So You Wanna Start an Etsy Shop?

I have several friends who have been interested in starting their own Etsy shop or just an online business in general. I'm the only one of my friends, that I know about at least, who has gone this route so they generally come to me. I also on occasion will get an Etsy convo from someone interested in starting up shop. I'm always happy to give business advice because it's fun and interesting. I don't generally respond to competitor inquiries (from people I don't know) of where I get my wholesale perfume materials because 1. Come on really? Trade secrets yo. And 2. LMGTFY (check out the post on Making Your Own Perfume Oil if you need materials recommendations for diy perfume).

This post is for you if you're a maker who is serious about being successful at Etsy or an online business in general. Which is to say that you are ready to put in a lot of work. I say that because not everyone I know who has tried has really stuck with it. Everything on Etsy, that you see on Pinterest or blogs anyway, is just so pretty and it's easy as putting your stuff up and then shoppers just come by right? WRONG. It takes A LOT of work and a longish amount of time (but that's dependent on time put in, quality of product/photos, word of mouth, and LUCK).

So here's my personal story of how I made it work. This was in 2012 however so keep in mind that social networks change in terms of popularity and usefulness (Instagram, Pinterest, Wanelo, and I'm sure there's more I don't even know about) so make sure you do research on what the technology trends are.

First things first: I'm assuming you have a product you are good at making and you're ready to start selling. You have to get a business license to sell your products. Some sellers don't do this. It's illegal. Don't play that game. Generally you have to register your business with your state and city. Cities have various processes so make sure you research that. Washington state and Seattle are awwwesooommmme because everything is online and it's really easy. When I had to do this in California it was a pain because I had to visit various offices to get things signed and it just seemed pointless and not suited to an internet business. Hopefully that has changed. Anyway, get that license. How tax works with online shops: you charge sales tax only to the residents in your state (for now). You have to make sure that each city is accounted for separately. Example, Seattle is 9.5%, Spokane is 8.7%. Etsy and other commerce sites make it easy to put that information in and the really good ones populate it for you, but at the end of the year you have to make sure that you're submitting the right amounts to your state. So long as you make under 20k through Etsy Checkout or through 20k through Paypal you don't have to file any separate tax paperwork, just your regular tax forms.

(The rest of this post is copy and pasted from two emails I sent to a friend)

1. Look up your competition. Read all of their policies, see how much they charge, check the keywords they use in their listings, look at their pictures, check out their websites/fb pages/twitter etc. This is a good way to figure out what your shop policies are/what you need to do in your shop to be competitive.

2. Branding - Shop name, logo, about story, packaging, photos. You want to create a consistent look. To start your shop you absolutely need the name (decide before you put it in Etsy because you only get to change it once without them being jerks about it) and a nice looking shop banner. I also recommend snagging your domain name. It's really cheap maybe $8 for a year. You don't need to start a personal website right away, just make sure you have it squared away for when you are ready. Think about the presentation of sold items. I have muslin bags that I stamp my logo on and tie with a matching ribbon. I include a business card and when I was starting, a coupon for 10% off future orders. Think about how people you've bought from on Etsy package their stuff and figure out what you'd like to do.
3. Start sourcing all of your materials - yarn, packaging, mailing envelopes, cards etc. This is important because you want to make sure that you're getting a good price (you'll find over time that there are certain vendors you always go back to). Evolving process.
4. Figure out pricing. You need to think about the cost of materials, the time it takes you to make things, shipping costs, packaging costs, and how much you want to pay yourself for your work. Right now, my prices are what I found to be the mid-range for perfume on Etsy but I'm probably going to increase soon (already happened) because of demand. Figure out what you'll use for mailing. I like USPS because its the cheapest for lightweight packages or even if you use the flat rate boxes. You can also buy them straight through Etsy which gives you free delivery confirmation/tracking thru Etsy...this is super important. A person who had never used Etsy before put her wrong address in and instead of telling me that she didnt get her package opened up a case against me. Etsy immediately dismissed it because the tracking and shipping info was already in their system.
5. Marketing plan. Etsy is REALLY saturated by sellers. You need to make sure that not only does your branding look set you apart, but you have to be good at SEO (search engine optimization) cross linking etc. You need to have a Facebook, Twitter, and personal blog at bare minimum. When I started shop, I was only tutoring so I had a lot of time to devote to all this stuff. I had a routine of posting my listings on FB/Twitter everyday. I joined Etsy teams and wrote all over them with links to my shop. I posted on my blog everyday - tutorials are big and get you lots of traffic. Pinterest and Wanelo were kind of a waste of time. I use FB to get messages out to people but I'd say Twitter and my blog are best for driving traffic (this is no longer the case. Facebook has grown substantially and is amazing for building fan networks). Eventually you want to start getting your stuff reviewed on other blogs as well. Now, I dont spend anywhere near as much time doing that stuff because I have enough traffic, but my next step is getting out to other blogs and starting a personal website with ecommerce options so I can move off Etsy (more on that later, Etsy is the best starting point but you outgrow it). (I've done this, this email is old)
So that's what you need to plan/research for. Here's what you should have input into Etsy before you open:
Make all your listings. Make sure you have good photos (this is my biggest problem I'm terrible at photography and can't afford a photographer yet), a very detailed description with measurements etc. Keywords (steal keywords from competition or start typing stuff in the search bar for ideas).
All of your policies. How much time you need, do you accept custom requests, what forms of payment do you accept, who you use for shipping, return/refund policy. People are notoriously bad about reading policies but its a CYA situation.
Find teams to join on Etsy. Usually new person teams, teams for liking Facebook/twitter/blog pages, new listing teams. I joined a bunch and posted in their forums everyday for a few months which got me some momentum. The only thing is that its sellers not buyers bumping you...but every favorite means it goes out to their circle so other people end up seeing it too. That said, click on the people who favorite your competition and add as many of them as you can to your circle. This makes them wonder who you are so they look at your stuff. I got a lot of my initial sales that way.
Sales and frequency of re-listing gets you to the top of searches/pages so the more sales you get the better you do. The more feedback you have, the easier you get sales. Re-listing is super annoying but in the first few months you want to relist at least 1 item per day. They charge you 20 cents per listing which is not bad when you're starting out but when you start to make lots of sales it starts to become a burden. Once you're making sales you naturally re-list when things sell instead of just doing it to game the system.
I think that's good for now. It's a lot of trial and error and finding what works for you.
Part II

Let's see, for advertising I'd say a mix of the following:

1. Try the Etsy ads for a month or so. I didn't see a lot of orders from the ads but it's good to be at the top of a category for a few weeks so people start to see your shop. I wouldn't do it long term, just a good way to start. And only ever spend $5-10 on a campaign. Update on Facebook ads: So after I posted this, a friend of mine sent me a video with some really troubling info about Facebook ads. The gist of it is that Facebook has a click farm problem and paying for ads there are not worth it in terms of engagement. As such I'm no longer going to recommend purchasing ads on there. I have had some success with post boosts but I only use them when I have sales and spend about $5. I target those to people who already like my page however. So if you do decide to purchase ads on FB first, watch the video, and second make sure that you only spend small amounts. Be cautious. Watch the video on Youtube.

2. The biggest thing that helped me was joining teams and writing/linking in the forums. I did that every day for about two months and it got me lots of views/hearts.

3. Join a BNR/BNS group!! This also helped. I did this a few times over the course of a month and it really jumpstarted sales for me. BNR means buy and replace and BNS means buy and stay. Basically, a team will set up a treasury board with items from different stores who "buy in." So you buy something from another shop (they usually have a $3 minimum) and that gets you on the board. If it's a buy and replace you are taken off the board once you've made a sale. If its a buy and stay you get to stay on the board and make more sales. This really helps in the initial stages because it's giving you a higher sales number which helps people trust you more and also since its all Etsy sellers, they'll leave you good/constructive feedback. Once you have a few feedbacks, the sales become more regular. This works well if you have some lower priced items. I found this to be more effective than advertising so used my advertising budget on this as opposed to ads. I think this method is also great because even though you're gaming the system, you're learning how to be a seller in a safe space - meaning people will give you helpful feedback about your packaging/policies/timeliness etc. on the group page, great learning method.

4. Blog, Twitter, and Facebook. Do free tutorials on your blog - that gets me big amounts of traffic because I have ones on how to make perfume, eau de parfum, solid perfume and floral water. That gets lots of people to my shop. Twitter is great for new items and for sales if you mark #etsy. Facebook is so so until you get a good audience which takes time. I think it's good to have to put pics up and such but it's harder to get followers. Twitter has been better for me anyway. (Instagram is starting to be important for me)

My situation was a little different just because we moved to Seattle and I didn't have a job yet so I had a lot of time to dedicate to starting. It took me about 2-3 months to start seeing regular sales. Since it's been steady and I'm pregnant anyway I just work on that and do freelance stuff now.

But if you make time to do all of those things that should help! Some smaller, lower priced items also gets people into your shop to make the first initial sales.

Ok folks! Those are the basics for starting your shop. Coming soon: blog posts about marketing strategy and e-commerce sites once you're ready to move off Etsy. Feel free to ask questions, I enjoy this topic and it is constantly evolving.