During the pandemic, Sandra Diaz was laid off from her job and uprooted her life with a move to Baltimore. But that big change inspired the Colombian illustrator to take a big risk and start her own business.
With an Etsy shop named Fearless Yaya, Diaz sells art, stationery, greeting cards, and other gift items that reflect and empower people of color, specifically Hispanic and Latinx communities. The simple idea was an overnight success with customers looking for representation as they celebrate milestones such as graduation. To date, Diaz is rated an Etsy Star Seller and boasts nearly 600 sales. Fearless Yaya was also recognized as a BGE Energizing Small Business Grant recipient, which provides $20,000 to help Diaz grow her business.
Hello Alice caught up with Diaz to discuss delivering a best-in-class customer experience, finding a product niche, and why she believes in paying it forward to her fellow entrepreneurs.
How did you become a business owner?
I grew up in Miami, but I moved to Maryland a year ago. Before I opened my business, I used to be an art director for Amazon Prime Video. Unfortunately, I was laid off, and a couple of months later, I decided that I was going to give my passion and my dreams a shot. I wanted to create a business that’s inclusive and represents who I am as a Latina and will inspire and motivate other Latinas to see themselves in my work.
I’m just honored and excited to go on this journey, especially because I didn’t think it was possible. I didn’t think I could be a designer. I didn’t think I was prepared enough to be a business owner, but every day I learned a little bit more. I feel so proud and passionate about the type of work that I do now compared to a year ago.
What inspired you to pursue entrepreneuship?
My parents immigrated from Colombia due to the drug war, and they came with nothing. They basically built a life for my brother and me. My mom especially has pushed me to pursue my dreams and become an entrepreneur and not stress about how I’m going to do it, or where the money will come. She saw the talent that I had as an artist, and she decided to push me to enroll in our magnet school, and thanks to that I was able to take art classes for free. She’s a big believer in how if you have a vision, go for it — the universe will align with you somehow.
What informs your product choices?
At the end of the day, the brand that I’m creating is for other people to feel seen and represented. I remember when my cousin was graduating, I couldn’t find a card at CVS or Hallmark that even remotely looked like her, a proud Afro Latina with a beautiful Afro. I’m just trying to build a brand that represents Latinas and how powerful and strong and resilient we are, especially after the last year.
In terms of products, a lot of artists fail because they don’t think of the customer. For me, they’re the center of every decision. What does the customer need? What is missing? At Amazon, they used to call it the ‘blue ocean.’ If you can find an area where there is no competition or there’s nothing being created for that customer, that’s where you want to spend your time. For me, that was Googling ‘Latina graduation cards’ and seeing nothing much come back. That made me realize that there’s an opportunity here to grow not only my personal business but also hopefully inspire other business owners to go and pursue and create products for my community.
[Hello Alice Guide: Find Your Differentiator]
I feel like business owners sometimes go into this thinking, Oh, I’m just gonna launch a product, and they will come. And it’s not like that! You have to really build a community, and you have to collaborate with your ideal customer and other business owners to really drive traffic to your site and your social media channels. You need to step back and think about what doesn’t exist. What can I and I alone provide? What is the best I could do with the talent that I have?
[Hello Alice Guide: Get Feedback from Your Customers]
I see an opportunity with many of the holidays that Latinos celebrate. You can’t find cards for them! I created a kind of mind map of all the holidays that not only Colombians celebrate but other Latin cultures, too. What I like to do is kind of knock them off one by one where I just create cards and put them up on my website.
Your Etsy page lists you as a Star Seller as a “a shining example for providing a great customer experience.” How do you cultivate that five-star customer experience?
From the moment they ask a question to the moment they purchase, I’m always in communication with the customer, always ready to answer any questions if they have any specific requests. I’m always available to kind of take on those requests and walk them through the process to make sure that they have the most incredible experience. I have had people that come back to me four, five, six times and purchase for their friends or purchase as gifts.
This takes work, especially when it comes to shipping. Most people will wait until the end of the week to gather all the orders and take them to the post office, but I would rather just take the order immediately so that it’s delivered before the time that Etsy or USPS predicts. That way, I can delight my customer. That’s something that I learned at Amazon — delighting your customer is the best thing you can do! I also include free prints or a sticker or a personalized note. With most big corporations, you’re just dealing with robots. Nobody’s going to say, ‘Hey, I hope you enjoy your order! We’re always here to serve you!’ So I make sure that I do.
I think a lot of that also comes from my upbringing as a Colombian. Anytime I go to Colombia — really, Medellín specifically — my friends are just amazed at the quality of customer service everywhere you go. For me, I implement those strategies in my business. I deliver incredible customer service, and then, on top of that, after it’s done, I ask them to please leave a review as social proof that they had a good experience.
You’ve been an business owner for only a year, but you already have a clear strategy and use business terms like “social proof.” As someone who was trained as an artist, where did you learn to speak the language of entrepreneurship?
I have a mentor! If I could give any advice to anyone in business, it would be to find a mentor who is five or 10 years ahead of you. Being able to find mentors that have been there and done that will help you navigate this entrepreneurial world. For me, I’ve definitely had to be very careful looking for knowledge. Like, anytime I log on to Instagram, I’m targeted by all these courses and webinars and things. I have to investigate these because some of them are great and have great information, but a lot of others don’t. Sometimes they’re just invested in taking people’s money. I don’t feel like you have to pay to be a successful entrepreneur. I definitely feel like the biggest person that has influenced me is, like, Marie Forleo, or even Tony Robbins. I’ve never been to any of his events, but I’ve watched his shows and I’ve watched a lot of his free content.
[Hello Alice Guide: Find a Mentor]
There’s a lot of free resources on YouTube and the Hello Alice website. I just took a course with Hello Alice on how to grow my business on YouTube, and I literally just bought a microphone and purchased Final Cut Pro today so I could start creating YouTube videos. Over time, I started to see that I could do this all myself with the right resources. I feel like you just have to surround yourself with the right people. There are a lot of Facebook groups out there that you can join if you’re a specific entrepreneur. There’s also a lot of business groups within your area!
Do you mentor other owners?
Oh, yeah! I go and take what I’ve learned from my mentor, and I mentor about four or five Latina friends who are just starting out. They literally have just gotten their brand off the ground, and I’m trying to get them to where I’m at. I’m always on Hello Alice sending them grants, for example. I’m not Black, but if there’s a Black-owned business grant, I’m gonna send it to my mentor or send it to the people that I’m mentoring! Even if it doesn’t help me, that’s fine, but it can help others and I could build community.
[Hello Alice Guide: Apply for Minority-Owned Business Grants]
That’s the number one thing about being in the Hello Alice community; I check every email that comes through, and I’m seeing what’s new. It’s exciting because there are so, so many resources out there. Being able to find a space or a community of people who believe in what you believe and believe in your dreams is more valuable than any course. I know that there are some people that don’t want to share their secrets, but I share everything. I literally go to my back-end, show people how I build my email list, and show them how to automate their email lists. If we all are in it together, it’s going to be better than us individually trying to make it on our own.
You definitely have a work to do with not a lot of help to do it. What tools do you use to stay on top of your workflow?
Asana is my best friend. Every week on Sunday, I make a huge list of things that should get done, or are basically must-haves. Then I have daily tasks like fulfill orders or outreach to get my reviews. For me, it’s all about organization. I get up early at like 6 a.m. and try to do most of the big tasks early. Then toward the middle of the day, where I start to lose steam a little bit, I take care of small tasks like walking over to the post office and dropping off orders. I try my best to also stay away from social media. I try to log on to answer any questions in the morning and treat it like work email, not fun.
[Hello Alice Guide: Master Project Management]
Another thing that I use is my planner. I know it’s really archaic, but I’ve had a planner since high school. Being able to write down the top three tasks of the day and then highlighting them when I’m done is amazing. Something that I also learned at Amazon is to block off my calendar and make sure that I only have specific times where I am working on illustrations or working on customer service.
Mostly, I’m starting to realize that structure is really important. I’m starting to take Saturday and Sunday off, but it’s really hard. I used to get up at 6 or 7 a.m. and try to get all my orders processed before my husband wakes up so that we can go do something or clean the house. I definitely also am learning to delegate. With the BGE Energizing Small Business Grant, I was able to hire a designer to help me build my website. I know how to do it, but it’s not the best use of my time, and thanks to the grant, I was able to do take that off my plate!
What else you think other entrepreneurs should know if they might be following in your footsteps?
Just don’t be scared! We’re all just humans trying to make it in this world, so just know that everybody has their good days and bad days. When you feel like you’re struggling, know that good days are coming ahead.
Also, set goals for yourself and make sure that you’re constantly — like, every month — reevaluating your goals. Don’t just set goals for a year; look at the data that’s coming from Google Analytics or anything that you have going on. For me, I look at the dashboard at Etsy and check out what keywords are people searching for. What are the things that are people are attracted to? What are people searching that I don’t have that I could create? We live in this internet world, and that gives us so much info to guide our decisions.
Most of all, dive into things one by one. And if there’s something you can’t do, delegate!