One of the things I love most about running this blog is the responses I get from readers in comments, surveys, or even interactions via social media. It thrills me other entrepreneurs are geeking out and getting paid for it.
But sometimes, these responses break my heart.
It’s not because they’re trolling or rude, or even hateful. It’s because they’re saddening, like a “I want to hug you so badly right now” kind of saddening.
I got one such disheartening response to a survey I sent out last year. After deciding I wanted to include more reader questions on this blog in case others felt like they were stuck in the same situations, I contacted the author of the response asking for her permission to publish it. Fortunately, she jumped at the chance (or maybe she didn’t — I couldn’t see her physical reaction).
Introducing Elinor + Her Question
So let’s get to know Elinor a bit before moving on to her dilemma.
Elinor is the owner of Costume Wrangler’s Closet, a costume, handbag, and geek accessories brand. Elinor sells her handmade items through the ever-popular e-commerce platform Etsy, through the shop on her own website, and at select conventions throughout the year. She’s been doing this for three years.
But she’s run into a roadblock in her business. Here’s what she wanted to know:
There are so many challenges, I start to get overwhelmed. On the one hand, I started my business almost four years ago. I’ve learned and grown significantly from that first Etsy listing. I’ve got my own website now, I’ve sold my handmade goods at dozens of conventions and shows, and I’ve even had several custom orders, including one whole wedding party. I feel like I’m treading water, however. If it weren’t for the support (emotional, of course, but also – more practically- financial support) of my family, I wouldn’t be paying the bills right now. I’d like to make a living, but I don’t know that it’s possible. That’s my biggest struggle: Can I get my business to a point where I can make a comfortable living (I’m not looking to be a bajillionaire, but I would like to help pay my share of the expenses and maybe even have a tiny savings account!)? And how do I get my business to that level without burning out or running myself into the ground?
Can you see now why I want to hug her? :)
Some Changes/Suggestions to Consider
I followed up with Elinor to ask her a few more questions about her business, to see where she was at now months after she submitted this response. A couple of key points came out of that:
– She said she was in the same spot, and while she’s been finding success selling accessories at conventions, her online sales are non-existent.
– She also noted she’s been feeling like her “head might explode soon” from all the reading she’s been doing to try to grow her business.
Knowing all this, here’s what I’d suggest Elinor consider doing to get her business to the point where she can make a comfortable living:
It’s tempting to think you need to read more and more to keep up with the current business and marketing trends, much less learn the “best tips” from all the experts.
But this is just FOMO at its worst, because it prohibits forward movement.
When you feel your head is about to explode from reading too much, stop. Unsubscribe. Turn off notifications, or even your entire phone.
The world will not end if you stop reading, but your business might if you read too much and don’t apply what you’ve learned.
Implement One New Action
Speaking of applying what you’ve learned, it’s vital you actually, you know, do shit.
I learned this the hard way myself years ago. I was obsessed with the latest advice and posts from top freelancers making six figures. I was always wondering, “How can I do that?”
Well, I can tell you, it isn’t by sittin’ pretty at your desk, fawning over others’ success.
So you choose one solid step or action to take which will move your business forward that day. For me, this was most recently choosing to cold pitch three new clients a week. For you, it will be something different; the point is to just do it.
Keep Doing What’s Working
Elinor mentioned in an email to me a few specific accessories of hers which are selling well at conventions.
You know what that means? Keep making them.
Don’t invest time in items which don’t sell. And certainly don’t pine over things you want to make but no one will buy (just make them for yourself then!).
This is your business, after all. If you don’t want it to stay at “hobby” level, you can’t take liberties or try tons of new things, at risk of losing money and quality time you could’ve invested into other efforts that worked.
Reconsider Marketing Tactics
Another thing I’d suggest is doing a marketing audit. Figure out what social media outlets are showing some good return on your time, and move your focus onto those.
You may also need to reconsider what you’re posting on your social media outlets. Getting personal is fine every once in a while, but if you’re trying to build a business, you need to set yourself up as an expert in your field. This means sharing posts about e-commerce, geekery, costuming, etc., and keeping personal and political posts to every fifth post only.
And because this is the most important thing any business owner can do, grow your email list.
I looked around at the Costume Wrangler’s site and see no easy or prominent way for people to sign up for a newsletter, and this needs to change. You’re missing out on potential sales on your own, operated platform, because those who are willing to give you their email address are giving you direct access to their inboxes. Suddenly, you’re no longer competing for attention on social platforms. Just their attention when they open their email.
A Quick Caveat
I am not a business expert. I know I tried acting like one for a while, but I’m not.
Everything I wrote in this post should be taken as suggestions only, at best the advice from a freelance writer and online business fan who’s been running her business for under five years.
However, one thing that’s always worked for me when I was stuck in my business is deciding what my one step forward will be, writing it down on my to-do list or planner, and actually implementing it.
Above all, that would be my ultimate suggestion to Elinor: choose one step forward to take, and do it. See what happens. If it doesn’t work, change your approach.
Do you have a business question or dilemma you’d like me to answer? Leave me a comment below!