#etsysmallbusiness contest and #marchmeetthemaker

So, I recently entered the Etsy Small Business Contest. (It closes 6th April 2017, so if you’re reading this before then, please pop along and vote for me if you haven’t already https://etsy.wishpond.com/small-business-contest-intl/entries/149579637)  I’m well aware that there are thousands of Etsy sellers with much larger followings than mine, and that when it comes to a public voting contest, my chances are pretty slim, but nothing ventured and all that…

Plus, writing the application gave me something else which is really helpful and often forgotten by creative entrepreneurs: it gave me the time to check in with my aims, goals and progress with the business so far. It’s something that’s always recommended in how-to books on starting a small business, but I’m not great at remembering to do it… If any readers are in the same boat and have any advice, drop me a message!

Days focusing on my business (when I’m not at my day job) tend to pass in a bit of a blur of metal shavings, Instagram and Post Office queues, and it’s sometimes hard to take time to pause and regroup. For the contest application, the character limit was 500 per section, which is a ridiculously low amount for someone as verbose as I am, so I decided to expand on my application text to properly figure out where my business came from and where it’s going. A lot of Etsy sellers on Instagram are also doing #marchmeetthemaker, where they talk about their businesses on a personal level, so this kind of fits in there.

Sound hokey? Fab, let’s go.

For the application, I had to write about how my business got started and what the prize money would mean to me. Well, this time last year, I was stuck in a horrible job in an incredibly toxic company, and my (already shaky) mental health took a major dive. I felt like I was losing myself and wasting my potential, and I felt completely trapped. I knew something needed to change but fuck me if I knew what. Anyone who knows me IRL can also probably guess that corporate recruitment was never going to be my bag long-term; I don’t like jargon, I’m incapable of looking neat and presentable for longer than about 90 minutes, and I find it difficult to care about things that bore me.

Aside from the soul-crushing bleakness of working somewhere where ‘feminist’ was an insult, one (slightly more shallow) thing that bugged me was having to dress ‘business formal’. I totally get why traditional businesses need their employees to look smart, but just ughhhhhhhh… One thing my jewellery aims to do is to give people who work somewhere with a strict dress code the ability to bring a little of their personality to work without breaking the rules. It might be a little thing, but having an unusual necklace to wear can make crawling into a suit at 6am every day slightly more enjoyable. Also, I know fashion generally can be seen as shallow and inconsequential, but the power of how you present yourself can’t really be underestimated; it’s why I always put on mascara, my watch and a bra when I’m working from home*, no matter how tempting it is to sink into a pyjama pit instead…

So, I was in a mentally-damaging job, and I’d moved all the way to Birmingham for it. Luckily The Goblin (my now-fiancé) had got a proper job too, meaning leaving my job to do something more fulfilling had actually become an option. But what? By chance, not knowing much about the different parts of Birmingham when we moved here, we ended up in the Jewellery Quarter. Being in this historic centre of jewellery creation was the inspiration for turning my hobby into a business, and continues to be a big source of motivation. I got a part-time gig somewhere much less corporate which suits me a lot better, and, more importantly, allows me to focus on my business two days a week. It’s been unbelievably therapeutic.

St Paul’s Square in the JQ

The difference between my brain now and my brain a year ago is ridiculous – in a good way. Making things has always been an escape for me, and my hope is that by being open and honest about my mental health issues on my blog and social media (this post being Exhibit A), others struggling might see that things can get better. Like, I’m not saying that everyone with PTSD should sack off their garbage jobs and hang out at home playing with metal, but things can change, whatever that positive change looks like for the individual person.

Okay, so, schmaltzy bit over: how would (very, very hypothetically) winning actually change my business?

I’m very new to running a small business – I opened my store in December 2016 – and what I most want to do is learn! I’m developing my skills all the time through practice, but there are certain techniques I can’t learn at home. Winning this contest would enable me to take advantage of the training opportunities available in the Jewellery Quarter, particularly the courses on stone-setting, the skill which would make the biggest difference to my jewellery. Because, let’s be real, stone-setting is hard. And expensive if you mess it up. And overall just daunting af. Being in the JQ is ridiculously good luck, though, because there are a ton of decent stone-setting courses basically on my doorstep. So near, yet so far…

The prize money would also allow me to really stretch myself in terms of creating new designs and really building up a range of pieces for my buyers, because one of the biggest things currently holding me back from reaching my design potential is the prohibitive cost of ‘experimenting’ with precious metals. My best designs have come from experimentation (my haematite pendant being a key example), but the amount of precious and semi-precious materials that get wasted in the process just isn’t sustainable at the size my business is now.

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Finally, I would gain something essential to develop my business: time. With this money, I could afford to devote more time to being creative in my jewellery and my online content, as well as working on my jewellery-making ability. For any creative entrepreneur, there basically aren’t enough hours in the day, but with the contest prize, I could afford to ‘pay’ myself for the time I spend on the business, which would make the world of difference.

For now, it’s back to planning, journalling, and sticking adorable motivational postcards to my business board…


 

*Obviously with other clothes as well, perverts.

Product Photography 101 (no experience needed)

Anyone who’s ever shopped online, let alone sold online, knows that having good photography can make or break a sale. You can make the most beautiful earrings imaginable, but if they’re presented in a poorly lit and uninspiring photo, they’re probably not going to get chosen out of the millions of pairs available online.

When you’re just starting out selling online, it can be difficult to know how to set up and execute good product photography, which is why I enlisted the help of my more camera-savvy friend, @imlfox, for my first round of pictures. (Her Instagram is great by the way, you should all go follow her now. I’ll wait here…)

Bella shoots with a Nikon D5000, which is excellent for making tiny adjustments, but my little Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot works great too. You don’t need fancy equipment unless you’re taking product photos every day, and chances are that at this stage you don’t have that many products to photograph! I would advise against using a phone camera, though, purely because I find the pictures don’t tend to blow up as well on different screen sizes.

So, to get to the point, I have 4 key tips for product photography: lighting, theming/composition, variety, and patience.

1) Lighting

It sounds like a no-brainer, but it makes all the difference in the world. Natural light is best, as much as you can get. I’m lucky my flat has tall windows, but I still need to shoot right next to them to get the best results.

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Exhibit A: Photoshoot on the windowsill with me on a stool to get the best light and angle. The glamour of a small business!

I’m including flash on/flash off in this category as well. If you’ve got shaky hands like me, the balance between the darkening effects of flash and the blurry-but-light results of no flash is pretty delicate. Macro mode and patience are really your only options, unfortunately. They’re worth it for images like this, though:

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2) Theming/composition

This is the fun bit. To start with, you’ll need a rough idea of the sort of aesthetic you’re going for. This will inform the sorts of props you might use and what composition might suit your pictures best. Going for a clean, modern, minimalist look? Think plain white walls, lots of greenery, and maybe a copper candle holder or two, all shot from above. Feeling a more hippy, gap-yah vibe? Break out whatever trinkets you’ve picked up on your travels, find some warm-coloured wood as a base/background, and you’re good to go.

I was going for a vintage-meets-modern sort of thing, since my pieces are generally a mix of old and new inspirations and techniques, so books, sheet music and house plants all worked for me. In fact, I may have got a bit carried away with the themed props…

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Having someone to bounce things off is also really helpful. Don’t be afraid to try things – if they look stupid, you don’t have to ever use the photos. My lovely hand model and bridesmaid, Beth, and I tried many Valentine’s-themed prosecco photos in last weekend’s session. They were all awful, but at least we got to drink the fizz afterwards…

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And this was right next to the window!

3) Variety

I don’t know about other platforms, but Etsy will let you have 5 photos of each item, so you really have to make sure you’re showing every angle/use of the product. This means taking a ton of different shots and whittling them down to the most attractive/useful ones. Of the 40-odd photos we took of Beth wearing my S-shaped hammered ring, these 5 made the cut for the following reasons:

  1. Romantic theming (Valentine’s Day approaching); fingers slightly bent
  2. Different background (tube lines echoing lines of the ring); hand flat
  3. Close up of the texture of the ring when worn
  4. Ring alone to show its shape
  5. Ring alone from a different angle

4) Patience

So, I sort of mentioned this above, but it bears repeating (a lot, like taking pictures. See what I did there?).

My mum likes to terrorise us on holiday and at home with endless snaps (she’s a scrapbooker, it’s an occupational hazard), and always assures us it’s for our own good. We’re always a bit dubious about this, but she explains it’s because the more pictures she takes, the more likely it is that there will be a few nice ones. Despite our family being composed entirely of stumpy little goblins, she does manage to get decent pictures of us all, so it seems she has a point.

It’s definitely the case with product photography, too. Even though trawling through hundreds of photos can seem like a chore, those few shots you (and your potential customers) love will be worth it. Besides, you can always sift while you’re watching TV, and I guarantee you a good proportion will be blurry instant deletions, which speeds things up…

After the 183 pictures I took last weekend (of 5 products!), I ended up with this gem. Love knot midi ring on a hand holding a flower, posed on top of the piano music for ‘Your Song’ – Valentine’s theming at its finest.

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Check it out here

If you’ve got any particularly good product pictures you want to share, hit me up on Twitter or Instagram and I’ll retweet/regram them!