How a popular sewing blog evolved into a trade association
The Craft Industry Association started as a B2B publication and expanded into a full-service association.
Abby Glassenberg runs a trade association called the Craft Industry Alliance. It has over 1,600 paying members who work in the arts and crafts industry. It hosts conferences, schedules networking events, publishes industry news, and provides ongoing education. Pretty much the kind of services that most trade associations offer.
But unlike most trade associations, this one grew out of a one-person blog. Abby started it as a hobby, but it soon amassed a large audience, which then led to a book deal, a thriving Etsy store, and a popular podcast.
I recently interviewed Abby about why she went the trade association route and how she’s growing its revenue by 20% a month.
To listen to the interview, subscribe to The Business of Content on your favorite podcast player. If you scroll down you’ll also find some transcribed highlights from the interview.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
How Abby got her start as a crafts blogger
Abby began her career as a middle school teacher, and it was while she was on maternity leave in 2004 that she read an article in The New York Times about blogging. “I've always been creative and enjoyed doing all different kinds of crafting. I started looking around, and sure enough, there were a few craft blogs back then, and I found them and started following them and participating a little bit in the comments sections. And then in the spring of 2005, I was out on date night with my husband one night and I thought, ‘you know what? I think I can start one of these myself.’ And he said, ‘well, what would you call it?’ And I said, ‘I'll call it While She Naps,’ because it’ll feature all the things I'm making while the baby's napping.”
While She Naps was just a hobby blog at first, but then came the launch of Etsy in 2005. “Very quickly I started selling the things that I was making on Etsy. I had one of the earliest Etsy shops, and so it became a business really fast and it's been a business ever since.” Her audience quickly grew, and in 2009 the blog led to a book deal, followed immediately by another book deal. Her Etsy store also evolved into a more scalable model; instead of selling individual crafts she had sewn, Abby sold the PDF outlines that would allow anyone to mimic her work. By 2012, the blog and its ancillary businesses were generating a good income.
Pivoting to B2B
As her business grew, Abby began to grow more interested in the craft industry itself. Because it catered to individual creators, many of whom were hobbyists, there weren’t that many resources for those trying to build businesses. “I started publishing some income reports on my blog and really started to write more on the blog about business. So the blog kind of pivoted from being B2C to B2B, and I started to realize that a lot of people who get into doing this didn't go to business school or law school. They're just really good at crafting, and they are faced with all of these really important business decisions. And so I started talking more openly about those things on the blog. I really enjoyed doing that and my blog really became more about business.”
In addition to the blog, Abby also launched a newsletter that quickly amassed an audience of fans who worked within the craft industry. “I had a pretty good size audience there. I remember it was at 7,000 subscribers, and then it hit 13,000 subscribers.” Around that time, the PR team at Etsy reached out and asked if Abby wanted to interview one of the company’s top executives. She recorded the interview and, almost by accident, launched a podcast. “I got 8,000 downloads right away.”
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Launching a trade association
One of Abby’s podcast guests was Kristin Link, who ran one of the most popular craft blogs. “I was thinking maybe I should monetize my newsletter and make a B2B version of it. I reached out to a lawyer and was trying to figure out a way to do it. This was before Substack existed, meaning I would need to figure out how to do this in MailChimp. And it was complicated. Kristin called me one day and said, ‘do you want to start a craft business conference with me?’ So we started talking and we thought, well, maybe we could start a trade association, where I would have this newsletter and we could publish trade industry articles. So we started talking to everybody that we knew, both people within the craft industry, as well as people in other industries who belong to trade associations. We asked them, ‘what does your trade association provide for you that you find valuable?’ We knew we didn't want to have a trade show. There are already several trade shows within the crafts industry and we would go to them, but we didn't want to replicate that.”
In 2015, they launched the Craft Industry Alliance. Its mission, according to its website, is to help its members:
Stay current on industry news, trends, and opportunities
Make connections with other small business owners
Develop viable business models
Run their businesses according to their own standard of ethics
One of the benefits of membership is access to a members-only newsletter. “Craft industry news is only covered in mainstream news publications like the Wall Street Journal when a company like Etsy goes public, that kind of thing. Other than that, it doesn't really often get serious news coverage. And so I am really dedicated to covering craft industry news.”
The association generates revenue through memberships and advertising. “You can join for six months and pay $39, or you can join for a year and pay $69. You get one log-in for that amount, and then it goes up from there. If you're a small corporation that grosses between $250,000 and $1 million a year, then you get two logins and it's $160 for the year. And then if you make between $1 million and $2 million, you get three user accounts and it's $240 a year. And if you make above $2 million gross in a year, it's $400 for an account and you get four logins. So it's really quite affordable. We do have members of all sizes. We have some of the bigger businesses in the industry as members, and then we have lots and lots of very small businesses as well. Right now we have 1,700 members who are part of the Craft Industry Alliance.”
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