The Free Motion Quilting Project: Quilt Biz #2 - Traffic and Content

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Quilt Biz #2 - Traffic and Content

It's time for another Quilting Business post!  I was thrilled with the response to last weeks post and am excited to share more experience, stories, and ideas with you, whether you're just starting out or already running an established business.

As with all things, it's always best to start with the basics so this week I'd like to explain some terminology and ideas for business that we will return to time and time again. 

In it's simplest form, a business owner is a middle man between a customer and a particular product. 

This product could be anything from a new seam ripper, to a DVD, to a quilt you've created.  A product could also be a service you render for the customer, such as quilting a quilt top. 

Your job is therefore two fold:

#1. Attract potential customers 

#2. Provide products they are most likely to want.

Today we're going to focus solely on #1 - how do you attract potential customers to your quilt shop?

Whether you're running an online business or a storefront, there's only one thing that matters: traffic.

Traffic is the word used to describe all the potential customers that come through your store every day. 

In a physical store, this is the number of people that walk in and browse.  You know how many people come into the store because it's very obvious.  You know when you've had a "dead" day when not many people have walked in and the store has remained empty for most of the day.

Online, you don't "see" people in that same sense, but you can look at your statistics and see how many people are coming onto your site, what they are clicking on, and how they are leaving.

Quite simply, you want as much traffic as your shop can handle every single day.

Dead days - days with low traffic - will almost always result in low or zero sales, and it's pretty obvious, zero sales is bad for business!

Back in college I used to work in a garden boutique store in downtown Asheville, NC.  This shop had fairly steady traffic through the summer and fall, but as soon as winter hit, a super strong, icy wind would blow down the side of the building, making most customers avoid that area. For more than 3 months we'd rarely see even one customer walk through the doors. 

Not only was this shop depressing to work at, it was literally impossible to sustain so many days with zero traffic and zero sales.  Eventually the business moved, but then folded because the low level of traffic it generated could never create enough sales to sustain the business.

To say it straight: no business can survive without traffic.

Your primary focus as a business owner will be on building the traffic of your shop, increasing awareness of it's location, promotions, classes, and products so the largest number of people will walk through your door every day.

There isn't a single way of building and growing traffic.  Some methods are free, some are expensive, some require lots of time, some require no time at all.  Some methods work online, and some only apply to storefront businesses.

But there is one definite, absolutely guaranteed way to increase your traffic:

Offer a truckload of content.

Traditionally content refers to the sum total of all the articles, videos, podcasts, Facebook posts, tweets and tumbles you post online every single day.

Typically this is only an online measure of how active your blog or website is.
  The more content you post, the more you share, the more you use Facebook, the more people will have a chance to find you, like you, and eventually decide to buy from you.

But I also use Content to mean the amount of knowledge you're sharing in your physical quilt shop as well.  How much advice do you give every day?  How knowledgeable are your employees?  What classes do you offer? 

Ask yourself this question: How much could someone learn about quilting in my shop without paying $1?

This is super important factor for any business, online or offline, and will ultimately determine how much traffic you receive and whether you survive in business.

To say it straight: the more free content you can provide, the more traffic you will attract, and the bigger and more successful your shop will be.

Oooo, I can hear some of you squirming at that one.  Bear with me!

Many physical quilt store owners really don't like giving everything away for free.  Long hours, multiple employees, combined with managing hundreds of products, on top of providing a wealth of advice to each customer that walks in the door can create an attitude of anti-gratitude, or at least an unwillingness to add an extra free workshop on top of it all.

It can be very hard to understand why a free workshop or free block of the month program could be a good idea. 

Why can't you charge as little as $10 per person to pay for your time?  Here's why: because asking for just $1 will automatically divide the number of participants in half, if not more.  Would you like 10 people in your shop or 5?

You want traffic, right?!  You want people in your store, right?!

Give em' something fun to come to, for free, and you'll have the maximum number of people coming to the event.  While not every single person will buy something, what are the chances that all 20 or 30 people would have showed up had the class or program not been offered?

And I can't think of a single time I've gone to a quilt shop for a free program and not purchased something.  Usually during the middle of the program I'd remember needing a new rotary blade, pack of needles, or thread for a quilt project.

Here's a story from my recent trip to Texas:

The first quilt shop I visited was Country Stitches Quilt Shop in Burleson, and just so happened the morning I walked in, the shop was in the middle of a huge block of the month program.

I can't describe the wonderful atmosphere of excitement all those quilters radiated in that shop.  They were patiently waiting for the lesson to start, and since the demo was taking place right in the middle of the shop, they were also checking out merchandise, discussing purchases, and comparing items with their friends.

As a visitor to the area, that quilt shop just felt like fun!  Country and reproduction style fabric isn't even my style, but if I lived in the area, that would definitely be a shop I'd visit often, just for the good vibes it let off.

Now before the trip, I'd researched the area and found another quilt shop that also seemed to understand this idea of creating an open, fun atmosphere for quilting.  They had a Friday night Sewing Lounge where quilters could come with a project to work on and stitch from 5 pm until midnight.

According to the website, there was no charge for this open time, but they did like you to call to say you were planning to attend.  Unfortunately after many attempts to call, and finding all numbers disconnected, plus noticing the website was more than a year out of date, I had to conclude that this shop wasn't in business any longer.

What went wrong?  I have absolutely no idea, but I imagine having a totally open "do whatever you want" time wasn't specific enough to bring people in on a Friday night.  As an out-of-towner that sounded great to me, but I had to ask myself if I'd attend if something like that opened in Gastonia, NC.  Probably not. 

More than likely it was difficult to get a good group and a good vibe going when no structured class or tutorial was being shared (i.e: block of the month, short tutorial, skill building class).

So free time can be good, but free CONTENT is better.  Open time for quilting is certainly a good idea, but sharing knowledge, a good tutorial, a fun block or technique will be far more likely to bring quilters into your shop.

We've talked a lot about physical quilt shops in this article, so what about online quilt shops?

Online is much simpler: without a giant load of content, you don't exist.

When you open a shop online, it's like adding a single drop of water to the ocean.  No one will notice it.  No one will care.  No one will even know it has happened.

The internet is huge, constantly growing, and full of information, distractions, products, advertisements, and entertainment.  A single new quilt shop with a handful of products will not instantly be ranked #1 in search engine results.  You will have to work for that kind of ranking, and that means lots and lots of content.

The best rule of thumb is to start posting every single day.  That's a minimum of 7 posts a week.  If you can, post more often than that. 

What should you post about?  Whatever is important to you, whatever knowledge would have been helpful to you as a beginning quilter, whatever interests you, whatever relates to your products, whatever you love or hate about quilting.  Essential post about whatever you want!

Yes, there are ways of running an online business without excessive content, but these methods are both extremely expensive (advertising based) and unreliable for building a solid foundation for your business.  The absolute best method for attracting quilters to your shop is to provide information that those quilters are looking for.

But here's one other lesson about content: you have to WANT to share it.

You can't fake content.  It simply doesn't work. 

In a physical store this would be like offering a block of the month program, but not bothering to have the blocks pieced on the day of the lesson.  Quilters are coming for that tutorial and expect to see the block laid out step by step.  If you don't provide that promised content, those quilters aren't going to be happy.

This happened once in a BOM program I attended as a beginning quilter.  Not only was the quilt shop so disorganized as to not have the tutorial ready, they'd cut the fabric for the block incorrectly!  It was not fun and not amusing to show up for class, only to realize the lesson was a total joke.  I didn't go back again.

You have to make an effort with your content.  It's very clear when you don't care, don't want to do it, and don't have passion for it.

This is especially true online.  If you post an article about paper piecing, for example, but don't provide photos to demonstrate the technique, how likely is that article going to help anyone with paper piecing?  If it doesn't properly teach the lesson, how will it help quilters learn to paper piece?

And if it doesn't help anyone, it won't be shared. 

Links are one of the biggest ways you'll gain traffic as an online business.
People only share, link, or tweet if they find something cool and fun and helpful.

This is a VISUAL craft.  We need to SEE it, step by step.  You need to share lots of photos, or videos if you can.

These photos and videos don't have to be perfect.

Many times I'll mention the idea of videos to another quilter and they literally curl up with fright at the idea.  Yes, it takes practice, but the more videos you make, the more you'll get comfortable with the process.

It's taken me a long time to realize that most quilters are not looking for perfection - you're looking for honesty, for experience, and for real examples of what to expect.  You want to SEE the real thing being stitched as it's REALLY stitched.

I've learned this just recently when teaching the Heart and Feather Wholecloth Quilt.  Most of the questions and confusion generated about this project were caused when I decided to split the outline quilting and microstippling into two separate videos.

This just wasn't the way I would have quilted the real quilt, and you all knew it!  I couldn't fool you for a second, and this created more confusion for you, and more work for me.  From this experience, I learned to show you exactly what I'm doing, exactly the way I'd really do it in a real quilt.

That's sharing experience - that is REAL CONTENT.

It takes passion to do this kind of thing.  You can't half-a$$ it. 

That takes us again back to the first post - if you want to be in business, you've got to really WANT it!

You've got to be not just willing, but excited about creating content: quilts, designs, patterns to give away for free, to teach, to share.  This is exciting because it's going to help quilters learn, and by helping quilters learn, you're providing a valuable service.

In exchange for your content, your time, your passion, you will receive traffic, and you will build a solid foundation for a business to grow year after year.

So this week take some time to think about traffic and content.  If you don't have a blog right now, consider starting one. 

Blogs are basically free websites with a simple interface which allows you to post easily and quickly.  Yes, you could also start a traditional website, but it's much more time consuming, costs money, and can be confusing to get started.

A blog is much easier to work with, and especially if you've never, ever done anything like this before, it's the best place for you to get started.

I don't want to hear that you "don't know how to blog."  Figure it out.  Find tutorials.  GOOGLE IT!  Click on buttons just to see what they do.  Don't ask your kid or grandkid to do it for you.  YOU need to know how to do this.

And this advice also goes for physical quilt shop owners too.  More than anything else, you need to start building an online presence.  There might be 200 quilters in your town, but guess how many quilters are online?  A lot more than 200 baby!

Remember my story about that garden shop I worked in?  Had the owner developed a blog, shared pretty pics from the shop and fun tutorials on gardening, that shop might have had a different fate.  As it was, almost no one knew it existed, so no one missed it when it was gone.

To say it as simply as possible:  

Traffic is everything, and providing good content will bring that traffic to your shop.

But what about products?  Next week we'll discuss products and how you really shouldn't worry about them until you actually have traffic.

Here's the complete list of all 10 Quilting Business Posts:

Go quilt and share something awesome today!

Leah Day


  1. Great info and logic behind your statements. Thanks for putting it out there.
    So agree with your statements about content, and the real process of what is being shown. That is the type of blog I will follow and link to.

  2. I love these business quotes. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I've had a small business in the past and have often toyed with the idea of starting an on-line quilt business. Your insights, wisdom and honest sharing are giving me a lot of good material to think about.

  3. May favorite part of this post is "Figure it out. Find tutorials. GOOGLE IT!"

    When I started selling fabric online 8 years ago I literally knew nothing about blogs or websites and I've come a long way in that time, mostly through figuring it out as I go. It's possible and very time-consuming but definitely do-able.

    You've really inspired me with this whole free content thing, too. My next development is to start designing quilt patterns. I'm definitely going to incorporate some type of free sew-along just like you've done with the free motion-quilting. That's the best idea I've seen in a long time!

    And I love checking your blog every day because you make it so darn fun. Thanks for being willing to share your business experience, too!


  4. this is super helpful Leah- and darned good advice. I have a new quilting service I am trying to promote- and I will be taking all this to heart. I did my first free video tutorial on a new quilting design a few weeks ago and now based on your advice I will be doing more- and trying to brainstorm more things to give away for free- thank you.

  5. Hi Leah,
    Your post makes so much sense. I have been postponing for a while creating the blog for my little Etsy shop for babies. I guess after reading your post today I should get it going this week.

    Thanks again for being so encouraging.


  6. I am finding that the thing about WANTING to provide content is completely true! I've gone the route of creating a blog and filling it with content and trying to get some readers before adding products (other than a link to my Etsy shop), and I've found that I LOVE writing posts! I love thinking about what sorts of information I would want to read, how to organize it, and how to have a truly welcoming, useful blog. Thanks so much for being an inspiration!
    ~~~the Art of Inclusion~~~

  7. Excellent tips!! You are so right about traffic and content. I try to blog every few days to keep my blog fresh but during one period I blogged everyday for a week and I noticed a few followers drop off. I was thinking maybe I was clogging their e-mails, that they didn't want that much content.

    What has been your experience?

    don_mae2 at yahoo dot com

  8. Leah, Thanks so much for this post/pep talk. I've been slacking off on my blog for the last month and it's certainly a great kick start to hear this said so plainly. So far on my business journey, the most fun has been in helping others to learn about quilting. I did a fusible applique tutorial & got great response both online and otherwise. Have a super day!

  9. Great post! I have an MBA and I'd say you nailed it!

  10. Great advice, Lean. Your 365 designs and now Quilt Along is what has me coming back to your site again and again. Yes, I did opt to buy a MQ Kit from you to support all the wonderful advice you give. Confession, I also see linking my experience to your blog as excellent cross pollination marketing for both of us. No question my numbers go up dramatically after each Leah link post!

  11. Leah, I’ve just recently found your blog and have already gleaned so much information I’m trying to decide what I should buy first to thank you.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your approach of giving away content. I call it educating my clients and I’m applying it to the (non-craft) business I’m building. In fact, I’m learning how to write blog articles and methods to propagate them so I can generate that highly desirable traffic you talk about.

    One cultural nuance I’ve found in my interaction with people is that they might not assign value to things they don’t pay for. When you wrote “…what are the chances that all 20 or 30 people would have showed up…” I immediately thought: I wonder how many people showed up if they didn’t have to pay for it? I admit, even I back out of webinars when I don’t have any skin in the game. I can see where reservations help, and I know quilting is a hobby so people anxious to participate. I’ve seen a slightly different approach that I might apply: guarantee a 100% refund when customers aren’t fully satisfied.

    Please keep sharing. Your ideas are refreshing and extremely applicable across all types of businesses!


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