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Change Maker: Lauren Dahl of Pattern Workshop

Ashley Hockney

| Jan 15, 2016

Lauren Dahl has always known the 9-5 wasn't for her, While successful in both marketing and real estate, Lauren started to feel that creative itch after the birth of her second child.

Starting a small business digitizing sewing patterns, a passion born out of her grandmother's fabric stash, Lauren started making a lucrative hourly rate. With more business than she could feasibly do, she looked for a new option. In 2014, she launched Pattern Workshop, an online PDF sewing pattern course, soon complimented by Baste & Gather, her blog for garment sewists.  

Here's how she did it:  

1. Tell us what you do in 2 sentences: 

My main business endeavor is Pattern Workshop where I teach aspiring (and existing) sewing pattern designers to digitally draft and profitably market their designs. I also design and sell my own sewing patterns and write a blog at Baste + Gather

2. At what point did you decide the traditional 9-5 office job wasn’t for you? 

I think I have always known this! Well, there was that time when I wanted to work at an ad agency on Madison Avenue. (What was I thinking?) I guess the real decision came after about 8 years of working in various corporate branding/marketing/advertising positions (and never staying at one longer than a year!). That was 2009. 

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3. What did you do next?  

I was lost for a while. I tried sewing and selling handmade bags at the local farmer’s market, but there was too much time investment (not to mention monotony) for so little return. I got a real estate license and went door-to-door asking people if I could sell their homes. (I was successful at this and was even a finalist for “Rookie of the Year” for my state’s professional real estate organization, but I found the work incredibly draining and not very creative.) I had my first child in 2011, and professional goals took a backseat. But after my second was born a couple years later, I started feeling the itch. 

I started a small business digitizing sewing patterns for clothing designers, and I had a lucrative hourly rate of $45/hour. However, there was only so much time in the day, and I had more business than I could feasibly do while taking care of a house and two babies. I had also been reading a lot about location independence, passive income and the Pareto Principal for managing one’s work activities. (Read: Four Hour Work Week.) While on vacation in 2014, my husband suggested that I create a course for designers to learn how to do it themselves. And that’s how Pattern Workshop was born.  

4. What was the hardest part? 

I’m the type of person who gets ideas in my head and gets REALLY excited to get started. I love brainstorming, writing outlines, pitching ideas and figuring out how I will grow things once they are off-the-ground. (I guess that comes from my experience as an account manager at an ad agency - it’s all about big ideas in that job, and then you hand off the real work to the creative department.) It’s motivating myself to actually do the work that comes hard. 

I did a pre-sale on my course to gauge interest, and I sold out within hours despite having a very small blog following and little-to-no name recognition. (I guess I sold myself well!) I gave myself a 6-week deadline in which to finish the material, so I think trudging through those weeks and feeling the pressure of that self-imposed deadline was the hardest. I knew it would never get done if I didn’t put myself in that position though. 

The other hard part was finding the time to make all the videos for my course. My 2-year-old daughter was already attending preschool three days a week at that time, and I put my 6-month-old son in part-time daycare as well in order to have time to complete the course videos. I had to make the most of every second I had without the kids, and I worked late into the night editing video and writing the rest of the materials. 

5. What has been the best part of running Pattern Workshop? 

There are so many great things about running Pattern Workshop. The most obvious is that I can be home with my kids and have the flexibility to just be Mommy when needed. (With that said, being a stay-at-home mom while running a business is also super challenging - especially now that I have three kids at home full-time!). 

The other great thing is that I get to help so many others pursue THEIR dreams of creating passive income from home. Many of my students are in the same position I was a few years ago - hoping to stop their full-time jobs or looking to supplement their family’s income while still taking care of the kids. Every time a student of mine releases a new sewing pattern for sale, I feel extremely gratified. 

And finally, a fabulous benefit is the income. When I launched Pattern Workshop, I thought maybe it would provide enough for a small fabric budget. I had no idea it would grow into a full-time income (with only a part-time effort). I now make more running my school and pattern business than I ever did working in marketing with a master’s degree.  

6. What are your plans for the future? 

I plan to expand and update my current content, offer more courses and refine my marketing plan. Currently, I work mostly by the seat of my pants out of necessity as my children are very young (4.5, 2.5 and 8 months) and hands-on. I’d also be happy just to kind of maintain things as they are.   

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7. How do you balance your business with being a mom?  

Good question. If someone figures this out, please let me know! Seriously though, it’s totally a balancing act. Everything is planned from the order I will feed and dress the kids in the morning to when I’ll put the evening’s dinner into the slow cooker each day. I wasn’t much of a planner before becoming a mom, but I’m totally regimented now out of absolute necessity. My husband always reminds me, “You are your own boss.” I have to repeat this over and over in my head and sometimes just let all the business activities go for a few days. Mommy (almost) always takes precedence. 

8. Do you have a favorite project from your blog?  

My favorite project from my blog is definitely my Birkin Flares jeans sewing pattern which I recently released. It’s interesting because although I teach pattern design, I don’t think I would be where I am in my pattern design business and blogging had I not developed my courses. I learn so much everyday from helping students and creating content, and I add that to my toolbox for creating my own patterns. 

9. What resources do you suggest for other people wanting to ditch their day job?  

I would recommend the Being Boss podcast and Facebook group and reading anything/everything by Seth Godin  and The Four-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris. I also love my Desire Map Planner by Danielle LaPorte for planning my busy days.  

10. What advice would you give to someone starting to generate income outside of a day job? 

Just get started. Really. It’s easy to get bogged down in reading books about entrepreneurship and planning to be one, so don’t make that mistake. Just start taking steps and trying things out. And don’t be afraid to fail a few times. That’s all just part of the process.

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Ashley Hockney is a Content Marketer & Writer. Her background is in food & beverage PR i.e. she wants to talk to you about single malts.