Finding A Niche In The Marketplace
At Storenvy our core focus is to help people achieve their dreams of selling what they love for a living. Roxie and Tom of Frostbeard Studio did just that when they decided to pursue a business selling book-themed candles inspired by their favorite stories and characters. Since opening up shop, they have grown their business from a side gig to a full time job and have sold to book-loving customers all over the world. We reached out to the Frostbeard team to ask what they’ve learned first hand from growing their business, what advice they would give to new entrepreneurs and small businesses, and what being their own boss is like!
Name: Roxie & Tom Lubanovic
City: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Store Owner Since: 2012
Opened on Storenvy: 2013
If you could be any character from Harry Potter, who would it be? Arthur and Molly Weasley
Why did you decide to pursue your own business? How did Frostbeard Studio come into existence?
We created Frostbeard Studio so that we could try to make art for a living. When we started out in 2012, Tom was a character animator working in commercials and Roxie was a potter and an assistant to her mom, Pat Speth, a professional quilter.
We wanted to become our own bosses and work on our own projects, so we registered a business name and went for it! At first it was just Roxie selling pottery at craft shows and local shops. Tom did a lot of the technical work, as well as getting a website set up and posting our work on social media.
After we started making book-themed candles, our business really took off! In 2013, Tom left his job and joined Frostbeard full-time, making candles in our apartment. We did a Kickstarter project to buy better equipment. During the holidays we got a lot of publicity and were bombarded with orders. Since then, we’ve been able to get a studio space and make a living. :)
As a famous rapper once said, “started from the bottom now we’re here” Can you explain what the process of growing your business and audience has been like? And what you’ve learned as a growing brand?
The Internet is the reason we’ve been able to grow our business so quickly. Early on, we signed up for Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram. Then we posted a lot of pictures. People love pictures! We tried to do a variety of behind-the-scenes studio photos, finished pieces and live events. We also posted a lot of cat pics, which helped.
These sites are invaluable, because they’re free and it’s easy to see what people respond to the most.
The biggest thing we learned is that it helps to create things for a specific, niche audience. For us, that happens to be BOOK NERDS! Once book blogs started posting our stuff, we got overwhelmed with attention and great feedback. Now we focus more on selling in bookstores and spreading the word to like-minded nerds.
We’ve learned that there are constant challenges with running a business, but there’s always help available. Friends and family (and folks on the Internet) want you to succeed as an artist.
Do you have any initial advice for those who want to start pursuing a creative interest as a business?
Do it! If you have any desire to be your own boss and create things for a living, this is an excellent time to do so. It’s free to share your work online and find your audience. If you need to raise money for a project (and have a great idea), you can raise the funds through crowd-sourcing sites.
If you’re just starting off as an artist, go ahead and post your works in progress. Don’t worry about perfecting your craft before opening a shop or posting it online. People love to support artists and see how they work.
It’s good to start small and grow steadily. We registered Frostbeard Studio as our Doing Business As (DBA) name. This allowed us to get a bank account and keep the business separate from our personal finances. Don’t be afraid to raise your prices as costs go up! You will need to learn a lot and take on the all the roles needed to make your business succeed (artist, bookkeeper, customer service, etc).
Most artists (like us) didn’t receive any business training in school. Learning how to run a business is just as much work as actually making art. There are a lot of great resources online. It helps to write out a business plan and learn about self-employment taxes, budgeting and cash flow. Try to use your creativity in planning how you want to make money.
What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of pursuing your own brand as a FT job?
We do a lot of problem-solving. Some of the difficulties we’ve faced are more tedious (self-employment taxes), technical (equipment malfunctions) or fun (organizing our studio!). It’s important to focus on one big task at a time.
The most frustrating part of our job is dealing with shipping, especially for international orders. There are a lot of things that can go wrong, completely outside of our control. Sometimes packages will go missing, only to reappear weeks later.
Customer service is another important skill to learn (if you want to keep your customers), which is both challenging and rewarding. Responding to people and answering their questions is time-consuming, but completely necessary. We love the positive feedback we get from our customers. It’s awesome having nerdy fans. :)
The most rewarding part of our job is that we get to create our own projects and schedule.
What are some overall bits you have learned from selling your work that you think every seller should be aware of?
Shipping! If you’re selling online, it’s very important to learn the postal system and find the best way to ship your work. We ship boxes inside of flat-rate padded envelopes, which saves us a ton of money.
Customer service! Try to have clear and consistent shop policies. Be kind and patient with people who may be confused with your shop or work. Many of them will become your customers.
If you’re just starting out and don’t know how or where to sell your work, try to get feedback from all sorts of people. Start simple by creating an online shop and adding a few items. Look for local shops or arts and crafts fairs. Post regularly on social media (especially photos) to share your stuff. Don’t be intimidated by the business-y side of things. Do your research and break down each problem, so it’s easier to solve.