Miss Design Berry is a memorable name, and if you type it into Google, you’ll find Ms. Berry’s website and marketplace shops and social media pages prominently displayed. She appears to be doing a lot of things right – but of course, you first have to know the name of her business before you see all that Google goodness.
Online sellers often get their start on marketplaces, not having the budget or knowledge to attract shoppers themselves. While building up their expertise, they also learn they have lots of competition on platforms like Etsy and eBay, making it challenging to catch the attention of buyers and maintain prices. And they’re constricted in other ways by marketplace policies.
Kristen Berry, the owner of Miss Design Berry, is no newbie in any sense of the word. She caught our attention in a post she made on the Etsy discussion boards last fall.
She opened her Etsy shop in 2012, she explained to her fellow sellers, which she grew steadily and healthily for many years. “We invested time in our products, our team, our marketing, and learning the ins and outs of being the best Etsy sellers we could be. Just to give you a sense of the success (and time, effort, and investment we have) on Etsy, we have had over 1.5M in sales on Etsy, in our years here.”
“You can do the math, that’s a LOT of $ that Etsy has made from us,” she said – a recognition that not only do sellers benefit by selling on marketplaces, but those very marketplaces benefit tremendously by the hard work of their sellers.
That’s not discussion-board bravado. When we caught up with her, we found she displays self-confidence and optimism about her business that no is doubt attributable to her many years of hard work.
That confidence is most likely what contributed to her determination to expand beyond the confines of Etsy. “If you search for our core products (on Etsy), what you get served in your search results is the 100’s of other, newer shops who rip off our original ideas, for half the price,” she had written in the November post.
Many sellers feel pressure to lower their prices in that environment, but Berry resisted. She told EcommerceBytes it takes guts to know the value of your work and stick to your guns on pricing, no matter what other sellers do. But it had gotten increasingly difficult for her to do that on Etsy.
She believes copycat sellers who undercut her are inevitable, but she feels Etsy perpetuates the problem by pushing them up to the top of the site versus her shop with its long history and better reviews.
She also believes Etsy is pushing sellers for faster, cheaper production. “What are Etsy’s big pushes right now? Get more traffic by lowering production time, and get more sales by offering free shipping,” she had written. “Let’s unpack that – what does that ACTUALLY mean? It translates to encouraging the marketplace to make more items that require less work and time (i.e less handmade, etc.), and higher fees for Etsy when the cost of shipping gets folded into item costs, instead of being separate.”
Berry told us that Etsy does this by getting buyers to focus on those readily available items – for instance, featuring items that offer fast handling time and 2-day shipping. Etsy also shows messaging to sellers when their turnaround time is longer than other sellers. There are a lot of subtle ways they’re trying to push sellers to offer their items faster, she said.
But she was quick to point out that she did not believe Etsy was wrong to act in their own self-interest. “They have to answer to their shareholders. They have to be profitable, and do what makes sense for the business. We all agreed to this idea when we signed up – it’s their platform. It’s their world, we are just renting space in it.”
“But we are business owners, too. We have to do what is right for our businesses, too. And for me, and my business, it looks like that means leaving Etsy. It means taking that budget for promoted listings, and fees, and investing in our own site. It means standing up for the reasons, and ideals, that made me start my business in the first place. Etsy might not uphold those anymore, but I do.”
While Berry continues to sell on Etsy, she was as good as her word when she said she was going to focus her efforts off of Etsy. It can be daunting, as marketplace sellers know – Berry’s own website contributed only 13% of her revenue last year. But now, her site now contributes 70% of her revenue – an impressive turnabout.
It’s important to note that Berry’s business – and her skills – are very different from many other online sellers – she previously worked in advertising as an art director.
She initially started doing design work on the side, and liked doing wedding design – and it sold the best. Now Miss Design Berry focuses on “super customizable illustrations” for weddings with many of her clients incorporating their pets in their weddings.
What about the seller who says it takes her an entire day to make an item – how can she scale?
Berry said sellers should think about what their time is worth and make sure they’re charging for that. It should be something you enjoy, should be profitable, and it should be a quality product – you have to level off those three things. Another option is to bring someone on part-time and try it out.
“For me, the first person I hired to help me part-time – it really changed the game for me. If you want your business to be a hobby, then make it a hobby. But if you want your business to be a business, then you do have to think about it as a business.”
She is definitely no longer a one-woman show – she has a team of about 10 people, and that number fluctuates to meet demand (weddings, the biggest part of her business, is seasonal).
When there’s a demand for a product and you have something that’s really great and you need help, you should be able to do that, she said. “I think that’s very fair, and I think that maybe not enough sellers think about that.”
Some Tips for Other Sellers Wanting to Branch Out
In talking with her, we picked up some advice for others who want to branch out beyond online marketplaces.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Berry had spent a lot of her time working on Etsy SEO (optimizing her listings to show up in search results) and in updating her listings, so she decided to put that energy into her own website.
Berry is extremely good at branding her business, but what about sellers who don’t have a background in design? She says there are always college designers who want the experience and are willing to work with a small business very inexpensively to get the experience and build their portfolio, as she herself had done when starting out.
In addition, you can do trades. If someone has a skill you’re looking for and you have something you can offer them in return, consider trades. If you’re a creative person, be creative not just in what you’re making, but in how you’re making it happen, she advises.
Research what you don’t know
“I owe so much to reading other people’s blogs and podcasts,” Berry said. The podcast “Don’t keep your day job” was particularly useful. And Google it! There’s so much information on the internet – if you’re willing to put in the time to do research and really dig in, and set up a plan for yourself, all the information is out there, she said.
Don’t think of it as a chore, Berry said. One way she does that is by making posts all about the client. If you visit the Miss Design Berry Facebook page, you’ll see charming posts that celebrate her clients, with wedding photos that feature the couples alongside Miss Design Berry illustrations.
Another tip – see what others are sharing on social media, and learn what you can through observation.
Berry advertises her website on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, for example, Pinterest promoted pins.
One of the features of her website she says helps her business is the live chat feature that allows her to communicate with her clients in real-time. (Even for a business not selling highly customized products, it might help boost trust and clinch the sale.)
Value Your Work
In the beginning, Berry never wanted to miss out on any order, so she would offer discounts or agree to rush orders. Now she is strict about charging fees for rush orders (interestingly she offers digital downloads as an option for extreme procrastinators).
That confidence is inspiring, but she freely admits it was something she had to work on. For example, many clients say they must see the design before they pay, but, she said, you learn over time to say no – and it’s never been a problem, because she works with clients until each design is perfect. In her line of work, it’s all about satisfying her customers.
If you value your products, and you value what you’re doing, then clients see that and will put the same value on it, she said.
Links to Miss Design Berry