Monday, February 16, 2015

How to Start Taking Custom Orders on Etsy

When I started my Etsy shop, Mama Bleu Designs, in 2010 I never considered taking custom orders. It was completely off my radar until a customer saw one of my book cover stitched illustrations and asked if I would make a custom order clutch with the garden design and her friend’s name. Talk about ah-ha moment!! This one online conversation changed the course of my business!

How to Start Taking Custom Orders on Etsy

I chose to accept her custom order request and made the decision to offer this as an option for just about everything in my shop. Offering made-to-order items works well for me but I know it doesn’t work for everyone. I thought I’d look at this with you today to help you decide if it’s something you’d like to offer in your own business.

Custom Made Personalized Clutch Purse for any Gift Giving Occasion

I made my first custom clutch, photographed it and used the photos as sample references for my first custom listing. I didn’t include a fabric chart at the time but still received several orders with few requests for different colors.

Shortly after that I started offering an additional design choice with the side panel of fabric. Same stitched illustration and name but with more color. This was also well received.

Since these shop items aim at the personalized gift market I certainly saw an increase in sales, which is good, but I also got myself into a stressful situation of handling the influx of orders that demanded my immediate attention. I didn’t want to compromise the quality of my work, I needed to figure out the turn-around time for each order and work out a balance between my personal schedule and my studio hours. In short, everything was crazy good and crazy hard at the same time!

Two things I learned when I first opened Mama Bleu Designs:
  1. By increasing the number of listing in my shop to 100 or more I’d see a significant increase in traffic to my shop and an increase in sales.
  2. It’s best to have an “entry point” priced item with additional listings priced lower and higher.

With most of my items priced in the middle range - the "entry point" - I designed a personalized coin purse that I could price at a lower price point. What stumped me was how I could create a product at a higher price point. I didn’t want to make any larger bags at that time of my business.

 Custom Made Personalized Coin Purse

The answer came from another customer when she asked if I could make a collection of personalized clutch bags for her bridesmaids. This was another ah-ha moment for me! I didn’t have to make a new item. I just had to market them in a way that was both beneficial for my customers and for me. Offering collections of bridesmaids gifts was another turning point in my business!

 Set of 8 Personalized Bridesmaid Clutches in Your Choice of Fabrics

So as I received orders for single clutches and collections of bridesmaid gifts I took more photos and put up more listings. My inventory of goods didn’t increase but my inventory of product photos did! This continuing trend in my business has allowed me to list more and more items and in turn, has increased my visibility on Etsy.

I must confess that when I hear the cha-ching on my phone to notify me of a sale, it can be a relief when the order is for something I already have in my inventory. The work is done and it just needs to be packaged and shipped. But, on the other hand, I am so grateful that I don’t have a business that relies heavily on a huge amount of inventory that I have to store in hopes that it will sell quickly.

What I do need to keep in inventory are the supplies for creating my orders. There is nothing more stressful than to run out of zippers in the middle of creating an order that needs to be in the mail the next day! It took me a while to figure things out but it’s an ever changing, ever evolving process with suppliers and studio organization and time management.

After I finish each custom order I usually photograph it. Whether it’s a single clutch or a collection of personalized bags, if it’s different from what I already have listed I can use the photos for another custom order listing.

Although this is a great option for me, I need a way to list new fabrics and new designs. My schedule is usually jammed with filling orders or taking care of other business details but to keep things fresh I need to find time to create samples that I can photograph. Since these samples are made with the same quality and detail as my custom orders I used to take them to Belle’s Nest or sell them at Pop-Up shows. Because of some recent changes in my business these samples now sit on my shelf as inventory so I’m choosing to give them as gifts or put them on sale in my shop.

As I see it, samples are a necessary part of a custom order business and the cost and time they take to create, without a guaranteed sale, is just like carrying inventory.

When I first started offering custom listings, Etsy didn’t offer various ways for us to customize our listings with quantity, color, size, etc. Things are so much easier now with drop down menus! There are so many ways you can use these when setting up a custom listing. I use a drop down menu for my customers to choose between different sizes when they order my custom made pillow covers. Remember to keep things simple for your customers. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself if the info is straight-forward enough. If not, play around with it some more.

 Custom Made Wedding Gift Me&You Pillow Cover

You will find that many shops who take custom orders will add color or fabric charts as one or two of their photo spaces on each listing. If you are offering variations that need a photo reference this is a system that works well. The problem I run into is that the colors on the computer screen don’t always translate perfectly when compared to the real thing. I’ve spent many hours tweaking photos so that they match as closely as possible. It may be a good idea to put a disclaimer on your listings so that your customers know that there may be a slight color difference.

As a consumer yourself you know how hard it is to wait. Isn’t that why many of us have Amazon Prime? People want to place an order and get it in 2-3 days even if it’s custom made. Part of it is impatience. Some of it is excitement. Either way, navigating this is part of providing custom made goods. You need to find a balance between offering great customer service and being fair to yourself.

Make it clear in your shop listings as to what your lead time is. I also find it helpful to tell them that this is negotiable depending on my current work load. I invite them to ask me about my time line if they need their order for an earlier date. As my business has grown I’ve pushed that lead time out further and further. It doesn’t always take me 3-4 weeks to finish their order but when it does, I’m so glad they knew it up front.

If you are just starting to accept custom orders please remember to be fair to yourself! I’ve talked to so many people who are rushing to get custom orders out in 2-3 days and it’s stressing them out. It’s YOUR business and you have permission to give yourself some breathing room!!

Offering made-to-order items in my Etsy shop has opened up countless opportunities and provided numerous advantages for me that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t made the decision to go in that direction. With that said, it is best to give it some thought before you decide to accept them in your own shop.

When I am considering a change in my business I ask myself some questions to make sure it’s in line with my business values.

  1. Is this something I can be consistent with?
  2. Does this service or product add value to my product line?
  3. Does this service or product add value to my customer’s experience in my shop?
  4. Will this add or take away from my ability to offer great customer service?
  5. Is it in line with my brand?

I hope you’ve found this information helpful. I’d love your feedback or questions on this topic. And if you have questions about other Etsy business building strategies please let me know.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

How To Navigate Change

I started off the beginning of the year with a sense of frustration. I was very unsure of my next step and wanted so badly to be in a place where things felt solid and rooted. Then came the day in January when I started my walking routine and I passed by a sign that said, “The Art of Change”. Those words resonated in me and I knew that some kind of change was coming.

 image from
It’s not unusual for me to spend several hours alone in my studio with my thoughts meandering from one thing to another. Most often those thoughts are about my business. Thoughts about ideas that I might try or questions about choices I’ve either made or are pondering. Sometimes, in the middle of my normal thought process, something will drop down in my mind that is from completely out of the blue. When that happens I know I need to pay attention to it.

I didn’t realized how much I had put my commitment to Belle’s Nest on the back burner. Keeping them stocked with inventory and bringing in new items every season was something that had literally become the very last thing on my list. Although I had very good intentions, I wasn’t backing them up with actions. I suddenly knew that it was time to let that commitment go. Crazy thing wasn’t even on my radar but I knew it was right. I contacted them and collected my inventory the next afternoon.

I believe that part of the art of change is not being afraid to let things go and doing it with gratitude and graciousness. It felt awkward for me to say goodbye to Belle’s Nest because I know I have a following of customers there and the sisters who own the business have been so gracious to me. Those are very good reasons for me to stay but I know there must be an even better reasons for me to move on.

How about you? Are you getting a nudge to change something? If so, how does that feel?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Noteworthy Podcasts to Encourage and Motivate Creative Women Entrepreneurs

I spend several hours a day working in my studio and I love listening to podcasts as I work. It’s awesome being able to work and listen to encouraging, business building info at the same time.

Noteworthy Podcasts to Encourage and Motivate Creative Women Entrepreneurs 

There are hundreds of podcast available and I love the convenience of tapping into this resource from my iPad and iPhone whether I’m in my home studio, walking to the post office or taking a field trip to the LA fabric district.

By downloading the My Podcast app I can search for all my favorite podcasts, subscribe to them and find new and archived recordings all in one place whenever I want. Below, in no particular order, is a selection of some of my favorite podcast.  All are hosted by women and provide resources on topics relating to creativity, business and lifestyle. I’m hooked and I bet you will be too!!


After being published in Southern Weddings Magazine last Fall, I started following Lara Casey (chief editor) on Instagram. She mentioned in one of her links and that connected me to their podcasts. This community of godly women share encouraging and inspiring information for those who are blogging and creative business owners. I’ve also been introduced to other podcasts through them.

I was introduced to Kat Lee and her podcast through The Influence Network. She speaks from years of experience as a blogger and features tips, tricks and interviews with other successful bloggers.

Monica Lee features creative entrepreneurs and business owners on her podcast and I’ve learned that I’m not alone in the daily struggles of keeping up with all the aspects of my business. I’ve gained valuable information on how to stay motivated and keep doing what I love to do.

Love this podcast with all the small business thoughts that are shared. Anyone with a creative business will love listening in!

Two of my favorite bloggers, Emily Freeman from Chatting At The Sky, and Myquillyn Smith from Nesting Place, join their dad for a family chat about finding hope in an imperfect, dysfunctional work. It’s delightful and uplifting! A monthly podcast I always look forward to!

So now that you know some of my favorites I'd love to hear about some podcasts that you like!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Elements of Building a Brand for your Etsy Shop

Elements of Building a Brand for your Etsy Shop |

What makes you stop and walk into a brick-and-mortar shop?

Believe it or not, even though your Etsy shop or website doesn’t have a physical storefront, you can create an inviting atmosphere with things like color, words, photographs, etc. Do your customers want to walk into your shop or click right past it? Today we are going to explore how you can create a welcoming atmosphere as part of building the brand of your Etsy shop so your customers want to come in and stay awhile.

Creating a Welcoming Atmosphere for your Customers

I know that comparing yourself to Anthropologie is a tall order but go with me on this. Whether you are shopping for clothes or not, you might walk into their shop just because the store front is beautiful and inviting. And once you’re inside you are likely to stay awhile because of all the creative displays and beautiful items for sale. As you leisurely walk around you find yourself so engaged in the “experience” of being there that you start looking for something to buy just so you can take a piece of that experience home with you. Yes, I’m talking about myself but I know I’m not alone. A friend of mine works as a sales associate and display artist at Anthropology. She told me that the average time someone spends browsing the store is an hour and a half!

Anthropologie has clearly defined their customer, so their brand and the products they sell are chosen and crafted around that market. So before we go any further we first need to define who our customer is.

When I first tried to wrap my mind around this I thought the question was crazy. How could I possibly know who my customer is until I start selling my items? What I realized is that I was working in reverse. It’s not the customer who defines my business market. It’s my business and how I market it that defines who my customer is. As an entrepreneur just starting a creative business of selling handmade goods you probably won't have this completely figured out when you open your shop….and that's okay. I didn’t have this clearly defined when I got started either, and it’s something I have to re-evaluate each year.

Define your Ideal Customer

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Is your product or service for men or women or both?
What age group?
Married or single?
Have children or not?
Where do they live? Urban or Rural? Coastal, Inland, Mountains? East Coast, West Coast?
Apartment dweller or Home owner?

Keep asking yourself questions about the type of person they are, what they like to do, where they like to go, etc… narrow down the specifics of the type of person who would love your products. Every question will give you more clarity.

Once you've narrowed down who your customer is it’s time to build a business brand using different design elements that will attract them to your shop. You may have been doing this by accident but now you can work more purposefully toward that goal.

Imagine you were just handed the keys to a brick-and-mortar shop and you have an unlimited budget for designing the space. The sky is the limit and the choices are endless…..a dream come true. Now what? You may be tempted to “do it all” and although that may be fun, in the end will your shop items be showcased or lost in the chaos?

Determine some of your Branding Details

Consider these questions:
What is your style? Modern, Cottage, Garden, Bohemian, Woodland, Vintage…

Color theme? Black & White, Neutrals, Pastels, Brights….

Mood? Light & Airy, Dark & Mysterious….

There are no right or wrong answers here. It’s your space to design and each element adds to your brand - the personality of your business. For a shop with a street address, these questions could help you decide what color to paint the walls, the style of furniture and props to use for displaying your products and how you’d decorate your store front window. They’d also contribute to the design of your business cards, shopping bags and overflow onto your website and social media platforms.

Creating a Design Template for your Brand

Each of these elements are part of your "brand" and they help you set up a template to follow. For instance, when taking photos of your items you’ll want the lighting and style (with or without props) to reflect the personality of your business. Your photos are a huge part of establishing your business identity! You’ll find that every decision you make about and for your business will be easier when you have clearly defined your customer and the look and personality of your brand.

I’d love to hear YOUR ideas! What elements have you used or what have you done to build the personality of your brand?