Tell us about your shops and the idea behind them.
In the fall of 2010, my husband and I moved across the country to escape our expensive life and dead-end jobs in California. While we were waiting to find a new home, I began to create art that would fill our future walls. During this time, I noticed other designers who had great success at selling their prints, and I convinced myself I could do it too. I spent months researching and developing, built up my collection, got my finances in order and finally launched my first shop, jennasuedesign, in March. Due to the success of my maps, I launched a second store, jennasuemaps, in August.
Tell us about your previous working situation and how you discovered Etsy.
My degree is in graphic design, so I’ve always been working as a designer in some form. After graduating college in 2008, I worked as an art director at a small entertainment resource guide in Los Angeles. Upon moving to Florida, I worked as a production artist, and later production art manager for a large sports retailer. It didn’t take me long to realize that I would never be satisfied working for someone else, no matter how big my paycheck was. I had known about Etsy and used it on occasion to make purchases, and it was the first place that came to mind when I decided to launch my own business. I still don’t think any other resource comes close to providing what Etsy can for artistic entrepreneurs.
What steps did you take to prepare for transitioning into full time Etsy selling?
I started this business with the hope that it would become my career, so it was a seamless transition. It’s a good thing I was prepared because it all happened so fast (opened first shop in March, second in August, and in October I put in my notice). Everything was ready to go from day one: my finances/business accounts, work process and routine, supplies vendors, bookkeeping, etc. Of course, everything has been tweaked and adjusted along the way to support the growth of my business, but I had laid the foundation from the beginning and that has made life so much easier. The hardest part was done before I even registered on Etsy — now it’s all about progress and building upon my brand.
What is your favorite part of the process in printmaking?
Good design (both graphic and interior) makes me happy, so I love when a customer shows me a picture of their space and we can come up with a really great, personalized solution for their walls. Seeing their “after” pictures is so rewarding. I also love watching a map’s pattern come together — it’s fun to see each city translated into its basic form.
What are your best marketing tips?
- First and foremost, you have to have a sellable product at the right price point. Great product shots and a cohesive, professional looking brand system are essential. If these are done correctly, sales will come to you. If your product is not selling already, advertising will not fix it.
- There are so many elements to a successful business, and luckily tons of resources online to guide you. You can’t thrive unless you do your homework. There’s always something new to learn, so don’t ever stop studying.
- It’s not just about making what you like. Yes, you must love and believe in your work, but your customers have to also. Be honest with yourself. Does your product appeal to today’s audience? Can you identify what’s popular now and what people are buying? Immerse yourself in every aspect of your target market — the top publications, blogs, forums, etc. in that field and know your audience and what they want.
- If someone can easily replicate it themselves, it’s not going to sell very well. Try to utilize a unique skill you have and apply it to a product that people will buy.
- Not everything has to be a revolutionary idea. There are only so many ways to knit a scarf, but you can make yours stand out by making it easy for customers to personalize it, offering a wide range of colors and patterns (try browsing Pinterest to see what’s trending), and setting up your shop with excellent product shots, clean cohesive branding, and the right price point.
- Clean out and streamline your shop. Make sure every item is relevant to the next, whether it be a similar type of product, style, material, function, etc. They all need to be connected in some way to reinforce your branding (this includes your product shots). Have two amazing but completely unrelated products? Open up a second shop. Don’t be tempted to list miscellaneous things you have lying around just because they might sell… it will devalue your brand.
- If something sells well, expand on it. Offer it in different colors, sizes, materials, etc. Make it extremely easy for customers to see what their options are. If they are buying, they will buy tenfold if they can personalize it.
- You are a part of your brand. Even if people can’t see you, your words will affect the way they feel about your business. Be kind and open to their opinions and suggestions. Make sure you are proud of your product when you drop it off at the post office. They will come back (and tell their friends, too!).
What’s been your most popular item or line to date?
Without a doubt, at least 80% of my sales are my line art maps. After I had about 20 cities in stock, I decided to launch a second shop devoted to them, and it was the best business decision I’ve ever made. They are the reason I am where I am today.
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
I’ve never paid for advertising, so I can’t say anything was particularly “unsuccessful.” I’ve pitched my products to a few publications with no response, but you have to at least try. My business decisions have all been extensively researched and thought out beforehand, and fortunately nothing has failed yet (at least not to the point of slowing me down).
What is the biggest challenge you face during your daily schedule?
Anyone who works for themselves can relate — finding enough hours in the day to do everything! Your work is never “done” when it comes to improving your business. When I was working a day job, every minute would seem like an hour, and now it’s incredible how fast they fly by. One week today feels like one hour three months ago.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
The cause of most of my frustration is the one thing I can’t control: USPS. I frequently have to track down lost or delayed packages and replace damaged prints. Aside from that, I love what I do too much to consider any of it to be “hard.” There have been challenges, but those are good for you and necessary to become better.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job?
I love waking up each day and realizing all over again that I am living my dream and knowing I never have to look back. I won’t ever take that for granted. I love feeling like nothing is out of reach anymore. I love knowing that I’m working for a better life where I’ll have the freedom to live life on my own terms. I love knowing that someday I’ll be able to move back to California to be with my family again. I’m in control of my own destiny now, and I’ve never been happier.
What is the most exciting thing that has come out of selling your designs through Etsy? Aside from quitting my day job, being featured in the West Elm catalog will be hard to top. It’s always exciting to be contacted by publications and media outlets who want to share my product. I also love seeing my items on the front page of Etsy. Exposure is so important because you never know when it will lead you to your next big opportunity.
What advice would you give someone considering a similar path?
Decide whether you are serious about making this your career or if you are just looking for a part-time outlet. If you treat it like a hobby, that’s all it will ever be. Your products aren’t going to sell themselves, and your business won’t expand unless you are constantly working on it. There is always something you can be doing to improve it.
What goals do you have in store for the future of your business?
Hopefully more than I can even grasp right now. I’ve made it this far so I’m aiming for the stars — I have no intention for settling, ever. Aside from launching my own URL (which I’m working on right now), I plan to expand my product line. I’ll probably focus on my maps since they are my biggest seller, and perhaps collaborate with other artists to get them onto new mediums (I’m thinking pillows, coasters, canvas, dishware, trays — you name it!). The ultimate goal would be to have retail stores and a full staff operating worldwide. Then I can buy my private island in the Maldives and retire.
Anything else you would like to share?
It’s surreal to be writing this right now. It feels like just yesterday when I read one of these stories for the first time, absolutely inspired and in awe of how they were able to change their lives. Time really flies when you are truly happy and doing what you love. I wrote more about my journey on my last day of employment here on my blog. I hope this inspires and motivates others in the same way this series has helped me.
Thanks for sharing your story, Jenna. Check out her work in the Seller’s Items below.