Tell us something about yourself. What is your niche? How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
I make custom engraved wooden guitar picks. It all started with a piece of driftwood and a wood-burning tool after I graduated high school. After about a year of doing some artwork with wood burning and trying to sell it on Etsy, I decided to make a guitar pick for my friend and thought maybe wood guitar picks would sell better on my Etsy store. As sales picked up for my custom wood burned guitar picks, it took a couple more years before I decided it was worth doing full time. And in 2017, I switched from wood burning to laser engraving.
What are your responsibilities as a business owner?
I wear all the hats for my business. Woodworker, engraver, photographer, etc. Etsy is an easy platform for a one-man operation. It makes it easy to manage my listings, advertising, sales, all with just my iPhone. The biggest responsibility I have is deciding what goals I need to stick to for the year and making sure that I can continue to improve my business.
What are your best selling products, what type of materials are used in your creations, how do you design your products, what makes your products stand out?
By far, my custom engraved wood guitar picks sell the best. I also sell other items such as bowls, vases, pocket knives, cutting boards, and more. But guitar picks have made up 70% of my sales for the past 7 years I’ve been doing this full time. My best seller has over 70 different wood types ranging from my backyard to all over the world. I cut chunks of wood into thin slices, mark outlines of pick onto the slices, cut them out, and then send them into shape. I think what makes my products stand out is how many options there are to customize the picks.
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? What’s the hardest about it?
I love the freedom of choosing how to spend my time working, growing a business, and improving my skills, and continuing my education. The hardest part having a consistent paycheck. It can make the slow months tough financially, but the best solution I’ve found is to set aside money during the busy months to make up for the slow months.
Who do you sell to (and how do you get customers)? What marketing tools or strategies you use to boost your sales? Are you satisfied with the results?
All of my sales are through Etsy, their built-in marketing tools have come a long way in 7 years and have made it easy for me to manage to advertise. There have been some ups and downs in Etsy advertising, but in the long run, it has brought me a lot more sales. I have not been satisfied with any other marketing tools.
Do you believe there is a winning formula for becoming a successful entrepreneur? What is yours?
Nope, no winning formula. Hard work does not always pay off, but it does teach you what works for you and what doesn’t. But I definitely think it’s important to pursue something you enjoy doing and if you can make money doing it, it’s life-changing. Because I love what I do, I’m willing to work harder at it, because it’s a lifestyle I really enjoy even with its ups and downs.
What was the toughest moment you have experienced in your business practice? How did you succeed to get over it and move forward?
The toughest moment was starting, leaving my construction job, and starting a business in the middle of a year, and making less than minimum wage trying to make my business work. Thankfully my wife was able to support us financially with her job during that first and second year of getting started. I also prayed a lot, and eventually, my prayers were answered. This year of 2020 has been crazy, March made me wonder if I was going to need to find a temporary job with my sales dropping 50% compared to the previous year. But thankfully sales pick right back up and April and this year has been great so far(currently writing this beginning of November).
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?
Youtube videos of other woodworkers. Seeing other wood projects being made gets my creative wheels turning and helps me come up with new ideas and new products. It usually starts with a prototype, then improvement, then sales, then continued improvements based on experience and customer feedback.
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?
Yes, thankfully Etsy calculates that automatically. International shipping has changed in 2020. Some packages are getting delivered quickly while others face delay after delay. Free shipping on orders over $35, Etsy said it could increase my sales and it does. The majority of my packages are First Class Packages, 6×9 envelopes that I buy in bulk along with other shipping products that I buy in bulk. I use Excel to breakdown my costs per package and I add that information into my package preferences on Etsy.
What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful online business?
If you’re married to a very supportive spouse who can support you financially, that would be ideal. If you’re single, save up enough money to help you with your bills for 1-2 years. This will help you focus more on the business once you go full time. If you can start it part-time for 1-4 years that would be even better.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are starting out?
Pursue what you love to help you be motivated to work even when you’re likely not to make enough money in the beginning.
How do you personally define business success? Is it money? Freedom? Influence? Creative expression and innovation? Something else?
It’s a lifestyle, being able to maintain a lifestyle of doing what you love to do.
Describe your day-to-day operation. How do you manage your time?
My office is right next to the kitchen, so as soon as I get my morning coffee, I start working on the orders that I got from the previous day. As soon as I get those done, I’m out to the shop stocking up on the most important inventory first. Throughout the year I work on lesser important inventory and explore making new products. All of my products are made ahead of time so that they’re ready to be engraved and shipped out quickly.
How do you plan on growing your business? What is the biggest impact on your profitability?
I plan to expand my inventory on bigger items. I plan to focus more on bigger items such as furniture and trending wood items. I definitely plan to continue making my bestseller, but I definitely see a need and a desire to make things that improve my woodworking skills.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
My customers’ feedback has helped me improve my products and Etsy’s recommendations for changes have helped shape the success of Etsy. I’ve had some issues with the Etsy advertising, it seemed like I was just losing more and more with Etsy Ads, so I had turned off ads during my slower months and it lowered my sales considerably. This October I gave Etsy Ads another chance and made some changes, increasing my budget and focusing on my best seller and it boosted up my sales a lot higher.
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In this uncertain time, now is the time to start your business online. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help and advice.