Contributed by: Melissa of HautTotes
You can survive being a parent and business owner, you can manage to nurture and raise your family and business both... And this possible with only a minimal amount of head banging and sleepless nights.
One year ago a magnificent thing happened in my life. A huge yellow bus rolled up to my door took both my children away and promised to bring them back in several hours smarter (and hopefully tired). As I marveled at my youngest going off to kindergarten it occurred to me that our family could use another income. Because my older child has a profound physical disability and misses @ 40 days of school a year, I have to have a very flexible schedule. I was also tired of doing what I was told (Ok, it was mostly the kindergartner bossing me around, but still…) and in truth I really didn’t want to get out of my pajamas most days. I didn’t want to do childcare (I was enjoying immensely the recent cutback in hours of that job) So, I turned to something I loved and was good at, napping. Just kidding, I couldn’t find a way to make that pay, I turned to sewing.
Now I said it was possible, not easy, and not fast. I tried to sell my bags to local stores, the commission was huge and the profit sucked and I had to deal with people crankier and more badly tempered than my kindergartner. I tried to sell my bags on Ebay, It took a lot of work, the fees were high, and I hated the auction format. I gave that up in 2 weeks.
Then I found Etsy. I opened my shop one year ago today. I listed a bag and watched, and watched and checked my e-mail and checked my views. In retrospect, it would have been a much easier year had I know a few things… or had patience or much of an attention span… but I digress.
Lessons from my first year....
***Believe in yourself and your product!!
I wasted a lot of time obsessing over when and if those first bags would sell, and questioning the viability of my product. If your shop is slow, make something new, make more of stuff that sells well, take a walk, have a cup of tea and brainstorm. Read The Storque http://www.etsy.com/storque/ you will find great info there! Join a social networking site (UGH! I know, I thought it was a waste of time too, it wasn’t!! I’ll get to that later) or take a nap, it really does help sometimes.
***Don’t waste as much time as I did obsessing over the heart-o-matic. Truth is I still do, but pretend not to.
***Join a team! http://team.etsy.com/
You will get so much information and support by joining a team. Learning from each other’s mistakes and successes as well as having others who are in a similar situation to bounce ideas off, or commiserate with really helps!
***Plan for success!!
I spent so much time wondering what I would do if this didn’t work out I was completely unprepared for the sales that started to come in. Frankly they really cut into my naptime.
As a tool for planning for success, or just to keep yourself sane, I can’t stress this one enough! If you have to spend 5 minutes finding the packing tape only to discover the hole punch that you couldn’t find and bought a replacement for yesterday, you’ve wasted time, money and caused yourself more stress than necessary. Trust me holiday season will be stressful enough without this!
I bought a dry erase board and hung it on the wall in my sewing room. When I get half through a roll of ribbon, I write that color on the “order” board. The same goes with opening the last bag of 12” zippers, or making a bag and realizing I only have half a yard of that fabric left.
I Keep a notepad with me and write everything down! I write down promo ideas while watching TV, sketch in the doctor’s office, notes to remember which playmate I’ve left my daughter with that day… I can’t trust myself to remember everything! Make lists, lists are the business owner’s friend! Just like play dough and gold fish crackers are a mom’s friend. Don’t go anywhere without a pad of paper, goldfish crackers and those small cans of play dough, ok, and the number of your local bail bondsman if you think the day might get tough.
Stock up on shipping supplies, make sure you have extra ink cartridges, paper, tape and whatever packaging you use. The last thing you want to do when you are backed up on orders is have to run out and buy tape! This is especially bad in my local store since the “school supplies” are inexplicably across the isle from the cookies and crackers. Last time I made an emergency tape run it took me 45 minutes and I came home with Oreos and 2 boxes of Rye Triscuits. That tape left me $15 poorer and 2 lbs heavier. I could have used that time to nap and saved that money for my bail bondsm… I mean for my kid college fund.
***Only pack one order at a time. I sent a bag to Australia that belonged in England and vise versa (no freaking joke). Once I was aware of the mistake I told both customers to keep the bag they had received and sent the correct bags the next day. It was an expensive way to learn that lesson (why did they BOTH have to be international?!)
Dedicate space if at all possible for your work; nothing puts the brakes on inspiration faster than having to lug everything out of a closet or from under the bed to start working on that new idea. Great accessible storage starts with shelves, in my opinion, which since this is my post, is what matters most (hey, I’m a poet!) you can see how I’ve set up my studio here http://cuttheclutter.blogspot.com/
***Ship internationally, it really isn’t that difficult! (Just make sure you send the right bag!)
***And yes, social networking does work. I joined twitter a few months ago and my sales have almost doubled. It takes time and energy and not everyone has the personality for it (personally I pretend to be sort of irreverent and funny). You aren’t going to get very far if you just talk about your product and post links all day. I have spent quite a while building up a small but great following, I “know” a lot of these people, we chat about everything from recipes to how I figured out that my puppy had eaten blue and green crayons (seriously it’s a hilarious story, really leaves you with a clear mental picture) Anyhow about once or twice a day I also post a link to a new listing or to a bag that has sold and been relisted etc.
I also run promotions through twitter offering an item from my shop to the x # retweet. In my most recent promo I offered a bag from my shop to the 500th re-tweeter of my promo, which linked to the bag. Within two days I had over 3000 hits to my shop from twitter and 300 new twitter followers. The last time I gave away a free bag, I announced the winner on my blog, which advertised a sale for my twitter followers that if they bought a tote they got a matching pouch free; it resulted in 10 sales in 3 days.
***Improve your photography skills!!! Unless you are a professional, there is room for improvement. I look back at the photo of the first bag I sold and think it is a wonder anyone bought it! Photography is NOT my strong point and I am lucky enough to have a product that sells well with a full frontal. I hang my bags on a wall and shoot. But, I’ve found the best wall in the house, lots of natural light, I shoot at a certain time of the day when the light is good etc. I still don’t have great photos, but they are a huge improvement from a year ago.
***Have great customer service! Be upfront with customers about what to expect from you. Fill in your profile and policies. Stand behind your work, it is better to take a return than have an unhappy customer! At this point I have about a 10% return rate. You know you are doing things right when customers come back again and again. I send a thank you note with all my orders. I buy 8 cards for $1 at Michael’s and cut them in half. For less than a dime the customer gets a hand written thank you note. It just takes a minute and reminds the customer why they bought handmade. Customers are the beginning and end of your success; make sure they know you appreciate them.
***Be flexible and open to new ideas!!
My daughter told me that lots of people don’t want other to be able to see into their bags. I loved my “peek-a-boo” windows and thought it was a “signature look”. I grudgingly made bags without it as well, and they are now about half my sales.
***If you are going to procrastinate at least do something useful. When orders are backed up and e-mails unanswered and you just can’t bring yourself to face it, procrastinate a little… but do something useful. Take a shower (remember those?) nap (yeah, it’s my answer for everything) pick the crayons up off the floor, make some new friends on twitter, seriously if they can spend all day talking to strangers on a computer, they either have money to spend or can at the very least recommend a good bail bondsman. Either way your aces!
** Read the forums and don’t be afraid to ask questions, and take all advice posts even this one with a grain of salt. Really, if sales were that great how would I have time to write this?
***Laugh a little, life is short.
Thanks to those of you who managed to make it through my (somewhat humorous) soliloquy "Yes!! you can" (above) on surviving parenthood and Etsy.
Along with the references to play dough, goldfish cracker and bail bondsman I suggested taking some time out of your day to Twitter and gave an example of what Twitter has done for my sales.
I've received several convo's, tweets and a couple emails about how to go about a Twitter promo and specifically how to count.
So, this is what I did. I tweeted a message That said
*WIN THIS TOTE* (link to my item) 497th RT wins, max 1 RT per hour
I set my heart-o-matic so that I could see how many people dropped in and more importantly how many looked beyond the promo bag!
I let twitter do it's thing... And I RTed this myself about every 4 hours.
It is important to mention that I have spent a lot of time tweeting about other things than my shop, I at that time had 2600 followers, many of whom where not porn bots!
As for how to do the actual count Make sure you include something like 1 RT per hour or someone will sit there and RT it again and again and again (someone probably will anyway) then when you need to count how many there have been put (in my case) @hautttotes 497th in the search bar in Twitter. All the tweets with "@hautttotes 497th" will be included. You will have to then go to the bottom and count up, skipping the people who RT every 5 minutes. It takes a while but is totally doable.
Give away something good! NO one is going to RT a promo for a $5 gift certificate if the stuff in your store starts at $15!
Don't, DON'T just tweet about your shop and what's for sale!!! If you do, people will unfollow you and it will give Etsy a bad "spammy" image.
Don't use too small a number! You want it to take a while for there to be a winner! The point of this is for the followers of your followers to see this and tweet it on!
My 497 took less than 24 hours (note to self, bigger number next time) It resulted in 3000 views to my shop about half of which were not to the item linked! In addition I got about 300 new twitter followers (people love you if you give them free stuff!)
Now this would do me no good, other than to boost my twitter popularity if it didn't translate into sales!!! Here is how I did that.
When I had a winner I tweeted "There is a winner!!! Is it you? Check here to find out (insert my blog link)"
On my blog I put a post with photos of my bags (linked to the listing) and a message that said something to the effect of Congratulations X!! (Link to their twitter account) If you had your heart set on a tote and didn't win, I have a special promotion for my twitter followers (I offered a free matching pouch with tote) you can offer a discount, whatever. If you purchase from my shop in the next 5 (obviously you could use more or less) days and put "Twitter" in the notes to seller....
Blah, blah, blah, you get the idea from here. The last time I did this it resulted in 10 "twitter" sales (at @ $38 a bag, that's not bad) so far (less than a month) 2 of those buyers (and the previous winner!) have come back and bought additional items!
I also suggested people tweet the winner to congratulate them (you would be amazed at how many did!)