Saturday, March 8, 2014

Looking Forward

I’ve had to think about a lot of things lately concerning my store, life, work and the balance thereof.   This is going to be a long one, so if your cup is nearly empty, you might want a refill before reading the rest.

Some Background

When I first started on this adventure, now nearly seven years ago, I had no idea that the store would ever pan out, much less be this successful.  It has, and I am eternally grateful to my endlessly supportive husband, to my customers, and to whatever bits of luck, chance, or fate played into it.

At times people inquire if NightBlooming is my job.  It’s a fairly popular store and I do brisk business, so it isn’t a bad assumption. But no, it isn’t my “real” job; I have a normal 40-hours a week full time career.  I enjoy what I do there, but it isn’t the same level of fulfillment as NightBlooming.  I read somewhere that there are three types of work:  jobs (where you’re just there long enough to get someplace else), career (where you stick with it, do it well enough and like it well enough), and passion (work that you love). My day job is my career, NightBlooming is one of my passions.

Given the chance I’d make NightBlooming my full time job, and either stay part time at my current job, or quit it completely.  Making that sort of jump, though, often seems a pipe dream at best.

But lately I’ve realized three things:
  •           It might be more possible than I think
  •           To make it happen I have to take a hard look at things
  •           I cannot carry on as I am for much longer

NightBlooming, on an easy week, takes up about 25 hours of my time.  During very busy times, like Christmas, it’s easily over 40.  Which means that on a best-case week between my two jobs, I’m working 65 hours a week, worst case, closing in on 90.  Then there’s household projects, personal projects, and just life in general.  It all adds up.  I have no time to just enjoy things.  Every day, every weekend, is a calculated to-do list.  Falling behind means a snowball effect that is nearly impossible to recover from.

I haven’t painted in years.  I haven’t drawn in just as long.  We have a beautiful yard that I have never once just sat and read a book in because there’s always something else more pressing.   I miss my hobbies.  I miss relaxing.  I miss spending time with my husband.

I can’t just quit my day job, tempting as that thought is some days.  My shop, while successful, isn’t nearly enough to live on.  And I don’t mean “having miniature giraffes” lifestyle; I mean “covering my half of the mortgage and bills” lifestyle.  Then there’d be the additional costs of having to pay for insurance out of pocket, not having a company contribution to my 401k, etc.  The sacrifices of leaving my day job are substantial, but it’s NightBlooming that makes me happy.


One night about a week ago I was overwhelmed to the point of nearly sinking to my knees.   The one all-consuming thought in my head was, “I can’t do this anymore.”  The thought of everything I had to do and the things I wanted to do, but couldn't, was so intense I felt ill. 

But I am nothing if not relentlessly stubborn.  It’s gotten me this far, it can go a little further.   I came up with a plan to make NightBlooming full-time happen, and while it’ll take me a few years to get there, the knowledge that I just might pull it off if I work a little harder, and work a little smarter, gives me resolve.

That plan involves getting a little help in between now and when I can quit my day job, saving everything I possibly can to have a safety net during the transition period, getting the NightBlooming site up and running so I’m not losing so much in fees, and other farther-reaching things.

I also needed to evaluate what I’m paying myself, which brings us to:

What my work is worth

When I first started NightBlooming the vast majority of time was spent making things.  When I developed the formula I use to price things it takes into account the time spent making the item, my material costs, overhead, and fees.  With only doing a few listings and a few orders a week, there wasn’t a lot of back-end stuff to do, so I never factored it into a pricing scheme.

Now?  All those non-making things are the bulk of my time.  Writing descriptions, posting listings, answering convos, sourcing materials, doing bookkeeping, taking and editing photos, designing, printing, cutting and applying labels, and marketing are constant demands on my time.

I ran some numbers and I was shocked at what I wind up paying myself for all that background work.

~$4.50 an hour.

The fast-food taco place in town starts people at nearly double that. So, if I’m to make NightBlooming my job at some point, I need to pay myself fairly. 

Item Pricing

In 2008 I sold my first 2 oz jar of Panacea’s Hair Salve for $13.50, and the first ½ oz sample jar for $3.75.  If you check the store right now, six years later, those are still the prices.   Another great example is Triple Moon Oil.  The price has never wavered from $3.75 for a sample bottle with dropper, or $15 for a full 4 oz bottle.

I tried really hard to think of something I was purchasing today for the same price I was paying six years ago, and couldn’t.  While I’ve been able to buy ingredients in greater quantities as sale volume has increased, it still boils down to the simple fact that my pricing on my salves, oils, and other products hasn't been updated enough to cover the costs of inflation and the ever-increasing time it takes to package and ship it at the volume my store does today.  Even the new products are using an outdated pricing equation.

Shipping Costs

As you can read about here, Etsy pricing is a game of averages.  I give each item a primary and secondary shipping cost, and then hope that it shakes out to be about the cost of the shipping + packaging + fees for my postage program.  And usually it does.  When it’s over by more than a dollar or two I’ll kick the overage back to my customers.  But it’s also under way more than it’s over.  But I hold to my word and if I said a sample of Fire Genasi Hair Color costs $6 to ship to Japan, and when I print it all out and it actually cost me $7.85 (not counting any costs from my program or the cost of the mailer and other packaging supplies), I’m actually out the entire cost of the sample, and then some.  I will never go back to someone and say, “Hey, your package actually cost $4.82 more than I guessed.  Mind if you send that over?”  That’s my problem.  But I do know I short myself far more often than I’m kicking back overages and I need to address it.

Because I order so many things online, I know how much I hate inflated shipping costs.  I never, ever want to be regarded as one of those sellers who sets their shipping at more than the dead minimum required to cover my costs.

In that light, I’ll be keeping a closer eye on my shipping and will be making adjustments.  I don’t expect them to be drastic ones, but expect to see numbers change a little in the coming months.  As always, if I find I’ve adjusted them to high, I’ll bring them back down.

Pricing Change Head’s Up

I’m largely reluctant to raise my prices because I genuinely like my customers.  That they’re so happy with the things they purchase are what drive me to work such insane hours, and inspire me to constantly innovate new designs and products.  I don’t see them as faceless hordes to make money off of, but  people who I want to make happy who are, in return, happy to compensate me for my efforts and creativity.  

In the coming weeks I’ll be looking at how to adjust things on products that better reflects all the time that goes into NightBlooming, not just into making that one specific bottle of oil, hair stick, or pot of salve.

The last thing I want to do is chase my customers off. I felt it was important to let people know why I’m changing things before I do because I want my reasons to be clear and not have people think I’m being greedy or taking advantage of them.

How much prices will change,  on what, and when isn’t finalized yet.  I know that sometimes people have to save up for a larger order, or were planning on picking up something maybe in a month, but in a month if might not be the price they have budgeted for.  I didn’t want to spring changes on anyone, and wanted to give people enough notice to pick up items at their current price.

Know that if I quoted you on a custom order, that’s the price you’re paying.  Anything that’s currently in queue for custom orders or is already reserved is price-locked.

Let me know what you think

I’ve always felt that my customers and I have a pretty open line of communication, with people feeling like they can let me know what their thoughts are.  The reason this post is so long is because I want my customers to know that there's a human on the other end of all this working her tail off to make what she loves to do a reality; not some faceless, soulless business.  

So, please, let me know in the comments what you think, and I hope you understand where I’m coming from. 


  1. Hi Melissa!

    Thank you for this really honest post! I appreciate this a lot and I just want to wish you all the best for the future!
    I hope things work out for you because we all love what you do!

    Take care!

  2. Hey Melissa,

    First time commenting here! :)

    I just want to say that I think you have every right to chase your dreams, while also being realistic about supporting yourself, your family and being able to enjoy life. Your take on the whole situation is very insightful and sensible. Yes, it's important to keep your customers happy and it's wonderful to deal with you as a seller since you truly do make each and every one of us feel like we're working one-on-one with you. Thank you! *hugs* But at the same time, you need to be able to take care of yourself and everything in your life. And if that means increasing prices, so be it. The amount of time and effort and love that goes into your products is worth every penny spent, and to me, a lot more. I'm more than happy to spend the extra bit of money, or budget out more for big purchases, because in all honesty, your products are outstanding and deserve nothing less. <3

    To quote Bofur: 'I wish you all the luck in the world, I really do.' Here's to you being able to fulfill your dream to follow your true passion. To being able to paint again, read in the yard and spend time relaxing with your husband.

    Warmest Wishes!

    1. This is so beautifully written, I can only second that, for I have no words of my own! :)

  3. I may not speak for all of your customers, but I think I speak for most of them when I say that I don't buy your products because I think they are a cheap price for the value. I buy them because they work, they are high quality, you are a pleasure to work with, and I feel good supporting a small creative business. Those reasons won't disappear if you start appropriately valuing your time. I think the vast majority of your customer base would love to see you turn this into a full time endeavour, and will support you as you take the necessary steps to make that happen.