Friday, September 27, 2013

Etsy: My 10 Lessons Learned. sometimes, the hard way.

This October 5th is my four year Etsyversary, and nearly 1000 sales. (Some shops get 1000 sales in a lot less time, so don't be impressed. Seriously.) Selling both vintage and handmade items.

Instead of cluttering up the forums like some people do with milestone threads about "1000 sales and what I've learned", I'm just going to clutter my personal blog with it, and then people can choose to not look at it instead of being annoyed on the forums. I'm not a seller looking for those pat "awww, congrats on your awesomeness!" replies.

OKAY, stop right here. If you're not interested in being serious about your Etsy shop, you don't need to read any more. If you want to  list ten things and then sit and do nothing and wait for something to sell, move on. This post is for people who are interested in learning how I have used the Etsy platform to host items I  have to sell, and nicely supplemented my income for four years and counting, and some tips I have learned along the way and how you can use them in your own shops.  

So here is what I have learned in the last four years, about Etsy, and selling online - or anywhere - in general.

You're going to have to forgive me because I am going to be brutally honest about some things. I apologize ahead of time if what I have to say huts anyone's feelings. I'm not trying to diss anyone's crafts.... I'm just stating what I've learned about selling.  

1. Have a product people want, or need. This is the biggest deal. Because if you don't start with a really great product, what's the point of everything else?
You might like your items. Your  Mom might like your items. Your friends may love them, too. But if your items don't appeal to a wide range of people, it ain't gonna work. Be honest with yourself about this. You're going to be competing with 100,000,000,000 other people who sell pretty much the same things on Etsy. (This especially goes for handmade sellers, I think.) People are not going to want to buy overpriced crafts when there are serious, full time sellers on this site who make most people's crafts look like 4th grade VBS specials. Just being honest, here. So what makes you think people are gonna  buy your item? I'm serious. These are things I asked myself. So, how about it? Know the answer.

For selling vintage, it's a little bit easier, because one of a kind vintage items, marketed to the "vintage junkie" crowd, will usually sell themselves. When vintage shoppers spot an item they want, collect, or have been looking for, they'll buy it no matter what. Vintage it relatively easy, compared to handmade. The thing about vintage is, you have to know your product, be honest about it's condition, be fair in pricing, and most of all, know trends: home decor trends, fashion trends, collecting trends. Know what's hot for more than just one scene, too. Otherwise you're going to end up with a house full of stuff that belongs in a rummage sale that no one wants; including you. Trust me on this. I have bought things I thought should sell, only to donate them to Goodwill a year later when I realized they would never sell because they were not "Kitchy", they were tacky, and no one was going to pay money for that - plus, it made my shop look like a really bad yard sale. Did I loose money? Yup. Another thing about selling vintage: you have to be ready to shell out for decent inventory. 

One more thing about selling vintage: nothing ticks me off more than over priced vintage. Yes, there are some high end vintage items that fetch prices in the hundreds and even thousands of dollars range. But the majority of it isn't. I decided early on, I was going for selling  quantity instead of trying to sell the really expensive, highly collectible items a few times a year. I looked for mid range items that were affordable by just about anyone, and sold more of that than the higher priced items. There's more shoppers out there with a low or middle range budget than people with a high income with the means to spend $400 on a dress. So I decided my target market was the middle/lower range income folks. I have carried high end items from time to time, but that just added diversity to my shop. I try to stay to the middle of the road. So.... decide your target market; and work it. 

Whether you're selling vintage or handmade, find a niche.... that one thing you're really exceptional at, and work it. I started with vintage and added vintage inspired handmade items as well. But it's all "vintage" themed. Don't try to sell everything everyone else does. Sell what you are really really good at; and believe you're better at it than anyone else is. This goes hand  in glove with working your target market, also. If you find a niche within a certain demographic, you're going to hit gold.

Another note about product: have lots of it. If you have five listings, you're wasting your time. Try to have at least 100. I find the more listings I have in my shop, the more traffic I get; and the more my sales pick up and stay steady. I know this seems like a lot, and it is, but if you're wanting to be serious  about Etsy, you're going to have to have 100 listings or more.

2. Learn how to use the site. It is not as simple as creating a listing and Etsy does everything else. If you run your Etsy shop that way, you're going to get buried. Literally. Thousands of items in your category are listed every day. For each one listed, you're getting pushed further and further down the list. But if you have learned how to properly TITLE and TAG your listing, your SEO will bump to to the top of searches both on Etsy and other search engines. I am not going to go into how to do it on this post. There's plenty of that on the Etsy forums and site. I taught myself; it's not hard. I also took a class on SEO optimization through my local community college. Educate yourself.

Also: fill out your location, have policies, use the about page, join teams, sign up for direct checkout so people can use their CC. Use the site; the site will help you. BUT: be cautious in the forums. 

3.If you want to make money on Etsy you have to treat it seriously. I view my Etsy shop as a part time job, and I work it like a part time job. I put in tiiiiiime re working my listings all the time. Anything that is slow, or not getting views, or not selling after weeks of being listed, I re-work. See #2.

4. Have good customer service. Goes without saying - but you'd be surprised how many people have crappy customer service on this site. Ship ASAP. Be nice to people. Admit when you've made a mistake and be prepared to pay for it. Answer convos immediately, if not sooner, and for Pete's sake! Offer returns!! If you get a nasty convo (I have had PLENTY), step away from the computer. Scream, yell, vent, throw things, cuss.... then wait several hours. Cool off, then write down your response. Then type and send it. I learned this from experience. It works. If you have to be firm with a customer, do it professionally. Getting mad and defensive is UNprofessional and not nice.

5. Learn how to take halfway decent photos. Okay  - PHOTOS is what sells items on line. If your photos suck, people aren't going to even click your thumbnail to see the whole listing. Think in thumbnails. You've got to at least have one eye catching thumbnail per listing to get people to want to click it!
I see so many dark photos. Um... HUGE "click off"! Take pics in natural light. Please, don't do props. I am not a great photographer, by any means... but I try to take HALFWAY decent pics, at least. In natural light. Seems to work out; people use my photos in treasuries all the time; three of which have been chosen for the front page. And use all five photo slots per listing, if possible.

6. Ship international. It's not scary, I promise. It's really, really easy. Just do it. Use the USPS website. It is your friend. Also, make buddies with your local Postmaster. They're gems.

7. Ship smart. I learned this the haaaard way early in my first year. Double box. Use a mile of bubble wrap, if needed. Buy bulk padded shipping envelopes. Also, get a scale for price calculations. Trust me on this.

8. Don't skimp.  Don't be cheap. Don't be cheap making your product, don't be cheap buying your vintage, don't be cheap packing it, don't be cheap shipping it... just don't be cheap. You're going to have to spend some money to make some money. If you're cheap it's going to show and it's going to hurt you in the long run.Cheap does nooooot pay off. Ever.

9. Don't look for someone to blame. Okay I have to say there is nothing I despise more than when sellers get on the forums and whine and cry about not making sales, and griping at Etsy for changing whatever, and look for somewhere to place the blame for not making sales or getting views, or whatever. When I don't make sales, I look at ME. I look at what I have been doing - or not doing - to try and make sales. When Etsy makes changes, I don't run around like the sky is falling, I just educate myself about the change, learn how to make it work for me, and then roll with it. Usually, when I hit a sales slump, I can jump start things with new listings, re working listings, re tagging, renewing, and moving around on the site.

10. Buy. If you don't buy on the site, what makes you think anyone should buy from you? I buy on Etsy all the time. As a buyer and a seller, I have a complete view of Etsy as a user. I am a firm believer in buying. In fact, sometimes when things are slow in my shop, I buy  things; and then suddenly I get sales, too. I don't know what it is, but it happens.

So that's my 2 cents. I know it seems harsh, but it's the straight-up truth that I have learned in four years and 1000 sales.

P.S.: A word about money.


I hear it a lot: "I haven't got the money to -buy a new camera/relist items every week/offer returns/give free shipping/pay the Etsy bill/have decent packaging/list more than a couple items, etc. etc. 

I know what it's like to start a small business with ZERO MONEY. I started my shop with a plastic tote of vintage stuff I have been collecting since  my teens. And NO money. I think I put $20 in my Pay Pal acct. from my checking acct. when I started. I was writing checks at the Post Office to ship things, hoping the checks didn't hit my account till my next pay check. 

I was lucky, and I started making sales a few hours after listing my first items. But it still wasn't a whole lot. I went weeks with no sales. I soon realized I was going to have to take certain risks in order to achieve any success. So I started re listing as much as I could afford to. At the time, you could buy a spot in a "showcase" on Etsy for about $6.00 - $10.00. I tried to buy a spot whenever I could; and it brought some traffic and sales. I panicked when I would look at my Etsy bill... as it crept past $20 and kept on creeping up there as I listed more items and relisted others. But the sales started picking up and paying my Etsy bill was no longer a worry. It was a slow process... but I had to spend money to get there.    
It started out with just a few dollars, but the better I did the more I was able to spend on promoting, better inventory, more inventory.... then a new camera, and a new computer; etc. etc.

And I started out with $20.00, a plastic tote, and a cheap point and shoot camera. 

Today I have two Etsy shops making money, and a brick and mortar antiques shop that's picking up steam.

SO. Don't talk to me about not having the money to start out in a cottage business. Anyone can do it. even if you just have $5.00, and a really good idea. 

You CAN do it! It just takes really hard, steady work. But it CAN be done. 

And if you've read this far......

Thanks for indulging me. Have  fabulous weekend! 



Susi said...

You ARE pretty awesome! :) I read almost every one of your posts and gaze at all your furniture re-works. [I dream of one day re-doing my grandmother's bedroom set and buffet with you...once I can bring myself to douse the memories and smell with paint stripper. ]

My heartiest congratulations to you on your 4 years of hard work paying off! You're a BEAST!

Byron Reese said...

Congratulations on your anniversary! What you've done is quite impressive, considering how you started with only $20.00, a plastic tote of vintage goods and a point-and-shoot camera. The tips you've given might be harsh to some, but they're helpful in all of its frank brutality. There's more to making your online store work than just having your products and listing them in the market. You also have to promote them and make sure your items don't get buried behind many competitors.

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