This week’s featured maker is Jonathan Chapman from Folksy shop Mr Yen. We asked Jonathan to tell us a bit more about how he has developed his business, and for his tips on how to get fabulous press coverage.
When and how did you start your business?
I started my business in 2009, the last year of my university degree. Throughout my final year I had such a focus on working for myself that any project I was given, I turned into a way to help me develop my papercutting skills, and I geared everything towards setting up a business of my own. Since then there have been several times when I’ve moved in to full-time employment, which I think is quite common for people who run their own businesses, it’s just that no one mentions it. Unfortunately I was made redundant twice as the companies I was working for closed down, so the second time (which happened in July) I decided enough was enough, and it was time to focus fully on my own business. It’s constant hard work, but really worth it!
You’ve had a lot of press coverage, including features in House & Garden magazine, Oprah’s O Magazine, and on Design*Sponge. Have you got any tips on how to get seen by the press and bloggers?
Promote yourself because no one else will do it for you (unless you have a fancy PR/marketing team!). Making connections is important, be polite, speak as if you were talking in real life and as though you’re speaking to a person, not a machine. Always remember to say please and thank you, and always make sure you know the name of the person you’re contacting and what it is they do. If you do all these things, and you’re a friendly and helpful, with determination and passion, then I think that’s how to be a success. If you’re excited about what you do, and believe in what you’re doing, that’s contagious and people will want to share your work!
How do you sell your work (online, wholesale, markets)? Which works best for you?
All the above! I’ve only sold my work at a few craft fairs, but that’s something I’d like to do more of as it’s a great way to meet customers. I think the place I’ve sold best has been my own website after having features on high-profile blogs like Design*Sponge. It’s always great to be featured on blogs and websites, and I love that people can still appreciate my tactile work online. Wholesale has been quite a good income for me too, and I’m always on the lookout for more shops and boutiques to have my work stocked in. I currently have my work in shops both online and offline all around the world, from the UK to Finland and Japan.
How do you price your work?
I create a wholesale price first by factoring in things like material costs and labour, but a big focus is the time it takes to create a piece. If I’m creating something on the lasercutter, it won’t be as expensive as cutting something by hand because cutting by hand takes a great deal more time, plus the years I’ve trained and developed my skill also need to be considered when pricing hand-cut pieces.
You do commission work too. Can you tell us a bit about that process and how you manage your client, their brief and expectations?
When I create a custom design for a customer or a client, I first get all the information I need to create their design in an email by asking specific questions. I then explain each step of the process to a client, so they know what to expect and when. I then update them at each stage, so they’re a part of the process too. This is something I really enjoy as it feels as though you’re making something together. I love the feeling that I’m bringing something to life for a customer!
Do you set yourself goals for your business?
I do, and I normally set goals for about six months in advance. At the moment I’m starting to plan next year’s goals and I’m already working on one of them, which is to bring out a line of wedding stationery. When you have goals in place, you feel more focused. They don’t have to be set in stone – you can adapt and change them to suit you or your business whenever necessary, just make sure you have something set down to work towards.
What have you learned since starting out, and have you got any tips for other makers?
I’ve learned so much since starting out and I think the best way to learn is from experience. My main tip to other sellers would be to just get on with things. I’ve learned that being a perfectionist and wanting to make sure that everything is just right before releasing, promoting or developing a design or product is not the only way to do things. As a small business owner, you have the capability to change and adapt super quickly – if you make a mistake and need to change something you can do it a lot faster and more easily than huge companies. So don’t be scared to make mistakes, it’s all part of the learning process!
You can read more about Jonathan’s work and what inspires him on Tumblr.
Or visit Jonathan’s Folksy shop Mr Yen and see his beautiful collection of papercuts.