I’m starting a new little blog series, Etsy Success Tips. Seriously creative name for a series, huh?! I bet you fell out of your chair from amazement on that one! We have have had CRAZY Roostic Etsy shop success so far (you guys can stop buying from us anytime now…kidding) so I thought I would share my journey in a little blog series. I’ll probably share an Etsy Success Tips post about once a month based on a lesson I learned or gleam a little nugget of knowledge into how we’ve sold 200 products in just three months. We started out of the gate strong in mid-May and haven’t looked back. So here we go with the top 10 lessons I learned in my first months to hopefully help any of you guys out who are just getting started or are thinking about starting up your own shop.
1. Success Doesn’t Happen Overnight…But You Still Better Get Prepared
I read all the tips, all the articles about setting up your shop for the first time. Everyone said, “Don’t expect immediate sales”. In fact, many articles touted that it could take up to two months just to sell one item. So I opened my shop, listed one product (our classic iPad stand), and figured the rest of the “process” I could figure out later. And by process I meant how to ship, how to log my sales, account for everything, and keep production supplies in stock. I had a stock of 4 items all ready to go and thought I would be all set…for weeks. So I made the shop live and two days later…bam…7 orders in one day. Uh-oh. Then it was scramble time to increase my stocking level and figure out how to package everything. In retrospect, I probably should have at least figured out my shipping processes.
2. Pack It Up Pack It In
Can we talk boxes for a second? After taking an obligatory moment to pause and reflect on the awesomeness that is “House of Pain” (jump around…jump up jump up and get down). Boxes and packaging are soooooo important. This could totally be an Etsy Success Tips post on its own. We have odd shaped products. And we started by buying the $1.75 big boxes at Walmart and cutting them down which was a time suck. Then we discovered ULINE. Oh ULINE you are an Etsy shop owner’s dream! If you can think of a box dimension, you can find it on ULINE and for CHEAP! I buy boxes now 100 at a time for about $1.25 each. Although be warned, they ship via USPS 3-day which isn’t cheap. My cost per box after factoring in shipping is back up to the $1.75 rate, but I save in time from cutting down boxes and packing materials since bubble and packing paper is not cheap. It’s important with shipping materials to look at the big picture. So the box is cheaper but WAY too big, you end up spending twice as much in packing materials in the end, meaning the smaller and more expensive boxes were the cheaper route in the end. Which leads me to…
3. Pad Those Boxes Like A Pre-Teen Girls Pads Her…You Know Where I’m Going
Although packing material costs adds up (we pack our stands in layers of bubble wrap and packing paper), it’s ALWAYS cheaper to invest in a little extra paper than it is to have to send another product to someone because something broke. In the 200 stands we’ve shipped, we have had two break. Both times we took those broken items and learned from them, adjusting how we pack the boxes to hopefully prevent it from happening again.
4. Accidents Happen
With those two items that broke, I don’t necessarily blame myself entirely. On one of them, the customer sent me the photo of the box and it looked like it got mauled by a bear…hmmm…how to pack boxes to protect my products from bear maulings? Sometimes accidents happen. And here’s the big lesson learned here…it’s not, I repeat, NOT the end of the world when one breaks. On my first broken item it was an overnight shipment (not cheap) for a gift and the customer NEEDED it. I sent them another one immediately, ponied up the dough to get it there in time, kept my customer happy but then I wanted to quit Etsy. It was a hot mess of tears and “I can’t do this”. Then I smartened up. Actually, Colby the door/window salesman that deals with broken goods every…single…day…talked me off the ledge.
5. Just Say No To Drugs…I Mean…Custom Orders You Can’t Handle
With the success we have came custom orders, which I decided to offer. I thought maybe someone would want a different stain or finish. And I don’t regret signing up for custom orders one bit! Some of my latest best sellers were originally custom order requests. However, if you do offer custom orders on Etsy, know your limitations. I’ve had numerous requests of engraving our products. One of our competitors engraves her stuff. But I turn down every single engraving offer even though it means turning down business. I know my limitations. Engraving is something I’ve never done and I’m not about to learn on a product I’m selling to someone. Maybe someday I’ll learn, but for now, it’s not something I’m comfortable doing.
6. Listen Up America
Like I alluded to, custom order requests can turn into popular stocking items. We had several requests early on to make white/distressed white iPad stands. So we finally painted a few, fulfilled our custom order requests, and now cannot keep the white stands in stock. They fly out of our shop faster than we can make them. But the white stands aren’t necessarily something I would have thought of making on my own since it’s not necessarily my style, I like the stained wood versions better myself. But there’s a market for them and listening to my customer wants, regardless of my tastes, has made my shop enticing to a whole other product group (rustic style vs cottage style).
7. I Just Need Some Space Right Now
Dedicating some space to creating products and packaging products is imperative. Seriously…it will save your marriage. When we first started out with the shop, I had taken over every single space in our house. My desk was covered with receipts/order info, the kitchen table was littered with stands being stained and polyed, and the dining room had been taken over by packaging efforts. We needed some space. At the time we were working on converting an empty bedroom into a guest bedroom, but then decided to convert the space into an Etsy office. While we still construct all our stands in the basement workshop, they’re all finished and packed upstairs in the office. I still have alot of work to get the room functional and organized, but what’s really helped us out is having dedicated zones…one zone for packing and one zone for finishing. Ahhh…space!
8. Organizing And…Organizing And
Smokin’ the reefer! Sorry…couldn’t help the Super Troopers reference. I’m a hot organizing mess at the time but I’m trying. That’s half the battle right?! But when it comes to tax season 2014, I’m gonna be ready! I put together a little binder where I print out each order and log them chronologically, then write on each receipt how much I was charged in Etsy/credit card fees, and how much each order cost to ship. I also photocopy every business receipt (shipping and supplies) and log those as well. Then I add every expense and every piece of revenue into a spreadsheet. This has really helped me learn where we’re making money (on the stands) and where we’re losing money (on shipping…ack). Now that I know I lose money in shipping/packaging, I’m working on ways to reduce my costs. I also keep Etsy Weather Reports in this binder along with my monthly sales reports and my sales forecasting printouts (nerd alert, nerd alert…our Excel modeling class in my MBA program was my all-time favorite and I just HAD to apply my schooling to my small business).
9. The Three “P”s of Etsy: Product, Price, and Photography
One of the things that I learned (okay…more like had BEAT into me) during my undergraduate program and masters program in business, was the “4 P’s of Marking” which includes product, price, promotion and place. While I totally agree that those things are important and apply to an Etsy shop, I believe that the “Three P’s Of Etsy Marketing” is more like product, price, and PHOTOGRAPHY! The product is obviously the most important piece. People want a good quality product and one that aesthetically pleases them. Price is also important as Etsy is a competitive marketplace. Although, I’m a firm believer in differentiation and product positioning but that’s another post for another day. But the kicker for Etsy is photography! Customers can’t see it, feel it, stroke it, sniff it (sniff it?! really?! wood sniffers!) so you better make darn sure you have a fantabulous description and an equally fantabulous picture. It’s like the old saying…describe it like you can’t see it and picture it like you can’t describe it.
10. Be Like Nike And Just Do It Already
I went about a month contemplating making the Etsy jump, going back and forth deciding if I was ready. My pics were horrible, I didn’t have enough stock or variety of products, and I just didn’t know what I was doing. Truth be told, I still don’t know what I’m doing, I STILL don’t think I have enough stock or variety of products, but my pics are improving! But seriously, there’s no better time than today to make the leap. You can’t sell something if you don’t list it.
Pssst…So for all you Etsy sellers out there, what lessons did you learn early on? Any gleaming tidbits to share? Or anyone else out there contemplating making the Etsy leap? Dish!