Easing Out of a ‘Going Nowhere’ Career

work from home onlineI love what I do for a living working online.  Or at least I used to love it.  Now I like it, but the results of all my hard work is not as satisfying.  For two years I’ve tried to come back from the changes Zazzle made in summer of 2013.  Within a couple of months, my pay dropped by two-thirds because of those changes.

This is a post about my experience with working online at the print-on-demand company, Zazzle. It is not intended to put the company down in any way. I still believe that Zazzle is a good place to earn income online, for many reasons. I would encourage anyone interested to give it a shot. Their products are high quality, and they offer nice sales year round. I’ve received many reviews from happy customers. This post is about my own personal experience as I’ve made Zazzle my career for the past eight years.

It may seem like a fabulous opportunity to be able to work from home.  And it is!  I have loved working the hours I choose, usually getting up at 5 or 6AM and working all morning, with my afternoons left for gardening, cooking or other things.  I work 7 days a week, putting in about 50 or 60 hours and can still be home for my son. But there are downsides as well, which mainly have to do with lack of control. It’s nothing like having a regular job, where seniority counts, dedicated employees get ahead, and the pay is stable and usually increases over time.

learning When I began working online at the Zazzle site I had to spend a lot of time learning.  I didn’t have the advantage of youth and computer knowledge.  Everything was new for me.  From uploading and re-sizing photos and art, to learning about using social media, this old gal was in school all day long.

But the money began to come in.  And for about 5 years the income steadily increased.  Eventually I was making enough to support myself and my young son, while saving up for a house of my own.  I even wrote a page about My Zazzle Success Story.  Back then, working hard brought in more money.  It encouraged me to expand and do more.  For years my income continually increased, and I looked forward to ‘going to work’.  Then suddenly, things changed.

It’s something we get used to, those of us who earn money online.  We are at the mercy of the online platforms themselves.  I had many articles at the writing site Squidoo when it ended, but not as many as others.  My small monthly deposit to PayPal went away, and I missed it.  But that was nothing compared to my dip in pay at Zazzle.

Zazzle has grown tremendously in the 8 years since I began creating designs and selling them for a royalty.  One of the most encouraging aspects of working at Zazzle was the volume bonus.  It was a generous extra incentive to do well and get something in return.

Online there are no bosses who come by your desk with a good word, or yearly reviews to discuss your contributions to the company.  As much as I’ve made money for myself,  I’ve also made a lot of money for Zazzle.  Thanks come as a yearly general gift to the upper level earners.  I’ve received a ball cap, t-shrit, jacket and even some cookies.  Those things are appreciated, but nothing is personal. It’s so different from being part of a company where people know each other first hand. After eight years, I’ve come to understand how it works.

The volume bonus meant a lot to me.  That money was a nice extra chunk of change which I received on top of the regular earnings.  Suddenly we were told it was stopping.  Well, not really stopping, but the change made in how we earned it was just like stopping it, for me anyway.  Without that volume bonus, my pay immediately dropped by about $1,000 a month. (See the screenshot below.)  Zazzle gave us one month’s warning of this big, and devastating change.

zazzle earnings
Zazzle Volume Bonus Earnings Drop

Then the minimum royalty was dropped from 10% to 5%.  I read in the forum that affiliates wouldn’t promote unless our royalty rates remained below 15%.  Now we were making less for every item we sold on top of no bonus, unless we left our prices higher than the competing designers, which could of course turn customers away.

hydrangea wedding stationeryAnother change involved the invitation stationery.  There had been a 10 piece minimum purchase, but the change allowed customers to purchase one at a time, and without any type of watermark.  The majority of my income, at the time, came from wedding stationery.  All that changed when customers could buy one invitation, created just the way they want, with all their own text in the templates, and then make copies for much less than buying the invitations from Zazzle.  It must have been what they were doing, because my sales went from very good, to practically nonexistent. By the way, that is stealing, and to anyone who does it, you are taking something that is NOT free for you to use. It’s amazing how many people don’t realize that.

With volume bonus gone, royalties cut, and my best-selling, bulk money-making prospects diminished, my pay dropped by two-thirds.  That was two years ago, and it’s never recovered. I’m working as hard as ever and designing better, but making much less now for my efforts.

New wedding stationery designers have taken over the Zazzle site.  They are good at what they do, working in teams, and cranking out beautiful stationery at unbelievable speeds.  They rule the market place.  I doubt many customers ever see anything I have made unless they happen to come across it at one of my blogs.  There is no way I can compete with that. I try to be original, but brides don’t seem to want original.  They all want the same popular designs.

Because of this, I’ve moved away from weddings, which is a shame since I have thousands of pieces of beautiful wedding stationery that I spent a lot of time on.  I have a blog about weddings to promote my designs, but lately I am feeling like it’s not worth the time, and money to keep them going. I plan to shut them down. Why pay for something that doesn’t earn a return? I’ve given it two years, but the struggle to increase earnings continues with little hope left for that happening. I feel that it’s time to move on. With the huge cut in pay, I’ve been struggling to survive, and it’s not fun.

Zazzle owes me nothing.  And the fact that they can make big, life-affecting changes at the drop of a hat, with no warning, or time for us designers to adjust, is scary.  I had just bought myself a new car the month before the bottom dropped out. It certainly would have been nice to have been given a warning months in advance, to prepare for the pay cut. It has left me worried about my future with the company, and the detrimental changes that could be coming.

I can no longer count on Zazzle as a good source of income.  I work just as hard as ever, for much less pay.  That is not encouraging, and it’s not smart.  The problem is, I enjoy designing.  I find myself making more products, because it’s fun and challenging.  I can’t give it up, but must change my focus, and my expectations.

Its time to take stock of my interests, and begin creating what I enjoy.  In turn, I may find a following (customers) within my main interests of art, gardening and seashells.  It’s tough to say good-bye to all those wedding designs, but its like beating a dead horse.  I’ll have to continue my online work for the next year and hope that my lowered Zazzle income will at least hold steady.  Then I’ll sell my house and move south where the cost of living is easier to handle.  Zazzle’s changes are far reaching, and life changing, for those who have come to depend on them as a source of income. Live and learn.

My son and I have plans for a business venture that will be more hands on.  A business we can control ourselves. I like the idea of that. Zazzle must eventually become a secondary income for me.

Until then, and even after that, I’ll probably still be at Zazzle.  I have a new farm-related store with nature themed products, and an art store.  I’m not much of an artist, but it’s fun, and I occasionally do sell items.

Time to move on, and who knows what surprises may await.

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