Tell us something about yourself. What is your niche? How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
Four years ago I took the plunge and quit my 9-5 job to pursue my passions for travel and art. My motivation for starting my own business was to create a lifestyle that allowed me to spend my days drawing and designing, whilst exploring the world and running my business remotely. Today, I feel grateful to say that that’s exactly what I’m doing! I now have my own established illustration and graphic design business, and I sell my hand-drawn art prints on Etsy. I’ve been to 47 counties and spent a lot of time in Asia, so a lot of my inspiration for my artwork comes from my travels, particularly from my time living in Japan and Vietnam.
What are your responsibilities as a business owner?
My main responsibilities as an online store owner include creating my art prints (which for me means lots of drawing!), creating eye-catching photography to display my products, listing my prints, communicating with customers, marketing, and managing all aspects of sales such as shipping and tracking.
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 best selling product is currently my black Japanese Octopus art print, which is one of my favorites too! The Japanese word for Octopus is ‘Tako’ (多幸), often associated with the similar-sounding word takō, meaning “a lot of happiness”; it also symbolizes grace, intuition, and flexibility. I design my products by hand using black Japanese inks and then scan in my artwork and work on the colors and composition digitally in Photoshop. My art is then printed as giclée fine art prints on thick textured paper (I currently offer a Bamboo paper or Aquarelle rag), so the quality is much higher than you would get on a poster. Each print is printed individually and made to order, and I offer a range of sizes to suit different frames. My paper is environmentally friendly, free from brightening agents, and my printer is completely carbon neutral.
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? What’s the hardest about it?
Whenever I get a sale, I love the feeling that someone appreciates my artwork enough to spend money on it and to display it in their home. There is no greater feeling than a customer sending me a photo of one of my prints hung up in their house, or a message to say how much they love it. To me, that is better than any amount of money. The hardest part for me is currently dealing with international orders (especially during the pandemic). I ship worldwide and work hard on building connections with printers in other countries to make sure my art is produced and delivered to my required standard. I like to test the paper and print quality thoroughly before I use a new supplier, so this part can often take a lot of time and effort. But it’s worth it, as I recently had new orders from Sweden, Germany, and Canada!
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 customers all over the world, both men and women. I mainly use Etsy’s marketing tools to help me to optimize my listings. I often analyze the keywords that customers are using to find my products, and then tweak the titles and tags accordingly. For example, I recently discovered that many of the people who buy my blue Japanese Seahorse print were searching for artwork for their bathroom. I have now included this in the listing to help future customers find it more easily. Etsy also offers a free 30-minute call to all their sellers, which I found a helpful place to ask questions about how to optimize my store.
Do you believe there is a winning formula for becoming a successful entrepreneur? What is yours?
Don’t give up. It’s common for most people to give up when they’re just about to achieve success, so I believe that the key is to keep going and believe in yourself. If something isn’t working the way you’d hoped, then make some adjustments and figure out why. You’ll need to keep experimenting and changing things whilst you figure out which methods work best, but don’t just stop. Most successful entrepreneurs have failed at some point, but with each failure, you grow stronger and learn how you can do better next time.
What was the toughest moment you have experienced in your business practice? How did you succeed to get over it and move forward?
Recently there was a big hurricane in the US and my print studio in Florida was flooded and unable to operate. My customer orders were backed up and not being delivered, so I quickly had to find a new studio to work with. This was difficult considering the time difference, the urgency of the situation, and the various Covid restrictions in place. However luckily my customers were all very understanding, and now I have two studios so in the future I will always have a back-up in place in case of emergencies.
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?
Travelling is my biggest inspiration. A lot of my ideas come from living and exploring other countries; for example, when I lived in Vietnam I used to live next to a rice field and every day at sunset I would cycle past a buffalo that had a bird sitting on its head. I thought that the connection between the big buffalo and the tiny bird was beautiful, and it became my inspiration for my Vietnamese Water Buffalo art print.
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 to most countries worldwide. I don’t use free shipping because my artwork is fragile so I make sure all my artwork is sent with a tracked courier to ensure it arrives safely.
What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful online business?
Do your research and be prepared to learn a lot. There are so many elements to learning how to sell online, and many of these things are changing constantly so it can be challenging to keep on top. I would recommend listening to podcasts, reading books, watching Youtube video tutorials, and reading blog posts about every step of the online business process. Delve into your niche and check out the competition, and make sure you are making the very best product you can make so you have confidence in what you’re selling.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are starting out?
Pick something that you love doing and give it your best shot. The road to success isn’t an easy one, but it can be very rewarding if you persevere. If you are doing something that you enjoy then it will keep you motivated not only on the good days but on the bad days too – if you enjoy it then there’s more chance you’ll stick with it. For me, I love drawing and creating, so even if I wasn’t making money from it I would do it anyway. This motivates me to keep going and keep making more artwork, regardless of whether sales are up or down.
How do you personally define business success? Is it money? Freedom? Influence? Creative expression and innovation? Something else?
For me, success is freedom. I love the freedom to start and end my day as and when I please and to spend my time creating work that I love. I know that if I work harder at something I will see results and ultimately earn more, rather than relying on someone else to determine my salary. Success is different for everyone, but I believe that if your business allows you to live a lifestyle that is conducive to your health and happiness, then that’s a success in itself.
Describe your day-to-day operation. How do you manage your time?
I usually wake up at 6 am and have a morning routine that lasts about 3 hours (this includes meditation, yoga, reading, drawing, and most importantly, coffee!). I try not to check my emails or social media until 9:30 am. My business is split between my client work and my customers, so I usually spend the first 30 minutes going through emails and checking what’s happened while I’ve been asleep (I have clients and customers worldwide so this means emails never really stop coming). I then plan out my day using Trello.com and batch my work into 30-minute sections so I can focus on one task at a time. I usually send my Etsy print orders to the studio first thing in the morning so that the printer has time to work on them during the day. Then the rest of the day is to spend designing artwork for my clients or working on new print ideas. On Fridays, I try to put aside more time for creative work and like to spend more time drawing and less time on admin. On the weekends I stop all client work and put on my email auto-responder. My print studio is also closed at the weekends, so any prints I sell don’t ship until Monday which gives me time off for myself; I often like to take long walks at the weekend and think about ideas for what I want to draw next.
How do you plan on growing your business? What is the biggest impact on your profitability?
I had an interesting call with an Etsy representative recently who told me that the more listings you have, the better your store will rank and the more you will sell. So part of my strategy will be to just keep creating more artwork and listing more products, tweaking them as I go based on the search data I receive from my Etsy analytics. I’d also like to branch out into printing my art on products such as tote bags and apparel; I am currently testing out a few suppliers so hopefully, this will be something I can start doing in 2021.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
At the start, I spent a lot of time looking at other sellers’ listings and making notes about what I thought was working and what wasn’t. I also read through tons of reviews of competitor products to learn about what my customers wanted. For example, I discovered that most of my competitor’s negative reviews were from customers who were disappointed with the quality of the paper that the art was printed on. As a result, I invested lots of time in finding the highest quality paper possible – now all my customers always comment on how amazing the paper is and all my reviews are five stars. The biggest lesson has been about international shipping; it has taken a while to figure out which shipping couriers to use and which ones you can trust to deliver your products quickly and safely.