Categorized | Shoestring Startup

Handmade, Eco-friendly & Fun: The Journey from Blog to Full-Blown Business

My name is Mallory Whitfield and my company, Miss Malaprop (http://www.shopmissmalaprop.com), got its start as a blog (http://www.missmalaprop.com) in 2006. My company specializes in the very best in unique handmade and eco-friendly gifts, made by a variety of talented artists.

My intention from the very beginning was to use my blog to build up a strong brand image and customer base, which I would use to later expand to first an online shop and later a local brick & mortar retail boutique. I launched my online shop in March 2010 and I’m currently still working my way towards a brick & mortar location here in New Orleans, where I’m based. In addition to selling online, I also participate in a lot of local events, including art markets, fairs and festivals.

Through my blog, I’ve managed to earn some steady, and some not-so-steady, advertising revenue, and I’ve also picked up a variety of freelance writing gigs over the years through the blog. Creating extra revenue streams, like ad revenue and affiliate income, made it easier to cover new expenses as I began to expand my business.

I started selling handmade & eco-friendly products by just a few designers at first at local events, beginning in June 2009. As my sales have grown, I’ve gradually added more and more designers into the mix. I work with many of my artists on a consignment basis, at least at first, to help keep my costs low and to test products first before I decide whether or not to buy them wholesale. I try to focus mostly on bootstrapping and putting any profits I make back into expanding the business, though I have used business and personal credit cards to cover some of my start-up expenses. I haven’t yet approached banks about loans.

I’ve also managed to get a lot of help and advice through various small business programs, including the Small Business Development Center (http://www.sba.gov/content/small-business-development-centers-sbdcs) and the Urban Entrepreneur Partnership, (http://www.uepkauffman.org/) a program of the Kauffman Foundation. I’ve been able to find free mentorship and counseling through both programs, and my local SBDC actually helped me secure a state grant to pay for part of the initial web development and design costs of my e-commerce website. By partnering me with a local web design company, they helped both of us, and I got a much better website out of the deal than I could have afforded otherwise.

My blog and other free social media tools have been crucial for me in building my business. Building my brand first via my blog, before adding on additional overhead expenses, has been really helpful. Through my blog and other tools like Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/shopMissMalaprop), Twitter (http://twitter.com/MissMalaprop) and Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/uproar/) I’ve managed to build real relationships with local media personalities and journalists, which makes it easier to ensure coverage when I have a local event to promote.

I’ve also been lucky to get a few of my blog posts picked up by high traffic sites, including Boing Boing (http://www.boingboing.net/2007/01/15/evening_gown_made_fr.html) and Neatorama (http://www.neatorama.com/2011/04/25/stuffed-animal-dress/). The Neatorama mention actually came about because of a picture I submitted to Craftzine.com’s Flickr pool. A lot of popular blogs and websites have Flickr pools that you can submit images to for consideration. One of the main ways to get picked up by bigger blogs or have your content go viral is to just create great stuff.

I try my hardest to honestly help people and share the information that I know, and I think that has really paid off, as people are very willing to share my blog posts on Facebook or re-Tweet my links. I recently realized that I had compiled so many crafty business related posts on my blog, and other resources, that I finally put together a “Best Resources for your Craft Business” page on my blog (http://www.missmalaprop.com/popular/best-resources-for-your-crafty-business/), to try to help out people who might be going through the same learning process I’ve gone through over the years.

For me, local networking groups and events have also been key. I’m a proud member of a business group specific to craft-related businesses, the New Orleans Craft Mafia (http://www.neworleanscraftmafia.com/). (There are also other Craft Mafia groups around the world: http://craftmafia.com) I was ecstatic when another local business friend, a bookkeeper, recently contacted me to see if I’d be interested in joining what she dubbed a “Bad Ass Ladies in Business group”. OF COURSE I WOULD, I replied! Sharing knowledge with other like-minded entrepreneurs is so helpful – it’s how I found out about the Urban Entrepreneur Partnership program that I’m participating in now, and how I’ve learned countless other things through the years.

Local networking via events has been another great way to grow my business. Since I sell crafts, participating in art shows, festivals and craft markets is an obvious choice for me, but a lot of the types of shows I do invite all sorts of business people to set up a table or booth. I do some monthly community markets where you’ll see artists and local restaurateurs set up alongside massage therapists and hula-hoop fitness instructors! It’s a great way to connect with your community and really get an idea of who your customers are. (Especially great for a business that conducts most of their work online!)

One other thing I would also note, in this age of Facebook and Twitter, is that it’s important not to neglect building an actual mailing list. Getting your message directly to your customers is sooo important, and it’s so easy to miss information when so much is hurled your way via the various social media outlets. Building an email list is imperative. I highly recommend Mailchimp (http://www.mailchimp.com/), as they have a lot of free options for smaller lists, and as you grow their prices stay very competitive. Their service is also really easy to use, plus they’re FUN. (They post monkey videos! And sometimes send their customers free t-shirts! I LOVE my Mailchimp monkey tee!)

Five years in, I’m still very much in the middle of a learning process, and I hope it never stops! Learning and growing is one of the many fun parts of running your own business – I wouldn’t have it any other way!

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