How I turned my dream into a reality and created a side business selling unique artwork as frameable prints

InkHeart Design feature image
Mahlah
Mahlah
Founded: 2019
No of employees: 1
Location: Australia
$3,000 Revenue/mo

Mahlah is the owner and sole creator of Inkheart Designs. As a talented artist, she started out creating bespoke artwork for friends, before selling high-quality prints to accommodate a larger market. She’s built up a solid network from attending trade shows – generating $1,700 from her first-ever show alone. Her social media presence has continued to grow as she builds her portfolio and takes the time to create a unique shopping experience for every single one of her customers.

Her business generates $3,000 AUD per month – no mean feat considering Mahlah also works a full-time job at a school, while running her household and looking after her children. What’s perhaps even more impressive is her 60% open rate on email campaigns. We talk to Mahlah to find out how she plans to grow her business and her hopes for the future.

Who are you and what brand did you start?

Hi, my name is Mahlah and I am the sole creator of Inkheart Designs a showcase of my original artwork in the form of prints for all to enjoy. Located in the small, central west town of Forbes in Australia, Inkheart Prints are designed for everyone's enjoyment and to suit any budget. Since joining Rayelle Homewares as an Australian Artist Lab Artist in 2019, this has opened the doors for more people to discover the collection.

How did you come up with the idea, brand name and logo for Inkheart Designs?

A close friend back in 2015 could not find a particular piece of artwork she wanted for her home, so I offered to paint it for her. I had always enjoyed art and had been a tattoo artist in my early 20’s, so I was confident to paint what she wanted. After other friends had seen this, they started asking me to paint pictures they wanted – so I did.  But then as more and more people saw these paintings, they wanted the exact same images but I could not keep producing the exact same. This is how the idea of producing prints came about. 

I was about to do my first-ever market as the popularity of my art was on demand, but I didn’t have a website. When completing the market application form, it asked for a business name. At that time I did not have one,  so I had just scribbled down ‘Junk Draw Craft Wars’, which was very long and had no meaning. 

A member of my family suggested Inkheart, as the movie where the images came to life was magical and well suited. Art is my passion and I felt a connection to the name, and so ‘InkheArt Designs’ was born. 

The original logo was a heart which I created from Ink. This has since been re-designed, however, I may possibly go back to the original Ink Heart design in the future.

Describe the process of launching Inkheart Designs?

I found a local printing business in my town called Court Press to print my artwork into A4 and A3 prints once I had a few to start off with. I did my first market in 2015, which delivered sales of over around $1,700 in just A4 and A3 prints. I could not believe the response I had had from this market – I was so overwhelmed by such a warm response to my art. 

The market start-up cost me around $200, including fees. From this, I mainly started doing commissions of people's pets. I started a Facebook page and began promoting my work. I continued to book in and do local markets in my local and surrounding area – the furthest being a 3-hour drive.

From these markets, I gained great followers on my social media sites and some great connections into the retail world. I started wholesaling my prints to businesses, and also offered consignment. It was going well but then I fell ill in 2017 with borderline ovarian cancer, which forced me to take time off doing what I loved.

I started a full-time job 1 year after my recovery in 2018 and Inkheart Designs went to the wayside. It was always in the back of my mind and I wanted to do more with it, but I did not have the time or drive like I did before. It wasn't until recently in 2019 that things started moving again. I had branched into digital painting and started offering canvas prints. I re-designed my website and started selling again.

I was featured by Lady Start Ups on Instagram, which threw my website traffic into a frenzy. My most memorable moment was when I received an email from Rayelle Homewares offering me to be an Artist Lab artist for their homewares company on a commission-based contract.

My biggest exposure was from a Facebook group called Buy from a Bush Business, which started to help small businesses in drought-affected areas. I posted a bit about myself and where I was from with some of my art prints, and my website traffic went crazy. I spoke to well over 80 people that day through messages and made over 150 sales.

Since launch, what has worked best to attract and retain customers?

My most loyal customers are the ones I have met face to face through markets or networking. I have made a
connection with these customers and they have been the biggest supporters of my business. I have been blessed to work closely with customers, listening to their needs and what they require out of my artwork – from colorful pieces for visual enjoyment or a certain animal they love and would like to have hanging on their walls. I have wonderful feedback from customers when they receive their prints and often return to buy prints as gifts for friends and family.

I mainly use email marketing to re-engage visitors who have abandoned their shopping cart. Also addressing and focusing on my website SEO is important, and in the near future I will be starting Google ads and Facebook campaigns through Wix. I am still in the process of determining the audience sets as well as lookalike audiences to consider marketing to in that campaign.

With regards to business growth, how have things changed from a digital, revenue, customer and sales perspective?

Inkheart Designs has thrived in the digital world. Social media is a significant marketing tool and is how I reach most of my customer base. I try my best to keep up with all the latest trends and marketing tools. I have a lot to improve on when it comes to marketing online, though. I have a 60% open rate on email campaigns and I am still working on building my subscribers numbers.

How is the business doing today and what does the future look like?

Business is exciting. In the short-term, I am looking to expand my work beyond just wall art. I have collaborated with another small local business, Burning Scent Candles, to combine my artwork with her candles. I have a Redbubble and Society 6 account, where I work as an independent artist to sell my artwork globally on hundreds of products, from bed linen and homewares, to clothing, furniture, and much more. 

My more long-term plan is to own and operate my own UV printer to produce and wholesale my designs on an array of different products all over Australia. Having a UV printer would enable me to print onto products such as coasters, mugs, drink bottles, canvases, phone cases and giftware, expanding on my frameable prints. This would allow room to move with profit margins, attend more trade shows and offer wholesale products with my designs. This would also allow me the opportunity to offer print on demand items for other artists or even promotional items for businesses, such as pens and stubby holders – the possibilities are endless in my mind. 

This has been a dream of mine but with no plan in place. I am still working full-time at a school, working my business in the evenings whilst running a household and children. My life is a bit crazy but one day I hope to pursue this dream.

What’s been the biggest learning experience since starting your own brand?

It's hard work and opportunities don't just fall in your lap. You need to get rid of self-doubt and put yourself out there and network. Do not ignore opportunities. I used to always avoid opportunities and ignored emails because I was scared I was not good enough or did not have enough time. I nearly missed some huge exposures due to this mindset. 

Given this, I try to always be open to new ideas and collaborations. I am still learning and always looking for ways to improve my business knowledge in my spare time. I am just learning now that you don’t have to always go it alone, and it is worth working with others that specialize in certain areas of business to grow myself.

What are your top 3 tips on how to setup an Ecom store for success?

1) Research what platform suits your budget and brand best. You don't have to spend thousands on a website to start selling. There are a lot of platforms with easy templates to create your own website.

2) Make sure your website is mobile friendly. Most of my customers are looking at my website from their phone.

3) Ensure the platform you choose for your site is going to be enabled and functional in the ways you need in the future. One of my pitfalls was choosing a platform that was not compatible with payment tools like After Pay and Zippay. Having these enabled would have meant I could convert more sales on my website.

What are some of your favorite online business tools you use to run Inkheart Designs?

I use Wix, which has been a valuable sales tool for my business with very easy to use templates and email marketing, but I am considering moving to Shopify as it supports up-to-date payment methods. My biggest audience comes from Facebook and Instagram, with a combined total of around 9,000 followers. I love to interact with my customers, answer all their questions and run competitions for customers to win some of my prints.

TypeTool Name
PlatformWix
Email MarketingWix
CMSWix
ReviewsFacebook Reviews
ShippingAustralia Post
AccountingMYOB
PaymentsPaypal, Stripe, Square
AdvertisingPhotoshop
Customer ServiceChat Support
DesignAdobe Indesign, Adobe Photoshop
MarketingWix
InventoryWix

See what tools other founders use here.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts or other educational resources?

I find I learn best through others' experiences. Hearing about other people's journeys is a great way to learn, as well as networking and engaging with like-minded people. I am also a big fan of Mia Freedman and her Lady Startup Activation Plan, which is designed to help women like me start their own business.

Who have been the most influential people for you during this business journey?

I am always influenced by other artists and also Interior designers. I love to research what's trending and often create designs just to suit color trends. But the most influential people are actually not people – they are animals, objects and my surroundings. Because I like to connect with people that mean the world to my business, I strive to find the things that mean the world to them.

Any other advice you’d like to share with other aspiring entrepreneurs?

Customers are not just customers. They are people, and people will forget what you said and what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Make each customer experience special. After all, this is what makes it a business. 

Also, don't be afraid to succeed. Take risks and try new things. Nothing beats experience!

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now or open to new investors?

I am always open to new opportunities and to work with other talented people.

Where can we go to learn more about your current offers/promotions/programs?

Website: https://www.inkheart.net

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/InkheartDesign

Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/inkheartdesigns/

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