Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Part 1 - Product - Designing, Selling and Manufacturing with Angie Spurgeon of Artwork by Angie

A lot of designers realise at some point in their career that they have to stick their fingers into rather a few pies in order to make any money. 

We can all design and may be pretty savvy at licensing our designs, but have you ever dreamed about physically having your designs manufactured onto a product and selling it yourself? If so, then you are going to love this series of blogs which are all about how to design to sell, how to manufacture your idea and finally how and where to sell it.

We have an amazing set of designer interviews for you over the next couple of weeks, so I hope you can pop in when you can. So, grab a notebook and lets start making those dreams come true shall we?! 

Kicking off the blog series we have the lovely Angie Spurgeon from Artwork by Angie. 

If you'd like to read the other wonderful blogs in this series, please click on the links below.

Websites and e commerce explained simply with Julie from Biz Yourself

Other blogs in this series coming later this week ......

Friday 7th -  Part 2 with Gabriella Buckingham - MooBaaCluck
Sunday 9th -  Part 3 with Heather Moore - Skinny laMinx
Tuesday 11th -  Part 4 with Jamie and Catherine - Bread and Jam
Thursday 12th -  Part 5 with Jessica Hayman - Rosa and Clara Designs 
Sunday 16th -  Part 6 with Laura Clempson - Clara and Macy 
1. Could you tell us a little background about yourself and why you decided to sell product?

I’ve always loved drawing, painting and making paper stuff ever since I can remember.  Throughout school I was consistently saying I wanted to go to art college to study ‘drawing’.  I got my degree in Graphic Design (illustration) in the early 90s, which prepared me well for drawing, developing concepts and visually communicating them, BUT I personally felt I was not well prepared for entering the big wide world of business to try to find work in my chosen area of study.  After a while I came to terms with this and got a job in an advertising agency and worked my way up from the bottom in client services.  This ‘temporary’ advertising career lasted around 12 years and provided me with a reasonable lifestyle.  Most importantly though, it taught me 3 very important lessons:

Lesson 1

I LOVE drawing – working as a ‘suit’ in an advertising agency was never really my dream.

Lesson 2

All that mysterious business stuff I didn't know about when I left Uni on how to survive in a creative industry was no longer such a mystery.

Lesson 3

There is more to life than putting profit in someone else’s pocket whilst sacrificing your precious free time – particularly when that time could have been spent creating something that you find deeply fulfilling and moves you closer towards the life of your dreams.

So, I went freelance as a graphic designer when my children came along.  At first it was on a very ad hoc basis, only taking on very occasional projects to tick by whilst my babies were little.  I have two daughters and being a stay at home mum has always been my priority.  By the time my youngest daughter began nursery I was ready to fling myself into my business and really wanted to launch my own range of illustrative paper products.  It all began with my first range of prints and greetings cards which I launched on a blog, website, facebook page and Folksy shop.

2. What are the important things to keep in mind when researching the products you wish to sell and why did you choose the particular products that you sell now?

Good question! I’d say identifying an idea which satisfies a demand would be the best place to start.  Whether it’s personalising an item or creating it in a particular colourway, theme, for a specific occasion, or making it say something different – it’s most important to try to come up with something original, new and desirable.  Without having any sense that there’s a need or desire for an item, there’s not much point exploring costs and once you have a sense that there’s a market for your item, then the next important factor is price as that will be the deciding factor.  You need to be aware of the general price of similar items to ensure you’re competitive.

Then it’s a case of trying to get your cost price in at a level that gives you sufficient margin for wholesale and retail without losing out on quality.  Even if you don’t think wholesale is for you, if you don’t allow for wholesale in your pricing, you rule out an extremely good way of growing and sustaining your business.  Also, when working out the cost price of your product, always ensure you have made allowance for time and overheads.  There are some great formulas out there to help you do this - I find Etsy’s seller blog is a brilliant resource for finding this sort of useful information.  Also, Folksy has some great articles on their blog too – my advice is subscribe to both and read and learn.

3. Which has been the most effective avenue for you to sell your products and which would you recommend?

Social media has played a crucial role in helping me sell products as it has enabled me to grow a good following and get to know many of my followers and loyal customers well.  I really enjoy catching up them and I’ve genuinely made some lovely new friendships as a result of it.  Also, having a combination of places that people can opt to buy my products from helps too.

I sell my designs in few different ways.  I have my own website shop in which I tend to stock a bit of everything in and it has a section which gives details to those interested in wholesale items.  I license my designs to a publishing company I work very closely with - they take my designs to trade shows and sell them into high street buyers.  They also handle any wholesale orders for my greetings cards as they produce practically all of my card designs. 

 For all the other items I create, I handle the wholesale myself, but I only really have a handful of stockists that I do that for at the moment.  I also have a Folksy, Etsy, Society 6 shop and I’ve just opened a shiny new Bespo shop.  With those sort of marketplaces, I find sales come as a result of the social media promotion you give each item.  You really do have to put the work in to direct people to where they can buy.  Some people naturally prefer one shop/marketplace over another, so my philosophy is to give them that choice – that seems to work well for me.
*FOLKSY - UK selling platform 

4. How important is having a business mentor (if you use one) How have they helped you grow your business?

I’m not sure I have a business mentor as such.  I do think it’s very important to surround yourself with supportive people.  I’m very lucky to have a support network of very patient and understanding family and friends.  They understand my vision and what I’m trying to achieve out of life.  They give me a lot of support, freedom, broad shoulders to cry on, kicks up the bum, cups of tea and lots of love and kindness just when I need it most.  Likewise, I always try and give support and kindness too wherever I feel it is needed, as I never take anything for granted and firmly believe you get back what you give.

5.How important do you think selling platforms like FOLKSY are? How important have these selling platforms been in pushing your sales forward? 

Sites like Folksy and Etsy are important as they have their own followers, if you can manage to get an item featured or clearly visible on their sites, it makes a big difference to your own following and sales.  Folksy has played a very special part in my own story.  The publisher I currently work with for all my greetings cards discovered my designs in my Folksy shop and initially contacted me directly thorough my Folksy inbox.  Without having my work on there to be seen, I may never have ended up with my work stocked in places like National Trust shops and Waterstones.

6. How much has wholesaling and licensing been a part of your success?

My wholesaling set up is split between items I handle myself and items that the publishing company I work with handles on a licensing arrangement.  That has been a vital part of the growth of my business and an area where I can see that more significant growth is achievable.  However, I’d be keen to stick more with the licensing side rather than to scale up handling lots of wholesale myself because personally, for me the joy is found in drawing and creating, not so much in order packing and fulfilment.  At the end of the day, it has to be about the joy of it all and licensing seems to me to be the best way to afford the time to create the stuff I love to design.

7. Looking back, what would you do differently if you were to start all over again?

If I was to start over again with the benefit of hindsight, I’d be less fearful of social media.  In the beginning I felt very timid about sharing my work online – it was a BIG deal for me to put it out there & I was totally out of my comfort zone.  Thank goodness I did post my designs to facebook, Folksy, pinterest, twitter, set up a website and blog as I’ve gained so much because of that.

8. Any extra tips and advice for budding designers who want to sell their own product?

Take your time to produce good, original work and then get it out there to be seen.  It really helps if you hone and develop a very unique and recognisable signature style to stand apart.  The most important thing is the quality of the product, so don’t be in a rush.  The majority of products are bought out of desire rather than need these days (let’s face it, what do we genuinely really ‘need’?).  So with that in mind, it’s always worth remembering that to make something desirable takes lots of time and effort.
Once you have your product design and have worked out a good price (which covers all costs and allows for wholesale as well as retail margin) – then don’t be shy, get out there and show people.  Put yourself around on social media – please come and say hello to me. (see all social media links above)

9. What's next in your product selling business plan?

At the moment, I'm developing a stack of new occasions cards designs to fill the gap in my occasions range.  I've also been working on some products to extend my general stationery collection which include planners and a 2015 calendar.  Going into next year, I’ve some ideas for new collections I’d like to develop am really looking forward to getting stuck into those designs

Thanks so much Angie. We wish you all the very best for the future! Stay tuned for the next instalment in this series on Friday 7th with Gabriella Buckingham of MooBaaCluck

If you have any comments, we would love to hear from you. Please comment below


  1. What a great interview, I've come to a point in my career after spending many years working for other companies, I feel ready to take the leap into my product development,I am slowly building my range and it's good to read that it's working for you Angie! Thank you Ali for posting :)

  2. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my work on your blog Ali - I really enjoy reading your interviews and am looking forward to reading the next ones in this series, you've got some great people lined up. Kaz, I'm so glad you found this blog post helpful - creating that first product range was a big scary step, but it has been so worthwhile so I don't hesitate in encouraging you to go for it!. I wish you all the best with the launch of your range. :)

  3. So glad you enjoyed reading the post Kaz. You'll really enjoy the whole series I think! Thanks Angie, I really appreciate all the time and effort you have put into this post. It's jam packed full of tips. Thanks again - Ali xx

  4. Fab read ladies, well done to both of you, super grateful for social media :) I'm off to share this post to friends who are dipping their toe into the freelance world of design, thanks for sharing!

  5. Great, thanks! Glad you enjoyed it Jo xx