Anastasia Agalakova is a craft artist and a mother of four. In 2014, her family moved from Ukraine’s occupied Donbass to Pavlograd. At the same time, Anastasia found that her attitude towards her old hobby – needlework – had changed. So she moved on to making jewellery, not only for her three daughters, but also for sale. Anastasia turned her hobby into a small enterprise. This is the story of how she did it, as well as some helpful tips on how to promote your business.
A hobby that turned into work
Needlework was my hobby for quite some time. I have three little daughters, and I wanted to decorate their outfits, so I also started making all kinds of jewellery. Then I decided to put several products up for sale on the Skrynya website, where Ukrainian craftsmen add their works. And I’ve got orders! This is how I realised that there was demand for such products.
But from the very beginning I felt the lack of necessary knowledge. Initially, I had technical education. And I had no knowledge of economics whatsoever, no understanding of marketing. Of course, I had to master it in the process. Therefore, I am constantly learning something new, looking for information somewhere and participating in educational training.
Our life is changing fast, and if you do not learn anything new, you will stay in the Dark Ages. Modern methods are completely different, so you must constantly seek for new information, develop and move forward.
For instance, one educational course was launched thanks to a grant from the ‘Ukrainian Women's Fund’ with financial support from the EU. This project highlighted three major topics: marketing, copywriting and photography. A photographer told us about light, shadow and composition, and how to take photos of our products so that they attract more customers. A journalist taught us how to write texts and engage potential buyers. And a business coach explained how to communicate with a client and to promote products on social media.
There were also additional consultations and training courses on women's leadership. All of this was a part of an EU project during the quarantine and the COVID-19 crisis that supported women's business initiatives and created new opportunities for them.
The project itself consisted of a series of events and online mentoring support. This really helped in improving the quality of online business operations and my personal internet sales skills. I understood why targeting is so important and what e-commerce is, expanded my client base and became more confident in doing this. Now, of course, I continue to put into practice everything I have learned.
In addition, at the beginning of the ‘Handmade Online’ project, a chat was created for us in Viber, which became a kind of club for remote communication and mutual assistance, bringing together the craftswomen. There are several other groups where we exchange working materials and experience, discuss upcoming exhibitions and different fashion trends. And sometimes we also boast to each other about our work!
Also, before the New Year, we partnered with a woman who makes soap – we created gift sets together. And I have an ongoing collaboration with a woman who knits: I order ready-made little hats from her and decorate them.
How to do business online
To successfully promote your business online, first, you need to create a collection of items – a line of products. At least a dozen items have to be available to be presented in order to interest the buyer.
The next step is to take high-quality and versatile photos of the products, including shots on the model, so that the products can be seen in practical use. Then upload them to the page. It is probably best to start with social media and then move to narrower platforms. You have to post regularly – so that they are often displayed in the search results on the chosen platform.
In terms of social networking – you need to tell people about yourself too, because people are interested in the person behind the jewellery, and they want to know about your creative process. It is important for the master not to hide behind the products, but to present them as a result of her own creativity.
Next step – the promotion itself, the targeting (a tool through which the network shows your ads to the right people). For now, I periodically order ads only on Instagram. And it was the first advertising campaign – the most successful in attracting new orders: a photo of hoops and a text urging to please your girls with such a gift. But in general, it is recommended to advertise posts with videos.
I do not use advertisements on a regular basis but keep them only for six days. Judging by the results, I decide whether to turn it off or to continue. There is also a rule that the post that is being advertised must be "at the top" – no more than six posts on top of it, maximum nine. If people click on the advertised post and do not see it in this range, they might simply leave the page. A customer does not want to waste time and “rummage” to find what he is interested in.
In general, you need to work and to upload your work to as many websites as possible. As the saying goes, do not put all your eggs in one basket, but let your work be distributed among several sources that bring customers.
There are also many more industry-specific platforms to sell your works. I regularly order advertising on Kidstaff, although it is usually seasonal (before the holidays). On OLX too, but you cannot predict the results there. Etsy is also a global platform, there is a lot of competition, but sales do happen from time to time. Yes, advertising there is more expensive, but the cost of products is also higher.
Work schedule and further development
Basically, I work and receive orders online. There are also various pre-holiday fairs that are held in a shopping centre in Pavlograd (Dnipropetrovsk region) – I regularly participate in them. I look for ideas on the Internet, for example, on Pinterest. Or I come up with them myself. But certain trends are set by material suppliers – you need to work with what is available.
Now my working day is irregular. It all depends on the orders and inspiration. While the children are at school, before lunch, I can either work with my hands, or do something online – write posts, shoot stories.
The hottest season is on New Year's Eve, when celebrations are held in kindergartens and schools. At the same time there are New Year's fairs. In December, we had exhibitions every day from 9am to 6pm. And I realised that it is very difficult for me to work outside home. Because first you are a seller, then you need to come home and make new goods... And you work till late at night. And you also have your family. This is why I prefer working online – not to be tied to a specific place and time.
With the introduction of quarantine restrictions, of course, there were fewer celebrations, and in schools they were generally prohibited. Consequently, the usual holiday season demand for products dropped by 30-40%. But all the same, girls go to school and kindergartens, no one cancels birthdays.
I realised a long time ago that online sales should be a priority, and quarantine only confirmed to me that this is a better option. Yes, it was difficult during the lockdown when everyone was at home in terms of maintaining silence and working mood – there is always some kind of ongoing communication, casual conversations. My younger daughter needs help with her online classes, I have to control whether she attends the class: sometimes there is no sound, sometimes the video connection does not work.
With time of course, I would consider separating my work and home life. But for now, I have to combine everything in one place. The home atmosphere relaxes in some ways, but in others it gives an advantage.
Before my maternity leave, I used to work with documentation at the mine in the department of the chief technologist. But, if anyone today were to suggest that I go back to office life with a standard working schedule, I would definitely refuse. It is very difficult for my family – they do not see me, there is not enough time for home.
I'm not going to open a physical store yet. I think that it is better to develop online – a lot of effort has already been put into this. And, of course, there is more profit if you work with foreign customers, because the prices are higher. I have sent products to the USA, Great Britain, Canada, Italy, Denmark, Germany – these clients find me on Etsy (a worldwide handmade platform). I would like to move in this direction, in particular, to learn English.
Family support and moving from Donbass
I have four children: the youngest daughter, Arisha, is 8 years old, and the eldest son, Danya, is 15. Girls, of course, change their outfits more often, so all the rubber bands and hairpins are for them. Although I make bow ties for my son, this is for a festive look. But girls always need more decorations: as people say, there are never too many bows.
The older girls, the twins Alena and Sofia, are 10 years old and they, of course, won’t wear just anything now, but prefer something more strict. The youngest is still wearing all sorts of cute things.
Daughters work as my models: try on, take a photo for social networks, pass the crash test. In general, children were the first listeners and viewers of all my experiments, including on Instagram. If I find something interesting, I will definitely ask for their opinion.
Arisha recently wrote an essay at school about what she wants to be when she grows up. She said: "I want to be a needlewoman. Mom, is there such a profession?" She is a very creative girl, always into handcrafting all sorts of things. I even have a couple of her bows at the fair – she asked me to sell them.
My relatives are very supportive, and this inspires a lot. My husband makes all sorts of adaptations for me to make everything faster and easier. For example, I designed a temperature-controlled soldering iron, so that I do not have to cut ribbons off first with scissors and then to set the edge on fire with a lighter. Now I cut off directly with a soldering iron which is much more convenient. And if the temperature is reduced, you can, for example, make patterns on the fabric leaves. He also figured out how to make the process of making a tutu skirt twice as fast. To some extent, one can say that we have a family business.
We moved to Pavlograd in 2014. Before that they lived in Yenakiyevo, Donetsk region. In June, we realised that they have to leave: the situation was getting more and more complicated, there was no point in staying there any longer. My husband worked in the local mine. And precisely because of his work, the choice fell on this city – there are also mines in Pavlograd.
When we moved, we left the house behind, but two or three years ago it was literally taken apart brick by brick. By then, I had already got used to the situation. But when such news comes, it hurts a little, of course. Nevertheless, I think we would not return anyway. Therefore, it is as it is... What will really change if you will keep torturing yourself with things that you cannot change anyway?
"The main thing is to do what brings you pleasure"
I realised for myself that the main thing in life is to be able to do what I really like and enjoy. Then appear the possibilities and opportunities that develop this hobby and inspire myself. This comes from my personal experience.
Especially if my hobby brings benefits to someone. At first, I did it only because I enjoyed it, I could use my own handicraft for something useful. And then I saw that others also needed it – this gave me an impetus to develop.
It is important not to lock yourself up. Consult with loved ones, with those who will support. If possible, contact someone – experts in this handicraft. And be ready to invest a lot of time and effort into it.
The project of the Ukrainian Women's Fund - ‘Women's movement at the frontline of response to post-COVID-19 challenges in Ukraine’ - supported via the Rapid Response Mechanism for civil society organisations in the Eastern Partnership, is part of the European Union’s COVID-19 support to Ukraine. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the EU has mobilised a package worth over €190 million to assist Ukraine in facing the pandemic. In the spirit of the #TeamEurope approach, this support covers delivery of medical material and equipment, strengthening the health system and economic recovery, as well as helping vulnerable groups.
Author: Svetlana Popova