Erin Wilson of Sunshine and Carousels is a an accomplished fashion and accessories designer, a popular blogger, and clearly devoted wife and mother. In this interview, Erin takes us on her journey from an aspiring art teacher / full-time substitute teacher, to a full-time indie business owner. Read on as Erin shares how she balances her time, space, and energy, while still keeping her young family a priority:
Indie Pretty Projects: What did you do before you started your blog and business?
Erin: I graduated from college with a degree in Missions in 2008 and I worked at home doing medical transcription but that didn't work out so well for me. We moved from Springfield Missouri to Tulsa Oklahoma for my husband's job. I started substituting full time because I thought I wanted to go back to school and get a second degree in art (which is what I studied since I was 12 up into a couple years of college) and be an art teacher. As I was substituting I felt like there was more out there then just being an art teacher.
What led to your decision to start your own fashion and accessories shop?
While I was substituting full time I started making handmade items in my spare time just for fun. I put a few things in my Etsy shop and gave some to friends. I realized quickly that my hair accessories were what everyone wanted. My items were being featured, sold in stores and selling quickly. I knew at that time this was something I wanted to try full time so I took the summer (while off of work from subbing) to focus and try out working full time and see if it took me anywhere.
I was able to spend time making new items, branding and marketing, practice taking better photos, do some craft shows and my items were being carried in more stores. I felt fulfilled and happy and the bills were being paid so I decided to continue pursuing a handmade business ever since. :)
How did you make the transition from working a "day job" to owning your own business as smooth as possible?
Like I said, I happened to have a couple months off of work to do a trial run so the transition was quite smooth. There were weeks where I wondered/panicked/second guessed myself if this was really the right decision. The hardest transition was was going from a structured day working 8-4 to having my own schedule and having to be self motivated.
What training did you have in your craft, or are you self-taught?
I have a history of fine arts, studying everything from painting to print making to sculpture. A lot of how I make things now comes from the things I learned in the past. I am self-taught but with a strong arts background which helps.
What is your daily schedule like?
My schedule can change, but it pretty much starts off with online work, answering emails, blogging and social networking in the morning. Around 11 a.m. I start making a to-do list of what orders or items I want to start making for the day and give myself a deadline for when orders need to be done for the day so I can start packaging items to be shipped or sent off to stores.
Around 5 p.m. I make my trip to the post office and then run any errands I need for supplies, etc. One day a week I may spend half the day ordering supplies online, meetings, running errands or refilling consignment stores locally. At this point I'm very busy with online orders, stores and craft shows that I sometimes have to work into the night. (This is not a complaint... it's a blessing) I want to get to a point where I have strict hours and have a *cut off* time for the day to spend time with my family and friends.
You are also a mother - how has the added responsibilities of parenting affected your business (if at all)?
At this time my daughter (Penelope, she's three and a red head) is a handful. :) I love her to pieces obviously but she's a toddler and is very needy. She stays with me in the morning and goes to day care part time in the afternoon while I'm making pretty accessories and jewelry. She's curious and loves to play, but playing with Mommy's makeup or coloring on the wall is not always productive for me.
We are making the transition to put her in a day care/learning center full time from 9-5 so I can have more structured office hours and have more quality time with her in the evening and on weekends. I feel like this is vital and important for her. She is extremely social and needs to be around children her age, socialize and burn off energy. At the same time this will give me the time and structure to get everything that I need to get done in these specific hours. I feel that this change in our lives will be the most beneficial all the way around. When she's home and my husband is home it will be all about them and having quality family time. I don't want to spend years trying to keep up and work all through the night and miss out on precious memories.
Since you are your own boss, how do you keep business and personal time separate? How do you balance your time with friends, a significant other, or make time for yourself?
I will be honest, this is actually difficult for me. Since October last year my business has really taken off and it's been hard to keep up. I'm a one woman factory, I do everything myself. This takes up a lot of my time. I do take short trips to visit family and friends but I still end up having to answer emails or bring small projects with me as I travel. I do take one hour a day to talk on the phone to a friend or family member and have weekly family outings to keep sane. This is something I'm currently working on in my life. I don't want my work to take over my life. I'm actually taking my first vacation since starting my business and it will be work free. I'm so very excited about this time.
How do you market your blog and shop? What have been your most successful marketing techniques to bring in traffic?
I've changed the way I blog and market since starting my business. I saw a lot of my blogger friends constantly blogging about their business, what they are making and selling, doing giveaways and constantly promoting themselves on Facebook and Twitter. I DO think that that is a great way to market and build a following. I'm personally shy and I have a hard time putting myself out there. I also have a motto "if it's great people will notice." I believe that if you make a unique quality item then it will speak for itself.
I don't only believe you just make something and put it out there and then it will automatically sell. I just mean that you don't have to be pushy. So for myself I do update my blog when I put a new collection out or hold a sale but that's it. I think that blogging and tweeting (if you have a more personal blog) should be a great representation of yourself and you should show your personality. I don't think that tweeting or blogging the negative in your life will help you in anyway. Don't be fake, but there are some things that don't need to be public, this can represent you in a negative light and in return represent your business negatively. So I just try to share positive things in my life while still being real. I share what I need to about my business but social networking and blogging are to represent the good things in my life and my personality. I want to really connect and inspire people and I think that's what I think it's all about.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to quit their day job?
Start slowly. Start with an online presence, work on perfecting the items or service you want to sell. Take baby steps and stay organized, make goals for yourself and THINK BIG. I truly believe if you have the motivation, patience, and courage that anyone can do what they truly love. I would personally never go into debt trying to start a business. I started working on my business for fun and things just clicked with me one day. I started saving any money I made from sales and using that money to invest in buying bulk supplies, apply for craft shows and building inventory. I then started to see profit and built upon that. Just don't get ahead of yourself.
Do you have your own creative space? How do you stay organized?
At this time I have a studio and I giggle as I say that. It's a built in office space near the living room of our two bedroom apartment. It's a funny story really. Back in April last year I was still working on my handmade items as a hobby, I wanted to pursue a full time business with it all but wasn't sure that it would work out. We lived in a four bedroom house in the middle of the city and I actually had a huge studio space for my painting and hobbies at the time. Also at that time both my husband and I were working on the south side of the city spending way to much money on gas every week to travel to work. So we decided to downsize and move closer to work so we could save money and I could work on my business. At the time I thought this 5x6 foot 'closet space' of a studio would be perfect for me to work in. It has a built in desk and shelves, I mean what more could I need right? Little did I know... but Sunshine and Carousels took off!!
So, I work in this tiny space and I barely stay organized. My desk is usually filled with current orders I'm working on and my shelves are filled with bins of supplies. I have now taken over our dining room with packing supplies and extra boxes of inventory. We are moving in two months and I will be getting a real studio to work in. I will say having such a small area to work in has been the biggest challenge for me, but I had no idea that things would turn out so great (really... no complaints at all).
What are some mistakes you've made along the way (things you have done or tried, and don't recommend)?
My biggest mistake was underestimating myself. I never dreamed that I would be so busy, so I wasn't prepared. If I could go back to August last year I would tell myself just dig in, take a few risks and work as hard as you can and it will pay off in the end. I tried to do too much, I thought I need to make more, have more styles, and that's where I will take off... but less is more. I wish I could have focused more on the items I really believed in and started making as many as possible instead of trying to *"branch out."
What is your ultimate goal with your shop? Where do you see it in 5 years?
My ultimate goal is to own my own boutique where I showcase handmade items from all over, have a cute little coffee shop and cupcake cafe in the back and offer crafting and art classes at the tables in my cafe while people nibble on sweets and build relationships. That is my ultimate dream! I know it's the perfect job for me because I love teaching, baking and helping other artists and crafters. I will get there someday, I just know it. :) In five years I hope to be on the road to making that dream happen. I still want to be making, creating, and building my brand, but I also want to help other crafters/artists as well.
Where else can we find Sunshine and Carousels online?
I'm also the writer behind the Sunshine and Carousels blog where I share DIY tutorials, crafty projects, cupcakes and baking, pretty photos and everything inspiring. I hope that you'll stop by and say hi!
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Thanks again, so much to Erin to taking the time out of her busy schedule to talk with us! Make sure to see the rest of the series Making it Work here.