Megan of the The Binding Bee set up her Etsy shop while working as a full-time caregiver at a hospice. After listing a few of her hand-bound journals she started to dream of running her own creative business. Megan now works harder than ever and while continuing to explore the sustainability of her raw materials.
Tell us about your previous working situation.
When I first started The Binding Bee I was working as an in-home caregiver for a hospice patient. The work was rewarding, but I knew from the beginning that working in that intensive environment was not something I wanted to develop into a long-term career.
What sparked the business side of your creativity?
I can’t remember a time when I was not making art and large creative messes. As a kid I was constantly creating “things,” ranging from glue and paper collages to “flower soup” concoctions with my three little sisters. I enjoyed art class in high school and went on to major in studio art in undergrad. In college I focused on using found and reclaimed materials, and for my senior thesis I created a hand-stitched quilt solely out of used teabags (600 cups of tea later).
As far as really getting into the business of creating, that happened a little over a year ago when I discovered Etsy. It was revolutionary to me that such an online community existed. I posted a few of my handmade journals and sold one within a few days of opening shop. That first sale happening so quickly was all it took. I immediately started dreaming, planning and obsessing about growing The Binding Bee into something that would allow me to make art and work for myself. These Quit Your Day Job blog posts added weekly fuel to the fire!
What ever happened to that teabag quilt?
It is still hanging on the wall in my living room. The color has faded a bit but it still smells lightly herbal and has held up through four moves.
How did you prepare to make the jump from caregiving to your own venture?
My first step was going to the library and checking out as many books as I could carry about how to start, run and manage a small business. Although none of them proved to be instantly enlightening, they did give me a good list regarding paperwork and practical first steps. Since every small business is different, I had to learn primarily through my own successes and mistakes. With the research I did, I got my tax ID, set myself up as a DBA, trademarked my name, made up business cards, opened a business checking account and started stockpiling supplies and investing in a few tools.
What are your best marketing tips?
I tell everyone I meet about Etsy and always have a business card in hand. I also carry my personal journal in my purse and pull it out as a sample anytime someone asks what I do for a living. Word-of-mouth promotion and attending craft shows have been my most successful marketing tools. I’ve also gotten connected with the Indiana Handicraft Exchange community that is based here in Indianapolis. They are an awesome group of crafters and craft supporters who lovingly and tirelessly promote the DIY craft community, local small businesses, Etsy, and each others’ work.
What tactics did you find to be less successful in the long run?
Giving away too much product. Shortly after opening my shop I was bombarded with requests for donations to various charities, and I gave to everyone who asked. My thinking was that it could work as free positive marketing, as well as philanthropic. It ended up being too large a drain on my inventory and was not an effective way to market my work or Etsy shop. I still donate to my favorite charities for their yearly fundraisers but I don’t have any outlandish expectations attached.
What’s a day in the life of The Binding Bee look like?
- 7:00 a.m. Wake up and go for my morning walk through historic Irvington with Attie, my faithful black lab.
- 7:40 a.m. I make it home just in time to have a cup of coffee with my sweetie before he heads off to work.
- 8:00 a.m. Shower, dress for the day and then sit down to journal, write my to-do list and eat breakfast. I will also check for sales, read emails and catch up on my favorite blogs.
- 9:00 a.m. To the studio! Thankfully my routine changes every day, allowing my Aries personality to thrive and stay fully engaged. Some of my daily tasks include working on custom guest books, cutting, prepping and sewing leather, tearing paper, boxing up wholesale orders, and about 99 other little tasks in-between. Updating my shop typically happens in the afternoon. I take photos in the morning because the light is better and it’s not too hot outside. I break for lunch at some point and try to make it to the post office before the evening rush.
- 5:30 p.m. My husband Tim gets home. I always break for supper with him, and then we decide what to do with our evening. If we decide to stay home, I inevitably end up working more. I do a lot of the actual binding and sewing in the evening.
- 11:00 p.m. Put away my needle and thread and go to bed.
You mentioned catching up on your favorite blogs: which ones?
- Crafting an MBA by Megan Auman. Good business advice and perspective for full-time crafters.
- Pam Garrison: Her work is inspiring and lovely.
- Craft Sanity: For the podcasts and wonderful interviews.
- The Nourishing Gourmet: Yum! They always have fresh food perspectives and great recipes.
- The Etsy Blog (of course!): I love the Quit Your Day Job interviews, Featured Sellers, and Etsy Finds.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
I love being the boss. I enjoy that part immensely. I miss the clear boundaries that a regular job provided, like, say, getting off at 5 p.m., no strings attached. Sometimes the line blurs between business and personal time. Since I am my own business and I really love what I do, I end up doing a whole lot of it!
And the hardest part?
Oh geesh, there are several things that are a challenge for me:
- It never stops, and I find it really hard to stop. I am always thinking or working on something related to The Binding Bee. I work harder and more than I ever have before. I even have dreams about book designs, business tasks and my booth display on a pretty regular basis.
- It is really tricky to switch from being in artist mode to CEO mode. I’ve had to learn how to switch from one role to another quickly and not be stifled or frustrated by the business side of things.
- Hello bookkeeping! What a nightmare! The first year of selling journals on Etsy and at craft shows I did not keep very good records…or any records, actually. When it came time to pay my income and sales tax I had to do 12 months worth of bookkeeping in three days. That was a dumb mistake and I paid for it in tears, taxes and time. I have since become much more disciplined about keeping accurate and orderly records
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself or others considering a similar path?
- Keep really good records and set up a good system from day one. Track mileage, too! It all adds up. I now have a handy Excel sheet for both and balance everything with my checking account and receipts at the end of each month. Also, hire someone else to do your taxes.
- Set boundaries for your work time and manage that time well.
- If at all possible, get a studio space that has a door. It’s helpful to have a way to “close shop” physically and mentally for the night.
- Find a business mentor who is where you want to be in the future! I’m still on the lookout for one because I know that having a person to look towards makes future goals less abstract.
What’s in store for The Binding Bee?
One of my ongoing goals for the coming years is to be able to source my materials from even more eco-friendly suppliers. I have worked really hard to find the recycled and upcycled materials that I use now, but I’m always looking for ways to improve and work closer to the source. I would also like to be able to hire part-time help for the busy seasons. I’m always working on learning new binding techniques and incorporating novel and original designs in my work.
Have any favorite Etsy shops we should know about?
I have about 35 that are dear to my heart, but I will highlight four of them here.
- The Hot Cookie: These are so scrumptious! I could eat these cookies every day, and I do eat them at almost every craft show I attend. YUM!
- Sara B Jewelry: I just love her style! All of her pieces are bold, feisty and expertly crafted.
- Katastrophic: Her design sensibility is amazing and her clothes are wonderfully comfortable. I am always anxious to see what sort of new designs she will come out with each season.
- Reimagined by Luna: A dear friend and fellow bookmaker.
Thanks to Megan for sharing her story. You can see some of Megan‘s work in the Seller’s Items below.
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