When Janice MacLeod set out to travel Europe, she had no idea she’d end up building a business based on her adventures.
“I was on the brink of burnout from my copywriting job in an advertising agency,” she remembers. After spending a year “devising ways to bust out of cubicle land,” in 2011 Janice quit her job and left Los Angeles to explore the world.
While traveling in Rome and Florence, she started mailing letters from the road to pals at home. Over time, Janice turned a friendly habit into a 1,000-letter-a-year business. “I create painted letters about life in Paris and snail-mail them to people around the world,” Janice says. She personalizes her dispatches, too. “I really want each person to feel like they’re getting special mail.” People love receiving mail from Janice so much they purchase a whole series of letters from her in the form of six- or 12-month subscriptions.
If every one of Janice’s letters tells a story, there’s an entire novel she could share about her shop — she’s even working on a book about how she left a corporate job of writing junk mail and began writing The Paris Letters.
Janice talks here about her journey to becoming a full-time artist and Etsy seller and shares her insights for new sellers embarking on their own Etsy adventures.
You started on Etsy in 2010 by trying to sell your paintings. How did that lead to creating a business selling artful letters?
I finally got my life down to one suitcase and saved up enough money, so I quit my job to hit the road. I had decided to sell a few paintings on Etsy to help fund my adventure but only sold one and my shop lay dormant for a long while.
I came up with The Paris Letters idea in January 2012 after I came across an artist named Percy Kelly who created amazing painted letters to send to his pen pal. This inspired me to buy a small set of watercolors and add illustrations to travel letters I was already writing to friends. Once I realized I could mail out more than one copy of each letter and still make them feel personal and intimate, my dormant Etsy store took on a second life.
You offer five subscriptions so that people can purchase up to 12 months of letters from you. How did you go from a dormant shop to offering a year-long letter series like “Paris Love Stories?”
It helps to be accountable to someone in order to stay on task. At first, I gave a handful of one-year subscriptions to friends, sending them a letter each month for a year. By the time I launched The Paris Letters on Etsy, most of my subscribers were friends who saw links to it on Facebook and my blog. I suspect they wanted a good way to support my adventure, but when they displayed my letters on fridges and bulletin boards, other people saw them and wanted their own. By the end of 2012, I sent over 1,000 letters to subscribers around the globe.
What are your top three tips for new Etsy sellers?
1. Make it easy for your buyers to lead people to your shop. Think of each sale as an advertisement for your product. Add your shop name to everything so when buyers receive compliments on their T-shirts, letters, jewelry, or whatever, they can easily find your Etsy shop address.
2. Don't be sheepish about social media. Facebook, Pinterest, and Polyvore are great selling tools. Twitter? Less so for me, but other people swear by it. If you find social media outlets you love, they are more likely to love you back.
3. Be generous. Share the work of other Etsy sellers on your Facebook, Pinterest, or whatever social media turns you on. Support other sellers by buying their products. I love buying downloadable PDFs from Etsy sellers that I can turn into fun labels for my letters. Good karma.
Have you encountered any challenges along the way?
At first, I was always running out of supplies like ink, paper, envelopes, and stamps. Now I plan ahead so I can stay on schedule. If I see an envelope I like in a tiny paperie, I buy a lot of them. And because I insist on using real stamps, I buy them in sheets of 100. The ladies at the post office think I'm nuts.
What do you enjoy most about running your Etsy shop? Three things: I love finding stories to tell about daily life in Paris. I also love getting to know my subscribers. I love that one woman lives on a street called Flowery Branch Road and another lives in Peculiar, Missouri. And half of my subscriptions are gifts to those who could use a pick-me-up each month — people in hospitals, nursing homes, or those who just like fun mail. Finally, I love afternoon naps. After over a decade in advertising, I need them.