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".

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Craft Project #4- Handmade Valentines

It's hard to believe Valentine's Day is already here! It seems like only yesterday I was taking down the Christmas decorations and trying to make room in our already crowded house for more toys. Never the less, that wonderful day devoted to love in all forms is now upon us, and one of my greatest loves was the inspiration for my latest project.

Last week when we were out shopping, I thought to pick up some of those inexpensive, mass produced, media inspired valentine cards that all the kids pass around every year. There were very few choices for my 10 yr old son, but lucky for me he's not too particular. So I threw them in the cart and went on about my shopping. It wasn't until much later, when I was home making supper that I realized I hadn't picked up a box for my four year old daughter to hand out to her preschool class.

Now, my baby girl has grown quite a bit in her creativity over the last few months by drawing, cutting and pasting with more patience and interest than my son ever had. So for this reason, I decided that we could just make her Valentine cards together this year.

-I started out by sketching a Valentine version of my little Ella Font character (included in my Valentine clip art set here) and printed out several colored copies on plain white copy paper.

- Next I cut 2 sheets each of red and pink craft paper and 4 sheets of white card stock into equal pieces.

- Then I used a pair of decorative scrap booking scissors to cut around the edges of all the colored paper pieces as well as the little Ella Font printed design.

Finally my little helper and I spent some fun creative time pasting the pieces together and decorating a few with stamps and markers. I think they turned out pretty good, and I know no one else will have a Valentine card like ours.

As an afterthought, I added my logo stamp with my Etsy shop address to the back of each card. I'm hoping our handmade cards stand out enough from all the others that they might just convert some other mom's out there to try the handmade Valentine or at least peek their interest enough to warrant a visit to my shop.

The best part of the experience was spending some quality time with my daughter doing something that we both enjoyed! :)

I'd love to hear from you!!
Do you craft alone, with your kids, or in a group of friends?
What kind of unique craft projects have you created?

I'd love to hear and see what you've created! If you'd like to share, become a fan of Printastic Designs on Facebook then visit the discussion tab to add your craft project ideas too! If you have a finished photo you want to share just post it to the wall with a short comment. If you have an Etsy shop or related blog, feel free to post your link on the discussion tab as well. Hopefully soon there will be several great craft ideas listed, and I know we can all benefit from new ideas and networking!
Also, for a limited time, those who participate in the discussion will receive a 25% discount code good for anything in my Etsy shop!

Happy Crafting-

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How To Better Communicate With Your Graphic Designer...

...and get the custom design you want.
Communication and flexibility are very important when working with a designer. Without these, frustrations can grow, and a lot of work can be done without progress. I have listed a few basic guidelines to follow that can help you be more prepared to better communicate with your designer so you can get the job accomplished as quickly and smoothly as possible. Now let me start off by saying that each individual designer may have different criteria that they choose to go by. But, from my experience, these are the basics.

For those entrepreneurs who feel 'creatively challenged' or overwhelmed when it comes to creating an image for their business, hiring a Graphic Designer may be the best solution. A graphic artist can help the client by suggesting creative, relevant ideas that could possible work with the clients business and successfully create the business image graphics (logo, T-shirts, avatar, banner etc.) that will work in a variety of scenarios from printed business cards to interstate billboards.

If you've come to the decision to hire a graphic designer to help you create or update your business image then be prepared to put in some time and effort to work with them to get the finished results you will be happy with. Check out the works of several designers to see which artistic style fits your tastes best. There are a ton of wonderful designers on Etsy, most of which showcase examples of their work in their shops so you don't even have to make contact until you've chosen a designer that suits your style. When your ready to contact them, be prepared to present them with your ideas and answer questions. Here are some of the questions I ask my clients to get a better feel of what they're looking for as well as important things to remember.

- What type of business do you have? What do you sell? Who is your target audience? Is your style elegant, funky, conservative, playful? Give details.

- What is your idea? Have at least a rough idea that you'd like to see in your logo. This idea may change after talking to the artist, but give them something to start from. Bounce around verbal or written ideas until you can settle on a few well thought out concepts.

- Be open minded. Let me say that again - BE OPEN MINDED. We are not mind readers, and our initial sketch ideas may not always jive with what you expect. There are also limitations to what we can do and each designer tries to stay within their own comfortable range of ability. Don't give up though, be flexible and talk it through. If you don't like something, let the artist know so changes can be made early on, when it's easier. Compromise and be open to change for the benefit of a great design.

- Be reasonable about changes. It takes a lot of time and thought to come up with a design, sketch it, build it, and prepare it in multiple formats for output. Once a design concept is chosen and created, don't expect major changes in design to be made without additional charges. Most minor changes, like colors and text can be made without much hassle, but any major change usually requires starting over from the original sketch.

A graphic designer is not a miracle worker, a mind reader, or a person with endless hours of free time, but they are a wonderful source for creative ideas, with the ability to take that idea and build it into an image that can be used to represent and promote your business throughout several venues. The key to a great design is communication and flexibility. If you can work together, the results will be a well thought out, creative design that makes your business stand out and get noticed!

These are some of the logos I have designed...