Karen of kgarnerdesigns first began making jewelry as a creative outlet and project to adorn her bridesmaids. She enjoyed her work in a local egg packaging company and it wasn’t until after her first son was born that she and her husband began considering new options for Karen to be able stay at home full time with their growing family. After opening her Etsy shop as a way to support buying her bead supplies, she found that her online selling success could serve to match and replace her previous full-time income. Karen’s now expecting again and she claims her two biggest challenges are time management and mommy guilt.
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
I think I’ve always been making something. When my four siblings and I were kids, our family did everything: we sewed, knitted, crocheted, baked and gardened, to name a few. My parents have always had a strong DIY mentality and they definitely passed that on to me. I feel a need to create and get restless if I don’t have a project going, or if I can’t see something tangible that I’ve accomplished.
The first jewelry I made was necklace and earring sets for my bridesmaids, almost eleven years ago!
As newlyweds, my husband and I were totally consumed with renovating our first home, so almost all of our free time was spent on some project around the house. I made a few small pieces of jewelry over the years, but didn’t really get serious about it until my son was an infant. I found it to be a great way to relax at night. My collection of supplies grew as I made jewelry for myself and family. I started thinking about selling my jewelry as a way to use up supplies and to justify the money I was spending buying those supplies!
Tell us about your previous working situation.
I liked my job. I worked full time in the accounts receivable department of a local egg packaging company, doing billing and other bookkeeping. It’s a small company, friendly and comfortable compared to the large bank I’d worked for previously. I was happy with the pay and made some really good friends there. If my husband and I hadn’t decided to start a family, I think I’d still be there. I worked there for almost six years before my son came along. I had my heart set on being a stay-at-home mom, but felt I didn’t have a choice about working part time, at the least. After maternity leave, I took a part-time position in the same office, working in a different department. I stuck with it until my son was almost two. I was bored out of my mind at work, and felt like I wasn’t accomplishing anything. Our little guy didn’t really like to sleep. Ever. (He still doesn’t!) We were tired and stressed and knew our arrangement would never work if we wanted to add more children to our family. The pay didn’t seem worth the aggravation or the time I was spending away from home. My husband and I took a hard look at our budget and started working out a way for me to stay home full time.
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
I had hopes! I have always dreamed of finding a way to make my own money, be my own boss and be free from the 9-5. I kept joking to my husband that “my beads will save us” but I had no real idea of how I was going to make that happen. I discovered Etsy and opened my shop, hoping to sell enough to support my bead habit and maybe contribute a little money towards the household bills. I thought it would be wonderful if I could replace my part-time income by selling on Etsy, but I don’t think I ever considered the possibility that I’d replace my previous full-time income, as I’m happy to say I did in 2009! It’s absolutely freeing.
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time, feel free to give us the nitty gritty business details?
We had already planned for me to quit my job to be a full-time stay-at-home mom. I had opened my Etsy shop a few months before, but wasn’t yet making regular sales. We had some savings and had worked out a budget, relying only on my husband’s income. We had recently paid off all debts, aside from our mortgage. Because I was only employed part time I didn’t have many benefits, so we already relied on my husband’s employer for health insurance. I registered my business with my state, applied for my sales tax license and learned some tax basics from an accountant friend at work. The inventory of jewelry I had to list was fairly small — I had only been allotting $10 a week from our new budget to spend on beads and supplies. Once I was no longer working outside the home I had more time and energy to put into my shop and slowly started making more sales. For the first 6-8 months after I opened shop, every cent I took in from a sale went into more supplies to build my inventory.
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
- Keeping my shop fresh with new items or renewing items on Etsy has gotten me the most exposure.
- Adding new items is very important, especially to bring back repeat customers. Give them something new to see if they come back to check out your shop again!
- I also have free listings on several sites that are targeted to women and get a few sales from those.
- Word of mouth from happy customers, especially brides, has brought me new business and that’s a great feeling!
- Good customer service, with reasonable, customer friendly policies is very important.
- I really enjoy my Facebook fan page. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a great place to connect with potential customers or keep in touch with repeat customers.
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion? Have you made any business mistakes you regret?
- I tried blogging and tweeting but didn’t enjoy those and found each to be too time consuming. I find writing to be difficult; it takes me forever and never seems to sound as witty and interesting as I thought it did when I wrote it! It’s difficult to get traffic to a blog, especially if the blogger doesn’t really have a knack for writing!
- I learned to be careful with whom I advertised. Anyone can start a blog or website and sell advertising space. Not everyone can bring a lot of traffic to their page and to your ad. Money spent advertising on a site with no traffic is money lost.
Walk us through your typical workday.
- I typically get up with my son every morning around 7:30.
- While I make coffee and prepare breakfast, I check my shop for overnight sales, relist items and answer any Convos that I’m able to.
- After we eat breakfast and dress for the day, I take care of whatever has priority. Usually, that’s photographing new items or custom pieces I might be working on.
- If I have any orders that need to ship, we’ll run those in to the post office.
- I check my Convos and sales often throughout the day to stay caught up.
- I do most of my work after my son is in bed for the night. He’s asleep by 8, and that’s when I make jewelry, pack orders, try to stay on top of paperwork and, again, communicate with customers. It’s a lot to fit into an evening!
- Most nights, I go to bed around 1 a.m. I try to prepare as many orders for shipping as I can before calling it a night, so all we have to do during the day is make a trip to the post office. If I need him to, my husband is great about taking orders to the post office on his way to work, too.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
I love the freedom! I love being at home with my little guy! He’s three and a half now and so much fun. It’s great to wake up and have the whole day ahead of us. Unless we have an appointment, there is almost no place we ever have to be and I like that. I know what needs to be done and can schedule the day around the priorities. We’re expecting another baby in May and it won’t be too much longer before our son is in school, so I’m really enjoying this time I get to spend with him one on one. I do miss the adult interaction sometimes. But, I get together with a few friends from work every now and then, we’re busy with our families, and I feel I have a balance that works for me. I’ve always been more of a homebody, anyway!
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
After thinking on this question for a while, I have to say there isn’t anything “easy” about running a business! My two biggest challenges are time management and mommy guilt. I have a rather overactive guilt complex! To quote my husband “You’re home with him all day, what do you mean you don’t spend enough time with him?” And, he’s right. When I’m busy, it can be hard to balance family, jewelry and housework. Housework suffers the most! But my husband and I are in this together and he’s wonderful about doing what needs to be done around the house, or watching over our son when I need uninterrupted time to work. Running a business is a huge responsibility, too. I’m solely responsible for the income I bring in. If I slack off, so do sales. It’s not at all like walking into work at the office and being given work to do, with a regular paycheck at the end of the week. Having said that, I wouldn’t want it any other way! While it can be stressful at times, the freedom is irreplaceable.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
- Take yourself seriously, even if no one else does. Be confident. When people ask me what I do, and I tell them “I make jewelry and sell it online,” the typical reaction goes something like this: “Oh…that’s nice…good for you!…” They think it’s a cute hobby I use to keep myself from getting bored as a stay-at-home mom.
- If I had listened to the people who never thought I’d sell a thing (including myself at times) I never would have opened my shop and my family wouldn’t be where we are today. If you think you can do it, go for it!
- Stick with it, stick with it, stick with it! This takes a lot of effort and we’re not all going to start making regular sales overnight. I didn’t. Keep trying new things until you start getting the results you want.
- Don’t waste the slow times. It’s easy to let yourself feel bad when sales are slow. Slow weeks or months are a great time to make and photograph new items, get your paperwork organized and stock up on supplies. Take the time to make a new banner and business cards or freshen your shop by rephotographing some existing items. You’ll feel much better if you’re doing something constructive!
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
I have a lofty goal of doubling my sales this year. I believe that’s possible, but with another child on the way, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make it happen! I plan to close shop for at least six weeks after our daughter is born and I know we’ll all need that time to adjust. I’m not sure if I remember exactly what it’s like to have a newborn! I’ve decided I’ll be content if my sales for 2010 are equal to 2009. I feel that I was in experiment mode for much of 2009 – trying out new products, experimenting with photography and just learning how to best organize myself to get orders out and keep records. Now that I feel things are flowing smoothly, I want to concentrate on filling my shop. Ideally, I’d like to double my listings in time for the 2010 holiday shopping season!
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I couldn’t be happier with the way Etsy has worked out for me so far! This has given our family so much freedom and given me a sense of pride and accomplishment that I’ve never felt working for someone else. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store!
Thanks to Karen for sharing her story. You can see some of Karen‘s beautiful work in the Related Items. Check out previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.