Hannah Browne is a creative living in Toronto. In 2012 she started Brooch Boyfriends, an Etsy account that sells brooches with the likeness of famous musicians, fictional characters, and even comic book heroes. Browne's been featured in magazines, sold fares at craft shows, and earned some serious extra cash by turning her side hustle into a business. I sat down with her to ask her a few questions about running a business on the side.
Can you start my giving a brief summary of how Brooch Boyfriends started? Where did the idea come from?
Brooch Boyfriends started with my love for craft shows and making things; I knew I wanted to be a part of that world. I was talking with someone about those Pet Rocks (that '90s craze) and thinking how funny it was that a rock became so popular. I supposed that if you attached a personality to your rock, it could become something special to you. Or perhaps it could remind you of someone you already know and love. Then I thought about how it would be nice to show off that person whom you love. And that's where the idea was born.
What drew you to Etsy as opposed to another selling method?
I was drawn to Etsy because it was (and is) such a big fixture in the craft community. It is the website for selling hand-crafted goods, and it really fosters a sense of community, both online and in the physical world. When you're the sole creator of a product (and company) and want to get it out into the world, Etsy makes you feel less alone. And everyone knows Etsy is the place to buy handcrafted goods!
How did you market Brooch Boyfriends? How long did you start seeing success/brooches selling?
I started by simply announcing it on my personal Facebook account, which got the initial buzz going. Then I started doing a lot of craft shows, and word of mouth was my best friend (still is). I started up my Brooch Boyfriends Instagram account a couple of years ago, and that was the added push I needed to get the word out. My product is pretty funny and makes people laugh, so I encourage shoppers to take photos, share, tag, etc. and the boys get a lot of attention that way!
What do you do for your day job? How are the two things related?
I am a graphic designer by day. The two relate because I love to make things. Brainstorming ideas, experimenting with ways to make it work, creating the actual product, and seeing people's reactions to it is the process I live for. It is a pattern I find in every aspect of what I do, so Brooch Boyfriends is an extension of that.
How do you find time to juggle a full-time job and running an online business?
It is hard! When I started Brooch Boyfriends I was working freelance so I had more time to dedicate to the business when the graphic design work was slow. Now, working 9-5 and coming home to do more work can be a challenge. Some days I am in the zone and can transition from my day job easily and other days it's harder. On those harder days, I sometimes have to give myself a break and put the work away. It is important (especially with creative work) to give your mind a rest. Thankfully, with the brooches, I am working with my hands making physical things, so I can zone out with some TV or a podcast in the background. It's a therapeutic kind of work, which makes it easier to balance.
What's one piece of advice you would give someone who wanted to start their own online store?
Do it and tell everyone about it! With all the varying online platforms out there, it has never been easier to start your own business. It may be scary to think of the associated fees you have to pay to get started, but they are really quite nominal (another reason I went with Etsy) and once you see your sales start to grow it will become the driving force that keeps you going. Make a few things, take some good photos, set up your online shop, make an Instagram account, and share share share!
How much money do you think, reasonably, one could make off of "side hustle" online business?
I think you could make a good $5,000 - $10,000 per year, depending on your price point and how much time you can put toward making and promoting. If you really put the work in and focus on growing your audience and sales, your 'side hustle' business could turn into your main hustle business!
What do you consider to be your biggest success in running Brooch Boyfriends?
In November 2014 my brooches were featured in Cineplex magazine's Holiday Gift Guide feature, which completely blew my mind. I never thought my little felt creations would make it into a magazine distributed Canada-wide, and featured alongside the season's newest tech gadgets. That's when it hit me that people really do seem to like what I am making, and it propelled me to a new level of confidence in how far these little felt boys can reach.
Any new projects in the works? Yes! My friend Sarah Vardy and I have created a zine called Feels. Each issue focuses on a different feeling; it presents true and honest expressions of emotion, both written and visual. We are currently working on our second issue, Lovesick, which will be out in May. Apparently, I can't stop creating things. Thankfully, I never want to stop.