Being recognized for your work is super important (it's why we created the #ahasawards!), but for makers it can often be a bit nerve wracking because you are putting yourself out there (so many makers are introverted). Today we wanted to highlight the experience of #ahasmember Sarah Mandell of Once Again Sam who is both a Martha Steward American Made finalist and recently appeared on TV because of it. Today she shares the behind-the-scenes of that process.
When have you put yourself out there and it turned out to be way more cool and less scary than you thought? :)
Q: What do you make and how did you get started?
A: I’m Sarah Mandell, the brains and busy hands of Once Again Sam, an indie craft business where I design and make leather and wood jewelry, as well as quirky needle felted fiber art.
It all started out as a hobby, I never dreamed I could make a living making things, but here I am. I used to work full time as an interior designer in the field of commercial architecture, which is what I went to school for, but in the evenings I would knit, or make myself jewelry out of random scraps of materials simply as a creative outlet.
I opened an Etsy shop in 2009, mostly as a way to make some money to fund my craft supply budget (great business plan, right?), but after just a few years, I found was earning more through my little handmade business than I was at my day job, and I was really enjoying my entrepreneurial journey. I’ve been fortunate enough to flip flop my hobby with my career, and now I work full time for Once Again Sam and just a few hours a week as an interior designer (because I enjoy that too, an couldn’t give it up altogether).
Q: Tell us about your recent publicity opportunity?
A: I’m thrilled to be a 2015 Martha Stewart American Made finalist. This program is full of creative entrepreneurs who are passionate about handmade well-designed goods, and are living their own version of the American dream.
My handmade jewelry is among 30 others in the Style / Jewlery category, which is a huge honor. Because of this major opportunity, I’ve been lucky enough to have some media features come about. Recently, I appeared on a TV show called Studio 62, and was able to share about my business, and talk through what it means to be an American Made finalist.
Q: How did you get invited to be on TV... did they find you or did you contact them?
A: When I received the email letting me know I was a finalist, there was all sorts of useful information about how to pitch to the media, because a local artist getting this far in the competition makes for a great story. The marketing people at American Made wanted to be sure the finalist get as much exposure as possible, so they made it easy for us by supplying examples of how to pitch our story to the media, and other helpful suggestions. I decided to pitch to two local TV shows, and one newspaper.
I heard back from both TV shows right away, which was wonderful! The first feature has already aired, and it was with Jamarcus Gaston of Studio 62, here in the Greenville-Spartanburg area of South Carolina. I have been on his show twice before in the last year, so I felt comfortable reaching out this time, even though he had been the one to contact me previously. The second TV show is called Your Carolina, and I have no previous connection there, so it will be a whole new experience on October 13th!
Q: How did you prepare yourself and your product visually to be on TV?
A: The TV host told me I would have a table for product display, and also asked ahead of time for product photos to use during the interview. Since I had been on the show before, I knew the approximate size of the table and the types of shots they’d be able to get during the show, so I planned ahead to have a grouping of items displayed for easy on-air closeups.
In a previous Studio 62 feature, I made the mistake of displaying pendants in a flat tray, and didn’t realize the camera wouldn’t be able to get a good shot without tilting the tray, so I learned the hard way that everything needed to be securely displayed in a vertical way.
As far as preparing what to say, I wrote down some things beforehand and tried to memorize it, but I think I only said some of what I wanted to. Live TV will make you nervous, especially if you’re shy like me, so it’s no surprise I forgot a few things!
Q: Did you do anything special before or after on social media or in your shop to leverage your appearance?
A: I posted a link to the clip after it aired, since this is a local show and most of my social media following isn’t local. In order to (hopefully) gain some more votes for the American Made competition, I also asked the host if he could post the voting link during the interview. I certainly saw a few votes come in the morning the feature aired!
One other thing I did this weekend was to include a “please vote” flyer in every bag along with customer’s purchases at a well-attended craft show where I had several hundred sales. My hope was that if they liked my work enough to make a purchase, they might be willing to take the time to vote.
Q: What benefits did you see from your appearance?
A: Although I was nervous, and didn’t say everything I wanted to say, I was able to “get out there” and gain exposure for my small business. Exposure is huge, and using the American Made awards as an excuse to share my story certainly makes it easier to find media opportunities.
Nobody would tune in for a story about an average day in the Once Again Sam studio, but being a finalist in a national competition is news worthy, so I knew to take advantage of the unusual opportunity. The same day the feature aired, I had way more Etsy sales than usual, saw the number of votes increase on my nomination page, and also received 2 additional media requests.
Q: What was the most unexpected part of the experience?
A: Honestly, I’m still surprised to have made it this far in the American Made competition. I’ve applied for several years, along with thousands of other hopeful independent makers, and never expected to be a finalist. I also didn’t expect the recent TV feature to happen so fast! You really have to be ready when you get the call (or in my case, email).
Q: What advice would you give to people interested in doing something like this?
A: As far as the American Made competition goes, my advice would be to apply. Every year. Keep applying! It’s free, it only takes about 30 minutes to complete the application, and even if you don’t win, it’s ridiculously easy marketing. You’ve got nothing to lose, and maybe, just maybe, $10,000 to gain!
When pitching to media, keep it short and sweet, but also personal. Only contact people / shows who are a good match for what you’re doing. I knew from watching Studio 62 that they regularly feature local artists, so it seemed like a good fit.
The only advice I can give about preparing for a TV feature is pretty practical, but I’ll share it anyway.
1. Make it easy for them (respond quickly, do what they ask, followup, etc.).
2. Know your facts (I studied up on the American Made competition - I wanted to be 100% certain of voting dates, prize info, and stats, just in case the host asked. I would have looked pretty dumb if I didn’t know simple stuff like when the winner would be announced).
3. Smile, speak clearly (I have trouble with that one), and pretend you're not nervous (I have trouble with that one too!).
Q: Anything else?
A: If you’re read this far, you know being an American Made finalist in the Style / Jewelry category is a big BIG deal for me. Martha Stewart and her panel of 16 judges have gotten me this far, but the rest is entirely up to voters. Would you please take a moment to send some votes my way? I set up a sub domain to make it easy to find my nomination page: www.vote.onceagainsam.com and once you create a login on the Martha Stewart American Made page, you’ll be able to vote up to 6 times per day until October 19th. Winning something like this would do wonders for a small business like mine. Thanks a million!
Q: Where can people find your stuff?
A: My handmade jewelry and felted curiosities can be found on Etsy at www.onceagainsam.com and I’m always posting new work and studio experiments on social media, if you’d like to follow along.