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Success Stories ~ Convivial Production

Chentell of Convivial Productions was so nice to sit down with me and share her success story. You’ll love her determination and advice.

Can you take us on the journey of your creative career path so far?

I was born and raised on Maui, the most charming of the Hawaiian islands. It was here, nine years ago (so crazy to say that I have been developing a skill for 9 years!), that I took my first ceramics course as a high school freshman. My oldest and only sister at the time was in the class, so I automatically considered it “cool” and signed up. My teacher took immediate interest in my work and encouraged me to continue developing my ideas through numerous independent studio courses. Looking back I think this is where I learned to set my own artistic goals and how to develop projects functionally and conceptually. I took a class every year and approaching graduation I was sure I wanted to continue my education as an artist. It’s interesting because people always speak of my work as if it was a hobby that magically developed into a business, but this is far from the truth. I always knew I would create a career as an artist and looking back I think this assurance is what enabled me to move forward with such direction. Continuing with the timeline, post high school graduation I attended Wheaton College, a small liberal arts school in the suburbs of Chicago. I entered as a Interdisciplinary Major in Community Art, Urban Studies, and Ceramics and that is exactly how I left. I loved what I was studying and the more years that went by the more my dedication grew. Approaching graduation I began developing business ideas, strategizing how I was going to build opportunities for myself and get involved with which ever community I landed in. This leads me to my transition from Chicago to Kansas City, a decision I am so grateful I made. Never would I have imagined myself living in KC. I am honestly not sure I knew it existed prior to my college days, but none the less I am finding more each day that this city is exactly what I needed in order to begin my work and to begin it this soon in my life. Summing up the rest of a long story, which I will get into more below, I began Convivial Production a few months after moving to KC, officially establish in 2014, and I work consistently each day to further the work and the company, moving it towards all that I know it can be.

Hexagon Ring Dish

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome so far in your business?

I will be brutally honest here, because this has been a thought I’ve found hard to escape. My biggest challenge, putting aside the never ending question of “where did all my inventory just go?”, has been coming to the realization that most people, when they hear of the “success” or I think I’d prefer to say, the opportunities that I am being presented with, they are not genuinely happy for me. I can see it in peoples eyes, their body language, and the change in the tone of their voice. Realizing this has been truly disappointing and it has changed the way I interact and speak with most friends. It’s a hard line to walk – wanting so bad to share good news while trying to discern when I need to reserve information in order to care for others. I’m not sure I’ve figured out how to navigate this jet yet, but I’m working on it.

What has been the biggest ‘fist-pump’/successful moment for you so far?

I think the coolest part of this experience has been the timing. Like previously mentioned, I always saw my work as a career, but I am not sure I ever considered a timeline. SO I would say my biggest ‘fist-pump’ moment has been realizing that within a year of graduating college I am running a full-time business and am being contacted by companies that I’ve admired growing up. West Elm, Urban Outfitters, you guys rock! Pound it.

Ivory Fruit Bowl

Do you ever have doubts as to your future creative direction? Are there things you yearn to achieve, but haven’t yet found the time for?

Oh time, don’t get me started on time! Yes and yes. I wouldn’t say doubts, but definitely questions. I have a ton of questions. And time… there is not enough! My “dream job,” beyond what I am doing now, is to just be the designer of CP. Have an idea, make it, and provide jobs for others to recreate it. That’s my future solution for finding time to do things I yearn to achieve. Delegate and invite others to join the company.

Are there times when your creativity and inspiration seem to disappear? How do you handle that?

Yeah I have experienced this. I find that it is usually when I transition to a new space. There is something about being in the groove that keeps ideas turning, working day after day, one project to the next. It seems to just flow. But when I move somewhere new and try to do the same designs it never feels right. Typically I just know this means it time for new work and I start fresh. For inspiration, I tell this to a lot of creatives, never look on the internet! Never use pintrest. I’ll say it again…NEVER!. The reality is, nothing you make after looking there will ever be original, and honestly you’ll probably feel defeated after anyways because you’ll feel as if everything has already been done. What I typically do when I need new inspiration is walk nearby streets or take a drive through the city. Something about this feels more authentic and it sparks new ideas.

Rustic Hexagon Mugs

How do you balance your work with the rest of your life ~ what does a typical day in your life look like?

Yikes. I don’t know! A book I recently read about a young entrepreneur described the main character as a “one girl assembly line.” This made me laugh and honestly it almost caused me to tear up a bit. I can relate! It’s so difficult to do or think about anything else when starting a new venture, especially when all the company’s responsibilities seem to be your personal responsibilities. Most days I am up at six am starting production and I don’t fall into bed until midnight. Each day is packed with it’s own deadlines and tomorrow’s tasks never seems to relent. This is something I am really thinking through for the future. For now I am okay with the fact that I work 18 hour days, but I know this will not be a sustainable schedule in the long-run. For now my mindset is to work my hardest, get all that needs to be done done, know when a priority arises that is not work related, be willing to stop and sacrifice for whatever it is, and work thoughtfully on making a sustainable plan for the future.

What has been the best marketing move you’ve ever made for your own business?

“Say ‘YES’ to every opportunity.” These words have been ringing through my ears for the past year. Leah Samuelson, a dear professor of mine at Wheaton said this within one of her final lectures to our class, and I truly took her words and put them into practice. For the past year every opportunity, without much investigation, thought, or contemplation, I have quickly said “yes, of course, lets do it.” This is my first thought. My second is that in all I have done, I have been very specific about the aesthetics, display, photography, brand, and quality of my work. When people see the work I want them to be inspired not only my the product, but how they can use it with their personal space.

Slender Ivory Vase

What is one piece of advice you’d like to give fellow makers about running a successful creative business?

Don’t look obsessively at other people’s work. Don’t be discouraged that others are “ahead” of you. Be confident in your unique perspective and trust that if you give yourself space to think and create aside from all that the world is throwing at you, you will make work that is true and unique.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

Taking a long vacation! Kidding. In five years I plan on having a full time production and customer service staff that allows for me to focus specifically on designing new lines of work. Can’t wait!

You can find Convivial Production online:

Etsy – Convivial Production

Instagram – @convivialproduction

Facebook – Convivial Production

C&T Recommended Reads ~ Week 47, 2014

From Megan:

From Jess:

Stop Focussing on How Many Sales You’ve Made & Start Focussing on What Actually Matters

 

 

 

 

When you’re starting out selling your craft online, every single sale gives you a thrill.

Actually – every single sale still gives me a thrill, and I’ve been at this for over 6 years now! Celebrating each and every sale (even if that celebration is limited to a little internal shout of ‘woohoo’) is an awesome thing. You should never lose that thrill – it’s part of the joy of business.

That said… there is a really unhelpful metric out there when it comes to measuring the ‘success’ of one shop or business over another.

That metric is the number of sales a shop has made.

It’s an easy trap to fall into – especially when you start comparing the progress of your business to other people’s businesses. Most online selling venues (Etsy, Madeit, etc.) have the number of sales listed for public view. That is a great thing… for potential customers. It is a figure that gives the customer a quick measure of how long that shop has been in business, and how many other customers they have dealt with.

What it is NOT a good measure of is the financial success of that shop.

Now, I’m the first to argue that success isn’t just about the money side of things – but it is obviously a vital part of being in business. If you’re running a business, you’re doing it to make money, and that’s something you need to keep in mind every day.

But, when you start comparing how well you are doing with others based upon the number of sales you’ve made versus the number of sales they’ve made, you need to take a deep breath, step back, and start being more analytical about it.

If we get down to the bottom line, then the success or otherwise of a business comes down to… the bottom line.

That is: the revenue and profit that the business is making.

And there is no real way you can tell how much profit a business is making based upon their number of sales.

 

Let’s look at my Etsy shop as example.

As I write this post, I have made a total of 1,895 sales since I opened in October 2008.

That’s great – it tells my potential customers that I’ve been around for quite a long time (in the world of online sales, anyway) and that I’ve dealt with almost two-thousand customers through my Etsy shop in that time.

Now – let’s take a moment to clarify that my Etsy shop is only part of my business. I have my own website, and I’ve also had shops on many other online venues over the years, not to mention wholesale and market sales over those years. That’s the first part of realising that my Etsy numbers are only part of my business story. So – realise that when you look at one venue that a business sells on, chances are high that they are making sales in other places too.

Putting that aside, let’s go back to my ‘number of sales’.

Last year (2013) I made a total of 328 sales in my Etsy shop.

This year, as of writing (on the 18th of November, 2014) I have made a total of 380 sales in my Etsy shop. I’m guessing that will top out at over 400 by the end of the year.

Now – if you just look at those numbers, you might think ‘oh, she’s made some good progress growing her business, but it’s not a massive amount’.

However, what you don’t see by looking at those numbers is the difference in the revenue.

I may have only made an extra 52 sales, but I’ve made an almost 50% increase in revenue in my Etsy shop in 2014 compared to 2013.

Why? Because not only are my prices higher (I put the prices on my wedding rings up in November 2013, the reasons for which you can read about here) BUT I’ve also sold many more wedding rings than other pieces of jewellery – and they have a much higher price-point.

By that measure, 2014 has been vastly more financially successful than 2013 – even though the difference in the number of sales isn’t drastically different.

Let’s do a quick hypothetical comparison to clarify my point.

Say you compare my store with another store that sells scrabble tile pendants.

After a quick browse of the first few pages of results on Etsy, I’m going to say a mid-range price for a scrabble tile pendant necklace is around $7 (which is just ridiculously low, but that’s a rant for another day).

If a shop selling scrabble tile pendants at $7 per sale had made in the ballpark of the revenue I’ve made in my Etsy shop this year, they would have to make quite a bit over 5,000 sales in 2014.

Me – 380 sales.

Them – way over 5,000 sales.

To make a similar amount of revenue.

This is why you need to stop using ‘number of sales’ as a measure of the success of a shop.

Just for a minute, think about how much more work those 5,000 scrabble tile orders would be in the admin and packing side of things.

Communicating with 5,000 customers versus 380. Packing 5,000 orders versus 380. Sure – the product might be quick and easy to make compared to mine, but product crafting is only part of the work you do for each and every order.

Quite a difference, eh?

So, the next time you look at a shop and lament on ‘how many more sales they’ve made than me’, make sure to take a moment to consider what I’ve talked about today.

 

If you must compare, ask yourself:

What’s their average price per sale?

 

That will give you a much better idea of their bottom line – and therefore, how much money they are actually making… which is a much more accurate measure of ‘success’ than number of items sold.

 

AND – it is a question to ask yourself over and over again to ensure you’re not under-selling yourself.

Imagine – if you doubled your prices and halved your ‘number of sales’ – you’re still making the same amount of money… with half the work.

Food for thought, hmm?

5 Things Bloggers Look for When Choosing Work to Feature

 

 

 

 

Ever wondered how you get your fabulous designs/handcraft/artwork featured on blogs? How come you see some makers/artists get their work featured in lots of places all the time? How do they do that?

Or are you even unsure of why you would want to have your work featured – surely the fact that you’ve got an online shop and people can find you with just a few clicks is enough? Ha! The obvious answer is that unless you get yourself out there, nobody knows you even exist…

There are MAJOR benefits to having your work featured, because there are so many other things competing for your customer’s attention. Having your work featured by bloggers regularly can be a huge boost to your business in terms of visibility.

Getting a feature means that not only do potential customers see your work on those blogs, but if they like your work enough, they might also share it on their social media, such as Pinterest and Facebook. And that snowballs. The more places the better I say! Best of all, getting your work featured on blogs is most often free.

So, after featuring hundreds of artists over the past (almost) three years of blogging, and being disappointed many times by great work with poor photos and/or information, I thought it would be useful to write a post on what bloggers really look for.

The number 1 thing is to create beautiful, shareable images. Now of course, that means you have to have great photos of your work – but it’s not the only thing.

 

1. YOUR PRODUCTS have to be excellent.

Good design and good craftsmanship are the foundation of your business. A good photograph can help sell your product, but it still has to be an honest representation. You don’t want your customer to be disappointed when they open your package, do you? Think quality, always.

Bloggers also value originality. When your work has a particular style that is unmistakable, that’s fantastic. It makes it easy for the blogger to pick a group of work and write a cohesive post about you. When your work and your images look like a mixed lunch, that makes it a whole lot harder for them. And when your work and your presentation look like a hundred other shops, well, they might just move onto something more interesting.

 

2. YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS are the real clincher.

(You knew I’d get to them, didn’t you!?) When it’s online, it is visual impact first and foremost that you should be thinking about, and your image needs to be beautiful in order to compete.

It really should go without saying that your product photographs need to be crisply focused and in good light. The styling of your product images needs to be consistent too – this doesn’t mean that all products need to be photographed on exactly the same background at the same angle. You could for instance, have a “family” of backgrounds (perhaps 3 – 5) which work together in terms of colour and props.

Create & Thrive has some EXCELLENT tips on getting your photos looking fabulous with the Create & Thrive Product Photography e-book.

Another thing that makes me cringe is large, obvious watermarks on your images – especially ones that slash right across the centre of your pic. I won’t feature your work, no matter how beautiful it is.

I completely understand that it’s important to state your ownership for some things (especially photographers’ images), but you can still get your message across with a smaller, softer watermark in the corner of your image. Wouldn’t you rather receive a heap of publicity for your fabulous work, instead of it languishing alone in your shop? You need to realise too that a watermark is an inconvenience, and not a permanent deterrent to stealing your images/ideas. If you are really worried about people copying your work (and remember that 99.9% of population don’t!), don’t put it out there at all.

 

3. YOUR DESCRIPTIONS might not be as important as your images for convincing bloggers to feature your work, but if you can tell a good story about your pieces, it most certainly helps.

For instance, if you make and sell girl’s dresses, that’s OK, but not very interesting. However, if you sell girl’s dresses that are made from fabric that is handprinted by a textile artist you met at uni a few years back and now you collaborate on the designs – that really gives your work a whole different dimension.

 

4. YOUR ARTIST BIOGRAPHY is a great way to generate interest in your work.

Again, it’s a lot to do with stories – if you’ve got an interesting story to tell about what drives you, and/or how you ended up where you are, then tell it! Be passionate; don’t be shy about what you’ve done and especially about why you do what you do. Share some of your techniques and inspirations too. People love a good story, and bloggers love having something to write about.

 

5. BE PROACTIVE. Last but not least, help yourself.

After you’ve got your work and photos in order, be proactive and approach bloggers to feature your work. There is SO much out there for them to choose from, the more you can reach out and say “Hi!”, the better it is for you. Not everyone will say yes, and that’s OK because each blog has its own particular flavour and you may not be a great fit for them. When that happens, just try another blog.

Often when blogs accept submissions, they’ll have a list of criteria they are looking for in work to feature, as well as a list of what they won’t accept, so do spend some time checking that out too.

Don’t be afraid. Us bloggers are generally a very approachable lot – as long as you treat us like real people!! Don’t address us as “dear sir/madam” – at least spend a few minutes finding out a name to address your email to. Introduce yourself and what you do briefly, and explain why you think your work would be a good fit for that blog. Include 5-6 of your (top-quality of course!) images at medium resolution (around 600px wide is a good size).

 

If you don’t hear back, wait for a week or so before contacting the blog again – don’t hassle us! But DEFINITELY send a reminder if you need to, as sometimes we get sidetracked and crazy busy and forgetful because we’re human…

So what are you waiting for? Go to it!

Monday Viewing ~ Andy Didorosi

Andy Didorosi: What Detroit Taught Me about Getting Things Done by 99U

If your location is not helping you grow your business and get things done, then the only solution is to make a change! You can either change your location or you can make changes to your location to better enable you and other business owners. This is a wonderfully inspirational video.

What changes would YOU like to see in your city?

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