After earning a liberal arts degree and searching for a career in a less-than-stellar economy, Julia of renneslechateau decided to go full time in retail. After three years of working for someone else she was ready to pursue her dream of being self-employed. She set up shop on Etsy and, after seeing some quick success with her leather bag line, it wasn’t long before she quit her day job to pursue renneslechateau as her full-time undertaking. Julia’s favorite part of being her own boss is the self-sufficient feeling of seeing the fruits of her labor in her everyday life. Keep reading to find out the importance of connecting with others in the craft scene and simply being nice.
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
Gosh, I can’t remember a time when I haven’t made things! However, the business part of it started less than two years ago. I had graduated from college, and like most people with art or liberal arts degrees, I didn’t have a clear path ahead of me. I went out and applied for lots of different jobs, except no one was looking to hire and people everywhere were getting nervous about the economy. I ended up working full time at the part-time job I had throughout school. While working there I began sewing clothing on the weekends and attempted pattern drafting. Then I decided to open an Etsy shop. Unfortunately, the clothing didn’t take off, and I started looking for something else to sew. On a whim I bought half of a leather hide and experimented with making bags. I put a few of those bags in my shop, and to my disbelief, they sold!
Tell us about your previous working situation.
For three years I worked in retail at a small shop in Boston. Working there a few days a week was really fun. I had a great time with my coworkers and the bonus was that we sold pretty awesome stuff. When I started working there full time it felt very different. The main problem was that I didn’t feel stimulated. When I work on something I always like to give my all and do the best job I can — but the more I worked there, the more I realized that wasn’t possible. While I had been there for some time it began to feel like there was a lack of appreciation for what I brought to the table.
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
Oh yes! I would think about it every day, all the time. I wanted out of my job badly. I’m super sensitive and don’t have thick skin so all the drama that would happen at work would eat away at me. When a few bags started selling I actually started talking about quitting my job and doing Etsy full time, and then about a month later I did.
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time?
It’s crazy, but not really. I did everything and learned everything as I went along. To this day (and I’m so embarrassed to admit this!) I don’t have a business plan, or at least, don’t have one written down — I keep everything in my head. I remember what it was like in the beginning, though: I would pretty much set aside all the money I had after rent and buy leather. Usually I could only buy one or two hides at a time, which was frustrating when people wanted colors other than black or brown. My machines would break all the time and I would freak out and have a nervous breakdown because someone had ordered a bag and I wouldn’t be able to finish it on time. I can’t even recall how many times I had to take my machines in to be fixed — but I’m happy to say the last time I had to get anything fixed was a year ago — a record!
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
Connecting and networking with other crafters and bloggers has been a really great way to get noticed. This was the least intuitive thing for me to do when I started but it has made all the difference. I have met some of the sweetest and most giving people through my job and it’s probably the most rewarding part of it all.
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion? Have you made any business mistakes you regret?
I don’t think I regret anything, because I’ve learned a lot from most mistakes. At the same time I honestly have never found that paid advertising has worked. I’ve tried a few times with few results.
Walk us through your typical workday.
- I wake up between 7 and 8 in the morning and check work and personal emails.
- Pack up my new orders and bring them to the post office.
- Mid-morning I realize I’m hungry and have breakfast.
- If I have any custom orders I get to work on cutting and sewing them. I can usually complete about two custom orders in a day.
- If I am making new inventory I spend the late morning cutting out bags. I always underestimate how long it will take to cut. I never know exactly how many bags I can fit on one hide, as you have to avoid holes and some scar and branding marks. If I plan carefully I can usually get 5-6 bags out of a hide.
- I blog.
- In the afternoon I sew. Sometimes I sew assembly line style with 2 or 3 of the same bags at once, but most of the time I make each individually. I make fewer mistakes if I make things one at a time, plus it feels like a more natural way to work.
- I wrap up work around 6, but sometimes it goes later than that.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
The best thing about not having a day job is feeling self-sufficient and seeing the things that you make by hand every day turning into your groceries, home, and other purchases. It’s a really rewarding feeling. What I miss the most about having a normal job is people. It’s easy to get sucked into your own world when you are self-employed and then your forget about seeing your friends or taking time off. â€¨
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
I work all the time, and I work out of my home. It’s hard to let go at the end of the day, and sometimes you just find yourself working at 10 p.m. Most of the reason for that is there is just so much to do. Between answering inquiries, packaging, sewing, cutting, and promoting, it’s a surprise that I actually have time to design new things. Sometimes I wish I could clone myself so that I could take more time off once in a while! But, it’s so worth it.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
I would suggest that I stop comparing myself to other people. It’s tricky in the beginning when you are trying to define your style — it can be hard not to feel small in a sea full of really talented people. This is still something I’m struggling with, but I’ve found as long as I stay focused on what is important to me, it ends up okay.
What goals do you have in store for the future of your business?
I would really like the opportunity to collaborate with other artists. Whether that would be by starting a shared studio space with others or starting a new line completely, I definitely know I work better when I have different minds to bounce ideas off.
Have any favorite Etsy shops we should know about?
Oh gosh, yes! Do you know how hard it is not to spend what you make on Etsy in other Etsy shops? A few favorites are:
- Vintage Aimee – My friend makes really cute stained glass night lights from old lantern slides.
- Vain and Vapid – The best clothing ever, period.
- Scout & Catalogue – Hand-dyed scarves, pillows, and bags.
- EvaForeva – Soft and cuddly scarves and home goods.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
This may sound dorky, but I’ve always found the best way to succeed is to be nice to people and go out of your way to do extra things to make people happy. I think Bill and Ted really hit the nail on the head: “Be excellent to each other!”
Thanks to Julia for sharing her story. You can see some of Julia‘s work in the Related Items.
Check out previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.