Maybe you knit or throw pottery. Or make jewelry out of Phillips screw heads. Or crochet hamster huts (that makes three of you). Maybe all you ever wanted was to sell your handiwork and never work for anyone else, ever.
You may have heard that all you have to do is open your own shop on Etsy.com, the online marketplace that aims to provide artists with the technology they need to “make a living, making things.” You simply upload product shots, tack on prices, write cute captions, then wait for those millions of members to start placing orders.
It sounds perfect. And easy. But it’s not. More than 250,000 shops sell roughly 3.7 million items (and counting), with untold numbers of merchants making only a handful of sales, if that many. Though Etsy provides would-be sellers with myriad tips and tools for success, it’s tough to stand out in the crowd.
Etsy’s Brooklyn roots go way back to 2005, when the site—conceived by artist and carpenter Rob Kalin and built by Kalin, Chris Maguire and Haim Schoppik—got its start in Fort Greene. Currently headquartered downtown, it will soon move to Dumbo.
Today, it attracts members from all over the U.S. and 150 other countries, and according to Etsy’s Adam Brown, the top-selling categories tend to be jewelry, art, accessories, clothing and crafting supplies for DIY-ers.
One of Brooklyn’s most successful Etsians, Tracie Howarth, sells jewelry-making supplies to other artists. Since joining Etsy in 2006, she’s generated over 24,000 supply sales through epochbeads.etsy.com and over 7,600 through thatsmycharm.etsy.com, and markets her unique designs on athd.etsy.com.
She lists over 600 items across the three Etsy shops and employs three staff—two to help at her booth on weekends in the Artists & Fleas market in Williamsburg and one in her Williamsburg studio to help with Etsy inventory and fulfillment. When asked if she sells full time, Howarth says, “I sell overtime.” She estimates that she grosses about $130,000, mostly from selling supplies, though due to significant expenses, nets $35,000. It’s enough to keep her in business for herself, the other passion that drives her.
For those who are still at step one—figuring out what to sell—experts say a cohesive line will do better than a whole bunch of disparate items. Products with a trendy element will sooner get noticed by bloggers like Design*Sponge‘s Grace Bonney, who can sell out an entire Etsy store with a single post.
“In this economy, I’d focus on selling small things that look expensive,” says Bonney. “There’s a lot of the whole popsicle sticks and yarn on Etsy. You’ve got to separate yourself from those people.”
Bonney says it’s also important to keep your prices low, because there will always be someone selling a similar item for less. “I personally wouldn’t sell anything over $50 on Etsy unless it was a one-of-a-kind painting,” she says. “Paper goods and ceramics do really well right now because they’re affordable and people don’t have to change the look of their house to incorporate them.” (Bonney, by the way, is a big fan these days of JeanPelle.etsy.com.)
Etsy has a host of resources for would-be sellers, including The DO’s and DON’T’s of Etsy amd the Seller Handbook.
All of them will tell you that choosing a username is the single most important decision you can make—it becomes your shop name when you open a seller account. “The most common problem is that sellers choose a shop name and then want to change it later,” says Adam Brown, Etsy’s press rep. “You can create a new account, but your customer feedback, etc. can’t be moved to that account.”
Choose a name that’s short—one or two words are best—and easy to remember. Troy Mattison Hicks, who sells original designs through necklush.etsy.com, says, “We wanted to come up with something that identified the product, sort of the way people use Band-Aid to refer to a bandage. We wanted that when you see a necklush, you call it a necklush.”
As important as a strong name is good photography. Bright, crisp, clear photos help make your items feature-friendly. Go for natural lighting, close-ups, angles and cropping; place your items against uncluttered backgrounds and avoid graphics and text; use live models when appropriate.
Bonney suggests hiring a good product photographer: “That’s the biggest investment you’ll make, and it pays off ten-fold,” she says. “If you can’t take a good picture, it’s not going to sell. A lot of people put their stuff on a black background and send you a sad little photo. I will write an email saying I like your work but these images are totally not up to snuff.”
When it comes to your listings, use them to tell a story. Be quirky, personal and descriptive. Bring your item to life by illustrating how it might become part of the buyer’s home or pondering what it might mean to someone receiving it as a gift. The connection to the seller is what Etsy buyers look for—otherwise, they’d go shopping at Target.
Once you launch your shop, it’s important to continually refine it. Brooklyn’s Alison Shanik, who sells embroidered keepsake cards and wall pieces through kingpopcorn.etsy.com, notes, “I opened up my Etsy shop right away, but took my time about fine-tuning cards and listing them. It takes a lot of time to plan out the general appearance of your shop.”
Shanik, who has grossed about $600 in Etsy sales so far this year, considers herself “a serious maker who is a half-serious seller,” too busy creating to worry right now about growing her business. “I’m not overwhelmed by orders, but they’re not non-existent either,” she says.
Even if you think you’ve chosen the best name, assembled an irresistible product line, photographed your items just so—you have to promote yourself, either by frequently re-listing items or purchasing a spot in one of Etsy’s fee-based showcases.
In addition to a 3.5 percent transaction fee per sale, Etsy makes money by charging sellers for listings—$0.20 per item for a four-month listing—and fees to gain exposure in Etsy’s online galleries.
Each time you list an item (post an item’s name, description, price, etc., and tag it for searchability) it could show up in the Recently Listed Items section on the home page. You can re-list them, and experienced sellers do. Necklush’s Troy Mattison Hicks gives himself a daily $2.00 budget, equivalent to relisting ten times. “Spread your listings out through the day so they can be seen whenever people pop on to look around,” he says.
There’s also a sellers-only advertising program called the Showcase. A one-day spot on the front-page homepage Showcase costs $15, and a spot on the Storque showcase is $7.
Another way to boost sales is by using social networking tools, such as Twitter and Facebook, and by increasing your Etsy profile by posting comments, ideas and questions in the Forums.
Most important of all is getting name-checked on someone else’s blog. Bonney receives 300 submissions daily at Design*Sponge, many of them from Etsy artists eager to be featured on her site. It’s understandable why. “A blog’s sales effect is pretty easy to track,” she says. “People write us and say, ‘Holy crap, I just sold out!’ ” Bonney also recommends ohjoy.com and poppytalk.blogspot.com, two other design blogs that frequently profile Etsy sellers. While you’re at it, why not use Etsy as a springboard to pitch yourself to the MoMA store? “They constantly troll Etsy for talent,” Bonney says.
Finally, don’t rule out the flea market circuit just because you’re on Etsy. Kristin Raphael, also from Brooklyn, opened her shop ttintin.etsy.com in January and has made one sale from her line of $39 baby and toddler dresses. “I joined Etsy because I knew I should have an online presence,” she says, “but I do better at street fairs and outdoor markets.”
Says Alison Shanik: “Etsy is wonderful because it’s affordable but you can easily disappear into its sea, whereas craft fairs are wonderful because of the direct exposure but require a bit of investment.” They do bring you face-to-face with your prospective buyer, who, if she doesn’t buy something at your booth, may come back and visit you online at Etsy.
Leave a Reply
Thank you for sharing this excellent article. I want to add another site that gave me a lot of useful information, http://www.etsywiki.com.
They provide FAQ, tutorials, statistics, and community. Their statistics maybe the best information to do product research for new seller.
I also summarized and simplified information about earn money with etsy. It is a summary article for people who want quick information for selling in etsy.
Great article and covered a lot of points that reliably help bring success to fulltimers (selling my fashion scarves on etsy is my livelihood)!
Thank you for a job well done and great to see Troy of necklush featured (hugs to you and S, my friend)!
I sell on Etsy and I feel as though I do very well. If you feel like selling on Etsy is a route that you might want to pursue, I urge you to go forth with that. Etsy’s fees are extremely fair and since they specialize in selling and buying handmade goods, the market is there. Etsy charges $.20 for every item listed, which includes five pictures, and unlimited description, and it stays listed for 4 months!
A very helpful well written article.
I have been selling on etsy for over 2 years now and have 2 shops.
It has been an amazing way to reach people all over the world.
I am now able to do what I love full time:)
I am just getting started on Etsy. Enjoyed reading this article with tons of great information and inspiration. Thanks!
Wonderful Article – I have been selling on Etsy for a few months now & your article points out most of the major things that I have done to boost sales in my shop! Thanks
Thank you so much for this article. I recently opened an account on Etsy to sell my handmade jewelry and notice that once I uploaded a new product, it got lost amongst the sea of handmade items. This article definately incourages me to keep going. Thank you for the light. Warm hugs, Autumn
Very informative article. I have been selling for over a year on Etsy and I love it. It is a way for people that still believe in fine craftsmanship to have a showcase. I love what I do and I adore all of the wonderful people that I have met in this journey. The added income is just a bonus. :D
Thank you for the great tips. I recently opened an Etsy shop and your article is very informative.
Alba H. Rodriguez
This article has some good info but doesn’t even mention that Etsy is also famous for its marketplace of cool and funky vintage fashions, housewares, home decor and other items!
For handmade, certainly “experts say a cohesive line will do better than a whole bunch of disparate items” works but for vintage sellers, single one-of-a-kind items is what it is all about–and our customers worldwide love us for it! Etsy is not an easy road to hoe and creativity is not enough. It is very worthwhile if one has tenacity and a good marketing plan and can be patient when the slow months come along and you’re not selling as much (if anything).
The idea of hiring a pro to photograph one’s goods is terrific but not realistic for most sellers–and there are plenty of tips and tutorials on Etsy and off to assist even a new photographer in shooting their own items in a good fashion.
I make my living on Etsy for now, and I enjoy the community more than anything– for the most part folks are helpful, supportive and friendly!
Great tips! I thought prices would be higher but as you mentioned maybe the secret is keeping the prices low.
Good points. Marketing is key for any endeavor and Etsy is a fabulous outlet for artisan ‘handmade’ product.
Art sells well on Etsy, but promotion helps; renewing, hearting and cross pollination through blogging. A tiered pricepoint works best. I’m very pleased with my 2nd year profit increase.
besides supplies (#1 selling items), what are the best selling items on etsy in 2011? I was told it was body care items like lotions, soaps, scrubs, etc. If that is true, then what do folks buy in 3rd place?
I sell on Etsy originally to rid myself of all the vintage items I had accumulated over the years. The traffic seems to be getting better lately which is helpful.
Some days I sell a lot others nothing.
It’s a part of the game.
I was so glad to see your post. My friend and I are thinking about starting our had at Etsy. We are retired and have a lot of vintage items from our parents and grandparents. She is a very talented quilter. That was the two things we thought we would have on our site. My granddaughter just had a wedding shower using the vintage Etsy sites for people to order gifts. It was a huge success. Do you have any more suggestions for us to get started. We both have backgrounds in sales. Would love to visit more with you. Nathalee
thanks a lot for all the tips and information.
A French visitor !
Wonderful Article – I am a newbie to etsy and it helps me.
I recently started a few months now. Thanks, Great article !
Thank you for this great article…
We have just set up a new store on etsy from Rome Italy, it’s really inspiring and encouraging to recieve many “likes” already in the first 3 days of activity. Your article is well done and usefull. Thank you
thnks for the info, i just started on etsy
http://www.sheamamanaturals.etsy.com natural body products
Fact is etsy is just out to make money they could care less if your shop sells or not.
Thank you! http://www.alisadesign.etsy.com
Great article, it has helped me get more focused on expanding my etsy shop.
Thanks so much for the article! I have an Etsy store called Color Me Zen that sells recycled crayon shapes in molds I made- so far, my advertising costs have been covered by my sales, but now I’m finding that I’m getting big birthday party orders- woot! I don’t think I could ever make a living doing this, but I love the sense of community and sharing handmade things. I also just started doing craft fairs, which is pretty hit and miss.
Thanks for the encouraging tips! I’m surely going to incorporate them on my Etsy shop.
Thanks for the tips. I sell on etsy @ earthangelclothing.etsy.com but it’s been a rough start. I think the little shops do get lost in a sea of mass produced and possibly not even handmade items.
very nice to sharing i have shop in etsy http://www.etsy.com/shop/jinny888
I hope I make some money. I am excited to start on etsy. I am a little worried about reposting everyday…doesn’t that add up?
Also make sure your images are up to par. Many etsy sellers experience slow sales from having poor images. If you need help getting your images looking great, try https://www.etsy.com/listing/107732819/get-more-sales-listing-image
I have recently gone full-time with my handmade business, with lots of hard work it can be done!
I know my shop should be more “specialized” but my ADD just won’t allow it! So for now my catagory is a very general “hand painted”
http://etsykeywordhelper.com — a great way to make money with out losing money by doing the wrong keywords.
This is all great advice … I especially like the part about the importance of your shop name (how great is “necklush”!?).
Very helpful, thank you. I definitely feel lost on Etsy but am determined to make it work! I am confident that my product is quirky, original and just what Etsy is about. I would be grateful for any advice if you had a chance to look. I design greetings cards, gift stationery and prints. Please take a look