Within hours of listing my first item on Etsy it sold. That was back in May of 2008 and guess what? I am still selling on Etsy. Same shop, slightly different product. Spoiler alert: Other than putting a lot of time and effort into product development and marketing there’s no magic formula or secret to how I amassed 7300+ sales.
Being an online entrepreneur has afforded me the opportunity to develop my copywriting, photography, customer service, marketing and product design skills as well as the luxury and honor of being a ready to rescue on a moments notice mom. No guilt or permission necessary. If they call I come running. The downside to that is there’s no sick pay or personal time off either. When I was younger all I ever wanted to be was a mom. As the child of a teenage single mother it’s easy to understand why it is important to me to be there for my children who are now almost all grown. My eldest and only son, Zachary, is a graduate of the University of Virginia and employed as a chemist. My daughter, Ashley, whom many of you know from our summer live streams, is working on the last year of her masters program and my daughter Megan is currently immersed in the college application process while finishing up her senior year of high school. Our youngest daughter, Isabel, just turned 11 and is the wisest of them all and pretty self sufficient at this point; thereby leaving me a lot of extra time to pursue my passions. One of which is sewing and the other of which is selling.
While I most certainly enjoy the beautiful fabric and people this handmade lifestyle offers me; what is most alluring is the connection I share with my inner creative genius. Oftentimes I find myself loosing track of time as I am immersed deeply in my work. Most days, I feel like I just arrived and in actuality it is time for me to leave the studio. I love what I do so much I feel as if I could work around the clock. It’s this level of passion that has allowed me to survive selling on Etsy for 11 years now.
I would be lying to you if I told you it was easy to sell on Etsy. It’s not. In fact it is really difficult. The marketplace is flooded with competition and it comes with a complex playbook that changes almost daily and is not available for anyone to read. Seriously. The search algorithm is a mystery.
Just as soon as I think I have figured out the process they pull the rug out from under me and I undoubtedly need to tweak something. Most recently, they decided they weren’t going to index shops that didn’t offer free shipping. So, now I offer free shipping in my shop. Then, they changed how they wanted to spend my advertising dollars and took away my ability to choose key words and allocate a cost per click. On average, they flip the boat twice a year. It’s aggravating as heck and they don’t care.
Not complaining. Just being brutally honest in my attempt to explain why it is so hard to sell on Etsy. Essentially, if you are going to be successful on Etsy with the current terms, you will need to drive all of your own business to your shop.
Believe it or not, that’s not a bad thing! This means you will be ok, regardless of how many changes they make. It will also provide you with the skills you need to run your business on any platform should the day come you are ready to rock and roll somewhere else.
So, if you currently have an Etsy shop or are considering opening one you will need to do three things:
- Have an amazing product
- Have even more amazing photos
- Have an extraordinary marketing plan
Because I have been in business since 2006, and am deeply committed to providing awesome customer service, I have built a loyal customer base that results in a fair amount of referrals and/or repeat business for me each year. As such, most of my marketing efforts are spent showcasing my product and managing my social media accounts which include: Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube and Twitter. Etsy also has an internal social media type feed called shop updates which allows sellers to reach their Etsy followers directly. This is a wonderful tool that can be accessed via the Etsy phone AP under “marketing” and “social media”. Because this feature is not prominently displayed I feel it is underutilized by the novice seller. I don’t spend a lot of time trying to keep up with the ever changing Etsy world; but, I do periodically check in with the forums and the Etsy blog.
The major advantage that I have over a new Etsy seller is my feedback rating which is comprised of 2200+ five star ratings. Every now and then a “booger” of a customer sneaks in and leaves less than five stars. Whenever possible I do try to work with my customers to ensure their satisfaction; but, sometimes that is not feasible financially or time wise and in those cases I accept the consequence which might include negative feedback. I don’t stress over it too much because I know everyone can have a bad day and no one is perfect. In these types of cases I find compassion for myself and the other person is the best solution.
Back in the hay day of Etsy, I had an 8 week turn around time. These days it is closer to 2 weeks and business comes in spurts rather than a continuous stream. I don’t mind because I have my YouTube channel and volunteer efforts to keep me occupied between rushes. If you need or prefer a continuous stream of revenue you will want to spend a minimum of 80% of your time marketing your shop. I can’t say that I really enjoy marketing so I maintain a 50/50 balance and deal with the slow periods. Like anything it’s a balancing act between effort and expectations. The lower my expectations, the less money I make.
If I had one piece of advice for a new shop owner it would be to make and sell something you love and use yourself as it will make it really easy for you to talk about your product and share it with friends, family and strangers alike. I think it is difficult for most artisans to explain what they do. Every now and again someone asks me what I do and I still stumble. Eh? I make stuff. Eh? I own an Etsy shop. Eh? I have a YouTube Channel. It really doesn’t matter what I say as I can pretty much count on receiving a weird look and an “oh” in response. Quite honestly, I am not seeking approval and see no point in investing much time convincing people my work is worthy. It’s far more lucrative for me to market my product to people who are already looking for it and that is why I continue to sell on Etsy after all of these years. Etsy has brand recognition that attracts people who are seeking unique, handmade items that can’t be found anywhere else. Very few people come to Etsy looking for the cheapest price or fastest delivery times. It’s not Amazon and that’s a good thing. What they want is a one of a kind find and that’s exactly what I offer. Now that’s what I call a win win!
If you are just starting out, I’d love to see what you make and am happy to answer your questions. Reach out on social media any time and I will do my best to help! @sewspire @watermelonwishes #sewspire #watermelonwishes
P.S. If you are really serious about making it big as a handmade entrepreneur and would like to collaborate with other makers I am forming a 10 person mastermind group in which we will each strive to design, refine, produce and market one new sewing project and/or digital sewing pattern per month.
As a group we will communicate weekly via Zoom video chat for approximately an hour to share our progress, elicit and offer feedback to one another at a time and day that is convenient for the majority. On a daily basis, we will communicate via posts to our Secret “Sewspire Collaborators” Facebook Page.
This experience is NOT FREE or CHEAP and is designed especially for those amongst us who want to start or expand a handmade business and are deeply committed to refining their design and marketing skills. As a whole we will be able to create a synergy that is sure to benefit us all. The power of creativity is magnified in a group setting and I am excited to be able to facilitate this experience for you via my Patreon page under the Collaborator Tier!