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What I’ve Learned from 5 Years of Selling on Etsy

Disclaimer: I’m sorry that my writing style is terrible. They’re really not kidding when they say that law school makes you a worse writer—we are actually taught to start our sentences with “And” and “But,” for example. So please ignore my obvious violations of some basic grammar rules, and any other typos that I’m sure are hidden in this brain-dump of a post.

Second Disclaimer: some of the product links in this post go directly to my Etsy shop, my Amazon affiliates page, or are referral links. All of the links included are meant to be helpful, but I also appreciate you supporting me by using my product and referral links or purchasing directly from my shop!

When I started my Etsy shop on my 18th birthday, I didn’t have any help. That’s not because I didn’t need it or couldn’t have benefited from some advice, but really just because I didn’t think to ask. I’ve always been a very do-it-myself person, eager to figure things out on my own. I don’t say that because I think it makes me a good person or superior in some way. I don’t think it does. But, this learning process has its own value, and it has helped me to get to where I am today. I hope that everyone who reads this can appreciate this post took a lot of thought and effort to put together, and as the title indicates, this is what I have learned over the course of 5 years. There are many things I’m willing to share about my business, and there are others that I am not. I hope that those who read this can understand that. So with that said, here’s what information I think might be helpful, mainly to Etsy sellers:

First, if you’re unsure whether to start an Etsy shop, I think it is worth a try. There’s almost no risk involved so there’s nothing to lose. If you already have an Etsy shop, but aren’t getting the traffic or sales that you’d like, consider some of the tips below.

Photography:

  • Cameras: I use my phone for almost all my pictures. It’s just faster and easier than hauling out my DSLR camera (although I do love it when I get the chance to use it!). But what this means is that you DON’T have to spend a ton of money to get nice looking pictures. The only purchase I’d truly recommend is a white foam core poster board to use as a surface for taking pictures.

  • Natural light is extremely important. Take pictures in the middle of the day in a room that gets a lot of natural light. I wouldn’t recommend going outside because it can be too bright (at least for iPhone cameras) to produce good images. If you want to brighten up your photo even more, hold up a white poster board or other white surface in front of the product to reflect light more light back onto it.

  • When editing pictures, I tend to turn up the brightness, saturation, and exposure because I like my photos to be bright and colorful, but it’s important to find a photo aesthetic that is right for you. Mine is bright and vibrant, but I’ve seen really well-done Instagram profiles and Etsy shops that go for darker and warmer photos as well. I think when it comes to photo editing, cohesion is key.

  • Listing photography is key, make sure you can see the whole piece in the listing thumbnail (I talk about this at length in a previous post.)

  • I have a hunch that Etsy gives search results priority to listings with more photographs. Etsy allows up to 10 pictures, so use as many of them as you can with different angles or staging of the product.

Pricing:

  • There’s a couple different approaches you can take but I think the traditional method is materials cost + your hourly rate * how many hours it took

  • Setting an hourly rate is difficult and for me, it never matched up with how marketable the item turned out to be

  • I try to consider market rates, like what a similar item of similar quality is selling for online

Advertising:

  • Most of my advertising is done through social media, especially Instagram. Because it’s free, I think it is one of the most valuable tools you can have in advertising your business.

  • I also recommend getting business cards. I get mine from Vista Print, but I know Moo is great, and really it doesn’t make a big difference as far as I’m concerned, I just get the cheapest option available because I have a pretty basic design for mine. I include my social media channels on my business card and throw one in with every order, that way customers who you already know like your products can find you and follow you on social media.

  • Making a new listing on Etsy is truly the best way to get higher in search results, even better than paying for advertising (at least in my experience). Make new listings as often as possible, and if you have 5 pieces to list, list one per day for 5 days because the Etsy search results algorithm likes that for some reason.

  • On that topic, don’t spend money on Facebook, Instagram, or Etsy advertising, at least when you’re starting out. It’s a waste for non-custom art pieces. If you do wedding stuff or family portraits or something, then advertising might make sense, I’m skeptical though.

Social Media:

  • Make a Facebook page and connect it to your Instagram account so you can be a business/creative account which gives you access to stats on engagement with posts and stories.

  • Use hashtags on every Instagram post (even though they’re kinda gross). Aim for ones that have 25-75k posts because they’re popular but also your posts are likely going to get seen rather than just drowned out but a million others.

  • Tag the brands you use in your Instagram posts if there’s a chance they’ll feature your work on their page.

  • When is comes to Instagram, try to make genuine connections. The best way to get yourself out there is to like photos, follow accounts you like, and comment with authentic reactions to photos you love.

  • Take advantage of story highlights on Instagram. I think the images on the cover of your story highlights can add to the overall feel of your profiles and the highlights can be a good way to show what products you offer. I have digital downloads of story highlight covers available on my Etsy page, linked here. However, you don’t necessarily need to buy highlight covers to make your profile look polished. Solid colors or your own designs can look great there as well!

  • Giveaways can be helpful on Instagram, but if you’re starting out small, I recommend banding together with other accounts. With more people involved, the giveaway usually turns out bigger and better! I would not recommend giving away high priced items to start out with. Feel out how giveaways work for you first, before you put a ton of time and money into them.

  • Pin all your products to your personal Pinterest account, and go ahead and make a business Pinterest account as well. The more pins of your products are out there, the better chance one will get really popular and drive traffic to your Etsy page.

  • TikTok is a great platform for businesses as well. One viral video can result in thousands of dollars in sales. TikTok is a fundamentally different platform than Instagram—what performs well on Instagram are usually aesthetically pleasing posts, whereas on TikTok, videos that exemplify unique talent or how-to/DIY videos seem to be best.

Shipping:

  • Make shipping free if possible, or set orders over $35 to have free shipping, because Etsy explicitly says they boost free shipping listings in search results.

  • Buy shipping labels through Etsy (there’s a big button on the orders page to do so) because it’s a lot cheaper than the post office (I would never use UPS or FedEx, they charge double the post office’s prices).

  • Shipping materials can get expensive, but USPS offers priority mail boxes for free at the actual post office, as well as online. I’ll link the ones I use here. They ship these boxes to you for free in quantities of 10 or 25. I love these boxes because they are the perfect size for the larger pieces I use, which weigh too much for first class mail (which is only available for packages 15 ounces and under), so I have to ship them priority anyway.

  • For all pieces that I can send via first class mail, I use mailers I buy from amazon. I linked all my mailers (along with the other supplies I use) in another post.

  • Shipping internationally can be intimidating but Etsy makes it really easy. You just print out your shipping label like you would with a domestic order and Etsy prompts you to fill out the appropriate customs form. It’s not a difficult process at all, so I think the advantages of offering your products to customers worldwide outweigh the costs. Just make sure your shipping settings charge for international shipping, because it can get expensive. And offering free international shipping could might end up costing more than what the customer paid for the product itself.

Customer Service:

  • Always be helpful and kind to customers, obviously.

  • If there’s an issue with shipping (e.g. an order gets lost in the mail and doesn’t get delivered) offer a refund or replacement. I know it sucks to have to replace something, especially handmade items, but it’s better for you in the long-run to make sure your customers are happy. Plus, if you shipped with priority mail, you can file a claim with the post office whenever an item is lost or broken in the mail, and the post office will send you a check refunding the value of the product (up to $50). The form for filing a claim like that is linked here.

  • On that same note, make sure your shop policies are clear and you know what they are. Etsy has preset shop policies about cancellations, returns, etc. Just made sure you’re familiar with them. It doesn’t hurt to include your policies in your products descriptions as well.

  • I really recommend the Sell on Etsy app. It’s great for several reasons, but especially because you can get messages sent from Etsy customers right to your phone, which cuts down on response time.

  • I’ve found that the faster you respond to messages, the more likely you are to get a response from the customer. If it’s been a while since you’ve heard from them, don’t be afraid to follow up with something like “Hi! Just checking in to see if you’re still interested in [whatever the product or request is] ?”

I hope these tips are helpful, and I plan to add anymore I think of in the future to this post. If there’s something I didn’t cover here that you’re wondering, feel free to (politely please) reach out and ask!