Kristen was born an artist and educated a marketer. When her son was born she wanted out of the corporate 9 to 5.
After trying different things, she decided to start a business selling her art. The first four months sales were bleak. Then she got the idea to make handcrafted signs. Two months later she was $10,000 richer.
You have been in business in 6 months. How did you go from not making any money to making $10,000 in the last two months?
Having had my things in retail stores in the past gave me really valuable insight into what people want and what they are buying. One store I have worked very closely with is the Show of Hands in Denver. I have a great relationship with the owner and she gives me great feedback. She told me that any kind of words you can put on your wall people go ga-ga over. I started to do research on Twitter to look at trends of what quotes and lyrics people were re-posting a lot. The first thing I came up with was a quote from a Mumford & Sons song. I made a sign with the quote and posted it on Twitter and Pinterest.
Did you get sales from that sign?
I was watching the World Series the day that sign starting moving through the blogosphere. While I was watching it I was working on my computer at the same time. All of the sudden my Etsy traffic went wild. When my husband and I went to Google Analytics to see where all of the traffic was coming from it was all coming from Pinterest. On Pinterest it got re-pinned 1000’s of times and those pins linked directly back to my Etsy site.
$10,000 in sales were from one Mumford & Sons sign?
I also did one coupon with Heartsy which not only generated sales but also generated a huge amount of traffic to my site. The way Etsy works is the more traffic you get – the more traffic you get. When you get people coming to Etsy and ‘favoriting’ your stuff it just generates more interest and more traffic. Now I am just trying to maintain that momentum I have had over the last couple of months.
What were those first 4 months of not making money like?
Extremely scary and completely motivating. There is nothing like being hungry and scared to motivate you. Here is what was most scary — my husband and I had tried several different start-up ideas. This was the last thing we were going to try and if it did not work then I had to go get a real job. Not wanting to have to get a real job was a pretty big motivator and not wanting to fail my family was also a huge motivator. So when I was not addressing the needs of my family, I was working. I was researching, I was designing and I was talking to people. I was putting stuff out there, as scary as it was to do so, because I needed something to catch.
Putting my stuff out there for the world’s eyes and feedback sometimes kind of makes me want to cry.[Laughing] I will be honest with you, I have so many better things to cry about. You are never going to succeed if you are not willing to make a fool of yourself and making a fool of yourself is just really not that tragic.
Did you have experience doing anything like this before?
I have been a crafter for a long, long time. I did the whole corporate thing. I did it fairly well. I worked in marketing and product management. When I had my son seven and a half years ago I did not want to be stuck in a 9 – 5 job. So I left. I was the general manager and did marketing and new product ideas for my family’s pastel company. Here I learned a lot about marketing and selling to creative people. Getting to where I am now was kind of an aggregation between inheriting creative talent from my father and then learning marketing savvy and production know how which allowed me to put together a product and a process I could capitalize on. The goal was to make enough money so I did not have to go back to corporate America, but would allow me to have a flexible schedule so I could be a mom.
I think a lot of people would like to do this but are stuck on ‘what to do,’ do you have any thoughts on how people figure out what to do?
I could have never done this if I did not believe in myself. Finding that confidence has been a 40 year struggle and a big part of coming to where I am right now is having people around me that believe in me and verbalize that [to me]. Without that I would not be doing this. So one thing I have learned is to seek out the people who love me and are supportive. That was a big starting point for me. Second to that is finding whatever little product or service you can make or do that you can fit into however many hours you are willing to work in a week.
What prevented you from doing this 10 years ago?
I think it was not really knowing who I was or what I wanted. I followed a very traditional career path in high tech marketing. I was making real great money and I guess I thought that was the stamp of approval I really needed. Shockingly, at the end of the day, working 60 hours a week was not getting me any closer to knowing who I am as a person. My husband and I have suffered through some really crappy, crappy stuff and we have shed a lot of tears and it has been really sucky, but it has made us so much stronger as people and it has helped us shed a lot of what I thought I should be, needed to be or the need to seek approval. I dropped all of that and honest to God the day I turned 40, I was like, ‘I don’t care what you people think anymore. I am going to figure out what makes me happy.’
Oprah says that when you turn 40 you just don’t care what people think anymore.
That was absolutely true for me. But it was not just turning 40, it was losing a child and caring for my husband through chemotherapy. It was a lot of bad shit that helped me re-evaluate my priorities and help me figure out who I want to be.
Were there failures in this?
Oh God, there were tons. When I started this I was working in lucite. I made really cute, cool stuff which nobody wanted. It was hard for me to buckle down and think, ‘Nobody wants this. I need to start working in wood.’ But in the end I am glad, I would much rather be working with a natural material than with plastic. I feel really good about that, but it was really hard for me to accept that my original vision was not where this was going to go.
What about lessons learned?
One of the lessons I have learned is that Etsy really wants you to do absolutely everything in your power to make sure your customers are satisfied and I have lost some money that way. One of the lessons I am learning is that it is ok to say no. It is also ok to say, ‘Not only can I not do that. I don’t want to do that.’
Do you have any examples of that?
I had a woman contact me that wanted a lot of customizations. I responded to her that I could not do those customizations and she said that she would pay me more money for them so I told her I would do it. I spent a lot of time doing something that I really did not want to be doing and something that was really not for my set up. I sent her something that I thought was really fantastic and I got this nasty email back from her. I spent a lot of time trying to make the situation right. At the end of the day she was a person that did not want to be happy and she gave me really bad feedback on Etsy. I wear that bad feedback with pride. That is my badge of honor. I drew a line and I am ok with that.
Do you have any advice on first steps for other crafters who want to sell online?
Their first step should be to go to a blog by the name of Handmadeology. It is a really thoughtful, really well done blog that is a great resource for crafters who want to sell. They have fantastic, well researched articles on optimizing your success on Etsy. The other thing is to really understand what it costs to make what you make. If what you make costs $22, but someone is only going to pay $25 for – you are never going to make any money and you are going to make yourself crazy. If you can make something that costs $20 and someone will pay $60 for it – you are golden.
I get to go to my workshop every day, a place that I love, to do things that I love and 99.98% of all the feedback I get is from people who are have ordered my stuff and are very happy. If you have a job where all day long you are getting emails from people who are telling you that they love your work, how do you not look in the mirror and not see a rock star?
Do you have any advice for the person who is sitting in corporate cube farm hell right now thinking, ‘I don’t know if I should do it. I am afraid to do it. What if I fail? I am afraid.’
My advice would be – just do it. Just stinking do it. It doesn’t mean leaving your job, but it does mean putting whatever it is you have — out there. Until you put it out there you are never, ever going to know.
Where would you like this to go?
I am moving into a larger workshop space and I am hiring a full time production assistant. I would like to work more and more with retail stores. I have stores coming to me now.
To visit Kristen Bang’s Spunky Fluff Etsy Store please go to: http://www.etsy.com/shop/spunkyfluff?ref=pr_shop_more or on Facebook.