I have been a successful seller on the etsy.com website for many years now, with a shop called “Faithlady.” For me it’s a part-time business because I still work and co-own a brick and mortar store during the week.
I love selling my handmade stained glass suncatchers and favors online, and I have a lot of fun with them. But when I first started, I made some colossal mistakes, which I share with you here in hopes that you can avoid them when you open an online craft store.
1. I joined too Many Sites
When I first considered selling online, I really didn’t know anything about the various websites selling handmade crafts. Some of them were free or very inexpensive, some were quite pricey. I decided the best way to test a given site was to sign up and start offering my work.
Of course, in doing this I chose the least expensive sites so my financial investment would be small. It didn’t occur to me that they might be inexpensive because they had very few customers… Yet that proved to be the case with many of the “free to list” sites.
Several of the sites seemed to have a good customer base, and I was pleased with the views my stained glass pieces were getting. However, it quickly became evident that keeping up with 8 or 9 sites was becoming more difficult as time passed.
To keep your items fresh, interesting and near the top of search pages, it’s important to list and re-list often. Each listing needs photos which are as clear and inviting as possible. Just taking dozens of pictures, then editing them to optimize their appearance, took hours of my time.
Then there was the time it took to write interesting, complete and inviting descriptions of each piece. This required measuring, weighing and thinking about my words carefully. More time gone. Since my “free time” was precious, I wanted to use it for creating stained glass suncatchers, not taking pictures and writing descriptions.
After about a year I decided to trim my online presence considerably. For me, etsy provided the most consistent sales and the best opportunities for customer contacts. I also maintained 3 other sites, listing custom pieces which I can make up as needed.
Recently, I have decided to open a Meylah account to specialize in stained glass favors. This allows me to offer a variety of favors for weddings, showers and parties, without paying etsy’s 20 cents listing fee over and over. I’ll let you know how it works out…
2. I Chose My Shop Name Poorly
When I started on etsy, I wanted to use a name that expressed my strong faith as well as made an association with stained glass. I don’t think I really realized that my whole shop would share that name, and would not tell customers much about my products.
In my first months on etsy, I noticed there weren’t many people selling stained glass suncatchers, so it didn’t occur to me to use that term in my name. People easily found me in searches. As time went on, though, many stained glass artists came on board, and the name became somewhat of a drawback in finding new customers. While I learned the lesson, and used “Stained Glass Gal” on several other sites, I was pretty much stuck with my etsy name.
In the past year, etsy has done a lot of revamping and changing, and they finally allowed us to change our shop name if we wanted. Unfortunately, I have a lot of followers under the Faithlady tag, so I decided not to make a change at this late date.
Let this be a help to you, though. Choose a name which helps shoppers identify with what you sell, and you’ll do a lot better with online searches. For example, my Meyleh name is “Stained Glass To Go.”
3. I Didn’t Get Involved in the Community
While not every online selling venue offers a community of folks to share ideas with and seek help from, the good ones do. On etsy, there is a large, active and very friendly group of sellers (we like the term “etsians”) who interact regularly in the community forums.
While the admin sometimes steps in to answer questions and offer help, it’s the folks in the trenches, so to speak, who can usually help the most. I love interacting with them, and often find they will check my shop and boost my work.
There are also a variety of teams available if you are inclined to join one. These are groups of etsians who share a common interest (trade-friendly, small animal lovers, etc.), product or location. This is a fun way to make friends and learn some selling secrets!
Finally, if you are really into friendships, you may want to host a local meet and greet like I did last year. Of the 24 local artists on etsy, about 12 of them came to my studio for a social time, and a chance to share our work. I even bought a painting I just adored! It was a great experience, and we spent a lot of time sharing ideas about what did and didn’t work in our shops.
4. I Didn’t Focus on Custom Work
For me this was one of my biggest mistakes. I tried to make too many different items and make each unique, when it is much easier to make a “sample” item, and offer to customize it for my customers.
People like things made just for them, and handmade items fit the bill perfectly. I can match colors, styles, and even fun new ideas using my inventory and some of my husband’s drawing skills. Buyers often came back for more special items!
5. I Didn’t Promote my Work Enough
When I first started showing my work online, I sort of had the “if you build it they will come” philosophy. After all, etsy is a big site, and folks are always looking for handmade items there. However, I am one of thousands making stained glass pieces, and tens of thousands offering handmade items.
Just as any business needs a marketing plan, my online stores missed the mark when it came to promotion. I should have used my website, my Facebook pages and my Twitter account to at least let folks I know see what I was producing. Now I do that with every listing.
Learn From Me
Although I made a lot of mistakes, I made a lot of sales, too. Better than that, I made a lot of new friends, and have been part of some awesome outreach events that helped a lot of people. It’s true that you learn from your mistakes, and I am using my education to improve my stores and increase my online business. It’s my hope that you will also benefit from my mistakes now that you’ve been warned.
Happy (and profitable) selling to all of you!