Jodi and Dan make up the team behind This is It! Creations. Today Jodi shares their in-depth strategy for successful marketing (including a full reading list) and advice for those considering a similar path. Partners in both work and life, Jodi and Dan have professional backgrounds in technical editing and teaching. They are starting to be accustomed to a new work routine and striving to find an even balance between the success of their Etsy business and their personal lives.
How did This is It! Creations come to be?
I’ve always been creative, crafty, and had a love affair with paper, but I never imagined that I would be making a living doing what I love — with the one I love. I truly believe that larger forces were involved in helping us make this happe. Things had to happen in just the right order for me (a security loving lady) to take the leap and go for it!
Here’s a quick rundown of the chain of events: I met Dan and began to realize that dreams do come true and that you don’t have to settle in love or anything else. I worked at a job I truly wasn’t supposed to be in that paid well (again — that security thing). After getting in a car crash I spent a couple years out of work, healing, and rethinking my life and what I was meant to do with it. I realized I wanted to create a company with Dan that I felt good about — one where we helped animals (through our donations), the planet (by using eco-friendly materials) and people (through our inspirational products). After getting a settlement from the accident, voila – This Is It! Creations was born.
When we first started selling on Etsy three years ago we had both already quit our day jobs. What we weren’t able to do before Etsy was support ourselves with the profits from our business. I am very proud to say that we have now done that for over a year! I fell in love with Etsy from day one, and that love has just grown stronger over the years. I tell everyone I meet about it. It’s definitely become a way of life for me.
Why the name This is it! Creations?
We felt in our heart of hearts that this was it. That was how we felt about each other when we met (cheesy, but true!), and that was how we felt about this job — it would be our last job, period. That was 5.5 years ago, and we’re still here cranking along!
Tell us about your previous working situation.
This isn’t the first time that Dan and I have worked together: we started working together just month after we met. Even in the beginning we knew we had something special and wanted to spend as much time together as possible. In our first job we worked as technical editors for an archaeology firm. It was so nice being together every day, but we just weren’t passionate about the work itself. Our next job was creating a newspaper for an after school program and teaching middle school journalism. The kids were super sweet and wonderful, but we weren’t trained as teachers and quickly realized that we were in over our heads.
We soon created This Is It! Creations and found it finally be the right fit. The third time was definitely the charm! We get to combine our creativity with our love for helping people, animals, and the environment. Dan is a writer, and I always wanted to write books that helped people. I feel that our positive journals (especially our new interactive journals) are doing just that!
How did you prepare for making This is It! Creations your full-time undertaking?
We really didn’t do much. We just knew that we couldn’t go on working at jobs that didn’t feed our souls, so we jumped in and had faith that it would work out, because it just had to. The nest egg from the car accident settlement got us started financially. However, neither of us had any business background going into this. During the time I was recovering from the car accident I spent more time than I should admit on the couch watching TV. The good thing that came out of this was that I discovered crafting shows. That’s where I learned how to make our first journal — I watched the woman do it, then I tried it, and it felt so natural. Something in me sparked that day: I knew this was what I was meant to do.
Soon after this, a friend (who is an amazing jeweler) taught us how to make a basic loop for an earring. I was smitten with jewelry making from the very start. We also spent some time talking with two friends who made their living selling their handmade soap at craft shows. We asked them about what they had learned along the way and about their successes (as well as their mistakes). We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, and their advice was really helpful. However, we needed to learn this whole “running a business” thing for ourselves. Everyone is different and every company varies, and we had to forge our own path — mistakes, successes and all.
What are your best marketing tips?
- You have to start with a good product that people want to buy. It really comes down to that, first and foremost. You can have the best photos and promote nonstop, but people have to like your product for it to sell.
- I think our best marketing tool has been our great customer service. I love reading our feedback and seeing how happy our customers are! We don’t want it to just be about buying a journal — we want to build connections. Many of our customers have turned into friends, and I love that part of my job!
- Another great marketing tool is frequently listing new items. If you aren’t able to list something new each day, I would definitely recommend renewing items. There are a ton of shops on Etsy, and this puts you at the top of the search. We recently added a survey to Paypal that asks our customers how they found us. The majority of those who have answered say through Etsy’s search. If you aren’t at the top, it’ll make it hard for customers to find you.
- Being a part of Teams is great for marketing and also a way to make some lifelong friends! Our teammates have been so awesome: they put us in Treasuries, on their blogs, and write about us in the Forums. I am so grateful for all of their support.
- I also love social networking — find us on Twitter and Facebook. I’m not sure how much it pays off, but it is a great way to get your brand out there, make friends, and support other artists.
- About a year ago we started offering personalization for many of our products and our sales really picked up.
What tactics did you find to be less successful in the long run?
We’ve certainly made mistakes along the way, but we’ve done our best to learn from them, which has helped our business grow in the long run. Some of the things that weren’t really worth it for us were:
- Blog giveaways. We’ve participated in 10 or so over the years and none of them have brought in many sales. But I don’t see doing them as a failure because we’re still letting more people know about us and our brand. We’ll definitely still do some giveaways for that reason, but they will be giveaways that are close to our hearts (such as an animal rescue group or a self improvement site).
- We once spent a pretty obscene amount of money for a full-page ad in a magazine. While I do think we made our money back with orders, it just didn’t show us the results we were hoping for. However, you never know if someone will see that ad down the road and place a large order. So again, I don’t see it as a mistake.
- We wish that we had reached out more and asked for help, especially in the beginning when we didn’t know much about running a business. There are so many great resources and mentors out there, and we’re learning now that it’s never too late to ask for help.
What’s a day in the life of This is It! Creations look like?
We each try to work “on” the business every day instead of just “in” it. What this means is that we do something toward the big picture each day, be it marketing, new products, working on the website, etc. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the “in” part, for example; orders will always need to go out and paper will always need to be chopped, but you have to mark out time to grow your business, even if you feel that you don’t have time to do it. We work from home and have two sweet kitties and a very sweet dog. Because they are all extremely spoiled, our schedule is frequently determined by who needs to play, get love, drink from the bathtub, go for a walk, be fed, etc.
- I get up around 7 a.m. with my mind whirling with ideas and things to do. I grab a drink, feed the furry babies, and am on the computer by 7:15 to answer the emails/convos and deal with relisting on Etsy.
- I tear myself away long enough to get ready and grab a breakfast shake, then it’s back to it.
- Dan wakes up around the same time, gets ready and takes our sweet dog, Xena, for her morning walk.
- We just came up with a new workday schedule: since I tend to rebel against structure, our mornings are completely free and unstructured. I normally use them to create, do administrative work, and figure out what orders need to be made that day.
- Dan usually either continues on production from where he left off the night before or works on new products, like writing and editing our new books.
- After lunch we have a quick meeting to go over the existing orders, anything that needs to ship that day and get started on production. Usually this means that I design and print while Dan chops and binds. We take a dinner break and get back to it for another round.
- We try to work in 90 minute chunks. We’ve read this is the timeframe where you can maintain efficiency. If we have orders that have to go out the next day and we aren’t finished, we keep cranking until they are finished or until we just can’t do it anymore. We usually stop between 10-11 p.m.
Things we would love to change to make a typical workday into our ideal workday: Being proactive instead of reactive. We are constantly playing catch up with orders. If we were more proactive, we would have more inventory built up and could prepare shipping labels the night before so we could schedule a pickup and not have to take the packages to the post office. We are also aiming toward not working after dinner. We currently don’t have much of a life outside of This Is It! Creations and it would be nice sometimes to hang out as Dan and Jodi, not as coworkers.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
We both love being the creators of our own lives. Getting to decide what to create, what to focus on, and how to run the business is so important to us. We even get to decide where to live, so we recently moved to Oregon, which is amazing! We love working together and from home. We’re so grateful that we get to be with our furry kids all day long, wear whatever we want, wake up without an alarm, listen to music that we want to listen to, take breaks when we feel like it, and spend each day together.
There is something wonderful about being our own bosses. We no longer have to answer to anyone. If I am designing a new product that’s taking longer than I originally planned, I love that I can keep working on it until it’s finished. Also, we’ve both worked at jobs before where you felt like you had to “look busy.” Not having to do this speaks volumes.
Having our own business has more ups and downs (emotionally and financially) than a regular day job. We can get a ton of orders, some great press, and we’re jumping up and down with excitement. Then the next day it could be slower and we start to rethink and question everything. With our previous jobs there was never any high or excitement, and there were definite lows (like why was I wasting my time editing things), but, for the most part, it was more in the middle. We both miss having the security of a steady paycheck, though — we never know from one month to the next how many orders we’ll have and how busy we’ll be. Thankfully, our business has grown a ton this year, which is how we are able to support ourselves. Also, it would be really nice to have health insurance.
What advice would you give someone considering taking a similar path?
Persevere. I really think that our success is directly correlated with how committed we are to our business. We are here today because we continue to put in the time, believe in ourselves, and refuse to give up.
Be willing to keep learning. Be flexible. Be grateful and celebrate every success. Believe in yourself and your product, be your own biggest cheerleader. Have excellent customer service. Learn to delegate, figure out what your strengths are and what you like to do — delegate the rest. Get a good system in place for the inner structure of your business (a business plan, bookkeeping, etc.). Find companies that you can look up to. Ask them for advice.
Spend time in the Etsy Forums, especially the Business Topics section. This is such a wonderfully supportive community, and you can learn a lot here. Remember that you are no longer representing yourself, you are representing your company and your brand. Make sure you are proud of what you put into the world (in the Forums, in your shop, on your blog, etc.). Be kind to everyone: customers, people you meet at the grocery store, anyone you come in contact with. This is just good advice, period, but you never know when someone will become a great business connection.
Ask yourself if your craft is something that you are passionate enough about to make it over and over and over again. Realize that you may not always have the freedom to create new products because you have orders that need to ship, pictures that have to be taken and formatted, marketing that needs to be done, etc. Assembly will become a way of life for you, so make sure you’re prepared for this. Make sure you’re prepared for all of the nitty gritty that goes into running a business. It’s so much more than creating.
If you are going to work from home, set clear boundaries with friends and family. Make sure they know that just because you don’t leave the house doesn’t mean you aren’t working. If I am creating, I won’t answer the door or the phone and that’s okay. Here are some books that helped us along the way:
- The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber
- Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
- The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…In Business and In Life by Leo Baubaua
- Handmade for Profit: Hundreds of Secrets to Success in Selling Arts & Crafts by Barbara Brabec
- Take Time for Your Life by Cheryl Richardson
- The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
What’s in store for thisisit?
- Our Etsy sales really took off when we started offering personalized/customized products, so we’re in the midst of creating new products that allow our customers to do just that!
- We are also in the process of expanding our wedding section to include all sorts of eco-friendly wedding favors, bridal shower gifts, and guest books.
- We sell our products at local craft shows on the weekends and our interactive journals sell out almost every time. We’re working on writing more — we actually have three more in the work that we’re super excited about.
- We are also going to focus more on our eco supply shop.
- We’re going to continue to learn more about SEO, it’s so important! We’ve been working on our new website for a long time, and we’re finally going to have that go live very soon.
- We plan on marketing our company to the press and potential customers (both wholesale and retail) through press releases, hiring more sales reps, our new website, and advertising.
- We would love to hire an assistant to help with production and craft shows.
- We hope to continue helping as many animals as possible through our donations (both monetary and product).
- Finally, we’re going to work to find more balance in our lives. We create products that resonate with our own lives and it will be great to implement the messages into our daily routine: remembering to breathe, find balance, practice self care, etc.
Have any favorite Etsy shops we should know about?
- Having mentors and shops you look up to is really important for your own growth here on Etsy. Taking a look at what your mentors are doing to succeed can help inspire you to succeed, too! One of those people for us is Ryan at littleputbooks. She is such a creative, powerful force on Etsy, and she’s also super sweet, kind, and a good businesswoman. She had some wonderful suggestions for our shop, most of which we have implemented.
- We are also huge fans of teesforchange. Andreea is an amazing person that we’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with. Her tees are eco-friendly, amazingly soft and inspirational. She plants a tree for every tee sold! The way she runs her business is an inspiration to us.
- One of our dearest friends, Christian, happens to be a genius at drawing and painting. His shop, fagerlund, showcases some of his work. We continue to be blown away by his talent, and we think he is one of the greatest artists of our time. His portrait drawings are so realistic that they look like large photographs (but better!), and the expressions that he captures are breathtaking. And he does commissions!
- I am also so happy to be a part of some great Teams. Dan and I are both huge animal lovers, and we are so proud to be a part of great teams that support our lifestyle: EtsyVeg, VeganEtsy, and Etsy for Animals. All of the members are such awesome people, and many of them donate to animal charities!
Any additional words of wisdom?
We wanted to be completely authentic and give our honest experience of what it’s like to run our business. While it is a ton of work, a ton of hours, and sometimes feels like a long, hard road, it is not something we would trade for anything. After knowing what it’s like to work at “day jobs,” we now have seen the other side and we would never give this up. At the end of the day, we have created a company that we are proud of, that (hopefully) inspires others, and that pays our way on our terms.
We wanted to thank our loyal friends, family, and customers, too. Those of you who have been supporting us from the beginning (especially you, Mom) will always be close to our hearts. Those of you who have come on board recently — we are so grateful for you, too! We are here because of you and we never will forget that. We will continue to create products that we feel good about putting into the world, and we hope you will continue to support our efforts.
Thanks to Jodi and Dan for sharing their story. You can see some of their work in the Seller’s Items below.
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