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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!

Vendor Spotlight & GIVEAWAY: Flip Pal Mobile Scanner

Reported by Rachel Johnson


Years ago, I worked for an art magazine, and scanning fine art images was a big part of my job. Since I had access to a professional grade scanner at work, I never got around to purchasing a scanner for home use. Since nearly all of my photography is digital, I mostly got by without one, but there were always instances when I wished I could scan an old photo or an illustration. It just never seemed worth it to go buy a huge, desktop scanner/printer combo for just a few projects or photos. It was a constant conundrum — I wanted to scan things, but I didn’t want to own a bulky scanner that would just take up room on my desk.

The Flip Pal Mobile Scanner solved my conundrum! The Flip Pal is a mini, battery-powered scanner that you can take anywhere. It is approximately 10 inches wide, 6.5 inches tall, and about an inch thick. It weighs about 1.5 pounds. It comes pre-loaded with batteries and a 2GB SD memory card. All you have to do to start scanning is take it out of its packaging. You don’t need to hook it up to a computer or plug it in; just switch it on, and press the scanning button! Magic!
The Flip Pal also comes with a simple instruction booklet and a handy thumb drive “SD to USB converter” that you can use with the SD card to load the scanned photos onto you computer. The thumb drive also contains special Flip Pal photo software that runs on Windows computers and can help you edit photos and stitch together large photos from multiple scans. However, I use Mac computers, so I was not able to access the software. Instead I used iPhoto and Photoshop to easily edit all my scans.

I got married long, long ago in the age of analog photography, and for years I have been meaning to scan some of my wedding photos. A perfect project to test out my new Flip Pal!
The scanning surface is 4 x 6 inches and can scan at a 300 dpi or 600 dpi resolution. Three hundred dpi is a standard print resolution, and scans made at that size can be printed at their original size. Scans made at 600 dpi resolution can be successfully printed up to twice their original size. Many professional scanners work at much higher scanning resolutions, but for nearly all hobby and craft purposes, 600 dpi is plenty large. Plus, each scan is very fast! I scanned over 80 wedding photos and didn’t even use up half of the battery power!

Each scan is displayed on the scanner’s small screen after it is completed. The digital display helps you make sure you positioned the scanned item correctly and allows you to review all of the scans you have made during a session.

Another great feature of the Flip Pal is that you can remove the cover and “contact scan” larger pieces or things that will not fit under the cover. Once the cover has been easily pulled off, you can flip the Flip Pal over and scan… well, really anything!

The clear back allows you to position the scanning surface correctly. I scanned a few of my large wedding photos and also a few older photos that are affixed to a scrapbook this way.
It was incredibly easy to import the scans onto my computer. You simply put the SD card into the USB converter and plug that into your computer. Then, you can import photos just as you normally would off of a digital camera. If you have an SD slot on your computer, you can use that instead of the USB converter. I imported my scans into iPhoto and did a little bit of cropping and editing. The whole scanning process was completely user friendly and easy.

I am thrilled that I finally got some of my old photos scanned, including the two above of my grandparents. I love my new Flip Pal!
Pros:
  • Small size makes it completely portable and easy to store.
  • User friendly and extremely easy to use.
  • No set up – simply open it up and start scanning!
  • Patented flip-and-scan technology – literally flip it over and scan anything!

Cons:
  • The included Flip Pal software only works on Windows computers.
  • The scanning surface is small – 4 x 6 inches.
  • Maximum scanning resolution is 600 dpi – some project may call for a higher res.

Giveaway!
The fine folks at Flip Pal are giving away a Flip Pal Mobile Scanner to one of our lucky readers. Just leave a comment on any Vendor Spotlight: Flip Pal Mobile Scanner article (there will be 2) answering the following questions:


Have you ever used a portable scanner, like the Flip Pal? What projects would you complete if you had a Flip Pal?

One comment per person, per article, please. You have until Monday, December 20th at 6pm CST to enter.

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

Event Review: World Maker Faire 2010

Reported by Rachel Johnson


What do you get when you combine a craft show, a technology expo, a science museum, crazy inventions, Martha Stewart, music, costumes, and delicious food? The World Maker Faire 2010 that took place last weekend in New York. I attended the Faire on Sunday and it was quite the scene!
The Maker Faire was held at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens (the location of the 1939-40 and 1964-65 World Fairs). Exhibits were spread throughout the interior of the science museum (seen above) and also in the surrounding park area. There were craft areas, technology areas, building and construction areas, demonstration stages… too many different booths and exhibits to keep track of!

I made sure to visit the Craft Pavilion, which had a Craftzine.com booth (seen above), as well as a Lion Brand Yarn station where you could learn to knit or crochet, and a Xyron table where you could play with all of their different craft tools and pick up your own, free sticker maker! Score!


Martha Stewart Living was one of the main sponsors of the Maker Faire and the magazine had a huge booth where you could make butterfly wands and giant papier mache bones. They also had two spooky backdrops set up that you could pose in and get your photo taken by their professional photographer. I forced my husband to pose with me in the butterfly library (all of the resulting portraits can be viewed in the Martha Stewart Living Maker Faire Flickr group).

One of the things that I was most looking forward to at Maker Faire was the Bust Magazine Craftacular that was held in conjunction. I always love a good craft fair, and this one was billed to have over 100 vendors and appearances by some big name craft personalities.
Since I am not a vendor, I can’t be sure, but I would guess that the Craftacular was maybe not as successful as many would have hoped. It was spread out in the parking lot outside the Hall of Science and was a little lackluster. Because it cost $25 to get into the Maker Faire, some visitors may not have been in the mood to shop once they got inside. I didn’t see any purchases being made. However, some of the excitement may have been drained by the second day, when I visited. Plus, it was over-cast and a little rainy on Sunday, which didn’t help. All that being said, there were some awesome vendors to check out. Here are some of my favorites…

Sharp Shirter had really funny, manly t-shirts – their banner definitely caught my eye!

Perch Ceramics had absolutely beautiful bird houses and other delicate ceramic vessels. I loved these salt and pepper shakers.
Kate Durkin’s booth was beautifully presented and her hand-stitched animal pillows are adorable.

I just had to take a photo of this booth: Jersey Shore Baby. Very funny — and somewhat disturbing — baby clothes.

After pursuing the Craftacular, my husband and I ventured out to explore the more technological and mechanical offerings at the Maker Faire. We saw lots of crazy contraptions like the crazy lady “chariot” seen above. There was also a “jet-powered pony” ride (that was incredibly noisy), a life size mousetrap game, recycled “junk” art areas, the Maker Shed, kid-powered rides, a robot fabrication tent, and much more! It was a lot to take in and eventually we had to stop for a food break.

I got this delicious Cauliflower Salad from Scratch Bread and liked it so much that I had to spread the word. Yum!

Overall, the Maker Faire was a lot fun and a great one-day adventure. I am so glad I attended it because I had been hearing about the previous Maker Faires for years and had grown increasingly curious. The Faire was definitely a family-friendly event, with lots of activities geared directly toward kids, like the alien parade shown above, and the Young Makers Pavilion, not to mention the full interactive science museum with a 60,000 square foot outdoor Science Playground. We saw a lot of families and all of the kids seemed to be having a great time. If you have children, I would definitely recommend attending a Maker Faire!
Did you attend the World Maker Faire in New York? What did you think? Have you attended previous Maker Faires in other cities? How did they compare?

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