What are the perks of having a niche business? We asked self-employed artist Kristina Montanye
Kristina Montanye wanted to find an original idea in order to stand out from the crowd when it came to starting her own business. After some brainstorming, she decided on combining her dual talents for digital graphics and art to create hand-crafted rubber stamps.
We chatted with her to learn more about how she prices her products, the social media channels that work best for bringing in new customers and why she says being different is the *best* business strategy.
Drawing and artwork have always been my talents and my pastime, so I taught myself Adobe Illustrator and started creating digital graphics. When I heard aboutEtsyback in 2010, I wondered if I might be able to create products with my designs and sell them online.
From the beginning, I wanted a niche business. I did some research and found a local laser engraving shop that could engrave rubber stamps out of my designs. I openedmy Etsy shopafter creating a few of my very first stamps and started getting sales pretty quickly, as well as requests for custom stamps.
When did you know your business was going to work?
There was the moment I knew I had a niche product that people would pay money for. Then, there was the moment I knew I was in business when I had enough orders coming in to give me something to fill my free time.
If my life got too busy, like when my son was born, I would put the website on "vacation mode" so that no orders would come in and I turned it back on when I was able to.
Even when my shop was on vacation during my maternity leave, I was still noticing a good amount of traffic to the site. I would even get emails asking when I would be open again! I then realized that links to my items were being circulated all over the web. I knew the business would grow if I put my full-time effort into it, so I quit my job and decided to focus only onStamp Couture.
How do you get new customers?
What really drove the most traffic to my shop in its first year — besides being on Etsy — was Pinterest and blogs.
Bloggersloveto do item reviews. I got featured in quite a few blogs and got a lot of exposure that way.Pinterestis all about the photos, so once I got the photos of my products really bright and professional looking, they were being shared, pinned and featured all over the place.
What has been the biggest surprise so far after starting your own business?
The biggest surprise for me was learning thathaving a niche businesscan actually have a very large market of customers.
With products and services that serve larger markets, I found that there was heavy competition. There are still huge underserved markets out there, and more are being born every day. I'm now convinced that no idea is too small and being different is the best business strategy.
How do you price your products?
One of the first things business owners consider when they figure outpricingis competitor pricing. When I started my business, I realized I could either adopt a cost-leadership strategy or a differentiation strategy. If my products were differentiated in some valuable way, I could stand out from the competition without the lowest prices.
My products are well-made, on trend and the designs are totally unique. I have only lightly researched my competitors’ prices and, while I can’t be as cheap as big-box craft stores, I've found that many people are willing to pay a little more for a quality handmade item from a family business.
What does a typical day look like for you?
From 7 to 8am, my laser engraver should be finishing up the job that was run overnight — usually an 8x10” sheet of rubber with several individual images on it. Sometimes, when I've had a lot of orders, I still use the engraving shop to help get the overflow done and I pick up my finished rubber from them in the afternoon. I then get my kids ready and dropped off at school.
After that, I may go to my favorite coffee shop to answer emails and do design proofs for any custom requests that have come in. I print shipping labels for the orders that are shipping that day. Then, I go back to my home studio.
After 10am I'm in production, alternating between the woodshop where I make the mounts and my workroom where I assemble and package the stamps. I usually have between 15 and 20 orders to do each day. I pick up my kids from school at 3pm. After 5:30pm, my kids and I make a run to the post office to drop off all my packages, then we usually go to a park or a store to relax.
Between 6pm and 9pm, I have personal time where I usually unplug from the shop to cook dinner, get homework done and get my kids to bed. Later on, I get back online to open the proofs of the latest orders that my sister Michelle has been working on. She will have already spent several hours making the proofs, sending them to customers, making edits and receiving final approvals. I then arrange the images onto an 8x10” area and load them onto my laser engraver’s computer. I start the laser job and can let it run overnight so it will be ready for the next day.
I try to work lightly on weekends or take them completely off.
If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you would do differently when you were starting your business?
I lost a lot of money in the beginning just because I was so excited to launch that I made errors like undercharging on my first several orders and not doing enough research to find the most cost-effective supplies.
That's my biggest weakness with any project that gets me excited: I'm not patient and I don't make a budget!
What would you like to learn today from a community of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?
In the US, it seems like only about 1 in 100 people work outside of a traditional job at a company. We self-employed folks aren't always sure how to live without things like labor protections, company benefits and paid vacations.
It would be interesting to learn about the creative ways in which other self-employed members here have learned to be more self-sufficient and resourceful when it comes to breaking free of traditional employment.
Do *you* have insights to share about being self-employed and learning to be more self-sufficient?
Inspired by Kristina's question, let's kick off a new conversation about what it means to be self-employed — including how to navigate the ins and outs of planning vacations and managing the nitty gritty stuff like health insurance and benefits.
Share your own stories and experiences in the comments below! :-)