2018 was an eye-opening year for me. After twelve years of building my online handmade product company virtual brick-by-brick with my own two hands, I’d reached a pretty major milestone. There was no way around it. I’d outgrown my business. Like a hermit crab on the hunt for a new shell, I’ve been wading the home business seas in search of new ways to prosper and accommodate my growing business in the coming years – quite literally, too, I’m definitely on the search for a new shell, as my current home office/studio won’t cut it for much longer.
What does it mean to outgrow your business when you’re self-employed? Since the self-employment hemisphere is so varied, it means a bazillion different things for different people. For one person, it might mean they’ve outgrown the selling at festivals handmade lifestyle and want to set up shop on Etsy or in another online handmade market. For another person, it might be mean they’re in need of a heavy duty online storefront instead of a very basic website. In my particular case, it means I no longer have enough room in my studio for all the orders I’m working on regularly. We expanded with a ridiculous amount of shelving but that will soon not be enough either. I no longer have the appropriate amount of storage space for product materials, office set-up and machinery required to create my stuff. While this sounds like a bad thing in the short term, it’s definitely not bad in the long run. It means that over twelve years, I did something way, way right. My business grew… and grew… and grew some more.
No, this did not happen over night. We’ve spent years being broke. I have plenty of stories. There have been numerous struggles, numerous I’m giving up moments that luckily, I didn’t fall apart over. Five kids nearly back-to-back didn’t help us save any money, either. Having a family did put me in a situation, however, where I felt compelled to create a revenue stream that would allow me to be with my kids, often. That’s the ultimate dream of many parents, isn’t it? Even so, while many parents dream of making a sustainable income from home on their own terms, many do not know how to make that leap or don’t know what steps to take make it happen. These days, there are instructions for the self-employed lifestyle everywhere. Back when I got in the self-employment game, it wasn’t that easy. Things were a lot murkier.
Back in 2006, I was in college at Penn State University when my personal work-from-home adventure started. I was just beginning to work part time at one of the university performing arts theaters. With baby #1 in tow, I was desperate to remain at home with her when I wasn’t in class, rather than keeping her in daycare all hours of every day. The nice idea of being at home with the baby, though, didn’t help buy books, pay the rent or pay for food.
I didn’t have an instruction manual for self-employment at that time. Heck, I didn’t even know that’s where I was headed when I created my first totally random handmade product that year. I had an idea about an idea about an idea… with absolutely no direction. Until… I sent out an email to previous professors at a two-year college I’d transferred from, thanking them for their help getting me to Penn State. See, I was young and pregnant with Baby # 1 at the previous college, and a certain few teachers were really pressing me to go on to a four year university. They didn’t see my pregnancy as a hindrance to success unlike some others who saw my situation at that time. These angel professors identified and nurtured my talents and showed me the light. They helped me with scholarships and with recommendation letters to universities. Not only was I highly capable of doing this for myself, I now had a baby to do this for. I was accepted to all four universities I applied to. I went with Penn State, as they were the only university offering to pay for daycare costs if I chose them. I was on the moon as a Penn Stater. It was an amazing place to be. I was in awe every day. This feeling of gratitude overcame me one evening and I wanted to give something back to my previous college family for helping me get to a place I’d never imagined possible. So I offered to do some home decor artwork. That went well and after some referrals by those professors, this turned into, “Can you also paint this other thing for my baby’s room?” and soon I’d discovered a product I didn’t even know existed – and it’s my top-selling product at this very moment. It was a product that revolved around you guessed it – babies – and babies never go out of style. I suddenly had a niche, a product and some clients.
Fast forward to today. I am thoroughly enjoying the Mom works-from-home lifestyle. Since graduating Penn State, we moved closer to the beach (where else would a hermit crab live?) My business is mobile, so we went where we wanted to live. I see five kids off to school every morning and welcome them home every afternoon. I can pick up and leave my office at any moment that the nurse decides to call with a sick kiddo needing to come home. I can attend all the school functions (unless of course, I’m bogged down in the studio or am enjoying my quiet time way too much). I can chaperone field trips. I can put my store into vacation mode and go on trips on dates that I decide work for my family. I can take my store with me if I plan to work while on vacation. I can take a gosh danged nap – at any moment (unless the kids are home… because that’s impossible). I can control my own work space and of course, decorate with all things David Bowie. One of the best perks of the work from home life: an adorable Jack-Russel Pug is in my office and studio all day long. My office assistant is a dog! She mostly provides snuggles and companionship… but that’s something I sometimes need when I’m long cooped up in what has become known as “Mom’s work cave”. My four-legged assistant works for free, too.
While it may sound like I’m never at my work desk with so much freedom, that’s far from the truth. If you ask my husband, I’m a workaholic and don’t take enough breaks. I’m merely pointing out the perks that are available to me in my work-from-home situation. Yes, I do take naps here and there. With my office assistant, the dog. I won’t lie. Who wouldn’t? It’s breathtaking, right?
I’ve reached a place in my work-from-home career where I am now ready for the next level of my self-employment adventure. Like I said, I’ve outgrown the space I created for my handmade business. I need more room – dare I dream… my own building? I need more assistants. I need less overhead costs and more profit. For me, this means that my family is now on the search for a new home that will accommodate my expanding at-home business as well as our kids who are outgrowing their rooms. We’ll spend the next year working on our financial situation, house-hunting and prepping the business for an even bigger and better future.
Perhaps you’re ready to take the next leap in your handmade business as well. No matter where you are on your business journey, this next blurb applies. For me, I started with making a basic list of “next steps” to grow my online business and a general time frame for when I want those steps completed.
- Need more office space, updated computer area and printer/faxing capabilities. 1 year.
- Need more studio space, requiring tables, shelving and appropriate flooring. 1 year.
- Need more storage space for product materials, shipping materials and supplies. 1 year.
- Need assistants. 1 to 2 years.
- Need to be able to pay those assistants. 1 to 2 years.
- Need YouTube channel for company-related tutorials. 6 months.
- Need to grow new Instagram account. 3 months.
- Need to expand email marketing campaign. Immediate and ongoing.
- Need to decrease overhead costs, shipping costs and increase profit. Immediate and ongoing.
- Need a new computer mouse. I’m ready to smash it with a hammer. NOW.
- Need another phone charger so I can keep in touch with customers on the go. Kids have officially lost all three. NOW.
I want this dream to be a reality for other Moms and Dads, too. If you’re ready to get in the work from home game, too, and start creating and sharing your handmade product talents with the world, then I want to share my resources with you so that you can find yourself in a similar situation. If you hadn’t noticed below, my RSS feed for Four Little Monsters 1.0, then take a look. My old blog is a good reflection of our current transition, with its crazy cartoon monsters and outdated and non-shareable posts. The blog outgrew itself, too. Here I am, writing a post on Four Little Monsters Blog 2.0 with 6000+ followers across the blog’s social media platforms. Add my business followers on social media and there’s another 6000+ followers on top of that.
The sky is truly the limit when you’re self-employed. It does take time. It does take patience. It may take some suffering. A lot – and I mean, a lot – of trial and error. The most important part, of course, is the product and the content you’re putting out there. I don’t believe that just anyone can sell anything successfully. I do believe that a good product with a good mastermind can sell itself with the right online framework, marketing and networking plans in place. Plus, we live in a time where you can literally do what you love to do, make what you love to make, find an audience of people who will buy it, anywhere in the world! If you’re ready to dive into this lifestyle, then join me on my Mompreneur journey here at Four Little Monsters Blog 2.0.
Maybe you’re already hard at work at your handmade business or work from home career and you’re somewhere further along in the adventure. Maybe you’re a Mom or Dad who has the same dream I did: to be able to work from home and spend quality time with your children and be able to travel when you want. Doesn’t matter. Hang out with me and let’s share some amazing resources and stories for self-employed success. Let’s be work-from-home hermit crabs together, always on the search for the next biggest shell.