I’ve been wanting to write about my experience with Etsy, but my experience with Etsy keeps me on my feet so many hours a day in the kitchen making pepperoni rolls that I barely have time to write about my experience with Etsy! So who knows when I will post this, but I’m trying. I want this post to be for everyone who has ever thought about selling on Etsy, and for everyone who shops on Etsy. I have SO MUCH IN MY HEAD. Here it is.
I have thought about selling on Etsy for quite some time. I’m not sure how long, at least a year, probably longer. I’ve had many people say to me, “Why don’t you sell on Etsy?” I’ve sold soap and lotions and other things in the studio to workshop attendees for years, and occasionally have sold products directly through my website. The idea of using a seller platform seemed…foreign… But, I thought about it. In March of this year (2016) I made an experiment. I made a very rudimentary shop on Etsy–with no header photo or anything else, I didn’t take the time to fill out any seller information, I was busy with workshops starting for the year–and posted a listing for one soap, with photo. AND TOLD NO ONE. Then I ignored it henceforth because I was busy and wasn’t sure I wanted to sell on Etsy anyway.
In result, I got no sales, no views, nothing. Not that I knew since I didn’t even look in on my Etsy for months and months. I mean, if I’d had a sale, I would have gotten an email notification, but I didn’t get a sale. Or even any views on my barely-existent shop. And it was a bad photo anyway.
When I came back to log in to Etsy again in October (this year, 2016), I still had something to learn from the experience thus far, which was barely an experience, but still. I had listed soap for sale on Etsy and NOTHING HAD HAPPENED. I was feeling slightly more motivated about getting an Etsy shop going, so I examined the situation in light of what I should do going forward. I hadn’t sold a single bar of soap in six months. Was Etsy worthless? Of course, I hadn’t promoted in any way through my website or my Chickens in the Road Facebook, but I knew that if I was to be successful on Etsy, I would need more than my readership. I would need TOTAL STRANGERS to want to buy from me. Thus the six-month experiment of posting one soap and telling no one. If I was to post about it and promote it through my website, the experiment would be false. What I wanted to see was–HOW HARD is it to sell on Etsy, WITHOUT an existing platform of promotion? Well, yeah, it was hard, like as in, NO SALES. Then I decided to go for it, and I’m going to tell you how that went, too. And you know me–I’m going to be very frank.
From that point in early October, to now, mid-December, I’ve had over 18,000 views of my shop, over 350 shop and listing favorites, over 160 sales, and $2500 revenue. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN? I need to tell you. Especially for those of you thinking of starting an Etsy shop, but also for an insider view to those of you who shop on Etsy–to understand the Etsy seller and their challenges, and their appreciation of YOU, the Etsy buyer. And, you know, just for you, my dearest readers, to understand my TOTAL EXHAUSTION right now.
Remember that year, when I first moved to Sassafras Farm, and all the pipes froze, and I had no money, and it was like, Kids, be happy we have running water, that is your Christmas present? This year is almost like that, but with running water, and it’s like, Kids, be happy there are a couple leftover cookies after I make this batch I’m shipping, cuz other than that, you can just starve! OR PAY ME BECAUSE I CHARGE FOR FOOD.
Okay, let’s talk about Etsy.
So first off, personally, my big deal was, why should I pay someone else to list my stuff??? I can sell it off the shelf in the studio, or from my website. Let’s go back to the reaching beyond my readership thing. Yes, I know, I have a platform. But NO ONE can survive just on that. I can’t survive just on that to sell workshops, so I already knew that. I’ve been selling workshops for years by promoting and advertising outside my website. The same is true for anything else. I have to stretch beyond my personal reach. Etsy gives me that platform that is beyond my personal platform. And if you don’t have a website with a platform, you need the Etsy platform just as much. If I need it, you need it. My first concern was cost. How much does it cost for me to sell through Etsy? It costs 3% per sale, and 20 cents per listing you publish. It’s not much. It’s worth it. IF you will do more than what I did for the first six months.
Let me talk to the soapmakers for a moment. What I’m going to say is not just based on my initial Etsy experiment with soap, but also on extensive browsing and research on Etsy in homemade soap. Homemade soap is one of the most competitive markets on Etsy. There are so many hand-crafters selling soap on Etsy, it is insane. Thus, the price is downgraded due to competition, and the chances of getting discovered selling soap is very low. I’m not going to tell you that it’s impossible to make a successful business selling soap on Etsy, but I’m here to tell you that you’ve got a tough row to hoe.
Rustic Farmstead Soap.
I decided immediately in October when I came back to Etsy “for real” that soap was going to be an “add-on” item in my shop, not my main focus. I love to make soap, and I make a quality soap, but I didn’t see a reasonable path to making a successful shop based on soap alone. I determined to diversify.
Diversification is not the norm on Etsy. I researched all the avenues of products I was interested in potentially pursuing on Etsy. I found, by vast majority, shops that specialized–in soaps and/or soaps/lotions, fudge and/or fudge/candies, vintage/candles/whatever, bread and other savory items, sweet baked goods, preserves, and so on. Many hand-crafters specialize. Due to the fact that for many years I’ve given workshops and/or written tutorials about so many varied things, I’m a jack of all trades. I took advantage of that to diversify my shop with soaps, fudges, lotions, candles, homemade mixes of all kinds, breads, sweets, anything and everything.
Tip: The more listings you have on Etsy, the easier it is for people to discover you.
Tip: The more diversified you are, the easier it is for people to discover you.
Tip: The more diversified you are, the more multiple item sales you will get.
How much does my personal website/Facebook platform play into it? Etsy provides extensive stats. More of my sales come from direct searches on Etsy (due to my diversification) or through Etsy’s Google shopping than from my website or my Facebook. What I want you to know is that anyone can do it. You don’t have to be me.
Now I want to mention my two biggest challenges.
Neither of which is Molasses Cookies.
Pricing: This has been SO hard for me, and I’ve changed prices on various things numerous times as I’ve gone through this, trying to understand my time, my ingredient cost, and what is valid for profit. I underpriced horribly in the beginning, but am more reasonably priced now. I want to give you this example.
The Biscuit of the Month Club. (I created this by request, by the way. Someone messaged me asking for it, so I created it!)
I posted a link to it on Facebook, and a lovely person kindly remarked that he couldn’t believe anyone would pay $300 for biscuits. Okay, first it’s not $300. A 12-month subscription is actually $244.80, and that includes not only the biscuits but also the shipping. (Shipping! Another story.) I sell one dozen basic Southern Biscuits for $10.95, with varying price points over that for numerous biscuit variations, such as Pepperoni & Mozzarella.
Shipping per box of biscuits costs $8.45. (Biscuits are one of my bestselling items. I’ve got this shipping down pat.) I sell the Biscuit of the Month in 3, 6, 9, or 12 month subscriptions. It’s a great gift item. The cost includes the shipping per box for the number of months subscribed, plus the biscuits. The biscuits include the ingredients, the time, and ME. (Can you tell how much this person irritated me? Not much? No? Really?! Yeah. Is my exhaustion showing? There’s nothing like someone telling you that what you’re doing isn’t worth what you’re charging right when you’re dying of exhaustion from doing it.)
What is a hand-crafter worth? Can you buy biscuits–or cookies or fudge or soap or bread of whatever–for less at the grocery store? YES. But you don’t get the hand-crafter. You don’t get the individual batch per order. You don’t get homemade. You don’t get that attention to detail. You don’t get that packaging that makes every order of a dozen biscuits (or whatever) look like a present under the Christmas tree. That is what you get from a hand-crafter on Etsy.
I make every batch of ANYTHING individually. There are no multiple batches. Everything is made to order, and every batch is individual. Everything is customized. And when it’s done, if it’s a fresh-baked good, it’s triple wrapped. I wrap first in Press n Seal. This seals out air. Then I place in a twist-tie bag, then that is placed inside a ziplocked bag. Then it’s tied with a bow with a label. Then I put a personal handwritten thank-you note in the box. Or I put in a printed note on my shop letterhead if it’s a gift and they’ve requested a gift note. To me, the crafting goes all the way from the creation of the product to the packaging, what they see when they take it out of the box. All of the effort to retain freshness in shipping does cost money. Triple wrapping is part of the cost of creating the product that may be shipped anywhere from down the road to Florida or Maine or Seattle.
If you want cheap, go to the grocery store, you are not my customer. They have lots of cheap stuff at the grocery store, go for it. If you want individual attention and quality, go to Etsy. That hand-crafter that you might think charges a couple dollars too much because you can get it cheaper at the store? She is up at 4 am and she doesn’t go to bed till 8 pm when she falls in it–and she did it all with joy, so pay her fairly. AND–most people do, and never complain, I want to say that, too. The wonderful people who have bought from me at my shop GET IT.
Customer Service. Speaking of customers–ohmygod, give them service!!! They are buying from you! I have made mistakes. It’s inevitable. I’ve gotten a few orders wrong, and they won’t be the last. When I get an order wrong, I send them the correct item, asap, at no charge, and often send them something extra. The other day, I had a local order. They paid for shipping. The delivery address was like 10 minutes away. I was on my way to the post office. I found the house. I stopped, and gave the delivery to a sweet little old lady. Then went home and refunded the shipping charge to the buyer.
Speaking of shipping… The automated shipping calculation on Etsy has been a huge challenge for me. I think this is mostly due to the fact that people tend to buy multiple different types of items (due to my diversification) in one order, and the Etsy calculation is often wrong. As soon as I figured out how to refund shipping overages, I started doing it.
How to sell successfully on Etsy? Promote. You don’t need an existing platform like I have, but you do need to promote. I promote through Etsy and Google (through Etsy). Diversify–so important. Don’t depend on one avenue of sales. Let people find you in multiple ways. And be ready to work! Every day is a new day and the orders tell me what I’m doing.
Typical day for me– Get up, start baking. Cooling baked goods. All non-baked goods are already packed and boxed. As soon as baked goods are cooled, they’re triple wrapped and added to the prepped boxes. A soap sample goes in every box, along with a thank-you note or printed gift letter. Boxes are finished and go to the car. Most of the time, I go to my favorite post office in Elkview. Sometimes it takes me two to three trips to get all the boxes in. I love my post office lady. She knows I sell on Etsy and we discuss what’s in each box and when she’s done, she asks me how I did today on being right on shipping, then says, “See you tomorrow!” I go home, whip out my post office receipt and send shipping notifications to everyone who has had orders shipped that day, and refund anyone who gets a shipping overage refund.
I take care of the animals.
Start all over the next morning.
I think this will slack off some after the holidays are over, but not too much–I hope!
Come see me at my Etsy shop! In the past two months, I’ve put up 90 listings. And no, you can’t see that original soap listing anymore. I deleted it. But I hope you learned something from what I’ve learned!
And yes, I’m tired. Is Christmas over yet? I have a list as long as my arm of orders to go out by Monday, and yes, I’m still taking orders through this weekend for Christmas shipping.
Visit my shop! You know you wanna see my $300 biscuits! (ha)
And I finished this post!