Today my wife Eileen launched her business, Simply Brown. There’s just a single product, in a very limited quantity — a rag quilt kit with detailed instructions and fabric featuring Mo Willems’ Pigeon. Share it with somebody crafty.Six months ago, Eileen didn’t think she could start a business, make something people wanted to buy, or step away from ten years of elementary school teaching to try something new. But she did all those things. Here’s why she did it. Now I’m going to tell you how she did it.First, she decided to step away from teaching for a year. This decision was terrifying — and still is. But only when she was free from responsibilities did she come up with her best ideas. She needed that clean break. She needed to finish the last thing before starting this new thing. (Thanks for the advice, Jeff.)Then she had an idea. Rag quilts make great gifts (like, everybody-in-the-room-oohs-and-aahs gifts), and designer fabrics are hard to find. What if it were really easy to make a rag quilt? What if you didn’t have to worry about finding fabrics that match, or planning and measuring materials? I had fun helping Eileen turn questions like these into reasons why people might be interested in a product.So then Eileen did some research. She looked at products on Etsy, she scoured Pinterest, she dug deep and read what people were saying in forums about kit-style products and rag quilts and designer fabrics. She looked at the kinds of things people were happy about. She learned about wholesale fabric suppliers and what it takes to buy from them. She started learning about the industry and found a conference for quilters.One fabric supplier, Cloud9 Fabrics, stood out because their website was nice, and they had a line of organic fabrics that Eileen loved — based on Mo Willems’ Pigeon books, a very popular series with her first graders (and with our daughters). So Eileen started designing the product and we did some accounting to figure out how much it would cost to stock fabrics and everything else she wanted to include in the kit. We started planning the website together and bought a domain name.Next, she read about starting a business — about different business structures, insurance, and legal issues. The U.S. Small Business Administration site was helpful. Once she knew how to proceed, setting up the business was very straightforward. One thing we learned is that you’re never finished setting up a business — you need to reevaluate everything as you grow.When the business was set up, she could buy her supplies (wholesalers won’t sell you stuff until you submit business credentials). She bought fabric by the bolt (a thrill for her), plus lots of thread, pins, and packing materials. Then she made a quick trip to the store for shelves to keep her stock organized.For weeks, as she did research, designed the product, started the business, and bought her supplies, Eileen and I wrote and edited text for the website in a handful of Editorially documents. More than half of our time was spent on the how to page.Using her supplies, Eileen designed and tested the product. She allocated a single kit’s materials and decided how the kit would look when it shipped. Then she followed her own instructions and assembled a quilt while I took pictures. As you can see, the quilt turned out beautifully.Finally, we built the website. Squarespace made it incredibly easy to create a customized, responsive site with a shopping cart. Plus, I’m a regular Back to Work listener (as you could probably tell from my other Pastry Box posts) and Squarespace supports the show. And – and! – I could use Typekit fonts. I put a lot of thought into my type choices for Simply Brown, and I’ll explain those another day.I hope this works. I am proud of Eileen for trying.
06 Nov 2013