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  • Writer's pictureAli Simon & JoDee Scissors

Former Teacher Turned Etsy Boss and CEO

From the classroom to CEO and Co-Owner of Studio Sisters. Today we’ll discuss one teacher's path to becoming a business owner, two big life lessons she has learned along the way, and how to capitalize on your classroom skills.

Reaching the Top 1% of Etsy Sales

Ali 0:34

I'm so excited about our guest today, Taylor Smith. Taylor is a former ESL and anthropology teacher, and is now the CEO and co-owner of Studio Sisters: a creative powerhouse that encompasses a top 1% ranked Etsy shop, The Studio Sisters Podcast, and an online coaching program for other creative small business owners. Thank you so much for joining us today, Taylor.

Taylor 1:08

I am so excited to be here. Thank you both for having me on the podcast.

JoDee 1:13

Yes, top 1%. That's really impressive. I didn't even know that was a metric. But now I know. That's really great. How does it feel to be in that ranking?

Taylor 1:23

Well, I will say like we didn't really... Etsy didn't tell us. We didn't get an email saying like you're in the top 1%. We just like sort of found out one day. There are different websites that measure Etsy metrics, and like what your shop ranking is globally. And so there are about 4 million Etsy shops worldwide. And we are ranked typically about number 7700, approximately, you know, that number goes up and down a little bit every day in the world. So in the top seven to 8000 of 4 million shops in the world is pretty crazy. And I wake up every day and I'm like, what, what does that real.

JoDee 2:02

That's really impressive.

Ali 2:04

And your your Etsy shop is really impressive, too. I love looking at your items. And now I'm thinking like what can I buy to send to people as gifts, because there's such unique artwork that you have there. And so many options for like gift giving, and personally like things that I would like. I'm a big Etsy person. Whenever I need something like custom, I always go to Etsy because I know it supports small business owners like yourself. So I'm really excited to chat with you today really about your journey and how you ended up on this path. So I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what life lessons you've learned from leaving your career in teaching and not looking back, and tell us about your path from teacher to business owner.

Path from Teacher to Business Owner

Taylor 2:50

Okay, I love talking about this so, so much. And one of the reasons is because I love to to tell people like I am not special. I'm not a unicorn. Anything that I did is totally possible for anyone else who also has that dream who wants to do that. So I'll just back up a little bit. In March 2020, I was in about year seven of teaching. And at this time, I had taught as a community college instructor in a dual enrollment programs. I taught both high school and college in anthropology and social studies. And then for the last two years of my teaching career, I switched to teaching ESL. And I actually worked for Rosetta Stone. I taught online before the global pandemic, but when the global pandemic happened, a lot of schools cut their budgets and because I worked for a private education company, a lot of those contracts started getting cut. So I began getting really worried I was going to lose my job. People were getting laid off. Even though like you would think this is at home education, this would be no better time. And my company was saying, "Oh yeah, we're getting all these new contracts." But at the same time, they're laying a lot of people off. And so just very uncertain. And that's not a comfortable position. But it was kind of familiar as a teacher because this happened every April, May, June when teachers don't know if their contract is going to get renewed. So it really wasn't that unfamiliar. But I was like, I'm just sick of this. I can't live with not having anything else as a Plan B. So I like tell my sister, I'm like we're gonna start an Etsy shop and just see what happens. And so I have to give all of the creative design credit to her. I am not an artist. I don't make anything pretty. I can't draw but she is um, she's a freelance artist. So this was kind of the first time of us like designing products with our own brand, whereas normally she works for other companies on other conditions. And so we built an Etsy shop and it came at the right time because of the global pandemic. So many people started shopping on Etsy all at once. And so this helped us get kind of a foot in the door. It just happened to be right place right time. Now, that doesn't mean you can't be successful selling products online at any point. But for us, this was just a really good opportunity. And so, initially, we sold a lot of different things. We were like, oh, we're gonna sell DIY craft kits and face masks and stickers. And just like anything we thought of, we put it on Etsy. And what a lot of small business owners learn is you start out really broad, and then you niche down and become more and more specialized. And as we did that, our sales increased. And we kind of went viral on Etsy. So really, really quickly, we started making like, 300 sales a day. And we were like, holy crap. And I was filling orders in between my online teaching lessons. So I would like teach my class, run into the other room, fill orders, and then run back. Or I used my office hours, I'd have my volume turned up on my computer super loud. So I could hear if a student, if I got the bell, a student came into the room. And I'd be packing as the orders in the other room during my office hours, because I just like had no time. And so four months after opening our Etsy shop, I quit my teaching job. And it was very scary. And I just kind of took a leap. And I did it. And I haven't looked back. And I've been self employed ever since. And so I wanted to share like two life lessons. And so I'll kind of mentioned the first one. And that is that being a teacher left me so qualified and so prepared for being a business owner. Like it just... there's so much that teachers do not realize that they do in a classroom that has left them entirely qualified to become an entrepreneur. One of those is multitasking, being able to manage a whole lot of different things every single day and switch from task to task throughout your day. And then the other thing I love that I did in the classroom that translates so well to being a business owner is being able to individualize and customize what I was offering to the needs of that individual person. Whether that's a student or a customer. Being able to assess, okay, here's the general service or general curriculum. Now what does this individual need? That's something that most people who are not teachers are not experienced in doing. So I will say that was my first life lesson was what I could take from the classroom was a highly valuable skill set.

JoDee 7:38

I think everything that you're saying in terms of abilities, there's a definite connection between multitasking what you can do the ability to be flexible and learn new things, and then applying that into the business world. So I do have a question one, like, Ali and I have just been goo goo eyes over what we've been seeing in the Etsy shop. So the graphic designs are gorgeous. The setup is gorgeous. You have themes. You've built a full business. So for people that are not familiar with how a small business works, you said that, you know, your sister does the graphic, the art part of it. So tell us a little bit about your role and what you do to sustain a successful business.

Taylor 8:19

Yeah, absolutely. So what I do in our Etsy shop, and of course, there's a lot of other branches now that we've added on to that. But what I do in our Etsy shop is I build the product listing description. So I write and describe what the products are. I am also kind of in charge of design, like, what are our photographs gonna look like? And then the most important part of I think selling on Etsy or selling anywhere online is understanding your target customer. So I spend a good part of my time on customer research, on keyword research. I do SEO. So I research how people are talking about things. What are their needs, and problems and pain points. And how does my product solve those things. So it's a lot of back end things. I would say that most people never see the parts that I do in the business. But that's how you convert eyeballs, your views on your products into sales is getting customers to fall in love with your product with a single picture and a few words. And then also getting it in front of people, building up the sales traffic that you need to sell on a larger scale.

Ali 9:31

One other thing I'm thinking about with running this small business is logistics. So you have a lot of moving parts here. You have the design element. You have the small shop on Etsy, like the virtual presence online. You talked about the SEO. What about the other parts like the packaging, the labeling, the double checking things that sits with me so much about like a teacher skill. So maybe you could share a little bit about how you've been able to do that for your small business and what like logistics look like on a daily basis for you?

Taylor 10:03

Sure. So actually, if a lot like your weekly schedule in the classroom. We have certain days that we ship on. It wouldn't make sense for us to pull orders and ship every single day. It's just not practical. So we typically only ship orders on, say, Mondays and Fridays. And then also batch working and prepping things in advance. During slower hours, we prep our packing materials, like we have stamps that we put on our envelopes and stickers that we print that our packaging sticker. So all of those things are batch worked out in advance. And then also we like to every single quarter, we have what we call a quarterly retreat. And anyone can do this for themselves for your own career, or your business, or anything like that. But we basically like sit down and we do a mini audit of what's going really well, what would we like to improve on that we know isn't maybe terrible, but we could do it better? And then also, what do we need to plan ahead for: holidays, sales, new products that we're introducing things like that. So we also try to plan as far out, usually 90 days works for us in advance to kind of balance all of those moving parts.

JoDee 11:12

I'm so glad that you brought up the data, the back end parts of it and the SEO and the keywords, because that's what teachers do when they are sitting in meetings, analyzing data, disaggregating data, making decisions. And for those that don't know what SEO is, it's search engine optimization. So they're keywords. That I guess, if you were searching on an on the internet for something, you would want those keywords in your product, so they populate in the search. And so that was a skill that I learned when I moved on to the digital side of education was now I have to become an expert in SEO. But you do a lot of keyword building when you're an educator. You do a lot of data analysis. And so it all had different words and different... it seemed ambiguous. But once I was like, oh, this is what it is, oh, I can do that. So I'm glad that you're bringing that up because that shows that those skills can be transferred on that digital landscape.

Taylor 12:08

Absolutely. There's so much in that back end that, you know, when you get started all the terms are different like you said. So it seems scary and overwhelming. But then a few months into learning how to run a business, you're like, oh my gosh, actually, I already know how to do all of this. And that can apply whether you're a blogger, or you are a teacher who's going to be a project manager, or you want to get into social media marketing. All of those things, you're surprisingly and incredibly already prepared for if you are a teacher and you don't even know it.

Ali 12:39

Absolutely, I think teachers we don't even realize all the skills that we have. And it's our responsibility as JoDee and I take this on, we want to tell everybody how awesome teachers are and what they can bring to the table in all sorts of careers and professions. And yours is just a great example of how you can build your own business online, nonetheless. And have it grow so quickly, because you took all those teacher brain skills and put them into practice. And of course, you have the artistic work of your sister who I think we definitely need to credit there too. I did want to ask you also about, you did share when you left teaching like you were, you were nervous about it about leaving your job. I'm wondering however many months later we are now, how do you feel about it?

Teacher Identity Isn't Lost, It's Enhanced

Taylor 13:27

So actually, that was my second life lesson I was gonna mention. And this next month, I guess we're recording now in May, and June will be two full years since the actual like my last day at work. And at the time, what I felt was worry, you know, obviously like, what if my Etsy sales dried up and I just have no money in a few weeks? What if I was just a one hit wonder on se and that's it. Which didn't happen. But really what I got caught up in for so long, and I think other teachers are gonna kind of feel this is familiar, is my identity as an educator, I thought, if I left my super low paying teaching job, then I wouldn't like have any kind of respect. I would have negative backlash from other people in my academic network. That my master's degree was going to be a waste. That I would no longer have the identity that I worked so hard for. And that was that was what kept me from leaving and kept me awake at night. And now two years later, I can say that the what ifs I built in my head life lesson are always scarier than what actually happens. And no one was negative about it. When I told my, you know, my thesis advisor from grad school, when I told my colleagues and people that I had worked with at different teaching jobs like I left this and now I make six figures on Etsy. And they were like, "Good for you. I wish I could do that. Good for you. Like, I'm so glad if you know, this is what is making you happy, good for you. And it's such an obvious transition with your background and training as an anthropologist to go on to work in business." And so I just want to say that looking back that moment seemed to cause me so much worry at the time. But I realized that my identity as an educator was not lost at all. It was only enhanced.

Ali 15:30

That was so well said I..

JoDee 15:33

Knowledge bomb right there, like,

Ali 15:36

yes, yeah, I don't know what emoji that would be. But yeah,

JoDee 15:39

We're putting... I know, can we click all the emotions to come up on the screen now, fireworks, balloons.

Ali 15:45

Yeah. And I was really intrigued by you mentioning that you were an anthropology educator. And I think that someone who's also studied anthropology at the graduate level, you definitely have a more deeper understanding of, like, you were explaining like individualizing for your customers, knowing like a different level how you can work with clients and customers from I think your background, and then obviously, being in the classroom that's just further enhanced. So I love hearing your story. And, and I think our listeners, I hope that they will also really, really learn those life lessons that you shared with us today, about, you know, taking the teacher skills and then also your life lesson about it's scarier in your head. I have a lot of that goes on to like the, you know, we have these these, like stories that go on in our head, well, if I do this, and this is going to happen, but you just have to do it. I mean, the stories are worse. I think 10 out of 10 times the stories are worse. Not even 9 out of 10. So I think it's reassuring to hear that out loud from a former teacher, that the story doesn't come true all the time. Those voices in your head that you took that risk, that leap of faith, and you're doing so well. And I'm also really just excited for our listeners to visit your Etsy shop because you have some pretty awesome products on there. And I'm sure that they're going to be sharing out all that information. JoDee, I wanted to pass it over to you in case you wanted to add anything else, and then I can share where to find her in the credits.

JoDee 17:13

Yeah. I think you really nailed, nailed those topics for our listeners. And really just appreciate one, you carving out the time to come on to our podcast, even though you have your own podcast, to share those key messages to teachers because like you, I had so much self doubt. And you know, I've talked about my self confidence plummeting, which was unusual, because I could go into my classroom and be competent, and I could be planned, and I could improvise, and I owned my position. You know, I owned it. And then when I went through that identity crisis, I was not owning anything. But I manifested this idea in my mind, that was totally false. Because I didn't have the right mentorship. I had I had family support. You know, I had close network people that believed in me. But I still manifested this idea in my mind that I wasn't capable, and it's totally false. Not true. So definitely thank you for boosting any confidence that could have instilled in anyone that would be listening today on the show. So thank you.

Taylor 18:16

Oh, I'm so so excited. And so like, joyful. It's really joyful for me to like, get on and share this message because I we do teach other Etsy sellers how to grow their Etsy shop and a lot of our students in that program are other teachers. And it just like makes me so excited because I'm like you have, you have no idea. You know, you might be scared of like, what ifs and the negative, but what if it's actually so much better than you even pictured? Like what if the, you know, dream that happens is actually even bigger than you had been imagined?

Ali 18:49

Awesome. Well, thank you so much Taylor, for being on the show today. And if you're interested in checking out Taylor's shop, it's Studio Sisters. You can find Taylor on Instagram at Shop Studio Sisters. And you can also find her on LinkedIn as Taylor Smith.

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