You may or may not know, but I’ve just recently launched an online shop called my thoughtful space! I sell mostly stickers and printables, but I’m also planning on putting up some more paper goods in the future like bookmarks, art prints, and possibly ephemera bundles (it’s a pretty farfetched dream for me, but I’ll get there)! Anyways, since then I’ve been getting lots of questions on things like my creative process, getting inspired, and how to start an online shop in general!
In this blog post, I will be getting into the nitty-gritty of starting an online shop 🙂 This post probably won’t be as in-depth as I’d personally like it to be since I myself am still experimenting with the whole structure and system of my online shop, so I’ll just be going through some of the more general questions and advice on starting an online business.
Take note that I’ve only had this shop for three months, so I’m not the most experienced person you can refer to about these things, but hopefully this post can be helpful to some of you in some way!
MY CREATIVE PROCESS
I’ve been getting a bunch of questions on the softwares I use to make my stickers, and I use the app Procreate on my 10.2 inch Ipad! The stylus I use is the apple pencil, and I use it for all my digital drawings! These three are my basic digital art essentials 🙂 I highly recommend getting them if you’re thinking of making stickers for your shop (or if you’re just thinking of trying out digital drawing in general)! You will need to get used to the features of Procreate, but it’s an AMAZING app since It’s super practical and efficient!
In terms of inspiration, I draw things from literally everything! Nature, music, books, people, places, conversations… you name it! I remember referencing one of my first digital art from several iconic book covers that were displayed at the front of my local bookstore.
I’ve also referenced my own pictures in the past (as narcissistic as that sounds) for an art! :’) Here’s how it turned out:
Pinterest and Tumblr are also amazing sources for inspiration! Literally anything that inspires you should also be the things that make you want to pick up a pen and start drawing!
So, Where Do I Begin?
Okay, so you’ve got your ideas down. Now what?
Start by deciding on a niche and narrow down your target audience. You might be excited about opening up a shop and all, but try to limit your products when you’re just starting you. A rule of thumb to go by is to sell products that you would buy yourself! Don’t just sell things that won’t bring in any value to you or your shop.
I also do NOT recommend churning out multiple products at once (when you’re just starting out and have a small audience). Put your effort and energy into making a few pieces that you’re super proud of! Additionally, you will need to think about the amount of time it takes you to create a design. For example, I take about 8 hours to complete a sticker sheet (rough sketch, outline, coloring, design), so I make sure to dedicate a day or two within a week to create new designs for my shop updates (which happens every month).
Since I own a ‘paper goods’ store, I produce all my stickers and prints using a printer and a sticker cutting machine! I’ve had the printer for several years now, and it’s a (old) Photosmart series 5520! It’s an inkjet printer, and it’s important to consider the supplies you’re getting that would suit the machines you have at home (eg. sticker paper specifically made for inkjet printers would NOT suit laser printers)!
As for the sticker cutting machine, I have the Silhouette Cameo 3! I was lucky enough to score one secondhand and have been using it for all my die-cut and kiss-cut stickers 🙂 The Silhouette Cameo also comes with its own software that you can use to trace your drawings! You can definitely start out by hand-cutting all your stickers/prints though 🙂 It just takes more time to do so, that’s all!
The Silhouette software was a pain to work with at the beginning, but going through a bunch of Youtube tutorials can definitely help you get started!
I still do recommend doing your own research when it comes to printers and other machinery that you may use to create your products! 🙂 If you’re using printers, keep in mind that laser and inkjet printers may produce different quality products! I also recommend looking through videos on the Silhouette machine and Cricut machine to compare their functionality and see which suits you best!
Setting up your shop
So you’ve got your designs and products ready. That’s great! Now it’s time to decide where you want to sell them! 🙂
Personally, I use Squarespace. But a majority of small business owners start out with Etsy! I’ve done a bunch of research on various platforms, and to me it seems that Etsy would the best choice in the short run (while getting a personal domain in websites like Squarespace is better in the long run).
Etsy has allocated fees every time you list a product on your shop and whenever you make a sale. The startup cost for Etsy is definitely much lower than Squarespace (the commerce plan is about $300 AUD a year). However, I went with Squarespace anyways because I was able to redeem a 50% discount by using my student email! So I only paid $150 AUD for the first year and am now loving having a website all to myself ❤ A part of me did regret a little for not choosing Etsy to begin with, but I am grateful to have the freedom to customise my shop and make it personally mine 🙂 I do still plan on putting my products up on Etsy one day though, just so I can garner a little more exposure online!
However, I’ve also heard a little bit about Etsy having high fees for small business owners who are making a relatively higher amount on the platform. That, and the fact that once you’ve established a store on Etsy, you are under their policies and guidelines, so you have little power over your own shop (I highly recommend checking out lilynzt’s youtube video on why she decided to leave Etsy).
I guess it goes without saying that each platform has their pros and cons. Nonethless, you should be doing your own research (!!!!!) and see which one suits you best! Starting out an online store can be super risky, but it all comes down to taking that leap and actually starting. Whether you think you’ll be making a mistake in choosing either platforms, at least you know you’ll be learning something! 🙂
This is where things get a little more challenging. The downside to having your own platform (apart from the pricey startup cost) is the difficulty to market your products.
If you’re starting out from scratch, consider gaining an audience before you set up your products. For example, you can set up a personal Instagram for your shop and showcase your art there before selling your products! Show people what you have to offer and excite them by promoting your items! Even if you’re using Etsy to start your shop, while the platform does its part to market your products on their own platform, you’ll also need to take the responsibility to garner attention from people who are NOT on Etsy!
Testing out the quality of your products is probably one of the most aggravating obstacles I’ve ever come across in starting out an online shop. There is SO much trial and error to be done, and it honestly pains my heart to see SO much paper and ink go to waste just so I find the right settings for my stickers.
Nonetheless, practice makes perfect! You just have to be really patient with the whole process! If you’re like me and are working on everything from the production to the service all by yourself, you need to understand that things will take time 🙂 Be kind to yourself and do all things with love. You CAN and you WILL produce beautiful arts and products, no matter how difficult things may seem!
Last but not least, you’ll have to think about shipping!
This year has been particularly challenging in terms of shipping due to the high volumes of mail and scarce flights all over the world. Please check with your local post office to see if there are certain mail restrictions and/or updates on the countries that you’re planning to ship to! If you’re selling products in packages rather than envelopes, be mindful of tracking as any outbound parcels may have the tendency to get lost in the mail. Always remember to consult a staff in your post office if you have any questions! Pandemic or not, it’s good to stay safe and provide your customers with the best possible service!
And that’s it folks! I hope you found this blog post somewhat helpful 🙂 For those of you who’s supported my shop in the past, you have my eternal gratitude ❤ And for those who have just started out their small business, let me tell you that it is WORTH IT. The feeling of receiving an order notification is just unbeatable :’) While it may take time to grow your shop, every little step counts!
You are all talented and wonderful creatives! Best of luck and have the best time creating ❤