Etsy Jam Episode 20: Kyle from CigartMetalWorks

In this episode we talk with Kyle from CigartMetalWorks. Kyle got started on Etsy by creating a product that scratched his own itch and helped him feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger on the golf course. We talk with him about beta testing with friends and customers, his custom video he has on his About page, run-ins with the TSA, a handy spreadsheet he uses to stay motivated and more!

How did it all get started?

I got turned on to cigars in my 40’s. When golfing, I didn’t want to put my cigars down on the grass because of all the ground chemicals. So I asked my twin boys to get me a cigar holder but all the cigar holders in the market look like women’s hair clips. So I immediately realized that there’s a niche.

I started playing around with that idea and came up with something that you can throw around like a knife and it would stick to the ground – pretty much things that a guy would like to do.

As a matter of fact, that was my test. If you can throw it and it sticks 9/10 times – it’s almost ready.

TSA Trouble

One time, I went to the airport and forgot that I had it in my briefcase. It was one of the early versions and at that time, I was trying to make it stick to the ground and the blade at the end was very long.

Officer: Do you have any weapons you’d like to declare?
Kyle: No sir, I got no weapons.
Officer: Okay, we’re going to need you to go that room.

Then they pulled out my cigar holder and asked me what it is:

Officer: What’s this?
Kyle: Well, it’s probably yours now, but it’s a cigar holder. I’m making it so it sticks to the ground when you golf.

He then went to his supervisor.

Supervisor: Explain this.
Kyle: Well it holds the cigar. I want to get it the point where you throw it on the ground and it would stick.
Supervisor : That is so awesome! Where did you buy it?
Kyle: I kinda invented it.
Supervisor : Really? Well when this goes to market you call me up! Here’s my card!

Then they let me go with my cigar holder. That run in with the security kinda gave me a confirmation that this is a good product.

How long did it take you from having these girly cigar clips before actually starting making one of your own?

I have learned that if you try to keep a secret to yourself, you’re limited to yourself. So I asked my friends in different manufacturing places to help me with it and I was getting so much help from them. That tweaking went on for around a year.

There’s this old saying, “Eventually you got to shoot the engineer and start production”. So I made my first one and that’s where my whole beta testing idea came up. I made more and gave it to about a dozen guys to get feedback.

I had lots of good feedback. “Hey it works, but I can’t stick it in my pocket” or “It cut the bag” and that’s exactly what you need. I think I gave about 10 of them to these different guys that are into golfing and they all came back with “Dude, I would buy one.”

So for the longest time, I was an Etsy shop with one product. I was surprised how well that shop did without any marketing at all. Then I saw Marmalead and thought that could fit this well.

Did you also do different versions of your Cigar Holder?

Yes. I kept changing and changing it because my goal was that you could throw it on the ground and you’d be like “Yeah!”

We went through a lot of iterations, at least 3 or 4.

I made a bunch of version 2.1’s and I needed feedback. Luckily, you have your beta-testers and your beta-testers are on your team. They really want you to succeed and they’ll give you good feedback about the product.

Beta testing

I’m really big on the beta testing idea. Get some feedback particularly if it’s something that’s not on the market.

My beta testing method was actually based on one of your podcasts where you said it’s okay to follow them up and ask about the buying experience. I also tell them that:

“Hey if you want to be a part of my newsletter (we’re always coming up with new products about every 3 or 4 months), you get a preview of what we’re working on and if you’re willing to, we might send you a new product if you volunteer to be a beta tester!”

Related: How and why you should talk to your customers

My daughter in law also helped me with pricing. She kept saying that I need to raise my prices. Marmalead helped in a lot of things too because you could see the distribution and you’ll know that there are people selling it for more so you feel more comfortable in making that decision.

Is your workshop at your garage right now?

Yeah it is. About a year ago, I had the opportunity to retire from General Motors early and so I said “Okay, let’s get for real. I’m gonna be the old guy that does stuff in his garage.” I had set up a shop and it is nice. I just go there and make some stuff.

Tell us about the Golf Club Hangers

The golf club hangers started with the idea that I gotta have to get more stuff in my shop. I can’t have just one thing in my shop. So I had an idea about the iron hangers. I know it’s gonna cost me a little bit to make so I started looking up what ‘wedding day hangers’ sell for and they were charging about $25 each. I was like “Okay, people are willing to pay $25 for a hanger, I guess”. So I made some up but I also didn’t want them to break. If there’s anything I don’t wanna deal with is someone saying that they bought it but it broke.

That has been our rule of thumb when I was with cars. If something goes wrong with the car, we want to be shocked. Like “No way! We tested this a million times!”

I don’t have the resources I used to so I brought this golf club hanger and asked my friend to pull out his heaviest winter coat to test it out. I just wanna make sure it didn’t bend under the weight of the coat. Luckily, It didn’t.

Let’s talk about your Etsy shop video

That didn’t happen because of Etsy. I told one of my good friends that I’d like to get a video out so people can see what my cigar holder can do. He said “You buy me a Tim Hortons coffee, I’ll do it for ya.”

So we went to a golf course that just opened in Spring and it only took us around 10 minutes on the green and on the tee box to shoot everything.

Best Tim Hortons coffee purchase I’ve ever made.

Work Life Balance

I’m trying to balance this with life. There’s always that concern that what if it goes non-linear? Each of these are handmade by me. There’s always that concern that what if someone ordered in bulk?

Well we did experience that one time. There was a golf outing and there are typically about 4 or 8 people on each hole and so I got an order for 96 of them. But the catch is that they’re only giving me a week and so I had to politely turn them down.

It’s a good problem to have but you gotta have a work life balance. I don’t want to have the work managing me. So I turned down some of those. I know for some businesses it’s hard to turn it down because sometimes there’s a little bit of greed or concern that this won’t come again – well, it will come again. They like you for a reason the first time around. Maybe you won’t get 96 orders next time but that’s okay.

Motivational Spreadsheet

If you have your own business, there’s a temptation to be either never at work (because you don’t physically have to go to work) or the more common one is you’re always at work. You gotta have a life. You gotta say “Hey I’ve done a good week of work, regardless what my sales look like.”

Click here to see Kyle’s spreadsheet

So I took that idea and made this spreadsheet. The rules are 1) You gotta line up the tasks that takes to be successful. 2) You can’t have too many of one task or you won’t get any more points. That’s what the 1 – 10 means and after your 10th time; you’re not gonna get any more points that week. The idea is that you come up with a total number of points by the end of the week. Mine used to be around 300 points and I had it broken down to:

  1. I have to make a product
  2. I have to market the product
  3. I got to have sales.

I put those in broad categories and decide what points each task would earn. Regardless of whether I heard the ‘Chaching’ in the middle of the night or not, I give myself points. “Am I spending time on each of these areas?” And then when I am, and I want to go hiking, I go hiking. But if I’m behind, it will motivate me to delay gratification because I’m behind.

I needed something that would tell me that I’m having a good week regardless of what the numbers say. It really is a number’s game. After so many views and favorites, I know I’m getting a sale so I don’t worry much about it.

Did you have to discontinue any products that you beta tested and failed?

Yes. My shop is originally called Cigart (Cigar + Jart). We then tried some things out of wood. I have never worked with wood very often and so my products horrendously failed. I gave them to people and they fell apart. That is why we added CigartMetalWorks in the name. We have no plans in venturing out of that.

That was a big failure but it’s okay. It’s good to know and from that, we got some good ideas. That was the one where we first thought of making coat hangers made of the irons (which did pretty well) and thought it’d be cool to have wooden hangers out of the old wooden woods. I thought it was genius and we’ve made plenty of those that only ended up terribly bad.

Story of the Golf Club Bottle Openers

One of my friends had seen one (or thought had seen one) and I said that I could do that too. So I made one for him. Then he put it on his desk, other people saw it, and orders started coming so I put that up on Etsy. That has been very popular.

How do you come up with ideas for your shop?

I try to incorporate things that I think would look cool and are kinda popular. Take the shotgun shells for example, I went with my wife to Hobby Lobby for her stuff. When we were there, I saw they’re selling fake shotgun shells as decoration items. So I thought that if people are making fakes and selling them, there’s something I can do with them. Thus my Shotgun Shell Ball Markers were born. The cigar holder looks like a 100 caliber casing so they both complement and gives that militaristic look.

Then as I was gonna go visit a friend in Costa Rica, I bought a cigar cutter for him. I had the shotgun shell ball marker and the cigar cutter in my pocket and realized they fit together perfectly. So I cut a deal with the guy making cigar cutters; put my ball markers in it and started selling them on Etsy.

In this episode we talk with Kyle from CigartMetalWorks. Kyle got started on Etsy by creating a product that scratched his own itch and helped him feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger on the golf course. We talk with him about beta testing with friends and customers, his custom video he has on his About page, run-ins with the TSA, a handy spreadsheet he uses to stay motivated and more!

Etsy Jam Episode 19: Leaving Your Day Job for Entrepreneurship

In this episode we talk about the exciting journey from day job to self employed entrepreneur. We cover some things that are good to keep in mind about financial planning, keeping your sanity, the rollercoaster life of entrepreneurs, time management and more!


The Entrepreneurship Myth

There is one myth that we’d like to dispel. This is common whenever you tell anybody that you’re gonna go on a business yourself. People tend to perceive it as very risky or they think that to be an entrepreneur you need to have a huge appetite for risk. Really, entrepreneurs aren’t necessarily risk seekers like many people believe. Different studies have shown that a lot of entrepreneurs are actually more risk averse than most. The difference isn’t in their appetite for risk but in their belief that they can do it; their belief that their ideas are a good one and a lot of them are motivated by believing that they can make an impact by doing this business and that drives them.

Do you know that 90% of employees in the US work for small companies?

I read in an article saying how 99.7% of employees in the United States work for a company with less than 500 employees. That’s a huge percentage of people working for companies that aren’t gigantic. Even further than that is almost 90% of employees in the United States work for companies with less than 20 employees.

If you’re trying to make this jump and you’re feeling you are alone when everyone you know is working at a large company – you’re really not! It’s really a huge segment of the population who is working for smaller companies. If you have an Etsy shop and you have it set up as an LLC or some kind of actual business entity, you’re already one of them. You are already working at a company that is either you or with a small team of people.

Replacing your Salary

You have some income right now assuming that you are working in a day job. And you’re thinking of becoming self-employed. You have a salary and the first thought is “Okay, I have this dollar amount and I need to be able to create this same amount if I want to have a perfectly smooth transition.”

That is not entirely accurate. There are some other things you’re going to want to keep in mind beyond just that salary figure. Most employers are required to provide benefits to their employees which could include things like 401K, medical insurance, etc. so those are things that you also want to keep in mind.

1. Think Medical Insurance

Medical expenses can be pretty high. We’re talking about the premium you’d be paying to have a medical plan available to you. It’s actually a big amount so before you go ahead and make that jump, this is something that you’re gonna want to consider.

One of the ways that you can do this is to jump on to You can put in your information and they’ll throw you a list of plans that are available in your area along with the monthly premium for each of those. You can get a ballpark figure for what you could expect to pay or have to pay in the medical arena.

You also might want to talk to a broker who’s going to help you consult and figure out which plan might actually be the best for you and for your family because they’re the ones who understand this industry a whole lot better.

2. Think Taxes

When you get paid by your employer, the paycheck that they’re giving you already has your tax removed from that so your take home dollars are the money you can actually spend. When you’re self employed, nobody is doing that for you. Nobody is taking that tax money out for you so it’s up to you to understand that a certain percentage of that needs to be set aside so that when tax season comes around – you have money to pay to the government.

Figuring out taxes is a tough one because your taxes are going to be different whether or not you are an employee for someone else or are self employed. But there’s a couple of different options for you:

  • If you’re not doing your own taxes, talk to the person who is doing your taxes because they’ll have a good handle of your current financial situation and understand what changes are going to be because chances are they dealt with these many times before.
  • If you are doing your own, you can definitely keep doing what you’re doing. Take a look at TurboTax (probably the most popular option) and you’re probably already using the right TurboTax package already if you already have a business set up and you’re considering jumping over to full time. But you still might want to take a look what other things are going to change.

3. Deductibles

One of the things that we also want to talk about is deductions. As someone who is self employed, there are a lot of things that you are allowed to deduct for your company. If you’re buying a laptop for your company you can deduct that as a business purchase. If you’re buying software, hosting, domain name, or if you are a Marmalead Entrepreneur – those are all tax deductibles because it’s for your business.

There’s a little bit of a stigma about that where people think that you’re taking advantage off of deductions and that could cause issues for you. But that is not really the case. These things are in place to help people get started and succeed in small businesses because that’s good for everybody and the economy. They are in there for a reason to help out so make sure you use them.

4. Think Savings

Another thing is how much money you want to have saved up. This is an addition to making sure that you can replace your current income for the standard of living that you want to maintain. You probably want to have a bit of a runway and have some money saved off for when business is slow or when something unfortunate happens.

Experts recommend around 6 months worth of savings. Some say it’s anything from 3 to 12 months. But it depends on where you are at, how comfortable you are, and what other options you have if things don’t work out.

Important tips on your Entrepreneurial Journey

When to go full time on your business?

You don’t always get to choose the best time to go full time on your business. Your business might need you more now. You are going to end up needing to go full time before you are really ready. Your business can start to become more demanding now. Your business might need you full time and you probably don’t want to let your business suffer because you can’t devote more time into it. Are you willing to risk your business simply because you’re not willing to do it full time yet?

Keeping your Sanity

It is really important regardless of who you are. Regardless of person, everyone goes through different stages of how they feel about things.

We are a very habit and routine-based creatures. Humans do well when things are standardized – like how jobs are 9AM to 5PM. When you leave that more structured environment and start working on your own – especially if you work at home – you got to maintain that level of sanity. Maintaining your sanity might be needing to make an effort to go work from a coffee shop every once in a while. If your business involves making physical things, you probably can’t bring your workshop with you. But you might be able to bring a laptop with you and use that time to follow up on messages and do some digital type things that you can catch up on.

Keeping Fit

You might also want to think about your fitness schedule. Maybe you were a part of a gym on your day job and you hit the gym a couple of days per week. Even the amount of activity that you have at an office job where you’re getting up to go to meetings and talk to people in their desks, walking from your car etc. This is something you might not notice a whole lot at first but keep it in the back of your mind and try to keep tabs on how you are feeling both sanity-wise and physically.


Self affirmations are basically the things you say to yourself to reinforce something you believe or want to believe. If you say “I am going to have a great day!”, you are going to have a better chance of actually having a great day because it’s really not what happens to you, but how you react to the things that happen to you. Regardless of how far you want to take the actual effects of self affirmation – at the very least – saying something positive is going to make you feel more positive.

It puts you in a positive frame of mind and lots of little positive things are going to start happening. When you look for the positive, more positive things seem to happen. If you look for negative things, more negative things seem to happen.

Time Management

As you’re working as an employee for somebody else, time management is often pressed upon you. You’re expected to work at a certain time, your lunch hour is between X and X time, and you’re expected to stay at work until a certain time. Now when you’re working from home, it depends on how you have your day set up. Overall, your day is going to be a whole lot more wide open and there’s going to be fewer people telling you what you need to do. Like what we mentioned before, people are more routine oriented and most people thrive in an environment where something is in routine. It’s going to be up to you to come up of your own time management, methods, tools, and how you want to break that down. Keep yourself honest about it and find what works best for you.

Since you control your day, you can try all sort of experiments and see what works. But it also means that you need to have more self control and not do things like spending your whole day on Facebook or watching Netflix.

Turn notifications off!

Turn notifications off your phone. Don’t let it send notifications of everything because you’re going to constantly look at your phone to see what’s going on. Use it as a tool but don’t let it own you.

There’s a Do Not Disturb mode on every phone and if you turn that on, notifications won’t show up unless the call is from someone important or if an emergency comes up.

Set Goals

Also, keep your goals in mind and think down the road what your end goals are. If working on Twitter and sending a bunch of tweets out doesn’t help you get towards that goal; is that the best use of your time? Could you be doing something different? Could you be re-doing your photos? Could you be re-doing your descriptions? Should you be coming up with new products? What should you be spending your time on that gets you where you need to be?

The Entrepreneurship Mindset

The whole idea of entrepreneurship – being an entrepreneur, mompreneur, dadpreneur etc. is really a mindset of all these things that we’ve talked about. Leaving a full time job is a pretty clear goal right there. Entrepreneur mindset is keeping focused on that; staying motivated and hustling so hard towards that goal.

Your competition doesn’t want you to do that. Your competition wants you to watch Netflix for 5 months straight. Your competition wants you to give up. They want you to get discouraged. They want you not to manage your time well. So that’s why you have to keep up the hustle because there’s always going to be competition out there. No matter what you’re doing there’s gonna be other people competing with you.

The only place where there is no competition is failure.

In this episode we talk about the exciting journey from day job to self employed entrepreneur. We cover some things that are good to keep in mind about financial planning, keeping your sanity, the rollercoaster life of entrepreneurs, time management and more!

Etsy Jam Episode 18: Using AIDA to Spice Up Your Photos

In this episode we talk about the acronym AIDA.  You’ll learn what it stands for and how you can apply it to your listings’ photos. AIDA is something you can apply to any eCommerce photos – so feel free to take the concepts over to your Amazon Handmade and Shopify listings as well!

What is AIDA?

AIDA stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. It’s a form of communicating whether you are writing an email, a letter, writing descriptions or in this case, photos – since pictures are like ‘currencies’ that we use in e-commerce.

1. Attention:

The ‘A’ stands for Attention. Where attention relates to your photos is in the search results. It’s the first place you are going to show up and it is the first place that a shopper is going to have exposure to one of your listings.

The ‘A’ is all about grabbing their attention and helping them see your listing in the search results. There are actually researches about traffic signs in this regard. When you expose people to a certain number of signs, what they find in studies is that people actually don’t acknowledge any of the traffic signs anymore. So in Etsy, when someone does a search; and they see a bunch of thumbnails and if they all look the same; it all blends in and nothing catches their attention anymore. So stand out and be the one to grab their attention.

This is a little activity you can do on your own in looking how attention works:

  • If you’re on Etsy, you want to make sure that you’re not logged in to your account and you are in Private Browsing mode (Incognito for Chrome) so you’re not getting any personalized results.
  • If you’re on Marmalead, we do that already and you’re not getting any kind of personalized search results.
  1. Do a search and close your eyes before the page loads (10 seconds or so is probably enough).
  2. Open your eyes and take note of where your eyes goes first. Pay attention to that single listing that you looked at first.

You can start to do this multiple times and start to look for things they have in common. Try to understand what made you look at that particular listing as opposed to the ones around it. Start trying to understand what is making you see this listing before the other listings.

You don’t have to just do this on Etsy, you can go pretty much anywhere and do this. You can also do this on Amazon and do the exact same thing.

If you're not catching their attention right off the bat when they're looking at the search results, it's really gonna diminish your chances of them clicking on your listing.

2. Interest:

The first thing you need to do is get them to see your listing in the search results. The next thing you want them to do is to click it. But in order to click they need to be interested in it.

How do you build interest?

It has to tie back to what they are looking for – to what they typed in – and if the photo they are being presented with is in line with what they are trying to find on Etsy.

There are some places where you can see photos that are specifically geared towards capturing people’s interest and making them click. The first thing that comes to my head is If you’ve been to the site, whether you’re checking the forecast or anything, you have undoubtedly seen all those articles that they place on the side or at the bottom of the page to try and keep you on the website longer. Most people go just to check the temperature and the weather then leave the site; but want to keep you and see more of their content. If you’ve ever looked at those photos that they have, those things are designed just to get your interest peak and get you to click so you stay on the site longer.

Now I don’t think you should go full crazy on your photos like they do because it probably won’t work very well – but it’s the same principle. You want to give someone enough information that they are interested in it but they still want to learn more. They want to click your photos and find more information about your listing.

Use Rock Your Photos

Another tool that you can use is our Rock Your Photos report which will give you more information and understand how clickable some of your photos are. Some of the results might surprise you like you might find that out of your 5 photos, the most clickable one isn’t the one you’re using as your thumbnail photo. So you might want to start rethinking some of these things.

When you look at your Rock Your Photos report, we have actual shoppers score your photos on different criteria. One of them is quality, one of them is appeal, and the other is clickability. When you’re looking at the level of interest and building so people would want to click your listings; the two you should focus on are how appealing your photo is, and how clickable it is.

3. Desire:

Desire is an important one. You want people to naturally want what you’re selling. That’s the whole point. Make them want to buy your listing. To build desire there are different things that you can do. Show how the product is used especially if this is something that a person can use. If it’s home decor, show a picture of it as a decoration for their house.

It ties back to knowing your customer. That is why it’s super important to talk to your customers and get to know as much about them as you can. Get to know what their lifestyles are; what their goals are; things that fit along with other purchases they made. It’s really beneficial to have a better understanding of who your customer is and what they want in their life. Then you can make sure that what you are presenting is in line with that.

Related: How and why you should talk to your customers

What about your products make it desirable to you?

If you are your own customer, it’s going to be even easier. You make your own type of products that you buy, you are your own type of customer, and you fit that persona.

Ask these questions:

  • What about it is desirable to you?
  • Why did you first start buying this product?
  • What does it mean to you>

If you are not your own customer, think about some of the things you bought. Look at some of the catalogs you like looking at and then when you see a product – look at it and start thinking “Why am I so drawn into this?”, “I want this, but why?”. So pick off something in your wishlist and ask why you want it and what it means to you. If you are able to answer those questions, the more you understand how other businesses build interest into their products and hopefully you can apply the same.

The 5 Whys

You can do this too with your listings. Ask yourself why 5 times. Q:”Why do I want this?” A:”I want it so I can do X” Then ask again why – and the whole idea is to ask yourself 5 times. After five, you’re pretty much at the root of the whole reason why you want it because the first answer isn’t always the biggest, most overarching, most meaningful answer.

Allison’s style of building desire in her photos

We just talked with Allison last week in the podcast and she recently introduced with her listing photos the idea of putting her digital prints in a frame. The whole point of doing this is so that the shopper can picture this piece of artwork in a frame, in a home, in a room or wherever it’s going to be. They can picture that as opposed to just posting the picture of the printable artwork. Taking that additional step in her photos really helps to serve the building of desire for her customers.

Build desire with your other 4 photos

With your first listing photo (your featured photo), you’re gonna want to focus on attention and interest. You don’t necessarily have to make sure that the first photo builds desire too. What you really want is to build desire with the other 4 photos that you have to use. Use some of those to take some close up shots of your listing so they can see the intricacies and the details that you put into your work. Show people using it or some uses for your product so that they can envision themselves using it. You can use those other 4 photos to build the desire instead of relying on a single photo that has to do all 4 of these things at once.

Show them what’s different

There has to be something about your listing that’s different from the other ones. Remember, that this is your opportunity to showcase in visual form, the most readily digestible information – and it doesn’t matter what language they speak, they’re going to understand the photo and this is your chance to stand out from the other ones. Don’t just tell them what’s different, show them what’s different.

4. Action:

We’ve taken them from the search results by grabbing their attention. We’ve made the photos interesting enough for them to click and you’ve built desire with your 4 other photos. Now, the last thing you want them to do is to actually make the purchase.

How do you get people to take an action?

The first thing is you have to tell them to take the action. Tell them to buy it. If it’s vintage or one of a kind, you can remind them that if it’s gone – it’s gone. Because a lot of times, we’re somewhat conditioned that there is always another chance but in this case; it’s not.

Here’s an example of a story that you can pull from if you’re selling vintage:

“Hey, I sell a lot of vintage but I don’t come across this very often and this is a pretty rare find. There’s just no other ones that roll on conveyor belts that you can pick up and take home. This is in great condition and there’s probably not a lot like this one.”

Offer upsells

Another thing you could do to push the action forward is to offer upsells. Let’s go back to Allison’s example where she had custom color backgrounds that she could put into her listings – those were upsells. You could have a photo that tells the shopper “If you order before November 1st, you get this free upgrade to this listing” and that’s going to make some people feel like they better hurry up before that offer is no longer available.

Using the Commitment Bias

Sometimes there are listings that are available in multiple colors. Maybe there’s a different colored fabric involved, or different colors involved and what the majority of sellers do is they put up a photo showing all the different options. This is actually pretty clever because one of the things that’s going to happen when a shopper sees this is – without even thinking about it – they are going to pick out their favorite. Even if they’re not invested in making the purchase yet, you’ve already convinced them to take a baby step. You got them to make a decision and that is a good baby step to forward them to take the next step which is to actually make the purchase.

That is called the commitment bias. Once we’ve started making decisions, it is hard to go backwards. In finance, there’s also something called a ‘sunk cost dilemma’ and people have a very very tough time dealing with it. Basically it’s the emotional difficulty that once you’ve started investing something in it or once you commit, you might as well just go straight for it.

Closing Thoughts

We’ve covered Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. Now the action of this blog post is to go apply it.

Tomorrow you're going to wish that you've done it yesterday – so do it today.
In this episode we talk about the acronym AIDA.  You'll learn what it stands for and how you can apply it to your listings' photos. AIDA is something you can apply to any eCommerce photos - so feel free to take the concepts over to your Amazon Handmade and Shopify listings as well!

Etsy Jam Episode 17: Allison from SideKickPortraits

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.

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!