I always thought it would be really cool to be an artist. My family is also very creative, so they’ve always supported me. When I was younger, I didn’t necessarily want to own a business, but I knew I always wanted to use my art to make things that comforted people.
I worked as a seamstress while I went to college studying cultural anthropology and spent my spare time sewing for myself and making quilts for my family. I loved making things so much, but got to the point where I realized I had to do something more with my items than just give them away as gifts.
Then, I read an article in theAmerican Craft Council’s magazine that featured a woman in Texas who sold handmade, dyed quilts and it was a realaha! moment for me.
I openedmy shop on Etsyin the Fall of 2012 with only four quilts. That year I also participated in theHover Craft Christmas craft fair in Milwaukee, which really got things going. After that, I got involved with a few small locally owned shops in the city and also started selling to shops in Chicago and Portland.
Who was your very first customer?
I found my first customer in the bar I was working at part-time, about a month after launching the business. She ordered a custom quilt for her daughter.
I tend to get a lot of custom orders — people find me on Etsy and then get in touch to see if I’ll make them something specific.
When did you know your business was going to work?
In the Spring of 2013, I was contacted by Etsy to see if they could feature my shop on their homepage. I also heard fromKnit Wit magazinebecause they wanted to use my products as props for a spread.
To have peers take notice of my work was exciting. The exposure didn’t result in a huge increase in sales, but it gave me the confidence I needed to keep going.
What has been the biggest surprise so far after starting your own business?
I’m surprised that, even after all the time and effort I put into the business, I still have so much enthusiasm.
It can be exhausting at times, but the fact that I can still draw from a well of creativity after all this time is a nice surprise — as is the fact that I haven’t given up!
How do you price your products?
I know I’ll never really earn what I should for all the time that goes into making my products. This said, I do try to take into account the price of materials and the amount of hours I put in. Quilts are tricky to price, but smaller things like cushions and wall hangings are easier.
If I can make and duplicate an item quickly, I can set the price at something low like $40 and leave it like that.
When it comes to quilts, though, my pricing structure is always being tweaked to take into account changes in the market, the fact that I’m getting faster as I get more experienced and my ever-increasing knowledge of my customer base.
What does a typical day look like for you?
This business doesn’t support me fully financially yet, but I work on my art daily. It’s more of a lifestyle than anything else.
I recently moved to the country, and don’t have another job to go to, so my days run at a leisurely pace. My husband and I live in Northern Wisconsin, in the house that my grandmother grew up in. It used to be a fully functioning farm, so we have 200 acres of land that includes fields, wetlands and forest. My envrironment makes finding inspiration easy.
I spend the morning walking my dogs and respond to emails when I get back. I might poston Instagrambefore my husband leaves for work, then
I’ll start digging in to figure out what I need to make in the day to fulfill orders.
When I’ve made a plan for the day, I sit down to sew, paint or do whatever needs to be done. In the evening, once I feel like I’ve done all my business things, I’ll work on art for myself and brainstorm ideas for new quilt patterns. It’s really not a structured life, I just take each day as it comes.
If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you would do differently when starting your business?
I wish I’d gotten more involved in the crafting community of Milwaukee when I lived there. There are so many crafting events and lots of opportunity for collaborating with interesting people, but I only really dipped my toes into that scene. I knew a lot of the people who were involved in it, but I didn’t make it a priority to meet more.
Branching out and networking is something I strive to do more of in the future.
What would you like to learn today from a network of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?
How do people track where their customers come from? I ordered something online recently and was presented with a questionnaire that asked me whether I’d found the store through Google or social media. It was a genius idea but so simple, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it before.
I’d like to know how they did that because it would help me work out which forms of promotion I need to be paying more attention to.
Can *you* help Jenna start tracking where her customers come from?
QB Community members, do you have a system set up for tracking where your best customers are coming from? Do you measure referrals from social media or from your website? If you have ideas for Jenna about how to get started, share them below!