Tell us about your previous working situation and how you discovered Etsy.
Before starting our Etsy shop, Norbert was working as a computer engineer and I was an elementary school teacher. We discovered Etsy through one of my old college friends who was selling handmade purses. The visit to the site, however, did not end in just purchasing a purse.
How did you prepare to transition to full-time Etsy selling?
For several years prior to opening our shop on Etsy, we had talked about owning our own business so we could have more freedom and control over our lives — we just never knew what type of business that would be. Norbert was unhappy at his desk job and I was craving an artistic outlet that had been suppressed for many, many years.
I soon took a weekend course in silversmithing and immediately fell in love with it. A chain of events quickly unfolded as we both realized that this could be our future. Despite all of the obstacles — the fear of starting a business during these tough economic times, having two young kids at home — this path just felt right. So we jumped in, like two giddy and ecstatic little kids. When setting up a strong business foundation, we did all of the following:
- Created business and marketing plans with short and long term goals
- Registered an LLC and a domain name
- Opened a business bank account
- Created accounts on Etsy, PayPal, Google Checkout, Blogger, Facebook and Google Analytics
- Designed business cards, banners and packaging
- Developed shop policies
- Expanded our home studio space
- Ordered additional tools and materials
We actually wrote all these tasks down on a big 2′ x 3′ sheet of paper and crossed them off as they were completed. Of course, not all this work was completed right off the bat, but at least the placeholders were there and we had a scalable business. After completing all of this preliminary work for our business structure and listing the first pieces of jewelry on Etsy, we were officially in business!
What are your best marketing tips?
- We quickly learned that if our customer feels like they are treated well, they are much more likely to tell their family and friends about us and return to our store.
- Good product photography is right up there with excellent customer service. That’s what people see when shopping online, not the physical object. We always upload our best product photography to Flickr, which not only brings in additional direct traffic, but also serves as a virtual lookbook of our work. This also makes it very easy for bloggers to grab an image of our work if they want to talk about it.
- Advertising on blogs that cater to our potential customers has also worked very well for us. However, over time we have learned that blog advertising is much more than just supplying an image to be displayed on the blog side bar. Many bloggers love to do trades, so not only are you getting free ad space, but you also get your product into the hands of someone who has a big audience. In our experience, bloggers are also very willing to write sponsor posts and host giveaways, all of which can significantly boost the traffic to your site.
- Another reason why advertising on blogs (especially the higher profile ones) is great is that, by having a direct link to your shop, major search engines start to view your site as more important and increase your page rank. If potential customers spend a lot of time in your store, then Google and other search engines view your site as having relevant content and thus increase your page rank even more.
- Frequently listing new designs is another huge way for us to attract traffic. In most cases, small businesses have a limited audience. Our regular customers might lose interest if we don’t keep our shop looking fresh.
- Blogging and posting on Facebook are excellent ways to establish a direct link between customer and artist. I share my work, inspiration and thoughts to provide a more personal connection and allow our customers to view the process behind the pieces they purchase.
- Whenever we send out a package, we always include a little bio card and a handwritten thank you note. We feel this gives deeper meaning to our pieces and separates us from big box stores.
What’s been your most popular item or line to date?
Our Burst line of rings have been very popular. Our one-of-a-kind pieces that feature large natural stones also sell incredibly well. The patterns on the stones are unique and, much like fingerprints, can never be matched. While we have several designs that have been in our store from the very beginning, we also like to cycle certain designs in and out at different times. Similarly, if a design is just not doing well and better photographs don’t help it sell, we don’t hesitate to remove it from our store.
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
The danger for any small business is spreading yourself too thin. We always try to focus on tasks and promotions that yield the best results with the least amount of effort. The great thing about promoting online is that Google Analytics makes it so easy to track the resulting traffic.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
It’s all freaking hard, but we absolutely love it! We have never worked this hard in our lives, but we don’t want to do anything else — this is it! Every morning we wake up looking forward to our day. We’re very passionate about what we do and know that having our own business is what allows us to live our lives exactly the way we want to live them.
What is the biggest challenge you face during your daily schedule?
Honestly, our biggest hurdle is time — or the lack of it, to be more specific. We have two little rambunctious boys and whenever they’re awake, one of us is watching them. We have become quite good at prioritizing and scheduling. Each week we have a meeting and discuss the status of our previous week’s goals and come up with new goals for the following week. Knowing exactly what needs to be done also helps us come up with a realistic schedule. As funny as it may sound, even if you’re running a business by yourself, having a weekly status and goals meeting is definitely something we’d recommend.
Although we have made great strides, keeping business and life at balance has been a big learning process for us. Working from home has so many benefits, but at the same time it makes it too easy to work too much. Whenever we don’t spend enough time with our boys, put off household chores, don’t spend enough time with each other as husband and wife, or don’t eat or exercise properly, everything else starts to fall apart as well.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job?
While we should be saying that we miss distinct cut off times and a steady paycheck, we don’t really ever think about it. We’re too busy moving forward with our plans. We love that we have freedom in scheduling, business, creativity, and pretty much everything else.
Another really great thing about having your own business is seeing the direct relationship between how hard you work and the results that come out of it. Often times in corporate America, the slackers get paid just as well as the others who work really hard. If we do well, it’s because we worked hard for it and that feeling is simply amazing.
What are the positives and challenges of working with your significant other?
We shared a collective laugh here. The bottom line is that we’re very different people — an artist and a businessman. While this balances and strengthens us, it can also lead to clashes. But we’ve improved greatly since we figured out that each of our roles are indispensable and equally important. Date nights and non-business related conversations are key to keeping us connected as a married couple and keeping the personal relationship strong.
What advice would you give someone considering a similar path?
Don’t spread yourself too thin. Figure out what is the best course of action and do it well. Working on too much at the same time can only lead to mediocre results. Also, don’t re-invent the wheel — chances are great that somebody else has already faced the problem you’re about to tackle. A little bit of research (the Etsy Forums are a great resource) can yield some helpful results and significantly simplify almost any task.
Don’t forget that business ebbs and flows. When business is temporarily slow, instead of feeling down, use that time to come up with new designs, marketing techniques or anything to improve your business. Don’t worry, the sales will come — and when they do, you need to be prepared!
What goals do you have in store for the future of your business?
Growth within the context of a small business. We’re the kind of people who love to go to a quaint little restaurant and see the owners working behind the counter or head to the farmer’s market and buy vegetables straight from the family who owns the farm. While we don’t exactly have a store front to serve customers, we always strive to maintain that personal connection.
Thanks for sharing your story, Norbert and Alysia. Check out their pieces in the Seller’s Items below.
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