Tell us something about yourself. What is your niche? How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
I’m the owner and designer for Dare to Dream Prints. Operated by my wife and me, we specialize in art-gallery quality prints specializing in vintage book covers style art and contemporary abstract art. My store started in 2014 when inspirational quotes were extremely popular and the idea dawned on me, having dabbled in typography, to produce my own range of quite prints but critically let them be personalized to create a truly unique inspirational quote. From there I slowly grew and expanded the range of prints and, admittedly by accident, produced a number of vintage book covers which soon became my most popular collection.
What are your responsibilities as a business owner?
It’s awfully cliched to say but I have to do everything – this includes designer, editor, copywriter, accountant, tax, marketing, communication, and the never-ending admin. Whilst my wife is now very kindly helping me with the dark arts of social media, the end-to-end processes for running a business sit with me which can prove a challenge, and very much so at my first attempt!
This may sound like an off-putting level of responsibility I’m a testament to the fact there is nothing that can’t be accomplished and I always remind myself that nothing is set in stone – in other words, things can be changed and it doesn’t need to be the perfect first time around. As long as it’s not illegal (eg. lying on your financial accounts) give it a go as you can always (and likely will) improve and change things over time. As someone who is into their fitness, my mantra is “A bad gym session still beats no gym session”.
What are your best selling products, what type of materials are used in your creations, how do you design your products, what makes your products stand out?
Like every store we have a number of top sellers but my overwhelming best selling print is my original Hobbit book cover print. I designed this from scratch to look like a vintage minimalist book, this includes adding subtle aging, fading, and, what I’m most proud of, a highly detailed book grain (so detailed some reviewers had said they expect to feel it when they touch it).
For each and every print we make we never cut any corners when it comes to quality. This means we use the finest printing papers (those used by the best galleries) and long-lasting archival inks. It does mean we’re not the cheapest out there but we stand by our approach and our reviews speak for themselves.
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? What’s the hardest about it?
The level of pride and satisfaction from seeing that first sale from something you crafted from scratch and also the hundreds of positive reviews (something I’m very blessed to receive) makes it all a feeling like no other.
The hardest thing is definitely keeping the effort levels up even when it feels fruitless. Running a serious shop requires consistent effort even when you’re tired, sick, or demoralized. However, it is only ever a temporary dip so by keeping focus, keep making improvements the results will come.
Who do you sell to (and how do you get customers)? What marketing tools or strategies you use to boost your sales? Are you satisfied with the results?
The overwhelming majority of customers come via Etsy search. I do have a modest social media profile and this is an area I’m trying to focus more but for now Etsy’s organic traffic is the best source of traffic for me. I do take advantage of Etsy Ads which has proved valuable since the recent changes (however, word of warning, its far from perfect and can sap your money quickly!)
Other strategies to boost sales really come from my continuous improvement model. It’s a concept I took from the GB cyclist team who are always looking to try and increase track times by minute times (even as small as 0.05s). For this, I’m always looking to see where I can make the smallest improvements – such as marginally better photography or clearer descriptions – to boost conversion rates.
Do you believe there is a winning formula for becoming a successful entrepreneur? What is yours?
Absolutely, as long as you are getting some sales (in other words, you’re not selling a dud), then my winning formula is consistent efforts. Always keep working, keep improving, and keep adding items for sale – success is typically achieved over years (1+ years) so little and often is the name of the game. I’ve known many sellers who create a shop, a handful of listings, put things on sale and then do nothing further expecting sales to come in.
What was the toughest moment you have experienced in your business practice? How did you succeed to get over it and move forward?
I previously worked with a professional printer to help make canvas prints but quite simply they were not up to the quality standards customers and I expected. On top of that in order to make even small profit the prices, I needed to charge did not then align to the quality expected. This resulted in more refunds than I was happy with, it made me low, and ultimately I had to cut my canvas print range – all of them. It was a tough decision and cut my store in half instantly (which reduces my Etsy exposure) but it was the right decision in the long run.
What inspires you when you’re creating? How do you get ideas for new products? What are some methods or tools you use to get creative?
I’m constantly looking at design and art blogs to see what the latest trends are and get inspired for ideas. Once I’ve got an idea i’ll create some concept pieces using Adobe Photoshop (which always look terribly) then fine-tune, fine-tune and fine-tune until I’ve got designs i’m proud of.
Do you ship your product internationally? How do you handle postage pricing? What is the average time it takes from the order to the delivery? Do you use free shipping? If so, why? How do you package your products?
Yes we ship worldwide and offer free shipping in the US and UK. We then offer a standard postage fee for the rest of the world. We can have some problems with this approach – it is not uncommon for prints to get stuck in customs but it’s few and far between. I find if you manage expectations up-front and ship quickly customers are sympathetic to the relatively long delivery time.
What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful online business?
I think I’ve touched on a few elements already but another couple I’d add would be to put aside any fear you have of failure. Give it a go, give a try, fail fast and fail quick – you’ll learn so much that way. A practical side of this is the adoption of an ‘Agile’ mindset to your shop. For those who don’t know what this is, its a software development concept, where you make frequent small iterative changes to get improvements and products out the door quickly (if you’ve noticed your mobile apps getting updated every 2-3 weeks, this is Agile!). So rather than attempting to save things up (or even get overwhelmed) with huge changes, improve things in small steps over time. It’ll add up quickly.
Secondly, a key element for me is an individuals mindset for success – I have the motto ‘Hobby effort equals hobby income” so I choose to act like my store is a huge enterprise and I’ve then found it influences my mindset, my pursuit of perfection and my focus to the business….and yes, I do run my store part-time but approach it like it’s my full-time job.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are starting out?
My biggest advice for any entrepreneur is to have the core belief to create more value for your customer than you receive. This isn’t to say you need to offer your products as cheap as possible but more making sure the combined product/service your customers receive will exceed the monetary value they’ve paid for it. For me, this comes from extremely high quality, free shipping, generous refund/replacement policy (because you will make mistakes) and acting in your customer’s interests at all times.
How do you personally define business success? Is it money? Freedom? Influence? Creative expression and innovation? Something else?
Freedom and creativity is the absolute definition of success for me. If I could do this full-time it would be the dream for me and even if I won the lottery jackpot I would still run the store.
Describe your day-to-day operation. How do you manage your time?
I work full-time for a large medical company which consumes the 9-5 hours which means time on my Etsy site is reserved for the evenings and weekends. Subsequently, I usually get 2 hours each evening and 4-5 hours each weekend day. There’s rarely a day off, maybe Christmas Day perhaps, and there is always something to do, and I find time-boxing, especially in the evenings, helps me get things done but also preventing me from getting in the zone and it being 3 in the morning before I even realize it.
How do you plan on growing your business? What is the biggest impact on your profitability?
Currently I’m making a bigger push into social media. As a visual medium, Instagram is the main focus, and its a bit of a dark art for me. Fortunately, my wife works in corporate communications so it’s very kindly helping me in this area. With Etsy becoming bigger and bigger I want to be able to garner my own customers.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
Positively, I found quality photography was the biggest influence for boosting my sales – it took a lot of refinement to get right (and still work to be done) but it definitely yields results. I would always suggest any seller learn how to take the best photos for their products. These things do not require an expensive kit or fancy setups and a few youtube tutorials will get you on your way.
Negatively, I found I was pressuring myself to go cheaper and cheaper to get sales which included testing some cheaper papers (thankfully I did not send them to customers). However, the race to the bottom is not a good business model and I decided to shift focus in the other direction – not by increasing prices but by ensuring I give the best value for the price I offer. I’ve proudly not looked back since.