We’re dedicating the month of March’s Seller Handbook blog posts and Online Labs to one common goal: get found! This month’s Quit Your Day Job posts will ask full-time sellers to share their best marketing and social networking advice, along with other creative techniques they use to get their Etsy shops found!
Tell us about your shop and the idea behind it.
Hi! My name is Andi and I’m a handbag designer. I’ve been making bags for almost eight years now but doing it full time for more than three years all thanks to my Etsy shop, hoakonhelga. I primarily make bags out of reclaimed vintage leather jackets. I really love what I do. Nothing beats finding a sweet, outdated jacket that nobody will ever wear again, and turning it into a one-of- a-kind bag. I also enjoy dyeing materials and have recently added hand-dyed scarves and clutches to my shop. I live in Alberta, Canada where I make all of my work in my home studio. Most of the time you will see me wearing leggings and oversized sweaters carrying large Ikea blue bags full of parcels to the post office — those blue bags have almost become a staple to my wardrobe!
Tell us about your previous working situations and how you discovered Etsy.
About eight years ago I discovered my talent for making bags during an art school project where I needed to create something from hand-dyed fabric I had made. That’s all it took, one project and I was hooked. I started selling at a Show and Sale that the school would put together, and ended up doing pretty well. This was enough to realize that I had something going, so I made a website. I didn’t have any experience with web design or photography, but I went online and researched other craftspeople selling their work (Etsy hadn’t quite entered the scene just yet). I learned from their photos and websites and created something similar. At that time, because there was no Etsy, these craftspeople would have link pages that would link to each other’s websites. I sent out a bunch of emails asking for link exchanges and the majority of them happily obliged. Because it was such a small online community at the time, it actually brought a decent amount of traffic to my site.
I remember being in school and talking to fellow students about this new site called Etsy. I signed up in 2007, but didn’t start selling until November 2008 when I quit my job in retail and took the plunge. I’d love to tell you that I had all my ducks in a row financially, but I didn’t. To be honest, I had just gotten out of a serious relationship, moved back home, was recently graduated with a fine arts degree — and working in the mall. I didn’t really have very many supporters of starting my own business either. It was a point in my life where I felt like I really had nothing to lose and was at rock bottom. So, I quit my job and started sewing. I gave myself a couple weeks to develop some stock, took some pictures and created some listings. Almost immediately I was making money on Etsy, it wasn’t a ton, but it was enough to keep going. By April I moved out of my parents’ into my own apartment that was way too expensive to afford, but it was all mine. Money was tight. Looking after bills, food, and fabric supplies were my only priorities. I spent a good year focused solely on sewing and developing my business. That was a very tough and very stressful year, but in the end I survived and I’m really grateful for that experience. It wised me up in many ways. The next year was a little easier but still hard. I could afford a few new things for my apartment and be able to go out with friends for dinner from time to time. The year after was even better, I didn’t have to live month to month anymore and felt like I could afford small luxuries like a new dress or a new pair of shoes each season. This year I was able to take my first real vacation with my very own money. I can’t even tell you how fantastic that felt.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job?
I think like many of those who are self-employed I have a love-hate relationship with the ability to make my own schedule. It is wonderful to go on a bike ride or take a walk to get a coffee on a gorgeous weekday, but there are many times that I get distracted by the Internet and its tempting blog visits, or my moods just aren’t the best for sewing. Sometimes I just have to go with the flow and call it a day, and sometimes I force myself to work. Also, you can’t beat listening to your favorite music all day long, watching an old Hitchcock movie while cutting materials, and living life as creatively and passionately as possible. That’s a pretty great thing.
How do you think you stand out on Etsy and online?
I think as soon as I personalized my shop to my own quirks, that’s when things really took off for me. If you saw my apartment, you would see that it is full of vintage furniture and ornaments. There was a point where I was not comfortable showing my face in bag photos or online. A good friend of mine and fellow Etsy seller, Brook from PeekoApparel, recommended I try showing my face in some shots as she found this to be very successful for her. I tried it and also tweaked my product pictures to have more of a personalized vintage feel to who I am. Sales definitely increased at that point. People really like the idea of knowing the person behind the product and what they represent. I think once you really make your shop your own to your own unique style, people really pick up on that.
What are your best marketing tips?
This is a tricky one. I’ve had a lot of things that haven’t worked for me. I think my best tip is developing a quality product that people love and presenting it in a way that is unique to you. Keeping your shop and your work fresh and new is really important in my mind. I try and do weekly updates. I have developed a rather large customer base of regulars from this approach. It’s crazy awesome to say that I have numerous customers that own more than 15 of my bags. Sometimes I have to sit back a take it all in because I still can’t believe I’m at this point. I am so so grateful.
How do you promote your shop online?
I have a blog where I share my story, things I like, and what I’m working on. I started this blog last October and I think that it’s given an extra personal touch to my brand. I know that people love to see the behind the scenes of my work so I try to focus on that. I really enjoy blogging as well and I think it shows. Also I started a Twitter account, @madebyandi, a Facebook group, and Instagram (madebyandi) in the past few months and am spending some time getting those going.
Where does most of your traffic come from? Why do you think that is?
Etsy searches bring most of the initial traffic to my site. If you haven’t looked at Etsy’s articles on searches, I recommend that you do. They are a really great resource. After that traffic finds my shop, it’s my job to keep them interested and coming back for more. I do that through the marketing tips I talked about above.
Have you ever pitched your products to the media?
Yes, many times! More of my pitches have not been accepted than those that have. When I first started three years ago, I put together a lookbook where I did a bag trade with a local photographer. I had the lookbook printed on to postcards and sent them out to magazines. I was pretty lucky to have Nylon contact me and they featured me on their blog! I really couldn’t believe it seeing as this was my very first collection. I have since emailed them and other magazines my collections and have received no response.
Currently I am working on a new lookbook (I’m still doing trades with photographers) and plan on putting together another print version for press. I think press is bombarded with emails and don’t always look through them all. Print is harder to ignore. At least they will open it! I have also had my bags featured in Frankie Magazine, and local press here in my city. One of the things that I think is great for small scale shops like myself is sending emails to bloggers when you have new work or photos. Even offering a contest for them to feature. Blogs have brought me a lot of traffic and it’s very easy to promote this way on a small budget.
What advice would you give someone considering a similar path?
- Be prepared for some tough times. And be patient. I have heard it takes most small businesses three to five years before they turn a profit.
- Don’t expect overnight success. If things are not working and you’re not selling, reassess.
- Always be editing and analyzing your work and your shop. Never stop doing that. I’m still doing this and still learning as I go.
- There is a smoke and mirrors effect in the creative industry. A lot of businesses similar to yours that you see as very successful are probably facing struggles just like you. I bet that they also had to learn a lot on their own as well. Don’t ever feel like you’re not going to make it to their level. They were once in the same boat you are. You just have to be patient and work hard.
Anything else you would like to share?
Yes! Eat well, drink lots of tea and live a balanced life. Sleep in. Don’t focus too much on your future goals while forgetting to enjoy what you have today. If you don’t give yourself time to play, your creativity will suffer. Go for a bike ride, take a walk, or get day-drunk with friends on a patio when you’re supposed to be working from time to time. Those are the perks of self-employment!
Thanks for sharing your story, Andi. Check out her work in the Seller’s Items below.