New kid on the block Valerie Evans found a niche on Instagram for her vintage-inspired embroidered art and jewelry. The former Disneyland tour guide took her quirky products online under the name Plaid Love Threads in 2015, and soon started converting likes into customers.
Valerie took time out from her new business to talk to us about the nitty gritty of marketing online, the support she gets from the maker community and how she managed to sell half her inventory at her first ever craft fair.
Name: Valerie Evans
Business: Plaid Love Threads
Started: May 2015
How did you create your awesome job?
I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom and focus on raising my kids, but before they came along I spent many years working for Disneyland as a tour guide — you know, the ones with the plaid skirts and the riding crops! It was a great experience, but when my husband and I had children, I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible.
I actually got into stitching because I was looking for a hobby that was more enjoyable than sewing and easier to carry around. I've got a little boy who plays baseball and a girl in dance and soccer classes, so we're always out. My mom taught me to cross-stitch when I was young, and I remember watching all these classic movies where the women would be doing embroidery, so I thought I’d give it a try.
I decided to sell my pieces after I’d made a couple, because people really seemed to like the ones I’d give away as gifts. When I looked on Instagram to learn more about handmade products and businesses, I realized people were making money from items similar to mine. It all progressed from there.
Who was your very first customer?
A gal I worked with at Disneyland was my very first customer. She saw one of the first items I’d made when I posted it on Instagram — a stitched quote from Gone with the Wind — and texted me to see if I could make her one as well. It's always so exciting to get that first commission!
My first random order was a hoop I stitched that said "death before decaf." I think it went to somebody in Maryland. I remember trying to look her up because I'm always interested to see whether the people buying my products are any of my Instagram followers.
I have over 1,300 followers on Instagram right now, so the platform is a great marketing tool, but it can be hard to tell where your clients are coming from.
Of course, followers don't equal customers, but the maker community is so uplifting and it's really about giving a personal element to my business. It's all about engagement and reaching out to fans — I’m forming a relationship, which creates trust, which in turn brings in customers.
When did you know your business was going to work?
The best indicator for me was my very first craft fair, held at a local middle school here in Albany, CA, just north of Berkeley.
I worked hard to prepare an inventory of over 100 items in time for the show, but I sold so many that I was desperately trying to fill or cover up the holes in my display at the halfway point!
I wiped out over half my stock in one day. That was when I knew people liked what I was doing. I think it helps that it’s something different.
What has been the biggest surprise so far after starting your own business?
The sense of community, especially on Instagram, has been the biggest surprise for me.
I was worried early on because the first couple of people I started following would make posts about their art being stolen or their designs being copied, and that made me think it was so cutthroat out there. But the more I became a part of the community, the more I saw how supportive makers were of other makers.
How do you price your products?
This is something I still struggle with. Initially, I looked at what it was costing me to make my product, in terms of time and materials. But I also had to dig in and decide what I would be willing to pay for the product. It's a mixture of a lot of things, and I'm still learning how to price properly.
At that first craft fair, I had several people tell me they were shocked when they found out how much I was charging. Some said they would have paid double!
I learned from that, and realized my prices weren't set in stone.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I'm up at around 7:30am to get the kids to school. We're out the door by 8:10am. I try to go to the gym and do a few errands on the way home, like hitting up Hobby Lobby for supplies or dropping off orders at the post office.
Once I'm back, I respond to emails, post to Instagram and stitch until I need to go pick up the kids. If any orders come in that day, I try to wrap them up and drop them off at the post office on my way.
After picking up the kids, I’ll do some more work. Then it's dinner and dishes, and we'll often play board games in the evening. I'm a total night owl, so I'll often stay up until midnight or so to finish up any stitching I need to do.
What would you like to learn today from a community of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?
I'd most like to learn how to grow my customer base organically. I know I don't want to pay for likes or followers, because robots don't buy products. But I still want to grow in a way that’s real and meaningful.
Does anyone here have any tips on how I can do this?
QB Community members, do you have tips for Valerie for marketing her products on social media *without* paying for likes and followers? What is your favorite *free* way to spread the word online?
Share your story with us below! :-)