A lot of Etsy shops start the same way: I started making *insert product here* for my family and friends. Everyone loved it and told me that I should sell on Etsy, so here I am!
That’s okay. We did, too!
You make a few items, snap some pictures with your phone, and start dreaming of a day when you can quit your job and just make awesome shit for the rest of your life.
You excitedly post your listings and wait….and wait…
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You are not alone. I also started this way.
No one told me that selling successfully on Etsy is a lot of hard work. You should treat it with the same thought and care that you would treat opening an actual brick and mortar store.
Taking some poorly lit photos on your phone of a product you haven’t yet perfected with your daily household items strewn across the background will not only guarantee no sales, it lowers the image and credibility of other small businesses on Etsy.
It just all around looks bad. I would know – I was totally guilty of this in the beginning! Proof below…
So before you throw yourself to the wolves, here are a few things that you should consider before you decide to sell on Etsy.
Trademark Infringement will get your shit shut down.
Do you create products using the image or name of Disney characters, Marvel or DC superheros, Harry Potter or other fandoms? DO NOT sell these in your Etsy shop.
Did you see a cute phrase somewhere on Pinterest and decide to make something just like it? Most of the time: those phrases are trademarked and you WILL hear from that maker.
Within my first few months, I had listings deactivated for trademark infringement from Warner Brothers for using the Harry Potter Deathly Hallows symbol on the cover of a book.
Just last month, I was flagged for using the word Polaroid to describe an instant photo album. I literally just call any instant photo a polaroid and thought absolutely nothing of it until I received four consecutive violations.
But, Steph! Everyone sells Disney stuff on Etsy. I know. And their time will come because Disney is insane about copyright infringement.
Too many infringement violations and your shop will be permanently closed with no warning and you will never be allowed to open another one again. Please be mindful.
Before your create your item with a cute phrase, check here to see if it’s already trademarked: USPTO
There are a million other sellers on Etsy making the same thing.
I’m not trying to discourage you.
You 100% CAN make money in a saturated niche, but you have to find a way to stand out.
Those poorly lit photos of first draft products will never get chosen over a seller who has worked hard to perfect their craft and taught themselves how to expertly showcase it.
Both of these photos are ours.
Above, our very first product photo. It was taken in a hallway in our dark apartment with a lamp and wooden stool.
Below, our latest photos. Taken in natural lighting with props and using our branding (read below).
Both were taken with the same camera by the same person- me!
Taking your own product photos can be really simple and here are a few tips that will help:
- Take your photos in natural, indirect light if you can. Ours were taken on our dining room table in front of a large window that never gets direct sunlight.
2. Use props that reflect your branding choices (more on branding further down in the post) or that work with your product.
Make T-shirts for fitness enthusiasts? Incorporate some weights, those colorful resistance bands, or some sneakers and a water bottle.
Just make sure it’s not overcrowded and people can tell with just a glance exactly what they’re buying.
A lot of people say taking photos with a plain white background is the way to go, but that isn’t the only way to go.
It’s kind of minimal and boring and if your brand is fun and spunky, that is not going to work for you.
When I was taking our photos, I wanted to use warm tones to depict the comfort that I feel when I cozy up to write in my journal. For our sketchbooks, I laid out pencils and paints. For photo albums, I used a camera and photos.
3. Check out Amy Eaton’s free Picture Profit 5-Day Challenge. This is a helpful course that will teach you how to take and edit better product photos.
It’s so worth it to invest in a class like this especially if you don’t really have experience with product photography.
4. If you can’t find a good surface in your home, try building yourself a DIY lightbox. Here’s a YouTube tutorial.
If you don’t feel like building one, there are a few really great products available on Amazon. Here are a few with the highest ratings:
If you’re taking the time to develop a top notch product, then you need to educate yourself on how to market it before your decide to sell on Etsy.
How will you market your awesome product to stand out from the crowd?
What makes your product different than everyone else’s?
Ian and I made wood covered books.
While that already sets them apart from other journals or guest books, we went a step further by letting people know that we don’t use any power tools. Our books are made completely with hand tools and take a lot of time and care to create.
If you make clothing, do you use limited print fabrics? If you crochet, do you use 100% natural fibers? If you’re an artist, what tools do you use and what is your inspiration?
This is all part of your sales pitch!
You can’t leave it up to Etsy to market your product.
Etsy has a great built-in audience already searching for handmade items and that’s awesome, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to be found.
Etsy’s SEO algorithm is a little complicated.
Your title and tags are very important. Make sure you do your research on the keywords you’re going to be using.
Use the search bar on Etsy to type in your generic keyword and see what automatically pops up. Those are some phrases that people are searching for.
But even after you master the Etsy SEO algorithm, it will still be up to you to drive a lot of your traffic to your Etsy shop.
If you’re not familiar with social media, you soon will be! Check out this post about using Instagram to market your creative business!
While about 50% of the traffic in our shop comes from Etsy, the second half mostly comes from Pinterest and Instagram.
We’ve built an awesome following on these platforms and it gives people the opportunity to get to know you and see what you’re about.
Isn’t that one of the biggest reasons we buy handmade? We know who made our product, why, and what they made it out of.
Customer Service is now 100% on you.
Consumers lately are spoiled by Amazon Prime and free shipping everywhere they turn.
I think they forget (or don’t know) that each Etsy shop is run by an individual human being and sometimes it’s even just a one person show.
There are stay-at-home moms who sell on Etsy in their free moments or sellers like Ian and I who started our shop as a means to support full time travel where we wouldn’t have internet 24/7.
I personally started my shop with 12 years of customer service experience in the retail/banking industry were I was yelled at, cursed at, and insulted a few times.
On Etsy, there’s no “Sorry, I don’t make the policies” excuse because… you do.
You not only create your policies, but it’s 100% up to you to follow and defend them.
Some sellers get scammed and bullied into giving free items in exchange for good reviews (this is against Etsy policy, so if this happens to you- report that shit!).
Again, this is not to discourage you but to let you know that it’s not a walk in the park- you’re legitimately running a business.
Thankfully, I have never had a customer like this -crosses fingers-. Every single one of my customers has been a dream.
I keep our policies very clearly stated and fiercely upheld. There is never any mystery about what people are going to get.
Be up front and clear with your buyers and make sure all details about returns, cancellations, and exchanges are listed in your shop policies.
Don’t forget about your branding.
I think branding is really important when you sell on Etsy.
Think about it- when someone buys a product on Etsy and they show it off to their friends, where do you want them to say they bought it?
It could be “Oh, I got it on Etsy!”
“Isn’t it gorgeous?! I got it from Bowtie and the Bandit and they were so awesome to work with!”
Our logo is everywhere.
The photos on our Etsy shop are infused with our branding – the same colors, the same feel.
We live in the backwoods of Texas in the middle of a Pine forest. Our branding is all warm, natural colors.
When you travel over to our social media pages, it’s the same colors and feeling. You always know that it’s Ian and I that you’re connecting with.
When our book gets delivered to you, it’s wrapped in simple kraft paper and tied with neutral ribbon or cotton string with our business card (logo front and center) staring up at you.
As you write in your Bowtie and the Bandit journal, the inside cover of every single book is heat branded with our logo.
We want everyone to know and remember: Your book did not come from Etsy.
Your book was created with passion and care in an unplugged wood shop in Southeast Texas by a super friendly and awesome married couple, Ian and Stephanie Withers.
Your book was made by Bowtie and the Bandit.
So take the time to think about what you want your customers to feel when they’re viewing your shop.
Do you want them to see someone who makes something in their spare time and isn’t really serious about their business?
Or do you want them to see a beautiful product that they just have to own made by someone who takes care in and is passionate about what they do?
Now onto opening your Etsy shop!
I hope this post was at least a little enlightening. These are all mistakes that I made throwing myself into Etsy and I had to learn it all the hard way.
If you’re reading this post and you’re starting to feel discouraged and afraid, don’t be.
This is an opportunity for you to go about Etsy the right way and to be successful.
Your business should always be in a state of evolution. As you live, you learn and you put the things you learn into practice.
Look at where Ian and I started and how far we’ve come. And we’re still learning every day.
If you’re reading this post and you’re like “Heck yeah! I’ve got this!”, that’s freaking awesome. Check out my next post Are You Ready To Take Your Creative Business To The Next Level? Get Started Selling Online.
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