Get Yourself a “Side Hustle”
I have a Small Creative Business as a crochet designer. It’s called Zeens and Roger (two of my nicknames). To some this is considered a “side hustle” but to me, it’s the part time job that I love. It’s all of my own making and, don’t tell my boss but, I prefer it to my real, non-crochet job (with its guaranteed income).
People I know consider my woolly obsession to be more of a hobby. But if I can earn an income from it, albeit a relatively small one, to me it is a bonafide job. It feeds the yarn habit too. Money goes back into the industry, supporting other small creative businesses, like indie dyers, who I give all my money to so I can buy my body weight in colourful skeins of merino.
Crochet Design and Marketing Experience
Whilst my small biz is all about crochet design, I reckon a lot of the top tips below are relevant to many creative “side hustles”. The advice is based on my own experience for ways of increasing sales in my creative business. It’ll guide you towards setting up your own small business side hustle if you haven’t already started.
It is not a major, deep dive as they are all extensive subjects in their own right. However, a simple overview will be a nice and gentle introduction here. I know very well how difficult and overwhelming it can be to start when there is so much info out there.
Top Tips for Your Small Creative Business
Get Featured in a Magazine
I was inspired to write this blog post because I was interviewed for a recent issue of Inside Crochet magazine about being an entrepreneur and having a “side hustle” creative business. I would be missing a trick if I didn’t also share my experience of working as a freelance crochet designer here!
I love the working relationships I have with craft magazines. My work has been featured many times now and I get excited each and every time publication day comes along. Not only do you get to see your hard work show up in print, so does everyone else. it’s a genius way of getting known in your specialist field.
Perhaps you’ve already read how I started as a crochet designer. Essentially, I bit the bullet and contacted my favourite magazines asking to be featured. No point waiting for them to come to me! I say it so confidently now, but at the time I was bricking it. Putting yourself out there is hard but you can do it!
Learn About Small Business Marketing
Marketing is a huge subject and I’m no expert. However, I have picked up knowledge by trial and error. Marketing is a big investment of time (and sometimes, money). Crikey, all of these things are! But you can encompass it into your daily/weekly/quarterly work routine.
For me, a lot of marketing is about getting to know my audience through social media. Like, who are my customers? What do they like about my crochet designs and my brand? I used to be terrified of talking to people online but I find it much easier now. It’s massively important to be entirely yourself because trust is important, customers can definitely smell the stench of nonsense.
Personally, I hate marketing ploys being shoved down my throat. Then I have to remind myself that I am not my customer and just because I’ve seen my work quite a lot, it doesn’t mean that my customers have. So what if I shared the same picture on Insta three times over the last 18 months! Not everyone saw it the first or second time. Sometimes, reminding folks about a popular design or product isn’t going to feel forced at all. It’s gentle promotion, I guess.
One of the most fun things I did to market Zeens and Roger was answer a Facebook post asking for artists to display their work in empty highstreet windows. I got a very sweet spot to showcase my crochet designs, just in time for lockdown March 2020. People still saw it and I got a lot of emails, even during peak quarantine days.
Um, I am useless at turning up for this and much to my detriment too. Despite being a Newsletter chump who has only set up basic campaigns and then managed to send ONE Newsletter, I know without a shadow of a doubt that a direct bulletin to people who want to know more is massively valuable. This is a marketing tool that is super buzzy right now. Everyone is encouraged to write a Newsletter so that you can point customers to where your stuff is.
Please can someone kick me up the bum and tell me to write more Newsletters from my creative business please?!
Become a Pinterest Whizz
Oh Pinterest, how I love thee! Pinterest takes long term commitment to get people pinning your lovely images. For the longest time, I didn’t pay this platform enough attention. And it showed. Then, about 18 months ago I signed up for a series of free Pinterest webinars. I learned that whatever I had been doing was terribly old school. I had not kept up with the pinning times. As soon as I linked my website to my Pinterest account, and once I knew how to create pins on Canva, I was off!
The pic below is a typical Pin that does pretty well.
Some Pins take off immediately, some are a slow trickle of attention, and many pins fall flat on their face. A mix of all three has been my experience, and I’ve seen my small audience go up from a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand in just over a year. Perhaps you don’t think that’s a lot but it’s a decent start. I’m happy with that. And even if images don’t get pinned, I can see from my blog stats, that I still get a lot of visitors because of Pinterest.
Be Consistent in your Work
Show up for Instagram. Show up for your blog. Show up in any of the places you’ve decided to focus on for your creative work. The amount of times I have seen people set everything up, to then sit back and expect miracles is crazy.
I’m definitely guilty of neglecting some elements of the behind the scenes work because life really does get in the way and that’s OK. It’s important that none of us give ourselves a hard time on this. However, you can nearly always see the difference in stats between sitting back and doing bog all, and sitting down at your desk and writing a blog post or creating a handful of Pins, or whatever.
Evaluate what needs changing and make little improvements. No need to go in all guns blazing cos that’ll backfire too.
Your Crafty Skills are Valuable
Something you know already: Exposure doesn’t pay the bills! The reason you’re reading this is because you have a talent that you believe can be turned into a bit of a money spinner. Doing stuff for free won’t help with that. I have learned this by accepting “gifts” in exchange for reviews. They are never gifts, something is expected in return.
No, I won’t do 2 Instagram Posts, 4 Stories, 2 Reels, a blog post and YouTube review for your three balls of fancy new yarn. But you can pay me for those things! I swear big brands know to target smaller and up and coming creative businesses because they know those are the ones who will jump at an “amazing opportunity”
I’m contacted on a reasonably regular basis asking if I will do the influencer thing. Nine times out of ten, I won’t as I know it devalues a maker’s time. It’s exciting to hear from well known brands but in the back of my mind is the knowledge that they have huge marketing budgets and that money doesn’t filter down to talented creators, needing to be paid for their work.
Just to add, I’m not a misery guts. There are times when there’s a positive gut feeling and I jump on board for a collaboration.
Blogging for Your Small Business
The longevity of blogs is incredible. The power they still have has blown my mind a little bit. At one point I remember everyone predicting the death of blogging but nope, it has shown amazing staying power.
I started my blog for a number of reasons. Firstly, I wanted to record the things I crocheted and secondly, had a vague notion that perhaps I could earn money from it if enough visitors stopped by. A big dream was to sell designs too. As a total novice, I learned new skills just by having a go. Funnily enough, the skills I learned from blogging had an influence on getting my first “real” job back in the workplace, after being a stay at home parent for ten years.
Monetize your creative blog when you start seeing the traffic picking up. Are you able to attract visitors by offering freebies? Mostly, I like to offer free crochet patterns that are relatively quick and easy. That way you’re not spending more time than it may be worth. I also enjoy blog posts about crochet related techniques and tips too. That way, crocheters who make my patterns can also discover some snazzy tricks and advice too.
Don’t forget that SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is where it’s at for bloggers. It’s more than just keywords and my understanding of SEO grows year on year. I used to be a very lazy blogger so every now and then I spend the time going over old blog posts to make them SEO relevant, make sure the links work and actually answer questions about crochet rather than assume people know the same things I do.
I also use a plugin called Yoast to help me make sure I hit all the SEO things I need to hit.
Try YouTube Vlogging
If you have the time for recording content such as podcasts and tutorials (and then putting it all together via the power of editing software) this could be for you. All the Youtube video making takes time but you find a whole new audience. Be aware that to make YouTube work for you, you need to be present regularly. I couldn’t commit to once or twice a week so have taken a step back for now. You need a lot of views to bring in income but if you enjoy talking about your small creative business then this is a great option.
I miss my YouTube channel a lot and if I could, I would be there every week, making all the crochet videos!
Build a Network of Friends
Sometimes, running a small business can be lonely. This is one of the reasons I haven’t quit my day job as I like working with people. My job as a crochet designer can be pretty solitary. Sharing the experience with friends and peers who have similar creative businesses can make a huge difference to how you feel about your work.
A lot of negative stuff can be said about Instagram but I have made genuine friends by being on that app. I love that you can go to a yarn festival on your own and bump into someone you know and have a great old gasbagging session. I love that I have even been on holiday with my crochet pals.
Whether you’re having a catch up over cake in real life or a chinwag on Zoom, I greatly value these awesome friendships.
Get Small Business Advice from the Experts
You can get loads of free small business advice online and it helps to know where you can find specific resources. Webinars, courses or subscriptions sometimes have a small cost associated with them. I’m happy to spend the equivalent of a few pattern sales to gain access to superior knowledge. They are fantastic investments. To be honest you can spend hundreds on signing up for courses etc but you can pick and chose what ones work for you.
Keep your eyes peeled on social media too and discuss with your network of crafty friends to find out what’s going on in the community. This is where I have discovered many helpful courses to do with marketing, Pinterest, SEO etc. In fact, this weekend I’m attending an online copywriting course!
A list of People and Places to help with your Creative Business
- Studio Cotton: Aime shares a tonne of expert advice on small creative businesses.
- Sara Tasker AKA Me & Orla: I particularly enjoy her Hashtag Authentic podcast.
- Indie Roller: Lots of positive encouragement about selling your work from Leona.
- The Design Trust: A Business School for creative professionals.
- Inspired To Write: Amie McNee, a Creativity Coach who is relatively new to me but I like what I see.
These are just a few. The top two are my faves and work with how I like to run my crochet biz. Is there a resource that you swear by?
Well, lordy, who knew a creative business person wore so many hats!!
By the way, please don’t let this list worry you. It’s not all done in one giant whammy. It is very much a one step at a time kind of thing. Pick and choose what to tackle first and take your time. Don’t give up too soon either, it’s a long-game and with patience, you’ll see changes start to happen.
Also, a caveat. I made this list up based on what I fumble my way through. The list is not exhaustive and perhaps not what my peers do. There are loads of other ways to wing it as a small creative business person but I hope this offers some kind of starting point. It’s not really possible to cover everything in one blog post. I’m pretty sure I’d end up with a book if I tried to talk about it all!
As always, let me know if you have any questions, I’d love to hear from you.