2018 was FAR from my “first” year of selling on Etsy. I’ve been selling (on and off, through different projects) since… 2007 I think. The Etsy I joined was a VERY different place where you could ruin a perfectly good vintage blazer with terrible embroidery and people would… buy it? Idk it was a very weird time and looking back over my past sold listings is VERY CRINGEY. For obvious reasons (plus lots of life changes and not being good at business), I never really did “well” on Etsy, so IMAGINE MY SURPRISE in 2017 when this embroidery thing kind of took off.
And by “took off” I mean I brought in a little over $600 which meant, ETSY WAS AN OFFICIAL INCOME SOURCE ACCORDING TO THE IRS AND I GOT TO DO SMALL BUSINESS TAXES FOR THE FIRST TIME!!!! I mean I had to anyway because that was the year I started making actual money teaching art classes, but that’s not the point here. My point is that 2017 went well enough in the Etsy department that I was like “oh crap I guess I gotta be like, serious about this because it’s not going away”.
Now, I definitely don’t see (or really have any desire to see) embroidery as being my full-time main-income kind of thing. Which is totally fine because my main thing is kids/homeschooling and my main thing for money is teaching and I’m really happy with that. Embroidery is much more of a hobby, but a hobby that pays for itself (and then some) is a pretty dang nice hobby. But back to what I was really talking about: in 2018 I actually made some goals (I made exactly two goals) for my Etsy shop: keep posting new listings and end the year with all of the “traffic stats” arrows pointing up (I am GREAT at business guys!).
Great news everyone! I did! There are more things in the shop than there were at the end of 2017 and all the arrows are up! Some of them even have pretty high percentages! And my final sales for the year is * slightly more * than I made doing those shirts for The Matches! So, not bad Victoria, not bad at all.
Plus, for the first time EVER I had a whole year where I made at least one sale every month, AND was just one order shy of averaging one order a week. Also I added two new shop categories that I haven’t really gotten around to announcing/marketing (PDF embroidery patterns and custom buttons, if you’re interested). So go me. Much business. Very Entrepreneur.
In the interest of being transparent and hopefully helpful to anyone who’s ever made something and thought “Hey I bet I could sell these on Etsy!” or, made something that made other people tell them “you should totally sell those on Etsy”, I want to take a minute to talk about some of the real life stuff that goes on with running an Etsy shop even if its really just a glorified hobby. But first: a bit of disclosure:
Etsy is the only place I sell online (currently or ever) so I can’t really compare it to any other options
I am by no means an expert and this is not a how-to guide
Everything I’m saying here is my own personal experience and opinion and please do not base your decisions on what I’ve written here
So, first things first let’s talk about the things I love about Etsy, so much so that I took down my independent online shop that I opened because everyone’s like “if you’re serious about your business you need to get off Etsy” to sell exclusively on Etsy. This blog post is officially at the point where every time I type the word “Etsy” it looks very, very wrong.
The big thing about Etsy is that it’s easy. I literally run this entire side-hustle (except for the physical act of embroidery and when I mail things) on my phone. It’s not even that nice of a phone (it’s an iPhone 6s if you were wondering/wanted to buy me a better phone). I can post and edit listings, copy them to make new listings by just changing the photo and title (v important because I’m lazy/have very high maintenance kids), promote listings through social media, monitor shop statistics and communicate with customers in one app. I’m probably not even using the app to it’s full potential to be completely honest. But it’s great because, as I’ve mentioned before, Etsy is not even close to being my main thing. I don’t have a lot of time for it so it’s nice to be able to keep it running in the spare bits of time I have to check my phone.
Another great thing about Etsy is it’s really affordable to get started: listings are 20 cents each and they take a small commission on orders but only after the sell. This might add up to being “not worth it” and better to have a separate site at some point, but, I think a lot of that depends on your volume and profit margin, and if the product you sell is something that you can mark up to an acceptable profit margin. To be completely honest my volume is pretty dang low and my profit margins are pretty stinking high so this has never been an issue for me. But I understand that this is a legit issue for many others so, just putting that out there.
And finally, Etsy has its own internal search thing going on and people can find you just within Etsy. I’m not good enough at tech or internet stuff to fully articulate how this works or why it matters beyond this: people just searching for things on Etsy can find you/your product fairly easily. Obviously this is great for people running side hustles on their phones between doing other things and aren’t really “marketing”. Probably not a great business model but hey, it works. Maybe not as well as devoting proper time to marketing my own branded personal website but ain’t nobody got time for that. Well, speaking for myself specifically, I don’t, and Etsy so kindly helps me out in this department, which is totally worth the related fees.
But running an Etsy shop even as a glorified hobby takes a lot. It takes a lot and theres not always a lot of return. It takes a lot and theres not always a return.
Which now that I think about it is really the main thing I wanted to talk about here: even though I love Etsy as a platform and have had a really great experience with it, running and even mildly successful shop is a LOT more than posting up listings and waiting for someone to buy them. I mean, theres a lot more to just posting listings than just putting some pictures and words on the internet. You have to make sure your pictures are good and then you have to look at other pictures of similar listings to make sure yours like stand out from the rest (in a good way and not a bad way), you have to do research on how to write product descriptions that don’t leave anything important out and you have to measure everything and think of any possible question a prospective buyer might have and you also have to make it NICE and FUN and but not too SALESY, you know? Oh and you probably want to take the time to research if the thing you’re trying to sell is a thing people would even buy, before also researching price points and seeing where your products fit in what is currently available/being purchased.
And then once the listing are up you need to get them out into the world otherwise no one outside of the Etsy. I am 100% terrible at this so don’t come to me for advice, BUT this means things like posting photos and links on social media, writing blog posts, networking with other creatives, participating in real life events… If it sounds like this takes way more time and effort than the actual making-something-and-posting-it-for-sale part, that’s because it is. Some people are great at this. My friend Heather is great at this. I am not. This probably explains why $680 is an accomplishment for me.
Finally, running an Etsy shop even as a small side-hustle means being willing to learn allllll of the ins and outs of running a business, just on a super micro scale. Business law, shipping, taxes (did you know the city of Los Angeles has a weird self-employment tax that only applies to businesses OVER a certain size but businesses UNDER that size are only exempt if the file a waiver? Ask me how I know), accounting (guys just get quickbooks self employed, and not just because I get $50 if you sign up), planning, marketing, sourcing materials, sourcing business supplies (totally not the same thing), communication, photography, market research, merchandising (not the same thing as marketing!), etc, etc, etc… AND THATS NOT EVEN COUNTING THE TIME/RESOURCES/SKILLS THAT GO INTO YOUR ACTUAL CRAFT.
AND (this is the best part) you might do ALL of this, even do it very well and you still might not actually sell anything. Like not to be a debbie downer but… you can’t actually control if people are actually going to buy what you’re selling. Or, in the case of the second-to-most-recent Etsy thing I did, you’ll put so much time and effort into your product that by time it’s time to sell it, you hate it. Or your skills/interests have grown beyond it. And let me tell you, it is PRETTY DAMN HARD to sell something that you hate, or worse, know isn’t actually your best work.
My point is, that if you’re even considering selling something you make, on Etsy or otherwise, make sure you love it. I mean REALLY love it. Like, a would be willing to do all this work and learn all these things that you would never even consider learning normally (hello graphic design and search engine optimization) even if you never sold a single thing kind of love. A love where the making and sharing part is enough to fill your cup because there are a LOT of things that are going to take from it. A love where you’re willing to learn and change and grow and let your art/product do the same.
But at the same time, you should totally do it. It really only takes 20 cents and an app to get started, and there is no better feeling then when the Etsy app makes that cash register sound.