Saturday, February 28, 2009

Vacation... not... vacation.... not...

Earlier this week, I got two new orders. One mom was planning a princess party for her four-year-old and loved the circus invitations and asked if there was a variant that would work.

As I've been thinking that a princess/knight castle invitation in the circus invitation format would be super popular, I volunteered to create one for her at no additional charge.

I'm still tweaking it (and, in fact, added a fifth tower to the castle), but you can see how it's coming along...

The other order I received was for a set of circus party invitations (I could almost run my entire etsy card shop entirely on the basis of that single product) for a soon-t0-be-40-year-old man. I had never thought of expanding into parties for grown ups, but why not? I'm kind of excited by this one -- she needs 150 invitations, which would make this my biggest order ever!

I actually got a little dizzy thinking of all the printing, cutting and assembly I'd need to do for 150 invitations (my previous biggest order was for 50 and that quantity has me hitting the grindstone for several days in a row) and, to stave off any possible new orders which would simply put me over the top and overwhelm me, I put my etsy shop in "vacation" mode, meaning that I was basically shutting it down and not accepting any new orders. With having committed to the castle design and finishing up a few smaller orders, it was just too much for me.

This morning (after getting a good run at the castle design and deciding that we were almost done), I took it back off.

But I'm thinking of putting it back -- I'm fine with keeping up with orders, at this moment, but it would not take much to put me to push me over the edge. Plus I am trying to put together some inventory to have on hand for Crafty Wonderland and I just can't seem to get much stock together (I keep donating sets of cards to local school auctions -- very fulfilling, but it seriously depletes my cards on hand).

I fear that if I leave my shop in vacation mode for long, I will lose any momentum that I've built up so far in my business. I feel like I'm at the crossroads right now, where this can easily turn from a fun little side hobby into a real money-making venture, but with a full-time job (two if you count the motherhood thing), I just don't have the bandwidth to see it grow much more than it has. I would become a total wreck.

My husband has volunteered to step in and help with my large order, for which I am very grateful. Of anyone in the world, he is just about the only other person that I feel is picky enough in this kind of thing to meet with my super high standards for papercraft (if anything he might be pickier than me). I'm excited to explore the possibility of using my own in-house sweat shop in order to keep the etsy biz growing and viable.

A good book that I've been reading is the E-Myth Revisited, recommended by my friend Maria. It recounts the story of a pie shop that had exactly the problem that I'm facing now: it got too big for one person to handle. For her, the joy of making pies was replaced with the day-to-day grind of maintaining her pie shop (cleaning, accounting, ordering supplies, etc) and, over time, the joy completely disappeared. I was just getting into the really good stuff when I had to return it to the library, but I'm liking what it says so far. More on this thread when I get it back!

I know this post is really very business-related (and for my papercraft fans I do apologize), but it's a very exciting time for me right now!

Monday, February 23, 2009

My favorite mechanical card ever

This card was the first major project that I did with the Craft Robo and remains my all-time favorite.

It was originally created as an invitation to a home-brew party at our house. I was still learning how the Craft Robo worked and, consequently, I think it's not an exaggeration to say that I spent more than 50 or 60 hours toiling over the thing, tweaking it til I thought it was perfect.

In the end, I was so pleased with how it turned out that I probably invited dozens of people extra than we normally would have to a casual summer event (resulting in an enormous crush -- great fun, but a bit crowded).

While the mechanism that it uses (a simple brad) is widely used, I've never seen it used in this kind of way, to lift an arm and, at the same time, change the text spoken in a speech bubble.  

I adapted the basic invitation into a happy birthday card. What I've never understood is how poorly it has sold on etsy. It's only in the last few weeks that I even sold a single one (now I've sold THREE! And gotten some good feedback: "Quality workmanship and adorable." and "Very good birthday card for guys").

Anyway, I wondered if the problem was the photos, so yesterday, Tad helped me take cleaner ones, in the light tent, with a white background (maybe the greenery that I had as a background made it difficult to tell what was going on?).

I also will link to the video from the etsy listing so that people can see how it works.

Hopefully that will help!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

New Mother's Day Card

Okay, I KNOW I was working on the Seven-Flower Rose Bouquet Pop-Up card for Mother's Day, but I got a little sidetracked with another idea.

It came together so quickly that I just posted it for sale on etsy!

It's a little early for Mother's Day cards, but we'll see what happens, eh? I left the Mother's Day sentiment off so that you can actually give this to your mom just because you happen to love her.

How it works: The text tells the recipient "Mom, there are a million reasons why I think you're awesome. Here are just three.."

The (hopefully) delighted mom turns the wheel on the right. As she does, the number in the round window changes from 1 to 2, then three. There is space on the card for card-giver to write down three different reasons why their mom stands out from the herd.

I really like this one.

The floral illustration (from iStockphoto -- I should buy stock in that site, I've spent so much in imagery lately) is TOTALLY gorgeous. I had originally purchased it for the rose image to use in my pop-up bouquet card.

Interested in seeing the other images or finding out more? Check out the listing on etsy!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Crafty Wonderland Here We Come!

Crafty Wonderland is a FABULOUS local craft fair, held right here in beautiful Portland!

After going to the last show, I felt determined to sign up for a booth later on this year.

My friend Wendy, she of DoggoneKnitting fame (SUPER adorable dog collars, leashes and accessories) has done the fair twice and had a wonderful time each time.

Not only did she sell a few items, she also made some wonderful Portland crafty friends.

The allotted spaces are 4' x 4' -- just enough room for a small table and a chair to sit behind.

Wendy sent me to Lowe's and told me to buy a 2' x 4' table. Then we'd work on my display.

Lowe's didn't have tables of that size (why would anyone something that amounted to half of a card table? It seems to be such an odd size), however, next to folding tables was a baker's rack on sale.

Tad's helpfully Vanna'ing for us, above (or just schmoozing into my photo).

The whole thing folds flat. It's a little awkward because it's rather long and a little heavy, but look at all the space I have for display! WAY better than a dinky little half of a card table! And the wrought iron look works really well with the fake wrought iron plate easels I found at the Dollar Tree.

I'm going to make paper garland-type signs to drape over the back of the shelves. Tons of space to decorate!

Sooooo.... got another project to work on! We're shooting for signing up for the May show (we'll hit the Mother's Day crowd) so this gives me a little time to finish up my Mother's Day card and hopefully work up a few other cards besides...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Getting my Groove Back

So, a few days ago, I posted a note about how I was feeling a bit burned out over the whole card-making venture.

Since that posting,  I took a good look at why I was feeling overwhelmed. One reason was tight turnarounds. I really pride myself on getting orders out quickly, especially when the buyer is in a bind and really needs the order turned around pronto, but sometimes this means a lot of late nights and early mornings (and I LOVE getting my sleep!).

I had three large orders happen to hit that week, which made me feel overworked.

While I would still hesitate to say no to someone in a bind, I think I really need to educate my customers as to what is a reasonable turnaround for a custom order of invitations (two weeks, not two days). Since I haven't ever posted this kind of information anywhere, I really only have myself to blame!

Another thing that I realized about my work on this online venture was that over the last few months, I'd taken my eye off what really brought me joy.

Over time, I found myself becoming increasingly distracted by all the online tools available to me to increase traffic, potentially increase revenue, etc. 

I spent more time on working on business details than I did designing cards.

While I think this blog is a good way to promote my etsy store (and it's definitely fun for me), I found myself also getting increasingly obsessed with Google Analytics, trying to increase traffic to my blog and etsy sites. Along the way, I signed up for Google Adsense, adding in online advertising on my blog. Last week, I joined Project Wonderful for a different type of online advertising and posted ad space on my blog and also bid on ad spots on other sites.

Gradually, my mornings were spent less on designing cards and increasingly more tending to the web promotion side of things.

Coming to this realization was an epiphany.

I took down the web advertising links from this blog (they weren't making me any money and, in the case of the google adsense ads, in some cases, they were actually directing my readers to purchase cheap mass-produced children's birthday party invitations!).

I have committed to NOT blogging every single day.

This past weekend, I spent my free time (after completing an outstanding order) designing cards. The result was the beginning of my Mother's Day card AND a huge sense of accomplishment.

Rather than feeling beaten down and tired, I felt energized and excited again!

So the moral of the story is: understand WHY you do what you do. Keep that focus in mind and don't stray!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Working on a Mother's Day Card

Remember the pop-up bouquet (aka, the Seven-Flower Pop-up) that I blogged about earlier? (see the earlier post for links on how to make it)

(if you're on FaceBook, click here to see the video)

I made a variation using some rose artwork I found on I was going to post some still images of it, but you really do need video for this one to get the full, surprising effect of a bouquet of flowers that seems to spring up impossibly large for such a small card.

I'll replace the blue astro-brite card stock with a pretty printed background. I just need to figure out what to put on the front to tease the recipient about the inside of the care (any creative wordsmiths out there with suggestions?).

But I'm very pleased with how this one is going!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Phone-a-Thon Secret Slider Card

My boss commissioned me to make cards to remind people of an upcoming fundraiser for his school district.

These are based on the secret slider mechanism that I blogged about previously.

I think they turned out pretty great! When you pull on the tab (handily labeled "pull" as I had noticed that some people, when handed the card, didn't really know what to do with it), the secret window is revealed, the apple and phone-a-thon sign pops up unexpectedly and the Gresham Barlow Education Foundation logo appears on the pulled tab.

(For more about their phone-a-thon and the foundation in general, check out the Gresham Barlow Education Foundation website! The Phone-a-Thon starts on February 23rd)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

etsy greetings

I found a wonderful blog resource for the budding etsy card entrepeneur (yes, there are many of us!).

It's This is a blog that you can join to get tips, showcase your work, get feedback and support for your endeavors and just enjoy a bit of community.

Take a look and be wowed by some of the wonderful talent!

If you're a card-making entrepeneur, check some of the older postings. There's a ton of great stuff on how to market your wares.

This is one of the wonderful things about the etsy community that I love the most: while potentially we are competitors for our market, there's a sense of kinship and sisterhood (we're mostly, but not all, women) that encourages us all to help one another.

I've applied to be part of the group, but they only review new applications every few months. The next review cycle is in early March, so fingers crossed til then!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Big sales week!

Compared to a week ago, when I was running at a deficit, I feel like I'm rolling in the money.

Whoo hoo!

(don't get too excited, it still doesn't amount to much, but at least I'm no longer in the red)

I've had NINE orders this last week, which, for a gal who generally runs around the house screaming every time she gets an email from etsy notifying her of a sale is pretty darned good.

(this is way more orders than I had in all of 2008)

Most of the orders were for single cards (my Alice in Wonderland card sold twice!), but I did have two sets of birthday cards sell (one was a variation of the mermaid invitations for a set of triplets. A flat comp is pictured above (this was such a rush -- it should get to the customer within a week of her contacting me -- that I never got to the point of constructing a physical comp, which is what I usually do to get final approval). The other is a set of fifty circus invitations, which is an amazingly popular item for me).

So, a very good week.

But at the end of the week, after spending quite a few late nights and early mornings slaving away with and exacto knife and glue, I have to stop and think about my actual goals with this venture.

I started because I love to do this and it is incredibly affirming to have someone actually like my work enough to pay cash money for it.

I then can use the money to pay for more supplies (pretty card stock! cute stock imagery!). I LOVE this factor. I don't have to feel like I'm taking money out of the boys' college funds when I buy a luxurious pack of card stock.

At the beginning, getting a lot of sales and making a ton of money seemed to be the goal to shoot for, but with additional sales comes... additional work. I like some work, but too much work is just too much.

I'm still not all that sure that I'm making minimum wage at this point (I'm my own sweatshop!).

All this requires some thought...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lollychops blog

I found a great little creative blog that combines not only clever papercrafts, traditional stitchery and other assorted craftiness, but also tempting recipes and adsolutely adorable graphic design.

Really gorgeous!

On top of that, she shares templates and tutorials generously!

Check it out: Lollychops

And don't miss the page of free and wonderful downloads!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ikea Light Tent

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I ran out to Ikea to purchase some items to make a homemade light tent. Light tents, used to photograph small products, typically cost $100 or $200 if you buy a professional set.

And here's the skivvy:

The hamper that I purchased wasn't solid white nylon, as I'd expected it to be. It was, instead, mesh, so to make it work, I had to throw a white tablecloth over the whole thing. This allowed the light to bounce around the inside of the tent, creating nice, soft diffuse shadows.

I also found it awkward to shoot down the opening of the hamper, which limits your amount of real estate. As a lot of my cards need to be shot standing up, I needed to have a seamless background to photograph my objects against (not just a "floor").

What ended up working for me was to cut a hole in the side of the hamper and shoot from the side. I lay a piece of paper that curves nicely against the roundness of the hamper, creating a natural seamless background.

Something that I found terrifically disappointing was the fact that the flourescent light I used cast a colored light on everything.

Thinking that it would fix the problem, I immediately ran out and purchased some full-spectrum lightbulbs for some table lamps we weren't using any more, but same problem!

I know I can color-correct the images, but I really hadn't wanted to!

My photographer husband explained to me that unless I bought very expensive and extremely bright professional lights, I would need to correct the color.

Or I could adjust the white balance in my camera before I shot the photos. After consulting my camera's owners manual, I figured out how to do this, with much better results.

The final photographs still required a tiny bit of color adjustment after the fact, but still, not bad!

Final damage: $10 for the Ikea hamper, $10 for the Ikea Liesta flourescent light (on clearance right now). Additional needs: white tablecloth, piece of scrap foam core to be the "floor," white posterboard for my "seamless" (from Freddy's, $2).

I purchased the same things for my friend, Wendy, who had better luck with the original tutorial (Wendy just came out with the CUTEST dog collars and leashes to sell on etsy).

So my recommendation? Do it!

(and, while this may be totally unrelated, I'm already in the process of selling a set of the mermaid invitations that I reshot just a few days ago!)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Pop-up Bouquet

I thought I was clever, finding this fun pop-up video on my own, but my fellow blogger at Extreme Cards already had and had already distilled it into a clear, concise tutorial:

and created a snowflake variation:

This is an impressive technique. Mother's Day cards anyone?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Become a fan on Facebook!

I've never been a fan of anything that I've viewed as being an online time-waster. Online games, random surfing, joke-of-the-day, all those activities just do not appeal.

A few months ago, I half-accidentally signed up for FaceBook and my view of this social networking site changed dramatically.

Within a few days, I'd reconnected with friends I had lost contact with decades earlier.

Over the next few months, like a friendly virus, more and more of my friends joined.

We posted daily mini-updates about what we were doing at the moment. We scrounged up old photos of each other and posted images of past events (it seemed like a new "80's album" was being posted every week). 

It's even gotten me closer to new acquaintances (this refrain keeps going through my mind: "Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.")

It has been quite amazing and, for me, demonstrates one of the great powers of the internet.

Anyway, the reason for this long testimonial on my card site is that I have just set up a Facebook page for my cards. By becoming a "fan" of this page, you can participate in discussion forums, share photos and send me notes by writing on my "wall."

Click here to view my Molly Lee Cards page and become a fan on FaceBook!  (the link to become a fan is in the upper right-hand corner)

Not interested in joining Facebook? Not a problem, but I still would encourage you to send me feedback by clicking on the "comments" link at the bottom of every post! I LOVE  hearing from you!

Saturday, February 7, 2009


I love wedding collateral. I almost regretted getting married only once, because I only had that one shot at making the invitations, programs, table numbers and other paper-ific splendors. 

Shown are lovely invitations by friend and fellow blogger, Jessica Eiden Smedley and read her related post. I love how she's tied her themes together so splendidly without being repetitive or boring. Tiny details like the leaf button she found for the seat assignments make me very, very happy.

Well done!

Friday, February 6, 2009

New Mermaid Invitations

I had a mom contact me about a week ago. She LOVED the Circus/Carnival invitations and told me that she actually considered changing the theme of her daughter's birthday just so she could use them, but as they'd already put down a deposit on the venue (and they were also taking her to see The Little Mermaid) it seemed a better idea to stick with her theme and wait for her son's birthday in September.

She did ask to customize the Fishy Invite with a mermaid, which I think turned out adorable.

She also asked for customized thank you notes -- I need to simply offer this option for a more complete package.

She was a great customer -- she gave me good feedback and was so appreciative of my work.

This is the feedback she gave me: "I am thrilled with my purchase!! These invites & thank yous were designed and turned around so swiftly and perfectly! Thanks so much, you are very talented!"

So, that was fun!

I think I'll genericize a version of these and post them for sale, I'm so pleased with how they turned out.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Mechanical dog card

I've been calling my products pop-up cards, but a better term that I've recently discovered, is mechanical cards. Not all my cards pop up. Some simply move if you turn a lever or wheel.

Using this new term, I found this tutorial using google on how to make a very charming mechanical dog card, from Martha Stewart:


Can't wait to try this mechanism out!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Home-Made Light Tent

One of the weak points of my selling efforts is my photography. Etsy has emphasized how important nice product shots are to your marketing and I can believe it; I know that I've been hesitant about purchasing something because of poor photography.

I have a decent digital camera, however photos of my cards using the flash look terrible, generally, so I have to wait til there's natural light available to photograph my products. As I'm generally working during the day, this puts a crimp on my ability to post new items.

There seem to be a number of online tutorials on how to make your own light tent (a structure used to surround your product to produce even lighting) out of Ikea products. If you want to go the easy route, you can purchase a small commercial light tent kit between $100 and $200.

Here are a few links to the diy'er:
On my agenda: a trip to Ikea this weekend!

Monday, February 2, 2009

One good turn deserves another

Like many companies in these economic times, my company is going through its share of economic difficulties. Something I've been through more than once in the past few weeks is having to say good-bye to fellow co-workers.

One of these coworkers is Chinese, like me. I knew that she'd appreciate my Chinese New Year's Year of the Ox Cards, so I whipped one out to show her. She was so impressed with it that I insisted that she keep it, as a parting gift.

She was delighted and when she returned, she showed it to other coworkers.

One of these is a miniature pig buff, who contacted me to see if I would be willing to create a set of pig cards for her annual National Pig Day event (yes, there IS actually a national pig day -- better start your shopping now!).

The result is the prancing pig card that I've just posted to etsy. Take a look!

So, the moral is: be generous with your work and the universe will reward you.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Where's the money?

I feel like the past month or so has been a huge one for my online card-making venture. I've had more sales in January than I have in the six months combined when I was just starting out. I've added more than ten items to my etsy repertoire and racked up some very favorable ratings from some very happy customers. A few of my sales have been more than $100 or so (for larger birthday party invitation orders). I've put in countless late nights and early mornings to work on new designs or update my blog postings.

So why did I have only $30 in my Paypal account this morning?

It's a good thing that I'm not in this to support the family, otherwise we wouldn't be able to afford ramen noodles at this point.

Happily, I'm in it for the love of the craft -- truly! There are times when I wake up at 3am, completely excited about trying a technique I've been thinking about or with the answer with a particularly vexing design question. 

One thing that my etsy sales have allowed me to do is to pay for my obsession. I would truly design cards for nothing (and, over the years, for our own parties, I have done just this). What the occasional etsy sale allows me to do is to put that money back into my supplies.

So, over the past month, I've been able to justify purchasing a huge bunch of beautiful stock imagery, reams of absolutely gorgeous card stock (I'm a big fan of quality paper), more envelopes (sad to say, even after my recent outting as an envelope hoarder, I still found it necessary to purchase a box of 250 envelopes) and a heck of a bunch of glues and accessories that I've been coveting at the paper store.

And I now have a bunch of fun designs that I'm very, very proud to call my own.

Since a lot of my costs are in creating the initial designs for my cards (the artwork is the most expensive part of equation), if I wanted to stop designing, I can, and I'll be able to continue to sell and make money off of my existing designs.

On the other hand, I'm having WAY too much fun right now!