This is the fourth in a series of interviews with Etsy entrepreneurs.
Ashley Nizolek is a 25 yr old independent Jewelry Designer and Artisan. Ashley attended one of the fashion Mecca’s in NYC – The Fashion Institute of Technology. Ashley moved from the world of high fashion to the fun and exciting world of indie design by opening an Etsy shop. Ashley has a comprehensive shop up and running with over 200 items and was chosen by Etsy as an Etsy Featured Seller and watched her business grow. In this interview, learn how Ashley began her flourishing Etsy shop – A.N. Original Jewelry and left her 9 – 5 behind.
What brought you to become an Etsy shop owner?
Well first of all, I loved the idea of this handmade movement that seemed to really be brought about by Etsy and sites like it. I poked around on Etsy for a good 3 months before deciding to go forward and open up my own shop there. I had already been in business for a while outside of Etsy and had a website set up with a shopping cart set up but felt like I wasn’t able to reach my niche market of “Handmade” enthusiasts. After I got a better feel for Etsy, how it worked and how other shop owners seemed to be doing there, I decided to go for it and try my hand at selling on Etsy. I loved the unique charm of Etsy, the fact that it catered to a niche market and the fact that it felt young and hip, rather than a site full of knitted baby booties and quilts. Sure you can find those things on Etsy, but you can also find a really innovative group of up and coming indie designers with unique view points and fresh ideas.
How do you market your business?
Marketing my business is something thats always changing and evolving. In the beginning of my time on Etsy I didn’t do much off of Etsy. WIthin the Etsy community I made sure to be active on a daily basis, contributing helpful thoughts and ideas to other Etsy community members, trading business tips, introducing new designs etc. As my Etsy business grew, along with the number of sellers on Etsy grew, I realized I really needed to start reaching outside of Etsy to advertise. I began buying ad spots on popular handmade blogs and websites, as well as sponsoring giveaways with indie design blogs whenever possible, so long as I thought I was a good fit for the style of the website. I’ve also realized that Etsy shop owners are also Etsy buyers, so buying ad spots on Etsy resource websites like CraftCult have been worth their weight in gold. Other than purchased ad spots and giveaways etc, I rely heavily on word of mouth spread by happy customers. Nothing is more effective than a happy customer spreading the word and providing one on one testimonials to their family and friends. I am happy to say I have many repeat customers over my 2 years selling on Etsy.
How has social networking helped your business? What have you found works best for your store?
Social networking is a balancing act. There’s a fine line between effectively advertising and giving your business visibility and spam. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter allow me to interact with my customers by letting them know about special offers, new designs etc. I think the key with social networking is having a healthy mix of business and personal anecdotes. People are only going to keep checking in on you and your business if you act as an entertainer of sorts, providing comedic thoughts and stories about your life, obviously nothing too personal, but anything that helps people feel like they know you a bit more helps tremendously when it comes to people trusting you and your business. Twitter has hands down been my most effective social networking tool, next to blogging. My blog, which I link to from my website, is also a huge help. It shows people things behind the scenes that keep them engaged in your work as well as interested in you are a person. It allows your customers and fellow sellers to become a fly on the wall in the life of an independent designer.
What is your favorite part of being an Etsy store owner?
Etsy’s international appeal is really unsurpassed by other handmade market places online and if I were a B&M store I would have virtually no chance of building an international customer base. I love the fact that when I list an item on Etsy, it is beamed to all corners of the world. A solid 40% of my business is shipped internationally, which is really something I couldn’t hope to achieve without a marketplace like Etsy. I also love the ease of communication I have with my customers, I have the chance to maintain a relationship with my customers beyond the initial sale, and many of them choose to follow my blog or follow me on Twitter. Having an Etsy store also means pretty low overhead, and in this economy that has been key to keeping my business strong and thriving. I also love the flexibility of it; I make my own schedule and can work all night if I choose, since I am a night owl. I can also take my shop with me wherever I go via my Blackberry! I can answer customer emails, re-list sold items and tweak my store from the beach, and that is truly a treat.
What are some of the ways that you find Etsy helps in your success as a store owner?
Etsy is really great at promoting their sellers wherever they can. I recently participated in a special promotion which was made possible by Etsy teaming up with a website called The Frisky, to promote selected curated sellers. Etsy also provides a way for shop owners to learn new things via their virtual labs, ask admins questions in a live chat, talk about techniques to photo your work, all sorts of different things. Etsy brings a scholastic element to the table, offering all Etsy sellers (and buyers) new information around every corner, it’s just up to YOU to take advantage of it and use it to your best ability. A lot of Etsy is up to each singular shop owner, you have control over your own shop and its up to you to do what’s necessary to get yourself out there and succeed, but the teaching aspect that Etsy offers is something that really enriches the community and gives those who take advantage of the information offer a leg up on other shops on Etsy.
What advice would you give new Etsians just starting out?
I would first and foremost say be patient and take advantage of the amazingly unique community aspect of Etsy! Nothing happens overnight, and Etsy is no different. You really need to build your shop, your brand, and your good name on Etsy from the ground up. Dive head first into the community offered on Etsy and be friendly with your fellow Etsy Sellers (and of course buyers). I spent the first month I was on Etsy soaking up as much information as I possibly could. Read through the forums, be an active part in the Etsy community, but also remember its a give and take. Etsy is a little bit of the “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” mentality. Lots of people are willing to share tips etc but you should be prepared to offer what you can in the way of tips, tricks, SOMETHING. It’s important to gain the respect of your Etsy peers, including Etsy Admins, to be successful on Etsy. You have to realize everything you do, or say, is a reflection of your business when you do or say it on Etsy. Your ALWAYS representing you brand and you can’t ever overlook that on Etsy.
How did you come up with your shop name?
My shop name really isn’t all that interesting, it’s a play on my initials, which are A.N. So, when throwing around potential brand names we started to think “Hey, it could be ‘An Original’ but using your initials so it’s ‘A.N. Original’, your jewelry is handmade and unique, it’s ‘an original’ piece of jewelry. I purposely didn’t choose a trendy fun name like “Pineapple and Barkley” because I just figured I’d let my jewelry speak for itself rather than designing under a crazy name that attracts more attention than the actual jewelry.
How do you brand yourself to make your shop unique?
Branding is so important, but it can also be very expensive, especially for a smaller business, so I’ve had to really take a look at what was going to make me unique. I really like to focus on crisp clean lines and photos paired with lots of color. I photograph my work simply on a rainbow of colored backgrounds but make sure the tone and richness of the colors are all still harmonious. In the beginning I wanted everything to be very sleek, I wanted everything black and white, and crisp and sterile, like a high end designer. But, let’s face it, I am not Marc Jacobs so that doesn’t work for me or my brand. When I decided to bring a lot of color into my shop and focus on more whimsical yet still chic designs I saw a response almost immediately. People enjoy the feeling of happiness and lightheartedness they get when browsing my shop and I get lots of comments on how inviting it is. So, for me, bright colors, whimsical designs and crisp clean pictures are my calling card.
Do you feel a sense of community among the Etsy shop owners?
Definitely. As I mentioned in a previous question, the community is what makes Etsy SO unique and it is a valuable tool for your success on Etsy. Part of the reason I think I was able to find success on Etsy was that I took lots of time at the beginning to establish myself as a thoughtful and contributing member of the Etsy community, I soaked up any information I could like a sponge and wasn’t afraid to contact high sellers to ask questions or even just introduce myself and let them know I appreciate their work. Etsy is like a little (well HUGE actually) family, I’ve made a large number of friends on Etsy who then in turn send their friends and family my way to see my work, it just increases the word of mouth advertising tenfold to have a positive contributing attitude towards the Etsy community.
How do you connect with your buyers?
I work hard to make sure that when a customer receives an order in the mail it’s like opening a present! I don’t want it to be sterile and impersonal, that’s not why people shop on Etsy! I’m not Macy’s so I don’t send things in plastic bags in a cardboard box, I appreciate that my customer are choosing to support the handmade movement and work hard to make their ordering experience memorable. I try to include a number of fun items like logo magnets, custom A.N. Original lip balms, Chupa Chup lollipops (which are a huge hit) , Care cards, a little note to the customer to thank them if I’m able to. Many times a customer will tell me why their buying the item in a note with their purchase so if they do that I usually try to write a little card in response to further the personal connection. I also work hard to make sure I have lovely packaging, I spend the extra money on high quality brightly colored boxes and satin ribbon in vibrant colors. Since I use a rainbow of colors in my branding I like to change up my packaging color combos every few months. One month I might have light green boxes with purple satin ribbon and the next I will have periwinkle boxes with vibrant pink satin ribbon and use my logo to tie it all together. Once in a while I will offer some sort of coupon code or free gift as well. My ‘extras’ in my packaging are always changing because I have so many repeat customers I love to have a new surprise for them each time they purchase, and it’s just more fun and stimulating for me personally to keep things as fresh and new as I can.
For more information on Ashley and her Etsy shop visit www.anoriginaljewelry.etsy.com or visit her website at www.anoriginaljewelry.com. Follow Ashley on Twitter at twitter.com/ANORIGINAL. Become a Facebook Fan at www.facebook.com/pages/AN-Original-Jewelry/71161615360?ref=s
Julie Barnes is the author is this post. Julie is excited to be living in Generation E – the age of the Entrepreneur. As a writer, she enjoys writing about all aspects of the entrepreneur journey. She enjoys interviewing entrepreneurs whose experience and wisdom can inspire others to follow their entrepreneur dreams. Julie lives and works in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, KS with her husband Ron and lovable dog Hank. You can visit her site at http://www.onewhowrites.com. Follow Julie on Twitter at Twitter.com/JulieBarnesKS. Become a Facebook friend at Julie Barnes.