I have always enjoyed experimenting with lettering and alphabets, but the thought of selling calligraphy didn’t occur to me until a few years ago. I was working at a tech company in downtown Boulder (Colorado) at the time, and a coworker started talking to me about her side calligraphy business. “Brides can hire me to address their envelopes,” she explained, showing me one.
That conversation spurred an epiphany for me! It brought me to the realization that I could get paid to do something that I truly enjoy. In today’s post, I’ll walk you through how I got started selling calligraphy on Etsy, and how you can do the same! I hope that this post will be the push you need to start that side business … you won’t regret it.
1. Develop at Least One Calligraphy Style
Before you can start selling calligraphy, you need to decide on a style or two that you are going to use. It can be any style — it doesn’t have to be a calligraphy style that is original to you. The way I understand it, a person cannot copyright a hand-written calligraphy style. That means that, legally, you can offer your calligraphy services using any style that you want to.
I started off by developing two styles. The Kaitlin, shown above in a 2013 wedding suite, was my more whimsical-type style. I also created a more elegant style called “Flourish Formal“. I created the styles by browsing Pinterest and Google Images: I made a list of font traits I liked, and used those traits to come up with styles that appealed to me. (That said, you are welcome to sell your calligraphy services using any of the styles in the TPK catalog. Using the worksheets will save you some time, and you can tweak the styles however you want to!)
2. Take Product Photos
Photography is vitally important to selling calligraphy online! Bottom line, if you have good photos of your work, you will attract clients. Photography is a vital aspect that will differentiate you from other calligraphers, and give your services a professional feel. For example, would you be more likely to purchase calligraphy based on this photo …
… or this photo?
As you can see from the example above, lighting and clarity make a huge difference. Make sure you take your photos during the day using natural light, and try to keep the camera as still as possible as you are taking the photo to reduce blur. A DSLR (read: fancy, interchangeable lens-type) camera helps, but is not necessary, especially at first. I’d put a premium on being creative with your photos: try to use them to tell a story. For example, the photo of the Janet Style envelopes below showcases jewelry, perfume, and ribbon to suggest elegance. It also shows the calligraphy pen and ink to reinforce the artistic nature of the envelopes.
Ultimately, experimentation will be your best friend when it comes to product photography. It’s also important to read up online for tips (you can find a few in this blog post). As a final note, if you’re intimidated about DIYing your product photography, you can always hire someone else to do it. Ask around! If you have an Instagram-loving teen in your family, he or she may just be the perfect candidate for composing and snapping an eye-catching photo.
3. Decide Your Pricing
The trickiest part of selling calligraphy is figuring out how much to charge. There is no “one size fits all” for this step, but I would price with a couple of things in mind. First, conduct your own “envelope calligraphy” search on Etsy. Click on a few listings to see what others are charging, and keep those numbers in mind when developing your own price. You don’t want to lowball — that’s not good for you or your competitors — but you also don’t want to price too outrageously high.
To attract your first client, you can price a little bit lower (~$0.25 less per envelope) than you normally would. That sale, while it won’t make you a lot of money, will show you exactly how the process works in action and showcase any kinks that you need to iron out. In the process, you will most likely come to a concrete conclusion about how much you need to charge. The rule of thumb is that if you finish the job and you feel resentful at how much time you spent for what you were paid, then you need to charge more!
Ironically, I don’t have time to do custom calligraphy work anymore because of the time I spend blogging, teaching workshops, and developing worksheets. However, when I did offer calligraphy services, I started off with very low pricing — $1.25 per envelope. After my first envelope job, I realized that was way too low — the envelopes took a long time to make for very little payoff! I then moved my pricing up to $2.50 per envelope. As my skills increased, I eventually started charging $3.25 per envelope, then $4.00. I also offered calligraphy services for place cards, custom art pieces (like quotes), hand-written menus, and other projects. I would recommend making an Etsy listing for each and every calligraphy project that you are interested in making!
October 2017 Edit: The Calligrapher’s Business Handbook offers great input and advice on pricing!
4. Come Up with a System
At this point, you have to think about what will happen when someone buys calligraphy services from you. How do you want the process to work? How can things function smoothly for both you and your client?
To complete this step, I’d make a list of the things you need from your client before you can get started. I would include this list in the product description on Etsy (which we’ll talk more about in the next step). The items on my list included:
- Deadline – By what date does the client need the calligraphy?
- Number – How many envelopes/place cards/etc. will I will be calligraphing? Will the client want me to calligraph inner envelopes and RSVP envelopes in addition to outer envelopes?
- Ink Color – What ink color does the client want? I charged more for white ink and metallics (those envelopes took me more time to calligraph).
Next, think about what you’ll do when you have the answers to the questions on the list. If the deadline, quantity, and ink colors work for you, then you can write the client back with a price quote based on your advertised pricing. If he or she agrees to the price quote, you can make a custom listing on Etsy for them. Once they have purchased the listing, you can ask them to send the blank envelopes (or place cards) to you. Make sure you have them include plenty of extras! For every 100 envelopes that I calligraphed, I requested 20 extra envelopes to give me room to make mistakes. You’ll also need an address list, which the client can email to you or attach to an Etsy message as a PDF or .doc file. Armed with those materials and information, you should have everything you need to get started on the job! Once you’re finished, you’ll simply mail the materials back to the client.
6. Make Your Etsy Item Description
If you’ve never used Etsy before, you’ll find it a simple and invaluable tool for selling calligraphy! When I was selling calligraphy, I made a single Etsy listing for the cost of an individual envelope. This type of listing isn’t meant for purchasing. Instead, clients can read the item description and reach out to you for a custom order. If you already have the photos and the pricing prepared and you have a system plan, then the product description will be easy to write! To make a description, you’ll first want to settle on a keyword. Think about what people will search for to find your item … for example, “envelope calligraphy”.
Make sure you include the keyword in your item title. For example, you might make a listing called “Custom Wedding Envelope Calligraphy: (Whatever) Style“, or “Custom Copperplate Wedding Envelope Calligraphy“. After you create the title, start writing the description. Make sure your keyword shows up at least once in the first three sentences of the description! This will help Etsy/Google to direct people to you. I’d start the description with some information about the calligraphy style; for example: “Kaitlin Style calligraphy is elegant and whimsical, the perfect complement to an artistic wedding.” After you write a couple more lines (which include your keyword), outline the process for the client. I would start by asking the client to send me a private message with the details I need (again: deadline, number, and ink color.)
Finish up the product description with any additional information that the client may need to know. For example: do you charge more for writing with white ink? What is your typical turnaround time (e.g. one week for every 25 envelopes)? The product description is a great chance to concisely lay out anything that will help the client come to a purchase decision.
Once you have created the item description, you can sit back and wait for your first calligraphy job request! You can pay for Etsy ads to get your items more attention, but they are not necessary. As long as you have eye-catching photos and a good description outlining a professional process, you will attract clients! Remember to be patient: it may take a few weeks before your listings get noticed.
If selling calligraphy is something you have been hesitating about, give it a try. It will cost you a $0.20 investment to make a listing on Etsy, plus a bit of time to take photos, plan, and write a description. The worst that can happen is someone not purchasing the listing. In the scheme of things, that’s not that bad; you’ll only have lost $0.20 and some of your time. I encourage you to put yourself out there and see what happens — I know that you can do it!