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Running a Creative Business | On Sutton Place

I think that stories are a powerful thing.  I love hearing a good story about how someone got from point a to point b.  There’s something encouraging about it.  If she can do it, maybe I could too.  

I’ve asked some of my friends and fellow entrepreneurs to share their story and now it’s time to hear from Ann of Sutton Place Designs.  She is one of my sponsors, but this is not a sponsored post.  She’s a business woman who has impressed me every step of the way and I wanted to share her story and advice with you.  Enjoy!

 

Hello everyone. Before I get started I have a confession to make. I was shaking in my boots and so nervous with just the thought of guest posting on Marian’s blog. After all, like Jami Clune said, it’s a magic blog. Now that I’m actually here, the nerves have turned into pure delight. I am honored and thrilled to be Marian’s guest.

My name is Ann and I’m the face behind the blog On Sutton Place.

My blog is almost 2 years old and let me tell you it’s been an amazing two years. What I’ve learned, the people I have met, the changes that have taken place in my life are all a result of that day when I clicked on a little button that said PUBLISH BLOG.

My blog happened with no planning and very little thought. I didn’t even own a camera. I discovered the world of blogs while researching how to paint kitchen cabinets. I jumped in with both feet and figured things out along the way. I was working full time as a school secretary, but still had too much time on my hands. My empty nest needed filled. While my blog certainly didn’t take the place of my kids, it has proven to be just what I needed.

I believe that everyone, no matter what, has a story. My story begins when I was about 10. My mom enrolled me in summer sewing lessons at our local Singer store.  I spent many happy hours in the back of that store leaning over a sewing machine. I went back for several summers until I was old enough to get a summer job.  Fast forward a few years. I am now a wife, mother and homeowner. I picked up sewing where I had left off and made curtains, halloween costumes and doll clothes. As my children grew, and I had a little more extra time, I designed a line of girls jumpers. My business was called Annie’s Originals. Pretty original huh? Anyway, I peddled the jumpers at local shops and an occasional craft show. I made absolutely no money though, and after a few years I took a job at my children’s school as the office secretary.

During these years my life was full. I had a job, two very active kids, a husband and a house that needed work. My sewing skills were again resurrected to make curtains, pillows and bedding. I covered old cushions and chair seats. I was always working on something. Back then, I didn’t really consider myself a creative person. I knew what I liked and had a limited budget. As a result, I had to figure out ways to get the look I saw in magazines. I know now that this is what creativity is all about.

So…back to my blog. There I was, reading about painting cabinetry on Isabella and Max Rooms, now House of Fifty, all the while thinking  “I could so do this.” Not the painting part, the blogging part. A seed was planted and before I knew it there was something green growing like a weed. It was called On Sutton Place.

During the first year of my blog, I also made a discovery that literally stopped me in my tracks. That discovery was Etsy. At first I wasn’t sure exactly what it was…but I soon had it somewhat figured out and had opened my own shop.

Once again, I jumped in with both feet without much planning or thought. Once again, I learned by doing. I would like to state for the record that I don’t recommend this path. Things would have been much easier had I saved some money and prepared a business plan. But I didn’t. Thanks to an extremely user friendly platform I was quickly in business and my sewing machine was smoking!

This linen pillow cover with the buttons was one of my very first designs and has sold well. I have Marian to thank for featuring this pillow cover on her blog (more than once) and including it in her book. Both were examples of her generous spirit.

Etsy made it possible for me to start a creative business, make my own hours, set my own prices and be my own boss. Etsy enabled me to start small and grow at my own speed. I was (and still am) a one-woman show in my daughter’s old bedroom…but in June of 2012 I resigned from my day job to become a full time Etsy shop owner and blogger. Don’t get me wrong…I am NOT getting rich. In fact if it weren’t for a supportive husband (literally) my dream would not have been possible. I’ve learned the hard way with many hours spent googling the ins and outs of Etsy.  I’d like to share what I’ve learned with the hope that somewhere, somehow, it will help another creative person’s dream come true.

The 3 most important things to Etsy success are:

1. Marketing

2. Presentation

3. Packaging

Marketing

I knew when I opened my shop that I had to get the word out. Etsy is so, so big that being found is a challenge. Initially, I counted on the Etsy search engine and did get a few sales. When I had a little money put aside, I placed button ads on a few of my favorite blogs. These ads and the promotion posts that are sometimes part of the deal were extremely helpful.

I also promoted my shop on my own blog. To this day, my second top referrer in my shop (after the Etsy search engine) is always my Etsy mini. Which leads me to more marketing advice.  A blog and online creative business go hand-in-hand. I know it’s possible to have one without the other but it’s so much easier if you have both.

The next thing I discovered that helped my sales immensely was a feature Etsy offers called Search Ads. I honestly don’t understand exactly how it works…but I set a weekly budget of my choice and with that in mind Etsy moves my listings up in their search engine results. The more you spend, the higher you get placed in their search results.

A newsletter is also a really good marketing tool. I have a free account with MailChimp.com. I have a sign-up on my blog sidebar and also include the sign-up link in every listing. My subscriber list is growing steadily.  It’s a wonderful way to announce new items and sales. Etsy makes it very easy to offer a discount or free shipping. These are marketing must-haves…everyone loves a sale! Social Media is also an excellent (and free) way to promote your shop. I use Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest to show off the items in my shop. Every little bit helps.

Presentation

I honestly believe that this is the element that will make or break your Etsy shop. All the promotion and marketing in the world won’t do you a bit of good if you have an unorganized and poorly photographed shop. I put as much effort in my Etsy photos as I do my blog photos. Styling, lighting and editing are all extremely necessary. A few months ago, I invested in a background and props that I can leave set up in my sewing room.

My photos are now much more uniform and professional. An Etsy customer can’t pick up your item and look at it. You have to make that item come alive through photography. Listing descriptions are also vital in drawing the customer into your shop. I try to be as specific as possible. I give measurements, color information and any other details that I can think of. You would be surprised how many people have emailed me to ask if they can throw a pillow cover in the washer. I try to include laundering information now too!

A few months ago Etsy introduced a new feature called the “About” page. I put off creating one until I happened to visit a few shops that had one. What a difference it made to actually see the shop owner, learn where they came from and hear their story. I love “About” pages and am so disappointed when I visit a shop and there isn’t one. If you are open and honest, people will remember you and return to your shop.

 Packaging

I’ve saved the best for last. Packaging and branding are perhaps my favorite part of owning a creative business. I’m a stickler for continuity and quality. All my packaging matches my Etsy banner. My Etsy banner matches my blog header. And so it goes.  Here’s a shot that Marian included in a feature post she wrote last summer.

When I opened my shop the first thing I bought was a gigantic stack of tissue paper. Next was ribbon. Lots and lots of ribbon. After that came labels, tags and business cards. Later came return address labels and postcards. I even had these little wooden hang tags made for my line of grain sack tote bags.

I wanted my customers to feel as though they were receiving something very special. After all, they spent their hard-earned money in my shop. I wanted them to feel appreciated and valued. The best way to make sure that happened was to go all out on packaging. I firmly believe it is money well spent and that it makes the good first impression every business owner wants.

Shortly after I discovered Etsy, I purchased a pillow cover from a shop that I thought was very cute. It arrived stuffed in an envelope…a wrinkled mess. It hadn’t been pressed and there was no tag or label. It was an anonymous disappointment. At that minute I clearly saw what NOT to do. That purchase alone was what led me to the packaging I use today.

My story wouldn’t be complete without telling you how I met Marian. Our friendship started with a few comments I left on her blog. In the fall of 2011 she posted about needing to out-source some aspects of her business. I gathered up my courage and wrote to her with an offer. I would send her some textile furnishings so she could see first-hand what I was producing. If she liked it, she could sell my things in her shop at Lucketts. I will gladly admit that I went totally overboard. I sent her pillows, table runners, Christmas stockings and who knows what else…but she liked what she saw and our business relationship was formed. I had visions of working exclusively for her. Even perhaps designing an entire Miss Mustard Seed line. (Marian never knew about these visions of course…they were all just dancing around in my head. Sort of like sugar plums.)

Those visions were short-lived. Soon after I sent my package she announced that she would be down-sizing her space at Lucketts and writing a book.

So much for my big break! Looking back now I firmly believe it was the absolute best thing that could have happened. Obviously for Marian (hello…a book deal?) but for me as well. It forced me to concentrate on my own shop. There would be no riding on Marian’s coattails. I was going to sink or swim…but either way it would be done on my own.

Well…I’m still swimming. Sometimes I simply tread water and other times I free style just like Missy Franklin. The bottom line is I’m doing something I love. I’m doing something I’m good at and that brings me great satisfaction. I am blessed beyond measure.

 Ann is such a great example of someone who just jumped into her business and has adapted along the way.  I can also say from experience that a reason she is so successful is that she is quite the whiz on a sewing machine.  Her work is amazing and her attention to detail is noticeable.  I would refer anyone to her in a heartbeat and that is an important aspect of having a successful business.

Thanks so much for sharing your story, Ann!

Today I spent the morning finishing up some more chalkboard trophies, which I’m loving more and more…

…and started painting my latest empire dresser…

…I sold two big pieces at Lucketts yesterday, so I have to get busy with restocking my space.   I also chopped off all my hair and you can check out my Facebook page to see the result of that.  Just another day on the merry-go-round.   :)







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Comments

  1. What a wonderful post. I’ve known Ann through her blog since right near the beginning and I have loved watching her blog and business grow. She is such an inspiration. You go girl!

  2. I loved reading your story, Ann ~ you truly stand out and deservedly so! Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. Ann is my Etsy inspiration and role model. Seriously, before I opened my shop I visited Ann’s Etsy shop time and time again to make sure I was doing things right and my pictures were okay (still working on that one) as well as packaging details! Love this story! I’m feeling super inspired …

    :)

    Linda

  4. Margaret says:

    Ann is a lovely, and talented, lady. I am loving her candid, humble and sweet message on how to succeed. No envy, just hard work and keeping her nose to the grindstone!

    Marian, I am wondering if the length of your hair corresponds to decor trends in some undiscovered way..? Hmm…

    You’ll have to keep a chart of this and report back! Knowing you, you’ll start a new hairdo trend called, “The Marian” a la like the “Dorothy Hamill wedge”.

    Crickets chirping…oh okay…before your time…..!

    Have a great weekend, all!

  5. Dear Marian and Ann!
    Another inspiring story!
    I was trying to pace myself not to read too fast, LOL!
    Thank you so much, ladies, for sharing your wisdom to us!
    Claudine

  6. Dear Marian and Ann,

    Thanks sooo much for the inspiration, enthousiasm and wise words!
    I just read the post and it’s not only the way of describing you way of growing into the “business”, but also the way both of you live your lifes!
    With a possitive mind and a never ending doses of creativity!

    That’s what you show to all of us, who stil think that it’s not worth publishing/selling/offering to other people.
    Excuse me if my writing is not all the right words hope you understand what i mean….
    thanks for sharing,
    i will keep this blog in my pc as a reminder, so i can read it again and won’t forget!
    Bye for now, lots of love and hugs,
    Maria

  7. I loved reading about Ann’s journey! Very, very inspiring! I think many people will find her story very helpful. I just sent this to a friend and I also tweeted a link to this post. Headed to prowl around your wonderful blog!

    ~~~rhonda~~~

  8. this is great article. i really like reading this domain. thanks.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] and how are you? Nothing much happening here today because I’m over at Miss Mustard Seed telling my story.  If you have time please pop over to Marian’s blog and take a [...]

  2. [...] sincerest thanks to everyone who read my story at Miss Mustard Seed’s or left me a lovely comment here. I have no words to express how grateful I am for your [...]

  3. […] even really a post on my blog. Last fall I was asked to guest post on Miss Mustard Seed about running a creative business. I told my story about starting an Etsy shop, what I learned along the way and shared my tips for […]

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