5 Big Lessons from Three Bird Nest's Etsy Departure

You guys, I'm treading very carefully here because I haven never waded into this territory before. I keep a low profile when it comes to talking about the reseller madness, IP theft and other favorite topics when it comes being annoyed with Etsy. And I get it. But there's enough talk to be had elsewhere about it (and sometimes it's really good and constructive like this post by Abby Glassenberg), that over here it becomes a distraction so I just have not really felt the need to address it. 

Now that Three Bird Nest, the shop that became the face for all seller unhappiness when it came to Etsy's lax enforcement of its own rules, has officially made an exit from Etsy I think there are a few things that we can all learn from this. Particularly since the leaving was done so very publicly. Had it not been for the Yahoo! article I probably would not have much to say, but I think there's a cautionary tale here... and it's not for Etsy, but for you.

#1 You Run Your Business

In the article there is a lot of poo flinging at Etsy. It's a lot of the same poo that the people who are unhappy with Three Bird Nest have flung at Etsy too. And while it's fine to be upset, annoyed, peeved, or whatever, at a certain level, ultimately you run your business so even though you might be unhappy with Etsy or Facebook or Instagram or whoever for their decisions because they negatively impact your business, that is just business.

You've got to figure out how to play in these sandboxes that you don't own or control. But there are lots of things in your control and in 2015 there are lots of ways you can sell and make money. Focus on that. And know that changes are always coming.

#2 Know What You Want Out of Your Business

The fact that Etsy changed its rules to accommodate growing shops is one thing, but let's say they never did (and this might be how Handmade at Amazon might operate). Let's say they kept things very strict. And you had plans of being a multi-million dollar operation. You would want to consider how to build your business without Etsy as the cornerstone so that when growth happened you weren't so dependent on the wrong platform for your business.

I realize this stuff is not always easy to predict when you are starting out, but if you want to eventually become a business with a small-scale or large-scale manufacturing team that is perfectly OK. Just consider then what a graceful exit from certain platforms or even shops might look like. Or how you strategically manage customer expectations of your product. Or what kind of brand you are creating and if it will accommodate that narrative.

It's fairly clear that most of Three Bird Nest's customer base give zero rips if their stuff is handmade or not-- they don't have to. But if they did, oooh man... that would be hard to pivot your brand to offshore manufacturing if everyone was rabid handmade lovers. It can be done, just thinking about it sooner than later is best.

#3 Etsy is a Tool Not Your Boyfriend/BFF/Family

The thing that got me most in the Yahoo! article was how much it all seemed like a very ugly breakup. And I feel like makers often talk about Etsy in terms of these very emotional relationships with Etsy-- being "loyal", "loving" Etsy, "hating" Etsy, being "grateful" to Etsy.

Have you ever used these words to frequently describe your relationship with your plumber? With your dentist? With ULine? With Fedex? Now you might. And that's fine at a certain level. I get that these words get thrown about colloquially, but when it comes to Etsy it really seems to mean something. People have all the feelings.

Etsy is not completely unique in this and similar feelings were felt about Facebook's business pages after its algorithm changes. But by now we should all know that these platforms are always looking to monetize wherever they can (they have shareholders to report to) and will do what's best for them to make money which may not be what's best for your business (hey, you probably do the same in certain situations). The more you can try to see these things for what they are (tools!) the less angst you'll have to deal with later.

In business your relationship with other businesses is transactional. That doesn't mean emotions aren't involved and that you can't "love" other businesses more than others, just be careful where your emotional energies are placed and how the affect your business strategies. Be prepared to cut ties with things that aren't helping you even though you "love" the idea.

#4 Don't Build Your Business Around Just One Thing

Well, I guess you could but you'd be playing a very risky game. Like the mention about the Facebook uproar, people get really excited at the beginning of these platforms that seem to be so good to their business that they invest way more time into them at the expense of a big picture. This even goes for shops who open and experience quick success because their item is part of a trend, but what happens when that trend is over?

While in the very beginning of your business focus can be key so you aren't spreading yourself too thin, you should always know what growth will look like and where it will take you. So if you decide to open an Etsy shop to test out having a business, that's great! Just know that's not where building a business or selling ends. It is just the beginning.

#5 Exit Gracefully

If you've ever been at a job you hated and decided to quit or you got laid off, you know there is a VERY real and strong temptation to go out telling people what for. But should you? Lighting the place on fire as you leave will probably make you feel good for a minute, but it's probably not the best business decision in the long run (or even in the short run).

In Three Bird Nest's case it is unlikely they would go back to Etsy (who knows maybe as a different line) so it seems like giving them an earful publicly on the way out is a safe bet. But what if a major manufacturer or another online marketplace wanted to work with them? They might think twice about working closely with someone who publicly "airs dirty laundry."

The Internet likes to hold onto things you wish you could take back. Try to limit what it can throw back in your face or use against in a court of public opinion.

OK, so that's done. :) I'd love know what business lessons you've learned from other shops that are cautionary tales (we don't need to name names!). Sometimes knowing what NOT to do teaches us the most. 

p.s. this isn't the time/place for debating Three Bird Nest's merits on/off Etsy. It's done now... let's look at how we can learn lessons and build better businesses together.