Podcast: My Own Story of Free and Crafting

12 Mar 2010

Image by TheAlienness Gisela Giardino, via Flickr


In this show:

• To further our ongoing discussion of Free and how it affects the craft community, I share my own story of Free. In some ways, Free has created my business. In others, it's created big challenges.

• I talk about the most important by-product of Free: community.

• ...And once again, I welcome your comments on this very complex subject.


• Kim Werker did an excellent post on her blog about how Free can lead to getting paid, but what you have to do to make that happen.


Thank you so much for sharing this, Mallory!

My partner, a programmer, also gets frequent requests to do free work,
or work for very little pay - and it's often positioned as "resume-
building," even though he's been in that business for 20 years! I
couldn't agree with you more - real experience is worth money.

We really do need a sea change in the way consumers value the work of
individuals (vs. that of many corporations, which seriously underprice
goods and services). It's a chaotic time.

I've been following the Etsy and the Culture of Cheap discussion on
Craft MBA with interest. I love the characterization of Etsy as a Pro-
Am community - that's exactly what creates pricing strife there. But
we're in a moment of what Clay Shirky calls "mass-amateurization." (http://www.shirky.com/writings/weblogs_publishi...
) To paraphrase him, just because the barriers to starting a craft
business have never been lower doesn't mean that the barriers to
making it a thriving one aren't as high as they've always been.

I tend to think that the successful businesspeople in this age will be
the ones who are relentlessly learning, moving forward from mistakes
and constantly looking at the needs of their marketplaces for new
products and services they can offer. The ones who can clearly
communicate the value of their work through the amount of sharing they
do, both online and in person. Entrepreneurship is just not a cut-and-
dried process anymore.

Yes, Prego means you're welcome! :) BTW I wanted to add that I hope offering free doesn't discourage folks from ever buying from you...that would mean being nice dooms you from earning a living? That's crazy!

Thank you so much, Kari! I am definitely working hard on that. :-)

thanks for being so open and clear about your personal situation!! it is good to be reminded, what a crafty life actually means in terms of paying bills and stuff like that. this podcast helps me a lot to find my own perspective in those matters - thanks again!

You're so welcome, Kate! What a great idea, to have a regular free
pattern feature. That sort of offer will really bring a community to
you, and set the stage for future efforts. Best of luck to you!

Thank you, Mercedes! I'm really interested in your perspectives as a
business owner who's pursued more than one kind of business, whenever
you're ready. :-)

I'm so glad you found the show useful, Linda! I looked up how to say
"You're Welcome!" in Italian. Google Translate says it's "Prego!" Is
that right?

Thank YOU for this kind comment, Adelie! I definitely believe in Free, and in diversified income. :-) And I loved Amanda's article, too. You're right - the more we all talk openly about this stuff, the stronger we'll all be as business people.

Thank you so much for all the support you've given me!

Thank you, Claudia! I'm so glad you found the show useful!

Well, a person can be very nice and still not have a good handle on her business model. A person can offer great Free and just not have a marketable produce (or service). But yes, since I do so much Free, I do wonder sometimes whether it hurts sales.

I just keep experimenting with various pieces of that puzzle. Someday, the answer will emerge! :-)

Oh, absolutely, Linda - you can give gifts of your expertise or ideas instead of tangible things. In fact, I think these "intangibles" are the most common forms of Free, and perhaps the best because they have the ability to reach more people. The great things about gifts of inspiration is that people can take them and use them in their own creative work.

I was just thinking that perhaps free can be offering a bit of your time and discussion - creating community as well. It's not always about creating a finished product and offering it up, take it or leave it. Sometimes an idea sparks an experiment and you decide to show your process and share the experience with others. I wonder if that is valuable too?

Thanks so much for sharing this story Diane, I really appreciate it. I think it's important to know people's stories- knowing this about you makes me realise the importance of supporting people like you who give so much to the blogging/crafty community.

It's also inspiring that you and your partner get to work in your passions, and together (at home). I think it's a great reminder to us all that we need to be aware of our priorities...

Thank you for the comment, chppie. I do get emails regularly that seem
to imply, as you've said, assumptions about me. Before the web, after
all, only a few people ever were "published." So I suspect that, in
this age, we often go on assumptions from the print era - that if
someone's "published" on the web, there must be prosperity behind it.

My life IS in many ways prosperous. I am blessed with a wealth of time
and intriguing projects. I don't mean to give any impression that I'm
in the poorhouse - I just think it's important to be transparent about
the ways I need to improve my business skills.

This is something that's been on my mind a lot for a long time... I think it's something most creative types struggle with, both bloggers, writers, crafters, but also photographers and filmmakers. A local photographer friend brought up this topic awhile back, and I know my boyfriend, who is self-employed as a freelance filmmaker, has dealt with this a lot as well... It seems really common in those fields for people to expect you to do work for free. My boyfriend sees posts all of the time on Craigslist for people who are looking for highly experienced filmmakers who have a lot of high end equipment, but then they'll say that they can't pay, or barely pay, and say "Great resume builder!" It's crazy... If someone has the experience you demand, they don't need a resume builder, they need to be paid for their experience!

Have you seen this discussion? http://craftmba.com/2010/01/19/etsy-and-the-cul... I think the discussion of "cheap" and "free" sort of bleed together a bit in this context. I was helping a friend at a market last weekend and we ended up dealing with this drunken asshole who wanted to pay her a third less than her asking price for a piece of art. She offered to give him a deal, but he kept going back to the same low-ball price and then even said that her work was worth only $5 but that he'd give her the low-ball price for it. It went on and on, and finally he bought something from her after she heavily discounted it. Then awhile later, after he'd finally moved on from our booth, there was a ruckus nearby and we found out that he had stolen a $200+ handcrafted leather purse from another vendor. And none of this was because he didn't have money to spend, because he dropped a fat wad of $20 bills out of his pocket at one point.

I don't know how to help better educate the general public about the time and effort it takes to create both art and "free" informational, educational, and entertainment products. It's something to think about and discuss further though...

Wow, Rachel - I'm sorry to hear that some people misunderstand the
nature of your commitment to Swap-bot. You and Travis put so much work
into the site, and it's such a phenomenal resource for the crafting
community. I do hope you can realize a more sustainable income from it
at some point.

I'm kicking around a lot of ideas for Free vs. paid content on the
site these days. We'll see what shakes out. But I can't thank you
enough for being the first clicker of CraftyPod's new donate button!

Thank you so much for sharing this with us! Your podcast this week is just what I needed. I have been struggling with giving free (small) knitting patterns on my website every Friday, because my family and friends think I should be charging for them. I really want my website to be a resource for knitters, a place where they go to get inspired or learn something new. I would eventually like to make money off some more complicated patterns, but for now, I really am hoping to just build a little community environment and let the knitters get to know me. Your podcast has given me the confidence to continue doing Free Pattern Fridays, so long as they are sustainable. Thank you for clarifying this topic for me. I feel ten times better!

Thanks for sharing this poscast with us! I think there is so much to learn about FREE. (BTW, your voice is so calming.)

:-) Thank you, Anjeanette! I'm glad you liked the podcast. Free is an
incredibly huge subject - two podcasts, several blog posts, and a
liveblog and we've only begun to scratch the surface.

Wow. Thank you for your frankness on the realities of free. I have more thoughts to mull over on this subject before leaving a meatier comment/email; but in the meantime, I just want to say that sharing these real, but sometimes uncomfortable, details on the nuts and bolts of being self-employed are very, very much appreciated.

And Anjeanette is right, your voice is calming. :-)

No need to fret that I bought a book I won't use - I've already had a look and Making A Great Blog is awesome (although it is strange, I can hear your voice in my head when I'm reading).

It would just be a bit weird if I kept buying the same book...

thanks again for a great podcast

Thanks you for continuing to talk about the endlessly fascinating subject of free.

I have been listening to your podcast for a couple of years now and I always come back here. I have read many blogs and communities but only you remain from when I started. With you I discovered podcasts, almost every craft I know now, I renewed my love for paper etc. I love the shows about Free and what it means to the online world, it's something that speaks for almost every aspect of the internet. We love to share our favourite things but we can't expect that people will brings us whatever we want, when we want and usually for free, always and forever. We are part of it too.

The subject of free had make a huge impact on me. This is something I have thought about for a few years when I realised how uncomfortable people expectations of free on the internet made me feel, how much people want without giving anything back in return. I don't want to leech of the internet just because I can. One of those things was to to try and pay for as much as I can and give feedback. Another thing that change things for me was the donation button that a lot of communities and creative people have on their sites.
I love that I can buy e-books from people who started to publish fan-fiction online. It's a wonderful world when I can, as a reader/crafter contribute to this and it makes me the happiest.

I follow a few reviewers online, The Spoony Experiment and The Cinema Snob. Noah Antwiler is quite good at reminding people that he loves what he does for us, which is a lot of work and it's all for free. I think it's very important to people to realise that and it's doesn't harm to tell us this over and over again. We expect a lot from the internet and it's easy to get blind to the amount of WORK behind.
I hope you consider the donation button, it would make it easier for me helping you whenever it's possible.

Congrats to being self-employment and car-free! :D

Nadia, Stockholm

Hi, Eddie - definitely there are a lot of bloggers working with this model right now. Of course, there's no requirement that anyone make money from their blog directly - often, a great blog leads to other opportunities. But it's true that, after you've actively participated in the culture of Free for a few years, these questions become more compelling to ponder.

Thanks for a great show Diane. I loved hearing you get more personal. I really appreciate all that you do! I am not a crafty business person-just a mom, a crafter, and a part-time worker. Keep up the great work. I bet you'll find a way to make loads of cash and still feel good about it!! :)

Thanks for sharing your story and of course doing the podcasts! Also the links you listed are very helpful to round it all up... all this discussion has really opened my mind on more than a few things. Grazie mille!

Thank you so much for your honesty on the subject and for sharing your personal story, Diane. I must say that, as a brand new business owner, your example is one I frequently have in mind when I think hard about how I could diversify my sources of income, so it is tremendously helpful to hear about your actual experience and personal struggles. The spirit of your podcast reminded me of Amanda Palmer's article (without the swear words), and I guess there will never be too much articles or podcasts on the subject. I wish you all the best for the years to come, and will be back from more ebooks and classes!

Thank you so much, Talia. It definitely felt weird to share that kind
of detail, but ultimately, the time had come.

And you know, without Katin's example and help, I don't know what I'd
be doing right now - probably working yet another job somewhere and
still dreaming of self-employment!

Thank you so much, Cynthia! I think it's so important for everyone to share their ups and downs with Free. We're a community that uses it extensively, and there's still so much to learn. I wish you great successes on your journey!

On the classes, I'm in the process of revamping my publishing website, and it will have a permanent page for my classes. Anybody know where I can get an extra five hours a day? :-)

Opps I forgot to leave a comment the other day when I listened to this. First and foremost I would like to say thank you because you have figured out what some of us would like to do but aren't able to do yet. I would love to be a resource like you are to the community and help out also and contribute on what I'm learning about free but I'm just embarking on this journey. So what I'm trying to say(a bit long winded this morning) is I finally don't feel like I'm crazy anymore with the whole free concept there are other people who get it :). Of course you do so much more than get it you actually practice and are able to communicate it in a way others can relate to. Bravo Sister Diane!

It was great to hear about the balance of free and not losing out on paid work. Something to really wrap around my brain. definitely lots of food for thought in this one.

On a side bar are your classes given one at a time or are they listed in a certain area?

Thanks Diane you are a real inspiration :)

I always look forward to the cheeriness of Crafty Pod so was a little surprised at your frankness. BUT I really do think this is a good thing for all of us to hear. Because blogs aren't tell alls we make a lot of assumptions about the blogger and I think sometimes we idealize others situations. If anything, your sharing of your challenges should encourage us in ours. It defintely gave me additional perspective. Thanks for your honesty and perseverance.

So... I finally got a chance to listen to this podcast and I definitely found myself nodding along and saying "exactly" out loud. You already know that I run Swap-bot (which is a totally free site for our users), and even though we publish ads on the site we make very, very little money from it. Running a very large and busy website is expensive, but people don't always realize that. Some of the most frustrating comments I have received have been along the lines of "you are obviously making tons of money off this or you wouldn't do it." That makes me feel a little sad and a little stupid... I mean, do my users think I should not being doing something I love because I am not getting rich? Also, like you said, does giving it always for free totally de-value it. I don't know, but we are going to keep plugging away. I like being able to create something and work on it the way I want to...

I think you are doing a phenomenal job, Diane! Your podcast are very high quality and I know they require a ton of work. I think they are worth money and I would pay for them. You have probably already thought of this, but could you offer shorter versions for free and more in-depth and longer versions of the podcasts for money?

I wish you success!! :)

I love that today's podcast is about you and free! You honesty and humble nature shine in this PodCast.

Here is my 2cents (because this podcast rings true and near to everything that I am!): lets talk about the idea of social currency - cuz that is what we are really earning. You may have a small income by some people's standards, but your social currency income is invaluable. I agree with your notion of "sheer potential" and that is where this elusive "social currency" comes to play. The more people you know, the more opportunities you get, the more you are able to provide for yourself in this day in age of the internet world.

When it comes to crafting I also have to throw down one last thought (cuz this is something that bugs me at times, but also benefits my business in massive ways - free that is)... we crafters are choosing to make a living off making things ourselves. With our own two little hands and only 24hours in each day. Sometimes I wonder if I am taking steps backward in time, but while listening to your podcast I got to thinking about how things are different now with the internet. I can be my own boss. This is incredible to me. And as one small business such as your own gets a bigger and bigger presence online - I am reminded of the ancient belief that information is power. In many old cultures around the world it is believed that information is more valuable than currency. And in that, as you proliferate the internet with high-quality information, you are the source, you are considered wealthy by everyone who reads this information and people will turn to you as a leader in the community.

In my opinion - one just has to be careful to uphold a quality of work, even if its free - always do your best and put your best foot forward, you never know what it may lead to. And that is why you really shine Diane - your work that you put in the community is always high-quality and thoughtful.

You are so kind, Leah - thank you for this thoughtful comment.

Very well-said about social currency. That is absolutely one kind of
"wealth" that Free CAN be relied upon to provide. Katin and I were
having a conversation this afternoon about how much business models
are having to evolve in the internet age. It's an interesting and
compelling problem to tease a viable living out of all this abundance.

You're absolutely right about reputation leading to opportunity. Then
the real trick begins - finding the meaningful ways to create income
from the opportunities.

I love thinking about what the community will look like five years
hence, when we're all much better at this!

I took away a lot from this podcast, and much has been discussed in comments already - so I just wanted to mention that I thought your phrase "Gifts of Enthusiasm" was just perfect. I think that's the spirit in which all "free" should be given and received. Given to others because we love what we do and happily want to share it, and received with gratitude and appreciation.
Thank you for all you do.

Thank you for sharing such a personal perspective on this. I've been following the "Free" discussions, agreeing with some of it & disagreeing with other parts. While I appreciated Paul's insight, for example, I didn't feel that it necessarily pertained to someone trying to make a living from their work.

I just turned in my manuscript for my first crafty book and have recently had some other exciting opportunities. Couple that with the lack of time I have, now that we've got a toddler in the house, and I feel really torn. I do still want to keep up my blog and add to the conversation & community that way. But each new idea I have, in the back of my mind I'm wondering what I should do with it. Blog it? Sell it as a magazine article? Save it for a book? Do I keep all my best ideas for (potential) profit, leaving the smaller or less-favorite ones for the blog? That doesn't feel right to me. But spending oh-so-limited time on something to share for free when I could be getting paid for it feels like a bit of betrayal to my family's budget. And constantly thinking about these decisions can start to get in the way of creativity.

I loved your "rules for free," especially the "free has to be sustainable" one. They felt like a good starting point for deciding my own path forward. I plan to give the podcast another listen so I can jot down the rest of the rules and do some soul-searching.

Thanks for all the attention you've given the idea of free. You're right that these are very interesting times, and we're all stumbling through them best we can. Discussing the issues helps us all.

Thank you so much for sharing your own struggles with Free, Angela!

I have some of the same questions with "which ideas should I try to
sell and which should I share?" To some extent, these decisions are
getting easier as I move into more teaching and business-related
income streams. But still, if this is helpful, I have found that in
some cases, you can both sell and share an idea. I've shared projects
on my blog, for example, and later taught the same projects as live
classes locally. The key is, the market for the live classes rarely
visits my blog.

On occasion, too, I've shared a simpler version of a project on the
blog, and then a year or so later, sold a more complicated version as
a web article. The internet, in many ways, has no long-term memory.
(It's important to be up-front when you're selling an idea that's been
shared before, though.)

So luckily, although it's challenging to navigate, the options are out

And BOY, I don't even know you you keep up with everything and a
child, too! I have huge respect for parents who manage to maintain an
online presence and a business.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts...I often wonder how folks separate what they share for free or not. I'm still a beginner so there isn't much planning on my side, it's more excitement of just wanting to tell something and just going at it without planning - eek! I agree with Diane that I can't imagine how busy it is to be a parent and do it all as well...it's awe-some and total respect to you!

Thank you for such a personnal podcast, Diane. I couldn't agree more about the "it's all about making choices". It's all about being real close to our values and the mission we wishes to fufill in this time of our life.

You and I have a very similar lifestyle choice. Me and Olivier have recently decided to go car-free, as well. And we swear it was one of the best choice we made in 2009. :-) Ironically, we never felt free-er!

I am not where you are, yet. But I am slowly and surely getting there. Inspired by your enthousiasm and your free AND paid ressources. :-)

Thank you, Fanie! You're so right - it IS all about each individual's
life mission. Many people have missions that are different from ours,
and that will affect the amount of Free they have time to share. And
this is totally okay.

And, Yay for going car-free! It does feel freeing! Here in Portland,
we have a service called ZipCar, where you can rent a car for a few
dollars an hour. Perfect for the rare occasions when we need to go
pick up something heavy. Other than that, we find that walking and
public transit work perfectly. So, so nice not to have to think about
auto-maintenance anymore. :-)

Diane, I really enjoyed this podcast. Thank you for sharing thoughts that I know will resonate with a great many of us.
I sent you an email, because my comment got very wordy. But I think you should know that you help so many of us all the time and I'm SO glad you have this podcast! I, for one, would pay for a subscription to it, as well as to your wonderful blog! Or, your new newsletter!

By the way, I linked to Make and Meaning in my latest blog post

it's Monday, isn't it?

Thank you, Chris! (I think the calendar says Monday, but mentally it's
still Sunday to me.) :-)

Thank you for giving me such a personal insight into why (and how) you do what you do. The podcast really made me pause and think just how much I 'love your free'. It's obvious how much thought and care you put into each podcast and blog post but I'd never considered what would happen if one day 'my' free went away.

So I came and had a squizzy on your website for a way to value your free. Feedback, positive comments and crafty care packages are lovely but I really wanted to put some $$s in the bank if, for no other reason, than to contribute to meeting the many, many costs of providing a free service.

Long story short - no donate button, or at least it's hiding somewhere super secret. So I bought a book. Donate is not the right word/concept because I don't want to dontate to craftypod but I would like to support the free you offer freely (which is free to me but not free to you).

Have you thought about this and where do you think it sits on the continuum of free?

Thank you, Sonia, for this thought-provoking comment, and for your
ebook order!

I've kicked around the idea of a donation button for the last couple
years. You raise a great point - some people might want to kick in a
few dollars to support the show, but might not have any use for an
ebook. I'll do the research today.

(Why these things take me so long to figure out on my own, I have no
idea.) :-)

First, Diane, I think all of your podcasts are wonderfully interesting and insightful. And I would be more than happy to pay for a 'subscription' to them. I think they are a great resource for the craft business community.

Second, I have my own business making wedding stationery. At the moment I don't do any 'free' stuff. When I started I didn't even have a website, and in the UK where I live (although I am American) the internet culture doesn't seem to be quite as strong. However, at a course I took when I first started the business I learned an interesting tip and I think that it can help to think about paid vs. free from the practical side of things. Here it is:

Think about how many hours per day or per week you spend making stuff that you would either sell or give away free (note: you could also use a projected figure -- so how many hours you'd be making stuff when, at some future point, your business is going full tilt). So in my case, I think about how many hours I actually sit down and make stationery -- not including time for answering client emails, making samples, creating new designs -- just time that I spend making the product. (This doesn't have to be an object that you make, it can also be time spent writing a blog or recording a podcast.)

So let's say you make stuff for 3 hours each day and spend the rest doing other essential stuff, but not the stuff that leads directly to you either getting paid or producing a 'free' resource. (It know it can be hard to tease apart, but give it a try.) If you do that 5 days a week that's 15 hours per day. The next step is to think how much you are getting paid for those hours and how many of those hours are devoted to 'free'.

If 3 of the hours are 'free', then you have 12 hours a week that you get paid for. So, the question is, do those 12 hours make you enough money to live on? For example, if you get paid $50/hour then that's $600/week income. You then have to subtract expenses and tax and see if that's enough for you to survive on (you can do exact calculations or just guesstimate it). If it is, then great! Doing 3 'free' hours each week doesn't mean that you can't make enough money to live on. So you have a good balance.

If it's not enough, then do some further calculations -- what if you spent all 15 hours on paid jobs? Is that enough? Do you need to get paid more per hour? Or make stuff more than 15 hours per week?

The idea is that from the above calculations you can see if all of the time you're spending doing 'free' is too much or just right. I hope that is is clear, not too technical and is helpful. I've always found it a good way to think in general terms about my business.

Thanks so much for sharing this process, Katie! I think lots of
creatives who are participating in Free will find it helpful.

Thank you so much for this nice comment, Nadia! I actually just
installed the donation button yesterday, It's in my sidebar. I'm so
happy you've enjoyed the blog and podcast, and I thank you so much for
your support of independent people!

Thank you Diane! After listening to this podcast, I just finally did something I've been wanting to do for a while - I made a 5-page PDF of some of my black & white mandala designs and put it up on my website as a free download of coloring pages! I expect nothing in return, I just hope some people will color the mandalas and have fun with it! http://eyepopart.com

Hi Diane, That was a very inspiring podcast about the trials of and also the fun of Free. The historic-crafts.com website is also a project incorporates a lot of free (even though I have only just been made aware of the expression). The reasoning for us is that by creating a good content and engaging with our readers we are creating something that in time may be able to offer us a living. But even if it doesn't there is something satisfying about engaging with people on a subject that you love.

Thanks so much for your discussions of "free". I just stumbled upon them through Etsy.

One of my first impressions after listening to this was of motherhood. I considered all the intensive labour that raising a child entails, and how it's often out of love or for "free". It's a more classic instance of doing massive amounts of work that may be "given away" or "unmarketable".

I'm aware that there are plenty of men who craft and participate in craft communities, but I find it striking how massive the female presence is. And I keep wondering as I get more into this world: how does the femaleness and the economic sense interweave? I think, as ladies, we're still discovering our own ways to assert ourselves in this freshly "gender equal" society. And I feel the whole crafting groundswell is part of that. Having adequate compensation for our work is brilliant, in my opinion.

Thanks again for the fascinating podcast!

Definitely, Martha - I think the craft community is struggling right now to find the right balance with this idea. Our blogs are essentially often "samplers" of our skills, but once you've given away craft technique, the challenge is to assemble the right value proposition to encourage people to pay for it in future.