One of the hardest parts about shooting things the way I do is finding the "right" items to buy. Often i'm destructive, or at the very least unkind to the clothing and props I use, but at the same time I appreciate beautiful, vintage items. For me, those two things don't often mesh well. I don't want to destroy something old and amazing, yet know that it's likely to happen when shooting certain ideas. I typically try and find already messed up old items, but it's not always easy to do so.
Add on that i'm always on a tight budget and I really shouldn't be surprised that i've been known to look for the right dress or prop for a year or more. Or that I often feel like i'm losing my mind!
It's also pretty much a given that I spend more time looking for items than I do shooting. And in the process I end up coming across a lot of stuff that doesn't fit what I need, but may fit what others might need. In the past i've tried to do blog posts to share these items, but it's not something I often feel super motivated to do, and so it doesn't get done.
I don't know why it took so long to come to this solution, but I finally just created a pinterest board to quickly and easily post to when I find these things:
I won't lie, some of it is decidedly ugly! But I always find it's good to have those sorts of items around. The less you like it the less you'll hesitate to destroy it. And like i've spoken about before, (I think I did in those videos I made forever ago?) try and think outside the box. You don't have to leave any of it as-is. You can remove ugly trim, cut off just the bits you like to use with something else, like the sleeves or the bottom to wear as a skirt instead. You can dye it, spray paint it, glue stuff to it, rip it apart and make something else. Or heck, change the color in post-editing.
And even the ugliest of dresses can look pretty decent from far away, or in the right light. Sometimes the lines of a dress, the length or fullness of a skirt, or even the sheen of the fabric is more important then the color or trim, which are usually changeable aspects. (Doing long exposures in the dark? Look for ugly dark pieces covered in sequins or rhinestones that'll catch the light but also disappear some in the dark, hiding the uglier parts.) Basically, you can focus on the aspects of the clothing that you need to have, and then work on figuring out how to disguise or remove the bits you don't.
Anyways, so yes, I'll be adding items to the board whenever I come across them, and I hope it ends up being of use to some of you!
I saved this part for last because I’m probably the worst person to talk about promoting one’s work, be it prints or in general. (I guess I’m about as good as promoting my work as I am of inspiring confidence in this blog post!) I don’t enjoy it, I don’t want to do it, and while I do more than the bare minimum, there’s still a good chance I could do So Much More. So this is more about what I HAVE done and what I’ve seen from it, and surely it’s enough to at least start with.
Social Media. It’ll always be Evil.
If you’re an artist online and you want people to know you exist it’s smart to be on everything. And if I’ve learned anything it’s that whining about it doesn’t make it better, so try and just skip over that part if you can.
Etsy has it so that on each items listing page you can post that listing directly to Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. However, if you’re going to set up accounts on multiple social media platforms the least time consuming option is to set up one account to automatically post to another whenever possible. For instance: My Facebook “fan page” automatically posts to twitter, and my Pinterest account posts to my personal Facebook when I want it to. I believe Tumblr can post to multiple places as well.
Instagram posts to multiple things, but you can’t include a clickable link in an Instagram post, so when I post an image there that I also sell prints of I tend to just mention how to find my shop on Etsy using the search.
Tumblr I’ve recently changed up a bit, where instead of just uploading an image of mine and including the basic info, I now make the image and text link to the prints listing page on Etsy and mention that people can find information on prints there. If I’m going to put my images up it might as well lead to something that could make me money.
Everyone utilizes these things differently. I don’t like when people ONLY post their Etsy listings on their Twitter, Facebook, etc. pages, so I don’t do it myself and typically I won’t follow those who do. Other people don’t find it as annoying. You can make it just for Etsy, include posts that cover everything that has to do with your work, or make it a mix of those things and personal stuff. Whatever you’re comfortable with. But like putting up new listings often, the more you post the more chances people will see your shop.
This all goes for blogs as well. I’m awful at using mine regularly, but I’m generally fine with that because I don’t want to fall into the trap of always feeling the need to create new content, images or otherwise. I’m happy to chug along posting something only when I feel I have something to share. Things like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook I prefer since they’re set up more for quick, small posts. I can take a shot of something I’m working on or even just my studio being a mess, and bam, there it goes, off to remind people Photographer Caryn still exists. I mean, look at this series of posts! Obviously i’m not always the most succinct! There is no way I could do this all the time without having a nervous breakdown.
The good thing is that there are multiple ways of putting your work and shop out there even when you’re not actively creating anything new.
Hey you with the pretty money, come sit by me!
The other side of this is finding people who will follow you. Or really, finding people to follow in hopes they’ll follow you too. And this goes for social media as well Etsy itself. Of course, I follow shops and people I like more often, but every once in a while I’ll browse around in search of those I would imagine might like and buy my prints, and I follow them too. So long as they’re not annoying. Though, only awesome people would buy my prints, so what am I even saying?!
Do I feel great about it? Nope. But I don’t feel great about most of this. I’d much rather live in a dark room, making images and putting them online and having that be enough to bring in all the money I need to get by. Doesn’t work like that though.
Change your thinking, put on blinders, whatever it takes?
Something else that I try and do is to not to think of my print shop as my portfolio, and stop thinking of myself as solely an artist when it comes to the shop.
If you look at the images on my website you’ll see I only have a small amount in the gallery in comparison to what I have on Etsy. THAT is my portfolio of the work I’m proud of. The hard part with this is that in including other images in my shop means I’m still slapping my name on images I’m not as proud of and sending them out there for the world to see. There are literally some that make me cringe, but, they sell. And frankly I’d rather sell more prints and bring in more money, especially if it means I can afford making more work i'm proud of. I’ll just cringe my way on to bank, and try and remind myself on the way that the worst of the worst still never sees the light of day.
(An alternative is to have two shops, which I’ve unsuccessfully tried a few times over the years. But this is my lazy kicking in. Having to log out and back in as well as CARE is just too hard for me.)
And also, I’m sure that many are capable of bringing in loads of money and keeping their artistic integrity 100% intact, but I don’t know that it’s always realistic, especially for us smaller fish.
Ads? Those things we try to avoid? Yeah, let’s pay to push some of those on other people!
Obviously I just LOVE paying for ads.
First though, let me rewind a bit to bitch about Facebook. They’ve messed with their “algorithms” or whatever to the point that the only way the people who like your fan page will actually see all your posts is if you pay for it to happen. Each. Individual. Post. For each one to reach every follower I have I’d have to pay at least 5$ to make it happen. If I promote JUST the posts involving my Etsy listings, and I renew one listing a day, every day, that would be 150$ a month. 1800$ A YEAR!
That’s nut balls! Yet somehow I’ve still tried promoting posts, and posting ads here and there when I had a little extra money. Needless to say, it has all felt pretty pointless, and I wouldn’t suggest doing it regularly, if at all. Maybe if you’re having a sale or something else you’d deem as “special”, but that’s about it. And even then, I’d do the cheapest option just to promote an individual post. Paying for ads to try and get new people to your Facebook page has come across as a huge waste of money to me for many reasons.
Etsy has its own option for extra promotion to your shop, but it has been a long time since I’ve tried it so I don’t feel like I should comment on that. And I’ve never tried twitters option.
That’s all I really have to say about paying for ads. No, that’s a lie, I could say more but it involves words that would likely offend someone.
The Etsy Community.
In my first few years on Etsy when I’d see other people asking how to bring more people to their shop others would always suggest contributing to the forums and joining teams. I did that, more than once over the years, and I’m still part of a few communities. Aaaaaaaaand I wouldn’t suggest it. Maybe for some it helps, but the forums especially never seemed to do a thing for my shop, and worse yet there are cliques of regulars and things can get messy and it’s just a dumb waste of time to me.
Now, with teams, I’d say there is some use to them, but it all depends on the team and how much you’re willing to participate with them. For the most part I’ve stuck with ones just for photographers, but the problem there is that most of the promotional things teams will do only leads to your work being seen by other sellers. And those sellers are looking for their own sales, not usually other people’s items to buy. This wrinkle applies to all teams in one way or another, even though yes, sellers can be buyers too. But if you’re interested in the community aspect of it, which can definitely be nice, then give it a try, I just wouldn’t expect it to be the thing that pushes your shop to the next level.
Within Etsy i’ve already mentioned listing regularly, how to get your listings seen more within the search engine, and ways to get people to your shop. One more note on Treasuries that I didn’t mention in Part 2 is your participation. I can’t comment on if making treasuries helps, as I don’t make them myself (plus you’re not supposed to include your own items in them!) BUT! It helps to have the treasuries themselves seen, and you can help with that.
Often the person who made it will contact the shops whose items they’ve included, but not always. You can keep up with it yourself by searching for your shop name on the main treasury page, or on the ‘Your Shop’ section of your activity feed. It’s also helpful, and nice, to favorite and comment on the ones you’ve been included in, as browsing more popular treasuries is an option and could help the ones you’re in get up to the top.
You could share them on your social media accounts as well, but I don’t like to. To be honest I don’t care THAT much if other people’s shops are in treasuries, and have no interest in going to look through them, so I default to assuming people who follow me won’t care as well. Though I do sometimes post when I’m on the front page. I guess because I’m mean? =)
You could find blogs that feature artists and/or Etsy shops and see if they’ll feature yours. Offer to trade a feature on your own blog with another shop who has one. You can promote your shop in off-line venues, particularly festivals or events you participate in, should you choose to go that route as well. (Can’t help you there!) Or you could collaborate with other artists on Etsy, local or not. Like jewelry artists for example.
Make ‘em happy!
From time to time offer incentives, because we all love to feel like we’re getting a deal! Etsy has a coupon code option which I utilize in three ways:
Here and there I have a percentage off deal that runs for a short period of time. Usually something between 10-25%, depending upon how generous I’m feeling, and typically running no longer than a weekend. Very much a “hurry and take advantage of this!” sort of thing.
All customers automatically receive a coupon code for 10% off all their future orders. I don’t advertise this, it’s more of a little ‘thank you for buying my prints’ surprise. (SURPRISE!) A nice chunk of my buyers are repeat buyers, and i’m quite proud of that.
Discounts on orders of more than one print to encourage larger orders. I tier it: buy two and get 10% off your order, buy 3-4 and get more off, buy 5 or more and get even more off. Given how I fold my shipping costs into my prices and say “free shipping!” (another incentive) this helps remove those extraneous costs on big orders as well as giving a discount.
Just be smart about it. Don’t offer a discount every month because then it feels like less of a special offer, and someone certainly isn’t going to buy your prints full priced if they know another sale is just around the corner. Don’t offer discounts that make it so you’re no longer making a profit, or god forbid, losing money. It’s supposed to be a discount, not a giveaway.
Or you could do a giveaway! HA! Although, really, you could. Not regularly, of course, but maybe once a year it’s a good way to drum up traffic. There are so many ways you can do it too. People have to follow your blog or your tumblr or favorite your shop or share a link to it or whatever to enter. I mean, it needs to be easily trackable/provable by you, but whichever way you go about it, it gets attention. But it does work better if you already have an established following to help get news of the giveaway out.
And make sure you have an image to post along with any of these updates/offers/etc. Text only posts tend to stand out less, so do something to catch their eye:
While these things have their obvious business perks, it feels pretty great to give a little something back to the people who enjoy your work, and usually help it get a wider audience as well. Appreciate those who like your work!
Variety is the spice of .. blah blah whatever.
While I’ve already touched on print sizes, i’m bringing it up again because I think it’s important to have a range of sizes and price points to bring people in. Personally, I love large prints, but I like to see all the fine details, and I also live in a home with a lot of wall space. So I was very surprised when I was hearing from more than one customer that they preferred small prints, and not just because of the lower price. So remember that your tastes aren’t universal. There’s also the chance that someone will buy a small print because it’s all they can afford, but then come back sometime down the road to buy a bigger version when they have the extra money. I wouldn’t have thought that was a thing until it happened multiple times.
You’re not limited to selling your images on paper. While some find the idea of putting their images on phones or bags or pillow cases or jewelry a bit tacky, I think it’s great! Each option has its own amount of planning and headaches and expenses involved, but it opens you up to a whole other set of buyers who might not have seen your work otherwise. But I wouldn’t suggest doing this right off the bat, get yourself used to selling prints first.
There is also the option of non-traditional prints. Squares, circles, mounted prints, prints on metal, prints on canvas, and prints on wood, there are a lot of options out there. Some sellers have great success selling these types of things, but oddly I’ve never once had a request for any of them. I even spent a decent amount to have some mounted circular prints done, which I thought looked awesome, and then had them sit around in a drawer for more than a year before someone bought them. So maybe try dipping a toe in to start with. Mention it’s an option on your blog or in a listing, or put it in as a variation in the listing and include a digital mockup of it, then wait and see if anyone bites.
Just remember there are loads of things you can try out along the way, and you don’t have to be married to any of them. (And if you like the idea, try it. Not everyone is going to have a problem with it, and you shouldn’t be making decisions based on what some might find tacky!)
Be a mother hen!
And as I mentioned when talking about keywords and the search engine, Etsy’s shop stats is your friend! You can see what is bringing people in, what they’re looking at and liking, and most importantly if any changes are helping bringing more views and favorites. You don’t need to, or want to, stalk your stats, because it’ll make you a crazy person, but you do want to check in after the first few months, and then on a somewhat regular basis after that, to see what is, and isn’t working. Then make changes based on what you’ve learned and repeat.
Personally I’ve found that no matter how much I post links to my listings elsewhere, the majority of my hits originate within Etsy itself, by a pretty big margin:
Again, this is just my shop. Maybe it’s because I don’t post every listing everywhere else religiously. Maybe those who follow all my various accounts just know by now where to go to see my available prints and have no need to click on every link. My “followers” on other sites are relatively small compared to the amount I have on Etsy, probably because I put less work in on getting followers on those sites. Maybe it’s all of the above. There are so many factors to all of this that it might be things I never even thought to consider.
And that about wraps it up. I think the very basics are what you’d suggest to most people (if you were a fortune cookie) about many things: It doesn’t hurt to try, start slow, try not to over-think it, be flexible, utilize as many tools at your disposal as you can, and give it time. Things have improved for me every year I’ve been doing this, but it’s been a slow improvement. Maybe you’ll be the over-achiever type and put me to shame your first year! Ya jerk!
My plan is for this to be the final part of the series, but if anyone brings up anything pertinent, things I forgot come back to me or I find out some new tips, I’ll do a follow up. So again, feel free to ask questions or make suggestions!
Woohoo, the guts of it all! Listings! Which, at first, not a woohoo at all, but if you set it up right it can be a copy and paste affair of quick and easy awesomeness!
Patience is DUMB.....but necessary.Stupid patience.
My first listing suggestion is, if you’re new to Etsy, do NOT list everything at once. I know, it’s hard to fight that urge. You’re there, you’re ready to go, you’ve done all the pre-planning, you’re all set to rock Etsy’s face off and become a millionaire! And here I am, ruining all the fun. But if you go and list all 10 – 2,500 prints at once, what are you going to post for those who are visiting Etsy tomorrow to see? Or next week? Or next month? And then in 4 months every single one of those listings will expire on the same day and you’ll be right back at square one with an empty shop.
So please, space it out and give your shop more chances to be seen. New listings get buried fast enough on Etsy without pushing it further down yourself. Things will bunch up at times, it’s unavoidable, especially if you sell more than one print at a time, but re-listing 3 in the same day is way better than re-listing 20 or more at once. And at some point the habit of listing something regularly will turn into the habit of checking to see if anything has expired and needs renewing. (I’ve found that having the Etsy app on my phone makes re-listing expired or sold items easier, as I can check whenever I remember as opposed to hoping I remember when I’m on the computer. Plus when you make a sale your phone makes a ‘cha-ching’ noise!)
I won’t say that if you’re only listing a small batch of prints to not to even bother, but things like bringing attention to your shop and re-listing items is easier when you have more to list. There are a lot of images I hadn’t been offering in the shop because I was worried it would be too cluttered, but I found that the fewer images I have up the less attention I pay to the shop, and the less my items get seen. But the more images I offer the more views, favorites and sales I get. However, I’m around 200 right now. I’ve been in shops with listings up to 5 times that and I have a hard time making it through everything, even when I really want to, so keep that in mind too.
Everything and the kitchen sink. Maybe even your neighbors sink too.
Kind of like how I decide to cover so much I turn a post into posts, I think listings should be thorough. All those decisions I suggested you make in post 1, I think should be included in your listings for each print, and for two main reasons:
1.All the information your customer might need is right there for them already, and
2.It covers your butt.
I’ve found that the more information I provide in a listing the less likely a customer has to ask a question before purchasing, and who wants to delay a customer’s decision? These days the only times I usually hear from someone first is because they’re interested in something I don’t automatically offer, typically because it’s something with price variables, like matting and/or framing.
So how you print, what you print on, what sizes are available (more on that in a second) how you ship, how long it may take (important if you’re using an online printer) if you sign it, etc. I think it all should be spelled out beforehand in the listing so that your buyer knows what exactly it is they’re receiving. Go here to view a listing of mine so that you can get an idea of all I include and how I lay it out.
Obviously, you can include less, or include more. I’ve seen people explain why they made the image, or say where it was shot, when it was shot, what is was shot with, all that. It’s up to you. The way I have it set up makes it really easy for me to copy and paste with minimal changes needed when I post something new. I'm one of those people who is bound to put off something the more complicated it is, so having it be so easy and quick means I don't delay in posting new prints.
#2 above is for in case something goes wrong, or there is some sort of misunderstanding along the way. And trust me, no matter how clear or thorough you are, there WILL be a problem at some point, and it may or may not be your fault. Either way, like I mentioned in post 1, you need to have a plan for these situations, and I feel its best you be clear about what that plan will be. I lay this out both in my listings as well as in a message to seller that you can set up for them to see when they check out. Even if they don’t actually read it (also inevitable) if you end up with an angry customer on your hands it’s nice to be able to refer back to your listing and checkout message and remind them that you made it clear how the situation would be handled.
The aspects I mainly cover are the images not looking like they expected, and postal accidents vs something I obviously did wrong. Unfortunately, not everyone’s monitor presents an image the exact same. The first time I saw my images on a cheap monitor that had been configured poorly I nearly cried. But it brought to light that not every gets to see the images as I do, and I make sure to point this out. Thankfully no one has ever told me they were disappointed in how a print looked. (Probably because if they do have a crap monitor, my print had to of looked a million times better in person.)
Once I was putting together multiple orders simultaneously and switched up the envelopes, so two customers got the wrong order. In those circumstances it's completely my fault so I’m going to take the loss and order/send out another print at no cost to the customer.
A postal accident however, is not my fault. I do the best I can to make sure my prints are protected, and the majority show up in the same condition I sent them out in, but I’ve gotten enough mangled packages to know it doesn’t always matter if the delivery people don’t care. But if a customer isn’t going to pay for insurance to cover the potential of a postal accident or loss, I’m not going to lose money buying another print and shipping it. Instead, I offer to re-order and ship the print with the buyer paying for what it costs me to buy the print and ship it to them, nothing more. This means I don’t lose too much money (I don’t re-charge for the supplies to ship) but I’m also not making a profit, since I already did on the original sale. The cost to customers when this happens (although so far it hasn’t) is pretty minimal.
Not everyone may like those terms, but it is how I’ve chosen to set them up, and that’s all mentioned clearly in more than one place they have access to.
(One thing I don’t lay out, but do, is expedited shipping if there is a delay in shipping the print out to the customer. This is one down side to buying prints from a shop online, and apparently living where I do. I can never say how long it will take exactly for the print to get to me. If it for whatever reason has taken longer than “usual”, or never shows up (almost all online shops will re-print and ship for free ASAP if this happens) I will always let my buyer know what has happened, and will ship the print via priority mail instead of first class so that it gets there a little quicker. This has happened more than once, but the way I go about it has made it so that I’ve never gotten negative feedback, or a direct complaint, because of it.)
Again, how you choose to handle these situations is up to you, I just find that being upfront about it all can make anything that does pop up easier to handle. And you still might have a customer from time to time that is a little…… unreasonable, no matter what you say and do. Once I was threatened over a border around an image that was asked for, but not liked, and another time I, personally, was blamed for there being a hole through the packaging and print. Because, you know, I skewer all the orders I send out. Adds a little flare!
Print sizes and images.
It wasn’t always an option to offer multiple sizes in one listing. And it sucked. Now though, Etsy offers that with their “variations” section, and I think everyone selling prints should utilize it. While I can’t say for sure this is the reason, I’ve noticed that I’ve sold more large prints since being able to list all the sizes in one place. Who knows, maybe they see that it’s not a huge price jump to get something a little bigger and it entices them to do so, since all the options are right there for them to see and compare.
The second part to that for me, is showing exactly how I’d crop the images that I’ve decided can be printed in both their original dimensions (usually 8x12, 10x15, etc.) as well as cropped down to more traditional frame sizes (8x10, 11x14, etc.) Fitting those frame sizes is what I was being asked about the most, and I always made sure that if I thought it was doable the buyer understood what it would look like. I can’t always visualize one of my images missing two inches off of its height, so I can’t expect all customers to be able to either. Putting the comparisons that I was making individually when these questions popped up into my listings has stopped those questions coming in almost completely. (Since I don’t think about print sizes when I’m shooting not all my images are capable of being cropped, so I still sometimes get answers on those that don’t include those sizes in the listings.)
Otherwise, when putting images in the listing just use the file you have on your computer, sized down to something reasonable. (I don’t suggest uploading the full sized file, or anything even remotely close to that big, because then they can just save the image and print it themselves!) I also wouldn’t suggest taking a photo of an actual print. It’s usually pretty hard to correctly line it up, or shoot if it’s behind glass, AND get the coloring and all that right. (To many I’m sure these sound like obvious suggestions, but I’ve seen both of these examples on Etsy. Often.)
I always put my name and the copyright symbol on my images, but as hidden as possible. You don’t have to do this, or you can put it on in another way, but I can say that if you’ve got a visible watermark running across the whole thing, you’re a lot less likely to be included in treasuries. (More about treasuries later.)
Titles, Keywords and Tags are Very. Important. Things.
When I started out I left my titles simple, I included the name of the image and the size and left it at that. I saw that other people were super descriptive but I thought it looked like a jumbled mess, and honestly felt a bit silly about doing it myself. I mean, let’s be honest, some of my images are weird, but putting down words that described them somehow made them seem weirder! But now you’ll see my titles are also a jumbled, silly mess, not because I’ve changed my mind (totally haven’t) but because it’s important that I do so.
It turns out that if you repeat the same words (that of course should appropriately describe the image) in your title, your keywords AND your tags (these are all things you fill out when listing an item to sell) you’ll pop up sooner in searches for those words. That alone is a good thing, but it’s not just because potential customers will find you more easily, it’s also because treasury makers will find you as well.
For those not savvy with Etsy already, treasuries are little collections of listed items on Etsy chosen by other sellers, or even customers. You can see them here. They weren’t always a huge deal, but now some people seem to have made a hobby out of creating them, and, most importantly, some end up on the front page. For obvious reasons being on the front page is a good thing for those included, as it tends to create an explosion of new views, item and shop favorites, and possibly even sales.
When I first changed my titles, tags and keywords to reflect each other I wasn’t even thinking of treasuries, but in doing so, and being smart about the words I've chosen to use ever since, the amount of treasuries I’ve ended up in has risen a ridiculous amount. This again is reflected in an increase of views and favorites, even when the treasuries did NOT end up on the front page.
And the words you use matter. Lots of those who create treasuries base their choices off a theme, lots of which are pretty simple. Seasonal treasuries are always popular, so if you have images that might fit in to a season in some way, tag it as such. This probably won’t be a surprise, but my prints are wildly popular in treasuries around Halloween, and I don't even have to include 'Halloween' in my keywords. =) Color based treasuries are also huge, so if you have an image with a predominant color, make sure you use it. Have an image you can print fairly large? Include ‘poster’. If it’s creepy, own up to it and throw in creepy.
And the great thing is, you get access to shop stats, which includes letting you know which keywords brought people to your shop and listings, so over time you’ll get an idea of what’s working, and what might not be. I never realized ‘creepy’ would be such a draw when I added it! (Like, seriously, at least 5 of my most popular search terms in the past month have included ‘creepy’. The world is full of weirdos, thank god! Just kidding. Not really.)
So that’s it for Part 2! Part 3 will cover more promotional stuff; social media, Etsy ads, giveaways, discounts, Etsy teams and forums, and any other extra bits I can think of. You can find it HERE. Hopefully this won’t stretch into Part 4. I hear sleep is nice and supposed to come when it's dark outside, not light.
And again, any suggestions, questions, things I might have overlooked, etc, feel free to leave a comment!
First, i'm going to come right out and say that I went back and forth about writing about this for a while. Why? Because i'm a jerk! With almost everything photo related, over the past 10+ years I've had to learn through trial and error and doing the legwork to find answers myself. I've helped people out along the way, and often, but lets just say I didn't do it willy nilly. So for a while now i've had an attitude about not just sharing everything all the time with everyone.
Which now feels dumb, and so here I am.
Before I get started, I just want to say that I don't claim to be an expert at this, and it's not like i'm bringing in enough money from print sales to live off of. But i've had a shop on Etsy since 2006, and over the years i've made many changes, as well as changed my attitude when it comes to how I approach it, and have seen it all lead to improvements. Some of it is probably obvious, but other points are things I don't see mentioned too often, if at all. Either way, it never hurts to be thorough. So thorough I went from one post to having to split it into multiple posts! And this first piece will be more for beginners just starting out selling prints of their images.
First things first, Reality!
No shop will survive if they don’t sell items people want to buy, and for most people art purchases aren't considered a priority. So if you’re not offering something that strikes people in some way, it’s not going to sell. While i'm no guru in selling other types of art, or art period, I think this is more of an issue when it comes to photography. Most people can’t draw or paint with great skill, but it IS becoming easier for people to take a nice photo that is of really good quality and can be printed by a box store around the corner. And if people feel they can replicate what you'vre offering with little to no effort, they're not going to see any reason to buy a print of yours, no matter how low you price it. So for starters make sure you're objectively looking at what you're considering offering, maybe talk to some people you can trust to be honest with you, and yes, take a look at what is already listed on Etsy. Regardless you can still give it a try if you've got your heart set on it, but if you're work blends in with most everything else on there, don’t be surprised if a sale never comes.
Know the beast and have a game plan!
There are lots of little bits and pieces you should have figured out before you start listing prints. You don’t have to, but you’ll be helping yourself out if you’ve got at least the basics figured out. Here are some things I suggest you consider:
What are you going to list? What sizes will you offer? What are you going to charge? Are you going to make the prints yourself or have a shop do it? How are you going to package and ship it? How much can you afford to invest right off the bat? Are you going to already have all the prints you offer in stock, or order/print on demand? Do you have adequate storage space to store everything? How are you going to handle something going wrong after you've shipped it? How much time can you invest in all of this?
Which, and how many images you're listing is up to you, but try not to over-think it. It's not easy to predict what people will buy, and since it's not too much to list on Etsy it doesn't hurt to add some of the images you're not too sure about over time. (I'll talk more about everything concerning the actual listings in part 2.)
When it comes to packaging/shipping supplies it IS usually best to buy in bulk, but you should start small. There’s no point if you don’t have the space, or the money, or know yet how much you’ll be selling. Same goes for having prints already in stock. Even now that I actually have proper print storage, I don’t keep prints around. It’s hard to predict when you’ll get a sale, but again even harder predicting what images exactly will sell. And if you’re thinking of listing a lot of images and offering a variety of sizes, you’re talking about putting out a lot of money before you know how things will go.
Pricing is hard and I still don’t feel good at it, but at least right now I finally have some level of comfort with my prices. I got that comfort by finally breaking every expense down per print sold and factoring it into how I price prints, and how I handle shipping. You can’t just consider what the print costs to make, add on what profit you’d like to have, then what exactly it will cost to ship. More goes into it than that: You’re charged a fee to list an item on Etsy. You're charged another fee if something sells. Whether the customer pays via Paypal or using direct checkout through Etsy you're going to be charged a fee just to receive your payment. Then you need a print. Are you printing at home? Then you should have at the very least a photo quality printer [the ones I mean are not cheap] that needs ink [also not cheap] and photo paper [cost depends]. Or you can use a local place to print. Or you can use an online place. This is up to you, but either way you’ll have the cost of the print itself.
Printing yourself requires some level of dedication to this endeavor, especially if you want to make quality prints that are long lasting. I spent a few hundred dollars on a wide format printer for side projects mostly, because the prints it makes look great but will only last a small portion of time compared to an archival one from a print shop. It's nice to be able to print on demand, but you have to worry about it drying, or in my case, worry about animal hair getting in the printer or on prints. And there is also a restrictions to what sizes you can print, unless you're comfortable only offering small prints, and/or feel ok cutting a print down to size. Plus getting an image to look right isn't always easy, i've wasted lots of photo paper trying to get an image to print "right" from a file that prints fine at a print shop.
If you are lucky to have a local place, or even multiple ones (I’m not talking something like Walgreens or similar) or will be using an online shop, get some tests done first. Order the same images from each place and compare. Not everyone uses the same paper or printers, so prints can look different from shop to shop. For a local place, no worries about having it shipped to you, but consider that you need to drive there and home. Not a big deal if you get few orders, but it becomes a bigger deal if you’re far away or orders start picking up. [For tax purposes, if you do only photo business related things at this time, this could be a tax write off, just like all these other expenses.]
If you use an online print shop like I do, and have it shipped to you before sending it to the customer, that's another shipping cost to factor in. [Etsy does allow drop shipping now, which means you could buy your print from an online shop and have it shipped directly to the customer. I won't do this because then I can't sign and date the print, or make sure the image looks the way I intended it to and isn't flawed in some way. Recently I had a print arrive with a weird line running through it. A new one was printed and sent to me at no charge, but I would have hated a customer getting a print with a flaw like that and thinking I willingly sent it to them. It might still be an option, it just depends on what you’re comfortable with.]
If you're shipping yourself you need to take into consideration how you're shipping it. Sandwiched between cardboard? [Please make sure you use new cardboard, don't reuse anything that could have dirt and grime on it.] "Photo mailers"? [I personally hate these] Tubes? [I hate these too.] No one option is perfect, and preference will vary from artist to artist. And each is going to cost money as well. You're probably also going to want some sort of envelope or sleeve to put the print itself in, so it's not rubbing against anything abrasive or moving around loose in an envelope. If you're going the flat route, you're going to need a mailing envelope too. And you might want to slip something extra in there, like a business card or something similar with your shop name and contact info. Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching. But, not a BAD cha-ching. Personally I believe presentation matters.
And then there is the fun journey of choosing the shipping method and paying for that as well. Luckily it's easy to pay for and print shipping through both Etsy and Paypal, but you will need to have an appropriate scale to weigh the package for this. [Sticker labels you can print on makes this even easier, and 'do not bend' stickers are nice to slap on the outside.] Bringing it to the post office yourself? More gas used. Or do what I do, always try to have one priority mail item to ship out, because then USPS will do a free pickup when my mail person delivers my mail. I don't even have to be awake, which is nice, because i'm usually not! Size doesn’t even matter, and you set it all up online.
Here is a general idea of what I include when figuring out my print/shipping prices.
Cost of the print.
Cost of having that print shipped to me.
Cost of two pieces of cardboard. (I buy it pre-cut in bulk and split the total cost over how many pieces i've bought.)
Cost of cello envelope to put the print in. (same process as cardboard.)
Cost of an extra of some sort.
Cost of the envelope to mail it in.
Then an average shipping cost for each print size. (This part gets a little complicated considering I include shipping and nothing changes with the total price to the customer even if the print is going to another country. I'll spare everyone all that.)
I round everything up to cover some of the other small costs I don't include outright, especially since some things, like shipping labels, i purchased boxes of years and years ago and am still using. And from there I just figured out what i'd like profit wise. This isn't what will work best for everyone, it's just an example of what's working for me.
I bring up each option and all these costs not to overwhelm, but to both point details some overlook and fail to consider when it comes to pricing their prints, as well the many different things that need to be thought about in general when you're starting a small business like this. Some things I mentioned are optional, but some are not. Don't let it all scare you, most of these things are quick and easy to change up if you decide something isn't working for you. And Ebay is a great option for buying a lot of this extra stuff i've mentioned pretty cheap. Labels, a scale, envelopes, cardboard, do not bend stickers, all of it i've bought in bulk from Ebay. Just start out however seems easiest and best for you, so long as you're not cutting corners quality wise. If you're upsetting customers with poor quality prints or shipping everything in a way that results in damaged goods what is the point?!
Also, while considering all these little costs might seem tedious, they can add up quick, and give you a precise idea of what you have coming in and going out and, most importantly, what you’re pocketing, or could be. While you might have previously considered photography a hobby or a passion, it does become more of a business when you go this route, and you should consider it as such. Unfortunately. =)
One extra thing I can’t stress enough is that if you don’t have the time, or don’t care enough to be able to provide basic customer service, don’t do it. After so many years of buying on Etsy my biggest complaint is lack of customer service from sellers on there. It’s not even time consuming, even when I go out of my way to be thorough and helpful, so really it’s not even about having time, it’s about being willing to take the time. If someone messages you, message them back. If they ask a question, answer it. If they have a problem, fix it. (Within reason.) If you mess up, make up for it! You’d think this would be common sense, but trust me, it’s not for everyone.
And that's it for the beginner basics. If anyone would like to add anything i've forgotten, has any suggestions or questions or whatever, feel free to leave a comment!
For the next part of this series I’ll get into actual listings on Etsy, how I suggest going about them, and the tips I stumbled upon that have easily more than doubled the views and likes I get. You can find Part 2 here.