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.
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.