How to Make Quilting Your Business #5 – Professional Quilting

I would say one of the most popular ideas for making quilting your business is to become a professional quilter. That’s one of the early steps I tried when establishing my business, so I’ll share with you some of my thoughts on the subject. I’ll also include tips from a few of my quilting friends and colleagues who also love to quilt for others.

Machine quilting is my favorite part of making a quilt, so when I felt that my skills were good enough I began quilting for others. Contrary to popular belief, you can professionally quilt on a domestic machine. In fact, one of my blogging buddies, from Amy’s Free Motion Quilting Adventures, quilts professionally on her domestic Janome so be sure to pop on over to read some of her tips for free-motion quilting and see her lovely work!

Amy's Free Motion Quilting Adventures

Amy’s Free Motion Quilting Adventures

When I quilted for hire (back around the turn of the century), I did it mostly for guild friends and neighbors, plus the occasional referral from my local quilt shop. While I loved the fact that someone would actually pay me for my work, I decided it wasn’t for me. I think I stressed out too much when the tops I was given were occasionally wavy, and I probably didn’t charge enough to make it worth my time.

Which leads me to mention a couple of amazing professional quilters who have managed to be very successful in their work and love what they do! It just goes to show that sometimes it takes awhile to find your passion, so don’t be afraid to try everything until you find it!

Cory and her show-stopping collaboration quilt, "Lilypad". Pieced by Patti Van Oordt

Cory and her show-stopping collaboration quilt, “Lily Pad”. Pieced by Patti Van Oordt

My friend Cory Allender has been quilting for others for a number of years and has received recognition for her work and won awards for her quilting at many major national and international shows. She has a couple of great tips to share when it comes to professional quilting:

  1. Research your local market by finding out what others are charging in your area.
  2. Call customers “clients.” You are selling a service rather than a commodity. Treating them as clients rather than customers will help you act and feel more professional.
  3. While it’s wonderful to donate to a worthy cause, be careful of too much free quilting that doesn’t allow you to get your paid work done on time. Another alternative to donating quilting services would be to donate supplies like thread and batting instead.

Don’t be surprised if you start seeing and hearing more from Cory in the near future!


Another fabulous quilter I recently had the great pleasure of chatting with is author and professional quilter Natalia Bonner from Piece N Quilt.

Guide to FMQNatalia jumped into professional quilting in 2007 when she decided to quit her job and buy a long-arm as a crazy impulse purchase. Sometimes you just have to dive in and do it! Her best advice echoes that of so many others who are successful in the field: practice makes perfect and if you want it to be your full-time job, then treat it like one. 🙂

On pricing, Natalia has this to say, “My pricing is based on rates in my area, and I would never, ever, ever undercut another long-arm quilter. It won’t pay off in the end. Also, don’t start out with low prices and then raise them, your customers won’t be happy.” I think that is excellent advice!

20140217_modern_oneblock

Natalia has also authored two books, The Beginner’s Guide to Free Motion Quilting and Modern One Block Quilts (coauthored with her mom). Of her success with writing, Natalia says, “I had no idea there were other opportunities like writing books, teaching, and so many other amazing opportunities that have come from purchasing my long-arm. Every day things change and I feel it’s important to change and grow with the industry.”

She further states that running your own business isn’t always fun and games. Although things can also be hard and frustrating, if you focus on the positive and work hard, the end results can be so gratifying! Wise words, indeed.

angela_walters_business_MQI can’t end a post like this without mentioning another of my favorite professional quilters, Angela Walters. In fact, Angela believes so much in the business of machine quilting that she’s recently launched a website dedicated to encouraging the budding professional quilter achieve his or her dreams. She’s spent a lot of time an effort putting together numerous articles and tips, that you could literally spend hours on her site.

One of the things I love best about the quilting industry is everyone’s willingness to share and encourage others in their craft. If you’ve been inspired, I hope you’ll pay it forward and be willing to take someone else under your wing, when the time is right.

Click here for the start of this series.

How to Make Quilting Your Business #4 – Owning a Physical Shop

Last week I blogged about running an online shop. Most of the examples I listed from the previous post can also apply to a physical shop. However, because I don’t have any experience running a brick and mortar shop, I recently interviewed Jennifer Albaugh, who along with her family, run Quiltique, my favorite local quilt shop. She generously agreed to share some of her wisdom and advice.

 

QuiltiqueIn this day and age, a majority of physical shops also have an online presence so they can stay connected with their customers. However, their focus is on their local clientele so they can offer something online stores can’t: physical interaction and live classes.

When Jennifer Albaugh and her family began Quiltique 11 years ago, online stores weren’t much of a presence, so they chose to focus on what they knew – running a brick and mortar retail business. In the coming year, they plan to expand their online presence and continue to offer top notch events that keep their customers coming back for more.

Jennifer Albaugh, Quiltique

Jennifer says that the key to running a successful quilt shop is creating a unique customer experience. Fun events, inspiring classes, and a welcoming environment are a must in today’s retail world. Says Jennifer, “You have to give customers a reason to walk through your door and then share the fun they had with their family and friends.”

Jennifer says she’s learned a few things along the way. Although she understood upfront that you really have to dig in and understand all aspects of a retail business, she soon realized that Quiltique’s biggest improvement over the years has been in customer service.

Jennifer states, “in the beginning, no one told us that retail is mostly a business of service and that you MUST focus on the customer and their needs with each and every person who walks in the door.”

Bernina Test Drive

Test driving my new Bernina 710 at Quiltique – a dream machine!

I know from personal experience that this is not just lip service. I bought my new Bernina from Quiltique last year because of their excellent customer service. Quiltique was also featured as a top shop in American Patchwork and Quilting’s Quilt Sampler, so you know they are doing many things right!

Jennifer further emphasizes that when running a business, “creative types” should be able to manage many of the business-type things like dealing with money, and they need to realize it’s not all about the pursuit of their craft. In fact, the more successful your business is, the less likely you’ll have time to sew and quilt, so be sure to keep that in mind as you build the store of your dreams.

The biggest surprise that Jennifer has discovered is the personal fulfillment she gets from going to work each day. Jennifer explains, “When your customers come to your shop to share with you their joys, personal accomplishments, and even failures and heartaches, it is like you have one HUGE family. After 11 years in business, I still enjoy coming to work every day and creating that unique experience for our customers. I love the sharing and camaraderie we get back in return.”

Quiltique

Thank you, Jennifer for sharing your experiences. And thank you readers, for following along so far. One last thing I would add if you are contemplating opening up a store is to visit as many of them as you can. Take notes on what you like or what you’d change. Don’t give up on the pursuit of your quilting dreams, no matter how big they may seem. Work on making your goals a reality, one day at a time!

Click here for the start of this series.

How to Make Quilting Your Business #3 – Starting an Online Quilt Shop

Is owning your own quilt shop at the top of your “dream” list? I’ve been selling fabric online for over 10 years and while it is the most exhilarating thing I have ever done, the truth is, it takes a lot of time and effort to be successful!

For today’s post I want to focus on the first of two store options – starting an online shop. Next week I will share some information about running a brick and mortar shop, with the help of my colleague Jennifer Albaugh from Quiltique.

ChristaQuiltsNo matter which path you choose, listed below are a few steps you’ll need to consider before taking the plunge and creating your dream store. Remember, this is just the tip of the iceberg; be sure to research specific questions you may have online, attend business seminars, and read plenty of books on starting your own business.

  • You’ll need to establish a wholesale account before you can start ordering from suppliers. This isn’t difficult to do, but it does take time and paperwork. Make a list of companies whose products you’d like to carry and then contact them about their minimum orders and needed credentials. Most companies just want to know you are a “real” business and will require a tax identification number. Some companies will only do business if you have a stand alone website so be sure to do your homework and ask.
  • Set aside more money than you think you need. It goes without saying that it takes money to make money. You don’t want to quit your day job before you are sure that you can live on the uncertain income that being your own boss provides. Can you weather a downturn in the economy? Do you have sufficient savings and health insurance? The sure-fire way to fail quickly is to be constantly stressed about money. There are small business loans you can acquire, but if you are prudent and start small, your income can grow over time as your business grows.
  • Plan your inventory before you buy. Think long and hard about which niche you would like to fill. Unless you have a huge start up budget, it’s hard to be all things to all people. Think about which market you want to cater to: the younger crowd, modern quilters, repro and retro trend setters, batik lovers, or floral fanatics, etc. If you cater to a specific crowd, word will spread quickly that you are THE specialty shop they are looking for. This will also help you avoid the “race to the bottom” mentality of constantly trying to undercut your competitors. Provide a good customer experience and you will keep them coming back for more. After all, there’s room for all of us in this creative industry!
Working from Home

Enlist your friends and family to help out!

My Experience Selling Online

I started my shop 10 years ago with 6 bolts of fabric: selling fabric to my friends, quilting students, and fellow guild members. It took about a year to reach 300 bolts and open up my first store on eBay. All profits from the business were reinvested so that I could grow quickly. EBay was a great place to start because the barriers to entry were low: all I needed was a userID, a camera and a paypal account and I was in business! In fact, the name ChristaQuilts came from my humble beginnings on eBay. At the time I couldn’t think of anything better, so it just stuck.

Etsy came around soon after and although I didn’t have much success with it (mostly because the timing wasn’t right), it’s now grown into a vibrant and sustainable marketplace and a great place to both buy and sell. It has many of the same benefits as eBay. Etsy has huge brand recognition, gets tons of traffic, and it’s easy to open a store quickly.

Precuts

Working from home can take over your space!

Just understand that if you are considering selling online, it takes up lots of time and space. Unless you are planning on renting out a warehouse, be prepared for your business to take over a large part of your house, or have a dedicated space. If you need extra help, be sure to enlist your friends and family members. If you are working from home, you don’t want strangers in your house!

Once I realized I had a reliable online business model, Jason quit his job to build and run our website full-time. At the height of our capacity we carried about 2000 different items in our store. Jason had the skills and interest to maintain our website, but we have spent a lot of time, effort and money to get it seen by a wide audience.

I recommend a pre-done web platform or service that can build, maintain, and market your website for you if you are considering opening a stand-alone online store. (Google “quilt website hosting” for a plethora of options.) Not only will you need a place to host your site, you will also need a shopping cart checkout system to manage your transactions. Again, google is your friend here. 🙂

Leaning Tower of Precuts

Who knew that precuts could double as building blocks?

Our current experiment is with selling precuts and thread on Amazon but this was a very lengthy and difficult process to set up. The commissions and fees are extremely expensive and require a huge investment in inventory to maintain, so we are still analyzing the cost/benefit ratio. It’s also hard to list new items because each one requires its own individual barcode and not all manufacturers provide those. I wouldn’t recommend it for new businesses just starting out.

So to summarize: yes, you can own your own shop. Starting small online is probably the best place to begin and you can grow as your success increases. Because this is such a broad topic, please feel free to ask any questions and I’ll be glad to answer them!

Click here for the start of this series.

How to Make Quilting Your Business #2 – Choose Your Career

Welcome to part 2 of How to Make Quilting Your Business! My hope is for you to be as successful as you are passionate. This week we will discuss choosing your quilting career path.

First, brainstorm all of the different quilting career possibilities, many of which I listed in last week’s post. Which sound fun and exciting to you? Which do not pique your interest?

Choose Your Dream JobThink about your talents, time and resources that you can devote to pursuing your passion. Do you love creating original designs and figuring out yardage and cutting instructions? Then perhaps pattern designing is right for you.

Would you rather machine quilt than piece? Then maybe you want to start quilting for others. Are you a fast and efficient sewer who cranks out the projects and uses up lots of scraps in the process? Then commissioned work may be right up your alley.

Maybe you enjoy sharing the latest sewing techniques with your friends, family and guild members, and teaching comes naturally to you. Perhaps it’s finally time to retire and you have a nest egg that you’ve been saving to open your own shop.Machine QuiltingThis week I’d like you to jot down as many ideas as you can, no matter how outlandish they may seem. The sky’s the limit at this point. Getting your thoughts down on paper is the first step into turning one or more of your dreams into reality.

Think about your ideas for a few days and circle your top 3 choices that you think are actually doable. You can share them here, or keep them private. In the coming weeks, I will be discussing different career “paths” or choices I have made or am considering in the future. If some of these ideas are on your list, take notes and ask questions as I get to your topic. Hopefully that can help you narrow down your choices.

Now, start to do a little planning – just a little. What would it take in terms of time and money to make your dream career become a reality? Can you start it in the next month, or the next year? What is standing in your way? Where do you see your business in 5 years? By answering these questions, you can start to visualize your end goal. Backtrack from there and start filling in the steps you need to take now, a month from now, or a year from now so you can make it happen.

Sewing Summit 2013

Sewing Summit, 2013

If you are still not sure where you want your path to take you, consider attending craft and sewing related conferences that are open to the public. I attended quite a few lectures at Sewing Summit last year that really helped me define my goals.

More recently I just found out about another cool conference called Altitude Summit. I didn’t get a chance to go this year, but I’m on their email list and read their blog quite often. And this is just the tip of the iceberg – I’m sure there are tons more!

Next week we will discussing what seems to be a popular desire – owning your own shop. I’ve been there, done that, and I’ll share with you the good, the bad, and the ugly!

Click here for the start of this series.

How to Make Quilting Your Business #1 – Introduction

Over the years I’ve had many people ask about different aspects of my quilting career and how they can get started turning their passion into a business. With the start of a new year, I thought it would be a fun to write up a series based on my personal experiences, with occasional tips and pointers from some of my friends and colleagues in the industry.

Although I am by no means an expert, I will be happy to share my thoughts and encouragement for any of you thinking of making quilting your business. After all, don’t you agree that sharing makes the (quilting) world a better place?

My plan is to blog about this topic on a regular basis, exploring the subjects below. Click on each underlined link to go to that post.

This list may grow as the series develops. If you have other ideas you’d like me to discuss, or specific questions you have, please ask away. I may not reply directly, but will definitely incorporate your thoughts into future blog posts.

A quick word about the “business” side of things. Keeping records, filing taxes and setting up your business entity are probably the hardest things to do to get started. If you can handle the paperwork, you can handle anything!

I’m not going to business legalities in detail other than to encourage you to take the first step by setting up a separate bank account and contacting your local tax office to file the appropriate business documents. It varies by state or country, but most states’ governments have a wealth of information online and can walk you through the process.

For a quick definition of the different types of US business entities to choose from, you can read this post that I found online after doing a quick search. For specific business questions you may have, be sure to google it and you can literally spend hours online learning everything you need to know!

Christa QuiltsOnce you’ve made the plunge to decide to create your own business, treat it as such. Set realistic goals and working hours for yourself. If you take yourself seriously, so will those around you. 🙂

I’ll be back with this series next week, sharing my thoughts on choosing a quilting career!