Lauren Kilgore, accountant turned wreath maker turned Etsy expert. By sharing her knowledge of the platform as an Etsy business coach, she has helped hundreds of creative entrepreneurs find success. LaurenKilgore.com
In stressful times, being creative can be a wonderful psychological outlet, and having a new income stream can be a godsend. In fact, in the second quarter of 2020, Etsy, the online marketplace that allows individual craftspeople to sell handmade, unique or vintage items in their own virtual “shops,” saw a 100% spike in the number of new sellers.
As a successful Etsy shop owner with years of experience coaching other Etsy sellers on how to make the most of their shops, here is my most important advice for new people taking the plunge into selling on the platform.
Make Your Products Findable
Etsy buyers can find your offerings only by searching for them, so you’ve got to make your offerings as findable as possible. That means taking the time to write descriptive titles full of keywords that will be found by the site’s search engine (yep, that buzzword “search engine optimization,” or SEO). Two good SEO resources for Etsy sellers are Marmalead and eRank, both of which can tell you the most popular words and phrases for your items as well as how much competition you face with certain keywords, so you can consider other choices.
Imagine using your words to create a kind of funnel that moves from the overly broad (such as “socks”) to narrowly specific (such as “Himalayan,” “lamb’s wool” or “magenta”). The idea is to reach a wide audience with the general terms, but then to include enough specifics to communicate what’s unique or special about what you’re selling.
A frequent mistake I see is people writing titles that are too short, robbing themselves of the potential to get more eyes on their goods by including unique descriptors. Etsy allows up to 140 characters in a title—use as many characters as you can to get in the keywords that will attract people to your products. To use an example from my own Etsy store, consider the difference in impact between a broad title such as “Christmas Wreath” and a more detailed one such as, “Christmas Wreath for Front Door, Front Porch Holiday Décor, Vintage Santa Claus.”
Once a customer clicks through, you want to greet him/her with clear product descriptions and photos (more on that below). Front-load the most important keywords about your product—within the first 40 characters—to make it as easy as possible for shoppers to determine that they are interested. Include size, materials and care instructions, but be brief and get to the point. Most customers are too rushed to wade through a lot of text, so use bulleted lists or frequent paragraph breaks to make the information easy to digest.
Another simple tip to get your stuff noticed: Fill in the “Shop Policies” and “About” forms for your shop. Etsy will automatically move sellers up in the rankings if they take those two simple steps, but I’m repeatedly surprised at how many people fail to do so. The “Policies” section tells how you’ll handle returns, exchanges, delivery, disputes and so on. It’s not a place to get fancy or personal. Etsy has templates you can follow, and you should use those at a minimum. I recommend that sellers spend some time on their “About” section to really introduce themselves to their customers. Talk about your background. Did you learn at the feet of your grandfather? Do you get your ideas through travel? Are you inspired by a famous artist? Include photos of yourself in your workspace.
Be a Specialist, Not a Generalist
The most successful Etsy shops have clear branding and specialization, and the ones I see not doing well tend to throw everything but the kitchen sink at buyers. If you happen to be eclectically creative, great! But open multiple shops. A shop featuring hats for babies will probably do better as a baby-hats shop than as a baby-hats-and-rustic-coffee-tables-and-stained-glass-birdfeeders shop, since expectant mothers are not a natural market for rustic coffee tables or glass birdfeeders.
Set the Right Price
Plenty of shoppers put a filter on their Etsy searches showing the highest price first because they presume price to be a reliable proxy for quality. In other words, people don’t usually come to Etsy looking for fire-sale pricing. Besides, if you don’t charge enough, you simply won’t survive as a business. Arriving at the right price can be tricky, but I generally advise pricing at two to three times cost. If your two-to-three-times pricing is significantly higher than the competition, examine your costs—buy smarter (preferably wholesale). While it may be useful to ask yourself, How would my current price translate into an hourly wage?, only you can decide whether the answer to that question is satisfactory.
Post Great Photos
Even the world’s highest-quality handcrafted product won’t sell if all the customer sees is a blurry, shadowy snapshot. Your images don’t have to look like the ads in Vogue—clarity trumps fanciness—but they do have to communicate what the product is about. Make sure there’s enough lighting, and go easy on filters and effects. Your product is meant to be the center of attention, not lost in a tableau. At a certain point in developing my wreath business, I stopped obsessing about photographing my wreaths on different doors. Instead, I picked a door I liked as a background and began using it for every single wreath. Immediately my shop looked more consistent and professional. It also became much easier for customers to distinguish between the wreaths because they weren’t distracted by the variety of doors. The subsequent increase in sales proved the wisdom of the simpler choice.
Leverage Social Media
Setting up an Etsy shop is just the first step. Next, establish a presence on social media. About half of my sales are driven by Pinterest and Facebook, and lots of Etsy shop owners use Instagram to good advantage. I usually advise that everybody should be on Pinterest and then choose between Facebook and Instagram based on which platform their buyers tend to hang out on. I hate to generalize about who’s on what social-media platforms just because each product market is so unique, but as a broad rule of thumb, Instagram tends to attract a younger audience than Facebook.
Whichever you choose, create a special account for your business that’s separate from your personal account and post consistently. If you’re not a natural at that, use a post scheduler to batch the process weeks in advance. In your posts, stay on brand, taking the same care with look and language that you do on your Etsy shop. Show your products, but don’t be pushy. Videos tend to get lots of clicks and shares, so try to think of ways to incorporate them often—show yourself working, talk about upcoming sales and events, or show creative ways for people to wrap or present your products as gifts. The people who are best at the social-media game are those who consistently offer something interesting without being repetitive and without forgetting to feature their products.
Get to Know Your Customers
One of the things that draws buyers to Etsy also happens to be a big potential advantage to you—boutique-style, personalized shopping. Treat your customers right, and they’ll be singing your praises to their friends and family, sending more business your way. Dropping a handwritten thank-you card into a shipment can be a quick and easy way to establish rapport. Buyers particularly appreciate it when you acknowledge repeat purchasing. Customers also can be great sources of feedback and market intelligence, but you won’t be able to get those things without fostering relationships whenever you can.
Don’t Sell Yourself Short
The most common self-imposed limitation I hear from people is that the markets for their crafts are already saturated. But I can almost guarantee you that they aren’t. There are literally tens of millions of shoppers browsing Etsy, so there’s plenty of opportunity. Think about it…in your life, do you buy only one pair of earrings? Do you buy home furnishings only from one store? Of course not. There could be thousands of other people selling what you’re selling, and there’s room for all of you.