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Starting Your Own Etsy Business: Part 3

by Grace Bonney

As a follow up to the two great interviews yesterday, I thought today I’d share some both some “big picture” lessons I’ve learned about starting a business as well as some really practical tools, like the excel file I use to track sales and inventory.

I’ll say from the outset that this is a lot of common sense and I offer it in hopes that someone who is dreaming of starting a business on Etsy will be emboldened to take the plunge. Rocket science it may not be, but it is heartfelt!

(Part I and Part II)

Originality is Overrated
A lot of people who talk about starting their own businesses say things like “well, {insert their business idea} has been done before…” They use this as a reason not to start a venture. I totally understand this feeling, since it can be overwhelming to see how many people are doing creative amazing things everyday; however, I realized something very simple in the year before I started Abigail Vintage: Everything has been done before . I didn’t have to wait until I had the perfect idea or product. There were lots of vintage sellers on Etsy when I started and there are even more now. I suddenly understood that the way differentiate yourself is in how you execute your version of an idea .

Keeping it Low Risk is Underrated
Something I love about Etsy is that it is incredibly low cost and low risk to start a business. I started my business with under $100 of inventory and $5 of start up costs. I think there are very few low cost ways to test the waters of running your own business – most flea markets or craft fairs have higher initial “table” costs and for that you only get one weekend and the exposure of the couple of hundred people who will walk by. I was able to find out that I love running a business online, away from the challenges of retail, for literally peanuts. So, if you’ve been thinking about starting an Etsy business, I say GO FOR IT!

The cliché is true: do what you love :
For me, I was already going to flea markets, trolling eBay, haunting antiques stores. I had a good sense of the market and a pretty developed eye for pricing and value. This was a HUGE asset to me. For some friends who’ve started Etsy businesses, this passion was for vintage clothes, independent art, or knitting. But in each case, they came to the business with a solid background in whatever it was they were selling, which helped enormously with both buying inventory and pricing it appropriately.

Remember it is a business first
Even if you don’t consider yourself “business minded” there are ways to make sure you are actually making a profit on each sale. Common sense says that you need to factor the cost of listing an item on Etsy (currently 20 cents), the fees Etsy and Paypal will take once you sell that item, the cost of mailing it and then – this is important – the cost of your own time. My general rule: I try to make the tangible profit on each item (selling price minus my cost, fees and shipping) at least equal minimum wage.

As an example: I figure it takes me an hour for every item that I post on Etsy — 15 minutes to source (I usually do big buying trips where I buy multiple items, which then breaks down to about 15 minutes an item) 15 minutes to photograph the item and post it to Etsy, 15 minutes to process the order once it has been placed (print the order, find the object, pack it) and 15 minutes to mail it.

I think a lot of sellers make the mistake of not “paying themselves” and accordingly price their items too low. I think the conventional wisdom in retail is that it is a lot easier to lower prices than to raise them. I’ve found this to be true. So, when you are pricing, do research on what other Etsy sellers are charging and what something might go for on eBay and be realistic. If other people are selling it for $15 dollars, you aren’t going to be able to sell it for $25.

Here is the spreadsheet I use to track my inventory and sales. I made it, so of course there are more sophisticated methods, but this is as simple as it gets and even if you don’t use it I hope it will give you a sense of what are some of the variables to think about. Note that the column “actual packing cost” refers to the cost of my packing materials (about .32 cents for a padded mailer). I bought them in bulk at Uline.com.

Take yourself seriously
Even though my business is small I treat it the way I would a much larger business because some day I want to run a larger business. I keep close track of everything I buy for the business (from inventory to packing supplies to the cost of buying trips).

Devil is in the details
Again, this is common sense, but I’ve found details like photography, packaging and customer service make all the difference. I try to take great photographs of my product, in a somewhat stylized setting, with great light. There are sellers who make an art form of this, but I just try for the best photographs I can. Check out the Etsy tutorial on photography here.

Customer service is also really important – I make sure to respond quickly to questions or shipping problems. I often give small extras as a gift, often vintage matchboxes since I have hundreds and they cost me about .19 cents and make my customers happy. I also give 25% discount coupons on a next order to anyone who orders over $50 dollars worth of product. Since I love beautiful opening packages, I use colorful tissue paper and satin ribbon to make the objects I send to customers fun to open (I bought 1,000 sheets of gorgeous colorful tissue paper at Costco for under $20 and navy satin ribbon from papermart.com.

I am blessed to have a husband who is also an amazing graphic designer – he made me my Abigail Vintage logo (which I love) and also designed some simple Avery mailing labels and little cards (really business cards) with the Abigail Vintage logo that I put into every package.

There is so much out there on marketing that I won’t even try to summarize it all here. All I’ll say is that doing blog outreach and posting items to Etsy regularly are all important to establishing your business. I’ve also found that sending emails whenever I have a shop update to former customers and a few targeted bloggers who are “friends of the business” is a good idea. Be sure to check out the resources on Etsy: their Shop 101 series is packed with information.

As a final note, I’ll say that I know some people who started out selling on Etsy have migrated to Big Cartel, it seems for two reasons: lower fees on sales and more control over the look and feel of your store. There are pros and cons to both sites, so check them both out and pick the one that works for you.

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  • Where can I find parts 1 & 2 of starting an etsy business, please.
    I loved part 3 but would like to read parts 1 & 2 as well. Thanks so much.

  • That’s it, I’m going to start my Etsy store. I’ve been procrastinating long enough. I’ve sold my quilts and crafts in stores and shows in the past and really want to get back to it. Thanks for the info and push.

  • I’m having troubles locating your spreadhseet…. could you help me find where it might be? The link above takes me to another site but no download attached.

    Thanks for all the amazing tips! I cannot wait to start my business!

  • I can’t find the link on biz Ladies to part 1 or 2! Please could you post the direct link? Would love to read them!

    • Hey Emma –
      Just tried to dig these up and it looks like Part I and II were interviews. I’ve added links above.

  • An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a friend who was conducting a little homework on this. And he actually ordered me lunch because I stumbled upon it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to talk about this issue here on your web site.

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  • Hi, thanks for the info! Very helpful!! Is there any way you can provide the link to your spreadsheet? Thanks!

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