Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Visions of Success with Cute as a Bow

 This week we're talking with Jennifer, owner of Cute as a Bow on Zibbet. Read along as we get to know a bit about her, her business & a little insight on how she handles photographing her product.

Let’s start with a quick intro. Tell us about you.
I’m a mother to 2 adorable little girls and a wife of 14yrs.  I’m kind hearted, perfectionist, and I love to learn about other people. Laughing daily is a must!

Is this a hobby, or serious business for you? Do you work outside the home as well?
This is a hobby with benefits (laughing) for me. I work outside the home 3 days a week as a licensed optician. I would love to be a SAHM. At least have found a happy medium- being able to be with my girls more than away has kept my anxiety down.

NV: Hey, I like that … hobby with benefits!

How did you decide to go from hobby, to real business?
I love to create. After buying bows from a “boutique” business and seeing how expensive they really are, I wanted to make them affordable for everyone’s pocketbook. I want to be able to put a smile on people’s faces when they get my creative creation.
Is there something keeping you from taking the step? Unfortunately, making hair accessories will not pay the bills, but it affords me a way to do what I love and make a little money in return. Since I have worked so hard thus far to have a website, I would like to have consistent sells. I would have to make other items to make this a full time, job. Or sell a ton of bows :) ... now that wouldn’t be so bad. Smiling. I’m thinking ... dream job!

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? As of now, I create sitting in our dining room. But believe me; I have had many dreams as to how to turn the girls playroom into a craft room. Wink, wink. However, I do have a few of my containers in the corner- they were generous enough to allow me to borrow a little bit of space.

NV: Enjoy their play room … once they get older & maybe consider giving it up, you’ll miss them being small…

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 sometimes watch the clock to see how long it takes to make an item, but for the most part, I just create in a relaxing environment. No TV, kids asleep, house quiet... I personally think that no matter how fast I work, I could never get my true cost per hour because I try to make each item with care and only sell what I would put on my girls. I would rather spend extra time and have quality which equals happy, repeat customers. 
Once you have all this beautiful work created, how do you handle keeping track of your inventory?
Nothing fancy. I keep my items in an unused plastic shoe box. Since my items are small, they will hold quite a bit. Then, I place the items into clean plastic gallon sized baggie’s and store them neatly in a plastic tote that is labeled in my shed.  Now, unlike most sheds, ours is clean and it’s attached to my deck. So it’s very easy to get to. I try not to make too many items collecting fairy dust. Custom orders are nice.

Talk a little bit about how you handle photographing your work. How important do you feel quality pictures are to successful selling? What is the biggest mistake you made & what is the most important thing you learned?
Love this question. When I first started selling bows on line at Etsy and Zibbet, looking back, my pictures were terrible! Lighting, set up you name it- Awful!  Poor photo’s is one reason I actually stopped selling on line for a while. I wasn’t proud of them and my awful pictures were NOT doing my products justice. I thought if I didn’t think they look good then buyers would feel the same. I had to do some research. I looked up a few things on You Tube and came across Gavtrain and then saw he has a blog on blogger. I started learning my Photoshop elements, taking my own photos and practicing. I also have looked in depth at the Etsy stork shop makeover series. Once I take my photos and download them into my file, I then head over to and the account I have is free! I’m able to crop, and “fix” my photos with lots of options. It’s easy to use. This is worth its weight in gold!

NV: Gavtrain is Gavin Hoey & he also has a website ...

 I actually tried to make a photo box-that didn’t do very good. I was tempted to buy a fancy light box but since I’m a new, small craft business, I really decided to try something much less expensive because I need to keep my expenses down.  It has seemed to be good so far. I went to Hobby Lobby and bought a yard of Muslin white material. It has a beautiful sheen to it. I use my dining room chair to set it outside or near my front door and tape the material to the chair- tight!  I take pictures during early morning or late evening. I do not take photo’s with flash- that makes them look ugly. I have learned a lesson about my background that it will show up wrinkles- I had to retake many photo’s and will always make sure I always iron first. LOL!  I also found a pretty frame, I use scrapbook paper, and occasionally my children but limit that because I don’t want their photo’s flooding the internet
 Having great photos is a must to selling on line. How can anyone take you seriously if you don’t take it serious?  

Most important thing I have learned is: You want to zoom in as close as you can and crop and have very little background noise. Remember, your selling your product, not the item it sits on! Take many photos. I usually take 30-50 photos and then narrow down to 4-5 and then get them ready for my shop. It’s a lot of work and as my photos get better, I’m enjoying making them more. Be creative! Use AV field on your camera if you can and set it to f-8 which is a good depth of field. This is an area I could go on and on about. I love to share info I have learned :). Extra side note: I found a web designer to make me a cute boutique kind of banner for my website, had matching bow cards, and really cute business cards made. Now I’m proud to show off my website and business cards!

NV: Thank you for being so open about this aspect of business. I’m sure everyone reading will love hearing about your ongoing adventure with product photo taking.

Where do you sell? Do you have a favorite venue?
When I first started, I joined a local craft fair called the Santa’s Workshop. My mother in law helped me; I was busy! I took all my ribbons and for 2 days, I made bows like crazy! I really enjoyed it. I would love to be in another one someday, but the booths are expensive and it’s hard with 2 young children. Right now, I’m at Zibbet. I have also sold my items in a local children’s store called The Lollipop Shoppe. Unfortunately, after selling in their store for a little time, we decided to remodel our home. We moved out to live with my mother in-law; I had to stop selling because I was so busy with making decisions on our new home & taking care of the kids. Being relocated for 8 months was stressful to say the least. Something had to go and it wasn’t the kids. Hahaha! Now that we are settled in our new home, I’m open to selling in a boutique again.

NV: Ah yes, something I can totally relate to... the being relocated. It feels wonderful to be grounded again doesn’t it?

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?
I purchased Corel write which has a financial spread sheet. If I need to buy something and have bow money in my “cute as a bow” fund, then I’ll buy it with my cc and then pay it off when it comes in. If I don’t have the money, then I don’t spend it.

While we’re talking about money … how do you handle all the dreaded back end paperwork/book keeping stuff?
Since I’m a new business, I don’t have to deal with paperwork I would like to get to that point one day- I think? Smiling.

NV: Please watch this closely as even new business needs to keep track of everything for taxes. The worst thing in the world, business wise, is going thru an audit, unprepared.

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?
This is my LEAST favorite, annoying thing about selling on line. I’m going to be honest, I’m terrible with this. I’m lost with it. I’m definitely a work in progress. Other people will like me on FB and then weeks later I’m trying to wiggle my way to them to Like them back- I have spent too much time at the computer lately and not enough creating which really frustrates me. I do use Facebook and Twitter-I have been on Stumble Upon but have no idea how to use it so I give up there.
Do you pay for advertising?  I do not pay for advertising. I do not make enough to do so. I have business cards made up that I hand out.

With so many aspects of running a business, how do you keep yourself motivated to move forward? Do you have a good support system?
I take one day at a time. It’s hard. The kids need me, the house is a mess. My husband wants me. I have decided this time around I would give it my best shot. I’m in a 3 yr game plan. If I don’t see my sales go up with in 3 yrs, I’ll probably put an end to this craft business on line and sell only to those locally. I have days where I feel very accomplished and days where I didn’t get much done with my website. But I’m learning that is ok. My kids have to come 1st. I don’t want to look back and wonder where I missed out on their childhood.
What do you feel is your least favorite thing about running a business? How do you overcome/deal with this?
Definitely hands down- marketing on line through venues such as Facebook, Twitter, etc...It make me googly eyed.
And finally, to end on a good positive note … share with us what you most attribute your business success to…
 My determination to be successful! When I set my mind to something, I give it 110% nothing less!  My repeat customers!

Thank you so much for all your answers Jennifer. It was wonderful to get the scoop on all those awesome little bows & you.

If you missed her links within the article, here is where you can find Cute as a Bow online…


Anonymous said...

It was really nice to read about Jennifer. I think all of us can understand the challenges of family responsibilities and running a business. All my best wishes for much success!

Thanks for another great interview, Nicole.

Grandmother Carolyn said...

So happy to know more about Jennifer - I have always admired her products when they came on the scene - the photography is excellent, and while I don't have little girls at hand, I LOVE the fact that Jennifer only makes and sells what is "good enough for her own little girls"...........

Barbra said...

If anyone told us before hand how much work is really involved with online selling, would we have tried it? And with small children at home? Hats off to you, Jennifer!

Elizabeth said...

Well, knowing how hard it is to sell/market online is why I have only started doing it now. Previously, really hard slog doing physical craft fairs, fitting them in with four young children, part-time teaching, and hosts of other things. Online is completely different.
Really good article, Nicole

PaperOnParade said...

Your photos are wonderful and I apprecitate the extras tips you gave! I spend more time at the computer than creating and need to learn how to handle that better!
Thanks for sharing your story!