You’ve read the stories… People making 6 figures selling crafty things on Etsy. They spend their days happily sewing headbands, adding glitter to phone cases, and getting their fingers stuck together with super glue… That’s the life! You think to yourself.
HA! I laugh at your optimism … You know, in a nice way.
I’ve been an Etsy seller for over 6 years now. I ran another store before this one, which was purely as a hobby selling one-of-a-kind jewellery and polymer clay creations.
I loved it, but it was definitely not making me money. And I didn't need it to, because I was working a corporate job. Etsy was purely my creative outlet.
In all honesty, I LOVE Etsy. It’s a wonderful platform for creative people to easily list their work and sell it all over the world. I have shipped creations to the next suburb, but also to some incredibly exotic places that I would LOVE to travel to, and others I’ve never heard of!
BUT, the Etsy seller life is not as glamorous as many people think. There are some hard realities that come with making a living on Etsy.
1. Your competitors are there too.
I am the first to say that market oversaturation is a MYTH.
There are enough customers to go around.
HOWEVER, it can be intimidating to take on other stores that are selling exactly the same thing as you. I find this happens more often in jewelry. There are only so many ways people can make a hammered silver stacker ring.
SOLUTION: Make it yours. Do whatever you can to set yourself apart. Level up customer service by including a little something extra in your orders (like a thank you note), create something in a different way or colour, include an extra upgrade that no one else is. Create a consistent photography style so people see it and KNOW it's your thing.
2. Flexible hours.
This can be a blessing and a curse. Sometimes you want to go see a movie in the middle of the day and catch up on work stuff after dinner (and you can do that! Yay!)
Other times you’ll be up ‘til 2am working yourself ragged because you haven’t reached a feeling of “doing enough” yet… and because you’re working from home on this thing that you love, you’ll just keep going. Even IF you love what you are making, you can still burn out.
SOLUTION: Take breaks. It’s so simple, it’s almost stupid. And yet so few of us do it. If your customer messages you at 11pm your time… wait until the morning to reply. Get enough sleep. Or else.
3. Ergomics suck.
OK, this depends on what you’re making… but for many of us, our “crafting” position includes being hunched over a desk doing repetitive work like gluing individual rhinestones, getting our eyeballs close to our detailed painting, or painstakingly editing something on the computer.
Let me remind you before your body does – Straining your back / neck / eyes is not fun, and it’ll force you to take time off work. No one wants that.
SOLUTION: Invest in your workstation. Get a better chair (or steal your husbands office chair, like I did), buy an elastic brace that keeps your shoulders back (they legit work, I got one on eBay for $10), and re-arrange things to be in easy grabbing range without twisting your back.
4. Photos are king.
This is more of an informative point than a con… Etsy is a VERY visual platform. Not a single successful Etsy store has bad photos. You MUST invest in good photos. Period.
When I started improving my product photos, I saw a drastic increase in visits to my store. More than that, I got the attention of Etsy HQ. They used my photos to promote the Make For Good campaign in two national print publications, AND I’ve been featured on the front page of Etsy + Etsy Finds several times.
SOLUTION: If you aren’t inclined to photography (like me), then you can learn, or hire a product photographer. In some cases, like selling cards / prints / mugs, you can probably use mock ups.
EXHIBIT A: The photo Etsy AU got printed in the Herald Sun newspaper of MY print! Still freaking out about it. This is a MOCK UP that I bought on Etsy (looks legit, right??)
5. SEO is a pain in the butt.
I don’t know anyone who actually enjoys SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), but it’s key if you want to succeed on Etsy. This means keeping an eagle eye on your stats and regularly updating all your titles and tags (and making sure the phrases in your titles are also in your tags, because the Etsy search likes that).
When you have hundreds of listings on there like I do, this can take FOREVER.
There are paid tools / courses that help you to be more strategic with these (like Marmalead), but I’m a cheapskate and don’t want to pay for something that I know I can do myself. I've spoken to several successful Etsy sellers who DIY their SEO. It’s just a matter of perseverance and discipline.
SOLUTION: Makes heaps of money so you can pay someone else to do this for you, because it is, as formerly mentioned, a pain in the butt.
Also you can make sure you do your research to maximise your tags and titles, which means they’ll need less tweaking in the future.
6. Etsy takes a slice of the action.
Etsy is a business, and they need to make money. They do that primarily through listing fees (0.20c per listing for 3 months) and by taking a 3.5% commission on your sales.
When you’re starting out, this is a really good deal (and frankly a lot cheaper than in-person stores who usually charge you rent AND take a larger commission). Compared to having your own website with a shop (which means paying for domain names and website hosting), it’s pretty cost effective.
The issue comes when you start making more on Etsy (like enough to live off), and that 3.5% becomes a larger amount. Say I make $1k in a week. Etsy takes $35 off the top, and I’m left with $965 – or less, if I also have Promoted Listings to pay for.
SOLUTION: When you consider that hosting my own site costs less than $50 a month, it may be more cost effective to move off of Etsy – or run both for a while. This way you still have a presence on Etsy, but people who go direct to your site (especially via google) will buy from you there, and you get to pocket more of the profits.
7. Sales are seasonal.
This is not exclusive to Etsy. Any product based business will tell you there are busy seasons and less-busy seasons. February is always huge for me, because my cards are very popular for Valentine's Day. However, many sellers complain that January and February are slow months.
Etsy as a whole does tend to get more visits prior to major holidays. Remember it's ultimately a search engine. People go there when they are looking for something in particular, and those times are usually because of a major event (like Christmas, or planning a wedding).
SOLUTION: Don't freak out if you have a quiet month - it does not mean that sales have disappeared forever. It's just a good time to focus on other things, like updating your SEO, listing new products, and tidying your workshop after the chaos of the latest busy season!
Are you making a living on Etsy? Do you think there are any major issues I didn’t address, or do you have alternative solutions? Let me know!