I’ll start this by saying I’m not an expert. I run a vaguely successful Etsy shop, it’s been going for a short time, yet gets me a few orders each week. This feels like a good thing, in a quick time, and so people have been asking me for advice.
Read before you put ‘pen to paper’. Etsy itself has a wealth of information, on the help pages and on the forums.
That said, the main things I’d suggest are:
Firstly, do some basic things before you launch your shop. Launching with no logo banner, no policies and 1 item in your shop will mean people think you’re a casual hobbyist, and less likely to trust you. The main response I want to give people when they ask why they’re not selling/getting views is “it looks like you spent 5 minutes on it”. I don’t generally say this, it’s too harsh, but why should someone buy from an online shop that’s been set up hastily, when they’d not do so for a physical shop/stall that did that either? If this is your new business, take some time and make it look professional. If it’s a casual hobby, don’t expect the traffic/sales that will net you an income, even a part time one.
Fill them out, before you launch your shop. They give customers an outline of what to expect from you, and answers to questions you’ll not want to respond to over and over again. Look at a few shops, ones you like the look of and want to be like. Read their policies, their about section, their general descriptions. Having policies set out also makes you seem more professional, and gives customers confidence that, if they buy from you, they’ll not get screwed over.
As I recently advised a friend: “people are simple, shiny photos and decent descriptions go a long way!”. I cannot emphasise this enough. The majority of my (and I’d therefore assume most people’s) traffic comes via Etsy’s search or browse features. If you have unappealing photos, why would anyone click on your items? You could be selling the best made X, but if another person can photograph their slightly inferior X better, then why would anyone click on yours? You don’t need an expensive camera, I use my smartphone, but read up about lighting, about backgrounds, about staging. Again, look at other sellers you want to be like and see how they pose their items.
This is a tricky one for me to advise on, mine tend to be quite factual. But do try and make sure you cover things like size (quite difficult to tell online sometimes), or does the colour vary in the photos? Tell the customer which one is the nearest representation. I also include a brief description of posting details. You can also add here any custom options that are available.
Know the postage rules, they’ve changed recently and things like alcohol are in the ‘restricted’ category now. They’re available on the Royal Mail’s site, where you can also buy postage to print at home (and, if you’re handy with a graphics editor, can add your logo to). Are you in the UK? Post to the US. Don’t lie about the price, gather the stuff you’ll use, shove it on the scales, and work out on the Royal Mail’s site how much it will cost you. Add on the cost of the things you’re using to parcel it up. Charge at least that.
I charge £5 for US postage (my items all come under the lowest price band), because that’s what it costs me (if you can, keep your parcel under ‘large letter’ size, for ease of posting/receiving and for lower costs). Do I still get people paying for it? Oh yes! About half my orders are from the US. If you’re selling something people want, they’ll pay the right postage. Postage is expensive, the type of people buying handmade goods are willing to pay for what they’re getting. Which brings me onto…
How much to charge? There are various formulas, and some of them can come up with scarily expensive prices. The standard is “twice the cost of materials, plus your time”. This is generally a good formula, but can make your finished item prohibitively expensive. If I used this for my knitted hats, using minimum wage, they’d come out at about £60.
Now I should be charging that; creative people are notoriously undervalued when it comes to paying for our time. Except the reality is I’d never sell one. So, I take a deep breath, look around at mid/high end retail outlets (Next, Diesel and John Lewis are good places to start) and see how they compare. The people buying on Etsy know they’re paying for handmade, and quality, they’re the consumers who will pay more for this.
Do not look at Primark etc, it will only make you cry. Do not massively under-price yourself; you’ll sell loads, but you’ll be working frantically for very little (if any) profit. You’ll also be throwing your fellow creatives under the bus, as they’ll have to lower their prices to compete. Related to that, when you’re trying to find the right price level do look around on Etsy for examples of other similar things for sale. See the badly photographed ones? Ignore their prices, even if they’re really low, you’ve already got better photographs and descriptions right? Then yours will sell regardless.
Don’t launch with 1 item in your shop, wait a week, get no sales, and quit. Would you trust a seller with no sales and 1 item? Then don’t expect your potential customers to! (I believe Etsy requires 8 items, but you get the idea). Make sure you’ve got a reasonable amount of stock. The forums are full of people asking how to get more views/sales, and the answer is always (after ‘better photographs’) “you need more stock”. Aim for at least 10–15 items before you open, then add more, and more, and more. More experienced people than me suggest 80–100 items is about the tipping point from “a few sales” to “looking like a professional business”.
Try and keep to a theme, even a vague one. The more professional looking shops have a theme and tend to stick to it. People will ‘get’ who you are. You might find your ‘hook’ is different than you thought… I started wanting to sell knitted items and patterns, but quickly found my sewn items sell much faster. And the sewn + geek items I can barely keep in stock. My best seller is something I only made for a custom request, but was quickly requested but 3 other people. I made a few more for the shop, and they sold. Be prepared to adapt, but ensure it’s still something you want to make!
A slight aside, but did you know you can’t just use someone else’s pattern and sell the items you make from it? This does vary from country to country of course, but etiquette-wise it’s also true. If you’re creating patterns you’d be a bit pissy if someone else was using them to make cash, right? It’s rude, at the very least ask if you can, and accept it graciously if they say no. There’re many free-to-sell-from patterns out there, either use your own brain or pay the fee. They’re trying to make a living from their creativity also. (If you’re selling patterns then you have to get them tested. For knitting patterns there are a few groups on Ravelry that will do so, some of them for free. You can also sell knitting patterns on Rav.)
I do pay for advertising on Etsy, I find that it pays for itself after selling 1 item from it. YMMV. I’d say it’s not worth thinking about until you’ve got a reasonable amount of stock, about 30ish items, though.
You’re reading this, so you’re already reasonably IT literate. If you’re not, prepare yourself for a learning curve. You can’t set up an online shop and sit back. You might get a few sales, but in order to grow you need to let people know you’re out there. There are many, many blogs about online marketing, and in all honestly most of them will make you cry. So let’s start simple.
Set up a Facebook page (same rules as above, don’t launch it until it’s finished. It’ll look crappy and unprofessional). Get friends and family on board to like and share posts. They have people linked that you don’t, and they may also then share your work. FB is also a good place to post trial items, or custom orders, or for getting feedback. My first 10 or so customers were people I, or my family, know. Sure sometimes it’s just my mum (thanks mum!), but other times things will get shared more widely.
I’ve also set up a Twitter account, though it is mainly a repeat of the FB page, it’s worth reserving the username if it’s still available. It’s also worth following people on Etsy itself, either shops you like, or friends, it will give you some idea of what’s popular. If I have time, I peek at what people who’ve followed me also like.
Do feel free to add stuff in the comments. I do not know everything! I’ve only been going since Feb and am no-where near a real wage yet (oh, yeah, keep accounts, seriously, if you tip into needing to pay NI/tax, you’ll weep for weeks if you’ve not!), but I am near breaking even (ish, it depends on the sale/expenditure ratio that week!). Also, I might pick up some tips from you guys, which’d be ace 😉
Finally, if you want to see what I’ve done or buy my things, here are some links: