The Secret to Selling on Etsy

Every now and then I peek into the Etsy forums to gather information. It’s a good place to crowdsource… tons of people killing time on the internet who LOVE to share their opinion with you.

Invariably I see a thread asking about what the secret is to sell on Etsy, how people get so many sales, how much to relist in a day, etc. And I think I am fully qualified to answer these questions. I have an active Etsy shop, generally selling multiple items per day. I also used to work at Etsy, so I have an inside view of how the whole system works.

It turns out the secret to selling on Etsy is the same as selling anywhere: hard work and good products.

Ok, maybe that’s not the most helpful answer. So allow me to elaborate with a list of tips.

  • Take better photos.
    I don’t care how long you spent on your photos. They’re not good enough. Mine sure as heck aren’t. You need to do more than just snap an accurate picture of the product. You need to sell it. I’ve seen a lot of Etsy sellers complain that they shouldn’t have to be photographers. BS. You’re a salesman, and your photos are the biggest part of your sales pitch. If you aren’t willing to put serious and continuous effort into them then you’re not serious about selling online.
    For some quick tips, check out my article, Common Photo Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
  • Make something people want.
    Do market research. And no, posting a forum thread titled “do you think people want to buy ____” doesn’t count. Browse the sold items. What’s selling? Read blogs related to what you’re making. What are they featuring? Does your stuff fit in with that? Or are you still making stirrup pants? Stop. Stirrup pants hurt us all.
    Look at not just styles but also what people are selling. Where is there a void in the market? Fill it.
  • Make something other people aren’t.
    I hate to break it to you, but if you’re making snap bibs out of Amy Butler fabric you’re already at a disadvantage. Why? Because there are already 100 other people selling them. It’s like putting a Starbucks up on every corner and then wondering why you’re only getting 1/4 of the foot traffic.

    Do an Etsy search for your product. If you make bibs, search “bibs.” How many of the search results are the same as what you make? What makes yours different? It’s going to have to be something. Better photos, better prices, better selection, better construction, different style, whatever. But it’s got to be something or you’ll just be lost with the other 20,000 search results.

  • Build a cohesive line.
    Lets say you make pouches. Rectangular zippy pouches out of pretty fabrics. Great. So now you’re “that girl who makes pouches.” It’s pretty nondescript, and when I search for “pouch” on Etsy I’m going to get a ton of other people’s stuff, which I might like better.

    Pick a common theme and run with it. Make pouches in different shapes. Now you’re “that girl who makes round pouches,” and that already sets you apart from other people. Or maybe all of your fabric features skulls on it. Or flowers. Or math equations. Or your pouches all come with built in flashlights. Whatever. Transform yourself to “that person who makes generic” to “that person who makes specific.” You’ll stick in customers’ minds better, be easier to find, and sell more.

  • Give up.
    The flip side of building a line and putting all this effort into your products is you have to be able to let it go. If it’s not working out, you may just need to move on to something else. Not all of your ideas are going to be million dollar sell outs. That’s OK.

    A few years ago I had a line of jewelry that I liked, my friend liked, it went well together without being boring… and it didn’t sell. Anywhere. And for whatever reason I just kept trying to sell it other places instead of moving on or changing it. Needless to say it didn’t work, and I’ve still got a ton of stock for it lying around on a shelf. If you really want to sell, at some point you have to evaluate what you’re doing and change if it’s not working.

  • Take better photos.
    No really, it’s important. And yours still aren’t good enough.

Those are the big secrets. As far as relisting and other nonsense… I relist whenever things sell out, which is once a day or so. By selling something unique I find that even days later I’m still on the front page of search results

There’s also a lot of chatter about twittering/blogging, and whether those are good at driving sales. Yes and no. If you have something interesting to say, eventually people will read it, and if you’ve got your products showcased next to what you’re saying then it’s free advertising. But starting a blog and just posting when you list a new item isn’t interesting to anyone except you.

But it all comes back to your products. You can blog, twitter, and photograph all you want but it isn’t going to do a damned thing if you’re not selling an interesting product at the right price. So get off the Etsy forums and take a hard look at your products. Then fix them and try again.

Filed under: Business, Crafting, Etsy

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260 thoughts on “The Secret to Selling on Etsy

  1. Gail says:

    Great advise, need all the help I can get. Thanks Gail

    1. Jessica says:

      Awesome advise!! Thanks so much for this post.

  2. LRStudio says:

    I enjoyed your advise and it is really right to the point. I just had a thought in regards to marketing your shop not in FB or Twitter but through some of the other avenues. I have switched my website and it is simple and inexpensive but it drives everything back to my Etsy shop. I have several blogs all driving viewers (potential customers) back to My Etsy shop and along with your advise and loads of hard work I think I might have a good strategy. Just a small suggestion. Thanks for your help.

    Have a great day.
    Laurie

  3. Angelica says:

    Good advice, but here’s my question: are you really making any money even though you have sold so many? I checked out your shop, and everything is beautiful, but your prices seem low. If you factor in all the time it takes to make a $22 pendant and take pictures of it and blog and then the price of supplies, what is your hourly wage? Just curious, because low prices seem to be a theme on Etsy, which doesn’t make sense to me, because handmade items are so time and labor intensive.

    1. Kellbot says:

      I’m running a business, and as such it’s critical to me that I make money. Not break even, but make enough to both pay myself and advance my business.

      I pay myself $15 per hour, and that is absolutely factored into my prices. I also make sure my prices are such that I can afford to sell wholesale (which is 50% off retail). Wholesale is where most of my money comes from, the retail side of things is more for press than anything else.

    2. Pamela says:

      Oh! Someone talking sence for a change. Thanks Angelica. Why do people who make hand made things at home think they are not worth as much, or more than mass produced rubbish from factorys? Not that I disagree with kfarrell what you say makes alot of sence if something is not selling don’t try to keep selling it. But don’t de-value what you make. Hard work always pays off too. I can’t be on the internet and in the sewing room.Pam

    3. Kiki says:

      I do so agree, Angelica! I do not dare to really factor in all the work involved, particularly when I recycle materials for my designs. Just scouring shops, cleaning, washing, etc. etc….. At this point I have given up on a wage for myself and take my path into – hopefully – selling my bags as a very enjoyable , if not at times anxious, journey. Good luck! x

  4. GrowingUpGrounded says:

    Thanks for keeping it real. This is life, this is business. If you can’t handle some strong words, go back to bed. Yeah, I know I need to improve my photos… thanks for the swift kick in the pants to get serious about it. Peace!

  5. It’s about time someone told the straight forward truth about all this stuff. I get so tired of hearing about all the supposed secrets to selling on Etsy other than the fact that you just have to work your butt off & first and foremost have a great product.

  6. mary says:

    Great advice really! I have been at this for over 10 years now, and kept trying out new product lines, until one really stuck-the final result was actually customer demand driven. Offering customs is a great way to find your niche. Listen to your customers, they can let you know what they are NOT finding out there. Now photos, that I still am working on.

  7. I’m a relatively new Etsy shop and I have to agree with much of what you say. Especially about photos! In my research I knew good photos were important, and the ones I took, although ok, didn’t grab anyone from the search pages. They only looked good when I was looking at them in zoom. Now I take pictures with better background, better light and no photoshop. What a timesaver! If your picture needs photoshopping, you should take a better picture.

    The other advice I could offer and you may or may not agree with me, is to figure out how you come up in search engines, and believe me a lot of it has to do with the title of your item. Simplify! Sinced I changed my titles, I have been listed in 4 galleries and I actually made it to a blog: http://blog.whimsyworldwide.com/2010/07/09/a-purplicious-summer/
    When at any given time there are about a million and a half pieces of jewelry on Etsy, I considered this a major success!!

    I am still relatively new to the business but I am hooked! Thanks for your input!

    Lori at Martini Jewels

  8. Melissa says:

    Great advice, all of it- except for the part about the stirrup pants. Don’t you know that they’re coming back in?? lol

    1. Angel says:

      LOL – My thoughts exactly. Geez, the 70’s just seem like yesterday, why not relive them ……. uh, well maybe not.

      Oh, remember how those straps could cut into your arches at the end of the day ? What a fabulous look – let’s do it again why don’t we ?

  9. maria carter says:

    I appreciate your advice that finally gears away from social networking and “talking” about your product, and instead focuses on the actual salability of your product. However I was shocked and somewhat enlightened to read you pay yourself $15 an hour. Does that hourly wage include all the prior and post labor involved in selling that one item (photos, posting, customer relations, blogging, shipping, and overhead)? I couldn’t figure out how crafters were affording to sell their wares so low… now I know. $15 an hour is not reflective of what someone would charge in my industry who is trying to make a real living that reflects their skill and talent, not mentioning the cost of living, healthcare, education, etc. I feel underpricing does a disservice to the art community. I am all for making affordable product because the idea is that people can actually BUY them, but so many of the prices on etsy seem to undersell artists trying to do something unique and skilled. I do my best to keep my prices fair and relevant, but I can’t work for $15 an hour when you aren’t making sales all throughout an 8 hour day like a “normal” job.

    1. Kellbot says:

      I guess I should clarify. $15/hour is built into the price of each item to cover the time it takes to make and package that item. That’s to ensure that even when I need to hire temporary staff to deal with a rush, I’m still making enough to cover myself. Overhead is accounted for differently. Rest assured, I have priced my items so that I’m paying myself a living wage. And I live in the New York City area, one of the most expensive markets in the US.

      The truth is though, in order to make a living off it, you do need to be selling constantly. A large portion of my business has shifted to wholesale, so I no longer look at things on a “per day” basis but rather “per month.” Wholesale has its own business math, as selling 750 units at once is different than selling 750 to individuals.

  10. Excellent honest advice. I really appreciate that you explain how you pay yourself. I find that I am often advising my customers that they need to actually make money from their creations.

  11. Thank you so much for the fantastic advice.
    After a not so successful year in Etsy (althoug if i could sell my hearts i’ll be fine) i’m just in the point of making a change hope it will lead to much better sales.
    Yael

  12. Heycaryann says:

    Very helpful! I agree that photos and descriptions are very very important. I’ve been lucky to have a photographer/ designer help me with my store.
    It’s taken me a year to start seeing steady sales and it’s all from hard work and lots of twittering/facebook/etsy forums, writing to blogs….

    Cary

  13. Kirstin says:

    Stirrup pants are deadly! Truly love this advise and appreciate your time in sharing!! Haven’t put anything up just yet. Planning on it this weekend.

    Advise on Watermarking artwork??? Should I? Shouldn’t I?

    Many thanks,
    Kirstin Wolf

  14. nancy says:

    OMG – It’s about time someone hit the nail on the head. Wake up and smell the coffee time! I just uped my hourly wage to $15.00 from $10.00 – and I’m worth it! I do feel I’m filling a nitch and it’s growing. Thanks for all your input – I’ve even have you under “favorites”.

  15. Loved all the advise! I agree with taking better pictures…I recently bought a gradient backdrop for photographing my pottery and that made all the difference in the world to how my work looks. I still haven’t retaken many of the photos in my shop and the difference is so obvious.

    Get a gradient backdrop add some lights and you will see a big improvement.

    Carol]
    carolbroadleypottery.etsy.com

  16. Sharon says:

    Thanks for the article. I am getting ready to take the plunge and list on Etsy as a seller.

  17. Here’s a resource so you all know how much you need to make for a living wage: http://www.livingwage.geog.psu.edu/

    Pick your state and county and it will tell you what you need to make per hour, assuming an 8 hour day, etc.

    Kellbot, any info on pricing is helpful. I don’t wholesale yet so I make $10 – $50/ item based on complexity. Simple (earrings) take less design/assembly time than Complex (necklaces). I hear you about being unique and letting go. I am moving my general themed jewelry off Etsy to a local shop that sells it well and sticking with the Judaica because there’s a niche market and they sell much better for me here.

  18. Candy says:

    I love blog posts that get right to the point and fluff about.
    Great info!

  19. Glenna says:

    Straight forward and to the point. I have to experiment continually. Add new products. Renew a catchy item that one that draws people to you! I relist when something sells. I don’t blog about myself so much as I blog about others. I think creating treasuries is a great tool!

  20. Tim says:

    Thanks for the tips!
    In your “Make something people want.” section, you refer to “Browse the sold items. ” Can you tell me how to do this? I have tried to find a way, but to no avail.
    Thanks!!!

  21. Yeah, but what if there are thousands and thousands of sellers selling the same thing you produce. Like jewelry, there are so many producers, how does your (I mean mine) get noticed. I spend hours a week, hoping just to get feedback or favorited by someone, anyone. When we do get noticed it is favorable, so I feel we are not making junk, but does anyone know we are out there. There seems not to be very much exposure for a struggling, one of a kind, designed jewelry.

    1. Kellbot says:

      Jewelry is an incredibly competitive industry, not just on Etsy. It takes a lot of work to get noticed, both on your designs and presentation, and on your business networking. It pays to do some market research. Learn who’s who in the jewelry industry, how they got there, and what they’re doing.

      With jewelry, professional looking photos are a must. A cohesive line is essential. And at the end of the day, a lot of it comes down to branding. Building your brand, offline and online, is serious work. From a quick look at your shop, you’re not there yet. Take a step back from the beads and look at your business as a whole.

  22. misstcalia says:

    Thanks for the info. I am new to Etsy selling and I’m terrified I will not sell a thing. I DO need to work on my pictures, I don’t have a great camera and I just don’t know how to take pictures very well.

    Question, to anyone and everyone… how long before you got a first sell?

    1. Kellbot says:

      Getting a sale has nothing to do with how long or short you’ve been registered on Etsy. Listing your items, sitting back, and waiting for the magical sales fairy to come by isn’t going to cut it. You need to get your work and photographs to a point where people can see and want to purchase your items. Plain and simple.

      1. AlwaysSnazzyTs says:

        As a discouraged Etsy seller, my one question is to an expert such as yourself: How do I plain and simply direct people to see and want my items? Thanks for all your tips. Lona

        1. Kellbot says:

          Marketing is a topic in and of itself, but I really encourage you to look at your products first. Rather than ask “how do I make people want my items,” ask “how do I make my items something people want?” Once you have a good product, marketing can help bring it to new people. But no amount of dressing will make a product people don’t want sell.

  23. Talies says:

    Thank u for your post, Irealy need to get out of the box.
    If you can I would like to hear some review on my shop:)
    Tali

  24. Auramatic says:

    Thank you for the reinforcement. I feel good about my pictures and they are selling my product but I shouldnt be complacent. I need to take more pictures and better pictures.

  25. Does anyone know the demographic of the buyers on Etsy? My jewelry is geared to “older” women with style who may not spend much time on Etsy. Am I wasting my time? Does anyone have any ideas about branding to reach this type of customer? Thanks!!

  26. DanasStudio says:

    Whoops! Put in my real name in my last post instead of my shop name! Still new at this game….

  27. Lanie says:

    I have been on etsy for a couple of years, and it seems that I have high and low months, and my highs aren’t that high, I need to do more, and this article just reitterated what I already knew, but was not doing! Thanks for saying it for me!

  28. Katie says:

    Wow. Thank you! This was all really helpful… I have a lot to work on!

  29. Shannon says:

    This couldn’t have come at a better time for me, just opened up a shop on Etsy to the thunderous appraise of… no one! Thanks for your great advice, looking forward to the challenge of using it. And congrats on your 750th sale! That is a hard-won achievement!

  30. lewfoster says:

    I’ve made my living selling my art prints for the past 25 years and am
    now retired. I found Etsy to be an interesting challenge now that I
    have the time off to do it. I don’t photograph my work, I scan it. Much
    of it is digital. What I’m finding interesting is that while I could sell
    my work at an fair or festival fairly consistently, Etsy on the other
    hand is sporadic and on the slow side. My work is very realistic and
    artsy and for a crowd of assorted adults it does quite well providing there
    are enough folks to view them. While I’m doing luke warm on Etsy, I see other artist who are selling many times more than me. The one thing
    I’ve noticed about them is that they are providing an almost primitive
    very cute childlike artwork, often featuring animals or little children.
    It has made me wonder what the demographics of etsy shoppers
    is. It seems this should be of great importance to all etsy sellers and
    I’m wondering if there is an aswer to that question somewhere? Also
    I am featured on up to two dozen treasuries a week, but only when
    one lands on the front page does it do any good for me. Normally
    I only get a couple of dozen viewers per day and I list mainly in
    the evening. If I were only getting a handfull of people to view a
    handfull of my work per day I don’t think I would do well anywhere.
    When we say THE SECRET TO SELLING, I believe we are all
    assuming that we have a stream of viewing and potential customers
    who will either buy or pass on and Etsy isn’t providing them.

  31. artistatree says:

    Such a great post: I love the no-nonsense point of view. Perhaps the idea has gotten out that Etsy is a sure-fire way to sell your handmade goods. The simple truth seems to be that there is no guaranteed path to success in the tricky world of Selling Your Art. Hard work and an editorial eye towards your products is essential (ask for help, ask for feedback). What I do love about Etsy is that it is a community. There is always help and suggestions available; it give the sense that we are not all in this alone. Okay, I’d better get back to work and go take some better photos.

  32. KJ says:

    I love the rawness of your post….such a great piece. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  33. Wonderfully cohesive advice! I’d like to add a couple of things. I’m no photographer either, but a good camera is essential. I use a Canon Powershot Digital Elph (SD770 IS), about $300.00, and worth every penny! And I just found a mini tripod for a buck!! YUP! A buck at the dollar store, and it work just fine to avoid camera shake syndrome. I built a lightbox for about $10.00 out of foam core and velum, and ise it for jewelry only, but natural light is always best.
    Lastly, I LOVE my iMAC with its’ awesome iPhoto editing program that retouches and enhabces lighting! Highly recommended!! Still, I need to discover the wonders of white balance. One step at a time. And it helps to have a beautiful model instead of manniquin heads for my hats!!!! That’s selling it!!!

  34. I apologise for the typos!! I’m no typist/editor either!!

  35. gmgknitting says:

    Thanks for the article. One question, you talk about “browse the sold items. What’s selling?” Could you please tell me how you do that?

    I do not find the way on Etsy….

  36. Shannon says:

    Thanks for the great article! I’m sure it will help a lot of people! 🙂

  37. Awesome info here! Thank you for sharing. I have been doing the artwork that I do since 1985, but only since last summer got connected on Etsy. It has been great …and keeping busy with local shows. I love the ease of re-listing on Etsy.

    Blessings & Aloha!

  38. Oops! I meant to add…I’d love for you (if you have time) to take a peek and give some feedback as to my Etsy shop.

    Thanks!

  39. TitaniumLili says:

    So where can I see the jewelry you made?

  40. You have such good recommendations! After reading your blog, I started to take my photos more seriously. As you said, though, they can still use some work.

  41. Jen says:

    Thanks so much for the info. I’ve been trying to sell on etsy for a while and am now at the point where I’m taking a long hard look at my product lines and how I’m going to photograph them. You’ve helped keep me realise I’m going in the right direction! 🙂

  42. Chava says:

    I had heard that Etsy is the end all for selling jewelry so I’m now off and running. Reading all of your suggestions and advice has been very helpful (keep them coming!) My biggest aHa is that I will be digging out my tripod! Thanks, friends!

  43. Melissa says:

    Great advice! Thank you for sharing your advice with us. I know I’m in a saturated category, but I’m constantly trying to improve my photos and find my niche.

  44. Emily says:

    I’m seeing this at just the right time. I’ve actually been feeling a little guilty about not participating in the forums or creating treasuries or posting to my (topically-but-not-directly related to my shop) blog. As though somehow I’m not doing enough to make my venture successful. Launching an Etsy shop has been an overwhelming task, and all I’ve had time for is trying to be a little better every step of the way. Thanks for reminding me that’s the important thing right now.

  45. Anita says:

    Great tips. Thank you for reminding us of the simple things. We agree; photos are important!

  46. AlwaysSnazzyTs says:

    As a “newbie” in Etsy, I feel totally lost. I don’t even know how to get my items shown. Can someone give me a simple bottom line as to how I can even direct anyone to view my items?

    I’m not looking to get rich, sell in bunches since my T’s take so long to create, or go to wholesale. I would be happy if I could sell some things in order to be able to afford to create and design handpainted things and make a little extra. I haven’t added all my items yet so my Etsy store may look kind of skimpy compared to other shops multitude of items for sale. Maybe it will change when I add more.

  47. Thank you so much for your article. I have been selling on Etsy for awhile now and my frustrations have to do with the fact that Etsy who won’t acknowledge my products. I’ve been trying for years to get Etsy to recognize that Eid should be categorized with Christmas and Hanukah as a major holiday, but they keep ignoring my pleas: http://www.etsy.com/forums_thread.php?thread_id=5813888

    So my question is: how do we get the companies that continuously highlight the same products over and over again to even acknowledge your work?

  48. cindy says:

    Love the article!thanks for the info!

  49. Wendy says:

    Thanks for the advice. . .need all the help i can get!!!

  50. victoria says:

    taking in all the advice…being on etsy is just a twinkle in my imaginationjust now …so i’m trying to learn and get realistic and organised ….i have been selling my victorian patchwork at craft fairs and through friends and was advised to check you out….such friendly and positive feedback …hope to get involved soon….better improve my photography….x

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