Tell us about your shop and the idea behind it.
I sell a range of art prints and picture books at my store, Kathy Panton. My work has gradually evolved into nursery art, along with prints and abstracts. I work in my home studio here in Brisbane, Australia.
Tell us about your previous working situation and how you discovered Etsy.
I started pursuing an art career at the end of 1996, a couple of years after getting my visual art degree. I had just returned from a working holiday in London, where I studied children’s book illustration. I came back and decided I wanted to make art my full-time job. But how was I to do it?
I got a few freelance jobs doing editorial illustration work for magazines. This was before the Internet was in every household, so it was competitive and very difficult to make money as an artist. If you wanted an art director to see your work, you had to snail mail it and send a letter. I’d go around to all the magazine houses in Sydney with my folio and things like that. There wasn’t the immediacy that you have today. Everything is just so much easier now, it is unbelievable!
I worked in market research for a long time, and the office environment just made me more determined to get out and try to make a living as an artist. Often I would just sit in the office and plot ways I could escape and live my dream. I just didn’t know how I could actually make it reality.
I got an art teaching degree and taught kids with disabilities. It was rewarding, but draining. Teaching is like acting and I didn’t like being on stage every day. I was good at my job, but I just wanted to be an artist. My whole mindset was, life is short, why do I have to settle for a job I don’t like?
Then one day I went to the markets to buy some Christmas presents. I came across a jewellery seller, Hottoffee, and after buying a couple of her pieces she gave me her business card. It said “Etsy” and I was curious, so I Googled it, and here I am!
What steps did you take to prepare for transitioning into full-time Etsy selling?
When I joined Etsy, I studied what successful shops here were doing. I also read all the Quit Your Day Job articles every week and spent loads of time in the forums reading about others’ experiences.
After about a year-and-a-half, my shop was going well, but I was still doing a bit of substitute teaching because it paid well and I was scared to leave. I had some savings and enough money to pay my bills and living expenses for about 10 months if I wanted to quit working. One day I had this really difficult class — one boy escaped the classroom and ran away from school grounds. Apparently he did this all the time, but at that moment I decided I didn’t want the responsibility or risk anymore. I’d had enough of it all. It was liberating to decide it was my last day. I had to make Etsy work as a full-time job.
I cut my spending and put money only into buying supplies and paying my bills. I started treating Etsy like a full-time job, and in treating it like one, it became one. I spent all my time on it, seven days a week. I work from two rooms in my house, and I made them more functional by having one room for office work, packing and shipping, and the other across the hall for painting and storage of work and supplies. I found that the more organised my work environment was, the more sales I got. Not sure how that works, but it usually does!
What is your favorite part of working with paper?
I really enjoy creating the patterns with paint and then selecting the best bits to use. It is always exciting for me because there is an element of surprise involved. Sometimes a whole sheet of paper will be a dud; other times, it’s magic. I especially like using papers that have some connection to my past, like old postcards, letters, wallpaper, stamps and anything with visual interest or richness. Whenever I find interesting paper ephemera I stash it away for later.
What are your best marketing tips?
- After working in market research, I think that the best marketing strategy is to gain customer satisfaction. I try to treat customers how I would like to be treated. Saying thank you is really important. I try to show that I am readily available by answering convos the same day. I send orders within two days and send a handwritten thank you card. I think this is really important, although I know really large volume sellers can’t always do this.
- If you make customers happy, they will tell others about you. My best marketing has come from customers featuring me on their blogs after they have received their prints. Generally, being featured on a blog is my favorite form of marketing.
- I have been really hesitant to spend money on advertising; instead, I spend money on buying supplies and creating new work.
What’s been your most popular item or line to date?
My “You Are My Sunshine” prints and print sets.
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
I tried Facebook ads, but nothing came of that. Early on, I would include a discount card in an order for the customer to pass on to a friend for a 20% discount. They were really crappy cards (a cut-and-glue job), and I don’t think anyone would have passed them on — I think they went in the bin! I thought at the time it would be a good way to find new customers, but now I think it was lame and embarrassing.
What is the biggest challenge you face during your daily schedule?
I spend a lot of time packing and shipping because I like to package the prints to protect against rain, snow, and being dropped. Packaging takes a long time, and I am now in the process of changing to a new style of packing to make it faster for me, but still safe.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
Not being able to control the mail! Worrying about late packages is pretty frustrating, and thankfully it’s only happened a few times.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job?
I just like being my own boss and doing what I love. I feel like I am doing what I am meant to do. I also like challenging the notion that you have to get a “real” job and not pursue your passion or dreams.
What is the most exciting thing that has come out of selling your designs through Etsy?
Once I started on Etsy, I had more reason to create, because I had an audience. So because I had this collection of work, I managed to get an exhibition at Borders books, in the children’s book section. That was so exciting for me. I self-published a children’s book as a result of this opportunity, and I was able to sell the book at Broders and other bookstores around Brisbane.
I have had a few companies contact me who want to license my images. You just never know who is going to find you here, it is pretty amazing! The most exciting thing though for me is that people choose my art for their home or business.
What advice would you give someone considering a similar path?
- I believe if you really want something bad enough, you will get it. Once you have that burning desire, I think it is just a matter of working towards your goal, day by day.
- I think you also have to really take notice of what your customers are buying (and not buying) and develop your work to suit buyer demand and interest.
- I have read all types of business books and hunted for stories about how people have made a business out of their art or craft. There is also a TV show in Australia called Kochie’s Business Builders, which is aimed at small business. I find things like that helpful, just to get me thinking about how I do things and how I could do it better.
- I see many threads in the forums where a seller wants to make their art/craft their full-time job, yet their friends, family or partner is against it. Society is conditioned to believe that being an artist is not a real job. People think because you enjoy it, it is not work. Don’t give in to what other people think you should be doing, just follow your passion.
What goals do you have in store for the future of your business?
I often have people asking for larger prints, so that is something I am going to look into. I have approached homeware licensing companies to have my work printed on a variety of products. I’m interested in printing my images on children’s clothing. I would also really like to have my picture book published officially, and maybe as a board book.
Anything else you would like to share?
I want to thank all my lovely customers for making it possible for me to do what I love! I get beautiful emails from customers saying how much they like my work, and that just means the world to me! Thank you to all the staff at Etsy for creating such an amazing place for artists to sell their work. There is no other website that even comes close to what Etsy offers. I have met lots of great people here as well — it is a fantastic community.
Thanks for sharing your story, Kathy. Check out her work in the Seller’s Items below.