Yay, it's time to meet another awesome blogger! This month I have the great pleasure of sharing a blogger with you who I'm a big fan of. Not only is her blog an absolute joy to read but she has the most fabulous shop, sews beautiful things and always makes me smile with her photos on Instagram. So, without further ado, lets dive on into the interview!
Hello there, can you tell all of the Adventures & Tea Parties' readers a little bit about yourself?
I’m Rachel, a mum of one, and I’ve been in Bicester, near Oxford, for 5 years now. I’ve always been creative, my degrees in Art History and Art Gallery and Museum Studies led to a career in HR (total accident) but I left that behind me when I had my daughter, Thea. I started by business in November 2015, Handmade by Holchester, and alongside that I’ve now got the blog and my newest venture Holchester Designs. I also run Create! Craft Kits and a monthly local craft night, Make and Meet, with my fab friend and collaborator Emma from Em Makes and Bakes.
I’m a have-a-go-at-anything crafter, but a common theme is fabric and that’s what my blog and business have honed in on.
Where do you blog?
I’m very lucky that I’ve got a whole room to myself in our house where I do all my writing, sewing and most other things. It also means I’ve got somewhere to keep projects away from little hands. It’s got 3 doors and no window of its own, which isn’t great for #wip photography but I can spread out around the house when I need to, so it’s not a problem. The thing I love the most is my inspiration wall. I put up the string and pegs as I couldn’t afford enough cork to cover it all like I wanted, and I just love how much I can change things up with it. And as I’m based at home that means I’ve got the kitchen, with the kettle and the nespresso machine on hand too.
If you had to take only one tool to a desert island, what would you choose and why?
Sketchbook and pencil/coloured pens. I realise I’m pushing the ‘one tool’ a bit, but they would keep me happy, help me record my thoughts and all the really pretty things I’d see on the island too. I’m presuming the island already has a kettle……?
How do you get inspired to blog?
I’m lucky that my blog and business are intertwined, so often one can inspire the other. Also doing something totally different, like cooking or playing with Thea, usually helps make space for a random thought to spark something else. What actually first made me want to blog is that I felt I had things I wanted to say and share, which weren’t really my husband’s thing and, even though he was very supportive and did listen, I needed an outlet. Although, my blog now is very different from my first (new-motherhood and using creativity to get my head round it all!) but that sense of wanting to share something that I find exciting is still at the heart of it all.
What top tips would you give to anyone starting a blog?
Just start and never think that no-one’s reading. Some posts will do better than others and it might feel like the growth is slow but it’ll be found. Also, know what you might want to get from it. With my first blog, which I only had for a short time, the act of writing helped me massively so, regardless of the readership, I was still benefitting. My intentions for Holchester.com are different now but without starting I wouldn’t have got anything from it.
Is there a story behind the name, 'Holchester'?
Yes, it’s actually quite simple. My parents are a massive inspiration and source of encouragement and I wanted to acknowledge that. The ‘Hol’ comes from Holt, which is my mother’s Maiden name (mine is Heatherington, which was trickier to fit in) and the ‘chester’ comes from my surname, Winchester. I knew I wanted something personal and I was just playing around with sounds and when I said it I immediately liked it. It felt unique without being unpronounceable!
If you could go to a Blog Award dinner with any 5 people (dead or alive, real or fictional) who would you choose?
This is such a tough one. My first nomination would have to be Em Makes and Bakes. She’s my crafty partner in crime, a fellow blogger and a really good friend so she’d have to come along for the adventure and the laughs!
Kat Molesworth from Blogtacular would be on the list too. Not only would we make sure the music for the after-party was great, but I find her such an inspiration as a self-employed blogging businesswoman and mum. I went to my first Blogtacular last year and I’m off again in June as I’ve found the community so supportive, helpful, motivating and incredibly knowledgeable too.
Third on my list would be Es Devlin who’s a theatre and set designer and has worked on wonderful theatre productions, as well as big arena pop-shows (think Beyonce, Kanye and U2). I recently saw a documentary about her (Ep. 3 of Abstract on Netflix) and I am just totally in awe. Her work is so imaginative and immersive and, as well as personally being fascinated by theatre design, I think the way she has built her practice and brand could teach me a lot.
Next is Marie Perkins, AKA Bowie Style, who runs the blog Print & Pattern. I absolutely love surface pattern design and Marie’s work and her blog are great inspiration and encouragement to someone who’s just about got their confidence together to try and get into that industry.
And finally, I’d invite Henri Matisse and if he’d like to bring Picasso with him too that would be even better! It might seem like a left-field choice but as a student I was always drawn to his use of colour, especially his Cut-outs, I just find them so mesmerising and powerful. I could sit in galleries, preferably in Paris, looking at them for hours and I think the stories they could share would be awesome.
And finally, if you had to choose one song to represent 'Holchester', what would it be and why?
I absolutely love my music and 99% of time it’s on when I’m working/making. But I’ve also got very eclectic taste so I wasn’t sure what some of my favourites might say about me.
In the end I’ve gone for, ‘I bet you look good on the dancefloor’ by the Arctic Monkeys. I’m not sure it 100% represents everything Holchester but it’s a great track with happy memories, a good beat to encourage dancing and it references the wonderful year that was 1984, the year I was born. My favourite memory is bouncing up and down and spinning round and round in my wedding dress at our reception to it like a total loon and it’s that sense of fun, energy and carefree attitude that I like to think it stands for! And at the very least, it will give people a funny mental-image and raise a smile, even if it’s at my expense, ha!
Thank you so much, Rachel! It's been fascinating hearing all about your creative world and your future plans too - surface pattern design, woohoo! Best of luck with it and thanks so much for being a fabulous Blog Gem interviewee!
I hope you've all enjoyed reading about Rachel's wonderful creative and blogging world and are heading over to Holchester right now to read more! And for those of you that want to discover more inspiring bloggers, you can catch up on all my Blog Gem interviews here.
Yay, it must be nearly weekend o'clock if I'm writing this post, woohoo! It's been a fun type of busy week with my head going a good kind of crazy over ideas for designs, blog posts and product development. I actually want to burst with excitement and create all my ideas NOW! Do you ever get that feeling? It sure is a good one to have.
As well my head exploding with ideas, I've actually been working on new designs too and I'm now waiting on some samples to arrive of one particular creation. I'm crossing fingers and toes the samples work, eek! Also this week, I was interviewed by the fabulous new shopping marketplace, Look Lane, about my business and design process. You can read the full interview here.
Talking of which, I also shared my own interview with the incredible Sarah of Geo Heaven on the Simple Stylish Makes blog and on my own blog with Hastings artist, Erin Veness, as part of my 'Meet the local artist' series, which you can read here. AND my next Blog Gem interview goes up on Sunday, so do pop back for a read because the blogger I'm featuring sure is a goodun'!
On Instagram this week I've been exploring colour and really looking for it in my every day life. You can check out my musings about it here and here.
Outside of work I've met new people, signed up to volunteer at a local park run and possibly, just possibly agreed to train for a 100k cycle ride?! I'm not sure if the latter is a joke or not but if it means an upgrade to my current Call the Midwife style bike, then that's got to be a good thing, right?
Keeping me going through the week has been music, with these tunes standing out. Pop them on, have a listen and a dance around the kitchen because the weekend is here. Enjoy everyone!
I'm delighted to say that I've been featured on the fab Look Lane blog! Head on over here if you want to find out what inspired me to start Adventures & Tea Parties, what my design process is like, which designers I'd recommend and what's on my studio playlist!
Yay, it's time for another 'Meet the local artist' interview and this month I have the great pleasure in sharing an incredibly talented artist with you, whose art I absolutely adore. It's beautiful. It's moving. It's poetic. It's beyond inspiring. And this interview finds out a bit about where that inspiration comes from, how it is created and more.
Hi there, can you introduce yourself to all my lovely blog readers please?
I'm Erin, 28 (I think), Fine Art graduate, occasionally drink too much. Work in the care sector with end of life patients and those with dementia. Diagnosed with BPD. I've lived, let's put it that way.
What kind of art do you do?
Currently I'm knee deep in a printmaking vibe, which I love but when I first graduated I was doing big installations, which I really want to get back into again. It's the repetitive thing, both printmaking and the way I create installations are about doing the same thing again and again, which is almost a metaphor for life but also really calming.
How do you work and get inspired?
I work nights and often about 50 hours a week so my work is sporadic right now. I'll spend all my time at work plotting ideas and then when it gets to having a day off I'm so exhausted that I end up on the sofa watching programs on serial killers. I'm a big believer that inspiration takes work, that art is, at times, work. You can't sit around in a bubble waiting for inspiration, so my installation inspiration comes from living life and the printmaking inspiration comes from the printmaking itself. I'll try something out and it'll go wrong but there will be something nice in what went wrong and that becomes exciting and I work into that.
What do you love about art?
The thought and philosophy. Everything feeds into everything and it's exciting. It's political, it's beautiful, it's horrific and stunning and there is something for everyone. Chuck Palahniuk wrote once that everything you do is a self portrait and I believe that massively, everything you do shows your hand, even more so in art. I'm also this bizarre crazy person that is fascinated by people and so their art becomes a window to the world and that just excites me a stupid amount.
What's the art scene like in Hastings?
Amazing. There is a brilliant sense of community, art openings are always well attended and not just for the free wine. Everyone is so supportive of each other. My best friend is an awesome illustrator, my boyfriend a graffiti-ist. There's this real diy/lowbrow/grimy feel to it that binds us all together. Hastings is going through this weird stage right now, people from far more affluent places keep moving down because it's cheap but locally we're rebelling and keeping that home grown feel. It's awesome and despite how small and limited it can be, there's no where else I'd rather be.
If you had to take only one art tool to a desert island, what would you choose and why?
Can I say my hands? Because then it might force me into creating more installations with the other stuff you find on a desert island. I feel like this answer is a massive cheat though.
If you could go to an Art Award evening with any 5 people (dead or alive, real or fictional), who would you choose?
Tracey Emin, Egon Schiele, Louise Bourgeois, Grayson Perry annnnd David Shrigley.
Thank you so much, Erin. As a fan of your work, it's a real privilege hearing all about your artistic world and what the art scene is like in Hastings; sounds like it's got a great creative vibe there. And ooh, I love your choice of people for the Art Award evening. Keep up the incredible work!
If you enjoyed discovering all about Erin and her artistic world, don't forget to check out her Instagram and Twitter pages, as well as her website, which has a wonderful blog too. And if you'd like to discover more artists, check out my previous 'Meet the local artist' interviews here and if you'd like to be featured, I'd love to hear from you, so do drop me a line.
Woohoo, it's Friday and I am so ready for the weekend. Like other self-employed folks, I had to work today but I'm just about to switch my computer off, jump in my car and head to the hills where there is no phone signal, no mobile data, no nothing. In it's place there is peace, quiet, beautiful countryside, walks, home cooked food and star gazing to be had. I can't wait!
Before I do grab my bag and head out the door, I'm going to take a look at what I've done this week. I find writing it down here helps me to reflect and acknowledge on all the things I've done and the moments I've experienced in a week; a bit like a diary entry I guess.
Throughout the entire week I've been testing out a new work routine, which has gone fairly well. The idea behind it is to ensure I don't over work and instead achieve my business goals more efficiently and effectively, leaving time aside to relax and have regular exercise. It's also been structured so that I'm not fire fighting over tasks. I'm going to test it for another week and then I'll share it on here in case it's of interest to you.
Aside from this new work routine, other highlights have been a lovely wedding order that came in from a customer who had received a personalised hanky for being a bridesmaid. She loved it so much, she told me, that she decided she wanted the same for her bridal party. This totally made my day on Thursday. Hearing why people have come to my shop is a very special feeling indeed.
My blog post on 'Top ten tips for starting an online business' was published and goodness, it's been going down a storm, so I'm really glad I wrote it. You can read it here if you like. Talking of blogging, I did some blog planning too and have some wonderfully talented people lined up for interviews, so watch this space for a bit of creative inspiration.
I did 5 hours of walking around the local countryside this week and had a very special treat while on a particular walk. On saying hello to a local dog walker, we got chatting and discovered that we both like bird watching. She promptly pointed out a flock of Yellow Hammers in that very field we were stood in. I didn't get the best glimpse, so went back the next day with my Dad's binoculars and there they were, darting from field to hedge looking spectacular in their yellow plumage. After that I went back twice more to see them and on the third visit I went to show someone else and that felt really wonderful, sharing the pleasure of seeing them with a fellow bird geek.
As I like to support my fellow designer/makers and give myself a treat every now and then (Wha?! You so do that too! ;) ), today I treated myself to this GORGEOUS button pocket mirror from Joanne Hawker Design & Illustration. Isn't it just the cutest?!
Keeping me motivated and feeling positive through the week has been a regular dose of music and here are just a few of my favourites I've had on repeat. So, pop your Friday feeling hat on, turn them up and if you haven't already, get started on the weekend! Have a great one everyone!
The past few weeks have been so busy that I didn't have time to share my usual 'What's on the jukebox, Jo?' post last Friday. In fact, I was so busy I spent two hours looking at why I was so busy! It was actually a really useful exercise. I got all the pressures out on to paper and soaked up some sunny vitamin D at the same time, I do love a bit of multi-tasking ;)
The brain splurge resulted in me finding solutions to certain pressures and one of those main pressures was the way in which I'm working as a full time small business owner, who works from home. The method in which I was working felt slightly chaotic and stressful, which hasn't been sitting well with my former librarian self. So, I've devised a new way of working, which I'm going to test for a few weeks. Today was the first day and I don't know if it's a bit of honeymoon period but it doesn't half feel loads better than the way I was working before. I reckon it will need a bit of tweaking but I plan to share it with you all in the next few weeks, so watch this space if it's of interest to you.
As well as having a brain splurge, I've also been working on loads of lovely wedding orders (I swear those organised brides are placing orders earlier and earlier each year!), planning more new designs, working out two events to host (one online and one offline), attending my second Somerset Etsy Team meeting and getting so inspired by Joanne Hawker's #MarchMeetTheMaker Instagram challenge that I wrote a blog post on, Top ten tips for starting an online business. It takes about 5 minutes to read, so a good one to digest with a cup of tea.
As usual keeping me going through the week has been my go to boost, music and I've picked out a few of my favourite tracks from this week and last to share with you. So, get your dancing shoes ready, put your headphones on and have a listen to these.
Did you take part in Joanne Hawker's #MarchMeetTheMaker challenge? I did and absolutely loved it! I met so many incredible makers and felt really inspired to share my business story. I was so fired up by it that I honestly could have written so much more for each daily prompt and so I thought I'd explore one of those posts in a bit more detail.
The prompt I'm going to look at is 'Top Tip', which I approached on Instagram as tips I wish I could tell myself if I were starting my creative online business again; it got lots of saves and comments so I figured it is a topic worth exploring some more. Plus, knowing just how many business guides there are to read through and jobs to do when you're first starting out, I'm going to limit this to my top ten tips for starting an online business based on everything I've picked up since I started back in 2012.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on these tips and if you have any to share too. So, grab a cuppa, have a read and let me know what you think by leaving a message in the comments field below.
Tip 1 / Look, assess, test, repeat
Get that design how you want it before releasing it into the world. In the beginning I was so impatient about getting my designs into my online shops that I would stop at an early stage of the product development process instead of giving myself a few days to step back, look, assess, test and test again. I still get over excited about releasing new designs but I try my hardest to ensure I leave enough time to develop and review until I'm totally happy with the product before hitting publish. This formula of 'look, assess, test, repeat', can be applied to other areas of your business too, so keep it in mind when working on finances, organisation methods and product description writing.
Tip 2 / Take the best photos you possibly can or pay a professional
Get the right photography equipment and editing tools and either take the best photos you possibly can or pay a professional. I wish I'd paid a professional sooner while I was practising my own photography skills. As soon as I did my sales shot through the roof, easily paid for the professional photography cost and took my business to the next level. The photos not only lead to a noticeable increase in sales but they got noticed and featured as adverts in top magazines, such as Good Housekeeping, Country Living and House Beautiful. And now, after years of practice photographing and styling my shots, I'm now taking my own product photos.
Tip 3 / Learn about SEO and implement it immediately
I know, it's boring but it's a step you mustn't skip. Go and learn about SEO, spend time on tags and product descriptions and you will see a difference in your stats. When I opened my Etsy shop I barely knew what SEO was. Were there even useful guides back then like there are now? I can't remember any but then I was probably just diving on in because I was too excited. It's only in the last year that I've really begun looking at how SEO, product descriptions and tags can help; wish I'd done that sooner.
Tip 4 / Get your pricing right and DO NOT undersell yourself
Repeat after me: I will not undersell myself or price my work too low, I will value me and my work.
Did you know I sold my first hand embroidered handmade handkerchief for around £2? At that price I was actually giving it away. It makes me laugh now at the silly prices I was charging back then just to get a sale and it took me a good year or so before I realised I didn't have a business at all if I were to continue charging such ridiculous prices.
And so, I got on the t'internet and researched pricing formulas and was gobsmacked when I realised how many other parts of the product and product development process I hadn't factored into the price; I really was just giving products away.
If you're not already familiar, pricing formulas work a bit like this:
material cost + hourly rate (time taken to make) + postage and packaging costs + a percentage of the time taken to design, test, photograph and market the product X 1.5 = wholesale price
material cost + hourly rate (time taken to make) + postage and packaging costs + a percentage of the time taken to design, test, photograph and market the product X 2 = retail price
Those are just examples and I encourage you to research other formulas but the main things to remember are:
- you MUST pay yourself a decent hourly rate because just like someone with a 'normal job' you have bills and rent to pay and you have to feed yourself too.
- if you are not making a profit, then you have no business. Profit helps take your business to the next level as it means you can invest in new tools, equipment, material and maybe even get some staff!
- by underselling yourself, you undersell and damage the entire market. I do not agree with charging just for a bit of pocket money or even doing work for free, it's not fair on those in the same field whose business is their main income. Also, in my personal opinion, I think it makes you look like you are not taking your work seriously and not valuing yourself, which isn't appealing to customers. If I see a product priced too low I immediately wonder what's wrong with it, whereas a product priced properly speaks of professionalism and quality.
I think a pricing formula approach works well for a repeat product (e.g. cards, prints, laser cut jewellery etc) but it's a whole different ball game for original pieces of art and that's something I don't know anything about. If you're selling original pieces of art then I would start by researching how to price your work and talk to fellow artists too.
Tip 5 / Do the sums first before offering a discount
If you have priced your products and work properly, then only you will know whether you can offer a discount, run a sale or offer a promotion code, so really this is entirely up to you. But the main thing to consider is this: do not be pressurised into giving a discount. I can guarantee it, you will be asked by customers for a discount if they buy multiple products or even just one product. Before rushing in to say yes in order to secure the sale, take a moment and go and do your sums first. You need to make sure you are still earning a living wage and that it works for you and your business. Only you will know this. If the customer really wants the product, then nine times out of ten they will pay for it. Just ensure you know your own shop policy and what you can and cannot offer.
Tip 6 / Customer care
Good customer care from the beginning is essential because without customers you have no business. Always be polite and professional. Don't reply when you're grumpy or send that email you've always wanted to send when you experience a tricky customer. Step back, put yourself in their shoes and see how best you can help. Remember though, you are not a charity giving away freebies and discounts left right and centre (see tip above), you are an individual earning your living through your business. On occasion you will be pushed into offering more or someone might change their mind on a personalised item you have made for them, so ensure you have a clear refund policy in place, which is easy to access for customers; know exactly what you can and cannot offer and treat your customers how you would like to be treated.
Tip 7 / Self care
There is absolutely no denying it, running your own business is hard work and it can easily lead to burn out if you don't take care of yourself. Sadly, it's very easy to run yourself into the ground by working every hour possible and not taking breaks but that can actually put you back. Not taking a break or working reasonable hours for 3 months could result in you needing 3 months off to recover, so, it's a no brainer. Get plenty of sleep, have a routine, be organised, eat properly, get regular exercise, chip away at goals gradually, get up from the desk every 20 minutes, drink plenty of water (this is a common one among the self-employed, not drinking enough throughout the day), have a clocking off time and don't work in isolation (see next tip).
Tip 8 / Networks and groups
Working on your own every day can get so lonely and be a little soul destroying if you don't see your friends or get out and network. It's oh so easy to not socialise because you're so determined to take your business to the next level but that's not good. Getting out to see friends or being part of network or group (online and offline) is brilliant for inspiring you to achieve your goals, bounce new ideas off friends, rant if you've had a bad day, share tips, encourage each other and well, have a bloody good laugh and some fun!
I've only just joined my first ever regional Etsy group in Somerset and it's one of the best things I've ever done. Not only have I made some wonderful friends but I'm getting to meet fellow creatives and new people, which is especially great as I'm new to the county. It's also a brilliant way to open doors and find new opportunities. For example, I've just become a Somerset Etsy Team Leader, which I would never ever have imagined happening when I asked to join the group! So, go find groups and events and get involved both offline and online.
Tip 9 / Less fire fighting and more achievable goal setting and good organisation
From my experience of starting up and running a full time business I've learnt that you need to be super organised, not get distracted and work efficiently, otherwise you are continually fire fighting and working in chaos, which can have a negative impact on your customers and therefore your income.
Think of ways in which you can work more efficiently based on your own situation. Maybe you could turn social media notifications off, spend one day a week on the boring but essential jobs (accounts, stock check, etc.), make up some popular stock in advance or get a planner. Whatever it is you do, find a method that works for you.
I have tried numerous ways of working to ensure I achieve goals, get orders out on time and don't work in chaos. I'm currently trying out a new method as I type this blog post and I will be sharing it in a few weeks, so watch this space.
Tip 10 / Reflect and celebrate your achievements
Remember to reflect, acknowledge and celebrate the small wins you make on each step of your business journey. It's very important to do this and for me, I've only truly started doing it in the last year or so. By doing this you can see just how much you've achieved, see the direction you're heading and encourage yourself to keep going!
I've really enjoyed writing theses tips because it's helped me consider areas I could improve on and I hope you find them helpful too. Do you have any top tips for running a small business or maybe some clever tricks for working more efficiently in all lines of work? I'd love to hear your thoughts, so please do leave them in the comments field below and share this post with your fellow small business owners or those just starting up.