Talking with Monica Lee

Episode #174

Today I talk with Monica Lee from smartcreativewomen.com

Listen in and get some insight into starting your own business.

Plus, some new books and apps I love.

Remember to: Get your butt in the chair and keep crafting!

Transcription of Interview with Monica Lee

Well, I came across this site. So, I had to contact my next guest, Monica Lee. Her site is called SmartCreativeWomen.com. Don't we all want to be that? Love to be that? Have to be that? So, I'm fortunate today to talk to the founder of that site. Monica Lee, welcome, and thanks for coming on Craft Cast. It's fun.

Monica: Oh, thank you, thank you. That's very nice. I’m so glad you found me. That means I’m doing something right.

Alison: Right? Somehow you got out there, I stumbled across you. All over social media. Now fill us all in including me. I read a bit of your background but how you came to be the founder of smartcreativewomen.com?

Monica: How I came to be a smart creative woman? [Laughter]

Alison: Yes. Right. How did you become to be that? Was there a class you took somewhere?

Monica: You know what, that was I think a moment of spiritual nirvana. God came out of heaven when I thought of that name and then realized that the URL was free because that's always.

Alison: Oh yeah. Then that's always meant to be for you then.

Monica: Well because then when I'm contacting people they are instantly complemented [inaudible] creative women. But my background is I'm an illustrator. I was illustrating, I had started a greeting card company years ago all the while, while I was [inaudible]. And I got out of that fairly early on and took a bit of a hiatus and then got back into illustration and did children illustrations and would select book covers and I kind of realized that I was getting a little bit more work in editorial illustration. And then some licensing deals found me. Because I'm the type that likes to show up at conferences and I show up places and so.

Alison: Tell everyone what that means to get a licensing deal in that arena.

Monica: Well, you know it kind of, I was fairly familiar with that. It's a little hot saying right now but definitely, when I had the greeting cards, there was also a greeting card rep in gift stores. I knew Mary Engelbreit [inaudible] at the time that you can create a piece of art, get it licensed on to different products. Creating pieces of editorial art, I guess pays more. So that's it. And licensed products you get a royalty, almost you would get a book royalty. Although I have to say it’s a pretty complicated industry. Which is why some of my most popular [] have been trying to explain it to people because your art is being used to sell something whether it's a shower curtain to bedding to a coffee cup.

Alison: And hopefully you are getting some part of the sale that each [inaudible] makes.

Monica: Yes. A very small percentage. Something, a little percentage of some different areas and sometimes a small one. It depends and of course I started to jump. I'm really going to jump into this [inaudible]. I always like the gift industry and I jumped into in right in 2008. Yay! Good timing Monica. So that wasn’t good planning at all. But you know since I started for Creative Woman it has taken off so much that I sat down and worked myself to do some paintings. Like [inaudible] because I've been jump into the technology. I am having so much more fun if you can say that talking to other creative women.

Alison: Oh, you don't have to tell me. I know. So now you've segued a bit more doing your own art, creative it, sowing it cards and you've segued into starting a website and what was, did you have an overall mission statement for that or concept?

Monica: Oh, I really did. You know what? It sounds kind of funny, but I really wanted to encourage women to. What I found myself doing Alison was I saw myself; I would show up at some trade show with something I need a friend to find that type of chick that meets everybody on the [] from the airport. Then I would hear a girl's story and she would say this is how I use my art to make money whether it was Esty or with PDF downloads or. And from then I would meet another girl that was struggling, and I would say well let me tell you about so and so. And I would find myself repeating this, leading them to somebody's website to do what she does. That is in go copy for business model exactly but here is somebody who is doing it and is successful doing it. And I just thought that what I've, I keep repeating this story. My throat is getting sore. But I really wanted everybody to sort of also hold each other up. I don't. I am a big person of not liking gossip and any type of starkyness and I think that once a woman meets another woman, all that goes away. When you haven’t actually met, then you almost feel like this person might be your competition. But as soon as you meet, it just falls right away because you are on their side.

Alison: So important.

Monica: Oh you [inaudible]. I think, especially for women. I also like the idea of. I had a March party and I know some of the artist and girlfriends that I have are kind of shy and not shy. So, I wanted to just give a comfortable setting for them to bring your business card, bring your girlfriend and share your business card to learn how to do your elevator pitch with confidence, what's [inaudible], help them what your talents are. You just want to just pass that fear to kind of create that comfortable environment where everybody was able to come to toot their own horn for lack of a better term.

Alison: Which is very important.

Monica: Well yes. nowadays, it always has been. But I think there was probably a time where you could really hide behind your art, stay at home, send it, a postcard off to other directors somewhere. I don't think that that's the case anymore.

Alison: And you have reps. I worked with illustrators for years, being art directors of magazines and you just work with the reps. Occasionally you got to talk to the artist, but it was pretty rare.

Monica: Yes, I don't think that's the atmosphere anymore.

Alison: Yes. I don’t think so.

Monica: When you have a rep, the rep expects you to hold your own. And so, it gets to be really important to find your own voice whether it's online you know. I actually interviewed a gal who is a copywriter, and she helps people discover their own online voice. It's really interesting. It's kind of the idea behind Smart Creative Women. it's not just to bring on two-dimensional artist. There are two jewelry makers coming up and this copywriter because I think she is a creative woman I really believe in broadening the definition of what a creative woman is.

Alison: Oh, you are preaching to the choir here. Believe me, so.

Monica: Oh good.

Alison: I mean I believe that you talk to someone who is in touch with their creativity, I don’t care what medium you are working in. You can gain some knowledge from them and just incorporate it into your own.

Monica: Yes. And then I was [inaudible] with somebody the other day and I said, [inaudible] children navigated the world are the female, you are trying to do anything that is outside of what other people expect of you. You are tapping into some creativity. You know. And I knew I love. Some of these young women really don’t have any real preconceived conceptions of what they should be doing.

Alison: Yes. I agree with you.

Monica: So, I think some of them, that younger woman that have a lot to offer, someone who may be stuck in her own little circle. And not a bad idea too is to bring on sort of that friend that have been around and done it and then also to bring some exciting up and comers. I want to highlight up and comers too.

Alison: Well, my experience has shown that up and comers are the kind that also, they've already embraced the new world of technology and social media in a way that someone older just because it was not how they started. They just don't come from that place. So right there, there's a lot to learn from. You know, it's just a whole different.

Monica: Yes. You [inaudible] carefully. The older gals need to learn it. You have to carve it out or you are going to hire it out because it's very hard to exist without it. But you know even these younger girls not just with the new technology. I was at a conference and I didn’t even have the website up yet. But I was walking around with, oh I did. Maybe I had a landing page or my other site Monica Lee studios had Smart Creative Women. But I had a business card, and I was talking it up and I had a young gal and she's on the site now. Lexi from [inaudible] and design and she's out of Vancouver. And she marched right up to me and said I would really like to do an interview. And I was really surprised and a little taken back. Because I thought, wow, there's not even one up yet. How do you know that I'm not completely crazy? But she, once I [inaudible] with her, talking to her, I said good for you that you had the gumption and the hustle to do that.

Alison: Absolutely. And there is nothing to lose.

Monica: Yes. I actually just started today. I just tweeted it because. I kind of have a love-hate relationship with Twitter but I'm realizing that that's where a lot of, I have to say, a lot of creative women hang out on Twitter.

Alison: Well, you know why? Because in my opinion. Listen. Between you and me and whoever is listening, I was doing Twitter the week it started just because I'm a techno freako. But now it's the go-to place. Yes, there is lots for Facebook, for the other social media, Pinterest huge. But Twitter gives you the immediate, the total immediate and you can really connect with other people immediately. Like last night, I'm going to tell you, I was watching that show, Celebrity Apprentice, and what I was watching, even more, was the Twitter feed from all the people who were the stars on there. Clay Aiken, Lisa Lampanelli. What they were saying because it's immediate so it's a different feel and a connection with people than other things.

Monica: It's the same way I see apps. It is. I actually use Twitter as I'm on my way to conferences and I pick that up. And that's how, like I've met people in airports.

Alison: Right. Exactly. Exactly.

Monica: And some of them, I've kept around [inaudible] anybody is going when I have lunch.

Alison: Yes. Exactly. It's how I find my child too. Just you know.

Monica: Oh really, no. [Laughter]. My son [Inaudible] he refuses to do Facebook which I kind of have to admire him for. And you kind of have to pick your poison. I've been a blogger for a really long time. And I've always liked it because it was visual. And being a visual person, I really started watching vlogs because there were pretty places to go. I'm doing work and I need a visual break. And you know, I understand that that's what Pinterest has to offer but that's almost like visual overload for me. And then since I'm a talker, I like a vlog that has some of the author's input.

Alison: Well, you see, that's what great is there's is so many things because you're right. If you are visual and a scrapbooker, Pinterest is fabulous. Anyone who is not familiar yet, Pinterest.com. If you want to be a photo in a little text you can be doing Tumblr. I mean it's great because no matter what your voice is, your personal voice, you can find a way to get it out there.

Monica: Yes.

Alison: And that's just a really good thing.

Monica: Watch us copulate girls, watch us copulate.

Alison: Well, you know what, that will always be tumbling out. I mean it always has to go through and tumble out again, but it does work its way finally to the top. Like how that will all work. It's just a problem with the internet. It's the good, bad, and the ugly. But now let's talk more about, what do you find is the beginning point for people, starting a business? Is the excitement? What is the biggest exciting part of it? is it the actual thing they are making or wanting to sell? It's the wanting to connect? Is there something or is it all over the place? What's the first?

Monica: Well, I kind of think people are kind of all over the map. You know. I think their excitement that they get to do it kind of on their own terms. I think there are so many women that want to work from home, want to be available for their children. I was a flight attendant and I've had to show up. My job they just didn’t go without me. It was one of those things, so I think women like the idea of being in control of their own destiny. And it sounds big, but you are when you are doing something on your own, you are kind of in control. I also like [inaudible] probably unionized employee and I knew when my next raise was coming, and I wasn't even in control of it. We lost [inaudible] with this contract. I am very much driven by the possibility of something.

Alison: Yes. The potential.

Monica: Yes. So, it's really scary to some people but I think a lot of women once they see that other people are doing it, they all of a sudden, they get that little glimmer of hope that oh, you know maybe I could do it too. And definitely like I said it isn’t always art. Someone that has just very, very creative ideas for their business. So.

Alison: What's one of the ones that you've seen you thought that now that's creative thinking. Was there something that struck you?

Monica: Well, I kind of right now, yes. Truthfully, I interviewed a gal that is a professional blogger. Now I know that's completely out-of-the-box creative, but I really feel like the way that she runs her business, and I mean this isn’t the most creative but she times out. She does food tutorials, fashion tutorials. So, she does, I told her that her blog reminded me of that magazine Blueprint. That was one of Martha Stewart's magazines. But she has a whole flow chart of her advertising because that's a lot to manage on the blog. But she also manages how much time she spends on each post and she posts to two other websites also. And I think didn’t realize. So, she's gotten on a new shtick that this is what she is going to be posting and it takes too long, she kind of prepares, is it worth it in my business for me to do these types of tutorials. And I thought that was complicated and creative and I admire her, and I thought she was a smart cookie for actually taking it. I listen to Jo Packham about women who can get caught in an entire day in picking out the right theme.

Alison: Hello.

Monica: [Inaudible] Oh no. But I have seen some creative women that really reign in their time and when they get really creative with their time, it gets to be kind of, I think they are profitable, they are exciting, they have certain rewards.

Alison: Well, I think you've just described in a great female way what's the essence of business. Because I always say numbers don't lie. They just don't. And you have to take the emotion out and women, we want to sort of do that and spend that time. It's just sort of in us, I think yes.

Monica: Yes. Otherwise, we wouldn’t parent.

Alison: There you go. There you go. But when you put the word business after it, you cannot do it that way.

Monica: Yes. Yes.

Alison: It's just cold water in the face. It's just the way it is.

Monica: I think in a way when I retire or if you have a hobby knitting is certainly not for me. I'm a knitter and everything. That's not going to be a business for me. Because that's not profitable, [inaudible] remotely. But and I think when I retire, I'll take all the time I want to work on a painting for five weeks. But the reality is that unfortunately manufacturers and editors and such there are expecting women or people to pop things out even faster.

Alison: Correct. And thank god for the deadline.

Monica: Well yes. I'm a big deadline person. I never met a deadline I didn’t like. So, I'm always shocked when I run into artist that don't take them seriously.

Alison: Oh really? They keep moving them?

Monica: Yes. And there are other people on the other end that are OK with that. And I'm like, I would not even think that.

Alison: Yes. We all our situation [inaudible] but I think for most people in creative, in business, that deadlines are important because it's set up that no you can't work any more hours on that. You have to stop, or we won’t make any money.

Monica: Yes. And you know I even have one friend and she does a little bit unusual what she calls people engineer. So, she creates pop up books, pop up cards. But she is very, knows how much she pays herself an hour.

Alison: Excellent.

Monica: Yes. And so, she when somebody comes to her and says hey have this idea, learning this [inaudible] client, she can tell them well it's going to cost you $1200. And you know it's very interesting because most of the people are what? And she then goes through the process of educating them, this is how long it takes me to do this. And I think she's been very successful at educating the people on the other end because they still end of hiring her.

Alison: Excellent. That's a really good story for everyone to hear. Know what you want for your hourly rate and then educate people and if they want it, they will keep hiring. Because now they have the knowledge, and they understand.

Monica: Yes. And also, art takes time. It does. So, you kind of just need to explain it to people and I get very frustrated when I see somethings that happen online now. I used to do greeting cards and that's the only industry now and I'm digressing is, we are talking about Smart Creative Women. But I see the pay for that has gone down. And I'm like it still takes the same amount of being clever. The same amount of everything.

Alison: And why is they pay for that gone down? Because of everything electronically?

Monica: Yes, well I really don't know. Well, I would think because the greeting card industry is struggling a little bit. But also, I think that is, one of the things at Smart Creative Women is kind of maybe even get to the point whereas a collective we value ourselves. Lots of women doing greeting cards. We put a collective value on ourselves so as a complete voice we are saying, no that's not enough money.

Alison: Yes, I agree with you.

Monica: Let's change this industry standard. And there are a lot of people that were talking about [inaudible] trying to do that even in certain areas of licensing. And I'm the little engine that could but I said Oh, that.

Alison: No. It has to be that everyone just reaches that agreement so that it just then makes the switch. It's one of those, you know universal flows that everyone just comes to. Because if you keep accepting less, it just goes less and less and less.

Monica: Well and also then you create a conversation which you hear of some artist that absolutely say no, this is my value, this is what I see that I'm worth. Somebody tells me though Esty, I know how much I can make on my Esty shop. So, for you to come and then try to offer me less money for my same products that I am producing myself, and I already have an audience, that doesn’t fly. And so those are the type of stories I would like to come out and other women to them and go oh, wait.

Alison: You know I think it’s also important for the women to hear the stories of you saying no because it is important to say no to certain things, you know. It's not your job. As scary as it is if you don't say no, you cannot make room for the job that pays more.

Monica: Yes. And you know while I was doing children's work, they have a society of children's book writers and illustrators have a lot of home groups where you can go join and then you would hear a little bit more of best friend voices and I think that there is real value in that this is what the industry standard is. And that industry you get a lot of people that are [inaudible] or not that want to help publish stuff like that. And did you even your time wading through those emails when you head other people's stories and voices right?

Alison: Right. But don't you think it's important as women that we share things that were taboo maybe about two years ago like how much you are getting paid just because I think it's important.

Monica: Yes, you know I stumbled across, I was going through this phase of what is my next iteration of Monica Lee because I knew working in silence at home with my art which is fine, but then I knew this was not a feast for my personality because all I was doing was looking for the next trade show or conference to go talk to people.

Alison: I understand.

Monica: And so, I had on my little note cards up and I started googling on the internet, I ran across this guy who has an online show. His name is David Garland, and his show is Rise to the Top. And it's a show that he interviews internet entrepreneurs, he's the interview like Seth Godwin and also a lot of online marketing. And I started listening to him and it was completely outside the creative realm that I was circling in and I just sort of thought I'm learning so much by hearing, just hearing these people talk. I can buy their products, or I cannot buy their products. But I thought you know what? Why not kind of be his sort of unspoken mentor although he is technically my mentor now because I actually had him on the show.

Alison: Oh good.

Monica: But I liked the idea of the dialogue.

Alison: Yes. I mean it's the only way, what did I hear once? You know you can either reinvent the wheel or you can sort of can climb on the shoulders of someone who has done it and see what they did and spend you know, get ahead faster.

Monica: Well, when I sort of found him, he was talking to men, a lot of men on the site and he was talking about money. He would ask them, and those men would spit out the amount of money they are making because wherever he goes, they are completely [inaudible]. I make six figures and I make $50,000 with this launch. Blah Blah Blah. And I had thought, OK. I'm smart enough to know that women will not necessarily talk about the actual numbers and I'm still getting to Alison the point where I'm even comfortable enough asking. Because at least of what percentage of your income from this?

Alison: That's great.

Monica: You know but I'm going to get a little bit better about that because I don't want to put anybody on the spot. But I'm trying to show women that are all working at a full time, enough to generate income. I like a lot of what you have been hearing. Some of them outsource things because they have gotten so big. Some of them need to outsource, so that's the sort of thing. I'll get to the point if anybody ever wants to [inaudible] actually dollars. What happens is very interesting is after I quit recording, that's when they actually talk about money. We'll get there. We'll get there.

Alison: Well, it's an interesting comparison there but mentoring into a game, you know starting in this techno world years ago, it's mostly men and I just sort of would listen and it’s like, they make it a game. They want to beat each other with how much they made. It's a different emotional attachment than usually, women have to money. It's just different.

Monica: Yes, you're right.

Alison: We need to make it more of a game that way. We're not or at least know that's what the difference is.

Monica: Well, you're right, and then the young girl that I was talking about earlier who approached me, let’s see. She had said she views her marketing strategy like a game. She said if I do that like a game then she said then every day I think off, oh.

Alison: How am I going to play the game.

Monica: Yes. Instead of going how do I market myself today.

Alison: It's so good. It's so good. Making it into a game helps so much. And that's when numbers become a game and then it's sort of fun and that's what the guys do. But I find you're absolutely right. It's making it into a game. Can I win this by doing that? Let me see if it works.

Monica: That's right. So, I had five people sign up for my newsletter, that's a game. I had one unsubscribed shoot, I lost a client, I went back to jail.

Alison: Right. Oh well, you have to always look at unsubscribes as they are not your customers so it's a good thing.

Monica: Well, you know, I'm new so I'm still doing it. I'm still hanging stuff. I mention that when I start, you know one of the things that I'm doing and for only doing this as a [inaudible] I had said I want to introduce; I am thinking about the audience and what might actually help them. And I was surprised, I brought on Ryan Stansky from Squarespace. So, I met him, he was the sponsor of the conference, the All-Design Summit conference that I attended. And I thought their products were the easy website to put up. Like meeting women that they don't have $1600.

Alison: What's the name of the company again? I'll put it in the link.

Monica: It's Squarespace.

Alison: Oh Squarespace. Sure. Sure.

Monica: And you know Squarespace is like $144 per year, $12 a month.

Alison: It's a great deal.

Monica: And so, myself and my son sat down and did two quick websites that each took like two hours and so I feel like I'm one [inaudible].

Alison: Very important.

Monica: Women also. So, I'm kind of mixing it up a little bit and I hope everybody just takes that ride with me.

Alison: I think it’s a great idea. You know women are overwhelmed also with, you know, if I talk to someone, oh I don't have a website. I don't know how to make a website and you are already down to like, forget it. It's too difficult. But the truth is that there is really good services out there now to get you going. To get you up on that first rung on the ladder.

Monica: Yes. Absolutely and I say this, I just started, I did [inaudible], just posted it in the [inaudible]. You know you should get a new website and you have to take this off, put that on, and you kind of get the feeling of how things are going. But as people were pointing out is whether I realize oh I got these websites and at one point the newsletter said come post your website on Facebook so you can see where you are. And then I thought why don't I do a thing where I'm featuring somebody everybody who actually listens and watches the videos. Because I feel the thing would be is that we will start buying from each other.

Alison: Sure. Absolutely. Well, there's nothing like the internet for that kind of growth. I mean for me here at Craft Cast, now it has spread out to worldwide people, taking classes and buying recording and it's all because of that. It's all because of blogging and the internet and Facebook's and all that stuff so it's a great way to spread the word around.

Monica: Yes. That's the idea.

Alison: Yay. Well, it sounds good. It all sounds good. It's all really important to have that for creative women out there. They find. Community is the number one important I find for people, for women especially.

Monica: And you know Alison I tend to get the whole people to want to give them a lot of advice and I think that that's. I was joking with some other [inaudible] Monica actually means advisor. That's them. Yeah. Right.

Alison: What does the Lee mean? We share the same last name. Does that mean anything?

Monica: Well, you know I was going to ask you.

Alison: Internet savvy, I think. No.

Monica: Yes. [Laughter] Not afraid of technology.

Alison: Exactly.

Monica: But is Lee your middle name or your last name?

Alison: Last name.

Monica: OK. So, it was my middle name and I made it into my last name when I thought to ditch the first husband.

Alison: Oh dear. That's another show. Not here.

Monica: But I didn’t figure that everybody wanted to hear my advice all the time and so I found myself giving advice through other people's stories. Oh well you might look at this girl who is doing it this way and so this was like, I feel like it's my perfect way to give lots of advice because all we are doing is, you know, that the [inaudible] highlighting someone else.

Alison: Yes. You are spreading the word. A conduit for all the information.

Monica: You know I just [inaudible]. I had my [inaudible] blog Monica Lee Studios and it was really for my own [inaudible] that I'm a pretty active blogger but I was not necessarily comfortable talking about my own art every single day. It was something for me that was not like you know what, this is not what the big picture is all about. I know I need to promote my art. So, I started promoting other people, anybody I liked right across from Esty. I might do a story on you and then send you the link and I've been surprised at how many people are like, well how can you bring yourself to link people away from your site? And was like really? I'm surprised you are asking me that? It's only upped my traffic, my everything. So, I was sort of like to, you know because I was talking to a gal the other day and she said well we can make an argument either way. And I'm like really? I'm not sure you could make an argument where you just talked about yourself every single day. I said at least talk about your heroes in your field, you know. So Smart Creative Women is a good spot for me because that's how I think.

Alison: Yeah. It's perfect. I got it. It's wonderful. Well congratulations on getting that launched and out there it was destined to be yours, the URL was waiting for you to come along.

Monica: I kind of was surprised at that one.

Alison: No, it's obviously was meant to be and Smart Creative Women absolutely and they are all out there so it’s a wonderful thing and it's great. Thank you for helping women in putting that all together to help them get on that next rung on the ladder. You are doing good.

Monica: I kind of want us all to hold hands. Lift each other up. Encourage each other on the days that you just got a bad email or somebody, you felt a little rejection or maybe you just feel alone. So.

Alison: I hear you. We need that. We need that. [Crosstalk] And that's the truth of the matter is that we all do and it's still part of doing business. The good, the bad and the very special days.

Monica: Eat some ice cream, come over, [inaudible].

Alison: Exactly. Well thank you for coming on and sharing with me Ms. Monica Lee. We are not related but you know I think we are.

Monica: I know we would love each other.

Alison: I know we would too. We would carry on. And you know what? I always say with the people I interview, and I adore them, we would have a great playdate together so.

Monica: Yes.

Alison: It would be fun. Well, thank you so much again. It's Monica Lee from SmartCreativeWomen.com. Check out her site. And thank you again Monica for chatting.

Monica: Thank you.