediately know there’s no way I’m going back to sleep. This gives me between one and four hours of kid free time center myself & tackle some projects.

drink some water

Seriously, before your coffee, drink a glass of water. It really does wonders to wake up your body through hydration instead of caffeine. For me, I feel more focused, less achey, and more awake after drinking water than I ever did when I drank a cup of coffee right after waking up! Add in some lemon for some extra health benefits while you’re at it!

eat breakfast

Eat something nutritious for breakfast to give yourself an extra boost of energy & get your gut moving. I don’t know why, but eating first thing in the morning helps set a good foundation for the day and helps to keep my energy levels up through the day,  while helping wake my body up naturally.

“meditate”

I put quotations around mediate because I feel like it’s different for everyone. I don’t expect you to pop into lotus position and “ommmm” your way to peace – just find your inner zen, set some intentions. Maybe you do this in the form of stretching, doing some yoga, or just drinking some tea/cocoa/coffee while it’s still hot (you know, since you’re up early, before the kids, and are able to enjoy it all, right?). Whatever centers you – do that. For me, I drink my water, then I light some incense and make a cuppa cocoa. I sit for a while and just breathe and enjoy it, and think about what I’d like to accomplish today for a few moments. Usually this practice lasts about a minute, sometimes five minutes. Sometimes I take a little extra time and color a picture in one of my zen adult coloring books while I drink my cocoa and just let my mind wander for a bit before I get up and set to work.

get some sh*t done

After I’ve “meditated”, I use this quiet time before the kid(s) wake up to tackle some projects – whether that’s drafting some blog posts, scheduling social media content, cutting out monster bits, sewing, playing around with some design work, reordering business cards, packing up orders – I use it to do something, anything to move my business forward & keep up productivity. The more I can get done before my son wakes up, the more time I can spend with him! I still have to a bit of work while he’s awake, but there’s a lot less pressure to be working, checking social media, posting to social media, even thinking about my business if I am up early and getting things done before he’s awake. Sure, I’m a little more tired some days, but that’s just a reminder to go to bed a little bit earlier the next night (hello, back to the whole self care thing).

set up independent play in the mornings

For my son, whose 10, before he can play video games or we go out to do fun summer activities, there’s a list of things he has to do independently – all total it takes about two hours. I help with some of it (checking his work in his work books & math lessons) but the other stuff, like doing the dishes, tidying his room, reading, practicing Spanish, doing an art project – those are all things he can do independently and it gives me a little more time in the mornings to get some work done when I need to prep for shows or stockings or I’m rushing to finish a wholesale order. Depending on the age of your kids, this could be settling them in for a TV show or to color for a bit while you type up a blog post. They could have special toys they are only allowed to play with this during this time. It could be them running around the yard while you watch from your work space. This may not be feasible for you at all, and that’s okay – it’s just something we have found works really well for us during summer vacation because it provides my son with unplugged activities for a few hours, prevents boredom, promotes a healthy variety of interests & gives me a bit more time to dedicate to my monster biz. Whatever works for you, do that.  It may be something completely different for you. Plus, having the “quiet” activities be the first activities of the morning is just so peaceful – after about ten, things get cray & noisy up in here.

take days off

Sometimes, throw work to the wind and just embrace being a mom. Take a day to go hiking, go swim in the rivers (or the pool if that’s more your thing), go to the art museum or science museum or something! Completely unplug for a while and just enjoy time with your kids. I bet being home with them is one of the driving forces in your mama maker business dream (I know it is for me), so live it.

And that’s how I do around here, to keep things running smoothly over summer break. Feel free to weigh in down in the comments – how do you keep up momentum when all you want to do is just sloooow it down & relax in the summer?

Do you struggle with productivity in the summer?

4

Why I Won’t be Using Etsy Pattern

There’s some major hub-bub in the handmade world – Etsy just launched a sort of “stand alone website” option for sellers to have a more personalized experience for buyers. You can take a peek at the customization options & offered features here.

I’ve been on Storenvy for six years, but the idea of a stand alone website option from them piqued my curiosity so I looked into it – I figured hey, more options for selling online without losing my branding, can’t hurt to take a look. A little research and I immediately knew Etsy Pattern was not a good option for me. Not because it’s a bad option, not at all, I think this is a super awesome option for Etsy sellers to allow them more room for growth! But…

Why pay for something when I can get  better customization options & better features for free with Storenvy

Here is a comparison of Pattern vs Storenvy Custom Store Builder features that helped me  decide to just stick with Storenvy rather than try out this new venue:

  • Cost: Storenvy Custom Store Builder is FREE (to use, to list, to sell). Etsy Pattern is $15 a month  plus listing fees, plus relisting fees, plus transaction fees when you make a sale. 
  • Customization: Storenvy Custom Store Builder allows 100% customization from logo to background, font and color customization to complete HTML alteration including embedding your blog & photo galleries. Etsy Pattern offers themes, but unfortunately from what I’ve read, none of the themes are highly customizable – you are limited to your shop name and icon with preset colors and fonts.
  • Email Capture: Storenvy Custom Store Builder allows you to embed HTML to capture emails for your mailing list. Etsy Pattern does not allow you to capture emails for your mailing list. Not being able to capture emails is a huge drawback for me, as email marketing is where more than 70% of my new clients come from!

So while I think Etsy Pattern is a great option for Etsy sellers wanting to expand a little and build their branding into their business, it would almost be like backtracking for me to consider utilizing this new selling platform because I’d actually be paying more for less features than I get on Storenvy, for free, in addition to free listings in the Storenvy marketplace. No matter what website you compare it to, price (free, plus up to 500 free listings and no selling fees) and customization options (unlimited), Storenvy will always come out on top.

If you are curious about Storenvy, I wrote a little more about it & why it appeals to me over the Etsy Pattern options below, along with some examples of customized store fronts to give you an idea of the expansive customization options, and how to use it in conjunction with your Etsy marketplace shop instead of Etsy Pattern for better results & less cost.

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Screenshot of my store with basic customization (header and background)

Storenvy has been around for years, and offers sellers a FREE Custom Store Builder in addition to their super hip marketplace. The Custom Store Builder allows you the ability to completely alter the look of your store by giving you free range to edit your CSS and HTML. You can embed your current blog, photo galleries, videos, a custom about page, product sizing charts, and more for FREE, plus there are never any listing fees, you get up to 500 listings for free, and there is no selling fees when you sell through your custom store. It allows for true individuality, branding and a custom shopping experience for FREE. I’ve written a post previously about how you don’t have to choose between Storenvy and Etsy, that you can read here if you want to consider listing on both platforms, and I also cover how you can use Storenvy Custom Store Builder & Etsy marketplace together as an alternative to Etsy Pattern with better customization options, while also having inventory management & synced listings, below, in addition to some images of custom Storenvy shops.

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Example of Storenvy customization, Milky Mama

Etsy Pattern directly imports your listings to the template you have chosen, making setting up listing there super easy. If you are concerned about transferring your items from Etsy to Storenvy, don’t be, it’s also easy peasy. There’s an Etsy to Storenvy importer you can use to easily transfer products from Etsy to Storenvy!

Now, I’m going to go off topic for one moment here but it’s super important you know this. One thing you can’t expect is to use Storenvy’s Custom Store Builder & start generating sales with no effort. It is just like having a stand alone website – it is up to YOU to drive traffic to your custom store! You have to build your audience up, and use a killer marketing campaign to drive people to your custom store. The best ways to do this is to have business cards printed with your Storenvy Custom Store URL on them (or your custom domain, if you have purchased one and directed it to your Custom Store), and even if you ship out orders from Etsy offer a coupon code for them to purchase through your website. This will begin to funnel Etsy’s organic search engine traffic to your website, making Etsy a powerful marketing tool that benefits you, rather than you being a megaphone for a for-profit business model that takes away from your hard work making connections & driving them to your Etsy store, where they get a cut from your hard work marketing & driving sales. Make sure you update your Facebook, Instagram & Twitter URLs to direct to your custom website, and when clients ask where to find you, drive them ONLY to your custom website. If you drive people to Etsy and not your custom website you created with the Storenvy Custom Store Builder, then you are missing the opportunity to generate sales there & drive brand recognition. Use Etsy as a form of organic new traffic, and your custom website you create with the Storenvy Custom Store Builder as your central hub that you push all of your traffic and marketing efforts towards. THAT is how you generate sales on a custom website. Not by sending people to Etsy – by sending them to your custom website & making that your center of sales.Failing to do so is why so many makers who try to stand alone from Etsy seem to fail – they are continue to drive sales for another platform, not their own website, making it difficult for them to build a name for themselves.  And Etsy is aware of this and with Etsy Pattern, has built the perfect model to keep sellers from being able to grow beyond their platform. Selling through the Storenvy Custom Store Builder, people will say “I bought it from luanded.com!” not “I found it on Etsy!” and that is what you should be striving for with a stand alone website builder.

storenvyprint4.JPGExample of Storenvy Customization, Bubble Gum Emporium

Back on topic! Storenvy offers paid extras that are totally optional – you can domain host on Storenvy (like luanded.com vs luanded.storenvy.com) like you can on Etsy Pattern, and you can pay for a special discount bundle to offer your clients awesome deals, like Free Shipping, percent off, dollar amount off a purchase, or BOGO. Even if you pay for both of these extras, it’s just $14 a month – a dollar less than Etsy Pattern, with so much more customization options plus domain hosting and killer ways to offer your buyers discounts. Bonus, you can turn off Super Discounts when not in use, and just activate them for the month that you will be running promotions, so you don’t have to pay the special discount bundle price monthly!

Storenvy is best known for it’s awesome, trendy marketplace that you can list in as well with a minimal 10% fee ONLY when you sell (come on, a FREE custom store builder with unlimited customization options and streamlined checkout? It’s essentially a free stand alone website with no hosting headaches!) and never any listing fees, relisting fees, etc. Just pay a tiny 10% fee when you sell (ONLY through the marketplace, never through your custom store), and that’s it. It’s totally worth it and a great way to reach a new audience with minimal effort on your part. I realize Storenvy isn’t 100% handmade (neither is Etsy, but that’s neither here nor there), but they have a killer handmade marketplace extension of their regular shopping experience that has brought me many sales. They also frequently host Marketplace Sales Events that give sellers a huge boost in exposure with minimal effort on their part.

So, that’s my highlight reel of why I love Storenvy’s Custom Store Builder and think it makes a solid alternative to Etsy Pattern for makers looking to expand to a stand alone storefront option while keeping their Etsy marketplace shop open. What are your thoughts?