2018 - A Year in Review

2018 has been quite a year. I didn’t realize I’d hit so many milestones all at once, but I suppose that’s fitting because it’s my 10th year in business, which in itself is a milestone.

This year was my best year in some respects, but it was also a hard year at times. Some things fell through that I previously counted on, other opportunities found their way to me that were totally unexpected. It all worked out in the end!

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10,000 Etsy Sales:

This major milestone snuck up on me. I remember when I first opened my Etsy shop in 2009 (and started Once Again Sam simultaneously), I obsessed over every sale until I made it to 100 sales, which took about a full year. After that, I stopped worrying about the number and focused more on where I wanted to go with this handmade business. It’s been an incredible journey on Etsy and I hope to see 20,000 sales one day!

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100 Craft Shows:

That’s 100 set ups, 100 teardowns, 200 precise packings / re-packings of the car, thousands of miles on the road, good hotels, bad hotels, perfect weather, horrible weather, early mornings, late nights, and who knows how many hours talking to customers & other vendors. It’s a hard life. I admire people who do festivals full time, but I’ve learned over the last few years that I don’t want to be in a different city every weekend. I have drastically cut back on the number of events I do now, but all of those experiences at various craft shows and art festivals have taught me so much about my product, my customers, and myself.

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Record Sales:

I had a sales goal for the year, and I made it, but just barely. Every month I checked that we were on track to make that goal, and most of the time we were, but not always. I love a good “stretch goal” - something that pushes you to keep going, keep trying, keep making.

Record Number of Wholesale Orders & Stockists:

2018 was the first year I did multiple wholesale trade shows, and it paid off. With Etsy Wholesale closing up mid year, I had to hustle to make up for that loss, and when I look back at the number of wholesale orders from the year that came in solely from tradeshows and contacts made there, it’s easy to see this is a worthwhile investment for my business.

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Largest Commission:

I took on my biggest commission (both in quantity and in size) this year for a local company called Kentwool. I created 75 custom landscapes for them in the spring, then in the fall, I took on my first extra large needle felted landscape commission which was 24” x 36”. That was double the size of my largest piece previously!  I never would have attempted something that big on my own, but now I feel empowered to work at whatever scale I want.

Largest Fiber Art Collection:

In May of 2018, I had the honor of being Artist in Residence at Poinsett State Park, and during my time there I created 40 pieces inspired by my surroundings which were then exhibited at Art & Light Gallery. Never before have I created such a large series around a specific location, and I really enjoyed the challenge. I enjoyed it so much I’m doing another residency next year and have an even bigger exhibition opportunity lined up for the summer. That’s all I can share till next year!

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10 Years in Business:

It doesn’t feel like a long time to me, but I have come to realize a lot of Makers and small businesses simply don’t last that long. I’m one of the lucky ones! I think one big factor in why I have lasted this long and made every year better than the last is because I do a variety of things. When I’m sick of needle felting, I bounce back to jewelry. I’m not stuck in a single medium. I also never gave up my day job, and continue to work a few days a week as an Interior Designer, which gets me out of the studio and uses a totally different part of my brain. I’ll admit I don’t have much free time anymore, but I’m doing things I want to do with my time, and that matters far more to me.

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10,000 Etsy Sales

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It didn’t happen overnight. It happened over a decade.

I opened my Etsy shop on January 8th, 2009. Back then, this Once Again Sam thing was just a hobby and any money I made felt like easy money because I was doing something I enjoyed. I probably spent whatever I earned on shoes and yarn. I didn’t save it, I didn’t invest it back into my business. The whole point was creative fulfillment and a little extra spending money, both of which I received.

Things really started getting interesting in year four. By then, I was earning more on Etsy than in my full time interior design career. That was the year I realized this was way more than a side gig and I started getting serious about running a small handmade business. I didn’t know that was what I wanted to do until I was in the middle of doing it. I may have been a Maker long before Etsy came along, but I certainly wasn’t a small business owner. Thanks to Etsy, its easy-to-use interface, community full of support, and readily available self-paced education, I became an entrepreneur in my mid 20’s, something I never had the guts to daydream about prior to that.

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As you can see in my sales bar graph, some years my Etsy sales plateaued, other years were so good they made the rest look bad (looking at you, 2016), but overall it’s been a slow and steady climb to this big milestone. I’m celebrating 10 years on Etsy soon, and today marks 10,000 sales with the platform that made Once Again Sam possible in the first place.

The reason I wanted to share my true story is because I think a lot of people have unrealistic expectations about how quickly they should be successful on Etsy (or other avenues). I’m sure it happens on occasion, but I have yet to personally meet a maker who’s had that elusive “overnight success.” What I HAVE seen over and over is makers, including myself, work their butts off for years and years, and slowly but surely see success, but at the same time see their definition of success change.

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I hope my ordinary story, as undramatic as it may be, inspires someone out there to start something, pick back up, or keep at something. Decide for yourself what success means to you and go for it (and it’s okay if that changes in the process).

Every year I’ve been in business I’ve thought “I can’t believe how well this is going, there’s no way it can get any better than this” and every year I’m wrong.

Photo from 2013 when I was part of the Etsy section at the One of a Kind Show in Chicago, IL.

Photo from 2013 when I was part of the Etsy section at the One of a Kind Show in Chicago, IL.

Spring 2018 Launches

During the winter months of 2018, I often found myself playing with paint in the studio. I made time to practice each week, invested in new brushes, and even took an intro to alcohol inks class at Greenville Center for Creative Arts in March. I’ve been inspired by the medium! The textural and graphic possibilities of paint have greatly influenced my new jewelry collections this spring. I’m excited to finally share these new additions to my Etsy shop with you. Each piece is an original one-of-a-kind, but thanks to the simple settings and delicate scale, they’re easy to incorporate into your everyday-style.

See the process in my new Maker's Eye View video on YouTube!

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Alcohol Ink Collection: drips and splatters showcasing beautiful unpredictable patterns in colorful dyes, frozen in time on clear acrylic.

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Mixed Media Collection: clear acrylic layered with crumbled gold leaf, pale pink paint with stark black accents, framed in a variety of simple metal bezels and laser etched wooden settings.

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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

Etsy Manufacturing

I’m an American maker, a creative entrepreneur, and as of a few months ago, an Etsy Manufacturer. I’m thrilled to be a part of this marketplace for many reasons. First and foremost, I want to be involved in the vibrant maker community on a local, national, and international level, and Etsy connects us like no other. I’ve been offering laser cutting services for years now, so this new extension of Etsy is a wonderful (and much needed) way to simplify the process of matching up those who need help with those who are able to offer it.

I have invested in equipment for my own business Once Again Sam, and I have skills that are beneficial to others, so Etsy Manufacturing is the perfect fit. Over the years, various businesses have found me and hired out prototypes, production of parts and pieces for their own designs, and in some cases, I have made their entire product from start to finish based on their sketches. There are many many ways these partnerships work, and I think the hardest part of the whole process is finding each other to begin with. Not anymore!

Manufacturing can sometimes be a dirty word in the world of handmade. Negative images come to mind, (shady business practices, unhealthy work conditions in factories, the death of old fashioned craftsmanship, etc.), but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are responsible ways to grow your business by increasing production, or developing your inventions, or even just expanding your product offerings, and Etsy Manufacturing is a fantastic new resource. You can search for assistance by location or by the type of production needed. Some of these Etsy Manufacturers are also Etsy sellers, just like me, and some are small businesses that have been in the manufacturing business for decades. Whatever it is you need, I’m certain you can find someone on Etsy Manufacturing who can make it for you.

Here's what I can do: I have two laser cutters in my studio (a 40 watt and a 90 watt Full Spectrum laser cutter). With these machines, I’m am able to make precise cutouts & engravings on wood, acrylic, paper, cardboard, and leather material (just to name a few). I can help with preliminary design, or jump right into production mode if you’re ready to get started. My minimums are approachable, my prices are reasonable, and my turnaround times are speedy (typically only 1 week once material is acquired).

To find out more please visit my Etsy Manufacturing profile: https://www.etsy.com/manufacturing/2196/once-again-sam

I was thrilled to have Etsy Manufacturing sponsor a professional photography session in my studio recently with the talented Angela Cox of Angela Cox Photography. The photos she took help make my Etsy Manufacturing profile more personal, which is exactly what I wanted. When you work with Once Again Sam, you're working directly with me on a personal level, even if we never meet in person.