Allison of tigerlillyshop claims that running her own business closely resembles the life cycle of the perennial tiger lily. Her background skills in working for other professional artists combined with a little bit of risk-taking have lent Allison the necessary tools with which to pursue her own full-time creative business. Her husband has recently been able to quit his own day job in order to help Allison run the business and make their Etsy shop a venture that now supports their family. Allison says she knew they would have to work really hard to make this all happen, but she couldn’t see it any other way, even though this means the occasional “saying no to fun.” Keep reading to find out some of Allison’s best marketing tips including testing out new lines of work and the benefits of joining an Etsy Team.
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
I am a fine artist with a sculpture background. It was natural for me to gravitate to jobs where I used my hands. I worked for a few professional artists and self-employed people early on. I even apprenticed with a furniture upholsterer after my undergraduate studies. It never seemed out of reach to do it on my own.
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
My daughter was six months old when I found Etsy. Looking to sell online, I had been researching consignment and wholesale. I was really desperate to pay my end of the bills since I wasn’t going back to the software/textile production job I had before having my baby. My painter husband’s income couldn’t cover everything, and we relied on my income. Although I had my upholstery shop and working studio set up, there was no way I could work the long hours I was accustomed to. I found Etsy and signed up immediately, and that is the beginning of the wild growth of my tigerlillyshop.
Little did I know, my Etsy shop would take on the characteristics of that old time perennial. Tiger lilies are known to be invasive wild plants. If left unchecked, they grow out of control, just as my shop has done! And it’s a great thing because last year my husband left his mural painting job to make this our sole venture. My sister Maria helps me too; even though she is far away in New Orleans, she has been there for me when I need her. All we can do is try to keep up with it together!
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time?
I never took a business class or learned about marketing myself as an artist. This was all built out of necessity and intuition. My Shrinky Dink rings with original drawings were my first real success here. I am so thankful that I had that original pack around while I was trying to figure out what to sell. I started my shop with those rings. From there I branched out over time to include vintage component jewelry, the button jewelry line, one of a kind metalwork, and electroforming. All of these lines are informed by my personal material sense and skills as an artist. I make what I want to and luckily, people seem to like what I make. My education at MICA and having my MFA from Edinboro University of PA informs this, I am sure.
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
When I began, I hung out in the Chat Rooms and the Forums; it was about building a community for me at that point. Since then, I have used online networking sites like Flickr with great results, I started my blog, then ventured into Facebook, and I even tweet a tiny bit. But my absolute greatest marketing weapon has been with my BEST girls. The motivation and professionalism in the Baltimore Etsy Street Team has been a powerhouse of promotion. We have done a ton of online promoting with each other and all contribute to our Team blog (which just won an award!). The sheer talent of these ladies is probably enough for them to succeed, but we have capitalized on group networking at shows with Team business cards both locally and regionally. We all volunteer, using our talents in different ways to promote our group. This hard work has paid off with some major printed press in Baltimore Magazine last holiday season.
We have some rockstar sellers on BEST like blockpartypress, TheBrokenPlate, elisasherejewelry, greenstarstudio, just to name a few of the now sixty members. It doesn’t hurt that we have a diverse group with backgrounds ranging from marketing, web development, wholesale gallery experience, teaching, photography, and more. We all work hard at it, especially our Team leader, jenmenkhaus.
I did the Baltimore American Craft Council trade show this year, applying as an AltCraft Artist. This program is an opportunity for artists and indie designers to gain national exposure at a well-established show. As a result of showing there, I got a ton of press on TV, in print, and online. I was proud to be there with my fellow BEST teammate sweetpepita, who showed in the same section! I was not aware of how powerful the marketing behind these major trade shows are. Artists get really good promotion out of these types of venues.
Because of my ACC experience, I took a chance on applying for the Etsy Pavilion at the NYC OOAK Show in December — and got accepted! I am really looking forward to seeing what happens in this show’s premiere year in New York City. I had a peek at the marketing package this show has lined up and it is going to be advertised everywhere.
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
I paid a lot of money once to be part of an open studio tour event — total bomb. I got to drink all the beer we bought for our no-show visitors, though!
Walk us through your typical workday.
- I get my daughter breakfast and watch PBS with her. Coffee and check in online.
- Then studio time most of the day. By studio time, I mean anything from ripping down the latest upholstery job, sewing, pattern-making, doing metalwork, electroforming, making buttons, taking/editing photos, listing online, networking online, assembling orders, shipping and the boring data entry part of the business.
- My husband and I take turns throughout the week taking care of preschool days, parenting our daughter, and alternating studio hours.
Working from home and being full-time parents is a really tough thing to balance. We try to keep to our weekly schedule. It runs smoothly most of the time since we live where we work and have a large studio to spread out in. My daughter has her own corner of the studio here, where I try to keep her busy if she wants to be around during production time. She is now 4, so if she is not painting or creating something, she is most likely riding her scooter underfoot or “playing ponies” all day.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
I love not having a boss. I hate having someone tell me what to do, and I have too much ambition, too many ideas and I work too hard to give my energy to anyone other than my own family. I knew we would have to work really hard to make this all happen, but I couldn’t see it any other way. I know my husband feels the same way about leaving his job. We do miss the social element of a “job” but we have made up for that by making more of an effort to visit with friends.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
First, being disciplined enough to deal with the boring paperwork end — yuck. But at least my husband and I are working on this system together. When you are in business for yourself, the work doesn’t ever really go away, something is always up next. The next hardest thing is having to say no to fun occasionally. There are times when my husband and daughter are out doing fun stuff while I buckle down in the studio. Or maybe we are at a craft show somewhere, and we all miss a great party or something. We do have to say no to fun sometimes, unfortunately. But we do get to spend a lot of time together, and this is great.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself?
To myself, I would say, “You need to get more organized, crazy lady. Really. You should start on that NOW.” To someone else, I would advise, “It is SO worth it, go for it! Research and be smart about your decisions. If you are motivated in your talent, you can do anything you want to do. In this great nation we live in, the sky is the limit.” I would really say that to any of you out there, I truly believe it!
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
I will be picking up more wholesale accounts for my different lines of jewelry. I also hope to offer more upholstered and soft home goods in my shop this year. Stay tuned!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
The growth of this business has not been linear. I have had to learn many things along the way. Attending workshops and the support from my BEST girls have helped me to fill in the blanks as needed. Yes, this is all a lot of work, but I have been able to achieve a manageable balance of art-making and motherhood. I am still learning and anticipate great things on the horizon. How wild will this tigerlillyshop grow? Come visit me at the Etsy Pavilion at the NYC OOAK Show in December! I can’t wait! Long live Etsy!