A common misconception is that you can only make money blogging when you write about blogging or making money online. We disagree.
We’ve featured bloggers who use blogs that matter to do some incredible things:
- Shannon Whitehead and Kristin Glenn used their blog to raise $64,246 on Kickstarter to start a new clothing line.
- Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus use their blog to simplify people’s lives and share their creative writing.
- Jeff Goins used his blog to land a book deal.
(If you know of any other amazing stories of people that have used blogs to make a living, email us and let us know. We love featuring people that are doing amazing things because of their blogs.)
Today we’re happy to interview Sarai Minick from the sewing pattern company Colette Patterns. Sarai uses her blog as a platform to share her expertise on sewing, give people free patterns, and grow the audience for her sewing pattern store.
In this interview you’ll find out how you can create a valuable product, give away great content to get traffic, and convert that to sales. No tricks, no shortcuts. It just works.
Tell us about your business Coletterie. How would you describe it?
The core business for Colette Patterns is producing cool, modern sewing patterns, so women (and men) can make their own clothes. The Coletterie is our blog, which supports the main business of selling printed patterns. It’s an interesting mix, because so much of what we do is online (with the blog), but the product we’re selling is very old fashioned.
How did you get started online? Did the business start online or offline?
I started completely online. Before I launched the company, I was working on the User Experience team over at Google / YouTube, and the idea of creating a great online experience, selling online, and creating a community was very comfortable to me. It was the other stuff I had to learn: printing, distribution, wholesale.
What made you decide to start a blog around your sewing patterns instead of just a storefront?
I’d been blogging in some form or another for many years before I started the company, though never with a commercial goal before. I knew that blogging would be a great way to connect with my customers, because I’d connected with so many like-minded people through my previous blogs. It was important to me that people see who I was and what I was trying to accomplish, to put a face on it and show my point of view.
I also needed to bring traffic to the business, and blogging was a great way to do that. Sewing is both highly creative and highly technical, which means you can create some really rich and varied content.
What other things besides blogging do you do to build your audience and customer base?
We use Twitter and Facebook, and we also have a forum and a weekly sewing tips newsletter called Snippets.
Can you share how many people visit your site on a monthly basis? Where do most of them come from?
For the last month, the blog got about 200k pageviews (60k uniques), and the main shop was 180k pageviews (26k uniques).
For both sites, the majority of the traffic is organic traffic from google. For the shop, the blog is the top traffic source after google, which is pretty cool. The blog has high quality content, and the numbers show that it’s driving people to the shop.
Both sites get traffic from other sewing sites and blogs. Because of the nature of sewing patterns, customers are always posting their projects online and linking back to the shop or to tutorials on our blog. We have a few popular bloggers that send us traffic, and a long tail of smaller sewing and craft blogs that send even more.
We’re also noticing a new trend, which is traffic coming from Pinterest. Since our content is highly visual, people are starting to post our patterns and tutorials on Pinterest. It’s a great way for new customers to discover what we’re doing. Pinterest works with one of our core strengths, the high quality visuals.
How do you stand out among your competition in the sewing niche?
I’m a very visual person, so I put a lot of focus on visual inspiration and good photography. I also spend a lot of time on tutorials and techniques, which is something my readers are always eager for. But I think what makes the blog different is the voice. We try to be instructive, welcoming, supportive, and personal.
Have you connected with many other people who run sewing and patterning sites online?
I’ve become friends with several other sewing bloggers and pattern designers, which I think is essential. I’ve met several of them in person now, and I’m always trying to think up ways to collaborate and team up to support one another.
I find this aspect important, because having more high quality content and products out there really does help enlarge the market. In that way, we’re not really in competition with each other. We’re raising awareness of the niche as a whole, and bringing new, younger people into it.
Does your blog directly lead to customers and sales? If so, how do you make that happen?
Yes, the blog definitely brings people to the online shop, and leads to sales.
I try to think about what information is helpful for people considering a purchase. Often, what they want to see is more interpretations for a pattern, more ideas about what they could do with it, and to see it on different body types. It’s really easy to provide this on the blog, with ideas, tutorials, fabric suggestions, and reader submissions of their own projects. It gets people excited to see all the different things they can do.
It’s helpful for me to think about what information is actually useful to potential customers, rather than thinking purely about pushing products. The better the content is for my readers, the better my sales will be.
How do you utilize your Snippets mailing list?
Originally, I had a typical monthly company newsletter where I announced new products, promotions, and a few links to our blog. I was really bored with it, and knew that if I was bored, my customers would be too.
I went back to thinking about doing something that would be genuinely useful, and came up with the idea of a weekly sewing tip. There are so many little tips and tricks with sewing, and a weekly email seemed like a great format for that sort of thing.
We write the content in big chunks, and schedule it to go out every week. If there’s anything of particular interest that week, we’ll add it to the end of the newsletter. Occasionally, we might send out a special promo code. But mostly, the idea is to share great content and maintain engagement with our customers. It’s really taken off, and has about 9,000 subscribers right now.
What are your experiences with running a forum on your site? Is it worth the effort?
I find the forum tricky, and we’re still experimenting with it. I can’t tell yet whether it’s really worth having.
On the one hand, it’s great to have a community discussion area, since our readers are interested in sharing their own projects and discussing topics with each other. But it’s difficult to balance it with the blog, our Flickr group, and Facebook. It feels a bit fragmented to me. Honestly, I’m not sure what the answer is!
Can you describe your philosophy on giving away free content and patterns?
Everyone likes free stuff! The free downloads we’ve offered have been extremely popular, and are some of the most highly trafficked pages. One of our free patterns has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. Others have been picked up and republished in sewing and craft magazines.
Of course, you have to balance the work you put into free content with the stuff that actually pays the bills. I consider it a part of my marketing effort, and try to spend time on it accordingly.
On a personal level, I like giving stuff away. It feels good.
What advice do you have for creatives who are looking to support themselves from their work?
If you’re interested in starting a business, I think it’s important to really consider your goals, strengths, and interests in an honest way. Running a business means so much more than handling the creative side of things. It means that you’re responsible for everything, from marketing and sales to bookkeeping and sweeping the floor. It’s useful to figure out up front what aspects of that you may need to work on. If you hate everything other than the creative work, you might consider a partner to really run things.
I also think you have to make a serious commitment to understanding time management. To me, integrity is really important as a business owner, and a big part of that is doing what you say you’re going to do. So many people I know struggle with their creative businesses because they don’t have these kinds of skills, but it’s definitely something you can learn.
Finally, I’d say that structure is your friend. A lot of creative people fear structure and organization because they think it’s stifling. But if you’re in it to make a living, you really have to be able to free yourself from the mundane business-y tasks in order to make room for creativity. For me, that means a lot of organization and daily routine.
Note from Caleb: If you have any specific questions for Sarai, please leave them in the comments below. She’d be happy to answer them.
Thanks so much for the great answers Sarai!