I love the freedom of working for myself! Freedom has always been something that is SO important to me, and the notion of a 9-5 and having to ask permission to take a vacation – well, it never sat well with me! - Alison Andrews, SBI! member since 2009

How This Seamstress Found Her Pattern for Online Business Success

How This Seamstress Found Her Pattern for Online Business Success

I feel more confident in so many ways. I know I can generate income, which will help me reach my goal of retiring from  “regular” work next year.

Her passion for sewing began at the age of six. That’s when Judy Christensen’s mom started to teach her daughter the fine art of creating clothes at home. As she grew older, Judy’s interest in sewing didn’t wane. On the contrary, it developed into a full-blown profession.

Judy spent all her life in the apparel industry and the theater, creating anything from retail clothes to sports mascots to opera costumes. She visited apparel factories across the globe to hone her skills.

Now, she uses her experience to help a global audience of home seamstresses perfect their pattern-making skills. How, exactly, did she achieve this? And how will it help her to retire from her regular job? Let’s find out!

1. Judy, how did you decide about your niche, clothing pattern design? How did you know it was the right topic for you and had great business potential?

I belong to some sewing groups on Facebook, so I knew that sewing was making a comeback. Many seamstresses are self-taught (it’s no longer a requirement in US schools, I believe). I’ve spent my life as a seamstress or involved in the apparel industry, so I knew I had a lot to offer in terms of sewing and pattern-making.

I used SBI!’s Brainstorm It! tool to see if there were good keywords for these topics (focusing on the patterns – I really did not want to teach sewing online). To my delight I discovered that “clothing patterns” had great potential, whereas “sewing patterns” was simply too big.

TAKEAWAY #1: Judy based her business decision on a smart combination of qualitative and quantitative research. Due to her lifelong passion for sewing, it was a natural fit for her to join relevant Facebook groups. Participating in those groups helped her “take the pulse” of her niche; it told her that there was a growing community with an interest in making their own clothes.

Still, that interest in sewing could have been anecdotal. She needed to confirm her hunch with hard data. That’s where Solo Build It!’s brainstorming tool comes in. Brainstorm It! takes your niche concept word (in Judy’s example that would be “sewing” or “clothing”) and brings back hundreds of related “keywords.”

“Keywords” are the words or multi-word phrases that people use to search at Google and other search engines. Brainstorm It! tells you…

  • which keywords (that are related to your niche) people search for
  • how often they search for each term
  • how much true competition there is for each term, and
  • what the commercial value of those terms is.

With predefined analysis and filter functions, Brainstorm It! helps you decide if your business niche is too narrow, too broad or just right.

Online Business Success Seamstress

2. Tell us about your philosophy regarding content for www.clothingpatterns101.com. How do you know what your prospective customers are looking for? Where does this information come from?

I base my content decisions on various sources. For choosing my initial topics to write about, Brainstorm It! was invaluable. Even the niche concept keyword (clothing patterns) came from Brainstorm It!. It’s not a term I would have thought of.

I was searching “pattern making” and Brainstorm It! came up with “clothing patterns,” which was in the sweet spot with lots of searches, but not a lot of competition. I then searched specific pattern terms (ie, “dress patterns,” “sleeve patterns,” etc.), and found Brainstorm It! to be very useful in showing me the value of each, and providing new terms I hadn’t thought of.

My second “source” is my own experience. I wanted to help home seamstresses design and make patterns for their own clothing – so I started at the beginning, making a “block” or basic pattern from which all other styles are created.  

I came up with a fairly easy way for someone to accomplish this (using a purchased pattern), and from there, I started adding instructions for creating new sleeves, collars, etc.

By that time, I was getting feedback and questions from readers about what they wanted to see or learn about, and I wrote pages addressing some of those topics. Or, I’d save the question to address it in the more in-depth tutorials, which I sell.

I also have an email list of almost 5000, and I’ll occasionally ask what they’d like to see next. So, my third source for content decisions is feedback from my readers.

TAKEAWAY #2: Can you detect a “pattern” here? Just like she did for her niche decision, Judy uses a well-rounded mix of resources for deciding about her content:

  • Keyword research helps her evaluate topics she already had in mind (do people really search for these terms?) and to uncover completely new topics.
  • Her many years of experience and her knowledge about sewing shape the overall direction and format of her content.
  • Feedback from her readers (both unsolicited and solicited) gives her ideas for additional content that will address her audience’s needs and wishes.

Online Business Success Seamstress

3. You packed all the information from your site into an eBook that readers can order as a download or on DVD. How did you come up with this idea? How popular is it with your readers?

A couple of years ago, there were several discussions in the forums about developing your own products and monetizing content you’ve already created. I don’t remember if the idea of using your entire site as an ebook was discussed, but I certainly got the idea from those discussions.  

TAKEAWAY #3: When Judy talks about “forums,” she refers to the Solo Build It! forums. Our forums have the reputation of being the most helpful community of solopreneurs on the Web. In fact, in several member surveys over the past 2 years, the SBI! forums consistently ranked among the top 3 factors for achieving online success.

Whether you’re just starting out, or are an online veteran, there’s always something new to learn. No question is too stupid to ask and no question goes unanswered for more than 24 hours. But the value of the SBI! forums goes way beyond professional advice and help.

It’s a place to get re-energized and renew your motivation should you feel ready to “throw in the towel.”

Here’s how SBI! member Michelle Zack describes the forums:

The enthusiasm is contagious. When I have been away from my site awhile or am lacking motivation, the Action Guide can feel overwhelming. But somehow jumping into the forums makes things feel smaller and more manageable.

Take a peek here to feel their “vibe” yourself!

Back to Judy and how her ebook idea worked out for her…

I thought it might be a viable income stream, and it’s turned out to be one of my most popular products. I’m a little concerned that it might take away from sales of the other tutorials, but I’ve found that a customer often orders a tutorial after purchasing the ebook.

Although the content is available for free online (which is why I priced the ebook at only $4.99 – I can’t justify charging much more for information that’s available for free), I think the ebook format is easier to follow. Online, it’s too tempting to jump from one topic to another, and my lessons really need to be followed in a certain order.

I’d like to think that, once they’ve seen what I have to offer in the ebook, they’re more comfortable paying a bit more for the expanded information in the tutorials.

TAKEAWAY #4: As a time-pressed solopreneur, you have to think “leverage.” How can you make the most of the content you create while still providing value for your audience? You repurpose it. Combine some of your articles and turn them into a downloadable PDF. Post snippets of your content to social media. Or create a slide deck and upload it to SlideShare.

You might even be able to turn existing content into a sellable product, like Judy did. Her specific approach (to turn the whole site into an ebook) works so well for her because she rarely adds new pages. Her site offers a fairly complete, but basic, “course” in pattern-making for a home seamstress; anything beyond that is saved for the paid tutorials.

Online Business Success Seamstress

4. In your store, you offer in-depth tutorials with videos and text. Can you share your experiences with creating and selling these tutorials?

It’s been a learning process! The tutorials include illustrations done with Adobe Illustrator (with which I had very little experience), and are packaged with text in Adobe InDesign (with which I had no experience).

I found an online course specifically for using Illustrator and InDesign for making sewing patterns, and learned a lot from that.  

My videos are very amateurish, I’m sorry to say. I set up my camera (just a Canon snapshot camera) on a tripod, sit at my dining room table, and shoot the video in one sitting. It may require several “takes,” but I do it start to finish each time. I’m terrible at editing, other than trimming the end and adding title and credit pages!

I’d love to be able to do more professional videos, but it hasn’t held me back so far.

TAKEAWAY #5: Judy follows a motto that every solopreneur can take to heart: “Done is better than perfect.” So what if you have no idea about how to produce a tutorial video? Learn the basics and get started. The outcome will improve much faster with practice than with theory.

The use of video on your website and on social media is getting more important each year. Cisco’s 2017 “Visual Networking Index” forecasts that in 2021, 82% of all Internet traffic will be video-based, up from 74% in 2016.

The “State of Video Marketing 2018 Survey” conducted by Wyzowl found that a whopping 95% of people have watched an explainer video to learn more about a product or service. And, where both video and text are available on the same page, 72% of people would rather use video to learn about a product or service.

That’s a lot of compelling reasons to add videos to your content mix. In Solo Build It!’s “Tips and Techniques Headquarters” – a private resource for SBIers of hundreds of helpful articles – there’s a whole section around shooting, editing and hosting videos.

5. You have 3,000+ subscribers on YouTube and 6,000+ followers on Pinterest. Why did you choose these social media channels and how do they benefit your business?

I chose YouTube because it gave me a platform for featuring some quick teaching sessions to get people interested in what I have to offer. The videos also allow people to see my personality so they’re comfortable with me and are more likely to go to my site and perhaps purchase a tutorial.

When I posted teaser videos for one of my tutorials, I noticed increased interest in the tutorials and a boost in sales.

Pinterest allows me to post some of my technical sketches. So again, someone can learn something for free and gets intrigued to click over to my website to learn more.

I also have Pinterest boards focusing on different fashions (e.g., vintage, ethnic, etc.), which attract people who want to learn how to create these fashions themselves.

Overall, I need to do a much better job using both of these platforms. It’s on my list for my retirement next year!

TAKEAWAY #6: For a niche like sewing, which lends itself well to “how-to” videos, YouTube is a natural fit. It offers an easy way to upload and host your videos, so that you can embed them on your web pages. On top of that, it gives your videos additional exposure. After all, YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google.

Judy mentioned another benefit of being on camera: it allows people to see you, to put a face to the previously anonymous person, thus building the most important sales “currency” – trust.

Which brings us to the main purpose of any social media presence for your business: it’s about building relationships with your audience, about growing an engaged community of people with an interest in pattern-making, raising rabbits, retiring abroad, or whatever your niche may be.

We call this “PREselling,” and it’s a vital part of SBI!’s C T P M process.

Below is one of Judy’s videos. See how she uses it to connect with her audience? She explains what a visitor can expect from her site and answers some of the most frequently asked questions.

6. What other income streams do you have, in addition to selling your ebooks / tutorials, and how do they perform?

I use Amazon’s Associate Program to sell pattern-making tools (everything from rulers and paper to dress forms) on my site. Income varies tremendously, depending on what is purchased. I reach the 6.5% commission level each month, but I get an awful lot of $0.50 commissions.

I need to do a better job with those pages (they’re not laid out well, and just plain ugly).  I believe that I could do much better with some of the publisher tools Amazon now has to offer, but that project is for another day.

I also joined Craftsy’s Influencer Program to promote sewing classes (because I prefer to focus on making the patterns, not the sewing). That income varies wildly, too, in part because Craftsy keeps changing its commission structure. I’ll keep it for now, but if I get the chance to add a few sewing pages (or even start another site with sewing tutorials), I’ll drop them.

TAKEAWAY #7: Affiliate marketing is a good starter monetization model. It’s easy to implement and requires little maintenance. Depending on your niche and your website’s traffic levels, it can provide a sizable contribution to your bottom line.

The downside? You’re at the mercy of the merchants and their changing rules. They might lower their commissions, or even shut down their affiliate program completely.  

Consider passive income streams like affiliate marketing and advertising as the “icing on the cake,” as a nice side benefit of your online business. For your primary monetization models, focus on more active models with a higher profit margin, like selling your own products or services.

Online Business Success Seamstress

7. What has been your biggest challenge so far as a solopreneur?

Focus and time management!!

I still work as a seamstress (more hours than I’d like to). When I have time off I’m constantly catching up on life in general. I need to make my pattern business more of a priority because I know that I can replace a good part of my working income with income from my tutorials.  

Unfortunately, it keeps getting placed on the back burner. It’s a challenge to find the time, energy, and focus required to really make it a success.

TAKEAWAY #8: The biggest benefit of building an online business – that you can do it “on the side” – also poses its biggest challenge. How do you find enough time to drive your business forward?

You’ve already cut down your Netflix hours to the bare minimum, and burning the midnight oil isn’t sustainable long term. If you can’t increase the hours to work on your business, focus on increasing your efficiency and effectiveness instead.

Prioritize your tasks. Then work through them diligently. How do you know what’s most important in your business-building process at any point in time? As an SBI! member, you’ll have the Action Guide to take you through each task, step-by-step. And you’ll have the tools to carry out those steps.

Plus, you don’t have to worry about keeping up with the ever-changing requirements of the online world. When there’s an important development, SBI! provides you with the information you need to know and which action – if any – you have to take.

SBI! member Joe Servello puts it this way:

What I like most of all is that SBI! stays on top of every aspect of creating, owning, and monetizing my site. It’s like having an employee doing all the background work for me.”

8. What do you enjoy most about being an online business owner? How has it changed you, your life, your family?

Obviously, the flexibility and income are great, but what I enjoy most is learning new things. The challenge of learning how to create a website, and to create an online business has been a lot of fun!

I feel more confident in so many ways. I know I can generate income, which will help me reach my goal of retiring from “regular” work next year.  

And I can do it at my own pace, giving me the freedom to decide when to work, when to relax, when to travel, etc. I’m not there yet, but I’m confident that it will happen.

TAKEAWAY #9: Judy expresses a sentiment that we see in many of the solopreneurs we talk to.

Yes, building a web-based business is about making money. But it goes much deeper. It’s about a proud sense of accomplishment, of having created something out of nothing, of touching the lives of thousands of people around the world in a meaningful way.

And then there’s the added benefit of stimulating your gray cells – which grows in importance the closer we get to retirement. To give you a sense of how much stimulation you can expect from SBI!… it has been likened to getting an MBA (for a fraction of the cost) and to having the library of Alexandria at your fingertips!

9. And finally… What’s your top tip for someone who is just starting a solopreneur career?

Find a topic that genuinely interests you and in which you have something to offer.  Then do your keyword research with Brainstorm It!.

Brainstorm It! provides fantastic guidance for choosing a profitable niche – but your own interests and experience are what will really make the difference. I’ve had a couple of other sites, and I didn’t have the knowledge or experience in the topic to really speak intelligently – and it showed, in my writing, traffic and income.

When you know and love what you’re talking about, you’ll gain followers and build up an engaged community. That’s – in my opinion – the core of a good online business (or any business!).

TAKEAWAY #10: Combine intelligent research with genuine passion – that sounds like a smart pattern for online success, in the clothing pattern niche and beyond. 😊

When you’re ready to design your own path to online business success, we’re here to help. Talk to one of our experienced Advisors or learn more about SBI! here.

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  • Hundreds of the “Top 0.5%.” Every one of these SBI! businesses (hundreds of them) rank in the top 1 million active websites (out of approximately 200 million!). That’s all the more impressive because 1) we are such a small community and 2) many Top 0.5% sites are mid-sized or large companies.

Solopreneurs fail at astronomical rates. SBI! makes you 100x more likely to succeed (that’s not a typo!). It will never be easy, but we do make it way more doable.

Scan the wide variety of solopreneurs who are winning in real niches. Use it to get a feeling for what SBIers do, as well as to generate ideas. What do you know? Turn it into a business.

Judith Christensen
At the age of only 6, Judith Christensen started to learn how to sew. She enjoyed making her own clothes and began making sewing patterns in high school. Judith spent her whole life in the apparel industry and the theater, using her experience to ensure the fit and quality of retail clothing. She’s made sports mascots and opera costumes, and travelled the world to visit apparel factories. In 2013 she started clothingpatterns101.com to help other home seamstresses increase their skill set.
Judith Christensen

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