It’s old news at this point that the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent job losses have made sooo many people take a closer look at their skills and what it is they *really* want to do and look for ways to become their own bosses. And with sites like Etsy, it is easier than ever for artists, crafters, and creators to turn their vision into profit. Think about it: It’s a central location where new small business owners can sell their goods without stressing over making their own websites and dealing with all sorts of tax, shipping, and sales issues that come along with that.
Interested? Kay, we tapped several Etsy sellers to share their wins and mistakes to help you set up your own Etsy business.
(1) Take things slow-ish
Now first things first: Etsy might not be the easy cash grab some creators hope for, as they do charge fees for what you sell, but on the upside, they give you a worldwide exposure that is hard to attain with your own website or via social media. Tabitha Bianca Brown, who has been creating beautiful illustrations and portraits for her shop The Pairabirds for more than a decade, has her own website, but recommends using Etsy for the foot traffic. “Etsy is a large company that can afford huge ad campaigns to bring shoppers to the website,” she says. “With my own site, I have to personally do more advertising.”
“The mistake I made is one that a lot of sellers make: thinking that success is instantaneous,” says Brown. “Just like a physical store, you have to build up your inventory. You wouldn’t visit a store in the mall that just had one shirt sitting on a rack. The more inventory you have, the more people are likely to come across your products while browsing on Etsy.”
“See your shop as a customer would,” says Mai Solorzano, a Mexican artist who makes contemporary jewelry pieces and has had her self-named shop since 2011. “As if you are interested in buying something, that way you can see where there is missing information.” When Solorzano started, she didn’t know much about shipping costs or the time it takes and wasn’t initially clear about return policies. For those starting a shop, she says, the best thing they can do is take a step back and get a new perspective.
Kimberly Scott-Drayton has been selling her unique tumblers as Never Naked Designs on Etsy since January of this year. She’s been making tumblers for about two years, since she saw one at a friend’s house, and before she opened her Etsy shop, she’d been selling mostly in local Facebook groups. For her, setting up the listings was an initial hurdle. “I wasn’t using applicable keywords where people would search and find my stuff,” she says. Scott-Drayton makes her products to order and recently set up a custom order listing to help with requests she was getting and found it made it a lot easier for her customers and helped her complete sales.
“We could have spent a little more time at the beginning making sure what we were doing is cost effective,” says Scott and Zach Artice, the couple often known by their drag personas Minnie and Tink, who run Minnie and Tinkamabobs and sell resin creations like Disney-themed Pop Sockets. They opened their shop in the midst of the pandemic in August 2020 and suggest that taking time to figure out costs and pricing is key. “Sometimes we got so excited with what we were making, we weren’t checking if we would actually make any money,” they explain. “So our profit margins ended up being pretty bad at first! We have since found more cost-effective ways of doing things.”
Dan Richardson, the artist behind Chubblegum, a kawaii-style sticker shop, launched his business in February 2020. He’d tried running several Etsy shops on and off since 2009 and often found it was easier to sell his variety of art products in person than online. But this time, he’s had much more success. He chalks it up to luck, but he also invested a lot in Etsy advertising and started getting sales before he was even fully prepared. “This time, I didn’t even wait. I had eight stickers and five coloring pages and I was like, let’s go,” says Richardson. “I dove in blindly. I’m so happy that I did that and I believed in what I had.” Once he started getting good reviews and the Etsy algorithm was able to see he was delivering his products on time, he was able to cut back on his advertising costs.
(2) Find your niche
Even if you don’t have tons of money to invest in advertising, the key can really be finding a way to make your shop stand out from the others. “I mainly sell artwork featuring Black women and girls,” says Brown. “What makes my products stand out is the subject matter. It can be difficult to find bright and colorful artwork of Black women and girls happy, carefree, and enjoying nature. I make sure that my products showcase that joy.”
“Everyone’s making tumblers, but I don’t really look at what other people are doing,” says Scott-Drayton. “I try and put my own spin on things and make it really unique and different but still usable.”
Solorzano agrees: “I don’t really search for other similar shops. I try to be honest with my products and the history they have, how I designed it,”
(3) Invest in some good lighting—and freebies“Take good photos! We truly love what we are making and we believe that shows in our product design and photos we use for the listings," says Artice. “And offering free domestic shipping can be a plus to buyers. If you are shipping something with multiple items or a bigger order, bite the bullet and pay for priority shipping or insurance. Things can get lost in the mail and that is devastating to your customer and your business.”
Don’t forget to offer worldwide shipping, if at all possible, too. “It’s a great tool to sell all over the globe,” adds Solorzano. “It’s wonderful to be in contact with customers directly. It’s not like a shop where you only got orders to fulfill and you don’t have any idea where it’s going to end.”
(4) Ask for help
Make sure you have a partner or a sounding board who can help balance things out if the business side if things get overwhelming, Richardson says. For him, he relies on his wife. “I get overwhelmed because not only do I have the creative mind, but I also have mental illness as well, and that’s a huge focus in my shop,” he admits. “ I look at things and I get instantly overwhelmed and then I shut down. My wife is there to say, ‘Dan, we have their money. You have to do this. There are no excuses. Get the heck up and go.’”
(5) TikTok = Your Marketing Team
While Etsy ads and great photos can go a long way into helping with Etsy’s algorithm, sales will only come if you do a little marketing of our own, and for many artists, they turn to social media, especially TikTok. The free platform gives them a voice, and once they get an audience, their new product launches can be a bigger success. “We also use social media in a strategic way to help get word of mouth out quicker, “ say the Artices, who can be found on TikTok and Instagram at @MinnieAndTink. “Creating interesting videos that show the process and final result can be fun for people.”
Richardson also uses his TikTok account to find out what his buyers really want to buy. He currently has more than 200 members of his monthly sticker club and regularly polls his followers. He also uses his platform @Chubblegum to help out other small businesses with advice, about how to make products and how to navigate Etsy’s rules and tricky algorithms, and he even ran a series of Craft Wars to help boost other small businesses.
Scott-Drayton uses her TikTok (@NeverNakedDesigns) to showcase all the new products she’s working on. But when her popular giraffe cup suddenly had more than 40 sales, she wasn’t prepared. “I was pretty new to Etsy and learning Etsy, and since I had one made, I put the shipping as ready to ship within one to two weeks,” she explains. “So for 40-something orders, it said they’d be shipped in 1 to 2 weeks, which is insane. There were so many sleepless nights because I wasn’t going to go back and tell people I made a mistake. It was my mistake. I owned it and got them all out in two weeks. It was a lesson, definitely.”
(6) Two words: Time! Management!
The downside of being your own boss is, well, you are in charge of photos, posting listings, shipping, running social media and making the product. Juggling can be tricky. “Time management has been huge for me,” admits Scott-Drayton. “I have to write things down and Etsy is great for that because it gives me due dates.”
When you are starting out, pick a small goal. “My goal was to make $50 a month, to pay for me to find other little hobbies and to continue making stickers and whatnot,” says Richardson. “In my eyes. I have succeeded beyond what I could have imagined, so to me, I am 100 percent a success.”
(7) And last, don’t let one bad review derail you
“Don’t let criticism get to you or discourage you,” adds Artice. “There is always something to be learned and ways to improve!” Happy selling!