I tell myself that someday I will return to my first love of portraiture, but it is quite impossible these days with kids who like to get into my art supplies, and let's be honest....not a TON of mental capacity at the end of a day. I'm loving this new phase of life as mommy, wife, and "craftsman." I've managed to carve out a sweet little niche in the Etsy market, and I love every single component to it- from packaging to market research, designing thank you cards and logos for my products, finding ways to streamline production time, photography, writing descriptions, emailing clients, making spreadsheets and collages on picmonkey, brainstorming about new products, and learning the ropes of social media for promotion. It may not be putting pencil to drawing paper, but it all feels like an artform to me.
I just wanted a place to gather my thoughts and retrace my steps a bit (for future me) and maybe for anyone else who is thinking about diving into the world of Etsy and selling their own hand made creations. So let me backtrack a bit and tell you some lessons that I've learned along the way...
Last January, while the ball was dropping, something was hatching. I found a shop on Etsy that sold wool felt ball garlands- little bits of color all strung up and hung on walls. They were so happy, so filled with joy, and made from the best natural fiber in the world. The idea of making something colorful and fun out of wool seemed intriguing to me.
"I could make that," I thought, "and I can do it better." No one on Etsy had wool felt balls made from their own sheep's wool. It seemed like the perfect idea to market to people who liked the whole "farm to table" movement. A way to decorate your home using something natural, beautiful, fun, colorful, AND a way to help my mom fund her sheep a little bit. So I began felting like a mad woman.
Rolling, rolling, rolling, felting, felting, felting while my littles slept at night and Justin and I watched episode after episode of Parks and Rec, and going back and forth to the homestead to pick up more wool.
I would try to take the best photos I knew how while my two littles' naps overlapped for about 30 minutes in the afternoon. It was the middle of a very, long, cold winter, and the only spot that had any good light at all was a corner of my living room at about 3-4:00 in the afternoon when the late afternoon sun streamed in through a window.
I did a search on pinterest and found that the most common color combination of nursery colors was gray, yellow, and white, so I started with this one:
And the orders started to come. Three orders my first month, 2 my second, 4 my third. I was ecstatic. People actually wanted to buy something that I was making.
It became a challenge to see if I could out do myself the following month.
I researched. And through research from other Etsy sellers, I found that you're not supposed to sell to the masses. You're supposed to sell to a person. I didn't think that I was very much like the person I was selling to (I'm not the kind of person that has "garland money" laying around), so I knew I needed to do more research. I wanted to find who would want to buy my garlands...find her, meet her, know her. Learn what she ate, what she wore, what her values were, what her kids were like, and what colors she painted the rooms of her house. I opened up a few magazines that I thought "she" would read, and wrote down all of the buzz words that kept repeating. It was my "dream magazine" that if I could choose one who would write a feature article on me someday, it would be this one. So I thought it was a good place to start.
Natural. Joy. Color. Clean. Organic. Raw. Vintage. Fair Trade. Farm. Friendship. Fiber. Home cooked. Handmade.
She doesn't have a lot of "stuff" cluttering her house. But what she does have, she absolutely treasures, and she's willing to spend money for it. She would rather spend a good amount of money on something she LOVES than spend a little amount of money on something she LIKES. (In other words, she assigns more value to something that she has to sacrifice for....she is more likely to buy a garland for $20 than she would be for $10. The SAME garland. Aren't people funny?)
I stared to write my descriptions of my items, not to everyone, but to her....like we were talking about what I was selling in my living room over a cup of tea. ("She" loves to chat over tea, because she is awesome like that.) And being that Esty is a global market, my customer could live ANYWHERE. As long as I could find her, I could sell to something to her. And before I could find her, I needed to understand her and what she valued.
And my sales sky rocketed...to the point of not being able to keep up with them. Special orders were starting to pour in asking for "mint" and "pale pink." I had to turn orders away because I just didn't have the colors they wanted, and my stockpile of wool was quickly depleting. I did...you guessed it...some more research....to see how other shops who sold what I sold were doing it.
I became discouraged. Other shops were blazing past me in sales, and I didn't feel like their shops were nearly as cool as mine. :) No one else had a sheep farm and loved wool and had a passion for felting like I did. They *gasp* outsourced. They BOUGHT their wool felt balls from Nepal. "Those lousy cheaters!" I thought. But their colors they offered felt like they owned a candy shop and I was uber jealous that they were able to create such beautiful products for their customers with so many variations.
So, I did what anyone would do. I went and I bought a garland from one of my competitors to check it out up close. And it was spectacular. The felt balls were so round and perfect and the colors so vibrant. It was way better than mine. It forced me to my first hard business decision that every artist comes to. It was the old product vs. process dilemma.
Here I was spending countless hours making my product, and not being able to keep up. It came to this question that was so eloquently stated by my dad, "Do you want to make balls? Or do you want to make money?"
"Both." I said. But if I outsourced making some of my product, it would free up time and energy for more things, bigger things, better things. More colors, the ability to felt mobiles, and necklaces, and little felted creatures... I took the dive and re-invested every dime I had made into purchasing my very own
Now that I knew the market I wanted to target and had the supplies to give her everything "she" wanted quickly... I really was motivated to find her. I had to catch her eye, then her heart, then her mind, then her wallet. In that order, or I wouldn't get the sale.
|My 1st color chart|
|My current color chart. See? It is like a candy shop, right?|
Sorry this was so long. I'm not sure this is very interesting to anyone else but me. :) But I think it is important to look back and be thankful and share lessons I've learned along the way. Hopefully this has been helpful to someone!
Thank you to everyone (especially my amazingly patient husband) who has been so supportive along this crazy journey!
Here's a link to the shop if you want to take a look!