by Arianne Foulks of Aeolidia
Hi, Kitty! Tell us a bit about yourself. You’ve always been a great help on the Switchboards, since you’ve run your own businesses and also have a lot of website know-how. What projects are you working on now, other than the Switchboards? What are your DIY qualifications?
I’m a molecular biologist by trade, but I’ve been crafting ever since I discovered the joys of dry macaroni noodles and glitter! To support myself in college I started my first business making anime-shaped fleece hats, which I ran for almost 6 years. I needed a website when I started and wanted to DIY it, so I learned HTML and some php so I could run my own shop online, and my site went through many incarnations as I learned. Along the way I also adopted I Buy DIY, one of the first online directories for indie shops. I eventually closed down my first business last year with the intention of taking a break from running a business, but I missed it so that break didn’t last long at all. Instead of relaxing, I teamed up with my best friend to start VelAwesome Raptor Labs.
Could you give us a run-through of the Switchboards’ history? I’d love to hear when/how it got started, your history with the Switchboards, and about the recent changes.
The Switchboards (TSB) was started in 2004 by Leah Jesse Pearlman of Uplifting Arts and Vanessa Brady of Gerbera Designs. These wonderful ladies created the forums that grew from a need to have a place online where indie (independent) businesswomen could talk shop and meet and share information. I joined in 2005 when I started my first business. The forum helped me so much while running my business, and I made many lasting friendships. I could always count on excellent advice and support! A few years later, Leah had to leave TSB due to other life obligations, and Vanessa kept things running along, and I was volunteering as a TSB moderator. Eventually, Vanessa found she had too many other responsibilities and had to let TSB take a back seat, but without tending members began to drift apart. I loved TSB and wanted to give something back to the community that gave me so much, so I offered to take it over. I officially took over in August 2010 and made some much needed upgrades to the forum software including a new Link Directory for members. Now we’re back on track to being one of the most helpful communities for new creative business owners around.
What is the mission of the Switchboards? Who is the community and how does the Switchboards help?
TSB’s mission is to connect creative women in business, to give them a place to share information and support one another. We don’t exclude the gentlemen with indie/crafty businesses from joining (everyone is welcome!), but the great majority of the site’s members are still women. The community includes everyone from those just thinking of starting their own crafty business to those who have been running one for years, as well as those who run their business on the side to make some extra money and have a creative outlet, to those who fully support themselves and their families with their crafty skills. The Switchboards provides a place for newcomers to the crafty scene to benefit from the excellent advice of indie veterans and others who have dealt with similar situations and questions for starting and running an indie business, and provides indie veterans with a place to share their experiences and find advice on the more advanced aspects of business ownership. These days, TSB makes a great companion to the forums on sites like ArtFire or Etsy, a we provide a more in-depth environment for business-related questions than site-specific forums.
What features are offered on the Switchboards aside from the forum? What community projects/activities does the Switchboards take part in? I know in the past there have been link swaps, promo swaps, and talk of an Etsy shop. Any interesting new plans?
One of the newest features is the Link Directory and the revamped Articles section which now includes full integration with the forums so users can leave comments on the articles. Our forum is now fully upgraded and lets members log in using their Twitter or Facebook accounts. Links swaps go on between members. Something new in the works is a photo gallery for members to show off their latest creations!
The Switchboards has gotten social! See the Switchboards’ Facebook page and the Switchboards’ Twitter account. Kitty, are you running both of these accounts, or do you have help? Have you found them to be useful in spreading the word or adding a new way to communicate with members?
Right now, it’s just me running those accounts, though I would really like to include some other community members to help out! I’ve definitely found both Twitter and Facebook to be a great way to communicate with TSB members new and old, and a way to reach people who haven’t heard of us yet.
What can small business owners who want to be part of the Switchboards community do to contribute and spread the word? Are there any specific projects community members could volunteer to help out with?
If you want to be a part of the community, just come make a post in the forums, we’d love you see you there! If you want to help spread the word about TSB, you can post our link (http://www.theswitchboards.com) on your website, Facebook page, or on Twitter. Blog about us, and spread the word everywhere groups of awesome creative people get together. As for volunteers, I’m glad you asked! I have two projects that I could really use some help with. I need a volunteer (or volunteers) to take the old articles and edit them from the old bulky HTML format and convert them to BBCode (keeping the formatting) so they can be posted in the Articles Section. I could also use some help posting on the TSB Twitter account to keep it updated with articles, links, and craft world news for TSB members.
How does the Switchboards pay the bills? Could you let us know more about the donation system, and any other ways you have of keeping the site up and running? It seems unusual that there are no ads on the Switchboards. Do you think this is something community members would object to? Are there plans to accept advertising, or other type of revenue-generating features?
Right now, it’s mostly me paying the bills! The site needed some major upgrades, license renewals and some TLC when I took over. We have had some wonderful generous donations from members to support TSB, and I thank them very much. I do, however, want to get away from having to ask for handouts to run the site. In the near future, I would like to be able to offer both ads and a subscription service to TSB members. Ads will ideally be from TSB members’ shops (no nasty Viagra or weight loss ads here!) and subscriptions will offer additional TSB features and perks.
How much time do you spend working on the Switchboards? What are your day to day tasks to keep everything hopping? Who else is helping you run the Switchboards? If you have any assistants or moderators, is everyone a volunteer?
I spend about an hour a day on TSB, but I wish I could spend much more time there! Each of us who works for TSB is a volunteer, who generously donates their time and talents to the community. Lindsay of Purr Design donated our happy new layout colour scheme and logo, and Lilie from Asian Buzz helps me moderate the forums.
What plans do you have for the future of the Switchboards? What would you do with the Switchboards if you had no time or monetary constraints?
I’d love to see The Switchboards return to being the go-to site for all things related to indie business. I want to expand the features that TSB offers our members. With unlimited time and money, I’d hire a blogger or two to keep TSB fresh and up to date, someone to run a TSB advertising collective, and a professional php/IPB coder to help me out. I’d buy advertising for TSB to help spread the word about our community, and have TSB promo material printed. I’d have a t-shirt designed and made and available for sale on the site. I’d love to negotiate partnerships with other websites and services, so a TSB membership could get you perks at another site or store. I have a lot of ideas floating around my head for TSB, and some fabulous suggestions from members that I’d love to see come to life, so most importantly if I had an unlimited budget I’d hire a research assistant or two to help figure out the best way to implement all these awesome ideas.