Do you have any advice on different online selling platforms? Is there one you prefer, and why?
To keep things simple, I’ll list a few here, along with my experience with each. There are many, many more- I think?- but these are the ones I’ve used!
Etsy (5% transaction fee plus $0.20 listing fee)
When I first started, I sold everything on Etsy. In my experience, Etsy is a great platform to start selling on, for a few reasons- 1) It’s well-known, and when looking for handmade gifts, people turn to Etsy, 2) It’s easier for customers to read and write reviews, and if you’re like me, from a customer’s viewpoint, reviews can either sell a product or make me look for another option, and 3) The seller support team at Etsy is fantastic, and if you find yourself in a sticky situation, they will help you sort things out/maintain your integrity as a seller in a way that is fair.
Cons: Etsy recently raised their seller transaction fee for online transactions to 5%, and it now includes shipping. That’s 2.1% higher than both Square and PayPal’s fees, and over time, it does make a difference.
Square (2.9% + $0.30 transaction fee)
Until last year, I hadn’t used Square for anything other than their Square reader, which I still use for in-person transactions if I’m doing a pop-up market. When I started to work on more corporate projects, I needed to find a way to send invoices that, frankly, looked more professional than what I was using, were easy to keep track of, and were easy for the client to pay online (when applicable). I loved using Square so much that I’ve started using it for private commissions, too. The transaction fee is lower than Etsy’s, and protects the customer’s privacy, since I just send an invoice through email instead of setting up a public listing.
Cons: Although I’m pretty sure that it’s easy to set up an online storefront with Square, you would have to generate traffic to that storefront on your own (possibly through social media, or search engine ads). Where someone might stumble upon your storefront while looking for handmade gifts on Etsy, it’s less likely (I think, at least) that that’s going to happen with a Square storefront.
PayPal (2.9% + $0.30 transaction fee)
I haven’t used PayPal as selling platform, but I have processed payment through PayPal, so I feel like it’s probably worth mentioning that the transaction fee is the same as Square’s.
Spoonflower (designer makes 10% commission for every product sold)
Spoonflower manufacturers great quality fabric, wallpaper, and gift wrap (this isn’t an ad, I’ve just purchased all three, so I can confirm) using designs uploaded by the different artists who create them. Spoonflower manufacturers, packages, and ships the product. For each product sold, the artist receives a 10% commission, which is paid monthly through PayPal.
Cons: To be totally transparent, while I can’t say that I’m positive about this, there’s a good chance that you can make more of a profit from finding a manufacturer and selling these items on your own. At this point in my career, I don’t have/know of a manufacturer, and so selling items through Spoonflower is my best bet as far as getting fabric/wallpaper/gift wrap out there. The trade-off is also pretty huge, especially considering the fact that I’m a one-woman-team - I don’t have to worry about manufacturing, packing, or shipping.
Society6 (designer makes 10% commission for every product sold)
Society6 works the same way that Spoonflower works as far as commission and payment goes, but they manufacturer different items (phone cases, mugs, even furniture). My pros/cons for Society6 are the same as my pros/cons for Spoonflower.
How do you figure out what product types/variety to offer?
Right now, in my Etsy shop, I offer prints, stationery, and original artwork. These items are all very easy/straightforward to ship, I can manufacturer them myself, or with the help of a printer- up to this point, I have printed my 8x10 art prints through ProntoPress in Bethesda, MD, and used them for my wedding invitations, but one of my goals for 2019 is to move into fine art/giclee printing. After a friend recommended gicleetoday.com, I ordered some paper samples and they just came in and look amazing. I'm really excited about this, because while I'll still offer the prints I've had printed through ProntoPress, I'll now be able to offer giclee versions of certain prints (including a 16x20 alphabet print I designed in early 2019). I also package them myself (I have the exact packing materials I use for all my artwork linked here). Since I don’t print to order/from home, and order all of my prints in bulk quantities, the most difficult thing for me is figuring out what artwork to make prints of. Instagram has been really helpful with this- if I get multiple requests for prints of the same piece of artwork, or high engagement on an artwork post, I might consider ordering prints.
I don’t know if this will be helpful, but I’ve also found that things like maps or paintings of places/favorite restaurants usually sell the best (in my experience!), possibly because they remind people of those places/of home.
I want to sell stationery online. How do I get started?
I would say to invest in a great scanner, purchase a Photoshop membership, and draw/paint something every day. Aside from the number one thing that has helped me with my career, which is the people I’ve been lucky enough to surround myself with, those three things have been the biggest “game-changers” for me.
How did you find your audience in person and on Instagram?
The single most important factor in “launching” my career as an illustrator is something that I haven’t had very much control over- it’s the network of people I was already surrounded with when I got started. Between my co-workers, women from my college sorority, my group of friends, and, most importantly, my family (my mom is one of eight siblings, and I think that most of my Etsy sales in my first year came from my parents, aunts, and cousins), I had a steady stream of support from the very beginning. Because of this, I think I was naive in a lot of ways- I believed my mom when she told me that certain things I was making were really great, when they really weren’t, and because of that, I didn’t consider giving up.
The factor that I did have control over (to some degree!) was finding an audience through social media, which a lot have people have asked about. If you know me personally, you know that I get really awkward (even more awkward than usual) talking about social media, because (for whatever reason) I’m embarrassed to admit that building a presence on Instagram is something that I’ve worked really hard at, and that I continue to work hard on. In the beginning, most of my sales came from friends/family and word of mouth, but as I’ve grown my Instagram account, more of my commissions and projects come from social media. As this is my full-time job and a business, I can’t really ignore that fact- that Instagram has been extremely instrumental in getting me where I am today.
That being said, if you’re looking for hundreds of thousands of followers, listening to me is probably not your best bet- I don’t have hundreds of thousands of followers, and it’s taken me almost five years to get my account to where it is today, and it’s happened (and hopefully is still happening?) very slowly!
What I have done that’s helped (I think) is to post something daily (or as close to daily as possible), interact with others as much as possible (I feel like it’s going to sound dumb, but you get what you give), and post the type of work I like to do. For example, I found that once I started posting more patterns (which I love to do), I started to get more inquiries from people who wanted to commission them.
What I have not done that I don’t think would help/wouldn’t recommend is buy followers. This is something that has always really irked me, because I feel like as an Instagram user myself, it always seems pretty obvious when an account has purchased followers, and makes me less inclined to follow that account (and a little confused). Maybe I’m missing something, because it seems pretty popular, but it seems a little pointless to me.
What I have not done that might help is promote my account through Instagram ads. While I’ll never say never, I don’t think that I’ll probably do this personally, but I can’t speak for whether or not they work/help grow your account.
Where do you find your clients, and do you have any repeat clients?
I think I mentioned this in my last response, but in the beginning, most of my commissions/sales came from friends/family, then, through word-of-mouth, and now, many of them come through people who have seen my work on social media. The companies and brands I’ve worked with on a freelance basis have all emailed me after seeing my work on Instagram or my website (a little embarrassing, but while all of my projects are exciting to me, whenever I hear from a brand or company that I’ve heard of before, I’ll always call my mom before I do anything else- even respond to their email!)
I think that anywhere from a third to half of my clients are repeat clients. This makes me really happy on a personal level, because it means that they were happy with the first job I did for them, and on a professional level, because every time I work with a client, both parties have a better idea of what to expect, and the process goes more smoothly with each new project. Because I have a better idea of what they're looking for from having worked with them before, there aren't usually as many edits as there would be for a first-time client, and sometimes, there are no edits at all.
I recently learned that there are agencies and PR firms that represent illustrators, and in some cases, they will reach out to brands/companies with whom the artist wants to work. I don’t have any personal experience with this, so I can’t give my two cents, but I’m sure that it’s worth looking into!