Do you think it’s possible to create a successful business without using Etsy? I used to sell jewelry on there and after 3 years my account was suspended for violating the etsy policies. I didn’t realize it and after pleading with the admins, I realized they weren’t going to let me come back. I’m on Big Cartel and sales are slow. I’m just not sure if realistically, it will ever amount to a successful business without Etsy. Any thoughts you have would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
First of all, I’m sorry to hear about your issues with Etsy, Kate, that must have been a rude shock. I’m glad to hear it hasn’t stopped you pursuing your business, though!
Honestly, I’m the first to suggest that everyone who has a crafts-based business should have a shop on Etsy.
I still make a good portion of sales there, and it’s where I find a lot of new customers.
Etsy is definitely still the premier online marketplace for handmade – and not only that, it’s also a handmade search engine. I know that Etsy is my first port of call when I want to buy handmade. Both of these reasons are why I will never shut my Etsy shop – no matter how successful my own site becomes (Epheriell.com already accounts for well over half of my total online sales).
However – as useful and awesome as Etsy is for growing and running your business – I also believe that anyone serious about their handmade business should set up their own shop on their own website.
If you’re doing all the hard work to market your business and grow a customer base, you should be sending that traffic to your own website.
Now – there are of course other marketplaces out there online, and if you make reproducible products (you are doing that, aren’t you??) you should set yourself up on as many of these as you can feasibly manage. If only with a small sample of your core range. I see these sites as marketing – getting my work out in front of as many people in as many places as possible, at low cost.
Personally, I have my jewellery on Madeit and Blue Caravan here in Australia, as well as Supermarket HQ, Dawanda, and a few other places overseas. I make a nice number of sales across these marketplaces, but Etsy and Epheriell.com are my main shops, where I stock all of my work.
If you can’t sell on Etsy, for whatever reason, you should seriously consider setting up your own site, rather then relying primarily on another venue.
So, what are the costs vs benefits?
Premier online marketplace
First port of call for many people wanting to buy handmade
Easy to use
Excellent ‘training’ ground – to compete on Etsy you have to play a stellar game with fantastic photos, good descriptions, excellent customer service, etc
Trust – people know that if they buy on Etsy they are protected if something goes wrong
Transparent feedback – do a good job and people will see that and buy from you
Fees – you pay listing fees, relisting fees, a percentage of every sale (and this is on top of the Paypal fees you pay)
Not as professional – anyone can sell on Etsy
Lack of control – like Kate, they could shut you down anytime they like, and all the work you’ve done will be extinguished
Distraction – people are likely to favourite you and forget and move on and try to find the best deal within Etsy, rather than sticking in your shop
Control, control, control – you can do exactly what you like, make it look how you like, and no-one can take it away from you! It’s your baby.
Professionalism – having your own site shows you’re a serious business
Focus – once people are on your site, they won’t be tempted to click away to all the myriad other options available like they can on Etsy
You don’t have access to an immediate customer base – you have to do the hard work to bring people to you
People may be hesitant to make their first purchase from you if they don’t already know and trust you (many of my website customers found me on Etsy or elsewhere first, and after their first positive buying experience with me, now happily shop on Epheriell.com)
Might be expensive if you don’t have the knowledge to set it up yourself
Obviously, my recommendation is to have both – an Etsy shop and your own site (and any other venues you can manage). Having a shop on Etsy makes building your business a lot easier, especially in the beginning. You’ll find that you reach a kind of critical mass there, too – the more sales you’ve made, the more you’ll make as you are established as a serious seller.
However, you can have a successful handmade business without Etsy. It will just take you a little longer to grow your customer base. But if you’re patient, work hard, market smart, and have a stellar website and webstore, you CAN do it.
Want to take your Etsy shop to the next level, or set up shop on your own site for the first time? Join the email list to find out when I launch my upcoming ecourse, Set Up Shop.
Chances are, you became a crafter because you love making stuff. (I know I did.) By now, you’ve probably worked out what you like making the most. And if you’re here, reading this, I’m going to assume that you like making that stuff so much that you’re trying to make (at least part of) a living by selling the stuff you like to make.
Let me make it really clear – Making stuff you like is awesome. That’s why we craft: because we have a passion for it.
But here’s the bit you may not like:
Just because you love making it does not mean there are people who want to buy it.
The craft community is a warm and fuzzy place – that is part of what makes it so freaking awesome. We love to support each other, help each other, and share with each other.
We’re not so good at telling people the truth when we think it might hurt their feelings. I have been in the uncomfortable position of having to say no to featuring certain products because they (or, the photography of them) is just not up to scratch. It’s a place you find yourself in when you run something like my craft blog, or a magazine.
It sucks to say no. It’s really, really hard.
I hate doing it. But it’s part of the job I’ve made for myself. (And why is it so hard? Because I know there is a person there, on the other end of the e-mail, who is just like me. Who wants to make their dream happen – and I really, really dig helping people make their dreams happen.)
But back to my point.
When you start making for profit rather than for pleasure, your perspective needs to shift.
You need to stop thinking exclusively about you, and what you enjoy – and you need to start thinking about your customers.
If you’re doing all the right promotional ‘stuff’ but your work is not selling, I want to encourage you to really have a long, hard, cold look at your products from an outsider’s perspective.
I would advise you not to ask the opinions of friends or family, because – let’s be honest – they love you, and they will find it mucho hard to tell you the truth if they think there’s any sort of negative there.
Or, on the other hand, they may not understand what you do at all, nor that there is a possible market out there for your work in this burgeoning handmade movement. In short, they’re not objective – they have a vested interest in you one way or the other.
This whole crafting-as-a-business caper is hard – and it’s a never-ending process of growth and discovery.
Yep, pretty ordinary, hey? (And check out the totally heinous flash photos!!! Eww… talk about what NOT to do!)
I believe my product has come a heck of a long way since then. I’ve worked on my designs, my brand, my focus, my photos, my descriptions, my packaging… and I have no doubt that I will continue to work on all of those things in an effort to become more successful in my business.
Is my work/product perfect? No. Is my business model perfect? Hell no. But I believe I’m going in the right direction.
(And, just so you know, I don’t believe there’s any such thing as ‘perfect’. There’s ‘good enough’ and ‘awesome’ and ‘unique’ and ‘beautiful’ and ‘squeee’ – but no ‘perfect’.)
Is there some aspect of your product that you need to change? Are you doing/making the same thing as a million other people? Is there a market you could be tapping into, but aren’t? Heck – maybe the problem isn’t your product, but your photos of it – when you’re selling online, that’s the magic key to the door.
Go to it, people: examine, grow, adapt, take risks, and make something awesome.
Today I’ve got a fantastic guest post for you from my friend and fellow Aussie Etsy seller Cath of My Bearded Pigeon. She has an amazing Etsy success story – hitting over 1,000 sales in her first year – but that was on her second time round! Find out the principles she followed to reach that success in today’s post…
Hello Everyone, and thank you for having me Jess.
Those of you who visit my blog chunky chooky may be familiar with what I have to say about Etsy. I am always happy to help people with their Etsy shops as I had lots of help when I started my first shop on Etsy in March 2008.
Like many of you I found the creative juices started to flow after I had a baby. I was looking for toys for my little that I liked and I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t hideously expensive and made overseas so to cut a very long story short I started sewing and one step lead to another and I opened chunkychooky on etsy.
I made these……
Sales were slow at first of course but as I researched and read and tweaked and re-took photos again and again and I spent hours in the etsy forums watching and learning and reading everything I could get my hands on and I eventually starting to see a few sales. More importantly I learnt a lot and made a lot of mistakes…
Fast forward two years and I decide to launch My Bearded Pigeon. So it was December 2010, I had this great idea and have found a way to make it work, but this time I knew so much more, this time I was going to be far more organized and this time I knew where to focus my energy.
So in the spirit of what Etsy is all about – sharing and community- I thought I would share some of what I have learnt since I started selling on Etsy 3 years ago. Late last year I hit my 1000th sale on Etsy. It was a massive milestone for me and came at a time our little family really needed some good news.
Many people who have bought from me have returned again and again and told their friends.
So here is by no means a comprehensive list but a good start…
DO Answer convos’ politely and promptly, I think it is great to add a bit of humour be yourself … even if it is the tenth person that week asking if you would like to giveaway a cushion on their blog. You can say “No thank you” nicely. This includes being polite even when people ask you questions you have answered numerous times in your policies, listings and shop intro. For example “can I get the cushion without the insert?” I probably get asked this at least once a week despite it saying on every listing that they come without the insert.
DO Respond to treasuries– when someone puts you in one – go over to the treasury and at the very least say thank you! That is all you have to say- sometimes you can say more, but it is nice to acknowledge that some one has taken the time. This is how you get on the front page remember – by being in treasuries.
DO Say thank you when someone orders something from your shop. As soon as I get an order I respond with a thank you and let them know when I plan to post – usually within a couple of days. I respond to the email from paypal as people new to Etsy may not check etsy convos. I find it quite bad manners when people do not acknowledge your order. I am shocked at how often I get no response when I buy something.
DO Be an active team member, I am in quite a few teams and I try to participate when I can, but of course I am not perfect and cannot participate in everything.
DO Always have your shop looking tip top! You never know when you will be featured in an Etsy finds email or on the front page or maybe even on a popular blog. So if people are coming for the first time it may be the difference of them giving you a heart and returning later or not.
DO Always have high res images ready (if you load pictures onto flickr that will help as you can download any sizes) for magazine editors or bloggers who may be interested in featuring you.
DO Remember the customer is almost always usually mostly sometimes right!
DO Follow Etsy’s rules.
DO price accordingly. Include Etsy fees, paypal fees, packaging and stationary, plus the time it takes to list the item, take photos etc, package it all up, take it to the post office plus the actual making of the item, material costs, time taken to get these materials, time taken to actually make it… what are you prepared to work for?
Be realisitic. Don’t worry so much about what other people are selling items in your category for. What do you need to make a profit? To make it worthwhile for you? I see people selling cushions for $12 and wonder how they can be making any money at all.
DO think about how to market your product. What makes it unique? Why would someone buy it? When people buy from you what are they buying? For example when someone buys a cushion from me they are buying a souvenir. They are buying the memory of a lovely holiday, the place they went on their honeymoon, the town they grew up in, the place they met their partner. They are buying something eco friendly, so I make sure I tell them this. They are buying something unique they cannot get anywhere else in the world – (I get the fabric printed myself) so I tell them that. This is fabric no one else has, you cannot buy it online – this is what I am selling (and this is why they are priced as they are) explain to them why they want to buy it and why they should buy it.
DO look at your product critically. Is it original? do people get excited when they see it? Is it unique? Can you get it anywhere else? Does it appeal to a wide range of people? I am lucky that my products appeal to women and men and people also buy them for kids too – know who you are selling too and market accordingly.
DO offer a discount for customers who buy several items. I have had many people buy over 5 cushions from me, in some instances 10+. Reward their loyalty with free postage and/or a % discount. You can make your own coupons on Etsy and people love a discount.
DO have postage listed to lots of different places, and make sure it is accurate. Do not make money out of postage, put your prices up if you need to. There is nothing worse than receiving something that cost you $10 in postage to have it say $2.20 on the envelope. Take the items to the post office and get them weighed.
Do have all your shop policies filled out. How long will you reserve items for? What about returns? what about if an item doesn’t show up? What are the postage times?
DO check your convos regularly. I have heard people say “I have a life I don’t want to be chained to the computer all day.” You don’t have to be, but you do have to check your emails at least 2 times a day I think. You have to allow for time differences. I still have most of my traffic from the US so I need to be up early answering convos and emails and also checking in again at night for responses or new convos. I think it is a huge part of an online business to be able to respond to people quickly.
DO take a really good look at your shop. Look at it from a customers perspective. Does it look neat and tidy with all the sections filled out and all the photos looking nice? Really, does it? Is it full of lots of items so you show up in searches a lot. Are you items in sections so people can easily find what they want? have you used every tag for every item?
DO BRAND EVERYTHING: when someone buys a cushion this is what they get:
There will be no confusion as it to where it came from, so people can tell their friends about you too. Put your logo on shop name on everything!
DO have your shop announcement filled out: it doesn’t have to be a huge amount of writing just a little bit about the products, same with your profile, just a little bio about yourself, why you started making what you make, what materials you use.
DO have lots of detail in your listings and your item title. Who would this be a good present for? On what occasion would you buy it for someone? How can it be used? How is it packaged – say if you are selling artwork people want to know it is going to arrive safely. How big is it? Put the size in cms and inches. It drives me mental how many people put a coin next to the item to show size? how would I know how big a coin from another country is? Are all the tags filled out – every single one?
DO have a good read and think about Etsy ads and about renewing? The thing with renewing is you need to have a bit of a budget in mind and think about when peak times are for you. I seem to get a lot of sales on Thursday and Friday night Australia times – so I renew a lot then. I seem to get less sales and traffic on the weekend so I don’t renew as much. Maybe invest in some Etsy ads? See how it works for you after a week or so…
Now, for the flipside…
DON’T Tell the customer that you think something is a bad idea. For example I contacted a necklace seller, and when I asked if I could have the chain longer I was told ” the chain is long enough”. Long enough for whom I thought? I have had people suggest things to me that I think are not great ideas but I am polite and talk my way around it.
DON’T Spam your customers… don’t send them loads for convos/emails one to say you received the order and have posted it is suffice.
DON’T Feel like you need to have a facebook twitter blog and flickr account before you can sell anything. All of these things can be very useful but they do take a bit of time to get the hang of and can be done as you go along.
DON’T Put a bad photo on Etsy, you may be tempted to quickly list something but it may be the difference between a heart and a future sale or nothing. Are you photos looking tip top – with the help of some free photo editing like picnik? Just changing the colour contrast and brightness will make a huge difference you want your pictures to really pop off the page. I use a white background for everything and I don’t put my products in a styled way. For example having the cushions on a chair etc but others swear by this so you will have to decide what works best for you.
DON’T Leave bad feedback without discussing it with the shop owner first. Be reasonable, this is someone’s business. If someone does leave you bad feedback you can use the Etsy kiss and make up feature. I have used it when someone left bad feedback because an item had not arrived – in a week from Australia to Brazil! I politely explained how huge bad feedback was for me and my business and she was happy to change it using the kiss and make up feature.
DON’T COPY!! I see people blatantly copying the work of sellers who do really well – orginal is best. Always. And people will know you have copied and think that is not very good.
DON’T obsess about the number of sales. Yes there are shops that have sold 10 000 items +++ but why worry about them? You cannot compare your shop with other shops that sell different products to yours, so don’t.
Most of all have fun! Working at home running an online business can be very difficult. Being part of a blogging community or other online groups does offer great support for you as it can feel overwhelming at times and you can feel quite isolated.
Don’t stay on the computer all day, step way for large periods and stop playing with your phone – it will do you the world of good.
Cath Young is a crafter, blogger, mother and wife living an eco friendly life in a tiny town on the mid north coast of NSW. Cath likes taking photos and going for walks in the forest with her dog.
All photos by Cath. First image edited by me to add title.