Vana of lepapierstudio worked at an architecture firm before becoming pregnant. After the birth of her son she found work as a consultant and consecutively opened her Etsy shop. Six months later Vana quit her consulting position to focus on the budding success of her new business. She never imagined she’d make a full-time income from her creative hobby and now claims she doesn’t know where she would be now if it weren’t for Etsy. Keep reading to find out how Vana created a niche for herself on Etsy, what tips she gives to other sellers, and why being able to turn off the switch is essential to her success.
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
I have always been passionate about handmade things. My parents nurtured my creativity from a young age and allowed me to freely express myself. I graduated with a Masters in Architecture and shortly after that I realized how much I loved the design aspect of the profession. I love to draw and every time a friend would look at my latest art she/he would say, “Have you ever thought of selling this?” I used to think one couldn’t support a family from selling artsy things. I was wrong…
Tell us about your previous working situation.
After graduating from architecture school I was offered a job by a dear professor of mine who was the principal at a female-run architecture firm. I really enjoyed working in a small firm, especially since all drawings were still done on a drafting table, the old school way. Only a few months into this job we found out I was pregnant and nine months later I gave birth to the most amazing boy. The moment I saw him I knew I wasn’t going to waste a second away from him. I started looking for a part-time position with flexible hours and I was lucky enough to land a great job working 15-20 hours a week as a consultant for a local firm. Everything was going great: I was home with our son and was also able to bring in a small income and keep practicing. Being trained as an architect makes it impossible to separate yourself from design. At times I felt the need to get away from the ongoing routine of CAD drawings and experiment with creative work.
This is when the idea of designing stationery and artwork utilizing children’s silhouettes (a love I developed after hours of staring at my sweet boy’s profile) came about. In March of 2008 I attended the Country Living Women Entrepreneur conference in Chicago and for the first time heard about a new website called Etsy. That very weekend I opened a shop and started listing products. I had six sales within the first week. In May of 2008 I officially launched Le Papier Studio and quickly incorporated. I was now working full time at Le Papier Studio and part time as an architect. It was getting harder and harder doing both, but I was determined to keep at it for another six months as my Etsy shop picked up steam. In September 2008 (exactly six months from the day I started selling on Etsy) I took the plunge and decided to “quit” my part-time job and dedicate my whole attention to growing my business. Truth is, work was slow at the office and I used that opportunity to start promoting my business. I am so glad I did, as the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
I did not. It all started as a hobby and quickly proved to be something more than that. Selling on Etsy helped me figure out what I really wanted to do with my business and helped me evolve as an artist and a business person. Looking back, I remember friends asking if this is something I would consider doing for a long time and I would respond, “Of course not! This is something I like to do now. It allows me to be home with my son and I am sure once he goes to school, I’ll get back to working as as architect.” Who was I kidding? There is nothing better and more rewarding than turning your passion into a full-time business. This whole process has been an eye opening experience for me. Honestly, I don’t know if I would be where I am now if it weren’t for Etsy.
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time? Feel free to give us the nitty gritty business details.
I opened my Etsy shop very quickly. I hardly did much thinking or planning. I used some funds from our savings to get me started. I remember contacting a few sellers for advice and everyone was very helpful, and I quickly became part of a community where people weren’t afraid to share their experiences and offer valuable insight. That was a great motivation to me. After some quick research I found there was a market for personalized stationery and artwork on Etsy, so that was a good indicator my work would sell. I created a niche offering my service of not only creating custom silhouettes, but also applying them on various products, such as stationery, prints, jewelry, housewares, etc. This helped me determine my brand’s identity.
In the beginning I outsourced all of my printing and soon saw how uneconomical that was. Between the time I would spend emailing and driving to and from the printing company, I figured I could save in the long run if I printed at home. I bought a professional printer, a new computer and, with my husband’s help, built a space within our home dedicated to my business. The narrow nook between the dinning/living room became the official headquarters of Le Papier Studio, allowing me to keep an eye on our son while he was exploring his own creativity.
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
- Blog: I keep a blog where I share my journey and the journey of other artists in balancing motherhood and creative work.
- Read Others’ Blogs: I also have a list of blogs I follow regularly and run a few ads and giveaways through them.
- Social Media: I keep active on Twitter and Facebook.
- Press: Being featured in a few local, national, and even one international magazine has boosted our sales tremendously. There is nothing better than free exposure!
- Renew Listings: Something I have done since the beginning is renewing my items several times a day. This keeps them on top of each category. I find renewing in the morning and two to three times in the afternoon works best.
- Promote New Products: I send out a newsletter every time we launch a product and offer some sort of promotion for early bird shoppers. The response has been great so far.
- Connect With Customers: I try to keep in touch with my most loyal customers by following up on a recent order or by offering them the first “peek” on what’s boiling at Le Papier Studio. This might not work for everyone, but it has worked for me.
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion? Have you made any business mistakes you regret?
I attended a few art fairs and quickly discovered they weren’t for me. I don’t regret anything. I am a strong believer that everything happens for a reason.
Walk us through your typical workday.
Much of my work process depends on that particular day — I hardly stick with a plan. An average day goes like this:
- I wake up around 7:30 just as my husband leaves for work (I work late at night so mornings are very hard for me).
- Once I make sure the little guy has had his breakfast I quickly take a look at my Etsy shop and email to see if something needs my immediate attention.
- If not, I help myself to a cup of coffee and some breakfast.
- I drop off my son at his preschool and hurry home to begin my work day.
- I have a few hours each morning to answer emails, fill orders, order materials, and work on marketing before I have to switch gears and be a mommy again. It helps to make a list of the tasks I need to complete that day. I am not much of a planner.
- After I pick up my son, have lunch and some play time, I get back to work for a couple more hours.
- I renew items in my Etsy shop, Tweet, answer emails and conversations, return phone calls or catch up with family on Skype while I start making dinner. I consider myself a good multitasker.
- My husband gets home around 5:30. We eat, have a moment as a family, then I return to work while my husband entertains our son. I am forever grateful to him.
- From 7:30 until 10 or so I do my best to complete that day’s tasks. Some days are better than others. I do most of my creative work at night. If I am all caught up for the day, I get to spend some quiet time with my husband, watching a movie or catching up on a cooking show.
- I check my email once more before I head to bed and make a list of things to do the next day.
- I try not to work on weekends.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
There isn’t much I miss from my day job. I think it’s wonderful to be able to set your rules and create your own rhythm each day. The most important thing in working for yourself is to set aside some time for yourself, either by breaking for a cup of coffee, having a quick workout or catching up with a friend over the phone. Doing something you love can be very rewarding but also hard work. You have to be able to turn the switch off at times without feeling guilty. I always strive to achieve a balance between family and work.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
Working all the time and doing everything myself — I am at a point in my business where I need to hire a part-time employee. I need a constant reminder to take a break and not work so hard all the time (my mother does an excellent job of that all the way from overseas). When working for yourself it’s hard to set boundaries, but you have to — no one else will do it for you. I am very driven and passionate but that can be a dangerous thing at times.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
- To myself: Be consistent — not only with your business, but your life as well.
- To others: Dream big and tell yourself you can do it. Have a goal and work each day towards achieving it. Grow slowly and learn from the process. Make sure your life and home are in order prior to starting your own business. If you want to turn your passion into a business make sure there is a market for it. You wouldn’t want to put your heart and soul into something that won’t sell. Also, be open and let people get to know you.
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
- Grow, grow, grow.
- Hire at least one employee.
- Work on developing a few unique products.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
The long work hours wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my family. I am forever thankful to my sweet husband for the emotional and professional support during these past two years. I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to do something I love while being home and doing the most important job of all, being a mom. I would like to thank Etsy for creating a community for artists and art lovers. I am also thrilled to announce the release of my first book with Chronicle Books for the fall of 2010!