Saturday, October 5, 2013

My first year as an ETSY shop owner: what I've learned

I always like to write 'my story' as opposed to 'tips' lists, because I can never paint myself as an expert with 'tips.' Every story is different, and here's mine [so far.]

Quick & Dirty
  • the most important aspect is that it fuels my creative spirit, not that it will grow
  • watching business ebb and flow is par for the course in any business
  • details are not my strong point
  • attention to detail is imperative
  • networking is key
  • low overhead is soo small-business-truth
  • offering custom is tricky
  • feedback is a two-way street
  • sticking to what I'm good at offers the best balance
  • what you generate wholly yourself is all you have
The Long & Short of it

It is my ETSY-versary and I can't believe it has been a year! This was something very unexpected to add to my little world and ultimately I have found it fuels my creativity even though I'm barely breaking even. It's a format by which I can work out ideas.

That said, I've found it's important for me to step back from it, even to put it on vacay mode for one day or one week occasionally, so that I can create something not related to the shop. Or because it's summertime and I don't typically sew in the summertime. I have to be true to my lifestyle, otherwise it is not going to be a business that I want to continue with and grow.

Plenty of outside business has come my way just because it has informed my friends and friends-of-friends that I sew. That has proved both even more time-consuming, but also more rewarding [i.e., t-shirt quilts, custom baby quilts, some costumes.]

As in most things online, networking is key. There are "waves" of orders and favorites that come in because of one blog post, one treasury, or somebody finding me in some way and then spreading the love.

For that reason, you can't be shy. You must share your items yourself- synergy with facebook and the blog has been helpful. Becoming a part of an ETSY team or two has been somewhat useful as well. Although I share many other things on my fb page and blog, and that might be weird and ultimately inconsistent, you'd be surprised what a simple photo of an Oscar the Grouch custom-panty-order-fulfillment can spark.

For that reason, I try not to charge friends. Marketing is worth more than one small sale.

All the American Express commercials are right: small businesses need small costs. Every little penny I save on fabric, supplies, packaging materials, and, indeed, time, saves ten-fold. It probably took me my first 20 sales to get my whole system more stream-lined (not having to go to the post office was a huge bonus.)

Everyone wants custom. Be wary of 'clicking' that button, that you are willing to offer custom. And it took me a few months to say 'no' to some custom requests. Mama likes to solve your problems, but I just can't put an image of Blake Shelton on a pair of girls' panties. I just can't.

That said, I think I've made a lot of little girls (and mommies) happy. I get great feedback, both through private messages and via the 'feedback' area on ETSY. Somehow I have 100 admirers! I don't do anything to solicit this feedback, other than try to be quick and nice, but I know a lot of sellers who rely on it. It is, ultimately, gratifying. As to whether or not it affects my sales, I don't know. I don't typically look at the feedback of a seller on ETSY to help to make the choice to purchase an item I'm after; but I do certainly look at ratings on Amazon. So I guess the question you need to ask yourself when soliciting feedback, is, "Do I use this? Do I value this?", because then it's likely your customers will be the same way. For me the answer is, yea, but I don't rely on it. So I don't spend a lot of time on it.

I'm not into having a million items on the shelf. I am very happy being focused on the few offerings I do have, and making sure people understand there are variations within each item. For instance, you can order 5 pairs of panties, or 3 pairs of panties. That's two items. Some people need it spelled out for them - is 5 pair of wonder woman panties the same as 5 pair of star wars panties? It is. But I'll make two different listings for you in that case. I understand that I need to do the work for the consumer - the visualization[including great photos], the pricing, the designing - that's the work of putting together the shop. The ideas/items are somewhat secondary.

I can't neglect the details. People really do read the fine print, the 'about' sections, the origin stories. I have to be thorough, even though it's just this little side business. I have to be detail-oriented in my creations, as well, for the same reasons. Every seam should be perfect, as if I'm making something for my best friend.

Plus, you never know when it is going to grow. 

Ultimately this is no 'get rich quick' scheme. You are not going to 'make it big' on an item you create yourself and sell on ETSY, unless it is something wholly your own that grows in popularity. I still don't feel there is something that I could sew and sell that would be entirely unique and wholly generated from my own creative being; I see a lot of creative artists on ETSY that are capable of that and I wish them well. For now, I will just let it be one of my creative outlets and hope that these selling and ETSY skills are in place should such an inspiration strike.

So now that you've heard my story, what do you think? If you were about to open an ETSY shop anyway, you and I would each get 40 free listings (at $.20 a listing, that's a whopping $8.00 value) if you use this link/code. Happy ETSY-ing.

And if you've just decided to check out the shopping on ETSY, go have fun. Happy ETSY-ing in that way, too. For my ETSY-versary, as it occurs just around Halloween, I'm opening up a Villains line, and am happy to offer you first peek and discount! 15% off with the coupon code VILLAINS. Click on the pic for the link for the 3-pair or 6-pair order.

HAPPY ETSY-ing and

P.S. Which photo do you think is best??


  1. What an awesome and timely post. I'm thinking of opening my Etsy shop this week! It will literally have one item in it and I don't expect to become a full-time producer of hand-sewn goods but I just have this one thing I want to try out...let's be in touch about this 40 free listings (at the moment I don't even know what that means!! I feel a steep learning curve ahead!).

    1. Yay! Have loads of fun with it. I'm sure you are already more networked than you think, and that will certainly prove fruitful when selling your items. And this is a great time to start - gearing up for the holiday season, where I sold more than half of my current sales to date - get ready!! :)


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