Since starting my business, One January Day, in 2012, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the maker community. I actually started thinking about becoming a “professional” maker around 2007, with my first blog, Dragonfly Reflections. Back then, the community was big, but not so big as to seem impenetrable. The market was robust and somewhat competitive, but average people like me were making a living doing work they loved and that had a big appeal for me.
By 2012, Etsy was becoming a household name. It was big, with around 830,000 sellers, but still fairly manageable from a seller perspective. By the end of 2017, the number of sellers had jumped to nearly 2 million! Revenues, of course, have also grown (to over $441 million last year), but it’s become harder and harder to get a piece of that pie. Part of the problem is getting yourself seen amidst the utter mass of sellers (without spending advertising money) and part is that Etsy policies have changed from “handmade only” to allow manufactured products.
Across the internet and in print, you’ll find a wealth of information on how to improve product sales. Mostly these resources say to focus on a few key areas:
- product photography (good lighting, lots of photos and photos that show how the product is used)
- keyword selection (finding and using the “right” keywords – the keywords people might use to find your particular stuff)
- product selection (identifying and selling stuff people want)
- playing Etsy seller games (i.e., “favoriting” other seller’s stuff to get your stuff “favorited”)
- pricing (pricing higher than you think you should to show that your particular stuff is more valuable)
- advertising (spending money to get your stuff featured in Etsy feeds)
The more different types of product you sell, the harder ALL of this gets – every new product requires hours and hours of pricing & keyword research, photography & photo editing, advertising & promotion. I’m not saying these things don’t work to sell product – they are ALL important in their way. I’m saying these things take an inordinate amount of time and energy and do not necessarily pull you ahead of the competition all that much (in my experience).
I won’t get into art fairs and other avenues for selling product – suffice to say, I haven’t found a winning combination.
Another avenue I’ve explored has been teaching. It has always been more of a way for me to connect with people face-to-face and share the joy of creating – it has also been a good way to make a little money to cover some of my other costs. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching. There is nothing more exciting to me than to see a student get excited about a new skill or technique. I love sharing that experience with people. But, as much as I love the teaching, I do NOT particularly enjoy all the work that leads up to a class – finding venues, filling seats, preparing content and materials, getting there, etc. – all adds up to triple (or more) the amount of time I actually spend in the classroom.
Online classes are worse in a lot of ways. I think there is a perception that an online class can be created, posted and forgotten, but it goes much further than that. Just designing a class can take weeks, then there is filming/editing, secure hosting (which is a subscription based cost that repeats annually), publishing, promoting, sales & support after the class goes live. I’ve also found that, once initial interest in a class dies down, the class tends to die too unless the seller is out there re-releasing and promoting with some intensity.
Plus, I’ve found that people just don’t seem willing to pay as much for online offerings because a) the market is so saturated, b) students can get dozens (hundreds) of classes & content for a small monthly subscription fee on creativebug or a dozen other similar spaces, and c) the perception is I have less invested since the whole thing is recorded and students have to buy their own materials. There is also the matter of branding, which is a question of how to get people interested if they don’t know who I am and how to illustrate who I am if I can’t get people interested!
It comes to the point that it doesn’t matter whether my product offering is valuable – I don’t have a well-known “brand” that can justify a high-enough price tag, the competition in the maker community is fierce and the work that goes on behind the scenes isn’t acknowledged or particularly valued because I’m supposed to do that part purely for my love of art!
Throwing in the Towel
So, look, I know that there are artists out there doing all of these things, single-handedly or with help, making good money and having the time of their lives. I truly am in awe of these folks! Part of me still believes, deep down inside, that I could be a successful creative business owner – if I worked harder, committed more time and energy, improved/streamlined different areas of my work, offered more/better/unique products…
But, I’m worn out. Every time I’ve sat down to set business goals for 2018, I’ve quit before I even started. The idea of the work I put in last year compared to my current bank balance is just disheartening. Worse, my love of creating, in general, has waned considerably.
All of this to say, One January Day, as a business is closed for the foreseeable future. This site will remain intact, but I’m closing my One January Day Facebook page and have converted Instagram and Pinterest back to personal accounts. My online classes will remain in place through the end of June 2018, but I am not selling any additional seats and all content will be retired and no longer available after June 30. If you are a subscriber, you will get some additional email on this at the email address you provided on signup.
I’m deeply grateful to everyone who has supported me over the last five years. I’m honored to have worked with each and every one of you and I treasure the friendships that have endured.
Blessings to you all – never stop creating, but always do it first for you!