Tell us something about yourself. What is your niche? How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
My name is Louise and I live in Adelaide, South Australia. I create hand-illustrated portraits of people and pets. I’ve always been a chronic scribbler and would draw pictures of people in their Christmas and birthday cards. They were always a hit but I never imagined it was something I could monetize or turn into a business. One day I was looking through an Etsy blog and discovered a woman in the US who was selling similar portraits. Her shop was hugely popular and I just thought wow, this is something I could really do. I listed my first product on Etsy in 2017 and within a few hours, I’d made my first sale. The fact that I was able to set up an online shop and showcase my products to a huge global audience with virtually no set up costs was life-changing for me. Etsy is just an incredibly powerful platform.
What are your responsibilities as a business owner?
All the responsibilities ultimately fall to me which is why the key is to work smarter not harder. I started listening to a lot of audiobooks around habit-forming and also invested in a mentor program that completely transformed my business. It was a big initial cost outlay for me but was definitely the best business decision I’ve made. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with all the areas you have to manage on your own. A lot of my time is allocated to customer service queries and admin, almost more so than creating the actual illustrations. Plus creating content for social media channels and my website, updating listings, and SEO. When I’m feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities I just remind myself how far I’ve come and that I’m one of the few people that gets to wake up every day and do a job I love.
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?
I sell a lot of family portraits and illustrations for weddings and anniversaries. All my portraits are drawn by hand in Adobe Illustrator. I’m a graphic designer by trade so it wasn’t too much of a stretch learning how to convert my drawings from physical to digital ink. My illustrations are created as vector files which means they can be resized without losing any resolution and printed on pretty much anything. Customers send me their photos and I use them as my reference for creating the portrait. I get quite a lot of weird requests from people wanting to include pets and specialty items, but I love that it really makes every portrait unique.
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? What’s the hardest about it?
I enjoy every part of it. It’s been a dream come true to make a living out of e-commerce, and not have to work to somebody else’s timeframe or agenda. The 8-hour office workdays use to mentally destroy me, and I found the environment completely creatively crippling. I think people underestimate themselves and what they are capable of, you have the entire world at your fingertips with just a laptop and an internet connection, think about that! There are so many resources for people to build their own business with absolutely no web experience or big upfront costs. There are endless opportunities out there and so many weird and wonderful ways to make a living.
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?
My main audience is women looking for gift ideas for family or friends. I actually do very little in the way of social media marketing and most of my traffic is driven directly through Etsy’s search engine. Admittedly this is a dangerous strategy and I have set up a separate Shopify store in the meantime, however, I am currently running at capacity in terms of the number of orders I’m able to do on my own. I do sometimes promote Instagram posts to my target audience but it’s not something I invest a lot of time or money in at the moment simply because I don’t need to.
Do you believe there is a winning formula for becoming a successful entrepreneur? What is yours?
Absolutely. Find your niche and just go for it. I think a lot of people get trapped in the ideas phase and ruminate on all the hurdles to getting there. But just start and tackle one small obstacle at a time. Everyone has a product or service they can offer that’s unique to their personal skill set. A good starting place is to think of something that makes you lose time when you’re doing it and doesn’t feel like work. Then just start, launch your product, and start building momentum. I made 50 sales in my first year of business, this year I’ll hit over 1000. It takes time to build momentum and a reputation as a reliable Etsy seller. So just start. Mistakes and missteps will happen but you just have to realign yourself and keep going. You will not believe the opportunities that come your way once you put the wheels in motion.
What was the toughest moment you have experienced in your business practice? How did you succeed to get over it and move forward?
You’ve got to set boundaries. Etsy is a platform that’s really driven by customer satisfaction. So you’ve got to nail the one-to-one customer experience. That can be challenging when you’re dealing with a wide range of people with different expectations. Imagine if people could leave you a star rating and public comment for every single interaction you had with them! It’s a lot of pressure. You can’t just have a bad day and blow up at someone. I’ve learned to detach from the outcome and realize it’s impossible to please everyone all the time. Particularly when you are selling a custom art product that is subjective in terms of personal tastes. In many instances with customers, I’ve just learned to take the path of least resistance rather than dig my heels in and dispute something. My time is valuable and I’d rather take a loss on the chin now and move on quickly. You can’t let bad experiences get to you.
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 just revert to the big picture, what am I in this for? And what am I trying to achieve? It always comes back to the simple fact that I want to have free time to spend my day however I choose. So before creating a new listing I always consider if this is getting me closer to that objective or further away. The key direction for me is moving into automatic digital downloads that don’t require the time investment that custom portraits do. The ultimate goal is to have a hands free business that I can check in with for an hour or so a day and that’s it.
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?
I predominantly sell digital print-ready products in order to keep postage to a minimum and I only offer to ship physical items within Australia. I do use free shipping, but let’s be honest, as Etsy sellers, we were essentially railroaded into it. If you want to keep your shop competitive you have to offer free shipping. Shipping items isn’t ideal because a lot of things can go wrong from the time it leaves your hands until it gets to the customer. So I really am trying to move away from that space. When I do post physical items out, I package them up in bubble wrap and include my business card and a handwritten note. I think it’s quite nostalgic and customers get a kick out of receiving something tactile and personal. It really plays into that hand made aspect that customers come to Etsy for.
What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful online business?
Just start. Don’t wait for the product to be absolutely perfect before selling it. I look back on some of my first portraits from 2017 and cringe! The more you do something the better you become at it, just hone your skills and your product will evolve and improve over time. You will learn so much along the way and there will be plenty of opportunities to tweak your product down the track, but you need proof of concept first, put your product out there and see how people respond, then you can adjust and improve accordingly. Just back yourself and go for it.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are starting out?
It’s all about momentum. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t find huge success overnight, be in it for the long game and just do one small thing every day that puts you in a better position tomorrow. It took me 2 years to quit my day job while simultaneously running the Etsy shop. You don’t have to go all-in at once, start selling a few items, invest in your marketing, pay other people who’ve already made the mistakes (like a marketing mentor) so you don’t have to. Everything changed for me when I invested in a good marketing program, I learned a lot about SEO, conversion techniques, and how to upsell other items. It really took my shop from a nice little side earner to a full-time salary.
How do you personally define business success? Is it money? Freedom? Influence? Creative expression and innovation? Something else?
The goal for me was freedom. I’ve always struggled with authority and being told what to do. I couldn’t stand sitting in an office all day working for a set wage daydreaming about all the things I’d rather be doing. Now I get up, and if it’s a nice day I might go for a walk or take my laptop to a cafe and work for a few hours. I get to dictate how much my time is worth, and if I want to make more money then I get to control the price of my items and how many I want to sell. It’s on me and I really like having control of my own financial fate.
Describe your day-to-day operation. How do you manage your time?
I’m a perpetual procrastinator, but I’m ok with that because I think it’s important to let your mind wander, I see it as a necessity for a creative thinker. The downside is that you can inadvertently self-sabotage and end up creating more work for yourself in the long run. I don’t try and set a routine or schedule for myself because it sets me up for failure and I can’t stand the rigidity, instead, I just commit to completing X amount of portraits that day and it’s on me to do them whenever I choose, as long as they’re done at the end of the day it’s a win.
How do you plan on growing your business? What is the biggest impact on your profitability?
At the moment it’s sitting where I want it to in terms of income and use of my time. I could definitely expand my product range but at this stage, I don’t want to. I’m choosing time as my most valuable asset. I have some other side projects I’m working on at the moment so time is really important to me and I’m prioritizing it over increased income. My biggest hurdle is not having the capacity to manage the volume of orders on my own, there was a period this year around mother’s day when I had to close the shop down for 4 weeks just to catch up on orders. This isn’t ideal because you’re losing a lot of money by shutting the shop, again this is why digital products that you can automatically download are the way to go.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
Make your listing images bright and engaging. This is what gets your buyer’s attention initially, then you’ve got to nail the product description in order to convert that interest into a sale. That’s where a good marketing course and mentor was invaluable to me. It taught me a lot about product bundling, upselling, and writing a persuasive pitch to your customer. It’s also really important to answer any customer queries straight away, you really need to close the sale while your customer is engaged and ready to buy.