Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Just Pin It

Ok, I know it's almost Christmas and I really should write about something festive and business-like, but I am impressed with a new website and want to share my new found fun with you. Besides, I guess it really can qualify as festive this time of year. It can be anything and everything! It is the never ending source of inspiration known as Pinterest. I love it. Truly I do.

First, let me tell you what Pinterest is all about. Imagine a giant cork board of sorts. Very useful for keeping track of those little business cards, coupons, schedules, appointment reminders and other interesting things to remember. Well, Pinterest is an online version of your giant cork board, only better.
After scouring the internet for a new recipe, DIY project or ... whatever, you can then 'pin' the found 'desired item' to your virtual cork board via a handy little browser button that is added to your tool bar when you sign up. This in turn creates new opportunities like...

1) you can come back and find said 'desired item' any time very easily and
2) 'said item' is instantly shared with your friendly board followers.

Yes, I forgot to mention that your boards can be followed by other 'pinners', be it your facebook friends or complete strangers who just like your pins. Social Networking meets virtual organization. It's a great conversation starter too!
For example: Me to my crafty cousin regarding her handmade nylon baby flower headbands:- Those are so cute! Where did you get that idea?" Crafty Cousin- "PINTEREST!" This conversation is what started my interest in Pinterest and with Christmas almost here, there is an abundance of holiday inspiration and motivation floating around on those pinboards! So my new internet browsing mantra is "Just Pin It!" (It's ok - you can sing it if you're an MJ fan)

If you link to your Facebook account, you instantly start following all of your friends with Pinterest accounts. (Yeah for linking accounts!) Then you can see all of your friends 'pins' and, since they are your friends, the chances are very good you will love a lot of their finds and feel compelled to re-pin to your own boards. Oh, you can also comment on pins or just 'like' them too.

I had to request an invite via facebook to get my own account(which really works if you have crafty friends.) Once I got signed up I started looking around and found lots of my friends were avid pinners (lucky me!). Now I don't have to search the world wide web for awesome inspiration, just my friends pin boards... or the boards of random people too. I can't get off the site long enough to go out there and find my own fun things to pin, although I'm sure I will eventually. For now I am content to re-pin oodles of inspiration and hope that some day I will have time to actually do/try/make/taste some of my borrowed/stolen/copied ideas and bring fresh ideas to my already 'crammed full of stuff' life.

Well, I hope I have opened the gates of curiosity for you to at least check it out and maybe even get your own Pinning Groove started. I know you will love it, how can you not? If you need an invite just let me know!

Happy Holidays and Happy Pinning!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hoppin' Holidays!

Hello my wonderful unseen followers out there! As you've probably noticed, I have been neglecting my blog of late and for this I apologize sincerely. Time just seems to slip away from me sometimes, and this is especially true around the holidays.
My preschooler has acquired weekly "homework' lately, and my craft projects have been put on hold to help my son with his school projects. (goodbye handmade Christmas cards - hello Indian Village!) The good news is part of my blog writing delay has come from an increase in business! (**insert smile and happy applause here**). I've had several local orders roll in and in order to complete them I've put off my usual internet marketing.

Although this will be a short post, I really just wanted to drop in and let you know that I am still functioning and business is chugging along nicely. I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving with plenty of food and good company. The Christmas season is just around the corner, and I wish you all many blessings and enjoyable time with your families. If you have a little extra time (I know, "what's that?") don't forget to check out the great shops on Etsy for some very unique handmade Christmas gifts.

I have a few cute Christmas expressions in my shop for the time being and one of my favorite ones is the the Christmas Tree Countdown. My daughter was happily adding the stickers to our tree expression last year when I snapped the picture shown in my listing. She had such a good time counting down the days that I will be making another one this year too, but I need to get with it, those 12 days prior to the big day tend to creep up quickly! There are also a lot of other wall expressions that would make great gifts for the holidays. Hopefully I will be adding a few more in the weeks to come so keep checking back, or if you'd rather cut to the chase - just drop me a message with your custom design idea and I'd be glad to make a reserved listing for you.

Well, that's about all I have for now. I'm off to design a directory ad for a local business with a very short time frame. Until next time, which I hope won't be too far off, Happy Holidays!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Think and Wonder, Wonder and Think!

Today is a day to be thankful I say!
It's time for a shower, it's almost the hour!
Not for rain did I say, but a baby on the way!
So here is my take on the nursery at stake
and my gift I will bring- no it's not just a Thing!

Ok, so that was my sorry excuse for a Dr. Seuss-like rhyme. But as bad as it was, it sets the mood for this really cute wall decal I made as a gift for a relatives baby shower. She is decorating the nursery in a Dr. Seuss theme and I couldn't resist making a wall expression for her.

I thought it turned out really cute - it's too bad I can't sell them (darn those copy rights!)Anyway, I got so into the whole Seuss thing, that this morning, I even made a personalized Seuss card to go with the gift....

This took almost as long to make as the wall expression, but it was worth it. I can't wait to see pics of her nursery. There are several other creative members of the family who are helping out with the decorating so I'm sure it will be adorable!

That is about it for now, although I will let you in on my next project idea - I'm thinking of rag rugs....hmmm maybe it will turn out beautiful and I can post about it for my next craft project. Wish me luck!!

Until next time-

Monday, September 5, 2011

Summers End

Summer is coming to an end and I am sad to see it go. I love the longer days, the hot steamy weather and the calm lazy evenings swinging on my back porch with a good book. The summer evenings are my favorite, just watching my kids play in the yard and the sun set over the fields around my house. So much in life keeps me busy and confined indoors I feel like most of the time I miss out on the simple beauty of nature and the peacefulness it can bring. A couple of weeks ago there was a flock of geese that decided to land in the recently harvested corn field next door and I quickly ran in to get my camera.

After that, the geese made a regular appearance in the corn field for several days looking for an easy meal. Their visits got me thinking about taking more photos of the simple beauty of nature right here in my yard.

My butterfly bush is usually full of butterflies this time of year and I rarely take the time to notice. But after the visit from the geese, I was paying more attention during one of my evenings outside and I got a great close up of a butterfly. I'm so glad I thought to photograph these images now because I know that winter will be here way too soon for my taste.

Ok, so this summer I have been slacking a bit on my business. I haven't listed more than 2 new items in my Etsy shop, and my advertising and networking have dwindled to maybe once a week (Shame on me!) In my own defense, I have had a few recent off internet sales that were very cool.

The first: I got the opportunity to help a co-worker and local veteran with a project he's been working towards for several years. He's erected a Veteran's Memorial in the town of Grandview (where I work) for all veterans of the county. My late grandfather and his brother both have engraved bricks at the memorial, so I was glad to be a part (although a very small one) of it's creation. I have taken orders for the engraved bricks for the last year or two and most recently, I got the job of designing and ordering the 3 ft x 4 ft aluminum sign for the memorial. Now although the completed sign is not up yet, I have to add a pic of the design.

Hopefully it will be finished soon and I can add a pic of the entire memorial.

The second: I also got the opportunity to create a brochure for the new library in my hometown. It was a bit of a rush job (I only had 6 days to get an approved finished design) But it worked out great. The client was easy to work with and I had no trouble coming up with ideas!

I love it when things run smoothly and my work is well liked and appreciated. It makes all the hard work and weeks without orders worth the effort when I get a happy client.

Just this weekend, I also got the chance to come up with a couple of new designs for my Wall Expressions. I've been slacking in this department all summer and it's time to get back at it. I've already listed one of the new designs in my shop here. The other I designed for a baby shower gift and I cannot show you here or now or... maybe I will, just after the shower! (That was a sad excuse for a hint!). But it is really cute!!

I think I have crammed enough info into this end of summer post (just like I've crammed several last minute things into my last days of summer) so it's time to get back to work! Stop by my shop often over the next few weeks, I'm planning on adding more new wall expressions and some really cool photo decals!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pursuing a Dream

Ok so we're all familiar with the Pursuit of Happiness and how each one of us is on our own journey in search of that true state of peace and contentment in life. I find myself no different, and feel like I am always searching for something better, particularly in my business. In my very early 20's I knew I wanted to someday be financially independent, self-employed and self-reliant, but I have learned over the years that for a woman, especially for a mother, this is nowhere near easy and that just because you want something with an all consuming desire, does not necessarily make it attainable. But that doesn't mean we don't try. I try every day to move in the direction of what I perceive to be my envisioned state of happiness with life, but occasionally I surprise myself and change my vision. So fickle is human nature!

I've been giving this a lot of thought lately. I even made a related Etsy treasury if you want to check it out HERE.

So, I just got back from vacation in the city (where I spent a lot of time considering the above mentioned challenges of life as well as the direction to take my little business next) and I am not getting back into the groove of my vinyl designs like I should. I'm considering a push in the direction of freelance graphic design and backing down on the vinyl stuff for now. I already offer this service, but have had more luck locally than online. I'm thinking about designing a full color mailer promoting my service to local businesses. I hope this will drum up some business, as it's been relatively slow lately all around. Maybe this will get me back into 'work mode' and away from this burnt out uncertainty that I've been wallowing in lately. But then again it could just lead to more of the same. At any rate, I feel the need to try something different and I will be optimistic and hope for the best.

I know I'm not the only one out there in the handmade world that has run into this kind of uncertainty, so I would love to hear how some of you have pulled yourself out of the hum-drums. Did you clean out your Etsy shop and start fresh with new products? Open a new online shop, maybe in another marketplace? Stick with the originals and keep the old but gradually add the new for a wider variety?

Maybe I'll just take an extended break from it all and come back when I really feel motivated to create something wonderful.... or maybe I'll just push head first through this rough patch and pray for a positive outcome!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Letting Go

Sometimes you just have to let it go. Now, I promise not to go on and on about sappy stuff, but rather about tangible things and knowing when to give up on pushing to sell them. This past weekend, I participated in a town wide yard sale, and although the town is small, this is about the only way I can actually have a yard sale where people will come because I live in such a rural area. So after sorting, marking and folding for a day and a half I packed up 3 loads of 'stuff' and drove over to my brothers robotics shop parking lot which is located on Main Street thinking this would be the perfect, most traveled area to be in for this event. The 'stuff' I was trying to sell included a collection of baby and kids clothes, toys, and baby items. Almost all the clothing was priced at $1 or less and most all of it in great shape. I even had 2 boxes of toy action figures and a box of socks and Halloween costumes for FREE.

My house has no storage space, other than the bedroom closets, so I really needed to eliminate the unused items to make room for the stuff we did use. Most of the items had been through a couple of previous yard sales, and I was beginning to give up on ever getting any kind of compensation for all of my hard work. So, this sale was my 'last straw' I guess you could say.
I think after 6 hours of yard selling Saturday I had less than 10 customers. (I won't count the lady that came and took all the cute little baby socks for free.) My biggest sale was a lady that bought $27 worth of toys. Everything else was pocket change.
So, here I am, finally ready to just "let it go" and I am making a trip to Good Will. Hopefully someone will appreciate that $50 remote control lizard thing my son just had to have only a few short years ago, and that beautiful teddy bear quilt/baby shower gift that was never used.

Ok, so maybe the teddy bear quilt will go back in the closet... but that's it.

I'm learning that business can be kind of like a yard sale too. You work hard to get a collection of inventory ready for customers, then you advertise, promote and advertise some more. If your business is online, you also have to figure out exactly how to get those huge photo files to compress small enough to upload on the internet, without loosing the wonderful clarity and detail of the product. Then you wait and hope that someone, somewhere will see your stuff and love it enough to purchase it. When they don't you end up with tons of inventory of stuff no one wants and you have to decide what to do with it.

Most all items in any store that don't sell right off the bat get discounted eventually, but the big retail chains don't have a lot of personal attachment to their merchandise like those of us who sell hand made items. Because I created these unique designs, made the decals, then designed and made the packaging for each item I do feel a little bit more attached to them and I am less willing to accept the fact that they just aren't selling as quick as I need them to. Since I don't have a lot of extra space, I have put things on sale, donated a few items, and given some as gifts. I just don't have the space to store it for too long if I want to make new ones. So, I've learned to make most of my decals only on request now, and the inventory that I so carefully built up for that craft fair last fall... well , that is still slowly being distributed as mentioned above. I'm sure I will get to the point of being ready to just give it all away like the "stuff" from my yard sale, but I'm just not there yet. :)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Giving Thanks on Independance Day

My family recently had an eventful holiday weekend, which leaves me feeling thankful and blessed, for things beyond the intended anniversary of our country's independence. Though a bit out of season, I liken it to Thanksgiving not because we had turkey sandwiches for supper, (which we actually did) but because I found myself counting my blessings for the things that happened to go right during a string of sudden bad luck.

We had planned a short camping trip at Spring Mill Park with my parents for the July 4th weekend. Since the drive was about two hours, and it would take about an hour to set up camp we wanted to leave as early as possible once we got home from work. We packed up and left home right on time and made it about half way into the drive when we noticed smoke in the rear view mirror. We pulled over on a side road and got out to inspect the truck and camper and were surprised to find the truck transmission was leaking fluid onto the exhaust, causing the smoke.

Blessing #1 - my husband is a mechanic and knew what the problem was and how to deal with it.

The truck has a temperature gauge specifically for the transmission and because it didn't look to be overheating, we opted to continue on with a watchful eye. We only made it another 10 miles before we had to pull over again, this time in a parking lot of a small business, already closed for the day. We decided to unhook the camper and drive back into the nearby town we just left to pick up some transmission fluid just in case we got low. The truck did fine without the weight of the camper behind us and once we got to Walmart, we decided to wait a while and let the truck cool off before trying to continue our journey. The kids were happy to browse the toy section for a bit, then I decided we'd better go ahead and get our supper (yes - turkey sandwiches from the superstore's Subway!). After we made our purchases and agreed enough time had passed, we added some of the newly acquired transmission fluid to the truck and headed off down the road again to pick up our camper, put the sandwiches in the fridge for later (just in case we were left temporarily stranded) and hoped for the best.

Blessing #2 - Cell phones & car chargers.

My parents had left earlier than us by about an hour, so they had already reached the park when I called to inform them of the unfolding situation. Soon after, the road we were traveling turned into hills with an immediate drop off on the side of the road and only steep grades for the occasional side roads. This worried us because there was nowhere to pull over quickly and although the temperature gauge still looked normal, we knew the extra power needed to pull the camper through these hills was going to cause more trouble. I was very glad I had bought the sandwiches, because it was beginning to look like we wouldn't make it to the camp site in time to grill burgers. Sure enough once we pushed, or rather pulled ourselves through the hills the truck started billowing smoke, a lot worse than before, and we barely made it to a small parking area on the outskirts of the next town. My husband quickly jumped out of the truck to look underneath and yelled "FIRE! Get the fire extinguisher!" I grabbed the extinguisher and thew it to him - it didn't work. He then tried to smother the small flame with a rag while I quickly got the kids out of the truck.

Blessing #3 - we keep rags in the truck (it worked!)
Blessing #4 - the kindness of strangers.

Once everyone was out of the truck I looked up to see a man running towards us with a cooler full of ice water. My husband pretty well had the fire out, but they splashed some of the water up on the exhaust to be sure. We thanked the man and told him about our issue. It turned out he was a First Responder and was just down the road at a town festival. He said the rest of the emergency entourage would soon follow, thanks to the concerned call of a passing motorist. Within minutes we had police officers, first responders, and firemen parked all along the roadside. We thanked them all for doing their job so well and politely declined the offer of one to pull our camper the remaining way to the park. We managed to drive a few blocks into town to a gas station to let the truck cool down again. I called my parents who decided to drive back to possibly pick us up, then we got out the sandwiches and made ourselves comfortable.

After sitting for almost an hour we continued on the last 15 miles (closely followed by my parents) to our campsite and proceeded to set-up in the dark. The original 2 hour drive took us 5 hours to reach our destination and, surprisingly, the transmission temperature gauge never got higher than half way.

Blessing #5 - my children were mostly well behaved during the entire ordeal.

We gladly fell into bed that night happy to have made it amidst all the problems of the day, and only slightly worried about getting back home on Monday. The rest of the weekend wasn't too bad considering the way it started- afternoon rain one day and missing out on the cave tour the next day didn't seem quite so bad considering the larger picture. We did manage to visit the Pioneer Village which was the best part of the weekend. Here is my creative attempt and preserving that good memory.

On Monday, after a temporary fix, our truck did manage to make it to the halfway mark on our journey back before we decided to throw in the towel and hitch a ride with my parents. The guys came back later with reinforcements to get the darn thing home. I am still counting my blessings and very thankful that all turned out ok, but really who ever said camping in a camper isn't roughing it, has obviously never been camping with us.

Here's hoping you had a wonderful Independence Day and found a few blessing of your own. Until next time!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

It's Show Time!

I recently had the opportunity to attend the NBM Sign & Graphics show in Indianapolis as an exhibitor along with a co-worker for my day job. If you don't already know, I work in the art department at a bronze and aluminum plaque casting foundry.

Over the years, I have attended only two other similar events, both of them in high school - a tractor and farm show (my father is a farmer) and a dance convention (yes, my mother is a dance teacher)both of which I was only an attendee. I was excited about the opportunity to attend this show from an exhibitor standpoint and because it had many other exhibitor booths that sold products, supplies and materials for the type of sign and graphics business I do from home. I guess you could say I signed up with a bit of a double intent.

On each of the three days the show started out a bit slow but as the day progressed more buyers began to filter in. A few of our existing customers stopped by to visit and it was nice to finally be able to meet some of them face to face. Each day we worked to inform potential interested buyers about our products and set up new business relationships that will hopefully lead to future ongoing sales.

Although I generally have a fairly outgoing personality, I usually have to give myself a little pep talk to get going in a new and unfamiliar situation. It's always hard for me to put myself out there and strike up conversation with total strangers so this was a perfect opportunity for me to work on my people skills.
I gradually got into my customer service 'groove' and we acquired about 6 new contacts/potential dealers each day of the show and spoke with many more.

When our booth was slow, I got the chance to wander around and check out all the other interesting booths that were there. With roughly three sections containing garment/apparel/embroidery, awards/gifts/promotional items, and signs/graphics/printing I spoke with a few representatives (some of them even showing me how their product worked) and picked up several catalogs and a few samples for my future reference.

After we finished up for the day we had a few hours to walk around down town and explore Indianapolis. We walked to the square, saw the trains inside of the Crown Plaza hotel, did a little shopping in Circle Center mall and ate at some interesting restaurants. I really enjoyed the city and the new experience, and I learned about some new products that some day I can possibly include in my sign shop. (That is if I can save up enough money to to actually open my sign shop!) Until then, I'm looking forward to the chance to go back to Indy when I have more time to enjoy the city.

Until next time ~

Monday, May 30, 2011

Craft Project #7 and #8 - Dust Cover and Pillowcase Dress

Ok, I guess the poodle skirts got me started on a sewing kick. I put the sewing machine away in the closet (I don't make a habit of sewing and therefore do not have a place to use it other than my kitchen table) after the skirts were finished completely intent on forgetting it again for a while. A few months ago there was a small incident with my 4 yr old getting her finger stuck in an opening on my vinyl cutter. I decided a cover would help to keep her away from it (out of sight out of mind kind of theory)and it would also keep the dust out of it when it wasn't being used. I did a few searches on Etsy (of course) and only found similar covers for Cricut machines or sewing machines, which of course brought to mind MY sewing machine and my newly acquired confidence in using it. I then changed my search criteria to tutorials.

BINGO! I found an easy one for making a Cricut machine cover and I just altered the measurements to fit my vinyl cutter. I then went back to the closet and pulled out my sewing machine for the second time in a month and dug around in my closet for some material. I found quite a bit left over from a past sewing kick more than 5 years ago. I had the bright idea to sew clothing for my son when he was a toddler, but when faced with the challenge of chasing a 2 yr old to try to measure him, then trying to figure out how to cut the pattern while balancing that squirming 2 yr old on my lap my once bright idea quickly became a half-hearted attempt and the project never was completed.

In that moment I felt lucky that I have the occasional tendency to keep things simply because "I may need it someday". So, here is my newly created vinyl cutter dust cover which turned out great.

While I was searching the web for tutorials I also ran across the cutest little pillowcase dress, which I bookmarked for later. Once I had the dust cover done I decided to attempt the dress for my daughter. Then I promised myself I would put the sewing machine back in the closet... again. I bought this really cute pink floral material and some contrasting green ribbon then by chance ran across a little headband and flower clip that matched perfectly ( I love Hobby Lobby!). I was completely pumped up about this little project but I made myself put it off until the weekend when I had a bit more time. Then I revisited the dress tutorial , sat myself down at the kitchen table and started sewing.
My first mistake was not leaving enough material allowance for folding over the top hem. My second mistake was buying single fold bias tape instead of double fold. Lesson learned- I now know there is a difference and yes, it does matter. Since I was already knee deep in the middle, I jimmy-rigged it the best I could and made it work, and although the stitching around the trim shows and the dress ended up about 2" shorter than planned, I think it turned out pretty good for my first attempt at dress making. My daughter loved it, and that's really all that matters anyway!

Now the sewing machine is back in the closet and I am over my little sewing kick for a while. Now it's on to the busy month of June. This weekend is the long awaited dance recital (putting those poodle skirts to good use!) then I am off to my very first sign industry trade show. Loads of interesting things I'm sure will come of it!

Until next time ~

Sunday, May 22, 2011


I love animals, but I especially love dogs. They are all unique individuals, just like us, but very different in the fact that they are honest and have an unwavering loyalty to their human counterpart that goes far beyond almost any other relationship. As an adult, I have been lucky enough to have two wonderful dogs. A small Yorkie Poo named Sadie was my first chosen canine friend. I searched for just the right kind of dog until I found what I was looking for and when I first met her, I knew we were a great fit. I was blessed to share almost 13 years with my sweet Sadie, before she passed away last summer from heart problems.

My second dog, although not officially chosen, has also been a blessing and a wonderful fit within my family. Rex is a Border Collie mix that showed up on my back porch one night with a very sad face. I suspected someone had dumped him off, unwanted, and he wondered up to our house. I once again had that feeling that he was a good fit for me and that he should stay. I did have to work a bit to convince my husband of this fact, but he eventually came around. :)

They say kindness begets kindness and loyalty begins with kindness. Both of my dogs became loyal companions quite easily within a very short amount of time. They quickly learned to trust and rely on me to meet their needs on a regular basis and my trust and affection for them also grew. They were, and Rex continues to be, a loyal and trustworthy friend and that bond will continue for many years.

I like to believe that there can be business relationships that also have some of these same great qualities. Loyalty must be earned, like in any relationship, but if you are honest, and continuously meet the needs of your customer in a friendly and helpful manor they will appreciate it and are likely to return to you for future orders if the need arises. They may even recommend your business to others, bringing new customers to your door. Over time, a good customer relationship develops and becomes a steady force to help your business grow.

At my day job, one of my daily responsibilities is to answer the phone. I can't tell you how many times I have been greeted with "Hello! Your company was recommended to me by..." or "I have ordered plaques from you for many years..."
Each time I hear this, I feel proud to work for a company that has high standards for meeting the needs of their customers and selling high quality products. I also enjoy being able to help our customers with their questions, and directing them to the right product for their needs. Oh, and we have a few loyal dogs that regularly visit work as well. One of my employers brings his dog to the office sometimes and she waits patiently for him to return. :)

Show kindness, help others, and be honest. I believe these qualities are the root of a great business, as well as a great relationship and are the building blocks for gaining loyal customers to support your business. Oh, and If you don't have a business, then I definitely recommend getting a dog.

Until next time,

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Internet Swap

I have finally found some quiet time to sit down and write. I have tried several times but with kids, and work, and life, I've easily gotten distracted and put it off yet again, but now I have something I really want to share.

I have just finished with a very fun internet swap on Etsy. I have never participated in any kind of trade agreement over the web, but I was browsing one day and ran across a listing in a shop (Little Goat's Natural Soaps) that sells handmade soaps and bath products for a Barter/Trade/Swap with other Etsy shop owners. In the description she had a list of items that she was interested in trading her handmade soaps for and I was very happy to see that wall decals was one of the items! I contacted Karly and we went back and forth for a few days with the details of what we wanted to trade.
Once we had the details worked out, we made a custom listing for each other with a description of our item for trade. I chose 4 different bars of her handmade soaps...

and she chose a custom wall decal...

When purchasing a trade listing on Etsy, you have to be sure to accept other payment types in your shop settings. This allows for the listing to be purchased without any monetary exchange and feedback can still be left for each shop.

I can't wait for my new soap to arrive, and now thanks to Karly, I think I may have to create a trade listing in my own shop!

Have you ever participated in an Etsy Swap? I would love to hear about your experience!!


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Picture This

Ok, I've got a new idea. I know a lot of blogs out there have "Wordless Wednesdays" and such where they post a single photograph without words, but I LIKE words. In fact, I think the words can help describe the photo and really give the reader a more personal connection to the photo they are looking at. This is one of the reasons why I like scrap-booking, and captions, and those little thought bubbles in cartoons. So here's my version of the photographic showcase-

Picture This...

I got a new camera for Christmas, which I love, but I don't get to use nearly as much as I'd like. My husband (who is not a creative soul, nor a photographer) picked up my camera the other day and went outside for a few minutes. He came back in with this...

I have to admit, I was impressed. Even though originally I wasn't crazy about the idea of a pole full of martin houses being erected in my back yard, I've come to appreciate them over the years. That being said, I've never thought of that huge pole of gourds as beautiful until I laid eyes on this photo with the sun setting behind it. Score one for the inexperienced photographer.

Now, wasn't that a lot better than just the picture alone???


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Craft Project #6 - Poodle Skirts

My mother is a dance teacher, so I have been involved in dance since I was old enough to walk. This has been one of the great joys in my life and although I have not chosen to follow in her footsteps and teach dance, I still love it and try to be involved in her studio as much as I can. Both of my children take classes, and each year there is a recital at the end of the season. This year, the theme for the finale is 'Grease'. All the kids have been asked to dress like the 50's. So, I was in the studio a couple of weeks ago and one of the mothers told me she had a friend that was making her daughter a poodle skirt. This got me to start thinking about what my 4 yr old daughter was going to wear ( I am a bit of a procrastinator occasionally and, unless it is calling for my immediate attention, I usually put it off and forget about it for a while)

I had a poodle skirt that my grandma made from a long ago recital when I was 6 or 7 years old. I didn't know exactly where it was, but I was sure it would be too big for my little one. So since that wouldn't work the next idea was to search Etsy. I wanted to match the pink and black recital T-shirts we were ordering so I was a little picky about the color combination. I found a lot of poodle skirts there too, and most of them had the measurements for each size they sold, but I didn't find exactly what I wanted. I tried just a general Google search for 'poodle skirt' and found a blog with a very helpful tutorial on how to make one from scratch. I love the internet!!

Now, I don't sew very much and the only things I have sewn are fairly easy- a pillow, pillowcase, an apron, and minor repairs to existing clothing. But this was a great tutorial. It looked simple enough and it had pictures, so I thought I would try it. I went to Hobby Lobby and bought 1 yard of black felt material, some sequin ribbon and a poodle applique. I thought surely this would be enough for my little 4T skirt.

I got home and went straight to work. I got the measurements from one of the Etsy listings then checked them with my daughter height as well. The tutorial listed a formula to figure the measurements for cutting out a pattern. (I really made my own pattern too!! Yeah! So starting off like any other night, I had to work around all the normal interruptions from my children and such. Here's how it went: I figured my pattern size, went to start dinner, came back and got the paper laid out and measured, helped my daughter with her game, went back to check on my dinner, checked the measurements again and drew the pattern lines. My son needed help with homework so I did that before I finished dinner and got it on the table.
After dinner, I went back to my project and quickly cut two panels of the material using my new pattern. When I went to cut the third panel I realized I didn't have much material left.

YIKES! What did I do wrong?!?

I went back and checked the tutorial formula against my figures, and sure enough I added the wrong number to the wrong thing and ended up with 2 ankle length panel for my 4T skirt instead of 4 knee length panels. So, the next available day I was off to Hobby Lobby again for more material. This time, I got a little extra - 1 1/2 yards - just in case I had another distraction to mess up my figures, or some other unforeseen problem. I was determined to make my baby girl a poodle skirt!

I re-figured my numbers and made a new pattern then carefully laid out my new material for cutting. Hallelujah it worked! So off I went to sewing. I dug out my sewing machine that had been put away in a cabinet for years and set it up. Everything was going smoothly and, with the exception of having to rip out a few stitches and redo one little section, I think I did pretty well. I finished up my little project with a store bought poodle applique and some sequin ribbon which I hand stitched. My wonderful little girl was very helpful throughout my project by letting me use her for a model at least half a dozen times and she was very excited when it was finally finished.

Now I had lots of left over material, and since I now knew what I was doing (kind of) I thought I should try it again. I ended up making two more poodle skirts, but this time I had to draw a poodle pattern and cut out two pink felt silhouettes because I had only bought one pre-made applique. Each one is a little bit different but still very cute and although I am now all 'poodled' out, I have to say I am very proud of myself. I plan on putting the two extra skirts in my mom's studio for sale this week especially for the big recital in June. Keep your fingers crossed for me that they sell!!

Until next time ~

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Birthday Reflections...

Ok, I just have to throw in this very short little post because today is my 34th birthday. Some days (like today) I just feel old, but I think that is mainly due to lack of sleep and my crazy hectic life. But really, time has just gotten away from me in what seems like the blink of an eye. Has it really been 16 years since I graduated high school? Within that span of time I've moved to Italy, gotten married, moved to Mississippi, got my very own puppy, moved back home to Indiana, bought a house, sold a house, graduated from college, had two beautiful children, worked for the same company for over 10 years, cried a river when my granddad passed away and again when I buried my 12 year old 'puppy', embraced camping and family vacations, and started my own business which has started a whole new chapter in my life so far.

Just for the record I'd like to say that I am blessed. Although there are days that I struggle, and drag myself out of bed just to be greeted with a terrible day, or more things on my 'To Do' list than I can possibly finish, I know that I am loved, I am needed, I am healthy and alive.

So today is just another day on my journey to be thankful that I have made it to the age of 34, and for all the moments, trials and blessings that have gotten me to this point in my life. I would not be where I am today without my family, friends, and the many blessings the Lord has given me.

Oh, and I also got flowers from my husband and I didn't have to cook supper- So heck yeah, I AM BLESSED!

Until next time-

Monday, March 28, 2011

My Printastic Picks

Ok, so I have decided that in addition to the business and craft topics that I already post, it would be interesting to feature some of the great artisans and crafters that I have been lucky enough to run across so far during my time on Etsy.

My Printastic Picks will showcase some great little shops that have wonderful products and give you the scoop on what makes those products stand out from their mass produced retail competitors. At the very least, it will broaden my informative topics and hopefully give those of you who stop by a great read.

My first pick is a fellow Treasury Island team member from Etsy...
Indulgent Creations Handmade Soap & Bath
April's shop is full of beautiful soaps and unique bath products. A few of my favorites (pictured in this post) are the soap sacks, the laundry stain sticks, and the the soapcicles for kids. You can find all of these items on her website, as well as a good variety in her etsy shop.

I chose Indulgent Creations for several reasons, first because I have recently discovered the awesomeness of handmade soap. Yes, it's more expensive that your store brand, but the benefits for your skin, as well as for the environment are worth it. Just for example, April uses rain water to make her soap. This keeps the chemical additives found in tap water out of her products, and all of the natural beneficial properties of pure water in.

Below is the written interview I conducted with April recently about her growing business.

What made you decide to start making handmade soaps and bath products?
I began making handmade soap for myself 5 years ago due to a constant battle with eczema. I loved pretty smelling bath products and lotions but was no longer able to use them as they made me itch and my skin broke out and burned terribly. I started doing research both online and in books. I spent a year or so trying different recipes and tweaking them to find something that made my skin happy. Once I found one that worked well, everyone wanted to try it. I gave a LOT of soap away in that 1st year and then due to the cost of supplies, Indulgent Creations Handmade Soap & Bath was born.

Can you explain the basics of the cold process method you use?
Cold Process soaping is basically a process of making soap without cooking it in a crock pot or on the stove top. The process I use is known as CPOP (Cold Process Oven Process). I melt my oils in a pot, once cooled, add my lye mixture and any other goodies I want to put into that batch. I mix with a stick blender, pour into my molds, do any swirling, pretty things I want and from there I put the mold in the oven on a low heat. The oven process of making soap is not needed but the chemical process that takes place is a slow heat up where the soap basically cooks itself in the mold. I can speed up this chemical process by using the oven. This allows me make more soap at a quicker pace. (This is a very basic explanation of soap making...there's a lot of time and money involved but wanted to keep it simple)

Do you prefer using common, well known scents, or your own new creations?
Most of the scents I use are pretty common, well known scents. Besides making soap I also make lotions, auto air fresheners, soy candles & tarts, bath salts, bath bombs, laundry stain sticks, crocheted washcloths and soap sacks and scented wax dipped critters. Keeping up with my current line up doesn't allow much time for blending of my own scents...maybe some day down the road.

Besides your etsy shop, how do you market your small business?
Beside my Etsy site and keeping up with my own website I do my local Farmers Market every Saturday morning from April thru October. I also do several craft shows in my area. I have a Facebook page and you'll catch me Twittering every now and again...

How do you make your products stand out from the other shops selling similar products on Etsy?
I try to make my soaps look as nice and unique as possible. As with any craft, I think we all get a "writers block" for lack of a better expression. I have certain soaps like the Oatmeal, Goats Milk & Honey and Cool Citrus Basil that will always be part of my line up as they're too popular to discontinue but also try to come up with new soap scents and designs each season. Last year was the Black Raspberry Vanilla which sold out the first day at the market and Honey Almond which I spent the rest of the season selling it faster than I could make it. I also revamped my labels last season as I feel that's a very important part of this business.

In your opinion, why are handmade soaps and bath products better than those readily available at retail stores?
There are several reasons that to me, handmade soaps are better for your than store bought. If you've tried a good handmade soap then you already know. Once you use handmade soap, it'll be very hard to go back to store bought soap. Your skin feels so good, not dry and tight. I don't put any chemicals in my soaps, there's no foaming agents. Many of the foaming agents you'll find in store bought soaps are just the thing that causes skin irritation. I do everything possible to stay away from FD&C colorants which also can irritate skin. Basically the only thing I put in my soap that is not natural, is a fragrance oil. I do offer several essential oil soaps that are completely natural. Many of your store bought soaps are not really soap, they are detergent bars. The chemical process of making soap creates glycerin, this is what attracts and holds moisture to your skin. Most of your commercial bars have had the glycerin extracted from the bars because the company sells it and profits from the glycerin. Lastly, keep in mind when you buy handmade soap you are supporting agriculture. I use several oils that support farming...tallow (beef), lard (pig), soybean and corn oil.

All of the soaps by Indulgent Creations are made from all natural ingredients with the only exception being the fragrance, but there are also some available without it, if you prefer. The best part is they are all handmade by April and she is just a hop, skip and jump away in our little cyberspace world. Support handmade and the next time your in the market for a new bar of soap, or two, or three, just hop on over to Indulgent Creations for some awesome selections.
Oh, and by the way, if your planning to use your new handmade soap while taking a long luxurious bath, you could also swing by my shop and grab a vinyl wall design for your bathroom wall to enjoy as well!

Until next time-

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hobby Shop or Budding Entrepenuer?

Ok, so once again I have fallen behind on my original weekly blogging schedule. I’m not overly concerned about this because I mostly blog for myself, but I do love having others follow and show interest in my posts. I suppose I should be a bit more consistent, so maybe I will get two posts in this week, keep your fingers crossed for me! For today’s topic, I picked a doozy – IRS.

Several weeks ago, while searching the Etsy forums, I noticed a comment thread where people were discussing the IRS and how your business could be re-categorized as a hobby if you don’t show a profit for three years. A lot of the businesses on Etsy are run part time, mine included. So I read through this thread wondering if my little business venture could eventually be audited and reclassified as “Hobby” status by the IRS. So far, thanks to my sign and printing sales off Etsy, I have made a small profit each year I’ve been in business until this past year.

Shortly after I found the Etsy forum information I received a newsletter in my inbox from one of my sign vendors. This is a fairly common occurrence, and I usually scan it for interesting topics and what do ya know, there was an article about the IRS categorizing micro businesses as Hobbies. It said that if a sole proprietor files a Schedule C in industries that are usually seen as recreational (like sewing or jewelry making) and the business hasn't made a profit in at least three of the past five consecutive years, the IRS might audit the business and reclassify it as a hobby.

This reclassification could be bad for your business because you could be forced to give up some valuable tax deductions. For example, writing off losses and business expenses against other income, like a day job. Additionally, since the IRS can go back three years in an audit, you may face a really big tax bill as well as the inability to write off losses from your "hobby" in the current tax year and into the future. Thankfully this reclassification is not automatic. If you are selected for an audit, the IRS will typically give you a chance to prove that your intentions are to make a profit and although your business is fun, it is still indeed a legitimate business.

I had my taxes done last week and brought up this topic with my book keeper. She said that the IRS would look into your business status if you did not show a profit for more than 5 consecutive years, but this point could easily be argued. If there is substantial monetary investment in the business, this shows that you have bigger intentions for furthering your venture. Consistent cash flow, even minimal, also offers legitimate proof that you are in fact operating as a business. Most new entrepreneurs start out small with many large expenses to get the ball rolling. These large start up costs, even for home businesses, can eat up any potential profits you may be lucky enough to make in your first several years of operation. For example, I have several items that were purchased in my first and second year of business that need to be deducted over the course of several years (the expected life of the equipment). This adds additional expenses down the road that really aren’t factored as tangible expenses for that particular year, but it shows up none the less.

I'm learning that running a business, no matter how small, is a big job and one that is always changing. Although all of this stuff is a bit daunting, right now I have no intention of jumping off the proverbial wagon, so I guess I better keep up. Below I've listed some other great tips I got from the newsletter article I mentioned above:

-Keep a set of books -- preferably on accounting software or on a spreadsheet.

-Generate profit-and-loss statements and comparative profit-and-loss statements to measure the growth of your business against prior years.

-Chart future projections, and write a plan for turning the business into a profitable enterprise. Keep all your notes and financial statements to present during an audit.

-Be in compliance with local, state and federal requirements by obtaining all required licenses, insurance and permits. Maintain a file of all certificates and licensing information to present during an audit.

-Keep a mileage log or at least an appointment book to substantiate any automobile deductions. Follow the rules for deducting commonly flagged expenses like travel, meals and entertainment.

-Improve your skills. Attend classes, trade shows and conventions. Keep all registration forms and fliers to prove your attendance and the nature of the event.

-Open a separate business bank account. Deposit all sales revenue into this account and pay all business expenses from this account.

-Use your business account for paying business expenses. If you don't have enough sales revenues to cover the expenses, don't start paying business bills from another account. Instead, transfer funds from your personal accounts to cover the bills.

-Advertise. Keep copies of every advertisement you place. During an audit, these records will go a long way toward proving that you're serious about the business.

Get out there among your peers and exchange ideas. You can do this by joining a local chamber of commerce and other professional organizations.

-Do some thinking. Be ready to explain to the IRS why your business is a serious enterprise. Perhaps you're a stay at home mom trying to bring in more household income while still being there for your kids? And why exactly aren't you showing a profit? If your having trouble getting the hang of things, admit it. It takes awhile to learn all the ins and outs of becoming an entrepreneur.

-Stand your ground.
If you're being audited, and you find yourself on the losing end of the argument, stop the audit. Tell the auditor that you need to discuss the matter with a tax professional before you continue. The auditor must honor your request and give you adequate time before resuming the audit.

If you are questioning your continued business status with the IRS, talk to your tax adviser. If you already know all this stuff and do your own taxes, you are a braver and more knowledgeable soul than I – Go You! Either way there are so many rules out there that it can make your head spin. Stay current with updates and if you have questions, research them and don’t be afraid to ask someone in the know.

Aside from the information from the newsletter, this is just my interpretation of of what I've learned so far on this road to becoming an entrepreneur, but all things considered, I am very happy to have been reassured by my tax adviser that my business is not currently in danger of being reclassified, and even if it were, I would have her help in contesting the issue. So, now I feel better, and my refund is on it’s way which is another big ” Yeah!” in my book.

April 15 will be here before you know it!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Craft Project #5 - Chalkboard Wine Labels

Finally, spring is in the air! We've had occasional small glimpses of spring over the last few weeks and it's giving me the itch to get out and do something fun! I know I'm not the only one whose caught the spring fever, during a recent phone conversation with my best friend about the upcoming spring break at our kids' schools, we decided to plan a weekend trip with our two families. This is a first for all of us, jumping into 3 days of togetherness with wonderful people we don't see often enough.
As our trip nears, I've been thinking of fun things to bring to occupy the kids on the 6 hr drive as well as in our rental when the adults are ready for some time to simply enjoy the company of friends. Hoping to keep the interruptions and distractions to a minimum, I so far have a very limited assortment of the usual: board games, toys, video games and movies. These are all well and good, but I wanted something new and fun that they could all make use of, at least once. Something that would make a special memory for all of them to share.

Now, my friend and I like a glass of wine on occasion, so I bought a bottle to take with us for an evening in at our cabin. I had this idea that the kids might enjoy their own fancy bottled beverage, so I bought two bottles of sparkling grape juice for them.

A few days later, I was sitting at my desk making notes in my journal about different projects to make using my new chalkboard vinyl and viola! I thought of the grape juice bottles and my chalkboard wine labels were born!

-First, I cut out a 4" x 6" piece of chalkboard vinyl with some decorative crafting scissors.

-Next, I applied a small vinyl decal of a modern grape vine in the corner.

-Last, I simply peeled off the backing paper and applied the new label over the existing label on the glass bottle.

I thought it turned out rather cute! The kids can now write their names, keep score for their games or draw right on the bottle. I'm also going to make a couple for my kids to use on clip boards in the car. I was so happy with my idea I listed a set of 4 of these labels in my Etsy shop here.

These labels are not only for wine bottles, they can be used several different ways,like to leave little notes around the house for those you love! Put one on the inside of your child's lunchbox and leave him notes from home, add one to a clipboard and take it in the car, or put it on the refrigerator!

Chalkboard vinyl is becoming popular and can be found several different places online, as well as in some sign shops but if you want a completely do-it-yourself project for a real bargain, you could also use the bottle itself as a dry erase board. Carefully peel off the existing label ( you may need to soak it in soapy water first) and use any dry erase marker to mark directly on the clean glass bottle. It wipes off easily with a tissue, and can be used over and over again.

I hope you all have a great weekend and Happy Crafting!


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Too Much Branching Out?

In July of 2008 I decided to try my hand at running a small business from home. This has always been a dream of mine, and although I knew I had to start out small and grow slowly, I didn't realize how hard it would be to just grow period. So I made a website, opened a business account got my tax ID, signed up to be a reseller of printed items through a well known online company and started advertising.

My first newspaper ad in my small town brought in absolutely nothing. Seriously, $50+ down the drain and not even a phone call. So I found a list of e-mail addresses of local businesses through the chamber of commerce website and sent them all a friendly e-flyer advertising my business. Later I learned that this is kind of spammy and I really shouldn't do it, but hey, I did get an order from it.

Ok, so there really isn't much of a demand for straight up graphic design in my small little farming county, so I started looking into other marketable product that required graphics to some degree. I already new how to sell cast plaques, so I added those first, then gradually got into other types of signs. Vinyl wall designs were getting popular and I thought these were right in line with what I liked and knew how to do - graphic design and selling signs. So I bought a vinyl cutter and taught myself how to use it pretty fast.

Most of my orders were, and still are, from my local community through word of mouth. But I felt like I needed to expand my target market (which encompasses a wide range) so I went online and found Etsy.

Let me say that again ... I found ETSY! (insert excited squeal here)

I made myself wait for a month, until after I did some research on the handmade site and learned how things worked. I told myself not to get into too much, but I could sell my vinyl wall designs and my graphic design on Etsy to a larger audience (who were specifically looking for handmade things) so I couldn't resist jumping into it.

Etsy has added new meaning to the word advertising. I spend loads of time promoting, connecting and sharing my products with other online creatives like me and while I completely enjoy it, sometimes I can get lost in it. My sales don't reflect the time I spend on the site yet, so I need to take a step back every now and then to look at what I should be doing (more creating) vs. what I am doing (promoting a lot!)so I don't get sucked into the black hole of lost time. Don't get me wrong, there is a happy medium between the two, but I sometimes have issues with time management.

Now I have such a wide variety of products with a diverse customer base, I wonder if I've branched out too far? Yes, my sales have increased as I've added each new product line, but my sales are still not really steady overall. Also, I can't tell that one specific product sells better than another.

I've read that most businesses start out with a lot of different products, then as they grow, narrow down to a few specific products that they do really well.

So the big question is.... how much is too much branching out? Do I narrow down now, or wait until I have more sales to see what works best? I don't know how to choose, and luckily, at this point I don't have to yet. But I'm sure the time will come when I am either fed up with trying to make my business successful, or so busy that my head spins and I have to make a major change. I guess for now I will just "keep calm and carry on".