At least a couple of times a week, someone comments on an image on Instagram or Tumblr, asking where they can purchase a print. So far I’ve printed and shipped one-off originals and prints to people upon request, but I’ve been ruminating on opening up a store online for oh, about three years. I actually realized the other day that I started a sellers account on Etsy in the summer of 2012, and have never put anything on it.
Sometimes I am rueful around other creative professionals that I feel stuck, and am pretty unhappy not being able to freelance and create art full time. Their reaction is almost always, “well, why don’t you try selling your stuff online?”
I decided I’d write a post about why I don’t have an online store to answer everybody, and provide myself with the motivation of putting it all out there. Here we go.
Here are the things that I am paralyzed in the face of when it comes to e-commerce, the big scary monsters of my irrational fear:
What if I do them wrong and get a huge fine or in some other kind of trouble? What if the huge fine comes around the same time I’ve invested in some sort of launch and just can’t pay it? What if it’s really hard to figure out how to do correctly? Even if I get started, what if I can’t keep up consistently with paying quarterly, and I drop the ball later, at a crucial moment? When do I even need to start worrying about it, really? What if I move out of Texas?
2. Shipping providers
Who is most reliable? Who has the best deal for me right now? Who will have the best deal when I expand? Who will let me customize and improve upon my packaging later on so I don’t have to switch? Where and how should I print out my labels?
3. Being stuck with my initial decisions forever
What if I make decisions about platforms, shipping, etc., get too far into it and want to switch, and it’s an even more huge pain in the butt to switch then? What if there’s some pertinent piece of information about a given provider of some service that I overlook, that ends up screwing me in some way?
What if I totally suck at being organized with inventory and I sell things I don’t have or forget about things that I do have all the time and have to issue refunds and generally just upset a lot of people and stress myself out in the process?
What if I’m just terrible at actually calculating costs of materials, time, shipping, etc. and consistently don’t earn what I feel I should? What if I suck at researching effective ways of cutting costs and I always pay way too much for what I need? What if I can’t come up with an easy system for tracking expenditures and profit and it just becomes a jumbled mess that I’m forever trying to tackle, fruitlessly?
6. Information spread too thin
What if all my spreadsheets and services overlap in weird ways but maybe don’t communicate well with each other and I can never quite figure out the best place to track what information? I get overwhelmed with too many passwords and really complicated tools that I don’t know how to utilize.
Don’t even talk to me about pricing.
8. Happiness and creation
What if managing all this stuff completely takes over my life and I feel stressed all the time and won’t be able to enjoy the fruits of my labor? What if I don’t have any room to actually create because I’m always trying to perfect the administrative side of things, let alone marketing? What if I end up trapping myself even worse than I feel trapped now?
A huge hold-up for me has also been perfectionism, which I’m not totally convinced isn’t just fear in disguise, but nonetheless it feels separate.
1. Perfect packaging
I’ve felt super bummed about the idea of sending people things in Fedex envelopes, or generally something that doesn’t provide an extra nice experience on behalf of the customer. This, of course, has kept them from having any experience at all. I’m not looking to get too fancy, but I’d like to at least put everything on chipboard or foam core in a sleeve with a thank you note in a stiff, plain brown paper envelope or tube with my stamp. It took me actually forever to figure out where to source these materials in the first place, and currently I just don’t have the capital to invest.
2. Perfect platform
Ideally, I’d be a computer programmer, or know one well enough that I could count on them to forever assist me with maintenance and changes, or just be rich so I wouldn’t have to blink at paying someone their full rate for something entirely custom. This will probably never happen. Knowing this, it’s been really tricky trying to pick some sort of platform for myself. I’ve heard bad things about every single one of them, and almost no one I talk to is exactly happy with their set-up. Etsy is searchable and easy, but they take a large percentage and plagiarism is supposedly rampant. Society6 seems cool, especially since I plan on a lot of travel in my life and they package and ship for you, but I can’t seem to figure out how much of a percentage they take, and the idea of a personal, custom packaging experience goes out the window. I have a Squarespace website which I can sell on, but it’s most definitely not cheap and Squarespace is not very intuitive so far for me. Then there’s Shopify, Big Cartel, Square, Shop Envy...
Maybe some of these idealist obstacles would hold some water once the wheels have started turning. Perfectionism has more of a place when in motion, making improvements in a process or situation once it’s begun, rather than acting as a barrier to even beginning. Trying to begin on a perfect foot doesn’t work anywhere else, so why do I think it should work here?
1. It’s a reality
As far as products go, I’m currently extremely inhibited by a lack of funds to invest in them. Due to some financial setbacks and a drastic drop in income over the summer, I’m just barely squeaking by paying the minimum of my living expenses, dipping deep into my savings, and living cheap. I need a pretty nice lump to invest at all in getting products made in the first place, and even more to really invest and do things at the level of quality that I would like to.
Ok ok ok. I guess I can’t stay here forever. There is no perfect, and even the biggest monster wouldn’t totally destroy me, I can make it through hardships and missteps. I need to put my head in the lion’s mouth. I’m falling, so I need to go ahead and dive.
I guess there’s got to be some sort of plan.
Start with what you have. I think I’ve heard that before.
I have somewhere around 300 original paintings in my apartment. I probably got about 250-275 paintings that I like out of the 365 from 2014. Not to mention the 25 ish I’ve produced since January. This doesn’t count my stack of oil paintings on wood. This is a clearly insane thing to just continue to let pile up.
I am going to set myself up to legally sell products from Texas, I.E. charge sales tax and pay quarterly.
I’ll be putting my originals up for sale on Etsy. I already have an account there and won’t need to pay anything more up front like I would on Squarespace to get started. I’ll learn by trial and error with products I already have to find the best inventory, shipping, accounting, and packaging systems for me at least for now.
I am also playing with the idea of selling some of the prints that I do have one at a time on my website, since I currently have the version of Squarespace that allows for the sale of one product. I have 2-3 each of about 10 different designs at the moment on my shelf.
Invest. Income is picking up again now that it’s nearing fall. Inquiries, jobs, tips at the shop. Once I replenish my minimum nest-egg savings (2 months expenses) from this lull and take care of a couple of medium-sized life requirement things long on the back-burner, invest, invest, invest.
Breathe! And hey... maybe even try to have a little bit of *gasp* fun with it?
My hope is that by sharing all of these fears, and how huge these baby steps feel to me, that other people who also have these questions and concerns (or total deer-in-the-headlights-paralysis) will feel less alone and realize that it’s actually kind of a hard thing to figure out at first at least for some people.
Maybe someone reading actually has some really good advice or ideas or resources for me that they’ll share (wink wink.) Maybe by putting it all out there I’ll feel some sense of obligation to follow through and go ahead and leap into the unknown.