The Other Versions of Etsy Success (That we Aren’t Talking About)

Creative Entrepreneurship, Empowerment | 35 comments

etsy success | the merriweather council blog

I’d like to preface this post by asking that you read it with full consideration of the NEW Etsy. Etsy isn’t a place for ONLY handmade items anymore. We can all be upset about that and have opinions about the ethics of it, but we can also continue to use Etsy as a tool. You have to decide for yourself what’s going to work for you, but please read this post with the NEW Etsy in mind – not the old beloved one of years past. Maybe Etsy isn’t the champion of handmade anymore, at least not the handmade they spent a decade promoting the definition and awareness of, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a tool. Okay?

I’m sure by now you’ve caught wind of this Three Bird Nest situation. If not, you can catch up here, here and through a quick Google search.

My feelings on this might be even stronger right now because of the work we are doing at She Percolates – which relates very closely to the idea I am aiming to express in this post.

I have seen a lot of chatter about this whole 3BN thing –  some “good for her”, some “good for her, but that is not my style” and a ton of “this is an outrage.”

I totally can understand parts of each of those sentiments. I’ll reserve my comments on 3BN specifically because they are still mostly unsorted and also, that’s not what I’m here to say.

People have been touting her as an “Etsy success” – certainly, she is. I think Abby’s post in particular outlines really nicely how 3BN’s founder, Alicia, has built this business and how savvy she is. No one is denying that dollar amount often plays into how we define success in business. By all accounts, 3BN makes a lot of money and does a lot of business on Etsy. Good for them. Regardless of her product, and her story, she is by surface definition an “Etsy success” – and she has worked the Etsy system to her advantage. It might not be the way you or I would do it – but that’s another story.

Point is: I just really don’t think number of sales per month is the only way to determine a success story.

The internet at large keeps associating 3BN with “Etsy Success” because of the amount of sales she makes each month / year. I think that’s incredibly narrow.

Absolutely, lots of sales is wonderful. But there are other benefits. It’s not all about sales. Etsy is a tool. {Let this be our mantra, amen.}

It makes for a nice headline, I get that. But by repeatedly praising her for making a ton of money – and barely ever explaining the full story – two things have happened: other sellers who rationally know they cannot / will not ever make that much money on Etsy feel discouraged or {*throw their hands up* exasperated} and also, people continue to focus on money based success.

It’s bumming me out, you guys.

Whether you think Etsy is good or bad doesnt really matter. (And I have to say, I’m growing annoyed with folks who aren’t selling on etsy weighing in on the state of selling on Etsy. If you aren’t currently selling on Etsy, then you simply so not know the experience. But I digress.) For those of you who ARE in fact currently selling on Etsy : If you’re only on Etsy for the immediate sales, you might be missing a large part of the picture. It’s not all about salesEtsy is a tool.

Etsy is a tool

Etsy has bred us to care a whole lot about our sales NUMBER. Not the quality of our sales, or connections, or clients, and not even the quality of our work, but NUMBER of sales. It’s annoying , frankly. The number of sales your shop has made is publicly displayed on your shop’s homepage. It’s a long standing Etsy tradition. Of all the changes they’ve made, that one thing has endured. I know it is a stumbling block for many people. That number never tells the whole story. But that is a topic for another day.

Etsy is a tool – a good tool for the most part, despite their flaws. Etsy brings in an audience of captive buyers or products, editors, and other influencers. People are still using Etsy to shop, connect, find and feature. Basically, if your shop is optimized properly and branded well, people (buyers and influencers) who might not have otherwise found you, can see your work and connect with you in any number of ways – inquires, sales, features, collaborations, licensing agreements, freelance work… the list goes on.

All of those things play into various iterations of success. These things can help lay the groundwork for bigger, better, more in-line-with-your-longterm-goal things. Think about it.

Brick + Mortar

I’m going to use my friend Ana as an example here. Ana has been selling on Etsy for a few years now. She started out selling finished knit products – mainly wearables in her shop. She then got into dying her own yarns and selling them as supply. Through Etsy, she procured contacts with not only retail buyers but wholesale buyers (and no, she’s not on Etsy Wholesale.) She has been working with wholesalers for some time now, and her yarns are being stocked across the country.  In a few days, she is hosting the grand opening event at her own brick and mortar LYS in Salem, Massachusetts, Circle of Stitches.

circle of stitches | the merriweather council blog

Of course, there I would never attribute ALL of anyone’s success to Etsy entirely. Etsy is a tool.

That’s crazy amazing. Etsy helped her establish a presence online that lead her to so many other opportunities. To me, this is an Etsy Success story. Etsy was only part of the story- a part that played an important role – Ana is a talented and savvy business person, Etsy is a tool – she chose to use it.

Opportunities

What about sellers who have been discovered on Etsy by the people at Martha Stewart, West Elm or Pottery Barn? Or Anthropologie? Those are huge opportunities for those sellers. It happens a lot – because of Etsy exposure – because people still go there, looking.

What about my own shop?

I’ll admit that at first my one and only goal was to make as many sales as possible. Mostly because I wasn’t actually aware of any other benefits to being on Etsy. Now I know that was foolish and wrong. I get multiple inquiries via my Etsy shop that I wouldn’t get otherwise.

In an ideal world, editors and bloggers would find me soley through my own website 100% of the time. But, unfortunately this isn’t an ideal world. If etsy is a tool you can use to connect with people, why not?

I know Etsy isn’t perfect. I don’t know any other selling venue that is. My own site that runs on shopify is lovely and easy to use, but shopify isn’t perfect either. There is not perfect solution, there are only tools, and how we use them is up to us. I have my own strategy for using Etsy – and I did at one point lose track of the fact that it’s not all about sales, admittedly.

I’ve met a lot of truly wonderful people – and friends – through Etsy. I wouldn’t know these people without my Etsy experience. Some of the people I’ve met through Etsy have played a role in my life or business that has helped elevate it. I call that a success, too.

If we really want to support handmade, and small business, we need to expand our definitions of success.  

We all want different things. Just because one person is making more money than another doesn’t mean they are more successful. Success is a personal definition.

Take pride in your work, use the tools available to you, celebrate the wins of others, and focus on your definition of success.

What is YOUR Etsy success story?

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Oh, hi! Welcome to The Merriweather Council. I’m Danielle and I am a maker in business and mentor to other makers in business. I teach you how to turn your crafty tendencies into profits!

Oh, I’m also really into crafts, boy bands + iced coffee. Email me anytime to say hello or send cute Backstreet Boy videos or dog pictures .. or whatever! danielle (at) merriweathercouncil.com Thanks for stopping by.

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35 Comments

  1. I really appreciate your perspective on Etsy – I’ve been loosely following the outrage around Etsy’s changes but more so, have continued to appreciate the traffic and support that allow me to keep building toward my dream. We all have to work with what we have, and support each other through the changes. Thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks, Elizabeth. I definitely can’t deny that I was very unhappy about a lot of their changes. i had to change my approach to it all.

  2. I agree so much with so much of what you said, and for me, a huge part of Etsy is the community. I have found friends- real friends- on the site and connected with them through teams. People I meet at shows look at my Etsy shop, and people have that trust in it as a brand name. I’ve been neglectful of my shop as of late and I need to get in there and make it look a little fresher, but you’re right- it’s all in how you use it. Thanks for posting this.

    • Yes, the community aspect is wonderful Even though now I think a lot of it exists off etsy as well, so much of it starts there, you know? It’s just a point of connection. I do know for sure that a lot of people just prefer to shop on etsy.

  3. So. Much. YES. Danielle! We are SO on the same page. I taught an Etsy 101 class on CreativeLive today and tried really hard to impress upon the viewers exactly this! Etsy is a sales tool, fantastic for brand SEO, and most importantly, should be just one part of our marketing plan. If we take the emotional attachment to the past out of the equation, the truth is that it actually still works for those who work their business instead of using their energy to try to resurrect history :)

    • thanks, marlo! I hope CL went well

    • Hi Marlo! I was in the SF video feed audience. Great classes, thank you! I agree that Etsy is just one part of the craft business.

  4. This is a wonderful article – nice to take a break from the negativity and talk about the reality for many of us – thank you!

    • thank you so much, kristin! I’m glad you enjoyed this perspective

  5. YES. I get so frustrated sometimes, because we do see the numbers, and I wonder why my sales aren’t higher. After all, I’ve been on Etsy 6.5 years now – 7 in July. But it took me a long time to get going and to really get my skills where I wanted them to be (I’m still working on that part! :D) I have to remind myself that NONE of those sales would exist at all if I hadn’t joined Etsy in the first place. Am I frustrated with Etsy? Yep. Am I going to leave? Probably not yet, if ever. I’ve got two shops on Etsy and people who do come back to find me. I have to remind myself that *I’m* in charge of what happens to my shops, not Etsy.

    • Yes, agreed. the Sales number thing really needs to go I think

  6. What a great article. I think a lot of us get hung up on numbers and forget about all of the other advantages that Etsy brings. Success is such a personal thing and as creatives we all need to have our own definition of what success means. It won’t work to measure our success against someone else’s definition.

    Thanks for all of the food for thought!

    • agreed!! I wish they would take that sales number down. Just last night I had someone buy 7 pieces from one listing, but it looks like I sold one thing. It’s all an illusion.

  7. This is fantastic. Thank you for writing this article! It’s really easy for me to get lost in the struggle of trying to make ‘enough sales’, when in reality it doesn’t matter how many sales I make. How freeing! If I concentrate on what I actually love (creating), I don’t have to worry about or be bothered by the amount of money I’m making. I love the handmade and that’s all that matters. Etsy has taught and is still teaching me a lot about selling my products, but you’re absolutely right – it’s a tool, not the end-all be-all.

    Thanks again! I always love reading what you write. Keep on,please!

    • thank you Melody!

  8. I agree with your perspective. There seems to be an all or nothing attitude towards ETSY these days. However, I can say that some of the fear might be based on how eBay changed drastically and not for the best. eBay sides with buyers no matter what and gouges sellers with fees, very frustrating. I even worry when ETSY goes public that this might happen.

    I did contact ETSY re: the “collectives” and suggested they be called “StudioCollectives” and that this term would be in the browse sections to keep solo makers separate from many hands working together to produce the item which allows for more inventory in the shop and possibly ranks the shop ahead of others on front pages first. And also so buyer really understand they’re not buying an article made by one individual artist/artisan/maker.

    I agree with your suggestion to think of ETSY as a tool rather than a club, and one will not feel the sting so much and be able to focus on how ETSY can aid their business, rather than on those like 3BN who are savvy yes, but uniquely authentic? Hmmm.

    • I agree I think the average buyer just assumes if it comes from etsy it was handmade by an individual. thats the definition they spent the past ten years drilling into the public’s consciousness.

      3bn = not necessarily authentic. definitely savvy

  9. You have definitely identified the operative concept–it’s a tool and not some grand social experiment we all took it for. The founders were out to make money from the beginning, they just told us what we wanted to hear, the ‘why’ of it all. We all believed it was different but it wasn’t. So if you can swallow that then Etsy is a tool that can be used. I know that nobody is finding my jewelry using a search. I use Pinterest, Facebook or Flickr to promote my work, send people to my blog or website and then link to my Etsy shop if they want to buy something. Do I wish Etsy had charged more originally so they could have stayed true to their original concept–sure, but the cynic in me says that’s what the plan was from the beginning. Now that the IPO is coming out, stay tuned for some of us with low sales numbers getting dropped. After all, now it’s about the stockholders.

    • We shall definitely see what happens now with the IPO!

      It’s great that you have a rhythm for marketing on social.

  10. This is a very interesting take on it and one that has given me pause for thought. I used to sell on Etsy and stopped round about the time they completely lost their grip on handmade and started allowing people to sell 3 packs of Secret and “vintage” iPhone 3s. I got so furious about the slide into eBay territory and with good traffic to my own shopify-powered site, I wasn’t so bothered about losing the handful of etsy browsers I garnered. I blogged my fury here: https://mooosh.wordpress.com/2010/08/17/risky-business/ a full 4 years ago.

    I just read about the 3BN debacle and whilst it only serves to further cement my opinion that Etsy does not care about handmade any more than I can put a pig on the moon, your comments on using Etsy as a tool did resonate with me and make me think that I should potentially climb down off my high horse and consider the options that it opens to me to use it as a tool, rather than as a selling platform.

    Very interesting, thank you – and I look forwards to reading more as the IPO situation unfolds!

    • It’s definitely a mindset shift! We were bred to believe that etsy was one thing – it was, in fairness – but now it’s different. That’s okay, we just have to get on board with that so we can begin to leverage it again.

  11. As a fairly new Etsy seller, I started selling just around the time of the change but have been a buyer for years. It’s hard to accept change when you’ve admired something for being one thing and it becomes something else that is very different. I think originally it my have been more than just a place to sell. I think it also stood for something that people wanted to get behind- like a special community. It was about protection for small crafters who knew if they sold there they would not have to compete with mass produced items (in the usual way). For buyers it was an assurance that they were supporting the little guys and buying handcrafted items that were….well handcrafted…for real. Now it is less about a community of people who share a belief and want to maintain something that was cool, unique, with a kind of old-school respect…and is now more a common marketplace. We grieve the loss of what “was” because we all believed in it and maybe feel sold out and sad. So now what? Like you said it does become a tool. While still maybe feeling a loss…we pick up our tool box, use what we have, and hope that what we do and believe individually will still matter as we pound away in the new Etsy machine. :)

    • it did for sure, it was a beacon of hope for handmade artists. It’s still a good recourse, we just have to shift our mindset and begin to leverage it again!

  12. Oddly enough, I don’t think I ever viewed Etsy as anything more than an easy tool to list my products. I always felt like I was a small fish in the huge pond of Etsy sellers (even when it was “just” handmade items) and to be honest, I started out listing handmade items and never sold them as quickly as I sold the fabric I listed on there. I viewed Etsy as my shop, but my blogging and Facebook (which were the majority of social media when I had my store in 2009) were the ways I pushed or promoted people to view my listings. Then after about a year I got tired of paying listing fees (this was before auto re-list which helps with selling yardage) and I moved my online shop to a different platform anyway. Thanks for this perspective, I’m thankful that I was not part of the drama that ensued about Etsy. I’m curious about the IPO but I highly doubt they will drop any sellers from having a shop. Those sellers, big or small are still paying listing fees, credit card processing fees, shipping fees and now I’ve noticed it’s all going to Etsy.

    Did anyone notice that Etsy doesn’t even ask for your Paypal info anymore? They process your card directly through their site. That means more money for them. And according to the news report on Nightly Business Report the other day about the IPO, Etsy is operating at a loss due to increase in money spent on marketing.

    Interesting stuff!

  13. Thank you so much for this. I haven’t been an Etsy seller very long (under a year) and have been conflicted about all of the negative things I started hearing from sellers. Etsy does have benefits to me and where my business is at right now and I need to continue to use it as a tool until those benefits no longer exist.

    I’m also very excited to hear about Ana’s shop. I am in New England and definitely plan on checking it out. I’m always looking for new yarn suppliers. Thanks again!

    • you’re welcome!

  14. Hi Danielle! Thanks for this great post, I definitely agree with your sentiments (especially the part about people who aren’t selling on Etsy and are trashing it!). I have to say that I love being an Etsy seller, even with these changes that have happened and it bums me out to see so many people hating on it. Without Etsy I wouldn’t have had many of the opportunities that have come my way and I know I would not be able to get my goods in front of such a large audience! I feel very grateful that I have had my work published in a magazine, been approached by shops, and recently been featured on Huffington Post! All of these opportunities have happened because I am on Etsy (so the fees to me are worth it) and I still believe it is a good platform. I know lots of people who still shop on Etsy, myself included, and go there to find handmade items. Maybe we have to be a little bit more careful and choose-y with the shops but I am confident that every purchase I have made has been from a small business owner like myself and not mass produced. I have also met so many truly wonderful people through Etsy and overall has been a positive experience. It might not be for everyone, but I believe that it can be a great tool if utilized correctly!

  15. Hi there, Cool article. I have 2 etsy stores. one for crochet stuff and polymer clay jewelry (majorminorshop) and antoher one for personalized and not personalized hand stamped keyrings. I experience fast success over xmas period ( with over 100 sales in less than a month since i opened the shop) in my new shop ( bees..) but jewelry is still very slow progress. I hope I will be discovered one day too :) didnt think of this perspective before. plus xmas time is not really every day life anyways ! thanks for sharing this! found on pinterest btw :)

    • Thank you for reading!

  16. Danielle,

    I have been selling on etsy from a year now. I sell handmade precious metal jewelry for which I have a brick and mortar store as well. BTW i am also one of your students in Etsy training course. I also only saw a pike in my sales in the xmas season and as mentioned by previous commentators. I have been seriously thinking about getting my own online store for which etsy will work as a tool. I have read and re-read the above article, I am sorry, but how do we use it as a tool? For example? Thank you.

  17. This is so very well said Danielle.

    Thank you for shining a light on a different and quite refreshing perspective on the whole “Etsy issue”.

    At then end of the day, “Etsy is a tool” and how well you use it and to what extent determines the type of use you’ll get out of it… But you said it much better :)

    • thank you!

  18. I’m a little late to the party, but I really appreciate this post. I’m still at a very modest place in my art career, but I’ve gotten a few opportunities from Etsy, despite a lack of sale. It’s a good, easy place for my commission clients to go to see what my work is like (and the price point), and I’ve also had a few art show organizers contact me because they found me on Etsy.

    You’re right – the sales volume would be nice, but there are other factors at work, and Etsy is a good tool for building your empire in other arenas, as well.

  19. I started by “Etsy Adventure” a month ago and now see it is astepping stone. It is a method of being seen with the bonus of sales. I have no desire to become big with my art, just have it go to appreciative homes, through shows, or various platforms. Etsy gave me the confidence to do that. Success is different things to different people.

  20. I love this article because my sales are also mostly doing craft shows and Christmas bazaars but no one sees that and making inventory, I have to craft my items that take a week at times to make and then I sell them and it’s hard to make more when running a website that is a success in my eyes because of not promoting it yet and only 42 posts and I’ve reached 134,000 views with so many reviews and featured as an artist that you don’t see these things on etsy or not all. My website is also my traffic. I am opening a new shop on etsy for photography and graphics and I have a little better chance for more inventory. I find so many articles that make me feel I’m not a success because of what they believe will make you succeed. To add again I have sold out or most of my items are gone at the craft shows I do abc yet no one sees that. Do you think I should explain that in a post?
    Thank you love it!
    Michelle