Tell us something about yourself, how did you get started, do you consider yourself a crafter,maker,artist…
My name is Natasha Dall’Ara, I loved animals and painting since I remember myself but never imagined I could make this into my job. My Etsy shop took me on a journey where I got the chance to develop my skills and rediscover a talent by making a product with sentimental value, that captures the beautiful relationship between a beloved pet and it’s owner.
How did you discover Etsy? Did you have any previous experience in selling handmade products? Why did you start selling online?
It all started by a complete chance after I opened the Etsy shop to help my father-in-law to sell his beautiful acrylic Painting of Venice (hence the name Veniceme). After a year or so with no success, I scratched that and made up a listing for Custom Pet Portrait with the pet paintings I’ve done as a gift to friends. I haven’t sold anything I’ve made before Etsy and it was quite fun getting to manage my own shop. My studies in Product Design definitely helped in creating my shop visuals and I loved that I was working for myself and were free to take my own direction.
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 ?
I sell Custom Pet Portraits hand painted with watercolours from a photo. Everything is 100% hand made “old fashioned” way of painting with pencils and rubbers and brushes and colour. I use high quality watercolour paper and Japanese Kuretake watercolour paint. Each piece is as unique and genuine as the animal portrayed.
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
Painting started in the earliest age for me with vandalizing the wallpapers at home, then later on in life I was taken in by “reason” and went to do more serious stuff but all was either boring on not completely suitable for me. I rediscovered painting through wanting to gift something I have taken the time and effort to make, that holds sentimental value. This is also the motivation behind wanting to improve skills constantly. I am completely self-taught in painting, learning to paint was actually a beautiful personal journey that has evolved my artistic style.
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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?
I opened my shop with no expectations of success whatsoever, I had an idea of a product with value and just put it out there. At the time I was working a full-time job that had nothing to do with creative making and I really needed my creative side projects to keep recharging my energy. When I started to receive more orders I went part-time on my main job until one day I had to quit so I can fulfill my Etsy orders. During all that time I have kept the full focus on the shop and put in 100%.
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 knew there was a lot of competition but the great thing with Etsy is you don’t have to invest loads initially and you can give your product a try for some time. I did not advertise with Etsy at the very beginning, I started after the first orders and reviews came in. I had to keep an eye on the spending on adds vs profit, as I was afraid that I’d go down but that never happened with Etsy adds. It’s a great selling platform for anyone and pretty easy to navigate, so there weren’t any issues.
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?
It took about six months of my listing sitting there without advertising to get a sale, back then I wouldn’t even dare to dream I’d make so many more. My goal was to make enough so I’d have the chance to go part-time on my job and have more time to do what I love. The sales barely covered the advertising initially, but I was able to practice more and more and build great relationships with my customers, which all lead to the growth of the shop.
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 have quit my job outside Etsy last Christmas as I wasn’t able to cope with everything. Since then I am fully committed to Etsy and it has been much easier to manage my time in general. I’ve got a small green notebook where I transfer all the orders I get, sorting them by name, size, and day of dispatch so I can have a better visual of the volume of orders. Most days I would paint up to five orders and the evening goes to Etsy messaging and emailing.
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’ve got one product and five listings for it, with each different size specification. I don’t like too many options in a shop as it confuses me. My Bestseller is the A5 size (6x8inches) and it’s my preferred size to paint. The process starts with the customer conversation, they’d send me pictures and let me know of any requests. I’d then cut my paper into the size and draw the subject with pencil, in some cases when there’re multiple pets on the painting I’d send the draft to the customer for approval. Next, I’d erase slightly the pencil and paint on with watercolors and in most cases, there will be handwritten name personalization of the pet. When the painting is completed I’d send a picture of it for approval to the buyer and once it’s good to go I’d carefully pack it in a cello bag and hardback envelope adding a handwritten personalized note.
What is the biggest impact on profitability of your shop? How expensive are the materials you use? How do you price your products?
I use high-quality materials in the making of my product and don’t compromise on quality. My product’s best value is the quality of painting and I improve on this constantly. I’d like to keep my Custom pet portraits affordable so I’m very careful with pricing, generally trying to keep the balance between Etsy adds and fees, material costs, and time costs.
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 main inspiration is the sentimental value of the product. It’s the best thing to devote the time and skills in making a keepsake the symbol of a beautiful relationship between a beloved pet and it’s the owner. I love all animals and know that each has their unique personality, I focus on this while I’m painting and this leaves each work with a little piece of my heart devoted to it.
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 ship internationally usually with Deutsche Post to keep the prices lower and offer a DHL Express service at an additional cost. The post is usually quick enough but recently requires more patience due to global disruptions. My customers have been great to understand this and I am very grateful.
I offer free shipping guarantee to the USA mainly to get more visibility, but not sure to what extent this has been rewarding.
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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?
Most of the Custom Pet Portrait listings on Etsy are digitally painted/filtered rather than hand made which probably is great for their sellers as they could process the higher amount of orders in a shorter time. These listings also get more visibility as they have a shorter turn around times, but there’s a different value in the digitally produced illustrations from a picture and hand-painted illustrations. I believe that the physical rather than digital making of this specific product is adding more to the sentimental value of the product.
How do you deal with disputes or bad rating/feedback? How do you manage presale and post sale communication and customer satisfaction?
I am grateful to have encountered so many lovely people as customers and so far have successfully worked with them to guarantee they loved what they got. I had achieved 100% five stars reviews with lots of work and clear communication. The main thing for me is to try and put my self in the Customer perspective of things and go from there. I try to resolve any relevant issues and requests as I wouldn’t be happy if my Customer wasn’t happy. Most issues, however, come from postage times/delivery which is a bit out of my hands, I am still staying with the Customer during the whole process, even if this means re-doing their order.
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?
Selling on Etsy has changed my life completely, most importantly I finally do what I truly enjoy. It has given me validation and joy in making a product that someone, somewhere treasures. There are always more busy periods when it’s a bit overwhelming but I try to get the job done in small bits and avoid panicking. My husband is very supportive and he helps me out with packaging and communication when I need to focus on painting.
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 can be a bit overwhelming, I have focussed on Instagram account only as a way to display my work and build a portfolio. I only advertise with Etsy adds, everything else is way too complicated and time consuming and often doesn’t worth the bother.
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?
Etsy is a wonderful platform for handmade, but there’re instances where the 100% genuine handmade products are staying in the shadow of the easier to produce, cheaper not so hand made ones. Although this could be due to Etsy algorithms and customer demand, it would be lovely if Etsy was giving a shoulder to the sellers with original products.
What are some things you did to set your shop for success on Etsy? What is one lesson you learned the hard way?
I’ve learned that focus and communication are the key in order to run the shop smoothly. Not all customers are reading listing info and shop announcement and having an automatic welcome message after purchasing is of immense help in communication. Double or triple checking the details of every order is the only way for me to evade mix ups.
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?
Think about the value of your product, are you happy while making? Does it bring joy to your customers? The rest is a lot of work but work is happy if you stay true to yourself. Advertising helps loads too 😉