Interview with the Awesomeness that is nerd JERK
When I first interviewed Steph AKA nerd JERK in 2011 it was because I thought that she was an awesome crocheter who was doing cool things combining the stereotypically feminine world of crochet with the stereotypically male world of video games. I still think that. However, as I talked more with Steph, I learned just what a busy, savvy business gal she is. I’ve been following nerd JERK’s growth periodically since that first interview and think that she is a great example of someone who has adapted her own business model over time to adjust to the changing nature of Etsy as it grows.
One of the things that I think is great about nerd JERK is that she stays very active with the Etsy community and the greater tech/ craft communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. In early 2011 she was busy leading the I Heart Art: San Francisco initiative, which has now been absorbed by the SF Etsy Team. As she completed this interview in early 2012, she had just become co-captain of the SF Etsy Team, which is helping to make a more visible presence for Etsy artists throughout the whole Bay Area. Steph had also just been part of a panel of Featured Etsy Sellers at the Apple Store and was then offered her own talk at the store. I’d get in line for that!
I’m honored that she took time out of this busy schedule once again to do a new interview with me so let’s get to that now …
Q: When you first joined Etsy in 2009, you joined a lot of teams to promote yourself. You received a great response that resulted in an almost immediate need to expand your offerings. I’m sure that was a mixed blessing. Can you tell us a bit about that?
nerd JERK: It’s true – when I first started on Etsy in 2009 with nerd JERK, I decided to just read the Seller’s Handbook on Etsy to find out all of the tips and tricks to being successful. One of the top tips of advice (other than having passion for your products and great photos) was to join an Etsy Team.
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from joining any of the Etsy Teams so I picked a bunch and went for it. I remember reading through the list of Etsy Team descriptions to find something that seemed to fit my needs. Since I wanted to find local crafters, I joined the SF Etsy Street Team. I also wanted to learn how to be a better seller, so I found a team that all wanted to be better – The Etsy D-Listers.
But soon after joining all these teams, I realized that I’d need to offer my teammates something in return for all their efforts. I started researching the answers to questions that they posted, offering up the best knowledge that I could at the time. Soon people were looking to me for answers since I took the time to listen to their needs. And really – all sellers have roughly the same needs. I guess I just wanted to share the info that I found so helpful.
The fact that I’ve been recently appointed ST Etsy Co-Captain is still kind of a shocker to me. One of the toughest parts of having success is living up to your success while taking care of yourself. I’m not just an Etsy Seller; I’m also a girlfriend, a sister, a caregiver and a human being. So, although I have an Etsy Shop and I love helping my community, sometimes I forget to give myself a break. Sometimes I don’t want a break!! I just want to help as many people as I can. But I’ve tried to remember that I’m no good to anybody at a meeting if I haven’t slept in 30+ hours.
Q: That’s definitely important for everyone, especially as a self-employed small business owner. Plus you aren’t just giving back to your community but also have to take the time to grow and develop your own Etsy store! One of the things that I’ve noticed about your store is that you offer many different types of items. You clearly have a niche (geek craftery) but within that you offer many different types of items. What do you think the benefits are of doing that?
nerd JERK: There are definitely pros and cons to having multiple types of items in your Etsy Shop. In fact, it’s one of the biggest debates that Etsy Sellers have. Something I’m very passionate about is that an Etsy Seller should always strive to establish their brand – in everything they do! Your brand is your voice and in an online marketplace your voice needs to stand out to be noticed. I’ve found that if you have a strong brand presence, expanding your product lines can increase your revenue and reach a larger target audience. However, it’s a delicate balance.
A hard lesson I’ve had to learn is that I can’t be everything to everyone. There have been lines that I’ve released that I just made for myself and put out there (see: Weak Sauces in my Etsy Sold Items). Certain people liked them but the bulk of my target audience just wasn’t getting it. I had to redefine why I was making these items, who they were for and, if I made them, could I sell enough of them to make a profit and if so, was it enough profit to continue making them and eventually do it sustainably? These are tough questions for any artists to ask themselves, but since we’re also business people, the answers will help lead our art in a more meaningful and profitable direction.
So the short answer is: having a core collection or one type of item can be very profitable when you understand your target market for the niche product you’re putting out there. If you’re finding it hard to make much money from that niche, try to think of something else that complements your collection. BONUS: Can you create a new need with your new market that will excite your current market? The more people you can get talking about your awesomeness, the more successful you can become.
Q: Excellent point. To focus it on something more specific, let’s talk about your comics, which are fairly new to your Etsy shop. Is Etsy a place where those are doing well or would another location for those be optimal?
nerd JERK: I am teaching art to second and third graders in the East Bay right now. One of the things that I’ve noticed while trying to describe what nerd JERK is to these kids is that I’m not just one type of artist. More often than not, this is very evident in my shop. So I’ve taken a lot of risks – putting comics up for sale in my shop gives people who don’t really know me a chance to invest in a little something awesome. Now, are most punk zinesters hanging out on Etsy looking for paper stories? Probably not. But there are some rad folks from Australia that heard about my crochet-y goodness. Imagine their surprise that I make comics, too – and really, who can pass up a comic with such scintillating title as “Harry the Hipster Busts a Nut”??
Lesson Learned: You never know who’s gonna be into your stuff. If you think it’s worth your time to put your work out there, do it.
Q: So it seems like there’s a fine balance between putting out stuff that you really love and taking a chance on it but then also taking note of what your market does and doesn’t respond to. Another example that I’m curious about is that I’ve noticed a recent shift in your store towards offering kits instead of just finished products. Can you tell us a bit about the motivation for that and how that’s been working out?
nerd JERK: Ahhhh – you’re such a clever lady, Kathryn! I have, indeed, drifted towards making DIY Nerdy Craft Kits. The main motivation behind the line has been my carpal tunnel, to be honest. I love making nerdity for the masses, but it’s getting to the point where I might not be able to keep up with everyone’s requests. The business ladies and artists’ group that I joined last year suggested that I come up with a line of items that were less labor intensive. And since the craft revolution is pretty much on the upswing, I tried figuring out what I could offer to my nerdy customers.
So, my thinking was, since they like video games, they probably like pixel art. Since I like making art, I can try making pixel art. Then I took it a step further and people seem to be into it! As they’re my most profitable item, I’m currently working on developing a press kit for the DIY Nerdy Cross-Stitch Kits so I can start wholesaling. That’s a huge word for me: wholesale. However, as with any good business, if there is an audience asking for it, you’d be wise to give ‘em what they want.
Q: You have a really positive message behind your work (the goal of getting people to smile) … Do you find people responding to this message?
nerd JERK: When I came up with the name nerd JERK, I asked myself, “How do I want people to react to my art?”. When I tried to come up with my mission statement, I asked myself, “What do I want my art to do?” I started saying that I’d really like to be “inspiring smiles one geek at a time.” But soon it became apparent that the more I spoke to rad people in my local craft community that I could help in a much broader sense. Now I aim to “Inspire Your Inner Geek” – whether it’s with my cuddly crochet geekosity or with an encouraging word at a craft show. I’m trying my best to make you smile, think and act on those impulses of awesomeness. Is it working? ;D
Q: Yes, I think it is!! Your awesomeness has been spreading like wildfire through our community. To wrap up, is there anything else that you want to let the readers of Handmadeology know?
nerd JERK: Handmadeology is a tremendous resource of amazing knowledge. Tim Adam has only made it better by seeking out input from the handmade community all across the globe. I am glad to be able to find the inspiration that I need in just a few clicks. And I’m really stoked to have been asked to answer some great questions.
If you like what you’ve read here, please feel free to check me out on the internets:
- My handmade geek art is at http://www.nerd JERK.etsy.com.
- I blog about general awesomeness at http://www.nerd JERK.blogspot.com.
- If you really dig what you’ve seen & read, check out more about me on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.
- Or you can sign up for my newsletter.
And nerd JERK is also periodically mentioned over on Crochet Concupiscence.