Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Handmade Interview: ArtsiBitsi

Welcome to the very first interview for the Handmade Business Blog. I hope to run one interview every two weeks until I run out of them. If you would like to be featured go here to get more information.


This weeks interview is with ArtsiBitsi, you can find her work at ArtsiBitsi.com and ArtsiBitsi.etsy.com. Get in touch on Facebook and Twitter too.

Introduce Yourself:
Bits and Blanche, hard at work
Hi.  I'm Artsi Bitsi.  'Bits' to my friends.  That's you, right?

So, I see monsters everywhere. It's like I'm like the Monster Whisperer.

The monsters in my head tell me what to make, but it's me that always makes sure that it is both fun and functional.  I have an old 1970s White model 999 sewing machine that I call Blanche. Some days she doesn't want to work, but then I remind her that the Social Security Administration doesn't pay benefits for unemployed sewing machines.

Sometimes I dance with scissors.

Q #1: When did you start your handmade business and what inspired you to do so?
I discovered Etsy and opened my shop in the summer of 2008.  I loved the idea that I could have complete control over my inventory and prices and promotion.   In consignment, the artist is so dependent on
the shop owner.  So being in charge of my own success was really attractive.

The immediate feedback of the online marketplace is also very appealing.  For example, I started out selling these lovely little watercolor paintings -- very serious, but not at all distinctive. After a few weeks of that, I started listing some of my purse designs.  Again, it was the sound of crickets.

After two months of experimentation, I designed my first monster bag. As soon as I listed it, it got a very positive response, so I made another.  If it had not been for Etsy, I would probably still be painting watercolors that nobody wanted.

every package is sent with extra happiness
Q #2: Do you have to balance your business with work, children, both? How do you do it?
I'm pretty lucky to have a job teaching computer science classes at the university, which gives me a lot of flexibility.  When I'm not teaching, I'm pretty free to organize my time however I want.  When things are slow at work, I do sketches or cut out pieces of felt for my next project.

My only daughter is grown up and living in Chicago, but she is still very interested in my ArtsiBitsi store.  I often ask her for feedback on my new designs.


Q #3: What is your usual work day like?
It varies, depending on my teaching schedule.  But most mornings, I start in my office, reading email, promoting, listing and printing shipping labels for any orders.  By mid morning I can drift over to my
studio (across the hall) and tinker around for a hour or two with felt and buttons and such.

In the afternoon, I'm at the university teaching my courses and meeting with students.

I like the fact that my days are broken up this way.  Computer Science is a very logical discipline, and it contrasts well with my artistic pursuits.  And I feel like my students benefit from the fact that I'm
not completely mentally immersed in machinery all the time.

Q #4: What is your favorite thing about running your business?
I love the autonomy and flexibility.  Being able to sell my designs means that I can create lots more.   Its really hard to rationalize making one more monster when your spare bedroom is already full of monsters.  But if I sell a monster, I've got room to make another!

some Happy Monster card designs
Q #5: What is your biggest challenge?
Even though I have an MBA, its been a challenge translating all of that book-learning into practical action.  But it's a wonderful puzzle, and I really enjoy tinkering with my designs and my site and discovering what people like about shopping for handcrafts online.

Q #6: How do you market your business?
I know that social media is in fashion now, but honestly most of my site traffic comes from Etsy and Google searches.  So I spend a lot of time looking at what search terms people use, and tailoring my listings and tags accordingly.  I really love Google Analytics and the Tag Report tool from Craftopolis.  http://www.craftopolis.com/#com=tr

Another strategy that is starting to pay off for me has been curating treasuries.  Its great how Etsy has opened up the treasury application so that everyone can make one, whenever inspiration hits.  I think that treasuries are going to revolutionize how people shop on Etsy, particularly since the introduction of tags.  There are lots of gift guides going up now and they've just been a fantastic way to see undiscovered and original work.  I've also been participating in treasury contests and recently I've been seeing more site visitors coming from those.

Q #7: What is one mistake you've made in your business that you've learned from?
Just one?  Seriously, its a slow month if I haven't goofed it up a couple times.

For example, I have introduced dozens of designs that have just completely flopped.  Want some iPhone pouches shaped like Marilyn Monroe's Lips?  I have them in pink and red.  Cheap.

For another example, I sent a bunch of stock to a consignment shop in another state... only to see my stock, and the shop, completely disappear.  Lesson learned: for non-local stores, its wholesale only.

And then there are the kinds of mistakes that come from just not paying attention.  Like the buyer whose address was slightly different on her PayPal account from her Etsy invoice.  I didn't see the difference, and her package spent several weeks in USPS limbo trying to find her.  Lesson learned: double-check everything and use delivery confirmation.

Q #8: What has been your biggest success and why do you think it's been so successful?
You probably mean what product has been the most successful, but when I read this my first thought was, 'still being here is my biggest success.'  That is to say, my backpacks have done well and I've gotten some pretty big wholesale orders for them.  And the journals are popular.  And sales of the pouches are steady, so that's good too.

But what is amazing to me is that after 2 and a half years, I am still selling monsters and having fun doing it.  From the beginning I promised myself that I would only do this as long as it was interesting and enjoyable.  Which is a pretty big expectation to satisfy for any endeavor.  So every day, I challenge myself to find
some way of making the business more entertaining -- for me. Sometimes that means coming up with a new design, and sometimes that means mastering some new technique, or finding a creative way to promote myself.  Everything I do has to make me happy first, or else it won't make my customer happy.


Q #9: What is the one thing you'd most like to tell someone just getting started?
First, find a team and join it.  Heck, join a couple.  Having a support group is really helpful, particularly having a support group of people who can help you find resources and give you feedback.

Second, find someone to emulate.  Notice how they organize their listing descriptions and compose their item photos.  What kinds of things are they doing to promote themselves?  Role models and mentors are very important.

Third, read everything.  There are tons of useful articles on Etsy's Storque.  But there are also thousands of bloggers posting great advice and motivation every week.  Read and reflect and let yourself be inspired.

Q #10: What goals do you have for the future of your business?
Well, my first goal is to keep having fun, so that I can pass that fun along to my customers.

But I would also like to diversify my product line to include monster prints and cards over the next year.  That's kind of a scary transition to make because it would mean having to find a completely new audience and market.  Also it will take a lot more upfront time and effort to do the artwork.  Hopefully I will figure it out before next Christmas, otherwise I will be giving everyone in my family cardstock gift packs.  lol.

Q #11: Anything else you would like to tell the readers?
Being a professional artist means something different to everyone. Some people are trying to make a living, and some people are trying to get a message out there, and some people are just trying to share their hobby.  Figure out what this business means to you, and what you have to offer that is unique, and don't get pulled in some other direction just to go along with the crowd.

Fill every day with art and adventure and you'll always be a success.
Happy customer with one of the first Happy Monster Backpacks
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