Meet Erica Voges, the T-Shirt Designer Bringing Roller Derby Spirit to the Small Business World
With two daughters, a full roller derby practice schedule and a coaching itinerary to juggle, Erica Voges proves it's not impossible to balance a hectic social life with the demands of a business. Her derby-inspired t-shirt store started small, but she quit her day job and now creates for a living.
We caught up with her to talk about getting her Etsy shop noticed, the benefits of being a workaholic and how to deal with running a business *and* having a life.
My business started on Etsy and that's still a large source of my income. I also now have a decent wholesale business and sell to boutiques across the country.
I have a degree in fashion design and originally intended to sell primarily original hand-sewn designs in Caustic Threads. I had a new baby girl and found that most of those kinds of products were too time-consuming to knock out during nap time and, ultimately, were not very profitable.
So, I purchased a screen printing kit several years ago and taught myself how to use it. When I started screen printing I didn't really have any expectations, but I'm thrilled that my business became successful enough to do it full-time.
Who was your very first customer?
I listed my first few screen-printed items on Etsy one Sunday evening. I really had no expectations, so when I woke up the next morning to a sale I was so excited! I sold a grey anatomical heart shirt.
When did you know your business was going to work?
A year after I started, I was unable to keep up with both my day job and my own business. I was even bringing in more money from Caustic Threads than I made at my day job!
My husband got a promotion that made me feel comfortable with our financial situation. I had to make a choice between working in an office or working from home making my products. It was a dream come true and that made it easy to choose working on my business full-time.
The final decision was made when I discovered that I was pregnant with my second daughter. Staying home meant that in addition to having time to put more effort into growing my business, I also could spend extra time with my girls and save money on daycare. It is a lot of work, but being successfully self-employed really makes me feel like I can tackle anything.
What is your most effective marketing technique?
The most important thing was finding a venue that fit my product and my personality. I sell hand-printed items and Etsy has a lot of built-in traffic, so it's a great fit for me.
If I'm consistent with adding new products, my sales reflect the effort. From there, Instagram is a great marketing tool and I have been using Etsy market research tool called Marmalead to help improve my SEO.
What has been the biggest surprise so far after starting your own business?
I discovered that I'm a huge workaholic! I have always had a pretty excellent work ethic, but it's so gratifying to see the fruits of my labor. It inspires me to work very hard, but it also inspires me to schedule times when I'm not allowed to work at all in order to reduce burnout.
How do you price your products?
My items are priced for profit at a wholesale level. This means I need to be able to make money when I sell my products to businesses at a 50% discount off my retail prices.
For a long time, my items were under-priced. It was a hurdle to wrap my head around the idea that I could raise my prices and still continue to grow my customer base.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I wake up just after 6am, get myself ready and have coffee with my husband before he leaves for work at 7am. I wake the kids up at 7:30am and make them breakfast and lunches while they get dressed. I send them off to school at 8:30am and from then until 10am I print out shipping labels, continue to respond to emails and heat press shirts that will be shipping that day.
The mail gets picked up around noon, so I try to get all my orders packaged before then so I don't have to make an extra trip to the post office. After that, I work on editing product photos and listing new items before I start printing orders at 2pm. My evenings are different every day. I either work until about 7pm, coach junior roller derby, attend my own roller derby practice, spend time with my husband or go to the gym for a few hours.
Besides checking my email, I don't work on Saturdays. I have roller derby for a large part of the day, spend some time with my kids before they spend the night with their grandparents, then my husband and I have a date night.
On Sundays I go to the gym in the morning, spend some time with my kids after that and work on orders in the afternoon. Right now I also have a book club. Every night, I check emails one more time before bed. My husband and I read or watch a little bit of TV online and we go to sleep by 10:30pm.
My days are definitely packed!
If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you would do differently when you were starting your business?
I would have started out with my current made-to-order business model and I definitely would have started learning about SEO sooner.
What would you like to learn today from a network of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?
I would love to learn how to expand my business by looking into different venues for selling my products. I'm also interested in expanding my stand-alone website!
Let's all help Erica out!
We know if there's one thing you all know about, it's where to find new places to sell your wares! What has worked for *you* if you have a business that's similar to Erica's? What hasn't?
If you have ideas for Erica, let us know in the comments below. :-)