5 Tips for Starting a Calligraphy Business and Etsy Shop With Shotgunning for Love Letters
1. Price based on your skill level and grow from there.
When I first started practicing calligraphy, it was more of a hobby for myself. Once I was ready to list items in an Etsy shop, I had no idea what appropriate pricing was. I remember looking at other sellers listings and thinking they were much better calligraphers than I was at the time and that obviously I should charge less than them. I also remember seeing that Etsy was flooded with calligraphers. My prices started out way lower than I think is acceptable at this point in my career and while working on my first job, I wondered how this work was worth anyone’s time. It took me such a long time to get work done, I was still learning how the materials work and it was a labor intensive period of time! I truly believe you get what you pay for when hiring a calligrapher, and while brides were getting my best work, they were not getting the best calligraphy out there, but again, that is all relative to what they paid. My pricing was probably right where it should have been based on my skill level. As my skills improved, I actually began to resent jobs I was working on and I realized it was time to raise my prices. When you resent what you’re working on, it’s harder to give it 100% and it’s time to adjust accordingly. The moral of the story is, someone else’s pricing is not going to be right for you and you need to price based on what feels right when starting out. Of course you want to consider material cost and time, however, I work a lot faster currently and the product is also a lot better than my first pieces. Just because it takes me a little longer to work on Photoshop doesn’t mean it necessarily makes sense to pass that onto my customer--I need to study up and get better. Practice, try new things, see how it works and adjust. Whatever you do, please don’t undercut your peers within the industry. I often discover someone is copying my work if sales suddenly drop off on an item and then I search for it on Etsy and find the same thing for a few dollars less. Do what works for you, but not at another artist’s expense.
2. Reach out to a business you admire and ask them to coffee. Offer something up. Time is valuable.
There are a few other calligraphers I have met either in person or through social media that I chat with regularly. We trade tips, discuss our favorite inks, what paper jams our printers or workflow. You can laugh at me now but they’re totally my “calligrafriends.” I recommend engaging with a local calligrapher you admire and building a friendship. Make sure you are coming from a place of engagement. I actually really love teaching and talking to new calligraphers, especially when I’ve noticed them on my Instagram, Facebook, or received previous substantive messages from them. I’ve personally met with local calligraphers and enjoy seeing improvements in their work over time. It’s really important to me to connect with others in a way that people have also done for me as I was building my business. Please do not read this and send someone a message asking them to spill all their business secrets to you--some people send messages asking for advice without sending a single “hello.” Don’t be that person! Remember, the small business you’re following online is run by an actual human being.
3. Start small. Work on projects for friends.
My business developed sort of organically. I started practicing calligraphy as a hobby and a form of mindfulness. What I love about calligraphy is that is requires focus and is a great way to practice mindfulness. It’s not exactly meditation but it’s a close as I can get and as quiet as my mind can be. When I felt stressed, I could letter a poem or quote and then I felt better. Friends and family started asking if I could do custom work for them and as a beginner, it was great practice. Much of the work I did in the beginning was practice. I made art for my home, bags for a friend’s bachelorette party, addressed a friend’s wedding invitations, made cards for a girl’s getaway...you get the idea. Calligraphy requires a ton of practice, it’s the only way to get better. As you practice, you’ll begin to gain muscle memory, hold the nib a little lighter on your down strokes and float above the paper. Practice makes progress when it comes to calligraphy. Friends began asking if they could pay me for my work which actually blew my mind. I couldn’t believe anyone would pay me for what I was doing. Having time to improve my skills and learn about the trade allowed me to work towards a place where I felt more comfortable and could sell my work.
4. Use your resources to gain traffic. I started with Etsy.
I wish I could remember exactly what it felt like to complete my first sale on Etsy, but I don’t. So, I went into my Etsy archive and saw that my first sale was actually to my cousin who bought a small coffee sign for her nail salon (thanks, girl). Then, my mom bought a set of cards, and then my friend bought another sign. Of course I directed those first few patrons to my Etsy shop, but then I started using the tools provided by Etsy to gain traffic towards my shop. Eventually, strangers started buying things from me. I felt excited and nervous that people actually wanted to buy things from me and liked my work. I’ve now made over 1,000 sales on Etsy and for awhile, a large chunk of my Shotgunning for Love Letters income came from Etsy.
Tell your family and friends that you’re starting a shop. I was amazed at the support I received from loved ones sharing my business with others and ordering from me. It was great practice in customer service and getting familiar with Etsy’s sales process. You can also advertise within Etsy for very little. I re-invested some of the money I made into advertising with Etsy. I also learned that the more listings I had, the more traffic my shop received. Each listing can have a number of “tags” or keywords. These tags drive traffic to your shop and will help you get more sales. Don’t ever pass up on an opportunity to use a search engine to your advantage. I don’t like to name my listings cute things. I prefer to type out exactly what they are. For example, a set of gift boxes in my shop is listed as “ Personalized Calligraphy Kraft Cardboard Gift Box - Bridesmaid, Groomsmen, Maid of Honor Gift, Welcome, Bachelorette Party.” Think about the last time you searched for something on Etsy and what you typed in to find that item. We’re in the “industry” and think of industry terms, but the average customer does not. Disclaimer: I am not an SEO pro though and I’ll leave the specifics to the experts.
5. Meet locals. Work on styled shoots.
The key to grabbing a customer’s attention is great photographs of your work. Lighting is important, flatlays are important, styling is everything. Keep it simple and let your work shine. You can take great photographs at home using your phone, a flat white surface and a room with tons of natural light. Once you’re ready to take the next step, reach out to local vendors looking to put together a styled or editorial shoot. This is a chance to put your best work forward and receive professional, styled photographs in return. I remember my first “styled” shoot was actually with a local planner, Diana from Eventi Weddings. She reached out to me on Etsy and asked if I could write on agate stones to use as place cards at a bridal show booth she was setting up. I was so confused by the whole interaction that I goggled things like “bartering on Etsy” and then of course I googled her. I’m not sure what I thought I had to lose by writing on some stones she was going to provide me, but I was totally new to the industry and had never heard of a styled shoot before. I was very confused. I also think this is cute and hilarious looking back. She assured me that I would receive photographs in return that I could use in my portfolio as long as I credited the other vendors when sharing. I decided to go for it and now I’ve probably participated in upwards of 30+ shoots and many weddings with Eventi. Because I’ve worked on tons of shoots, I have plenty of high end photographs of my work to share on my website as well as on social media. Each vendor lists and tags the other vendors involved in the shoot and it continues to drive more traffic to your shop or website.