Welcome to Episode 36 of the Craft Seller Success podcast – The Painful Truth of Selling on Etsy.
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Welcome to the Craft Seller Success Podcast – helping craft sellers sell their crafts
Hi, I’m Deborah Richardson from Tin Teddy.
This is the Craft Seller Success podcast from Tin Teddy. Episode number Thirty-Six – The Painful Truth Of Selling on Etsy – Craft Seller Success Podcast 36
Lately, there has been rather a flood of new sellers on Etsy, who have been encouraged to start shops by so-called “experts” and “gurus” on YouTube and social media.
The new sellers are under the impression that an Etsy shop is an easy, low effort side-hustle that will make them a lot of money.
And they are very upset and confused when this doesn’t turn out to be the case.
In today’s episode, I am going to be discussion 10 hard truths about selling on Etsy that so many new sellers (and indeed many older sellers) are not aware of.
Selling on Etsy is NOT for everyone, and not a get-rich-quick scheme.
It can be very rewarding for those who succeed.
But to succeed, you need to be aware of some common misconceptions.
So let’s go!
1 – Despite what that YouTube or social media “expert” has told you, Etsy is not a “get rich quick” site.
Right now there are so many YouTubers who are telling people that it is very easy to create products, set up an Etsy shop and make your fortune.
Sadly, the truth is that often the advice they are giving is flawed, incomplete or even downright illegal.
There are two main types of products that these “gurus” usually recommend. One is print on demand products. This is where a company such as Printify or Printful takes the seller’s artwork, prints it on mass-produced clothing and other items, then sends it directly to your customers.
Print on Demand Products
What the YouTube gurus typically fail to mention is that Print on Demand products on Etsy MUST use artwork that is your own, original creation. You can not use commercial clip art or public domain art for this. This is because items sold on Etsy as handmade must be either literally handmade by you, or designed by you. If you are using someone else’s art, and the POD is printing it, then it is not “handmade by you” in any way and can not be sold on Etsy.
Plus, if you are trying to sell T-shirts with purchased or public domain clip art – so are loads of other people!
And simple words and phrases, slapped on tshirts and mugs, can also be very hard to sell. People can easily recreate these for themselves at a local print shop.
And for many words and phrases, there will already be established shops selling the same ones.
Print on Demand can indeed be a profitable, low work-load selling solution. But only if you have original, high quality, exciting, desirable artwork to use on it.
Check out episode 26 of the Craft Seller Success Podcast – Selling Your Artwork and Designs Using On Demand Services for lots more info and advice.
The other product that is often touted as being “easy” is digital products, especially ones that are created by using a website such as Canva. We are talking planner pages, checklists, calendars and so on.
If you are selling digital products, concentrate on a particular niche. Don’t just use the same Canva elements as everyone else. You need something exciting and original to stand a chance.
Just search for “digital planner” on Etsy, and prepare for a shockingly high number of results.
Can you compete with all those? What sets YOUR planners apart from that massive crowd?
Narrowing your niche can really help here.
One important thing to remember if you intend to offer editable products that your customer can alter in Canva. Once a customer goes to Canva, they will see the huge range of free items there. They will realise that they can edit and create products for themselves. And so may not be so likely to want to buy from you in the future. You are empowering your customers to no longer need your services.
Unless, of course, you are offering something that is much better than the free stuff they could easily make themselves.
But, personally, I would avoid offering edits on Canva as a business model.
Both the print on demand and digital product niches are now VERY crowded. You will be competing with thousands and thousands of sellers, with products very similar to yours.
Even what may seem like a narrow niche may be insanely crowded. Yes, there are already thousands and thousands of planners for neurodivergent people. Yes, there are already countless T-shirts with words like Believe or Dream on them. Yes, there are already too many pictures of fantasy castles created with AI software.
If you want to stand a chance of getting sales, you need to concentrate on what is unique and special about your own range of products.
And whilst both of these business models are often touted as being “passive income”, many sellers are shocked to discover that the sales don’t just come rolling in whilst they sit back and wait.
Most successful Etsy sellers need to do active promoting of their shop. They need to develop new lines. They need to interact with potential and existing customers. They need to establish themselves as an expert in their niche.
Sure, your products may not require you to create anything every time someone orders – but how are you actually going to get those orders in the first place?
And with more and more people jumping on the “get rich quick on Etsy” bandwagon – every day it gets harder to get seen in that crowd.
2 – People will not buy your stuff just to help you out.
Whilst it is wonderful that having an Etsy shop has helped your health, or given you a fun hobby, or is a way to raise funds for your next holiday, the people who shop on Etsy are not really interested in any of that. They are not going to buy from you as a favour.
Why should they?
To get sales, tell them about the reasons why your products are special and the ones they really need to buy. Concentrate on what sets you and your items apart from the crowd.
This is far more likely to help your shop than telling visitors how YOU benefit from the sale They want to know what THEY will get out of buying from you.
3 – If you want to make a profit, you need to consider your Etsy shop as a business.
Hobbies are for fun, businesses are for profit.
Yes, your Etsy shop may be a very small business. And it may not be your main source of income. But if you want it to be profitable, it really helps to think of it as an actual business rather than a hobby or even a “side hustle”.
So follow the relevant laws and Etsy rules. Set your shop up properly, following the guidance in the Etsy Seller Handbook.
Create original, exciting, well-made products.
Ship your items promptly, and ensure they are well packaged so they get there safely.
Offer excellent customer service before and after the sale.
Your competition is already doing all this. If you want to get sales, you need to do what they are doing – and ideally do it better.
Start thinking about it as a serious business, and you will have a much better chance of getting profit… like a business!
4 – Selling products that are very similar to those of other Etsy shops is likely to be much harder than selling something unique, or at least unusual.
If you have a sewing machine and can stitch a straight line, you can easily make a hair scrunchie. They use very little material, you could even use clothing scraps. They are cheap to post and there is little that can go wrong.
So they make ideal products to sell on Etsy.
Except that there are countless thousands of people who have already thought of all this.
Sure, some people are making lots of money selling hair scrunchies. But there are far, far more who rarely ever sell one, if at all.
If you want to sell scrunchies, you need to have a unique angle, something which sets you apart.
Perhaps you make scrunchies from special fabrics, or you add accessories to them, or you make them in a special theme.
The easier your product is to make, the more people will already be doing it. And the harder it will be to get sales.
So before you open yet another shop selling simple bead bracelets, downloadable images of popular quotes, knitted mug cozies or.. Hair scrunchies, think about what sets your products apart from the million already on Etsy.
If you can’t think of anything, then perhaps consider a different product line. One with less competition.
5 – You can’t know exactly what your competition is doing.
I often see people complaining on Reddit or the Etsy forums that despite selling near identical products, their competition is getting loads of sales whilst they are getting none.
There are many reasons why one shop gets sales and another, very similar one, doesn’t.
You probably don’t know what your competition is doing, other than what you can see in their Etsy shop.
But it could be that they have a huge following on social media, who wait to snatch up every new product the moment it is released.
Or perhaps they have an established business already, such as a bricks and mortar shop, and this drives customers to their Etsy shop too.
They may have a lot of repeat customers, who make up the lion’s share of all their sales.
Or they may have been making their creations and/or selling on Etsy a lot longer than you, so they carry more authority in the eyes of potential customers.
And you probably don’t know what marketing they are doing. They may be spending a fortune on bringing in those sales.
Or maybe there is something YOU are not doing that is losing you the sales.
Perhaps you have some items that infringe on popular trademarks, which puts potential customers off.
Or you don’t accept returns when your competition does.
Is your branding as good as theirs? Is your shop name as memorable?
Are your products as nicely packaged, do you include your brand name with every order, are people going to want to shop with you again and again?
And remember that you don’t know your competition’s profit margins.
You may have a competitor that seems to do so much better than you. But he or she could actually be losing money because they are spending too much on marketing, or they don’t keep proper accounts etc. Big sales doesn’t necessarily mean big profits.
So don’t get hung up on why they are doing better than you. Maybe you can see some things that give you a clue – and help you improve. But accept that you may not know why their shop is so much more successful than yours.
Concentrate on doing everything you can for your own shop, and hopefully one day another seller will be envying YOU and your huge sales!
6 – YOU are probably not your target market.
Don’t underprice yourself because the prices seem to be more than YOU would pay. You are probably not your target market.
So a price may look high to you because you wouldn’t buy this item – you would make it, and only pay for the materials. Your skills are free to you!
Many people who buy your products will be people who could not make them their selves – or who don’t have the time to do so, or the materials, or the inclination.
They are paying you for your skills and your time. So of course they expect to pay more than just the basic material cost.
Your shop and marketing needs to be focused on these people, not on yourself.
By the way, your family and friends may not be your target market either.
I used to make collector’s teddy bears. They were made of high-end mohair and took a long while to make. They were also miniatures and very, very fiddly. At the time there were very few miniature teddy bear artists out there.
I often had well-meaning friends or family members inform me that my bears were too expensive. “It’s adorable, but do you really think someone would pay THAT much for such a tiny bear?”
Sure, my friends and family didn’t want to pay that much. But they weren’t bear collectors.
But my actual target market was happy to pay my prices. They knew how long the teeny bears took, and how hard they were to make. They knew there was little competition. They knew they loved my tiny bears and wanted one for their collection.
So when your friends and family comment on your prices, unless you are sure they are aware of your costs, skill requirements, competition and so on – take what they say with a big pinch of salt.
The only opinions that really count when it comes to price are those of your target market.
7 – A house built on poor foundations may easily fall down.
Spending a bit of time on researching and setting up your Etsy shop properly at the start could save you money, time, and headaches later on.
I often see people who have spent a lot of time creating and listing products, then asking for a critique on the Etsy forums. And then being very upset when people point out that all the products are infringing on trademarks, or are things that can not be sold on Etsy, or that have serious safety concerns or something similar.
Or they are trying to break into a market that is much, much more crowded than they had realised, because they hadn’t done any basic research before launching.
A few weeks ago, there was a young lady on the Etsy forums who was very upset that her shop wasn’t selling. She had created about thirty different planners and organization pages.
Numerous experienced Etsy sellers pointed out to her that there are literally millions of similar items on Etsy now.
She retaliated that she was selling to a niche, her items were targetted at people with ADHD.
When other sellers quoted the numbers of similar items, and that this is not a small niche at all, but one of the biggest planner niches, she was devastated.
Suddenly she realised that she had invested a lot of time and effort, and listing fees, creating products that really didn’t stand a chance against the huge existing market. Especially as she had no qualifications or experience in the niche at all. And many of her competition did.
It is so much better to be aware of these things BEFORE you waste time and money like this. An hour or two at the very start could save you countless hours, and stress, later on.
If your shop is selling products that are illegal, unsafe, badly made, against Etsy rules or have any other major issues, you are eventually going to start getting open cases, returns, negative reviews and even legal situations.
Sure, many people get away with, say, selling counterfeit Disney items… for ages. You may see shops like this and so think the risk is negligible, and the potential profits are high.
Did you know that if someone buys an item on Etsy, and it is infringing trademarks, they can just report it as “not as described” and Etsy will almost certainly just refund the customer – from the seller’s funds of course. The customer gets to keep the product, and the refund!
And more and more people are realizing this “hack”.
So a shop that is selling counterfeits is potentially just giving their items away. Ouch.
If your shop is based on weak foundations, you will be forever waiting for it to come falling down around you.
Build your shop properly. Follow Etsy rules. Follow local and relevant international laws. Create good quality, safe products. Do everything as well as you can.
And your Etsy shop can blossom and grow safely. And you can sleep well at night.
8 – Your customers are not your enemies.
OK, I know that there are people who scam or attempt to scam Etsy sellers. Yes, it does happen.
But the vast majority of Etsy shoppers are just like you – regular, decent people who just want to buy something.
Every week I see at least one seller who has set up their Etsy shop as if they consider their potential customers to be their enemies.
Sure, we should take proper steps to protect ourselves from the “bad apples”, but scaring off genuine customers is a terrible way to do it.
Here are some genuine examples of things I have seen in Etsy shops that really give of a bad vibe.
“No returns, ever, so don’t bother asking!”
“I don’t do customs. If you don’t see what you want, go elsewhere.”
“Once posted, your parcel is no longer my responsibility.”
“I can not and will not alter the size of the text!”
“Measure your dog carefully, I am not responsible for your not knowing how to use a tape measure.”
“I don’t care what sob story you tell me, I never give discounts.”
“I am fed up with scammers. I always send the full quantity and the postage label has the weight on it. Don’t shop here if you are trying to scam.”
“The prices are not negotiable. I work very hard to make these and don’t appreciate cheapskates trying to haggle on the prices.”
“Your emergency is not my problem.”
“I don’t post to PO Boxes as they are used by scammers.”
Whilst I understand the sentiment behind some of these, there is no logical reason for talking to your potential customers in such an aggressive or accusatory way. Many people would see messages like this and leave the shop quickly! I know I would!
YOU wouldn’t try to scam an Etsy seller, would you? So why assume your visitors would?
9 – Marketing means more than just Etsy ads.
Yes, Etsy have paid advertising that you can sign up for. This can give your products extra prominence in search results, and can potentially lead to more sales.
BUT…. (you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you? Well, actually there are two…)
BUT number 1 – Etsy ads work in relation to your SEO. So if you haven’t set up your product SEO the way Etsy requires, you are not going to see much benefit from paying for adverts. If you are currently saying “What is SEO?” then you definitely need to find out before thinking of paying for Etsy ads. Luckily, Craft Seller Success podcast 31 is called “Etsy SEO – Tags and More – Getting Found on Etsy” which you can check out to find out what Etsy SEO is.
And the TLDR is “SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation” – basically, ensuring that your item listings contain the right keywords and phrases so that search engines like Google and the internal Etsy search can find them”.
Of course, once you have your SEO set up really well, you may find that this brings in plenty of traffic anyway, so you don’t actually need the Etsy ads.
I have been running three profitable Etsy shops for years, and have never actually used Etsy ads, by the way. Many successful Etsy shops will tell you the same thing.
BUT number 2 – there are loads of other ways to market your shop, many of which may be much better suited for your particular target market.
- Adverts in relevant magazines
- Being featured on blogs
- Facebook and other social media marketing
- Local newspaper or radio adverts
And many, many more.
Marketing is a massive subject, and countless books, blogs, YouTube videos and magazine articles are out there with ideas.
I am working on a couple of podcasts about marketing your craft business, so stay tuned.
10 – Changes will happen.
I have often seen posts on the Etsy forums where someone is bemoaning that their sales are right down compared to the previous year. Typically, they will add that they are doing “exactly the same as I have always done”.
Which may actually be the problem.
Things change. Etsy changes. The markets change. The whole world changes. All the time. And any of these things may affect your sales.
In the summer of 2020, shops selling face masks were booming. With many countries requiring everyone to wear a face mask outside, there was a massive demand.
But now that demand has dropped right down. There are still people buying masks. But in tiny numbers compared to mid 2020.
So someone who opened a face mask shop back then is almost certainly earning a LOT less nowadays.
This is an extreme example. The changes are often much more subtle.
If you were once selling well, but sales have fallen, think about the various factors impacting you and your shop.
Have you kept up to date with Etsy’s SEO requirements? Have you read the Seller Handbook lately?
Are your main competitors offering features or extras that you aren’t?
Are you selling non-essentials? Many people have had to tighten their belts in recent years.
Are you marketing to your target customer on a regular basis?
Is your social media engaging and exciting?
Have you created any new lines to keep your shop fresh?
Do your branding, photographs or descriptions look a bit tired and out of date?
Etsy are often changing the way our product listings look to customers. Recently they changed the main photos from rectangular to square ratios. So many sellers had parts of their pictures cut off.
And there have been changes in the way that descriptions are shown. Are your customers able to easily see the key points about your products? If not, this could be costing you sales.
Sometimes one has to accept that their just may not be the demand for a product like there once was. It may be worth concentrating on the lines that are doing ok, and looking for new ideas to replace those that are no longer performing well.
And sites like Etsy do change the way they do things. An item that you may have been able to sell a few years ago is now banned. Or the descriptions that used to bring in plenty of visitors are no longer relevant thanks to changes in the Etsy SEO algorithm.
These things suck, yes. But they are inevitable.
You need to keep your eyes and ears open to try spot changes – and, ideally, predict ones that are about to happen.
And keep on your toes. A flexible business can weather many changes without tears.
Running a small business is always a continual learning experience. Partly because there is so much to learn in the first place, partly because things are always changing, so you need to learn and adapt with them.
I am very concerned at the rise in so called “experts” who are misleading crafters. They promise huge incomes from very little work. They make it all sound much easier than it really is.
Setting up a shop on Etsy isn’t really hard. You only need do a few simple things to have it up and running.
Check out episode 10 of the Craft Seller Success Podcast – 5 Steps to Start an Etsy Shop to see the simple things you need to do to get started.
But having a successful shop on Etsy, a shop that gets regular sales, a shop that makes a profit – ah, that isn’t quite as easy.
I strongly recommend that anyone planning to open an Etsy shop for the first time, or who has a new shop, or one that isn’t performing as they would like, to take a little time and do some proper research.
Please, assess the credentials of anyone who is offering you advice.
Many of the dodgy experts do not reveal their own shops, meaning you have no way to know that they even have one.
If someone is promising you easy money, a quick way to make large sums of money a week, passive income, an easy product that will sell well or any other “sounds too good to be true” concept. Well, spoiler, they are indeed too good to be true.
I am very transparent. You can easily go visit my Etsy shops to see that I have had them many years, and that they are getting sales.
I also continually tell listeners to this podcast, and readers to my blog, to do research. Don’t take my word for it. Double check things!
If you want a successful Etsy shop you need good quality, exciting products that conform to Etsy rules, are legal and ideally haven’t got too much competition.
You need to follow the guidelines that Etsy offers on how to set up your shop and listings.
You need to consider some sort of marketing – or have great SEO – ideally, both.
And you need to be continually learning.
Best of luck to you!
And that’s it until next time,
The Craft Seller Success Podcast from Tin Teddy.
Featuring Deborah Richardson
Original music by Matthew French