Like most Etsy sellers you probably have a ton of things competing for your time. How well do you defend it? How picky are you about where you sell online and what shows you go to? This week we chat with Caitlin from MoxieAndOliver about some key decisions she’s made to defend her time. Caitlin talks about leaving her full time job, being diligent about where she sells online, what shows she participates in and how she found and hired her assistant. Join Caitlin, Richie and Gordon for another informative Etsy Jam!
Her back story
In 2004 Caitlin was working a full time job as a paralegal in a very conservative law firm. She kept getting in trouble for dress code violations. She’s always been very creative and this reflected in her clothing. She decided there was a way she could still express her style and not get in trouble: by being creative with her accessories. When she really started searching for a creative belt or handbag she couldn’t find what she was looking for anywhere. At this point, she remembered taking some leather working classes at summer camp. She made up her mind to get some tools and teach herself to make the leather accessories she was looking for.
Just do it
Caitlin bought some leather and tools and just went for it! She started off making belts and a messenger bag. The bag came out of buying other leather bags at different stores and only getting six months use out of them before something on them would break. Caitlin felt like buying the leather and putting the time into making what she wanted would be worth it. She knew she could make quality pieces that wouldn’t break. That first messenger bag she made is still kicking thirteen years later, so her work was definitely worth it!
Hobby to business
Caitlin knew from the beginning that this hobby would eventually turn into a business. This was because she quickly saw that no one was doing work like she was. This is still the case today. She says you can look within Etsy and outside of Etsy, you won’t find leather work as unique and creative as hers. This puts Caitlin in a really unique place which she definitely enjoys! On the one hand it makes her work easier because she is so unique, but on the other hand it can make selling (especially on Etsy) harder because buyers don’t always know what to look for to find her shop.
When Caitlin first started her business she was mostly selling at small craft shows. It was at one of these small craft shows that another seller told Caitlin about her new shop on Etsy. Caitlin had never heard of Etsy before. She went home that night and looked up this new thing called Etsy and decided that yeah, she could give this a try. It looked fine, it was only twenty cents for a listing and she was pretty sure she could take some photos to post. She opened her first Etsy shop in April of 2006 and the first year she was open was pretty bad. She thinks she may have made around $2700 for the year. At this point she was only working in a small corner of her basement and was still working a full time job. She simply didn’t have the time to focus on her leather business the way she wanted to. She also didn’t have the space to produce what she needed.
In 2010, Caitlin was about to have her daughter, was working full-time and was still trying to run her leather business on Etsy. She realized at this point that with her new baby coming, something had to be cut out. She chose to let go of her full-time job and focus all her energy on her daughter and her passion for making her leather accessories. A couple years after making this decision she was aggressively doing craft shows and needed more space to work. It was at the point that she moved her studio from her basement to her current studio space. She also hired an assistant. Hiring her assistant was part of the reason she was doing craft shows so much. It allowed the work to be more consistent and less sporadic. She also opened her business up to whole sale which increased the work load.
Being picky is good
In general Caitlin is very particular about where and how she sells her products. After a couple more years of having Etsy under her belt, she let go of most of the craft shows she’d been doing as well as the whole sale. She usually says no to drop shipping and in general is looking to see how well her products fit with a show or website. Her average price for an item is $100. Her items aren’t cheap. Because of this she doesn’t want to be surrounded by cheaper items where she is selling.
Caitlin understands that if she’s surrounded at a show by canvas bags that are screen printed, buyers there aren’t looking to drop $500 on a leather bag. It doesn’t matter how pretty it is or how much work went into it. It’s hard to make a buyer understand the process and value difference between two products when all they’re seeing is the price. If Caitlin chooses a show it’s usually a high quality art show where the products around her are similar in price and quality to her own. Whether on Etsy or out at shows, making certain your items are priced in the correct range can make all the difference in the sales you make.
Filter the advice you’re given
One thing Caitlin says she’s aware of is taking every seller’s advice. What works for one seller isn’t necessarily going to work for another. Just like at a craft or art show, it all depends on what you’re selling and what the person giving the advice is selling. What works for one shop isn’t going to work for every shop across the board.
A second venture
Last year Caitlin found Marmalead. She wanted to give the SEO thing a shot, but the thought of editing all eight hundred listings in her shop seemed daunting. Instead of doing this, she decided to open a second shop and implement all the advice that Marmalead gave to sellers for SEO. She was shocked at how well it really worked! Before finding Marmalead she says she really didn’t pay a ton of attention to her SEO. Her sales in 2016 were the highest they’d ever been between both of her shops! She noticed a definite different once she made the needed changes to her SEO.
Customleathergifts to date is still doing really well with 1255 sales to date. We were surprised that this name “CustomLeatherGifts” was available to Caitlin! It seems like it would have been taken long ago, but there it was available and waiting. Caitlin says if she’d known what she knows now about SEO when she opened her original shop, she wouldn’t have named it MoxieAndOliver. This name makes it harder for someone to find her on the internet.
If someone searches google for “custom leather gifts” her second shop would have a much higher chance of being found simply because of it’s basic name. Caitlin has also named all of her categories in her second shop things that people would search for like “custom mens wallets” and “custom leather belts”. She says she’s definitely paid more attention to the small details like this in her newly opened shop.
All those details
She also pays way more attention to all the extra details and opportunities that Etsy gives sellers, which help sellers connect with their buyers. When she does consulting (which she does regularly) with other artist’s on Etsy and those selling at art shows, she stresses the importance of connecting with buyers. If it’s a booth at an art show it’s important to make it personal with your history. This will help the buyer connect not only with your art or product, but with you personally as an artist.
This holds true on Etsy as well. Each listing can be an opportunity to connect on a personal level with the buyer considering your product. Caitlin has been intentional in CustomLeatherGifts to include a little history in her descriptions as well as being detailed about her product. No matter how awesome your product may be, if someone simply isn’t connecting with you it can drive them to a shop where they will connect with that seller. This is especially important if your items are at a higher price point than those of your competitors. You need to help buyers understand why your piece is special, why you’re special and why you’re worth supporting as an artist.
One of the big things Caitlin does is to send out regular emails. She admits that she’s not the most up to date on her computer knowledge so has been using iContact for years. This is what she’s used to and has never bothered to change it. She knows people use Mailchimp a lot and seem to really like it. Caitlin has found for her business it’s not always a flashy template that’s going to make a difference. It’s sending emails that feel personal that have the biggest response.
She says to remember that people are inundated with emails from everywhere. Caitlin says it’s important to do things that will make yourself and your business stand out. When she has new pieces she’s really proud of and enjoyed making, she’ll send out an email about this product. She says she never sends out emails just to send emails. They always have a particular purpose behind them. She always wants them to be well thought through, personal and interesting. When her emails are like this, she always gets a much better result.
We’ve heard rumors
Often at Marmalead we’ve heard sellers talking about how they feel that reaching out to buyers will only annoy them and not help to generate sales. Caitlin’s advice for this concern is it won’t annoy them if it’s genuine. If you’re being your truly authentic self in your email, it’s a lot less likely that people will find you annoying or bothersome. She thinks it’s the inauthentic emails that are just trying to sell you something that are annoying.
Again, she stresses that a lot of the time buyers are purchasing your work because they feel a connection with you. Helping them to understand who the artist is behind the work is always a great idea. Emails are simply another avenue to do this. Even communicating where you’ve been struggling with a piece and overcame to create it is a powerful way to connect. People will appreciate knowing you’re human.
Give aways and giving gifts
Caitlin doesn’t do giveaways very often. She definitely doesn’t do them through email. But this doesn’t mean she doesn’t love to give gifts, because she definitely does. Instead of doing a giveaway she’ll simply give a customer a gift for no reason. She currently has a customer who bought a couple guitar straps from her. He is currently going through some health issues. She felt like he could simply use a pick-me-up and sent him one of her journals that she knew he loved.
Caitlin feels like if you do decide to do a giveaway it shouldn’t be for any other reason than to make people happy. Don’t do it because you think you’ll get something from it. She knows of sellers who say they get thousands of new followers every time they do a giveaway. This has literally never happened for Caitlin and she’s stopped expecting this. There is one thing she says is important to do if you decide to do a giveaway: make sure that whatever you’re asking your followers to do is proportional to the value of what you’re giving them. If you’re giving something away that has a value of $10, asking your followers to like, share your post and follow you on Instagram is appropriate. If you’re giving away something more expensive it’s appropriate to ask people to do a little more work for it.
One of her struggles
One of the things that’s been a struggle for Caitlin is weathering the ups and downs of self employment. She says that having her husband not be self employed definitely helps their financial situation and keeps them more stable. Not only that, her hours tend to fluctuate which has taken both she and her husband time to get used to. On average, Caitlin will work 20-25 hours per week throughout the year. During the holidays her work week turns into 50-60 hours per week. Currently, she hasn’t had a day off since mid November. She says this won’t change until a couple days before Christmas.
She also tries really hard to not compare how her shop is doing from the previous year. She wishes she could turn off her comparisons in Etsy and she hears this a lot from other sellers. The stats are driving everyone bananas! There are going to be up years and down years. No one wants that in their face every single time you open your phone or Etsy account! It can be discouraging to realize that, oh, the past seven days have been worse than these same seven days a year ago. Caitlin always tells sellers to widen the window a little bit. Look at thirty days instead of seven. There’s no sense in comparing today or this very hour to this particular day or hour last year. This is simply too narrow of a window. You want to see how things balance out over a larger portion of time.
For Caitlin, hiring an assistant was a big help. Often times it’s hard for artists to delegate what needs to be done and not do it themselves. Caitlin says she is not a perfectionist. While she’ll notice when things aren’t quite right, she’s also good about letting go. She realizes that these products are handmade and won’t be the exact same way every time. Her vibe is rustic and handmade are things that are varied, unique and interesting. For her, relinquishing some control has worked really well. Not every assistant has worked out. She currently has an assistant (who is absolutely wonderful) that’s worked for her on and off for three years. But, she had to let a different assistant go earlier in the year because it simply wasn’t working out.
She says that any assistant you hire might at first take on work that doesn’t really impact the heaviness of your work load. However, it’s easy to train an assistant to do keyword research for you on Marmalead. Depending on how many listings you have this could free up tons of time for you. And this will allow you to actually work on your products. Your assistant can also update your listings or answer convos for you. For Caitlin, one of the things she does is dye cut. This is something her assistant can do pretty much on her own.
Caitlin recently has a new philosophy with hiring an assistant. This is to first start with things that are hardest to mess up and build up from there. This way you can really get a sense of the person. How do they work on their own? Do they work well with you? Learning this will help build trust in them. There is one main reason sellers have a hard time letting go of control. They don’t trust another person to do the kind of job they would do.
Build trust with your assistant. This will result in you being able to give them more and more responsibility. This means that more and more will be taken off your plate. And this frees you up to do other things! The one thing Caitlin won’t give up and continues to hold onto is the artwork. She’ll let other people cut, dye and sow them, but all of the artwork itself is hers. She does all the burning, painting and design.
Caitlin’s last bit of advice is to truly pick the things you want to spend time on. Don’t panic. Stay off the Facebook forums, go tweak your listings, edit your photos, or make sure your descriptions are good. Check in with buyers who have sent you messages and are interested in your products. It’s always worth following up with messages sent to you regarding your products. You never know when this will result in a custom sale or any other sale for that matter.
We want to thank Caitlin for taking the time to chat with us on this Jam! You really need to check out moxieandoliver because her products and the artwork on them are truly amazing. As always, listen to this week’s Jam, there was SO much that Caitlin had to offer and there is extra advice to be found there:)
Happy selling, everyone!
Etsy Jam Scoops
- Going for it
- Hobby to business
- Picky is good
- Understanding her worth
- Filter the advice you’re given
- A second venture & Marmalead
- Connecting matters
- Keeping it personal
- Give it away, no expectations
- The struggle is real
- Comparison will make ya bananas
- Assistance needed
- A new philosophy
- Do something…anything else!