Your Step-by-Step Guide to Starting an Etsy Business
Etsy may not be the end-all eCommerce option by every last web-based entrepreneur, but it certainly does have its strong points, because Etsy was made for the artistically-minded small biz starters like us!
Granted, it’s probably not the best online storefront platform for tycoons with oodles of funding and overseas production facilities at their disposal. But for the rest of us, the little guys, the home-based moms and dreaming crafters alike…
It offers a great way to get started. So, if you’re particularly good at crocheting blankets that resemble the look of being dusted by fairies, or you’ve mastered the art of blacksmithing eco-friendly camping knives from all recycled materials …and you’re looking to share such beauties with the world via the way of the entrepreneur…
Then here’s why you should explore the wonderful world of Etsy.
Why Emerging eCommerce Entrepreneurs are Enamored by Etsy
Simply put, Etsy is an online eCommerce storefront, complete with vendor showcases, point-of-sale (POS) credit card processing systems, and easy shipping integration. This, of course, is also offered by other online vendor systems—like Weebly and GoDaddy—however, Etsy has something that they do not: standardization.
You’d think that artisan vendors of all kinds would tend to buck the idea of being standardized, but exactly the opposite is true. The standardization of the look—the orangie-greenish format, the shop’s overall style, and even the way items, categories, and shops are displayed—provide a platform that allows the crafty to focus on their craft …and NOT on web development.
Essentially, the Etsy platform allows for the true artisan to shine through the collective craft culture. And most importantly, now stay-at-home artists don’t have to learn HTML, CSS, and all that devilish sorcery, in order to start an online business.
But let’s not get too hasty, because we’re still talking about starting a business, even if it is an artist-and-earth-friendly Etsy business.
Is Your Etsy Shop Idea Going to Fly?
First off, let’s cancel the anxiety-inducing variable from this equation: is my shop idea of selling odd whatnots and cute-lil’ thingies going to fly?
Quite frankly, even the best market researchers in the business aren’t exactly going to be able to answer this question to any substantial satisfaction. The reason is, simply put, there’s just no scientific/statistical way to measure selling success probabilities on things like fanciful artisan pottery, made of oceanic glass …because that’s just the nature of going into the art business. If you were selling electronics or starting a restaurant, then you might be afforded a rather generous level of certainty. However, arts and crafts are based almost purely upon buyer opinions, tastes, and the skill of the Etsy craft master at the helm of production. Ultimately, your Etsy shop will become a pioneer on discovering what consumers want. Ironically, that data is what a savvy market researcher would use to determine the success of future businesses that are looking to sell something similar to your original product idea.
Hence, your idea has no equal, meaning that you might as well just go for it. Your chances really are 50/50 on this one.
The beauty is that, because of Etsy, buyers now have glorious global 24/7/365.25 access to a worldwide art show—and you’ll have a booth that’s always open for business. Chances are, your customers are already out there and looking to buy, which means that Etsy business failures have less to do with the product itself and far more to do with the back-office side of things, such as:
- Keeping up with inventory,
- Shipping turnaround times,
- Customer service,
- …and most importantly, MARKETING and SALES!
So basically, if you’re an artist that’s also good at running a business, then Etsy is probably going to do quite well for you. However, if you don’t feel all that business-savvy, then the best way to learn is to dive in headfirst.
So let’s get started, getting started.
Step #1 – Preliminary Checklist
The basics of starting an Etsy shop are, well, so basic that Etsy developed a checklist of their own. We’re just going to get that out of the way by providing an abridged version:
- Create an Etsy account w/ username and password.
- Come up with Etsy shop names, listing at a few ideas (just in case one or two are already taken).
- Start with your descriptions…
- Have one item ready to sell.
- Take photos of item.
- Describe your item (keeping in mind tags and titles).
- Price your item wisely.
- Keep shipping in mind when you price the item.
- Open your shop for business with billing (such as credit card and/or checking account and routing numbers) information at the ready.
If you’d like to have Etsy’s official downloadable and printable checklist, then click on this link for the PDF: Etsy Preliminary Checklist.
Step #1 is important …because it just so happens to be the first step. However, it’s most certainly NOT the most important. Why? Well, all Etsy sellers must do step #1, but not all Etsy sellers decide to move much further past that. A successful entrepreneur goes above and beyond the call of duty, knowing an art business-hack when they see it.
And the crazy part is that, usually, the best hacks tend to be the simplest tricks in the book.
Step #2 – Your Online Storefront
The Etsy online storefront is your home base, and even though it may be standardized from seller to seller, there are still a great many things to do in order to make it attractive, unique, and discoverable by your loving and loyal future customers (a.k.a. arts and crafts connoisseurs).
This also just so happens to be one of three major attributes of your Etsy business that will set you apart from the massive majority of the others that tend to collect internet dust. Here’s a quick list of aspects that your Etsy storefront needs to have in order to do just that:
- Shop Name – Your shop name is extremely important, because not only will that influence your ‘brand’ (or the memory imprint your shop will leave in the minds of its visitors), but it will also influence how you are found in both Etsy’s search engine, as well as the Google-sphere. For this reason, it’s best to pick something simple, pithy, memorable, and also try to include a ‘keyword’. Speaking of which…
- Descriptions & Keywords – Keywords are critical to getting found on Etsy. Unlike most art festivals, in which customers wander from booth to booth, Etsy customers tend to be searching for something specific that they already know that they want.For example, if you’re selling knit sweaters, then it’s best to include ‘knit sweaters’ in your descriptions and titles for your products. This way, Etsy knows to list your shop’s items when customers are looking for them. Additionally, if you’re not exactly sure what phrases customers are using to search for your items, then it’s time to do a little bit of homework. You can use the Etsy search bar itself in order to do that. Here’s a tip that was mentioned on the Etsy seller handbook:
“Did you know that Etsy’s search bar can give you a leg up on tracking what customers are searching? Start typing what you sell in the search bar. The words that appear are popular customer search terms. This will give you the exact keywords and phrases shoppers are searching…”
- Branding – Your branding is important. As I mentioned above, branding will effectively leave an impression of the nature/style/feeling of your store in the minds of your customers. Of course, this is only something that you can come up with on your own, since the best brands are the simplest and the most unique. However, the most critical aspect of any brand has to do with its consistency throughout your entire business, and how that consistency relates to the product(s) you’re selling.We’re talking logos, slogans, business names, etc.
Step #3 – Say Cheese
The second major attribute that will set your Etsy business apart from the rest is in how well you take product pictures. In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that your pictures could even outrank the importance of descriptions/branding, given the overall nature of online shopping.
Pictures are the only way your customers can interact with your products, aside from a few specs and descriptive words that you provide. If anything, however, your description will describe the photos you’re taking, not the other way around. It’s also not that difficult, and pro equipment isn’t really necessary, as Etsy’s Laurel Kate Sittig said it best,
“Fabulous product photos are key to the success of your Etsy shop. You don’t need fancy pants equipment to take great shots of your items. Chances are good that your phone has a built-in camera that takes high-quality pictures. “
On Etsy, the rule of thumb is basically this: take mediocre pictures, make mediocre sales …take excellent pictures, make excellent sales. It’s as simple as that.
Step #4 – Setup Your Back Office
Your back office is the motor under the hood of the Benz. It may not look or feel beautiful, but this is what’s going to get you from point-A to point-B. With that said, here are the 3 main aspects of your back office setup that you’ll need to square away before you open for business.
- Shipping – Shipping is absolutely CRITICAL for running a sustainable Etsy business, as this is going to be your only physical connection between you and your customers (aside from the product itself, of course). Not only should your shipping processes be faster than what you project, but is should NEVER take longer than your shipping description says it will. This is one reason why streamlining your shipping is a great way to get ahead and keep your ratings high and tight.Aside from product quality, shipping is perhaps the number one reason why a store will get a bad review. And, as I mentioned before, shipping is your only real physical connection between you and your customers; so, it’s always smart to place other promo materials (business cards, brochures, coupons, etc.) in the box with the item that you’re shipping…because nothing sustains a business like repeat business!
- The Books – Make sure you’re tracking every last receipt and every single sale you make, because if you make more than $600 in a single fiscal year, the IRS will require that you claim this as income.
- Other Costs – Don’t forget to track your other costs, because not only will this give you a bird’s-eye-view of the money you’re spending to make more money, but you might also discover a few additional tax write-offs in the process. Business is a math game, which means that the more variables you plug into the equation, the more accurate your answer will be in the end.Because it’s never a good situation when you think you’re making more money than you actually are.
Step #5 – Where Etsy Ends and eCommerce Begins
As I said before, there are three things that separate successful Etsy businesses from those that are mayor of nowhere town. The first is how well your online storefront was setup; the second, is how well you take product shots.
Now the third actually has to do with the fact that Etsy is not, nor has ever claimed to be, responsible for actually selling and marketing your products.
Far too many fledgling Etsy shop owners expect to setup a shop and immediately start seeing sales, just because they decided to use Etsy. The difference between Etsy and eBay is the fact that eBay is an auction site, where deals are rapid and profit margins are comparatively low. It’s an entirely different business model, which makes it possible to sell, say, an antique with virtually zero marketing needed. But an Etsy business is not an auction: it’s an online storefront that works much like a brick-and-mortar storefront, and both require a bit of advertising and marketing.
Essentially, the shop owners that succeed the most on Etsy are the ones that also run blogs and use social media in tandem with their Etsy online storefront. You can read all about more Etsy success tips and stories on a favorite site of mine, Handmadeology.
Take a Non-Conventional Approach
While Etsy does have its own rules and regs, one great way to ensure your Etsy shop’s success is that you do something different. Whether it’s a different kind of product, and fun/catchy type of branding, or you even go all-out with professional graphic design and product photography, if you want to win on Etsy, you need to look like a winner first.
And once the groundwork is laid, then all you need to do is just keep knitting, crocheting, painting …or …uh jeweling? …your way to a successful home Etsy business.