Building a Business on Etsy: Part 1

A few weeks ago we had a heart-to-heart about how opening an Etsy shop in and of itself is not a business. Having a business means you are an active participant in your business' growth. You take ownership of its success and look to grow it in the healthiest way possible. This means even when a platform changes but is good overall for your business, you find ways to make it work for you.

Today's post comes from Australian maker Asphyxia. What I love about her story is that she wasn't passive in her business. She took time to market herself and see what would work. She understood the limitations of the platform she was on and looked to work around them. This doesn't just apply to Etsy, but to every single platform out there (whether Facebook, your own site, etc.). I hope you enjoy part one of this series! 

Opening an Etsy shop is pretty easy. Etsy leads you through the steps of collecting information that will enable them to pay you, and creating your first listing. I did it on a lazy Sunday morning and it took about 10 minutes. I even had a few sales right away, and that was very exciting. However, to be honest, not much happened in my shop until I figured out how to really make it work. Then my shop, Fixie’s Shelf, took off, and these days it brings in a serious amount of income for my family. It provides me with a steady stream of creative work that makes me incredibly happy. Mind you, I’m not rich, and if I calculated my hourly rate, I would say it’s not very high. I still hope to lift my business further, but considering that I’m less than 1.5 years in, I’m thrilled with where I’m at.

Asphyxia's Etsy shop header.

Asphyxia's Etsy shop header.

I sell paintings, jewellery, books, zines, custom portraits, and other one-off items I have created. I started my shop because making things makes me happy, but I cannot possibly keep all that I make and paint. By sending my creations out into the world, I have another purpose for my creativity, and making the recipients happy with my art gives me a lot of joy. The following collage includes snippets from some of my favourite creations, and can be downloaded high resolution for free here.

Let me tell you how I went from an Etsy shop with four sales in four months, to a business where I sold seventy original paintings for Christmas 2014, plus a huge pile of books, zines, prints and necklaces…

I know from experience that simply being a part of the Etsy marketplace is not enough. I’d run my newly listed items through search and they’d show up on page ten, or sometimes not at all. I didn’t get any sales that way. When you rent a bricks-and-mortar shop, part of what you are paying for is the exposure to customers who walk past. With Etsy, the ‘rent’ is free unless you actually sell something, and then it’s only a small portion of the item cost. The flip side is that where you have saved in rent and bills, you need to put in effort to reach those customers.

You need to find online platforms where you can interact with customers and give them an opportunity to get to know you. Think Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, blogs and email lists. I’m not suggesting you should do all of them. But building a solid customer base on one or two of these platforms can feed your Etsy shop with customers. It takes time to build a following -- there are no quick ways to do this unless you just happen to luck out. You need to take the long range view -- think of giving it at least a year to make a difference to your sales.

For me, I chose Facebook. I had been using it because my publishers told me I should, to promote the books I’ve authored and illustrated. I didn’t enjoy it, mainly because I felt really fake, trying to come up with images that related to my characters, or things that might get people to buy my books. When I wanted to start selling paintings, I started over with a new page. My promise to myself was that I would just be me. I posted what I was working on, my fears, how I felt when it wasn’t going well, my jubilance when I’d finished something I just loved. To my surprise, people responded by talking with me about my work. Since this was what I was most interested in, these conversations were fun and meaningful for me. Slowly my following has grown, and I think people are drawn to this kind of authenticity.

Choose your platform(s) and then give people the opportunity to get to know you. It may take some time to find your voice and style, to discover what people respond to and what they don’t. I believe that when people buy handmade items, they know they are taking home a piece of the maker’s soul. And that is WHY they buy from you instead of a similar item at a fraction of the price that was made in a developing country. Your job is to lay out enough of your soul so that they can see what it is and how it is embodied in what you make.

How do you do this? Tell stories. Tell the story of each of your products. Tell the story of your shop -- why you started it, what it means to you now. Tell stories about the philosophy behind the things you make, and why you make them. For each piece you make, sit down and write about it. Then take the story and use it in bits and pieces. For example, small excerpts could be used for several different Facebook posts. A longer excerpt could be used in your Etsy listing. You might put the entire story on your blog.

Let me give you an example, using this canvas I painted last year:

Here’s the story I posted on my Facebook page and included in my Etsy listing: 

Sometimes doors open for me. Mostly I open them myself. This is how I have survived (and thrived) as a deaf person in a hearing world. The reality for me is that if I wait, I will miss opportunities, often because I don't hear about them. When I want something, I open the door myself, and make it happen. And so much HAS happened as a result. This painting is to inspire anyone who wants to make stuff happen, and especially to inspire those who have extra obstacles in their path, such as a disability of some form. This painting is very dear to my heart and I admit I'm finding it a bit tricky to sell it! But I hope it will bring you luck and opportunity.

It’s quite short, but it’s personal, and apparently it resonates with people, because the painting sold right away, and is now in a museum in a deaf school in the USA and I’ve been asked to repaint it three times. Last year I wasn’t blogging much, but now that I’ve got my blog going again I would probably write a longer story for my blog, including some of my experiences in opening my own doors and what happened for me as a result. If you’d like to see other examples of stories I’ve written about my work, pop over to my blog, or follow me on Facebook or on Instagram, where I’m just getting started.

Asphyxia's zine

Asphyxia's zine

I’ll be back next week with another guest post and some more tips for you. In the meantime, I encourage you to write some stories about your creations and get active on an interactive platform or two, sharing bits of your story and your work, linking back to your shop when appropriate. If you are still dreaming about starting your handmade business, you might like to check out my new zine: How to open an Etsy shop -- the kind that really sells stuff.

Thanks for reading….

What do you think of Asphyxia's story? Please let us know in the comments!