How I Started a
Macramè and Fiber-Art Business
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Brittany Conn (also known as Brittany Erin) and I am the creative artisan behind “Frayed Knot Decor”; a small, one-woman business specializing in handmade, eco-friendly fiber-art decor and wearable items. My favourite (and most-often utilised) forms of fiber-art include macramè, crochet and macra-weaving (a combination of macramè & weaving). Since I’m constantly testing my own skills and generating new ideas, I have also recently been exploring some garment making and pattern construction as well!
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I’ve always been artistic since as far back as I can remember (artistic talents run in my bloodline). My biggest creative influence growing up was my grandmother. She constantly encouraged me to channel my creativity and helped me to hone and guide my artistic talents. Fast forward approximately two decades and I decided to set my creative talents on the back-burner. My creativity was only being channelled as a hobby, as I was balancing life with 4 small children. I was also enrolled full-time at my local community college and working full-time.
I studied and worked incredibly hard, earning two Associates degrees (AAS) majoring in Surgical Technology & Medical Assisting. As my family had always encouraged me to apply my creativity and sell my pieces, it was not until years down the road (and by accident) that my small business was born.
In mid-summer 2018, after having surgery on my dominant hand, I decided to learn a new skill that would allow me to exercise my creative talents. This simultaneously served as a form of physical therapy to my healing hand. It was in that phase of learning the art of macramè, that my passion for the “fiber-art” genre was discovered. Shortly thereafter, “Frayed Knot Decor” was born.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
I hadn’t put much thought into putting a business plan into place. Rather, as I handmade my fiber-art goodies, I listed them for sale in my Etsy shop; while simultaneously listing them on Instagram. With limited resources and limited funding, getting off the “ground” stages with my small business was certainly not easy.
I faced various challenges along the way; with the front-most challenge being financials. I had to be creative with ways to fund my business. I was a low-income mother of 6, with no established credit. Sourcing affordable materials was one of the first obstacles I faced. I resorted to buying my materials locally and in small batches to create the first of my handmade items. My plan was to sell those items in an effort to turn those profits to purchase more materials.
I utilised social media (mostly Instagram and Facebook) to market my products without investing. I tested hashtags, SEO and social media algorithms in a “trial and error” manner to market my handmade goods. All without investing a single cent into marketing.
I scoured the internet for materials that matched the same ethics/standards that I had set for my business. They needed to be eco-friendly, OEKO-TEX certified. I also looked for those who offered no minimum order quantities, bulk discounts and were reasonably priced. At first, finding companies that offered these things seemed nearly impossible to find. However, after scouring the internet for months, I finally discovered a business on Instagram that fit the bill!
I continued to build my Etsy shop, taking quality photos of my items and researching ways to optimize my online shop. I looked at my competition and asked myself, “What product(s) or services can I offer that will set myself/my shop apart from everyone else’s? Finding the answer to that question can be a challenge in itself. Knowing your niche and your target audience well can better equip you for success, from the very start!
Who is your target market?
The target market for my niche is generally female, between the ages of 18-40; though the age range can vary.
My audience seems to share interests and love for home decor. Especially bohemian-inspired and farmhouse-inspired home decor. They also have a love for the great outdoors, with a deep appreciation for sustainable/eco-friendly couture items. Add in a love of nature, plants and naturally occurring elements and colours.
Farmers markets, small boutiques, peddlers malls and summer festivals are a few places that you might find my target audience frequenting. They tend to share a love for unique, vintage-inspired, handmade goods that tell a story all their own!
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
One of the most successful methods for marketing my small business has been the use of social media. Instagram, Facebook & Pinterest are my favourites. Utilising social media platforms to market your products allows you to utilise photographs to tell a story; as well as to get the attention of your target audience with the use of hashtags and placing site links.
There is also the option of paid advertising within these platforms to grab the attention of a larger audience within your target market. I have also been exploring YouTube as a platform to share valuable information in my niche.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
Retaining customers and building an email list of potential future customers is critical in small business success. Being personable and building a rapport with my customers throughout the process is critical to my success. This can be achieved through small steps that make the world of difference in how the customer “experiences” making a purchase.
From the ease of completing the initial transaction, all the way to receiving the final product; should be a seamless and effortless experience. You want to make an impression on the customer that will last. Creating both a positive impression and a positive experience will not only make them want to return to purchase in the future, but it will also prompt them to tell their friends and family about how exciting and personal their experience was.
A few ways I achieve this is by reaching out to each customer upon the initial sale with a personal “thank you” message. I use this time to answer any questions that my customer may have, as well as to ask them for any special requests or final details that may need addressing that pertain to order customisations.
During the creation of the handmade item(s), I like to offer the customer the option to receive “progress” photos of their handmade goods. This gives the customer a sneak-peek into the creative process; while simultaneously displaying the uniqueness, time and effort put into every item. Doing so offers the customer a personalised experience, giving them a snapshot of my creative process. In-turn, offering progress photos facilitates in maintaining appropriate product turnover timelines and meeting anticipated shipping deadlines.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
Though my business is small and operated by only myself, I do like to maintain a level of standards, both ethically and physically, that allows me to be “creatively conscientious”. I create with sustainability in mind…my subconscious model being “Mother Nature approved”. I like to set a positive atmospheric vibe as I create; keeping a clean and organized environment with soft music playing in the background and minimal distractions.
Working from home can be challenging; however, setting a designated work time, workspace and working routine can be vital to the success of your small business. Create a workspace or studio that is strictly designated for your business.
Create daily “To Do” / task lists to stay on track and maintain productivity Consider setting an atmospheric tone by playing light music (as not to distract) and introducing as much natural lighting to maintain positive and energetic vibes. When working from home it can be easy to slack off and be counter-productive. I’ve found what works best for me is to get up and complete a consistent morning routine that involves doing everything as I would if I were leaving my home to go to an “away from home” job. Establishing a working routine is critical for the success of a small, work-from-home business!
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
For small business success, I highly recommend utilising both online and offline tools, software and apps to manage and build your business and your customer database.
As a small, yet growing business, building an email list of customers is an essential way to communicate with your customers. Building a customer database and utilising email lists will allow you to communicate announcements (such as upcoming sales and special events. You can also tailor special offers to cater to specific customer populations and targeted audiences.
When starting, I recommend utilising free cloud-based programs (such as Google or Microsoft email accounts, documents and calendar) to maintain schedules are completing essential tasks. I also recommend utilising the corresponding apps for easy offline use and testing out “free trials” of software (that can be used to create invoices for example) to see what works best for your specific business.
Businesses that involve frequent Post Office visits, may consider investing in a mail-station (such as the Pitney-Bowes Mail Station) or other office equipment (such as a printer) that could facilitate in lowering shipping costs and/or eliminating frequent post office visits (which will in-turn save money).
Platforms such as Etsy offer a “Premium” service option that includes marketing and advertising of your items (amongst shop credits and other perks) and offers discounted shipping options when you print your labels directly from the online platform.
With business growth, comes the opportunity to grow your strategies and expand in how you keep your business finances organized. Another highly recommended software is the Quickbooks Self Employed software, which helps maintain orderly financial aspects of your business (i.e., tracking expenses, managing taxes, etc.), and generally offers a free trial and affordable payment options.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
Throughout my journey of growing a small business, there are things that I have learned through trial and error. If I were to start from scratch today, I would recommend having a solid business plan in place before jumping in feet-first. Having a strategy/formal business plan in place before starting will facilitate in meeting your business goals, staying on track and minimizing setbacks.
It can be a great tool in analyzing the structure and completeness of your business, and give you a formal look into what specific area(s) you should focus on and give you more attention to.
Having insight into your target audience is vitally important. Know your niche, know your market, and research your competition. It’s hard to know exactly what to say if you don’t know who you are talking to; so know who your target audience is! And remember, do not get caught up in the social media “comparison game”. It’s easy to fall victim to not feeling “good enough” in a virtual world. You have to know your self-worth and be confident as an entrepreneur to be successful. Ask yourself, “what can I offer the world and how can I do it differently than it’s been done before”?
I also recommend SETTING GOALS! Milestone achievement is needed to see persistent growth (both personally and professionally), as is “trial and error”. Embrace the learning curve that goal-setting will bring, and stay dedicated and true to your vision. Remember: “goal-setting“ and “goal-getting”… Steer clear from procrastination and be sure to celebrate your victories no matter how big or small they may seem!
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
My favourite aspect of having an entrepreneurial heart is being able to channel my creativity and bring my visions to life! I love seeing something that I made with my own two hands put a smile on someone’s face. I also enjoy seeing my hard work pay off… The personal satisfaction that is gained when mastering a new skill or reaching a milestone is so rewarding!
Taking challenges/hurdles and turning them into a learning experience allows you to grow both personally and professionally, and allows you to apply your knowledge in various aspects of real-life situations and scenarios!
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Not always having clear “instructions” (a “protocol“ in black and white) in place can be frustrating. But as new and unique situations arise in your business, it will be necessary to utilise your best judgement to decide how to handle any situations or issues that may arise. You have to do what is in the best interest of your customer (with their “experience” on the forefront) while staying true to your vision and maintaining your moral and ethical standards, as it reflects on the character of you and your business as a whole.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
As an entrepreneur, you have to learn what works for you. And to be successful, you have to figure out how to generate a passive income… One of the most motivating and inspiring quotes that I have read is by Warren Buffet… He once said, “You have to learn to make money while you sleep or you’ll work until you die”.
This is the ultimate motivation for me! When you think about this quote in a literal sense, it rings very true! Think about it like this: If you want to have success of grand proportions, I need to figure out a way to make money while I sleep and generate a passive income strategy; otherwise, I would have to make thousands of handmade items to make thousands of dollars, or make millions of handmade items to generate millions of dollars; and so forth.
With having only two hands, I could achieve real success by figuring out a way that I can generate an income without having to produce millions of items by hand (a passive income). Since I first heard this motivational quote, I’ve been brainstorming and compiling a list of strategies that are relevant to my business that could allow me to use my knowledge and skillset to be implemented and generate a passive income.
To implement such an idea would involve lots of research, planning and strategizing (as well as phase-testing); however, the reward of a generating a constant revenue stream would be the ultimate end-goal for any entrepreneur.
A few examples of possible passive-income strategies to consider could be selling digital patterns, offering online courses and/or literacy, monthly subscription services, and/or participating in affiliate programs; to name a few. Knowing your strengths and applying your knowledge and unique skill-sets will help you in deciding which route to take to generate a passive income strategy.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
2-3 years from now I hope to not only see solid growth in my small business but to also see a solid passive-income stream generating! I have so many different ideas that I would like to apply, but I anticipate taking them one step at a time to see what does and doesn’t work for me and my small business.