Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Member Feature: Margot (MargotBianca)

Featured: MargotBianca
Interview by: NancyWallisDesigns

How did you get started on Etsy?
I found Etsy while searching for a way to support myself after finishing school and not finding a steady job in my field. I wanted to find a sustainable way to sell things I was creating, without paying such high overhead fees to shops and galleries. I thought Etsy was a great venue for making business between consumers and creators direct.

What’s your favorite part of being a shop owner?
Aside from the true joy of making things with my hands, probably my favorite part is connecting with all of the people who enjoy the things I make. I love knowing that my work is being used all over the world. Last week, I sent packages out to Denmark, Oregon, Australia, Texas and Saskatchewan. I love that!

What challenges have you faced during the process?
Probably my two biggest challenges are efficiently managing my time and money. I try to stay focused and organized, and I think I've gotten better at those two things, but they continue to be my biggest hurdles.

It must have been exciting when you were a featured seller on Etsy. Can you tell us what it was like and any advice you can give us from your experience.
It was really exciting!! When I got the convo, I sort of hyperventilated for a minute! It was such a boost for my shop. It sent me many new customers, some of whom still shop with me regularly. I will say it was pretty overwhelming as well, in terms of keeping up with orders and convos. As far as advice, I guess I would say "pretend like you are about to get featured at any moment, and start doing little things now that would eventually help you deal with such an increase in traffic." My feature was not timed really well for me. It came right before a big teaching job that I had to travel out of town to do, so I didn't have as much time as I would have liked to prepare. I did set myself a few achievable goals to accomplish before the feature hit, and they did help me. One was to start using paypal for shipping. (Before that, I'd been doing everything the old fashioned way). This saved me a lot of time and energy, and I'd really recommend it to anyone who isn't doing it already. I also came up with a few products that I thought would be popular that could be make-to-order. This increased my sales during the feature, and it made it so I could have more Etsy inventory without spending the studio time upfront, saving me some desperately needed time.

You create with such gorgeous, vivid colors and patterns. Where does your inspiration come from?
You will probably think this is funny, but color charts, paint chips, and lined-up color swatches are the sorts of things that inspire what I will make next! I try to always have every color in stock, and I get a lot of pleasure out of seeing all the slight variations a color can have, because I want it all.

I love how you’ve made your art into functional pieces, such as tea towels and napkins. Essentially you’ve made art affordable and easy for us to bring into our homes. Your home d├ęcor line is only part of what you do. Can you tell us a bit about the other works you produce in your studio?
I started my functional line because I really do want people to be able to use handcrafted items around them on a daily basis, and also because I wanted to have a job that could allow me to continue to develop my more content-based studio work. I make etchings, woodcuts, drawings and installations, and then I work on getting that stuff shown. Put succinctly, my studio work is my attempt to talk about the incredible thing that is life. I guess that's really what all art is, so I should flesh that out a bit and say that I never get tired of looking at natural structures, patterns and phenomena, and that is really what gets me making new visual work. I typically work with paper, silk, and ink. Right now, I am excitedly looking forward to making a site specific piece in May that will be all about microscopic life in the ocean. If you want to see some of the projects I've done, I have a little website with those works. margotbmyers.com

As a successful shop owner can you offer some insights into steps that you took, improvements that you have made to get you where you are today. As Etsy has grown over the years and the competition increases have you had to rethink some of your designs, pricing, products over time?
I try to rigorously evaluate the way that my work looks both in person and online. I really look at it at least every month, and ask myself a few questions, such as:

What is appealing about this?
Is it something you would buy?
What would make it more irresistible to you as a consumer?
I also ask for feedback from close friends who are also trained in the visual arts.

As far as prices, I've discovered that my sales seem to be able to sustain a steady price increase over the years. I probably started out selling pretty low, but I think it helped to get me started. I've gotten better at not doing work for free, and knowing which projects are going to be financially viable to produce, and that has been something that I seemed to pick up little by little.  Joining TeamT was another step I took to try and be more involved on Etsy. I hadn't joined a team before this one, and I can see why it is important and helpful.

I think your question about growing with Etsy is really a good one. Both my shop and Etsy used to have a much different look. For example, the first listing of mine that made it to the front page was this. Today, this item would never make it there, I think. The photo isn't interesting, and to my eye now, the lighting looks poor. I think that the thing that has probably improved the most over the years is the way that I present my work in photographs.

As competition increased and Etsy started to move towards a more polished appearance, I tried keeping up by researching the way that larger companies market and present products that are similar to mine. I tried following bigger trends in home decor, in just a general sense without losing sight of the unique qualities that set my work apart.

I want my work to keep evolving, so I consistently and continually incorporate new things into my current inventory. Last year, I started sending out a monthly newsletter, which has been helpful, because it pushes me to have something new to say to my customers on a regular basis. This year for the very first time, I am starting to have my own drawings turned into the copper batik stamps that I use in my production work, so that is a big step for me. I also like to play little numbers games with myself, in terms of number of etsy sales or views, to keep my momentum moving forward.

Apart from creating things, what do you do?
I love to fish and to garden. I've been part of a commercial fishing family and worked on the fish grounds my whole life, and it's a really important part of who I am. I also love growing a garden. This is a newer interest, and my husband, Lyle, and I work on cultivating the most food we can from our large backyard. It's really rewarding to watch things grow, trying new varieties and to understand in such a literal way that my life is part of a larger cycle.

I have garden pictures here.

And fishing pictures here.

I love garden talk, so if any of you are into that, we should chat ;).

Early riser or night owl?
I appreciate the beauty of the early morning, but I definitely get my best work done at night.

What’s playing on your ipod this week?
Audio books! Or, when I'm too lazy to download them, I listen to NPR. I have most recently enjoyed Gardens of Water and The World Made by Hand series.

Ten years from now where would you like to be living and what would you like to be doing?
I'm overall fairly pleased with my life as it is now, so I guess I hope it doesn't change too much! I love being married, and living in Bellingham, and I enjoy what I do. I guess I'd like to be a smarter, better person, and I'd like to have a nicer studio and be making more work that gets shown. But generally, I'd like to still be making things every day, watching the tide come in and out, and surrounding myself with things that grow.

Visit Margot's Etsy Shop!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Member Feature: Nancy (NancyWallisDesigns)

Featured: NancyWallisDesigns
Interview by: MargotBianca

Tell us a little bit about how your business all began.
I left my Human Resource Management career for full time motherhood almost sixteen years ago. I love being a mom and I’m thankful for this time, away from a paycheque, that allowed me to see what I really wanted to do. As my two daughters grew older I decided to return to college through night school and follow a more creative career path in interior decorating. Upon graduation I opened my own company Wallis Designs. I worked independently on many successful residential projects. Around the same time I started making jewelry for myself mostly because I could never find what I was looking for in the stores. While doing this I could not shake the idea of selling my jewelry in a bigger way.

How did you get started on Etsy?
After a local bead shop owner told me about Etsy I probably spent about two months looking through Etsy and lurking in the forums before I decided to make the plunge of opening my own shop. I was a little nervous, but more excited. There was little to lose in trying and I was determined to make it succeed. Almost three years ago now I opened my Etsy shop and my website (nancywallisdesigns.com) on the same day.

Do you remember your first sale on Etsy? Do you know who bought your first item from you, or do you know how the sale came about? Do you remember how you felt?
Oh yes, I definitely remember it. It took 24 days to be exact. It was a holiday Monday and the whole family was home and everyone knew the instant I knew. I was jumping up and down and everyone came running to the computer to see the #1 by my sales numbers. It was a lampwork pendant necklace bought by Alice (no, not ‘our’ Alice). She was sweet and I was so pleased when she received it and loved it. I felt like I was walking on a cloud that day.

What is your favourite part of being a shop owner on Etsy?
  • I love to be independent.
  • I like the fact my jewelry has new homes around the world - such as England, Australia, Singapore, Ho Chi Ming City, Micronesia (I actually had to look that one up). Places I could never reach at a local craft show. I like to imagine my customers in these faraway lands wearing my jewelry.
  • I like the flexibility it provides for our family.
  • I like the people I’ve met - supportive shop owners and fantastic, friendly customers.

What challenges have you faced during the process?
  • Trying to stay visible in a saturated jewelry category.
  • Keeping up to date with search optimizations and Etsy changes as my computer knowledge is learn as I go.
  • Maintaining a balanced life – trying to stay off the computer at night and weekends as much as I can.

What inspires you?
My design process definitely starts with colour. I love to play with coloured glass beads and different metals. I let my inspirations such as travel, nature and a little romantic whimsy take hold in my jewelry.

Sometimes the best inspirations can come from accidents such as spilled beads. Looking down at a ‘mess’ I noticed two beads that settled next to each other. There lies a colour combination that I would not inherently go to but are beautiful together nonetheless. I like to be surprised by these things.

Capri, Nancy's inspiration for the bracelet pictured right

There are many jewelry sellers on Etsy, and I have heard that it is difficult to stand out in the crowd. I wonder if you can talk about the specific things do you do to succeed, aside from being an active member of the team, to make your product and brand stand out?
Trying to stay visible is a constant struggle and sometimes I don’t think there is much rhyme or reason to it. Good sales one week can lead to no sales another week. This can get really frustrating. With experience, I’ve learned to cope better with the ups and downs. I try to focus on the things that I can control.
  • Make a quality product you can be proud of
  • Consistently list new items
  • Watch what sells and does not sell in your own shop - find a balance between creativity and saleability and be willing to give up the items that don’t sell
  • In the case of jewelry, wear your product and carry business cards wherever you go
  • Take care of your customers
I have a lot of return customers and friends of return customers. I take care of my customers and make them feel special. I respond quickly to their questions, thank them for their purchases, I package their orders with care and I make sure their orders have arrived. To me this all seems so logical and easy to do but I’m always surprised in some of my own purchases how good customer service can be lacking.

During slow times I take this opportunity to build stock, get caught up on paperwork and even take some personal time.

As I look over your sales from the past couple of years, I notice a clear evolution of your work and photographs. Can you tell us a little bit about your professional development?

Over the last three years my work has definitely evolved. My evolution has more to do with my own obsession with beads and compulsion to bead shop and the creative energy these new finds bring. I can get bored easily so change is essential for my well being rather than an intentional design process.

More significantly though I think my photographs have improved. This is a constant process. I have tried shooting outdoors and with a light tent but I have now settled into a fairly routine process of indoors with natural light. It’s very glamorous as I settle myself on the kitchen floor beside my glass sliding door with a northern exposure. Sometimes my dog Mabel will sit with me for a little company. I use a Canon Power Shot SX10IS point and shoot and I use the macro settings. I do a little photo editing through Picasso but recently just bought Photoshop Elements which I have to learn how to use.

Apart from creating things, what do you do?
My family is definitely the most important part of me. I’m married to my high school sweetheart and mom of two young teen girls. I’m pretty busy after school and evenings performing my ‘taxi’ duties to various activities. You can regularly find me volunteering at the school, at our local arena watching my oldest daughter play hockey and at the dance studio watching my youngest.

Recently my husband and I joined a yoga studio where we have become hooked on hot yoga. Before this I didn’t even like to sweat so if it’s any inspiration for anyone – if I can do this anyone can! I’m now there 2-3 times per week.

After years of kind of losing myself in mom duties I have recently gone back to singing and I have joined our church band. Rock on Mom! This has really opened back up a part of me that I didn’t realize how much I missed. I definitely think I’m finding more of a balance in my life of work, family and myself.

Nancy's Blog: nancywallisdesigns.blogspot.com
Nancy's Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/wallisdesigns