I know I always say that no one knows what they are doing, but I have learned a few things along my journey of guess & check work, so as always, it's time to share with all of you!
Each journey will be completely different, let’s start with my tips for artists and small business owners that worked for me:
- MAKING YOUR FIRST DOLLAR
- I started with putting my products on Redbubble, TeePublic, and Threadless. While the payouts are only around 20% of each sale, this was a great way for me to get my stuff in front of people who are actively searching for the type of product I am putting out, earn some $$$ that I could later invest in inventory, and gauge the popularity of different designs. It is incredibly low-risk as you do not have to worry about inventory or order fulfillment, and you can focus on advertising the products on social media. There are also great tools offered by TeePublic and Threadless to support artists like sales and discounts on buying your own products for photoshoots and such.
- THE FIRST 48….FOLLOWERS
- I spent so much time searching for those medium-large instagram accounts that repost illustrations and graphics. I had a little spiel I would copy and paste and send to them asking them to consider sharing my work to their page, sometimes including a specific piece that I thought would fit their page best. This was how I grew my IG for the first 4 years. For every 20 messages you send, don't expect to hear back from more than...I don't know, 5 of them? Be persistent, be GENUINE (don't say "I'm a huge fan of your account" if you don't even follow them) and keep your expectations in check. Other than having a post really pop off, this was the #1 way I grew my following in the beginning.
- Do NOT let the stories you hear about people blowing up over night deter you! That is more based on luck than any other part of growing a business. It took me 4 years grinding on all fronts before I quit my 9-5 to work TPF full time. Anticipate a slow, steady journey. Hope to the algorithm gods you ~go viral~
- “THIS? I SELL THIS”
- You need to REALLY believe in your work and what you are all about. Or at least pretend like you are! Force yourself to talk up your work, bring it up whenever you can, and don’t shut up about it. Get comfy with shamelessness and talking about yourself! You aren't being a narcissist or bragging. You are growing a business, bitch.
Okay, now that we are up and running, it’s time we face the scarier questions.
- Do I need to be an LLC?
- The main reason you would want to make your business something other than just a sole proprietorship is liability protection.
- As a sole proprietor, I can only have one owner and I am personally on the hook for all business liabilities, BUT there is no additional paperwork or tax returns I need to file, AND my income is only taxed once (at the personal level)
THIS chart breaks out the differences really well.
- Uh....sales tax?
- Get yourself a seller's permit asap. It is free and many craft shows require you to keep that thing on you.
- Check if your selling platform remits sales tax for you. Etsy and Faire both will collect and send to the government, while Shopify and your POS will not.
- Due dates for your sales tax will vary by your state and the frequency requirement your state has for someone of your anticipated taxable sales at the time of registration.
- Estimated Tax Payments
- Unlike a regular job that withholds taxes from your paycheck, you will have to make quarterly estimated taxes so you don't anger the government for holding on to *their* money.
- To avoid an underpayment penalty, you will need to pay at least 100% of your prior year taxes or 90% of your current year taxes.
- State and federal requirements will differ. For example, federal estimates are just 25% of the total at each due date, while California requires payments of 30%, 40%, 0%, and 30% at the respective due dates.
- The first time you are charged an underpayment penalty, you can apply for a fee waiver that they basically always approve. But you can only get out of it once!
- Should I switch to Shopify?
- Etsy is fine for starting out and building a customer base and they are still almost everyone's go-to searchable host for handmade goods. But at what cost? Downsides: fee hikes, a breeding ground for Karen-type customers, and lack of control over making the shop your own.
- Shopify gives you huge amounts of control with lower per-transaction fees, which is why I switched. It is the only platform that integrates with Instagram which is another huge selling point. There is a LOT you can do with Shopify, and even more if you know anything about coding. Most apps and additional features have a monthly cost and/or a free option.
- Making the switch -- I made the shift across the span of a year out of an abundance of caution at missing out on the searchability Etsy provides. A few tips for making the switch:
- Force people onto your new shop with website-exclusive drops or products. When I made the switch, my lighters were in HIGH demand and I ONLY made them available on Shopify so people had to go there to shop
- Include a little card with a discount code in all Etsy orders letting them know that you are moving your shop and that there are additional products/sales/etc available on your new site. Give them a discount code they can only use on your new website to sweeten the deal. I got these printed on square business cards from Vistaprint
- Add a photo to all Etsy orders advertising the fact that you have more products available on your new site. Here is the one I used:
To check out my guides on wholesaling, accounting, product sourcing, and more, visit the Small Business Resource Center HERE