Beth of DiffractionFiber has had the creative bug and an entrepreneurial spirit since day one. After getting locked into an administrative assistant job that wasn’t serving her creative passion or degree in theater, Beth drew up a plan with clear steps laid out in order to quit her day job and become her own boss. Keep reading to find out where she gets her best business advice and why she thinks she can work a much longer day now that there’s no alarm clock to wake her up!
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
Well, funnily enough, I’ve always tried to be in the “business of making things.” I grew up with wonderfully supportive parents — a mom who crafts and a dad who has always run his own businesses. I suppose it was inevitable for me to want to combine the two.
When I was tiny, probably around five, my mom would go to craft shows to sell her wares. She’d set me up with a tiny little table of my own, and I’d sell these itty bitty wreaths with tiny bears glued to them. Then when I was in elementary school, being the entrepreneur I am, I approached a consignment shop and worked out an arrangement to rent (free of charge, mind you) a shelf in the shop in exchange for handing out flyers around town. I made all sorts of choker necklaces and little origami-like creations. I think I sold two things in the couple of months I had a shelf there. I was a precocious little thing!
More recently my artwork became a means to escape my day job as an administrative assistant for a bank. Instead I could do something I loved that fulfilled me creatively and that I was passionate about. I have a degree in theater, which I realized wasn’t for me soon after entering the professional world (far too many conflicting personalities and far too little control over your end product).
So there I was, stuck in this day job, all the while thinking there has to be something better out there for me. I rekindled my love of knitting initially as a creative outlet, which in turn led me to return to photography and then to sewing.
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
Absolutely! From day one. I was originally planning on selling knitwear, but realized I’d never be able to produce a product fast enough for it to be a sustainable business. I soon opened my first shop, Diffraction, which combined my original photography into jewelry. Diffraction was a great first step, but even with a unique jewelry line you are still competing against so many talented designers in a flooded market. DiffractionFiber was created as a sister site, almost as a diversion. I really had no idea it would take off as it has. I found myself sewing pieces and didn’t want to drown in pillows around our home, so I listed them in the second shop to keep Diffraction true to its original intent and brand.
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time?
I am an expert list maker (sure, I usually lose most of my lists, but I am an expert at making them!), and I can be practical to a fault. So first off, I figured out how much money I’d have to make each month to eventually match what I was making at my day job. It gave me something tangible to attain: not just to increase sales, but by how much. I was able to plan how much of my business I thought would be revenue from Etsy, from craft shows and from wholesale. I decided when my revenue was equal to that of my day job for three months I’d put in my two weeks notice and make my long-held dream of entrepreneurship a reality.
I found independent health insurance, which is incredibly important to me. I squared away my business with all the proper licensing with the state and IRS. And I set up all the wholesale accounts I’d need for buying my supplies in bulk. I read up on marketing, on creating a business plan, and I talked to SCORE counselors (which is an invaluable resource for business professionals). I’m addicted to the Modish Biz Tips blog. I also watch the TED conferences, which provide practical, thought-provoking marketing advice and inspiration. I find that the more I read and learn, the more confident I am about my business, about talking about it in a professional way, and on making it a success. But like I said, I’m infinitely practical at times.
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
By far my greatest success has stemmed from creating a unique product, first and foremost. If you don’t have that, no amount of marketing will make you a success. If you can’t point to a reason for someone to buy your product over all the others out there, you are lost in a sea of competition. I’m not saying you need to reinvent the wheel, but there needs to be some component of your product, of you, of your packaging or service, that they can’t get elsewhere.
That said, with my unique widget in hand, I started approaching blogs. And not just “Hey, check out my shop,” but an authentic correspondence about one product or series. I wrote personal emails to one blogger at a time, no copy and pasting! I certainly owe bloggers for my success!
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
Ironically enough, my own blog! Maybe more as an outlet than anything at this point. Also, Project Wonderful hasn’t been very effective for me, and that 10 cents here and there adds up. I try to think about what works on me as a consumer, what are the ads or promotions that get me to buy or to even perk up my ears at a product…and side bar advertising isn’t it. My suggestion is to turn the table and think about how you buy.
Walk us through your typical workday.
- I typically wake up around 8 a.m.: no alarm clock for this girl!
- I check my email first thing in the morning, answer any convos and check for sales.
- I spend a bit of time in the forums, reading blogs and contacting blogs while eating breakfast.
- Typically I’ll get started on sewing mid-morning.
- I try to carve out a portion of the day for working on a new product or idea that’s been floating around my head.
- After lunch I have the best light in my living room to photograph anything I want to list that day.
- And really, it’s just a lot of sewing and cutting throughout the day.
- My wonderful husband comes home around 6 p.m. I love to cook, so I make dinner for the two of us.
- In the evenings, I package up any orders that are to go out the next day and schedule the pick up through USPS.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
Working on my own schedule! It is amazing how much more energy I have during the day not having to wake up to an alarm clock! At my day job I had very little work to do throughout the day, and yet by the end of it I’d be exhausted. Now, I work 12 hours a day and yeah, I’m tired, but I feel good! I feel a sense of accomplishment. (Not to mention the very odd personalities and grumpy people I worked with.) I certainly don’t miss that! Just the human interaction is missed. I find myself babbling as soon as my husband gets home from work about who knows what.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
The hardest part for me is keeping things in perspective: knowing that’s it’s okay that I didn’t make a sale today, because for the month I’m on track for my goals. I tend to get sales in rushes, and it’s in those lag times that self-doubt can creep in.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
Just to know from the beginning that it really is possible! And sure, it’s going to be hard, but it’s also going to be rewarding. For anyone considering it, I’d say go for it! Be smart about it, especially in this economy, but it really is achievable if you have a plan and set goals for yourself. There is a wealth of information on the internet, so use it!
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
I’d like to expand my wholesale accounts, and, of course, create all of the ideas I have buzzing around in my brain! Many more pillows, personal accessories and some wearable creations will soon be appearing! I’m already looking towards my very first holiday season with DiffractionFiber, which I’m sure will be a whirlwind!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Just a big ol’ kiss on the lips to Etsy. There is no way I could be where I am without it. Etsy is such a unique platform for creating your own success! So thank you thank you thank you!
Thanks to Beth for sharing her story. Have your own questions to ask? Come on by and chat with Beth tomorrow (Wednesday, June 17, 2009) at 7 p.m. ET in Etsy’s Virtual Labs.
You can see some of her fiber work in the related items. Check out previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.