I often forget that I live a non traditional life. I am self employed, have been for ten years, so the quirks of my day to day just seem normal to me. I honestly forget that anyone else might find it interesting, or inspiring. Add in a decent sized case of imposter syndrome and I go through my days feeling like I haven’t actually accomplished anything.
Over the last eight years we have built an Etsy business that started as a side hustle, a way to make some extra money, and has grown into a full time business that supports our life.
And two days ago we hit a huge goal. We have officially earn over one million dollars in sales on Etsy.
Omg. That is huge.
When we opened our shop we lived in a poorly converted garage. The downstairs carpet flooded a bit whenever it rained. There was little to no insulation. No air conditioning, oil heat for the upstairs, and electric heat for the downstairs. And we didn’t make enough money to heat both. Once winter hit it was warmer in the fridge than it was in the kitchen. We would have to defrost our dish soap under running hot water in order to wash dishes. We were on food stamps because we couldn’t afford to pay our bills and eat.
Every bit of extra money helped. There was no caring about debt, about student loans, day to day was what mattered.
We opened our Etsy shop in 2008, then called C Johannesen Studio, so we could sell some of the things we made. The original plan was to be artists. Make whatever we wanted and sell it. (Eventually we realized Johannesen was hard to spell and hard to say properly. If people can’t find you they can’t buy from you. So we rebranded as Porter & Hazel(We are still on Etsy too.)
We started with listing some hand painted and sculpted leather masks. They didn’t sell. Maybe one or two. But for the most part masks didn’t work for us. They took a long time to make and we couldn’t sell them for enough to earn out our time.
I don’t remember exactly what inspired us to start selling jewelry. Probably a case of, well selling jewelry works for other people… how hard can it be? One day Chris took a scrap of leather from a mask and carved it up in a harlequin design and then painted it, added hardware and turned it into a bracelet. And it sold. So we made more bracelets in as many different styles as we could think of. We were desperate for money so whenever someone sent us a message and asked for a custom item we said yes.
My number one lesson from my years on Etsy? Make more of what’s selling for you. We didn’t set out to have the shop we currently run. We just kept making more in the style of what sold. Over time we grew to the shop we run today.
Sometimes running a shop full of custom items can be hard. For example, we can’t just make and stock items. All the pieces have to be prepped separately and then finished and assembled after someone orders. And yet selling customized pieces is also like having crowd sourced creativity. Many of our most popular products came from a request – either for a new saying on an existing item, or for an entirely new piece that we didn’t make at the time. We wouldn’t be where we are with out our customers.
Where to go from here
The first thing is to keep going forward with Porter & Hazel. We have plans to make it better and grow our business. Beyond the leather shop, I have been working on a course about selling on Etsy on and off for a few years. But due to the aforementioned imposter syndrome I never really felt I had enough to say. Or worse, that no one would listen. In my head all I could hear was “So what, you built a shop. Who cares? You aren’t enough.”
Now though, after hitting one million dollars in sales I have to admit that I am not an imposter. I have accomplished something pretty big. It is really hard to ignore a number that large. And the knowledge and authority that comes with hitting a goal like this.
I’m going to dust off my class plans and finish it up. I feel like I don’t know much, but I could certainly teach someone to run a successful Etsy shop.