Tell us something about yourself. What is your niche? How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
When I was in primary school, I used to have a market stall with my sister, selling handmade jewelry and knick-knacks. We continued as adults until I got pregnant with my son, who is now 7. I started finding it difficult to find the time and energy to do markets and knew it would get harder once my son was born. I had opened an Etsy shop and made a few sales, but decided it was a good time to focus my energy on my online shop.
About that time, I wanted to buy a garden journal to record when to do my annual garden tasks – I would always forget the best time of year to prune my fruit trees. I couldn’t find anything suitable so I made my own. I decided to list my garden journal in my Etsy shop to see if other people might be interested in. It sold really well, and to date is still one of my best sellers. I started designing other journals, using my pregnancy experience for a pregnancy journal and created a baby book. I found that these products we easier to sell online than my traditional craftspeople at a market will wander and see your products in front of them, but some of the products I sold a huge amount of at markets didn’t work online as they weren’t getting found – how do people search for something that they don’t know exists? My products also got featured on a few big blogs which really gave me a kick start.
What are your responsibilities as a business owner?
Being a sole trader, I look after all aspects of running my shop. Most of my time is spent packaging and shipping orders and talking with customers. I always have a new product in development, and this is the part of the business that I enjoy the most. Once a new product is ready, I need to photograph it and prepare the listing.
I also analyze the sales data to see what is selling well, where the customers are coming from, and what my conversion rate is. A big part of my time is spent managing finances and bookkeeping, which I really don’t enjoy, but it’s necessary.
I do my own marketing and social media, which is an area that I need to improve on greatly.
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?
My top three best sellers are my wedding planner, “Me & My Dad” book, and garden journal.
Every product I create goes through the same process – the idea, planning, sketching, copywriting, laying it out, drawing the graphics, proofing, printing, photography, and then the final listing and product description copywriting. When I have an idea, I don’t look at other products, I design them from my own experiences and how I would use a product. That’s why I believe many of my products are original. For example, when I had my son, most of my friends had baby books that never got filled out because they were too big and intimidating. Mums with new babies never get time to sit down for hours with a big book, as much as they want to. So I designed my baby journal to be more accessible – small enough that you can tuck it in your bag or down the side of your couch and just add little details when you are feeding or your baby is napping.
I am very passionate about being eco friendly as a business and that drives a lot of my decision making when it comes to materials. I used 100% recycled paper in all of my products, and try to use eco-friendly finishes, and minimize waste.
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? What’s the hardest about it?
I love the freedom of being an entrepreneur, and I find the flexibility fits really well with being a Mum and primary caregiver. There is satisfaction in creating something from nothing, especially when you get great feedback and sales from it.
I am also a freelance graphic designer, and one of the big skills I have in that space is problem-solving. When I’m faced with challenges, I approach it from that perspective. Focus on finding the solution rather than getting upset.
I’m a bit of an introvert, so I find it very difficult to promote myself. This is a problem I know many creative friends have too – we love creating but we are not very good at putting ourselves out there and selling ourselves and our skills, but I think it’s absolutely necessary to become successful. It’s something I’m working on and getting better at.
My other big challenge is time – I don’t always get to spend the time I’d like to on my business because of family and other work commitments, especially during the pandemic with both my children home, homeschooling, and increased home duties.
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?
My main customer group are women 20-45 years old. I use social media, and a bit of advertising in and out of Etsy to find customers. It’s always effective but it’s an area that I need to invest a lot more time and money into.
Do you believe there is a winning formula for becoming a successful entrepreneur? What is yours?
I think the common attributes are hard work and love. You have to love what you do and believe in what you’re creating. It helps get you through the tough times and helps drive you to work hard and always strive to do better.
Something that I also truly believe in, is to find your own voice and have the confidence to use it. By designing products with my unique voice, they are different to other products in my space. Not everyone will love what I do, but I’ve found my niche and I still get a thrill when people contact me to tell me how much they love my products. Because I’ve never approached Two Little Possums solely as a way to make money, I’ve been able to have more creative freedom and approach the products from a creative and practical point of view, not trying to design to sell. That has helped me find my voice – a bit of a sense of humor, hand-drawn, fun, practical and accessible.
What was the toughest moment you have experienced in your business practice? How did you succeed to get over it and move forward?
The toughest challenge I have running an online shop is shipping. In Australia, it’s expensive and slow. I’m constantly exploring new options and responding to changing circumstances. Since the start of the pandemic, this has become worse with flight cancellations, and some affordable shipping options aren’t available now. My products sell really well in the US, but it’s challenging at the moment. I’ve had a huge increase in sales to the US since the start of the pandemic, and luckily a vast majority of them have been lovely and understanding.
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 draw a lot of inspiration from my own experiences and talking to other people about theirs. I have a lot of creative friends that constantly inspire me. The biggest inspirations come from life though – getting out and exploring nature, poetry, culture, art, food. Life gives you a bank of experiences to draw upon, so the more you put yourself out into the world, the more experience you have to draw upon. I also get some ideas from customers – they sometimes ask me for other products. When I created my “Me and my Mum” and “Me and my Dad” books, I was asked many times if I’d be creating one for grandparents, so I did. I’ve got a new product in development that I am designing purely for myself, but many people have expressed interest in it already so I think it’ll be another popular one.
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?
I ship my products internationally – my biggest market outside Australia is the US, but I’ve shipped to many countries around the world. Usually delivery takes 2-3 weeks to the US depending on what state you’re in, 2-4 weeks to the UK and Europe, and 2-5 days within Australia. Those timeframes have blown out at the moment because of the increase in parcels and lack of flights due to Covid-19.
Postage costs are continually going up. I offer free shipping on some of my products within Australia and a small fee for international. It’s very difficult to offer free shipping to everyone because there can be a huge difference in cost for something that is shipped locally vs overseas and I try to keep my products as affordable as possible.
I package my products differently depending on the products – some are in a bubble mailer and some are in a box. It’s a bit of trial and error. I add a postcard to every order thanking my customer for their support and try to include a personal note to every order. I also make gift cards when people send a gift to someone directly, and occasionally add in a bonus.
What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful online business?
You need to have a pretty clear picture of what your businesses brand, personality, and offers will be. A few years ago I sat down and defined who Two Little Possums were, and what values and personality the business would have. Think about who you’re targeting, and how you’ll connect with them.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are starting out?
Be prepared to have to invest a bit at the start to get yourself up and running, and learn from your mistakes.
How do you personally define business success? Is it money? Freedom? Influence? Creative expression and innovation? Something else?
I’m not really driven by money, but it’s a nice by-product. Having people from all around the world buy my products, and contact me afterwards to tell me how much they love them is incredible. I think getting recognition for what I do is a good indication of success.
Describe your day-to-day operation. How do you manage your time?
In normal times, I do 3 days a week where my children are at school and childcare. I use these days to work on both my graphic design business and Two Little Possums. When my graphic design business is very busy, I pull back on Two Little Possums and just manage the orders, and vice versa. It’s nice to have that flexibility. Working from home means I can be around for my kids when they have events at school. Since the pandemic, this has been quite challenging so I’ve not been able to sit down and work the solid hours.
How do you plan on growing your business? What is the biggest impact on your profitability?
I would like to move into wholesaling at some point. I’ve got a couple of products in development at the moment, and once they are finished I’d like to dedicate more time to marketing and social media.
The biggest impact on my profitability is shipping, and increasing sales fees.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
Photography is very important on Etsy – you have to show the product and all its features, and also set a mood. It’s helpful to show it in action.
A very big lesson for me was when I started understanding the larger picture when it comes to SEO. Many people when they start out will list a product, follow a guide on how to write their keywords, then get upset that their product isn’t appearing as number 1. It’s so much more complicated than keywords – some things that I’ve found also impact your SEO are how quickly you respond to messages, how often people favorite your products when they view them, how many sales a product has recently had, good reviews, etc. From Etsy’s perspective, they want customers to have a positive experience, so will put forward shops that they think will give them that experience.