14 Tips from my first year selling on Etsy

14 Tips from my first year of selling on Etsy

Tomorrow marks one year since I opened my Etsy shop! I hit 100 sales around 9 months in, and as of this post, it’s climbed to 147. With my primary job of raising two little girls, I’m still very much in the part-time seller camp, but I am selling things and making a profit.

Other than some high school accounting classes, I don’t have any formal business or marketing education. That said, I have always had an entrepreneurial streak, and I secretly love bookkeeping. I’ve learned a lot during my first year and continue to learn new things every day. The following tips are based on my experiences.

1. You are creating a boutique.

When selling on Etsy, it’s understood that you should have clear and descriptive listings, beautiful photos, and a cohesive look to your shop. All of this takes a really long time to set up. This isn’t eBay. You can’t just throw up a bunch of stuff willy nilly and expect it to sell. If it does, kudos to you! But the majority of shops have to put some thought into it to show any success. Your goal should be to create a cute/pretty/pleasant shop full of related items.

2. Your shop won’t be perfect from the beginning

This was a hard pill for this recovering perfectionist to swallow.

I was trying to get everything just right before opening up shop. Keywords, tags, titles, descriptions, photos, policies, etc. Well, that was a next-to-impossible task. Try your best, open up shop, then see what needs to be changed based on how people are finding (or not finding) your items. As time goes on, every sale (or non-sale!) is a chance to learn more and develop your shop.

And you will make mistakes.

  • You will introduce products that don’t catch on.
  • You will undercharge for shipping.
  • You will buy a bunch of the wrong materials or shipping supplies that you will never use.

I’ll own up to all of those. Trial and error are my best friends.

3. Keep active

If you set up shop and don’t sell anything, don’t list anything new, and let the shop sit stagnant, your items will fall out of favor in Etsy searches. I don’t have any reference for that, it’s just my experience.

Etsy is not a “set it and forget it” type of thing. You have to tend shop. Etsy searches seem to favor “activity.” The more favorites you get, the more views that item seems to get. The more views you get, the more sales you get. It’s all related.

4. More is more

Filling your shop with 100 items on Etsy is some kind of mythical milestone that supposedly makes it easier for your items to be found in searches. In my experience, hitting 100 sales had much more of an impact. But I can’t argue that every listing is a potential entry point into your shop, so more has to be better. Personally, I see small bumps in views every time I list a few items, and with each tier I achieve (50 items, 100 items). I also saw improved traffic and sales as I built up one of my shop categories from just a couple of items to more like 10-15 items.

Sometimes I get a spike in views and no sales. Some days I get just a few views and multiple sales. I cannot make sense of that.

5. Add new listings a few at a time

After you’ve filled your shop initially with a page or two of items, add listings slowly. I tend to create a batch of items, save them as draft listings, and then publish one or two each day. Etsy favors “activity,” remember?

6. SEO is everything. EVERYTHING.

It kills me when I see shops misusing the SEO opportunities Etsy provides. I think people are either too quick to set up shop and just fill out the form fields Etsy requires, figuring they’ll change it later, or they haven’t done their research.

Entire books could be written about Etsy Relevancy and SEO, so here are just some basics based on the most common errors I see.

Etsy shop SEO - Shop name - Shop title - Shop description

Your “Shop Title” is not your shop name! It should be a brief description of the items you sell. I see this mistake all the time.

Repeat the same phrases in your Shop Title, your listing titles, the first part of the item description, and in your tags. Bonus points if the Shop Section is also named similarly.

Your Shop Announcement is intended to be a note to customers that you can change, announce news, sales, etc., but the first part of it is also the description of your shop that shows up in Google searches (if your shop gets indexed), so you kind of have to weigh what is more important to you personally.

In your tags, use long-tail keywords (that is, phrases) that someone might actually search. Try not to use single word keywords, though some categories and items probably defy this rule. Don’t use “red” and “pillow” and “cover.” Use “red pillow cover.”

Use Etsy search bar to get keyword suggestions to use in your titles, descriptions, and tags

Even after your items are listed, you should tweak your titles and tags if your items aren’t being found in searches. If you start to type into the item search box at the top of Etsy, it will give you suggestions about what phrases you might want to use as tags.

If you label things right, your items will come up in Google Shopping results! That is huge. I have sales I can attribute directly to Google Shopping from first time Etsy buyers.

(If all this still seems really confusing, here’s a link to basic SEO information from Etsy.)

7. Figuring out what to charge for shipping is hard

Hoo boy. This is still one thing I’m trying to figure out. In these days of Amazon Prime or “any size order ships for $5,” people have an unreasonable expectation of what shipping charges should be. People don’t like to pay for shipping. Unfortunately, shipping charges are expensive. I live in St. Louis (right in the middle of the US) and to ship a 2-3 lbs package to one of the coasts can cost more than $10. I am sure it is worse shipping from one coast to the other. It makes no difference that the item value is only $15-20.

So when the shipping estimate is high, I tend to cut my shipping cost down a bit. Like if the estimator says it could be $10, I charge $8 and take a hit on my profit. Sometimes I adjust the price of an item to make up for it, but not always. My goal is to keep my prices affordable and reasonable, so most of the time I feel like I’m pushing my prices as high as I can. This is just what I do, and I’m still experimenting. Your situation and experiences may be different!

8. Give customers as many options to pay as possible

An overwhelming majority of my customers pay via Direct Checkout. That is, paying with a credit card directly through Etsy (instead of using PayPal). If you don’t have Direct Checkout set up (you need a business checking account to do this, and really, you should have one anyway), then you are likely missing out on sales. As commonplace as PayPal has become, it’s extra hassle to some buyers.

9. Answer your convos (emails) ASAP

Convos are Etsy’s internal email messaging system. You might think answering messages promptly is just a courtesy to customers/potential customers, but it actually has a self-serving undertone.

Customers typically message sellers to ask questions about items before they purchase them. People send convos while they are shopping. Answer them quickly, and you’ll probably catch them while they are still on Etsy, or at the very least, still in the shopping mindset and at their computer. Many times, I will get a message asking things like if I think the item will arrive in time for so-and-so’s birthday, etc. before they purchase it. I answer quickly, give the buyer’s confidence in ME, and have gotten a number of sales this way. If I had delayed my reply, they probably would have moved on.

10. But take a breath before answering messages

I know! I’m contradicting myself. But sometimes, people ask strange questions. Or they’ll request something custom that doesn’t seem in line with what I do. Taking a breath to really think about what they are asking, makes my responses a thousand times better.

11. Keep a tight rein on spending

It is easy to spend money. It is easy to “need” something for your business. I’m a frugal girl at heart, and even I have a hard time with this. Be smart about how much you spend and how much you stock up on raw materials.

I keep my basic materials and shipping supplies in stock. If I am going run out of something I need to complete my work (like paint or printer ink), that’s sort of an automatic purchase. I also allow myself one “improvement” purchase each month as long as I am still making sales. In the past, this has been a new work table, a custom rubber stamp, new business cards. If I make a large raw materials purchase, I might hold off spending on anything else that month.

12. Use the Sell on Etsy app

This is a separate app than the regular Etsy shopping app. It’s just for sellers! Every time I get a convo or a sale (!), I get a notification on my phone. It’s pretty great. And it’s still a surprise every single time a new order comes in.

Using Etsy shipping labels

13. Use Etsy shipping labels

…and buy some self-adhesive mailing labels.

Etsy allows you to print postage at home, and at a small discount even. This has saved me so much time, not to mention printed labels look about a thousand times more professional than handwritten addresses. You can even print international postage with the customs form included. (Don’t forget to sign the customs form!)

This is the brand of labels I use (other cheaper ones have spotty reviews). They cost about five cents per label. If you are printing your postage on plain paper and then just taping it on? Trust me, you are using more than five cents in packing tape. Just get the labels.

Once my packages are packed and labeled, I run them to the post office and drop them off. I’ve heard that you can also arrange home pickups, but I live close enough to a post office that waiting around for a pickup seems inefficient. If your items are small and light enough, you can even deposit them in the outdoor blue mailboxes. Beware though, that you need to mail them from your home zip code. If you don’t, you might be saddling the buyer with postage overages.

14. I believe in Etsy karma

That’s not an official thing that factors into any fancy algorithm; it’s just something I like to think exists. What do I mean by Etsy karma? If you sell on Etsy, you should be shopping on Etsy. I really do think it makes a difference. I am the last person that would suggest spending a bunch of money on stuff you don’t need, but should you need gifts or supplies, search Etsy first.

Thank you for your support over the last year and to everyone who has purchased something from my shop. Many thanks!

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Comments

  1. says

    Excellent information. I am not an Etsy seller, because I’m not creative in that sense, but this is realistic, down-to-earth advice. I love that you’ve given honest tips about how it really works, rather than some cookie cutter post about general basics.

    Awesome!

    -Liz

    • says

      Thanks, Liz!

      I did a lot of research before opening my shop. I read books specifically written about Etsy, and countless articles and blog posts, but there are so many things that still weren’t covered. Hopefully these tips are helpful to someone!

  2. says

    I don’t sell on Etsy, but this tutorial was so interesting I read through the whole thing anyway. And now I wish I did sell on Etsy. :-)

  3. says

    I know this is an older post, but it’s so helpful! I had no idea the shop title was suppose to be a description, or that Google showed my shop announcements. I’ll be adjusting a ton of stuff. I’m a new seller but not unfamiliar with selling online and your post is the first one that actually taught me new stuff about etsy. Your shop is also beautiful!

    • says

      Only a few months old. :)

      I feel like there are some things that Etsy could explain a lot better when filling out that initial shop info. Glad you found some tips you could use!

  4. Lori says

    I am getting ready to open an Etsy shop and it is bit overwhelming. your article is very informative and has helped me out thank you for the information

    • Rosie says

      Now I know where to look! I really want to start a blog to support my beekeeping and honey sales, but I’m just really overwhelmed by it. How many times have I wished I could just pay someone to set it all up, and take it from there?

      I have sold honey and wedding favors with honey on and off on etsy, which is know isn’t ideal, but raw honey, despite what people think, is a seasonal product, and if you run out, you run out. While I haven’t used the print-out labels linked from etsy, I used them all the time from just the USPS online store, and was able to get them picked up at the same time. For me this was big because I have 3 very small children and I just hate to take them to the post office. And I totally agree with you about shipping charges. Selling heavy honey in heavy glass containers is a trick to keep cost-effective. What worked for me (because of the heavy nature of the product) was mailing in priority boxes (unlimited weight…for the most part) which kept a consistent price no matter where I shipped, and I was lucky enough to get all the free packaging I needed from my husbands work (he built bikes for a living and there was a lot of all eco-friendly packaging leftover from parts). Great post. I’m gearing up to getting the shop up and going with new labeling and new products, as well as a new business name…a fresh start….and this was helpful.

      • says

        Maybe a website without a blog would be a good place to start. Blogging can be kind of a chore to keep up with sometimes, but a website wouldn’t need to change that often. I’m sure you could find someone to do that for you. Maybe even on Etsy.

        I wish I could use those Priority boxes, alas, they are all way too small for what I ship!

        Good luck with your new start!

  5. Libby says

    How long did it take you to open your Etsy shop? How much time and preparation did it take for you to be comfortable opening up your shop for the first time?
    I know you mentioned that you read books directly related to selling on Etsy? Are there any specific books you recommend that helped you?
    And last question, before you initially opened your shop, how much money would you say (rough estimate) you invested into making enough product for your shop?

    This post was extremely helpful, thanks for the insight!

    -Libby

    • says

      Wow, that’s a lot of questions!

      It took me quite a while to open my shop, both because of planning, perfectionism, and just building up courage. It seems kind of silly now, but I was really nervous to put myself out there. I have no idea how long it actually took. I was developing the things to sell and starting the shop at the same time.

      I read a lot of business books, though the only Etsy-specific one was Etsy-preneurship. I don’t know how helpful it was, but it has some exercises and business-plan type stuff to go through. I got it from the library.

      I have no idea how much money I spent initially in materials. Maybe a few hundred dollars? I’m pretty frugal. My materials are inexpensive, and I didn’t buy my printer or start selling prints until I was already selling things for about five months. I would recommend starting small and selling enough to fund the “next step.”

      If you have any other questions, you can shoot me an e-mail. erin (at) lansdownelife.com. I’d be happy to answer!

  6. says

    Thank you! It is all so confusing and I am still trying to grasp it, but this was very useful in helping me understand. I am now going to go back rewrite my titles of all my listings.

    • says

      There is a lot to learn and take in at the start, but I promise it will start to make sense the more you play around with it. I am still constantly tweaking keywords and checking to see which ones turn up my items in the search.

  7. says

    Thank you for all these valuable info, Erin!
    I can’t seem to find the specific Etsy Seller app you mentioned, would you have the exact name?

    Nathalie

  8. says

    Thanks for writing such a brilliant post. This was SUPER helpful! I opened my shop in October and I’ve still got a long way to go, but it took months of preparation. I’m working on loads of new products at the moment so hopefully that will help increase sales. I would love for you to take a quick look at mine and let me know what you think or if you have any feedback! Thanks again for all these brilliant tips :) and congratulations on such a successful year! Amy x
    https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/midgins

    • says

      Cute shop! It does take a lot of work and time. I’m certainly no expert, but keep filling your shop. You also might want to put some solid keywords at the start of your titles instead of their names (like “owl plush” or whatever). Think about what a customer would type in the search box. You could try it on a couple of listings and see what happens. No rule that says all of your titles have to be in the same format!

  9. Meg says

    Lots of great info! Thanks!
    One question..what about taxes etc…does the etsy e-commerce take care of figuring all that out and what about filing taxes? I haven’t seemed to be able to find one article on how to file taxes at the end of the year or if you can write off part of your monthly home expenses as a home office. Any info would be great! Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Meg,

      Etsy will charge sales tax at the rate you enter. But that’s as far as it goes with taxes. Etsy leaves everything to do with income taxes to the sellers themselves. They do not withhold anything.

      I think the reason you are not finding the tax information you are seeking is because taxes are so complicated, everyone’s situation is so different (sole proprietorship, LLC, corporation, etc.), and no one wants to be held accountable for giving tax advice. I found a lot of information about what was deductible as a business expense within TurboTax.

      I can tell you that I am a sole proprietor, and I filed my taxes with my regular income tax return. (I don’t know if there’s a limit to the income you can make as a sole proprietor and still file with your regular return.) However, I did not “pay myself” (all of my profits stayed within the business), so I did not pay “self-employment” taxes (Social Security & Medicare). It gets complicated quick, especially if you have a lot to learn about accounting as well. I am no expert, and I am still learning!

  10. says

    Ahh, this was very helpful! Really appreciate your tips on SEO on etsy – I’ve just re-edited my tag words after reading this.
    #2 rings so true – I have tried really hard to perfect my product, and am proud of it but I”m not a photographer, and had problems shooting my product (I make dresses) but finally had to settle and get them up there. I do need to re-shoot them but hey, you have to start somewhere. Thanks for giving such clear, concise info.

  11. says

    its been said but this is a really useful list. Thank you. Aside from technical information I just haven’t wanted to face I love the idea of setting up an online boutique ….that changes the game for me. Thank you! Marika

  12. Dianne says

    Great article, Erin! I’ve been preparing to open my shop (KatyAnne Collection – doll clothes for American Girl dolls) for almost a year now. I work full time during the school year and so have limited time to work on it. Some of this technical stuff is so confusing – and I consider myself a fairly intelligent person! Thanks for the insight from someone who’s been through it. Good luck with your shop, and thanks again for taking the time to help the rest of us.

  13. Abbey says

    Thank you for this article! It was very helpful. I didn’t know I would need some of these things to casually ‘set up shop’ on Etsy.. Like a printer, label stickers, a business bank account, etc. Thanks again! Best of luck to you in your selling endeavors! :)

    • says

      Hi Abbey,

      I think there’s a common misconception that selling on Etsy is like selling stuff on eBay. And while you certainly can casually list items to sell on Etsy, the system is not set up to serve those sellers. And your items likely will not sell (or even turn up in searches!) without the presentation and activity of a full, curated shop to back it up. And the printer, labels, business bank account, and other things like that are complete necessities if you plan to sell long-term. Good luck!

  14. says

    Great article! I just hit my 1,000th sale two days ago. And most of those sales were in the past year. I started making girls hair clippies and only sold 7 in over a year. I didn’t really spend much time in my shop, since I work f/t and had another Etsy shop that was doing “okay”. Then I listed baseball flip flop flowers and sold 19 pairs my first day!

    Here’s what I’ve learned in the past year:

    1. Have a product that people want or is trending.

    2. Be active in your shop…tweaking titles, tags, and descriptions if you aren’t listing new items. Update your pictures and use all 5 spots if you can! (I use my IPhone because I’m too lazy to use my Nikon.) Take pictures like there is no description, and write a description like there are no pictures.

    3. Many other people may be selling what you are, but it’s your customer service that can set you apart. Respond quickly to convos, ship on time, and your packaging helps you stand out.

    4. Be prepared. If you want your shop to succeed and you start getting busy, expect to put your heart and soul into it. I had one week where I had to make and ship 161 pairs. I cried, (drank), and lost a lot of sleep but it was all worth it!

    5. Take responsibility for your shop’s success. Etsy makes constant changes and so should you. Update your info, work on SEO, and have fun!

    • says

      Great tips, Karen! Especially the part about writing descriptions as if there were no photos! And taking responsibility for success. It really is all up to the seller to make it work!

  15. says

    What a great post. I immediately went and changed my ‘Shop Title”. I was guilty and had it as my shop name! This is great advice that I am currently editing my Etsy shop with and will use when I open my mom’s shop which I am in the midst of doing. Thank you!

  16. says

    Wonderful article! Like you, I was waiting until everything was perfect before opening my shop but then decided to just do it! I decided that I would learn as I went, and I am! Your article showed me I was doing many things right but also many things wrong! I’ve since changed my title from a cute quote to the suggested description of what I sell! Also I’m updating tags, shop and item descriptions too! Thanks again for all the advice!

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