I am now one-sixth of the way through my MAKE29 crafting adventure. Two months down and ten to go.
Because transparency is good, I want to write more today about this project...where it came from, what I think about it presently and where I see it headed.
MAKE29 was conceptualized very quickly and originated from a seed of an idea I had while driving home from FedEx.
Last spring, before Ellerie was born, a good friend of mine asked if I would be willing to paint a flamingo just like the one I painted for myself in February. I said "sure!" and we agreed on a price. I was worried about trying to replicate it exactly but hilariously, the second one turned out better than the first.
Originally we planned for it to get transported up to Sacramento via car, but then that never worked out and Ellerie was born and everything other than our survival was put on hold for a few months.
Finally, in the fall, my friend emailed that I should just bring the painting to FedEx and have them pack and ship it for me. I loaded Ellerie into the car seat, drove to FedEx and carried Ellerie and the painting in. $35 and a few minutes later, the flamingo was carefully packed and headed to it's new owner.
I spent the whole drive home thinking about how INSANELY easy it had been to get a large canvas shipped. In the past, I had considered shipping big stuff a deal breaker, but now that I knew it was totally do-able the wheels started turning.
"Maybe I could do 10 flamingo paintings," I thought. "Open up a sign-up list, invoice via paypal then paint and ship one at a time."
Ten seemed like a good number (not too many to paint, but enough to make opening up the listing worth it) and I loved the idea of a closed and limited edition. From a business stand-point it's easy for me because I know what I need for inventory. I know what I have to invest up front. I know what I have to charge to make a decent profit. I know how much room I have to store product and packaging materials. I know about how much time it will take to make or order a set number.
I got home and started writing out lists of things I had made in the past that I would be interested in making again and potentially selling as limited editions. I scratched the random flamingo painting idea when I realized that this project had potential to be much larger. THIS would be the birthday project to end all birthday projects. THIS is how I would wrap up the last year of my 20s. 12 totally new products sounded challenging. Editions of 29 and 290 sounded catchy.
I had the plan nearly formed on paper before I started talking about it (to my parents and Paul). I had the logistics figured out and the details settled when I started discussing it via email and text message with business-savy friends.
Sidebar - your business model is too complicated if you cannot explain it in a text.
Everyone I spoke with had the same reaction - 290 of one thing is a lot, but even 29 of time intensive handmade items like I had planned is a lot.
And I totally agreed, but oh man, was I excited.
When I launched this project, it had been nearly two years since I had sold anything non "scrapbook" related and never in my career have I sold 150 of one single home decor item, much less 290. I fully expected that I would have stock throughout the year. I was prepared for that financially and made plans for how I would ship editions together, store ampersands in my garage, and display February-April's items in my booth at the Queen Bee Market in May.
When the magic prints sold out in two days I was overwhelmed and so excited.
When the ampersands sold out in 40 minutes I was overwhelmed and a bit panicked.
Please do not misunderstand, I am so glad that this project has been well-received and am so grateful for the support and excitement around it. Making stuff to sell (and then watching it sell quickly!) is an incredible rush and probably my favorite part of running my business (you may have noticed, whatever I am talking about at a given time is my "favorite" part - this is a dream job for me, and I never forget that). It's an honor that people want my design ideas in their homes! But my goal was never to create a demand through scarcity. In fact, I spent much more time coming up with ideas for what I would do if things didn't sell than I did thinking about what I would do if they sold too quickly.
So what were my goals at the beginning of this project?
First and foremost, I wanted to break out of my own business rut and really push myself creatively. I was WAY done with the mixed paper books before I stopped making them. I could tell I was headed that direction with my rubber stamps and I wanted to be sure I closed up shop before I reached the "if I ever see a stamp again I'll be sick" point. I did not have a real plan for the direction I wanted to take my shop so I figured this would be a good way to play with some new ideas.
Second, I wanted to work with some new marketing techniques. Launching a new concept means a lot of new stuff - new logo, new paper promotion, new web design. I really LOVE to play with web-design and am so excited about what I have been doing with my product pages (to me, they feel different and engaging - not necessarily what people are used to when online shopping). I love that MAKE29 was the push I needed to start my newsletter and film a video trailer (so fun!). And if you cannot tell, I am really enjoying styling my product photos this time around. A new business venture is a great opportunity to look at what you do and then figure out how to elevate it.
Third, I wanted to celebrate all of this time I have spent blogging. I have chronicled the good and the bad almost daily for my entire 20s. I have quite literally written my way to adulthood and found my passions as a business owner and human being in this space. There are nearly 3000 posts and millions of words in the archives which feels like an endless resource. I have enjoyed looking back on my own work to come up with new ideas for the present and future.
Fourth, I wanted a business model that I could control. Set numbers. Set margins. Set launch dates. Set packaging requirements. I am planner (have you picked up on that?) and this project is a like a gift to my insanely organized mind and work habits. I loved that I would have the stock ready to ship immediately and could focus exclusively on the next thing if and when it sold out. There would be no delayed shipments because I was waiting on a producer back up (this happened often on stamps). There would be no expensive re-orders. Just 29 or 290 and we move on.
Fifth, I wanted to experiment and learn. What are people interested in now? Do letterpress prints still sell? Do people want to cover their homes in ampersands like I do? Is there a market for quilting kits? How does really talking about the purpose behind a product and sharing more of the process influence sales? Can I make money from my photographs? What mediums fill me up creatively and are worthwhile? Where do I draw my creative energy? After this year, I would love to have answers to all of these questions so I can make better decisions for my business long-term. I'll have information that will help me make greater and larger investments and ideally reach more people with the product they want to own (no scarcity!).
So what is the plan right now?
It's to continue on the original path more or less. Based on how things have gone so far I have had to scrap a few ideas (29 just isn't going to cut it like I thought it might). I have already invested insane time and money into at least one edition of 29 that will launch in the fall. I have a few editions of 290 already ordered/made. I am considering opening up a few larger editions (of 1029? of 529? of 2900?) but right now that's making me a little nervous when I consider what it will take to coordinate, invest, create, package, deal with customer service and ship all those orders promptly. 290 is a manageable number for my one-woman show. Whatever happens, I will continue to send out my newsletter and post to the blog in advance of the listing so you know what is coming.
I am really enjoying this experience. For a million reasons, this life season I'm in is so inspiring (at some point I have to write about how becoming a mom has changed me creatively) and it's awesome to be able to embrace that. In 2010, I saw something online about developing a mission statement for your business. "I should do that!" I thought and so I uncapped my sharpie and wrote :
ELISEJOY creates charming home and paper goods and encourages everyone to develop a crafty, can-do attitude.
Four years, and many, many products and adventures later, this is absolutely still my mission. I work so hard to make my dream job work for me and I am incredibly grateful that you're here and following along (is anyone still reading this nutty long post?!). Thanks! And happy tax day! ;)