Nick and Kimber, the mother and father team behind littlesaplingtoys, have managed to quit both their regular day jobs and support themselves, along with their two children, due to their business success on Etsy. They’ve been selling their wooden toys on Etsy for just under two years. With previous careers in historical preservation and insurance companies, both Nick and Kimber took their time planning and saving for their transition into a full-time small business. Read on to hear their answers to our Quit Your Day Job questions — they talk about the steps they took to plan out their venture and which marketing tips have worked best for their business along the way.
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
Nick: It began as an innocent obsession with Lego bricks. I loved building anything my imagination came up with. As I got older, things evolved with me. It wasn’t until I worked at a woodworking store that I really came to see the beauty of wood. I love every piece of wood: the way the grain flows, the color, the way that it transforms when it’s finished. My first woodworking project was a 2’ x 2’ butcher block for our second anniversary. I never get sick of looking at and refinishing it.
Kimber: For me, true creative delight is in my mind. I love ideas, brainstorming, scribbling, discussing and sketching with a batch of stove-top popcorn. As a child, I collaborated with my lil’ brother to design a computer game that my dad agreed to program. I wrote a song with a friend consisting of the lyrics “Oh Baby” and dreamed about the day it would hit the radio. I started a business from my Trapper Keeper observing my peers on the playground and then selling the information I collected. I made Clarissa Explains It All inspired jewelry and sold it at my mom’s craft show tables. I collected flowers and berries to crush on a cement barrier to make perfume. I wrote for my high school and junior college paper, selling my personal humiliation for laughs. I’ve taken on baking, sewing, gardening, woodworking, and countless other endeavors because I love a good idea.
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
We were living above a chocolate shop in Old Town Eureka, CA while Nick worked for Crestmark Architectural Millwork and studied Historical Preservation and Restoration. I decided to go to school after Rex was born instead of returning to the insurance office where I previously worked. Everything changed when we received an invitation to caretake a house with a shop for two years. During that time we each attended school, started Little Sapling Toys, had a second baby and finally moved to a different state. Everything happened so fast that it’s hard to remember just what we expected. Our goal was for Little Sapling Toys to be successful, but we didn’t expect Etsy to be the sole reason for making it so.
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time?
The most important things we did:
- Economize — We projected our income and started to live on that amount. This helped us to save a bit of money for the initial jump. Our budget is limited and we assess wants and needs thoroughly.
- Trial — On days off from school and the office, we worked full-time schedules to test our capabilities. It’s important to know your production potential. This helped us to see if our plans would be sustainable and to streamline processes.
- Education — We took all of the free classes at the local Small Business Development Center and were then eligible to use their free one-on-one counseling services. We traded with other Etsy sellers to form relationships and gain mentors. Most of our schooling has been through trial, error and success.
- Legalize — We got all of the licenses, permits, identifications and insurance that we needed, and then again when we relocated. It can all be a big pain, but necessary and helpful.
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
Nick: My goal is to get Little Sapling Toys to as many people as possible because they really speak for themselves.
Kimber: Sales usually increase when we list new designs. I relist often, try different photos and let Etsy do most of the dirty work. I keep multiple quantities in the listings so that when we are featured on Etsy it is visible longer. We occasionally offer free shipping on our lighter items and had great fortune when we were featured in Etsy’s Weekend Deals. We’ve just started a new blog, which is still in its experimental phase. On Twitter (@sparetimeflies) and our Facebook fan page, I share daily tips for play, parenting, and child development.
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
Nick: Christmas ornaments. They took a lot of time and we only sold one of each (to Kimber’s mom — thanks, Lori!). It seemed like such a good idea, miniature Little Sapling Toys for baby’s first Christmas, who wouldn’t want that?
Kimber: We don’t get many direct sales from sponsoring blog reviews, giveaways and fundraisers, but I still agree to do them once in a while. At first, we peddled our toys directly to shops in person and left a lot of samples. We wasted a lot of time and money. With Etsy, we can just wait for them to contact us.
- Nick: Our days are hardly typical, but they usually have some similar elements: Snuggle and playtime with family, shop time, audiobooks, putting the kids down for naps, eating, USPS (by bike when we’re on schedule), and lots and lots of sawdust.
- Kimber: We wake and immediately begin to juggle eating oatmeal, answering convos, emails, children’s bodily functions, the shop list, Facebook, Twitter, personal hygiene and the like. If we’re not too swamped and the weather is agreeable, we’ll take a family bike ride along the greenbelt. Rex and Daphne time until lunch. Eat together and naps for the little ‘uns. Convos, shipping labels, packaging, photos, emails, phone calls, bookkeeping and designing toys until Rex, the ball of energy, zooms back into action. Juggle work, Rex, Daphne, dinner, the inevitable phone call and household tasks. Dinner together, play together, kids in bed, Nick back to the shop and work until exhaustion takes me. Sunday we rest.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
Nick: Even though I work 10+ hours a day, I love that it’s flexible. I love that my commute is 34 steps from the front door to the garage/shop. Mostly, I love all the time I spend with my family. The last few day jobs I had were great though, a woodworking store and then as a cabinetmaker. I miss those co-workers and am grateful for what I learned there.
Kimber: I love to design new toys! I wish they could be manufactured right out of my brain. I’m addicted to the pride of a job well done. We love books but have little time for reading, so we’re nearly always listening to audiobooks. There is absolutely nothing I miss about an office, but I would prefer to spend every moment completely focused on Rex and Daphne.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
Nick: I have a hard time always being innovative, keeping myself out of a rut, and from falling back on the same old things. All the menial everyday tasks also wear me down.
Kimber: A dissatisfied customer! With all the energy that we put into everything we do, it is just miserable to find out someone was disappointed.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
Start bookkeeping with your first dollar. Listen to input. Always get delivery confirmation. Accept help from friends and family. Hire help when needed. Carefully price products, especially if you plan to wholesale. Step back from day-to-day tasks to look at the big picture. Organize while things are manageable. Go to your local Small Business Development Center.
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
Our goals include our own website, new developmental toys, a more efficient shipping system and to have a small inventory. We’re also opening an interesting little shop at cabbageandpopcorn!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Nick: Thank you to my parents for your support and frequent purchases. Thank you to all our customers, I love to hear about your children playing with our toys and see pictures of your babies drooling on our teethers.
Kimber: A big hug to our past and future customers! A high five to every friend and family member who has helped this year. Thumbs up to bloggers for spreading the word. I’ll give a few more thanks by way of links:
Our logo and subsequent branding: 622press, Elle was there at the very beginning: latestendeavor, our first Etsy mentor: thosegreathousewomen, and most of all my dad, who does beautiful woodwork with our block scraps: dapperscrapper.
Thanks to Nick and Kimber for sharing their story. Have your own questions to ask? Come on by and chat with them Wednesday, September 9 at 5 p.m. ET in Etsy’s Virtual Labs.
You can see some of Nick and Kimber’s beautiful work in the Related Items. Check out previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.