Saturday, May 19, 2012

Can't slow down

I'm having the same dilemma I've had several times since 2009.  Do I keep running my Etsy shop or is it too much?  It's like having an apple pie sitting on my kitchen counter.  It doesn't seem right to throw it away even though it's not what I should be eating.  I love eating apple pie.  But if I eat as much pie as I want, I feel crappy both long-term and short-term.

Ok, maybe not the best analogy as running my business isn't making me physically ill.  But it's stressful.  I can't seem to dial it down.  If the shop is open and I'm taking custom orders, I'm either working on orders, figuring out how to get more sales, or feeling resentful that there are so many similar shops on Etsy and many with more sales than I have.   Is my pricing ok?   Am I offering unique enough products?  Should I invest time and money into selling my work in person at shows?

I'm not a competitive person, but something about having my own shop really brings out the worst in me in that sense.  I obsess about whether my shop is getting enough views and people marking favorites.  I wonder if I should place Google or Facebook ads.  I renew listings to get them to show up at the top of the search, even though they haven't expired yet and it costs me money.

I'm at 70% of the aggressive sales goal I set for myself this month, with several more days to go in the month.  And every time I take a break, I get several past customers asking when I'm reopening, and I hate to turn them down.  When I do reopen, I'm rewarded by the little email pop ups of new sales notifications.  Clearly this shop is satisfying my need for external validation and "gold stars", which is something I'm not terribly proud of.

my product photographs have gotten so much better since 2007!

Don't get me wrong - I love making things.  I love that people think my work is good enough to give to their spouse on their wedding day.  Actually crafting the pieces puts me in a GREAT frame of mind - calm and peaceful.  I've learned a bunch of other skills from running this as a real business - dealing with taxes, product photography, customer service.  I'm thrilled that even with a toddler and a tech career, I can make time to do something artsy and soul-satisfying.

But here's the thing.  When I made my Mondo Beyondo list, I had no goals for my business at all.  And that didn't surprise me.  I've already proven what I set out to do - I wondered if I could ever be successful at selling what I had made.  The answer is yes.  I don't have other "big goals" for it beyond that.

Since T was born, I've taken several breaks from it when it felt like "too much".   But I keep coming back.

I feel guilty about the supplies and money I've invested over the years.  I feel like I should at least "use up" the consumable supplies before I quit.  The other part is feeling like I'm wasting an opportunity.  People work for years trying to build up a freelance career or flexible side business to make some extra money.  I already have that "big idea" and it's clearly working for me.  It seems crazy to give that up.

I know for sure I never want to quit my job and rely on my crafty business income.  That would be the surefire way to kill the fun and skyrocket my stress levels.

But on the other hand, I hear stories of how my pet ID tags ensured lost dogs found their way home.  Or how someone cried when they received the item I made (hopefully not because it was hideous!).  And the woman who watched her husband open the gift I made over Skype because he was serving in the military in Afghanistan. 

Obviously there are tons of people out there who can take my place, and tons of folks who *are* doing this as their sole source of income.  Of course they are going to have the time and inclination to maximize their sales.  I know I have too many other priorities.  But when I'm away from it for too long, I miss it.

I'm just not sure how to keep it in balance and not make it all-consuming.  Thoughts?


  1. I am reading Danielle LaPorte's new book, The Firestarter sessions. I am only in the 2nd chapter so I have no good advice, but one of the early points of the book, is that Balance in Life is a Myth. Trying to achieve balance sets up one for failure.

    That life is about proportions. I can't quite explain what that means exactly- I'm still reading.

    I do know that some of the pressure you are feeling is caused by Etsy itself. If you move your custom items to your own site- there is no renewing, no questioning your pricing, etc.

    That makes life a little more peaceful right there. But, it also might be time to reassess your long-term goals. If there is no handmade shop there, then perhaps it is time to let that go. Give yourself permission to change your mind.

    You can always use up your inventory and supplies gifts or as charity donations.

    1. Thanks Andy! This is really helpful. I do agree that trying to get exact "balance" is crazy making.

      And the charity idea is a good one. Every now and then when the timing is right, I'll donate an item for an auction.

  2. Sounds to me like you need to write yourself a "statement of purpose" or something like that for your shop- i.e., something that says why you do it and what you want to get out of it. And then use that to help you keep your competitive spirit at bay and set the boundaries you need.

    I say that because it sounds like you enjoy doing the work. So why not focus on that, and let the shop just be how you move the work on to new homes?

    1. That's a great idea! And you are definitely right about me needing to send the pieces to new homes - there's only so much jewelry and stuff I can make for myself :D

  3. The economist answer is that you need to raise your prices until the number of orders is no longer overwhelming or the amount of money allows you to buy time from doing something you enjoy less.

    1. @N&M - I figured this out a while ago and have been doing it steadily. It works nicely!

  4. There's good advice here! I think a "statement of purpose" could allow you to really decide *what* you want from the shop and help let go of some of the competitive side (as long as that isn't in the purpose!).

    For the problem of too much work, you could decide on a schedule for opening and closing your shop and post it in your shop. That way people will know when they can expect to be able to order stuff. I'm sure you'll get a few requests when the shop is closed, but you can decide whether to make up stock during the in-between times and sell it when the shop is open or just take custom orders when the shop is open. When you've got enough orders, close the shop again. It will definitely take some experimentation to get the scheduling right, but I'm sure you could work it out.

    Also - about the economic argument - it's correct, of course. Maybe focusing on things people expect to pay more for - wedding and anniversary items and jewelry would let you raise prices and have a little less work. It does kind of throw out the dog tags, but maybe you could come up with a dog memorial item? A friend of mine has a cute little stand (it looks like a small jewelry stand) that holds pet tags and memorializes two of her past pets. There's a group who would pay more for that. So fine-tuning who you're trying to sell to could help, too.

    1. Thanks Stephanie! These are some great points here. I love the Internets :)

      I have been experimenting with keeping only the higher priced items in my shop to make it more "worth it", so to speak.

      The schedule thing might work well too, or just deciding I'll work on a set number of custom pieces for the month and closing shop when I've reached that number.

      Lots of food for thought here... And, I haven't gotten any sales since Thursday so i've got some breathing room now :D

  5. Just wanted to add some sympathy. I understand completely that you don't want to walk away, and yet, it sometimes feels like too much. Last month I finally got a writing job, something I always wanted and had been working towards. But I was almost immediately overwhelmed with stress because adding the work to my already busy life was just too much.

    The company went under and although I was sad to lose the job, I can't believe how much happier I am. And knowing I did it once makes me feel like I could come back to it when I'm ready.

    I think if you want to keep the shop now, you need to make some changes to fit it into your life - like, cut down on actual work hours, or arrange for longer child care. But both of those things are pretty major commitments and might not match with what you really want for your family. I think if this just isn't the right time for the shop - especially with the baby on the way - it's okay to shut it down for a while, even a few years. You built it once, and you can do it again.

    1. This is so true, thanks for reminding me Lynn. And you're right - getting MORE child care to do this is not in line with my current priorities.


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