Lessons Learned And Advice Running an Etsy Store

I started my Etsy store BellasJardin in 2012, mostly as a hobby and creative outlet.  During this time, my efforts and excitement has gone through ebbs and flows.  In the beginning, I was very excited, not only in the creative process of producing what I was going to sell (plants and gardening decor), but also the process of learning the Etsy platform.  I enjoyed the creativity involved in taking pictures and creating listings.  At first I listed one item, a modern succulent arrangement, and when I received immediate feedback via user “favorites”, I was so excited.  Within a week or two, I made my first sale.

This gave me a sense of accomplishment, different from the accomplishments I felt in my day job as a software developer.  While I was good at my “main” job, Etsy was different… more personal.  I was exercising my right brain, something that I had deferred for many years working in tech.  As a kid, I was artistic and enjoyed drawing and painting, but these activities waned during my career years.  Etsy allowed me to re-explore that side of myself, that did not require a lot of effort, at least not initially.

The first year, I did pretty well and my husband also contributed with his wood working skills to produce some of the succulent wall planters and frames, which had become very popular in my shop.  It soon became clear that this was becoming more and more of a business and difficult to manage with my day job which had its own challenges.  My excitement and efforts in running my Etsy store decreased and in the last two years, I spent very little effort on it.  Since deciding to take a hiatus from tech, 2 months ago, I am starting to pick up the pace again.  While I don’t see myself going all out in eCommerce (Etsy for me is still mostly a venue to explore creativity through crafting), I have learned a few things which I would like to share.

Practical Advice For Running an Etsy Shop

  1. Create what you love

    Selling for the sake of selling becomes a chore unless you have some affection for what it is you are doing.  It becomes just another “job”, okay for some, but for any kind of personal satisfaction or longevity, I think it’s important to do what you enjoy. So create great products you love to make.

  2. The higher the effort, the bigger the gain

    This goes without saying for most things and Etsy is no exception. The amount of effort you put into running your Etsy business is consistent with the amount of success you’ll receive. This involves learning Etsy as a selling platform.  Exploring the Etsy forums and even joining a team is helpful.  I would find a high quality team that gives practical business advice as oppose to teams that are all about gaining followers or favorites.  Though the latter is helpful (the idea like most social networks is to get exposure by having lots of followers), I find it can be some what disingenuous.  Join teams to share ideas and to support each other, but I would not recommend doing so, strictly for self promotion.  Some teams which I think are helpful include: Etsy SEO, Community Questions and Tax Questions.

  3. Know your target market and market to them

    You should have some understanding of who your buyer is and customize your listings to reflect how that buyer might find you on Etsy or generally on the web.  That means having some basic knowledge of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and tagging your listings appropriately. The SEO team mentioned above is one source.  And another is this post 10 Easy-peasy Etsy SEO Resources for Handmade Sellers containing a concise list of pointers and resource tools.  This Etsy  article  is helpful as it discusses SEO specific to Etsy.  You can further educate yourself by searching the web for information about SEO.  Another consideration is paying for advertising by using services like  Etsy Adds or Google Adwords.   I personally would not recommend it if you are new to SEO.  These can be costly with limited effectiveness, especially when you are starting out and still learning the ropes.

  4. Get Exposure

    To sell your awesome product requires being seen, which goes hand in hand with SEO.  Other factors include having Great Pictures. If your photos are beautiful and engaging, users are more likely to click on your listing, but having great pictures does not mean you need to invest in expensive camera equipment.  A smart phone and good photo filtering software is sufficient. Two of my favorite on-line, photo editors include  PIXLR and PicMonkey.  These are both free, though certain features require a subscription.  PicMonkey has an easy to use interface and is a good option for basic photo filtering.  I prefer to showcase my creations on a natural background that is not too distracting, but some folks like to have an absolutely white background.  If you are in this camp and want a white background for your photos you can use Background Burner . An even better option is Fotofuze.  Both these tools work best if your photo is against a solid background though. Another great source for photo editing is Canva.  More than photo editing, Canva is an online graphic design service that allows you to easily create banners and other design documents, that look very professional.  Canva is free to signup and free to use, though some premium features come with a cost.

    Aside from great pics, you can increase your exposure through your Social Media outlets. I know that many people use tactics such as following and favoring a bunch of people on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc..  in the hopes of gaining a large following. While I understand the idea behind this, it is something that I always felt conflicted about.  Personally, I rather follow and be followed by those who are truly engaged with me.  That being said, having a large network does increase your chances of being seen.  However,  it is better to use social media to focus in on your target customer, rather than having a large following of users who may not have a real interest in you or your products.

  5. Provide great customer service

    I think this is so important.  You should fill out your shop’s policy page regarding refunds, exchanges, shipping and exceptions in case of damage.  My policies for replacements and refunds are fairly lax.  I’m not advocating this and it would be tough if you are selling high end or or one of a kind products, but the main point is that you want to provide great service.  This will increase your review rating on Etsy, providing potential customers with added confidence.  On occasion you may have to deal with a difficult customer, but I would say that most people are reasonable and appreciative, as long as they are treated with courtesy.

  6. Price your products well

    This is hard one.  Your product pricing should be fair to both you and your customer, which involves knowing the costs of producing the product (both materials and labor).  This also relates to knowing your target market and what they are willing to pay for your product.  If you are selling in a saturated category, such as jewelry, this can be a challenge.  Competition drives prices down, and given Etsy’s relaxed handmade policy , the Etsy marketplace has become even more saturated.  There are now tons of sellers from China and elsewhere who have hundreds or even thousands of listings and selling their products very cheap.  You should not try to compete against these sellers, otherwise you will be short changing yourself.  Instead, focus on your target market and find ways to engage them so that you can stand out from the crowd.

  7. Keep good accounting records

    Even if your shop is a hobby, it is a good idea to keep good records of your expenses versus revenue so you know where you stand. Whether a business or hobby, you don’t want to be in the red relative to your costs and you may still need to report income (both hobby and business) on your taxes.  A good accounting tool Wave is available free of charge.  It integrates with Etsy and Paypal and keeps track of your sales and payments.  Though I have not used this feature, it can also integrate with your bank and credit accounts.  You also have the option to manually add entries.  Wave does a decent job at importing data from systems, but it is not perfect.  For example, if you have an Etsy sale that was paid from Paypal, I have noticed that these are duplicated.  Also if you provide refunds, these are not automatically imported. Therefore, you do need to pay attention to the imported data.  There is also is an Etsy Wave team which could be helpful.  As someone with a software background, I am in the process of building my own accounting software but in the mean time, Wave is a good option.

  8. Use a reliable shipping carrier

    Shipping continues to be a high expense as prices seem to go up every year.  I have used both FedEx and USPS, but have found that the USPS is currently the most cost effective method for shipping my products, especially if I use the flat rate or regional flat rate shipping boxes.  I ship plant products so I usually ship Priority Mail.  With priority mail, most deliveries are within 2-3 days with included insurance up to $50 (with limitations).  Also Etsy’s shipping label system integrates with USPS making it easy to print shipping labels from home and there is even a small discount when purchasing online.  FedEx includes insurance up to $100 and though the pricing seems comparable, be aware that FedEx charges extra for shipping to a residence vs. business.  When getting a  shipping quote from FedEx, make sure you select the residential address option, if it applies.  (Update: As of April 20, 2016 FedEx shipping labels is now integrated with Etsy , allowing you to ship with FedEx at a lower cost than may be available given your own FedEx account.)

Final Thoughts

Whether you are starting out on Etsy or a seasoned seller, I think Etsy is still a great selling platform.  Etsy’s initial setup cost  in time and effort is relatively low as compared to other platforms like Amazon Handmade.  Etsy charges a small .20 cent listing fee per listing with no further cost until it sells.  Once sold, Etsy’s total fees will be around 6.5% as compared to Amazon’s 12%.  Further Amazon plans to charge handmade sellers an additional $39.99 per month starting this Summer.  As a new seller,  just starting to explore their craft, the risks are fairly low on Etsy.  But if you are an experienced Etsy seller, you may feel disenchanted with some of the changes Etsy has made as they attempt to grow, especially around their redefinition of  handmade.  However, I would argue that Etsy is still a great place to explore and find inspiration from a large artisan/ crafting community.  Even with the changes, Etsy still has a unique, indie feel not available at eBay or Amazon, and consumers who appreciate these qualities will continue to look to Etsy.  Even if you have outgrown your Etsy business and are looking for independence with your own eCommerce web site, Etsy can be a good source to drive business to your new site.  Recently  I have investigated several web site building and eCommerce services, including the popular Shopify.  I plan to share what I learned from that endeavor in a future post.  In the meantime, I still appreciate Etsy for what it still has to offer.

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