Tell us about your shops and the idea behind them.
I started my first Etsy shop, Sovereign Sea Designs, in 2009 on a lark after realizing that I was making too many things to keep all for myself. I have always been inspired by nature, old books, and tiny rusted artifacts, and it was my way of using those inspirations to create lovely things for others. The Written Nerd came about because the best-selling item in my shop were my Dewey Decimal earrings. I knew I was on to something and figured that it was worth the extra work and a little risk to open a second shop and expand the line.
Sovereign Sea Designs is my love song to the part of myself that wakes up early to drive to the beach and watch the sun rise. The Written Nerd is more brash; it’s hip and ironic, like that inside joke that only other book lovers get. All my jewelry comes from inside me. I find it really difficult to create things I’m not in love with, so while some things languish because only I love them, it’s been awesome to meet so many others who are really passionate and into the things I like to create.
Tell us about your previous working situation and how you discovered Etsy.
I was a librarian! I loved being a librarian, and it was a total career change from a previous job in sales. I loved helping people find the research materials they really needed, or just the right book to spend the afternoon with — I am a passionate bibliophile. But I needed to find another way to bring in some income, and Etsy fit that spot for me perfectly. I could make things while I was at home and still bring in my regular pay. Over time, I started making more than my day job paid me, and after continuing an upward earning trend on Etsy and maintaining a better income than I was making at my day job for several months, I realized I could make Etsy my day job! Even though I loved my job, nothing compared to the dream of working for myself.
What steps did you take to prepare for transitioning into full time Etsy selling?
Really be honest with yourself. I am a dreamer, an escapist, and I like change. When I get bored, I move, or I rearrange furniture, or I start talking about taking some wild vacation. I knew that about myself, so I bounced the idea of this job move against my boyfriend. Bouncing your dreams and business plans off someone you trust who doesn’t have the exact same views as you is mighty helpful in making you examine what you might be missing before you just dive in.
I had a lot of goals: have X number of wholesale accounts, have my supplies fully stocked, have X amount of shows booked, etc. before I officially left. One thing I knew I needed was a safety net. I set a goal of a certain amount of money to put aside, so that I could say, if I fall flat on my face, I will have X number of months to find employment before my nest egg runs out. That number will be different for each person’s lifestyle, family commitments, and personality. For me, it was 3 months of what I’d make at the library pre-tax.
I also talked to someone about health insurance — in Massachusetts, it’s the law that everyone must have it, so I investigated my options a month ahead of time so I knew what I was going to have to make monthly to pay for my own insurance on top of other life expenses.
What is your favorite part in the jewelry-making process?
I’m a total magpie — a hoarder of beautiful things. Sometimes I just like to pull out all my gems or pretty bits and bobs and look at them all, swirl them around and see if anything looks like a match made in heaven. It’s silly, but there is a great supply hunter in every jewelry maker I’ve ever met. Otherwise, I honestly love the business part of things — while I’m not great at paperwork and math, I love the social nature of selling person to person. I like coming up with inventive ways of finding customers and meeting people.
What’s been your most popular item or line to date?
The Dewey Decimal items in general are my most popular.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job?
I like working at my own pace, which is often furiously fast! I tend to work in bursts — I’ll be really intense for a few hours, slack off, then repeat. I found it exhausting at my day job when there weren’t enough projects and the day dragged, or when I was exhausted and there was a ton to do. Now I can work to my own rhythm, which suits me. I am also a bit of a control freak, so it’s really nice not to have to answer to anyone but myself any more.
What are your best marketing tips?
- Work every angle you can afford to. Try everything (again, within reason and budget) at least once. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but you won’t know unless you’ve tried.
- My big secret is I don’t like Twitter. I just don’t like the format — it’s too hard for me to keep up with everything I want to read. But I understand it’s good for business to have a Twitter account. So I’ve hooked up both of my business Facebook pages (Sovereign Sea & Written Nerd) to my Twitter accounts (Sovereign Sea & Written Nerd) so they auto-tweet when I update a status, upload a new photo, etc. I can have a regular presence on Twitter and not have to check it obsessively. I plan on trying one of the hub sites like Hoot Suite soon in order to see all the social sites at once.
- Try things like Wanelo out. There are loads of sites coming out all the time — try whichever ones strike your fancy!
- I have tried ads on various blogs. Before buying, pay attention to the activity of the readers, not just the raw number of them. How many comment on posts or click the “Like” or “Share” buttons and such? Those are the most likely to click through.
- I send out a Sov/Nerd newsletter once a month to subscribers with sneak peeks of what is coming in both shops, stories from the studio, recipes and fun anecdotes. I think it helps people see the human being behind my brand.
- Etsy’s Search Ads are great, too. I focus on just a few products at a time, and use the most specific keywords possible.
- Also, be great to your customers. Not just okay, not good, but great. Repeat customers, people who are fans of your brand, are worth their weight in gold.
What tool or technique has been the most effective in getting buyers to your shop?
- Create something unique: even if you’re afraid of being too niche, there are people looking for just that niche item.
- Work on learning about SEO, both for Etsy relevancy and Google. It changes periodically, so be prepared and don’t get so bogged down in “the way you’ve always done it” that you make yourself difficult to find when online search algorithms change.
- Don’t be afraid to talk to others about your business. I always wear at least one of my own pieces, and if I get complimented, I mention that I made it and casually hand out a business card.
- Approach local store owners or email wholesale leads asking if you can send samples — no one is a better salesperson for your brand than you.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
Learning how to switch off. I love running my business, I love all the different parts of it, so it’s hard to let it go at the end of the day when it’s time to spend time with my boyfriend, my family, or the dogs. One thing that’s helped tremendously is renting a studio that’s not in my building. It is just a half mile down the road, but having it in a separate space has let me think of it as “the office” and allowed to me to leave my business when I need to unplug. I don’t bring supplies home, and I limit my email checking so I can really engage with what is going on in my outside life.
What’s the most exciting thing that’s come of selling your designs on Etsy thus far?
Etsy is a fantastic venue for being found. Savvy buyers for companies are looking for their next big thing on Etsy. My most exciting professional relationships have all come in some form from being on Etsy. I collaborated in creating an original line of pendants a couple years back that benefited the National Canine Cancer Foundation. One of my customers actually wore a pendant to a fundraising event the NCCF held, and the president saw it and contacted me personally! I now create exclusive designs for them directly, and they are able to raise money using pendants I create, which is a fantastic feeling.
I am also currently working on projects for Francis — a clothing design house out of NYC. The owner saw my items on Etsy and contacted me asking about the possibility of creating specialty buttons (not a product I typically make) for their fall 2012 line. Also, I’ve been excited to recently start talking to large metro area library gift shops about wholesale purchases. I have just started making bookmarks and earrings for the LA County Library Shop. I hope to break into other city library markets soon.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar path?
- Pay attention to what other Etsians say, then apply it. It took me 9 months to make my first 11 sales. Then someone told me about the Forums, and I absorbed everything. I paid attention to what folks said about my descriptions (too short), my photos (too dark), my tags (use ‘em all) and applied it all, piece by piece. I really do owe loads to everyone I met in the Forums when I first started.
- Use Teams the same way: talk to other sellers, ones who have been here for a while and had some success selling. I find most Etsians are more than willing to help one another figure things out.
- Be ready for more work than you’ve ever done in your life (but it will also be the most rewarding). The long hours, the never taking a day off, losing the guest room or renting a studio so you have the space, are all sacrifices you will have to make, but if you’re willing to really push it, you might find that, like me, you relish it.
Anything else you would like to share?
Work hard, relax harder. Don’t get sucked into negative thinking. And find a few solid Etsy friends to lean on. Other Etsians know the frustrations of losing a difficult sale, the triumph of being on the front page, the elation of getting that pair of emails that means you’ve just made a sale, the heartbreak of a negative feedback. I’ve been very lucky to find a small group of ladies who laugh, cry, and tell it like it is. Jo from 42Things, Jen from LoungeAboutPillows, and Holly from FiveLittleGems have been instrumental in my being able to take this step, by asking the hard questions, and by never doubting I could do it.