Brenda Olson of Brenda Olson Art creates colorful, whimsical cards and magnets from her home studio in Hudson, WI. IndieMade recently talked withBrenda about starting an art business, making time for creativity, and finding an online home for her many-faceted company.
What attracted you to your business? How did you get your start?
My joy and passion is creating art. Like many artists, I have a dream of making a living following my passion. I started with greeting cards, magnets, and art prints primarily because these are items I figured out how to make. I like the idea of making money using the same image over and over again, rather than selling an original in a gallery.
When I started out, I took my sketches and watercolors to the copy shop and printed them out at different sizes and played around trying to figure out how to make products with these images. It was fun to shrink them down to magnet size and watch the images tighten up.
Eventually, I found the courage to bring items to an art/craft show. I also went to galleries and shops to do consignment. It was about this time that I found wholesalecrafts.com. I was so excited to get a few orders. Now I have sold my products to over 200 stores across the country and I manufacture all of my products in my own studio.
What piece of advice would you give someone starting out in the art business?
Give each customer your personal attention. Don’t underestimate a “small” customer. It is all about creating and building customers who want to come back.
The business aspects can get overwhelming. Remember to make time for your ART. This is what you love to do and why you got into this business. Your ART is what makes your product special. This is a message I tell myself over and over again. I feel productive when I am filling orders, working on websites, etc. For some reason, I don’t give myself credit for the time I spend doing art.
How did you start selling products online?
I started selling through the wholesalecrafts.com website to wholesale customers (store owners and buyers). This has been a wonderful resource to make contact with independent store owners and develop lasting relationships.
For my direct sales website, I have traveled through a gazillion “build your own website” companies and spent countless hours maneuvering complicated websites.
Besides your website, where do you sell your stuff?
Most of my sales are to the wholesale market and sold primarily through sales reps in some regions, on wholesalecrafts.com, and through wholesale catalogs. I have also gained buyers through the Minneapolis Gift Mart and New York Stationery Show. (FYI – I did better at my local Gift Mart than the New York show. Just because it is bigger doesn’t mean you will sell more. Try out your local wholesale gift mart and save on travel and lodging expenses.) I occasionally sell at local art shows.
How are you promoting your business online?
Do you blog? How does that work for you?
I have dabbled a little bit. It is on the someday list.
Why did you decide to try IndieMade?
I was looking for a true home for the many facets of my business. I see my website as a hub for the different areas of my biz. I recently started licensing my artwork, teaching classes, selling retail, etc. in addition to my wholesale business. I was looking for an uncomplicated website where I could represent the totality of my business. Also, it was critical to have a simple shopping cart so I could grow direct sales.
I love that the blog is integrated into the site, so when I get around to the blogging phase of my life, I will be able to keep everything cohesive.
What is your favorite part of using IndieMade?
It is so easy and user-friendly compared to other “build your own” websites. I know…I have tried most of them! They are truly an indie company with great customer service, with real people who care about providing a quality product to their customers.
What's on the horizon for you and your business?
I plan to do new art, develop new products, and find new customers. Secretly, I am having fun with ideas for children’s books.
Do you have any tips for new users of IndieMade?
Read the IndieMade Handbook. Nearly all of my questions were answered in easy-to-understand language. When I had to contact the staff with additional questions, I was answered promptly and courteously.