Mai, the jewelry designer behind WoodlandBelle (formerly known as 4thesparrowsnest), spends 10 to 14 hours each day working on Etsy orders and new ideas for her shop. This dedication and spirit have led to her full-time status and success as an Etsy shop owner. Mai previously worked in boat manufacturing to pay her way through college. This fueled her determination to find a creative job that inspired her. Read on to learn from Mai’s generous list of marketing tips and to find out why opening an Etsy store and hoping for the best simply isn’t good enough.
Tell us about your schooling and your professional decisions. Did you always want a creative career?
My previous work experience involved spending my summers and breaks working in boat manufacturing facilities. My dad was a boat-builder so I received training in boat finishing and detailing. I drifted from factory to factory, unhappily doing the only thing I knew how to do that could pay well enough to support me through college. I was wholeheartedly discouraged and burned out from the whole industry and was determined to find a creative job that I was passionate about. I secretly always wanted to make things for a living and have always been a crafty person, but I didn’t know how to go about it. I settled for teaching others how to “make stuff” and graduated college intending to become an art teacher. As I searched for job openings I discovered Etsy. I can’t describe the hope and purpose that suddenly filled my soul!
I began my experience on Etsy as 4TheSparrowsNest in 2008. I sold plush felt picture frames. It was a lot of fun, but I had a lot to learn! I gradually shifted to jewelry as I discovered myself as an artist. What started as a fun way to spend my afternoons has become a full-fledged business. It didn’t take me long to realize that making accessories was my dream come true. A feature in Real Simple magazine in December really got the ball rolling and gave my shop further direction and vision. I recently changed my shop name to Woodland Belle and am now switching mediums to metal and glass for more exciting jewelry-making opportunities.
What advice would you give a recent grad, knowing what you know now?
Marketing is just a fact of life for any business person who wants to sell their work, whether you’re an artist or a large corporation. Marketing used to puzzle me, but now I realize that it’s the lifeblood of my shop, and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned with others! Here are my tips for effective marketing:
- First and foremost, and it’s been said before, make an excellent product. Find a way to push your work into something that is uniquely you, and it will dazzle the world. With that said, be original! I get discouraged when I see artists trying to imitate others’ work. We’re all influenced by the things around us but take the effort to make it your own. A great product is much easier to sell because it stands out from the crowd. Great products will very nearly market themselves.
- If you want to be featured around Etsy and in other places, photograph your work to the very best of your ability. I constantly rework my photos. I used to get tired of others on Etsy constantly talking about photos, but they’re right.
- Do your homework. Read every resource that Etsy has to offer (and there are plenty!), and learn how to make your small business work. I spent months reading and learning from Etsy as well as other sellers in the Forums. If you know your stuff, you’ll make wiser decisions. Etsy Admin are really good folks, and they want to see you succeed!
- Identify your target audience so you can focus your advertising efforts. Since I design jewelry and accessories I advertised with blogs that have a strong fashion following. You can always contact bloggers to see if they would be willing to feature your work, but advertising will keep you visible longer and helps to support their efforts. I’ve also advertised with print publications, which is more of an investment, but helps establish brand awareness.
- Try out an online, handmade curated gallery, such as Poppytalk or Paper-N-Stitch. I have had very good experiences with both sites, although I find Paper-N-Stitch to be a better fit for my work. You must submit your work for approval and they have monthly/periodic fees for featuring your work. These sites are often reviewed by editors of magazines and other publications that are always searching for unique finds.
- As far as Etsy goes, when I was starting out I did find that renewing and listing frequently helped keep my shop visible in search results and resulted in more sales. I also tried to maintain an active presence on Etsy, via commenting on Storque articles and the Forums. Etsy is a fun place to do more than just sell things.
- Challenge yourself to have the best customer service! Know your boundaries as a seller and have clearly defined policies, but also be as kind as you can in every circumstance.
- Speak blessings over your shop! Have faith that you can make it happen and try to stay positive.
- It may be a bit bold to say this, but if you believe in tithing, donate ten percent of your store income. You will be richly blessed if you do! Even if you don’t tithe, I still believe that giving part of your earnings to charities or other worthy causes will come back to you tenfold and will bless others.
Did you have any support from your parents or other family as you got started?
It did help that, while I dabbled in creative pursuits, my husband Jeremy worked full-time and was able to support us both. I am so grateful for Jeremy and his enthusiastic support. My business would not be what it is today without this and a lot of faith!
What mistakes have you made along the way? Any difficult situations people starting out could learn from?
A challenge I have is encountering people who admire my work (and thank you to those who do!) but who also ask me how I make everything and where I get my supplies. Like many sellers, I’ve invested financial and creative resources into developing my designs, which my husband and I depend upon for our living. Some artists enjoy creating and selling tutorials about their techniques, but this is not how I’ve chosen to make a living. Although not a panacea, I recommend officially registering your work with the national copyright office (see Copyright.gov for more information about this process).
Other sellers say this, but I love it so I will reiterate: in the slow times, work on your products. Make new things, rework things that aren’t working, re-photograph your items, read and research some materials. If you really, really want to do this, you can make it happen. Just opening a store and hoping for the best isn’t good enough. Put everything you’ve got into your products and you will be successful.
As for mistakes, live long enough and you will make plenty of them. I have certainly made business mistakes. The first year of my business I didn’t keep many of my receipts, and I didn’t keep good financial records. I’ve also made customer service mistakes that stemmed from me not having clearly defined shop policies and misunderstanding how the postal service works in various situations. Some of my more difficult customers have taught me valuable lessons, and I try to take every difficult situation and learn what I can do better next time.
What do you enjoy most about choosing a creative career path? Do you ever wish you had an office job?
To come home and rest, without having to think about business-related responsibilities, would be nice. However, it’s a small price to pay for such an awesome career. And, like so many others, I love being able to do what I am passionate about on my own terms.
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
Having goals is an excellent idea! I rewrite and evaluate mine every few months. I plan to continue developing my collections and to add new hair accessories. I’m also transitioning all of my designs to metal; it’s a slow process, but very exciting. I am preparing to expand capacity to be able to handle wholesale accounts so that I can offer some of my collections in boutiques worldwide. I also hope to have Woodland Belle designs featured more frequently in the press and worn by the occasional celebrity. I want to keep dreaming big, and I hope you do too!
What do you do with your precious little relaxation time?
When I’m not working on orders, I love to take walks with my husband, continue to renovate our home or do a bit of landscaping. I also enjoy reading Japanese manga, watching Hayao Miyazaki films, and baking or cooking for fun.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Thank you to the founders and Admin of Etsy for creating such a wonderful community for artists to share our work with the world. It’s fabulous and I’m so glad that Etsy exists. I’d also like to give God credit for his favor and goodness in my life. Thank you also to my customers and to all the people who appreciate my designs. You are fabulous! Furthermore — my husband rocks, literally! Jeremy is a musician and songwriter, and his music truly inspires me. Together, we’re a creative team! Thanks for taking the time to read my story. I hope you’re inspired!
Thanks to Mai for sharing her story. You can see some of Mai‘s art in the Related Items.
This post is a special offshoot of the Quit Your Day Job series. You might also like these posts: