This is a follow up story for Betsy DeVille. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hi there! I am Betsy DeVille! I run an eCommerce shop for folks who embrace secularism and atheism with a focus on what we have in common rather than snark and divisiveness. I opened an Etsy shop after attending an atheist conference and not finding anything I wanted to buy. While I am still a side hustle, I have doubled revenue every year.
My most popular products are bracelets, t-shirts, and Christmas ornaments. Many of my products feature a quote from a historical atheist or freethinker. With those items, I like to include a short biography about that person. For ornaments, I like to include a story about what inspired the design or another way the recipient can connect.
In 2020, I was able to double what I made in 2019. A lot of folks who have purchased ornaments from me in the past come back each year for something new. I start designing and sourcing for the winter holiday season in the summer.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
2020 was a year of lessons for all of us! All in all, I closed out the year feeling very fortunate. I was able to work from home full time and my very long commute time could be redirected into other activities. I was lucky enough to double business this year, even with the pandemic! I launched two new ornament designs. I have continued to experiment with print-on-demand, and this year, I published some ebooks. Ebooks, like everything else in the zany world of entrepreneurship, were a combination of fun + hard. I got to figure out how all the distribution platforms work and how to format for the best results.
For the new ornaments this year, I wanted to capture the beauty and reverence of evolution. I started with a phylogenetic tree diagram that included everything from single-cell organisms, to zebrafish, to humans and reimagined it like stained glass. I started with a more typical wrought iron-colored frame and it sold well. Then, I decided to try one in copper, and that was even more popular! While both are beautiful, the copper frame photographs so well, I think it made a huge difference! The lesson I learned here was to think about how I would photograph things during product development.
I also introduced Christmas cardsthis year and was delighted at the response!
I did not do any special new advertising this year because I was so uncertain about what the winter season would bring. I think I did a better job with my Instagram account this year but still have not built up to a regular posting schedule. I will get there.
I also started including a postcard with a postage stamp with each order that I ship so customers can send it to a like-minded friend. I think a lot of people felt lonely this year and I thought it was a nice way to help folks feel more connected.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
2020 was a year of lessons for many of us. All in all, I have been pretty darn lucky! I was able to stay safe and work from home and had all of my commute time to redirect into other activities.
Last year, I had some negative feedback about some ornaments, and that just would not do. I revisited the entire process, starting with design and materials, and ended up choosing another team to do some of the production work. This meant I had to place a larger order upfront - and absorb the cost. It was a new supplier and there was a miscommunication. The first order was wrong. I was so bummed - I had pre-paid for the order and also lost time. But, we were able to work it out. I absorbed some of the cost and was still able to meet my margins for profitability. Lesson learned - I need to be far more explicit than I think is necessary.
As the pandemic impacted workers, many print on demand companies did the right thing and reduced their output. One of the items impacted was my ornaments. However, the silver lining here was that I already had inventory ready to ship for my most popular items and no longer needed help with fulfillment!
On the other hand, I did have an order that got stuck moving from Spain to the UK during late December when an emerging variant shut down shipping for a time. The customer was pretty upset. I leaned into my customer service hard and in the messages, we exchanged we agreed that if this shipping shut down hypothetically saved some lives, it was completely worth it. They did receive their order eventually and gave a 5-star review.
I have maintained my early mornings and, without a commute, got at least an hour and a half back each day. I was able to spend that time writing and researching for my next project and researching and designing new pieces. Like many folks, I was not as productive as I would have hoped. We all experienced loss during the pandemic. Half of my team at my full-time job lost a parent. Countless friends and family lost loved ones. Like many folks, I found myself operating under more stress than usual and had to accommodate that.
All in all, I look back on 2020 with gratitude both personally and professionally.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
This year, I started developing a new care package centered around grief for atheists. Non-believers experiencing grief don’t have many resources and can feel bombarded with the afterlife and omniscient-higher-power statements intending to provide comfort, but they are very alienating. Grief can be overwhelming and difficult to understand. The care package will include a book about grief with research-based strategies that can help a person experiencing grief. It will include some thoughtful activities for someone experiencing grief. It will also include resources for their support network. I have a survey open for atheists or secular folks who would like to share their thoughts and opinions!
Get used to failure and embrace it.
For the grief care package, I am working with a grief and trauma expert, Jennifer Crow, to get it right. Jennifer is ridiculously qualified, with years of training and fieldwork as well as an alphabet of letters after her name! She has worked in grief, trauma, crisis response, hospice, and has even trained with the Irish Hospice Foundation on Loss & Bereavement. She also consults with companies to prepare or respond to a crisis or traumatic event. You can find her at CrowJConsulting - Grief Counseling, Crisis Response.
I am evaluating products and pricing as I expand into wholesale and will continue to help secular non-for-profits with fundraising.
As far as 5-year plans, I would love to have Betsy DeVille as a full-time gig in five years.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
My favorite book this year was SuperBetter by Dr. Jane McGonigal. It shares her years of research in gameplay and game design as a route to overcome real-life challenges.
One great resource I want to share is a YouTuber, Cinquanta Cox-Smith. On her YouTube channel, Cinquanta Cox-Smith is generous, honest, and encouraging in sharing her experience with publishing and print-on-demand. She offers great tutorials on integrating with Etsy and how to use new tools, like Canva.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
If I could time travel and offer advice to myself at the beginning it would be, get used to failure and embrace it. As T.S. Eliot said, “'If you aren't in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?”.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I am not hiring. But, I am looking for fellow makers to help with prototyping!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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