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10 things I did & didn't do to grow my crochet business

by Laura Eccleston

03 Jan 2024

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10 things I did & didn't do to grow my crochet business
Lately, it seems everyone's an expert when it comes to growing your business, but in reality there is no special formula or list of requirements to become successful. 

If I could just list the one most important aspect to growing a successful business, whatever it is, it's to be passionate about what you do and to believe in what you create, but that would make for a very short article so let's dive into the things I did do to grow HappyBerry and the things I didn't do so you can avoid some of the expectations and misery you may be placing upon yourself.

Of course I am not an expert either and this article is just from my own experiences, which is based on how I like to work and what feels right for me and of course Misi. That in itself is probably one of the most important aspects to running a business, do what feels right for you. If it doesn't feel right, follow your gut instinct, no matter how enticing the prospect might look on the outside.

5 things I have never done or tend to avoid with HappyBerry

1. I have never blocked my crochet. 

This may seem unrelated to crochet as a business, but it is very relevant when it comes to crocheting in itself, but indeed, I have never blocked a single square, garment or blanket in my whole time I've been crocheting, and that extends to longer than HappyBerry has existed. Why? because I just don't have time for all that.

I often find that most crocheted items sit flat once they have been sewn together and if they are not sewn together, say it's just a square, if it's really bumpy and misshapen then I find placing it under a heavy book sufficient enough for photography reasons. This can depend on your type of crocheting of course so if you feel something really does need blocking, especially if you work with garments or sell finished items, then of course block away. This is just my experience as a designer where only a photo is important so this must not reflect on how you work even if I have been called weird on Threads! 

2. I have never used pattern testers

Again, I have been called weird for this too, but I have never understood why designers need to use pattern testers, unless they are working with designing clothes and need someone to test for a different size perhaps. Beyond that, trust in your own abilities! Relying on others to test your designs can lead to so many problems such as people not getting back to you, people taking too long, people taking advantage etc. I am confident in my own abilities to know that my patterns work. I always test my own patterns either by crocheting it again or working through the pattern in my head. Inadvertently this happens when I design something and then make it again on a tutorial, so I know it works by the time I write up the written version for the website.

The key thing here is to write down your pattern as you go, checking your stitch count and design as you crochet, so then when you have finished you can be confident in your design. I find that reverse engineering your crochet patterns once you have finished them will lead to mistakes, avoid this as much as possible. If any errors do pop up I find that they are often minor issues and it rarely happens, my subscribers will often be quick to notice anything and I can then offer a correction in the pattern, but I think this has only happened once or twice in my 15 years of sharing my designs.

3. I avoid working with magazines

In the early days I used to occasionally work with magazines, often they would approach me to ask if I would be interested in submitting a design and I would fall into that trap of thinking it would be good for promotion and the kudos would be great. In reality it took a lot of work for very little reward with regards to growing my business. If you regularly submit work over and over again then maybe it can get your name recognised, but most people who read magazines don't pay attention to the designer, they are just interested in the pattern and once they have that, they won't be taking out their phones to follow you or research who you are any time soon. I'm not saying this won't happen, but it's rare. There was never any sufficient increase in my followers after working with a magazine as magazines get quickly put down and forgotten unlike the internet.

I have had some great experiences with working with magazines of course, for example Inside Crochet magazine was a good team to work with and it was lovely seeing my designs being modeled and photographed by professionals. I also worked for Mollie Makes, which was a positive experience, but I've also had some terrible experiences. One particular yarn brand who wanted me to design for them asked me to design some baby booties and they sent me a ton of images from other designers to imitate their work, something I always felt uncomfortable about, but the examples were all booties made with a very chunky yarn and all they had given me was a crochet thread yarn. I explained it would be impossible to create what they wanted using such a thin thread, but they wouldn't listen and they would have meetings after meetings, again and again, asking me to change this and change that, never understanding how crochet design worked or valuing my expertise and time, until eventually I told them where to go. It was a complete waste of my time and energy and the pay was awful to begin with. 

Another negative experience was a craft company who wanted me to design for them and they didn't even use my name or brand when releasing the designs! They took full credit for my work. The pay was terrible and their employees would contact me asking for help with making my patterns on a personal level, which I never signed up for. I refused to ever work for them again and the CEO of the company got quite abusive after I snubbed them, not believing that a designer might actually not want to work for them or be happy with just some free yarn.

What I'm trying to say is that you could have positive or negatives experiences with working with any company, but you need to weigh up how important your time is. This is time taken away from designing for your own business. Time taken away from sharing directly with your customers and nurturing those relationships, and time taken away from growing your success. I used to work as a graphic and website designer before HappyBerry so I know how much I should be paid as a designer. Often crochet designers don't have this luxury and get taken advantage of and often get paid less than minimum wage in exchange for 'exposure', so be careful. This inexperience at valuing your time is something that magazine companies can take advantage of. Understand and know your worth. Always put you and your brand first.

4. I turned down a book publishing offer

If you haven't called me weird and crazy by now, then this one might get you, but yes, I have indeed turned down a book publishing offer. Every crochet designer's dream right? Not for me it turns out.

I thought about it for a long time before I initially did accept working on this project. It was for a beginner crochet book for a fairly well known book publishing company who approached me directly. I've never sought out companies myself so initially I was interested. It sounded like a good opportunity, something a little different to try, but quickly I realised how much work would be involved. I know, I sound lazy, but it's all time taken away from connecting directly with my own audience.

I was offered two financial options. To be paid as a lump sum or to take a smaller lump sum and get a percentage of the sales. I opted for the second option as I believed in the book and I waited for the first installment. It never came. By this time I had invested a lot of my time in talking to the team, video meetings and planning the book, thinking about the structure and the patterns, so far all for free. My business began to suffer. I didn't have time to make tutorials or design my own patterns. I was beginning to notice that my dislike for working for magazines was becoming the same experience but with a book publisher. If it was this hard to get an initial payment then I had doubts about any future financial commitments from them with regards to the percentage of sales. Plus once I was hooked in, I found communication was difficult, emails were ignored, I was handed over to different people and different departments who often didn't know what was going on.

A lot of the advertising would be down to me too, they were counting on the fact that I had a big audience and I began to think wouldn't it make more sense to just self publish my own book? It would end up in all the same places after-all. And they were asking me to not just design the crochet patterns but also to produce most of the photography and all the chart patterns to go with the patterns because they knew I had that expertise so if I was doing 90% of the work, then what was the point of working with them at all? Especially if my own business was taking a hit. It was not a good investment of my time and commitment so I dropped out.

Although I haven't gone on to self publish my own book, I have gone on to launch our own membership area and crochet magazine. One of the best decisions I've ever made. Maybe one day, when I find time, I will self publish my own first real crochet book, but for now I have a few eBooks you can enjoy.

5. I don't use Ravelry, Pinterest and deleted Facebook

In the early days I did use Ravelry so there's a small caveat with this one. I would list a few of my patterns on there that would link back to Facebook. It was a way to grow my Facebook business page in the very beginning, this was years ago however, but as my YouTube audience grew and my own website traffic grew I found it had the opposite effect I was hoping for. It actually took traffic away from my channels. People, rather than sharing their makes on my social channels, they were sharing them on Ravelry and just like news aggregate websites, this meant people were not looking at my content in full and not viewing my adverts, which help finance my business. They instead were looking at Ravelry adverts and supporting their business. To this day I have to keep removing my copyrighted images from their website. Always go directly to a designer's channel and pages to support them directly. This is so important for small businesses.

The same for Pinterest. A glorified copyright infringement model where no-one really knows where images truly come from, where they begin and where they end. I've given up even trying to understand how Pinterest could benefit my business and just let people use it how they wish with regards to HappyBerry, but I myself do not use it.

Facebook however, my business page did grow to over 70,000 members, but as time went on comments and likes diminished. Facebook began to request I pay to get followers, but to then pay again to advertise to these followers. It became pointless. The community became difficult to interact with and along with Facebook also being a very toxic social environment I decided to just delete my business page with all 70,000 members along with it. No-one really noticed and it had zero affect on my business. That was over 5 years ago now. Since then I did have to reinstall a new Facebook page because someone was impersonated HappyBerry, but I do not use it and do not have Facebook installed on any of my devices. It is merely a holding page as is TikTok.

So now we've looked at some of the things I don't do with HappyBerry, you may be asking what is it that I do do! I also share a few funny experiences at the end of events I really wish I hadn't done.

5 things I have done which really supported HappyBerry

1. Collaborations

This word can feel like a huge hurdle if you're anything like me, an introvert who isn't big on social situations, but collaborating with other companies and other crocheters needn't be scary. The most important thing is to let it happen naturally. I have never approached a company in my whole time at HappyBerry. They have always found me!

So who to work with? Yarn brands are great to team up with, but not as a designer, instead as a yarn promoter. You're usually not paid for this, but instead are sent free yarn to crochet with. I love doing this because it has helped grow my yarn stash, which can be a huge expense as a crochet designer, and you get to try new yarns you wouldn't have normally tried before or even known about. This became especially significant when I moved abroad and couldn't bring my yarn stash with me. Hobium were great to work with, very supportive with beautiful yarns. I've also worked with Hobbii, PaintBox, KingCole and others to name a few.

I've also worked with Clover with regards to craft supplies, xTool for a laser cutter and engraver, which were both wonderfully supportive and great to work with. I've also collaborated with various charities as a designer, which of course you never get paid for, but for me it felt much more rewarding of my time and some of the charities have been really interesting such as when I worked on the Invasive Crafted Species campaign for the Bern Convention where I shared a little Siberian Chipmunk crochet pattern. You can view that here: 





I've also worked with the Battersea Dogs Home, designing some adorable doggy booties, which you can find here on LoveCrafts. I have also worked with Little Hearts Matter, a charity that is focused on raising awareness and much needed funds to support families dealing with congenital heart defects. You can view that video tutorial here:



I have done a few individual collaborations with other designers, one in particular was with a French crocheter, which was a lot of fun. I am always open to collaborations so do get in touch if you have a project in mind you'd like HappyBerry to support. 

Collaborations may not support your business financially and there may not be much fancy kudos such as working with a magazine, but the rewards can be much bigger and much more long lasting. Online content stays available for much longer, you can receive various supporting materials such as yarn, which can save you a lot of money, and it helps you network and create new connections for your business. The business exposure can often be much bigger and in a much more positive light.

2. Started my own website/blog

Since day 1 I launched my own blog, before I invested in my own website. I was lucky enough to have the skill set and connections through my previous career to build my own website, but you absolutely do not need anything fancy. A simple blog is absolutely more than enough just like it was in my early days. I have a whole eBook on this subject so I could easily go into a lot more detail on this subject, but all I want to say for now is that building your own website or blog away from social media has to be one of the most important things you need to do.

Imagine if you grew your business solely on social media, which they will convince you you need to do, and you grow a large audience. You invest all your time in creating reels and sharing your designs only to wake up one day and.. it's all gone. Phoof! Your whole business has evaporated over night. This actually happened to me one time with Instagram, all my 40,000+ members disappeared over night, but thankfully it was a bug and it was all up and running again a few days later, but it absolutely highlights why you should not center your business solely around social media. 

Having your own blog allows you to develop your own customer base that you own and control (internet permitting of course). Start collecting a newsletter subscription list if you can. Write articles that Google will index for you to help bring an audience to your page, and develop your own community that another company, like Facebook, doesn't own. I cannot reiterate this enough!

3. Share some free content and take good photos

Ok, I may have took this to the extreme where 99.9% of my designs are free, but simply offering a few free patterns alongside your paid for designs is a lovely way to get people interested in your designs. It allows them to test your way of working to see if they like your format and most likely if they like what you do, they will go on to purchase your other patterns. Think of it like a market stall sharing a few free tasters to entice you into buying a full jar of pickles. Of course you'll always get those who just take and walk, but more than likely you will get your name out there and people will come to love what you do and invest in your work.

Under this section I will also add taking good photos and no, you don't need a fancy camera. Just natural light either outside or by a window on a bright day (you don't need full sunshine, in fact that can sometimes look worse), with a few cute props like dried flowers, sea shells or baby toys that compliment your designs. A phone camera is more than enough. Even today, my photos are not great unless Misi is on the case such as with our crochet magazine, but it has never stopped people from enjoying my designs or being enticed in.

4. Enjoy what you do

It may seem simple enough, but it's amazing how many times I hear people who are launching their own business who are doing things they don't enjoy, thinking they need to for their business. No, you don't need to do anything that doesn't sit right with your values, your situation or your abilities. All you need to do is to be passionate about what you do and to enjoy what you do. This will absolutely show through on your reels, your videos, your photos and your posts. If you don't feel comfortable making tutorials, then don't. If you don't feel comfortable collaborating with another designer, then don't. Focus on the things that matter to you. Perhaps you only want to release a pattern once a month, and that's fine because if you place your energy into that one design, when you come to release it your passion will show through, but make sure to share your story, your journey, let others know why it took you a month, not in an aggressive defensive way, but in a love and lightful way. Don't force people to believe in you, show them. Show them how your designs can bring enjoyment to their lives.

Look at these two sentences.. which one resonates with you the most?

- I spent ages on this and no-one appreciates what I do. It took me ages and I deserve to be compensated for my hard work.

- This shawl is my expression of summer, its intricate design evokes the longevity of peaceful summer days and that is shown in the time taken to share this design with you.  



5. Don't invest in the drama

One of the things I've perhaps become known for is my lack of involvement in the community, my hard-headed attitude to copyright infringement and my complete disregard for following the rules. At least that's what others may tell you, but in reality this is just me not wishing to invest in the drama that inevitably appears in any part of life. People love the drama! It's almost fashionable these days to be negative, to be judgmental and to create division, but is it what you really want to remembered for? Eventually it will become unfashionable.

When starting your business think about the long term. How will your business evolve as you grow older. What might be fun now, may look awful in a decade. HappyBerry has been running since 2009 and has been on YouTube since 2011 and so much has changed in that time, but not HappyBerry. Yes, it's evolved as the internet has evolved, but it's core values have stayed the same. To bring happiness, to be authentic and real and to follow what feels right for us as a brand. Even the logo has stayed the same! It's stood the test of time. 

You can't control everything, but you can control how you react to things. Keep an emotional distance from drama that is designed to be reactive. Stay off social channels that create division and use your energy instead to be creative, to bring joy to others and to make the world a better place, one stitch at a time! This will do wonders for your business and your own mental health.

So I hope you have found this article interesting, enlightening or just simply entertaining, but I have to finish up on a couple of experiences in my early days of HappyBerry, which when I look back on now I can't help but think what the hell was I doing...

My biggest wake up calls...

Many years ago I was invited to a Christmas party in London, which was being hosted by LoveCrafts. Back then they used to have a community called the Flockers, which was a lovely way to bring designers together for collaborations and yarn support. Since then LoveCrafts has grown and the Flockers seemed to die a death (although this page exists), which I've always felt was a bit sad, but anyway, this was a special Christmas party for the Flockers. I was reluctant to go because I'm not particularly sociable and every cell in my body was screaming for me to stay at home, especially because it involved traveling to London. I actually used to live in London, but I hated it. I only last 2 years and was quick to move back to the country.

But! I decided to go because I thought it was important for my business, to connect with like minded people and to get my brand out there. Oh how wrong was I.. LoveCrafts were great though, they put on an amazing spread, little cupcakes with yarn related images on them, there was a photo area for all the selfies (sorry, none of me, I was too shy to use it!) and oodles of free yarn to play with. In that sense it was a dream and a lot of fun, but one of the weirdest things was when I got there, everyone seemed to know each other already and I couldn't understand why. I had a huge following on YouTube, yet absolutely no-one spoke to me except the LoveCrafts team. It was such a weird experience and I realised then for the first time that the 'crochet community' was extremely clicky. I thought maybe it was because I used US terminology rather than UK terminology lol. There was clearly something going on behind the scenes that I was unaware of or not involved in and to this day I don't know where the entry door is. It reminded me of school. I was an outsider then, and here I was an outsider again even though I was the most famous UK crochet designer in the room at that time (there's many now). That said I did befriend a lovely lady who made small crochet toys who we happily got rather merry together in a quiet corner, crocheting away. I also won a yarn advent calendar from the LoveCrafts team who really made the whole experience bearable.

My point is though, that over-all the experience was a learning curve. I realised that I didn't have to be there to be successful. I didn't have to socialise with people to be successful and I didn't have to force myself to do things that made me feel uncomfortable to be successful. I was already living my own path that was working for me. I didn't have to fit in or follow what everyone else was doing. I never went again.

My second weird experience was when I was invited to visit the London YouTube headquarters to have a meeting with my YouTube manager at that time. Firstly it took me ages to find the building and why I was back in London again was anyone'e guess, but here I was thinking I needed this meeting to grow my tutorial channel. 

When I eventually entered the building and found reception it was like being in one of those movies, where everyone is really young and hip and you don't have a clue what you're doing and you suddenly feel super old. Bare in mind this was nearly a decade ago as well. I dread to think what it's like now. I went to the person on reception who was on the phone and waited... and waited... and waited. They would not get off the phone! Call me old fashioned, but I always feel it's really rude not to greet people at reception if you work on reception lol. Eventually they waved me over to a touch screen login machine, which of course didn't work so I'm stood there like an idiot for ages, just slowly dying inside and re-thinking all my life choices. Eventually someone tried the machine for me and I managed to register my attendance for the meeting. Very quickly my YouTube manager arrived, clearly wondering where I was, and took me to their... canteen.

Now, call me old fashioned again, but a meeting in such a noisy, communal space is not the best for discussing things. As people came in for their sandwiches, I'm trying to understand what my manager is saying and eventually I realise she is asking me what I want to do on my YouTube channel. I said that's what I'm here to learn. She said well, you're covering all the age groups, which is unheard of (apparently that's a thing), you seem to have created all the right banners and graphics for your channel. I'm not sure what to suggest she says! Do you look at analytics? No, I do not look at analytics so we spend the next half hour going through analytics that to this day I still ignore and do not understand. I tried recently to release a tutorial based on when more people are online, it may zero difference.

So, the trip was a complete waste of time, but I did persuade my manager to show me around YouTube. It wasn't anything useful or amazing. In fact, it wasn't set up for How-To channels like mine and seemed to focus more heavily on younger audiences and vloggers. I realised I was doing things that I just didn't need to do, thinking I had to. I had all the skills I needed within me and I needed to have confidence in who I was and what I was doing. I actually don't have a YouTube manager anymore. She seemed to leave the company and I never got another one, I've never pushed for one.

 

So to conclude! Just do what feels right for you. Have faith in your own abilities and believe in yourself. Then watch the magic happen that's my advice. It's very easy to think you have to do certain things that other people are doing, but it's all an illusion. It may work for them, but not for you. What I have done may not work for you, but works for me. It really comes down to what feels right for you. What drives you and excites you! 

Love and Light
- Laura 



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