Seller Success Series: Etsy Sellers Hit Their Stride
By Julia Wilkinson
When Stephanie Maslow-Blackman was stuck in a boring job, she tried out a metalworking class, where she says, "I hammered my heart out and have never looked back." Now her Etsy jewelry shop, Metalicious, in addition to her other Web presence - such as her website at Metalicious.com - bring in a six-figure revenue stream.
Lorrie Veasey's handmade pottery and art store Lenny Mud, in addition to her other sales venues, grossed half a million last year.
We talked with Stephanie and Lorrie about why they do what they do, how they promote their stores, what tools they finds helpful, and other topics that may help inspire you get to that quit-your-day-job point too. Today's seller success story tackles sellers on Etsy - look for future stories about sellers on other venues!
Custom Items and Collaborating with Clients
One of Etsy "Metalicious" shop owner Stephanie Maslow-Blackman's signature talents is making custom pieces, which are featured frequently on the Facebook page of her business. "About three times a year I make one-of-a-kind commissions where I work directly with my customer to create their dream piece of jewelry," she says. Some of her best sellers have been from collaborations with her customers. She invites people to open up an Etsy "convo" with her with their jewelry wish: "I'd love to work together to make your jewelry dreams come true."
"I love creating things that bring joy to people, that represent milestones, that make people laugh," says Stephanie, who says that jewelry is her true passion. "I'm so thankful every day to be able to do what I love to pay my bills," she adds.
Another successful Etsy seller who makes custom-made items is LennyMud, aka Lorrie Veasey, who sells handmade pottery and original art. She attributes her high sales volume partially to her ability to personalize or customize many of her products. However, she says she does re-make her items again and again, "so while they are one of a kind in that they are handmade, I do remake designs again and again and most items are offered in multiples."
Lorrie, who also sells at her own website, Our Name Is Mud, and Luulla.com, says she grossed half a million dollars last year. But even with those sales figures, Lorrie doesn't consider herself a full-time seller: " Oh God no," she said. For her, it's "just a full time obsession. I work a 14-hour day in the corporate world."
Indeed, this diversity of scale is common for Etsy. "The beauty of Etsy is that it allows the shop owner to determine what success means to them," says Etsy Editor Michelle Traub. "Many sellers have been able to turn their passions into full-time businesses, and many others rely on their Etsy shops for supplemental income, or a creative outlet," she adds. "We’re proud to be part of this new economy, where people are empowered to create personal, fulfilling economic opportunities."
While some might consider Lorrie's pottery business a full-time venture, she still manages to work a full day job in design. "I start my day at 5:30 a.m. each day, including weekends, and end most days at about 11:30 p.m., she says. "I do not watch ANY television and you'd be surprised how much time you can find by cutting that completely out of your daily life (the average person watches 2 hours a day, so that's 14 hours a week right there)." Lorrie also says she has an incredibly supportive husband who runs her household and takes great care of the children, as well as helping her out. "I have also just learned over the years to be super efficient and really, really focused," she says.
Finding Their Stride
Stephanie has been selling on Etsy since June 2007 and had her first sale in August of 2007. "It took me a few months to figure out how to find my customer and get my stride," she says.
While she makes some custom-made pieces, she says, "I create my jewelry using a mix of techniques that allow me to repeat them easily."
Lorrie of Lenny Mud joined Etsy in 2009, but says she did not really start selling until 2010. "I got into pottery making as a child because my mother was a potter," says Lorrie. "We had a kiln and wheel in the basement of our house and I made my first pot on the wheel at age three."
The Marketing Strategy that Works for You
Stephanie says she finds that there are so many ways of marketing, that what works is different for each person. "For me, I am a visual storyteller. So Facebook works the best. I can put up a picture of something I'm working on with a little description and get immediate feedback from my community," she says.
Her Facebook site, MetaliciousJewelry, is very active, and she posts an "awesome Metalicious fan of the week" regularly, awarding each fan a discount code. She also posts photos of projects she's currently working on, collaborations with customers and custom orders, and even informational tidbits, such as news on the price of gold going down.
Another networking site that jives well with her visual approach is Instagram. "I'm also falling in love with Instagram because the filters make my cameraphone picture look fantastic," says Stephanie.
Lorrie uses social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr, and says she is starting to use Instagram. But she has done very well with the public relations route as well. "I have been very successful with (editorial) placement in niche magazine - for example a bike mug in BIKING magazine, a feminist mug in BUST magazine, etc.," she says, adding that she gets these placements by using HARO - help a reporter out, which is a PR tool.
Her most successful placement was on George Takei's Facebook page (best known as Sulu from the television series "Star Trek"), which brought her over 30,000 views within five hours. (Takei has a huge Facebook following with about 4.3 million Likes at this writing). It "really put me on the SEO map," she said.
Tools to Help Etsy Sellers
Etsy Editor Michelle Traub says "there's certainly a wealth of tools in the Etsy seller ecosystem." But she adds that studying up on the Seller Handbook, "our blog of business education," is a vital first step.
From there, she says, "many successful sellers have found joining Etsy Teams - self-organized groups of kindred community members - provides just the right amount of support and motivation when running an online business."
Also helpful for sellers, on the product side, is to enable direct checkout to accept credit cards and Etsy Gift Cards directly. This makes clicking "Add to Cart" "just that much more irresistible for buyers," she says. Most recently, Etsy has released new and improved tools for requesting custom items, "because we know that creative collaboration between sellers and buyers is at the heart of what makes Etsy a truly meaningful marketplace." Sellers can enable the “Request custom order” feature in Shop Settings to make their shoppers' dreams a reality, she explains.
One of Stephanie's favorite tools is actually in the realm of accounting. "I love, love, love using (accounting tool) Outright," she says. "I've linked all my business accounts and "taught" the system how to categorize everything and I can get an up-to-date snapshot of my P&L anytime from anywhere." She also uses Photoshop to bring up the contrast in her photos, to even out the background and to remove dust in the foreground.
More tools for Etsy sellers can be found at Etsy Apps. "We love our active developer community, who keep up with our Code as Craft blog and connect on our site to provide innovative apps that enrich the Etsy selling experience," says Traub.
Seller Success Advice from Etsy
Traub recommends sellers check out the following blog posts for effective tips for success on Etsy:
- Top 10 Tips for Starting an Etsy Business;
- Top 10 Marketing Tips From Full-Time Etsy Sellers;
- Five Steps to Stand Out From the Competition.
She also has "Create High-Quality Photography" down pat; she was mentioned in one Etsy blog post, Top 10 Marketing Tips From Full Time Etsy Sellers as advising sellers to "Make Your Photos "Drool-Worthy." Other tips from these successful sellers include: provide great customer service, define your niche, and engage fans with e-newsletters.
Edited for clarity on 8/11/13.
About the author:
Julia Wilkinson is the author of "The eBay Price Guide" (No Starch Press, 2006) and "eBay Top 100 Simplified Tips & Tricks" (Wiley, 2004-6). Her free "Yard Salers" newsletter is at available at YardSalers.net where you will also find her latest ebook, Flip It Again.
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