The Truth Behind Running An Etsy Shop

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My Etsy shop has been open for about two years, but this month marks my one year anniversary of quitting my day job to do hand lettering and run my shop full time. Last month was also my three year “calligraversary” of when I started practicing modern calligraphy and hand lettering. Clearly I like to take on new creative ventures in the fall, so I figured now would be the perfect time to share my journey over the past year.

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Upper left: one week of brush lettering | Upper right: one year | Lower left: two years | Lower right: three years

If you’re new to my community, I recommend reading this post from a year ago, where I share my journey from hobby, to side hustle, to full-time hand lettering artist and Etsy shop owner. But, what I really want to do today is celebrate, reflect on the past year, and share the truth behind running an Etsy shop – the positives, the negatives, and everything in between.

The big wins

A year ago I had about 30 Etsy sales, had maybe a dozen prints listed in my shop, and was getting ready to officially launch my first self-published book, Romans: A Hand Lettered Devotional. A year later, a lot of prayer, hard work, the help of good friends, and crazy amounts of God’s grace later, I have about 900 Etsy sales, hundreds of sales from Creative Market and other local pop-ups, over 50 different products listed in my shop, and I’m getting ready to officially launch my second self-published book, Ephesians: A Hand Lettered Devotional on October 22, 2018!

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Looking back, it has been an amazing year of growth. I am so thankful for all of it and I’ve achieved so much of what I set out to do this year. But, if I only celebrated those great accomplishments, I would be leaving out the whole story, which to me, is way more important than just sharing the outcome of this first year in business full-time.

If I didn’t share about the obstacles, I’m afraid I’d give the impression that everything just fell into place on its own and that with a little bit of hard work, I made it happen. I love my job and there is nothing I’d rather be doing than what I’m doing right now, but it was a lot more than a little hard work to get to where I am today.

The truth

The truth is, running an Etsy shop full-time has been a blast! Also the truth? Running an Etsy shop full-time has been more of a challenge than I ever thought possible.

You can go back and read wins from any of my past “Wins & Learns” blog posts, but I am going to focus on some of the obstacles I’ve come across running an Etsy shop for the rest of this post, not because I’m super negative about the Etsy life (quite the opposite!), but because I personally crave more honesty from other people I look up to in the creative business world and I want to be that honest voice for others.

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My struggles

I quit my day job a year ago knowing that growth would come slowly in my business, that not every month would be better than the last, that summers would be slow, and that I would need to be very mindful with my money to be able to pay myself each month. I knew that going into it, but it’s one thing to have multiple people tell you what to expect and it’s another to experience it all on your own for the first time.

In the past year, I’ve had more sales than I ever thought possible. As I shared above, I’ve experienced a tremendous amount of growth. Writing those numbers down is mind blowing, because lately I’ve been very discouraged with my growth and still don’t feel like I’ve achieved “success” even though I’m beyond most of the goals I had set for myself 12 months ago.

How could I have met so many of my goals and still feel discouraged? I’m realizing that a lot of it has to do with my personal circumstances. When I started working full-time on my own, I didn’t realize my husband would get so sick a few months later that he wouldn’t be able to work and go to school at the same time and that my lettering business would have to be the main source of income to support us. And truthfully, it doesn’t. Aside from the income from my hand lettering business, Luke and I both get paid to lead worship every Sunday and I even took on a small part-time job at a local shop recently. Running my Etsy shop is still my full-time, 40+ hour a week day job, but I spend another 8-10 hours a week leading worship and working at the local shop to make ends meet.

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It’s been difficult and discouraging but I still love and enjoy running an Etsy shop and I am so fortunate to have a supportive husband who often believes in me more than I believe in myself. I still believe this is where God wants me right now and I will continue doing this as long as I know that’s true. I know life won’t always feel like an uphill climb and I am excited to see how my outlook on my business will change once Luke is done with school in May and (Lord willing) will have a fancy job in June. I truly believe I’ll be able to relax more when we aren’t relying so heavily on the income from my shop.

Numbers don’t lie… or do they?

I’ve heard it said, “Numbers don’t lie.” I think that’s true, but with this edit: “Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t tell the whole story.” Instagram followers and Etsy sales numbers are easy to look at and think, “Wow, that person’s got it all together.” But what you don’t know about is the car accident that totaled the shop owner’s car, the unexpected hospital trip and medical bills, the lost moving van, the emergency trips to the vet, a loss in the family, and the oh so real struggle to just get the bills paid from week to week.

So, if you are working on growing your Instagram account, online shop, or other type of business, don’t put all your happiness and worth in the numbers. Focus on the bigger things: Are you adding something beautiful to the world? Are you doing good in the lives of others? Are you making a positive impact? Are you cultivating a community of kind, honest, inspiring people? Those are the things that really make a difference in the long run. I know kindness doesn’t always get the bills paid, but keep being a positive presence in the lives of others, working hard on your business, and leaning on the Lord in everything you do. You will see fruit.

Anyway…

Happy one-year anniversary to me! And happy making-it-to-the-end-of-this-blog-post to you! 😉 I hope you are encouraged by the parts of my story I shared today. I would love to hear what you connected with most, so don’t be shy! Leave a comment!

I will continue to share the honest truth about my journey in my monthly “Wins & Learns” blog posts and in other posts throughout the year as I feel led. If you want to stay up to date on future blog posts and shop updates, please join my mailing list. I would love to stay connected with you!

Blessings –

❤ Lauren

September Wins & Learns

September

Fall is here the day after Labor Day. None of this September 22nd nonsense! 😉 I love summer, but fall is my favorite and now that I run an online shop, summer has become even less of a favorite. I’ve shared about how slow things got this summer, but fall is filled with lots of hope and possibilities! Since the majority of my products for the rest of the year are designed and ordered, I can start focusing less on spending money and more on reaping the rewards of my hard design work over the past few months – and really the whole year! But, before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to celebrate my wins and reflect on my “learns.”

Wins

Ephesians: Hand Lettered Devotional

My new Ephesians devotional is DONE and the 30-day early bird pre-order covered all my self publishing expenses from August and September, which is exactly what I hoped it would do! I hit my goal the morning of the last day of the pre-order. It was a huge answer to prayer! I’m praising God for providing and I’m so grateful for each one of those customers who purchased copies.

I went to pick up the first 600 books from my printer last week and even though the content has been finished for a couple months, I can finally say the whole thing is officially done since I finally get to hold the book in my hands! I cannot wait to get these books into your hands, so I’ll start shipping out the early bird pre-orders in a week or two. I’ll open up pre-orders again around the same time and the book will officially be released to my shop October 22nd!

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Fall Launch

The majority of September revolved around my big fall launch. I released four new items a week for the first three weeks of the month and listing those products to my shop, posting about them all over social media, scheduling emails to my mailing list, and shipping those new products out kept me pretty busy! I’m thankful I can say I’m starting to see things pick up again and I’m ready to see what more lies ahead as we walk further into fall and, before you know it, into the holiday season!

Here are just a few of the new items! Head on over to LaurenIbachLettering on Etsy to see all the newbies!

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Pottery Barn Event

Pottery Barn at the Galleria in Edina, MN hosted me for a pop-up event for the fourth time! I am so grateful for them and love that I now feel like I have this sweet Pottery Barn family. It was mostly a learning experience this time around – I’ll chat more about that in a bit – but I did want to share a story that made my heart so happy. ❤

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A couple came in with their two young girls and passed by my table. The mom was on a mission for something, but the dad and two girls hung around by my table. I asked the girls if they like art and the older of the two proceeded to tell me about how she likes to color. (So sweet!) The dad started pointing out my pins to the girls and then he ended up picking up one of my wood engraved banners that reads, “You can do anything you put your mind to,” turned to his girls and said, “This is what I always tell you!”

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My heart leapt! I shared with him that I designed that banner because my dad tells me the exact same thing. He ended up letting each of the girls pick out one thing from my table and the youngest went for the rose gold Do Good pin for her backpack and the oldest chose the banner for her room. ❤

Being “on” at events for several hours is hard for me, but it’s moments like those that make it all worth it. I love connecting with people and hearing stories about why certain phrases or Bible verses I letter carry special meaning for them.

These wood banners are almost sold out and won’t be restocked, so pick one up today if you want one!

Learns

Pottery Barn Event

I learned a big lesson at this event: Just because you’ve done this before and your shop has grown, does not mean you will do better than the last time… or even the first time! It’s true. This was my least profitable event to date. Thankfully, I think it was just the day. It was 95 degrees outside, it seemed like people were just coming into the Galleria to escape the heat – not a lot of serious shoppers. When I shared my low sales numbers with one of the managers, she said, “sounds just like the kind of day we’re having!” and the other pop-up guest didn’t even have a single sale in the five hours we were there. On one hand I was really bummed about the flop of an event (still kinda am to be honest!), but on the other hand, the Lord heard my prayers and had favor on me, blessing me with a few sales. I could have walked away with nothing. That day was a lesson on shifting my focus to what I was given, when my natural inclination was to dwell on what I felt I missed out on.

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Just… life!

I’ve shared a little on social media about how I’m in a challenging season of wrestling with God and there being a lot of unknowns right now. Some of this has to do with my business, but another big part of it has to do with my family and my own personal battles. The root of all of it? Fear. Fear that my shop will never grow past where it is now, fear about my husband’s health (read this post if you need some context), fear that God won’t answer all my prayers, and that He will let me down.

As I write this I’m reminded of the worship song “King of My Heart” by John Mark and Sarah McMillan. The bridge lyrics are: “You’re never gonna let me down.” I believe that. He will not let us down because He knows what’s best for us. I do feel let down at the moment, but something the Holy Spirit is teaching me is my feelings are not always true. God’s word is ALWAYS true. That is what this feelings-led girl is learning to place her trust in. Easier said than done, but I’m working on it!

Scripture I’m currently clinging to: Philippians 4:19Isaiah 40:31, and Psalm 34:4

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The verse above is now available at my shop as an original watercolor 5×7 or 8×10 piece or as a 5×7 print!

Anyway…

Thanks for joining me here on the blog today! If these monthly “Wins & Learns” posts encourage you in any way, please leave a comment, join my mailing list for future updates, and tell your friends to come and spend some time with me here. 😉 If there are other topics you’d like me to cover, let me know! I’m always open to suggestions.

❤ Lauren