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Inside Mrs. Money Mustache’s Top-Secret Five-Figure Etsy Shop

oil-mixFor the past two years or so I’ve been keeping a secret from you, and I think today it is finally time to spill the beans.

The secret is that my wife is no longer really retired, and in fact she started a business that is now big enough to fund our entire family’s lifestyle. Making this confession will subject both of us to the full fury of the Internet Retirement Police. But it’s worth it, because there are some valuable lessons in her experience that could be useful to other people hoping to take control of their own income.

I’m always fascinated and happy to see people making money through self-employment, (especially in fields that don’t require a university degree) because it presents a nice shortcut around most of the problems that the world of work presents to us. Prefer to set your own schedule? Go right ahead. Unhappy with work conditions? Change them. Want a raise? Company profits are under your control. Don’t like your boss? Just find a mirror and have a quick word with yourself.  Sure, there are loads of great jobs out there, but conventional employment is often only a small, boring slice of a life’s work experience.

The Etsy Shop

labeling-soap

You’ve almost certainly heard of  Etsy, a highly popular online marketplace that specializes in handmade, small batch products – most often produced by a single person. Almost everything there is cute, unique, and custom, which makes it a hit in the gift-giving and personal pampering markets. And because the focus is on small entrepreneurial business and relatively natural products, even Mr. Money Mustache can get behind the general theme without too much grumbling about clueless consumers.

My wife was a fan and an occasional customer, but also became curious about just how difficult it would be to make some of the things that were for sale – often at relatively high prices. So she launched an investigation, which has led to two years of fun and learning, and is still growing.

Update: When I first posted this article, we asked people to please avoid trying to track down her Etsy shop, just to keep her experiment realistic. A small percentage of good-hearted but mischievous Mustachians disregarded this request and flooded her shop with orders anyway. Almost her entire current soap inventory (over $1000 worth) was quickly sold out. So if you do find her shop, you’ll only see a few remaining products for now. You’ll have to use your imagination to picture what it usually looks like – an array of 20 different fancy looking soaps and other products.

So to continue this tale, let’s launch into an interview with the lady herself.

An Interview With an Etsy Entrepreneur

 

Mr. Money Mustache: Hello there wife! Thanks so much for allowing me to do this interview with you – I know you’re normally not a fan of the public eye.

So to start things off, what is it exactly that tempted you to get into the business of being an Etsy seller in the first place?

Mrs. Money Mustache: Hello husband! It is strange and fun to be back on the blog, so thanks for doing this article.

Becoming an Etsy Seller was a gradual process, as it is with many folks, I suspect. I was sitting around being all retired and, frankly, I was bored sometimes. At the time, I didn’t have a real plan for all my free time.

One day, while standing with a group of parents at the after-school pickup, I became enamored with these lovely wrap bracelets with pretty beads all the moms seemed to be wearing. I hadn’t seen them before and became curious, so I started shopping online. I found out they cost a small fortune and, not really being a jewelry person, I quickly dismissed the purchase.

But, upon further review, I saw they were selling on Etsy and this prompted me to think I could make one myself. So, I dove down into a rabbit hole of watching videos and buying supplies and I was hooked. Learning and making really filled a void in my life, so I went a little crazy. I made a bunch of bracelets, gave them to friends, and at a certain point, I had spent more than I felt comfortable on the whole endeavor.

This is when I came back to Etsy and the idea of selling was born. I figured if I could sell enough of these bracelets I had learned to make, I could pay myself back for all the stuff I had bought to make them recreationally.

MMM: Wow, that’s interesting – selling as an atonement for consumer guilt? It sounds negative when you put it that way, but it seems to have become a big positive in your life. So anyway, what date was this?

Mrs. MM: This was in April of 2014. That’s when I started my first shop.

MMM: How long did it take to get your first sale? And how have your sales ramped up since then? What was your busiest month so far?

Mrs. MM:  It definitely took a while to get my first sale. About 2.5 months after first opening my shop. But, I was so busy making items and learning about Etsy that I didn’t really notice the time pass. I remember it was a holiday-specific item (a fourth of July bracelet) and that’s when I realized the importance of holidays in retail (duh!)

My sales increased really slowly over time. I did so much research by lurking around in the Etsy forums and finding out what makes other shops successful. I created a lot of different products (necklaces, bracelets, guitar picks, even crocheted dish cloths!) so I could test them out and see which were successful. A wise man once said: “Work is better when you don’t need the money.” and he was right. :) I was able to do a lot more than a shop that can’t invest much due to money constraints.

My busiest time, by far, was the holiday season of 2015. In November and December of 2015 I was so busy that I couldn’t keep up and had to place my shop on vacation mode (Etsy has an option for that, which basically means: I’m not open for business at the moment.) During just those two months I sold about $10,000 of stuff. I was working constantly and it got in the way of family time and I realized I needed more balance.

blending

Blending various fancy oils in the home workshop, with a stick blender.

MMM: I noticed that even after your first shop became fairly successful, you actually started a second Etsy shop. What was the cause of this? How has the experience been, compared to the first?

Mrs. MM: Yes! I decided to start a second Etsy shop in August 2016. As an Etsy Seller, I really wanted to support other Etsy sellers, so I started buying stuff from them quite a bit. I purchased almost all my shop supplies on Etsy and I also started buying small gifts.

One year, I bought some handmade soaps for family members at Christmas and tried one out myself. I fell in love with it and realized how much better my skin felt. Of course, as a crazy-researcher-type (which is what I realize I am, post retirement), I decided to try making my own soap. This led to a second love and once I felt confident in my products, I opened my second shop, which sells mostly natural bath and body products (soaps, scrubs, lotions, and oils).

This second shop is so much more fun than the first. For one thing, I am making products that I love using myself and really believe in. I also had so much experience at making my first shop successful that the second one was much easier. I had a few customers that shopped at my first shop that immediately bought from my second shop. So, that first sale came much faster.

I also really love the “soaping community”. All the soapers I’ve met through Instagram (which is a platform I used to hate and now love) are so generous with time and information and they make beautiful products too. It’s just a completely different (and more fulfilling) experience this time around.

MMM: How do you decide what to make and what to sell – and which products to discontinue?

Mrs. MM: In both shops, I try a lot of different things. I follow my own feelings of what I’d like to wear or use. I like to make new items and sometimes they do really well and sometimes they don’t. I also find that in the bath & body world, you get repeat customers much more easily. So, they will let me know what they want more of, which has led me to keep products that I wasn’t sure if I should continue and making new ones.

I also follow my values. For example, right now many of my bath and body products are all natural, but I’ve also tried using ingredients that aren’t considered natural. I like to experiment and decide for myself what I like. But, after dabbling in fragrance oils and other “not 100% natural” ingredients, I find myself veering back towards all-natural. I’m trying out a lot of different packaging and am finding that this is a challenge as well, as I want everything to be eco-friendly, but also reasonably priced.

So, I guess I discontinue items that aren’t doing well and that I’m not a huge fan of either. But, I will always make new things (because that’s the fun part), so I will always want to sell new items along with the ones that stay on and sell well.

MMM: What are the factors in your success – Is this something just anybody can do? If not, what skills or personal tendencies do you think would create a good Etsy shop owner?

To take nicer photos like this, she had to figure out lighting, background, and camera - For both Etsy and MMM pruposes, we upgraded to a Sony alpha6300 with separate Sigma prime F/1.4 lens.

To get nicer photos like this, she had to figure out lighting, background, and camera. For both Etsy and MMM purposes, we upgraded to a Sony alpha6300 with separate Sigma prime F/1.4 lens. I love the camera – takes amazing film-quality videos too.

Mrs. MM: My success (or, my definition of success anyway) is probably due to incessant research. I am always researching. I read a lot and look at a lot of other shops and try to figure stuff out. It’s a fun puzzle and I think it is the most interesting part of owning an Etsy shop for me. I would get bored if I wasn’t doing that. The business half of my degree is finally coming in handy!

To be successful on Etsy, you need to understand how SEO (search engine optimization) works. Etsy has their own search engine, so you just need to figure out how to make your listings show up near the top, which is easier said than done!

Once you know that, you need beautiful pictures so that people actually click on your listing. Again, this takes a lot of research and some photography skills. I look at every single picture in a search result and figure out what makes me click on an image. I also look at my listing in that list and see if it stands out.

For example: I recently realized that I was clicking more on photos of soap with packaging than “naked soap”, so I changed one of my listings so that the first photo had packaging – and it did result in more sales.

Doing what it takes to get the shot.

Doing what it takes to get the shot.

SEO and quality photos are the two biggest things. After that, you need to give excellent customer service and ship your packages out in time. It helps if your packages look cute upon arrival too. That leads to good reviews and word of mouth, which leads to more sales.

MMM: What has been the biggest unexpected positive, and negative, in your experience in dealing with customers?

Mrs. MM: The biggest positive has come from my second shop, as I have built up repeat customers in a relatively short amount of time. These are people that leave me incredible reviews, send me a message that brightens my day, post their purchases on Instagram, etc. I am very surprised by this, but it does bring me a lot of joy.

The negatives used to affect me a lot, but I’ve learned that they will always be there. There are people that leave one star reviews without contacting me first. People can be pretty brutal when reviewing a product. I don’t think they realize they are leaving a review to a single person (as opposed to a company). It’s one thing to say “Amazon sucks”, but when someone says “You suck”, that’s totally different. Sometimes they are folks that own a competing shop on Etsy (or have a friend that does), so you know the review isn’t even accurate or relevant, but it still sits there staring you in the face.

MMM: I hear you on that Mean Internet Strangers thing. Sometimes I stumble across multi-page discussions on Reddit or Bogleheads, among people I’ve never met, who are just making the most bizarre and pessimistic speculations about our personal lives, or my motivation for writing the blog, or whatever. There is no practical way to set everyone straight, so you really just have to develop a thicker skin instead.

Mrs. MM: I think it’s a bit easier in the smaller world of an Etsy shop. There are also a lot of difficult customers, but I always answer all their questions and do my best and some of them have actually made large purchases or become repeat customers. One of my best customers in my second shop was someone that was previously difficult.

MMM: What do you think the upper limit on profit would be in an etsy shop? Do any of your role models or competitors seem to be running pretty big operations?

Doing the Math

Doing the Math

Mrs. MM: The sky is the limit! There are many shops on Etsy that started off as one-person endeavors and now they own huge businesses with many employees. Most of them move on from Etsy and start their own web sites, which makes sense as they no longer need the Etsy platform to generate sales.

Etsy also has rules about manufacturing help and the handmade nature of items, so if you get big and want to start selling different things, it makes sense to move on.

That’s not the goal for me, although I might use a helper during the holidays sometimes. (MMM himself has been known to sit on the couch and cut out hundreds of cardboard squares for my packaging material)

My goal is to keep making and to keep learning… not to have a huge money-making operation. My word for 2017 is ‘balance’. :)

I should also add that on the lower end, it’s very easy to make nothing, or even lose money on an Etsy shop. There’s a lot of competition, so it is not easy to get established. Hard work and endless patience are essential to get through that painful first year.

MMM: Hmm, there were no numbers in your answer, but I guess we don’t really know how any of those huge Etsy sellers personally. But based on their photographs of daily production I’d estimate that the upper limit might be in the $200,000 range of annual profit for a single-person shop. $1000 per day in sales, minus about 33% in cost of materials and other overhead.

But as you say, shops can get much bigger than that – they just usually leave Etsy, hire some employees, and expand into a standalone operation.

So let’s talk about your situation instead – what’s the net hourly profit you would say you make at this stage, now that you are established?

Mrs. MM:  Hmmm… that’s tricky because I keep wanting to make new things, so I am spending more than I would be if I were purely profit-driven. My first shop is at a stage where my profits are very good compared to my revenue because I’ve lost a bit of interest in that shop and am not spending much on it. Hourly, I’m guessing around $30 per hour. However, as a result of me losing interest, it has slowed down quite a bit and it is actually “on vacation” on Etsy at the moment.

My second shop is still in the growing stages, so profits are not that great at the moment. I’m also finally at a place where my prices are set where I want them to be. My up front investment was quite big and soap takes 4-6 weeks to cure, so that shop is still up in the air, profit-wise. But, I’m guessing it will become more profitable on an hourly basis than my first shop once I ramp up my operations by making larger batches (less time spent and supplies cost less when bought in bulk).

So yeah, good question. I guess my answer is: “I’m not sure. I should probably calculate that.”

wet_soap

A freshly poured batch of soap. This hardens overnight, and you cut it into 16 bars. 4 weeks later, it is cured and ready to sell.

For example, to make a 5 pound batch of soap (a “loaf”) takes about $20 worth of materials if you are using high-end stuff like coconut and olive oils. This takes roughly 2 hours of labor by the time you make it, clean up, and later cut and package the soap. You end up with 16 bars, which sell on Etsy for $6 each. So, your profit is about $80, for roughly two hours of work. But that work is spread over a month, so you need make a bunch of batches to keep things in stock.

MMM: Where do you see this hobby taking you?

Mrs. MM:  Ultimately, I want to be able to use this hobby for community building. I imagine owning a store somewhere on Main Street that sells my products, but also empowers others to make. I see myself teaching others how to make their own things and how to start their own shops. I see myself making alongside others and having this ongoing conversation about our common problems and our successes. I imagine connecting with other makers in a community space. I see us all teaching kids that you can make instead of buy, create instead of consume. You can own your own business while also doing the things you enjoy.

MMM (update): During the casual yearlong process of working on this article, we ended up stumbling upon an interesting, underpriced old building on Main Street, and are now about to purchase it. It will make for some interesting stories (and parties too), so I’ll keep you posted on that.

Mrs. MM: The maker’s movement is huge and is having a big resurgence in our modern lives. I am the type of person that never considered myself “creative”. I still wouldn’t use that word to describe myself, but I am now a handmade maker. I make stuff with my hands and they are sometimes even useful things! You can do it too!

I would love to go back in time (or forward in time) and live in a world where everyone is a maker of things and we just make and trade with each other. The simplicity and the community of that framework really appeals to me and it gets at the root of what makes us human.

MMM: During these past two years, I have mentioned your growing Etsy hobby, but never told anyone how to find your shop. And even with this article, I still want to encourage readers not to go out and try to find her shop on Etsy. We both felt that doing so would be a form of “cheating”.  Can you explain this philosophy?

Mrs. MM: It was really important for me to create my own success, independently. Success isn’t as fulfilling if you cheat! I’m pretty sure that almost every single person who purchased from me didn’t know my secret identity and that feels good.

I’ve built all of this myself, from scratch. I’ve also learned that many people will pay big bucks to cheat the system (whether it is online selling, blogging, etc). I’ve found that the harder, longer road, is always better in the end.

MMM: That’s really cool. And it’s also more educational for you. As a relatively high achiever with skills in software and technology, and no financial pressure, it can be argued that you are already “cheating” compared to most Etsy sellers.

But if you do it right, financial independence is the good kind of cheating – you preserve the learning and effort, but cut off the stress and any temptation to create shortcuts.

And even without financial independence, entrepreneurship is a huge advantage to add to your collection of life experiences. I have a bunch more stories of entrepreneurial friends I’ve been wanting to share with you, so let’s do it in the months to come.

 

Somewhat Related Reading:

50 Jobs over $50,000 – Without a Degree
Interview with a CEO – Ridiculous Student Loans vs. the Future of Education

  • Florida Mike March 7, 2017, 1:20 pm

    Very cool.

    Reply
  • John M March 7, 2017, 1:25 pm

    Wow, the benefits of FI! I enjoy selling on etsy, its a small side hustle for our family and my brother, together we have 3 shops. Etsy is a wonder business teacher, I’ve learned about inventory control, pricing, customer relations etc.

    The Sigma 1.4 is my favorite lens, or was until I broke it boat-fotographing in Alaska. The comparable Nikkor i replaced it with was not a trade up. The sigma took better pics of the Northern Lights too.

    Reply
    • Dividend Growth Investor March 8, 2017, 2:02 pm

      Benefits of FI indeed – following your passions can turn out to be quite lucrative when you no longer have the financial pressure. A friend of mine had the opposite experience – she tried it for a few years, and then gave up.

      From an investor point of view however, I find ETSY’s rigid rules and discouraging shops from getting too big as not good. Wouldn’t stimulating stores getting bigger create more revenues for them? If their business is to only cater to small operations, it may not scale up

      On the other hand, it is interesting to see that larger stores may not need ETSY anymore..

      Reply
      • Ariel Coleman March 14, 2017, 10:19 am

        Hello!

        To answer your question about Etsy, the reason they have those rules and regulations is to keep it fair for all small makers. Imagine if Crate and Barrell or Johnson and Johnson were allowed to open Etsy shops, thier margins would totally obliterate any chance of a competitive market for hand made makers.

        If you are making things by hand, margins are much harder, hence higher prices for individual items, which in turn makes more profit for them. They rather have 100s of small makers than 2 or 3 massive shops. That’s their bussiness model/mission, and it’s great to see them sticking to it.

        Plus, anyone can open a Shopify or EBay or Amazon store front, and pump out as many widgets as they want. In fact, many Etsy makers move to Shopify once they have grown enough and it’s a win-win, they get out of the regulations and Etsy gets new small makers to take the place of the shop that moved on.

        Just thought I’d chime in on that :) thanks for sharing Mrs MMM!

        Reply
  • Make Wealth Simple March 7, 2017, 1:42 pm

    This is FI as I see it. Being free to try out ventures and do stuff you like without being held back by the possibility of having to miss a pay-check.
    Awesome story. And that is some really beautiful soap. Some of those bars made me hungry haha!

    Reply
    • Nick March 8, 2017, 3:12 pm

      Plus just having the energy and motivation to try out those new ventures. 8 hours of work has a way of draining that out of a person.

      Reply
      • Divi Cents April 4, 2017, 2:25 pm

        If you love what you are doing an 8 hour day seems like nothing.

        I do agree, the soap looks delicious.

        I few more years of saving and I can make crafty stuff in my own FI life!

        Reply
  • slow hand slow plan March 7, 2017, 1:43 pm

    Very Beautiful soap!

    Reply
  • Aaron March 7, 2017, 1:43 pm

    This is great insight into what it takes to run an Etsy shop. Where’s a link to check out some of her goods? :)

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 7, 2017, 2:01 pm

      Thanks for your interest Aaron, but there is no such link. In fact, in the article I specifically requested that people do NOT look up her shop, and if they do stumble upon it, to please not buy anything unless in the course of natural Etsy shopping. Just because it would distort her sales and page views, and make her multi-year experiment less valid. Many thanks!

      Reply
      • Laurel March 8, 2017, 12:05 pm

        MMM and Mrs – love you two. Thanks for being awesome, inspirational, helpful, and DIFFERENT.

        Reply
      • Jason March 8, 2017, 12:20 pm

        I had never browsed on Etsy, so I was browsing around and found her products. I did not buy any per your instructions (too bad, they look great!), but I didn’t think at all about page views. Please have her subtract a visitor from her website stats! Sorry.

        Reply
        • Mrs. Money Mustache March 8, 2017, 4:30 pm

          That’s okay, Jason. Turns out there are a lot of disobedient Mustachians! :)

          Reply
          • Patrick March 8, 2017, 4:37 pm

            I think y’all have discussed the Streisand Effect on this very blog… :)

            Reply
          • Tali March 9, 2017, 6:26 am

            I think that’s in the very nature of being a Mustachian! hahah

            Reply
      • Laura March 9, 2017, 10:07 am

        I have been interested in opening a soap shop for some time. Did you buy insurance for your business? I research every thing and I find it makes it difficult for me to actually make a decision. I become paralyzed by all the information. One of the things that has stopped me is should I buy insurance or not. You can email me directly if you prefer.

        Reply
        • LJH March 13, 2017, 3:53 am

          Laura
          Handmade Insurance is very reasonable. I do not make beauty products but one of my products requires me to have the insurance. We sold a little over $600,000 last year on Amazon and the insurance costs $890. per year. Insurance is based on yearly sales, so a new store should be much less. A google search will lead you to several options for handmade insurance. Nothing to be scared of!

          Reply
        • Mike March 13, 2017, 10:50 am

          I have opened two businesses personally and I can tell you, carrying some type of general liability insurance is pretty inexpensive in the grand scheme of things. If you’re worried about whether or not to do it, just go chat with your insurance agent about what you are considering and they will set you up with a plan that works for you. I forget the exact numbers but I want to say I’m paying about $500/year for half a million on our two-person LLC. For someone selling on Etsy I would think that might be overkill, but if it’s the only thing stopping you from opening your store I’d say go for it.

          Reply
      • The Vigilante March 9, 2017, 7:47 pm

        I love the universally applicable, implicit lesson here: Part of what makes financial independence worth fighting for is that money loses a lot of its power over you. I’m still deep in student loan debt and have a negative net worth because of it – if I had an opportunity to direct thousands of people to my wife’s Etsy shop, I could not possibly resist it! But with your Stash backing you, it’s a lot easier to put intellectual curiosity and pride ahead of unearned (or, really, partially earned) cash. I envy you guys for that more than perhaps any other reason! :)

        Reply
      • Michelle March 17, 2017, 7:58 am

        And now you’ve got me shopping on Etsy for everything from lotion to writing pens…

        Reply
      • Cleaner Numbers April 6, 2017, 4:39 pm

        I appreciate your commitment to treating it as a long-running experiment. Please keep us updated with how the store progresses! It’d be amazing to see another example of how anyone can apply an efficient system over a period of time and see large returns. Too many people complain about their debts and low wages, and too few people do something to change the numbers! A multi-year successful Etsy platform run out of your home would be a great wakeup call for many impoverished people who are afraid to hope.

        Reply
  • Kirstin March 7, 2017, 1:48 pm

    Love hearing from Mrs. MM. I admire your entrepreneurial spirit, photo and creation skills. I’m feeling inspired to dip my toe into my own creations of some sort!

    Reply
  • Nursepkj March 7, 2017, 1:54 pm

    Best wishes on your new place on Main Street! Your business intentions are so obviously from a place of truth. Thanks for the great article and updates. We look forward to hearing your future success and journey.

    Reply
  • Evan March 7, 2017, 1:57 pm

    If you haven’t come across him before. you might check out Chris Schwarz who started Lost Art Press, which publishes woodworking books:
    https://blog.lostartpress.com/2017/01/05/the-reasonable-dictators/

    Reply
  • Jimmy the Kid March 7, 2017, 2:06 pm

    I have found I am really enjoying this site. Like many readers (I imagine) I kind of thought I was somewhat alone in my thinking around consumerism, early retirement, how much you need to make in order to live successfully, etc. I have found with FI, it really does allow you to give much back to this world, hopefully helping make it a better because you are alive. Mrs. MMM’s venture also seems to meet her quest to do something that she values/that will help others, more so than to maximize profits… great stuff!!

    Reply
  • Max Your Freedom March 7, 2017, 2:07 pm

    Etsy has been a fantastic platform for micro businesses and entrepreneurs alike. Mrs. Max had a brief affair with Etsy when she was unemployed and had just delivered our daughter. She sold a handful of custom prints, and I was always amazed by how easy it was to use the store. What Mrs. MMM just demonstrated is that perseverance and curiosity are the key to her success on Etsy. Any business that turns a decent profit, and can support a household on a part time basis deserves some serious respect!

    Reply
  • Katherine March 7, 2017, 2:16 pm

    As someone who loves high end soap, but not paying for high end soap, thanks for the info that high quality bars (16) would only be about $20 and the time it takes to make it. I’ll have to search YouTube for recipes.

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache March 7, 2017, 2:33 pm

      Hi Katherine,

      That’s great that you want to give it a go! I highly recommend “The Soap Queen” on YouTube. She has a beginner’s cold process soapmaking video series. I probably spent about 6 months just watching soapmaking videos before diving in myself.

      I’d say the bars range from $1 to $2 in cost, if you purchase your oils and butters in bulk. If you’re just making one batch, you might find it to be more expensive. The cost is also dependent on the ingredients. Like, if you’re using fancy essential oils, the cost will be quite a bit more than if you make unscented soap.

      As a shop owner, once you add in the labor, the packaging time & materials, shipping, and all the other stuff like listing fees, Etsy fees, credit card fees, and the time to list, it really starts to add up. I’ve learned to value my time and realize now that the prices I’m charging are fair to the buyer and for me.

      But yes, I encourage everyone to look at the things they purchase and see if there’s a way to make it themselves!

      Reply
      • Hilary March 7, 2017, 7:59 pm

        If you are just making soap for yourself – rather than selling – you can be even more creative and frugal. I keep the fat from my winter soup making – boiling up beef stock bones. I find beef fat (even butter worked) improved my basic olive oil/rice bran oil recipes. I also add a tablespoon of castor oil to the mix as it helps with the bubbles and froth as the soap is used. I’ve also used chicken fat from my cooking in my mixes which worked also. Just make sure that you wash/clean the home produced fat well or it can leave rusty looking bits in your soap – still works fine with impurities, just doesn’t look as good and certainly not for sale. If you are using mixed fats and oils just make sure you run the recipe through the soap calculator online to see that you have the right mix for the amount of lye and so it cleans well, etc.

        Reply
        • Mrs. Money Mustache March 8, 2017, 8:12 am

          Wow, Hilary! That is hardcore! Thanks for chiming in. I would love to try your soap.

          I hear that tallow is really wonderful in soap and perhaps even more environmentally friendly than using palm oil, since it is a byproduct of the beef industry. I’m phasing out palm oil in my soap, but want to keep them vegetarian/vegan.

          And yes, a soap calculator is key! I use soapcalc.net.

          Reply
          • Carolyn S March 9, 2017, 4:54 pm

            Yes tallow is really nice in soap. I learned soap making from a friend who used tallow from the half cow she and her family buy every year. But definitely not vegan. :)

            Thanks for the great interview and other info in the comments! I appreciate the realistic perspective on how much time and effort went into building up your shops. It’s a good reminder that success does still take work.

            Reply
          • Technojunkie March 9, 2017, 7:11 pm

            If you want to buy tallow in bulk, US Wellness Meats sells tallow from grass-fed cattle by the 5 gallon bucket:
            http://grasslandbeef.com/beef-tallow-5-gallon-bucket-ships-separately
            I buy a few things from them that I can’t get from local farms.
            I’ve tried rendering tallow, back when I was attempting to make pemmican, but it’s a lot of work. It did wonders for my skin though. Having healthy fats in your diet does too.

            Reply
            • Mrs. Money Mustache March 10, 2017, 8:04 am

              Thanks for the link! I might try it out in my soap someday!

              Reply
      • Kim March 8, 2017, 12:36 pm

        Thank you for the recommendation of The Soap Queen. I too am interested in making my own soap, but for my family, friends, members and leaders. I am a Young Living Essential Oils Distributor. If interested in Young Living essential oils, I am on Facebook as “The Essential Oilist”. I want to provide my family with the purest soap possible. Enjoyed this article. Good luck in your business! :)

        Reply
      • Vicki March 15, 2017, 7:04 am

        Thank you for the Soap Queen video recommendation. I had a friend who used to make soap. I’m vegetarian, so I like vegan soaps. She used to make one using coconut oil, which smelled nice and always lathered up great.

        Reply
  • Bee March 7, 2017, 2:23 pm

    Your ethos of making and inspiring others to make instead of consume matches that of makerspaces well. And you have Tinkermill right in town with you!

    http://www.tinkermill.org/

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 7, 2017, 2:30 pm

      Yup, the Tinkermill is an amazing place, and started by a Mustachian, no less! (Scott Converse, who tells me he’s now working on a local media startup idea, a community-focused nonprofit newspaper to replace the aging tired model of commercial local news.)

      http://www.scottconverse.com/2017/02/we-need-local-non-profit-media-entity.html

      Reply
      • Gwen March 10, 2017, 4:23 am

        I was going to mention TinkerMill too! Turns out the guy that’s spearheading the effort in my town to get a makerspace up and running is one of the original members of TinkerMill. Having him be around to help start ours is invaluable since he’s done it before.

        Reply
  • Carrie March 7, 2017, 2:27 pm

    Nice job Mrs MM! My husband and I are foraying into this world ourselves under the guise of selling furniture made out of salvaged/reclaimed goods. Trying to keep building material out of landfills one mirror, frame, table, desk at a time.

    Reply
    • Heidi Alexander March 8, 2017, 2:22 pm

      That’s fantastic and sounds very, very fun. Best wishes!

      Reply
  • Sean S from VA March 7, 2017, 2:28 pm

    Love this article. Owning a business like this is about listening to feedback from customers, constantly thinking about small details (like photos and packaging for your soaps), and being committed to always improving….. Also known as being mindful! People with consumer-sucka jobs racing around in SUVs lack the time to be mindful (getting to a flow state, being happy (2016/06/08/happiness-is-the-only-logical-pursuit/ etc.) without extreme effort.

    For the FI/RE crowd being mindful is our goal, not more stuff, and I think that mindfulness is a key quality to running a successful small biz.

    Cheers and Congrats Mrs. MM

    Reply
  • Chris March 7, 2017, 2:33 pm

    Thank you for sharing this – it’s nice to hear about the journey and I respect your approach of keeping your shop disconnected from your blog identities :)

    My wife has been talking about starting a side hustle of homemade natural laundry detergent sold package free (in bulk). We try to buy package free where we can for eco reasons. Obviously this is tough through Etsy, but we had talked about using local farmers markets so people can bring their own containers. I’ll be sure to send her this article. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Reply
  • Liz March 7, 2017, 2:34 pm

    Memories… I did the self-employed soapmaker thing (branching out into other bath & body products, knitting supplies, and bulk soapmaking supplies) for about 10 years, until I had to close it down in 2006. Barely broke even a couple of years but that was a s good as it got. Unfortunately, that predated etsy by just a bit and selling online without it was challenging to say the least. Seeing your pictures makes me miss it.

    Reply
  • Bethany March 7, 2017, 2:37 pm

    This is very cool! I’ve tried selling soap on Etsy before, but after a year of selling nothing, I kind of quit. Mrs. MM has almost inspired me to try again…

    Reply
  • Smart Provisions March 7, 2017, 2:44 pm

    Very cool! Awesome job, Mrs. Money Mustache on your Etsy shop!

    Really cool to see your drive and interests pay off with the Etsy side hustle!

    Reply
  • Nate March 7, 2017, 2:45 pm

    Your wife seems awesome! That is all.

    Reply
  • Jennifer March 7, 2017, 2:49 pm

    I just bought a “crockette” (mini slow cooker) at a thrift shop with an eye to making my own hot-process soap. There’s fancy-brand soap I really like at the Big Green Hippie Market but two bars for $13 kills me, Mustachianly.

    I’d rather make the same or greater outlay for equipment + lye + fat + time, and learn how to do something new. (Saponification…how it work?)

    So funny/great to see that Mrs. MM had a similar journey in the recent past. Congrats on your success in turning research fun into commerce.

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache March 7, 2017, 5:13 pm

      Sounds great! For those who don’t know, Hot Process Soap is where you cook the soap for a bit, which speeds things up and allows the bars to be ready sooner. I’ve been meaning to try it!

      Good luck! It’ll be a fun learning experience.

      Reply
  • Sheryl March 7, 2017, 2:52 pm

    Great job, Mrs. MMM! I’m still in the full-time workaday world but I’m planning to retire in about 5.5 years and began a quilting business last year so I’d keep busy during retirement. It has been very successful so far and I’m loving it a lot. Like you, I never considered myself to be Creative and but making things is very rewarding. I hope we can hear about your shop when it opens as it would be fun to come down from Fort Collins to see it. Fabulous post, MMM!

    Reply
  • Brady Faught March 7, 2017, 2:56 pm

    Kudos to Mrs. MM, I find it’s common for many to simply resign themselves as ‘non-creative types’ and stop there. It’s a mentality that writers, musicians, artists, they’ve got ‘the gift’ and the rest of us don’t. But having dabbled in various creative hobbies (including an attempted Etsy startup making iPhone cases), I can safely say that just by starting and sticking it out for a bit, your mind jumps quickly on that wavelength and soon daily experiences start to give you ideas and momentum in that direction. We all have the potential to be creative like MMM, it just takes that initial leap. I wrote a short blog post on this if interested: http://www.treadinglight.ca/2017/03/05/auto-tuning-mind-not-feat-t-pain/

    Reply
  • Beriberi March 7, 2017, 3:03 pm

    I think that Easy success is mostly about being in the right place in the right moment. I have sold on Etsy in the past and can’t make the financial side work for me.

    In my specific instance, I was able to capture an area where there was a real consumer void – custom wedding veils. Excellent pictures and relatively rare product meant that I could command a premium for the service. 5 years later, “wedding veil” on Etsy yields 45,000 results. As it became clear that there was a lucrative market, people came in and undercut the price. They figured out how to get amazing pictures. I’m not willing to sell my time for what I can now sell veils for, so I opted out. Yay for capitalism, boo for me. I’m not bitter at the system – it turns out people are highly price sensitive (I am when I shop on Etsy, too).

    I suspect Ms. MM soap will not become profitable – at least not in the profit 5 figures range that the article promises. Can she really sell that volume of soap – at $3-4/profit per bar, she needs to make, cut, package, ship 3000 bars per year for 10k profit? Selling 60 bars a week requires more than just making 3 loaves of soap. You must also place them in package, print shipping labels, photograph product, list product.

    There are 17,000 results for handmade soap that costs between $5.50 to $6.50. Great photos, great packaging, great product all help you capture a disproportionate share of the market. However, the more successful you are the more imitators there will be. The barrier to entry on Etsy is so low – which is a feature, not a bug (yay capitalism!).

    I would never recommend that anyone expect that they can make serious money on Etsy. If they are lucky enough to find a niche, (I was once!) it will soon be crowded. It can be a great way to subsidize a hobby.

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache March 7, 2017, 5:30 pm

      Hi Beriberi – sounds like you had a good run on Etsy. I’ve heard from many many people that have told me I can’t do it. Jewelry is a saturated market. No way could I ever stand out. The Etsy forums are full of pessimists. There are many shops that don’t survive. Everyone says it can’t be done. I’m trying to say it can (cause I like to be different). :) I’m not saying it is easy, because it isn’t. My main advantage is that I have the luxury of being able to change with the times (meaning, I have the ability to invest in my business without being too worried about the profits at the beginning).

      I made it work by constantly experimenting and changing things up. I started making wrap bracelets, moved to stamped bracelets, made guitar picks, did some hair ties, and tried a lot of different things. My shop is so different now than it was when I started. Now I’m doing metalsmithing. I found what worked for me and what I was willing to do. And I DID make good money with it. It’s something I’m really proud of myself because, as a woman (or as anyone), there’s something to be said for being able to provide for yourself without the help of anyone.

      For your business, did you try to branch out from veils? Once you saw everyone else was doing the same thing, did you try a new product or a new version of your product? Often, packaging can make the difference between two products. The same thing can look very different packaged differently. I’ve learned that on Etsy you have to be willing to constantly change. This is perfect for me, as I like to constantly learn.

      So , yeah, back to soap. I have no doubt I can make it work. There’s wholesale, there’s gift boxes, there’s a bunch of different types of products (not just soap), there’s markets. The reality is that half my sales (and many shop owner sales) happen at Christmas, so that means hustling and offering what people want (awesome gifts!) at that time of year. So yeah, there’s a lot of soap to make and a lot to do, but I’m really enjoying it. Plus, I’m not doing it for the money anyway. :)

      Anyway, you’re right that most people won’t make serious money. I don’t think it’s luck or finding a niche that is the problem though. Both my shops were in ridiculously saturated markets. You just need to find a way to stand out and do things differently and keep experimenting.

      Reply
      • Mr. Money Mustache March 7, 2017, 6:00 pm

        Oooo, I knew Beriberi was going to get an earful for THAT pessimistic comment :-)

        It should be noted that even since August, Mrs. MM’s new shop (the one that sells soap and body stuff) has already earned well over $6,000. Many months of that were the startup stage, and things are really cranking now.

        So even in year #1, profits for that shop alone will definitely be well over $10k. The other shop made roughly $22k in 2015.

        I think B’s fundamental mis-assumptions were:
        (a) it’s hard to ship 10 bars per day of soap. Incorrect – successful shops can ship 100+. She is finding that the limitation is in her ability to supply it, there is no shortage of demand. New stuff sells out as soon as she lists it.
        (b) Soap is the only product. Also incorrect – she sells several other things, some with higher profit margins.

        Reply
        • Tracy March 9, 2017, 7:42 am

          Was the $22k the straight sales figure or the profit?

          Reply
        • scientist March 22, 2017, 1:42 pm

          I think beriberi is pointing out a very fundamental and simple economic principle, which is that profits are inevitably slim for anything with a low barrier to entry (e.g., only requires six months or a year of easy-to-come-by training). It’s easy to imitate attractive packaging, photography, etc. Only exception is if you can cultivate a special reputation for your product and protect it… this is what clothing retailers and jewelers rely on.

          I’m in scientific research, where we are also constantly required to innovate and stay ahead of the game, so I see the appeal. The margins are a little different, though.

          Reply
      • Beriberi March 8, 2017, 4:32 am

        I appreciate the thoughtful responses. You’re right that there was probably a way to continue or shift my Etsy shop and pick up sales. I dabbled in wholesale work but my product was not a good match. Fundamentally, however, I don’t think that I could continue to make product and be compensated at an hourly rate that was acceptable to me.

        It’s hard to find real world examples of the economics of Etsy, and I would love it if there was a follow up post with a little more granularity on your numbers. It’s more complicated than 1. spend $20 on supplies, 2. sell soap for $60 and 3. profit. You discuss hustling and experimenting – which may be fun for you. In the final accounting, I suspect that you are spending a lot of time on your soap and could likely do better waiting tables at the IHOP.

        I don’t doubt your success, but do doubt that Etsy is a good side-hustle for most people. I love purchasing from Etsy – I find that most sellers are willing to sell their time for much, much less than I am. When I wanted 28 personalized cloth bags, I could have made them myself. However, there were multiple people willing to sell them to be for ~$1 a piece. That is not the model of a long-term profitable hand-made venture.

        I can’t wait to hear more.

        Reply
        • Sarah March 8, 2017, 7:18 am

          I’d also love to see more numbers because I’m curious and love details. Time is difficult to account for, especially because in this case, much of it is enjoyable “hobby time” that would be spent on similar activities regardless of profit. But I’d love to see a breakdown of all the supply costs, including for the experiments, things that didn’t work out, etc. along with the profits.

          Reply
          • Mrs. Money Mustache March 8, 2017, 8:32 am

            Hi Sarah – the numbers will be different for everyone. And many many shops fail. I’ve seen a ton in the short time I’ve been on Etsy. People get down and they start to blame Etsy and they shut their shops down. Some people make amazing things and are truly artists, but they are not business people, so it doesn’t work for them. However, those same people might do great attending markets and talking to people face to face.

            The approach I’ve taken is: 1. do a ton of research, 2. buy a few things to try out and see what I like, 3. get excited and make more things, 4. sell things once they seem good enough, 5. keep getting excited and keep making more things and hopefully sell them (no profits so far… big up front investment and work), 6. start to figure my shit out, 7. slow down and start to focus, 8. specialize or simplify and build a product line, 9. profits finally start coming in, 10. success!

            All this takes a minimum of one year. Up front time commitment is HUGE, but it is also fun and I would probably do it anyway.

            Obviously, this is not a good model for everyone and it is not possible for most small businesses. Again, FI is key to making this model work and it is really fun for me. I’ve learned so many new things in the last few years. I can knit, crochet, make jewelry, metalsmith, make soap and other bath and body products, etc… I feel like I can learn to make anything now.

            I might need to get my blog going again so I can write about all this in more detail. I’m glad so many of you are interested!

            Reply
            • Maddie March 8, 2017, 9:16 am

              Yes!! Please teach us :)

              Reply
            • Valuenation March 11, 2017, 5:59 pm

              I think the big take away is not that its a “side hustle” for money, but for experience and personal development. Mrs. Valuenation and I loved the part about building community as opposed to some cash cow. If you can find a way to continue to learn new skills and develop your art while paying for the costs via etsy , then great for you I say.

              Reply
            • Barb March 28, 2017, 12:47 pm

              Without having read every response, my personal experience in terms to actually making money on Etsy or anywhere else is not just the sale of the item. So depending how into it you are, I would encourage you to have a business face book page, a blog. and a book if you are into that. And retired or no, four times the cost of goods should be the standard. In my case I gave up Etsy (and the attendant costs( and now sell only on Facebook.

              Reply
        • Mrs. Money Mustache March 8, 2017, 8:23 am

          Yes, you make a good point. Although working at IHOP and owning your own business are two very different things! :)

          I know some shops grow and grow and start hiring employees, and in theory, at some point, you might not do anything at all. This is probably true for many start ups, not just Etsy. There is nothing magical about an Etsy shop. You are actually just starting your own business and Etsy is simply a platform you can use to help accelerate those sales in the beginning. People think of Etsy as small potatoes, because the barrier to entry is so low and you get a lot of people on there that just love to crochet and are practically giving their items away. But, the reality is, you set your own parameters for your business and what your goals are. You are not necessarily competing with all those people that are using Etsy for their hobby. You are a business and you need to act like one to start getting ahead.

          One of my goals right now for my shop is to increase my per order sales. If I can get people to buy more of my stuff when they come, then it is a huge benefit to me because I only package and ship once, but I do it with more items. The packaging and shipping takes up a lot of my time, so packaging one little thing and shipping it isn’t cost-effective for me. These are the types of problems you have to continually keep solving to ensure that you’re not only having fun, but also not giving stuff away for free.

          I learned quickly in my jewelry shop, for example, that it is much better for me to stamp custom bracelets than to make a beaded wrap bracelet. The barrier to entry is higher and there’s a learning curve, but once you can do it well, you get paid pretty well for your time. I can stamp a custom bracelet in 5-10 minutes and my supplies cost $1. I sell those bracelets for $20. Of course, I spent a ton of time learning and the stamps I purchased are very expensive (especially since I got the good ones!), but after doing it for a while, the fixed costs get paid and the rest is pure profit.

          There’s always a way… you just have to find it. If you don’t find it, then you move on. Either way, it is a great learning experience. And, not needing the money is definitely key in making sure you stay ethical while allowing you to make up-front investments that can make you grow much bigger in the future.

          Reply
          • Lisa March 8, 2017, 1:19 pm

            I think your response to this is so perfect! I was making chain maille as a hobby and part of an amazing facebook group but so many people started an etsy shop, put up a few photos of weaves that everyone else had and then expected to sell them and make money. I haven’t tried to sell things before because I’m not interested at the moment but you need to hustle, set up something as simple as a facebook page to direct sales to you, make your products stand out and unique, get a following on instagram, learn how to make your searches more likely to show up.
            People make full time wages from things they have made so it’s all possible but you have to keep evolving, not expect it to be handed to you on a platter. I love your post and answers, also you are doing it because you enjoy it, the right reason not to turn a profit which I’m sure people see reflected in your products.
            A great new(ish) podcast is side hustle, that has stories of people starting up their own things and it shows you can earn money in so many different ways but you have to find what is right for you. Writing books is a great example you should be doing it to add value not to try and make money or people see right through it.

            Reply
      • Heidi March 8, 2017, 2:46 pm

        Right on Mrs. MM! Adaptability, curiousity, patience, research and persistence are so important in nearly any work endeavor.

        I am an acupuncturist and have built 3 thriving practices and sold 2. While many of my colleagues lament competition and reduced insurance coverage for our services, I hit the books, study with friends, take seminars, and research individual patient cases. There were many times I took on pro-bono work when things were slow just to keep the energy and learning flowing. It pays off not just financially, but in other meaningful ways as well.

        Happy soap making – and wherever else your imagination takes you!

        Reply
    • David March 15, 2017, 9:08 am

      Mrs. MMM’s numbers in the article point to a gross profit of $4.75/bar. Counting only production time that comes out to nearly $40/hour. Based on these numbers I think earning at least $20/hour is likely very sustainable after accounting for research and development, capital investment, overhead (don’t forget the cost of housing the shop’s inventory and supplies), and customer service.

      Reply
  • GingerMustache March 7, 2017, 3:06 pm

    Great learning about her experience so far.
    The future of the Main St. building is so promising. I wish my area had a community building that hosted you awesome folks and like-minded people interested in creating and sharing.

    Reply
  • FinancePatriot March 7, 2017, 3:09 pm

    This is the internet retirement police. Alert, alert, you are under arrest. I sentence you to 30 years in a designed retirement community in Florida, where you are to take your meds in regular intervals, and never work for pay again.

    Just kidding, congrats on your successful shop. I can’t wait until I get readers on my blog.

    Reply
  • Bob March 7, 2017, 3:23 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. My partner has been making soap for us here at home for the last few years; this is inspiration to take it to the next level. And thank you for discussing the research, time investment, and process of building up a successful store. Keep on!

    Reply
  • Jennifer March 7, 2017, 3:23 pm

    This is super inspiring! I have a side hustle of making scented soy candles and perfume but I’ve always been reluctant to jump all the way in because I still have a full time job (which I enjoy). So nice to hear about this success, congratulations!

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache March 7, 2017, 5:32 pm

      Oh, that sounds perfect for Etsy or any other handmade site (Amazon handmade exists now, in case you didn’t know). I follow a woman on Instagram who just started selling her candles this year and she totally blew up! Her candles are just really funny and fun (the labeling) and she’s killing it. Good luck!

      Reply
      • Lost in Space March 21, 2017, 10:44 am

        I’m kind of glad that you mentioned that you were a bit bored. I’ve been retired for 7 years and there are days where I’m a bit bored, and others where I wondered how I ever found time to work! And to be honest, even if I was offered my dream job I’d turn it down.

        Reply
  • Mack March 7, 2017, 3:24 pm

    “Hello there wife!” This made me laugh out loud. I’d have to quickly shield my face if I tried that one.

    “Real” soap is actually underrated, in my opinion. After years of chemical-inspired body wash use, our house now exclusively has a locally made beer (local beer too!) soap. It’s hard to describe the difference to someone who hasn’t used it, but you just feel cleaner – and it’s not much more expensive (with the added benefit of supporting a small business).

    You just GOTTA leave us hanging with this, huh?: “…we ended up stumbling upon an interesting, underpriced old building on Main Street, and are now about to purchase it.”

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache March 7, 2017, 5:34 pm

      Ah, the local beer soap! Such an awesome idea. I’ve started doing the same. Beer soap has great lather! Glad you’ve seen the light about your “real” soap. :)

      Reply
  • Dylan March 7, 2017, 3:24 pm

    Making and selling soap is on my entrepreneurial bucket list, but I have no idea how to make it. It would be awesome to learn from others in a community based shop like you described.

    Reply
  • AustinHorn March 7, 2017, 3:50 pm

    I love reading stories like these about people creating legitimate businesses from scratch with hard work and ingenuity. Well done, Mrs. MM!!!!

    Question for Mrs. MM – I’ve always wanted to try to make soap (but for only recreational use and not for resale). Now that you’ve spent alot of time doing it, do you think the effort, time, and equipment purchases would be worthwhile investment for someone who only intends use the soap and not sell? I guess what I’m getting at is if it takes me 6 months of 10 hours a week plus $1,000 of upfront cost for me to get a usable bar of soap to bathe my very average skin, it probably wouldn’t be worth it. But if we’re talking about a $50 mold, a few supplies and the first few batches are passable for my personal use, that might be something I might give a whirl.

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache March 7, 2017, 5:40 pm

      Hi Austin,

      Making soap for personal use actually requires very little up front investment. You don’t even need a mold… you can use any box or container. For example, you can pour your soap in a yogurt container and then cut the container to get it out. Or, you can line a cardboard box with freezer paper and use that. You can also cut it with a regular kitchen knife.

      The main things you need are: lye, oils and butters (depending on the recipe), and any additives you want (fragrance, color, botanicals). You need something to mix it in and you need a stick blender (or you can hand mix for hours – ha!).

      The first soap I made was a kit from brambleberry.com. It costs $36 and has almost everything you need (there’s a list of everything you need at the link). The box it comes in is the mold. You can find it here: https://www.brambleberry.com/Beginners-Cold-Process-Soap-Kit-P5202.aspx

      You do want to watch all the videos before making it though, as working with lye can be dangerous, so you need to be careful and know what you’re doing (also so you don’t ruin the batch!).

      Reply
      • AustinHorn March 8, 2017, 6:20 am

        I’ll definitely pass on hand mixing for hours!!! I’ll give it a shot – I’m all about learning new things – so it should be fun! Like you, I’m an incessant researcher, so thanks for giving me a starting place at the rabbit hole I’m about to go down.

        And understood on the dangers of working with lye – I don’t want to blow the place up or get Fight Club-like burns.

        Reply
        • Mrs. Money Mustache March 8, 2017, 8:34 am

          Keep me posted! You might get addicted. :)

          Reply
          • AustinHorn March 8, 2017, 10:34 am

            Will do!!!

            Reply
        • Bill April 13, 2017, 10:34 am

          That’s it! MMM is really a front for Fight Club. Soap, anti-consumerism, and all.

          Reply
  • ThriftyChemist March 7, 2017, 3:55 pm

    It’s great to see Mrs. MM back on the blog again. I get excited any time I see a new post, but one that directly involves Mrs. MM? It’s like copper-coated gold: bright with better bright beneath.

    Since I am working on getting into side jobs that will lead into self-employment, I am always looking for examples of success, and there’s no place like this blog and forum for finding them. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
    • Sam March 15, 2017, 5:44 am

      Bright with better gold beneath… are you a Patrick Rothfuss fan? :D

      Reply
  • RJ Bruer March 7, 2017, 3:56 pm

    As usual, an interesting and informative read.

    Who cares about the retirement police. I’ve always viewed this blog as a financial independence blog, not a retirement blog. This article is just another example of how achieving financial independence provides you with the freedom to explore, take risks, and live life to the fullest. Congrats on the success and enjoyment of your Etsy business Mrs. M.

    Reply
  • Soham March 7, 2017, 4:10 pm

    Great timing on publishing the post, currently doing my due diligence on buying $ETSY after the recent earnings miss…

    Reply
  • The Roamer March 7, 2017, 4:23 pm

    It’s so great to hear from Mrs. MM .

    I know you stressed the difficult parts of running a business. But it still sounds so easy on the surface.

    Either way it’s a huge inspiration.

    Reply
  • chermysl March 7, 2017, 4:34 pm

    Looking forward to the Main Street before/after photos…

    Reply
  • Emily March 7, 2017, 4:41 pm

    Congratulations! I’m very inspired by the trial and error here taking you to a place you hadn’t imagined but where you love being!

    I’m going to share this story with my local soap producer / friend.

    I have a small Etsy shop as well, but I went the other way selling .pdf patterns delivered automatically. I haven’t touched it really for a while but I get a “Ka-Ching!” or two every week. Love that sound!

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache March 7, 2017, 5:44 pm

      Oh, I’ve thought about a download Etsy site. Seems like such a low maintenance way to run a shop! And yes, the Ka-Ching (or Cha-Ching, as I like to call it) always makes my heart skip a beat. :)

      Reply
  • Joyatri March 7, 2017, 4:43 pm

    Good for you, Mrs. MMM for finding ‘work’ that fits your values. You’ve echoed many of my feelings about selling on Etsy (a side hustle that allows me to do my nonprofit consulting that I’m passionate about and be able to eat!). I have a vintage shop, so feel good about passing on items that are still of use to people. Like you, I’ve joined a community of vintage sellers worldwide and have learned a great deal and made great friends. You’re an inspiration for me to remember how much I enjoy this ‘work’ and the entire experience of selling, and to not just focus on the sales. (What a coincidence – when I was reading this blog post, my phone did that ‘cha-ching’ sound that happens when one makes a sale on Etsy.)

    Your community building idea sounds wonderful. Best of luck with it. I look forward to reading more about it.

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache March 7, 2017, 5:48 pm

      Mine just did a cha-ching when I read your comment! Weird.

      Thanks for your reply. I absolutely love vintage shops and I can see how there would be a great community of like-minded people there. It’s definitely hard to separate the experience itself from the sales numbers. I’ve struggled with that (especially at the beginning) and it’s still something that is hard sometimes. So yeah, it’s good to remember why we started in the first place!

      Reply
  • Melissa March 7, 2017, 4:59 pm

    Thanks for the inspiration! So often, those of us who dream of being “crafty” don’t even dare because it feels like we have no original ideas. Mrs. MMM’s experiments with bracelets and soaps proves that you can still be a maker, and still make a profit, and don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache March 7, 2017, 5:49 pm

      Yes, exactly! You can be creative within confines. :)

      Reply
  • Nicole March 7, 2017, 5:51 pm

    Way to go Mrs. MM! I used to have a few Etsy shops and gave them up when I had a kid – also because I did not love the CS side of things, which were somehow worse shipping from outside the US. Anyway! I recently started to make my own soap and love it, such a neat thing to be able to totally customize and then enjoy. Your soap looks fantastic!

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache March 8, 2017, 8:36 am

      Thank you! I do think being in the US is an advantage, although Etsy has changed a little and they are catering more to each market (like if you’re in the UK and shopping, the search will prioritize UK results). Also, the shipping rates went up a lot recently, so it’s less cost effective to purchase from the US sometimes. I bet you’ll come back around to it when your kid is older…

      Reply
  • Nicola March 7, 2017, 6:08 pm

    A timely post. I am experimenting with ebay and etsy for my handmade things and for reselling thrifted items. Month 2 and it’s going ok so far. Still reading, still tweaking, still learning. It’s a side hustle that I aim to become a main hustle over this year. Although I don’t often buy anything for myself, I really very much enjoy finding things to sell to other people :-). Do what you love barely feels like work.

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache March 8, 2017, 8:37 am

      Awesome! You should check out Amazon Handmade if you want a different sales channel. I am not on there, but I know many people have had great success with it. Good luck!

      Reply
  • John Olaf March 7, 2017, 6:21 pm

    Awesome post! I love hearing about people creating new things. My dad always said “To Create is to be God-like.”

    I’m really interested in doing some stuff for Etsy. I’ve been getting into leather working lately. I’ve made some sweet key chains, bags, saddle bags, etc.

    I was wondering though, do you need a business license to get paid through Etsy?

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache March 7, 2017, 6:51 pm

      Hi John,

      That sounds great! Those items really seem like they’d be great for the Etsy market.

      As far as setup, there’s very little to do on Etsy. They get your credit card information for expenses (shipping labels and monthly Etsy fees) and your bank information for deposits. I wasn’t even asked for my SSN or EIN until I reached a certain number of sales (I think if you’re forecast to make $20k in a year, they have you fill out the information). I didn’t even get a sales tax number until later, since I was rarely selling within Colorado.

      I’m not an expert, but I would think it would be a good idea to start a business, like an LLC, so you can track your income and expenses separately. Register with the secretary of state (and make sure your business name is available there and on Etsy). They will send you an Employment Identification Number (EIN) and then you’re all set. You’ll want to get a sales tax license too, for in-state sales.

      Having said all that, I’m guessing a lot of Etsy sellers don’t have an LLC registered and just operate under their SSN. Good luck!!

      Reply
      • Jason March 10, 2017, 7:53 am

        The biggest reason to start a separate entity like an LLC is to separate your personal money from your business money. This can help with accounting, although it can also help with potential liability down the road. Not to be a Debbie Downer, however making good decisions early can pay off big time down the road.

        Reply
  • TheHappyPhilosopher March 7, 2017, 6:32 pm

    This is awesome! Nice to hear from you again Mrs. MM. Interestingly I have always been interested in making soap. There is something very satisfying about creating something beautiful, useful and completely consumable. The chemistry behind soap making is quite interesting as well. For some reason I have the urge to re-watch Fight Club…

    Reply
  • mike March 7, 2017, 6:33 pm

    Thanks for mentioning the maker movement http://time.com/104210/maker-faire-maker-movement/

    Mentioning Bogleheads also–so true. I look at that website as a lot of very smart people, but the smugness/snideness about MMM depresses.

    Still hoping MMM joins the maker movement and creates his own electric bicycle.

    Mrs MMM, kudos to you. And your integrity not to use this site as a platform for your business.

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache March 8, 2017, 8:38 am

      Thanks Mike! I always love hearing from you. :)

      Reply
  • Maddie March 7, 2017, 6:58 pm

    Thank you so much for the inspiration. I am currently in the mifddle of starting up my own one person “maker” business. I’ve been feeling a bit anxious about it but reading this has really helped me calm down and actually given me a but of a kick up the butt. Although I have started investigating how to make labels myself, I was contemplating hiring someone to make me some. But obviously I need to persevere myself!! Speaking of lablels – a question for Mrs MM – I would love to know more about how you created your labels and which software you used. I love your logo – how did you go about creating it? I promise I have started investigating this myself (i.e Avery, Illustrator, Publisher etc) but I am I nosy and would love to hear your ideas about this as your labels and logo are awesome.

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache March 8, 2017, 8:45 am

      Hi Maddie,

      Yes, the make-your-own labels or outsource argument is a tricky one. I have always made all my own labels, but once I got bigger (in my first shop) I seriously considered outsourcing that part because it just took up so much time. I wasn’t able to find a reliable person to do it for me, so I just kept doing it. My first shop doesn’t have a logo.

      For my second shop, I purchased some images from a stock photo site and started playing around with them and came up with what you see (the tea leaf in the coffee ring). Photoshop is what I have always used. I wasn’t that great at it at first, but I’ve become much better out of necessity. I create all my labels in there from scratch. What I like about making my own labels is that I can change them anytime I want (like if I have a smaller soap and I want a smaller label or if I change the ingredients). My shop is always in flux right now, so having that flexibility is important to me. The other benefit is that they are one of a kind. I can also use 100% recycled paper for all my packaging and that’s actually a little hard to find (especially at a good price) from online shops – most big name printing places don’t seem to offer too may recycled paper options.

      Hope that answers your questions! Good luck with your new business… so exciting!

      Reply
      • Maddie March 8, 2017, 9:33 am

        Thanks Mrs MM, I really appreciate your answers – they help a lot. :). Yes, it is really exciting to start a new business and I have to say, I feel a lot more excited about it after reading your post! Like you guys, we are FI now, so your post reminded me that I can treat this as a learning experience – if it doesn’t work, it’s nbd – but if it does, it will be very exciting…. I could relate to a lot of what you said…. I haven’t been working full time for a while now and am starting to feel a bit angsty. I definitly don’t want to go back to corporate life but definitly want to be doing something “productive” with my time – the words create not consume are often in my head – I love that you mentioned that in your post.

        One more question! Do you do your own printing from home? If so what type of printer would you recommend? Or are you able to take the recycled paper with you to a printers and get them to print on that? Thanks again.

        Reply
        • Mrs. Money Mustache March 8, 2017, 10:00 am

          Yes. I print from home. I have a cheap inkjet printer and it works great. I buy recycled paper, print out the labels, and then cut them with a paper cutter (finally invested in that after using scissors for years).

          Reply
          • Ms blaise March 9, 2017, 12:05 am

            My brother started a side business with small batches of custom labels online. He did it for home brewing market but it is a good idea for all makers.

            Reply
    • LJH March 13, 2017, 4:19 am

      Check out YouPrintLabels.com. They have label templates for handmade products and you can order small amounts. I started with their designs and then moved on to their custom labels where you simply upload photos or graphics and you can change the colors and fonts, etc. So much fun and it’s free to try. Good Luck!

      Reply
  • Rachel March 7, 2017, 7:18 pm

    I really loved reading this article, though I do love most of the MMM articles this one speaks to me where I’m at right now. I started my first ETSY shop this year, but I was selling my handmade items in person and at Holiday boutiques last year. I quit my stressful job last year as well, which led to more time to focus on my handmade business. I have learned a lot about ETSY and this journey has been so much fun. If it was not for having some financial independence I would not have been able to pursue this. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache March 8, 2017, 8:46 am

      I love hearing from others that have gone down the same path. It’s great to be able to quit your job, but still have an outlet for creativity and that excitement of success. Enjoy!

      Reply
  • Adam Olson March 7, 2017, 7:40 pm

    Wow! This is great inspiration to get back into Etsy. A couple years ago I gave it a try for my photography but I think I gave up WAY to quickly. I did make a couple of sales but I just didn’t have the patience. Reading about Mrs. MM’s experience really has me wanting to try again. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  • Kindling March 7, 2017, 7:40 pm

    The Main Street shop sounds like a wonderful idea! While reading your hopes for such a place, I had a quick idea of how it could work. I’d like to share, but consider this a spoiler alert if you want to come up with the whole plan yourself (I’d hate to ruin a good experiment!).

    What if, in addition to selling your creations, you had a few spare sets of equipment in the store and allowed people to create their own custom bar of soap, with your guidance available as they need it? You could offer to let them make it at just a bit more than the cost of materials, and perhaps even offer to buy some of their bars (for a lower price, to be sold in the store later on) if they’re not ready to commit to taking home all 16. I think a lot of people would enjoy that sort of a low-barrier entry to trying out a new hobby. All the fun of trying something new and creative, extra help, and if it turns out to not be their “thing”… at least they didn’t have to shell out for all the supplies (or have it sitting around afterwards!)

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache March 8, 2017, 8:49 am

      Thanks for the idea, Kindling! We have a lot of DIY ideas brewing and I think our shop will be pretty collaborative. I like your thinking! The main issue with soap is that it involves lye (can’t make soap without it), so having a bunch of random people working with lye in one space is not a great idea. However, offering an organized class would be awesome and it is something I plan to do! Of course, there are many DIY ideas that would work with a simple, drop in model, so those are definitely things we will be exploring. Thanks!

      Reply
  • Jayne March 7, 2017, 8:46 pm

    Thanks Mrs MM. I didn’t know you could apply SEO within a website! I have a little business that relies on listings within other companies websites and it’s a tough gig standing out from the crowd. They want to charge me huge commissions to boost the ranking.

    Reply
    • Mrs. Money Mustache March 8, 2017, 8:53 am

      Hi Jayne – Etsy just has their own search engine, so it works differently than Google, for example. Each listing also has a title and tags and those are the things that are looked at for results. There are also other things that affect search, like if your shop comes up as a search result on page 1 you won’t have any other results on that first page (they like to spread out the love to multiple shops). It’s all just stuff you have to learn. And, of course, you can always pay for ads on Etsy, which is something I’ve played around with and ultimately decided I didn’t want to do. Etsy is great and they don’t try to milk you for every dollar like some other places might. Web sites will always try to get money from you for higher rankings, but organically rising to the top is always a better place to be.

      Reply
      • Suvi March 9, 2017, 7:05 am

        I think this is the thing that makes or brakes many of these endeavors: People wonder why they are not getting sales and automatically think their products are to blame, when it might be that nobody even finds their products in the first place. There might be a thousand competitors on the site, but the real competition is between those 20- something on the first or two listing pages. SEO is massively important. This was inspirational, made me think I shoul finally stop complaining the kids are too small etc. and just try something myself. Always so glad to hear from Mrs. Mm!

        Reply
  • Laura March 8, 2017, 2:01 am

    This is my first visit to your site, and I love this post! Handmade soap sends such a wonderful message to the world: keeping clean with natural ingredients, not using plastic bottles, showing people that you can make stuff instead of buying everything. I found my mouse hovering over the text, trying to find a link to MrsMM’s shop, until I read the text saying there was no link…I’ll find her shop myself! Thank you for the camera and lens recommendations too. I’m starting my second etsy shop selling French vintage items, my first one sells handmade items, so the new shop will allow me to learn about vintage stuff.

    Reply
  • Astrid March 8, 2017, 2:02 am

    I am following this blog for about a year now and you guys are very inspirational to me! I like it so much because it’s not just about being FI, but about living the best life you can. I wish you all the best with everything you do.
    Greetings from Holland!

    Reply

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