Bobbi of kittygrrlz was able to quit her day job as a full time librarian in order to take on the growing success of her fiber line on Etsy. Though she is putting in more time and work than she ever did at her regular job, Bobbi finds being her own boss much more rewarding. Keep reading as she shares her best and worst marketing tips and learn why she swears against taking any product photos before noon on a sunny day!
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
When I was in high school, I actually worked for my friend’s parents who were crafters. I stuffed bear legs and painted little wood parts! It was a lot of fun and my first experience with crafting for a living. My business started in 2004. I was a librarian at a college library. I enjoyed the job, but it lacked some of the creative aspects that my previous jobs had – I had been a Children’s and Young Adult librarian and there were usually programs and crafts involved. I was looking for a creative outlet. I started making jewelry. In November of 2004, I did the DIY Trunk Show in Chicago and I learned how to knit there. By the next year, I was selling hand knits, and the year after that I learned how to spin. By early 2007, I was selling hand spun yarn and hand knits. Business-wise, though, I started with the idea it was a business and not a hobby. Even when I was first making jewelry I did all of the official things – registered my business, received my tax id number, set up a website, etc. Oh, and I should add that it was a fellow librarian who first introduced me to Etsy!
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
I don’t know if I necessarily went into it thinking I would quit my library job and craft full time, but I definitely went into it with the mindset that it was a business. I liked my librarian job, so wasn’t looking for an escape from a miserable existence, but was definitely searching for a fulfilling creative outlet. I began selling jewelry and at that point didn’t quite “feel it.” But, once I started knitting, and definitely when I started spinning yarn – well, then I KNEW I had found my place and KNEW it could lead to something bigger. Something just clicked with the spinning and that is when things really started to take off. I’d say at the end of 2007/beginning of 2008, I knew that it could potentially become my full time job, which worked out really well, because it was at that time I found out my job would be ending in June of 2008. Thus began 6 months of debating and figuring and in the end – I became a knitter and spinner full time July 1, 2008!
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time?
Since I had gone into it initially as a business, the transition to full time was a little easier. I had already established myself as a business and had been doing things accordingly. Plus, I did have 6 months to plan and figure out what else I needed to do to make it work full time. I had saved up some money and applied for a ton of shows that year, since I still had the additional income from the day job coming in to pay for them. I also spent a bit more on advertising during that time and accumulated a nice stash of fiber and materials for spinning. This was a blessing because my inventory is very low right now and that surplus has helped me keep my shop from becoming totally empty.
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
Ravelry has been a dream for spinners and yarn dyers! It is a perfect place to advertise because it is exactly our target market – knitters and crocheters! I do advertise heavily there. I have also done other advertising, though since I’m now on a much smaller and stricter budget do stick mostly to Ravelry and other “free” ways to get my name out there. Knitters aren’t my only customer base, so there are other things I need to do to try and reach more of those customers. My advice to others is to find advertising that truly reaches your target market.
This was my advertising plan:
The first year or so I stuck mostly to Etsy. I did lots of Showcases, promoted in the Forums, maybe blogged a bit, and sent in promotional mini-skein key chains to those who asked for items for swag bags or giveaways. The second year or so, I started to advertise outside of Etsy – Ravelry, Knitty.com, and some of the Cooperative Advertising opportunities via Etsy. And now, I’ve scaled back and try to do focused advertising and some promotional giveaways here and there. For example, I recently contributed to the Phat Fiber Sample box for the months of January and February.
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
Oddly enough, I don’t usually do well with sale promotions, though my newsletter subscriber specials do usually bring in sales each month. But, regular Etsy sales – like the SNS (Saturday Night Special) thread – were never very successful for me. I’m also not a big fan of social networking. I am in all the usual places – Flickr, MySpace, IndiePublic, and now Facebook – but don’t feel I have enough time to really invest in them as promotional tools. I love Flickr, but I use it mostly as an archive of my yarns. Ravelry also has forums which are great, but I just can’t afford to spend a lot of time there. In the end, it is more cost-effective for me to simply pay for advertising than to frequent their forums.
Another thing I’d like to mention, and I hope this is okay to bring up, but something that I just didn’t feel worked for me was having my own outside website! I had it from the beginning, before Etsy, but finally gave it up last fall. Since I am not a web designer, I felt it sucked away a lot of my time, energy, and stress, for a very minimal return. While I watched my Etsy sales soar last year, the sales on my own site were stagnant despite similar advertising. So, when I had some technical issues in October that I just couldn’t resolve, I decided to give it up. I still have a landing page, but it is a nice portal that now links to my Etsy shops, blog, and Flickr. It contains the pertinent information I had on my site – my show listings, contact link, and newsletter subscription link – and is much easier to maintain. This allows me more time to focus on actually listing and selling my items on Etsy, which is where I seem to thrive.
Walk us through your typical workday.
Initially, I had dreams of having a very structured work day (I DO like organization), similar to when I had my day job. But, right off the bat, this dream shattered. I fought it for awhile, knowing that all the advice says to have “structure,” etc., but now that I have let go of this unrealistic expectation, I get a lot more done. The following is what I do in a day, but the day may be from 6am – 12midnight, or from 12noon – 6 am! Whatever is working for me that day or week!
- Post Office – I make one trip daily (except for Sundays) to the Post Office, usually early in the morning, though this has started to get a bit later. I always try and get there before noon, though. I live within 3 miles of 2 of them, so this is never a problem. I print all my labels online via Paypal or USPS.com, which also means I can go at 2am if that is what suits my schedule.
- Taking pictures and doing listings. I try and list every day. The best light in our apartment is right around mid-day, so I usually take pictures around 11-12, edit them, and then list my items. No matter what my daily schedule looks like, I try to stick to this because of the lighting. Sometimes, on cloudy days, I may take pictures earlier, but on sunny days – never before noon!
- Prepping fiber and spinning yarns. No matter when my day starts, I always try and get in at least 8 hours of prepping fiber and/or spinning time. There are some days where the time is minimal due to other things going on – maybe getting ready for a show, listings that take longer than normal, replying to emails or custom requests, etc. Then there are other days where I may spin for 10-12 hours. Also, I try and spin at least one yarn every day, which means I work 7 days a week.
- Other duties as assigned! I spend time each day going over my spreadsheet, updating it with sales/purchases, inventory, etc. I check my email throughout the day, reply as needed. I’ve found that it is better if I do this in chunks instead of as they come in – I sit with my laptop right next to my wheel which means I can refresh my mail often. At first, I would read and answer emails as they came in, but found the constant interruptions weren’t very efficient. Now I will reply only to urgent issues and all others during my “breaks.”
The thing I enjoy most about not having a day job? Everything! I love not having to drive to work (especially in Wisconsin winters), I love being able to work when I want to (though don’t let this fool you – I still have to work, but if I want to work at 2am then so be it!), and I love that I can do something creative, something that I love doing, and that I can make things other people want to buy. The thing I miss most about my day job? The steady paycheck! I also sometimes miss my coworkers and our birthday lunches.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
Definitely have more money saved and definitely be more prepared for taxes! Also, I wouldn’t have spent so much time beating myself up over the fact that I couldn’t get back to my original day-job work schedule. While expert advice is great, you still need to find what works best for you, your situation, and the way you work.
My advice? Don’t do it! Just kidding. Sort of. This is a tough economy and I hope anyone who is thinking about taking the plunge really makes sure they are ready for it – it is HARD WORK. I work much more and much harder than I ever did when I had a regular job. Also, be prepared for the fact that it IS work. It might be something you love doing, but will you still love it if you HAVE to do it to put food on the table? No matter how much I love spinning and knitting – if I don’t do it, I don’t make any money, which means I can’t pay my bills and that definitely changes things.
One little thing I still do – even after 800+ sales – I still get excited when I sell something! I still run and tell my boyfriend – I just sold some yarns! 🙂 And do my little “YAY! I sold something!” dance. Why? Because I feel keeping that joy and excitement of selling is crucial to keeping it from becoming “a grind,” from becoming too much like a regular job. It helps me keep perspective and keep things fun.
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
Each month I hope to sell more than that month of the previous year. That’s just a simple numbers goal. I hope to continue to make enough to do this full time. I’d like to come up with some new styles of yarns. But, really, my goals are simple and that is to keep doing what I’m doing and grow a little more each month.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’m very grateful to have an outlet like Etsy to sell my items. If it weren’t for Etsy, I don’t think I’d be doing this full time. So, THANK YOU, Etsy and THANK YOU to all of my wonderful customers!
Please join Bobbi for a follow-up Question and Answer session this Tuesday, April 7th, 2009 at 3pm EDT in the Auditorium room of the Virtual Labs (the VL schedule is magically in your local time). See you there!
You can find some of our previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.