Tell us something about yourself. What is your niche? How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
I was fond of drawing since childhood and even entered one of the most prestigious art educational institutions in Russia, the Ural Architectural Academy. After graduation, I worked as a designer, I had my own construction business, I was engaged in machine tool construction and many other things. But at the same time, I always found time to paint. And one day I came to the idea that I had to make money with what I do best, make it my own lifestyle. So I came up with the idea of opening my own print gallery. I also love cats and of course, the first idea was to draw cats for prints. I studied the market and various options for selling art for a long time and came to the conclusion that this could work.
What are your responsibilities as a business owner?
I am an owner, artist, designer, and performer rolled into one. Therefore, I do absolutely everything that makes it work: first of all, of course, it is drawing new pictures. I am also engaged in photography and scanning of my paintings (I have a small studio for this purpose), further processing of paintings for printing, market and competitor analytics, trend analytics, price adjustments, purchasing materials for printing, communicating with clients, directly printing prints and packing them and sending them to customers. This is a complex work that requires an attentive and consistent approach to each stage.
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?
Of course, my best selling products are the cat prints. I have a number of landscape prints, but they are not that popular. I have quite a few different images of cats: for the bathroom, for the kitchen, for the living room, for the nursery, and even for the office. They are all popular, they are all sold regularly. I focus on a quality product: for printing, I use high-quality watercolor paper from one of the world-famous brands. My prints are very similar to the originals and a non-professional might mistake them for an original painting. The quality close to the original is what I constantly work on.
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? What’s the hardest about it?
For me, this is primarily not a business but a lifestyle. It allows me to live and enjoy life. Yes, sometimes it is difficult: a large number of orders, complex personal orders, sometimes global problems such as COVID-19 that affected all of us. But I know that each stage passed is growth, this is the development of my business, this is the improvement of my artistic skills. And it will always be with me wherever I am.
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?
Of course, first of all, I bet on the uniqueness and quality of the product. I try to do what no one else does and what people like. In addition, of course, I use advertising on Etsy, I regularly conduct tag analytics so that the most relevant tags are used in my listings, I write product descriptions that sell. I attract clients from social networks. And I am pleased with the result, I see that my efforts are directly proportional to the growth in sales.
Do you believe there is a winning formula for becoming a successful entrepreneur? What is yours?
I’m sure there is a formula for success. And first of all, this is hard work. You can have the ability, talent, you can invest a lot of money in your business, but it will not bring results if you do not consistently, systematically, and enthusiastically work on it. You have to be a person passionate about your work.
What was the toughest moment you have experienced in your business practice? How did you succeed to get over it and move forward?
The most difficult moment for me (as for many of us) is the COVID-19 epidemic. Many countries have closed their borders, and international traffic has been severely restricted. Of course, this has seriously affected the delivery time and the desire of people to buy something in foreign stores. I dealt with this by moving my store to sell digital prints. Of course, it took quite a long time and my profit fell almost 3 times. But it allowed me to keep the gallery, minimize losses, and not spoil the relationship with customers. Now the situation with international transportation has stabilized and for me, the most difficult moment in my work is not to get bogged down in a routine, constantly generate ideas and draw new pictures with cats. I am constantly looking for new sources of inspiration for creativity.
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?
I have many sources of inspiration: cats, nature, good mood, my girlfriend, the idea that every new job will develop my business. Sometimes finding the right solution for a painting can take quite a long time, and sometimes I don’t even think about it, an idea just pops up in my brain. Sometimes I make sketches without any specific idea and choose the most successful ones to make paintings out of them.
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?
Yes, I ship my prints overseas. Many of my clients are from the USA, UK, Canada, and even Norway. I use standard postal services. They are not that expensive and include sending with a tracking number by which you can track the parcel at any stage of its delivery. I think that for the client the delivery of not expensive goods should be free – this motivates people to purchase (something like a small bonus from the seller). For packaging, I use plastic mailing envelopes, tubes, and hard cardboard. All this is done so that the print is not damaged during international transportation.
What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful online business?
The key elements for success, in my opinion, are motivation, this is an understanding of your capabilities and how you can convert them into money, this is great efficiency and dedication, this is an understanding of your target audience, careful planning, and the ability not to give up.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are starting out?
Work hard and don’t give up. If something does not work out, this does not mean that the idea is wrong, it is a reason to look at yourself and the idea from a different angle.
How do you personally define business success? Is it money? Freedom? Influence? Creative expression and innovation? Something else?
I think success is the freedom to do what you do best, what is satisfying, and to make it your lifestyle. And money of course 🙂
Describe your day-to-day operation. How do you manage your time?
My typical day consists of the following: first, I check the receipt of new orders, answer customer questions and solve other administrative issues for managing the gallery (ordering materials, analytics, etc.) – this takes about 20% of the day. After that, I start drawing new works, or completing already begun paintings, photographing, processing finished paintings for printing – this takes about 30% of my day. 30% of the day is allocated for printing and preparing orders for shipment. The remaining 20% is training, rest, food, and other activities. I send ready orders to clients 2 times a week. Of course, sometimes my day looks different, depending on the number of tasks. I do not make a plan for each new day, as the situation changes every morning and I clearly understand what I need to do – but it certainly depends on experience. My previous work experience helps me with this.
How do you plan on growing your business? What is the biggest impact on your profitability?
I am constantly working to expand the range. The number of products (while maintaining the quality of course) in my niche directly affects profitability. I also plan to further develop my accounts in social networks and attract buyers from there.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
In order to get the current result on Etsy, I did a lot of work on the analytics of competitors, products, target audiences, and promotion mechanisms on Etsy. And of course, I did a great job to expand the range of products. The most important lesson that I learned from this is that you cannot stop working on the store and you must very quickly adapt to all changes, otherwise competitors who do it better and faster will come out ahead. During the existence of the store, I was faced with the theft of ideas and packages, with imperfect work of search engines, I made many mistakes in doing business, but in the end, my store exists and makes a profit.