advice column

One of my passions is chatting with other indie biz owners about their blog/shop/dreams. I love to bounce ideas back & forth and share tips on how their business can soar. If you’re interested in a one-on-one mentorship session click here to see how I can help!

In the meantime, below are some Q&As on having a handmade shop or blog + a few tips on what has worked well for me, and encouragement that, You *can* do this!

*click here to read my FAQ page, your question may already be answered here ;]

“She turned her can’ts into cans, and her dreams into plans.”

* Hire Blog Help, e-book {I’m a guest contributor} >> by Jeannett Gibson
* How to Build a Blog you Truly Love, e-course {I’m a guest contributor} >> by Liv Lane
* Dream Job + Blog Love e-courses >> by Elsie Larson
* Flying Lessons, e-book >> by Kelly Rae Roberts
* BLOGS: Lisa Leonard // Cupcakes & Cashmere // Simple Mom // rockstar diaries // Kelly Rae Roberts

QUESTION: Hi Gussy! Thank you for sharing so much with us, I’ve been following you for about a year now and look forward to reading your posts everyday :) When you started your business, how did you figure all the legal/accounting stuff out like if you should be incorporated or an LLC, etc. And how or if you should trademark your company name and logo. I get so lost in all the mumbo jumbo, any advice would be appreciated!

ANSWER: Whenever I have legal/tax questions like this I call my accountant — this is their area of expertise, thank goodness! ;] But there was a time when I didn’t have one, which is probably where you’re at. Many accountants offer phone consultations {free} and you should definitely take advantage of these! Give them a general sense of your business, your goals, and ask a few questions. Then ask yourself: How do you feel about the accountant you’re speaking with? Are they answering your questions in a way you understand? What are there fees? Go with your instinct and make sure you feel 100% comfortable before moving forward. I hope this helps! xoxo

QUESTION: At what point did you feel confident enough in your creations to put them out there for sale? Did you start out by creating an inventory first or did you sew your products as the orders came in? Did you put a lot of effort into advertising when you first launch Gussy Sews? Also, did you already have an “audience” that would purchase from you before launching?

ANSWER: When I started selling my products, in March of 2009, I didn’t have much hesitation. I was new to the selling online/Etsy world so I think that shielded a lot of hesitation I could have had. I listened to a lot of the feedback I received and used that to help shape my products and business. Of course, I was the final decision maker on whether I took *all* the advice sent my way ;] If I remember correctly everything I made when I first started was ready-to-ship, meaning I had an inventory. But that was like, 20 items. Nothing too crazy! I remember starting out by buying all sorts of fun, colorful fabrics {I used to be obsessed with Heather Bailey fabric} and then I’d start pairing things up to make mini-collections. And advertising? Oh yes, I put a lot of time and money into that and to this day, nearly 3 years later, I *still* support the idea of online advertising. It’s been a fabulous expense. Fabulous. {How did you find my blog? Probably from a link or mention online.} And to answer your last question — noooo I did not have an audience when I started. I had to build one, and honestly, it was one of the funnest parts of starting Gussy Sews!!!

QUESTION: I’m a small online boutique and also live in a small town. My business has grown tremendously in the past year because of a lot of local exposure and word of mouth, which I am super grateful for! However, because people know I’m local, customers constantly want to pick up their orders instead of paying shipping. What’s your solution to people wanting to pick things up?

ANSWER: I definitely advise against this. First, take caution with giving out your home address. Secondly, to wait or drive to meet with a customer is costing you money {which you’re not making since you waived the shipping fee}. As a boutique owner only you can decide how you want to spend your time, and only you can change how to spend your time :] Don’t feel guilty changing your policies to not allow pick-ups or meet-ups. Kindly let customers know what courier you ship with {USPS, FedEx, UPS} and how often you ship, and move forward with confidence. If a customer asks about meeting, or mentions last time she ordered she met with you or came over for a pick up, simply reply back that you recently updated your policies with your business in mind. {Or, consider adding in a delivery fee to your shipping options, something like $20 ~ which would cover your time, the cost of gas, etc.}

QUESTION: I sell handmade items as well, and while most of my items are custom, I would like to get into pre-made items a bit more. But I have NO CLUE how to figure out what will sell – what fabrics, colors, styles, etc. So how do you decide what designs to go with? Do you buy tons of fabric and release a color combo and hope? Or a little to “test the waters” and then see how it goes?

ANSWER: I would say it depends on what you’re selling, who your targeted customer is — what their interests are, etc. Are you looking to sell to someone that has a style that’s more classy or more sassy? ;] Are you looking to sell to little people, teens, adults? I often refer back to my brand and what I want that to look like. Also consider browsing fashion magazines or websites that reflect the style you’re trying to emulate. These things can be great sources of inspiration as you figure this out. You could always make a few items to test your market, like you suggested. The main thing is to not give up, and to be confident in your work. I have confidence you’ll figure it out. xoxo!

QUESTION: I love your product photos. So clean, bright and crisp. Do you have
any tips?

ANSWER: Of course {and thank you!}: shoot near a window, with natural light and with a wide-angle camera lens :] It may take a few tries to find the perfect lighting — don’t let that upset you. Every time we move I get frustrated because it takes 3-5 attempts at finding the right light, and even as the seasons change my lighting changes. Mornings or mid-afternoon could be best, and make sure to avoid direct sunlight so you don’t have any harsh shadows. xoxo

QUESTION:You’ve created a successful business in such a short amount of time. At what point did you know it was time to hire help?

ANSWER: Before I quit my day job I was working 40 hours at a salaried position and about 25 hours on Gussy Sews. I spent most of my weekday evenings and nearly all of my weekend time working on Gussy Sews, and about 2 months before I quit my day job I hired an assistant to help me cut & iron fabric and package orders. When I quit my day job {May 2010} I quickly had an additional 40 hours to put to my business. I was used to working about 65 hours a week so for a long time this felt normal. As my blog and shop grew, and my time/attention was stretched even further, I hired a second assistant {February 2011}. I now had help cutting & ironing fabric, sewing, and packaging orders. Then in the spring of 2011 I hired a third assistant to help with customer service, a Project Coordinator.

It’s important to really asses your unique situation and think about where you want your business to go, how many hours can you really put in {not just how many do you want to put in, but how hard to you want to work at growing your business?}. The decision to grow my team has always been when I reach my maximum. There are always more things that I need help with ~ more things to get done, more ideas to continue developing, etc. But hiring is something my husband and I take very seriously and it’s always been when *I* simply cannot do any more. For awhile I wasn’t interested in growing Gussy Sews, so until that point I was OK with working on a wide variety of tasks: photography, product development/styling, blog post, advertising inquiries, research, inventory & ordering, production {cutting/ironing/sewing}, shipping. But the more I stretched myself the weaker certain areas of the business got because I can only do so much. This was such a freeing moment for me. SCARY, yes – but so freeing and exciting :]

QUESTION:I recently opened up an etsy shop, and I really want to start a blog as well. I have a lot of ideas, but the only thing that is holding me back,is that I’m such a private person. I can’t imagine want to share my life with the world. Do you have any advice for someone like me?

ANSWER: Then don’t! :] Share what you want — share what’s exciting to you, your creative process, your favorite things, goals you’re working on. If sharing personal things makes you uncomfortable know there are many bloggers out there that feel the same way. And no one can even tell you the content you write is right or wrong, only you get to decide that {yay!}. If you want to share something a little more personal you have the freedom to do that. Remember that :] You’re the boss! You’re in charge. You make the rules. xoxo

QUESTION: I have been working on opening my own handmade shop and am worried
about not having enough products. I don’t want my shop to seem empty, but I don’t want to want until I have 100 different products to open. What would you suggest as a minimum number of products to start with?

ANSWER: Good question! I think it’s important to look at how many different product categories you’re going to offer, because the less categories the easier it is for your shop to look empty. If you’re going to offer just a couple categories consider developing them a little further by adding 10-15 items. If you have MORE than a couple categories I’d say 5-7 items would be OK {per category}. You should always be working towards having a full shop; an assortment of items. But — one thing I want to mention is that you should focus your time towards your target customer. Don’t spend too much time trying to attract the wrong customer, instead focus on your target, ideal customer :]

QUESTION: I’m curious how you keep yourself motivated. I run a writing business, but on the side I want to revamp an old scarf/cowl/knitting business idea that fizzled out a few years ago. I’m always motivated when I have a fresh idea, but then it wanes over time. How do you keep yourself motivated in your work on a day to day basis?

ANSWER: This is a really great question! Elsie of A Beautiful Mess wrote on this idea recently and I think her post sums up everything I would think to share, too. Remember that you don’t have to do ALL of your new ideas right now. Some can be further developed and others are great for ‘right now’.

QUESTION: How did you develop such a following so fast? What advice do you have to help draw people to your blog? Thank you.

ANSWER: Quite honestly, I don’t think anything happened “so fast”. This summer is my third year of blogging and when I look back and think of the constant effort I’ve applied to my blog I think everything happened at a very reasonable pace. I’ve spent hours & hours developing my style, voice and brand. About once a year I collaborate with my blog designer for style updates — actually, that’s something I think bloggers can do too often. Remember that your blog is a part of your brand and if you change it too often it’ll only confuse readers, and they may leave. If you’re being yourself you’ll grow your online community at the perfect pace. Blogging takes a lot of time and constant effort, so be yourself so you can pace yourself for the amazing journey it is :]

QUESTION: I find it fascinating that you started with jewelery and ended up with your signature ruffle bags. I have been wanting to do what you do for so many years – you have no idea. My problem is that I can’t find my signature ruffle bag. How do you do that? I mean, there are obviously a lot of other people that make tote bags out there, how did you know that yours would be different enough to sell? I love to make soap and candles in tins. I also like to make rag dolls and sock monkeys. No market for the latter, but the market for the former is so over-saturated. Would LOVE to hear how you developed your idea for your niche.

ANSWER: Assuming you mean, “I can’t find my signature ruffle bag” metaphorically ~ my advice is to create something that you love to use, talk about and MAKE! You will be spending a lot of time on this type, so being in love with it 200% will make working on it so much easier. Yes, I started on Etsy making jewelry — I LOVE the way jewelry looks when photographed and thought it would be a fun niche to jump into. But I soon discovered I was terrible at making jewelry so I quickly moved on to something I loved and was good at making as well. I also think it’s important to incorporate your ideas and reasons for starting a business — your story. Customers LOVE to connect with the owner/designer of the product they’re buying from. If you’re making soaps/candles in tins, consider using a tin that’s cute // perfect for storing jewelry once the candle has burned. {Consider including instructions on how to clean the tin?} Maybe part of your story is that you only use vintage tins for your candles? Then maybe your soaps are unique due to a ingredient, your process, the way you name each scent, etc. By offering a unique product — or adding in your unique story — you’ll make it super easy for a person to transition from almost-a-Customer to Customer! *Give them a reason to NEED your product!

QUESTION: I have a great business idea and the time to start a business, but I am fearful and not sure where to start first. What do you recommend as first steps to get going on my dream?

ANSWER: I would encourage you to make a detailed list of your business ideas to see how they can grow & change over the next few years. Your goal should be that your business can evolve with time ~ this will give you the best chance for success. Next, make a list of milestones you want to hit and expected dates for each. You’ll also want to know who your target customer is, spend time creating an advertising campaign, and then know your profit margins. Don’t let the little details discourage you, this is SUCH an exciting time :] I’m cheering for you!!!

QUESTION: How did you connect with others in your business {handmade shop owners and bloggers} to help mentor you?

ANSWER: I’m so thankful for the relationships that have formed since I started blogging in July of 2008. All of these relationships started in the most organic form ~ from a blog comment I left, an email I sent, or through meeting at a blog conference. I think connecting with others in these ways is the best way. Personal introductions mean the most… I’m sure you agree :] If you’re looking for a mentor or a friend, simply take a minute to befriend said person. Compliment them! Encourage them! Be yourself, and you’ll make a connection soon :] I’d also encourage you to ask whoever you have in mind if they’d be interested in mentoring you {but keep in mind they may decline; don’t take it personally}. xoxo

QUESTION: I have very limited time to blog and find it difficult to promote it in the time I have available. How do you organize your schedule to make time to properly promote your blog?

ANSWER: Ohh, this is a great question. I personally schedule a lot of my blog posts to publish automatically. I can’t think of a blog platform that doesn’t offer this setting, so if you’re unsure on how to do this – Google it! My blog posts automatically publish to my Twitter account and Facebook profile & page, which is so convenient. By not having to do those 3 things daily, I can apply that saved time to jump on Twitter or Facebook and say hello. I also think it’s helpful to have an Editorial calender written for my blog. If that sounds scary, consider having a few blog post topics written down for a quick go-to idea. My last tip is to not spend too much time worrying over this ~ all bloggers have their own unique day-to-day schedule and so what works for them may not work for you, and vice versa. Remember to take a few minutes each day and appreciate how your blog is unique!! :]

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