This week’s interviewee is Kellee Milner, one half of the team behind My Favorite Mirror. Along with her husband Matt, Kellee creates fun products like pocket mirrors, mousepads, and coaster sets featuring artwork from a variety of talented indie artists and designers such as S. Britt, Meomi, Jen Corace and Jill Bliss. Their products are available in over 100 shops worldwide, and they make every product by hand–no outsourcing, no mass production. Purchasing an item from My Favorite Mirror not only benefits Kellee and Matt, but also the artists from whom they’ve licensed the illustrations that adorn their products–making the whole venture a win/win. Read on to find out what doing it yourself really entails.
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JENNY: Do you run your indie business full time, or do you have a “day job” to help keep you afloat?
KELLEE: We are lucky enough to run our business full time and it supports both me and my husband.
JENNY: How did you make the transition to working for yourself? How do you structure your days when you’re the boss?
KELLEE: I was working full time as a customer service rep for a bank. It was making me miserable. I had this sad epiphany that I was nowhere near the person I’d hoped I’d be at 30-something years old, so I decided to make a big change! I quit the job, took off a few months to kind of focus on really starting the business (and get married!) and eventually I had to work part time again, but at least then it was on my terms. We’d work late nights pumping out mirrors. Then, my hubby got a job offer in Indiana–which, while definitely not a very artsy place, has great housing opportunities. So he worked full time, found out HE hated his new job and was miserable–had that same epiphany that I had, and I was able to convince him to quit to come work for our business! I knew with two of us focusing on nothing but growth, we’d make it happen and make it work. Show season is definitely instrumental to our success, but we’ve also definitely increased our wholesale accounts by leaps and bounds in the year that we’ve been here.
Admittedly, it is kind of tough to structure your days when you know you can work in your PJs with your hair all gorgonic(!). Staying in your jammy-jams can throw you off your schedule! We’ve talked about setting aside such and such a day for this task, and this other day for that task, but things come up and we just handle them, completely ignoring our plan! One thing that is a huge blessing is that we have the flexibility to do what we want with our day–knowing that if we choose to work til 1am, it’s not going to affect anything at all, as long as we get our orders shipped, we can handle the other stuff any time of the day.
JENNY: How important has the internet been in relation to the growth of your business? Also, would you say the bulk of your business comes from your own website, or from wholesale accounts and/or craft show sales?
KELLEE: The internet is the reason we exist. Honestly. I started making mirrors, not knowing if anyone would like them, let alone buy them–but they did! I network with a lot of talented women on a website called The Switchboards and it has proven to be a tremendous benefit to our brand awareness. Link exchanges are always useful, because shoppers like to hop around!
In 2006, everything was pretty even. Our website did a great business for us, but the wholesale really picked up a lot–so I’d say it was 50/50 between the two? Craft shows were AMAZING, but we didn’t start them til the holiday season, but we expect this year to make MORE at shows than we do on our site.
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JENNY: Is there anything you wish you’d done differently when starting your business, knowing what you know now? BONUS: Any resources for upstart craft businesses that you’d care to recommend?
KELLEE: Taxes. File often and early! But seriously–find someone (tax-wise) who is knowledgeable with your particular business structure right from the get-go. The ins and outs they know can bring you huge peace of mind. I would rather pay someone to handle that kind of thing for me so that I know it’s being done right and that nothing is being left out than to have all that stress come April trying to figure it all out on my own.
Definitely outsource the little things when you can–places like Kinko’s can cut cardstock for you by the ream, which is a huge time-saver when preparing merchandise tags, coupons, whatever else you might need trimmed. It is totally worth the $1.49 per cut. Trust me on this! See if you have willing family or friends to help you with unskilled labor. My parents are retired, so they love to help us by stuffing our pouches into polybags, which is just one of the many steps of assembling our packaging. They do it while watching tv and can really truck on them. It frees us up to do the other 500 tasks that we have to do!
Do at least one craft show if you can swing it. It’s really great to meet your customers face to face. It helps you gain perspective as to what they are looking for, what they like, what else is out there. You can meet a lot of fellow crafters, too. But if you DO get a booth at a show, own it! Don’t be shy. Engage your customer. If they didn’t want to be engaged, they’d have stayed home. Your website can’t sell your stuff as well as you can in person! Also–the fact that these folks are attending these shows and showing their support for indie craft is awesome. Show them a little love, eh!?
JENNY: How would you compare the challenges of working for yourself with working for “The Man”?
KELLEE: The main challenge for me, being my own boss-lady, is to not get distracted by emails, Live Journal, the Switchboards, etc., though with proper internet access at ‘The Man’s’ house, I could have done that anyway! But honestly, for me, just thinking that I’ve proven that this can be done really makes me want to do it longer and harder so I never have to have a ‘real job’ ever again. Thinking about working for someone else is such a strange and foreign concept to me at this point.
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JENNY: Any tips on how to keep your business fresh and thriving/growing?
KELLEE: Evolve! Revolve! I know, easier said than done, but keep things exciting for your customers. Come up with new products that make sense and compliment your existing line, but also freshen up the old stuff occasionally.
If you are setting up shop on the web–be sure to have a blog or something about your front page that changes occasionally, so that people know you’re still alive! Try to get people to sign up for your mailing list (and then use it!). Getting them signed up is half the battle! They are telling you they wanna know what’s happening, so do it, do it, do it! Ask your customers for feedback–good and bad. Hearing the bad stuff sucks, but once you get past that first sting, you see what you can possibly do to make things that much better for the next customer.
JENNY: Anything other random tips or info you’d like to add on the topic?
KELLEE: Study other e-commerce sites to get design and layout ideas, but DO NOT copy!! You definitely want to look professional, but develop your own style. Don’t copy anyone’s really original idea, either. Reinvent the wheel all you want, but if you blatantly rip off someone else, eventually you’ll get caught! And it’s just bad karma, anyway.
Related:
• My Favorite Mirror site – Link.
• The Switchboards Forums – Link.
From the pages of CRAFT:
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CRAFT: 04 – “Business Basics for Crafty Types” by Jenny Ryan pgs. 42-43. Digital Subscribers can read the full article here. – Link.
Don’t miss an issue! Subscribe to CRAFT Magazine today and get 4 quarterly issues delivered to your door. – Link.