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How I started in the graphic design industry and when I first sold SVG cut files on Etsy

Posted by Savana Price on 20th Jul 2022

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Ah well, my start in the design industry was not as well - artistic and painted beautifully - as I had hoped. My parents always pushed me towards my talents, and one of the strongest skills I had was in art. Looking back on it I am not sure why they pushed me in this direction, some of my friends were much more talented than me. I had some good teachers, but I also had teachers that provided little to no encouragement, something I desperately needed since a young age. Heck, I was way smarter than 98% of my peers in math and psychics - but art, art was going to take me places. And let me just be transparent for a second - art may take you places, but that doesn’t mean it takes you to the places you WANT to go! Oh no… you may easily find yourself working in dark rooms or you may even find yourself in mental dark places. Most, in any sort of creative industry, have depression or some sort of mental illness, myself included. We love hard and we also break hard!!! So in my desperate attempt to be more “modern” and “in touch” with my generation and the world around me I focused on becoming a graphic designer. That involved computers, something I love. It also has the potential to build an actual career - utilizing my creativity (and always striving to be better of course) and eventually retire.

But my journey to finding this, what seemed to be mythical career, was quite a bumpy one indeed. In the small town I was living in - my options were zero! I was a substitute teacher. I thought I made my break when I got a job at a printing company. This was awesome and taught me so many unique skills. It definitely helped my resume hold more weight, but I still wasn’t a graphic designer. When my husband got a job offer in New York City I thought I had hit the lottery! Bingo! What better way to break into the industry than by going somewhere with well - you know - jobs!? I did break in to the industry. It was awesome to feel like I had finally made it, but something was missing. I struggle with massive anxiety. Throw that in with low self-esteem and depression and you’ve got yourself one messy cocktail. Though going from one company to the next would have been best for my career as a freelancer, it just caused me too much anxiety of the unknown and constantly feeling like I have to prove myself over again and again. Apparently such things as full time jobs in graphic design, much less ones you actually like, are a rare thing even in The Big Apple. I was still well aware of the fragility of careers - reorganizations happen, bosses change, economies change, downsizes, pay cuts, constant proving of yourself. Not to mention if I had a full time gig instead of freelance contract positions - I could always LOSE my job (que audible gasp). For everyone’s contentment - myself included - it was better if I was my own boss. The world is so unpredictable and I want to control my own destiny.

I finally decided to jump head first. In 2016 I opened up my SVG Etsy shop called SavanasDesign. I didn’t quite know what I was going to focus on as I was testing the waters to see what people wanted. It took me 3 months to get my first sale. It was a hand drawn coloring page available for print. I remember being so happy I danced! I reached out to that customer that bought the children’s coloring sheet. She made me the happiest person on the planet that day. This marked the beginning of a successful graphic design business (well, in my head anyway)! I eventually focused on SVG designs. I saw how they were starting to become quite popular and I said “hey! I can do that!” This was way back in the day where there were literally only 30-50 designers in the SVG industry. Boy, have times changed and I’m here to tell you all about it!

My first year was just starting - it wasn’t great. My second and third year were fantastic. I could see growth. I designed, listed, designed, listed. I even focused a lot on social media, building a mailing list, and all of the other things people always say you “HAVE” to do to be successful. Etsy was my biggest platform of profit. Then 2020 came and COVID-19 was a thing. Many people’s businesses were hurting, but mine was going good. Now when I say it was going good - we did NOT grow - but we also didn’t really “fail” either. We saw some loss over the previous year, but nothing too significant. I think we did okay because people were at home more and on the internet shopping quite a bit and trying to keep busy. 2021 however was absolutely terrible. It is as if all of the drama of 2020 had finally caught up. We made significantly less profit. I was finally expecting a baby after a long journey with struggling with infertility and I expected my business to have a bit of passive income. I created a few things but not as many as previous years (boy, was I tired!) and maybe this was my downfall. To top it all off the platform that used to bring in about 70% of my profit for the entire year brought in a whopping 30% of my profit for the entire year. Not good. What went wrong? I actually don’t know. That is why I’m going to share my experimentation with you! If you own or are thinking about opening a shop on Etsy - these points are crucial advice. Etsy constantly changes how they view SEO, importance, and view ability. Let me just come out and say it - if you aren’t already on Etsy - and if you plan to open up a shop on Etsy - at some point you WILL be confused. It’s just the truth. The people that have had smooth sailing from the get-go must have a very niched down expertise. They have their titles and tags all figured out and you know why it works SO WELL for them? Because they are unique in what they are doing AND people are searching for those specific and unique terms or happen to stumble on such an individualized craft that they want it for themselves or find it gift-worthy. That’s amazing and I wish I had such a spectacular and relatively easy experience, but I’m going to tell you my personal truth. You aren’t going to hear from many people who struggle - because who wants to admit defeat, especially on social media?

So in my next blog posts I will try some experimentation on what is or isn’t working in my Etsy shop. I want to be clear that Etsy is certainly it’s own platform. There are many people that find Etsy to be the majority of their income, and there are also plenty of people who find it a waste of time and do better in local markets or on their own website. I am on multiple different platforms. Some are well established and some are brand new. I also sell my designs on this website. It’s incredible how much the SVG design industry has changed in just a few short years!

My ultimate conclusion for this particular article is this. I will tell my little girl to not go in the design industry. There are too many unknown variables that are extremely difficult to overcome for very little return. If she still wants to and decides to pursue art or design, I will always support her. My suggestion for YOU is to not start a design business unless you have a well thought out strategy and customer base, specifically when it comes to Etsy. And because creatives like you and me never take no for an answer, I am here to welcome you to your new Etsy shop! If you create your shop using this link - we both get 40 free listings!