Keep on improving… and evolving

Keeping things achievable is vital to running a micro business, burning out serves no one, so having systems in place like setting up a ready to shoot area which was the topic of my last post in this Selling on Etsy Series, makes it possible to keep up with the many and varied aspects of running a business.  Equally important is to keep growing and developing as an artisan, not just for own your sake but also for your customer’s.

Keep on improving… and evolving!

Keeping an existing customer happy and engaged is far easier than trying to constantly find new ones. So it is extremely important to continue to improve your products, sometimes it’s just about tweaking things a little. I recently sold a third instrument case to an existing customer who had bought one for almost each of her children and her feedback this last purchase was; “The rivets on the labels work really well now!” (paraphrased) This simple little change of using mini rivets rather than hand stitching labels on not only upped the quality of the finish on my product, it also impressed an existing customer who was already sold on my work.

Riveted labels

By adding new designs to your product range you’ll also find that existing customers who already trust you and the quality of your work will keep coming back for more, not just for them but they’ll make purchases to gift to family and friends and will become your best form of advertising. Beyond just improving existing products though, there is always more to learn… I am always out to refine my skills or learn new ones. In the last couple of years I have attended workshops on leather work, sandal making, silver smithing, business development etc… every time I do a workshop it not only teaches me something new, it triggers ideas for improvement within my product range or ignites an idea for a new product all together. Expanding on my artisanal skill set keeps me thinking and my customers engaged.



Working with full kangaroo skins (has been a part of my evolution process) to create my own offcuts in colours that I find work well with blankets and colours that I find difficult to obtain reliably as an off cut. By increasing my skills in leather work I have also been able to expand my range even further, introducing full skin leather satchels, sometimes you just need a neutral tone bag to compliment your outfit, while other times the comfort of a blanket bag is what you need… using the two side by side gives you the complete by marie-nicole experience. Recently, I started working with hair on hide creating an adjustable vest perfect for a marketeer, artisan or even a musso, where you’re often exposed to the elements, need to maintain a comfortable level of warmth without feeling bulky and restricted in movement. This vest will soon become a part of the WILD HIDE RANGE which was born as a complimentary range to the RESCUED AND REPURPOSED RANGE… the two ranges now sit comfortably side by side in my Etsy store (and on my market stall).12901104_10154076223584133_1981474172251766016_o

As artisans we are not mass producers, we are not manufacturers, we are artists expressing our creativity with a practical application, shoppers who visit Etsy are not after something they can easily obtain in the mainstream, much like shoppers who attend artisan markets, evolving keeps things exciting for you and them alike. So don’t be afraid to expand on your skills and introduce something new.

Selling on Etsy allows you to have both “roots and wings”…in my case, trading from the serenity of our farmlet, even while I sleep, play with my kidlets, furry and feathered friends, or while we venture off to explore our region and beyond. Not being restricted to the opening hours of a bricks and mortar store suits the lifestyle we lead at the moment. Which I am sure is not dissimilar to yours, as the research has shown, most Etsy sellers are female, mothers working within the constraints of a family, or people with careers outside their craft, so juggling varied tasks at once is inevitable. The ability to reach customers across the globe who value your work while fulfilling the needs of those within your care is invaluable. Which is why I encourage anyone with a desire to do something different, something truly unique to them, but are unsure of how to get it out there in front of the buyers without drastically changing their current lifestyle, to start with an Etsy store, grow it organically and enjoy the journey it will take you on!

As I said earlier in this series of posts, selling through Etsy is easy, but it does take effort and should be treated like any other business venture to reap the rewards… of which there are many.

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Ps. Transforming your dreams into reality is possible… you have it within you… and there are many tools easily accessible that can help you achieve that.






Set up a ‘ready to shoot area’

Writing listings that help tell your story was the topic of my last post in my Selling on Etsy series. As well as keeping the process of writing those listing simple, equally as important  is keeping the process of photographing your products for your listings.

Set up a ‘ready to shoot area’

The photographing of products is such a crucial component in enticing shoppers into your online store, especially since they can’t draw from the atmosphere of your space, the reception they received and how they were made to feel while they were there, as is the case in a bricks and mortar store. Ensuring the feel of your images are consistent and making the process of capturing them simple for yourself to achieve will keep your shop looking and feeling professional while telling an overall story representing the ethos of your business.

Running a micro business often means you cover most, if not all roles, in every step of the process yourself, so it is important to have systems in place that allow you to complete each step efficiently. Especially since most of us Etsy sellers are women with children (as per the finding in the recent report shared on the EtsyAU blog) meaning we are restricted to working around the needs of our families and sometimes with them right under our feet, so the simpler we can make the process the more enjoyable it will be and the outcome will in turn be much more rewarding. Although I love to be able to venture off into farmland or down into the village for a shoot, sometimes the weather at the time of a scheduled shoot does not allow for me to do so, or my window of opportunity may be narrow due to a hectic production schedule or family commitments, prohibiting me from achieving this in the timeframe that I wish to capture and then list my products…  so I like to have a back up!

For me that has meant finding an area in my studio with the most consistent natural light and setting up a display that can easily be tweaked to capture a product in a snapshot as well as rearranged and adapted for a more complicated shooting session.

Here are some examples of how I use my ready to shoot area:

I like to use props that are sourced from nature, or rescued items such as vintage suitcases, wooden bobbins, ladders & doors… as these all fit in with the feel of my studio and the ethos of my business. It also represents how I set up my market & festival stalls, no matter whether people see my products in person on online the style and feel is recognisable… keeping the ‘branding’ consistent.

Allowing these processes to be simple and manageable will also mean allow to have time to try new things, learn new skills and keep on growing as an artisan and business owner, which I will talk more about in my final post in this Selling on Etsy series.

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Story telling continues in listing descriptions

In Selling on Etsy: Part 2 I talked about ‘telling your story‘ and how social media allows you to connect all those dots, for online shoppers and even those who may have seen you briefly at an event and then looked you up online. But what about those who find you simply through doing a search within in Etsy itself? This is where you have a chance to share the philosophy behind your work as well as the specifications of the products.

Listing descriptions

When I write a listing I like to give shoppers as much information as possible, not just about the product’s materials and it uses, but also the inspiration behind the design, where the materials are sourced and even details about the photographs, including the props and/or the location I was shooting at. This is all a part of the story and the enjoyment of every step of the process. To keep writing each listing description simple, I set up a template of sorts with separate sub headings breaking up the information into blocks, so if a shopper wishes to get straight to the point about the measurements they can or if they’re someone who loves the little details they too are catered for.

Listing descriptions

Repurposed Blanket Guitar Case shot in the leafy main street of our village in autumn…

My subheadings go something a like this:

~ The inspiration

~ The photos

~ About the [product name]

~ Size

This is especially helpful when you have a large variety of products for sale in your shop, some of which are of similar design just made out of a different materials like my Repurposed Blankets Guitar Case Range, I keep a stock of stand classical sizes available as well as offer a Bespoke Order for larger and different shaped guitars. Each standard classical is still a one of a kind as I don’t often get the same blankets in. So when I have made a few stock items but want to list each one individually (a few days apart), it is simply a matter of copying an existing listing to changing the specific details for the each product.

In much the same way that I do this for my listings, I also have a ‘ready to shoot area’ to simplify the process of photographing products. Which I will talk about in my next post!

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Open Studio

ONE DAY ONLY : the studio of by marie-nicole will be open to the public… giving visitors an opportunity to speak to me, the maker, in my creative space, about my artisan crafted work, running a micro business from a rural location, handcrafting wares from a shed in my backyard and shipping them all around the world!

Any excuse to have a little soirée in my workspace is a good excuse… doing what you love needs to be celebrated with those who appreciate the hand crafted and supporting local businesses.  Should you wish to buy Christmas gifts, there will also be a gift wrapping service available on site. All while sipping on some bubbly and enjoying the beautiful atmosphere of this studio atop a hill, on the edge of a village, in rural NSW.

Refer to flyer for more details.

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Open Studio Invite - Dec 2015 (2)

Dream ~ Create ~ Inspire

The question is often asked of me: “Why do you sell at markets when your online store is doing so well?” The simple answer to that is; “Contact with people, both the customers and fellow market stall holders!”

Working for yourself from home can mean many hours spent in solitude, while it’s lovely having conversations with customers from all around the world through my online store those conversations do not include body language, facial expressions and other people joining in the conversation. I choose to work from home not because I don’t like being around other people, my decision to work from home has been based on so many reasons, some financial, some practical and although it may seem idyllic to some, spending all that time alone and being completely in charge of your own time, the reality is that at times it can also be very lonely. Of course, I could just step outside my studio, grab a coffee down the street, venture into town and meander through our local boutiques, attend yoga classes and catch up with friends, all of which I  do. While these interactions are lovely they are often brief in the grand scheme of events over the course a week’s work and there is still the need to earn an income to contribute to our families needs… which requires actual work to take place. Trading at markets however, means that while we’re unloading the car, setting & packing up our stalls, in between engaging with customers during quiet periods, there is the opportunity talk to fellow stall holders (fellow artisan’s) and to get to know other people earning a living in similar way to me. Trading along side each other enables us to get to know each other on a deeper level, rather than if we were to simply visit markets as a shopper.  One such couple I have met and become friends with through trading at markets is Wendy Lees & Anthony Hoy trading as Vetro e Metallo. We have traded along side each other regularly at the Old Bus Depot Markets in Kingston, ACT. Anyone who knows me in person will know I am a huge fan of their work and wear many of their pieces of jewellery daily.

Two special pieces of my Vetro E Metallo jewellery collection

Here are two very special custom made pieces from my Vetro e Metallo jewellery collection

Over the last few years, we’ve shared stories of what led us to trade at markets, the challenges we’ve faced being self employed, dealing also isolation, buying our own homes… etc. We’ve also discovered that our shared interests extend beyond trading at markets but also into a way of living, growing food, cooking, a love of animals, recycling materials not just for our work but our homes.

Recently we visited their new home, a magnificent old building in Braidwood which was originally a cordial factory and eventually became a mechanics workshop… their large block in the middle of the town also has two to very large sheds (now their workshops and storage space) and enough grounds to establish a garden and outdoor sanctuary. They had only been in their new home for three months when we visited and I was absolutely amazed at the transformation they had made to this building, and in such a short period of time. With the assistance of trades people they have taken this workshop and converted it into an amazing home. Stripping back the layers of oil built up on the timber floors, installing a kitchen, wood heater, bathroom and a collection of stunning copper light fittings, including one made by Anthony himself.  It should’t have÷ surprised me, their talents and skills demonstrated in their business should have been enough of an indication of their capabilities in anything that they would turn their heads, hearts and hands to. They are the perfect example of artisan living and what passion, drive and dedication can enable people to achieve.

Anthony & Wendy with Chugga

Anthony, Wendy & Chugga in their spectacular new home.

So even though some trading days at markets may be slow, there is always something to be gained from being there, such as the chance to build on the friendships developed with other market stall holders… these friendships are worth so much more than money. So when I say trading at markets is not all about making money, I really mean it. When you set your own career path and do not fit into any moulds, it can at times feel like you have three heads, so meeting other people who are just like you, but in their own individual way is so very comforting. Meeting people like Wendy and Anthony, witnessing their journey is extremely inspiring and encouraging. I look forward to seeing what their new home will evolve into as they add the additions they spoke so passionately about that day… in the mean time I will continue to take inspiration from what they already achieved through these few snap shots and I hope that they inspire you too! (pics below)

Vetro e Metallo have a stall at four different markets regularly, three of which they trade at each week, so be sure to check their website for market details.

Below is a quote I came across via Instagram, which seems rather fitting:










dream ~ create ~ inspire

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DSC_9533 Wendy Lee & Anthony Hoy Handcrafted by Anthony Hoy

All images in this post are by marie-nicole copyright 2015

The solution is within you…

Recently I read an article which had a line in it that really stuck with me – “The solution is within you.” I wish I could remember exactly where I read it and who wrote the article so I could share it with you… I vaguely remember a friend sharing it on social media but cannot seem to locate it. This quote can be related to so many aspects of life, but today I would like to focus on it in terms of doing what you love to earn a living. Especially since I often hear people say; “I would love to do something like… but I can’t!” Which instantly makes me think… why not?

“Your desire for change must be greater than your desire for things to remain the same.”

~ unknown

If working for yourself is something you would dearly love to do but you have no idea how to go about it, then keep in mind that there will be no advertisement for this position, no job interview process, no set wage, hours or even a job description. You set the rules!

As an artisan earning a living working from a home based studio it is completely up to me to set the expectations and meet them. So how do you do this when there are no guidelines to follow? How I have approached this over the years is to look at my expectations for living over all, from a lifestyle perspective, as well as a monetary one. After spending many hours on the road and away from my family as a portrait photographer it was important for me to be able to earn an income while being available for my family. At the time that I started this current business I had a new baby and a child just starting school so I worked within the constraints of that and set realistic expectations for what could be achieved. Back then what I expected to be able to earn income wise was a lot lower than I expect now. For the mere fact that my situation was different, I focused on building the foundation for my business, using the little free time I had to establish my business without it costing our family more than our budget could allow.

As I grew, my business did too, so with both children in school my expectations changed and I reached a point where I was able to set myself a reasonable annual income amount to achieve. I then broke that amount up into a minimum monthly income figure, allowing for two months off over the Christmas/New Year school holiday period. So looking at this based purely from a financial return perspective it is important to know what you expect to earn each month and what costs you will incur in order to earn it. For me the establishing of an online store with a global reach enabled me to work in and around my family and reach my customers while we slept. But selling in person at markets was equally important as it meant that I could speak to customers face to face, plus having to create a number of items for one event helped establish my production processes. The two combined worked beautifully in meeting my expected annual income.

Recently my husband and I realised one of our biggest dreams; buying our own home, with some land that we can live off, in our quest to live more self sufficiently. Having reached that goal my daily routines have changed a little. So this year I adapted my expectations once again. It is important to be realistic about how much time you can dedicate to the different aspects of life and know your limits. Being aware of what is really important to you as an individual as well as for your family and to be adaptable. When you work for yourself from home, and are trying to live off your land, other activities become a part of your ‘work’. I now dedicate time in the morning to maintaining order in our home and caring for our livestock before even heading into the studio to commence a days work. The fact that I don’t spend a lot of time driving to and from my work place enables me to do this. Add to this, the fact that the costs I incur in order to earn my living are extremely low in comparison to someone who spends a good portion of their income on fuel, train or bus fares, work attire, parking fees, coffee, lunches and after school & holiday care for the children. The more I contribute to our family saving on everyday expenses the less I really ‘need’ to earn, and in turn I get to spend my days doing what I love to earn a living. Aside from this though, working from home enables my family to enjoy this lifestyle too. So, instead of commuting to a job, my morning routine on a regular day looks like this:

~ Preparing school lunches filled with homegrown goodness.

~ Sitting down to a breakfast of homemade pesto or chutney alongside an egg laid by our feathered friends. Yes, we sit down for breakfast as a family, albeit briefly somedays, but we still do our best to sit and eat together before everyone departs.

~ Help my boys get out the door on time, then clean up after the morning madness.

~ Do pilates or yoga.

~ Put my overalls on over my clothes to feed the pigs without having to change again due to them rubbing their sweet muddy noses up against me in the loving way that they do.

~ Check the paddock for duck eggs as the new layers tend to lay them in plain sight of crows & the older layers like to hide theirs so each morning is like a treasure hunt.

~ Feed the chickens scraps and let our young Rooster Lucky into the paddock with the ducks until we get him some hen friends of his own… his father King George is a gentlemen, he is not prepared to share his girls 😉

~ Then give one or both of our beautiful cats a cuddle.

All this takes place before heading in to the studio to respond to email enquiries, fulfil orders, work on new designs, list products online, plan for future growth and share my experience through social media. After a days work the afternoon/evening routine commences…

Weekends these days are now rarely spent travelling to trade, this has now become something I do occasionally… instead they are often spent sharing this new lifestyle with my family, working in the garden to grow our own food, preserving our harvest, planning/building housing for future livestock, designing our future landscape, maintaining our property, restoring furniture for our home etc… that is of course, when we are not entertaining guests, visiting friends or off on an adventure. The irony is this year, even though I have spent a lot less time out on the road travelling to trade at markets than in the previous three years, I have increased my income significantly! At the same time as increasing my duties and responsibilities around our home. Which has always been the plan… to live a lifestyle we believe in, while earning an income from home… made possible for me only at this stage, by planning, adapting and refining things along the way.

Every now and then we find ourselves assessing where we are and where we want to be in another five years time, defining exactly what that looks like. This usually starts to happen around a time that we have reached another stage in getting closer to our bigger picture goal. It is important to recognise this once each stage is achieved, rather than simply looking at the desired destination. I truly believe we will reach that bigger picture goal because of what we have achieved so far. Earning an income while working within the constraints of my family did not just happen to me, just like buying our own home on a little land did not just happen to us. We have dedicated ourselves to making these things happen, because we truly believe in a way of being!

Having a clear vision in your mind of what your goals look like gives you the guidelines you need to make decisions that will enable you to reach those goals and solve the problems you will face along the way. Your vision for a way being will not be the same as mine/ours, so the rules and expectations you set for yourself will be different too. If you really want to earn a living doing what you love, imagine what that looks like and then make it happen. Take it from me, it will be worth it!

“The solution is within you!”

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Ps. Upon completing this post, I went across to Marie Forleo TV to catch up on recently missed episodes, timely that this was what I watched: Why You Lost Your Business Passion – And How To Get It Back. It compliments this post perfectly. I highly recommend you watch it if turning your grand ideas into a reality suddenly feels unachievable. As always, Marie shares a great quote during the episode

“You won’t have to push yourself to keep going if you have a big enough vision to pull you ahead.”

– Marie Forleo