A couple of weeks ago, Alyssa contacted me via email after finding the Etsy-preneurship website and reading some inspiring stories from other Etsy sellers. She shared her story and I saw she had grasped an important concept that I thought all of us can use as an example and a reminder for our businesses and lives.
We all need to take some more risks in our lives.
I’m talking about taking an appropriate risk at the right time – not always having all the answers, but a willingness to see “some sort of way forward”. There’s a worst case behind every risk – and in the big scheme of things, it might not be as bad as you think.
Enjoy their story. They didn’t make the transition exactly how I would consult others to do it (there are many ways to accomplish a goal), but they did it none the less and I’m happy for them. It appears they are “so far, so good”! Let’s hear their story and learn something we can apply to our business. Regards, Jason
From part-time to full-time: Are you ready to make the switch?
Turning your Etsy passion into a full-time career might sound like a fantasy, and for most people it is. Day-to-day life responsibilities can be expensive, and when you are only bringing in $100 a week or less with your hobby, how could you ever afford to make that your only job?
Etsy sales are not automatic, they are not consistent, and for the most part, they are not easy to get. But guess what? It is easier to make a sale when you know it is your only source of income.
FACT: 74% of Etsians consider their shop a business, even though only 18% sell their goods full time (Source)
We were part of the 74%, but not part of the 18%, like most Etsy sellers. We wanted to make the switch, but we were not making enough money and we had no idea how we could live off Etsy funds alone. We wanted to know the risks:
“How could we make enough to pay our bills?”
“How would we be able to keep up with orders and bring in even more? “
“How could we stand out and grow in such a huge marketplace?”
“How could we turn our dream of working for ourselves into a reality without losing everything we had?”
Six months after we asked those questions, we are still here. But we’re not just here – we’re growing – a LOT! We have our home, we have our cars, we have had time to travel (something we never had with our 9-5 jobs), and most importantly, we have a business that is getting bigger every week.
How did we know we were ready?
We had humble beginnings, working out of a parent’s garage. My boyfriend Matt made a wine rack out of pallets one day and I basically thought it was the coolest thing ever. We ended up making a few more projects and posted them on Facebook to find that other people liked them too. And they sold!
That’s when we realized we could make some extra money AND delve further into a hobby we really enjoyed doing together. We started creating products for people at work, and soon friends we hadn’t talked to in a while were reaching out with requests. After a couple months, we decided that we wanted to make pallet projects full-time. And we did.
On July 29th, 2014 we put a name to our shop – Simply Pallets. Once we had a name, it all felt more legitimate and we were ready to take the next step. We trusted each other and knew that if we wanted it bad enough, we could make it work. We are both talented people, and if the worst-case scenario happened and we failed, we knew we would just have to get regular jobs again.
Looking at the Worst Case Scenarios
We could say that the best case scenario was that we became the most famous shop on Etsy, and the worst case was that we would fail miserably and end up on the streets forever. Both are exaggerations, but the reality is that the “worst case scenarios” are not so black and white.
(Note from Jason: Evaluate what your worst case is for any business decision. Usually, it is not that bad, or there are steps you can take to minimize the downside risk. Don’t just look at any risk and rule it out. Most risks can be actively managed.)
Motivation and Willingness are Key, but Know Your Weaknesses.
I like to think that Matt and I are good people but we’re not perfect, and neither one of us had any business experience before we started our shop.
(Note from Jason: I’m happy to say that Matt and Alyssa are Thrive Members – actively seeking out ways to improve their business. I appreciate their trust as I help their Etsy shop thrive!)
We figured out pretty quickly that Matt is better at keeping a spread sheet of expenses and I have more patience for social media. (Need a spreadsheet based bookkeeping system?) We know our strong point is talking to people at shows and our weak point is letting our doubt in pricing show through. We both hate spending the time to take apart pallets but we both love when wood is readily available for a project.
We are learning more every day, and we are adapting for the better.
Know your products. Know your Business. Know your Goals.
To put it simply, we take pallets and turn them into useful things. Guess what? So do lots of other people.
We don’t have a choice- we have to make our business work no matter how saturated Etsy or the business in general is with similar products. We have to continue to get better and make ourselves stand out.
Our goals from the beginning had to do with us- live simply, live happily, be comfortable but work hard, make time to travel and save enough money to do so. None of those goals had to do with our business. As we made connections and started selling more products we realized that we needed business goals first, and life goals could be the byproduct of that success.
For example, we knew that we wanted to make enough money to live comfortably. In order to do that, our business goal was to “provide great customer service”. It started out with a simple handwritten note, but has expanded to a handwritten thank you card, tissue paper, and a unique drawing on the outside of every package. We cannot prove it but we think it plays a part in repeat business, business that brings us even closer to our goal of living comfortably.
Day to day goals are a nice idea, but they can be overwhelming
We have days where we sell nothing, days we sell one item, and days where we make enough to pay our bills for the month. It takes time for sales to be consistent. You have to take the good with the bad. Some days it is overwhelming to think of the whole month, but other days it is better to think of what you are making on average as opposed to a single day.
Think realistically, but frame your thoughts in whatever way necessary to stay positive and motivated!
Be Open to Change
Learning as much as you can about your business environment, preferences, and the competition is great, but flexibility is important.
Maybe some people are able to make a product and stick with it all the way through, but that is not always the case.
We started with pallets, but then Matt found his talent in working with cedar. The compromise? He makes higher end pieces with cedar for a different type of customer, while still holding to our roots. The point is that things change, and sometimes that’s a good thing. Do what is best for you and for your business.
Minimizing the Risks
Our families thought we were crazy, but we were reminded of stories that seemed like ancient history- when people would start with nothing but the clothes on their backs and build empires. You could also call it “The American Dream”.
First step: Get monthly bills down to the bare minimum.
This is easier for some than others. Matt and I have no children, so it was just a matter of moving ourselves. We moved to a state we had NEVER visited, and where we knew NO ONE because the rent was about half of what it was in Connecticut. We sold all of our stuff, knowing we could build everything when we got down here. We saved $1300 in moving costs and made over $4,000 by selling our belongings. Basically, that means we had over $5000 more than we expected to get started!
Once we were in our new apartment, we made a commitment to make small changes like buying groceries in bulk, making sure we were getting the best insurance rates, and by being smart about our utility use. Instantly, we went from spending over $2000 each month to just $1300.
(Note from Jason: This is sooooo good! We spend so much on stuff we don’t really need. My wife and I have gone to great lengths to simplify our lives and remove financial waste, too. Lowering your expenses is just as important as raising your revenues. This is active risk mitigation.)
Once you learn the absolute lowest amount you need to survive, understanding the reality of living off Etsy becomes clearer, but you have to be ready to commit. If this is what you truly want then make room for it, and know that once you have consistent sales you can bring some back some of those expenses. We haven’t had cable in six months, and let me tell you, we could make millions and we may still choose never to have that bill again. (Here’s a story about what you might want to do with your TV set to improve your time management).
Second Step: Know your motivation levels and how to keep them up.
Matt and I were ready to make Simply Pallets into a real business in July, but how would that translate to January or August or 3 years from now? We realized that we wanted a simple life working for ourselves, and we were willing to do anything to get it.
There are days we question our choice or question our motivation to keep going, but then we remember the time we were able to go to Mexico on a whim and the time we purchased plane tickets to Vietnam because we made a little extra money that month. We didn’t have to ask permission to go enjoy ourselves, and that is pretty exciting.
Third Step: Network
We signed a lease while we were still in Connecticut so we got to North Carolina with zero connections. Within two weeks of moving here we had our artwork on consignment in a coffee shop in the center of town, and we found a man who was willing to let us use some of his work space to build our products. Not everyone is that lucky, but we were.
If we could do it over, we may have tried to reach out to people and join social media groups before we made the switch. We cannot say whether or not this would have helped, but we truly feel that putting ourselves in a somewhat desperate situation is what propelled us forward so quickly.
Either way, putting yourself out there is key, and it is something that you have to keep doing on a regular basis if you want to grow.
(Note from Jason: I can tell this is a personal strength of their business. In fact, it even landed them this blog article. All of us have different strengths. I use some of my analytical strengths in my business. Interested in learning about discovering your strengths – check out this awesome book I recommend on Amazon – don’t buy it used, you need a code from the book that only comes with new purchases. Worth every penny!).
Last step: DO IT!
It is easy to push off making inventory or slack on marketing when you’re getting a paycheck at the end of the week either way. When you need that inventory or you need that marketing to pay your rent, it is a whole different story.
We took the risk not knowing what would happen, and we haven’t looked back since.
Today we are balancing custom orders, refinishing a jewelry store, and starting a month long gallery show. We will have $1000 of inventory in a new boutique next month because she contacted us after seeing our site. A journalism student at UNC contacted us a few days ago to write an article about the new business in town. That jewelry store owner approached us to redo her store. We have a presence here because we made it. We had to.
No Small Task – No Fear!
Starting an Etsy shop is no small task, and trying to make it your only source of income can be a daunting thought. I would guess that most people have a worst-case scenario that for some reason seems much more likely than the best case. There are always “what-ifs” and doubts that can make running a small business seem impossible, but there are so many positive gains that can come from it.
Know your limits, but know when those limits need to expand. Believe in yourself and your product. The world of Etsy may not be for everyone, but why not you?
“So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect so we never dare to ask the universe for it” – Jim Carey, 2014
Stop letting fear block your path- it is time to get what you want out of your career!
We wish you the best of luck in making your dreams a reality! If you ever need an encouraging word, we are here for you!
Live Simply! – Alyssa and Matt – Simply Pallets
Final Thoughts From Jason:
I’m proud that Alyssa Ulrich and Matt Hughes are Thrive Members and they bring their unique story and experience to the group. Their business journey is just beginning and I’m happy to walk along side of them in this way.
A little of their passion and zeal should rub off on all of us. Some might say that being young and having so little to really lose is not risking much, but a risk is a risk. Some might say they haven’t fully ‘made it’ yet – none of us have. Some might say, ‘but my story is different’. Yes, all our stories and related risks are different and you shouldn’t feel you have to quit your day job and go full-time today. But they took a risk and they are happy with the results. I celebrate with them. Add a little risk to your business today. What blogger will you contact today in hopes of a feature? What new product will you create? What new marketing technique will you take on? What will you say ‘no’ to? Personally, I’m investing to purchase some new video equipment. A small risk, but I’m not quite sure if I want to use it, you really want to see me more on video, and if it will add sufficient value to Etsy-preneurship, but I’m going to give it a try – my risk for the day.
Find an opportunity. Mitigate the risks. Do it today.