Category: Make

The Tonka Profit Project: Adding Digital Products To A Craft Brand

How do you scale up a craft business?

How do you take a craft related hobby and turn it into a business?

How do you go from selling one-off products on eBay (or Etsy) to a larger business? 

These are all common questions for artisans and crafters. Over the next few months I’ll share my results as I work to accomplish these goals with my business partner John Venheim. In this first post I’ll explain what we are doing and walk you through our approach to growing his business.

The Backstory: Last October I was asked to share our story (about Liberty Jane Clothing & Pixie Faire) at an event in Portland. When it was over a guy came up to me and told me about his passion – restoring vintage Tonka Trucks.

65 Tonka- Cool Picture

John’s story was oddly familiar. He had a hobby he was great at, and could sell items on eBay successfully, but he didn’t know how to scale up the business and take it to a higher level – a six figure level.

His story sounded familiar to us because that was the exact same spot we were in with Liberty Jane in the summer of 2009. Back then we could sell everything Cinnamon could make, but she was exhausted – sewing until midnight to fill orders. But we figured out how to scale up from there by using her unique skills to build a brand and a business. We went from being a $1,000 a month seller on eBay, to now selling over $2,000 a day on various sites including our own.

John wondered if I could help him figure out a similar path forward.

So over the last few months I’ve had a blast partnering with him to help figure it out. Here is our strategy and how we are implementing it.

Product Strategy

John is amazing at restoring vintage trucks and he can do that job day-in-and-day-out making on average $40 an hour. That’s actually really great for a craft based business. Lots of crafters make much less than minimum wage! But John needed more (and different) product ideas if he was going to scale up his business.

So we focused on looking at his work from another angle – the ‘make money online’ angle. Why? Because there is a hungry market of people trying to figure out how to make money online – and John’s good at it and sharing how he does it didn’t worry or concern him. Why? Because John can only find and repair so many Tonka Trucks – and their is a very large world out-there filled with old Tonka Trucks waiting to be restored and re-sold.

So we decided to focus on this new market and approach it with a few information products. John is also focusing on a few new physical product ideas as well. We are releasing,

  1. A book in both Kindle and Paperback form.
  2. 14-part video series.
  3. A Be-On-The-Lookout Guide.

Here is what some of that looks like:

real book image

Tonka Profit


Tonka Flipping V1 Ipad copy2

Price Strategy

One thing you might notice is that we are leading with ‘Free’.

  • The Kindle version of the book is free for the first five days, (from April 14-18) and we’ll continue to offer it for free occasionally over the months and years to come.
  • The paperback version of the book is free for those who are willing to cover shipping & Handling.
  • The Be-On-The-Lookout Guide is free on the website we well.

Placement Strategy

Placement refers to your strategy of where you’ll sell. We are focusing on using Amazon and our own website for these new products. Of course, John continues to sell his physical items on his eBay account. We are also exploring ideas related to other locations where we can sell custom trucks – and feature the books alongside the trucks.

  • Using Amazon, a huge marketplace is a natural location for the kindle and paperback books. This will allow us to have continues exposure to a large community of potential buyers.
  • Using our own website,, also has advantages. To accomplish this we used the Shopify platform. In addition to Shopify, to deliver the ‘Free+Shipping’ offer for the paperback book we used ClickFunnels, an amazing ecommerce tool that gives you a nice set of options related to how you structure your offers.

Promotion Strategy

We have a fun promotional strategy we are trying. We are giving away a custom box truck – that can have YOUR logo on. (Feel free to enter if you’d like). John has offered to do a few of these as part of our promotion strategy and so we are running a raffle from the 14th of April through the 30th to see how it goes. To enter you have to join our newsletter list and there are a few other ways to enter. To do this we used Here is what that looks like:

box truck promotion


Will Any Of This Work? 

The early signs are good. We are already #1 in a category on Amazon (For Free ebooks).

So that’s fun! Here’s what that looks like,

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 12.24.29 PM

[Update, we reached #1 in the Antiques & Collectibles Category, which is exciting. Here is what that looks like… ]



But as with anything else – we are learning by trial-and-error. I’m honored to partner with John on this project and it will be fun to see how it all works. As a lot of you know I’ve been helping Cinnamon with the marketing of doll related products for a long-time, so playing with Tonkas is a fun change! Stay tuned – we’ll keep you posted on how this all goes.

Of course – if you know people who might be interested in the topic of Tonkas – feel free to share this blog post with them and/or the website,


Ps. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you click on them and decide to purchase something I will earn a commission. The commission comes at no additional cost to you. Please realize we only include these types of links for companies we know, like, use, and trust. But please never purchase anything from a company if you can’t afford it – or if you’re not sure it is right for you. Do your research and decide carefully.











4 Layers Of Profitability

The goal of any business is to make a profit. Whether you are earning $1,000 a month in sales, or $100,000 a month in sales – there is only one vital statistic for business health – how much do you keep as profit?

How To Get Profitable

This chart is loosely based on the work of Jagmohan Raju – he calls it 4 “levers” of profitability. I’ve oriented the 4 ‘levers’ to include an income and expense view of things:

4 layers of profitability chart


Let’s quickly review the 4 layers of profitability outlined in the chart. On the income side of the ledger you have:

Pricing: how much you charge for your items. Of course this can include fixed prices, variable prices and even auction pricing.

Sales Volume: This includes the total of all units sold. Some small businesses have 1 product and sell a lot of it, some have many products and sell a few of them.

On the expense side of the ledger you have:

Fixed Expenses: These expense items are fairly stable and include things like rent, salaries, property tax, insurance, and utilities.

Variable Expenses: These expense items change based on sales volume and other very flexible business decisions and include things like advertising cost, material cost, credit card processing fees, and shipping costs.

At the end of the month (or day or year, etc.) the math is very simple:

Total income from sales minus expenses equals profit. At the end of the day it is up to the entrepreneur to creatively increase income while holding expenses flat or lowering them.

Widening The Jaws

I once had an old boss who always talked about “widening the jaws” and would always draw a simple little chart when doing budget reviews with his managers. He would use that phrase to always remind his managers that we COULD grow expenses, but they had to grow at a slower pace than income in order for our total profit to continue to improve. Here is what that looked like:

widening the jaws finance chart

Some business make plenty of sales, but they suffer from poor profit because they have out of control expenses. In those cases – you can improve profit substantially by cutting expenses.

Other businesses have poor sales – and the best way to improve is to increase the income side of the equation. That might take a new product, a new pricing strategy, or a revamp of the existing product strategy.

But most businesses reside somewhere in the middle – okay sales – and average expenses. In those cases success is made in the margin. In finding the little, incremental improvement in sales or expense optimization, and continously making those wise choses.

I hope 2016 is a very profitable year for you!

Ps. Am I right in my analysis? Are there more than 4 layers of profitability? I’d love to know what you think!

How To Make Labels

A key part of developing a brand is to include tags or labels in the clothing that you sell. This adds value to the item in the customers eye and adds a level of collectability to the product. I make my own tags using white ribbon and printable  iron on transfer paper for dark t-shirts. Do not use the transfer paper for white t-shirts, it requires you to print a mirrored image and won’t work for this project. There are links below to the products on amazon, I’ve included these links so that you can see exactly what I’m using. You can buy this sort of paper through Amazon or at Wal Mart, Target , or an office supply store as well.

If you have any questions just post them below, I’ll try to get back to you asap with an answer.

Attack Of The Tall Dolls

Hi everyone, recently we saw an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about how lots of new 18 inch dolls are coming out. You can read it here.

In our view, this suggests an opportunity for each of you – if you want to begin targeting one of these dolls for your sewing business – it might prove to be a good niche. The other thought that comes to mind is that we’re going to need more people customizing our patterns to fit these various sizes. If any of you are interested in partnering with us in that way, (like Maiden Flight is doing with Karito Kids), just let us know. Obviously to do it you’ll need the ability to take our pattern and modify them to fit the new doll correctly, then work with us to publish the pattern guidebook.

Food for thought!

Jason & Cinnamon


Product Safety – CPSIA…

Hi everyone, we’ve added a new page (look up at the top of our site) about Product Safety…with a brief video intro. And we’ve created a powerpoint presentation for you – saved in our Dropbox – it’s the black box over on the right side of this website. We’ve also placed 2 Consumer Protection Agency documents in the dropbox, which we thought you might find helpful. If you want to discuss CPSIA, leave a comment on the “Product Safety” page.

I hope you find this helpful, and Happy New Year!


Sewing Skills…

Let’s talk about quality sewing skills. Let’s face it, just like most people are average, most hand-made Ebay and Etsy items are average. That’s just a fact. But what makes something average versus awesome?

Is your work less impressive than others? If so, you need to be realistic about what you’re going to get at auction. Is it time to get a better product, learn a different technique, go back and take more classes. Are you making something exactly like a million other ladies? I love that quote by Dolf De Roos,

“Don’t learn the tricks of the trade, learn the trade”

I’m happy to admit that I’m not a great seamstress, in fact, it’s probably the weakest part of my work. So when I say you need to evaluate your skills, I’m not trying to be overly judgmental, or discourage you. Many of you are much better seamstresses than me.

But here’s the good news. You’re probably your own harshest critic. Sometimes this isn’t true, but lots of times artists are brutal with themselves, and the average person, not informed on the tradecraft, will look at the finished product and be very impressed. So go easy.

Get other people’s perspective. Take your best shot at selling, and if the response is flat, ask yourself the hard questions about quality. But maybe it’s just your listing that’s bad. Maybe it’s just your photography. Maybe it’s just your credibility indicators. Maybe it’s just your pricing strategy. That’s where the Auction Blueprint might come in handy. Remember the story about Picasso and the lady.

Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a bold woman approached him.

You’re Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist.

So Picasso agreed to sketch her. After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the women his work of art.

It’s perfect! she gushed. You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?

Five thousand dollars‘ the artist replied.

B-b-but, what? The woman sputtered. How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!

To which Picasso responded, “Madame, it took me my entire life”.

What’s the morale of the story? I suppose there are a couple of ideas that stand out. As an artist, people will always try to impose their reality upon you. Their price, they’re schedule, they’re ‘deal’. They’ll try to compare you to others, to explain to you why you shouldn’t get the price you want. You’ve got to know how your quality compares to others, and hold your ground. If it doesn’t compare well, keep working at it. But if it’s awesome, then stand firm.