Calligraphy offers a fantastic creative outlet, and the vast majority of people practice the art as a way to decompress. If you can’t get enough of calligraphy and you feel ready for a life change, however, you might consider starting a calligraphy business! With an average salary of $72,000*, you can be comfortable in and really enjoy a career as a calligrapher. Here are a few tips to get you started!
*According to The Calligrapher’s Business Handbook by Molly Suber Thorpe
Before you delve into officially starting your calligraphy business, I strongly recommend reading The Calligrapher’s Business Handbook. In it, you’ll find pricing and process tips, plus practical advice about managing this type of business.
2. Start an Etsy Shop
Starting an Etsy shop is a simple, important step in getting your calligraphy business off the ground. Eventually, you may want to invest in making your own website, but at the beginning, you can’t beat the price and convenience of using Etsy. Etsy is approachable even for the non-tech-savvy, and you can easily start a new shop by clicking here.
Etsy provides a few advantages that you won’t get if you decide to sell through a personal website from the get-go. These advantages include:
Good SEO and Exposure – If your website is new and doesn’t constantly generate content, people probably won’t be able to find you through search engines. You are much, much more likely to connect with potential clients if you have an Etsy shop!
A Trusted Payment Processor – If you have a website, it can be tough to figure out a payment processor that people trust. Potential clients will always be comfortable making payments through Etsy.
User-Friendly Interface – If you’re not a web developer, it can be difficult to make your website look exactly how you want it to (and figure out how to upload content). Etsy is very “plug and play”. It tells you exactly what to put where — like, “upload your photos here”, “write your item description here”, etc.
3. Make a Portfolio
Before you officially start your calligraphy business, you should spend a couple of days gathering or creating examples of pieces that you can sell. Once you gather those pieces, take a few good photos! You can find advice for taking professional-looking photos in the 6 Art + Calligraphy Product Calligraphy Tips from a DIY Photographer post.
Once you edit your photos, upload them to Etsy and make your product listings. After your Etsy shop has items in it, post some of your best calligraphy photos on Instagram. Make sure your Instagram profile links to your Etsy shop, and add hashtags to your Instagram photos that will help potential clients to find you! Good hashtags include #weddingcalligraphy, #moderncalligraphy #calligraphy, #wedding #pointedpen #calligraphycommission … you get the idea.
4. Agree on a Price and Deadline Up Front
After you read The Calligrapher’s Business Handbook, you’ll have a good idea of how to price the products or services that you offer. That’s good because many projects that clients ask for will require you to make a custom price quote. When you send the price quote, break down why things cost what they do. For example, “50 Envelopes at $3.75 apiece = $187.50, Special Ink Charge = $15.00, Rush Fee = $50.00, Shipping Cost = $10.00”.
If the order is less than $200, it’s a good policy to ask for full payment ahead of time. For orders $200+, I’d require a 50% down payment at the beginning. Then, before you send the finished order to the client, have them pay the other 50%. Don’t forget to agree on a deadline!
5. Be Careful About Working for Friends and Family
I have a strict policy when friends/family ask me to take on a project for them: either I create the project as a gift or I send over suggestions for artists they may be interested in using instead (I find these artists on Etsy). Here’s why: working with friends and family can be yucky. Oftentimes, they don’t realize how much time, energy, and skill calligraphy takes to make, and you feel obligated to give them a discount. This can lead to resentment and misunderstanding that could affect your relationship.
If a friend or family member insists on soliciting your services and paying you, be honest about your price. Charge them exactly what you would charge any other client, but provide him or her with an out. For example: “My price is $X for this project because (price breakdown). I totally understand if you’d rather DIY the project or have someone else do it, though! There are lots of really good calligraphers/artists on Etsy. Otherwise, we can move forward.”
6. Be Communicative
Once you start the project, make it a point to keep the client in the loop. For example, if you’re creating calligraphy art for the client, send them a pencil draft for approval. If you’re doing envelope calligraphy, send them a photo of the first envelope so they can confirm that they like the calligraphy style/color.
It’s a good idea to send short email updates every few days so the client knows exactly what’s going on. If you have questions, even if they seem obvious, ask the client! He or she will appreciate your attention to detail. Once the client has received the order, check in to make sure that everything looks okay!
7. Carefully Package Your Creation(s)
If you’re selling on Etsy, the vast majority of your orders won’t be local. It’s your responsibility to make sure that — no matter what weather or circumstances the postman encounters — your creation(s) will arrive in mint condition.
It’s a good idea to reinforce your project with several pieces of rigid cardboard. Once the project is enforced, wrap it in plastic wrap or put it in a plastic bag to make sure it’s watertight. Then, make a gift presentation by wrapping the project in wrapping paper. Put the wrapped project in a larger box, then send! You don’t have to go to the post office if you have a shipping scale at home; instead, you can print labels directly off of usps.com.
8. Have A+ Customer Service
In the US, the client is king, and I believe that following that philosophy can fast track your calligraphy business to success. Even if your clients don’t turn into repeat clients, they will often recommend you to their family and friends because of their positive experiences.
Here are ways that you can offer customer service that helps you to stand out:
For envelope jobs, offer to redo (and mail) any mess-ups very quickly and at no charge to the client.
Make sure emails to the client are kind, short, and professional.
Include a little gift in the package. I’ve sent TPK stickers, little art prints, and candies in the past.
Design and provide the client with an artistic business card that is worthy of display.
Every person approaches entrepreneurship differently, and there may be mitigating circumstances that make your calligraphy business different. For example, maybe you’re a web developer, and, in that case, using Etsy probably isn’t necessary. If you’re selling ready-made calligraphy products (like art prints) instead of services, some of the tips here also may not apply to you. No matter what, though, kindness, professionalism, and quality work will get you far! Strive to offer those three things, and you’ll be golden.
I hope that this post encourages you to take the leap if you’re considering starting a calligraphy business! Remember: you can always start your business as a side gig and see where it goes from there. What have you got to lose?
Thanks very much for reading TPK, and enjoy the rest of your day!