If you are an artist or a craft hobbyist, finding the time to pursue your dream while balancing the military lifestyle can seem nearly impossible.
After all, who will support your endeavors? How will you cultivate a following? Where can you develop a storefront to sell your wares? How can you do all of this and move, too?
Until 2005, real life imposed a lot of limitations on military spouses who had a creative dream. But thanks to Etsy, the online commercial marketplace for all things hand- and homemade, military spouses the world over are now taking their creative passions to the professional level.
Erin, an Air Force wife, is the artist and designer behind Military Wives Rock, an Etsy store devoted to patriotic and branch-proud clothing. For her, the creative lifestyle has always been important.
“My mother is an artist and my father is a concert pianist,” she says. “So creativity flows freely in my family.” That creative streak revealed itself again when she noticed a hole in the market for cute shirts for military wives and decided to make some herself.
Erin began her journey into fashion as a hobby: It was just something to do on the side while her two daughters were napping. But Erin found she was doing what she loved. She turned this free-time project into a storefront on Etsy.
“I can't say enough wonderful things about Etsy,” Erin says. “The last thing I wanted to do was invest time, money and energy into a business that I would have to start over every two to three years when the military moves us. Etsy was the simple solution that lets me operate my shop no matter where we are stationed in the future.”
For Erin and many other creative military spouses, Etsy is an invaluable resource that opens up a world of opportunity. What was just a hobby can become a profession, and what was just a dream can become a reality. That reality can travel with you wherever you are and bend with whatever challenges the military throws at you.
“Etsy also allows you to put your shop on vacation whenever you want so that you can focus on other things going on in your life such as deployments, vacations and moves,” Erin notes.
It also has a very low overhead, comprehensive user support, and it is easy enough for even the least computer savvy to navigate.
Sellers can list their item for four months. When it sells, Etsy collects a 3.5 percent sales fee. So, if you were to sell an item for $20, you would have $19.10 in your pocket. That’s a great way to expand your creative business, no matter what it is. Etsy shop owners sell everything from website redesigns, personal logos, business cards, baby bibs, sculpture and art to letterhead, quilts and antiques. If it’s vintage or hand-made, it belongs on Etsy.
In the last seven months, Erin has sold 53 items on Etsy, with her strongest month bringing in $500. Here are Erin’s keys to success for military spouses on Etsy:
1.Read up on SEO. Take a minute to do some research on SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. SEO is how something can appear high in a Google search. Erin says you have to learn how to tag your items so that they will appear on the first page of a Google search.
Because of her due diligence with SEO, you can easily find Erin’s wares not just by searching Etsy, but also just by plugging in a “military wife T-shirt” search into your favorite search engine.
2. Take good quality photos. People are visual. They are making their decision to buy based on what they see in the photo and your helpful description.
3. Be available to your customer. You have to make time time to correspond with your users. Erin advises, “Check your shop daily to answer messages, check out promos, and refill your stock.”
With these simple rules, she’s made a success of her Etsy business and enjoys the freedom it brings to her life.
“It is great extra income for vacations, Christmas gifts and other things,” she says, but she knows she could turn it into more of a money-maker if she tried.
“I don’t put as much energy and money into it as I could because I don’t want it to be a full-time job for me since I am a stay-at-home mom and work part time for the U.S. Air Force,” she says. “When my girls are school age, I have several plans on expanding the shop.”
That means that no matter how much or little time you have for Etsy, it can be a store front for what you do if you are a creative producer.
“If you have ever considered opening a shop, do it,” Erin urges. “Etsy demands very little start up money and could blossom into a full-time career for you if that is what you wanted.”
For now, it is perfect for her as an off-the-mom-clock job. For other military spouses looking to fulfill their creative endeavors, it could be that or much more.
-- Editor’s Note: This article is part of our series on the 10 kinds of military spouse jobseekers. This one is aimed at Creatives, Momjobbers and SAHMs. If you are looking for a different kind of job, let us know in the comments box below.