Joanna Behar is a French designer, illustrator, and creator of her online shop. Joanna’s shop includes goods that she designs herself such as prints, patches, and pins. Not only does she do all of the design work herself, she also runs all other aspects of the business—which you’ll quickly learn is a lot. Read about how Joanna’s shop started as a passion project and how it grew overtime it into a legitimate business.
Tell us about yourself and your background in design and illustration.
My name is Joanna Behar, I just turned 30 this year, and last year in April I quit the job I had for over four and a half years to officially become my own boss. I graduated in 2011 from Parsons New School of Design in New York City with a BFA in Communication Design. I spent five years there and I loved it. Before that, I was just a regular kid who had been drawing all her life. My parents were terrified that after graduating high school, I would become a starving artist selling paintings on the street! I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but I knew it had to be artistic. I didn’t really find myself until after college in terms of what I could see myself doing every day.
Why did you decide to start an online shop and what was the inspiration behind it?
I was working full-time for Vanity Fair, France when I started my online shop in the summer of 2016. I loved my job but there was something missing. I doodled all the time and wanted to practice my typography more. My Instagram back then was a lot of hand-drawn type and I had so much fun with it! One day while browsing Instagram, I saw that an artist I followed, @winkpins, made and collected enamel pins. I thought to myself, wow—having an actual drawing or design of yours turned into wearable art looked like so much fun!
I got a little obsessed and that’s where it all started. I discovered that enamel pins were easier to produce than other products like T-shirts or mugs for example. They were also small and easy to ship. It was just the thing I needed to start! I was scared—but at the same time I was starting to feel very unfulfilled by my full-time job, so I jumped in.
Is managing your online store a full-time job now? Do you have any help running it?
Managing my shop has officially been my full-time job since April 2017. I occasionally freelance as an editorial designer because it’s something I also enjoy, but I try to minimize my freelance projects in order to stay focused on the shop. I’m a one-woman show and it takes a lot of time. Most of the time it’s exhausting and stressful but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I couldn’t dream of anything better than having actual people own items I have designed and produced myself. It’s the most rewarding thing (though sometimes I wish I had little elves to help me out)!
Being my own boss is great. But at the same time, I’m a very tough boss. When you’re running your own business, you tend to lose boundaries between your personal life and your work. I end up working all the time but it doesn’t really feel like work too much because what I’m doing is taking care of my shop baby. My shop needs to be nurtured in order to grow and I really don’t set limits to how many hours or days I spend taking care of it. I take holidays but I still work even if I’m supposed to be off. I have a hard time letting go even if it’s just for two weeks!
What are some things people may not realize about the challenges of running an online shop?
There are a lot of things to consider when creating your own shop. I’m not sure how things are in other countries, but in France, you have to go through a lot of steps to legally sell items and pay your taxes on these earnings. You have to register as a business, do your accounting, etc. It took me a while to grow my shop so I’m happy I had my full-time job when I started. Because of that, I was able to invest my earnings directly into my business.
On top of this, you have to manage your social media accounts and be as present as possible on the internet. A lot of people also seem to think customer service is not something to worry about when they start a small shop—to me, it is the most important thing. If a customer receives the wrong item or their shipment gets lost, I am the one to deal with that and I always try to find the best solution for my customers. Satisfied customers make me happy!
Did you have to do a lot of promotion for the store? How did you start getting customers?
When I started, I didn’t do any sort of paid promotion. Since two of my first items were pins, I followed similar accounts that were also pin makers. I bought or traded enamel pins with them, took pretty photos hoping they would share them on their account, and it would bring me some of their customers! In addition, I also had word of mouth. One of the first pieces I produced was a holographic print with the hand-lettered words: “Just keep going”. This piece was featured on one of my favorite accounts on Instagram: @goodtype. That was great promotion for me.
Do you have advice for designers thinking about starting their own online store?
First of all, if the idea has been in your head for a while—do it. I wish someone had told me to go for it when I started my shop. You need to believe in yourself! Don’t compare yourself to others. Instead, get inspired by them. What is the worst that could happen? You need to be your own cheerleader.
Once you’ve decided to take the plunge there are a few things to think about. The first step is research. Research the market for the pieces you want to produce. Think about your budget, rights, and how to legally make your business official. Research potential customers, manufacturers, printers, etc. Nothing is going to be handed to you. You will make mistakes, you will lose money, and it’s OK! That’s a part of the learning process and doing a better job over time. Without my mistakes, I would not have grown. I know that many people want to do things the easy way, but easy is not always a good thing. You’ll be so happy when all of your hard work pays off. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for advice from other designers.
Any new plans for your shop in the future?
I would like to produce a wider range of items. It’s a lot to think about since shipping costs are quite high from France to the United States and about 70% of my customers are located outside of France. Producing other items also means a different budget so it will take a lot more planning. More planning means more research. I strive to find reliable, high quality produced items, which means this ends up being quite costly. Either way, I am hoping to bring more diverse pieces to my shop soon. It’s something I have been looking into for the past few months now. It’s tough to juggle between research and creating new designs so it takes more time but it will be worth it when it happens!
Want to keep up with Joanna? Check out her online shop JoannaBehar and use her special discount code DRIBBBLERS for 10% off your first purchase. You can also find Joanna on Dribbble, Instagram, and joannabehar.com.