Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Visions of Success with Xquisitely Lady M

Today we are talking with Marge Hummel of Xquisitely Lady M. Marge is a talkative lady when it comes to business things so settle in for a good read as we explore the business side of Xquisitely Lady M today.

Let’s start with a quick intro. Tell us about you.
I'm a single mom of two amazing young men: Kyle (will be 25 this month) just got out of the Navy as a Nuke & is pursuing his engineering degree; & Rick (who is 23) who is my EMT/artist. I've always loved making things & I have a pretty short attention span with a lot of it (I'm sitting here giggling because that's SO true!) so I experiment with a lot of techniques/mediums. I grew up in the military & have lived in other countries as well as in several states. Those are experiences I wouldn't trade for the world! I'm also a very passionate person. I believe that whatever we do in life should be done with passion & love otherwise so much is lost. 

NV: A big thank you to your son for serving our country!

My Masters Degree, which will be finished in March 2012, is in Criminal Justice-Law & I love every second of it. I'm not always fond of writing these papers, but the research is fascinating & I learn SO much! I want to be able to use that degree to help victims of domestic violence as a Victim Advocate. Too often these people are afraid to speak & need someone to speak for them. It's a scary proposition for them either way, but a great Victim Advocate can show these people they have value & worth and help them realize their full potential.

I'm also a huge animal-lover! I am currently on extended babysitting duty for Rick's cat - Steve. I didn't name him that, but it works well. The phone is even listed in Steve's name so that when someone calls asking to speak to Steve, I know they're clueless and I don't want to speak to them. (grins) Steve also gets mail because of this, & even once received $5 in the mail to get him to participate in a radio survey. We framed the money (his first paycheck, ya know!) & I tried to get Steve to listen to that radio station, but he didn't seem too interested. I also told him that he had to get a better job because $5 here & there certainly wasn't enough to even keep him in crunchy treats (that he demands every morning.......twice).  I also have Poof - my little Lion-head bunny that I adore. Poof adores Steve (sense a triangle here?) but Steve detests Poof. It's a challenge. I used to breed Golden Retrievers & miss that immensely. Once the back & forth between CT & WV is settled, then I'll be getting more animals, but for right now, this is it.

Is this a hobby, or serious business for you? Do you work outside the home as well? 
Oh, this is definitely a business for me! I'm working on expanding it to make it more able to support me. I will be working outside the home to some degree when I finish my major, but this will still be my main form of support. I also work with a committee for promoting CT's 1st Annual Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day & that's become a full-time endeavor as well. They all work to fill my day & make me incredibly happy!

NV: I'm really looking forward to hearing how this event turns out Marge!

How did you decide to go from hobby, to real business?
I was actually sort of forced to take the leap. In 2008, the company I worked for let me go immediately after major knee surgery. My leg was still in a full leg brace when they did that & it really prevented me from even applying for a good many positions that were open because I couldn't walk or stand for long periods. Even sitting for long periods was extremely difficult because of the brace. On top of that, I have other medical conditions that make working outside the home a wee bit of a challenge, so this was a great fit - & the motivation is always there. It's a long, slow process & I’m still learning, but making massive strides.

NV: I definitely feel their loss is the art communities gain here.

Do you have a special dedicated area in your home set aside where you create? How does this affect the rest of the household/family life?
Yes, I do - it's not my "ideal" just yet, but when I get back to WV I plan on rectifying that! Right now I'm with my mom, so I'm very cognizant of her space & try to keep everything out of everyone's way. It's not difficult to do & it lets me just be in my own little world of creativity. The only thing is that it's not convenient to the computer, so that makes things a little challenging sometimes, but it's workable.

When you are busy creating, do you keep track of how much time you spend on each piece? If so, how do you factor this into the cost of your work?
I always keep track of how much time I spend on a piece. I learned this the hard (& very shocking) way. A friend of mine kept telling me that I was grossly undercharging & I didn't believe him. So, I invested in a program to track supplies & time, & one that would then give me retail, direct sale, & wholesale prices on my items - my friend was far more than right! From that, I learned to seriously value my time & energy. I've always believed that something handmade was worth the price & more because of the quality, care, & love that went into making it & now my prices are more reflective of that philosophy. They are also more reflective of my value of myself. When I price out the pieces, I typically charge around $18/hour for the work. It's not outrageous & I'm worth it. (Said with a giggle there thinking of L'Oreal!)

NV: We're all worth it Marge! And for our readers here is the link to the program Marge uses:

Once you have all your beautiful jewelry created, how do you handle keeping track of your inventory?
Believe it or not, I pretty much have a running inventory in my head of all my work. It's so very personal to me that it's hard to forget a lot of them. However, that may change a wee bit with a line of smaller earrings that I'm working on that are just meant to fill that little void I found in my shop where someone could come in for a small trinket either for themselves or someone else & just have a simple, yet elegant little piece. My pieces run the gamut from very ornate to delicately simple & I want my prices to reflect that, hence the new line. The work is then all stored in jewelry carrying cases in stack trays. When a piece sells, I just remove it from the tray & if I've a home party, then a lot of it is always set up on the display pads - I just have to remove the pads from the trays.

For your online venues … Talk a little bit about how you handle photographing your work. How important do you feel quality pictures are to successful selling?  
Goodness, photography is critical to online selling! When we're out in local shops & such we can handle the pieces - & even if we don't handle them, we get a really great 3D visual of them. That's impossible online, therefore the photography takes a much more central role in selling. With the possible exception of photographers, I don't know a good many artisans who relish taking pictures (LOL) - we'd all rather be creating & then leave the photography/listing to someone else!

NV: Marge, I'm a photographer & I can tell you even I don't enjoy the picture taking part of all this most of the time!

What is the biggest mistake you made & what is the most important thing you learned?
I think there are a couple of huge mistakes that can be made in photography: Blurry pictures & pictures that are too dark. Neither of them showcases the talent & work that go into these creations & both are huge turn-offs for buyers. If you cannot see what you are looking at, there's absolutely no reason to buy it. It's that simple. The most important thing I've learned about photography is to keep on tweaking until you get it right - seriously. That's incredibly time consuming but so is the work that is put into the items. Not happy with the lighting? Experiment with it until you are. Invest in a light box or make one, if you have to. I put up a forum about that because it IS so important. Investing $20-$30 to make a light box is so worth it when you think that it's one step closer to getting you those multiple sales!!
her lightbox  setup
Blurriness can normally be addressed with the addition of a tripod. These are relatively inexpensive & can be purchased almost anywhere that has an electronics section. Again, if cost is a factor - & let's face it, it really is these days - use a stack of books. The bottom line is that you will be able to take a picture that is steady & without blur. That clarity allows potential customers to see your work more easily & to appreciate it for the fine art it is.

After those two are corrected, have a little fun with backgrounds, props, editing programs, etc. However, those two have to be taken care of first. Having a superb prop is silly if no one can see anything but the prop.

Where do you sell? Online, shows, farmers markets, in a store?
Most of my selling is done online & at home parties. I do have a massive show coming up on April 10 with several thousand people expected. I also have some of my chainmaille in a tattoo parlor in West Virginia & have been asked to bring some to another venue in WV - but I have to finalize my move there first because they only take items from WV residents.

Do you have a favorite venue?
I think my absolute favorite venues are online (really) & home parties because they allow for a little more fun. My favorite online venue is Zibbet - & I've had shops on both Etsy & Artfire, as well. I LOVE Zibbet because, to me, it's more of a community market place. It's sort of like an "online farmer's market" for handmade & that has SUCH appeal to me!! Zibbet has found a magical way of creating a cooperative environment rather than a competitive one & that's incredible! As far as home parties are concerned, I just love these!! I call them "Let's Play Dress Up" parties & that's exactly what we do! I have everything laid out, special little free trinkets for everyone who purchases, & we sit around trying on jewelry & just having a grand time. It's an escape from every day for all of us & lets us just be little kids again - only we can do it with a glass of wine this time!

For your real world venues, tell us about how you came up with the way you now display your work.
For all of my offline selling I display my work both lying down & upright for visual interest. It engages people more because they have to adjust their eyes to the differences in height, the different backgrounds (even my jewelry display pads are different colors), the textures of the different backgrounds, etc. Keeping more visually engaged this way helps get them be more engaged in the entire scenario. Think about it: If you walk into a store everything is not displayed the same way - it should be the same with artisans selling their creations.

Do you sit or stand? Is it better to have a ‘walk up to’ display, or a ‘walk into’ display? Why?
When it comes to engaging people, I prefer to stand to talk to them - although sometimes I do sit, but that depends on how I'm feeling. I prefer to engage the person on his/her level...& I smile A LOT!! People love smiles & readily react to them because it just can't be helped - it's human nature. As far as walking into or walking up, I believe the venue is going to dictate that. We cannot always control that part of the environment, so I focus on controlling what I can. If I had a preference, though, I think I'd rather have people be able to walk into my tent (or stall, booth, etc.) because it creates more of an intimate atmosphere that I feel is important for jewelry.

How do you maintain your finances, for your business? Does it involve having a business or merchant account? Biggest/best tip you have for others?
Keep it all separate!!!!!!! The biggest mistake people make is mixing the two! If they aren't kept separate, it's easy to get into trouble. Business needs to work on a budget just like personal lives do. Keep a separate account, this way you always know what you're making and what you're spending. This is really, really tough in the beginning when there isn't a whole lot of money to work with at all, but it's still critical to your success.

How do you handle money & payment processing in your real world venues? Any tips for others?
Generally, I prefer cash at shows, but I will take a check if I know the person. I NEVER allow anyone to take a piece & then pay me later at these home parties - it happened once with horrible consequences (namely me never getting paid) & I refuse to do it again no matter how well I know the person. If it's a large purchase, & the person absolutely wants to put it on a credit card, then I have tell them that at the moment I only accept those through PayPal. I have started checking into SquareUp, however. It's new so I'm still doing research, but it would allow me to take credit card payments right from my cell phone - & transfer the funds immediately. I'm not one to just blindly give out my checking information, so I'm still looking to see if I can have it transferred to PayPal. If not, then I'll just set up a separate bank account for that one app & then transfer cleared funds from that account. Sure it's a little extra work, but it's worth it to me to be able to offer a more convenient way of paying to my customers & it doesn't compromise existing accounts. It also allows me greater flexibility for home parties, particularly around the holidays.

While we’re talking about money … how do you handle all the dreaded back end paperwork/book keeping stuff?
LOL I handle all that yucky stuff as it comes in. It all gets recorded into a bookkeeping program immediately!!!!!! It takes a lot of discipline to do that, particularly if you've never done it before & have to get used to a new habit, but it's SO worth it! When taxes have to be filed I have it all right there & the receipts are already filed. I have to do pretty basically nothing but transfer numbers on to the tax form & send it off.
Do you have any tips for others still searching for a best way?
My best advice on this? Find something that you know you will stick with & then stick with it! If you fall behind it's a nightmare.

Ok, money out of the way let’s talk about promoting/marketing a bit. Can you share with us what you do to promote your business, & where? Are you a social networking junkie? Does that work?
Wow...who doesn't social network these days? I think that's as critical as anything else, really. I spend a good deal of time promoting myself & others - mostly others, actually - & that works for me.  I have 2 Facebook pages, a Stumble Upon account, a Flickr account (that I really need to use more/better!), & 5 Twitter accounts. Is it a lot? Heck yeah, but it's more than worth it. I've gotten a ton more exposure from them - even if that exposure comes from me promoting a really stellar artisan it comes back to me because people realize that my quality is very likely to be on a par with the quality that I'm promoting. Also, they just get curious about who is doing the promoting. Either way, they eventually end up in my shop or on my page & that's wonderful! I think social networking is essential and people who neglect this aspect of their business are doing themselves a huge disfavor. I've seen it increase views/sales for me, & I've seen it increase views for others - I don't know how much my promotion of them has helped their sales, but I do know it helps their views. Those views will pay off sooner or later - they will.
Do you pay for advertising?
The only money I really put into advertising is in the form of business cards & the buttons that Judy of Portable Graffiti made for me. I think it's essential to have at least cards on hand at all times! Right now, because I have the buttons, I carry a couple of them pinned to the strap of my purse & when someone comments on them, I give them one. It's fun, engaging, & always gets me a couple extra views. 
Any tips for others?
hhhmmm....advice? Easy: PROMOTE, promote, PROMOTE!!! Don't ever stop doing that! Wear what you make, talk about, bring it with you, have samples, use creative marketing (like I do with the buttons), etc. Whatever works to get your name out there do it!!! Do you ever see McDonalds not advertise? How about Wal-Mart? Sears? Allstate? GEICO? The bottom line is this: Those are massive companies who continue to market & promote themselves. Why? Because they know if they stop they will soon go out of business. If it's good enough for the "big boys", then it's good enough for me!

With so many aspects of running a business, how do you keep yourself motivated to move forward? Do you have a good support system?
My biggest support system is my friends - whether they are online or not. They keep me motivated, challenge my creativity, let me vent, make me laugh.....everything....& I couldn't keep going some days without them. We all have "those days" & it's so incredibly important to have people to whom you can turn on those days to help pick you up. Even if you don't let them know anything is wrong, sometimes just being around them is enough to fill your soul & lift your spirits to get you going again.

I also try to learn new things from time to time. There's nothing quite like mastering a new skill to keep one motivated! It just opens up all sorts of creative channels & makes keeping creative very easy!

What do you feel is your least favorite thing about running a business?
Hahaha! Besides photography & paper work? I try not to let them get too far ahead of me otherwise they get overwhelming & you can start to be buried by something that's actually relatively easy to keep on top of. Just make sure you pay equal attention to all aspects of your business. Let's face it, we all have parts that we like better than others, but they are all equally important in being successful. I have three little plaques that I like to refer to: 
1) "Ahhhh...I see the Screw-up Fairy was here again"  for those days that I can't seem to get anything right - it always gives me a great giggle;
2) "What I really need are minions!" - because sometimes I just feel that way & it gives me another great giggle thinking of those cute little Minions from Despicable Me; and
3) "Someday I'll have Minions" - because it's my vision of the future, gives me a giggle (again with those cute little yellow guys! LOL), & helps me keep a really positive focus on the future. One of these days I'll be able to afford an accountant to do the paperwork (yayyyy!!! my first Minion!) & that will be heavenly!
How do you overcome/deal with this?
Smiling, laughing, giggling - all those help me overcome my least favorite aspects of the business. So does good, old-fashioned perseverance. They're all so necessary. If you need help getting/staying motivated in part of the business, hook up with a buddy or just walk away for a moment & then come back to it. Or reward yourself with 5 minutes of creative fun time & then come back to it. It's amazing what that can do to keep a positive mind-set.

And finally, to end on a good positive note … share with us what you most attribute your business success to…
This is easy: Love.  I love what I do, I love the way it makes people feel, I love the people I've come to know & respect, & I love my vision of the future. 

Here is where you can find her all over the web!


Marguerite said...

Thank you SO much Nicole!! I will definitely give Kyle your very gracious message. (hugs)

Barbra said...

Wonderful interview, no, conversation!

Daresa said...

What I wonderful blog interview... I really enjoyed reading this :-)

PaperOnParade said...

Fantastic article! And thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us! Congrats on the feature!!!

BHB Kidstyle said...

Great article! I really enjoyed reading every word of it.
Marge is such a bubbly and very very kind lady! Full of positive attitude and helpfulness.

Grandmother Carolyn said...

What an AWESOME interview, Nicole....all the right ?s asked and the answers were completely given (no cut-offs!) Lady M is a marvelous human being and gifted artisan. It is such a privilege to call her a friend!

Grandmother Carolyn said...

And let me add one more addition to the aforementioned qualities, Lady M is a fabulous Cheerleader! Always and ever, cheering her compadres on, and for that we are ever grateful!

Rebecca said...

WOW!! AWESOME conversation , this was really a good read. Nicole you're amazing at the questions and putting in your comments. I'm SO glad I took the time to read this!!
Marge you are such an awesome person, and I am so glad I have met you on Zibbet. I just love everything about you ....your attitude on everything, your giggles, your humor, your advice, your personality, your work, your kindness, your generosity.....

Sunfire said...

Great piece, going to share it on FB!