Have you ever knitted a scarf for your child, crafted jewelry, or sewn clothes for them?
Can you make a seat out of scrap wood, shoot interesting shots, or make a picture frame out of it?
Or do you have an eye for vintage fashion and know where to find it at a fair price?
If you’re into crafts, you’ve probably heard of Etsy.com, the online creative marketplace that’s been dubbed the eBay of handmade goods. If you’re very skilled at your profession, you might be able to supplement your income by creating your own Etsy shop.
Tori James, a mother of three who sells purses and clutches on Etsy, says, “I would absolutely recommend Etsy to people trying to bring in a little additional money.”
Tori opened her Etsy shop while her second child was a baby, and she thinks the freedom it provides is crucial at this stage of her life. “This employment is absolutely ideal for me.” It allows me to augment my income while also satisfying my artistic desires.”
Bringing Art and Business Together
While starting an Etsy shop is a proven way for crafters to make additional money — in fact, places like New York are now offering free classes for artisans wishing to launch Etsy microbusinesses — it’s still preferable if you enjoy what you’re doing because you might not make a lot of money at first.
Or ever, for that matter.
“As an artist, I believe it is always first and foremost for the joy of the work, followed by financial remuneration.”Meaning, most of the artists I know aren’t in it for the money,” says Katrina Rodabaugh, whose craft-inspired first book, “The Paper Playhouse: Awesome Art Projects for Kids Using Paper, Boxes, and Books,” will be released in January.
According to a 2013 poll of 94,000 Etsy sellers (.pdf file), 81 percent launched their shops as a creative outlet, with 68 percent citing supplemental income as a motivator.
“They started because they enjoy it, and then they worked out how to make money doing it,” Katrina adds.
But make no mistake: selling handcrafted products on Etsy is a business, albeit a large one.
Etsy estimates that its merchants made $850 million in sales in 2013 thanks to the site’s hundreds of thousands of stores.
Successful sellers learn to blend bookkeeping, purchasing supplies, customer service, and marketing with the creative aspect of the business.
“It’s definitely a different endeavor than I had anticipated,” Tori James explains.
“I had no idea I’d end up as an amateur product photographer, graphic designer, advertising, bookkeeper, and a variety of other occupations.”
Tess, the owner of Gilded Notes in Boston, agrees that Etsy is a crash course in business.
“Selling on Etsy taught me a lot about inventory management, customer service, finding products, and how to promote myself and my business,” she says.
What Do You Want to Sell?
Etsy has grown a lot in recent years, and its size can be intimidating to newcomers.
To be honest, if you’re selling the same product as everyone else, you can struggle to stand out.
Don’t be fooled by the artistic sensibility; it’s still a competitive market.
So, what are you going to sell?
Consider what you’re excellent at or what you enjoy making as a starting point.
What about that adorable embroidered hat you made for a friend, or the stylish-yet-practical coin purse you got her?
When the perfect product is available, it will make itself known. Tess from Gilded Notes has had a lot of success selling jewelry that combines sheet music, but it wasn’t her original goal.
Tess explains, “The sheet-music jewelry was actually created out of my decoupage work, where I was left with all these small shreds of sheet music that I didn’t want to waste.”
“I started putting them into jewelry, and decoupage fell by the wayside.”
Reselling vintage items is another option. You could consider buying underpriced retro products and reselling them on Etsy or elsewhere if you have a good eye for trends and enjoy spending weekends at flea markets, yard sales, and thrift shops. All the better if you know how to restore a vintage item to its former brilliance.
The most successful sellers provide something unique: they either put a new twist on a traditional product, create a completely new appearance or concept, or just sell in a more customer-friendly manner than others — for example, with lower prices, a larger assortment, or more stunning pictures.
Even if you’re not the next Martha Stewart, having a large social network can help you develop a profitable shop. List your greatest things and, when you’re ready, send friends, family, and coworkers the URL to your shop. They’ll be delighted to find that they know a true artist and may be interested in purchasing your work as gifts. Although that patronage may not be long-term, it can provide your shop a boost and some great comments.
Opening a Store
Here’s what you’ll need to get started once you’ve figured out what you can sell:
Choose a name for your store.
Choose a name that describes your style or product, is easy to remember and spell, and isn’t already in use.
Make a banner.
Because your banner serves as the virtual front door to your store, it should be welcoming and provide a visual indication to what’s within.
Start with something simple, but if you have a graphic designer friend, this is a good moment to ask for a favor.
Select a profile photo.
Shoppers on Etsy are looking for something unique from a single person, rather than a generic plastic gadget from Amazon or Wal-Mart.
Demonstrate who that individual is.
It’s now time to fill in the blanks.
Create a profile page for yourself.
Tell customers who you are, what you do, why you do it, where you do it, and how you do it.
Buyers on Etsy are interested in the process, so any information you can provide about your narrative or passion can help them feel more comfortable about making a purchase – especially if you’re just getting started and haven’t received any favorable feedback yet.
“People love hearing the tales behind artworks, and your story is no exception,” Tess explains.
“Excitement is contagious, so letting people see your enthusiasm pays off big time.”
Fill in your shop’s policies, such as returns and exchanges, as well as delivery costs.
The Etsy blog has a wealth of information on how to set shop policies and create an engaging profile page.
Listing your items
Signing up as a seller is free, but listing an item for four months or until it sells for 20 cents, whichever comes first, costs 20 cents.Etsy also takes a 3.5 percent cut of the total sale price.
When you’re ready to sell something, the process is quite simple, and Etsy provides a step-by-step listing guide. You’ll select the product’s category and kind, as well as add photographs, a title, and a description.
Pay close attention to the title and tags of an item – this is your chance to help your item appear in search results, which can be a significant sales generator.
“Use your titles and tags correctly,” Tori James advises.
“It’s how Etsy’s search helps shoppers find your stuff.”
Consider what keywords a buyer would use to find your product or something similar when writing the title for your item. This comprises not just the item’s physical characteristics — for example, silver, 1-inch, oval, pendant, necklace, jewelry — but also the piece’s style or sentiment — for example, romantic, organic, reclaimed, literary.
“Learn everything you can about search engine optimization, or SEO,” advises Jessi VanGundy of Knoxville, Tennessee, who sells her handcrafted pottery.
Remember to tag items with keywords and alternative search terms that might be utilized in other parts of the country or the world. What one person may refer to as a teapot, another may refer to as a kettle.
“[SEO] can be really confusing for a newcomer,” Tori James explains, “but it’s worth the time reading up on it in the Etsy forums.”
Attractive photography is one of the most important components in increasing sales.
Etsy has been offering free photography workshops online and at its Brooklyn, New York offices for years.
“Photography is incredibly important,” Jessi VanGundy emphasizes.
“When you sell something online, your customers can’t pick it up, turn it over, and feel it.
As a result, all of those elements must be depicted in your photographs.”
However, proper lighting and concentration are only the beginning. Many successful crafters develop their own visual style, which can be seen in anything from their listing photographs to their logo, banners, and even their items.
“We’re truly becoming a visual society,” Katrina Rodabaugh says, “so I do believe it’s crucial to think about how you’re communicating your products through photography, styling, branding, and what makes your product or job special or recognized.”
‘Working Around the Work’ is a phrase that means “working around the work.”
It’s vital to remember that selling a creative piece entails more effort than merely making it, as time-consuming as that process may be.
You’ll need to take photos of it, create a description, and put it on the market.
You’ll need to package and send it after it sells, as well as keep track of your earnings for tax considerations.
“There’s a lot of effort around the work,” Katrina says.
“Yes, you must take professional-looking photos, think about your tags in your listing, think about your pricing, maintain your shop appearing current and fresh, think about your social media outlets, and then think about how to promote the job.” Customer service, packaging, shipping, and restocking are all factors to consider.”
All of information is taken into account when determining your price.
Consider the cost of all the components you’ll need to manufacture an item when deciding on a pricing.
Include other costs as well, such as shipping supplies, equipment, and even the electricity used to power your garage workshop’s space heater.
Then factor in your labor costs — the hourly wage you should be making.
If it’s a therapeutic pastime that you’d be doing anyway, that’s fine; but if you’re serious about starting a side business, you can’t be paying yourself $4.50 an hour to design and sew hats or construct handcrafted benches.
“Make sure you’re charging enough to cover your expenses,” Jessi VanGundy advises.
“Many new vendors charge way too little and don’t get paid for their work.”
Finally, factor in a percentage of retail markup — your desired profit plus a margin for seasonal sales or promotions.
“Having certain goods at a modest price point helps when you’re just starting out,” Jessi adds.
“At first, I sold a lot of low-cost things, such as single mugs and yarn bowls.
However, as my reputation grew, I began to sell higher-priced products and bespoke orders for sets of items.”
Places to Sell In addition to Etsy
There are, of course, other places to sell crafts. To sell their wares and reach a new audience, some retailers put up booths at craft events, farmers markets, concerts, and holiday festivals.
“Shows are really tough because you never know if they’ll work unless you attempt them,” Tess of Gilded Notes says. “I’ve done exhibitions when I didn’t sell anything, but I don’t consider them a failure.”
You never know who might be looking over your shoulder. I’ve had emails months later from shops and other event organizers saying they picked up my card at a show and want to promote my work.”
“I think exhibitions can be a very strong approach to not only make sales, but also attract a broader client base and develop key contacts,” Tess adds.
Katrina Rodabaugh, the proprietor of the Made by Katrina shop, sells and shows her work in a variety of places other than Etsy. She adds, “I also sell work through galleries, boutiques, craft fairs, and sometimes directly to individuals.”
“I believe that craft fairs are the most time-consuming but also the most rewarding in terms of cash, as well as networking with other makers and getting your work in front of a bigger audience.”
Concentrate just as hard on branding yourself as you do on displaying your goods at a fair or event.
“I make sure to have a stack of postcards and business cards handy whenever I show at a large craft fair,” Katrina explains.
“Many people will take your card and contact you after the event through your shop or website – it’s a fantastic opportunity to share your work.”
Tori James now sells exclusively on Etsy, but she hopes to relaunch her own website in 2015.
“If you want to sell handmade, you usually need more than one income stream,” she explains.
“I’ve discovered that relying solely on Etsy is risky because they frequently make changes, and the changes aren’t always in my shop’s favor.”
How much money can you make?
If there is such a thing as an average Etsy seller, it earns around $3,400 per year.
However, one out of every five Etsy stores is a full-time operation, while 58 percent of sellers work full-time and run their Etsy shop on the side.
As a result, wages can range from virtually nothing to a decent full-time salary.
“I normally make around a sale a day, or a little less,” says Tori James, whose purses and clutches range from $30 to $80.However, she adds that during wedding season, she frequently receives bridal purchases, resulting in a flurry of sales.
“I work part-time most of the year, but during wedding season, I work full-time or more hours to keep up with orders,” she explains.
“You’ll also need a supportive husband or family,” Tori says, “since you’ll be putting in a lot of hours and a lot of money before you see results.”
“It took around eight months for me to start making money, and it took another 18 months for my sales to become consistent.”
A long-running Etsy discussion thread examines the various income levels attained by merchants.
“My little business produces just enough to pay for my classes, student loan payments, and put gas in my car,” says Brittany Zerkle of BeeZeeArt, an art student whose best-selling items include sewing patterns and small, handcrafted stuffed animals.
“Not enough to quit my day job,” was the most prevalent remark on that thread, which was repeated several times.
Jessi VanGundy agrees, however she expects to be able to support herself as a full-time potter in the near future.
“I’ve been able to cover all of my pottery expenses, including the purchase of a new potter’s wheel and rent at a local ceramics studio,” she says.
“At this point, I’m delighted that my pretty expensive hobby has paid for itself, though I’m hoping to generate a bit more money next year.”