Amazing Case Study: How Sarai Mitnick Attracts 380k Pageviews a Month and Built a Business Around a Sewing Blog

  • January 24, 2012 by Caleb Wojcik
  • 32 Comments

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:

(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.

colette sewing patterns book

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.

colette sewing patterns store

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!

Sarai Mitnick is the founder and designer behind sewing pattern company Colette Patterns, author of The Colette Sewing Handbook, and writer of sewing blog The Coletterie.

Written by . Caleb Wojcik is one of the 3 C's at Think Traffic and Fizzle.co. He writes at CalebWojcik.com and hosts the Cubicle Renegade Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @CalebWojcik.


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Jennifer Lachman January 24, 2012 at 6:55 am

Talk about coincidence. I just read her blog before coming here. I love Colette. I acutely just bought her book in order to participate in a sew-along. In my opinion sew-alongs are the greatest way to get people to buy from your affiliate links. The sewing community loves to feel like they are part of a group. You need the items to do that and there is a dead line for purchasing them. It is the perfect formula.

Corbett Barr January 24, 2012 at 12:45 pm

That’s crazy! Small world Jennifer.

Sarai January 24, 2012 at 2:32 pm

That is so cool, Jennifer! I didn’t think there would be much crossover in audiences. :)

Gregory Ciotti January 24, 2012 at 7:03 am

Always love a good interview, especially on unusual blog topics.

Not much more to add other than I really enjoyed this one, and would love to see more in this same style.

Corbett Barr January 24, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Cool thanks, we’re definitely always on the lookout for interesting subjects and stories for interviews.

rohan January 24, 2012 at 8:03 am

Hi Sarai, congrats on your success. This couldn’t be more timely. I’m in the middle of planning out the blog for a service company (household services-site is linked with my name) and I’m really looking to build out a nice blog around it. There’s literally no other company in our area that is blogging at all, it’s such low hanging fruit.

Problem is I’ve been having problems with content ideas, but your blog has shown me that is a way to build an audience around larger interests that still relates well with your core function. Interviews, organizing, even your travels a bit…thanks, this is awesome!

Dwayne@TWC January 24, 2012 at 8:31 am

I agree with Greg 100%. This interview was great because it shows that you don’t have to in with everyone else and try to make money teaching how to make money. It’s cool Sarai is so successful in a niche most of us would completely overlook. Keep up the good work, Sarai. =)

Corbett Barr January 24, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Totally Dwayne, I love these kinds of stories as well.

Sarai January 24, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Thanks Dwayne! I think it’s helpful to work in a niche that you are truly excited about too. Sewing means something to me, which I think helps me create good content.

Julz January 24, 2012 at 10:32 am

I added a blog to my ecommerce store In October! And I have seen my sales increase massively, I had my best sales month in november, and I have already beat that this month, so will have a much bigger best sales month this month!!!

I have found that adding the blog has really increased the sense of community within my customer base, and adds to social proof, which greatly helps conversions on my ecommerce site as people see the comments and activity on my blog.

My online business is in the weight loss industry and I run a monthly weight loss challenge on my blog for my customers to take part in! This has been a great idea at getting people involved and getting new customers!

Adding a blog to an ecommerce store is definitely the way to go!

Corbett Barr January 24, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Awesome Julz! Congrats on the success and thanks for backing up the strategy. Glad it’s working for you.

Tito Philips, Jnr. January 24, 2012 at 11:27 am

Thank You for this awesome interview Corbett and Caleb. I like it when I read about bloggers doing so well from other niche besides the “Blogging about blogging” niche everyone seems to run after.

I was able to pick a very important lesson from this;

“The better the content is for my readers, the better my sales will be.”

I think this is the obvious truth about content marketing. A vivid focus on creating SIGNIFICANT [Unique and Useful] contents for your customers will ultimately affect the bottomline in the long run.

Thanks for sharing.

Corbett Barr January 24, 2012 at 12:49 pm

That’s definitely one of the most important elements Tito. Of course, there are plenty of other things to get right, but you’ll never go wrong having outstanding content as a base.

Shefiu January 24, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Great and inspirational story to share. Well done on your amazing success!

Jon Cooper January 24, 2012 at 9:24 pm

As much as I loved this (and trust me, I did!), I would have loved it more if you asked more questions about building traffic to her blog – this is Think Traffic, isn’t it? :)

Corbett Barr January 25, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Thanks for the feedback Jon, always appreciated.

Andrea Hypno January 25, 2012 at 1:22 am

Great post and very interesting. It’s uplifting to read about people who has been able to achieve great results. Especially because it demonstrates that not always you can make money blogging by blogging about how to make money blogging. Really a very good article, and kudos to Sarai. :)

Sheyi January 25, 2012 at 1:24 am

Great interview here Corbett. Great to read that you are doing fine Sarai. Keep on doing giving the best to your readers it will make them come back often and turn to customers too.

Christina January 25, 2012 at 5:31 pm

I love Colette! I love the design, the photos, the blog – everything!!! (And I can’t even sew!!!)

This interview is more than inspiration for me, it shows passion fuels fun, interest and creative expansion. Thank you Sarai, it’s beautiful – and enlightening in so many way. Your blog design is delicious in so many aspects. When I clicked the link my immediate response was, “Oh! It’s so inviting!” Thank you for doing the interview, all of you, and bringing it into my life, I’m rethinking my own ideas because of your ability to build an epic niche : )

Andrew January 25, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Loved this case study; it’s great to learn about someone doing an amazing job in a niche that we don’t hear about all the time.

Sarai, that’s awesome that the second traffic source for the shop is the blog. Looks like you’re doing a great job of writing great content and building a lot of trust in your readers. I’m sure your newsletter is also a big plus.

How were things in the beginning when you first launched this site? Did it quickly gain a huge following? If so, what were some of the best strategies you used to promote and grow when it was new?

Ina January 27, 2012 at 7:47 am

I am also a fan of Colette Patterns and I am happy Sarai gets so much traffic. I had no idea. Her content is flawless and inspiring.
I wanted to ask Sarai how long it took to get to her first 10.000 visits a month, was is a slow process or all the contrary? And the second thing, what is her strategy for Twitter.

Mary Malyon January 29, 2012 at 11:31 am

Really inspiring. Love the way The Coletterie looks as well, like a stylish – but but never snooty – friend’s wardrobe. You could spend hours playing dress-ups there. :)

Tom Ross January 30, 2012 at 3:27 am

Incredibly refreshing to see an interview concerning a blog outside of the make money niche. This is blogging as it should be, simple, helpful and well structured. I’d second Ina’s question too, I’d love to know how Sarai attracted her earliest readership.

Patricia February 1, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Really great to see a creative business success story! Fantastic example of the power of niche marketing & branding that can go mainstream. Keep up the great work, really inspirational.

Teena March 15, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Wow! Serendipity, Corbett! I’ve been helping a friend with her new website about her love of quilting, and although she’s not ready to monetise it yet, I’ve been advising on the benefits of blogging (and reminding myself I need to do more of it too :-)

Sarai, just had a look at your blog – looks faaabulous! I love the large close-up photos of the sewing tips and techniques – well done!

One quick question from a comment above, what’s a “sew-along”?

Cheers
Teena
(ps Corbett – read this via today’s newsletter about interviews – thanks!)

Daria January 3, 2013 at 12:01 am

Hi, thank you for the interview and great ideas! I was hoping to start a blog about cultural differences but was not sure if this kind of blog can actually be a marketing for core business. But now I think it might be a good idea considering that there are success stories. Now I need to create a business plan and start writing valuable content :) . Thanks

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