Tell us something about yourself. What is your niche? How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
My name is Hannah and I live in Melbourne, Australia. I am a self-taught graphic designer with a passion for turning photographs into fun, unique and quirky pieces of art that people can cherish forever. I started illustrating in late April this year as a way to keep myself entertained while Victoria entered lockdown in response to Covid-19. With absolutely no intention to start a business, I decided to illustrate my family and friends as a joke. Overwhelmed with love and support, I decided to accept commissions. On the 21st of May, I reached 150 orders on Instagram DM’s alone. As I received such an amazing response, I decided to launch my Etsy shop. Since then, I have reached over 500 orders and I am so grateful to my beautiful customers & support team.
What are your responsibilities as a business owner?
As a very new small business owner, all the responsibility falls directly to me. I am the person who updates the Etsy shop, responds to quotes and all other inquiries, creates and launches new products, creates and posts social media content, sends out EDMS and purchase orders. Most of my time is allocated to customer service queries, marketing, and admin, almost more so than creating the actual illustrations which also take a lot of time. Despite this, I am also the person who prints and packs the final product for despatch. It has been so easy to become overwhelmed and my experience as a small business owner has been very challenging but I have been so fortunate to have come so far and to have learned so much in such a short amount of time doing something that I am so passionate about.
What are your best selling products, what type of materials are used in your creations, how do you design your products, what makes your products stand out?
My cartoon illustrations are definitely my best-seller at the moment with my black ink line drawings falling close second. All my illustrations are made to order. This means that they are 100% hand-drawn for my customer. No two drawings are the same. They are also completely customizable meaning that my customers have the opportunity to entirely re-vamp their photo into something that is unique and sentimental. My digital files are high quality and can be printed on a number of sizes without losing the resolution and they can be printed on almost anything. I am also in the process of offering hard copies of my illustrations which are high quality and they are printed on 300gsm card stock.
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? What’s the hardest about it?
Entrepreneurship can definitely be a tough road but I would not change it in the slightest. While it can definitely be challenging at times, I love that I have the opportunity to learn and grow on a platform that has endless possibilities. E-commerce has really brightened the last couple of months for me. As a recent Marketing graduate, I found that I was experiencing feelings of uncertainty and disbelief. In other words, I felt really lost and I underestimatinated myself and what I was capable of achieving. I love how my experience as an entrepreneur has helped me build confidence within myself and the future of my business endeavors. It’s been such an amazing experience making a living out of the e-commerce world. I love being my own boss, selling products I love, working to my own schedule, and learning from my mistakes. It’s so rewarding.
Who do you sell to (and how do you get customers)? What marketing tools or strategies you use to boost your sales? Are you satisfied with the results?
I sell to everyone but I have found that my customers are predominately females aged between 20 and 40 who are looking for gifts for their loved ones or for themselves as a new home decor pieces. I have used a lot of marketing strategies but I have found that the best strategy to have when boosting your sales is to spend time engaging with accounts using hashtags related to your niche and being consistent with your posts on social media platforms. By gaining exposure, you create an evoked set which later can work to boost sales. I sometimes engage in paid online advertising but I believe the best way to boost sales is through word of mouth and through engagement with your niche.
Do you believe there is a winning formula for becoming a successful entrepreneur? What is yours?
My formula for becoming a successful entrepreneur is the following: To always aspire to think bigger and do better. I never allow myself to be satisfied with my success. While I do appreciate everything I have accomplished, I always look for ways to grow and improve my business and my product offering. Learn to embrace the challenges. Challenging business situations are overwhelming and they cause a lot of disbelief but it’s important to learn from the challenges and approach them in a way that creates an opportunity to refocus your business strategies and open up new beginnings.
What was the toughest moment you have experienced in your business practice? How did you succeed to get over it and move forward?
My biggest challenges have been time management and my lack of sleep. Before Melbourne entered a lockdown, I was working as a casual retail sales assistant. I was working 3-4 inconsistent shifts a week which was incredibly tough as I was unable to set consistent goals and daily practices. Starting out, I wanted to accept as many orders as possible to grow my audience and to spread the word which meant that I was working on little to no sleep. Returning back to my casual position will be interesting approaching the Christmas period. Another challenge I am facing at the moment is the time frames. As Melbourne is still in lock-down, a lot of my Melbourne customers are very time-sensitive as they are desperate to find gifts that they can get without exceeding their 5km radius. The obvious delays with Australia Post have also been an issue when launching my ‘print and post’ option.
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?
My lovely customers inspire me. There is nothing more rewarding than working alongside my customers to create artwork that they can cherish forever. My customers often come to me with unique requests and from there, ideas naturally flow for new products. My own individual memories and future milestones also inspire me. As someone who is madly obsessed with homewares and interior, I am always looking for new ways to create art to match a minimalistic styled home but also for those who have a certain color palette. When reflecting on the memories in my life through photographs, I often think of ways I could turn it into a sentimental piece of art.
Do you ship your product internationally? How do you handle postage pricing? What is the average time it takes from the order to the delivery? Do you use free shipping? If so, why? How do you package your products?
My products are sold internationally as digital print-ready products. As a result of Covid-19, my Australian customers can purchase a hardcopy if they would like. If an Australian customer decides to purchase a hard-copy, they are paying for the print only. No frame is included and shipping is free of charge. When I do post my hardcopies, I package them up in a rigid envelope, a waterproof slip, and a cardboard backing. I also include a business card and a handwritten note with a sneaky discount. At the moment I am in the process of designing my packaging. I know some people think it’s not necessary but you’ll be amazed at how many people appreciate pretty packaging. It really gives emphasis to the small business, a handmade aspect that a lot of people love.
What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful online business?
For me personally, I believe you should just go for it. It’s all trial and error when it comes to running a successful online business. Some things work better for others and that’s okay. Get your name out there and then work on the nitty and gritty later. I started my socials well before I established a brand presence as I had no intention to operate as a business. I have tried many business practices and I am sure I will trail many more in months to come. I am always finding ways to better my business practices and the truth is you learn so much along the way so it’s better to just start. Don’t waste time and money, get your product out there and actually see how people respond.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are starting out?
My best advice is don’t care if your post gets 0 likes, keep on promoting your business because people are always watching. Don’t fall into a spiral of disbelief if your business doesn’t grow overnight because it does certainly take time and effort to grow an online presence. My tip when starting a social media presence is to create a good business framework, know your niche, and have a clear strategy. Have a consistent look and feel. But most importantly, ENGAGE with your target audience. Yes, it is time-consuming but any exposure is good exposure.
How do you personally define business success? Is it money? Freedom? Influence? Creative expression and innovation? Something else?
Business success for me has definitely been the money and the freedom to do what I love – no doubt about it but my greatest success has come from customer satisfaction. I am so fortunate to do what I do on a day to day basis. The opportunity to work alongside my customers to create artwork is so rewarding and touches my heart in so many ways. As a business owner, I love including my customers in product development and I love that they trust me with their photos. Lately, I have worked with many customers to create pieces for their loved ones who have sadly passed. This is something that is so special and speaks volumes to me. Seeing my products bring smiles to people’s faces is more important than the financial rewards I earn.
Describe your day-to-day operation. How do you manage your time?
This is something I am still trying to work out. As a relatively new business, I am still in the trial and error phase. My day always starts with a well-needed coffee. I try to avoid working on weekends unless it’s absolutely necessary. This is important for me as I need this time to focus on myself and to give my eyes a rest from all the screen time. I do work Monday-Friday and I work very long and inconsistent hours – I often find myself going to sleep at 3 am (yikes). In the mornings, I like to focus on administration tasks. I always schedule approximately 3-4 illustrations a day. From there, it is up to me to complete them whenever I choose. Once I complete these illustrations, I am working on my own personal marketing and creating new products to launch. It’s really a never-ending cycle.
How do you plan on growing your business? What is the biggest impact on your profitability?
At the moment, I am so happy with the success my business has had. Since opening my shop in May, I have been non-stop with orders. I am always looking for ways to grow my business and I have SO many ideas but it’s a matter of time. Custom illustrations take so long to complete and the administration tasks take even longer. It’s really hard to find time to create and launch new products. As for profitability, I haven’t had any major impacts so far but I am definitely preparing myself for the impact during the Christmas period. I have noticed that a lot of my competitors have had to close their shop over the seasonal periods to catch up with their orders. This is obviously scary as you would lose a lot of money and potential customers.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
I can’t stress enough the importance of reading the Etsy handbooks and familiarizing yourself with your competitors. This helps so much when setting up the perfect shop. As an illustrator, I think it’s important to have well-lit photographs that are engaging and bright. You need your listing photo to be captivating and to stand out amongst the others. This will bring customers to your product. It’s also important to be as descriptive as possible. This will save you a lot of time as customers won’t feel the need to message you separately. It is also SO important to be prompt when responding to messages on Etsy. If you are not prompt, you risk a potential sale.