07 Mar 6 Steps to Make Along Success
Have you thought about hosting a Knit Along (KAL), Crochet Along (CAL), or Quilt Along (QAL)? Crafters are loving these group projects, and companies are reaping the rewards. In this post we’ll share best practices gleaned from conversations with experienced Make Along (MAL) hosts.
What is a Make Along?
Simply put, a make along is a group of people gathering together in person or online to make the same project. The project can be anything from a single quilt block to an entire sweater. It can even involve diverse projects that are variations on a theme – for example, an accessory craft-along or an event centered around a specific technique or material.
1. Define your objectives
A successful MAL will require a significant investment of your attention, so spend some time up front thinking through your reasons for hosting an MAL. The decisions you make here will inform the other choices you make along the way,
You can drive sales with an MAL through tying the project to a specific product. Fat Quarter Shop declared 2018 the Year of the Fat Quarter. Each month, they feature a specially curated fabric fat quarter bundle. They’ve lined up different quilters for each month, each of whom will create a project using the bundle for their month. These projects are featured on the Fat Quarter blog, along with a link to purchase the pattern used by the quilter.
Kathy Lashley of ELK Studio Crochet uses MALs to drive traffic to her website, which boosts her advertising revenue. She designs a special project for her crochet along and releases the instructions over 4 weekly posts.
An MAL can be a great way to build your email list. Participants subscribe to the MAL by providing their email address; at regular intervals, you send an email with the next installment of the instructions. QuiltyLove grew her email list by more than 1000 names with her City Tiles Quilt Along earlier this year.
At Mason-Dixon Knitting, knit alongs are used to build community engagement and to support independent designers. Their recently completed Bang Out a Carbeth knit along featured the Carbeth pullover designed by Kate Davies, and resulted in over 1000 photos posted to Instagram with the hashtag #bangoutacarbeth.
Along with defining your objectives, consider how you’ll measure the impact of your MAL. New Facebook likes or Instagram followers? Sales of a featured product? When your MAL is done, how will you know if it was a success?
2. Select a project or theme
When choosing a project for your MAL, Kay Gardiner at Mason-Dixon Knitting says, “It has to be fun.” You want a project that is interesting enough to hold the participants’ attention, but not so intimidating that you scare people off before they begin.
If you’re aiming for maximum engagement, keep an eye on your price point. If you’re using high-end materials, see if you can recommend alternatives at a more accessible price.
Use your project selection to reinforce your brand. If you’re known for your sets of hand-dyed gradient mini-skeins, choose a project that will use those yarns to best advantage.
If you’ve chosen a project designed by someone outside your company, reach out to the designer. Ask for their help in promoting the MAL and invite their participation in the group discussion.
3. Set the timeline
Neither you nor your participants can be expected to sustain enthusiasm for an MAL forever. Four to eight weeks seems to be the sweet spot. At Mason-Dixon Knitting, the annual Bang Out a Sweater knit along is designed as a fast and furious February sweater knitting sprint. Quilty Love allows 8 weeks for piecing a quilt. If you stretch out your MAL for too long, you risk having participants fall away as enthusiasm fades.
4. Choose the venue
MALs are all about community. Where will your community gather? You’ll need a place for participants to ask questions and to share photos.
If you have a brick and mortar store, your MAL could include a weekly gathering in your shop. Consider providing a facilitator/teacher to answer questions and keep the project on track. Invite the participants to bring snacks to share. Supplement the in-person gathering with postings to your blog and/or social media channels.
If you use your blog as the MAL venue, remember to invite participants to use the comments for questions and discussion. Monitor and respond to comments regularly.
A Facebook Group can be a great space for an MAL, because participants can easily post photos, comments and questions all in one place. Kathy Lashley at ELK Crochet Studio chose this option because her audience is used to interacting on Facebook.
Mason-Dixon Knitting encourages participants to post photos to Instagram with a specific hashtag. They also host an active discussion forum on their website, called The Lounge, where knitters ask questions and share pattern modifications.
Ravelry groups are another popular venue for knit and crochet alongs.
Be sure you choose a platform that is comfortable for your participants. If your audience isn’t active on Instagram, you’ll have a hard time building momentum for your MAL there.
5. Promotion and enrollment
Begin promoting your MAL ten days to two weeks ahead of your start date. People need time to commit and get ready. Your participants will have to procure their materials and clear the decks of other projects.
Your announcement should include images of the finished project as well as a list of required materials. Include links to purchase supplies (or a kit) on your website, if applicable.
Don’t be shy. Send the announcement of your MAL to your email list, feature it in a blog post, and post it on all your social media accounts. If you’re recommending a specific yarn, ask the yarn manufacturer to help spread the word. If the project is from an outside designer, enlist their help as well.
If you are hosting a physical gathering in your store, have a sample of the project available for people to try on.
How will people indicate interest in your MAL? This is where you begin to create a two-way conversation and generate momentum. Be explicit in telling people how to join. Do you want them to comment “Count me in” on your Facebook or blog post? If you want to gather email addresses, put a link in your announcement.
6. Commitment and communication
Kay Gardiner at Mason-Dixon Knitting points out that an MAL “requires TLC from the person hosting it.” People join your MAL for motivation, support, entertainment and enthusiasm. In return, they give you their attention and participation.
You or someone on your team must commit to regular monitoring of all discussions around your MAL. This moderator must have the expertise to answer questions about the project. When a participant has a question on Friday night, they don’t want to wait until business hours on Monday for an answer. Kathy Lashley checks her Facebook Group for new posts several times a day, seven days a week.
Keep injecting energy into your group. Encourage members to share progress regularly. Comment on their posts and compliment their progress. Celebrate their successes. Commiserate with the missteps along the way. If you’re using Instagram, don’t forget to share the photos that use your hashtag.
A well-run MAL can pay huge dividends for your business. When crafters come to know your business as the place to connect with kindred spirits, they’ll happily continue to support you.
We can help you create and manage a great MAL. Contact Leanne@stitchcraftmarketing.com to learn how we can help you grow your craft business.