I was out for dinner on Friday night when I ran into Sarah, a woman I know from synagogue. Her son was in my class when I taught middle school and we always chat a little when we see one another. This time we started talking about work. I told her that while I loved teaching social studies, I also love what I do now.
“What do you do now?” she asked and I faltered a little. What I do now has become sort of complicated. There was a time a few years ago when I would have easily said, “I’m a sewing pattern designer.” But now that description doesn’t really sum up what my work day really looks like, nor does it describe my where all of my passions lie. Yes, I design sewing patterns, but I also write about the home sewing industry and creative entrepreneurship. My business-to-business (B2B) products include ebooks, articles for trade publications and magazines, my podcast, my newsletter, and increasingly this blog.
I’ve chosen, or really just sort of slid into, keeping all of these things under a single umbrella. All of it lives here at whileshenaps.com. Was this a good decision? Was it the right decision? I’m not sure it was even a conscious decision on my part and I don’t know if it’s serving me well, or undermining both areas of focus.
I know that I’m not alone in expanding my offerings to include both handmade goods and B2B products. Crafting has led many of us to find a nascent interest in business. I wanted to talk with some successful makers who, like me, offer both kinds of products to find out how they thought about this issue. I especially wanted to find people who have made different choices than I have or who are still debating what’s best.
Four years ago Janet LeBlanc began selling her jewelry on Etsy under the name Lazy Owl Boutique. With an undergraduate and masters degree in accounting and several years working as a CPA, Janet was naturally inclined to love making spreadsheets that helped her craft business run more smoothly. She created formulas for managing inventory, pricing, and accounting for her Etsy shop and quickly realized that other makers might benefit from them so she began offering them for sale.
The Etsy Seller Spreadsheet is one of Janet LeBlanc’s B2B offerings.
When Janet’s creative interests shifted from jewelry to paper goods she closed Lazy Owl Boutique and opened a new Etsy shop, Paper and Spark and put the spreadsheets for sale there as well. “I sort of know that the ‘smartest’ choice would be to separate my two audiences into two business, but I really can’t do it,” she told me. “I know that if I did it I’d basically end up killing off one of the businesses and I really want to keep going with both…Time and energy-wise, I cannot handle running more than one business at a time!”
I asked Janet if she feels that her customers are confused or annoyed by the mix of products. “I don’t really think other creative business owners mind seeing posts about my mugs or mama journals,” she said, “But I feel like my mama ladies who like pretty things get turned off seeing lots of posts about spreadsheets. Nobody wants to hear about spreadsheets unless you need them in your life, you know?”
Metalsmith Megan Auman launched her jewelry business in 2006, right out of graduate school. She started a blog to promote her jewelry. “Every so often on that blog, I would write a more business focused piece that appealed more to my fellow makers,” Megan recalls. “This wasn’t strategic, just a natural outgrowth of things happening in my business. But those posts always got a big response and a lot of attention.” A few years later Megan was considering getting an MBA when a friend remarked, “You could teach this stuff!”
“When I thought about how I could ‘teach that stuff’ I decided that the best thing to do was create a website and Crafting an MBA (now Designing an MBA) was born. I made the decision to have two separated sites because the two audiences are very different. The customer for my jewelry is not the customer for my online business programs, save for the very rare crossover. I wanted to have a separate space where I could talk directly to each audience.”
What felt a bit fractured at first, later became more unified once Megan identified a single mission statement that guides both arms of her business. “The world needs more strong, confident women,” she says, “and that’s my focus, whether it’s helping someone find a great piece of jewelry or helping them grow their business.”
Megan is an expert at social media and she’s chosen to divide up how she uses the different channels, rather than try to represent both businesses everywhere. “I did make the decision to focus some social media platforms more on one area or another. I hate switching back and forth, so I didn’t want to manage multiple accounts, with the exception of Facebook, where I have a separate page for each. My Pinterest account is very focused on building the audience for my jewelry business, while I focus my Twitter on promoting my B2B teaching and services. Instagram is sort of the melting pot where they come together.”
Mei Pak makes scented food jewelry which she sells through her highly successful business, Tiny Hands. When she wanted to begin offering consulting services to other creative businesses, she initially tried to do it through the Tiny Hands website. “I wanted to see if I had any interest from my Tiny Hands audience. I put up a ‘Pick My Brain’ consult for a low, introductory price on my jewelry website. It was positioned prominently and I brought traffic to it, but no one bought it,” she says. “I would also occasionally post business tips and advice on my Tiny Hands social media profiles, but it got very little traction and had low engagement compared to my other posts about jewelry.”
“After going through that, it became clear that if I wanted my consulting business to grow to its potential, it couldn’t sit under the Tiny Hands Jewelry brand name.” She decided to launch a new site: CreativeHive.
Megan and Mei both have separate websites and email lists for their two types of businesses, and Mei also has two sets of social media profiles as well. It’s important to note that we’ve all opted to keep our B2B offerings under the same corporate structure as our creative offerings, although Mei is considering officially separating the two into separate LLCs.
Are customers of handmade products turned off when their favorite crafters introduce B2B products into the mix? Mei feels they are. “My jewelry customers are not other small business owners. They are only interested in the jewelry.” Not only that, she also feels it could it could actually alienate them. “I wasn’t comfortable in knowing that my jewelry customers would be exposed to business information like income reports and marketing tactics,” she says.
Janet LeBlanc offers a different perspective. “I do like having everything in one place because it lends credibility to anything you’re trying to sell to other business owners – they can see that you are a successful brand with sales, know-how and experience under your belt.”