how to stay true to yourself in your business
the worst business mistake I’ve ever made…twice or how to stay true to yourself in your business
by Jeanette champion-fanning of sweet perversion
*editors note: for those of you that don’t know Jeanette and her business sweet perversion, you should. Jeanette’s cards, tees and totes are hand-printed with her biting witty sayings. She runs a super successful etsy shop as well as kills it at craft fairs and has a thriving wholesale business. We’ve watched her business grow from a hobby into a full-time job. We celebrated when she was finally able to serve her last drink and quit her day job as a bartender. She’s full of inspiration and is one of the most genuine makers we know. She also has a smart mouth and cusses like a sailor. We’ve taken the liberty of PGing her article by adding $%* symbols to some of the words instead of asking Jeanette not write in her true voice. If you’re sensitive to expletives, beware.
I am sweet perversion, but in many ways, sweet perversion is an entity all on its own. In the early days of my business, I tried to stifle what sweet perversion was and would become. I worked hard at creating products I thought the public would like. I spent so many years in my real life trying to please others that this flaw carried into my business life and buyers saw right through my bullsh*t. I lost hours on Etsy looking at what people were buying and wondered if I could do the same thing but with my own twist.
People seemed to like pocket mirrors, layered invitations, texture and damask patterns. Sh*t, I can do that! I already had hundreds of dollars’ worth of handmade paper (most of which contained damask patterns), I also had a ton of stamps that would add texture to products and I could layer like a mofo. Pocket mirror press? No problem, I’ll buy one. I’m in. I got this. People are going to love me!
I worked tirelessly on terrible designs, I worked with hideous fonts and I pressed about a million pocket mirrors. All the while I felt weird and empty, like I was waiting for sweet perversion to wake up. I had total faith that my business was going to work, but I was confused as to how it was going to work. Something was missing and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Don’t get me wrong, I made decent sales during my first two years on Etsy. But, the more sales I made, the more I tried to please buyers. the more I tried to please buyers, the more I was pushing sweet perversion away.
In November of 2008, I came up with my Creepy Bastard Christmas card. I went out on a limb and made what I wanted to; I created something that made me laugh. Albeit, it was in black & white and came with black envelopes (I know, right?!), but I sold 5 sets in one month. Hmm…i thought, maybe I’m on to something. I slowly started adding more designs that weren’t your average greeting cards. I began putting who I am on my cards. As I gently embraced my humor and allowed sweet perversion to wake up, my sales picked up and my design skills improved.
As I honed my craft, I would pitch ideas to Mr. Sweet (my husband) and more often than not, he would cringe and say, “I don’t know, maybe that’s going too far.” Sometimes I would agree and others time I would go for it. Flash forward to late 2010 – I received an email from Nicole of Patchwork Show asking me to apply to her and delilah’s handmade festival. What?! At that time, I only had a handful of solid designs and I was still cozying up to sweet perversion. Mr. Sweet and I worked the show together and the buyers loved my cards. Eek! A few days later, I pitched another card idea to Mr. Sweet and he stared at me for a moment and then said, “I was wrong. Forget everything I’ve ever told you and just be who you are. People loved your cards and you need to go with it.” Phew!
Once I became true to myself and allowed sweet perversion to breathe, my sales took off. Prior to 2011, I was getting 3-4 orders a month on average. In January/February of 2011 I had nearly 500 orders in the span of two weeks. My business finally exploded! At this time, I was still bartending 3-4 nights a week and for the next year and a half, I worked (what felt like) 24/7 and existed solely on naps. It got to the point that my “day job” was in my way and I no longer had time for it. I worked as a bartender for 12 years and on St. Patty’s Day 2012, I served my last drink and sweet perversion became my full-time job. Success!
For those of us that grew up in the 70’s & 80’s, sticking a butter knife into an outlet was a lesson we were left to learn on our own and most of us didn’t do it again. Not me.
When I was approached to write this post for Dear Handmade Life, I was honored and a little nervous. A few days later, I became privy to the list of guests contributors for September and I went into full panic mode (seriously y’all, September is jammed packed with awesome). As required by law, Mr. Sweet and my BFF were there to pet my head and tell me I’m pretty. Even though I did feel pretty after my chat with them, I was still freaking out. I didn’t know why, but I had been in a total creative funk for months and this guest post was adding to my slump stress.
I called my pal Dave Conrey of Fresh Rag to chat about my panic over this post and our conversation turned towards my slump. As Dave cuddled my fragile ego, he asked me a hundred questions and made me take a step back to look at the whole picture. Within a moment, I realized my problem: I stuck the f#cking butter knife in the outlet. Again. For the past few months, I’ve been so focused on keeping the momentum going that I reverted back to trying to make what I think clients will buy – what I think my clients have come to expect from me.
Making this mistake the first time was a growing pain I had to go through in order to discover what sweet perversion really is. As for the second time…I’m p*ssed off about it. How could I be so keenly aware of this blunder and yet do it again? I suppose it could be another growing pain, but it’s still too fresh for me to fully view it as such. sweet perversion & I have been together for five years and I should know by now that the only thing my buyers want from me is my honesty & humor. Nothing more, nothing less.
In moving forward, I’m hoping to catch myself the next time I try to bullsh*t my business. There’s no way I can screw it up a third time…right?
Since my childhood, nothing could bring me joy quite like pretty paper and a quick witted come-back. It’s really only fitting that I landed job where I get to sell my a$$hole thoughts & spend gobs of money on paper under the guise of “business”.
I’m a f*cking genius, for reals.
Jeanette is one of my handmade heroes. Thank you for sharing your valuable insight, j! You do you, girl!
she is totally one of mine too! i feel honored that delilah and i are a part of her story of finally being able to quit her day job! stories like that are truly such a huge part of why i do what i do. no one should have to pay the bills doing something they hate. -nicole
I love the be you bitch! HA! This post was amazing and what I needed to hear right now. Thank you!
xx Alecia http://www.likesof.us
love that jeanette’s post hit home for you. i was actually talking to my mom a few days ago. she has a handmade business too and was struggling with the idea of making what she thinks people will buy. i told her to hold tight and wait for this post. i think it’s just what she needed to read as well 🙂
Yay Jeanette! Have been in love with her products and Sweet Perversion for some time now. Great, great write up! Thanks for posting this.
glad you’re a long time of sweet perversion! we are so happy to have jeanette and her witty expertise on our blog too!
I loved this post. I have so many friends who keep wanting to start an etsy business because they want to bring in money, so they search around looking for what will sell or they look at what is trendy. You are so right about being yourself above all; I have had to turn down orders that didn’t jive with me or my business practices, and I always feel better about it in the end – and sometimes get more business because of it! It isn’t all about money, and starting a business thinking only about the money is a sure way to fail (in my opinion). Because if you are thinking only about money, you’re forgetting the other things you mentioned, which are way more important. Great post!
totally agree kristen! it’s super hard to turn down money especially if your handmade business is how you pay the rent. but as jeanette wrote and you know, in the end it’s totally worth it! keep on crafting 🙂