Meet Your Maker: An Interview with Emma Carley from By Emma, With Love

Good morning girl bosses! Today I’m so pleased to introduce you to Emma Carley, a fellow girl boss from the twin cities and a dear Instagram friend, in a post that is part Meet Your Maker and part craft show review, plus a lot of fun.

Since I’m on a quick break from craft shows for the next few weeks, I thought it would be fun to share Emma’s thoughts and advice with you today, since she just finished her very first in person event two weekends ago.

Emma runs her Etsy shop and website By Emma, With Love, and when she was prepping for her first show, I happened to see a post or two on Instagram about it. I wanted to reach out and share my blog with her in case, by some chance, there was anything that might be even remotely valuable to her, and she generously offered to do a quick interview about her very first event, which is super exciting to me for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s been so long since my first event that I have a hard time tapping into what it was like to make that leap, and I want to be able to serve girl bosses in the early stages of their business and craft show career, as well as those who have been doing this for a while.

The second reason that I’m excited to introduce you to Emma is that I’m seriously so impressed by the time and effort that she put into making her very first event so successful. Seriously, I don’t know how her booth looks this amazing, and I am so, so glad that I don’t have pictures from my first event, which was a hot mess, friends. After 50+ shows, I still haven’t got my set-up totally figured out, so the fact that this is her very first show and her booth looks this incredible blows me away.

*All photo credits to Emma Carley.

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Without further ado, Emma Carley from By Emma, With Love:

#mdm: How did you make the decision to do your very first show?

We live in a very small town, and our neighbor is on the city council and happened to be the organizer of the vendors for our local town festival. She knows about my blog and Etsy shop, so she approached me and asked if I’d be interested in having a booth. I hadn’t really thought about it before, since typically I only make a couple pieces at a time, and do mostly custom orders for people, but I was immediately intrigued!! I decided it would be a great opportunity to build up a product inventory, get my name out there and hopefully build my little business a bit!

#mdm: What specific things did you do to prepare? What ended up being the most important thing you did to prepare?

I realized that there were so many logistical things that needed to be done for a physical sale versus my online business. I had business cards made, got set up with a Square card reader, bought tags, bags, receipts, and all the other business-type things that I would need. It was actually a great motivator to put some time into the more tedious and less creative aspects of my business!

#mdm: How did you go about putting your booth together? Did you practice beforehand? Design specific elements for display? Did you booth end up how you envisioned it?

I definitely had a picture in my head of how I wanted my booth to look, but had to get a bit creative since I didn’t want to spend a whole lot of money on the display. I set it all up in my dining room the week leading up to the show, and took pictures of it, so that when it came time to set up at the show I was able to quickly put everything in the right place.

I’m especially proud of the display wall I made out of a few plywood panels and some extra paint I had lying around – we don’t have a pickup truck, just a small SUV, so I knew that I’d have to get a bit creative with my display. I was able to design two walls that easily fold down and fit in the back of my SUV, which worked perfectly! I also used fabric buntings that I had leftover from my wedding to beautify the wall and my whole booth a little bit, which ended up being perfect for my branding and display.

I found a $15 spool table at Goodwill, and an adorable vintage folding table on Craigslist that also fit nicely in my car and worked perfectly with the aesthetic of my booth. It all ended up coming together really well, and I’m super proud of my booth display!

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I’d say she deserves to be proud about this booth!! It’s fabulous!

#mdm: Tell us about the show!

The show was a bit of a hybrid for our town festival – it was outside right on the downtown strip, and was equal parts antique car show, food trucks, craft fair, and small shop displays. A lot of the other booths were very different from mine (think LulaRoe, Pampered Chef, essential oils, jewelry, etc.) which was nice since I wasn’t really competing with anyone selling similar items. I had a 10×10 space, so I invested in a 10×10 pop-up canopy, and was responsible for bringing everything for the display myself. The downtown spot I reserved was $40, which was super reasonable!

The hours of the sale were 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., but we definitely had a slow start to the day. It was actually pretty discouraging for awhile, since very few people even stopped by the booth, let alone bought anything. I didn’t have any real customers until about 11, but then it got very busy, very fast! Most of my sales happened between 11 and 2.

#mdm: What were you surprised by?

The amount I sold!! I didn’t have a huge inventory going in: I made around 30 signs, and also had 10 mugs, a couple decorative trays, and a bunch of keychains that I made as mostly just a bonus. I went in to the sale with a very realistic approach – our town demographic, especially for a car show, isn’t necessarily my demographic, so I really didn’t know how much interest I would get. I also haven’t sold at a show before, so I saw this opportunity as a chance for exposure and research more than anything, to see what people liked most and what I should make more of.

I was pleasantly surprised! I sold around half of my inventory, and also got a lot of interest for custom orders and even from a couple local shop owners who want to buy some of my products for their stores.

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#mdm: What was the most important thing that you learned from doing your first show?

You have to know your demographic! Since I haven’t done a show before, I made a little bit of everything: a lot of cute home type signs, a few coffee and wine-related signs (of course), and some local-focused signs (Minnesota and Wisconsin art, signs about river towns, etc.). Without a doubt, my location related products sold the best. I actually had two people buy signs that were unfinished that I brought to work on during the day, and finished them while the customers were shopping!

I also definitely learned the importance of authenticity. I know that when I’m at a show as a customer, nothing turns me away from a booth faster than an over-eager or “salesy” shop owner. Instead, I tried to have very authentic conversations with the customers, and I think that’s probably the reason for my success.

#mdm: How do you think in-person events will factor into your business plan in the future?

I was approached a couple weeks ago from an event organizer who asked me to sell at an event at an apple orchard at the end of September. Since I already have my display arranged, and I figured I’d have leftover inventory from this show, I said yes!

In general, though, I’m not sure how many shows I’ll do. I definitely loved getting the face-to-face contact with customers, and it was really fun to set up a display, but it was also a ton of work, and between school, my blog, my Etsy site and my weekend wedding job, it took over my life for a little bit. I’ll probably keep shows on the back burner for now, as a mostly summertime way to supplement my online business and get some exposure and feedback.

In general, though, I’m definitely open to and hoping for more selling experiences!

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#mdm: What else can you tell the readers about doing an event for the first time? Do you have any advice? Insight? Encouragement?

If you’re not sure if you’re quite ready, take the leap and try it out! It’s a great way to push yourself past your comfort zone a little bit, and gain business experience and make connections. I think my biggest insight was that you never know exactly what you’re going to get at your first event. Going in as prepared as possible and with an open mind will ensure that you have the best experience possible. Also, keeping realistic expectations helps keep you from being discouraged. I went into the show simply hoping to meet some local people, get exposure for my business, see what people liked and hopefully make a little bit of money, so the sales I made exceeded my expectations. Now I know a little better how to prepare for my next show, which is so valuable.

One of the things I did during the show that ended up being really successful was bringing a couple unfinished pieces to the show with me to work on during slow times. It was mostly just out of necessity, since I hadn’t had time to finish them all in time, but I actually ended up selling two pieces before they were finished because customers saw me working on them, and wanted the finished product! If it’s possible for your business, working on one of your pieces during the show is a way to show your customers the handmade nature of the product, and they can see how much time and effort you put into each and every piece. It was also a great conversation starter!

Another of my concerns going into the show was that no one would like my stuff – putting your own artwork that you’ve put so much of yourself into on display is nerve-wracking and a bit scary, and I was nervous that I’d get criticism or at least indifference. Luckily, the people who stopped my my booth were all incredibly kind and supportive, and it reminded me that we’re all our own worst critic! If you make a product that is high-quality, and you have authentic interactions with your customers, you’ll have a great experience and also hopefully make some money!

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Isn’t she the best? Girls, I think Emma’s advice is so valuable, and the amount of effort that she put into her booth display is still so impressive to me for a very first show! I was definitely not this aware of my brand/image when I started doing this!

I know we can all also relate to the fact that we have so many demands on our time, that doing these events takes over our lives for a bit! Between creating new inventory, stocking up on things like bags, tags, and display pieces, and planning how you’re going to get all that stuff to the actual event, who has time for real life, “real” jobs, and necessities like laundry and cooking dinner? I know I don’t. Planning ahead and getting the prep work done a little at a time is definitely essential.

Is there anyone else out there who recently did her very first event? How did it go? And for those of you who started a long time ago (like, before Pinterest was really a thing and there were basically no resources), how does your very first event compare with Emma’s? Are you ladies as blown away as I am?

A huge thank you and congrats to Emma for sharing this awesome experience with us! Here’s where you can connect with her online on her Instagram, blog, and Etsy shop, since we are a little bit far apart in real life.

Until next time friends!

Talk soon,

Jessie

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