A Little Craft Business

A Little Craft Business

Written by: 
Carrie Nelson

At a time when many people are thinking about their work lives, the idea of turning a creative passion into a business holds appeal. 

CT Small Business Quote 1

A "little craft business" is not an uncommon description for the entrepreneurs in the quilting and sewing industry.  At a minimum, the description is true.  But it barely scratches the surface of what is involved with starting, building and running a business - any kind of business.  With October being National Women's Small Business Month, we asked Moda's designers about how they got started, some of the challenges they've faced, and what advice they would share.  

I have to confess that when I asked the questions, I didn't have a plan for how to share this.  Should it be a narrative of some kind, or all of the answers for each question?  As I read through their replies, what jumped out was how different their experiences have been, and also how much they have in common.  So I decided to share each one indvidually.

So in the order they were received... 

CT Craft Business Laurie

Laurie Simpson – Minick & Simpson

  • Years in business… 16 years. 
  • Business plan… Hahaha  No plan.  No idea on how to start, or what to expect.  
  • I wish I’d known… To trust my gut more. I got too wrapped up in the idea that what worked for other people would also work for me.
  • Biggest challenge pre-Covid… Time.
  • Biggest challenge of the past eighteen months… Since I work alone, in my own time, in my own studio/home - COVID had little change for my work. It became a challenge when relying on suppliers and outside companies.
  • Best part of owning my own business… My boss is a warm-hearted genius 
  • Best advice… Do what YOU do, and do what you like, and your community will like it also. Don't try to change your point of view to appeal to the general public.
  • Worst advice… Do the things only you can do, and hire others to do the things you can’t.  
  • Words of wisdom for those wanting to do this… Focus on a niche and do that thing very well.

CT Craft Business Janet Clare 

Janet Clare

  • Years in business… 14 years. 
  • Business plan… Still winging it now!
  • I wish I’d known… That it would be successful. That my efforts would eventually pay off
  • Biggest challenge pre-Covid… Relying on yourself, and your energy and creativity, for everything, every day.
  • Biggest challenge of the past eighteen months… The uncertainty. Bread and butter teaching, and shows being cancelled. 
  • Best part of owning my own business… Freedom! I almost never have to set an alarm and I can drop everything if I need to 
  • Best advice… Milk the cow – melk kua.  It’s Norwegian, and it’s embroidered on my apron. Wenche taught me that and it’s her handwriting that I embroidered. Don’t stop marketing your old stuff!
  • Worst advice… Trying to design a trend that you don’t actually like is always a disaster. Don’t try to be something you’re not.
  • Words of wisdom for those wanting to do this… Do it but be prepared to work harder than you’ve ever worked before. I’m the worst boss I’ve ever had!

CT Craft Business Debbie Maddy

Debbie Maddy

  • Years in business… 19 years. 
  • Business plan… I just started slowly designing patterns and still working my day job.
  • Biggest challenge pre-Covid… Taking time off.
  • Biggest challenge of the past eighteen months… Not seeing people .
  • Best part of owning my own business… I can evolve and transition when I wish.
  • Best advice… A quilt shop owner helped me understand how things might play out at wholesale market and to not get discouraged.
  • Words of wisdom for those wanting to do this… Love what you are doing or do something else.

CT Craft Business Corey Yoder

Corey Yoder – Coriander Quilts

  • Years in business… almost 10 years.  
  • Business plan… I did not have a plan...very much "let's have fun and see what happens".
  • I wish I’d known… There isn’t anything, the surprises keep things interesting.
  • Biggest challenge pre-Covid… Early on, it was hard to say no to things that would be fun to do.  I've learned pretty quickly how many things I can juggle and when I just need to let some things drop.
  • Biggest challenge of the past eighteen months… Knowing how to plan probably. I definitely have a routine with how things go throughout the year, and that looked different last year.
  • Best part of owning my own business… Flexibility, being able to set my own hours, being able to be at home with my family, not having someone else making decisions for me.
  • Best advice… I haven't received a lot of advice from friends and family but one of the things I always try to apply is Matthew 7:12a  "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them".  Keeping that in mind in every aspect of running my business has been important to me.  Running an integrity-filled business is a priority.
  • Worst advice… I can't say that I have received bad business advice.  Turning my hobby into a business was such a gradual process that I don't think most people realize I run a successful business. 
  • Words of wisdom for those wanting to do this… Go for it!  I strongly believe that if you think you can, you can.  A positive mind-set, and a willingness to learn will make all of the difference.  We can learn as we go – we don't need to know how to do everything before we start.

CT Craft Business Jenelle Kent

Jenelle Kent – Pieces to Treasure

  • Years in business…17 years.
  • Business plan… I started with no business plan, which is unlike me because I love a good plan.  However, I think it was a bit 'suck it and see' - if nobody bought my patterns, then I didn't have a business.  As it turned out, I sold some patterns so the business evolved.
  • I wish I’d known… I wish I had known a bit more about how the industry worked.  Things like, how to establish networks, who are the movers and shakers and how to access distributors.
  • Biggest challenge pre-Covid… The biggest challenge to running your own business is time.  I feel like I never have enough time.  There are so many things to do and more that I want to do, so I often feel I am not giving certain areas enough time.  Hiring staff to do all the things I shouldn't spend my time on, helps a lot, but still short on time.  I think that when you are running your own business it is constantly turning over in your mind, so you are always generating ideas, some good, some not so good.  So time will always be an issue.
  • Biggest challenge of the past eighteen months… Biggest challenge with COVID, for me,  s communicating with customers world-wide.  When launching a range of fabric and supporting patterns, I find it so much better to talk to customers face to face, so they can see, touch and feel the fabric.  Our business has such a tactile element to it, and that is missing when making videos and doing Zoom meetings.  Because of the remote communications I also miss the immediate feedback from running a Schoolhouse, visiting stores and answering questions.  
  • Best part of owning my own business… The best part of owning and operating my own business is that I work in a field that I really enjoy and work with fabric that I love.  Another great part is that I get to create things - and I love creativity.  I also like the fact that I can work from home.  This way I can fit things in around my work and family schedule and if things are going well I can work late at night or take a morning off to go and do something else.  So the flexibility is great. 
  • Best advice… Delgate the day to day things so you can concentrate on the important things that drive the business.  If I am spending all my time doing the accounts or ordering supplies for the shop, I am not designing patterns and fabric or working on books.  I am better spending my time doing the designing work and have others do the 'office' work.
  • Worst advice… The worst advice I received, and then ignored, was don't make friends with customers.  I understand why and where this advice came from,  but there are so many wonderful people in this industry it's hard not be their friend.  I've made some wonderful friends in this business and hope to make more.
  • Words of wisdom for those wanting to do this… Be unique!  Do something differently, have your own style.

CT Craft Business Aneela Hoey

Aneela Hoey

  • Years in business… 10 years.
  • Business plan… No plan, I’ve winged every step.
  • I wish I’d known to… The importance of having a plan.
  • Biggest challenge pre-Covid… constant interruption.
  • Biggest challenge of the past eighteen months… Trying to work while having the whole family at home.
  • Best part of owning my own business… Autonomy when it comes to decisions and direction.
  • Words of wisdom for those wanting to do this… Be prepared for everything to change at the drop of a hat. The ability to adapt is key.

CT Craft Business Lynne Hagmeier

Lynne Hagmeier – Kansas Troubles Quilters

  • Years in business…  Kansas Troubles Quilters began as three friends making small quilts for craft shows in 1996. The pattern business developed in 1998 when two of us attended International Quilt Market.
  • Business plan… I honestly just wanted to quilt while the kids were still in school and make a little extra money. It slowly developed – quickly – over about 4 years.
  • I wish I’d known… How much time it takes to wear all the hats as a Mom & Pop operation. We seldom work just 40 hours a week, and it’s hard to get away to recharge.
  • Biggest challenge pre-Covid… Finding employees. We have not expanded as much as we would have liked over the years because in our area, we can’t find help.
  • Biggest challenge of the past eighteen months… Keeping up with and expanding my social media presence. It’s not my favorite thing to do, so posting more and offering more online tutorials, etc. was challenging.
  • Best part of owning my own business… I love creating every day, sharing with quilters, and making our business successful with my husband, Robert.
  • Best advice… Make, sell, do what you love. Be true to yourself. Someone else will love it too.
  • Worst advice… Don’t worry about inventory.
  • Words of wisdom for those wanting to do this… Research the industry. See if your brand fills a need that is not being filled. Create your niche.

CT Craft Business Kaari Meng

Kaari Meng – French General

  • Years in business… 24 years.
  • Business plan… I started French General in the barn in our backyard - we were open one weekend a month. I didn't have a business plan other than I wanted to create something I loved with antique fabric and notions.  I also wanted to look forward to my work everyday, I wanted to love going to work - and I told my accountant I would be happy with $20 in my pocket!
  • I wish I’d known… I am glad that French General started very organically - it allowed me to figure out what worked and what didn't work for me.  We soon moved our barn business down to Manhattan and opened up a retail shop in Soho.  After a few years, we moved the business, again, out to Los Angeles, to be near family.
  • Biggest challenge pre-Covid… The biggest challenge for me has always been to not take on too many projects at once.  I learned saying no once in a while actually helped me to slow down and put more time and energy into the projects I really want to do.
  • Biggest challenge of the past eighteen months… The biggest challenge during Covid was to trust that our customers would be able to pivot along with us and be satisfied taking online workshops - which worked.  Our online workshops are a great way for students around the world to learn from us and our amazing teachers.
  • Best part of owning my own business… The best part of owning my own business is that I can travel anytime I like - which is where some of our best ideas begin - far away in another country learning about craft from the locals.
  • Best advice… The best business advice I have ever received was to create a consistent design presence in order to build a brand.  I have tried to stay true to the original concept of French General which was to design for myself and hopefully others would like it just as much.
  • Worst advice… Luckily - I don't listen to bad business advice!
  • Words of wisdom for those wanting to do this… You have to love what you do every day - so make sure whatever you decide to build is something you will be happy with ten years from now.   

CT Craft Business Barbara Groves

Barbara Groves – Me & My Sister Designs

  • Years in business… We started our business in 1998.
  • Business plan… We had a complete business plan with all the demographics in our area including the number of households and incomes. I remember thinking why would we ever need this but over the years as our business grew, we were called to show that plan every now and then with updated information. I sometimes thought that people didn’t really care what was in the plan, just that we were serious and organized enough to do one.
  • I wish I’d known… People always say it’s hard work BUT that doesn’t even begin to cover it! You jump in working long and hard hours ,and then that doubles!
  • Biggest challenge pre-Covid… Finding good employees, managing them and keeping them happy. 
  • Biggest challenge of the past eighteen months… Losing that face-to-face interaction with business contacts and customers! 
  • Best part of owning my own business… Flexibility .
  • Best advice… Always make some time for yourself so that you stay happy and healthy.
  • Worst advice… I don’t think I ever really received bad advice. There are things I would certainly do differently but everything was a learning experience.
  • Words of wisdom for those wanting to do this… Be prepared! Think it through before making any major decisions, and always sit on it for a few days. That first idea that sounds so good at the moment may not look as good after a good night’s sleep. Always think through the consequences.

CT Craft Business Kathy Schmitz

Kathy Schmitz  Kathy Schmitz Studios

  • Years in business… Since 2002.
  • Business plan… I totally winged it!
  • I wish I’d known… To have a business plan.  haha
  • Biggest challenge pre-Covid… Keeping a balance between work and fun.  I’m the sole employee, so I have to divide my time between emails, shipping, and being creative.  
  • Biggest challenge of the past eighteen months… I noticed many more people requesting complete kits.  I had to research to find all the supplies needed for a project and make sure there was enough available.  So many items became hard to get during Covid.
  • Best part of owning my own business… I am the boss!  I can take time for family and friends when I want.  The absolute BEST part is that I get to be creative for work!  
  • Words of wisdom for those wanting to do this… Do it!  It will take time (as in years), but it’s so worth it to be in this industry surrounded by happy, like-minded people.

CT Craft Business Brigitte Heitland

Brigitte Heitland – Zen Chic

  • Years in business…  I started in 2011, so this year I am celebrating my 10-year anniversary.
  • Business plan… I didn't have a business plan, at all. I just jumped in blindly and hoped for some luck. And it worked!
  • I wish I’d known… I was a real rookie in the beginning. I had an education as a surface designer at the time - when nobody even knew how to spell the word computer.  That was more than 30 years ago, when I was in my twenties, haha. But I educated myself with all the computer applications like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, and I learned how to make a repeated pattern. Actually, I'm happy I didn't know it all before I started. What if I became too scared? I learned throughout the journey and that made it an exciting one.
  • Biggest challenge pre-Covid… Being my own boss, and learning time-management and efficiency, was definitely challenging.
  • Biggest challenge of the past eighteen months… Changing from traveling to teach classes in-person to teaching online over Zoom.
  • Best part of owning my own business… I feel the best part is being absolutely free to do what I really, deeply love doing.
  • Best advice… That it's all about mindset. If you can dream it, you can make it.
  • Worst advice… Nothing really, sometimes a piece of advice doesn't work for you, but that doesn't necessarily make it bad advice.
  • Words of wisdom for those wanting to do this… Figure out who you are, what's your style, and what's unique about you. Diversify yourself from the crowd, and stay true to yourself.

CT Craft Business Joanna Figueroa

Joanna Figueroa – Fig Tree & Co.

  • Years in business… For over 20 years. Not sure how that happened but there it is!
  • Business plan… I am married to someone with an MBA, and my dad ran his own business. I will just leave it at that
  • I wish I’d known… How much work it would be to run the kind of business that is self-sustaining, and that can stand on its own two feet. I would still do it, but it would have been great to know that upfront. Also, that you absolutely can make a successful, viable business in our industry if you have a vision, and a unique voice to offer.
  • Biggest challenge pre-Covid… Balance. I know that is an overused catch-phrase, but its also true. When you work for yourself, or from home, or with a family-run business, it is really hard to balance it all in a way that makes you happy.  It's very rewarding, and worth it, but it's hard.
  • Biggest challenge of the past eighteen months… Work flow. I think that is still true now given all the supply-chain issues.
  • Best part of owning my own business… Being your own boss, working on your own timetable, and producing what you love. I seriously cannot imagine doing anything else.
  • Best advice… Set Goals. Create a Schedule. Believe in Yourself.
  • Worst advice… You will never make any money with "your little craft business."
  • Words of wisdom for those wanting to do this… It’s the same as the best business advice I received.

CT Small Business Quote 2

Whether they started with a plan, or figured it out along the way, there are no one-size-fits-all manuals for how to have a creative business.  What works for one person may not work for anyone else.  Success is the result of hard work - a lot of it. 

And staying true to yourself.   

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