When I was still in grade school, I remember sitting down with my dad and talking about what it was that I wanted to do as a grownup. We all know normally what kids say when they’re asked that question,…” I dunno”, as they fidget uncomfortably. As grownups interviewing a young person, we then think, “If you only knew how serious it is to start thinking EARLY about what it is you want to become, or what it is that you love to do,…” I don’t think I was exceptionally special in this regard, as I probably said the same thing. ” I dunno”,…
I’ll never forget, what my dad said next. He imparted a little bit of sage wisdom that only an adult will understand – but every youngster needs to hear. He said, “Find out what it is that you love to do, and you’ll never work another day in your life”. I never forgot that. It’s just one of those moments that has stuck in my mind. I don’t think he coined that little bit of wisdom, but he passed it on to me – and I have taken that philosophy with me where ever I go.
I’m not the only one it seems. Dolls For Friends is a real life success story in the realm of small business made successful by Erin and Jill Lynch. Based out of Vancouver, Washington – just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon is their creative workshop and studio called Shop which also houses Dolls For Friends.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Jill Lynch, one of the creative minds behind this successful small business venture. Their experience of what it takes to start, run, and maintain a small business is definitely noteworthy. Our interview went as follows:
S-BA.com -Why did you want to start Dolls For Friends? Please provide a little bit of history on this,…
Jill Lynch – “Dolls for Friends began by accident in a way. I (Jill) had a rough winter a few years back, full of illnesses. I began sewing little dolls for our children as a way to keep myself sane! I was pretty much addicted from the get go!”
“Soon Erin (my husband), and I began to think it would be really cool to start gifting people in the arts and design industry that we admired with plush replicas of themselves. Completely to our surprise, we started getting some press online, and our flickr pages began getting a lot of views. We never considered that Dolls for Friends would be something we could actually make money at.”
“In November of 2007, we did our first Crafty Wonderland, a popular craft show in Portland, Oregon. Again, to our great surprise, people paid money for our work, and responded really positively to the characters we had created. At that point, we decided to go to the next step, open an etsy shop, and try our hand at marketing our work to the public. Things really started going from there.”
S-BA.com – How did you guys come up with the idea for Dolls For Friends?
Jill Lynch – “Dolls for Friends was kind of a natural evolution of a project Erin and I began by gifting people we admired in the arts and design industry. We had wanted a project that we could work on together. Since Erin is a graphic designer, we thought this would be a nice complement to our already existing small design studio. We saw it as a way to expand what we had to offer to clients. Soon we had two sewing machines set up, and more fabric than we knew what to do with!”
S-BA.com – As a small business, what struggles and obstacles did you have to overcome – and how did you overcome them?
Jill Lynch – “Unfortunately, Dolls for Friends really began just as the economy was going under-not great timing! That has been one of our largest roadblocks at times. We totally understand that money is tight, and it’s more important for families to have milk in the fridge, rather than a handmade jellyfish or monster!
Another large obstacle for us, and for so many makers of handmade toys, has been the passing of the CPSIA laws. It would take another interview entirely to get into that issue! But the gist of it is that we had to lay low for a while until we were sure that our materials met the new government toy safety regulations, and that we could produce our work, safely and cost effectively. We did a lot of reading on the new laws, contacted third party labs that did consumer testing, and really had to be very patient until things were sorted out! It’s still something we have to keep up with, but we have finally started producing work again.”
S-BA.com – What kind of attitude does it take for you guys to remain successful?
Jill Lynch – “Thankfully, because there’s two of us, we are able to continually encourage each other if one of us is feeling down. There are a lot of amazingly talented people out there, and it can be easy to compare yourself to their success, but that doesn’t really get you anywhere! We just try to keep our imaginations well fed, we draw a lot, and talk through a lot of ideas, construction issues, and things we would like to do as future projects.”
S-BA.com – How does patience play a part in your business?
Jill Lynch – “It can be tough some months if there aren’t any shows coming up, or sales are lagging. But we have begun to view these times as opportunities to develop new sewing techniques, and characters. And generally, things always pick up, and that motivates you to keep going and trying new things.”
S-BA.com – What are some of the things you have done on a promotional level to get your name out there?
Jill Lynch – “Marketing can really be tricky, for sure! Some of the things we have done, as mentioned earlier is gifting people we admire, volunteering to create promotional pieces for different organizations, continually re-listing items on our shop, trying to keep up with our blog, going to shows, collaborating with other artists, giveaways of one-of-a-kind pieces through twitter, and contributing to gallery shows as often as possible.”
S-BA.com – What are the pros and cons about working a small business with family?
Jill Lynch – “There are certainly a lot of pros in having a small business with a family. Namely, we are lucky to have a large studio at home that we do all of our production work from. This allows us to always be around and at home with our kids. We are also able to set our own hours, so we can work early mornings or late nights, whichever suits our day-to-day schedule.”
“With that said, there are things we deal with that can be challenging. Such as finding uninterrupted work time can be difficult, keeping your focus instead of worrying about all of the other things that need to be done around the house, and I may have mentioned that we have three kids, so juggling their needs vs. our business needs can be challenging. Overall, though, we really enjoy having the ability to do work we love from our home, surrounded by fabrics, plush, and all the other cool stuff that goes with it!”
S-BA.com – What goals have been set for Dolls For Friends?
Jill Lynch – “Dolls for Friends has set some fairly lofty goals for the future. We are looking to move into short film, would like to see books made with the back stories of some of our characters and other things like paper products like cards and stationary sets. It’s exciting to move in new directions that center around taking something you love, and developing it further.”
S-BA.com – What do you consider to be your biggest business asset?
Jill Lynch – “At this point it would probably be our creativity and idea generation process. We are always trying to increase our “business” abilities, but while those are something that take dedicated concentration for us to improve on, the creativity flows pretty freely, which is good.”
S-BA.com - What do you consider to be your best success story?
Jill Lynch – “I think that story has not been written yet. I think we both hope our biggest and best success story will be the business itself. We would love to see our characters developed and cross-marketed into a variety of areas. Having our business be our full-time job would be a wonderful achievement.”
S-BA.com - What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own small business?
Jill Lynch – “I think anyone that is looking to start a small business should pursue something they really love. If making money is your goal, that won’t keep you going through the tough times. You have to work with something that keeps you going through the highs and, especially, the lows. Most of all, don’t give up!
Small business is not for the faint of heart, for sure. Have a vision of where you want to be, and make sure you get there. That seems like a good combination of happiness / success from our point of view. Remember it’s not about being rich. It’s about doing something you WANT to do vs. something you HAVE to do.”
S-BA.com - What goals does Dolls For Friends have for the future?
Jill Lynch – “Beyond branching out and pursuing further character development opportunities, 2010 will see a re-branding of our company and design studio, Shop into a multi-disciplinary studio. We have decided to re-organize our design studio and bring on another partner in order to develop our business into a full-scale design, film and marketing venture. We expect to be completely up and operational by mid-year.”
Well, there it is. I’m keeping an eye on Dolls For Friends, as others worldwide are too. Yes, their name is traveling fast! We expect a lot of good things to come from these folks, so stay tuned. We’ll no doubt be wanting updates later on!
Aaron Dinsdale – Small-BusinessAdvice.com
- Is Your Business Ready for a Credit Card? (applyforacreditcard.com)
- Compliance Assistance : New and Small Businesses (bjconquest.com)
- Entrepreneurship Tips In The Small Business News (businessinsider.com)
- How to drum up new business (theglobeandmail.com)
Latest posts by A. Dinsdale - Managing Editor (see all)
- Handy Go-To Guide for Buying a Bed and Breakfast - May 29, 2013
- 5 Ways to Secure your Small Business with Data Protection - May 28, 2013
- Discover Yourself Before you Discover your Career - May 24, 2013
- From Click and Order to Bricks and Mortar - May 23, 2013
- The Little Things that Make a Big Difference: Asset Labels - May 19, 2013