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How do you realise your creative dreams AND stay sane?

I am super-excited to bring you this interview today! I got the chance to chat with the beautiful Jena and Jen of the Maven Circle, and ask them how they have both developed a way of living that keeps them centred in their ever-busy creative lives.

I’ve known Jena for quite a while now online (you might know her better as the lady behind the blog Modish) and so when I heard about her and Jen’s new project – and ecourse – I wanted to corral them up and find out more.

Hello ladies! First of all, would you mind giving just a little background on who you are and what you do?

I’m Jen Neitzel. I’m a long time crafter, designer, business person, lover of creative ideas and a generally helpful person. In my former life I was a social worker. I have a degree in Psychology and Sociology and can’t get enough of learning about people. What makes us tick. What inspires us. How to live the best life for myself and ignite others to have the same.

And I’m Jena Coray (aka Miss Modish), self-employed blogger turned marketing guru who has been helping promote indie businesses, artists and designers for the last 6 years. I am an over-analytical super nerd who has, since I was a kid, been fascinated with discovering why I’m here and what I’m meant to do in this world, and I think I finally figured it out- it has a lot to do with helping others find their place too.

We created The Maven Circle together with a different project in mind, but we’d meet and start talkin’ and through our chats, we discovered that we were both on this path of self-discovery, both making our own wellness a priority in our lives again and seeing all the benefits. We realized that thru the years we’ve learned a whole heckuva lot on how to control our own stress, how to face our fears, how to get past the blocks that tend to hold people back, and we thought- hey, we should do an e-course on that! And The Catalyst course was born.

So, you’re both long-term creatives who’ve done some pretty awesome things… and you’ve both reached the point where it all seemed just a bit overwhelming. How did that realisation come about?

Jena – I was swimmin a sea of stress and could not see the beach, couldn’t find a rock to climb up on – I felt lonely and tired and scared from feeling so overwhelmed. It got to the point that I was having anxiety attacks before I even got out of bed in the morning, just paralyzed by all the to-dos running around in my brain.

I just was sinking and finally realized I needed to change things NOW before it started affecting my health and life even more. I dedicated myself to taking my life back and getting out of my fraught-with-crazy brain!

Jen – When you’re involved with awesome creative projects there are two large pieces to puzzle. First, excitement, because you’re doing something that really matters and you’re making it happen, often times by yourself. And secondly, FEAR, because there’s no right or wrong way to do most things – you’re trail blazing.

This can be very overwhelming! I know I’ve had days in the past where I have been so overwhelmed by work that I’d dread working. I’d spend my time worrying rather than getting the job done. Then I’d feel more worried and get even less done. It’s a vicious circle really.

Did you feel like you were ‘stuck’ and held back from achieving the dreams you knew were possible?

Jen – Yes! The best example I think of is when I was learning video editing (or what I like to refer to as “exorcising demons”.) I would spend hours learning some aspect of video – I’d be moving clips around and realize later that I’d deleted info that I’d just finished! I’d lose content regularly, I’d save things in the wrong place and not be able to find them again, on and on and on.

The thing I kept saying to myself, which may not have been the best thing to say, but it worked was – “This is impossible and I’m terrible at it, but I’m doing it anyway.” I just didn’t let myself quit. And now, I really enjoy video editing! But it took a number of exorcisms to get there.

Jena – The most stuck place I’ve ever felt was within my own brain, really – caught between a seemingly endless list of to-dos and nagging self-criticism is not a good place to be- it’s impossible to get anything done there! I found myself sabotaging things, dreading things, I was getting kinda sloppy in my work and not meeting deadlines…

I lost my motivation because I was too wrapped up inside my own head, worrying too much, letting my fears take hold of me, perpetuating badness with more badness. But somewhere I knew that wasn’t really ME, and so I had to find me again- and once I started working on that, that’s when I found my flame, my spark, my motivation again.

How long did it take you to discover the tools to overcome the feeling of overwhelm and gain back a sense of calm in your lives?

Jen – If I’m being honest I still feel overwhelmed from time to time. I feel that it happens much less than it used to and I don’t get stuck in the same ways, but I know now that it’s just a feeling and that it will pass. The major difference is that now I have the tools to deal with those feelings when they come up. Now, when I’m feeling overwhelmed I try to go on a walk in nature.

For me, the the movement of walking helps catch my body up and slow my mind down. Also, when you walk outdoors you will find that looking, listening and feeling nature is very calming. Having a regular routine of self-care helps you deal with feeling stressed out.

Jena – self care was my turning point as well, the thing that once I started to see the effects of it my life I knew it was the answer I had been looking for. I tried to meditate everyday for 15 days straight for, oh 6 months, until I could actually do it! But somewhere along the way of trying over and over again, of getting into the practice of it, I started to notice the effects it was creating in my life.

I found myself reacting differently, my mind felt clearer, I wasn’t waking up with anxiousness any longer- it felt like I was coming back to myself. And so that propelled me to continue meditating and to add, little by little, more self-care to my routine, like exercise (kundalini yoga is my favorite), drinking water, eating healthier. And as my energy and sense of fulfillment grow with every self-care step, it motivates me to keep going.

What difference has this shift in perspective and lifestyle had on your sense of well-being… and on your businesses?

Jen – I think I’m a better business person and I’m more fun to be around because I feel better now that I have more sense of balance in my life. I really want to use my life and the work I do as a story of inspiration. I want to inspire people to make the changes they need to access their best life possible. I think in general I’m a happier and calmer person now and that it influences all areas of my life.

Jena – I am a way better person to be around too! I feel calmer, more engaged, less reactive. Those things really aid me in my business too, in everything from being able to deal with stress to marketing my business more authentically. I feel like I can focus easier because my mind is clearer and I get more done in a day than I used to. My bones don’t creak, I feel healthy and for the first time in a long time, I feel whole! Now all I want is to help others feel that way too- if I can help them make a positive change in their lives, it fulfills me to no end!

Could you each share one thing that you would recommend anyone do RIGHT NOW that will help them to start finding that centre in their own lives?

Jena – Meditate. Do a breathing exercise. It all starts with the breath – connect to it, and you connect to right here, right now, and that’s where your center lies – in the present moment.

Jen – Start a routine of self-care. Make sure you’re feeding your mind, body and spirit daily!

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Find out more about Jen and Jena – visit the Maven Circle.

The numbers to look at when you’re buying blog advertising for your crafty biz

For many of us with small online creative businesses, blog ads are a big part of our advertising strategy.

Rarely can we afford magazine advertising, and since our customers are online, it make sense to advertise to them online, too.

There are a number of different options available – we can use google adwords or facebook ads (the latter I would recommend) – but the most popular choice seems to be buying sidebar ad space on crafty/lifestyle blogs.

There are so many out there – and so many that offer ad space – that it can be really tricky to decide where to spend your limited ad budget.

As someone who both buys blog ads and who has sold them for years now, I thought I’d share a little of what I’ve learnt about what makes for  a good blog to advertise on. Specifically – which statistics should you be focussing on when making your decision?

First…

Before you even look at the numbers, make sure the blog is somewhere you think your customers will hang out – not just your peers/colleagues. Of course, for many of us our peers are our customers, too – but make sure to think about that before you go any further.

Probably no point advertising your knitted scarf business on a blog that’s all about how to knit… because the majority of people who visit want to learn how to knit a scarf themselves rather than buy a finished product. You’re better off finding a lifestyle or more general handmade blog whose visitors like to look at (and buy!) lovely handmade things.

The numbers…

Let’s first outline the core numbers you may come across, and explain what they are:

  • Subscribers – this might be RSS/feed subscribers, google followers, email subscribers. Subscribers are people who receive the blog posts either in their feed reader of choice, or direct to email.
  • Social media subscribers – facebook, twitter, pinterest etc. These folks will find their way to the blog via links on social media – so when they read the blog post, they are actually coming to the blog to do so, as opposed to the rss/google followers who read the blog posts from their feed reader/dashboard.
  • Visitors. This is the number of individual people who visit the blog in a defined time period.
  • Pageviews. This is the number of times the blog is viewed by visitors in a defined time period. Some visitors might only visit once and view one page, whereas your regular readers will view many pages throughout the month.

So, which are most important to you?

Okay. I rank the above numbers in order from most important to least important as follows:

  • Visitors
  • Pageviews
  • Social media subscribers
  • RSS/Feed subscribers

But wait! Why am I putting blog subscriber numbers last?

Because – as I mentioned above – people who are subscribed via RSS do not come to the blog to read the blog posts. Unless they’re a weirdo like me, who always clicks over to the blog when I see a post in my feed that I like. Most folks read blog posts right in their reader.

That means they are not seeing your ad!

If you were doing a giveaway or had a feature on the blog, I would reverse those numbers. BUT when we’re talking a sidebar blog ad, you want to focus on how many people will be seeing the ad. And that equals visitors and pageviews.

The more eyeballs on your ad, the more clicks it’s going to get. So, contrary to what you might have thought in the past, make sure to focus on visitors and pageviews rather than subscribers.

Social media subscriber numbers are important too, especially if the blogger is really great at driving people back to their blog – but, of course, anyone coming through from social media will just show up in the visitor/pageview numbers, so they really are key.

How to choose?

This is the process I follow…

First, put together a spreadsheet (hang on, stay with me here!). In the spreadsheet, list the name of the blogger, their blog url, and the range of their blog ad prices (so, if you were listing me in the days when I offered advertising over at Epheriell Designs it would be – Jess | http://EpheriellDesigns.com | $20-$65 -).

This will not only help you decide between blogs, it means you now have a handy-dandy media list that you can keep coming back to! No more thinking “gee, what was that blog I advertised on that time?”

Now, go through the advertise/sponsor page on each blog and look for the numbers I spoke about above. If the blogger doesn’t list them publicly, just email them and ask for the numbers.

If they are not willing to give them to you, run away.

Any blogger who is offering advertising should be open and honest about what you will be getting for your money.

All other considerations aside (such as the blog is your fave, it has your perfect target audience, they are a friend of yours) you want to choose the blog that has the highest visitor/pageview number with the lowest advertising cost.

That way, you’ll be getting the most bang for your buck!

Of course, you also want to consider additional perks – like, if you buy the large ad do you get a sponsor post? That’s a huge perk as it not only will go out to those RSS subscribers who might never see your ad, but it stays on the blog forever, driving traffic to you.

One final tip – when I do blog advertising, I usually choose to advertise on a whole stack of blogs at the one time (in one month, for example) rather than advertising on one or two occasionally. Most folks who read blogs in our niche will travel in similar circles, and by advertising across a number of blogs with the same image, you’re more likely to capture their interest.

 If you have any further questions on this, please just leave them in the comments and I’ll reply!

The Do’s and Don’ts of Selling Successfully on Etsy

Today I’ve got a fantastic guest post for you from my friend and fellow Aussie Etsy seller Cath of My Bearded Pigeon. She has an amazing Etsy success story – hitting over 1,000 sales in her first year – but that was on her second time round! Find out the principles she followed to reach that success in today’s post…

Hello Everyone, and thank you for having me Jess.

Those of you who visit my blog chunky chooky may be familiar with what I have to say about Etsy. I am always happy to help people with their Etsy shops as I had lots of help when I started my first shop on Etsy in March 2008.

Like many of you I found the creative juices started to flow after I had a baby. I was looking for toys for my little that I liked and I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t hideously expensive and made overseas so to cut a very long story short I started sewing and one step lead to another and I opened chunkychooky on etsy.

I made these……

Sales were slow at first of course but as I researched and read and tweaked and re-took photos again and again and I spent hours in the etsy forums watching and learning and reading everything I could get my hands on and I eventually starting to see a few sales. More importantly I learnt a lot and made a lot of mistakes…

Fast forward two years and I decide to launch My Bearded Pigeon. So it was December 2010, I had this great idea and have found a way to make it work, but this time I knew so much more, this time I was going to be far more organized and this time I knew where to focus my energy.

So in the spirit of what Etsy is all about – sharing and community- I thought I would share some of what I have learnt since I started selling on Etsy 3 years ago. Late last year I hit my 1000th sale on Etsy. It was a massive milestone for me and came at a time our little family really needed some good news.

Many people who have bought from me have returned again and again and told their friends.

So here is by no means a comprehensive list but a good start…

DO Answer convos’ politely and promptly, I think it is great to add a bit of humour be yourself … even if it is the tenth person that week asking if you would like to giveaway a cushion on their blog. You can say “No thank you” nicely. This includes being polite even when people ask you questions you have answered numerous times in your policies, listings and shop intro. For example “can I get the cushion without the insert?” I probably get asked this at least once a week despite it saying on every listing that they come without the insert.

DO Respond to treasuries– when someone puts you in one – go over to the treasury and at the very least say thank you! That is all you have to say- sometimes you can say more, but it is nice to acknowledge that some one has taken the time. This is how you get on the front page remember – by being in treasuries.

DO Say thank you when someone orders something from your shop. As soon as I get an order I respond with a thank you and let them know when I plan to post – usually within a couple of days. I respond to the email from paypal as people new to Etsy may not check etsy convos. I find it quite bad manners when people do not acknowledge your order. I am shocked at how often I get no response when I buy something.

DO Be an active team member, I am in quite a few teams and I try to participate when I can, but of course I am not perfect and cannot participate in everything.

DO Always have your shop looking tip top! You never know when you will be featured in an Etsy finds email or on the front page or maybe even on a popular blog. So if people are coming for the first time it may be the difference of them giving you a heart and returning later or not.

DO Always have high res images ready (if you load pictures onto flickr that will help as you can download any sizes) for magazine editors or bloggers who may be interested in featuring you.

DO Remember the customer is almost always usually mostly sometimes right!

DO Follow Etsy’s rules.

DO price accordingly. Include Etsy fees, paypal fees, packaging and stationary, plus the time it takes to list the item, take photos etc, package it all up, take it to the post office plus the actual making of the item, material costs, time taken to get these materials, time taken to actually make it… what are you prepared to work for?

Be realisitic. Don’t worry so much about what other people are selling items in your category for. What do you need to make a profit? To make it worthwhile for you? I see people selling cushions for $12 and wonder how they can be making any money at all.

DO think about how to market your product. What makes it unique? Why would someone buy it? When people buy from you what are they buying? For example when someone buys a cushion from me they are buying a souvenir. They are buying the memory of a lovely holiday, the place they went on their honeymoon, the town they grew up in, the place they met their partner. They are buying something eco friendly, so I make sure I tell them this. They are buying something unique they cannot get anywhere else in the world – (I get the fabric printed myself) so I tell them that. This is fabric no one else has, you cannot buy it online – this is what I am selling (and this is why they are priced as they are) explain to them why they want to buy it and why they should buy it.

DO look at your product critically. Is it original? do people get excited when they see it? Is it unique? Can you get it anywhere else? Does it appeal to a wide range of people? I am lucky that my products appeal to women and men and people also buy them for kids too – know who you are selling too and market accordingly.

DO offer a discount for customers who buy several items. I have had many people buy over 5 cushions from me, in some instances 10+. Reward their loyalty with free postage and/or a % discount. You can make your own coupons on Etsy and people love a discount.

DO have postage listed to lots of different places, and make sure it is accurate. Do not make money out of postage, put your prices up if you need to. There is nothing worse than receiving something that cost you $10 in postage to have it say $2.20 on the envelope. Take the items to the post office and get them weighed.

Do have all your shop policies filled out. How long will you reserve items for? What about returns? what about if an item doesn’t show up? What are the postage times?

DO check your convos regularly. I have heard people say “I have a life I don’t want to be chained to the computer all day.” You don’t have to be, but you do have to check your emails at least 2 times a day I think. You have to allow for time differences. I still have most of my traffic from the US so I need to be up early answering convos and emails and also checking in again at night for responses or new convos. I think it is a huge part of an online business to be able to respond to people quickly.

DO take a really good look at your shop. Look at it from a customers perspective. Does it look neat and tidy with all the sections filled out and all the photos looking nice? Really, does it? Is it full of lots of items so you show up in searches a lot. Are you items in sections so people can easily find what they want? have you used every tag for every item?

DO BRAND EVERYTHING: when someone buys a cushion this is what they get:

There will be no confusion as it to where it came from, so people can tell their friends about you too. Put your logo on shop name on everything!

DO have your shop announcement filled out: it doesn’t have to be a huge amount of writing just a little bit about the products, same with your profile, just a little bio about yourself, why you started making what you make, what materials you use.

DO have lots of detail in your listings and your item title. Who would this be a good present for? On what occasion would you buy it for someone? How can it be used? How is it packaged – say if you are selling artwork people want to know it is going to arrive safely. How big is it? Put the size in cms and inches. It drives me mental how many people put a coin next to the item to show size? how would I know how big a coin from another country is? Are all the tags filled out – every single one?

DO have a good read and think about Etsy ads and about renewing? The thing with renewing is you need to have a bit of a budget in mind and think about when peak times are for you. I seem to get a lot of sales on Thursday and Friday night Australia times – so I renew a lot then. I seem to get less sales and traffic on the weekend so I don’t renew as much. Maybe invest in some Etsy ads? See how it works for you after a week or so…

Now, for the flipside…

DON’T Tell the customer that you think something is a bad idea. For example I contacted a necklace seller, and when I asked if I could have the chain longer I was told ” the chain is long enough”. Long enough for whom I thought? I have had people suggest things to me that I think are not great ideas but I am polite and talk my way around it.

DON’T Spam your customers… don’t send them loads for convos/emails one to say you received the order and have posted it is suffice.

DON’T Feel like you need to have a facebook twitter blog and flickr account before you can sell anything. All of these things can be very useful but they do take a bit of time to get the hang of and can be done as you go along.

DON’T Put a bad photo on Etsy, you may be tempted to quickly list something but it may be the difference between a heart and a future sale or nothing. Are you photos looking tip top – with the help of some free photo editing like picnik? Just changing the colour contrast and brightness will make a huge difference you want your pictures to really pop off the page. I use a white background for everything and I don’t put my products in a styled way. For example having the cushions on a chair etc but others swear by this so you will have to decide what works best for you.

DON’T Leave bad feedback without discussing it with the shop owner first. Be reasonable, this is someone’s business. If someone does leave you bad feedback you can use the Etsy kiss and make up feature. I have used it when someone left bad feedback because an item had not arrived – in a week from Australia to Brazil! I politely explained how huge bad feedback was for me and my business and she was happy to change it using the kiss and make up feature.

DON’T COPY!! I see people blatantly copying the work of sellers who do really well – orginal is best. Always. And people will know you have copied and think that is not very good.

DON’T obsess about the number of sales. Yes there are shops that have sold 10 000 items +++ but why worry about them? You cannot compare your shop with other shops that sell different products to yours, so don’t.

Most of all have fun! Working at home running an online business can be very difficult. Being part of a blogging community or other online groups does offer great support for you as it can feel overwhelming at times and you can feel quite isolated.

Don’t stay on the computer all day, step way for large periods and stop playing with your phone – it will do you the world of good.

__________

 

Cath Young is a  crafter, blogger, mother and wife living an eco friendly life in a tiny town on the mid north coast of NSW. Cath likes taking photos and going for walks in the forest with her dog.

All photos by Cath. First image edited by me to add title.
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8 Steps to Turn your Passion into a Successful Business

A while ago, Vicki from In.cub8r The Valley here in Brissie invited me to be the speaker at the shop’s first birthday party! It was a pretty lovely and informal event, so I didn’t talk too much – but while thinking about what I would say I came up with this list.

These are the things you need to do to turn your passion into a successful business. I’ve deliberately left these generic because I think they would work for pretty much anything, not just craft…

Find the sweet spot that combines what you love with what people will buy

Just because you love it doesn’t mean other people will. But they might! So try and try again until you find the best balance between what you love to do and create and what other people need and want.

Be obsessive

Building your own business takes time, time, time. The more time you put into it, the more you’ll get out. So – be obsessive. If you are driven by an obsession, you won’t have to find the time – it will be an imperative.

Be consistent, passionate, and knowledgeable

Running hot and cold will make it much, much harder. The more consistently you work on your business, the faster/better it will grow. If it flows from passion, this will be easy. But you need more than passion to create a successful business – you need the combination of passion and knowledge.

Talk about it. A lot

To everyone. Online, offline. In the supermarket, at the dentist, at the party, on facebook. Don’t be shy – your friends and acquaintances will most likely be your first customers and your best method of spreading word of mouth.

Keep learning and growing

You are never, ever, done. If you’re done, your passion is gone. There is always more to learn, more ways to grow your business. Perfect example – Virgin.

Diversify – both what you do and where you sell

If you make/do just one thing – try to offer it in as many different colours/sizes/styles/price-points as possible. Sell your stuff in as many different places as possible.

Or, do a number of different things. With both my jewellery lines, my blogs, e-books, e-course and more – I’m always getting money coming in from somewhere!

Try new things – even if they fail, at least you’ve tried

If you don’t try, you won’t succeed. And sometimes you will fall flat on your face.

Who cares? Just get up, dust yourself off, and try something else. Thank goodness Edison didn’t give up on his first try to make a light bulb, or we’d ALL be in the dark…

Commit to things before you know you can do them

Want to launch an e-course, but don’t know quite what the content will be, or how you will run it? Pick a date, tell the world… and then use the motivation to work it all out!

Nothing lights a fire under you than external expectation that you will live up to your awesomeness.

What tips would you give someone who is striving to turn their passion into a successful business?

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{Image from Epheriell.com – Heart Necklace}

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