My first child, a daughter, was born in 2009, just as the economy seemed to be crumbling all around me. New layoffs and company collapses were announced weekly, and I felt like I was bringing my newborn into a scary, unstable world. I had a full-time job as a reporter, and the journalism industry, like other industries, was experiencing frequent layoffs at the time. I knew I had to do something drastic to create at least a small cocoon of security around her.
An idea hit me one day as I was browsing Etsy, the handmade marketplace. I’ve long been a fan of the custom jewelry and gifts you can buy on the site, and when I discovered a paper goods section filled with calendars and planners, I came up with the concept of creating and selling money planners. While I had never created anything for Etsy before, I had worked for years as a personal finance reporter and author. With that background, I figured I could design workbooks to help people meet different money and life goals.
I quickly set to work designing my money planners, which are focused on specific life goals, from preparing for a baby to paying off debt to launching a business. Each planner walks the user through questions they should be considering, to-do lists and useful strategies. For example, my baby planner offers action items for each month of pregnancy, reminding users to take out life insurance, for example, and prepare a registry to help guide friends and family members to useful gifts.
Two weeks after my initial brainstorm, I opened up my Etsy shop, Palmer’s Planners. Almost immediately, I felt the sense of empowerment that comes from being an entrepreneur. Here I was, taking control of my, and my family’s, financial future. I hoped my shop would soon bring in extra cash, but I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Of course, my shop didn’t create financial security right away. It would be many months before it threw off a steady income of around $200 a month, money that my husband and I now put toward child-related costs (which grew after our second child, a son, was born in 2012) and general household management — income I know I can increase if necessary.
Soon after launching, I realized that marketing is as essential a part of the entrepreneurial life as creating. I found my “tribe” of fellow online creative entrepreneurs by searching out blogs written by other creative entrepreneurs and learned from them: how to write guest posts for other bloggers, host giveaways and build up a newsletter following. I found the people who were a few steps ahead of me down the path of entrepreneurial success and copied their marketing strategies.
My slow and steady success brought a new challenge: How in the world could I juggle motherhood, a full-time job as a reporter and my budding business? I had to learn to say “no” to many extras, including social engagements, lean on my husband and parents to help at home and work like a madwoman during naptimes. Knowing your baby might wake up at any moment, thus interrupting your creative time, offers more of an adrenaline boost than espresso (though espresso helps, too).
One of the biggest takeaways was just how important it is to love your side business. If I didn’t enjoy everything about my Etsy shop, I wouldn’t be able to focus so intensely on it during the half-hour stretches I can steal on evenings and weekends, nor would I want to. A side business has to tap into a creative impulse that is bursting to come out of you, or it will be hard to generate the energy needed to make it successful. The money, of course, is often the primary motivator, but what keeps you going is often that deep sense of satisfaction you glean from your business.
If you’re still trying to figure out what your side business might be, take some time to browse ecommerce websites like Etsy, Fiverr, Freelancer and Elance — you can get a sense of where your own talents might overlap with the market need. Most importantly, you have to feel like you’re helping people and improving their lives, even if it’s in a small way. Making a difference in that way further fuels your motivation to keep going.
Now, when I’m having a bad day, I scroll through my Etsy feedback, where customers tell me how much my planners have helped them. From the single expectant mom who used my baby planner to the debt-ridden massage therapist who was committed to paying off her credit cards, I love the interaction with people who find my creations useful. I started my shop seeking financial security, but what I ended up finding was even more satisfying.
Kimberly Palmer is the author of “The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life.” She also runs her own Etsy shop of money planners, Palmer’s Planners. You can connect with her, and download free worksheets to help you build your side business, at www.bykimberlypalmer.com.