Joe and Amy of littlealouette are successfully supporting their family selling their simple natural wooden toys on Etsy. With backgrounds in carpentry, furniture making, education, and politics, this duo melded their collective skills into a business they never dreamed would take them this far. They both admit being their own boss is the toughest work they have known, but find balance in taking time out from work each day to spend quality time together with their children. Keep reading to find out why Joe misses his daily lunch outings at bistros and pubs and why they both claim a British accent and wicked grin have been one of their best marketing tools to date.
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
Joe is a master craftsman who apprenticed in the North of England where he grew up. He became a self-employed bespoke furniture maker. When he moved to the states he worked in carpentry. I worked in education and politics after university, but always found myself spending time on artistic projects and volunteering in local art charities or working with local arts councils. Joe made me furniture and I would create gifts for family and friends. I would write poetry about Joe’s hands and what they could make. I still do. Joe began making simple toys for our first child and the rest is history.
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
Not really. We thought it would be extra money for our family; we were in the middle of a very hard financial time as we juggled two mortgages while trying to sell an investment property in a very still market here in Ohio. We knew that our family and friends loved what we were making for our kids and for others so we thought we would make some money, but never did we realize that we would make a whole new life.
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time?
Always adapting and growing, it has been an organic process and a juggling act with two small boys and a passionate marriage. While it’s been quite fluid, we have learned that sometimes you just have to roll with it. It requires loads of paperwork and time, so planning ahead is important. We stepped down our spending and live with frugality and perseverance. Lastly, asking for advice and help was and is so important!
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business?
I am a blogger and this has helped me a lot with meeting others and spreading the word. We have a Twitter account (@littlealouette) and a cool Tumblr blog for Little Alouette with daily parenting tips and inspiration (we are always looking for guest parents)! We have a Facebook page and I have a big mouth! Joe is not a big Internet individual. He has a smart phone and sometimes uses Facebook, but he relies on me to work the magic on the Internet. He carries a stack of business cards, his British accent, and a wicked grin. We get a lot of sales from him. I like to work with other bloggers for giveaways from time to time and there are a lot of really great blogs and sites you can advertise on to find your audience. Etsy has been incredibly helpful with the light it has shined on us. The whole world is in love with Etsy and it is amazing to be a part of this family of artists.
What have you found to be unsuccessful promotion?
We came up with an idea of keys and key sets that we named after a great customer’s daughter. The keys were a big hit! You know how babies and kids love to play with and chew on your keys? Well, we also thought that kids love other everyday items like remote controls — so we made a remote control rattle and no one bought one. We may try again in the future for some everyday life items. You have to try things!
What’s your best marketing tip?
- Believe in yourself.
- Know that you are amazing and groovy and smashing!
- Be able to talk about your business freely and with anyone.
- Changing up photos and keeping the shop full works well for us!
- We like to offer our customers free shipping and codes and deals.
- I think Twitter is excellent for this type of promotion, but just try and remember that Twitter is a give and take and it is a great place to interact and get to know your customers — not just a place to hawk your wares.
Walk us through your typical workday.
Most days are different — some days in the indie life are diamonds and some are not. Yesterday was like this:
- 6:30 a.m.: Blaise, our two-year-old screamed, “Mama! Mama!” for about ten minutes until we brought him into our bed. We woke up Finn, our five-year-old, and had breakfast and the first of several pots of coffee together. We walked Finn to half-day kindergarten and then we all went off to the gym for an hour. We played with Blaise after a good stress-relieving workout until time to collect Finn from school.
- We had lunch as a family and then Daddy went to the workshop. The kiddos had naps and I worked on Little Alouette.
- I talked to people all over the world, mailed samples, answered emails and Convos, and worked on new packaging.
- I made a cake while doing this all. I love working from home!
- The kids got up and I took off the Wood Queen crown and became Mom again. I rolled to the playground and then to the post office and then hosted a play date at our house. I used my BlackBerry to relist some items and chat with customers. I taught my children about Jackson Pollock. I sketched a new toy while the kids went down the slide.
- One thing that is constant is that when Joe comes home from work in the evening, we are diligent about putting the work away. The kids get us all. They get the attention and energy and everything. When they go to bed we must work more and it takes a lot of effort, but we must if we want to keep this balance. We do not have TV. This is a big help!
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
My family has eaten most meals together in the last two years. This is amazing. When we both worked outside the home it was rare that I got home before 7 p.m. We ate in shifts and smashed quality time into 1.5 hours. I missed some milestones of my oldest son. I rushed. My husband drove far too fast in his truck. We raced through life. Now we are slower. More deliberate. This is important. The way it feels to just go to the park on a Wednesday at 2 p.m. with my whole family. The freedom to schedule out a day that works for you is exhilarating. The way it feels to know that we are instilling hard work values and an entrepreneurial spirit into our children. We are showing them that even in the middle of your life, you can change gears and do something that makes you feel good. You can follow dreams big or small. Telling strangers about Little Alouette feels stellar!
I miss tons of people and the energy all around me. I worked with so many people in my old career. I miss adult interaction. I often find myself discussing new ideas and wholesale accounts with my five-year-old. He looks at me funny. Joe says he misses lunching out at bistros and pubs. I make him eat healthy lunches at home now. We miss our old insurance. But nothing can take away the reality of being with each other so much. It is gorgeous.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
Heavy shoulders. The paperwork and responsibility that come with this lifestyle are quite hefty. Organization is a sick and dirty word for me. We are learning to keep receipts and may even graduate to a file system this winter! We never stop working. The fatigue is tough at times. No one tells you to stop. You may not sleep properly.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
Listen to advice and take it! My pal took me out for drinks last fall and told me my business was going to take off and I should get myself in order. I remember laughing about it then, but it has taken off. Be ready for what you want because you may well get it! Find good business folks like cool insurance agents, lawyers, and smart fellow artist mentors. Surround yourself with goodness. Stay in the light. Be kind and open. When times get tricky, keep focused and believe. Be happy and optimistic and acknowledge that you are lucky to be making art and living off of it in these bleak times.
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
- Work on loads of new ideas and toys.
- Grow the business.
- Perhaps gain an employee.
- Keep babies happy throughout the world.
- Meet more cool Etsy folk in real life.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Thank you so much to Etsy and our customers. We are so blessed and we thank you! We love you! Smooches. Each product is made by hand and usually all the wood is surrounded by cups of tea, laughing children, and disco music so each product will come to you infused with love and bliss!
Thanks to Amy and Joe for sharing their story.
You can see some of their beautiful work in the Related Items. Check out previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.