Getting out of the box: Etsy virtual labs recap #1

Jamie Shelman drew this picture of me while I was giving my talk!

In the beginning

When I was asked to talk at Etsy’s Virtual Labs last week, what came to mind was how to think outside the box when you’re marketing your stuff. But when I came up with the list of things I wanted to talk about, I realized that it wouldn’t be “thinking out of the box” anymore when all I’m doing is just rehashing some of the things you’re better off reading about elsewhere, from people far more knowledgeable than me.

So then I scrapped that and came up with something far more basic, but one that is in my opinion, ignored completely when you’re first starting out. I’ll liken this to a day job. One day you went for an interview, and you got that job – which you think will just tide you over until the day when you find out what you really want out of life. Well you slog and work at that job for a year, and then it morphs into 3 years, and then 5 years. Soon you snap out of your haze and realized that this was NEVER your dream job, and you just wasted 5 years into something that you’re not sure you even want. So now I’ll coin the talk as “getting out of the box”, as it’s never too late to start organizing your thoughts and to put your business back on track.

Starting a business takes a lot of work. You get caught up with the grind, and develop a reactionary workflow that eats up your time.

My talk was not based on giving out quick fixes for your business. I’m in the same boat as all of you – I’m building a brand, and so are you – whether or not you realize this right at this moment.

Etsy’s core sellers are a little different from normal businesses. Other businesses are set up to generate a profit. You are an artist. You sell NOT just for the profit, but you’re selling little pieces of yourself.

Some of you may be selling your works to earn some extra cash, some of you may be doing this just to fill up your time. But I know many others who are doing this because they love what they’re doing, and want to share it with the world while earning a decent living.

Building a brand and a business – not just a shop

Anyone can start a shop.

But here’s the thing.
Are you one step closer to bridging the gap between you and your dreams with your current business?

Setting up shop isn’t as simple as it seems. There’s photographs to be taken, copy to be written, and things to make. It’s okay if you’re not sure where this is taking you, or what you’re going to do ultimately. Experimenting is all good, and I’m all for it. But having a goal will make things go smoother because if what you’re doing doesn’t fit into your goals, it will be THAT much harder to build a reputation or your brand, much less to sustain it – because you don’t know what you want yet. Discovering creativity and also thinking about what you can offer to the marketplace is important.

I read an article by Sarah of thesmallobject about consumerism and about how the world has gone a little buying-crazy, and I do agree with her. And also she touches about the subject of artists, and that you’re actually investing in her – her creativity, her work and her potential when you purchase her items.

#1: A story

When you’re putting yourself out there in marketplaces in Etsy, what makes you different from other sellers?

I look for a story. A linkage. A connection. Feelings; emotions. And these are the elements that make a particular artist successful. They all have a story to tell. They challenge the norm and offer a twist to convention.

This is the reason why copycats won’t last long They do things for profit, and this they do by riding on other people’s coattails. Put them out there long enough and soon they will lose their ability to have an original thought. I love the quote “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” by Edgar Degas.

You can make your header image prettier, take better photographs, modify your text to make it more Google-friendly (and of course, increase your search engine optimization (SEO), but the truth of the matter is, is that NONE of it will help you if you don’t have a story or a passion for what you are doing.

< to be continued…>
Here’s Part 2 of the recap!


This is a little intro the the talk I did for Etsy’s Virtual Labs, and I’ll return to talk about Part 2 which is a continuation of the rest of the things you need to have when you are building your brand; perseverance, being focused and also knowing your own value.

If you’d like to know when the second part is coming out (any day now!), sign up for our mailing list.

Creativity, Competition & Copycats

In part two of my recap on the Etsy Virtual Lab talk on Inspiring Creativity, I’ll be covering the topic of creativity in business, creative competition and what to do when you are challenged by a copycat.

Do you spend your time worrying about copycats?

Creativity in Business
I believe that small businesses are fun. And that as a small business owner, the best thing about spearheading a creative business — no matter if you’re an independent store owner, an Etsy seller or a freelance writer — is that you are able to change your strategies whenever you feel it’s necessary.

Unlike the bureaucratic red tape that big organizations have, you’re in charge of your company’s fate. If that marketing strategy isn’t working? Change a new one then. Not happy about how people think about your items? Find a way to make it better. It’s all up to you to steer your ship. And that’s why creativity in your work will also reflect in the way you do your business. When you train your mind to think out of the box and to experience new things, you are letting in fresh perspective instead of allowing yourself to follow just one track or just meander in the footsteps of others.

Challenging assumptions is also a powerful way to see what is wrong with the current state of your business. Why is one tactic better than the other? Measure your results constantly, and from then build on the information that you know. Without testing and refining on a strategy, you’ll never find out what works and what doesn’t, and may give up before weighing in on your options for improvement.

Creative Competition and What to do About Copycats
I believe that competition is a good thing, and I believe that monopoly breeds complacency. During the course of your research, you’ll be taken to competitor sites of whom you glean a little inspiration in the making of your own wares subconsciously or not.

This is not wrong. Almost everything has been done before. The trick is in how you interpret the idea and make it yours. Making things better is one option. And so is changing aesthetics. But your goal ultimately, is to solve a problem.

So what if you created the perfect product?

What if you are afraid of getting ripped off?

My take on it is that you can be angry for awhile. Write them a note telling them you are on to them. Do it again if they persist. But here is when I say stop.

By acknowledging and pursuing the matter with a copycat, you’re wasting valuable time and energy focusing on the wrong thing. You’re an artist. A designer. Someone who is creative. And what do creative people do? They work on that next big thing. They innovate. And being innovative and pushing the envelope is what every small businesses should be doing.

Unless, of course, you might be afraid that you can’t possibly do better than your current creation — and that’s when a lot of people has let fear (and anger) gain control of them. Yes, you can get a lawyer, a letter to cease and desist, and fight it out till the end. At what cost though? If it’s substantial enough an amount, the answer might be yes. But for the rest of us, what do we do? We move on to bigger, better things; because once you’ve made something great, you should have that quiet confidence that you’ll be able to do it again. And don’t just say it. Put your heart into it.

And here’s an important thing to consider. The copycat items aren’t as fabulous as yours. And their price point would probably be lower to entice customers. If competing on price is the only thing they can offer, what good will it do for their business? I figure they have to work twice as hard to make that knock-off look believable for a very tiny profit. That my friends, is not what you would call a viable business. Yes, it’s irritating, but for the most part, it’s just plain stupid.

The most important thing you need to remember is that your copycats are serving a market entirely different from yours, and you have no fear of crossing paths or wrestling with them for what you deserve. One caveat: If their item is way fabulous than yours even though you thought of it first, then turn the tables around and learn from them and make it even better. The point is that you do something about it.

Great ideas made by designers and artists are copied all the time. Mass production allows everyone to get their hands on them at a lower price point. Remember mobile phones? They were almost the size of a suitcase when it was first launched, and yet people still bought them! But what happened? People got busy and tweaked the design, making mobile phones smaller, faster, lighter. And the process is still ongoing. Bigger corporations with mass production plants and innovators serve a different market, and if we take an objective look at the situation, we have them to thank for that mobile phone we have in our pockets, instead of it being something that is only within reach of a select few.

So there you have it — this was the gist of the whole talk which I thoroughly enjoyed doing (the time seem to just fly by!) Of course there were other fun bits, like how I tell others that I watch Southpark when I’m stuck in a rut (anyone like fishsticks?) and also how my husband mixes weird cocktail concoctions because he’s not afraid of introducing something new into his drinks (or mouth for that matter.) and so he’s also my hero when it comes to freeing the mind to accept new things.

I’m already planning a return to Etsy’s Virtual Labs in the next coming weeks, so if you’re interested to see me up there again (without the cowlick this time, ahem), it’s best to subscribe to the Pikaland mailing list.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts and I’m always up to learning more, so fire away!

P/s—For those who missed it, here’s the first part of the recap.

Inspiring Creativity: 9 tips to be more creative

9 tips to be more creative

As promised, I’m having a recap of what I talked about on Etsy’s Virtual Labs. The topic at hand was Inspiring Creativity, and so I’ll break it down to more manageable chunks about how to be more creative — remember all these ideas aren’t new at all, but these are the ones that worked for me to get me into gear:

About fueling creativity:

  1. Creativity is fueled by experiences, sights, sounds and smells. Sitting still won’t bring new ideas in; experimenting and trying new things will jog your creativity.
  2. I maintain a certain pattern to the day, with my morning bath signalling me that I am starting my work with a fresh mind and spirit. After breakfast is when my day officially begins — I turn on the radio and look at my to-do list (see #3).
  3. I jot down notes every night before I go to bed about what I need to accomplish the next day. This way, I’m actively placing my worries onto paper so I can go to bed not fretting about what needs to be done.
  4. I have a box labeled for each different project I’m involved in. So I toss everything I have in one box, and I don’t worry about misplacing things or ideas. This one was inspired by The Creative Habit
  5. I also keep a different sketchbook for different topics and ideas. I have one for business, one for random sketches and another for my writing. And in these sketchbooks I sometimes allocate different sections so that my thoughts don’t get messed up too much (there isn’t a search function on them, like a computer does!)
  6. And I throw these sketchbooks all over the place, so when I have a thought I scribble it down quickly.
  7. I try and find the pattern between things, and connect the dots between random things just for fun when I’m stuck in a rut. Like when I see the color yellow around me, and then I start to focus on finding yellow things — stuff that I didn’t notice before will show themselves to me. I’m heightening my sense of awareness because I’m narrowing my focus to one thing.
  8. Doing things differently helps. I love calligraphy, but sometimes I seem to be stuck in a rut — it seems that I could only write in a certain way! So I stop, and see what others are doing, and try to analyze what I could do differently. A little more pressure on the downward stroke? Or how about adding more flourishes to that letter? It took me about a week of constant practice to free up my hand. If you’re stumped for ideas, have a look at Keri Smith’s 100 ideas to get you started.
  9. Practice, practice, practice. Creativity is like a muscle that you need to flex regularly. I dread staring onto a blank piece of paper, but everything begins with that first stroke. I’m a perfectionist, so I train myself to not use erasers at all when I’m drawing. And if I do make mistakes, I start on a new piece of paper — that way I let new ideas in and not just dwell on what I previously did.

Here are some books in my collection that I pick up whenever I need a boost:

  1. The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp : I love this book. Twyla is a dancer and choreographer, but a lot of the things she has to say cuts across all disciplines.
  2. How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum by Keri Smith : Keri reminds everyone to put on their explorer goggles and look at the world with new eyes — I did a review of her book here.
  3. Living Out Loud by Keri Smith : Although the book is a little girlish for guys, I love the article she wrote about how to find what you love to do
  4. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho : This is an amazing book that I pick up and read again and again. The message is simple — you won’t find what you’re looking for until you follow through on your dreams.
  5. How to be an Illustrator by Darrel Rees and Nicholas Blechman : I like how they talk to illustrators and get their feedback on running a creative business.
  6. Lines & Shapes by Lena and Mav : Amazing artists and beautiful, beautiful pictures. I have volume no. 5 and I treasure it.
  7. The first issue of the Good to Know project : I like keeping a copy on my bookshelf so I can read up on what my friends have to say about being creatively stuck.

Stay tuned for the second part which I’ll be posting tomorrow It’s ready! Click here to read the second installment of my recap about competition and copycats!


p/s: Talking and reading all your thoughtful messages during the Virtual Labs session (especially the whispers that some of you passed on) made me feel so much better! But I do have to say that reading the chats while having to focus on talking was a little hard, mainly because I wanted so badly to talk back to each and every one! 🙂

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