Tell us about your shop and the idea behind it.
I sell prints of my digital paintings, photo collage pieces, traditional work and necklaces featuring my illustrations in my Etsy shop, solocosmo. I always dreamt of having a wonderful talent. As it turns out, I did have a talent, one I had ignored for a long time. In high school, I worked in pencil and acrylic paints, but then I stopped painting. In my early twenties, I started doing photo manipulation work and loved it. My husband bought me a $20 drawing tablet at a garage sale and I started playing around. Somewhere along the way, my love of painting and photomanipulation became one.
Tell us about your previous working situation and how you discovered Etsy.
For almost five years, I managed a salon in San Diego. I loved my job, but when my son was born, we couldn’t afford child care so I stayed home. I started making handmade cards and selling them. A customer and a few fellow card makers told me about Etsy, so I decided to give it a try. Selling on Etsy gave me the time to cultivate and rediscover myself and my creativity without any rush. For about two years, it was just a hobby — sales here and there that made me jump with excitement. I could put things up in my shop and if they sold, they sold — but I had time to learn and improve without being discouraged.
What steps did you take to prepare for transitioning into full-time Etsy selling?
I had gone back to work part time as an administrative assistant for a money management firm when we found out we were expecting our second child. At our 20-week ultrasound, we found out our daughter, Juneau, would be born with only one kidney. Around the same time, our son, Sampson, was diagnosed with autism. It became very clear that I would have to stay home again. I decided to commit to Etsy full time. We expected sky-high medical bills, and I needed to pull in an income in addition to being a full-time mom. I woke up at 7 a.m. and went to bed at midnight. I painted every day during the kids’ nap time, I made treasuries, I joined a few Teams and really participated with other sellers. I packaged orders when the kids went to bed. Little by little, the sales began coming in. Before I knew it, I was celebrating 500 sales, then 1,000, and just this month, I hit over 5,000 Etsy sales. My head is still spinning from that number!
What is your favorite part in the process of making art?
I love when a piece really starts to come together — this little spark hits me and I can’t stop. I love when I am painting with one kid in my lap and the other one climbing over my shoulders. My kids are wonderful bosses. They let me know when I have been working too long by snapping my computer closed or stealing my pen and running off with it at full speed. Then I know it’s break time. I may be working longer hours, but my coworkers are really, really great.
What’s been your most popular item or line to date?
My shop took off when I started selling ACEO prints. I’m not saying that the two are directly related, but I can’t help but feel like maybe I owe my success to the ACEO community. They remain my biggest seller, at shows and online.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job?
If I want to paint all day in my PJs, I can. Mostly, I can be there for my children when they need me. No one understands my son the way I do, and I get to spend every moment with him that I can. If we need to go to the zoo for the day, we go to the zoo — I will paint tomorrow. If my daughter needs me, I package orders during nap time. I have the freedom and flexibility that I could never have with a regular job.
What are your best marketing tips?
- As an avid Etsy buyer (as well as a seller), I take note of the things that make me feel special as a customer: little handwritten cards, a magnet. Those things do not go unnoticed!
- I offer all my first-time buyers a special coupon code. Anyone who buys from me three times or more gets a permanent coupon code for being a regular customer. I really appreciate the people who support my work, and I want their third or fourth visit to be just as good as their first.
- I really interact with all my fans and friends on my Facebook page. I love to share progress shots and listen to their ideas. My customers come up with things I would never dream up on my own. Some of my best work started with a customer’s idea.
- Don’t fake it. If you don’t feel like posting on your blog for a week, don’t. If you don’t have anything to say on Facebook or Twitter, don’t. Just be genuinely you — people respond to that.
What tool or technique has been the most effective in getting buyers to your shop?
I give items away to popular blogs for giveaways. It’s always fun, and I get to be featured on their blog. My views and favorites go sky high everytime I participate in one.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
It’s hard to be taken seriously as an artist — no one believes you can make a living, even though people do it every day. People ask me when I will open a “real shop.” I politely tell them that online I can reach people around the world and network while drinking my coffee and being with my kids — that beats a “real shop” any day.
Sometimes it gets hard never knowing if you will be able to make all your bills on time, but it all seems to work out in the end. It’s also sometimes difficult to see where my business ends and my home life begins. I spend all day catering to the kids and my shop. Thank goodness my husband cooks and cleans, or we would be in trouble.
What’s the most exciting thing that’s come of selling your designs on Etsy?
Moving to Huntsville, Texas, to work with the Phoenix Commotion to build a house out of recycled, reclaimed and donated materials. Now that being an artist is my full-time job, I can work from anywhere as long as I have Etsy. We will start building our own green home soon, and I can’t help feeling that without Etsy, I would not have been able to stay home, paint every day and become a better artist, and we would not be in Texas building our own home, which has been a life-long dream.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar path?
- Patience. There are very few overnight success stories in this world. The speed of your first few sales do not determine how successful you can be and what you might do in the future.
- Don’t give up, or get discouraged. It took me two years to realize the potential of my online Etsy storefront.
- Remember that customer service is 100% of running any kind of business, online or not. Answer messages promptly. Be kind and understanding. Try to “be the customer” and think of all the things you would expect when messaging the owner of a business.
Anything else you would like to share?
I regret not getting my art out there sooner. My fear of not having everyone fawn over my work at first glance kept me from sharing it with anyone at all. I am happy that I got over that and gave up creating what I thought others wanted and started creating what made me smile. My work may not be edgy or controversial or even very modern, but it’s what makes me happy. Once I started creating what made me happy, people started to take notice. I would also like to thank every single person who has supported me in this journey: customers, family, friends, and, of course, the Etsy community.