Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Visions of Success with Millions of Stitches

Here we are again ... talking with yet another great Zibbet seller... Nancy German of Millions of Stitches. Join me in getting to know a bit more about her & grab a few great tips & ideas.

Let’s start with a quick intro. Tell us about you.
I've always enjoyed doing crafts, especially sewing. We'll be married for 40 years in July (time sure flies!). Our daughter is 35 & lives about three hours away. I wouldn't want it to be much farther. We live in a rural area in upstate New York. I've lived here all my life & my husband moved here from a Detroit suburb when he was about ten.
Is this a hobby, or serious business for you?
This is a business which grew out of a lifetime hobby.
Do you work outside the home as well?
When our daughter was young & I didn't work outside the home I took in sewing jobs ranging from mending to creating wedding dresses to help supplement our income. I worked outside the home while my husband was getting his degree. Then, on the day he got his teaching job, I gave notice & was able to stay home several more years, again taking in sewing, before returning to work outside the home. My husband retired from teaching in 2009. I retired from a confidential administrative assistant position in an educational setting in January 2010.

How did you decide to go from hobby, to real business?
I had thought about opening a business for quite some time but had kept that idea to myself. After retiring I took an online class about starting an arts & crafts business. I knew that if I was going to take the leap, it was important to do it right & follow New York State regulations. Participating in that course really clarified the steps I needed to take to make opening my business a reality. I was on the fence about going ahead with it for a while after the course ended. I finally got my DBA in April, 2010. After all, I needed an outlet for the things I enjoy making. I’m glad that I took that step. I had a shop at 1000 Markets for a few months, then came to Zibbet when 1000 Markets closed.

NV: what a great way to go about things Nancy. I think many people would benefit from starting out this way. **Note: 1000 Markets website now redirects to

Do you have a special dedicated area in your home set aside where you create? How does this affect the rest of the household/family life?
I’m so fortunate to have a dedicated sewing room although at times I spill out into other areas of the house. I can’t imagine doing this without being able to keep my sewing machine, ironing board and cutting table set up as well as having my supplies (which include emergency sewing room chocolate) handy.

NV: Emergency sewing room chocolate?
Yes, to celebrate projects that come out exceptionally well & mourn those that don’t. Believe me, I’ve made my share of really awful items which I prefer to call “learning experiences!”

When you are busy creating, do you keep track of how much time you spend on each piece? If so, how do you factor this into the cost of your work?
I’m still having a hard time with pricing. I know about how much time I spend on a piece. If I was to pay myself a modest $10 per hour & add in the cost of materials, the price of the items I make would probably be more than someone would be willing to pay. I made the mistake that many crafters make & priced my goods too low in the beginning. My goal is to earn a profit while pricing my items affordably. That said, it’s more important to me to do quality work than to see how many items I can crank out. I put a lot of myself into each piece that I create. Since most of my work is one of a kind it’s not likely that a buyer will see another person with that same item, which I think is really neat.

Once you have all this beautiful work created, how do you handle keeping track of your inventory?
I keep a 3 x 5 file card for each item. Each card has a unique number which represents the year, month and item number. On that card I record the pattern & materials used including swatches of the fabric. When an item is sold, I record the selling price & date, and move the card from the “available” section of the file to a “sold” section. I adapted this system from the book “How To Start Making Money with Your Crafts“ & it has worked well for me. It’s interesting that I found that book in a consignment shop when I was thinking about starting a business, & that the online course started just after I retired. Talk about synchronicity!

NV: sounds like a great book to check out. Life has a way of putting the right things in place if we just take the time to notice them.

Talk a little bit about how you handle photographing your work. How important do you feel quality pictures are to successful selling? What is the biggest mistake you made & what is the most important thing you learned?
Photography is such an important factor in selling online & is an area where I know that I can improve. I use our camera’s auto feature & take several shots of each view of the item hoping that there will be at least one that I particularly like. It’s so much easier to take too many shots than to have to go back & take more.  At times I have trouble with lighting, so I delete those pictures & try again a different day when the natural light is better. I use Picasa for editing my photos. It’s free and is very easy to use. I also keep separate folders on the computer for pictures of “available” and “sold” items. The photos & item description are the only information that an online buyer has since they can’t touch and examine an item. It’s extremely important to do both well.

Where do you sell?  Do you have a favorite venue?
I sell to family, friends & online in my Zibbet shop. I recently opened another Zibbet shop where I offer books, buttons, fabric, notions, patterns & other items that I no longer need. I had handmade goods in a local consignment shop for about six months, but took them out in order to add them to my Zibbet shop. I’m hoping to do home shows this year & will also participate in a few local craft shows. I haven’t felt that I had enough inventory to do shows until recently.

NV: Good luck on the home shows Nancy. I hear lots of people going that route these days.

How do you maintain your finances, for your business? Does it involve having a business or merchant account? Biggest/best tip you have for others?
I got advice from an accountant prior to opening my business. That was quite helpful. I opened a business checking account right away & keep everything business related separate from my personal finances. That’s a must for any business.

If you sell places other than online marketplaces …
How do you handle money & payment processing?
Sales at Zibbet are handled through PayPal which is very easy. I accept checks or cash for other sales. I did receive a bad check once. The person was very embarrassed & reimbursed me right away. I believe that people are honest & wouldn’t intentionally cheat me. I have not reached the point where I feel accepting credit cards is necessary.

While we’re talking about money … how do you handle all the dreaded back end paperwork/book keeping stuff? Do you have any tips for others still searching for a best way?
I call Sunday my desk day. I spend some time recording sales, entering receipts into my check register, categorizing them, & taking care of any other paper work that has collected during the week. This works well for me because I know that I can put something in its designated place for a few days instead of having to take care of it right away. I would love to get to the point where this is no longer feasible!

NV: I think we all strive to get to the day when simple weekly accounting is no longer feasible!

Ok, money out of the way let’s talk about promoting/marketing a bit.
Can you share with us what you do to promote your business, & where? Are you a social networking junkie? Does that work?
I’m the type of person who is more comfortable being in the background instead of being in the spotlight, so marketing has been difficult for me. The idea of selling online was quite intimidating because my work is out there in the world for everyone to see!

NV: I know many of us can relate to this!!!

My goal for this year is to be better at marketing my business. I put business cards in local post offices, banks, stores, & have given people who live outside my area several to post & distribute where they can.  I also traded business cards with a local woman who makes wonderful soaps, lotions & other products. You can check out her store at Locust Grove Soap Company. I enclose her cards with items that I sell & she does the same for me. I posted flyers with pull off tabs with my contact information. I’ve donated a tote made with fabric specific to one organization & am planning to donate another to our local animal shelter for an upcoming event. I invited several friends in to look at things I made & tell me what features they liked best. I sold several items that day which was great, so I’d like to start doing home shows. I recently started a Facebook page for my business & participate in the Zibbet group on Facebook. I also am active in the Zibbet online community. The more that I do these things, the easier they become. I’m proud of the work that I do. Now I need to become more comfortable telling people about it. Word of mouth has been my best advertising to date.
Do you pay for advertising?
I have not purchased any advertising.

With so many aspects of running a business, how do you keep yourself motivated to move forward?
The sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction I get from creating are big motivators for me. I love finding new patterns and thinking about what fabric I’ll use to make them. It’s great being able to take a piece of fabric & turn it into something useful & unique.
Do you have a good support system?
 My husband, daughter, family & friends are my biggest fans. I’m so grateful to be at this place in my life where I have the time to create nearly every day.

What do you feel is your least favorite thing about running a business?
Promoting my business is the definitely the hardest thing for me. I’m really trying to come out of my shell & let people know that I have a business; that I’m proud of the work that I do and that my goods are well made & reasonably priced.

Technology is also been a challenge. SEO, RSS, StumbleUponwere never on my radar before I started selling online. It takes me a while to get comfortable with each new step that I take learning technology.

It’s sometimes difficult to write good product descriptions also. There are times when the right words just don’t come and I know that I need to put that step off until another day.

NV: You are so right on the money with those things Nancy… I know we all can struggle with those as well.

How do you overcome/deal with this?
I guess I deal with these things by plugging through them. I’ve learned so much this past year which is really exciting.

And finally, to end on a good positive note … share with us what you most attribute your business success to…
I attribute my success to making unique, well made goods & offering them at reasonable prices. I started my business about a year ago. It took a while to get enough items made to offer for sale. When I think of it that way I feel like I have been successful. I know that things will only get better from here.

In case you missed her links within the article, here is where you can find Nancy online…


PaperOnParade said...

Great article! I enjoyed reading about your craft journey! We have similar time frames:) Thanks for sharing!

Marguerite said...

Absolutely outstanding - I loved it!! Nancy, you are so quiet and I thoroughly enjoyed this glimpse into your wonderful life -thank you SO much for sharing!!!! Now...pass the chocolate! LOL

Raige Creations said...

It was so good to read a bit about how your progressed to a business, and how you handle the unpleasant aspects of the paperwork, inventory, and book keeping. Oh, and yes, pass the chocolate. :)

Barbra said...

Really wonderful to learn more about you. I love the chocolate idea!

Grandmother Carolyn said...

As I munch on a chocolate, I feel very happy here....I have so admired Nancy and her products these past few months and this interview has been as complete and as comfortable as just sitting down in her own living room and being in a one-on-one with Nancy. Thanks, Nicole, for putting this together - you have an exceptional talent, as well!

Nancy said...

Thank you so much for the positive comments. I'm glad that you enjoyed reading the interview. Thanks again to Nicole for making it happen.

Be sure to your chocolate stash stocked up!

Arty said...

Great interview Nancy!

Jordan Newhouse said...

Thanks for doing this Nicole and "Millions of Stitches"! It was very helpful. I'll be watching for you two around Zibbet.

I found your index card system particularly helpful. I have trouble with inventory, and your system helped something "click" in my brain. Now I have a better idea of how I'll deal with inventory and even other things when I have a booth at a statewide convention this summer. Thanks!!