In 2012, I decided to start 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 design stationery and 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 mainly a blog and learning resource — but, like everyone, I started somewhere. I tried a lot of things and put myself out there before I felt completely ready, which is just what you have to do! Here are some of the items that I used to sell, some of which you may be surprised at. Without these now-retired items, TPK as we know it wouldn’t exist!
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 made the design for free at the request of a former roommate, whose brother was hosting a “babyq” (barbecue baby shower). I then put 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.
I eventually stopped selling the design because too much back and forth needed to take place after the purchase. The client would send me the questionnaire, but they’d usually forget a piece or two of information. After asking for that information, I’d send the client a draft, and they generally had changes they wanted to make. I’d make those changes, send another draft, and maybe have to make more changes. All in all, the process just wasn’t worth $15.00. The invitation did, however, raise my confidence in my design skills; and it was the project that got me started with Photoshop, which I’m grateful for!
2. Custom Envelope Calligraphy
You may be shocked to learn that when I started The Postman’s Knock, I had no idea how to use a dip pen. I only knew how to create faux calligraphy! So … faux custom envelope calligraphy is what I advertised via some not-so-impressive photos, and my services actually sold.
I got very lucky with the faux calligraphy in that a baby shower client in Louisiana hired me to create her 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
I actually received more requests for place card calligraphy on Etsy than I did for envelope calligraphy! The photo below shows my most popular layout, circa 2013. I created these place cards with faux calligraphy (minus the filled-in downstrokes) and a Pilot G2 pen.
I liked making these 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 faux calligraphy almost always smudged, even after drying overnight!
I learned how to make “salted watercolor” in middle school, and I fell in love with the technique. When I first started the TPK blog, I wrote a tutorial over how to do it … which I probably should re-write because it is a pretty neat project! I used to sell this art print in my Etsy shop for $15.00.
Eventually, I gave up on selling art prints (I had a few others as well). 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.
5. “Chalkboard” Announcements
After I got more acquainted with Photoshop, I learned how to use it to make a chalk technique. I used that technique to make custom invitations like this one!
I eventually stopped selling these because — again — 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, and would consider making an invitation like this for myself in the future!
6. Custom Calligraphy
After I learned dip pen calligraphy, I started offering to write out anything clients wanted: poems, passages, vows … whatever. I got to make some really cool things! Husbands asked me to write out declarations of love for an anniversary gift, brides and grooms hired me to write out vows for their special day, and fledgling writers had me calligraph their poems.
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 on. After that, the blog grew a lot, and I ended up not being able to take on any custom work. But, if you’re able to create calligraphy, this service is one worth offering in an Etsy shop!
7. Handmade Banners
In the early days of the blog, I wrote a tutorial over how to make a banner just like the one pictured below. I loved the hand-lettering and the vintage look!
I only offered custom banners in my Etsy shop for a few months. I charged $4.00 per letter, and I found that people often got confused and would purchase the $4.00 listing, then ask for their banner to say something like “Elizabeth”. I’d then have to explain that “Elizabeth” would cost $36.00, not $4.00, and usually the customer would opt out of the purchase. The banners took quite a long time to make, and one time, one got lost in the mail (the one pictured above, in fact), so I had to re-do it. If I could have figured out how to streamline the banners, though, they may have been worth continuing to make!
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 (which, five years ago, were very fresh in my mind), 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 was ambitious with the pricing of the planner because I put so much time into making it and felt it was a solid product. 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. I do think they were a good idea, though! I decided to bring them back for this blog post, albeit as a hidden product that you can only access through a direct link (and for much less $$). You can find the standard planner here and the college planner here.
9. Watercolor Wedding Maps
Hands-down, wedding map design was one of the most fun services that I offered on Etsy. I loved making them! To get started, I’d ask the client to purchase a deposit listing on Etsy and fill out a questionnaire. In the questionnaire, I asked what size the client wanted the map to be, and I requested that they list 5-7 places that they wanted on the map and the significance of those places.
I ended up creating several wedding maps, and I enjoyed every single one! 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 $350. 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, you might try making one, pop a listing on Etsy, and see what happens.
10. Envelope/Wedding Calligraphy
My biggest selling item on Etsy was envelope calligraphy. People love sending out invitations in style, so I had many, many 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 would continue to offer it if there were more hours in the day!
I will be forever grateful to Etsy for helping me to launch The Postman’s Knock. Without my initial success on Etsy, I wouldn’t have been able to create this website! Still, I’ve gone the way of many Etsy sellers: I started a business on Etsy, and eventually migrated it to my own website. 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 selling some of my larger digital products there. It’s not a great platform for me anymore, but it used to be, and if you’re thinking of starting your own creative business, it’s a wonderful place to start and experiment!
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!