Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What I Learned from a Very Successful Etsy Seller

We all learn in different ways.  My husband learns by listening. If he focuses on what he is hearing, he can absorb the information, organize it, synthesize it and recall it with ease.  He quit taking notes in college when he realized he could do this. He enjoys podcasts and news radio.  He can recall a sermon he heard from college and what the main points were.  It's really amazing. I am not that way at all.  Many people are visual learners.  A lot of information is absorbed visually, especially through reading.  This is only my secondary version of learning.  The best way for me to learn is kinesthetically. I learn by doing. Yesterday, I learned how to change the drain pump motor on the dishwasher by doing it.  That's how I learned to paint my walls, remove carpet, lay tile floor, sell on Etsy, make mosaics, work in an office, parent my kids and be in a healthy relationship.  I learned by doing it. 

Last month, I started working with Stacie Bloomfield, the creative behind Gingiber, a very successful Etsy shop.  (Stacie and I met at a craft show which was an utter disaster in most ways, but a Providential act of God in others.)  Her shop has grown now to the point of needing some extra help shipping her orders and getting her inventory ready to ship.  In December of 2011, she was a featured seller, just about the time her daughter Lucy was born.  She blogs about being in labor and getting up and filling Etsy orders before heading to the hospital!  This year, she developed a licensed Razorback illustration which is getting a lot of love here in Arkansas.  She is also developing a line of dog illustrations with a new illustration each week featuring different breeds of dogs.  She makes pillows, calendars, baby onesies, tote bags, post cards, art prints, posters, tea-towels and wall decals. And I know for a fact, she has no shortage of ideas.  Her work is fresh, young, distinctive, whimsical and appealing to audiences world-wide.  She is living the dream...which means she works REALLY hard. 

For the last couple of years, I too have been toiling away in my Etsy shops.  I was trying desperately to get them to grow to a point of being a significant portion of our family's income. It wasn't greed that was driving this desire, but rather, the desire to get Robb out of working a job outside of Vintage.  When we started Vintage, we planned to be "sponsored" by others until the church was self-supporting, much like missionaries.  The problem was, nobody supported us.  Because we were breaking ties with the teaching of our denomination, our network didn't support us. And nobody else knew us.  So for the first few years of Vintage's existence, we got two support checks a month: one from a dear lady in Boston and one from a family member. The checks totaled about 75 dollars.

Now almost 8 years later, Robb is successful at his day job.  His resume no longer consists solely of "Bible-this" and "Church-that."  But we always deal with the pressure. Saturdays will never be just a day to goof-off. And those wonderful Monday days off -back in the years of full-time-ministry- are just a hazy dream.  Not to mention the frustrating ceiling hanging over us all the time that if only he could work at Vintage full time, he could do so much more. So I worked. As hard as I could. First selling vintage on Etsy. Then making mosaics. Fully believing that they could become the way....the way to free Robb up.  The way to help our church.  The way to what we thought was best.

But it didn't happen. My Etsy shops have always brought in exactly enough. Enough for the extra bill we didn't expect. Enough for Christmas. Enough for new jeans every fourteen days while Mattie was going through a growth spurt. Enough for a nice family outing or an anniversary present. Never any more than that.

So I worked harder.  I made more mosaics.  Worked like dog. Improved my pictures. Poured over the Seller's Handbook and followed their every bit of advice.  Sales decreased. I actually sold less than I did in the first two years I was selling on Etsy.  The marketplace was flooded with vintage sellers exiled from eBay and I became a needle in a stack of needles.  And the mosaics just got lost in the shuffle.  Shows are wildly successful endeavors, but the Etsy shop moves a piece or two a month at best.  They are large, heavy and hard to ship. So I tried branching out....took the space in Eureka Springs. Surely, with more people passing by, I would sell those large pieces I like to make.  But it's hot in the summer and parking is a nightmare and selling in Eureka proved disastrous.

So when Stacie mentioned she needed help, I sort of blurted out "I could do that."  After all, I've shipped thousands of things in the last 10 years.  I know how to do it. And I know how an Etsy shop runs. I know how to use all the features. Why not?  So I started going to her newly rented office.  And it was fun.

First off, I get paid by the hour.  This is a crazy thing for someone who has been running my own shops.  I could work fifty hours straight and get NOTHING out of it.  There is no correlation between how hard I work and if I get paid.  But at Gingiber, I clock in and clock out.

Dr. Micheal Firmin
Dr. Rembert Carter
Secondly, I remembered what it was like to be helpful.  Back in college, I worked for two professors...Dr. Carter and Dr. Firmin.  They were both incredibly intelligent, creative, hard working and driven.  Dr. Carter famously slept only 4 hours a night. He pastored churches, some as many as three hours from his home, taught two of the largest classes in the school, held extra study classes, kept up an insane amount of correspondence pre-email days, not to mention leading field trips, grading papers, and hosting "socials" in his home for students and faculty alike.  Dr. Firmin was in the midst of a second doctoral degree with an enormous number of field hours, was founding a Master's in Counseling program, teaching most of the psychology classes, administering personality tests as part of the Seminary training, writing and publishing in academic publications, and oh, yes, pastoring in local churches as well as being a young husband and father.  I loved working for both of them.  I think I was rather good at it, actually.  I was not really secretarial material, couldn't type fast enough, wasn't always as detailed as I needed to be, sometimes forgot important things, but what I was very good at was supporting them. I knew what they were doing that day and worked to make their days run smoothly.  They knew they could depend on me. Early in the morning or late at night, they could call and ask me to find something, file something, deliver something or get something prepared.  I knew their quirks: Dr. Carter was messy and left to own devices might have been buried under the weight of his own dusty piles of papers. Dr. Firmin hated cheap pens and would throw them over the 4th floor banister if I happened to let one in the door.  Dr. Carter was a morning person. Dr. Firmin was a night-owl.  I got more of an education from working in their offices than I got in some professors' 3 credit hour courses. 

I bring that to Stacie's office. And she is so grateful.  She has so many decisions to make. So many hats to wear.  She is busy, busy, busy all the time.  Each time I go to her office, I think about what will make things better for her, how I can contribute to her success and mental well-being. I think about how to organize things better so that things will go more smoothly. I try to create systems that require the least amount of bother for her. I understand her goals and try to help her achieve them.

I was there about a week when I realized this:

I don't want my Etsy stores to be this successful. 

I was there about two weeks when I realized this:

I enjoy being supportive.

It took three weeks to ask this question:

Why couldn't I be this supportive to Robb as he is trying to lead Vintage forward?

You see, I learn by doing.  I learn what I like by doing it.  I realized by opening myself up to this new opportunity with Gingiber that what I actually want and what I thought I wanted are two very different things.  I finally admitted to myself that even though I still like making mosaics and selling vintage, I don't want to do it full time. If I had to make mosaics at the rate that Stacie sells, I would be my own personal sweat shop.

What I actually want to devote my life to is the work at our church, Vintage Fellowship.   I felt myself let go of the idea of the wildly busy and successful Etsy shop. I let go of the idea of it being the way to support Robb and our church.  About four weeks into it, I realized this:

I don't have to worry about the money anymore.

Whatever we need, and whatever Vintage needs will be there.  All I need to do is enjoy selling vintage and mosaics, but don't be driven by the fear that I must do more and grow bigger.  Other things can have my attention.

Ironically, sales are up. Way up.  I am thankful.  I recognize this as a kind of confirmation that pursuing a new-found joy in the work of the ministry won't lead to our finances falling apart.

What exactly does this look like?  Am I saying that I "work" for Robb like I do for Stacie? What fills my time now?  I will write more later.  Right now, I have to pack a bunch of orders and find out how to ship a headboard to an interested buyer on the west coast.  And finish a custom order.  Have I ever mentioned just how much I love irony?


Steve Finnell said...

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klasieprof said...

It's rough learning sometimes. I think one thing you are learning is to "BE IN THE MOMENT" and being in the moment has benefits in every area.
I'm tired of trying to MAKE THINGS HAPPEN, and have just gone back to what was working...when I knew I was happy, content in God, and ok. It's not really where "I" want to be, but it keeps my hands open, heart open and waiting.
ROCK ON. And, seriously...Being a "PASTOR's WIFE" and "HELPMEET" really is a pretty damn groovy thing to be girl. Embrace your history. You're still cool.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure you're not an industrial engineer? :) This part of your post is almost the definition of it: "I think about how to organize things better so that things will go more smoothly. I try to create systems that require the least amount of bother for her." ~Ashlea

Holly said...

I love what klasiprof just said! It's a good feeling to let go of things. It's a good feeling to be in the moment. It's a good feeling to go with the flow while you're finding out what the flow is. Way better than pushing and fighting it.

Life with Kaishon said...

I always thought you were pretty special. Like, there was something about you that most people didn't have. You are brilliant. Who cares if you are a helper or a super star. You are pretty awesome just the way you are. I am glad you are always learning things about yourself. I think that is the best thing of all.

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