When can your creative outlet become a business?
Posted February 18th, 17:00
4 min read
For many people, the hours not spent working are time to kick back and relax. Often that’s with sport, gardening, gaming or a creative hobby.
For the brave, your hobby or creative talent can turn into a business and eventually your sole source of income.
After Toni Hall bought a sewing machine and started making bunting for her friends and family, she decided to launch an Etsy shop called Frank’s Boutique.
She soon discovered that the time she spent sewing was not equivalent to what she was earning and re-thought her options. After brainstorming what she loved buying herself, and watching a few Youtube tutorials, Banter Cards was born – a funny, irreverent and sometimes very rude card and gift range.
For the first five months, Toni worked alone from the spare room in her house and continued to juggle the growing greetings card business with her 9-5 job.
“It got to a point where I was working 8am-6pm, coming home and doing the orders in the night. I was working until 5am some nights. Those were the times of crying at my desk packing orders thinking ‘I can’t do it anymore!’”
Originally a way of earning additional income, Toni’s greetings card company now has 30,000 followers on Instagram and around 100,000 likes on Facebook.
She has quit her 9-5, moved out from the spare bedroom and now runs the business from a warehouse along with a small team.
Banter Cards’ success is largely down to a savvy marketing technique. Toni identified her key market and then targeted popular Facebook pages she thought her customers would be seeing.
“That’s how it all started – sending out free stuff to the admins of really popular Facebook groups.”
While she also uses Facebook ads, sending items to the right people is something that Toni continues to do to increase her audience and her customers.
“Every other month we spend about £40 on sending free stuff out.”
It’s a tactic that has also worked for stationery business owner, Gabi Cox.
“I sent out personalised notebooks to various bloggers.” Gabi says, “In early December the blogger LilyPebbles mentioned the notebook in a vlog. It was a really fleeting mention, but I went from 24 orders in that month, to 70 orders a day up till Christmas.”
Chroma Stationery was set up by Gabi whilst she was still at university. Originally a project for her degree in Fashion Promotion and Imaging, Gabi was inspired by colour and decided to create a range of embossed notebooks based on a selection of important colours to her.
“I love colour. My project was all about colour and how certain colours remind you of certain people or places and how people associate feelings with colours.”
To begin with, Gabi made only 50 notebooks, later selling them to friends and family, but after university she decided to pursue the idea further.
“I’d been looking for jobs and not really finding anything. I didn’t want to live in London and I was quite limited by the kind of thing I wanted to do. So I launched a Kickstarter and decided that if I’m going to do it, I’ve got to just go for it.”
The approaching of influencers isn’t the only thing that Chroma Stationery and Banter Cards have in common. Both products successfully use personalisation in a way that makes the customer feel valued and ultimately helps the business reach wider audiences.
The free personalised embossing that Chroma offers is a clever way to spread the word organically. Gabi explains that pictures of her products often end up on Instagram whether they are free gifts to bloggers or paying customers.
“Because it’s personalised it’s not just a notebook, they’ve got their name on it, or they’ve got a quote on it – so it’s quite instagrammable.”
Banter Cards’ Instagram feed is also full of reposted pictures from happy customers. Often this focuses on the notes that the team leave on the envelopes or the hand-written messages that they send with the order.
“We still hand-write the messages on every single order. If someone leaves us a note on the order, we still write a note back to them. We’ve done that from day one and we still do that now,” Toni says.
Of course, at the heart of all creative businesses is the skill that goes into making the products. Gabi’s eye for colour and Toni’s humour are what have made the brands unique, but they are also the reason the businesses exist, with them producing products with what they know best.
However, Toni offers advice to build on those creative skills you may not quite have mastered yet, that will help you along the way:
“I spent so many hours on YouTube learning how to use Photoshop. I’d never used it before and now I design all our products. Everything is designed through Photoshop with techniques I’ve learnt through YouTube.”
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