Torrey and Tessa met in college, inspired each other’s creativity, and are now successfully running two Etsy shops, NewDuds and hannapt. Both Torrey and Tessa had regular day jobs out of college and pursued their mutual creative outlets in order to cultivate their own businesses together. They started out small, set consistent achievable goals along the way, and with their last busy Etsy holiday season, Torrey and Tessa were able to move their operation into a separate studio and call it quits with their regular careers. The two of them are now happily co-creating with their dog and cat by their side and are planning their handmade wedding coming this fall.
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
Torrey: Ever since I was little I’ve made things. I come from a family of builders; growing up, there was always a new tree house in the making. I have been drawing for as long as I could remember. I’ve always been a hands on, visual person.
Tessa: Torrey and I had a similar childhood. My parents were both teachers and stressed the importance of creativity. We always had a craft room and a wood shop at home. In college I painted but wasn’t fully happy with it. I met Torrey at college and he really helped keep my creativity going. However, after college I stopped being hands on and creative, and it really put me in a funk. I worked retail and it took a toll on my attitude. I knew I needed to do something else. I heard about Etsy through our friend Erin, a.k.a. elmbellishments, and I loved the site instantly. When we got a new kitten, it tapped into my long dormant love of sewing and I started making him cat toys. That led to opening our first shop on Etsy, hannapt. The catnip eyeballs were a bigger hit than we could have ever imagined, and the hope of being our own business bloomed from there. Then I finally knew it was the direction I wanted to take my life.
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
Torrey: Absolutely. Etsy was a great outlet for us to get started and test the water for our products. I have always wanted to be self-employed and Etsy was the first step in proving to myself that it was possible while doing what I love…creating.
Tessa: At first I thought of it as a little extra income. I was barely making enough working retail to scrape by. However, I found myself staying up late and not being able to get Etsy off the brain. Soon I was daydreaming about being a Featured Seller and reading articles and trying to make our Etsy shops into something viable. Once we opened newduds in the winter of ’08 I knew quitting my job was nearing.
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time?
Torrey: Yes, we worked out of our apartment for the first year and a half. I worked for a corporate screen-printer full time during those years. I made sure to really learn the process and equipment needed for screen-printing. I did lots and lots of research before buying any of my equipment or supplies. I got some amazing deals by purchasing refurbished equipment. We also figured out our favorite apparel wholesalers with whom to work.
Tessa: We got all our legal ducks in a row; as art majors, starting a small business was something we knew very little about. However, we have some great friends that pointed us in the right direction and some awesome Etsy blog articles and forums that helped out a ton! I spent about a year re-learning to sew, scrounging thrift stores for fabric, perfecting the catnip eyeballs, taking in as much supplies from friends and family as I could. The success of the holiday sales got us looking into workshop space in the area. Screen-printing the way we wanted to just wasn’t going to fit in our two-bedroom apartment. We got a small loan from a friend to purchase the needed printing equipment and to open our workshop. Finally in January of 2009 I gave my two weeks’ notice (I had been just part-time since the summer). Then just about a month ago Torrey left his job fully. We listened to a lot of people telling us to wait a few years and save more before we jumped in. But for us this was the best time. We have very few commitments, no mortgage, no kids, and very few payments. There might not be another time in our lives when we could put 100% into something as we can now.
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
Torrey: Word of mouth, friends and family are the most fantastic (and free) means of marketing. Passing out business cards, and hanging posters is effective and fun!
Tessa: Promoting Etsy has been fun. Etsy is still a very foreign word to many here in Vermont. Explaining ourselves and what we do still gets quite a few confused looks. I find the best way is to just show people the Etsy site. We do some guerrilla marketing like leaving our business cards in bathrooms, posting flyers at local colleges, leaving the Etsy site up at libraries and college computers. The catnip eyeballs get on blogs weekly and that has been awesome. Just having unique products really helps.
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
We haven’t had too many unsuccessful promotions. We don’t spend money on advertising if we can help it so I haven’t had any financial regrets. I don’t know if anyone actually finds us through our guerrilla advertising, but it sure is fun running around shoving business cards in bathroom stalls.
Walk us through your typical workday.
Torrey: Wake up before 8:00 (just about every day). I find that I feel more productive and fresh in the morning and tend to get more work done. I like to eat a good breakfast and have a cup of coffee. I bike three miles to work, which is not only energizing but a great time for me to be alone and think about my day, and what I want to get done. Get to the shop, check emails, check orders, and browse a few things on Etsy. Then from here on out it varies greatly depending on what I have to print for that day. I draw, paint, print, build or clean. My days are usually pretty different from each other, which keeps things refreshing. There is always something to do around here. At some point one of us will go to the post office and drop off the orders from the night before, and grab lunch.
Tessa: I’m a bit of a later riser, and usually I run in the mornings also. This past winter I was training for the Boston Marathon so running was a main focus of my morning. It’s good that our schedules are a bit different. It gives us each alone time to focus and then some good hours together working. I try to sew up something new each day. I spend a day or so each week making cat toys. I don’t make a ton at once because I think nothing beats fresh catnip! We go to a local farmers market Thursday afternoons. We are also going to SOWA in Boston on some Sundays this summer with our friend Jesse, a.k.a. jessedanger. We spend a good chunk of our day with customer relations. We do local custom printing as well as Etsy so there is always an email or convo to get back to. We don’t have cable TV and that has been a great way for us to be creative instead. We love being at our shop and our dog joins us every day. It’s such a welcome and truly treasured part of our lives now.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
Torrey: The best part is the freedom to create as I feel. I remember being at work printing some job, and daydreaming about what I could be doing instead. Now if I get an idea I have the freedom to drop what I’m doing and lay out my ideas. Honestly there isn’t much that I miss about my day job other than the people with whom I worked.
Tessa: Oh my, I love so much. I love being able to say I’m a small business owner, I love working with my hands all day, I love bringing my dog to work, I love taking breaks for walks or just to sit outside, I love writing off business expenses, impromptu dance parties, and print shop parties! Sometimes I miss the structure of a day job, having someone tell you what to do. Sometimes I miss my coworkers also, but now I have more time to hang out with my friends and family. I really missed that when I was working retail.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
Torrey: Dealing with the trends of customers, being self-disciplined, and not having as structured of a life. Ultimately it’s a good thing, but it’s hard not knowing exactly what you have to do each and every day.
Tessa: Right now the hardest thing for me is learning to call it a day. I love having a hand in every part of the business but sometimes that can get overwhelming. I’m learning to make obtainable lists for each day. Set small goals and learn from our mistakes. It’s so different than anything I ever imagined myself doing. But that’s also what makes it awesome!
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
Torrey: To be patient. As soon as I graduated college I wanted to hop right into having my own shop. Now that I have lived through the last two years I understand that gaining that experience was crucial to my ability to finally quit. If being self-employed is truly what you want to do, then it will happen. You just need to work hard and be patient.
Tessa: As far as advice for someone else I would say if you believe in your products and you really love making them, then go for it. I have found that if something isn’t selling, taking new photos and updating the description is better than lowering the price or putting it on sale. Even with the catnip eyeballs we just started stating bluntly that you get TWO in every order. Sometimes people don’t read the whole description. We had a sale boost after we put that at the top of the description. We recently changed our New Duds shop to have easy to find size categories. This made it easier for customers to find the size they are looking for without reading each listing fully. Sometimes the most simple, easy-to-do changes make the biggest difference.
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
Torrey: Have a good holiday season, promote, and get a following of fans that really enjoy what we make. I love having a customer come back because they loved what they bought so much!
Tessa: I really want to experiment more. Push the limits of screen-printing. There is so much more you can do with a bucket of ink and a screen than I ever thought. I want to make more cohesive lines of products based on a single print. I really want the cat toys to hit 1,000 sales! That will be an awesome day! We are getting married in the fall, so a handmade wedding is a huge goal. We found our caterer by making T-shirts for his business, and we are trading printed apparel for bar service.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Torrey: Sometimes being self-employed can be scary. If things aren’t going as you had hoped, don’t get depressed; use that time to fuel your creative side. Make something new, try something else, and just don’t let it get you down.
Tessa: Quitting our day job was right for us; this is the career that makes us happy. Even if your Etsy shop is no more than a hobby, enjoy it fully. As far as my generation is considered, I am shocked at how many people don’t have any “making things” skills. I am very thankful to my parents for letting me be creative and giving me the tools growing up to make things. I really lost a lot of it in college and thought I had to get a job that was already mapped out by someone else. You never know until you try. I am so happy, and I know I will look back with no regrets. Thanks Etsy!
Thanks to Torrey and Tessa for sharing their stories. Have your own questions to ask? Come on by and chat with them Wednesday, July 1, 2009 at 7 p.m. in Etsy’s Virtual Labs.
You can see some of their product lines in the related items. Check out previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.