Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter, maker, artist…
I would label myself a habitual crafter and can remember at a very young age using my mom’s leftover fabric, buttons, hot glue, paper, and wood scraps for my own creations. I still have a pair of paper ghost earrings I made from scrap materials in one of my earring making phases. My mom and her friend ran a small “Country Primitive” crafting business in the 80s when I was young, selling at local vendor fairs. My grandmother was an excellent seamstress, winning blue ribbons at the Oklahoma State Fair yearly, so the crafting bug has always been a part of me. In high school and college I was crafty in small ways…taking a floral design for an elective or working on sorority banners and name tags in my 20s during college. It wasn’t until finding vinyl decals well into my 30s that starting a creative business really came into play. I was staying at home with two young kids and heard about the craft vinyl cutters and knew I had to have one.
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
I adored a friend’s wood sign-making business and I started selling painted signs on Etsy using the vinyl as a stencil in 2011. I learned that I did not have the patience for waiting on paint to dry. I had another friend who loved to bake and I decided I would make decals she could put on her stand mixer for her birthday. She didn’t own a mixer! Ooops! I ended up putting the decals on my own stand mixer, posting the pictures to Facebook and asking for volunteers to try out designs. The mixer decals became really popular in my Etsy store and had a listing go viral on Pinterest. I was even mentioned in Women’s World Magazine! (November 2015) I enjoyed making decals so that others could take part in the ‘making’ process by being the ones who applied the decals to their own surfaces. I call it being “a craft enabler.” After a few years of making mixer decals, other appliances and surfaces came into play. Washing machines, refrigerators, car decals. A few years into making appliance decals I was contacted by a wedding planner who needed decals for table numbers on beer growlers. She took amazing photos for me of the final result and from then on, I was hooked on wedding decals.
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 currently sell mostly wedding related vinyl decals for the DIY bride. Table numbers, DIY unplugged wedding decals for signage, and a few appliance decals. Vinyl comes to me in rolls of different colors. I use a design program for my vinyl plotter to create the graphics. The design is cut out of the specific colored vinyl and I prepare the decal by removing the excess vinyl and then adding transfer tape. When someone needs a custom item, I use the design program to mock up their request using fonts and graphics. I recently acquired a laser cutter to add to my product offerings. The laser cutter does not cut vinyl like the blade in my vinyl plotter. It cuts materials like acrylic, wood, leather, and cork using the heat of a laser.
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
It’s a little strange to me that I am a “crafter” because I definitely did not intend to make a business out of crafting. My college degree is in Biology and all of my work experience prior to having kids and starting a small business was in the ocular or optometric field. Before kids and moving several times for my husband’s job, I was a tissue procurement technician for a cornea transplant bank. When people passed away and became tissue donors, I was the person doing the cornea recovery. Yep. Strange to work with the deceased, but it was an incredible and unique experience. It also had a feel-good result; the gift of sight to those needing a cornea transplant.
I am very hesitant to label myself a graphic designer, but that is what I have had to learn over the past 9 years. I have the utmost respect for Graphic Designers who earned that title, for sure. Maybe a better term for me is Graphics Hobbyist? I bought a short course on how to use Illustrator a few years ago and watch a lot of YouTube tutorials.
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?
I don’t know if I had a specific goal when I started my Etsy shop. It has morphed several times. It felt good to have my products be well-received. I also enjoyed contributing to the family income. The extracurricular activities my kids enjoy are made possible by my creative business. My husband has always been super supportive in slow times and in busy, stressful times. I have been fortunate that as life has changed pace, the business has changed with me. When I have a lot of time, and I put more into my listings and promoting my work, I enjoy being busier. When summer rolls around or when we have had to move, I can reduce my listings or put my shop on vacation. Even though I consider this my full-time gig, I realize it is a very unconventional job.
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?
My biggest reservations were how to handle the bookkeeping side of running a small business. With a science background, I had zero ideas how to apply for a business license, how to manage tax reporting, how to make a budget, how to advertise. I’m still not sure about some of those things, ha! A lot of the upfront work (what IS a FEIN? How do I charge correct taxes?) put me really far out of my comfort zone but I had to just put one foot in front of the other. In the small town we were living in at the time when I started selling on Etsy, I reached out to a CPA and she graciously offered free advice. I highly recommend seeking out help from experts in these areas. These are the things you can’t skimp out on in the beginning if you want to be legit. Maybe you’ll meet a really nice CPA who will walk you through it for free 🙂
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?
OH, wow. That’s asking me to go way back in my memory vault. 9 years! I knew I couldn’t make a lot of painted signs, so switching over to decals was a much better business decision. My first sale would have likely been a small wooden sign with a grey background and white lettering. I probably came fairly soon after listing it, as it was a popular saying at that time. Once I switched over to not painting and just doing decals I could make 15-25 orders a week when things were really busy. I can remember one month where I topped out at over 100 orders during the holiday rush in 15 days because I wanted to turn my shop off early in order to get my own shopping done. I honestly don’t know how I managed it all. It was a blur. I had a friend come over and help me fold shipping boxes. I worked through the weekends. I hustled that December like you wouldn’t believe. I vowed the next Christmas rush would not be as hectic and stressful. Adding wedding items has helped this come to fruition. I don’t mind not having as many holidays or gift-giving items. December is stressful enough as it is with young children who have a gazillion things to attend in December. People get married during the holidays but there is not a mad rush like with gift items. Work smarter AND harder, it burns more calories! (This is a decal in my shop:)
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?
I run the household and volunteer, but Etsy is my full-time gig. My typical day, which usually starts at 6:30 am (when there’s not a global pandemic) is getting the kids ready for school and out the door. I then reply to emails and queue up orders to complete. I usually cut the decals the night or day before so I either start the prep process here or cut the decals I didn’t finish from yesterday. Then I package up all the orders to be shipped. I’m usually done by noon with this process and I eat lunch or run to the post office. After this, I work on custom requests or design new products. I also try to do one new thing with my laser cutter at this time. I have found that the process for adding new products made with the laser cutter is taking me a lot longer than I anticipated. It could be that it is intimidating equipment, or that I’m just trying to find the perfect balance of wedding-related and not overdone items for my shop. I’m really taking my time with it! I find that this is where I tend to not use my time wisely. I could spend all day looking for inspiration or testing out a design, only to not have anything to show for it or not feel confident in what I made.
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?
I only cut decals once an order has been placed. Since I carry so many vinyl colors and offer so many size variations, there is not a feasible way to stock pre-made decals. I have learned that a majority of wedding decals are going to be white, so I stock up on that color and always have plenty on hand. Black is also a popular decal color. I use Oracal 631 removable indoor vinyl for my wedding decals. Once I am full speed on the Glowforge, I will be offering colored acrylic and wood to my shop.
What is the biggest impact on the profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?
The offering of wedding decals has been a great fit for my shop. Table number decals are not only a fun way for couples to customize their reception tables, for me it is the easiest and least time-consuming offering. I do not have to alter the graphics often, and they are reproducible over and over. Since the decals are relatively small, I can price them competitively and they fit within the DIY couple’s budget. I price my items based on the amount of vinyl used, and if it’s a custom item, how much time I spend on graphics. I always ask for payment on custom work before I begin graphics because I find that it is easy for a client to walk away from a custom order if they haven’t paid….and here I am stuck with the time I spent on design work. I learned that the hard way!
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?
My customers have always been my biggest inspiration. And in the case of wedding decals, It was totally led by my first request from a wedding planner to make simple, yet modern serif font table numbers. They are my most popular offering. Someone will come to me with an idea, and I enjoy turning that idea into a decal. Sometimes people come to me with an inspiration photo. In a way these are helpful but I let them know I do not like to copy other people’s work. I’ll put my own spin on the new design.
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 offer international shipping. I use the USPS pricing guide for international packages, which I usually set and forget for a few months. If an international customer needs expedited shipping, I research it before and offer customized pricing. I usually ship all orders out within 2-3 business days, and orders are received between 2-5 business days within the US. I use free shipping on orders over $30 and to stay competitive, free shipping on the entire section of my wedding sign decals. My products are packaged in white corrugated cardboard and the decal sheets are rolled and tied with a ribbon. I include detailed application instructions, a tester decal, and an application tool.
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 standout?
When I first started offering wedding decals, there weren’t as many competitors. It’s so much to keep up with that I don’t really bother trying to play the comparison game. I have enough on my plate! One thing I do offer to custom clients that might set me apart is unlimited revisions. This might be crazy in the graphic design world, but I want to be committed to pleasing the client. If I request for payment on custom work in advance, this is my skin in the game….my commitment to getting the design right for the customer.
How do you deal with disputes or bad ratings/feedback? How do you manage presale and post-sale communication and customer satisfaction?
I have learned how to read into a low review. At first, it does bother me a little, but then I can tell they are just upset with a decision they made, not with the actual product. (Like not paying attention to the size they ordered or that the product was a decal as described in the product information, not a chalkboard sign, etc.) I feel fortunate that I carry a great review rating. Of the few low reviews, I have received, the one that stands out to me most was from a couple who had issues applying the decal to their surface. They were about to get married and didn’t need the additional stress of something not working exactly as they planned. I totally get that. Of course, I was disappointed at the low rating but I wanted them to know I honestly felt bad about the mishap with the decal and would have loved to have been given the opportunity to replace it or work with them on figuring out a solution to the problem, but that I hoped their wedding had been a beautiful day despite the small glitch. They didn’t realize contacting me to ask questions or get help was an option. They actually changed their review because I contacting them in this way. I didn’t ask for that, I just wanted them to know I had a vested interest in their experience.
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?
Did I think I would be selling on Etsy for 9 years? No. I feel like I still have a long way to go in my shop to continue going for another 9 years. I’m always learning new things. I have dealt with stressful orders, stressful busy months, cycles of no orders, and stressful products and supply chain issues, and the occasional stressful customer. But those have all been overshadowed by the fun I have while being a “craft enabler” and helping couples with their wedding decor.
The thing that I do sometimes get flustered by is that I am a one-woman show. Maker, shipper, designer, social media, customer support, and the list goes on. I know this is my own doing, and it has its benefits. I admire makers who have the confidence to outsource these things. The closest I have come to hiring help is asking my kids to stamp my logo on my shipping boxes. They are cheap labor!
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?
Instagram is where my main focus is lately. I find the IG platform to be the most friendly of the social media platforms. I don’t spend money on ads at the moment and I don’t stress out about marketing. I have tried Pinterest ads but was not pleased with the results. People find me organically on Etsy and at this juncture, I’m okay with being lowkey. Pinterest is fun for me on a personal level, but I have not had luck growing my audience on that platform. Facebook is just all my friends, not my customers. I’m okay with that, too. I guess I have a very chill attitude about promotions in general. Not the best business approach, I know. There’s that Biology degree rearing its head again!
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?
I like that Etsy has a built-in audience. I like that I have been able to learn SEO, and have stayed relevant using tips I have learned from other Etsy sellers on Teams. I like the visual aspect of Etsy, and that Etsy is known for creative products, not for mass production. If I could as the CEO one question it would be “Why didn’t I get those free listings during the global pandemic like so many other accounts did? I was definitely impacted!”
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
Shipping can be very intimidating. At the very beginning of my shop I wanted to be able to offer low-cost shipping. This was before Etsy had an integrated shipping method or before I knew to use Stamps.com. I sent out hundreds of orders using regular stamped mail with no tracking. Cringeworthy, right? I was fortunate that I had only a few issues with lost mail, but this would never ever ever work today. Knowing the best shipping method and containers to use can make or break you, especially now with the expectation that items ship fast and often free.
What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering selling on Etsy? How can they avoid beginner mistakes?
Study SEO. Don’t copy others. Be authentic. Write reply messages with a smile or at least give it a few hours if you feel you might initially come from a harsh state of mind. Customer Service is not a four-letter word!
Never be afraid to turn down a request if you are not comfortable. Know your value and know that it’s okay to pass up a job if it means you might hate the product, regret the time spent, or otherwise need to decline for your sanity. Saying no is okay. Actually, saying no is fun if it means saying YES to something better.
Remember that little girl who used to make stuff with buttons and fabric and hot glue? She’s still inside! The craft may just look a little different.