Some Thoughts on Selling

A few things have lately got me thinking seriously about trying to sell items online and in person. First, the new EU VAT rule changes that affect anyone who sells digital items online. It’s been hashed and explained and talked about elsewhere; the end result is that I’m ceasing selling the Art Together e-zine as of tomorrow until I decide if it’s feasible to do it in a way that doesn’t run afoul of the EU laws. Yes, I agree—how and why would they enforce it in the US and for so little? But I also know it’s absolutely possible to track down anything on the internet and it’s not worth it. (It’s not worth it; I’ve been thinking that a lot lately.)

Then, a couple of days ago, I received a confusing two-page sales tax reconciliation form from the state. I have a license to make sales. It costs $10 and is necessary even to sell at a craft fair. I also applied for, and received, an artist exemption for the sale of certain works. Everything I sell falls under the exemption as I applied for it, so I don’t actually owe sales tax. But I have to send in the paperwork quarterly anyway, and now I need to run this form by an accountant because I’m afraid I’m going to screw something up. I have to list everything I sold in the state, and where, and when, and how much of that itemized list falls under my exemption, along with supplies I purchased, and lots of other things I’m not even sure of. I sold less than $200 worth of items at two craft fairs. At the second one, I didn’t even sell enough to cover the application fee (we’ll call that a learning experience). I’m looking at this form, thinking, It’s not worth it.

I get paid a little bit for writing the Home/School/Life column. I earned some money teaching this past year, some from the zine, some from sales of handmade products. I sold more physical items at craft fairs and through a local shop than I do on Etsy, but I make more profit on Etsy sales. Either way, though, everything added up amounts to no more than what my mother used to call “pin money.” It covers the cost of this site, of using e-junkie to sell the zine, of fees and supplies (mostly, as I also used lots of what I already had). The profit is minimal, laughable almost, but it covers some homeschool supplies, and every now and then I can use my PayPal balance to buy something for myself rather than charging it. Best of all, I can use that money to buy my husband birthday and Christmas gifts, rather than putting them onto our shared credit card, which he pays for. The money I earn isn’t necessary to my family’s economic health (thank goodness, because we’d be in trouble). But it’s done great things for my own sense of self. To be clear: we have always considered the family finances a joint venture, and that didn’t end when I ceased to draw a paycheck over a decade ago. His name is on the check, but the money is ours. Making a little on my own isn’t because I had no economic say-so without it. It’s because I have my own skills and talents and passions and no way or desire, right now, to manage a full time job. It’s about doing a little on the side, something I enjoy anyway, and earning a little, and the way that can positively affect a primarily stay-at-home-parent’s sense of self-worth.

But increasingly I’m feeling like it’s just not worth the regulatory BS, not for this amount of money. I’d need to invest the time and energy to create an actual business with a real, worthwhile profit, and I don’t want to do that at this point in my life. So I’m not quite sure what I’ll ultimately do. I don’t know what opportunities might be available to me once we move (please, universe, send us a buyer so I can stop living in limbo). But I think it’s a sad thing, that it’s this difficult to navigate. I really like interacting with people who, for whatever reason, take a chance on something I’ve created, whether it be the zine or something handmade. I received the nicest Etsy review a few weeks ago, from someone who bought an embroidered chicken pouch for his wife. I love the emails I get from parents who are so happy to have Art Together as a resource. Something more than pin money is taken away when people like me feel it’s not worth it because of regulatory headaches. That’s what I think.

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5 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Selling

  1. Dawn Suzette

    Oh! I have not even looked into the new EU laws. I hear you about picking and choosing what is worth it and weighing the returns (some of them not exactly financial).
    I am horrible at paperwork and this navigating of taxes, licenses, etc… has held me back in many ways.
    Hope you find the right answer for you at this season in life.
    xx

  2. Alicia

    Hear, hear! I’m still trying to sort through all the tax rules, myself. I sold at farmer’s markets in CT and in MA as well as RI, so it’s a lot of paperwork to keep up with. Do you have any recommendations for accountants? I’ve never gone to one before (we just did our own taxes) but things are getting complicated now.

  3. Carolyn

    Another reason I stopped quilting for customers a few years ago. By the time NJ took its bite and I paid the fees that enabled them to take that bite, I wasn’t making that much money. As much as I hate working full time, I do like the paycheck! How is the move going?

  4. karen

    The EU VAT law is crazy and I do think I’ve read that the IRS would uphold the tax law and yes we then get into murky waters, assuming the law is policed. I also believe that over time that law will be tweaked and refined. It’s unfortunate that it is squashing out small entrepreneurs like yourself.

    I am sending lots of prayers your house has a buyer and you can get on!!

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