Tell us about your previous working situations and how you discovered Etsy.
Michael was a golf course superintendent for our first 5 years of marriage. When he lost his job, we started looking at our consumer lifestyle. We were deep in debt, even with him earning an excellent salary, as we tried hard to keep up with the way we thought we were supposed to be living. When Mike took a job as an assistant and his pay was cut by two-thirds, I started looking into ways to market my hand-knit, Waldorf-inspired toys.
How did you and your husband prepare to transition into full-time Etsy selling?
As our interest in homesteading grew, we learned that the first thing we had to do was get rid of our debt and learn to live within our means. We also decided to search out the most affordable rural places to live in New England. We decided on northern Vermont, because we appreciated the diverse and large number of artisans in the area, as well as the affordability. As we grew our business, we also learned to grow our own food, including vegetables and raise hens for eggs. We recently purchased two goats to provide us with our milk and cheese.
How do the roles of the business break down in a family of nine?
Mike does most of the production work: the harvesting, sawing, sanding, and drilling. He generally works without interruption from 6 a.m. until lunch time. I weave the demands of the business between homeschooling, preparing most of our food from scratch, and doing the other homesteading chores. From about 2 to 4 p.m., Mike takes the younger kids so that I can have some exclusive work time. This gives Mike a chance to do an activity with the children or work on a project on our homestead.
What are your best marketing tips?
- Be consistent and don’t give up. It sounds so trite, but it is true.
- Relist, renew or add a new product every day.
- Evaluate your shop. There are always so many improvements that I could be pursuing. For example, taking better photographs, checking tags, or rewording descriptions.
- Think about how you could diversify your product line. When we starting designing wedding decor with birch, our business took off.
- Treat your customers how you would like to be treated.
- Communicate well and always be kind.
Have you made any business mistakes you regret?
No regrets, as mistakes are to be learned from. For example, we have learned to not offer international shipping without making sure of the exact costs first.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
Knowing when to stop. Because we live simply, we have chosen not to pursue money as our number one goal. Instead, the challenge for us is finding the balance of an agrarian lifestyle while still earning enough to support our family. With six (soon to be seven) children, meeting their needs has to come first. Balancing the need to support them financially while providing them with our attention is a constant challenge.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job?
The flexibility is wonderful. Mike and I can switch roles throughout the day and truly work as a team to provide for our family.
What advice would you give someone considering a similar path?
- Really look at what you do need, then figure out how much money you can live on. Also, make sure whatever you choose to do is something you really believe in. We just love that all of our products are truly earth friendly. After a wedding, the items that are not kept can be put in a the compost pile or out in the woods.
- Don’t go investing in top-of-the-line tools, equipment, etc. We use an eight-year-old computer with dial-up and do much of our work on our kitchen counter. Mike works in the basement (which is unfinished) with his hand-me-down table saw, sander and a very basic chop saw.
- As your business grows, really evaluate what you “need” to make it grow and what you could do without.
- We also don’t use any social networking tools, which I imagine would take up much more of our time. We haven’t found it necessary.
- Finally, support other Etsy artists. Although our income is still small by society’s standards, we carefully choose where we buy from if we can’t make it ourselves. We first look for local and handmade, then we turn to Etsy. We love our Etsy brooms, wooden utensils, skirts, earrings and more.
What goals do you have in store for the future of your businesses?
We do plan to build a workshop with studio space in the future. But it may be a few years away still, the barn comes first.
Thanks for sharing your story, Tonya and Mike. Check out their work in the Seller’s Items below.
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