How did you get started on Etsy?
As a person with a visual arts background, I heard about Etsy as a platform for selling art, but I never produced much artwork post-college so I always put off the idea of starting a shop. And in general, with each new drawing or painting I deemed a success, I would write off/ hate the work I had made previously- so curating a shop with 10-20 required pieces was daunting. Then I actually went to the Etsy site and looked at what some successful shops were doing; a few shops were printing found imagery over antique dictionary pages - things like medical anatomy or hot air balloons. I knew I could do something like that, but with my own twist.
At this moment, my perception of what Etsy was /could be shifted from a site where I could sell some of my art to a platform for a new business opportunity. In the following weeks, I spent a lot of time building my shop and creating products before finally going live with my Etsy shop. I thought I was going to be really busy initially, but I was wrong. Partly because it was the summer (generally a slow season) and partly because I hadn’t honed in on the right subject matter, I didn’t get my first sale until almost two weeks in and only three sales total in that first month. It wasn’t what I expected, but I followed the pattern of what was selling and listened to buyer’s requests. After my first holiday season with about 30 product listings, I was encouraged and had a real sense of what I needed to do to make the shop more successful, and two years later, I had my most successful month to date with over 300 product listings and more than 650 orders in December 2015.
What do you sell?
I sell tea-stained prints featuring digital creations of manipulated imagery and some original drawings and paintings. The majority of my sales are pet related prints like "Pug Riding Whale" or "Corgi on Narwhal.”
What is your process of making the prints?
I tear down sheets of Rives BFK to size and then stain them in a tea bath for 6-8 hours generally. After they are thoroughly dried (usually another 6-8 hours), I print the images on the paper.
Is Etsy your full time job?
Etsy has become my main source of income, but I still hold a part-time gig as a sign artist. Here’s some samples of my sign art:
Do you foresee it becoming your full time job at any point?
Yes, definitely. I think it’s sooner than later, but right now I’m able to keep a part-time job for a steady income and insurance.
Tell us about your shipping process:
The prints are made to order and ship within 3-5 business days from the date of order. I generally ship 2-3 times a week. Each print is placed in its own plastic sleeve and I mail using rigid cardboard mailers.
Do you use Etsy labels exclusively?
Do you have a label printer?
I have a DYMO label writer 4xl and it was one of the best purchases I made during my second year in business.
Do you go to the post office or have them pick up?
I always go myself.
How has your shipping process evolved since you first started selling on Etsy?
I used to save cardboard from work and cut it down to size so that I could sandwich prints in between and then mail in a yellow bubble mailer. And then I would cut and paste labels on plain white typing paper. Yikes- that was a painful and time consuming process. Now, I just order 9x12 rigid mailers and slap the pre-printed adhesive label on there. I also throw “PLEASE DO NOT BEND” stickers on there because I’ve had some that have been stuffed into mailboxes.
Are the buyers generally easy to deal with on Etsy?
For the most part, yes. Sometimes they have requests for notes or wrapping, and I try to accommodate their requests. Recently, Etsy has added calculated shipping so buyers can choose between standard, priority, and priority express shipping methods and rates are calculated automatically based on their location- this is extremely helpful as I don’t have to field email questions if someone wants to upgrade their shipping.
Let's talk numbers.
Here are some of my favorite stats:
•Business increased by 500% from 2013 to 2014, and 300% from 2014 to 2015•329,000+ views all-time for TeaStainedMadness
•430+ orders to locations outside the US
How do you do your bookkeeping?
Etsy has great resources and tools for tracking sales, revenue, tax, shipping cost, etc. That’s where the majority of my sales/stats are made and kept.
How do you do your taxes?
Mainly locking myself in a room for a day or two with TurboTax. I pay quarterly estimated taxes and that keeps me on track.
How much is your overhead?
As a percentage of sales, around 20-25%
How much marketing do you do? Are you very active on social media and how much does that drive sales?
I use Etsy’s Promoted Listings mainly during the peak holiday buying time from Black Friday through Christmas. Other than that I don’t market nearly as much as I should. I created Instagram and Facebook accounts specifically for Tea Stained Madness but haven’t really kept up with them. I think online social marketing is a powerful tool especially for Etsy shops and plan to increase the content and activity on social platforms this year.
Advise for any new artists or sellers on Etsy?
"Ready, Fire, Aim!" If you’re thinking about starting an Etsy shop, I’d say go ahead and start. I’m familiar with the notion that you want everything to be perfect before you launch, but I guarantee that things will change no matter how ready you think you are. So go ahead and fire and do the aiming as you go along.
Anything else you want to share?
I try to do a few art fairs/shows a year. It’s fun to see how people react and what sells in person vs. online. I don’t want to limit myself to only Etsy and I think sellers should try to find as many ways to get their work out including online, wholesale, shows, and consignments.
Elliot will be at CraftedVA on April 23 at O'Connor Brewery in Ghent in Norfolk. He says; "It's the first Spring version of the popular Fall CraftedVA event- beer, food trucks, live music, tons of arts and crafts vendors, and hopefully beautiful weather."
Click above or check them out on Facebook for more info.
Thank you Elliot for sharing your Etsy experience with us.
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