I opened my first online shop on Big Cartel in February 2020 after receiving asks to purchase my art. In a scramble, I managed to put together a shop in a week’s time selling prints and original artworks. The site would later drive in thousands of website visits, though only a small percentage would convert to actual sales. The shop was neither pretty nor well thought out and lasted for a short sprint of 1.5 months. Though I wouldn’t consider this as an outrageous success, this experience did teach me 8 valuable lessons in creating a long-lasting sustainable business.
Consider your Selling Platforms
The selling platform you choose will determine how you operate your shop and what matters most to you! Through extensive research, I wrestled between a few options (it ultimately came between Big Cartel and Etsy). Some things to keep in mind are monthly fees, listing and/or transaction fees, website design, ease of use. I chose Big Cartel because unlike Etsy wherein each store exists within a market web, your shop stands on its own… meaning more control over your marketing, site design, and back end operations! However, with just one month in, I found the overall site experience to be quite clunky and disliked how the overly simple design felt too cookie cutter. Identify what matters most for your shop, grab a notebook and get researching!
Popular Platforms: Shopify, Etsy, Squarespace, Wix, Society6
What’s Your Business Model?
Creating a business model is planning for success, take it from someone who didn’t. This isn’t to say you have to write out a ten step plan mapping out every step of your business for the next 5 years, but simply knowing how you can run your shop in the most sustainable way possible. How will you manage running a shop with making art? Will your shop run continuously or in sprints/collections? How many days of the week will you dedicate to packaging, mailing, etc? I dove head first into selling art and quickly learned that I was spending every spare minute packaging orders, the creative in me was not happy. From that experience, I learned how I work better selling in short sprints rather than long marathons.
The Ultimate Shopping Experience
Imagine walking into a store with products organized by colour, curated displays, easy vibing tunes, even the smell is nice. I know I’m a sucker for all those things and chances of me walking out with a happy purchase are much higher. It’s a fact of psychology, shopping is a slow experience of browsing, appreciating, taking it all in. Now, what does that look like on a screen? Is it a unifying colour palette or being intentional with the product page layout? The customer experience is everything, and that’s why I value web design so much more after compromising it the first time round.
Take Good Product Photos
Speaking of customer experience, do not overlook product photos by any means! Consider the person viewing your products for the first time, their entire impression is based off that first picture. How will someone trust your product if there’s been zero thought put into it? Would you walk into an apartment viewing if the photo is dark, messy, taken on a phone camera? I was in such a rush to release new products that I ended up using my Instagram photos and failed to include detailed close-ups. If you have some time, invest some time into some nice photos!
The Campaign Build-Up
Hands down my FAVE part is sharing your shiny new store! Here are some practical tips: • Allow enough time before the launch to roll out a cool campaign and build excitement. • Get creative with your launch! Pre-order sales, giveaways, countdowns, or something totally unexpected. • Interact with your community all throughout the process so when the product finally launches, people are in the loop! (i.e. use Instagram stories to showcase behind-the-scenes — ask for product preferences and opinions) OR build excitement by creating mystery and dropping hints! • If you are looking for more than organic engagement, consider using ads.
Instagram as a Marketing Tool
On a similar thread, I loved learning how to use Instagram as a marketing advantage! What I didn’t know is that most people focus so much energy on their release campaign and completely forget about what comes after, me included! Once my shop had released, I thought to sit back and let my work do its magic. In hindsight, my shop could’ve performed better if I had kept that energy up the whole way through. People need follow-ups and the key is to deliver CONSISTENCY. Update your followers on sales, give them reminders, try to keep the momentum going!
Your customers aren’t just consumers, they choose to support your art and it’s up to you to reciprocate that. While your products are the first place intention should exist, there are other places to be purposeful with your craft as well. Maybe it’s hand writing a thank you message with an order, or simply taking your time with each step of the process! For me, I took special care of the packaging so that once an order arrives, the product isn’t the only thing to be excited for!
Balancing Creativity with Business
For most, opening a shop is a big and exciting step! We can so easily be swept away with the business side of things, and perhaps start to neglect our creative practice, the whole reason why this whole thing started! The less time you’re dedicating to making art, the more time you might need to put aside. Once you become more involved with shop management, don’t forget to reach back to your roots. Something I love doing is to write in a journal every few weeks what I’ve accomplished, what parts I can build or improve on, and always changing goals for the future.
Whether building a creative business is something you’re working on or dream of doing, I hope that you’re able to pick out some gems from my list of learned wisdoms.
Sending love and luck to all you fellow creatives!