I’ve been looking forward to bringing you the story of Amanda and her significant other, Sean, who have both been able to quit their day jobs in order to successfully earn a living running their Etsy shop, BreadandBadger. Soon after Amanda quit her day job the budding success of her glass business presented a similar opportunity for Sean to help her run the show. After chatting with Amanda, I know you will appreciate her insightful tips for running a successful business, right down to how to work with a significant other without being at one another’s throats!
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
I’ve actually been trying to find a way to make a living with my artwork my whole life! It’s just one of those things I knew I was born to do, without a doubt. I remember selling art in high school to my friends, like t-shirts that I’d drawn on with puff-paint. I’ve gone through a number of phases and false-starts (tattoo artist, children’s book illustrator, web comic creator, beaded jewelry designer/lost-wax caster) before finding a hit with etched glass. Sean had been scheming to work for himself for a while, but neither of us ever thought he’d be working for me! It was a bit of a surprise, the way it happened.
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
I actually quit my full-time job before officially starting my business back in 2005. I just couldn’t handle working in a retail store while I was trying to draw a web comic and learn about business. I opened my first Etsy shop, SilverSquirrel, in 2006, but it never really took off — mostly because my heart wasn’t really in it. had to get a part-time job shortly after, but I was lucky enough to get a gig working for a local designer who worked with vintage accessories, so I learned a lot about business from her. I experimented with other art mediums, read lots of books on business and marketing, and basically absorbed everything I could. I opened BreadandBadger in the summer of 2007 and dove right in — I finally felt confident about my new glass products. I only had this shop for about two months before it needed my full attention, but I’d been doing craft fairs and promotion for a while before that.
When Sean quit his full time job last fall, it was completely out of necessity. I was so swamped with orders that I basically had to hire someone to help me, so there wasn’t much to think about. We bought equipment so we could start production work — I had been hand-engraving each item before that. We knew the holidays would be even busier, so Sean just went for it. We were both scared at first, because we’d just spent a bunch of money on the sandblasting equipment and a rented studio space, but everything quickly paid for itself. I never could have made that many glasses on my own, not to mention packing them and keeping track of everything!
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time?
Sean and I are incredibly frugal, so we worked to create a nest egg to fall back on before I initially quit my job. My endeavors were doing a little better than breaking even until last fall, when it really exploded. With the money we’d kept saved up, we were able to buy the equipment we needed to expand the business when the time was right. I like to be legit and keep detailed accounting records, which has been invaluable for budgeting. I’m a firm believer that if you’re serious about something, you should do everything properly from the beginning and you won’t have any regrets. I don’t like to falsely exaggerate how low our income is, or it could effect our ability to get a loan if we needed it. We have plans to buy a house as soon as possible, and we’ll have to prove our work history and show steady income for that.
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
- I believe in my products, so I’ve gotten used to shouting about them. Sean gets more excited about the business, the more he’s involved and the better we do. No one will pay attention to your products unless you’re really excited about them, either in person or online. I recommend always presenting yourself professionally in the public eye, and people will respect you and take your seriously.
- This might seem silly, but Sean and I always try to look happy when we’re doing craft fairs, even if it’s a bad day. I had to actually ask my parents to leave the booth at our first outdoor event, because it was freezing cold and they looked miserable. No one wants to shop from someone who looks unhappy, even if they’re just chilly! Putting a bright face on things will help with your sanity, and it makes you more approachable from a customer’s standpoint.
- Sending press releases have opened up so many doors for me! Some press releases are just duds, but I’ve learned that there’s an art to it. You never know if one blog feature is going to spread into 20, or a local paper’s article is going to create a frenzy for your products. Press begets more press, and blog features can spread like wildfire online. I’m actually teaching a workshop next month on writing press releases (based on Grace Bonney’s strategies from design*sponge). The workshop is hosted by Trillium Artisans (http://trilliumartisans.etsy.com or http://trilliumartisans.org), which is a non-profit that helps low-income “green” businesses in Portland, OR.
- Contributing to The Sampler is one of the first things I did to promote my business, and it’s been a great way to get the word out. I try to contribute a couple times a year, and it always brings at least a few sales and press features. Plus, people who receive the Sampler LOVE what they get, so I hear from people at craft fairs and those who order online.
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
- I’m a big fan of social networking, mostly because it gives me an excuse to play on the computer all day for “promoting.” I’ve only had luck when I use sites really frequently though. If I don’t update them, they’re easily forgotten and pretty useless.
- It’s good to take note of which products are selling well, because sometimes it’s not the ones that we expect! I’ve had to drop products and designs that I really liked, because they just weren’t selling. Being able to let go of something that I personally like is a big step, but it’s the smart thing to do.
Walk us through your typical workday.
- We’re both late risers! It’s a perk of working from home. First thing, I check my email and convos, and write down any orders I have on post-it notes (this is the best organizational idea I’ve ever had!—I can see everything I need stickied to the desktop, and then label boxes once they’re packed up). I relist anything that sold overnight so that we can make again.
- I feed the cat, then breakfast and coffee in front of the computer for social networking and reading updates in Google Reader. I couldn’t live without programs like this! They really streamline my life and allow me to keep up with a lot of blogs and news that I’d miss otherwise.
- If it’s Thursday, we head out to PDX Etsy Tea Time! Otherwise, I usually get Sean set up with a project to do, or he’ll do the weekly accounting. We look at what inventory we need, and he starts making it.
- I’m always working on some kind of promotional thing, whether it’s writing a new press release, or updating the website and Etsy shop. I try to list new items as often as possible, and take new photos of older items to “freshen” them up. I listen to audio books while I work, since I don’t have much time for reading.
- Lunch, usually eaten while working. Sometimes I read while eating, if I’m sick of sitting at the computer.
- If I’m done with all my projects early, I’ll sit down and help Sean mask glasses. Sometimes we play tennis in the afternoon, or I’ll go for a jog. If Sean’s done working early, he likes to work on his planted freshwater aquariums. We have three in the house, and he’s always working on them.
- One of us cooks dinner at some point, which we both enjoy doing. Sometimes dinner time is the only time we really see each other during the day, since we tend to have different projects to work on.
- After dinner, I head back to the computer and deal with any new orders/emails/convos and networking things. I might write a blog post or check out the forums.
- This is about when we’ll go to the studio to sandblast everything. After blasting, the glasses get hand-washed and I date and initial all of them.
- Sean and I pack up the orders that will go out the following day, and request carrier pickup. We plan what we need to make, then create the stencils for tomorrow (since they need to dry overnight).
- We both tend to stay up past 1am or so, reading, updating things, tweaking stuff, and generally being geeks. Sometimes we play video games for a little unwinding. This is also when the cat likes to tear around the house and be a spazz, so we indulge him.
I don’t think there’s anything that we miss about working for other people! I used to miss the social aspect of going to work, but I have lots of business-owner friends now that I’ve met through Etsy Teams. I actually have more friends now than ever before! Sean is still figuring out how to be social while working at home, but he enjoys setting his own hours and spending more time on his aquariums.
We’ve both worked a variety of jobs, from food service to retail to construction. We’ve worked for big corporations, small businesses, and family friends. There just wasn’t really anything satisfying about doing work for someone else and following another company’s dream, even when it was paying well. We’ve definitely taken some big risks, but we’ve always come out ahead, and the business is constantly growing. It would be nice to have a steady paycheck, but even those aren’t sure bets in an economic situation like this.
If you’re thinking of working closely with your significant other, we’d both recommend keeping your own space. Don’t try to work too close to each other in the same room, or you’ll be at each other’s throats. Be honest and open with each other, and keep your expectations reasonable. You might both have very different schedules or techniques that work best for you.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
If you have a local Etsy Team, join it and get together! I’ve gained boatloads of knowledge from my local Teams (PDXEtsy, PDX Indie [the cooperative that I helped found!] and Trillium Artisans). Talking to real people about their Etsy businesses is invaluable, and you really need a support group who’ll understand you. Friends and family can be very negative about your new business (from jealousy, or just from not understanding it), so you may need to stop relying on them for awhile. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to do this. Sean is actually an employee of my company now, and I wish we’d known more about how to set that up before we did it. I would have found a trustworthy accountant before we tried to do that ourselves, and made sure we knew what we were getting into. It’s not that hard (and it has its own tax benefits!), but it was really intimidating.
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
- Sales-wise, we’d like to see growth over last year, which has been pretty consistent. I’d like to finally get up to 100 listings in the shop. I’d like to sell more internationally, but I haven’t figured out a really affordable shipping method for that yet. Glass is heavy!
- Aesthetically, I’d like to have better photos across the board, since there are always a few listings that I dislike. I’d like to narrow the color scheme a little more, to keep things cohesive.
- We’re hoping to build up enough inventory this summer that we’ll be really prepared for the holidays. November always catches us off-guard, and it would be nice to be a little less stressed. We both hope to plan our days better so we have more free time. We recently moved to the west coast, and there’s so much to explore still!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Thanks for having us! Neither of us would be working at home full time without Etsy. You can see more photos of our studio and etching techniques on Flickr. You can follow me on Twitter and read more about us on our blog.
Please join Amanda and Sean for a follow-up Question and Answer session this Tuesday, March 18th, 2009 at 3pm EST in the Auditorium room of the Virtual Labs (the VL schedule is magically in your local time). See you there!
You can find some of our previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.