Maggiesneedle – Bespoke Illustrations and Needlecraft

Tell us something about yourself. What is your niche? How did you get your idea or concept for the business?

I started my Etsy shop in 2014 while I was doing a Ph.D. in neuroscience and found that I needed a creative outlet to help switch off from lab work. I began selling embroidery designs but a year later I got engaged and therefore became interested in wedding stationery and added pieces I’d made for my own wedding onto the shop. This sparked some custom orders, which showed me a whole new side to Etsy where I can work personally with customers to achieve something unique to them. This keeps my work exciting! In 2017, after finishing my studies, I managed to go full time with my shop and since then I have been lucky enough to continue working whilst starting a family.

What are your responsibilities as a business owner?

My primary responsibility is to create beautiful designs in good turnaround time for my customers. When I started out I did all the designs, listings, photos, printing, packaging, emails, accounts – everything! But in the years since I have taken on help so I can focus on the customer emails and painting, especially now I have a family. For example, I now use a professional photographer, accountant, my software programmer husband works on my website and my wonderful mum does all the careful packaging, shipping and is brilliant at proof-reading invitations and quality checks! At the end of the day, however, I take responsibility for any problems and customer satisfaction so am still involved in everything.

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?

The majority of my products are custom made so am always happy to work on a new customer brief, however, my most popular products are the illustrated stories, where I paint an illustration from several landmarks in a couple’s relationship. These have been used for the wedding ‘Save the Dates’, invitations, or anniversary and Christmas gifts. A customer will decide on their ‘highlights’ and we’ll discuss what would be best to illustrate each event, then I get to work painting and the story is then put together into a piece of art.

Save the Date Printable Custom Illustrated Venue Wedding Stationery
Save the Date Cards Custom Illustrated Venue Save the Dates
Personalised Illustrated Family Bird Art Print

What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? What’s the hardest about it?

I absolutely love my work and feel so lucky that people purchase my products and trust me with designing their wedding stationery. I love to paint so that has to be the best thing about it – but equally, at times it can be hard to feel creative every day. Owning your own business can become all-consuming and it can be difficult to take meaningful breaks since online shops are open 24/7. When having my baby I put the shop on a break whilst in labor and was back answering emails from the hospital a day later – not something I’d recommend!

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?

I sell all wedding stationery through Etsy and have been fortunate enough to not require the use of Etsy ads – I find keywords and search term optimization are a really good tool to keep up in the listings. I regularly check where my listings come up and tweak these to boost their place. I think the best form of customer acquisition is good reviews, which is essential when offering custom work as they give you the credibility you need.

Do you believe there is a winning formula for becoming a successful entrepreneur? What is yours?

I don’t know about a winning formula but you need to be flexible and open to change – my shop isn’t selling anything I opened it with. The main component, however, is just plain hard work – I managed this alongside full-time study/lab work for 3 years and if something seemed expensive, e.g. photography, I just learned to do it myself to get it off the ground. It won’t seem like such hard work if it’s your passion, so make sure you’re making something you’re proud of.

What was the toughest moment you have experienced in your business practice? How did you succeed to get over it and move forward?

We’re in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused canceled weddings and since easing of lockdown, significant restrictions on the size of wedding parties. This has without a doubt been the biggest challenge as I have had to accept that weddings will be looking very different for the foreseeable future. I am using this time to work on aspects of the shop that have been neglected and boost the products that usually sell well at Christmas. Whilst it has been hard to come to terms with, as I love working at weddings, it is out of anyone’s control so something that just needs to be accepted!

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?

Happy customers keep me motivated and custom orders often spark an idea for a new product. I often look back on things I have created for individual customers and think about how they can be adapted to a wider audience.

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, I ship internationally very often – this can be slow but in recent years I have given customers the option of expedited shipping using a courier. Thankfully I have had only rare instances of items arriving damaged but I do nowadays lose money on some international shipping because Etsy offers free shipping over $35 in the US – this is a little frustrating as it is a requirement to stay up in the listings.

What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful online business?

To just get started and be prepared to learn as you go. Go above and beyond to make sure you get good reviews and be prepared to have to take a few hits, however frustrating.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are starting out?

Be patient. When I started my shop it was for fun, not to make money so patience was easy, however, had I known I was going to make it my full-time job I may have put too much pressure on it and given up when sales didn’t instantly come flooding in.

How do you personally define business success? Is it money? Freedom? Influence? Creative expression and innovation? Something else?

In the early days, success was increasing sales and income, however, I have had to re-evaluate that since working alongside bringing up a family as I have had to reduce my hours and the workload I take on. The fact that the work is still available to me however is what defines success to me.

Describe your day-to-day operation. How do you manage your time?

I have a toddler so have limited full working days, therefore when I don’t have childcare I have to catch all the hours I can. My husband works from home since the pandemic, so I get ready quickly in the morning and get a couple of hours in before he starts working at 9 am – usually this is sketching and getting some paint down. I then resume for my son’s nap for 2 hours and aim to finish what I’m currently painting. I save all editing, putting proofs together and customer emails for the evening (unless something urgent), as I prefer to paint or do invitation printing in natural light. We’ll often do a trip to my mum’s in the day to hand over items for packaging.

Custom Illustrated family art print Family portrait Raincoats
Baby Announcement Card Pregnancy Announcement Card
Wedding cake topper Wooden peg doll cake toppers Personalised bride and groom cake toppers

How do you plan on growing your business? What is the biggest impact on your profitability?

I’d say at the moment my work-life balance is reaching its limit so to grow the business I’m looking to work on some more ‘ready to go’ designs to sell alongside the custom items. Time is probably the biggest restriction on profitability for me – sometimes I misjudge how long it’ll take to paint something which will then set me back other orders.

What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?

Good photos make a world of difference for getting customers to click on listings – find your listing amongst others on a search page and see how yours compares. One lesson I learned the hard way was to use watermarks! I’ve come across several people using my designs and it is so frustrating to see that happening!

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