Deb Kessler of FearlessFibers left her 60 hour a week day job to start her own business. She has been successfully selling on Etsy for the past year and half and hasn’t looked back since. Deb keeps a pretty flexible schedule and swears by “Word of Click,” a marketing term she has coined for online social marketing. Keep reading to learn more of her best marketing tips and advice for others considering taking the plunge!
If you’d like to ask Deb questions of your own or listen in on her advice in real time, we invite you to join us in a follow-up Question and Answer session this Tuesday, January 27th, 2009 in the Auditorium room of the Virtual Labs.
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
I actually took the plunge and quit my day job before I ever sold a single skein of yarn. This is definitely not a route I’d recommend for most people, but in my situation it was the only way to make it work. In my day job, I usually worked sixty plus hours per week and I traveled frequently, so starting a business on the side just wasn’t feasible. The decision to take the plunge and quit my job wasn’t an easy one. I’d worked in the same field for 17 years and had a thriving career, but each day for about a year I awoke with the same thought in my head: I want to start a yarn business. After a while, I just couldn’t ignore that voice anymore. I’ve been in business full-time for three years now, with the past year and a half or so solely on Etsy.
How did you originally get into working with fiber?
I first learned the basics of knitting when I was seven or eight years old. My mother was part of a PTA show at my school and they were doing a skit based on The Addams Family. In the show, Morticia was often seen sitting in her wingback chair knitting a scarf that was about thirty feet long, spanning across the room. My mother decided that she would have me and my sister knit a scarf like that to use as a prop in the skit. She could have pieced together scarves from a thrift store, but it was the start of another long New York winter and she had two rambunctious little girls stuck indoors much of the time. Setting us to the task of knitting a thirty-foot scarf was a good decision. Wise woman, my mother. I took up knitting in earnest when I was a teenager, but didn’t start dyeing yarn until about five years ago. I’m not entirely sure what bolt of lightning struck me and got me started dyeing, but I was immediately addicted. Two years later, Fearless Fibers was born.
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time?
There was a limit on how much I could do in advance given the demands of my job, but I did some research, roughed out a business plan, got my business license and DBA (Doing Business As), opened accounts with suppliers, etc. I also spent some time brushing up on the business side of things (accounting, taxes, marketing, etc). I set aside a certain amount to start the business and a certain amount to live for a period of time, and I also set firm financial goals (threats to myself really!) that I would need to reach to justify continuing the business. Much of my plans changed over time, but it was really helpful to have at least some idea of where I wanted to go and how I might get there.
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
The yarn business is pretty unique in this aspect. There’s a huge online knitting community and it seems that every other knitter out there has a blog of their own. This makes marketing a bit easier, because word of mouth spreads naturally and easily as customers post photos and links of purchases and projects they complete. I call it “Word of Click,” and it’s a powerful thing. There are also lots of knitting and crochet forums online, some with reasonably priced advertising available.
It’s difficult to think of a general marketing tip, since every shop will be somewhat unique in what works for them. I guess my general tip would be to try to be focused in your efforts. Don’t just jump on every social networking site or every Etsy Team or every business card swap that you see. Go ahead and try a mix of things, but take the time to evaluate what works for you, continue what works best and don’t bother with the rest. Spending two hours a day “promoting” seems like a really bad idea to me. I’ve found it more effective to spend an hour or two a week on “marketing” in a focused and meaningful way.
Would you walk us through what a typical workday might entail?
There is no typical day and I like it that way!
- About the only constant in my days is that I get up early (usually by 6:00 a.m.), deal with any e-mails or orders that came in overnight, and get right to dyeing usually before 7:00.
- I spend the first few hours of the day dyeing and then the remainder of my day is all over the place.
- I only work about six hours a day right now, but I usually work seven days a week.
- By starting at 6:00, that means that by around 10:00 a.m. I have plenty of flexibility to spend a little while working on the books and then go outside and play with my dog (whose name, btw, is Indie, in honor of all of my fellow Etsy sellers).
- Spend fifteen minutes answering e-mail and then knit for a while.
- Spend twenty minutes labeling products or packaging orders, and then I do some vacuuming.
It’s a very relaxed and flexible schedule.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
I love everything about yarn and knitting, so just having that as a core part of my daily life rather than something I have to squeeze in is great. I also love the challenge of running a business. t’s certainly not easy to start up and run a micro business successfully, but that’s half the fun of it. I miss some of the people I used to work with and once in a while I miss the intellectual challenges, but that’s about it.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself, knowing what you know now?
My advice to myself would probably be to start sooner. I took too long worrying about whether it was “fair” to my husband to take such a risk, and whether it was too irresponsible. I should have dived in sooner.
I know a lot of folks dream about taking the plunge, but their personal circumstances aren’t right for that at the moment. My advice to them would be to step back and figure out what you can do now to prepare yourself, particularly from the “business” standpoint. Do you need to learn more about some aspect of running a business? It’s more than just your product that needs to be ready; arm yourself with the skills you need to run a business successfully so that you’re ready if and when the moment is right to do it.
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year?
I’ve got a Spring Lace Club launching for sign ups starting in early February and I’m really excited about it (and, of course, have goals for membership on that). I’m planning a reintroduction of cashmere to my line soon, and I also hope to have fiber for spinning later this year. Basically, I just plan to keep driving forward, keep my shop fresh and interesting with new things to entice yarn and fiber lovers, and hopefully make it through these rough economic times!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Just “Thank You” to the Etsy Admin and all of the buyers and sellers here for making Etsy a great place both to sell and, of course, to shop!
Thanks to Deb for sharing her story and business with us! Check out the related items below to see some of her work.
You can find some of our previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.