There are a few subjects that I have been faced with over and over again in my handmade wood sign business, ones that can’t be explained in a brief conversation at a craft show or in a short Instagram post, so I’m going to try my best to unravel the complicated reasons why I have chosen to steer away from copying Pinterest and taking most custom orders, as well as discuss how we try to stand out in a flooded market and tell you how this all relates to pizza.
I think it’s been confusing to some, because for the first year or 2 when we were establishing our business, we were commissioned for a variety of different Pinterest projects and we took on everything from chalkboards to wood chests to wood signs and even furniture.
It was fun to experiment, to fulfill our customer’s wishes and flex our creative muscles so to speak, but we realized we didn’t have the knowledge, materials, time or tools to take on every random project that people found on Pinterest, so we eventually honed in on one main project- wood signs.
I don’t pin nearly as much as I used to but when I first found Pinterest, like most people I completely fell in love and I spent months pinning alllll the things. I think I have 4 million pins and 250 boards at this point, and that’s only a slight exaggeration. That website just set my soul and creativity on fire! Let’s make all these recipes and chore charts and do crafts and plan Pinterest parties, and follow makeup blogs and omg look at that bedroom, we need to remodel our house!
I credit Pinterest with reigniting my creative urges that had been mostly lying dormant in my 20’s when I was preoccupied with socializing, dating, going to concerts, and eventually having a baby and getting married. It was in 2010/2011 that I first discovered Etsy via Pinterest when I was planning my wedding, and I was instantly hooked!
sitting procrastinating at my desk job at the time poring over the beautiful handmade wedding décor and accessories for hours (shout out to Bryon, my very cool boss at the time who probably knew I was avoiding work but didn’t fire me). I was in awe of these talented people who owned these little shops and whom I thought were incredibly lucky to sell things they created themselves, sometimes as a full time career.
There was a subconscious bell going off in my head that I didn’t quite recognize at the time, a foreshadowing if you will, but it would be a few more years until I acknowledged the bell and made the equation.
There were so many variables that went into my decision to inevitably quit my job and embark into the scary world of entrepreneurship and self-employment, and it was a lonnnng, bumpy road filled with trial, errors and doubt that ultimately led to that decision. We were faced with illness and almost lost our first born son when he was 15 months old, and that was also a HUGE influence in me wanting to be home.
I will discuss my journey into entrepreneurship in a future blog post, but overall it took a lot of guts, I faced a lot of judgment, I went back and forth a million times, and I have zero regrets.
So let’s just cut to 2013 when we launched our little business that we initially called Uniquely Chic Creations (now Picket Fence Handmade). I started out doing random crafts from Pinterest including decorated Mason jars, chalkboards, painted furniture, and pallet wine racks. I launched a Facebook page, then immediately took it down after a couple of comments sent my self doubt pummeling.
Our first sale in November of 2013 was a massive pallet wine rack, and then two, three, four, five more. We made a pallet sign with the word LOVE across it, and the interest in our work took off from there. I launched the Facebook page again, with more confidence this time, and we were commissioned for piece after piece and project after project.
I was having so much fun tapping into my creative urges and I was amazed by the interest we were receiving. At the time I only knew of a handful of people in the area who made wood signs, maybe 2 or 3, so we were taking on a lot of work. I was officially working from home and loving every minute of it!
Over the years we evolved and my style changed, I actually cringe at the sight of some of my earlier work, BUT I realize it all helped me grow, and growth is key. Plus, some of those early signs truly made people incredibly happy! We eventually stopped working with pallets and started buying our wood, I started creating more of my own designs, and I fell in love with felt flowers and whimsical things and a more modern look.
When I was able to create more from my own imagination, only then did my business start receiving attention from a larger scale of customers and Instagram accounts. Only then did our following start to expand from local to other cities and countries.
Something else changed; a million wood sign makers popped up in the area seemingly overnight, and although the demand for signs didn’t change, my goals did.
Once you become part of the Instagram community of makers, you get to know a ton of amazing people who create beautiful things, and you form friendships with crafty people from around the world. These days when I go through Pinterest and see wood signs come up in my feed, 8 out of 10 times I actually know the business name and the face behind the person who created those signs on Pinterest.
And I don’t want to copy my friends and fellow makers. I don’t want to copy anyone who put their heart and creativity into something and had that idea taken from them, because I know how that feels, and it sucks. Customers may not completely understand that, but makers/creators and artists do, and it’s a whole other world between them.
Like many of my creative friends, I’ve taken it very personally and gotten upset over copying, I’ve fed off of other people’s opinions and I’ve allowed it to get to my heart. I never intentionally sought it out, it was brought to my attention by others who had good intentions and were trying to support me, which I appreciate. But I was eventually affected by it in spite of trying to focus on my own work and put my blinders on. But I’ve also learned from it.
Realistically we can’t claim to own the rights to a specific color, or a mass produced craft supply that Michael’s sells, or heart shapes, or premade silhouette designs, famous quotes or lyrics or glitter, or wood rounds and felt flowers. There is a ton of overlap and not everything is 100% original when you really analyze the elements that were gone into it. I’ve had ideas that pop up in my brain that I thought were original, but before I’ve had a chance to make them, I’ve seen something similar pop up in my Instagram feed.
In this way, I can’t claim that everything I do is completely original, I’m not saying I’m friggin Picasso over here, and I’m not claiming to be the only person to come up with a new idea. I’ve done the signs that everyone has done, I’ve done the quotes that everyone has done. I’ve done the pieces that I just know my customers will love and buy. But there’s a difference between being creative and just creating.
There’s a difference between mimicking an end result and being a person who came up with the creative idea that led to that end result. I’m not saying one person is better than another, I’m just saying these 2 types of people have different values, and different goals.
I realized over the years that for the most part, custom orders are not my forte. I want my customers to have my best work, so I’m always striving to improve from my last creation. I can honestly say that I’ve only been satisfied with about 50% of the custom orders I completed in the past, and I can admit that I really struggle with them and I doubt myself through the entire process.
In the past I would receive the customer’s idea and start creating it only to find that I mis-read their idea and totally made my own idea in my head without realizing it. The creative mind does what it wants and fights against being put in a box.
I got tremendous anxiety. I re-did the sign 10 times. I cried. I felt defeated. I felt bad about myself and I felt bad giving it to the customer. Even if they were happy with it, I didn’t feel proud or fulfilled. I didn’t feel like the customer could possibly be happy with it, and then I’d beat myself up.
Of course I want you to have something special that is meaningful to you, and I appreciate my customers SO very much, but I found that I have to work with my own strengths and time restraints in order to produce my best work FOR you. It wouldn’t be fair to choose only the custom orders that I know I would excel at, and abandon the others.
My hope is that you find value in having a unique piece of wall art that doesn’t come from a store or from Pinterest, but from my heart, from my imagination and from years of devotion to my craft and my values as a maker.
In the last year or two, we focused on doing craft/art shows because it allowed me to create anything and everything and not have deadlines to adhere to, because life happens, kids get sick, and it’s sometimes challenging to meet deadlines.
BUT it wasn’t business savvy to post something online that I had made for a show and when people would express interest in buying it, I’d have to tell them they could only get it by coming to a show. “Uhh, yeah so there’s only one of these and you have to come to the show to get it. And I can’t sell all these pieces I made for the show or I’ll have nothing to bring to the show. Sorry” Forehead slap.
I know, that sucks. But I was afraid that I wouldn’t make sales on Etsy, and I’d always had success making sales at a show. After adding twins to our family, and realizing time and balance was becoming harder to achieve with 3 kids, two of whom stay at home with me, and my husband working 6 days a week at his day job, shows were a way to have a bit more control and a more guaranteed income. The lack of time and balance (and energy) have also been a contributing factor in our discussions about shutting down the business.
But I love creating for people so much, and with my busy family life, it’s the only “me” time I get these days, so it is also a great way to incorporate some semblance of self care into my life.
So, to make this long story longer, this year I have loaded up my Etsy shop with designs and I’m open for business with many of the signs people have asked for! Depending on how Etsy sales go, I don’t have plans to do all that many shows this year other than a few big ones, due to lack of time and resources as well as health issues with arthritis and bulging discs in my neck. Wood signs aren’t light, and all the lifting involved for shows causes me a lot of pain. My husband helps when he can but he is usually home with the kids in order to allow me to do shows.
I will do my best to keep the Etsy shop open and will only close temporarily if I’m overly flooded with orders or prepping for any shows I do commit to. Turnover times are currently 1-3 weeks, and locals can use code PICKUP at checkout to omit shipping charges.
I am absolutely honored that people buy my signs on Etsy, and I have made most of my signs customizable by color, size, shape, etc so you can get a custom feel without completely changing the style or design.
I am working on adding new designs regularly, as well as ready-made seasonal pieces. I have so many more categories to add to, including weddings, mother’s day, father’s day etc. I plan to add more personalized items as well, but you can always request to add a name or date to a piece. Suggestions are always welcome also!
We are headed into our 5th year of business and I’m still learning every.single.day. I’m not perfect, I screw up, I haven’t always done everything for everyone and I’ve said no to a lot of projects or collaborations that I knew wouldn’t vibe with my goals, values, time restraints, resources, tools or abilities.
You can’t make everyone happy, you’re not pizza. And even if you are a delicious slice of pizza, some people have allergies or they’re vegan or gluten-free, or they don’t want to pay for pizza or they don’t value the ingredients, or would rather go somewhere else for pizza or make their own pizza. And that’s ok.