Staying On Fire Without Burning Out


Maybe it's the cold weather
(although it hasn't been all that cold here),

the shortened days
(although they're getting longer)

or my own natural inclination to work until collapse

(in a 24/7 selling environment that doesn't really allow for collapse this is not a good model - unless of course you are prepared to really collapse, like into a great big old mahogany box with a velvet liner)

but an awful lot of Etsy sellers are using a 10 letter "e" word to describe their state of mind lately.

And it ain't "exhilarated" (which is 11 letters actually).

I have said it before and I will say it again - this is all a great deal of work

(and before you think I am a big whiner - although hello ... this is not news folks, I did devote 427 42 Wednesdays of my life to the art of whining or maybe that was wining - I need the corks remember, but whining is reactive and I am determined to be proactive here - how do we fix this?!)

No matter how we sell our makings online we have to - market ourselves, create relationships, take amazing pictures, basically make ourselves stand out among the thousands/millions/gazillions

(where the hell are all these people coming from anyway)

of other makers creating amazing makings and doing the same things we are.

(if you have been doing this for awhile just hearing me say it out loud can make you tired and cranky and reaching for your Snugli and I should add that if you do read my posts out loud I am from New Jersey and should be read with a Carmella Soprano 'foget-about-it' inflection)

There are 5 ways to make money on Etsy:

(maybe more I appear to be out of fingers)

1. Vintage - If you sell vintage items you do not have to do the making part, but you do have to do the finding part and the research of pricing part and the take amazing pictures part and you need to figure out the correct shipping charge and get yourself the proper packaging for your oddly shaped whosee whatsee and oh yes, since your items are one of a kind there is no renew button for you my dear ... sorry.

2. Large Batches - If you do your makings in large batches you will likely work really hard for a certain period of time making your fabulousness and then work less during the shipping phase of your process, but you will likely have to have a very good handle on inventory and supplies and what will sell

(I recommend a magic 8-ball for this or some market research I have found them to be equally inaccurate)

or you will be sitting on alot of excess inventory and miss out on sales when you run out of stock.

3. One at a time - if you do your makings in small batches or one at a time, well, you will just be making your makings all the time and the busier you get the more you will need to get a handle on time management and pricing or ... well, I think your head could explode actually ... this is my makings model and I have been known to discover little pieces of brain matter all over my studio, luckily, being the creative professional I am, my brain matter is always in pantone's latest colors, so at least it's pretty brain matter - my apologies if you are reading this while eating lunch, but yes, art is messy, folks ...

4. Make something once and sell it again and again - paint a picture - sell prints, take a photo - sell copies, design a dress - hire someone else to sew it. This is kind of my dream maker business model (sigh)- the make something once and sell it over and over again model - but will not work for everyone. I do think there are ways to incorporate some of this into any of the models though.

Of course, there is also supply selling on Etsy (5) which involves mostly buying things in large batches and selling them in smaller batches for a profit. The pitfall being that you could end up doing an awful lot of work for not an awful lot of money. You really need to know your profit margins and what your competition (you will undoubtedly have alot) is doing.

Anyhoo, I have been talking to some successful shops who sell in these various models for some great tips and tricks to avoid the dreaded "e" word. I will be posting them over the next two weeks - so check back starting on Friday for Vintage and (hopefully) Large Batch Makers.

* carry me by redbishop
* squirrel salt and pepper shakers by kella
* tshirt by xenotees
* map necklace by sherry truitt
* wish illustration by pale preoccupation


I am fairly certain that most vintage sellers on Etsy either 1. started their shop as an excuse to flea market or

2. their love of flea marketing had become an obsession and it was Etsy or the hoarders tv show

(and since you need one of those hairy facial moles to get on the tv show and most people are not willing to get one of those things surgically implanted to become dysfunctionally famous - Etsy it was)

This is not about how to sell more vintage on Etsy, but some vintage peeps did offer up a couple selling suggestions that could help avoid the exhaustion trap:

1. be selective about what you sell - just because it's vintage doesn't mean anyone wants to buy it

2. sell from your heart - offering up things that you love to people who will love them, too, is what you are really doing here - you are not a seller of vintage - you are a matchmaker - the Fiddler on the Roof kind not that scary chick on the tv show! (wth)

Now this 'be selective' thing may go against the 'one man's trash is another man's treasure' typical flea thinking, but your shop is not a flea market, you are a vintage boutique - on Etsy (and the internet in general) it is always a good idea to specialize and find your niche.

If you are selective and sell from your heart it will be easier for you to :

1. become an authority on what you sell
2. develop a following and
3. keep the passion alive for what you are doing

These translate into

1. less time spent doing research and less time shopping (wait is that really a plus?) because you will know what you are looking for and what things are worth and what you can resell and make money on
2. less time spent listing (you can offer items to specific customers through a service like Mailchimp at a discounted price prior to listing - one vintage seller told me that she sells 25% of her finds by offering them up at a discount to her mailing list prior to listing on Etsy)
3. the world doesn't need more people who sell stuff, the world though does need more people who love what they are doing

Some other great tips from vintage sellers to work smarter and not harder included:

1. Detailed descriptions and lots of pics = less convos from customers with questions and less problems later

(think measurements and not sizes and if you ship outside of the U.S. remember to include centimeter measurements, too)

2. Pack up your items after photographing them - don't seal the package in case you need to check something for someone, but having it all ready to ship and being certain of your shipping charges saves time and money - one seller puts a photo from the listing on the outside of her boxes

(I once bought something from a vintage seller who lamented to me how much she would miss it because she was using it as a bookend on her radiator - now I know my purchase had a life before me, but it gave me a weird feeling to think of my precious whosee whatsee being used between the time the pics were taken and the time of my purchase, so as a customer boxed and ready to ship sounds good to me)

3. Lower prices after 30 days - to keep your shop fresh and your cash flow in the red - just make sure to keep a list of what you paid for each item handy and know your selling fees so you will always know your bottom line pricing

4. Decide how much time you will devote to your vintage boutique and schedule your tasks - most successful sellers have a timetable they stick with - you get to decide what works best for you, this is your business after all - evaluate how this is all fitting in with the rest of your life regularly!

Vintage matchmakers have to research, shop, photograph, measure, describe, pack, ship plus do all the marketing and relationship building.

This is all alot of work and you need to love what you are doing or you will not be doing it for long.

Now that love can wane a bit here and there as all business love is known to do - sometimes just a little step back from what we are doing can allow us to see the big picture that we are often too close to our work to see - sometimes you have to just keep backing up until everything is in focus.

(a life lesson from my Canon instruction book - next week we'll take a look at my Kenmore dishwasher manual!)

Monday - Large Batch Makers Tips to Avoid Large Batch Exhaustion

1. shop - bellalulu
2. shop - tippleandsnack
3. shop - everyeskimo
4. shop - 5gardenias
5. shop - bold pigeon


With large batch production you are producing an inventory rather than waiting for an order.

One of the best parts about making your makings in large batches - and being pro-active rather than reactive

(when you are selling your makings in small batches or one at a time)

is that it creates some production downtime - time that you can spend doing the other things involved in running your maker business.

There is more to making a business than making stuff after all

The hardest part is that you will need a good handle on what is going to sell (sizes, colors, styles, etc - cue the crystal ball) so that you are making the right stuff or you will have lots of unsold whosee whatsees sitting around your studio (and lost time and money on these unsold makings) and sell out of the things you could be making money on.

(this is pretty much guaranteed to happen from time to time especially as your business grows, but if time to time becomes most of the time you need to figure this stuff out)

Three inventory management sites recommended to me by makers are Stitch Labs, RunInventory and Bizelo.

The amount of inventory you have on hand will vary depending on your business. One ideal way to do your batch production is to batch produce the parts of your work that are not customizable - for example with my cork test tube necklaces I batch produce everything except the images. When a customer orders a necklace I just have to add the specific imagery and wording to the existing necklace. I know a lotion/potion maker that adds fragrance to her makings as ordered.

Thinking about any parts of your production you can steamline this way while still being able to adjust your finished product later, may save you time and money.

Some tips from Etsy batch makers on working smarter and not harder include:

1. Know the popularity of your size breaks -

For example a t-shirt screenprinter might find her sizebreaks to be
2-4-4-2 or sm,m,l,xl -

so when she is producing a dozen shirts for inventory this is the sizebreak she will be screening.

This is not a guarantee that she will always be producing the right pieces but if you are working with sizes, etc that cannot be adjusted later and you take the time to figure this out, you will definitely decrease your inventory headaches.

And save time for the other stuff on our to-do lists like getting that SWAT team ready to mobilize, acquiring street maps covering all of Minnesota, a pot of coffee, 12 jammy dodgers and a fez and if you are not a Dr. Who fan and have no pop culture reference for what I am blathering about here you can skip this part.

2. Stock up smartly - take a look at how often you are doing your making, the seasonality of your business and the popularity of your items

If a store orders 4 of something and I only have 3 pieces in stock - I tell them I have 3 on hand rather than making myself crazy and holding up a shipment to produce a one-off of something I batch produce.

3. Have regular sales to clear out your excess stock - one large batch maker told me she does her batch making (about 75% of her production) one week out of every month and at production time anything that is left in the studio gets counted and overstock goes on sale - often never to be produced again

This "never to be produced again" may not be a good idea for everything that isn't flying off the shelves, but eliminating nonsellers so that you can spend your time producing new work is essential to creating a sustainable business and keeping your heart invested in what you are making which is, ultimately, a life and not just a handmade whosee whatsee -

a life that needs to allow time for things other than your makings - things like guacamole and Woodchuck hard cider (just wish these came with corks I'd be stocked), Angry Birds (it has become my number one goal in life - other than having George Clooney delivered to my door ... wet - to pry certain people away from this game - UGH) and movies at an actual movie theater rather than on your computer while you wrap beads.

And speaking of George Clooney and movies I just saw the Descendents and although I wasn't quite as in love with it as the critics have been, I did have a wonderful little blue-haired woman behind me adding spicy dialogue like

"George really does look more and more like Rosemary every year", "Do they call them Hawaiian shirts in Hawaii or just shirts?", "The president is from Hawaii you know", "I hate walking on sand", "Is that the older Bridges or the younger Bridges?", "He runs like a dingbat" and "He can really do sad". I LOVED HER.

4. Get help - large batch production can make it easier to get help during busy times and at regularly scheduled periods.

Trying to do it all can burn us out ... fast. And part of giving back with our creative venture can be our ability to pass on that creative energy in the form of money to others.

I find that when I pay someone and this payment can take the form of things other than money, but when you want more money to flow in, you have to allow - with a grateful heart - more money to flow out - money is energy and needs to move after all - when I pay someone and focus on the amazing feeling that that gives me and wanting more of that, I get more of that.

Giving ourselves little finish lines helps, too. Because there is no real endzone with any of this. We are never going to arrive, suitcase in hand, hair a mess and needing a back rub .. at our final destination because there is no such place.

The maker life is about the process and the more we embrace that the more we will allow ourselves to be the world-changing, passionate, fearless (as in not letting fear stop us), wealth-creating, change-embracing, idea-generating, grateful, crazy ass artists we are meant to be!

* I like making pretty things print by playonwordart

1. shop: Xenotees
2. shop: Palomas Nest
3. shop: Somethings Hiding Here
4. shop: Monkeys Always Look

A few people have asked me why I am making this series so Etsy-centric when many other things contribute to the exhaustion some of us have been feeling this winter

(and I agree, although I do see Etsy as being an intrinsically exhausting venue to sell our makings)

so I thought I would interrupt this series with some less Etsy-specific thoughts about all of this.

(think of this interruption as a little less annoying than that tv emergency buzz signal and a little more annoying than when someone interrupts your movie-watching with a bag of popcorn)

I have a friend who advises when exhausted:

Do no favors. Do not, under any circumstance engage in another 'act of kindness' unless it is completely 'natural and convenient' for you

This is not about "me time" because that is just not big enough for what we need here - even ME TIME is not enough, not even ME TIME - this is about MUCH MORE than that ...

(cue the marching band)

some things I have found to help:

1. drink more water
2. go outdoors - yes, it's cold - so, what - your toes will thaw out later - just get out there
3. keep your telephone calls to under 3 minutes - no exceptions
4. eat less
5. refuse to hurry
6. laugh

(I have the funniest family on the planet, seriously, after the last week with them, I feel like I have done a thousand sit-ups - now if I only looked like I had done a thousand sit ups ....)

7. put an out of office auto response on your email for awhile
8. sleep
9. listen to music
10. don't start anything new - things started during creative exhaustion have a way of not looking so good when your head clears
11. be grateful

(you probably wouldn't be this tired, if you didn't have a full crazy-ass life which not everybody allows themselves to have and you do, allow it that is, so be grateful)

12. trust

(another door stands visible in plain sight but you are just too damn tired to see it - it's there, you will)

* dandelion by Raceytay

When my maker shops on Etsy took off, my small batch and one at a time makings model quickly became a challenge.

The time I used to spend creating something new became time spent reproducing/replacing things that had sold and eventually

(I blame Etsy's cunning little relist button)

to producing things that I had already sold.

This can create a situation where we are so focused on the outcome that we lose sight of how much energy we are investing and stop paying attention to how exhausted we've become.

“you can map out a fight plan or a life plan, but when the action starts, it may not go the way you planned and you’re down to your reflexes. That’s where your roadwork shows. If you cheated on that in the dark of the morning, well, you’re going to get found out now, under the bright lights" ... joe frazier

(yes, I realize this quote is off-topic and may even make you more exhausted to contemplate it - but someone just sent it to me and
damn it's good

Small batch (and one of a kind) makers need a tight grip on their time.

(something like the death grip Angry Bird addicts have on their handhelds)

1. Unless your item is personalized do not hit the relist button until your next item is made.

Simple thing - hard to do - saves lots of headaches

2. Instead of making 1 of your amazing little whatnots - if possible, make two, often you can make multiples without doubling your production time

3. Limit your time online - clicking is addicting

4. Set up your studio to make your making easier

I recently 'cleaned' my studio ... again ... to make things a little more Ford assembly line-like for myself, but found my hands always reaching toward the places where parts and doodads used to be - it has taken me some time to retrain my muscle memory, but I have been able to save time by getting my workspaces in line with my process.

and yes, you will probably need workspaces - plural -

- constantly taking things out and putting them away is a huge time waster - before I had a studio - I would set up things in drawers within a cabinet and then pull the drawers out onto the table to set up 'areas' for assembly, shipping, photography, etc and then just return the drawers to the cabinet when I was finished with them

5. Get on a schedule

I think, that just like your production area, your schedule needs to fit your life, your energy peaks, etc - this does not have to be a 9-5 thing, but when it's become a 5-9 thing all the time and when the things that you need to do to make your business and your life sustainable- like make time for new work - get lost in the shuffle, you need to get yourself a huge calendar and figure this out.

I like to schedule things in chunks so if something comes up I can move one chunk to another part of the calendar.

Confession - I do not have this all figured out and there are some chunks that have been moving around my calendar for ... weeks ... sigh.

6. Limit your one of a kind or commissioned work - make a production schedule and stick with it

(it is human nature to want things that are not just readily available to everyone - things that are made to order just for us, things we have to plan for - wait in line for; hopefully a cyber line, like your production schedule - things that SCREAM special)

Allowing yourself time for creative work - no matter how many of your amazing whatnots you are selling right now, everything has a life cycle and I can guarantee you that your whatnot will become a whatever at some point - allows your business to grow in a more sustainable way.

It allows you and your brand to be around long after your whatever whatnot has become yesterday's news.

7. Get help

The opposite thinking is that you need to strike while the iron is hot with your amazing whatnot - so farm out the production help that you can while you can - and be ready to move on when the iron cools.

part III continues Friday

(I promise it will be worth dragging your tired self over here to read - unless you have something really important or really fun chunked into your calendar - like a Belgian wax, maybe - yes, you read that right, I do not have my countries that start with B mixed up - it is really just a regular wax that you follow up with a waffle to reward yourself since it hurt so much, but it sounds almost as exotic as the gross kind)

8. Do less

Figure out what isn't working and get rid of it.

80% of your money almost certainly comes from 20% of your makings - what can you streamline? what can you dump?

Multi-tasking is yesterday's news - it doesn't work. What we need is to set an intention and focus on it like a laser beam. Even if it is just so we can experience the energy of completion - that's powerful stuff.

We know the power of niche thinking with our physical makings and then we scatter our mental and physical energy all over the place and exhaust ourselves.

And we need to pay attention to what we are telling our subconscious minds when we hold on to stuff that isn't working.

9. Change how we do things, not what we are doing

Sometimes things are actually working, but we get so tired and overwhelmed we think we have a product problem when what we have is a process problem.

(many creative babies have been thrown out with the dirty bath water - stuff gets dirty, life is messy - change the water, not the baby - unless of course that baby really needs changing - but that's what dads are for)

10. Get clear on what we want

I had a friend tell me about a big opportunity not that long ago and I said "God, I wish I wanted to do that" because I knew I should want to do it, but I was just too damn tired at that moment to even want it.

Once we have put a little bit of space between us and "tired" we need to get clear on what we want - not doing things because we should want to do them will open up a huge space in our lives to fill with the stuff we really do want.

And if we reach the point where we are just too tired to want anything, except maybe a nap and a Nook - well, this is just not the time to divide the "should wants" from the "wants" - take the nap, read your Nook and decide later.

Now the very best model of how to sell things on Etsy (in my humble opinion) is the make it once and sell it again and again model.

(think photographs, illustrations, ebooks, advertising on our blogs, knitting patterns - you get the idea)

There are ways to bring some of this into any maker model though and I'm going to talk about that next week.