Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter,maker,artist…
I was raised in a household full of drying herbs, potted plants, and folk stories. I’ve always felt a strong pull to the green world, and to the Irish and Menominee legends I grew up hearing. As I got older, I felt that there was a disconnect between the modern world and the stories I loved; today’s world treats them either as quaint or venerates them as ‘wisdom of the ancients’. So I was drawn to digging deeper into the history of the interactions between the natural world and humanity, finding the places where they intertwined, and creating art that brings that history and relationship to life for a modern audience. I focus on making illustrated books and oracle decks reflecting this relationship.
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
I was starting to sell at shows, and a friend told me ‘hey, if you want to make more sales, try getting on Etsy.’ It was all uphill from there!
What products do you sell, what type of materials are used in your creations, how do you design your products, what makes your products stand out ?
Currently I have an art series illustrating a collection of Old Irish poetry that used to be part of the Irish law system. These art pieces are collected in a fully annotated book, and available in a number of types of merchandise as stand-alone items. My second series focuses on the Victorian Language of Flowers; it is available as a fully illustrated book, a dual service card game/oracle deck, and as merchandise. My third series explores the Irish Ogham–known as the Alphabet of Trees–and there is an oracle deck, book set, and merchandise available showing this art. The fourth series, Art from the Garden, is ongoing and revolves around the themes of living in the green world and being a gardener.
Work can start in one of two ways: either I see an image that charms me, or I see an empty place in the world. For instance, I recently snapped a photo of a very annoyed toad. He’ll be a piece of art soon. Smoke and Roses, my Victorian language of flowers project, grew out of a curiosity about the history of plants arriving in Europe and becoming part of European culture, coupled with an irritation for the messy, undocumented sources on the subject I’d read in the past.
All my art is done digitally, using several programs. I prefer digital art because I live in a small apartment, and I have a smaller footprint when I’m doing digital work. That said, I strive for the look and feel of felt tip markers, paint, and watercolors.
Once my art is finished and formatted, I have it professionally printed and then hand-pack it for shipping.
How was your experience in learning to craft, are you self-taught or did you have a mentor, how long did it take for you to be satisfied with your creations
I’ve been playing with art since middle school, but I’ve only gotten ‘serious’ in the last eight years. I’ve always been self taught. Learning first in pen and ink, then in colored pencils, I moved to digital art because, honestly, I was broke out of college and was spending too much on supplies! It can take years before I’m really happy with an idea and see it fully executed, as in the case of my ogham project. On the other hand, I painted ‘Life’s a Garden’ in an afternoon, and it’s made me smile since! It really depends on the subject matter; some projects just have to mature.
What was your original goal when you opened up an Etsy shop? What impacted your decision to start selling online? Do you consider online selling as a side-job, full-time job or extra income to pay for your hobby?
Originally I was hoping to make a little extra money in the winters, since I am a residential landscaper by trade and have three months off in the winter season. But it’s become a thriving side business that gives me a lot of joy!
Did you have any fears or reservations before opening up your Etsy shop? Were you worried about profitability or product competitiveness? What are some concerns and questions you had before you got started? How did you overcome them?
I was a little afraid that it would be more of a hassle than I could manage, and that I wouldn’t be able to keep at it. But in the end, the side job has folded easily into my day-to-day life.
How long did it take for you to get your first sale? Did you ever thought you would make a lot of sales in the first year? What was a goal you were hoping for? How many sales an average you get per week?
I think it was a few weeks before my first sale. At the time I hadn’t set any goals beyond ‘a few bucks extra would be nice’, and it met that need. The shop puttered along for about a year, but recently it’s absolutely skyrocketed in sales.
Do you have a job outside Etsy? If not, are you able to commit full-time to online selling? How does your typical day look like? How do you manage time?
I own the residential landscaping company side of Leafing Out as well as the artistic side, so my year looks different depending on the season. For 8 months of the year, I get up, have a pot of tea, and read a bit of a good book. Then I open the computer and check emails with breakfast. I get my Etsy sales for the day packaged and drop them in the mailbox on the way out to the gardens. In winter, I wake up later, read longer, and sending off my Etsy packages is the main work-related chore of the day…well that and making new art!
How does your manufacturing process looks like for e.g. your best selling product? Do you create products ahead of the orders? Do you customize your products, if so how? What are tools that you are using in manufacturing process?
I put in a few printing and supply orders a year for the items, the boxes they go in and the like. That way, I always have the materials on hand. Once an order is placed, I pack the item ordered by hand and send it off.
What is the biggest impact on profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?
I price my products by calculating the wholesale item cost, the packaging cost, and the shipping cost. I make sure I make a $5 profit on all larger items and a $3 profit on smaller things. Beyond that, I don’t need much more.
What inspires you when you’re creating? How do you get ideas for new products? What are some methods or tools you use to get creative?
Music and my work in the gardens feeds my work; what I see out in the world is what becomes art. It mixes into the stories I grew up with, and grows into something new as I pick up my stylus!
Do you ship your product internationally? How do you handle postage pricing? What is average time it takes from the order to the delivery? Do you use free shipping? If so, why? How do you package your products?
I do ship internationally, using Stamps.com and their pricing calculations. If I did free shipping I’d make no profit, so I’m afraid I’m not there yet. All my packages are shipped in reinforced bubble-envelopes. My card deck and book sets come in a presentation box.
Are you worried about competitors? Does it impact your business in any way? If there are a lot of similar products, how do you make your own stand out?
Competitors? Nah. Everyone’s vision of the world is different. If my item works for someone, great. If it doesn’t, that’s fine. As for how I stand out, I think it’s by bringing a deeper understanding to the table. I’m a trained horticulturist who speaks Irish and grew up with the myths and the plants I’m writing about. What I have to share is what you don’t get out of a Google search: a deeper insight, and a connection.
How do you deal with disputes or bad rating/feedback? How do you manage presale and post sale communication and customer satisfaction?
There’s three rules in business 1: do your part 2: be polite 3: keep it business.
With those rules in mind, I work to fix any errors or issues that come up, remain polite at all times, and accept that sometimes, bad things happen and people get annoyed; say, when there’s a snowstorm in my area and their package goes out late. Stick to the three rules, and things usually work out.
Has selling on Etsy changed your life in any way? If so, how? Did you ever thought you would get this far with your shop? Have you ever been stressed dealing with customers and manufacturing products? How did you deal with that?
It’s definitely made me feel more confident in my creations! These days I feel that much more empowered to create, seeing how much people have liked what I’ve done so far.
How important is social media for your shop? What are some common tactics you use to promote your products? Do you spend money on ads outside of Etsy? How do you generate excitement/hype around your products?
Social media is a bulwark of both sides to the business for me, as it is for so many businesses these days. Because my work has a predictable busy season and quiet season, this is what I do: Use Etsy Ads to drive attention to my shop
*Use Buffer to schedule the bare bones of a year of social media posts, sometime in January. I do this by saving interesting things all through the year before, in a dedicated folder*Ask my audience about their gardens, their experiences, and what they’d like to see next
What are some things you don’t like about Etsy? If you could talk to the CEO of Etsy what recommendations would you tell him to improve sellers and customers satisfaction?
I do wish the connection between what the USPS charges for shipping and what the Etsy system tells customers they’re going to get charged would sync up better. More than a few times, the customer was charged more or less than I pay, and I either end up gouged on that or feeling guilty.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
I linked my Etsy shop to my business web page and my social media, but I did learn to be careful about running social media ads on Facebook after a hack that charged me $700.
What piece of advice would you give to new or established sellers or those considering to sell on Etsy? How can they avoid beginners mistakes?
I’d say this: be patient. Have grit. Don’t try for a few months and give up. It takes time for people to hear of you, and more time for them to tell their friends. Hold your head up and smile; good things are coming.