Never think you’d actually have what it takes to operate a side hustle? Me either, until last year I turned a newfound hobby into a profitable Etsy shop.
About a year ago, my passive curiosity about all natural body care blew up. I had been living in Providence, Rhode Island, for two years, which is a place full of people that deeply value all-natural, home-grown, and homeopathic alternatives to just about everything. I started researching all kinds of herbs and ingredients, and quickly started buying things like beeswax and arrowroot powder to experiment with homemade shampoos, lotions, hair gel—you name it!
More than a hobby
After a lot of testing, I realized that this was more than just a hobby. Body butters were especially interesting because of the flexibility they allowed during experimentation. I found myself making jar after jar just to test new mixtures, and gifting them to my family and friends.
This newfound passion quickly became a financial burden as I realized it wouldn’t be sustainable. It’s expensive to experiment with products that are only available from online retailers or at the local bulk herbs shop (after all, it is Providence). And I couldn’t keep forcing my friends to take more.
Eventually, a friend suggested that I turn this hobby into an Etsy shop, so I began to research. If all went well, I’d be able to keep making and experimenting, and maybe see a little financial return along the way. As a person with little business acumen, this would be a great way to challenge myself and get the support I needed from an established platform. As a graphic designer with a full-time day job, this could be a fun design branding project.
Starting to save
I used the app Digit to start saving up. Every day, it would automatically withdraw anywhere from $3 to $10 from my bank account into a savings account, depending on my spending patterns. It was an easy way to slowly save a little cushion that I could pull from to buy supplies.
While saving with Digit, I focused on the one thing that cost nothing: designing the brand identity. Although to be honest, this was the most fun part to me! To differentiate my shop, it had to look professionally done, not “DIY,” like you could buy them at a high-end beauty store. I made early decisions about the jars, labels, and printed materials, and made sure I could find a bulk supplier that met my picky design standards as well as my (very) tight budget.
Testing…and more testing
It took me a bit of time to perfect the actual body butter recipe and the different scent blends I wanted to offer. I wanted to create a high-quality product that still stayed within my budget. So when it came to essential oils and butters that are expensive or hard to find, I only tested those I knew I could afford and easily reorder. This way, I wouldn’t have to give up something that I loved for the sake of saving money.
Next, I did some due diligence to learn how similar products were priced and marketed. But I still felt lost when it came to determining a retail price for my body butters. You may remember that I have little business acumen, but I do happen to have a business-savvy boyfriend who helped me build out detailed spreadsheets to keep track of materials. We broke down my receipts (always keep your receipts!) to determine how much it cost me to make one jar, and entered that in along with the cost of my labor and the listing fees. This helped me come to a retail price I was comfortable with—a competitive price that still created revenue. With the Excel lessons I had learned, I made other spreadsheets to keep track of my inventory and future sales.
Ready to launch
After sourcing my materials, determining how much to charge, and photographing my products, I was finally ready to launch. There were still some kinks I needed to work out until I could access the shop tools, like Etsy’s discounted shipping labels. To save money, I tested out shipping materials that were economical but ultimately didn’t work for me. After trial and error, I was able to find an option that wasn’t the cheapest but worked out the best for my needs. Sometimes, you don’t know if something will work until you try it out—and even then, it may change in the future. Because of this, I’m only starting with small supplies of materials, which allows me to be flexible.
Etsy offers an integration with Intuit Quickbooks, which is a great option if you need help tracking your expenses. I took advantage of the free trial but felt that it was too early to benefit from such an in-depth tool. However, it’s good to know that it’s there for me if I need it in the future.
Slow and steady
In the short time that my shop has been open, most of my sales have been to friends and family, and I’ve made a small (but very nice) chunk of extra cash. At this early stage, I’ve decided to reinvest it right back into my small business. I’m thankful for the relatively slow growth of sales because it’s allowing me the time to make sure my methods are working.
This entire process took just over one year from curiosity to launch. There were many times when I wondered if all of this work was worth it. I had no idea if I’d enjoy running an online shop, and it was taking a long time because I had to balance it with my day job and pause now and then based on how much money I had saved through Digit. After pushing through, I realized it was worth it to at least try to launch. At worst, I’d have a very small financial loss that I had prepared for anyway. At best, I’d have challenged myself to try something completely new, and I’d have a fun, booming new side gig. So far, I’m really proud of this Grownup moment.
Sarah is a graphic designer who runs her own Etsy shop, selling her Pearl Bodycare beauty products to earn money on the side. She is passionate about experience design that brings individuals and communities out of their comfort zones and encourages new dialogue. Along with making lotions, she’s often trying new local foods or exploring the wonderful weirdness that is her city.
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