Quit your day job? It’s not that Etsy
For many users of Etsy, the world’s largest online marketplace for handmade and vintage goods, quitting the day job is the dream. It’s also the name of a popular blog on the site that’s been described as a ‘crafty cross’ between eBay and Amazon. James Bullen reports.
Each ‘Quit Your Day Job’ blog-post is a profile of a success story. Whether they’re peddling homemade jewellery or quirky stationery sets, these featured sellers now earn their livelihood behind a virtual store front and their blogged stories of creative triumph attract over two million page views a month. It seems that building a career on Etsy is no longer the stuff of dreams, especially when one considers its prolific reach and scope. To date, Etsy has over ten million members in 171 countries and approximately 800,000 stores, which last year racked up sales of over $314 million.
A confessed Etsy junkie, Sasha Fowler, left a high flying career in maritime law to be a stay at home mum and soon found herself running three separate Etsy businesses. Her first store, Tags and Labels, had almost 900 sales and made over $15,000 in the first 12 months. Her online success means she hasn’t had to return to corporate work, and business has been big enough to warrant expansion for her little empire – she’s recently taken out a business loan to boost the stock of her second store, Fabric Fusion. Plans to open a brick and mortar shop in Brisbane are under way too.
The exact number of Australians turning to Etsy as a full-time career is unknown. According to the Community Manager of Etsy Australia, Kirsteene Phelan, the most recent ABS statistics show that around one million Australians work full time from home, more than half of which are female. 38 per cent are their own boss, and 72 per cent work less than the standard 35 hours at home as compared to the standard office worker. So you’d think Ms Fowler joins the ranks of a privileged lot. But consider this – since venturing online, Ms Fowler believes that she has in fact created for herself, “A new day (and night) job… I spend a lot of time burning the candle at both ends.”
“It seems ideal to be able to work from home with your children, but the reality can involve frustration when you simply cannot work during ‘wake-time’ hours. My husband and I both do computer work late into the evenings, and I am often cutting labels well after everyone else has gone to bed.”
Vari Longmuir runs her one woman design operation, Buttercup Ink, from home and views her lay off from her full time design job in 2009 as the kick start to a more fulfilling career online. Yet the Melburnian admits to how consuming it can be, especially with two young children.
“Essentially you are always at work. Having an online shop means being open 24 hours a day every day. At first, I found it difficult to switch off. The ‘ping’ of the email late at night was all too tempting! I’d check my email before going to bed and be so excited that I had received orders that I found myself still at the desk two hours later.”
“I spend three to four days a week, from about 10am – 4pm making orders. Three days a week I pack and ship orders, which means I have to start packing around 2pm to get everything finished and to the post office before 5pm.”
The salary both women used to make from their corporate career also far outstrips what they earn now. “We are lucky to have a good combined family income between my husband and I,” said Ms Fowler. “The business is self-sufficient, and profitable, but would not yet support my own personal yarn and fabric habits!”
That’s the reality of it. So before you blithely write out your resignation letter, know that a healthy income is far from guaranteed. Even some top sellers find it hard to meet a mortgage payment selling $12 crocheted mug cozies.
Kavitha Murthi is behind the shop Jewelrydeli, ranked by CraftCount.com as one of top 20 top selling Etsy stores in Australia.
“I started Jewelrydeli with a very small budget, the first six months I put everything I earned back into the business… and for the first 3 months I didn’t sell anything!” The store now turns over a profit; with over 3000 sales according to CraftCount.com, however Ms Murthi still regards it as a ‘work in progress.’
While in the US there are top sellers earning six figure incomes off their bespoke handicrafts, in Australia at least, the majority of sellers don’t see Etsy as their bread and butter. “Realistically,” said Robyn Dixon on her girls’ clothing boutique Hot Fudge, “if I relied on it for income, I’d have starved to death long ago!” Although the overhead costs of running an Etsy store are, as co-founder Adam Brown describes it, ‘almost negligible’, (the site charges 25 cents for each item listed, and takes a 35 per cent cut of each sale) Etsy shopkeepers are still running a business with sourcing stock and materials, production, marketing, packaging and postage costs.
Overwhelmingly, the number of shopkeepers spoken to for this piece supplement their Etsy business with a 9-5 day job in the ‘real world’ and work on orders for customers from places like Chile or Russia or South Africa in their down time.
Still, the dream is tantalisingly achievable. “I love the freedom of being my own boss,” said Ms Murthi.
“I do something I love and have made a business out of it.”