Getting out of the box: Etsy virtual labs recap #2

Jamie Shelman sure knew how to keep her hands busy during my talk! 😉

For those who were eagerly awaiting my second chapter of the recap, I apologize for the delay! For the rest who might be wondering what this article is about, well, this is the second installment of the Etsy Virtual Labs recap of my talk, “Getting out of the box”. You can read the first one over here.

Now on to the good stuff.


#2: Perseverance

The truth is, no one starts out fabulous. The Beatles sure didn’t. Tiger Woods for sure didn’t just pick up his golf stick and swung his way to victory.

They practiced a lot. And I bet they failed a lot too — which wasn’t mentioned much – not as much as the wins. That’s one thing I actually wish people would stress and share more stories of – their perseverance and the hard work – and knocks – that brought them there. That was one of the reason why I started the Good to Know project – so everyone can share their advice and inspire others along the way.

When I say persevere, I don’t mean hounding and stalking bloggers, media people or those who you think might want to know about your work. I’m talking about being persistent in getting things right.

I’ll give you an example. I receive many, many emails daily for submissions for Pikaland, and sometimes I may not be able to post all of them in a short time frame. (I do appreciate follow up emails because of this!) Out of all the emails I received, I had failed to respond in time to one lady – who promptly emailed me again. Only this time she asked me what was wrong with her work so that she could improve.

I told her that her work was fine, and very well made – I just couldn’t respond to her in time. But of course throughout my blogging on Pikaland, she was the ONLY person who wanted me to criticize her work. She demonstrated an eagerness to learn, and because she cared about her shop and her brand, she wanted to know if she was projecting the right vibe to her audience. Her persistency stuck out because it was refreshing, and very optimistic. You can’t fake earnestness.
(Note: I don’t really feel comfortable with criticizing other people’s work because I worry how my opinions may sound.)

#3: Be focused

Think about the time when you passed by that pretty shop around the corner. You start thinking to yourself about how nice it would be to have your own items displayed on their shelves; how perfect it would look.

What made that shop different from another? Why do you think that it’s a good fit? It could be the aesthetics, or it could be the curation of goods. Whatever the reason may be, search out other shops and approach them (in the most appropriate way, of course. Read Modish Biztips and get the lowdown on the nitty, gritty details.)

By narrowing your focus, your work will most likely attract the same audience who appreciates your kind of aesthetics – especially if it’s in line with the boutique’s vision. This mentality is the same as when you search out blogs, magazines and members of the press for exposure. Narrow your focus, take aim and shoot.

When you want to spread the word on your business, don’t be a snob. You might aim really high and go after big name bloggers, even though you know that they do not feature your niche (and they have already said so prominently), because, you know, everyone does it.


If you spend a little more time investigating, you’ll find smaller, but no less significant avenues to gain exposure. It’s the same as searching for a shop where you can display your wares: if you search out blogs that attract your ideal audience, then getting that exposure isn’t that difficult at all.

Also, I want to stress that magazines, newspapers, blogs and all are just VEHICLES and TOOLS to get your message across to your audience. No more, no less. This brings us back to point #1: make sure you have a story to tell.

Here’s a tip: when you get featured on smaller blogs, you can bet that big name bloggers and hotshot editors are tuning in. So don’t ever discount small blogs. They usually have a more focused niche and best of all, wide open ears.

#4: Know your value

Anyone who owns a business will understand how unnerving it is to set prices for your product, especially if you are an artist or a designer. They produce work out of passion, and have one of the most covetable jobs/careers ever. At least that’s the way life should be. (we’ll get to the money bit in a minute).

I’ve always thought that the highest salary should go to designers and creatives who use their minds and hands to create something out of nothing. The value of something like that is intangible and priceless.

If you give a piece of paper to ten different artists and tell them to draw one single item, they’d all have different things to show. I can bet you that not one drawing will be exactly the same. Embrace that fact, because there is only one of you.

Why shouldn’t the time spent on honing your skill be counted as continuing education? Just because you don’t have a certificate (like an MBA) to prove yourself, does it make you any less worthy? I for one don’t think so.

Invest in yourself, invest in your business and the commitments that you have shown by charging a price that is fair for all the sweat and tears that went into your work.

I’ll end the topic with this short story told often of Picasso:

Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a bold woman approached him.

“It’s you — Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist.”

So Picasso agreed to sketch her. After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the women his work of art.

“It’s perfect!” she gushed. “You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?”

“Five thousand dollars,” the artist replied.

“B-b-but, what?” the woman sputtered. “How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!”

To which Picasso responded, “Madame, it took me my entire life.”

{ Taken from 37Signals. }

And there you go. Take the time to invest in yourself and take pride in your work. Price yourself accordingly so that you can live in the now, by doing what you love. Doing this well is a service not only to yourself, but will also benefit the entire community of artists, designers and crafters out there.


I hope this recap is helpful for those who are starting out (and also if you’re an established artist who needed a little reminder). These aren’t new ideas, of course. These are the things that have been on my own mind recently. By sharing with all of you, it also helped me think about my own long term goals and made me think long and hard about a few things. If nothing, I hope this recap of my second Etsy Virtual Labs talk will inspire you to take charge of your work and business and take it to greater heights. So go on and tell your story!

Recommended reading

  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
    I love this book. Heck I love Malcolm Gladwell. I love his insights into anything and I wish I could take his brain out for a date, if only to pick at it a little. Outliers made me want to work harder and to stretch myself because I’m in it for the long haul.
  • Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina
    Ok, I think by now you may already know that I love studying how people think! This book is also a favourite because I believe that by not multitasking, we are able to accomplish more. I’m the sort of person who focus intensely at the task at hand and absolutely hate distractions. But having said that, I’m a very sensitive person too, and one who is too busy taking in visual cues from everywhere. it can get exhausting at times!
  • And of course, the Good to Know project is a great resource for all creative types, and makes for a fantastic collection (according to some!) I love how the project has gathered steam and I love getting emails from people who have benefited from the collaboration of wonderful friends of Pikaland.

Extra reading

6 Replies to “Getting out of the box: Etsy virtual labs recap #2”

  1. Alexandre says:

    Just wanted to say a big THANK YOU for your advices, your time and efforts, I really appreciate !

  2. Such great and thoughtful advice! I especially appreciate the story about Picasso. How quickly we forget that each piece of art is a product of all the art we created before it.

    Also, I too wish more people would share stories of the challenges of developing their creative careers. So often, from the perspective of someone starting out, it seems like people just blinked and arrived in their wildly successful art careers. It is a labor of love, but it takes a lot of perseverance, like you said, and as I’m learning. As with everything, creating an art career is about showing up, every day, even when you’d rather stay in bed. (and even artists have days when they’d rather stay in bed).

  3. Thanks from me too! Pikaland has become my favorite place to visit. I always leave inspired, refreshed and motivated.

  4. Aijung says:

    great advice and thank you for the book suggestions. for my new year’s resolution i want to write a business plan and really hone in on what sort of direction i want to be headed in. there’s so much trial and error at times that i think developing a systematic approach to certain aspects would be a refreshing change. of course, as you said one of the most important things is to discover the “story” in your work.” thank you!

  5. Amy@AQ-V says:

    Thank you, Amy… you have really hit the nail on the head. Such solid pragmatic advice and so well written. I greatly appreciate the time you have taken to author this… no small task indeed!

    p.s. Grazie for the recommended reading list! :~)

  6. Lancerika says:

    grateful for your wonderful
    insight and inspiring tips
    it gives me hope to get better
    at creating!

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