Tell us about your shop and the idea behind it.
I started my shop, DianaParkhouse, in December 2010 when I wanted an easy and affordable platform to sell my character themed illustrations and cards. I had created SAD FACE the cat, and I was creating three new SAD FACE illustrations a week. Each illustration was uploaded to my Tumblr, and after a while, I started receiving emails from people asking for prints and cards, so I turned to Etsy. The shop evolved from there, and now includes ceramics because I wanted to start creating beyond two dimensions.
Tell us about your previous working situation and how you discovered Etsy.
I’m Australian, and lived there right up until 2006. I had always worked full-time jobs in animal services; for veterinarians, boarding kennels and for the RSPCA in Brisbane. When I moved permanently to the UK in 2007, I tried the traditional path of looking for a job, but I kept missing out. In 2009, I accepted a part-time position in the take-away around the corner from my home and thought that it would be just a temporary thing. But life doesn’t always go according to plan, and I was still there almost two years later.
Personal tragedy struck twice in quick succession in 2009 and 2010, and that is when I started the SAD FACE illustrations as a light-hearted way to process the drama that was unfolding. I had seen Etsy featured in an article on-line some time before, so I knew immediately it was the perfect home for a shop. In late 2011, the take-away owner gave me and my colleague an ultimatum. Only one of us could keep our current part-time Monday to Friday position, whilst the other had to go full time over a seven day rotating roster. Something inside me snapped. I was working part time in a job I didn’t like, being bullied into doing it full time. I talked to my friends and family about it, but a conversation with my mum really made me sit up and listen. My mum has always been an advocate for traditional employment, and I would have thought she would be the first to tell me to take the full-time job, but she said that it sounded awful. She asked me how my Etsy shop was doing and what ideas I had for the future. So I told her that I felt my next step was ceramics, and she didn’t laugh; she just asked me when I was going to buy a kiln. I gave my notice to my employer and immediately started working full time on my art.
What steps did you take to prepare for transitioning into full-time Etsy selling?
I’d had a year of selling part time on Etsy under my belt, and my only aim was to match the part-time wage I was leaving behind. When I left my job I gained four working hours each weekday, and I was strict with myself with how I spent those hours. I read absolutely every single inch of the Etsy Seller Handbook, and joined several teams where I could ask all my questions, and also see the answers to questions I hadn’t even thought to ask. One Etsy seller in particular helped me enormously with understanding Etsy SEO. I took all her advice on board, which made a direct positive impact on my shop. As a result, my original target of matching my part-time wage has been met and exceeded.
What is your favorite part in the process of making ceramics?
It blows my mind that a piece of mud can be turned into something functional, beautiful, endearing, and lasting. The chemistry of ceramics is amazing! You can get by without knowing what happens inside the kiln, but I’m not like that. I have to know what it going on, and understanding the science really helps you grasp the limitations of the medium. There is so much to learn, and I have barely scraped the surface. There are so many techniques I want to try, and I am so excited about where the medium and I can go together.
What’s been your most popular item or line to date?
My personalized ceramics are incredibly popular. Personalization really helps me connect with the customer, and you know you are creating something that will be treasured for a long time to come. Thinking of my personalized ceramics becoming important family mementos blows my mind.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job?
I love being in charge of my own tiny little part of the universe. I am really tough on myself, so it’s not all long lunches and five-day weekends! I love not having to commute. I can roll out of bed and down the stairs and I am at work. If I want to work late I can. If I want to take a break I can. If I have a headache and need to take it easy, I can. My uniform is my pajamas. But the most fabulous thing is that I don’t have to leave my husband and pets every day. It never seemed right to me, to have that little ache each and every time I walked out the door to go to work. My husband is a self-employed writer who works from home, too. We get to spend so much more time with each other and our pets, and it just feels right.
What are your best marketing tips?
- Wear what you make and try to have business cards on you at all times.
- Participate in the Etsy community as much as you can by creating treasuries and passing on advice to those in need.
- Take the best photos you can, because they will make their way into other people’s treasuries, and have a chance of being featured on the homepage and in Etsy emails.
- I have also held shop sales, which I announce via social media. They always go down a treat!
- Most of all, look after your customers. They will treasure a positive experience, and will often buy again, or send their family and friends.
What tool or technique has been the most effective in getting buyers to your shop?
Learning how Etsy relevancy works. I have a website, a Facebook page and a Twitter account, but they are all secondary to having made Etsy relevancy work for me. Almost all of the visitors to my shop come directly from Etsy search. But that has to be teamed with good product photos. My photos have been an evolution in themselves, and I still feel I have a long way to go. A good photo teamed with effective SEO will get your item viewed, which is half the battle won. Great photos also get you into treasuries, which in turn can lead to the homepage, which in turn leads to your shop and items being put in favorites, which leads to a sale when that person is due for a birthday. You’d be surprised how many family and friends are stalking your Etsy account favorites, looking for the perfect gift for you!
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
Knowing when to go to bed. When you enjoy what you do it is really hard not to work all day and all night, every day. I also find making decisions can be excruciating at times. I am forever second-guessing myself, wondering if I should have done something differently. I am responsible for everything, including for when things go wrong. I absolutely hate disappointing people, so when something goes awry, I am really hard on myself and I call myself all sorts of terrible names. I will do whatever it takes to fix the problem. I don’t know any other way.
What’s the most exciting thing that’s come of selling your designs on Etsy?
Each and every sale is exciting for me. Simply being self-employed, helping my husband pay the bills in these really difficult economic times; it’s all so incredibly special. My heart skips a beat when I receive an Etsy transaction email. Every. Single. Time.
When I made the decision to go full time with my creative business, I wanted to actively give back. To be able to give regular donations to my two favourite charities, NOWZAD and Millwood Cat Rescue, has got to be one of the most satisfying feelings I have ever had the joy to experience.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar path?
- You have to love what you make, because if you do something full time, it becomes your job. The last thing you want is to be creating something full time that you just don’t enjoy making.
- Read every single Etsy Handbook article and don’t be afraid to join teams and ask questions.
- If you have a day job, and your Etsy income is growing month to month, talk to your family and friends (and in my case, my therapist!) about taking the next step. Their support is going to be the most important thing, because maybe the house isn’t going to be as tidy as it used to be, and everyone needs to be on board for that reality.
- It takes time to build an Etsy shop, so be patient.
Anything else you would like to share?
The tools that Etsy provides sellers are amazing, and I am so grateful that a website like this even exists. I would not be living the life I am without it. It’s that simple. There is no way I could reach the audience I do without Etsy. I’ve tried other selling platforms, but Etsy is simply one of the best. My sister has also been an amazing driving force for me. She lives in Australia and I miss her very much. She is always emailing me articles and tips she has found on the Internet, and is the first person I share my good and bad news with. She even bought me some outdoor storage for all of my stock and equipment when I couldn’t afford it in the early stages, to help me keep my sanity. I have been able to pay her back a little bit by helping her slowly build her own Etsy shop with tips on titles, keywords and descriptions so that she can be found in search. I keep asking her to come and live with me here in the UK, but she keeps muttering something about the weather.
Thanks for sharing your story, Diana. Check out her items below.