Sarb Mahil-Atwal
Topaz in the Sky

How I’ve Sold Thousands of Cultural Art Products in under 2 years

How I’ve Sold Thousands of Cultural Art Products in under 2 years

Welcome! Tell us who you are and a quick overview of your business

I’m Sarb and I own an online gift store called Topaz in the Sky. I specialise in cultural & Ethnic gifts, bespoke prints and home accessories but with a spiritual twist to help us navigate challenging times.

I am mum to my son aged 12, a daughter who is nearly 3 and step-mum to two sweet teenagers aged 16 and 17.

We aspire to be an online gift store providing unique cultural & meaningful gifts, bespoke prints and home accessories to evoke positivity, tranquillity and joy.

Our unique curated collection of memorable gifts is infused with spirituality and meaning from canvases, mugs, and kitchenware to cards and framed posters.

We have established stores on Etsy, Shopify and more recently Amazon which was a big victory and success for us!

Our most popular products are our exclusive and customised name posters featuring original artwork and lettering, with the option to create them in four different languages including Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi and English.

How did you come up with your concept?

I was actually sitting on the tube travelling to my corporate job wondering to myself if this was really all my working life was supposed to be — on the never-ending hamster wheel!

I remember just about getting a seat on a packed tube and being jostled about — I am tiny so I often get overlooked!

I sat with my eyes closed and listened to Headspace — I remember hearing the droning of the tube engine but during this, I seemed to zone out entirely. It was literally like I was downloading some information program!

For a few months prior to this, I had been going through a difficult time in my life. My life had literally been turned upside down — I was in 100k worth of debt and felt like my soul would never recover.

I was also on the hunt for some meaningful art for my home that would help me during this time. Something that was about my faith and would give serenity and clarity whenever it was seen.

I had made a decision that I needed to be financially independent and not rely on anyone for handouts. I wanted to be debt free and not feel like a victim or blame my circumstances.

This was a huge mind shift for me and it literally changed my life overnight. I stopped complaining, blaming or feeling helpless. I started to take control of my finances and my life.

I was also asking the universe for a sign of a business that could help me and make me feel empowered, while also doing something meaningful for others.

It was during this journey to work that I got this. I started seeing ideas for posters and a business that I knew I could easily do and fitted in with my current skill set.

As soon as I got to work I remember jotting down all my ideas on a notepad furiously — I didn’t stop writing or drawing until my mind was empty of ideas.

This was the start of my business journey and literally that week I started on the website and commissioned my first piece of artwork!

Some advice on this would be to trust your instincts and just go for it.

You might not have any idea where it’s going but you must take action quickly or then you will lose momentum and the self-doubts and limiting beliefs will kick in which will put you off taking those first vital steps!

How did you actually launch? How were those early days?

From the day I got the business idea on the train, I worked night and day and any spare moment I got to get my brand to materialise.

  • I created a business name (back then it was Punjabi By Design which I later changed to Topaz in the Sky)
  • Bought the domains (I suggest you buy as well as .com)
  • Commissioned my first poster design via my design network
  • Found a web developer to get the website started

Although these sound like easy enough steps there were so many processes and things to join up at the beginning. The hardest part for me was the tech side such as domains etc.

For my day job, I used to just hire people to do this but I was actually having to learn the process and get this stuff done myself!

Also at this time, I was working full time in my job so I literally was working 7 days a week and well into the night on some days.

I know a lot of people say this, but it did very much feel like I was in a state of flow — although I was working hard it didn’t feel this way to me and I was so excited and tunnel versioned in what I wanted to achieve.

When it came to launching I didn’t wait too long — as soon as my website was completed and I had a few products on, I set up social media pages and literally launched through my socials.

This was to an audience of a few 100 (and most of those people were my family and friends!).

I think if I had sat on the idea for too long I would have lost the willpower and momentum.

My advice — you are never going to be totally ready to launch but once you have the main things in place, don’t procrastinate.

Just get on with it and allow the process to take its course. I also didn’t tell many close family and friends what I was doing — in fact, I think I just told my husband and my sisters and even then I was being vague!

At the time I had been listening to many business podcasts and books and the advice was always to not divulge too much as people can inadvertently put their fears and insecurities on you and this can slow down your pace.

So I didn’t really tell anyone — until I was launching and then it was a soft launch which I slowly built upon as my following increased.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself in the early days to go out with a HUGE bang and launch.

This is not always possible on tight budgets so do what you feel soul-led to do.‍

What strategies have you used to attract customers or followers?

Working part-time on my business does mean I haven’t utilised all the strategies — it does get hard to manage when having a busy day job, social life and being mum and step-mum too.

But the strategies below are the ones I have used to date and have really helped me get the business a bit more recognised and also helped me to plan around getting more followers and engagement:

  • Facebook and Instagram advertising
  • Google AdWords
  • Email marketing — try to send regular newsletters!
  • Recognisable branding — suggest you get a designer to create a brand that aligns with your vision, gives your content consistency.
  • Copywriter — to create a strapline, and marketing copy that really speaks to your ideal client (i.e. the person you want to buy your products!)
  • Event attendance — at the moment this is few and far between but something I think helps with brand awareness!
  • Creating useful content that people actually want to see — mine is around feeling good, healing and quotes and then I add in posts about my products too so that it is all not too ‘salesy’!
  • Having good images and videos — your website needs to look professional
  • Trustpilot reviews — gives credibility to your brand
  • Influencer marketing — I haven’t done as much on this as I would like but I have contacted some influencers and sent them my products. This always has a big impact on my followers increasing. But do need to do this more! I am launching a new product later this year so will do a proper influencer strategy for this then!

What has been your biggest hurdle? How have you dealt with it?

We launched the business just before covid and with this pandemic came a whole range of other issues which I am sure other applicants will be able to highlight.

Although this was a very trying and challenging time to launch a business, I actually did not find this to be the biggest challenge for me.

For me, it was having to go through a completely new rebrand following some advice from my previous mentor. I changed the name of the business, the logo, and the look and feel and although the products were the same I was positioning myself slightly differently to cater for a wider audience.

This created a lot of work on top of the day-to-day running as it meant design work, new website (switching from Word Press to Shopify) branding and copywriting to a level I had not done before.

I had to juggle several contractors who were working on the rebrand whilst also keeping an engaged online audience and managing my design team.

I handled this by being super organised with online management tools so that we could plan ahead and launch in time for Christmas.

We worked hard and diligently, finding good contractors and suppliers that could handle specific projects and using platforms and tools that would make the business run better in the long run. We created a good customer journey roadmap and also a better CRM system.‍

Do you have a day job, what is it?

I work part-time as a Marketing Manager in Central London. I still have one foot in the corporate world (this is most likely due to a fear of failure!). But it is lucky that I also enjoy what I do. I am proud to say I have a shiny award to show for it!

The skills I have learnt and honed in my 15-year marketing career (yes I am an old biddy!) have really helped me understand the business and e-commerce world.

I know that a lot of fellow businesswomen really struggle with the marketing side but this is so second nature to me.

But to caveat, my marketing career is mainly focused on behaviour change in a range of audiences for Government organisations so you are quite limited in how wacky and crazy your marketing campaigns can be so I don’t have experience in ‘selling’.

I don’t always get it right though and spending someone else’s money on advertising as opposed to your own is very different!

Coming from a corporate world of marketing, I have totally maximised my skillset for things like branding, advertising, marketing strategy, and design.

But e-commerce is a fast-changing and ever-evolving machine so you never really stop learning.

I have made mistakes in advertising and also choosing the wrong suppliers — but if there is one thing I have learnt it is that each mistake is not really a mistake. It is just a way to learn and get better at something.‍

What are your competitive advantages?

I can honestly say that what we do at Topaz in the sky is unique and unrivalled. Our designs have been carefully selected and curated and they are unique to our shop so they’re not available anywhere else — not in the way we do it!

I remember when I was buying gifts for others — I would struggle to find something that was meaningful and not just your standard high streets stuff like socks and mugs!

This is the premise of our ethos — to allow others to gift things to their family and friends that will have an impact and deep meaning such as our name posters.

Indian names have so many meanings and we often don’t even know what our name means! This was the idea behind our very popular name posters which come with the name meaning and lettering in your chosen language.

We also have mugs for mums and dads in Gujarati, Punjabi and Hindi. The feedback we have had on these is that they are treasured by the older generation as they speak to their roots and cultural background.

We are also on many e-commerce platforms making our products available to nearly everyone around the world through digital downloads.

We have just surpassed 1400 sales on Etsy and are hoping to one-day rule amazon for products of this kind!‍

Where are you today and what are you most excited about in the future?

At this present time, I am feeling strong mentally and motivated to keep growing and learning.

I want to leave a legacy to my kids and for them to be proud of what I’ve overcome (mental, physical and financial struggles) to get here today.

I am looking at expanding my range of products and improving the ones I do have and our best sellers such as my personalised name products in Punjabi, Hindi & Gujarati.

We launched our first product on Amazon in November 2022 — we sold out of our stock in just a few months and now have a larger shipment in production. We will also be launching in more marketplaces.

I am now focusing my efforts on launching a new product that I think will be my best! It should be going into production in March 2023 and available to purchase on amazon this summer. You can stay posted on our socials for all the updates!

My vision for the future is to be sold worldwide on Amazon and to be leading the way in the world of unique and meaningful gifting.‍

What are your three top tips for others looking to follow in your footsteps?

  1. Mindset is everything! Create good daily habits. Reduce interaction with people and material (such as the news) that affect your mood and emotions. Give yourself grace from distractions to really knuckle down and focus on what are the needle movers for your business — such as the big ticket items rather than day-to-day stuff.
  2. Don’t wait to take action! Every minute is important and there is always something you can be doing to move towards your vision and goals. They say that when the universe gives you an idea, it’s also giving the same idea to someone else. Who will act upon it first?
  3. Plan your strategy and time every quarter! With a young and growing blended family, we have to be so organised. In order for me to stay on track with what needs to be done, I plan everything in quarterly batches. I also send communal invites via our shared calendar to my husband so that we can coordinate our diaries and limit clashes!‍

What platforms/tools do you use behind the scenes?

There are some great tools that we use daily to help make our planning, design and project management easier! Here are some of the top tools I would recommend:

  • Xero - for accounting and bookkeeping
  • Google docs - to communicate with my designers across the globe
  • Canva - for design of content and marketing material
  • Later - to schedule posts and content on social media platforms
  • Fiverr - for outsourcing small jobs that you really don’t want to do yourself or finding confusing!
  • Shopify - e-commerce platform
  • Shopify email & Mailchimp - for email marketing
  • Monday and Asana - for project management
  • Digital - for android online calendar and making planning life, events, work easier from our phone

What resources have helped you the most?

For the last 4 years since my divorce, I have been on a journey of self-discovery and healing. I have naturally wanted to improve my life, my health, my chattering mind and my relationships. Here are some top resources I would recommend that have helped me grow and evolve (I hope they help you too!):

  1. MindValley — a great way to learn new things and skills from a like-minded community.
  2. Audible — being a busy mum, I don’t have time to sit and read books! Audible has been fantastic at helping me consume knowledge while I am on the go such as commuting.
  3. Headspace — for daily meditations, especially if you’re just starting on your meditation journey.
  4. Google and YouTube — advice is available at your fingertips! If you don’t know how to do something, google it! I have used this technique to help me numerous times and it's saved so much money and time just faffing about!
  5. Podcasts & Spotify- For upbeat music on a down day and also podcasts such as Diary of a CEO, A Millennial Mind (by Shivani Pau), Girl Boss (By Niki Mahon) and Tony Robbins.
  6. Running & Gym — I’ve never been into my fitness but during my time of anxiety and struggle and when I didn’t have my son with me, I started taking up jogging and gym. This has since helped me to really de-stress and to get more energy and vitality which are essential for productivity.

Do you have any open job positions or partnership opportunities?

We are always on the lookout for creative artists, social media gurus and VAs that can take some of the stress out of the daily small business grind!

We have collaborated with some well-known influencers in the past and are always open to supporting and helping other aligned brands grow alongside us. If you would like to get in touch about joining our team please email with a short blurb on what you do, how you want to join and a CV.‍

Where can people find out more?

You can see what we are up to through our socials and keep up to date with new product launches!

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