Tell us about your previous working situation and how you discovered Etsy.
After graduating from art school, I dove right into the working world. Convinced that I couldn’t make a living as an artist, I started working random office jobs through temp agencies. Fast forward ten years to 2010, and I was still stuck in an uncreative corporate job. I was stressed all the time and it was really starting to take its toll. I would come home from work, totally drained, and I wouldn’t feel like creating anything. My muse was suffering big time!
I discovered Etsy through Craftster.org when it first launched in 2005. I immediately signed up. It wasn’t for another few years that I really started getting serious about selling my craft; that’s when things really started to take off.
What does “somavenus” mean?
Soma Venus was a pen name I created back in art school when I needed to start a blog. I chose the name on a whim! I wish it had more of a story behind it. Soma was derived from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Venus is a reference to love and beauty. I later found out through a pen pal from Finland that soma means cute! (I love pen pals. Convo me if you’d like to be pen pals!)
How did you transition into full-time Etsy selling?
I’ve never really been one to prepare and plan for things. I tend to follow my gut. I did have a good system of filling orders on nights and weekends after my day job, but eventually I had to choose one or the other.
What are your best marketing tips?
I started by having a huge assortment of items in my shop: sketchbooks, zines, prints, jewelry, buttons, clocks and so on. Then I decided to solely focus on books. I wanted to home in on what I loved most and wow, did it really help my shop take off! This was one of many tips and pieces of advice I gleaned from becoming a regular in the Virtual Labs. If you’re a new seller looking for help, I highly recommend attending one of the shop critiques that happen weekly. Maybe I will see you there!
Listing items frequently also helps with increased traffic and sales. This will put you at the top of the searches in your category and it always gives a boost in views, hearts and sales! When I was working a day job, I didn’t have a lot of time to make new products so I would renew what was already made and listed in the shop. Also if you have lots of new items to list, spread them throughout the day or week, versus listing them all at once. Otherwise all of your rad items will be buried by the end of the day.
What’s been your most popular item or line to date?
My vintage Bingo sketchbooks have by far been the most popular in my shop. They were an instant hit as soon as I started listing them. They frequent the homepage and treasuries, and even made it all the way to being featured on Martha Stewart! My favorite is seeing the way people of all ages react to them at craft shows. Huge beaming smiles and an “I remember these!”, usually followed by giving the book a big hug. I love watching how people connect with them!
Any memorable custom requests?
I’ve done many guestbooks for weddings which is always such an honor. My most memorable custom request was for a customer’s daughter’s birthday. She was turning 7, and he requested I make a blank sketchbook that would feature a drawing she created as the cover. It was so sweet and touching to think she would have that sketchbook and cherish it for ages. I absolutely love doing custom orders like that.
What have you found to be unsuccessful promotion?
I’ve never had luck with social networking promotion. I spend a lot of time on Twitter and Facebook, but rarely see sales from it. As far as business mistakes, I have purchased many items before at junk sales and antique stores that I just know will make the perfect new crafty item, only to have them sit around collecting dust. I’m a pack rat too, so I have lots of odds and ends. Anyone need a big bag of vintage dime store monster finger puppets?
Where do you score such great vintage materials; any recommendations for those passing through Portland?
Portland is a mecca for all things vintage — some of my favorite haunts would be House of Vintage (it even has a working black and white photobooth inside!) on Hawthorne Blvd, Stars Antique Mall in the Sellwood neighborhood and if I’m in the right mood for it, The Bins. I love junk stores that I find off the beaten path — there are so many gems outside of Portland as well! I also love going to rummage and estate sales to find unique items to use in my work. Even if I walk away empty handed, all of these places fill me with so much inspiration and new project ideas.
What is the biggest challenge you face during your daily schedule?
So far the biggest challenge has been not having a daily schedule. Going from being scheduled all the way down to when I take break/lunch to living a creative non-scheduled life has been such a different world. Sometimes I get carried away with making art and the day is over before I know it. I’m working on being better about making a daily schedule so I can make sure I get everything accomplished.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job?
I know lots of people mention they love being home with their children. For me, it’s getting to hang out with my cats all day! They remind me not to take life too seriously and have been a constant source of humor and inspiration for me. They don’t make the greatest bookbinders, however. If I want inspiration, I can drive out to the Oregon coast on a Tuesday afternoon, one of my favorite places to make books, or I can stay up till 4 a.m. working on art if I want to. I don’t have to deal with rush hour traffic and I don’t have to answer to anyone else but me. So far, there’s not much I miss.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself knowing what you know now?
I would have jumped sooner! I was spending overtime at the day job and then working on orders until 3 in the morning — it was crazy! I let my fear and the what ifs keep me in a job that I just wasn’t made for. The moment I finally jumped and left my job, doors started opening left and right for me. My advice to anyone considering this is to take that leap and believe that anything is possible! Life is too short to be stuck in a job you hate, especially if it stifles your creativity when the day is done. Finally being able to spend my entire day feeding my creative soul means more than anything else.
Have any favorite Etsy shops we should know about?
- Littleputbooks has always been my crafty cheerleader! She makes amazing banners out of her original photographs.
- CeolaDesign makes gorgeous, one-of-a-kind, modern organic jewelry.
- TalkingSquid stylishly recycles T-shirts into rugs and pillows.
- MicheleMaule offers unique adorable illustrations — many of Portland, Oregon where I live!
- thegoodreverend photo credit for the rad studio images.
Thanks to Melanie for sharing her story. You can see some of her work in the Seller’s Items below.
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