I want to start by telling you that I have tons of ideas of things I would like to talk about on the blog this year, but I have to admit that I, again, put too much on my plate and I'm currently juggling to make it all work. But I finally managed to complete this post that has been in my draft box for 2 months (yay!!) so grab a coffee because today we are talking business!!
After almost a year of activity in our PDF sewing pattern endeavor, I thought it would be a good time to gather some of our early findings and lessons learned. I'm a great admirer of bloggers operating with a high degrees of transparency. Income reports are quite common in the blogging world but not so much in the sewing community. There are of course exceptions, I think most of us are familiar with Abby Glassenberg of While She Naps. My lovely friend, Sanae Ishida, also discusses her blogger/writer income very openly with Furoku members. Transparency doesn't necessarily mean discussing $$ at length and I always loved the behind the scenes posts published by various indie pattern designers (like Sewaholic or Closet Case Patterns).
For all the years that I delayed taking the leap and starting my own project, reading about it was my little window into that world. The way I approach Just Patterns, is largely shaped by all this generously shared knowledge. So it seems only fair to apply those standards of transparency to myself and share with you what we tried so far and where we stand. I try to be as genuine as possible so I hope it doesn't come of as complaining, bragging or something like that. If it does, then you are more than welcome to set me straight! I always felt that this blog was a space where I would always get valuable feedback from you, which is why I'm sharing my thoughts so openly with you.
2017 in numbers
5 patterns released, 370 patterns sold:
345 on Etsy (our main shop)
24 on Makerist (we listed 3 patterns there in December)
1 on Craftsy
1383$ of revenue:
1315$ on Etsy
65$ in Makerist (We listed there in preparation of a sale, so basically patterns were sold at 50% off)
3$ on Craftsy
289$ of e-commerce fees:
115$ for Etsy Credit Card Processing
155$ for other Etsy Fees
19$ for Makerist Commission
892$ of other Expenses:
210$ for digitizing (that includes our current patterns and some of our future releases)
630$ for the licence of our CAD software.
52$ for the domain of our website
That leaves us with a positive balance of 200$. But that's not entirely correct because major expenditures are being left out. First, we are currently able to get the photography done professionally at no cost. However, it may not last forever. There are also costs not being charged to the business such as Adobe Illustrator (for which I pay about 240$/year) or fabric for samples. So it would be fairer to say that we approximatively broke even this year but it does raise the question of the sustainability of our approach.
Lessons and questions
Obviously, getting rich out of selling PDF patterns was never a goal. What I really wanted out this project was to experiment, learn and challenge my own assumptions about what is going on in the world of independent patterns makers. None of the lessons below are breakthroughs, they are things that I believe we already know, but I'm a hard-evidence type of person. So I won't believe anyone until I see it for myself!
Lesson #1: Simple patterns are the ones that sell
Duh! That one is easy and from looking at other popular indie designers, we know the answer. It's the simpler styles that sell better. That's about it. You can spend weeks developing a pattern like Linda but you will sell a lot more Stephanie. The investment is lower, the risk is lower and the sales are higher. Simply put, releasing complex patterns is not a good business decision.
Linda Wrap Dress: released in June 2017, sold 57
Stephanie Skirt: released in March 2017, sold 110
Yasmeen Skirt: released in December 2017, sold 23
Christy Slipdress: released in February 2017, sold 73
Kate Bias Top: released in February 2017, sold 107
Of course, things are more complicated than that. First of all, the process of getting a pattern ready for release is long and sometimes tedious. I find it more rewarding to work on designs I truly love. I'm also not a marketing wiz, so to "sell" a style I need to truly love it! In addition, I believe that releasing more complex styles actually the credibility of the simpler patterns. By showing that you can achieve this, it gives confidence to customers that your drafting/grading is on point.
Lesson #2: Making money out of sewing patterns is difficult
With Just Patterns, we made the deliberate choice to start at much lower price than the current indie offering. Since then, we were told repeatedly that our patterns were too cheap. We heard it from pretty much everybody: bloggers, customers and fellow indie pattern designers. I'm very stubborn, and I was very committed to our price point but looking at the numbers that I outlined above, I have to admit that we have a sustainability issue. How long will we find the energy and time to do something that is very far from paying even a portion of our own time?
At the current pricing level, we would need to sell significantly more patterns. That would require stronger marketing efforts which is definitely a weakness. Marketing is time consuming and not a favorite of either Eira or myself. It also brings out another question, how big is the market of people who do not expect detailed instructions? Is it that we are not reaching our people or that there are just not that many of them?
The answer of this question, which I obviously don't know, leads to very different paths. If we are not reaching out enough then we need to focus our time on marketing and expanding our horizons. If the answer is that there aren't that many sewists not looking for detailed instructions then the possibilities are :
Outsourcing the development of instructions, because there is no way for us to do it, and then hike up the price to the level of other indies
Sticking to the spare instructions and finding a middle price that allows us to keep catering to the same small crowd in a sustainable manner.
Lesson #3: I am terrible at keeping my balance...
I don't talk about my personal or professional life that much around here but I think most of you know that I have a demanding day job and I am the single parent of a small but growing human (in the middle of sleep training...). Obviously those responsibilities come first, and then there is also the need for some kind of social life, the personal sewing, sewing and writing for Sew News, and everything Just Patterns related.
Even though her responsibilities are different, Eira also has a full time job and an extremely busy schedule outside our little pattern venture. I feel lucky because I love every aspect of my life, but I tend to over commit. I do it all, I reach my exhaustion point, take a break and restart all over. Exactly what every business book tells you NOT to do. In particular because it shows in our online presence. For some time, I manage to post regularly on social media and then suddenly disappear. I know it's bad but I don't think there is anything i can do about it for now. So I guess I'll have to hope that our customers are patient and understanding!
The post is getting longer than initially intended so I will keep my questions and goals for a follow-up post. I hope that the first part was of interest to you, and as always don't hesitate to let me know what your thoughts are or if you would like me to expand on any of the things I mentioned!