Sarah of spacedogstudios was able to quit her day job as a floral designer in order to make a go at selling her handmade journals full time on Etsy. She’s learned the importance of treating working for herself like a serious business with boundaries. She swears by wearing comfortable pants to make it through the day (a girl after my own heart)! Today Sarah shares great tips from her own success — some with a proven track record, and a few that are a little unconventional. You’ll just have to keep reading to find out her recipe for a successful shop!
How did you first get into the business of making things?
I made drawings of endangered animals in high school. I made prints in college. I made things for a few shows here and there… Really just a lot of making things for any reason under the sun, like to get good grades, to have a Lego castle for my Lego horses, or just to, uh, I don’t know, make something. I’ve always been making, but not always business-ing.
So I suppose the real answer to this question is “When I took that job as a floral designer.” Suddenly it became my job to make things people wanted to buy. So I had to figure out how to do that, and slowly I started to realize something kind of amazing — I was making things, and people were buying them. Weird, huh? And you know what? I did pretty well at it; it built my confidence and got my brain moving and thinking about other things I could make (besides Art with the capital A), and somehow sell. And magically at this exact time I heard about a site called Etsy that was just starting up. Weird, huh?
When you first started selling on Etsy did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job? How long were you selling before you deciding to take the plunge?
My first Etsy listing was in February of ’06 — it’s true, I looked it up. And of course I had those dreams. I don’t think anybody goes to college for art without having those dreams, no matter how vague, impractical, or undirected. At least I didn’t, and even in my other jobs as a framer, file clerk, teacher-of-art to preschoolers, or floral designer I always had that dream there with me: that burning fire/panic that your chance at life is passing you by. You just might not now how to get it out. (I still might not know entirely.) However, I do know that when I listed a pack of cards and a bracelet back then, I had no idea what I was doing, where I was going, what I wanted to be making, how I’d make it, who would buy, what I should charge for it… but I knew I was making a step.
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time?
I built my business. I tried new products, expanded on the ideas of old ones, and found a place where I could focus on doing what I do (making books) and still distinguish myself. I tried my hand at a few craft fairs last year, and though I’m horribly shy and nervous, I’ve found it to be a good way to get my work out there, and something I could do to grow my business more. Other than that, I got a vendor’s license and sat down with a tax professional. I found an accountant who specializes in micro-businesses and she set me straight with some Excel spreadsheets, good advice, and even did my taxes for me. Also, my husband and I keep a good budget. We know our expenses are covered, and my business is supporting itself. I think it’s important to be at that point.
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
There’s a lot of advice out there about social networking on the internet, posting in forums, posting on blogs, having a blog, keeping up a flickr site, having stuff on Myspace or Facebook, and all of that. But all of that requires a fantastic amount of maintenance. I started all of these things in an effort to drum up business, but I only ended up making myself so busy that I didn’t have time to make things. (See my number one best promotion above.) Or I ended up just sort of spacing out and mindlessly clicking around from link to link feeling bad that I wasn’t sewing up adorable cats, living an exciting life, baking cookies, or building a sweet shoe rack.
Would you walk us through what a typical work day might entail being your own boss?
- I get up — getting out of bed is key — and check in with Etsy and my e-mail just to see if anything amazing happened overnight.
- Then I throw on some clothes, walk the dog, do yesterday’s dishes, swap out laundry, brush my teeth, make coffee and a banana smoothie, take out the trash…and hopefully make it into my studio by 9:30. Okay, so it’s usually 10, but I try.
- I post new listings first thing. Usually it’s whatever I made yesterday; some days I’m lucky and I get to just renew something. I do this first, along with any budget entries, because both of these are my least favorite parts of the “job.” I know if I put them off they’ll never get done.
- After that I get down to making things. I have a range of products I carry so I usually just make whatever product is selling, sold out, or overflowing its bin.
- I work on that until noon, and then take the dog out, check my real mail, and come back in and work. And that’s pretty much what I do. Work.
- I work until like 4 or 5, then I stop, pack up orders and go play DDR. (I feel like this is an embarrassing admission, but I LOVE it! I play on the expert-heavy-extreme mode.)
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
I really like the company at work, hearing about everyone’s life story, watching the dramas unfold, having people to chat with. Because being a floral designer is creative, it was a good challenge for me to work faster, better, harder. It was a good exercise for my “eye,” to play with color, texture, balance and all that. There’s that instant feedback from customers and co-workers — it’s kind of nice to hear that someone likes your work.
What I like most about being my own boss is being free to plan my own days: to hole up in my studio and just follow my own track, lay my own plans, and see what happens. It’s great to know that everything you accomplish is yours. And it’s even nice to know that everything you can’t accomplish is just your own personal limitation. I like not having to having to take a shower until later in the day, and I love wearing comfortable pants. The comfortable pants are definitely one of the best parts.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
If I could go back in time, I would have started off not taking phone calls during my workday. And I would have treated my workday as a workday from the beginning: 9-5 in the studio, no laundry to grocery shopping, no taking phone calls just to chitchat, or to see if I want to go shopping. It sounds horribly strict, but I wish I’d set up those boundaries earlier because it’s hard to break habits. And it’s hard to just start ignoring your phone when people know they can call and that you usually answer.
My advice to people thinking about taking the plunge? Take a calculated risk. If you need the income, find ways to work in your spare time — cut down on your hours, wean yourself off of financial dependence on your job. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, at least at first.
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
First I want to make more sales than last year. This is the overall goal every year. On a smaller level, I’m planning on attending more craft fairs to grow my business in a personal kind of face-to-face way. At the same time, I’d like to get back to making some artwork. I’m taking a few graphic design classes to brush up on my computer skills. (Okay, who am I kidding? I’m developing some computer skills.) So I’d like to make some digital prints and work on designing the insides of some books. I’d like to move forward on the fine art front a little bit more.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I just want to, again, thank Etsy and the wonderful community here. You guys rock!
Please join Sarah for her follow-up Question and Answer session this Wednesday, March 18th, 2009 at 2:30pm EST in the Auditorium room of the Virtual Labs (the VL schedule is magically in your local time). See you there!
You can find some of our previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.