Entrepreneurship can be contagious. When you see how other people take a personal passion or skill and turn it into income-generating work, you might begin to wonder how to do the same with your own interests or hobbies. For many women, Etsy is a great place to start out.
According to the company, 87% of their 1.7 million sellers identify as women, and 63% of sellers on the platform are under the age of 45. Close to a third of Etsy-preneurs say that their work on the site is their sole occupation but, overall, 49% of sellers use the income they make to pay for household expenses, including utility bills and rent.
Curious about how you can get started? Here are tips from six successful women on the platform about how to make it work for you.
Photo courtesy of Angela Wator. Illustration by Abbie Winters.
Start Out Strong "When I talk to new Etsy sellers, they're always surprised by how much work it takes to get all their listings up in the first place. It does take a lot of time to build out a full shop, but it's absolutely worth it to put in that time at the beginning." Develop Your Aesthetic "The most valuable thing you can do for your Etsy shop is maintain a strong, consistent brand and styling all throughout. I try to curate mine like an Instagram page. If people scroll through the search function and come across a photo of yours, it's really valuable if they can recognize that it's your brand, without even seeing your name."
Photo courtesy of Collected Edition. Illustration by Abbie Winters.
Be Personable "There's a tremendous amount of competition on any platform, but especially on Etsy. Something I've tried to maintain, even as my volume has grown, are personal connections to my customers. You can go to any e-commerce site and purchase a huge number of goods, but what you can't get other places is a connection to the artist that makes them. So, if someone says, Hey, I'm interested in this piece for my wedding, I try to partake in some of that excitement and ask them questions: What day is your wedding? Where are you having it? It's a much more conversational approach and I think people enjoy knowing there's someone else behind the screen." Set Clear Expectations With Customers And Manufacturers "It's easy to overcommit and tell people that you can get things to them faster or cheaper than you actually can, or to only give them the best-case scenario, but that ends up creating a huge headache for both you and your customers ... Over the past four years, I've learned to change the way I write my descriptions and where I put the lead times. Those are the first things you'll see; even before it says 'this is a necklace,' I'll have, 'two-to-three weeks wait time.' "If you're working with a manufacturer, be strategic about your calendar and be honest about the numbers you have, and then see what they can do for you. Some of these companies will be able to fit you in more easily during off-seasons. If you're selling apparel and are trying to get things made in January and February — right before Fashion Week — you're probably not going to be able to get into these factories. When ordering, don't place an order for a hundred pieces. Just say, 'Hey, I'm starting out and I can do five at a time. Is this something you can work with?' More often than not, you'll be able to find someone who will be a good fit."
Photo courtesy of Morgan Blake-Beatton. Illustration by Abbie Winters.
Increase Your Showmanship "Photos are still a huge part of making a connection through Etsy. Customers aren't able to touch or feel what you're selling, so sight is a very important element. Photograph your pieces in a well-lit space and be as detailed as possible so the customer doesn't have to guess what they're purchasing. For example, you don't want them to think, Maybe this is green — or is it blue? I take photos from around 10 o'clock in the morning until 3 o'clock in the afternoon because the natural light in my house is perfect then. I lay the items flat against a foam core board, put on some music, and try and keep my kids out of the picture." Be Patient With Customers "Customers may not always read the terms and policies. If a disgruntled customer received the wrong thing, or just thinks they have, I wait a minute before doing what I call turning on my infommercial voice. Explain the situation like you would to your mom. You wouldn't yell at her; you'd show a little bit of compassion and try to come to an understanding. Your reputation is based off of how you deal with your customers, and word can spread fast if you are rude."
Photo courtesy of Laurel Teixeira. Illustration credit Abbie Winters.
Don't Be Afraid To Be Your Own Teacher"When you work for yourself, you have creative and business control over everything, and can tailor your business to what you want to do. Then again, you still have to do things like figure out how to file your taxes or get a business license. My first year, my books were a mess! I've done a lot of research online, taught myself Quicken, and have looked through Etsy's help page and blog for information." Experiment With Your Pricing "I've learned to figure out how much to charge based on how much I pay when I'm thrifting. I think: What is the maximum I'm willing to spend for something, and can I make a profit off of that? That can take trial and error until you get to a price point that you know will sell well. The same goes for buying merchandise. I have a set highest-price I'll pay for something; there are lots of great things out there that won't make my business any money."
Photo courtesy of Maria Del Rio. Illustration by Abbie Winters.
Find A Community "When I stopped working for somebody else and didn't have any employees yet, it was lonely. Being part of a community provides a really nice support structure. Aside from local Etsy chapters, which are great, I joined the Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetics Guild because I had taken a couple of classes that were near me and, if you're a soap geek, their [annual] conference is awesome ... I also joined the Indie Business Network, which has podcasts on different areas of business, including a recent one about new legislation on a cosmetics act that's been brought forward as a bill and how it could potentially affect small cosmetics manufacturers. I've also gotten in touch with the San Francisco Small Business Development Center, which has a lot of wonderful resources for people, including free one-on-one counseling." Pay Attention To Platform Changes "On any platform you don't own the rights to, you have to stay on top of whatever changes. Etsy's gone through lots of different iterations, both visually and in terms of how their search algorithm works. For example, back in the day, to get in the top rankings, what mattered was your keywords and how often you re-listed items. Now it has everything to do with your description, the actual titles of your products, and your keywords. Make sure you're signed up for their emails about tech changes, marketing changes, and more."
Photo courtesy of Brandi Harper. Illustration by Abbie Winters.
Show Up "A lot of sellers are really insecure about sharing their work, are shy with social media, or are reluctant to put their face near their products. But a lot of the time, people are buying your product because they [feel like they] know you. You don't have to share your whole life story, but you can share why you love your business, or things you like to do outside of what you make. That's going to be key." Know Your Limits "Recognize your limits and expectations for your business. For me, that was capped at $20,000 a year. If I wanted to make more than that, I'd need to hire people, buy in bulk, start selling in stores, and become a manufacturer, which really weren't things I wanted to do. "I sell to people all over the world, but I make my products, do all of the photography, ship them, and talk to customers personally; and those are the things that bring me joy. I'm still working for myself, but outside of that, I have time to travel and do other work I love that pours money back into this business, so I can live the life I want to live."