“I heard many times, from many people, and even from those who love me and meant well, that my ornament business was cute, and could be a great little side income, but that it might be time for me to get a real job.”
Adversity, Ambition, and… Ornaments?
Three words that make up Staci Ann Lowry. On the surface, you will probably wonder, “How does one build a $20,000 per month blog about ornaments?” Of all things. That was my first thought.
When you dig a little deeper, you will see that Staci’s success was not by accident. A former stay-at-home mom with an ornament hobby was at a turning point in her life. Life changed in an instant when tragedy struck her family.
It was at this moment she was forced to make a decision. Go to work or see her hobby as an opportunity. With almost no tech experience and driven by the hunger for providing for her family, Staci made her decision and it paid off.
This little crafting hobby into a bustling business that educates women across the globe and allows them to express their creative ability through beautiful hand-crafted ornaments.
In this interview, I get to bring you into the life of the Ornament Girl and give you an exclusive look at how her blog propelled her to success.
Are you ready? Let’s go…
Who is the Ornament Girl and what is your claim to fame?
I sell handmade quilted ornaments, “make your own” kits, and pattern eBooks. I have a website/blog where I share ideas, tools, tutorials, and inspiration for other crafters and quilters to make their own (or buy mine if they aren’t crafty themselves).
So, tell me the story behind you and making ornaments…
I have always been into being crafty and making things, but making my Christmas ornaments has been something I’ve stuck with since I was a teenager. I learned how to make them from my mom when I was about 15 or so, and I’ve been making them ever since.
Take me back to life before earning a living online. What was it like and why did you decide to start this blog?
Before I started online, I was a stay-at-home mom. My husband was a Marine, and so between moving around, and having 2 kids, pursuing my own “normal” career was hard. I occasionally held a few part-time jobs here and there, but that was about it.
One year I wanted to try and make a little extra money for Christmas, so I listed a few things for sale on eBay. I was hooked on the idea of making money online from the moment I made the first sale (an old pair of jeans). I decided to list a couple of of my handmade ornaments up for auction, with no clue what to expect. During the first round, I had zero bids. I decided to try one more time though, and this time, I actually sold them. The final bid for each of them was only around $6 or 7 dollars, but I was ecstatic. This was in the Fall, so for the next 2 months or so, I sold as many as I was able to make, but as soon as Christmas came and went, my sales went completely down the tubes.
Thats when I started realizing that if I wanted to sell more of my ornaments, I was going to have to try and grow outside of eBay, and I decided I wanted my own website. I built the first version of my site in Notepad using basic HTML that I’d pieced together and taught myself from searching Google. I’d be super embarrassed to see the site now – it was ugly. I also started a little blog on Blogspot (that was just as ugly). 🙂
At that point, making sales was still a hit or miss thing, and the “business” was really more of a hobby. I would work on my website or learn about SEO and internet marketing when I had some free time, but since my hubby was the breadwinner, I didn’t really have anything pushing me to work harder at it. Aside from that, the handmade market was getting bigger and busier every day, and I started to feel like I was getting lost in all the noise. It really seemed like it was getting impossible to stand out online.
Then, a short time after getting out of the Marines, my husband had a motorcycle accident and our lives changed forever. I was suddenly a widow with 2 young kids and no job.
Until then, being a hobby crafter had been okay. It really hadn’t mattered all that much if I made money or didn’t. But, once I was faced with the need to make a living, on my own, and possibly having to put my grieving kids into daycare so that I could get a “real” job….that’s when I got serious about turning my ornament business into my real job.
I started devouring everything I could find about online marketing, and I started hearing a lot about a new buzzphrase, “content marketing”. The more I learned about it, the more I knew it was time to get off of Blogspot and move over to WordPress. That was when my blog became a primary focus, and it has been ever since.
What is the typical day in the life of an ornament blogger? (your first 3 months compared to today)
The first few months of blogging were so frustrating because, even though it felt like I was spending so much time on it, no one was actually seeing it. I would spend what seemed like forever on a new post, hit publish, just to be the only one reading it. And, since I didn’t really know what to blog about, I was treating it like it was my diary. I’d post things like pictures of my kids or the new little tomato bud that had sprouted on my tomato plant. I was afraid to post only about ornament-related stuff, because I thought that would be too boring, no one would care, or even that I would seem too “sales-y”
Over time, I figured out:
1. The point of my blog was not just to write about whatever struck my fancy – it was to attract potential customers. In order to attract people who like ornaments, I needed to post about ornaments…not tomato plants.
2. The right audience for my ornaments would not find a blog about ornaments boring or sales-y at all, and they’d actually appreciate it.
Now when I post on my blog, I always have an intention… for example, if a particular occasion or holiday is coming up, I will start posting ornament ideas relating to it, and I add in any links to patterns or products wherever it would just naturally occur. I also re-post old content if it’s relevant.
I try to make sure every post gets as much mileage as possible. If it’s something I think could be relevant all year, I add it to my autoresponder and I put it in my marketing calendar to re-share on my Facebook page throughout the year. If it’s a particularly successful post, I add it to my list of popular articles in my sidebar so that new people will be able to find it easier.
How much on average does your blog earn today and what is a breakdown of where that income comes from?
Right now, most of my income is coming from the sales of my ornaments, kits, and patterns. On an average day, I sell between $100-200 in patterns and products from my blog, and leading up to a holiday, sales will reach $500-600 a day or more. I occasionally do promotions (I don’t do sales though), where I will offer a special eBook bundle or introduce a new pattern. For example, I did a special bundle for 2 days in December, and sold a little over $10K.
I also started a monthly ornament kit club back in the fall of 2015, and we now have over 800 members. I launch an opening day for the club on the 1st of each month and allow in about 100 or so new members as I’m able. The club membership is up to about 17K per month in revenue. At the rate that it’s growing, my goal is to reach 2,000 members by December, 2016.
I also have a small income stream from affiliate marketing. I include affiliate links inside all of my tutorials, both in my eBooks and on my blog, and that usually brings in between $500-1500 a month, depending on what time of the year it is. I affiliate mostly for Amazon because they carry so many of the craft supplies I recommend (and I actually do buy a lot from Amazon!), but I’d like to add more affiliations this year and increase my income from this.
Looking at your site, you ornaments are stunning. I never knew these hand crafted ornaments existed. What kind of shift was required from you to transition from the “artist role” to teaching people to replicate your creations?
It took me way too long to make this shift! I was so afraid that I would put myself out of business if I began sharing all my “secrets”. More and more though, I could see that the landscape of internet marketing was moving more towards teaching, and that I would be putting myself out of business anyway if I didn’t overcome this fear.
When I finally got over myself and offered my first eBook for sale, I started seeing a return right away… not just income-wise, but in a much faster growth of my following. I have never regretted it. The more I share, the more the business grows.
You offer a monthly ornament kit club. How did you start sourcing the materials for this?
When I first began the monthly club, I was still buying materials locally. After the first month, and once I saw the demand, I realized I needed a better way.. not just so I could get things cheaper, but because it was really hard to find the amounts of fabrics, etc, that I would need in order to fulfill so many orders.
The first 3 months were hard, because I had to source from all over the place to get enough of a particular fabric or material, and buying wholesale means you have to order very far (sometimes 6 months) in advance. So, in the beginning, I had to not only order for the next couple months, but I had to start placing my wholesale orders for the rest of the year.
It was a little bit stressful during those first few months, trying to plan ahead for the entire year, and trying to estimate accordingly for how many members I would get each month. It is getting easier now though that I am 5 months in and settling into a routine.
When you originally launched, did you pre-sell it first before you sourced the materials?
I did not pre-sell, other than announce about a week or so on my blog that I would be starting the club. I just planned a kit, got as much of the material as I could get my hands on, and made as many kits as I could for that first month (which was about 320 I believe). Once I launched, they sold out in about 5 hours.
How long does it take you each month to prepare the kits to mail out? Are you able to get your kids involved in the process?
It is starting to take quite a long time. It probably takes a good 2 weeks for me to make everything. It also takes me about a day and a half to photograph and write the eBook instructions. My kids and boyfriend have been help me with a LOT, (putting together kits, shipping, etc) but it’s beginning to be too much for us to do ourselves and still have any kind of life. I am currently looking for someone to start as soon as possible, to help me with production.
How long did it take you to start making money? Was it a slow growth thing or did your income immediately spike?
It was very slow, and looking back now, I see so many things I could have done to speed it up. My income initially spiked once I really put a focus on content marketing and my blog began to start coming up in the search engines. I noticed that a few of my tutorial posts in particular were getting lots of traffic from Google, and so I started focusing on doing even more posts like those. I also began noticing a lot of my blog’s photos & images were bringing traffic from both Google and Pinterest.
But, even when sales were great, and I couldn’t seem to make my ornaments fast enough to keep up with demand, I was still completely limited by how much I could physically produce. My income spiked again when I began offering my patterns. I was finally able to sell an unlimited amount of something without creating more and work for myself.
And finally, things spiked again last year when I started doing Facebook ads. I actually don’t “sell” in my ads, but I do try to bring people back to my blog, where I can introduce them to my brand, and hopefully get them to sign up for my email list.
Now, I’m seeing growth happen exponentially. The beginning was so slow and it seemed like I was going nowhere, but once I began to gain traction, it’s been like a snowball ever since.
Did you have a background with technology and building websites, or was there a learning curve for you? What was that like?
I have zero background with technology. In fact, when I started on eBay, I had never even uploaded a photo online. I messed up my poor website so many times… everything from deleting every single image from my cPanel in one fell swoop, to completely crashing the entire site and having to re-upload everything from scratch.[pullquote cite=”Staci Ann Lowery” type=”right”]If a slightly ditzy, right-brained crafter-type can build one, anyone can.[/pullquote]
However, with all of that being said… whenever someone says, “I could never build my own website”, I adamantly disagree. If a slightly ditzy, right-brained crafter-type can build one, anyone can. And, it is so much easier now than it was a few years ago.
I learned from Googling everything, watching videos and webinars, reading books, and most of all trial and error. I also joined several paid courses (including Learn To Blog) and I’m still in a few, because things change all the time, and I also love learning new ways to do things.
Your content marketing strategy when you started, what did that look like?
When I started, I didn’t have a strategy at all. I would blog about whatever I could think of and it was terrible. But, looking back, I think it was necessary in order for me to find my voice and discover what worked for my audience, and what didn’t.
How did you get traffic to your blog when you first started?
Getting traffic was an entirely different thing then than it is now. Social media didn’t exist as it does now, and getting found online was all about coming up in the first 5 results of Google. So, that was what I focused on – getting found for as many keywords as possible relating to handmade ornaments. The very first online “course” I ever joined was a Yahoo group about SEO. (I actually learned tons from that! I still do a little bit of search engine optimizing on every post and page of my site, even though so many people insist that SEO is dead.)
Your email subscriber list. How big is your email subscriber list? How do people get on it? How often do you email them? And what do you use it for?
My main email list has about 16,000 subscribers. I’ve had the list for a long time, but up until about 2 years or so, I only had a simple form on my site that said: “Sign up for updates!” I definitely didn’t get very many subscribers that way. Now, I give away an ornament pattern, and that has been so much more effective.
I try to email once a week (and would like to email even more than that), but I sometimes have a hard time sticking to it. I feel that I am leaving potential sales on the table by not emailing more often, and it’s something I’d like to work on more throughout this year. I’d like to do more segmenting too, between different types of customers, etc. I get a little overwhelmed just thinking about that though!
I do have an autoresponder with a set of emails that go out once a week when someone first subscribes.
If someone reading this has a crafting blog, what are some things they absolutely should be doing?
You must be taking great photographs. You must be teaching and inspiring. You absolutely must not be simply jamming Etsy listings down people’s throats every day.
Imagine there were one million dollars on the line for the person who can give the best blogging tip of something that is working really well in your business. You’ve got one shot at it. What would you tell everyone?
Oh wow… huge question! So, I have a boring answer to this, and that’s to stop trying to find the best strategy… just get busy blogging. I think searching for the “best” strategy is just another function of perfectionism, which in turn just stands in the way of action. Taking action is what opens the doors, teaches you what works for your market and what doesn’t, allows you to find your voice, and helps you grow.
Was there ever a point on this journey where you felt like giving up?
Absolutely. I heard many times, from many people, and even from those who love me and meant well, that my ornament business was cute, and could be a great little side income, but that it might be time for me to get a real job.
To tell the truth, though, for a long time it was ME who didn’t truly believe that I could ever make real money selling ornaments year round, and that held me back for quite awhile. When I finally made the concrete decision that “yes. I AM going to be successful at this”.. that is when things began falling into place.
What motivates you to keep doing this?
I just genuinely love it. I work a lot of hours lately, but I look forward to it. I get to make stuff and be creative, and then share it with an awesome group of customers who love being crafty, too.
What is your biggest weakness when it comes to blogging? In business?
I have a lot of weaknesses, but I think my biggest weakness… and mistake… has been trying to do everything myself. Letting go of certain aspects of my business has been such a huge fear of mine… I finally realized a few months ago I’d become my own bottleneck. I just finally took on an administrative assistant this last month, and it has been such a relief. Now that I see all that he’s doing to help me, I can’t believe I was even trying to do it all myself. My next step is to find “in-person” help with production, shipping, etc.
Top three favorite online tools that you use…
(This one is hard for me because I have a very severe case of shiny object syndrome.)
WordPress, of course. I couldn’t live without it.
Canva – I create all of my eBooks, and sometimes social media graphics, in Canva.
HelpScout – I’ve only been using this for a short time, but it has made handling and outsourcing all my email so much easier.
One book that was pivotal to your success…
Focus on your strengths or improve weaknesses?
Definitely, focus on your strengths, and then seek help from others who are strong where you are weak.
One change/decision you made that led to exponential growth…
Offering my ideas instead of simply my products. (And, realizing that my ideas were worth offering.)
Who inspires you or who do you look to as mentors?
I have a mastermind group that I joined last year. I consider them not just super-smart business people, but my friends, too. I have them to bring questions to, ask for help from, and to bring a new perspective to my business. And, I can strive to do the same for them, which helps me continue to learn and grow and be a better person.
One thing that irritates you that is happening in the blogging world…
In the handmade blogging world, I get a little irritated at the number of people who teach how to sell handmade products, even though they don’t actually sell any handmade items…. they’re only selling their “how to sell your stuff”…. stuff. 🙂
What’s your biggest piece of advice for new bloggers?
I think there is SO MUCH out there these days about blogging that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. And even worse, when you’ve been going for a few weeks or months, and you’re not seeing a whole lot of results, that overwhelm turns to burnout, and so many people quit. They say, “It’s too hard…it wouldn’t work in my niche anyway… I don’t have time… etc”
My biggest piece of advice is to stick it out, and not expect that all the pieces will fit perfectly in place right from the beginning. Blogging takes a long time to work as a marketing strategy, but that’s exactly why it works so well. It’s not a quick fix. It will build like a snowball, but it takes persistence and endurance, just like anything worthwhile.
It’s discouraging to think that it might take 1, 2, or even 5 years to make money with a blog. No one wants to wait that long. But, guess what? 5 years from now is coming anyway. Do you want to be further along in your business then you are right now? Just do a little more every day.
What about being a mom gives you an advantage as a blogger?
In my case, the fact that I wanted to continue being a stay-at-home mom after my husband’s death, really pushed me to work at my blog and make it successful.
If everything was taken from you and you had to rapidly build your blog from scratch, what would you do to build an audience?
I would create a few blog posts just to get started, add a sign up for an email list, and begin running Facebook ads right away. I would go back to add/perfect later.
What is your vision for the future of this blog?
Right now, my main goal is to continue growing my membership club, which I’ll do by continuing to attract my target audience with my blog, and then inviting them to join my email list. That way I can build my relationships with them over time, which will hopefully lead to them wanting to be a part of my paid community.
When Staci responded back to be interviewed, I was very excited to speak with her.
She had such a unique story and blog. She’s proof that with focus and passion, you can build a successful online business in any niche. Yes, it does take some tactics. However, those come with time when you have put the work in. When you have laid the groundwork.
Originally, she was an artist who enjoyed her craft. Recognizing the demands of her audience, she pivoted to become a teacher so that many people can enjoy her work. Imagine all the families now doing crafts together. Girls are taking up a new hobby now because of the teacher they found on the internet.
By not staying the course too long in one direction, she was able to spike her income and help more people by letting go. The money is a response to the value she is bringing to the world.
I hope you enjoyed this interview. Was this helpful for you?
If so, please share Staci’s story on Facebook so that others can be inspired by it. Also, let me know in the comments one ah-ha moment you had from reading this article.