I love to read in-depth interviews with creative business owners – finding out what drives them, what has worked for their businesses, and what they do when they face inevitable hurdles.
So, I decided to start a new interview series here on the blog where I find amazing people and pick their brain about all these things. Today, we’re hearing from Jess from An April Idea – a gorgeous line of stationery and paper goods that caught my eye immediately when I was browsing Etsy one day.
Can you take us on the journey of your creative career path so far?
Although I had already completed a degree in Interior Design, I feel that my creative journey didn’t really start until I began my Graphic Design degree. Although they are quite similar fields, I didn’t really sense that I had found my passion until I started Graphic Design. It felt so easy and fun and just seemed to fit. When I thought about the future I didn’t get scared & overwhelmed about working in the industry, I got excited. I was incredibly fortunate to have a design job before completing my degree, as a Graphic Designer at a boutique stationery store, and was also offered a job at a small design studio upon graduation. Working both these jobs allowed me to see various different areas within the industry and helped me to decide which direction I wanted to take my career.
Then there came a time when I had to decide between each job, as I was working part time at both. One was more corporate/ client work such as websites, branding etc, and at the other place I was given a chance to create my own stationery brand. It was an unknown, but incredibly tempting to have total creative control. There was nothing in place and I would have to learn on my own and start from the beginning. I really wanted to take the chance and was very lucky that it has worked out.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome so far in your business?
I would probably say getting my brand name out there. You may have an amazing product, but without the right marketing to go with it, it’s almost useless. Getting to know the industry was, and still is, a big challenge. A lot of people think that making a card range is so easy, but it’s more than just putting pretty images onto paper. It’s knowing the gap in the market that needs to be filled and being smart about it. Coming from a stationery shop background, we knew where the holes were and what sold the most. It didn’t always match up with my favourite designs, but it’s still a business and it’s still about sales.
Do you ever have doubts as to your future creative direction? Are there things you yearn to achieve, but haven’t yet found the time for?
Definitely! For example it’s quite tough at the moment as the retail markets is very quiet. Which of course gives me doubts about my creative future, and I often think this is too good to be true. You know, I am doing what I love and getting paid for it, I assume the bubble has to burst eventually. But I think that’s why you have to be smart about it and think of it as a business as well as a passion.
There are lots of things I want to do for sure, like illustrate books and I would love to get into textile design, but my brand is only young and hopefully there will be plenty of time left to chase those dreams.
Are there times when your creativity and inspiration seem to disappear? How do you handle that?
Absolutely! I find the best thing to do is to just walk away and leave it. You can’t force it. Sometimes my illustrations come to me so easily and quickly, they just flow. But if they aren’t coming, I don’t like to force them, as I usually don’t like the final product I end up with. The best thing I can do is something I find quite dull like updating spreadsheets or cleaning out my email inbox. And after a few hours of that I’m feeling like I have a bit more creativity yearning to break free.
What has been the biggest ‘fist-pump’ moment for you so far?
Probably when I first launched my brand. It was at the Melbourne Trade Show in 2011. We only got a few sample products printed and sort of wanted to just test the water to see if there would be any interest. I think we got about 40 orders from different stores across Australia, so it was quite exciting to get so much interest so quickly!
How do you balance your work with the rest of your life ~ what does a typical day in your life look like?
I feel that I’m fortunate in that I have a separate office to go to each day. If I worked from home I would find it a lot harder to differentiate between the two. I would end up sleeping in (as I am not a morning person ) and working until midnight and never really having any separate work and home time. As it is, I work regular hours and when it’s home time I put down my pencil or mouse or whatever and let it go, knowing there is nothing I can do about it until the next day. I like to go home and have a life. As fun as my job is, I like to do other things too. My husband and I are renovating our first home and I also like to paint for relaxation. I haven’t done any art for fun since I started An April Idea, and I would like to get back into that. I find it so free and relaxing, but I don’t often have the time or much creativity left at the end of the day, so I still need to work on that.
A usual day for me will start with checking Email, Etsy, Facebook and any other sites that I receive orders from. Pack any orders for customers and stores. Update stockist info, update websites, I am currently re photographing some of my new ranges; so styling and photographing my products, dealing with wholesale customers, custom orders, stock levels, packing, shipping, ordering, magazines and press requests, looking for new stockists and just getting the name out there more. I have not spent much time designing new ranges or designs recently, but that comes and goes.
What has been the best marketing move you’ve ever made for your own business?
Out of everything that we do, Trade fairs, magazines, websites, direct mail outs, on-line, the Trade Fair has by far given us the biggest amount of awareness and orders. But it is very expensive and a lot of work. I would say the next best thing would be direct mail outs. They don’t cost a lot and you can focus them on people that share a similar passion for the products.
What is one piece of advice you’d like to give fellow makers about running a successful creative business?
Listen to the advice from store owners. They talk to customers every day and they know what will sell.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
As An April Idea is not yet a full time job for me, I would love to see it big enough to take up all of my time And ultimately have the brand internationally.
In the future I would also love to branch into textile design, custom typography, and illustration for surf brands. I would also love to be using a combination of my graphic design and interior design/styling skills, working with someone like Home Beautiful or Real Living.