A work-at-home mom selling art through word of mouth – with Whitney Coleman
My name is Whitney Coleman. I’m a graphic designer, wife, and mom from Oklahoma. I specialize in illustration, spending most of time drawing cute and fluffy animals.
Are you a full-time artist? If not, what do you do next to working on your art?
I consider myself a work-at-home mom. My Etsy business can definitely be just like a full-time job – especially during the holidays. But since my son is about to turn 2, I try to limit my working hours per day so I can spend plenty of time chasing him around just being a mom. When I’m not working, I love interior decorating. I am obsessed with patterns and color. I’m constantly changing my decor with pillows, rugs, and curtains. I also love to travel. A few months ago we took a trip to Maine just because we wanted a change of scenery.
At what point did you make the decision to sell your artwork?
In 2008 I was working in the corporate world as a designer/marketer, and I just felt stuck. Once I stumbled upon Etsy through a design blog, I thought maybe I should try to sell a few of my greeting card designs. What’s the worst that could happen? I started my Etsy business while I was still working my full-time job, with only a handful of greeting cards listed in my shop. A few months later, I left my corporate job to pursue my business full time.
Is there a common thread in your work? Why did your collection take this direction?
A lot of people tell me I have a very distinct style. My illustrations are colorful, friendly, and cute. They are cartoonish yet realistic. My style really blossomed when I started doing custom pet portraits. Now most of my work has the same look.
Where do you find the inspiration for your work?
My customers have been fantastic inspirations. I get a lot of recommendations from people who are looking for something specific, and I will do my best to create that for them. They may have an idea that I don’t have, so it’s very important to be open-minded. I also love flipping through magazines and looking at fabrics for color ideas.
How and where did you get your first sales?
My big break happened in late 2009 when Coastal Living Magazine featured my Nautical Calendar in their “$10 or Less” holiday page. My sales exploded. Since then, I’ve been featured in dozens of magazines, but I’ve never paid for advertising. Editors will contact me online asking if they can feature my designs in their publications free of charge. I add new items constantly, which also keeps me at the top of the searches within Etsy.
What is the bestseller in your collection? Do you know why this is your best selling piece?
During the holidays, my mini calendars are by far my bestsellers – especially the Boston Terrier version. My “Keep Calm” dog prints outsell any of my other designs. I think these items sell fast because they make wonderful yet afforable gifts. They are under $20 and work well for various spaces. They can hang in a cubicle or a nursery.
What do you think are the characteristics any successful artist should have?
I think every artist has to have their own style. It should be recognizable and different. It’s important to pay attention to trends, but to know when to do your own thing. You also have to put in the hours. I joke that my design business is my second baby because it keeps me up late and wakes me up early. Once you decide to be an artist, you have to be dedicated to your work. This also means coming up with new designs constantly.
What tools are you using to market your work? Do you engage in social media?
Right now I do have a Facebook page, a blog, and a Twitter account. I don’t update daily, but I try to update as much as I can (usually when my son is napping). Relisting “sold” items within Etsy (or listing new ones) has been my strongest marketing technique.
Do you track how your customers are finding you? Where do they usually find you?
Most of my customers find me through the internet, either through blogs, Pinterest, or just by browsing listings within Etsy. Some customers will visit my shop after receiving one of my items as a gift. This is especially true for my pet portraits. It’s amazing how many sales you can make just through word of mouth. Customers also tend to come back and check my shop for new items, so I make a lot of sales through repeat customers.
What are your goals and ambitions for the future?
I’ve been so blessed to be where I am today, and I am hoping the future will be filled with more of the success I’ve experienced these past couple of years. One day I may look into printing my designs on other items – like t-shirts or pillows. I’m currently working on a fictional novel that I hope to finish the next year or two. There’s also a growing list of cards and prints I’m working on for my Etsy shop. I keep a notepad next to my computer so I can scribble down ideas as they come to me.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Take the plunge! You never know how far you’ll go unless you put your work out there. Believe in yourself and keep pushing yourself. I don’t think we ever stop growing as artists.