Nichole Robertson is the photographer behind The Paris Print Shop and author of the new book, Paris in Color, published by Chronicle Books. Her work has been featured by Martha Stewart, Real Simple, The New York Times, Design Sponge, Apartment Therapy, Daily Candy, and HGTV. Here, she shares how she found success by telling her story. Come on by for Nichole’s Online Lab on Thursday, June 21 at 2 p.m. ET.
How We Got Started
My husband Evan and I opened the shop (then called Little Brown Pen) in 2008 as a fun side project. We initially sold printable stationery and calendars that featured Evan’s illustrations. The idea was to provide something practical (an emergency birthday card or gift when you need it) and affordable (5 bucks). The shop did reasonably well and we were excited to see where it took us.
Shaking Things Up
Things changed when we moved to Paris. The move was a spontaneous decision based on an inexplicable desire to shake up our lives. We went from thinking about moving, to walking around our new neighborhood in just a few weeks. Despite relatively strong sales, our interest in the shop waned.
When we arrived, we took a lot of walks to learn our way around. I enjoyed exploring Paris slowly in this wonderful new state of mind somewhere between tourist and resident. As I walked, certain objects would catch my attention — cafe chairs, mopeds, chalkboards, graffiti, everyday objects, really — and I would snap photos and share them on my blog. Sometimes I shot a series of objects in a similar color, and those were always the most popular. I quickly became obsessed with photographing Paris, and the printables shop was put on the back burner, as we mulled over what we wanted to do next.
The Turning Point
The answer, though it seems obvious now, took a long time to get to, and I have my blog readers to thank. Many of them requested prints of the photos, but for a long time, I couldn’t do it. It was partly due to my own reluctance to sell photographs as I didn’t consider myself a photographer with a capital “P.”
The first foray into selling photography was a collection of 49 photos of Paris typography that were assembled into a large, perpetual wall calendar. It was a fun project, and still a “paper good” rather than “fine art” which kept the capital “P” anxiety at bay. From there, Evan convinced me to add a few collections. This was the real turning point for the shop and sales really took off.
How Telling Our Story Has Made a Difference
In my experience, people come to Etsy for the personal connection to the artist or seller. The more company-like something feels, the more difficult it is to build that personal connection. It took me a long time to realize that, and I wrote a lot of product descriptions and profile copy that just didn’t work. Because of my background in advertising, I kept trying to create a “brand” around the images. For example, I played with taglines like “Stories of Color in the City Of Light.” Well intended and catchy perhaps, but no connection to me or my work.
The light bulb moment was realizing that the way I talked about the photos on the blog was the way I should talk about them in the shop: honestly. It’s such an obvious answer, but it’s the real story that provides customers with a context to enjoy the work.
It’s also the story that’s hardest to tell. Whenever I’m stuck, I imagine telling a 5-year-old what I do. Try it! It’s the simplest way to get to the heart of what you do without getting bogged down in pretty language and spin.
Opportunities Opened Up
A year and a half ago, Chronicle Books approached me to see if I was interested in publishing a book of photos from the project. It took me about five seconds to reply “yes!” The book is more successful than I ever could have imagined, and I’ve had a lot of people tell me they really connected to the introduction — the story behind the photos! It took me a long time to get it all down because it was such a personal journey, but I am happy I kept revising and digging deeper to get it right. The book, Paris in Color, is now available worldwide at places like Anthropologie, Pottery Barn and online at Amazon.
Watch: Nichole shares how telling her story changed her business in Etsy’s Online Labs: