Introducing my Mentee – Stacey from Max & Me Designs

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Today I have a special someone to introduce to you all!

When I ran the inaugural session of Set Up Shop, I let it be known that I would be choosing one of my students to mentor for 3 months. When the course came to a close, I set about the tricky job of picking one person from my 75-strong class of wonderful women to work with one-on-one. It was a difficult decision, because so many of them are passionate, hard-working, dedicated, and giving.

In the end, I made my choice… and today I am very pleased to introduce my new mentee to you all – the lovely Stacey from Max & Me Designs!

Stacey makes wonderful and unique art from vintage postage stamps, as well as postage stamp jewellery and a few other bits and pieces. I am impressed by what she’s managed to achieve in the short time she’s been in business, and I reckon she’s just going to go from strength to strength.

I asked her if she’d be happy to share her journey over the next few months while we work together, so today she’s going to tell you a little bit about her business and how it began…

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How did Max & Me Designs begin?

Like many businesses in the handmade community, Max & Me Designs began by accident. I was cleaning out the cupboard in our new nursery/old junk room when I came across some stamps that I had collected as a child. After spending a few moments looking through the pages of the album and reminiscing about my childhood inspiration struck! I decided to use some of the stamps to create a piece of art for my new little baby boy, Max. I loved the idea that I could take something special from my own childhood and upcycle it into a keepsake gift for him. Little did I know that this very moment would set me on a path to creating my own business.

Fast forward a year down the track and Max & Me Designs is now a successful small business featuring a unique range of art, jewellery and giftware which have been handcrafted using upcycled postage stamps from all over the world.

I love being able to take something so small and insignificant as a postage stamp and reincarnate it into something truly beautiful and unique that will be treasured by its owner.

Every piece is a one of a kind and I often have customers who buy them as keepsake gifts to celebrate birthdays, christenings, Christmas, wedding anniversaries (1st anniversary is paper), Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or the arrival of a new baby.

What was the motivation for starting your business?

Like many new mums I found the first few months of maternity leave very isolating. While I loved being at home with my new little baby I was used to talking to people all day long and being busy, busy, busy! Suddenly I was at home by myself and I missed the mental stimulation of working and being around people.

Several of my friends had commented on Max’s artwork and suggested that I try selling the designs online. I figured I had nothing to lose and set up online shops on the Etsy and Made It sites. I also set up a Facebook page for Max & Me Designs which is where I discovered the AMAZING community of handmaidens!

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What has been your favourite part about the journey so far?

My favourite part of running a handmade business would have to be connecting with so many new people. It’s been wonderful getting to know my customers, Facebook fans and fellow small business owners over the past year. I love interacting with my fans on Facebook and find it to be such a beautiful, supportive community. It’s due to their support, and that of my family and friends, that Max & Me Designs is where it is today.

I have also met some very generous philatelists who have donated thousands and thousands of stamps! I have several people who regularly send me envelopes filled with exotic stamps from all over the world, including one lovely grandfather who regularly sends huge envelopes of stamps from his collection. I feel as though they are entrusting me with a part of their lives that is very important to them and I feel very honoured that they appreciate and value the designs that I create.

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What do you think the future holds for Max & Me Designs?

Wow, this is the big question, thank goodness I have Jess to help me along the way!

With Jess as my mentor and the very generous business grant from Renata at Forming Circles I’m hoping to take Max & Me Designs to the next level by further developing the product range and spreading the word far and wide.

I would like to extend my social media networks and finally getting onto Twitter… I would also like to increase the number of retail outlets which carry my products and try my hand at some of the larger design markets in Melbourne and possibly interstate.

The key thing that I have learnt from the past year is that anything is possible if you put your mind to it, after all what have you got to lose?

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P.S. Term 2 of Set Up Shop will run this July! I will, again, be choosing a student to mentor for 3 months. If you’re ready to craft an online business and shop that will rock your socks, make sure to sign up here to find out when registration opens.

Why Fear of Failure is So Funny

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{Photo by Tim Walker}

I want you to ask yourself: What’s the worst that will happen if you fail at your business?

Be honest and write it out:

  • Deplete savings account

  • Have to go on food stamps

  • Have to sell the car

  • Have to move back in with your parents

  • Have to move to a smaller apartment

  • Have to go back to an old job/get a job

  • Have to take your child out of daycare

As you’re writing out your worst case scenario, are you realizing how unlikely it is that it would happen?  I’m betting you would come up with quite a few steps to take before phoning your mum to ask about the state of the basement.  Yes, you MAY have to move into a smaller apartment but if that’s your worst case scenario, you have it much better than most people in this world.

When we have a big decision to make and the fear of failure confronts us, we tend to overreact.  Sort of like how a chair with a coat on it becomes a short axe-murderer at night.  Suddenly that little voice in your head tells you you’ll never make as much money as you need.  You’ll sell one of your newest product despite all the time and money you put into it.  Or worst of all…you’ll never sell anything ever again.

So let’s get real about fear.

I’m going to be honest here and tell you something that most ‘successful’ entrepreneurs will never tell you: we all suffer from fear of failure and it’s definitely not a pretty time for us.  Every three months I fall into this pit of despair.  It’s always after a hugely successful week or sale or show.  I get this overpowering fear that I will never be able to replicate what I just did.  Then I’ll go two days without a sale and suddenly I feel certain no one will ever buy from me again.  I’ll have to live on the streets while handing out frozen yoghurt at the nearest TCBY.

It’s not till I say these fear out loud (usually amid sobs and a cuddle with a pillow) that I realize how stupid and unrealistic those fears are.  (Plus how silly it is to be crying into my pillow and not my boyfriend’s.)  Almost immediately I grit my teeth and come up with a dozen new ways to market my business.  I refuse to fail.  I refuse to give up.  The universe always seems to be listening because, without fail, the next day I’ll receive an email that knocks my socks off.

Fear of failure is an inherent part of working for yourself.  How you choose to confront that fear is what determines if you stay in business or close up shop.

If you do fail, at least you went down fighting.  Plus, there is nothing that says you can’t get right back up and start again.  If I had to go to work at TCBY, you can bet I’d be plotting out my next adventure away from frozen yoghurt almost immediately!

 

If you had to sum up your business in 60 seconds, you’d say…

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Have you heard of an ‘elevator pitch’?

Basically, it is a statement that sums up what you do in your business that can be delivered in the time it takes to ride an elevator – about 60 seconds or so.

I don’t know about you, but often people will ask me – “so what do you do?” And I’ll sit there tongue-tied for a few moments while I work out just what the heck to tell them.

I still suffer from a fear of telling people that I’m “just an artisan/crafter”.

Which is, really, rather ridiculous. I guess I’ve got a little hubris going on, and am afraid that people won’t take me seriously like they did back when I could say “I’m studying to become a scientist” or “I’m a teacher”.

The fact of the matter is – yes, I am an artisan, a maker – but I’m also much more than that, and I’ve struggled to fit all that I do into a short paragraph when confronted with that question.

I decided it was about time for me to come up with my own ‘elevator pitch’ so I didn’t need to sit there tongue-tied in future.

My elevator pitch is:

“I’m a creative entrepreneur and silversmith. I create sleek, modern, eco-friendly sterling silver jewellery under the brand Epheriell, and I teach people how to have a successful online handmade business via my site Create & Thrive. I’m passionate about helping people realise their dream to have a lifestyle and business they love, like I do!”

I’m happy that this statement does a great job of summing up not only what I do – but how I feel about it. It’s probably a little ‘close-ended’ to be a traditional elevator pitch – but hopefully this statement would leave the listener wanting to know more about me and what I do…

So – what would be in your elevator pitch? Consider:

  • what you do
  • who are your customers/target market
  • what makes you special/sets you apart
  • what’s your story
  • what emotions do you want to convey

Need a little more help? Why not try the Harvard Business School elevator pitch builder

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{image by Stefan Witte}

C&T Q&A – How Do I Drive Consistent Sales in my Online Shop?

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Today’s question is from Kate, who writes:

Hey Jess!

My biggest dilemma is getting consistent sales. It’s so hard to predict, there may be weeks where I get 3 sales and then a period where there is none. I know you are a consistent blogger and tweeter, so your online presence is really strong, but do you think that’s what constantly drives your sales? Or is there another avenue that you see more results from?

Are the majority of your sales from repeat customers?

Thanks heaps.

 

This is a really fundamental question – because without consistent sales, you don’t have a business that can support you.

To bring in consistent sales, you really need to be bringing in new customers consistently. Because yes, repeat customers are awesome – but depending on the nature of your business, they may only account for a small part of your overall sales.

If you sell handmade soap, for example, repeat customers might be a big part of your business – because they fall in love with your soap, and come back to buy more again and again. Soap runs out, after all!

However, if you’ve got a business like Kate and I (jewellery) repeat customers will be a much smaller minority.

For example – sterling silver wedding bands have become a huge part of Epheriell’s business nowadays  A wedding ring is (hopefully!) a once-in-a-lifetime purchase, so it’s not something they’ll need to return to me to buy again. Of course, I hope that they are so impressed by my craftsmanship that they do come back to buy other jewellery from me! But you get the idea.

So. Bringing in a consistent flow of new customers – while treating your return customers like the absolute gold they are – should be what you’re aiming to do.

Working out how to do this effectively is the Holy Grail of all business.

Everyone does it differently – so I’m going to share what works for me and my business in the hope that you’ll get some ideas!

Epheriell is marketed solely via blogging, social media, a mailing list and renewing listings on venues like Etsy and madeit.

I do maybe 1-2 markets a year, and I can’t remember the last time I bought any advertising.

When you market like I do, you rely on one thing to keep the ball rolling – consistency.

To reply to what you said Kate, I do think that my daily, consistent, regular effort to be visible online is what keeps my sales coming in.

In fact, I know it is the case – because when I’m offline for any length of time (days etc) and I’m not doing my regular blogging/social media/renewing etc, my sales drop down. They don’t disappear, because I have built up a certain level of traffic to my shop via search engines etc, but they do slow a little.

Here’s a little breakdown of some of what I do to keep Epheriell visible and therefore keep the sales flowing.

Daily

  • Share at least one photo on Instagram – preferably of what I’m making that day, or a new design. I also share this image on my Epheriell FB Page, via twitter, and sometimes on G+
  • Tweet regularly throughout the day. I use Buffer to help me load up a stack of tweets in one sitting, but I also tweet organically as the day goes on
  • I try to remember to Pin at least one product from my website every day
  • I share at least 3 pieces of content per day on the Epheriell FB page
  • I spend a little time on Pinterest re-pinning interesting stuff
  • I renew products in my Etsy shop every single day. Usually twice a day (morning and night) and usually at least 5 products at once. I view this as a form of advertising, and budget for it accordingly. I try to remember the same for my madeit shop, but will sometimes forget 🙂

Weekly

  • I try to blog on Epheriell Designs multiple times per week. I haven’t been as consistent with it this year because I’ve had C&T to run AND I’ve been so busy with orders. But once a week, bare minimum
  • I send out an email to my Silver Service subscribers, telling them something useful, sharing a story about my work, giving them a special treat etc.
  • I make sure to sit down and have a good session Pinning relevant things on Pinterest – things that reflect the Epheriell brand. Usually from Etsy

Yes, it’s a lot of work.

But without it, I wouldn’t have a business.

I spend at least as much time marketing my brand as I do actually making jewellery. The balance has shifted over the years – when I started out, I reckon about 90% of my working time was spent on marketing and ‘business-y’ stuff, whereas now that I have an established brand, I can spend much less time on this, and more time making jewellery (or working on other projects!).

If you’re not currently devoting a decent amount of your time to the marketing side of your business, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

If you’re yet to discover what combo of marketing activities works for you – keep experimenting! It’s the only way to figure it out.

And, of course, at the most fundamental level – make sure you’ve got a gorgeous online shop full of products people really want to buy before you do anything else.

How much time do you spend marketing your business?

What’s the balance between making & marketing for you right now?

 

4 Ways to Get Past Creative Roadblocks

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{photo by Victor Borst}

Oh dear, it is truly the pits when you hit a creative roadblock, isn’t it?

It is not news to anyone who works for a living that even when your work is something you absolutely love to do, you can still feel burnt out by it from time to time. Especially after super-busy periods, like the holidays, you can really begin to feel drained creatively. We all know that no-motivation-to-do-anything-other-than-sit-around follows periods of creative burn out.

The good news is that everyone experiences this and it is usually fixable.

Here are some of my tried and true ways to torch creative roadblocks.

 

One: go to the library, book store, or magazine rack

The library is a great resource, and you very likely have one less than 15 miles from your home, office or studio. Head on over to your local library to browse the racks – all the access to other creative and visual works will likely get your wheels turning. Bring some spare change to make photocopies of anything that really strikes you and add it to your inspiration file/dream board. Bonus – peace and quiet. It’s amazing what a few hours in a new and quiet space can do to clear the cobwebs of the head!

Two: take a class

Sometimes learning a new skill can really spark your inspiration If you are a paper artist, maybe you’ll take a quilting class! You are basically guaranteed to get new ideas and bring your mojo back to life when you take the time to learn something new. Not only will you gain a new skill, you can add that skill to your current work, you can chat with other creatives, get out of the house and work in a new space. All of this is essential to overcoming creative drain. You’d be surprised how much good a 1 hours class can do.

Three: work on other creative or hands on projects that have nothing to do with business

I’m not talking about organizing your receipts, but if that’s something that has to get done, then sure – it is a time filler. I’m talking about creative, hands on things that are separate from your work. Is there a home decor project you have been putting off? A wall that needs to be painted? A recipe that you’ve been meaning to try? Hands on projects like gardening, cooking, mending, building or decorating  will get your brain into creative mode again!  Be sure to pick projects that can be done in one or two sittings, you don’t want to end up adding another unfinished project to your list.

Four: purge and organise

If all else fails, or if you simply cannot bring yourself to do anything else, purging is the next best thing to torch creative road blocks. Sifting through materials, cleaning out supplies, testing dusty pens and organising your workspace will inevitably remind you of all the projects your meant to start, the ones you never finished and spark a few new ideas for using that stuff you’ve been hoarding. An organised space is an inspiring space. get to it.

What do you do when you feel drained and running on empty creatively? What has worked for you?

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