Learning to Take the Leap — Even When You Aren't Ready. Meet Jamie Kaczmarczyk
Jamie loved her 9-to-5 job, but she knew that she had more to give. After a frank conversation with her boss, she decided to throw herself into the deep end and turn her part-time project Kolorize into her full-time career.
Now that Jamie is successfully self-employed, we couldn’t wait to find out more about how she prices her products, what a typical day looks like in her world and what she's hoping to learn next from *you.*
I started Kolorize on a whim after my son was born, as a side project alongside my full-time job.
I worked at Crate and Barrel for nine years as Lead Store Merchandiser in Kansas City. The job gave me a lot of creative control and opportunity, but I got to the point where I couldn’t keep putting so much effort into someone else’s business. I was ready for a change.
So, roughly a year after setting upKolorize, I decided to make the jump and go full-time. I sold strictly vintage items to start with, but I’ve expanded to sell handmade goods, too.
Two years ago, I was looking for custom signs to decorate my home, but I couldn’t find anything I liked. Instead of giving up, I created my own designs! I found a laser cutter and whipped up some prototypes. They looked pretty cool in my home, but they also fitted with the Kolorize brand and I knew I could find a market for them, so I added them to my line. They’re now my bestsellers.
Who was your very first customer?
I’ve only ever soldon Etsy. Some people say that’s foolish, but I know that if I put my efforts into listing elsewhere, I’ll have less time to create great products and provide awesome customer service.
I listed my first item on Etsy in October 2011 and sold it within three hours. It was a set of vintage spoons and I wrote a note to the buyer saying, "Thank you so much for starting this dream of mine."
When did you know your business was going to work?
When I decided to go full-time, the business wasn’t really ready — but I certainly was.
A year after setting up, I had a meeting with my employers and I blurted out that I couldn’t see a future for myself at Crate and Barrel. After that, I knew it was time to put on my big girl panties and do it.
Every day is a challenge, but there have been a few standout moments, like having my jadite items featured in Country Living magazine. Those milestones are bringing me ever closer to my dream.
What has been the biggest surprise so far after starting your own business?
My mom and dad ran a small manufacturing company when I was a kid, so I was exposed to all the ups and downs of running a business at an early age. I knew what it would entail, but I never factored in the way that working on my own would affect me.
I’m an extroverted person and working every single day without any human contact — other than through a computer screen — has definitely taken some getting used to.
How do you price your products?
My prices are comparatively high, but I’m not aiming for the "Budget Betty" market.
I spend a lot of time sourcing unique, high-quality items and things that can’t be picked up in just any old store. I have low overheads, which means I can hold on to items for months if I have to. I don’t need to give stuff away to turn cash over and I’d rather get a fair price. I’m not doing this as a hobby — I have a mortgage to pay!
When it comes to handmade items, I’m always surprised at how low other sellers’ prices are. When I see signs that are similar to mine at a price that would barely cover my materials, it makes me cringe. As a peer, I want to tell them they aren’t doing anyone any favors and that they need to charge for their time.
What does a typical day look like for you?
After I’ve dropped off my son, I start the working day by checking emails, answering questions and posting on social media.
Today I have a bunch of orders that need to be sent out, so I’ll go into my basement where the inventory is kept and get the items ready for packing.
After that, I’ll head to my parents’ house, which is where my shop is. It’s less than a mile from me. My dad is retired, so I get to hang out with him every day while I cut, sand and paint any goods that have been ordered.
My son’s school bus drops him off at 4pm, which is when I stop working. I’ll get back to normal working hours when he’s a bit older, but for now he takes priority. When things get crazy, it’s great to have grandma and grandpa just down the road. None of this would be possible without my family.
I do everything in this business. I’ve designed every logo, written every note and packed every item. Some people think that’s crazy, but doing everything myself is the only way I can afford to do it.
I started with zero budget and don’t have a big debt monkey on my back, which makes it easier to breathe day-to-day.
If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you would do differently when starting your business?
I wouldn’t change anything. But, if I was better at analyzing data, I’m sure I’d be able to capitalize on more opportunities. I feel like I’m missing out on so much because I’m not great with numbers.
Social mediais also a constant concern. I know it’s so important these days, but it wasn’t even a thing until after I left college, so it doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m constantly having to force myself out of my comfort zone to engage with customers online.
What would you like to learn today from a network of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?
I’d like to know some basic ways to use Google Analytics or social media analytics and then learn how to apply the results to my business.
I know that some people out there are super knowledgeable about these things and I’d love to find out more!
Can you share some basic tips with Jamie on how to measure the impact of her social media efforts?
Which analytics tools do *you* use online? Are you a whiz at Google Analytics? Do you have a special trick for interpreting Facebook data?