In this week’s Shop Talk interview, we chat to designer and illustrator Caren Barry about her business, her beautiful styling and product photography, how blogging has helped her reach more people, and her tips for Instagram…
When did you start your business, and what kind of things did you consider before setting up your online shop?
After graduating from university, I moved home with my parents so that I could get together enough savings to set up my own business and make a proper go of it as a freelance designer. I saved for a few years and finally started my little business just over a year ago. Since then I have been spending pretty much all my time making a range of products, from textiles homewares to accessories to stationery, all of which feature my original surface pattern designs.
Before becoming self-employed I researched where I could sell my work online, including the potential costs. I discovered Folksy while I was at university and I loved their support for British designers and handmade craft. Setting up an online shop was always a priority for my business. All my textile products are made in small quantities, making them quite high cost to produce, so it made sense to start selling my products online.
Is this your full-time job?
Yes, I’m self-employed and spend my time designing and making products. Alongside developing my own brand, I also take on commission work and custom orders. I love being self-employed because the freedom I have to create means every day is different. I work on my own during the week, and my boyfriend helps out at weekends with marketing and selling at craft fairs. It’s a lot of hard work, but without a doubt worth it.
What channels do you use to promote your work and which do you think work best?
I love taking photographs, so naturally I’m a massive fan of Instagram. I use it everyday for my business and like to keep my followers interested with snapshots of my daily life, behind the scenes in my studio, works in progress and, of course, lots of photographs of flowers! Being image based, I find Instagram works far better for promoting my work than other social media channels, as followers get an insight into my life. I tend to get much more interaction from my followers on there compared to my other accounts. I love interacting with my customers, which is why created a couple of hastags for my business – #acreativecranberry and #carenbarry are filled with lots of pretty business-related photos and the perfect place to find out what customers think of my work!
I have Twitter and Facebook accounts too, which I use just as much as Instagram – it’s much easier to link back to my website and online shop through those. Pinterest is pretty great too for networking with customers and other designers, though I haven’t quite made the commitment to promoting my business on there just yet. I’ve also created an email newsletter which I use at craft fairs and events to help boost my promotion. You can even sign up to my newsletter on my website and through Facebook. That’s a great way of updating customers on a monthly basis about new products, events and special offers.
Is there anyone who you think does social media really well?
I really admire the work of Ariele Alasko, a woodworker based in Brooklyn, New York. Ariele only uses Instagram to promote her work but she has created such a recognisable brand for herself, with a huge following. Her images of her life and her works in progress are always such an inspiration and the beauty of her handcrafted designs really stand out.
A post from Caren’s photo-based ‘Little Snapshots’ series on her blog
You’re a regular blogger. Do you think blogging has helped your business?
I started blogging when I set up my website last year and I think it’s something every small business should pick up. It took me a couple of posts before I really came into my own with my writing style, but now I love using my blog to share exciting news and updates about my work, life and inspiration. I have even created a monthly blog series called ‘Little Snapshots’ which is dedicated to showcasing my Instagram pictures. Blogging has really helped reach more people, especially those who don’t necessarily follow along with any social media.
Which blogs are on your reading list?
I usually read a couple of blogs in the morning before I settle down in my studio. There are so many blogs that I would love to read more regularly, but at the moment, Love Taza, Designlovefest and Emmadime are just a few of my favourites that I manage to keep up to date with!
Do you sell your work wholesale?
I don’t currently sell my work wholesale though it’s definitely something I’m open to pursuing. I hand make a lot of my products in small quantities, which means the cost to produce them is still quite high, so at the moment it doesn’t make sense for me to sell wholesale. I’m working hard to develop my brand and I’m very much looking forward to being able to fulfil wholesale orders in the future. It’s always been an exciting prospect to have my designs stocked in shops across the country with new customers buying my products – and I can’t wait for that to happen!
Have you got any advice for selling at markets and fairs?
Always bring enough stock for the day! I know it may sound silly, but it’s definitely better to have too much than not enough, plus there’s nothing worse than missing out on a sale due to lack of stock. I also find that doing an inventory of stock beforehand allows me to judge whether I have enough of every product. Keeping track of sales during the day makes this easier to manage, and it’s also a great way to find out which products sell best!
Displaying products in a creative way is also really important. Making use of storage and props to create interest and height is also a really great way to make the most of the space you have and makes presenting your products and designs much more fun!
Don’t forget to think about all the other little details such as packaging, business cards, a newsletter sign-up list and talking to your customers in a engaging and friendly manner. It all goes a long way in creating a great first impression and attracting customers to your stand. Even if you don’t sell as much as you’d hoped to, at least you made the most of and enjoyed the day!
I always enjoy selling at markets and fairs, as it’s the perfect opportunity to engage with customers and make new connections with fellow crafters. I’ve exhibited at around 15 fairs since I started my business, ranging from small street markets and Christmas markets to large craft events. I’ve learned a lot over such a short space of time, that’s for sure!
How do you calculate your prices? Do you pay yourself a salary?
Pricing is always a tough one! Generally I do a lot of research before pricing each of my products, also taking into consideration how much friends and family would be willing to pay, given that it’s handmade and unique product! Working out my material and production costs, plus the time it’s taken me to make each product (including the percentage of profit I want to make) usually gives me a pretty good idea of my final selling price.
All my products are printed and made in Britain and I hand-make all my textile products in small quantities. A lot of hard work goes into designing and presenting my products professionally, so I try to make sure my prices reflect this while also being fair and affordable for my customers. It’s nice to be left with a enough profit after a sale so I can pay myself a salary, but most of what I earn tends to go back towards the business so I can create more of what I love to do!
Do you take your own product shots, and what do you consider when photographing your work?
I take all my photographs myself. I studied a bit of photography at sixth-form college but aside from that I have pretty much taught myself. I think having always enjoyed photography and with an eye for styling, this part of my job comes very easily to me. I’m yet to invest in a professional photography kit, but my twin sister is always very generous in lending me hers, so that I can update my product shots on a regular basis!
I usually take my photos in my studio and I try to keep all of the photos bright and airy with props that don’t conflict with the design of my products. Depending on the product, I’ll use either a white or natural wooden background so that it complements the style of my products – the huge white desk in my studio and the coffee table in the living room have come in very handy! I’m quite creative with how I display my products, so it’s takes me a little while to compose my images, and I’m always on the look out for quirky, interesting props. I try to use props that create additional interest within my photography and ones that work well with the product but also suit my own personal style.
What are your top three photography tips?
- Firstly, photographing in good natural light with a tripod is great for avoiding any unwanted camera shake and helps to creates a clear, crisp image. Using a tripod also means you can keep the camera in the same position while you compose your products into a shot that you’re happy with.
- Secondly, creating a sense of depth with different camera angles and using the ‘rule of thirds’ help produce more aesthetically composed images.
- Thirdly, a good variety of creative props suggests the product being used and is a great way of complementing your products or designs.
Snapshots from Caren’s week-long takeover of the Folksy Instagram feed
How do you manage your time, and what do you do in an average working day?
My day varies depending on the time of year and whether I have any craft fairs or events coming up to prepare for. Generally I like to spend at least three days a week on my creative projects. An average day for me starts at 9am with breakfast and a big cup of tea, and usually I’ll catch up on a few of my favourite blogs before settling down in the studio at around 10am. My days can consist of anything from creating new designs to sourcing product supplies, researching local craft fairs and promoting my work.
My days can go by so quickly when I’m just sat at my desk working on one project at a time, so to manage my time more efficiently and break up my days, I work on a couple of task from my to-do list. I find I’m much more motivated this way – and since being self-employed I’ve realised just how many hats you have to wear to get things done! For my general well-being I try not to work too late into the evening or on weekends, so I usually finish my days at around 6-7pm. I try to enjoy the rest of my time with family and friends, but being self-employed it’s sometime difficult to switch off from ‘work mode’!
Where would you like to be five years from now?
Five years from now I would love to be living with my boyfriend in a house of our own, possibly a little nearer to Cambridge. A beautiful garden and a separate studio space would be wonderful too! I want to be producing two full collections a year and selling my designs through some of my favourite retailers as an established brand. But my biggest dream by far would be to own my own studio/shop space where I could sell the work of upcoming and established designers alongside my own. I would love to include a little section for tea, cake and flowers too – a pretty perfect place for everyone I’m sure!