By Lexie Pitzen | Photo: Lexie Pitzen
While I was eating breakfast this morning, someone in the Netherlands bought a sticker from me. Getting the sale notification made my day; someone on the other side of the world liked my art—a retro-inspired “Nurture Nature” design—enough to pay for and display it.
I never expected to make money off of designing stickers. When I was young, I’d carefully arrange stickers from doctor appointments on A4 copy paper, stapling pages together to make books. In high school, I bought $2 stickers from my favorite coffee shops and plastered them on the cover of a Moleskine.
Now I’m in college, and I design and sell my own stickers. After years of drawing and designing products for fun, an interest in the business of art slowly blossomed. Inspired by a teenage diet of entrepreneurship articles and self-help books, I set up a page on an online artist marketplace and started designing stickers, posters, phone cases, and t-shirts.
From there, it took 3 months to make my first sale. I remember telling my parents, ecstatically, about my 21-cent profit. In the year since then, my shop has grown into an important income stream.
Today, I’m putting hours into my shop. Last week was a design week, so today is a marketing day. I spread sticky notes of design ideas and colorfully-highlighted pages from my business plan across my desk and open my portfolio.
Lately, I’ve been catering to the back-to-school season with motivational, school-related designs, and this is the first time I’ve attempted a real marketing campaign. I research social media marketing techniques and keywords used by successful businesses and add certain elements to my own plan. So far, I’ve managed to advertise on social media entirely for free, and I want to keep it that way while becoming more aggressive.
I use design software to quickly format an advertisement, choosing designs catered to the trend. I truly believe that students work better with supplies they enjoy using, so my ad recommends that students visit my shop to find inspiring and visually-pleasing notebooks and pencil pouches.
Later in the afternoon, I had a video call with researchers from the company I sell through. Calling from Australia, they wanted to know how I market my products and ask for my thoughts on new promotional tools. I was overly excited to talk to them, but I couldn’t help it—experiencing the corporate side of the company makes me feel like my shop is truly growing. After the call, with a new dose of inspiration, I look over my portfolio. My shop still has a long way to go, and I have books of ideas I might never use.
To stick to my goals, I often reflect on my progress. I’m always working toward the future, but it’s important to look back. So, I crack open a sticker-covered notebook and re-read the goals that I set at this point last year. I’ve hit sales milestones I didn’t think I was capable of and done commissions I never saw coming.
Since the beginning, I’ve sold stickers and phone cases and, to my old-fashioned delight, postcards. Customers occasionally message me photos of their products after they receive them—my stickers on their laptops or my posters on their walls—and I love it. It makes me see them as real people rather than sales numbers.
It’s easy to get caught up in pushing a number, like profits, impressions, or sales, as high as I possibly can, but true fulfillment is in connecting with real people. It’s in designing work celebrating places like my home state of Minnesota and in selling posters with Bible verses on them. When I lose sight of that human element, running my shop becomes nothing more than a moneymaker.
At the end of the day, I jot down any last goals or ideas to revisit in the morning. I finish today excited for tomorrow because in this job, I’m my own boss. Tomorrow can be whatever I want it to be. Since I finished my marketing plan today, I’ll make tomorrow a design day.
After my internship during the day, I’ll trade business clothes for a hoodie, turn on a creativity-boosting playlist, and crank out new designs. It’s my favorite way to spend a night. I can’t wait.