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Level 6

From Laid Off to Learning How to Build a Business Online. Meet Etsy Seller Chi Yang



Chi Yang always loved thrifting, but she had *no* idea that her hobby would one day turn into her business. Four years after selling her first item, she's running a successful shop on Etsy — and dreaming of opening up her own local boutique.


Read on to learn more about how Chi sets goals for her business and what she's hoping to learn next from *you.*


Name: Chi Yang


Business: Owner of SimplyChi Vintage on Etsy


Started: September 2010


How did you create your awesome job?


I spent three years teaching before being laid off and, although I found part-time work, it made more sense for me to stay at home long term because we wanted more children and daycare costs were so high. 


My best friend introduced me to Etsy, and since we both love thrift shopping we decided to start our own shops!


We started out by selling handmade goods, but my friend soon lost love for Etsy due to poor sales. I decided to focus my store, SimplyChi Vintage, *only* on selling vintage items — and so far it's going well. At first, I sold whatever I could find in thrift stores, but now I’m constantly on Pinterest working hard to spot design trends before they take off.


Who was your very first customer? How did you find them?


My first customer was a very lucky woman! At the time, I knew very little about the value of antique items, so when my mother-in-law gave me an antique Mexican linen blanket to sell, I priced it at $8. To me, it was hideous, old and damaged.  Well, it sold right away!


I was super excited — until the moment I told her how much it sold for and her jaw dropped. She’d paid much more for it, and said it was worth at least $100. Then, when I went to ship it, and that cost twice as much as I'd planned for. I actually lost money on that first sale!


When did you know your business was going to work?


There have been lots of exciting moments, but I knew things were working when I started becoming overwhelmed with orders about two years ago. 


When I say overwhelmed, I don’t mean hundreds of orders a day — maybe six to ten. It’s easy to get overwhelmed because I run my business from home while also taking care of four boys under six years old. Fortunately, my husband lets me hire him from time to time when things get really busy!




What has been the biggest surprise so far after starting your own business?

I’ve been surprised at how important the story behind the piece is. People look at prices and the items themselves, but it’s the history of a piece that brings it to life and draws customers to my store. 


I spend a lot of time researching my pieces to find out where and when they’re from, because providing the small details can mean that I get the sale over someone else who is listing an identical item. 


I have to make my products stand out, because when people buy vintage, they’re looking for something unique.


How do you price your products?


I take into account the quality of an item and how rare it is, then aim for a middle ground between the highest price I could sell it for and what would be competitive. 


I used to sell little items I bought for $1 at $5, but I realized that once I’d factored in cleaning, paying Etsy, photographing and packaging, it wasn’t worth my while. 


Although this is a hobby, I’m aware that by running this store I’m losing time with my kids, so I need to get paid. I still make mistakes with pricing because there’s not always much information online, but I try to remember that's part of the thrill of selling vintage. When I find a good deal, I’m super excited — so I don’t mind returning the favor once in a while!




What does a typical day look like for you?


My days revolve around my kids. I start by getting them ready before starting on emails. I’m also more energetic in the mornings, so I get my packing out of the way first. 


My only set deadline is at 2pm, when the light in my office is perfect for taking photos. I aim to put my kids down for a nap right around then so that I can spend time staging each shot. Once I’ve finished taking photos, I’ll upload them to social media and work on promoting my products through Instagram and Facebook.


I go thrift shopping at least twice a week, and more when I can. I’ve learned which stores are best to visit — I live 15 minutes away from a flea market and there are tons of Goodwill stores near my house — and when it's best to go to get great finds. I also pay attention to the time of year. For example, in the Spring people are getting rid of old stuff so that they have room for more.


Selling on Etsy is an all day, everyday sort of thing. I like to respond to buyers’ queries within an hour so that I have the best chance of making the sale, but because I sell internationally this often means answering questions in the middle of the night. 


It’s hard to balance work and family when you want to provide good customer service and shutting off completely isn’t possible. Hy husband gets upset because sometimes I’ll respond to a customer’s message in the middle of dinner, but he understands that I need to be responsive. I have to check my emails all the time, even if we’re on vacation.


If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you would do differently when starting your business?


If I could go back in time, I’d approach it more as a business (rather than just a hobby) and set goals that I could work towards.


Now I set myself monthly and yearly sales goals. I jot them down and stick them on the fridge. It seems like such a simple idea, but it’s easy to lose focus if I don’t have visible daily reminders. 


I also have other, non-financial goals that I set. For example, because I hate packing, I gave myself the goal of trying to find enjoyment in it. I did this by writing small notes to thank my customers and adding gift wrapping to their items, free of charge. 


It’s the little things that help me remember that this is supposed to be fun!




What would you like to learn today from a network of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?


I would love to open a brick and mortar thrift store — not a Goodwill store, but a boutique where I could display my products rather than pile them in a cluttered mess! 


I’m worried about the financial risk, as I’m sure lots of other people are when setting up a boutique, and I’d like to know: When is the right time to take the leap and open up a shop?


Also, are there any small, free things I can do to promote traffic to my online store? I’m always looking up new ways to market myself, but I’d like to know if I’m missing out on anything. Does anyone here have ideas for how to get my posts on social media out to a bigger audience? Should I be using certain hashtags?


Do you have ideas that can help Chi take her business — and her online marketing — to the next level?

It’s a big jump from selling on Etsy to owning a brick and mortar boutique. Do you have tips for Chi as she works on expanding her shop and finding a bigger audience online? 


Share your ideas with us below! :-)

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