Friday, November 5, 2010

On Top of Your Day Job: Knot-Cha-Chá

Hi everyone! I'm Brenda and like so many of you, I run my own Etsy business on top of a fulltime day job. On Top of Your Day Job celebrates the true heroines and heroes of Etsy: the "day" job employees who then run their indie biz, along with creating, marketing and everything else, in the week's remaining hours.

This month's artist has an absolutely fascinating resume! Sharon has done it all, while developing her own indie business! Read on for insights from a creative and focused lady - and be sure to read to the end for a Lillyella reader exclusive offer!

Sharon Hanson

Tell us a bit about you: who are you, who do you want to be, what do you make, what makes you unique?
I am a Jill-of-all-trades who has finally become the person she has always wanted to be. I design and make women’s accessories that love to have fun and go out and be seen. These days I live in Portland, Oregon, but before that many years were spent in the (San Francisco) Bay Area. Early in my career, when involved in the theater, I developed a certain flair for the dramatic while designing costumes. That flair still shows in my work, but it is softened by a childhood spent in a small Midwestern town and over twenty years of living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I guess that combination of experiences and sensibilities makes me unique and helps to define the things I design and craft.

The style of my pieces ranges from classic to fairly sassy, incorporating luxurious hand-spun and hand-dyed fibers, felting, and delicate beads. While making each of my scarves, wraps, hats, cowls, and jewelry pieces, I feel a kinship with the materials and construction methods. That feeling is hard to describe, but I do craft very carefully, using one or a combination of traditional and less-traditional techniques.

I love making one-of-a-kind purses and hats. As a dancer I am drawn to creating pieces of jewelry that can be worn while twirling without the jewelry flying about and hurting anyone. Knitting and crocheting cozy and warm accessories feeds my soul. I think my color choices are delicious and have been told that my workmanship is impeccable. I hope those things are true because most of all I want my pieces to make the women who wear them feel really great.

What do you think it is about you that makes your shop successful?
Hmmm. Is my shop successful?…not sure yet. After several years of selling locally and then opening the Etsy shop, my business is now at the break-even point. I can clearly imagine it’s becoming successful, though. I’ve always had more vision and ambition than common sense—which may be my biggest asset, come to think of it. I’ve also done a lot of research and planning and have collected a big skill set, and for those reasons I’m not afraid of failure.

If you’re comfortable sharing, what is your fulltime job? Do you plan to continue working fulltime or is your goal to join the ranks of the Quit Your Day Job artisans?
I enjoy working 20-30 hours per week for the Borg, but it won’t let me say what I actually do in my office cubicle. It’s a well-paying job and I have great hivemates co-workers. That is a nice balance to the isolation of being a designer and working alone. I plan to hang in there with them for another five years or so until my design business can sustain me.

Has your career path led you directly to being an accessories designer and small business owner?
Below in somewhat chronological order are the jobs I’ve had. As you can see from this list, my career path has been absolutely direct and clear and I’ve never changed course or doubted myself ever.

Crochet and sewing hobbyist
Playwright for community theatre
Nurse’s aide in a geriatric facility
Waitress in numerous restaurants
Department store clerk and gift wrapper
Theatrical costume designer and seamstress
Casino cook
Export manager for a technology company
Owner of a bookkeeping service
Staff accountant for a CPA firm
Business manager for a medical school
Technical writer
College instructor
Published textbook author and poet
Borg cubicle worker
Craft teacher
Designer/maker of women’s accessories
Online shop owner

No matter what was my day job, on the side I was always making accessories for friends, family, and myself.

Do you have partner(s), employee(s) or family members who help with your business? If so, what roles do they fill and how do they make your life easier?
I am blessed that Mr. Cha Cha, my long-term domestic partner and dance partner, is kept thoroughly entertained by his business as a home designer/builder and his OTOYDJ gig as a music DJ for dance events. It keeps him out of my studio — and out of the kitchen.

Which do you prefer: artist, artisan, crafter, maker or other?
I’m definitely a designer/maker. Working with my hands is a huge part of my creative fulfillment. The book Creating a Life Worth Living by Carol Lloyd helped me to understand this. The reading of this book was a turning point for me.

How did you learn your particular art/craft form?
I learned basic crochet from an aunt at age nine. The same year my mother showed me how to use a sewing machine. At eighteen I taught myself to knit from a book, and I had some basic art and design courses in college. Parsons School of Design wasn’t in the cards for me, so I’m mostly self-taught, but I’ve been lucky enough to find good teachers when I’ve need them throughout my life.

When do you fit in working on your business?
I find time first thing in the morning, over lunch hour, on breaks, after work, before cooking dinner, after dinner, in the evenings, over weekends, and on vacations.

Share with us your top two or three time management tips or tricks?
First, management is not my favorite thing, but even so I’ve managed to develop a production worksheet that’s been extremely handy. I use it to keep track of each item I make, its total cost, the stage of its production process, whether or not it’s been photographed, whether the photos need developing, whether it’s been listed in my store or is destined for local sales, and if it’s been sold. The second helpful items are job cost worksheets for each product to help me track the money side of things. Finally, I could not live without the new task management software that Mr. Cha Cha found for me.

If you sold last holiday season, how did you survive!? What was your biggest lesson learned?
I know now that an online store needs a lot of promotion because few people come to your store by accident. And once they find you, you’d better have top-quality photos for them to look at because shoppers can’t pick up or handle the goods they see on the monitor.

What stresses you out the most about your business? What gets you the most excited?
What’s most exciting is coming up with new designs. Design inspirations appear faster than I can take notes or sketch ideas. What’s challenging is that I lose patience with the total process. I want the accessories I see in my mind’s eye to hurry up and manifest themselves.

Do you take actual vacations and holidays away from both jobs? Or do you use vacation time from your day job to work on your business?
Some time off is dedicated to my business. On trips out of town, I always take work along and try to schedule fiber-related activities and fashion or art exhibits that aren’t available here in Portland. My two favorite places to go are New York and Los Angeles. I also love going to Austin, Texas. Great vintage stores there.

How do you find time for marketing? Any tips or tricks to share?
I know zip-nada about marketing and that’s my biggest challenge. I’m not quite sure yet where to most successfully advertise, and I’m hoping that your readers will have some suggestions for me.

In the first couple years, I didn’t spend enough time on a well-designed web presence, but just jumped into the process with a blog and then a store. I have a website in development now and will have a corresponding fresh look for my store and blog soon—by this Thanksgiving, I hope.

The best thing for me was to engage the help of a web developer and a graphic designer who could improve upon my ideas. Getting good help with IT, photography, or marketing matters is always smart if those things are not in your bag of tricks or you don’t have the time to do it all alone. I am not one of those people who needs to control every tiny bit of the business and whenever possible actually like to delegate anything not related to design or making.

Do you get enough sleep every night? If not, how do you compensate?
I sleep 7-8 hours per night and that works pretty well. I couldn’t get by on less.

Share with us a few stress management tips/tricks?
I do ballroom, tango, swing, and salsa dancing. I also do Zumba classes and go to the gym. It’s almost impossible to be worried or stressed while moving—especially to good music.

Drinking enough water and staying hydrated helps me to avoid aches and pains one can get from too much sitting or working with one’s hands. I’m also a firm believer in eating the best quality and healthiest food. (Most of the time.)

Do you shop handmade? If so, what was the last thing you purchased?
I buy a lot of hand-dyed fiber from local suppliers who run small businesses. Some even raise the animals that grow the fiber. I’m also a total fanatic about soaps (not the afternoon TV kind) and love to buy handmade bars in spicy and exotic fragrances.

What else would you like readers to know about you and about running an online creative business in addition to working fulltime and even having a personal and social life?
Sometimes the hardest thing is to be patient. It’s important to remember that successful businesses don’t happen overnight. And while it may feel necessary to give up your social life to work on the business, don’t. You need those connections with family and friends. In the end it’s the personal connections that matter most—not whether you have the world’s healthiest bottom line or always get everything done on time.

Thank you, Sharon!

Sharon is generously offering a special discount in her shop to Lillyella readers!

15% discount for any purchase made by Thanksgiving Day
10% discount for any purchase from Black Friday through the end of November 2010

Just mention "Lillyella" in the message to seller on checkout and Sharon will refund the difference to you via PayPal. Don't forget to stock up early for holiday gifts (or for yourself!).

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And thank you all for visiting. If you work at least halftime (20 hours/week) in addition to your indie business on Etsy, let me know! I'd love to talk with you about your own On Top of Your Day Job feature.

I'll see you again next month with a new On Top of Your Day Job artist spotlight! ~ Brenda

3 comments: said...

Wow, her pieces are gorgeous! Thanks so much for the great interview, I'll be linking to this.

Erin Wallace said...

Thanks for doing this great interview with my blog buddy Sharon. Her pieces are truly gorgeous and she's such a great person.

I love your blog! Will be following.

xo Erin

Sharon said...

Thanks very much for featuring me on your blog, and a big thank you to your readers who have visited my shop.