Tell us about your previous working situation and how you discovered Etsy.
I worked as a designer in a leading Seattle design/interactive agency. I mostly worked on websites, videos, and other interactive projects. Having that background was really beneficial when I started Elephantine; I understood that my shop needed to be branded in a certain way, from the logo to the packaging to the way I photographed my jewelry. My day job was a great experience with friendly co-workers and free beer. After a while though, I felt the need to go in a less corporate, more handmade direction.
I’ve been using Etsy since 2007. I first joined to buy gifts and craft supplies, and then I started selling felt toys and greeting cards. I only sold enough of them to call it a hobby, and I wasn’t that enthusiastic about it. So I took a break, gave it some space, then re-opened my shop with a different look and a brand new collection: light, everyday jewelry.
What steps did you take to prepare for transitioning into full time Etsy selling?
When I re-opened Elephantine as a jewelry shop, I treated it like a real, honest-to-goodness business, not just a hobby. I registered for business licenses, kept diligent records, put my earnings into a savings account, and spent a lot of time crunching numbers to figure out how much jewelry I needed to sell per day for it to be a viable option as a full-time job. Figuring that out is harder than you’d think — you must take into account the expenses of supplies, postage, taxes, fees, advertising, and most importantly, how much your own time is worth.
What is your favorite part of the process in jewelry making?
I enjoy the time I spend playing around with materials. I’ll grab a bunch of beads and pendants and chains and spread everything out on my desk and see what designs I can make out of them.
Clicking “Publish” on a new listing is also one of my favorite parts. It takes a lot of work to get to that point — designing the jewelry, photographing it, naming and describing it, pricing — and there’s something so rewarding about seeing it finally pop up in your shop, ready for the world.
What are your best marketing tips?
I know that my shop would not be nearly as successful if it wasn’t for my blog, even though I don’t constantly promote my jewelry on it. The majority of my posts are about style, photography, food, my pets, and other Etsy shops. But I know my blog has increased my sales because it gives me more web presence, and it allows people to get to know me outside of my shop. Personally, I’m more likely to buy from a shop if I feel like I’ve gotten to know the seller.
And speaking of blogs, getting your work featured on one that has a huge readership can do wonders to your sales. Make sure you know the name of the blogger when sending a submission to him or her. Trust me, as a blogger, it’s a big turn-off to get emails with my name spelled incorrectly (or with the wrong name altogether — strangely, that happens a lot).
My other marketing advice would be to have sales every once in a while. Jewelry isn’t a necessity, and a lot of people are on tight budgets. I have a mailing list that notifies people about sales and shop updates.
What’s been your most popular item to date?
My libra ring (which is available in both gold and silver) is very popular. It’s really light and looks pretty when stacked. I actually get a fair amount of buyers who don’t even wear rings normally, but something about the libra ring makes them change their mind.
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
I’ve had really mixed results with advertising. In my experience, buying inexpensive ads (say, less than $100/month) do not result in very many sales or traffic. It’s only when I’ve spent several hundred dollars on an ad that it really paid off — but that’s a scary thing to do when you’re just starting your business.
I’d also be cautious about participating in giveaways. A ton of blogs will be more than happy to host a giveaway for you, and the argument is that it’s basically free advertising. The problem is that nobody wants to buy from your shop when they can just enter the giveaway and win something for free. When my shop was just starting out, I participated in several giveaways on other blogs and only one or two actually brought in some extra sales.
Made any business mistakes you regret?
Yes – bending over backwards for custom requests. I used to feel so bad about saying no. But now I’ve been in enough unpleasant situations (wasted hours, time, and money) where I’ve learned to turn someone down if it’s not going to be beneficial for my business. You have to remember that even though your shop feels like a very personal thing to you, it’s a business, and you have to run it like one in order to be successful and happy.
What is the biggest challenge you face during your daily schedule?
Getting distracted by the Internet (hold that thought, I need to check my email). See, the problem is there’s always something going on. If not new emails, there’s new blog posts, or new Pinterest pins, or new Flickr photos. It’s never-ending, which is simultaneously good and bad.
The other challenge I face is being alone during the day. Sometimes I miss having company — at my old design firm, there were over a hundred people at the company, and lots of interaction. Now it’s just me and my dog and cat for most of the day. But I do try to make a point of going downtown to meet a friend for lunch, or I’ll bring my laptop to a coffee shop to catch up on convos. The rest of the time, I actually enjoying being on my own. There’s never anybody standing over my shoulder.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
It can be really hard leaving work. When you run a small business out of your home, your personal life and your work life are all mashed into one. In some ways, that’s awesome because it means that I can have any kind of schedule I want and I have about a 5 second commute. On the other hand, when I get a shop-related email at 9 p.m., I can’t avoid reading it. Also, doing your taxes is much more of a pain when you own a small business. Luckily, I have a helpful mom.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job?
At my day job, I was always working for someone else. There was a lot of room for creativity, but I was also given a lot of restrictions. But now, working independently, no one tells me what to do. I don’t have to go to any meetings. I don’t have to have my performance reviewed. That openness is a little bit scary, but mostly it’s exhilarating.
What advice would you give someone considering a similar path?
I strongly recommend that you get your shop to a point where it’s a full-time job before quitting your day job. I think that some people want to make the transition as soon as their sales start taking off, but that’s really risky. Sell steadily for a year before making any big decisions. Give yourself financial goals; I told myself that I couldn’t quit my day job unless I was consistently earning at least the same amount through Elephantine.
Also, as I mentioned briefly, I didn’t start out selling jewelry – this is my second try at an Etsy shop, and it just happens to be extremely more successful than my first attempt. So don’t be afraid of trying different types of products and different ways of branding your business. Sometimes you just need a second (or third) chance before getting it right.
What goals do you have in store for the future of your business?
Since my jewelry line is meant for everyday wear, I’ve been toying around with the idea of launching a higher-end bridal line, but that’s still a long ways off. I’d also like to make more jewelry sets because I often get requests for matching items. My ultimate goal is to just keep enjoying what I do, whatever that means, wherever it takes me.
Anything else you would like to share?
My fiancé, family, and friends (and Internet friends!) have all been so supportive – I feel really thankful for that. And I also feel very grateful for all the strangers who have supported me. Thank you!
Thanks for sharing your story, Rachel. Check out her work in the Seller’s Items below.
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