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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!

Featured Website: Swap-bot

Attention Craft Critique readers! This is written by the owner of Swap-bot.com, our very own Rachel Johnson; she doesn’t say nearly enough wonderful things about herself in the following article. So please allow me to fill in the blanks. Rachel is not JUST the creator of Swap-bot, but also an incredible designer and entrepreneur. She is the responsible for the many of the graphics you see on Craft Critique and without Rachel CraftyCon‘s website would be logoless. I adore her,

Swap-bot is an incredible community. Go check it out, then come back here and tell me how right I am. (Love, Sarah)

Reported by Rachel Johnson


Swapping art, crafts, postcards, and letters via the snail mail is a fun and popular hobby for many crafters online. Generally, a swap (as discussed here) is a group of people who organize over the internet to trade items through the postal mail. Each swap is organized by its coordinator, who picks the theme, swap requirements, and deadlines. Participants join the swap and provide their mailing info, then the crafting and mailing begins! Swaps are a fun way to physically “meet” other creative individuals who you may only know virtually online. Swaps also provide motivation for the participants to finish projects and try out new crafts.


There are many ways to join craft-related swaps on the internet; some swaps are hosted on personal blogs, and others are organized within social networking sites and message boards. Swap-bot.com, a site I started with my husband in 2005, is devoted entirely to swapping. After participating in swaps on personal blogs (and having a lot of fun meeting new, crafty folks), I observed that large group swaps were often a major hassle for the coordinators to organize.

Before Swap-bot, coordinators had to manually collect all of the participants’ mailing info, assign partners, email out the partner info, and then follow up on whether all of the swap items were sent. If the coordinators had more than a handful of people in their swap, it could be extremely time-consuming and complicated to manage! We created Swap-bot to help coordinators more easily create and manage swaps, while giving swap enthusiasts a place to gather and interact.




Swap-bot is a community website and also a web tool that handles all of the organizational aspects of swapping. Each Swap-bot member provides a valid mailing address and adds some information about themselves to their profile page. Then, they can start browsing and joining the more than 1,300 swaps that are hosted each month on the site. Coordinators create swaps of all types – ranging from swaps for Artist Trading Cards and altered matchboxes (like those seen below) to quilt squares and knitted scarves – and Swap-bot handles all of the partner assignments and record-keeping. Swap-bot even sends out automatic email reminders to all of the participants and provides a feedback system for reporting whether all of the swap items were sent and received. Swaps on Swap-bot can be totally public and open to all Swap-bot members, restricted to a specific swapping group (which can be organized on the site), or private and password-protected.



If you love sending and receiving snail mail, and are looking for a new hobby, a new way to connect with other crafters, or motivation to try out new crafts and share your creativity, you should try swapping! On Swap-bot, we are always looking for new members to join our diverse, international community. Come give it a try!

To learn more about Swap-bot, and swapping in general, check out the Swap-bot blog or the FAQs. You can also receive news and updates, plus fun, crafty content by following the SwapbotNews Twitter account or the Facebook fan page.
Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!