Friday, April 22, 2011

Quit Your Day Job: Roslyn's Closet

Describe your Etsy Shops and the inspiration behind them.
Roslyn’s Closet was my very first Etsy shop, which I started in October of 2006. I began by using my own illustrations as designs for bodysuits and toddler tees. My shop has changed a lot over the years as I've tried out different products and designs. Now I just keep my bestsellers in this shop, as I've turned most of my focus to my other Etsy shop, I SPOT YOU.

Bunkleberry Studios began in 2007 because I wanted a different outlet for my creativity. It started out as a inspirational card shop, but then I began incorporating custom metal stamped necklaces, earrings, and canvas totes as well.

After several years with Roslyn’s Closet, I began to notice an interest in personalized clothing for children, and I wanted to give my customers more options. I SPOT YOU allows my customers to create their very own tee or bodysuit. Out of my three shops, I SPOT YOU has grown the fastest and requires most of my time and energy.

Tell us about your previous working situation and how you discovered Etsy.
I began teaching elementary school right out of college. I absolutely loved it. After five years of teaching, my hubby and I found out we were preggers with our first baby, while simultaneously moving across the country. When we settled in, I just loved being home with my baby girl, Roslyn. I realized right then and there that I needed to do something from home; "Roslyn’s Closet" was born shortly thereafter.

I started small, creating designs from my drawings. I was making a little money, but mostly I was just covering my costs (not to mention all the debt I accrued from my start-up costs). I was so excited to find Etsy. I immediately opened a shop for Roslyn’s Closet and listed my first 10 items that very night. Sales started coming in every so often, and then they started happening daily.

How did you prepare to transition into full-time Etsy selling?
I did a whole lot of research before I even started my business. There is so much information out there, and I am thankful for of all the resources I found online to help me start up my business. I tested out different suppliers of clothing and materials before I began. I also did several craft fairs and shows, which helped me see that other people were truly excited and interested in my products. All of those experiences helped me move forward.

What are your best marketing tips?
I am actually trying to learn more about marketing. I have business Facebook pages and blogs for Roslyn’s Closet and I SPOT YOU, and I started tweeting as well. Thankfully, I have some of the best customers, and they tell their friends, and their friends tell their friends — you get the picture.

Have any of your shoppers contacted you with photos of your designs on their little ones?
Yes! It truly makes my day when I see a photo of a child wearing one of my products. Many customers will email me directly with a picture and a sweet little thank you. I love that my clothing can be a part of special occasions in other people’s lives.

What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
I think any kind of promotion is helpful. I am frequently contacted by bloggers to do giveaways or a write up review about my products. I’ve become choosy as to what blogs I would like to use for promotion, since I want it to be successful for both the blog and myself.

Do you have any business regrets?
I have learned so much over the past five years, and I've definitely made some business mistakes that I regret.
I spent way too much money on shipping supplies and services for the first two years. I now have a much more cost-effective way to ship my clothing. I also struggle with the amount of inventory to keep on hand. Although I am getting better at keeping up with it, I sometimes fall short and it can be so frustrating. Last, but not least, I have trouble saying yes when I should have said no — I'm always taking on too much.

What is the biggest challenge you face during your daily schedule?
I am a wife and mother first, so that requires a lot of flexibility. There are times when I am ready to be super productive and get a ton of orders printed and shipped off, and then something changes in an instant and I have to put it on hold until that evening or the next day. I am a bit of a perfectionist, so I sometimes struggle with what I think I should be able to accomplish vs. what I actually can accomplish.

What's the hardest part about running your own business?
Time! I wish I could learn to manage my time more effectively. Since I work from home, it's very easy to feel distracted. Now that my children are in school I am able to really dedicate time to my work during the day.

What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
I absolutely love being my own boss. I love the flexibility and the comfort of working in my own home. I love that I am able to take and pick up my children from school. However, I do miss the daily adult interaction you find in a workplace. I loved my teacher friends and just being able to talk to another peer. I also miss the amazing children I got to teach each year. Teaching truly was a rewarding job, and I got to experience some amazing moments that I will never forget.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself or someone considering a similar path knowing what you know now?

  • Try to keep paperwork and receipts organized, especially when it comes time for quarterly taxes.
  • Make your workspace a place you love. My office is in our downstairs basement and we are working on decorating it and making it a more comfortable atmosphere for me.
  • Research and learn as much about your products as you can.
  • Understand that having your own business is not easy, but it is all worth it because it belongs to you!
  • Thank your customers after every order and treat them the way you would like to be treated. Customer service is so important!

Thanks for sharing your story, Jodi. Check out her pieces in the Seller's Items below.

Previous Quit Your Day Job posts

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Quit Your Day Job: Oh Dier

Tell us about the inspiration behind your shop name, "Oh Dier."
Oh Dier really began with the logo, which we wanted to reflect our Midwestern roots; we have great design and great work ethic here. We love how Minnesota embraces both great design and the “simple life” of cabin living. The logo also comes from how much we worry, like the colloquialism “oh dear!” The alternate “deer” spelling is Dutch and part of William’s heritage.

Tell us about your previous working situation and how you discovered Etsy.
I worked as an architectural designer for a small firm, but it seemed like every time I sketched a house or worked on a project, I found sketches in the margins of products I wanted to make. I was always telling Katie, “I should make this or that,” and finally, I just started doing it. At first it was just on the side — gifts for friends or participating in an art crawl in our neighborhood. Gradually it started taking over my thoughts. It was only a matter of time before I started wanting an outlet to sell my work. Etsy was my first stop.

I’ve told people that Katie is the best PR person and I bounce ideas off her all the time. She helps me craft communications, think up new strategies and talk about what’s popular in the style world (she’s a style editor). She still works and loves her day job. She helps in the evenings with correspondence, packaging, thank yous, and other administrative details.

Did you do anything to prepare for transitioning into full-time Etsy selling?
The biggest thing that helped us get going was (perhaps counterintuitively) continuing to work as an architectural designer. While keeping my day job I could focus my off-hours on building the foundation of our business: shop aesthetic, products, understanding e-commerce. Once the foundation was set, I could leave and have something stable to build from.

If I had just leapt off without a nest egg or a true understanding of how to run a shop when I first started in 2008, we would have struggled. Having a safety net allows you to continue to design and create out of passion, rather than necessity or fear. For the final jump, we calculated how many sales we would need per day to equal the amount of pay I took home —not just my paycheck, but benefits like health care, 401K, etc. Once we consistently hit that mark we dove in. There may have been a few scared screams on the way in!

What are your best marketing tips?
One of the great things about being on Etsy is that we have a community and a company that does so much promotion for its shops. Crafters and artists are being seen as legitimate business people, especially after The New York Times and NPR started reporting on it. But you can’t just rely on that:

  • You need to have a brand and make your shop look good. We wanted a feel that would reach several different audiences, so we had to strike the balance with product choice, copywriting, and photography, without sacrificing our products, standards, or design viewpoint. An esteemed web professional recently mentioned at a nationwide web conference that she loved our shop because it embodied and exuded a philosophy that made her want to buy, based on her experience with it.
  • We participated in Black Friday sales, which provided a huge increase in business.
  • Other things we do: Facebook, Twitter, coupons, and charitable donations that send people our way.
  • Great packaging and customer service also counts in this category. It all takes more time, but it’s worth it!

What's been your most popular item or line to date?
Hello and Holla are quite popular, but they all seem to go through their own phase.

What's been your most memorable custom request?
Our most memorable request was “mother******,” cut in script font “to keep that feminine touch,” then spraypainted gold. We loved that one!

What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion? Have you made any business mistakes you regret?

  • The silhouette line hasn't been as successful as we thought it would be. They look beautiful in person, but they are extremely difficult to photograph. With an online shop where you can’t see in 3-D, touch, taste, or smell a product, you MUST have good photos. We love the silhouettes, but we have had to rethink how to market them.
  • There are people on the internet that can and will take advantage of artists with requests for free items. Carefully evaluate who you partner with so that you also get something out of the partnership. That said, exposure is great, and showing up one place spreads to showing up other places. You never know where you’ll be noticed.
  • Before we rolled out the rebranding of our Oh Dier shop, we should have coordinated rolling out new items we have been bouncing around for ages. So rather than a big blitz, it’s been more of a slow burn.

What is the biggest challenge you face during your daily schedule?
The biggest challenge is the amount of time that goes into custom work and correspondence. It’s shocking how many emails you have to respond to in a very timely matter. The internet makes users and buyers want immediacy, like their experience with Amazon or Zappos. However, we’re a small shop making everything by hand. It’s worth the time we spend because we have received great feedback and return customers based on our service. Plus, we pride ourselves on our “Minnesota Nice." We want everyone to feel good about the purchase they are making.

What's the hardest part about running your own business?
As with any creative industry, you need to collaborate and get outside inspiration. Being on your own means you miss that daily collaboration. While we have multiple years of design experience between us, we’re also making financial decisions, dealing with shipping and inventory, and designing all the products. And we’re balancing the Amazon/Zappos mentality of a buyer (immediacy, fast shipping, quick turnaround) with the reality of the slow-craft handmade movement (working as fast as we can, but we’re not a factory!). It’s a delicate balance.

What are the advantages and challenges of working with your significant other?
We are on the same page about the shop, its evolution, marketing: pretty much everything. We do have different working styles, which can cause conflict. William obviously takes the lead, so sometimes there’s a little bit of a power balance we need to manage.

Other advantages:

  • The immediacy of being able to talk shop together; we can be vulnerable and have complete trust.
  • We have a shared passion for good design.
  • We are the very best of friends.
  • We have the same kind of vocabulary but different perspectives. Katie is out in shops and looking at retail all the time; I come from the studio design world. It’s a good partnership.

The negative is that sometimes we forget we’re more than just business partners.

What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
Quit Your Day Job is kind of a misnomer. The shop has become a 24-hour job. It’s always here and there are always things to do. Our commutes were wearing on us, our dog has special needs, and the lack of free time was taking its toll. This opportunity has given us a lot more time together, although sometimes we are just working.

I miss being around different people, getting input and mentoring from coworkers. Day jobs do offer structure: I frequently forget to eat lunch. Time just flies because there's so much to do and you become so engrossed in what you’re doing.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself or someone considering a similar path?
I always thought I would retire, then pursue something like this — open up a store and sell curiosities. But it got to where I was so busy, Katie started helping me. And then we were busy enough with just the two of us that the question was asked: What if William didn’t have to wait for retirement? Why does that have to be a far-off goal?

That said, we grew organically to get there. We hoarded money. Knowing you have a little safety net is really necessary. If you have a day job now, stay with it as long as you can to provide a good nest egg. Then you don’t have to push the panic button in that first year and you can stay true to your shop. When you’re working alone it’s stressful enough, and if the sales don’t immediately come flying in, you can feel like a failure pretty quickly. But a nest egg lets you know you’re going to be OK and allows you to stay true to design work and your brand. You can follow some trends, but as Portlandia’s Put a Bird on it cleverly parodies, you have to be authentic. You want respect with the paycheck. Try to keep a low overhead as long as possible. Get crafty!

What goals do you have in store for the future of your business?

We have quite a few:

  • We’d love to form relationships with interior designers. They have ideas, we have ideas, it makes sense to meet up and let us create things for their clients.
  • Widening and protecting our brand. We’re seeing a lot of duplicates these days.
  • Collaborate with other artists and have guest-inspired works.
  • Partner with major retailer on some design work; we have done this before, but we would love to broaden our reach while still remaining a strong handmade presence.
  • We have a large collection of interests that lead us to new things on a weekly, sometimes daily, quest. While this is a challenge in a business sense, it is also a great benefit because each of my crafts allow a slightly different view of the world and many times one will inspire another. I’m sure we’ll be working in other mediums as time goes on.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

  • William: I believe Bob Dylan once said, “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” This is truly how I see my life now. Yes, there is a lot of stress, but with that responsibility comes great joy.
  • Katie: Don’t be ashamed that what you do is “craft.” It’s just as solid as any either piece of business, if not more. Don’t devalue what you’re doing, mentally or financially.

There’s something very fulfilling about alternatives to big box shopping. We love being a venue that allows the money to go straight to the people who make it, rather than companies that don’t pay fair wages to their employees. Plus there’s something so powerful about owning something honestly made by hand. We love what we do, and if we can do it, so can you!

Thanks to both William and Katie for sharing their story. You can see some of their work in the Seller's Items below.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Shop Makeover: Creating a Brand Identity for Your Shop

In addition to writing a fantastic small business blog calledMakery, Sarah Stearns is a marketing coach and web designer based in the great city of Louisville. She works with small businesses to build their brand, engage their customers and increase their bottom line. Sarah enjoys playing Frisbee, eating chocolate chips, and encouraging small business success stories.

For most people, the term “brand identity” conjures images of multi-national companies and shiny corporate logos. But branding isn’t a marketing strategy that only the big boys should use. Even the smallest of businesses can benefit from a strong brand image.

But what is a brand? It's the promise that a shop makes to its customers. Your brand tells your customers what they can expect from your products and what differentiates your products from your competitors’. Simply put, your brand is a combination of the image you are trying to project for your business, plus the associations and memories that your customers bring to the table when they encounter that image.

What does your brand promise? What expectations does your customer have for your shop? Are you the innovator, offering cutting edge products? Are you the eco-friendly business that promises a commitment to renewable materials? Do you promise low-cost, high-value items, an intriguing story, or the friendliest customer service? Consistency is key. When you meet your customer’s expectations, you are keeping your brand’s promise. If your customers’ expectations aren’t met, they won’t make repeat purchases or recommend your products to their friends.

Circa Ceramics is an excellent example of branding in action. This shop's logo, font, and tone of voice support their brand image: functionality, color, and fun.

Our job, as business owners, is to capture what is special about our products and communicate that unique selling position to our target audience with uncompromising consistency.

Download Sarah's free Unique Selling Proposition worksheet

Defining Your Brand

Discovering your brand identity is a process of business-minded self-discovery.

Try asking yourself these questions:
1. What are your shop’s values?
2. What are the unique features and benefits of your products? Why should a customer choose you over another company?
3. Who is your target market? And what do your existing customers already think of your shop?
4. What do you want your customers to associate with your shop? What are the emotional, somewhat intangible attributes that your customers can experience and identify with?

Little Sapling Toys: This shop's visual aesthetic and written communication (especially their awesome profile) support their brand's image: modern, natural, organic, and sustainable. Their brand values are showcased in recycled packaging and participation in their local green power program.

Get the Word Out: Consistent Brand Communication

Once you’ve defined your brand, try these simple tips to communicate your brand to your customers during each part of a sale.

Before the Sale

  1. Get a great logo. Visual design is an important part of brand identity. Choose fonts and colors that evoke your brand.
  2. Design marketing materials with your brand in mind. Your business cards, banner ads and promotional postcards should have a visual aesthetic that supports the image you hope to achieve for your brand. Use the same color scheme, logo placement and fonts. Your designs don’t need to be fancy, just consistent.
  3. Integrate your brand image across your social media profiles. For example, match your Twitter background and Facebook fan page to your shop’s banner.

During the Sale

  1. Write item descriptions with a tone of voice that reflects your brand’s personality.
  2. Tell the story behind your product and how it relates to your brand values.
  3. Use your photo background and props to help convey your shop’s identity to your target customers.

After the Sale

  1. Design your packaging to be consistent with your brand’s personality. A well-packaged item will impress your buyers, turning fans into loyal, repeat customers. And don’t forget that your stamp, sticker, or label is an opportunity to remind your customers of your brand name and shop URL.
  2. Branding extends to every aspect of your business, especially customer service activities like answering follow-up emails, shipping, and issuing refunds. As a business owner, you have a great opportunity to build your brand during customer service activities where you have the (rare) full attention of your customer.

Allen Company Inc: This shop's pristine photography, focused product line, and artfully-displayed items support a strong visual brand image.

A strong brand can be a company’s most valued asset. Brands are based on a promise and built through consistent customer experience. Each customer interaction is an opportunity that can make or break the customer’s relationship with the brand.

When you develop a consistent brand image, your target customers will invest emotionally in your business, become loyal to it, and be your biggest advocates.

This is the first in a new 4-week series of blog posts to give your Etsy shop a makeover for the new year! The first Shop Makeover newsletter will go out January 11, 2011. Make sure you're on the Etsy Success mailing list to get all the details.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Berkley Illustration Takes It Back to the Drawing Board