Jen, a.k.a. Jstephens13, quit her pharmacy day job in order to be able to stay at home with her new baby. It wasn’t until her husband quit his day job in order to go to nursing school that she began supporting the family through her Etsy shop. She claims to be the toughest boss she’s had to date and finds it hard to take a break, even while on vacation. Jen remains humble, advises not to set unrealistic goals, and swears her best marketing tool is a quality product.
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
It all started with the Bedazzler… remember that? Making jeans look super hot and hand-me-down jean jackets look even cooler. I was never the proud owner of a Bedazzler, but I think that made it all the more fascinating. From there, my mother and I dabbled in every craft form, from hair bows to puff paint. We were always creating! In college I started to sew seriously. I knew I would marry my husband the night I wore a hideous handmade-from-an-old-sweatshirt-one-sleeved top and he still wanted to dance with me.
The FIRST class I ever ditched was my junior year in college when I had to bind off a knitting project. My adviser was so worried (I had literally never missed a class) that he called my dorm room. Instead of being creeped out by the call I was happy to announce my new sweater and he was happy that I was alive.
Crafting isn’t just a hobby for me, it defines me. When identifying an era in my life, I always think in terms of what the current craft was.
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
The deed had already been done. Two weeks after the birth of my son, I gave notice to the job “that I could never leave” and started to redefine myself as a mom instead of a career woman. What I didn’t know however was that my husband would soon leave his job to go back to school for nursing. I joked that when you asked me to interview for this column, it was ONLY because there was no column named “you and your husband quit your day jobs and one of you goes back to school full time.” I imagine that would be a mouthful for an article title, and we are probably the only family crazy enough to try and make it work.
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time?
After years of gifting handmade, and people harping on me to start a store or a design company of my own, I was peer-pressured by my aunt to give Etsy a try. So, I would say to prepare, I fulfilled my own selfish need to create art and to give it to unsuspecting victims. That was great practice for actually starting my own shop. I also spent about $20 at the Salvation Army to outfit myself with a Singer sewing machine and a lifetime of vintage thread.
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
I am REALLY old fashioned! The best form of marketing is having a great quality product! I have always believed that what’s on the inside COUNTS THE MOST (in life and in sewing)… so my bags often have really beautiful liners and every detail is given attention! I did start a blog and personal web page and that seems to get plenty of action. I used the template provided through Weebly, I get the “free” business cards from VistaPrint, I purchased a LOVELY avatar and banner from Etsy shop ThompsonDesigns, and I buy all my wonderful labels from Etsy shop RememberWynn.
Walk us through your typical workday.
A typical day does not exist in my house. Every day does include the following however:
- 6 diapers
- 4 baby meals
- 2 dog meals
- 6 adult meals (when squeezed in)
- 3 walks around the neighborhood
- 1 sweep clean through the house
- 2 sewing sessions (if Axel naps)
- 3 runs of the Elmo in Grouchland movie
- 7 calls to my mother (for moral support)
- LOADS of new ideas that I have to write down before I forget
- DANCING with my boys EVERY NIGHT before bed
- LAUGHING till we fall asleep
- And a glass of wine when needed…
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
My co-workers consist of Jahred (my husband) and Nana (my grandma). Not many people call their grandma a colleague. I am SOOO lucky to have a family that is with me on this hoop dream! Nana gives me constant ideas, constructive criticism and is a wiz with the Pellon interfacing!
My relationship with Jahred has always been project oriented and this keeps us on our toes and keeps us from worrying about the little things in life. Art is a positive force in our house and we are so happy to be raising our son in a family where we are home a lot and also get in TONS of experiential learning!
I really miss the pharmacy I worked for and our patients. Although people comment on a beautiful bag, or high quality stitching, it just isn’t the same as knowing you are taking excellent care of some one’s sweetheart. I learned a lot from the people of the community. The creativity I use now is fabulous, but my day job was much more intellectual. However, I have filled the void with reading, blogging and journaling. I also have more time to develop my clothesline techniques (darn bird poop) and playing in the dirt with Axel.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
I am the toughest boss I have ever had, hands down. It’s hard to just take a break. Most weekends the sewing machine comes with me out of town and this once computer-illiterate girl is now connected all the time.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
I would tell myself to do it all again. I am so glad I allowed myself to let go of the career side of my life and start living the intrinsic art part of my life. Being a starving artist isn’t that bad! I’m not recommending people just go quitting their day job on a whim, but if the situation presents itself, just be open to the opportunity.
- There are lots of concerns about being self-insured, paying your own taxes and stuff like that, but there are plenty of people you may already know who can help you with those things. I have learned, and I would advise others, to stop micro-managing your life and just breathe. It feels good to worry less and dream more.
- Don’t set unrealistic goals, know what you are good at and stay true to yourself. Handmade comes from the heart and it is created to fill a need. Be proud of yourself!
- Don’t spend a lot of money getting yourself off the ground. Start small…just like in 2nd grade math when you couldn’t use a calculator. You don’t need the big guns right away… start with the basics, you might fall in love with them and find higher-end technology is overrated.
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
I never expect to get rich quick, or “be discovered.” I just want to keep sewing on my $20 Salvation Army sewing machine and connect over fabric talk with Nana. One of the first typewriter key bracelets I made had the word “grateful.” I hope to live up to the definition of grateful. Jahred has 15 months of school left and then you can all expect a HUGE sale in my Etsy shop.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I really need to thank my family, and I have to say that if they would have bought me that Bedazzler years ago, I don’t think I would be where I am today. The “chase” of the art is always the best. Thanks for not always giving in, but making me reach further.
Thanks to Jen for sharing her story. Have your own questions to ask? Come on by and chat with her Wednesday, July 22 at 3 p.m. ET in Etsy’s Virtual Labs.
You can see some of Jen’s beautiful work in the related items. Check out previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.