Sue of lulubugjewelry began her Etsy shop as a way to help support her newfound passion for jewelry making using Precious Metal Clay (PMC) jewelry supplies; she never imagined it would be a means to quit her day job. Her previous jobs lent her skills not only in jewelry design and manufacturing, but also the business know-how to eventually run her own business. While she couldn’t be happier being her own boss, Sue had to cut expenses, such as her love of motorcycle racing, to make her dream a reality. Her tip for others considering taking the plunge is to be prepared for less free time and to make sure you love what you do — as you will most likely be working much harder than you ever did for a regular paycheck.
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
I’ve always loved making stuff. I went to art school but didn’t discover metalworking until after I graduated. I loved it so much that I got a job at a small manufacturer of cast gold, silver and bronze jewelry. I’ve worked at several small jewelry companies since then, doing all aspects of manufacturing and most recently design. Working in manufacturing was a great way to build my skills, but grinding, filing and buffing someone else’s jewelry for eight hours a day left me with little desire to do my own work.
Tell us about your previous working situation.
My most recent job was as the designer for a small fabricated jewelry manufacturer. I was the entire art department — I designed and drew plans (in Spanish) for all the jewelry, set up photo shoots (experience that is coming in very handy now), designed and produced all the print materials (including a large 4-color catalog with over 800 photos every year) and designed, built and maintained the company website. Phew — I’m tired just writing all that. It should have been a dream job, but for a variety of reasons was pretty much the exact opposite. Despite the misery, anger and despair, I did learn a lot in the seven years I was there that is very helpful to me now.
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
No, not at all! I’ve always liked having a regular paycheck and never thought about being self-employed. I started doing my own work again after discovering Precious Metal Clay (PMC) about two years ago, and saw Etsy as a way to hopefully help pay for my PMC habit. As my Etsy sales grew and the dissatisfaction with my job increased, I figured that after seventeen years in the jewelry industry, maybe it was time to see if I could do it on my own.
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time?
I did all the basic business setup (business license, bank account, resale number, etc.) before I opened my shop. The first thing I did when I decided to start working towards leaving my job was to take a hard look at my finances. I haven’t balanced my checkbook since Reagan was in office (seriously) so paying attention to money doesn’t come naturally to me. I knew that if I was ever going to work up the courage to quit, I needed to have a nice cushion in the bank to fall back on, so I looked at ways of cutting my expenses. I’m fortunate in that I had a huge expense I was able to cut — my unusual hobby, motorcycle racing. I raced motorcycles for seven years, and though it’s great fun it’s also ridiculously expensive and takes up a large amount of time. I knew that it had to go (at least for now) so I didn’t race at all this year. I researched health insurance costs and made sure I could get it, and started buying my materials in bulk. Those of us who work with precious metal have the added challenge of following the various metal markets, which have been quite volatile for the last couple of years. In the end I just couldn’t take my job anymore, so for my sanity I quit about three months earlier than I had planned. It felt great to leave on my own terms, and was the right thing to do. I haven’t been in a blood-curdling rage since then!
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
- I pay more attention to my product design and development than marketing, because all the promoting in the world isn’t going to work if your product falls short. I started off with a variety of different styles, and let my sales determine which concepts and styles to develop further and which to leave behind. If there’s a design that I really believe in but is not selling I try modifying it in some way, perhaps the size or shape, and see if that helps. It often does.
- I find craftcult.com to be a great tool for seeing which products are getting a lot of attention but are not selling and may be in need of a bit of tweaking.
- Introducing new designs regularly is a great way to keep your audience interested and encourages repeat customers. Repeat customers are the ultimate compliment, in my opinion.
- I do have a blog (which I need to pay more attention to), and I recently set up a Facebook fan page. I’m always surprised when I look at my Google Analytics and see how much traffic comes from my blog, so it’s a worthwhile thing to have.
- My best marketing tip is to read this excellent blog post from Etsy seller eyeful, these are great marketing tips!
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
I have to say that I do not like Twitter. I come back to it every so often and give it another try, but I just don’t care for it. I know some people have great success with tweeting, but for me it’s just one more thing to take me away from creating that has dubious results. And I prefer reading and writing in complete sentences, with correct spelling, punctuation and capitalization. I guess I’m just old fashioned that way.
Walk us through your typical workday.
It’s long, not least bit glamorous, and involves lots of coffee.
- I get up a bit before 7 and join my boyfriend Kelly at our favorite local coffee house until 8. I don’t especially like getting up, but I enjoy this morning ritual that we’ve been doing for years and it’s good for me to get up and get my day started.
- I return home and do all my shipping and any other business stuff that has to get done before doing anything else. I have to make chains and do a bit finishing work to just about everything before it ships, so if there’s a lot going out this can take awhile. I relist anything that has sold, answer Convos and do some renewing too. A varying amount of time is wasted on the Internet during this period, and more coffee is consumed.
- I go to the mailbox (or the post office if shipping internationally) in the afternoon and run errands while I’m out. This is when it’s nice to have gotten dressed and presentable first thing in the morning.
- If I’ve been up late the night before (which is usually the case) a short power nap is in order about now, and then more coffee, and perhaps a little more internet time wasting, depending on the work load.
- I might do photography, new listings, work on custom designs, or do finishing work for the rest of the afternoon. I check my Convos throughout the day and try to respond as quickly as I can.
- At some point in the early evening some exercise and dinner will likely happen.
- I’m a night person and like to do the bulk of my creative work at night. I tend get going around 8 p.m., and will usually work at my bench until midnight or 1 a.m. I like doing design work at this time too. If I’ve had a lot of sales during the day, I print invoices and shipping labels to get a start on the next day’s shipping work.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
I enjoy the fact that my talents and hard work are fully benefiting me and that I’m responsible for my own success or failure. I like the fact that I no longer have to do something I disagree with just because the boss said so. I love not having to go to long, pointless meetings anymore. I can’t say that I miss one single thing about the job I left, other than a few of the people there.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
Pretty much all the business stuff! I went to art school and not business school for a good reason, but having worked at small companies my whole life I’ve actually picked up quite a bit of small business knowledge. I don’t have the temperament needed for accounting (see earlier checkbook comment) so I figured out early on that it would be very worthwhile to pay someone else to do this for me. I also have someone else do my taxes. My time management is not quite as good as it was when I had a job, so I keep a small whiteboard on my bench and keep a running list of what needs to get done when. Finding balance between work and personal time is much harder now too. When this was not my only source of income it was much easier to take time off.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
To be prepared for even less free time. There’s an old joke about how you only have to work half days when you’re self-employed, and you even get to choose which 12 hours you work. This is very true! I would advise being sure that you really love what you do, because you will be doing a lot of it, and you will most likely be working much harder than you did for your regular paycheck.
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
I hope to do some higher-end, one-of-a-kind pieces and finally start doing some wholesale. I hope to keep my customers happy and returning to my shop and to keep creating whatever ideas pop into my head.
Thanks to Sue for sharing her story. If you have questions for Sue come by the VIrtual Labs on Wednesday, December 2 at 3 p.m. ET. You can see some of Sue‘s beautiful work in the Related Items. Check out previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.