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Starting a Hobby Business with High Quality, Sassy Products: Slightly Shirtee – Real Talk No Junk

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Pete Davis

CEO, Ampjar

29 Nov, 2018

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There are plenty of graphic designers out there who’ve dreamt of launching their own small business.

Morgan Macdonald has done it twice. She runs a successful boutique graphic design studio, Morgi Mac, and earlier this year launched Slighty Shirtee.

Slightly Shirtee creates ‘slightly sassy slogan tees’ for men and women, as well as tote bags and a kids’ line in the works. From ‘Yeah but Nah’ to ‘Attempting to Adult’, any of the tees could be an Instagram hashtag. They’re monochrome, bold and sassy, and they’ll make you smile.

Morgan tells us about launching her second business and what she’s learned along the way.

Pete: How did Slightly Shirtee come about?

Morgan: I wanted to do T-shirts for a while–I’ve always had a bit of an interest in slogan tees and have always been a little bit sassy as well. I’ve got all the skills to do it and I found a printer that can do it and Amber (Morgan’s colleague) mocked me up a website that afternoon and I ordered tees and away we went.

Pete: You’ve already got your graphic design business. Were you looking for another creative outlet or just to see what else you could do?

Morgan: Shirtee was my attempt to set up a business from scratch, and not so connected to me as the graphic designer (as with her self-branded graphic design business Morgi Mac). It was a chance for me to learn something new, to play, to push myself a bit more.

I’ve got two years until my boys are at school, I thought why the heck not. I haven’t remortgaged my house to do it, I’ve just used some of my Morgi Mac stuff and had a crack.

Pete: So you’ve run a business before, but was clothing a whole new world for you?

Morgan: Things like markups are totally new to me. It’s really hard as a small business to break into a lot of online boutiques. I can’t bring my cost down because I get all my stuff done here in Australia. I don’t source anything from China–some people value that, some people don’t value that–unlike most fast fashion brands.

I didn’t want them to be thin and see-through. I wanted them to be of good quality. I’ve only experienced positive comments about the quality and a lot of happy customers.

Pete: So you get the tees made locally?

Morgan: I do all the design here in Bendigo and I get them screen printed in Ballarat (a town in Victoria, close to Morgan’s hometown Bendigo).

I found someone in Ballarat that could do everything that everyone else could do AND their customer service was amazing.

Pete: Is there anything specific about running a business that you identify as a gap for you?

Morgan: I’m not ‘new school’ and I still struggle a lot with the social media stuff. I haven’t delved into Facebook ads or anything like that which could be really good for me. I like shiny things and pretty things and I don’t really learn about the intricacies of like the accounting side of things! I’m not amazing at paying myself and making sure that I’m making the most out of the small business.

Pete: Do you have a plan for when it gets to a sustainable point?

Morgan: No. Shirtee is my hobby business so I’m going a bit fast and loose with it. I’ve got a goal of where I want it to go but none of it is financial projections or anything like that.

Pete: Do you think you can afford to be like that because you’ve got Morgi Mac established?

Morgan: Yeah for sure. Also, Bendigo has got so many supportive people that are taking risks which kind of desensitizes you to it (the risk). You’ve got all these people saying, “You can do it! Go for it! I did it this way, try it this way!”

Pete: How do you find balancing work and family? (Morgan has two children under five)

Morgan: I don’t. There’s no work/life balance!

When I had Callan I was still sending emails while I was having contractions like just stupid and I would never suggest that for anyone, never. It didn’t go well for me, but with the Shirtee and that I don’t check the emails over the weekends.

I’ve really put restrictions on things like with DMs–they don’t have to be replied to there and then.

I suppose I feel like I’ve got the balls to say I’m putting the restrictions around it and it’s going to be better for me as a business. Whereas with Morgi Mac, as soon as an email comes up I’m like, oh I could probably do that now. I used to sit there banging away till like 11:30 at night but not anymore.

In the last six months, I didn’t do any work overnight. So, now I push back–which has taken a lot.

Pete: And did the world fall down?

Morgan: No, it didn’t but it took me six months to get to that point (of feeling that way)! It’s taken me a lot of time to just slowly relax and say you’re going to be okay.

Pete: So if you’re not so comfortable with it, how do you manage your social channels?

Morgan: I’ve tried to schedule, and it doesn’t work for me. I’m not an oversharer but I find that I can tell when people are scheduled and I don’t like the vibe. I kind of like the idea that people are dealing with the person behind the brand. That said, if I do get bigger, it’s going to have to change a little bit.

I spend hardly any time on Facebook which is something I probably need to work on. I’ve tried to use my website effectively but I could probably start analyzing a bit more.

I do love Instagram but I also hate it as well just because it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. I like having a community here that I actually know that there’s a face behind the name.

Pete: What’s the best thing you ever did to get more followers or sales?

Morgan: Giving away tees, to be honest. Cherie (the Cherie of Digital Picnic fame) suggested being generous with your product. Not to send it out to a bazillion people but they’re not precious babies, just do a giveaway.
I just sent tees to people that I like, I enjoyed their vibe or they were having a really bad time, maybe their kids had been sick.

The next minute the tees are all over Instagram and I’m like, “What? I only sent out five tees!”

If I can make someone happy and they put a photo up, I’ve done my job.

I’ve had more conversions and more genuine interactions from sending someone with 5000 followers out something than someone with 100,000.

Pete: Has your graphic design experience helped you with marketing and social for Shirtee?

Morgan: Yes. The first thing I thought about when I set up my Instagram is how I want it to look, the vibe, how it matches the designs of the tees. I set up my templates of how I want them to look, rolled out a list of assets and had them ready to go.

It’s so important and it’s so easy for me – I know it’s a struggle for some people to keep the content consistent. But then I don’t spend a lot of time with the captions.

I’ve had a strategy, I’ve set out a lovely list of eye candy showing my range of tees, people wearing them, influencers wearing them. I’m going to start pulling out some of the designs and putting some rationale to why I designed them. They’re not just sassy slogan tees. There’s a reason why I designed an awkward tee, I want to start sharing a bit more of a story to the brand.

And to finish up, our quickfire five:

Pete: What’s your website built using and why did you choose it?

Morgan: Squarespace. I like the template designs and the look and feel, the ease. I can custom code so that’s an amazing skill to have. I find it really transparent with the charges whereas Shopify the more you add on, the more it increases your monthly charge. Their help has been really good as well.

Pete: How many unread emails do you have in your inbox?

Morgan: In total, two. I can’t have it, I can’t. I’m like get away, get away, get away.

Pete: Do you track things like conversion rates and Google Analytics?

Morgan: Not really. I’ve been tracking like what my most looked-at page is, where I am on my conversions, abandoned carts, how many people are clicking through from Linktree into the website and all that kind of stuff so a little bit, probably not as much as I should.

Pete: Who’s your ideal customer?

Morgan: Anyone. I don’t have an ideal customer. The tees are easy to wear. You can wear them to bed. You can wear them out. You can wear them anytime you want. On the weekend and I sold two ladies tees to a man to wear–-I want everyone to enjoy the tees.

Pete: I’m going to ask you to screenshot the first page of your phone and share it. What do you want to explain – if anything?

Morgan: The first page is just all they need to know. Like that’s all the basic stuff, and that’s all my like business stuff. I don’t have playtime my phone – I’m old school. It’s been registered for the business. I don’t have time to sit and play Candy Crush.

Thanks for taking the time from your busy schedule Morgan!

Pete here, it was great to talk to Morgan, she’s incredibly good at what she does with Morgi Mac and now trying something new. She’s getting some solid runs on the board, and having fun doing it. It’s awesome.

Here’s some business–and life–tips we learned from Morgan:

Big followers numbers aren’t everything when working with influencers. Morgan says she’s had more conversions and genuine interaction sending her tees to people with 5,000 followers as opposed to those with ten times as many. And you probably don’t need to pay!

Stop saying sorry all the time. We all have other things in our life. Sure there are times where an apology is warranted in business, but not in every email. “You don’t have to apologize for being a person and having a life. I get an email on Friday night and I don’t reply to it till Monday I don’t apologize, just ‘Thanks for your inquiry’.”

It’s ok to switch off. Morgan says it’s taken her a while to realize the business won’t fall down overnight if she isn’t always ‘on’. “I used to sit there banging away till like 11:30 at night but not anymore.”

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