What it takes to sell art and handmade products online.
Megan Auman is a jewelry designer, metalsmith, educator and entrepreneur with over a decade of experience in selling art through a variety of channels. In this episode, Megan reveals how she built her own high-end handmade jewelry business, what it takes to sell art and handmade products online, and the mistakes artists make when selling online.
In addition to running her eponymous jewelry line, she is the founder of Designing an MBA, which features business thinking for artists and makers, and Artists & Profit Makers, an online mentorship community. A best-selling CreativeLive instructor, her designs have been featured in Elle Decor, Better Homes & Gardens, Cooking Light and on top-rated blogs like Design*Sponge.
Kurt Elster: Hello, and welcome back to The Unofficial Shopify Podcast. I’m your host, Kurt Elster, recording from beautiful, lovely Skokie, Illinois. It is one of those nice days, where I could see the Willis Tower, formerly Sears Tower, from my office building, on the fifth floor, high above Westfield Old Orchard Mall. And today, we are joined by an entrepreneur who has really chosen to succeed in an incredibly competitive space, and at the same time that wasn’t enough, she also turned around and creates info products, and is teaching people and coaching people in the same space, and has authored a book. Oh my gosh. My head spins thinking about making all this work.
So, our guest today is Megan Auman. Megan has built her own high-end jewelry business on Shopify. She knows what it takes to sell art and handmade products online, which is tremendously difficult to do, and is going to share with us today the mistakes artists make when selling online, and how she succeeds with Pinterest and email marketing. But that’s not it! In addition to that, being a jewelry designer, Megan is a metalsmith, an educator, and certainly an entrepreneur, with a decade of experience selling art. In addition to all of that, she’s founder of Designing an MBA, which features business thinking for artists and makers, and Artists and Profit Makers, an online mentorship community, and a best-selling CreativeLive instructor, with her designs having been featured in Elle Décor, Better Homes and Gardens, Cooking Light, and on some sweet blogs, like Design Sponge. One of my favorites. She even just released a new ebook that sounds fabulous. Try it and See: How To Get Shit Done While Overanalyzing Everything. Man, that sounds like right up my alley.
Megan, welcome. How did you find the time between all of that?
Megan Auman: Thank you for having me. I like to work a lot, and I’m just super passionate about talking to people, and sharing what I do, and also, I feel like half the things I’ve done in the last three months, I should be really clear, because I basically stopped hanging out on Instagram. I was like, “I’m gonna quit Instagram,” and then I wrote a book instead. So, I think it’s for me, there’s a lot of being really smart with how I use my time.
Kurt Elster: Oh, man. There’s already so much to unpack there. I don’t even know where to go. So, a lot of people, like that’s a common thing, like I feel overwhelmed, or I don’t have enough time, or how do you get all this done? And my wife probably gets that question more than I do. But you’re right. You said… Whenever I hear people go, “Well, I don’t have time to do all this stuff.” I go, “All right, when was the last time you binge watched a show on Netflix?” And they’re like, “Oh.” Right?
And of course leisure time is important, but you’re right, you said you saw time going down the drain on Instagram and said, “All right, I’m just gonna quit that and go do something else,” so that… Okay, lesson one. Do you have any additional thoughts there?
Megan Auman: Yeah, you know, I think it’s so important just to think about where you’re spending your time, and what the ROI is. And I totally agree with you, I think leisure time is so important, and actually I’ve been trying to be better about cultivating leisure time, because clearly, if it’s not clear, I’m a workaholic. And so, I think it’s really important to do that.
But I also, I looked at my Instagram stats one day and I was like, “Dude, I’m spending an hour and a half every day on Instagram? That’s a solid part-time job, and I probably don’t need to be spending that much time on there for the ROI that I’m seeing.” I certainly still maintain a presence on there, because people follow me. It’s part of my business. But just really thinking strategically about how you’re spending your time is a big one, because usually there’s time to steal somewhere if you can be smart about it.
Kurt Elster: And what did you use to figure out how much time you were spending on Instagram?
Megan Auman: Instagram actually tells you. If you go under your profile, and you go into insights, it’s like they hide it, because if everyone looked at this, we would all be like, “Holy shit.” Like, “What am I doing with my life?” But if you go under insights, for most profiles, there’s some types of business profiles it doesn’t tell you, but for most profile it’ll actually tell you like, “This is the amount time you spend on Instagram every day.” You can also set alerts to remind you to stop, like to get off, like you can say, “I’ve been here for 15 minutes. It’s time to get off.” It’ll alert you.
But yeah, I just looked at that stat day and I was like, “Whoa, I could be doing other things with my time.”
Kurt Elster: And I will make a book recommendation here. If you think to yourself, “Man, I spend too much time on my phone,” the answer is you probably do, and if it’s like a horrifying amount, and it’s probably true of everybody. I would suggest How To Break Up With Your Phone. I read this on an airplane, and I’m still struggling with breaking up my phone, but it was a tremendously valuable read. It really helped in being mindful and setting limits around it.
Megan Auman: So, I haven’t read that one, but I would also add in there Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism. That was the big one for me that kind of covers that same sort of ground. There’s I think a number of books sort of addressing that, but yeah, I love… I think we need help. We all need help with that, because we’re all kind of addicted.
Kurt Elster: So, we’re five minutes into this, and already we’ve got two book recommendations, so you’re gonna need to free up some time to read those books. It’s like, I used to read so much, and it was so helpful, or listened to audio books and stuff. Audible’s great if you have a commute. And then I’ve got three kids now, and I’m like, “What happened to when I used to just read?” Just, I don’t do it any more. I figure when they get older it’ll start again, but-
Megan Auman: Yeah, well, and what’s funny is I have no kids, and I was sitting there thinking the same thing. I was like, “I used to read all the time, and then I stopped,” and so then I realized the culprit was my phone and made a few changes to fix that.
Kurt Elster: You know what? You’re right. It probably is the phone is the culprit, and I’m just blaming my poor kids.
Megan Auman: Yeah. I know.
Kurt Elster: If I’m honest.
Megan Auman: Well, and it’s funny too, because I… So, I don’t have kids, but I do coach high school cross country and track, so I spend a lot of time coaching.
Kurt Elster: Oh, cool.
Megan Auman: But one of the things that I realized is when I would leave there, I’m like, “Oh, I didn’t look at my phone in three hours and it was amazing.” I was like, “Wait, if I can go three hours while I’m coaching and not look at my phone, I can probably go three hours during my day and not look at my phone, too.”
Kurt Elster: Okay. Let’s get back to you. We’ve established you’ve accomplished a ton, and certainly you have wisdom. You’ve gained wisdom along the way, in that you’re freeing up time and making these mindful choices. But when did this start? How long ago? How long have you been on this entrepreneurial journey, and what was the thing that got it started?
Megan Auman: So, I’m really lucky. I grew up doing art, and my parents were always super supportive of that, and so when I came home one day in high school and said, “I’m gonna be a metalsmithing major.” They were like, “Sure. Sounds great.” So, I actually went to college for metalsmithing, and because I am… I’ve always loved art, but I’m super pragmatic, and my dad owns his own business, and so even though I was an art major, I did minor in entrepreneurship. Which, I will admit, I feel like I didn’t learn anything practical in my entrepreneurship classes, but it did at least establish I can think about art and I can think about business at the same time.
So, I got my BFA in metalsmithing, and then because I had no idea what to do with a BFA in metalsmithing, I went and got my MFA in metals and jewelry, as well, because that seemed like the logical solution. And so, I said while I was getting my MFA that I was either going to become a college professor, or that I was going to start my own business, and I got a one-year college professor job as a sabbatical replacement, and in that one year I learned that I did not want to be a university professor. That was not the gig for me.
Kurt Elster: It’s hard.
Megan Auman: It’s too much bureaucracy. It’s just, it was not what I wanted, and so I was like, “Okay, cool. I’m gonna start my own business.” And so that was… The year that I did that was 06-07, so it kind of gave me that runway to figure out, “Okay, how am I gonna make money from my jewelry?” I started a blog because I was seeing those around and I was like, “Okay, I’m just gonna start this blog thing. I don’t know.” And then I was doing retail craft shows, I started wholesale, and I started on Etsy in 2007.
And I very firmly remember sitting on my bed, with my laptop, publishing stuff to Etsy, and feeling this huge sense of relief, and then nothing happened for like six months. Just, like it was crickets. And in the mean time I was doing other things with my business, but it’s like crickets on Etsy. And then eventually Etsy was never super great for me in terms of sales, and so I was like, “I gotta get off this place,” so eventually Etsy turned into… I think I started on Big Cartel for like a hot minute, and then transitioned to Shopify when I realized it had way more features that I wanted.
Kurt Elster: So, you were on Etsy 12 years ago, and even then it was both… It sounds like it was incredibly difficult and competitive. What do you think the… Having failed on Etsy, and I say it in the most loving way, what do you think the trick is with Etsy? Why was Etsy a bad fit for you?
Megan Auman: So, the reason that Etsy was a really bad fit for me is because my products were priced appropriately, which means they weren’t cheap. That’s the biggest issue that you see with Etsy, is that it’s just like drives the price down like crazy.
Kurt Elster: Oh, it’s unreal.
Megan Auman: It’s ridiculous. Actually, that’s one of the things that catapulted my Designing an MBA blog, was that I wrote a blog post called Etsy and the Culture of Cheap, this was back in like 2010, that gained a ton of traction. Because basically what I was saying is there’s this problem on Etsy that it’s just so many makers create this downward price spiral, and then, and you can’t compete. But fortunately, because I had really good mentors, and because I was already getting into retail craft shows, and getting into wholesale where I was selling to stores, I knew where my prices needed to be, and so at the end of the day I put things on Etsy, and my prices were higher than what the casual Etsy shopper was used to.
So, that was one factor, and then the other one was that I made the classic internet mistake that I think most artists, makers, and probably a lot of people make, which is that theory that if I build it, they will come, so there was very little marketing happening to my Etsy shop on top of that. But what I realized for me is if I’m gonna drive traffic to somewhere, I’m not gonna drive it to Etsy, where my competitors are literally a click away. I want to drive it to my own shop, where I have control.
Kurt Elster: You have so much wisdom. Okay, normally I’m taking notes, and I’m like, “All right, here’s my follow up.” I can’t even keep up on my follow ups. That’s how much good stuff there is in here. Yeah, so 100%, I have noticed and guiltily taken advantage of the problem that you have outlined with Etsy, is you can often… I use Etsy to buy just phenomenal, custom, handmade, one-of-a-kind gifts for my wife, because it is… It’s tough to do gift shopping, and I love my wife, so we’re… I’m gonna put in some effort.
And at Etsy, I’ve gotten the coolest stuff for like nothing, and every time I want to scream, “Oh my gosh, you need to be charging like three to four times what you did for this.” But then at the same time, I don’t want to be the dude mansplaining to people how to run their business, especially when I don’t know jack about Etsy. You’re right. It probably is just a race to the bottom.
Megan Auman: I actually have a Pinterest board called Please Raise Your Prices, and sometimes when I just come across-
Kurt Elster: That’s great.
Megan Auman: … really cool stuff that I’m like, “This is too cheap!” I just pin it right to there.
Kurt Elster: Yeah, just like as an example, a wonderful anniversary gift, I had a fashion illustration of my wife’s couture wedding dress made, and it was like 30 bucks. I mean, and then just recently, we’re going on a Disneyland trip, and for Mother’s Day, one of the gifts I got her was I had a custom Minnie Mouse halter top made. It was less than $20 shipped. It was hand custom made to her dimensions. Part of me was like, “This might be a scam.” Like I’m just getting something from China, because that does happen on Etsy. No, it was the real deal. And I’m like… You know, I try to support these people and write the reviews, but yeah, maybe Etsy’s a lost cause.
So, you gave up on Etsy, but what was your motivation to keep going?
Megan Auman: So, luckily for me, I always had other revenue coming in, so this is one of the other mistakes that I see with a lot of artists and makers now, is they’re like, “I’m just going to build my entire business online.” I’m like, “Dude, online is so hard in and of itself.” It’s definitely an important piece of the puzzle, but when you’re trying to sell one-of-a-kind handmade unique products, it’s really, really tricky. And so, what helped me was that in the beginning, I did a few retail craft shows, and very quickly also determined that was not the life for me. I hated standing in a tent in the rain.
But then I ended up getting into what’s called the New York Gift Show. It’s now called New York Now, which is a big wholesale tradeshow. And ironically, even though I never sold a lot on Etsy, I was at one point the Etsy featured seller, and so the committee that chose people for that show recognized me from Etsy and knew my work, and so I got into the show. So, even though I never sold a lot on Etsy in the early days, it totally opened up a lot of doors for me.
But so, I was doing wholesale pretty much from the beginning, and so right from the start I was generating a lot of revenue, so I knew that people liked my jewelry. I knew what products were selling. I knew what people are buying. And that gave me the time and space to kind of do the slow build in my ecommerce shop, so I could say, “Okay, I’m generating revenue here, and I’m gonna try to figure out this ecommerce thing, but it’s not, doesn’t have to be my sole source of income, because I’ve got stores that are buying my work.” And of course when stores are buying your work, that’s also getting the word out about your business, so then that helps, because a store’s never gonna carry my entire product line. If someone finds me in a store, falls in love with me, they’re gonna come to my website, come to my ecom shop, so it’s also, in addition to revenue generating, wholesale was this whole other form of marketing that was really important to kind of keep my business going.
Kurt Elster: So, if you were able to go back in time and start again, you’d say, “All right, first, I’m gonna put up the basic online presence, just to have it started, and out there, and get a foothold. And then immediately, I’m going to turn around and start trying to sell wholesale.”
Megan Auman: Yeah. Absolutely. And so I would add in there in that basic web presence, the number one thing I would do, which I started a little bit late, but still had the foresight to do, was put email capture right on that web presence, because that is by far and away the biggest way that I sell in my online shop, is through my email list. So, you know, I would definitely get that basic web presence up, but I would make sure that I’m capturing email of people who are interested in my work. And then I would turn around and I would, I would do the same thing all over again.
Even now, where the landscape is different, I don’t think people do… Wholesale shows are still useful. They’re not quite what they used to be, but there are still plenty of stores buying product, and it’s just so much easier to market to a store buyer than it is to try to market to a random person who maybe wants a piece of jewelry, but they don’t really need it, but they sort of like it, but they maybe want it.
Kurt Elster: When you put it like that, it seems terribly obvious, doesn’t it?
Megan Auman: Right.
Kurt Elster: Yeah. Absolutely. You want that email list, and that brand building from day one, and why start with trying to sell… Give people the option to buy, but jump to wholesale, where you could get your message. You can disseminate your message faster, and get larger revenues moving through more quickly, and those are gonna be… Yeah, it’s lower profit, but those are going, it’s also bigger order values, and more consistent order values, and it has that ripple effect of, “Well, other people buy, and then maybe they also buy, and other merchants see it.” Because even if people aren’t buying it, the stuff is still displayed in a physical store somewhere, right?
Megan Auman: Right. It’s literally, you’re getting paid to have someone else market your work, which is such a huge advantage. And it is, it’s just a faster, more consistent way to grow, and then you can use that revenue that you’re generating to sit down and figure out, “Okay, what are the products that people gravitate to? What should I be blogging about? What should I be emailing my list about? What do people care about?
It just helps you kind of learn your line, because I think that’s the other problem is when you just sell online first, you’re basically throwing stuff out, and it’s like, “Nobody’s buying.” But you have no idea why they’re not buying.
Kurt Elster: Right.
Megan Auman: You literally don’t know anything. You don’t get any feedback, which is why I always say you gotta put your work in front of humans at some point. Whether that’s… for artists makers, maybe it’s a retail show. Maybe it’s wholesale. Whatever it is, but at some point you gotta talk to humans about your work, because the internet is not gonna give you any kind of useful feedback if you just throw up your website and keep your fingers crossed.
Kurt Elster: Yeah. No, that approach, as someone on the show… I forgot who, maybe it was Andrew Foxwell, phrased it as you’re going into a cave with a flashlight. There is all of this info out here, this huge audience, and you have the tiniest sliver of the whole picture, because you are so, really cut off from people and feedback in that state. And it makes it incredibly difficult to troubleshoot and scale the business when it’s like, “All right, I don’t…” You literally have no idea what part of this marketing funnel or the site is not functioning, is the reason that people aren’t buying.
You mentioned content. You mentioned like, “All right, this is what I’m gonna… I want to start being able to figure out what I should blog about, what I should send out newsletters about.” You are in a space, you’re making jewelry. I have often seen clients like this struggle to do content marketing. It’s easy to do lifestyle photos, but they don’t know what to produce content about, and today, now more than ever, quality content is how you cut through the noise. Give me the crash course in content marketing for these creative verticals.
Megan Auman: Yeah, so the first thing that I always say is that when you are an artist or maker, you should stop thinking about content as written words, and you should start thinking about it as your images. That’s the huge shift that people have to make, because if you think like, “Oh my gosh, I have to write super, super useful content. It’s gotta be these really long blog posts, or these really long emails,” that’s where you get tripped up and you don’t do it at all.
And so, that’s the first thing is you sell a product that’s very visual, that’s very visceral, and so that’s how you should be connecting with customers. And so, when I started thinking about my blog, because I’ve been blogging for a long time. Like I said, since 2006. But when I started thinking about my blog as not being a blog where I wrote blog posts, but as actually a container for images that I wanted to share on Pinterest, all of a sudden it took off as this… I think there was one year where I did like 250 blog posts in a year, which his a hell of a lot of blog content. But most of it is because they were just-
Kurt Elster: 250 in a year?
Megan Auman: 250 blog posts in a year I think. No, maybe it was only 200. Either way, it’s a lot of blog posts in a year.
Kurt Elster: Well, either way, I mean if 250… You’re posting more than every other day, sometimes in a row.
Megan Auman: There were literally entire months where I posted every day, where I blogged every single day. But it was basically an image, and then a little bit of me saying something about the image, and then, “Here’s where you go buy my products.” And that was the entire thing. But I was doing that so that I could then pin them to Pinterest, so that I could get people to go, so that’s the first thing is think about image first.
And then I also think it’s so important that we think about how our products are used, as opposed to just how we make them. I did this when I first started blogging, too. I was like, “Here’s me in my studio.” And I still share those types of images, because that kind of connection is so important, so that people know, “Hey, you’re buying from a real human and not a factory, or not a scammer in China.” So, that’s important, but it’s also important to help people see how your art, or how your products fit into their real life, and so now a lot of my blog content is me being like, “Okay, I’m gonna stick a ring on my thumb, because then it’s easier to photograph, and I’m gonna hold up my coffee mug, and I’m gonna take a picture of it.” Or like, “I’m out in the world, and here’s me holding my iced latte, and now I’m gonna take a picture of that and put it on my blog.”
And I do that because honestly, that content does incredibly well on Pinterest. It gets shared. It gets seen. Because people want to see products in use in real life, and then that’s the entire post is like, “I went to Florida and here’s me holding my iced latte and wearing a ring, and here’s where you buy the ring.” So, I think that’s the thing is artists and makers tend to really overcomplicate content, but if you can think about either A, how you deepen a connection with your audience, or B, how do you show your products in use, those two things right there could give you years, or in my case decades of content.
Kurt Elster: You just laid out the whole strategy. You gave away the farm!
Megan Auman: I did. I just gave away the whole farm. And you know what? I do that because I guarantee you that 99% of the people listening to this are still not gonna do it, because they’re gonna put up all of these mental roadblocks about why it’s too hard, or why it doesn’t work, or why they can’t do it, and so they’re not. And so I’m gonna… I tell people. Every person I talk to I’m like, “These are the things you should be doing. And you should be putting those on your blog, and you should be emailing your list.” And they go, “Yep. Megan, I believe you.” And then they don’t do it anyway, so I’m gonna give away that farm all day long, because most people aren’t gonna take the advice anyway.
Kurt Elster: What’s happening there? What is this? You have someone, and I see this all the time. Somebody goes, “All right, I want to start my business. I’ve got this thing I’m passionate about. I’ve even validated it. Tell me how to get more sales.” And you’re like, “All right, well, here’s the exact strategy, and it’s honestly not that hard.” And then they’re like, “Yeah, you’re right.” And then they don’t do anything. What’s going on there?
Megan Auman: There are a couple things. So one, if we’re looking at content marketing, that is a slower build strategy. You’re not gonna write one blog post and then suddenly have like a million dollars in sales. It doesn’t work like that. But people think like, “Oh, I wrote one blog post, or I sent out one email, and nobody bought anything, so clearly it doesn’t work. Megan lied to me, I’m gonna move on.” So, I think that’s the first thing, is they don’t want to put in the time to see that commitment.
But then I think the other thing is we get shiny object syndrome. You’re like, “Okay, well, yeah, I have to blog, but I also have to be on Instagram, and I have to be on Facebook, and should I be doing YouTube? And what about this other thing? And you know, maybe I should start a podcast. And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And so people get in this real sense of, it’s like decision paralysis, or like procrast-research, or whatever it is. They think they have to find all the solutions, and they never just bother to implement one of them, and so they just get caught up in their own brains. And part of that is like a… I don’t want to say like a stall tactic, but it’s like, “Well, if I have this idea, and I tell people about this idea, then it’s an idea that might work. But if I start doing it and it fails, then I’m a failure.”
And so, I think a lot of that is, it is like that fear of failure, of like, “Well, if I just talk about the idea, then it’s still good. But as soon as I start doing it, if it doesn’t work, then that makes me a failure.” Whereas I tend to look at it as like… That’s why I called my ebook Try It and See, so the idea is that you just try everything, and some things work, and some things don’t, and I don’t actually call anything a failure. I just pretty much call it all learning experiences. Oh, so I tried that, it worked, it didn’t work. And if it works, I keep doing it.
But going back to the content marketing and the email discussion, those things aren’t gonna work because you did them once or twice, or even five times. It’s that build over time, and so you have to give things time to mature, too.
Kurt Elster: Yeah. In your case it sounds like all right, the… Many of your efforts, to see results, it was like, “We’re gonna see maybe results in six months.” In 12 months we’ll be like, “Okay, yeah. That worked.” Whereas if you do it for even a month and give up, what’s that gonna do for you?
Megan Auman: Yeah, and that’s why I always really like to think about balancing my business in terms of things that get me cashflow, get me money immediately, and then things that I can do over time, and so that’s why I have those two aspects of I have the wholesale side, and then I have the ecom side, because the wholesale side is pretty easy to generate revenue pretty quickly, like you email some stores, you say, “Here’s my line sheet, do you want to buy it?” And some of them are like, “Cool, let’s do it.” So that’s a really easy way to generate revenue quickly, whereas right, the blogging, maybe it’s six months till you start to see some traction. Maybe it’s time until things start to go viral on Pinterest.
You know, someone might join your email list for a while, but it might take them a while, especially if you’re selling more expensive products, right? It’s unlikely that someone’s gonna land on your website and be like, “Dude, I really want that $480 necklace,” and buy it the first time, right? It not never happens, but it’s not something that you can expect to happen necessarily right away, and so you have to balance this. How can I make money today? That’s one of the questions I always ask, is how can I make money today, but with like what can I do to set myself for success in the long-term, as well.
Kurt Elster: What are the typical strategies or tactics there?
Megan Auman: So for me, the making money today thing, in the beginning like I said, it was retail shows and it was wholesale, and even now today, it’s like, “Okay, well, if I don’t see money coming down the pipeline, the first thing I should do is email my stores, because I guarantee you somebody somewhere needs to reorder some product.” And all I have to do is email them and say, “Hey guys, do you need something?” And generally the answer is yes if I actually do it, so that’s the first thing.
And then the second one for me is actually emailing my list, and so I have a couple of lists. If I’m not emailing my store list, then I’m emailing my retail list for my website, and if I’m not emailing that list, then I’m emailing my list for Designing an MBA, so I’m literally emailing someone and making an offer, is what I found to be above and away the best way to make money today.
But I’ve also put in the work to build those lists, so if you aren’t, if you don’t have those lists, then making money today might literally be like cold pitching a store, or emailing some friends and being like, “Hey, can you spread the word about my line?” Things like that.
And then I balance that, like I said, with that content marketing strategy, where it’s either, “Here’s a blog post or here’s some content that deepens the connection,” or, “Here’s my product in use, and here’s where you can buy it.” And those… That’s pretty much the whole thing. That’s the bulk of everything that I do. That’s the whole thing, right there.
Kurt Elster: You make it sound so simple and easy, which in itself, actually is a sign of intelligence, certainly. And when you lay it out, it’s like, “Oh, duh. Why doesn’t everybody do that?” What would be the mix or balance you would approach to time invested in my today money versus my long-term set myself up for success strategy?
Megan Auman: That’s a really good question. So, for me, the long-term set myself up for success strategy, I like to keep that pretty short in terms of the amount that I spend on it on any given day, because I think that if you spend like four hours writing a blog post, and then nothing happens, that’s really disheartening. And so for me, those kind of sowing the seeds, make money in the future things, I like to keep those like, “I’m gonna write a blog post in 15 to 20 minutes, and then I’m gonna pin it to Pinterest, and then I’m gonna move on with my day.”
I am a very, very big fan of that, which is easy when you think a blog post is one or two great images, and a little bit of text and a link. Well, you can do that in 15 minutes, and half the time I’m taking them on my phone now. I do. I have a lot of images that I shoot on my DSLR, but as phone cameras keep getting better, I’m like, “I don’t need to get my whole camera out.” I’m gonna get out my phone, and then I’m just gonna send that right to my computer, edit it for two seconds, and put it on my blog. And so, I like to keep those short, and then maybe spend more time or chunks of time more on doing those more immediate things, like going to a trade show or emailing my stores.
But for me, honestly, the reason that I like to keep all of this stuff simple is I want to spend the majority of my day in my studio making stuff. And that’s what I see with my audience, with the artists and makers I work with, too. It’s like I didn’t go to school for seven years for metalsmithing so that I could spend all day on my computer or on my phone. I went to school for that long so that I could be in my studio making things that I love to make, and so my goal is always like I want to keep things super simple, so that by 9:00, 10:00 in the morning, I’m done with my computer crap for the day. I call it my marketing mornings, so I get out what I need to get out, and then by 10:00 I’m into the studio, making work, getting stuff out the door. That’s, for me, really how everything that I do is in service of like, “How could I spend as much time in my studio as humanly possible while making money?”
Kurt Elster: That’s such a great lens to look at it through, and it sounds like a lot of, once you have that lens, the tool to enforce it is a lot of time boxing, and giving yourself permission to just get it done, as opposed to, “It has to be perfect.” To misquote Voltaire, perfect is the enemy of done. The actual quote’s enemy of good, but enemy of done works better in this case.
Megan Auman: Yeah.
Kurt Elster: One of your examples was the simple, just the camera one. You said, “Hey, I just take a photo with my smartphone. I don’t pull out the DSLR.” That’s like a perfect example of how people trip themselves up, where they go, “I need to create content. All right. I want to start vlogging. Okay, well, I gotta research vlogging gear. All right, well, I need to buy the vlogging gear. Okay, now we’ve just spent $4,000 on vlogging gear, and all right, now I gotta learn how to edit it.” And pretty soon, what you discovered is you dropped five grand and you have produced nothing. Versus had you just picked up your phone that you already have, instead of creating all these road blocks. It is much more important to create the content than to try and make it perfect, and be the next Spielberg.
Because in no way do you have to be the best. You just have to show up, and that puts you ahead of 99% of people, right?
Megan Auman: Exactly, and I… For me, sometimes I like to run a test of like what is the shittiest thing I can put out in the world, and if the sky doesn’t fall down, then we’re good, so that’s how I started-
Kurt Elster: It’s so freeing.
Megan Auman: It is so freeing, and that’s how I started blogging more with just the pictures I was taking on my phone, as I was… I very much love studio photography. I have lights, I have a DSLR, I have the whole setup, and sometimes that’s really fun, and sometimes that just takes too much time. And so I was like, “Okay, well here’s this kind of crappy picture I took with my phone of my ring, and I’m just gonna put it on my blog, and I’m gonna pin it to Pinterest,” and then it got so much traction on Pinterest that I was like, “Wait, if that image is working, why do I have to do these other images?” I can do them when I want to, because they’re fun, but if the whole point today is I gotta get a blog post up, then sometimes I’ll honestly just open my phone and be like, “What’s already on my phone? Oh, look. I took a picture at the bar the other day of my ring. Cool! Let’s blog that really quick.”
And that’s kind of the whole strategy when the point is get it done so that you can move on to something else.
Kurt Elster: And clearly it works.
Megan Auman: It works. It totally works.
Kurt Elster: So, jewelry’s tough to sell online. Handmade jewelry is harder to sell online, and expensive jewelry is the hardest to sell online, and your jewelry is not inexpensive. I know it’s in the mid-three figures, a lot of stuff. That has to make your life hard. How do you get people to buy? What’s the secret there? What motivates a customer to buy art or high-end handmade products online?
Megan Auman: Yeah, so there’s a couple of things, and the first is that there’s just this feeling of a connection with me, and that’s something that I think so many artists and makers try to skip over, or they miss, is they’re like, “Okay, I’m gonna be this really professional brand,” because they want to be the opposite of what’s happening on Etsy, right? Etsy is like, “I’m trying to… I make stuff in my kitchen table, and I’m gonna sell it really cheap.” And so then if you’re trying to get away from that, then you’re like, “I’m gonna be this very professional brand, and I’m gonna use we language on my website.” And I’m like, “It’s not we, it’s me. I’m a me.”
And so, first of all, if you’re buying something expensive from an artist or a maker, it’s not because you’re looking for the cheapest alternative. It’s because you’re looking for connection, you’re looking for authenticity, you’re looking for some kind of personal interaction, and so the first thing is you literally have to be yourself. And that can be as simple as how you write an email, or how you write a caption on Instagram, where you’re actually talking like a human instead of trying to sound all corporate in speech. And then even just simple things like posting selfies of yourself every now and again, to be like, “Hi. Human. Human makes this product.”
So, I think that’s the first thing, and then if you can combine that with, in some way or another using FOMO, or the idea of scarcity, which as artists and makers, we have that very naturally. One of the biggest collections for me that really changed the way that I market my business, my jewelry online, was my Contra collection, which are one-of-a-kind stones that I sourced on a trip to India. So first of all, there’s a story behind that, right, which creates really great connection. I went to India, I went to this gem shop, I found these stones, so there’s that authenticity, that connection. But then it’s like, “Hey, every single stone is different, so here are these stones. This is when I’m gonna release them. Actually, if you want them first, you have to join my email list,” because that’s… an email list subscriber is way more valuable than a social media follower, so first dibs for me, first dibs always goes to my email list.
But then, if you want them, here’s when they’re coming out. They’re gonna go on my website. Boom. Immediate scarcity, and that drives people to buy, because it takes that, like, “Okay, I kind of like it. I want it,” to like, “Oh, crap! It might not be there tomorrow? And so I’m gonna pull the trigger.” And sometimes that means pulling the trigger on some pretty expensive pieces, like pieces in that collection, when I first released it, because I wasn’t sure if I would ever get the stones again, were in the $200 to $400 range.
Kurt Elster: In that assessment, I heard a lot of implied mistakes that people make, like valuing social media over email, and approaching everything as like, “We at ACME Corp.” You know, when it’s just like one person in a garage, and not being personal and the face of the brand. Off the top of your head, what are the common mistakes you see other artists making when selling online?
Megan Auman: Yeah, so like I said, that first one is trying to be a we instead of a me, so I’m gonna be like corporate brand, instead of saying, “I’m a human. I’m an artist. I have this vision,” so that’s a big one. The second one is very simply not emailing their list enough because they don’t want to bother people, so I actually had a woman in my online community tell me just the other day. She was like, “How do I get my email followers to follow me on Facebook?” And I was like, “Wait,” and I was like, “So, how many people do you have?”
She’s like, “I have a thousand email subscribers.” And I was like, “Dude, that is the wrong question. Why would you ever want to send those people to Facebook where you lose them?” But she’s like, “Well, I don’t want to email them, because I don’t want to bother them.” I’m like, “That is… Literally, these thousand people who saw you in person and met you at a show want to know about your work. Please email them on a regular basis.” Plus the other one is that even if they understand that email is important and they’re collecting it, they’re just not emailing enough because they don’t want to bother people, so that’s a big mistake.
And then I think just putting up a website and hoping that people show up and buy is definitely a big one, and I would say an overreliance on copy and words, rather than telling a story with their visuals. Literally, my sister used to have a gift-buying business, and so because of that, she would spend a lot of time reading Amazon reviews of things, and she would always say it was amazing how many people would say, “Well, I’m giving this a bad review because it wasn’t the size I expected,” even though the dimensions were literally listed in the product description. If you want to show someone how big something is, stick a human in your picture. That is gonna be so much more useful than saying, “It’s 2.75 inches,” because you know what? Most people can’t visualize 2.75 inches anyway.
Right, instead of saying, “How can I write better copy,” because honestly, a lot of artists are pretty terrible writers. We’re not taught how to write. First, we’re not taught how to write like humans, and second of all, we’re just not taught to write. But instead of trying to make your copy work, let your images do the work for you. We make visual products anyway. So that’s the other thing, is they get so stressed out about what they should say, and to me it’s like, “Let the pictures do the talking.”
Kurt Elster: So, certainly mastering photography sounds like it would be a valuable skill here.
Megan Auman: Oh, for sure.
Kurt Elster: And again, like with smartphones. I mean, they’re just tremendous.
Megan Auman: Yeah.
Kurt Elster: And especially with the editing apps that really add the polish on.
Megan Auman: Yeah. It makes a big difference, and I actually, so I… one of the classes that I developed because I saw this need was I actually run a class called Market Your Selfie, which is like a super tongue-in-cheek class, or name for the class, but what it is is most of the time it’s me teaching jewelry designers, textile designers, people who make wearable products how to model your own products, and use that on your website, your blog, your email, because that’s a big shift that I made, that also really helped with my website.
I have models. I would photograph on them. But it’s really hard to coordinate with a model all the time, whereas I’m in my studio every day, and so if I want to show someone how big a necklace is, yeah, I can get my model and I can take a picture, or I can put it on myself, and I can take the picture and send the email, and suddenly it’s that connection with me, but it also gives that very real information of scale, and how it wears, and so that’s a big thing that I do as well. I’m like, “You know what? I’m the most convenient model, so I’m gonna shoot on myself.”
But I developed the class because there are a lot of… call them issues around photographing yourself that all comes with fear, and doubt, and like, “I’m not camera ready,” and I am literally, before I started shooting on myself, I am the least likely person to ever model my own work. I didn’t even hire a photographer for my wedding, because I was like, “I’m not paying for pictures of myself that I know I’m going to hate.” And then basically in like six months, I transformed myself into like, “Here I am, the primary model of my own work.”
Kurt Elster: So, you’re your own best model, and anybody could do it is what I’m hearing. I’m including a link to your course, Market Your Selfie, in the show notes as well for people, because it sounds valuable. I have heard over and over email marketing, and, “Oh, so I could send an email,” and, “We’re gonna make a sale by sending out some emails.” What’s your strategy for effective email marketing?
Megan Auman: Yeah, so the first thing is that I like to think about, anytime I can build anticipation, I think it works so well. So, if I’m gonna launch something, the worst thing you can do is just send one email that says, “Hey, there’s new stuff in my shop,” because then it’s like, “Okay, maybe I care, maybe I don’t care.” And so, anytime I’m doing like a really big launch, especially for one-of-a-kind products, but if I’m also, even if I’m doing a big sale, I’ll send two or three emails in anticipation of that sale time, so that people know it’s coming, so that suddenly they’re setting alarms on their phone, they’re waiting for it, and so really thinking about it as an anticipation sequence instead of just a one off, “Here’s a new product. Here’s a new product. Here’s a new product,” because people start to ignore those.
So for me, that’s a really big one, and it’s funny, because I don’t do a ton of targeting and segmentation that a lot of other people do, because frankly, for myself and my audience, I just am not that big, and so I think that’s the other thing is artists and makers get so hung up on like, “I have to have autoresponders, and welcome sequences, and all of these things.” And it’s like yes, at some point if you are trying to scale your business, you absolutely do. But if you have 1,000 people on your list, or you have 200 people on your list, and you’re never emailing them, stop worrying about setting up all the systems, and just open your email provider, and send an email.
And for me, the things that I have found works are like one image and a call to action, so not surprisingly this sounds a lot like my blogging strategy, right? Because I’ve learned that if I have a whole bunch of images, people aren’t gonna click through, because there’s no curiosity. But like one image that just gets them excited, and then a little bit that says, “Hey, here’s where you can go shop this whole collection.” That really seems to work a lot better. And then I also write my emails like a human, so I use first names, but then I talk like myself. I’ll say, “Hey, I’ve been in the studio. I’m really excited about this.” I sign them off as Megan. So that’s the other one for me, is that I’m never trying to create a marketing email. I’m just trying to think like how would I write to a friend if I was sharing this new design with them?
Kurt Elster: It’s brilliant advice. I mean, and it’s easier to create emails like that than to do the fancy visual builder, just to fire off an email that looks like a person wrote it to a person, and includes a photo and a link to the collection. Like you are making this as accessible as possible, and I have seen this stuff works. I know you’re absolutely right.
We are coming to the end of our time together, but I don’t want to go until you tell me about this book with this fascinating title, Try It And See: How To Get Shit Done While Overanalyzing Everything.
Megan Auman: Yeah, so this was a funny thing that came out of conversations I was actually having with people in my online mentorship program, Artists and Profit Makers, and I was seeing over and over again people analyzing things. We talked about that, like procrast-research, and so I was seeing this ideas, and so I just literally wrote down how to get shit done while overanalyzing everything, and I texted it to a friend, and I said, “This is either the start of a blog post or it’s the subtitle of my autobiography.” And I was kind of half joking when I said that, but then I was like, “Well, let’s just start writing and see.” And it turned into an entire ebook, and audiobook, because most of my people like to listen while they work in the studio.
We’re literally… I just went through and I thought about what are the things that I do that allow me, to go back to our conversation at the beginning, that allow me to get so much stuff done? And people always ask me that question all the time, and I always thought people wanted to know about systems, like what are my productivity systems, or my productivity hacks? But I am not a systems girl. That is not the way my brain operates, and so what I realized is for me it’s these mindset shifts. It’s thinking about how do I treat everything as an experiment. It’s thinking about how do I ship every day, but not just ship every day. How do I get the blog post or the email done super fast, so that I can get into the studio and do what I really want to do?
And so basically, I just sat down and thought about all the mindset shifts that I use to approach my work so that I’m not spending all this time researching, or overanalyzing, and even when I do overanalyze, because I’m a worrier. That is my natural state. It turns out that worry is part of being creative, because it’s your imagination kicking into overdrive. And so even when I am worrying, I’m still getting my butt into the seat, whether it’s the studio or the computer, and I’m getting crap done. And so really it’s… The book is like a kick in the pants for like, “Get out of research mode, get out of analyze mode. Just try stuff, do it, evaluate, and keep doing those little things every day that build the business.”
Kurt Elster: I gotta read this. I will include a link to this in the show notes, as well. Megan, this has been absolutely fantastic, informative, inspiring. I am thrilled with your advice. You should be very proud of everything you’ve accomplished. Where could people go to learn more about you?
Megan Auman: Yeah, so you can go to my website, which is just meganauman.com, and that is where you will find jewelry, my kind of sort of personal, sort of jewelry blog, and then links to my classes. And if you want more business-specific advice, you can also find me at designinganmba.com, and there are links to every single class that I teach, which is an awful lot of them, and links to my online mentorship program, Artists and Profit Makers.
Kurt Elster: Very good. Megan, thank you very much.
Megan Auman: Thank you for having me.