Allison joins us this week from SideKickPortraits. She’s an artist and illustrator who digitally paints portraits of pets. Allison got her start with e-commerce on Fiverr but she transitioned to Etsy last December and hasn’t looked back since. She talks about a lot of what worked for her, like focusing on solid SEO keywords, putting her digital paintings into frames for her listing photos, offering upsell options in listings, jumpstarting reviews with coupons, her mailing list and more!
Allison’s transition from Fiverr to Etsy
I’ve been a freelance illustrator and artist for awhile now and I’ve done all kinds of stuff before. But I wanted to supplement my income and start a stream of smaller projects that repeats more constantly. Fiverr was the marketplace to do that so I made a profile and got started with it. I did human drawings at first but then I also saw that pet portraits are a thing. So I offered that and maybe people will be interested and I found out that I actually enjoyed doing it.
Fiverr has not been the ideal platform to be on. I was able to get sales from it and it was pretty good for awhile to get started but they have a lot of restrictions like you could only offer prices in $5 increments, you can’t contact clients outside the platform, and they take 20% of the sales you make. I wanted to go down this route but I also want to have more control over my business and make my own brand. Then I started looking into different ways of doing that and I found that Etsy could be another marketplace I could try.
Is your Fiverr shop still running today?
I actually kept my Fiverr store running for a long time because I was still getting sales through that and I didn’t really wanted to shut it down immediately. Then I started my Etsy shop and I didn’t know if it’s gonna work for me at all. I started Etsy December 2015 and it took me a long time to even get me my first sale so I only ended up shutting down my Fiverr about a month or two ago.
Do you remember how long it was before you got your first sale on Etsy?
It took me around 2 months to get my first sale. I didn’t really know how to use the right keywords or anything like that so I guess someone just happen to find me somehow!
Tell us about the Testimonials page that you built
I made a little website on Weebly that’s just had a whole bunch of examples of my previous arts. I copy pasted some of the testimonials from my Fiverr portraits and built a page for all that stuff so people could see more examples.
Did you see an increase in sales after you started your website for testimonials?
Maybe it helped me get the first sale. I’m not really sure. It’s kinda hard to tell what’s making an impact when you’re starting out and getting 0 to 2 sales per month. The biggest impact was when I started following Marmalead’s advice and using your tools.
How did you find Marmalead?
Even after I got my first sale; for the next month or two I only got 2 sales and 1 the following month. “Okay I am getting sales but not many people are seeing my listings so what’s going on with that? So I started looking into how to get found on Etsy and then I came across Renae Christine and she recommended you guys to me. So I went to your website and signed up for your email list and went through your onboarding course – that was so helpful and I followed it step by step. I used the Keyword Search tool and made a spreadsheet of what I thought were good keywords and started from there. I tweaked a couple of listings with my new keywords and I started seeing some results so I did a few more and eventually just did all my listings. That’s when things started really taking off and I started jumping to 13 sales, then 20 sales a month. It was so exciting!
Related: New to Etsy SEO Walkthrough
What is the rarest or most wild animal that you’ve done a portrait of?
I think it’s an iguana. This one customer had a bunch of animals in their family (there were 10 animals in total!). They have dogs, cats, guinea pig, birds, and an iguana. That was my craziest one so far.
One person once tried to ask me to draw a picture of their fish. But the reference picture they gave me was a photo of their fish being fed with another fish! I was like, “Nooooooooo!”
This was on Fiverr so I quoted them a higher price and they decided that it’s not worth it.
Richie: That is a nice way to turn down work. If you're not really sure you want to do it, charge them a price that if you do get it, you can smile while doing it no matter how difficult they are. If they say it's too high and walk away, then that's cool too.
Putting Digital listings into frames
I sell digital portraits. People just send me a photo and I make a digital painting based on it with my drawing tablet. Then I send them a printable file so I don’t have to deal with prints and shipping. I specifically wanted to design it this way so I won’t have to deal with storing things, printing things, and having to pay for materials. It’s super streamlined for me this way. Also, once the customer gets it they can print it on all kinds of stuff like canvas prints, mugs, and planner stickers.
When I first posted my first listing, I had a different picture. I styled it like a Before and After photo as my thumbnail. But then afterwards, I was looking at what other people are doing and a lot of them were doing mock-ups in frames. To me, that looked really nice. That way you can see that it’s not just a digital thing. People can see what it might look like if it’s in their house. So I tried that and I started photoshopping my portraits into frames.
Have you had any customers that requested you to handle the printing and ship it to them?
Most of my customers are fine doing it themselves. A few people have asked me if I can print it and send it to them but that would add a bunch more complication and logistics to my business so I would have to say no for now. Maybe in the future if there’s a humongous demand but so far, I’ve been doing great with just the digitals.
Any printer recommendations for people who wants to print it out?
I actually just made a print guide that I link in my shop description. I don’t have a specific printer that I completely recommend but I listed a couple options that I thought could work for most people.
Are there any animals you don’t really enjoy painting?
Humans. I don’t mind painting humans but when I was doing both pets and humans on Fiverr I realized I gravitated more towards the animals. When you’re doing human portraits you have this whole other dimension that people care about how they look. They have their own image of how they think they look and you have your own image of how you think they look. But with animals, people love how their pets look anyway and they think they’re perfect even if they’re fat or a bit weird – they just love the way that they actually look.
Coupons to jumpstart reviews
I know how important reviews are in both Fiverr and Etsy so in order to jumpstart that a little bit I offered coupons to a few of my friends and asked them to leave a nice positive review. I offered that to maybe 3 of my friends and 2 took me up on it. That got me my first reviews and probably it was easier for people to jump in after that.
How did you arrive at the price that you are asking for?
Since I don’t really have materials, I completely base it on my time and also what the market is willing to pay. I don’t know if I am completely settled on what my price is gonna be. So I started off with $20 CAD so I can get some initial sales going and then when sales came regularly I decided to go up to $30 CAD. That was working pretty well for me and so I went up to $40 CAD recently and I’m hoping that works good and will continue doing that until I hit a limit.
I started low and when I’m getting a ton of sales, I know it is working so I’ll go higher and I’m just going to continue testing it this way.
Upselling to your customers
I know from what I’ve learned about running an online business is that having upsells is very important. Not everyone will go for it but some people will and then you’ll be able to sell more at the same time. Right now, my upsells are the size of the printable file. Whether you can print it out on 12 inches, 16 inches, or 20 inches. Also another upsell is whether I add a custom background color. Currently, the base price is $30 CAD on a white background and it’s a 12 x 12 inches.
So because it’s a digital file, you can blow it up in size but if the file is only meant for this size, it will look pixelated and not as good. If you purchase up to the 20 inch one, I’ll make it at a higher resolution and there will be more detail. You will also be able to scale it down and print it smaller if you want but you have a lot more flexibility with it.
How long do you hold on to the original files?
I actually do keep them all. I have all of them since I started and they’re in a folder in my computer. It doesn’t take up a crazy amount of space but I want to keep them anyway because all the portraits I do can become additional marketing content like posting them on Instagram. I can also make new listing pictures out of it. They’re all backed up in the cloud so it’s all super safe and I can always send the files back to them anytime if they needed.
What are your thoughts on email marketing?
As long as you’re keeping it to the point where they are optionally signing up. That means they’re asking to hear from you so there’s no reason to feel weird about it. If you use a typical email marketing provider like MailChimp, you have to include the unsubscribe option so as soon as they don’t want it anymore, it’s totally up to them.
Do you do email marketing?
In my descriptions and in my shop announcement I have a special coupon for $5 OFF. Often when people get a coupon, they also grab the upsell so it’s like I make the same revenue anyways. So if you join my mailing list or my super secret VIP club, you will get your coupon which you can use immediately towards your order.
What sort of content do you send out to your subscribers?
I’m not really using it to the fullest extent that I probably could or should be. I only have around 40 people that I manage to get to my list so far. So what I’ve been doing is that once in a while I’ll have a giveaway so if they’re on the mailing list they can potentially win a free thing. Also if you promote that on social media, people might join just to do the giveaway.
How do you market thru social media?
I have a Facebook page which I don’t use nearly as much as I should be but I think that could be a good platform. Sometimes if someone gets their portrait, I have it set up so I message them that says:
“Hey, if you wanna use this image and share it on Instagram or Facebook, tag me and I’ll do the same! I’ll post you and feature you!”
I can post it on my Facebook page and tag them so their friends would see it and look over to my page.
What keeps you going with pet portraits?
With the pet portraits, I felt like this is a thing that I can do and I can see that there is a big market for it. I learned that on Fiverr and there’s always gonna be people out there who are buying them . They have specific reasons like loss of their pet, gifts, or other things where it makes sense for them to buy it. So I’ll focus on this and then I’ll have a stable income stream. What I’m excited about is I’m hoping that the I’ll be able to make a whole brand out of my pet portrait business.
I’m hoping that with SideKickPortraits I’ll be able to do a full time level income where it doesn’t really take me full time hours so that I can still do other stuff as well.
Do you know how far off you might be from achieving that goal?
When my sales started jumping up, I wasn’t sure if I’m able to make an extra couple of hundred dollars a month. But then in June, I passed $500 CAD in sales! In July, I passed $650 CAD; and then August, I was looking at $850 CAD!
I definitely think at some point in the next couple of months I think I could make full time amounts of income from it.
My promotion with other Etsy sellers
Before my sales started going up, I thought of one idea that I could do to get myself out there a bit more. That was to team up with another Etsy seller in the pet market. There’s this Etsy shop called CatastrophiCreations and they make super cool cat furnitures. I just cold messaged them saying:
“Hey, I’m a pet portrait artist and I’m looking for ways to get my business out there – could I offer one of my pet portraits as a giveaway to your customers?”
In exchange for that, I got my artwork in front of their audience and they also ended up buying 3 portraits from me so that was a nice bonus too!
Do people ask you for special requests before you draw the art?
Once in a while sometimes people will ask me to write the animal’s name into the picture. Then one lady wanted to have little different accessories added to all of her cats so one had a bowtie, one had medals on them, and different things like that.
What pieces of advice would you give to somebody who’s just starting on Etsy?
I will tell them to sign up for your email list and do exactly what you tell them to do. It has been the biggest improvement with what I’m doing with my shop. Even though I had the copy writing and Photoshop skills; it still wasn’t taking off until I had the right keywords. I would advise them to do really nice photos and all the other stuff too that we’ve been talking about but doing the keywords are what’s super important.