Laura of slippedstitchstudios decided to take her career into her own hands after being laid off eight weeks into maternity leave. She soon turned her newfound passion for knitting and sewing into an Etsy business. Laura says she requires ninja skills to keep up with every aspect of her business and that she’s now working harder than she has in her entire life. Keep reading to discover her best marketing tools and goals for the year ahead.
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
I have always made things. My mom was excellent at fostering my creativity as a child. My dad is also very artistic and I have great memories of creating dioramas with him for school projects.
Tell us about your previous working situation.
After several dead-end, soul crushing jobs, including skip tracing for a car financing company (a.k.a. repossessions), I began at a CPA firm as an office manager and was on track to entering the financial advisory field. It wasn’t a very fulfilling job, but it was a paycheck and it had a future (or so I thought). In 2007 I found out I was pregnant and nine months later I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Just days before my eight week maternity leave was over I received a blessing in a very good disguise: I was laid off.
Even though I dodged the bullet of the looming economic crisis, it was a very scary time. I half-heartedly looked for another job but I was beginning to realize that I couldn’t bear to leave my little eight-week-old bundle of joy for eight hours a day. I really just wanted to stay home. Unfortunately, living in Southern California requires either a dual income or a very rich husband. Since trading him in wasn’t really an option, I decided to find another source of income.
Meanwhile, I had started knitting in 2006. From the moment I rubbed those two bamboo sticks together, it was love. In 2007 my friend and I started the Orange County Knitting Meetup Group. I joked, as I am sure many fiber lovers do, about trying to find a way to make my love of this craft into a business. I tooled around with the idea of creating a sock club, buying a yarn shop, or knitting scarves for Melrose, but nothing really clicked. At least, nothing did until I started sewing.
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
When I started selling on Etsy I was unemployed, so I was hoping and praying that it would be something BIG. I was scared, but deep inside I was proud: win, lose, or draw, I was trying something so seemingly out of my world that even if I failed I had won something. It seems like just yesterday when I spent nap time playing with my sewing machine, coming up with pattern ideas for my bags and taking different types of pictures to post.
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time? Feel free to give us the nitty gritty business details.
I didn’t really “prepare” so much as stick my toe in. To start, I got three or four bags, a few needle wraps and a few stitch markers made, photographed and listed. Then I hung around the Forums. I got a sale in six days. This really got my mojo going. That first sale can make or break you, depending on how long it takes, but its quickness was enough reassurance for me to cannonball into it!
Within a month of setting up shop and listing those first few items I had a sewing routine down and a modest fabric stash. I had also sent away for my sales license with the state, as well as my business license with the city. It was then that I got my first batch of Moo cards and set up advertisements. By that time I was also an active member in the Forums and on Ravelry.
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
- My best marketing tip is to find your market and know it. When I began knitting a world opened up for me that few non-fiber artists know exists. In truth, there are more fiber artists (knit, crochet, spin, weave, etc.) in North America than I ever imagined (it’s a bigger market than golf!). Gender, race, and creed are no match for the love of a soft merino or a beautiful handspun, hand-dyed masterpiece. We are also very tech savvy. We are a community of mavens, connectors, and salesmen. I have not met a knitter yet that hasn’t tried to sell me on their latest find or tell me about a great new yarn shop that has opened.
- I do most of my advertising on Ravelry. I think it is the best place to spend my money. I also have a Facebook fan page, a Twitter account, and a seriously neglected blog. I post sales or new listings on Twitter and Facebook and it’s a great way to keep my customers up on new designs without them having to remember to stop by my shop. I try very hard not to spam my Twitter followers by remembering that it’s a community and not a billboard. To that end, I participate in different people’s promotions and tweet about everyday aspects of my business. I have made several sales off of Twitter, not to mention new friends that I meet offline at shows.
- Another EXCELLENT way to advertise is to go to local indie craft fairs. Attend as many as you can as a vendor and go to the ones you can’t as a patron. Your fellow crafters need your support like you need theirs. I try to buy indie whenever I can! The great thing about this is you are getting your name out there and you have the opportunity to sell things at the same time. The money spent for a craft fair can be just as useful as a $100 advertising spot on a blog. Try it out. Also, craft fairs give you that something you never get online: the look on someone’s face when they see your product. Sometimes you can use these fairs as your own personal focus group!
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
Don’t put your things on sale all the time. It makes people think you’re sorry your prices are so high. In fact, none of my sales have really worked.
Walk us through your typical workday.
- I wake up at 6 a.m. with my husband (who still has to go to work). I roll over, pick my BlackBerry up off of the nightstand and flip through my emails for my favorite words: “Etsy Transaction.”
- From 6:30 to 7 a.m. I drink mass quantities of coffee while at the computer returning emails, checking Ravelry groups, printing sales, gathering a general to-do list, chatting on Facebook, updating my Twitter account and listing a new item or two to my shop.
- From 7 to 8 or 8:30 a.m. I sew ’til the littl’un awakes and demands my immediate attention.
- From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. I run errands. Typically I go to the post office, the store, or for a fabric stash enhancement. I also find time to take my little girl for a walk or meet a friend for a play date and lunch.
- 1 to 3 p.m. is nap time (not for me). I sew like a crazy person, but with ninja-like accuracy.
- From 3 to 6 p.m. I attempt to ship, or prepare shipping while simultaneously entertaining my two-year-old, making dinner, and following up on email/Convo communications. Ninja traits are useful here, too.
- From 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. I start to think about tomorrow. I figure out where my deadlines are and possibly finish up draw-stringing or ironing while my wonderful husband gives my child a much needed bath and gets her to bed.
- After that I watch TV with husband and “relax.” This means I am either making stitch markers, prepping Thank Ewe cards for orders, draw-stringing, ironing and/or making pattern magnets. This lasts until I can reconcile going to sleep. My husband may or may not be snoring by this point.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
I cannot put into words how wonderful it is to not feel directionless or like a worker bee. I am in charge and I make or break the rules. I know where I am going and I am happier than a clam about it. I do miss being able to say “This is my to-do list and that item does not fit on it.” Haha. I can see my husband’s face as I say that to him when I forget to pay a bill.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
Even though I know that I am working towards a goal that will make this irrelevant in a few years, I am working harder now than I ever have in my entire life. There is no “off switch.” If I am out with my husband or girlfriends or daughter I can get an idea or an email or meet someone who has never heard of Etsy. I am a walking, talking advertisement. At this point, I must add that I am so grateful for my family and friends who are bearing with me through this difficult time.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
I’d say, “Self, you don’t need to stress out when things slow down for a week or so! Be persistent. When you go days or even a week without a consistent sale, persevere. Make inventory, find a craft show to attend, visit the Forums for a tweak that might give your shop back an edge you feel you have lost.”
To others my advice is to know there won’t be an off switch if this is the right career choice and, even though that is a hard bite to swallow, it’s okay. It will make you successful, and if you are successful, the majority of this stress will only be temporary.
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
I had several goals last year and I hold their existence, as well as the unwavering support of my family and friends, responsible for my success. My goal this year is to do all these in a bigger and better way.
My current goals are as follows:
- First, to be accessible in local yarn shops everywhere. Last year I became available in six shops throughout the country and even one in Canada. I also contribute to two excellent sock clubs on an almost monthly basis.
- My goal of reaching a thousand sales last year was exceeded by six hundred sales! This year will not be a numbers race but more of a focus to continue to improve upon the excellent quality and service that I’ve had since the beginning.
- I plan on launching several new items for fiber lovers this year and I’m very excited. I have a book of ideas and I can’t wait to make each one a reality. A big goal for me is to keep my shop both diverse and unique to fiber artists.
- My final goal is one I look forward to immensely: I want to travel. Last year I was stuck at home but this year, with the help of my small team of awesome helpers, I want to attend sheep and wool festivals around the U.S. I love traveling and to being able to incorporate this into my business will be a great test and a great experience. Of course, I won’t forget about the home turf. California has way more knitters that you would think and seems to be a bit overlooked in the festival department. This is the perfect excuse to get out and be seen!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
In this economic climate I believe it is critically important to support people working from home on their own terms. If this is your dream, even in the slow times, you have to be secure in the fact that you are working toward something. Nothing you create and have the wherewithal to stand behind can be bad. Find your market. When you do that, sell like a crazy person with ninja accuracy.
Thanks to Laura for sharing her story. You can see some of Laura‘s beautiful work in the Related Items. Check out previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.