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. I so love Ann! She is one of my favorite bloggers. We started around the same time.
    This post will definitely help those who are just beginning as well as those who have stagnated.
    Love your chalkboard trophies, Marion!

    xo

    Andie

  2. Inspirational. I will have to read this over a couple of times because there is a lot of information to digest. Thanks for sharing your story and your many insights.

    • I loved all of the info in your article. I will reread this ,take notes and hope to apply your concepts to my decorative painting business thanks.

  3. checking her blog and shop right now!

  4. I’ve enjoyed reading Ann’s blog and following her success with her beautiful creations. She just made a slipcover for a foot stool of mine and I featured it on my blog today. She does fantastic work! I’m so envious of people that can sew like that. It was fun to read her story.

  5. What a great post! Feels like I’ve just sat down listened to Ann tell her wonderful story. Now off to discover her blog.

  6. Michelle Lauritsen @ A Pinch of Prim says:

    What an awesome post! I love her story and can’t wait to hear from more ladies. Thanks Ann for all the wonderful information!

  7. I love hearing stories as well….Makes me think of some things I want to do differently with my packaging! I am taking December off, so I can focus on it then. My story is on my blog …”how I got started” tab on the menu bar, if you feel inclined to reading it! Let me know when you want to do that giveaway!

  8. Thank you for sharing your story Ann. I’ve been in business a little over 3 years. Today was a treading water day. Thank you for helping me see that other women who are creative have their ups and downs. I come to MIss Mustard Seeds blog with vision in my head too. Both of you have helped me on my journey! Thanks so much.

  9. I am proud to own one of Ann’s grainsack tote bags. From the moment of orderig, to receiving the beautiful package, to every time I use it or see it hanging on the hook by the door, I remember how pleasant the purchase experience was. Love your work Ann and was so delighted to read your story. Thanks to Marion too. You are both classy ladies!

  10. I agree she has a lovely ‘voice’. Thanks for sharing this, both of you talented ladies.

  11. I am just getting introduced to Sutton Place Designs through this post, and I can see that Ann and I have similar styles and philosophy. I hope to be as successful with my business. I enjoyed this post!

    Also, I just mentioned today on my Facebook page that I might be the only DIY/Crafty/Bloggy person I know who doesn’t care for burlap and chalkboard because of how they feel when I touch them. (Weirdo, I know.) But your trophy is SUPER CUTE. And of course a blue piece like that will kill me every time… LOVE.

    xo

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      Ha! That’s funny about the chalkboard. I love chalkboards, but I agree with you on burlap. I only like it for certain projects.

  12. I very much enjoyed reading Ann’s story.

    Ann, You certainly do make your work shine from beginning to end. I’m sure your clients feel like they are getting something very, very special when they receive a package from you. Thanks for sharing with us.

  13. What a wonderful journey Ann! Thank you for sharing your story and I wish you great success with your business!

  14. What a great write-up! I learned a few things! Great job – and thanks for the inspiration! My post today is on Etsy creative marketing photos – primarily because my photos are boring in my shop and I needed some ideas!
    -Trish

  15. Oh, Ann! You are such an inspiration and I am SO blessed to know you…

    I love your hair, Marion! It’s adorable! We were looking at old pictures last night when I had a pixie cut and I loved the freedom it gave.

  16. MARY EGUIA says:

    I did it. I bought THE book of the year.Best seller. It was displayed on the Christian table.Displayed!!! Your book Marian ! I am over the moon with it. Siting down with it at night after work,and all the other daily Mom things.Oh ,it’s wonderful. Just what I need. Encouraging,pretty pictures,how to’s .Thank you Marian for sharing YOU.

  17. I just love Ann’s blog and I love hearing how she got started. I keep saying I am going to take a sewing class…I will have to put that on the list for after the holidays! Thanks for the inspiration!
    -Shelley

  18. ann has been such a good friend to me, I am so proud to call her friend, she is truly an inspiration, honest and humble, amazing talented with and eye for design and color , thank you Miss Mustard seed for sharing this today!

  19. thanks so much for sharing your story Ann! I do have to say all of the matching tags, labels, and packaging are quite impressive and leave a great impression! Great tips! I haven’t atually opened my etsy shop yet but I’m filing this away for when I do :)

  20. Kimberly Moody says:

    Ann, thank you so much for sharing your story, such a wonderful inspiration to all of us who are “trying to figure it all out”. Marian, thank you for featuring Ann and for all you do to inspire the creativity in each of us–I am in Lexington, Ky and anxiously awaiting the arrival of your milk paint at LizDouglasDesigns–Ideas are spinning in my head and I can’t decide which colors to buy first. Just trying to start up a blog–so I’ll have to join in on Furniture Friday–my absolute favorite party that I look forward to each week. Thanks again for just being “YOU”. Kimberly

  21. Oh, how wonderful for you to feature Anne and her wares. She is so good at what she does and deserves a shout out! Love her work and your work too! Good luck with your book.
    Be a sweetie,
    Shelia ;)

  22. Loved the story, the information & I’m saving it to help with my future business that’s in the works. I’m not familiar with Ann, but will be now! I’m saving this post for future reference!

    I keep hearing about “Business Plans” yet know nothing about THAT aspect of business. Would love some tips on that as well. :)

  23. I am somewhat of a “newbie” to the blogging world. I absolutely “LOVE” your daily posts. I am a creative person trying to let the “real me” take a big step into my own business. I find your all your posts so truthful and inspirational. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  24. You have no idea how much I needed this today (and every day really!). God works in the most inspirational of ways. Thank you Marian and thank you Ann. Have a wonderfully productive day! ~ Dee

  25. Oh Ann it was so nice to read your story. Very inspiring. Great to see you shine over here at the lovely Miss Marion’s blog today. You do awesome work!

  26. This is a very sweet story! Thanks so much to you both–very inspiring.

  27. Terri Jones says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your story, Ann. I am working on setting up an Etsy shop, blog, etc. at the beginning of next year. I so feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m doing it anyway. I’ve been following Marian’s blog, yours and others this past year and am so inspired and awed. I’ve actually been working on a business plan. For those of you who are thinking of starting a business of any kind, check locally with your Chamber of Commerce to see if there is a service that helps start up businesses in this way. We have a Women’s Business Center here where I live and the sessions I have had with them are FREE and they are very professional. I’m almost done with all the “legal” stuff and am now ready to work on the blog and procuring fabric vendors. Keep up the good work, and again, you are both wonderful to share and inspire. God bless! — Terri

  28. Thank you, what a great story. I appreciate reading what Anne found along the way, very informative and inspiring! Great advice!

  29. Marian and Ann, I have very much enjoyed this blog post! I need posts like these while starting my own business. It’s not Etsy, but the advice on marketing, presentation and packaging is as useful. I recognize a lot of what you wrote Ann: the supportive husband, how trying to decorate on a small budget gave my creativity a boost, and the passion and persistence.

    Goedele

  30. Thanks for sharing this! My heart just did a little dance! How inspiring! Some days I feel a little “down” about the rate in which my blog…and business are growing, and then I read one of these stories…so touching and “human” and I feel encouraged and excited again. I hope that both of you have continued success in everything Y’all do! Thanks Again! ~Tammy

  31. Sheila says:

    Thank you so much Ann for your inspiration and common sense. It gives me pause to think about why and how I’d like to proceed with my own dreams. And thank you Marian, for being so encouraging to the rest of us! Love the hair, by the way!

  32. Harriett says:

    What a wonderful story. Thank you both for sharing and growing it. Marian, a source for your fabulous feathers? They can’t all be from a farm down the road, can they?!? Trophies look great as do Ann’s packaging, labels, and tags :) :) :)

  33. Thank you so much for sharing your story Ann! I’m a little overwhelmed and a lot inspired! Your packaging is wonderful! I relate to the “sink or swim” thing. I had wanted to get my blog going for months and then lost my part time job…thus the sink or swim! I need to build my blog up to make money so it keeps me plugging away! Thanks again for the great information and inspiration!

  34. Rosemary says:

    Ann opened my world to bloggers. I discovered Ann through her Etsy shop. I began to read Ann’s blog and then the bloggers that Ann enjoyed. I have the pleasure of owning a few of Ann’s designs. Ann’s attention to detail is awe inspiring. Receiving you order from Ann is like Christmas morning. I’m so excited and never dissapointed. I am so impressed that one person could take on so many new ventures and do them all so well, so quickly. And…that’s why I’m the president of Ann’s fan club!

  35. Loved reading this Ann! Thanks for featuring her here Marian! Ann, I would love to get together for a day of sewing!

  36. What a fascinating and informative post! I soaked up every word. I didn’t know a thing about the “about me” feature on Etsy… and haven’t really done much with my shop… so, thanks to this post, i will check it out. Plus, i’m sure as heck gonna go look at her pillows!

    Cindy

  37. Anne Boykin says:

    Dear Ann & MMS, How exciting that you two wonderful women can help each other! You both have that attention to detail that makes you a success. Congratulations to both of you!! Hugs, Anne Boykin
    P.S. Thanks Ann for the wonderful advice.

  38. What a wonderful story! I do love how success is created out of a love for something. I think it is wonderful to build relationships with people. Do it because you want to….everything will work out as it should!

  39. Loved your story, Ann! I have been so impressed with the way you run your business from the very beginning. I agree – packaging and careful detail is such a great way to show appreciation. Marian’s blog is indeed a bit magical and I know some will be sprinkled your way too. While I don’t own a Sutton Place design yet, I can tell from your photos that your sewing quality is top notch. Marian spoke very highly of you in a phone conversation. I LOVE your wooden tags, too! Wishing you all the much-deserved best.

    • Correction: I know some *more* will be sprinkled your way. You’ve already made plenty of magic yourself.

      • Jami… this means more to me than you could ever know. You are the inspiration I hold up when I’m struggling. Just a visit to your blog can brighten my day. Thank you for your sweet words.

  40. Ann is from Ohio and that makes her story even better!!
    xo
    Kara

  41. nanci says:

    As a sewer myself, I can see that she does beautiful meticulous work. I would definitely buy something from her. Thanks for sharing her story.

  42. A beautifully written article and just a glimpse of the real Ann. She is an amazing lady! I love the attention to detail that she shares…so many special touches to her creations and her shop, labels, wrapping, etc.

    Thanks to both of you talented ladies!!

    xo
    Pat

  43. What a touching post… I just adore Ann and I loved reading more about her story and business. I am happy to own one of her creations, which just so happens to be one of my favorite things in my home. What a treat to visit both of you today here!

  44. Ann is truly an inspiration! She does beautiful work and impeccably so. I’m so happy for her & her success! Ann’s also very good at dispensing words of wisdom. She may not realize it, but several times she has put something into perspective for me by making a thoughtful and wise comment on my blog.

    Thank you Ann & Marian…continued success to you both!

  45. Wonderful post with lots of great advice! Thanks for sharing your journey!

  46. Ann, your story was such an inspiration to me. I’ve just discovered this world of blogging and am trying to allow my heart to make me find my “just the right spot” niche for me and my newborn blog. I work full time as a consultant traveling across the country. But, my heart is always close to home. My dream . . . to grow my blog into a useful tool for others and to grow a business where I can share my love of cooking, creating, organizing and cleaning with others.

    Be blessed.

  47. Denise T says:

    Thank you for wonderful, inspiring post. That is a positive approach to encourage the readers, bloggers, DIY, others to think about blogging, running a creative business.

  48. Ann and I started blogging about the same time so I knew much of her story. She is the “real deal” so thanks for featuring her, Marian. I admire both of you ladies for so many reasons, but mostly because both of you exhibit integrity and sincerity. I wish both of you continued success!

  49. Merry – go – round! that just made me smile:). I have followed your blog from very close to the start and because of you have found many more blogs, including Ann’s, that inspire and ignite me.
    Thank you once again!

  50. You know, it is amazing how one person can inspire so much and be so uplifting to others. It is also funny how sometimes that isn’t the case for everyone. Love that dresser Marian, and those trophies are genius!

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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