We've been doing this Etsy thing for a while now with, well... a little bit of success, luckily. And we get asked quite often what the secret to our success is. In our opinion there are a lot of smaller points which factor into overall success in the uber-competitive world that is Etsy selling... and luckily we're going to share them with you!
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that a lot of the product on Etsy is the same ol' stuff over and over. And while I'm sure those sellers are lovely people, you're never going to stand out in the crowd if you're selling the same sorts of items as Sally Smith three shops over. It just ain't going to work! Find something different to offer people - otherwise you're probably wasting your time.
Learn To Take Decent Photographs.
Put down your iPhone - it takes crap photos no matter what Apple says. Bad photography has killed many an Etsy shop. People aren't going to buy it if they can't tell what it is! And by all means please, please do your shoppers a favour and skip all the cheesy props and backgrounds. Clean, well-lit, and in focus is all you need! Find photos you like and analyze what it is you like about them. The setting? The quality of the light? You *can* learn how to take good photos - it just takes practice and a somewhat decent camera. And if you don't have any confidence in your photography skills, find a friend who does. Pay them with drinks if you have to (but not until *after* the photo session).
Find Your Aesthetic/Style And Stick To It.
Now is not the time to develop multiple personalities. Sell one sort of thing and sell it well. Embroidery, great. Knitting, fantastic. Quilting, good on you. Handmade stationary, so lovely. All four in one shop?? Might be a bit much. I recently stumbled upon a shop which was selling so many different styles of crafts that it was more like a church jumble sale than a store. Find one thing you love to create and focus on that. If you really need to sell your quilts and your hand knit baby hats, open two shops! It's free, remember? Some of the most successful Etsy sellers have multiple shops, and often the aesthetic for each is quite different. You want people to recognize your product as your product, not get confused between you and Sally Smith three shops over.
Customer Service Is Everything.
We've all bought from those shops which don't even acknowledge your presence and are left wondering (often for weeks) if the seller even realized we'd purchased something from them, never mind if the item we purchased actually ever shipped! My real job is in fashion retail so I've learned a trick or two about helping customers. The best advice - treat each and every person who expresses even the slightest bit of interest in your shop like they were an old friend. Be helpful. Be polite. Be friendly. The way to build a relationship with customers is to be communicative! Let them know you got their order. Let them know when the order ships. Let them know you're thankful for their patronage. Let them know you want to see them again. Do all of those things and you'll see the same customers back again and again and after a while you'll be able to stop treating those strangers like they're friends because they will be. Then you get to treat friends like they're friends!
Admit To Yourself It Will Take More Time & Effort Than You Expected.
Say good-bye to your personal life. If you want your shop to be successful you have to treat it like the job it is and if you already have a real, full-time job (like I do) that often means early mornings and late nights filling orders. Be prepared to have this thing take over your life in every way. If you don't have the time or desire to dedicate yourself fully to this enterprise, you probably shouldn't be doing it! It may mean being up at 5:30 a.m. to fill the overnight orders before you go to work in the morning (I do it every day). It may mean being up stitching/designing/shipping every night when you get home until you're nodding off to sleep over your embroidery (which yes, I've done too). If you want to do well there are no days off. That's what owning your own successful business is. Admit it. Accept it. Deal with it.
Relist Often & Tag Intelligently.
The only way people are going to find your listings is to keep them at the forefront of the search engine... and since Etsy lists items chronologically (the newest listings being first) no one is ever going to find you if you're 12 pages in. That being said you don't have to relist every item in your shop every ten minutes. One or two every day at the very least. That extra forty cents might gain you a sale. And don't forget to relist an item once it's sold (unless it's one of a kind). That bumps you back up to the top of the list too! When I first opened the shop I used to relist one or two things every morning, then again around dinner time. I don't have to do that as much now because I'm selling things often enough that I'm relisting several times a day anyway, but I never would have gotten to that point if I didn't relist often in the beginning!
And don't forget to tag your listings. Etsy gives you 13 tags for each item - don't tag every single item in your shop the exact same way either! Use the obvious ones of course - for example, we tag everything in our shop with "cross stitch"... but then we'll throw in different tags too - putting "wedding" or "sci-fi" in with appropriate listings opens up a whole new customer base for you - you won't just get cross-stitchers but people getting married or science-fiction fans. Tags are a great way to broaden the sorts of buyers who come through your shop. Don't mis-tag your items though. It ticks people off if they're looking for "Green Lantern" and you've tagged a fuzzy pink baby hat that has nothing to do with Green Lantern or even comic books in general. Plus, Etsy will pull mis-tagged items if people report you. You've been warned ;)
Build Your Brand
As someone who works in retail, I hear the phrase 'branding' a lot. I sort of hate it because it seems like such a self-serving sort of thing, but it works. Walmart isn't just a department store, it's a brand. The Toronto Maple Leafs aren't just a hockey team, they're a brand. Beyonce isn't just a singer, she's a brand. Your shop needs to be like that too. This is a business you're trying to run - you need to put yourself out there as much as you can. That doesn't mean you need to spend thousands of dollars to build your brand though - the really good social media is free. Facebook. Flickr. Twitter. Tumblr. Pinterest. Let people know where to find you. Make connections. It doesn't have to cost anything except your time. You don't need to rush out and buy advertising space on blogs and sites unless you want to. All that being said though, your blog and your Facebook page, your Flickr account and your Twitter feed need to be something more than a blatant advertisement all the time. I can't tell you the number of people I've stopped following on Twitter because each tweet is just a link to another their shop and nothing more. You have to talk about yourself at least a little. But keep it from being too personal. Your business Facebook page definitely isn't the place to talk about how hungover you are after a night of partying.
Stick To Your Promises and Policies.
If your listing says you ship within 24 hours you better ship within 24 hours. If it promises customers they can return an item if they're displeased with it, you better take that return if necessary. In business, as in life, don't make promises you can't keep. Outline your policies clearly (there's a spot for that in your shop) and by all means stick to them, but make them fair to both the customer and yourself. A good business will do everything it can to satisfy the customer, but you also have an obligation to protect yourself, your product, and your profit. I see this every day in my retail job and it's one of my biggest pet peeves!! I don't know who invented the phrase "the customer is always right"! I'd love to throttle them because the truth is the customer ISN'T always right. But the customer isn't going to know that if you don't outline the rules and policies before they make their purchase. I've had a few misunderstandings with my Etsy customers but they've all turned out well (thankfully) because my shop policies are clear and (I feel) fair to both myself and them.
You Owe It To Yourself To Price Fairly.
Handmade is Handmade. Handmade is not cheap. It takes time, effort, and love to create something special like that. Please do yourself a favour and price your product accordingly. You're never going to make something of your Etsy shop if you undersell the time and effort and cost of creating an item. The nice thing about Etsy is that the people who shop there understand that. They like that. If they wanted a $2 pillowcase, they'd go to Walmart. That being said, don't jack up the prices just because you can. You have to do a lot of research before you open your shop. What are similar items being sold for? How much did the materials cost you? How much time did it take to create the item? If there are $4 worth of materials in your item, and it took you 20 minutes to create it - please don't sell it for $75. You won't be fooling anyone. However, if it took you $15 dollars worth of materials and 12 hours to create, please don't sell it for $5. You're a craftsperson and your time and skill is worth more than that! Pay yourself fairly.
Love What You Sell
If your shop takes off and you hate the process of creating the items you sell, well... life is going to suck a little!! I love cross-stitch. I eat, sleep, and breathe cross-stitch. I dream about it. I think endlessly about it. I'll talk to anyone who'll listen about it. I think that's the real reason why my shop is finding a little success. You can't fool customers! They know when you love what you do. It shows in every stitch and every email. Even on the days when I'm exhausted and overwhelmed I still love my little shop and what I do. Once you find that thing for yourself, once you dedicate yourself to it, success will find you.
Good luck! And send me the link to your shop when it opens - I'd love to be your customer!