The Beginner's Guide to Starting an Etsy Business
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again and again: We love Etsy. The crafty upstart marketplace is, in addition to an epic time-suck, a goldmine of hidden handmade and vintage gems, often far more affordable than their mass-produced distant cousins. But it’s the community of creatives that really makes it the special treasure trove of goodness it is. If you’re thinking about jumping aboard the Etsy train but aren’t sure where to begin, read on. We picked the brains of five successful shopkeepers who have enough wisdom and tips to go around.
If you’re toying with the idea, take it from Julia and Alex, the founders of wildly popular bath and skincare line Herbivore Botanicals (now sold in countless shops big—think Urban Outfitters and CB2—and small): “Etsy was the perfect platform for growing our brand. The community really helped us gain awareness beyond Etsy.” Araya Jensen of Wind & Willow Home, a line of handmade modern housewares, agrees: “I got my start on Etsy, and it has served as a resource for learning how to run my own business.”
Jay Harris of California-based lighting outfit Photonic Studio says the best way to start is to dive right in. “Just do it! Most Etsy sellers start with a single idea or product and build from there.” Jensen adds, “It doesn't have to be perfect, but you will never know if it works or how people will react until you try. You can always adjust from there!”
Jessica LeLievre of Florida-based lighting and furniture shop Triple Seven Home touts Etsy’s community for being a great inspiration for her: “I started Triple Seven in September of 2011 out of our little garage in our first home. … From the very beginning, I joined all the Etsy teams in my area. I tried to go to as many local craft fairs and workshops as I could. Etsy is a community-based place. It’s easy to ask questions on the seller forums and get ideas from your Etsy teammates.”
The Etsy community is one of the best assets afforded to buyers. Jaclyn of perennial favorite vintage and antiques purveyor 86 Home tells us, “Etsy creates an exuberant community of buyers and sellers.” In order to foster this community, 86 Home says you need to think of your clients as sacred: “Clients are not only right, but they are all you have, so it’s important that you take care of them! We enjoy creating relationships with our customers.”
For LeLievre, it’s all about the ability to communicate with her customers. “I am the one who personally communicates with my customers; not a computer operator or an auto message—just me. I really think that’s what draws so many buyers here to Etsy; they know that they’re talking to the maker and that feels safe and personable.”
Lesson to learn: Answer private messages promptly, consider custom projects, get on Instagram, and start a blog or even a newsletter. Having a personal presence in your shop and with your buyers will help foster fruitful, long-lasting relationships.
If you’re feeling inspired, good! Now comes the fun part. When it comes to setting up shop, our business owners all agreed that the aesthetics are very important.
Harris tells us a lesson he learned: “I love eclecticism and variety but found that customers don't respond as well to that approach. Focusing my product line and photography in the past six months has really paid off.” The takeaway? “Make sure your shop has a cohesive look.”
For Herbivore Botanicals, a lot of success has sprung from the line’s mastery of the details, including their “intoxicating scents and luxurious textures” as well as “thoughtfully designed packaging and labels that really allow our ingredients to shine through.” It’s paid off—the brand’s packaging is near iconic, and recognizable in a cluttered scroll of search results.
LeLievre takes it back even further: “Start off with a name that fits what you’re selling and that could grow with you as a brand. Do some research about what competition you’ll have out there and get to know your price points, too. Know who your audience is and try to find out how you can accommodate them. Create an Instagram for your business and use tags that apply to your items and help people discover you. Take photos that show the item(s) in detail; a well-lit, well-captured photo speaks volumes.”
A successful Etsy hustle requires more than just attention to detail and mastery of your craft. It's also all about responding to challenges, growing, and learning lessons quickly. “Refresh and renew your brand constantly—staying ahead of the curve will beat out the imitators,” says the Herbivore Botanicals team.
Asked about hard-learned lessons, Harris underscores the need for thinking of your business holistically. “Etsy is focused on making, so it's easy to think of this as the entirety of your Etsy business.” He says you must remember that your price should take into account market research, photo shoots, writing copy, inventory, and shipping supplies.
And don’t snooze on the around-the-clock nature of having a web shop, either. With Etsy, customers can reach out to you at any time of day, and will often do so with specific questions, concerns, or requests—this reality makes having an Etsy shop a major commitment. But Jaclyn says that being up on your communications is absolutely critical: “Don’t leave for tomorrow what you can do today! Being committed and responsive to your shop is of utmost importance.”
Having already touted the importance of the Etsy community, we thought we’d ask each of the star sellers for their top tip for all you aspiring Etsy entrepreneurs out there. Keep reading for their number one secrets to success—you’ll thank us later for these gems of wisdom!
Love what you do. “If you’re enjoying yourself, it will reflect itself in your shop!” assures Jaclyn of 86 Home. Browsing the shop’s beautifully curated wares, it’s easy to pick up on the fact that you’re shopping the finds of true vintage fans.
Find your own beat. Originality, Alex and Julia tell us, is a key ingredient in their secret sauce: "If you want your products to be noticed, make sure they don't look like everyone else's."
Never stop learning. For Harris of Photonic Studio, it’s all about being receptive to inspiration and constantly evolving. “Keep moving! Continually refine your skills, your products, and the listings you already have, and strive to develop new ones.” If you’re stuck for inspiration, look to your customers. “Learn from them. They will contact you with specific needs and that can lead to great new products. Browse the ‘favorites’ lists of your customers and followers—it’s a great visual record of their tastes and vibe, and gives context to what we do,” says Jay. #ProTip, for sure.
Be a great communicator. Communication, for Triple Seven Home, is the best asset to success and growth. “It can be scary buying something online!” LeLievre says. “Let your customers know that you’re there, and you’re ready to answer anything they may have questions about. Continue this communication until you know that they’ve received their goods and that they’re satisfied.” A five-star rating and firsthand vetting can work wonders for the growth of your business.
Tell your story. Jensen of Wind & Willow Home is all about the aesthetic—an authentic one. “Be authentic and have great photos that tell your story. Your images need to grab the eye of not only your customers but also the press for your products to gain a wider audience!”