Since childhood Liane, a.k.a. enhabiten, has been peddling her wares and exploring her creative side. Now that she’s graduated from selling “junque” on the street corner to beautifully handcrafted housewares online, she’s found her place in the world of Etsy. After working years in the service industry, Liane is happy to find her consistent income now coming from her Etsy sales and the ability to work in her pajamas until 11 a.m. if she wishes. Some of her best promotional tips are gaining free blog recognition and spending time in Etsy’s Treasury. Keep reading to find out what makes this Gemini tick.
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
I have been making things since I was little. One of my best friends growing up, Fay, was also crafty. We made all kinds of crafts and sometimes tried to sell them. We liked to have sales when we were little, say 6-10 years old. I recall one where we sold crafts we’d made, as well as all sorts of collected stuff from around the house, including dust-covered goodies from the cellar (the beginnings of my love for both vintage and handmade). We made a big sign which said “Junque Sale.” I swear we spelled it that way. Like we were admitting to selling crap, but we spelled it in a sort of fancy French way and that made up for it some.
So we’re on the street corner, just a couple of industrious 9-year-olds, holding up our sign and yelling at all the cars passing by, “Junque sale, junque sale…come and get your junque.” When along came a smart-aleck kid in a beat-up Ford Pinto or something (this was the ’70s) and he rolls down his window (manually, again ’70s) and yells, “WHO WANTS JUNQUE??” Well buddy, turns out lots of people want junque, so there. I continued to love making things throughout school (black corduroy knickers in 7th grade being a particularly memorable project) and ended up with a college degree in studio art.
Two side notes: If you want to hear the rest of the Fay stories which involve such topics as streaking, cod liver oil and the chief of police, just send me a convo. I also want to share that my family proudly drove an orange AMC Gremlin back in the day.
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
I was so excited when I heard about Etsy in the fall of 2007 from my friend Erica. She opened her shop around the same time as me but had been an Etsy customer for a bit beforehand. I knew immediately it was a crazy good opportunity, but I really didn’t have a plan or goal at all. I’m an artist and a Gemini. I do stuff first, think second. But really, I did quit my day job — which was as a full-time coffee shop girl — because of an illness in my family. I started the Etsy shop while I was home being a full-time caretaker to a sick child. Life’s a rollercoaster. One utterly crappy thing happens and then a pretty good kismet thing happens. I give up working to understand…I just try to roll with it.
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time?
I guess I do like to understand things before I get into them, even if I don’t have a clear plan. I read every bit of information on Etsy for sellers. For me this was important. Understanding what can be found on Etsy and also how the site works and how I could make it work for me was key. I registered my shop name with the state, got my tax ID and opened a business checking account. I recall that the Storque articles featuring seller success stories were really inspiring. Although I did not plot out my own success I do remember thinking, if they could do it, why not me?
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
I think being featured in Treasuries really helped my shop get off the ground. I made lots of Treasuries myself and doing that helped with name recognition among other Treasury makers and folks viewing the Treasuries. I also think becoming familiar to the design-oriented bloggers out there has been helpful. Being featured on popular blogs brings me traffic from outside of Etsy. Although Flickr is not a promotional tool per se, I know I get traffic from there as well.
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
The only thing I can say here is that free blog features help me more than paid advertising. I spent some time in the past on the Etsy Forums but I don’t think that makes a difference in my business. I go there just to procrastinate, honestly. I don’t have a lot of procrastination time at the moment.
Walk us through your typical workday.
- 5ish a.m.: Wake up, make coffee, check Etsy. I also have a Flickr account which I like, so I check Flickr and see what my contacts have posted overnight. Living in a small town, I have found that the internet has filled a void in terms of connecting with people with the same interests. I love the long distance friends I’ve made through Etsy, Flickr and blogs. I scroll through the Etsy vintage category while I drink my coffee. I actually do this several times a day, a little OCD, and I check a couple other Etsians’ Favorites (you know who you are). I can’t buy everything I favorite, but I feel like it’s an activity which is creatively satisfying and it helps improve my eye/aesthetic.
- 7ish a.m.: I get to work in my studio, usually still in the sweatpants and t-shirt I wore to bed. I’m trying to break myself out of this habit, but once I finish my computer routine I feel anxious to get going. It is a little icky, however, when a friend drops by at 11 a.m. and I’m still in pajamas and haven’t brushed my teeth. Anyway, from 7-noon I work on orders and make some new things to list. My 11-year-old is home schooled and he wakes up late and works with me in the studio on his own stuff. He’s currently studying Italian online and he’s making a big hand drawn map of the world. He’s really interested in geography. I have a big studio in our old house. It’s still a work in progress but I L-O-V-E it. It’s got a vintage wood stove and big windows and even a sink in it.
- Noon: Get cleaned up and get dressed, eat lunch, do dishes, clean up around the house. I sometimes weed in the garden and play with the dog in the backyard to spend time outside.
- 2-6 p.m.: Work in the studio some more.
- 6-8 p.m.: Make and eat dinner and spend time with the family.
- 8 p.m.: Either mess around on the computer checking Flickr, blogs, Etsy or work more in the studio.
- 9 or 10 p.m.: Bedtime.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
Well, I have never been good at having a conventional full-time job. I have three kids ages 19, 17 and 11, and my focus for the past nineteen years has been raising them. (I got pregnant my senior year of college. And although I don’t recommend it, I also don’t regret it.) All along I’ve worked part-time in various jobs, such as child and elder care and working at a health food store and in a coffee shop. (Really, I’ve done more kinds of part-time work than it makes sense to list here.) Service-oriented jobs suit me more than the cubicle/office work. I also spent some time doing art gallery work, including corporate art.
The idea of having a profession like that was somewhat appealing in theory, but the reality left me bored and uninspired. I think my ideal job would be this: maintain my Etsy business while working on my painting (art is my background) while also working on some styling/design work and/or writing a book!
I had my astrological chart done several years ago and I was told I would be remembered for my writing and not my art. So I’m waiting for that to happen. I love to read good fiction, especially historical. I also love to look at interior design picture books. I can study the pictures in depth over and over. It’s a little weird, but it makes me happy. I didn’t answer the question, did I? The answer is I don’t miss anything, except perhaps the customers at the coffee shop. And free doughnuts.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
The business part of it. If you saw the sky-high pile of papers I need to sort through…for shame! But I’m going to work on that. No really, I swear! This is something I need to overcome because at this point I do feel like I need to run that part well in order to succeed.
I have noticed that there are these sort of steps or even periods where things plateau and you have to have a plan and know where you want to go next in order to go there. I need to get organized and clear about what I want to do and what my ultimate goal is. I like to go into the studio and la la la…just do whatever my whims tell me to do. But I see definite areas where I can improve my shop appearance and products and I have to focus and get those things done. It might be nice to have someone else be in charge of this aspect of the business, but have I mentioned that I’m also a little bit controlling? So that might pose a problem.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
I believe that the most critical thing for people making a craft is to realize that you have to have something special people want. Photos, a business plan, and marketing skills are all important, but without that special something, it won’t fly. I spend a lot of time on Etsy and working in my studio. When I don’t, it shows. And, don’t underestimate the power of just showing up and putting in the time to improve what you make. My things have changed and been refined lots over the past year.
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
Well, in the next couple months I plan to create a more consistent look for my photos. I also want to focus in on a few different categories of products. I’m really loving vintage fabric, particularly barkcloth, and especially in combination with patterned wool on the back. And I want to expand my pillows made with these fabrics, but make them more consistent in terms of look and size. I also want to expand the line of embroidered word pillows and maintain the cross pillows, but I have some tweaking I want to do to that “line.” At the same time, I want to keep experimenting. I’m working on some reupholstery projects and also clothing made with vintage fabric. It’s a juggling act. Did I already say I’m a Gemini?
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I adore Etsy. B.E. (before Etsy) I felt a little lost in the wilderness of life and I wondered, “Where do I fit in?” Like that scene in Zoolander where Derek is talking to his really really good-looking reflection in the street puddle and he asks himself, “Who am I?” But seriously, Etsy has allowed me to make money while being my creative self. It allows me a really flexible schedule and I feel like I get out of it what I put in. It’s incredibly easy to use and there is next to no financial risk. So thank you, Etsy. For reals. If you were a really really good looking boy, I’d totally smooch you. Or even a half-way decent looking boy driving an orange AMC Gremlin. Just brush your teeth first.
Thanks to Liane for sharing her story. Have a your own questions to ask? Come on by and chat with her Wednesday, July 15th at 7pm ET in Etsy’s Virtual Labs.
You can see some of Liane’s beautiful housewares in the related items. Check out previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.