Sarah Jane, the creative mind and savvy businesswoman behind Spiderbite, was just 8 months out of earning her degree from art school and working at the Subway fast food chain when she decided to make selling on Etsy her full-time business venture. She’s truly been able to start from the ground up with a fresh idea and feels the flexible hours outweigh the isolation she often experiences in running a one-woman operation. Keep reading to find out why she recommends email lists and branding a business as the best marketing one can do for their shop and why some months she’s willing to live on PB&J sandwiches and Ramen noodles.
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
I went to the Rhode Island School of Design for illustration and while there I took a class on developing products. For our mid-semester assignment we had to develop a product and sell it at the student sale. That’s when I came up with the Nightmare Snatcher journals. At the sale I sold out and thought it was great. So I added the books to my illustration portfolio site and a teacher of mine showed them to his friend who owned a gift shop. Next thing I knew I was wholesaling to several stores. I think I just got a bit lucky and knew some of the right people.
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
When I started on Etsy I definitely knew that my goal was not to work at a fast food joint the rest of my life, but I didn’t really anticipate being able to do it so soon. I was really disappointed to graduate from art school and spend my days working at Subway. But I was really only out of college 8 months before I was working for myself. It was the greatest feeling in the world to finally stop working at sandwich shops and shoe stores and be my own boss.
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time?
For the most part I just jumped into it. Since I was so soon out of college, I didn’t have a family to care for, a mortgage to pay, or too many bills, so it was kind of easy. I picked up a couple of bigger wholesale clients and was selling consistently on Etsy to the point that I didn’t need to work another job. When I figured out that I was making enough to pay my rent, what few bills I had, and my student loans, I decided to go for it.
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
The most effective marketing I have done by far is having an email mailing list. It’s a good non-intrusive way of keeping in contact with former customers as well as people who are just interested in your work. You can let them know about new products, sales, and special offers. I often include coupons and first dibs on certain products for those on my mailing list, which is a good incentive to keep people signed up. The key is to never add anyone to your mailing list without his or her permission and to not send out too many emails. I send about one or two a month.
My best marketing tip is to brand your company and your product. Keeping a consistent and cohesive look to all your packaging, logos, and products helps to solidify your image and company in people’s minds. That way every time they see a package, a new product, or your logo, they are immediately reminded of your company and of where to get more great items.
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
People always seem to recommend Twitter, Myspace, Flickr and a myriad of other free online venues to advertise your wares, but I’ve personally never found them to be that beneficial. For the amount of work you have to put in to get it to work for you, it seems like it would be more cost effective to pay for advertising. I’d rather pay for ad space and use my time to refine my craft and make more products to sell.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
I enjoy the flexibility of the hours the most. I’m pretty much a night owl and being able to start my day around 2-3 p.m. is ideal. I’ve worked night jobs before, but then I ended up missing everything else that my friends and family were doing because I was always working while they were off. Being able to make my own hours, I can work late at night one day and if I decide to go out the next night, I can just get my work done earlier in the day. I miss having co-workers to pal around with and complain about work to. This is probably the reason I’ve spent so much time in the Etsy Forums. I’ve gone whole days without seeing a single person, so it can get lonely working all by yourself.
- Typically I get up between 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. (I said I was a night owl!) and jump on Etsy. It can be really addictive to check. So I try to limit it to 3 times a day, but I usually end up checking about 6 times a day…
- If I have orders, I go through and pick them out and package them up.
- Next, I start making monsters. Typically I’ll pick one main job for the day depending on what I’m running out of, whether it’s cutting fur, putting together the monster faces, or adding pages to the books.
- If it’s a Tuesday or a Friday, I take a trip to the post office to drop off my orders.
- Finally, I just work on into the night until it’s time for bed.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
The hardest part is probably cash flow. It’s a Catch-22 when you don’t have a part-time job or a financial backer to fund your business. You need to spend money to make money, but you need to make the money in order to have money to spend. So, it can get a little tight some months. When that happens I usually eat PB&J and Ramen noodles for a month.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
I would have started on Etsy sooner. When I signed up, I didn’t actually open up shop for about 6 months. As soon as I did, I was outselling my personal website ten-fold and had more stores contact me about wholesaling.
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
I’d like to finally reach my 1000th sale, which I’m hoping isn’t too far off. I would also like to make some new lower priced items, and some larger sized books for Spiderbite. I would likewise like to get my second shop, WeirdlingWorks, which I run with my dad, filled up and going.
Thanks to Sarah Jane for sharing her story. Have your own questions to ask? Come on by and chat with her Thursday, September 3 at 5 p.m. ET in Etsy’s Virtual Labs.
You can see some of Sarah Jane’s beautiful work in the Related Items. Check out previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.