What I Learned From Starting a Yarn Dyeing Business

Posted by Robyn Berkel on

What a ride this has been! I launched my online yarn shop via Etsy in February of this year. Instead of investing a lot of money up front, I decided to grow slowly and organically while I finished my degree and moved on to a corporate day job. I had no prior experience to running my own business, and I've learned sooooo much since the launch. It's gone better than expected, and I'm incredibly excited for things to come! Now I'm going to share a few of my mistakes and a few of my successes.

The Mistakes

I shouldn't have committed to a posting schedule or shop update schedule right away. My original goal was to create new colorways every week, and post them on Fridays. I came up with this long schedule of colors I was so excited to play with. This was a great goal to work towards, but I made a mistake in committing to it even when it didn't make sense for my business. I got so focused on sticking to the schedule, this arbitrary thing I randomly dreamed up when I first opened the shop.

I totally underestimated how long it would take to turn a profit. There are some more obvious reasons, aka start up costs - like learning to dye, finding the right bases, purchasing dyes, etc. There were also some things that I didn't consider initially, like that I couldn't buy things in bulk right away. I was paying $3 a piece for bubble mailers because I didn't buy them in bulk. 

The "labor costs" were also significantly higher than I foresaw. I ended up spending hours trying to figure out where I could get shipping labels printed and where I could drop off packages. I spent extra time deciding on what to write in the thank you cards and how to twist up the skeins aesthetically. I expected to dedicate a large amount of time developing my shop, but I definitely underestimated the time it takes for all the extra stuff like processing orders.

That's all to say that things got quicker with time. If I included my labor costs, then I was losing like $50 with each order. I had to keep reminding myself that as the business grew, packaging 5 orders at once would be much quicker per order than 1 order at a time. I also had to keep optimizing my process, like pre-writing thank you notes. Dyeing colorways that I already have recipes for takes a lot less time than developing new recipes.

But you can't develop a workflow until you understand the process you are trying to generalize, so the first 100 orders or so are totally going to take more time fulfill than the second 100 orders!

Purchasing equipment was another challenge. Before launching, I was very familiar with dyeing skeins in single batches and never needed to get it dry quick. It takes a whole other set of a equipment to dye large batches of yarn with the same lot and precision equipment to repeat colorways. Since there isn't a "yarn dyeing supply store", I had to do a lot of research and get creative. I wish that I had purchased some of these essential items sooner! Things like stainless steel bins for heating up yarn instead of pots....ooooh and the <3 <3 spin dryer <3 <3. <- Those are hearts because I love it just so much.

The Successes

So there are some things I did wrong but also some things that really worked for me. That's pretty much how anything in life goes. I hope the same things that worked for me work for you!

From the start, attention to detail was high on my priority list. More often now, customers make purchasing decisions based on the quality of the product and the values of the brand. For this reason, I wanted (and still want!) to do all of the little things right. I'm constantly focused on improving consistency between dye jobs, packaging orders, and forming connections with customers.

I don't think I would have had any success if it weren't for social media. Etsy is a great platform for those starting out, but it doesn't do the marketing for me. Actually, only 10% of my page views come from people browsing Etsy, and that number lessens every month. Along with being active on social media, photography was incredibly important! If you are struggling with product photography, you might want to check out my post, 5 Tips for Photographing Your Handmade Projects.

Thanks for reading! My goal is to share my experiences in the hopes that it will help you develop your own creative business. I can only share what I've learned thus far, and I'd love to continue this post as I learn more! If you are in a similar industry, feel free to comment whatever you're comfortable sharing about your own lessons.

- Robyn


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