Step 7. Pattern release & marketing
Creating a pattern is hard enough – but getting people to see it, even buy it, is a whole job in itself. Marketing is a very broad topic but we’ll cover the basics and give you some things to think about, and work on, over time. Rachy Newin, who is a marketer in her day job as well as a well established crochet designer, contributed the bulk of the knowledge in this topic. Thanks Rachy!
The preamble: So you wanna be a designer…
Step 1: From idea to pitch
Step 2: Charting and Ravelry
Step 3: Planning, grading and starting the sample
Step 4: Style sheet and layout
Step 5: Tech editing and testing
Step 6: Photography and editing
What exactly is marketing?
A lot of creative people feel icky about marketing (we tend not to be big self-promoters) but I like the idea that “marketing is just being considerate”. If you have faith that your design is worth making, that it has value, then it’s considerate to let people know about it – the right people, that is; and of course letting them know isn’t the same thing as pushing it upon them. Nobody likes a spammer. But it’s fair to assume that your potential customers are downright eager to find out what you have to offer, because after all, don’t you get excited about seeing a gorgeous new pattern?
Marketing covers everything from how you get your pattern out there (sales platform, distribution, pricing etc) to advertising. I (Robynn) like to remind myself that I have three jobs as a designer: make the thing, sell the thing, promote the thing. Each of those steps relies on the previous one/s, but they’re all important: no point in doing any one without the others. Marketing covers two of those three areas. It’s a lot.
Where and how to sell?
First step, choose your distribution strategy.
Online sales platforms are key for most indie designers. Ravelry is of course the biggest by far, but Loveknitting, Makerist and Etsy are also all worth considering. Each one has its own audience, and some designers even find that certain patterns do far better on one of those than on Ravelry.
Ravelry also has an LYS sales programme – meaning you can allow shops to sell pdfs of your patterns, and take a cut. This takes no effort beyond enabling the option in your Ravelry listing, but if you hope to get good results, it could be worth contacting shops you know and offering free copies for the shop owner to have a sample knit up.
Selling printed patterns through yarn shops or at shows is another option. This can be expensive, since it requires cash outlay up front, and you have little control over promotion. Worth considering in the long term but probably not a great option for starters.
Emily has found that working with a dyer to sell kits has been very effective for her. This works best if planned from the start (the design and yarns to be used have been worked out in advance, together with the yarn seller) but has great potential if you can build a strong working relationship with someone.
And for how much?
Second step, determine your pricing strategy. Pricing is a very hot topic – knitting and crochet patterns tend to be underpriced, largely because of a history of yarn companies distributing them for free (or for very little). Setting the price is complicated because you have no way of knowing how many patterns you’ll sell, so cost-plus doesn’t work. The “right” price then becomes what the market will bear. Lower prices don’t necessarily increase sales (some people report the opposite) but overly steep prices will almost certainly put people off.
A typical structure is to set prices at different levels depending on the complexity of the pattern – that doesn’t necessarily mean how hard it is to knit, but how much work has gone into creating it. Beginner patterns can be the hardest to write.
And then the thorny questions of promotional pricing arises. Many designers (including Robynn) offer launch discounts, which are an effective way to get eyeballs on your pattern – since you can list the pattern in promotional threads on Ravelry – and to give people a reason to buy, rather than faveing for later. But does that undervalue patterns? Do discounts lead customers to believe the “true” value of the pattern is less than the listed price? Be very careful with offering regular sales. You don’t want people to think they’ll just wait until the next special deal.
How can you make the pattern irresistible?
For a lot of customers, their first encounter with your design may be viewing it on Ravelry. So make sure that listing is as convincing as it can be. What sells a pattern?
Pretty pictures! This is one of the biggest things so get a range of quality shots. Bear in mind that different photos will do well on different platforms, so keep an eye out for that. Unique photos also help with branding so people know it’s your pattern.
Descriptive text – that little blurb (also known as “pattern romance”) is pretty important. Good copy here tells a story (it doesn’t have to be fanciful, but it should convey some emotion), as well as conveying enough practical info that people know what they’re getting into.
Completed projects on Ravelry really help to convince buyers that the pattern will give good results – testers are a huge help for that.
When you’ve created your pattern listing, take a good look at the preview, compare it to pages from designers you admire and see if there’s anything you can do to make it extra compelling.
And then comes promotion
People often think of promotion as the hard sell – here’s my pattern! Here’s why you should buy it! But if that’s all you do, you won’t get very far. Your potential customers want to know what you’re doing and they’re ready to be won over, but they don’t want to be aggressively advertised at. Your primary job is to build a following, not to be a virtual sandwich board. It’s not just about getting a one-time sale, it’s about building a community that will regularly support you.
And the good news is, marketing this way is a lot more fun.
Be yourself – but be your best self
For an indie brand especially, people want to connect with the person behind the brand. It’s very helpful to share little bits of yourself through social media –- outside interests besides yarn, everyday events, fun things like birthdays. Be careful with the balance, though. Showing your human side is good; allowing your pets, kids etc to dominate your feed is not.
And critically, remember you need to be your professional, best self. Vindictive pettiness, rants about the neighbours, overly personal details –- keep those to your personal profile.
You’re not for everyone
Some people won’t like your style or won’t agree with your stance, and that’s okay. Instead of trying to please everyone, niche down and focus on the core audience that loves you and your aesthetic.
Similarly, don’t try to cover every social media channel. Focus first on the channels you enjoy – it’ll be less of a struggle, you’ll see growth faster, and it’ll generally be more rewarding. But bear in mind that growth is almost always slow and very few people go viral overnight. Give it time for people to find you and to grow your audience. Compare your stats and your growth to where you were a week/month/year ago, rather than to big names who are uber popular.
Focus on the long term
It’s very tempting to focus on the numbers that look and feel good (aka vanity metrics) but indie businesses often fall into the trap of focusing on those numbers instead of the bottom line. If you’re getting loads of followers, but it’s costing you money, reevaluate. At the same time, don’t get hung up on those metrics: a huge follower count doesn’t necessarily mean an engaged following. Think quality, not quantity.
Sometimes it’s important to invest a little bit of money into something that’ll result in sales in the long term. Indie businesses are often strapped for cash, so they’ll put in hours to avoid paying a nominal fee. Value your time, putting in ten hours to save $5 is paying yourself $0.50/hr – you’re worth more than that.
So what does marketing mean for you?
The bulk of marketing happens before the release (jab, jab, right hook). As discussed, this means getting your name out there and, building an audience, as well as getting people excited about what you have coming up. You don’t have to be on every platform, but put real effort into whatever platform you’re on –- be authentic and real and connect with humans (social media is all about social). The majority of your posts shouldn’t have a hard sell in them.
Release weekends tend to be busy and focused on selling, so use the time between releases to grow your audience and connect with new people. For instance, on the various channels (not all of which you’ll be using), this might look like:
Blog – posts about WIPs, upcoming projects, etc
Instagram – WIPs, yarn, snapshots of your life
Twitter – general interest, sharing yarn or designs that have caught your eye
Ravelry – participating in group discussions and possibly KALs or other events
Facebook – sharing WIPs and yarn-related updates
Pinterest – your back catalogue and other people’s content
Remember to engage with people, commenting on their posts and participating fully in whichever platform/s you’re on. This part is huge!
Sharing sneak peeks of your designs in progress is a particularly important way to build interest before the pattern’s even out, especially on Instagram. Be sure to let your followers know how to find out when the pattern’s released: punt your newsletter, your Ravelry group or of course your Insta. If you have a special launch discount for followers, mention that and make it clear how to get the best deal.
Once the pattern’s up and posted, it’s time for the hard sell. Let your audience know that you’ve got a new design out and why it’s awesome. This might look like:
Sending out a newsletter
Creating a blog post about it
A series of posts on IG
A couple of posts on FB page
Talking about it in your Facebook group
Pinning it to relevant boards, especially group boards
And then, spread the news outside your audience.
Share to Ravelry “new design” thread(s) in relevant groups – but bear in mind the spam rules, which prohibit posting the same message (even if not word-for-word) in more than two groups without permission. A lot of groups (including Designers and Budding Designers) have explicit rules allowing cross-posting in the announcement threads, but if in doubt, be sure to ask.
Similarly, share to popular Facebook groups, but keep an eye out for group rules.
Consider booking ads on Facebook or Instagram.
Ravelry ads are great value – especially the Group Forum Banners. These are easy to book (unlimited slots), cheap (pay per click) and highly targeted. The downside is, designing an eyecatching banner-style ad can be pretty hard. But it’s well worth the effort.
Google is your best friend. Social media changes quickly and there’s no one tip that’s guaranteed to be effective forever and always. If you’re trying to work on something, google it and look for a recent article from a reputable source. It’s also the best way to find out about something new – just heard of sales funnels? Pop the term into your favorite search engine to figure out what it’s about.
And as ever, don’t forget the wealth of support and advice available in Designers and Budding Designers. A lot of marketing and social media topics have already been discussed in detail. This recent thread on newsletters is worth checking out.
Later is arguably the best of the social media schedulers (Buffer, Hootsuite and Tailwind are other options), in terms of functionality and ease of use. Their newsletter and blog are also worth checking out for social media tips, especially Instagram.
Create a social media plan, focusing on 1-3 channels. What platforms will you use? What kind of content will you share on each, and how often?
Create a release plan for your pattern. Draft 3-10 posts for each channel, with associated images. Remember to let people know about your launch discount (if offering one) and how to stay informed of the launch.
Open a Ravelry Pro store and create a draft pattern.
Create your promotion/s, if any.
Optionally, book an ad (or ads) and create graphics.
Step 8. Project & business management, final questions