After graduating with a degree from art school, Tara a.k.a. crackeddesigns worked several day jobs that she never found truly fulfilling. After designing her own save-the-date invitations for her wedding, Tara discovered her true passion for the world of paper goods and her dream for Cracked Designs was born. She now successfully runs her paper goods business full time and enjoys brainstorming new ideas for products. Tara has found being her own boss adds definition to her life and claims she’s the toughest boss she’s ever had, often not knowing when to quit.
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
I’ve always loved making things and being creative. I went to art school in Chicago and Milwaukee to further my education and love for the arts, but after I graduated I still wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do. It wasn’t until I made my own save-the-date wedding invitations that I knew I was completely in love with paper and design. I’ve always been obsessed with greeting cards and stationery, so it seemed really natural to find my calling in the paper world.
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
I always dreamed that some day I would be my own boss, but it always seemed so far away — just a really nice fantasy! I had a lot of different jobs before I started Cracked Designs full time, and I was really frustrated because none of them were very satisfying. I actually designed some of my first cards while working at Starbucks! I would come home from that job with tons of little pieces of paper filled with sketches and doodles.
My husband was the one who initially told me I should just focus on Cracked Designs and to do what makes me happy. I was still a little unsure (and nervous), but once the orders started coming in more steadily and more often, I started realizing that my days of daydreaming were over!
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time?
I designed a lot of cards and invitations for family and friends and they really helped me to get my name out there. I spent a lot of time researching what kind of paper products were successful and unsuccessful. I worked non-stop on tweaking my line of cards to find my own unique style and make them the best I could. Since there are so many amazing paper designers out there, I really wanted to differentiate myself and put out a product that was unique and something I was proud of. It was really important for me to know what kind of competition I was going to be up against, and I think my obsessive research nature really helped me design products that are hip, but also totally unique. I also have an amazing husband who helped me figure out the legal stuff. We kind of dealt with all of that, like taxes and such as we went along. I would recommend getting all your legal responsibilities figured out before you start, it’s just easier!
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
I’m constantly promoting Cracked Designs; it’s become such a natural thing. The most effective method is word of mouth! I have a lot of amazing friends and customers that spread my name around, and it’s the best promotion you can get!
I also think blogs have been a great way to promote my business. I worked hard at getting my name out there to the authors of some of my favorite blogs, who then wrote awesome articles about Cracked Designs. I also just started advertising on some sites and blogs, and so far it’s been working really well. I would say that it’s best to research the kinds of people who visit a website before you pay to advertise, just to make sure your products fit in with the overall style/feel.
I also spend a lot of time working on my logo and marketing material design, like my business cards and postcards. So many people will see your business card and logo before they see your actual product, so I think it’s so important to have those pieces really reflect your work well and draw people in.
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
I really haven’t found any unsuccessful promotions; some things work better than others, but overall I would say that you should always try to get your name out there and you shouldn’t expect to have people just find you.
Walk us through your typical workday.
- Wake up around 8 a.m. and have coffee. Let my two huge dogs outside.
- Start working in the studio. I mostly start by answering any emails and looking at what I have to accomplish that day. I am an obsessive list maker!
- Work on orders, design, doodle, work on orders some more, listen to Pandora.
- Eat lunch, usually in a hurry and answer more emails.
- Play hide and seek with my dogs; they are excellent seekers.
- Work on more orders and daydream about the next new product.
- Make a trip to the post office, if necessary.
- Around 4:30, my husband comes home from work and we talk about the day and brainstorm some totally rad ideas. This consists mostly of us making each other laugh and me wildly writing down and doodling crazy ideas.
- My husband deals with the dogs while I continue to work in the studio.
- Depending on how busy I am that day/week, I reluctantly pry myself away from the studio around 5:30 p.m.
- My husband and I continue to talk about more awesome card ideas.
- The rest of the night consists of me researching, doodling and answering more emails.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
I love being my own boss and being able to do exactly what I want. Working from home and being surrounded by things that inspire me is the best! I think what I miss sometimes about my day job is being able to walk away at the end of the day. When you get frustrated with your work at your day job, you can just step away and go home after it all. You and your job are two separate things — you get distance.
However, with my own business it’s mine and no one else’s. I can’t truly walk away when I get worn out; Cracked Designs is always in the back of my mind and I’m constantly working. It’s what defines me: I am Cracked Designs. It is definitely a labor of love, but I would not have it any other way. It’s so awesome to be able to do something you love and seeing your vision come to life day after day. I love being able to know that I was able to build a business out of nothing, and continue to watch it grow — it’s incredibly rewarding!
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
Oh man, there are a lot of hard things about running your own business. I think one hard thing for me to do is knowing when to quit. I’m always busy and could easily work all day without taking a break. I try hard to give myself a day off every once in a while. It’s hard because in the back of my mind I’m thinking about what I should be doing and what needs to get done next. I’ve found that being my own boss is awesome, but also really demanding. I truly am the hardest boss I’ve ever worked for!
Another hard thing is not getting down on yourself or your products. Etsy is just a huge pool of amazing-ness, and I find it hard to not compare yourself to others. I think it’s good to see what others are doing, especially in your field, but don’t start comparing your products to others and especially don’t change your products to try to fit in with the latest trend. It’s really hard sometimes to see amazing paper products and think, “Crap, I wish I would have thought of that.” You just have to know that people love your stuff, too! You got here for a reason — you make awesome things!
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
Start small and don’t give up! When I first started Cracked Designs, I wanted to do it all! I had so many big ideas that I wanted to get out there right away. It just wasn’t realistic looking back on it now. It look me a long time to tweak my line of cards into what they are today. It takes time to design and make a really good product.
It’s also hard not to give up when things aren’t going as well as you’d like them to. My business started slow at first and there were so many times when I wanted to give up. I remember going to Art vs. Craft in Milwaukee when I first started out and seeing all of the amazing card designers there, and I got really down on myself and I kept thinking that my stuff wasn’t nearly as good. I also got a lot of hard rejections from stores and craft fairs in the beginning — which just added to my disappointment.
If it weren’t for my husband who was constantly supporting me, I don’t think I would be here today. It’s so important to have a good support system! He would always tell me that my stuff was just as good and not to compare myself to other designers. You have to really believe in your product and work through the hard stuff — hard work and dedication pay off in the end. So I would say to someone starting out that nothing comes easy and to be patient with the process of building your business. Make a product that you’re proud of and don’t give up!
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
I would really love to get to 1,000 sales this year! I also am working on a lot of cool new products that I would love to release in the coming year, including new journals and invitation sets. It’s important for me to keep making creative designs and have a lot of variety in my shop, and I think the new products I’m working on will do just that. I would also love my wedding invitation designs to get some more exposure and promote them more in the wedding world.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Just want to say thanks to everyone out there who has supported Cracked Designs on Etsy! I sometimes can’t believe that I get to do what I love every single day, and it’s because of our customers that I get to do just that!
Thanks to Tara for sharing her story. Have your own questions to ask? Come on by and chat with her Wednesday, August 12 at 7 p.m. ET in Etsy’s Virtual Labs.
You can see some of Tara’s beautiful work in the Related Items. Check out previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.