I Run A $1.2K/Month Custom Dog Portrait Business With A Mission To Rescue Lost Dogs

Published: April 3rd, 2023
Custom Pet Portra...
from Dana Point, CA, USA
started May 2020
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi pet lovers, my name is Tiffany, owner, and founder of Custom Pet Portraits by Tiffany Dnaka. I turn your pets into custom watercolor artwork.

My brand’s mission is to help as many dogs as I can find them forever home. I often team up with rescues and donate custom artwork for pups in desperate need of adoption. To date, I have helped various rescues throughout the US.

I officially started Tiffanydnaka.com in 2021 and I have seen massive growth due to the customization behind my artwork. Since starting, my yearly revenue has doubled year after year.

It is something for me to be very proud of, but one of the biggest obstacles I am facing is growing my brand. Currently, I average around $1,200 a month in sales. As a one-gal show, I realize I need help getting my brand out there.

This year, my goal will be to focus on scaling my brand. To accomplish this, I plan to team up with celebrities and influencers who align with my brand's mission of helping dogs in need.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I started my artwork around loss. First, I lost my (fur-baby) Moxey, and then I lost my job. Both hit very hard. As a way to remember Moxey, I wanted to find a specific style of a custom-made pet portrait.

I couldn’t find what I wanted so I decided to create my artwork. I don’t have any formal training in art, but I have always been creative. I also took a few creative arts classes in high school, which really helped build my digital artwork foundation. So, I decided it was time to build off those exciting skills and to create something that suited my own personal style while giving back to animal rescues.

Honestly, the first piece of artwork I created wasn’t too far from my current style. I have fine tuned my specific style and will say, I have nailed it down.

Fast forward to 2020, Covid hit. Like most people, I decided to pursue a new hobby and soft-launched my custom artwork on Etsy.

Then in 2021, I lost my job, and I decided it was time to turn my hobby into a full-time business and launched Tiffanydnaka.com.

Every now and then, I continue to receive feedback from my customers on how much they love their custom pieces of art.

Owning my own business has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever accomplished in my life.

Looking back at my journey, losing my job was a blessing in disguise. I find that pursuing my own business has been extremely rewarding! How awesome is it that I get to create artwork of dogs? Not only that, I get to use my artwork to team up with rescues all around the country, to help animals in need get adopted.

Artwork of Lisa Vander pump's dog Giggy

Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.

I create my artwork digitally, which is what helps keep my artwork affordable. Each piece takes around 1-3 hours and I use high-quality watercolor paper for all my prints.

The artwork is all created off the photo, thus I tell all my customers, your custom piece will come out almost exactly like the photo but as in a watercolor version. It takes many layers for me to build off the photo, to get to the final version.

For my custom ceramic keepsakes, the artwork process is still the same, but I use a professional sublimation press to transfer my artwork.


One of the benefits of being a digital artist is that I can easily offer extra-large print sizes to my customers. I have had customers order artwork from as small as 5x7 prints to as large as 18x24. And because my artwork is created digitally, my overhead costs are low.

One of the best reasons my artwork does so well is that it is personal.

This year, I decided to try drop shipping and added a clothing line. What’s great about drop shipping is that I don’t have to carry any physical product. I also expanded on my artwork and added ceramic keepsakes and keychains as added items to help diversify my product line.


Describe the process of launching the business.

I started selling my artwork on Etsy, as I knew most people trusted their platform. It was never a long-term plan.

At the start, it was to build trust with customers in my brand and eventually redirect them to my website. Etsy made it easy to sell, but there were a handful of setbacks when using their platform.

What I liked about Etsy, was that setting up a storefront is relatively simple. You don’t have to have a technical background to use their interface. With that comes a lot of limitations, you can only add so many images to your products and they also didn’t have a great way for customers to upload their photos.

But the biggest issue was that I couldn’t keep a record of all my customers. I wanted to create an email subscription, which you cannot do on Etsy. Second, Etsy charges various fees ranging from 6.5-15% of earnings.

The final decision to move my brand off Etsy was when I looked at my sales data and realized they were not bringing me any customers. Rather it was myself leading customers to them. Unless your store is killing it and making a good amount of sales, and you're constantly working at earning badges (they have a merit system, to help sellers), you will be the one bringing customers to Etsy. To my understanding, Etsy doesn’t market for you until you hit 10k in sales. Then once you hit that threshold they begin to market for you and take 12-15% of any sale that they bring to your store. There also isn't an option for you to not unenroll in their advertising platform, which is why I moved off Etsy. I remember reading some seller's stories, where people didn’t want Etsy to advertise for them, and that they wanted to keep their annual earnings low. But for me, I needed to be in charge of my customers' communication.

After shifting away from Etsy, I designed my website using Wix as the host. Most e-commerce stores use Shopify. But I found using Wix, I was able to quickly design more cost-effectively, as Shopify only has a limited amount of free templates.


At this point, I already had my product down. One of the best reasons my artwork does so well is that it is personal. For starters, it's unique and meaningful, plus, with a custom piece of artwork, customers have the opportunity to capture the personality of their pet in an artistic way that no one else can replicate.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

My first customer can come in through Etsy, and as mentioned earlier, I brought in my customers. I did this by posting my Etsy store to Facebook groups. They ended up being local to my community and working with them was very easy. Most of my orders are still from local customers. Word of mouth has been great, but also social media.

Right now, I put a lot of time and energy into building out my Instagram following. Instagram and Facebook are the biggest platforms that are driving traffic to my website, but Instagram is what leads to conversions. A big reason I think I get sales off Instagram is that my followers feel like they know me. I try to build my platform out on a personal basis instead of “pushing products”.

I honestly think my foundation for growing and retaining customers is, like most, trial and error. I am still in that phase. Here’s what I’ve tried and didn’t have too much success with.

Paid ads:

  • Google ads
  • Facebook ads
  • Pinterest ads
  • Amazon

The reason I think my ads did not work is that I don’t have the budget to spend on them.

What I have found that works for my brand are:

  • Partnered giveaways
  • Word of mouth
  • SEO

I also do a lot of cold emailing to editors and publishers. The one benefit I have by my side is my time. Every day I am constantly thinking of ways to reach and retain customers, and if that means spending hours finding a list of new possible contacts, you bet I will be doing that!

Above is a 3-month snapshot comparison of traffic to my website from this year to last year, provided by Google Analytics

The best tip I can give to any new business owner is to try various channels and find what works best for you and your situation. As a solopreneur, I don’t have any external funding. I tried launching on Kickstarter, but I didn’t get far with that. Many areas of business are still so new to me, but with trial and error with minimal financial risk, I am slowly but surely seeing progress.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

As I head into my second year of working for my business full-time, I am happy to say, I have been profitable year to year. The biggest expense that I am currently testing is contracting out to an SEO company. I found them by researching agencies that had familiarity with the pet art industry. Currently, I am paying them $1500 a month, which hopefully pays off. I am not a math genius but I do know, I am running off a net negative profit but this is only for the time being. The goal is that their SEO efforts will pay off and I will return to a net positive operation.

My monthly average ranges from about $1,200 in sales and I see about 1,700 site visitors a month. Overall, I have seen a significant amount of new organic traffic, which is from SEO efforts.


Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I would say the best thing I have learned about owning my own business is knowing when to pivot and being able to adapt to it. Because I don’t have any outside investment, which for anyone reading this, I am not opposed to it! I just haven’t had the opportunity yet to expand on that area. I have had to pivot many times.

For example, at the beginning of my business, I attended many vendor events where I displayed my artwork. But because my art is custom-made to order, people usually want something tangible to walk away with.

More often than not, vendor fees were outweighing the return on profit. So, instead of spending hundreds per month on vendor events, I decided to use my time to focus on other areas of growth, such as writing this interview!

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Sales Platform: Wix

Email Marketing: MailChimp

Print on Demand: Printify

Shipping: Shippo

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

The best resource for me is Google.

I do wish I had a business mentor because my background is in education. There have been times when I feel lost and could use some tips. I would love to be able to connect with a human and not just words on a screen to bounce ideas back and forth with or to get feedback.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

The best advice I can give any new business owner is to stay consistent. There will be times when you doubt yourself and even want to give up. But if you push through the growing pains, and keep at it, your efforts will pay off.

I saw a network of small business owners start with me, and a year later, some of them shut down. I think when things are slow, and sales are down, it’s easy to want to toss in the towel. But if your business has potential and you are seeing growth, bear through the discomfort and know it won't always be this way.

Happiness is more important to me than a career or money. Owning my own business has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever accomplished in my life.

If what you are building isn’t bringing you the happiness you need to ask yourself

  • What am I doing this for?
  • If not this, then what?
  • What can I do that aligns myself more closely with my values

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Currently, I am looking for:

  • Business mentors
  • Investors
  • Sponsors
  • Partnerships with pet brands and influencers

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!