Monday, January 23, 2012

Shop's One Year Anniversary! What I've learned and Some Tips for Your Business

((I held off posting this blog post since on January 18th since Swag Swap Week was going on and I didn't want to take away from all the awesome giveaways!))

So, as of January 18th 2012 Yellow Heart Art has been open for an ENTIRE YEAR.  Can you, like, believe it?

Looking back I can't even believe I made myself open up shop. I was scurred--super scurred. What if no one buys anything? What if I invest all this moola and its a huge flop? What if people buy my stuff, get it, then wanna return it? Wait, how the heck do I ship these things? How much does shipping cost? How in the world am I going to design all these graphics, print them, ship them AND work full time?!

aaand exhale.

I went into Yellow Heart Art 100% completely BLIND.

When I tell you I had NO IDEA what I was doing I am not lying.

And heck, I am still learning. In fact towards the bottom of this post I even fill ya in on some tips and tricks to your growing business based on my own experiences.

Here are some milestones that make me look back and smile and junk:

January 18th 2011: Opened up shop! And whoa I even made a sale 5 minutes after listing an item! (I know, I'm so bad ass right?) (wrong) (turns out the buyer was Bub under an "alias" name so I wouldn't know it was him) (he has been by far my biggest supporter through this entire journey)

January 20th: Made 1st OFFICIAL sale that wasn't bub. Had heart palpitations. Didn't know what to do. Shipped item. Prayed it got there. And exhaled.

February: Amy bought 2 prints from me (this was before Amy and I were BFFs, in fact this is how we met) (till this day I am shocked homegirl bought 2 prints from a lil no-name shop that only had, like, 3 sales) (but she believed) (and she's awesome) (like, really really awesome) we talked via Etsy convo. She got my prints. She was in love. I did my first ever giveaway on her blog. We have been besties ever since.

March: Saw some blogs showcasing my art work. One said blog was Lindsay. While scouring her blog I found that she had featured oh, sweet joy! on there. So I contacted Kim and asked about advertising. I did my 1st advertising with Kim for 3 months.

April: Opened up our facebook page and caved in and joined Twitter. I tweeted about stuff like what I ate for breakfast and that bub makes me wanna rip out my hair -- but had no clue what in the world I was doing.  Also? bub gave me as a birthday present. (If anyone knows any HTML please help us out? As you can see that page has not been updated since, well, April)

May: Started Yellow Heart Art, the blog. Again, no clue what I was doing. (this seems to be a common theme)

June: Introduced necklaces into the shop. HOLY to the COW did these necklaces They took me a few months to perfect. I finally decided to ditch them due to the material I was using causing too many imperfections in the necklaces. Only about 30% of the necklaces I made were "sell-able". This was my first "sellers mistake" and lost some money on these. But hey, it was a learning experience and I don't regret it!

July: Getting a ton of requests for freelance work!

August: Milk and Honey in Huntington Village (New York) started selling our necklaces in their brick and mortar shop.

September-November: Due to moving into a new apartment the shop had to be put on hold for 3 months. The shop was left open during this time and I had so many people buy prints from me knowing they would have to wait months for them to show up. I am truly amazed at how patient everyone was with me during this transition. We also started our Newsletter as a way for people to keep up with what was going on with our vacation and to get exclusive discount codes.

November: Yellow Heart Art re-opened! I introduced a new line of "Squishable Art" where I turned my artwork into fun silhouetted pillows. Amy also suggested that I not give up on my necklace adventure and she recommended that I put my original designs on fabric and make fabric pendants. 

December: Etsy administration contacted me and wanted to feature one of my "Squishable Art Camera Pillows" in the Huffington Post. This was my first ever "legit" press. I also introduced to the shop fabric broaches and hair clips.

So here we are, one year later, I have made approx. 400 sales and have worked with a number of you guys on designing branding for your blogs or shops.

I am truly amazed at where I am and all the wonderful ladies I have "met". When I opened up shop I thought it was just going to be a shop and nothing more. I didn't think at all that I was going to make solid friendships and interact with people on an intimate level.

Here are some things I've learned along the way (tips for your growing business):
(psst this is all based on my personal experience, also if you dont have a shop read on anyway and see what the process is like when you buy handmade from someone :)

You.Are.Everything. You are the shipping department, customer service, the accountant, the designer, the marketing department, public relations, the inventory tracker, the purchasing agent, the photographer, the writer and the President of your company (are you overwhelmed yet?).

"You Are The Shipping Department" make sure you know how you are shipping your items before you list them and how much it will cost. Make sure you know how much they weigh and that you have enough items on hand to get you by for at least the first 20 sales you make. I do all my shipping through paypal. For an extra .19c you can add "delivery confirmation". Do it. It is the best .19c you will EVER spend. Also some box sizing dimensions *could* cost more money, you could call your postal service and tell them what you are shipping and they can direct you to the most cost effective way to ship something.

"You Are Customer Service" you will get a lot of requests. People will ask if things come in different colors, if they buy X amount can they get a discount, where is their package, when will it ship, if you can make it in a different size etc. Always be polite and answer emails with in timely fashion. If you are uncomfortable with a request from a client then be honest with them, don't ever commit to something you don't think you will be able to make look great. There are times when someone wants me to design their blog but the "look" they want isn't my "style". I'll either direct them to another designer or show them something in *my* style to see if they like it.

"You Are The Accounting Department" keep track of all your receipts! These can be written off for your taxes. I am a little unsure how in the world to do this since I am getting my taxes done for the 1st time ever on this business so, umm, if you can help *me* that would be awesome ha! But yeah. keep those receipts.

"You Are The Designer" even though my job title literally has the word "Designer" in it (Graphic Designer) you, too, are the "designer" of your products. Don't ever down right steal someone's product. You want to be known for what you do that makes YOU stand out. If everyone just copied everyone then there would be no "Abercombie", "Anthropologie" or "Express". Even though those are all clothing companies the look of their clothes are different and unique. You could buy a T-shirt in all 3 of these stores, but they won't have the same style (Abercrombie Ts are distressed and college looking, Anthropologie Ts are usually classy with a vintage pattern and Express Ts are usually meant for a night out on the town)

Always try to come up with new products or different designs at least every season--loyal customers will want something fresh and new to see every now and then. A simple change can be offering a best seller in more color choices!

"You Are Public Relations" put yourself out there by having a facebook page, twitter account, pinterest, blog newsletter etc. Social media is your friend (AND its FREE advertising!). On twitter don't just copy and paste links to your products, make sure you talk about your day and interact with people as well. I get turned off when I follow someone and all they do is promote themselves. I love promoting other shops on social media sites as well. It helps build community and friendships. This is a great avenue to give your customers product sneak peaks, coupon codes and an opportunity to get to know you on a more personal "human" level.

"You Are The Marketing Department" you can't just rely on Etsy (or big cartel, or store envy) to get your name out there. YOU need to market yourself. In my personal experience I have found that doing a giveaway on a blog was more beneficial than having just static ad space on someone's side bar. If you advertise on a blog make sure they offer to do a blog post about you and your products. Try to offer coupon codes, people might not want to commit to your product right away so give them the option to test the waters at a discounted price. Also, have a solid "look" to your business. Branding is super important. Have a logo and a color scheme and stick to it. Use it on your websites, business cards and advertisements. When you think of your favorite clothing brand what do you think? Do they use a specific font or color scheme that you recognize? Keep that in mind, you want people to recognize your brand.

"You Are The Inventory Tracker" this is a BIGGIE. I one time ran out of paper (I know, I sell prints, how does that happen?!) and had to spend more money than I wanted to by having paper over nighted to me so that I can get people their prints in the "2-5 business day" turn around time that I promised them. KEEP TRACK OF YOUR SUPPLIES.

"You Are The Purchasing Agent" you will need to keep track and buy all of your items. Do you use kraft paper boxes for the necklaces you sell? Then do a google search for "Kraft paper boxes" and find which one is the best price. Be careful, don't sacrifice price for quality. People are paying YOU money for something YOU made, don't jip them. If you are uncomfortable standing behind something you made or purchased then don't sell it or use it. There is a fine line between being "frugal" and being "cheap". Starting up is hard because you don't want to invest so much money into your business that you put yourself in a bad financial situation of not having enough money to simply "live your life" and pay your bills. Figure out what is important and figure out what purchases you can hold off on until you get more sales. Me personally I invested my money in supplies to make my products & sturdy shipping materials. I waited to invest money in my "packaging" since I felt it was more important that my customers get a high quality product rather than a high quality product wrapped in pretty tissue paper, ribbon and stickers that just end up in the trash anyway. Once I was seeing a profit from sales that is when I branched out and spent more money on packaging, advertising and other things I was holding off on.

• "You Are The Photographer" you are in charge of photographing all your products! Not good with photography? No worries! ALWAYS use natural sunlight and place your products on a non busy background. Make sure to not include a lot of "clutter" in the photos, people might be confused as to what is for sale (example: if you are selling headbands and you take a photo of your headband next to some barrettes, earrings and hair clips the customer might think they are buying ALL those items. If you want to show the headband with all those items it is ok to do so as long as you have at least 2 or 3 photos of *just* the headband to help with confusion) Instagram is also great for social networking but NOT for product shots. Do not use wacky filters on your photos since it will change the color of your products.

"You Are The Writer" those product descriptions don't just write themselves ya know. Make sure to include as much detail as you can about your product. If a customer has to take the time to contact you to ask you a question about the product it might cost you a sale. Make sure to include: The color of your item, the size, how it will be shipped, approx shipping timeline, how long it took you to make it and why they need it. Also make sure you have written out all your "shop policies" before diving into shop. What happens if an item gets lost in the mail? Can you make a return? How long will the item take to get to me? Ask questions that you would want to know when purchasing a product and answer it in your policies section. Whatever you do DO NOT COPY AND PASTE SOMEONE ELSE'S PRODUCT DESCRIPTIONS OR POLICIES. This is a place for YOUR personality to come through not someone else's. I have had 4 etsy shops copy and paste my words before (it was verbatim, nothing was changed) and when I confronted these shops they all changed their product information to their own wording and were very apologetic. Trust me, in the long run it is worth it for you to do the work-other shop owners take the time to do it so have pride in YOUR shop and do what is right for YOU. You wouldn't like it if someone took your words that you took so long to write and copied and pasted it into their product descriptions--would you?

Dont Skimp On Your Prices - even if you are just starting out do not make your items dirt cheap just for the sake of getting some sales. 2 reasons why this is no beuno: #1 - what if your inexpensive prices is the reason for your shop being "so popular"? Now you're stuck in between a rock and a hard place if you decide to up your prices once you see things are selling. Repeat customers will wonder why your item's pricing jumped so dramatically and if you were able to sell something at $5.00 why is it now worth $12.00? This isn't to say you can't gradually increase your prices, but you should never "double" them over night. #2 - You are basically saying that all your time, money spent on materials, and creativity isn't worth "anything". Now that isn't to say to make your prices so high that people will be turned off by it. But take into the account how much money in materials your product cost, how long it took you to make it, how much it will cost to ship, how much the shipping supplies cost, and how long it took you to come up with this concept. My prints for the most part are $20 because I print everything myself using my own super duper swanky printer and super duper inks (I refuse to use cheap inks and papers-the inks I use are archival meaning they won't fade if exposed to sunlight. Sure, I can use cheaper inks and sell my prints for $12, but then my customer's prints will start to fade with in a year. By that point the print isn't even worth $5 if the quality wont last) I also take the time to design all my original prints from scratch. Bottom line: you get what you pay for.

People Like Free Things (and to feel special) - I absolutely love photojojo. I love their branding (upbeat, light and comical) and whenever I buy something from them they *always* give me a freebie. Sometimes its a mini dinosaur (ya know, those dinos you used to get at the dentist? Was I the only one whose dentist had a "treasure chest" full of epic swag?) or sometimes a mini camera key chain. Now don't blow your profits on "free things" to include in your packaging.  Something as simple as a handwritten note or a flyer with an exclusive coupon code on it is enough to make you stand out. Your customers will hopefully appreciate the extra effort and most likely leave positive feedback (if you have an etsy), recommend you to friends or buy from you again in the future.

Create realistic time lines - do you work full time like me? or are you a stay at home mom with 2 kids? If you can't commit to your business 24-7 then make sure to create time lines that you are comfortable with. Let your clients know that they will get their products shipped with in 2-5 business days once ordered (or maybe longer if you can't get to the PO in time) if you put it out there people will understand. Do not assume people are ok with "waiting", this information needs to be present before the buyer makes a purchase.

• Keep a Journal In your purse - get a mini mole skin and when an idea hits you WRITE IT DOWN. It doesn't have to be business related, it could be a color scheme that you think is rad or a new shape that you wanna try to re-work into your branding.

Have your business cards on hand - if you're starting out for the first time do NOT buy 1,000 business cards off the bat. Maybe your shop changes direction when you see "what sells" and "what isn't selling" (perhaps you start off as selling jewelry buy now you strictly sell purses). Or maybe your shop got SO BIG that now you want a professional look done by a designer (so now you're branding looks different) whatever the case may be start off small. Get 50-100 cards made and promote the heck out of yourself by giving them away to whomever you can whenever you can (yep, that dude behind the counter at home depot wants your flower poppy headband). (Ok, maybe HE doesnt but he might have a wife who does!) (see?) (bet you had no clue where I was going with home depot man, huh?)

• MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF-this is a HUGE ONE for me. I didn't want Yellow Heart Art to be a chore. I wanted it to be FUN and an OUTLET for when life was getting too much for me. Since I work Full Time during the week (and also do freelance design work as well) on top of running Yellow Heart Art I told myself that I would NOT do any design work on the weekends. I needed time to unwind and just hang out with bubs. I create designs and print out prints during the week. Trust me, if you start to resent your shop because you have NO free time then you're going to stop doing what you love. It'll show in your products, customer service & how you promote yourself. If you ever find yourself overwhelmed simply take a break. Put the shop on temporary vacation mode and get back to it when you finally conquered everything.

Other Resources- Here are some other links you might find helpful when starting/growing your business:
How to Make your Facebook Business Page be more user Friendly by Heather of Just Lovely Things
Comparing Store Bought to Handmade by Heather of Just Lovely Things
5 things Ive Learned about Running a Handmade Shop - Guest Post by Kim of Oh, Sweet Joy!
Various Tips from Gussy of Gussy Sews

SO there it is folks--this is probably the longest post I have ever written. Thanks for sticking by me this past year. I absolutely love what I do and I can not WAIT to see what 2012 has in store for me and my shop. To anyone who has ever bought anything from me, "re-tweeted" a tweet about my shop or showed some love to me on your blog I want to say THANK YOU from the bottom of my graphic design heart. Seriously, THANK YOU!!!

WAAAIT and also? Who Here is going to creative estates AND from New York?! PLEASE LET THERE BE SOMEONE (sorry that needed to be done in caps)


  1. Great, super- helpful post. Is creative estates on the east coast???! I'm in CT and would love to go!

  2. Congratulations on One Year of RIDICULOUS success! You are awesome girly! Isn't it amazing when you pause for a moment and reflect on how much you've learned and grown in 365 short days?? It's astounding and so motivating!

    Sidenote: If you're looking to learn HTML, Tara Gentile does a step-by-step e-course called, "Website Kickstart". If you don't know her yet, she's super fabulous-- check her out!

    Cheers to living the dream! :)

  3. Thank you SO much for these pointers! You are fabulous!!

  4. Brilliant!!! Thank you for these AWESOME tips girl!!!

  5. Congrats on one year! this is all such great advice for new biz owners.

  6. Thanks for this. I've learned many of these lessons through experience, but it's nice to hear that I'm doing it right and on the right path.

  7. congrats on one year sweetie!! you are amazing!!

  8. you are amazing lady and I am so glad i stumbled onto your blog and shop.

    thanks for this post-- it's a good reminder :)


  9. I second Erika's are so inspiring & I am so proud to be a supporter of YellowHeartArt even though I'm broke and have never bought anything from your store ;)

  10. So proud of you (and Bub, too because of his support of you and "secretly" being your first sale. Stuff like that makes me say to myself, "Yeah, I did good.") Leonora, you're a genius and I'm so incredibly PROUD of you and all that you have accomplished with YellowHeartArt this year! Your advice based on your experiences is fabuloso! All of this just floored me. Love you!

  11. congrats on the first year anniversary! you deserve all the success you've had! keep on creating! and thank you for sharing your tips!

  12. This is a really remarkable list of tips, Leonora. Congrats on your year anniv and all the success Yellow Heart Art has seen! I swear, you could be an Etsy coach ;)

  13. What an awesome journey for your shop-- congrats on all your success! You deserve it :)

    And thanks for sharing so many great tips!! There are definitely a few pieces of advice here that I need to adopt... especially in regards to inventory! I have done the pricey overnight supply buying too...

  14. Thanks for the nice blog. Keep sharing such ideas in the future as well. yellow pages of pakistan


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