How did you originally get into soapmaking?
There is only so much soap you can really make for yourself, your family and friends — at some point my seemingly boundless imagination had me dreaming up more things than I could ever give away. I didn’t consider selling, though; I just put that hobby on hold until my husband, Mike, opened a shop for his art prints. Then I was swept away, imagining all I could create in my own shop.
Tell us about your previous working situation and how you discovered Etsy.
I moved to San Francisco from Rochester, NY, back in 2000 to work for a newswire service. I originally worked in the newsroom as an editor/proofreader, eventually becoming a newsroom supervisor and trainer. A few years later, I moved to the tech department, became a help desk technician and software deploy coordinator for our internal systems.
One year, Mike got an Ashley G print from Etsy. He was so inspired that he opened his own shop, and in turn I was inspired by him! At the end of July this year, my daughter, Rowan, was born. I was due to go back to work from maternity leave on December 6, but I realized that my life needed to take another path — I wanted to build on my success with Savor and take it to the next level. I didn’t want to have Rowan in daycare for 10 hours a day. I didn’t want the long nights and sacrifices of the past years to be for nothing (because I probably would have closed Savor if I returned to work).
How did you prepare to transition to full-time Etsy selling?
In December of 2009 I switched my health insurance to be covered under Mike as a dependent, so I would be covered if I did decide to quit working. I also put as much as I possibly could into my 401(k) to take the most advantage of our company’s excellent matching for one last time (we both worked for the same company). We don’t carry debt except for our mortgage, so any additional cash went into savings.
What are the most effective ways you’ve promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
- With my Etsy shop, I have found that listing new stock daily or as frequently as possible is the key to steady sales. I try to restock at least 5 items every weekend while Mike and Rowan go off for some bonding time.
- For off-site marketing, I encourage people to see if they can buy ads on websites that their target audience is interested in — a forum for greyhound rescuers, for example, might be a place to advertise handmade dog collars. On a local level, your city might have a blog that accepts sponsors or grassroots businesses as advertisers.
- I struggle with this, but having clear item descriptions, free of typos, and full of relevant keywords is great for your shop. I try to revisit my listings frequently because I know they need work! I can be in a rush to post a new item and won’t use all my tags or accidentally omit a feature of the soap that I meant to highlight.
- My most effective promotion is my Savor Saver sale. I typically host only 1-2 per year, but it’s a crazy event. I send out a notice to my newsletter subscribers and Facebook fans announcing that my soaps will be discounted up to 50% off. The sale lasts for an entire day and new items are posted at a steep discount each hour. They sell out in seconds, 40-50 soaps at a time!
What’s been your most popular item or line to date?
The Coconut Mochi scent has always been quite popular, and the Cinnamon Snowflakes scent is a wintertime favorite of my customers. My body butter, made from scratch, always sells out when I list it!
Have you made any business mistakes you regret?
I’ve spent money on things that didn’t work out, and that’s always a downer. One time I thought I would make wax melts (a candle alternative), but I was left with a mess on my hands. The supplies for that venture went to waste, but thankfully I didn’t invest too much in it. And don’t even ask me about my lip butter experiments!
What is the biggest challenge you face during your daily schedule?
Rowan is the most important part of my day, so naturally my work has to flow around her needs. She is just now sitting on her own and able to enjoy toys, so I can set her up in the Pack-and-Play and find 20 minutes to a half hour to get some crafting done. When she gets fussy after her playtime, I’m right there to take her out for a stroll or put her in a sling while I make dinner or tidy up the house. I tend to make more typos now: it’s a bit hard to type with a baby in my arms!
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
It’s the most fascinating and terrifying thing to me, to be so directly responsible for my part of our household income. Quite literally, the work I do is my paycheck. This gives me a drive and sense of responsibility I never had while working for someone else. In the end, I hope I’m a good role model for Rowan, just like my dad was for me. As a small business owner, my dad serves as a huge inspiration for me.
There’s so much I miss about downtown San Francisco: working in a tall skyscraper, fun and creative coworkers, amazing views of the bay, Alcatraz, the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. Just walking down the street and seeing the amazing vibrancy of San Francisco is something I will always cherish.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
There is so much to learn that it can be overwhelming. Everything from product photography, writing ad copy, designing packaging, getting properly licensed and handling taxes — sometimes I feel like I’m a soapmaker 10% of the time and a business person the rest. However, it’s easy to get over that. I will take a long day in the soap studio and create a couple hundred pounds of soap and feel in my element again.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself or someone considering a similar path?
Grow slowly, if you can. While it’s great to have a million zillion projects in mind at all times (and as artists, maybe that’s just how it is), start with a small product line so that you have a nice and easy workflow. When Savor first started, I was often pulling 80 hour weeks between the shop and my full-time job. I would often get burned out, have no creativity left, and just feel exhausted. It was when I got pregnant with Rowan that I learned to slow down a bit, say no to a project if I needed to, and really focus on what was working (or not) with the business. The immediate result of that was clear: I grossed less in 2009 than 2008, but I made more profit.
What are your goals for Savor?
My immediate goal is replacing all of my packaging with my new designs, and I’d say I’m about halfway there. Long term, I would like to expand my wholesale reach. I don’t seek out wholesale accounts at the moment but a lot of great ones have found me, and I think they are crucial to my success.
Any additional words of wisdom?
Running my own business gave me such an amazing opportunity for growth. I have learned so much about myself – my limitations and my talents. If you can’t do something, learn it or hire it out. If you think your photos need work, see if a photography student or professor at a local college can tutor you for an afternoon. If you don’t have the time, try hiring a college student to photograph your items. Spend time at the library learning how to write ad copy for your listings, or have a friend read over your listings and give you tips. My next adventure is learning what I can about search engine optimization (SEO) because I think getting seen in the search results from places like Google is a necessity when you’re selling online.
I also just want to give a shoutout to Mike, the love of my life, because it is his patience with my craziness that let me embark on this wild adventure. His love and support are the backbone of my business and he has put in many long nights creating soap alongside me.
Thanks to Lisa for sharing her story. You can see some of her work in the Seller’s Items below.
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