Sunday, May 22, 2011

Stroke of Midnight Design | Dad's story

My dad turns 58 today.

In my mind both of my parents are still young - Late 30s early 40s. Then I realize that later this year my older sister will turn 30. Her first child, my niece, will be born this August. And every now and then, when the light hits them a certain way, I realize that my parents aren't as young as they used to be.

Dad will always be young at heart and an old curmudgeon all at the same time. He always has been. But time is passing. Time has been a big theme for him as of late. For my entire life he's been a repair man. He's always been able to pull things apart and find what's broken. Recently, he's returned to his passion for fixing things and started a business fixing antique clocks. His hands are his life. But, one day about 8 years ago, the unthinkable happened. A massive stroke brought on by an aneurysm. Time stopped.

It was summer. I was a few months shy of 20 and working at Disneyland. My sister had just graduated from USC and was to be married in a little over a month. I still think of that summer as the year my childhood ended.

When he first called me I didn't think that anything was wrong. He sounded tired but he said he would see me on Monday for our usual father, daughter movie date. But then he called again a few hours later. Asking if I knew our family doctor's home phone number. And I knew something was very wrong. I won't go into the drama of that night. Trying to get someone, anyone, to tell me what had happened to my dad. Driving an hour and a half from Riverside to to Lakewood, praying that we would get there in time. Praying that there wasn't a need to get there "in time."

When I finally did see him, it was a complete shock. It seems like a cliche when people say that loved-ones look small in hospital beds. But it's true. He looked like a child. I'd never seen him look so vulnerable. He spoke slowly and deliberately. He tried to be brave, but he was terrified. I was terrified.

The stroke left him nearly paralyzed on his right side. His speech was terribly slurred. I had to repeat back everything he said to be so that I could be sure what I was hearing was what he was saying. And my father, the rock that I had only seen cry twice in my entire life until that point, was an emotional wreck. The aneurysm had occurred deep in the center of his brain. It effected the speech, coordination, comprehension and emotional centers of his brain. One minute he might be sobbing like his heart was breaking and the next he might start laughing so hard he would turn a scary shade of reddish, purple.

The day after the stroke was probably the worst. Over night the effects of his trauma set in to the fullest extent they ever would. He had walked into the hospital of his own accord. But by the next morning he couldn't even stand. His speech worsened. And his right hand curled up into a claw like shape that only now, 8 years later, is starting to regain it's former movement.

It was tempting for him to just sit back and let what had happened defeat him. But for one, very important, thing. He had six weeks to get up and start moving again so he could walk my sister down the aisle.

Those six weeks were a constant battle for him. He fought depression, family members who thought he was pushing himself to hard and his own tired body to take those first few steps. They hurt and they were slow and unsteady. But they came. First only out of bed. Then to the door. Then down the hallway. Always slowly. Always with help. But he did it.

On August 23rd, 2003 my sister walked down the aisle. Beautiful in a white dress with a bouquet of white roses and orchids in one hand and my father's elbow in the other. We decorated his cane with a bow tie and orchids, per his request. Many of us cried; he smiled, serenely content to know that he had conquered his challenge.

Later that day we asked him how he did it. I had been worried that he wouldn't be able to stop crying that day, but by the end of the night he was tired but had not shed one tear. When I asked him, he smiled mischievously and told me that anytime he'd been tempted to cry, in his mind he a had started singing "Follow the Yellow Brick Road."

It's been 8 years since that summer. He lives independently and takes very good care of his home. To walk into his apartment you wouldn't realize that it's the home of a bachelor. The one thing he's been missing all this time was a purpose. He just didn't know what to do with his life since his early retirement. Then, a few months ago, he got his hands on an old clock. He was nervous that his hands wouldn't be able to do what he needed them to do to get the "old girl" chiming again. But with time, patience and some work he fixed what was broken and he couldn't have been happier when those chimes rang out.

When I told Boyfriend that my dad was fixing clocks again a wide grin spread over his face. When I asked him why he looked so pleased with himself he said to me, "I know what he should call his business."

Intrigued I asked him what it was.

"Stroke of Midnight."

Dad has a weird sense of humor. So does Boyfriend. They click on that level. Dad was thrilled with the name.

Of course, now that he has a name he needs business cards. That's where I come in. I've been working on concepts for these for a few weeks now. For his birthday he gets to choose the design he likes. For Father's Day he'll have the cards in hand, ready to go.

These are the designs I came up with for him. I know which one I would want him to choose, but we'll see what happens.

Happy Birthday, Daddy! I love you. 

- Nic

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

Growing up, it was usually "just us girls."

My father is a wonderful man who has had an active and caring role in my life no matter what. But after the divorce my sister and I really spent the vast majority of our time with our Mom.

I often describe my mom as a little, blonde ball of sunshine. She is the sweetest, most caring and adorable woman I've ever met. She held us when we cried, cheered for our successes and taught us to be strong, independent women.

This is the woman that would rent old musicals and sit with me on the couch as we watched Gene Kelly dance across the screen. This is the woman who told me I could do anything I put my mind to so long as I applied myself. This is the woman who drove out to my apartment in the middle of the night to hold me and tell me it was going to be okay when I had an absolute melt down after breaking up with my boyfriend of six years. Even though I was 26 years old at  the time.

When my sister and I would fight she wouldn't take sides. When we got along she found ways to bring us closer together. She made sure we had the chance to travel. She made sure we appreciated the world around us at home. My mom took me to Balboa Park for the first time and when I fell in love with the place she kept driving me out there.

My mother is a strong enough woman to be strict when she needed to be. She made sacrifices to make sure that her two girls never went hungry or went to the first day of school without new shoes. She continues to keep watch over us and make sure we're taken care of even though we are edging towards 28 and 30.

She is the strongest, bravest, most creative and wonderful person I know. I am so lucky to have her.

Happy Mother's Day, Momma!

I love you.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Etsy Marketing 101 | Service with a Smile

Some of you may have seen on my Etsy profile or elsewhere that I reside in beautiful, southern California.

Anaheim to be exact.

And while I do my best to make Anaheim even more awesome than it is, there's something here that makes the place "magical". A certain theme park known as "The Happiest Place on Earth."

Seeing as said theme park is one of the largest employers in southern California I may or may not have worked for them at some point. (Twice.)

First off I have to say that working at one of the most popular destinations in the United States will teach you a lot of lessons. You learn how to say no with a smile. You can take a child from screaming tantrum to blissed-out joy in under 6.5  seconds. And you may pick up a thing or two about customer service.

My years of serving the mouse were hard work, even though running around with the characters and helping them interact with the guests sounds like a walk in the park. And I learned a lot about how to turn a bad situation into a shining example of *ahem* Schmisney magic.

So what makes their service so great? What's the secret ingredient? And how can you make that work for you?

First off - Smile! Okay so clearly if you're interacting with people over the internet they aren't going to know if you're smiling or not. But don't be afraid to let a little bit of your personality show. Sure, you're selling a product and you want your customers to take you seriously. But if they have a great interaction with you and get to know you as a person they are so much more likely to come back. And bring friends even! Being friendly and personable never made any business transaction worse.

Be enthusiastic! This one rolls into the one above but takes it to the next step. If you're blase about receiving an order that doesn't make your customer feel very special. Thank them for their purchase. Ask them if there is anything else you can help them with. Maybe they have a special request for a minor change - be gracious and never treat a request as a burden.

While we would like our buyers to respect us, does it always cross our minds to respect the buyer? They've given us  their money (or are considering it) for an item that they are trusting us to deliver, intact and on time. Make sure to respect their time and offer timely responses to inquiries. If you don't have time to give an entire answer at least shoot them an email acknowledging that you got their note and you'll get back to them at a later time. And try to be specific about when you'll get back to them if you can. Nothing is more annoying than waiting to hear from someone with no idea when or if they'll ever respond.

The thing our friends in Anaheim are best known for are their efforts to go above and beyond. This is a lesson that has stayed with me since I first started working there as a freshly graduated senior from high school. Even if it's just something little like putting a hand written thank you note in a customer's shipment. It's all the little things that add up.

For my shop it's easy to go the extra mile. Every item is customized for the particular customer. I like to offer a little something extra for each person I work with. Whether it's a second version of the file with alternative color combinations or just some extra help getting their files printed.

Taking that time to treat each person as if they were your most important customer helps them to remember who you are and keeps them coming back for more.

Meanwhile I'll leave you with a statistic - the average person will tell 2 or 3 people if they have a good experience working with a seller. If they have a bad experience they'll tell 7-10. If you go out of your way to go the extra mile and show them how much you appreciate their business, that's when they can't stop talking about you. And for a small business, word of mouth is your best marketing strategy!

Until Next Time - Nic

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Etsy Marketing 101 | Virtual Merchandizing Featuring Etsy Seller GemstoneIsle

First - let me get this little disclaimer out of the way - This is not an Etsy endorsed blog. I am an independent marketing specialist and when I joined Etsy I noticed that many sellers were asking for help getting sales in their shops. So I decided to put my marketing knowledge to work and set up this blog series. I'll be covering a wide variety of topics from social networking to actual tutorials on photography. So let's get started!

The visual appeal of your store is one of the most important ways to get sales. Dark, uninteresting, out of focus photos can be the death of a shop even if you have a great product to offer. In a brick and mortar store this would be a situation in which you need to consider your visual merchandizing. In this case we'll call it virtual merchandizing. 

Gemstone Isle - Otherwise known as Sherry Spiers - is a fellow member of the Help for NEWBIES team on Etsy. Sherry is actually a Lawyer from Florida and when the recession hit she "made lemons into lemonade" and decided to take her freed up schedule to follow her passion for jewelry design.

Visit Gemstone Isle at
Although she has no previous experience in jewelry sales, marketing or merchandizing, her shop is beautifully presented, has solid, high quality photos and a cohesive layout. Sherry was kind enough to do a brief Q&A with me when I asked her about how she decided on the presentation for her shop. 

Kwirk  - When did you first start designing jewelry and what was your inspiration to start?

Sherry I started designing and making jewelry about a year ago. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for awhile, but I never thought I had the time and wasn’t sure I had the creativity to do it. I am a land use lawyer and the recession hit my practice area pretty hard, so I decided to just go for it, turning lemons into lemonade, so to speak. I’m glad I did. Designing and making jewelry is relaxing, stress-reducing, and so much fun.

K - What inspired the theme of your shop?

S - Islands have been a persistent theme in my dreams and imaginings since I was a little girl and saw the movie South Pacific. I fell in love with Hawaii. I would make muumuu’s and hula clothes for myself and my sister Vikki and had a little ukulele I played. My sister now lives on the Big Island of Hawaii (a photo of Waipio Valley on the Big Island is featured on my shop banner). When I visit her there, I feel like I’ve come home. There’s something spiritual about the place, and the people are so beautiful, warm and welcoming. I live in Florida which has its own beautiful islands that I enjoy visiting, especially in the Florida Keys. So an island theme came naturally to me when I started my jewelry business. 

K - What sort of materials do you like to use most?

S - My material choices continue to evolve, but at this point I have four favorites. I love crystals, especially Swarovski crystals, because of the sparkle and the wide range of colors available. I love semiprecious stones because of the endless variety and beauty of what nature offers. It’s really quite amazing and inspiring. Karen Hill Tribe silver is a favorite. I like knowing that it is handmade by native people, and that buying it in some small way helps native people sustain themselves. More recently I have begun to appreciate handmade lampwork glass and incorporate that into my jewelry. It adds a different and complementary texture to other materials, and I appreciate the art and talent required to make it. 

K - What sort of preparations did you make before opening your shop? Did you do any market research?

S -  I just jumped in and am learning as I go. I don’t know much about market research and marketing in general and was na├»ve enough to think “if you build it, they will come,” which of course is not the case for most people. It takes hard work to establish a new business. If I had to do it over again, I would do some market research first or hire someone to do it for me.

K - Your photos are a great starting point for a newbie, how did you settle on the style of photography that you chose?

S - That, too, is evolving, but basically the style flowed from the shop’s island theme. I try to use props consistent with that theme, like the sea shell featured in a number of the shop photos. I also visited a number of etsy shops and continue to be inspired by the creativity of other online sellers.

K - What sort of camera do you use for your product photos?

S - I invested in a D3000 Nikon camera, which I like very much. For me, a point and shoot camera did not produce the clear, crisp photos that are so important for an online business. 

K - Do you use a flash on your photos or natural lighting?

S - I read a lot of advice about photographing jewelry and all of it says to avoid flash photography because of the harsh shadows it can create. I don’t presently have a light tent, so I stick with natural light, especially morning light, and that has produced the best pictures for me. 

K - If there was anything you could change or improve in your shop what would it be?

S - The photography, definitely. Photography is an art form in itself and seems to be the one thing online sellers struggle with the most. I try every day to learn something new to improve my photography skills.

K - What was your goal for opening your shop on Etsy?

S - My goal is to work for myself and build my business to a point where I can support my family and continue to indulge my passion for jewelry making. Etsy offers an opportunity for a lot of exposure, the sellers are so helpful and supportive of each other, and the fees are affordable, especially for newbies. I really enjoy this online venue.

K - Is there anything else you would like to share with our fellow newbies and readers?

S - I want to thank you for the opportunity to discuss my jewelry and invite all your readers to visit my etsy shop. I am always open to questions and suggestions.

Sherry is a bright and charming woman who took her good business sense and found a way to make her passion work for her. I have no doubt that her shop will be a big success and look forward to following her progress as she becomes more widely known. 

Here are some images of products from her shop.
Red Coral and Fresh Water Pearls
Blue & Green Swarovski Crystals
Vintage Italian Bead Earrings

Although they don't all have the same background the theme is consistent and clearly shows that all the pieces belong to the same collection. Also when you visit the page for each individual item you will notice that she uses all of her available photo slots and takes pictures of her jewelry from multiple angles. 

Sherry also mentioned doing research on jewelry photography. Researching photography styles for your particular specialty is key. You wouldn't shoot a necklace the same way you would shoot a bench. Fashion, product and editorial photography are all very different styles. Look into the styles that different people have used for a product that is similar to yours. If you find something that speaks to you, take note of it. Study what makes that particular style appealing to you. Do you think you can emulate it? Maybe you need a little help with the technical aspect. Look for online tutorials on photography, check your local library and start following blogs on photography.

Also, choose your setting carefully. Where you take your photos makes a big difference. An image of your product just sitting on your bed might not seem as well thought out as if it were taken in it's "natural habitat" or somewhere suiting the theme of your shop. 

In Sherry's photos she features her jewelry displayed on seashells and rocks and uses palm leaves as an accent. Not only does this bring visual appeal to her items, but it also takes her away from having bland catalog style images. In another instance you might be selling vintage typewriters. Displaying it on a desk with an accompaniment of coordinating office supplies sets the scene for your product. Or conversely it might be interesting to show it on a tree stump outside. The contrast in product and location creates intrigue and interest. 

Lastly - lighting! One of the most challenging aspects of capturing a good photo of your products is light. You may or may not have noticed that the flash on your camera is not your friend. Flash tends to create harsh shadows and can make your photos too "contrasty." Instead, take your photos somewhere where there is a good natural light source. Outside or near a window with morning light is usually ideal if you don't have access to professional lighting tools. Just be careful not to get into direct sunlight or else you'll be battling those harsh shadows again. Another good trick is to shoot with your back to the sunlight. That way you don't end up with an overly bright background. 

Properly merchandizing your shop to make it look cohesive, well thought out and established definitely makes a big difference in whether or not people will stick around to see what you have to offer. Take pride in your products! Show them off to their full potential. If you love them and treat them like they're something special people are bound to agree. 

I've taken the opportunity to include links to a couple photography tutorials for all of you. Feel free to visit them and see what other people have to say:

This site has a huge variety of "How To's" for a variety of different types of products

The title says it all - Professional Looking Photos Without a Professional!

Happy Merchandizing and check back soon for the next Etsy Marketing 101 topic!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Kwirk Confessions | Maybe I'll Just Check on that One More Time...

When I put my mind to something I throw all my effort into getting it done.

Said in that way, it almost sounds positive. What it really is, is obsessive behavior. There have been times in my life that I've decided that I want to do something and by jingo it's going to get done! And I'm going to be the best at it. And it's going to be a breeze! 

And by the peak of my obsessive cycle I'm run ragged from trying so hard, emotionally fragile from waiting for the fruits of my labor to ripen and should probably be pried away from my computer to spend time with "Real" people. 

I've been wanting to start a design business of my own for years. But I've always put it off for one reason or another. But recently dear old Sallie Mae (or as I like to call her The Cruel Mistress of Student Loans) has been knocking on my door. Doesn't she understand that I'm a starving artist? I'm a single woman on the far edge of my twenties living alone in a tiny studio apartment in a not very nice area. Money is just a tad on the tightish side, okay? 

Not wanting to have to spend the rest of my life dodging the lovely student loans people, I decided to toss my hat in the ring and see what happens. It has now officially been a week that my Etsy shop has been open. I've been putting all of my marketing knowledge to use: solid branding, good virtual merchandizing, using social media to network and boost my reputation as a "serious designer"... (Please imagine me saying that with my chin up, striking a superhero type pose.) I even know that I can't expect for there to be any profit or to even any guaranteed sales for the first few months. 

And yet...

Every time I post a new item on etsy I rush over to to watch if people are viewing my items.

"Has it gotten a favorite yet?"

"No views?! But it's been a whole five minutes! Look, damn you!"

"Why doesn't anyone like that piece? I like that piece. Don't you like me??"

And it's not just craftcult. It's twitter. It's google analytics. It's even my blog.

Tonight, late, when I should be sleeping, I'm going to pull open my laptop and watch as the numbers slowly tick by.

One day I'll look back and laugh at all of this. But right now it's been a whole ten minutes since I last checked craftcult. 

Obsessively - Nic 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Kwirk At Large - Who is This Chick Anyway?

It's about time that I introduce myself properly. I'm Nicole, Nicki, Nic... heck just don't call me "Nnnnn" and we'll get along fine. 

I am a professional graphic designer with a bachelors degree from the Art Institute of California. In my normal 9 to 5 I am the head of the art department at a small beauty company in Huntington Beach, California. I spend my days updating our catalogs, designing and sending out e-blasts, creating custom packaging, managing projects and I am now in the works of creating an internship program for my department. I've freelanced for several years creating branding strategies for small businesses and even doing a little advertising on the side. 

While I love my job in the corporate world, I miss working with clients on a one-to-one basis. That's where Kwirk comes in. I started Kwirk Creative as a way to get in touch with people who want custom designed stationery for special events, personal use or even for their businesses. I have a special love for wedding design and small business branding, but my portfolio is varied and I enjoy a challenge. 

That's me in a nut shell - professionally anyway. 

The personal side of things is bound to leak through here and there. 

Back to the Grind - Nic

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Etsy Marketing Tips | Just Keep Smiling and Talking to Yourself

These are hard times that we're living in. The economy stinks and everyone is searching for a way to make ends meet. Good credit is a myth our parents told us about when we were children. And for many, disposable income in a laughable subject.

So what do you do? For me, and many of the creatives out there like me, we've turned to our talents to make a little extra cash. Whether it's looking for freelance work or experimenting with e-commerce it's a rough path to take.

The market is flooded with people _just like you_ hoping to sell their greeting cards, children's clothing, restored furniture... anything that has value. So how do you stand out in the crowd?

There are lots of ways to show how unique you are and why your product is worth buying. Highlight the things that you can offer that nobody else can. In my case there are hundreds of artists out there selling greeting cards and design services. But I have years of experience creating customer service programs that allow me to offer a level of service that surpasses their expectations. Not only that, but for my design services I'm able to actually advise from a marketing standpoint as well as provide great design.

What makes you unique?

It's tempting to be disheartened by a lack of response when you've poured your heart and soul into what you have to sell. But keeping a positive attitude and remembering that results don't happen overnight makes all the difference in the world. And even if no one is buying, don't count out the people who have just looked at your products and services. They may come back to you at a later date. Think of them as one more person who has seen your work and may share about you with someone else.

Keep thinking positive for yourself. Put a smile on and don't get frustrated. You never know when the dam will break and the sales start pouring in.

Check back next month for a tutorial on how to take great product shots without a high end camera.

- Nic