The Gray Muse

How I made $160,000 in My First Year in Business Selling $10 Pins

Rubeena Ianigro

I self-funded about $2,000 and had a revenue in my first year of about $157,000.

Rubeena Ianigro

Starting The Gray Muse was a lightbulb moment for me. I had always wanted to run my own business but didn’t know what I had to offer. I was making handmade greeting cards as a hobby in my 30s and collecting enamel pins that represented things about me or what I loved. Before I had my daughter in 2018, I was working as a medical social worker. I didn’t know whether I wanted to go back or not. As I was building my enamel pin collection, I realized there weren’t pins specifically for card makers so it hit me that I could create them. I knew that if it was something I would buy, that other people would buy them, too.

As a card maker, I had experience using Instagram to share projects and my story. I wanted to use Instagram to promote my shop, too. When I shared the idea with family and friends, they were excited about it so this validated my idea. I built up excitement by talking about it on Instagram and sharing fun sneaks.

The Gray Muse Rubeena Ianigro

I had no prior experience in running a business but knew that I would figure out things along the way. I broke it down into manageable steps so that I didn’t get overwhelmed and give up. I recognized that I had built skills over time that would help me be successful in running a business: engaging with followers on social media, product photography, running a blog, sharing my story, and understanding online systems that e-commerce shops need to grow a business.

I self-funded my business so I did not raise any funds. I believed in myself and my vision for the business so I was willing to spend all my savings. I’m so glad I did that because I made more than twice as much revenue than my expenses on the first day I launched.

My target demographic are people who make time for art, crafts, and creative hobbies. They love what they do, appreciate the little things in life, and enjoy collecting art.

How did you fund the idea initially?

When I first opened my shop, I self-funded about $2,000 for the initial batch of products, website and branding, packaging, shipping labels and printer, and outsourcing the illustrations for vector formats.

I do not have any employees yet, but I do outsource branding, photography and illustrations. I found professionals through UpWork and referrals. The best way to find reliable and quality help is by asking other business owners or joining business-related Facebook groups. I recommend starting with small projects and/or requesting samples so you can get an idea of who to work with. Miscommunication does happen so be clear, be patient, and be willing to learn from the process.

What motivated you to start your own business?

The Gray Muse is my first e-commerce shop. I used to make handmade cards and sold them occasionally in person, which validated my creativity. I had no interest in setting up a greeting card shop so I continued to craft for fun.

The Gray Muse Pins

When I got the idea for designing and selling craft-related pins, I got excited about what was possible. I wanted to share so many ideas with the world. I knew that I had to go for it, in spite of any fears I had. What motivated me was the inner desire to be my own boss, to do things on my own terms, and to inspire and uplift the world with my art and words. My daughter was actually my biggest motivation. Since I am her role model, I wanted to show her that my dreams were important to me and her dreams should be important to her.

When I first shared the idea with family and friends, they were just as excited as I was. They believed I was more than capable of creating a successful and creative business. This support was vital for me to move from idea to launch in a short period of time.

What have you learned?

When things go wrong, I try to focus on what’s in my control. I ask myself what can I do to fix it? Or can I just accept it and try something else? It’s about learning from the errors or mistakes. It’s part of the business journey and you can’t expect everything to go smoothly 100% of the time.

If you’re just starting out, remember your why. Make a list or a board of wins or customer testimonials so that whenever challenges come your way, you are patient enough to get through them. If something doesn’t work, be willing to try again or something different. Failure is actually necessary to achieve success. More importantly, define what success means for you so you can celebrate every time you make progress.

In the first few months of opening my shop, over 90% of my traffic came from Instagram. I posted consistently (daily) and passionately about my products and drove people to sign up for my email list. Now, most of my sales come from direct emails sent to my newsletter subscribers.

What’s stopping me from being 3x the size I am now is wanting a life and work balance. As a successful entrepreneur, it’s easy to want to do all the things. As a mother to a two-year-old, I want to also be able to spend time with my family and friends. Besides outsourcing illustrations and photography, I still handle most of the business tasks. I enjoy spending time alone as an introvert and empath, having time for loved ones, and for building my coaching business as well. My plan is to hire an assistant in the next 6-12 months who can help me with opening up a wholesale program, adding other product lines, and adding newer ways of increasing brand awareness (Pinterest and TikTok).

How do you protect yourself from competition?

I’m not afraid of competition because no one can be me. My products are designed for me first, and even if there’s a similar product or design out there like it, I try to add my own style to it. I’m not afraid to do things a little differently. I’m a licensed social worker who enjoys art and crafts and talks about topics like boundaries, people-pleasing, women empowerment, inner child healing, and intuition. The combination makes me unique and it will show in my business and my social media posts. My customers learn to know, like, and trust me because I keep it real.

What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without?

I love Instagram. I’ve built a small community of loyal fans and friends so being able to share my passion for pins and more is important for me. My business started as a way to share my ideas and Instagram makes it so easy for me to share beautiful photos and my thoughts. Instagram is the new blog! I love A Color Story for editing photos and Mojo for creating beautiful Instagram stories.

What are your favourite books and podcasts?

Some books that have helped me in business areYou Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero, Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo, and Superfans by Pat Flynn.

Some of my favorite podcasts include Your First $100k Business Podcast, The Marie Forleo Podcast, The Jasmine Star Show, The Goal Digger Podcast, The GaryVee Audio Experience, The Empath Podcast, and Brand with Bite. I love learning from different industries. It is inspiring and helps me get even more creative in business.

What are your next steps for The Gray Muse?

My dream is to create a relatable and fun enamel pin and creative gift shop with products that customers love for themselves or their loved ones. I’m hoping to add some prints and stationery products in the upcoming year.

In 5 years, I’d love to be a global brand that is in boutiques and shops around the world. I want to spread joy and inspiration, one pin at a time.

The revenue in my first year was about $157,000. Since I just launched social media mindset and business coaching in February 2020, I’m anticipating at least double revenue for my second year. I do not think I would ever sell my brand. It means a lot to me and represents the journey I’ve been on.

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