At age 23, Hannah Porter is the sole proprietor of her own business. Pretty Print Shop features printable art, logo work, apparel, and drinkware of Hannah’s design. She started selling her crafts through Etsy in 2013 as a side-job, and now, as she applies for law school, she runs the shop full-time through her own website. Her’s is a one-woman show that will inspire many other freelancers and hobbyists.
How did you start your business?
The Pretty Print Shop started as a hobby, but I’ve been running it full time since I moved and left my job. I was working in HR at a financial software company, but I was frustrated they weren’t using my skills in design and social media. And I couldn’t show them my work in Pretty Print Shop because the company has a clause against talking about your own business. My first products were printables. A printable is a 8×10” image that is good to frame and decorate your wall or your desk. Customers buy the high-resolution image and print it out for
themselves. Printables are easy to make – I spend some time making it initially, but afterwards I can sell it over and over. I started doing logos after that. People tend want a full set – like banner, icon, so on – and that’s easy to do once the logo is designed. Now I do clothing, too.
I first started selling on Etsy, but recently I’ve been selling from my website because it’s cheaper. The website takes a flat fee. Etsy takes a percentage, so if you sell more expensive items the fees are bigger. I don’t sell my clothes and logos on Etsy anymore, just the printables.
How did you fund your business in the beginning?
I didn’t because my products were only digital in the beginning. Looking back I think I should have, so I could have more variety and stock. Well, I just got a business credit card that has $10,000 credit limit and no interest for the first year, so that’s like a $10,000 loan.
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Running the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
Research. I had to figure out how to do taxes. I got a business license as a sole proprietor which is the cheapest and easiest to get. Plus there’s no employer tax ID.
Who was your first customer?
An Etsy girl in Michigan who sells chapsticks. We’re Instagram friends. Before I launched Pretty Print Shop I marketed by searching #Etsy and following anyone with an Etsy shop. A lot of people will follow you back when you follow them. I had to slow down on that because it’s
“cooler” to have more followers than people you follow.
What’s the biggest mistake you made in the first year?
Not charging sales tax. Technically out-of-state buyers are supposed to pay tax for their own state, but I didn’t know that in the beginning. Last year was difficult – I had to pay all sales tax myself. Now my site calculates and charges sales tax automatically when buyers enter their address.
I also think I undervalue my product. I set my prices for logos ridiculously low in the beginning to build my portfolio. I still have low prices and give a lot of discounts. Non-profits get 50% off or even free. But they pass on the word and post on my Instagram. A lot of them send me gifts, like this necklace I’m wearing.
What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
Marketing on Instagram. @prettyprintshop is where I do all my marketing. Facebook is extremely difficult for small businesses to market because they charge for visibility. Instagram is much better, but Facebook bought Instagram so that might change.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
I like that I can help people whenever I want to. There are a lot of charity auctions on Instagram that I can donate items to. I can give discounts to anyone; I give discounts to non-profits, students, military, parents in the process of adoption, etc.
What’s the most challenging thing about running your own business?
It’s a one-person business, so I have to work all the time. People send messages, and the bigger you get the ruder people are because they think you’re a big business, not a single person. It’s hard to keep up with that expectation.
What’s the most surprising thing about running your own business?
I’m surprised by how much people like my work, especially because I’ve never considered myself artistic. Graphic design is different, though. I don’t have to draw much. I use purchased elements like clip art, and when I hand-draw I charge much more.
I’m surprised by how successful the shop is. I have a waitlist, and I’m making a profit. Definitely not enough to live on, but better than I expected. I will probably keep an online presence while I’m at law school.
What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most?
There’s one girl who started on Etsy around at same time, doing similar stuff as me. She has a degree in graphic design and she’s gotten way bigger. She has about 30,000 followers now. Her stuff is really good, so she can charge more.
Also Susan Peterson, the baby shoe designer and founder of Freshly Picked. She was on Shark Tank and now her shoes are sold at Nordstrom. She’s the Etsy role model.
What I’ve Learned
What do you wish you had known before you had started your business?
I would charge sales tax.
What’s your advice for others who are starting their business
Don’t give up. I’ve seen a lot of small businesses close in the first few months – not because they go bankrupt, but because their business isn’t as successful as they had hoped. It takes time. It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme.
About the Author — Sarah Tang is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley where she learned to love the diverse personalities of mom-and-pop stores. She likes intriguing storefronts, creative specialty stores, and well-designed business websites.