How to DIY your way to a career: 6 awesome tips from Etsy’s star sellers

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Thanks to the wonders of the www, DIY careers have become a hallmark of our generation. Bloggers, YouTubers and indie designers have all made it happen, and while we’re all aware of the potential out there, the thought of giving up a regular paycheque is still scary.

So, how exactly do you do it? Etsy has some suggestions, for one, with its just-launched launched online mentorship program. Etsy Resolution is designed to help budding entrepreneurs open and run a successful Etsy shop. The program sends out step-by-step lessons, advice and support from top Etsy sellers and mentors.

To help simplify the process even further, we chatted with Etsy mentors Mo Handahu, a Halifax-based fashion designer, blogger and Style Panel member; Erin Leroux, a Kitchener, Ont.-based stationary designer and Emily Arbour, owner of Cheerfully Made in Almonte, Ont., for some key tips on how to turn your creative passion into a successful business.

Identify your passion

How can you tell if your hobby is a passion worth turning into a career? The key lies in how much you love it. “You love doing something if you spend your whole night doing it and you don’t even regret it,” says Mo Handahu, who started making and selling clutches, skirts, duffel bags and tutus in 2010. “I think if you find yourself doing it for a long time and you’re still motivated and still want to do more, then I think that’s when you know you’re good at something and it’s something you should be doing,” she says.

Decide what your brand is and stick with it

With an oversaturated market in the creative field, it’s important to have a focused vision of what your brand is.

“Look at what other people are doing and don’t do what other people are doing,” says Emily Arbour, who’s been running her handmade-only shop and a series of craft shows since 2010. “For me, my brand is really related to who I am, so that makes it much more sustainable and much easier. Don’t be afraid to expose who you are a little bit because that’s your unique selling proposition; that’s the one thing that you have that no one else has.”

Erin Leroux, who quit her job to run her Etsy shop, Merrily Designs, full-time, agrees that branding is the key to having a successful creative business.

“I would encourage new shop owners to stay true to their brand and do what they love to do,” she says. “You’ll get many requests to stray away from your brand, but stay true and you’ll be happier and more successful in the long run.”

Get involved in the community

Part of learning how to run a business is about asking questions. Arbour suggests joining support groups on Facebook, such as the Etsy Facebook group, so you can talk to other like-minded creative people and share your own experiences and knowledge.

Find local groups in your community, too. “Get to know people who can help you with questions,” says Arbour. “By being part of those communities, you can talk about your concerns and what solutions you’ve found, what company is the best, what tools you’re using. You gain so much more by sharing.”

Surround yourself with people who will champion you

If you need that extra boost of confidence or some help, look no further than your friends. “The best advice I would give is to look around in your collective of friends and figure out what they’re doing, what they’re good at and what their careers are,” says Handahu. “They will be the ones that are championing your dream and if they can help you, whether it’s setting up a website or whatnot, that’s your first point of reference – your first point of professional help.” Ask your friends—no matter what field they’re in—if they would be willing to trade services with you. “So, if you’re really great at photography and someone else is really great at bookkeeping or web design, maybe you can trade an hour of bookkeeping for an hour of your photography services,” says Arbour.

Get on social media

Here’s the gist of it: if you’re not on social media, you probably won’t be successful no matter how great your product is.

“Marketing is so important,” says Arbour. “You can make the most beautiful, cost-effective, beautifully branded everything and no one will ever find it if you’re not on social media.”

Not only do you need a social media presence on platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, but you also need to be consistent, says Handahu.

“When you keep a consistent schedule, you grow your following that way because more and more people are aware of what you’re putting out there and that you’re dedicated to your product,” she says.

Find a mentor

It can sometimes be tricky to find a mentor, whether it’s because they might not want to share trade secrets or they’re just plain busy, but if you do find one, they can be invaluable.

“I think mentors are important,” says Handahu, “because first of all, you have somebody who’s been doing it for a while and they’ve gone through the process and they know what works for them, what didn’t work for them, and for them to share that knowledge is obviously priceless. But I also believe that if I’m in the position where I’ve learned a lot, it’s my responsibility to share that knowledge and that’s the only way we can all grow.”