In 2012, I started an Etsy shop called “The Postman’s Knock”, and I quit my day job (read the full story here). The idea behind the Etsy shop was this: I could write out custom envelope calligraphy for people, which they would be delighted to receive when they heard “the postman’s knock” at their door. Eventually, the Etsy shop evolved into so much more than that — now, TPK is a blog, a learning resource gold mine, and a calligraphy supplies store — but, like everyone, I started small. I tried a lot of things and put myself out there before I felt ready, which is just what you have to do! Below, you’ll find some of the items that I used to sell on Etsy as a new entrepreneur.
1. BabyQ Invitation Design
This was the very first item that I listed on Etsy in the summer of 2012. I really struggled to learn how to use Photoshop in order to make it. As I recall, there were tears involved! Originally, I created the design for free at the request of a former college roommate, whose brother was hosting a “babyq” (barbecue baby shower). I then listed the design on Etsy for $15.00, where it was surprisingly popular. Clients would give me their babyq information via a small questionnaire, I’d customize the design, and then I’d send them the file so they could print it themselves.
2. Custom Envelope Calligraphy
When I started TPK, I had no idea how to use a dip pen. I only knew how to create faux calligraphy! I got very lucky with the faux calligraphy when a client in Louisiana hired me to create baby shower invitation envelopes. Her shower went on to be featured on Style Me Pretty, which is a popular events inspiration website.
After I learned how to create dip pen calligraphy, I stopped offering faux calligraphy envelopes. If you’ve ever created faux calligraphy, you’ll be able to relate to why: each envelope took way too long to make! I could spend up to 30 minutes on an envelope that I was charging $3.50 for — it just wasn’t worth it.
3. Place Cards
In TPK’s first year on Etsy, I received more requests for place card calligraphy on Etsy than I did for envelope calligraphy! I liked making faux calligraphy place cards, but I stopped selling them after about a year because they were a little fussy. If I wasn’t extra careful with the eraser, the calligraphy almost always smudged, even after drying overnight!
I used to sell art prints in my Etsy shop for $15.00. Eventually, though, I gave up on selling art prints. The sales on them were decent; about one would sell per week. However, my cost of printing was around $7.50, and I had to drive across town to pick up the print. Then, I’d go home and spend about twenty minutes carefully packaging the print up. All in all, the drive and the packaging process just weren’t worth a $7.50 profit. (As a side note, if you’re interested in selling art prints, Society6 is probably a better place to do it! It’s totally hands-off; they handle shipping, production, and customer service.)
5. “Chalkboard” Announcements
After I got more acquainted with Photoshop, I used it to make chalkboard-like invitations and announcements. Eventually, I stopped selling these because I ran into the problem that the design price was too low ($35) for the time that it took. I hand-drew each design, then worked with it in Photoshop to add the chalk effect and a photo (or photos). Looking back, I could have charged more, for sure … but, like most entrepreneurs who are just starting, I often undervalued my work. I still love this idea, though!
6. Custom Calligraphy
After I learned how to write pointed pen calligraphy, I offered calligraphy commission services: poems, passages, vows … whatever. I enjoyed the emotional aspect of selling this item on Etsy. It really brought out the best in people! I wanted to keep offering this service because I liked it, but I got too busy with wedding invitation design from late 2013 onward. After that, the blog grew a lot, and I couldn’t take on any more custom work. But, if you’re able to create calligraphy, this service is one worth offering in your own Etsy shop!
7. Calligraphy Clothespins
You would not believe how many calligraphy clothespins I sold in my Etsy shop! I probably ended up writing on 1,000 clothespins, which people used at baby showers to hang up baby’s new clothes. To make them, I used a Pilot G2 05 pen to create faux calligraphy on wooden clothespins. Then, I sprayed the pins with a fixative, let them dry overnight, and shipped them. I see that personalized clothespins are still quite popular on Etsy, but no one offers calligraphy clothespins anymore. If you’re thinking of starting an Etsy shop, this would be an item to offer!
8. Printable Planners
In early 2013, I found myself making a lot of dip pen envelope calligraphy, and I wanted to switch things up a bit. Inspired by the planning techniques I used in college, I decided to design a printable planning system. Designing a planner offered me a chance to switch gears, work a bit on the computer, and learn a new program (Adobe InDesign). I sold the college edition for $40, and the standard edition for $30. The planners probably sold 3-4 times per week, which was really cool! In early 2015, I stopped selling the printable planners because they no longer fit the TPK aesthetic. (I’m all about hand-written and hand-drawn designs, and the planners looked a little bit computerized for my taste.)
9. Watercolor Wedding Maps
Hands-down, wedding map design was the most fun service that I offered on Etsy. I loved making maps! To get started, the client purchased a deposit listing and filled out a questionnaire. In the questionnaire, I requested that the client list 5-7 places that they wanted on the map and the significance of those places. The design cost varied based on map size and the number of places, but my base pricing for a simple map design like the one above was $400. Honestly, if I had the time now, I’d still be making these for people — they were a delight to create! If you have the knack for it, try making one (learn how in this eCourse), pop a listing on Etsy, and see what happens.
10. Envelope/Wedding Calligraphy
My biggest seller on Etsy was envelope calligraphy. People love sending out invitations in style, so I had lots of envelope calligraphy clients. Half of those clients also asked me to design their wedding invitations, which I also enjoyed! I created envelope and wedding calligraphy commissions up until early 2016, when I decided to devote all my time to the TPK website. Ironically, I write about calligraphy all the time on the TPK blog — and in doing so, I don’t have time to take on commissions. Every once in a while, though, I’ll make envelope calligraphy as a gift for a friend’s wedding or baby shower. I still really enjoy envelope calligraphy, and I would continue to offer it as a service if there were more hours in the day!
I don’t really sell on Etsy anymore (the store still exists, but it’s a bit of a “zombie”), but I’m grateful that Etsy provided a springboard for me to start a business. For all its pros, Etsy has its flaws, especially once your business gets bigger. In my particular case, there’s no way for me to offer video courses on Etsy, and Etsy has file size limits that prevent me from offering most of my digital products there. That said, if you’re thinking of starting your own creative business, it’s a wonderful place to start and experiment! To learn more about becoming a creative entrepreneur, you can check out all the posts in the “Entrepreneur” category on the blog.
I hope that you enjoyed this throwback post! If you have any questions, I’m glad to answer. Thanks very much for reading TPK, and have a great rest of the week!
This article first appeared on the TPK blog in April of 2018. As of February 2021, it includes new photos and updated information.