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When my business ideas failed, what I learned from my successful hobby

etsy-sign-barAfter a year of developing an online business and making a niche for myself as a real foods focused, happy weight loss nutritionist, I fully expected to see solid income and exponential growth, you know, the kind everybody talks about on Facebook.

But one year after launching my website, it was more of a wake up call for me…

I had developed a couple of signature products and was working on bringing my signature weight loss program to the masses. As I marketed, via Facebook ads, social media as well as joint ventures, I felt I had done an adequate job, leaving no marketing stone un-turned. However, instead of the snowball effect, I got crickets. It all seemed to happen in one month. I was launching an online program promoting via webinar and I was creating a local in person program I was promoting with a VIP retreat day. I felt I had adequately promoted the programs and spent quite a bit of money in the process.  There was interest…several people gave their info to be either included in the webinar or to be part of the retreat day, but when the final hour came… Zero sign ups.

I was shocked and disappointed. The wind was out of my sails, and I honestly didn’t know what else to try. It was only when I took a moment to compare my online business to my thriving online hobby- that the clues started to fall into place.

What was Working Well

Despite a week of perceived failures, weak webinar registration, poor webinar attendance, measly appointment generation from a large networking event and a postponed weight loss retreat, I was noticing that sales in my Etsy store were booming. My online craft store: BeeHappyLife is a place where I sell organic, natural body care products made with beeswax and honey from my hives (beekeeping being my hobby) as well as bee-themed jewelry. It’s mainly been my creative outlet, as I enjoy making things with my hands, but it was a great place to feature my goods online, instead of my closet in between craft shows.

I opened my Etsy store about the same time I started my online website business, and it was mostly quiet until I started to pay more attention to it. I noticed some of the top selling items had a unique combination of ingredients that people were searching for, and then I noticed that what made my products stick out the most was the photography. Etsy is a visual platform and interesting images get the clicks that drive and perpetuate the traffic and SEO to keep your items popular. At the end of last year, I had a hunch to list a new item, coconut oil toothpaste, since I was using it religiously at home, but I made sure to choose a unique photo. Coconut oil was also trending quite popular during the year, so I figured people were looking for it. And boom – within a week, I had 2 sales before the end of December.

I went back to edit a few more of my photos, courtesy of PicMonkey filters cropping, and noticed more and more traffic to my store, which was more that I could say for my blog website. In March, I had more sales than I had in the previous year and in the first half of April, I was just shy of matching March’s revenue. It felt like something was organically happening that I was not in control of. Unlike my online nutrition business, where I felt every product, program and marketing tactic was completely scripted with precise strategy.

The Magic of Hobby

What was going on? I know that Etsy is a microcosm and can’t directly be compared to running an online nutrition business, however I do think there are some key lessons to draw from analysis. With Etsy, I do a small amount of strategy in choosing keywords, showcasing the product creatively and using story to relate to ideal customers. Otherwise, I just let it be. But everything in my store is consistent, it’s all related and has the same feel. The “Brand” is there- customers know I’m a small beekeeper and use my own beeswax and honey and care about natural sustainable methods and pure organic body care products. There is a “feel” you get when you look at the photos and you almost want to be part of the story, the experience of supporting the beekeeper and saving the honeybee.

It’s not over-promoted, there are no “flash-sales” or fear & guilt inducing copy that makes you want to buy coconut oil toothpaste because your current toothpaste is making you sick. There’s no super duper mega value savings to elicit more sales. I’m certainly not the only shop owner on Etsy who is selling these products either. It’s just that feeling and experience that people are compelled to feel part of when they are exposed to the product brand.

Getting Out of Denial

Naturally I see how my business hobby seems so cohesive and artistic as a whole concept, when I compare it to my online nutrition business, I see fragmented sales pages, inconsistent images and “sales lingo” used all over the place. I don’t see my brand anywhere except a logo. I don’t get this nice feeling or sense of story like I do when I look at my Etsy shop. It was such a wake up call to see these two businesses side by side. Even though the name is shared, the brand doesn’t carry over without the follow through.

The deeper part of this discovery is that my nutrition expertise is not  my only opportunity in how I can help people get healthier. Weight loss is one way (arguably the most popular) to improve one’s relationship with food, but my deeper desire is to help women create a more harmonious healing lifestyle, with nutrition being one key component. By expanding beyond giving nutrition advice, I will also be able to incorporate the other aspects of improving well-being by sustaining a deeper connection to nature, creativity and health. I can fully incorporate my story of how I’ve made the choice to lead a happier life by incorporating my creative hobbies, connecting to nature with beekeeping and staying consistent with healthy eating. This is where the story is, where it gets interesting.

Following Failure

What is failure anyway? Just a perspective or learning experience, some say. I’ve decided to look at is as a moment of choice. I could continue to forge ahead on my same products and programs and just go harder, bigger, longer, more  more more. Eventually, it should develop into something. But in my moment of choice, I decided that the broken aspect was not in the marketing, a better “one-liner” wasn’t going to fill my programs. I knew it had to do with connecting my story, my brand, to my audience in the most authentic way that it felt like people wanted to become part of the experience. Nobody cares about a $99 special. But people do care about being part of a movement, a community, a sensation, an adventure. People want more than my nutrition expertise, they want all of me- my journey, my learning and whole life experience. My next mission…to connect the dots of my pixelated brand story.

What about you? Ever have a “wake up and smell the coffee moment” as your business grew? I’d love to hear about it.

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14 Comments on When my business ideas failed, what I learned from my successful hobby

  1. Lily
    April 15, 2014 at 6:54 pm (4 years ago)

    Amy, I applaud your honesty here. What’s so wonderful about this journey is that it’s moving you in the direction of what makes you happy (which also happens to make you money, which is no accident). I’m eager to see how you bring your love of beekeeping and your personal stories into your brand as a nutrition professional!

    Reply
    • Amy Hager
      April 15, 2014 at 7:47 pm (4 years ago)

      Thanks Lily! I’m realizing that people don’t just want my expert-side, they want all of me- not just what I offer as a nutritionist, but my personal journey and learning too.

      Reply
  2. Nour Zibdeh
    April 15, 2014 at 9:50 pm (4 years ago)

    Hi Amy,
    This is courageous of you to write and thank you for being honest. yes, sometimes we try so hard, only we’re trying in the wrong direction or with the wrong attitude. I hope B-School brings you joy, success, wealth, and clarity in both of your businesses!

    Reply
    • Amy Hager
      April 16, 2014 at 8:37 am (4 years ago)

      Thanks for your support Nour! Entrepreneurship is a constant journey of learning and self discovery.

      Reply
  3. Megan Randall
    April 16, 2014 at 9:00 am (4 years ago)

    Your brand will bring more and better opportunities your way. Think big!

    Reply
    • Amy Hager
      April 16, 2014 at 2:46 pm (4 years ago)

      Thanks Megan! Go big or go home:)

      Reply
  4. Kelly
    April 18, 2014 at 12:06 pm (4 years ago)

    Brava, Amy! There is so much heart-felt wisdom in this piece. I believe you are in the process of birthing something grand. I can’t wait to see what happens next for you.

    Reply
    • Amy Hager
      April 18, 2014 at 12:39 pm (4 years ago)

      Thank you Kelly! It’s like my voice is finally clear and coming out as the “real me.” Feels great!

      Reply
  5. Sarah Koszyk
    April 18, 2014 at 9:55 pm (4 years ago)

    Amy: thank you so much for sharing! Your story is inspiring and a powerful reminder of the successes people can achieve. We just have to be looking in the right direction! Sometimes we forget to recognize our awesomeness…and you reminded me of “looking at our moments of choice.” Thanks for the encouragement!

    Reply
    • Amy Hager
      April 19, 2014 at 6:24 pm (4 years ago)

      Thanks Sarah! It helps to take a step back from the whirlwind and take in some perspective from time to time.

      Reply
  6. Carole
    April 19, 2014 at 8:49 pm (4 years ago)

    Oh yea! Thank you for sharing this story. What a great reminder to me that in my focus on B School I can’t forget the music, art and spirit and bringing it into the story. hmm…yummy honey for the soul!

    Reply
    • Amy Hager
      April 20, 2014 at 7:49 am (4 years ago)

      Thanks Carole. Yes, I think the magic recipes is to incorporate the “whole you” into your business.

      Reply
  7. Udo
    April 20, 2014 at 6:04 pm (4 years ago)

    Thanks for sharing! I think you really need to make note of the fact that you spend money advertising something you have not tested or proven will sell… where as yiu experimented, for free, a new coconut oil product that you saw may be in high demand.

    This is deeper than just visuals and emotions. Which are really important, but you tested something in your hobby. It worked so you continued to focus and improve upon what worked. You did not do this with your nutrition business.

    Hope my perspective resonates 🙂

    Reply
    • Amy Hager
      April 21, 2014 at 7:24 am (4 years ago)

      Thanks, Udo. Hard to say- I experiment a lot with my nutrition business as well. It may be that what is popular face to face doesn’t translate as well online.

      Reply

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