Joanna Nurse, founder of Little Sasquatch Embroideries shares her experience and some pointers on how to turn your hobby into a side hustle.
I first began doing hand embroidery more than a decade ago, teaching myself using a starter kit I bought online.
After finishing a few of the patterns included I found myself coming up with ideas of my own, and after a few years of practice, I started selling my creations (pretty cheaply) online.
It was exciting to know that people wanted to buy things I had designed and made myself. But it was still just a hobby – and when life got busier I set my embroidery supplies to one side and shut my little online shop.
Fast forward to a couple of years ago: I was feeling a bit lost and bored in the evenings, and my partner suggested that I get back into embroidery again and reopen my shop. With that encouragement from him, I rediscovered my passion for designing and stitching my own patterns and re-launched Little Sasquatch Embroideries in February 2017.
This time around, I approached setting up my shop more strategically, with the aim of making a profit from my hobby side hustle as well as having fun with it. I researched what makes online shops successful and implemented tips and tricks I found about SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), product photography and user interface.
In my mind, as soon as I started imagining my big relaunch I was expecting overnight success.
It was very naïve and somewhat overconfident of me, but I really believed in my ideas and could visualise them catching on and going viral. If anything, I was worried about not being able to meet demand rather than not getting any orders.
As you might imagine, it wasn’t as easy as I’d dreamt it would be, and it took a lot of hard work and patience to get the business side going.
How to juggle and find balance in a multi-hyphen career
One big thing that had changed since I first opened my shop was that social media had taken off. It was now an invaluable way of promoting my work. I quickly launched my Instagram account @littlesasquatchembroideries and began posting regularly, following other embroidery accounts to see what others did. It was a steep learning curve figuring out how to attract followers beyond the dozen or so friends and family who got me started. It’s also an area I’m always adapting.
What I found worked for me early on was three things: posting once a day in the evening, using as many relevant hashtags as I could, and engaging in a genuine way with other embroiderers on the site. All of these lead to a level of consistency that helped grow my channels.
My initial goal when I set up the account was to reach 10,000 followers and it seemed like a slightly preposterous goal, but I’m now coming close to 15,000 followers. And an unexpected bonus has been discovering a wonderful community of like-minded embroiderers who support each other. Sometimes when I’m feeling burned out and don’t have any creative energy, browsing other people’s work and reading the uplifting comments left on my posts gives me a new burst of motivation.
Finding creative energy isn’t the only challenge when running a side hustle business; lack of energy and time, in general, can be a huge challenge.
I still work full-time in my day job, and it can be hard to fit in embroidery and the promotion of Little Sasquatch Embroideries on top of my 9 to 5. It was amazing to see my hobby turned side hustle business beginning to grow, but on the flipside, it became more and more challenging to not feel guilty in every ‘free’ moment: to embroider, plan social media content, check on all orders, refresh my website… the list felt never ending but my time felt more limited than ever.
"I started to scale back and adjusted my focus based on what I know worked. I pared down on elements where I wasn’t seeing a return on the time I was investing."
It was around this time that I found it difficult not to compare myself with the success of others, and I struggled a lot with FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I saw that other makers were selling out their shops, doing lots of commissioned work, selling digital patterns, sending newsletters, trading at craft markets – the opportunities seemed endless, but the time I had to dedicate to them was limited.
After a phase of taking on too much I realised it was affecting my quality of life – when you work full-time, you need to allow yourself time to relax, time to spend with loved ones, time to just not do anything but watch trash TV.
When I saw that the passion I had for embroidery motivated me enough to turn a hobby into a side hustle business, I started to scale back and adjusted my focus based on what I know worked. I pared down on elements where I wasn’t seeing a return on the time I was investing. My newsletter was growing gradually in subscribers, but it hadn’t led to any sales yet and I decided it was one thing too many. I changed it from monthly to ‘occasionally’, so if I have a bit of extra time I can put one out but there is no pressure from having a set schedule.
I still take commission orders, but only one at a time to keep them manageable. Similarly, I’ve continued doing craft markets, but I’m much more selective now. This winter I’m only doing two as they take so much time and focus away from enjoying the festive season. By choosing established markets which suit my demographic, I still get a big boost in sales from the ones I do, but without risking more capital by trying out new ones which might not be profitable.
My approach might not be the right approach for everyone, but keeping my embroidery business as a side-hustle is perfect for me.
It means I can use it as a creative outlet, earn back the cost of my supplies and a bit extra on top without having to worry about relying on the income. I have so much respect and admiration for people who turn their passion into a living, but my advice would be to find the balance that works for you.
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