Idea of Thirds for Online Content

This is the next edition of a semi-regular series From the Business Desk I am writing to look at some of the important factors in running a Small Fiber Arts Business.  This feature revolves around some ideas and concepts that you can use when posting content online and via social media.

Driving content to any website or blog isn’t easy.  Especially with the proliferation of social media and so-called link aggregation sites like Buzzfeed or Tumblr, online viewers are faced with an overwhelming amount of content to sift through.  How can you, the publisher, rise above the noise, and provide your audience with a healthy variety of content to keep them engaged and continuing to return to your site?  Social Media giant Facebook has some analysis from their experience, much of it is good advice: ask questions, vary your style, and keep up your volume.

In terms of content, however, there’s a quick little memonic that I’ve always believed in to help you not only have varied style and volume, but different topics as well.  I think this is particularly apropos for the fiberarts industry, where so much of the culture and community is derived from sharing new ideas and teaching others’ new tips and techniques. It’s called the Idea (or rule) of Thirds for Online Content.  It goes like this:

1/3 of your content should be Informational
1/3 should be Instructional
1/3 should be Personal

Here at Tinking Turtle, we try (and emphasis on try given life’s challenges as mentioned before) to come up with a monthly posting schedule and theme, and then break down the posts based on these buckets.

This is our Posting Schedule for last November.  Note the other topics for me at the bottom… I’m just now getting to writing about the Idea of Thirds!

Each of these buckets can engage a different set of readers, or engage frequent readers in different ways.  The Informational grouping for content can encompass topics such as reviews of new patterns, new yarns, new books, or other knowledge based topics that you the poster want to share with your audience, for example this post you’re reading!  Instructional topics are pretty straight forward, and engage the folks’ who peruse your site hoping to learn something new (like Jen’s Embroidering with Crochet piece) or with a question to be answered.  Instructional topics can also lead into a more active offline engagement with readers, as once they have learned a technique or style they may want to pursue that with you through one on one interactions or even taking an in depth class.

Personal topics are topic matter most commonly associated with blogs; they are stories, experiences, and musings of the poster (such as my German Restaurant post about the origins of the Tinking Turtle name from last year) and add a human element to a website.  Readers want to know they are dealing with people, not robots, and having this down to earth content helps drive that connection to keep them coming back.

There are any number of ways you can break down posting content to achieve variety to provide engaging and provoking content.  The Idea of Thirds is one great concept to keep in the back of your mind when contemplating your online content, whatever the platform, going forward!

~ Mr. Turtle

Technology and Organization: How to stay on top of your files.

This is the next edition of a semi-regular series From the Business Desk I am writing to look at some of the important factors in running a Small Fiber Arts Business.  This month’s feature revolves around using some technology solutions to manage the data and documents your business creates.
In today’s technological age, more and more business documents are being created, transmitted, and stored solely in an electronic format.  Gone are the days of massive file rooms and large physical filing cabinets full of records; for small businesses in particular, digital storage is a booming need.  Being able to store and organize documents smartly is a crucial aspect of any business operation, and the time and effort saved through organization can make a real difference for a business of one or two employees.  This is especially true for fiber arts design shops, where the products, patterns, and media being created comprise the bulk of the value for the business.
For the small business today, there are a wealth of resources available, ranging from free to very cost effective.  These resources are able to store documents in a manner where they can be easily accessible to the business, yet secure and organized to protect the data.  Cloud storage, available through GoogleApple, or Dropbox, to name but a few, can initially be used for free.  This online storage can be accessed anywhere that you have an internet connection.
More locally is the emerging concept of a Personal Cloud.  A personal cloud is a hybrid setup of storage; a cross between an internet based Cloud Storage service and a personal hard drive attached to a computer.  Also known technically as Network Attached Storage (NAS), this technology solution allows you to create, save, and share documents locally within your own business or home network.  
Tinking Turtle’s Personal Cloud looks like any Windows file structure, and
is organized and accessible across multiple computers.

Tinking Turtle has recently set up our own Personal Cloud system to store all of our business data including design information, contracts, and other important documents, in one simple, easy to access location that any computer on our business network can connect to.  This allows us to categorize and file designs and other business documents in an organized, hierarchical manner, while still preserving the ability to share these among members of the business.

Personal Cloud providers such as Western Digital or Seagate now offer affordible data storage solutions with a wide range of features, including automatic backups, audio and video streaming services, and even the ability to access documents anywhere across the internet.  This functionality offers small businesses a key competitive advantage, as by being organized with your company data, you are better able to use your available resources.

Beginnings: The Origin of Tinking Turtle

As we bring 2013 to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the path we’ve taken to get where we are this year.  The holiday season is often a time spent with friends and family, each with their own special traditions and holiday moments.  For my family, one of our favorite traditions is setting up a model train layout in the garage, all decorated up for Christmas, and spend hours driving the trains through our small town.  In this town, it’s important for everything to have a name, from the grocery store named after my younger brother to the boarding house and bakery.  This has been a tradition that Jennifer and I have carried on through the years.

Trains and naming things have found their way into our lives outside of just the holidays.  In September 2011 after settling in Washington, DC we embarked on our first long-distance train journey to the windy city of Chicago.  We travled for several days, including our first overnight on the train.  While in Chicago, we visited Loopy Yarns. Jennifer was just setting out on building the framework for the business that has become Tinking Turtle and, as a stitcher, she couldn’t visit the city without stopping by the store.  During the trip, the topic of discussion kept circling back to Loopy Yarns, the name, and if we had a store, what it would be named.

Over a delicious dinner of Knockwurst, Wiener Schnitzel, and Sauerkraut at The Berghoff, we began to bat around some funny names for the various buildings in our own model train town, with a yarn bent.  Grabbing the closest piece of paper at hand, a class schedule from Loopy Yarns, we recorded all of the names that came to mind.

Given that we were now living in Maryland, the turtle as a mascot came to mind, and then playing off of the alliteration, tinking was a natural fit.  I’ll confess that at that point in time I had no idea what tinking even was, but it sounded cool.  Ye Olde Tinking Turtle was originally going to be a combo yarn store/tavern, perhaps influenced by the German atmosphere, however it was a name that stuck with us.

Tinking Turtle was not the initial name for the company; Jen was contemplating running it under a company named after herself. Unfortunately however, when she was looking to register a trade name and website, there were several other businesses with similar sounding names.  Falling back to what was originally an amusing name for a train town pub, Tinking Turtle has stayed with us, becoming the business that it is today.

The Importance of Customer Relationship Management

This is the second edition of a semi-regular series From the Business Desk I am writing to look at some of the important factors in running a Small Fiber arts Business.  This month’s feature revolves around using technology to grasp one of the key factors in the success of a business: your customers.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a huge buzzword in any business today.  With more and more technology at our fingertips, it is easier than ever for the informed customer to make their purchasing decision, go shopping through e-commerce, or conduct their own research irregardless of advertising mediums.  Businesses can and should be doing the same things with regards to their customers.

In theory, CRM revolves around tracking and recording every interaction a business has with their customers, from email conversations to support calls to purchasing history to who is prompt on payment.  This is a lot to aggregate and understand, however by doing such, a business can derive significant information from this data.  In larger businesses, there are dedicated CRM systems such as Salesforce that can be leveraged for that purpose; for small business however, many times these records live on post-it notes, sales receipts, and excel spreadsheets.

The Tinking Turtle facebook page lets us track who likes the company,
and who corresponds and interacts with our brand.

I wanted to take a moment to share a couple of good, and extremely cost effective resources for Small Businesses to use to be able to better track their customer information.  The first is through Social Media.  Like it or not, Facebook is the wave of the future for businesses, and by being involved in this network of potential customers, every interaction is recorded and available for review.  Not only can you communicate directly with friends, family, and interested parties, you can document who is liking your page, their likes, and record shared content among them.  In this way, you have a track record, a history of what brings your customers to your brand, and can use this to further development your business strategy.

We use Insightly to track the status of our
design projects among other uses

The second tool I would recommend every small business check out is an online CRM application.  There are countless review sites out there to cover the good, the bad, and the ugly of a whole world of CRM applications that are cheap or free to use for beginners.  There is honestly no “best” site out there; a lot of the choice boils down to what you are doing as a business, and what features you value most.  Tinking Turtle uses Insightly as our CRM.  What drew me to implement this for the business earlier this year was its’ integration with Google Apps, a plus for the IT side of me, as well as its’ focus both on Customer Relationship and Project Management.  In Insightly, it is easy for us to not only track who we do business with, and the data surrounding those relationships, but as well we can track opportunities and projects.  Insightly’s “web of links” approach makes it easy to associate which design calls tie back to which publishing companies, for instance, and which projects were submitted for each call for submission.  The best part about Insightly is that for the just starting small business, it free for a limited number of contacts and items.  This lets any business use the system to get their feet on the ground, and then once they have reached a size where they have the financial strength to begin evaluating more features, they can easily continue that through the system.

No matter what your business does, be it fiber or yarn production, designing, or a LYS, having a method to aggregate your customer information is an excellent step to take to further your business success.  I want to stress here that there is no right or wrong answer; if you have a card catalog and Rolodex that works for you, all for the better.  However, as the customer moves more and more into the digital arena of the internet, I would encourage all business owners to consider some of the online tools discussed above.

Industry Metrics: What You Need To Know

One of the reasons I love working with Michael is the new perspective he brings to the business.  He might not be able to knit a hat, but he can tell me that this winter, I should be doing different things to improve my sales.  Today he touches on one of the tools you can use to make business decisions – data analysis.

We are all surrounded by data.  In our daily lives, from the morning commute to the afternoon water-cooler conversations, there exists a wealth of data in the world around us. Data is one part in a hierarchy of ways to think about and interpret the world around us.  Unto itself, individual data points have no meaning. It is only with analysis that information, which is data that is used to make decisions, can be derived.  This decision-making lends us knowledge, which is the goal of informed decision-making.  By being able to interpret and synthesize the data available in any industry, business owners can take advantage of opportunities.

pattern, knit, designing, math, data, analytic, spreadsheet, metrics, tinking turtle
Knitting Designing is all about turning Data like measurements and stitch counts into information: the finished pattern
My day job is as an IT manager for a healthcare technology company in DC; in this role I deal constantly with large data sets, turning various discreet data points into usable knowledge.  This type of analytic approach is vitally important for small businesses (and the craft industry) in order to understand the market and position yourself to take advantage of trends.  For fiberarts businesses (both LYS’s and designers/publishers), this is doubly important; with any commodity based industry, trends can come and go at a breakneck pace.  What was trendy last fall may have fallen by the wayside this year; it is only by being able to analyze the market that you can position yourself to act accordingly.
In the Fiberarts industry, there is a wealth of discreet data that is ripe for the picking.

Bristol, (BristolIvy on Ravelry) writes a regular series entitled The Stock(inette) Market where she takes an in-depth look at pattern sales trends based on Ravelry data for a period of time.  She aggregates this data, and then provides the analysis to be able to discern trends and areas of growth. This provides savvy designers a starting point for getting an idea of where the market is headed.  For example, in her most recent post covering the month of September, she finds that as we head towards the cooler months, neck accessories are the dominant sales driver, along with cold weather accessories such as hats, mittens, and gloves.  Gathering this information over a period of time, up to and including years, the savvy statistician can paint a picture of the market, and be able to position themselves to take advantage of publishing patterns at the opportune time.

For TNNA members, the organization offers a wonderful resource in the form of a series of surveys they conduct of all fiber artists on a regular basis.  This data consists of a wide range of information, from yarns frequented to number of projects on needles at one time.  In addition to being able to demonstrate current trends, the TNNA data is presented in comparison to previous surveys, to show trends over time, a powerful way to look at data to gain insight into the future.

Ravelry itself can be a source of data, such as in the graph below, mined from our Tinking Turtle sales.
chart, excel, pie, tinking turtle, patterns, designs, type, socks, softie, pullover, hat

One must be wary, however, in relying completely on technology to package and interpret data for us.  Technology can be useful to turn data into information, however it is that human interpretation that gives analysis it’s kick.  If computers could provide the right analysis every time, there’d be no need for weather forecasters, for instance.  How you turn data into knowledge is what differentiates man from machine.  This is an important distinction for business owners for all fiberarts related businesses.  Creating knowledge is one of the cornerstones for how one can grow a successful business in this or any industry.

So you want to work for yourself: Now What?

From the Business Desk

Welcome to the first edition of a semi-regular series that I will be contributing to this site focusing on the business side of running a small fiber arts business.  As introduced in the first post I wrote earlier this week, I officially

 joined the Tinking Turtle team back in August to take on management of the business side of the organization: contract management, accounting and bookkeeping, and strategic/structural planning.  I plan on writing monthly topics discussing some of the trials, tribulations, and learning experiences that have come about in the past three plus years as a small business.

For my first topic, I wanted to open the door with an overview of small business organization, as for many business owners, this is the first consideration after making the plunge and deciding you want to start being your own boss.

The most significant difference that a business owner should understand  among all levels of organization is that there is a trade off between operational flexibility and protection from risk.  As a business owner, this is accomplished by either legally separating your business and yourself into two separate entities, to reduce your individual liability and risk in the event of an issue, or by having you and the business be one and the same to maximize your flexibility and minimize your reporting requirements.

The IRS has a great overview site to discuss how different organizational structures are affected by taxation and reporting requirements.  Additionally, a wonderful resource for the crafty type person to begin to explore what option would be best for you is The Craft Artist’s Legal Guide, presented by NOLO.

Please note that the below information is presented as advice only.  If you are considering any of these specific options, it is highly recommended that you consult with an accountant or attorney to understand any additional legal ramifications of your decision.

The core business structures a small business would be considering fall into three primary groups: Sole Proprietorships, Partnerships, and Corporations of various types.  Sole Proprietorship and Partnerships are considered unincorporated types of business, while the various type of Corporation, explained below, are all incorporated, which means they are legal entities filed within the state of primary operations of the business.

There are no requirements to being operating your business as a Sole Proprietorship at the macro level (certain municipalities may require business licenses, be sure to check with your local licensing board first!); once you start operations, you are operating under this structure.  With the Sole Proprietorship, your only structural requirements are to file additional forms with your income tax on an annual basis.  The drawback of this level of organization is that there is limited protection from risk as a Sole Proprietor, so you personally can be held accountable for the debts and tax liability of your business.

Partnerships are similar to Sole Proprietorship in that they require little formal reporting outside of an annual report to the IRS.  Partnerships are strongly recommended to prepare a formal agreement, to codify some of the responsibilities or distributions, especially if it is not an even split between the applicable parties.  Partnerships additionally do not limit individual liability, and in the event of a dispute, all partners and their assets are considered fair game.

The most formal level of organization for a small business is one of many types of Corporations.  There are three specific types, all of which exist as stand-alone entities, separate from the business owners: the S Corporation (S-Corp), the C Corporation (C-Corp or what is traditionally referred to as a Corporation) and the Limited Liability Corporation (LLC).  The largest difference between these different structures are how corporate taxes are handled; C-Corps are taxed as separate corporate entities with a separate tax governance and structure; S-Corps are what are considered “pass through” entities, where any tax burden is paid by the owners or shareholders.  LLCs are a fairly new entity that are governed by state law, and can be organized in multiple ways, but that’s a topic for another post.  Any of these forms of corporation are established by incorporating with the cognizant state authority, usually the Secretary of State.

No matter which structure you choose for your business, having a plan for how you want to establish yourself is key to being a successful business owner, and turn the craft hobby that you love into a viable profession.

Government Shutdown and the Fiber Arts Industry

As you  might have heard, my husband, Michael, is joining the Tinking Turtle team!  For a couple of months now, he’s been behind the scenes, helping the business run smoothly, and enabling me to concentrate on the things only I can do: knitting, crochet, finishing, designing and teaching.  Michael was scheduled to start contributing to the blog later this month, but was inspired by recent political events to begin writing early.  I hope you will welcome him now and in the future as he bring a unique perspective to the Fiberarts.


For the past week, Washington, DC, and the nation in general, has dealt with the uncertainty in the government. Various news outlets have highlighted different sectors that have been affected, and I began wondering, what has been the affect on the Fiberarts Industry.  Below follows a list of government departments whose services have been impacted by the shutdown, and how they may have an affect on small Fiberarts businesses.

You’ll find a landing page like this at a lot of government websites.

Being just outside of Washington DC, Tinking Turtle has the unique perspective of a front-row seat, and in a roundup wanted to share our observations as to how these events directly impact those involved in the Fiberarts industry.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, and for more information CNN interactive has a great overview by department, agency, or program that is kept up to date for future reference.

The most noticeable impact to designers and publishers is the closure of the US Copyright Office.  While the physical Copyright Office remains closed, and any pending copyright applications are frozen in their current state, new applications can, as of the time of writing, be filed via the Electronic Copyright Office to start the copyright process and establish an initial date of registration should that be necessary.  In the same vein, while it is currently open, the US Patent and Trademark Office is planning on staggered reduction of services as the shutdown situation continues without a resolution.  In discussion with a friend who is a Patent Examiner with the Patent and Trademark Office, the Office has funds to sustain itself for another business week before an orderly draw-down of staffing and services would occur over the next several weeks.

For new publishers, business owners, or yarn store owners, the Small Business Administration is closed for all serves except providing for disaster loans, so any applications for financial assistance will not be processed until funding is restored.  Additionally, for any organization or entity which is required to file quarterly taxation statements with the IRS, while the physical filings can be submitted, the IRS is not available via telephone or in-person appointments for consultations, advice, or assistance.

There are a couple of pieces of good news for retailers, publishers, and other vendors: because the United States Postal Service is not subject to congressional appropriation, it does remain open for business, and mail is continuing to be delivered.

Locally in the DC area, many of the LYSs are taking advantage of having a cadre of furloughed government employees finding themselves with more time on their hands. For example, Fibre Space, in Old Town Alexandria, VA is offering free beginning knitting lessons for any government employee. You can reference Jennifer’s post to find out about more businesses who are running specials or offering deals in light of the shutdown.

We can all hope for a swift resolution to this unfortunate situation.  However, no matter what side of the political spectrum you are on, I’d encourage you to think about or find ways to help people who are affected by the shutdown.