Jan 19, 2011

Starting a Shop? Already Running a Shop? Advice, Please.

A customer recently asked me about starting an Etsy shop, and she asked me to direct her to shops using LLK patterns to make and sell items.

As I was perusing your shops and attaching links, I started swelling with pride. I am so very proud you who have started Etsy shops. Some of you sell enough to support your sewing habit. Some of you are now stay at home moms thanks to Etsy success, other hope to sell more. Others are wondering - why haven't I made any sales? Many of you may be contemplating starting an Etsy shop and wondering what it takes. 

Let's talk. I was recently asking these same questions. I doubted whether or not I should open a shop with only a handful of items. The questions I had then were very concerning, but now, they seem trivial. I wanted to know...

How do you start an Etsy shop? What does it require? How complicated is it? What's the deal with Paypal? I'm not a "business" person; does that matter? What if I don't have tons of items to sell? What happens if I actually make a sale? How do I list an item? Does my finished item have to be perfect?

A fellow blogger, Lynette was the first to encourage me to start, and I will be forever grateful to her. She pushed me to the starting line and gave me some fabulous guidance. I want to share some of her tips with you along with a few of my own. Then, I want to hear your advice and any words of wisdom about running an Etsy shop.

1. Don't be afraid to start small. You don't need a shop full of items to sell. You only need one, maybe two. If they sell, add more. Starting small will give you the opportunity to figure out the kinks, learn about the Etsy/Paypal process. Once you feel confident with the process, add more. Expand.

2. Don't doubt yourself. What do you have to lose? Etsy fees are twenty cents per listing. If something doesn't sell, you've only lost twenty cents. No big deal.

3. Market yourself. Use Facebook or a blog as a platform to expose your new shop. Link to other blogs. Meet people online, and use their blogs as an opportunity to advertise yourself. It's easy to get lost in linky parties, so if you don't have loads of time, you may want to keep things in check or stick to Facebook for the quick and easy aspect.

4. Give consideration to your shop name. My shop name has nothing to do with sewing. Little Lizard King. Seriously? If I had really planned to run a full-on business, I would never have called my shop, Little Lizard King. However, my blog was dubbed Little Lizard King, and this shop wasn't in the "plan", so, even if running a shop is not in your plan, give it some thought beforehand, as your name is not changeable, once you sign on with Etsy. Fortunately, the moniker Little Lizard King is probably more memorable than something more sewing related, and it doesn't limit me to sewing. I could branch out into fabric or something else, if I desire. I don't desire to change the purpose of my shop, but fortunately, I am not limited by the name.

5. PHOTOS - I cannot emphasize enough the importance of quality photos. Etsians are shopping via computer. They cannot see or touch your merchandise. You sell via pictures, so make sure that your pictures are worthy. You don't need anything fancy. I use the back of a huge white banner one of my friends dragged home from work for me. I unroll it when I'm taking shots, and roll it back up when I'm finished. You'd never know based on my pictures, that many are taken on the back of a poster that was headed for the trash. Could you barter finished products for professional photos? Many do.

6. Don't limit yourself to Etsy. Some of you work in local boutiques, which is great because you don't have to list, photograph, describe, etc... Some sell at art fairs, and others stay busy with requests from friends and family. Others sell solely on Facebook. Do what works best for you and within your community.

7. There is a market for you, and there is room in the market for you. Find your niche; do what you love. Figure out what you do well, and do it. There are other pattern designers out there, many with whom I am buddies. We sell some things that are similar and many things that are different. Our pattern design styles range greatly, and there is more than enough room for all of us. There are plenty of people who sell children's clothing, but there is still more than enough room for you. Your style and your niche are different. Many of us use the same fabric. Find a way to make your product stand out. Can you provide better customer service, turn-around time, fabric combination? What can you offer that makes you better?

8. Set boundaries. You cannot be all things to all people. Your family needs to come first. I'm sure we've all sewn into the wee hours of the night, but make sure you set limits. Do you take time for you and yours? You can shut down your shop for vacations or holidays. Don't let your shop completely run your life. This shop stuff takes a lot of time, especially at first. You probably experience a pre-holiday rush in your shop, which coincides with your personal pre-holiday madness. If you need to cut back, do so. I've had to find ways to limit the time I spend, and I cut it from blogging and running. My husband and I make an effort to take more time for each other. This post is a rare exception (super long), but since we've been cooped up indoors for a week due to an ice storm, I have WAY more time on my hands to pound out blog posts. One of my co-workers has offered to be my first "employee". At some point, I may take her up on the offer, because I cannot be all things.

9. Most importantly - get your family on board. If your family is not on board, it will make the shop situation a bit sticky. When I'm designing a new pattern, I get lost in a haze of sewing, drafting, writing, editing, re-writing, photographing, etc. My husband is completely supportive. This summer I took a week long class that kept me away from home for 14 hours a day. Mr. Lizard King ran the shop the entire time. He called with a couple technical questions - how much fabric does the Love Me Knot need if the customer wants to use three fabrics rather than two? I consulted via phone. Mr. Lizard King started running the show and learning the ins and outs a couple days before my class began, and to this day he is an integral part of the shop. He sends off night time sales, long after I've drifted to sleep, and he takes care of early morning sales as well. Many of you have received Mr. Lizard King emails. He understands what it takes to run the shop and the time it requires and answers any non-technical questions; I could not do this without him. He lessens my work load, and together we balance each other out. If we weren't on the same team, I think it would be hard to understand commitment it takes to run an Etsy shop.

10. Find ways to save time and streamline the process. My first patterns were and are still the simplest designs, but the learning curve of drafting my first patterns was huge. It took way more time to create patterns then than it does now.  Many of you have told me that you buy yards and yards of certain fabrics, and then you make one prototype, photograph one outfit, and sell the outfit in a variety of sizes, until you run out of fabric. Some of you make a dress in one style, and include a large selection of fabric options from which your customers can choose. What  tricks have you learned to streamline your shop? Some of you use Facebook as a primary source of sales rather than Etsy. I use you as pattern testers which is a huge help and a great time saver. I hope to find a way at some point, to give customers the option to automatically download patterns and automatically re-list designs on Etsy after they sell. I don't have this set up yet, but it is is on my list. Saving time is huge!

11. Realize that not everything will go smoothly, and not everyone is on your side. It is inevitable that things will go wrong. You may have a mishap at the post office. No one is perfect. I've forgotten to email patterns. You may have a huge order come in right at the time you and yours get the flu. Someone might not like your finished product because it is too big, small, short, tall, even though you described it as such. Many of you have told me that others have been threatened by your shop or jealous of your success. Consider that a compliment. If your reputation stands, your product is well made, and your customer service is at the top, you will be fine, maybe even rise above. In the end, I think it's best to act professionally and with integrity, and you have nothing to fear. Stick to those who support you. There are certainly those who don't, but there are plenty of people on your side, more than you think. Don't dwell on the negative. Move forward, and focus on the good.

12. Be prepared for big things. Rumor has it that 2011 is going to be a fabulous one for Etsians. I can hardly imagine 2011 being any better than 2010. When I first started selling patterns, I hoped to make enough money to support my sewing habit, or even enough to go out to dinner every once in a while. My shop has far surpassed anything I could have ever hoped for or imagined. We recently hit 5000 sales. Seriously? I still wake up every day and pinch myself. Is this for real? Etsy sales definitely support my habit; we still don't go out to dinner, but that's largely in part due to the fact that Etsy keeps us so busy!

13. If you have a big year, you will need to pay taxes. That's a good problem to have. Start saving receipts. You will be shocked at the number of things you can write off, many of which are items you already purchase, or items you will purchase regardless of whether you have a shop. If you are not tax savvy, hire an accountant. That way, you can rest assured that you are claiming and deducting items legally. We were blown away at the number of items we'd never considered that were eligible for a write off. The list of eligible items was far longer than what we would have claimed without a professional.

What are your tips? What are your Etsy secrets? How would you encourage a fellow Etsian who might be considering starting a shop? What would you say to veteran Etsians who want to increase shop sales or streamline their process?

I would love to hear your advice. Please link your shop, whether on Etsy or Facebook, or anything else.
Let's check out all the wares, listen to the tricks of the trade, and learn from one another. Remember, there is more than enough room for all of us. You don't have to start big, just start.

Thanks, Lynette for encouraging me, and thanks to all of you for supporting me along this wonderful adventure! 


melbry15 said...

Thanks for the great post! This is just the encouragement I need. I've signed up for Etsy, I've started a facebook page, now I just need to launch it all! Glad to know that a successful shop like yours once started out wtih the same questions and doubts I have now.

Here's my facebook page (still need to list items on Etsy - priority #1!) http://www.facebook.com/pages/TickleBugzGarden/165873153458057

Katherine said...

this really is a great post. i have a shop that is slightly successful and i love it! thanks for the good advice.

Mama Pea said...

LLK, thanks for this wonderful post. I have been considering a lot of different things lately and this was among them (and still is). Still pondering. I appreciate your encouragement!

Jamie said...

LLK, Thanks so much for the great advice and encouragement. I have been following your blog for a while (have a few patterns) but never commented. I have an etsy shop (www.etsy.com/shop/SewSweetPeanut) that I would love to see more activity on and a new blog (www.sewsweetpeanutboutique.blogspot.com) where I am hoping to get some followers and generate business from. Thanks again for the great post.

Ashley N said...

What a great post and what great advice!! As someone who has spent the last six months working very hard, day and night, to build a successful Etsy shop, I can say that all your advice is spot on.
The only things I would add or expand on are:

1. Get comfortable marketing yourself. This takes me way outside my comfort zone, but it is absolutely necessary to see growth.
2. Plan for it to take time. No one opened an Etsy shop and immediately saw their sales go through the roof. Little by little you will see sales come in, and slowly but surely you will see steady growth.
3. The hardest sales you ever make will be your first ones. Etsian shoppers can see your shop sales, and feel more comfortable buying from a shop that has 500+ sales, than a shop that has 3 sales. But don't get discouraged. Slowly, but surely the sales will trickle in, and people will start finding you. This is another good reason to keep all sales through your shop (as opposed to making a cash sale to a friend)...it builds up your Etsy sales, which is hugely important.
4. Take care of your feedback rating. Another thing Etsians look at when shopping. I would never buy from a shop with bad feedback. Take care of your customers, leave them feedback, don't be afraid to ask them to leave you feedback.
6. Don't underestimate Facebook. FB has been HUGE to my sales, I get lots and lots of sales from things I post there. Use it to your advantage.
7. Don't be afraid to say no. If a customer wants something that you can't accomodate, don't be afraid to tell them you can't do that. Whether it's an unrealistic ship date, or an item that you normally don't make, or anything...you'll be sorry if you overcommit yourself!
8. Not every convo will turn into a sale. I spent a lot of time in the beginning getting discouraged b/c I had gone back and forth with a customer in a convo about an order, and then they ended up not buying in the end. Some customers will be serious buyers when they convo you, and some are only window shopping with no intention of buying. Treat them all the same, and some of them will turn into sales.

I'm no expert, and I am certainly not the biggest and best on Etsy, but the growth I've seen has allowed me to quit my day job. Thanks again LLK for these great tips...I'm about to go re-read them.
Ashley - Monkey Style Boutique



Sweet Cheeks Bowtique said...

Great advice! I don't have an account with Etsy but I sell hair bows from a website(thesweetcheeksbowtique.com). I have been doing business for a little over a year. Just be patient with your business and don't over commit yourself. When I started I wanted to do it all. I was making every kind of bow possible but was not very good at it. I learned to make what I was great at and leave the other stuff for the other sellers! Remember to have fun with your business. You're not going to be successful if you don't like what you do anymore.

Megan "the" Bug Creator said...

You have been a great advisor thus far. This has put you over the top! Thanks for the advice! I have been trying to get life together so that I can put more on etsy.

As for downloading immediately bigcartel offers the option to offer immediate downloads you might want to check into that :D

Cute little You Bowtique said...

GREAT advice I wish I could have read something like this before I started my etsy shop. My etsy shop has been open for 3 months and has done really well. I think it would do even better if i didn't have to keep going on vacation mode because of so many orders coming in at once and having three small children. It is very hard to balance things but not imposable. It is very time consuming answering questions shipping stuff taking pictures etc.... I Think the biggest thing with getting more sells is to be good to your customers always treat them with respect. I also always send a free hair-bow clip attached to a thank you card. It is the little things that make a difference. The other thing that is super important is pictures. I have taken many pictures posted them and not sold a thing but when you have a cute baby wearing it, it makes all the difference. There are tons of boutique models and photographers out there that will trade your product for pictures and it is WORTH it! Here is one site http://www.oleeomodels.com/.
If you can't get a model make sure to take clear pictures I normally use my kitchen table and then edit out the background to a white using a free program you can download called GIMP( similar to photo shop). Marketing yourself is also very important I have done tons of free giveaways with other people and photographers. Ya I can't really afford to be giving stuff away all the time but it does pay off because you get lots of fans on Facebook. Facebook is were I sell a majority of my stuff. You can do auctions with other boutiques, it really helps get your name out there and brings customers to you. Some are free and some are a small fee but they do all the work for you! Here is a great place to do Auctions and comment games on facebook OhSoShabbyBoutiqueAds. The one thing I am still struggling with is getting followers on my blog I only have one so fair lol and I know people look at it. If anyone has any question about starting a business I would love to be of help :)

Face Book: http://www.facebook.com/cutelittleyoubowtique

queenbeaz said...

This is great advice! Thank you so much LLK & everyone else. I've been wanting to open an Etsy shop & have been planning, but life and moving keeps getting in the way. I'm hoping to have at least basic supplies unpacked and set up in the next few days & working on items for the shop. I may be in contact with some of you for answers to more questions!! Thanks again!

emma said...

JUST WHAT I NEEDED!!!! thanks so much!! :) I was starting to get a little discouraged. Perfect timing! God bless!


Kristen said...

This is very encouraging! I've re-read these tips twice, and Ashley your words are very correct too! I opened my etsy shop in October and am slowly gaining sales. I've been putting more and more time into marketing, but still need to work on my pics! I hope for big things with my shop, so I'm in it for the long haul! My biggest advice for anyone starting out DON'T GIVE UP! I honestly don't think ETSY is a place for quitters, if I wasn't so self motivated, I know I would have already given up!