JULY 2020 BROGAN BOOKS SHOP UPDATE
Well, guys, I'm not sure where to start because I don't really know where I left you.
Forgive me, I'm going to mix in some stats too.
I guess what this is, is this is the story of my Etsy store. It's long. But there are pictures. And I tried to keep it brief with many spaces....maybe, I guess.
Although I've had an Etsy store since 2015, I mostly used it to sell poetry books until I decided to start selling some of my 'art' creations sometime in the fall of 2018. You guys may remember I was making a lot of books and paper at that time. Time consuming, not super profitable, and not very photogenic either (hand-made paper I'm looking at you in particular). I'd decided by this time that I wanted to focus on papercrafting (but broadly) as a primary artistic sort-of outlet. I had been carving rubber stamps for a bit by then.
I was trying to learn how to make stickers. I had already decided that cards were a good product to focus on and in fact, my first sale (to my aunt) was of some blank cards embossed with a rather striking jellyfish stamp.
It wasn't long before I got in trouble with a listing on Etsy and my most profitable one at that. Turns out people will troll listings for names like "Post-it" and report your content for copyright infringement if you use brand names, even if you are actually selling products that incorporate the named brand in the final product. I still have two of the damn things left.
It was the start of a beautiful relationship. (Or, at least, a controlling one.)
In 2018, my sales were almost entirely limited to kind friends and family members. I'll be honest; many of my listings were a bit too rough, a bit too experimental to really expect people to buy. My first "big-time" sale was of 5 collage Christmas cards from a friend of a friend. And a guy in Portland commissioned 2 hand-carved stamps. I had 7 orders of 17 total products that year.
I'm the kind of person that needs to jump in to learn. I wasn't going to perfect my products and then list them online -- I wanted to do it live. And I thought the stuff I made was cool. I still do. Loads of experience with poetry submissions have made me fairly immune to being ignored -- and after the winter holiday rush of 2018, that's what a lot of my 2019 was on Etsy.
I kept at it with the stickers. It was an infuriating but engrossing time. I was self-teaching myself how to use a cricut (cutting machine) as well as starting to dabble in digital art making with Clip Studio Paint. I had chronic issues getting the stickers to cut out right and often the machine would cut erratically, taking forever to cut out an image or even cutting random spots or lines on my sticker sheets. I didn't understand where that was coming from. It was very frustrating and also stressful -- I was afraid I was going to break the machine, honestly. And the finished products just didn't look good with all those random extra cuts and rough edges around stickers and so on.
I tried a bunch of other things in 2019 too. I knew Christmas cards would be a big one but wouldn't sell til Nov/Dec. I tried valentine's day cards (a success so mild it might not be considered a success). I also made some anti-valentine's-day temporary tattoos.
This is how I would make stickers and images back when I was learning: I'd draw stuff by hand. Once I had good initial drawings, I'd use a lightboard and I'd painstaking copy the drawings by hand. Then I'd scan them (using Printer A) onto my laptop. After that I'd put them in Clip Studio paint and painstakingly draw the border of each sticker(or tattoo) -- using a mouse. I didn't have a drawing tablet until October 2019. Once I'd drawn the borders I had to color the outside so my cutting program would recognize what to cut and what not to -- then I'd load those images into the cutting program and hold my breath and HOPE they would cut the way I wanted them to. I wouldn't know if I had good cuts until I ran a sheet off. (Often, I didn't.) And yes, if you guessed it -- everything for the shop got printed on Printer B. Convoluted, you got it.
Sometimes, I didn't even draw the base image. I'd be SUPER archaic and I'd carve it out of a rubber or linoleum stamp instead.
It amuses me in a kind of nihilistic way to consider all the work I have put in sometimes: making stamps (which are themselves replicable images) in order to scan them in order to get them in the computer in order to make them into stickers. Which were really just digital replicable images.
This entire sticker sheet is made of images generated from stamps.
I still do it sometimes! Carved stamp images give a really graphic feel, I find, and just look both very unusual and very striking to me. But oh my god the time investiture. And remember, any image editing on my computer I was doing with a mouse or with a touchpad -- no stylus, no true drawing implements whatsoever. A right-handed mouse. Of course, I am a lefty.
In 2019 I sold a lot of cards. I noticed -- and was surprised -- that my temporary tattoos were actually kind of indie-low-grade-background popular, however. It got me thinking that maybe I should do more temporary tattoos. After all, I could use the same images for tattoos and stickers if I wanted. That year I sold 26 products in 11 transactions. Summer was a complete dead zone. I believe I didn't sell anything from May until October or November. shrug I was happy i was selling at all. And -- this was the exciting bit -- to strangers! People I'd never met had started to buy, occasionally, one or two of my listings here and there. Christmas-themed items (cards and I'd expanded now to embossed gift tags) remained my leading genre.
I guess it really did all start to pick up for me end of 2019/beginning 2020. It kind of amazes me to realize that. It amazes me to realize I haven't even had my drawing tablet for a year. It felt like I resisted learning how to use it for a long time. It felt like it was a struggle to make any art digitally.
But I'm looking at my shop and I can see based on the orders that by Feb 2020, I was successfully making sticker sheets that actually were cut correctly and didn't have all that extra "noise" in the machine when I made them. I'd figured out what that was. It was background splotches and images and color and pixels in my digital art that I couldn't see unless I looked really, really carefully. A lot was driven by my draw-then-scan method. And also just my incompetence and how I edited -- or didn't -- edit the images in CSP.
A vinyl sticker listing I'd posted in 2019, just because I liked it and because I'd been trying to learn more about Cricut and how to create stuff, started out popular and got even more so as the discontent around policing and racial injustice in the US grew in the first half of 2020. It's a truly good sticker. I never expected it to be my top selling item.
It's also interesting to note it's one my least creative products. I just typed some words into a script that looked right, made the colors cool, and printed and cut it out.
I do like to think I have a certain gift for picking the right colors. I think that's a lot of what collage is, or good collage can be driven by.
In Q1 I drew my first sticker sheet (that wasn't mostly typed or the same image repeated over and over) starting complete from digital. It's one of my top items now, too. And to be honest, it baffles me a little bit why THIS witchy listing is so much more popular than the others. But I don't mind. I will take it.
I started making more funny vinyl stickers. And just more vinyl stickers. I'd been slowly building a repertoire of "practical" stickers as well -- days of the week and stuff like that -- and I got another much-liked listing out of a rainbow gothic days-of-the-week sheet. That was truly a product where I saw other sticker makers selling gothic-font days of the week, which I liked - but no one was selling vivid rainbow ones. And that's me. I want my vivid rainbow and bright colors.
So I hand calligraphied the lettering, threw it on the computer and messed around with colors.
I was learning. Slowly but surely. And the frustrating moments and the repeated waste of material were finally significantly decreasing.
One of my favorite creations, Trump as Joe Exotic, got taken down from Etsy within like 2 days. At least I got to sell two first (to a friend). Now I give them away as freebies whenever anyone orders a liberal-intonated sticker.
I tried to pull inspiration for sticker sheets from -- just -- whatever was happening around me in my life that I liked. I ended up making a sheet of temporary tattoos/stickers (available as either) for Friday the 13th. If you don't know, Friday the 13th is a big tattoo parlor day. I drew tattoos that I thought I wanted and I themed it around conspiracy theories.
Some rando in France was the first purchase of that Friday the 13th temporary tattoo listing. That was very cool.
I made a sheet of cat stickers. I made every sticker on the computer and what's more, I finally learned how to use and understand LAYERS. Every cat on the sticker sheet is one I have known in real life, in person. (Shamelessly, 4 of the pictures are of cats of mine.)
So then of course I made dog stickers, but not til after I made more cat stickers first. And I started to look at things that sold well or got a lot of likes and started trying to make more listings like those.
And somehow, it's July 2020 and I have sold 17 orders comprising 60 products. I have not only sold items every month this year but I have even sold items on consecutive days. And most of my sales are to strangers. And if I have an idea for a sticker sheet I can get from idea to sellable final product within, like, two hours. Sometimes even less maybe.
I'm prepping for Christmas. I've made 80 sales (they count it by product sold) on Etsy now. I think my goal by EOY is 100. That kind of volume is crazy to think of even just compared to last year. But winter holidays are my busy season and I have like 20 cards already listed plus another 2-5 ready to put up -- and I'm making even COOLER and more varied gift tags this year that I think will go over well -- could I do it?
I think I could. Maybe. I really do.
SOME FACTUAL COMMENTS:
I pay $30/month (or a dollar a day) to advertise a number of listings on Etsy. Look, it reads like a success story up above, but truly I've been bleeding money into this store for a long while. I do not believe I'd be making any of this kind of sales volume if it weren't for a) advertising and b) COVID. There's been a big spike in traffic since March. That's absolutely partially, if not mostly, driven by people being at home, bored, and wanting to support small businesses.
But I do believe it has to do with the improved quality of my listings, the improved SEO and keyword bullshit I'm trying to get better at, and so on -- I believe the work I've put in, consistently and over time, on the store has absolutely driven SOME traffic and purchases.
Really I would love it if the sales from the store just covered the ads and the listings. That I guess is my goal for success.
And it's pretty cool to me to sit back and realize that for the most part, I've managed to find some success just doing the art that I find cool and interesting. I really do gravitate towards making things I personally think are cool and then am lucky enough (or shell out in ads enough) that the right people seem to see them.
It's good, because "running a small business" (I feel I barely qualify) is NOT really about art or creativity at all. I keep an inventory with a code system now after a couple of close calls/selling people products I didn't actually have stocked! I am learning about SEO and keywords. I am taking better photos in better lighting. I am hand-writing cards to each of my customers asking them to please leave a review if they're happy and to reach out to me so I can fix it if they're not. I'm calculating the yearly cost of a listing. I'm starting to consider things like "How many listings do I want in my shop, maximum?" I have 100 listings now. ISN'T THAT CRAZY. I do stuff like review my prices and make sure they're standard across different products and why.
This is honestly the not-so-fun part of it. Or -- it's kind of fun -- but it's 100% NOT creative work. It's not really why I got into Etsy. I cherish what I am learning and think there is a lot of value in having this experience...but I want to make sure I don't oversteer, and end up burnt out on Etsy because I viewed it as a business trying to turn a profit instead of a way to share my creative kook with the world.
Anyway, this is VERY long. I tried to compensate with pictures. Please skim.
I am still surprised to realize how much has changed and how well the shop has started to do -- just within the past year.
It's pretty dang cool regardless.
My logo started out life as a stamp too -- actually, TWO stamps. One for the book and one for the b's.