Crickets to Cha-Chings Episode 013
Why I almost quit my Etsy shop and what you can learn from my mistakes - 013
Welcome back to another episode of Crickets to Cha-Chings.
My name is Lauren and I'm so glad that you are joining me for another episode. I hope that you have been enjoying this podcast and now that I'm a few months into it it is getting so much easier for me to produce and I am just loving it.
If you are enjoying it and enjoying the information that you are getting from it I would so greatly appreciate it if you would leave me review on iTunes. That helps me to move up the charts so that more people find the podcast and are able to get the help on Etsy that they are wanting.
Today I am going to talk a little bit about a part of my history on Etsy that I haven't really talked about in the past, but that really played a big part in the direction of my shop several years in.
But I don't want you to think that is episode is just about me and not at all going to benefit you as the listener and as a fellow shop owner. The takeaway from this episode will hopefully help you to find ways to streamline your business and ways to make sure that you are protecting yourself from being burned out or frustrated at being an online entrepreneur.
So I want to take it back a little bit. I started my job in 2012 when I had a one-year-old and I was about six months pregnant with my second child. I really didn't have huge goals when I started out, but I knew that I wanted to make it a business and I've always had a bit of an entrepreneurial streak in me. So it wasn't really a hobby, but I didn't really have any sort of plan for what I was doing or any sort of goals for where I was hoping that my business would go.
And I also had very very young children at the time so I wasn't super focused on maximizing my profits and my efficiency at that time, although I should have been because I had very limited time to work.
I was totally happy for a couple years kind of just plugging along, making things in my “free time” and treating the shop like a business but not really trying to scale it into a larger business than what it was at the time.
Then 2014 rolled in, and my Husband have the opportunity to take a position with the military with a really demanding intensive program. It also required us to move from Georgia to California with our two year old and one year old. during that 9-month program I did not work in my Etsy shop because the demands of my life and the military position that we were in just did not allow me to have anything sort of in the margins of my time.
And then I started to question whether or not I really wanted to do it. I had been working at the shop now for like almost two years and the most sales I've ever had in a year was around $20,000 in sales. And I just wasn't really sure if it was worth it. I felt like the time that I was spending building the business and marketing the business and then actually making the products, not to mention the mental energy that I was investing and having to balance my family life and my work life maybe just wasn’t really worth the $1600 a month I was pulling in...before taxes.
So I sold my embroidery machine on ebay. I packaged it up, and shipped it off to a buyer in California who wanted a hobby machine. And I actually cried when I went to the Fedex store, because I felt like it was the end of an era. The end of the dream of creating this online business that I had hoped would really work out for me and be something that I was really proud of. But I brushed myself off and closed up shop...but not permanently. I just put my shop on vacation mode for a little bit to make sure that I really was done.
It was probably 3-4 months while we were still in this really intense program with the military that I didn’t have a huge amount of time to think about what I was going to do with my shop and if I had any plans for the future.
But then the program with the military ended, and I was kind of just lost...and I started to miss it. I no longer had an embroidery machine to even make projects for a hobby, so I had no creative outlet and no creative energy flow. And I started to think about maybe doing it again, but in a different way -- how could I make this less overwhelming, less time consuming, and more profitable?
I went to my husband and told him that I wanted to buy another machine, and although he was supportive like he always is, I’m sure inside he wanted to roll his eyes so far back. But thankfully he didn’t let me know that at the time, and so I bought another embroidery machine and set to work changing things up, but this time it had to be different.
You see, up to this point, I had never really treated my shop like a business. Although it was definitely more than a hobby, it hadn’t reached the point to actually allow me to invest in it in a much larger way. I was still working in the margins of time - the nap times and bedtimes, and that was making me majorly stressed. I was also still buying things in smaller quantities and running all over town to pick up supplies and make random custom orders for one specific person -- in short, I was spending a LOT of time and not getting the return on it that I should have, thus being very stressed for very little money.
So I opened my shop back up at the end of his military training in 2014, and I scrambled to figure out how this was going to work better - what changes did I need to make to actually move the needle forward in my business while doing a better job of balancing my work and family lives.
I made a few changes to my business at that point, which I really want to hone in on for this episode because it has allowed my business to grow at exponential rates without me really working harder or more hours. I’m still stressed, because hello? I have two online businesses, three kids, two dogs, and a partridge and a pear tree, but at least at this point in my journey I am bringing in profits that pay the bills and make that stress, and that work, and that time worthwhile.
The very first thing that I did when I set out to build my profits and really dive into this business more was to get consistent childcare. And I will go ahead and caveat that by saying that I know that it is not everyone’s goal to have a full time job that requires them to have childcare. In fact, there are a lot of you listening that have a goal to have a successful Etsy shop because you want to avoid having to have childcare or you want to cut back on your hours at work and have more time to spend with your family.
So I know that childcare is not something that everyone wants to dive into. I get that. I am here right now telling you how I did it, and so I just want to be transparent about that because I don’t think that I could have built my business, me personally, without childcare because I would have been stressed to the max trying to balance everything.
But here’s the thing about that, the first year of really diving into this, that childcare was my husband on the weekends. I didn’t have paid childcare because we were in the process of trying to transition out of the military and we knew with that would come a pay change or a pay decrease, so we were trying to save as much money as possible. He worked monday through Friday, about 50-60 hours a week, and then I worked all day Saturday and all day Sunday, and maybe a few hours throughout the week when my kids were watching a movie or whatever.
Was it fun? Totally not. Actually it really kind of sucked. And it’s not something that we would have been able to maintain for the long haul, because it really didn’t allow us to have any down time or any real family time that we weren’t both totally stressed about working. However, it allowed us to save tens of thousands of dollars over the year of doing that, which let us put a 20% downpayment on our first house post military life.
And in that year, I grew my shop from around 20k in sales to over double that, which was a huge increase and allowed me to see that this might actually catch on and be something.
After that year of switching off shifts with my husband to avoid paying for childcare, we enrolled our oldest two kids in 3 hour a day part time preschool, and we paid a nanny for about 10 hours a week of watching the kids. This was a much more expensive option, but it did allow us to have that flexibility and a little more downtime that we could spend together as a family. And my older kids were 3 and 4 at that point so they enjoyed preschool and got to do all the messy preschool painting that I wouldn’t be doing at home, so it was good for everyone.
When I say consistent childcare, I don’t mean that you need to put your kid in all day daycare 5 days a week, although I am certainly not one to judge that if you want to do that, and my own youngest child is in daycare five days a week at this point. But that is personal decision, and it stems from the fact that I don’t want to be a stay at mom, and I like to work full time, so I am not trying to work around the childcare issue at this point.
But mostly I just want to plant the seed for you that you do need some dedicated work time in order to focus on your shop and not feel like you’re constantly being pulled in a million different directions.
Whether that is a mother’s helper who comes a few days a week for a couple hours, or part time preschool, or a stay at home mom friend who can trade childcare with you, or switching off with your husband, or full time daycare, without any sort of childcare and just working while your kids are asking for snacks every 5 seconds and having to stop and tend to them 20 times throughout the course of making one product is going to be very difficult.
Perhaps you are more patience and focused that I am and that doesn’t bother you, but having consistent childcare has been transformative to my business, even when it was only a few hours a day or a few hours a week.
The next thing that I did that really changed my business and changed my time management and working in my business, was to begin to dive into the world of wholesale ordering and having wholesale accounts rather than buying everything retail. I talked about this in the past podcast but I used to spend a lot of time filling each individual order with things that I had bought retail like baby bodysuits or burp cloths or bibs or whatever. And because my business was very new I did not want to buy a whole lot of bulk items because I always had this fear that it wouldn't sell. So I ended up buying let's a a pack of bibs at a time. And at the time we lived about 30 or 45 minutes away from the closest big box retailer which was Babies R Us at that time, so every single time I made more than 10 bibs I had to drive 30 to 45 minutes with my kids across town to go pick up some more bibs and I paid retail prices for the babes plus tax and all that.
This resulted in me feeling really stressed and strapped for time because I was spending so much of it driving around picking up random supplies or getting to the point that I was getting ready to work on an item and then realizing that I didn't have one Supply and having to Lug my children across town to go pick it up. it was an incredibly inefficient system, and it actually took me a long time to figure it out and figure out how to make it more efficient and how to make it more cost-efficient.
Once I finally bit the bullet and drove into the world of wholesale ordering and bulk ordering, it made it so much more simpler for me to run my business. This is not something that you can do right out of the gate because I do think that there has to be some time of trial and error to figure out what is going to sell well for your shop before you end up buying $1,000 worth of a supply that doesn't sell well, but once you get to the point where you're getting consistent sales of things and you’re pretty honed in on what kind of product offerings you want to have in your shop, dive into those fully and do that bulk wholesale ordering.
It is so much more time efficient and cost-effective, and it also allows you to have a better standard of products that you're putting out from your shop. When I was driving around to all of these stores to pick up random supplies and stuff, sometimes they didn't have what I was looking for. So then I had to substitute it with whatever they had in stock. Or for example I was buying fabric from local big fabric stores, and I only wanted to buy one yard or maybe two yards at a time because I was afraid that it wouldn't sell well. But then if it ended up selling really really well, I couldn't always get that fabric again because they have this sort of random selection of rotating fabrics and they didn't always have the same fabric when I went back a couple weeks later. So then I was just kind of out of luck of continuing to sell that item with that same fabric, or I had to communicate with my customers that I was out of that fabric and I had to substitute it with something which didn't always make for very happy customers.
Now I've narrowed it down to a few different retailers that I always buy from Wholesale in bulk, I've plenty of supplies available when I need to make stuff and I'm not scrambling at the last minute to try and substitute in or out with things that the stores happen to have in stock at that moment.
The next thing I want to talk about in terms of making my shop so much more efficient is so much easier to run is the idea of batching. And I've talked about bashing in the past as one of my time saving hacks, but I want to reiterate it because it is seriously life-changing. And it not only works in work-life, but there's also personal life things that I batch and really helps me to be more efficient and get more done in less time. For example I like to batch cook, so I can batch cook a week or so worth of dinners and then have them in the freezer ready for me, and that is faster than having to cook dinner every night.
The same ideas work for business life, and batching my products creation has dramatically changed the productivity of my shop. I used to work on orders solely as they came in. They were completed exactly in the order that they were placed, nobody got to jump in front of anybody else, and that's just how it went.
Now, that hardly ever happens. And some people may say that that's not really fair because sometimes people that place the orders later get their order faster than somebody that place is it earlier, but my retort to that is that the orders for the most part ship out within the time frame that I've given as an estimate for shipping, so even though somebody might get their order in a couple days and somebody else might get it in a week, it's still within the time frame that I’ve set as an estimate.
So batching orders has allowed me to fill order so much faster, and I cringe when I think back to those days of doing each order individually, wrapping it up, writing out the shipping label, etc before moving onto the next order.
If you don't get anything else from this podcast episode, please take this away from it.
Figure out how to batch things in your shop, whether it is uploading listings, photography, social media, whatever, and running your shop will be exponentially easier.
The last thing I want to talk about that made a real difference in my shop, and actually dramatically transformed the financial part of my shop, was to finally get that financially house in order so that I could maximize my profits.
I spent many years making a lot of revenue in my shop, but not really pulling out a whole lot of profit from it. But it wasn't that the prophet wasn't there, it was that my money management was not really on point. I didn't have a good grasp of what I was spending, I didn't have a good grasp of what I was bringing in, and it was kind of just this gray area that I didn't really want to address because it's all overwhelming to me.
In my course Etsy Roadmap to Success, I actually have a 30-minute presentation from a CPA who talks about those financial basics of your shop and getting them in order to really maximize your revenue and be able to be legit in your business, and the reason that I reach out to her to do that was because I feel like it is such a critical thing to have with your shop, but it's not something that a lot of us necessarily really want to deal with or know where to start with.
It feels very overwhelming when you are a new business and you've never had a business before to dive into the tax side of things and the financial part that you're really unfamiliar with.
But once I finally did that, I was able to maximize my profits in my shop in such an amazing way. Just having a basic grasp of what I was spending and what I was bringing in and what that monthly Revenue in and out looks like, allowed me to get our budget for my shop and also have better projections for the future of what I was going to be bringing in, which in turn allowed me to be more dependent on that income and not to feel like it's just extra money because I don't really know how much it's going to be your I don't really know how much I'm bringing in.
So grasping that financial side of your business can not only be business changing, but also really be life-changing, because that is the point where you are actually getting a significant paycheck out of the business and it's paying your adult bills that you need to pay that allow you to do the things that you want to do.
I hope that this episode has been helpful and that you have taken some little nuggets of advice of things that I would have done differently or ways that I have sort of realized my business so that it works for me at a better way than it did in the beginning. If you need any help or any guidance, I would love to have you join my private Facebook group for the Creative Mom Boss community over at creativemomboss.com/facebook.
I hope that I will see you there and you will join in this wonderful community really supportive entrepreneurs who love to give advice and ask questions and get really good discussions going about Etsy and the future of their businesses.
That's all for this week and I will see you next week. Bye for now.