Sidenote : as I have been writing this story, I have been occasionally dropping back into the archives to get my timeline right (I am so off-base about when things happened it's hilarious). And you guys, after a stroll through the archives, I find myself even more confused about how I became the somewhat professional that I am today. I mean seriously.
But let's return to October 2007, where I had just had my first Etsy sale.
I don't consider my first Etsy sale a turning point in my career because, well, setting up an Etsy shop is even easier than starting a blog. Getting momentum and KEEPING AT IT, that's the hard part.
In fall 2010, after I hit my 2000th sale on Etsy and I summed it up nicely :
"I jumped into Etsy because I thought I had an idea with the map envelopes. I did not plan anything out or worry about what I would sell next. The shop has evolved as my taste and interests have changed which has kept it enjoyable."
Yep. My career hit a turning point when I let my shop evolve. My style and interests have changed dramatically over the past few years and I have just let my shop and what I sell roll with those changes. It's like the blog. I write what I like. I sell what I like. If you like it too : hey! BONUS! Can I interest you in my Instagram feed?
But there were two significant things that helped bolster my online shop career.
The first was that I invested in my business and took a letterpress class. I remember that it cost $215 for three weekends of lessons (nine hours total) and at the time that was a lot of money to spend. It was the first real investment I had put in my handmade career aside from the $4.95 I had been shelling out monthly to Typepad since January 2006. I took the class because I wanted to learn something new and I saw value in being able to make something that not everyone else could.
This class paid off big time for me. I ended up turning that class into so many prints on chipboard. I began playing with my own phrasing and experimenting more with my "art." It was a really great time. I remember working in that letterpress studio and feeling so legit. Those were wonderful afternoons.
You really do have to spend money to make money. I spend more money now than I was grossing in 2010. Easily. But thankfully the amount I am grossing has increased as well (or this story would be headed for an unhappy ending).
The second was when I started thinking about creating product lines. For about a year, I was just making and selling on Etsy with stuff I had on hand or random things I could throw together. There wasn't much thought to creating a "collection" or building products that fit together. I was content with a few sales here and a few sales there. It was just a trickle of income and that felt fine. But, obviously, a "trickle of income" does not equal a viable career. A trickle of income = a hobby.
What separated Elise-the-girl-with-the-Etsy-shop-on-the-side in 2008 and Elise-the-girl-with-the-rubber-stamp-business in 2012 is, among other things, a real vision. When I first started to think about "producing a line" - a big(ger) event that included kits, prints, journals and postcards, instead of "selling a product" I was able to get smarter about how I was spending money and how much time I was taking to make one item.
With a line of similar products (even though it was a TINY line), I could buy raw materials in bulk. I could produce in bulk. I could photograph in bulk. And most importantly, I could sell in bulk. I started to create demand for my product by making the focus a little less random and the collections a little more special. I began to build hype by setting launch days.
In short, I started to be more deliberate with what the hell I was doing.
By the fall of 2008, I was ready to cut back on my work hours at Paper Source. I liked my job and the people there, but I was excited about the money coming in from the Etsy shop and I felt like I had built something sustainable (I hadn't yet). I went down to part time. For about a week, I felt good with my decision and then I hit the panic button. I shopped craigslist for a job and found a paid PR internship close to my house.
I dusted off my word doc resume, updated it a bit and printed it out one final time.
In late December 2008 I had my last interview ever (to date) and then in January I started that PR internship. Returning to a desk job, after retail was a completely different world (you mean I can just get coffee whenever I want? And I can check up on my email?) In PR, we billed by the hour and I realized immediately that I hate billing by the hour because it puts the emphasis on how much time a task takes instead of how successfully you do it.
Very quickly I realized that I had just traded one hourly wage job for another and that getting paid by the hour was not the way I wanted to work. I wanted to get paid by my output. I wanted my hard work to be increasing my bottom line.
My internship wrapped up in the spring of 2009 and I threw myself into my own work. I created my first online scrapbooking online workshop and had over 100 people sign up to take it. At $20 a person that was $2000 total which at the time felt like a ton. The class was a success and I was able to re-run it four or five times, each time getting a decent income boost without having to re-invent the wheel. I ran a second art journaling workshop in the fall and that helped too. This was becoming more viable. I loved teaching.
Meanwhile, I kept working part time at Paper Source, selling on Etsy and blogging with more consistency. I had posts going up every morning and while I didn't yet have an editorial calendar, I was headed there. My audience was growing simply because I was writing and sharing so consistently.
In the spring of 2010, Paul and I moved back to Sacramento for a month and got married (we'd been engaged since March 2009). At the end of May we moved down to San Diego into the best apartment ever in Little Italy. We agreed that I could make a go at this working for myself thing. If I was able to make up for the lost retail income with my own stuff, I didn't have to get a "real job."
I was beyond excited to see what I could do with nothing but my own work on my plate.
to be continued...read part seven here.
Today on ELISE GETS CRAFTY I am chatting with Geoff & Lisa of The Goodness, about their photography business and working with a partner. Click here to subscribe or stream the episode from your computer here.