Brandi and Brent of kukubee once only imagined the possibility of quitting their day jobs to pursue their artistic dreams. It took little more than six months of Etsy sales before they were able to say goodbye to the daily grind to keep up with their newfound Etsy success. Brandi and Brent stress the importance of branding, using Etsy’s resources and sporting their wares as some of their best tips for success. Read on for more insights from this resourceful pair.
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
Brandi: I’ve been making things my whole life, actually. My grandmother taught me how to crochet when I was eight years old and I began making clothes for my dolls right away! My parents encouraged my creativity very early on, so I always had a project going of some kind. Once kukubee was born, creating products seemed very natural to me.
Brent: My earliest memories involving art go back to when I was about 8 years old and my daddy would bring home stacks of paper from work for us to draw on. I have always had dreams of becoming a cartoonist with my own Sunday funnies strip. I soon realized I wasn’t even a little bit funny, so I had to resort to becoming an artist instead.
Tell us about your previous working situation.
Brandi: I was working for a community college in the finance department. Although I adored the students and my co-workers (most of ’em!), it wasn’t my dream job at all. I think most creative-minded people will say that working a 9-5 isn’t really cut out for them. It’s certainly the case with me.
Brent: Before going full-time with art, I used to take portions of cheese from larger bags and put them into smaller bags for ten hours a day. As much satisfaction as one can derive from such an occupation, bigger-to-smaller-bag-cheese-portioner just wasn’t the career for me.
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
Brandi: Of course! I never thought I’d be able to do it within six months of starting on Etsy, though. We started out really slow. We had two sales our first month, I think. We were pretty excited to have sold anything at all! I think initially we thought it was going to be a much slower climb to the sales goal we had set for ourselves, and we were totally okay with that. In July I started realizing I was running out of hours when I got home from work to sew the volume of pouches we were selling. We were faced with the decision of quitting the day job pretty quickly, but I honestly wouldn’t change a thing about how it happened. Our success on Etsy so far has been an awesome experience and welcomed surprise!
Brent: I had quit my day job prior to selling on Etsy. In a risky move, I quit my job at the restaurant I worked for to become an artist without having a single job or lead in the industry. I spent months and months unemployed before I scored my first art gig illustrating for a greeting card company. However, one learns a lot about one’s own strengths and weaknesses during this time of fear and doubt. One also becomes very, very good at Mario Kart.
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time? Feel free to give us the nitty gritty business details.
Brent and Brandi: We used to spend hours in this local coffee shop writing and sketching out ideas. We’re both such creative, positive people that it’s extremely easy to feed off of each other. (Being soulmates helps!) We made an extensive, prioritized list of what we felt needed to be done and researched before we officially started listing items. Then we just started marking items off as we went: applying for a business license, researching packaging and supplies options, ordering business cards… We actually started our Etsy shop in January 2009, but didn’t start listing items until April. It honestly took those three months to feel prepared enough to open.
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
Brandi: If you make jewelry, wear it! If you make bags, use them! Everywhere I go, I wear or take something kukubee-related with me. It’s a great way to start talking about what you do when someone asks about an item you’re carrying (and they WILL ask!). I used to be really shy, but now I have no problem striking up conversations with complete strangers! It just takes some practice. Be proud of your craft and make sure to carry a stack of business cards with you.
Brent: Branding! A strong brand keeps you memorable amidst a sea of similar, competing products online. When people leave our shop we want them to remember us for the next time they’re looking to buy cute pouches. We try to unify our brand using similar characters, style, and color throughout our entire online presence: in our Etsy shop, on our own website, and our Twitter. When people think of our shop, we don’t want them thinking, “Remember that shop with those little vampire zipper pouches and some were blue and some were red and some had a bunny and some had those zombies and pandas…” We hope they’re thinking, “Remember Kukubee?”
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
Brandi: So far, so good! We haven’t even been selling a year yet, so it’s hard to tell if anything has really been unsuccessful. We’ve been pretty fortunate in terms of promotion.
Walk us through your typical workday.
- Brandi: I’m usually up a few hours before Brent, so I spend the morning drinking coffee (priorities, right?) and packaging up the previous day’s orders for the afternoon mail run.
- After that I answer any convos, relist items and check the Virtual Labs schedule.
- I start sewing in the early afternoon and sometimes don’t stop until well after midnight!
- Brent and I both are night owls, so our most creative hours are anywhere from 12 a.m. to 4 a.m. We usually reserve that time for sketching new ideas or discussing future projects together.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
Brent: I miss my fingers.
Brandi: I can honestly say that my favorite part is NOT having to hit my alarm at 6:00 a.m. and think “WHYYYYYYYYYYY?!” Keeping my own hours is definitely a plus, but also requires a little more structure than I originally thought. It took a little while to get into an efficient, yet comfortable, routine (which I’m constantly trying to improve!). I do miss the social aspects of my day job. The students and staff I used to work with are truly amazing people with such interesting stories. I’ll never forget them!
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
Brandi: For me, it’s knowing that the work is ALWAYS here. I love what I do so much that I forget that it’s been hours since I looked up from the sewing machine. Sometimes Brent has to remind me to take a break (which usually consists of reading, video-gaming or baking). If I ever start to feel even a tiny bit stressed out, Brent is SO good at making sure I step away for a bit to relax. Our family is also really supportive when kukubee gets super busy. My mom has stayed up really late to help me print mailing labels and package orders, and Brent’s sisters come over sometimes and stay for hours to help us with orders, too. I don’t know what we’d do without any of them!
Brent: The hardest part is being held accountable for every facet of your business: the day-to-day duties such as placing orders for supplies, preparing mailing material and bookkeeping that can easily be overlooked when first starting out. I also sell art in my other Etsy shop, meowza, so I also have to make sure I have supplies stocked for that shop as well. I guess the hardest part about being held accountable for every aspect of a business is not being able to blame anyone but yourself when something goes wrong. By the way, we have an opening in our studio for a Head Scapegoat.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
Brandi: Hey, self…don’t use hair dye from a box anymore! Seriously, though…there isn’t much I would change about how everything happened. Maybe I would tell myself to start earlier! As far as advice for others: don’t get discouraged when you first start out. The wonderful thing about having an Etsy shop is that you can go at your own pace. It’s YOUR business. If your sales seem slow, stay positive and use your downtime to dream up new ideas for your shop!â€¨
Brent: If I could go back in time, I would tell myself, “Just do it!” It’s so easy to scrutinize and doubt any idea for a design or product you may have, especially when starting. Just remember, your brain doesn’t have an allotted maximum-awesome-idea count. If one idea doesn’t work, do another! Also, I’d make sure to grab a sports almanac.
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
Brandi: I hope to be able to build up enough inventory so I can focus on creating new products for our Etsy shop. I’d love to be able to regularly list kukubee tote bags (they take a long time to make) and still have time to try out different patterns for other merchandise as well. I’m also looking into some eco-friendly fabrics to use with our designs. Adding those to our product line is also something I’d like to accomplish this year.
Brent: Earlier in the year we were creating a number of time-intensive personalized fabric designs from scratch before we got too busy to keep up with the requests. We conceptualized a system which would make it easier for a user (and much easier for us) to customize a fabric design for use in our products using a series of templates. I’d love to finalize this system in the coming year to bring more personalized designs into our shop!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Brandi: Etsy has an amazing amount of resources for sellers. Spend as much time as you possibly can educating yourself by browsing the Forums or attending a few Virtual Labs. I frequent the Virtual Labs as often as time will allow and still learn new things every time I attend! It’s a great way to connect with other crafters with tons of helpful advice. I’ve been so impressed with the Etsy community and their willingness to help sellers succeed. You’re awesome. Every single one of you!
Brent: I graduated from the same high school as Colin Mochrie.
Thanks to Brandi and Brent for sharing their story. You can see some of their work in the Related Items. Check out previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.