Esther and Estella are a mother/daughter team working together to support themselves and their 14 dogs (yes, you heard me right!) through their four combined Etsy shops, staroftheeast, StarBags, GiftsandStars, and StarofSupplies. With backgrounds in civil engineering and interior decorating, this duo ended up selling their house in the Netherlands and moving to Turkey to start fresh with their Etsy ventures. Esther and Estella are now making enough money to fully support themselves and only wish they had a little extra time for a vacation every now and then. In the article below, discover how product photography, finding their niche, and social networking have been the keys to their lasting Etsy success.
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
Estella: I always have loved to create things. I was raised as a single child and with a single mum who worked full time, so I found lots of things (mostly creative) to keep me occupied. Beads always intrigued me; I found them too pretty to use, instead I cherished them and simply loved looking at and touching them. The funny thing is, we have been using a lot of those beads I saved from my childhood and also things from mum’s old collection.
Esther: We’ve been “making things” forever — it just wasn’t a “business” at the time.
Tell us about your previous working situation.
Estella: Since I was a teenager I always wanted to be an architect, the drawing and designing involved with it made me think it was my best option. A little later I realized that it had too much math involved for my taste and my interest switched to interior design. This has been my goal for several years, but during my study we discovered the magic of making our own jewelry, and after graduation I never began my work as an interior designer, but instead continued with the jewelry.
Esther: I was a civil engineer until I had an accident that left me incapacitated to do my job. At that point, we sold our house in the Netherlands and with that money we moved to Turkey to start anew. For years we had no job, now Etsy is our only income.
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
Estella: A few months after we started making jewelry we started to think about making it our work. It was a wonderful discovery that we are such a great team while creating — and we wanted to continue it in a professional way. After quite some struggles for several years with brick and mortar shops, fairs and more, we found Etsy in July 2007. Long live the Internet!
Esther: Yes, ours was not exactly quitting our day job, it was creating a full-time job and income when being without one.
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time?
Estella: We didn’t prepare, and we actually were spending way too much money on supplies and our business without actually earning money. At a point I was quite scared, money was running low and sales were not coming. In the autumn of 2007 we decided to start a supply shop, starofsupplies, on Etsy to at least sell the supplies we had bought too much of. The supply shop became a nice income (just when we reached the bottom of our savings). A few months after that I decided to do a big shop makeover and changed ALL of the pictures of our jewelry items. At the same time, we found our niche, working with our beach finds, especially sea urchins, and suddenly we started to sell on a daily basis (which was until then only a dream). The combination of good pictures and a unique product yielded good results.
Esther: I think the fact that we had hit bottom financially was the best motivation of all — we HAD to make it work, then and there.
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business?
Estella: I think our most effective way has been taking very good care of our shop. That means, even when sales are good, checking and double checking the listed items, redoing pictures if they are not good enough, and constantly reevaluating everything. Only a few months ago (after selling more than 2 years on Etsy) I changed the pictures of more than 100 items as they were just not looking good enough — it is a hell of a job but it does do magic. I constantly try new ways to get better pictures and still see much room for improvement. A good looking shop is more likely to be featured in Treasuries, blogs, magazines and more.
To be seen on Etsy it is important to list and renew often on a daily basis. Treasuries and our Street Teams, the European Street Team and the Artisans Gallery Team, are a great way to make friends in this active society as we all support each other. With a team you are not alone in the big Etsy world, but have some great like-minded people around you, which has been a wonderful experience.
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
Estella: There are so many sites where you can promote your work for free! Twitter, Blogger, Flickr, Indiepublic, MySpace, Facebook, etc. Being only human, don’t try to be everywhere — it will only make you crazy and in the end you will have many untouched accounts spread everywhere on the Internet, which won’t give you any results. Try to do a few, but use them well. Our favorite motto is: “If you do it, do it well.” If you decide to blog, write often, not just once a month. We list daily on Etsy and blog three or four times a week, in addition to using Treasuries as a great promotion tool.
Walk us through your typical workday.
Estella: Planning a day is impossible for us.
- We have 14 dogs, all saved from bad owners or from the street. So our days go along according to them!
- A typical day might include a post office trip, grocery shopping, custom orders, unfinished projects, normal life and social events.
- Time management is not our strong point, but eventually we try to make the most out of a day with creating and networking.
- If we don’t feel like making jewelry, we take a break for several days and make some bags to fill up our bag shop.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
Estella: I had some little jobs between school breaks, and I don’t miss having a boss. I love that we can wake up without the sound of an alarm clock and just go with the flow. Creating is something you can’t do on command, so some days go by without touching a project — those days are spent reorganizing, bookkeeping, or going to the beach (to find treasures). Eventually everything has to be done, and like all jobs it has good and bad things, but having your own business is very rewarding especially when you sell the things you create with your own bare hands. I do miss being among people sometimes and I have a very social virtual life (as I do the networking), but as our job is home-based, I don’t see many people in the real world.
Esther: I would like to have more structure in the day, a clearer line between work and leisure. As it is we have very long days, and creating things is only a fraction compared to the hanging out on the Net part. It gets a bit blurred where work ends and free time begins. But the joy of being able to do what you love and be able to support yourself is really blissful.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
Estella: When sales are slow it is stressful; like everyone else, we have taxes and bills to pay, along with 14 costly doggies — always hungry — with big vet bills. A few slow days can be threatening so we try to have some money set aside for those days and for emergencies. The fact that we don’t have (m)any weekend or holiday breaks is also difficult.
Esther: Yes, two or three days without sales and I am in a panic, thinking that everyone who likes our work has already bought something and we are going to be forgotten. It is a fragile situation, Etsy being our only income. And yes, a holiday once in a while would be great, but cannot be done, yet!
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
Estella: Going to stores personally with big bags of jewelry is not something I would do now. A nice printed brochure or just a very small part of a collection would be better. And if possible send a friend to the shops as she won’t take it personally when your items are rejected, and it looks more professional if someone represents you instead of you presenting yourself. For online selling, do your homework before starting, look and see what people do to sell: good pictures, descriptions, shop policies, profile, prices, shipping options, target market, uniqueness of your products (search for the items you are planning to sell and see how much is aready available), etc.
Esther: I only wish that we had discovered Etsy earlier. No venue is perfect, but there is no place like Etsy for artists: easy to use, cheap, supportive, stimulating, inspiring. I could go on and on, we love Etsy!
To others, my advice is first: invest, knowing that it will take time to recoup. Give yourself three years to create a job. That applies to any enterprise, online or not, so you need money or a job to support yourself those three years. Invest in the best tools, materials and work space that you can afford, you are not indulging in a hobby, you are laying the base for your enterprise. And than persevere. Keep going. Believe.
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
Estella: Grow bigger, so we can escape from time to time and have a vacation.
Esther: At least, a more secure income, a more constant income pattern. I think to achieve that, we need more wholesale customers. We do have some, but in order to be able to have competitive prices on Etsy, we can only give small discounts to wholesale customers.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Estella: If we both weren’t so stubborn, hard working and patient, we wouldn’t be giving this interview here now. It takes a lot of time and effort to make a creative hobby a business.
Esther: First and foremost, there has to be passion. The world is full of stuff that nobody needs, dead stuff. When the passion is there, others will be able to see it too, and what you make will sell.
Thanks to Estella and Esther for sharing their story. You can see some of their beautiful work in the Related Items. Check out previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.