Allison of monkeysalwayslook and papervictory was able to leave her previous position in television production after devising a year-long plan to sell her products on Etsy. While her seemingly flawless scheme didn’t work out as well as she had hoped, she found ways to make it work and is now supporting her workload full time through her Etsy shops. Allison stands by the notion that well-styled photos that tell a story are always great marketing and promotional tools. Keep reading (or, ahem, laughing) along with Allison to learn more about her personal journey.
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
I have always been artistic and come from a very supportive family who fly their freak flags high and proud. I’ve had jobs that were artistic in nature, but not to the extent I have now, where I have complete creative control. Creating my own products was just a natural progression, especially when I found it very difficult to work for others.
Tell us about your previous working situation.
Right out of college I worked in television production: following celebrities around, telling them how good they looked and how much I loved their new movie/album/television show/crossover act/perfume/tiny rat dog. After a number of years of premieres/award shows/press junkets and late nights, I was more than a little over it. I found myself in a “you can’t fire me, I quit” situation, so I used this newly acquired “free time” and went to art school to study graphic design. I worked as a designer for a number of years, which eventually led me to where I am now.
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
That was absolutely the goal. I was planning on quitting my job in about a year and was working toward that every day. It happened a little sooner than I planned (about 10 months sooner) when I found myself in another “you can’t fire me, I quit” situation with my last job. It was absolutely the best thing that ever happened to me.
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time?
The boring stuff: I got a business license and a Monkeys Always Look bank account and credit card. I put as much money in that bank account as I possibly could and I spent every penny of it. I also did some fun stuff: I trapped my husband into marrying me so I could be covered under his health insurance.
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
I think the number one thing is to have a great product and be passionate about it since the product can promote itself. I was very fortunate that my husband’s dowry included an amazing camera. I think that a good picture is always a great marketing and promotional tool, and there isn’t a replacement for well-styled photos that tell a story and create a mood.
I have been featured on a few blogs and in magazines, which has been an amazing boost to my little shop. I really enjoy running giveaways on my blog and asking for people to comment with suggestions for new candle scents or garden marker inscriptions. I find this to be both a great marketing tool and just a lot of fun. I mean, really, who doesn’t love free stuff?!
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
Well, there was that time I got out of the car at a famous club with no underwear on…
Walk us through your typical workday.
- I roll out of bed around 1 p.m. (Not really, but I wish.) In the mornings, the three giant dogs and I walk my husband to work. It takes about an hour and it gives me time to think about world domination and what needs to get done for the day.
- If I have orders to pack up I do that when I get home.
- Then the rest of the day is filled with chatting with customers (hi everyone!!!), huffing paint, playing with mud, squishing silverware, digging in the dirt, melting wax, and treasure hunting.
- I usually stop when my husband gets home from work around 6 p.m. and we talk about the day while I prepare a five course gourmet meal…or heat up a can of soup.
- Then after dinner I usually try to get a little more work done, since there is always something to do. I also use the quiet evening time for new product ideas, or “research and development,” as my husband calls it. For every item you see in my shop, there are probably a dozen that didn’t work, that I didn’t like or are just plain U-G-L-Y. Sadly, not every genius idea is really sellable or appealing.
- Oh, and somewhere in the day there is hopefully a trip to the yoga studio or a run.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
Even though there is the illusion that you have the days free to play bingo and go to the water park, that is usually not the case. However, there are days when I get to take the dogs to the beach or meet my unpaid intern (a.k.a. husband) for lunch. Those are great, and I will always catch myself thinking about how great it is to be self-employed. I never take it for granted, as it really does allow the freedom you would never get working for THE MAN. (Well, that is if you consider “freedom” to be synthetic leather and fake fur-lined handcuffs that keep you tethered to the computer and packing tape.)
I just heard a quote the other day that if you “do something you love, you will never work a day in your life.” That is so true. I love every minute of it and am so grateful to be able to do what I do, so thank you, everyone! I miss NOTHING! (Well, I miss the water cooler; I do love cold water.)
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
The days can be long. There are times when I’d rather be sipping cocktails at the end of the dock on my private island, but instead I am ordering shipping labels or filling out silly Q&As about myself. On these days I try to keep it interesting by punctuating the day with a Flickr or blog post of my dogs sleeping or my cat hiding in ANOTHER box. Since there is no way to predict my month-to-month income, there are some lean months, and that can be hard, especially when a new T-shirt/pound of candy/water toy for the dogs insists that I buy it.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
I wouldn’t have spent so much money buying stuff I really didn’t need. The plan was to go full time after a year of developing products (which we know didn’t happen that way). However, the first number of months being full time was spent on research and development and making up for the lost income of leaving my job. I had very little money coming in and LOTS going out. If you plan to go full time, make sure you have a product that is something that people want/need. “Make it and they will come” doesn’t necessary work in all cases, and if you were able to look though all my expired listings there is proof enough of that! (What? I can’t interest you in an infant ferret shopping cart liner? Seemed like a good idea at the time.)
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
- Expand my line of goods offered and increase my wholesale accounts.
- Make more Etsy friends and learn more about business.
- Make my payments on-time to the mafia (ah, I mean the sanitation department).
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
If working for yourself is your dream, GO FOR IT. What are you waiting for? It’s worth every minute and I have never been happier. While I can’t justify buying a two hundred dollar pair of jeans anymore (since I rarely leave the house), I think I pull off a pair of pajama pants with class and style. I’m a member of the Etsy Full-Time Crafters Team. It is made up of some amazing people who all have one thing in common: we love to gossip and we all make our living from our sales on Etsy. They are such a great system of support and I really do suggest that you get yourself on an active Etsy Street Team.
Thanks to Allison for sharing her story. You can see some of Allison’s beautiful work in the Related Items. Check out previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.