Starting in 2014, Michelle Shirley has found constant and fulfilling success in her home business, Vin'tag'e. Creating various clay mementoes, Michelle uses her customers’ own pictures and words to personalise each product, providing a rewarding uniqueness. Michelle sat down with us at Smarta.com to talk about her early achievements.
A keen arts-and-crafter, with a degree in fine art, Michelle discovered her business idea one afternoon at her kitchen table. “I was creating something for myself,” Michelle said - in order to furnish her home - and this founded the idea for her new start-up. Completely self-funded, with expenses only in clay and postage, Michelle set up a Facebook page, advertising personal gifts.
Michelle knows the importance of unique selling points (USPs) in making a business grow, acknowledging that her products’ uniqueness and the intimate relation between it and the customer, “helped sell the business,” as “there isn’t anywhere else that offers this kind of service.” Her designs incomparability with other products fosters a strong and persistent USP, and with the use of copyright licensing, Vin'tag'e is likely to be knocked off the market anytime soon.
Vin'tag'e is “primarily a social media-based small business,” Michelle tells us. She has optimally used a number of sites – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and, more recently, Etsy – in order to network and sell to an ever-growing consumer base.
“Facebook is arguably the easiest site to use,” Michelle informed us, “after all, it’s where I started and where my biggest customer base is.” Vin'tag'e has over 5,360 (at the time of writing) fans on Zuckerberg’s site and 80% of them are repeat customers. Michelle stressed the importance of repeat customers as they keep the business prospering. She said she achieved this through her USPs, as well as, “good customer service and strong communications.” Vin'tag'e’s Facebook page tells us she is ‘very responsive’.
It was these repeat customers who helped her find her footing in the world of social media-based businesses, and, also, create her flagship product. In the start of 2016 Vin'tag'e has been a steadily growing business, gaining around 100 monthly likes on Facebook, however, with the sale of the ‘clay polaroid’ both Michelle’s fan and customer base saw dramatic increases.
Following web-trends, by researching on sites such as Pinterest and Instagram, Michelle noticed a growing consumer base for retro and personalised products. This coupled with her “searching through dusty boxes of old photos” led Michelle to come “across a collection of gorgeous old photos and [I] decided to display them.” Thus, the clay Polaroid is formed and has increased her sales from 60 to 70% annually and even attracted the attention of a TV personality who decided to make a purchase. Another example of furthering Vin'tag'e’s USP, the clay Polaroid was an immediate success.
But profits cannot be made without the use of networking. According to
Vin'tag'e founder, Michelle, “my business would not garner any sales without the use of networking.” Facebook is the main base of Vin'tag'e; Michelle constantly uploads and advertises new products on the site, as well as, posting a number of Facebook’s selling pages. Facebook is Michelle’s site of choice due to its overly visual display and the unlimited post size (something Twitter lacks). After splashing out on paid Facebook promotion a few times, Michelle found it unprofitable, as “the returns aren’t as great as organic engagement with my customers.” On top of this, Vin'tag'e sends a monthly newsletter to all its fans to keep interaction high, and Michelle even offers discounts in order to incentivise returning customers.
Twitter, Instagram, Esty and the Vin'tag'e website (made with Wix) also generate sales for Michelle, but she argues that posts reach a smaller audience, and so she sees fewer sales. Michelle set up a Twitter account in 2014, alongside the Facebook page, but finds that it is too quick – “it’s less visual; people don’t get to see your products enough or for long enough.” And the latter three sites have all been fairly recent endeavours, and so have not had as much time to grow. Michelle says she has to spend hours each day working these sites. Nonetheless, throughout the course of our discussion, Vin'tag'e achieved sales on all five sites it is promoted on.
One of the primary advantages to being an entrepreneur, in Michelle’s mind, is the ability to be your own boss. Michelle is able to work hours that fit her (usually 3-4 days a week) and she can always work in the comfort of her own home. She joked, “I get work in jeans, I can take my dog with me, I never miss a parcel, and I can have as much tea and toast as I want.”
However, working from home on your own start-up can be somewhat taxing, as Michelle found out. “[It’s] all consuming, especially since all the apps are on my phone, I get constant notifications and feedbacks.” But once you can reap the rewards of your hard work it all seems worth the hassle.