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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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

Books Books Books (My 2015 Goodreads Challenge)

I'm a little late posting this, but I finally curled up with a cup of tea and my Goodreads dashboard this morning to see how I did in 2015, rather than finishing either of the two books I'm currently halfway through. I didn't meet my Goodreads challenge for last year (which was 35 books), but I really enjoyed just about everything I read. The majority of the books I spent my time with were fiction, and I'd say over 75% of them were audible books (my favorite way to read while I'm at work in the studio!)

Below is my Year in Books. I couldn't decide on a favorite this time. It's a tie between Althea & Oliver, and My Heart and Other Black Holes. Both VERY good, and I'd definitely read them again in the future. 

For 2016, I'm setting my goal at 24 books. I feel like 2 books per month should be doable, so we'll see how it goes! What are you planning to read this year? I'd love some recommendations if you have any.

If we're not already connected on Goodreads, lets change that! Find me here

Year in Review: 2015

I know I say this every year, (and I hope I’ll be lucky enough to get to say it again next year): this has been an incredible twelve months. Once again, records have been broken, goals have been achieved (though promptly replaced by new goals for next year), and an awful lot of fun has been had. I've learned SO much this year, and there are some big big things coming up in the near future. As always, I feel incredibly blessed to be able to make a living this way, with my own two hands as a creative entrepreneur, and I'm so thankful for every minute of this journey as a Maker.

Once Again Sam turns 7 years old on January 8th, and as I have done in past years, I always like to stop and reflect, think through what I’ve learned, where I’ve been, and the countless things I have to be grateful for.  

Just a reminder of why I share my stats - this is not intended for bragging purposes.

  • This is to show that a little side hobby can become a serious business over time, through trial and error, self education, and a whole lot of hard work.

  • This is to encourage others to start something of their own, or keep at it, whatever stage they're in. If you have idea for a business, go for it! I had no plan when I started out, so if you have that much, you're way ahead of me. 

  • This is because a record breaking year is only possible thanks to God’s provision, and support from everyone out there who has been a part of my business in some way.

Thank you all for your support this year!

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It was a darn good year, in more ways that numbers can ever prove. Here’s ten of my favorite highlights from 2015, in no particular order. This is what memory lane looks like as a small business owner.

  1. Workshop renovations: Thanks to my husband and all his hard work renovating our basement this year, I now I have a workspace where I’m happy and incredibly productive. Also, it’s a total luxury to be able to run equipment, filter the air, AND have the lights on all at once without blowing a circuit!

  2. The Makers Summit: as always, this conference for creatives lit a fire under me to take on some big big goals this year, and I’m proud to say I have checked off almost everything on this year’s list (or very close to it). However, I already have a to-do list for 2016, and the next conference is still 2 months away!

  3. Artisphere: Getting accepted to the festival and winning the People’s Choice Award was a huge honor, and even though I didn’t make the cut for 2016, that gigantic purple prize ribbon will always hang proudly in my studio.

  4. New laser cutter: I upgraded to a huge 90 watt machine this year, and it was worth every penny. I only wish I had done it sooner and never wasted my time on a cheaper hobby model when I needed the professional model from the start. I’ll never forget how relieved I was when we finally got this thing in place (it weighs over 500 pounds and nearly didn’t fit through the doorway)!

  5. Learning new things (woodturning,  metal working, shibori dying): In February I took a woodturning class with my husband, and after an afternoon of instruction, we’ve been hooked ever since. I also attended the John C. Campbell Folk School for a week this summer to learn metal smithing, which was an incredible learning experience. Recently, I tried my hand at shibori dying, just for fun, and really enjoyed the process. I now realize for the first time how important learning new things is for my creative health, so that’ll definitely be a priority for next year.

  6. American Made Finalist: I have applied to this national contest for years, and was excited to make it to the final round for the first time. I got some nice media exposure because of it, even though I didn’t win.  

  7. My first catalog: It took over 6 months of tedious, frustrating, never-ending work, but we did it! Oh my gosh, never again. But yay, it’s finally done!

  8. Indie Craft Parade: I look forward to this craft show all year long for so many reasons, and it never ever disappoints. Is it weird I’m already thinking about my application photos for June?

  9. The Bunny Project: The idea for this series began about this time last year, and once every quarter, I took a break from orders and production work to make something just for fun. In my world, making bunnies is fun. Making bunnies doing or wearing ridiculous things, is about as much fun as a person can have. 95% of the pieces from this quirky needle felted collection sold, so that was an unexpected bonus. I guess I’m not the only one who LOVES bunnies!

  10. Starting the #MakersEyeView series: I got the GoPro camera for Christmas last year, and have really enjoyed producing these short videos for my YouTube channel that share my process (from my perspective, mostly as time-lapse). I didn’t have any video background prior to this, and still have an awful lot of technical stuff to learn, but I have discovered I really enjoy sharing what goes on behind the scenes in the studio, and I have been overjoyed by the positive response so far.   



The Little Business That Could

Six years ago, on January 8th 2009, I opened an Etsy shop and called it Once Again Sam. I listed a few upcycled leather earrings, plus some other jewelry I'd made, then obsessively refreshed my shop stats. By the end of day one, I had a grand total of 11 pageviews. It was something, at least. Little victories was how it all started.

My first sale came from my ever supportive and always-thoughtful cousin, Vivian. My second sale didn’t come for months after that (from my mother-in-law), right around the time I was about to give up and close the shop. Those first few months were incredibly disheartening, but I figured it really didn’t cost me much to keep going a little longer, aside from my pride. I reminded myself of why I opened the shop in the first place: to have a creative outlet to earn money for more craft supplies, but mostly to have fun. That was it. That was my whole business plan.

By the end of my first year operating as Once Again Sam, I was surprised to have 100 Etsy sales under my belt. 100 people bought something I made, and 98 of them weren’t related to me. Exciting stuff! I stopped worrying about numbers after that, and more about what I was working on and what I wanted to learn. Sales were going to happen or not happen all on their own, and it wasn’t worth stressing over. Besides, what’s the point of having a creative outlet when it’s causing stress?      

With a lot of hard work, the business grew. It didn't happen overnight, not even close. It was a slow but steady thing. More slow than steady, if I'm honest. I improved my skills, learned the ins and outs of using Etsy, and experimented with new products to see what worked and what didn’t. It was well beyond just a little side hobby by the end of year two. By year three, I was making more through my creative outlet than I was at my full time job. How did that happen? I didn’t plan it that way. I went to school to be an interior designer and enjoyed the work, but I certainly was enjoying working with my hands too. By year four, I was able to go full time with Once Again Sam and cutback to doing interior design on the side, flip-flopping my career with my hobby, because I really do enjoy design work and didn’t want to give it up completely. Having the opportunity to do that was a huge blessing, one that still hasn't sunk in all the way, even now.  

Having never planned on being a small business owner / working artist, I had to learn as I went. I fumbled, I failed. I still fumble and fail. There’s nothing easy about running a handmade business, especially if you’re the one responsible for design, research, stocking supplies, customer service, marketing, shipping, and oh yeah … you have to actually make every single item with your own two hands. Oh, the pressure! I’ve never worked as hard as I do now, but it’s incredibly gratifying. I may be an accidental entrepreneur, and I still have pretty much everything to learn, but here I am. I make a living making things. It can be done!

Although I have in no way “made it” (whatever that means), I’m in the process of making it every day. I’ve learned an awful lot in six short years, but there’s so much more ahead. Any success I’ve had so far is all thanks to God’s provision, my husband’s support and encouragement (and for telling me about Etsy in the first place!), and a whole lot of trial and error. For anyone thinking about using their creativity as more than just an outlet, I want to encourage you to give it a shot and see what happens. You might be surprised at where you are in six years.

Get 20% off your entire purchase in my Etsy shop with this coupon code!

Get 20% off your entire purchase in my Etsy shop with this coupon code!

Top ten things I wish I knew six years ago:

10-Numbers aren’t everything. They’re fun to track and can be very informative, but they can also become a problem if you obsess over them. Shop stats, profit margins, Facebook likes, etc., they don’t determine your worth or your talent. They only give a snap shot of any given day.  

9-Charging too little for your work when you first start out will at some point catch up with you. Be realistic but fair about your prices early on, and don’t give in to the temptation to undercharge just to get a sale. It devalues you, your work, your future work, and other people’s work too. I’m scolding myself on this one, believe me. There was a time when I was pretty much giving things away.

8-Being organized goes a long way. Keep good records, track your progress in metrics, find a system that works for you, and learn from past mistakes.

7-People may eventually try to copy your work. It’s not fair. And it SUCKS. Get mad (or sue, if you have the energy), and then come up with something even better. Make it hard for those copycats to keep up with you. Copycats are inherently lacking in creativity, so use that to your advantage and let them eat your dust.  

6-Find other working creatives and ask them a heck of a lot of questions. Share what you know, find out what they know, and you’ll all be better off for it.

5-Know that some people aren’t going to like your work. It’s inevitable, and it’s perfectly okay. I’ve even had a few people claim my work is offensive (the felted bunny heads, no less, but I won’t get into that here). Don’t take it personally and don’t change what you’re doing just to please a few folks. It’s art, for goodness sake!

4-Celebrate milestones, even the smallest ones, and don’t beat yourself up too much when you screw up. 

3-It’s hard to explain this kind of creative job to the average person. They’ll ask, “But what do you really do?” as if you couldn’t possibly sell handmade items to pay your mortgage. Try not to get bent out of shape or overly defensive - they most likely don’t mean to offend you. If they’re open to having a conversation about it, kindly share that creating with your hands is a real job for some. The alternative is to get really good at faking a smile. Your choice.

2-Have fun. Okay, that sounds dumb, but it’s true. Sometimes, when I’ve made 30 of the same thing in one day, I start to feel like I’m turning into a factory so I take time to make something silly, something I doubt anyone will ever buy, because I want to make it purely for the sake of making it.

1-Create things you love and always be inspired. If you ever lose that, do whatever you have to do to get it back, even if it means taking a creativity break. Staying passionate is the single most important part of this journey.  

2014 was a record breaking year in every way. Thank you to those who were a part of it! Here's a little geeky peek at some of my stats from the past year. Looking forward to 2015 and all it brings. 

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