Tell us about your previous working situation and how you discovered Etsy.
Creating art has always been my passion, but I chose not to study or pursue it as a career because I didn’t think I could earn a living making things. After graduating from college in 2009, I got a job as a research technician at a large medical school, coordinating a behavioral psychology study. I felt very lucky to have a stable, interesting job I did well with a boss and coworkers I enjoyed working with, but the daily lack of creative freedom was very frustrating.
During the several months between graduating and being hired into this job, I discovered Etsy and began selling my artwork to earn some income while I was unemployed. The response was so rewarding that I kept my shop open even after becoming employed. Over time, I put more and more energy into Mae Chevrette Art, eventually realizing that it had become equal to my day-job salary. I knew in my heart that this rare opportunity to support myself by doing what I love was one I couldn’t pass up. With the encouragement of my boyfriend Mike, I took the plunge and haven’t looked back.
What steps did you take to prepare for transitioning into full-time Etsy selling?
I took an honest look at the benefits and risks of losing the set 9-to-5 workday and guaranteed paycheck in order to spend my time doing what I loved. Knowing that my income might vary from week to week, I made a serious effort to curb my spending whenever possible, and I’ve felt so much better for it. I also saved up as much as possible before quitting my day job. Though I was impatient to begin my new career as a full-time artist, having a small cushion in the bank made the transition much less stressful.
What is your favorite part of the process in painting?
I love everything! From the smell of a new canvas to the layers of paint and glue on my fingers as I sign my name on a completed painting, the entire process feels like a tangible extension of my heart and soul. If I had to pick just one part, it would have to be the moment when what is on the canvas begins to resemble the image that has been in my head. Since I work with such a variety of materials, often using paint, chalk, ink, paper ephemera, photographs, metal scraps, and more in a single piece, it’s an awesome feeling to see them all begin to come together and create the look and feeling I’ve been imagining.
What are your best marketing tips?
- “If you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” — Conan O’Brien. I have this written and pinned next to my desk because it is so true, especially for a small business.
- Be attentive, treat your customers how you would want to be treated, and go the extra mile to make each transaction a positive experience. I’m convinced that stellar customer service is the best form of marketing your entire brand.
- Take advantage of social media! I share a lot on my art blog, Flickr and Facebook business page. Regularly sharing new work and inspiration helps keep my style fresh in people’s minds and lets them see me as an artist, a person, and a lover of the creative world rather than just a shop name.
- Good photography is essential. Not only does it sell your product, it also attracts attention from bloggers and editors who are looking for well styled photos of interesting products to share with their readers. This can bring your work to an entirely new market, and all it costs is some time and effort.
- Keep business cards on you at all times, and try not to be shy when talking about your craft. If you don’t talk your work up, who will?
What’s been your most popular item or line to date?
Prints of my painting, To Be Brave, have been the most popular of all my artwork. It was inspired by some words I had written on a Post-It and stuck to the dashboard of my car to motivate me as I drove alone from my home in Seattle and out to Massachusetts for college. I think many people relate to the idea behind this painting… we all know that very big, amazing things wait for us in all areas of life if we are brave enough reach out for them, and its nice to have a visual reminder of that.
Have you made any business mistakes you regret?
Luckily, I’ve never had any promotions fail completely. The only business mistake I regret is not being very organized in the beginning, as I was doubtful of my success at first. Getting all my ducks in a row (creating a business plan, researching supply costs, learning tax and accounting stuff, registering my business, branding, etc.) would have been far easier had I done all of it before things got busy.
What is the biggest challenge you face during your daily schedule?
It is very challenging to balance the fun stuff (making art) with the not-so-fun stuff (everything else). For all the time I get to spend actually creating art, I spend just as much time on packing, shipping, promoting, brainstorming, emailing, doing inventory and accounting tasks. It is amazing how much time the business side of things pulls me away from my studio.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
The hardest part is knowing that my income is a direct result of how hard I work and how much art I make. This can be scary during creative ruts when I can’t seem to get ideas to move from my head onto the canvas, and am left with a bunch of half-finished paintings and frustration. I have to remind myself not to try and force creativity, but to go out and live life and let it come back on its own.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job?
Sleeping in! No, just kidding, although that is a perk. I sometimes get a rush of inspiration that has me painting until 5 or 6 in the morning, so it is great to be able to make my own hours and capitalize on that inspiration when it comes.
I really enjoy knowing that I am now supporting myself by doing what I truly feel like I was born to do. The creative freedom is priceless. And although I’m working much longer and harder than I did in my previous job, the entire process of creating and selling my artwork is so fulfilling that it rarely ever feels like work.
What is the most exciting thing that has come out of selling your designs through Etsy?
The relationships I’ve formed with other artists and customers have been very inspiring. I never thought that something I made with my hands and heart could touch other people so strongly, but I often receive emails from people who have bought or been gifted a piece of my art telling me about the special meaning it holds for them. I’ve teared up more than once after reading an especially heartfelt email.
What advice would you give someone considering a similar path?
Three things I have found to be invaluable:
- Surround yourself with positive people who support and encourage you as an artist and businessperson. I have several friends and family members who have gone out of their way to help promote my artwork, shared their skills or connections, or just offered up genuine words of encouragement. It makes a huge difference to know that other people believe in me and want me to succeed.
- Research and soak up as much information about your craft and small business ownership as you can! There is always more to learn. Experimenting with new techniques can liven up your work and keep your shop fresh.
- Stay true to your own creative style. It can be tempting to imitate a style or product that another artist or shop has found to be successful. However, original creations that come from your heart have an energy that will intrigue customers and make you feel great about what you’ve made.
What goals do you have in store for the future of your business?
One of my biggest goals since moving to Boston has been to start exhibiting my work locally. Also, since a lot of my work is inspired by travel, I’d love to plan a road trip soon to collect inspiration and materials, perhaps even selling my work from the road.
Anything else you would like to share?
To everyone who has purchased my artwork in the past or who is thinking about purchasing in the future: Thank you, sincerely, from the bottom of my heart. Your decision to support handmade and independent artists is the reason all of this was possible.
Thanks for sharing your story, Mae. Check out her work in the Seller’s Items below.
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