Stitching a hobby into a full-time career

For Nicole Snow, founder and CEO of Darn Good Yarn, every day brings a new business lesson and an opportunity to give back.

Published: March 29, 2018

By Nicole Snow (as told to Wells Fargo Works)

I fell into the yarn business very oddly. After separating from the U.S. Air Force, I had an imports business and decided that I wanted to learn how to knit. I ordered yarn from a co-op in Nepal and realized the power and empowerment the yarn possessed as a conduit for good.

If I could create a business that would provide a sustainable demand for the yarn, I could provide Indian and Nepalese women the chance to work safely by making yarn by hand. This population doesn’t necessarily have a voice in the global market and creating a sustainable economy, knowing that they can make yarn and put food on their table was motivation to work really hard and grow the company.

One of the first things I did when I started Darn Good Yarn in 2008 was build a basic e-commerce website, which made sense for two reasons: My husband’s job had us travel around a lot, so it was the only way for me to run the business. The other reason was scale. With a brick-and-mortar shop, we wouldn’t be able to do as well as we needed to in order to uphold the triple bottom line: people, profit, and planet. By utilizing e-commerce, we’ve been able to meet goals and double in growth every year we’ve been in business.

At its core, Darn Good Yarn’s story lies in all the components that make up what our yarn is. It’s not just something you can buy off the shelf. It’s the framework for a triple bottom line company. Our success is measured based on keeping our triple bottom line in check — we’re not just focused purely on profit and it’s a cool model that allows us to act very charitably by means of creating safe jobs and still run a sustainable business.

Growing like we have requires a lot of smart financial planning. Understanding the way money flows, how it’s supposed to work, and how much you should be investing is essential. My responsibility as a business owner is to make sure I keep enough cash on-hand to take care of the people we support. I worked with an accountant, a bookkeeper, and a certified financial planner. I didn’t want money management to overtake our mission.

Pricing is also an aspect of financial planning that can be overlooked, but by preplanning, looking at the competition, and stress testing your budget, you can easily avoid mistakes like that.

Being a small company, I’m very proud to offer my employees a pension plan, profit shares, and a regular 401(k). One of the earliest challenges for Darn Good Yarn was finding employees who were as excited about the business as I am and keeping them motivated. When you find the right employees and empower them, magic can happen.

Our current challenges now surround our global supply chain. If there’s a monsoon in India and we have shipments coming in, they can get held up or drenched by rain. Now that we live in a world of two-day shipping, it’s really not acceptable to have something be a week late. But we use those delays as opportunities to connect with our customers, tell our story, and educate in the face of adversity.

I try to stay authentic through the process of growing Darn Good Yarn and infusing the values I was brought up on — treat people the way you want to be treated; it’s really as simple as that.

Talking business with Darn Good Yarn

Here are five ways you can turn your passion into a career, according to Darn Good Yarn founder and CEO Nicole Snow.

  1. Mold your business around your mission.
  2. Prioritize financial literacy.
  3. Take care of your employees.
  4. Analyze your competition.
  5. Never stop learning.

All images courtesy of Darn Good Yarn.