2016: Year in Review

2016 was quite the year for Once Again Sam. After taking a much-needed break during the holidays, I had some time to look back over the last 12 months and reflect on all my little handmade business has been through this past year. I felt like I barely crossed the 2016 finish line – I’ve never been so busy before, but it was a phenomenal end to a phenomenal year, and I’m celebrating big time. I’m so grateful for everything about 2016, and feel overwhelmingly blessed by each and every thing that made up this chapter.

Many of my business goals were met this year – I became an LLC, printed my first catalog, participated in my first tradeshow, graduated from Etsy’s “SAM Program”, grew the wholesale side of my business, invested in advertising, and nearly doubled my Etsy sales. I have LOTS of goals for 2017, but I’ll wait to share those after The Maker’s Summit in March, because no doubt I’ll have twice as many goals after the 2-day conference.

The significant spike in business this year certainly had to do with a lot of hard work and a little luck, but there were several specific changes I made in 2016 that might be something for you to consider as you grow (or start) your handmade business. I have learned so much from other Makers over the years, and am happy to share what I know in return. That’s the beauty of the handmade community!

1.     Promoted listings on Etsy & Google: I was skeptical to try this, but looking at what I spent vs. what those promoted listings earned, it was well worth my daily $5 budget. It takes almost no effort once you set it up, and the payoff can be big.

2.     Launched 5 new collections: it seems like it should be pretty easy since I love to experiment and create, but getting my act together to launch 5 cohesive collections is a lot more involved than you might think. The previous year, I hardly launched anything new, only 2 small collections, so having 5 completely new series to share within a 12 month time period is something I’m very proud of and hope to continue in the next year. Several new collections came about during the 30 day #CreativeSprint challenge (April & October). If you want to grow, you have to keep coming up with new ideas – those tried & true best sellers are fine, and by all means keep making them if they’re selling well, but always be working on what's next.

3.     Graduated from the “SAM” Program on Etsy. The “Seller Account Management" Program was something I applied for back in 2015, and my year of one-on-one coaching started last December. I was teamed up with an awesome Etsy staffer who coached me, answered questions specific to my shop, and helped me set goals for the future. I highly recommend applying for this program, even if you’re an Etsy veteran like me. I’ve been selling on Etsy since 2009, been very pleased with my sales for the last 4 or 5 years, but there’s always room to grow. In my case, there was a TON of room to grow, way more than I thought, and I earned nearly twice as much on Etsy this year compared to last year, all thanks to things I learned in the SAM program.

4.     Grew my wholesale business: I started out 2016 with a brand new product catalog, a booth at my first tradeshow, and high hopes of developing new retail relationships. The focused effort worked! Wholesale is something I know I can grow even further in the future, so I’m investing in tools & making a game plan for how to improve my wholesale outreach going forward.

5.     Tried 5 new events (craft shows, art fairs, pop up shops): some of that came out of necessity because two of my biggest sales days from 2015 didn’t happen in 2016, and I felt I had to make up for them or my financial projections for the year were shot. Just to give it some context, these two sales days from 2015 accounted for over 20% of my income that year, so it could have been a big big problem for 2016, but everything turned out incredibly well, despite all my needless worrying. One event (Artisphere) did not accept my work in 2016, and the other (Indie Craft Parade) moved to a different model for their holiday event, which significantly changed things for me. This was out of my control, and I learned the hard way you can’t always plan your season around shows you love or have done in the past, because they can change or go away, and it's not up to you. However, I did learn another valuable lesson here – I applied for several new shows, ones I didn’t know much about, or that weren't as well known as others, and they turned out to be really great events that I will definitely plan on doing in the future. You never know how you’ll do at any given event until you try it for yourself!

So that’s it – that’s 2016 in a nutshell. Can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store. As always, if you have any general or specific questions about running a handmade business, selling on Etsy, doing craft shows, etc., please drop me a line. I’m always willing to help fellow entrepreneurs in any way I can (as long as you pay it forward when someone asks you for help in the future!).  

Past "Year in Review" posts can be found in my blog archives:

2015

2014

#CreativeSprint - October 2016

I did it! I finally completed the 30 day #CreativeSprint Challenge. This was my third time signing up for it - the first time, I got the daily emails and observed what others were doing, but didn't participate. The second time (this past April), I only made it about half way through the month. But this October, I stretched my creative muscles, and made it all the way through, so I'm celebrating today. I certainly learned a lot in the last 30 days. Creativity takes practice!

CreativeSprintOct2016.jpg

There were some days I had absolutely no idea what to do for the assignment. Other days I knew what I'd make the second I finished reading the email. I tried to experiment and really follow the spirit of the challenge, but I wasn't always able to.  Some days I ended up with something that looked an awful lot like something I've already made (days 3, 7, 17, and  28), but other days I did something absolutely new (days 10, 12, 15, 19, and 21) . Some days I was embarrassed about what I made (days 1, 6, 18, and 20), but I posted it anyway, because sharing your work is part of the challenge. And then there were the days when I had so much fun, and was so darn inspired by what I was working on, I couldn't wait to share it (days 5, 16, 21, 26, 27, and 30). 

My biggest takeaway from this challenge was this: allow yourself time to dabble in the studio, and don't worry too much about if it comes out "right" the first time.

I get very efficient and productive when I'm working in the studio - I've got orders to make, shows to prep for, inventory to replenish, so I rarely let myself play, even though that's how my whole handmade business began, and I enjoy it so much. I'm feeling refreshed and inspired (and a little relieved) now that the 30 day challenge is over, and excited about some new things I may expand on in the future. One series I'm bursting at the seams to explore is the splatter painted jewelry (pendants and leather), and now that I know I can laser cut industrial felt without setting the whole house on fire, I'm excited to try some new designs within that medium as well. 

If you're ever in need of some inspiration and motivation, or just want to have a little fun, be sure to sign up for the next #CreativeSprint challenge: http://www.creativesprint.co/

These jewelry pieces are acrylic and glass that I splatter painted on the backside - I made these a few days after Day 16's challenge (the "seriDRIPitous" pendants). This new series will launch soon!

These jewelry pieces are acrylic and glass that I splatter painted on the backside - I made these a few days after Day 16's challenge (the "seriDRIPitous" pendants). This new series will launch soon!

 

 

Landscape Mood

June is for landscapes

I’ve been on a landscape kick for the last two months. This new-to-me obsession has recently appeared in my handmade jewelry and fiber art, and has gotten me interested in improving my painting skills as well. I can trace this inspiration back to 3 specific assignments I received during a month-long art challenge called #creativesprint. Here’s the blog post if you missed it.

Although the assignments were diverse, and I used different mediums as much as possible, these 3 challenges had a similar outcome. On April 9th, the assignment was to create something inspired by water - I painted 3 seascape pendants. On the 15th, the assignment was to work with your non-dominant hand - I awkwardly painted an abstract scene with my left hand. On the 17th, we were challenged to create something inspired by a poem - I chose Whitman’s “Pioneers! O  Pioneers!” and needle felted a landscape inside a small embroidery hoop.

Those pieces were just for fun, an excuse to give my creative mind a bit of a workout, but I’ve been in a landscape mood ever since. I recently launched this series of 7 pendants featuring bright blue skies and wide-open prairie, and just posted this #MakersEyeView video showing the process (time lapse) to my YouTube channel.

This week, I’m excited to be launching this limited edition series of 5 needle felted landscapes. Each piece goes live at 8PM EST, one per day, starting Monday June 6th, through Friday June 10th. Pick out your favorite and follow me on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter to see the introductions this week!

#CreativeSprint: A Half-Finished Challenge that was Wholly Worthwhile

For the month of April, I signed up to take part in a daily art challenge called #CreativeSprint, organized by Another Limited Rebellion. The idea of a daily assignment delivered to my inbox, intended to spark creativity and get me to try new things, sounded like something I would certainly enjoy, but also benefit from. The challenge promised to “pump up your creative muscles” but it was very open ended, you could take as much or as little time as you wanted for each assignment, and be as literal or abstract as you desired.

The daily assignments ranged from making something that fits in the palm of your hand, to working with your non-dominant hand, to making something inspired by a song. There were days when I knew right away what I would make as soon as I read the email, and other days I felt distracted for hours because I couldn’t come up with anything. All in all, it was a great mix of idea starters that really got my mind (and hands) working. Trying new things is something I enjoy, but don’t often make time for, and #CreativeSprint motivated me to do just that.

I was unable to keep up with the daily challenges once the Mother’s Day rush hit hard - I was simultaneously featured in Etsy’s Editors Picks, the front page of Etsy, and in Woman’s Day magazine, and received over 800 orders in only 3 weeks. Oh my goodness, never experienced anything like that before - it was awesome but it nearly killed me! I was overwhelmed, sick for several days, and had zero spare time for the second half of the month, but I kept the CreativeSprint challenge emails because even though I didn’t get to participate again after the 17th of April, those emails gave me ideas to try out later on.

I almost forgot the best part / worst part: sharing whatever it was you made that day. Eek! Even the stupid stuff? Yep! Sharing my work was a little nerve wracking, because these pieces I made were just experiments and didn’t necessarily “go” with the rest of the work in my Instagram feed. They weren’t previously tested or perfectly photographed, but I enjoyed making every single one of them. I also enjoyed peeking at the #CreativeSprint hashtag at the end of the day to see what other participants did. Lots of talent and creating thinking out there!   

Click through the gallery below for a closer look at some of my favorite creations.