Today’s Small Business Success Story showcases the talent of California-based artist Jeannine Schafer. Jeannine is able to create a thriving business based on her creativity, hard-work, and determination to remain authentic.
Jeannine purchased banners to use in booths during trade shows and conventions.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Jeannine Schafer, and I’m a professional artist and I am “Neenerbot”. I grew up in a rural area outside of Pueblo, Colorado and attended art school in San Francisco, CA. I have worked in product design and games most of my career. I am employed full-time as an art director, and on the side I run my own art shop of sorts. I sell books, prints, original art pieces, and various other items. I have always drawn a lot of animals, and my personal artwork tends to be focused more on that subject matter.
What does your company do?
My “company” is actually just me. I create illustrations and designs for a variety of things, books, art prints, original illustrations, greeting cards, stickers, fabric designs, and other misc items. I run an online store and I travel to various conventions to display and sell my art. I also do commissions from time to time, and take on various freelance jobs. Mostly though, the company is just me doing what I enjoy doing, which is drawing animals, and hoping that other people will find it interesting.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
It’s really something that has evolved over time and I hope continues to refine itself in the coming years. It started out as a way to gain some eyes on what I was doing, to network and maybe sell a few drawings here and there. Over time it became a more focused effort and I began collaborating with a friend on books of animal illustrations and things kind of took off from there.
When did you discover your artistic abilities and how did you develop them?
I honestly don’t know when I discovered my abilities as I have been drawing as long as I can remember. I drew constantly as a child, often copying characters from animation and books, and started developing my own characters by 3rd grade or so. After high school I went to art school where I learned the fundamentals of art, which really broke me from my comfort zones in drawing. I don’t think it was until well after art school and into a couple of jobs before I started to really define who I was and what my style looked like. That is still something that evolves over time as I find different ways to express myself. I am continuing to develop all the time, I still take classes to push myself out of comfort zones and become a more well rounded artist.
Is there an area that you’ve struggled with in regards to customer acquisition that you believe is critical to future success? If so, how are you overcoming that?
This is something that I don’t really spend a lot of time looking at right now. Because this is something I do on the side, I am able to allow it to grow more organically. I think just visibility is the most critical thing for me. The biggest thing I do now is try to add in more trade shows every year, places I haven’t been before. Expanding out of California is really important to me, as there is so much competition here in terms of people doing similar things and also in terms of trade shows, which for me are typically comic conventions and the like. I like trying to get out and make new fans outside of this area as much as I can. Standing out from the crowd is really the biggest thing for someone like me. I’d like to try and get more traffic on my online sales at some point, but it’s not a huge goal right now since I don’t really have the time to deal with more sales than I currently have.
If you could rewind time is there anything you’d do differently? If so, what?
I think the only thing I would have done different is perhaps how I paid for my education. I went to an expensive private art school, and now I am neck deep in student loan debt. At the time, I didn’t know what I was doing and I just signed the dotted line because I had a dream and I wanted to pursue it. Now I am chipping away at it, and because I am fortunate enough to have a good job I am able to pay enough to have an endgame in sight. Had I handled my finances differently when I was in school I might have had more freedom after I graduated to make moves I can’t afford to do now. It has all worked out OK for me though, so I don’t really dwell on it so much. I took some risks and sacrificed some and it paid off. If all goes as planned I will be (student loan) debt free in about 4 years.
If you had advice for other SMB owners, regardless of the industry, what would it be? Be specific. Several points are fine.
Figure out what makes you different and run with that. If there is something you are doing right, something your customers love, this should be your focus. Be good to your fans/customers and don’t tolerate working with people who won’t do the same. My favorite piece of advice I have ever read was “know the difference between what is important and what is urgent”. Important things are those items on my to-do list which help me achieve my goals, like completing some art or updating my website. Sometimes responding to emails may seem urgent, but are they really important? I have to ask myself this when I am in time crunches, and make sure I am making the best use of my time. Also, the biggest piece of advice I can ever give…be patient with yourself. If you are learning something new, it might not come easy, and you have to get over the hump, but eventually you will as long as you keep at it!
What do you think the future holds for your business?
I am hoping it will continue to steadily grow. I would like to expand into some more soft goods soon, perhaps t-shirts or plush toys. My dream is that someday I will be able to take this and make it my full time thing, but this is definitely years and years down the road. For now I just want to continue creating new things and trying out different stuff to see what people like and what makes the most sense for me in terms of time vs profit.
Your website is hosted through StoreEnvy.com. Are you on any other selling platforms? If not, why did you choose StoreEnvy for eCommerce? Have you had success with that platform?
I used to sell with Etsy, and I moved to StoreEnvy because of the customization options and the lack of fees. Etsy charges a lot of fees, and it’s also a little bit of a mess in my opinion. There is so much going on there that it’s hard to stand out. That being said, I can’t say that my move to StoreEnvy has really helped me in terms of sales. I think the average shopper goes straight to Etsy when looking for unique or handmade art and crafts because it’s a known brand. I have considered moving back to Etsy, but I think I want to just hold out and come up with another plan that involves me having a more unique storefront on a website of my own. It’s just another thing on my to-do list!
Without sharing detailed financials, can you speak to your growth to this point and why you think it will continue?
In the past few years I have been taking most of what I make and investing it right back into my business, so there wasn’t really much profit to speak of. In 2014 I had my first big profitable year, and so far 2015 is looking to be even better. I am taking part in different shows this year, and returning to some that have been great for me in the past. I will be taking part in New York Comic-Con in October, which will be my biggest show to date, I am really excited and I am working on coming up with some great ideas for more stuff to bring to the table at the show.
Where can you be found on the internet? (website, social, etc)
Online Store: http://neenerbot.storenvy.com/
Editor’s Note: We would like to extend a big thank you to Jeannine for taking time out of her schedule to interview with us. Time can be very short working full-time and running your own personal business on the side. Jeannine has been working on developing her own unique style all her life. Many times adventuring outside of her comfort zone to find more ways to express herself. It is not always easy but as Jeannine states, “Be patient with yourself, if you are learning something new, it might not come easy, and you have to get over the hump, but eventually you will as long as you keep at it!” Through her own patience and hard work Jeannine has become “Neenerbot”. Thank you Jeannine!