5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Own Success





5 Ways You're Sabotaging Your Own Success

Over the last few years, I’ve taught, talked with, and watched many hundreds (perhaps even thousands!) of people who have the shared dream of turning their handmade hobby into a thriving business.

Unsurprisingly, they all share many positive things in common.

A passion for making something. A love of being creative. A drive to evolve. The desire to make real dollars from their craft.

All of those things are vital if you want to reach your goal.

That being said, I’ve also noticed commonalities in those who are struggling to move forward.

These are the people who dream the dream, but just can’t seem to turn it into a reality.

Sometimes, there are outside factors that hold us back, for sure.

But very often, these people are actually getting in their own way. They’re holding themselves back, or sabotaging their own success – and they might not even realise it.


I want to share 5 ways I see these people sabotaging themselves – because becoming aware of the issue is the first step towards moving beyond it.


1. Giving up too soon

Let’s just get this out of the way straight up. If you’re starting a handmade business expecting to be making a 5-6 figure profit in the first year – or even 3-5 years – please don’t bother.

Even those people who seem to be an ‘overnight success’ usually have many years of experience behind them – whether that’s years of doing their craft professionally (like an illustrator) or as a hobby.

Unless you are in the infinitesimal minority who have an absolutely brilliant, unique idea, AND know how to run a brilliant marketing/advertising campaign to get your brand off the ground, it is going to take YEARS before you’re making really decent money from your handmade business.


Obviously this will vary on umpteen factors, such as your cost of materials (for me, silver is pretty expensive and eats into my profits, but if you’re a graphic designer, you’ve probably got all the tools you already need, and you don’t buy ‘materials’ as such), the time you have to devote to your business, whether you have another job, and so on.

Too many times to count have I seen someone open an Etsy shop, chuck in 10 or so badly-lit, badly-photographed items, and then throw their hands in the air after a month because ‘they’re not making any sales’.

Of course you aren’t. You’re competing against other makers who have been not only honing their craft for years – they’ve been honing their branding, photography, marketing, etc.

You need to up your game.

Not only that – you need to go into this thing with patience and dedication.

If you’re not in it for the long haul, don’t start.


2. Focussing on the negative

The perfect place to see this in action is on the Etsy forums.

There is some great advice in there, but it’s more often than not buried amongst the masses who are moaning about some change Etsy has made that’s apparently caused their sales to suddenly cease. Well, honestly, I haven’t been in there for years apart from the very occasional and quick dip in, so maybe things have changed… but I’m guessing not. (Also, just a case in point – I’ve been selling on Etsy since 2008, and not once has a change they’ve made so far had any real noticeable impact on my sales. You know what has? Me – working on my photography, titles, tags, descriptions, marketing and customer service.)

This is just one example of how people are sabotaging themselves by focussing on the negative.

If you catch yourself doing this – stop.

No-one is responsible for the success or failure of your business but YOU.

Stop blaming, stop complaining, stop obsessing over your competitors, stop focussing on the negatives, and start focussing on the positives.

If you stumble across a product that looks suspiciously like yours… click away and forget about it – after all, how do you know you came up with the idea first? (Exact copies of art and photography obviously exempted here.)

If your venue makes a change you’re not happy with (for example, I disliked that Etsy moved from a 3-choice rating system to a 5-star system, but I never once thought of leaving) – either stick with it and see how it affects your business in the long term, or start building your own shop on your own dot com.

Don’t focus on the sales you don’t get – focus on making the customer experience for the sales you DO get absolutely fricking amazing so your customer raves to all their friends about how amazing you are and how gorgeous your product is.

Focus on how you can grow your business in the right direction. See every challenge as a way to grow and evolve.


3. Split focus

I’ve made this mistake myself – starting too many new things at once, and not being able to give any of them the attention they truly deserve because I’ve spread myself too thin.

It’s an oh-so-common pitfall amongst creative types, because we have so many ideas, and we get bored easily.

So, instead of starting that yoga clothing business… we start that, and a dog-walking business, and a web-design business, and maybe work as a barista on the side.

Which is, no doubt, fun and challenging… but there’s no way we’re going to give each and every one of those ventures the time and attention they need to grow truly successful if we’re trying to do them all at once.

Sales follow your focus.

That’s not to say you can’t do them all – just do them sequentially rather than simultaneously.

Give yourself a timeframe to focus on one only (say, 12-18 months) before you’re allowed to start a new venture.

Nick banned me from starting anything new in 2014, because of my habit of doing this very thing. (I jest… sort of… I banned myself, too).

Make sure, however, you’re not falling into the ‘giving up too soon’ trap I discussed earlier.

Give it true, 200% effort in the time you devote to getting a new business up and running.


4. Too much ‘research’ not enough action

You’ve done the courses. You’ve bought the ebooks. You’ve checked out every single related book from the local library.

You have all the theoretical knowledge… but you’re yet to do anything about it.

You know I am a HUGE proponent of consistent investment in your own education – both personal and professional. I teach courses, I write ebooks.

That said… there is definitely such a thing as too much research.

There comes a point where you just have to take the leap.

Stop planning and start doing.

Yes, you will fail and fall down.

Yes, you’ll make an embarrassing mistake (or 20).

Yes, you’ll undercharge on postage at least once. Badly.

But until you actually step into the arena and start failing and succeeding, you’ll never make real progress.


5. Waiting for perfection

This is closely linked to number 4. Too often, people hang back from taking action because of fear.

They’re afraid of not being perfect. Of not having a perfect product, or perfect packaging, or perfect photography.

Nothing is ever perfect.

Get it to the stage of ‘pretty darn awesome’ and get it out into the world.

You can evolve. You can work on it, you can make it better.

Don’t hide your light from the world – let it shine.


Now it’s over to you – do you recognise any of these traits in yourself? What are you going to do about it?


Image source: Elisabetta Foco


If you want to turn your dream of having a successful online handmade business a reality, join us for Set Up Shop – a 30-day e-course where I take you step-by-step through everything you need to know to get a fabulous shop up and running smoothly. You’ll also join over 400 alumni in our private facebook group and gain invaluable support, friendship and understanding from those already turning their dream of having a handmade business into a reality!

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Van Den has written 388 posts in this blog.

Jess Van Den is the editor of Create & Thrive, and has been a full-time creative entrepreneur since 2010. She makes eco-conscious, contemporary, handmade sterling silver jewellery under the Epheriell label, and blogs about her jewellery and other beautiful things at Epheriell.com. You can catch her on twitter @JessVanDen.



Alas, I am a perfectionist. If not for Lisa Jacobs urging me relentlessly to go with the photos I had and open my shop I would still be dithering around. My pics are far from perfect and probably why I have almost no sales, but I am glad beyond expressing that my little shop is open. And as you say, it takes time to make a go of it. I also tend to do way too much research, but in spite of myself manage to get a few things done here and there. I’m about to turn my word press blog into a web site, any ole day now, and will let you know when it happens as that is on your list of must haves. I am so good at following directions! (ha!)


Definitely guilty of split focus. Plus when you put my day job on top of that, my time tends to get really thinned. Here’so to finishing something FIRST before trying out that next, new shiny object. 😉

Wendy Lohmann

I definitely relate to number 4. I spend WAAAYYYY too much time researching, which often merges into wasting time. I’m trying to get a little more focused as I have a loan to pay off. I’ve written myself a note stuck to my computer – to pay my loan off sooner I need to earn more money. Baby steps.

Gaye Harris

Split focus *facepalm*. So many ideas and opportunities and we want to do them all NOW. Must. Schedule.


Years ago I was talking to my younger ( but much wiser) sister about having a baby when everything was ‘just right’ and she told me that if I was waiting for things to be perfect I would be waiting forever. I have to keep reminding myself to apply this to my creative business as well. Sometimes you just have to take a leap. That said, of course I want to look as polished as possible but I know this will happen in time. Whenever I find an Etsy seller that looks super schmich and has like a million sales I always look back at their first few pages of sales and more often than not their pics are poorly lit and their products not so polished. But they put it out there, kept improving and that’s why they are where they are today.
By the way, I had the baby and she’s a work in progress too 🙂

Lee Ann

Jess this is an amazing article that I wish every artist on Etsy could read. I hardly ever give up so number 1 wasn’t for me but the rest were. I had some covos with another seller this week (customer confusing our shops retuning the wrong items.) she told me she was “jealous of my success”. I checked out her shop and was shocked to see that she is selling several items a day. I wrote her and told her how great her shop looks. Her pics and listings are excellent. The only difference…. I have been “woking it” for 2 more years than her. YEARS! I fit the bill in “SPLIT FOCUS” in so many ways. The biggest is that I have my hand in many things. If I see something that I love I have to know how to make it (jewelry) and want to desperately offer something like it to my customers. This “creative behavior” has been a blessing and a curse. I love your line “start failing and succeeding”! Very encouraging! Printable stuff….you know so I can read it again and again. 🙂 Thank you!


Aww, thank you Lee Ann! That’s quite the compliment 🙂


Split focus. I have always been terrible with wrangling in my brain. Although, it has helped me recently.

I’m a knitter and I love learning new patterns and stitches. I get bored doing the same thing over and over. So what did I do. I started a business where I have to make the same thing over and over. *facepalm* My wondering mind took a while to realize that my strength (and future) was in the patterns I was creating, not the actual finished product. So that’s where my new focus is. It might take a while, but I love a challenge.

Brittany Chapman

Great article and great tips. I have been guilty of all of these at least once (if not more than). My biggest thing is comparing myself to my competitors….I have to remind myself that I am my own person, my own business with my own product and I have my own way of doing things…and even if it may be different than the way my competitors are doing things, that doesn’t mean it is the wrong way.


Looks like I have a lot to work on when it comes to not getting in my own way!

This is a great article and is going to be so helpful as I refer to it throughout the year to make sure I am not allowing myself to stand in the way of the progress my business could be having.

Thank you so much! This is awesome!

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