Rebecca and I connected about a month ago and I thought her story was one that every Etsy seller should hear. She’s authentic, a leader, and one of us! Enjoy her story and practical tips. – Jason Malinak of Etsy-preneurship
Sew Happy Girls was a tiny little dream, a glimmer of hope in a very dark time. After many years in the corporate world, the economy downturn of 2007 came down hard on my world. I was working as an interior designer for a home builder and loving it. Then the rumblings of layoffs began. That year I was laid off twice with no additional hope of finding work in my field. What to do now?
I fell back on what I knew – photography. Photography had always been a hobby of mine. Oddly enough I had come into a bit of cash due to my lay off and purchased my first “nice” camera. I started taking pictures. It made me feel better and got me inspired, just what I needed. After a while, other people started asking me to take their picture. This is how my journey into world of being my own boss began.
Fast forward to 4 years later.
I was working successfully as a photographer. But, I was slowly beginning to realize that photography was not my passion. I love to take beautiful pictures, just not for other people. Somewhere along the way things changed and my creativity level shrank to zero.
While I was busy trying to be creative and passionate for my own personal life goals my family life was changing wildly. My husband had started his own company just as the layoffs began 4 years earlier. Now he was selling his business and that ultimately left us both in the big situation of “what do we do now?” We were truly stuck in a rough patch. Our savings were dwindling rapidly and we needed a solution. My husband decided to take a big gamble and he moved to North Dakota. During this time North Dakota was experiencing growth in its economy, jobs were plentiful and high paying. This new family dynamic would change everything.
I stayed home in Florida with our three children while my husband headed to his new world in North Dakota. He spent over a year working 20 days on and 7 days off, flying back and forth once a month to see us. These were very difficult days.
Alone, broke and with zero passion
I found myself searching for something to fill up my lonely nights and empty heart. What I found I can only describe as a very strong desire. A desire I could not turn away from. The last of my magazine subscriptions had arrived one day. “What a treat!” I thought to myself. As I began flipping pages I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the world’s most beautiful rag doll. This was not just any doll. It was a Jess Brown, rag doll. Stunning and inspiring in every way. I knew at that very moment that I needed to make my own rag doll, but how?
We had been forced to cut our spending drastically due to our finances. The only little treat we left ourselves was internet, $35 a month. This one life line to the big world of knowledge began my process of learning to sew a rag doll. I knew from my first sketches that I wanted my doll to have a hand stitched face. Just one problem, I didn’t know how to hand stitch. Thankfully, You Tube knew how to hand stitch and they (my fellow embroidery sisters) taught me to stitch the perfect doll face. My girls evolved to have beautiful big eyes, a cute pouty mouth, and a tiny button of a nose. All hand stitched. My girls were Happy. Together in our new found sewing happiness my girls and I created, Sew Happy Girls.
I get asked, “How did you start your Etsy shop?”
I love to tell people, “I turned off my t.v. and learned to make something!” It’s true. I turned off the cable t.v., turned on my computer and learned everything I needed to know about sewing, embroidery, making a blog, opening an etsy shop, product photography, marketing, networking, finances, taxes, copyrights…and the list goes on and on. I learned it all from the internet and with the help of my local public library.
I officially opened my etsy shop in October 2012. I chugged along for many months learning something new every day. In my first year, 2012 I had 7 sales. I was told by other etsy sellers that was really great. I was not so sure. I tried all kinds of items to make and sell, waiting for the shop to take off. I knew it would, I just had to get the right combination of product, product pictures and tags and I would be off to the races. Six more months went by. I had sales and my favorites were growing daily, but I wasn’t able to really make a profit. I was running a shop that wasn’t paying off monetarily.
Around that time, a friend of mine was getting married in May of 2013. She asked me to hand stitch a special note – I Love You Always – onto her grooms tie. I did. It was great. She loved it! He loved it! I loved it! But, I wondered if my Etsy customers would love it too? Come to find out… they do!
The patch that changed my life, as I like to call it.
I never planned on making a tie patch. It just happened. After I made the patch I remember thinking, “This is really great, I need to snap some pictures!” I took a few pictures and forgot about them for awhile. During the month since taking the pictures I was interviewing back in the corporate world. I loathed the idea, but I needed to make something happen.
June 1, 2013 arrived and I listed my first patch on Etsy. I sold my first patch on June 2. My third on June 4. That month I sold 12 patches. I had never made 12 sales in a month before. I think I just made magic happen, I was thrilled. I went on to sell 339 patches that year =Mind blown!
2014 was incredible year for me.
I had a very successful wedding season 1,292 patches sold – all 100% hand stitched. My tie patches were featured as the Etsy wedding cover image of the Groom’s Corner an amazing 5 times. My patches were featured in several Etsy email blasts. I found my shop on the Huffington Post website and featured on many popular blogs, like TintedWedding.com. Even Etsy admin came to visit my studio in May to get my advice on ways to help other sellers be successful. When I didn’t think it could get any better I found myself in Southern Weddings Magazine, on stands now.
I absolutely love my shop and I am incredibly happy to have found my creative passion at last. All of this being said, I do not want you to think it was all easy. It was not easy, it was very hard. The other side of having this great success is how to manage it and not lose your creative passion and mind, let’s be honest. I’m now working on the second phase of my shop – manage, sustain, and grow.
My journey has been amazing!
I have learned so much. I could truly go on forever about running your own business. I highly recommend it! I have enormous passion for selling on Etsy and I tell anyone who asks me, “Do it! Start today! You CAN make money as an Etsy seller! BUT. Growing a successful shop takes time and lots of it.” Many people will open a shop and expect their items to fly off the shelves, I did – at first. That is great; you need that desire to propel you into this journey. Creating a successful Etsy shop is a journey.
My biggest challenge . . .
When I began my shop my biggest challenge was photography. What? I was a professional photographer?! Product photography is very different and it is very difficult to get right. I took hundreds of pictures. I honestly did not know what I was doing wrong, but I knew I was not getting it right. I began asking front page treasury makers to look at my pictures and give me advice. Would they feature my item as is? No, was their answer. Why not? I was given many reasons why not and I was given many solutions. I listened to their feedback and made the changes. I began to see increases in views and favorites. Perfect! One of my items even made it on the Front Page treasury. Here are a few before and after photos:
I encourage all sellers to seek out and ask other sellers for help.
Other Etsy sellers have been my greatest source of Etsy knowledge. Have your shop reviewed or critiqued by a long time seller. There are many etsy teams that do this type of thing. It is really very helpful. A shop critique should be the first item on you to do list!
When I listed my “Tie Patch” the tag “Tie Patch” did not exist. Nothing came up in search. I always called my item a tie patch because that is what it was. A hand stitched patch that you sew onto the back of a tie. A Tie Patch. But, I wanted to get found in search so I had to use other tags and titles. This began my research into SEO. I know a lot about SEO now; when I began I had never heard of it. I titled my item as, Handmade Love Note for your Groom. Sounded great, very romantic. As I discovered that made no sense to Etsy SEO. Who was searching for a handmade love note for their groom? No one. What I switched to was; Groom gift from Bride. Now that is a searchable title. Many brides are searching for a Groom Gift.
I always tell people to think like a customer.
What do you want to buy? How would you search for that item? Let’s say you want to buy a necklace. I would search Cute necklace or Embroidered Necklace or even Bumble Bee necklace. I would not search using the term; Fancy flowers with a hint of whimsy bumble bees to delight your handmade flair. Keep it simple and straight forward, do not tell your products story in your title. Do that in the description!
After you have created your item, taken amazing pictures and are being found in search you will see sales. When sales happen you need to be ready for what happens next. In the past I spent 99% of my energy on making the sale. Then what? A lot, actually. I would encourage all sellers to think about what happens next. Nowadays I spent the majority of my time considering what is happening now that I have made the sale. My biggest shop worry is delivering the item on time and with no shipping mishaps. Shipping problems, Lost or Stolen items, Customs delays, Panicky Brides-there is a lot to be done now that the sale is final.
The key of solid shop policies:
I have lots of Etsy seller tips, but one in particular I think is key. It is extremely important to having solid and up to date shop policies. (Note from Jason: Here are Rebecca’s shop policies). What are you going to do when someone is not so in love with your amazing handmade item? It will happen. You can do everything in your power to be perfect, but you are not perfect and problems will arise. You need to be ready to deal with them before they occur. I always suggest re-writing you policies often to avoid customer service issues.
I am very excited for my 2015 wedding season to begin.
I just spent that last month adding many new listings, always tweaking tags, titles and pictures. I am ready to start ramping up my shipping supplies (pre printed labels are a must!) and my shop policies are all current. I am feeling confident that my shop is in a good place, but I never want to be just good. For this reason I am looking to the future. I have a whole new product line ready to photograph in a whole new style. I am also working on creating my own website off of etsy to capture more sales from search engine traffic. My wedding category has become, let’s say “popular” with other makers, and I must keep my business fresh and above the rest. I am committed to my craft 100%. I have worked very hard to achieve my dream of a successful shop and I will keep working hard every day. I know that you must push yourself and spend time re-evaluating every aspect of your product and shop. I really believe that if you truly love what you do it will show thru and you will find your success.
To all of my fellow Etsy makers and to those makers of the future, I say keep up all the passion, keep up all the long hours of dedication and never stop dreaming a dream for yourself. Handmade is a beautiful gift to the world and I am incredibly proud to share this space with you all.
Sew Happy Girls
The *Original* shop for Hand Stitched Tie Patches
Note from Jason of Etsy-preneurship
Stories like this are fuel for my passion to see Etsy sellers thrive! Rebecca was in a difficult place and went to work with her strong desires. Her business evolved until it found a niche. She’s not complacent either – she’s looking for ways to grow and improve her business and her dreams keep expanding as she tastes new achievements.
Today, there are hundreds of search phrases on Etsy that will return zero results, but will be filled with products in the future – new niches of discovery. Have you tried to find yours? I’m proud to say that Rebecca is a Thrive Member and excited to learn new SEO techniques with our budding community. I encourage you to take this inspiring story, practical tips, and let it be fuel for your business this year! Regards, Jason Malinak of Etsy-preneurship
Like this post and share an encouraging message with Rebecca in the comments to applaud her efforts and spur her on to even greater things!