Top Ten Tips For Starting (and Running) an Etsy Shop

My top ten tips for starting an Etsy Shop -- The Riverside Library

I’ve had a little bit of a bumpy start learning how to manage my own website lately, from surprise “Your site has crashed” emails to disappearing blog posts to random emails being sent to my subscribers with weird stuff in them (SORRY ABOUT THAT), I’m still learning the ropes (albeit the hard way it would seem), and it got me thinking about other bumpy starts.

Often, starting your own handmade online shop can be quiet bumpy – trust me, I’ve done it. So, I thought I would share with you my Top Ten Tips for Starting (and Running) an Etsy Shop. Drop me a comment down below if you’re interested in hearing more about what it’s like setting up, and running an Etsy store.

I started my Etsy Shop Potions Candle Co. in 2017 after more than a year of contemplating it. Having zero experience in business beforehand, it was a little bit of an uphill battle for me. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and I’ve had a few successes. I’ve also watched a lot of new stores very similar to mine crop up here and there. There have been some moments I’ve seen some of the people behind these shops do things I wish I had’ve, there have been other times I watched some do things I know won’t work. Of course, you know me by now, and you know how much I love love, love, love compiling lists, so here we have my top ten tips for starting an Etsy shop.

Before I start, keep in mind that I’m only speaking from experience or observation, so my area of knowledge is selling candles.

1. Know your market

I was lucky. My market was the very first thing I knew – because it was people just like me. My business design was filling a gap in a market, unlike so many craft based businesses. It’s super important to know who you are going to sell your products to because.. you know… you won’t have customers if you don’t know who they are. There are many ways of finding this out, thanks to the internet. You could log onto Etsy and find a store that sells similar things to yours, find their social media and watch what they do, who interacts with them, and importantly (for number 3 on this list, especially) watch what hashtags they use on their posts. That will likely give you the internet community that the product is geared toward. And internet communities are powerful things, trust me.

2. Publicise before you open

I’ve seen very many instagram accounts pop up here and there with one or two posts and a shop that’s already up and running. I would recommend starting up social accounts before you open, and I don’t mean a day or two, I mean weeks beforehand. Show off your product, wait for people to see it, wait for them to share it, and most importantly, wait for them to want it. If no one wants it, you’ll never sell it. My mum always told me when I was growing up: You can’t sell a secret.

3. Utilise social media

I think I’ve heavily hinted at this in the past two points, but I’ll keep harping on about it. Social media is an incredible way of advertising. There’s a major difference between the social media you know (and likely use) for the odd snap here and there, and to stalk your exes follow your friends, and the social media used and utilised by businesses and influencers. That social media is filled with incredible photography, inspiring creatives and brands who are making the most of having access to a world of people at their fingertips – and you should too.

Sure, Etsy brings in traffic, but over 66% of my visits are from social media. I can’t imagine what my sales would be like if I relied solely on Etsy – they’d probably be near to nothing. If there is one thing you take away from this post, its to make the most of social media. It’ll likely make or break your Etsy shop.

4. Know your product

I don’t mean to scare you, but there’s a lot that could go wrong with handmade goods. For example, I make soy wax candles. Soy is a very temperamental substance, it frosts, melts, doesn’t melt, looks funky, makes wet spots against jars. Then, you’ve got wicks, they burn unevenly, emit black smoke, mushroom, need to be trimmed etc etc etc. Finally you have fragrance oils and some of them have a tendency to turn candle waxes funky colours. I have a troubleshooting post if you’re wondering more about that.

It’s important that you know everything that could go wrong, and also how your products behave. I know that if I accidentally pour citrus oils in over a certain temperature they can burn smelling like petrol. I know that one particular Limited Edition candle called Chapter 10: Halloween was filled with oils that majorly discoloured it and turned the wax a rusty red. Knowing these things helped me out greatly if I ever got a message from a concerned customer about their misbehaving candle.

It’s like they say when you buy a house – it takes time to get to know it, to get to know where the light comes in, where it’s warmest, where it’s coldest, where its quietest etc, before you can really start to get a feel for the place (especially if you’re renovating). Get to know your creation, it is yours, after all. That means you’re the expert. No pressure, Einstein.

5. Sort out postage 

By postage, I don’t just mean the price that it costs to ship the product from you to your customer, I mean the shipping price plus the packaging cost. Boxes, bubble wrap, paper, sellotape, shipping labels – these things aren’t free, these things are expensive. Where are you accounting for that in your postage price? Trust me, if you don’t account for it, you’re going to be losing a lot of money. I personally, put my packing costs in the cost of the product – shipping is already a horrid amount of money and I don’t want to make my customers feel like the post office is ripping them off more than they really are (c’mon, we all know postage is a rip off).

6. Know your competition

I am very good at ‘internet stalking.’ Aside from the one time my best friend told me the first name of a small time actor she went out to dinner with long ago, and a ‘maybe half of his last name I can’t quite remember,’ and I found him, his birthday, his facebook page, his twitter, his instagram, his home town, his girlfriend, his girlfriend’s aunt’s best friend’s nephew’s boyfriend’s cousin’s cat’s name in five minutes (the cat part is a lie), I usually use my internet sleuthing abilities to scope out Etsy stores that are like mine. I like to see what they’re up to, see how much they’re charging, and make sure my products stand out amongst the crowd.

Side note: Drop me a line if you know of any other candle company whose main method of advertisement is mischievous talking candles though, b/c I’m fairly certain that’s pretty unique to me (yes, I just used shorthand. Not sorry, it makes me feel important b/c I’m in way too much of a rush to type out the full word. It’s not true, but we all have lies we tell ourselves, okay?) 

7. Take good product photographs

This one is a given, but it’s actually really hard for the non-photographer type like me. Usually I want to take really quick photos because I’m feeling drained and exhausted by the time it comes to product photography, and so my pictures turn out to be boring plain and sometimes crooked shots of candles pulling bored facial expressions (they do that. When you get to know them really well, you can tell. I swear). Photography takes planning, it takes time, it takes creativity and some kind of artistic eye, but it really makes your store. Think about your favourite store and head onto their website – let me guess what it looks like, its filled with (mostly) uniform photos, probably a very clear photo with the product in focus, likely in the middle of the shot, nice and close, without much else for distraction. That’s exactly what you need. Invest time. Reap those rewards. But take far more creative photos for social media – because on social media, you’re not selling a product, you’re selling a lifestyle. 

8. Stay on top of your paperwork

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m crap at this. I end the month with so much paperwork that needs doing and no motivation to do it. I used to write down every order as it came through and have this cute little order list, but then I realised I could just take my phone with me and look at the Etsy App. Then I decided I could just remember them. It was all a bad idea. A really bad idea.

I wished there was someway Etsy could give me invoices and I could print them out… oh, but wait…

I wish I had played around with Etsy a little more before I started actually making, packaging and sending orders out, because then I would have likely found the place where I could print invoices and packing slips. I’ll put some screenshots below so you can find it. Honestly, they are a lifesaver.

First, click on the ellipsis that usually signify a “more actions” option (I figured was pretty insignificant, like I always do).

Then, rather obviously, click on print.

Now you can play around with how your invoices will look and what not, and then you can click Print Order(s) to download the PDF. You don’t actually have to print them, I’m sure the packing slips would be fine on an iPad or tablet, but I like having them on paper. There’s less room for me to forget to put in a product (which I have done because it’s not easy to tell when someone has bought more than one of the same product).

I honestly cannot stress the paperwork thing enough. Besides, you do have to keep paperwork for legal purposes and stuff, which it pretty serious stuff. I just like using the word stuff when it comes to serious stuff. I’ll stop now, but I won’t be sorry about it. It was fun. Okay, where were we? Oh, paperwork. No wonder I went off topic.

Other than your packing slips/invoices, make sure you keep a track of your finances. Know what you’re spending and what you have coming in. Don’t be too stressed if you’re at a loss for a while – we all are.

9. Set proper working hours

Chances are, you will have one or two late nights. I have stayed up packing orders until 1am, to make sure they’re out as expected. Maybe I’m a little over the top, but when there is something that needs to be done, I’m not the kind of person that can sit there and think about doing it. I have to be doing it. I get that from my mother. This often results in me working myself to the ground. Like me, you may feel guilty taking time off, but it will likely leave you refreshed and able to produce higher quality work.

I have to force myself to work only between the hours of 11 and 7. After that, no replying to direct messages, no staying up till 12am trying to fix something. I need to be human, not wonder-freakin’-woman. If I leave a message unanswered, doomsday won’t arrive, I’ll probably just get another message asking me if I’m there, which will get replied to when I am. I even have instagram notifications switched off before 11am and after 7pm. Do I break the rules and work on social media before and after those times? You know I do, but it’s something I’m working on. I have to be kind to myself. So do you. Be kind to yourself. There is no point working yourself into the ground and then hating your passion project. After that, what do we have?

10. Be prepared for failure and success

I’ve had both. My launch went far better than I expected it to, and I was constantly releasing new scents, so sales were great, but I wasn’t prepared for the lull that came with no new scent releases. I guess it wasn’t a failure, per say, but it felt like that to me. Sure, I’ve had other failures, they sting with bitter vehemence every single time, but that’s life – you win some, you lose some. Plus, it’s never really losing if you learn from it, and you have to make sure you do. Running your own small business is all about learning. Growth will no doubt be one of your key goals while setting up your Etsy shop, and learning is such an integral part of growth.

So there you have it! My top ten tips for setting up (and running) an Etsy shop! It was super hard to choose just ten, and if you’d like to know more about setting up or running and Etsy shop, I’m more than happy to turn this into a regular segment, just drop me a message or comment blow and let me know (especially if you have a topic you want me to talk about!)

Thanks for visiting! Happy selling!

-M.

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