How I Got Started
I get tons of DMs asking me how I started my business and what tips I have for others starting out, and there’s really not an any easy or short answer, but I’ll do my best. I started my Etsy shop on my 18th birthday and sold exclusively hand painted canvases. I didn’t start out with any expectations or aspirations that this would become a business (my plan was always to just be a lawyer—that’s why I’m currently in law school). I was just selling paintings that I made in my free time because I love to paint. I didn’t start with a business plan and I didn’t really care if I made much of a profit. I also didn’t have any social media platforms for my Etsy shop until 2 years after I started.
In the first year or so, I made maybe 30 sales and all of them were my paintings. Over time, I got better and better at painting and drawing. I got an iPad in 2018 and started selling digital prints and designing stickers. Then I got a cricut, and I started focusing on making custom items. I never liked creating custom work because I would have too much anxiety about whether the customer would like it. A few times, customers would request an order and the refuse to pay me after I made the piece (I know, I should have made them pay beforehand, but that felt wrong to me too). So I stopped doing custom work and I focused on selling stickers, which were really quite popular.
In the time since I began on Etsy, I always geared what I made to what I thought would sell since I really loved the validation of making a sale. Because stickers sold well, I kept making them, and because I had a library of 3 years of artwork, I was able to quickly build up a pretty wide selection of stickers. As my products grew in popularity and I made more and more sales, I got more serious about my business. I’ve always loved doing work for it, whether that be photography, packing orders, designing new artwork, painting, etc. and so I’ve never wanted to stop. Because of that there’s only been one direction to go in for me, so that’s where I went. I think that doing this for so long and starting out so slow made it easy to ramp up my business. I took the first steps really slowly over the course of a few years, and when demand became too high to keep up with, I’ve found ways to manage it.
So TL;DR: there was never a clean start to my business, but a slow progression over the years. And because what I sell is ultimately my artwork in different forms (be it notebooks, stickers, etc.), I feel that any perceived success is due to the quality of my art, and not really any insider business knowledge (my education is in political science and law). So that’s why it’s hard for me to offer tips to people who want to start out a business—I never really started, I just sort of grew into this. And again, if I can be called successful, I think it’s because of my artwork and not business acumen.
Of course, there are some takeaways from my journey so far now that I’m looking back—I think being attuned to what sells is important in retail, and social media is the best marketing there is for a small business like mine. I also have some more concrete tips over on another blog post, but I wanted to address this question since I get it so much, and I don’t want to come off as rude when I can’t really give a good answer. Considering how I feel about my business (that it’s still quite new and tiny) it’s weird to me that anyone would even want to hear advice from me 😂 but maybe after some more time and reflection, I’ll have better advice to offer.