As some of you may know from reading my last blog post, I left my job during the pandemic… without a backup plan. If you haven't already read the article, I recommend reading it to gather some context on why I had made that decision. You can check it out here.
In this article, I’ll be talking about:
– The journey back into freelancing and the evident effects COVID has had on businesses
– My Etsy adventure and dabbling into selling digital and physical products and a highlight of the top three things I learned from my time on the platform
– The importance of creating your own opportunities and few recommendations on how you can go about doing that
– My learnings over the course of seven months
Jumping Back Into the World of Freelancing
I’ve been freelancing for the last five years and have found quite a bit of joy in being able to switch verticals depending on the types of clients I have. There’s a lot of variety when it comes to doing freelance work and a massive amount of opportunity to grow your skills and your network.
Although I had been working with clients on and off while still working full time, after my resignation I decided to go all-in with freelancing. I did this not only because it was familiar to me, but because the pandemic had created a need for small businesses and independents to pivot into online retail. There was an opportunity to be a part in helping these brands jumpstart their digital journeys with website redesigns and new builds with a shift of focus now on eCommerce, for good reason.
Freelancing in a time of pandemic
After lots of time spent scraping leads, pitching, and dead-ends, I was able to bring on several new clients for a variety of work including packaging design, website design and web development. These things went hand in hand with the shifting needs of businesses. But there was a problem – COVID had caused such financial instability for many people and even with businesses knowing they were in dire need of shifting their brands online to save their establishments, there was hesitancy to commit to projects due to a concern of affordability.
I think one of the biggest things that is overlooked when it comes to freelancing is the consulting side of the business. Freelancing is more than just fulfilling projects to meet the end-needs of a client, but it’s helping them understand the true value a project could bring them – increased traffic, improved engagement, building trust with customers, ROI, the list goes on. It’s important here to spend time to educate and advise a client on what they’d be paying for beyond ‘just a website’ or ‘just some packaging design’. Consulting clients means informing them on the value your work brings them beyond any subjective image.
Even with proper consultations, there are times when clients truly cannot commit to a project. I’ve had this be the case on several occasions throughout 2020 and it really had me thinking about the damage the pandemic has caused SMBs in particular.
So I thought about the work I do and how I could help these brands. The solution needed to be inclusive enough to where having previous design experience for shop owners wasn’t an issue, to be considerate of those on a tighter budget, and to be progressive in accelerating the time it takes to get shops online. This led me to creating ready-to-use website templates. It sounded like a simple solution but designing a website is often the most daunting step for people because it’s truly no small task and it tends to come at a large cost. A template wasn’t enough though, so I created an offering for each purchase – a consulting session paired with feedback and revision time to guide the customer through to the launch of their website, and hopefully into their success.
Etsy, The Independent Creator's Marketplace
August 2020: Website Templates
I joined Etsy while I was making the website templates in August 2020. I had never used the platform before as a buyer or a seller, but thought it would be a great place for the products to be seen by more eyes.
I spent some time checking out the competitive landscape for web templates and learned it was actually quite saturated. I saw a lot of shops selling their products for 3x the price of what I was looking to charge which also didn’t provide purchasers with the consulting and support I was intending to, and thought this could be the edge I have on other sellers. I had created off-site ads to run across Facebook & Instagram, dedicated a budget to on-site ads, and joined some Etsy communities to network with other shop owners. Not long after getting the products onto the platform, I would learn Etsy would be a great additional revenue stream for me to have as I watched shop traffic accelerate and orders begin to flow in.
September 2020: iOS 14 Icons
After getting myself established on Etsy, Apple announced they would be launching iOS 14 on their devices in September 2020 with the ability for increased personalization for users. This would mean users could customize the look of their phone screen through icons and widgets and there was major buzz surrounding this announcement, and quickly became a viral trend across social media.
With the urge for bringing a personal aesthetic to phone screens, I decided to create my own icon packs, spanning across different styles. This decision, along with choosing to (again) sell mainly on Etsy, brought the most traffic to my shop since launching on the platform. In just under two months of being on Etsy, I was able to hit over $6500 in sales and got myself onto Etsy’s best seller’s list during this time period.
November 2020: Handcrafted Clay Goods
In November 2020 I was wrapping up on a packaging project for a client who needed something artisanal and organic for a product styling shoot. We had turned to handcrafted home decor to minimize a busy composition and maximize the focus of the product. After offering to hand make some clay bowls for the client, I had shared the outcome with my friends and social audience and was met with amazing feedback, some of which urging me to add these products to my shop as the holidays were fast approaching.
I didn’t expect to find myself selling physical products – it would be a lot different than the sale of a digital product and would require much more time and resources to fulfill orders, but I was willing to give it a go and saw the benefits of having a creative output that wasn’t completely digital. I added some exclusive clay makes to the shop including jewelry bowls, coasters, ornaments, and gift tags and started seeing the orders accumulate. I let the products be seen until the second week in December, giving buyers enough time to do some Black Friday and Christmas shopping, before removing them from my shop.
Learnings from selling on Etsy
I share this information not to boast about the success I saw on the platform, but to reflect and share a couple key points about my experience at that time:
1. A Lesson on Virality – Social sharing has accelerated the way we receive information. When a trend hits a peak of exposure and turns viral, I believe there’s open opportunity to create or design a product people are asking for. But you have to be quick in doing this because the window for opportunity can be quite slim.
2. Low Risk, High Reward – It’s with no surprise that digital products have gained a lot of attention these past couple years. For sellers, they’re a low risk option with a high reward. I spent a short amount of time designing the web templates and the icons, creating graphics, and listing them on Etsy. These digital products now run in the background where after a customer purchases they automatically get the download, no manual work required. The customer support for these downloads are next to none.
3. The Downside of Physical Products – Let’s get straight to the point. Selling a physical product is much more demanding than selling a digital product. It’s not to say digital products aren’t difficult, because they can be, but they don’t involve as much ongoing attention. As an independent, this can be quite overwhelming – especially if it’s your first rodeo. A large advantage I saw in selling physical products included a higher willingness to pay due to a higher perceived value (which could also be due to the nature of the products and the time of year they were being sold), but the disadvantages included lower profit margins and a major consumption of time with sourcing materials, creating the product, packaging and shipping and providing customer service.
Importance of creating your own opportunities
We live in a world where we have access to so much information at our fingertips, we can enhance our current skills and abilities, learn new talents, and delve into things we never thought we once could have. The truth is, we are never stuck because there are always opportunities and sometimes we just have to push through and create them for ourselves instead of waiting for them to present themselves.
A few things I find helpful for doing this are:
1. Meet new people and put yourself out there. Everyone has something to teach and being able to gain knowledge through your connections is super beneficial. Surround yourself with people beyond your own academic background and it can stir up some pretty amazing ideas for you.
2. Keep learning – this will help you welcome more opportunity by feeling more confident in your own abilities with taking on new challenges
3. Not everything has to be a work opportunity. Set out on a journey of pursuing new things that bring you passion and charge your energy. This may help fuel other goals you’ve set for yourself.
What I’ve learned on this journey
The most important lesson in my own experience is this – creating your own opportunities is extremely empowering and has such beneficial effects on the mind. In the last seven months of this wild journey I have dedicated myself to myself. I have pursued client projects that make me so excited and make it even more clear to me why I’m a designer. I have given some of my time to others who could utilize the knowledge and skills I have to help them succeed. I have ventured into projects I would normally not consider ‘my type of project’ but to my surprise was left with great experiences. And the thing that means the most to me has been continuously learning throughout this process.
What I’m working on now
Before I close out the blog I’d like to mention I’ve been working on an exciting passion project of mine and will be diving more into that in the coming week. If you’d like to follow along as I build publicly and share the experience, you can follow me on instagram @designs.chantal or on twitter @chantaldegaust
Thank you for reading this far in the blog. Cheers!