Tell us about your previous working situations and how you discovered Etsy.
I was hired by IBM in upstate New York fresh out of college, and worked there in various positions for about 10 years. My husband and I took early buyouts, moved aboard our 43’ sailboat and spent seven years cruising the Caribbean, soaking up the sun. After he was tragically killed in 1995, I had to reinvent myself. I moved to Arizona and got a job for another large corporation. It wasn’t exciting, but being busy helped me get though the most difficult time of my life.
After a basic beading class at a local store, I was completely mesmerized by the world of jewelry making. About that time, I met Rick. I quit my job and moved to Alaska to be with him. That was when Orion Designs was born.
What steps did you take to prepare for transitioning into full time Etsy selling?
I started selling my jewelry at local fairs and festivals and met many other artisans and makers. It was a whole new world for me, far from corporate America and far from the warmth of the Caribbean sun, but it suited me. In the midst of all this, a friend and I started a business producing craft shows, having found a lack of high quality events at which to sell our makings. We called it Bad Girls of the North. In addition to our craft shows, we have had a wonderful booth at the Alaska State Fair since 1998.
I found Etsy in 2007, after my business was well established locally. Etsy has been a means for me to expand my business without adding to a hectic craft show schedule. Etsy is a vital piece of my business, along with wholesale, gallery consignments and craft shows.
What is your favorite part of the process in jewelry making?
Selecting gemstones is at the top of the list. The choices are astounding and abundant, and I love going to the gem shows in Tucson every February to hand select stones. I also love playing with color combinations and discovering new mixes that I had not tried before.
What are your best marketing tips?
- Excellent customer service is key to gaining repeat business. This is critical to my local customer base. Alaska is a small market, and I need to keep my customers happy.
- Keep customers interested. I’m continually adding new lines to tempt them.
- I’ve also had success with my newsletter, where I introduce new products and announce sales.
What’s been your most popular item or line to date?
My earring sets. I handcrafted earwires designed to accommodate interchangeable dangles and offered them on attractive cards with five different sets of drops. I sold these for many years with great success. Many of my customers told me these were their go-to earrings for travel.
What is the biggest challenge you face during your daily schedule?
Staying focused can be a challenge sometimes. My work studio is an integral part of our tiny house and the distractions are numerous. I work best when I have a structure to adhere to, so I keep a list of things that need to be done and products that need to be made. It always feels good to cross things off the list.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
It’s hard to be everything: VP of Accounting, Office Manager, Chief Inventory Control Analyst and Designer. To avoid burnout, I try to not tackle too much on any given day and set a reasonable, healthy pace for myself.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job?
Even though I’m an early riser, I don’t miss waking to the sound of an alarm every morning, nor do I miss commuting.
What is the most exciting thing that has come out of selling your designs through Etsy?
That my work is being worn by women all over the world is a pretty exciting realization. It never would have happened had it not been for Etsy.
What advice would you give someone considering a similar path?
- Don’t be so hard on yourself. We are often our own worst critic. When you’ve made a mistake, learn from it, get over it and move on.
- For a long-term business in the arts — I’ve been making my living with Orion Designs since 1997 — diversification is key. I sell my work through many channels. Each is important and all are part of the bigger picture. If one selling venue diminishes in returns, it’s comforting to have others to keep your business moving along while you rework your business strategy.
- Your Etsy shop is the face of your business. Make it reflect you and your personality. At craft shows, I find that shoppers like the personal connection we make. I’ve tried to duplicate that in my Etsy shop with the new About page and my blog. A peek into one’s workspace and life helps define and solidify that connection.
- Do what works for you. Join a team if that’s your thing. Promote on Twitter if that’s your thing. Use Facebook, if that’s your thing. Or, don’t do any of those things at all. In the end, running your business and your Etsy shop is all about you and your goals and desires.
What goals do you have in store for the future of your business?
My business has stabilized to a comfortable level. I’m working as hard as I want to work and have just the right amount of business to maintain it on my own. One of my goals is to shift some of my income from craft shows (they are exhausting and I’m not getting any younger!) to Etsy and to additional gallery sales.