Today I’m going to talk about the story of Made by Rachel: why I decided to start a maker small business and how it evolved to where it is today. I didn’t necessarily feel drawn to entrepreneurship specifically or compelled to work for myself rather than for a company … so why start it?
First and foremost, I wanted a creative outlet where I could make things. I work full-time in Tech, and while I do get to think creatively at my job, it’s not exactly the same as creativity in an artistic sense and making something. As I’ve talked about in other posts, I have always enjoyed doing crafts and making art, so something in this realm was a natural hobby to carry forward into adulthood.
Second, I have a trait that some may consider an unhealthy effect of capitalism, where everything* I do needs to be productive. While unpacking that is a separate issue, for the purpose of this post, that’s just where we are. If I’m going to invest a significant amount of time and money in something, I need to see returns that are ideally financial. A side effect of this is needing to multitask – this usually means doing something with my hands while watching TV.
*To be clear, I love relaxing as well, but it’s super black-and-white – I either need to be doing everything, or doing absolutely nothing
So from wanting to both spend time making art and make money from it, my “why” was born. The “how” is a bit less linear. 🙂
I think the most challenging part of turning a hobby into a business is the additional legwork to do all of the ”setuppy” stuff, like choosing a selling platform, writing product descriptions, setting up policies and shipping, creating a marketing strategy, etc. My main obstacle to checking those things off my list was time. Between my 9-5, housekeeping, maintaining a social life, and general ”life admin” stuff, day-to-day life can really fill up your time. Plus, if you’re me, creating more time by foregoing a good night’s sleep is a hard no.
Initially, my progress was slowwwww. I learned modern calligraphy in 2015-ish and started an Instagram account to share my work and connect with other calligraphers. Discovering all of the possibilities with calligraphy solidified my wanting to turn this hobby into a business, and I set a goal to open an Etsy shop. To get there, improving the quality of my work was one major factor, and actually setting up shop (with products, good photos, a pricing strategy, a plan for shipping, etc.) was the other, both of which I knew would take time and effort. I began taking commissions for friends and family, testing out different mediums, and practicing calligraphy almost every evening, using my Instagram account to track my progress and keep me motivated. In 2018, I decided to finally bite the bullet and open my shop. By that point, I was making calligraphed greeting cards using watercolor paints, and that’s what I listed in my shop.
My shop was super ultra average. I had my products listed and decent descriptions and photos but didn’t really know – or invest time to research – Etsy’s SEO or other ways to optimize my shop. I also started feeling “over it” with making watercolor cards – more on that in another post. All of that culminated in a very anticlimactic fizzle. I kind of let my shop sit, and didn’t really do anything with it. Sometimes I’d get a spurt of inspiration and add a new product or two; otherwise, it just was there, floating in the background as an accomplished goal – “Open an Etsy shop: check”. Case in point: between 2018 and 2019, I had a total of NINE orders.
Fast forward to March of 2020. You can probably guess what happened next: I got laid off!
While my layoff was not directly related to dear Miss Rona – the large company I worked for closed our small office and let basically everyone go – the aftermath definitely was. Many companies were on a hiring freeze, and I didn’t want to settle for a role I didn’t love (and I acknowledge I was extremely fortunate to be able to do so!) … so I found myself with a LOT of time on my hands.
I of course spent that time wisely: watching Tiger King, making Dalgona coffees, and social-distancing with my neighbors for 3pm coffee and wine meetups in our driveways.
I also spent it gutting and resurrecting my business. I rediscovered enjoyment in watercolor calligraphy, went back to the drawing board on my Etsy shop, rebranded, and set up systems. I learned digital art and put artwork up on Redbubble, meanwhile requesting samples from every sticker production company I could find. All of those things took a ton of research, trial and error, and frankly, just time to hone my process and figure out what worked. Being laid off – and drastically reducing my social life – created the large window of time I needed in order to accomplish a big chunk of that legwork.
By the time I got a new job, I had already set that foundation for my business and experienced that initial learning curve, so I’ve been able to balance both going forward. My craft and my business continue to evolve, and there are still points where I do need to spend more time on it and forego other things. That usually looks like setting a Saturday aside to do a market or take a batch of new photos, or working on my new website after work instead of a load of laundry. There are times that I wish I had that big chunk of time to work with, but I also like the context switching – I like going from a workday to doing something creative in the evening, and picking just one or two creative tasks to do per day, depending on my mood.
I want to dive into more details about the systems I put in place and how I manage my time in future posts, so stay tuned for more. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this little window into how I got here. Thanks for reading!