Ask Laura Rasmussen ’85 to describe her days as co-owner at 3 Kittens Needle Arts, a yarn and needlepoint store in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, and her focus is clear: “I’m all about the numbers,” she says. For fourteen years, Rasmussen has handled payroll, accounting, vendors, and all of the buying for the shop’s yarn department. And numbers show up in her nightly knitting sessions, too. “It’s a weird juxtaposition that floors people sometimes—a numbers person who’s also creative,” she says. “But people often don’t realize that there’s a lot of math involved in knitting and crochet, from simple counting to some algebraic-type equations that get thrown in as you move along. It’s one of the reasons why I think teaching kids how to knit and crochet is such a good idea: They’re practicing math at the same time.” We asked Rasmussen to share what else she’s learned as a small-business owner.

Follow your own path.

I tell my kids that everyone has their own path to lead, and theirs may not look like the one they expected. I majored in economics and history, and I thought that I would go into the corporate world. But I deferred my MBA and worked in marketing, then for a student loan guaranteeing organization, then for my husband’s small business for eighteen years. Then the opportunity to buy 3 Kittens happened. My eventual business partner said, “Are you interested?” and I said, “Probably not.” She said, “Do you want to meet?” Six months later, we owned the store. It was always a little bit of a dream to own a yarn store, but it wasn’t where I thought my life was going to go.

Try new things.

When our store was closed for in-person shopping early in the pandemic, I started doing Facebook Lives—at the beginning almost daily—because I just needed to get my products in front of people. I learned that on social media I could pull a skein of yarn out and explain why it’s my favorite yarn in a way that doesn’t happen when people are browsing websites. I was also part of organizing a Zoom yarn shop crawl with thirty-six stores across North America. People around the world joined in, and it brought new customers to all of us. Small-business owners have to constantly try new things. If it doesn’t work, then move on to something else.

Help each other.

Before we bought the store, my business partner and I talked with the owner of a Minneapolis yarn and needlepoint shop. I had known her for years, and we were upfront with her that we were thinking of buying 3 Kittens. And she talked with us, even though our businesses would be in direct competition. I was impressed by that. Since then, I’ve had people ask me about buying a yarn store, and I’ve tried to emulate her approach. Even though we’re all in competition with each other, it doesn’t mean we can’t work together—a rising tide lifts all boats. I think it’s very important to practice kindness in all aspects of running a small business: your customers, employees, vendors, and competition. It will pay off in the long run.

Navigate group work gracefully.

When I’m working with other yarn store owners, there’s a spectrum of scenarios—from a really collaborative effort to one strong personality who runs the whole thing. Some people are always going to volunteer for everything, and some want to be there for idea generation but not the grunt work. And that’s okay! You’ve got to let that go because otherwise, you can create tension and drama that’s just not worth it. But if it’s really, really bugging you: Get out of that collaboration.

Watch your numbers.

My biggest piece of advice to small-business owners is that the numbers matter. If your numbers don’t work, your business isn’t going to work. My son is a serial entrepreneur and recently started a business with a great idea, but the numbers just weren’t playing out, and he decided to close it. So many people, especially in creative industries, think that all they need is a good idea. But you’ve got to have the accounting to back that up.

January 25 2022

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