Five years ago, I started making pottery. Three years ago, I started selling that pottery on etsy. Last January, I started a new etsy site and began making enough sales that my etsy business was like a little part time job. In this blog post, I’m going to tell you how you can do the same thing.
First, a definition for the uninitiated: etsy.com is an online marketplace that sells handmade and vintage goods. This post is going to focus on the handmade side of etsy, since that’s my area of expertise.
The first thing you need to know is that the etsy market is really saturated. There are hundreds of thousands of active sellers on etsy at any given time, and the majority of them are selling garbage. It is absolutely essential that you differentiate yourself from the masses by selling a unique product. My etsy business really took off when I started making crystalline pottery, because it’s unique and difficult to find. I am currently the only person on etsy selling crystalline canister sets, and they usually sell like hotcakes. (I’m currently in a bit of a slump, probably because I’m not adding new items while traveling.)
The most important thing you can do to create good listings is take good photos. I seriously cannot emphasize this enough. This isn’t hard or time consuming once you get the hang of it; it just requires a little ingenuity. Take a piece of white posterboard, curve it into an “L” shape, and tape the top side to a wall and the bottom side to the floor, to create a backdrop for your photos. Make sure you set it up next to a window with good natural light. Place your item on the posterboard and take up to five photographs from different angles, repositioning the piece as needed. Then edit the photos using some free photo editing software like picasa. You have space to include up to five photos of each item on etsy. I recommend including at least four- people really like to see an item from all angles.
When creating a listing, you will have the opportunity to create thirteen different “tags” that describe your item. Use all of them- they are indexed by search engines, and they are your most powerful tool for getting found. For example, if I’m listing a canister set, I’ll usually include the following tags: canister set, kitchen, functional, decorative, pottery, crystalline, aqua, green, blue, ceramic, porcelain, wedding, and gift.
In addition to helping direct shoppers to your etsy site, tags are valuable because they help get you into treasuries. Treasuries are collections of items that have been curated by other etsy users. Often, they are themed: sapphire treasuries, beach treasuries, container treasuries, teapot treasuries, etc. I like to use lots of color tags, because it seems that many users create treasuries based on color. Click here for the most recent treasury featuring my work.
Shoppers browse treasuries while searching for items, and treasuries are also the way you get featured on the front page of etsy. Every hour, a new treasury is selected to be featured on etsy’s front page. Getting featured on the front page of etsy is INSANE publicity: think more views in an hour than you’ll typically receive in a week or a month. I’ve been featured on the front page three times and the traffic my page received was incredible. It didn’t lead to any instant sales, but it led to lots of favoriting of my page- something that doubtlessly led to later sales.
In addition to using color tags, check out the monthly Merchandising Report published by etsy. In it, they’ll include a list of items or themes that they’ll be promoting that month. (Sometimes the merchandising report doesn’t get released until mid-month, which renders it virtually useless except for tweaking your tags to appeal to seasonal themes.) Also keep in mind any upcoming holidays for which people will be shopping. (Christmas is huge, obviously, but don’t overlook Halloween, Easter, Fourth of July, etc.) Also keep an eye out for fads and trends on the front page: right now, Chevron bead necklaces are HUGE. It seems that some people make their money on etsy by paying attention to what is trending and creating similar items. Here’s a link to this year’s holiday Merchandising Report.
When potential shoppers visit your etsy site, they’ll typically click through a couple of pages before leaving. Because of this, you want to have a couple of pages worth of listings for them to look at. I try to have at least 30-40 active listings at all times. (I don’t have that many listings right now, but as soon as I get home I’ll ramp up my shop again for the Christmas holidays.)
Listings cost 20 cents and last for four months (down from six). You want to be able to search for your item and have it appear in the first page of search results. Renew as often as needed for this to occur, but keep in mind that you’ll be charged for each renewal. Some media categories, like jewelry, will require more frequent renewal of your items than others.
Let’s assume you’ve sold your first item. Congratulations! Now you need to consider how you’ll ship it to the buyer. I ship via UPS for domestic orders and USPS for international orders. UPS comes with automatic insurance of $100, and I always purchase additional insurance if the value of the item exceeds $100. I sell very breakable ceramics so I package like a fiend and double box large items, and I’ve had 2 breakages in four years. (The first time I was being an idiot, and the second time I got reimbursed.) UPS has very specific packaging instructions, (two inches of cushioned space on each side of the item, no packaging with paper in case the box gets wet, probably some other stuff) and they won’t honor an insurance claim unless those regulations are followed, so know what those regulations are and package accordingly.
If you start selling large quantities of items, consider purchasing bulk shipping supplies at an industrial office supply store. I go to Piedmont Paper in Asheville three times a year, drop $60 on more bubble wrap than will fit in my car, and save a ton of money. The cheapest boxes I can find are still at Walmart.
Make sure you know how much it will cost to ship your items. There’s nothing worse than getting your first sale and realizing that you’re not even covering your overhead because you’ve vastly underestimated your shipping costs.
Finally, go above and beyond when sending your items to buyers. This is more likely to encourage positive etsy feedback and repeat customers. I include a free mini-bowl and a handwritten thank you note with every purchase.
That’s all I’ve got! Let me know if you have any questions or you feel like I’ve omitted something significant. Happy Selling!