Friday, December 14, 2012

Cranberries in the Snow.....

Today is my two year business anniversary!

Two years ago today, I waded through all the sign up information to start an etsy shop. I think it took me all day, between setting up a paypal account (which I didn't have), and figuring out how to work the computer I borrowed. I had made the decision several years before, although I was computer proficient when I was in the workforce, to avoid any and all new technology. I've always been a somewhat quirky person, and to me, having such trappings as a cell phone and a computer was "giving in" to the popular sentiment. And I was very opposed to that!

Right about the time I turned 30 though, I realized that what I thought was setting me apart, was holding me back, and so I got my very first cell phone ever! Soon after, as my soapmaking hobby progressed, I realized that it could benefit me to find a way to make money at it, and so my Etsy shop was born! The picture above was my very first product picture. I came home one day after a lovely snowfall and wanting to try out the camera my Aunt had graciously given me, I set up my Rosewater and Glycerin soap in my tea set, on a bed of fresh cranberries. As you can see, the style I was going for back then was much more reflective of my personal taste, quite romantic and girly. It's probably the best picture, quality-wise, I've ever taken, yet looking at it now, I'm struck with how far I've come stylistically.

From that, to this!

With my mentor's help, I was able to transition from a look that was "cute" to, as she always told me, "something you can build an empire on". While I have a long way to go before I start empire-building, that one change alone took my shop from a "cute-little-hobby" to a full-fledged business, and I'm forever grateful for the help I received.

In the last two years, my life has changed drastically! From a stay at home mom, which truth be told, was a little bored, to an entrepreneur who is going-going-going all the time. From a fairly isolated person, to somebody that has friends and business associates all over the world. I have gained so much self-confidence in the last two years, doing something that is darn hard and (mostly) surviving! It's also been difficult in some ways, I would never want to project that I have it all figured out, because truth be told, sometimes when I'm helping two children with math, while juggling two toddlers, while shipping out products, while emailing back and forth with a client....I think to myself, "what have I done?".

I have been able to gain a lot of strength from knowing that I'm not alone, this is the same dance that all work at home mothers and entrepreneurs do. I'm lucky to have a lot of people around me who have done this well, much better than I, and I learn so much from them. Whenever I'm in danger of feeling overwhelmed and sorry for myself, I remember the struggle my dad had when he started his business 16 year ago, a struggle that goes on today. And I have my Etsy-friends, other moms, who are far busier than me and still manage to pull it off.

Above all, the last two years have been rewarding, as I've been able to enjoy the fruits of my labor, staying home with my children, homeschooling, and being able to help provide for my family at the same time. It's hard work, very hard work, but I hope that I'm creating something here that will blossom into even better things, and that my children will look back at this time of being with me while I do grow a business, as a learning experience, and that they'll learn the value of hard work, sacrifice, and know that when they are all grown up, they can reach for their dreams just as I have!

Happy Etsy-versary to me and a huge thanks to those who've helped along the way, you know who you are :)

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Two years ago, I started my business on Etsy, literally. I had no business when I started, and at the time, I had no idea I WAS starting a business. Like many families hit hard by the Great Recession, I just thought I was making a little extra money to ease the vice-like tightness of the family budget.

Etsy was founded in 2005, as they say, a long time ago, and far-far away. In 2005, I'm sure the founder of Etsy meant to create a haven for artists and artisans to display and sell their work, with the ideal that by doing so, people would be exposed to a different way of buying. A values-based vision to be sure, but something that from the onset, resonated with a lot of people, purveyors and producers of artisan made goods alike. 

Then something happened, and that something changed Etsy and the world forever. Around the time I discovered I was unexpectedly pregnant with my fourth child, *something* was wrong with the financial world  I remember reading the reports with no idea how my life was about to change. Almost overnight, my husband's livlihood all but disappeared. He works for a family business in the construction industry, and suddenly, nobody was borrowing, building, or buying. In order to save the business and his job, my husband accepted a paycut that amounted to 30-40% of his yearly income. In the meantime, I had given birth to both my fourth child and fifth child in close succession. What can I say? My timing sucks! The starter house that we had purchased so hopefully in 2004 (when we had two children) was now our permanent home, housing 7 souls in a 1140 square foot space. There was no question of moving, the mortgage on that home was now all we could afford, and we comforted ourselves with the notion that at least we HAD a house, a notion that became "realer and realer" as we watched people around us lose theirs. 

As our income shrank and our family grew, I employed my ninja budgeting skills in order to squeeze the last drop from every dollar. I remember crying one day when I saw that my oldest son's jeans had a hole in them, I couldn't afford to buy him more, and the shame in realizing that was heartbreaking. I made everything from scratch, and I mean, EVERYTHING. I baked bread, I made yogurt, I cloth diapered, I made my own clothes from discount fabric. I haunted thrift stores and consignment stores, never buying anything new. In my Little House in the Prairie phase, I stumbled upon soapmaking, and the die was cast. I found out something very interesting right away: I was good at making soap. I just...was. Perhaps the years of making bread and yogurt and coming up with my own recipes helped me, but making soap was a skill that came very naturally to me. And I needed a way to turn this skill into $$. My sister mentioned Etsy and when I checked it out, it seemed simple enough and not intimidating, so I listed my first item. When I started my shop, on December 14, 2010, my highest goal was to eventually make perhaps $100 extra dollars a month to ease our budget. 

And I did. 

I remember seeing a blog article a year or so ago, where the author purports that what Etsy is selling is a lie, that's it's impossible for your average housewife or stay at home mom to make enough money to make a difference in her life, and that theme is something you hear over and over on etsy forums and elsewhere. Part of the problem is that Etsy is made up of so many different people, with different motivations and concerns. Everything from the fine artist who cringes at the very mention of making money to the people like me, who turned their talent into profit, where enjoyment is not a primary concern, where our driving factor is not love of art, but love of family. 

In my time on Etsy, I have been lucky enough to meet some amazing women, and many many moms. I've heard this story (my story) over and over, a mom desperate to preserve her family starts an Etsy shop and makes good. I've heard from women that went from being in severe financial distress to bringing in $100,000 a year. I spoke to one amazing lady that grosses over HALF A MILLION dollars a year, and does so with aplomb. So many stories, so many successes. Is this the norm on Etsy? Of course not, not everyone can do what these women did. BUT; so many women have been able to provide a few hundred a month toward the family budget, which for them, DOES alter their life. $200 a month could make the difference between eating Top Ramen again and having fresh veggies and whole grain pasta for dinner. It can mean that a child can join a sports team, or take dance lessons. It can mean a night out once a month, an occasional movie, that special outfit for a special occasion. It's not a lot of money to most, but when you buy directly from a home crafter, you are able to instantly affect their life positively. Sounds a lot like Etsy's mission statement, doesn't it? 

Our mission is to enable people to make a living making things, and to reconnect makers with buyers.

Our vision is to build a new economy and present a better choice:

Buy, Sell, and Live Handmade.

So many women on Etsy have been able to use their time and talent to enhance their standard of living and hopefully, their self esteem. For myself, I use my Etsy profits to enhance my life, I have been able to purchase things that are important to me; like the local hormone-free milk that is bottled only a few miles from my house and delivered to our door and the huge sectional couch that means that the WHOLE family can snuggle together in the evenings. I've been able to provide the little perks in our house that were sorely lacking for a long time during the worst of the recession. In truth, I don't know where we'd be if I hadn't had the opportunity to start my business, it very well may have kept us in our home, and it certainly made a huge difference in our daily lives. By doing so, I have hopefully, in my small way, been able to provide these things for ANOTHER mother somewhere.

As for myself? I quickly went from providing a little money here and there, to a big chunk of money regularly.  While it has taken a lot of work and a whole lot of sacrifice, on balance I can only conclude that Etsy is positive for women AND for mothers. $200 a month could make the difference between being hungry or fed, clothed or ragged, cold or warm. And $2000 a month? It can be the reason a mother can stay home with her children, or quit that job that is sucking the life out of her. Women having choices is always a good thing, since women and mothers are Atlas that hold up society, and allowing women to share their talent with the world is something that I will always support, even if I don't consider myself an artist. Like so many women,  children are my art and my world, and the greatest thing I will ever do with this life. I will always be grateful that I was able to start my business on Etsy and have been able to "meet" and talk to, so many women who awe me everyday, and spur me on.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Giveaway Fail

Ok, so I've tried and thoroughly failed at creating a giveaway with a third party app. Who knew it was so hard?!

So.....because this is MY turf, I can make this simple.

Just comment on my post, and tomorrow morning I'll select a winner with for this lovely prize:

That's it! You don't have to do anything, although if you *happen* to tweet my shop, share something, or whatever you feel like doing, that would be awesome!

Yay for 500 fans, being 32 and 3,000+ sales on etsy! Thanks fans!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Growing Pains

This picture (of my huge pile of packages) is a perfect representation of where I am right now, reaching for the sky and trying not to topple over!

The last few months have been the most exciting/scary time for me since I started my business. I'm only just now starting to believe that it's possible for me to reach my goals, and yet they seem so far away.

I have the advantage of having a father that is a small business owner, and my husband was describing to him what we're doing right now. Trying to grow but needing more capital. Nobody willing to loan us money because we have to grow more. Hearing that everybody who starts a business goes through this is both comforting and terrifying. You mean, this is normal?! The balancing act, the personal loans I've taken to get it off the ground, the fear that it will all come crashing down? Yep, according to my dad that is all to be expected. And I have it GOOD as far as that goes, since when my dad started his business, an industry that requires a warehouse full of material and expensive machinery, he had to take out a second mortgage on his house and sign loans for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Well, my poor little house is not even worth what the FIRST mortgage is for, and with the economic climate the way it is, there will be no huge loans for me. I just keep thinking that if I make it through this, I will be better off, having done it mostly on my own. That's what I keep telling myself anyway!

Another struggle I'm having is the constant refrain, "we need more product". As a busy mom of 5 children, I do my best to produce enough product, having a daily production goal. Often, I get so caught up in filling present orders that I don't have time to produce more products, and it's an endless cycle.

Hiring Jordan helped a lot with that, she's able to package and label custom orders and others while I make stuff. And she cleans up after me! No kidding, when I'm in the groove, I need somebody following along after me to clean up and wash and sanitize the dishes I use, and it's much more efficient than me stopping production to do that. I'm hoping to ramp up production the rest of this month. I have a daily sales goal, so I have to make at LEAST that much inventory that day, and my goal is to make twice what I hope to sell every single day. I'm getting there!

Wow, does this post sound like a downer to anybody? It's not meant to, in reality I'm hugely grateful and blessed to be having these particular problems, because it means I'm becoming a "real" business owner. But I won't deny it's stressful and it's something I fell sometimes unprepared for. But as my fave John Wayne says, "Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway". Giddyup!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

I get by with a (lot of) help from my friends..

My real desk! Aaak!

So much has changed since I last posted on my business blog! Last time I was reflecting on the craziness that was the holiday season and now I'm preparing for another season to start!

My business has grown by leaps and bounds since January. I now sell at a great boutique and am about to take on another, and I'm confident enough to approach larger retailers. A year ago I could never have imagined doing either! I am very lucky to have had (and still have) a Obi-Wan of sorts that helped me focus on having a plan for my business. I'm a very spontaneous person by nature and probably would still be flailing about if not for her advice. It's funny because I always think of myself as being a very logic-driven person but in reality I'm just not much of a planner. When the going gets tough, I have a tendency to become frozen with fear of failure or indecision.

Luckily, James is a very grounded person and is able to pull me out of the ruts I get into. We recently made the decision to have him take charge of productions schedules. I'm not a lazy person by far, but lately I've had so much trouble keeping up with production, mainly because I was never sure WHICH fire to put out. Out came his favorite clipboard (that I bought him) and he clearly laid out which items to make and when and actually works with me when I'm making things, both to keep me on track and to learn. I'm also quite legendarily unable to find things. TERRIBLE at it! So James organizes my stock and finds ingredients and "things" for me. Without him, I'd be still desperately searching for the ONE ingredient I need to make something for an order. I really need all the help I can get in this regard!

James put these shelves together, built dividers and attached these boxes, perfect for holding lip balms

 I took another big step this month, hiring my first employee. When it became clear to me that my growth as a business and my family life were being hampered by not having enough help, I sought a one day a week assistant. Jordan is an etsy shop owner and a VERY talented artist. She was looking for a one or two day a week job to work toward her goal of buying her first house with her husband, and the fact that I know her in real life AND she already knows the ins and outs of etsy shop ownership was perfect! She's also from a big family (4 brothers!) and was not horrified by the idea of spending the day in a very small house with five boys. Having her help has been tremendous, a huge relief to me and I was gratified to see how well my boys took to her and she didn't mind being cajoled into playing Chutes and Ladders at one point, freeing me up to get some serious work done.

Jordan, my new assistant!

I am incredibly lucky to have such people around me and I would literally be NOWHERE without them!