Podcast Episode 1: My Etsy Success Story

etsy podcast Aug 18, 2021
My Etsy Success Story: How I went from corporate girl to full time etsy seller

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Hello hello to you my friends—old and new! I’m SO excited to be launching my very first podcast episode—it feels kinda surreal! But welcome, welcome! I think this is going to be a fun and inspiring kick off.

So I have created this space to share the endless learning I’ve been doing ever since I became an entrepreneur back in 2009 (I’m a bit of a personal growth junkie)--- and our main focus for the foreseeable future is to talk about selling on Etsy—with a few related spin off topics here and there.

I decided to start developing this project during 2020 when the pandemic a) exploded my own Etsy shop where I sell painted wood signs—which told me more people are buying on Etsy than ever and b) attracted thousands of new sellers who were looking to supplement their income or find an outlet for their creativity while our world was flipped upside down. And the message I heard from these folks again and again was that they needed guidance to figure out how to be successful on the platform. That just really resonated with me and attracted my interest because of my training background (which I’ll share more about in a few minutes) and also just the compassion I felt for so many people who desperately needed to find new ways to make money and pay the bills.

I sincerely believe there’s more than enough room in ecommerce for anyone with the talent and desire to pull a seat up to the table and put their stuff out there.

Ok—so first things first—I want to tell you a bit about my background so you get a sense of the foundation behind all of this, and then I’ll share my own Etsy journey—which has been incredible, and we’ll finish off with the vision I have for us all going forward.

I’m grew up in the suburbs of Chicago—the daughter of 2 successful entrepreneurs in the software field—and spent two years of college at Purdue University where I studied Interior Design and two and a half at the University of Illinois in Champaign where I (lol) finished a degree in History. I just never knew what I wanted to do (which makes so much more sense now)--- so I got a general liberal arts degree hoping it would open some doors.

I had a lot of interest in education and in summer camp administration—I realized now has a lot to do with my passion for developing people and calling them into their purpose, and coaching them in the mindset areas they want to develop. But those fields never felt quite right in and of themselves.

So I worked at Old Navy through college, and knew I wanted a big change when I graduated so I started job hunting in San Antonio, Texas as a new graduate and got and entry level mortgage processor job at USAA. My parents like to spend the colder months in Texas so I knew that moving here would give me enough access to them to feel connected and enough independence to feel like an adventure.

USAA was an incredible company and work experience but I just knew early on that a traditional work path and corporate environment was not for me.

My first adventures into entrepreneurship began with a few years in network marketing—which taught me a lot about personal development—and I quickly began learning all I could about business, mindset, and marketing. This was a major turning point for me because I experimented with social media marketing and quickly got the knack for creating content that drew interest and motivated customers.

So then--- I built my first solo company as a social media manager and consultant and I spent the next several years managing the social media of many clients including a movie production company, non-profit organizations, multiple authors, private practices, and so many more, and consulting with tons of companies and individuals to teach them how to run their own social media effectively.  

It was the most awesome training ground --- I learned A TON—and there was always plenty of work. I think at that time I was super grateful for all the opportunities—even though it wasn’t the most flexible career—but the one thing that nagged me again and again was that I was developing the brand and dreams of all of the these other people—which was fine—but there was no space to work on my own.

THEN, I found out I was pregnant with my first child, and that created a really natural pivot point. It was immediately evident that my entrepreneurial grind in social media consulting and management was just not going to fit anymore. The idea of conducting focused conference calls or brainstorming sessions with a baby crying or toddler at my feet was not attractive or practical. So I began to think about how I could leverage what I’d learned in social media to a much more flexible business model I could run from home, at any time of day, with any noise in the background…. And from that my Etsy shop was born.

 My Etsy Shop

With our baby on the way, I posted pics of some (verryyyyy rustic) reclaimed wood signs we had made for the nursery. We’d always been a DIY family and this was just a natural project for us to take on. And it was great content to show my blog followers. 😊

What I didn’t expect was the response to our seriously amateur signs! So many people asked how we made our signs and if we would sell them-- we just knew we were on to something.

I really want to share this to encourage people to just start and figure it out as you go--- because we were legit AMATEURS. Nothing in our business really looks the same—we tried stuff and when it didn’t work, tweaked it. We studied and researched and just went for it. I always like to say “Everything is Figureoutable” which is a Marie Forleo quote and her amazing book. This just means if you don’t know something--  or one thing isn’t working—you can figure it out. You can find answers.

-We started super low key and low tech:

               -Premade and photographed each piece

               -We ONLY did reclaimed wood

               -Stencils were printed paper and I used a transfer effect to guide my painting

-Then we bought thin sheet of plastic and my husband cut the stencils from the printed paper out from the plastic with an exacto knife so they could be reusable

-We sold several and realized this was too slow—so we bought a stencil cutter and that was a learning curve to say the least figuring out the software and I remember creating the stencils cuts with that software was a CHORE

-Next at some point I decided I just wanted to paint bigger signs. I knew there was more of a market for the smaller ones—but when I calculated my costs and time to make the small ones (plus shipping costs)—they really weren’t profitable enough with our current process. So I decided to niche down and just do large signs—statement pieces, about bed signs, and longer thin ones. Getting focused like that helped because it was easier to streamline the building process to a few specific and bigger sizes, and I knew we would make a better profit on each piece.

-We added a new wood option for each sign because I saw on Etsy that listings with a cheaper and more expensive variation created a psychological effect that raised sales. This was a turning point for us.

*I should add that my husband could probably do a whole separate episode on the evolution of the building process and how he upgraded tools and machinery and built jigs. It really has been a journey.

-Then our sales really grew and sourcing enough reclaimed wood became more tricky—so we found a partner that funneled it for us and delivered it.

-Another big turning point was when I figured out I could use a blank sign that was staged and photographed as a mockup--- so I didn’t have to take pictures of each and every sign I wanted to sell. I just had my “blanks” and I would put whatever text on them I wanted to try to sell (this was great for testing products by the way) and use that photo for the listing. I knew with my stencil cutter and painting skills I could create exactly what the picture showed—and it just saved sooooo much time and space. I was able to add tons more listings which really helped our shop.

-A few years later we added framed versions of the new signs since we noticed it was a big trend.

-Our next step is purchasing a very large industrial printer so we can make more signs faster and it won’t require me to paint everything. We know we could increase our sales a lot by reducing our turn around time (its been 2-3 weeks for years because every sign is custom made with the colors and finish each customer picks—so we have lots of room to close that gap) We want to scale to other platforms to sell and delegate more of the work. I trained a few painters over the years to help me but it was never a great long term solution.

 So it’s just been such an evolution in our products, our processes, our mindset—everything. And I can’t stress enough how important it is to allow yourself to start small—where you’re at. You don’t have the have all the answers or the perfect process. If you have a quality product that you’re proud of--- that people are currently shopping for—the rest is figureoutable.

Now I'm in a place where I really want to protect the Etsy culture with excellence and quality and integrity. I want it to continue to be a place where we love our customers and take pride in our work. And that's why I'm excited to help the next generation of new Etsy sellers. I want to provide resources to help you succeed and have a blast doing it.

So--- You can do this! You're next! I'm really excited to see your dream shop, your side gig, your passion become a reality. 



Lizzie Smiley



Free PDF Download Mentioned:

“4 Strategies I used to grow my Etsy shop from $25 to $6000+/month”





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