Rhonda runs two successful shops on Etsy: her jewelry shop, ProlifiqueJewelry, and her supply shop, Prolifique. Through ups and downs in both her home and work life, Rhonda has successfully created businesses on Etsy that allow her to support herself and two children entirely. This accounting major turned financial coordinator turned artist and business woman isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Keep reading to find out some of her best Etsy marketing tips and why she stresses investing in a good cordless phone with a headset in order to make it through the day.
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
I have always needed something to do with my hands. When I was younger, I did cross stitch, painting, or some other kind of craft, because I’m not good at sitting still doing nothing. I have always had some type of project going on. Doing something more than just as a hobby started when I dropped out of college. I was a theater major, and that was HARD work. I wasn’t very good at “kissing up” to the right people, so it was very difficult for me and I quit. Not a good solution, but I was young and what did I know? So, I needed something to do and I chose floral design school as my alternative to traditional schooling. I loved it! And I was relatively good at it, too. Only problem was… couldn’t really make much money at it! I worked in several shops over the next few years, and then went back to college to get my bachelor’s degree in accounting. Can you say BORING? Nothing creative about it!
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
I started on Etsy about 2 years ago. It was originally just to sell some older designs that weren’t selling on my website. I was running under a different name at the time (Stunning Details), and I was doing okay with my own site. Then everything started going wrong. My personal life wasn’t going well. I was very unhappy, and my business was suffering in the process. I almost lost it completely… well, I actually did give up on Stunning Details. It just wasn’t working for me anymore, and I had exhausted all of my money and energy trying to save it. I finally realized it just wasn’t worth it anymore. I had met another designer online (Heather Gill a.k.a cherrycreek), and she was doing PMC. I was really interested to learn, so she flew from Arizona to Florida to teach me in March of 2007. We had a BLAST, and I learned everything that I could from her. I knew I had found something to get excited about again. I also knew I would need money to fund this new obsession.
Prolifique was started after a brainstorming session with my dear friend Heather, while she was in Florida getting me addicted to PMC. It started out slowly, but the business started growing very well. We had a ton of jewelry ideas that we were collaborating on as well, and that necessitated the start of ProlifiqueJewelry a few months later. It was difficult at times since she lives in Arizona and I am in Florida, but we made it work. (Well, until her other Etsy shop became so popular!) Then she was feeling torn between her first love (cherrycreek) and what we had created together.
About that same time another friend of mine, Jennifer a.k.a. jennifercasadygems, was getting very tired of the handcrafted jewelry components she was making since it was taking too much of her time away from designing jewelry. I jokingly told her I would take that business off her hands, and she took me seriously! She stopped making them, sent me all of her pics and info, and I added them to the inventory I already had on Prolifique. Then business was REALLY moving! Heather was just too busy to keep doing the Prolifique site with me, and something had to give. Instead of just splitting it up between the two of us, she GAVE it all to me! What great friends I have! The timing was great too, because I was recently divorced and desperately trying to support my children without having to work outside the home. I had become accustomed to being here with them, and it was hard enough for them to adjust after the divorce. I didn’t want to have to work long hours for someone else, either.
Since the fall of 2008, when all of this took place, I have been happily running Prolifique and Prolifique Jewelry on my own, raising my two wonderful children, and supporting the three of us with the income I make from those two shops. I don’t think I could ask for anything more than that!
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time?
I really didn’t have any time to prepare in advance. I originally “quit” my day job back in 2000, ten days after my son was born. I was working for a major company in the area as a financial coordinator. It wasn’t a job I loved, but it was a steady paycheck, and I was making use of my very expensive college degree. But I had to take my new baby boy back to the hospital with a very scary case of jaundice when he was just a few days old. In the middle of all this, I was told by my boss to immediately return to work or forfeit my job. I’m sure you can just imagine what I told her to do with that job!
Then I was lost… new mother, NO JOB! So, I had to do something and I fell back on what I knew: floral design. I started researching online venues to sell silk wedding flowers. I invested the few hundred dollars I had into some flowers and supplies and got busy. I got to be very popular quickly and began working a lot. Only problem was, I was almost GIVING them away to sell them. I wasn’t making much money and I was working a ton.
Finally someone asked me if I could make matching hair accessories for the flowers. That got me thinking in a whole new direction. I bought some books, hit the library, and started researching wedding hair accessories and jewelry. That is when the addiction to beads/wire/findings/etc. started.
The transition to making jewelry and hair accessories happened very quickly, and I was lucky enough to get some of my pieces into a few major bridal magazines. I did that for a few years, and then it morphed again into doing traditional everyday jewelry, and then into what I’m doing now. I wouldn’t change the path I took for anything, because I feel I am the person/artist/mother I am today because of all of it. I try to learn from everything I do, and sometimes that lesson is to NEVER do that thing again.
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
Promoting my business on Etsy hasn’t been difficult for me at all.
- I try to renew items regularly to keep myself near the top of the searches in my categories.
- I also try to keep updating my Facebook and Twitter accounts whenever I’m listing new items, having a sale, etc.
- My best promotional tool is definitely word of mouth from my current customers. When I get repeat business, or I get an order from someone new who was referred by someone else, that just makes my day. That means I am doing what I set out to do.
- I also highly recommend joining a street team. I recently was lucky enough to become a member of the Etsy Supply Street Team (Team ESST) and I am very happy about that and thankful that they asked me to join.
- I may be selling items that are similar to others out there, but I want to make sure I do it with style. I want my customers to see that I pay attention to the details, that I am very meticulous about my work, and that I love what I do. When that happens, it shows… and that is the best advertising you can have!
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
Oh, I am the QUEEN of unsuccessful promotions! When I first started my own website, I was contacted by a celebrity gifting company, and I was SO excited. Someone wanted to promote my jewelry by giving it to celebrities? WOW! OF COURSE!
Now, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that I didn’t have the time of my life during the two years that I pursued that avenue. I did have FUN! I met so many wonderful celebrities — I got to watch Hugh Jackman rehearse on stage at Radio City Music Hall while I was sitting in the front row! I shook hands with Darth Vader, Doogie Howser, Niles Crane… but I was GIVING THINGS AWAY! Yes, I did get a few very nice pics in magazines with celebs wearing my jewelry (Marcia Cross, Lacey Chabert), but those things don’t bring you business. So, don’t give your things away. I still do some celebrity promotional work, but I am very selective about what I do, and it always has a great cause behind it as well.
Walk us through your typical workday.
I don’t think I really have a typical workday; it is always different and that is one of the things I love. There are some constants though.
- I MUST chat with my mother, my BF, and my BFF every day, usually multiple times a day. I work while I chat, so that’s good.
- It’s summer now, but the beginning of a normal day is usually getting the kids out of bed, dressed, fed, and off to school. Then my day starts when I get back home.
- I normally start out my day talking to my mother. She is my rock, the person who will always tell me how it is, even when I don’t want to hear it. She is awesome! While I’m chatting with her, I’m going through a pile of orders and condensing them into one list of things to do. It makes it easier that way, so if I have four orders for the same things, I do them all at once.
- Then I coil and cut the rings, roll out PMC jewelry to dry, and then hit the bench in the garage to get HOT! And at this time of the year, it is HOT! Turning on a 1,650 degree kiln in one corner of the room, and having a flaming torch in my hand at the same time — yes, it’s HOT. And I live in Florida! But I love it, so I’m not complaining.
- Once I get everything fused and soldered, I normally take a break from the heat and work on the computer: answering convos, renewing items, sometimes a game or two on Facebook, and updating Twitter. Then it is off to sand the PMC, put it in the kiln, and begin my long afternoon of hammering, shaping, and oxidizing.
- I normally ship items out about 2-3 times per week, so if I have packages ready to ship, after I pick the kids up from school we hit the post office.
- Then it’s dinnertime, bath time, and game time with the kids. After they go to bed, I normally work for another few hours before falling into bed out of sheer exhaustion.
- Oh yeah, and a couple of days a week, I try to make time for my very understanding boyfriend and other friends, too. Thankfully, I have a great support system and people who love me. I couldn’t do what I do without them.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
This is an EASY question; I LOVE being able to be home with my kids. Period. End of discussion. That is by far the easiest question to answer. I don’t know how these mothers do it… work full time for someone else, travel to and from work, worry about kids while they are gone. Wow, that just sounds so difficult to me, and I am impressed with women who do that so well. Thankfully, I have managed to find a way to do what I love and to do it at home where my children are.
As for missing anything — the most obvious thing is daily interaction with other adults in the same line of work. But I don’t have to worry about that… thanks to the good friends I have made over the years in the jewelry business. There are a few who I talk to on a regular basis, and I wouldn’t be who or where I am without them. One major suggestion to anyone else doing this: invest in a good cordless phone with a headset or a Bluetooth, so you can work and talk at the same time. It is the main thing that keeps me sane!
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
The hardest part is probably working ALL the time. Even when I’m not working, I’m thinking about working, worrying about what needs to be done, thinking about new designs, etc. It can be all-consuming at times! And I have a very hard time turning everything “off” at night… stopping work, turning off the computer, turning off my brain (still haven’t figured out how to do that one…). So, as a result, I don’t sleep much, but thankfully I don’t need as much sleep as I used to.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
The biggest advice I would give myself looking back would be to be true to myself and to believe in myself. I started out trying to please the “masses”… trying to be on the cutting edge, keeping up with trends, etc. Not that I don’t do that now, but I don’t let it change who I am. If I love something, I will make it. If not, I won’t. I think it shows through in your work if you don’t really love what you’re doing.
My advice for others is keep a great support system around you of others in the business, and get rid of any negativity so it doesn’t bring you down. When you become successful at anything in life, there are going to be people who are jealous, or are trying to do the same thing but it hasn’t happened for them yet. All of that negative energy can sap the life right out of an artist. Just remember to stay true to who you are and keep your head up high. Do what you love, do it well, and the rest will fall into place. The true friends you have will see you through anything… good and bad.
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
Oh my… I don’t even want to answer this one, because this is a real problem for me.
- I need to get ORGANIZED! I am so organized in my head, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at my studio or my bench! I sometimes spend an hour looking for something that isn’t where it’s supposed to be. Then I get frustrated, I get behind, and then I have to work longer. I am doing much better, but I have a long way to go!
- I also want to find a better way to keep my records. You would think with an MBA in accounting I would know how to do that. Technically, I do… but I guess I am like the plumber with the leaky faucet. I did it for others for such a long time, now I’m terrible about doing it for myself.
- I also have so many great new things I want to learn to expand my skills. Having a kiln enables me to do enamel work, and I really want to try that. And I really want to do lost wax casting, too. I thought I couldn’t do it, because I’m not one that can look at a block of wax and carve something beautiful out of it. I’m more of the type that can take all the separate pieces and put them together to make a whole. Now I know I can do that with wax too… so I’m excited to give it a try!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I don’t know where I would be without the Internet! I am in love with my computer, new technology, everything about it. And without my two Etsy shops, I couldn’t do what I do. I am honored to be a part of this huge conglomerate of fantastic artists, and I’m just excited to see what tomorrow brings. I can definitely see my work evolving and going on different tangents, but I can NEVER see myself doing anything else but what I’m doing right now. I work 14 to 16 hours a day, six days a week — but it’s not really WORK. It’s what I love, it’s my life, it’s what I do, and it’s what makes me the wonderfully happy person that I have become in the past year. In turn, I am now a much better mother, friend, artist, and just a better person in general. I know it sounds corny, but for me it’s true!
Good luck to anyone who wants to try this for themselves. I always thought my work ethic wasn’t good enough to do anything on my own. But I learned that I was never lacking in the ability to work… I was only lacking in the inspiration to do it. Once you find that inspiration, it’s no longer work!
Thanks to Rhonda for sharing her story. Have your own questions to ask? Come on by and chat with her Wednesday, August 5 at 7 p.m. ET in Etsy’s Virtual Labs.
You can see some of Rhonda’s beautiful work in the Related Items. Check out previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.