Saturday, September 6, 2008

From the Bitches Auxiliary: Don't Quit Your Day Job!

Etsy likes to try and sell us a dream: quit your day job and make a living selling your craft on Etsy. But for many of us living with our parents while collecting unemployment doesn't exactly qualify as making a living. One of our readers wrote a terrific counterpoint to the typical Etsy QYDJ interview, enjoy.


In rebuttle to Etsy’s “Quit Your Day Job” Series, I felt the need to offer the other side. The story of a girl who busts her ass every day to make a few sales, learned the hard way to diversify venues, and treaded water until she made it “to the black”. I’m not “living my dreams”. I haven’t quit my job. But I’m growing my business, both on and off Etsy.

What more do you want from a girl, some pliers and some beads?



When you first started selling on Etsy did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?

I never had the delusion that ONE Venue would be the bulk of my business income. It’s just NOT possible, nor is it intelligent, to expect a single venue to account for all of your income.
I sell through consignment at local retail stores, and I wholesale to larger stores with more buying power. I sell directly to customers, and I vend at the local Flea Market circuit during the summer. Direct Sales and Etsy accounts for the majority of my income in the winter months, when the town I live in basically “dries up”. To make the amount on Etsy that I would make though the other venues requires much more work and expense, unfortunately.


How long were you selling on Etsy before taking the plunge into selling full time?

I don’t think I will EVER sell full time. I’m too cautious of a person. I need a back up plan, and a back up to THAT back up plan.
I work as a waitress part time. I love waitressing. It allows me to observe the public and understand the spending habits of the local economy. If folks are going out to eat more, you can bet they’re also be spending more in other places, and I increase my stock at the local stores that sell my work. Art and Crafts are NOT essentials; they’re what I refer to as “up-sells”, like appetizers and desserts in a restaurant. As a waitress, it’s my job to convince the customer that they want those onion rings and that piece of pie.


What was the deciding factor resulting in your pursuing Etsy as your full time job?

I used to work at 2 different restaurants for a total of 40-50 hours per week. One was, and still is, a great job, and the other, a soul sucking corporate nightmare. However, I am thankful to the soul sucking job, I made some wonderful gal pals there, who were the very reason I began exploring jewelry making again.
Had my coworkers not bought my first years worth of earrings and helped me cover my shift to do a few craft shows, I wouldn’t have gotten the guts to quit that corporate nightmare and really focus on taking that hobby of “makin’ some earrings to use up some beads” to the next level.


Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time before taking the plunge?

I took it so very slow. I already had an eBay account, so I peppered my auctions with a few of my handmade items.
When I realized this could actually become something profitable, I spoke with my accountant and he helped me set up my business.


What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What's your best marketing tip?

Hell, I don’t know! Without some real stats, I have no idea what brings traffic to my Etsy shop. In the other venues, I think business cards are the best. I don’t have many “nice” cards, I use mostly VistaPrint Template cheapies. But I go though up to 1000 of them a month, and I know most of them end up in the trash can, so I won’t spend a fortune on them.
Word of mouth, business cards, and fliers are my best marketing plans. Some call it Guerilla marketing. I prefer thinking of it as simple business fiscal responsibility. The less I spend on ads and marketing, the more I can spend on beads and wire.
[Also] save some money, Take some business classes or read some good business books, get a legitimate business license, get some insurance, and take the plunge. Stay the hell away from credit cards and loans if you can help it. Don’t allow your “dream” to overshadow the reality of a situation. If you’re hemorrhaging money and not bringing anything in, quit doing whatever the hell you’re doing and get your head above water again.


Would you walk us through what a typical workday might entail being your own boss?

I get up everyday at 4:30. I feed the cats and start up one of the computers I do my best to do all the things listed here http://www.etsy.com/forums_thread.php?thread_id=5321194
If I’m home for the day, I check Etsy for renewal dates, and keep what seems to be “fresh” still in my shop by renewing. If it’s gone “stale” I remove it from Etsy rotation and put it into “stock” “consignment” or “show” inventory.
I like to visit the etc section of Etsy forum for stress relief, and now, the EtsyBitch forum. I usually keep it open all day if I don’t have any orders to make.
I usually have SOMETHING to mail each day, be it a direct sale, an Etsy order, or a trade, so I go to town after 10AM. I check the mail, drop my packages in the drop box, and if there’s a place to park, I check on my retail consignment location every week or so.
Then I stop at the Library, thrift shop and farmers stand. You never know what you’ll find.
If the mood strikes me, I make some things after I get home. Lots of times I find vintage costume jewelry to dismantle at the thrift, or a book on a technique I want to try at the library. It sparks my creativity to “play” with things. Some days I don’t feel like playing. I don’t sweat it, because other days, I make 20 pieces, which makes up for a few “dry spells”


What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?

Like I said, I doubt I will ever quit my part time job. The biggest reason is taxes. Waitresses get very small paychecks as it is, since we make just a couple of dollars an hour. I have my employer take extra withholding out of my paycheck, since I don’t “depend” on it.
What this does it gives me a surplus of income tax paid come tax time, so rather than paying in on my business income come April, the WORST time for both waitresses and craft sales, I have a zero balance, or sometimes, even a small refund.
I do enjoy working 30 hours a week rather than 40 or 50. I feel much less emotional and physical stress, but it’s hard to be more dependent on yourself for income. When my work hours get cut back to 15 or 18 hours a week, I start obsessively checking my voice mail and e-mail hoping for orders to fill in the gaps. Thank goodness I learned (the hard way) that extra money should be stashed away for the leaner times.


How's it going so far? Are you supporting yourself?

Well, the business is no longer dependent on my personal income, which it was when it began. I’ve yet to take an owners draw, but the business still “owes” from my personal savings to get started.
I might take an owner’s draw or two if things get really lean work wise and sales are good, but we’ll see what happens. I like the idea of the business and personal money being separate, but of course the goal is for the business to support me personally.


What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?

I hope by next summer to have my [startup monedy] back into my personal savings. I’d like to have some more weekly shows on my summer lineup.
I’d like to make some wholesale contacts in those cities based on some leads I’ve been given.
My husband and I plan to purchase my mothers house, which is zoned commercial/residential. The House has the perfect studio space in the basement, as well as a great space for a small retail shop, which is my ultimate goal, to have a retail store of my own.
I don’t want to “get rich” doing this. I want to get by, pay my bills on time, and keep out of debt. That, to me is success; Living comfortably doing something you enjoy more often than something you hate. For most people their job is how they pay for doing the things they love. I’d like to make the “job” time as minimal as I can, and the “doing the things I love” at maximum.


Is there anything else you'd like to share?

This business started without Etsy, and though it has given me an “easy” online venue, it will probably never be primarily Etsy. I adore the friends I’ve made on Etsy, and by watching the, for lack of better words, failures and mistakes of others, I’ve learned what NOT to do.
Etsy grew almost too fast, the founders didn’t seem to have a plan for the “what ifs”. I have a plan for the what ifs, the whens, and then some, plus, a backup plan for all those plans. It makes me feel safe.
If it all falls apart, there’s always a restaurant in need of a good waitress.

14 Comments:

Rachel said...

A voice of reason and a good dose of reality-everyone should read this. Well said!

impetuous said...

A very realistic and responsible article. Thank you Etsy Bitch for telling it like it is and showing new business owners that it's prudent to evaluate your business thoroughly before you consider quitting your day job.

Jeda21 said...

Etsy does not equal utopia... nor independence from reality...or bills for that matter.

Sneddonia said...

An excellent article. Many thanks for posting this. It's important to think realistically like this - to not rely solely on Etsy and to be aware that another job is necessary. A good dose of reality indeed :)

ebbandflo said...

excellent and realistic! thank you for sharing so much about your business life

from the beginning, due to household budgeting, my small business has had to be self supporting and i'm proud to say that last year it actually made a small profit (and kept life as a SAHM reasonably sane).

to me, that's some measure of success (and i can't feasibly quite my day job!)

Jenny said...

A very well written article on the realities of a home based business. Thanks EB!

Andrea Q said...

Good article. When people say that they are quitting their day job to try crafting full time, I personally wonder how many have financial support from a spouse/partner, including health insurance, and how many are on their own for everything. I suspect it makes a big difference.

Lori Anderson Designs said...

Most excellent.

Heather said...

just perfect! Thanks for showing the reality side of things EB!

life-during-wartime said...

Super article! This is the type of piece that should be featured in the Dorque...never happen, I know.

Having an article like this on EB really shows the cupcakes why so many feel like bitching about the situation on Etsy. Having your own business is as real as it gets, but Etsy seems to nuture little but delusion inducing platitudes.

Eh-hole said...

Hurrah for the sounds of reality!

Grapefruit Juice Gal said...

Wow, great article! Much more practical than the forum fluff comments and the etsy articles. nice job!

On a side note, I'm starting to become a convert when it comes to Etsy not wanting buyers, or not caring about buyers anyway. I used to think people were being cynical, but...

http://www.acmoore.com/videos.aspx

Why pair up with AC Moore (and notice, the ad is placed right in the AC moore video section where they say you can become an "arts and crafts expert") unless you're looking for more sellers? Not that there should be a limit, but why not get ad space and partnerships with guides that recommend things for finished looks (like design, style, kids, etc. magazines!!!)? Because, I'm starting to believe, they are trying to buy a double decker cupcake transport bus with all of the 20 cent listing fees!

Sorry to go off on a tangent, but just came to this rather depressing realization this morning.

greenstarstudio said...

that was beautiful.

The Funny One said...

Thank you for a great, and real story.
It is notable that the few Etsy QYDJ sellers do have a distinct advantage that came well before they became the feature of the month on Etsy's blog.
Each store was promoted for many weeks and months off and on in these sections:
front page featured seller
frequent appearances in many treasuries
Etsy Find emails accompanied with long featured articles on the blog
several spots in the GG's
and other long-term, recurring, free promotions on the site.
Many of the QYDJ sellers have gotten all these promotions more than once since all these features were added by Etsy employees to promote stores that they like. They do the picking.

While there is no question that QYDJ sellers obviously have a product that people like and buy, they also tend to be underpriced, or at least price their goods lower than similar sellers.

However, without the free, frequent and constant promotions all over Etsy, they would not be featured in a QYDJ article.

Free promotions all over the site, including sending emails about these few stores is quite a leg up for these sellers who make it to the QYDJ status. These free promotions can add up to thousands of dollars of savings for the stores that then do not have to spend a cent to advertise and promote off the site. Etsy does it all for them.

If, by rough estimates, Etsy picks 2 sellers per month for this blanket promotion treatment, that's only 24 sellers per year.

On a site that has 200,000 stores or more. (That is an Etsy number.)

While QYDJ is an admirable goal, and it's wonderful to be recognized, I do question the set of promotional tools that Etsy has set up to promote only a tiny tiny fraction of the total sellers on the site.

Instead of expanding the pool of items and stores that get attention, Etsy has actually turned a small section of the site into a juried section that gets advantages that most other stores never see or have access to on the site.