Quickstarter Shorty Squad Title Image

 

There’s a new crowdfunding method in town and its name is Quickstarter. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Or maybe the title had you wondering what in the world is that? Either way, you’ve come to the right place.

 

What is a Quickstarter?

A Quickstarter is…*drumroll please*…a very short Kickstarter. That’s all. It’s not a new platform at all. But before you leave with a “psshaw!”, you should know Quickstarters are an actual thing that the Kickstarter team acknowledges and encourages.

Kickstarter had humble beginnings, intended to support small creative projects. But now you can find anything from art zines to large-scale corporate endeavors. Companies and startups are using Kickstarter to fund everything from robots to ramen.

Giant, large-scale Kickstarter projects take on a different look. Most include press releases, endorsements from big names in their respective industries, and several “stretch goal” extensions.

To give you an idea of the scale of these projects, here are some highlights:

While impressive, these projects are a vast departure from what Kickstarter founders Peter Chen, Yancey Strickler, and Charles Adler intended. While Kickstarter’s mission is focused on creative projects, the most revenue has come from their games, design, and technology categories.

In response, they’ve launched the “Quickstarter,” described on their site as “an invitation to create small projects.” The idea is credited to Oscar Lhermitte, a designer based in London.

 

What’s Considered a Quickstarter?

There are 9 qualifying “rules” for running a Quickstarter. Like the whole concept of a Quickstarter, these rules are informal and not enforced in any way. Following these “rules” is entirely up to the project creator:

  1. Planned in 3 months or less.
  2. Runs for 20 days or less.
  3. Goal is under $1000.
  4. Backer rewards are under $50.
  5. Video (if used) shot in a single day.
  6. No creator-initiated media or PR.
  7. No paid ads.
  8. No stretch goals.
  9. The term “Quickstarter” is in your project name.

The rules are simple. In short, Kickstarter is telling creators to think small, spend less, and do less. Maybe I’m not the target audience for this initiative since anything I would put on Kickstarter would meet most, if not all, of these rules. Or maybe this is a roundabout way of telling individual creators like myself that there’s still a place for my kind of project.

 

Quickstarter Examples

There are a surprising number of Quickstarter projects already. Some of the most popular ones that articles have mentioned are the envelope bag, which is just a really strong bag that’s foldable…

 

…and the lazy postcard, which are postcards with cutouts so you have an excuse to write a really short (or not) message.

As a writer, that’s not really my thing, but 141 people were into it.

 

Personally, I liked Stami Studios‘s Sleeping Luna Pin Quickstarter.

Screenshot of Stami's Sleeping Luna Pin Quickstarter

 

 

So Why Do a Quickstarter?

Are there any special benefits to running a Quickstarter? Is there a good reason for big companies to start trying smaller projects or for small businesses to jump on board and label their projects “Quickstarters”?

I have no idea.

At this point, there doesn’t seem to be any particular benefit to running a Quickstarter over an ordinary Kickstarter. But I’m going to try one and here’s why:

 

It Can’t Hurt

I don’t know if there are any benefits to running a Quickstarter, but since the idea has been so highly promoted by Kickstarter, there can’t be any penalties either.

 

Rule Breaker? Not Me.

The project I’m drafting already meets all 9 Quickstarter rules. It’s a single enamel pin and I don’t plan to add any stretch goals. I suppose I can resist my urge to reach out to news outlets and my PR connections for this one.

 

Curiosity

If running a business on Instagram has taught me anything, it’s that there’s a LOT going on at the backend of any platform. Instagram is notorious for its confusing algorithm, which determines which posts you actually see on your feed.

So could jumping on the Quickstarter bandwagon get my project more traffic? Possibly. But I’m sure Kickstarter would never reveal if and how they prioritize projects on their platform, other than the blatant “Projects We Love” category.

Will running a Quickstarter get my campaign featured on the Quickstarter page? Again, it’s not clear. But currently, the most visible projects displayed are already listed as “Projects We Love.” You have to hit the “Load More” button several times to even see ordinary projects.

 

Still, I do think there are a couple reasons why “Quickstarter” is a nice thought:

 

  1. It communicates to creators that small projects are okay and relieves the pressure to promote your campaign like it’s a second job.
  2. It communicates to potential backers that this is a simple project with a quick turnaround.

 

In the end, I don’t expect much from running a Quickstarter, but I’m curious enough to try it.

 

My Quickstarter Plans

I’ll be holding a Quickstarter for *surprise surprise* an enamel pin! If you follow me on Instagram or this blog, you may know that I’ve been venturing into the world of fan art. I have two Ghibli pins up for sale now, but anyone could make Ghibli pins. Who doesn’t like Ghibli?

But the fandom I’m really obsessed with is Steven Universe. If you haven’t seen this cartoon, I’m sorry. I can’t even explain to you why it’s the best because that would take a 5-part blog series. Although if you’re interested, I could take a month to write about Steven. I’ll just say that in our currently-especially-crummy world, I fully endorse the use of uplifting cartoons as self-care.

But back to Quickstarter.

I’d love for my first Steven Universe pin to be this “Shorty Squad” design!

SU Shorty Squad Pin mockup

I absolutely love Shorty Squad and being vertically challenged, I can relate. Peridot is also my favorite.

I’ve never seen a Shorty Squad pin (but if you’re aware of one out there, please send a link my way!) so I would be thrilled to bring this cute crew to life.

 

Why a Kickstarter for One Pin?

SU Shorty Squad Pin Gold Mockup

I realize this is a single pin, so you might be wondering why I’m running a Kickstarter for it. The main issues are that this is pin has to be big enough to preserve all the details and has a lot of different colors to stay true to the characters.

Naturally, the larger and more detailed a pin is, the most costly it is to produce. A standard price for enamel pins usually includes 4 to 5 colors. This Shorty Squad pin would have 15 COLORS. Here are the specs I have planned so far:

  • hard enamel
  • gold plating
  • 2 inches wide
  • 15 colors
  • 2 pin posts
  • Monicartsy back stamp

There’s quite a bit going on for one pin. That’s why I’m launching a Quickstarter on July 15th. The campaign will last two weeks and end on July 29th.

The circumstances of this project are a bit different than my Seasonal Succulents Kickstarter. I was determined to make the entire set of four succulent pins even if the campaign didn’t cover all the costs. I successfully funded two of the pins and released the remaining pins later. But the Shorty Squad pin will truly be all-or-nothing.

If the pin isn’t fully funded through Kickstarter, I’ll take it as a sign that there isn’t enough interest in the design and leave it on the drawing board. I’ve rushed into some of my previous pin designs without gauging interest, so this time I’m trying to be more mindful of what people want and are actually willing to buy.

In personal news, I’ll be moving across the country to start graduate school soon. So unfortunately, I’ll need to buy boring things like furniture before producing new pins. Although I’m nervous and weirdly worried about failing with this Kickstarter, I’m looking forward to just giving it a shot!

I hope you look forward to seeing this project go live soon! Keep up with updates on my Instagram or Facebook page.

Shorty Squad Title Image for Kickstarter

 

Starting an Art Business Brand identity Title card

 

 

It’s been a few months since I wrote a “Starting an Art Business” post. And I’m happy to say this one will be the last. Not because I’m sick of writing these, but because as I continue to grow and make actual sales, the title “starting” is no longer accurate.

That being said, today’s topic still feels very much like a beginner topic, so I’m keeping it.

Remember how past “Art Biz” posts included a Stresses and Successes section? Well, this post is like a giant Stresses section. I’m talking about a topic that’s been a source of stress from the beginning.

 

The Brand Identity Crisis

For me, the most confusing part of starting a business was not the paperwork or website set-up – you can find people or use Google to help with that – but branding. There are dozens of how-to articles on every business topic imaginable, but no one can tell you how to do your branding.

That doesn’t mean people don’t try. You’ll find just as many articles on branding as you will on any other business topic, but no clear “right” answer. Brand identity is too personal for that.

 

Challenge #1: What is My Brand?

Honest answer: I still don’t know. “You do succulent art!” you might say if you’ve looked at my Etsy shop recently. But that’s assuming my shoddy branding has been effective. I started off as succulent-centered art shop and one year ago, I would have been perfectly happy to stay within that space.

Now my succulent craze has died down a bit. I can’t say whether that’s because I’ve had time to cool down or my windowsill has no more space for tiny plants. But my reduced passion for succulents is probably a realistic reflection. If I’m honest, I can acknowledge that succulents are a bit of a fad. And if my brand is based around succulents, what happens if they go out of style? What about people who like my art but don’t really care about succulents? What about my other interests? Believe or not, I like other things too! Shocking, right?

I don’t regret not starting with a clear brand. If I’d been too focused on branding and getting all the little details right like colors and fonts, I might have never started an art business. I’d still be puzzling over “my brand.” I’m sure this isn’t good business advice, but developing a strong brand, especially when it’s a personal brand, will take time.

 

Challenge #2: But I’m Interested in Many Things!

Having multiple interests is nice. Until you have to choose between them to develop a personal brand as an artist. I’m indecisive about little things like where to eat out for lunch. So you can imagine that choosing a focus for my art brand was like drowning in an ocean of possibilities. And still is, I suppose?

Since I’ve discovered Emilie Wapnick’s work, I’ve enjoyed claiming the title “multipotentialite.” In short, it means someone who has a wide variety of interests and needs to pursue more than one to feel satisfied. Emilie’s TED Talk “Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling” explains it better than I could. If the title speaks to you, it’s well worth the watch.

Starting an art business may be a good way to satisfy the artist side of my multipotentialite self, but art can be anything. I wondered if my art business should…

  • Run with the succulents theme (But I’m itching to do more)
  • Focus more broadly on nature (I’m from Colorado, that’s doable)
  • Turn toward social justice (just check out “Campus Climate” or “Delusions of Diversity“)
  • Or try…fan art?

 

Challenge #3: Original Art or Fan Art?

This point may seem hyper-specific and only relevant to art businesses…but there’s probably a wider application in here somewhere. In the months that I spent not writing for this blog post series, I went back and forth on this point quite a bit.

Original art is great. And the best for selling. It’s all your own work so legally, you’re 100% in the clear. But several artists I follow make a living off of fan art. Or at least, seem to do pretty well for themselves. I don’t really know anything about their finances.

I’ve heard artists recommend starting with fan art to build a customer base and then start doing original art once you’re more widely known. But I’ve also heard that artists who focus on original art sell better than artists who only make fan art in the long run. This is all word-of-mouth, but that sounds right.

Original art is more profitable, sustainable, and for me, more satisfying. But fan art is tempting for several reasons:

  • The pin community is all about fan art.
  • People buy pins to show off their fandoms.
  • Fan art = artwork with a built-in fan base.

Fan art is appealing, particularly the built-in audience part. As I write this post, it occurs to me that using fan art feels like cheating the system – what about the thousands of artists who have had to work their butts off to gain recognition (and often failed). But the flip side of that opinion is that fan art is a wise business choice. You see it when businesses jump on the latest popular fandom, with no evidence that they actually like show or books or movie. That turns me off from a business. But as someone who’s not particularly vocal about her fandoms, I wonder if I come across in the same way.

I also wondered if fan art would “water down” my brand. Then came my big epiphany: what brand? Did I have some well-established brand where everyone would be shocked if I went off and did something different? No, obviously. Not at all.

 

Fortunately You Can Learn as You Go

I may not have a useful list of tips today, but I’ll leave you with my mindset shift. A brand identity doesn’t have to be set in stone. I can experiment and play around and “discover” my brand.

Many marketers and entrepreneurs would probably hate seeing this advice circulated. And sure, if I wanted to hit the ground running, make a lot of money, and grow my brand as quickly as possible, I wouldn’t recommend this either.

….Buuut, it’s a bit like life. Are you born know exactly who you want to be when you grow up? Do you know right now who you want to be as you grow up? Lots of you probably thought no.

And who knows, maybe if I find myself starting a business again someday, I’ll be more set on the brand identity thing and have a clearer idea of where I want to go. Probably. that sounds likely.

 

Stresses and Successes

It wouldn’t really be a “starting an art business” post without stresses and successes, would it? So here’s a brief update of how I’ve been:

Stresses:

  • This whole brand thing
  • My website isn’t actually mobile-optimized so it looks super boring on a phone
  • Not many sales – am I not growing fast enough?
  • Producing more pins is expensive
  • How will my art business fit in during grad school?
  • Debating a starting new Kickstarter and how the timing would work with my move

Successes:

  • Decided/gave myself permission to experiment!
  • Hit 7 sales on Etsy! (even though I worry about not making sales, each sale is exciting)
  • 3 reviews on Etsy!
  • New Ghibli pins arrived
  • New backing cards were satisfying to make and turned out beautifully
  • Opened a Storenvy
  • Bought Monicartsy.com domain for potential future plans

You can look forward to individual posts on some of these topics and that new “Running an Art Business” series within the next couple months!

 

Other posts in Starting an Art Business:

 

Pin Backing Types Title displayed over image of scattered pin backings

 

It’s time for my first post of June and I’m scrambling to get it done on time. So instead of the lengthy “Starting an Art Business part 4” post I’ve been working on, I’m giving you all a little insider pin knowledge. Today we’re talking about pin backs.

Those of you with no interest in enamel pins can come back next week.

Pin Backs? Who Cares?

There’s a bit of a rivalry going on in the pin community. (Not really.) It’s been going on for centuries. (Maybe a few years at most?) This division is comparable to the likes of age-old conflicts like:

DC or Marvel?

Subs or Dubs?

Dogs or Cats?

Normal people coffee or Decaf?

Toilet paper roll facing up or Down? (The answer is up, you monsters.)

And that conflict is…

 

Metal Pin Backs vs. Rubber Pin Backs

 

If you’re a pro pin collector (or creator), bear with me while I drop some Pin 101 knowledge. Enamel pins typically have one or two posts with some type of back or clasp to secure it to a surface. But the question is, do you go with rubber or metal pin clasps?

Pin Backing Types Metal vs Rubber Pin Backs

Metal backs are probably the most well-known to the general public. They’re also called butterfly clasps/clutches and have those two little tabs you have to squeeze together to take the clasp off. But we all know those two tabs aren’t particularly secure. Sometimes you can rip a metal clasp right off without touching the tabs. Or was that just my childhood experience?

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Rubber backs, on the other hand, are a very simple piece of rubber with no intricate workings. All they require is a simple pull or push.

The first enamel pins I bought had rubber backs. Initially, I thought they were just cheaper to produce. But when I started making pins for myself, I found that no manufacturer (that I’ve come across so far) charges a different price for rubber or metal backs.

I ended up snooping, asking around, and Googling to find out, what’s the difference between rubber and metal backs? Is one better than the other?

Meanwhile, being already biased toward rubber and finding insufficient information online, I chose rubber backings for my first pin and pin set. All of my current pins have rubber backs.

 

Which is Better: Metal or Rubber backings?

I do have opinions on this topic now, not just a bias toward my first type of pin backs. But spoiler alert, the difference between metal and rubber backs comes down to personal preference.

The majority of pin makers I’ve purchased from use rubber. But I’ve heard others express a strong preference for metal. A few creators offer both. And while one isn’t definitively better than the other, there are definite pros and cons to discuss.

 

Metal Pin Backs

Other names: butterfly clasp, metal clutch, butterfly clutch, military* pin back, military butterfly clasp

Pin Backing Types Metal Butterly backs

Pros:

  • Metal backs on metal pins look more uniform
  • Butterfly clasp provides a slight lock
  • Better for securing pins on thicker material
  • Can customize metal color

Cons:

  • Doesn’t provide a tight fit or secure lock
  • Butterfly tabs can get caught in hair and clothing
  • Metal colors are limited

Summary:

Metal pin backs have the noticeable benefit of looking more uniform. Some people view them as more aesthetically pleasing. Metal backings can be customized to a limited extent by metal color. I have butterfly clasps in gold, silver, and rose gold. But typically no one will see the clasp except you. On the other hand, you do need to deal with the possibility of your clasp getting caught in hair, clothing, or scratching your skin.

The more important consideration for pin backs is security. Some people complain about how easily their metal pin backs have fallen off, while others report having no problems. Compared with rubber backs, butterfly clasps have a looser fit; they’ll never be completely flush against the pin needle.

However, metal pin backs tend to be better if you’re frequently removing and replacing pins, like me. While the butterfly clasp mechanism can get worn down, the back ultimately holds its shape better than rubber, which will stretch with extended use.

 

Rubber Pin Backs

Other names: PVS rubber pin back (this one’s pretty straightforward)

Pin Backs Rubber Backs

Pros:

  • Tight fit
  • Very secure on thin or textured fabric
  • Smooth surface is skin-friendly
  • Highly customizable
  • Better grip

Cons:

  • Harder to secure on a thick surface
  • Loosens over time and with movement
  • Security varies by quality

Summary:

In general, rubber pin backs provide a tighter fit. The hole in the pin back is made to fit your pin post perfectly. Some rubber pin backs are so tight that I’ve had trouble removing them at first. But the key phrase here is “at first.” Rubber stretches over time, leaving you with a looser fit, the more you remove and replace your pin.

And although rubber backs are pretty secure, they can also loosen if you have your pin on a surface that sees a lot of movement, like a lanyard or tote bag. But if you plan to leave your pin on a surface permanently, your rubber pin back is less likely to stretch. The rubber surface is also durable and won’t get caught on hair or clothing.

Another big draw of rubber pin backs is customizability. You can choose different colors and even special shapes. I’ve seen heart- and star-shaped pin backs and of course, Disney pins have rubber backs in the shape of Mickey Mouse heads.

 

Finally, I’d add that rubber pin backs have the benefit of a tighter fit on fabric. All pins have one or two sharp nubs next to their pin post. When a pin is pushed completely flat against its backing card, you’ll see a little indent next to the hole from this nub. In many rubber pin backs, you can also see a faint indent or two from these “nubs.” (Sorry if “nub” sounds weird–I don’t know what else to call it.)

To get a more secure fit, from your rubber pin back, you can press your pin tightly against a fabric surface so that the nub also catches the fabric. Then press the rubber back as tightly against the back as possible to secure with both the post and the nub. If this makes no sense, hopefully these pictures will help:

A pin on the left with two nubs (mine) and a pin on the right with one nub (from Shop Lizzy)

 

Pin Backing Types nub imprints on rubber backs
Nub indents on two rubber pin backs; multiple on the left because I don’t always stab in the same spot

 

Anyway, the point is that rubber backs can give a really secure fit.

 

What About Locking Pin Backs?

There’s another type of popular pin back on the market. No post on the different types of pin backs would be complete without it. They’re locking pin backs.

In the end, rubber and metal pin backs don’t have a significant difference in security. It’s possible to lose pins with both backing types. So collectors turn to locking pin backs. I’m not focusing on this type of pin back because a.) I’ve never used them and b.) they’re in an entirely different league. But I’ll take a moment to share what I know.

Locking pin backs are also called locking clutches, deluxe pin backs, spring-loaded clutch backs, or military pin keepers.

*I would assume these are the true “military pin backs” but I’ve seen people refer to both regular butterfly clasps and locking pin backs as “military.” So just make sure you’re seeing a picture before you purchase any “military” pin backs.

Locking pin backs come in two variations: flathead and ball head pin backs. They look exactly how they sound and function in pretty much the same way. In order to lock your pin into place, these pin backs have a spring, which you release by pulling the top (flat or ball) up while pushing the bottom of the back down at the same time. If this sounds confusing, here’s a quick YouTube video and one with a longer explanation.

Some locking pin backs require you to open the spring whenever you want to put the clutch on or off. Others just need a firm push to put on and a squeeze only when you want to take the pin back off. Apparently there’s a bit of a learning curve; you may need a few tries to get used to releasing these pin backs.

Locking pin backs are more costly and in most cases, you’ll need to purchase them separately from your pins. I definitely plan to try locking pin backs someday…but for now, I’m spending my money on new pins.

(And if you’re thinking I sure had a lot to say about locking pin backs for someone who’s never used them, well, my cheap research skills are top-notch. I once had a sketchy job writing product reviews for items I’ve never even touched. Don’t trust everything you read online folks.)

 

Which Do I Prefer: Rubber or Metal Pin Backs?

Although I’ve only used rubber backs for my pins so far, I’ve recently been tempted by metal. So much so that I’ve ordered butterfly clasps for my next batch of pins (currently in production). I’m not set on metal, but recently I’ve come across a problem with my rubber pin backs.

I move my pins around. A lot. Especially my sample set of succulent pins. I’m constantly sticking them in different places to take pictures. As a result, the backings have gotten noticeably looser.

Meanwhile, I have some pins from a friend that use metal pin backs. To be honest, these butterfly clasps are a little difficult to remove. I have to pinch the butterfly tabs and jimmy it around a bit to remove them. But those pin backs are SECURE. Even with the amount of traveling these pins have done from one surface to another, these pins still stick.

So forget my worries about branding and consistency; I’m testing out metal pin backs. Maybe in a few months time, I’ll have a clear favorite, but for now, I’m still on the fence.

Pin Backing Types Metal vs Rubber on Pins

 

Do you have strong opinions on pin backs? This is a super serious topic! Feel free to fight it out in the comments!

 

Kickstarter isn’t always convenient. It takes a lot of time. The funding isn’t guaranteed. You need to follow the Kickstarter’s requirements to get approved and pull off a successful campaign. And then you need to give Kickstarter their cut. It’s not surprising that many creators would rather stay away.

 

Preorders as a Way to Fund

Many artists in the enamel pin community open preorders. But generally, preorders don’t perform well unless the artist is well-known and/or there’s a good discount included. From what I’ve seen, preorders aren’t a good way to gather funding for production.

But there’s another beast known as “necessary preorders.”

 

What is a Necessary Preorder?

I’ve only seen necessary preorders pop up in artists’ shops recently.

Necessary preorders require a certain number of orders before the project can go into production. The seller will only run necessary preorders for a set period of time. If they don’t receive enough orders by the deadline, the project will not be made and all customers will have their orders refunded.

It’s essentially an independently run Kickstarter. For many products, Kickstarter and other crowd-funding platforms act as preorder facilitators. Yes, backers may help bring a product to life, but in most cases, they expect to receive the product as well.

A necessary preorder is arguably more transparent in being all about the product. Naturally, there are several reasons why you might consider a necessary preorder and several reasons you might not.

 

Benefits of a Necessary Preorder

 

You retain control.

On your shop website, you run the preorder campaign any way you want. There are no limitations to the rewards you can offer to customers, no set formula to follow, nor any obligations to continually update your project.

 

No fees.

Because you manage the entire process yourself, you don’t owe fees to anyone. Every cent you make can go directly into your project. Plain and simple.

 

Flexibility

On a crowdfunding platform, you’re tied to a specific funding goal and deadline. But on your website, funding a project quickly means you can access your funds immediately and get your product into production faster.

Timing is also up to you. If you don’t quite meet your goal by the deadline, you might choose to wait a day, make a final promotional push, and encourage a few more preorders. Or you might decide to foot the rest of the bill yourself and start production. While having this flexibility is nice, be sure to communicate clearly with your customers so you don’t come across as unreliable. This leads in nicely to the potential drawbacks of running necessary preorders.

 

Drawbacks of a Necessary Preorder

 

No established platform to drive traffic to your preorder campaign.

Whenever you fundraise on a platform, you benefit from the built-in audience that comes with it. My Seasonal Succulents Kickstarter received 46% of its pledges from people who discovered me through Kickstarter. If you choose to run a preorder campaign on your own, you don’t receive the perks of additional traffic from a platform.

 

More marketing required for you.

You need to put more effort into two levels of your marketing efforts: design and traffic. Naturally, you need to do extra promotion to get the same amount of visibility that your project would have received on a crowdfunding platform.

But you also need to consider the layout of your preorder page. Kickstarter comes with a pre-built structure designed to lay out the details of your project clearly and concisely. Backers are usually familiar with Kickstarter’s layout too, so they can quickly find the information they need.

Your necessary preorders need to be displayed prominently and made distinct from any regular products. If your preorder is listed just like any other product, you risk visitors glossing over it or misunderstanding its purpose.

 

You have the burden of more perceived risk.

Crowdfunding platforms don’t just come with an audience. They’ve also established trust with consumers. Most online consumers have heard of sites like Kickstarter, Indigogo or GoFundMe. If your project doesn’t get funded, visitors know the site is reputable and can count on receiving their money back.

When purchasing a necessary preorder, the consumer has to trust you as an individual business. This is an additional and perhaps the most significant barrier to a purchase. Ways you can reduce this barrier include showing a clear track record with positive reviews, similar products, and successfully funded projects in the past.

 

Tips for Running a Necessary Preorder

 

  1. Be crystal clear.

Necessary Preorders Water Drop Crystal on a rock

Ensure everything is crystal clear from the start. There are many opportunities for visitors to misunderstand or misinterpret your project. Necessary preorders simply aren’t very well-known. If you don’t believe me, just do a Google search. Marketers aren’t even talking about necessary preorders yet (or if they are, their SEO is too low to show up in search engine results).

You don’t want users misunderstanding and expecting your preorder product to be sent out immediately. Take care to also explain that the project is not guaranteed to be funded. Customers should be sad, but not shocked if your project doesn’t make it.

Regardless of the outcome, the most important point you’ll want to stress is what happens with their money. Clearly state that if a project isn’t funded, you’ll completely refund everyone’s orders. It wouldn’t hurt to mention this multiple times. You want to emphasize that funding this project carries no risk for your customers.

 

  1. Consider your timing.

Necessary Preorders old antique clock on rocky ground

Choose the right length of time. This is easier said than done. You’ll want to choose a time frame that isn’t so long that your customers get sick of waiting and pull out. But your preorder period can’t be so short that you don’t have enough time to promote your project. Give people time to find your project and be clear about your deadline.

There’s no single “best” length of time for a necessary preorder. This will vary by the nature of your project and your reputation as an artist. Do you already have an extensive network and social media following? Or will you need more time to reach enough members of your target audience? Expect some trial and error. The default for Kickstarter projects is about one month.

 

  1. Social media is your friend.

Necessary Preorders: Smartphone that has blue screen with the word Social on it, faces, and various social media icons, laid on top of a white keyboard

Since you need to promote your preorders even more than you would on a crowdfunding platform, use social media to your advantage. You can find just about any audience on social media. Even businesses who target consumers aged 65+ use Facebook.

Connect with your following. Ask them to support your project, if it’s of interest to them and ask them to share for a snowball effect. While you could do extensive research into what makes for effective social media marketing, here’s a crash course.

  • Create fun, interesting, and relevant
  • Use images and video.
  • Post consistently.
  • Craft attractive headlines.
  • Don’t forget to include an ask (CTA) in your posts.

 

  1. Create a community.

Necessary Preorders: Light and dark blue speech bubbles in a cluster

People enjoy the community aspect of crowdfunding projects, but you don’t need to use a platform to encourage community. On social media, email lists, or in-person, communicate with your customers and followers. Although you’re not obligated to provide updates, your customers will appreciate being kept in the loop. There’s a sense of progress that comes with project updates. They can also double as promotion opportunities to remind people about your project and generate more excitement.

 

  1. Give evidence of past success.

Necessary Preorders: magnifying glass on old book

We touched on this when we talked about risk, but don’t be shy about showing off your past successes. A strong track record goes a long way, whether in the form of concrete numbers or social proof. Numbers you can highlight include number of sales, past projects you’ve successfully funded, or existing products that are similar to your necessary preorder.

Social proof brings in others and has more weight than your own word. You’ll want to provide evidence of satisfied customers in the form of positive ratings and reviews. Another powerful way to accumulate social proof is by partnering with bloggers, social media influencers, or media outlets. Coverage of your product, specific project, or business as a whole builds trust with your target audience.

 

 

Necessary preorders can be a helpful, independent way to fund your projects. But they require a lot of groundwork and additional promotion, particularly for small businesses. Have you tried necessary preorders for yourself? If so, what was your experience?

 

 

Kickstarter projects are all or nothing. If a project doesn’t reach its funding goal, it’s canceled and backers never see pledges taken out of their account. But in my first Kickstarter, I received funding for 2 out of 4 pin designs. How?

I used stretch goals, but perhaps not in the way Kickstarter intended.

The crowdfunding venue distances itself from stretch goals as not being an official part of the platform, but acknowledges their existence and value. But now creators are using stretch goals differently.

 

What is a Stretch Goal?

Kickstarter defines a stretch goal as “a funding target set by the project creator beyond the original Kickstarter goal.” These additional funds often add perks or upgrades to the existing project, like improving binding on a self-published zine or higher quality game pieces for a board game. They may also be separate from the project. Extra stickers, a free pin, or a bonus comic strip are all stretch goals I’ve seen creators offer.

That’s not the kind of stretch goal I used. I’m talking about stretch goals as a way of running a Kickstarter project.

Most projects on Kickstarter have one clear goal. They either get enough to print 500 copies of that comic book, record and produce that album, produce a revolutionary new type of ramen…or not.

Smaller projects are different. If your goal is to produce a set of 10 enamel pins, you could take the all-or-nothing route too. All 10 pins or nothing! Risky, but that’s the nature of Kickstarter.

But what if instead, you could collect funding for just some of the pins? And you didn’t have to meet your end goal to put some pins into production?

That’s the mindset behind using stretch goals for your entire campaign strategy, rather than just the extras.

 

How Does a Stretch Goal Based Campaign Work?

Rather than just write about it, let’s look at two examples. First, take my finished campaign.

 

A screenshot of my completed Kickstarter campaign, featuring an image of my 4 succulents in cups designs (with 2 additional color variations for a total of 6 pins)
My Completed Kickstarter Campaign

I planned to create a set of four succulent pins based on seasons. I set my initial goal at $200 to cover the cost of a single pin. Being my first Kickstarter project, I wasn’t confident that I could get all four pins funded. Setting the official funding goal for only my first pin design was less risky. Nothing is guaranteed in a Kickstarter campaign of course, but I was much more likely to raise $200 than $1000.

I launched my project on March 5th and successfully funded the first pin March 12th – in exactly one week. And it turns out, stretch goals were the right call. The second pin design was barely funded – right before the project ended on March 28th.

 

A screenshot of Reboops' Kickstarter project for 20 Overwatch-inspired enamel pins
Reboops’ Overwatch Pins Kickstarter

Now let’s look at a couple of on-going projects. My good friend Reboops just launched her third (!!!) Kickstarter campaign. She’s aiming for a massive set of 20 pins based on characters from the game Overwatch.

As of this writing, she’s funded 11 pins (out of 20). Like my campaign, her initial goal was only set for a single pin. In this case, she isn’t planning any stretch goals beyond the set of 20, but has added extra pin designs to previous Kickstarter campaigns as she met her original goals.

 

A screenshot of Shirley Jackson's Chinese Zodiac Animal Kickstarter, featuring an image of 3 pins: Horse, Sheep, and Monkey
Shirley Jackson (Lioninthetrees)’s Zodiac Animal Pin Kickstarter

Do all pin Kickstarter projects work this way then? No, and Shirley Jackson’s Chinese Zodiac enamel pins are a great example of a more traditional approach to a project. In this series, she aims to fund three pin designs and 12 zodiac animal screen prints.

Her stretch goals include two different color variants and an extra enamel pin (related to the Chinese Zodiac story). Although these are “stretch goals,” they’ll definitely get funded. This project was just released this morning but has already met its main goal! But I absolutely love Shirley’s work, so I can see why.

Update: A couple hours later and all but the final stretch goal has been funded. Woah.

Update #2: All stretch goals funded before I could get this post online!

 

Full Funding Goals vs. Stretch Goals

While traditional campaigns aim to fully fund a project, stretch goal-based campaigns fund a project in steps. Neither is necessarily better than the other, but naturally, they both have pros and cons.

Full Goal Pros:

  • Crystal clear goal
  • Easy to understand
  • Less likely to have unexpected costs/insufficient funds

 

Full Goal Cons:

  • Higher risk
  • Greater possibility of no funding

Running your campaign with your full goal as your official goal doesn’t have any significant advantages or disadvantages. It’s simply the default. Your audience will see exactly what your goal is, with no opportunity for confusion. You also inherit the all-or-nothing risk that’s inherent to the Kickstarter platform.

If you truly need the full amount of funding for your project, or you aren’t willing to create only a part of your project, use full goal funding.

 

Stretch Goal Pros:

  • Higher chance of success
  • Less risk
  • Good for risky or less popular projects
  • Generates excitement throughout the campaign

A stretch goal set-up is perfect if your project is flexible and you’re unsure about your chances of success. A project targeted to a very niche audience, a relatively new creator, or a project where the first goal really is your primary goal are all good candidates for stretch goals.

With your initial amount set far lower than your full project goal, you’re far more likely to guarantee some amount of funding.

But one of the most notable but overlooked benefits of running a stretch goal-based campaign is excitement. Traditional projects have two high points: when your project is fully funded and when the campaign ends (and the project begins).

Stretch goals create several high points throughout your campaign. After meeting your first goal, backers can still look forward to the next goal or their favorite one. But note that this only works if you’re consistently meeting stretch goals throughout the campaign.

 

Stretch Goal Cons:

  • Less urgency once you’ve met your official goal
  • Partial funding may not be enough for actual costs

When planning a campaign based on stretch goals, not getting fully funded is a definite possibility. So be sure to set each goal high enough for each additional reward. When I give this warning the example I have in mind is my own campaign.

Because my campaign barely hit my second goal before it ended, I was able to offer that my second pin design to backers. I’m really glad I could. But on that last day, one person canceled their pledge. Kickstarter didn’t change the total amount to reflect that dropped pledge, so in reality, when funds came through, I’d actually raised a total of $389 and after Kickstarter fees, received $353.

On one hand, I’m glad my second design was “officially” unlocked and I could but it into production right away. But the funds just covered manufacturing costs, and I was left to cover remaining expenses like shipping myself. That’s the kind of oversight that I expect would be less likely with a full goal Kickstarter.

 

In the end, one type of campaign isn’t better than the other, but they suit different needs.

If you have a project (like enamel pins) that can be broken up into smaller goals and don’t necessarily need to be released as a complete set, a stretch goal-based project will work just fine.

But if your project needs the total amount of funding to be successful, can’t or shouldn’t be split into parts, or you want to manage a simpler campaign, full goal funding is the way to go.

 

Banner of 7 plant pin designs. From left to right: zebra plant in a red pot, golden sedums in blue and pink teacups, sedum in a glass, sedum in a paper coffee cup, and 2 sedums in blue and purple mugs

Last month I started my first Kickstarter campaign. I shared, promoted, and actually created a content strategy to get the word out. And it was successful!

Last week, I finished shipping out Kickstarter rewards. Unless there’s a problem with any orders, the process is over. That batch of 20-some Kickstarter rewards was technically my second art sale. Thinking about it that way, a Kickstarter may have been a bit premature. But I’m glad I tried it and naturally, I learned a lot.

There were several little moments of excitement and accomplishment throughout the process: getting my first backer, getting more backers, anytime I got a backer actually, and then figuring out and successfully accomplishing the logistics.

Before I address what I learned from running a Kickstarter, I thought I’d go into why I decided to start a Kickstarter project in the first place.

 

Why Start a Kickstarter?

Other than for the money? I decided to venture into the world of crowdfunding because:

  • Pins are expensive
  • Pin makers run successful Kickstarter campaigns all the time
  • Pin sets are far easier to produce at once with some support

Kickstarters are common in the pin creator community. First, seeing all these pin makers on Instagram showed me it was possible. For me, this occurred at two levels: in the abstract, seeing pin makers I follow online, and in person, as one of my dear friends successfully ran two massive (and massively successful) Kickstarter campaigns.

Crowdfunding also felt like the best way to produce a set of pins. But there’s another benefit that I didn’t know about at the time.

Kickstarter projects generate excitement and urgency. I’ve experienced this as a backer, but there’s a sense of pride in being able to bring a project to life with your purchase or donation. Kickstarter creates a community in a way that preorders in a shop cannot. As a backer, or someone on the fence about backing, you can follow along with a project’s progress and if it’s successful, feel like you too had a role in that success. Which, well, if you backed it, you did.

While running a Kickstarter was fun and exciting and new, I definitely feel a sense of relief now that it’s over. My campaign funded two out of four pins in the series. I’m satisfied, but looking back, there are certainly things I would have done differently.

6 succulent pin designs on a purple gradient background. Designs feature succulents in different cups: teacup, glass, paper coffee cup, and mug

Lessons from My First Kickstarter

Remember how I said this Kickstarter was only my second art sale? Yeah. In retrospect, I might have told myself, hey, isn’t it a bit soon to be running a Kickstarter? Maybe it was. But it also turned out fine.

That doesn’t mean I would repeat the process as is. Here’s what I learned:

1. Build Your Audience First!

Here’s how I began my campaign. I created my Kickstarter project and set my campaign period shorter than the default amount (because I’d read/heard that shorter campaigns tended to do better and I was impatient). Then after the project was already underway, I began reading up on how to run a successful campaign. And the one thing all experienced creators were saying was to build up your audience first.

Whoops. I suppose I’d been trying to do a little network-building by creating and building up an art Instagram account. But my following was and still is moderate. If I’d heard this bit of advice first, I would have waited before starting a campaign. Or worked harder to build a large following.

2. Set Higher Funding Goals.

I remember once finding a Kickstarter project to fund a single pin that was listed at $900. $900?! I could produce at least four pins at that price! I set my own project goals at $200 per pin, a very reasonable amount, I thought.

Reasonable, but maybe not for Kickstarter. While I knew about Kickstarter’s fees and thought I’d factored them into account, other costs added up too. In case you’re wondering, Kickstarter charges a 5% fee plus payment processing fees (3% + $0.20 per payment). I didn’t make the mistake of not charging for shipping, but I severely underpriced international shipping costs. This one’s (halfway) on me, international buyers!

There were also multiple components of the packaging that I hadn’t considered. Bubble mailers, individual pin packaging, backing cards, business cards, label sticker paper, and shipping labels all cost something. I haven’t calculated what the actual cost per person came out to yet, but I know it was more than what I charged.

Moral of the story: $900 for a one-pin Kickstarter project isn’t so unreasonable after all.

3. Get Your Packaging Ready Early.

I started out with a rough idea of how I wanted my packaging to look. But I was slow to actually purchase the supplies. This was a mistake because I couldn’t just go out and buy everything in a single afternoon. Everything is cheaper and comes in more colors online. I wasn’t even able to find all the parts I wanted for packaging at local stores. So when my pins arrived a little early, I was still waiting on pieces of my packaging.

While my orders didn’t experience a delay because the pins arrived earlier than expected, it would have been much easier to get everything together early.

4.. There’s a Payment Processing Period.

Bonus tip! After your Kickstarter project is successfully funded, there’s a 14-day payment processing period. Fortunately, I learned about this through a friend before my campaign ended. Because my project was relatively small, I ordered from my manufacturer before receiving my Kickstarter funds so it wouldn’t be as long of a wait.

 

Kickstarter has its place, but I don’t plan to run another campaign anytime soon. But creating a Ghibli pin set does look like fun…

 

 

Money stresses me out. And thinking about how to monetize something I love – art in my case – has always seemed stressful too. You can probably list all the typical concerns I had:

  • Monetizing will make your hobby feel like work.
  • It won’t be fun anymore.
  • You’ll do it because you have to, not because you want to.
  • Your work won’t be as good if it’s done for money and not some higher artistic calling.

These ideas were weirdly ingrained into my subconscious. Probably because I kept hearing these messages from people and the media and that amorphous blob we might call society. Don’t we generally accept these ideas as true, at least for some cases?

Let’s Talk Artists and Money

Monetizing Your Interests
“Morph”, oil on canvas, 2013.

The relationship between art and money in particular is a tricky one. On one hand, we have the starving artist trope. What has contributed to this idea are the dozens of now-famous artists who were never appreciated during their lifetimes. On the other hand, we have abstract artwork selling for millions of dollars while the general public looks on and scoffs, “my child could have done that!”

So somehow, artists are both dreadfully poor people with no hope of making a decent living AND mysterious beings who have the ability to become millionaires with a well-placed scribble or paint splatter. Obviously, the reality is far less exciting. But these tropes exist in my head (and probably yours) nonetheless.

The Mythical Artist: Creativity as Sacred, Special, and Limited*

Another myth is something we might call the sacredness of art (or any creative act). Artists (or writers or musicians) don’t simply create. They lay around and wait for “inspiration” to strike, and when it does, they become incredibly prolific and produce masterpiece after masterpiece. At least, until that inspiration dries up.

*Doesn’t this title sound like a journal article? I think I’m ready for grad school.

I Can’t Do It for the Money

So with an image of art as a divine act and confusing messages about my ability to ever make money with art, I never thought too seriously about running an art business.

One, I had other things to do. Two, because I doubted my ability to produce great art under pressure. If I had to wait for inspiration, how could I create art on demand?

What if doing art for money killed my creativity?

Or I accepted a commission but then didn’t have any inspiration?

Or worse, what if my art turned out no good and the client ended up hating it?

But now, having started an art business, I worry about none of that.

 

How Do You Get Over the Fear/Discomfort/Stress of Monetizing Your Art?

I can’t know exactly what will help you get over any discomfort with monetization, but there are two points that helped me: having a real product in mind and keeping my focus where it needs to be.

A Real Product

The final push that led me to start an art business was my desire to create a specific product: enamel pins. As I began setting up the foundation for an enamel pin business, it became a natural step for me to sell other forms of art.

Currently, I’m selling prints and pins. I don’t do commissions, which were the main source of my past worries. But in the future, who knows? I know now that “commissions” for me will never look like some broad, undefined art project full of uncertainty. If I offer commissions, they’ll be a specific product I know I can produce, like pet portraits or witchsonas, to name a couple products I’ve seen other artists offer.

Having the physical product in mind made it clear exactly what I needed to do to get into business. Now I’m well on my way, with one pin currently in production and up for preorders, and a pin set in progress.

Profit is Not the Focus

The second change I needed to start an art business confidently was to not focus on profit. I’m sure this may sound naive or like a luxury to some. But I don’t mean you should only do art for art’s sake or that you shouldn’t sell or market your work. I’m talking about changing your mindset. Shifting my focus away from monetizing has freed me from any concerns about inspiration, productivity, and enjoyment.

I still enjoy doing art, because I do art that I enjoy. I’m not especially worried about inspiration or productivity. There are days when I’m full of ideas and keep reaching for my sketchbook to capture them. Then there are days when I’m too busy with work and other projects to muster the energy for new ideas.

Then What Is the Focus?

I’m running an art business for myself. It’s my way of pushing myself to make art more consistently. I don’t expect to make a significant amount of money from my artwork, and maybe that’s the starving artist trope still talking, but I’m okay with it. This is a side hustle, not my main gig.

But You Still Need to Do the Work

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sending my art out into the world and just hoping someone will buy a few prints. I’m serious. Otherwise, I would have stuck with social media and left out the art shop. Just because my mindset isn’t centered on money doesn’t mean my business isn’t. Think of this split as the difference between a company’s vision and values vs. their business goals.

My vision is about producing art I love. But my goals involve getting this business off the ground. I like what freelance writer Christina Vanvuren says about goals. Wanting to make $5,000 a month is nice. But “making $5,000” is not an action you can take. Actions you can take include designing and creating products, building an audience or following of potential customers, and promoting your work regularly.

In content marketing, your primary tasks are creating valuable content and promoting it. You should spend 80% of your time on one and 20% percent on the other. Guess which one should take up 80%?

Promotion. Good marketing practices say you should spend far more time on promotion than content creation. Because your amazing content can’t do a thing if it’s left alone in the dusty corners of the Internet.

My Turn to Work

While I’m still drawing, painting, or designing pins every day, the most important daily task for my art business right now is promotion. And that’s what I’ll do with you now. It would be hypocritical of me to say “promote yourself!” and then not mention any of my projects, don’t you think?

I could tell you to follow me on social media at @Monicartsy (on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Vero) OR ask you to visit my Etsy shop OR even preorder my first enamel pin (this cute little Zebra plant that’s only available at a discount until March 14th). But instead I want you to focus on my biggest project right now: an enamel pins series on Kickstarter.

Monetizing Your Interests - "Succs in Cups" Seasonal Succulent Enamel Pin Kickstarter layout with 6 pin designs arranged on a light purple gradiant background. The left two designs are yellow-green succulents in 2 blue and pink teacups. Center two designs have a succulent growing in a glass and another darker green succulent growing in a paper coffee cup. The right two designs feature succulents in a blue mug and purple mug.

True to my current plant-hoarder branding, I’ve designed a series of succulent pins. Part of the appeal of succulents is that they’re cute and you can plant them in all sorts of cute containers. Don’t deny it. I personally love seeing succulents in cups. Currently, I have succulents growing in teacups and cocktail glasses. So I ran with that idea and added fall and winter variations.

Right now the fall paper cup might be my favorite, but I’m also really satisfied with the stars added to the winter mugs (a last minute change suggested by my sister Alyssa).

Monetizing your interests - 2 winter succulents in mugs designs, one blue mug and one purple mug with a gold star design on the outside

I’m really not much of a salesperson – I was never any good at those school fundraisers with all the cool prizes – and in any case, funding or preordering one of these pins is your decision. Maybe you don’t want to fall into the black hole that is enamel pin collecting. I can respect that. It’s too late for me, but good on you.

But I’d still love it if you took a look, and if you like what you see, spread the word to your friends.

Help me with that promotion!

 

 

This post is part of a monthly series where I record my process of starting an art business. I’m sharing this process as I go so I capture all the little stressors and small victories along the way. Here’s a real-time look at one person’s journey to starting an art business.

Mindset and Reflection

This month, it was unexpectedly difficult for me to write this blog post. I started drafts several times and then postponed my work. I even pushed back my schedule (this series is supposed to go live the third Tuesday of every month). And then I split it into two blog posts.

For this half of my February posts, I’m focusing on art products. I’ll cover:

Art Prints

Digital Downloads

Enamel Pins

Pin Manufacturer

 

What Kind of Art Should I Sell?

I knew my answer immediately. I started an art business wanting to make enamel pins. And that’s what I’ll do. But pins are expensive to manufacturer and can take up to two months to go from design to product-at-your-doorstep. So my question became “what else can I offer while I’m waiting on pins?”

The first thing that came to mind was art prints.

Art Prints

Every artist seems to sell art prints. And why not? They already have the product and it seems only natural for an artist to sell straight up artwork. But on the other hand, I was thinking, “does anyone buy art prints online?”

Obviously they do. But was it a big market? Even as an artist, I’ve never purchased an art print online. I’ve never had the desire to. I still don’t. But I have purchased prints and artwork at galleries, art walks, and events. An artist friend of mine said she’s the same way.

So with some reservations, I decided to give it a try. Because selling prints is easy right? Well, yes and no.

How to Make Art Prints

After I decided to sell art prints, I realized I had no idea how artists do this. Where do they print their artwork? What are the cost-efficient options? What kind of paper do they use? What printing method is best? And oh my gosh, how am I supposed to ship a print without it getting bent or outright crushed?

In retrospect, I was a little dramatic. But suddenly, it seemed like there were a million things to consider. Maybe if I’d purchased online prints before, I wouldn’t have had this little crisis. When I stopped wondering and started looking, I found four options:

  1. Printing from Home
    My printer is a nightmare, so I immediately cut this option.
  2. Printing from an Office Supply Store
    Think FedEx, Office Depot, or Staples. This option is very cheap and typically uses laser printing. (Home printing is usually inkjet.) Their paper options are limited, but at some places (or possibly all?) you can bring your own paper for them to use.
  1. Printing from an Online Business
    There are probably several businesses like this out there. Many are photo printing businesses, but the one I found was mentioned on an Etsy forum and offers fine art prints as well. I won’t mention their name yet since I’m still deciding on whether I like this service.I received free print and paper samples from this company, but unfortunately they were all photo paper. In the end, I decided to just buy a few fine art prints to see if I like them. I’m really hoping I do.
  1. Printing from a Local Print Shop
    This is probably the most professional option. You can usually get giclee prints, which are very high-quality and more likely to be considered fine art. I haven’t looked into this option because I only found out about it recently. I also don’t need fine art quality prints for Etsy.

 

Right now I tentatively plan to go with the online business, as long as the fine art prints I ordered turn out well. The Office Depot prints I ordered were available for pickup the next day and the paper quality wasn’t bad, but you could see the difference in color. Going with the online business means higher print prices and slower delivery, but the quality seems worth it. Or I’ll offer a couple different paper options in my Etsy shop.

 

Digital Downloads on Etsy

Prints aren’t available in my Etsy shop yet, but there’s a quicker, cheaper alternative: digital downloads. In theory, digital products are excellent for a business owner. After you’ve uploaded the product and made your listing, it’s basically passive income. Buyers make a purchase, download the files, and do all the printing themselves.

In practice, I’m not sure how well this works. There are thousands of digital download listings on Etsy, so I suppose someone is buying them. But I get the sense that products with a specific purpose sell better than art prints. To test this idea out on myself again, no, I don’t think I’d buy downloadable art unless I really, really loved the artwork or I had a specific use in mind for the print.

But I did see an adorable set of tea labels that I would consider buying. Even more so if I had sticker paper and a decent-quality printer. Gift tags, banners, greeting cards, and bookmarks also seem to be more popular in the realm of digital downloads. You’ll probably see me trying out a few of these in the future.

 

Enamel Pins

Here’s the product I’m really excited about. Because I have a lot to share. Mainly that my first enamel pin is currently in production!

Art Business Products - Zebra Plant Succulent pin mockup

It’s a zebra plant, naturally, and is similar to the first plant in my “Mini Succs in Pots” print. Here was my process:

  • Create pin design
  • Struggle immensely with digital art
  • Research manufacturers
  • Contact manufacturers for quotes
  • Choose and get started!

Designing an Enamel Pin

For me, designing can be split into two stages. The fun, idea generation part and the painful struggle to transfer your design into a digital form part. But before we get any further, I’d like to make sure we’re all on the same page. Because if you aren’t into pins yet, you might be wondering…

What are Enamel Pins?

You can look at a picture of a pin and get it, but when you’re designing a pin, it helps to understand the manufacturing process. In a pin mockup, the line art acts as a barrier to separate the colors.

Art Business Product - ReboopsDesigns Sailor Scout Enamel Pin Designs
Used with permission from ReboopsDesigns

Manufacturers create a mold with the line art acting as raised barriers. Then they fill in the recesses with the right colors. So no gradients or colors without a line separating them. You also want to avoid fine details to ensure that manufacturers can get enough color into the recess. The way the colors are filled in depends on the manufacturing process you use.

Soft Enamel vs. Hard Enamel

All the pins I’ve purchased have been hard enamel pins. Here’s the difference.

With soft enamel, each section only receives one coat of enamel paint. The result is an uneven surface with metal ridges (line art) higher than flat colored sections.

To make hard enamel, the colored sections receive multiple layers of paint until the filling reaches the top of the metal mold. The top surface of the pin is polished for a smooth finish.

I strongly prefer hard enamel pins. Soft enamel often looks a little messy to me, especially if it’s a big design. But they have benefits too.

Soft Enamel Pin Pros
  • Cheaper to produce
  • Greater range of color
  • Colors possibly more vibrant
Hard Enamel Pin Pros
  • Very durable
  • Smooth surface looks cleaner
  • Looks better (in my subjective opinion)

So although soft enamel pins cost less, I think the quality of hard enamel is worth it. That’s why you may see pins with a big price difference. People usually advertise hard enamel pins as such, but may not specify when a pin is soft enamel.

 

The Quest for the Perfect Manufacturer

I already went into my digital art struggles in part two of this series, so now let’s talk manufacturers. I’m about to drop some insider knowledge on you. Ready? Finding the best manufacturer is every pin maker’s struggle. You want a company that’s easy to work with and has a low ratio of B grade to standard grade pins.

In our digital, always-online age, you’d think this would be easy. Couldn’t you just Google “enamel pin manufacturers” and look at reviews?

No. You can’t.

Pin makers are strangely secretive about their manufacturers. I guess it’s best to keep your manufacturer to yourself so they’ll continue to have a low turnaround time? Is that it? I don’t really know, but I’ll keep mum for now too. But this only applies when you work directly with Chinese manufacturers.

There are several pin businesses in the US and Europe. Except they all use Chinese manufacturers too. They’re middlemen, so you’ll only end up paying more than necessary. The benefit is that you receive a more customer-friendly experience. They usually have prices displayed online, extensive explanations of their manufacturing process, and several samples of their prior work.

Here’s a list of businesses I considered:

Shoutout to Zap, who will touch up your design for you, and Night Owls, with the most adorable website ever.

But in addition to these four businesses, I considered four manufacturers I found through Alibaba. I asked for quotes from these four and Night Owl (who doesn’t have prices on their website) and heard from four out of five companies. Zap, Cooper, and Stuck Up all have prices listed on their sites, so I used those for comparison.

When working directly with manufacturers in China, the language barrier and shipping costs are two things to consider. Personally, I didn’t have any trouble with the language barrier and found it almost comforting to work with someone who’s not a native English speaker. Maybe I’m just missing Korea. I only had one awkward moment when a manufacturer referred to “shipping” as “freight” and it took me longer than it should have to understand.

Shipping will naturally be more expensive but since productions costs are generally lower, the overall cost is more competitive than most American or European manufacturers.

One thing I like about working directly with manufacturers is that you get to see the cost breakdown. Your design mold will be around $60 to $80 and the cost per pin ranges from $0.50 to $2.00. Keep in mind these prices are only based on the manufacturers I contacted.

Stresses and Successes

Since yesterday’s post included this month’s Stresses and Successes, I have nothing to report…except that you can now reserve a Zebra Plant Pin for a discounted pre-order price! It would mean a lot to me if you took a look.

See you with another art business post in March!

Art Business Product - 3 Zebra plant pin mockups listed in a horizontal row: black lineart, gold plating mockup, and black nickel mockup

Other posts in Starting an Art Business:

 

 

I did it. I started an Etsy! Last month I said I was starting an art business and now I have the physical proof. Done.

Art Business Etsy Shop Storefront

Well, not even close. But rather than look ahead, this post is a moment to pause and look back. To take stock of my progress and then keep on going. To be honest, it’s a little annoying. In my last post, I was high on motivation and the thrill of starting something new. Now I’m in the trenches. I’m not interested in stepping out and reflecting on my progress because I have so much more to do – why don’t you just let me work? But I set up this schedule for myself, so here I am, writing this post even though it’s already a day late.

The big accomplishment of the past month was launching my Etsy shop last week (which you can find under “Monicartsy”, just like any of my social media accounts). But even before that, I was doing a lot of work, even if I didn’t have anything to show for it yet.

Stresses and Successes

Each month I’m writing out my “stresses and successes” as a quick way to identify what was really stressing me out at the time and document my wins. Here are this month’s stresses and successes:

Stresses

  • Figuring out what to sell (other than pins)
  • Not knowing where to start with art prints
  • Choosing the “best” way to print art
  • Not knowing how to ship art prints
  • Digital art, in general.
  • Struggling with line art in Photoshop
  • Worrying I wouldn’t be able to provide the right file type to manufacturers
  • Whether I needed to learn vector art
  • Whether I needed to learn Illustrator
  • Being a perfectionist about my pin designs
  • Writing this post!

Successes

  • Continued to make and post art consistently
  • Started an Etsy!
  • Cleaned up 2 art pieces digitally to get them print-ready
  • Listed digital prints for sale
  • Received sample prints from two companies
  • Started a business log/journal
  • Finished my first pin-ready design in Photoshop
  • Figured out Pantone colors
  • Inspired to sketch out tons of pin ideas
  • Created a short list of possible manufacturers
  • Compared manufacturer services and quotes
  • Choose a manufacturer!
  • Negotiated effectively for add-ons
  • Received and approved my pin mockup for production!

 

Digital Art, My Nemesis

Digital art was probably my biggest struggle this past month. So traditional artists, sympathy? Digital artists, keep on doing your thing. (But I guess maybe it’s the digital artists who can really understand what that beginner struggle was like.)

Digital art is hard! You might remember that not too long ago I was at scribble level. I’m still learning and nowhere near proficient – maybe just good at hiding my flaws. But a pin design is a pin design. No way to dress it up. It is what it is. If a line is squiggly, it’s squiggly for everyone to see.

Now it feels weird, but I had a serious I’m-not-sure-I-can-do-this moment with line art. I couldn’t get my lines smooth, any scanned artwork looked super messy when I opened it up in Photoshop, and none of the “Tips for Smooth Lineart” articles were helping. I had no idea how I was supposed to finish a clean pin design, let alone convert it to a vector file in Illustrator. Everything was overwhelming. I was probably pretty tired too.

I messaged a pin maker friend to let out my angst. But she kind of ruined my moment.

 

Oh, my lines aren’t completely smooth or straight either lol, her message read.

My manufacturer actually accepted a jpeg file – they didn’t even ask for .psd!

 

Just like that, my worries were invalid. I finished that stupid pin design and even though I wasn’t sure I’d use it, I finished. I finished my first pin design.

Now I’ve made a handful of pin designs and it’s no big deal. Lol.

 

Stay Tuned…

This post was a little shorter than usual, but that’s because I just wrote a massive 2000+ second post for this month. So if you have any questions about the Stresses and Successes here, hold on. Chances are they’ll be answered in tomorrow’s post. Keep an eye out for it!

 

Other posts in Starting an Art Business:

Productivity Hacks To-Do Lists title image with background image of hand writing in a notebook

Productivity Hacks: Make Lists that Don’t Suck

I’m a pro at making lists that suck. You know when the number of things you have to do is so overwhelming that you just have to write them down? Or those daily lists you make with all the things you want to get done, but inside, you know is completely unrealistic?

Yeah, those were my kind of lists.

The thing is to-do lists are great for productivity. But that’s if and only if they’re done well. Just scribbling down everything you need to do in list format and hoping you’ll be able to cross out most of them by the end of the day won’t cut it.

So how do you make lists that don’t suck? I’m glad you asked.

 

Use Separate Lists

You might have wildly varying items on your list, from work tasks like uploading a new blog post to personal goals like working out or studying Korean.

But we approach these goals differently, as we should. The work tasks on my list almost always get done on time, because they’re work. Someone’s counting on me to do them. The personal tasks not so much.

In school, we’re able to get away with putting everything on a to-do list – or those free school planners – because they were all work tasks. You might have listed homework and projects in your planner, but many of these were finished in the same day too (or they weren’t supposed to be, but you were a master of procrastination).

Personal goals are all on you. You might need to create systems to keep yourself accountable, like taking a class or finding a language partner. So keep work and personal tasks in separate lists, and be prepared to do a lot more work defining your personal lists.

 

Break Down Anything Too Vague or Large

Another reason we have difficulty accomplishing personal goals is that most of them are too vague. Or worse, they’re listed as a vague task with no ultimate goal in mind.

“Study Korean” has been on many, many lists of mine. But this list item sucks because:

  • It leaves too many possibilities.
  • It doesn’t actually tell me what to do.
  • It doesn’t refer to a goal.

“Study” is an incredibly vague task. What is studying anyway? Is it using a textbook? Memorizing vocab? Watching Korean dramas and hoping you absorb the language?

Unless there are more details you’ve laid out behind the scenes in your brain, you’ll have a hard time motivating yourself to tackle this amorphous command to study.

On the other hand, if you use a textbook or website and plan to get through one module a week, your goals are suddenly much clearer. You can take your weekly goal and break it down into daily tasks. You can keep a list of long-term goals, but your daily to-do lists should only have small tasks.

 

Pro-Tip: Capture everything.

Originally I had a few more tips for this post, but then I started reading David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. It sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, this book IS GOOD. And much of Allen’s system is focused on lists.

One of the first principles is to capture everything. Allen’s reasoning goes like this:

Most of the time, we waste mental energy trying to remember what we need to do. Instead of relying on our memory, we should everything out of our heads and onto paper. Or an app. Or your organizing system of choice. He includes personal and professional tasks alike, from planning a family trip to setting up client calls. The more comprehensive and reliable your capturing system is, the more your brain can rely on it and stop worrying.

I’m not even halfway through the book, but this seemed like a pretty good gem.

 

Other Productivity Hack posts:

#1. Productivity Hacks: Do Your Laundry

#2. Productivity Hacks: Eat Treats. All the Treats.