Posts in Making It Work
Making It Work As A Designer: My Essential Tools
Making it work as a designer my essential tools

I am a picky sort of person.  Every morning, I have to have my exact brand of tea, in a certain mug, made in a certain order with exactly so much milk and honey or my whole day is off. Its no surprise then that I only use one particular brand of crochet hook, one specific kind of pen and there is a certain notebook that I can't live without.  

While there are many areas in which I am a bit of a miser, when it comes to tools to do my job, I feel that investing in the right things is very much worth it. I pay for Adobe Creative Cloud (Student and Teacher edition, because I have school-aged kids) and Office 365.  These aren't necessary and there are free versions like Inkscape available, but as adobe is industry standard and what I know...

Tools for Planning:

  • My work time is planned out using my Get to Work Book. Its layout of daily lists and goals is perfect for me, as I have so many pieces of work to juggle - the monthly and weekly views help me do that.
  • My content and social media strategies are planned using my BlogtacularxLollipop Life Planner - which has been so helpful in pulling together various content strategies over the last few months. 

Tools for Design Ideas:

  • Like much of the world, I use Pinterest as a great source of inspiration for design ideas.  While I tend to steer clear of it for initial design ideas, it can be helpful to see what else is out there and a great place to store initial thoughts on stitch patterns and ideas. 
  • All of my sketching is done via Adobe Illustrator. I work over a vector croquis for garments and just free hand for accessories. I simply don't free hand sketch on paper as I find I am able to get much better and more useable results by creating a digital sketch. This has the added benefit of being usable for final design submission.

Tools for Designing:

  • My process for designing is Sketch->swatch->layout the pattern numbers in a spreadsheet->write initial pattern->make the sample->revise the pattern->finalise design schematic->chart stitch patterns. I use Excel for my spreadsheets and Word for pattern writing, but also have used Open Office with no discernible difference in usability.  I simply had to get Office for Blogtacular work and use that as all of my templates are in it now. 
  • I am a fan of Adobe and have a subscription to Creative Cloud for my work. I use Illustrator for charting and schematics, Lightroom for photo editing and InDesign for laying out all of my patterns. 
  • I use a range of measurements charts, but generally I rely on the Craft Yarn Council guides for accurate sizing. The Tot Toppers guide is great for hat design. 
  • My favourite garment design book is Knitting from the Top by Barbara Walker

Tools for Charting:

  • As I said above, I use Adobe Illustrator for making charts. I have the Stitchin' Crochet Pro font that I then convert into vectors. I then use a hand drawn brush to convert the shapes into the signature style of the Crochet Project. 
  • I have a Wacom Bamboo tablet that helps me when charting complicated stitch patterns as I am able to get more accuracy with the pen than the brush.

Tools for Photography:

  • My essential kit list is here and hasn't changed much in the last year or so. The only difference is that I am finding I need a wider angle lens more and more and am currently saving up for a 24-70mm L series lens


Making it Work as a Designer: Tips for Working from Home
Making it work as a designer: tips for working from home from Slugs on the Refrigerator

My business started when my youngest son was three months old. I'd taken voluntary redundancy from a civil service job 6 months before and one day the money ran out and I wasn't sure how I was going to buy groceries for my family. As I sat at my kitchen table, I looked around at things I could do with a 6 month old, an 18 month old and a 4 year old at home with no childcare. I'd dabbled in making crochet hats previously, but that day a business was born. 

There is no question that working from home is pretty dreamy, but its not with out its challenges. Being at the house means that I am always the one who has to deal with house related appointments, the one who takes the time off for holidays and school-related events and where the responsibility for dinner lies.  Its mostly great, but often frustrating. However, after 4 years, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sort Out The Money Side:

Even if you are starting to sell your patterns as a small business on the side or a hobby, you need to start thinking about money. If you are in the UK, you need to register as self-employed. The advice from HMRC is to 

Register as soon as you can after starting your business. At the latest, you should register by 5 October in your business’s second tax year.

Even if you aren't making any money, you should still register as you can claim tax relief on your household expenses as you build up your business. HMRC has a guide here. Also, make sure you check out any other tax relief options if you are paying for childcare or making a loss as it may effect your eligibility for Tax Credits. 

You also need to keep track of your accounts. This is something that I wish I had done earlier, as for most of the last 4 years, I would just download my bank statements on the 30th of January and start going back through 12 months of receipts 24 hours before my taxes were due.  Thanks to Kim (read her blog, if you don't already), I found Kashflow, which importantly, works on my rather slow internet and is very easy and intuitive to use.  

VAT MOSS and International Taxes

Recently, European legislation was brought in that means that sale of digital goods is now taxable based on where the buyer lives.  What this means that if you sell a pattern to someone in the European Union, you are responsible for ensuring the tax is paid on that sale, no matter where you live. One option is that you can register to pay this tax yourself.  However, as you get started selling patterns, my advice would be to stick with a platform that handles VAT MOSS for you, such as Etsy and Ravelry.  For more on VAT MOSS, the Digital VAT Group on Facebook is a great place to start. 

Create Space and Time to Work:

I started my business with 3 very little children at home with me all the time.  I quickly realised that this wouldn't work well for the concentration needed to write and grade patterns and deal with the day to day runnings of my business. Kevin and I worked on a plan where I would work when he came home and on weekends and I also used every ounce of good will from friends who offered to watch the kids so I could work. At first it wasn't much time and it was VERY stressful, but it was crucial to moving things forward and building a business.

The moment we could find a childcare situation that worked for us, we took it. Even though it would cancel out any profit I made for the first 3 years of my business, we saw it as an investment in my future work. 

Maybe you don't have kids, maybe your design gig is on the side of a full time job or maybe childcare isn't an option for you, but the basic principle is the same, you have to make space for your design work in your life. Make it a priority on your list of things to do (its WAY above doing the laundry and housework on mine) and keep it there. 

Its not just about creating mental space, but physical space to work is crucial.  Even if its a corner of your bedroom or at the kitchen table, make a space that is your work place. You may have to pack it up every day, but having a place where you feel creative and productive is crucial. Have the things you need together so you don't have to use your precious working time looking for them.

Set a Routine, but Make it Your Own:

My best and most productive days at home are when I follow a routine.  I get up, I get dressed, I walk the dogs, I set my priorties for the day and then I work.  I definitely take breaks to make coffee or switch the laundry over, but I stick to a working for the X hours I am child free and rarely do household tasks in my working day. I also make sure that I am dressed and ready to work. 

I also take an overview of my week and look at when I need to be available for kids or have appointments and think about what work I can take with me to do while we are out.  Swatches and mindless crochet are always in my bag and a notebook always comes with me to draft posts or patterns on the go.

When I left the civil service, I really felt like I had to work 9-5 as I had done for my entire working life.  However, I have become an ardent supporter of doing the work when I am best at it. I am best at writing in the morning, so I do that before the kids are up. I also schedule photography for the afternoon when the light is better. I hit a wall after about 5pm, so designing into the late hours isn't a solution that works well for me, so I rarely even crochet in the evenings.

Divvy Up The House Related Tasks

Being the one who works at home usually also means that I am the one who takes on the majority of the house and kid related tasks.  If there was one friction point in Kevin and my relationship, this is it.  Being the one at home means that its my work day that is interrupted when the electrician wants to come by, a kid needs to come home, etc.  There is no question that this is super frustrating and I don't take it well when its my deadline that is always the one that is missed.

We've worked hard over the last 4 years to make sure we share out these tasks.  Where possible, he takes the time off with sick kids or we swap half way through the day.  If I have had my work interrupted for most of the week, he will take the kids out for a full day at the weekend or clean the house by himself so I can catch up and school holidays are split evenly between the two of us.  We share out the household tasks and try to make a plan each week so that we know who is doing what, that way there is no ambiguity (and the related resentment) as to who is responsible. 

Get Out of the House

I realised recently I have become the person who is overly chatty at the post office, the butcher, the supermarket...well, everywhere.  There are weeks when the only time I leave the house is to go to the bus stop to collect the kids from school.  I am a pretty social person, so working at home all the time can get me down.  I am luck to live in an area with lots of other work at home folks, so I try to make a point of scheduling at least one meet up during the week so that I can talk to another human being. This is also where online life really comes into its own and I am frequently messaging my business partners to talk shop. 

And I am off to do just that! See you later! 

Making it Work as a Designer: Releasing Free Patterns
making it work as a designer free patterns.jpg

I don’t know another subject divides designers quite as much as giving away free patterns. It was unsurprising that it was one of the first discussions in our Facebook group and is a subject that frequently comes up in conversation with other designers.

Free patterns can be a great traffic source for your blog or designs. They can offer a taste of your writing style and are a great way to get your name out there. There is no question that they can also be problematic, creating an expectation that patterns should be free and, many argue, that they devalue the work of a designer.

I've gone back and forth on how I feel about free patterns - wavering from feeling like they are a good thing for my business to feeling like they devalue my work. Ultimately, I have come to view free patterns and tutorials as an integral part of my business model. 

It is important to note that everyone operates a different business model and I am talking about my business where the bulk of my income comes from work with mainstream publishers. Independent pattern design sales in crochet still lag behind those in knitting and while they are an increasing part of my portfolio, its still not reliable income that pays the bills. Free patterns may not work for you and that is ok, we are all trying to make it work in a sustainable way.

I offer a lot of content for free. In fact, my business has been built on it. I see the free content on the blog as a great way to give back to customers and build a platform.  I do a lot of designing and not every pattern is worth money or necessarily saleable or it simply might be a case that offering the pattern for free is more valuable to me than the £ I would make on it.

What makes free content valuable?

  • It gives back to people supporting your work.

  • Free content, especially tutorials and patterns, attract readers which in turn builds your platform.

  • They are shared on sites like Pinterest, Share A Pattern and Facebook more frequently than paid patterns will be (everyone likes a deal).  

  • It positions you as an expert in your area of work.

  • It offers a taste of your style to potential customers. 

  • It acts as advertising for your business.  

Ultimately, I view free content as part of my sales funnel. For those of you not familiar with the term a "Sales Funnel" its a marketing term that describes how clients move from being potential leads to new clients. In blog terms, a "potential lead" translates into blog traffic and for me, specifically people looking for crochet patterns.

For my business, free content falls roughly into 3 categories:

- Lead Generation/Traffic Building: Most of my free patterns fall into this category. They may have been previously published elsewhere or maybe I designed them as a test for something else. Their purpose is to be standalone free content for crocheters.  With decent photos and optimised posts, they are good shareable content, increasing (hopefully) the number of folks visiting this corner of the internet. This is also essential for building a platform so that when I pitch a book or other work with publishers, I have the numbers to prove there is a ready market.

- Linked Content: A number of my tutorials fall into this category.  While they do stand alone, they were usually created to act as a link in a paid-for pattern to help people make the project.  For example, my crochet colour work tutorial and my crochet cables tutorial were both written to be used in paid-for patterns. There are usually 6,000 pre-existing similar tutorials on the internet, but these what makes these valuable is that I am not giving traffic away to someone else and they apply directly to my own work and way of doing things.

- The Next Step: This free content is designed specifically to help crocheters feel comfortable taking the next step in their crochet (and hopefully buy my patterns!).  My tutorial on how to read a crochet pattern is there to help people feel less daunted by my traditionally written patterns. The Lake's Edge hat is written with a similar purpose. 

Loss of Income?

A frequent argument against free content is that it constitutes a loss in income for the designer. There is no question that the time spent on creating free content is time that can't be spent making money. 

There is also the issue of the potential loss of income from what could have been pattern sales. When I released Woolly Owl, I had over 100,000 downloads in the first 6 months. If had charged £1, I could have made £100,000, right? Friends at the time certainly thought I was crazy for releasing it for free and argued as such.  I don't think its quite that straight forward as in my experience free patterns are shared much more frequently than paid for ones, reaching a much larger audience. 

It probably would have made some money, but rather than see it as a loss of income, here is what I see - a viral pattern that was pinned all over the place, that got into the Etsy lookbook for the year and ultimately noticed by a publisher.  While my book advance was nowhere near £100k, it was definitely the best advertising I ever "paid" for...

Another example is Crochet Camp, my online crochet course I ran in 2013.  This free tutorial series made no money at the time, but was crucial in securing one of the biggest clients I have ever had and has paid for itself. 

Ultimately, its up to you to decide whether you want to offer free patterns.  In thinking about what to choose for free subject matter - patterns in the easy to advanced beginner range are usually good choices and kids patterns tend to do well. Take a look at what else is out there and make a decision as to how your free content fits in.  Look at your own content plan and think about what would make a nice addition to your upcoming blog content.  

If you are going to offer patterns for free:

  • Give them the exact same care that you do your paid for patterns.  Your free patterns are often the first impression of your business. It is not the place to dump crappy patterns, if for no other reason than the one below...

  • Be prepared for pattern support.  In my experience, free patterns often require a higher level of involvement than paid patterns. Whether this is simply a numbers game (more people working from it means more people having problems) or if its is a case of people looking for free patterns may have less experience in working from patterns in the first place. 

  • Be clear how it fits into your overall business plan. What exactly is that free content leading people to/ what action do you want them to take after finding the free pattern? Maybe its just growing your general readership, maybe it’s a similar, but more advanced pattern, maybe its showing off a specific skill or technique for a class or as an incentive to sign up to your newsletter.  Whatever it is, be smart.  Highlight other paid for content in the post so people have a clear action to take if they want more.

  • Don’t give the traffic away. For the love of all that is mustard yellow, if you come away from this post with one lesson its this: DON'T GIVE YOUR TRAFFIC AWAY. If you have a post or a pattern that references a specific technique – write the tutorial for that technique and put it on your blog. Don’t link to someone else’s post on the subject if at all possible. Also, if you are going to create free content make sure that it is housed on your own site and not as a separate download (for example a ravelry download).  That way the traffic is being directed back to you.  

Do you give away free patterns? How has it worked for you?

Are you a maker or designer looking for support or advice? Check out our Making it Work as a Designer Facebook Group.

Making It Work As A Designer: Passive Income
making it work as a designer: passive income

I have been working as a full time creative for the last 4 years...however, it has only been in the last 18 months where my income has better reflected that full time status. While of course, as I have built up my business, my fees for projects have gone up and I have been able to take on fewer but better paid design projects. However, like any freelancer, big projects tend to be quite hit and miss and even "high paying" projects are pretty low in comparison to other creative fields. Some months I will have a big project on the go and other months will be dead. This is where passive income really comes into its own.


What is Passive Income?

Passive income is an income received on a regular basis, with little effort required to maintain it. 


Sales from apps, stock images, ebooks, patterns, rent, membership schemes, royalties and affiliate links are all common forms of passive income.  The work of the product is done on the front end and then your involvement is limited after that. 

I am really lucky to work in a field where there is a ready-made platform for selling my work and generating passive income in the form of Ravelry. However, platforms like Etsy, Craftsy, and your own website can also be great sources for passive income. Crochet does tend to be the lower paid cousin of knitting, so I certainly won't be able to retire on my pattern sales, but its still an important part of my business model.

During slow months, passive income is what keeps us in groceries and ensures the basic bills are paid. It also enables me to work on other projects that don't pay at all or as well. Every single £ that comes in is valuable. 


Working Smarter, Not Harder

For me, the biggest lesson has been ensuring I can get as much value out of work as possible.   Designs for magazines aren't usually well paid. However, they have the added benefit of being being open for independent release when the rights revert back after 4-6 months. While I am selective about designing for magazines, I make sure that the designs I do submit will work well as independent releases.

For example, I would have been paid under £200 for my pleated cardigan design. This is pretty standard in UK magazines for garments, with some paying more, some less. Once the rights reverted back to me, the cardigan was released independently.  At the time, the magazine was allowing designers to use pattern photos in indie releases (this isn't common, usually you have to reshoot the photos), making it a very easy release.  

The pattern then needed to be put into my own design template, re-edited and then published on Ravelry, Etsy and Love Knitting. In the time it has been available for individual purchase, it has sold an additional 200 copies at £4.00/ copy, making the design much more valuable to my business with limited effort after laying it out in my own pattern template.

Not all of my pattern sales have been that successful. I have many designs that have only sold a handful of copies (and 1 that hasn't sold any at all!), but independent releases have an added benefit of selling other patterns by boosting traffic to my website, Ravelry or Etsy store.  And you know what, even if they sell 1 copy, that is £3 I didn't have before. 

I also want to add that this is really (and maybe especially) applicable for maker designers.  Making, especially knitting or crocheting, items for sale is A LOT of work.  If you have developed designs yourself, don't be shy about releasing the patterns or kits for them.  In my experience, the markets for patterns and ready made items have very little over lap.  Customers who can't make want finished items.  And customers who can, most likely will want to make it themselves.  Getting patterns written up can be a great way to generate extra income with minimal effort. 


Think Outside the Box

Its easy as a designer to think only about pattern sales, but don't limit yourself.  Think about the other things you are doing that can contribute passively to your business. For example, tutorials can make a great products.  I wrote a series on the blog called How to Design a Hat, which is still available for free. Without a doubt, it is the most viewed section of my website with over 2m page views since the series launched. 

About 6 months after publishing, I packaged up the blog posts, added a few tips for making a specific hat (a requirement of Ravelry's) and launched it for sale.  It sells hundreds of copies every year, even though the content itself it is still available for free. At its higher price point as well, even in slow months, its been a great assest to my business. 

Other designers offer Clubs or Membership services where participants get a new design each month for a small monthly subscription fee. This is a great way to even out income over a year (as long as you can keep up with it). 

Or maybe you have other skills. Setting up ecourses for areas of expertise you have in the field, such as tech editing, photography, layout, or charting can be great ways to build up income. Sidebar advertising is another way to get a small amount of income every month and services like Passionfruit Ads can make this a very easy income stream. Don't forget affiliate links are also a way to earn money (even a small amount) from links on your website and I know a number of the yarn retailers.


Its Still Work Though

One thing I want to say is that while passive income is a great way to add value to your business, its important to remember that it still takes work to get there.  Setting up courses and the like is a lot of work and often there is a financial investment. However, once the work is done, it takes very little additional time to keep it going. 


I'd love to hear if you use passive income to support your business. What works for you? Any challenges I've missed? 

Are you a maker or designer looking for support or advice? Check out our Making it Work as a Designer Facebook Group.