Students by day, also entrepreneurs by day, Kara Cronley and Carolyn Isaacson, Kent State sophomores, keep things in perspective while marketing themselves as artists and business people.
Cronley, a fashion design major hoping to minor in entrepreneurial business, began her path to small-business ownership during her sophomore year of high school. She was in the market for a new bag to carry at school but couldn’t find any to suit her.
Her mother suggested that Cronley, who grew up stitching quilts with her grandmother, make her own bag from a store-bought pattern. Soon, so many of her classmates were asking Cronley to make bags for them that by her senior year, Cronley thought of her new hobby as a real business.
Also during her senior year, Cronley interned with seamstress AmyD of MadeByAmyD.com, who helped Cronley launch her own website on Etsy.com and began mentoring her in sewing.
For Cronley, the hardest part about launching her own website was coming up with a name. After stressing over finding the perfect name, Cronley borrowed K.K.Dispatch from a fictional newspaper she and her younger sister invented as children. She liked the fact that the name was nondescript enough that she could use it to sell anything, not just the bags and wallets she sells now, but also the clothes she hopes to sell in the future.
While Cronley was perfecting K.K.Dispatch and branching out with the help of AmyD, Isaacson was just beginning her small business.
Architecture major Isaacson considers her passion for photography purely a hobby.
This past summer, Isaacson created her own account with Etsy.com after a cousin suggested she try to sell her photography. Isaacson had been experimenting with photographing nature and architecture for nearly three years, posting the results to Facebook for friends and family to comment on and admire.
The positive feedback led Isaacson to believe that she might be successful selling her own photographs.
Isaacson has sold five of her 8-by-10 nature prints through Etsy since joining the site under the name PhotogMarie. Although she admits that doesn’t seem like much, Isaacson is satisfied with that number, since she is in the early stages of planning and marketing.
Etsy.com features thousands of artists selling handmade and vintage goods, so just being noticed is an accomplishment. Artists have the option of advertising through Etsy, but both Isaacson and Cronley find that sites like Facebook and Twitter produce more positive and direct results. They also agree that the most effective marketing strategy of all is word of mouth.
“I get a lot of business because people will see someone carrying my bag and ask where they got it,” Cronley said. “Then they’ll get referred back to me and I’ll talk to them.”
Cronley also tried promoting herself at the Columbus Crafty Cotillion craft fair. She didn’t sell many bags, but she did hand out a lot of business cards to help with networking.
Isaacson hasn’t attended any craft fairs yet, but considers it a possibility for the future. Her cousin owns a frame shop and bought photos from her to display in his frames, which is helping to expand her clientele.
The girls run their businesses on their own, but they get plenty of support from family and mentors when they need it. The positive feedback from satisfied customers keeps the girls motivated when classes and other commitments force them to take unwanted breaks from K.K.Dispatch and PhotogMarie.
“It’s kind of rough,” Cronley said. “I definitely don’t put in nearly as much effort as I do during the summer during the school year, and that’s just because physically there’s not enough time. Over Christmas break, I usually focus on it and summer is a good time. I think the more I get used to balancing everything, I’ll find a way to be able to put more into the business side of it, instead of just school.”
It’s the business side that gives both girls some trouble, but they enjoy the challenge.
Apart from her internship with AmyD, where Cronley still works in the summer, Cronley spent part of this past summer at an Ohio small business conference where she met the owners of other small businesses and got tips from them on how to run K.K.Dispatch.
As the youngest entrepreneur at the conference, Cronley found that many of the other business owners wanted to talk to her to share their advice and support. She said that although some of the people she talked to were surprised by her age, she was able to prove herself to them by backing up her ideas and showing her work.
Cronley sells her bags for $30 to $40, depending on the size. She sells her wallets for $16. Pricing for her items is based on trial and error. If an item isn’t selling, she will lower the price. Likewise, if an item becomes extremely popular, she will raise the price.
Isaacson sells her prints based on the thought that went into capturing the image and on her own personal attachment to the photograph, but nothing is more than $20.
She doesn’t currently take requests for photos, but said it isn’t out of the question.
“My camera’s on my hip all the time,” Isaacson explained. “I sort of pick the photos that I like and that I know other people like, and those are the ones that I try and sell. I think that was easiest for me to start off with. In the future I’d like to take photos for people, but it would still be a hobby for me because I have other career priorities.”
Unlike Cronley, Isaacson doesn’t see her current business becoming a full-time career. Her major and passion is architecture, but she foresees her love for photography lasting as a hobby well into her future.
“I do enjoy giving my photography and having it impact someone else because they own it,” Isaacson said. “It’s definitely fulfilling. I like sharing my work. Especially if you’re selling art and your business is centered around that field, I feel like it’s double satisfactory because you can create something and you’re satisfied with it and you enjoy it and then you get to share that passion and in addition to it, you make money.”
Despite the added pressure managing a personal business in college creates for Cronley and Isaacson, they do it out of a passion for the arts and for making others happy.
Each bag Cronley stitches carries in it her dream of becoming a New York designer.
Isaacson looks through her lens at all the opportunities she is making for herself.
“It’s a big time commitment,” Cronley said. “But for all that you put in, you’re going to get rewarded for it. There are enough resources out there that people will help you and you won’t be alone. You can be successful at it.”