Corinna of piddix just finished her first year as a full-time Etsy seller, and here she shares her top realistic tips for running an Etsy shop in this eye-opening Forum thread. Read on to see why making less money and working even harder is still her lifestyle of choice.
Just over a year ago I left my job at a lovely nonprofit to run my Etsy shop full time. After several years of selling collage sheets on Etsy, I had reached a point where I couldn’t do both Etsy and another job; I had to choose. I thought it would be fun, challenging, and relatively secure and easy to focus only on full-time crafting. I had taken a small business class, saved up a nest egg and made lots of lists and plans.
What a difference a year makes.
In general, full-time crafting has been harder and more tiring, and also more rewarding than I imagined. I’ve worked longer hours and made less money than planned. It’s also been a ton of fun. In looking back, I thought I’d share ten of the most surprising lessons that I’ve learned during the past year.
1. I Don’t Miss My Day Job
I was one of those lucky people who actually loved my “day job.” I worked at a lovely nonprofit that does good, rewarding work. I was respected and had amazing supervisors and coworkers. So one of my biggest worries of leaving it was that I would immediately regret my decision. I seriously doubted whether working for myself would be all that others had built it up to be. And guess what? It’s totally great. Sure, I miss my coworkers. But it feels so good to be able to do everything myself. If I want to make a change, I just do it. There are no committees to go through or paperwork to complete. If something is wrong I can fix it immediately. I am solely responsible for the success or failure of piddix and that’s a challenge I enjoy.
2. Sales Will Fluctuate
From the beginning, piddix sales on Etsy speedily climbed every single month. Then I quit my day job, and piddix sales plummeted. Scary. Turns out, sales of my collage sheets are seasonal. Summer and winter are my busiest seasons, while spring is the slowest. So during this second full-time spring I’m prepared. I saved money from the busy winter to get through the slower months. I also planned a couple of special promotions and new items to debut this spring to bring in more customers. But perhaps most importantly, I wasn’t taken by surprise when sales slowed down, but rather took it as part of the yearly cycle. I don’t handle ups and downs of sales well, so knowing what to expect helped quite a bit.
3. I Need to Treat it Like a Business
The first two months of full-time selling I didn’t work much more on piddix than I had previously. I spent too much time on work that was somewhat related to piddix, but not the most pressing tasks: visiting thrift stores, cleaning and rearranging my archives. I even spent an entire day hand-letterpressing 100 thank you notes to go with my packages. At a certain point I realized something wasn’t working. My parents agreed to help out with more days of childcare and I re-focused my efforts on tasks that were directly related to sales and growth. I now have specific hours where I work and try to keep them separate from my time off. I only get paid if sales come in, so I try to make every work moment count.
4. Throw the To-Do Lists Out the Window
After many years of working for others, I had fallen into the trap of checking off my to-do list. It was always good to show someone else all the things I had done, whether or not they were effective in the long run. Frankly, I can check off all the tasks in the world, but if they don’t lead to sales, it doesn’t matter a whole lot. I’ve learned instead to go with my gut. I look at everything I have to do and then pick those items that I feel will have the most positive impact on piddix. It sometimes changes every day. If a new opportunity comes up I jump on it right away rather than putting it behind something else. I’ve also learned to choose those items I’m most excited about at the time. For example, if I’m feeling especially creative and want to work on new collage sheets and graphic design, I’ll work on it right away. I find I’m much more productive if I’m excited about something, rather than working in the order of a random check-list.
5. You Have to Love it
I had always assumed it was a myth that to do a business well you have to love it. After all, as long as you like whatever you’re doing (jewelry, kitting, etc.) better than your other job, won’t you be just fine? Do I really have to LOVE it to do it well? Now I finally understand why it matters. I eat, sleep, dream, play and travel piddix. I spend my “free” time in bookstores and antique stores looking for items for my work. We even schedule vacation around what archives are nearby. If I didn’t absolutely love scanning, researching, graphic design and all the other aspects of running piddix there’s no way I could stay motivated.
6. I’m (Financially) Poor
I debated whether to include this point, but also wanted to be honest. We definitely make less money now than when I was working two jobs. And paying for our own healthcare has taken a HUGE chunk out of our funds. Does it matter? Yes and no. We’re the type of family who loves to travel, visit museums, eat at restaurants and generally get out of the house. We still do all these things but just in different ways. I sign up for just about every free mileage credit card to get free airplane tickets, we hit all the kid-friendly happy hours and use online coupons (like Groupon). We still do everything we’d like but just have to get more creative. If it was just me that was affected by this I wouldn’t be too worried. But I’ve also asked my family to make these same sacrifices. That’s why I’ve set goals for the next year to have more spending money and hopefully more funds in savings, too.
7. I Work All the Time
On a typical weekday I get into the “office” by 10 a.m. and work more or less straight until 5 p.m., with perhaps a break or two for lunch or playing with the boys. Then work picks up again from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. Add in weekends and I normally work about 60 – 70 hours per week. This isn’t something I particularly like. I’d love to take some time off. But I also have a workaholic personality, so this isn’t something I can totally blame on piddix. I simply can’t sit still and relax when I know there’s something I could be doing. So in addition to “make more money,” my other goal for next year is to work less hours. We’ll see how it goes.
8. I Need a Door
In February we swapped houses, cars, and pets with a family in Minnesota for a month. The house where we stayed had a lovely upstairs office, complete with a door that closed. I didn’t realize until then how important it was for me to have a separate space to work away from all the regular household chaos. My office at home was right in the middle of everything, and because my husband also works from home (and is the primary caregiver for our three-year-old), getting work done was sometimes impossible. Since returning from the Midwest we’ve converted an upstairs nook into a new office. It’s a bit of a mixed bag. I do get more work done, but I must admit I also miss some of the chaos of my family. It’s a trade-off.
9. Keeping an Eye on the Competition
When I listed my first collage sheet in 2007, there were fewer than 1000 for sale on Etsy. Now there are more than 30,000 collage sheets available. Sellers have exploded as well, from fewer than 10 to several hundred. To handle the constant influx I set up an Excel document where I track the sales of the top 30 sellers in my Category. Every month or two I update it and see if someone is completely blowing away everyone else. Then I look at what sets that shop apart. I intentionally stay away from copying any designs or trends. Instead, I look at what that shop may be doing to to bring in sales. Are their prices lower or higher than mine? How long is their shop announcement or item descriptions? Yes, this may seem like overkill, but this is a lesson I definitely learned the hard way. Back in January 2009 a new shop came on with items that cost less than mine and that sold several hundred items in a couple of months. Without going into too much detail, I learned several differences in our shops (quality, layout, dots-per-inch). I then wrote up new item descriptions for my own items that emphasized the high quality of my sheets and the amount of time I put into them, and sales turned back around for me.
10. Getting Help Rocks
Recently I’ve gotten over my micro-managing tendencies and have brought in some help with tasks such as website development. I even have an intern, who is doing an amazing job. I guess I had a fear that no one could do my job as well as I wanted, so I’d just end up re-doing it anyway. Now, every time I hop on my newly redesigned blog or website I smile. It totally rocks to have help. I’ve managed quite a few people in my various jobs and I know it doesn’t always work out. But so far, by having fairly explicit directions, goals, and guidelines (and a bit of luck), the help I’ve gotten has made a huge difference.
In summary, it’s been a bit of a crazy year. Sales have gone up and down. We’ve travelled to California, Hawaii and Minnesota. On days when sales are low I am a complete wreck. And I’m still thrilled with every single order that comes in. My customers have been more helpful than I could have imagined, often sending words of encouragement and help via my blog and newsletter. With my freshman year now over I have high hopes for my sophomore year of more income in less time (doesn’t everyone?). And yes, I’d do it all over again.