Looking back, I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I remember convincing my mom to bake cookies with us to sell at our makeshift lemonade stand during our neighborhood’s garage sale weekend. Or convincing my dad to bring home presents his coworkers bought their families for the holidays so I could wrap their presents for them. Even babysitting has elements of entrepreneurship. But I never saw myself owning my own business. In fact, it has taken me years to even call myself a “business owner”. Plus there are so many things to know about Etsy and there can be such a high learning curve.
I am now in the top 10% of all Etsy shops worldwide in my first year. In fact, I’ve already blown my total revenue goal out of the water for this year. And we’re only halfway through. With that in mind, I had a lot of highs and a lot of lows in my first year on Etsy. Etsy is a lot of fun, but it can be confusing and disappointing too. So hopefully you can learn from some of my lessons and help your Etsy shop succeed and grow even faster than mine.
Just because you list it, doesn’t mean people will buy it.
I list a lot of stuff “just to see”. After all, it only costs $0.20 to try something out. And if it sells, it pays for itself! You always hear things like “there’s a buyer for every product!” and “you can find/sell anything on Etsy!” Although both of those statements may be true, it doesn’t mean you’ll sell anything quickly. And who wants to keep renewing those $0.20 listings for things that never sell? Not me! I learned this the hard way.
To be sure, I jumped into Etsy with both feet. If 10 listings is good, 100 must be better right? I needed to create as much as I could, as fast as I possibly could. So when I realized that instead of drawing 100 different shoes, I could draw 1 shoe in 100 different designs a whole lot faster, I was all in! I drew flower shoes and Christmas shoes and football shoes (in every team color combo imaginable!) and basically every design I could possibly think of. And then I listed them all. Surely if I loved shoes and my family always bought me gifts with shoes on them, there had to be other people out there like me, right? Well… kind of. Most of my shoes never sold. And none of them ever sold as art prints. I sold a few mugs and a few cards.
So what did I do next? I went back to the drawing board. Literally. In my shop’s case, quality is better than quantity. Just because I listed hundreds of listings doesn’t mean I got hundreds of shoe lovers flooding my shop ordering every single version as a collector’s set. I got a few happy customers who found the exact perfect gift for the shoe lover in their life. And that was incredibly satisfying. But in the end, one of the most important things you need to know about Etsy is that you still need to listen to your buyers. If they’re not buying what you’re creating, create something else and try again. And it’s probably better to draw 10 different really good shoes over 100 average shoes or one shoe 100 different ways. No matter how cool they looked
There is no such thing as passive income.
Whether you do the work before or after a product sells, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to do work to get paid. In my opinion, digital products can be just as worrisome as physical products when it comes to creation and delivery. You still have to design the item, properly format the image(s), include complete instructions to help your customer access and use the digital product, and field customer service issues. That doesn’t sound super passive to me! Rather, you’re doing most of the work up front and less work as each item sells.
The same can be said about Print On Demand (POD) items. You still have to make sure the orders are designed properly, get fulfilled, and arrive without issue. In fact, it can be even more frustrating to handle customer service issues for digital or POD products, because you have no input in the delivery process. Currently, I have all three types (physical, digital, and POD) in my shop. I sell mostly physical with some POD items sprinkled in. I rarely sell a digital item, so I don’t put as much emphasis on those in my creation and productivity process. For me, it’s not worth the effort with my current product lines.
Plus, you’ll still have to watch your stats, update items for holidays/seasonality, publish new listings, do product research, etc. Overall, no matter what you sell, there will always be some sort of effort involved somewhere.
Etsy is a business. Which means you have to do all of the business stuff too.
I love to create. After all, that’s what brought me to Etsy in the first place. I have created for years and just given my art away to friends and family. But what if I could create AND make money off of it? Now that would be awesome. But you know what comes with that making money part? Business stuff. Honestly, this is my biggest weakness when it comes to Etsy. I can create faster than I can list. Because when it comes down to it, if I have an hour of free time, I’d rather spend it drawing instead of keyword research, SEO, creating tags, etc. But in order to get found on Etsy, you have to play the game.
You also need to think about your Etsy shop as a business in the financial sense. Track your expenses and income, file your taxes, consider an LLC, etc. My biggest asset on this front is my accountant. And if you don’t have one, I highly recommend you get one if possible. There were entire WORLDS I didn’t know about when I started my Etsy shop. Did you know Etsy doesn’t collect and remit sales taxes for every single state? And that you’re responsible for the ones they don’t cover? Etsy isn’t super straightforward and easy to understand about some of these things. In their minds, you’re an independent business on their platform. So protect yourself and act like it.
When I worked in Bridal, we were always working 6-9 months ahead. It always made me laugh in January when people would complain about writing the new year because I had been working in that new year for at least 6 months by that point. However, I for some reason never connected the dots that Etsy would be the same way. Word on the street says that Etsy’s algorithm can take 30 days to index your new listings. Which means that your listings need to be up 30 days before whatever occasion your customer would need your product, right? Wrong! Your listings need to be up 30 days before your customers start SEARCHING for your product!
Let’s use Christmas as an example. Traditionally, most people start thinking about Christmas around Thanksgiving. So if I’m a creator, I draw this super cool Christmas card mid November. I get it listed the week before Thanksgiving. Etsy probably won’t even have indexed it by Christmas. So I might get a few sales, but it’s not going to be a massive money maker for the holiday season. Instead, you need to think about when your customer will be looking for the item. People are probably buying their Christmas cards/presents in October/November in order to have them in time to mail for Christmas. Which means they’ll start searching in September/October, which means you need your listings up 30 days before that. Yep. August.
Now you may feel super silly listing your holiday products in August, but in my opinion, I’d rather list early and look silly and get tons and tons of sales than to list too late because I’m worried about what people will think and get less sales. People can think I’m crazy all they want while I’m swimming in orders and profits! Bring on the floaties and frozen drinks!
Done is better than perfect.
Like I mentioned earlier, sometimes it’s better to just put a bunch of stuff up and see what happens. A lot of people say “you don’t want your Etsy shop to look like a garage sale!” And that is true. However, if you’re painting watercolors, I don’t see an issue with putting up your illustrations as art prints, digital downloads, mugs, pillows, and greeting cards and seeing what direction your customers take you. For example, I started only listing art prints! Did they ever sell? No. What did I learn? People kept asking me to do greeting cards instead. So I did. And they sold.
I didn’t start with a desire to sell greeting cards. But if I would have held off opening my shop until I had a massive collection of the most perfect art prints, I would never have my greeting cards in a Hallmark store! Sometimes when it comes to running a creative small business, you have to let the creativity lead you a bit. And that can be scary. But if you don’t put yourself out there, you will never get better. You know how much money you can make off of products you never list? $0. So in this case, done is much better than perfect. Because done can bring in some sales.
There was a study done somewhere (I know. Really reliable research over here.) on photography students. Half the class were told they were going to be graded on quantity. The more photos they submitted, the higher their grade would be. The other half were told they were being graded on quality. They had to submit only one absolutely perfect photo. And do you know who’s photos turned out better? The group graded on quantity. Because they took hundreds and hundreds of photos and learned as they grew.
Your very first Etsy listing will not be your #1 best seller right out of the gate. In fact, your first listing may never sell. Now that I think about it, I don’t even know what my first listing was. But even after 1 year of creating, I can already see a massive improvement in my art. I am growing as a creator, a business owner, and a person. And it’s shining through in my brand voice and artwork. At this point, I’ve already surprised myself so many times and I have no idea what’s around the next corner. But I’m going to keep creating and growing and trying and learning. And I highly encourage you to do the same. It will only cost you $0.20.