5 things I wish I knew before I became self-employed

I’ve talked a bit before about how I came to be self-employed, but the long and the short of it is that it wasn’t so much a choice as that I was sort of herded towards it by my poor mental health and my subsequent inability to hold down a job. So, I started my self-employment journey from place of basically, sheer panic, at having bills to pay and no means to pay them. I didn’t write a business plan, I didn’t have savings, I didn’t even really have a concept of what the pros and cons of self-employment would look like for me, I just knew I had to try it, that I had to try SOMETHING.

Over the last 9 months or so that I’ve more or less been officially working for myself, there’s some things I’ve come to learn that I wish I had had some awareness or understanding of before I jumped down this rabbit hole, so I thought I’d share them here with you today.

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Photo by Lost Co on Unsplash


1. It really is all on me!

I’m very fortunate in that I know quite a lot of people who freelance or run side hustles or have been altogether self-employed at some point or another. I’m lucky that these people will often listen to me prattle on at length about eBay pricing strategies, how much to invest in business cards or some other such decision that’s currently consuming me. But one thing I hadn’t realised until I was essentially running my own business, is that no matter how many people I talk to, blog posts I read or advice I receive – at the end of the day the responsibility of it all is all on me. I think I somehow thought that I could ask my dad – who was self-employed for 20 years – a business question and he would be able to give me an answer that clearly showed me what to do, but, erm…. no. Every industry is different, heck, every individual business is different and so at the end of the day, it’s up to me that make the decisions – and of course, the mistakes – that will shape my business into how I dream of it being *gulp*.

2. Turns out sitting on my butt at a PC is very different than working on my feet all day

Yes, “duh”, I hear you all saying, but this actually hadn’t really registered for me until one day I tried to get dressed (to actually leave the house, shock horror), and literally none of my jeans fit me – or at least, they didn’t fit in a way that I could trust y’know?

I had always worked retail or hospitality before and been on my feet throughout every shift, I also used to often walk the 2 miles or so to and from work, so, to go from this to walking the 20 steps to my laptop in the morning and then staying there for 10 hours… well, it’s taken its toll. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about positivity and loving your body, but the reality is, the weight gain I’m experiencing is purely because I’ve been neglecting myself. I’ve been eating so much junk and not going for walks because I DON’T HAVE TIME, which, is kind of a ridiculous sentiment when you think about it. What it really means is I DON’T HAVE TIME… MANAGEMENT SKILLS. I need to accept that being self-employed, there is always work to be done, but, you know, not at the expense of my health.

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Photo by Dose Media on Unsplash

3. People will not always understand or respect when I say “I have to work”

This is one that caught me so off guard! I don’t have a huge circle of friends and family, but I would say that I am pretty close with the people in my life and so when I started to encounter a lack of understanding about my work life, it was kind of hard to take. When I would say “I can’t Tuesday through the day, I have to work”, I would get “why? Can’t you do it at night? What are you doing?” or something similar in response and it would really hurt me. I took it as disrespectful and I took it personally, I interpreted it as meaning that MY work didn’t have value – but increasingly, I think it’s just down to a lack of understanding about what it takes to be self-employed. Sure, if I don’t show up to work tomorrow, in the short term, I won’t face the consequences that those working a 9-5 will, but this doesn’t mean there AREN’T consequences, and it doesn’t mean that I have to justify my work pattern to, well, anyone.

4. It’s OK to work non-conventional work hours and not feel ashamed about it

This sort of follows on from the point above, and again, this was a big stumbling point for me. As I talked about in the first paragraph, I fell into self-employment because I struggle with my mental health – and so what that means for me, is that some days I’m a #girlboss, and other days, I just need to look after myself. I’ve had to learn to accept that I actually do HAVE to look after my mental health – it’s not like a quirky life choice for me to sometimes sleep 14 hours a day, or watch Ru Pauls Drag Race for 5 hours, sometimes I actually need to, to stay above water.

So, some mornings I’m at my desk, working away by 8am – and other days? Cannot get out of bed until 11am. Some days, I’m confident and productive and motivated – other days? Depression is taking over, and I only manage a few hours work before needing to sleep again. When I’ve told people, “oh, I didn’t start until 10 today”, or, “I do a lighter work day on the first day of my period because it’s always really rough for me mentally”, I’ve definitely had a lot of eye rolls and snide sounding, “must be nice” type of remarks, and you know what? Yes, it is bloody nice to be able to look after my mental health while earning a living for the first time in my life. But you know what else would be nice? A steady income and career progression. There are pros and cons to both lifestyles and I’m finally learning to embrace the benefits of the life I’m living, and to not feel ashamed about it.

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Photo by Lost Co on Unsplash

5. It’s difficult, and it’s stressful, but it is so incredibly addictive and rewarding

Yeah, I mean, just yeah. Self-employment has me looking an off-button in my ever-working-away-brain, it has me keeping spreadsheets and checking stats, actually having to respond to emails and yes, sometimes it has me in tears.

But honestly, I LOVE this life I’m building with each eBay sale and Redbubble sticker purchase (for the love of god, will someone by something that isn’t a sticker?!). Sometimes it’s easy to see failure around every corner when you’re self-employed – because, especially in the early days, I guess it could be. But the thing is, and I know its absurdly cliché, but all I can do is rock up and do my best and see how it goes. Sure, I could fail spectacularly, or I could learn, grow and succeed, and honestly, I’m becoming addicted to chipping away at the opportunities within my grasp and crafting a life that works for me – so I think, for me, this is the path I want to stay on – whether I succeed or fail in the long run.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this post, I really appreciate it – I hope it gave you a bit of encouragement, or a laugh! I’d really love to connect with other freelancers or self-employed people – so please, share any of your experiences or thoughts on this topic down below in the comments!

Timorous Eclectic (Etsy): June 2019 Update

Hi everyone! This is the very first in a new series of monthly update posts that I’m going to be producing. The idea is that each month, I’ll produce a post like this for each area of business that I’m trying to develop. These posts will be less chatty, and more bullet point style round-ups full of relevent stats! My hope is that producing these posts will be a straight-forward way for readers to follow my journey – as well as join in and share their own stories! I also think that sitting down once a month like this and analysing each business area will be good for me too, that it will help me focus and grow.

If you’re new to this blog (hello!), please know that I’m just starting out on my entrepreneurial journey and sharing things as I go along, I’m certainly no expert!

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Stats for Timorous Eclectic, my Etsy Store

  • How long the store has been live: Since Summer 2018
  • What it sells: Digital only products – paper packs and greetings cards
  • Total sales of all time: 37
  • Sales this month: 4
  • Total Feedback of all time: 3
  • Feedback left this month: 1
  • Turnover: £8.00
  • Profit (after all Etsy fees): £1.03
  • Listings live at the start of the month: 53
  • Listings live at the end of the month: 59
  • Hours worked: 20
  • Promotions:  Promoted listings running, bids of $0.05 on each listing

June Recap for Timorous Eclectic

So, June was a very a-typical month for me – I was away on holiday for over two weeks. I had actually planned ahead and made enough new products that I would be able to release one every second day that I was away, but honestly, it completely went out of my head once I was away and I did exactly nothing for the store!

So, I’m assuming that this will have had a negative impact on my traffic and sales for the month, but at least this makes a good “base point” as a first update post – it can only be up from here… right?

Specific Incident

I got my first negative feedback this month. I’ve really struggled with getting feedback left for me at all, at the start of this month, only 2 people had left feedback, despite me actually having quite a few repeat customers! So when I got the notification to say I had feedback left for me, I was really excited – it was on my Infectious Disease Paper Pack which has sold quite a few times before.

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Link to the paper pack

Actually the customer left me a 4 star review (which I know, doesn’t sound bad), but then wrote a paragraph that’s very negative:

I printed the purple virus paper at UPS on high letterhead size paper and also on an 8×10 at home. Both had pretty distinct lines through the design because it wasn’t high enough quality. I still ended up using it for my graduation cap background and with the sticker words across the paper it made the lines not as noticeable.

I totally panicked, pulled the listing and did test prints of everything, as well as checking all the images digitally (they are all of course, high resolution). I also refunded the buyer and sent an email apologising, and asking of an image of her print-out so that I might understand the problem.

I never heard back from the buyer and could see no issues at all on any of my own print-outs. White lines across a print-out usually indicate a jammed ink nozzle or a low-quality print setting, and so I’m left to believe that this was the case here. But with only having 3 reviews, this reads pretty bad for me – with it being technically 4 stars though, I can’t respond to it publically.

This was really dis-heartening. I work really hard on the products I create, and I hate that someone had a negative experience with one of them, even if the issue was on their end. I guess this might just be the downside of selling digital-download items on Etsy though – I have no control over how people print, manipulate or compress the files.

What’s Going Well?

I’m really enjoying making the paper packs – I have a steady stream of ideas (my next 20 or so packs are planned out), and I’ve got a good flow down for making them. I’m also starting to see some click-throughs from Pinterest and some forums, which is exciting, and something I hope continues to grow

What’s Not Going Well?

Erm, I’m not selling much?

I know that taking a huge break this month was not a very smart thing to do, but even in the months before sales really haven’t been picking up the way I’d have hoped for. With Etsy it’s so hard to know, is it my products? My pricing? my SEO? And then what happens is, I read and watch a bunch of advisory content, change 10 things and then who knows what has an impact – for better or worse.

I need to be more structured, sort of pick one plan and stick to it for a while at least.

What’s my Plan for July – Where am I Putting my Time?

I’m going to spend less of my time frantically cranking out designs, and more time researching. I want to look into:

  • Pricing for my products, how am I comparing to competitors?
  • Trends, what’s popular on the forums, what’s about to be big
  • Niche, the paper packs that have done the best for me are actually more obscure, niche ones (like the infectious disease pack), so I’d like to come up with some more fun ideas like this
  • Possibly expanding out into other digital items such as clip-art packs or prints

What are my Goals for July?

I’d like to see a growth in sales and traffic, which, hopefully, with giving my store a bit more attention, should be quite feasible.

I’m also hoping that by implementing the points in the section above, that by the end of July I’ll have a firmer grasp on what I’m doing with my Etsy store, more of a business plan type of vibe, rather than me just doodling paper packs on an ad-hoc basis.

I’d love your feedback on my store – whether you’re an Etsy seller or not! Please feel free to leave any questions or suggestions below in the comments!

 

 

 

My First Time Putting eBay on Vacation Mode

The run up to going on vacation is always a bit stressful, or it is for me at least, but this time around I faced the new challenge of what to do with my eBay shop while I was away? I actually really stressed about the whole thing, envisioning returning to a bunch of messages from buyers waving pitchforks and torches in my face, but, spoiler alert, I was definitely over thinking it (what a shock).

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Photo by Alesia Kazantceva on Unsplash

What were the options?

We were going away to Florida for two weeks, and at first I definitely toyed with the idea of leaving my shop open and just simply extending the handling times (significantly), and messaging customers when they made a purchase to make sure they understood the situation. The pro’s for this would have been:

  • I wouldn’t have to have downtime where I couldn’t earn money and then additional semi-downtime as eBay re-added my listings and they took time to show up again in search.

I know that some sellers do this, even when they go away for weeks, but for me, the cons on this one just outweighed any benefits:

  • As someone who sells digital items on Etsy and has it stated as such in the images, the title, the description and the checkout process… I can confidently say that people buying things online don’t always read things, so people would definitely still check-out not realising they’d be waiting weeks for their items. This would, of course, lead to a lot of negative customer reactions and a lot of messes to clear up – potentially it could have been solved by manually messaging everyone that bought something but…
  • I didn’t really have reliable wi-fi. The hotel we stayed in had really patchy wi-fi access, and so I mostly relied on checking in on-line from Dennys or Starbucks, this is fine to send a few funny pictures to my family, but not really a great way to run a business, especially because I didn’t want the vacation to be dictated by me HAVING to go somewhere with wifi so I could sit on my phone and work – it wasn’t that kind of trip for us.
  • I probably couldn’t answer questions for potential customers. I don’t know about you, but while I always think I produce a pretty thorough listing for my clothing items, I always seem to get questions about the angle of pockets, or the specific shade of thread used around the cuffs or something else that would be difficult to answer while 4,000 miles away from my stock! Again, I could just have messaged customers to explain this, but that would take time out my holiday too, and also be a frustrating experience for them too, potentially.
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Photo by Alesia Kazantceva on Unsplash

So, in the end, I decided to put my shop into vacation mode, and put an out of office message on.

I’m based in the UK, and just used the eBay UK page for the instructions on how to actually go about doing this – here’s the page.

I also made the decision to put my shop into vacation/holiday mode a few days before we actually left. This was to leave time for people to pay (I had been running auctions), and also just to stop any really weird eBay thing happening the night before we flew and me getting in a total panic about it.

The process is pretty straight-forward … unless, like me, you then spend hours trying to write your out of office message!

In case you are not familiar, an out of office response is an email that is automatically sent to someone when they send you a message through eBay. It essentially lets them know that you’re not able to reply to them until X date, because you’re away from work.

For some reason, I got so stressed about writing this message – I guess I kept thinking that if I was a buyer and had a problem with an order and sent a message, only to be told I’d have to wait 3 weeks for a response… I wouldn’t be best pleased.

So, here’s what I wrote that helped me feel better about it all:

Thanks so much for contacting Timorous Eclectic!

I m currently away and I ll be back on Monday June 24th – I will not be able to accept any new orders or respond to any emails until then. All outstanding orders have been dispatched on Monday June 3rd and, where applicable, tracking has been uploaded.

If you are an existing customer and have an issue with your order, I apologise for the inconvenience caused by my being away, but if you send me a message, rest assured I will be in touch on the 24th of June and we can discuss things then. If you are looking to return an item and the return window will end while I m away on holiday, rest assured that you will still be able to return the item when I m back.

Thank you so much for your continued support of Timorous Eclectic and for your understanding of me taking a holiday.

Best wishes,
Kitty

Reading this now, I realise I’ve used the phrase “rest assured” twice in one sentence, but hey, I had edited this so many times that it’s no wonder something like this slipped through the net!

I decided that, for me, it was important to include:

  • Specific dates as to when customers could expect to hear from me
  • What exactly me being “out of office” meant – in my case, no orders, and no emails
  • An apology for any inconvenience caused
  • Reassurance that any return windows etc. that would expire, would still be honored
  • A thanks for understanding and for supporting my small business

I’ve seen people write entire essays, and I’ve seen people write a few words, but this is what felt right for me – because it’s the information I’d want to recieve if I was in the buyer’s shoes.

What happened while I was away?

Erm, nothing.

While I put my out of office response on, and turned my app notifications off during the trip, I would still recieve a copy of any messages to my email and I could check them and reply if I had the chance/if it was urgent.

As it turns out, I got one message from a customer on the morning we were packing to leave for Florida, which I went in and replied to, and then after that… nothing. No messages, no negative feedback and no return requests in the three weeks I shut the shop down!

Don’t get me wrong, I get very few return requests, so I suppose statistically this wasn’t actually unexpected, but I worried about it so much the sigh of relief I let out when I checked my messages for the first time was HUGE.

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What happened when I got back?

We got home on Sunday the 23rd of June at around 2pm after more than 24 hours of travel and literally zero hours of sleep. Knowing this would be the case, I had stated in my eBay message that I would resume work on the 24th, but actually, I ended up lifting vacation mode off pretty much as soon as we got home as I just wanted to get started and get on top of any issues that had arisen.

Because nothing actually had come up that required action I left things alone for the rest of the afternoon, and then right before bed, I sent out “offers to buyers” on every item that I could – 19 in total. I woke up the next morning to one sale. Cash wise, it wasn’t great but I was keen to get the ball rolling again and hopefully just get myself looking nice and active for eBay’s algorithim.

The next day I listed a couple of new items (that I’d drafted before I went away) – again, just trying to get my account back to “normal” in eBay’s eyes. I then decided to start a week long 20% off sale to see if that would also help – having sold nothing for weeks, I was definitely of the mindset I’d rather get some lesser value sales moving in than just continue having nothing happening on my account.

I’m now writing this on the morning of the 27th, and I’ve consistently had one sale a day since I came home. Most of them have been low-value items that I’d already priced low and then became further discounted by the sale, but really, it’s good to move those items out anyway – even if higher value sales would be nicer after weeks of no income!

If, like me, you’re a newer eBay seller and maybe have never had to leave your shop, I hope this post was maybe helpful. Of course, experiences are going to differ quite a bit, but I thought I’d share my own experience – I’d have loved to have found a post like this a few weeks ago!

If you’ve shut your shop before, how did it go? What do you include in an eBay out of office message? Have you ever gone away and just extended handling times?