Tell us about your shop and the idea behind it.
I have always loved jewelry and been a devout follower of anything silver, large, and chunky. When I was little, my mom said I always carried a purse which contained two things: a bathing suit and jewelry. I suppose that was where the love began.
As an avid jewelry creator, my pieces were one of a kind — chunky necklaces, intricate earrings, layered chains, and the original concept for White Lilie Designs was “no duplication.” My product evolved and I started using old quotes in travel journals that I collected, turning those messages into wearable art that could inspire you every day. I began to develop a new vision for my Etsy shop — molding and interpreting inspirational words into jewelry.
Tell us about your previous working situation and how you discovered Etsy.
I was a theater major in college, where I developed my love for creating art from literature. However, after college, acting was not on the foreseeable horizon. I moved back home to Connecticut and took a job working at this awesome nonprofit organization. I loved it, but it was not a job that I could expand on. I started making jewelry for their holiday bazaar. The horticulturist, Jane, gave me a box of beads and asked if I wanted to make some stuff. It steamrolled from there!
Around the same time, one of my siblings convinced me to apply for a job running a swim program at a private club in the Hamptons. Every Memorial Day, I drove out to the beach and customers would host trunk shows in these amazing homes. However, every September my business would come to a screeching halt. I knew I needed to get on the Internet but I was not Internet savvy. One of my Hamptons coworkers mentioned Etsy as a possibility, but I just sort of pushed it aside.
Then I moved to Germany. It was rich with art. I was inspired by all the old poems and historical places, and would write down quotes, lines and thoughts in a journal, knowing at some point I would use them. I knew I wanted to do something with my jewelry, but did not have the time to put towards it because I was too busy working. I decided to move to Vermont, the land of handmade and people with a million random jobs. Once in Vermont, I started teaching skiing. My boyfriend worked from home, and I was so jealous every time I had to go to work and he could stay with the dog by the fire. I was determined that year to get on Etsy and have an Internet presence.
What steps did you take to prepare for transitioning into full-time Etsy selling?
I gave myself a time limit: what I hoped to achieve in a year. I knew that I needed to make changes if I wanted to stay in Vermont. Teaching skiing was great, but ski season is only a few months of the year, and I needed to support myself year round! I had saved money from my swim programs so I had a little cushion to start with. My boyfriend and I came up with numbers that I would need to meet in order to have a successful business.
I signed up for Etsy and, after initially being overwhelmed, I began to read everything. The blog articles were so helpful; they gave me so many useful tips. I dove in. In order to be successful you need to push your boundaries to places you did not realize you could go. If you think you are doing a good job, work even harder. Success does not just fall in your lap. I learned that quickly! It can be so discouraging when you do not sell anything after working so hard on your listings.
I researched how Etsy worked and discovered Google. Then I took pictures, retook pictures and took them again! I found shops that I was drawn to because of their pictures. I analyzed their lighting and what made them different from the picture next to them, and then I tried my own version.
My favorite part of Etsy is the Teams aspect. I have made some amazing Etsy friends. My online Etsy friends were a key part in getting adjusted to Etsy life: Thehouseofoliver, BrookeHowie and MeshuMaSH. They provided my much-needed Internet support. When I made my first sale, when I got on the front page, my team of supporters was so happy for me. It is a great network!
That first year, I think I had 330 sales, and most of those were from my graduation-inspired collection. It was not enough to maintain a year-round income, though. I just kept my head down and tried harder. I revamped my products, offered a men’s line and made women’s accessories. Then in the middle of November, my sales drastically changed. In one month, I went from 330 sales to over 800. It had begun! In two weeks, I am moving to a brand new house with my own private studio. Who could have imagined a year ago where I would be today?
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job?
I love having random fresh powder days — my boyfriend, Blake, and I just throw our skis in the car, grab the dog and head out on an adventure. Going into town in the middle of the week and getting ice cream. Every now and then, we have some pretty serious impromptu dance parties in our house!
What are your best marketing tips?
- My best tip (and my biggest success): if it’s not working, change it.
- My older brother and boyfriend used to tell me I need to find my “niche.” We have since convinced my sister to sell. She has now opened a vintage shop, thenewtonlabel. We have definitely made Etsy a family affair. It is much easier to be marketable if you have a strong team of people surrounding you who are constantly offering constructive criticism. The team structure combined with social networking is a great way to keep your shop current and trending in the right direction.
- If you are selling art online and it is not selling, it is not because your work isn’t beautiful. It is because no one knows you or your product yet. Make something in the same vein that is marketable. What do you look for? Why do you shop online?
- Offer amazing customer service! Who wants to deal with a Debbie Downer when they are making a purchase? People have apprehensions about buying on the Internet; reassure them!
What tool or technique has been the most effective in getting buyers to your shop?
Good photos. Search your product. Does it catch your eye? You want to be the eye catcher! The picture is what gets potential buyers into your shop. Blank backgrounds and natural lighting are all-important for products to pop. Too many things become a distraction and can easily look like an episode of Hoarders.
Also, communication — even when I am really busy, I always try to answer emails. If you wait three days to get back to someone, consider that sale gone. If you want to make this a business, you have to treat it like one. Know who your buyers are, and make sure you have products that everyone could potentially want. It will help your sales!
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
Any failure is your failure. If something goes wrong or there are problems, there is no one else to turn to. I work so hard and try to get so much accomplished in a day, but sometimes there just is not enough of me. It can take its toll when you are trying to turn off in the evening to be with your family. There are times when I can sell 35 things a day, but I only have two hands! There has to come a time when you say, I need to go to bed, I need to eat! Be realistic with what you can accomplish.
What’s the most exciting thing that’s come of selling your designs on Etsy?
I have gotten so many awesome opportunities from bloggers, shops offline wanting to carry my products, and large non-profits wanting to sell my necklaces at their events. I am expanding in ways I could never dream. My jewelry is going all over the world — what a crazy thought! I never imagined at 30 I would have successfully created a company.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar path?
- Don’t give up and don’t forget who you are. Aim high, set goals, accomplish one goal and then re-goal yourself. You do not want to aim too high and fall back too quickly. Be reasonable.
- Do not be discouraged if it takes time. Do not get caught up in negativity and be open to change.
- Have top-notch customer service. There are customers who sometimes are not so wonderful to deal with, but you cannot forget what is the right thing to do: you are a business owner, and you are representing your brand!
Anything else you would like to share?
I have the most amazing family and friends. Jenny, my roommate from college, emails me pictures of things she wants me to make for her so she can sell them for me at her work. My mom cuts out quotes and jewelry to help inspire me. When I am stressed, my boyfriend tells me that sometimes you need a good cry. In order to be successful, you need to have a support system that can help you when life seems too crazy! What are life’s successes if you cannot share them with those you love? Set your own trends; be your own person; create your legacy, and never give up, because tomorrow is a whole new opportunity. There is a Jack Kerouac quote I try to keep in mind: “Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.”
Thanks for sharing your story, Rebecca. Check out her items below.