Selling on Etsy: The Right Business Decision for You?

by Sally B.

Do you dream of opening a small creative business?  Have you ever wondered if Etsy is for you?

Billed as “the world’s handmade marketplace,” Etsy, Inc. features all manner of handmade arts and crafts, many of them from incredibly skilled artisans.  In addition, vintage items (over 20 years old) and supplies for crafters and artists are sold.

Rising from humble beginnings in 2005, Etsy has become a huge international force.  The site now has over 15,000,000 active members and brings in $500,000,000+ in annual sales.  For many creative people, Etsy is a unique venue for turning passions into profit.  But what does it take to succeed on Etsy?  Is it as simple as “if you build it, they will come?”

In the three years since I began my Etsy business, I have learned many valuable lessons about what works and what doesn’t.  Some are the result of painful trial and error.  I’ve also gleaned insights from the larger Etsy community as I’ve studied everything I can about successful selling on Etsy.

It is possible to build a successful small business on Etsy—one that meets your definition of success.  As the Etsy Strategist on She Owns It, I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned about this in the next six months.  While these are my opinions, and only generalities, I hope they will offer you a valuable starting point.

I believe it helps to have a big-picture framework.  So let’s begin with a short list of key points to consider about selling on Etsy.  These are issues that most new sellers—myself included—confront as they start out.

Number One:  It Takes Time to Make Money on Etsy.

While the initial dollar investment on Etsy is small, the time investment is big.  It’s easy to get into a “yard-sale mentality,” thinking if we simply put our stuff out there, people will drive up and buy it.  Then we’re disappointed when weeks go by and nothing happens. Many new Etsians give up too soon, expecting to make money in the first days or weeks.

The truth?  It often takes a month or more to begin selling, and another year or two to establish a regular income.  Of course, some shops take off faster.  Some never take off at all.  But these figures are true for many people.  This “slowness” doesn’t mean our ideas aren’t good; it just means it takes time.

Takeaway message:  Do I need immediate income, or do I have time to invest in a long-term project?  What does “success” mean to me?

Number Two:  It’s Not Enough to Have Something to Sell.

The most successful shop owners enjoy looking at the business itself – in addition to their products – as a creative venture.

If Etsy is a big online craft fair, it’s a huge one:  there are over 875,000 sellers currently.  I like to picture this craft fair spread out on a lot of football fields.  The good news is that tons of traffic come to the event, like the huge flea market above.  The bad news is one little booth could get lost in the shuffle.

What’s the lesson?  If we build it, they will not necessarily come.  In addition to what we sell, how we sell is vital.  We need to set up our booths where people will find us and make our products stand out.  We need to spend time and effort on our businesses, not simply on what we make.  Many newcomers to Etsy don’t anticipate these needs—I know I didn’t.

Takeaway message:  Am I interested in developing a business, in addition to practicing my craft?

Number Three:  Etsy is Simple, Not Easy.

Etsy is incredibly accessible.  It’s a well-designed site that I enjoy using, and the company works hard to make it user-friendly.  Still, there’s a learning curve to making it work.

It helps to think of opening a shop as we would a new job.  There’s going to be a new skill set to learn; new procedures, people, and routines.

The following is a list of skills that Etsy sellers need to create a stand-out shop.  If a new seller doesn’t already know how to do these things, she will need to learn.  I’ll say more about all of these in future posts.

  • Have a product that people want
  • Take good product photographs
  • Learn how search engines work and how to optimize for them

Takeaway message:  Do I like a challenge?  Am I willing to learn new skills…to be a beginner?

Summary:  I hope these ideas will get you started as you ask whether selling on Etsy is right for you.  In future posts, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty details about what works if you’re ready to take the plunge.

In the meantime, I suggest you visit the Etsy community forums to learn more about almost any question you have.

You can also email me with questions or ideas for future posts.  I’d love to hear from you!

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4 Replies to “Selling on Etsy: The Right Business Decision for You?”

  1. Emily Maybank

    You have provided some great information. You need all the advice you can get when starting a new business. I have been selling monogrammed linens on Etsy since last June and feel very good about my decision to do so.

  2. BRenda

    Hi Sally, I am just getting ready to open my shop on Etsy but I am nervous. I am just finishing up the “Set-up” before I start listing items. Just when i start to feel like I am almost done I started reading about taxes! Eeek

    Thnsk for the helpful pointers.

  3. Sally

    Barbara, I learned the hard way, too. To some extent there’s no substitute (with anything new) to simply jumping in and learning one’s own lessons. But, if we can share each other’s experiences and learn from each other also, so much the better!

    I like what you said about “weathering the first few months” on Etsy, because they can feel like a storm.

  4. Barbara Austin

    Sally, thanks for writing this! Starting out with the right mindset is so helpful, to weather the first few months – something I wish I had known when I opened my shop two years ago. Once I finally started making sales, I realized that I needed to be patient, creating items that people want and getting found by the right customers, both of which take time.

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