In progress: felt stars

This is what I’m working on right now: a double order of patriotic star ornaments. I’ll finish sewing them tonight and ship them out first thing tomorrow. I hope the customer enjoys them! 🙂

Image

——–

My shop: PeachPod

Advertisements

Handmade Roundup, May 12-18, 2014

Time for this week’s Handmade Roundup! Here are some of the great shops I’ve found over the last week.

Image

Inspirae Studio makes beautiful miniature handmade books and journals. She uses lots of earthy natural materials, like wood, leather and clay, to make books with a wonderful old-timey rustic look. These journals look like they should be on the desk of an old grizzled wizard, filled with magic spells; or in the backpack of an adveturous traveler, filled with ancient maps of the lands she hopes to explore. I love the beautiful colors and textures of these little books.

Image

Pasiphilo is a shop with lots of cool tabletop gaming related items. My favorites are the cardstock gaming figurines; there are archers, lizardmen, orcs, skeletons, and more. All of the figures are original characters that are imaginatively designed and beautifully drawn. I think these colorful paper figures would be a great alternative to the usual resin figurines! He also has a variety of dice bags to carry your gaming dice. Neat shop!

Image

I adore the art style of Mandy Budan, the owner of BudanArt! She creates lovely, detailed landscapes and nature scenes, but instead of being painted the usual way, her scenes are made with many tiny, intertwined colored shapes. The effect is like a painted mosaic, or a stained glass window. The artwork almost has a double effect; from a distance, the colors blend and look like shading, shadows, and highlights. Move up closer, and you can see the detail in the hundreds of meticulously painted curving shapes. The experience of viewing the art is different depending on your distance and perspective. I love it!

Favorite item of the week: this beautiful father’s day card from CardamomsArt. I love the rustic texture and the gorgeous rich browns.

Image

Tune in next week for another Handmade Roundup! 🙂

Check out last week’s Roundup.

——————–

My shop: PeachPod

Online selling: lessons learned

My Etsy shop has been open for a year and a half now. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long! It seems like just yesterday that I was trying to decide if anyone out there would like the odd little things that I make. To say I’ve learned a lot would be an understatement…this has been a roller coaster of self-doubt, joy, frustration, hope, and confusion! Here are some of the biggest things I’ve learned so far about running an online micro-business:
 
1) There’s way more to it than crafting
 
It all sounds so easy at first: set up a shopfront, sew/crochet/draw/sculpt/paint some items, and you’re zooming off to the exciting world of online commerce! Whoa, not so fast, there, Speedy! Sure, making things is important, after all you couldn’t have a shop at all without some cool items to offer. But the sewing and painting is only one aspect of the many things that have to be done in order to run a successful online shop.
 
In huge corporate businesses, each job function is run by a person or department set aside specifically to do that function. There is a department to handle advertising and branding, another department that orders supplies and creates the items, one to photograph the items and handle presentation, one to write the text and other written material, one to manage the website, one to reach out with social media, one to handle boxing and shipping… Each person or group has a single function that they’re responsible for, and that’s all they do.
 
But in an Etsy shop? Guess what, all of those departments are ME! 🙂 I don’t have a crew of employees to delegate jobs to, so all of it falls on my shoulders. Every job function from creating to photography to marketing to shipping is equally important in the successful running of a business. An awesome handmade item is useless if it isn’t presented and photographed in an appealing way, advertised so that buyers know it exists and can find it, and shipped in a safe and timely fashion so the buyer can enjoy their purchase. If there’s a single link missing in the chain, the whole enterprise goes kablooey!
 
So that’s one thing that you have to understand and adjust to when running a shop. Of course I would prefer to spend my time designing and creating things, since that’s what I love doing. But running a one-person business means wearing ALL of the hats. You aren’t just the creator, you’re the photographer, marketer, shipper, and more. I’ve had to learn to build up my skills in these areas, and to budget for time to allow everything to get done. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!
 
2) Photography
 
One of the biggest hurdles of running an online store is photography. Photography is absolutely essential, because the buyer can’t hold the item or see it in person. The photos are the only way they are able to determine if your item is the correct size, color, design, and materials that they are looking for. If a shop has dark or blurry photos, or if the item is presented in an unappealing way, the buyer is likely to give up and look elsewhere.

But if you’re anything like me, most people don’t have a super fancy professional quality camera, or have the skills to use it. I have a simple, older point-and-shoot digital camera, that I’ve traditionally used only for snapping quick photos of my family and pets. I’ll be blunt here: learning to take clear, appealing product photos is HARD. The good news is, the longer you do it, the better you get. My photography has gradually gone from terrible, to less terrible, to hey that’s not bad, to hey that’s actually pretty decent! It took many months of experimenting with types of light, time of day, white balance, different angles, backgrounds and who knows what else. For every photo used in my shop, there are at least 20 that didn’t make the cut!

Tip #1 that I’ve learned: Don’t give up! Even if you feel like your photos are crap, keep going. Work on learning your camera (you’d be surprised how much a cheapie point-and-shoot can do), learning about lighting, learning about backgrounds and how they affect your photos. You WILL get better. As an example, here is a necklace that I photographed over a year ago, and the same necklace photographed about a month ago with the same camera. At the time, the “before” pic was the best I could do. But I learned!

Image

Tip #2: Try everything! Don’t just snap one photo. Try pictures from every conceivable angle, move the item around so that the light hits it differently, try every background you can think of. With a digital camera you don’t have to worry about wasting film, so fill that sucker up with pics! Sometimes the best photo will surprise you; it might be the weird angle you thought would never work, or the background you thought would be too busy. Experimenting is a great tool in learning how to improve your photos. Here’s an example from my own work…I tried a variety of different backgrounds and light sources for this painted duck decoration, before finding one that I liked.

Image

3) Advertising

Again, it sounds so easy; build an online shop, and buyers will come! Unfortunately, it takes a little more than that. The Etsy forums are always littered with posts from new shop owners lamenting about their lack of sales. “My shop has been open for a month but I don’t have any sales. What am I doing wrong?” The truth is that there are hundreds of thousands of online stores, with literally millions of items available. Your shop is just a tiny speck of plankton swimming in a big, big, BIG ocean.

In the current online environment, you have to work to be seen. You may have wonderful items, beautiful photos, and fantastic customer service, but if buyers never get the chance to see your items, it’s all for nothing. Marketing is a huge part of running a successful shop. You can’t just sit around and wait for the buyers to come to you, you have to get your name and your items out there for people to see and fall in love with!

Marketing is another one of those skills that has to be learned. I’ve tried a lot of different advertising venues, from social media like Facebook and Pinterest, shopping sites like Wanelo, Etsy teams, and one attempt at a paid ad on a popular website. The results have varied a lot, and I’m still learning. But the key is to stick your neck out there and be seen! Also, keep in mind that the type of item you offer may affect how successful a particular venue is. For example, I’ve seen people have incredible success with Wanelo, but for whatever reason, my items just didn’t catch on there. As a result, I’ve stopped putting a lot of time into that site, and have been focusing on the sites that are more successful for my type of item.
.

.

So that’s what I’ve learned during my shop’s first year or so of life. And I’m still learning something new every day! I’m always open to tips or feedback, so don’t be shy if you have something to suggest. 🙂

—–

My shop: PeachPod

Handmade Round Up! May 5-11, 2014

I’m going to do a recurring feature (hopefully each Sunday), where I highlight some of the awesome handmade and vintage items and shops that I’ve found each week. Most of these will come from Etsy, as that’s the handmade venue that I’m most familiar with, but these can potentially come from anywhere. There’s so much amazing talent out there, and I can’t wait to share it! 🙂 Here are some recent finds that wowed me:

 

Image

Amberstudios is a cool shop that specializes in upcycled clothing and accessories. Everything is bright, colorful and highly detailed, and has a lovely nature theme. The natural colors and foliage textures make the clothing look like something an elf queen would wear! ❤ Many of her listings appear to be custom orders (so please don’t purchase unless your name is in the title!), but she has some ready to ship items as well. In addition to the gorgeous items, I also admire the creator’s commitment to sustainability and using upcycled materials.

Image

This artist, David Wyatt, has some beautiful fantasy artwork. I love the incredible detail in the paintings; I don’t think I’ve ever seen such meticulously rendered mossy stones! I also like the wonderful European fantasy feel in the artwork. This looks like an ancient and beautiful world I would love to explore and be a part of. I would do anything to live in the goat man’s little stone house by the water!

Image

There’s one word that best describes InkPug: CUTE! :3 All of the artwork features pug dogs doing what they do best: being silly and adorable! The owners also have great personalities, and it shines through in their listings (who are Big Ed and Norma? Click a listing to find out!). I can’t help but smile when looking at this cute-as-heck art.

Image

Petrune is a seriously cool vintage clothing shop! They have clothes from just about every decade of the last century (conveniently arranged in chronological order in the sections), but the real treat is the REALLY old things! There’s a nice selection of Victorian and Edwardian pieces, many of which are near or even over 100 years old. Great finds! Who wouldn’t want to relive the “Gay 90s” in this poofy purple blouse?

And my favorite item of the week, by far:

Image

My jaw dropped when I first saw this: a life-size needle felted Nubian goat kid by cvandellen! This is one of the most incredible needle-felted creations I’ve ever seen. Such amazing attention to detail…look how real the little guy looks! Incredible work. I love love love it!!

That’s it for this week! I hope to do this feature each week (life permitting, of course).

Dreams

Image

Today I’m going to talk about: dreams.

No, not the sometimes-crazy kind you have when you’re sleeping, but the kind they talk about when they say to “follow your dreams!” As I approach middle age, I’ve been thinking a lot about my dreams and what I want to do with the second half of my life. And one dream has ALWAYS been there, in the back of my mind, no matter what else is happening.

I want A FARM.

I want a few acres of land, fences, a barn, some hay, and lots and LOTS of animals. Chickens are a definite; I love eggs, especially healthy farm grown ones. I also want some fiber animals. For a while I couldn’t decide if I wanted sheep or alpacas, but heck, I’ll just get some of each! I also want another dog. I currently have one dog, a standard poodle named Chester. I would love to get him a playmate. And those are just the basics…the possibilities are endless. There are also goats, ducks, turkeys, llamas, cows, and the holy grail, a horse of my very own!

Of course, I have a long way to go before any of those plans are feasible. But I’m working on a game plan right now…

My GET A FARM gameplan:

Step 1: Get out of debt. I need to look as good as possible to get a new home loan (especially now that the banks are all gun shy about new mortgages). My income isn’t very large, so I want my debt-to income ratio to be a favorable as possible to compensate. I’ve already taken care of all the credit cards, but I have student loans to get rid of, and the last 16 months of a car loan. All of my expendable money is going toward getting that debt off my back. More about that in a previous post.

Step 2: Save up a down payment. I would like to have at least 10%, maybe as much as 20%, for a down payment. That should be a little easier once I don’t have a student loan payment or car payment draining my funds every month. Save, save, save!

Step 3: Find my dream property! Ok, “dream property”  may be reaching a bit (that would be a mansion on my own private 100,000 acres). But I’m sure there’s a mini-dream property out there for me! The basic necessities are:
1) Affordable. Again, I’m don’t have a huge power income, so I’m looking for something relatively inexpensive. I’ll probably be considering a lot of fixer-uppers.
2) Acreage. I would like to have about 5 acres for my farm. Any smaller than that, and there won’t be enough pasture for the animals. Any larger, and it will probably be out of my price range.
3) Location. Obviously, a farm has to be outside of town, in order to have the space and the zoning for animals. But I don’t want to be so far out that it takes hours to drive into town, especially since I’ll be commuting to work each weekday. So I’m looking for that balance: out, but not too far out!

Step 4: Sell the house I’m in now. That’s probably going to be the hardest part of my plan. The housing market isn’t all that great at the moment, which makes it unlikely that I’ll get a good asking price for my home. In addition to that, it needs some work…definitely a new roof and new carpet at the very least. It could use siding and a new bathroom as well, but I’ll have to research whether those will actually increase the value of the house enough to make the extra expenditure worth it. And if the house takes a long time to sell, I could be looking at paying two mortgages at once, which would be tricky.

I’m sure I’m forgetting something important, but for now, that’s the working plan. I’ve been collecting positive quotes about fulfilling your dreams and creating your own future…here are some that I have so far:

  • “The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams.” -Oprah Winfrey
  • “Twenty years from now, you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do, than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines! Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream, and discover.” -Mark Twain
  • “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” -Peter Drucker
  • “If you can dream it, you can do it.” -Walt Disney
  • “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” -Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption

So , what are your dreams? How do you stay motivated to make them happen?