Last year, Etsy sold $180.6 million-worth of goods. The Brooklyn-based team behind this online marketplace for handmade crafts is helping many sellers profit handsomely by offering them a platform to sell their merchandise. Some aspiring entrepreneurs have even quit their day jobs to pursue their Etsy "store" as a career.
Mu-Yin Mollie Chen began selling her hand-crafted jewelry pieces on eBay in 2006 as a hobby. She worked full time as a piano instructor in Indianapolis, traveling to clients' homes for private lessons. Running her eBay store in her free time, Chen would sell pieces here and there, without much consistency from week to week. Though she was satisfied with how things were going, a fellow artist she met on eBay suggested she start an Etsy shop.
"I went on the site, checked it out, and two months later I opened Muyinmolly [my Etsy store]," Chen said. "I made my first sale within 24 hours, was profitable after a month, and selling triple what I had been selling on eBay." Shortly after, Chen decided to close her eBay store.
Once business took off, Chen decided to leave her job as a piano instructor, and pursue her jewelry store on Etsy full time. So far, she's sold almost 4,500 of her pieces, which range in price from $2 to $250, to people in over 30 countries.
In April 2010, the number of items sold on Etsy totaled 1.3 million, and the statistics have been increasing exponentially since its inception in 2005. Though Chen and other profitable Etsy sellers believe the site isn't for everyone, they offered these tips to help you boost both visibility and number of sales on the popular website.
How to Make Money on Etsy: Be Different
Etsy currently boasts 400,000 active sellers, which they define as individuals who have sold goods on the site within the past year. With such a high volume of goods for buyers to choose from, it's crucial that the product is high quality and most importantly, unique.
"A lot of the most successful Etsy sellers not only hand-make their stuff; they also make it special," says Chen. "For example, maybe you crochet and you want to sell it. But a lot of people crochet. You have to think: why would customers want to buy from you? The more special your product is, the more likely people will buy only from you."
Ryan Aydelott and Josh Saathoff, owners of the Etsy store Isotope, have sold almost 9,000 of their quirky t-shirts on the site since they joined in June 2007. They too stress the importance of having a different product that really stands out. "Find a niche, even if it's rather esoteric," says Saathoff. "Don't try to cater to everyone. From a design perspective, whenever I try to design for a specific audience it doesn't work."
Dig Deeper: Is Your Business Terminally Unique?
How to Make Money on Etsy: Killer Photographs and Detailed Descriptions
Like any e-commerce site, Etsy buyers are generally purchasing items sight unseen. They'll be shelling out money for the product before they get the chance to try it on, touch it, or smell it – which means photographs and product descriptions need to be spot-on.
Elle Greene, who runs AustinModern, a Texas-based vintage furniture store on Etsy, says photography and descriptions are a crucial part of her business. In Greene's experience, catalogue-style photos, which may work well on some sites, aren't met with much success on Etsy. "Etsy is very focused on photography. I've learned more about editorial-style photography from my experience on the site than I could have ever imagined."
Greene says photo and prop stylists frequently peruse the site and look for not only a beautiful photograph, but also as much information about the product as possible. AustinModern's descriptions include the product's dimensions, weight, materials, condition, history, and more. Greene must have the right idea – her pieces have been featured in magazines like Elle Décor and Architectural Digest.
While many Etsy sellers can't afford to hire professionals to shoot their products, there are a ton of great resources on the site itself. Etsy's blog features sections like "The Seller Handbook" and "Your Shop 101," in addition to hundreds of forums that provide sellers with photography tips and tricks. Some sellers even recommend bartering goods in exchange for the services of a photo-savvy friend or Etsy member.
"To me, there's definitely an 'Etsy-style' photo," says Chen. "You don't want your photo to look commercial – you want it to look artsy. You want to show your personality."
Dig Deeper: How We Did It: Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake, Co-founders, Flickr
How to Make Money on Etsy: The Art of the Listing
A lot of strategy goes into the way items are listed, how often they're listed, and the number of items an Etsy store has at any given time.
Ryan Aydelott of Isotope says that the item's title is of the utmost importance. When an item is listed, it can be marked with up to fourteen search 'tags' that allow the item to be searchable for potential buyers. "The tags have to be relevant. If you try to cast a huge net, you get bad results, but when you're very specific and descriptive, you'll have better luck," Aydelott says. In his experience, shorter titles are better than longer ones.
Elle Green of AustinModern agrees. "Rather than naming the product, such as calling a hand-crafted peice of jewerly the 'Elizabeth Ring,' describe what the product actually is," she says. "Think about how people would be searching for it. There are so many incredible things on that website that are not being found just because of the way they are named." For example, a good title might be 'Purple Gemstone Ring Set in Sterling Silver.'
Both Greene and Aydelott say that the number of listings, and how often you list, really depend on what type of product you're selling. According to Aydellot, having 50 to 100 items in your store at a given time is optimum. "Statistically, people browse through two to three pages of listings (each page features about 20 items)," he says. "So 60 items is about all you'll have the chance to get their attention with. If you don't give them what they want within the first 60, you've lost them." Sellers have also found that if you only have a few items in your store, people won't stay to click around.
Greene says that the way Etsy's search function is designed, the most recently listed items show up in search results first. "If you listed something three months ago, it will be at the very back of the search results, even if it's the exact thing that someone is looking for," she says. Greene tries to list two or three new items each week, though that number might be more ideal for a furniture store, than say, a jewelry designer.
Dig Deeper: Merchandising Online
How to Make Money on Etsy: Get Involved
Many Etsy sellers find it beneficial to become a part of the Etsy community. Chen receives a flood of messages from eager new sellers every day asking for advice. She says that the majority of questions she gets can be answered by simply browsing though the forums, blogs, and threads on the site. Aside from offering a wealth of useful information, forums and blogs help new sellers gain exposure to their peers.
There are even self-organized groups of sellers, or Etsy "teams," that are formed based on geographic location or a common interest. There's something for just about anyone, from the "Quit Your Day Job" blog to the "Mothers of Multiples on Etsy" team. They facilitate things like taking out joint advertisements or attending local craft shows, and also provide sellers with a sense of community.
Aydelott and Saathoff, in addition to thousands of other Etsy sellers, say their Etsy experiences have been incredibly positive. "It's a great springboard and an incubator to test out a concept. Small crafters are going to learn customer service, business management, photography, and so much more," Saathoff says. "It's truly an entrepreneurial bootcamp."
Dig Deeper: How to Use Online Forums