When my first daughter was born, I wanted a beautiful keepsake that would forever remind me of those first precious months. Using the sewing machine that my grandmother gave me 13 years ago, I created my first quilt. My vision for Ollie & Olina started here, and I didn’t even know it at the time. After a few trips to the fabric store and some pattern making, I soon had some bibs for my daughter and enough to give as gifts to friends that were having babies. So many friends and family were raving about my bibs that I kept making them. It was natural and I realized my deep passion for quilting. I loved giving quilts and making them. Quilting started to take over my life at home with a toddler.
Over time, my family grew, along with my love for creating handmade heirloom treasures. This didn’t happen overnight. Seven years later I’ve only just reached the tip of my long journey ahead.
In 2013, I decided to open my own Etsy shop to start selling the bibs, burp cloths, and quilts that I was making. I also began selling in local craft fairs, sometimes teaming up with a friend. It was hard work. Sewing for days to build up enough inventory to sell at a craft fair and then spending 20 hours in one weekend sitting at my booth. I really love craft fairs, but I knew there was something bigger out there for me. Crafts fairs have the deathly “handmade” vibe… especially in Wisconsin. I didn’t want to be a “craft.” I wanted people to see me as a business. A REAL business. In my eyes that meant I had to go big or go home. So that’s exactly what I did.
And Ollie & Olina was officially born.
Work life and family life has always come natural to me, but working from home can be hard for a lot of mompreneurs so make sure that you know what you are getting yourself into before you start…
I spent a good year selling on Etsy, reading articles on how to take a perfect product photos at home, and how to survive and use Etsy ad words. But after a year Etsy just wasn’t cutting it. I wanted my quilts to be sold in boutiques and gift stores. I wanted to be a recognizable brand name. I wanted the nation to know that I made amazing, heirloom baby quilts. In order to do this I still needed to go bigger. I kept researching everything I could think of including somebody to help me rebrand my company. It had to be fate that I found the wonderful Geri Jewitt of The Languid Lion. It was a very hard working relationship. I grew tremendously as a business owner and as a person while working with her.
We took Midwest Family Life (my Etsy company) and turned it into Ollie & Olina— a name very dear to my heart as Olina is my middle name, my grandmother’s and my daughter’s. Geri helped me with logo design, identity design, and branding. We had to streamline my ideas (way too many products and patterns) and create the right image that would resonate with my target market. I had custom boxes made for the quilt collections along with a custom e-commerce site so that I could leave Etsy. There was so much love and sweat poured into this business concept. Almost one-year since my official Ollie & Olina launch I’m still working hard. My next step is to venture into wholesale which means pitching my quilts to boutiques in hopes that they will stock them. This is a huge project that takes many steps. Geri is still working with me and she’s been the best business decision I’ve made.
I’ve also made some bad business decisions. Patience has always been one of my downfalls, even as a parent. I’ve wasted a lot of money because I didn’t have the patience to wait for what was right. I knew going into business for myself that I would need to hire people to help me grow my ideas. It definitely isn’t a one-person job. With my impatience and naivety, I’ve made some horrible hiring decisions. My most recent decision cost me $1,000. I hired the wrong person to help me with some marketing. She was a waste of money and time. I should have listened to my gut. But that’s just the thing with business… sometimes you have to learn the hard way. You will make mistakes. I did and I know I still will. However, my determination to succeed will get me though it.
If Ollie & Olina dies tomorrow I’m not going to stop quilting. I can’t stop quilting. Being a quilter is who I am. I love fabric and I love making and gifting quilts. My business will succeed because I need it to. I’m stepping into a niche market, but I have a unique product. This is my leg up in the retail world. At Ollie & Olina we believe that quality matters. We believe that our Earth matters. We believe that moments matter. And we believe in packaging that up into one unforgettable gift.
1. Determine the true cost of your products. Make a spreadsheet. If you want to make a profit there is very specific formula you need to follow. Read up at Indie Retail Academy and don’t sell yourself short. If the numbers don’t make sense now you’ll never have a successful biz. Don’t always go by the price you see on Etsy. There are a lot of products under-priced on Etsy. Do the math yourself and put in the time to get it right.
Product Cost = Materials + Labor + Expenses
2. Hire the right people to help build you up: copywriter, brand strategist, public relations person, accountant, web developer, marketing person — whoever it is, make sure it’s the right person for you. Ask for referrals, talk to people they have worked with. A pretty website doesn’t mean they are good at their job. Know how much you should pay for something so that you don’t overpay for services. Join some Facebook biz groups and ask for referrals. Word of mouth is powerful and for a good reason. A wrong hire can be deadly. When starting with such a little budget you don’t want to waste a penny on bad service.
3. Are you an accountant? Did you know you’ll have to become one or hire somebody to do it for you? Selling anything on your own means you need to do taxes and understand the logistics behind running a company. Fortunately, I have a business background and with the help of a stellar accountant, I can do my own books at home. I still struggle but have managed to do ok so far. This part of a business can’t be ignored. You have to follow the rules of the IRS and you better make sure you can do it or have somebody on your team that can.
4. Don’t ignore criticism. Know how to tell the difference between the good and the bad but don’t ignore it. I’ve received a lot of criticism. Criticism got me from Midwest Family Life to Ollie & Olina. Not everybody thinks a $265 baby quilt is special and that’s ok. I’ve learned to take it in and let it out. I know what my goals and dreams are and negative criticism isn’t going to stop me. The key here is to know the difference between the good and bad. Good criticism is necessary to the growth of your business. It will make you stronger and help you to survive.
5. Don’t Think that having a plan, goals, and objectives is optional. It’s not. If you want to start an Etsy store as a hobby that’s cool. Go for it. But if you want to start a business, then you have to have a plan with goals in place. Starting a business with no roadmap will lead you to failure.
There is one thing every mom, and new family member, has in common, we never…