The other day, I came across a really cool artist on Etsy, who made an awesome linoprint. It looked like this:

These three words struck a chord in the deepest part of my creative soul. As part of my New Year’s Resolution I vowed that I would try my hardest to create a successful handmade business. By successful I mean increased organization, exposure, sales, and opportunities to share my work with others. I think to be successful in any independent enterprise one must -or very well should be- SWEET, STRONG, and AMBITIOUS. So far in 2012, I have been a busy bee indeed, all the while thinking of that powerful combination of words.

I’d like to think of myself as SWEET by nature. I’ve never bullied anyone. I enjoy giving much more than receiving. I make it a point to always be perceptive about things that bring joy to other nice people, and then surprise them when they need it the most. I definitely get that from my mom. If everyone else is happy, I am happy. I also get that from my mom. I’ve been trying to employ my sweet sensibilities in my business by promoting other crafty people and the cool things they make. I do so by making lots of Etsy treasuries, posting photos and links to Tumblr, Facebook, and Pinterest, and donating my handmade goods to worth while causes. Just the other day, I had a lot of fun putting together a treasury entitled etsians in the 7 cities, which showcased the abundant creative talent in Hampton Roads, a place I call home. It made me feel good to learn more about the cool handmade culture in my surrounding area. In the process, I made connections with some really nice people.

Not to toot my own horn, but being SWEET is easy for me. To be STRONG is a much greater challenge. I am a major wuss, completely non-confrontational, and too much of the time, unsure of myself. I sometimes get intimidated by all of the amazing things people are doing/making and I begin to doubt my own work. In 2012, the new, STRONG-er Marie is letting go of this counter-productive, detrimental attitude. I have no use for it. The more time and effort that I invest into cultivating my creativity and my business, the more hope and sincere belief I have for it. Every week, my Etsy shop looks better and better. Every day, my creative imagination grows. Every minute, my hands become more capable of creating something awesome. Every kind and encouraging word that people go out of their way to share with me is a tiny push forward. Just the other day, I received the nicest message on Etsy in reference to an item in my shop…

Hi Marie!

I can’t tell you how much I LOVE these yarn triangles. My aunt sent me $50 for Christmas with strict instructions not to buy anything practical with it even though I need so many things. BUT I think I need these earrings the most. They are magical.
I live in Brooklyn but am flying to San Diego to visit my sister-in-law tomorrow. I want to get her a pair and two for myself. I am not sure which ones but will pick tomorrow 1/5 or the next day 1/6. I will probably have them shipped to her as my daughter and I are staying until 1/22.

Thank you for being awesome!

…This brought a huge smile to my face. I’ve never been thanked for being awesome. The fact that she thought my earrings were “magical,” and the best way to spend her $50 made me stand just a little bit taller. Thus far, my handmade items have travelled to California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Portland, sweet ol’ Virginia, Australia, Italy, and Norway. It’s such a cool feeling.

After receiving her earrings in the mail, the very kind woman that sent me the heart-warming Etsy message, posted a little surprise to my facebook page…

we just got your earrings in the mail and we LOVE them! so reasonably priced, great simple designs...I really have never seen anything like them. natural, artsy, great colors! thank you! we will be ordering more and spreading the word! we've even attached a (slightly cheesy but lovable) photo of my sister and I modeling our faves.

This past week, I surprised myself with my level of AMBITIOUS-ness. I revamped my Etsy shop and Facebook page, organized my billions of product photos, made a bunch of new advertisements, and designed my very first sponsor ad, which is now displayed on Oh So Lovely Vintage, one of my favorite blogs. I keep visiting the page just to see my humble little ad that I made all by myself. I’ve already gotten some traffic to my Etsy shop because of it. I’ve been hard at work this month getting ready for a hopefully lucrative and fun-filled summer. I’ve decided to fulfill a life-long dream and become a part-time peddler. My goal is to travel around Virginia and surrounding states to various craft shows and music festivals. I am preparing myself now, trying to get a little more AMBITIOUS every day. Starting my own business has proven to be a highly empowering and positive experience and I know I have so much to learn. Over the past few months, I’ve met a lot of creative and inspiring people that played major roles in the evolution of my jewelry and my business. They gave me great advice, which I immediately implemented. I know that small businesses should be ever-changing, and at this point in my life, I’m ready to change.

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etsy love.

December 30, 2011

I love Etsy. I always have. Since the moment I laid eyes on it after a Handmade Parade craft show back in (I think) 2006, I knew it was a happy place. This particular craft show was one of my first experiences with authentically handmade culture. The bright colors, the good smells, and the hopeful people stirred a new sensation within me  -one of complete consumeristic joy mixed with a bit of envy. I had always loved creating things but never considered selling them to be a viable money-making option. Here all these people were selling things that they had made -magical things to me.  As I walked around marveling at the most unique products I had seriously ever seen, I realized just how much hard work the sellers put into their respective businesses, not only the product but the presentation and the professionalism. On top of that, everybody was so nice and enthusiastic about what they were selling. Either they truly loved their job, or they were really good actors. Sadly, I could not afford to buy everything I wanted that day, but I was comforted to know that I could one day -thanks to a few letters printed on almost all of their business cards –etsy.com.

I was extremely curious and went straight to my computer when I got home. WOAH. The very first page was entrancing. My eyes tried to focus on the items displayed in a rectangular arrangement of visual splendor. It was a few minutes later that I realized the sheer magnitude of this handmade phenomenon.  I couldn’t believe all of the categories of handmade and vintage things just waiting for my consideration.

Needless to say, I was on Etsy for a few hours that night. My eyes ached when I finally went to bed at 3 am. And I had to work the next day too! It was no longer just about buying things. It was so much more.  It was a welcomed vacation from the craziness of life to a land of limitless creative possibilities and passions pursued. The PASSION oozed from the product photos and descriptions, and the sellers’ intimate bios. What I loved the most was the story and feeling that sellers brought to life in each handmade listing. I bought a few more things that night, and for the second time that day, I felt really good about the transaction. In a way, I felt like I sort of knew the people, and by owning and appreciating their handmade creations, I was helping their dreams come true. When I learned that listing a handmade item was only 20 cents, it finally occurred to me that I could try if I really wanted, to create something that another human being might want -with very little risk involved. It was such a happy, exciting feeling.

Made by Merriweather Council

Etsy has been the best study guide a novice jewelry seller like me could ever have. It’s fun, interactive, and enthusiastically helpful. There is a plethora of resources available to all levels of Etsians from buyers to prospective sellers, to beginning shops, to well-established businesses. Clearly, the learning process never ends. YES. It is overwhelming. YES. It is easy to get lost in a sea of worldwide handcrafted loveliness. YES. It is a lot of work. But it’s like a fun game too. It’s a challenge to make, photograph, name, and describe something I create that will hopefully reach out to at least one other human being. Essentially, I can play the role of designer,  inventor, photographer, marketing specialist, salesperson, financial analyst, and authentic human being all at once. This continuous cross training of professions is very time consuming but to me, never boring. And when I do manage to sell something, it is an indescribably wonderful feeling.

I am very new to selling my handmade goods. Every day I gain crucial knowledge in building a successful business. In fact, I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that just a few minutes ago, I discovered Etsy’s Shop Stats. With this amazing tool, I can analyze my shop statistics and hopefully increase my shop’s exposure and appeal to the world -even through other venues like Google, Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr, and even WordPress. In fact, this is what prompted me to write such a glowing review of Etsy. Just by reading my Shop Stats I learned that my recent attempts to start a blog and Facebook page have really paid off, significantly increasing my level of exposure and subsequently my sales. This feature also showed me that people are drawn to both brightly colored photos against a stark white background, and photos of real people wearing my jewelry in a visually pleasing way. The words “Bob Dylan” and “Navajo,” have earned special places in my heart as winning item “tags” since Shop Stats informed me that they are my most searched keywords. I am so glad I am now aware of this highly informative feature. Checking my Shop Stats will become part of my weekly routine, pushing me to constantly learn ways to improve my product as well as my effectiveness as a seller. I hope to one day make a person think, “wow this girl has really taken her craft to the next level…”

Perhaps the best thing about Etsy is that it is collaborative. You can join teams, attend craft labs, post in forums, and just talk to other sellers. In my experience, most people are happy to share helpful bits of advice with an inquiring newbie. Etsy WANTS you to success. Of course, they benefit from your success, but they also understand the importance of cultivating small businesses, promoting independence and creative thinking. Basically, I just love Etsy. I could talk about it all day. I like to look at it as a sort of frontier for craftspeople of the world, a place where handmade dreams become reality. It is corny but true. Just see for yourself.

a whirlwind of photo shoots.

December 26, 2011

Like many people, I feel like I haven’t stopped moving over the past few weeks. I’ve found it difficult to sleep, unable to turn off the thoughts and ideas manifesting in my brain like explosions of creative confetti, maddening and exciting all at once. I know that sounds cheesy, but that is the only way I can describe it. I’m sort of mad at myself that I haven’t taken the time to document all of the baking and crafty projects I’ve been doing lately, but I hardly had time to complete them let alone photograph them in an aesthetically pleasing way. I did manage to take a series of photos of my new jewelry line, which I am so excited to share with people.

Planning these winter photo shoots was far more difficult than any that I did this summer. First of all, it was freezing. Second, the sunlight was scarce. And third, I had to find a time that was convenient for everyone in the midst of this hectic holiday season. I had planned to wait until after the holidays, but I really wanted to present some nice photos of my jewelry to present to all of the holiday shoppers. Fortunately, I was able to do four different photo shoots, some of which were with people I hardly knew. Interestingly enough, friends of friends that had seen my previous photos contacted me to see if they could model some of my jewelry. I was surprised and flattered.

For me, this was sort of a daunting task, as I am somewhat shy and could use a little work explaining the direction that I want my photos to take. After reviewing all of the photos, I am so happy that I forced myself outside of my comfort zone. I made some new friends and connections and I got just a little bit better at verbally communicating my creative thoughts with other people.

With the help of my models, I found some great places to use as backdrops for my photos, and discovered new ways of expressing the intention behind my creativity. One girl suggested that I play music that expresses the style of my jewelry and that has made all the difference. I can’t believe it never occurred to me before! It really puts people at ease and inspires them to open up the most vulnerable places within themselves to become, in a way, a piece of art. Music has the power to unplug people from the mundane parts of life, and feel passionate and important. It took some of the pressure off of me to explain my aesthetic goals. I also got some great ideas browsing “pretty poses” on Pinterest. I made a really inspiring collection of photo ideas to use for future shoots.

These photos opened a few important doors for me. The owner of Beaucoup Vintage, a really cool shop in Frederickburg,  saw one of the photo shoots and contacted me to be featured in a trunk show at her shop. Needless to say, I was flattered and very excited. After adding the photos to my Etsy listings, I made sales three days in a row. This might not be a big deal to the well established sellers on Etsy, but I was super excited! One friend even described my jewelry as “joyful,” which really made my day. All of these things have pushed me a little further to pursue my creative dream. I can’t wait to do some more photo shoots and possibly make some new friends! Here are a few more of my favorites…

Ok. Enough. If you would like to see more of my jewelry, please visit my Luna Rosa business page on Facebook. Happy Holidays!