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Crafter Interview – Rachel Johnson from Swap-bot

Reported by Simone Collins

I am so happy to be sharing my interview with Rachel Johnson from Swap-bot with everybody today. Rachel is not only a crafty business owner but she is also a reporter for Craft Critique (and lucky for me, a personal friend). Her crafty talents, as well as business savvy, have made Swap-bot what it is today; I am sure some of Rachel’s insights will be inspiring as well as informative.


Name: Rachel Johnson

Crafty Business: Swap-bot.com

Where can we find you online? Swap-bot website, Swapbot blog, personal blog, Ace Department, and reporting for Craft Critique of course!

When did your business begin and why did you started?
My husband and I created Swap-bot in the fall of 2005 after participating in some blog-hosted swaps. We thought swapping was a fun hobby and a great way to “meet” people online, but organizing the swaps by hand is a hassle. Swap-bot takes the hassle out of hosting swaps by organizing and assigning the partners and sending out reminder emails. Swap-bot also has a feedback system which helps keep all of the swappers honest.

Tell us about Swap-bot.
Swap-bot is a service and a community of creative individuals. Our goal is to connect artists, writers, and crafters via the snail mail. We currently have over 40,000 members from all over the world, and the site gets over 3.4 million pageviews a month. I work on Swap-bot full-time and am the site’s only administrator. I do everything for the business (customer service, marketing, blogging, accounting, strategic planning, etc.) except the backend programming. To support the site financially, we publish ads.

Describe your typical day.
I like to get my household chores out of the way in the morning before I sit down at the computer. Then, I get a large mug of coffee (with chocolate soy milk) and sit down to go through emails. My day is technically flexible — I often go to the grocery store or go running — but in general, I spend the whole day in front of the computer.

I receive a LOT of customer support email, which I try to keep up with on a daily basis, but it is difficult. I often spend a good amount of time mediating disputes and investigating questionable accounts. I also monitor the Swap-bot forums and try to write a blog post every day. I update the Swap-bot twitter account and Facebook page a couple times a day and I often spend a few hours each week working on design projects for Swap-bot, like business cards, postcards, or other collateral.

To supplement my income I also do freelance graphic design work for other clients, so I usually have quite a few projects in the air each day.

What keeps you motivated?
The awesome, dedicated Swap-bot users! It is sometimes easy to get caught up in the small day-to-day problems of running a large community, but I always get a renewed sense of purpose when one of our users tells me how much they love Swap-bot because it has helped them meet new friends or renewed their creativity. Our long-time members who have completed hundreds, or even thousands (!), of swaps really inspire me to continue trying to improve the site.

What keeps you on track with your business? Tools? Tricks?
I hand write a To-Do list about once a week. That helps me to remember all of the big important tasks. I also have a pretty complicated system of flagging and filing email that keeps me organized. But other than that, I basically just keep showing up each day and getting as much done as possible. We have been working on Swap-bot for almost six years, and I really think that longevity and perseverance are our only “tricks.”

Any websites or programs you use to help with your business? Which ones and how do they assist you?
I use Goggle Docs for my financial spreadsheets. I like that I can access it online from anywhere and that it is inherently backed up.

I use Google Analytics to track our site traffic.

I love Hootsuite for managing my many social media accounts. I think it is the best Twitter tool out there.

All of my blogs are built on WordPress.

For all of my graphic design work I use the Adobe Creative Suite. I think I use Photoshop every single day of my life!

What is the biggest challenge in your business?
Oof. That is easy — constant complaints. Did I mention that I get a lot of email? Ha! A good portion of it pertains to problems, disputes, site glitches, etc. Most issues are easy to fix and respond to, but sometimes I get some really hurtful email about really random things — often things that are not in my ability to fix or even speak to. Those emails bring me down even though I know that the only proper response is to ignore them.

Any advice you would give to someone just starting a crafty business?
Perseverance is key. It takes a while to establish your brand and build relationships. I know that it is hard to hear, but it usually takes years — not months — for a small business to see real profits.

What do you love most about owning your own crafty business?
I really love working for myself and being in control of my own success or failure.

Besides crafting, what do you love doing?
I love exercising! I train with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training and I highly recommend it. I completed the New York City Marathon in November!

Where does your inspiration come from?
Besides our awesome Swap-bot users, I am inspired by huge collaborative projects, like Wikipedia, that demonstrate how incredible humanity can be.

Who are your favorite crafters?
Well, the big mama, Martha Stewart, of course! I also really like Kal Barteski, Jessica Marquez, and Tyshawn Henry.

Tell us about your crafting space.

I have a small office in our Brooklyn apartment where I do all my work, and which houses all of my crafting gear. It has a big wrap-around desk and a large paper storage chest, but it is basically a small space covered in clutter.

If you lose your crafty mojo, how do you find it again?
I join an interesting swap!!

What trends are you noticing in Craft?
Well, cupcakes are definitely on the way out… Bright colors, fringe, and confetti seem to be trending lately.

Where do you see your business in 10 years?
I really hope Swap-bot is still around and swapping is still a popular hobby — hopefully postage doesn’t go up too much! I also love creating new websites. My newest one is AceDepartment.com, a community site for entrepreneurs that I co-founded with my friend Jessica Alfieri Wright. Over the next ten years I hope to continue expanding my online presence and making friends along the way!

Thanks to Rachel for sharing her thoughts about crafty business and how she makes all the magic happen over at Swap-bot. I encourage everybody to go and check out all the fun, it is a great place to be inspired as well as make new friends with similar interests and some of the swaps require absolutely no crafting.

Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!

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4 Responses to Crafter Interview – Rachel Johnson from Swap-bot

  1. Avatar
    Rachel Johnson May 27, 2011 at 9:58 am #

    You are too kind, Simone! Thanks for the great interview. Swap-bot loves Craft Critique!

    If anyone has any other online biz questions, I’m happy to chat via email. (Rachel -at- swap-bot.com)

  2. Avatar
    luluvision May 29, 2011 at 10:43 am #

    Yay for Rachel! She rules and so does Travis! I hope swap-bot is around for a long time! I love that site and all the work they do for it!

  3. Avatar
    Jessica May 31, 2011 at 1:37 am #

    Yay, swapbot! Thanks for all you do, Rachel. Swapbot has become my happy place!

  4. Avatar
    FibreJunky May 31, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    Rachel is absolutely and totally awesome!! I haven’t been on Swap-bot in a bit…I’m kind of behind on life…but Rachel is both fantastic at running the site and an amazing person. Thanks for writing such a wonderful bit about her and showcasing both her and Swap-bot.

    P.S. Travis is pretty awesome, too!