In this episode we get to chat with Hilary from Shop231Designs. Hilary started her Etsy shop in 2015 and in just over a year has more than 2500 sales! Stick around and hear Hilary coin the term “naptime hustle,” talk about time management, working to find a niche market and offering some really great advice for early shops or sellers who are just getting started – up next on this episode of Etsy Jam!
Hilary is originally a graphic designer. In college she studied graphic design and commercial printing, so she’s always had a love of design and type. For a number of years she was in the commercial printing industry and after that she was a year book rep for which was really fun for her. She loved being able to do design while working with kids outside her home, but after she had her little guy a couple years ago she decided she no longer wanted to be on the road all the time. Staying home with her son and having that time with him was invaluable to Hilary. However, she wanted to figure out a way to make an income that would allow her to have flexible hours as a stay at home mom.
How Hilary Got Started
Hilary knew that she wanted to design something and wanted to keep everything in house as much as possible. After playing around with different ideas, personalized laser printing was the niche she dove into! In November of 2015 (right before the holidays), Hilary took the plunge and started her Etsy shop, 231 Designs. Immediately, she was off and running! Hilary is convinced that November is an awesome time to start a shop, because the holidays are SUCH a busy time of year for sellers. Hilary’s first sale for her personalized laser engraved items came on her first day of being open…which is amazing! Within the first couple months she had around 400 orders she’d completed and it was then she realized she was really onto something. She says it was crazy and unbelievable, but it’s been onward and forward ever since!
Since opening her shop, Hilary has made a point of doing as much as she can during nap times, early in the mornings, or later in the evenings. Her design work is mainly done in the mornings and evenings and the actual laser cutting process is usually accomplished during nap times. From the start, Hilary wanted to focus on the customer experience when opening her packages. Making her packaging really pretty and aiming for customers to feel like they were opening a gift was very important. She spent a good chunk of time tying ribbons, writing notes and perfecting the things that come along with a good customer experience. The first couple of months doing this was crazy! It was basically all hands on deck, inviting friends and family over to help and thinking, “What have I done?!” But, around January of that first year, things slowed down, which was a welcome relief after the holiday craziness. It was during this slow season that Hilary was really able to focus and think about what she wanted her shop to look like long term.
Starting out, Hilary had a small laser machine that made only one cutout at a time. After about a year, however, it was necessary to upgrade. Research and price hunting finally lead she and her husband to import a large machine (about the size of a mini coop) from a supplier in China. Though they saved a lot of money, navigating through the process of customs, broken english with Chinese manufacturing, literally having it sent over on a boat and learning the machine itself, all definitely came with challenges. Three days were spent getting it up and running and finally, right before Thanksgiving, Hilary was once again full speed ahead in her manufacturing.
One of the first things Hilary did after she opened was to price her products low. She was aware of how new to the market she was and didn’t want to price herself out of her range. She started off selling her laser cut outs at $8.00 and now sells them at $15.00. Hilary suggests that anyone starting out should definitely build up some inventory and list them in October. If you’re looking at breaking into the wedding market, list your inventory in January or February. It can be very seasonal depending on what you’re selling. Doing your research and finding when you should break in is very valuable. Also, if you’re doing something like a crocheted item and want to sell it in February, try finding a way to give it a Valentine’s or Mother’s Day spin. Selling what people are looking for is very important. It can be very discouraging to have your inventory out there when no one is buying.
Only So Many Hours in a Day
For Hilary, finding the time she needs during the day to get everything done has been a struggle. She uses her phone a lot during the day (though she wants to do less of this as her toddler gets older) to keep track of notes and ideas while she and her son are playing. Once nap time comes, she refers back to the lists and notes she’s made to decide what her priorities are while she’s working. She’s constantly thinking about what needs to happen once she has some time to herself. Five minutes here or ten minutes there are used to respond to convos or to check her Marmalead app. She says when she gets a new idea, she’ll hop on the app to see if she can “get her greens” and if she does, she knows it’s something she wants to focus on. Her early mornings are spent focusing on convos and what orders have come in while her husband watches their son. Nap times are used to work as best she can and then follow up on anything else during the evenings. Hilary says there’s really no magic formula to any of what she does, other than just focusing on the time she has and making the most of it. One thing she does do, is to group like items. For example, currently she’s working on little wooden crosses with names on them because it’s baptism season. So, she’ll do eight of those in a day and out they go, before she goes back to ornaments the next day or whatever it may be. Grouping like items helps her to get more in a groove with whatever she’s working on before going back to “Mom life.”
Think Outside The Box
Just like realizing that “Baptism Season” was a thing, it’s important to remember that there are many occasions that offer many sellers opportunities. The big holidays are not the only time to target your buyers with specific items. Hilary says for her, this has really helped in her success! Also, being sure to think ahead to any upcoming holidays helps. If it’s Mother’s Day or graduation, start thinking about Father’s day. If those have come and gone think ahead to Autumn or Halloween. Having her listings up early enough allows for more traction which helps with her sales. It also allows the Etsy algorithm to detect that you’re there with that listing. You have to give buyers enough time to find you, decide what they want, place an order, have it filled, and then ship it off to them. If you’re only allowing for a week or so, you’re cutting it really close. Listing your items early and then riding the wave as long as you can on those items is only ever going to help with your sales.
An Early Incident and Learning Curve
Not long after Hilary started on her first small engraving machine, she was engraving acrylic. Normally this wasn’t a material she used to engrave on. It was a custom request she was doing for a customer and she has since learned that when someone asks you for something custom you don’t think you can handle, just say no! So, she set her machine to begin engraving the acrylic at a slow speed, then left to do another task, and when she returned there were flames coming out of the top of the machine!! She quickly doused everything in water and immediately called her husband in tears. With orders still coming in and those needing to be completed, she had to have her equipment to make it happen! But there it stood, smoking and melted. Thankfully, her replacement came quickly and she was back in working order before long!
Streamlining and Being Efficient
Now that Hilary has her larger machine, it has allowed her to not just do one job at a time, but several! This makes her work much more streamlined and focused. Also, she says that within Etsy there are ways you can streamline your process more. Some of these are: using the calculated shipping profiles, putting all your like items with weights and packages in those profiles and using the preloaded convos (especially around the holidays) which allows you to not have to answer the same question multiple times. If you’re getting the same question about a listing multiple times, put the answer in your listing or shop announcement. Hilary also does a lot of copying on her listings, especially now that Etsy has added the new attributes function. If you get a listing the way you want it, then copy and change your SEO, title, and photos (especially if you’re doing a lot of similar things) it will really be a life saver and save you tons of time!
Five to Ten Minutes
Really, whenever you can sneak in 5-10 minutes here or there. For Hilary, staying on top of her convos and shipping makes her feel like she’s won. She’s not always working on new products, so when she’s not, staying caught up on things and not letting them get behind is invaluable.
New Ideas and How They’re Executed
So far, Hilary only pulls new ideas off her shop after three months or so. She’s only recently reached a hundred items in her shop (yay!) and she feels like a shop should feel full. Getting your target market down is important, but Hilary still tries to offer a variety of things…even jewelry! She also has a separate Etsy account from her shop. On this account she follows other artists who do similar work to hers. This offers her a way to see what everyone else is up to and to get inspiration for her own work/shop. This is especially helpful to see what other shops are using for photos and fonts. However, Hilary is careful to always take what she learns and put her own spin on whatever it might be. She also watches very carefully what the trends are and what is selling. You want to offer what people will buy!
Selling What You’re Passionate About vs. What People Are Buying
Hilary says her heart really goes out to other artists who are super passionate about their work, but who aren’t getting any sales. Her advice for those who don’t want to adjust what they’re selling is to check Pinterest and Instagram. Or scour Etsy and look for places that you can tweak your item. This could help make your product something that people are going to want to buy. Hilary has definitely been there, trying many different things that haven’t sold. So, finally finding a niche of items that sell is definitely a beautiful relief for Hilary. It’s important to Hilary to cater to people who are like her. She designs what she would want to purchase.
Most Unique Thing Hilary’s Engraved
That would probably have to be a wine barrel lid that her sister in law purchased. Honestly though, she’s engraved so many amazing things it’s hard to choose just one. She could send a regular sized door through her machine and it would be ok..a door.
Find Events and Get out of Your Box
Another thing Hilary suggests is to find local events to participate in, as well as getting to know other artists. A great way to connect with and meet people is through the local Etsy team in your area. She really feels like this is a huge benefit. Finding other local people who are giving this thing a shot right along with you will help connect you. It could also be invaluable to you as a small business owner. You just never know where your next inspiration is going to come from. And Hilary always tries to say yes…unless we’re talking about engraving acrylic on a small machine of course! She especially says yes when it’s a different or weird requests. If her buyer is local that’s an even bigger plus! Recently she went into a jewelry shop to buy a sterling silver chain for a customer. While there she started chatting with the owner of the shop about what she does. She showed the lady a few of her pieces and the shop owner liked them so much she referred her to not one, but two clients! And each of these clients purchased several pieces from her! Hilary says to put yourself out there because you never know where things are gonna come from. If you never try, you never know.
Advice on Nap Time Hustle
As a stay at home mama Hilary has great advice for others like her. First off, if you’re going to approach your Etsy shop as a business and not a hobby, think about it that way from day one. If you’ll be selling in the Etsy market, remember the Etsy customer wants something special. They want an experience above and beyond what they would find on Amazon. If customers wanted to go get the same thing on Amazon or at a local shop, they would. They are coming to Etsy for a little something extra and special. So, as Hilary has tried to do from day one, strive to create that moment of “wow” when a customer opens your item. Hilary goes so far as to print beautiful designs on her shipping labels! She truly works hard to make each piece she sells and packages look like a gift. Hilary says when customers respond to the packaging alone that can be enough to send them back. Customer service and going that extra mile has been a huge secret to her success, along with trying to find things that people want to buy. If you need help, ask for it and just jump in and get started!
Where to Find Hilary
Hilary is found at Shop231Designs, on Etsy! Her shop is SO much fun and you’ll definitely want to go check it out:) Also, listen to this week’s Jam. I wish I could capture everything in this blog! But Hilary’s Jam with the guys was a TON of fun with extra details and stories throughout.