ET20- Hobby to Profits in Unique Handmade Niche Product

ScreenShot003How Anna Took Her Hobby to Full Time Buisness In Record Time

I had heard of the paper anniversary to mark the first year of marriage but never gave it much thought. But I may be in the minority and for guys looking for gifts for that one year mark it turns out there aren’t a lot of good options.

Which is why finding out you can buy amazing looking jewelry that is actually made from paper was such a good fit for this niche audience. That demand, married with the love of creating tiny paper creations that were beautiful and wearable turned Anna’s hobby into a business.

Ann never planned to be an entrepreneur, but after friends started asking if they could buy her paper jewelry creations she thought she might be on to something. Turns out, she was!

It started slowly, but as demand grew she worked more and more to shift her sideline extra spending money activity into a full throttle business capable of supporting herself and a handful of employees.

Along the way she learned about facebook marketing, building a shopping cart enabled website (more than one!) and how to make products that her customers loved. And she shares the whole start up journey with me on the podcast- it’s a great story and one that is still in the early stages of (bad pun alert) unfolding!

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Twitter: @Paper_Gifts


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Matt: On today’s episode, I am pleased to welcome Anna V of or Paper Anniversary by Anna V. She’s got some amazing creations. If nothing else, I recommend you check out the website the kind of incredible things that she’s able to make. But thank you so much for taking the time to come on. Why don’t you just kinda jump in give us a little background about how you got started and kinda where you are coming from?

Anna: Thanks so much, Matt, for the introduction and thanks for having me. I’m excited to talk with you on your podcast. To give a little introduction, I have to start back from a long time ago when I was like 9 or 10 years old. I was really artistic and I was really obsessed with making paper cranes. That was only the thing that I wanted to do on my free time. Folding these origami paper cranes eventually turned into just experimenting but making different jewelry on paper. I never saw this turning into a business. It was just a way that I would spend my time and decompress. Eventually, different men from the UK and Australia were finding my design and emailing me and asking if I could make a special paper anniversary gift for their wives. I didn’t know that there’s a tradition where you give paper for your first wedding anniversary. This was just the beginning of me discovering that there is a market for people looking for paper gifts for their anniversary. I got started and I decided to choose a really narrow marketing niche. I decided to become an expert in making first anniversary gift for loving husband looking for something for their wife.

Matt: Nice! That’s something that I think a lot of people have heard of but I don’t think, at least until you came along, there was much of a focus on a specific gift market for that. Was that what you’ve found or was it really anybody that was suggesting that particular area?

Anna: Exactly. A lot of people, their anniversary is coming up a few days and they go to Google looking for something and they also try a lot of generic gift sites but have just a whole variety of gifts ideas but there’s nothing really specific with a personalized touch. That’s what I saw in the really early days. They were really drawn to the personal types. The fact that I have made this paper jewelry and the fact that there was a whole story and symbolism behind it, there was really nobody out at that time doing that – selling something online that was so specific and personalized rather than just a general gift site. I decided to do something different and be an expert in that and do something as specific as possible.

Matt: And this started just because it was a personal interest of yours to do these really intricate paper designs and other people saw them and decided that would be something cool but they weren’t gonna do it for themselves, so they’ll get it from you? This was just something you kind of happened into. It wasn’t your plan from the beginning to start a business around doing paper and sort of the other way. The business resulted from people being intrigued by your designs?

Anna: Exactly. I had a totally different life path charted for myself. I went to graduate school. I became a speech therapist and I was working in some elementary schools and in private practice for a while. This was just really my hobby that I would do it at night just to distress. I was just lucky that I started listening to some feedback. People that were giving me their advice and sharing their excitements about this idea of the gift. If I hadn’t listened to what these men were telling me, this would’ve never happened. No, I did not start up with the idea of having a business. I never thought this would turn into something that I would get to do for a living.

Matt: That’s funny that you would use this to distress because I think if I try to fold these tiny little paper things, that would make me super stress. I don’t think I could do that and be stress-free at the same time. These are really intricate designs. Just looking through the website and looking at some of the images, they were really cool. But you are sort of the opposite that I have online, sort of wanted to be entrepreneurs but they weren’t sure what they would get into. You have no plans to be an entrepreneur. You just have a passion for your particular hobby. That turned into a business which is very cool. You said you just started to get some inquiries from people who wanted to buy at that point, what kinda turn the corner for you where you said “Okay. I’m gonna make an actual effort to turn this into a business.”?

Anna: As a hobby, I just had a small website that I have some designs up on and this was a long time ago. I’m not sure if SCO was easier in those days but I knew nothing about keywords. Somehow, people were finding my website. After maybe 5 or 6 people asked about using it as their first anniversary gift, then I quit. I thought “I’m gonna try this angle. Just marketing to these men looking for a gift and just to experiment and see if that works.”

Matt: So you went to figure out how to set up a shopping cart and enable people to actually order designs and made the effort to kind of layout some products that you’d be able to replicate to fill orders for and then just took a flyer to see what would happen?

Anna: Exactly. Since it was a hobby of mine and I never had really serious intention of anything turning into it, I spent years and years just dabbling in growing the business on the side, learning how to make my own business card, learning how to make the best packaging, learning how shipping works, designing my product and then little by little I was leaning about web design and the basics of coding. In the beginning, it was nothing professional and presentable, but since I spent just so long as side interest, I had time to like use the trial-and-error and learn from myself how to make it really good. It was 2014 that I decided to finally make something professional out of it. I did some research online about the best e-commerce platform and I decided to go with Shopify. I thought it was the best the e-commerce platform that would be able to grow with my business. There’s a lot of different aps that you can add on as your customers need more pictures on the website. It was just really intuitive and simple for me to understand. So, I signed up for Shopify and over the course of the weekend, I just sat in a coffee shop, uploaded a few items, put a biography and the site was up.

Matt: Wow! That sounds like a good commercial for Shopify. We’ll send them a bill. Well, that’s awesome. I think it’s supposed to be easy, hopefully. Its 2015. Building an e-commerce site should not have to be as hard as it used to be in the old days. Certainly, your site looks fantastic so they’ve done a good job on that. Now that you’ve got a site, a professional presentation, was that where you transitioned to doing this full-time or were you still working at that point supplementing your income? I guess. I don’t know if the site is the income or the working was a supplement or vice versa. But some point, it must have flipped over for you.

Anna: Yeah. At that point where I built a website, I still wasn’t really thinking big. I thought “Maybe I’ll sell a few things in months.” I went on vacation to Florida for a few days and all of the sudden, I opened my email in the morning and I had like 6 orders in one day. I was completely surprised and that was the first moment when I thought “Wow! This could actually turn into something.” So, I would say about 6 months after I build the site, I was able to quit my job. I was doing 2 jobs in the beginning and it was really challenging kind of splitting my time and my passion into 2 totally different directions. So I decided finally that if I wanted to really have my focus on this and have this be my primary passion. I needed to just devote my good hours of the day to this project.

Matt: Yeah. I think once you become serious about it, you realize you really have to do it full-time or else it’s never gonna get over that hump and be what it could be. So, now, are you still the main or the only creator or your products? Are you still the one that does each one of these by hand or have you gotten some help at this point to help you get through all the orders?

Anna: Yeah. Very early on that, I knew that I needed some help. I was staying up late at night making things bend over my desk at the same time, trying to do customer service, running to the post office and I was feeling like I was about to burn out pretty quickly. When you are the one having to make everything, you could lose the passion for it because it’s physically exhausting and time consuming. So, early on, I went on and started looking for some other really talented people who I would be able to teach my techniques to because these are techniques that I had taught myself and developed and it was challenging to find but I was able to find someone and train them and I now have somebody helping me with making good products and making sure that they are perfectly intricate. It lets me keep my passion for the business and also devote a lot of time to marketing and growing things and doing everything kinda from the back end of the business.

Matt: Well, I’m sure there’s still, aside from making the products, you still got to come up with new designs and source all the materials for actually building them and then come up with the packaging and do all the website stuff but there’s plenty of work to do. I have no doubt. What have you figured out in terms of marketing to grow? Again, once you kinda decided “Okay. These 6 orders in one day, this thing is for real.” And then, you turn the corner and want to do it full-time. Then, you really gonna ramp up the volume. What did you do to grow your business from there aside from just getting SEO results?

Anna: The most challenging thing I think about running a business is the marketing because you can control the product. You can make something as perfect and beautiful and customer friendly as possible but marketing is constantly changing. Different marketing strategies that I was using in the very beginning had totally changed. I had a gap and get used to marketing channels, burning out and having to starting over with a new approach. For example, Facebook advertising was very good for my business in the beginning. I was able to run some Facebook ads, get a lot of people interested and purchasing things. Market has changes and different features in ad words and Facebook ads so Facebook, I’m no longer focusing so much attention on right now because it wasn’t working after a while. I kinda go through a process of experimenting all different advertising channels to see if it’s gonna work and then choose the one that I’m gonna focus on. Is any of you, the listeners, haven’t read the book Traction? It’s a wonderful book to give a brainstorm about all different marketing channels that you might not usually think of as the ones that you’re gonna use. That’s really been helpful for me.

Matt: You mentioned Facebook worked for a while and then kinda stopped kinda giving you the ROI you were hoping for. What are some of the things that you see that are working today?

Anna: Well, I’m in the process of experimenting with whole new channels that have just been released in the last few months. So, Instagram has just released marketing connected with Facebook. They have promoted pins now on Pinterest and Pinterest advertising. These are totally new so they are just accepting people to start using them. So, I’m experimenting with these and see where they are gonna go. But it’s really good to be like subscribing on different email list and blog just to know right when a new marketing channel is released because in the beginning, there’s not always so many people using it. It was a good time to experiment with it and be one of the first adopter.

Matt: Yeah. I think a lot of people have had success. Ad words in the very early days was inexpensive and effectives. Then, Facebook ads and on and on. It’s constantly trying to stay in front of that wave and be one of the first adopters. As long as the audience is there, you can usually find something that will work for you at least for a while. The problem is over time. It becomes less effective and sometimes not effective at all. I would imagine one of the challenges with your business to be a paper anniversary once a marriage. So, you have the challenge of once they come and bought and even if they’ve been extremely happy which I’m sure they are, then, where do you go from there? Are you constantly looking for new clients? Right?

Anna: Exactly. One thing that I didn’t know starting out was that the challenge of helping your customers find you and not underestimating marketing costs. I think a lot of people open an e-commerce shop not knowing how much it actually costs to acquire a customer. Starting out, pricing my products, I didn’t know to account for all of those extra costs that goes into marketing and advertising. Over time, I’ve had to learn. I’ve seen a lot of people who priced their products taking into account how much the product takes to produce and how much the materials are but at the end of the day they are not making any profit. They’ve taken all the consideration all the costs that goes into it. This is something really challenging and really surprising to know how much costs goes into the marketing especially the ad words and the PPC channel.

Matt: Definitely. You have to have all of your crossed absorbed in that one sale vs. people where they are making recurring sales and can advertise the cost over lifetime value. I would imagine that most of your sales are one and done. Although, that might be something. If people buy from you and they really like what they get, if you can come up with some other products, non-anniversary related products and email those satisfied buyers, you may be able to increase that over time. But obviously, all of that, as you said, is just a matter of experimentation.

Anna: Exactly. I do have a lot of happy customers right now for the holidays ordering an extra gift for their wife. And I am also working with my friend, Chris, who runs and we are working together to create other beautiful jewelry gift for all of the other anniversary because each year has a different traditional material associate with it. The 2nd anniversary is the cotton anniversary, etc. we are working together on trying to give the customers a continuous tradition that they can stick with during their whole marriage and not just dropping off after the first.

Matt: Yeah. That would be great. Cotton, I’ve never heard of that. I guess you got a nice sets of sheets. I’m not sure what else you do out of cotton but you probably have some good ideas. Not my department I guess.

Anna: Andy Samberg was just on Ellen DeGeneres last week and he told Ellen that he’s been following this anniversary tradition and for his paper anniversary, he gave his wife a piece of paper that said “You can buy the table you want.” For the second, he gave her a sweatshirt for the cotton anniversary that had a grandma got run over by a reindeer on it.

Matt: Okay. Wow!

Anna: You know, there’s just funny ideas out there but not only so many elegant and beautiful ones. That’s really what we are aiming to do.

Matt: Right. What have you done? It sounds like you’ve put some systems in place. You switched to a more sophisticated shopping carts. Are there anything else that you’ve done to kind make the business run more smoothly so you can focus on the parts that you do best?

Anna: I have been working on finding people that are really talented and that you can really trust to delegate different things too and learn from their expertise. For example, a really good Google ad word manager, people who work in PR, people who work in blogging, there’s people whose expertise is bad and it might take them a quarter of the time that it takes me to learn about those things and manage them. So, delegating has been challenging but it’s been something that’s been able to free up my time and allow my to do the things that I’m best at which are developing wonderful products and interacting with the customers, making sure that the experience is a match for them and just spend working on making everything a little bit more automatic. How to make social media management more automatic and less time consuming for us?

Matt: It’s one of the things that we see all the time too as bookkeeping. A lot of people have tried to do it themselves but they threw up a lot of time doing it and a lot of times, they are not doing it correctly because they are not experienced in it. They don’t have any education in it and so they are making mistakes. Sometimes, these even end up costing the money. So, I think, knowing when to delegate, even though it does cost something, your time is generally more valuable than whatever you’re paying to delegate out something that you don’t do that well anyway. It’s just one of the lessons that entrepreneurs have to learn the hard way more often than not after other experiences trying to do everything themselves and just running out of time in the day and then finding out, they would’ve had a lot better result if they’ve given it to an expert in the first place anyway.

Anna: Exactly. I will admit that. I was a little bit nervous when I knew that were gonna be talking because I generally don’t get along well with accounting.

Matt: Fair enough.

Anna: Accounting is really the least interesting aspect of my business and for a long time I put it off until Tax season. I really wasn’t looking at any of my finances until April came around. I learned the hard way that you have to look at that before you even start selling because all those costs that are going into the product, you need to know because that really determines how much you are charging the customers and how much you’re gonna be making. So I appreciate reaching out and getting to experts to help you in the things that you don’t want to do or that you don’t have the time to devote too.

Matt: I definitely think of myself as an entrepreneur first or an entrepreneur who happens to do accounting vs. an accountant. So maybe that’s why I don’t seem as scary as you’ve thought. I mean, I understand entrepreneurs because I am an entrepreneur. I think a lot of accounting professionals understand accounting but have less experience with business and maybe have only ever done accounting. They just have a different view of the world than I do maybe. I think that helps with a lot of my small business. I think I’m a little bit relatable on that level. But to your point, the accounting, the numbers of your business are one of the key elements of it. That does not only see what you’ve done but it will help decisions going forward. Not tackling it, well, I understand. There was a recent poll that bookkeeping was actually the number one most hated small business task. That made me feel good. But you’re definitely not alone at all in putting it off and not tackling it till tax time. A lot of people just associate it with taxes but it’s actually a business information system and something that if you do it and keep it up and do it right can actually help you not only run your business better but I find it kinda rewarding to see how the sales grow over time and profits grow over time. It’s a way of keeping track of your success in black and white vs. just “I feel busier.” Or “It seems like we’ve got more orders or whatever.” You can see your bank balance actually improving and your profits improving and everything else. But, not doing it yourself is probably a good idea for most people.

Anna: One of the things that I’ve learned, Matt, through running this business is how good it feels when you find someone who’s passion is the thing you hate the most. I cannot stand accounting and I cannot stand Google ad words analytics or anything with analytics. It’s just not how my brain works. The minute I was able to find somebody to help me with it like the Google analytics is the best feeling because there’s someone out there who’s passion is what you detest and that’s wonderful.

Matt: Yeah. I hear it all the time. People say “It’s been a great peace of mind to find you because now I know you can take of it. I don’t have to worry about it. You’ll do a great job and I won’t have to think about it.” So, it makes a lot of sense that works on both levels. And I always tell people, “I don’t do my own plumbing for the same reason I don’t like to mess with plumbing. It’s not my thing. I much rather have an expert come in and take care of it for me and then I don’t have to worry about it.” Same concept. So, where does your business go from here? You mentioned you’re working on some partnerships and growing your product line and so on. Where do you kinda see things going over the next 12 to 24 months?

Anna: I’m gonna be taking a vacation the next 2 weeks, the last 2 weeks of December and then starting in 2016, I have a whole new game plan. I’m gonna be trying out new marketing channels, working possibly with the PR agency to get the word out there in ways that I haven’t tried yet. I would just like to help more loving spouses find me because I know there’s a lot of people out there looking for something perfect for their anniversary. My customers are genuinely really happy. I have over 400 5-star reviews so I know that if I find the people who I’m looking, I can really help them have a memorable anniversary. I really just want to work on in increasing my visibility online and offline and keep doing what I love.

Matt: That’s awesome. I have a lot of conversations with different entrepreneurs and a lot of times it comes back to just focus. Focus on what you do really well and if you do it really well and you spread the word that pretty much guarantees that you’ll reach success sooner or later. You already had success but it’s just a matter of getting bigger and bigger and getting the word out more and having even more people see your designs and have an opportunity to purchase your kind of amazing products there because I think they are super cool. My paper anniversary has long since pass by but I would certainly recommend it to any of my newlywed friends to check it out. To that point, for people who are interested, where’s the best place for them to go and find you?

Anna: The online website is I also have an active Facebook page. That’s just called Paper Anniversary. The Instagram is @PaperAnniversaryJewelry.

Matt: Awesome! Well, I really appreciate your time coming on and sharing your story and telling us some of your start up struggles and challenges and the success that you’ve reached. It’s been great to hear your journey. Again, thank you so much for sharing it with us.

Anna: Well, thank Matt! And thanks so much for helping out entrepreneurs like us and supporting us in our endeavors.

Matt: No problem. Whatever I can do to help, I feel like it’ll always come back. There is such a thing as business karma. So, if I can help somebody else along the way, id figure one way or the other. It’s just helping the world. Overall, it will come back. It’s all good.

Anna: Well, thank you!

Matt: Alright! Have a great rest of your day!

Anna: Bye!

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