When Tonya Bush from Nana’s Crafty Home was growing up with four younger brothers, her mother enlisted the help of their neighbor and family friend, Dorthy, to teach Tonya how to crochet. And little did any of them know that Tonya would not only fall in love with crochet, but one day she’d take that lifelong passion and make a bustling career out of it entirely on her own.
Between making innovative designs for her children and grandkids, Tonya’s entrepreneurial spirit knew she had the talent and drive to take it far if she tried. And so, when the time came, she decided to bet on herself and leap into the unknown.
In Tonya’s words, “It was one of those moments where this is now, and if you don’t try, you’re going to regret it. I didn’t want to be looking back in 20 years and think, gosh, why didn’t I ever take that risk?”
And so she went for it, and her biggest piece of advice – don’t wait so long to follow your dreams!
Tonya not only figured out website design, SEO, and marketing on her own (which she doesn’t recommend ), but she left her career of a 9-5 job managing two family practices with the goal of replacing her income within 5 years. A decision her prior employer questioned and half-jokingly said, “we’ll see you in a year.”
But as these interviews prove time and again, when you’re pursuing your greatest passion, something you have a raw talent for, you tend to be even more magnetic as the tenacity and enthusiasm helps give you an outcome that’s even better than you expected.
Tonya is fun, bubbly, charismatic, and you can feel the passion behind her business as she talks about her creative ideas, the friendships she’s made within her industry, and her desire to help everyone else succeed by following their dreams too.
She believes that as long as we’re all following our dreams and pursuing our passions, there’s plenty of room for everyone to sit at the table.
From a little girl with four younger brothers to a wife, mother, grandmother, and employee to a successful small business owner, I hope you find Tonya’s story as motivating and inspirational as I did.
How did you first get started crocheting?
Tonya: I started over 40 years ago. So I’ve been crocheting for a long time. I had four younger brothers, so my mom, to help me escape the dinosaurs, He-Man, and GI Joe, wanted me to do something outside the home and learn something. We had a really good friend that lived down the street from us who we called Aunt Dorothy, and I would go over there every week and learn to crochet. She was a master seamstress, and she taught me how to sew and knit as well.
I kind of got away from it when I graduated from high school. I got married, had kids, then grandkids, and I was like, wow, I really enjoy crocheting, so I started making gifts, blankets, baby blankets, all that good stuff. And it blossomed into what I’m doing now. So it’s been a journey.
How long did it take for you to start experimenting and making your own patterns?
Tonya: I’m a rule follower, and I never designed anything until the very first pattern that I released on my blog, and I designed it a month before my website went live.
Never having designed anything, I went straight for apparel. I went right from zero to 360 miles per hour.
It was a plunge, but it’s been a real learning experience for me. I’ve learned a lot about design, I’ve taken many classes, and I’m always learning more about how I can improve my craft. I think that’s what we should always be doing, trying to learn new things. I had never done a website before, and I had never done any of those things. So everything was new all at the same time. So that was a little stressful.
What’s your favorite type of pattern to make?
Tonya: I tend to get quickly bored with doing the same thing over and over again. I don’t want to make the same thing more than once or twice. So this niche really fits my personality, but I tend to only want to design a certain type of thing once, and then I want to go onto something else.
I tend to go all over the place, but I gravitate towards making things for my grandkids. Also, I love to make fashion accessories for myself. I love fashion. I love bags. I love all that stuff.
So I kind of tend to gravitate toward designing those things. I like making works of art and blankets, tapestries, that type of thing, like telling a story. So those are the things I tend to gravitate toward, but I make all kinds.
What lead you to start a blog and selling your patterns?
Tonya: Well, I worked in customer service for 30 plus years. And then, for the last 15 years or so of my career, I managed two family practice clinics.
So I had a lot of computer experience. And I had a lot of experience working with people and building relationships. And I really felt like I wanted to do something for myself.
At the time, I was 46, and it was one of those moments where I always wanted to have my own business, and it’s like okay, either you do it, or you shut up about it. It was one of those moments where this is now, and if you don’t try, you’re going to regret it. I didn’t want to be looking back in 20 years and think, gosh, why didn’t I ever take that risk?
I worked full-time in my day job for the first year. And then doing this on the side is kind of funny because on the side is like 30 hours a week.
Getting your blog started, the domain, and learning SEO and all of the terminology behind all of it was like another language for me. It was hard that first year. It was really tough because you’re not really making any money, so you’re doing all this work, and you’re not seeing a lot of return or perceived return.
And after a year, my husband and I sat down, I’m like, I can’t do this anymore. I can’t keep doing a stressful job like that and then try to come home and still have a home life and still see the grandkids and still do all of those things. It was just too much. So he said “look, just quit. I want you to quit your job, and I want to support you while you’re doing this.”
Lauren: That’s incredible. I love that you said you’re not much of a gambler, but if you’re ever going to bet on something, bet on your passion because that’s probably what’s going to bring you success.
How did you start your business and what did that process look like from beginning to now?
Tonya: So I was actually kind of amazed at how inexpensive it was to start. By the time I went live, I had spent like $200 total. I was trying to keep things as inexpensive as possible in the beginning. Trying to do everything as manually as possible, not paying a lot of money on different things. But then I started taking classes, and that’s where I invested my money.
I took a class on blogging and different things that I knew I needed to learn about. My photos were horrendous in the beginning. I’m just going to throw that out there. So I took a photography course which was a game-changer for me to learn how to use my camera.
Those were probably the best things I did for my business, just constantly trying to learn as much as I could about the process. I knew nothing in the beginning, so I did a lot of things wrong, but you learn from those wrong things, right?
I don’t advocate people to do wrong things, but sometimes that wrong thing can help you learn how to do it the right way and once you’ve done it the wrong way, you’re like, I’m not doing that again. That first year, I learned so much about social media and how to cultivate that connection with people that I had learned throughout my customer service career. Making connections with individuals helped create a loyal following for me, particularly on Facebook.
You can get sucked down the rabbit hole of social media. But I learned that you could make connections with people. You respond to people, and I started doing Facebook lives, and I would have regulars who would show up and share my patterns. And they’d ould sign up for my newsletter and send me emails. Every single person who ever emailed me I would always respond to.
I’m big on relationships, networking with other people, learning from other people as much as possible, and creating relationships in the business, whether they’re your colleagues, people from Tailwind, or just people. Relationships matter.
How do you avoid burnout while wearing and maintaining so many hats?
Tonya: For me, it’s trying to disconnect. I have a set work time, but I do like to be somewhat flexible for family. If there are appointments or activity I want to participate in, I can work around that.
But for the most part, I have a designated work schedule. I try to spend as much time as possible disconnecting to have a normal life outside of social media. And outside all of the business stuff.
And I do things for myself too like spending time with my mom, sister, family, and grandkids, just enjoying that time and trying to forget.
It’s hard, though because there’s always stuff going on in the background as a business owner. It can be difficult to put that barrier between our personal and work life. But I do think it’s crucial.
I could be working 24-7 and still have things to do. There’s always something.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Tonya: Probably started sooner. I wish I had done this like five years earlier.
I would say the biggest thing would be not to get discouraged by the mistakes. You’re not going to do things perfectly, especially at the beginning. I mean, even now, I’ve been doing this for four years, and I still do things wrong.
But if we get lost in the weeds of constantly regretting things that we’ve done in the past, we’re never going to be looking toward the future.
My biggest advice would be to learn as much as you can. Knowledge in your base, in your craft, whatever it is that you’re doing, whether you’re a food blogger or whatever, taking classes, investing your time and energy in learning how to make yourself better, even self-help.
Learn how to be encouraged by the things that are going on in your life. I think that’s really probably the best thing that you can do for your business to be knowledgeable and learn.
What do you like most about owning your own business?
Tonya: I love the flexibility of it. We touched on that before, too, working around my family’s schedule, spending time with my grandkids, fitting those things in that are important to me.
From a personal standpoint, knowing that my success or failure is entirely dependent on me. I don’t get to blame anybody else for what happens. The harder I work, the more I do, the better I do, it’s all because of what I’m doing, and that is really empowering. There’s a lot of confidence-building in that, and I think when you start seeing the results of your labors, there’s so much confidence that you can gain from seeing those positive results, like wow, I’m making money doing this, I’m doing something that I’ve never done before. I took my passion, and I’m making money with it.
What advice would you give to someone starting a B2C business?
Tonya: I would say find others that are doing what you’re doing and make connections. This business can be isolating. We sit at a computer, I’m at home with my dog and my cat every day. I only know one other person personally that does this for a living.
It’s difficult because we’re used to having those conversations with people in social settings. You talk about what you do at work, and you can bounce things off of others because even if they’re not doing exactly what you’re doing, it’s similar enough that you can have a conversation. Most people look at me with this quizzical look on their face like, you do what now? You make money doing that? Someone pays you to do that?
One of the best things I did at the beginning was finding other crochet pattern designers in groups that do what I do. They design patterns, blog, sell patterns, do all of those things, and so you feel like you can have a conversation with them, ask questions, and get their opinion. You’re able to build relationships with people who are in a similar niche and spend time really picking each other’s brains about becoming successful at what you’re doing.
From a business perspective, what made you decide to use Tailwind?
Tonya: So remember I talked about how cheap I wanted to go initially, and how that can be your detriment? Honestly, I resisted Tailwind for the first year of my business, and I was manually pinning on Pinterest every day.
It was insane. I would set my timer, and because I didn’t want to do like 30 pins at once, I would do five in the morning, ten in the afternoon, and then again in the evening. But I was spending way too much time doing that, and a lot of people in my crochet group talked about Tailwind and how much it had helped them. And they were networking a lot with the communities that Tailwind had, and I thought, wow maybe this is something I need to do. I need to figure out a way to free up more of my time, so I’m not wasting it.
Tailwind was an instant game-changer. I was like, what did I wait for? The ability to schedule out pins, pin to multiple boards. One of the things I couldn’t figure out, in the beginning, was why I couldn’t get any of the other crochet pattern designers to follow me on Pinterest? My Pinterest account was growing, but it was usually individual people, three, five, ten followers, whatever. But I kept wondering where all the crochet pattern designers were? None were following me, and they don’t pin any of my stuff.
Well,, it’s because they were all in the Tailwind tribes, and they would only pin from Tailwind. So if you weren’t in Tailwind, they didn’t see your stuff, and it was like you didn’t exist to them because your pins weren’t where they were looking.
And that was like a game-changer, because then well-known designers who had been established were now pinning my things, and they were pinning them to these larger boards that had tons of followers. Some of these designers had a million followers, and that really grew my account too.
I really started gaining a lot more followers when I went to Tailwind because my pins were being seen by a lot more people.
What’s your favorite Tailwind feature and why?
Tonya: Oh, definitely Create. That was a complete game-changer for me. I am not a graphic designer.
That was probably one of the worst things for me was trying to figure out what a good pin looked like. When that create feature came out, it was like the sky opened, the sun shone. I was like, where has this been all my life?
I started using it immediately, and it was so fast and easy. I could download the pin I wanted, send it to my communities for them to access, and schedule it all simultaneously.
From that standpoint alone,, I think Tailwind is worth it just for the Create feature because I spend so much less time worrying about my Pinterest pins and the design aspect is just so easy.
My biggest trouble now is which pin to pick. There’s all these choices, and you can arrange the photos differently and everything, so oh my gosh, which one am I going to pick?
What’s next for Nana’s Crafty Home?
Tonya: The sky’s the limit. I’ve had some great things happen over the last year with my business. Two of my designs have been featured on the front cover of a magazine. So that brought me a lot of exposure and more into mainstream media, which has been awesome.
And because of that relationship with them, it blossomed into their social media manager reaching out to me, so now I’m doing a Facebook live tutorial for them every month, and that’s helping me reach a lot more people.
So I’m really just hoping that I continue to have those opportunities to show what I do and teach people. That’s really my passion to teach people who want to learn more about crochet and to find them wherever they might be.
Where you can find Tonya Bush from Nana’s Crafty Home
I hope you all found Tonya as inspiring as I did.