Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter, maker, artist…
It all started after I lost my job in May 2020 due to Covid-19. While I was unemployed, I had a lot of time to reflect on my life and it made me realize how unhappy and unfulfilled I felt in my career. I had always been crafty and creative; it was something that came naturally to me but I never thought of turning it into a business. During quarantine, I came up with different ideas to create my own brand, but ultimately decided I wanted to create something I felt I needed and loved- something unique, personalized, but yet still stylish. I began MADE as a tie-dye and custom t-shirt brand but decided to change my direction into something I was very passionate about- personalized beach and traveling accessories. I loved to be by the water and traveling to new places, so I felt it was a better “fit” for me to focus on the two things I really loved. Prior to MADE, I completed my Masters in Occupational Therapy and worked in both the pediatric/outpatient and adult/inpatient settings, but quickly realized in every setting I was in- I felt unfulfilled. I had several jobs in different settings trying to find the “right” one, but ultimately was let go in May 2020 and realized it may have been a blessing in disguise. I had always been very passionate about OT because it allowed me to be creative and help others, but I always knew there was something missing. After losing my job, I realized I wanted to focus more on what makes me happy and it was then I realized I wanted to create my own brand.
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
I had no experience selling handmade products prior to MADE, but I have always been very creative and crafty- so it just came very natural to me when I decided I wanted to turn this into a business. I started MADE on the Shopify platform, but decided… why stop there? I decided to put MADE on different platforms to reach a wider audience and although I haven’t sold much on Etsy, it has given me more exposure, which has allowed me to expand. I started selling online because it was the easiest, fastest, and most economical way to reach a big audience and to see if people liked what I was selling as opposed to opening a storefront and possibly not being as successful as I thought I would be. Although my dream is to one day open my own storefront, I think starting your business online is a good way to learn, make mistakes, and grow before committing to managing and running a store offline.
What products do you sell, what type of materials are used in your creations, how do you design your products, what makes your products stand out?
I am currently selling unique and personalized beach accessories including hand fans, beach towels, handbags, and sun visors. I use different manufacturers to create the products that resonate most with my brand and then I add my own flair to it. The materials I use to personalize and create my products include palm leaf/wooden handles, an assorted pattern of woven palm leaves, macramé string to create my tassels, and wooden beads to add style. I also use different materials such as felt and velvet materials to customize our handbags. I am also incorporating different styles of vinyl to customize names on our large circular beach towels. I believe what makes my products stand out is the attention to detail and the uniqueness of each product. I spend a lot of time researching different styles, products, and materials to create something personalized and unique. In the beginning stages of MADE, I had a tough time trying to figure out how I would set myself apart from other brands selling similar items and quickly realized that what sets you apart is YOU and how YOU do it. People love to connect with the person behind the brand and so I’ve made it a goal of mine to connect with people that support and love my brand.
How was your experience in learning to craft, are you self-taught or did you have a mentor, how long did it take for you to be satisfied with your creations?
I am self-taught and have learned through trial and error, I am still learning and perfecting my craft. I’ve spent a lot of time and money into finding the perfect materials and seeing what works and what doesn’t. I can’t say I am completely satisfied with my creations because I am constantly evolving and changing what I like. I also feel like you should never be totally satisfied with where you are and what you have because you should always strive to grow and evolve. I feel confident in the products I sell because I love them and I would use them and that’s what was really important to me when I had certain products in mind that I wanted to create. I wanted to create something I would use myself in hopes that other people would also want to use it themselves. I learned a lot through researching online, following other small businesses within my niche and you-tube was my best friend; it helped me truly understand what branding was and how to brand myself.
What was your original goal when you opened up an Etsy shop? What impacted your decision to start selling online? Do you consider online selling as a side-job, full-time job, or extra income to pay for your hobby?
My main online storefront is on Shopify, however, I decided to expand to other platforms such as Etsy to get more exposure. I decided to sell online because it was the easiest, fastest, and most economical choice to reach a big audience. I have always been good with graphic designing and have a good grasp on how the online/social media world works. So I decided to create MADE online was the best choice for me because it was something that came easy to me. I consider selling as a part-time job (for now) until I can fully leave my job and focus on MADE full time.
Did you have any fears or reservations before opening up your Etsy shop? Were you worried about profitability or product competitiveness? What are some concerns and questions you had before you got started? How did you overcome them?
Prior to MADE, I had my reservations about starting a business and struggled with the idea of how I would set myself apart from other brands- however, these are fears that many small business owners have and the best way to get over a fear is to just do it. So I decided to start my Shopify store and continued to put my brand on different platforms because why not? I wanted the most exposure I could get and it has helped me tremendously. I was worried about product competitiveness because there are a lot of similarities in the products sold on Etsy, but I didn’t let that take away from what I had to offer. I am confident in my brand and what I have to offer so I hope people will also see the uniqueness in the pieces I create and sell.
How long did it take for you to get your first sale? Did you ever think you would make a lot of sales in the first year? What was the goal you were hoping for? How many sales an average you get per week?
When I launched MADE on Shopify, I made 8 sales within the same day. It was more than I thought I would sell on my first day, I wasn’t even sure if I would sell anything at all. I originally had set a goal of how much I wanted to sell (8-10 orders a week) and sometimes I met those numbers and other times I didn’t. I realized that Rome wasn’t built in a day and sometimes it’s not about the numbers, it is also about all the other small accomplishments that happen behind the scenes that are also important too. I turned my focus more on what I wanted to create, creating it, and marketing it to the world. My goal was to create something people found unique and would love and so far they do.
Do you have a job outside Etsy? If not, are you able to commit full-time to online selling? How does your typical day look like? How do you manage time?
Prior to MADE, I was unemployed for 5 months, and during that time is when I created the brand. I realized there was so much I wanted to do with my brand, but no money to bring it to life. During that time, I was receiving unemployment and I used that money to buy materials, products, and everything I needed to start my business. After 5 months, I decided it was time to get back to work even if it wasn’t in the setting I saw myself in. I received a job offer in late August in an outpatient pediatric setting, which allowed me to earn money while continuing to focus and build my brand. My typical day starts with my main job working as an Occupational Therapist from 10-6 pm, however, as an independent contractor- my schedule fluctuates daily, which allows me the flexibility to work on my brand during my off time. I’m still learning how to balance my work and personal life. I wish I had the perfect explanation on how to manage your time, but the truth is… it’s something I’m continuing to figure out.
How does your manufacturing process look like for e.g. your best selling product? Do you create products ahead of the orders? Do you customize your products, if so how? What are the tools that you are using in the manufacturing process?
The manufacturing process has been a difficult process and it is still something I am trying to figure out. I had to learn a lot on my own since I didn’t have anyone to steer me in the right direction. The process of trying to figure out how to get my ideas and designs in the hands of the right suppliers and manufacturers has been a difficult one. I have had to learn a lot through trial and error- figuring out what materials were best to use and where to get these materials has been a challenge. Another challenge was customizing the products and trying to figure out what materials were best to use with certain products and making sure that every product was perfect.
What is the biggest impact on the profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?
Due to Covid-19, my materials have been expensive to get and have also taken a lot longer to receive. I price and sell my products to include all costs including materials (product and shipping material) and the amount of time it takes to make each product. Due to the handmade nature of my products, I typically price my items 50-65% margin in order to make sure that during sales I am still making a good amount of profit.
What inspires you when you’re creating? How do you get ideas for new products? What are some methods or tools you use to get creative?
I get my creativity from music, people watching and Pinterest (mood boards and photography inspo). I get a lot of my ideas from researching online and brainstorming ideas with close friends. Sometimes I will have bits and pieces of an idea I want to come up with and I tell my close friends… somehow the pieces start to come together. I like to get input from people that I feel represent my brand and I pull inspiration and ideas from them and start connecting them in my mind.
Do you ship your product internationally? How do you handle postage pricing? What is the average time it takes from the order to the delivery? Do you use free shipping? If so, why? How do you package your products?
I am currently only selling products within the US. I have had many issues with USPS during this pandemic, but I know a lot of it has to do with the shortage in staff and extended shipping times due to Covid. I like to package my products in boxes with my branded shipping tape so that when customers receive their orders they know that it came from us. I also package everything in the box and seal it with our logo and leave a handwritten note to make it feel personal. Another technique I use to package my products is to spray the inside of the box with a good smelling perfume so that the customer associates your brand with a certain smell and feel when they open the package.
Are you worried about competitors? Does it impact your business in any way? If there are a lot of similar products, how do you make your own stand out?
When I first started, I was worried about competitors and other brands selling similar items- but I wasted so much energy worrying about the similarities that I never focused on what makes me unique. I stopped worrying about my competitors and started focusing on my brand and what I wanted to offer people and since then I have been much happier. I feel like the process of creating is heavily influenced by someone’s mood and when you’re in the perfect mood- magical things start to happen.
How do you deal with disputes or bad ratings/feedback? How do you manage presale and post-sale communication and customer satisfaction?
Due to the handmade nature of our products, I do not issue refunds, which can sometimes be negatively viewed by customers. I have received both positive and negative feedback about my products- I value both types of feedback because it is what allows me to make my products better. I always try to reach out to my customers and build a relationship with them to help provide the best service and experience I can for them
Has selling on Etsy changed your life in any way? If so, how? Did you ever think you would get this far with your shop? Have you ever been stressed about dealing with customers and manufacturing products? How did you deal with that?
I am so proud of MADE and how far I’ve come in the last 5 months. Although, there have been many ups and downs as expected when starting a business from the ground up it has been very rewarding to see her grow. I try to manage my stress when creating new ideas and products by sometimes just stepping back and revisiting it at a later time and that has helped me tremendously. I try not to stay stuck or focused on one thing and just go with ideas as they come to me.
How important is social media for your shop? What are some common tactics you use to promote your products? Do you spend money on ads outside of Etsy? How do you generate excitement/hype around your products?
Social media is a big part of growing my business and it is what allows me to create and build my brand. I use different marketing strategies on Instagram and Pinterest (i.e., giveaways, engagement stories/posts, collaborations with influencers, countdowns, clues for upcoming content) to build hype around product drops and launching collections.
What are some things you don’t like about Etsy? If you could talk to the CEO of Etsy what recommendations would you tell him to improve sellers and customer satisfaction?
So far, I have no complaints about Etsy and I think it’s a great platform to use when starting a small business.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
I started my main storefront on Shopify and then integrated it into Etsy. I think good pictures are a must because people are very visual and that’s what attracts them to your product.
What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering selling on Etsy? How can they avoid beginner mistakes?
Just do it. You won’t know if you’re good at it until you try… the worse thing that can happen is you end up exactly where you started. I wish there was a blueprint on how to avoid beginner mistakes, but I feel it is something that is apart of the process. You can only grow if you make mistakes, I have made plenty and I am sure I will continue to make more.
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