relentless self-improvement

I love the line from Austin Powers International Man of Mystery that starts out, “My father was a relentlessly self-improving boulangerie owner from Belgium…” When my husband and I heard it for the first time, we both laughed out loud and commented to each other on what a great phrase that was, “relentlessly self-improving”.

At the time we hadn’t had children yet and spent a lot of time browsing in bookstores and buying all kinds of how-to and self-improvement books… health & nutrition, fitness, home improvement, career advice, and on and on.

I was always trying to figure out what I should be doing, and I was all over the place… open a bakery? learn how to build websites? become an architect? a lawyer? a psychologist? a nutritionist?

A few months after starting sarah + abraham I realized that I was finally doing exactly what I should be doing. Now all of that relentless self-improvement is focused on sarah + abraham (well, most of it!)

Last week I realized that I’ve been spending more and more time emailing proofs to customers, and it sure would be nice for that process to be more automated. Also, a lot of times when I send emails with attachments they go straight to spam folders. So I emailed Arianne at Aeolidia asking if she could help me out.

She created the perfect form for me where I can upload the image, enter the order # and customer name, and an email is automatically sent to the customer with a link for them to view their proof.
When they click on the link, this is the screen that it takes them to:
Then I receive an email with their approval or comments. I love it! Little improvements like these make such a difference when it’s something that you’re doing over and over again, day after day.

Batman-themed birthday party

When Heather asked me to create some invitations for a Batman-themed birthday party, I knew it would be another one of her amazing parties, but she has truly outdone herself once again! (Starting with the bat wings she added to the invites!)
A menu consisting of Penguin’s Party Dip, Catwoman Claws, Mr. Freeze’s Fruit, Robin’s Raw Veggies, Poison Ivy Pasta, Two-Faced Pizza and Joker Juice.
Party favors were personalized bat capes (glittered and ruffled up for the batgirls).
She filled little Batman buckets (by Haus of Girls) with goodies for game prizes.
There was a “batmobile” at the party, and the games included Pin the Tail on the Bat, The Joker’s Hidden Treasure Hunt, and Mr. Freeze Dance. Seriously?! Who knew that a Batman-themed birthday party could be so completely creative, crafty and cute?

Valentine’s Day items at sarah + abraham

I’ve never offered any Valentine’s Day items in the past. My kids love the cheap licensed character Valentine’s Day cards at the grocery store. Last year they picked out Transformers & Disney Princesses, and almost all their friends passed those out, too.

But I started thinking this year that maybe Meg’s olliegraphic illustrations would be cute on valentines. I asked her what she thought, and she sent me a super cute cupcake, a valentine with a heart on it, and some speech bubbles to use on cards and stickers. As soon as I started creating some samples using those accessories, I fell in love with the designs! I doubt my 6.5-year-old son will go for them, but my soon-to-be-5-year-old daughter absolutely loves them!

I’ve been working like crazy to get everything printed, photographed, and listed on my website before it gets any closer to Valentine’s Day. I’m so happy with how everything turned out! Meg’s also offering some really cute printable valentines in her Etsy shop.

2009 year-end review

2009 was a really good year for sarah + abraham! Here’s a look back at the highlights…
In January my bird note cards were featured in a Real Simple online article, 5 Bridesmaid gifts under $50, and then my calling cards were featured in the May issue of Real Simple. I ended up with over $4,000 in sales from just those two features!
In March I launched a new collection that I was super excited about, but it turned out to not be as popular as I thought it would be. I ended up retiring several of the items pretty quickly, and only a few of the designs have turned out to be consistently good sellers. I learned a great lesson from that experience that I need to stick with the elements that my customers love most about my products and not stray too far from that when adding new products.
In April I updated the look of my website and improved the navigation features, which significantly cut down on the number of questions I receive about options.
In May I started offering canvas prints. They haven’t been as well received as I had hoped, but sales are picking up, and I think they’re a nice complement to the rest of my products.
In June I began offering water bottles, which have been a big hit! Dacia at Lima Bean Kids has been amazingly helpful, first sharing the vendor who printed water bottles for her, and then when that vendor didn’t work out for either of us, sharing the new one she found, who has been absolutely wonderful to work with.
In July I began offering fabric clutches and calling card cases. They haven’t sold as well as I had hoped, but again, I feel like they compliment my other products nicely and make a nice gift set with note cards or calling cards.

The biggest event of the year for me was hiring a part-time employee in August. I placed an ad on monster.com hoping for nothing more than someone willing to print/fold/cut/package orders. I was completely overwhelmed by the response I got. I received 380 resumes in 10 days, interviewed six candidates, and wanted to hire all six of them! I couldn’t believe how talented they were, each with a slightly different background (photography, illustration, marketing, etc.) but still willing to start out filling orders.

Jen, who has a marketing background, has been a perfect fit! I love handing off the tasks that I don’t want to do, but more than that, it’s been great to bounce ideas off her and brainstorm together. She has had some really good ideas and helps me stay focused. For the first time ever I have a strategic plan, and we’re being proactive about marketing and PR.
In September I made some more changes to the design and navigation features of my website. I love having more product photographs on the homepage and being able to view products by either design collection or product category.

I also started sending out a monthly newsletter, which has been really well received. In 2008 only 15% of my sales came from repeat customers, but during the second half of 2009, 30% of my sales came from repeat customers!
In October I began offering custom stamps from PSA Essentials. I haven’t sold a whole lot of them, and they don’t have a very big profit margin, but it’s nice to be able to offer them, and it’s super easy to fill those orders.

I also offered 15% off Christmas items in October in the hopes of spreading out my Christmas sales a little. My sales from November 1 – December 19 (13% of the year) accounted for 28% of my total sales (compared to 31% last year), so I think it helped a little, but not much. I estimate that about 80 customers ordered earlier than they otherwise would have.
In November I launched my new olliegraphic collection, which has done really well. In just the first two months olliegraphic items accounted for 22% of my sales, and Meg has been great to work with. She’s such a talented illustrator, and her style fits so nicely with the rest of my products. I also think that using the same color scheme for both my silhouette line and the olliegraphic line really helped to tie everything together visually on my website.

The holiday season was a completely different experience this year with Jen here helping me. In my 2008 year-end review I mentioned that on my busiest day I had 21 sales and that I had 15 days with 13 or more sales. I was completely overwhelmed and exhausted.

This year on my busiest day I had 46 sales and 35 days with 15 or more sales. But it was totally under control, and no big deal at all! It never really got to be too much. There was a day when I had my two biggest sales ever back-to-back, but Jen took a bunch of work home, and came back with it all completed the next day. During our busiest week we worked 82 hours combined, so I definitely couldn’t have done it all on my own!

Which brings us to the beginning of 2010. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m planning on launching a new blog in February. I’ve really thrown myself into the project with a lot of help from Jen and my husband, Mike. We’ve made a lot of progress that I wouldn’t have made on my own, and I’m really excited about the direction the project is heading! (more on that in a future post…)

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Project 320

Have you heard of Project 320? If not, you really must check it out this week. A group of six amazing women have teamed up to raise $5,000 in one week, enough to fund a well through charitywater.org. They received 300 donated items which they grouped into 15 prize bundles (one will include a $50 sarah + abraham gift certificate).

Each day this week there will be 3 prize bundles available on the Project 320 blog. Each $10 donation to their campaign = 1 entry. All of the details can be found here.

free gift with purchase from sarah + abraham

I wasn’t planning on offering any promotions in December, but it’s been such a great year, and I really wanted to figure out a way to say thank you to my customers and blog readers. Here’s what I came up with…

Through December 18th, I’ll be including a free gift with any purchase over $10. Customers will be able to choose from several styles of note cards (a few of which are pictured above). Each set includes four personalized note cards or eight postcards with envelopes (retail value $10 – $15).

This is an exclusive offer for my newletter subscribers and blog readers and will not be available through my website. You’ll need to use this link to view the free gifts and add one to your shopping cart.

Happy shopping!

completely custom illustrations from Meg at olliegraphic

The olliegraphic collection has been really well received, and I’ve been having so much fun printing the orders!

I mentioned in a previous post how all of the olliegraphic items are customizable (eye color, hair color, hair style, etc.), but I forgot to mention that Meg also creates completely custom illustrations for only about $20 – 50, which you can then purchase as a PDF to print yourself or have printed on any of the products that I offer on my website.

Above are just a few of my favorites that she has created for customers recently.

olliegraphic collection at sarah + abraham

I’m so excited to announce a new collection that I’m launching today called olliegraphic. I came across the artist, Meg, on Etsy a few months ago and fell in love with her whimsical illustrations.

All of her designs are completely customizable – you pick the skin tone, hair style, hair color, eye color, and eye shape. I noticed that she was only selling printable stationery (PDFs) and she lives close by, so I contacted her to see if she’d be interested in a collaboration.
We’ve spent the past two months working out all of the details, printing and photographing samples, and getting the listings ready (over 60 items!). Today’s a really exciting day for me to finally have everything live on my website.

15% off holiday items during October

In my year-end recap last year I mentioned that my sales from November 1 – December 19 (13% of the year) accounted for 31% of my total sales for the year. In an effort to spread out my holiday sales a little this year, I’m hoping to entice customers to order their holiday items and teacher gifts early by offering 15% off of those items during October. I’ll report back at the end of December to let you know how successful this strategy was!