I want to help you build a sustainable, profitable handmade business that makes you consistent income and sales. I only ever teach or recommend marketing, social media, pricing, production and branding tips that I’ve personally used successfully in my own 7-figure handmade businesses.
I'm Mei, from Los Angeles!
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Disclaimer: this blog post features quotes from my interview with Nicole Lewis, with certain parts edited for grammar. Head over to my YouTube video if you want to watch the entire interview.
Today, I want to introduce you to someone really special in the world of handmade. Meet my friend, Nicole Lewis, the artist and owner of Art 2 The Extreme, the home of the Original Rainbow Crayons.
I recently invited her on a virtual call to catch up and talk about her journey as a handmade business owner.
We were also excited to talk about how she consistently gets her products featured on prestigious magazines like People Magazine, Forbes, Real Simple, Country Living, the Drew Barrymore Show, and many more.
She also gets her products into the hands of famous celebrities. I could list all the places Nicole’s been featured in, but I’m afraid that it will take a long, long time.
How cool is that?
Clearly, Nicole is the queen of getting her products in the spotlight. Today, I’m delighted to share the secrets she graciously spilled during this interview.
For 10 incredible years, Nicole worked as an elementary art teacher. This was her very first job fresh out of college.
Her handmade business, Art 2 The Extreme, came about when she noticed something in the classroom.
“Being a first year art teacher, I taught at two schools. One of those schools, I was on an art cart pretty much my entire time as a teacher, but I would push this cart from classroom to classroom and I noticed there were so many broken nubs and stubs of crayons all over the ground.
Let’s pick them up. Let’s make something with them. And I remember melting down crayons with my mom when I was little like little wax dixie cups. And I did the same with my students for this texture unit, and it was so horribly awesome but it worked.” – Nicole
And later on, Nicole discovered Etsy from her mom one day.
During that time, Etsy was also in its humble beginnings too.
It was a brand-new platform with less than a thousand sellers on it.
The community was very tight-knit that the sellers knew each other by name and interacted with each other.
And so Nicole listed a few products like tooth pillow pouches that her mother-in-law made, ceramic pots, scarves, and the crayons she made.
Years later, when Nicole had her baby, she decided to quit her day job and go all-in to run Art 2 The Extreme full time.
This was the time she decided to focus just on selling crayons on her Etsy shop.
And the rest is history.
A big part of Art 2 The Extreme’s success revolves around their awesome personalized rainbow crayons, which make fantastic gifts for kids.
Nicole got the idea to customize crayons when she saw that her classroom needed better crayons inside her classroom.
Some kids found it difficult to hold and use regular crayons, especially those with special needs.
So, she decided to take matters into her own hands. Quite literally!
Nicole used clay molds to create custom crayons, making it way easier for these kids to hold crayons and have fun coloring.
This way, she made art accessible and enjoyable for everyone.
Art 2 The Extreme has been around since 2007 – a time before branding, social media marketing, and running ads online were even a thing.
That was the time when even the world of blogging was just getting started.
During those early years, Nicole wasn’t actively seeking ways to drive traffic to her store.
In fact, her business wasn’t her primary source of income at that time.
That was until she wondered if there was a better way to get traffic without having to spend anything.
Nicole is big on influencer marketing. I asked her how she got into it and this was her answer:
“You were a presenter at one of the conferences and you were talking about how you got your necklaces into magazines. And this is really before a lot of magazines were online or anything, so I was like, I wanted to get that print copy of something.
I wanted to be able to be in a magazine, too, and your presentation just put a little spark under me, and I just took it into this crazy, blazing fire. Turned out so good. But yeah, you’re really the spark of the fact that you’re like, ‘Oh, so-and-so in this TV show was wearing my necklace.’
I’m like, ‘All right. So how can I get crayons and it’s on like a table in the background of a TV show?’ How can it just be there so I can use that as content and be like, ‘Hey, my crayons are on a TV show!’?” – Nicole
Her curiosity was piqued. She couldn’t help but wonder how to land her crayons on TV and in magazines.
Personally, that’s the one thing I always tell people.
If there’s one thing you can do, if there’s one thing I wish for anyone to do, it’s to learn how to do influencer marketing and really do it well.
But there’s a lot of roadblocks around it. There’s a lot of fear and it is scary.
And it is, if you don’t know what you’re doing, it feels like this huge mountain that you don’t know how to get across.
But Nicole just took it and ran with it. She ran really far with it.
Back when she was just beginning, Nicole’s best friend was Google.
She used it a lot to look up the information of people in media, desperately trying to find their email addresses, but she found no luck.
“So I did wind up using one service that had a database. And I cringe when I say that because now there’s so many media lists that you can pay for and stuff. Not necessarily a good thing to do, but this one was called Launch Grow Joy.
I found actual emails of people and I worked my way from there and I maybe pitched 10 people the first time. And I mean, this is like 10, 12 years ago now.
All but two said yes. No, that doesn’t always happen but at the time I had and I still do have a product that, back then, nobody else was making.” – Nicole
The trick, Nicole later discovered, is to simply connect with people genuinely.
It’s asking yourself how you can actively build and nurture relationships as well as help and serve them.
Getting in touch with people working on magazines and on TV shows sounds scary and it does appear to demand a lot of effort and guts. So, why go through all that trouble, right?
“You want to be in physical magazines for that social proof that gives you content to show. Like, ‘Hey, here’s me in Magnolia Magazine.’
I tell people, ‘How many people are actually tearing out a page in a magazine, typing in on their computer or phone www.art2theextreme.com and then buying?’
No. I tell people that print magazines are like bragging rights. You get to show it off, you get to create content for it, you get to film yourself walking in Target getting your magazine off the stands, but what you want is online articles as well, because that’s where the clicks and the features of things come to.” – Nicole
This is such a great way to build your brand using social proof to boost credibility and attract customers.
When people see your products featured in reputable publications, it naturally boosts their confidence and makes them more likely to give your products a shot.
“There are different times of the year, depending on what you do, that’s going to be your main time that you need to focus on pitching for hopefully to be featured months down the line.” – Nicole
During the months leading up to June and July, which happen to be Nicole’s slower months but prime time for holiday planning in her business, she works behind the scenes to nurture relationships with people and start pitching.
She reconnects with people she has previously worked with, including editors, influencers, and bloggers. For her, those existing relationships are golden.
She reaches out to one or two people that she really wants to work with during the holiday season and have them feature some of her products on their magazines, pages, or gift guides to get eyeball traffic on them.
“So building those relationships ahead of time, commenting on their stuff, sending them samples if they’re willing to receive samples. But not just cold, coming at me like, ‘Hey, will you come feature these awesome crayons?’
You have to really make sure that you’re warming up your audience – be it your actual audience or your customers, members of the media or influencers.” – Nicole
Nicole also says that you really need to make sure that you get to know them really well.
For instance, take the time to read articles written by the folks you’re reaching out to and use that knowledge in your pitches.
This personal touch can make your outreach more engaging and relatable.
This is also a great way to stand out among the thousands of emails these people get in their inbox in a day.
Now, you might think that sending out a ton of emails or pitches is the logical approach to maximize your chances.
But Nicole recommends a different strategy.
She advises contacting only a select few people that truly value small businesses and meaningful relationships.
Remember, quality over quantity. It’s always about fostering connections that will have a lasting impact.
It’s a smart strategy to get online publications featuring your products.
It can significantly boost your brand’s visibility, credibility, and customer reach.
“Everything interconnects because the more backlinks you have to your website, the more sales you are going to get.
And the more that Google will see that you’re a trusted website and move you up in that rankability and that list on Google when somebody searches for your types of presents and things.” – Nicole
Not only do you make people happy with your products, but you also boost your website’s SEO.
Nowadays, many people earn money through affiliate marketing, and Etsy’s affiliate program is one that’s widely trusted.
Even though Nicole aims for sales to come directly through her website, Etsy still is a big part of her business.
She thrives on Etsy because she recognizes that its affiliate program is popular among media professionals and influencers.
“I have my own website, but I still thrive on Etsy. Etsy is still, I would say 85 percent of my income over the holidays.
When I’m pitching and they want affiliates that I have to use my Etsy site because they’re going to get money, not from me, but from Etsy every time that somebody clicks on my very visual photo.
You have to have good photos, very visual, very appealing, giftable photo and any purchases they make on Etsy after that, that the writer gets that credit back. So that’s a big draw to use Etsy because it’s a ‘free’ affiliate program for myself.” – Nicole
Affiliate programs like this provide handmade businesses a way for your products to gain exposure and reach a broader audience easily.
Right after Nicole made the decision to focus on her business full-time, she decided to participate in an in-person craft show.
Among the many things she used to sell in her shop, she decided to simply focus on selling her crayons.
To her amazement, she sold double the inventory she brought. She sold 600 crayons instead of her original target of 300.
This prompted her to take things up a notch. She decided to increase her prices a little bit and bring more products to the next few shows.
In 2015, her efforts paid off as she started earning over a thousand dollars per craft show, which typically ran for 5 to 8 hours.
Then she expanded her shop online.
When she started selling online, Nicole didn’t have any good product photos.
Hiring professional photographers was out of her budget, so she came up with a clever solution.
She joined a Facebook group and found a talented photographer.
This collaboration allowed her to get amazing product photos without shelling out a lot of money.
Good product photos are crucial since they make your products shine both online and in magazines.
As time went on, Nicole realized the significance of photography and its role in her business.
Photography became one of the first services she invested in, along with help for her Instagram presence.
This was particularly important because Instagram was still relatively new at the time, and she needed to build a strong online presence.
These investments began to pay off and helped pick things up a bit for Art 2 The Extreme.
Nicole’s most profound piece of advice for handmade business owners pitching to big publications or celebrities to feature their products is:
“Don’t be scared. What is the worst that someone’s going to say?
The worst thing maybe that someone’s going to say is no, because hopefully people aren’t outright rude to you and just be like, ‘I hate your stuff. It’s ugly or something.’ The worst thing they’re going to say is no.
And I tell people, ‘A no is not a no forever, a no is just, right now, wasn’t the right fit.’
And most of the time, especially if you’re pitching or reaching out to somebody, they probably didn’t even see your pitch for multiple reasons, honestly.
So if you hear crickets, just assume that they might’ve passed your stuff along or filed it away for later, which has actually happened before.
I’ve pitched editors and I would get no reply and I would follow up. I usually follow up two or three times giving a week or so in between before I would send them a new pitch eventually, a different type of angle.
But two or three times I can remember, and one definitely leading to a magazine feature, I pitched someone and they said, ‘Oh, this was actually forwarded to me from so and so’ or ‘I searched my email inbox for ‘holiday gift guide’ and remember that your stuff came up.’
So I’m very strategic with the words I use in the subject line of my emails because I want them to be able to come up, if they’re searching for a kid’s product for holiday gift guide and they’re searching in their inbox. They come back to it later.
But the worst thing someone’s going to do, honestly, is say no. It could be a very short, quick no with no reason, and that’s what it’s going to be, because they have to get through all these emails.
Do not take it personally. Try again with a different pitch.
It doesn’t mean you can’t pitch him again for something else, a different idea later, too. So, you don’t know until you try, and you get better.” – Nicole
Because Nicole and I have been friends for so long, I’m so happy to say that it’s been so exciting watching her grow and make these big business moves.
Her success story is a testament that influencer marketing really works.
If you’re curious about influencer marketing and how to use it for your handmade business, I’ve got a free workshop you might be interested in. Click this link to sign up.
This workshop is a great opportunity for you to learn how to achieve the same kind of success that Nicole has.
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This workshop is for anyone who makes and sells a handmade or physical product, including jewelry designers, artists, paper designers, bath & body product makers and more!
The #1 mistake people make with Etsy & social media that causes shops to FLOP
The secret to making it with your handmade shop so it's no longer just a hobby
How to make sales in your handmade shop with ease so you can finally get to 6-figures
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