Starting out — whether you’re an artist, writer, or any creator — having the right niche is the most important thing to think about. Once you find your niche everything will begin to fall into place and you’ll have a reference point for consistent decision making for your art business.
Picking a niche is no small task. If you pick the wrong one, no matter how hard you work in the future it isn’t likely you’ll be successful.
Finding a niche is easier said than done. I’m going to give you some tips on where to look for your niche interests and talents, as well as some journalling (or deep thinking) prompts to help you get in the right mindset.
Choosing the wrong niche in the beginning can kill your project before you even start.
The easiest place to start looking is your social media accounts.
- Look at your mutuals and favourites on social media; they can often help narrow down your field of expertise.
- Look at who is commenting on your stuff; they’re your quality, engaged audience you want to keep around.
- Create similar, but interesting content to get people to scroll, click through, or read longer.
- Look at social media selling platforms (like facebook marketplace, fivver, and kijiji) to start looking for what other people are looking for if you can’t define your own work.
Look especially at your mutuals, most popular posts, favourite brands/artists, and general popularity of what you have done in the past. This can help narrow down your interests and even your style if that’s something you’re struggling with.
Don’t forget about your comments sections! Every platform has a place for people to leave comments. Read every one and actually listen to them. Try to respond to them all in quality. These are your most engaged audience and they’re actively looking at your stuff and want to support you!
Where is the need for you?
What do people come to you for? What do they need your advice on? This indicates what people think you’re knowledgable in; odds are you’ve given them helpful advice in the past and you may actually know what you’re talking about.
What do you offer that every other artist can’t?
This could be something as simple as your style, something that makes you memorable, or something that helps people: combining these would be ideal.
Look at your favourite reading materials and genres of writing and dig deeper into your interests:
- If all you read are life-hacks on Pinterest, odds are you have an interest in creative problem solving and enrichment.
- If you scroll through facebook fuming about the fake news, then maybe you’re passionate about social commentary.
The beauty of the Internet is there’s a niche market for everything, and if you can focus on it, you can build a sustainable and viable business of it.Michelle Phan, pioneering Beauty YouTuber and Makeup Entrepreneur
Answer the Three W’s
Who are you?
What are you trying to accomplish?
Why do you want this?
If you can’t answer these questions, you’ll need to put some more effort into finding what people need that you can offer. Remember, who is paying you is who comes first. Think of how you can best help or satisfy those people that support you most without losing your integrity.
I hope all of this was enough to set you on the right path to finding your specialty. Confused about what I wanted for so long, I had never found my specialty.
I didn’t figure out my niche and my work suffered for it, for much longer than I would like to admit. I didn’t think I needed one and it was leading to a string of disappointing work.
If you can relate, go read about my creative journey and how I got here. I talk about where I’m coming from and why I’m here for you. I also want to hear how opening your Etsy shop has been going in the comments!
Until next time,
-Joey @ The A/J
Save yourself stress and money by following the right work map
What is a workflow?
The best way for me to describe a workflow, work map as you may have heard before, would be: it’s a checklist of everything you do. To elaborate, a workflow is the order of steps your work passes through from start to finish. It’s the method you set up for getting your stuff done.
You probably already have workflows you follow in your life. Your morning/night time routines, the recipes you know off by heart, and how you shop at the supermarket are all routine things we do all the time, without even thinking about the plan.
Why you need to develop a workflow
Simply put, when everything is laid out in front of you, you can’t miss anything. You don’t need to waste time thinking about the next step, saving you a lot of time and energy in the long-run.
I have established workflows for my professional life I tweak every so often. In a business setting, it allows others to complete a task in the same way at the same quality because everything they need to know is laid out in a specific order.
How to create a workflow
You need to start by sitting down and visualizing the task at hand. Think carefully through each step you take in your process and write all of it down. You especially want to include steps your usually forget or cut around.
I wanted to show you one of my processes as an example, hopefully as a blueprint to help you along.
What my shipping process looks like:
- Review order in Etsy app and put aside stock.
- Pin buttons and enamel pins to backing/business cards. I do this because A. It looks nice, and B. it keeps the pins from clumping together in the envelope, which makes shipping more difficult and expensive. I combined my backing cards and business cards to reduce waste in my packaging and to cut printing costs.
- Pull out shipping supplies. All I have for my packages is paper envelopes, custom (paper) return labels, and promotional materials I already have made for live events. I have tissue paper and twine for gift wrapping. I used to use hot pink bubble mailers, but since Canada stopped recycling opaque plastics I switched to paper manilla envelopes and decorate them with washi tape.
- Stuff orders; I always add a thank you note to my orders as well as a sticker (if I have extras on hand). Don’t try to make it too complicated. With a bit of washi tape you can easily individualize boring envelopes while keeping it eco-friendly.
- Write out addresses on labels, not envelopes. It’s so much easier for me to write out address labels rather than the envelopes themselves because I often have shaky hands. The higher contrast also makes it much easier for the postal service to read and you don’t have to recycle the entire envelope if you make a mistake! You could print them as well, but unless you’re shipping out three dozen orders at a time it wouldn’t be worth the hassle. I also consider the cost of ink and power for something I can easily write by hand.
- Apply address labels before closing the envelopes. I always double check my package contents before sealing them; I would sometimes mix up orders with the same contents, so I had to stop writing names in my letters. I also discontinued using names because many of my customers haven’t given me their preferred name. I would take this into consideration if you’re appealing to an LGBTQ+ market.
- Fill out customs forms and save them to Notes app. If you can’t do this you can print them, but again I consider the resources for something that takes me 30 seconds on my phone.
- Deliver packages to post office and mark complete in Etsy app. I mark my orders as sent before even leaving the post office parking lot. You don’t want overdue packages in your shop manager; they reflect poorly on your shop’s overall standing.
- Follow up on your orders! Use those comments, reviews, and photos (with permission) to your social media. You want people to know that you’re great at what you do and this is factual proof!
I have been using Etsy as the marketplace to sell my handcrafted goods and artwork since October 2016. In the beginning, I was running everything from my phone and this was actually helping me make more money! The Etsy app is the perfect example of a workflow as it takes you through the process of posting a new listing.
Read more about running and Etsy shop and how I increased my shop performance!
Creating workflows drastically reduced my administrative work time and further freed me from my desk. I know adapting this workflow will benefit your small business practice and make you feel like the badass boss you are!
-Joey @ The A/J
Before writing more great advice about creating content, I wanted to give you a run-down of my background, what I make, and how I got started. I’ve been really excited to share this story, as I feel it’s a great learning experience to share with other creators, whether you’re just starting out, or stuck in a career-rut.
Toadstool Illustrates is the online apparel and print shop I run. I use it to facilitate creative conversation around LGBTQ+ and its’ expression. Toadstool has evolved with me as an artist, being the brand’s third iteration it has become exactly what I set out to do when I first officially opened up shop in October 2016.
But back when I started, that wasn’t my plan or even my intention. I actually had no idea of what I wanted other than “I want to make stuff and make an impact”. In the beginning I mistook that for something else…
How I got started.
The patches all started in 2015.
I was in college for Environmental Technology and found there weren’t any active environmentalists or other activists among my peers. I additionally found that even working for the government I couldn’t make in impact. It was extremely disheartening.
While in college I worked for a summer at a popular craft store, and was doing a lot of sewing and clothing alterations. I had piles of scraps piling up because I just couldn’t bear to throw it all in the trash.
Weeks go by and I’m still wondering what to do with all of these scraps. They appeared to be nothing but a pile of shredded denim and bleached t-shirt arms. I decided I would cut them into squares, as large as I could, and noticed they were all coming out at similar sizes. I still couldn’t figure out a use for them.
I am suddenly struck with these questions: can I make an impact by spreading messages? Can messages spread via the things you wear? Of course, that’s what brand logos and tattoos are for, but wouldn’t it be better if you could spread multiple messages at the same time? This and many similar thoughts led me to do some brainstorming.
After doing a little research, I decided hand-made punk patches were the perfect way to start. Even better, this idea allowed me to recycle over 90% of my scrap fabric that was piling up around my workspace! My patches are now all hand-painted on recycled scrap fabric.
I’m inspired by LGBTQ+ issues, and Transgender rights specifically, as well as other humanitarian ideals and sex-positive humour. I try not to take myself too seriously when it come to my patches and pins; they’re meant to be conscientious, but still fun.
About my pins.
I started collecting pins and buttons when I was a child. It was the early 2000’s, but my bags and lanyards were totally decked out like it was 1988.
Fast-forward 15 years and I’m making my own buttons.
After the success of my patches in mid-2016, I was able to invest in new merchandise: buttons! I was so excited to take this next big step into new territory.
I found the ideas and motivations behind my patches — that were too colourful and complex for fabric painting — easily translated into these tiny buttons. In the beginning I couldn’t afford a press and had to outsource production to other local makers.
After about 2 years I was finally able to buy my own button press!
I include the first 20 buttons in the base fee to do my best to help out; I know starting off can be tough and buttons are great way to dabble into new merchandise.
I personally started with handing mine out for free at in-person events, which I feel really helped my online performance. I began working small craft fairs and art shows with them in about April 2017. By October people remembered me and were coming back to buy again!
Artists use them to experiment with turning their art into a physical medium. I’ve been told they’re also great when you want to expand your price range as a seller.
My latest and biggest project so far would be my Sword & Shield Enamel pin set.
My LGBTQ enamel pin set was in the works for over a year. I still remember thinking — over 2 years ago at my first Hamilton Pride festival — about how I wanted to contribute to my community and how I didn’t think I could.
I definitely didn’t know at the time it would be with my designs. Giving people a unique way of showing their transgender identity was not the initial intention, but with a more neutral-masculine design and colour pallet my pin was a stark contrast to most of the other all-black geometric designs flooding the search results.
My main concern was that I love our flags’ colours, but didn’t feel comfortable being decked out in pastel garb (and got the consensus that other trans-masculine folx out there felt the same way). That’s what inspired me to begin sketching.
These enamel pins were meant to help bridge the gap between the Transgender pride flag colours and the use of original neutral/masculine design.
So, that’s my Etsy shop story.
Don’t leave thinking this entire article a big flex. It’s not, it’s for you to know I speak from years of real experience and about a metric tonne of books. I will be creating a 2020 reading list to help you get in a more creative and productive mindset to start your year off right. Let me know if that’s something you would look forward to, or any book recommendations you may have for me!
Until then, I hope you read through my last article where I talk about How To Use Your Doubts and Fears To Build And Motivate Your Business Part 2. If you missed Part 1 of that series, it’s important you go there first!
If you want to read some Etsy Shop tips I’ve gained through my experience go read How To Run Your Etsy Shop From Only Your iPhone And Increase Your Sales! Stay tuned for the next Artist Journal by following on Facebook or Instagram.
Joey @ The A/J
If you are:
- Someone who has ever wanted to run a side hustle
- A creator with too much physical merchandise
- An artist with an overflowing archive
- A crocheter or any other talented crafter with more creations than you can give away
My point is, if you make anything, one of my favourite ways for you to make an easy income is Etsy. I want to be transparent that this is not a sponsored post, I’m just a long-time user of their platform.
I use Etsy as my online business platform for the following reasons;
- I found it the easiest to navigate; vs. Shopify, Ebay, Depop, or even Squarespace.
- Everything is there if you need it, you just have to look for it. The Etsy Seller Handbook is a good place to start.
- I didn’t have reliable access to a computer until 2018. For 2 years I used my iPad to run my business, and website designers do not take kindly to them.
- I find the fees reasonable for the service and customizability, as well as the legal protections your business receives as a seller. My shop was paying for itself within my first financial quarter.
I have been using Etsy as the marketplace to sell my handcrafted goods and artwork since October 2016. In the beginning, I didn’t have many resources at my disposal. At the time I was running the shop and making all of my work from my iPad and a $70 printer…
My problems at the time were access to poor-quality cameras, rudimentary editing software, and having slower order turn-around times as a result. It would sometimes take me up to 5 business days to ship something out because using these poor quality tools took so long!
After switching to operating from my phone I was able to cut that time down to 1-2 business days, which is a huge advantage in regard to Etsy’s internal SEO.
The increase in quality lead to more sales, which I was able to use to buy a laser-printer for all my business printing needs!
Creating a listing using the Sell on Etsy mobile app is a breeze.
Esty’s app guides you through the first couple of tedious steps and then easily lays out all the other information your listing needs. You should be filling in as much as possible while also using all 13 hashtags.
You must use the right hashtags. They should be more than one-word searches and not sweeping, broad categories. They should be as relevant and descriptive as possible.
Try also using synonyms; buttons are to pins as paintings are to artwork. I use tags such as; punk patches, trans pride pins, pronoun enamel pins, etc. These are extremely specific to my niche market and relevant to my products.
I do all of my photography and editing on my phone.
I use my iPhone 8 Plus to take all my photos. I only mention this because of the high quality camera with stabilization, so I don’t ever have to worry about my shaky artist hands. I’m sure many phones have this now, but I love the portrait function for taking photos of my apparel outdoors.
After editing, they’re ready for uploading. I write up my item descriptions in either the Apple Pages or Notes app. Pages is great because it can give you a word count; you should be writing at least 250-500 words, this will additionally aid Etsy’s internal SEO.
Sales are clear and easy to manage.
After the listing is all set up, it’s time to address sales. When you make a sale, it will create an order for you in it’s own tab. Using the app I check the order contents and shipping info. This way I can pack my orders, still without touching another device.
I write my shipping labels by hand. I have pre-printed business cards, return labels, and flyers to stuff in my orders. That way I don’t need to print things more often than once or twice a month. Since I designed these assets in Adobe Draw on my iPad, I can access all of my printing assets through Creative Cloud and print them from my phone! Thought there was a loophole, huh?
I have found the one thing the app is missing is you cannot mark multiple orders as shipped at the same time. You have to mark each listing as completed separately, but if you’re not shipping more than 5 orders per day it’s not a big deal.
I fill out my international customs forms from my phone, send the barcodes to my email, and save them as pictures to a new note on my phone.
All I have to do is present the barcodes at the post office counter and pay with tap using, you guessed it, my iPhone! I guess you could use your wallet for this step, but it’s not as futuristic and cool.
And that’s how I increased my Etsy sales by reducing my administrative work and freeing me from my desk. I know adapting this workflow will benefit your small business practice and make you feel like the badass boss you are!
I would love it if you let me know what your trends look like after fully filling out your listings, or if you have tips to share about your Etsy shop practices. Stay tuned for the next Artist Journal by following on Facebook or Instagram!
Until next time,
Joey @ The A/J