Today we meet the dynamo that is Leigh-Ann (many of you might already know her as LA) of Freckled Nest! LA is the lady behind the Indie Biz courses, and she has heaps to share with us today about how she’s gone from having a crafty hobby business to now running an 11-person creative business!
Can you take us on the journey of your creative career path so far? You’ve done so many different things already…
I’ve always run Freckled Nest with one personal motto, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” (Nest pun!). As you mentioned, there is a variety of things I’ve made under the umbrella of Freckled Nest but because my style has been fairly consistent, no matter how diverse my products are, they seem to naturally go well together and offer a nice range of my ideas and abilities. Almost all my goods started as a gift that I made for someone or something I made myself for fun. I almost never intentionally sit down and make something just so I can sell it. I like that it was originally something my heart developed, or that I got obsessed with making and thought others would enjoy also.
Freckled Nest started as a hobby business in 2006 because I loved the process of inventing and constructing mini albums but I had made & gifted way too many and I was spending a lot of money on supplies. Freckled Nest’s shop was a way to share what I loved to do and a way to replenish supply money and keep going + going.
After a short stint in local craft fairs, I was introduced to blogging and soon found Etsy— blogging and etsy were a perfect combo for me and things really took off. By that time, I was really falling in love with small business and Freckled Nest became my dream job! I focused on made to order products and items that were made really well & existed nowhere else, including Photobooth Albums, Customized Craft Totes and eventually, Blog Design with a twist.
What was the turning-point for you… the moment when you knew it was time to put aside doubt (and the day-job!) and just go for it?
For the first two years, I concentrated on my goal to transform Freckled Nest into my career (and dream come true) and I put all my energy and extra time into making great relationships and developing my style + products. It was an incredibly exciting time in my life and in 2008, I felt prepared and ready to go full time with Freckled Nest! It was a big move and one I needed to make work– I was a single woman with a mortgage, debt and a dog.
Looking back, the move to full time was a little premature and I was oblivious about what was to come but my three greatest strengths got me through it– I’ve got passion, great problem solving skills and I’m extremely persistent (ie.stubborn). The first 5 months after I quit my job for FT Freckled Nest were extremely hard and I wasn’t selling enough to keep ontop of my bills.
I started reassessing my gameplan, met with a few business friends and knew I still wanted to move forward with my FT plan. Through that assessment, I figured out how I’d earn a full time income each month and still keep the dream alive– and it worked! The biggest change I made was to offer larger ticket items… I was a one man show originally selling products that ranged from $15-$40 and that meant I had to sell 50 to 150 pieces each month to cover my monthly obligations. That price-point was perfect when it was a hobby or part time but it was impossible (for me) to sustain, both in making and selling. The solution: alongside my original goods, I started integrating higher value items which included larger custom albums (made for a family with their photos) and Blog Design Packages.
In time, Blog Design Packages became my top seller and I had a waiting list revealing this as a viable direction and that their was an eager customer base. I had found my niche and choose to focus FN’s product range mostly on blog design and branding. Even though I no longer stock tangible products, I still share my love for innovation + handmade items on LA-TV (my live-streaming craft-a-long show), in online classes and on my blog– I come alive at the opportunity to make something with my hands, from scratch! I’d love to put handmade products back in my shop this year– I miss it!
Over the last 2 years, I’ve also co-taught a few online craft classes with Elsie and the Red Velvet girls and my biggest accomplishment– co-created Indie Business with Jill Munro. Indie is a dynamic online course that has helped over 1400 people approach their goals in small business with lessons focused on Starting, Surviving and Succeeding (Indie 4.0 will return in early 2012). I’ve also co-created Home Ec, a sewing e-course for beginners taught by myself, Rachel Denbow and Courtney Tucker. Our Home Ec course has taught over 1300 beginners and those looking to strength their existing skills and technique, how to sew with step-by-step sewing projects focused on progressive development, introducing a new skill in each project (Home Ec is available here). I love taking and teaching online classes + e-courses!
In 2010, Freckled Nest grew bigger than I could manage alone and it was time to branch out. I’d always been watching for a local person I could see sharing the company with and at the end of last year, I found her!
I partnered with Kyla Roma in January and we now co-own Freckled Nest. She’s been the best thing that has ever happened to FN and I’m so happy to have her as a partner. Soon after we joined up, we leased a studio/office in downtown Winnipeg, Canada and hired a team of designers who are amazing bloggers, exceptional designers with great vision and women we admire. We also hired 2 more formatters (4 in total) so that we could design for all blogging platforms including Blogger, Typepad, Self Hosted WordPress, Squarespace and Tumblr plus e-commerce sites like Big Cartel and Shopify!
Our Freckled Nest Family is a team of 11 people and here’s the neat part– our staff is worldwide! Because our business is online, we included but were not limited to local options– so we put a ‘we’re hiring’ call-out on our blogs and over 40 applicants came in. We were flattered & impressed and choose 5 that were a perfect fit for Freckled Nest! We have a dream team and will soon be growing again!
You have gone from being a one-woman-show to having a staff, and office, and a hugely thriving business. I know I find the idea of hiring staff very daunting – what advice would you give people who think they may be ready to take that step?
Hiring staff was extremely exciting– Kyla and I loved that we could share our neat job and work with a team! We had a two step process– First, we put out a call amoungst our peers that briefly explained the way our company & design program works, the type of designers we’re looking for and 5 questions for applicants to submit. Narrowing down our top choices was based on 3 things: do they meet the criteria, do they fit in with FN’s aesthetic and outlook on life and lastly, do they have a personal design style somewhat different from others on the team (we’re like the Spice Girls, everyone has their own flavor).
The second step in hiring was a test– we created a fake client looking for a blog design. The process allowed the applicant to show how they interpreted the clients needs and how they apply their own style. It was really neat because each applicant had the same “client” but they all turned out very different while still suiting the client. That was such a fun way to make our final decisions and gave us proof that we were picking perfect matches.
When Hiring a New Team Member:
- Be specific about what you’re looking for and what you have to offer.
- Decide what’s important to you in your decision process and ask questions based on that. (For example: Positivity, heart and style are important attributes of Freckled Nest team members and we never want to lose that. Instead of trying to gather that information in an interview, we looked for in-action examples by requested links to the applicants online world (safe to ask in our case). This also gave us an impression of what clients would see when visiting their Designers blog and twitter.)
- Make a test project similar to what the staff member will be doing in their job and have them complete it as part of their application. Give the information needed for your potential staff member to do a good job but protect the techniques and resources specific to your company until you’ve actually hired a person.
- Lastly, be prepared to train immediately with written training materials, a resource list, and time to train your new staff members. (Kyla and I created our materials while hiring and it took longer than we expected which caused a gap in the process. We now have a rule that we don’t start anything new until we’ve got everything ready to make it happen).
Are there times when your creativity and inspiration seem to disappear? How do you handle that?
Kinda… when I get too busy, I have a really hard time being creative and I can’t enjoy the journey (that’s a big deal to me). When this happens, I take a break and do a few productive things to size down my to-do list, get a good sleep and try again the next day. This usually helps!
What has been the best marketing move you’ve ever made for your own business?
We don’t do a lot of intentional marketing… our belief is that if you do great work with all your heart and share about what you love, people will love it with you! And this has been incredibly powerful. I guess you could say my blog is my best marketing tool– but I try not to treat it like one.
What is one piece of advice you’d like to give fellow makers about running a successful handmade business?
Go above and beyond in everything you do!
Do you believe that a person needs to have a certain set of traits – or a certain way of looking at the world – to become a successful creative entrepreneur?
I’m hesitant to answer this question because I think there are lots of different recipes that can make a great entrepreneur. That being said, there are some traits I’ve seen that stand out in my mind.
I think these are especially valuable qualities:
- a person who turns their dream into a plan, with lots of steps
- a person who wants to learn from everything they encounter/make/experience
- a person who can be their own cheerleader
- a person with a can do attitude
- a person who is resilient when something isn’t immediately successful and that is even more driven when it doesn’t come easy
- a person who cares about their customers
- a person who has endless ideas flowing (beyond product development, it’s superhandy in blogging, marketing, photoshoots, branding, trendsetting, etc)
- a person who is likable and socially involved
- a person who is patient
- a person who adapts as things happen, rather than wanting to ‘stick to the plan’
Having a creative business means you will encounter a lot of unexpected opportunities (and maybe roadblocks). When one comes your way, figure out how to work it into the plan and keep going– some of the best ideas and products come when you have your eyes & heart open and are willing to adapt. I never knew I’d be a blog designer when I started Freckled Nest… I didn’t even know how to design– but I saw the opportunity, assessed if it was right for me, learned how to do it and went for it! Now, it’s what makes me most happy and has brought a lot of success & expansion to our company. So happy I went for it.