The new year is the time people set resolutions to attain their dreams. For many crafters, opening an online shop to sell their wares and add a little extra to their household income. However, this can be a daunting task full of questions. How do I set it up? How long will it take? Will I make money at it? Can I even do this? There is a big difference between creating teddy bears or jewelry and actually running a money making shop.
When I first started my Etsy shop, I thought it would be easy as pie. I pictured some modern Disney montage where I (a princess, of course) would happily paint fun banks, they’d pop up online and someone would order them within a few hours, maybe a day or two at most. Then my helpful little animal friends would package up the orders and my bird friends would fly them to their destination.
Then I woke up.
There was no bookkeeping, no photo editing, no marketing in my easy-peasy dream. And certainly no IRS and taxes! (Yikes and ugh!) So I decided to compile a list of tips I wish I had known then for all of you.
1. Play around with Etsy first. Before you can sell to the typical Etsy shoppers, you need to think like an Etsy shopping. The easiest way to accomplish this is to actually BE an Etsy shopper, even if just window shopping. Go to people’s shops, check out the front page, favorite some items and shops, make a treasury or two. You wouldn’t try to build a library if you had never stepped foot in one, would you? Once you get a good feel of being an Etsy shopper, you’ll have a better idea of how to present your shop.
2. Set up a system first! It seems simple-you make an item, list it, sell it and send it. Easy peasy, right? Well, it is. But you repeat it again. And again. And again again. Having everything set up in place before you get going gung-ho will really save you time when the pattern starts over. Figure out where you’ll photograph your items, and keep necessary items close by. Set up a shipping station if you have the room. Otherwise you’ll have to find everything each time you need it, and could easily miss an important step.
For example, I like to include a handwritten note in all of my packages. Before I systemized and everything was scattered around, I forgot the note about a third of the time. While not the end of the world, it really frustrated me.
3. Start your book work early. I know there isn’t much to write down now. And the IRS probably isn’t going to care about your Etsy shop, especially the first year. But it’s worth it to write your numbers now so you can gauge your growth. It is also beyond helpful when it comes time to look at how your online shop affects your taxes. (And yes, even as a “hobby,” you do need to look at this!) It’s also pretty easy to at least keep an itemized list of what you spend at the craft store or craft fair entry fees, and how much you make from sales. Keep an envelop or shoe box in an easy-to-access play for receipts-even a contained mess is better than not having anything!
4. Pick a name and branding scheme you love. Even if an Etsy shop is your after hours gig, choosing a name and branding scheme you love is doubly beneficial. First, it’s an expression of who you are. Customers can tell when you’re not being authentic, and they’re turned off by it. They want to buy from someone they feel they understand, which is expressed through your branding. Secondly, you’re going to be seeing, saying and working with this scheme a lot! If you don’t absolutely love it, you will get sick of it. Branding affects every aspect of your Etsy shop-your business cards, craft fair set ups, your social media sites, etc! Better to love it!
An extra tip-when naming your shop, try to avoid the cliche “Suzy’s Crafts” or “Handmade by Lacy.” While these names are great, Etsy is saturated with them. It’s hard to differentiate between them all-which means you’ll get lost in the mix. This also applies to misspellings such as “craftz.”
5. Realize it’s going to take more business work than you think. About 50% of my time is spent actually creating. The rest is spent editing photos, listing items, marketing both online and off, doing boring bookwork and any other little chore that pops up. It’s a reality that some people thrive on, some people hate. But most crafters I’ve talked to have been taken by surprise by just how much ‘business’ is in their ‘craft business.’
6. It’s up to you to get your items seen. Countless people create 10 whatevers, post them on Etsy and then wait for them to sell. And wait. And wait. While there is a chance they will hear a cha-ching, that chance is very low statistically if you just let them sit there without any promotion from you. You can share them online on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest. Also look into blogs that would be willing to feature you and your shop, or who host a weekly link up of items (DaftCrafts.net has a great one!). You might also look into local craft fairs, your local Craigslist or even crafting parties. Whatever it is, no one else is responsible for getting your items viewed and eventually bought.
7. Basic photo editing is a must! You’ve probably read this before, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the value of a good photo. You don’t need a fancy $700 camera to get great end results, however. I use a small digital camera and a free photo editing site called PicMonkey.com. It’s very easy to use and makes my photos really pop! Fuzzy, ill-lit photos scream ‘unprofessional’ to a potential client, and can often deter a sale. Take pride in your products and showcase them at their best!
I also want to mention the importance of a watermark. Using PicMonkey.com and one of my logos, I can essentially “sign” every photo of my work. When I post those photos to an outside site like Pinterest, viewers can see where it came from and go to my site. Without the watermark, my photos are just nameless, homeless pictures on the internet.
*Please note: It is NEVER okay to use photo editing to cover up undesirable areas of your product. You must show your product exactly as is, or you’ll be dealing with unhappy customers who want their money back!*
8. Clearly state shop policies you’re comfortable with early. This will save you so many headaches down the road! Set policies for refunds, returns, custom orders and anything else you might need. First, set guidelines that you feel okay holding up whenever a problem crops up. Then go through them again, this time with the eyes of a customer. Try to see the problems that could arise from their point of view-how would you feel if the UPS lost your paid for package containing a birthday present for your niece? I’m not saying bend over backwards for customers-and always keep an eye out for the rare but very real scammer. But it good to remember people are people, and like to be treated as such.
9. Remember that perfection is unattainable. YWhile perfect photos and perfect listings is always desirable, perfection is a fleeting mistress. Nothing is perfect, and while striving for perfection is certainly admirable, ultimate perfection is simply unattainable. And what’s more, it doesn’t guarantee sales. What does get sales is putting a really good listing with great photos up in your shop for customers to see. So don’t waste extra time and worry working to make something that will ultimately never happen. Done and available is better than perfect!
10. Don’t stop learning. I am constantly learning new things about running my Etsy shop-from new shipping methods to different ways to systemize my work station. Right now I’m learning a lot about filing business taxes-something I knew absolutely nothing about two years ago! It was a wise person who once said something to the effect of “When we stop learning we start stagnating.” It doesn’t have to be a major study session, though. Find a topic you’d like to learn more about, read a few articles and maybe implement a few changes to your shop based on what you’ve learned. Then take a few weeks and see how those changes affect your shop or work habits. If you can’t think of a specific top, Google! One day I simply Googled “Etsy Tips” and ended up learning a lot about SEO and how Etsy runs its search engine.
I hope this list helps any of you who are considering starting your own Etsy shop! And I hope you consider jump in and join the Etsy movement! It’s a lot of fun, if a lot of work, but completely worth it!