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Ep. 38: Running a Handmade Biz as a Solopreneur with Kellie Ketron

Running a small business is not an easy journey to begin with, but then add running a handmade business as a solopreneur on top of it, well, we’re going to dig into some of those challenges and successes.

I am super excited to have Kellie Ketron with us today. She is the owner of Sally Forth Supply Co. and has been featured in several magazines for her unique products. I had the amazing pleasure of interviewing her on The Green Couch Project a couple of years ago and I’m so excited to have her back.

Welcome, Kellie.

From Dapper Geek to Sally Forth

Q: Tell me a little bit about that process of changing your name?

A: It was really nice because I’ve always wanted to make bags and I’ve always been an adventurer and I just didn’t know how. And as I was studying and learning up. It just made sense, you know? And I think that a lot of my Dapper Geek people understood. I still have people that will buy ties and I will make a few here and there, but I’m not gonna make something I’m not passionate about.

Balancing Work + Life

Q: How did you balance or work through, you know, a pretty severe illness and keeping your fire lit for not only continuing to run your business but changing your business and reigniting that as well?

A: I think transparency. I decided to make my illness and my struggles public, which helps a lot. When people know what you’re going through and that it may take a little bit longer for you to make something special for them, it just adds to the whole love of the brand I’ve noticed. And, it was scary to do that. But when I get a chance to make two bags in a weekend — and I made three last weekend — I mean, that’s stellar and what keeps me going.

So I think if you’re creating something that you still love and stand back and be like, man, that’s really cool. And keep going. And then you use your product, that’s another major one. Then you figure out what needs to change. You start thinking about all these ways you can improve and add to things. And if you keep it fresh and keep exploring and asking people for feedback, it helps you keep your ambition and your business growing.

People smile when they see my stuff and I use pretty unconventional canvases and try to keep things really unique but really fun, ’cause I think we all need a little bit more fun in our lives. But all those elements together make me continue to strive to do great things and to keep moving forward.

150 Square-Foot of Awesome

Q: So, when you submitted to be on the show, you wrote a line that I was like, okay, we’re temporally talking about this. You wrote 150 square foot of awesome. Let’s talk about this because I think this is one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard in my life. So tell me about 150 square foot of awesome?

A: Yeah. So, not last April but the April before, I bought a 30-year-old, 17 by 7 foot travel trailer that had a rotting bathroom and all sorts of things, but it was in my price range. So I learned how to plumb and had to take out floors and what materials are the lightest to put into a camper? Um, rebuilt the entire bathroom. Had to gut most of it. Built my own couch bed platform that I figured out how to make it so it would slide out . . .

So I built this house out of a shell and it’s still like living in an old farm house where there’s constant things to change. But I own it. It gave me freedom and independence. I had to live with my folks until then. Um, I mean I barely could work. And now I’m only working two days a week, but I’m independent. It’s enough that I can maintain it for the most part.

handmade Biz

Q: So, your entire business is built around working with your hands, which kinda leads me into the discussion around running a handmade business as a soloprenuer. Lots of people are going to be listening right now thinking, you know, I love making stuff, I love working with my hands, but holy hell, the demand that comes with that is pretty intense.

So I’d love to talk a little bit about your new endeavor and some of the challenges that are coming with that?

A: I have a degree in music business, which isn’t really applicable to what I’m doing right now, but I do have that business background. So I think that has helped. But anybody, I mean, shoot, you can learn how to do so many things with the internet.

So I had that going for me. And I’m also not afraid to ask people how to do things. I don’t find it demeaning or anything to go up to somebody like, you know, do you mind sharing with me how you took these steps to get to this point?

And so, you know, trying to figure out pricing, doing all the research on the mathematics, how much fabric I need, all while trying to maintain some other orders. And then your social media, which I do a lot of preplanning for that. I use my Google calendar for every project and I plan out how long I think it’s gonna take. I have alarms that tell me when I need to be on task and when it’s really crunch time.

Setting prices

Q: How did you find a formula on how to charge properly, not only for your time but for your materials as well?

A: Yeah. So again, I asked a lot of folks about that. And at this point, I’m in six years of running my own handmade business where I’ve increased what I make hourly based on my skill level and price points that I have now. And so, like you said, my biggest mistake was giving people things or giving them such a discount. Things you have to value your time and your skill. If you undervalue yourself, it’s a disservice. And if people don’t respect what you do, then don’t give them anything! [laughter] They don’t deserve it.

I went through and talked to other handmakers, but I’ve done some wholesale things like a couple of my friends, they make candles specifically for weddings or events and talk to them about their pricing formula. And then I would talk to some other friends that do other handmade textiles and wearables and garments and find out, you know, what they did and how they did their pricing.

And it looks scary because when you wholesale — it’s the discount beyond what the retail is. And everybody has their own wholesale idea. I mean you can set it to whatever you want. Um, I think it’s usually anywhere between 30-50% off, um, depending on the situation.

But what I had to do is set how much would this be if I showed it in the shop or if I showed it on my own. You’ll look at the numbers and go, holy smokes, somebody is ordering this many items. That’s a lot of money. Well, they’re ordering it from you because they know that you’re a handmaker and they understand that you’re a small business and they choose to support that. So you can’t be afraid of the numbers that you come up with.

Time Management

Q: You talked a little bit about the time management, too. So when you’re a creator, that spark is on. And when it’s off — it’s off. So how do you manage deciding how much time you dedicate to creating and sewing and networking and all that stuff?

A: I have to base things on how my body feels. Some days my brain is very unclear, so I don’t want to make a product that I can’t 100% stand behind. So on those days I will work on creating an ad or set up an idea of the new photo shoots for Instagram. So usually when I take photos and things, I set up maybe 10 to 15 items that I’m going to photograph and then do two different situations. And then that way I have two kind of campaign types of things.

And so then on the days that I’m not feeling well, I would edit, come up with some funny like copywrite underneath it. They’re not always great, but sometimes it makes somebody laugh or it makes me laugh. And then just going through my calendar, maybe streamline some things and I try not to stress. If there’s like a wedding coming up, then I will push through and make sure that happens. But when it’s somebody who wants a bag and they’re like, okay, it’s no rush, then I’ll send them an email that says, Hey, I’m working, I’ve got your stuff on the table, I’m going to get back to it.

With having the honesty and the transparency, knowing that somebody knows you’re still thinking about them and that it’s happening. If you bog yourself down on the bad days, it’ll really take a toll.

Kellie’s Advice

Q: Well Kellie, this has been absolutely incredible, inspiring, and informative. What advice would you give other handmade small businesses?

A: If you have an idea, go for it. And it doesn’t have to be the whole thing at once, you know, take it, take it in tiny bites. And the whole how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Don’t compare yourself to anybody else when it comes to success.

Oh well they’re able to do this much or they’re able to do that much. Everybody comes at life with different levels and positions and if it’s something you want to do then make one thing and start there and talk to people about your process. And if you see another maker doing something that you like, talk to them and learn. It’s consistently learning about yourself and you have to keep learning about your trade, your skills, and connecting with people.

What Does Gutsy Mean to You?

Q: We talked about gutsy a whole lot, but I’m curious what being gutsy means to you?

A: I think it was probably the same thing on The Green Couch Project where it’s like, don’t be afraid of success or, you know, don’t block your own success because you’re scared. You have to just try. Don’t be afraid to fail if it’s something that you want to try. Go for it. Don’t stand in your own way.

Connect With Kellie

Website  |  sallyforthsupplyco.com

Instagram  |  @SallyForthSupplyCo

Thank You, Gutsy Tribe!

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